Author Archives: snesbitt

Being a Christian with Anxiety

Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself.  Today has enough troubles of its own.  (Mt. 6:34)

I know I’ve read this verse no fewer than a few dozen times.  I’ve preached it, exegeted it, and read it again and again.  It’s one of my top 5 favorites, just dangling there at the end of chapter 6 in Matthew, tacked onto that whole passage about not worrying, that God feeds the birds of the fields and makes the lilies look far more spectacular than even Solomon in all his royal finery.  Up until recently, that’s all it was – a part of that greater whole passage.  Then I started thinking about anxiety itself, and I realized this verse says so much more than merely, “Don’t worry.”

Back in May, I was diagnosed with anxiety, and not being a huge fan of pharmaceuticals as a first line of attack, I resolved to try non-pharma treatments:  Counseling, yoga, and meditation/mindfulness.  It’s gone well.  Really well.  Not only are these treatments working fabulously, but I also have a new tribe at church that’s walking this journey with me.  In fact, this is the first Advent season in many where I have been calm and settled in my spirit, heart, and mind.

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about the very nature of anxiety.  It’s not like depression or schizophrenia which have distinct physiological etiologies.  Anxiety truly is all in the mind.  Or, rather, it’s caused by how we think.  Even people who don’t have anxiety feel anxious from time to time.  We always feel anxious about what’s going to happen, about some future event.  We almost never feel anxious about anything going on in the present, nor do we feel anxious about what happened in the past.  Nope, it’s always the future, because the future is a great unknown.  We can work ourselves into a right fine state fretting about something down the road.

Earlier this month, I had my big holiday selling event, and I needed sales to be good.  At nearly zero hour, I found out that the coordinator had made some changes out of her benevolence that felt threatening to this goal I had.  My anxiety shot straight up.  In fact, I woke up during the night before the show worrying about the show.  Then, when I arrived at the venue, still fretting some, all that anxiety disappeared.  The event was in that moment; it was no longer a future event.  At that point, my focus was on setting up.

Part of the treatment for anxiety is exercising mindfulness, being in the moment.  Whether it’s while actively meditating, practicing yoga, or doing some mundane chore, being present to the moment reduces anxiety.  Why?  It is in those moments where we are existing.  We aren’t present in the worry-causing moment two weeks from now or that paycheck from now, we’re present in this “now.”

Finally, Matthew 6:34 made perfectly good sense from a very practical standpoint.  This verse is nestled in the Sermon on the Mount, which is an excellent treatise on living the Kingdom life daily.  As part of that theme, Jesus is saying, “Be mindfully in this moment.”  We cannot deal with the whole rest of Kingdom living if we’re stressing about something that hasn’t even happened, yet.  Having the full life Jesus desires for us means not allowing anxiety to suck the joy from it.  It also means not worrying about what will happen tomorrow or next week or next month when there is Kingdom work that has to happen today, even if that just looks like having a simply good day of showing love and compassion to one other person.

Sometimes it’s really hard being a Christian with undiagnosed anxiety.  Well-meaning people will say, “Just pray about it more.  Oh.  You still have it?  Pray harder or with more faith.”  Who are they to judge another’s faith?  Others will say, “Take it to the cross and leave it there.”  Where is that in the Bible?  And do they think I want to take all that inner turmoil back with me after my time “at the cross”?  Heck no!  It just followed me like one of the neighborhood cats tends to.  People want to judge those who are struggling, because they don’t know how to be present, so instead of helping ease the burden of dealing with psychological issues, they heap on an unhealthy load of judgment and guilt.  My husband and I found a small group at church who are safe, non-judgmental, and vulnerable themselves.  This has made being a Christian with anxiety much easier to handle, because I have a tribe who loves and supports me.

Having anxiety is especially tough during Advent with all there is to do.  Besides the decorating and the work-work, there is everything else with the expectation it needs to be perfect.  The cookies should look just so.  The house should be cleaned up nicely.  The cards need to go out at just the right time.  Oh yeah.  And in addition to all this, there are children to teach, parties to attend or chauffeur said children to, caroling, and spending time together as a family.  (Time?  What time???  Don’t they know I still have so much to do?  These cards won’t address and mail themselves!)

Something different happened this year as I reflected on today, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, whose theme is Peace.  For the past many years, peace was something I wished I could have during Advent.  It didn’t matter what sorts of good things I had going on or how blessed I was/am, I felt stressed, frazzled, and overwhelmed trying to get everything done.  My anthem was Amy Grant’s “I Need a Silent Night,” and Christmas Eve service was my attempt at grabbing an hour of peace – surrounded by getting the family fed and everyone out the door on the front end and playing Santa on the back end.  The only thing I was looking forward to about Christmas was having it behind me, which was a totally horrid way of feeling about it, because Christmas was such a beautiful, special part of my life growing up.  I think it was last year, I compared Advent to planning a wedding – a whole lot of work and stress that’s over in mere hours.

Ironically, because of the pastor-friend who first named what was possibly causing the tic in my facial muscles, we won’t be worshiping at her church tomorrow night for Christmas Eve service.  I don’t need to go to church to find that hour of peace; I have found it all month long.  With it came its close companions of the Advent season – Hope, Joy, Love, and Anticipation.  In fact, I’m so loving being in this place that I wish Advent could last just a little bit longer, to drag out that expectation just a wee bit more.

What did my Advent Love look like?  It looked like longer hugs shared with friends and stockists.  It looked like money in Salvation Army buckets.  It looked like text messages, emails, and verbal exchanges where I check in on people and also tell them how much they mean to me.

My Advent Peace has been in yoga.  It’s been in walks at sunset.  It’s been in walks around the beautifully decorated town square.  It’s been in this moment of baking, this moment of looking at decorations, this moment of playing on NORAD, this moment of watching mushy, romantic Christmas movies with my daughters, and it’s been in this quiet moment under the couple’s cocoon of coziness with a cat curled up against my back.

My Advent Joy has bubbled all month long.  At my last counseling appointment, my counselor said, “You look calm.”  I laughed and said, “I don’t feel calm.  I feel effervescent, excited, eager.”  That joy reached its zenith (so far) on the day of the Winter Solstice.  It was unseasonably warm, nice enough to tolerate being barefoot for a bit.  I went outside in a tee-shirt and lounging pants to do some grounding.  As I stood in tadasana, bare feet feeling the cool, damp earth, I looked up at the gorgeous blue sky and a laugh just bubbled out.  I haven’t felt this type of spontaneous joy during Advent in probably sixteen years or more.

And my Advent Hope?  That this feeling will last.  I nearly cried with joy while singing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” at my friend’s church.  It was a Lovefeast service, which harkened back to Christmas Eve traditions and warm memories in the city where we used to live.  Tears of joy are something new for me for Advent.  This feeling simply must last, because once the tree is down and the decorations are stored away in the garage, the real Christmas Kingdom work begins, and I really don’t have time for anxiety to steal my joy, my energy, or my focus.

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours!

 

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My Bad Attitude

Today is the second Sunday of Advent.  The tree is trimmed and lit, candles are making their ways to windows, Christmas music plays, and we’re whiling away many a cold, wet hour huddled under blankets as we stream Christmas movies (the mushier, the better).  In other parts of the state, snow has fallen – inches in some places, feet in others.  Lots of people down here were hoping for a snowy morning, but while I hate the rain, I’m happy putting snow days off for another month or so.

Church this morning was a given.  We went to Sunday school and worship.  It was as we were sitting in the sanctuary that I started noticing my attitude was off.  I felt disgruntled about many variables.  There is the woman in the choir who talks like being at church is the most important thing in the world yet doesn’t make her children attend, and when they do, they’re in their phones, talking, giggling, and disrupting worship for those around them.  There was my disappointment that the music minister didn’t follow my suggestion of putting the lyrics to the praise songs in the bulletin to make it easier for the smaller people (e.g., children) in the congregation who can’t see the screen for all the taller people.  Isn’t worship, Advent worship in particular, supposed to be inclusive?

If you’ve been following this blog for longer than a minute, you know that I have two children, one of whom is a teen.  Trust me when I say, I know bad attitudes.  I have no problem calling the kids out when they’re dishing ‘tude.  So, when I was sporting my own bad attitude, it was only fair of me to own it.  When my teen asked during the prelude what was wrong, I whispered, “I’m having attitude problems today.”

In the midst of Advent, we think that we should have the purest attitudes of love, joy, hope, and peace.  We are supposed to be all about “Goodwill to all people” and sharing the good news of Jesus’ birth.  Yet, sometimes, our attitudes aren’t quite in line with these messages.  Lines are long, people can’t drive, and the gingerbread cookies make you recite that popular line from preschool:  “Taste counts, looks don’t.”  I often think, What if it were as simple as that night over two thousand years ago instead of this craziness we’ve made it?  Even paring down on the commercialism doesn’t particularly help.  There are still activities and parties, and there is still time spent with people you only see once a year – and maybe that’s too much.

It’s OK to have an attitude that’s a bit off.  Pay that place a visit, but don’t live there.  Name what is causing the bad attitude and release it with grace for yourself.  Then, once that ugly, unpleasant attitude has disappeared into the winter wind, fill yourself with goodness.  Find peace within yourself.  Seek joy in all the blessings God has given you.  Love people – family, friends, enemies, strangers, people like you, and people quite different from you.  And embrace the hope and anticipation of the season.  It reminds us that a baby really does change everything.

Sorry Momma, but She Doesn’t Want to be You

It’s a Wednesday evening, and as my daughters and I drive home from the evening’s church activities (youth games and worship for my teen, aerobics for me, and aerobics and handbells for my younger), we talk about our time apart and share what the experience was like.  I might say something like, “Tina about killed us tonight!  I’ll be good until tomorrow when I try to laugh.”  Or, “Dang!  Celeste still has her soccer moves!”  My youngest will talk about how they’re supposed to play and sing for the Hanging of the Greens service, and she hopes she remembers her part.  My teen is more reflective as she talks about her peers, some of whom have moms in aerobics with me.

“I really feel sorry for Bethany*,” she might say.  “Her mom is so hard on her!”

“How do you mean?” I ask, knowing her mom.

“She doesn’t let her do anything.  When we went on that trip, while the rest of us ate the awesome cooking, her mom made her eat salads.  And when we stopped for breakfast, there was this grill, and the breakfast sandwiches smelled to-die-for.  I could tell Bethany wanted one, but her mom wouldn’t let her have it.”  I know Bethany, and she’s a trim, athletic, healthy teenager, certainly not one who needs to worry about her weight.

“She was talking about how her mom is making her do cheerleading.  Bethany used to run track, and she really misses it.  She didn’t want to be a cheerleader, but her mom insisted on it.”

It sounds an awful lot like Bethany’s mom wants her daughter to be like her for whatever reason.

My teen goes on to the next person, a lovely young lady who tears it up on the basketball court but who feels forced to one day don crinoline and parasol for an annual event – all because her mom wants her to follow in her footsteps and do it.  This girl is tanks, ponytails, and Jordans; not lace gloves, sausage curls, and hoop skirts.

At this point, I tell my teen to let me know if she ever feels like I’m pushing her to do something she doesn’t want to do.  She assures me she will and expresses gratitude that I am happy to let her be her own person and do her own thing.

So this message is for all you moms of teen girls out there:  Your daughter doesn’t want to be you.  Your daughter is a separate, unique person, and if you’ve done your job as her mother well, she owns that.  Daughters of healthy mothers are free to embrace their wishes, wants, dreams, and desires and feel accepted in following them.

Healthy mom-daughter relationships don’t have a mother creating a her-clone in her daughter.  They have stages of accountability (Mom is still Mom, after all) and through the teen years, friendship begins to overlap the parenting responsibilities.  But parent, a mother always will be, even after her daughter has grown into this really wonderful, likable adult.

Healthy mom-daughter relationships create space for both to grow.  They create room for the daughter in particular to become the person she wishes to be.  Sure, it’s cool seeing your daughter doing things you did as a teen.  Mine dances, so we talk about how our experiences are different and similar.  And, certainly, I get certain emotions when she mentions toying with minoring in Psychology (my major).  (Usually, those emotions are along the line of, “Don’t,” but I don’t voice that.)  When I was receiving my second Master’s hood, my teen was an infant, and the dean who was placing it across my shoulders predicted I’d be sharing it one day.  The idea thrilled me at the time, but given my daughter’s talents and gifts, I want her to pursue her interests.  My feelings don’t come into play here; my role is simply to support and encourage.

So, fellow moms of teen girls, lay off your daughters.  They are wonderful beings created by a loving, wise Creator who gave them gifts, skills, and talents.  They have their own knowledge bases, their own ways of looking at the world, and their own ideas of what they wish their lives to be like next year, three years from now, and five years from now.  What God did not create them to be are clones of their mothers.  God did not create our teenage girls to be the fulfillment of the best and most-wished of our own teen years.  As well and as intimately as you know your daughter, God still knows her better.  Stop trying to play God with your daughter’s life.  Wait.  That’s not what you’re doing, because even God allows them to exercise free will.

 

*Not her real name.

We Need a Mr. Rogers for Today

My teen daughter and I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor earlier this week.  It’s a biodoc about Fred Rogers, host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood when I was growing up.  I have forgotten much of this show, having watched it only a fraction of the 33 years it aired.  What made this show so remarkable, though, was how Mr. Rogers treated people.  It was radical for its day, and sadly, it is still radical, 50 years after the show first aired.

The first remarkable thing in the show was how Mr. Rogers spoke to current events.  He did this in the very first episode with a not-at-all subtle protest of the Viet Nam Conflict in 1968.  The message wasn’t so much anti-war as it was pro-peace.  Through the show, Mr. Rogers talked to children about why divisions and walls are bad and how they may be afraid about what they hear.  Walls are bad.  Things that separate people are bad.  Wars are bad, too.  It’s bad when children are scared or frightened about what’s going on in the world, and it’s good when adults can help the children name that fear and offer comfort and presence.  Throughout the show’s run, Mr. Rogers would later address the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the Challenger tragedy, and made a special speech in the wake of 9/11 (though the show had ended just a couple of weeks prior).

The second remarkable thing in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was his acceptance of all people of all skin colors.  Show regular Officer Clemmons

Officer Clemmons and Mister Rogers, reprising their 1969 foot bath more than two decades later, during their final scene together in 1993.

(played by Francois Clemmons) was a black man who Fred invited to share a kiddie pool of cool water on a hot summer’s day.  This was an open slap against all those who would deny Blacks the opportunity to swim in municipal pools because of their particular shade of brown skin tone.  It later came out that Francois is gay, a fact that was significantly more problematic for the sponsors than for Fred.  Officer Clemmons was with the show for most of its run.  Yo Yo Ma, the world famous cellist of Asian descent was also an invited guest on the show.

Another remarkable thing about this show was how Mr. Rogers dared to speak to children.  He addressed them as people.  He recognized the fact that they feel things that many adults don’t give them credit for feeling – fear, confusion, uncertainty, and anger, to name a few.  Mr. Rogers named these emotions for them and normalized the children’s experiences of these emotions.  For him, it was always OK for the children to have these “ugly” emotions, and it was important to provide words of empathy and comfort to the children, too.

The fourth but definitely not least remarkable thing about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was what Mr. Rogers said to children.  Messages like, “I’m glad I got to see you today,” “You’re a very special person,” and “People really care about you” that children heard day after day filled them (us) with a sense of our uniqueness and specialness.  (Some of Fred’s detractors blamed his message of “You’re special” for the cause millennials are so entitled, but as my teen pointed out, Gen X also heard this message and didn’t turn out the same.)

There was one other message:  “I will keep you safe.”  That hurts my heart.  Sure, as a parent, I will do whatever I need to to keep my children safe.  But I know that some things are outside my control.  There are child molesters that lurk in places where children should be safe.  Cars run past stopped school buses and kill children who are going to school.  The child who’s been bullied for months takes a gun into a school and kills innocent classmates.  Racists walk into churches and synagogues full of worshipers and open fire, killing people who are worshiping God.  How can we promise to keep our children safe when there are hate and evil that can wipe them out in an instant?  How much more so for those parents of children of color?  How can Hispanic parents keep their children safe from being taken and locked in dog pens?  How can African-American parents keep their children safe from those racist, trigger-happy cops?  How can Jewish parents keep their children safe from nationalists who are inciting the fear that Jews will take over America and killing out of that sense of nationalism – in the name of their Jewish Jesus?

We need a Mr. Rogers for today.  I thought that while watching this biodoc, and a wee little voice inside my head kept whispering, “Why not you, Sara?”  I have no idea what that looks like; I can’t boast Mr. Rogers’s gift for ministering to children – and that’s exactly what he did.  Through his show’s 33-year run, he ministered to hundreds of thousands of children every single day.  That’s holy, and no one else actually gets that opportunity as he did.  I can at least be affirming and caring, finding opportunities to give children the little heart strokes they need, whether they realize it or not.  We can all use those every so often, can’t we?

I’ll start here and now.  I’m glad you stopped by to read this, Friend, and you are special.  It was good to spend this time with you.

Get Out of the Sewer!

If you don’t like the shit, get out of the sewer!

I made that up earlier this week.  Clever, huh?  There is a point to my opening a faith blog post with vulgarity.  Hang tight.

I hear over and over from people about how someone from their past keeps slinging crap at them.  They threaten the other; they cause drama in their lives; and they often will, in some way, prevent the target from moving on and living a rich, fulfilled life.  Yet, so many times, it’s because the victim chooses to be in that position and to stay there.  One friend told me that she’s enjoying bugging her ex, yet she doesn’t like her ex texting her. In other words, she is choosing to live in the sewer but complaining about the shit there.

Paris boasts a phenomenal labyrinth of sewers – over 2,100 kilometers of a waste-carrying network winding under this bustling, thriving, beautiful city.  Modern technology, innovation, and understanding of sanitation have led to the Paris sewer system being what it is today.  However, in the 14th-19th centuries, the sewers did more to contribute to the problems of the city than they prevented, helping with the spread of bubonic plague and typhoid.  They were more conduits for diseases than a significant help in city sanitation efforts.

picture of Paris sewer

Part of the Paris sewer system

Why were the Paris sewers so vile?  Because they were full of crap – and dirty water, animal refuse, animal carcasses, and spoiled food that might have washed into the system.  The sewers were disgusting, putrid, and perfect breeding grounds for disease and death.

Some people’s lives are that way, too, all because of choices they make.  Yet, they make the same choices over and over again.  (I’m not talking about those situations where we get tossed into life’s sewers against our wills.  These are all about choices.)

What are the sewers in which people stay?  A lot of it seems to be relationship-based, but not entirely.

Sewer – Staying emotionally involved with an abusive ex to “get back at him.”

Sewer – Ignoring the fact that woman you’re “madly in love with” has 2 ex-husbands and is living with husband #3 while she’s sleeping with you and wondering why all the drama.

Sewer – Being that woman who keeps cheating on her husbands and finding yourself in divorce court time after time.

Sewer – Feeling like your family life is getting stale and stagnant when you spend too much extra time at work.

Sewer – Allowing your children to be spoiled, egocentric, manipulative little jerks who have no respect for others – or you.

Sewer – Forcing your children to be something they’re not, making them unhappy and not liking you.

Sewer – Being chronically late for work and showing up hungover and getting fired from job after job after job.

These are all life choices we make that have detrimental effects on our lives, our relationships, our jobs, and our happiness.  As I look back over this list, I notice that none of these sewers exist in vacuums; each and every one not only affects the person in the sewer but other people in their lives as well.

I tell my children all the time:  If you want different consequences, make better choices.  If you don’t want to keep putting up with the shit, then get out of the sewer.

Finding Home When You’re Far From Home

Or, The God Thing

Our family went to church this morning. In the midst of our evacuation, we had gone to church our first Sunday in exile; just keeping up with the normalcy and routine of Sunday morning worship helped us feel more settled.

When my teen was researching the material for her speech on refugees and immigrants last winter, she learned about a member of a church a couple of hours from ours who had been detained, arrested, and deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In the course of preparing her speech, she corresponded by email with two of the man’s pastors. When I discovered how close the church is to our temporary home, I suggested we attend worship there.

Our first worship service there made me thank God that we evacuated, because that worship time filled my empty, stressed-out heart and soul. The people at this church were the friendliest I’ve ever encountered at a church. As I was chatting with this lady or that one, a woman about my age came up. I recognized her instantly as a classmate from Divinity School. She was sitting with another couple from school and her husband was on the pew in front of her. It was like a mini-reunion – five of us from school all sitting in a cluster.

The pastor got up to preach. She was on week two of a series based on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship out of the book of Mark. Bonhoeffer is my favorite theologian, and this book has a challenging theme. The message bothered me, challenged me, convicted me. Pastor Lauren talked about being willing to go against the law of the land for the sake of the Kingdom, for the greater good of showing mercy to the persecuted. It was, in a word, perfect.

M and I met the associate pastor with whom she’d emailed, as well as the senior pastor. I found out that one of my husband’s former customers is still a member there and active in the church. It’s always good finding out that kind people are faring well. My younger daughter has the unique ability to make friends wherever she goes, and she has the unique ability to befriend even little boys who are still firmly entrenched in the “girls have cooties” stage of life.

Around mid-week, we discovered that our period of exile was coming to an end. Along with firm plans to return home came plans for the weekend. There was a much different mindset at that point. No longer was it a matter of indefinite waiting and wondering. Now it was about having fun for the weekend. It came as no surprise when H, my younger daughter, asked if we could go back to “that church” this Sunday because she liked the preaching. That was a no-brainer; of course.

At this point in our evacuation, we truly miss home. We are frustrated by how cut off we are. We are frustrated by there being a need for willing hands to work and our inability to lend ours to help those who’ve suffered much worse than we have. We yearn to sleep in our own beds on our own pillows. We crave the routine of home – the Wednesday trash pickup, services at our own church, M’s and my nightly streaming of House and Gilmore Girls.

Today is Sunday. We got up and dressed for church, returning to Greenwood Forest Baptist. I can’t speak for my husband or daughters, but my reasons for going were pretty self-centered – to receive the benefits of a great communal worship experience and to hear a word from the Lord. No sooner had we sat down when my gaze landed on a lady in the front row, a lady from our home church, one we’d gotten to know when she was in college and a part of our church’s college ministry. H was off socializing. I grabbed Mary’s hand and said, “Come on.”

She asked, “Why?”

I replied, “Look at the front row.” She instantly recognized Jazzmone.

Picture of friends

Jazzmone and me

It was about this time that the lady happened to spot us as I’m half dragging my teen down the aisle. We embraced, my younger daughter joining us for an enthusiastic, tearful, joyful group hug. We’d found home.

This is where the God moment happened. As the four of us were standing at the front of the church in full view of everyone in the sanctuary, Jazzmone shared that her heart had been burdened for home. The road conditions have prevented her from getting home to her family, friends, and our church, and she missed home. She missed all that was home for her, including the people from home. As we embraced, she found home.

Jazzmone had just messaged me a few weeks ago about how much she missed the girls and exclaiming over how much they’d grown since our paths had parted. She had kid-sat the girls on a few occasions and had formed bonds with them then.

I went to church today to get something for myself. Instead, I gave something far more precious to Jazzmone. Happiness filled her heart probably even more than it filled mine. Sometimes we find ourselves in less-than-desirable situations, and sometimes it’s because God is going to use us to touch someone else.

Post Script: We arrived home the day after I keyed these words. Our home was undamaged and our property survived unscathed (though our grape trellis and fig tree look a bit sad). We left my husband’s parents’ house with the excitement of knowing the interstate was open to 13 miles before our exit, so the journey home wouldn’t take much longer than usual. As I stopped for gas, a notification came in informing me that the interstate was completely open all the way to its east-bound end. It is good to be home, and we still have many reasons to be grateful, just as we did throughout our entire evacuation.

Strange People in a Strange Land

So we’re not strange, but we can be eccentric sometimes. And this land isn’t entirely unfamiliar to us.

Years ago, I wrote a sermon based on Jeremiah 29 called “Strange People in a Strange Land.” In this passage, the Israelites are in exile in Babylon. They were away from the Temple in Jerusalem, away from home, away from all that was familiar and comfortable. False prophets had told the Israelites that this exile would be short, that they’d be home in a couple of years. Yet, God’s prophet, Jeremiah, had a different message: Get comfortable. Build houses, plant gardens, give your children in marriage to each other, and pray for things to go well in Babylon, because that will mean things will go well for you.

We’re in exile, and we’ve been here for over a week now. It feels like much longer.

Ours is a weather-imposed exile; Hurricane Florence made our county’s emergency manager call for a mandatory evacuation. We’re in a semi-strange place, a home not our own. It’s one we know in an area with which my husband and I are very familiar, but it’s not “home.” As conditions at home are improving slowly, we have chosen to get comfortable, to make ourselves at home. I unpacked my bag and placed clothes in drawers and closet. My own homemade soap, razor, shampoo, and conditioner all have space in the shower. Food we brought and have stored has found its temporary home on the counter, in the refrigerator, and in the freezer. Despite my frequent admonitions to “pick up after yourself,” there might be a shirt here on the floor, a pair of shoes there. In other words, we’ve sort of made this house “home” for us. However, just as homes and gardens left behind at the end of the Babylonian exile would make Babylon better once the Israelites were gone, so will we make this place better than we found it when we leave.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in strange places, places that aren’t home, places where we’d really rather not be. We are away from friends, family, and church. Our situation prevents us from helping others in ways we can and would like to. What do we do when we’re strange people in a strange land?

First, get comfortable. No one actually likes living out of a suitcase, and you certainly can’t live on fast food for weeks at a time. Pad around barefoot and sit on the floor to play games.

Two, make others comfortable. By Day 4, tempers were short and we were all totally over this evacuation. The girls and I were scared and worried about our home. (I think my husband was, too; we were just more vocal about it.) My youngest was in tears and said, “I just want to go home.” Give hugs. Empathize. Give assurances. Let the children know that they are not alone in their feelings and that their feelings are OK. Be present to the feelings the other adults are experiencing, too.

Three, make the best of it. We pretty much lucked out in our place of evacuation. There’s a lot of cultural opportunities around us. We have ample places to shop (grocery, particularly). And we’re within minutes of museums and the offerings of top state universities. So far my girls have browsed the stacks of a huge undergraduate library and are excited about a pirate festival at our state’s Museum of History this weekend.

Four, do what you can. Since we home educate, lessons can travel with us. All the aforementioned really awesome places serve as field trips. Experience new things. For me, it’s as simple as the spice blend my mother-in-law has that I sprinkled on turkey salad. For my husband, it was his first trip to Rocket Fizz. Allow the place where you are to remind you of what you love about the place you live. The drivers around here make me miss the insanity of tourist season back home. Service professionals here are awful about not providing the high quality service to which we’ve become accustomed at home. Everything about this evacuation is making me say over and over, “I miss home.”

After this, I will be more patient with the tourists that migrate our way for months at a time in the spring and summer and with the college students that fill the city summer to spring. I’ll have a greater appreciation for the first responders who have worked long, laborious days on little sleep and limited resources to rescue and care for people. Those same police officers and deputies also patrolled newly cleared streets, keeping an eye open for those who would take advantage of the situation and kept our homes safer.

When circumstances cause you to find yourself far from home, take time to, as Mr. Roger’s said, “find the helpers.” Also be sure to find reasons to be grateful.

Evacuation

The storm was barreling toward us at 17 miles per hour. A week ago this moment, my older daughter and I were enjoying the beginning of a peaceful, blissful weekend of bonding. We were ignorant of any of the storms in the Atlantic, let alone their potential impact on us. As I learned of the looming hurricane halfway into our trip, I started texting my husband with plans and thoughts. With the promise of Hurricane Florence slamming straight into the coast of the Carolinas at significant strength, there was much to do, so much to plan.

Early in the week, we vacillated in indecision. Do we evacuate? Do we stay? My in-laws agreed to let us use their home; they have an unfinished room that’s perfect for our cats. I wanted us to be safe, but I also wanted to stay hunkered down in our own home. Regardless, with the amount of flooding the meteorologists were predicting with this storm, we had to secure our most precious things.

This is the point where the reality got real. Over 1,500 square feet of living and storage space containing old furniture, cherished furniture, technological stuff, collectibles, pictures, jewelry, clothes, books, and toys – all the detritus of daily life in a family of four people and three cats. Yet, we could only take what we could fit into two vehicles alongside of seven warm bodies. With care, I gathered up photographs and albums, lovingly placing them in zip-closed bags. Framed family photos went into bags and then into drawers in chests on the upper floor. My fine jewelry came with us.

We each packed clothes for a week. We brought DVDs for entertainment and books to read. I grabbed my two favorite stuffed animals. My younger daughter brought a few magnets from our fridge and a book of Disney stories I’d had when I was a child. My teen brought a couple of books and her journal. My husband brought the necessities and his jewelry – his wedding band and a necklace I gave him when we were dating that he never wears. We brought food and water; the food would have gone bad at home when the power went out and even inland, there’s the risk of power outages with the winds from the outer band of the hurricane. It was remarkable to me what we brought with us, or, more like, didn’t bring. My older made sure she brought every bit of her new clothes, makeup, and jewelry. But neither daughter brought her cleats, shin guards, or ball; neither my husband nor I brought our billiards cues or fishing rods.

Even amidst the planning and preparation, there was still vacillation. My husband felt strongly about staying. My gut said it’d be safer to go. At that point, the hurricane was expected to hit as a category 3 or 4 and linger at the coast for 24-36 hours before weakening and moving west. The announcement of a mandatory evacuation settled the matter for us.

With mere hours to get everything together and move out, we pulled together to get things done. None of us had ever dealt with an evacuation before. Frankly, I was scared, my anxiety level nearly to the point that I was having trouble thinking and focusing. At the same time, everyone was looking to me to lead them in the preparations, to tell them what needed to be done and direct them to do it. What happens when the leader can’t lead?

We made it out. My husband had some minor car trouble – and he was the one with the cats. Traffic was fairly light, many people from Down East fleeing the coming storm; however, we were at the tail end of the evacuees. We arrived at my in-laws’ house in the evening. My mother-in-law had texted with “warnings,” I guess you’d call them. “We turn off the cable when we’re gone, so there’s no wifi.” Ouch, but OK. We can get 4G on our phones and have movies, games, books, and school for our entertainment pleasure. “The hot water heater is on vacation mode, so there’s no hot water.” With her guidance, we took care of that problem. (Can’t wash dishes with cold water.)

Once we arrived, got the cats settled, and started winding down, it was time to reflect. We had to leave our home suddenly because our lives were at stake. It was scary leaving, not knowing what would await us when we returned. It was also kind of scary going. Sure, we knew we were going to a lovely home that would be stocked in necessities and easily accessible to several shopping opportunities. We didn’t know, however, how the cats would be. We didn’t know what weather conditions secondary to the storm we’d face. Even now, drowsy from the rain and a delicious dinner, able to get updates on our town, our region, and many of our friends, the anxiety still churns in my gut as I wonder what we’ll face when we return. We don’t even know when we will get to return; earlier today, our town manager issued a curfew, and parts of the interstate between here and home are flooded. Our county’s emergency manager has said it could be weeks before residents from parts of the county will be able to make it back home.

Whatever must it be like for those who are strange people in a strange land? What happens when dangerous circumstances force you to leave the only home you’ve ever known to seek shelter and refuge in a new place, bringing only what you can carry?

This is the reality for thousands of people. We hustled all day before driving a couple of hours to get here. Refugees travel over hundreds of miles, mostly on foot or by rickety cart. What if we’d traveled all that way only to be met with hostility and getting turned away at the door with nowhere else to go but back to the danger? The refugees do. Nevermind that they have a legal right to seek asylum in our country; Ronald Reagan made that a law early in his administration. After giving up everything they know, refugees face cruel, hateful treatment and the hostilities of a suspicious people who believe that people of color, especially those hailing from the Middle East or Latin America, are evil, bad, lazy, and dangerous.

Being unplanned sojourners for a while is an unnerving experience. We were able to put some plans in place, but the reality remains that, while we’re here, we are unable to take care of our businesses like we need to. We have just the money that was available to us when we left. Such is the case for those who come here seeking refugee from other lands.

It’s time for us to extend the hospitality to refugees that my in-laws and so many others extended to us evacuees fleeing from the hurricane. Rules are fine and good; everyone has the right to set boundaries on their own property. Nations have rules as well, and as long as refugees are willing to follow the simple rules that make a society function well, there’s no reason to block them from finding a place to find shelter and to make a new home.

Guys, I wish I Could be Sorry

This post is specifically for you gentlemen out there.

I wish I could say, “I’m sorry” and let that be it.  I could flippantly blow out a “sorry, not sorry,” but that’d just be cold and not helpful.

I have noticed lately that my teenage daughter and I are having some problems communicating with some key men in our lives – me with a friend, her with her boss.  We aren’t being rude, ugly, or nasty.  We’re being open and honest, maybe a bit confrontational in healthy ways (yes, they exist), and compassionate.  We ask questions in a straight-forward way and tend to lean towards “blunt and tactful.”  Her boss has felt attacked for something that wasn’t his fault and that my daughter acknowledges she doesn’t blame him for.  My friend thought I was starting an argument when that wasn’t my intention and my entire system was actually very zen.

Why were we dealing with communication problems when we were both being very clear, concise, and assertive about what we wanted?  Were we doing or saying something wrong?  I analyzed both sets of communiques and determined that there was nothing we could’ve done differently and apparently, the problem lies with the guys with whom we’re communicating.  I’m not saying or implying that we’re perfect and communication problems are always the fault of the other person, and I suspect that the “problem” with the guys isn’t their fault, either.  They’ve been taught/trained poor communication practices by other women in their lives.

So, for what am I not sorry?  Well, the list is longish.

(1) I’m not sorry for the games other women have played with you.  Using tears, threats, or other means of manipulation to get their way has taught you that all women do those things.  I’m here to tell you, we don’t.  But these tactics go back for millennia!  Literally.  Ever hear of a Philistine woman named Delilah?  She used these same tricks on Samson – and they worked.  If a man as physically and spiritually strong as Samson can be manipulated by womanly wiles, many women figure that their man can be, too, and much more easily.

(2) I’m not sorry for being blunt.  As a newlywed wife, I discovered that some families are happy with “reading between the lines” in communicating with each other.  That seems like a recipe for disaster to me, because they may not always read the right message.  One person I encountered several years ago said I’m the “most blunt-speaking Southerner [she’d] ever met.”  Being less than blunt feels too much like game-playing to me, and I don’t have time to play games or to spend an additional two hours trying to communicate my vague hints and innuendos to you, hoping you’ll somehow understand what I’m trying to get across.

(3) I’m not sorry for “fighting like a man.”  High school is a fascinating microcosm in which to observe how people of different genders interact.  When I was in high school and two guys got into a fight, they’d pummel each other for 5-10 minutes, help each other up, and often go out to lunch together.  Two girls on the other hand…  Woowhee!  You’d be looking at six months of gossip, rumor-spreading, backstabbing, catty remarks, pranks, and attempts to steal both friends and boyfriends.  There’d be no reconciliation, no apologies, no forgiveness.  This behavior would go on until both girls were bored with it.  When I was a teen, my mom and I would get into some pretty impressive, holy-crap-are-these-hormones-flying-high fights.  We’d yell for 5-10 minutes and the fight would end with one of us getting tongue-tied and our both laughing or leaving in tears, and the one who didn’t cry would go to the other, apology on her lips, after taking a minute or two to de-escalate.  My female-to-female fights were over, done, and forgotten in fifteen minutes or less.  All my fights are like this, and I have no problem with apologizing.

(4) I’m not sorry for how other women have treated you.  I’ve heard the stories.  There are – pardon my language – some bat-shit crazy women out there.  There are stalkers and bunny boilers (e.g., Fatal Attraction).  There are women who’d cut you for glancing sideways at another woman, even if that woman weighs 300 pounds and is wearing neon spandex when the woman on your arm is wicked-smart with curves in all the right places.  There are women who can’t let go of a relationship when it’s over and who pull out all the stops when it comes to manipulating you after the fact.  That type of mess leaves a mark and colors how you engage with other women.

(5) I’m not sorry for the behavior of the first woman to teach you how to act with a woman – your mother.  Maybe she tried to make you responsible for her happiness or sadness.  (“Now make Momma happy and be a good boy.”)  Maybe every time you tried to assert yourself, your emotions or your willingness to do something, she accused you of not loving her anymore.  Maybe she told you that no other woman would ever understand/love/appreciate you like your momma, which has left you wondering why none of your adult romantic relationships have felt the same.

(6) I’m not sorry for teaching my daughters how to be open, honest communicators.  I can’t apologize for teaching them the right way to share what they’re thinking without apology.  Why should they apologize for being blunt, for being honest, for stating unequivocally what they want?  You’d never expect a man to apologize for blunt honesty, so why expect it of a woman?  They’re both going into male-dominated fields, so communicating “like men” is necessary for their success.

Fellas, I can’t and won’t apologize for the painful mess other women have put you through, as those aren’t my fault.  Likewise, I can’t and won’t apologize for how my daughter and I speak to you, as long as we’re not being malicious or hurtful.  (If one of us levels some truth at you, though, and you don’t like it, that’s on you.)  We feel for you, though.  We can understand the hurt you’ve experienced and have nothing but compassion for you and what you’ve lived through.  All we ask is that you come to realize that not all women are like that, just as you’re probably not like the worst male we’ve ever encountered.  Take us at face value, because there won’t be much guile for you to wade through.

How GenX Made Millenials into Snowflakes

We love them, but we look at them with scorn or derision.  We look at them and wonder how they could be so __________ (fill in the blank).  They are Millenials.  They are in high school or college or freshly out of college, poorly equipped to handle the big, bad world and having no clue why.

They’re spoiled.  They’re entitled.  They believe they’re all that and more, even though they feel like they’re nothing so much of the time.  We adults in GenX and GenY look at these kids and call them “wusses” and “snowflakes.”

Last week, we were discussing these kids.  My teen is a Millenial with none of the above characteristics and a great deal of disdain for her fellow Millenials who have them.  Frankly, I’m quite proud of the fact that she doesn’t have these traits, but as the conversation continued, she said, “Mom, it’s your generation’s fault that we’re like this.”

Well, that bombshell put a serious pause in the conversation, and as my mind raced over the past 20 years, I couldn’t help but come to one clear conclusion:  Damn.  She’s right.

My generation came up with “participation awards.”  Then we gripe about how they reward mediocrity.

My generation decided we need to “protect children’s self esteem” by never giving them negative feedback or poor grades.  Now we wonder why they don’t seem nearly as smart as they should.

My generation got rabid about protecting children from everything – germs, hurt feelings, human traffickers, TV violence, feeling bad, physical punishment… You name it.  We invented “time out,” thinking that two-year-olds are capable of sitting in the special “time out chair” in the corner and understanding how what they did was wrong.  (I studied childhood development from every aspect.  Trust me when I say, they are incapable of doing this.)  Now we have a bunch of kids who are too traumatized when an election doesn’t go a certain way that they can’t fulfill their responsibilities to go to their college classes – and the schools allow this!  What a bunch of fragile, whimpy, weak snowflakes!

And who made them this way?  Yes, my fellow GenXers.  We did.  We screwed up big time with this one.  We didn’t create strong kids at all.  We successfully created children who grow up physically but who can’t handle life.  According to an article in the Washington Post, some Millenials take their parents to job interviews.  Are you kidding me???  They are so used to Mommy and Daddy taking care of things for them that they can’t even handle a job interview alone.

That same article cited a 30-year-old woman who struggled through college, because she didn’t know how to manage her time on her own.  She was used to her parents doing it for her, so 2 a.m. often saw her awake and finishing homework.  This same lady was unable to do her own laundry at 30; her parents had never taught her how, and why should they, when they could do it for her?

We laughed at the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Again, to us, it looked like a bunch of Millenials crying about not getting their way.  They’d gone to college on high-interest student loans, majored in weak fields (e.g., Underwater Fire Prevention), and didn’t understand why they couldn’t find a job that didn’t require asking, “Do you want to supersize your order?”  Mommy and Daddy had taught them for 20+ years that they were special and unique, just the most wonderful kids in the world, so surely these young people’s problems weren’t their fault.  No, they figured it must be the fault of those people who had all the money, the Wall Street folks with the corner offices, like that guy who started out in the mail room and worked his butt off for 20 years to have a window at all and another 10 years for the corner.  And that was after busting that same butt to earn his MBA.

We GenXers passed “Zero tolerance” policies against bullying, and bullying has increased, getting nastier, more hateful, and more vile.  From as young as 6 and 7 years old, children are bullied daily in school, even in schools with these zero tolerance policies.  This isn’t simply some big kid stealing lunch money; it’s two or three big kids against one small one.  And what happens?  The psychologically strongest kids fight back, landing them in the principal’s office for violence.  (I know; I had to go meet with the principal when my teen was in first grade.)  What happens to the weak ones, the ones who’ve been pampered, the ones who are just sick of the bull crap?  They google, “How to make a bomb” and plant one in the school cafeteria halfway through lunch.  They get Dad’s automatic and walk the halls at school, shooting everyone they see.  Often, they get killed by police or eat the gun themselves.  The evangelical conservatives call them “evil.”  The far-left ignores them and cries for more gun regulations.  I call them simply screwed up in the head because of systems we have put in place.

In molly-coddling these children from infancy and well into their 20s, finding ways to build their self-esteem and doing all we could to protect them, GenX created worse problems.  One, we have this generation of young people who literally can do nothing for themselves.  Two, we have a generation of young people who can’t cope with reality.  They are unable to cope with disappointments, bad college roommates, terrible bosses, and time management.  If their failures to handle the responsibilities of reality result in negative consequences, their helicopter parents will be right there wanting the professor or boss to make everything all better for little 30-year-old Susie and little 28-year-old Billy.

Bottom line, reality sucks sometimes.  And sometimes, Mommy and Daddy live several states away and can’t drop everything to rescue their grown children who M&D expect to be able to handle life by now.  When reality crashes so violently against one’s expectations of life, anxiety and depression are often the outcomes.  In fact, an article in Forbes states that depression is on the rise in Millenial business leaders, citing poor boundaries over health and an inability to handle difficult situations.  Furthermore, over the past 20 years, reports of anxiety and depression have increased by 16% and suicidal ideation or acts have increased by 44% among Millenials.  Wow!!!  We have created this mental, psychological, and emotional quagmire that teens and 20somethings are finding themselves in.

So how to fix it?  It’s not enough to say, “Suck it up, buttercup” and expect grown and nearly-grown children to be able to do that.  They have no experience at rolling with the punches.

First, we GenXers have to start NOW making our children do things for themselves.  Problem with a teacher?  Try a bit of empathy with accountability.  “I’m sure it felt like Mr. Jones was being unfair with how he graded your test.  If it’s that important to you, make time to speak to him about it.”  Then – and this is the hard AND important part – back off.  You have just transferred power to your child for dealing with this.  Will it be scary?  Of course.  Will it teach them how to deal with conflict later in life?  Absolutely.

“You’re out of clean clothes for school tomorrow?  That’s tough, but if you start now, you can get a load through before tomorrow morning.”  Then encourage them to Google “how to wash clothes.”  I’m pretty sure that having to research the “how” themselves will make it stick better.  (Our children wanted to learn how to wash their own clothes, so we could teach them at young ages.)

Second, we have to stop rewarding mediocrity.  I’m sure the younger parents will be grateful not to have to dust one… more… meaningless… trophy.  Real life means, you don’t get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do.  There’s no special treatment for showing up for class, being on time for work, or doing a day’s worth of work in seven hours instead of eight.  Your “reward” is getting paid or learning the material the professor wants you to know.  The “reward” is not being fired or flunked for being a slacker.

There are already systems in place to reward excellence.  In secondary school, it’s called graduation.  In college and graduate school, it’s a degree.  In the working world, the reward is often a merit raise and a promotion.  It is not the dean’s fault nor the boss’s fault if an individual fails to get the reward; it is purely the fault of the person who didn’t meet and exceed the expectations.

Third, we have to help these millennial children reframe their thinking.  If things don’t go their way, they need to stop blaming others – other people, authority figures, society, or government – and discover what they have done to contribute to the problems they’re facing.  If the problems are legitimately placed onto them from outside sources (i.e., the rent increases by $200 a month), then this is a time for these young people to figure out how to change themselves in order to meet the challenges – them, not Mommy and Daddy.  They need to see problems less as obstacles to prevent their progress and more as opportunities to find different solutions.

I’ve seen this in adults who are… Let’s say, a generation ahead of GenX.  These people are an anomaly but have all the characteristics of current Millennials.  Failures at work are the fault of teammates or bosses.  Money problems are the fault of the government – and Momma is quick with the bail-out.  Afraid of conflict, these people go along with what others want them to do, be it friends, colleagues, or bosses.  So long as these people, along with their Millennial cohorts, can maintain the image they have of themselves – you know, that “you’re so awesome!” image Mom and Dad implanted in them from birth – all is well.

Ask yourself this, and try to be as objective as you can:  Is your child someone you’d want to put up with if they weren’t your child?  Would you want to do everything for them that they need done, or would you want to be around someone who is more responsible?  What feedback have you gotten from others?  The grasping of reality will be brutal and harsh, but it’s completely necessary for young people to grow up to be adults society wants to deal with.  We may love our children to bits and think they are all sorts of amazing, but truth is, they’re only ours to deal with for 18 years.  After that, the rest of the world has to deal with them.  It’s our job as parents to raise children that society has to tolerate.  What do they look like?