Self Portrait: Cozy

cozy

February 28, 2017

There are goosebumps on my arm, and I am relishing them.

The tradewinds are blowing. The hot Hawaiian sun is resting behind the clouds. I’m snuggled up in my favorite pair of sweatpants and sipping hot coffee from a mug the size of my head.

This is me, feeling cozy. This is me, feeling like myself.

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Beach Therapy

waikikiYesterday I skipped my weekly therapy session so I could sunbathe, swim, and belly laugh with family.

We drank tropical drinks. We buried our toes in the sand. We took silly pictures. We shared smoothies and brownies and inside jokes.

We stayed out until the sun went down on Waikiki.

My heart and soul craved connection. Levity. Beauty. And that’s exactly what we found.

Sometimes you gotta dive deep, and sometimes you gotta chase the sun. Yesterday, I think I did both.

My therapist will be proud.

Future Me

lanikai

 

I was walking toward my future self on the sands of Lanikai Beach as the sun rose over the Mokulua islands (a short drive from my house and a favorite spot of mine). She was sitting on a woven blanket, wearing yoga pants and a ponytail, looking healthy and relaxed. I asked her how she got to be so happy and she laughed.

“I’m happy because I chose to come watch the sun rise. I’m still exhausted. Life is still hard. But I’m choosing what makes me happy.”

I sat with her on the blanket and watched the sun as it grew in strength and color, and I was struck by how peaceful and calm we both were. All I was focused on was the sun and the sand and my breath.

Suddenly, she laughed, jumped up, and began sifting through the sand – she had a gift for me but had forgotten where she had hidden it. Finally she unearthed something gold and shiny from  beneath a large weather-beaten log.

She grinned. “Buried treasure!”

She handed me a golden compass hanging from a chain. I asked her what it was for, and she just shrugged and smiled.

***

For the last three Decembers as a part of Stratejoy’s Holiday Council I’ve embarked on a simple guided meditative journey to meet with my future self. She is always thinner than present me,  calmer than present me, and better rested than present me. Her hair is always in a perky ponytail (she’s finally mastered the art of effortless beauty), and she always looks invitingly cozy. The first year she was curled up on the couch in our Tacoma living room wearing a chunky sweater. The second year she was cooking in our Tacoma kitchen, laughing with Jake as he clapped in his high chair. This year she was alone on the Hawaiian shores, soaking in the sunrise, strong and healthy after a year of yoga, running, breathing, and prayer.

It’s always such a grounding exercise for me, to let my mind wander and unlock hopes and fears and questions I have about where I will be the following December. The first year, I was afraid I’d never get pregnant, and it was unclear whether the woman I saw  was reading on the couch while her baby slept or if she was still waiting expectantly. The second year, I had high hopes of learning how to cook and creating a warm welcoming space for our family to grow. This year, I was afraid to ask whether her husband had returned to her, whether her kids were safely tucked in bed under the protective gaze of their father, so I focused on the only thing I know I can control: myself. The past two years I have been seeking family, coziness, and community; this year I was seeking freedom, self-renewal, a release from the anxiety that binds me.

I’m unsurprised I found her on the shores of Lanikai Beach, a beautiful hideaway I first discovered with Tim when we first visited Oahu many years ago. I’ve watched a couple sunrises in my time here and they always leave me feeling more centered, like I’m back to being no bigger and no smaller than I am meant to be.

***

As a Four on the Enneagram, the Individualist, or Romantic, I am what you might call moody, defined by ever-shifting emotions, and motivated by the need to feel heard and understood. No matter the life circumstance, I often feel as though I am missing something – like I lack some fundamental character trait that others possess that allow them to get up every day and live a drama-free life. I often struggle in the tension between wanting to be fully known and fearing that no matter how vulnerable I am with others, I will never truly be loved for who I am. So I withdraw. And I project. And in the confines of my self-protective fantasy world, I imagine a future self who has everything figured out: she has found the mysterious secret others seem to possess, that elusive ability to remain content regardless of her circumstances. She’s calm, unruffled by her ever-changing emotions. She’s free of anxiety and her constant suspicion that others are judging her for being different. She’s self-forgetting and is no longer caught up in the tragic stories from her past or the ideal relationships and accomplishments she dreams about in the future. She just exists. She is connected to her body and she is healthy, happy, whole.

***

This year, I decided my guiding word is breathe. A simple, grounding reminder to a woman whose wheels never stop turning, whose emotions never seem to settle. Faced with deployment, solo parenting, and a lifetime of unknowns, I have finally realized I have got to get a handle on this inner turmoil I have often unknowingly exacerbated. Life is hard enough without trying so hard to emotionally color all of my experiences in the attempt to turn it into an epic work of art.

Further study of the Enneagram has helped me identify all the ways in which I am my own worst enemy, the ways in which I’ve been contributing to this pervasive feeling of melancholy for most of my lifetime — but also the ways in which I can choose to (however slowly) make changes. I’ve begun to see that perhaps the future self I dream of isn’t an emotionless yogi on the beach, but instead an integrated, emotionally intelligent woman who is wise enough to know when to act on emotion, and when to let it go.

So how do I get there?

Perhaps the answer lies in her gift to me. Perhaps, I need to remind myself there is goodness and beauty in the world–whether or not it feels good and beautiful. Perhaps, if I work a little harder at attuning myself to all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable*–if I remember I already have the tools to get to where I’m going (even if they are buried deep in the sand)–I won’t worry so much about trying to feel my way to true north.

*Philipians 4:8

Splinter

jakeandmamabw

Jacob ran out the front screen door, exclaiming, “Christmas wreath!” in his two-year-old toddlerese. It was early December in Hawaii and the wreath I had picked up at the local Target was our lone Christmas decoration. With a deployed husband, two small children, and an upcoming holiday trip to my parents’ house on the mainland, I felt justified in skipping all the trimmings.

He couldn’t believe his luck – not only had I brought home a wreath, but also wrapping supplies. “CHRISTMAS BOWS!” he squealed, and immediately insisted we add one to the wreath. Why not. So I picked him up and steadied him as he added a huge, shiny red bow.

“Yay! I did it!” he grinned ear to ear and as soon as I set him back on his feet, he began to do his signature celebratory dance.

I was distracted for a few minutes, chatting with Monica, our nanny, as she updated me on the day’s events and prepared to go home. I didn’t see the moment when the splinter got lodged in the tender skin of Jacob’s foot.

At first, he didn’t want to let us see. He ran around the house, favoring the foot, insisting he was okay.

We were finally able to corral him, and when we saw the splinter’s size, we knew we needed to act quickly. Monica saw the horror on my face (how do I even do this?) and graciously offered to stay and help.

As I carried my screaming child to the well-lit bathroom, tweezers in hand, I couldn’t help but think of my thirteen-year-old self, spinning around barefoot on the hardwood floor of my parents’ kitchen, ending up with a splinter the size of a toothpick. I finished that day in the Emergency Room. The nurses rolled their eyes at me until they caught a look at how big it was and realized someone needed to cut it out.

Like mother like son. Please God, don’t let it be that bad. Not when Tim isn’t here. He’d know what to do.

Monica said she had experience removing splinters from thrashing toddlers, so we decided she’d take the tweezers and I’d hold him steady.

“NO THANK YOU, MAMA!” He sobbed the words I had taught him to say when he doesn’t want someone touching him, when he needs his space. “I hear you, baby. I know you are saying ‘No thank you,’ but Mama and Monica have to do this to make you feel better. I am so sorry.” He screamed, and it was heartbreaking, shattering, to hear my child crying from the depths of fear and distress, pleading with me to stop the pain I was allowing.

Tethered so firmly to the present moment, he was too young to understand sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. How could I convince him to trust me?

His tears brought tears to my eyes as I held him tightly, clutched to my chest, holding down his kicking legs and flailing arms.  Monica was the essence of calm. She spoke quietly, reassuring him, doing her best to efficiently remove the splinter.

When it was done, we smiled at Jacob. “You did it!” I squeezed him. “I am so proud of you.” He drew a big, shuddering breath and said, “Thank you, Mama.”

***

It’s no secret that in recent years I’ve been working through some anger with God. This all-knowing, all-loving, ever present Father has allowed so much heartache and pain in my life, the lives of my loved ones, the lives of people all over the world. I’m over it. It hurts so much and he allows it to get worse. So I kick and I scream and I buck and I cry. I’m like a toddler who can’t be consoled, who doesn’t want to listen to assurances that God knows what he’s doing and that ultimately there is a greater plan.

A few months ago, not long before Tim deployed, I was in church and the pastor asked us to imagine being in the presence of God – what would be like if we were standing face to face? I suddenly had this image of me pummeling God’s chest. Just hitting and hitting and yelling and screaming and crying. And he held me. As I hit him and kicked him and said “NO MORE!” He just held me. He didn’t chastise me. He didn’t tell me to buck up. He didn’t tell me I knew what I was signing up for when I became an Army wife. He didn’t tell me to stop being a baby. He didn’t let go of me and say “I don’t deserve this from you,” or “Have you forgotten all I’ve given you?”  He just held me with love and confidence and grace. He let me struggle, but never without assuring me with his strong arms and tender gaze.

***

How do we teach children to trust? It’s a tricky thing. Jacob and I have talked about it quite a bit since the splinter incident, and while I realize it’s going to be a while before he completely understands, I think the basic idea is starting to settle in.

I try to explain to him that I would never hurt him on purpose, that I am here to protect him, to keep him safe, to help him be healthy. That if I ever allow him pain, it is because I know it will be better on the other side. And that in the midst of the pain, he can always turn to me for comfort. Always.

Deep down I know that God is like that, too, because I’ve experienced him to be that way. In the middle of pain, and even in the middle of anger, I still know the God I am wrestling with is a God of love and patience and goodness. I have experienced his overwhelming peace at the strangest times, as nonsensical as it may seem.

He’s teaching me, in these anxious days, how to trust him again. He’s bringing me closer to the light, examining all the splinters I’ve lodged in my heart: the fear, pride, and self-pity he knows will fester if we don’t work together to dig them out. He reminds me, tenderly, that sometimes things have to be more painful before we can heal.

***

I don’t have a scar from the toothpick-sized splinter; in fact, I can’t even remember which foot endured the pain. But I do remember the path to healing was a long, embarrassing one. I showed up to middle school on crutches and had to explain why I couldn’t walk (I uh…got a huge splinter? When I was, uh…dancing around in my kitchen?). Later that week a lymph node swelled so badly I thought I was seriously ill. The doctor assured me it was just my body’s way of fighting an infection that must have begun before the splinter was removed. He gave me some antibiotics, and that was that.

It was done. But it took surgery and drugs and a week on crutches before the pain began to abate. The ER doctor’s scalpel was just the beginning.

When it comes to healing, there are no quick fixes, and that’s true of our hearts just as much as our earthly frames. It’s one thing for me to turn to God and acknowledge that I’m angry and hurt. It’s another thing entirely for me to hand over my heart and let him get to work. Just like Jacob, I’d much rather run away and self protect. And even when I do ask for help, God doesn’t magically make the splinters disappear; he removes them one by one with the precision and care of a surgeon. He takes his time, and he makes no promises that it won’t hurt.

It’s up to me then, whether I want to keep screaming and thrashing. He’s going to hold me regardless. I have to believe that as he holds me, my tears bring tears to his eyes, and with whatever progress we make, he is proud.

I am still learning how to say thank you.

What of the dancing? I’m happy to tell you I still dance around barefoot in the kitchen; to be honest I’d rather have the joy of dancing than live my life on the lookout for loose wood. As for Jacob, until we refinish the porch I try to make sure he wears shoes in the front of the house.

But I don’t catch him every time. I won’t, because he is full of life and curiosity and he’s just going to keep running and dancing. It is inevitable he will find pain along the way. But I will be there to hold him when he cries, just like my Abba holds me.