I am a master of catastrophizing. That’s a word, I assure you. I learned it in parent classes I took for my niece when she was in DBT, or dialectical behavioral training, for her mental health struggles. It was actually, um, disconcerting how much helpful information I learned for myself from those classes.
Catastrophizing is the tendency to see everything in black and white, to immediately assume the worst possible outcome and spend precious time and energy spinning out instead of SIMMERING DOWN, and proceeding with reasonable caution and cautious optimism. Isn’t it amazing how quickly we can assume the worst, and spiral into a vortex of impending disaster and doom?
It’s extra “special” that I am so good at catastrophizing, since I’m a Christian who professes to believe that God has good things planned for me, that He is working even the bad things out for His good, and that He walks alongside me in the hard times. I say I believe He is more interested in who I am and who I am becoming, and not in what I achieve.
That’s what I say, but I still spend far too much time panicking and freaking out, careening wildly between frantically trying to fix everything myself and anticipating the worst.
I was doing just that yesterday. We are in the final days of preparation for a church event for which I am nominally responsible (nominally because, you know, it’s really God’s bidness) that is shaping up to be, shall we say, more intimate than we had hoped for. More intimate to a degree that is possibly not, um, self-sustaining.
The more prudent approach that would protect your perception of how awesome I am would be to tell you all about it in a few weeks, after we make it work and we’ve learned lessons and I can tie a pretty bow on it. That would be prudent. But after an exhausting self-centered day yesterday of worrying about what people will think OF ME, I awoke this morning with a clear understanding that once again, IT AIN’T ABOUT ME. (Apparently a lesson I need to have repeated frequently.)
So I’m confessing my crappy attitude now, publicly, to do absolutely everything I can to get myself out of my own way before I even know how He’s going to work it out, because this is where the rubber hits the road.
(Anybody counting cheesy cliches in this post? I hope not.)
This event isn’t about me, and it isn’t about attendance numbers. It’s about what the Lord has planned for the women who He knows are coming. It isn’t about my leadership or reputation, it’s about the message we’ll hear and the stories we’ll share. If worst comes to worst, it won’t be about me being embarrassed but it will be about me being faithful, following His leading, and doing the best I can AFTER centering myself in prayer, in His Word, and in the counsel of others. It will be about me trying to follow as much of Him as I understand with as much of myself as I can.
You know what I get out of that approach?
A clear head for decisions.
A calm mind for creative problem-solving.
An open heart, ready to perceive the best way forward.
You know what I got out of yesterday’s approach?
A self-indulgent pity party, party favors not included.
Shoulder muscles so tight you could bounce a quarter off of them, and a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
You know what my family got out of yesterday?
They deserved better.
Today is better. I am not the center of the universe. You know what? Neither are you. Thank goodness!
So simmer down with me, huh? He’s got this.
How about you, been spinning out lately? What helped? If you’re a Christian, what verse from Scripture helps you remember Who’s in charge?
Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. But I win. No competition. When the Head Dad up high was handing out fathers, I won. And I find myself this year at a loss to let my dad know how much I appreciate him, what a blessing he has been to me, to my younger brother before he died, and to all of the others in his life that he has “fathered.”
Well, that’s not entirely true, the “finding myself at a loss” part. Cause, you know, it’s me, and I’ve got stuff to say. But this year more than ever, I find myself full of emotion, appreciating my dad more now than ever before, at a time when based on the reality of human lifespans and forward motion of the calendar I have less time left with him than I’ve ever had before. Funny (NOT) how that works.
So, for my Dad, thank you.
Thank you for setting me straight and strong and true in this world. For never allowing me to seriously question if I was good enough. For making sure I valued who I had been created to be, and Who had created me. And I love you.
For the rest of you, allow me to share 10 lessons from my father. These aren’t a top ten, because he’s taught me far more than that. These are just the first ten that come to mind, in no particular order of importance. You’re welcome.
Ten Lessons From My Dad
10. “What kind of tree is that?” Life really is more interesting when you know what kind of tree that is.Since my parents were both teachers, we took a lot of long summer vacations when I was a kid, and several over Christmas breaks. Those trips were always peppered with my dad asking “What kind of tree is that?”, and with us kids and my mom rolling our eyes at him. When I was a kid, I Really. Didn’t. Care. But now I’m the one asking, and noticing, and appreciating the amazing little details of the natural world around me.
9. “Mom, come on……!!” Now my kids pull on MY elbow after church. As a child, the fellowship time over coffee and cookies was always torture for my brother and I, a frustrating attempt to get my extroverted dad to STOP TALKING ALREADY so we could go home. Now, it’s MY kids who are bugging me after church, trying to get me to leave, as I wander about my family of faith, touching base, catching up, and being love. He did it then, I try to do it now.
8. Keep loving your people, no matter how hard, no matter how inconvenient.This is a foundational part of my dad’s character, and it was deeply ingrained in my brother before he passed away, and I hope it is in me. Didn’t matter if it was my dad’s childhood friend, violent and angry from mental illness; or my dad’s extended family, tense with division and hurt feelings; or a close friend, broken by his own mistakes and misjudgements. If they allowed it, Dad stood by them, walked alongside them, spoke truth to them, and always, he loved them. (There has really been only one exception to this that I know of in my dad’s life, and it was not for lack of trying. But this tremendously broken person not only could not and did not change but was hurting innocents in the process. Walking away from that was an equally valuable lesson.)
7. Life is interesting and there is fun to be had.My dad has always been interested and engaged in the world around him, teaching courses, taking courses, learning new things and sharing that knowledge with excitement. Even now, as he has struggled with health issues and the loss of his home a year ago to a fire, he is still engaged in the world in a way that inspires me. He’s currently taking painting classes, tai chi and a brain health class! Go Dad! I want to grow up and be just like you!
6. Family isn’t just to whom you are born, it’s also to whom you are called.I have always had to share my folks, particularly my dad. It seemed like young people were and are (although my definition of young has, um broadened over the years) always coming to my dad for advice, for a listening ear, for perspective and occasionally for a strong kick in the pants. He has been a surrogate father for granddaughters, for students, for people who have sought him out for his wisdom, patience and love. Have I always enjoyed sharing him? Not really. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
5. Keep your eyes on the road!!!!That may, in light of the other points, sound deep and philosophical, but it isn’t intended that way. In the midst of his zest for life, learning and new experiences, my childhood road trips were also full of one or more family members yelling “Dad! Eyes on the road!” as he allowed the steering wheel to drift towards whatever had caught his eye alongside the road. Still a good reminder for all of us.
4. Making gestures is important. My dad loves to give gifts and make gestures. There have been many throughout the years, all of them coming with the message that Dad loved us enough to take the extra time, the extra thought to make it special. The car I thought we were negotiating payments for me to make after college that he’d saved up for to buy me outright. The special earrings he wrapped and hid in the Christmas tree for my mom and I. (I will always hide gifts in the tree, it is now family tradition.) The romantic anniversary flowers and gifts for my mom, after 50 years of marriage. Gestures are important, because people are important.
3. Don’t research it to death. Do something, even if it’s wrong, so you can get on with enjoying your life. Case in point – several years ago, my husband and I (ok, mostly me) were in the market to buy our first barbecue grill, and I was armed with reviews, product specs, prices and comparison articles. I spent so much time researching “the best”, that I never got around to buying anything. One day, my dad showed up with a perfectly fine middle-of-the-road grill he’d bought for us. Was it the “best”? No. But we sure got to grilling on it, and enjoying our yard and our deck and each other. Classic Dad, and he was right.
2. Keep loving your people, even when it’s hard.Yep, this is basically a repeat of #8. But who likes a list of 9??? Not to mention, this one is the most important. Those extended family members who stopped talking to each other? He’s never stopped talking to any of them, updating them on how the other is, gently reminding them without words of the bond of family. He’s still hoping for reconciliation. (I’m hoping it doesn’t happen at his funeral. Seriously people, let bygones be bygones. Family feuds are a tragic waste of time.) Granddaughters who struggle with mental illness, with good choices, with loving behavior? He’s there, forgiving, loving and encouraging. And a daughter who is frequently overwhelmed, and frequently not quite as THERE for her folks as she’d like to be? Always patient, always forgiving, never guilt-tripping.
Yeah, this one’s the most important, because through my dad, I’ve gotten to know my Father.
1. Spoil your kids, even when they are far too old for it. By spoil, I mean surprise them by watching their small monsters children so they can have a date night, or with the occasional cash encouragement and direction to treat themselves. Say, maybe when they are in the middle of a difficult season of tight finances, trying to be responsible adults and feeling deprived of small luxuries like tomato plants and flowers. Such small spoiling says “I love you, you will get through this rough patch, but don’t forget to enjoy life in the meantime.”
Tomatoes and flowers from my dad
Sorry dear readers, but really, I win Father’s Day.
You ever have one (or many) of those moments where you are so bonedowndeeptired, so overwhelmed, so completely buried under the big problems, the little problems, and the minutia that you just stand in your kitchen, slowly spinning around, wondering at what point it officially crosses the line between trying to catch your breath and hyperventilating with anxiety? No? Yeah, me neither.
The last couple of weeks have been a wee bit stressful, what with leading a women’s retreat, doing a couple of stand-up shows, and ushering both of my parents into and out of the hospital (one planned, one not planned, both home and better now, thank goodness!). Not to mention garden variety ongoing extended family mental health crises. Week before last, I was gone seven nights in a row, leaving my sweet husband to do dinner and bedtime for the munchkins on his own. FOR SEVEN NIGHTS IN A ROW.
By Monday of this week, I was in exhausted, directionless spinning mode, unable to perform the tiniest task because it all seemed SO COMPLICATED AND HARD AND EXHAUSTING. Putting my socks on? TOO MUCH. Clipping a hangnail? FORGET ABOUT IT.
The house looked like a bomb had gone off, and no one had even bothered to dust the debris. (Cause the hubby is amazing, but he doesn’t really, um, pick up. Anything. Minor detail, really. Cause SEVEN NIGHTS, people.)
But then guess what happened? Jesus came over. Yep. He came to my house this week, and mopped my floors. Folded my laundry. Folded more laundry. Told me He still loved me, even though I was a dreadful housekeeper, and made me dinner.
Of course, I’m not sure y’all would have recognized him without the beard and the white toga outfit, but it was definitely Jesus. Not Sunday School Jesus in the paintings, and not Angry Jesus you might read about in the paper, you know, the one who disapproves of people, and criticizes folks through thin pursed lips.
No, this was The Real Deal Jesus. The One who meets me where I am weak and vulnerable, who meets me right where I am with open arms and tells me it’s ok, I AM enough and with Him I can do whatever is in front of me.
Like I said, He didn’t look like Sunday School Jesus at all. He actually looked exactly like five beautiful women from my small group, sisters who had read through my pitiful email updates about how I was fine, just tired, just discouraged about you know…. everything. One of them called and said “We’re coming Tuesday, how’s 9:30?” Note she didn’t ask what they could do, or tell me to let me know if they could do anything.
She simply said they. Were. Coming. When I protested, she ignored me. Gently. When I said the house was too dirty for them to come clean, she ignored me. Gently. When I said I had an appointment at that time and I couldn’t be there, she said that was fine, probably for the best, I just needed to let them in and maybe give them a list of the most important things to be done to save my sanity.
She said they couldn’t fix the Big Stuff, but they could fold my laundry. They could mop the floor. They could (Lord, have mercy on my bad housekeeper self) clean the bathrooms. They could leave me a dinner to nourish my people, and leave me some clean spots in the rubble I could gaze on to nourish my soul.
Oh, how it nourished my soul. Once I got over my embarrassment, my shame at my dirty floorboards, and my vulnerability at having others do such intimate tasks for me, they got to be Jesus. (Crazy how often we can get in the way of other people being Jesus.) Hands folded, hands scrubbed, and they were His hands. Hands chopped and cooked, and they were His hands.
Those same women and a few other dear sisters have prayed me and my family through every hard thing in the last few years, every dark turn, every moment that seemed too much to bear. Their prayers have held me up when I couldn’t pray, when I couldn’t think, when I couldn’t hope.
They have brought meals, watched kids, and taken me to get a pedicure. (Sometimes that is EXACTLY what a girl needs.)
You know what I call that? Sacred work. Sacred work that loved me, filled me, and held me up.
So if you don’t have friends like that, you need to get you some. Seriously. Because since Tuesday, I’ve breathed deeper, and felt stronger, and loved a little more patiently, and my kitchen floor is clean and sometimes that will just get you to the next moment. (And if you’re still stuck on Angry Jesus, or Sunday School Jesus, or Judgmental Jesus or Distant Jesus, you really need to meet this other Guy.)
Yup. That’s Real Deal Jesus, and He came to my house this week.
Hey, long time no see. Read. Share. Whatever. Hey Blog Readers! Thanks for joining me, I know it’s been a long time, but I’m back. Again. Honestly, you may want to grab a cup of tea, this is kind of a long one, but so glad you’re here!
So, how was your day?
Mine? Not great, honestly. Empty gas tank, squirrel murder, gas station faux pas, nervous travelers, and Angry Dude, the gas station manager. That was my morning. Well, that, and the Whisper that changed it all around.
The plan was to drive some old and dear family friends back to the airport this morning after they’d had a visit with my folks. I arrived on time. (Well, really, thirty minutes earlier than necessary because my mother, who claims she didn’t, accidentally told me to be there thirty minutes earlier than necessary because she does not trust my timeliness. Apparently my teen years were very hard on her. I like to be exactly on time, she likes to be ridiculously early. A lifetime of tension ensues. Timeliness – key plot point to remember…..) Anyhow, I arrived to pick them up in plenty of time, and after some brief chitchat it was time for hugs and hitting the road, and we loaded up.
We set off, but just as I pulled onto the highway, I happened to glance down at the gas gauge, and was HORRIFIED to see it below empty, light just blinking away. I didn’t drive at all yesterday, what happened? Crud. Oh, well, we’ve got time, no problem. And so it began……..
I efficiently pulled off the highway and up the ramp, calculating in my head where the gas station might be and how long this little detour might take (timeliness on my mind, not wanting to have THAT conversation with Mom……).
You know how it’s so funny to say “Squirrel!” and feign distraction as if you are the dog from the movie Up?
Yeah, that’s not how I said it when I saw the pair of furry frolicking love-squirrels skittering directly ahead of me, a vehicle to my right, a steep hill to my left. And after the undeniable jolt we felt, I made the mistake of looking back, only to see the twitching, seizing body of the squirrel lover I had just summarily squashed. I didn’t see but can only imagine his little squirrel amour, safely across, watching his little body draw its last breath, struggling to understand how her spring romp had gone badly so quickly.
“Frankie! Frankie, what’s wrong? I wanted to have your squirrel babies……”
Still shaking, I pulled into the overpriced highway ramp gas station. Angry Dude, the manager, approached my van, and took my credit card. I was only getting $20 of gas, so when he returned in a few moments, I was not surprised.
(Back in MY DAY, $20 worth of gas would get you a full tank and a free car wash, yessiree. Today, not even a quarter of my minivan’s tank. Grumble, grumble, I walked to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways……..Sorry.)
He handed my credit card back to me with a hearty “There you go!”. I assumed we were done, as did my passengers, and I began to pull away. Unfortunately, Angry Dude had just been enthusiastically returning my credit card, and had barely begun to pump the gas. When I drove away with the nozzle still in my tank, it ripped loose and loudly clattered to the ground. I realized immediately what had happened, and stopped, the apology ready on my lips as I opened the door.
No matter, he had no interest in my apology. “What the f***?” he yelled at me, as I tried to tell him I wasn’t trying to steal the gas, but just had misunderstood him. He demanded I return to the pump, continuing to berate me the entire time for how stupid I was, how I needed to pay attention, how the pump was probably broken(it wasn’t) and I would be paying the $1000 to fix it.
I am quite sure that the very proper retired 4th grade teacher in my van has NEVER been yelled at in such a manner, nor has she had the f-bomb even hurled in her general direction before her delightful time with me this morning. Poor thing. I’m sure the 6 hours of flying she had ahead of her were relaxing in comparison.
As we finally pulled away, headed once again toward the airport, I began to angrily compose my letter to the gas station’s corporate CEO in my mind, filling it with my unbridled anger at being mistreated over a simple mistake. I gleefully pictured returning to the station, demanding Angry Dude’s name to include in my brilliantly written epistle of anger.
Believe me, I come by my capacity for ferocious righteous indignation honestly, from a long line of ladies who are and were more than capable of standing up for ourselves and others, for writing blistering letters to the editor or the complaint department that left ash and singe marks in their wake.
By the time we go to the airport, though, I had calmed down a wee bit, and from out of Nowhere into my soul came a different plan.
“Go back,” said the Whisper to my heart, “Go back, forgive him, apologize for not paying attention, and acknowledge the likely source of HIS anger.” It was clear to me as I went over the details of our encounter that others must have pulled away on purpose, stiffing him for the gas and the broken pump, and his response to me was clearly that of owner or manager, worried and responsible for the whole station.
But no, I thought, he DESERVES my wrath, he yelled at me! Plus that would be weird, he’s probably forgotten about it, I’ll just make him feel more awkward, and that would be overreacting. “It’s good to be weird,” persisted the Whisper, “especially when it makes people think about why you’re doing it. In fact, bring him a gift.”
A gift. Great. That won’t be weird at all. Sigh.
I am not historically one of those apparently blessed types who constantly hear The Voice of The Lord, who can tell you what The Lord told them to have for breakfast or what to wear for dinner at Red Robin, or even which job to take or house to buy. Usually, God and I have a more informal communication pattern, one in which I probably miss about 75% or more of what He tells me, and in which I’m sure He gently laughs and rolls His eyes at what I tell Him.
But there are times in life when an idea or thought is so clearly not of me, so clearly inspired by His Whisper, that I know to ignore it is just Not. An. Option.
So after safely depositing my travelers at the airport (only ten minutes late, thank you Lord!), I drove to a nearby Target. My mindset changed from how to verbally eviscerate Angry Dude in my letter to his boss, to what kind of snacks or treats Angry Dude might like, and if a sample size of “Goo Be Gone” would be thoughtful or would imply I thought he was dirty. (I decided to stick with manly, edible snacks, just in case.) I tucked some mini Oreos, a tiny sample of fancy coffee, some beef jerky and some little bags of almonds into a little metal bucket, and I even bought a little ribbon for the handle.
If you’re going to be weird and go overboard, it might as well color-coordinate.
I drove directly back to the gas station to deliver it, nervous all the way.
Now, as I share with you the underwhelming end to my story, let me make a couple of points:
I knew this was about me, about my heart, and that I had to forgive him and present my gift with NO expectations of his response. That wasn’t the Whisper’s goal. My heart was the one that needed change, the one I could change or allow to be changed.
Good thing, because his response when I arrived and walked up to him with my cute little tin of treats ran the gamut – suspicion, dismissal, refusal of my gift, and a rehash of how I should pay more attention and how dangerous it had been.
It wasn’t about telling Angry Dude why I was doing it, that I was realizing I had been forgiven long ago for so much more than a rude outburst, that the least I could do was live my life in this world in a way that stood out a little, that made people wonder. It was about the tenor of my response, a Word He had planted in me just a few days ago through the musings of a dear friend at Bible study.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… 1 Peter 3:15
Good thing, because I choked out something lame like “no, really, we’ve both had a crappy morning, and I just wanted to say I knew I should have paid more attention. Please, take it, I just want you to have a better day.” I was gentle and respectful, but also nervous, awkward, and probably weird.
Angry Dude finally did take my gift, and said something like, “Well, I’m sorry I yelled at you BUT you should be more careful.” Ahhhh…..the qualified apology. Good thing this wasn’t about manipulating a satisfying response………..
And I confess I did spend some time afterwards, thinking of all the things I could have said differently or better, and kicking myself for not including a note with some key Scriptures in it that would point him to the Source of my weird actions. But not for long. Because I heard another Whisper, winding in-between my self-recriminations.
“It was enough. Shhhhhh…….Accept that it was enough.”
So I am.
Still feel awful about the squirrel though, may he rest in peace.
Good thing I rarely write a Christmas letter. Don’t get me wrong, I lovegetting them, opening that envelope and reading them, so I know that makes me a bit of a hypocrite. When I do write one, it’s a surprise to everyone (especially since it may arrive at any random time of year that ISN’T Christmas). This year, though, I’m grateful for the low expectations I’ve nurtured amongst friends and family.
‘Cause this year, the Christmas letter wouldn’t be very fun. Or it would be VERY fake.
Not that I couldn’t talk about my kids, how they are growing, how they are doing in school, what extracurricular activities they enjoy. I could wax eloquently about summer family camping adventures, or my husband’s job, or my new-found conviction that I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now, even though I am about the least-qualified stay-at-home-mom EVER. IN. HISTORY.
But that letter would be bunk. Hooey. Bull-hockey, as a friend’s grandpa used to say.
The truth this year, as I stumble my way through Advent towards Christmas, is that I’m weighted down with sadness. An inescapable sadness from different tough things going on in our just-outside-nuclear family, a sadness that pours down over me like sticky, heavy syrup.
And sadness ain’t Christmas-y, people.
Truthfully, sometimes life just sucks.
Sometimes, the very best available option of a whole pile of bad options is still pretty awful.
I hadn’t put a name to what was up until I took a few minutes recently to just sit quietly and “feel my feelings”. As the sadness made itself known, and I realized how deeply the sticky heavy had sunk into me, I felt myself getting panicky.
It’s Christmas! Season of joy, happiness, and celebration! I have gifts to buy! Cookies to bake! Teacher gifts to wrap! Decorations to decorate! A tree! Carols!
Much of the fun hullabaloo of Christmas is up to me to create for my family, and we have three boys who need fun! And Christmas! and more hullabaloo! (Tiny tangent – in case you were concerned, that is the correct spelling. Hullabaloo is in my spell check. Really? Hullabaloo? OK.)
So I began to forbid the sadness, and to feel guilty for feeling it. Panic rose up in me, telling me loud lies about how the sad and I would ruin Christmas.
And then I felt a Whisper*. A Whisper that said it was OK. It was ok to be sad. I am sad for good reason. If I faked my way through Advent, convincing myself and everyone else that I had it All Together All By Myself Thank You, then why would I need Christmas?
If I can’t be honest that I’m grieving real things that are really happening, that we live in a broken world of broken people who are hurting and who hurt us, then I don’t need a Christmas from a God who would reach down to us through time and space and history to give us Hope.
And I DO need that. I do need hope.
And I need to be honest. Honest with you, Blog Readers, with my friends, with people I see. Because if I say all is well and I fake it till I can make it, there is no authenticity or vulnerability that leaves room for healing or for hope. There is only room for the lies to get louder.
So….yeah. I’m sad, and it’s Christmas. But that’s ok. ‘Cause if I am real about the hurts in my life and the empty places, I make room for Him to reach down, and room for us to reach out. Then we get to help beEmanuel, God Among Us. We get to be His strength and peace and hope for each other.
And that is Merry for sure.
In case you were wondering, BTW, I don’t think I’m depressed, not clinically. (Honest, Mom.) Been there, done that. (And I’ve already given the hubby permission to be on the lookout anyway, just in case.)
*(I’m from way too moderate a tradition to probably ever feel comfortable saying “I heard God say….” However, I do feel Whispers. And Nudges. And occasionally Kicks in the Pants.)
Have you ever had a Christmas that included some sad? How did you honor that?