Blog Archives

Annual Christmas Nervous Breakdown or Dirty Socks Under the Tree

Jesus loves you, but I’m His favorite. NOT!

I do have stories about making good choices. And I will tell some of them as I blog along. But, it seems more important to share about God staying involved in our lives when we are screwing up; to remind myself and others that God loves us, not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

My mother always made Christmas extraordinary, even when money was in short supply. She polished and decorated every square inch of our apartment. The presents may not have cost a lot, but they were wrapped beautifully. There was a constant flow of guests, often widows without family near-by or young families without parents and grandparents around. There were special treats to eat, but also even the plain old potted meat sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles with parsley sprigs around them on silver trays.
So, when she became a widow and passed the Christmas torch to me, I tried to do the same. And I added being active at church in teaching classes, decorating the social hall, and organizing Christmas pageants. My five children and I spent weeks making presents for all their teachers and for all my students. I never thought about the fact that mom had two children and a small apartment and I had five children and a large house, which was a home away from home for a constant flow of college age house guests involved in Christian ministry. Mom set the bar very high, but without realizing it, I had raised it.
Pretty much every year, sometime close to Christmas, I would reach my annual Christmas overload, yell that I hated Christmas, and slam my way into my bedroom to collapse for a day or night. One year after retreating to curl up in a fetal position and figuratively suck my thumb, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning, remembering that I was scheduled in a few hours to give a talk to another denomination’s women’s group on The Spirit of Christmas.
I seriously considered calling and saying I had broken my leg, but decided that might be asking for it literally.                                                                                                                                         As I prayed for help, it seemed like God was telling me that although I was doing many truly good things, I was missing the point of Christmas. Christmas wasn’t about how much we could do or how perfect we could make it. Christmas was about the joy of needing and receiving a Savior, the tangible expression of God’s perfect love for us imperfect human beings. And sharing that joy with others. So, I ended up simply sharing the whole story, my pattern of Christmas breakdowns and my panic the night before. It seemed like everyone there could relate very well to my experience. Then, for reasons unknown to me, I ended by saying, “No matter what it takes, even leaving dirty socks under the Christmas tree, I’m going to keep my focus on the meaning of Christmas.”

Now, really! Dirty socks under the tree?

Of course, mother arrived, guests arrived, children were freed from school, and Christmas Eve arrived with stress building and me once again rushing tensely around. As I was putting laundry away in a bedroom close to the great room, I heard my mother ask, “Eileen, why is there a dirty sock under the Christmas tree?”
I got goose bumps. I could feel Jesus standing there with His hand on my shoulder. I dropped the laundry on the bed and stopped my mother from removing the sock.
“Mom, let’s leave it there and stop right now to have a cup of coffee and read the Christmas scriptures, so we’ll remember what we’re celebrating.”
For several years afterwards, I would put a sock under the tree, whenever I began to forget the meaning of Christmas from the overload of my good intentions.

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Born Anxious with Relapses

Many of us have had physical symptoms for decades without realizing they were caused by anxiety. Sometimes when I watched a rash start and spread before my eyes as I was dealing with a sudden, obvious stressor, I saw the connection between the physical and the emotional. Other times when getting short of breath and feeling like something was squeezing my chest, if I wasn’t in touch with the triggering emotions, I thought I was having a heart attack.
Self-awareness helps, learning calming techniques, learning to laugh at ourselves, and cutting ourselves some slack in certain situations can help. Understanding that many, many people experience physical problems without ever recognizing the emotional triggers, learning to talk ourselves through our fears, finding the right anti-anxiety medicines, all can help when we quit beating ourselves up for being born anxious.
We didn’t choose it, it’s undoubtedly chemical and genetic, it’s way more widespread than anyone realizes, but self-awareness and experimenting to find what helps us can minimize the negative fallout for ourselves and those that love us.
We aren’t to blame, but we are responsible for learning ways to minimize the crippling effects. And I can personally testify that love, joy, delight, pleasure, lots of laughter, worthwhile occupations, concern for others are all possible even for us born worry warts.
PS: The other day, I found a lot of old comic strips I cut out over the years that “spoke to my condition,” letting me know I wasn’t alone, and freeing me to find humor even in my inner chaos: Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbs, The Far Side, Ziggy, Kudzu, Cathy, Zits, Dilbert, Doonesbury,Arlo and Janice, and many more. Laughter is Carbonated Grace.

The Gifts of Age: Part Five: If Old Age is Better than the Alternative, We Are All in Deep Doggie Doo

People talk about the stress of being a working mom, as if stress ends when either or both jobs stop.  Who are they trying to kid?

Old lady stress is 24/7.

Little Old Lady Stress
Second Stand-Up Gig

At night, as soon as you get your pillow nest all arranged to support aching backs and knees and burrow gratefully into it, doubt enters the room.  Did I lock the doors?  Did I turn off the stove?  Did I switch the wet wash to the dryer? Did I take my pills? Yes, I think I did all that tonight. No, that was last night. Oh hell, I better go check.

Then, because your bladder is your only body part that’s gotten more active with age, there are at least three trips to the john every night.  And since your early warning system is now deceased, these are made at warp speed, even on a walker. Panic is a great motivator. There should be an olympic competition for this.  You wake up tired and wonder why.

The disconcerting end to what seemed like a reasonably nice day is realizing that you have gone all over town smiling today without your upper dentures.

It’s hardly uplifting to look up phone numbers in your personal directory, when it lists more dead people than living.  And even after purging the lists, in six month’s it’s already back to gone again.

The first stage of dementia is becoming childlike in saying whatever you’re thinking out loud, then wondering why everyone is looking at you like you just farted.

The fact that you can’t introduce your best friend isn’t so bad, since she’s your age and can’t remember your name either.  But when you mix up your grown son’s third wife’s name, it’s a whole different ball game.

When you see on face book that the younger members of your family are comparing miles walked or jogged each day, you think to yourself, If I had a pedometer, it would show at least ten miles walked each day looking for my glasses, my purse, and my coffee cup, coming back inside for my car keys, and going in and out of rooms at least three times each before I remember why I went in. No wonder I’m so tired at night.

Your new four letter word shouted frequently is WHAT? And a dinner party of peers is mostly everyone shouting WHAT? and then pretending to hear the replies.  Though irritating, it doesn’t really matter much, since no one will remember anything by the time they get home anyway.

Cleaning gets increasingly complicated when vertical surfaces are covered with the latest in home decor for the elderly, post it notes.  And there are also stacks of everything imaginable on all level surfaces, because now out of sight, means lost forever.

Sudden loud noises bring out homocidal urges you haven’t had since your kids were teenagers.

Your hearing turns mysteriously obscene, as you now confuse the initial sounds of words and can’t believe they are saying that on primetime TV.

Going to lunch with a friend involves a ten minute struggle to untangle the walkers from the back of the station wagon. And going to the mall with several friends is like a parade without a band, slow moving lines of walkers, the rolling kind.

When you express worry about some of the disasters being experienced by of others your age, your children encourage you to be thankful that’s not you.  And you mentally add the word, yet.

Many weeks, if you didn’t go to so many funerals, you’d have no social life at all.  And you remember that you used to wonder why your older friends were depressed.

When everyone’s talking about diets, you’re thinking, Sure. Like I’m going to give up my last pleasure in life, so I can look good in my casket.

Your grand and great-grandchildren are the bubbles of joy in the cesspool of old age, but also the barbs of reality.  When sitting in your lap, looking up at you with their big innocent eyes, they ask, “Grandma, why do old people have turkey necks?”

And you grit your teeth and freeze a smile on your face, when your great-grandson proudly introduces his fiancee, the tattooed lady with enough metal appendages to set off airport security alarms.

There’s really only one thing worse than getting old, (I’m personally going to be really pissed if it turns out to be death).  To me, it’s your husband getting old.  Most of us thought if we married, we’d always have someone able to open jars, move heavy furniture, and clean the gutters.  Another fairy tale bites the dust.

But other than these, old age is a piece of cake.  Whenever you can get to the bakery.