A Raw Confession: Tending to my Soul

In Personal by Allison Byxbe

I’m well aware of my strengths. Intelligent. Loyal. Caring. It’s easy for me to be honest and vulnerable. I love to laugh. I can be witty. I’m teaching you the value of education and hard work. I’m teaching you about perseverance and being a good friend. You see every day warm, honest affection freely given to that ginger-bearded man you call daddy. I know all these things.

But this is not a post primarily about what I’m good at. This is a confession to you, my kids, about what I know I’m not good at. It’s an apology of sorts. It’s a I wish these weren’t my struggles so that they weren’t a part of your story. It’s a taking ownership of my own flaws. I want you to know that I know. It’s so important to me that you know I’m not making excuses. That I am painfully aware of the ways in which I fall short. The ways in which I know I’m contributing to your future therapy sessions. I know and it pains me, down to my core. Even though I know it’s not possible to be perfect, I still wish I could be for – of all people –  you. Even though I know that perseverance produces character, and character hope, I wish in a way that aches every single day, that I could will my weaknesses away. That I could perfectly balance the demands and stressors of every day in breath-taking grace and humility.

But too often I walk around demanding that the world conform to me and responding like you and the world owe me something when it all goes wrong. I walk around like my annoyances and irritations should be the rest of the world’s grievances. I walk around like I own the place and everyone else should bend and flex to my preferences. I know my fuse is shockingly short and my responses are startling loud and sometimes drawn out. I know that sometimes I let my frustration and anger and tiredness come out too strongly in ways and words that are confusing for you. I know that sometimes I’m unpredictably moody. I know that the color of my emotions run too hot, too red, sometimes. And I know that I often expect too much. Too much of me. Too much of you. Too much of us.

And in the mundane, ordinary of each day it’s so easy to trade relationship for orders. For telling you what to do, what not to do, and how to respond. But if I’m desperate for anything for you, it’s for you to know that you are known and you are loved. Know that you are safe, warm, recognized, loved, affirmed, and secure because you are ours. From these gentle waters we can mold a flourishing life. And yet so often I find myself simply functioning in the “getting it done” mode of life. Each misstep or wrong thing done, I correct as if it’s the end of the world. I think you ought to already be a finished project instead of a work in progress. I demand of myself that I expertly handle everything that comes my way and put on display that I’m a perfectly finished product. And yet none of this is true for any of us living here in this house. We’re all unfinished, in process, incomplete, flawed, in need of daily grace upon grace. So why do I demand from me and from you what is neither true nor practical?


But then yesterday. It was a rare day. Instead of being woken up by a little person to settle a dispute or tend to a boo-boo, I woke up to the quiet murmuring of the three of you playing trains together in your room. With no yelling. No screaming. No throwing. After making our way to the kitchen, you helped me make a big fruit salad for breakfast and we all sat down together to enjoy our handiwork and English muffins. After breakfast, I pulled out our newly acquired yoga cards and heaps of fun, laughing, falling, and totally wrong poses ensued. You enjoyed a few of your favorite cartoons. I reveled in unhurried devotions, meditating, and writing. Before lunch, we all – including Nate and Jemma – played outside. Then we took our midday rest. Later you built forts and played cars, and normally I’d freak over that kind of mess and inconvenience. But you were playing so incredibly well together. We were gifted with a day where I said yes more than no. Where my patience ran long and unfiltered. Where we enjoyed one another and didn’t stress too much about the small things.

And these are the kind of days I want you to remember. This is the kind of mom I want you to remember having. These  are the threads I want stitching you together from the inside out.

But truth. There have been far more days that we all wake up on the wrong side of the bed, grumbling, fumbling, fussing, and stumbling over each other. Where breakfast is scrounged up and eaten with barely even looking each other in the eyes. When I trudge from one mess to the next, between one fight or the other, and look up only to see that it’s time for lunch. But the breakfast dishes and crumbs and sticky are still strewn across the table, dribbling to the floor, smeared across the chairs. I heave sighs and fling reprimands and stack up critiques till the room is fully overcrowded with my anxieties and frustrations.

I know that life can’t be one fantastic unicorn of existence. But I’ve also known for a long time that my life has been skewed too far the other direction, like a plodding, sometimes angry, kicking donkey. So, one day back in March, I called Sue and told her we needed to talk.  After some thoughtful conversation, my kind therapist looked across the table at me and uttered the “d” word. Depression? Initially, I was somewhat shocked (I knew I was struggling but I didn’t know it was intense enough for a label). I cried (actually I cried a lot prior to that moment, too). And then, because a deep yearning to understand took root, I sought to figure out how I landed in this bewildering, unfamiliar place.

What I came to realize is that over the past several years, my personal mantra has become “I can do anything for just a little while.” Say yes to all the opportunities (because I want people to know I’m capable). Push through piles of work that keep me up well into the night (because it’s only for a season). Okay a travel schedule that kept Ben gone nearly every weekend March through June (because it’s just for a few months). Get through Reed’s hospital stays (it’s only four days, times three). Buck up. Show everyone how strong you are. And just keep going.

The problem is when anything piles up into everything and just a little while becomes all the while. You break.

So I’ve spent the summer learning again how to let limitations and boundaries landscape my life. How to say no because though yes is possible, no is life abundant. How to be at soul-rest because I am deeply loved by God. How to stop and listen long enough to know what my soul is thirsty for. And now here, even in this space of still uncertainty, still searching, still yearning, still not fully knowing, I can see with the full-scale color of my imagination once again that tending to our souls is the greatest and most beautiful demand put on our lives.