The most valuable me

I had this amazing revelation this week. I realized a truth I had never completely believed. I felt feelings I had never known possible. It blew my mind. It’s still blowing my mind. It’s simple and basic yet somehow, I didn’t experience it until now. And I imagine I will go deeper into this belief as I grow older but to truly have my eyes opened for what feels like the first time, man, that’s something special.

So what the heck am I even talking about?

Me.

My value.

I remember being a child and doing chores and hoping that I did them well enough to gain approval from my parents. I would anxiously wait while my father checked my bedroom for dust or toys that were out of place. I held my breath as I stared at his face, interpreting every muscle movement. Are his eyes happy? Is his brow creased? Does his body movement convey joy or did I do a poor job? And whatever his response was, meant I had increased or decreased my worth with him. I interpreted our relationship to be wholly dependent upon my ability to please him, to behave in a specific manner and to accomplish tasks to his satisfaction.

As a teenager and into my twenties, I was surrounded by “friends” who partied and did drugs. Our lives were solely intertwined for the sake of using. Our connectedness was based on our desire to get high and our actions reflected that. We were kind to those we could get drugs from. We pretended to like people who gave us freebies. If someone’s parents had an unlocked liquor cabinet, well they became our new best friend. The first person to have a car became our favorite acquaintance. My clouded mind and belief system led me to find value in those that had things to offer me and I only felt desirable if I had something to offer others.

As a young woman, I believed that the best and easiest thing I had to offer was my body. Although society is shifting, when I was growing up, it was common to see women get what they wanted by sleeping with men. Not only could I obtain tangible items by letting men use me, I thought maybe I could earn the intangible gifts of love and emotional intimacy. The more I let myself be taken advantage of, the more I affirmed my lack of importance.

Even in the workplace, I found my truth to hold up. A valuable employee is one who performs well, who brings in money, who recruits more customers and who behaves in a specific manner. Once those things stop, the job usually ends. And as a consumer, companies treat those with larger bank accounts with more regard. A fancy car implies a more valuable human. Name brand clothes must mean something. Aesthetics become an asset. Everything and every moment is defined by external factors.

And so my brain and my heart have spent a long time attempting to earn my place in life. Good deeds on top of following the rules were just some ways I could be important. Giving of myself til I had nothing left. Sacrificing all of myself for anyone. Not understanding how to engage with someone simply because they’re a human. Not believing anyone would care for me outside of what I could do for them.

Yet here I am. Five weeks into the most helpless and incapable time of my life and people still show up. Not everyone, but enough. I have never had nothing to offer. I have always been able to strive and provide and help.

I thought maybe people liked me because I am a valuable massage therapist. Or maybe I’m a good friend because I always bring yummy snacks to events. I love lending a hand and am always good at contributing to others. Maybe that’s what has gained me access into people’s lives. Whatever it was, it was always material.

But I haven’t been able to work. I can’t help out. I don’t have anything to offer anyone right now but me. My heart. My words. My compassion. I am offering up what has always been the least valuable parts of me and somehow, I still see people showing up. Somehow, I find myself feeling valuable. It’s crazy to some I know. If you grew up being told you were important just by being born, then this whole post might not resonate with you. But I didn’t.

The most treasured version of me has nothing to do with things and in turn, the most priceless parts of others is singularly connected to them just existing. While I find sadness in reflecting on a life lived with such empty expectations and connections, I am even more overcome with anticipation for a future lived to the fullest with a perspective rooted in truth about the most valuable me.

I am not bored

Today marks four weeks since my ORIF (open reduction internal fixation) to repair the three breaks in my ankle. I am one week out of my cast and three weeks away from the possibility of driving again.

The other day my husband asked me if I was going crazy yet. This question, along with many other inquiries about my “suffering” have become pretty common. Everyone assumes that this season of physical brokenness, no working and depending on others is enough to drive a person mad. To be honest, I would’ve assumed the same thing prior to this experience. If you told me I would be out of work, unable to lift weights, have to rely on people to leave my house and ask for help with simple tasks, I would have freaked out. The thought of that used to make me feel helpless and scared. I too felt sorry for someone going through something like this.

When my son was born, I was essentially a single mom. While his dad was around physically (sometimes), he was very absent emotionally and financially. I lived in a state with no family and almost no friends. I learned very quickly that I was going to need to be self sufficient for myself and for my son. I became the dad and mom, the provider, the cuddler and the disciplinarian. I worked as many jobs as I had to while also attending college. I loved feeling like I was taking care of business, that I was handling things, that I was in charge, that I had everything under control. I decided that I could not trust anyone to take care of me. If I wanted something done, I needed to do it. Delegating tasks only added to my frustration as I would go after others and redo whatever it was I had requested they do. Basically I was an island with a “no trespassing” sign up and my son was the only visitor allowed to stop by.

Six years ago, I married the love of my life. A man I trust. A man I believe will never truly let me down. Obviously he disappoints me when he says he will do chores around the house and forgets but I am talking about the real deep stuff. I know he will be faithful to me, I see his care for me, his heart for me and my son. I’ve seen him cry over my tears. I’ve heard him pray for me. I’ve seen him invest time and energy into our family. Yet somehow, I still kept a slight wall up. I still believed that I was separate from him in many ways. I still found myself trying to be the sole caregiver. Trying to take over everything. Trying to be the strong alpha and also the soft omega.

Growing up, I had many reasons to harden my heart. I felt a lifetime of betrayals before I even became an adult. Because of my lack of belief in others, I grew into an adult who made decisions that only solidified my thought process. I found myself in relationships with self-centered people who lied to me. I was a selfish and deceitful person so this shouldn’t have been shocking. I felt like the world was indifferent to my suffering. I felt undeserving of care and grace.

So back to the original question, “am I going stir crazy yet?” and the answer is an abounding no. I am not bored. I am not even close to frustrated. I don’t even understand how I was functioning before. My schedule was overflowing with things before I broke my ankle. A typical day included an hour of Crossfit, two hours of roller derby practice, five or six hours of massage, some house cleaning and chores, maybe some errands and grocery shopping and sometimes (not every day), a shower.

In the past four week, I have spent hours writing, resting, spending time with my husband and family and friends. And not time doing activities but time spent talking, truly engaging, growing closer to the people I care about. I have had countless moments of true helplessness where I humbled myself and allowed others to care for me. I have found peace with the calm. I am not counting down the moments til I can fill my schedule back up. I am embracing this time of healing. This season of physical brokenness that revealed an internal fracturing of my spirit. I am watching my bones and body heal as I sense my heart also going along on this restoration journey.

I think it’s easy to focus our eyes on the end goal. To anticipate the moment when our suffering is over and we can resume our existence. But life didn’t stop when I broke my ankle. Vitality doesn’t stop in the suffering. Life is always happening and I don’t want to miss a single moment. I’m more alive now than I’ve ever been.

Wise investments

My whole life I have been a social person. I was one of those kids who was “friends” with everyone in school. I didn’t have one set squad as they call it now (I’m old and I don’t even remember what we called it back then). I also had non existent self esteem so I found myself quickly conforming to others behaviors and interest in order to fit in. I became a professional chameleon.

In my late teens and into my twenties, my identity was so lost in others that I had no personal dreams or goals. I was just doing whatever and I didn’t even know it. I had no idea who was using me, who I could trust, who I was using and who was a real friend. I am sure people tried to be true and genuine with me but I imagine I pushed them away or ran from them. Authenticity was terrifying.

In 2007, I became a licensed massage therapist. I loved being around people, sharing in their lives and being able to help them feel better. It quickly became apparent to me that I was more than a body worker. I found clients sharing their deepest hurts and fears with me. Asking me to help them pick out their engagement ring for their soon to be fiancé. I got to know them and their families intimately. I became someone that a lot of them depended on for advice and counsel. I found myself spending time outside of appointments pouring into them, their interests, their dreams. I found myself caught up in hundreds of people’s lives.

For the longest time, I felt happy to do that. My life was way more comfortable belonging to others. I didn’t mind troubleshooting other peoples issues. If my brain was full of complicated scenarios and commitments, there was no time to be with myself. I didn’t have to unpack my life if I was busy diagnosing other relationships flaws. I found a sense of joy in investing in other people.

When I became a believer, I continued serving others and for a long time it was motivated by the same thought process: I am less than and insignificant so I will serve those around me. When asked about my own dreams, I still had none. I justified my continued behavior by telling myself how much of a servant Jesus was. I believed that I could live my whole life neglecting myself and pleasing others and in return, I would be a “good Christian”.

In 2015, I attended an event titled a Wisdom Conference. It was three days of teaching full of attitudes and lessons about being a wise human, about behaving from a place of knowing your value. On the second day, during my alone prayer time, I told God I needed him to have the speaker call out specific things for me. I asked for things that no one would know about me. I asked for a combination of things that was unique and deeply painful but that I knew needed healed. I knew I couldn’t shift my behavior without these beliefs being removed.

That evening, at the last session, the speaker started to close out with a call for members of the audience who sensed they needed some relief from embedded thoughts and actions. He began to call out one thing and then another, and then another and my breath stopped for a moment. He spoke all the things I had asked to be spoken. He called my brokenness out just as I had needed. I began to cry, (well bawl). The time that passed is unknown to me but it felt like an eternity and an instant simultaneously. And ok, if you don’t believe in God, that’s fine. I’m sure we’ve all heard voices in our head or sensed things that we’ve chalked up to intuition or our inner self. I will call this dialogue as coming from God because that’s who I think spoke to me. I clearly heard, “you don’t have to serve like you’ve been. You are free from that. You can serve from a place of true joy”.

In that moment, the things I had needed changed in my heart and brain immediately disappeared. I no longer needed to submit to others as if a slave. I would still put others before me in many ways but not because I had to, not to earn their love or friendship, but to show them Jesus. I would finally be able to give joyfully but still know my place in the world. I could see my value and it wasn’t increased by my deeds or decreased by my lack of giving. I was finally free to dream!

Fast forward to current day (cause what does all this have to do with anything)? The transition from bondage to freedom has been interesting. I have begun to protect myself from unsafe relationships, limit interactions with people who want to use me or be untrue to me. I will still be kind to them or do things for them, but I have learned to protect my heart and I haven’t since felt indebted to them. And as my work has now been removed from my life, my gym relationships have been hindered by my inability to workout and I have been at home, unable to really serve anyone, I find my vision even clearer.

Instead of chasing after things that make me feel less than, I choose to pursue things that have real world impact. I will replace empty conversations with authentic vulnerability. I will go out of my way for people who appreciate me and have gratitude even if they cannot reciprocate in action. I will put my family first, my husband above all, because what good are hundreds of friends if my marriage is suffering. And sometimes I will feel sad or hurt because relationships aren’t perfect but I will hold on tightly to that voice who affirmed me back at that conference and I will invest wisely.

Letting go

Sometimes I think life is just smooth sailing, everything’s going as planned (whatever that means) and I am the master of my own universe. Work is good, bills are paid, hitting the gym hard, feeling proud of myself, liking myself, family seems content, kids are doing well. It feels almost easy. And then something happens.

For me, it started on June 22, 2015. My husband fell while camping and broke his right ankle. At the time, he was a full time server, aspiring photographer. We went to urgent care and they confirmed two cracks through his talus bone. Somehow, in that moment, I had peace, I knew it would be ok. I turned to him and told him, “you never would’ve quit your job and pursued your dreams. Now you can.”

Being the caregiver, OCD person I am, I immediately increased my workload, started mental lists of how to accomplish everything in our lives, groceries, household chores, family activities. You name it, I had a plan for it. I had it under control….. but not really.

Shortly after Brent fell, I became very weak. I was suffering with pain in my back and my body began to break out with patches of eczema. In December of that year, I came down with a viral sickness and had to take 17 days off work. I had never been so sick in my life. I told myself I had it under control. I could handle it all…. but I couldn’t.

By January 2016, we had moved in to Brent’s grandmas house. We were in debt. I was defeated. My skin was so bad I ended up in the hospital. I was trying so hard to manage our life but instead of feeling accomplished and successful, I felt broken and exhausted.

It was then that I realized I was worn out because I was trying to do everything on my own. I was carrying the burden of every responsibility on my shoulders. I was clinging too tightly to the notion that I had some ultimate power over my life and my families’ situation. My letting go began.

Living with Brent’s grandma meant we sold most of our belongings and what we kept, was in a 5X10 storage unit. We had to let go of a lot of things. I moved out of the home I had rented for the past 6+ years. My son let go of the home he mostly grew up in. I let go of furniture and clothes and things that felt necessary . More importantly, I began to let go of my need to control everything and my belief that I was responsible for the success of my family.

In 2017, my family was blessed with the opportunity to long term housesit and in accepting, we emptied our storage unit and continued to let go of things. I realized there were all these things I hadn’t seen or needed for the past year. It felt easier to say good bye this time. I had learned to be content with less, to live in close quarters with people, to share space, to minimize my life.

And then, at 1am on Saturday, November 25, 2017, a drunk driver drove a car through the house we were sleeping in. The home we were housesitting at. When I say a car drove through the house, it literally drove in one wall, turned left and drove out the front. My husband and I were sleeping and woke to a home without walls. There were firefighters and sirens and police tape. I was traumatized and terrified. Every emotion you could imagine feeling in that instance, I felt. How does one even begin to process that experience? Calling my friend serving overseas and telling her that someone drove a car through her house. Trying to figure out what the next step was. I felt violated and scared and unprepared.

In the last four months, I lived in the tension of having no home, trying to feel grounded, navigating contractors and legal issues while forcing myself to be calm. I walked through conversations and interactions I had never imagined. I found myself unearthing strength and faithfulness I thought people faked in trials. The letting go continued. When your existence is disrupted in such a way, when you lose so many tangible things but still have your family and your life, you naturally let go of even more.

And here’s the kicker, on March 5, 2018, in a freak accident, I tripped over air on my skates and broke my ankle in three places. Yes, I play derby, but this wasn’t a typical derby experience. All of my thoughts of control and what’s important got immediately shaken even more. I can’t workout. I can’t skate. I can’t drive. I can’t walk. I can’t work. Everything that I thought was in my control, that was a choice, was disrupted. Because I can’t work, our money is also not in my control. So today, I gave up my studio space. I have been a massage therapist for 11 years. I have been out on my own for five of those years. I do not know when I will be able to work again and continuing to pay rent for a space I cannot use doesn’t make sense.

On paper, all these things seem like enough to break someone and trust me, there are parts of me and times that felt maybe breakable. From all of this though, I have found that it’s ok to not be in control. It’s a false sense of control at best but to even accept that is ok. I’ve come to truly appreciate my struggles because I have seen them only make me better. I have found a peace that does surpass understanding, a genuine calm in the storm. I cannot stop the “bad” things that life will throw at me. I cannot spend my life in anticipation of them. I’ve never felt more prepared for uncertainty. I’ve never been more excited for the unknown.

Redemption

This past weekend was the home opener for Ohio Roller Derby. Had I not broken my ankle, it would’ve been my return to derby, my first bout back. I had no idea what I would feel like attending the game, watching everyone play and not being able to participate. I know when I played derby before, from 2007-2012, it would have made me crazy and angry and jealous to sit on the sidelines. I couldn’t even handle being on the bench and sitting out one play. Back then, I truly believed I was valuable in every moment and if others didn’t agree, then they were in the wrong and just didn’t know what was best.

Wow….. who was that person? So full of pride and ego. That attitude led me to leave my league full of unhappy feelings and with a trail of hurt teammates. I said a bunch of things that came from a place of control and contempt. I was so unaware of myself that I didn’t even see what I was doing. I believed I had good intentions but I saw years later what was really going on. Yes, I loved my team and league. Yes, I wanted us to be successful. But because my feelings were leading me and I was selfish, I know my words came out wrong.

When I rejoined Ohio Roller Derby this past year, I was nervous. I wasn’t sure if I would be accepted back. I was worried that maybe I couldn’t be forgiven. I wasn’t sure what had been said after I left and I had no idea how much I had negatively impacted my team, my friends. I felt uneasy for a while, encountering people who had been with the league since I left. People who knew me back then. Wondering if they really were smiling inside about my return or if that was a facade and deep down they wanted me gone.

Here’s what I’ve found, and it’s beyond surprising: none of those things happened. No one treated me poorly. Everyone was kind. I was able to apologize to people and ask for forgiveness. I didn’t even know I needed that and you never know how remorse will be received.

Redemption is an interesting thing because often times you don’t know you need it until you have it. I didn’t consciously feel like I needed to redeem myself to the league but I quickly found myself yearning for that and realized that my return was less about skating and more about reconciliation. I love skating and I love derby but more than any of that, I am eternally grateful for the chance to make things right.

I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago. I will probably mention that in a lot of my posts because it’s just so true. I used to be so selfish and wanted to promote myself above all others. I was quick to speak, careless with my words and self righteous when confronted. I couldn’t celebrate others successes because I was too busy critiquing them or feeling envious.

As I’ve processed this whole experience, breaking my ankle playing derby, missing the home opener, knowing I’m going to miss the whole season, I’ve found peace easily with the circumstances. I’m not as upset as I would’ve been in years past because this wasn’t even about me. This whole thing that I thought initially was me returning to a sport I adore was really about the new me being a part of a team, truly being happy for others and joyfully humbling myself. I am obviously sad to not skate but my unhappy feelings are quickly overtaken by the pride I felt watching my teammates play and by the joy I feel knowing that I will not be remembered for my harsh words or controlling nature.

The changing of the seasons

Have you ever thought it would be nice to just start over from the exact moment you are at right now? Take all the life experiences and knowledge you have now and start things fresh? Not redo your life, but be your current age and just erase all the “bad” things in your life and refresh? A new job, new friends, maybe keep some of the old friends, but just begin anew. At times I’ve thought it would be easier to just pack up and move, to run away from my life. Who I am now is so radically different than who I used to think I was. And sometimes, because that old me creeps in, I make old me decisions. Inevitably, I wish I could take them back.

When I tell people I’m an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs test, they’re shocked to hear that I’m introverted. Heck, when I took the test, it kinda surprised me. I suppose when you spend years and years partying and on drugs, it’s easy to seem to be or be outgoing. When you’re so detached from your true self, that you just get lost in your surroundings. Sure, I will be a hype girl on stage for a DJ, yes, I will take those pills even though I don’t know what they are, sure I will boldly talk to strangers and make friends everywhere I go, and yes, I will attend every social gathering and stay out all night day after day. Until I grew up, not just in age, but in maturity. Until I realized that all those things were ways to avoid my real life. Until I woke up one day and saw my value and decided I wanted more for myself and for my son.

The journey to becoming my true self has been interesting and it’s by far not over. I imagine it’s an adventure I will hike along until I die. I will constantly be learning new things about myself and what really makes me come alive.

A week before I broke my ankle, I ended up in the ER with debilitating back spasms. A week prior to that, I somehow split jerked a barbell into my nose and a few weeks prior to that, I ended up in urgent care with moderate but fairly unenjoyable back spasms. My body was trying to tell me something. I wasn’t being true to myself. I wasn’t feeding the calm within me. I filled every moment of my day with exercise and work and activity and ignored the now clear signs: it was too much.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. In some strange way, I believe I needed to break my ankle or have something dramatic stop me because I was caught up and somewhat detached. I was going along, moving through my life but not really intentional or connected to myself. That may be a strange concept but humor me. I found myself spending less time at home, less time with family, less time at church, less time in silence, less time with worship, less time with prayer. All the things that I know feed me, nurture me, grow me and ultimately satisfy me, I had replaced with externally satisfying but surely less meaningful distractions. Now, I’m not saying that working out or playing a sport are meaningless but when they begin to take the place of more fundamentally important things, to me, that’s an issue.

Enter in the calm of sitting in a hospital bed alone for hours every day. I never turned on the TV. I just sat for three days. I wasn’t bored. I wasn’t miserable except for the pain in my ankle. I was full. It was the calm I’d been needing. The serenity I didn’t even know I wanted (I’m sure the pain meds helped a bit). All I’ve done for the last 10 days is think and pray and worship (and watch a bit of HGTV). I’ve written and talked to friends and sat in silence waiting for my Creators words. I am grateful for this time to reflect, to accept grace from others and to tap back into who I am. I do not know what this year will look like. It will look very different from what I thought previously. I do however know that it will be good.

It’s a choice even when it doesn’t feel like it

I’m finally almost 48 hours off of pain meds. My brain is beginning to feel like my own. I think I remember things more clearly. I at least don’t feel so led by my emotions. It’s crazy the amount of drugs I was on for the last week; Diluadid, Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Roxycodone, Flexeril, Torodal and some other things I can’t recall. Sometimes it’s shocking to me that I used to choose to be high on every drug possible and now, I hate being absent from my life, even when I’m in pain.

The clarity in my head made way for my grit to begin shining through. The part of me that is tougher than my pain, braver than my fears, more confident than my doubts. Yes, using crutches to go upstairs still made me cringe but my insides refused to feel defeated today. I refused to listen to the voice in my head that wants me to believe that I am weak.

I AM NOT WEAK!!

I have endured worse things, harsher discomforts and longer seasons of suffering than this and I will not give in to the sadness and uncertainty. It is a choice, even when it doesn’t feel like one. It always is. Feelings are so tricky because they convince you that things are permanent, they cause you to believe you’re justified, they encourage actions that often times we regret. They can slow you down and hinder progress and in times of struggle, I find they can be the last thing to guide you.

I am sure I will cry many more times through this process. Sometimes it’s hard to completely halt emotions. I don’t believe I should completely shut out every emotion anyway. What I do know is that I will pick myself up, wipe my tears, and push. I will believe in miraculous healings because I know they can happen. I will believe in my ability to have a “normal” ankle because why shouldn’t I? Some days, maybe someone will need to remind me of my strength. Some days, I am certain I will need a nudging. Some days, it will hurt to push and that voice in my head will try to convince me to quit BUT I won’t. That’s not who I am.

If you knew me in my twenties, I wasn’t so tough. I looked for an easier way out of every situation. I felt defeated always and let my emotions run every aspect of my life. I had no control over myself. I made tons of decisions that only added to my pain. I found myself hopeless often and I never understood how to hold my head high in tough times.

I’m not bragging. Its not vain to speak the truth. I am not who I used to be. Some may call it personal growth and development, like I manufactured this change on my own. I accept that belief system but I call it my God. The God who I cling to, who has changed me from the inside out and who continues to create in me a new person. He is the one who is healing me. He is the one who gives me strength. He gave me my grit and He is my hope. Now, this isn’t going to become a Jesus blog but He will be included because He is a HUGE part of my story.

He is the person who taught me to base my decisions on facts, not feelings. That has been one of the hardest but truest things I could ever learn. Every day, in every situation, no matter how hard it is, it’s always a choice.