What If: Opening Yourself Up Means Changing the Idea of Who You Are?

  • “You need to change your clothes.”
  • “I need you to change your attitude.”
  • “Changing your work ethic is the only way you keep this job.”

If you have ever been on the receiving end of a similar comment, your defenses are probably already raised. You know what I’m talking about. Perhaps you have made the connection that I ponder – the need for change implies deficiency. Why would we change if there is nothing wrong? If someone calls us to change, is that a sign that things are not ok? I think that is the lie that I have been consumed by for decades.

The only times that I have felt compelled to work for change is when I was broken, hurting someone else or violating a human decency code. Usually, this comes when someone else calls me on the carpet for bad behavior. For someone wired like me, the opposite of the desired outcome is usually the impact. Watch me do what I want (insert 7 year old face with her thumbs in her ears and her tongue sticking out), because YOU CAN’T MAKE ME! To say that I resist personal change is a wild understatement. I hate it. I avoid it. Change hurts, even when the outcome is with a positive end goal. Change calls me to look for a new start, and new starts require unlearning behaviors and beliefs that have grown deep within me.

Walking in with the full knowledge that good can and should come from change, there is a root fear to soul change. To look at yourself – your questions, your thoughts, your passions, your doubts – is to stare down your very being. When we begin to dig into the deepest recesses of soul exploration we find defining beliefs. We find the causes and motivations for life decisions. We define the values that we place on relationships and wholeness and healing. The very things that characterize us as individualistically unique humans are accessed when we begin to evaluate the ‘what’s’ and ‘how’s’ of our belief systems.

I have recently reached a new personal line in the sand. These are the moments in my life where I know a change is needed. When I reach the moment that I cannot force myself to live in a way that no longer feels like home, I am headed toward an interior remodel. In this season, I have been called to look at, explore, evaluate, access and define who and what I value, what I believe, who I long to connect with and where I long to grow. These excavation projects come with a similar fear that the opening three statements evoke. I might even suggest that the internal stare downs are more painful because I know the truth. I know that I CAN do better. I know that I have not worked on the things that I value. I am fully, painfully, aware that my outlook and attitude must change. And it is in that moment that I have to ask the hard question. Do I want to redefine my being or stick with my safe, known self?

I love that this question of change is posed with the word “open” as the root. That’s the very best version of change. To open is to allow access to your heart. To open is to uncover your soul. To open is to spread out. I don’t know about you, but these are the very things that I need more of in my life. I need to remove the coverings from the things that are obscured. I need to release myself from old beliefs about what “is” or “supposed to be.” When we begin to change the foundations of structure and systems, when we dismantle old thinking and truly open our heart and mind and soul to the next version of ourselves, we WILL change. And the change will hurt. The growing will be painful. You don’t get taller without stretching your muscles and tendons. You don’t get a degree without the painful work of study. You don’t get the mature marriage or friendship without changing what those relationships are when they start.

In addition to the writing that I have put out for the blog world to read, I have recently done some hard writing about changes in my own life. One of my favorite questions that has spurred both joy and pain is “What is my boundary?” I wrote this a few weeks ago:

I want to stop operating from a place of responsibility to others and begin recognizing the truth that is inside me. I want to believe that the Knowing that I have in my connection to my own soul is enough – that I don’t have to water it down or make it digestible to the masses so I can speak truth. My boundary will be my own discontent. 

There is nothing that will change your own ideas of self like honoring your soul. When I listen to my own discontent, things cannot help but change, because I change. When I know that my gut tells me that something is off, that someone is not giving me their truth – and I actually freaking listen – everything MUST change. That’s the kind of change that I am about today. Not the shame change. Not the blame change. Not even the should change. I’m here for the I AM WORTH IT change. I am worth all of the discomfort and hardness and unsureness and fear because I know that the version of me on the other side is a freaking badass. I’m making a toast to opening up. Who is drinking with me today?

What If: I Invested As Much Time in Myself as I Do Other People?

Today is Mother’s Day. I have a love/hate relationship with this day. Because it always falls on a Sunday, two things have been true about the celebration. First, it has traditionally been a “work” day for me. The second is a bit more complicated. I hate the way that we celebrate this day, especially in the Church world. This is a day that invokes so many emotions. It is not a Hallmark-able fuzzy celebration. It’s true confession time: being a mother is not a natural thing for me. I found it especially hard and perpetually draining in the younger years. I was not created to be a lovey, book reading, storytelling, cooking, homemaking mommy. I was, however, born with the reproductive system that allowed life to come from my body. I also have a powerful shame game and fully convinced myself that by choosing not to have children, I would be setting up resentment and regret. So, here I am. Happy Mother’s Day to me!

It seemed only fitting that this would be the day to tackle a question that seems to plague so many women and mothers. Even as someone who does not thrive in all things nurturing, I have perfected the art of diminishing my personal needs, time and interests. I can run to the bedside of a hurting loved one or rush to a friend in crisis, all while my own ass is hanging on by a thread. My therapists through the years would call these boundary issues. I would call it the crisis of the female conscience. I had the example lived before me that as a woman, it was my job to care for all the people. By birthright, I was created to meet the physical, spiritual, emotional, relational and anything-else-that-you-can-think-of needs for all of the people in my view. And I should do it with excitement and joy, as a good woman should. I mean, you have read Proverbs 31, right?

There are times that basic caregiving (you know, like the infant stage) just take all the life. I don’t care who you are, certain seasons are just life suckers. This is normal. What we are talking about here is the sustained, long worn path of self denial in the face of other-care. As a women in my 20’s and 30’s, I fought the MAJOR shame gremlins that liked to steal all my joy. If I planned a date out or a fun activity with a friend and a child or parent or friend needed me, I would naturally and without much thought, move to the space of their service. Duty and responsibility always led. These are not virtuous traits. These are the lies that my ego feeds me. The ones where I am convinced that no one can do things the way that I can. The ones where I believe that people really cannot handle their own lives without me.

As I have moved into my 40’s, I have sharpened my caregiving skills in my own direction. I have begun to define what differentiates my needs from the people around me. Drinking a cup of coffee by myself is lovely, but an entire morning of sitting on the beach writing is soul filling. Starting my day with a devotional is an endearing goal, but putting on my walking shoes and walking 4 miles will turn my day (and the previous day) around. When my soul is weary, my family is much better off for me to go on a long drive than for me to begrudgingly throw together dinner. Nothing good can come from that kind of need meeting – except a big heaping pile of resentment.

For me, the inability to identify the feelings, ask for what I need and do something about it, have been the recently recognized challenges. I have spent years preparing the way for others to identify their own needs and receive the space and care that they need. I have lived 45 years on this earth. It matters not how many times I have been told to put my oxygen mask on first, I still find myself strapping that thing on other people’s faces and neglecting my own. My body, spirit and gut show the scars of this way of life. So here, on this Mother’s Day 2020, I am headed into the next 45 years with a new call. If there is one thing that the global pandemic has taught me, it is that when I take the time to breathe, write, garden, breathe, walk, be still, breathe and breathe some more, I am a better friend, mom and person. Here is to a day of guiltless, shame-free crawfish eating, poolside sitting day of remembering that I am worth intentional acts of self-care.

What If: I Never Tear Down My Walls?

I didn’t want to read this question. When I saw it on my screen, I wanted to push right past it and hope that the person who asked it never noticed that I avoided it like the big elephant in the room that it is. All joking aside, was this a plant question that was lobbed up to make me face this very real fear? I have some big ass walls, can you tell?

Walls. I am a master wall builder. In the beginning, they were constructed to self protect, as most good walls tend to be. But there was a shift in my teen years. Walls became a coping mechanism, a safe haven, from the messiness of emotions that I enjoy avoiding at all cost. As time has passed and the situations of life have become more intense and real, my wall building skill has made me a master craftswoman. I can slap a wall in your face before you see it coming. My ability to not just protect, but destroy with a wall is second nature.

So, to face this question is terrifying. I know what it takes to tear down a wall. Honesty. Vulnerability. Bravery. Risk. There are the four pillars of fear for an Enneagram 8. If you know anything about people like me, we are powerful beings. We hate to be controlled (by other people or by life circumstances). We are super strong willed and one of our greatest challenges is lowering our defenses (WALLS) in intimate relationships. Anything that makes me question trust is more than a trigger – it is gasoline on a fire that is sure to burn you. I know these things about myself. I know that these things trigger all the triggers, especially with the people that I choose to let behind the curtain.

Most days, I do a mighty fine job creating the perfect Emerald City that I want the world to see. The public imagery is ideal. It is shiny and pretty and has all of the happy, clappy dancing people to distract from the chaos of the fake voice and lever wielding fraud that works so hard to present the picture of perfection. I can do it all, be it all, save it all and most of all orchestrate it all. I CAN DO IT. (I may have come out of the womb with those words bursting forth from my mouth.) And, for the most part, I can. Until I can’t. And when those moments happen…when I can’t control and have power over and fix and heal…well, then my very first line of defense is a big fat wall that is tall enough to keep you and all of your flying monkeys away from me.

Life and its treachery are hard enough for those of us who love a wall, but relationships are hard in an entirely new way. My relationship walls are the hardest to demolish, and with that in mind, I have to be very honest. There are very few people that I have ever let inside the walls. As much as I try. As much as I work. As much as I want with all of my being to let you see the real me, my walls are often constructed because there have been unsafe people that I have learned to keep at bay. I need to be clear. Healthy walls are not walls. They are boundaries. And, boundaries are good and necessary and worthy. Boundaries should be honored and respected and loved.

Walls are the defense tactics and they are different. Walls require us to dig deep into the well of past wounds and in safe and worthy spaces, place ourselves in opportunities for growth. Be it risking a new job, relationship, conversation or adventure, the ability to scale a wall is dangerous. Every time we look at a wall that needs to be removed and begin pick axing the bricks that are falsely protecting our scared selves, we are brave. With each act of honesty and truth, we not only remove the cold stone of the wall, but we free ourselves from the lie that the fake front is actual protection.

One final thought about walls: they are tricky. I have enough wall experience to know that they have a way of reincarnating themselves in new forms. Just about the time that I think I have found distance from a wall, I am reminded that the wounds that often cause walls are never completely gone. My biggest walls are up because I have be injured in ways that still cause me to scream in pain. No matter how much good interior work I do on these wounds, even when they have been cleaned out, treated, medicated and stitched up, they often leave scars. On this scar tissue, walls tend to multiply like mushrooms on a spring lawn. Our job is to have the mindfulness to know that the scar is there; to not fight the scar (we survived, damnit!). We can see the scar and even recognize the bricks and stones that easily find their way to these tender places, and at the same time, call these moments for what they are. When we are brought back to the places where blood was spilled in the hard seasons of life, we are invited to welcome the treasured few that know the real truth of our lives to help us guard these vulnerable places from hate and anxiety and fear. Because it is in those moments that walls can exist and yet not define. For me, today, that is enough.