Dance, Don’t Wrestle

I can feel it when it happens. Can you? A tense conversation begins to escalate and my strong emotions, my perspective, my concerns, my fears, all begin to fuel my desperation to be heard.

To be understood. To appeal to reason. To prevail.

And I wrestle. If it is someone I care for deeply, I give it my all.

And God is right. “Where words are many, sin is not absent.” (Prov. 10:19)

I say too much. I say it with too much passion. I sound strident and angry and inflexible.

All the love I truly feel for the other person is drowned out by my own voice. Instead, I usually end up injured and injuring- emotionally and physically exhausted.

Everyone has hard moments in relationships. It is a normal part of life, but it can be super helpful to have tools to navigate the stormy times. As I sat in a seminar last month, the speaker gave us this advice that has been super helpful and timely for me:

 You need to change how you are communicating. You need to dance, not wrestle. When you sense you are beginning to wrestle, shift back to where you were last dancing together about the topic and reapproach it from another angle.

Hmmm…it sounded good, but would it work when tensions were high?

The very next day it was showtime. I had to work through a super messy, emotional, life changing conversation with someone I love. I wrote “dance, don’t wrestle” on a piece of paper and set it between us.

We faced each other with those three words as the referee.

By God’s grace, as we haltingly tried to move forward in our hard talk, we began to “dance.” I stepped on her toes. She stepped on mine. But, we persevered.

When I felt the urge to “wrestle” or when I could tell she was ready for a throw-down, I shifted us back to the place in the discussion where we had been on the same page. From there, I would try to reapproach the hard topic from a new angle.

It took us a long time. This dancing conversation continued off and on for two more days as we waded through deep waters of differing perspectives and hard decisions. But I was proud of us. We mostly danced and never had an all-out wrestling match (yes, sometimes we got close). Because we had experienced successful dancing, we wanted to keep the dance going.

That was nearly a month ago. Those three words have stuck with me as I think about all of my life, not just hard conversations. Life gives us many opportunities to choose to dance or wrestle. As a friend, pointed out: the words aren’t actually saying anything new. It is just a new way to express what Jesus already told us to do: Love others the way you want to be loved.

No one wants to feel verbally or emotionally overpowered and wrestled into submission.

I have found myself wondering am I dancing or wrestling with God in the midst of the days of my life? It has been humbling to realize that I do a whole lot of wrestling with Him about the parts of my life that feel hard. Sigh.

I really want to be responsive and willing to stay in step with Him but some of His dances I have trouble following. He is a bold, strong, fearless dance lead.

But, I hope I become a better dancer as I grow to trust His leading and focus more on following Him, rather than bossing Him around this dance floor called my life.

Life is harder than I ever imagined it would be. In the six years since John died, my unexpected journey has continued to surprise and confound me with new twists and turns.

Maybe, like me, your life keeps you on your toes (& knees). I am glad for the company.

May God encourage you in the midst of the messiness of your life that He will meet you right there in the smack-dab middle of it, take your hand, and lead you to dance with Him again, or for the very first time.

And, may He teach us how to dance with one another.

hoping for more dancing than wrestling this week,
maria

 

 

 

 

Umm, How Are You Doing?

It is a question I hear often, and every single time my brain gridlocks. The question is asked earnestly. People care. They genuinely want to know how we are doing- each of the kids, our new house, the upcoming holidays, and the status of my grief’s healing process.

I want to honor their question with honesty. 

But where to begin? And do they have time for the answers? Are they really just happy to hear we are holding steady or do they want to know more?

In a split second, my mind considers those things before I reply. If it is in passing, they receive a smile and, “we are doing well, thank you.” If there is a window of time for conversation, they might hear various updates.

I guess the problem is that the question is ultimately too broad. Each of us represents layers of life:

Our bodies- healthy, well or somewhere in between

Our life responsibilities- jobs, houses, the chores of caring for the stuff of life, future plans

Our many relationships and their ups and downs

Our mental & emotional stresses & joys

Our soul’s pulse

So, the question, “How are you doing?” needs to be more specific because no single answer accurately represents the whole of me, or you. Maybe some parts of life are great, but others stink. The answers can vary tremendously. Life is always in flux.

When I was five, one sock could be nicely pulled up but the other one down around my ankle (sometimes, miserably down in my shoe!). One up, one down. Life tends to be like that. There always seems to be something to tend to.

For me, any answer I give is easily misread. Saying we are doing well doesn’t mean I am “over grieving” and moving on with this unexpected new life (whatever that means?!).

So, here are some how-we-are-doing highlights from two dimensions of my life:

Kids:
Biggest news- my oldest daughter is engaged & getting married next summer! Surely, you will be hearing more about this in the months to come, but we are genuinely delighted she is marrying someone so wonderful. We have been praying for him since she was a little girl. John would be smiling.

Just like in many of your families, school/college is challenging and time consuming for all of them. Our third daughter is a high school senior; she is in the midst of college application stress (& we feel her pressure). Pray. Work. Love. (& give back rubs!)

They are becoming adults before my eyes and wowing me with the shift of balance. I am on a train headed back from NYC; typing as I travel. My second daughter lived there for a few weeks last summer so she was my city tour guide- confident, capable, and city savvy. It was so wonderful having her in charge. How the tables have turned since our earlier days in NYC when I pushed her in a stroller! I am really becoming enthralled with this stage of my kids becoming my adult friends. 

New House:
Our new house is feeling like home, and we are looking forward to spending the holidays there together. There are some areas that still need to be dealt with, but I just work on them when I have the focused time and the energy. There are at least 50 things that make it a wonderful spot for us! I exclaim about them to the kids frequently. All of the hard work to move was worth it. The Lord was so good to place us there.

And, as we have settled into our home, I have found I am settling in too. Quieting down inside. Moving- the anticipation, the decision, the process- it created a lot of angst, but the dust is settling literally & figuratively.

The unwelcome, awkward novelty of being a widowed mom is becoming intuitive and is actually, very rewarding. At first, after John died, it was a reflexive, protective response, but now it is a privilege and joy. I am relishing these last few years (or in my daughter’s case- months) of it being my daily job.

And, that, my reading friends, is a little slice of how we are doing.

May the Lord give you grace to keep on praying, working & loving,

By His daily grace, I am too,

Maria

Family of Three Becomes Five Again!

We were all smiles as we poured the syrup on our pancakes, then held our glasses high to toast our school year together. We did it!  We made it!

A whole school year of just the three of us together.

I was with my youngest two children (13, 17) as we celebrated at our favorite diner last week. Our school year together was coming to a close. Our college girls were soon returning home for the summer.

Last August, we weren’t sure what to expect as the two oldest girls went away to school, and the three of us were left alone. I had dreaded that transition.  Our dinner table keeps on shrinking.

Three plates at dinner. More empty spaces.  A much, much quieter house without our boisterous girls.

But, we have had a fabulous year together. They have found their voices in the midst of all the quiet. I have loved our quieter, simpler life with very little conflict. It has been a long time since I only had two children, and it has been wonderful! The Lord truly blessed our year.

We all agree that we love our loud, crazy family dynamics when everyone is here, but it has been nice to experience a different style of family life. I love that they have truly enjoyed our time together. Honestly, I was afraid I would bore them. : )

So, after Wednesday, we are all back together. And, I am realistic as two pseudo-adults rejoin our family mix. There will be a lot of family fun and love but there will also be some flat-out conflict.

Sigh.

When the girls were home for a holiday last fall, the Lord showed me that I had to shift gears. When we are together I just want all of us to get along- no argument, no tensions- just pure happiness. After all, we’ve been through such heartache, shouldn’t we get a pass on conflict?  

But, on that visit, things were far from blissful!  There was conflict. Loud. Confusing. Layered. No passes in sight.

And, at moments of escalating tension I desperately miss John. Dads have gravitas. John would deliver no-nonsense decrees that overruled conflict. He kept the boundaries of conflict in place just by his presence. I don’t carry that kind of weight. I wish I did.

But I don’t. 

In the midst of the conflict a few months ago, I realized I had to accept three things, and I am reminding myself of them as the girls rejoin us for the summer:

1. Realistic expectations: Conflict is going to happen. It is a reality. Embrace it. I tend to despair when there is conflict and have usually assumed it is something to avoid. A sign that something is broken in our family communication. But, in the past few years as I have parented alone, I have learned that I was ridiculously unrealistic. It is normal and healthy to learn how to work through the emotions that are a part of human life. Our families are great practice rooms for working through these issues because our ties to one another are deep and enduring.

I am reminding myself: don’t panic when conflict breaks out.

2. Learning curve for everyone: Two of my children are pseudo-adults, and my third is soon going to join them. Becoming an adult is as new to them as it is to me. They are learning what it is like to do life on their own when they are away from us. When they come back and have to reintegrate into the family it is confusing and hard. Some months I am learning how to let them go, then at other times letting the new person they’ve become find where they fit in. None of us have ever done any of this before. We aren’t going to do it perfectly.

This summer I am going to mess up more often than I like as I awkwardly figure out my new place in their lives. So are they. It’s real and it’s okay. We’re learning as we go. Grace needs to flow in both directions.

3. Consequences are far-reaching.  It is like gravity. Though they may be moving into adult independence, their decisions still impact all of us and can create tensions between us. In my opinion, part of becoming an adult is realizing these consequences are real: “My decisions impact the people I love.”  Love considers consequences because love is considerate.

That goes for me too. I can bless my kids by being considerate of them and their plans. All too often I am still in the dictator role. Yikes. Considerate love is contagious. I hope I spread some.

Parenting alone makes me desperate for wisdom. Thankfully, the Lord is generous to lead me as a I cautiously make my way through this field that can be full of daisies or landmines, depending on the day.

I found this passage last year and it truly inspires how I parent now:

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”  1 Thessalonians 2:11-12

So, for those of you who are welcoming college kids back home:  my heart is with you!  May the Lord bless our time together (in spite of ourselves) as we encourage, comfort and urge these people we are blessed to call our own.

Loving 5 place settings,

Maria

PS  A great book for parenting teens & beyond that I have been reading lately: Losing Control and Liking It by Tim Sanford

A Loss so Big in a Heart so Young

… She Misses Her Momma

I just realized.

When Dad died, I lost not only a father but also a mother.

Mom is an incredible woman and I respect and admire her more and more every day.

But she is not the same woman I used to know.

She has to pay the bills, fix the leaky pipes, monitor the hearts of her children, invest in relationships of other family members, do laundry…. The list continues. I have no idea how she does it all.

Without dad, mom is stretched thin. I feel bad talking to her about what’s going on in my life. I’m a big girl now. She needs to emotionally invest in my other siblings. Not me.

But I still miss our relationship.

I don’t like feeling distant from her.

Erg. Life.

Xoxo

Blondie

________

That was written by my oldest daughter on her blog about a year after John died.  I read it for the first time this week. It makes me sad that she felt that way, and it makes me doubly sad I didn’t know it until now.

When a child loses a parent, the losses and pain are complex and far-reaching. The fact is that the living parent must absorb all the roles that used to comfortably belong to two:  bills and finances; lawn work;  car repairs; appliances that break; stopped up shower drains; parenting and nurturing children; endless purchases from shoes for kids to Christmas gifts to replacing weed eaters…all of life now belongs to one.

I am still stunned (& frequently exhausted) by it all.

I really miss just being their mom. They miss it too.

Today is Children’s Grief Awareness Day.  Don’t those four words make you cringe?  Children and grief don’t go together. Shouldn’t go together.

Yet, thousands of children live with the loss of a parent or sibling.  They are dealing with the hardest reality of life too soon, too young.

After walking alongside my children and grief for almost three years, I have learned a few things that I think every grieving child needs to hear from people who love them:

Yes, your loved one did die, and it is terrible and painful and unfair but…

  • you didn’t die and their death does not define who you are or your future. You are not a member of the “my- life-will-always-be-awful” club.  You have life to live and the person you’ve lost wants you to embrace life.
  • beauty is still in this world and you will see it. Sooner than you can imagine.
  • joy will surprise you and return one day, and your heart will feel light and hopeful and optimistic and colorful.
  • laughter will bubble out of you again, and it will be real, not forced. You don’t have to feel guilty when you do feel happy. It doesn’t dishonor your mom or dad or sibling. They always loved the music of your laughter and would want you to feel it and the world to hear it.
  • healing will happen without you even trying. Like when you get stitches or break your arm, your body heals over time. Your heart will heal too, slowly but surely.
  • memories of time with them are precious treasures. Don’t be afraid to remember. You will never forget your loved one. Sometimes those memories are shy at first, but you can let them come out. They are gifts to you now because they take you back to being with your loved one. Go there often in your mind and ask people to keep remembering with you. These stories are a precious possession.
  • Peace will come. Grief won’t be scary forever. You will be able to be still and quiet with your grief and not be afraid of it.
  • God loves you, but you might not love Him right now. You might be mad at Him. You might not even know what you think about Him. It’s okay to tell Him how you really, truly feel. He loves you, whether you love Him or not. He also understands what a terrible robber death is, and it makes Him mad. So mad He sent Someone to end it. That someone is Jesus.
  • God comforts the brokenhearted and He is a Father to the Fatherless. He loves orphans- whether they have lost one parent or both- and He cares for them in special ways. You will see and experience it in your life.

Another essential way to help grieving children is to encourage their hurting parents. Whether they have lost a spouse or a child, the temptation to stop caring about life is real. As a grieving adult it is very easy to be swallowed up by your own loss. To let it pull you under.

But, at my lowest moments, I couldn’t shake the truth that our four children needed me to care. They didn’t need for me to make things worse. They needed me to make nutritious meals. Do laundry. Cuddle up on the sofa. Tuck them in. Keep loving them the way they had always been loved.

They had already lost their dad. The last thing they needed was for grief to rob them of their mom too. On March 8, only one person died, not two, not six.  John would want me to live and love them with every fiber of my being (and his), not burden them with more sorrows.

There is so much more to say. But, if you are close to a child or family that is reeling from loss, gently encourage and support them to love one another well and embrace life. Give them reasons to smile and laugh and hope and see beauty again. It is the greatest gift you can give to a grieving child.

May the Lord tuck all of them in tonight and wipe away their tears,

Maria