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And Purge

Technically I shouldn’t be surprised that a purge was just around the corner. It appears to be the emotional cycle of life; grasping an understanding, life rocked, mindset changes, and then release. It sounds a lot like an evolution and maybe it is. The older I become the more settled I am in the understanding that life calls us to a current cycle of evolution.

Let me tell you about this purge though. We have a third bedroom in our apartment. I have it haphazardly put together for friends when they come to town. They all know not to expect anything fancy, I just promise them a good visit and sheets on the bed. They are good with it. The room was a catch-all from the moment we moved. I think everybody has those places where the items you don’t know what to do with go. Ringo the Flamingo, my long awaited for huge blow up float use to reside in there…cause what do you do with a float that big when you live in an apartment, you put him in the catch-all room. Paper towels, toilet paper, extra sheets, blankets, miscellaneous tools, a desk for Charles when he works from home. The room literally had everything.

Our friend Jen is moving in with us for a bit. She is between places to live so she is hanging with us until she figures where she wants to go next. We are all pretty stoked, she is a favorite of Isaac’s. “She’s just so fun. I can’t wait,” he tells me. All of that to say, I needed to clean and organize that room. No way was I going to have someone live in that. I mean visit for a few days no problem but live, uh no I have some standards. I did what anybody in my shoes would do, I phoned a friend. Specifically, I called Erin. Erin loves organizing and she has a pretty spectacular eye for it. I bribed her with wine and my amazing company not that she needed bribing, she was more than happy to come down and help. Here is also the thing about Erin organizing with her is often times just as much about the heart as it is about the physical stuff.

You see I knew I was going to need to get rid of some stuff, that is a natural part of organizing. What I wasn’t expecting was the abundant amount that to be let go of and how much of that was connected to an identity that I no longer connected to.

A part of controlling people is you have to break down their identity. You have to chip away at things that are important to them and replace that with something that gives you more power in their life. It’s best if it is something that connects them to you thus replacing their identity with a piece of yours making it harder for them to break away. If you do this well, the person who is being controlled won’t even notice what is happening to them. They will just think it is the natural evolution of the process they are in and embrace it wholly.

After three years of college in Orange County, I had quite the wardrobe and shoe collection. Fashion wasn’t always a strong suit of mine but it had become something I embraced in college and fell in love with, also shoes! Gah, I love shoes. If I could have a closet wall of shoes I would. Why is this important? That was a part of who I was, it was something I identified with and it brought me life. It was also one of the first parts of me that the Smith’s started to chip away at. The rhetoric of you are no longer a city girl began. You’re a part of our family and we are country people. Then John went out and bought me a whole wardrobe of western clothing, it was never outright stated that my “city” wardrobe had to go, but that quickly followed. Chipping away slowly at pieces of who I was and replacing it with who they were.

Jane is a creative person who had a good balance with her mathematical brain. Drawing, jewelry making, and sewing were all things that came easily to her. Those are not things that come easily to me. Writing, expressing myself through words comes more easily. Talking about feelings, thoughts, creative stories those things bring me life. That didn’t connect me to Jane, those were not her strengths. Without realizing it writing became replaced with scrapbooking and my newfound appreciation for fashion was replaced with sewing, things that connected to Jane. It’s really not as simple as I am writing it because controlling another person isn’t simple. It’s demanding and tiring and requires one to never rest because we aren’t created to control people. It’s not God’s master design. Although this chipping away of my identity, replacing it with “the families” wasn’t the only part, it was a central part that connected me to them which would make it harder for me to want to leave. Later it would make it harder for me to see the truth of the situation and disconnect because to leave them would mean to leave a part of me.

When Charles and I left the Smith’s I was allowed to take quite a bit of the stuff they had bought for me, most of which was scrapbooking supplies, sewing stuff, and a sewing machine. So if you are wondering at this point if I have been lugging that stuff around for the last almost 10 years, the answer is yes. You see, I wasn’t sure what to let go of and what to keep when we first left. So I just kept it all and gave it time figuring time would help me out. In light of my recent revelations, it did. It was time to let it go. I haven’t scrapbooked in years, I haven’t sewn in two years. When I have sewn it was blankets or something simple that I felt comfortable doing because this is what I realized, sewing doesn’t bring me life. I haven’t scrapbooked because it doesn’t make me come alive either. I thought it did because it had at one point or more realistically I believed that it did because it made me a part of something that I believed I was supposed to be a part of. In reality, those things were just a tool used to replace my ‘chipped away at’ identity so that I might be connected to someone else and not myself.

It was time to let it go.

I did.

I let it all go. I didn’t look at the items two or three times. I just piled it up, loaded it up and let it go.

I am okay that it took me almost 10 years to do this. I am secure in my decision to hold on until it was time to let go. I am good with that because my heart is connected to this purge in a way it couldn’t be years ago. I am not letting go and replacing with anything else. I am not letting go full of anger and disgust for the situation or any person. I am letting go because it’s not who I am and it is time for me to stop holding onto items that connect to that old identity.

I might pick up scrapbooking again and I am fairly confident I will sew another blanket or two in my days. They will be done from who I am, not from who I thought I had to be or who I morphed into. It will be laced with my tastes, preferences, touches, ideas, and heart. That’s the thing about purging, it gets rid of the old allowing for the new. I guess in my case it simply is making room for who I always have been. I just get to be it more authentically.

Socially Awkward

Do you guys ever have things come up in your life that you kind of shelve because you have no idea what to do with it? You can’t figure out where it comes from? Or how to resolve it? So you mentally place it on a shelf in your mind and hope that maybe one day it will come back around. By the time it comes back around you hope will have a resolution or even an understanding? I have had this thing that has happened since we have moved to Georgia, and I simply shelved it for the last 2 years. I have processed it with friends, talked about it with Charles, been irritated by it, and stumped by it. I had moments I thought I was through it but then no. I ceased trying to understand and let it be what it is.

I have been socially awkward in a way unrecognizable to me since we moved to Georgia. Finding a groove here with people including strangers has been difficult for me. It is the weirdest thing. I haven’t known strangers ever in my life. I have always been the person who made friends with people at grocery stores. My mom and Charles many a time had to pull me out of line so that the cashier and I would stop talking. I just love people. I love hearing their stories. I love seeing them smile. I love bringing joy and laughter. I love people. It’s not that I haven’t ever been awkward. Generally, as a baseline, someone who struggles with insecurity, I am awkward. Over the years I learned how to lean into that and make it work for me.

Here though, I just haven’t been able to settle into my skin. This awkward is new. I’ve had a ton of explanations that I have used over the last two years to try to explain it. Things like; It’s a whole new city, a whole new way of life. We’re still healing from Katie Grace, still healing from years ago. We haven’t found a church where we’re settled so we haven’t grown a community. We haven’t been emotionally available. God’s really called us home so we can be still and connect as a family of three. The list goes on, yet as true as some of that is, none of it ever explained why I felt uncomfortable in my skin with people. Or why going out alone promoted such awkwardness and was only for short periods because it would emotionally exhaust me.

That’s not me. Over my life, I did all kinds of things alone. By the time I graduated college, I had mastered the art of alone time. Coffee dates alone reading and people watching. Clothes shopping on my own. Even braved a movie on my own. On my own wasn’t an issue. It was gratifying. Needless to say, I have been left bewildered about this social awkwardness here in Georgia. I shelved it. I just stopped thinking about it, embraced it, did my best and hoped that one day it would come back around full circle. Hopefully, that circle leaving me with a solution or at least an understanding, as to what the hell.

Last Thursday, because it would be that day. Thursday’s and I are kind of a kindred. (You can read about that here…..Thursday)  It was kind of a self-care day. It was a day I was running around town doing things that took care of me. I had scheduled a brow appointment and splurged with a pedicure appointment also. As I walk into my appointment, my brow artist is running behind so I have about 20 minutes to kill. I stroll around the store just looking. The more I browse and wait, the more uncomfortable I become. Questions like….should I be standing there waiting? Do I just keep walking around? Uuummm….what is the right thing to do here? Do I keep looking over to see they are done? Is that awkward? All this started to popcorn in my brain, leaving me even more uncomfortable in my skin. She finally finishes her customer and calls me over. I sit down and we get through our time together. She is gracious and funny as ever, I am still as awkward as ever. Stuttering over my words, saying things that don’t make sense, laughing too loud at my own jokes. We finish up, I pay, I head to the door, and under my breath, I say, “What is wrong with me. Lord, why am I so dang awkward? I just want to go home.” I wasn’t expecting a response, it was just a rhetorical question. Yet there was a response….

“This is remnants of the Smith’s.”

I let my movement come to a standstill as I got in the car, giving that sentence the time it needed. The moments, the conversations, and the experiences that the Lord was bringing back flooded my mind. It wasn’t that I had forgotten them, I had just not ever looked at them through the lens of a victim.

The Smith’s systematically convinced me I was incompetent and couldn’t be trusted by them or myself. It didn’t start that way, when I first moved in with them I was completely capable. I would run errands on my own, I had a job, run to the grocery store on my own, freely speak to whomever I wanted and whenever I wanted. The change was quiet, happening without me even realizing what was being eroded. I would retell a story about a conversation and suddenly I was told that what I said wasn’t accurate and could cause the family to be viewed in a bad light. Shame would fold over me because that was my fault. The bad light was because of my words. Or I would be gone on errands for hours and it became labeled as independence. I was told that I was rejecting the closeness to family, hiding from intimacy with them. Shame would fold over me because that was wrong. As the confidence in my ability to relate to the outside world was being chipped away, I was given space inside the walls of the family where I was capable. I was capable to cook dinners, help with homeschooling, babysit the kids whenever, help with family business finances, clean the house, do laundry etc. I was trusted to hear the voice of the Lord, to spend hours in prayer for them but that became all I was good at. At being theirs. I silenced my own thoughts because they folded me in shame. I shut down being open to people outside of them because it was wrong, and wrong folded me in shame. I became a shell of a person.

This awkwardness, this uncomfortability I have lived with these last few years, is that. The belief that I am not capable or trustworthy. That I have nothing good to say. That I won’t represent anybody including myself well. That shame will fold over me. So say nothing. Be nothing. Have no opinion. Have no thought. Have no life experience. Have nothing that requires you to show up, to be present, because when you do that, you mess it up. You get it wrong. You say the wrong things. You do the wrong things. Although today I know that that isn’t true, what I saw that Thursday is that I am still walking that belief out. I am still acting as if I am that girl. I was so busy taking responsibility for my part that I never saw that girl or how she was still folded in shame…afraid.

I see her now and I want to give her a voice. I want to create space for us to grieve together. Then I want to move forward. I want to introduce her to the real me. The one who doesn’t know a stranger, who gushes over every dog who walks by her, who sits at coffee shops for hours comfortable in her skin because it fits, and the one who isn’t afraid of saying anything. I can’t change that I allowed myself to become a shell but I can reach into that shell, grab a hold of that girl in there, introduce myself and meld together, not necessarily erasing the experience simply erasing the fear.

Yoga makes me cry

Yoga makes me cry.

Literally cry.

As in I have to stop to let my body release the heaves of breath as tears begin to build in my eyes.

Yoga used to make me frustrated. The instructors wanted me to twist in a way that didn’t make sense to my brain and they made it look it look super easy. They didn’t have the same spare tire around their stomach like I do. All of that to say 4 years ago yoga made me cuss, now it makes me cry.

So I stopped doing yoga. Not that I did it a whole bunch in the first place you know, because first frustrated cussing and then body sobbing crying.

About 30 days ago two things changed in my life and I think I have figured out why yoga makes me cry. First thing, thanks to the beauty of social media, I was introduced to this app called Headspace. It’s basically a meditation/mindfulness app. On like the second day of one of their Basic packs (which of course is where I started), they showed this engaging animated video of training your mind. Their simple explanation was that it is as easy as teaching ourselves to sit down and watch as they say, “the traffic of your mind” which is your thoughts and feelings. We naturally want to run into that traffic and stop it, control it somehow, causing more restlessness and anxiety. Their practice teaches you to sit back and listen to you, to view your thoughts and feelings with more perspective, thus allowing you more peace and calm.

I sat back and quieted the management of my mind and instead of being the boss I became the observer. What I found was a freeway full of people pleasing cars. Cars driven by ‘am I doing enough?’, ‘ Am I living according to the rules of everybody else?’,’ Am I parenting well enough? ‘Did I do enough yesterday?’ Sometimes a Jesus Semi Truck would scream through deafening the sounds of the other cars. Yet still it was a scream of desperation. There was no peace in the traffic of my mind, it demanded insecurity and approval of others including the Lord.

That stopped me in my tracks. I am naturally a people pleasing, people loving, slightly insecure person. Every personality test I have ever taken, all generally say that. Temperament, it’s a thing and I am okay with that. However temperament doesn’t define, it simple shows you so that you can be the best you. Although in the traffic of my mind there will always be people pleasing cars, they shouldn’t be the majority.

The second thing that happened was I hired a health coach. Her name is Sarah. Her brain is an encyclopedia of knowledge, she is a great cheerleader and she has your back. Like if I got in a fight, I think she wouldn’t care who did what she would just come out swinging on my behalf! Needless to say, if I could keep her in my pocket and take her with me everywhere I totally would. She’s is more friend than coach. We were talking one day about exercise and how my body responds. She suggested I try this method of meditating before I workout. She mentioned that some research has shown that people with significant trauma have to re-teach their brains how to respond to stress. For example, if I workout that stress is not a lion trying to eat me or someone trying to hurt. That is just working out stress. We decided I would do 10 minutes of meditation, calm my mind and calm by body before I do any workout. Unlike headspace this wasn’t a sit back and watch the traffic of your mind. This was more of a be still and become aware of your body, count your breaths, stay awake kind of thing. Here is how it went:

I set my timer and got positioned.

I pushed start, closed my eyes, and started to breathe.

Then I tried to start counting my breaths.

But then I couldn’t remember when I should be counting the breath. I wasn’t even sure I breathed the right way.

So I tried to start controlling my breathing.

Then I tried to stop myself from controlling my breathing because I couldn’t believe I was trying to be controlling.

Then I started to cry.

In these last almost three years of learning to be quiet and still as a family, I hadn’t yet learned to be still for myself. I hadn’t mastered listening to my inner voice, the inner dialogue of my mind, or practiced quiet. I have viewed myself as a well-rounded individual because I drive hard after emotional issues. If you read this blog you know that. I am not content with just okay. I want to be the best me. The healthiest me. Wildly enough, in the drive I skipped over being still. I think the survivalist in me wanted to work. Yoga years ago was work. It wasn’t something I used to connect with my personhood. It was a workout. It was something I did to achieve a check on my check list of “am I doing enough?”.

I am on week two of understanding this about me, of grieving that the traffic of my mind does not allow me peace but instead performance. I haven’t even begun to break down that whole controlling my breathing scenario that happened because I hate that word control. I hate how it’s been used in my life, I hate how it’s been used against women. I loathe it. That is another blog for another day. For today, I am slowly listening to my thoughts, becoming aware of them in moments that aren’t set apart. As I go the store, as I sit down to write, as I talk to Charles and Isaac. I practice listening to the traffic of my mind.

I did yoga yesterday. A simple 15 minute session of stretching, I cried. I didn’t stop this time though. I just let myself cry as I breathed into the stretch. I let myself be quiet in the tears, releasing whatever it is that my body needed to release. I imagined the Lord sitting next to me, just being.

I continue to do 10 minute meditations before my workouts. I still try to control my breathing and then I remind myself this isn’t about controlling my breath. It is about learning how I breathe.

Victim

A couple Thursday ago I was sitting at a table with six beautiful ladies, it was full of separate conversations filling the space around each of us and then guilelessly becoming one. I am almost two years into ladies night with this crew; 24 dinners in on nights full of questions, laughter, stories of sadness, stories of happiness, and stories of pain that just need room to rest. Dinners that left our table full of empty glasses of wine and empty plates yet our hearts so full. Dinners that are easily followed up with late night texts of gratitude for each other and the countdown until the next one.

We were sitting around our second restaurant of the night savoring another bottle of wine and some desserts. I had started to share pieces of a conversation that Charles and I had the night before which had left me with a lingering question that I wanted to hear their thoughts on. I can’t precisely tell you how we ended up where we did but I can tell you it has slowly begun to unravel me. In the best way possible of course.

I had mentioned something about knowing that I have to take responsibility for everything I did when Charles and I lived with the Smith’s, as in John and Jane Smith. Slick name there huh? Which of course I expected to hear a resounding YES! That is the responsible thing to do. What I heard was NO! I very distinct and clear NO!

Shocked would have been my preferred response compared to the dumbfounded look on my face which exposed that I was completely unable to process what was being said. I volleyed back with a stammering what question once I had my wits about me, and the conversation continued from there. I wish I could tell you I left that night alive with revelation but I didn’t. I left grinding in process. It wasn’t until the next night as I sat down with Charles after Isaac was in bed that I really began to possibly grasp what on earth those amazing ladies were saying.

You see I am not a fan of being a victim. I have this perspective in my brain as to what a victim looks like and it isn’t flattering. I see them as people who can’t ever get over something. Or consistently bring up the bad things that have happened to them with the same bitterness as if it were still happening. There is just this woe is me melancholy persona I have attached to people with a victim mindset. It’s one of the reason I fought so hard to not be a victim of Katie Grace’s brain damage. It is also why I have believed that I have to take so much responsibility for every one of my actions when I lived with the Smith’s. From my perspective I was 25 when I walked into their family and aligned with their vision. I wasn’t some young kid who was inexperienced and naive, therefore I am responsible. Do you know what that perspective was blinding me from? It was blinding me from the fact that not only was I a victim but that I was subconsciously fighting to not be identified as one.

It’s not that I am a victim because I am not. However I was a victim. I was a victim of false truths, half stories, put downs, manipulation and control. I wasn’t told whole stories from the beginning, I was told half of the story which allowed for certain perspectives to be believed and others to not. As time went on who I could speak to was limited and I was betraying the Lord if I was disobedient. For example when I had first moved onto their farm I was put in charge of the garden. It was my duty to figure out what to grow, and where to place it. I didn’t have much solo expereince with gardening and was feeling pretty overwhelmed with the task. I did what any little sister would do, I called my big sister. She gave me her thoughts and I ran with them. Apparently I didn’t do a good job with the garden and somewhere in the next couple days I ended up on the couch sitting next to Jane Smith, while John Smith sat opposite and verbally chastised me. It didn’t start as a chastising conversation but as we sat and talked more and more shame came over me for reaching out to anyone other than the family. John rebuked me saying that if I wanted my sister’s help then I need to go live with her, because he wouldn’t have her running his house. If I wanted that then I should leave…if not I could stay. They claimed they loved me, and claimed they wanted me to stay but John would not tolerate a woman from California influencing his household. I can still feel the fear that pulsated through my body sitting on that leather couch. I wanted to stay, I wanted to be apart of the family, I wanted to go after what I believed God had called me too. It now seemed I had to choose between my sister or the Smith’s.

In that moment I saw that conversation as having been given a choice. Either do what John said or leave, it was simple. What I didn’t see was that that actually wasn’t a choice, it was an ultimatum. An ultimatum wrapped in how disobedient and wrong it was that I had reached out to my sister. An ultimatum that created fear. Now what was my normal, i.e reaching out to my sister, was wrong, and built fear. Fear that I was letting a woman run his household, fear of being shamed, and fear of being of wrong. You see none of that fear was true. My sister wasn’t running his house by offering me advice with the garden. I wasn’t wrong for reaching out to her. I hadn’t betrayed the Lord or been disobedient. I was simply a sister.

This is merely one of the many conversations like that I had with John over my three years with them. They changed some here and there because of course I wasn’t calling my sister anymore, or asking people outside of the Smith family for help. The heart of it was the same every time. “Do it our way or leave” and with every conversation, my connection to people who would tell me the truth got weaker, and fainter until I was convinced that I had no one but the Smith’s.

Everything I did within the walls of that house was to protect my place there; to protect the story I thought I was writing with the Lord. I was not aware of the half truths that I had been told. John didn’t sit me down and say here is the honest story. Neither he nor Jane told me the whole truth about anybody or themselves. As I have come to understand my information from them was jaded to make them shine in the best light but not the greatest light so as it wouldn’t look too obvious. Whether they planned it or not I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that is on them. That is a conversation between them and the Lord. It isn’t on me.

No longer should I feel guilty for what I did while I lived there. No longer should I push the Lord out of those three years because I can’t figure out how to look at love in the eyes and say I did all of that believing it was your character. No longer should I wince at remembering when I left Charles, kidnapped his son, and stole his car, in the name of the Lord. Ya’ll it gets messy!! No longer should I remember every embarrassing word I wrote and declared that God said and blush in shame because it was wrong….just so wrong. Instead I should lay all of that down, remember I was a victim. As my friend T says, you laid your power down, they picked it up. It’s on you for laying it down, it’s on them for picking it up.

How am I 9 years out from speaking or living with them and just now realizing this, I have no idea. Why it took a table of six ladies looking at me saying, NO. Why it took an even longer conversation with Charles to truly begin to unravel the understanding that I was a victim; I only have my best guess which is simply I wanted to think I was powerful. It is hard to say your were a victim, especially when your perspective of a victim isn’t flattering. But I was a victim whether I want to believe it or not and I know enough about healing to know, that I can’t keep moving forward with my life if I don’t acknowledge it. If I don’t face it, feel it, embrace it, have deep conversations about it, it will just stay. It won’t morph into something sweet, or an experience that others can glean from. It will quietly stay and hold me back, leaving me in this weird place of not being able to move forward and let it go.

As I sit down to write each day and type these moments with the Smith’s onto paper, I can’t stay in that weird place. I can’t not let it go. I need to move forward. In order to do that a couple things need to happen. I need to redefine victim in my mind, expand my perspective and definition. Maybe understand on a greater level that holding a victim mindset is not the same as being the victim of someone. Then I need to just lean into the process of making peace with the fact that for three years I laid down my power. I handed it over and the person who took it up wasn’t kind with it. It was used against me, to control me. Lastly, as I sit and remember and relive the moments I need to not invite shame but instead understanding. I need to make space for that girl who did the best she could with the information she had. I need to remind her wrong isn’t unlovable, it’s just wrong. I don’t need to take responsibility for parts that weren’t mine, I simply need to own that I was a victim.

There is obviously more to this process then that however for me, for right now, that is where I need to start.

Rebranding of Sorts

When I first started writing this blog it was simply to chronicle the story of Katie Grace. It gave me the ability to capture moments in the present;  to suspend the emotions, the words, and the actions of us and those around us. It became a diary of sorts for me personally. As days go farther away from the time we held Katie Grace and I re-read my posts, my critical eye reads poor grammar and bad writing, yet I also see this blog was a place where I emotionally unloaded the weight of our journey.  Where transparency, honesty, hopefulness, gratitude, and even bitterness all oozed out through me to a space where anybody who wanted to enter could.

Then we moved to Georgia and without realizing it I let this blog die, almost as if Katie Grace’s death was the end.  It honestly was an unconscious move. I hadn’t planned it or thought about it. It would be fair to say I simply didn’t have anything to say. Or at least that was my perspective at that time. I think I thought I was done healing after Katie Grace died.  I mean not fully but she had taught me so much and her story was so powerful that I was content with it being just that. So when I didn’t have anything to say, or any words to write, or stories to capture, or a weighty journey to unload, I just let it go.  I forgot though, Katie Grace didn’t simply come to have her story told, she came to give me breath so that I could tell our story.  And our story was beginning again on a whole other level.

You see I needed time that I didn’t know I needed, time that has allowed for deeper understanding, more healing, and less fear.  Some of the work that the Lord has done in my heart in this quiet season of what has looked like isolation for me has been the most revolutionary. I have shared a few of the stories along the way yet there is so much more. I have torn down walls of beliefs that have held me back from the tender arms of the Lord. I have walked openly scared and insecure throughout the day because I laid down normal, to find myself. And I know that is not descriptive and this leads me to the rebrand of sorts.  I hope now to share with you the details of our journey. To come back to life on here; to invite you into this process, to be transparent about my writing sessions, to bring to you what is brought to me as I travel the rest of this journey. To once again unload the weight of this journey through this space for whoever wants to enter in.

I have found that writing is so much more than words on a page. It isn’t just knowing how to use them or put them together to evoke emotion or thought.  It is also about the physical and emotional process of discovering those words. I don’t promise good grammar or even good writing but I promise you the process. I promise vulnerability, honesty, probably some bitterness, and hopefully some good humor along the way.

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