Limits and Love

I’m not sure how much I’ve written about it here, but one of my serious quests over the last few years is about naming (and to a certain extent accepting) my limits.

There is a fine balance between what we can do, what we should do, and what we want or need to do.

Last month– the month of November– I didn’t write much.

That is, I didn’t process much via journal or blog writing.

I did write my 50,000 words of Sherlockian Daze, and fell in love with a whole new cast of characters.

I also had my limits tested, and my will challenged.

The day after Jay left for his month in Antarctica, I was already past the half-way mark on my 50,000-word goal.

I should say a few things here:

  • At some point this summer Jay made the connection that when I said “our work is not equal” I wasn’t talking about value. I was talking about him getting to spend hours and hours of his life (almost daily) on something he enjoys and is good at.
  • He made the connection that the crowd-control, housework, homeschooling and the myriad of details that fill my life (while he is doing work he loves) is nothing close to “enjoyable” for me, and with a couple notable exceptions, something I’m only marginally “good at.”
    • I’m speaking here of the list above: people are not on that list. Just the grunt-work of making life liveable for a group of people.
  • Jay’s trip was up in the air because of the gov’t freeze, so I found out about 10 days before he left about his departure date. [Cue Amy’s standard non-freak-out that involves a lot of focused breathing, book-buying, and vitamin-checking.]
  • In a spurt of insightful generosity, Jay pulled his details together in time to stay home and manage the house and kids on November 1, so I could write all day. November 1 I wrote 10,352 words.
    • The 10,000-word day is sort of my generic “professional writer” benchmark, mainly due to this book. (Which I recommend: along with quality content it only takes an hour or two to read– which is also why I recommend it.) So crossing the 10K mark on the first was a big-huge deal to me.
      • She writes “full time” with her kiddo in daycare, which is sort of how I define full-time: someone else watching your kids so you can focus on something else.
  • I tracked my words per hour in a spreadsheet, so I saw that my 10K day was built in hours of 1,000- 1,200 word hours. So when Jay left and my life became exponentially more complex, I maintained my sense of professionalism and good will by producing at the same rate, but in smaller chunks. Chunks more like half an hour to an hour than whole days of application.

On that day after Jay left, I still had a mathematically doable goal of finishing the entire first draft (not just the 50,000 words) by the end of the month. I was half an hour (and a respectable 556 words) into my 2-hour writing block when a got a phone call from a young mom who asked if I could keep her baby “for about a week.”

I used to be a foster parent (of elementary-age kids, before I had two babies of my own) so I knew a few questions to ask, and a week seemed overly optimistic for resolution, but I said I’d talk to Jay.

Jay way still somewhere between Fairbanks and New Zealand, completely unavailable.

Normally my gap MO in such cases is to talk to my mom or dad, but they had left town that morning, and were also unavailable. So I called my IRL Christian/writer/mama friend (do you know how hard it is to get all five of those elements in one person?!) Afiya to have *somebody* who knew my situation to help think things out.

I don’t usually call (phones are not my friend), so she started by asking what was up.

This is why I needed my own pet in the midst of a busy life.

“Do you remember the last time I called when Jay was traveling? I was asking your opinion about adopting a little dog without his go-ahead, because I wasn’t sure it would still be around by the time he got home.”

“Oh sure,” she said. “Did you ever find a dog you both like?”

“No, we ended up getting two cats instead, but that’s not why I’m calling. Today I’m calling about a baby.”

“Oh, Amy, Amy, Amy…”

It was Afiya who pointed out I should ask the kids, enlist their participation because there was no way I could add a baby to my life as it is.

So I spoke with them (“Are you in? Because I’m not doing this by myself: God didn’t design a baby to be raised by one person all alone.”), they jumped at the idea, and that night I was doing baby laundry, watching babywearing videos on YouTube, and introducing my kids to the Dunstan Baby Language DVDs.

Over the last month my kids have impressed me again and again with their attentiveness and problem-solving skills as we’ve integrated this baby into our family.

It is unknown how long he will be with us, and I am thrilled to be writing this the morning after his second night of a big sleep-through (8p.m. to 6a.m.). Writing has emerged once again as a necessity, not a luxury, so with his stay stretching out I’m learning how to reintegrate writing even when we don’t particularly have a schedule. Since I don’t do schedules. Because they require too much energy in ratio to the benefits they proport to offer.

And, no, we don’t plan to adopt him, we’re just giving him a safe place to live while his forever-home stabilizes. Please don’t ask how we’re going to deal with “being attached” or the kids’ “being attached” or what we think we’ll do when he goes.

Odds are we’ll be sad. Odds are we’ll have a very real mixture of grief and relief, but fact is, there’s no way to “prepare” emotionally for a loss other than an unhealthy disengagement, which would damage baby as well as us.

I like how C.S. Lewis wrote about it:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

When I was 17, I considered a 6-month after-graduation job in another country. I actively considered what it would mean to fall in love with people and a community that I didn’t expect I’d visit again (non-traveler that I am). I quickly reached the “wrap [your heart] up tight” conclusion when I heard two words, almost as if from the voice of God.

Love lavishly.

It was my job, I felt him saying about me, to pour out the love I’d been given, the love I was full of. It was his job to keep my heart whole enough to keep loving.


I’ve learned a lot about love since I was 17, and I have learned more about actively protecting my heart, and defending myself in a useful way, but none of those things is really about limiting love. They’re about choosing how I’ll live, and accepting that people won’t always understand my love, or the way I express it.

One of my lessons is that the outward expression of my love (be that gifts, or listening or service, etc.) isn’t just about what I can do. That is too great a burden. It is about what I can keep on doing.

A one-time gift, or a series of large gifts, adequately spread out to allow me to recharge, is not showing greater love than the small bits that happen every day.

By making choices based on a pattern of sustainable giving, I am allowed consistency (one of my high values) and I am spared the choice or angst of having to decide with each “opportunity” to be stretched, can I endure *this* right now?

It is tied to my recent study of self esteem. My favorite summary of good self esteem has two parts.

  • The ability to trust your own mind.
  • The assurance you are worthy (or capable) of happiness.

By practicing these two halves, I am more-able to set meaningful limits in the relationships I have, and build a sustainable life that isn’t about running from crisis to crisis (mine or anyone else’s), putting out fires.

I used to think that if I was living life right, I could “work ahead” enough to coast for a while. I could push, then rest, push than rest. I wanted that rest so badly I pushed really really hard. But there’s always more to do, and there is a point we need to take the rest.

More than just taking the rest, which I believe *is* critical, I think some of us also need to work the rest into our daily living.

There will always be people “worse off” than me, and for a long time, I was not able to feel peace in my plenty because of that. But there will also be people better off than me, some because of their hard work and some because of good luck.

I can only live the life I have, and I have proven over and over again that I have plenty to think about without adding to the complexity of my world.

Life is complicated. Love hurts. Limits mean we don’t have to deal with all of everything at once.

Limits are a gift.

Mourning Isn’t Over When the Flowers Wilt


Image courtesy of q83 via stock.xchng

This is a recording I made of poems about admiration, love and loss, from a variety of poems and poets: To be of Use by Marge Piercy, A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Perfection Wasted by John Updike, and an excerpt from Four Poems in One by Anne Porter.

I have completed my First-10 speeches for Toastmasters, and am now working on my first “advanced manual,” Interpretive Reading.

I performed this collection of poems at a new Toastmasters group yesterday. The feedback was mixed, kind compliments, and appreciation of how I compiled the cycle, with questions from other people about the point or purpose of poetry and such a “dark” theme: Remembrance, death and loss.

Jay came with me to the meeting, and returned to the questions when we got home.

My first response was to think, Maybe I’m just morbid.

But that didn’t fit my intent or my emotional state. I dug deeper while he tried to help.

“Is it to share at a funeral or memorial service like [name] asked? What’s the application?”

“Mourning doesn’t end when the service does,” I finally said, coming to my understanding as I spoke it.

“I repeat the poems because it is a way of remembering. The people who hear only death and gloom hear what they have ears for, and that’s okay, that’s not up to me, it’s where they’re at. But there is ever-so-much more and better going on than gloom.

“There is grief, because I still grieve. That doesn’t go away for me or anybody. And it’s comforting, somehow, to go back to what you might expect at a service. It still honors them, and comforts me.”

Why Work?

Becky Castle Miller initiated a good conversation at her blog the other day.

small melody I asked my three kids (a set older than Becky’s– her oldest is six-months behind my youngest) and they gave the same answers her kids gave: work is for money/food/good things (Daddy) or to make our lives better/healthier/more-comfortable (Mama).

 {I was delighted that they’ve internalized that I work here at home was both work and a benefit to them.}

Actually, that was the string of answers after Melody spouted the first answer to my question: Why do Mama and Daddy work so hard?

Because we don’t!

I hooted, laughed and banged the wall with my hand. I think that’s my griping lately coming back out her mouth. And it’s true.

But after several minutes and variations on the trios of meaning above, I said there was one more very. important. reason their parents work:

We both choose work that we love.Small grinding

I told them, because this is something I want planted deep and firm in their soft hearts, that what they enjoy doing can be a real path to God’s will for them. I asked them what they love, what makes them excited and energetic and ready to jump into a project.

My throat tightened at the explosion of delight in their bubbling descriptions.

“Keep watching those things,” I said. “Ask questions when you meet someone with that job. Try out play that matches what you enjoy.”

The moment passed and everyone returned to eating (or ignoring) their lunch, but the conversation has begun here.

Delight is an acceptable measure of direction.small Natasha


My “Word for 2012”

At the beginning of 2012, more than ever before, I saw other bloggers talking about their “word for the year.” Even when it felt normalized (rather than capricious or trendy) it was still scary to me.

To claim that I was going to focus on this topic/image/virtue/goal for the coming year was intimating because I wasn’t sure I could focus on anything for a year.

Repeated defeats and distractions will do that to a person.

Even so, I prayed about it because I really love words. And the idea of having a pet word, an anchor for thoughts and prayers and meditations (when I remembered it, at least) was very appealing.

And I got my very own word for the year.

And didn’t tell anyone, because I was afraid. I was afraid of making a big deal out of something that would turn out not to be a big deal.

Because, honestly, when you’re declaring one word is enough to last you the e.n.t.i.r.e. year, you’re calling it a big deal. I work with words and I know what I’m talking about.

The word I got this January was hope.

In January I was (un)well into my second year of depression, but I was starting up with a new counselor (my third– there’s a story in felt-failure: that it took me three tries to find the right someone), and finding new books, and had a sense of anticipation.

I can’t say it was necessarily about “the coming year,” but it was about life in general, and I was ready for hope.

It was (I believe) in that second linked book that I read (and latched onto) a definition for “hope” that I’ve repeated many, many times this year.

Hope is the assurance that *now* is not permanent.

That is, of course, only a partial definition. It expresses a desire for change (for the better) but not enough of the positive anticipation.

I did a word search through the bible while the word hope was on my mind. About the same time, one of the elders in our church urged all of us to choose a “verse for the year.”

I feel a bit the same about verse-for-the-year as I do about word-for-the-year; only you’re not allowed to say that you think a bible verse isn’t big enough to last a year, so naturally I just was quiet rather than draw attention to myself about how I doubted I’d commit to one of those, either.

Mostly I didn’t want to start one more thing, build it up, in my head or in public, and then notice six-months later that this centering verse, chosen to draw all the craziness of Life toward a single focus, did nothing more to contain the centrifugal spatter of my life than it did cozied next to the verses that were its normal companions.

I just don’t need the extra pressure or resultant discouragement.

But even though I rationally and objectively felt this way, I still liked the idea of searching the scriptures to see if anything “popped,” and combined with the word hope, something did.

I emailed it to the elder, as he’d requested to hear from us in the church, but I asked him not to include it in the general discussion because I was so shy of it.

It was a mighty-big verse to me, and I was shy to have it connected as my heart-prayer. Especially in the context of it being “this year’s” verse. It was much easier to say, This is near my heart. I trust telling you, but please don’t extend it farther, or I’ll feel a need to be explaining myself.

And I just don’t like the idea that I have to explain my affinity to, or delight in, a verse of scripture.

Yes, after all that I’ll say what it was. Continue reading »

The Platinum Rule

Everybody’s heard of “The Golden Rule:”

Image courtesy of Sebile Akcan via Stock.xchng

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

It is a concept that has existed forever, but I read somewhere that it was Jesus who turned it on this positive angle. Everybody else– Confucius, the Greek philosophers– couched it in opposite terms:

Don’t treat anyone the way you don’t want to be treated.

It was “the law of reciprocity” and contained a rude (underdeveloped) sort of empathy. Sort of like another admonition I read on a twitter profile:

Be gentle with others. Everyone is fighting a secret battle.

All of these build on the idea that we know our own needs and that there is a commonality to our race (we’re all human) that allows us to recognize (from our own experience) what others would value and/or fear.

The frustrating thing about conclusions is that they are fully dependent on the assumptions that lead to them.

Even the Golden Rule.

I have been told more than once that I’m not like most people, and Jay had that great line last week, “You are a square in a world of circles. You come at things from such a *completely* different angle nobody else sees.”

The man wasn’t being critical or complementary. I think bewildered is the best word. It’s nice not to be the only confused one. And nice to be accepted, even “off center.”

So when I assume that others are like me, that they value and desire the same things– I can get in trouble.

For one thing, other people “golden-ruling” me really are trying hard, and I shouldn’t get offended when it doesn’t fit, and what I give other people (because it’s what I would have wanted) can land completely wrong.

So I think the level-to-aspire-to is The Platinum Rule:

Treat others the way they want to be treated.

Image courtesy of Sara Haj-Hassan via stock.xchng

By necessity this requires knowing the other person well enough to make a reasonable guess, but it also requires the presence of mind to apply what you know.

Many people I know (and I include myself in this category) are just plain-nice people. They’re not in the habit of doing unkind things, and I can’t think of situations where they would be deliberately hurtful to anyone.

But some of these people have hurt me.

And I have hurt some of them.

Here’s one specific example, going both ways– it relates (as I see it) to the way we process information differently. Continue reading »


A couple months ago I had a friend getting ready to move away.
I was not prepared for her departure to knock the wind out of me like it did.
Three different people asked me if I was okay. (I must have looked a wreck.)
I said No, each time, and felt loved like I hadn’t in a long time.

I felt seen.

Each listened to me in turn, absorbing my sound bite and offering what comfort they could (it wasn’t nothing).

And the third woman paused with me. Shared her heart with me.
Gave me a chance to get past my pain, to see her struggle.
To share her burden as I looked for a place to lay mine.

These multiple offerings of compassion struck me as a great contrast to the women who could skewer my heart without knowing it, either by their words or by their silence.

And I prayed I would have eyes to be that one who could see.

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own” or real life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life– the life God is sending one, day by day.”

C.S. Lewis


Did you know Sinning is Not a Requirement?

“We’re not called sinners because we sin,” my dad says. “We sin because we’re sinners.”

Behavior grows out of  identity, you see. (Another reason to drop “cheat” from your HEP vocabulary.)

This definition is important because those of us who’ve “put on Christ” and the new life he offers us– we have a new identity.

Image courtesy of Simon Jackson via stock.xchng

We’re not sinners any more.

Charles Swindoll in his book The Grace Awakening, Urges Believers to look hard at Romans 6, and makes a challenging observation:

Most Christians have been better trained to expect and handle their sin than to expect  and enjoy their freedom. The shame and self-imposed guilt this brings is enormous, to say nothing of the “I’m defeated” message it reinforces.

Are you ready for a maverick thought? Once we truely grasp the freedom grace brings, we can spend lengthy periods of our lives wihtou sinning or feeling ashamed. Yes, we can! And why not? Why should sin gain the mastery over us? Who says we cannot help but yield to it? How unbiblical!

You see, most of us are so programmed to sin that we wait for it to happen. …

You have not been programmed to yield yourself unto God as those who have power over sin.

That new power– rooted in our new identity–  is a LOT of what Romans 6 talks about:

  • How can we who died to sin still live in it?
  • Our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin
  • You too consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
  • Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires (The new identity means we have the choice to obey where previously we had no choice)
  • For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace. (Glorious promise!)
  • Having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.

These words give me a hope I don’t remember ever basking in this much: We speak of being slaves to sin, the compulsion and the helplessness we were locked into in our lost state.

Now we (who are redeemed) find ourselves slaves to righteousness.

A new identity and a new servitude.

Sin is no longer the Default Mode.

This is a Big Deal because I don’t think I’ve lived this way on-purpose. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at Sin as completely optional.

Then Sunday (I’d been swimming in these ideas since Saturday, the day before) the man bringing the massage wrapped up with 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

When I am watching a mystery or one of my body-a-week shows, I pay attention to the way things are said more than I do in real life.

For one thing, every speaker’s words were chosen by a writer, and I can guess that any hints I pick up on are probably real and not just in my own head.

One thing about every good mystery is that the answer is always on the table.

It might be concealed or misrepresented, but it’s there. When the answer is revealed the audience can see how clever everything was (or wasn’t) and know the truth from all angles.


Image courtesy of tatlin via Stock.xchng

In a similar way, when I go into my life and its demands (and temptations to sin) it makes a tremendous difference to me whether I’ll have to swim on my own, or if I’ve got a rope to hold onto.

God has promised a way of escape.

The answer is on the table.

How encouraging is that?!

So much of my anxiety comes from a sense of feeling trapped. Of being out of options.

And when I’m stressed I am more likely to sin with my mouth.

What a relief to hear I am not bound to this!

He will provide a way of escape.

The Purpose of Emotions

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Two summers ago, I remember pacing the lawn at the old house while talking on the phone (I still don’t know how to be still when I speak on the phone).

I described to my dear friend (in our “stolen moments” after bedtime) how novel writing seem especially necessary or missed in that season, because I felt such a flurry and burying depth of feeling that it took 16 characters to bleed the emotion down to a manageable level.

(All of this punctuated by the emotion thickening my voice as I tried to discuss the topic.)

I was embarrassed by the emotion. I couldn’t think what the point was other than to give evidence to my weakness, and my head wasn’t currently on straight enough to back up and start from basic principles:

Unless this was the result of the Fall (when Sin entered into the world) there must be some original purpose for these frustrating feelings.

This friend was raised on the F side of the F — T spectrum, and she still doesn’t seem to understand my mistrust of the F side of things. So I suppose this comes down to a cultural expression. All I know is that when it comes down to downs, “people” mistrust expressions of emotion the way men mistrust women’s periods. It’s mystical, inexplicable, and the deepest proof of it’s power it the continued impossibility of eliminating it.

Lo and Behold, I finally heard an authoritative voice posit a reason for these pesky little elephants of distraction.

Emotions are radar.

They’re your warning system.

Are you becoming angry? Look around. Who’s crossing a line?

Are you sad? Is there some loss you need to acknowledge and grieve?

Are you zipping with delight? Enjoy it! Share it!

This last isn’t the one we usually wrestle with.

Have you ever heard someone complain about feeling so good they just wish it would stop?


We sometimes know what to do with the positive emotions, even if they’re not any more “understandable” than the rest.

And here I think is where we might try to nail the jello-y question of value in emotions.

Thinking, reasoning, cognitively working things out, gives us an action point.

We leave the mental exercise with something to DO, or at least begin to understand.

Emotions are Raw.  Not just exposed and nebulous; they must be processed before they may become overtly useful.

And most people (in my experience) either don’t know how to do the work, or are not interested in the work. Continue reading »

More Doesn’t Keep Being More

Image courtesy of Claudio Jule via stock.xchng

In contrast to the popular saying,

Money can’t buy happiness

there is this study that shows a fairly tight correlation between money and a lot of good things. (Here’s another eye-opening view, if you go in prepared for anger and crass language.)

I liked reading about this study when it came out, because I’d always thought along the lines that money has got to simplify a LOT of things and how most of the “simple freebies” that are cozy and fuzzy-edged in any story aren’t so accessible.

I mean, I do those things, and they’re not necessarily cheap and accessible.

  • Musical instruments you actually *want* to play are a pretty penny.
  • Pets/animals take work and money.
  • Craft supplies that are enjoyable to use usually can’t be found at the thrift store
  • Even simple “hanging out” with friends involves cost to someone– either in transportation, food, or entertainment.

Free is really less common than storytelling will admit.

It is this common sense awareness of increased money = improved life that gets us into trouble.

When we see, Oh, more money is better life, we don’t see that topping out– until it does.

This is why you don’t see movies about poor people realizing their two jobs plus night school are eating away at their family life and just. not. worth it.

It’s the rich executive or the workaholic mom who have to choose family over acquiring even-greater wealth.

~ ~ ~

All that to say that we educated types have the same relationship with information.

Continue reading »

Score One for the Closet Introvert

I’ve self-identified as an introvert for a few years now, but I can’t remember ever using that knowledge to reshape my behavior.  Until recently.

Just this week I went to a graduation celebration, and I took my knitting.  Instead of trying to fight my way into the talk I just sat in the vicinity of conversations that were interesting to listen to and made progress on the little cardigan I’m working on.

Years ago I knew a woman who described her outrage and surprise at being the only individual to defend a core tenet of her faith in a group of fellow Mormons. She told me she was contemplating a month- to year-long experiment.

“I’m just going to quit speaking up,” she said. “And I’m going to keep a journal of people’s responses.”

“Well,” I said, trying to be gentle, but wondering how this could provoke notice from other non-responders, “I think that might be giving others too much credit for even noticing the difference.”

I was feeling this way.

Wondering how much it mattered to me that people wouldn’t notice I was different.  Not being sure how much explanation I did or didn’t want to offer.

YES I feel very different than I did 5 years ago. Or 11 years ago, when I still lived at home (and family had more opportunity to figure me out).

No, I don’t think I’ve actually changed that much, just quit fighting who it’s easy to be.  Started thinking that maybe this is actually who I’ve been created to be…

Who is still allowed to keep changing, so if I’m too confusing now, just love me and wait. You’ll see something new in another six months if you keep paying attention.

Part way through the evening someone noticed

He accused me of being bored with the company, since I wasn’t participating.  I bit back my hurt response at being unfairly sniped and retorted, “When I have something to say I will.”

My sister heard. And remembered it, too; longer than I did.

Today she told me how much she liked the line, and how she’s trying to remember and apply the idea in her own communication.

So am I.