Monday, March 30 (Day 5) =>
I realized today that a key to my stress is that I’ve never fully accepted the permanence of my husband’s struggles. It’s somehow stuck in my head that because he’s not where he was, then he’s “OK” and our life should work like everyone else’s. But that’s not so. If I would accept that truth instead of fighting it or denying it, I would make different choices and find my peace back. Instead, my decisions are rooted in a make-believe world of how I THINK things should be or how I WISH things could be.
Every family faces its own unique challenges. Our family’s struggles are no worse than others. They’re just different. And every family must adapt to its challenges in its own unique way. Those adaptations may look strange to the outside, but they make perfect sense for those living that reality every day. Maybe we worry too much about what others think. Maybe we talk ourselves out of what we know in our hearts we need to do. Maybe we waste a whole lot of energy trying to fit into the world’s way instead of caring for ourselves the way our hearts know we need.
If I’m going to “own my own truth” and “take responsibility for how I live my life today,” I need to accept the fact that war has shaped my family—permanently. That doesn’t have to be judged in my mind as “good” or “bad”—it just IS. That’s simply our journey—just as others’ journeys may include cancer or chronic pain or grief.
I’m starting to see that those who live from a place of acceptance rather than resistance, and those who make decisions based on reality rather than fantasy, are those that find their path to peace.
Sunday, March 30 (Day 4)
“Who told you that’s the way it should be? Who told you that’s what you’re supposed to do?” The facilitator’s words pierced me to the core. Where DID all the false beliefs come from about what we’re supposed to be or do or say? The answer is… from our culture – from our parents, our friends, school, television, magazines, neighbors, books, music. Messages come at us from all directions. But how do we know which ones are true and right for us? I am waking up to this hard truth— in trying to follow the craziness of this world, I have lost my way. This fast-paced, materialistic, impersonal culture can never produce the “rivers of living water from deep within” that Jesus speaks of in the book of John.
Living in peace, I am finding, requires the courage to walk outside the swirling whirlwind around me. From God’s Instruction Book: “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2: 15-17 NLT). “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NLT).
Saturday, March 28 (Day 3) =>
“Addiction is a life lived elsewhere.” That one hit hard today. When we are afraid to live in our own bodies, to embrace our own emotions—whether pleasant or unpleasant, to live in the moment—whether a joyful one or a sorrowful one, to take responsibility for the consequences of our own choices—whether positive or negative…. then we are living elsewhere. And a compulsion to live elsewhere defines addiction.
Most of us are very familiar with addiction to “substances” – alcohol, drugs, caffeine, sugar, nicotine, food. But there are also “process addictions.” One category is “relationships.” And the other—the one that hit me between the eyes—is addiction to ACTIVITY. Keeping busy, throwing oneself into work, into volunteerism, into household chores—into controlling, managing, directing, demanding. Restless, uneasy, distracted, not present, always in motion, always “doing”…. unable to just “be.” That’s me.
A life lived elsewhere.
I don’t want it anymore. I’m learning to “come home” to my body. To be OK with feelings of distress or anxiety and not have to run from it. To just sit through it, name it, embrace it as part of me – not a flawed part, but a part of who I am as a whole person. I don’t have to keep it all together. I don’t have to say “I’m fine” when I’m not. I don’t have to just keep moving out of fear I will fall apart if the constant motion finally ceases. I don’t have to live elsewhere—in work, in chores, in busyness. I can live in this moment. I don’t have to run. I don’t have to hide. Jesus is here with me. He always has been–right here, in the here and now, with arms open and with healing love…..waiting for me to just be still and come home.
DAY TWO – FRIDAY, MARCH 27
I went to the first day of a weekend retreat at Hazelden about “Healing From Within.” I’m not an addict or an alcoholic, yet I mirror every behavior and thinking pattern of one – I just don’t pick up a drink. I’ve learned a lot about the “wounded child” that lives inside of each of us—that part of us that was hurt by this broken world, whether by a teacher, parent, sibling, classmate, neighbor, friend or stranger. I like that the focus is not about who’s to blame for my wounds – the focus is simply on what I’m going to do with them. The three guiding principles introduced to us were: 1) I need to “own my own truth” – I must be honest and vulnerable about my hurt and what I needed that I didn’t get; 2) Grieve my losses – an important step that so many of us failed to take and which explains our continuing inner turmoil; and 3) Regardless of what happened, I’m responsible for how I live my life today.
My assignment today was to write a letter from the loving, nurturing parent inside of me to the wounded, hurting little girl that’s in there too. It’s an interesting exercise that I recommend highly. Here’s my letter FROM myself TO myself: “Hello Angel… I’ve seen you in the corner crying for so long—so alone. But I didn’t know how to help you. I didn’t know how to hug you or reach out to you or give you what you needed. I didn’t purposely leave you crying there. But your pain was too big and too raw—and I was afraid if I approached you to try to comfort you that I would get swallowed up in your pain. So I turned my back to you to protect myself. I didn’t do it to be heartless—I did it because I was scared. And I had nothing at that time to give me enough courage or strength or love to offer to you. But now I have Jesus. Now I know the warmth of love and the joy of being noticed. Now I have something to offer you, little girl. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown a lot. I’ve found support. I’ve reconnected with family. I have resources. And I have faith. So…. I’m back. I’m home. I’m ready and able to face you. I’m braced for the pain I will feel when you fall into my arms and weep and grieve. And I will weep with you – and it will be OK. You’re not alone anymore. It’s time.”
Thursday, April 26 =>
It felt good to sleep in today, my first day of a one-month medical leave, but it was strange as well. I didn’t have to call in sick, since all the arrangements were made. No one was expecting me. Today, I don’t have to answer to or be there for anyone. I can set the course of my day. I can do all the things I need to do for myself but haven’t had the energy or time to do. Actually—I can’t say I didn’t have the time to do those things. That’s simply not true. I have just as much time as anyone else—I just don’t carve it out in the way that will fill my heart and refresh my soul. I allow time to control me. I allow circumstances and people to set my day’s agenda instead of choosing my own path. I give up my control and then languish in the consequences of my own choices, often blaming others for my discontent. On this 28-day journey, I’m on my own. There is no one to dump the blame on, no one to point to as the reason that I can’t live the life I crave. I feel the weight of that responsibility for the first time. I am fully in charge of me. When I walk in that responsibility and feel it full-force for the first time, I believe I’ll finally sense the compelling need for change and find the courage to make it.
Today I actually feel unsettled. My children and husband got ready on their own and left for school. It seemed as natural to them as breathing. Why have I clung so long to the idea that their every need had to be met by me—that somehow their day would fall apart if I wasn’t directly overseeing their morning routines? Why does it feel so good and yet so foreign to not be needed in that way anymore? Who am I if I’m not in charge of every detail? Where do I fit as just Sharlene, not delegator, crisis manager, and family CEO?
There was a time in my family’s journey where I needed to play those roles—to hold our family together, to keep a roof over our heads, to fight for my husband’s health—those were life or death moments that required me to take charge. But those crises have faded, yet I can’t let go of the reins. It’s partly because of fear—invisible wounds of war still impact my family greatly. I don’t ever want to return to the horror of my husband’s early struggles, and a small slip backwards is easily magnified in my eyes. But it’s also due to conditioning—I’ve held the reins so long, I feel empty-handed and lost when I try to let them go or hand them over to someone else.
I don’t know my role outside of caretaker. Though I grow miserable and resentful in that role, at least it’s familiar and sadly, comfortable. I don’t like this new discomfort of not knowing my role at all. I have no past to fall back on—no previously healthy path to return to—only a new and foreign path to forge ahead of me if I hope to find some peace and balance in my life.
I believe I’m ready. I wonder if my family is ready. I know that as one person in the family changes, the whole family will have to re-balance. I’ve done things for my family for years that I should have allowed them to do on their own. I’ve stifled their freedom to make their own choices and learn from their own mistakes. I feared for them—not because THEY were incapable, but because I felt incapable. So I locked them down and clipped their wings—my way of trying to control what has always been uncontrollable. Today, as I take a step toward freedom, I also set them free from my tyranny of control and fear-based living. I wonder if they’ll feel as unsettled as I do. I hope so. It means, they too, will experience new growth and reach new heights. Today I choose to live and let live. It feels good. Unsettling…. but so, so good.
A few weeks ago, I hit a wall. An emotional wall. A spiritual wall. A wall that I finally can’t knock down in my own power. My counselor recognized it and blew the whistle—game over, she said. It’s time to do something different. She recommended a month of medical leave to take care of myself. My jaw nearly dropped to the ground. My family has been through a lot. I’ve carried more than I could handle for too long. I’m emotionally drained. Yet, self-care is a foreign word to me. I don’t know how to do it. But I’m ready for a change. I’m finally seeing that emotional and mental health deserves equal attention as physical health. Perhaps more so—since our emotional health is so often manifested in physical symptoms.
I haven’t blogged for a year. I haven’t felt I had anything to offer. But today I can offer this—transparency. If I can be an open book through what many would consider a private journey, perhaps I can inspire others who need to step out onto the same journey toward peace. I don’t think I’m the only one who has ever hit the wall. There’s power in knowing you’re not alone. Not everyone is called to go public with their struggles. But I believe I am. While my heart is pounding, I know that God’s calling me to be vulnerable and speak to a world that is “busy”—yet broken as I am in so many ways. So I’m taking a deep breath, and I’m stepping out in faith to share a 28-day journal of self-care and emotional healing. My prayer is that it touches someone else who also desperately needs to know there’s another way to do this life.
Wednesday, April 25 =>
It’s the day before my one-month leave from work starts. I’m scrambling around trying to get things in order. I’m meticulous about details – I can’t help myself. I’m not sure if I’m a control freak or just a thoughtful person who wants to make things easier for the woman who is taking my place for a month (or maybe the latter is just my justification for being a control freak). I want things to go well. I want my students to learn. I don’t believe I am the only one who can teach them, yet I feel compelled to lay out every detail—as if no one else can handle it without my guidance. As if my way is the only way.
I didn’t leave work until 5:15, but when I walked away, I felt like I truly walked away. I don’t need to fret. I don’t need to think about it. It’s not my responsibility. It’s not my problem. Tears come to my eyes as I write that. It feels good to say that it’s not my job for the next month. It’s not my load to carry right now. A year ago, I couldn’t have done this. Now, I feel excitement and liberation. My job is important, but I am not defined by my job. I’m also not defined by the labels I’ve given myself at home. I am so much more. I have so much more to explore. I have so much more to experience and awaken within me. I long for balance—something I’ve never had but now crave with every fiber in my being. I desire a life of living in the moment, not worrying about every detail of my family’s existence or that every lesson I prepare for my students is perfect—as if life somehow depended on whether my students learn their verbs or not. How ridiculous. My goodness—I have so many more important things to share with my students and my own children—like how to live their life with joy, how to experience and cherish life in the moment, how to find their gifts and use them for good, how to recognize what’s important and what doesn’t mean diddly-squat in the big scheme of things. That’s what my heart longs to teach them—but I have to learn it and embrace it for myself first. That’s the journey I’m on. A journey toward living what I believe. A journey to healing… and peace within.
I’ve spent most of my life wishing it away. Perhaps some of you can relate. Somewhere along life’s journey, I got caught in a pattern of “when… then…” It sounds something like this: “WHEN my children are older and not so needy, THEN I’ll have time to take care of myself and pursue my own interests.”
The problem with that kind of thinking is that the “when” part is usually some unrealistic scenario that can never be fully accomplished or “done.” That means the “then” part —which in our hearts we know is infinitely more important — gets neglected, put off, pushed aside, or forgotten all together. We can truly wish our life away waiting for all of our circumstances to line up in some perfect way…. so that THEN we will finally be happy.
Or… we can choose a different path. This year, I’m not going to resolve to DO anything differently. I’m resolving to THINK differently. I’m going to flip my “whens and thens”:
OLD: When my children are older and not so needy, then I’ll have time to take care of myself and pursue my own interests.
NEW: When I take time to pursue my own interests and teach my children to be independent and pursue theirs, then they won’t be so needy.
OLD: When I get through this day/week of work, then I can relax and enjoy life.
NEW: When I relax and enjoy life, then work can be a pleasure not just something to be tolerated.
OLD: When my loved ones change their behavior or attitude, then I can be more loving and patient with them.
NEW: When I am more loving and patient with my loved ones, then they are far more likely to respond in turn.
OLD: When I get caught up on bills and have more money, then I’ll give more.
NEW: When I give more, then I will have more to give. (That’s a promise from God! 2 Cor 9:8-11; Malachi 3:10)
OLD: When I get my house cleaned/organized, then I can take time to play with my kids.
NEW: When I take time to play with my kids – and teach them the fun of working together – then the house will get cleaned (and I won’t regret yet another day of missed opportunities)
OLD: When I have more time, I’ll spend more time with God.
NEW: When I spend more time with God, then He will “make my paths straight” so I can do more in less time. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
OLD: When I have all the things I want in life, then I’ll be content.
NEW: When I learn to be content in any circumstance, then I will see that I already have all I need.
Happy New Year. May a flipped attitude make this your best year yet!
My voice had turned from anger to desperation. “Katelyn, honey, please come out if you’re hiding. Mommy and Daddy are really scared. Katelyyynnnn!” Twenty-five minutes into a family hike, Katelyn had decided she was tired and wanted to go back. I asked her to rest on a rock with her dad while her brother and I walked a bit further up the trail. The selfish tone of her response made my blood boil… “No! I want to go back NOW!” With the stubborn rebellion of an 8-year-old, she turned on her heel and huffed down the trail – the wrong way at the nearby fork. “Katelyn, the car is the other way,” her dad corrected with a hint of humor in his voice. She promptly changed course, rolled her eyes, and shot back at him, “Fine! See you at the car!” Frustrated, her brother and I forged ahead, while Katelyn’s dad remained in place but briefly turned his attention away from her (she had finally sat down for a moment). And that’s all it took….
When Sean turned back, Katelyn was gone. We yelled for her, angered more than fearful at first. Thinking she was just hiding to scare us, we wasted precious time looking behind rocks and trees in the area, but she was nowhere to be found. Finally accepting that she had indeed taken off, Sean and I were horrified as we remembered how many times the trail had split and re-split along our twenty-five minute hike. It could take us hours trying to guess which path she had taken at each fork in the road – and daylight was fading quickly. Sean and I and Michael began running, hearts pounding. At the first fork, we split up – with me taking the path that seemed most logical but was actually the wrong way to the car. Sean and Michael retraced our original path. In those moments alone on that trail, my fears consumed me. Just months earlier, I had joined hundreds of others walking through fields and thick woods looking for a missing young boy from our community – and those parents never got to hold their little boy alive again. I imagined Katelyn in the woods, alone and scared. I imagined her stumbling upon a bear, as many in this area had experienced. At each fork I came to, I prayed, “God, please, show me which way to choose.” When I reached a parking lot hidden by woods, but close to a road, my heart caught in my throat. My God, what if someone had found her and grabbed her?! They would be long gone by now and no one would ever know what happened. “Oh God,” I cried out, “Please show me where my baby is!”
As I hurried back the way I’d come, randomly trying a new path at each fork, I called Sean frantically several times: “Are you at the car yet? Is she there?!” How the hell could it take him that long to run back down the path we had originally come?!
Fifteen terrifying minutes later, I finally got the call that Katelyn was safe at the car. I was overcome with emotion. When I finally reunited with her, all my anger was washed away in relief and joy at having my precious girl in my arms again. Though the whole awful experience was the result of her selfish rebellion, the only thing on my mind was grace, love, and pure joy.
Never forget that it’s the same for your Heavenly Father. When you rebel and take off down the wrong path, the Bible says that He leaves the 99 to search for His one precious lost sheep. He never gives up. Ever. And when He finds you, anger at your misbehavior is the last thing on His mind. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn, but to save.” No matter what you’ve done, don’t let the enemy convince you to keep running to avoid God’s wrath. Stop running, and melt into His open arms of forgiveness. All God wants is His precious child back.
For the last summer getaway of the season, my family and I enjoyed a couple of days at a lake resort in Hayward. While the family was fishing, I took some precious time to sit alone on the dock and just breathe in the beauty of God’s creation. My eyes were quickly drawn to the hundreds of bugs flitting about on the water’s surface. Their dance was mesmerizing as they spun round and round in small circles, never ceasing to move, but also never really getting anywhere. They were busy, but they didn’t appear to be accomplishing much of anything. Except a few of them…. Every once in a while a lone bug would shoot forward from the crowd with purpose, power, and a clear direction. On those rare occasions, the speed and thrust with which the bug shot forward left a tremendous ripple on the water’s surface – amazingly large in its reach given how small the bugs were. As I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how we look from God’s perspective – a bunch of people with good intentions, but no direction. We busy ourselves with a million activities – running in circles, running ourselves ragged, yet never really getting anywhere or accomplishing anything.
I’m beginning to learn the secret to finding peace in this crazy world – What if we decide to stop running in circles trying to live up to the expectations and pressures of this broken world and decide instead to move with the same purpose, power, and clear direction that those few little bugs exhibited amid the swirling chaos? And what if we were to see the same huge ripples of impact on others when we start DOING less and start LOVING more? I mean loving our families enough to clear out 50% of the activities that jam up our calendars and prevent us from having a meal with our children or a devotional time with our family or a conversation with our spouse or a prayer time with God. I mean loving our kids enough to say “no” to activities and jobs that have them chronically sleep-deprived and stressed out trying to keep too many balls in the air. I mean loving ourselves enough to decide that every minute of our time will be spent in a way that honors God rather than impresses other people. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death.” I’m tired of “dying” to fit into this out-of-control culture… I’m finally learning to slow down and live for what really matters. If you quiet yourself long enough, you’ll hear God leading you to the same place of peace. What would happen if you let it all go and followed Him there?
My 7-year-old daughter has had one mission on her mind for months – to convince me to let her get her ears pierced. I finally agreed last week to offer my permission, but with one caveat… she had to let us pull out a stubborn baby tooth that was causing the permanent tooth to grow in horribly wrong, potentially making braces necessary if we didn’t get the baby tooth out soon.
Fear took over, and she would not let us near that tooth, no matter how many times we assured her it would not hurt (all the roots were dissolved). In her mind, her imagination conjured up horrible thoughts of how painful it was going to be, and she could not be convinced otherwise. As a mom, I was frustrated and actually a little hurt that she did not trust me when I said repeatedly, “Katelyn, I would never do anything to hurt you. I would never trick you, and I would never lie to you about how hard or easy this is going to be. YOU CAN TRUST ME. I’ll be right here with you.”
I wonder if that’s how God feels when I reject his loving assurances? How many times has He called me to take a step forward in faith and then watched in sadness as I allowed my fears to paralyze me? How many times have I, through my refusal to act on His promptings, said to Him, “I don’t trust You, God. I don’t believe what You’re telling me”? How many times have I missed out on an amazing blessing because I didn’t trust God’s path to get me there?
For Katelyn, at least, the reward of getting those ears pierced proved too hard to pass up. So after half a day of fretting and stressing, she bit the bullet and let Dad give the tooth a big yank. As she closed her eyes and braced herself for the certain horror that it would be, it was amusing to see her open her eyes and say, “Is it out?” She hadn’t even felt it.
I wonder how many of my fears would be proven just as unsound if I were willing to trust the words of God: “Sharlene, I would never do anything to hurt you. I would never trick you, and I would never lie to you about how hard or easy this is going to be. YOU CAN TRUST ME. I’ll be right here with you.”
What is God calling you to do today? Will you push the fears aside and trust Him?