One Size Does Not Fit All

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Working second shift, my mom often left dinner on low in the oven. Sometimes it was a pot roast and other times it was pan of bubbling scalloped potatoes and ham. Along with these dishes, we enjoyed our share of processed food. Hamburger-based meals with stroganoff seasoning packets were a staple in our home. Orange-tinted jar sauce coated spaghetti along with Parmesan cheese shakers, satisfying our Italian longings. And frozen individual potpies seemed fancy with their creamy gravy in flaky pie shells. I thought all cakes came from a boxed mix and made instant microwavable oatmeal for breakfast. My mom did practice her culinary skills on potato salad, cream cheese brownies, and split pea soup. But she left macaroni and cheese to the blue box experts and pizza to the flying war hero.

When I got married, my husband introduced me to old fashioned oats made on the stove. At first, I missed the sweet peaches and cream additives. But eventually, I liked the chewiness and wholesome flavor of ordinary oats that I could sweeten to my liking. This opened my world that not everything had to come prepackaged. Homemade cakes, macaroni and cheese that involved a Bechamel sauce, and pancakes from ordinary ingredients became staples in my home.

I didn’t make pancakes often for my children, but often enough that they knew it took a little time. I started out with a sour cream-based recipe, moving to a buttermilk, and eventually a whole grain pancake recipe. The kids loved pancakes, and they often requested them when they had sleepovers. Once, after flipping sixty-five small pancakes for a group of boys, their insatiable appetites were finally satisfied…temporarily.

Several years ago, Terry was craving pancakes. Wanting a quick fix, he went to the store and bought a complete boxed mix. Maggie, who also loved pancakes, was appalled! She didn’t understand how one could have pancakes without milk, oil, and eggs. She remarked “Just water!” Unashamed by her response, Terry made his pancakes, sharing a few with her. To her surprise, they tasted good. Not only did she like them, but she also preferred the convenience, and likely has a boxed mix in her cabinet, today.

This past month, I have focused on issues women deal with, including boundaries, confidence, joy, and mentoring. I want to close this month by making room at the table for all women to carry out their roles in the way that works best for their lives. This means removing judgment and trusting that God is giving women direction in their own lives.

As a woman, I often define myself by my roles in life. Like most women, I want to have a healthy marriage where Terry and I enrich each other lives. As a mother, I wanted to raise my children to live a life centered on Christ, to be lifelong learners, and to be good stewards of all that God has given them. As a Mimi, I want to impact my grandchildren by being a place where they feel loved and valued. As a woman, I want to make contributions to other people’s lives through my work and volunteering. As a member of the body of Christ, I want to use my giftings to bless my community. I don’t think my ideas are radically different from those of most women I know. Maybe some don’t share the same faith I have, but most women want to be good wives, mothers, grandmothers, employees, and citizens.

In recent years, I have noticed that shawls no longer say one size fits all. Instead, they are often tagged with “one size fits most”. This considers the different heights, shapes, and sizes of women. It feels like such a more inclusive tag, without making others feel less than. I think the idea applies to womanhood in general. It is not a one-size-fits-all model. I chose to be a stay-at-home mom, make homemade pancakes, and home educate my children all the way through high school. But, although this was best for my family, it may not be the best choice for others. I have friends and sisters who choose to be working moms. I don’t think any of them had different goals in mind for their children, they just had a different style of carrying out their goals. I have friends who bought boxed pancake mixes, this doesn’t make them less interested in their child’s nutrition. I have friends who have chosen public school for their children, and they are still actively involved in their children’s education by volunteering in their classes and being a part of the PTA.

I wish I could say that I always believed this. But, for a long time I believed my method was best. This was judgmental and hurtful to those I loved. I looked for evidence to support my beliefs and wasn’t afraid to share it, trying to elevate my choices. But this attitude doesn’t champion others or make room for others to see things differently. It doesn’t champion my friend, Liane, who feels a calling to her profession as a lawyer and uses some of her time to advocate for and represent victims of domestic abuse. It doesn’t make room for all my friends who are single mothers working to provide for their families. It doesn’t make room for my friends who are public-school teachers impacting not just her own children, but a whole classroom as well.

I have been on the other side, where my choices were judged. As a new mother, I tried breast feeding for a week. Exhausted with a crying baby, I made the difficult decision to use formula to feed my baby. I remember a friends’ comment when my son developed an ear infection a year later, “That’s right, he didn’t get the good antibodies of a breast-fed baby.” I already felt guilty about my choice, knowing all the research supported her opinion. Her comment didn’t champion my choice. It made me less than, just like my judgments on other’s educational choices made them feel less than.

In the 1990s, the seasonal wheel dictated the colors of a woman’s fashion choices. Depending on your hair color, eye color, and skin tone, you were either a winter, spring, summer or fall. My dark hair and skin tone supposedly made me a winter, and I was relegated to the jewel tones on the wheel. For years, I followed that advice, staying away from soft pinks and gray. I longed for the mint sweaters and crisp yellow shirts, feeling limited because it wouldn’t bring out the best in me. And then in the early 2000s chocolate brown became stylish. I decided to break protocol, and purchased a brown skirt, with a belted brown and copper shirt. And to my surprise, despite what the color wheel indicated, I looked and felt great!

I have the privilege to be a part of a local chapter of MOPS as a mentor, what I lovingly refer to as the older or seasoned mother at the table. All of the moms I have encountered care passionately for their spouses, children, friends and community. They often question if they are doing enough and if they are making the right decisions. Some work part time, others are going back to school, and one is even home educating. My mission is not to say what I did was the best, but to champion these women in their choices and help them feel more confident without all the guilt.

I no longer wear just jewel tones; I wear colors that make me feel confident. I may make homemade pancakes, but I also love the microwavable Indian foods I find at my local grocer. I no longer judge others for decisions that are different than mine. Instead, I look for opportunities to assure other women that their choices are valid. Women’s History Month has shown us that being women hasn’t been easy. I don’t want to make the lives of my sisters and friends any harder than they already are. I am here to support them in any way I can!

Mother/Daughter Book Club

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good.” Titus 2:7

I never knew Grandma Easley. Due to some family issues, my only interaction was attending her funeral. She had a complicated relationship with her daughter, my mother-in-law. From what I can piece together, her life was a mixture of tragedy and grit. She married an Arkansas sharecropper who spent most of their money on alcohol, leaving her to feed five children bread soaked in milk gravy. After his death, she used the life insurance to buy a freezer, and continued to support her family by share cropping, gardening, and preserving food. By all accounts, she was an incredible baker. Her flaky pie crust was filled with fruit and sumptuous custards. She also covered her banana pudding with a light meringue, elevating a southern classic to a family legend. Shooed out of the kitchen, her daughter never watched her cut the butter into the flour or cook the custard to the right consistency. Upon her death, those recipes were lost along with the techniques and tips she used.

I wish I could ask Grandma Easley some questions. Did her heart break when she buried her first daughter in the Arizona desert? Encouraging her sons to go to college, what were her dreams for her daughters? After losing her husband, how did she find the strength to create a new life for herself and her children? What were her unfulfilled dreams? I do know she was a reader and would love to know if she found healing between the pages of books. By reading about adventures, struggles, and triumphs, did she imagine a different relationship with her daughter? And the biggest question of all, is it possible that even at the end of her life, her perspective and her stories could have healed some deep hurts in my mother-in-law?

These questions will never be answered. My mother-in-law and I had lots of conversations about her relationship with her mother. As she too was dying, she wondered why her mother never taught her how to bake. She wondered why her mother never pushed her to go to college? She wished for a different relationship, one where the bond would have been full of love.

In Titus 2, the Bible stresses the importance of women mentoring other women. Older women should model godliness and good character for younger women. In years past, this mentoring would happen in the home as women were canning, sewing, or baking. Often, these women were accused of gossiping, but historical records tell a different story. A lot of women shared stories about discrimination, racism, and conflict. The women’s suffrage movement was born around kitchen tables while political messages and personal stories were woven into the design of quilts. As daughters learned what type of stitches they needed, they would also learn how to handle difficulties with grace and grit.

About fifteen years ago, I was privileged to be part of a mother/daughter book club. Seven moms and their daughters got together regularly to discuss a book we had read. We shared who we identified with in Little Women. We talked about the importance of caring for others when reading The Little Princess. We recognized in our elders the importance of humor and adventure when reading In Grandma’s Attic. Most discussions were lighthearted, but some dealt with heavy issues like loneliness, selfishness, and justice. At the time, this book club fueled my book nerdiness and fulfilled my need for community. It also created an opportunity for my daughter and I to connect during her emotionally charged tween stage. At the time, I didn’t think about the larger issues we were creating space for, or realize we were opening doors for conversations about difficult and challenging issues. I just knew the tea parties and books connected us as mothers and daughters.

In the latest musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Matilda Wormwood says, “What I really like is reading, It’s like a holiday in your head.” I wholeheartedly share her sentiment, but I think reading is so much more. It opens your world to new countries filled with exotic smells and tastes. It makes you think deeply about another person’s perspectives when faced with tragedy or discrimination. It sometimes challenges your worldview, putting flesh to statistics you read about. And as a Christian, it illuminates truth in some unlikely characters and stories.

At my niece’s birthday party, I met some of her friends. One nine-year-old shared with me some of her favorite books, even adding one to my TBR list. When the moms arrived at the end of the party, we chatted a little bit, and I shared that years ago I had been part of a mother/daughter book club. I shared how this was an opportunity to discuss big ideas, even though I didn’t personally set out to do that. The girls overheard, and immediately jumped on the idea, begging their moms to start one. They sauntered off, deciding on the first book as the mom’s discussed the possibility. I told my sister and the other moms that I can’t wait to hear about the books they are reading, and that, someday, I’ll attend as the honorary guest.

The month of March is designated as Women’s History month. It is a great month to read and learn about different women who, despite roadblocks, have made significant contributions to our world in areas of literature, art, science, history, sports, and politics. As a Christian we can also investigate women who have made significant contributions in spreading the gospel. But not every woman is going to be Marie Curie, Georgia O’Keefe, or Louisa May Alcott. Ordinary women can do extraordinary things simply by investing in future generations, mentoring girls and young women. It can happen by sharing stories through the pages of books and discussing our own stories in the process. It can happen at a kitchen island, baking cookies together. It can happen in a car ride on the way to school. The point is to actively engage in mentoring, choosing to develop or solidify a relationship with intentionality.

My mother-in-law was not mentored by her mother. She never learned the art of baking pie crust and no family recipes were passed down. But she made a different choice for her family’s future generations. She was intentional in her relationship with me and my daughter. She taught my daughter to sew, showed me how to make pecan fingers, and shared with me stories about her childhood and how they impacted her. I learned that though hardship may come early, life can end with a heart full of gratitude and forgiveness. I learned that even as a young teenager, the Bible was so important to her, that she spent her earnings from the chopping cotton to buy each of her siblings a Bible with their names engraved on the front. I saw a woman reach her most difficult trial in life by spending hours on her knees in prayer. Those hours turned her heart from despair to hope.

You never know how mentoring turns out; did you make an impact where you had hoped? Yesterday, I asked Maggie what she really thought of the book club, and to my joy, she felt it was magical and delightful. I agree and I will be forever grateful for that time with my daughter and our friends!

Confidence with Cake

“in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.” Ephesians 3:12

I have had an online profile long enough to find Facebook memories funny and sentimental. Often, I’ll screenshot the memory of something my children did or said and send it to them with a laughing emoji. Memories include anything from attending bluegrass festivals to sitting on the porch with a parasol reading a book. The comments can be about clowns, chocolate, or Charles Dickens. It’s a snapshot of sorts that reminds me of the life we have lived.

Recently, I posted a picture of a cake I halfheartedly decorated. The mini cake sat on a pedestal slightly lopsided. The chocolate frosting, in what could best be described as rustic, covered the cake with unwanted speckles of crumb poking through. With no filters, I captioned the photo, “A for flavor, C for decorating”. This is not the first time I have posted some of my less than stellar decorating photos. Just today, Facebook reminded me of two such posts, another cake I attempted to decorate and a metallic looking blueberry meringue I made for a pie. Again, I posted these pictures with disparaging remarks, knowing that some of my friends would chuckle.

A friend of mine is doing hard things in her life. She is raising three school-age children, working full-time, and going to school part time to earn her bachelor’s degree. She grew up in a faith-based community that didn’t encourage women to seek higher education, leaving her with little means to support herself after her marriage imploded. There is so much more I could say about this woman and the trauma she experienced in the last few years, but it is not my story to tell. Recently, she expressed some trepidation about taking a philosophy course, having no previous experience with the subject. She worried whether she was grasping the reading when she made discussion posts and if her papers would suffice. Her class finished this week and she shared with me that she earned an A+ for all her writing. She qualified her grade with the caveat, “I think my professor is an easy grader.”

These words stuck with me for a few days, just like the images of my not so beautiful cakes are forever embedded in social media. I hear a lot of my friends make similar statements. We, especially women, seem to downplay the work we do or minimize it in comparison to others. We say “It was nothing” after organizing a successful event or “I could’ve been more prepared” after giving a well-received speech. We post unflattering pictures about our lives to keep it real. We attribute our successes to the support system around us to keep us humble. And we believe that our professor was an easy grader instead of believing we worked hard to understand the material and were able to articulate it well in writing.

Later, this same friend shared that going to school has helped her feel empowered, opening her world to different points of views. She also shared that she has earned a great GPA, giving her confidence in both her intelligence and abilities. I, too, can publicly state, I am a good baker. For years, I have made Christmas cookies that other people have craved. My homemade cakes taste better than most purchased at a grocery store. Yet, both of us still fall into the habit of dismissing our intelligence and abilities.

Not all our responses in life are bad. I do think keeping things real on social media reminds viewers that not every picture is perfectly staged with smiling children, flawless homes, or perfectly frosted cakes. It reinforces the reality that life is sometimes messy. I do think it is important to acknowledge the support system that helps you to achieve your goals. I also think its important to remain humble, not boasting that you are the best at what you do. But there is room for a woman to be confident in her life and not dismiss her work and skills!

Being confident often gets confused with being prideful. Yet, the two have different starting points. Confidence roots itself in your identity with God, while pride roots itself in being self-made. Confidence is defined as the result of a right understanding of your abilities and limitations, recognizing that the ultimate source is God given. Pride is the overestimation of yourself, with a constant need for justification or feedback to support your pride. Confidence measures your sufficiency in Christ, while pride seeks to be self-sufficient. There are three indicators to keep you rooted in confidence and avoid pride: your idea of perfection, the ability to celebrate and collaborate with others, and an attitude of gratefulness.

Years ago, I planned and budgeted for what I thought was a perfect family trip, including highlights for each family member. The biggest highlight for my son and husband was seeing the Boston Pops perform the 1812 Overture on Independence Day. My perfect vacation was derailed on July 3rd when the transmission in our van died, leaving us stranded outside of Portland for hours. We had to scratch the critically acclaimed whoopie pies off my list, and with a late arrival to Boston, we were too exhausted to get up the next morning for the free concert tickets. Emily Ley says in her book Grace, Not Perfection, “Don’t sacrifice the good to chase the perfection.” My perfectly planned vacation could have been a major flop for our family. We didn’t hit all the highlights and we blew our budget with a rental. But we chose to continue the vacation and focused on creating memories. It is important to plan things well and put your best foot forward, but perfection becomes a problem when something doesn’t turn out exactly the way you planned, and your attitude in response doesn’t honor Christ.

My friend’s son produces amazing music. Caleb takes melodies from artists, including his sister Megan, and adds strings, drums, and counter melodies to give the song a fuller, richer sound. He readily shares the details of his work and invites feedback. The song, Alright by Megg Noell demonstrates the power of collaboration. In the past, I have led teams to create a successful Vacation Bible School program. I recognize that my skill set lies in creating a vision and writing out plans. I am not good at crafts, not coordinated enough for games, and not detailed enough for set design. But I am good at finding the people with talents in those areas and giving them a platform to develop their talent. Like Caleb, I am confident enough in my ability to work with others to effectively minister the gospel.

Finally, confidence always gives the glory back to God. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes, “A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting the love of Christ.” Our confidence should point others to Christ, helping them see God actively working within us.

When I think about my friend and all the hard things she is doing, I am proud of her. She has allowed God to birth in her a desire for more than the circumstances she was handed. She is creating a new life for herself and her family, centered on God. And she earned the grade she was given, demonstrated by the hours she read, studied, and wrote. On a personal note, I need to stop posting pictures of my decorating mishaps. These cakes I made were not for any special days or food blog posts, they were for the simple enjoyment of my family. I don’t need to be the only voice for keeping it real on social media. I am confident that if I need a cake for a special occasion, I have enough people around me who can decorate it to make it beautiful!

Confetto Joy

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

Some of my favorite little people spent the night a few weekends ago. After making homemade pizzas and playing games, the smallest explored our living room. She discovered a gold confetto (a single piece of confetti) underneath a bookshelf. I smiled as she handed it to me, a memento from my 50th birthday. She giggled gleefully when I told her she could keep it. To her, this tiny forgotten party detritus (which might be an indicator of my housekeeping skills) was a treasure, not a piece of trash where the rest of the confetti had long gone.

A few days later, my sister sent me a Ted Talk from Ingrid Fetell Lee about “Where Joy Hides and How to Find It”. She interviewed people across the world asking what brings them joy. She found that bubbles, cherry blossoms, and ice cream cones with sprinkles universally bring people joy. She compiled a list of other items and found some patterns in joy, encouraging listeners to actively seek joy.

As I listened to her, Ingrid mentioned that a single piece of confetti is a confetto. BOOM! I felt two random moments in my life, a little person finding a treasure under my bookshelf and this Ted Talk, collide for a purpose! This happens to me a lot, two seemingly random moments connecting for a greater purpose. When I find these connections, I pay attention, exploring what they could mean. I know that psychological research can explain some of these phenomena. For example, when you buy a certain type of car, like the Nissan Rogue my son-in-law just purchased, you suddenly see a lot more of that car. This doesn’t mean that there is an increase in Nissan Rogue vehicles, it just means you are more aware of them. And sometimes when I find connections, this principle applies. This random fact made an impact on me, and I am now looking for it in other places. But in this case, Lydia found the confetto before I knew that a word existed for one piece of confetti. In other words, the confetto became illuminated after the fact. And just maybe God was trying to show me something.

February was a challenging month. In south central PA, the weather vacillated between teasing warm, spring breezes and cold, wet days. We had no significant snowfall, making the brown earth more dismal. This pattern not only plays havoc on my mental state, but also my RA, making walking difficult along with my daily tasks. Some days I crawled out of bed struggling with fatigue. Hot coffee and podcasts made days manageable, while I set smaller goals rather than my normal busyness.

Reading, which typically helps me escape, didn’t help my state. Researching my memoir, I have been reading some hard books on trauma and its impact. The latest book, What My Bones Know, tells the story of Stephanie Foo and her healing from complex trauma disorder. The research she quotes from the book illuminates the strong link of my medical issues to my childhood trauma. I wrote in my last post that you are responsible for your healing, but that is concerning your thoughts and emotions. I can’t control how my physical body responded to the trauma, making me more susceptible to not only the autoimmune disorders I have but a host of other conditions, including the reason for my hysterectomy. For a few days, I processed my anger over something I couldn’t control in my childhood. I thought about all the time, money, and energy my disorders have cost me. And this processing added to my fatigue.

Looking back on the last four weeks, I was suffering from mild seasonal slump. It is not something I realized until the confetti. After sending the Ted Talk, my sister wrote a sweet message saying “You have the ability to find joy”. I replied to her with a modest thanks, not feeling particularly joyful at that moment. A week later, after an impromptu conversation with a business acquaintance, the woman told her husband in front of me that I was delightful. This time, I paid attention, realizing God was illuminating the importance of joy and delight.

In no way am I minimizing seasonal affective disorder or clinical depression. These are serious conditions that require medical treatment. As a preventive measure, next year I am purchasing sun therapy lights to help during the dark days of winter. And in no way do I think looking for joy and choosing delight can change a person’s clinical depression. Medicine, coping strategies and a large support group are only some ways to combat depression. But for me, it was more of a depression slump, and I needed confetti to remind me to choose joy.

Notice, I said confetti, not confetto. On my 50th birthday party last May, I walked in to shouts of surprise as gold confetti sprayed out in front of me. Surrounded by the people I loved with hundreds of pieces of confetti blanketing my path, I felt celebrated! I loved the confetti, gathering it up after the party and placing it in a glass bowl on my bookshelf. Later, Joel, my grandson, delightfully played with the confetti, spilling it out of the bowl, throwing it in the air, and refilling the bowl. I kept the confetti until fall when I replaced it with pinecones. Ingrid Fetell Lee, along with the patterns of color and circular objects, emphasized the importance of abundance in finding joy. She pointed out that a picture of one piece of confetto doesn’t seem to induce joy, instead it is the abundance of confetti that sparks joy.  And even though my little friend was delighted in the single confetto, I am sure her squeal of delight would have been louder if she found a jar full of confetti!

My sister was right, I can find joy. It is not some sort of superpower I have, it is something I have purposely cultivated in my life. And it’s not rose-colored glasses I wear to avoid dealing with hard things. It is influenced by the women in my life who I wrote about in Celebrating Sheroes. Throughout my life. these two women have expressed joy consistently, demonstrating it in ways that fit their personalities. But the last couple of years have been hard for both of them, potentially changing their outlook. One lost her husband of 45 years, the other lost two brothers in one year. In addition, both have had to deal with some serious medical issues that altered their lives. Yet, both are choosing joy again. My aunt Brenda met Tim, who walked with her in her grief and became her best friend. She is marrying him this month, choosing to find joy with a partner once again. My aunt Debbie will be taking a trip to Arizona, catching breathtaking views at sunrise in a hot air balloon. They are both choosing joy, not to erase the hard, but to move forward in their life, creating new memories.

February was hard. But in March I am choosing abundant joy. It has already started off with a whirlwind visit with my grandchildren and daughter-in-law. Baby snuggles and toddler squeals filled our home for a short 18 hours, but created memories that will last forever. Terry and I celebrated the 28th anniversary of the day we met by ministering together at a marriage seminar. In a week, I will be making confetti pancakes with my niece to celebrate her birthday. My flight home will land in DC while the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Terry and I hope to walk a little in the city, eating a James Beard Award-nominated chef’s chicken sandwich while taking in the sweet fragrance of the blossoms. The rest of the month I hope to find my groove again in walking, hiking, and exploring.

And I hope to make the same impact on others that my Sheroes have made on me. I, too, will face more hard moments in life, and I will have to work through grief, loss, and possible future medical issues. But I pray that I will continue to choose joy so that those behind me can see the power of finding confetti underneath the bookshelves!

Can Opener Boundary

“He makes peace in your borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat.” Psalms 147:14

Years ago, I was introduced to garlic presses, food choppers, and baking stones through a direct sales kitchen wares company. I was even a consultant for their business for a brief stint. I credit this company with teaching me to use fresh garlic and herbs, the benefits of grating your own cheese, and the use of zest. This company launched me on my culinary journey, changing my menu planning from Midwest casseroles to fresher meals. Even today, some of my husband’s favorite recipes are ones I learned from their cookbooks.

As with all fads, I sold most of my stones and upgraded my knife skills so that when the chopper died, I didn’t need to replace it. But I still loved their magical handheld can opener. Successfully connecting cans to electric can openers without making a mess perplexed me. Manual can openers have also troubled me, leaving sharp edges that felt like the teeth of a rabid dog ready to bite me. But this can opener opened the lid from the side, leaving no sharp edges. It worked smoothly, allowing me to dump beans or tomatoes into a pot without any fear or mess. This handy kitchen tool survived almost twenty years, surpassing other kitchen tools with fancier features and higher ticket prices. If writing an obituary of this can opener, thirteen coffee pots, four toasters, three sets of cookware, and two kitchen aid mixers preceded it before its demise. Last year, this piece of cutting perfection had become dull. Finally, we had no choice but to bury it in our trash can.

I investigated replacing the can opener and was shocked at the sticker price. The item itself was a little higher than ones you would find at retail store. But after years of Amazon prime and free shipping at Target, I struggled to pay 1/3 more of the cost of the item in both taxes and shipping. So, I shopped at bargain stores, thinking that all can openers were equal. The first $10 can opener was utilitarian with no frills, and lasted only a few months with many grunts of frustration from both of us. Soon, we were trying to open a simple can of tomato paste for five minutes, before we could carefully pry open the lid. Finally, Terry insisted on replacing it. This time we went with a reputable brand, with blue silicone handles jazzing it up. With this new one, I still struggled to open cans, thinking it was my RA hands not working properly. Once again, my husband grunted with frustration and insisted on ordering one like we had in the first place. Minutes later, I clicked “Checkout”, sighing in frustration. I now was spending $40 on a can opener that I originally thought was too expensive. And in doing the math, my reluctance to spend $40 had now cost me $65.

The can opener had not yet arrived, and once again I had to use the jazzy can opener. As I painstakingly opened the lid, I thought, how often do I try to cut corners in my life, and it ends up costing me so much more in the future? How often have I decided not to pray because I had too many things on my to-do list? And then I wonder why I respond sinfully when situations arise. How often do I shortchange my rest to be more productive, and then the next day my RA flares forcing me to slow down? How often have I avoided setting boundaries in my life and ended up frustrated, hurt, and depleted in my relationships.

Shortcuts seem to be hardwired into human nature. Everybody has an opinion on what the fastest route is to a destination. Even GPS apps don’t always agree. Multi-level marketing companies continue to be successful because everybody is looking to get rich quick. People spend a lot of money on miracle drugs or supplements to help with weight loss or memory for a quick solution to health issues. And people are always looking for an easier method to do housework.

Not all shortcuts are bad. Terry and I regularly pick up groceries by ordering through an app. We find that our schedules are full and grocery pick-ups free us to have more time together doing things we enjoy. We also spend less, avoiding impulse purchases. For us, it is a valuable shortcut, making our life easier. But although this shortcut works for me in my life, for others, it might not work.They may find the substitutions that the paid shopper sometimes has to make frustrating. Or just maybe, they really enjoy grocery shopping.

On the flip-side I have seen that when I avoid doing the hard thing and use a shortcut, this shortcut ends up costing me something. The shortcut might be a temporary solution that initially works out well, just like the two cheaper can openers worked well the first time we used them. But eventually, the shortcut’s temporary fix ends up with hard to open lids, cut fingers, and frustration. And then I am left with a choice: do I find another shortcut or do the hard thing?

In the past couple of years, I realized that I have a terrible time setting healthy boundaries in my life. It was easier for me to agree to help others without really considering the cost. I managed other people’s emotions by swooping in to fix things, without taking care of myself and letting them sit with difficult situations. I played peacekeeper, without addressing my feelings often discounted by others. My hard thing, setting boundaries, cost me my peace, time, energy, and emotional well-being. And my shortcuts left me feeling inadequate, frustrated, hurt, and devalued.

How did my boundaries get so messed up? Boundaries are typically established in childhood, where they are modeled and taught by parents. These patterns may be healthy or unhealthy. As an adult, it requires self-awareness and work to change the pattern of responding to boundaries from unhealthy to healthy. But in the case of childhood sexual trauma, boundary development is almost nonexistent since your physical body, your most private parts, are being violated by a person you are supposed to trust. This leaves you with the inability to trust your gut instinct for self-preservation and changes your sense of responsibility. In my case, I felt responsible for other people’s choices and for making them feel better. Since my ability to say no was discounted during the abuse, I rarely said no later in life, fearing rejection and disappointing others around me. Finally, I rarely addressed hard issues, because it was easier to avoid, move forward, and pretend everything was okay.

Years ago, my mom gave me a stack of childhood school papers. Included was a third-grade autobiographical story about my family. In the story, I wrote about my “wonderful dad” who listened and took us on fun adventures. I could hardly believe I wrote that, knowing full well the nightmare I lived daily. Yet my eight-year-old self couldn’t reconcile that fact with my school assignment. I couldn’t talk about the flying mashed potatoes, or the broken dishes being thrown across the dinner table. I didn’t write about the sweaty socks being thrown in my face while disparaging comments were being made about my normal weight. And I certainly couldn’t describe being forced to go to the basement knowing full well what would happen down there in the dark. So, I pretended, because telling the truth was scary.

Yes, trauma distorted my ability to set healthy boundaries. And for years, I lived with messy boundaries. But like the popular meme, “Trauma is not your fault, but healing is your responsibility.”, I have a responsibility to learn to set healthy boundaries. I am not sure why I didn’t address this early in my life, but I do know that I am now in the safest place in my marriage, my relationships, and my community of believers to address this. I am digging into what I believe about myself and what is truth. I am learning to lay down other people’s responsibilities and pick up my own. I am learning that saying “No” is okay and addressing hard feelings is safe. I don’t always do it well. A lot of times, I mess up, expressing anger in a way that is not conducive to good conversations. Other times, I read into others responses without exercising curiosity. And I still find myself trying to figure out a way to help others at the expense of my own well-being. But I am slowly building healthy boundaries.

And there are no shortcuts in doing this. Like my utilitarian can opener, I could read about boundaries and map out a flowchart on how to handle situations. But this will only change my actions without getting to the healing that makes setting boundaries natural. Like my flashy can opener, I can become a boundary setter, zealous for myself, but forget to do the hard work in addressing my own sinful responses. The hardest and best response is to invest in this process. I have to invite Jesus into this process, along with some good friends who hold me accountable, and do the hard work of setting boundaries. It will cost me something: time, uncomfortable feelings, and maybe the loss of some unhealthy relationships. But ultimately, it will leave me healthy and whole, giving me room to do the things God has called me to do.

I threw away my third-grade autobiography. It has probably decomposed unlike the useless can openers still taking up space in some landfill. But I wish I had kept it. At the time, I was frustrated with my younger self for not telling the truth, for making up an imaginary life. Today, I have so much more compassion for that little girl who wanted a life of adventure and a father who listened. I can’t change my trauma, but I can create a beautiful life with adventures; I can be the one to listen well; and I can set healthy boundaries.