If you’re anything like me, you’re not haunted by ghosts or goblins. Yet, there’s probably something less supernormal but more real that haunts you and has a way of preventing you from living a full life. Is there a past sin you’ve never confessed? Or are you grappling with residual guilt that remains from an offense that’s been long-forgiven and forgotten? Are you haunted by the future – what it will hold or what it won’t? Are you holding onto grudges and letting others and the pain they may have inflicted upon you rob you of your joy? Are you haunted by dreams of worldly success or paralyzed by the possibility of failure? Are you embittered by a painful loss or by someone who has wounded you? Do you live in regret, wishing you’d made better decisions instead of moving forward?
There have been many “ghosts” in my life that have terrorized me, kept me from edging my way closer to Christ, crippled me, and held me hostage. Body image problems, which I so passionately write about now in a more positive light (I hope), used to dominate me. I thought I was the one in control when I sought solace in the number on the scale. Instead, it was weight and food that were controlling me and my life.
I’ve also been haunted by worry. Early on in my marriage I worked at a hospital and also as a freelance medical writer. I enjoyed my work, but the nature of my job made me aware of how many people were sick and dying. I’d never fallen prey to hypochondria, but all of a sudden my marital bliss seemed too good to be true, and I became irrationally convinced I was going to die young before I was able to start a family.
Then I found a suspicious and freakishly large lymph node in my armpit. I named it Lilly and joked and laughed my way through the breast ultrasound and the follow-up appointment where I had to sit in the waiting room of the hospital’s cancer center as a patient rather than a health journalist. It turned out everything was okay, but I wondered if my worry had fueled Lilly’s growth. I told myself I’d stop this craziness, and I did for awhile.
Then I became pregnant. This seemed like far too awesome of a gift for everything to go right and so I began to worry almost daily about how my baby was growing and developing. The midwives I used for my first pregnancy were part of an academic medical center, which didn’t help. They were constantly running unnecessary tests and discussing what might go wrong.
To battle these wasteful worries, I started a worry jar. I found an old vase and started dating a piece of paper, scribbling down any worries that were on my mind for that particular day, and then tossing them into my jar. In this physical act, I was handing my worries over to God.
Thankfully, I’ve become much more chill. I’m not a huge worry wart anymore. I tend to sweat the small stuff more than the big stuff these days (which is a problem in and of itself and a post for another day perhaps). And I do still have that worry jar, which comes in handy whenever something is on my mind, especially when it’s something I have absolutely no control over.
I probably also need to work on turning over even the smallest, fleeting concerns to God, too. Such as: How am I possibly going to find time to grocery shop this week? Or: When my OCD kicks into high gear and I can’t find something, and I tell myself it doesn’t matter; yet, I can’t rest and stop fidgeting until I either know it’s lost forever or it’s found. Let it go, you crazy girl. Just let it go.
More recently, what occasionally haunts me are the mistakes I’ve made as a mother (and I guess this probably falls into the worry category, so maybe I’m not as freed from big worries as I’d like to think). I didn’t realize quite how badly I’d been mired in the darkness of depression after Mary Elizabeth was born until I entered this postpartum period. Since Thomas’s birth I’ve certainly had my moments when the lack of sleep, the postpartum physical mushiness, or the feelings of desperation when every single child is melting down and needs Mommy right this very minute overwhelm me. But, mostly, my mood has been steady and pretty darn happy. There have been no crazy crying jags. It’s actually been kind of weird because I haven’t really cried out of sadness at all, although tears of happiness have been more common. An aunt of mine sent me a beautiful porcelain statute of a mother holding her son close, and that triggered some tears.
There are plenty of days when I wake up pining for a few more hours of sleep, but I don’t have to summon every ounce of strength just to get out of bed. My limbs are not like lead. My heart isn’t heavy either. I smile when I’m out with the baby barnacled to me, and I’m not acting. I love the feel of him snuggling against me. I love my life with my littles as hard as it is.
Yet, every once in awhile (okay, almost daily) I do wonder if this sunny place I’m at right now will be enough to make up for how I was back then and how I behaved during that long, scary stretch of postpartum depression. I wonder, too, how my kids will handle all the times my moods, hormones, or humanness have gotten the best of me. What will my children remember? All that I’ve done right? Or the times when I messed up big time?
I feel like there’s one child in particular who is my depository for frustration. She’s as sensitive and prone to brooding as her mama, and that’s just what is hard to handle. Seeing her shifty moods and occasional melancholy is like looking in the mirror. She cries or screams at the drop of the pin, and I just want to make it stop and tell her how silly and melodramatic she’s being. (Dad, I understand now. I do. I do.) It’s hard to look at her sensitive outbursts sometimes because I see imperfect and jagged bits and pieces of me. But she’s bright and inquisitive and so very sweet, too. People talk about her sweetness all of the time. The way her eyes implore love and hope even in her darkest moments makes me melt. She’s not always sad. No, she can be as chirpy as a robin and bubbly and airy just like her mama, too. Most people who meet me wouldn’t have any idea that I’m a brooder because I am an energetic, animated person. The same is probably true for this child. I just see a more sedate and serious side of her that others miss. She makes herself vulnerable to me just as I make myself the most vulnerable to those whom I love the most.
I do try to look at that other mirror of my daughter as well – the one that reflects someone who is as passionately happy as she is sometimes passionately sad. This daughter of mine is fair and lovely. And so am I.
Fruitless worry, body image concerns, and the crippling desire to be a perfect mom to perfect kids are just a few of many “ghosts” I have to deal with in my life. In honor of the All Souls Octave, I’m going to work really hard to bury these haunts six feet under (or just get rid of them completely – wouldn’t that be nice?). I’ll lay to rest worries into the worry jar and cast my cares onto God’s shoulders. I’ll pray for my sweet, sensitive girl. I want her to grow up knowing she is loved deeply and cherished. I’ll ask for forgiveness from my children when I lose my footing along this sometimes uneven and unpredictable mothering path and when I let my little loves down. I’ll forgive my children when they disappoint me, and I’ll recognize they are only small people and Christians under construction who should not have the same judgment as adults.
Care to join me in this ghost-busting exercise? Isn’t it time we all bury whatever is keeping us from embracing the present, being content, and finding a beautiful, peaceful intimacy with Christ?