I Invite Myself to My Own Dinner

Preemptive parenting is my strategy. I have a running schedule and clock in my mind at almost all times because either it’s how God made me, or I’m a catastrophizer. I dislike being late, being complained to, and being under pressure so much, I will put the 6-year-old down for a nap, I will start Operation Shoes and Socks 15 minutes before we actually need to leave, and I will pack back-up Goldfish, gum, diapers and wipes in the car because so often in Los Angeles, we are without access to food, other people and stores.

Preemptive work in relationships requires a lot more vigilance and gumption. While a Christian woman might be affirmed for being prepared with a kids travel game or for bringing snacks, she is not usually applauded for boundaries, saying no, or sharing her expectations for an event in advance. Those are typically assigned negative hues of guardedness, selfishness, being a control-freak, anal retentive or other suspect characterizations (I have heard…).  We are trained to defer, accommodate, submit, overlook, and serve. While at times these actions can be great strengths and hold within themselves a powerful freedom and love when chosen, they can also enable the entitlement of other people to the diminishment of our own personhood. We are not destined to become smaller; it is not our job to disappear. 

Going into the weekend, my spouse and I often have expectations for the precious 48 hours. They are generally competing.  Going into the holidays, we may all be facing the same dilemma, only with the added help of multiple-day road trips, long-distance family suddenly sleeping in the next room, candied children, and, if we’re lucky, bacterial infections. Nothing says joy and peace like spilled juice in the car, sliding around snowy passes next to semis, mysterious and constant appearances of glitter and snot, and off-colored jokes from the uncles, ammiright?

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I’m just here to say, if you can pack a diaper bag in your sleep, or have thus far managed to feed, clothe, and bandaid actual living people, including your self, you are allowed to say “no,” or “I want,” or “we will.” Merry Christmas. The safety and intimacy of our relationships relies upon our exercising agency and boundaries. Particularly for those of us who struggle with anxiety, depression or addiction.

It’s not about controlling others or being rigidly closed off. It’s about self-awareness and working from the best part of your self and not the worst, or fastest, or most sensitive. Preemptively making a plan to cut off chaos at the pass.

This may look like extending a request along with an invitation: would you be willing to not discuss ______, or isolate anyone in conversation regarding that topic? (And if this does happen, my family and I will be taking a walk.) It may mean saying ahead of time that you will be leaving by 9, when things really get boozy. It may look like staying at a hotel instead of your childhood bedroom, with the nephews and the giftwrap. It may mean scheduling alone time, and letting your host know you won’t be around Friday afternoon. It may mean using paper plates no matter what your mom thinks.

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What are your expectations for the rest of this year, which, for the most part, has been really challenging? What concerns do you have going into group gatherings and which of them are valid, addressable, and likely shared (ie: managing uncle bob’s anger, not addressable; making a plan for when it is triggered, absolutely)? What would it mean to experience the holidays with freedom and presence rather than anxiety and reactions? (“While we love traditions, we won’t be squeezing in the movie this year between presents and dinner; we’ll see you when you get back!”) What preparation and communication would help these times be building rather than destructive? Who are the safe people who can help you stick with the plan?

I encourage you in your preemptive policies. I cheer you on as you exercise agency, take your heart and brain seriously, and invite others to do the same. It will be a gift to the people ready for better relationships; it will be a model for our sons and daughters.

When I think about it, my relationships and the way I enter 2018 are at least as important as how many snacks I’ve packed. It’s time to get planning.

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Small Bodies

A few weeks ago, I prayed with vivid feelings and memories fresh on my heart. It was a couple days after two loving parents had disagreed with weary bones and Spanish-filled minds over what needed to be done if Asher became worse. After weeks of diarrhea and antibiotics. After a night’s rest beside my youngest that began with tears. With Guatemalan daylight easing the upset of our disagreement and offering a new day with hope of better health for my son, I thought back to a hot afternoon of carrying children, walking a long way, through a foreign city. We had not known how to get home from church using the microbuses. I thought that by walking in the right direction we would be able to ask a bus and catch a ride eventually. Eventually never came and we just kept walking. Backs sore, arms wrinkled from the weight of our children, we arrived back home a long time later. Dusted with fumes, rosy with sun, disgruntled with the situation. The kids just had to hold on though and they were fine. When we finally arrived back, they were happy to be back “home,” and soon took peaceful naps. The walk had not been very impressive to them.

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I remembered that walk, and others similar to it when small bodies relied on big, as I tried to express our needs to our Father after acute points of concern for Asher. I found  us, the feeble caretakers, in the arms of the Caretaker, and was comforted by the image. Step by step, would you somehow carry us both and lead us in a good way…again? Like we do here with two, strapping helpless kids on narrow sidewalks. Coated with dust, inhaling fumes, maneuvering through crap and uneven steps and drunks and dogs. Our arms tired but we keep our voices upbeat — for them. We carry, we lead, we get home somehow. We are those heavy children, Father. Doing what we know, the good and the bad. Please–speak to us in the voice of “we are going to get there.” In your heart of lifting and love. Move us in the right direction with Your cadence of protection and perspective; of ‘look at those pretty mountains’ and ‘we are closer than before.’ We do not know the way. Would you fill us with your tone and tenor of tenderness and struggle-less? 

Now, back on home soil, I thank God for the distance from those difficult nights of uncertainty about Asher. He is getting better. I also pray the same prayer for Now. Now we are here with there still on our skin and I still know that all I can do is ride, is hold on to the Caretaker. The daily is not so strenuous here but there are wider things to look at now, like ministry, our team, our future. We are here with dmv reminders and warehouse membership and hot running water and sofas. Oh how we missed having a sofa to sit upon. We are here with plans to make and news to catch up on and old roles in need of new adjustments. We are here with preschool plans and adoption applications and cell phones and creamer.

This morning, I wonder-prayed, to say nothing about the crying. I wondered to God what He thinks of this time, and what is sustainable self-care for moms and what can we do now that we can’t other times and what do we do other times that we cannot do now. I felt the disorientation of this time. I thanked Him for the journey so far, for His strong arms that carried us through dark nights and some long days. I thank Him that only day by day can we make progress and process. I thank Him for those who help me remember that by modeling patience and grace.

While I want knowledge to gain confidence, He offers love. The mystery of the Gospel is a fear-ridding, grace-producing love that precedes knowledge, that precedes all the orientation and answers in the world. He asks that that be enough many times. That those arms of love and grace be confidence enough until it is safe to walk, until we have another brief period of sure footing. May we each enjoy the Caring One, who carries each one, as we have been and are now being.

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For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deepis the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.   – Eph. 3:14-19