Worked Up

I love reading letters to younger selves. If I were to write a letter to my younger self I would choose this month to do it. It would short and to the point:

Dear Kara,

Don’t get so worked up. You are loved by the Creator of the universe.

Let that be enough.

Love,

Your 44 year old self

 

 

Back in my twenties, before we had children, my main goal was to make sure people liked me. I didn’t know that back then so it wasn’t like I woke up in the morning saying, “How can I make sure everyone I encounter likes me?”

But it was it pretty close to that.

 

My in laws were… demanding. They had a lot of traditions already in place. The expectation that we would participate in every. single. event. was something Lee and I never discussed before we were married. I think because of my people pleasing ways and Lee’s bend in the same direction we just assumed we could make it work.

We never asked each other what we thought was important about the holidays.

Even when we added children the assumption that we would be at every gathering, on time no less, didn’t change. There were gifts to be bought and food to be made. Meanwhile we were struggling to make ends meet in just our ordinary lives. The added stress to our minimal extra cash was a lot. Nobody forced us to participate. We were invited, not threatened. Still, the unspoken, yet obvious, theme of ‘If you come you are part of the family. If you do not…”

Inevitably, what ended up happening was this: I got very worked up.

Very.

I didn’t share with Lee, except through explosive and tearful outbursts, that the lead-up to the holidays weren’t fun. The time we spent with family was fine, minus the fact that I was exhausted from stress and too much preparation. 

One year something terrible/wonderful happened. Our oldest girls were around 8 and 6 and they got strep throat the day before Thanksgiving. When the nurse came back in with the positive test results the relief that flooded my heart was extremely telling.

The kids were bitterly disappointed but Lee and I were thrilled.

For years we’d been cramming three Thanksgiving meals in. We’d never had the big meal in our own home.

We called Cracker Barrell and ordered four meals. I made pumpkin pies. We lit candles at our own table. We sat around and watched movies. The antibiotics kicked in by Thanksgiving evening and the kids started to feel better.

It’s one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories, because it finally felt like ours and not theirs.

 

I want to be careful to say that I do not blame anyone but Lee and I for our feelings. Again, no one was forcing us. The issue was that both of us were first-born hard-core people pleasers, plain and simple. We could have talked this through before we were married, or at least before we had kids. We were not the victims of family functions.

There’s just so much you don’t know at the beginning of a new thing.

We don’t regret any of those years that we ran around like mad trying to get everywhere on time. I don’t regret our kids being overly tired at the end of all. I don’t even regret the money we spent. I do regret the zen desk garden we purchased for Lee’s dad.

The thing is this: Lee’s dad was killed in a car wreck almost ten years ago and he is estranged family is estranged now. We haven’t seen any of them in years.

We didn’t see any of that coming. Those years that I was crying and sick to my stomach because of all my uncomfortable feelings were the only ones our family would have with Lee’s family.

That definitely gives me perspective.

Now, I’m not saying that you should run yourself into the ground during the holidays because someone could die. Death is a reality in this world for all of us. I think it’s silly to let that truth guide decisions that we make.

I am saying that boundaries are essential and healthy. We had choices that we didn’t know about.

We could have:

  • participated but come at a time that was convenient for us
  • participated but not in the gift exchange
  • shown up after a meal
  • skipped some gatherings
  • said, ‘We’ll let you know what our plans are.”
  • Invited them to ours house, even though it was small
  • divided up the gift buying/wrapping/baking between the two of us

 

We didn’t have the tools to do that at the time, though. I don’t hold that against our younger selves. However, we have learned from our mistakes and simply refuse to get worked up over the holidays.  Because when you’re worked up and upset you miss the gift that is Advent.

You miss the chance to do things slowly.

You miss the message that Christ came to bring us home.

Frantic is not part of the nativity story. Feeling like a failure is not in the Great Rescue Plan. Silent night, holy night doesn’t have the same ring when you’ve ground your teeth every night for a month.

Worked up is more like the work of the enemy. 

I believe that’s what that nasty devil loves: strife at the holidays. People worked up and arguing does not leave much room for thinking on the beauty of Christ coming into the darkness to bring us light. 

So, brave ones, let’s not get worked up. Let’s not get churned up. Let’s not Pinterest ourselves into forgetting about the gift of these holy days.

Let’s not give gatherings and events more power than Jesus has in our lives.

Instead let’s do simple and slow. Let’s look at the calendar and choose what we love, what we need. Leave the shoulds and the have-to’s off.

 

Be brave, misfits, and set up some picket fences on your calendars.

 

 

As always, please  share if you liked what you read here.

SaveSave

Home Again

Our family traveled a lot when I was a kid. We took short trips, long trips, and sometimes just day trips. I loved going, seeing new places, but also knowing that we shared the same sky, the same moon no matter where we were. I can sleep so well in a car, probably because of all that traveling. One of my favorite memories is lying in the back our big yellow van, my head against the wall so that I could see out of the window above my head. I would sleep that way, only waking when when we slowed down to turn into our neighborhood.

The big hill that leads to our house is lined with trees and streetlights and is as comforting to me as home. I would open my sleepy eyes and know exactly where we were, which neighbor’s house we were passing. As we pulled into the drive my parents would chant, “Home again, home again jiggity jig!” Even today I feel myself relax as I drive up that street.

It’s funny to me that I never wanted to move away from home. I mean, I wanted my own apartment as I got older,  but I never thought about living in another city. After Lee and I had been married for a couple of years a job opportunity came up that would require us to move. Every cell in my body wanted to stay in Lexington but I knew that Lee needed this.

So, we moved to Knoxville, Tennessee.

The first few months there were scary and lonely. Driving in Knoxville terrified me, and I learned lots of back roads to avoid the interstates and heavy trafficked roads. Because the radio in my old black Volvo didn’t work I had to sing loudly to distract my babies and myself from my panic at sharing the road with so many trucks. Old hymns, Mary Poppins, and Queen make up the soundtrack of those days.

Moving made me brave.

I was able to travel I-75 because I knew that home was at the other end. Going to visit my parents gave me courage. On the return trip knowing that Lee, our house, and our little life were all waiting for me made my goodbyes less bittersweet. It’s funny how fears abate when you have people waiting for you. They give you mission.

We moved three more times, twice two new town, and each place I fell in love with. I enjoyed learning the history of our new town, local favorites, and hidden treasures. I stopped thinking of Lexington as home and more as the place that I grew up. Two years ago when we moved back I couldn’t help but contemplate home, and what that means.

I was reminded of all the coming-of-age novels I read where the main character moves back home and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. I always wondered what it was like to move back home after redefining yourself in another place.. No one knows what you were like in high school, or about your brothers, or what you and your best friends like to do. You don’t run into people you know at the store, at least at first, and you can switch hairdressers easily. Everything is new, and that can include you.

Moving back home, though, was so different than I thought it would be. Living in my childhood home, roaming the streets of my neighborhood with my own children, is much more grounding than I had imagined. On our daily walks we step onto the same corner that was the meeting spot of the neighborhood kids. Even though someone else lives there the house across the street is still ‘the Leggett’s house’ to me and my parents.

My handwriting, in permanent marker, is in the closet of the bedroom my girls now share. My boys’ swing set is where me and my brothers played for hours. Neighbors who knew me from childhood stop me and we condense our lives into a ten minute chat. We wave goodbye, filled with memories of a picturesque past.

Moving back to the town where I took off my training wheels for the first time, where I learned to drive, and where I got my heart broken for the first time made me brave again. While a new place can give you the freedom to be someone a little different it can also sweep you up into a current that’s not your own. We’ve had some heavy stuff happen, which caused the shoulds and have-to’s to become even more weighted.

Sometimes you just keep functioning and don’t realize how big of an influence fear has become.

Moving home gave me the space to face that. Moving home gave me space to find my courage again, to remember that no matter what happens in my life I have a place within me that houses my ten year-old self. The me that knows riding down a hill with no hands is possible, the me that doesn’t care about skinned knees or climbing too high will always be there, waiting. Fearlessness that reins freely in our youth isn’t grown out of. Rather, it is covered up under the guise of maturity  and responsibility, making us think we’re grown ups.

Audacity is always waiting for it’s moment to shine, though.

Coming home made me feel that again. Watching my youngest learn to ride his bike with only two wheels on the same sidewalk I did unleashed it. I’m probably not going to ride my bike with no hands today, but my heart is lighter, more able to be in the world.

Life is short but fear makes it shorter.

Today courage means filling my life with relationship that make my life messy, embracing inconvenience and taking heart in the fact that Jesus has overcome the world. Pushing through the uneasiness that comes from going against the grain of this life is not always easy but my days feel longer when fear is not in charge.

God knew that I needed the shelter of home to find my courage again. It’s not about the place, or the house, or the neighborhood, either. Those things are nice but home is something inside, a notion that dwells within. It’s about being able to remember who Christ says I am, and for me that’s easiest to do when I think about who I was as a kid. I wasn’t weighed down by shoulds and have-to’s and didn’t hold back my love.

I am home, again.

Home again.

Jiggity jig.

 

 

I’m curious; how do you find home? Is it a place or a time? Does home make you brave, too?

 

Sometimes a fresh start doesn’t feel fresh

A year ago we walked out of one life and into another. We needed a fresh start.

Four months into our fresh start things didn’t feel so fresh.

Our fresh start felt more like a slap in the face with a cold, smelly, dead fish.

We weren’t naive, though. We knew it would be hard.

I just didn’t think it would be this kind of hard.

What really stinks about life sometimes is that what is good for you doesn’t always feel good. This last year has been good for our family but it certainly has not always felt good. I’m sure you’ve had some experience with this type of growth. It’s probably my age or the larger amounts of free time I had when we first moved in with my parents, but I have done a lot of thinking. Introspective thinking. Thinking about who I am and how I got where I am, and I don’t mean where I am on the map. I found myself truly thinking about regrets from my past. I’m happy that I don’t have many, and none  involve anything terrible. Really, all of my dissatisfaction came from character issues. It wasn’t what I did that I lamented, it was who I was.

That stung, and more than a little.

The awesome thing about moving to a new city is that you get to be someone new. Not entirely new, not name-changed new (although if that’s what you need you’ll get no judgement here) just ‘I’m-braver-than-I-used-to-be’ new. We moved to Knoxville 5 years and 2 babies into our marriage. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done but the best thing, too. I can remember driving on I-40 for the first time in my little black Volvo station wagon just praying that I didn’t get creamed by the semi’s that were barreling along all around me. My radio didn’t work so I just sang at the top of my lungs to my little ones, flapping my elbows to release nervous tension.

That made me a little braver about life.

Once you do one thing that takes courage you can build on that, and build on the next thing and keep going until you’re a super audacious person who can drive on I-75 or I-40 or take your children to the zoo by yourself or walk up to strangers and introduce yourself.

Moving gives you a chance to push the reset button.

Sometimes, though, you don’t want to set the reset button. Sometimes you like it right where you are and you’re happy with the friends you’ve had who have  seen your babies born and grow and who love you even when you do really goofy things like quit answering your phone for a time. Sometimes moving feels like having part of you packed in a box and then lost in a storage unit. Sometimes moving hurts.

Who cares if you’re courageous when you’re in pain?

Then you cry a little, and you hug your  hubby and your babies who aren’t babies anymore, and that makes you remember why you were brave in the first place.

Courage isn’t always for us.

You start building on those little acts of bravery until you remember who you are.

If moving away gives you a chance to start over, then what does moving back home do?

Truth: Nothing brings out courage like running into friends from high school you haven’t seen since graduation.

Moving back home, for me, gave me a chance to forgive myself, to see my ‘character flaws’ in light of what they really were: youthful inexperience. Of course my character needed work when I was 19. I’ve learned more about grace in the past year than in my entire Christian life. I’ve been able to put into perspective the mistakes I made and give myself a good dose of grace. Moving back home, specifically into my childhood home, gave me a chance to remember the good things about me. Like, I was always kind of a misfit, but the kind of misfit that fit anywhere. I liked hanging out with older neighbors, the only adults I rolled my eyes at were my parents, and I was friends with everyone from cheerleaders to dog-collar, mohawk wearing kids. I like being a misfit and now I remember that!

Moving, whether it’s away from or back to, is an opportunity to get to know a new side of yourself.

I think that’s what this blog is;  a small act of bravery, the chance for me to get to know a new side of myself. I have deep love for If Mama Ain’t Happy, but every time I went there I was reminded of all the things I meant to do (and who I missed and where I used to be) and it kept me trapped in a little way.

I think everyone can get bogged down in who they were, stuck in a pattern of behavior. Everyone longs for transformation and renewal. I don’t think you have to move to a new city to get that fresh start. Go to a different grocery store or library. Join a new bible study. Dig a little deeper into who God says you are. Start something you’ve always wanted to. Run with the idea that wakes you up in the night (as long as it doesn’t involve someone you’ve met on the internet). Just go and do and build on that one small thing. Before you know it you’ll be someone’s hero.

Be brave, misfits of the world! Be brave!