Monday, August 31, 2015

Too Stressed To Think of a Title

I am stressed.

Stressed, like, beyond anything I've ever known.

I underestimated my worth as a stay-at-home-mum, but now that I'm a working mum, I realize just how much I did when I was at home.

I stayed home with the kids when they were sick.
I took them to doctor's appointments and dentist visits.
I took the cats to the vet.
I paid the bills (on time).
I took letters to the post office.
I went to the bank.
I made calls to sort out doctor's appointments, bill queries, banking issues.
I took the cars in for oil changes and maintenance.
I cleaned out the cars.
I cleaned the house.
I kept on top of the laundry.
I kept on top of the dishes. 
I made menus and grocery lists and did the grocery shopping.
I prepared breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I even got in my "me time" by going to the gym and keeping fit and healthy.


All those things still need to get done, but Scott and I both need to leave the house by 7:30 to get the kids to school and daycare and get ourselves to work by 8. We both push ourselves mentally to the limit daily from 8-4:30, only occasionally taking an hour for a lunch break, before heading back home to collect the kids. By the time we get home, it's too late to run errands or make phone calls. By the time we've done homework with the kids, eaten a late dinner, and put all the little people to bed, it's time to tackle all the chores.  

Throw into the mix moving into a new house, where the errands, bills, and housework are thrown into overdrive. We are surrounded by boxes we have no time to empty and loose ends we have no time to tie. We had the old house to clean too, and all the old utilities to reconcile. 

This weekend we drove nine hours to Texas to visit family which was AMAZING (minus the driving part) and fun. But upon arriving back home at 1:45am and seeing the mess my house is in and knowing I'd have to be getting up for work in just five hours was devastating. I thought I'd also get the grocery shopping for the week finally done, after living the last two weeks on takeout, but that never happened either.  

Next week, my in-laws from Scotland are coming. The guest room is still full of boxes and no bed.

I never realized before how tough working mamas have it.  I worked full time from home for several years, which was extremely taxing, but I had no idea how hard it would be to work outside the home and not be able to get daytime tasks accomplished. Some people joke that going to work is a break from the kids, but my job is just one loooong day of a shitload too much to do. I go home from working nonstop all day to thinking of all the things that didn't get done at work and at home that need to get done. I wake up in the middle of the night trying to work out problems that won't let me get back to sleep. I remember half way through my work day that I never paid the car payment but I can't do anything about it because I'm at work. All my perfectly organized systems and daily itineraries are shot. My days run into each other bringing to close week after week without my realizing where the time has gone.

I am stressed.

I tell myself that in time it'll all come together. I'll make a new, albeit busier, routine and fall comfortably into it. But at the moment, I can't see that anywhere. All I see is a rocky landscape stretching to the horizon, and me climbing and tripping over the boulders and loose stones trying to go forward under the glare of a blistering, blinding midday sun. And all that's in the horizon for me is more rocks.

Usually, when I catch myself in danger of depression, I see myself slipping down a steep slope. I see it as a fast, slick descent. Right now, I see it as something I'm pushing myself into, unable to go any other direction other than full force straight into it, because that's the direction and inertia of my life.

How do you working mothers do this? How do you balance work and home? How do you spend all day expending your mental powers on the job and then come home to children who need attention and affection and patient help with homework, without totally coming unglued? 

I want to be that mother who comes home from work and pulls all the children onto her lap like a box full of kittens and snuggles them all with sitcom-worthy good nature before setting the whole family down for a healthy meal of meat and two vegetables. Who then brushes all the teeth and reads all the bedtime stories and tucks in all the blankets and coos as she turns out all the lights. Who throws in a load of laundry, washes all the dinner dishes, and then cuddles up with her husband on the couch with a glass of wine and a happy smile on her face. Who then wriggles into her perfectly made bed (done every morning, of course) with a book to read before slipping easily off to her eight hours of healthful sleep, fresh and ready for the 6 o'clock alarm the next morning.

Instead, I'm the mother who curses at the traffic on her way home from work, who picks up the kids from daycare and screams at the them because they have immediately begun to fight as soon as they get into the car over car seats and seat belts. Who gets home to a messy house and feels a massive headache come on as she tries to figure out what to throw together for dinner in a pinch because she hasn't had time to go to the grocery store in two weeks. Who feels guilty over the lack of vegetables on the plates and the overabundance of starches.  Who then loses her temper when the kids refuse to get dressed for bed because they have suddenly remembered that they have homework they need help with. Who snaps at her husband who also has been working all day over the tiniest things because her patience is gone and the house is a mess and even though they are both trying to carry their weight, the weight is too heavy. And when the kids are finally in their beds, after yet another night with no bedtime story, she looks at all the work that needs to be done and just cries as she moves from room to room doing small tasks that lead to other small tasks that make her feel she has done nothing at all when she looks back over the whole thing. Who collapses into bed without washing her face because she's too exhausted to fucking care that her face is going to break out and eyeliner is going to smudge all over her pillowcase.

That's the beautiful image I see of this girl right here. Hi, I'm Lori, the evil, stressed out arch nemesis of Supermom. Nice to meet you.

Monday, August 17, 2015

New House New Town New School

Well, we've kept it pretty quiet until it was a done deal, but this past weekend we MOVED! We moved out of Nowheresville into Somewheresville.  It's not quite the city, but Target is a five minute drive away, so I count that as a major step up in the world.

We rented a cute four bedroom house in a cute neighborhood with a cute neighborhood school and a cute-slash-awesome daycare. Instead of taking 45 minutes to get to work, it takes us 15. It's incredible.

When the house gets less boxy and more decorated, I'll take some pictures. It's an older house than the one we left, which has its advantages and disadvantages. The closets are much smaller, the bathrooms are smaller, and it's got old features like popcorn ceilings and wooden panel walls and drafty doors. BUT it's also got some adorable quirks like a wet bar, a wood burning fireplace and a Harry Potter-esque room under the stairs which will double as a fantastic storm shelter in case of a tornado.

The kids are loving the new space. It's such a big house that sometimes I actually can't find someone. Usually though, it's a cat I can't find. They are having a difficult time adjusting to their new digs. I'm trying to teach them to use the toilet instead of a litter box, with modest - very modest - success. More often than not, Sassy pees in the bathtub, but hey, it's better than the carpet! And I'm proud to report there HAVE been some poos in the toilet litter, which means it's starting to sink in on some level. If all goes according to plan, I'll have potty trained kitties in about, oh, three to four months. Worth it!

Today was the kids' first day of school at their new school. I am LOVING that they wear uniforms again. I think uniforms are a great thing for kids, at least young kids. It's easier on parents, it looks neat and tidy, and it levels the playing field for kids across the board.

Jaguar also started in his new daycare. We loved his old daycare and will miss the wonderful people there, but this daycare is super-cool. I told Jaguar they had pet guinea pigs in every classroom.  He laughed in my face and said, "No! Dinosaurs!" I had to explain to him that the daycare did not have pet dinosaurs, just guinea pigs. He didn't really believe me until he saw for himself today.

So now that we have hot water, a fridge (had to buy our own), and internet, the place is starting to feel like a home. Now we just need to stock up our wet bar (we live in a wet county again! No more driving out of city limits to buy wine!) so I can have a nice wee night cap before bed.

Things are looking up!

P.S. We have a guest room now, so if you out-of-towners want to come visit....

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Difference Between You and Me: Or Is There One?

I mentioned last time that I've had several responses to the Screen Doors post that I wanted to address. One of the ones I really wanted to respond to was my friend Kate's response to Screen Doors.

She responded to my blog on her blog.  It is really good and asks a lot of questions that I am eager to respond to. (Response response response, can you say it five times fast?) I'll post snippets here as I reply, but please go read her entire post afterwards. Whether you are a Christian or not, I think it is very inspiring, honest, and furthers this amazing dialogue that is so rarely seen between believers and non-believers.

I'll begin with this:
“Most of the time I feel as spiritual as a plunger.” I worry perhaps a friend saw my sin, my depression, or my bad parenting and they knew I wasn’t being Christ-like. Did this help them turn away from those teachings we grew up with? ... I feel disappointed in myself and my lack of spiritual fortitude.
She was talking about her childhood friends whom she has seen since leave Christianity.

I can't speak for every single person who has ever left their faith, obviously. I am sure there are plenty of people who have left because of the hypocrisy or failings or bad behavior of believers. However, I can say that in my experience (and at least one or two of the friends she might be referring to), this was not remotely the case.

One thing that I do not miss about Christianity is the guilt. Oh, sorry, I mean "conviction".  If you've read my book, you'll know what I mean when I say I was a spiritual masochist. I turned everything inward, wondering if there was any part of me that was to blame for any undesirable situation. I believed this was cleansing me, making me more like Christ. I could not fathom anyone being a genuine Christian and NOT constantly rooting out the evil within them. I recognized my brokenness too deeply. I was ashamed of my poor witness. I prayed constantly to be made more like Christ, but I failed over and over again. This all basically comes down to me saying I relate all too well with Kate's concern.  I too wondered if my own imperfection was driving people away from God. I'm a crappy parent sometimes, I get depressed, and I never felt I was quite living up to the person God wanted me to be. I could be a hypocrite. As hard as I tried to be righteous, I messed up time and again. And I wondered, "Is my light so dim that no one can see Christ through me?"

The answer, almost certainly, was no.

I left the faith, and many, many others leave the faith, simply because we run out of faith. We started the race like marathon runners, but after the first 26.2 miles and the next 26.2 miles and the next, we started to slow down. We ran out of breath.  We hunched over, panting, trying to keep running. Finally, we collapsed. The faith that we either longed to have (but could never admit was lacking) or the faith that we held unquestioningly somehow just began to run out. Whether the burden of reason grew too great or the allusiveness of God too wearisome, losing faith in a religion is often a highly introspective experience. It's not caused by other people's behavior. It may be, but I'd venture to say a genuine loss of faith is usually very inward-looking.

People who care enough about their faith to worry that their imperfect lives may be causing others to stumble are almost NEVER the people who should have to worry about that. You are usually the best people around. You are empathetic, you are introspective, and you are genuine. You're the good guys.

Let me add before I go on that the greatest joy I feel daily is the lack of guilt and shame and brokenness. I thought I felt whole as a Christian, but now I realize I only felt fixed. It is only now that I feel truly whole, now that I realize I was never broken in the first place.

Another huge issue for me is my own unbelief. All Christians struggle with unbelief or doubt at times. I have gone through seasons of my life -sometimes even years- when I feel disconnected from the Lord and full of doubt. When I have a friend who outs herself as an atheist, a big part of me wonders if she is going through a similar season. And, to be very honest, sometimes you feel like your friendly atheist has made some excellent points and all your doubts coming flooding back to the surface.
Let me repeat the caveat - I can't speak for everyone here. Just myself and several people I know.

Yes, we all have our doubts, Christian or not. Sometimes they are huge and leave us in a pit of despair for far too long. And for some, that faith does return. I followed a blog for a while called Gakeat's Musings, in which the author ruminated on his crisis of faith. He eventually reconciled his belief in Christ (and has sadly stopped blogging - I'd love to hear his thoughts now that he is back on this renewed path!). Some people do go through a season of doubt and come back to their faith.

And some of us are beyond seasons. If you are an evangelical, you likely had some sort of turning-point moment that you could never go back from. I know I did. Whether that was the moment of "salvation" or just the moment where my spiritual journey took off like a rocket, I don't know, but it fundamentally impacted the next decade of my life.

I had that same kind of experience when I de-converted. To go back now seems, well, unthinkable.

For some people, it is only a season of doubt. For others, this is our new (improved) reality.

As for the "friendly atheist [making] some excellent points", that's another, more difficult topic. Do I want to venture into it? Maybe later ... But for now, my goal is not to turn people away from their faith. It's only to share the view from the other side and to keep a dialogue going.

When I found out a friend was no longer a Christian I was full of questions and worries. ... How can this be? ... We cried together, and worshiped together. Or at least I thought we did. Was she lying to me? When did this start? Was she doubting her faith when she was praying for me when I was struggling last year? Was she just acting or bowing to societal pressure this whole time?
I'm not the friend she's referring to, by the way. So I don't know what her friend was going through. But if she HAD been talking about me, here's what I'd have to say.

Those moments you refer to were real, for both of us. For me, those moments were never put on or intentionally deceptive. Growing up (adolescence, young adult years), my faith was solid. I cried and worshiped with hands lifted high.  It was never fake. Christ was my center, my All In All.  When my faith began to waiver, though, I did hide it from most people. I was afraid of being judged. I didn't want anyone to know that this girl who led worship at church, who helped in the Sunday School, who facilitated the Prayer Wall, who had been on mission trips, was now starting to doubt. I didn't know if my doubts were just one of those aforementioned seasons or not, so to share them seemed premature. But I was ashamed. So at that point, I did keep it inside. But I wasn't acting. I was just hiding in fear.

If I'd been praying for a struggling friend during that time, those prayers would probably have been the most heart-felt prayers of my life, because I was living the struggle too. No one can empathize better than the person walking in the exact same shoes.

So much of my identity is wrapped up in my relationship with the Lord. When I found out that Jane had rejected Him, it is shocking because I feel like she is rejecting part of me, and in some cases, her upbringing ... I want to say, “Jane, do you remember that [time] when I went forward and received prayer at church? It was terrible and wonderful at the same time.  I felt so embarrassed when I cried and my nose ran and I was shaking as you and the others were praying for me. I hated for anyone to see me that way. I hated to make myself so vulnerable, but I knew you understood. Do you still understand or do you look back on that time and pity me and revile my weakness?”
Oh, my heart breaks at this point. You can't imagine what feelings reading those words brings up in me. Yes, we still understand. I'm not Jane, remember, but this could easily be asked of me. I have had so many of these moments; the vulnerability, the ugly tears, the weakness, the love and thankfulness I felt for my friends who held me and understood me and prayed for me. I can never forget my own moments like that; how could I ever revile someone else for theirs?

I speak for myself here when I say that even though I often feel embarrassed by the things I said and did as a Christian, and even though I sometimes feel regret and anger and frustration, I also have come to a place where I can give myself a lot of grace. Yes, grace is a word that's been co-opted by Christianity, but it's a good word. It's something we all need, regardless of who gives it to us. I am learning to give it to myself. But I never needed to learn to give it to others; for me that just came naturally. I'm way more forgiving of others than I am of myself. I don't look back at your weak moments and feel embarrassment or pity. Just love and grace.

One other thing to mention here is the use of the word "rejection". It's a commonly used word in this context; the atheist "rejects" God or even "denies his existence".  Yet that is an entirely inaccurate word for most people.  I don't think I know a single atheist or agnostic who feels they have rejected or denied God. We simply don't believe a god exists (or are not sure either way). I don't deny or reject Zeus, nor do I deny or reject Allah. I don't believe either exist. When it comes to our friends, we no longer share that thing we once had in common, true. But we don't reject it or you. However, I can completely see where you're coming from. I don't think that's a crazy way to feel at all. When your faith is your essence, then someone leaving that shared faith can absolutely feel like a rejection. But just please remember that it's not. Again, the loss of faith is highly internal. There certainly must be people who throw out the baby with the bathwater, or in this case the Christians with the Christianity, but I hope those people eventually see that this isn't necessary.  Just as we non-believers long to be loved and accepted by others, we should extend that same love and acceptance to our believing friends. Without judgment, without arrogance.

One close friend told me that he realized his unbelief was a bigger deal for me than it was for him. ... I’m worried about his soul ... but he isn’t.
Yeah. I think this is probably true. For a lot of people, de-converting is fairly uneventful. Especially when it was a largely intellectual affair. For me, it was highly emotional, but this not normally the case. Most of my religious-turned-nonreligious friends had a harder time emotionally with losing friends and family than losing their faith.

Finally, I must address her last thought. This is truly the crux, if you ask me, of the entire subject.
I wonder about my friends who don’t have the Lord in their lives. How do they make it through the day? How do they have the strength to be the mom their children need? How do they stay married? I doubt they would say they have everything figured out or that they are better than me. They are taking it one day at time as well, but I cannot comprehend how they are still functioning. This raises all kinds of confusion within me. I am less a capable woman than them? I am just trained to be dependent on the Holy Spirit because of my upbringing and beliefs? Are they failing miserably and not telling anyone? Am I a horrible person with unfathomable depths of depravity that I need help overcoming while they are just normal functioning people?
My answer cannot be summed up succinctly or in some quaint, quirky, poetic little sentence. Here's the thing: We ALL struggle. Constantly. We are all human.

How do I personally make it through the day? When I was a Christian, I truly believed God was bringing me through. I believed he had his hand on my life and was guiding me, protecting me. When that faith began to disintegrate, I had no idea how I could cope without him.

I'll never forget the day I realized that not only could I go forward on my own, but that I'd ALWAYS been on my own. When you come to realize there is no almighty god guiding you and protecting you, you eventually make the connection that such a god didn't just disappear leaving you in the lurch but never existed in the first place. Therefore all those years before HAD been on my own. And I survived. The feeling of empowerment and strength that moment afforded me is inexplicable.

Wait, I know EXACTLY what you're thinking. How presumptuous of me! How arrogant! I seriously deserve pity now that I've come right out and said "I can do this on my own without god!" Oh boy, am I the classic Kevin Sorbo character atheist now! But hear me out, if you can.

The way I see it, you and I are no different. You and I both struggle. We have bad days, we have bad months, maybe even years. We get depressed, we get angry, we fail miserably. Yet we both find the strength to get out bed (most days) and push on. We both look at our children and think, "You are worth me trying to do better." We look at our marriages and think, "This is worth fighting for."

Your strength rises out of your faith. I admire that. I think that if faith in Jesus Christ gets you out of bed and makes you a better person, then that is awesome. Regardless of whether or not I think your strength actually comes from inside YOU or comes from God, the fact is you are strong, and you are making the world a better place for yourself, your children, and everyone else around you.

I don't have that strength anymore. Not from faith, that is. Nor do I want it. Faith no longer has that rosy fragrance drawing me to it. Now, I have a different strength.  What gets me out of bed in the morning is the realization that life is short, so very short, and I barely have any real time to put my imprint on it. I want to live every moment as a totally alive person, making the short lives of others as meaningful as possible. I want to do better for my kids so they can do better for their kids. I want to fight for my marriage, because life is too short to be alone and sad, and I've been so lucky to find someone I'm desperate to share my short life with. Since realizing that there is no afterlife in which to make up for whatever I missed here on earth, my concept of time has radically changed. Like a heart attack survivor, I've got a new lease on life. To use someone else's words - because they are so much better than mine:
I suddenly felt very deeply that I was alive: Alive with my own particular thoughts, with my own particular story, in this itty-bitty splash of time. And in that splash of time, I get to think about things and do stuff and wonder about the world and love people, and drink my coffee if I want to. And then that's it. -Julia Sweeney, "Letting Go of God"
So, no, back to your original questions, you are not a horrible person who needs God to overcome your failings while the rest of us go on functioning normally. You have tapped into a source of strength. So have I. Many people have not tapped into a source of strength yet, and for those people, I do wonder how they get through life. I hope everyone finds a source of strength, as long as it is not in something destructive. For those who find their strength in faith, I ask only that they do not use it as a weapon also. Same goes for anyone who finds strength anywhere - within themselves or externally. We are all prone to weakness, therefore we all have a responsibility of empathy. We should use our strength to lift the weak up, not beat them down. 

Sunday, August 09, 2015

The Difference Between a Screen Door and a Porch

A beautiful and wise friend left a comment on my "Screen Doors" post recently. I started to reply in the comments section, but her words said so much, I decided to post them here before replying.

When you were a Christian, didn't you sometimes feel that you had to hold back about expressing your beliefs, for fear of putting a huge block in your relationship with your atheist friends? We all make mistakes and (I think) just stumble along in life. I can be quite critical of others until I realize how many time I put my own foot into my own mouth. So I am not trying to defend anything here, and I figure for every person with fairly clear thinking and fairly good motives, there may be a completely muddled and selfish person, Christian or atheist alike. But I'm trying to say that I think maybe a screen door is an attempt to avoid building a brick wall. I say this because my youngest son hit a faith crisis right about the same time you declared your atheism. I don't think he'd say he's an atheist. I think he believes there is a God; he just doesn't particularly like God right now. Between the two of you, my world has been rocked with a massive sense of loss. Yet I have hope in my Lord, and I pray for Him to reveal His light and beauty and grace. When I held my tiny baby boy and felt all that mother-love for him, when I nursed him and burped him, washed him and dressed him, cared for him and delighted in how cute he was and the funny things he said and did, I never imagined that we would be here at this point today. I still love him with all my heart, but there are many things I cannot say to him. To me, this is my screen door: I am open to him, I long to have a full relationship with him. I pray for him multiple times every day. He is always welcome in my home. I love to be able to cook for him, or do his laundry, although he rarely allows me to. When he wants to talk, I am ready, I respond. But I have to wait. I have to wait for him to open the door. My screen door is unlocked and I stand behind it watching the horizon for his silhouette, hoping like crazy that he will come home and turn the handle.

First, let me say what a beautiful picture she just painted. It brings tears to my eyes. I remember lying on my side in the still and silent hours of the night, cradling my nursing infant son in the crook of my arm and crying noiseless tears over the enormity of my responsibility to him.  As I struggled with my own faith during those days and months, I prayed with all the strength of my being that he would grow to love God and that he would be saved. Nothing frightened me more than the idea of my perfect baby boy (or either of my perfect girls) rejecting Jesus as their Savior and spending eternity in hell. I remember the passion, the pain and the desperation I felt as I begged the Lord to spare my children, to spare this innocent child at my breast, to give them all life everlasting, in spite of my own shortcomings.

I remember like it was yesterday.

And I can only imagine it gets harder with age, as these young people develop into their own selves, and create their own identities and pursue their own paths. For a believing mother to watch her child struggle with faith or turn from it completely must be heart-wrenching agony to say the least.

But to respond further to what my friend said, let me say that I don't think she has put up a screen door at all.  Judging by her words, it sounds more like she and her son are both sitting on the porch swing, sipping a glass of iced tea together and trying to understand.  They've met in the middle.

I feel like this with my own mom. I know it kills her that I'm not a believer anymore. I know her heart aches, and I know the number of tears she has shed is uncountable. But she's not hiding inside behind a screen door, keeping me out, waving to me from a distance. She has stepped outside, feeling a little out of her comfort zone, to meet me on the porch. And I too have had to step out of my comfort zone to join her there. It's not comfortable for me to face the pain my unbelief causes her, but I do not want to walk away or avoid her. I would rather walk up those steps and join her on the porch, both of us feeling a little unsure of what to say but allowing love to fill the silences.

I think that's where I used to put myself as a believer with unbelieving friends.  They weren't in my church buildings or on my mission trips, and I wasn't exactly where they were. But we met in middle. I wanted them in my church, perhaps, and they probably would've loved for me to living free and easy where they were "in the world" (as I'd have considered it). But if Christians. or any other version of believers, hide behind their closed doors or screen doors, they will never touch the lives they long to touch, and they will miss out on relationships with amazing people. And if non-believers stay off the property of believers, wanting nothing to do with them, they will miss the love and friendship of some wonderful, beautiful people. There is discomfort on both sides, and there is sometimes misunderstanding or miscommunication. But if we can join each other on the porch, we can learn to speak one another's languages and start to understand. There can be love freely given and freely received.

For me, it's uncomfortable sometimes to feel like someone's mission project. Sometimes, taking those steps up onto the porch is daunting. I am confident in what I believe (and don't believe); I don't want to preached at or "reached out to". However, until I join you on the porch, I'll never know if you've just got a religious agenda to "save" me or if you truly, genuinely care about me.

For you, it's uncomfortable to feel judged or ridiculed for your beliefs.  Taking those steps means you might be vulnerable to someone's scorn or rejection.  You might be vulnerable to your own pain and worry for them and their souls.  You don't want to be mocked or attacked, and you want to guard your heart. But until you join me on the porch, you'll never know if I just have an atheist agenda or if I just truly, genuinely care about you.

My friend, you haven't just left your screen door open and unlocked for your son.  You have confronted your discomfort and have stepped outside to meet your son on the porch. I hope he has joined you there.  I hope that it is there, in the slightly humid air, on a slightly stiff swing, that the two of you can feel the cool evening breeze of understanding and love that makes sitting on that porch worth the uneasiness that such a fundamental divide stirs within the both of you.