Jen 8.0

It took me over 14 years to get to a class on divorce recovery. Twenty-two year old, newly divorced Jen was alone, pregnant, single-mom to a two-year old, and basically just trying to survive. There was no thought of emotional or mental healing; there was no energy for it, no time. 

I found my journals from that year not too long ago – pages and pages of the every day struggle of fighting for my child, attempts at figuring out why my marriage was falling apart, what was wrong with me, meditations on Scripture verses, venting about my parents’ behavior, and then, tucked in amongst all the bad, I stumbled upon a couple of pages of descriptions of toddler Indigo. I didn’t have a camera or video recorder so I just wrote for a little about how smart and cute he was, how happy he was and how much joy he found in small things. I wrote because I didn’t want to forget it. And reading it all this time later, I totally burst into tears, I mean — flat.out.sobbing. — thinking about how much pain I was in at that time and how much my little boy brought me joy and kept me alive. 

I am totally crying now, as I write about it, but that Jen (versions 4.0 and 5.0) didn’t cry much. There wasn’t time to feel anything, to surrender to feeling. It wasn’t safe, or productive. And at the time, I was pretty conditioned to believe that all my feelings were wrong: they were what had gotten me into trouble in the first place. So doing was what mattered; those sporadic journal entries where she unloaded her thoughts – that’s all the space for processing emotions she got. 

But the current Jen, who I am calling version 8.0, which is post-grad school Jen, has time now. And has intention too. 

I don’t know… Jen 7.0 had intention too, I guess. Actually all the Jens did, I think, because if you checked my library borrowing recored you’d find out just how many self-help and parenting books I have consumed, and, I mean, I plowed through grad school, so… I guess it’s not about intentionality really, it’s about…. undistracted resolve? 

Maybe that’s what the Jens before me didn’t have. Which is a totally unfair assessment because “undistracted” is a difficult state to come by for a (single)parent. Really, how could I ever have not been distracted since Jen 4.0?* This Jen does have a lot less to focus on, though: no school, not the boss of 20 people… well, really that’s it. But it seems like so much more! 

I honestly feel so behind, like I said, it took 14 years to go to a group to talk about my divorce – late to the game much? But the truth is, there is only so much a person can handle at one time, and life isn’t really that considerate when it dumps stuff on us, and we all have to make choices, sometimes split second decisions through vision blurred by pain or hopelessness, about what is more important, and for almost 17 years, I have chosen others. I chose others because my babies couldn’t fend for themselves so of course I had to prioritize them more, right? I yielded my healing process to my mom’s because losing a marriage after 25 years is way more traumatic then losing one after 1.8 years… right? Making sure you can feed your kids and working the job that can do that is more important than therapy, right? Using your mental energy on schooling that can get you a better job just makes more sense than wasting that mental capacity on addressing (wallowing?) in your mistakes and pain… right? 

Bits at a time, I guess, I did the work on myself. Fits and false starts, but never committing time to create space to really think about myself and eevvverrryyyythingggg, alllll the pieces. Which means, I have to be thankful for Jen 6.0, the deadest time of my life, second only to Jen 5.0, where I deadened myself on purpose in a misconstrued attempt at shouldering the pain and soldiering on, and a Jen for which I am not thankful at all. 

Jen 6.0 was literally the worst. I mean, I want to say the worst version of myself, but really I think she is the saddest. When I look at her now I think 1. I can’t believe I survived her (like, how did I not kill myself? And the answer is: if Jen 3.0 hadn’t gotten knocked up (twice), I would be dead. All the other versions would have been completely different without the choices of 3.0, sure, [time travel is really intense guys] but because that Jen had kids, those babies saved Jen, twice, 12 years apart) 2. for all of our “I’d nevers” and “How could they evers” we truly don’t know what we are capable of until it stares us in the face 3. the idea of equal choice is a joke, and people who get mad and haughty about how “everyone has a choice, the same choices, to do right or wrong” maybe need to be a little more compassionate and, well, even more compassionate still 4. God is the most amazing, loving being and I really never knew that until Jen 6.0 – so, how can I call her the worst version. She seems to be the one who saved me. 

If I had to pick, I guess Jen 7.0 has been my favorite, maybe second only to tiny jen who literally had the best life and was super cool, and who I only vaguely remember. Grad school helped me become her again, I think, a reset to the curious, willful, expressive individual birthed in 1982. It’s hard to say if I really felt the most alive in grad school, or if it only felt that way because the two Jens before had been so dark. On one hand, current Jen is pretty awesome, because she is so less stressed and so much more wise (and humble) and totally full of possibility, but she’s also kinda terrifying because powerhouse Jen 7.0, grad-school Jen, is a tough act to follow. I mean, once you’ve wrestle genius to the ground, what do you do next? 

But Jen 8.0 has arrived just in time. In time to really see my kids as themselves (or their version 2.0’s on the verge of 3.0’s) and focus on ushering them into adulthood, confidently now, because I am finally an adult myself. In time to exercise the patience I’ve needed for myself, and others, since Jen 2.0 but really didn’t get until version 6.0. In time to not be afraid of yet another evolution, able to watch the future coming with hope instead of dread, because empty-nest Jen, Jen 9.0, is only a stone’s through away, and I mean, who the heck will I be then? Jen 8.0 seems to be the most loving version so far, and most importantly, the version who truly seems to love herself the best. 

I never guessed when I started this blog a little over a year ago, calling it “Space to Become,” that I was seeing the future; didn’t know what was going to come of it all, if anything at all; had no clue that Jen really was transforming again — I only knew that there had to be some space set aside to record the process, the living, the be(com)ing. And while all that will continue on irl, this post brings this specific place to a close. For now, a happy ending. 

Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride ❤

 

*Here is my breakdown of the many Jens, for hopefully less confusion: 

tiny jen – Jen zero

HS Jen – Jen 1.0

post-boy until F – Jen 2.0

F to Indigo – Jen 3.0

Mom Jen to divorce – Jen 4.0

Divorced, Spiraling Jen -Jen 5.0

rock bottom Jen, age 31-35 – Jen 6.0

Grad school Jen – Jen 7.0

post-grad, current Jen – Jen 8.0

Payday

Today is finally the day. I thought it was “the day” 2 1/2 months ago. I posted about it: “Just a few more weeks… if we can just get to August…” But August has come and gone, and though on 8/31 I got my first paycheck in 4 years that would cover our entire rent bill at once, it was not a silver bullet… 

I feel a bit like a stone: one of those smooth, shiny, dark grey ones you find in a riverbed. Ones that we only enjoy touching because they’ve spent so much time in the current having parts of themselves worn away….

With an amount of pride that I hope is humbly enough pronounced as to prevent the immediate testing of my new found virtue, I would like to offer that I believe I have learned something here. Maybe a few somethings… 

There is an amount of panic that does not rise like it used to. That’s not to say that mental and emotional strain are not involved; but it is to say that I came to realize that there is only so much I can do, and so only so much to worry about. I mean, if you have $.20 in your bank account, that’s what you have – whether the tire goes flat on the car or not. Whether you are hungry or not. Whether whether whether… But somehow miraculously (because how could it be so when other solutions remain?), not one emergency has ensued. Certainly the fridge has been bare, trips from home limited to save gas, whatever whatever – we are housed, we have not starved, the bills are paid. He has made it enough… 

There is an amount of anger (rage?) that comes with being relegated to a lifestyle that you do not want. To have so little money that you make more trash than you should. That you eat more poorly than you wish too. That you cannot be as generous as you’d like. It feels spoiled and whiny to complain that I cannot buy a bar of dish-washing soap instead of a plastic bottle of dish-washing soap because of the upfront cost; that I cannot buy pounds of vegetables for the same price as ramen packages; that I cannot donate to NPR or invite friends for dinner —  but it also feels like a weird, dark, twisted world where one could be priced out of making choices that help us live more quietly on the earth, priced out of healthy meals, priced out of hospitality…

There is an amount of silence that surrounds our fortunes, or lack thereof. We seem only to talk about our money by not talking about it really — by talking instead of budgets, and student loans, and Netflix binges. But the cute 6-step budget plans assume you have enough money to even control who you would hand it off to next; the student loans reflect our society’s de-prioritization of equality in access to education, as well as a dismissal of its importance, while simultaneously demanding specialized skill sets to survive in our ever-evolving job market; the streaming binges prove we have finally paid to entertain ourselves to death despite our inability to pay for college or new car tires. We hold our tongues as frivolities invade and permeate our lives. We don’t question, don’t even think to question, because we think all the new is necessary; we upgrade on the regular. Instead we never learn and we certainly don’t teach; we don’t ask for help because it’s a sign of weakness, and we shame those who need it so much they can no longer keep quiet. And worst of all, we make them prove they deserve it. 

There is an amount of violence that we do to each other when we do not trust and we will not touch. Those around us may not be our intended targets, but they are collateral damage to our selfishness and drive; but are our ambivalence and self-absorption really any better than sticking the knife in with our own hands? We say that Beggars Can’t Be Choosers because we really seem to believe that those in need are not valuable enough to be heard – instead they should take what they get and be happy they got it. Power belongs to those who have, and if you haven’t worked hard enough (or as hard as us) to have, well then, that’s on you.

Yet, what is love but the laying down of our own lives for others?

On Being A Dangerous Woman; or Always Trash Never Treasure – Why Men and Women Should Be Friends, Part 2

The truth is, I am still not sure of my relationship to men. I do know that I need male friends because for almost 2 decades I have been abandoned by men – the bad ones make sense and it was probably for the better; but the good ones, those are the ones that leave me dazed and confused. Am I really that dangerous? Am I only good for sex? How can I only be worth a friendship when he doesn’t have a girlfriend? Am I really not worth marrying?

I need someone to stick around and help me see I am not just here for sex and marriage. Because, what if I don’t want those things? Who am I then?

I do not find a lot of clarity in my search of scriptures or in the teachings at my church. The goal always really does seem to be to marry off the ladies. I don’t know, maybe unmarried men feel the same way (feedback please!), which wouldn’t surprise me, because if we have constructed a society in which women serve only the purpose of mating, well then, I guess that would work out the same for men — we are meant to pair up, and if you don’t, you’re disrupting the system. 

My identity for a long time was wrapped up in my usefulness to men, my availability as a sexual partner. I had value to others for this; I had value to myself for this because it was valuable to others. These days, with sex out of the equation, I am working to re-valuate myself. 

And some of you are reading thinking, duh – God! and I get that. You’d think that someone who grew up in church would have a better center for their self worth; but I never knew I didn’t have that until I looked and it wasn’t there – like you reach into your purse looking for your wallet and realize you’ve left it somewhere. There isn’t a giant red self-worth beacon flashing above it all the time: it’s slippery and easy to misplace or walk off without, and you never know until you’re too far away from it. 

And getting back to it isn’t just magic. It’s not one moment of goodness and mercy and everything’s back to healthy. Because it’s not really about God – He’s loved me all the time, and I know this because He’s been steadily dumping out love by the bucket onto my stone cold soul. It’s about me. Me believing He loves me. And me loving myself and finding value in just that – being loved for being alive.

I wrote once, “I don’t know that I’m trying because I love Him yet, but I’m trying to love myself enough to do right. Maybe that proves I love Him too…” I think I still believe that. For some of us, it’s not that we don’t love God enough to follow his commandments, it’s that we don’t love ourselves enough to think we’re even worth the protection those commandants ensure. And when you don’t see the value in your existence, you really have nothing to lose. You end up wandering around a little wild. So it’s about seeing yourself through His eyes, as just a beautiful part of creation simply because you are.

And then for me, it takes the people around me, specifically the men I know, not treating me like a placeholder or prostitute or potential mate, but just that: a valuable human being. 

I don’t know if we encourage that enough as Christians. We’re so terrified of lust and stumbling blocks and keeping up appearances – it’s like we don’t really trust the faith, and Holy Spirit, and commonsense we so profess we’ve got. It’s like we believe we have to act on every sexual feeling we might possibly have. And how that turns out is that after puberty all the friends of the opposite sex we once had and thought nothing of, now all of a sudden they are off limits, tempting, too dangerous to be around.

We think we are protecting ourselves, but really we’re training ourselves to see the opposite sex as only good for marriage and procreation. We are just as guilty of objectifying women (and men) as the world we bemoan, with its sexy swimsuit magazines and billboards displaying half- naked women.

I don’t know, I can’t live like that – One day his friend and the next day too dangerous to be around, an object with an expiration date that can just be trashed when something better comes along. And I don’t want my boys living like that, learning to view the girls around them as nothing more than possible wives, and if not wives then as temptresses.

On Being A Dangerous Woman; or Always Trash Never Treasure – Why Men and Women Should Be Friends, Part 1

**An excerpt from my thesis**

Let us consider two stories:
At the age of 24 I met a boy. I call him a boy because he was 6 years my junior. Over the years we became friends due to our many similar interests, particularly music, books, and writing; we talked when we could, both in person and online, sharing music and writing and interesting authors. For me, a single-mother of two sons, talking with a young man so new to the world, it did not occur to me that our friendship would ever become more. Sure, he was ridiculously gorgeous and super talented; but considering a long-term, sexual relationship with him just did not seem, I don’t know, appropriate? In time, another woman entered our circle – a single mom exactly my age. Then one night, my friend called to tell me we could not be friends anymore; he was seriously interested in this woman and he didn’t want to ruin that. “Men and women cannot be friends,” he said, as basically he broke up with me. And I had this moment of realization, that, in fact, even though I was unaware of my auditioning for it, a relationship had been a possibility. He married that woman 8 months later. ———————————————————————————————-
When I was 24 I met a man at work. He was in his early 30s. This quirky, grungy musician — I kind of adored him, but he was married with a toddler son and an infant daughter, and I was involved with someone else, so our relationship remained professional, though very friendly. We were both promoted from that location and our lives took separate paths. Eventually I learned that he had divorced. I attempted to reconnect, but he had already started another serious relationship. Even more eventually, I learned that he had moved to a different state. After a while, he began to message me on Facebook anytime I traveled, offering a traveling buddy should I be interested, asking how I was, how my kids were. A few months later he came to back to town and we did, in fact, rekindle our friendship. From the beginning we did declare we were to remain friends; and we were for about 6 months (though the lines were much blurred throughout), until he met a woman that was “his type” and disappeared from my life — I mean, he’s gone. As far as I can tell, our friendship ended when he found a person worth a romantic relationship. ——————————————————————————————————————

Imagine the difficulty one might have, then, identifying their relation to almost half the population, having faced these situations (multiple times – different names, different faces). What else is there but to live as an object that satisfies,  not even a deep longing, but simply a temporary need. For a time, she has permission to live as if all is well, as if theirs is a shared equality in intention and contentment; yet always there comes a moment when she sees that she was always a means to an end. She was objectified before she knew she was desired. Consumed before she could consent. Discarded before she knew what had happened. And so, as a commodity, what else can one do but understand their value, or lack there of, in relation to the women that eventually replace them.

They say people treat you the way you let them treat you. This is never something a woman who has been abandoned wants to hear. She does not want to believe that she asked for it or allowed it. For so long, it appeared my usefulness was really only that of a placeholder. Yet, when I consider the fact that this type of man who was once so readily available is today nowhere to be found, I do wonder what has changed. Maybe it is me?

Imagine also, the difficultly one might have in building camaraderie with fellow women, having faced these situations. One is relegated to a non-space, the murky time between “before” and “forever.” Constantly replaced by women seen as more valuable, more desirable, she is kept out of connection with everyone, both men and women. “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves” (qtd. in Koontz Anthony, et al. 314). Other women are her competition, not her friends, and certainly not her sisters — a position that ultimately makes sense, particularly with the old adage that “men and women cannot be friends” hanging over you. If never friends, then only mates, and that means, you must be chosen before the woman standing beside you.

In a study conducted in a southern university, looking at patterns and motivations of female rivalries of 18-24 year old women, the researchers noted that, “Attracting a partner is also an ongoing process even after securing a partner due to this constant feminine rivalry” (Koontz Anthony, et al. 331). It is tempting to blame men for instigating and sustaining the conflict that women experience within and among themselves, however, women seem to have internalized it and maintain the conflict very well on their own. I cannot be friends with many of the men I used to be friends with because now they are married or dating, and it is their wives and girlfriends who are upset by me, not the men; because if the men had wanted me, they would have asked (in some cases they did at one point express interest and I set boundaries that they proceeded to abide by), but they did not choose me, and because keeping a man is seen to be just as difficult as getting a man, any viable alternatives must be strictly managed.

You have on the one hand, the suspicion with which other women are viewed, and particularly single women, those women who have not yet conformed to the norms of society, particularly in fundamental Christian settings, of being the helpmeet. This is a society-wide sustained paranoia: do not trust a woman you are not married to.
You have on the other hand, how men (should we say society?) are viewing women: as only a potential mate. In this structure, women are hierarchize on a scale of “good enough to marry.” There are no true friends in this system, otherwise men and women could still be capable of that relationship after one of them marries. But no one really believes this, particularly no one in my Christian circles — not the men or the women. Whether they mean to or not, everyone reinforces that women are meant for pairing up with, and if a man has accomplished this objective, the other objects in his life he would have used for this task are now useless to him, or dangerous. Again, you have a socially sustained operating system: there is no use for a woman you are not married to (With the Proverb, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord” as a guide, of course this behavior continues. A friend does not the favor of the Lord solicit; but a wife, this is the goal.)
So one “lies there, quiet close, but it cannot be assimilated.” Julia Kristeva writes these words of the abject. The first chapter of her book, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, explores the topic of what it is we find repulsive, that which horrifies us, that which “looms [as] one of those violent, dark revolts of being…” (1). Through her discussion of excrement, expulsions, and death, she finds her way to the discussion of self as abject, for “it is not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite…” (4). And here I see myself. In these investigations into beauty and sex and love, I am (so many of us are) so very close, yet in a space so “radically excluded” that I am drawn “toward[s] the place where meaning collapses” (2).
Kristeva claims that it is the abjection of self which proves that all abjection is based on loss, and is “in fact recognition of the want on which any being, meaning, language, or desire is founded” (5). Yes. Taken into account with that craving for connection that Fromm addresses, Kristeva’s description of the moment “when that subject, weary of fruitless attempts to identify with something on the outside, finds the impossible within: when it finds that the impossible constitutes its very being, that it is none other than abject” (5) works. I can see myself and the realization that an unruly woman is a misfit; I am sure I am not the only one, but we have not gained a represented place in society that shows us we matter. We are the individuals that disturb the identity of “woman” of “beautiful” of “wife.” We are the disorderly who do not respect the borders clearly emphasized by our parents and churches and schools and fashion magazines. After countless attempts to connect to the outside, one eventually turns their eyes inward to see if the problem lies within. Maybe I need to be different? I could connect if I could be better. We present our “own body and ego as the most precious non-objects … no longer seen in their own right but forfeited, abject” (5). Kristeva links this to masochism, and this makes sense: Our continuous subjection to the power of others, our pleasure from this exercise of power, the joy in our eyes at the newest fashion magazine or self-help book — We deserve this (self)flagellation.

bell hooks counters this attitude when she writes, “Self-love is the foundation of our loving practice” (All About Love 67). Though we may not be able to control how others treat us, she reminds us we have the ability to control ourselves. We can love ourselves. She goes on to say, “To know compassion fully is to engage in a process of forgiveness and recognition that enables us to release all the baggage we carry that serves as a barrier to healing… Often our spirits have been broken again and again through rituals of disregard in which we were shamed by others or shamed ourselves” (217).

We can expound on this idea if we look at the work of shame researcher, Brene Brown (93):

The concept of critical awareness is sometimes called critical consciousness or critical perspective. It’s the believe that we can increase personal power by understanding the link between our personal experiences and larger social systems. When we look at the shame categories — appearance and body image, motherhood, family, parenting, money and work, mental and physical health, sex, aging, religion, being stereotyped and labeled, speaking out and surviving trauma — most of us have not been taught how to see the connection between our private lives and social, political and economic influences.

I argue that a first step in providing oneself the self-love that hooks urges is being able to connect the story of our lives to the discourses around us. Not much that we have experienced is completely unique to ourselves. We do not live in isolation, and to cite Fromm again, we do not wish to remain disconnected. To put it another way, “reduced to himself, man is much less than himself; whereas, in the light of openness to the other, the possibility of unlimited growth is offered to him” (Gusdorf 68). Loving is an action, it is practiced daily, and its practice begins with ourselves. … **end excerpt**

 

On Getting Out of the Boat; Or, Invisible Futures, FIN

Once upon a time, I lived in Cleveland, OH, and after many attempts at finding a home church (one that included the congregation being barricaded into the church and my having to ask the ushers to lift the bar off the door so I could leave early) I found a place with the Deaton family. The church loved me and included me and I heard one the most impactful sermons of my life there. The minister cited the story of Peter walking on water with Jesus, and used the boat as a symbol of all the Peter knew and trusted in, him being a fisherman and all, and how he had to let go of what he knew in order to do something extraordinary. I have thought of this sermon every time I’ve made a life change that included moving into unfamiliar territory. 

When I last wrote in this series, I ended my post with the question, “Have I have gotten so lost in the noise, or trying to quiet the noise, that my future became invisible?” and I can say that with grad school over and an enormous amount of stress lifted from my shoulders, life has gotten a lot less noisy. This certainly has brought some space for me to contemplate my future. To consider what I might do more of at my church, with my kids, in my writing. 

It has not, consequently, made the future any more visible to me. 

Until about 3 weeks ago, I was not sure that I would have a job in the fall. I had applied for six teaching positions, and had heard a “no” from one of them, and nothing from the rest. I had resumed my barista-ing at Starbucks right after graduation, but I knew, do know, that making coffee is not my calling in life. More so, after almost 18 years of work, it’s boring; and like I told someone the other day – when you get bored, you get sloppy. 

Thankfully, I have now signed two contracts for the fall and will be teaching writing to over 100 students. I am super stoked. 

Sure, ok, I can see some things that will be, or not be, happening in the future: no food stamps because I am going to be making about triple my TA salary – which is amazing but also bumps us out of health insurance eligibility as well; grading roughly 1,000 pages of writing over the course of 4 months and homeschooling 2 high schoolers, which does not leave 20 hours in the week to devote to Starbucks so that I can keep my health coverage through them….. 

And all I can think of is Peter and his sturdy, trusted boat – that he had to get out of. And I wouldn’t think it was that big of a deal except that in Sunday School two weeks ago, we talked about Peter and his stupid boat and I was like, ok, fine God, Is that what you’re asking me to do- get out of my boat? 

So, yesterday I gave my notice to Starbucks. My current manager was very willing to work with me in constructing a schedule to fit with my teaching, but, the truth is, it’s time to move forward. 

I really am not sure how it will go. I know that my heart is broken a little – I have grown up at Starbucks; it is my home, my family. And I cannot see very far ahead, only a step or two, and I am afraid -you know, what if in 6 months, I can’t find classes to teach and I have quit the one job I could always depend on? 

Thankfully when this happened to Peter, when his eyes were distracted by the storm raging around him and he began to sink below the surface, Christ caught him. So I figure, the Lord’s got it. If I live in fear that not being able to see into the distant future means I should stay in my boat, then I think I will miss many opportunities to do things I can’t even begin to imagine. 

So here we go, out into the water, one step at a time, to see what the future may bring… 

What Forgiveness Looks Like

I’ve been avoiding his voicemail for the last week. Every time I pick up my phone, that pesky red notification symbol is there staring at me…

Honestly, I am afraid he will be kind and concerned; and after all these years, I don’t know how to accept that. 

For over 14 years, our relationship has been based on him leaving; him telling me I am a bad mother, a bad person; him criticizing me, undermining me, going behind my back; him not participating, not helping, taking time for himself instead of supporting our kids. While for the most part, over the last 2-3 years that tone has calmed down, and there have not been any critical incidents, there hasn’t been any resolution either. 

The silence might have calmed my nerves but it’s not really healing. 

I wouldn’t say I am bitter. I am not spiteful. The truth is, if things go well for him, things go well for us, so I really have a vested interest in wishing good on him. I have never been able to hate him like my friends and family have wanted me to. Maybe I would have protected myself better and faster if I had been able to. But it’s hard for me to call evil down on someone’s head. 

This is not the same as trust though. And I have had to act without trust on many occasions; I guess I have acted with faith – evidence of thing things not seen and all that. Before there was a new pattern of behavior that I could trust in, I operated in faith. And then, after sometime, I might have been worried, but I did trust that things would be fine. 

But that doesn’t mean I have forgotten what happened. So it really doesn’t take much to tip back into fear. An unexpected visit. A change of plans. Lack of contact. A complete absence of control or ability to intervene.

We don’t know each other now; we don’t communicate, so, in my mind, we are the Him and Her of our youth. So, I have to decide: do I live like the past will always be the present? Or do I live like there is possibility for healing in the future? 

If I want there to be healing and not just an absence of pain (two different things, right?) then I have to accept his actions of reconciliation. Even if they are not explicitly, “Please forgive me for the things I have done.” Maybe he will need to do that at some point. But I guess I see my part in this as accepting what he can change now. 

And that change is scary. I mean, who am I, if I am not the woman whose kids’ dad is a deadbeat, slacker causing trouble for her? Who am I, if suddenly he’s responsible and responsive and aware of how his actions might affect others? Who am I, if I let go of my fear and instead of expecting pain, I accept respect? 

I’ve been a Christian my whole life, so forgiveness comes up a lot. But even if you aren’t a person of faith, if you know people, you have to wrestle with what it means to forgive. And I feel like we all do that dance: oh, forgiving is not forgetting, forgiving is not the same as trust, just because you forgive doesn’t mean you have to let the person in your life, etc etc… And I don’t think I disagree with those statements, but while we can say what we all think forgiveness is not, what does it look like?

I haven’t read all that much on forgiveness, but for me, this is what it looks like. I guess one day, I’ll have to look at him and say, “I forgive you.” But for now, it’s listening to his voicemail. And letting the tears stream down my face and listening to him say, “Jen, the boys love you, I’m not going to do that to them.” 

Forgiveness looks like me becoming a new person, or at least letting go of who I thought I was in relation to him. It might feel comfortable, even safe, to be that same woman forever, but there is no possibility in that future. 

So, there’s an amount of humility that is required in forgiveness, I guess. An amount of transformation. And I’d like to say that letting forgiveness happen in one relationship in my life is making me want to live it in others — but, no way, man. That stuff is silo’d up tight. (though, I’ll admit, letting God back in, forgiving myself over the last 2 years, is probably where it actually started and why this moment is possible, but that’s another post for another day). 

Today, I don’t have the emotional energy to go around undoing all the identities I have made out of pain. 

But eventually. I hope. 

Balancing Act

For eight years at least, I worked 8-10 hour shifts, 5 days a week. My schedule varied, ranging from arriving to work at 430am to getting out of work at 1030pm. During that time I was also taking at least two classes each semester, which meant sometimes the “on” part of my day ranged from 430am to 9pm, or I might arrive home at 930pm from class just in time to set an alarm for 4am the next day. And of course, in the midst of all this my sons would have been ages 2/4 to 10/12, so you know, there was all the carting to daycare (after finally finding a daycare with the necessary hours), getting them to school, homework, doctors appointments, sick days, etc etc. 

Basically, as any (single, working, student) parent can attest: I was working myself to the bone. 

Then, 3 years ago, I quit my full-time job to focus on graduate school and homeschooling my then 7th and 5th graders. I was still working part-time, so did regularly have 430am wake-up calls, and nights of not getting home until 1030pm. But, suddenly, I had so much more time – it was like a detox. Somehow, it felt a lot like a depression, though —  I was sleeping a lot, unmotivated to leave the house, gaining weight (and then losing it, and then gaining it again). 

And still, with all this new found time, I was not able to really organize myself, my time. Not able to prioritize what I knew I wanted to have first in my life: personal devotions, exercise, writing time. 

So, this year, my final year of grad school, I decided to untether myself from my part-time job, and be only student, teacher, homeschool mom. Again, the adjustment was not a quick as I would have liked. I felt I was not accomplishing what I needed/wanted to in a day. Granted, my days were built around a teaching schedule; it wasn’t terrible, though not of my choosing; but still, I felt that I should just be able to be more organized.  

Alas, even more time was not a silver-bullet solution that automatically organized my life and rebooted my energy. 

Then around Christmas I read a book about Circadian rhythms. For those who may not know, circa like “around/about” and diem like “day”- so, “about a day.” The book basically laid out the science of how our bodies work on a roughly 24hr cycle and that everything in our body, from sleep to organ function, turns on and off during that time. The author then recommended consistency in rising and bed time; limited blue light when going to bed and plenty of sunlight in the day; exercise at optimal points in the day; and 12 hours allowed for digestion. 

For the first two weeks of monitoring my present daily rhythm I used the app the book had affiliated with it – I had to log when I went to bed, woke, ate food, exercised, and drank water. Ok, sure, fine. But actually, IT’S SO HARD!! Remembering to pick up my phone every time I ate something – ugh (which, sure if you follow my Insta, you’re thinking, Jen, you do that already, don’t you? NO. NOT even close). 

So I got through the fortnight, and of course the app reported that I was awake at all hours of the night and eating for like 90% of that time- my bad. 

What to do? Well, I gave up on the app because, actually, truth be told, I have been trying to hold my phone less every since some update started having it tell me every Sunday morning what my screen time was for the week —- in hours and minutes. OUCH. 

Instead, I focused first on going to bed NOT at 2am (oops), and setting an alarm for sunrise (it’s winter, that is like 730am, don’t freak out). I also tried to get my eating into a 12 hour window, but not extreme and strict — because that’s my problem: 

Always looking for that magic switch to flip and solve, instead of finding balance in a constant, measured effort. 

So, if I ate late, then I waited 12 hours before I ate again; if I went to bed later then I planned, I set the alarm to give me 9 hrs in bed (because who in the world falls asleep the minute their head hits the pillow??). 

That was like 6 weeks ago. And while I am crying a little inside that I haven’t lost any weight (patience patience, grasshopper), the scale has stopped fluctuating – entirely. My joints hurt less when I get out of bed in the morning. I don’t need caffeine unless it’s PMS days (because no amount of sleep solves the tiredness that comes with your body preparing to shed its insides). I am pretty sure I am sleeping more peacefully then I usually do, and for the first time in probably my entire adult life, I don’t need my alarm to wake up — sure, I am not getting up at 4am these days, but the fact that my eyes gently flutter open with the rising of the sun and I feel totally rested and not already counting the minutes until I can go back to sleep is super weird and new for me. 

Plus, I got THE MOST amazing teaching schedule: Tuesdays/Thursday, 1230p-315pm — Thank you, LINDA!!!! So, after all these years that I really just thought I was an undisciplined person with poor time-management ability, what I actually am is someone who, when they aren’t stretched to the extreme max by life, can actually get up and make a cup of tea and wash dishes, then have devotion and writing time, and class plan for a bit, and do some yoga, and then pack a lunch and go teach (only two days a week!). I’m person who feels so much better physically and mentally that they even turned their gym membership back on and went to a spin class for the first time in over a year (woot woot). 

Like, I’m suddenly a life success, guys. It’s crazy. 

Ok, yes, I am still stressed out (all I wanted to do was cry yesterday, I was so exhausted) – I am in an extremely productive time in my life- I’ve limited the things I am committed to, but the things I am committed to all require brain output, not absorption. And honestly, it is super hard to be “on” all the time. To constantly give, guide, teach, see, correct, create.

But, after all this time, I’m realizing it hasn’t been about my lack of character. It’s been about listening to my body, finding a rhythm, letting go of extreme fixes, getting through 24 hours – and then doing it all again the next day. 

I feel silly not figuring this out until 36, but hey, moving out of survival mode brings revelation. So, here’s to finding new ways to keep ourselves upright on the tightrope – arms out..deep breath…eyes forward…go ~

(re)Drawing the Map

I realized I was ready to write this sitting in church yesterday listening to my pastor preach a message on Saving Esau. He talked of boundaries and limits that we never think we will cross until we are weary and think we are dying and then nothing matters but the moment. 

And it dawned on me while he called us to close our eyes and bring to mind the moments of 2018 where we know we failed and could have done better, that for the first time since I was 18, I have lived a year I am entirely proud of. 

It feels, at 36, that I should be able to have already said that. Thirty-six feels like it’s too old to be finally pulling myself together — that I should have known who I was a lot sooner than this. But, you know, life is funny, and sometimes there are just things that happen or we make decisions we never thought we would have to make, and suddenly we are faced with a version of ourselves we never had imagined. 

I mean, it’s not hard to understand why Sarah laughed when told she was going to be a mother at the age of 90: you’ve lived your whole life thinking you are one person, destined for a certain path, and then suddenly, you’re given something new. You wake up in a new reality. 

When I started this blog four months ago and titled it “A Year of Change” I meant it was the year I was finishing grad school and starting a new job – that kind of change. But I guess if I’d meant for the change to be so limited, then I really shouldn’t have given it a space of its own. 

And I think that’s the thing — sometimes we can plan it all, and it still goes differently. Sometimes we have no plan and we STILL couldn’t have predicted the outcome. Sometimes we determine our boundaries and in the moment of tragedy, we obliterate them. We cross lines and then suddenly we are someone new. 

I am not saying I haven’t had ups and downs in 2018, that I haven’t struggled with some of the same old things, or come to know some new struggles; but I can honestly say, for the first time in almost two decades, that I didn’t go looking for trouble and I didn’t ease my pain with all the wrong things. 

And this I call progress. 

I’d like to say it will always be this way now. That I have learned all my lessons and I’ve got my head on straight. Truth is, I don’t really trust myself that much. Not yet. Not after only 1 year. But there is something to be said for living through a span of time that you can look back on and say, “Look, Self, you can DO this. You can make right, wise choices with long-term consequences in mind, and you can be satisfied with those choices, happy even, not feeling like you have lost more than you’ve gained.” 

And I know many Christians who read this may discount my thinking because I did use the word “I” a lot. But here’s where I am at these days: God is with me, and I know I find strength in my relationship with Him. But, God doesn’t set my alarm clock, and He doesn’t get me out of bed on time when it goes off. He doesn’t grade my papers, teach my classes, or research my thesis. He’s not cooking meals for my sons or enforcing the consequences of the rules they break. He doesn’t drive my car to the gas station; He doesn’t take the dog for a walk. He doesn’t write my to-do list, or remember to look at it and actually do the stuff. He doesn’t operate the calculator at the grocery store or write the checks for the rent. He didn’t clean the house for all the realtor showings and he isn’t typing this right now. 

I do all this. My life is made of MY actions. God can love me till I cry, He can cover me in His presence and protection, He can open my eyes to choices I didn’t think I had and miraculously provide for my family – but he can’t make me DO anything. Everyday I get up and I decided what to do with my life. And when one has made as many poor choices as I have, when they have undermined the trust they have in their own ability to do well, then faith is just as much about leaning to believe you can see clearly and control yourself as it is about learning to live like God’s promises are true. 

God showers us with grace and shows us all the options we never thought we had, but God never puts us on a leash. WE decide what to do next. 

So, tomorrow is the first day of a new year, and while I totally get that time is a illusion and years are made up demarcations, in the interest of the symbolism of it all, I’m rethinking my abilities and purpose, and I’m mapping out some goals; I’m letting go of more of my old self to make room for the me I don’t know yet. Let the games begin. 

Happy New Year, everyone. 

Guilt, part 1 or On Never Being Enough

A few weeks ago, we were having trouble with our furnace – just when it started getting cold of course. Our landlord has a farm outside of town and is often hard to reach, so sometimes it can be almost a week before we hear from him. My boys usually run hot, but even they were needing to wear socks and sweatshirts while lounging around the house. I was most nervous when they were sleeping, and when I went into my youngest’s room to check the temperature at bedtime, he explained that he gets too hot when he sleeps anyway, so he was fine. 

“Why do you even care if my room is cold, mom?” he asked.
Well, I explained to him, Parents feel guilty when their kids suffer, especially when they can’t fix it.
Oh, he replied. 

And I don’t know, maybe all parents don’t feel guilty when they’re unable to address the problems facing their kids or their family. But I think a lot of us do. 

I felt guilty about the house being cold because I rent and so I was at the mercy of my landlord coming to look at the furnace and then, if he couldn’t fix it, getting a professional to come look at it. 

I felt guilty about it even more because our financial situation is such that I couldn’t just fork out the money to get it looked at myself and then have my landlord reimburse me when he could. 

When we finally got our food stamps approved last month (something that, interestingly, I absolutely don’t feel shame or guilt about at all) my youngest asked hopefully, “So does this mean we can go out to eat again sometimes?” And *PING* the guilt popped up. “No, bud, now we have to use the money to pay bills, but hopefully in a month or so, we can start doing that again,” I told him; and in the back of my mind I am beating down the raging guilt because these past two years, while I finish grad school, my poor kids have had to give up a lot of things that their friends and people around them get to do. 

And from the back seat my oldest pipes in, “Why would you ask that, Gabe? We have to pay bills.” And by then I am barely holding back tears because it really just feels like this loss of childhood for them that I could put a stop to, if I really wanted. 

And I feel guilty about that maybe most of all, you know. I CHOSE to quit a well paying job so that I could finish school. I am basically doing all of this to myself, to my sons. And I feel incredibly guilty over the selfishness of these last few years. Sure, I am giving up all the extras just as much as they are, but still, to think I DO have the power to change the circumstances sooner and I am not… I don’t know. When you make a sacrifice for your own self – fine. But somehow, when it involves your kids, it just doesn’t seem to be ok. 

Sometimes I wish I got as much joy from parenting as I see so many others enjoying. Don’t get me wrong, I dearly love my boys. Fiercely love them. But I also take my role as their parent seriously. 

Of course, the situation is made even more complex by having to parent alone; and man, the challenges that single-parenting poses only fuel the guilt: Are they stable enough? Are they going to be able to maintain good relationships when they grow up? Both their sets of grandparents are divorced and their parents are divorced, will they continue the pattern? Are they learning to treat future partners with respect? Do they feel responsible or caught in the middle? Do they feel safe and loved? Did I make the right choice when deciding to homeschool, or am I what their father declared when he found out – an arrogant f*cking c*nt? I am not organized enough, I am not structured enough, I spend time away from home teaching and taking classes, maybe he’s right – maybe I am failing them? 

I don’t know if fathers feel guilt like mothers do – the pressure to stay home with the kids (and the guilt when we don’t), raise them right, put them first…how much we second guess spending $50 on a massage or pedicure or locking the bathroom door for 30 minutes in the tub … that gnawing at your gut when you take time for yourself.

I feel sad that the thing in which I find perhaps the most joy of my entire being – my education – makes me feel guilt almost ALL the time. I feel guilty that I am away from my kids. I feel guilty about saying no so often to social occasions. And then, when I AM with my kids or I DO say yes to going out, I feel guilty about the school work I need to be doing. Although I am content in my singleness, I do sometimes struggle with guilt over not finding a new partner to provide a “full home” for my boys, and instead use all my energy on simply raising them alone and focusing on my educational journey.

I feel guilty that I ever gained so much weight. And now that I am working through why I gained it, I feel guilty for not being able to just turn my health around in the blink of an eye. I feel guilty that I lost so much weight a few years ago, was really living a healthy lifestyle, and then let myself get so off track again and gained it back.

I feel guilty about how inconsistent I am in ALL areas of my life – health, spiritual, social, civic. 

This stupid blog even causes me guilt lol I’ve been pondering how to write about this subject and thinking, man it’s getting longer and longer since my last post. And as I am sitting here, sipping Starbucks decaf Christmas Blend and watching episodes of Numb3rs while I type, I feel guilty I didn’t take the dog for a walk on this beautiful day – even though I woke at 530am, worked from 6-noon, washed 2 loads of laundry when I came home, swept the basement landing, made cold brew iced coffee, put away a load of dishes and then washed another, and did 30 minutes of yoga (it’s now 6pm)- yet, I still haven’t finished the homework I’m behind on – and it weighs on my mind…

There’s just this pressure all the time, you know – or, I don’t know, maybe you don’t know. Maybe you’re somehow capable of letting it all just roll off your back. 

But I am an analyzer, and yes, prone to overthinking, I admit. Sometimes I think the problem is that I have too much on my plate, but what could I really give up? Maybe I just need to be better at time management? And sometimes I blame it on being an overachiever, which could be true. Often I wonder, just who I am trying to prove something to? I am not one who feels the need to make an impression- truth be told, I’d rather not mention my skills or abilities until they’re totally necessary. I am not competitive. But I am sensitive to social expectations. I am aware of my potential. And I do blame my introspective nature- a trait that never lets me rest, that drives me to be more, better, always improving. 

But the implication of constant improvement is that the current state is never enough. And the worry there is, will I ever be enough? 

Today I Saw a Black Man Holding a Gun in a Public Space and I Didn’t Call the Police

So, I pulled into the parking lot and saw a young man crossing the lot towards the businesses, I thought I saw a gun in his hand. I had to slow down because the car in front of me slowed and the guy turned and then approached the driver’s window. As he turned, I absolutely saw him put a black handgun in his right jacket pocket. We made eye contact because I was right behind the car he was approaching. When I realized there was enough space to pass, I went around the car and the guy who still had his hand in his pocket but was smiling and engaging in conversation with the driver. I went on with the reason I had entered the location but because I knew one of the owners of one of the businesses, I called them and described the man and told them to be on the look out. About 30 minutes later, I checked in and nothing had happened. Everyone was safe. 

And here is why I think I did the right thing:

Missouri is a conceal and carry state. I see guns on people all the time. I have sat in restaurants with them holstered to people next to me. I have served cups of coffee to regulars with guns on their hips. I have sat in church next to people with guns in their purses and under their suit coats. 

No one called the cops on them. 

I have no idea if that young man had a permit, but if I am going to give all those other people I have seen with a gun in public the benefit of the doubt, why not him? 

Now, I also have never see anyone in public with a gun in their hand. I am not sure why the average citizen would be in the middle of a parking lot with a gun in their hand unless they thought they were in danger or they were intending to use that gun for a crime. So, when I saw this guy, I could have called the police because, yes, it did seem suspicious. 

But to be honest, I fear that a young black man with a gun is more likely to be shot then arrested. So, I did not call the cops. 

The young man also had ample time to try to keep me from reporting him. We absolutely made eye contact. He saw me see him put that gun in his pocket. He made no threatening moves. I’m not sure, he even looked at me when I passed him. I went around the building and he didn’t follow. I was in that area for about 10 minutes and he made no effort to find me. 

You could say that he did this because he is arrogant and reckless and believed I wouldn’t be brave enough to call the police. Maybe he didn’t care if the police were called. Or, maybe he had nothing to be afraid of because he believes in his 2nd Amendment Right to bear arms. 

The only way to test that would have been to call the police, but again, if I am not going to call the police on everyone listed above, why call them on him? 

Granted, it did seem odd. Why is this young man walking through a parking lot with a gun in his hand in the middle of the day? So, I called the person running one of the businesses in that area and alerted them. I described the young man, the car, the gun. I said, I don’t know which business he was going into, but it’s close enough to you that I want you to know. That person alerted the other business and each party was able to respond to the situation in what they saw as the way best for their interests. 

For some of you, this was not enough preventative action. And I can admit that I worried as I drove away, what if he hurts someone? 

But, if we believe we have an “innocent until proven guilty” justice system, then I think that starts with citizens trusting each other. It starts with not letting fear lead us to extremes, but tempering it with wisdom. I think that it starts with me, a white woman, not calling the cops on suspicious looking black men in hoodies, even if they have a gun. 

I don’t feel bad admitting that the social climate affected my decision. I am proud to say that I actually took that climate into consideration. I am proud that I didn’t react in a “natural” way with no thought about the ingrained stereotypes and prejudices that might be my motivators. I feel that I made an informed, responsible decision. Some of you can’t believe I was so reckless with the lives of others. 

But why doesn’t his life mater too? 

You don’t have to agree with me. But when I think about the state of our justice system, I am often overwhelmed by how broken it is. I feel helpless in the face of so much bias and corruption. We have a system that is set up to perpetuate the inequality; and even the fervor of election season and the number of selfies of voters doesn’t calm the dread in my gut and the saddens in my soul. 

I don’t believe voting is enough. 

I think change starts with us. Everyday. Even in scary, suspicious situations.