Saturday, February 28, 2015

Face Time

Gym class, circa 1988.  There were huge blue mats on the floor. I don't remember why, but I remember the scene like it was yesterday. We were standing in line waiting our turn to do...well, something involving mats, I guess.

The boy in front of me, whose name I do remember but will not share so as not to publicly shame him 27 years later, turned around and stared at me with his eyes squinted in scrutiny. Then he said five words that have never left me.

"What's wrong with your face?"

It was a sentence I had wondered occasionally when I looked in the mirror. But after all, I was only in 4th grade. I didn't look in the mirror all that often yet. Just as now, fashion wasn't exactly my gift. I wore boys jeans and fought my mom when she suggested I wear something cute to church on Sundays. I got dressed in the morning, probably attempted to curl my bangs so they would stand straight up (because you have to fit in SOMEHOW) and then left for school.

But yes, there were times I had wondered- why is my face so red? Why doesn't my skin look like the other girls'? Why? It hadn't bothered me much, likely because I didn't really think about the fact that other people might notice it and, more brutally, judge it.

Until gym class.

After gym class, I assumed everyone noticed it and my lifelong struggle with my skin started. A struggle I think I have only ever admitted to my mom. And more recently, to my husband. Probably my college roommates had some kind of clue, too. We were kind of all into each other's business.

Of course, one's skin doesn't usually improve with age, so the self-conscious thoughts that began to fester when I was 9 began to increase when teenage acne joined the game. When sunburns and sweaty, red faces from sporting events, when scars from injuries entered the picture, it certainly didn't get better. I am ashamed to say it was on my mind way more than I am comfortable admitting.

"I'm a Christian," I would think, "I shouldn't care about this, I should be content, I should think about spiritual things, for goodness sake," was a mantra that I repeated over and over and over. For years. But no amount of repetition or prayer or wishing the thoughts away, no new skin regimen or vitamins did anything. It stayed on my mind.

The bottom line? I was embarrassed...ok, let's be honest, I AM embarrassed to leave the house without makeup on. Without something that covers over the dark spots and the scars and red skin that I've had since I was a child. I don't necessarily need all the other stuff- the mascara and lipstick and perfect hair- but sometimes, on my worst days, I even put foundation on to go to the gym. The gym, people. Where it's going to melt off my face anyway because, let's face it, I am not one of those women who daintily glistens when she works out. I sweat, people.

A few months ago a former colleague began selling a new skin regimen. I clicked on her pictures out of curiosity. Another promise, another failure, right? And really, I NEED to stop caring about this. I'm 36. I should get over it.

But hope began to simmer a little. What if this stuff really does work? What if those before and after pictures are authentic and unfiltered? What if I could stop hating my skin, stop being embarassed, stop thinking about it all the time? What if?

I sat on that thought for a number of months. Trying to talk myself out of caring. Again. Trying to pray for contentment. Again. Trying to look in the mirror less so I wouldn't notice my red, dry, old-looking skin.

At some point, though, in the midst of trying so hard not to care, so hard to redirect my thoughts, so hard to push away the guilt when I failed, something occurred to me.

What if it's alright to care about this?

What if it is not wrong to want this to change a little? That maybe part of the healing in this would be doing something to make it healthier and maybe it's not wrong to want it to look nicer, healed, the way it should look at my age. Maybe it wasn't nonspiritual of me to care. Maybe it was actually spiritual to want to be healed physically in a way that would contribute helpfully to my lifelong battle to truly see myself as God sees me.

So, I am taking a risk here. I am going to post my "before" shot - makeup free. It's awful. I look tired (which, let's be honest) I am. I look weathered and splotchy. I look worn and older than my years. Maybe all moms of toddlers look a little haggard, I don't know. I surely do.

January 2015 @ 36 Years Old
My hope is this, though. That in taking a risk and posting this, even if this regimen doesn't help, even if my skin doesn't change, being more open about this secret struggle will, like I have learned so painfully during the years of blogging, expose me in a way that helps move me towards healing.

Do I also really hope the skin regimen helps? Heck yeah.

But I also hope that saying the words out loud and giving this struggle a chance to change will begin to do a good work long before I would notice significant aesthetic results, anyway.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Lonely Guy Checks In

It's funny what being embarrassingly honest can get you these days.

And by "funny," I mean "awesome."

Just last week I posted about being lonely, about how this phase of life, of being a stay-at-home parent, of rising each day and knowing that my primary companion for the day is more likely to pee on me than give me a good conversation, is a lonely place. And it was easy before I posted it to feel like that loneliness was something I was suffering, well, alone. That all the other parents out there were happily trucking along with some dear companions, sipping coffee and laughing at their children's tantrums together.

Myriads of responses later, however, the truth became apparent. This is a tough and lonely gig, people. For those of us, particularly, who may have had a job or career we loved or who never imagined staying at home past maternity leave, this may be the hardest and most isolating experience of our lives so far. (Let's leave middle school out of the reckoning for that title, shall we?)

Within minutes of posting, I saw other parents admit to being in the same place. Not only feeling lonely, but yearning for deep friendship, for the type of friendship that is comfortable, that requires no preparation beforehand. No personal grooming or domestic tidying. No kid in the perfect and sweet mood. And the funny thing is- I think we often think other people need us to put on that show that happens at the beginning of friendships. The small talk, the clean house, the perfect snacks and the deodorant. But really? I think very few of us actually care about that stuff, particuarly if not worrying about it makes it much easier for real relationship, honest interaction and easy camaraderie to be found.

So why do we make it so hard on ourselves? Why do we think we need to play a certain game here that, if we're honest, is just too exhausting to play?

I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that my week turned out very differently than I had imagined it would when I pressed the "publish" button on that post. Lovely texts and sweet messages and encouraging verses and invitations to hang out poured forth. I had a wonderful dinner with a newer friend and a fantastic night going deeper with some women I've known for a year now but still don't know as well as I'd like. I had a morning with two newer friends from church where our kids played long enough for us to actually say more than one sentence in a row a few times. I felt surrounded on Sunday by wonderful community as we baptized our sweet little man. Miracles do happen, friends.

Did I have that "person" come magically out of the blue? Of course not. That takes work, it takes patience, it takes putting myself out there- work I am trying to do. I did strike up two conversations with strangers at the library and the Y and get far enough to exchange names. I did laugh with new friends. I did feel like something could possibly change.

Bottom line, I hoped.

Hope is a pretty powerful thing.

Nate's tantrums didn't stop at the end of the week. It didn't get any easier on that front. But the thought of those texts, those calls, those invitations...well, it made the tantrums a little easier to bear. And the laughter I experienced at night with those new friends? Well, laughter is powerful, too. And its remnants can last long enough to get me through some of those tough mornings that follow.

So to those of you who joined in the conversation in honest and painful solidarity, I feel your pain and pray for hopeful moments for you this week even as I hope for more of my own. To those who texted or called or just made it clear that I can text or call you if I need to, thank you for reaching out to "lonely guy." To those with whom I laughed and talked, thank you for giving me what I needed to make it through the week feeling like I wasn't alone in this. To those I overlooked because of my own shyness or pain or isolation, I apologize and pray that my eyes would be clearer this coming week and that I would remember strongly that most of us really do yearn for something real and good and deep and are waiting for someone to extend the invitation.

Friends, let's be people this week who see those around us, who long to extend God's love and our friendship to them and who are open to what kind of laughter and magic might happen as a result.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I Am Lonely Guy

Our church has been going through a series about truly seeing what's around us. Opening our eyes, calming our schedules and being willing to really look. During this time, two men have been performing a skit called "Lonely Guy." Each week these two guys meet again onstage- really, crash into each other- and have an awkward interaction. They are both wearing sandwich boards- one that says "busy" and one that says "lonely." Predictably, the busy guy fumbles with his phone, mumbles something half-hearted in response to being reminded again that the lonely guy works at his grocery store and then goes on his way with the lonely guy staring after him. It all resolves when God intervenes and the busy guy truly SEES the lonely guy and they start to interact.

The first few weeks I laughed at this skit. I resonated with the busy guy- chasing my toddler around, too tired and frustrated to really see any opportunities around me and the men had done a good job keeping the feel of the skit light and humorous, even with its deeper message.

The final week, though? Something shifted. And I saw in the lonely guy the reality of my own life.

Just this morning I took my son to something called Wiggle Room. Held in our community center, it's a place for parents to bring their young kids to get out of the cold, let them play with different toys (and presumably, different friends) and just run around and get the cabin fever out. N and I have been trying to come every week since it started and have invited friends to come along. We had a few show up the first week but since then we've been on our own. Like we are most days.

Today I followed my son around and watched a lot of parents talking to each other. Mostly moms, a few dads and an occasional grandma. Their kids swirled around them, mostly playing well enough for them to have conversations with the semi-regular need to intervene in some kind of sharing debacle. I smiled at these groups of people. I tried to strike up some conversations with strangers. And it didn't really work. No one really talked back. I just felt alone.

As I leaned against the wall watching my ginormous toddler step on a kid to get to a toy, I felt alone.

As I chased him around, trying to keep him from knocking down other kids painstakingly built towers, I felt alone.

As I gazed longingly at people who clearly felt known and comfortable with the people around them, I felt alone.

I am lonely guy.

Bringing home a newborn baby in the midst of the coldest winter in recent years combined with hating to drive in snow, switching churches just before he came home and being a first-time SAHM was a tough combination last year. And when I reached the summer, desperate for human interaction, I realized that I had been dangerously sad. Tired. Alone. Dealing with post-adoption blues. Frustrated that this huge life-changing event on which we had waited for 5 years took place far away from our family and close friends. I spent the summer soaking in the amazing weather, trying to get closer to people I had met, hanging out with neighbors, treasuring time with my oldest during his vacation time. And I was determined that when winter came again, I would have a person.

You know who I mean.

THAT friend. The one you can call up last minute and who knows that all you need is company and coffee. Your house doesn't have to be clean and you don't need healthy snacks in your fridge. You don't have to have showered, which would be particularly helpful during this stage when my toddler thinks my shower time equals an opportunity for him to attempt to dive head first into the tub and crack his head open. The one who won't care if your kid throws his 5th tantrum of the afternoon because she loves him, too, and knows you are doing what you can to keep calm and make it through the toddler phase alive.  That friend.

As fall flew into the busyness of the Christmas season, I felt full. I was seeing friends sometimes, N and I were managing to get out of the house when the kids weren't sick and the joy of the holidays and visiting family loomed. I didn't really notice that I still didn't have that person.

But now? In the throes of deepest winter? I've got some friends. I really do. Lovely people. Friendly, inviting, welcoming. Most of them, like me, are pretty overwhelmed by the chaos of just getting their toddler from one end of the day to the next. And I enjoy my time with them. I do. I wish we knew each other better.

But I don't have that person. The one that makes life just feel easier. The one who knows me. Who knows that staying home is the hardest thing I've ever done. Who knows that sleep deprivation turns me into a maniacal human. Who knows that crying makes me uncomfortable and that I can't eat sugar. And BOY did I want to eat me some cookies after Wiggle Room today.

So, while I am going to continue to keep my eyes open and look for opportunities to SEE and love on people and try to get to know some of the people I already know better, I am also going to pray that someone, maybe "busy guy", will be keeping his eyes open for me, too. And that when I try to strike up that random and somewhat painful conversation at the next Wiggle Room, someone will see me, too.

And maybe, just maybe, by next winter I will not be lonely guy.