A note about Charity.

When Donnie and I were struggling in our marriage we followed the typical abuse cycle.  We had many really good days that would be followed by not so good days that would be followed by really bad days that then led to empty apologizing which led to good days for a while.

During the good times I would try really hard to forgive and forget the previous bad days.  That is what I thought I needed to do to be a good person, a good wife.  One time, early in our marriage, I even took to memorizing a passage of scripture from the Book of Mormon about charity:
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (Moroni 7:45)  When Donnie and I would disagree, instead of saying something that I’d regret-aka that would make Donnie more angry-I would rehearse the scripture in my mind, take deep breaths and let him walk all over me.  In doing this I honestly though I was being charitable.

charity

But no matter how many times I said the scripture, in my mind and aloud, under my breath, and in my heart, our marriage did not get better.  To me each fight was like a sledge hammer.  Only the hammer did not stay the same size and hurt the same amount each time, it got bigger and more powerful and more damaging.  Every time something bad would happen the hammer would come smashing down with the force of not only the current argument but every argument we had had up to that point.  All of the forgiving and forgetting had not worked.

And I beat myself up for it mercilessly. “Why can’t I just forgive him?!  Why can’t I just let the past go and stop talking about it?  I am an awful awful person.”  So, what did I do?  I dove deeper into the scriptures and articles about marriage and I kept hearing the same thing over and over…don’t bring up the past, let past offenses go, don’t be petty.  And so on.  And I felt defeated, like I would never be a good enough person to only focus on the  fight that was happening at the current moment.  And I beat myself up some more.

When I had finally had enough and was alarmingly close to ending our relationship altogether, we tried professional counseling.  Through the months and months of talking and learning how to be honest and getting stronger I realized something.  Something very important.  I was not the awful awful person I had thought.  I had not been able to let go of the past because the past had been my present.  The past was now.  The past was still happening.  And no amount of ignoring it or trying to forgive it was going to make it go away.  We actually had to change.

Now, I am not saying that there has to be change in someone else for forgiveness to happen.  But there does have to be change.  And for me, to really forgive and forget the pain of what had happened over and over again for so many years, and to be able to stay married to Donnie, we both needed to change.  If he had not chosen to take the journey with me, I would have still found peace and forgiveness because I was changing, but that serenity would have come and our relationship would have ended.  I am so glad that is not what happened!  I also want to add a quick note that I remember all of the things that happened, all of the bad nitty gritty painful icky things.  For me, forgiving and forgetting, does not mean that the majority of our marriage was erased, haha, it means that I can now view those times as a learning experience.  As an integral part of my growth as a human.  And not as a hammer precariously poised over my head, waiting to deliver it’s next blow.

Now, when we disagree about something or have a bad day, it still hurts, but it’s just the hurt of that day, and it’s manageable because I know that we have the tools and the charity to talk it out and come to a place of love and understanding.  It’s an amazingly different feeling.  It’s real love.  Because charity is not being a doormat.  Charity is not forgetting negative situations from the past so that people don’t have to change.  Charity is not sitting back and taking the blows as the sledge hammer grows.  Charity is honest, and it’s powerful, and it’s love and it’s pain that leads to change.

I have relationships in my life that are still run by a hammer.  Relationships that are hard and painful and aren’t changing.  Every day I evaluate how to best radiate charity with those people.  I know they are upset that I won’t just get over and forget the bad things in the past that are the same bad things happening now.  But I’ve tried that.  I tried it for 13 years and it didn’t work.  It was miserable and awful.  And I refuse to go to that place that I know won’t change or fix anything or actually bring a real honest relationship.  Some of these relationships may not make it or may end up being acquaintance type relationships.  Either way, I will know that I showed as much charity as I could by staying true to myself and the hard lessons I learned by trudging through a broken marriage for so many years.  I refuse to forget the powerful lessons that I’ve learned.  The lessons that saved my life and my marriage.

Charity is a powerful gift.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  Thank goodness.  Because I’m certain I would not have learned so much had things been easy.  Dammit.

 

Advertisements

Expelled (but not really).

For the past month I have been assisting at a preschool that Maggie and Will attend.  It’s an amazing preschool.  At first I was tentative to agree to assist because I worried that Maggie and Will would not do as well with their own mother there.  But I decided to be brave and jump in.  The first few weeks were rough for all of the kids.  Learning to sit, to listen, and to follow a routine is hard work.  But things slowly started to fall into place.  A rhythm began.

In the beginning I worried most about Maggie.  She has been headstrong since she learned to get herself around.  Sweet, but stubborn.  Smart.  Physically strong.  But preschool has been so good for her.  She’s slowly learning to sit.  She’s showing a lot more respect.  She’s talking about her feelings more.  She’s listening.

Will has not taken to the routine so well.  One day last week He would not get out of the tent so the teacher went to help him out.  He resisted so much that the teacher almost fell and hurt herself.  After school she suggested that maybe preschool wasn’t right for Will.  And I agree that that preschool is not right for Will.  He’s not ready and Maggie is.

Which causes so much shame.

When I was growing up I was controlled. If I didn’t do what I was supposed to do I was spanked.  When I got too big to spank I was poked and pulled and lectured and felt small and unloved.  When Mandy and Kenzie were little I tried that way of parenting.  I was not a good spanker so I took to flicking them in the head when they wouldn’t listen.  After a solid flick to the forehead they would stop doing what they had been up to and cry and for a second I would feel like “I’ve got this mothering thing down…right?  The flicking is easy, doesn’t hurt much, and then they listen.”  After the flicking I would talk to them, tell them over and over what they did wrong and how stupid it was.  And just when I would think I was clear to move on, I would see it, the defiance in their eyes, and know that flicking them and the lecturing them, was not helping them.

I would immediately be back in my own little kid body with my mom standing over me telling me to go to my room and wait for my dad to get home.  That was the worst, the waiting.  When I look back on my childhood I don’t remember the things I did wrong, I do remember what followed.  While I waited I would get trapped in my mind.  I would think about what I’d done for a split second and then spend the rest of the waiting hell giving myself a lecture.  “Why did you do that?  You know that they are going to get mad and hurt you.  You need to be better.  Better at being good and way better at hiding it when you aren’t.  You are so stupid.  You can’t do anything right.  That’s it, from now on you are going to be silent.  No talking when they are around.  Tomorrow, when you wake up, you are going to be a new person, one that does all the things right, and they are never going to get mad at you again.”

By the time my dad would arrive to deliver the spanking or the poking and the inevitable lecture, I would seethe with hate.  Hate for him, for myself, for being caught, for failing.  And as he would talk, which he always did, I would close my ears from the inside and dwell on my own thoughts.  I would look straight into his eyes as mine filled with tears and I would seal my mouth shut like the lid on a bottle of neglected super glue.  With my mouth closed and my jaw clenched, I could say whatever I wanted in my head.  If I was in trouble for something I’d actually done I would chant over and over “I know, I know, I know. I’m stupid.  I’m stupid.”  If I was enduring the punishment for something I hadn’t done my mind would rehearse “You don’t know anything about me.  You don’t know anything about me.  I hate you”, over and over and over.  It drove my Dad nutty when I would just stand there and cry and not say anything.  He would tell me that if I wanted to cry he would give me a reason to and then he would ask me question after question.  I would stand, resolute, trapped in my head listening to my own yelling thoughts.

After years of that cycle I started becoming a really good liar.  Whether I had done something wrong or not I would lie.  I did not trust that I could tell the truth.  I did not trust that it even mattered what the truth was.  I developed a healthy fear for not only my parents but adults in general.  By the time I got into kindergarten I was SO afraid of adults that I would not ask to go to the bathroom because I didn’t want to accidentally ask at the wrong time and get in trouble.  So, I peed my pants.  Quite a few times.  I knew that I needed to go, but I always wanted to just wait until I got home.

When I started to see those things in my own kids…their ability to talk to me, to feel safe showing emotion, to feel like a person….disappearing, when they’d done something wrong, I knew I needed to change the way I interacted with them.

Since then I’ve done a lot of studying and reading and changing and trying and working.  I’ve settled into a better way to respond when they aren’t perfect little angels.  I’ve realized that they aren’t meant to be perfect little angels.  That they are here to make mistakes and learn from them, just like I am.

This change has brought a lot of criticism on me.  A LOT.  My kids are not robots.  They don’t sit and fold their arms and be quiet and always do exactly as they are told right away.  But they are good kids.  They are KIDS for crying out loud.  Sometimes they hit each other.  Sometimes they make messes.  They make mistakes.  They draw on walls.  They say poop and butt and call each other names.

But you know what they don’t do…lie to me about it.  They also don’t hide their feelings.  If they are angry, they tell me.  If they are sad or scared or afraid, they tell me.  If they make a mistake, they tell me.  I am not trying to be there best friend, I still want to be their mother, but every time they come to me when they have made a mistake or are struggling, I am reminded that, although incredibly difficult and often frowned upon, the way I am fostering a relationship with my kids is the right one for me.

A year and a half ago one of my brothers called and told me that because of the way I parent my kids, he would not feel comfortable with them in his home.  I was devastated.  A part of me that I’d worked so hard to change and foster and strengthen, had just been trampled on and crushed.  I immediately doubted my previous convictions.  I spent months re-examining what I was doing.  I re-read some of my most trusted parenting resources.  I prayed.  I cried.  I worried.  I doubted.

In the end I came back to myself.  I realized that I didn’t want the relationship with my kids that my brother has with his.

But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t still doubt myself sometimes.  Because for years I only knew one way of parenting…control and fear.  And when I decided that that wasn’t right for me or my kids, I had to fight to learn and maintain new habits and reactions.  And there are still so many people who want me to go back there.  Who are almost begging me to…because they want to be able to control my kids with my permission.

So, when Will was expelled from preschool last week (not really, I just think it’s kinda funny to say it that way because, don’t ya know it, Tony Hawk was also expelled from preschool), I heard all of the familiar voices.  I head the voices saying “I told you so.”  I heard the voices saying “If you would just get control of that kid…”  I heard the voices saying, “Now you’re finally going to start spanking, right?!”  And I panicked a little.  I came home and the next time Will did something out of sorts, I threatened to spank him, because for once I just wanted people to like Will…and me.  The pile of all the years of control and “this is how you SHOULD parent your kids” was too much.  I couldn’t get out from under it, I couldn’t make it go away.

And then I took a step back, again.  I took some deep breathes, went for a walk, did some yoga, and reminded myself of one crucial thing.  Will is Will.  Will isn’t any other kid, and he’s not supposed to be.  And Will only has one Mom, and it’s me.  I realized that Will didn’t fail at preschool or being a good kid, he simply needs to be doing other activities right now.  And that is perfectly imperfect, just like Will.

I would like to say that because of this experience I will never doubt my parenting abilities again but I know that isn’t true.  I will however, stay really grateful that I still remember what it was like to be a kid and I will do everything I can to make sure that my children can experience their childhoods knowing that no matter what, they can always come to me, and I love them.  I will set boundaries with my children but I will do my best to stay calm and not use hitting, flicking, or pinching as a consequence for their actions.  I will guide them when needed and let natural consequences be their teachers.

I am me.  Will is Will.  And that is exactly why life is so amazing.

To continue to process my feelings on this I envisioned a drawing for Will.  Here it is…
I even let him color in the words himself.  Now to get it framed!  Love you Will, just as you are!

will-color

Betrayal.

betray

Please please please be gentle with this post and please know that I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings.  For some reason I am terrified to push publish on this one….

After Donnie and I were married and Mandy was born, Donnie and I decided to go back to school.  I flip flopped around about what my major would be and finally decided to get a degree in Art.  During this time we were really poor and struggling…so as soon as I bought my first nice camera I started trying to book sessions taking portraits, so we could maybe pay more of our bills.  When we both graduated from school and moved to St. George I thought things would get a little quieter for me and my business.  Donnie had a “real job” and I simply assumed it would pay the bills.  Well, it didn’t quite, so I took on more and more work.

As our financial situation became increasingly desperate I started taking on any job I could find.  I took pictures of people that I knew from the get go were not going to be respectful clients.  I did design work for a city department that nit picked and micromanaged my work until it was ridiculously ugly and not something I considered art anymore.  I taught classes in the evenings to some awesome people (who I’m still friends with) and some people who complained and nagged and I dreaded seeing each week.  By the time we left St. George I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be an artist anymore.  It seemed to me that as soon as money was involved I could no longer express myself but became a slave to whoever my client was at the time.  Art became scary.  Art became anxiety inducing and dreaded.  I felt betrayed by art.

So basically, I quit.  I tucked my camera away safely in its expensive backpack and only took it out on the rare occasion that  I decided to take portraits as a gift or take fall pictures of my own kids.

Then, after a few years of keeping my artistic abilities tucked away, safely secured where they couldn’t be exploited, I started drawing.  And I liked it. A lot.  I could draw whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  I didn’t feel stressed about it or pressured or expected to do it.

Until I started selling it again.

Then, the requests immediately started (not commissioned pieces requests but requests for what I should make available in my shop)…you need to draw a girl with this length of hair…you should draw a few children…your shop needs more diversity…you haven’t done any animal portraits yet, do some of those…why aren’t there guys in your shop…I don’t see any with spiked hair….what about adding the words this way….and on and on.  When I got my first request, for a guy with a specific look, I immediately took on the job and made the “perfect” portrait, just what this person wanted.  And guess what, they didn’t buy one, I never heard from them again.  I hadn’t wanted to draw that specific portrait at that specific time, but I’d done it, to try to make sure someone else liked what I was doing, to make sure that person would have a positive experience with my “company”.  But doing what they wanted instead of what I need to do, hadn’t worked out.  And then it happened again…and again.  And while I had at first been excited and flattered by the requests, drawing started to feel like a chore, like a responsibility, like a “should”.  I started to feel like I would never have enough time to draw what everyone wanted and that even if I did some of those drawings would never be bought or sold.  I felt like I’d failed.  I felt betrayed by art…again.

So what did I do…I quit.  Again.  I took some time off from my art.  I tucked away my pens and pencils and paper into their special waterproof bag and the bag secured a corner of my room where it wouldn’t be seen or disturbed.  And I felt sad.

Then, a few days ago I read an amazing book by Glennon (you can buy it here).  In the book she talked about how she’d spent a good portion of her life betraying herself, her own thoughts and feelings, needs and wants.  And I realized something.  I hadn’t been betrayed by art.  I had betrayed myself.  I had stopped listening to the craving inside me to photograph and to draw and instead I’d started filling other peoples’ cravings for art.  But that is not what art is about.  Art is about uniqueness and personality and individuality.  Art is about expression and love and wholeness and authenticity.  My art needs to be about what I see and experience.  My art needs to be mine.

artis

Now, don’t get me wrong here…I still want suggestions and thoughts and requests, because art is also about community and collaboration and connection and people and friends.  I just need to stay true to myself and my craft.  So, if you make a request and don’t immediately see its fruits in my shop, it’s not because I don’t like you or that your suggestion wasn’t a good one…it’s because I didn’t feel like that was the next best thing for me to do.  I don’t want to quit art anymore, because I need it, and it needs me.  Instead I am going to do my best not to betray myself.  I’m going to do my best to continue to create when I feel moved by something, when I feel like my heart may explode if I don’t put onto paper the feelings that are burning inside of it.  I’m going to do my best to work with clients who respect me.  I’m going to draw and photograph when I feel like it’s right and I’m going to take breaks when I know I need to.  I’m going to do my best not to betray myself anymore.  I probably still will sometimes, but I am learning more and more each day what it feels like to listen to my inner voice and that inner voice is saying that art is part of me.

Hello again…art.