"dream great dreams and find the courage to live them"

-erwin mcmanus

Monday, December 17, 2012


Self-preservation.  We all do it; in fact, it's universal among almost all living organisms.

Pain is the major motivator for an individual to withdraw from a damaging situation, to protect a damaged body part while it heals, and to avoid similar experiences in the future.
Fear causes one to to seek safety and causes a release of adrenaline, which increases one's strength and heightens senses such as hearing, smell, and sight.
Figuratively, self-preservation regards the coping mechanisms one needs to prevent emotional trauma from distorting the mind.

We have all experienced these things in one way or another.  The pain of being made fun of in school, of being spanked as a child, so one withdraws; or fear of rollercoasters or of moving away from home so adrenaline gets one going.  The most prevalent in my life, however, has been the figurative kind of self-preservation; the kind that isn't necessarily physical, but more emotional.

I've been repeatedly placed in emotionally-charged situations, ones that initially brought me to tears nearly every waking hour (my first few weeks working at Shelterwood...).  I heard heartbreaking stories of lives shattered and innocence lost.  I got yelled at, disrespected, cussed out, and ignored repeatedly and frequently.  While the experience was incredible and I wouldn't trade it for the world (in fact, I've written several posts about my time there that talk about the positive aspects of the experience) it certainly changed me in good ways and bad.

The constant apparent rejection from the little sisters (though inside they just longed for love and acceptance..), well, I stopped caring a whole lot. I guess it was my way of protecting myself.  I couldn't take the hurt that came from it, so now I just don't care if someone likes me or not and I became apathetic to most emotional attachments.  I expect to be disappointed, so I set my expectations low.  I don't express how I really feel to anyone for fear that the next moment they will turn around and walk away.

The reason why I did not continue to cry the way I did initially during my time there was self-preservation.  I could not possibly process and respond in ways to the situations in which I was placed, so I shut off.  Nothing would affect me at all and I was "fine" until I would break down and cry for a day seemingly about something minor, and then I would be "fine" again.  The crying was my body's way of telling me -"Something is wrong.  STOP!  Process.  You need it."  But I just kept going because I felt like I had to.  I had to be fine because everything else felt like chaos and nobody around me was doing well, so I needed to pretend for the sake of everyone else.  So I was happy, I was fine, and according to anyone's perception around me, I was healthy.

These perspectives are skewed, I know, and, without a doubt, unhealthy.

All of that "shoving down" I did over the last two years?  Well, it's catching up with me.

And now begins the learning.  Learning to process things as they come.  Learning to actually have emotions and express them as they come.  Learning that it's okay to dislike things, to tell people that you care without the fear of being shut down, to expect to be cared for in return.  Learning that it's okay to feel hurt - that it's a real feeling that doesn't need to be shoved down and ignored.

Learning.  A constant state or so it seems, because we are never finished.  And somehow the learning that comes after is harder than the situations themselves.  Processing is painful, but so necessary.  Evaluating these things about myself was and is really hard.  I don't like learning that what I always thought was a strength at Shelterwood has now become my greatest weakness and that it has marred or even ended relationships that were good, simply because I didn't allow myself to connect to or express things the way I really was experiencing them.

Strengths become weaknesses so quickly, and this process of growth never ends.  So I keep going..

Saturday, December 1, 2012


I asked someone what she thought Advent was about.
Her response?
"Eating a piece of chocolate every day for the month of December because stores sell calendars for it."

Okay.  I get it.  Christmas is entirely commercialized and sometimes it becomes more about maintaining traditions than about the real "reason for the season."  We put up our Christmas trees, complete with handmade ornaments from our childhood, or perhaps perfectly color-coordinated and themed ornaments to maintain the "pinterest" look of our homes.  We frame our windows with white lights.  We bake peppermint treats.  We wrap gifts with paper and bows.  We sing carols and drink hot chocolate.  We may even make a birthday cake for Jesus.

 And it is all in the name of tradition.

I don't mean to say that tradition is bad.  In fact, my family covers the entire month from Thanksgiving to Christmas with "every year we ___!"  There is a lot of value to creating special moments and special memories by doing things regularly that you enjoy together and that celebrate well.  Not only do we celebrate, but we celebrate for an entire month!  How much better could it get?

But in the bustle of garland and frosted window-panes, it becomes far too easy to forget.  The why of the season gets lost in the tradition, in the busy, and even in the beautiful.

Last Sunday began the season of Advent.  It's a season of the church calendar that comes around every year.  And every year I need a kick in the pants to remember it.  How easily do we forget what Christmas actually celebrates?

Advent celebrates the waiting.  The anticipation.  The expectancy.  And here we sit in our earthly, sinful mess, anticipating the restoration, the redemption that Christ brings.  Advent celebrates it - the already (Christ came!  He conquered sin and death!) and the not yet (He's coming again!  And ALL the earth will be redeemed!).

So we live in the already but not yet and anticipate the coming of Christ in this season.