When We Over-React

        Puzzle games have always fascinated me; hang-man, word searches, crosswords and scrambles. One of my favorites as a child was Connect the Dots. Start at #1, follow the dots in order and voila! A picture would emerge. As an adult I find myself trying to connect the healthy emotional dots—love, trust, safety, security— in search of the picture that has always alluded me. The problem is that the unhealthy dots of rejection, abandonment, shame and loss have been added to my puzzle and are preventing me from completing the intended picture.

My daughter spent ten days for spinal surgery at Stanford Children’s Hospital in June, 2010. It was one long exercise in holding my breath as we waited through surgery and recovery and then navigating her fragile body through a crowded airport for the plane ride home. It wasn’t until we arrived safe and sound that I broke down from lack of oxygen. The tragedy that we saw in other children and the fear for my own daughter’s well-being was like clinging to the wrong dots and circling for two years before I could see clearly to move to a healthy place.

Tiffany had three different roommates during her stay; the first had a brain tumor that was cancerous, I can’t remember the second, and the third little girl had a giant head. I’m not kidding. She was a real life Sponge-Bob. Her neck and head came all the way out to her shoulders and rose up high like a big block making her 5’9” tall. Her tiny little face was smack in the middle; her features looked smaller than they obviously were around all that swelling. She had beautiful Indian skin and long dark hair. I could barely allow myself to look at the girl. It was just so awful I had to turn away each time she shuffled passed the end of Tiffany’s bed to take a walk.

The encounter with Tiffany’s first roommate, the one with the cancerous brain tumor, was the trigger on my emotional dot-to-dot puzzle to start circling around anger and frustration. The girl was a cute blonde-haired blue-eyed six-year-old with a sweet temperament. At night she asked her mom more than once if she was going to die.

        “I don’t know, baby. I don’t know.”

During the day, the girl’s mom was overwhelmed with tasks: organizing surgeries, treatments and flights, applying for a long-term stay at the Ronald McDonald House, and trying to comfort her daughter. Her husband was in Colorado where they lived. They couldn’t afford for both of them to be at Stanford. He had to stay and work to pay for the mounting costs. Phone call after phone call the mom made and kids’ meal after kids’ meal she brought from McDonald’s to her daughter. The little cancer patient was eating chicken nuggets and fries every single day. That’s when my heart revealed itself.

The curtain was pulled between the two girls. My daughter was asleep in her bed. I got up to use the restroom; which meant going to their side of the room since the girl had the corner bed. I glanced at the girl eating her Happy Meal while mom made more calls. As soon as the door closed behind me, the dialogue in my head began to rant.

The girl has cancer! Why are you feeding her junk food day after day? If she’s going to beat this thing, she needs fruits and vegetables! I was so outraged that the mother could be so “careless,” that as I passed back through the curtain I pronounced the final judgment in my head: white trash.

The depravity in my heart was unparalleled. I had nothing to offer her. No compassion. No comfort of any kind. Not even a nice word or a shoulder to lean on or, God forbid I would offer her help of some kind since she was all alone! As soon as I was back in my chair, I turned the contempt on myself: I can’t believe I just thought that! How could I be so cruel? Why am I so angry? What’s preventing me from showing love and grace?

Fear was leading my soul. I watched the six-year-old with brain cancer, the thirteen-year-old with the SpongeBob head, listened to the girl screaming from the other corridor at all hours of the day and night, kept vigilance over my daughter, and I was afraid. I kept saying, “God forbid.” I swallowed all of the emotions and tried to remain stoic, “for Tiffany,” but what came out in every direction was judgment. I wanted everything to be “right” and safe. I wanted the peace from a structure that made sense, one that would be predictable and give healing. In my mind, the girl’s mom wasn’t “doing it right,” she wasn’t taking care of her the right way. She was adding high fat and high cholesterol and no nutrients to a cancer ravaged body. This felt like betrayal to me. Like the mom couldn’t be trusted to take proper care of her daughter. It felt dangerous.

Oh my poor, fearful heart! Thank you Jesus that God is a God of love and forgiveness, of grace and mercy. How I needed to accept His grace that day.

This mom’s behavior was triggering the abandonment and rejection from my own childhood, the neglect during times I needed proper care, and I was responding with the anger I wasn’t permitted to have as a child. Those are the dots from my childhood that were planted in my picture like sores and when a connection is attempted it hurts. The truth was, this mother loved her daughter and was doing everything in her power to get the proper treatment at a hospital she and her husband respected. She was a loving, attentive mother who was doing the best she could under the umbrella of a fatal illness. It wasn’t my place to judge the food she gave her daughter; that was a boundary crossing from a closed off heart.

God calls me to love with the love He gives me; to offer grace with the grace He offers me every second of the day. My job is to receive it (vertically) and pass it on (horizontally). If I don’t allow Him to love me properly with His perfect love, I cannot love others properly. I need to allow Him to connect my healthy dots of love, trust, safety, identity and security and to erase my unhealthy dots of rejection, abandonment, loss and trauma.  If I don’t go back and connect my dots the right way, my picture will always remain a mystery. 

          –Tara Schiro is the author of “No Arms, No Legs, No Problem: When life happens, you can wish to die or choose to live” NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon and Barnes and Noble http://www.NoArmsNoLegsNoProblem.com

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Who is Lipstick Girl?

I’d spent three days with Bob in November of 2011 to interview him for his book. On my last night at his house, we watched the American Country Music Awards. One of my favorite past-times is to watch the glamorous red carpet parade of any award show even though I’m prone to critiquing the ladies in their dresses.

“She does not have the right body type for that style dress! Did she not look in the mirror before she chose that outfit? Wrong color for her, it washes her out. And that is just plain ugly! Ooh, but look at her…gorgeous! Great hair!”

 Bob listened to my catty comments and at first I think he was surprised at my harsh tone. He laughed at me but after a while he was proactive, “Okay, what’s wrong with that one?”  I continued to fill him in but my uneasiness from earlier in the day was returning. I was doing it again. My negativity was coming out only this time on the beautiful women I would never meet or measure up to. I told Bob that these ladies had the money and connections to look perfect so my expectations were high. Really? I was so focused on the physical, so full of pretense.

Suddenly, the irony of what I was doing hit me.

I was sitting next to a man with no arms or legs, scars all over his body, and criticizing beautiful women in sparkling gowns for not looking good enough. What must he have thought of me? In my defense, I have been a good student of Joan and Melissa Rivers as they have critiqued the red carpet ladies year after year at the Oscars. Shows like “What Not To Wear” are educational in my mind. But my comments did not reveal fashion sense, they revealed my inner shame.

I remember the first time I heard the term Lipstick Girl thrown at me. 

It was one chilly evening many years earlier and just before Halloween when I walked into a house full of women talking and shopping at a makeshift craft show; I didn’t see my sister but I quickly spotted the jewelry and ornaments she was selling. Her table was crowded with buyers so I lingered at a table in the entrance a bit to look at the other wares being offered.

Breaking my attention, I was jolted by a loud voice.

          “Lipstick Girl!”

It came from somewhere behind my sister’s table. I turned to look, as did the entire roomful of women.       

“Lipstick Girl! How are you?” The judgment fell on me. I looked at this woman—dark hair, fair-complected—but I couldn’t place her.

          “Marie!” my sister said. “THIS is Lipstick Girl? She’s my sister! You’re Lipstick Girl?” she asked me, wide eyed.

I looked around at the faces; all grateful it wasn’t directed at them.  I was dumbfounded. My sister came over and gave me a quick hug and a hearty laugh.

          “Oh my gosh! I’ve been hearing about Lipstick Girl for years! It’s you?” She couldn’t stop laughing as she went back behind her table. I wanted to run out the front door.

          “Marie, tell her why you call her Lipstick Girl!” my sister yelled across the room. She giggled while everyone gawked at the train wreck.

          “Do you remember me?” she asked. Luckily she didn’t wait for me to answer. “Our sons used to go to preschool together.” That was it. I knew her; always showed up in sweats or pajamas for the morning drop off.

          “You dropped off your son looking like you stepped out of a magazine and the rest of us showed up in slippers.” Laughing in the background.

“Oh,” was all I could think to say.

“So we dubbed you Lipstick Girl because you were always, always wearing your lipstick. My husband even said to me, ‘Why can’t you get dressed like Lipstick Girl?’”

My sister continued to laugh in steady bursts of baritone chuckle. Sweat began to form over my entire body.

           “Oh, don’t worry; we weren’t laughing at you,” she said, lingering on this thought and salivating before the kill.

My sister was doubled over with hysteria. My paralyzed reaction was beginning to make Marie feel awkward, but I couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say to this discovery that I’d been singled out for ridicule like this. Fortunately, the women got back to the business of shopping and purchasing so I could get out of there as fast as I could manage.

          The worst part about it was that it was true. A few days later I counted 88 tubes of lipstick in my cupboard. I’d never gone anywhere without one of the shades on my lips. The store, the mailbox, the delivery room…if either of my kids had opened their eyes the day they were born they would have seen their mom with full makeup, curled hair and mauve lips. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point in my life lipstick had changed from an enhancement to a shield. I hid behind it like a woman going into battle. Maria’s playful accusation, likely assigned by her own insecurities, stung because it was true. I was Lipstick Girl and I was hiding, even from myself. I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge the shield because I’d have to face facts: I wasn’t ready for the truth of who I really was. I needed to make an adjustment but it would take ten years and an introduction to a quad-amputee to develop some clarity.

After spending those three days with him, I realized that my quest to write Bob’s memoir had solely focused on his physical disability rather than his personhood because I didn’t want to face who I was—bitter, angry, fearful, and full of shame— in light of who he is; thankful, peaceful, loving, gentle, humble, and kind. His inner light shone like a spotlight on my inner darkness and it felt ugly; so I kept the focus on the physical. I did not want my insides revealed. Somewhere along the line I had decided that as long as I wore cute shoes, a great outfit and full makeup on the outside, I could distract how empty I was on the inside. I could keep people at arm’s length.

It was a brilliant plan until I met Bob. I soon realized he was living a real life and I was just pretending. I wasn’t fooling anyone but myself.

                –Tara Schiro is the author of “No Arms, No Legs, No Problem: When life happens, you can wish to die or choose to live” NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon and Barnes and Noble http://www.NoArmsNoLegsNoProblem.com

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall, I am Ugly After All

The two men talked loud enough for me to hear their words from my chair. The restaurant was full of close conversations and I seemed to be the only eaves-dropper on Table 9 as I waited for my food. I leaned back and pretended to scroll Facebook.

“The Myers account was yours. You were supposed to take care of it,” said the man on the opposite side of the table.

“I did take care of it! It’s not my fault they changed their mind at the last minute,” barked the man with his back to me.

“Oh no? If you would have been on top of it, you would have known that the plan they signed up for didn’t match their original request for service. But you were too busy playing golf and cashing your commission check to see what was happening!” His voice was low to not cause attention but his tone was angry.

I’m too busy playing golf? This from the man who regularly brags about his Japanese Putter! Look in the mirror, pal. There’s a storm coming and you’re gonna blow away.” He shoved his chair back into my chair as he got up.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bump you,” he said to me before shoving his chair back to the table and storming out of the restaurant. I glanced at the man across the table. He pulled money out of his wallet and as he stood to leave, he paused to look at his reflection in the mirror above the table. That surprised me. He didn’t grimace, or smirk; he just looked. After about three seconds he turned and left.

As I picked at my food, I wondered what the man saw in his reflection; pride, fear, failure, his father? Who knows what brought each of them to be so defensive towards each other or what caused so much hurt in their lives that they could no longer effectively communicate their hearts, but what I did know is that it bothered me. It made me sad. I have been in countless conversations where that dagger has been thrown: Look in the mirror, take a deep look at yourself!

The men’s comments fell into the pity party I was having at my own table, feeling like I didn’t measure up to everyone else, so I asked for a to-go box and went home to think. To get the wheels going, I Googled “how mirrors are made.” Mirrors start out as clear glass. They are washed with water and chemicals and then liquefied layers of tin and silver are applied and hardened. A layer of copper comes next and then two coats of paint are applied to protect the metals. It is man-made. It can’t do anything more than mimic what is in front of it.

The mirror is reliable to a fault. It is flat, two-dimensional, and reflects what we create; not what we should see. It confirms what I want confirmed. It repeats back to me my own self-told story. When I ask the mirror if I’m lovely, or if I measure up, or if I’m good enough, or if I’m ugly, it tells me exactly what I was secretly thinking. It reflects my heart even though I can’t see it.

Sometimes my heart betrays me and distorts my image with a long list of condemnations running down the side of my reflection, “You were rude to the checkout lady at Walmart; you were disrespectful to your husband; your kids are wearing dirty socks because you didn’t do the laundry; you were late to your meeting; you did all the talking when you were with your friend; you didn’t go visit your mother-in-law; you went into the house without talking to your neighbor and the floor needs to be mopped. You call yourself a Christian and look how you’re behaving; you’re a hypocrite. You are ugly after all.”

When I can’t see clearly in the mirror, I turn to the next best thing: pictures, or mini-mirrors. The mini-mirrors that get passed around on social media fish for constant attention and validation: selfies of us driving the car, sporting a new hairdo, wearing a great outfit, exercising, showing off our kids’ accomplishments, showcasing our talents and creativity; they all ask the same question: Do you see me? Am I worthy? And when we don’t receive enough Likes, the answer is heard as no.

Therein lays the mistake. I am asking the right question but in the wrong places. I ask the mirror to do more than let me know if there’s broccoli in my teeth and I place a heavier burden on friends and family when I relentlessly pass around mini-mirrors asking for validation. The craving intensifies with each Like. It is an endless cycle to a downward spiral. Why do I keep doing this?

I need to be brave enough and humble enough to go to God to ask the question, “What do you see when I stand before you?” Only the One who knows how many hairs are on my head, the One who “knitted [me] together in [my] mother’s womb” can reflect who I am beyond the mirror. Only God can give me the answer I so desperately want to hear.

If I truly allowed myself to be loved with His perfect love, I would hear Him say, “You are lovely and you are wanted; I created you. I am with you every second of the day. I never leave you. You are mine; you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are chosen, you have purpose, and you are perfect in my sight through my son. I’ve got your back; you don’t need to worry about a thing. I have, and will continue to provide everything you need. I love you; you are my precious child for eternity. Let me take care of you. But most of all, love others the way I love you.”

–Tara Schiro is the author of “No Arms, No Legs, No Problem: When life happens, you can wish to die or choose to live” NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon and Barnes and Noble http://www.NoArmsNoLegsNoProblem.com