You can’t run on gratitude alone.

You can’t run on gratitude alone. I knew this already, but I’m learning it again. All the heartfelt thanks in the world are not going to make up for the lost sleep, poor food choices, and exhaustion.

It feels good to receive heartfelt thanks. Then it gets awkward, watching a tear of gratitude trickle down someone’s cheek. They’d rather not be crying, you’d really rather they didn’t. Neither of you wanted to be in this position in the first place, they didn’t really want you to bring them dinner, they’d rather have their home, their own kitchen, their own dishes.

Sometimes they want to share their experience with you. You’re told stories that sound like apocalyptic Hollywood plots: fireballs racing down the street as you want the children. People make confessions of guilt over the beta fish who was left behind, I grabbed the baby, but the smoke was too thick to grab the fish. What do you say to that? I’m glad you grabbed the baby, sorry about the fish. 

You don’t really know what to say. Taking a meal to a family that has lost everything is very different than taking a meal to a family with a new baby. With the new baby, it is usually a joyous (if somewhat exhausting) occasion. With the loss of all worldly possessions, there is the uncomfortable moment when you have to go home, because you still have a place to go home to.

So home you go, feeling somewhat guilty that your house wasn’t destroyed. Survivor’s guilt is a real thing. It sits with you uncomfortably. Why was your town spared the devastation? You have an overwhelming desire to punch anyone who suggests it was karma, or worse, the Christian Science equivalent, of not doing their prayerful work, as if enough aligning one’s thought with God, would make a difference. Hundreds of acres were destroyed, why didn’t the wind blow your way? You’re not a better person than they are, nor are you any worse, seriously, who makes these judgment calls anyway? Sure, everything was covered in an inconvenient layer of thick ash, but it is just that, inconvenient (and toxic), but you still have a place to live.

The entire exchange is awkward, but at the end of the day, you’re in a position to help, so you do. It is okay to receive help. It is okay to provide help. It is okay to take care of yourself, because if you don’t help yourself, you won’t be in a position to help anyone else. I need this taped on my fridge in foot high letters, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, otherwise you are USELESS to others. 

Lesson clearly still not learned.

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I’ve “done enough” and I’m going to do more

Another week, another meal train. More meals made for a family that is not my own. Another night of pasta and whatever vegetables we happen to have in the fridge for dinner so someone else can have a freshly made pot roast and veggies or baked ziti and a salad. Brownies for dessert, something chocolate is a must at times like these. Another bag of quick snacks and not-super-perishable goods put together in a reusable grocery bag that I don’t intend to get back, and a new box of super-soft kleenex, don’t forget the kleenex.

Kleenex are important, almost as important as the brownies. There will be tears. Plenty of tears. Theirs of gratitude, yours ugly-crying in the car later, after you’ve dropped off the meal. Tears of exhaustion, mental, physical, emotional. Acknowledging that there is so much more to do, and you can’t do it all, and you feel helpless, and slightly ill.

People asking how you’re doing, you’re doing ok, you still have a house. You’re not really okay though. When your phone pings from the police/sheriff updates your heart skips a beat. Your heart as skipped quite a few beats in the last few weeks. First the evacuation orders pinged out, then more, finally some re-entry updates, and then at long last, “this street will be blocked off for Halloween” notification. Doesn’t matter, the conditioned response is the same: panic, disaster, are we next?

There is more to do. There is always more to do. “Can you set up another meal train?” It isn’t really a question. It is coming from someone else who is also over-taxed and carefully balancing the emotional needs of many, including themselves. “You’ve done such a good job with the others, thank you, I really appreciate it.” So you set one up, and then start to feel guilt when no one signs up for food in the first week, or the second… The family needs support. So you make another meal (or two, or three) and email around the link again, reminding people: this family needs dinner!

People need dinner. They need nourishment. They need support. People don’t need anymore stuff. The stuff sits in boxes and bags around their tiny temporary living quarters. This isn’t where they’re going to stay for more than a few weeks, at most, if they’re lucky. They don’t want to get too comfortable, just comfortable enough. Besides, they may have to leave in a hurry, again.

You see the stuff outside, piled under a tarp, scattered and somewhat exposed to the elements. Piles of good intentions. You feel overwhelmed on their behalf. If there was something more you could do to help, but what? You can’t fight everyone’s battles for them.

You want to help, but not overwhelm. You want to help, but you also realize the only reason you know them so well now is because you’ve been asked to assist them, and under every day circumstances you’d likely never exchange more than a polite “hello” or a brief conversation about the weather.

Is this karma or serendipity? Were our lives fated to be intertwined for a few brief weeks so I could help them through a tragedy, or is this merely happy happenstance that we both participate in a community that cares deeply for one another? I prefer serendipity. To suggest that this tragedy was somehow fate is too horrible for words.

Then there are all the other things, life does not stand still for tragedy, it goes on. There are birthday parties to attend, field trips to chaperone, work obligations to fulfuill, home repairs to make, events to coordinate, meetings to attend, another email to reply to, a text from the outside world intruding, someone who is wondering why I haven’t done some unimportant thing in a timely manner and I just want to scream at them, and in the midst of all that, there are still children who need love and support.

Things are far from returning to normal. My husband is out for work and will not be home until well past the children’s bedtime. The little one is anxious: “is Daddy somewhere safe?” He persists until he and Daddy can exchange selfies. Daddy is safe, or as safe as he can be in a car driving on a highway, but I don’t tell the little one that. Later, after the little one is in bed, I check my phone, he is still safe.

The little one has lingering anxiety issues from our evacuation talks. Several friends from the play yard at school lost everything. I’ve done a lot of reassuring and a lot of snuggling. I would not leave you at school if I didn’t feel it was safe. If it was unsafe, school would be closed. If something happened to make it unsafe, your teachers would do their best to make sure you’re OK. For Real. Thankfully the little one is sleeping through the night. I’m still waking up some nights, drenched in sweat, wide awake. There is the hum of the ceiling fan and sometimes some light snoring from my husband.

We are safe. I have done enough. I am doing to do more, but first I have to go grocery shopping, again.

“You’ve done enough.”

1755 Lisbon earthquake via wikipedia

I’m thankful to live in a community that, when you have to make a phone call saying “This family has been displaced, and lost everything to the horrific natural disaster” the immediate reply is “What can I do to help?” Once the needs were known, people followed up with concrete action: bringing meals, helping to arrange alternative housing, gift cards, donations of clothing, toys, money, and household items.

The practical response of the community is so different from what I experienced during my time in Christian Science. If a someone lost their home to a natural disaster, they clearly hadn’t done their protective prayerful work. If their home survived, then clearly they were more spiritually minded than those who had lost everything. As if somehow, it was their thought influencing the hurricane, wildfire or tornado that devastated the area.

The area where we live was recently devastated by a series of horrific natural disasters. I didn’t sleep for a week as evacuation orders pinged on my phone, and I tried to wrap my head around what was unfolding around me, and I was in a safe area. I have friends who lost everything, their homes, businesses, and cars.

I was tasked with helping the teacher call families, to check in and see how people were doing, where people were going, and to see how the community could help. Together we tracked down all the families on the list, checking in to see where they were, what they needed, and how we could help. The community came together to help.

At the end of the first week I was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally, but I kept going. I still had a house, I was okay, I was in a position to help. Then, I got an email for yet another meal train, and replied “I’d love to sign up for something, but I need to get groceries first!” the woman organizing the meal train emailed back, “don’t worry about it, you’ve done enough!

“You’ve done enough!”

I cried. In the Christian Science culture you can never do enough. There is always room to strive for a better understanding of Christian Science. If you correct your thought enough, you can change the world and move mountains. You can’t acknowledge you’re exhausted, that is giving power to error. I was still standing, I still had a home, surely I could do something more to help.

Then someone else told me that I had “done enough” and I needed to “take a break.”  This time it was a woman housing people who had lost everything, and organizing baking for a first responder’s breakfast (among so many other things). I had just dropped off six dozen muffins, and was apologizing for not having made more. “It is fine, you’ve done enough.”

I’m coming to terms with what “done enough” means. For me, for now, it means I am stepping back and taking care of myself and my family, working on reestablishing routines and a new sense of  normal. Our area will be in recovery mode for years, there are be plenty more opportunities to help.

I remind myself, I’m not the only one out there helping, the community outpouring of support has been amazing, and I can’t help others if I am too exhausted to help myself.


image via wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_disaster

I took my wedding dress out of the protective storage box today

I took my wedding dress out of the protective storage box today. It looked beautiful in the box, neatly laid out, it was everything my twenty-two year old self had dreamed of. It was strapless, with some beading, white. The first time I put it on, it made me feel like a princess, I felt amazing in it. My mother, who had poo-poohed all the other dresses said I looked radiant.

I took my wedding dress out of the protective storage box today. I tried it on for the first time in nearly ten years. A lot has happened in those years: two children, three moves, losses, gains. Even though it had been sitting in a box for nearly ten years, the beading was coming loose. The polyester was scratchy, the tulle was rumpled. The dress no longer made me feel like a princess, it felt awkward and cheap.

I took my wedding dress out of the protective storage box today. I had initially thought about donating it to a charity that turned wedding dresses into angel gowns, beautiful custom made gown for final photos and for burial services, for infants that did not survive. The polyester against my skin turned me off, I wouldn’t want to wrap a baby in it.

I took my wedding dress out of the protective storage box today. I was going to put it into a plastic bag and donate it to charity, but that felt wrong. I’m still going to donate it to charity, there’s a local second hand shop that supports a hospice, it will go there, but not crammed into a plastic bag. I’ve carefully placed it back in the protective storage box instead, it looked like a corpse being neatly laid out in a coffin.

I took my wedding dress out of the protective storage box today. It once brought me great joy, but I’ve moved on from being twenty-two, wrapped up in the mythical idea of a perfect wedding. Other things bring me great joy now, and far more often. I’d rather have a bouquet of dandelions from my children decorating the dining room table, and have the dress move, in the hopes that it brings great joy to someone else.

I took my wedding dress out of the protective storage box today. I have mixed feelings about this. Would it have been better to leave it there and let it go?

the ego is reborn in a symphony of phenomena

I was going to write a blog post today, but as soon as I thought I had a few moments, I heard a little voice announcing “I need sharper scissors” and then another voice “I’ll go get the big kitchen scissors” and then the first voice saying “No, no, I cut this myself.” Then there was the noise of cardboard being cut, and I walked in to see the little voice cutting dangerously close to it’s fingers.

We had a talk about scissor safety. I think they are building cars.

I’ve had an interesting few weeks break from blogging. Some highlights in no particular order:

    • I tried to read a book about mindful self-compassion, and came to the conclusion the most compassionate thing I could do was to stop reading the book.
    • I’ve tried to practice “being present” (although I’m still not totally sure what that means). I’ve also tried to step back and think more big-picture: “will this matter in five minutes?” Usually not, but sometimes it means we will get to pick up little bits of paper confetti cut from super-fast paper airplanes.

e0d3political-pictures-dalai-lama-i-mean-kindness

    • I’ve been working with the little ones on boundaries, consent, and personal space. This is an on-going process.
    • I’ve started keeping a journal, not daily, but every 2-3 days (when I can find a few moments) to write down thoughts, feelings, challenges, and highlights of the day as a way of keeping track of issues I’m working on tackling. I’ve made progress on some things, while other areas are stagnant.
    • Eventually I’ll get back to The Founding of the Science of Spirit but as another person who is reading it said “I read the chapter twice now and it is totally over my head!” I’m not sure if it is over my head because of truly deep insights, or if I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it because it is nonsense. I feel it could go either way.
    • A close Christian Science friend recently confided they were having health issues and seeking medical care. They needed someone to talk to as they didn’t feel comfortable sharing their struggles with their church community. This is a perfect example of Christian Science in action.

I thought I was going to have more time after the scissor safety talk, but I was wrong. Someone is hungry and wants cheese.

My Windowsill

Grime lives on my windowsill
And forgotten cheerios
Some flies
That did not escape the blinds
And a spider,
Still very much alive
A puddle of orange juice
From a sippy cup
That should never
Have left the kitchen
Mixed with dust bunnies
Cleaning is pointless
Until my children move out

Inspired by Karen, the Madcap CS and originally left as comment on her post. 

the uneasy détente with the elephant: life “after” Christian Science

The other day at drop off I was chatting with some other mothers about how we spend our childfree mornings while our little ones are at school. The usual errands, cleaning, the occasional manicure or massage, sometimes a project, or various appointments. When we get back we compare notes on what we managed to accomplish, some “made it to Costco and back!” others managed to make it to yoga, or to meet with a friend for coffee. I wrote this blog post, and worked on another in-the-works ex-Christian Science project.

I don’t really talk about what I do outside the ex-Christian Science Facebook group, and my circle of friends who are former Christian Scientists themselves. It is unlikely that my work on kind-ism will ever grace my resume, or that the other project will either.

I am ashamed that I spent so much time living Christian Science, that I believed it. In some ways I am embarrassed that I am now devoting time to it, even if it is in new, different ways, offering support and resources for those who are leaving — or who have left. There are days I have considered quitting this blog all together.

I don’t want to become the Anti-Ms. Eddy, with a voluminous tome attributed to me. I started this blog to help sort out my thoughts, helping people was secondary. I’m writing about what I know, what I’ve learned, what I’ve discovered, and what I feel. Writing helps me to clarify my thoughts, and after so many years of being told how to believe I have a lot of thoughts to clarify, but at the same time I’m hoping this blog will move on, and I’m hoping the other project will help me do that.

There are days when I feel like my ex-Christian Science projects have taken over my life, this blog, and I have to remind myself that my other project are only a tiny part of what I do, and while I feel passionately about it, I’m not being paid, so I should ration my time and energy wisely. I’m a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, granddaughter, friend, participant in society at large, and yes, all those roles take a fair bit of work. I don’t just write a blog, I cook, I clean, I garden, I sew, I bake, I encourage, I nurture, I have a black thumb of death. I build things, create things, destroy things.

Christian Science sits like the elephant in the living room, we shovel out the shit, we tiptoe around it paying lip service to the idea of respecting the other’s beliefs, but really, we want the elephant out of our living room.

Every time I schedule an appointment for the children the elephant second guesses my decisions. Every time I give them their daily multi-vitamin the elephant taunts me. I don’t know how to get the elephant to leave. I am making the best decisions I can about my care, and that of my children, and yet, there sits the elephant. Even if I was to “out” myself as an ex-Christian Science activist I don’t think I’d ever be free of the years of Christian Science programming and propaganda.

I left Christian Science for so many reasons, the largest one being my children. I’ve heard of too many women, often mothers of young children, die from undisclosed problems. I’ve seen too many failed healings to feel comfortable raising my children in Christian Science. My children are also the reason I tend to keep my activities (like this blog) quiet. I still have family and loved ones who are deep, deep into Christian Science, and I know on some level they would feel very hurt by my actions. They are aware that we don’t actively practice, that we turn to “western medicine” to solve our health problems, and that we’ve chosen not to attend church. They are disappointed.

I’m disappointed too. I’m disappointed I don’t have the courage to tell more people about this blog and my other activities. I’m disappointed that I’m scared to stand up to them and tell them how I really feel about Christian Science. Instead I am stuck in an uneasy détente with an elephant that I would much rather defenestrate than have dinner with.

Hopefully that will change.