Sometimes you don't fully realize where you have been until you have moved on, and can glance backward. Taking a hasty look over my shoulder recently, I did a double take, and shook my head with a mixture of alarming dismay, and great gratitude.
We all have those growing times, regardless of age, and most often the periods of leaps in maturation emerge from weeks, months, or even years of wrestling with unexpected challenges. As the caterpillar morphs into a new being after cocooning, so to do we humans morph into new beings after these personal cocoonings.
Though many might look at my life and assume I was suffering from depression due to single event, the attainment of a certain age, or even the solid settling into peri-menopause, that wasn't what was going on. In fact, I wasn't actually depressed at all. Life simply stopped being as brilliantly hued as it once was, and instead took on a dull appearance, suddenly formless where once there had been shape and texture and clear outlines. What I determined through self-diagnosis was something completely different...
I was Soul Sick.
There had been too many years of caring for others and not myself, too many years of living on the edge of financial crisis, too many years of heartache and struggle as we tried to parent aching hearts into wholeness. There were too many years of relative isolation as I homeschooled, too many years of being judged and quietly criticized by well meaning folks who had NO CLUE how to parent kids from our childrens' backgrounds but had plenty of advice to offer. There were too many soul emptying years of "church work", and not enough Spirit filling times of heart connection.
And too many years of not being truly seen other than for the role you fill.
I know I am not the first person to stop and look at their life and realize there is something not quite right. I live in the midst of what is truly a family beyond description, with love offered up in generous heaps, and wisdom shared at just the right moment. Yet something was missing, and that something was the soul connected me. I was drifting into old and unhealthy ways of thinking from my twenties, and that needed to stop. It wasn't anyone's fault, it just happened. Life pulls us adrift, the rudder gets stuck, the wind doesn't catch the sails any longer. I needed a course correction, I needed time and space to breath, I needed to regroup and recenter myself so that I could find the joy that was becoming more and more elusive.
That is exactly what I did this past three months, my Summer of Me...I stopped. I approached summer very differently this year, insisting that I was not going to play taxi driver multiple times a day, and I was not going to teach for the first summer in all 8 years of homeschooling. I was not going to feel the need to have to "do" and instead decided to spend some time simply "being". I was relatively quiet on social media, electing to pull myself away from much of the negativity shared there. I was also going to try and accomplish this with a minimum of self-inflicted guilt. Yea, that was the hard part :-)
Wow, I had no idea how very much I needed this!
Being intentional about meeting your own needs is hard when you are a mom, and even harder when you are the mom to multiple special needs kids. Somewhere along the line the last 3 or 4 years, as I was working so hard at helping the kids find their voice and their meaning, I lost myself. As everyone else was "becoming", I was stagnating.
My best friend, through hours and hours of deep conversation and insightful observation began the process of helping me see that I mattered, too. My husband has allowed me space and time to get away from the 24/7 role of "mom" and "teacher", something I hadn't realized was as important as it turned out to be. I am Cindy who happens to be a mom and a home educator, not the opposite. My kids, my five singular blessings, have all encouraged and supported me, and literally celebrated my claiming of my own little niche in our lives.
I created a mental list, a prescription if you will, of what might help heal my Sick Soul. I needed music back in my life, something that had always ministered to my heart at its most weary, and our new church has a small choir I have joined and oodles of congregational singing throughout worship. I needed to lose myself in an activity I enjoy, and so I took an iPhone photography course over my Summer of Me and reminded myself that even if I am NOT good at it, that matters little, I can spend hours in great enjoyment anyway.
I also needed to admit that I will forever be the mom of at least one special needs adult who will likely live with us for the remainder of my life, and I needed to create healthier patterns as a caretaker so that I can envision a "whole Cindy" alongside a "whole Kenny". Dominick and I have instituted a practice that will have me out of my "workplace" (home) at least quarterly for a few days, so that my own brain can refresh itself before coming home to regularly be a second brain for Kenny, as well as the girls from time to time. Having an 18 year old whose brain can't help him get to bed on time (last night) or can't even quite set an alarm correctly despite repeated efforts isn't easy. He often can't select appropriate clothing for the weather, he can't cook more than microwave meals, and he can't manage his money despite desperately trying...as he did this week when he decided to spend all of his money replacing a computer, only to recall after my prompting that he had $400 due in the next 3 months or so to various places. All those things he can't do for himself are my job to help him with, and will be forever. That doesn't feel like a burden, but it can be mentally exhausting day after day in ways that I don't always recognize myself.
I have been leading a book study via Skype with my friend's church in Massachusetts on The Book of Joy, based on conversations between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. Another great Rx for my Soul Sickness. The timing of God putting certain influences in our lives at just the right time is amazing. This book and our discussions around it have served to remind me that what I seek is not "fun", nor being "happy", but is something richer and fuller than that...it is Joy with a capital "J".
You know what? This intentional three month sabbatical of mine has literally transformed my heart back into the Cindy I once was!! A couple of weeks ago I realized that even I heard a lilt back in my voice. I was FEELING again, not walking around numb, but instead a genuine warmth had returned, and a love for others had crept back in that had fallen dormant for quite awhile. What a powerful reflection this was for me that I can't love others unless I am actively taking care of myself, even if only in small ways. Laughter bubbles up more, and more importantly, God feels infinitely closer.
This is Joy.
Surprisingly, like a Colorado storm that you hear rustling leaves off in the distance before it surrounds you, blanketing you in cool air with the wind whipping against your cheeks, the desire to write again has enveloped me. What once came so easily, almost bursting to be let out, had gradually faded over the past couple of years. Blog posts felt like work as my Soul Sick self struggled to find its voice, which was drifting further out of reach. Suddenly, the excitement of words on the screen has returned! I am uncertain what that might mean, as I highly doubt I will be writing sermons in the future, and am not sure what life might offer up that is "bloggable", but I know I need to find an outlet for writing again and will be actively pursuing that now.
The Summer of Me is coming to a gradual end, a couple more weeks and we will start hitting the books again, harder than most do. I am bringing a renewed and invigorated Cindy to the kitchen table, and I am eagerly anticipating the wonderful discussions ahead as we all learn and grow together. My Soul Sickness has been kicked to the curb, a months long process which ends in myself declaring myself at least temporarily in remission. I have no doubt that if I am not diligent I may suffer a relapse, but it will be more easily recognized if that happens, and I already have an Rx that will help.
I am me again, and it is well with my soul.