ta-dah!

When my girls were little, I quickly noticed that they based a large percentage of their feelings and reactions on mine.  This was most evident when they were learning to walk.  Anytime they wobbled, tripped, fell down, or even just startled themselves, they immediately looked to my face for a response.

https://i0.wp.com/www.drgreene.com/wp-content/uploads/Big-Heads-and-Baby-Falls.jpg

If I heeded my natural impulse to rush in and begin fussing over them, looking for injuries and cooing, “Oh, poor baby, are you okay?  Are you hurt?” they would take that as a cue that something was wrong – or should be.  Immediate result: terrified wailing, screaming, and gnashing of what few teeth they had.

It didn’t take me long to see that a better way was needed.  Instead of projecting worry, I trained myself to treat every fall like the world’s greatest magic trick.  Whenever they took a tumble, I would hold my breath, throw my hands in the air, and exclaim, “Ta-dah!”

To everyone’s great relief, it worked.  The girls were distracted, I was at peace, and we were all able to move forward with whatever business had been at hand.

Fast forward to today and the great thorn in my fourteen-year-old’s side: Algebra.  Well, it’s not really Algebra that’s the problem; it’s the teacher’s method.  He’s a super nice guy and his students love him, but he only teaches to one learning style.  He lectures and gives quizzes and tests, and that’s it.

My girl is a visual and kinesthetic learner.  She needs graphics and models and most of all, lots of tactile practice.  In the absence of those tools, she struggled mightily through the first semester of that class, barely passing by the skin of her teeth.  Even though she scored no grades lower than a 98 in every other class, she takes each mistake and under-performance in this one as a personal condemnation.  She must just be “bad” at math.

This week, I had the idea to talk to her about this class in terms of a new strategy.  Among some other tools that we sought out, I dusted off the old, “Ta-dah!” approach and challenged her to use it herself every time she makes a mistake on a problem in this class.

As always, my words to my daughter immediately took on an unexpected resonance for myself.  I get enveloped in self-defeating cycles in my work and aspirations every day.  Each time I miss a task, break my diet, or even just oversleep, I face the choice of whether to pick up and and move on, or take it as a “sign” of futility and an excuse not to try again.

I read just this week in the Harvard Business Review that cultivating a positive attitude toward failure is a great contributor to ultimate success.  “In fact, evidence suggests venture capitalists often see failure as an asset—not a liability—in an entrepreneur’s record. Why? Because failure suggests a tolerance for risk, a perseverance to succeed and, most important, a passion to push the envelope.”

What works for babies and pioneers can surely work for me too, right?

Forgot to put an important date on the calendar?  Ta-dah!
Procrastinated through two-thirds of my writing time this morning?  Ta-dah!
Snapped at my mom, put my socks on backwards, and dropped everything I touched today?  Ta-freaking-dah!  (Also maybe some chamomile tea at that point.  Or a cocktail.)

And now, for my next trick…

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. -Maya Angelou

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
-Maya Angelou

jammed

"you know, the best thing about a paper jam is that it forces you to open up the machine and look for what went wrong."

“you know, the best thing about a paper jam is that it forces you to open up the machine and look for what went wrong.”

Wherever there is a process, there will eventually be a jam.  Such is the nature of life in this fallen world, and I have mostly come to accept it so as to preserve what few full-color strands of hair I have left.

Some jams I am prepared for, because they kind of make sense and are part of my routine – like traffic jams.  Most of the time, I know what happened (human error) and whom to blame (all those other pesky humans out there).  Certainly, I do plenty of fussing and fuming while weeding my way through the mess, and it may put me in a bad mood for a bit, but I make it through and am able to move on until the next one.

In my job, however, I deal with a much more diabolical form of jam: the paper jam.  In this, I know I am wrestling with pure, insensate evil and there is no one to blame.  Even the machine seems mystified.  Sometimes it can direct me to the general region that is being affected by the jam, but beyond that, all it can do is blink its lights impotently at me and wait for me to set things right.

I can’t begin to tally the number of hours in my life I have lost to paper jams.  They come at the worst possible times – usually in a rush of work, and preferably with some one at my desk in need of the finished product (read: a fully charged audience).  There I’ll be, flinging and slamming each of the printer’s thousands of important drawers and doors, violently poking around its innards, smearing my face with unset ink and singeing my fingertips on the unresponsive rollers…all the while with an innocent, increasingly uncomfortable bystander to whom I must make encouraging small talk such as “Happens all the time!” or  “Almost got it, now!” or  “Would you like to go out for many drinks after work today?…Ow!” (jerks and reveals smoking, cartoon-flattened index finger).

No matter how expensive, fancy, or durable the machine, all copiers and printers can get jammed, and usually by the smallest obstacles.  They are made to handle big jobs and adverse conditions, yet a shred of paper the size of a pencil eraser can shut them down.  Until the offending object is fished out and removed, that sophisticated apparatus – however integral to corporate function – is little better than a doorstop.

It occurred to me while resolving a series of paper jams at work this very day that having depression is a remarkably similar process.  Most of the time, through whatever coping mechanisms I have in place, the machine runs at peak performance, functioning and generating projects as needed.  But unexpected and seemingly innocuous things can work their way into the cogs and before I know it, production has shut down and my lights are all blinking like the deck of the starship Enterprise.

When that happens, the smart thing to do is to stop, locate the source of the blockage, and carefully address it in order to get things moving again as quickly and healthily as possible.  I almost never do the smart thing.

Instead, I  keep trying to force paper through the gummed-up works, all to no avail, and ruining whatever hope there was for those projects.  Where my body is clearly crying out for adjustment, reflection, and a little TLC, all my mind can see is inefficiency and a need for more power.  I ignore the warning signs, fight back tears, and try to muscle through.

Keeping up appearances plays a big part in this approach (a.k.a. denial), especially living in the South.  I could probably ask people for more time or even, you know, for help…but I don’t.  This is a culture of severe politeness and I do not want to force others to get messy with me.  Instead, I put on a chipper face, shoulder-down, and ask them how their day is going.

This isn’t wrong, necessarily; there is honor in serving and being considerate, and none in co-dependency or expecting others to fix me.  I wish I could find the balance, though, between being myself and being what I think others can handle / want to see.

Until I find that balance, if I disappear every once in a while, you’ll know why and where to find me: I’m probably at home, nursing my roller burns and fashioning those ink smears on my cheeks into war paint.

cross/fit

“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up. Never give up.” -found at local gyms everywhere

I’ve been a church-going girl all of my life, literally since I was born.  Being a Christian has been one of the primary ways I identify myself, and a big part of that is attending church.  My weakest moments only meant that I would attend more – every time the doors were open, if I could.

Entering my mid-thirties, however, I began to entertain for the first time the idea that maybe I’d just rather stay home.  Millions of twenty-somethings are doing it; that would make me a trend-setter, right?  I was tired, disappointed, busy, and just burnt out.  And, I hate to admit this, but the age-old excuse was right: It actually is full of hypocrites.

Yet something compelled me to stick with it and it wasn’t until Sunday School yesterday that I found the words for why: Going to church is just like going to the gym.

The people I have met at the gym are ALL hypocrites.  For one thing, their motives are not pure.  They do not want to be there, or if they do, it’s to feed their egos or some other self-serving need.  Maybe they’ve come to socialize, to network, to connect with that cute gym bunny who always comes in at 7 a.m.  Maybe they are compulsive exercisers who fear going a day without it.  Maybe they can’t do it on their own and need the motivating presence and activity of others.

Not only that, but however they look inside the gym, they do not leave those doors and live a perfect life of health in the rest of the world.  There is no one who never ever makes a bad health choice, be it eating something off-diet or neglecting their rest or balancing their time management perfectly.  Some of us come closer than others, but no one can claim a life of perfect health and choices one hundred percent of the time.

Yet no one would ever condone these observations as a valid reason not to go to the gym.

This holds true for most of the reasons I use and/or hear to rationalize dropping out:
-I don’t fit in / don’t agree / don’t like some of the people there.
-They only want me for my money.
-I don’t have time.
-That’s my only day to sleep in.
-I don’t like the way it’s organized.
-It’s boring.
-I had a bad experience.
-I don’t need to.  I can make it on my own.

Some of these may be valid reasons for eschewing one particular site or group, but not for giving up entirely.  It’s a discipline.  It’s supposed to be hard.

The hard parts are what make me better.

sweet

“I’ve been fighting to be who I am all my life. What’s the point of being who I am, if I can’t have the person who was worth all the fighting for?”
Stephanie Lennox

The first week of Lent is finished, and I am happy to report that it was largely a success.  My girls and I accomplished all of our goals and stayed faithful to the promises we made.  We supported each other in our different struggles and came away from it closer than ever.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is, Saturday sucked – like, a lot – and it was all my fault.  I was awful.  I was moody, depressed, and overwhelmed with every little thing my girls did or didn’t do.  I went to bed that night exhausted and on the verge of a significant identity crisis.  I was so distracted that I forgot to set my alarm and overslept for church the next morning.

Want to know what fueled this horrible, no good, very bad day?

I gave up sugar.

To be precise, I gave up white carbs (as per the 4-Hour Body prescription) because I know what a stumbling block empty foods are for me.  I use them to distract, divert, and procrastinate, and I always feel terrible later.  Since I am focusing on Hebrews 12:1 this Lent, casting off complex burdens with food seemed the obvious choice.

The initial results were devilishly easy on the physical side.  I have given up soda, junk food, and even this range of carbs before, each invariably resulting in at least one day of detox: migraines, fatigue, nausea, the whole bit.  This time, nothing.  My body felt fine – even good – the whole week.

Then there was Saturday.

I have to say it scared me a little bit and here’s why: What if I’m not the nice girl I have always thought I am?

My whole life, the words that people have used to describe me have always been along the lines of friendly, optimistic, helpful, sweet…  What if it turns out that I’ve just been hopped up on sugar for thirty years?  What if my soft, gooey center is vinegar instead of jam?

Turning to research for answers, I noted with dismay that identity crises go hand-in-hand with addiction.  Some addicts become addicted because of an identity crisis; others experience the identity crisis as a phase of recovery from the addiction.  The luckiest of all turn to addiction for relief from the identity crisis, then face a new identity crisis later during rehabilitation – a cyclical loop of uncertainty.

It will take some time for me to dig up my root causes, and I won’t bore you with my soul-searching here.  Suffice it to say that a new project as I press on through Lent is going to be reviewing who God says I am, meditating on my identity in Him rather than in human eyes.  I thought I already knew this.  Clearly, I have overestimated my depth of understanding.

Coincidentally enough (if you believe in such things), I just happened to see Flight this weekend in my race to be fully informed before the Oscars, and this struggle is brilliantly portrayed therein by Denzel Washington.  The question of “Who am I?” is a recurring theme in his life and the life of others who struggle around him through the story.  It’s not a pretty picture, to be sure, but I am encouraged knowing that I’m not the only person to wrestle with such seemingly elementary issues.

Today, I am thanking God for movies, long baths, my family’s gracious patience, and especially Sundays!

blue

blue-heart-3-300x225

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel…”
-Charlie Brown

I hate to admit this, but in the past, I have written off this bewildered confession as evidence of weak character on good old Charlie Brown’s part.  How can anyone not be happy at Christmas?  There are lights and parties and movies and treats and friends and snow and presents…  Why, you couldn’t escape Christmas cheer if you tried, I’d have thought.  Clearly, this was just a means to a story – almost an unbelievable stretch, to be honest – and our protagonist would get over himself in the end.

Cut to me sitting in the living room just last night.  It was a perfect Christmas moment.  I was quietly basking in the glow of the Christmas lights and the fireplace.  My family had just bid farewell to the last of about twenty-five good friends and relatives who had attended our Christmas Open House.  Candles were burning, my tummy was full of homemade treats, and the house had settled into an almost poetic stillness.  It was even snowing outside, a particularly rare gift in this region.  All was right with the world.

At least, it should have been.  Yet even in the beauty and tranquility all around me, I could feel nothing at all.  I wasn’t sad.  I wasn’t lonely or stressed out or fearful.  I just could not connect with my surroundings and all that they should have imparted.  I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel…  I get it now.

Observing the media during the Christmas season (which they cheerfully insist begins in August), we get a pretty good picture of how we should be.  The grocer’s commercial assumes our typical families will be frolicking about the kitchen together.  Morning radio shows inform us of which toys and electronics are every happy kid’s must-haves.  Jewelers’ billboards demonstrate the ideal couple’s celebration, which is backlit by the frosty glow of a skating pond and featuring a diamond no smaller than your average beagle.  These are the messages we receive.

It is no doubt due to all of this helpful guidance that Christmas has a stereotype of inciting depression.  For instance, my family’s baking projects may involve dancing, but most likely in an effort to extinguish spontaneously combusting butter, or to peel the youngest child from the refrigerator’s ledge.  My divorce was final years ago (probably due to a glaring lack of ice) and the economy has made a mockery of must-haves for anyone.  It becomes easy to wilt under an inadvertent message of inadequacy and failure.

Thankfully, Isaiah 42:3 tells me: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”  I don’t know for certain yet whether the root of my blues is circumstantial, psychological, or biological, but I know this: God will not let me be snuffed out completely.  Above all things, Christmas is my reminder that God keeps His promises.  I know that He remembers me, and that He will preserve me.

My new church has a tradition that I think is very cool.  In the middle of December, they hold a Blue Christmas service designed to address this phenomenon.  It is structured around dealing with the pressures and feelings of loss that are so common this time of year.  Basically, it gives us an organized setting in which we have permission to feel whatever we need to feel, and to receive grace and prayer for it.  I will be attending with a sense of profound gratitude.

If you are among the blue this season, I would like to encourage you to find a similar outlet if you can.  You are not alone, nor are you defective.  You have a good reason for feeling – or not – this way.  I pray that you may find resolution and relief, and that your flame will be rekindled.

If you are not one of us, I implore you to be kind.  We will try not to cry all over your party clothes.

originally posted 12/13/10