My little boy, he’s always had nightmares.
He used to wake in the night, crying out in fear.
Would someone jump in the window and grab him while he slept?
Was there a monstrous being in the closet?
As he grew older, his fears became more sophisticated, until, one day, he fretted, “What if I get cancer?”
My heart aches and I cringe upon each remembrance of my answer: “Kids rarely get cancer. That is not going to happen to you.”
I mean, really, what were the odds?
On fear-riddled nights, I would sit by my son’s bedside, encourage him to “bring his fears to God”.
And then came that dreaded day with the sudden limp and the agonizing hospital stay terminating in the horrifying diagnosis.
I was shocked and, frankly, pissed. The child who worried he would “get cancer”, who prayed he wouldn’t, got cancer.
You can bet my dialogues with my children surrounding fear and faith have changed drastically since then.
I had held to this strange notion that if a child petitioned God about something, God would answer in the affirmative, in order to build that child’s faith.
Oh, the lore and the mythology we humans concoct to comfort ourselves…
I realize now how screwed up my thinking was.
How many millions of children have cried out to God as their abusers tormented them, only to have their abusers go on abusing?
To assume God would keep my child from suffering while simultaneously ignoring other children the world ‘round made God out to be an exceedingly dysfunctional deity.
What did I think entitled me or my family or any of my children to receive some sort of extra special divine intervention?
To be fondled by pain is to be human.
God is not my family’s ticket out of suffering either.
The little boy Jesus, the young man Jesus, suffered. He grew tired and weary. Guaranteed, he stubbed his toe, lost his favorite toy.
As a parent I have seen the error in rushing to rescue my children from hardship.
My children are welcome to come to me, of course. But my constant intervention would keep them from tuning in to their own strength, ingenuity and wisdom.
We all have minds and wills, don’t we?
Like, when the weak among us are crying out at the hands of their tormentors, we sure as hell better be using our ingenuity, skills and gifts to ease their suffering, should we not?
Assuming God will hear these least ones and rush to their rescue with fire and brimstone or something, it lets us off the hook.
I mean, we don’t need to do anything if God is doing everything, right?
I asked Aydon recently what he thought of God during cancer and now, after cancer.
He said that on some days he thought God wasn’t real, and on others, he knew God was with him.
We then launched into a deep conversation about suffering and God, in which I apologized to him for the faulty ways I had informed his childhood faith.
I wondered aloud whether God perhaps isn’t about rescuing us out of hardship, because to endure hardship, after all, is to be human. And we are all only human.
I wondered whether that is why Jesus lived a life filled with pain. And perhaps that is why Paul talked about sharing in the hardships of Christ?
The wise man Buddha would say that while pain is universal, suffering occurs when we have trouble letting go of “illusion, false desire, superiority, and separateness” (Richard Rohr in The Universal Christ).
Maybe encountering the pain of cancer pissed me off because I assumed that the path to God and abundant life would be free of thorns, and I found myself angry, not because of the pain, but because I found I was indeed wrestling my illusions and false desires.
Both Christianity and Buddhism are saying that the pattern of transformation, the pattern that connects, the life that Reality offers us is not death avoided, but always death transformed. In other words, the trustworthy pattern of spiritual transformation is death and resurrection. Christians learn to submit to trials because Jesus told us that we must ‘carry the cross’ with him. Buddhists do it because the Buddha very directly said that ‘life is suffering,’ but the real goal is to choose skillful and necessary suffering over what is usually just resented and projected suffering. (Rohr, The Universal Christ)
This is a mystery I have only tentatively tasted, friends.
I wrestle daily, with God and life and pain and what it means. And I’m afraid I usually choose suffering over dying.
My answer to those childhood nightmares now? I’m sorry, child. I get it. And I love you.
That is all.
“Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.” (Mark Manson)
Ouch, I penned into the margin of the above paragraph, truth-hammered.
Oddly, the “ouch” came with a sense of pressure-releasing-relief.
Truth sets free, after all....
I don’t know if it’s being close to 40 or what, but I’m tired of approaching every situation like it’s a battle to be fought-and-won.
I’m tired of pretending my life is better, somehow, than it really is.
I’m tired of fighting things I cannot change, about myself, about my family, or my husband.
I’m so fucking tired of trying to avoid suffering. Suffering, after all, has a mind and will of its own.
It will catch up to every single person eventually, if it hasn’t already.
You know what?
Trying to avoid suffering, to escape the negativity and avoid struggle, pretending and Instagramming your life perfect?
It’s weird, but in the end, it’ll isolate you.
Because no one, no one, has a perfect life.
And if that is true, if imperfection is universal, than it is something that connects us all, isn’t it?
“Suffering of some sort seems to be the only one thing strong enough to both destabilize and reveal our arrogance, our separateness, and our lack of compassion,” writes Richard Rohr.
When my son was being treated for cancer, I bumped into so many other ordinary moms and dads helplessly bed-sitting their horrifically suffering children.
I felt as though, before cancer, I’d been living in an artificial Matrix where everyone had healthy kids.
But the reality was, there were so many folks suffering, unnoticed by society at large, and I had suddenly been given the gift of sight, Seeing Them and also, simultaneously, Not Being Alone.
And so here it is:
My children love each other, but they sure can fight.
I love homeschooling, but sometimes I feel disillusioned and discouraged and wonder if I’m screwing everyone up.
I wonder, constantly, if I’m making the right choices in life.
I worry my independent, freedom-loving nature is keeping my children from finding friendships outside of our family; I can’t seem to stick with just one thing for long enough for them to find long-term friends.
When one of my little ones struggles with anything, I blame myself.
My own mind is always on, on, on, learning, absorbing, thinking, and it wears me out.
My husband and I love each other fiercely. But opposites attract, right? We fight. We argue. We disagree.
Questioning my faith has been equally freeing and isolating. I can’t “buy into” one side or another fully, and it all leaves me wondering where I fit.
I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and stay thin. One day, I lost my appetite and gained so much weight. I then spent years hating both myself and my new body.
I am friendly yet I struggle with vulnerability. I encompass the paradox of being everyone’s friend and no one’s.
Every “perfect” Instagram picture I’ve ever posted, I swear, came before either a major fight or a minor disaster.
I am horribly disorganized. Recently, I found a recipe for pineapple salsa in a file-folder labeled “Ryan- Career”.
And yet, I must have a tidy-looking house before company comes over.
I say yes to everything because I really think I can do everything and then when it becomes very apparent that I (and my family) cannot handle all the yes’s, I hibernate, sometimes for months.
No matter how many times they shatter, I continually find new rose-colored glasses and put them on.
There, my friends, is some I’m-tired-of-giving-a-fuck-about-perfection truth-telling.
I can’t wait to share more, but this is a start.
It’s been a while, I know, since I’ve written a post.
There are many reasons for this, chief among them being that my son had yet another surgery and the Christmas season is busy.
Another reason is that I still feel as though I am trying to really dig in and find my voice for this blog: Who am I, and what am I about? Who am I writing "stuff" for?
And, what’s the point of writing on a blog in 2019 when most everyone feels far too busy to be reading articles?
The voice-for-this-blog dilemma is a microcosm of my current life.
Who am I? What is my purpose in this world? Am I living my best life?
These are questions I have been wrestling too, which have also stalled my writing.
I am one of those people who can envision myself in a variety of careers, wearing a variety of different hats.
In other words, I have a great imagination.
When I was a child, I had endless ideas.
I remember exploring a new career each day (usually one employing creativity), imagining myself becoming “great” in that area. Then, I would either become bored or disillusioned with my lack of natural talent, and move on to exploring a new idea for future-me.
I always dreamed of being great and making an impression on this world.
I also love children.
I love being a mother.
I have loved playing with my babies and watching them morph into tiny human beings.
Lately I feel as though I am straddling an imaginary line between the small beautiful world of my own little family and the great big world of possibility.
Children do not choose to come into this world. They are much smaller than us and ridiculously powerless. They grow and change every single day.
I am not sorry I have focused on my children for these years of their young childhoods. I believe I will never regret this choice.
Now that the little ones are getting bigger and more independent, I have this burning desire to figure out what I want to do with myself, though.
I want to inspire my children by working hard at something.
I want them to see that men and women can wear many different hats throughout their lifetimes.
I want them to see that choosing themselves and choosing their children are not mutually exclusive: different phases of life might require more of a focus on one or the other, but everyone in a family (as in life) is equally valuable.
I know I am rambling here…but can you empathize?
A few months ago, I decided I wanted to pursue a master’s or doctorate degree. Returning to the classroom as a teacher is not something I want to do, though I loved my years of teaching.
After exploring my options, I have tentatively landed on a master’s degree in applied anthropology.
I have always been fascinated by culture, and I also have a heart to help the immigrant and the marginalized, which applied anthropology would give me excellent tools for.
While I am literally clawing at the starting gate, other pressing matters have reared their heads: I don’t want a bunch of debt when I’m finished getting a degree, my family could currently use some extra income, and I have to take the GRE, which I won’t finish on time for next fall.
Following that thread of reasoning has led me to the decision to build a business teaching online and writing curriculum for fellow homeschool parents.
Sometimes I get excited about all of these "things" I want to do.
My husband, thankfully, believes in our equal partnership and will be there for our kids as I become busier.
Other times, doubt makes an appearance, warning and condemning me to failure.
How will I find the time to do all this?
What if I spend lots of precious time trying to build a biz, and then it all falls apart?
What if going to school “takes me away” from my ever-evolving children too much?
What if our family can’t handle all the stress this will bring?
What if my son’s cancer returns or another one of us gets sick or something costly in our house falls apart?
But I know I have to proceed, one step at a time, making the most of every moment as I go along.
What is my point in writing this post?
First, to say to other friends who are looking at big changes in their lives, "I'm right there with you".
But also just to process where I’m at and why, and to say I will absolutely keep blogging...it may be sporadic, but even if no one’s reading, at least I’m getting in some great writing practice.
And eventually, I think I will begin to iron out what my voice in life and on this blog is, as well as my purpose.
To anyone out there reading these posts, thank you for hangin’ in there with me.
If you don’t mind adventure, incongruence and wild random thoughts on life that connect in strange or surprising ways, then definitely stick around, ha!
Finally, Merry Christmas to all.
If you are feeling more heartache than joy this week, I get it. Just know that you are not alone; reach out to others, let them carry hope's torch for now, know you are deeply deeply loved.
What does hope mean for the hopeless?
For me in my cozy Americana life, it's easy to feel like “hope” is attainable.
Yet if I'm honest, hope for me is more like anticipation.
I anticipate Christmas.
I anticipate road trips, meeting career goals and the next fun outing.
A few days ago, I tuned in to an NPR special on slavery and Ghana.
Did you know this year, 2019, marks exactly 400 years since the first boat of approximately 20 enslaved people from Africa was brought to American shores?
The NPR program focused on Ghana as a center of the slave trade.
It traced the history of the slave trade, pointing to the deep-rooted guilt many Ghanaians carry because of their ancestor’s part in helping to capture their fellow Africans to sell to greedy foreigners.
During the program, one woman, an archaeologist, mentioned that at her dig, an old castle used as a holding cell for slaves, people refuse to work at night because they can hear screams and cries for help.
At another point in the program, a woman shared what it means for African Americans from Ghana to return there and see both where their ancestors came from and the horror they went through.
She shared that many Ghanaians are holding ceremonies in which they apologize for their part in the slave trade.
In the process, these African Americans are finding peace with their heritage by tracing their roots and realizing their ancestors were people of enormous strength and courage.
When the archaeologist shared how her slave-castle dig was haunted with screaming pleas for help, I choked back tears, for momentarily I too heard the hollow anguished screams piercing the stench and the darkness, screams that would never ever be answered.
My heart ached for the women who were raped repeatedly and then, instead of rescue, healing and hope, gifted a lifetime of ravaging dehumanizing slavery.
I felt an inner tormented crazy-making helplessness at the mental image of children screaming for their mothers whilst being sold and shipped far far away, robbed of identity, heritage, home, safety, belonging.
I pictured the men, beaten and humiliated, translated as cattle, their very human dignity violated, lost.
How the hell did these people have anything even remotely like hope? Even a glimmer of freedom-light was assuredly snuffed out within a week or two of capture.
Yet, somehow, miraculously, as they heard tidbits of the word preached by their persecutors, they absorbed ideas like salvation, and rescue.
The stories of Daniel and of Moses were written for them, to them, weren't they? God was on their side.
God would rescue.
They wrote songs and they sang: https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197495/.
And their spiritual songs paradoxically displayed both torment and impossible HOPE.
Isn't that theme, after all, of salvation, of deliverance, all over the pages of the word?
Save me, rescue me, deliver me, we cry out...
And I am left spinning, dizzy, wondering if I've gotten hope all wrong.
I search for it and reach for it.
Sometimes, I try to manufacture it from the empty stores of my own cavernous interior.
And when I can’t find it or feel it, I do what I can to forget about it, the thought of its un-attainability impossible to hold.
What if we are living in the upside-down of Stranger Things, seeing hope all warped and wonky, ever-reaching, stretching, grasping, clawing?
What if the very nature of hope, though, is that it is always there, regardless of our striving?
What if hope isn’t something we attain or create?
What if it isn’t something we discover or buy?
What if, instead, hope is simply "The Thing That Is".
What if, like the slaves of old who wrote the spirituals and sang them jubilantly as they plodded through endless days full of torment, we simply acknowledged hope's existence as longing's perfect parallel?
What if hope has always been about the seeing rather than the grabbing, the holding, and the hoarding?
Light a candle, friends, right now, in the darkness, right there in the middle of the cancer diagnosis, the uncertainties, the insurmountable injustices.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
I remember as a young mom being flooded with fear when my oldest child yelled, “No, mommy!”, and ran.
I wasn’t going to spank or otherwise punish him, so what was I going to do? And was I making a mistake? Was my son turning into a rebellious child?
Fast forward ten years, and now I don’t flinch when I hear, “No, I won’t!” or “Why?!”.
To be honest, I rarely hear those words.
If I do hear them, though, I know it is time to dig deeper because there is something going on in my child’s life, some unspoken stress or frustration or unmet need.
You see, I have learned through experience that children want to please parents with whom they have a good relationship. Children want to feel at peace in their worlds; they do not want to cause chaos or distress.
I have learned through experience, and also through memory.
I remember being a child.
I remember my point of view.
I remember making wrong choices, and I remember why I made those choices, and it certainly wasn’t because I was evil to the core.
I was simply a child making precocious, not-always-wise decisions. After all, isn’t childhood about experimenting, failing, retrying and learning, over and over and over again?
Parenting author and speaker Barbara Coloroso gives the following guidelines in her excellent book Kids Are Worth It:
“The Golden Rule, as it is called, can serve us well when applied to our relations with our children. If we are not sure whether what we are doing with children is right, we need only put ourselves in their place and ask if we would want it done to us— not was it done to us, but would we want it done to us? If the answer is no, then we have to ask ourselves why we would ever want to do it to our children.”
I wholeheartedly agree. I would not want to be hit, punished or verbally shamed when I make mistakes. So why would I do these things to my children?
And yet, as young parents we are fed so many messages which fill us with fear.
Incidentally, fear isn’t a great baseline from which to parent.
I remember all the confusing, fear-inducing messages I once received.
One was, “always win your battles”.
The idea behind this way of thinking was that children come into this world armed and ready to go to war with their parents; it is therefore the parents’ job to show their children who is boss.
Another was, “teach your children to fear you, because fear is the beginning of wisdom, and fear will lead them to God”.
Again, at the root of this idea was the thought that children were born far from God and desirous of sinning, and it was a parent’s job to send them running toward God.
When I was a teenager, I overheard our next door neighbor brag about spanking his daughter.
He mentioned that even at six months of age, she was rebellious. And so he began to spank her. By the time she was a few years old, he claimed, he had bred an obedient daughter.
Later, when I was a teacher (and before I had kids), I would think to myself, “I’ll never allow my children to be as disrespectful as xyz students. No matter what it takes, I will train them to behave better than that.”
I was assuming that parenting was simple; it was all about control and forcing children to behave.
I once heard child-rearing compared to nurturing a weed-free garden. Children were fertile, producing verdant greenery, but their gardens also invited weeds.
It was therefore a parent’s job to pull weeds, prune plants and drive stakes to bind and straighten the unruly plants. I shudder at the implications of this analogy.
I also inherited a tangible fear of parents who didn’t punish their children.
The implication I received was that parents who didn’t punish really didn’t care about their children.
I often overheard people say they didn’t know how they would control their children if they didn’t spank or punish.
And yet, I could not, just could not, ignore that question: How would I want to be treated?
I could not ignore my heart’s answer either: I would want to be approached with wisdom, insight and opportunities for restoration and repair, not with some wielded implement designed to fill me with pain, shame and fear.
Discipline vs. Punishment
I’ve read many parenting experts who equate spanking with discipline. I heartily disagree.
The way I see it, you can either discipline your child or you can punish your child.
And what is punishment?
Punishment is basically a system of correcting misbehavior which involves making a child pay for their wrongdoing in some way. It may be by spanking or hitting the child, but it could also be shaming a child or portraying a strong disapproval of them until they have sufficiently made up for what they did.
I believe punishment is overall a culturally acceptable way to deal with children.
I have often seen people post on social media: “I was spanked, and it did me good”.
I have seen other people lauded as good parents for publicly shaming their “rebellious” teenagers.
There is another way to teach children, however. It is called discipline.
Discipline has the smaller word “disciple” in it and implies being proactive, relationship-oriented, and restorative rather than reactive and punishment-oriented.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard many folks blame behavior problems in schools on teachers no longer being able to wield the “rod”.
I have heard it said that if more parents were spanking their children, then children “today” would behave better.
This makes me sad.
I want to tell people that treating children with dignity and respect isn’t the source of “behavior problems”.
If children are ignored by their parents, then yes, they may struggle to know how to behave “appropriately” in this world.
If they are raised permissively, then yes, they may “rebel”. It is frustrating for children never to know what the boundaries are, just as it would be frustrating for adults if their GPS systems regularly led them in the wrong direction.
It is possible, though, to raise children without shaming, punishing or inflicting pain on them. Trust me, life will deal enough of this to them. We as parents ought to be the safe haven, the shore for their beaten-down ships.
If Punishment Isn’t The Only Way To Raise Children, Why Is It Preached As "The Best Method" In So Many Circles?
Let’s go back to those confusing messages I received as a young parent.
Woven through all of them were some common themes:
These ideas had to come from somewhere, right?
Philip Greven is a history professor at Rutgers University. He wrote an excellent book entitled Spare the Child in which he examines “The religious roots of punishment and the psychological impact of physical abuse.”
I highly recommend the book, especially if you are a parent wrestling with these issues.
In Spare the Child, Greven outlines both religious and secular rationales for punishment.
I was sickened by some of his words in regard to Christians, though I personally know them to be true, “For centuries, Protestant Christians have been among the most ardent advocates of corporal punishment.”
Why is this?
It makes me angry.
Christians, who claim to be all about love and forgiveness, have for so long advocated for violence against children (and so many others seen as "inferior") as “God’s way.” Many still do.
This is not to say that if you spank or punish your children, I am angry with you.
I have no right to judge you.
But I do ask that you take some time to ponder your own thinking on this matter.
I urge you to explore history and culture and ask yourself if this is the best way to raise a child.
And please do not tell me that spanking your child is any different than hitting your child.
How would you feel if someone bent you over a bed and used a belt, a rod, a stick or even a hand to inflict pain on you?
Since this is a blog about faith questions, I would like to examine the reasons Christians advocate spanking. I will be using many ideas from Greven’s book and some thoughts from my own experience.
Deep-Rooted Cultural and Religious Beliefs Affect Our Parenting Paradigms
Punishing children is nothing new. It has been the chosen method of child-rearing and guidance for centuries: http://www.localhistories.org/corporal.html, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/corporal_punishment.
Since ancient times, corporal punishment was the norm in most cultures; it was in fact considered an equitable method to correct children; it was also a chosen method of correction for criminals and slaves.
Are you as horrified as I am that children in their innocence and incomplete understanding of life would be treated in the same way as hardened criminals (and no, I’m not saying beating criminals is a good idea either)?
There are many reasons Christians site in defense of the corporal punishment of children. Here are a few:
Then there are those themes I mentioned earlier which were woven throughout the cultural parenting messages I received. I’d like to review those briefly:
I posit that this view of children and childhood, combined with the afore-mentioned “Christian” points of view, have led to the belief that not only is corporal punishment mandated by God but it is also the best way to teach children.
The way we think matters.
If we think children are at war with us and born filled with sin, if we are terrified children will “go to hell”, then we can see why parents might take desperate measures.
Not only does the way we think matter, but our way of thinking, or paradigm, comes from somewhere.
Once we trace the roots of our thinking, we can examine it.
We can ask ourselves if there are other ways to think about children.
Next week, I will delve into more of the roots of our cultural thinking about punishment, both Christian and non-Christian.
Meanwhile, I ask you to spend some time imagining your spouse or best friend approaching you with a corrective voice and then inflicting pain on you or publicly shaming you.
What if this favorite trusted person of yours were to proceed to tell you that what she was doing was mandated by God?
What if he told you that what he was doing was because he loves you?
Would it be difficult to look this person in the eye with the same level of trust and devotion you once had? Would you be unsure whether to fight, flee or hide? Which would you pick?
I've been there, and I wouldn't be surprised if you have too.
You know, that chilling place where you're at the end of your rope, your patience thin thin ice.
Have you been there, with children? With your very own little ones?
Every time I arrive at that place, I am overwhelmed with gratitude I don't use any form of punishment with my littles. I shudder at the picture of myself angry and out of control.
In the next few weeks, I am tackling the concept of punishment.
I'm going to chat especially about what we communicate with children when we punish them, how a punishment mentality affects us as adults and how not punishing can change our attitudes and outlooks in many areas of life.
As an intro to the topic, I'm going to share some poems I have written on the subject of how children are treated.
Her name was Mercy
Her name was Mercy and she was in her daddy's arms, golden hair, silk, climbing over his shoulders.
Her name was Mercy and she was sobbing,
Not even two years old.
Her name was Mercy,
And she was lamenting.
She was loudly lamenting the loss of her position in the racecar cart,
Now elder brother's trophy.
Oh, how she loved being the lone motorist!
Her name was Mercy and she was shrill with loss,
She was squawking and trilling the forfeiture
Daddy gripped Mercy, Mercy clung to daddy
He growled in Mercy's ear,
"You're okay now. Quit yer cryin' or I'll give ya something to cry about."
Little monkey, planted her face in Daddy's neck,
Shrieks morphing to sobs,
Sobs to sniffles,
Sniffles to silence.
She's in training,
Yes, she is.
Mercy is conditional,
Love's voice carries fear.
Mercy is learning,
Yes, she is,
What her name really means.
Who weeps for the children who
wept alone in dank closets while
the rest of the house slumbers?
It's easy to assume
A child's cries are
I know it pains,
The witching-hour when,
You were tired,
So you squealed and, and,
The day Doc said,
"This won't hurt,"
And when it did,
Denied it, since,
It didn't hurt him...
The Tuesday when tiny-you
Thought money was magic:
Went shopping, saw
Row upon row
Of rainbowed sugar-candies, then
In desirous-delight and received a, a,
Fan remembrance, momma:
It is empathy's
Friends, do you remember being children?
Do you remember times when the adults around you assigned motives to your behavior that weren't even in the ballpark of True?
How do you wish you had been treated?
More on this topic next week...
I am sitting here at my desk gazing out the window at our oak trees as they drip-drop leaves, the only noticeable movement under today’s cloud-encrusted sky.
In the background, the Cranberries aptly croon: “In your head, in your he-ead, zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie.”
The day, the music, it all plays perfectly to my melancholy mood.
This has certainly been a week of insight and melodrama.
I don’t know if you are like me, but I am addicted to joy. I love feeling happy.
And when I don’t feel happy, I worry something is wrong with me; I feel as though I am losing myself.
I attribute this to being an Enneagram 7.
Enneagram 7’s have this ability to put a pretty frame around every circumstance, to “look on the bright side,” if you will.
This is actually not always healthy. I used to become frustrated with my husband when he was down, assuming I was a better person since I didn’t ever allow myself to feel despair.
It took me a long time to learn that, not only was I shutting my husband down, but I was also terrified of my own negative emotions.
In controlling my husband’s feelings, I was covering up my own anxiety.
I am learning to notice myself reframing difficult circumstances. When I do, I stop and listen to what’s really going on inside of me.
I am learning that negative, even dark, feelings don’t mean the world is collapsing.
Understanding more about myself through the lens of the Enneagram has been so good for me.
And understanding my husband’s Enneagram number, and how his number interacts with mine, has been incredibly helpful in our marriage.
So, What is the Enneagram?
The Enneagram is a personality typing system. It is unique in that it not only points out your attributes and strengths, it also shines a light on your weaknesses and areas of improvement.
It shows you what you look like when you are unhealthy and what you look like when you are healthy.
One profound insight I had when I first began learning about the Enneagram was how much each Enneagram type draws strength and wisdom from the others; in other words, we humans need each other.
The Enneagram Institute describes the equality of the types in this way:
“No type is inherently better or worse than any other. While all the personality types have unique assets and liabilities, some types are often considered to be more desirable than others in any given culture or group. Furthermore, for one reason or another, you may not be happy being a particular type. You may feel that your type is “handicapped” in some way. As you learn more about all the types, you will see that just as each has unique capacities, each has different limitations. If some types are more esteemed in Western society than others, it is because of the qualities that society rewards, not because of any superior value of those types. The ideal is to become your best self, not to imitate the assets of another type.”
I think this is one reason why all the diagrams of the Enneagram look like circles with nine points. Each point stands for one Enneagram type.
According to Don Riso and Russ Hudson in their book The Wisdom of the Enneagram, “The Enneagram is a geometric figure that maps out the nine fundamental personality types of human nature and their complex interrelationships. It is a development of modern psychology that has roots in spiritual wisdom from many different ancient traditions.”
I am fascinated by human behavior, so from the moment I heard about the Enneagram, I was hooked.
Unfortunately, I have noticed that as the Enneagram is becoming popular, some people are embracing generalizations about the numbers.
An example is my number, type 7. We are often stereotyped as shallow people who like to party and have a good time.
While this is certainly true of some type 7’s, it is not true of me. I am a quieter type 7. I actually have many traits which make me look like an Enneagram 2.
A Brief Summary of the Nine Types From The Wisdom of the Enneagram
You can find information about the Enneagram just about anywhere on the internet.
I typed out some information from the book here for you because I heard an Enneagram teacher say once that the best way to discover your type is to ask what your greatest fear is and what your greatest desire is, rather than only taking a test or relying on general descriptions.
So without further ado, here are the nine types:
How Knowing My Number Has Helped Me
Most Enneagram teachers show what each number looks like in health or in stress.
Each Enneagram number actually behaves like a specific other number when it is moving towards either health or crisis.
Again, read this article to understand this better: https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/how-the-enneagram-system-works.
Acknowledging my “7-ness” has helped me to see that it is okay not to feel happy all the time.
It has helped me realize that under my “togetherness”, I struggle with darker emotions.
For example, when I am stressed, I act like an unhealthy Enneagram 1.
This means that I will suddenly be pissed off at how messy the house is. I’ll run around like a crazy person trying to clean and be very down on myself for not being perfect or having it all together.
I will also bury myself in busyness.
I’ll buy a myriad of books and read a little bit of every one of them without finishing any.
I’ll refuse to have silence around me: music or podcasts on at all times.
I’ll feel antsy, go on shopping sprees and spend too much money.
I’ll avoid people.
I used to just give in to these sudden feelings. Now I realize that when I do that I am struggling with emotions, and I need to spend some time in quietude, meditating or writing to get in touch with what is actually bothering me.
I highly recommend discovering your Enneagram number. Here are some resources to guide you:
The Wisdom of the Enneagram
The Road Back to You
Enneagram and Coffee
What Does All This Have To Do With My Current Mood?
I am at the cusp of some life changes, and I am overcome with a myriad of emotions.
I have been feeling anxious and acting out on that anxiety. Luckily, I recognize anxious behavior for what it is, and I’m working on meditating and writing.
I have had this lie in my head for so long: I can’t be a mom and anything else. The lie tells me that if I pursue something like education or a career or business, I am rejecting my family.
This lie has kept me trapped and in pain for quite some time.
I’m very committed to homeschooling my children. I see the fruit of it in their lives. They are receiving a stress-free childhood in which they can grow at their own pace and pursue their passions.
On the flip side, my youngest is now six, and I know my kiddos won’t be at home forever. And when they move out, I want to be doing a job I love.
As I dream and begin to pursue my passions, I struggle.
I struggle with anxiety my son’s cancer will return. Because of the shock of cancer, I feel like our family is catastrophe’s playground; if cancer doesn’t strike again, I have this awful foreboding that something else horrid will happen.
So, my anxiety queries, why should I pursue anything or get excited?
I struggle with fear that pursuing my dreams will take me too far away from my little ones, and I will miss out on their childhoods.
I struggle with terror that I will pick the wrong career and live the rest of my life trapped by debt and unhappiness.
I struggle with my unfair advantage and privilege. So many women don’t have the time to pursue a new career at my age.
I know I will only be truly happy if I am making a difference in this world for the better. I see so many possibilities to do this...But, how do I choose only one??
And yet I know that if I sit around and do nothing to develop myself and grow and change, I will implode.
So it is time to move and make decisions and let the chips fall where they may.
The time has come for me to take a deep breath and step into the unknown, to use what I have been given and multiply it, to pick up those loose threads and see where they take me.
Have you ever made big changes and struggled with grieving the past or fear of the future? How did you deal with ALL THE BIG FEELINGS, especially if you’re not a fan of feeling all the feels?
To finish up, I will leave myself and you with the magical wisdom of Anne Lamott, “Bird by bird buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Sometimes, when I post a photo of my family on Instagram, I consider being brutally honest and writing about all the chaotic “things” which happened before and after the peaceful pic was snapped.
(You know, like how someone had just finished crying because of a stubbed toe or how someone subsequently got angry about something her sibling did…)
One of my daughters has been suffering anxiety of late. She was enthusiastic about people and all things new, but in the past few weeks, she cries and begs not to go to places where there will be large crowds.
My son just went through a year of cancer treatments, and while we are finally finished, there is no guarantee the cancer won’t return.
At night, he breaks down. He wonders why life is so hard, and why the doctors’ appointments and surgeries never end and, and, what if he got sick tomorrow?
And I feel as though I am always trying on new hats, looking into this career then that like a frenzied bird, never alighting to say, “Aha! This is me. Now I can simmer down.”
Perhaps these struggles are common to most people, or maybe they are unique to my family.
I do believe that suffering and hardship are an integral part of the human experience.
You know what makes everything harder than it should be?
Fear’s messages sound something like this:
You should have…
Why did you....
What’s wrong with your child?!...
I could/would never have done that…
Just trust God…
Well, look on the bright side…
At least it’s not xyz…
Have you ever heard these mantras, friends? Have they been directed at you?
Have you ever said them yourself?
It's all right if you have. I know I've certainly said my share.
On Why My Family Really Doesn’t Fit The Proverbial Mold...
Have you heard the term “neurodiverse”?
According to Google, neurodiverse means “displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior; not neurotypical.”
I love using this term because instead of labeling people whose brains are wired differently as “bad” or “disabled”, I get to use a descriptive term which implies that “normal” is a spectrum.
The neurodiverse are just more “diverse” in how their minds work.
Using “neurodiverse” also puts the onus on those of us who are more like the majority of people (neurotypical) to learn, learn, learn how the neurodiverse person thinks and moves through this world.
Having a family with members who are neurodiverse will sometimes make you stand out like an annoying sore thumb, especially in the standard places where people gather to socialize.
Church can be overwhelming for a child with sensory sensitivity: loud noises, crowds, weird smells, etc.
This makes church extremely painful for neurodiverse kids.
And most churches and church classes are structured to cater to neurotypical folks.
I’ve read stories about moms with neurodiverse children being told their littles cannot attend Sunday School or being asked to leave a church service because their kiddos were being too noisy or “disruptive”.
Then there are social groups, parties and functions.
Parties are so so fun for most children, yet for some children, they are torturous.
How This All Plays Out For Us In Everyday Situations
For us parents of the neurodiverse, we are always “on call”.
Our kids will appear to be clingy and whiny while your kids are skipping around and having fun.
We may not really get to visit with you much, though we are longing to.
We experience every stare and every question at 100% magnification.
It is as though folks are standing on boulders screaming through megaphones into our ears.
Yes, we know we seem strange.
Yes, we know our kids aren’t enjoying themselves like most of the other children are.
Yes, yes, yes, we wish our kids were having fun like yours. Of course we do.
No, we are not more overprotective than the average parent.
If our littles wanted to run and play and galavant, we would be thrilled.
Yet, It’s All Really A Gift...
Do you have an idiosyncrasy or quirk? Do you have any pet peeves no one really gets?
Do you hide these things so as to “fit in”?
Hiding is a luxury the neurodiverse do not have. Their struggles are always on display.
In spite of the constant hand-wringing and book-reading involved in the parenting of the neurodiverse, I am so incredibly grateful for my children.
They are truly a gift.
They are a gift because they have handed me empathy and compassion on a platter.
When I see another mother whose child is "unreasonably" clingy or who is having to rush home earlier than all the other moms, my heart goes out to her. I know how she feels.
When I read why many parents of neurodiverse children do not attend church, I get it.
My babes are a gift because they have taught me that true freedom is not found in “fitting in”; it is found in loving what I have been given.
They have taught me to look inward when I feel pangs of envy upon seeing families easily enjoying themselves in this world.
What does my sudden jealousy reveal about me?
My children have taught me that it is okay to dance to the proverbial beat of a different drum.
My decision-making thought-process often goes something like this:
“Everyone says we should be like xyz; but so what? We’re not everyone”.
My diverse family has given me the gift of stopping and resting when I have wanted to go, go, go.
The Myth Of The Lonely Sufferer
As you know, I’ve been reading The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr. I feel as though I am having an ongoing dialogue with everything in the book.
In one chapter, Rohr points out the universality of grief: all grief is really one grief.
Like, you know when you are sad about something and it builds up to a breaking point? And then, while you are crying, you think of more and more and more sad shit and the floodgates open? And soon you are weeping about the problems of the whole wide world?
I used to think it was wrong to weep that way.
Like, come on lady, you’re being too dramatic.
But now I see that weeping for the weight of the world is my participation in universal suffering.
And this connects me with Christ.
Grief and pain and heartache, loneliness and isolation and being misunderstood are opportunities to experience Christ's suffering, which in turn is an opportunity to connect with all of humanity’s suffering throughout all of history.
I still say, fuck cancer and fuck mental illness. All this needless suffering is devastating and shitty, and we should not paint it pretty.
There’s a reason God wept at the tomb of her friend.
So what is my point?
My point is that wherever you park while reading this post, however you are currently feeling, I hope you know that when you most taste your brokenness, you are indeed less alone than you've ever been.
You are in the sweaty grimy company of the hurting multitudes. You are in the blood gushing, nail-pierced, rejected and scorned company of the Suffering Christ.
“A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us— much more than just for us [...].” (The Universal Christ, 162)
And so, dear one,
Weep all you need.
Do you hear the multitudes weeping with you?
Then,on the next clear star-studded night, drive out into some open field .
Turn off your car so's you can step, step, pitter-patter, naked-feet-to-spongy-soil, kiss, kiss.
Listen to the chirruping crickets and the breeze that's tousling that tall grass, snap, crackle, pop.
Let the glorious night air gulp up your exhale: out, out, out.
Do you hear it?
That rhythm, that beat, that cacaphonous melody of your one and only, uniquely-you drum?
Go ahead, crank up that beautiful music, dear, dance all crazy-like.
And when you pause to choke up some air, open your eyes.
You might glimpse me there, cavorting, snorting holy-night-air, caught up in my own hullabaloo, me being me...
Can you see it? The truth?
You're always, always, free to be you.
International news headlines always come to me in full color and with surround sound.
I attribute this to the fact that I grew up in another country.
I hear on the news about Syria, and I see a child, half-clothed, running, lost and scared, mouth wide with fear, eyes wild, confused, choking down snot, dripping tears, tripping ‘cross potholes dotting dusty streets, and wondering.
Where’s mommy? Where is she? Where did she go?
The child’s fear of abandonment having indeed become his reality.
I see mother’s rocking dead children, cradling them desperately, wrestling time itself.
If only. If only. I would have protected you with my very body, my own life, little one. If only.
I see spouses helplessly seething, beholding in agonized helplessness their beloved’s beautiful bodies being pillaged, plundered.
I am yours and you are mine. I, me, you, us. It isn’t enough. It’s. Not. Enough!!!!
I see family’s leaving homes which once felt cozy and safe in great haste, wondering whether they will ever again find such an abode, knowing that if, in the off chance they do, their deepest selves have been uprooted so as to never rest, really rest, again.
Home is gone. Rest is gone. I am displaced, alone.
I tell my children bits and pieces. They must know. They must know this world is not safe, easy or just for so many. They must know the privilege they have been born into. They must be inspired and moved and indeed unsettled.
To whom much is given, children.
And the questions come. What can we do?
Indeed, friends, what can we do?
We can refuse to live in fear. We can step outside of our pet politics and our favored political parties and SEE the real people behind every press release. We can let our hearts break.
We can refuse to remain ignorant. Research, friends. Read articles from a variety of news outlets. Do not let your hearts harden. Keep an open mind.
We can enlighten those around us.
We can volunteer and give.
I won’t even pretend I’m an expert on world events or humanitarian crises. I won’t pretend I’ve done a great job of giving or volunteering.
But I refuse to let my own faults and shortcomings keep me from writing my heart. Every little bit of good we do is worth it.
Love matters. Compassion matters.
I’ve been convicted of late as a light has been shone on my desire, indeed lust for, safety, security and peace.
Have a listen to these podcasts:
Looking Through A Lens of Compassion
It’s deeply ingrained within my crusty American heart to store up wealth for my future, for those “just in case” moments.
Not to mention that I just love a good shopping trip; the feeling of carrying armfuls of bountiful plenty home is intoxicating and as good as any drug.
But, am I called to love money and security? Is my spirituality to be measured in how much I have, in how good a steward I’ve been whilst doling out my monthly 10%?
Long have I pondered the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30), because upon first reading it, it made no sense.
I could not understand why the servant who had been given one talent and then buried it (in order to save it for his Master) would be so harshly condemned.
Hadn’t he been careful with the money he was given? At least he did not go out and squander it, right?
And why were the servants who took risks with the money they’d been given praised?
Why does the parable describe the Master in this way: “[...] a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed [...]”, considering the Master seems to be a depiction of Jesus?
The parable indicates that it was right to take risks with the money because of the qualities of the Master (mentioned above).
I’m sure there are a myriad of deep meanings to this parable, and that I am only skimming the surface, but here’s what occurs to me as I ponder it:
I’m pretty sure this means I need to step out of the way and let my heart soften. I need to let go of the fear which encourages me to hoard safety and security, abundance and fun.
I can do this because I am part of a kingdom that doesn’t value wealth or power or hoarding. It values growth and giving, risk-taking and fearlessness.
I confess that even writing these words terrifies me. I know them to be true. I know it, deep in my bones. But I’m afraid.
If I let my heart soften, what will God ask of me?
In the stillness and dust which settles in the wake of that messy question, there hangs this portrait of abundance, multiplication.
And I’m simply sure I’m supposed to show up every day, whatever that means, with a soft and tender heart, unafraid.
In the wise words of Anne Lamott, “If you give freely, there will always be more.”
Have you ever made an agreement with someone who has then broken that agreement without so much as a word?
I’ve certainly been the person who forgot about an agreement or cancelled at the last minute.
Let’s take this question a step further.
What if you confronted the agreement-breaker and she acted like she had no idea what you were talking about?
What if she went on to treat you like something was wrong with you for imagining you had ever made an agreement with her?
When incidents like this happen, it puts you in a tight spot.
First of all, it places all the blame for the broken agreement on you.
Secondly, it moves you from an offensive position to a defensive one.
And thirdly, it leaves you in a lose-lose battle of “my word against hers”.
I have had companies I bought products from treat me this way. It is very difficult to get a refund when this happens.
A good term to describe the above situation is “gaslighting”. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation which causes you to question your own sanity.
Watching someone you love being “gaslighted” is infuriating. Especially when the person doing the manipulation is a close family member.
Often, manipulators who gaslight go out of their way to turn the people closest to you against you.
They subtly discredit you.
They may tell your friends, “Did you know Carissa lied to me yesterday??” or they may ask them, “Have you ever wondered if everything Carissa says is true?”
If a person like this is in your life, chances are that when your friends and family members are around, they will take the opportunity to make sarcastic comments or jokes aimed to mock you.
(Check out this enlightening article to help you spot more signs of manipulation: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201510/14-signs-psychological-and-emotional-manipulation.)
Then, if you act hurt or defensive, they will criticize you for being too sensitive.
To make matters worse, a gaslighter will engage in a vicious cycle with you in which they treat you kindly when you hit your lowest point. They may even show you “grace” when you mess up.
Once you run back into their embrace, however, they will begin the process of subtly and not-so-subtly discrediting you, criticizing you, and lying to you all over again.
Pretty soon, the real you will disappear, replaced with someone who is confused and out-of-sorts, someone who needs the gaslighter to tell her what to do, someone other than Real-you.
I’m willing to bet that at some point in your life you’ve come across this sort of toxic manipulation.
The only solution I’ve found?
Refuse to let this person into your life.
If the person is already in your life, draw some very big boundaries around yourself:
Here are some excellent tips in addition to the thoughts I shared above: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201406/how-spot-and-stop-manipulators.
Unfortunately, I believe many “Christian” churches use manipulation as a tactic to control people.
When our oldest child was preschool age, he came to us after Sunday School claiming that another kid in his class had put his hands around his neck.
Horrified, we asked our son whether or not he had told the teacher what happened.
He said he did, but the teacher didn’t do anything about it.
We decided it was time to speak with the pastor of the church. Ironically, his wife was the Sunday School teacher.
In our meeting, we simply asked the pastor that the teachers be made aware of what had transpired so it would not happen again.
We said we did not want to reveal the teacher’s name, afraid the pastor would think we were criticizing his wife.
The pastor, however, pressed us for the teacher’s name, and we finally revealed who it was.
He then mentioned he would look into the matter.
He also cautioned us not to be “too overprotective” of our son.
Do you hear the subtle shaming message here?
“Don’t be too overprotective”...
Already, we were not to be taken seriously, since we were “protective parents”.
The following Sunday, the pastor informed us that his wife had no memory of the incident or of our son bringing it up during class.
Now we were in the awkward position of wondering who to believe: our son, or his teacher.
Foolishly and naively, we ignored the red flags, and, bearing some shame and doubt upon our shoulders, dropped the matter.
A few Sundays later, my husband happened to be looking out a church window when all the Sunday school students and teachers went outside to play games. To his utter astonishment, a group of children formed a circle around our little boy and began to push him back and forth, in full view of the church.
That did it.
We decided to leave the church.
My husband had some obligations he had to fulfill there, but I never brought my children back.
Years later, I shared what had happened with my therapist. I still blamed myself for the whole incident, and wondered if I was indeed too overprotective.
The therapist helped me to see that what had really been going on was spiritual manipulation.
While this is one way a church may manipulate its members, by not believing them when they have critiques or complaints, there are multiple other ways churches manipulate.
If you are never allowed to ask questions, this is a red flag.
If the leader or leaders of the church seem to have all the answers and are never wrong, that is also a red flag.
If you are compared to others, whether individually or corporately, say, for how much money you give, that is a red flag.
Here is a useful article outlining the warning signs that a church is engaged in spiritual manipulation: https://relevantmagazine.com/god/spiritual-manipulation-how-spot-it-and-what-do-about-it/.
It is never bad to trust your instincts, my friend. You and your family do not deserve to be ignored or put down.
Everyone agrees that the theater of politics often involves manipulation.
I’m not going to get into critiquing one political party over another, as I think both parties engage in varying levels of manipulation.
I do believe manipulation is subtle and occurs slowly over time. For this reason, being aware of the warning signs can go a long way towards keeping you from being sucked under someone’s control.
Here is an excellent resource to use as a litmus test: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201610/9-classic-traits-manipulative-people.
Some of the questions I ask in regard to politics are:
There are so many more excellent questions we could ask. It’s worth googling for resources on how to spot manipulators/manipulation.
If you recognize the qualities of a manipulator in someone you either know or are in a relationship with, it’s worth seeking therapy so you can learn how to spot the deception and set up boundaries.
About two years ago, I found myself looking for therapists in my area.
The therapy I went through was enlightening and healing.
I learned to set boundaries and not feel guilty for doing so.
I learned to love and value myself.
I learned coping strategies to deal with certain trauma which lingered inside of me.
I have grown so much through the process of being hurt and then healing.
It gives me a glimpse of the beauty in that ol' death-to-life paradox.
I feel her.
Her whispers tickle my ear,
Breath, holy zephyr,
“There is no hope without despair, honey
No risen without dead
Darling, love never says
When I laid this banquet
I invited the least and the lost,
The broken and confused
Your Belief-castle’s brittle,
Without bending it will break
Come closer, child,
Forage, find out,
A secret revealed holds no allure,
Can there be passion without desire?
Cry out, darling,
There is no succor without want.
True joy is paired with mourning
Hunt for me, honey,
There’s no seeking
What’s been found
For only she who loses her life
Will find it.”
Hey, you. I'm glad you dropped by...
I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.