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Reflections at 40

May 22, 2014

DSC_2861I turned forty over the weekend.  It wasn’t one of those freaking out, oh my goodness, I’m getting old kinda birthdays.  It felt a bit more like a ginourmous celebration—“I’m-forty–what-an-accomplishment–let’s-put-the-baby/small-children-thirties-behind-me-and-conquer” type of birthdays.  I suppose it helps that Curtis has been forty for quite a while now, so forty seems just like the new thirty…no existential crisis or wondering what I am doing with my life here.  Bring on the next ten years!

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Coincidently (and you know how I find coincidences not very coincidental, but rather a glimpse into the whole instead of the sliver), I am reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  My intention was to read it in April, with the SheLoves book club, but that didn’t happen.  Even though April is long gone, I decided to read through it again (I read it for the first time in January).

I remember thinking the first time I read it rather highly myself.  “I must be living a wholehearted life,”  I thought.  “I really don’t struggle with shame.”  For some reason, I am able to read a little more honestly this time.  Maybe it is because I have felt shame more recently than I did the first time I read it.  Maybe it is because I am not as stressed and I can look at things more honestly.  Maybe it’s because I started really thinking about what really makes me feel two inches tall and a failure, instead of just looking at the areas Brown wrote about in the book.  Regardless, I am realizing that I too, can suffer from shame.  My frequent saying, “You are enough,” is self-talk to remind myself that I am enough.  I don’t need to be more than human.

I never thought of myself as a perfectionist.  My sister, she was the perfectionist.  I, on the other hand, well, I was fine with being ok or good.  Ordinary made me happy (thus the name of this blog).  I didn’t need to be extraordinary—I was happy being a good hurdler/runner in high school, a good singer in choir, a good student at school, a good teacher at work.  I am happy with a nice house, a car that runs, and a fine appearance.  I didn’t feel the drive to be the best or be perfect–too much work, too much risk to be the best.  Good is good enough for me.

But it’s not.  It’s true, I was not a perfectionist about those things I listed above.  One of my first revelations of being forty though is that I am perfectionist.  I am not immune from feeling like I need to be perfect in order for others to like me, it’s just that it didn’t take the form that I was looking for.

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According to Brown, the top two areas women feel shame (shame being different than guilt.  Guilt goads us into changing so there is a positive aspect of it.  Shame makes me want to curl up in a ball in bed, lock the door, and hide for awhile–or else come out fighting) are mothering and their appearance.  I’ve known that I am as susceptible to the “I’m not a good mother” syndrome as much as the next mother.  The appearance really doesn’t faze me–I don’t worry about having a belly that tells the story of three children or having too much cellulite or stretch marks or not looking like I did when I was 20 or getting some wrinkles or that early age spot on my face.  Those are all ok.  Those things all tell my story.  My stretch marks are from my running days in high school, when I was running a lot and growing fast.  My belly bears testament to my three beautiful children and how they have changed every bit of my life.

I struggle with shame in other areas, the most pertinent one to this conversation being not being good enough.  While this seems broad, it’s a little more focused than it seems.  I worry I am not good enough at following the rules.  Especially binding are the rules set out in the Bible–in particular, Jesus’s words in the Sermon of the Mount.  I strive to do as Jesus asks of me.  I try to respond gently, to not judge, and to not worry.  I try to be humble and not arrogant (oh yes, friends, I do know everything!).  🙂  Any guesses how that works out?  Not so well.  So I feel shame because I got frustrated with a child who whined one time to many about not knowing what to eat for breakfast, yet again, or the child who moaned once again about having to go to school.  There’s the impatience felt because my husband has to work late sometimes or the not so gentle response to the child who has yelled that he hates me, he hates my all my cooking, and he hates my iPad.  (ok, that last one didn’t hurt my feelings at all).  Regardless, I am not doing good enough, I feel, when I feel frazzled about juggling three kids’ schedules.  I feel shame that I am not a good enough person, that I am not reflecting the image of Jesus.

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My daughter worries about things.  She thinks things through and wonders what if? frequently.  What if there is a fire, mom?  What if I fall off this ladder, dad?  What if I miss a question on the test?  What if I miss the score goal?  What if I mess up?  Will others still like me?  Will I be teased?

As I read Daring Greatly, I worry about my worrier (I wonder where she gets it from?).  Is she so scared of being vulnerable she is being driven by shame and fear?  What am I modeling for her when I send myself into the spiral of “a real/good Christian wouldn’t______________” (get frazzled, frustrated, impatient, lose her cool, complain, and think she knows everything?”  I’m working to talk with her, that no matter what, her real friends will love her even if she misses that soccer goal or messes up on occasion.  In fact, they may even love her better.  It’s a hard lesson to learn though, no matter what a great family you may have.  We are scared someday the love just may all dry up.

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So for forty, I am working at letting it all go.  I am recognizing I have perfectionist tendencies at times.  I am trying to give myself a little more grace when I don’t live to the impossible standards I have for myself.  As I look at people who appear to socially do everything right, those who don’t complain or sometimes sound like a bit opinionated, I see them as real people, who either don’t have those as traits as part of their personality or who struggle with something else.  I am not God, I can’t be perfect.  I’m not giving myself permission to stop striving to be made into someone who is more like Jesus, I am only recognizing that I will never be just like Jesus, and that’s ok.  People need more Melani in the world, not more of anyone else.  I am a beloved child of God.  We are all beloved children of God.

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