Category Archives: Kristin

What Makes You Stronger Will Kill You

Well, hello! It’s been waaaay too long. How are you? How are the kids?  We’re ok over here. A quick summary of the last 3.75 years:

  • We have a whole other person in our family (Leo! A boy! Who knew we could make those?!)
  • We own a minivan 😱😱
  • I now feel naked if I don’t use the Oxford comma (WHO EVEN AM I?!?)
  • Oh and I am a different person. Dramatically. Profoundly. Changed. 

I believe this is true of everyone, by the way. I heard a quote a couple years ago. I don’t remember who said it or the exact wording, but the concept stuck.

Every time you reconnect with someone after a time away, remember: They are a different person. This is true whether it’s been an hour, a day, a year, or a decade. Every single experience changes and reshapes our brain, our bodies, us.

One sunshiny morning not long ago, I found myself staring into the mirror, unrecognizable. Disillusioned, cynical, broken, and depressed. I was totally disoriented. 

Over the past couple of years, I realized that alongside my other weird personality traits, I am an Enneagram type 7.* This means that I protect myself with optimism. I am so terrified of being stuck in the negative, that I refuse to let myself actually experience the feelings of pain.

Several years ago, I finally conceded that pain is an unavoidable part of life. I vowed to confront and alleviate pain. Yay me! Growth! But, stepping into pain does not mean acknowledging that it hurts. Confronting pain is not the same as healing from it. 

Instead of mourning and processing pain, I defensively give it a positive spin. Our microwave died? Extra cabinet space! Can’t make it to the birthing bed before the baby’s head pops out? What a great quad workout! When pain and heartache comes hurtling at me in a shower of spears, I automatically rip out that spear lodged in my shoulder, karate chop it into firewood, and turn it into a warm little campfire in the woods. Voila! Instant protection from the dark and cold. 

Bringing positive out of pain is one of my gifts. But doing so without addressing the wound leaves me vulnerable to infection.

Over the last decade, the spears flew furiously and unrelentingly. Many were direct personal wounds. Many more were from willingly stepping into the pain of others. In typical Kristin form, I just kept ripping ’em out, chopping that pain, and dumping the firewood onto my campfire. 

THIS IS STRENGTH! IGNORE THE WOUNDS! THEY’LL HEAL ON THEIR OWN! JUST KEEP GOING! THE WORLD NEEDS ME! I AM LESLIE KNOPE! WHAT I HEAR WHEN I’M BEING YELLED AT IS PEOPLE CARING REALLY LOUDLY AT ME!

One can only trudge along wounded for so long before collapsing. Eventually, my cozy flame became a destructive forest fire that blazed until it burned itself out. When the flames died down, I sat singed in the smoking darkness. I had no idea what to do with this new reality. I found myself profoundly changed and had no idea who I was.

So I prayed. Cried. Served the kids a lot of frozen pizza and mac and cheese. Yelled unnecessarily at Nick. Showered once a week. Stared blankly at snowflakes, water dripping from the faucet, and sunsets. Hid under my covers and railed into Voxer. Escaped to the magical lands of Leslie Knope, Michael Scott, and Moira Rose. And did a lot of screaming “WHY?!?!” while shaking my fists at the clouds. 

And then, finally, I mourned. And processed. And went to counseling. And admitted that I was hurt and things were different. And I hated it.

Then one morning, as Leo body slammed me awake, I realized that the world had a hopeful shimmer that wasn’t there the day before. A tiny little green sprig of life. 

I can now make out the pattern of my new landscape–unique and colorful, sprinkled with scars. Most of all, everything looks and feels so much stronger. 

I used to believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I tried to strengthen by shielding myself from death. But you know what? Hard stuff is hard because it attacks and destroys something I love – an idea, a worldview, an expectation, a relationship, a physical part of me or my world, my hope

Hard stuff is hard because something always dies

I am a different person. The old me is gone, even if I don’t own it. My world is different, even if I don’t acknowledge it. Hard stuff kills. Period.

I can’t build overtop open wounds. Accepting and dealing with the fallout is the foundation of strength. Assess what was destroyed, determine what needs fortifying, and heal what was broken. This world needs healers who willingly enter into the pain of others. I’ve needed them. I want to be one. It’s how we help each other to grow stronger and strengthen ourselves in the process. I learned the hard way that I can’t get stronger by simply stepping into pain. Pain, even others’ pain, destroys a part of me. By neglecting my own healing, I fueled a destructive fire. 

It’s hard to let myself feel and examine and mourn. Really hard. I’d rather just keep ignoring death, clinging to who I had been before. But the person I am today is stronger. More compassionate. With a greater capacity to stand in the pain of others and walk with them into healing.

I had to die first to get there. And the stuff that killed me made me stronger. 

* For those of you who haven’t been sucked into the mind-blowing Enneagram world, you need to check out this book and podcast. 

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Fact: Listening is Stressful

Did you hear that?

 

 

Listen.

 

 

That is the sound of silence.

Not the Simon and Garfunkel variety, but the beautiful, mythical-seeming kind – the absence of static, white noise, and the general chaos of life.

It has been silent at the blog this month. At first, the silence was circumstantial – life just got too busy. But then, thanks to my second husband, DIP (Nick’s Dissertation-In-Progress), it became intentional.

DIP and the family spent the past several Sunday afternoons having a party at the lab trying to iron out the kinks in the data collection process.

The girls happily hung out in the adjacent room with Miss iPad, our trusty babysitter. DIP and Nick hung out at the computer command center pushing buttons and trying not be frustrated. I hung out like this:

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I know it looks like I was just sitting there, staring at a computer screen. But in reality, I was listening to and repeating inane sentences (stockings in large sizes are hard to sell) being subconsciously stressed. Not just because Nick made me sit for long periods of time without shaking my legs or twirling my hair (sitting still is physically painful for me). It’s because listening is just stressful.

Yup. It’s a fact. In a process that is beyond the scope of my pathetic understanding of hearing science, when you decide to listen to something, your body predictably and involuntarily freaks out just a wee bit. This is a physiologic stress response called listening effort.

The body has a stress response when listening in quiet, and a bigger response when listening in noise. When Nick had me listen with white noise in the background, he recorded a higher level of stress, even for sentences that I had no trouble understanding. It is a universal, completely involuntary response to noise – even when you can comprehend perfectly fine, more noise equals more stress.

The last couple of years we have tried to intentionally observe the season of Advent as a family. It started as a way to refocus the season on the reconciling peace, joy, and love of the birth of Christ. But this year, it became more than a protest against Christmas consumerism. It became the impetus for a cultural shift in our family.

Advent is a season that embodies expectant hope. Joyful patience. Watching and waiting. Listening.

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Listening.

Sitting there in the lab, failing miserably at not moving, it struck me. The holiday season is where we do everything – decorating, purchasing, wrapping, baking, celebrating – in the name of relationship. For our families and friends. For our neighbors and teachers. For those in need.

I wear my stress like a badge of honor, as proof of how much I care. And inevitably, finding the time to sit down and listen – to my husband, to my kids, to my friends, to God – never quite materializes. I hunker down, close my door and my ears, and chisel away at my list of love activities. I always seem to be snippy. I never feel very loving. I just want to be left alone.

Listening effort – a beautiful advent metaphor. Trying to listen in the ambient (and oft self-induced) noise of the holidays just pushes me over my stress threshold. My brain rebels, screaming “TOO MUCH!” Autopilot switches on, shutting down my desire and ability to truly listen.

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In a season where Nick and I have decided to place extra emphasis on the practice of watching, waiting and listening – to each other and to that whispering voice that invites us to participate in healing those around us – I needed to be able to listen without putting myself (and my family!) in perpetual fight-or-flight mode. I knew this year I had to turn down the self-induced noise and limit our exposure to the rest.

So the blog, among other things, fell silent for this season. Once I created a space to listen, almost immediately a handful of friends reached out. Friends standing at life-altering crossroads. Friends staring into inexhaustible heartache. Friends who just needed someone to listen. And, for the first time during the holiday season, I had the time, energy and desire to be present with them and listen.

Our gifts to others this year have been simple, our activities limited, and our house is not clean, but it feels right. I feel like we are where we need to be.

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Laura is entering a season of huge responsibility and limited time, so she and I will revisit our blog format after the holidays. But until then, I hope you too can respond to DIP and turn down your noise to truly listen in peace.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

What is wrong with me?!?

I do not want to move.

Eesh. That feels scary to admit.

I have never, in my entire memory, not wanted to move. In the first six years of our marriage, Nick and I lived in six different homes, in five cities, and in three states, and I still love moving. I love going somewhere new, where everything is fresh and anything is still possible.

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But as we creep closer to the end of graduate school, we have started to casually toss around talk of what will be next. I could feel my internal jaw dropping as I heard myself think, I want to stay here.

It is certainly not because Iowa City is my dream town (although, it is pretty awesome) or that I’ve always dreamed of living surrounded by cornfields. It is not because we love our house or our neighborhood or the schools.

So what, then? What is wrong with me?!?

It is their fault – my people – these quirky, caring, graceful, inappropriate, brilliant, frustrating, witty and spectacularly amazing families who are overflowing with incomprehensible love. By some fluke, we all genuinely enjoy each other. The guys go camping and play pool. There are frequent ‘girls’ nights out.’ The kids have sleepovers.

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They have seen my house at its lowest level of habitability. They have shooed us out the door on date nights while my kids were kicking and screaming on the floor. They have hugged me even though it had been four days since my last shower. We have broken bread together with an Easter katana (don’t ask).image I have snort-laughed at their inappropriate jokes, hugged them in their despair and spat out fuming words at them, angry tears dotting their couch. We surround each other during the rough times, risk confronting each other when we see something amiss, irritate each other, and hurt each others’ feelings when we get too caught up in our own lives. We have been collectively broken and helped each other pick up the pieces.

imageI know that no matter what happens to me, my girls will have a handful of women all within a 30-minute drive who would show them how to be women of grace, honor and integrity. They would have someone to go bra shopping with, have “the talk” with and ask them the hard questions. And no matter what happens to Nick, there are a handful of men who would step up to show the girls how a man should respect, care for and cherish them. They would have someone to scrutinize their prom dates, tell them how boys really think, and teach them how to write code and wire a circuit.

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These relationships have been a long, intentional time in the making. It has required way more sacrifice than I anticipated – sacrificing time, personal space, money and the freedom to do what I want whenever I want. But I would do it again in a heartbeat because these people are worth it. We are (imperfectly) learning together how to let go of this heavily ingrained American idea that my family is a self-sustaining entity. I had to learn to set boundaries, but recognize that the needs of my family cannot always come first. I have had to learn how to ask for and accept help without feeling guilt. My children have had to learn that sometimes they have to put their own needs aside for the moment to help another. And they have seen their friends return the favor. I am learning what it actually means to be the church.

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We certainly don’t all agree on how to discipline, or who the president should be, or what method of schooling is the best. But we do all agree that who our kids become is infinitely more important than what they learn to do. We agree that teaching them unconditional love and introducing them to the One who made them is the most important thing we can give them.

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I have had these depths of friendships throughout my life, but never a group of families in one place. For the first time, I feel like I have a community to raise my children. I don’t feel the pressure to have it all together as a parent. And I have no doubt how much they love us. I hope they know the same.

I know how much mutual investment went into my people and I recognize it for the rare gem that it is. I want my girls to grow up in the messy love of this crazy group of people.

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I don’t know if we will get to stay. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring for my friends. It is terrifying and heartbreaking for me to think about leaving my people and having to start that arduous process all over again.

But tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am so thankful that today I have this amazing group of people who we love and who love us in return.

And that alone, is worth living the rest of my life surrounded by corn.

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