Emotions Lie

This post is probably a bit off color. Taboo. Things we don’t talk about in mixed company. Sorry. Since this blog is about my life, I get to pick what I write about. 

What has been on my mind this week is how difficult it is to be a woman who is having monthly cycles. For me, once a month, I have an entire week where suddenly my emotions and feelings lie to me. They tell me that I am angry, depressed. There is no hope. Everything is bad. I am a screw up, a failure. I feel tired and run down. Life feels very bleak. And without fail, it usually takes me at least three days before I make the connection…Oh, right. I’m not REALLY depressed and angry. It’s just that time of the month. But the domino effect has already begun. I try to make myself feel better by eating something sweet or some other special treat. I have no energy so maybe I miss a day of exercise. And then I feel worse. I’m so undisciplined. Why can’t I stick to my diet? I’m so lazy. I couldn’t even get out for a walk. 

And then I figure out what’s going on. And it takes me several days to unravel the mess and get myself back on firm ground. And then I move on with life, forget what happened, only to be hit again a month later. 

And reading this, I think, well, duh why haven’t you been more proactive to chart these things and just plan ahead for them? All I can say is, I’m not the most organized person, and life is really busy. I chronically don’t pay attention and then get hit every month. 

And sometimes, the “everything should be fair and equal” part of me rears up a bit in anger. Why is it just women who have to deal with this? And why were we made this way? It seems to be a rather broken system. 

I think this is one of those topics in which I’m going to have to wait till I get to heaven to get the answers.

In the meantime, all I can do is dwell on what I have learned from this aspect of womanhood. 

Here is what I have learned. Emotions and feelings are not reliable, trustworthy or honest indicators of how my life is going. And I constantly have to remind myself of this. One of the things I say to my kids, A LOT, is “Let’s speak some truth over this.” When they tell me about a nightmare that has scared them. A fear that is crippling them. They give me a list of everything that is wrong with life…Ok. Let’s speak some truth over this. Let’s sort out reality from fiction. Let’s count our blessings so we can see that we are actually living in a place of blessing, not curses. Let’s dwell on what God says about us, not what the world says about us. Let’s attack these bad feelings with truth. 

Something we hear a lot in our culture is “Just Follow Your Heart!” And by heart we generally mean what you are feeling. Which seems really weird when feelings are so random and unstable. They are connected to what time of the month it is. Whether we had a lot of inconveniences thrown our way. Whether someone else decided to behave badly toward us. Feelings and emotions are great tools, but only if you don’t take them too seriously. Yeah, I’m feeling really yucky. But that doesn’t mean life is really yucky. It could mean I’m fighting off a cold, my hormones are shifting, my lunch didn’t agree with me. We just have to keep in mind that every surge of emotion needs to be paired up with some truth speaking. 

Will You Mourn With Me?

Emotions. Emotions are a difficult thing. In fact, sometimes they are an overwhelming and scary thing. When we are shaking with rage, shivering with fear, gasping with sorrow, all we want is to be calm. We want the storm to be over. We want to be safely on the other side. In those moments of intensity, emotions are the enemy that we must squash as quickly as possible. 

 

We say words like, it’s ok, it’s going to be alright, just calm down now, settle down… As the person who seeks to comfort, we seem to be allies with the notion that emotions are bad and must be disposed of as soon as possible. 

 

And so, from a young age, we start pushing those emotions down. No, I need to stop crying. I need to calm down. I need to get over this. I need to distract myself. Just don’t think about it. I’ll be over this soon. 

 

And right now, as I try to help one of the kids in my care process some real genuine pain and loss and confusion and anger, I find myself assuring him that these emotions are ok. It’s ok to be angry. You have permission to feel all these things. And I wonder, how do I teach myself this as well? How do I model this behavior when I still haven’t figured it out? 

 

I run from intense emotions. Flee. Stuff it down. Take deep breaths, blow it away. How do I undo all these habits and patterns that have shaped my life? How do I just sit and mourn? How do I allow myself to feel the anger that I have every right to? How do I just permit the sadness to wash over me? 

 

Emotions are scary. 

 

I wonder why? 

 

I think about this child in my care and wonder, what is best for him? His emotions are so overwhelming that he is struggling to function. And if I’m being completely honest, I would just like his emotions to go away. They are really messy. They are really hard to deal with. They make life complicated. 

 

In the old days, when people died, people would gather, have a time of public mourning, weeping, remembering. They would change their clothes to reflect their grief. 

 

If only we had such rituals in place to deal with other forms of grief. 

 

When I miscarried the first time, I think I would have taken great comfort to put on black clothing for a period of time. To cover my face with a black veil. To have a monument that I could visit and cover with flowers. 

 

We need these visual rituals. No. Some of the things we are mourning and grieving aren’t physical deaths. Maybe it’s a separation, maybe it is a dissolving of something that was good. Maybe it’s simply loss of innocence. 

 

I think it  would help to put on mourning clothes, pour ashes over my head, tear my clothing, hire a group of professional mourners. It would signal to the world, I am in pain. I need time to deal with this. I’m not ok. I need you to be sad with me. I need you to join me in this pain instead of trying to pull me out of it. I need you to be angry with me over an injustice served, over a wounding that was given. 

 

What we need is to be able to sit and stay with our hardest emotions, and have people come and join us. 

 

And all of this reflection tells me what I must do to help this child. I must be angry with him. I must be sad with him. I must join him. And maybe, maybe we will heal together. 

 

Anger is Part of the Process

I am really struggling with anger right now. It just seems to be bubbling under the surface, ready to jump out at any minute. I’ve had a lifetime of learning self-control, so I’m not breaking things or saying really mean things, or screaming (too much). But, I hear it in my tone of voice. The impatience, the quick snap backs at my kids. The complete lack of calm. 

 

When I get angry, for some reason or other, I always decide it’s time to clean. I just suddenly can’t handle any more mess or chaos. Then I start passing out jobs left and right and Woe to the child who complains. 

 

Yesterday we cleaned the house and the kids cleaned their bedrooms. After it was all clean, the little kids wanted to have tea in the kitchen. I stood there and watched as they spilled sugar on the table, dropped trash on the floor, spilled ice cubes on the floor from the ice machine. Spilled tea on themselves. 

 

My clean kitchen was no longer clean. I felt like I was about to burst a blood vessel. I retreated to my room. Unfortunately, the children followed me. I explained in a calm voice that I was very angry and that I had come into my room to calm down and I needed them to leave right now. My foster child decided that this was a good time to start a fight with me. Not very good timing. I ended up just leaving the house and taking a power walk around the neighborhood. 

 

And then later, when I had finally calmed down, foster child and I had a long conversation about respecting people’s space when they are angry. Understanding that anger is a normal emotion, it’s ok for people to be angry, but it’s not ok for them to hurt others when they are angry. And that everyone has to develop strategies for how they are going to handle their anger. And we need to respect those strategies. If someone asks to be alone, you let them be alone. 

 

Today, I still find myself on edge. I had the kids clean some more, but I brought a bag of gummy bears. I would give a child two gummy bears and an assignment. Eat the gummy bears and clean. Then when they were done, they would come back for the next two gummy bears and the next assignment. We managed to tidy up all the bookshelves, clean out the hall closet, put away all the winter gear into the hall closet, sort out all of our shoes, sort out all the plastic grocery bags and shopping bags and tupperware in the kitchen, clean out from under the stairs, and sweep the hall and living room. 

 

Then I ran out of gummy bears. 

 

 But then the five year old washed his hands and decided it would be fun to dry his hands on our glass back door. I again almost lost it, but instead handed him glass cleaner and paper towels and told him to get to work cleaning the door. All the little kids thought that looked fun, so they ended up cleaning the back door, then all the other glass doors, and one child even went out and cleaned windows on my van. And while they were all being industrious, I got my room cleaned up. 

 

And I’m sitting in my chair, taking a breather and I am surprised at how angry I am still feeling. 

 

Our school board has decided to start supplying work for the kids to do at home, starting next week. It isn’t mandatory. It’s supposed to be a supplemental, enrichment kind of thing to help your kids not get behind. Great. But all these resources are online. I have one computer for seven kids. Yes, I can pick up paper packets, but then we’re supposed to watch instructional videos on youtube. I have six grades that would have to be sharing our one tv to watch the youtube videos. It’s just not feasible to do this the way the school is suggesting. I will have to be super-flexible and figure out some way to make this work for our family. And I’m kind of angry about it. I don’t want to be a school teacher. 

 

We have been in our house since March 9th. I took the kids to the playground once that first week, but realized there were too many people there. We didn’t go back. The next week I tried to take the kids to a wilderness kind of place we have in town, again there were way too many people there. We didn’t go back. We have taken walks around our neighborhood and walked around a nearby park a couple times, staying away from the playground. And we have been home. I have gone grocery shopping and taken kids to the emergency room twice for genuine medical emergencies. And then one doctor’s visit this week. We go and pick up the free meals that are being passed out at our school and my kids all wave enthusiastically at the teachers and staff that are standing in front of the school. And that’s it. Those are our social interactions. 

 

I miss people. I miss church. I miss hugs from friends. I miss teaching piano lessons. I miss all the self-care rituals I have set up so that I can do this humongous job of having a large family. 

 

And I’m angry that I’m having to completely re-work my life. Come up with completely new rituals. New survival methods. New routines. New schedules. New parenting methods. 

 

And then I have to remember what I told my foster child yesterday. Anger is normal. It’s ok to be angry. It’s something we have to process. If we don’t process it, and instead try to ignore it or stuff it down, it’s just going to pop up again later. We just need to come up with healthy ways of processing it. Make sure that we aren’t hurting others or ourselves with our anger. Find ways to help ourselves calm down. 

 

Me, I need alone space. I need to read scripture and spend time praying. I need music. I need my home to be clean. And mostly, I just need time. Eventually, I hope to be in a place of acceptance. This is the new normal. Accept it, embrace it and start looking at ways to make life good where we are at. Here at home. But, I’m not quite there yet. I’m still simmering a little. And that’s ok. 

Masterpieces in Progress

I take my daughter to Nashville tomorrow morning to send her off to Alaska for a year. I have been thinking about what to write today, but have drawn a blank. As I was driving in the car, I realized why I can’t think of anything to write. All weekend and this week I have been systematically shutting myself down emotionally. My oldest kids are leaving the nest and this is a good thing for them. It’s the natural next step in our parenting journey. And it’s painful and I hate pain and I hate goodbyes, so I seal myself off. I’m a missionary kid. I’ve been saying goodbye to people on a regular basis since I was two years old. After a while, you just naturally learn how to distance yourself so that it won’t be as painful. 

 

We’ve been living in the same city for almost 16 years now. I haven’t had to say nearly as many goodbyes. Mostly it’s just saying goodbye to friends of mine who have moved on to other places. You would think that I would have softened my approach over the years. Allowed myself to feel some of the emotions. Let myself cry. You would think. 

 

But, even though I have not reached the place of emotional honesty, where I allow myself to feel the emotion, experience it, and then move on, healthier because of the experience…even though I haven’t reached that place yet, I am at least at a place where I can recognize what I’m doing. Oh look, I am shutting down because I’m about to say goodbye to my daughter. It’s progress. 

 

In the meantime, I will drive my daughter to the airport three hours away while it’s still dark outside. I’ll walk her to the security gate. I’ll hug her as long as I can, pray over her, bless her, and send her on her way. And I’ll shed a couple tears which I’ll quickly sniff away, go get back in my car and make the long drive back home. 

 

Then a couple months from now, I’ll suddenly think about her and burst into uncontrollable sobbing and then have a day-long depression while I finally start processing all the emotions. And then I’ll feel better. 

 

This is the way I deal with emotions. I’m going to make a guess that I’m really not the only one who does this. So, for all you other emotionally awkward people, it’s ok. Fortunately there is no set mold on how to to do life. We all have our stories that have shaped who we are and how we interact with the world around us. It’s been my experience that as I have explored these stories and spent some concentrated time analyzing my behavior, it’s helped me to change some of my negative patterns, some right away, others very slowly. 

 

We are all masterpieces in progress. 

 

 

We All Need Some Grace

This evening I feel very mixed up. On one hand we have a very stressful situation we are working through that always seems to be hovering in the background. Then I have a spot of pure joy bursting through me as my oldest child chose to get baptized yesterday. Then I have issues with my health I’m low-grade worrying about. My children cause a big mixture of love, amusement, annoyance, humour, anger, and really, any other emotion you can think of, sometimes all at the same time. I am feeling very thankful for the good things I have, and then I start complaining cause some things aren’t the way I like them. At a drop of the hat I could get angry about social issues. And at the same moment I could start crying because I just heard a story about someone being amazingly kind. It’s no wonder that when people say, “How are you?”, you just automatically say, “I’m fine thank you!” What else can you say? It gets a bit complicated if you say, “I am currently feeling every emotion on the spectrum.” 

 

Being human is so complicated. I imagine a big churning pot of stew with a million ingredients and as you stir a big spoon in it, different ingredients float to the surface. How are you doing? Well, right now I’ve got some happiness, joy, and enthusiasm going on. But if you stir things up a bit, I’m sure that annoyance, anger and selfishness can make an appearance.

 

Usually, when I’m writing, I have one set of emotions that is taking preference. They stir up thoughts and memories and I end up having a cohesive idea to talk about. Then there are days like today were my thoughts are going in a million directions, my emotions are having a wrestling match, trying their hardest to be the one on top that gets noticed. My memories are popping up from all kinds of directions, and I just kind of feel like banging my head against a wall to make it all go away. 

 

I’ve been reading a book about God’s grace. I guess that my current mental state is a good indicator of how much grace I need. I’m a mess. And I’m pretty sure I am not alone in the need for grace. I can go on all day about how amazing God’s grace for me and you is. As Christians we spend a lot of time focusing on how God extends grace to us. And that is a very good thing to spend time on. I think though,  I don’t spend as much time thinking about how to extend grace to others. 

 

I am very good at thinking about how downtrodden I am, how deserving of favor I am, how in need of a break I am. I don’t think I spend as much time thinking those things about others. But, when I do, life is so much better. When my husband comes in at night, and I think, I have been here all day with the kids! It’s time for him to step up and help me! I find that this attitude does not make for a nice evening with my husband. But, if I step back and think, hmm.. My husband has been working all day in the hot sun. He must be really tired. I’m tired too, but maybe if I give him a chance to take a shower and eat and give him a big cold drink, he’ll be in a better mood for our evening of parenting we have ahead of us. 

 

I find that this is the same with people who get on my nerves. If I put my entire focus on how they irritate me, kind of keeping a score card of all the things they do wrong, then, yep, I’m going to stay in a constant state of irritation towards this person. But, if I make the effort to walk in their shoes, see what struggles they are facing, try to get some insight into why they act the way they do…It’s a lot easier to extend grace towards them.

 

It’s interesting that the more we get to know someone, the easier it is to extend grace towards them. It’s like knowledge and insight naturally produce love and grace. Maybe that’s why God can love us completely and extend such amazing grace to us, because he knows us completely. 

 

In the end, we are all complex creatures who only show the world a tiny fraction of what we are thinking and feeling. May I remember daily to practice extending grace to those around me.

 

 

Sunrises, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and My New Piano

Sunrises. I love sunrises. For many years I have been too tired to get up and enjoy them. Nowadays, though,  I am driving my kids to school early every morning and during the winter I have been enjoying a lot of sunrises. My kids’ school is only about two miles away. It takes us maybe five minutes to get there. Part of the drive to the school involves going up a big hill and then we crest at the top and suddenly we have a big view of mountains and mist and red orange light peeking through the clouds. It’s amazing. Every morning I can’t stop myself from exclaiming to the kids, “Everybody look at the sunrise! It’s amazing!” And the kids have learned to oooh and aaahh right along with me. Thanking God for the sunrise is part of our morning prayers. I have always imagined God standing at an easel, throwing paint on left and right, painting the sunrise every day. God the Creator. The Creative One.

The other day as I was driving along, enjoying the beautiful colors, I thought about how we are created in the image of God. I’ve always wondered about that, what it means exactly. I thought about God painting the sky every morning, making art and it occurred to me that when we create things, make our own art, we are, in a small sense, being like God. We were made to create because we were made in the Creator’s image.

I thought about music. I love music, but I have struggled with music over the years. As a teenager I used music as an emotional outlet. A way to vent, a way to express emotions, a safe place to feel emotions. As life got more and more complicated, harder, I found myself shying away from music. As I look back, I can see where I struggled to keep depression away, and one of my solutions to not dealing with depression or anger or a bunch of other unresolved feelings, was to shy away from feeling any emotion. Just stay neutral. Calm.

The only problem with this approach is that when you don’t allow yourself to feel bad emotions, the really good emotions go away as well. I don’t think you can fully live in joy if you don’t also allow yourself to mourn. You can’t have peace if you don’t go through the conflict first. You can’t have happiness if you don’t deal with the anger. I think that as I shut myself down emotionally, I also shut down music. I just couldn’t do it. Music was too closely tied to emotions. I could sometimes sit down and play through some Bach or Mozart in an attempt to make my brain feel orderly, but I wasn’t feeling it. And so I mostly avoided it.

Lately, I have been looking at getting back into music. My husband, excited that I was showing an interest again, went out and got me an old 1935 Wurlitzer Baby Grand, for a really good price off Craig’s List. I went with him and helped him move it. It’s a perfect fit for our house.  It’s got some history, apparently it’s original owner was a violinist with the Knoxville Symphony and she died after a long happy life at the age of 103. It’s also a bit dinged up and scratched here and there which means we won’t have to freak out if our kids add another scratch or ding. I rearranged our entire living room so that I now have a Music Room at one end. I have started practicing a bit every day. Scales, warmups, old songs I played in high school. Just easing myself back into it. I have really been enjoying myself, but I’ve wondered about the emotional side of it. Can I relax enough to let myself play with feeling? Can I let myself feel the sadness in the song? Can I let myself feel again? I’ve been a bit worried that maybe I can’t any more. Maybe that part of me is gone. 

Today I was working on getting my piano music moved to a different bookcase and I found a piece of music that I didn’t even know I owned, “Pie Jesu” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s REQUIEM. My copy was a vocal duet with piano accompaniment. It’s a beautiful, simple song written in latin. The English translation that is written on the music gives the words as this:

Merciful Jesus, who takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest.

Oh Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, grant them eternal rest.

I sat down and started to sing it and play along. Alas. I am not a talented soprano and there was no way I could sing that high. My voice couldn’t bring justice to the beauty of the song. I stopped playing for a minute. And then I remembered my piano teacher, Ms. Wong, telling me to make the notes sing, make the melody sing. And I realized, I can’t sing the song, but I can make the piano sing it. And I did. And my fingers made the melody sing and it was beautiful. When I finally finished I sat there, feeling fidgety, like I needed to get up and do something. I stood up and went over the other side of my living room where I was still rearranging other books onto a shelf. (Moving my living room around created a couple projects I hadn’t been anticipating.) I was putting books back onto an empty shelf and I picked up my old Bible from years ago. I flipped it open and found myself in the book of Job, and I suddenly just wanted to read this chapter. Job 9. In this chapter Job talks about how powerful God is and how unworthy he, Job, is. In verse 33-35 he says,

“If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”

I stopped reading and thought about how horrible that would be to have the full burden of your sins on your shoulders and no way to approach God because He is too Holy. And I suddenly realized that the song I had just played was an answer to Job’s predicament. Jesus takes away the sin of the world, and grants us rest. He removed God’s rod of punishment from us.

I went back to the piano, stared at the music again, and with fresh wonder, played the song again. And while I played, some tears fell, and I felt just a bit like my ice wall around my emotions started to crack a bit more. And I felt hopeful. Excited. I have missed music and I hadn’t even realized how much I missed it.

Here is a link to a recording of “Pie Jesu” if you’d like to hear it.

“Pie Jesu”

Fat Fridays: Week 3 Emotional Eating

I was trying to think about the reasons why I eat. If I was just eating because I was hungry, I don’t think I would have weight issues. From what I can tell, your body naturally regulates how much food you need and when you need it with this thing called hunger and fullness. It’s when we start eating for reasons other than hunger, and when we keep eating even when we’re full..that’s when we run into problems.

So, top of the list. Emotional Eating. I looked up the definition and it says, basically, overeating to relieve negative emotions. For some reason, when I am angry, depressed, angry, bored with life, angry, or maybe just angry, I eat. Eating gives you this short rush of nice feelings and usually you can continue on and pretend like those negative emotions never happened. Until, of course, they pop back up again. But then you just eat again and put it off again and on and on it goes.

I seem to have an intense dislike for feeling negative emotions. I don’t want to feel angry. I don’t want to feel sad. I don’t want to feel melancholy. I just want everything to be pleasant. I don’t just use food to avoid these feelings. I use entertainment. Read a book and forget about it. Check Facebook and calm down. Scroll through useless articles on the internet and zone out.

So here’s the question. Why? Why am I so opposed to feeling negative emotions? Is it because I am a peaceful person and things like Anger feel wrong? Or maybe I have just always tried to fill the role of the “good girl” and feeling bad doesn’t fit that image? Or maybe, our society does not give healthy examples of people dealing with strong emotions and so I have no role models?

There is a verse in the Bible, Ephesians 4:26-27 that says,

“In your anger do not sin: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

I have always liked the fact that the verse seems to assume that you are going to get angry. Getting angry is part of being alive. It’s what you do with that anger that can get you in trouble.

My anger tends to erupt when people have inconvenienced me. Which just shows how deep my sin nature and selfishness is. I struggle with borderline road rage. I’m not out of control, I just sit there and mutter about the other drivers. I am aware that this is a problem and I have started repeating to myself when I drive, “It’s not all about you…It’s not all about you..” Because really, road rage is the presumption that all the other vehicles in the road should do everything possible to make sure that YOUR driving experience is smooth and trouble free. When someone is going  too slow when I’m in a hurry, I feel inconvenienced, and my little selfish self speaks up and says, HEY! How dare you! Don’t you know I’m in a hurry! Stop driving like that, it’s inconveniencing me! (Of course, not so eloquently put, more like me muttering under my breath about idiots and people who don’t know how to drive.)

Of course, the way I get inconvenienced the most is by my children. Those lovely, beautiful human beings my husband and I helped create. They have this amazing way of spilling cups of juice on my freshly mopped floor, or wiping snotty noses on my clean shirt, or accidentally breaking my favorite mug, or wanting me to intervene in an argument right when I’m trying to cook supper…They are masters at inconveniencing me. Unfortunately, my selfish side tends to react and I get angry. And I really don’t want to be angry at my kids. When I first had children in my early twenties and had two toddlers on my hands, I indulged in some pretty impressive temper tantrums when the kids wouldn’t cooperate.  The most dramatic was when my little ones wouldn’t help clean up their toys and I stood at the doorway and threw their toys into the yard. Hopefully, I’ve matured a lot since then. I’ve learned to walk away when I’m angry and go cool down. I’ve learned a bit better how to hold my tongue and not say things I’ll regret later, and most important, when those tactics fail, I’ve learned better how to go and apologize to my children when I mess up. Good things. Bad thing though is that somewhere along the way I figured out that when I’m really upset, eating something helps you calm down faster. In fact, eating something can help you calm down without having to do any thinking or analyzing about Why you got angry, and What can you do to change things so you don’t get angry again over the same thing?

That’s the problem. Eating something makes you feel better for a short amount of time, but it never gets to the root. It never forces you confront your own sin nature, beg God for forgiveness, seek reconciliation, make changes so that you can handle these things better. All it does it covers up the emotion for a while so you can postpone feeling it.

I think I am scared about feeling strong emotions. Like I might not be able to handle it. Like it’s a giant wave that’s going to knock me down and I might never resurface. I don’t know why I’m afraid. I’ve got Jesus. He said he was never going to leave me or forsake me. He said his grace was sufficient for me. He’s not going to leave me alone with these uncomfortable emotions. I have a feeling that if I actually started confronting the anger and trying to dig down to the roots of it, I have a feeling that it would lessen, ease up, that I would be a healthier person.

So this is my challenge for this week: to stop trying to cover up the emotions with food. Those emotions are there for a reason. I need to let myself feel them. Take them to God in prayer, ask for wisdom to understand where these emotions are coming from and what to do with them. That’s the plan. May God give me the courage to do it.