enjoying the pain

This is hard to explain, but I will try.

Probably my whole life, I have hated feeling certain things: anger, guilt, confusion, and discouragement. I would try to avoid feeling, but you know what happens when you try not to feel something? You might end up feeling it a lot more intensely.

So because I hate feeling angry, I feel even angrier. Because I avoid being discouraged, I get more discouraged. Because I try not be depressed, I feel depressed.

I’ve been reading a book about acceptance and commitment therapy. I read a section where someone said they had learned to enjoy feeling anxious. Feeling anxious is just part of life. We all feel it. And it’s okay to feel it.

It’s okay to be angry and sad and discouraged and confused. It’s okay to feel those things. And when it’s okay, and you accept those feeling in your life, then things become a lot better. You can actually learn to enjoy the pain, in a way. People who exercise a lot, or love going on roller coasters, or love intensive jobs have learned how to enjoy pain because they know it makes them better.

I will always have times where I feel anger, guilt, and sadness. But when I allow myself to feel those things, instead of fighting against them and closing myself up, I can start to live my life again.

A few days ago, I was angry at my husband. But I accepted that. I didn’t fight it. And it went away. I removed myself from that fight (he didn’t really do anything wrong anyway) and just let it happen. I didn’t yell and try to make the problem go away. It just existed, and that was fine–I could feel angry and jealous and all of that without needed to resolve it. And then later, I was playing with my kids and I found myself laughing, and laughing a lot. I let myself feel anger–and then I was able to let myself feel joy. (This is still a major work in progress.)

I can find a lot more positive emotions, like laughter and happiness, because I’m no longer afraid of my own feelings.

Emotions have never been my enemy. They are my friend. Even the grief and depression and the anxiety and the worry. They are all part of my life. And I can accept them. I am more than how I feel.

I don’t know if that will make any sense to you. Because I have heard the same message over and over again and I never really understood. I still hated my feelings.

But today, I don’t.

The joy of a simple life

I am currently reading a self-help book that drives down the same, worn-out path of trying to convince the reader that they can accomplish a lot because the author has accomplished a lot. If the reader follows the path of the author by doing specific things, then the reader will also be successful. And usually success is defined in a specific way, such as wealth, career accomplishment, and general productivity and happiness.

This is a false narrative.

We all live different lives. Some of us won’t ever be successful in certain ways–we have struggles, and sometimes those struggles never go away. You may not make much money. You may struggle to spend your time wisely. You might struggle with mental health, making daily happiness seem impossible. You might fail in career goals. Your family might fall apart in a way that can’t be put back together again.

It’s a lie that we can all achieve a certain kind of success.

But that’s okay. Because you don’t need that sort of success in your life anyway.

We are given are specific circumstances. We do the best we can, and we make mistakes. But we keep trying. And while we do want to be the best we can be, that may mean that we live a simple, unnoticed live, filled with problems.

My Grandma Jane lived a simple life. She was an incredibly talented woman in many different ways: computers, crocheting, sewing, bookkeeping, genealogy, and more. But she dealt with a huge amount of challenges in her life–health problems, infertility, financial struggles, family difficulties, and trying to overcome her own weaknesses.

I love my Grandma Jane very much and she means a lot to me. She helped others in small and simple ways, and that was enough.

Sometimes we get so caught up in being successful in the certain ways we want that we forget that the small and simple things we do are so much more important.

I don’t want to live in a big house and have lots of money. I don’t want to get the best grades or a high-profile job. I don’t need to start a successful business or publish books or whatever.

Because my life doesn’t have to be successful in those ways at all. I want to love and serve in small and simple ways. I want to keep trying even if life become difficult. I don’t need to be noticed, because I am already loved.

 

You can cry about the spilled milk … after it’s cleaned up.

So it’s about 5:30 in the evening. I really want my husband to be home. I’ve been working on some things on the computer, which means that either my kids are watching way too much television or the house is a wreck. When I get off the computer, I find that it is both: the house is covered cracker and brownie crumbs. A can of cooked carrots has managed to make a presence in every single room of the house. Half my books are on the floor. And the kids have been binge watching YouTube videos yet again, even though I told them not to (I’m getting a device to shut off the TV; I hope it works).

In the middle of this, I look down to see that my daughter has something nasty on her leg. Yes, it’s poop. It’s not her poop. The poop belongs to the naked three-year-old. He’s naked because he successfully went poop in the toilet earlier and he never got himself dressed again. But this time, he pooped in the toy room. I am glad it’s not on the carpet in the living room like it was two days ago.

So I have to clean up the poop. When that is done, I just want to cry because there is still so much to do.

But I think to myself: Not right now. You can cry about this in a minute, but right now you are going to clean everything up. And then I clean (most of) it up. (When I’m done cleaning, I write this blog post.)

It’s okay to cry over spilled milk. I’ve done it before when my kids have spilled bowls of cereal FOUR DAYS IN A ROW. But it’s better to cry about it AFTER you clean it up. You’re already upset, so it’s not going to make things worse to actually clean up your messes. It might actually make it better. And if it doesn’t, when you’re done cleaning, lock yourself in your room and let yourself feel awful for a few minutes and take time to breathe. It’s okay.

I don’t know

Recently, I was teaching a lesson in church and someone commenting mentioned that even though she was sharing advice, she didn’t feel like she had it all figured out. I feel the same way a lot. If you could look into my day-to-day operations, you would know that I do not have it all together and I make mistakes on a constant basis.

But I keep trying. And that’s enough, because trying is all I’ve got. When I yell at my kids, I’m going to apologize and try not to yell again. When I spend half the day in my pajamas doing nothing, I’m going to get up and get in the shower and clean the house. When I fail at my goals, I’m going to keep setting goals anyway.

I know a lot more than I can actually do. I know what I want my life to look like, but I can’t always actually put that into effect. There is a large gap there, and there always will be.

So some days I don’t have advice because I’m not perfect and I make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes are quite overwhelming. I am so deficient in so many ways. But so is everyone.

And it doesn’t matter if I have it figured out. I can keep taking that next step anyway.

(I wrote this post because I was procrastinating cleaning my house.)

How to have a bad day

I have bad days. And I have really horrible days. I would really like all my days to be good days–but that’s not realistic. I’m going to have bad days. I’m going to have days when I wake up tired and cranky. I’m going to have days with bad news and things that go wrong.

So how do I learn how to do deal with the bad days so they don’t become downright awful days that I deeply regret?

Here are five ideas.

1. Acceptance. 

I can’t change the past. Or predict the future. And sometimes, I just have to accept what is right now. Even if it isn’t what I want. I can’t change certain things, and trying to change them by worrying about them over and over isn’t going to help me or anyone else. I have to accept things I don’t want to: I make mistakes. I get cranky. I have off days. But I can accept those things, because they happen. They are real. Accepting it makes it way easier to deal with.

2. Forgiveness. 

I need to forgive others, I need people to forgive me, and I need to forgive myself. Forgiveness means I’m going to let go of anger and resentment and shame. I’m going to realize that mistakes are not definitive. And I’m going to keep trying to do the best I can.

3. Release Expectations. 

Sometimes the reason I have a bad day is because I was very much expecting Plan A, and then I have to deal with Plan B (or C or Z) instead. When I hold on to Plan A, I am miserable. But Plan A only exists in my head. I can let go of it. I can get rid of the expectations I had for perfection and happiness and just exist with life as it is. I can embrace Plan B and accept things aren’t going according to plan. Because Plan B is the right plan: it’s the plan that actually exists.

4. Remember Priorities and People. 

Sometimes I prioritize things that are not very important–like having a clean house or getting everything done on my list. I need to take a step back and realize my real priorities: family, becoming a better person, and serving others. People are more important than things. When everything goes wrong, there are still people who I love and who love me. They are more important than the things that went wrong.

5. Let the bad moment stay inside that moment. 

Sometimes I have a bad day because I had a singular bad moment and I spent the rest of the day worrying about it. Sometimes I have a bad week because I had one bad day. I’ve been learning to isolate those bad moments and not let them ruin my whole life. I made a mistake–it happens. I don’t need to drown myself in guilt and then punish myself over and over by making more wrong choices. I can forgive other people for their mistakes. I can choose to move forward and upward.

And if someone around me is having a bad day–I can apply those same things. I can accept that they are struggling, forgive them, release the expectations I had for them, love them, and then hope for a bright future. I’ve had bad days where I’ve sat on the computer dealing with problems in a sour mood–and my husband starts to make dinner, reassures me that I’m fine and it’s okay, and loves me instead of criticizing the fact that I have gotten way off track. I am so grateful for that. I try to give him the space and love he needs when he has a bad day too.

Bad days don’t last. Because usually, life is pretty awesome if we care to remember how many good days we actually have.

 

Changing Passions

I’ve changed a lot over the years:

  • At one point when I was young, I wanted to work with animals when I grew up because I loved animals so much. I grew up, and I don’t even like animals very much anymore.
  • I also thought I would write and publish young adult novels. I used to read young adult fantasy novels all the time and I thought I would read them for the rest of my life. And while I still read them on occasion, they are not my favorite books. I read more boring books now, like lots of nonfiction.
  • I loved Harry Potter. And I still like the books, but with everything Harry Potter is now, I don’t care for it very much.
  • I majored in English and philosophy. And it was great for that time in my life. But if I were to go back to school again, I would major in something like economics.
  • I was quite a shy person and I would have considered myself an introvert, but then I became a stay-at-home mom and I suddenly figured out that I love being with other people.

Now, these things were huge parts of who I was. And they changed. And I know that I’m going to keep changing as my life continues. I’ve gone in completely different directions than I ever thought. I’ve changed so many of my opinions, viewpoints, and fears. I’ve changed what I like to do. I’ve changed parts of my personality and how I act.

There are certain things that have stayed the same and I expect will stay the same the rest of my life, particularly my deepest held convictions like my faith in God, my love for family, and my desire to be a good person.

But so much of my life and who I am right now is temporary. It won’t be that way for forever. It isn’t really who I am in the long run–it’s just what’s happening right now.

Sometimes we think when we are young that we’re going to decide who we are going to be for the rest of our lives and we’re just going to go forward with our plans and live the life we imagined. But in my experience, life gets a whole lot more complicated than that. We change and evolve. It’s a good thing–I think I’ve gotten better over the years, after all. And while I’m not achieving the same life goals I had when I was young, I’m still working towards good things.

Change is good. Because the person who I was before is not quite as capable as the person I am now. Some things I thought were really important turned out not to be very important at all. Some things that were afterthoughts have become the primary focus of my life.

And I’m happy to be here, right now, even if this isn’t the life I envisioned. Because who I am right now and the life that actually happened is a whole lot better than I ever expected.

Happiness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Happiness is not dependent on circumstance.

Every other time we’ve moved, we really wanted to move. We moved after months of job searching, or after living with my parents, or after living in places we didn’t like. But this last time, while we felt like it was time to move, we liked the life we had. I felt like I was part of a community that I didn’t really want to leave.

Some days, I miss my friends, schools, and my house. Our new life is frankly a whole lot harder: I’m homeschooling now, my husband works longer hours, I’m really far away from town, and I gave up my green yard for a yard full of cactus and red sand. My house is smaller too. It’s taking some adjustment.

But I realized something one morning: my happiness is not dependent on my circumstance. Which means that I don’t have to like where I live to be happy. Happiness does not wait for life to be perfect–it can be here now.

Sometimes I fall into a trap of thinking that I have to see the good in everything. And sometimes, things are just hard and unpleasant. And I can accept that. It’s part of life.

I don’t have to love the paint color on my walls or enjoy my rather narrow kitchen. I don’t have to love every minute of spending all day, every day with my four children. There are things about my life right now that I don’t like and I don’t want. And that’s okay. Because I can still be happy.

It’s takes a lot of pressure off myself to say that I don’t have to enjoy every minute and I don’t have to like every single part of my life–and to then realize that I can still wake up smiling.

There are so many good things, and the good things are enough to outweigh everything lacking. And even when the difficult and hard things are completely overwhelming–it’s okay to cry. I don’t have to be happy all the time to have a happy life.

It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to dream of something better. It’s okay to feel whatever I’m feeling.

Sometimes I beat myself up for things that I do that aren’t even wrong. I expect myself to fit in a weird, impossible framework that I built up in my own mind. The perfection that I think I want isn’t practical–and it doesn’t exist.

Life isn’t perfect. Life isn’t fair. Life will always be sort of hard. That’s what life is–a roller coaster of ups and downs as circumstances constantly change.

So happiness does not need to wait–it can happen right now. Even if my house is a wreck. Even if I’m really tired. Even if I didn’t accomplish anything in a day. Even if I don’t particularly like where I live. Even if my life looks so different from I ever imagined–and I still wish for dreams that I’m not sure will ever happen.

My happiness isn’t dependent on any of that. Happiness comes not in the accomplishment, but in the trying.

So I’m feeling happy. Not because my life somehow got easier, but because I decided to stop expecting the impossible.

Fitting in

Do you feel like you aren’t good enough? That you don’t fit in? That you’ll never quite be able to connect with other people? That you are too different?

We all have those feelings at some point or another.

I just moved from a very tiny town in Wyoming to a tourist town in the middle of a whole bunch of national parks. The vibe here is so completely different. I need to relearn how to drive because there are actually lots of people. And traffic. It’s weird.

There are days when I feel like I don’t fit in. People like adventure here–hiking, biking, camping, rafting, whatever. Outdoor recreation is why this place exists.

And I like small adventures, like going on quarter-mile walk and leaving my house. Right now, I only go on short hikes and short camping trips. I do like to canoe, but I still have no idea what I’m doing and I go in the wrong direction. I usually have to force myself to exercise.

I’m surrounded by off-roading Jeeps, river trips through rapids, and mountain bikes–and I suddenly feel a bit inadequate. I’m a suburban-type of person who keeps ending up far away from the suburbs.

But instead of worrying about fitting in, I can be happy with where I’m at and recognize my own talents. Sometimes when I tell people I’ve written books, they seem impressed–but I don’t think it’s really that impressive. I just have a whole bunch of rejection letters and incredibly low sales. It’s mostly a hobby I’m a bit embarrassed about.

I look at people sometimes and I am so impressed with them: taking amazing photographs, or running races, or owning their business, or putting on effortless and beautiful makeup. Or doing all of the above.

But they probably don’t think of themselves that way. Because there is always someone who does more and does it better.

So instead of comparing and worrying about fitting in, it’s a whole lot better to recognize your strengths (you have them–you have a lot of them) and to learn from others and celebrate differences.

I fit in here. Not because I fit the mold, but because I am who I am and that’s enough.

Having it all

We can’t have it all.

As mothers, sometimes we feel pressure to do everything: work, stay-at-home, go back to school, start a new business, sign our kids up for various programs, do a better job at taking care of our house, whatever.

I know a lot of moms who work–and it’s really hard to balance work with family and home. You often feel like you are always in the wrong place. I know a lot of moms who stay at home–and it’s really hard to feel like you have purpose when you stay at home. Sometimes you battle loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem. And there are a lot of moms who are somewhere in-between.

There is always too much to do.

Motherhood requires sacrifice, no matter what your life looks like. And your life will never be quite the ideal. Something always seems to be missing.

And we are often worried about what others think. No one has the ideal life, really–it’s just a whole bunch of messiness. No one has it figured out in a way that’s right for everyone–we have to figure out our own specifics.

Sometimes that means working. Sometimes that means going back to school. Sometimes that means saying that now is not the right time. Sometimes it means really long days at home with your children.

We need to stop judging other people for whatever choices they make. But more importantly, we need to stop judging ourselves and instead just continue on the best that we know how.

We can count our blessings and help each other figure out how our individual lives should look like. We have to learn to make sacrifices of good things that we want in favor of what is better for us and our children.

And we should remember that our lives are going to be different from we expect, and instead of worrying about having it all, we should worry about having the right thing for us.

Right now, I’m a stay-at-home mom and I’m starting to homeschool my kids. I didn’t choose homeschooling as much as it was simply the right thing to do. With all four kids at home, I don’t have as much time to do some of my own projects. I’m also planning on going back to school in the fall. I don’t know how it will all work out. That’s okay. I’ll figure it out.

I do know that when I trust in what is right for me and my family, things will be all right.

It’s not going to be perfect and we’ll have horrible days and really good days. But we just keep trying.

Praise

From a young age, I have been involved in numerous choirs. I like to sing, but I haven’t had a lot of praise or criticism related to my ability to sing. I’ve some mildly positive comments, but that’s about it.

I am grateful for this. First, I’m not a great singer in the first place. But I’m also not a bad singer. So when I sing, I’m not worried about whether I’m doing it well or not. I’m just singing because I like to.

There are other aspects in my life where I have been much more sensitive to any praise or criticism that has come may way. I built my self-image around being good at academics or writing. The things I received the most praise about became part of who I am. And that wasn’t really a good thing.

Because no matter how good I am, there are always so many people who are better than me. I always have room for improvement. Sometimes, I’m not quite as good as I think I am–I have failed miserably at things that someone once praised me for.

I should never do things just to get praise. Who I am is different from what I do.

If I never received grades throughout school, I would probably be a different person. I would have a different, more resilient view of myself. I might be more willing to ask questions and admit what I don’t know. I would have learned more quickly to seek after learning for the sake of learning, not just to receive top marks.

Praise often does not lead to resiliency. It can lead to increased pressure and an inflated ego. Our self-worth needs to be based on who we are, not just what we can do in comparison to other people.

That doesn’t mean we stop praising people all together. But we need to be careful about the praise we hand out. Instead of saying, “You sing really well,” we can try, “I love to hear you sing.” Instead of saying, “You are really smart,” we might say, “I really am proud of how hard you have worked in school.” I am working on this with my children, but it’s hard, and I often shift back into the easier way of talking about things.

Sometimes we do things whether we are good at it or not–we do it because we enjoy it. In my experience, I find a lot more fulfillment and joy when I do things not because I’m good at them, but because I want to do something for its own sake. I learn to learn. I write to write. I like when I am focused on the work I am doing, instead of focused on myself and my reputation.

I am slowly trying to stop praising myself. I don’t have to be a good writer or a good singer or good at anything. I can just be me, and I can do those things and love them and that’s enough.