Change, Undone, and God’s Doing

***Parallel Processing

Parallel process is a clinical term used to describe the common occurrence in therapy when the therapist’s own experience is reflected in the client’s. It is when a client comes in grieving over the loss of a loved one while the therapist has only just experienced his or her own loss as well. It is a therapist helping a client through feelings of anger and hurt that the therapist has also just recently confronted.

But, here’s the thing: we are all in parallel process. Too often in life it goes unsaid.

Here is where I say it.***

When we moved back from Prague (as in the Czech Republic and not as in New Prague, Minnesota), after it had become prayerfully clear that moving back home was what we were supposed to do, after Jon and I had already started processing what our missions work had meant and would mean, after Jon’s job came like a miracle, like manna from the sky even if it was working in a middle school, which he had never done in his life…after all of this it became clear that I was going to have to go back to work…if we wanted things like a house, food, or toilet paper.  It became clear that one salary was not going to make our ends meet and at the end of a date night with Jon, I sat in the parking lot of Barnes and Noble in Chattanooga and cried.

I cried because I had already gone through this once, this giving over to change when I surrendered as a stay at home mother, and then began to relish the experience of being at home with my babies.  I cried because I remembered how anxious I was being away from them for even the few hours it took to finish school before we had moved to Europe.  I cried because I did not know if I could handle that anxiety again.  I cried because I was angry…angry over a lot about our transition back to Cleveland even though I knew it was what God had for us, knew it even if I didn’t understand it, knew it even though many people close to us did not understand it.  I cried because what had become my idea and identity of motherhood was being challenged…again.

Stability and routine are all very good things.  It is this kind of security and knowing what to expect that promotes growth and healthy development.  Too often we do not have enough of it.  We need things like breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.  We need to know that we will always brush our teeth and that we go to bed at about the same time after the same cup of tea and a bedtime story.  Rituals and routines keep us grounded and are so very important because the rest of life is…more often than not…anything but ritual and routine.

Life is full of changes.  You used to see these bumper stickers on cars and they would say things like: “Whoever dies with the most toys wins” or something like that.  If I could create a bumper sticker, I would make one that says: “Whoever is the most flexible in life wins.”

Ironically, it is the routine and rituals that we grow accustomed to as children and teenagers that make room for flexibility in life.  Our little bodies and minds learn that they can count on so many things like supper around the table, church every Sunday…so that, sure, why not be ok when the unexpected does happen.  We can deal with that.  Because I still know that I will eat three meals a day, brush my teeth, can count on mommy or daddy coming home, and going to bed at about the same time after the same story.  Bumps in the road can be tolerated in this kind of environment.

The less routine and ritual a child has growing up, the more rigid they actually become as adults.  It is as though our not so little bodies say I don’t know what to count on so I am going to hold on for dear life to any thing I can grasp and not be willing to let it go because who knows what is coming next.  I don’t know that I can count on three meals a day, mommy coming home for supper, or on church every Sunday so when something good comes along I will grab it, strangling it to death or until I am tired and exhausted and have worn out everyone around me.  I might even be a little obsessive about details and perfection and bite your head off if you do something not quite right…because I have learned that you have to fight for any good thing to last very long… and even then it usually doesn’t.  Bumps in the road are not so tolerated in this kind of context…where routine and stability were not the foundation.

Flexibility.  Being able to go with the flow while still making your way.  Having the ability to adjust and adapt.  Not demanding that life look a certain way every day every month every year.

I cried that night in the parking lot.  Then, I got up the next morning and got to it.  If I was going to have to work then I was going to do what I knew I was supposed to do, what I was trained to do.  I was going to be a therapist, a good one.

God was in the crying in the parking lot of Barnes and Noble.  He was in that bump in the road.  He knew that I could count on so many things…like that He would provide for me, that He would take care of my family and children because He always had.

He knows that motherhood looks a variety of ways in a variety of seasons, different with each child, with each new place of residence.  There is no real box, even the SAHM box is usually filled with work that mothers do on the side.  Mothers are mothers.  Mothers do what needs to be done.  And, somewhere in all of that He creates the mother he wants me to be, the mother He wants my children to have and see.

We get into trouble when we demand that life look a certain way, when we hold on to rigid ideas and identities.  We get into trouble and do damage to ourselves and to the loved ones around us because when I say that life has to look a certain way and that I have to look a certain way I am also saying that you do, too.  Or else.

I love Nora Jones.   Jon and I were listening to her as we drove into California for the first time less than a year after we got married.  I will always associate her with California and driving with the top down, wind in my hair…exploring the west.  In her first album she sings these lyrics in her song Cold, Cold Heart:

“my heart is paying now for things I didn’t do.”

Sometimes when we refuse or find it difficult to be flexible, to see God working in the undoing that needs to be done…perhaps due to things we went through as children or teenagers…we make those around us today pay for things they didn’t do.

Our inflexibility makes others pay.

I cried that night.  Then, I got up the next morning and got to it.

That’s how I do things.  I get it all out.  Jon and I learned a lot about ourselves when we moved to Prague.  We learned that I get the grieving over with fast and furious.  I cry.  I get angry.  I face culture shock and stare it down.  Jon’s comes, too…a few months later.  Thank God we don’t go through it at the same time.

I knew that with my education I was blessed to have choices in going back to work.  As soon as word got out, a former colleague of mine who was the director of counseling at a local clinic called and offered me a job.  40 hours a week, 9-5 of seeing clients.  While my brother is doing excellent work in this context, I knew there was no way that as a mother I would do a good job with clients in that kind of schedule.  I would get burned out within weeks.  I needed no time to give him an answer…thank you, I am honored, but no.

My head clearing from the cascade of tears just nights before, I knew that there was a very good chance God was in this change, that God was calling out gifts I had been content to lay down forever.  Before children, I had always dreamed of having my own private practice.  So, with a fire lit inside me, I made the difficult choice to do the hard work of digging out a private practice where I could set my own hours and create an environment that was healthy for me, and therefore, healthy for my clients.

My husband helped me design my first website and fliers. I sat up at night and created mailing lists from the phone book.  I did it the old fashioned way and licked all of my own envelopes, writing out the addresses, until my tongue was raw and my hands were tired.  I read books on starting a practice.  I was blessed to have watched my father do this for almost 30 years.  I knew that there would be very, very hard times.  I had a colleague who had her own medical practice in town.  She had told me that the first two years would be tough.  Expect it.  So, I did.  I expected a slow, steady growth.

I was able to get some adjunct teaching to help make ends meet and did some writing for my church’s International Girls’ Ministry office.  I wanted to support two things: my family and doing good therapy for my clients.  I would settle for nothing else.  I was on fire for my work and it got me through the anxiety of change.

That was well over four years ago.  I can hardly believe it.  My practice has seen changes and growth.  I have developed some wonderful professional relationships.  I love what I do.

God was in the crying in the parking lot of Barnes and Noble.  He was pushing me out of a nest.  He knows that motherhood looks a variety of ways in a variety of seasons, different with each child, with each new place of residence.  There is no real box, even the SAHM box is usually filled with work that mothers do on the side.  Mothers are mothers.  Mothers do what needs to be done.  And, somewhere in all of that He creates the mother he wants me to be, wants my children to have and see.

Super Models

Like lots of moms with [a few] kids, I avoid taking them to the grocery store all at one time.  They always want to ride in one of those big, obnoxious cars.  You know the ones…the huge cars that always run into about three other buggies when you try to make a turn into the next aisle.  Of course, Emmett, my two year old, wants the RED car…as in Lightening McQueen.  Where we shop there is only ONE red car buggie…usually stuck in the middle of about five other blue buggies.  So we spend the first ten minutes prying it out of its nesting spot and then disinfecting it with wipes that the store so graciously provides at the entrance…if the container is not empty.

My two oldest, Eloise and Lillian, prefer not to ride in the car anymore, so they walk next to me…one on each side…which creates another problem.  I am constantly directing them either to get in front of or behind me to stay out of everyone’s way.  Then, because they are not in the car (or perhaps Lillian starts in the car and then gets out), Emmett spends the entire shopping trip begging to walk like his sisters…if that doesn’t work: “I want you to hold me, mama!”

Right.

So, like I said…I avoid this.

And…sometimes it is unavoidable.  A couple of weeks ago Jon was working, all of the children were home on break, I had a dinner to make for someone, and there was no way to get around going to the store…with all three children.

So, off we go…lug red car out, disinfect, constantly move girls around to let people by, continuously tell Emmett that he cannot get out and no, I cannot hold him right now…all while consulting and checking off a list.

It is a relief to get to the checkout.  I know that it is almost over.

Really, though, all in all, it isn’t so bad.

I mean, it isn’t THAT treacherous of a journey.

Then I look over at my daughters, who are 6 and 8…who are just starting to enjoy their relatively new skill of reading.  Their eyes are stuck at eye level…right on the magazines.

“Lose 20 pounds in two weeks!”

“10 positions sure to make your man go crazy!”

“What a man REALLY wants.  We can tell you!”

“X and Y divorce after 3 months!”

“Eloise, Lillian!  Come here!  I, um, I need you to…put these things on the counter!  Can you help me?  Talk to Emmett.  Pull the cart over here.”

Lord, help me. That was close.  Note to self: another reason to avoid taking the kids to the grocery store…the magazine covers at the checkout!

Never had I even noticed the titles and now I cannot help but be agitated that they put those things at the eye level of children!

My daughters are getting closer and closer to pre-adolescence.  I remember those days.  From middle school to somewhere in my mid twenties, I would love to pour over magazines and read about all of the latest trends on losing weight, improving my shape, what guys wanted, etc. etc.

All of the things that we are supposed to look like.  All of the things we are supposed to be.  All of the things we are supposed to have.

Like super models.  All of us.  That is what those magazines tell us.

You’d better…or else.

Never mind that they spend hours fixing up those girls in the pictures and then doctoring the images to erase any left over blemishes.  The current of the media’s message is very strong.  And, many of us, especially at that impressionable age, tend to get swept along.

Be this.  Or…  you won’t have that.  That group of friends.  That job.  That boyfriend.  That life.

Thank God I am past that phase.  Phew.

I mean, I still subscribe to magazines, but they certainly do not have super models in them.  I read things like Southern Living, Real Simple, Coastal Living.

You know…the magazines that give me ideas for cooking, for my home.

They don’t tell me what to wear so much as they tell me what to cook, what my home should look like…

Wait a minute.

All of the things that we are supposed to look like.  All of the things we are supposed to have.  All of the things we are supposed to be.

You’d better…or else.

Like super models.  All of us.  That is what those magazines tell us.

Never mind that they spend hours fixing up those homes in the pictures and then doctoring images to erase any leftover blemishes.  The current of the media’s message is very strong.  And, many of us, especially at this impressionable age of being a mother, tend to get swept along.

Be this.  Or…  you won’t have that.  That group of friends.  That job.  That boyfriend or spouse.  That life.

Well, good grief.  Huh.

Well, I sure am glad men don’t seem to struggle with this thing of looking at magazines or the media for how we should be or act.

Wait.  That doesn’t sound right.  What was that statistic I heard the other day?  60% of men look at and use pornography?

You know…that industry that tell men (and women) what you should act like when having sex, what sex should look like in order to be exciting and “real”, that industry that tell us what our sex life should or could be if only we do what they do…

Like super models.  All of us.  That is what that industry tells us.

You’d better…or else.

Never mind that they spend hours fixing up those sex scenes in the pictures and then doctoring images to erase any leftover blemishes.  The current of the media’s message in this industry is very strong.  And, many of us, especially at this impressionable age of being sexual creatures tend to get swept along.

We get swept along and are told that we have to

Look like this.

Wear that.

Have this.

Buy that.

Do it this way.

Or…

You won’t have that.  That group of friends.  That job.  That boyfriend or mate.  That sex life.

If you don’t do all of these things and look like all of this then you will be…

Alone.

Get it right before you dare to get close to anyone…or you’ve lost before you even get started.  You’ll lose him, or her, or them.

When we lived in Prague we would frequent the market just down from our apartment…potraviny’s they are called and are found on many street corners.  One of our cheap indulgences that we could get at the potraviny was a frozen pizza.  When we were tired and needed an easy meal that all of us could enjoy we would run down the stairs to the street, into the potraviny, and then back up to pop in a frozen pizza.

European pizzas are different than most American versions.  They are very thin and crispy.

However, we found one pizza option that could help us connect to our roots.  It was ONE frozen pizza that was not thin and crispy.  It was HUGE in comparison to the others.

And…it was called…THE BIG AMERICAN.

We actually preferred the thin and crispy pizzas, but this name…all typed out in English…cracked us up.

We are known for liking things big…figuratively and literally.  We want the BIG fashion, the BIG look, the BIG house, the BIG sex life.

No moderation for us…no sir.  We want it BIG.  And, it has not gone unnoticed by our world neighbors.

But, it seems that for how BIG we demand it to be…for how much debt we go into trying to achieve it…debt monetarily, debt emotionally, debt relationally, debt physically…so often this pursuit of what is the latest, BIGGEST thing…

…leaves us empty…full of air…wanting more…still alone…

…and of little consequence in our personal worlds.

Jonathan Stone reminded me that media is just the plural form of medium.  Saul made a fatal mistake in his reign.  He trusted in the wisdom, advice, and direction of a medium (also known as a witch) over the wisdom, advice, and direction of the Lord.

What is a “medium”?  It is someone who is supposedly the medium between you and knowledge.  The “go-between”.

But, all knowledge comes from God and the fear of the Lord…and what is BIG to HIM…is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7).  We don’t need a “medium”.  We can go straight to Him.

Saul died as a crazy, lonely, ridiculed man.

I am afraid too often we spin our wheels listening and paying more attention to the mediums (media) in our lives rather than the wisdom, advice, and direction of God.

I am afraid too often we end up pretty crazy…pretty lonely…pretty ridiculous…

…just trying to keep up with what is BIG…

…from listening to our own mediums…the media.

I have to tell you.  This idea hit me like a sledgehammer the other day.  I am aware of the magazines telling us about what to wear and how to look.  I could get up on a soapbox and use a bullhorn on that issue.  I also know the dangers of pornography telling us how sex should look.  I know about how both of these industries “normalize” a standard that can never be lived up to….a standard that will always leave people feeling overwhelmed with inadequacy and hopelessness.

I know that these feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy so often lead people to consume these forms of media MORE.  It becomes a cycle where people never feel good enough…and so they isolate…because they think, like these forms of media tell them: “You just aren’t perfect enough to really be close to someone yet.  You just don’t have it altogether enough yet.  Keep trying.”

What hit me is that I have bought into it, too.

It may not be my clothes or my hair.  I may not watch pornography, but in a sense it is all the same.

Anytime I look to forms of media to tell me what or how I should be or act I have looked elsewhere for knowledge and guidance.

I have bought into the lie.

So, I say…when my house looks this way I can have more people over.

Anytime I look to another “model” from the media for ANY part of life I am risking feeling inadequate, hopeless…and, as a result, isolated.

I’m going to get even more personal here for a minute.

Facebook is another form of media.

And, too often women (and men) look to it for knowledge.

For all of the things that we are supposed to look like.  All of the things we are supposed to be.

Like super models.  All of us.  That is what Facebook tells us.

You’d better…or else.

Never mind that they spend hours fixing up those picture or statuses that get posted and then doctor the images and thoughts to erase any left over blemishes.  The current of this media’s message is very strong.  And, many of us tend to get swept along.

Be this.  Or…  you won’t have that.  That group of friends.  That job.  That boyfriend or spouse.  That life.

Any time we look to a “model” other than the one that God gives us we are like Saul, seeking the knowledge of a medium rather than the wisdom of the Lord.  We are continuing to act out the way of Adam and Eve…listening to the words of darkness rather than trusting in Light.

The only super “model” is His model…not the models lifted up for us in magazines on fashion, home living, or pornography…and certainly not the models lifted up on Facebook.

Fashion super models and tabloids tell girls and young women that if they don’t look a certain way, they aren’t real or beautiful girls and they will never be good enough for a relationship.

Too often home living magazines send the message that if your home does not look like “this” you are not good enough in all sorts of ways and should not even think about pursuing providing hospitality.

Pornography tells men (and women) that if you do not have sex this way, your relationship is not good enough and it isn’t real or exciting enough.  Sadly, it tells wives (and husbands about their wives)…if you don’t look like this, like sex this way, or do things like this…you aren’t a real woman…and we don’t have a real sex life.

For a country that values independence we sure are dependent.  We depend on what the media tells us we should be, have, and look like.

I’m ready for freedom (Galations 5:1).  I’m ready to really try out independence and to really start thinking for myself.

So, please be aware of the magazines your daughters and sons see at the checkout.

Be aware of the magazines you yourself are reading…the facebooking you are doing…the TV you are watching.  The media you consume that tells you what is “normal”.

Don’t be such a follower…of all these so-called “super” models.

Get rid of the “go-between”…the “medium”…the media.

Think for yourself.  And, go straight to Him.