The Green-Ey’d Monster

Untitled design-36

 

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;

It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock

The meat it feeds on.

-William Shakespeare, Othello

I have been jealous of someone or for something for most of my forty-four-and-a-quarter years.The constancy has faded as I’ve settled into adulthood, but events arise at the most inopportune of times, rattling my hard-earned interior, my stability, my purpose. Jealousy is uncomfortable and painful, particularly when we work so hard to live authentic and well-adjusted lives of meaning and purpose. The threat to me, to my well-being, to my relationships is real.

I was a perfectly fine and attractive child, in fact, I think I was rather cute, with my mop of curly hair and big brown eyes. My mouth tilting toward a frown with an unrivaled surly bottom lip, which alerted the parents to my unhappiness.

All the little girls were fair game for my envy, specifically the cute, little ones with blonde hair, blue eyes, thin legs. The boys seemed to like that type the best.  I fantasized, praying my way to sleep, of waking in the morning with a slighter figure and long, straight hair. Somehow, somewhere I heard and believed that I was flawed. I don’t remember a particular moment for this message, but it settled in, to the depths of my core. I was not enough, I needed fixing.

As my body developed and shifted, my hips and thighs filled out, breasts appeared. I despised this divergence from the penciled line of my little girl body. I wanted to shrink down straight like a board. I was jealous of those girls.

Jealousy has been my compatriot, linked arm in arm we have judged and we have evaluated, lifting high the measuring stick to assess my position, my ranking amongst the others. Jealousy can rear up at the most inopportune moments, morphing itself into superiority if I measure well, or despair if I don’t. Jealousy can ruin a day, or a life, delivering us to the doorstep of self-hatred and loathing, worthlessness and fear.

I’ve followed Elizabeth Gilbert for some time now, particularly since she wrote the book Big Magic. Her podcast, Magic Lessons profiles discouraged creators. With loads of encouragement, intervention and personal challenges, she sends the artists back out into the world, armed to do what they love. In a recent episode, Liz offered a priceless, redemptive definition for jealousy. She stated, jealousy is a great teacher, an emotion we try to tamp down because it is uncomfortable. Jealousy is there to show us what we are longing for, our best indicator of what matters to us.

This feeling of jealousy is not a life sentence of misery, but a beacon. When I pay attention to the icky feeling, ask some healthy questions while treating myself with an overabundance of kindness, I am informed about me, about what makes me tick, about longings I didn’t know I had. To me, my appearance matters, my things matter, my writing matters, my mothering matters, my faith matters, being a generous human matters.

There is nothing more threatening than witnessing another’s excellence, my eyes light green with envy, but when I’m secure, the threat disappears and envy is replaced by admiration, inspiration, curiosity. My best armor against jealousy is pursuing what I love, finding what matters, discovering who I am apart from what others think of me. If I am contributing and loving and making things, jealousy can threaten but it can’t find a home. When I am jealous of another, usually it is because I see in them something I want to be or do or believe.

When I am at my most generous, I have goals and purpose and a few, good friends. At my most gracious, I recognize my privilege, I am serving, I am informed. When I am most kind, I am caring for myself, treating me with tenderness and love, eating well, getting regular exercise.

When the green eyed monster rears its ugly head, I’m eating crap, should-ing on myself, comparing and measuring, fearing another’s success, believing lies, fatigued. I get stuck in scarcity.

There is enough to go around in the world. We are not relegated to a life lived in the shadow of scarcity. We get to claim the goodness and the mercy. We get to be generous and kind. We can encourage and find beauty in the people around us. There is no need for threat, we are each gifted with remarkable and wonderful skills and offerings.

I’m not blonde, I’m not blue-eyed, I don’t have straight hair, I’m never going to be the smartest or the prettiest or the funniest or the greatest. But, I can be the smartest, prettiest, funniest, greatest me. And that’s all I can do. And that’s all my people want. They just want me. Your people just want you.

Let’s be that gift.There is a magnificent, beautiful, wonderful painting in front of you! It is intricate, detailed, a painstaking labor of devotion and love! The colors are like no other, they swim and leap, they trickle and embellish! And yet you choose to fixate your eyes on the small fly which has landed on it! Why do you do such a thing?  -C. Joybell C.

 

The Threat of Thighs

Untitled design-34

 

If someone called me chubby, it would no longer be something that kept me up late at night. Being called fat is not like being called stupid or unfunny, which is the worst thing you could ever say to me. Do I envy Jennifer Hudson for being able to lose all that weight and look smokin’ hot? Of course, yes. Do I sometimes look at Gisele Bundchen and wonder how awesome life would be if I never had to wear Spanx? Duh, of course. That’s kind of the point of Gisele Bundchen. And maybe I will, once or twice, for a very short period of time. But on the list of things I want to do in my lifetime, that’s not near the top. I mean, it’s not near the bottom either. I’d say it’s right above “Learn to drive a vespa,” but several notches below “film a chase scene for a movie”.
― Mindy Kaling

I used to race a lot. My first 10k happened in 1994. By 1996 I completed my first marathon and kept on going. Babies were born, races were run, I proved and fought and strove. The compulsion to become better, thinner, faster nestled on my shoulder, inhabited my dreams, whispered in my ear.

The drive, my lifeline, my excuse to eat and earn love and desperate approval.

I ran and ran, and when I couldn’t, I swam and swam and then rode and rode, taking me to the pinnacle of personal achievement, an Ironman.

The day in June of 2010 dawned beautiful, water calm and chilly, adrenaline coursing through my veins. Here I was, the starting line of the thing that would make me worthy, the thing that would emblazon me with the title Ironman. All in all, everything went smooth and according to plan, my splits were as I expected and hoped. My greatest goal, to sail through that finish line with a smile on my face, arms raised. I Am An Ironman! 

Family and friends cheered me on, my children saw their mother accomplish something. The race everything I had hoped for: adequate nutrition, generous people, perfect training, assistance from the bicycle mechanic gods.

I wanted to be better. I wanted to be known for something. I wanted to exceed.

Six years later, I sit here in my family room, gazing upon the chickens and sheep doing their thing, the haphazard garden has yielded some produce, the grass has recovered from the summer’s heat, the perennials are on their way out – preparing for winter hibernation. My life is good, my children are growing, my marriage is seasoned. Races are a thing of the past, and it is unknown if they will be a thing of the future.

From the outside you would look at my life and assume I have nothing to fear, nothing to keep me up at night. From the outside you would see a healthy woman, content in her body and purpose. From the outside you might see someone who has it all. And you know what? I do. According to the standards I set up for myself, I have achieved. I have accomplished everything and more. I have a comfortable life where finances are a consideration but not feared. I have decent health, a strong body, generous friends who help me balance and process, a loving church, a beautiful home, a happy family. I live my dream.

But here is where we must be careful. It is easy to assume, since a person looks great on the outside – they have it all together – their insides are in alignment. This is not true. Just because I am at a healthy weight, does not mean I am content with said weight. Just because my marriage looks fantastic, does not mean we do not have our struggles. Just because my house is clean does not mean I don’t wrestle with wanting more. Just because I’m educated doesn’t mean I know what to do with my life.

We cannot ascribe to another how they should feel based upon our own comparisons. We cannot assume anything about another unless we have had the truth-telling conversations. This trust must be earned, this divulging requires hours upon hours of earning.

A woman’s thighs do not tell me the state of her marriage.

A woman’s sense of style does not reveal her finances.

A woman’s success at work does not correlate to her childhood story.

A woman’s education does not indicate her daily caloric intake.

A woman’s pant size has nothing to do with her happiness or contentment.

We have to be careful what we ascribe to people based upon unrelated data. I cannot tell you how many times I have been surprised by somebody’s story because they have a fantastic, to-die-for-body. And I cannot tell you how many times I perceived a person’s fitness because of her size. I have made gross assumptions about the quality of a life, ascribing happiness or misery because of appearances. This is harmful and detrimental.

Our work is to be in relationship. Our work is to earn the right to hear another’s story. Our work is to challenge the narratives we tell ourselves because somebody else appears to have it (whatever it is) better.

We are in this together. We have so much to contribute to the world – our voices, our love, our generosity and nurturing. We are the mothers, the caregivers and lovers, the fiercest protectors. We are the feminine aspects of God: strength and generosity and sustenance. This is our role, this is our beauty. When I get stuck in comparisons, assigning value to another for her outward appearance and accomplishments, I contribute to the problem. I am an accomplice in the furtherance of our competition and threat. When we unite, we achieve. When we seek to understand and give the benefit of the doubt, we succeed.

May we live, offering life to ourselves and to one another. Our great accomplishments are opportunities to celebrate. But our lives are so much more than our achievements. We are valuable and beautiful  because we are.

As I learn to love myself, I love others.

As I learn to love myself, I love others.

AS I LEARN TO LOVE MYSELF, I LOVE OTHERS!

 

Parenting the First Days

Untitled design-33

Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.
― Anne Frank

Two-thirds of my kids started school today. And it wasn’t just any first day of school day, it was the beginning of new chapters. The middle child started high school, joining her older brother. And the youngest started middle school. We went from three buildings to two, vacating the local elementary of Jepsens.

I am not one to shed many tears on these first days. After being wrecked once or twice, the tears rolled brief, followed by copious exclamations of gratitude and God’s goodness and Hallelujahs and Praise Jesuses for public education and loving educators.

The never-ending days of babies and toddlers when the minutes ticked and tocked, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tiiick-tooock, tiiiiiick-tooooock, tiiiiiiiiiiick-tooooooooock are leagues behind us. The arduous hours and ungodly early mornings with the wake-up alarm of tiny feet pitter-pattering down the stairs are long gone. The 9:00 A.M. McDonald’s Drive-thru Large Diet Cokes are no longer needed to rescue a tired mama from her momentary troubles, nor are impromptu playdates and park visits and spoonfuls of peanut butter (well, maybe not quite, just yet. I still need those).

As slow as the clock moves, the years fly sure and fast, and I stand awed and overwhelmed by the humans these three have become and are becoming.

I have been known to wish for time to slow, for more moments, for more experiences, but I don’t speak this often to my children. Their work is not to cater to my need for more of them. Their work is not to assuage my fear that I haven’t done enough. Their work is certainly not to meet my needs or make me feel better about myself. Their work is to be teenagers, to be my kids.

My children better leave me. They better want to go. They better. I am not planning to make life miserable for them, but I will if they do not choose more. My work is quality control, to scan for inconsistencies in character and integrity, to inspect disparities in judgement, to honor their giftedness, to speak into their hopes and dreams – asking leading questions rather than issuing automatic convention and prudent advice.

I want my kids to leave and come back of their own volition. I want my kids to prefer their friends to us. I want my kids to explore and discover the world. I want them to get hurt and spend too much money and make mistakes. I want them to have some hard knocks and learn resilience.

I want my kids to experience the goodness of people, to know the kindness and generosity of many. I also want them to glimpse the pain and suffering around them, to recognize injustice and gain empathy. They need to be aware of differences and have language and understanding of what that means, that different is not an excuse for mockery or condemnation, that different is just different and demands respect and compassion.

My kids are far cooler than I ever was, they are aware, they have a depth of perception in many ways I did not receive until well into adulthood. My kids are certainly not perfect, nor should they be. I am grateful for their fierce independence and determination, their interest and skill.

So, as they embark on this new year, I hope they have some hard knocks and I hope they have some stellar successes. I hope there is wisdom they glean that alters their comfort levels and not their criminal records. I hope, as parents, Eric and I persist in offering abundant conversation and sparse advice, while they stare at phones or gaze at the ground, responding with mutters and moans. I hope we see time managed well and time managed poor, for these life lessons are crucial when the stakes are low, before there’s a mortgage, a marriage and a smattering of kids.

Most of all, I pray my fear will be held at bay in this, my parenting finale of the eldest. I pray I choose silence rather than I told you so’s. I pray I honor their individuality rather than clumping them altogether, resisting the comparisons.  I pray I utilize the gift of the authentic apology, remembering grace and forgiveness are my supreme allies.

Parents, we don’t get to do this job perfectly. We don’t. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can get on with things. Perfect immobilizes, rendering us rigid and harsh, assuming the worst of our children and fellow parents. May we free ourselves from perfection and fear, opening ourselves up to the beautiful work our children get to do of becoming. Yes it’s hard, yes it’s heartbreaking sometimes, yes it’s challenging, and the stream of grief is a consistent presence, running right alongside, bubbling to the surface when least expected.

May we work together in this good work, encouraging and supporting.

May we be on the lookout for each other’s kids as a village that rallies rather than condemns.

May we not forget this parenting deal is our premier work, the best thing we will ever do – to launch grown humans, doing what they do, living their lives, loving and receiving and contributing to their worlds.

I still have many more first days, and I cannot guarantee I will be composed and jubilant for them all, but the work is good and the work is lasting.

 

Disclaimer: I recognize many parents have less than ideal parenting situations. My insight offered in this post covers my own children and our experience and I am aware this can change at any moment. As far as I know we have no challenging physical or mental illness. It is not my attempt to minimize or ignore  difficulties in other families.

 

Why We Need Beacons

Untitled design-32

To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.  -George MacDonald

Curiosity and a sliver of romanticism moved us to this small parcel of agricultural land. This one acre in the middle of town, allows all manner of animals and projects with no presiding covenants or committees. After perusing glossy magazine spreads and Pinterest worthy posts, I assumed my green thumb would emerge with little to no provocation, just an innate ability that would spring forth with the proper opportunity. After these three years, I’ve managed a hefty crop of cucumbers, beets and herbs. All other efforts fail after I tire from the constant weeding and watering, the fate of my seeds at the hands of mother nature, which never ends well in the dry Colorado summer heat.

My daughter, however, has utilized our plot to further her love for animals. Keeping sheep and raising lambs has occupied much of her year, ending with an opportunity at the Boulder County Fair to present her lambs for show and auction. The experience, as you can imagine, is thrilling to witness – the fruition of months of dedication. But, pride and relief are tinctured with heartbreaking grief by week’s end.

The competition is tough. These kids push, pull and prod their lambs into submission, eyes affixed on the judge who circles the ring, scrutinizing each child and their animal handling skills. It appeared as if Claire and Nickel (her lamb) had a pre-arrangement. Nickel did not budge after placement. Claire stood calm, rubbing her lamb’s ear with reassurance and love, eyes peeled on the judge. Nickel made Claire look good, but Claire did not win. Claire lacked intensity. She lacked the desire to manhandle her lamb.

Claire is a shepherd. She has earned her lambs’ trust, allaying their fears with tender, reassuring clucks and generous helpings of food. She showed up and loved them well, oftentimes finding them asleep, standing tethered to the fence, during training. Their trust and rest implicit, confidence full and yielded to their shepherd.

What if, as Christians, we were beacons of trust? What if we were models of rest? What if we practiced what we say we believe?

We do not have to fight for Jesus. We do not have to fight for holy. We are asked to lay down our fight each new day, to surrender our lives and pick up our crosses. Crosses of justice, mercy, kindness – beams of goodness in our intense worlds. We are invited to rest, to lean against the folds of our Shepherd’s robe, trusting in the unassailable fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing.

As the lambs are not ignorant of surrounding threat, we are not ignorant either. We are engaged, present and active in our world, living aware. With discernment and wisdom, we relieve the pain and suffering. With shrewdness, we uncover lies and injustice. With grace, we receive our marching orders, radiating love by dismantling walls erected from fear and hatred of “the other”.

The lambs will die. This is the part no-one likes to discuss. I pray their beloved meat fills bellies and nourishes bodies and souls across the county and state. Death is not to be feared. Through death, we experience resurrection – new life, new purpose, new hope.

The essence of God is love. The selfless work of Jesus is love. Their relationship is one of complete trust and dependence, even to death. Our human story, our purpose is love, too. We are invited to lay down ourselves daily, to pick up our cross, to follow our Shepherd, to trust. This trust may even lead to death, but we must remember, death is not the end of our story. Death is the avenue for life, an abundant and surrendered life, a life of trust and rest and grace and hope. My daily death means I don’t have to choose fear. My daily death renders me free – for I trust my Shepherd. My daily death enables Life – resurrected Life.

In this season of accusation, fear-mongering and division, we have the perfect opportunity to find our rest, to be beacons of hope and leaders in trust.

What if, instead of being outraged, I rested?

What if, instead of wishing I had the perfect words to change the minds of all people, I trusted?

What if, instead of fighting for our own rights, we shepherded one another?

We can close our eyes in the midst of chaos because fear doesn’t have to wage its sordid war against us. Our story, no matter what happens in this world of ours, no matter who is elected, does not end in death. Love wins and Life happens.

We have good work to do. We have bridges to build, walls to dismantle, forgiveness to practice, beauty to create, reconciliation and reparations to make.  We have people to honor and trails to wander.

Let us, like sheep, rest in our Shepherd, trusting and believing we are loved, wanted, worthy…

…enough.

Fortify Yourself

Untitled design-31

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. 

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

My years of studying nutrition included discussion of the fortification of commonly occurring foods in our country to prevent certain diseases: iodine in salt, Vitamin D in milk, the enrichment of flour and the addition of calcium. While, I take for granted the severity of these diseases, I can appreciate the efforts of the government and food industry to, on a public health scale, eradicate serious illness. I’m sure some are bothered by these efforts, I am not.

The state of our nation and world has me perplexed. I have been lugging a huge weight around, the load has threatened to buckle my knees, stunt my creativity, halt my dreaming. The ease I once owned is far off, the burdens of hate and injustice feel like abusive friends, my body adjusting to their heft, carrying the weight of their lies.

Joy and peace and lightheartedness have faded. Somewhere, while managing the tension between my good fortune and the world’s heartache, they were dumped out and swept into a dark corner. Their plaintive pleas beg for my recognition, for my head to turn in acknowledgement of their efforts to provide kindness and mercy. Oftentimes, I’ll hear their faint cry of invitation, but the drama of the news, the lure of social media, the addiction to adrenaline and anger override the gentle tug of curiosity.

Yesterday I returned from a weekend with friends. We stayed at my cabin and hiked thirty miles in three days, traversing through fields of lush wildflowers, dainty and petaled heads swishing against our arms. The paths, well-trod by horses and hikers afforded breathtaking vistas of rocky peaks and jutting volcanic formations rising toward the bluest of skies. The journey was punctuated with laughter and advice, groans, questions and aahs of beauty. The conversation flowed with the breeze, alliances forming and shifting throughout the weekend. The therapy of sweat and open spaces detangled the webs of concern, frustrations were laid out on the trail, enabling light and beauty to tease out the disappointments. A completion of life-giving and eternal work.

My body was weighed down beforehand, the post-convention analysis, polls, fear of the not-yet. With Karie’s gentle admonition we were advised to deny our phones, to take a break from the news and social media. Mine available only for photos and sending texts of love and safety, meant I received a much needed break from the constant stream of election coverage and violence and fear-mongering.

Through the acts of sweating, climbing, navigating and noticing, I laid down those burdens. Nestled amongst the mountain passes and blooming hillsides, they were deposited, one by one, set down, offered up amongst the hues of golden-yellow, violet, white and orange-red. The carpeted emerald peaks, with splashing waterfalls – carried my concerns to far-flung places, troubles forgotten, intermingled with the ministry of creation’s beauty.

Just as the earth still makes her annual turn around the sun, wars will continue to rage and demagogues will attempt to placate their fragile egos. But I can keep my joy. And you can keep yours. I can keep my peace. And you can keep yours.

Love has won. The work is done. Evil is still winning battles, but love wins the war. Not everyone needs us to bear their burdens, but many need our presence. Not everyone needs our service, but many need our laughter. Not everyone needs our fight, but many need our compassion. Not everyone needs our empathy, but many need our kindness.

I don’t have to be the bearer of all. I don’t have to surrender my health, my joy, my hope. I can hold close that which is precious and beautiful and holy. I can glue my eyes to the author and perfecter of my faith. I can surrender to grace and carry mercy. I can give and receive love.

May we fortify ourselves with the wonder of creation, receiving beauty from our communities. May we fortify ourselves with literature and music, with roasting marshmallows with friends. May we fortify ourselves with hugs and hikes, with hilarious laughter over goofy games. May we fortify ourselves with good food and exercise. May we step out of our heavy-weighted concerns and seek levity.

May we uncover the stifled joy that is begging for a glance in her direction, feeling in our bodies the relief her presence offers – choosing and offering ourselves time to rest, renew and strengthen. Our bodies cannot handle this constant barrage, we will become sick.

We must find time to fortify, so we may receive the delicious bounty of hope.