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Work Around Your Abyss

I recently read Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection.  It triggered a lot of soul-searching.  It led me to the realization that I define my self-worth based on how well I do things.  Thus, I feel very positive about myself while I am at work.  I am a productive employee who meets expectations in all areas. 

The problem is I am not a productive wife or mother.  Being a mother, especially to a preschooler and child with ASD, is so overwhelming.  Most of the time as a parent, I feel frustrated, anxious and hopeless.  This has produced a wife who is too emotionally and mentally exhausted to contribute much around the house.  My husband does all the cooking and laundry at our house. As a wife, I feel lazy, ashamed and like a burden.  So while I love being at work, I feel like I am crawling out of my skin at home.

And it’s all because I define my self-worth based on my level of productivity.  And I have no idea how to stop this.  For me, it’s like the facts are in.  My employer is highly satisfied with my performance.  If polled, my husband and children would likely say they are not.  I’m mean, bristly and short-fused.  I’m inattentive, unaffectionate and unhelpful.  I can rationalize that these statements are mere conjecture, and even if true, not true all of the time.  But even when I can mentally grasp that, I still can’t get those feelings out of my heart.

But today I read this:

 “There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss.  You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible.  You have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes.

Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it.  There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.”

Work Around Your Abyss – Henri Nouwen

Now I feel like I have a road map of sorts.  I can see that I have let myself become completely absorbed by my pain at home and it has paralyzed me.  I can also see that I have pushed myself so hard at work that it’s allowed me to avoid the pain of ill-defined self-worth.  I need to understand this abyss of mine.  What led me to this place?  What purpose has this torturous self-worth served for me?  Why is it so hard to settle for good enough?  I don’t know the answers to any of those questions yet, but at least now I have a place to start.  Going to work around my abyss, trusting that someday it will close.

My Kid is Not a Brat

My kid is not a brat. He has Autism and ADHD. We have made a few parenting mistakes with him, but we have not raised him wrong. The biggest mistake we made was not advocating for a diagnosis and services early enough. Vaccines did not do this to him. Both his older and younger sisters are neurotypical. They were both vaccinated and have been raised in much the same way that Caleb has been. It is an insult to hear people blame my son’s behavior on poor parenting or vaccinations. I would rather have a child with ASD than a dead child.

My son wants what every other kid his age wants. Namely, friends to play with. Except he is hard to play with. He is focused exclusively on dinosaurs, the solar system, vehicles, Lego and coloring pictures of any of those things. He carries around stuffed animals with him. He still wears a pull up. He has major meltdowns if he is misunderstood due to his speech impediment or if he is asked to transition from one activity to another without enough warning. He physically lashes out if people are too close or the environment is too loud. Oddly enough, he has no sense of personal space and is constantly trying to hug, kiss, snuggle and otherwise touch everyone he encounters. He is also the loudest human I have ever met. He still puts just about everything in his mouth. He struggles to get dressed on his own. He only eats around 5 foods and will only eat with his fingers because he does not have the dexterity to successfully eat with silverware. Needless to say, he isn’t exactly the kind of kid other children his age are begging to play with.

There is a little boy in his grade that lives on the other side of our fence. There’s even a gate between the two yards. Lately, the kids at that house have been telling Caleb he can’t come over. They might be legitimately busy, but my protective mama bear can’t help but think they just don’t want to play with him anymore. Caleb stands at that gate every day, staring and begging to come over. Then they say no and he starts screaming and sobbing. Then they really don’t want him to come over and play. My heart breaks every time. Yesterday, it broke enough that I sat with him in my lap and we both cried together.

School starts on Tuesday. We are fighting tooth and nail to get him special education services. We are starting an intensive therapy called ABA that will hopefully address some of the struggles I mentioned above. We are also hoping that this year he will make some friends, that he will have someone to play with at recess and that he won’t get kicked off the bus. We are hoping this year, he will somehow miraculously turn a corner and that around that bend he will find happiness instead of tears.

Why it Matters to Me

I have had some people, especially family, ask why what’s going on with the current presidency matters so much to me. They say their 401k is doing great and that’s what matters. Besides, they say, what’s going on with the border, what’s happening with race relations, what’s happening with trade – none of anything that’s going on for people that are different than me makes a difference in my life, so why does it matter?

Here’s why:

I am a follower of Christ. I believe that what Christ says about how we are to treat the poor, the refugee the stranger and otherwise disenfranchised is gospel truth. Christ commands us to do this. Therefore, it matters to me. I believe it should matter to all those who profess to be a Christian. It deeply troubles and confuses me when fellow Christians view the status of their 401k to be more important than how others are being treated.

The things the current president says also deeply trouble me. The things he says are vile, racist, sexist and bigoted. Some may say that he’s just calling it like it is and they like it. But it is so wrong. It is not something a Christ follower should say or condone. Again, it deeply troubles and confuses me when fellow Christians view the status of their 401k to be more important than what our president says.

Another thing that deeply troubles me is that our president is in denial about what is happening to our climate. There are more floods, fires and other extreme weather events than ever before. The Amazon rain forest is burning down. The icebergs are melting. Coastlines are being swallowed up by rising ocean levels. This is real. Call it climate change or whatever you want but it is happening. Protections for wildlife are also being stripped away. God called Christians to care for creation. It deeply troubles and confuses me when fellow Christians view the status of their 401k to be more important than fulfilling a duty that God gave us in the first few chapters of the Bible.

The only Christians who support our president right now with whom I can find common ground are those who are anti-abortion. They believe lives are truly at stake. I have come to find some respect for that position because I too believe lives are at stake. People are actually dying because of our president’s words and actions. The dignity and respect we should have for all people as Christians has apparently become optional for so many followers of Christ and I just can’t wrap my head around how this happened.

All of this matters to me. It does affect me personally because the marginalized are so close to my heart. They are who I serve everyday as a social worker. These people matter more to me than my 401k. As a social worker, I am ethically, and in some ways legally, bound to have my priorities aligned in this manner. As a Christ follower, I am biblically commanded to have my priorities aligned this way.

And it truly scares me when I see the opposite as true to other Christians.

My Week in Haiku

If the morning sucks
I wear my t-shirt that says
NOT TODAY SATAN.

Usually it helps
But on Wednesday it didn’t
Was a cluster f***

Beds bugs are awful
And creepy too when they are
On my client’s shirt

Said hard things to Dad
We used to fight all the time
Now it’s truth in love

The psych ward can help
But when you have to go back
To real life it’s hard

She was so anxious
I hope I helped her calm down
Will find out Monday

Smoking is quite bad
So I put a patch on my
Left arm hope it helps

What I Do

So I tried to be a pastor once. It just didn’t work out. I drink, smoke and swear. Sometimes I do all three too much. Plus I’m a woman and therefore not welcome at many a pulpit. To top it off, I have bipolar disorder which means I had Sundays that I was full of gusto up front, able to spur the congregation on to praise and thanksgiving, able to open the service with the kind of energy the pastor and worship leader were looking for. Other Sundays, I was melancholy and invited the congregation to reflect on their struggles and cling to the cross as they sought out help, mercy, forgiveness and lifeline. Those days I brought a somber soul. Somber wasn’t what they were looking for. Needless to say, I didn’t feel all that welcome, so I quit being a pastor.

Now I’m a social worker. A mental health and substance abuse case manager to be precise. At any given time, I am serving close to 45 clients who are looking for housing, trying to get clean, battling the court system, and striving to understand and cope with their mental illnesses. Their substance abuse issues and mental illnesses range in severity, but no matter where they are at on the spectrum their disorders are debilitating and most are unable to hold a job. They struggle even to get along with other people and to understand societal norms. They all live in poverty and to be honest, have very little chance of getting out of poverty. They are engaged in their recovery at different levels of commitment as well. Their commitment levels range from, as we’d say clinically, precontemplation to action.

I love my job. My clients are tough. Some are tough because our personalities simply clash. Others are tough because they come to me with problems that truly have no good solutions. But they’re also hilarious, good people who have good stories to tell (some true, some based in psychosis, some straight up lies) and they all deserve respect. They’re all short on money, but they’re running even shorter on respect.

Found a song this week that completely describes what I do and the how’s and why’s of what I do. It’s by Fort Minor and called The Name.

You ready?! Let’s go!
Yeah, for those of you that wanna know what we’re all about
It’s like this y’all (c’mon)

This is ten percent luck
Twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure
Fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name

Not exactly bullet points I’d put on my resume. But that’s how I pull off what I do every day. And I do it because the people I serve deserve to be remembered. They deserve to be respected. I also do it because I have my own struggles and can very much relate to where they are coming from. But the biggest reason I do it is because I am a pastor at heart and I believe they all deserve to have someone in their life who can find that piece of gospel dwelling inside of them, call it out and cultivate it.

Pancakes and Magic

So as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been listening to a lot more music lately. I am hooked on Macklemore. Today I heard “The Magic” and it just caught me off guard and gave me something to reflect on for the rest of the day.

And then I remembered the magic
Forgot that you can’t plan it
It’s always there in front of us
Just trust and it happens
And the star dust from the universe of this planet
I just get stressed when I try to understand it
And then I remembered the magic
Forgot that you can’t plan it

Dan is gone. For the fifth time in the last 7 weeks. I am a hot mess when Dan is gone. I just barely qualify as a “good enough” mom. The kids eat. Nobody dies. I pay a babysitter to give my kids bath once or twice while he’s gone so I can go out and get a beer.

Not today, people! I made pancakes for dinner. I did laundry. I snuggled. I watched Dinosaur train for over an hour. I didn’t scream at my kids. There was magic there today. Definitely didn’t plan it. I can’t say I was trusting, but it totally just happened.

A Prayer

This is the best prayer I know of for all that is going in our nation today. Please take 4 minutes to listen.

Idea #21 (it’s not too late)