Can’t wait to share this new book with all my new mom and experienced mom friends… I’m sure you’ll laugh and cry right along with me.
It doesn’t matter what way it presents itself. No money in the bank, medial bills that were unexpected, an unexpected loss, or any combination of them all. We all have those times in life where things seem more like uphill battles than smooth sailing. For me, that started ten years ago, when my mother was overtaken with mental illness and ditched our family. Though I wished I felt further ahead from that event, there’s been a feeling of being in a “survival mode”.
Even though I’d accomplished a lot after she left, a degree, a marriage, and a child, life still got much harder after that. It was harder for my dad financially, my sister emotionally, and me in both ways. That event made it harder for us all to recover from and “bounce back”. It was defining. I do know a little something about what it feels like to have the wind knocked out of you and trying to constantly catch your breath.
But I don’t think we take the time to think about all that we go through in life. I took an inventory of what occurred in the last year and it was a little horrifying… a miscarriage, a job change, a spouse who was in ICU with a heart that stopped, and a complicated delivery. When I took the time to think about what we’d gone through in just a short time I realized just how hard life really can be. And yet–it felt like it was still survival mode. Don’t take time to think and grieve your losses, but just keep moving, keep trudging through the mud.
So what do we do when we feel this internal pressure? When we feel like the noodles in the middle of a pressure cooker that’s been cooking just a little too long? Honestly, I don’t entirely know. But here are some things that I do know that have helped along the way.
- First, make a list. I don’t know why but somehow listing things out on paper just makes me feel better and makes life feel more manageable. You can’t possibly conquer everything at once, whether it’s debt, bills, or just a huge to-do list.
- Take an inventory of what is going right. So many times when life gets challenging, we take the simple graces of every day for granted, the warm coffee, the sun shining, the helpful friends. Thank them and thank God for those simple pleasures.
- Take five… whether it’s a short walk, a moment to read a book, play with your kids… it doesn’t matter what. But it’s hard to keep enduring difficulties if you’re burnt out. You’re your best advocate and asset, so handle with care. YOU matter.
- Know it shall pass. When you’re in a hard situation it can give you tunnel vision, like it will NEVER get better, but it will. It might still be challenging for a while, but little by little you’ll dig yourself out and be proud you did.
I can honestly say that over time, I have gained a lot of internal strength from the hardships. It hasn’t always been easy. I used to resent those that I thought I figured didn’t really have a lot of struggles, like they had a simpler ride and I felt that wasn’t fair. But the truth is, no one has it easy, we just all handle it differently.
And there really is no use in getting bitter about what you cannot control. So choose to be happy anyway, make a decision to be grateful for what is going right. You’ll be glad you did.
If you’re anything like me, a recovering perfectionist, you get really annoyed when you can’t do something well, naturally. I remember it back in school. I was a natural academic but not naturally athletic. I would get very annoyed and frustrated when I couldn’t play baseball in gym class or shoot hoops flawlessly like the jocks. Who knows why, but many of us have this idea that was carried with us throughout school and adulthood, that most skills come naturally and if they don’t, that there’s something inherently wrong with us. I’d accredit this idea to our upbringing by parents who expected perfection and rewarded us based on this “accomplishment” system…but I digress. We think skills, even those we are gifted with, come to us naturally, as if it doesn’t take hours of sweat and toil to make us “great”.
We all have some natural skill or aptitude in something; stunning business acumen, sports, or music. And many times we feel that that innate natural ability is all that will carry us into success. But we forget a huge component to making it to that genius or success level in our talent. Practice.
It seems so boring yet so rehearsed. Practice. You heard it in school, over and over, “practice makes perfect”. Is there actually something to that phrase or is it just bologna? According to Malcolm Gladwell, there’s a magic number to reaching the mastery level in any skill. 10,000 hours. It takes 10,000 hours of practice doing something to become an expert. 10,000 hours of speaking, writing, singing, marketing…etc. And I think we forget this main ingredient when we pursue our natural gifts. Because they are so natural to us, we feel almost as if becoming “great” in it should just come, well, naturally. But that’s very deceiving. Just because something comes natural to us, doesn’t mean it doesn’t or won’t require practice. It seems so obvious that effort would be a necessary ingredient for success but it’s so easily overlooked, probably because it’s so simple… not easy, but simple.
I remember as a new working person in the professional world, being yet again annoyed that I wasn’t at the level of my superiors. But yet again, it’s practice, it’s time. Of course those that have been in the business world for twenty years have an edge over someone who has been alive twenty years… it seems so clear that it takes time and rehearsal to hone in on our skills to achieve mastery.
So if you are gifted want to be a “great” writer, write. You want to be a great business person, put in the time prospecting. Don’t get discouraged that it takes time, that it requires practice. That’s why we had band practice, track practice, etc. We even called it “practice” in school, and I don’t think that was a mistake.
Keep practicing, don’t despise the process. When we see the greatness of others exhibited, we don’t see the hours of toil, of failure, we only see the end product. But it took them also, 10,000 hours…
Put in the time to become a master.
I’ve spent a lot of time personally thinking about why we just don’t like incomplete endings. We don’t like the inconclusive break-up. We don’t like a “we’ll see” from a job offer or an unclear medical test result. It’s the black and white, the categories, the classifications that we seem to drift toward and prefer. Shades of gray, well that’s a friend that doesn’t offer our hearts and minds much comfort. We’d prefer to have an answer, a clear beginning and end.
I wondered why this might be. Why do we drift toward always seeking closure, seeking an answer. I thought about the movies and books we like. As children, we read fairytales. Is it any coincidence that these books have a clear beginning, middle and end? There’s a problem that gets solved and a happily ever after. And we like that completeness, that wholeness almost as much as the happy ending.
But unfortunately, many times we don’t know the reasons or the “why”. We don’t know why a relationship had to end or why we had to fail at something. It doesn’t make sense why we lost a loved one or a child, there’s no way to reason our way out of it and no way to make peace. Somehow instead, we have to choose peace and choose our closure. We have to make do with what’s been dealt us and do our best to say goodbye to let go of what we didn’t think we’d lose.
This was most seen in losing my mom. She didn’t die. She wasn’t physically ill or disabled. She just couldn’t be a mom, for whatever reason. Blame it on mental illness, call it selfish… who knows. But there’s no grave stone to grieve along. There’s no prayer card to admire. But it’s still a huge loss, and an unclear one. Somehow, my family still needs to grieve and seek closure.
Since the loss of her, I have had many others that never seemed complete. But hers taught me how to be resilient and to understand the importance of seeking peace in the midst of confusion and not understanding. The ability to choose your peace. There will be many more “mom losses” in life, many more unclear hurts. But it’s imperative to find your own peace, create your own fairytale, and to find your own happy ending.
I grew up in a home that stressed the importance of achieving. Good grades were hung on the refrigerator, special meals baked for getting into an academic club, and rewards for being the “best” reader in sixth grade. It was as if my mom almost loved my sister and I more if we brought home something that showed achievement. I remember one day she even told me to not bother coming home if I hadn’t gotten an “A” in a particular class. It was this tough, militant-minded way of going about reaching achievement that left me burnt out in college and confused as an adult.
I did very well in high school. I was the nerd, the track runner and a strong introvert. Most people in my classes would consider me fairly bright but also quite quiet. Once I got to college, I realized how much I was being challenged by particular classes; I chose to take the math and the science courses that would challenge me. You see, my mom always wanted me to take those courses because she said that writing and what I liked to do, didn’t have much value in the real world. So I set off on a course to do something I didn’t love as much, in an effort to make her proud or earn her love. I wanted to feel as though I’d accomplished something worthwhile, as if my identity could ever be found in what I did.
It took me changing my major, changing schools, to understand, I’ll always be me, a writer and a thinker, and that I also have a mind for business and organization. You see, you can’t really change the gifts and talents you have. Sometimes the world appears to put one gift or talent above another, but that doesn’t make yours any less important. We don’t know the impact we have on others, what we might bring to another person. To deny the world what we uniquely have from our Creator, is both wasteful and selfish.
After college, I tried to find meaning and acceptance in my careers choices; being a go-to person, someone others could count on, and knowing all the answers. And honestly, sometimes I was. But whenever I was criticized, it felt like my very core was being “attacked”, my sense of accomplishment dwindling. That’s when I realized, whether I’m super liked in my position, whether or not my title is impressive, I’m still Christina Bennett. I’m enough because I’m me, not because of my gifts or talents, but solely because of who God made me from day one. There isn’t another person that is just like me or you, or can ever touch the world in the same way. Now, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with goal-setting and trying to achieve. I would encourage all to set clear goals to live an intentional and impactful life. However, when your sense of worth and value is wrapped up in your title or station in life, it becomes a problem. Because what happens when one day, you don’t have that “thing” anymore to say you are… what happens to you then?
So slowly, I’m unlearning the desire to keep up with the Jones’ accomplishments, unlearning the need to be first or to have all the answers. I’m bringing what I have to the table and honestly, it’s enough. I’m letting go of the voice of my mother saying I needed and “A” on a paper to come home. Unlearning the need to accomplish things like my friends or family do. Because we aren’t the same people, with the same gifts so why would we ever think that we should achieve the same things? It’s a lie we believe, one we tell ourselves that we should be like someone else. But just like a fox can dig and bury things in the ground, they don’t expect to fly like the eagle can. And likewise, the eagle doesn’t question why it can’t dig like the fox. He accepts he was meant to soar in the sky.
So whatever you are, the eagle, the fox, be “you”. Do what you’re meant to accomplish. It’s your life to live, your impact to make, so make it exceptionally you.
Photo Credit: http://iysigirl.com/wpcontent/uploads/2012/07/bigstockphoto_accomplishment_-_road_sign_273784811.jpg
It took about nine years before this holiday didn’t make me fight back tears or run to the bathroom to vomit. I remember seeing all the girls at lunch dressed up in matching mother-daughter dresses or on their way to a special outing. Honestly, it disgusted me–I have to admit. Why did they get to experience all that love and admiration from their moms and I didn’t? I was left with a gaping hole in my heart, one that I thought would never quite be whole again. When would that not hurt?
Maybe I could accept it more if I had lost my mother in the traditional sense–she had passed away. But no, mine had simply been carried away, far away, by the demons of her past- from her mental illness. She tried to fight them off, she tried to love and be the best in public, to appear “normal” but she never really could pull that off. Until one day I’d started in high school, woke up, and she was gone. No address, no way of knowing. She’d threatened to leave, to not come back. We assumed it was just another manic illness episode. But no, it really happened. And after that day, I never saw her again.
The next day I went to school, holding back the sobs that so desperately wanted to come out, and played my clarinet in first period next to my best friends, Katie and Sara. They could tell something was wrong, but didn’t push. I somehow made it through that day and the next 3,285 days following, to today. I went home a few months later, pulled her old comforter over my head, smelling the perfume that still lingered from her, and softly cried and mourned her loss. I choked down my tears and I asked myself, why she didn’t want my sister and me? Why she couldn’t love us? Why she couldn’t have stayed and gotten better? But she just couldn’t. She loved us and did what she could to the extent that she was able, and I simply couldn’t ask for anything more.
See a lot of us, who have lost their mother to illness in some way or in a traditional loss, we always seem to feel a little out of place in certain circumstances. And our friend’s mothers try to help, try to welcome us into their fold, but it’ll never quite be the same. Even a mother penguin only recognizes the sound of her own chick. She’ll reject the others because she knows the sound of her chirp. Your mother, she will never love another quite like she loves you. The way she gingerly folds your hair behind your ear, or brags to others about your accomplishments, no matter the size, or the way she tells people about the day you were born. That is so unique, so one of a kind, and she’ll only feel that way about you. My friend’s mothers tried their best to welcome me in, and for their kindness and love, I’m forever grateful. They tried to help make me feel like one of their own, but that love is custom made and it simply can’t be the same. So if you are out there, and your mother is around and can love you with that capacity, don’t fight it, be annoyed–it’s a gift that can easily be gone tomorrow.
I thought about hope, and what I can offer, what got me to a point of acceptance and health. I know a lot of people say, you’re stronger for the tragedies in life and I’d disagree. I didn’t feel stronger over time. But with distance and perspective, I became whole.
My mother was a fantastic cook. She could make a dinner party come alive. Her hugs were one of a kind just like her meatballs. Her intelligence was superior and her paintings, beautiful. I have learned to somehow love the parts of mom that were good, and to focus on her memory in that way.
I don’t know where she went that day, nine years ago. I don’t know where she lives, what she’s doing. There never was a sense of closure. People asked me if I knew, and that just made me angrier.
But try to not remember the illness, the rejection and pain. And over time, my healing came. Somehow in the midst of that pain, God surprises you with a collection of people that add so much color and vibrancy to your life–that somehow you become more of yourself again, more whole. They can never replace, but with each smile, relationship, and caring moment, they bring a little bit of healing and restoration back into your life. You begin to see yourself as a ship in the ocean that slowly moves away from a wreck and closer to a divine sunset.
So to the daughters who have experienced loss, I understand–wholeheartedly, I get it. But it will get better, you will breathe again and it will be okay. And if you feel angry toward her, remember, no matter what mistakes she’s made–she gave you life. And that is a gift that is superior to any pain she’s caused you. You are her gift to the world, the best part of her. To those that have their mother, love her for everything she is and isn’t, treasure her. Realize that the bond and the way she looks at you, it’s one of a kind, and not replaceable. Because one day you might wake up–and find just how much you miss her.
I knew it. The night before I took the test, I just felt like I knew I was pregnant. This wasn’t unplanned, my husband and I had decided to start a family, the timing “felt” as right as it ever would. I felt a whole mix of emotions: joy, excitement and a little bit of a healthy panic. I’d been taking my prenatal like I was supposed to and eating well.
Typically, twelve weeks is customary before sharing the “big news” with the family. But when we had our first ultrasound and saw the heart beating that, “tha-thud”, “tha-thud”. I held my breath as the ultrasound tech showed us the baby moving and the heart beat, going so consistently, so miraculously. We knew we were out of the woods for a miscarriage–or so we thought.
I’d sent out the Christmas cards to the family and friends, letting them know that baby Bennett was on the way. And that was true–until I went for another ultrasound the next week. This time I was alone, and the tech had a very blank stare on her face–stoic. Last time, I had remembered there was a lot more fanfare, she showed us the monitor screen. This week, there was nothing.
“You can go ahead and get changed, hun. I’ll go grab the doctor for your consult. But stay here,” she ordered kindly but sternly.
I panicked, something was definitely wrong. This couldn’t be right? I mean, she didn’t show me any pictures, didn’t have me hold my breath for the heartbeat, nothing. My palms were sweating and my head raced to the worst case scenario.
After the tech came back she led me to a new patient room and I sat there, waiting. More damn waiting. Why can’t they just tell me what’s going on already? What’s the deal with this?
Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity but was really maybe five minutes, my doctor entered the room with a female student in training.
She looked at me with the saddest blue eyes, full of compassion and said, “I’m sorry, Christina. But unfortunately, this is a miscarriage. I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, you did nothing wrong, but sadly, this does happen.”
I felt like the wind was knocked out of me.
“So what does this mean? There’s nothing that can be done?” My mind raced to denial, I couldn’t take in the words she was saying, not yet.
“It looks like there wasn’t enough growth from last week, and the heartbeat can’t be found. It also looks like there were twins. I’m not sure how we missed that last time, but we did.”
Okay, so you missed that from last week and now you tell me my kids are dead? I couldn’t grasp all this news, not now and not at once.
Trying to be calm and methodical I asked with tears in my throat, “So what do I do now?”
“Well we could give you some pills to take home and that will release the in-viable pregnancy, you could wait to miscarry naturally or get a D&C procedure. Or for peace of mind, we could do another ultrasound next week, and then you can decide.”
I chose the latter.
She asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
I nodded no, really fighting the tears at that point.
“Can I give you a hug?” She asked softly.
I nodded, yes, as words just weren’t coming from my mouth.
As she hugged me, sitting there on that patient table in the doctor’s office, my tears came, came hard and unapologetically. Whatever dam I had been able to create to keep them back, had broken. She eventually stepped back and said she’d give me some time to sit and then check out with the receptionist. I did.
When I left, it felt like lead blocks had replaced my shoes. Every step felt like a mile, every moment felt like eternity. I cried, I made phone calls, I prayed. But nothing really brought me comfort. Nothing but time and that second ultrasound could bring a true sense of peace that I so desperately wanted, hoped for, begged for.
Those next few days before that second ultra sound felt like a lifetime. I didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t really know how to act. I cried until I had nothing left in my tear ducts. Why was God taking away my child? As much as my faith meant to me, at that moment, I yelled, I cried, and I defied. What use was God if He being all powerful, couldn’t stop this? And reader, I’d like to say that I know why, that I have the answers, but I don’t.
I went to that second ultrasound, and the news was the same, but this time, I felt calmer, more relaxed. I had a new sense of hope that the things God promises, will come to pass but it may not be when we think it will be. But somehow, He gave me the grace and the ability to keep going when I felt hopeless, devastated. It’s amazing how much love you can have in your heart over a person you’ve never met. But I did, and I don’t regret that. Someday when I’m before the pearl door of heaven, I’ll see them. But for now, they’re truly little angels, in God’s hands.