The “F” Word

It’s not what you think.  It’s not THAT “F” word.  It’s the “F” word that we fear, that we try to escape.   And, it’s the “F” word commonly accepted and used in our own self-talk.  To which “F” word am I referring?  FAILURE!  No one sets out to be a failure.  To fail is not acceptable in most areas of life.  Yet, how often do you or I accept failure as a way of living?  Why do we allow our own minds to attach failure to so much of our lives?  Why?

I struggle with depression.  I’m also an “overachiever”.  After my late husband’s death, feeling down became “normal.”  Just being able to get out of bed or a day without tears was a good day.   I learned to cope.  I convinced myself I was okay.  Because, I needed to be okay.  To be anything else, was to be weak.  I could not and would not be weak.  That was failing.  I read the books.  I did all the things I was told I needed to do (except counseling!) I moved on with my life.  I didn’t excel at life, but I was living.

Do you know some symptoms of an overachiever?  These taken are from John Eliot, Ph.D., a clinical professor in human performance at Texas A&M University and author of Overachievement.

  1. It’s all about the outcome:  Overachievers view failure more as a personal reflection on themselves
  2. You secretly think you’re not good enough:  While some people will “self-sabotage” when they feel inadequate, overachievers stake their identities on performance in order to conquer self-doubt.
  3. There is a short list of things you want to be good at: and that list only includes things you know you’ll be judged on.
  4. Criticism is the worst:  It all goes back to the fear of failure — overachievers’ public enemy No. 1 is criticism, because it implies that they failed at something.
  5. You’re very future-focused:  Because overachievers are constantly trying to avoid bad outcomes, they are heavily focused on the future — and as a result, often neglect the present.
  6. You feel anxious a lot:  Constantly worrying about what the future holds and achieving everything that needs to be achieved is a recipe for stress.
  7. You’re a perfectionist:  Overachievers may also be concerned about being a perfect spouse or parent, or having a perfect home.
  8. In high school, you were the one in 15 clubs:  They had an A in every class, participated in every club and went to music lessons and sports practices — all in the name of a strong college application.
  9. Being able to provide your child with all the opportunities in the world has more to do with your fear of being a bad parent, and less to do with helping your child realize his or her interests and passions.  All parents, to some extent, feel the need to “do it all” for their kids. But overachievers tend to do it big — attending every PTA meeting, making goodies for the bake sales, volunteering in class, constantly checking up with the child’s teacher — because they care so much about being the best parents.
  10. Crunch-time is the worst time:  When the stakes are high, “the overachiever tends to make mistakes in that situation, and are more out to choke because they’re so concerned with the outcome.

I never quite live up to the ideals that I picture for myself.  The smallest glitch can send me into a tailspin:  I’m not a good mother, I’m failing as a wife, I’m just not good enough.  I struggle with the fear of being utterly alone and unloved, of not being good enough to earn the love of those for whom I care so deeply.  I’m caught in a whirlwind of needing to be the best and feeling like a failure at every turn.  This, in turn, leads to anxiety and depression.

I am fortunate.  I have a husband that is constantly reassuring me.  I have friends that love and support me and are always there with words of encouragement.  I have a counselor that listens to my irrational fears and helps me see the truth.  I don’t want to be a victim of the “F” word.  I struggle each day to see value in myself and my actions.

I’m encouraged when I read  that others in the Bible suffered bouts of depression.  David wrote in Psalm 38: 21-22:

Don’t dump me, God;
    my God, don’t stand me up.
Hurry and help me;
    I want some wide-open space in my life!

There are several scriptures that talk about anxiety and trust.  Believe me, I’ve read them all.  I go to those verses when I’m overwhelmed with the daily concerns of life, when I am confronted with my lack of perfection.  I don’t want to fail.  I will not fail.  God is with me every step of the way.  I must look to His strength and remember it is through His love that I am made perfect.

Boundaries

I don’t like being told “No”. A sign that says “Do Not Touch – Wet Paint” is an open invitation to reach out and test the true wetness. Too many times, “Do Not” becomes “I Dare YOU” in my mind. In many cases, I don’t like boundaries.

When I was six years old, my aunt pointed out some pretty pink flowers during our family Easter egg hunt and said “Don’t touch these flowers.” I probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to them if she had not been kind enough to point them out to me. I kept wondering why I couldn’t touch those flowers. They were really pretty. I decided my aunt was just being stingy and she should really share. So, I went directly to the hot pink flowers and grabbed one. Unfortunately, these particular flowers were attached to a prickly pear cactus. Instead of the pretty flowers, I ended up with two handfuls of cactus spines. I cried as the spines were pulled from my fingers and as I heard my aunt say “I told you not to pick those flowers!”

Sometimes boundaries are necessary. They keep my dogs in my yard and hopefully other dogs out. I know to stay on my side of the road and I try to park my car between the yellow lines. Cell phones are not welcome in movie theatres (I have been know to sneak a quick peek!) I’m expected to be at work during specific hours. A married person is off-limits, no matter how unhappy or “free thinking” they claim to be. As a single-again, I’ve learned to appreciate the art and even the importance of “No.”

Personal boundaries are the most difficult for me. I have no problem erecting a high wall around my personal space. It keeps me safe and secure. I find that I want to push out of those boundaries and test the life I see living around me. But, you see, I have some issues with knowing the difference between the prickly pear flowers and the plain gardenia. Too often, I’m drawn to the drama and the excitement and totally miss the quieter opportunities that God has presented to me. And then, when the drama and excitement leave me in tearful pain, I run from even the most joyful and delicate choices. How does one love completely and unconditionally and avoid the pain? You don’t.

I believe the key is to love unconditionally. There are flowers I can appreciate and enjoy within limitations. While they may be beautiful, I’ll never get too close for fear of the spines or odor or other irritants they harbor. But the flowers that I love completely, are the ones I can hold and sniff and enjoy up-close. I am aware of how delicate some of the flowers can be and I handle them carefully. There will be times that I’ll come across a thorn or a bug hidden among the petals, but it doesn’t change the complete adoration I have for their grace and beauty.

Relationships are similar. There are some people/relationships that are toxic or even dangerous for me. I can appreciate the people involved and love them for who they are. But, I cannot lose sight of all that God has for me and get caught up in the excitement of the life they represent. I may to be in their world, but I cannot be a part of it. Thankfully, there are glorious opportunities for friendship that God has placed in my life. They remind me that it’s worth getting up every morning. These are the friends that I trust and invite behind my own personal walls. The few that I love completely, without reservation. Our only boundaries are trust and love. These are relationships that take time and effort to cultivate. They don’t always look exciting or even interesting, but the end result is indescribable.

I would like to think I’ve learned how to push my boundaries as I’ve gotten older. I try to see the beauty in everyone I meet. I still look for thorns before I rush to pick a flower.

And, I still leave finger prints in the wet paint!

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Fraud

Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy. Psalm 94:17-19 NIV

Sometimes, I feel like a fraud. I tell people I’m okay, when the reality is that I feel the urge to crawl out of my own skin. I tell others how to deal with grief and how to begin to live a new life, but the world around me is just dark and sad. I’ve forgotten how to laugh. I assure others they can depend on me, but I feel as if I’ve been betrayed by my own emotions. I offer pep talks on how things will get better, never give up. I just want to quit; walk away and never look back.

I’ve been in this funk for about a month. After almost nine years, I would expect to be better able to fight off the demons of depression. Obviously, I can’t. I don’t know why I’m at this place again. Maybe, it’s caused by the reality that I will be an empty nester in the next few months. Or, maybe the unexpected reappearance of “a friend” in my life after a 5 year hiatus has knocked me off-balance. It could be my ongoing awareness of the embarrassment I create for people for whom I care. Or maybe, it’s just an issue with my need to have approval and to be in control at all times. Whatever the cause, I can’t seem get my arms around it.

I thought I was doing pretty good at concealing this stuff until Monday. A friend, someone who knows my heart, called my bluff. I’m not holding things together as well as I thought. So, now what? I’m beginning to wonder if stubbornly pushing through each day is the right choice. I’m tired of trying, pretending. I don’t want to cry every day. How do I get past it all, this time? Will I succeed?

I may not succeed, but I will not give up. I will continue to call out to my God for guidance and deliverance. I will look for the bright spots each day and cling to them in the darkness. I will remember how to laugh and enjoy the beauty of life around me. I will attempt to release my obsessions as well as my fear of rejection and disappointment. I will try to forgive myself for not being perfect. I will learn to rest.

I will get through this darkness. I know there is light. Somewhere. I will find it.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Fear, Failure & Other Silliness

I have NOT done lots of things in my life because I didn’t want to:
a) look silly
b) fail
c) get hurt
d) lose
e) admit I was afraid
f) ask for help
g) all of the above

In school, I didn’t try out for anything unless I was fairly certain I would succeed. I avoided any activities that might be above my current capabilities. I didn’t want to fall and maybe be hurt. If I did take a risk and then I fell, I NEVER tried again. (It’s amazing I learned to ride a bicycle!) I stuck with the things I could do best and pretended I didn’t care about the rest of it.

As I matured, I learned that there were times when taking the risk was worth it. It was okay to try and to fail. I actually found that I could excel at looking silly and survive! I’ll never be a champion skater (or even very good for that matter!), but I can say that I tried. And fell. Many, many times. On a few occasions, I’ve been forced to face my fear of heights and bugs and snakes and telephones and have lived to tell about it even if I still get a bit nauseated at the memories.

One area in which I continue to struggle and grow in is developing true relationships. I’ve never had a problem meeting people. I can be friendly and even helpful. But, when it comes to really allowing another person past my personal fire-wall, that’s a different story. Because behind this facade is a person that fears the risk of transparency. You may discover that I’m actually silly or shallow. I may not be able to live up to your expectations. What if you don’t like me or find me annoying? Will you stick around if I admit that I’m afraid or that I desperately need your help? What will I do if you let me down? And those fears have tried to rob me of the joy of truly knowing and loving others.

There are no guarantees. Some people have come into my life for a specific time and now our lives follow different paths. There are people who I have loved and mourned when they were unwilling or unable to return that love. And then there are the people who are so deeply and richly ingrained in my life and memories that even time and distance cannot break the bond. I’ve had my heart broken and bruised through the years. There have been times that I promised God and myself that I would NEVER allow anyone the opportunity to hurt me that deeply ever again. But, as the pain subsides and the new normal becomes more familiar, I know that I need to step out of my safe zone. And, I’m so glad I haven’t given up on loving and caring about others. For all the tears and pain, I’ve also experienced so much love and joy.

If I had waited until love was safe and hassle-free, I would never have married. If we had waited until everything was perfect in our lives and in our world to have children, I wouldn’t have Zachary & Gracie. If I wait until there is no risk of being hurt before I love and care about others, I’ll live a very lonely, empty life. If I only live the parts of my life that come with guarantees, I’ll never know what it is to live life fully. Every day, I ask God for guidance and wisdom and protection. And every day, He reminds me that I am loved.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 NIV

This Weekend

I had a friend describe this weekend’s service as intense. I think that’s a good description of the entire weekend: intense.

This was the weekend of “Unwrap the Bible” with Women of Faith. I heard Beth Moore, Lisa Harper, Priscilla Shirer, Shelia Walsh & Christine Caine speak and worshiped with Kari Jobe leading. Intense would describe any one of these ladies individually. Pack them all together and the intensity is multiplied. God truly spoke this weekend. And, honestly, I’m worn out. I’m still processing all that I’ve heard over the past few days.

I’ve been going to conferences like these for years. It started with Youth Evangelism conferences in junior high and high school. In college, it was BSU conferences. After coming to Westland, I’ve attended several Arts Conferences. Add Women of Faith to the list. I had a kind of epiphany after this weekend: I’m not always encouraged after the conference is over. I really enjoy them. I really respect the speakers. And there’s always A LOT to learn. But too often, I come away feeling insignificant, not worthy and questioning my place in ministry. I know that’s not the intent or the purpose of any of these events. They are designed to encourage the attenders in ministry, to give additional training and ideas and to help encourage us to go out and stand strong in our Lord. But, my insecurities tend to kick in at full force when I walk out the door. I look at all of the talented and gifted people around me and wonder: “What am I doing here?”

In all honesty, the first time I felt the need to run away and hide instead of being encouraged to move forward was after an Arts Conference. I get included under the flag “artist” because of my singing. And I can sing and harmonize pretty well. It comes easily to me. But, I have NEVER considered myself an artist. My husband was an artist. He could write skits & plays. When he was on stage, I would forget it was Terry and be transported into the moment he was creating thru his acting. I sit in amazement and awe and friends that can just create music. They can write and transpose and mash songs together and make beautiful music. That’s being an artist. An artist creates. I only copy whats already been written. I recreate. I’m a musician and a singer. I have learned to nod my head and not to argue about the term artist, but it’s not a word I use for self-description. At this particular conference, they showed a video of Bill Hybels talking about artists. And he talked about how grateful he was for the artists in his church. And then he went on to talk about himself as a non-artistic person that works well with numbers and logic and planning. Any one that has been around me, knows that I’m a numbers person. I am a linear thinker. I work well with numbers and problem solving is like a game to me. I don’t know that I’ve ever admitted this. But, from that point forward, I’ve questioned where I should be serving.

A few years later, I attended a Beth Moore simulcast conference at my church. Travis Cottrell was leading the worship in music. He began to talk about the different types of music and different issues that churches have with the musical style that we use. I can’t remember the exact words. But, I do remember going home that afternoon and emailing my music minister that I was going to take a break from the Praise Team at our church. There were a lot of things going on in my life at the time. My kids were super active in school and there never seemed to be enough time to do everything. I was having to choose between our weekly rehearsal or attending my kids football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling or track events. Anytime I missed one of my kids events, I felt guilty. And I began to resent practicing during the week, to only seemingly rework everything on Sunday morning. Our music minister was very kind and encouraged me to sing even if I missed rehearsals and I did that for a while. But, I didn’t feel it was fair to the others in the group to just show up on Sunday mornings. So, I said I was taking a break. But in reality, I was quitting and walking away. It would be five years before I ventured back into leading worship.

This weekend was great. The speakers were inspirational, the music spoke to my heart as only music can. I tried to turn off my analysis of everything and just be in the moment.
We were encouraged to believe that our God is a God of miracles. Nothing can stand in His way. We can do ALL things thru His strength and power. We are to stand in His abundance and strength, not stay bent over in our insecurities and fear. It all sounds so right. And then I walk out of the door and back into life, and those little voices start in on me once again. “How do you dare to stand up and try to lead others in worship?” “Who do you think you are? You’re too old and not nearly cute enough to stand in front of people.” “There are others that can do it so much better than you. They just haven’t found them yet.” “Nobody really loves you. They’re just being nice.” And, I struggle against the urge to throw in the towel and cut myself off from everyone.

There’s a danger in being open and vulnerable to hear the word of God. The enemy is waiting for any way to get in and twist things around. When I’m at my most vulnerable, it is too easy to begin to doubt and to listen to the negative self-talk I’m so good at. I’m trying to squelch the negative chatter. I have wonderful friends that remind me that I am valuable and loved. I continue to struggle with self-doubt. I know that God is in control of everything. He can use me wherever He needs me. So, I continue to pray daily for His direction and guidance. I’m not going to quit going to conferences. But, I am going to work on accepting the teaching and encouragement I receive to stand strong and move forward.

Honestly

Can I be honest? There are times when I want to go to sleep and never wake up. Ever. Before you start sending me Suicide Hotline numbers, let me be clear: I’m not thinking about hurting myself. It’s not that I want to die. I just don’t want to live. Not in this reality. I don’t feel this way every day. But on those days when I am over-whelmed with waves of frustration, sadness, desperation and/or (honestly) hopelessness, disappearing from this life sounds really good.

I have a great life from most viewpoints. I have a good job and a nice home. My kids are growing into successful, productive members of society. There are no needs and few wants in my life that are not met. I have friends and encouragers all around me. I was married to my best friend for 18 years. So what’s the deal, right? Right. I ask myself this all the time.

I try not to think too far ahead in my life. My son is working and on his own, building his own life. My daughter just graduated from College and is getting ready to move into her “adult” life. Gracie tells everyone that I am “kicking her out” in June of this year. And I did tell her that realistically, she should have a job and be on her by the summer. But, I’m not kicking her out. I think she needs to grow up. I think we need some space between us. Since her dad’s death, we’ve spent a LOT of time together. Out of necessity and out of habit. I’ve seen Gracie decline invitations because she didn’t want to leave me by myself. It’s time for her to have her own life and for me to have mine. This is when I start to hyperventilate. I hate coming home to an empty house. I’ve shared a home with someone for 28 years. I don’t want to live alone. But, its best for both of us.

With the new changes coming so soon, I’ve considered selling my house and downsizing. An apartment would eliminate some of the responsibilities that cause me so much grief. Someone else would be responsible for leaky pipes, and bad water heaters, and critters in the attic. But, this is the only home my kids have known. It’s the house that Terry and I sought out and bought together. I’m not sure that I ready to leave it. (sigh)

I’m not Rip Van Winkle and I’m definitely not Sleeping Beauty. I can’t sleep for 100 years and avoid the reality of my life. Friends will come and go. I can’t stop the changes that are coming. So, I’ll take a deep breath and face life as it comes. This too shall pass.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

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Invisible

I’m an expert at being invisible. I find it easy to blend into the crowd and just disappear. It’s easy to be invisible in a room full of people. Whether it’s a professional function or as a visitor at a new church or in a group of friends, I can be virtually invisible. I choose to lurk around the edges and wonder if someone, anyone will see me.

Sometimes I desperately want to be seen, to be noticed. But what if no one notices me? Or worse, what if I do get noticed and then ignored. If I become visible to just one person, I can no longer hide behind my invisibility cloak. I’m then at risk of being left out, laughed at, or unpopular.

I’ve been blessed through the years to have people in my life that truly see me. These true friends pull me from edges and into life. They refuse to let me retreat into the solitude of invisibility. These are the friends that challenge me to step out into the light. They urge me to share my feelings and dreams, my sorrows and fears. They dare me to do life out in the open. They love me as I am, not for what I could be. They allow me to return that love in my very own obsessive/compulsive way.

I still struggle with my tendency to fade into the background and disappear. I still struggle with questions about why anyone would care about me. And, I give thanks everyday for those faithful few that continue to love me.