Friday, October 9, 2015

It’s My Party

"It's my party and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to. You would cry too if it happened to you." ~Lesley Gore

It was my 7th or 8th birthday and we had a party with my friends at my house.  There was some kind of disagreement during the party between my mom and me.  I’m not saying I was right.  In fact I was probably wrong.  Keep in mind that throughout my life I have been repeatedly given the description by my parents, siblings, and others as being naturally strong-willed.  But this is one of the earliest memories I have of being swallowed up into the Belly of the Whale (read the following blog post to know what that means:  The Belly of the Whale). It wasn’t as harsh back then as it came to be in my later years but I left the party and went and hid myself in the bathroom in a cubby under the sink.  I remember being mad at my mom and embarrassed in front of my friends.

The same kind of episode repeated itself at another party—my 12th birthday party.  My mom and I got in a dispute over something in front of all my friends (both boys and girls, which included a boy I had a crush on).  Again, I can’t remember what it was about and I’m sure my strong-will was a major culprit so I was probably in the wrong.  Again, I was swallowed up into the Belly of the Whale.  I left the party and went up to my room.  I was mad at my mom and totally embarrassed in front of my friends.

Loggerheads is a good word to describe the reason for these conflicts.  It is when two people’s opposing wills or goals meet to result in a stubborn dispute or disagreement.

Unfortunately these Loggerhead experiences with my mom repeated themselves at more frequent intervals and grew more intense as I grew older.  My strong will, my stubbornness, my anger intensified.  I came to see myself as a rebellious teenage girl.  My relationship with my mom was NOT good. “It’s my way or the highway,” was the lesson I was learning.  There were so many major blow-ups between us, which sent me into the Belly of the Whale.  This is how I learned to deal with conflicts:  When there are two opposing opinions the stronger of the two forces her will upon the weaker of the two.  The weaker fights as hard as she can to get her way but in the end is overcome by the stronger.  Survival of the Fittest.  Unconsciously I applied this teaching in many of my other relationships.  When I was the stronger, I would win but the strange thing was that I ended up in the Belly of the Whale anyway!  I just wasn’t even capable, wasn’t even close to understanding what was going on and how I could avoid the Belly.

Fast forward about 13 years.  I was married and had a two-year-old boy (Aaron).  We lived in New Jersey.  I was helping a neighbor out by walking her kids to the bus stop.  Aaron and I walked them over to the bus stop and watched them get on the school bus.  Aaron really wanted to get on that bus too.  So badly that he was screaming his head off about it.  I couldn’t let him get on the bus because that was against the rules.  Yet he was fighting me as if I was in the wrong.  Loggerheads.  I pit my will against his and went head to head.  I picked him up, restrained him so very tightly and harshly in my arms and walked back to our apartment.  I was so angry inside.  I was so mad at him.  I was swallowed into the Belly of the Whale.  I was the stronger in the relationship.  I won the battle.  It was my way or the highway.  And he was wrong.  Two-year-olds couldn’t get on the school bus and go to school.  That’s the truth.  I was right.  Yet I was swallowed up once again into the Belly of the Whale.

These conflicts with Aaron and then with Chris and then with Matthew repeated and became more heated over the next several years.  I got into the Belly of the Whale for using my strength to restrain and fight against them at Loggerheads.  Yet I was trying to enforce the rules of my home, the rules of my community, the rules of my church, and the rules of God. 

Because of these rules and the inevitable chaotic will of a child, every parent is going to come to Loggerheads with his/her children. Children will break the rules.  They will not want to obey them.  It is the way that it is.  Yet the rules are what they are too and most parents recognize the fact that we need to keep them and teach our children to keep them.  I did not know that this was an age-old conflict let alone how to resolve it.  My instinct and knee-jerk reaction was to allow the anger from such a conflict to burn and burn until it was wild fire inside of me.  In any Loggerhead conflict there is contention on both sides no matter who is right and who is wrong.  When two wills are pit against each other, that is the effect.

I chose force to resolve these conflicts with my children.  I guess I didn’t actually choose it because I didn’t understand the other option.  Loggerheads Force was written in my genetic code.  I didn’t know any different way even though the Belly of the Whale episodes communicated to me that the way I was trying to resolve wasn’t right (see Paradoxical vs. Survival Parenting. This blog post is actually the prequel to that one).

Choosing force caused me to lose the Spirit even more.  Those are the rules of the game.  God, our General Cause, cannot support us when we choose force as our first way of resolving conflicts with another person.  If we do not first strive to see if there is a way to talk things over, see the other person’s point of view, see his/her desire as valid, and come up with a compromise where all involved can be satisfied, we will only perpetuate the conflict, the anger, and the contention.  Because I didn’t know to do this or understand how to, I was left alone spiritually to "kick against the pricks" (Acts 9:5; D&C 121:38).  That was supposed to be a warning for me, a censure.   Because I didn’t understand why I was being censured or what to do to correct myself, all I felt was a terrible feeling inside of me plus major confusion.  I'm sure my mom didn't understand this whole thing either and most likely her mother didn't know, and so on.

As anger dissipated I would feel ashamed of my behavior because I knew I shouldn’t be angry and forceful with children.  I needed to be loving and kind.  Yet I had no idea how to teach/enforce rules AND be loving and kind.  The shame locked me into the Belly of the Whale.  Because these episodes repeated and I didn’t know what was going on, I began to experience fear—fear of the Belly.  I associated that fear and anger with my interactions with my children.  I began to hate motherhood, hate myself, and not want to be around my children.

But I had another rule meet me here:  I was supposed to love my kids from my heart.  I was a bad mother for not wanting to be around my children and would be an even worse mother if I neglected my kids in any way.  In order to force myself to be a good mother, I forced myself to not run and hide but to continue parenting while in the Belly of the Whale almost perpetually for years and years with only very small pockets of sunlight.  I did love my kids but my fear and anger were getting in the way of that.  What I did for them—the sacrifices I made--were not being made voluntarily.  And there was always some sort of societal judgment panel sitting on my shoulder all the time (#theJudge).  Total Bondage.  Locked in a prison:  My idea of what I was supposed to be and FEEL for my kids verses what I actually was and FELT for them.  The worst conflict ever for one who I have come to realize needs to love from the depths and purity of her heart or she is not okay.  The result was that I developed a hatred of myself.  Misery.  And an associative repulsion towards my kids—the very people I was giving my whole life for.  I imagine this is what hell would be like.

I was a bad child.  I was a bad mother.  Yet these shame/hatred feelings didn’t stop the Loggerheads Force behavior because I didn’t know they were connected or how to resolve the conflicts that arose between parents’ rules and children’s rules.  And you can bet I had these Loggerhead experiences with my husband and with others.  I grew up thinking I was very disagreeable and generally out of control.  And the issue was that I didn’t want to be a bad person, a bad daughter, a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad sister in Zion.  I wanted to be good like nobody’s business!  It just wasn’t happening.  I didn’t have the skills.  That’s how I came to hate myself and feel like there was no place for me in my family, my community, or anywhere.  

I don’t mean to be mean to my past self but I would have to say that because of all of this, I had many characteristics of a SHREW.  Here’s the definition the dictionary gives for that:  “a bad-tempered or aggressively assertive woman.” I say this in a loving way because I understand the reason behind it now.  An inability to resolve conflict developed in my youth resulted in this shrew-like characteristic in me.

Fast forward 15 years to another Birthday Party.  I had been working on achieving a goal for three years.  I had completed it at least 3 times but knew that it really wasn’t done.  I felt exhausted in my own strength.  I thought maybe the answer to completing it was to set a date that I would finish, pray for the Lord's help, and do my part as best I could.  So in May of 2009 I decided that I wanted to finish it by my birthday.

It’s important to note here that by this time I had spent years developing my communication relationship with the Lord—my Cause.  I was working with him on this project.  It was for him, of him, and by him that I had made any progress on it thus far.  And I knew that when I finished it I would be able to obtain what I wanted.  So I had been in close contact with him about this whole thing for years.  I felt that when I set the date of my birthday to complete it and committed to doing my part, he nodded his head and said, “Okay, I will do mine.”

It’s also important to note that by this time in my life the Lord had literally become my Savior.  He was my knight in shining armor.  He was training me how to deal with Loggerheads!  He was rewriting my spiritual DNA and I was becoming calm.  It was literally the “Taming of the Shrew.”  But I know he didn’t look at me like that in a mean way.  He knew why I was the way that I was.  He also knew how to get me out of this bondage.

When my birthday came, I still hadn’t finished it but held out hope and faith in the Lord.  The day was filled with lots of other motherhood tasks.  Laura had a dress rehearsal for her dance recital.  I was there for hours.  It was a distracting environment, totally not conducive to the quiet, pondering environment I needed to finish the project.  I couldn’t even work on it let alone finish it.  I was all tied up in knots.  I couldn’t think clearly to save my life.  A mild beginning of the Belly of the Whale.

By the end of the day, I fell on my bed and cried.  I felt betrayed.  My desire was a righteous one.  I knew that.  I knew the Lord wanted me to complete this project so why, why didn’t he come through for me when I had worked so diligently to do my part?  Where were his miracles?  Did he not have one for me?  I went to bed still tied in knots and feeling a reaction of rebellion in my heart in response to the rejection I felt from him.  The Belly of the Whale was swallowing me whole.  I was at Loggerheads with the person I had come to value more than anyone else in my life!  My relationship with him was my only solace and now we were in conflict.

The next day I wrestled with this feeling.  I wanted to turn from him.  I was mad at him.  He hurt me.  I had trusted him and it seemed like he had violated that trust.  I was tempted to walk away and say forget it then, forget everything.  At the same time I knew he was a perfect God and if anyone was out of balance it was me.  But that twisted me up even more.  I didn’t know how I could obey his rules any better than I had and yet he still wasn't giving me what I wanted, what I knew he knew I needed.

He stayed with me.  I understood that he was trying to get me to look at my feelings and the situation objectively.  But it was hard for me.  I was tempted to say some angry things to him. The other part of me didn’t want to ever sully our relationship like that.  I felt his love and compassion for me.  He was trying to tell me that he understood how I felt and that I had a right to feel this way.  This was a hard thing I was doing.  

Then why didn’t he help me complete the project?  I somehow understood that he couldn’t do that.  He wasn’t going to budge on that one.  There were certain lines he couldn’t cross, certain laws he had to keep and was asking me to keep.  This was one of them.  I didn’t understand that.  I still felt upset.  I came to a threshold, a point of decision that he was guiding me to.  Would it be my will or would it be our relationship?  Which would I sacrifice?  My life, my will, my way or his way, his will, and our life?  It wasn’t really about my will verses his.  It was about my will verses our relationship because I had two wills here—two desires.  I wanted my way in my timing and I wanted our relationship—which was also my way.
There are a million songs that sing about love conquering all.  At this moment I felt it literally impossible to give my will—my life—up (this immediate desire), but because of my love for the Lord I had no other choice.  He had saved me from that Shrew-like person and all the consequences attached to it.  He had helped me to love again.  He had made me sweet where I used to be bitter.  I was able to love my kids and myself only because of his coming into my life and being there for me.  I could not and would not give up this relationship even for my own right-here-and-right-now life.  I would not go back to being a shrew and that’s certainly what would happen to me if I did.  I had to let go.  So I let go.  I free-fell backwards.  I gave in.  I submitted.  I repented.  I was a strong-will child again, submitting to my parent’s will voluntarily and out of love.

Over the next hours a sweet peace filled my soul as well as a feeling of admiration on both sides.  I totally admired him for the way he dealt with me through this trial.  No one had ever treated my strong-will with such kindness, patience, and respect.  What a blessing he was to me!  I also felt his admiration of me.  I could feel him looking on me with pleasure for the strength it took to give up my will for our relaitonship.  I felt my worth more that day than I ever had in my life.  And that spun my love for him into the tightest knot ever!  This was a feeling that was the exact opposite of the Belly of the Whale.  He was actually praising me for submitting to his will and treating it like a gift I had given to him!  Oh the beauty!  Oh, the unparalleled Joy of interacting with him!  What can I call this opposite Belly of the Whale place?  The Heart of God?  The Bosom of God?  The Bowels of Mercy? Within a few days I understood from a higher perspective why I couldn’t have what I wanted on that day.  I understood why the Lord could not cross that line.  I understood the rules.  Yet in a way, and in hindsight, I wonder if the birthday gift I was given on that day was indeed the means by which I have completed what I have on this project and the means by which I will continue to complete it.


There’s one more story that has to be told to complete this overall story.  By the time my daughter came to serious Loggerheads-age, I had thankfully been retaught how to work with her.  It was about 30 years after my 12th birthday, when the following Loggerheads experience occurred with my own 12-year-old daughter.  Again, I can’t remember exactly what the dispute was about but I remember I did not provoke her to wrath.

I remember I could not cross the line she wanted me to cross for her.  She was very mad at me and told me she hated me.  She then was swallowed up into the Belly of the Whale.  Compassion filled me because I saw myself in her.  I knew what she was suffering.  I remember it and I didn’t want her to be attacked like that—for an attack of the adversary it certainly is.  I learned through these tween and teen years that once she became this upset about something, she was stuck there for hours and hours in total misery.  I couldn’t get her out.  Her three older brothers didn’t have this issue.  They would get upset, I would send them to timeout, and then I would just talk with them about what happened and how we could both do better next time, and out they would come—all perked up and ready to recommit and go on with life.  My girl on the other hand could not do this as I could not when I was younger.  We are emotional creatures and many of us are very strong-willed.  We feel things deeply.

On this occasion of her entrapment—her imprisonment in the Belly, I got the idea to bring her my journal from when I was a teen.  I had recently been re-reading it.  I had written in it a few times when I had been in the Belly as a result of conflicts with my mom.  I opened it to the place where my mother wouldn’t let me get my drivers permit when I wanted to get it.  It has the following words etched deeply into the page with a ball-point pen, “I HATE MY MOTHER!”  I gave this to Laura. I wanted her to know two things:  that I understood how she felt.  I had also felt that way towards my mother at times.  And that she was not a terrible person for feeling that way towards someone who she was at Loggerheads with.  That was normal.  I didn’t hate her back.  While I couldn’t cross certain lines—couldn’t let her have her way in this specific situation—I understood how hard it was for her to bend her will to mine. 

I think the journal helped her because she came out of her room not long after and seemed to be normal again--a veritable miracle!  She wasn’t overly angry with me.  The conflict between us didn’t perpetuate.  It subsided and she was rescued from the Belly of the Whale.  She has grown since then.  She’s 15, almost 16 now.  Loggerheads still occur sometimes but they are not getting more intense over time.  They are getting less intense.  She rarely gets swallowed up into the Belly.  And when she is upset, she doesn’t go as deep and is able to recover much more quickly.  I see her resolving Loggerhead conflicts with others in an admirable way.  I am so thankful to her and my Cause for that.

I have learned not to shove my will down my kids’ throat (...and am noticing that I still need to work on it since writing this blog).  My Cause has taught me how to look for alternative solutions if at all possible.  He has taught me how to reason with them and work with them to come up with an appropriate compromise so the situation won’t come to angry intense Loggerheads.  I have not wanted them to learn, “No you can’t!  I’m the parent!  You have to obey!  End of story!” I have wanted them to learn how to work together with me to obtain what they want within the rules. There have been times when no matter how much we have tried to talk it out, a compromise couldn’t be achieved.  That meant Loggerheads.  But that was my cue for empathy and compassion, not triumph and pride.  And when they submitted to the rules, that was my cue to admire them like the Lord had admired me.
Above all I did not want them to learn that if you could get the advantage over another person because of your age, position, strength, or intelligence then use it to get your way.  If they saw that I was doing that, they would learn to treat other people like that.  They would treat their children like that.  Then they would hate parenthood and themselves like I had done for so many years.  I would not pass that heritage down to them.  I would stop that, shield them from that.  

The Lord stopped it.  I let him, pleaded for him to stop it.  I don’t think in that specific situation with Laura that I was thinking, “Because the Lord did this for me, I will do this for my daughter.”  It’s just that he had treated me that way so many different times that I had become like him.  I treated others as I loved to be treated.  He is truly my Savior.  He enabled me to love my children, love motherhood, and love myself and in so doing he loved my children.  He rescued them from the years of hell I went through.  I love him for that!