What kind of Hero are you?

As an English teacher, I am very familiar with the concept of the “Hero’s Journey.” It is an archetypal construct that we see repeated over and over again in literature, and for very good reason–it touches close to home–it is a reflection of the human experience.

Heroes-pinArchetypes, if you’re not familiar with the idea, are, in essence, symbols, ideas, or concepts that we, as human beings, all hold in common. Carl Jung believed that this commonality is part of what he termed genetic memory–in other words, memory that is quite literally passed down through our DNA.

An easy example would be mice. Why in the world do so many of us fear mice? They are itty, bitty little things but they send many people squealing, running for cover, or hopping on the nearest chair.

Why? And why only some people, but not all?

Well, in terms of genetic memory, we theorize that it stems from our ancestors run-in with the Black Plague. Mice, or more correctly, rats spread the disease that decimated Europe. For those of us who run from the furry, little creatures, our ancestors watched their friends and family die around them. All because of the little, itty, bitty creatures. And they passed the consequent fear of those little, furry creature on to us, their progeny, (however many times removed).

mouseThose of you who don’t run screaming for the hills at the sight of a mouse? Either your ancestors were fortunate enough to escape a run in with the Black Death or they simply didn’t pass that fear on to their ancestors. Thus, mice are just cute, little, furry creatures to you.

I’m quite sure that someone in my line must have watched their whole family drop like dominoes because I absolutely HATE the little things myself.

Archetypes stem from these universally held concepts such as good conquers evil. It also extends to colors: black symbolizing death, fear, and rot. Or to settings: the mountains symbolizing obstacles, adversity, a journey, etc.. Archetypes permeate our society in big and little ways–and none more so than the Hero’s journey.

The-Herošs-Journey_text-imageThe idea of the Hero’s Journey is quite basic. An ordinary person is called out from his ordinary life by something extra-ordinary. He is called to a road he never intended to travel. He struggles with what that road is asking of him. He longs to go back to the way things were “before.”

In literature, the hero or heroine ultimately come to terms with the call and rises to the occasion, overcoming the obstacles and embracing his hero nature.

Not necessarily the case in real life.

What do I mean?

depositphotos_87220294-stock-photo-boy-warrior-fighting-with-dragonsWell, just like all archetypes, I believe this one was born directly out of real life. As I’ve established before, all people, at some point, are going to be forced to wrestle with dragons (aka adversity) whether that comes in the form of sickness, betrayal, violence, death, etc….the “dragons” take many forms, but in the end, we all must wrestle with them.

Granted, it is rarely as obvious as Harry Potter being called out of the mundane life to one of wizardry or as Katniss Everdeen being called to take on the corruption of her society, but still, we are all, everyone of us, called to our own, personal hero’s journey.

But too often, we don’t come to terms with the journey. We don’t rise to the occasion. We don’t defeat the dragon.

As anyone who has followed my blog knows by this point, I am a huge fane of Brene’ Brown. In her book “Rising Strong,” she states:

You may not have signed up for a hero’s journey, but the second you fell down, got                 your butt kicked, suffered a disappointment, screwed up, or felt your heart break, it               started…it happens to every single one of us. Without exception. The only decision we           get to make is what role we’ll play in our own lives.”

If you read my last blog, and reflected on how you typically react to adversity, you should have a decent idea of what “role” you typically take in terms of your hero’s journey.

Let’s take a moment to envision it in the role of a story…do you rise to the occasion? Do you overcome? Or when Voldemort enters the scene, do you run for cover? When society is falling apart around your head, do you pretend that nothing is happening?

Do you like the ending of your story?

If your answer is no, then I have some really good news for you: in this story YOU get to choose the ending.

What kind of hero do you want to be? 

This doesn’t always mean you win, at least in one sense of winning. Sometimes our Voldemort is cancer, and the cancer wins. Sometimes that car accident steals your daughter from you. Sometimes your husband leaves you for another woman.

When looking at that sense of winning, we don’t always win, but we do still win.

An easy example for me personally is my daughter, Serena. Many of you know that my daughter died of SMA almost 16 years ago. That was my first real call to the hero’s journey. It was the initial conflict. It was the first real breaking of my heart. She died. I didn’t win in that sense of winning. But I did win.

How in the world can I say that?

hidden strengthBecause I chose my ending, and that ending was to wrestle with the pain, to “lean into it” as I like to say, and to choose to defy my circumstances, and to overcome.

I chose my ending. We all get to choose our endings.

How does this work? How do we actually do this?

I’m going to refer to Brene’ Brown a lot as I explain this. When I first walked through this personally, Brene’ Brown hadn’t written her books, and I had no clue who she was, but as I’ve read her books, I’ve seen the reflection of my own journey, and I’ve seen the reflection of the journeys others have made around me, in her work. My life and my observations validate what Brown found in her research.

If you’ve ever wondered why the same event can cause one person to rise, and the other to sink into bitterness, brokenness, or addiction, she can answer that question. She unpacks the concept of resilience.

If you want to choose to write your own story, if you want to change the ending, it means “getting uncomfortable; it’s choosing courage over comfort.” If you’re going to write your ending, you need to be willing to get down in the mud and wrestle. It’s going to get messy.

Our instinct is often the opposite, to disengage to self-protect. To deny what we feel, to hide from it. In Brown’s words “We can’t chart a brave new course until we recognize exactly where we are, get curious about how we got there, and decide where we want to go.”

Brown breaks this down into a two step process.

1) engaging with our feelings

2) getting curious about the story behind the feelings–what emotions we’re                           experiencing and how they are connected to our thoughts and behaviors

This sounds deceptively simple. It’s not. Oftentimes we deny what we feel saying that “we didn’t care anyway.” Or we mask hurt with anger. Or we transfer emotions we don’t understand onto a person who is an “easy” target (aka our spouse or child, brother or sister, etc.). Or we self-flagellate. The list goes on.

All of these are methods of not engaging with our emotions. They are ways we choose to disengage.

When I lost Serena. I was angry. I was angry at God. I was angry at mothers who still had their children. I was angry at the whole world.

I remember how that anger made a lot of people uncomfortable. It wasn’t “Christian” they said. Ironically, I never felt that condemnation from God. From Him, I felt a sense of encouragement, that He was not intimidated by my anger, I also felt a recognition that denying what I felt wouldn’t make the feelings disappear. I had to wrestle with them to get through them.

When we deny what we feel, we get stuck. I’ve seen it happen to so many people. They deny the hurt happened. They deny the violation of what was done to them. They pretend that they are not angry at the abandonment they feel. They pretend the brokenness isn’t really there. And so they get stuck right there, in that moment where the hurt, abandonment, violation or brokenness occurred.

The movie “The Shack” illustrated this so beautifully. When the main character asks “God” in agony why he would bring him back to face what was done to his daughter, “God” simply says, “Because this is where you got stuck.”

We get stuck at the moment where we stop dealing with our pain. It has to be dealt with. There is no other option.

Ignoring what we feel does not make it go away–it lets it own us.

Brown puts it this way:

     The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The           opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from       tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not         to deny the story, but to defy the ending.

When Serena died, I could have become bitter. I could have lost my faith. I could have cut myself off from risking, from loving. Many do after getting shattered the way that the death of a child shatters you. Knowing that kind of pain, you disengage, not wanting to be hurt like that again.

fallingBut I made the decision years ago, before I understood what that decision meant. Risk was worth the pain. To fly, you have to fall. To succeed you have to fail. To love you have to break.

Serena was the first step of my hero’s journey. There have been many failures and setbacks and heart breaks since. There have been many times when I have felt the temptation to disengage, to step back, to self-protect.

But I just can’t do it, because I know.

I know the truth.

Brown says that “courage transforms the emotional structure of our being” and I believe her; I feel it. There is no going back.

And I’m glad. I don’t want to go back, even when I do. I don’t want the easy out. It’s not an out at all. It’s chains. It’s a prison. It’s being stuck.

God, as He so often does, gives us the principle of this truth. We say it. But we rarely fully grasp His meaning.

“We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28

Not just the good moments. Not just the easy ones. Not the comfortable ones.

Everything.

Contest-flier_1But we have to choose to defy our ending, and let Him work His magic in us.

He wants us to lean in and wrestle with our adversity like Jacob wrestled with God–to wrestle and not let go until the blessing which comes out of the adversity is ours.

When we trust God enough to lean into our hero’s journey, it leads to our good, our growth, and our overcoming. It is the ending we want, the ending He created us for, and it is how we rise strong despite horrific circumstances, crippling pain, and agonizing betrayal.

We lean in, we wrestle, and we trust for the ending that can be.

Choose to be brave. It’s what you were made to be.

 

 

 

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Being a Reluctant Hero: the true role of the parent

27d71d088b682abee8b4e7488530b1c4Last night I was snuggled in my bed with Arabelle. We were all cozied up in a pile of blankets trying to hold off the last effort of Winter to make any real impression on the north Texans this year. It was chilly, but honestly, I think he failed in his attempt–no real winter here this year.

Arabelle had her head on my shoulder and my face was nuzzled into her hair. It was one of those perfect moments that make life just so beautiful.

Unfortunately, the topic of conversation wasn’t quite so beautiful. We were chatting about all the pre-teen drama that little girls create, and boy do they create a lot!

As I listened to Belle’s tales of woe, I found myself thinking back to my own pre-adolescent years, and I wasn’t feeling very nostalgic! I cringed inwardly as the memories of awkwardness, insecurity, and immaturity came flooding back. Those years are just so hard! Doesn’t matter who you are: the outcast, the nerd, the average, or the popular, it’s just downright awful most of the time.

Everybody is insecure, uncertain, and too often hurtful to others, as they try to transition from a child into this strange new world of the preteen. Too often, out of that insecurity, girls can get really catty and be downright mean. I’d lived it, and now my precious little girl was living it.

images (1)I listened to Arabelle pour out her worries and struggles with a twinge in my heart. I wanted to protect her from these years, but I knew I couldn’t. At best I could help her get through them, and part of that would be helping my very sensitive and insecure daughter to not take things too personally, and to help her believe in herself.

With that in mind, when she began her litany of how she didn’t measure up, I countered with all of the wonderful and unique things about her. And I had a big list that I was determined would help her see her worth.

For every positive I laid out, she counteracted with its negative.

Finally in exasperation she sighed, “I wish I was like you! You’re perfect!.”

“Wait a minute, what?” I turned so I could look into her eyes.

“Well you are!” she answered back to my look of shock, and she began a long list of all my attributes.

Idownload (1) was a bit stunned. I sat up and blinked stupidly at her for a while and then finally said, “But you know how imperfect I am better than just about anybody! You live with me! You see the times that I’m impatient or when I lose my temper. When I’m not as thoughtful or as kind as I should be!”

“But mom, you always have a reason for those things.”

“But that doesn’t make them right! It’s still wrong that I do them!”

She shrugged. “I still want to be just like you. You’re my hero.”

Wow. I’m her hero.

I didn’t ask to be her hero. I don’t think I want to be her hero. But I guess it doesn’t really matter if I asked for it or if I wanted it–it’s what she’s made me–a hero, albeit a somewhat unwilling one.

Rather than feeling flattered by that pronouncement, I felt humbled and a little scared.

My mind flashed back to a conversation we had had earlier that day where I had done something that had so clearly echoed my own mother. “Ugh! Grandma just pulled a body snatch on me! Clearly that wasn’t a Mommy thing to do! How does Grandma do that?!”

Arabelle had laughed and said that being like Grandma wasn’t so bad.

I jokingly teased her that she needed to beware, because when she became my age, she would find herself echoing what I do and say in ways that she never thought she would, even in the ways she had vowed to never be like me. “It happens to us all,” I teased her. “I’ll do something and all of a sudden I’ll see a flash of my father doing the exact same thing in the exact same way…it’s kind of creepy!”

She was going to become just like me, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It hit me with a new clarity.

Contest-flier_1I’m her hero. She is watching me. She wants to be like me.

What I do and what I say, how I act and how I fail to act, all of these she sees, and many of these she herself will become. And in time her children, and her children’s children. Passed on from generation to generation…

The responsibility, when you really take the time to wrap your mind around it, is staggering.

All parents, at least all the good ones, realize that they are setting an example for their children. We understand that they are learning based on what we model, but I don’t think we fully understand what it means.

When we become parents, we really are like the potter with a lump of clay, but what we sometimes don’t think about is that, even when we are not actively molding that clay, we are still molding it.

In fact, most of the molding of that clay happens, not from our active working with the clay (active parenting), but rather from the inactive moments. The moments observed by those big, innocent eyes. Not only our observed actions, but our observed inaction. When we fail to act. When we fail to fight for something we believe in. When we let lethargy seep in and cause us to accept less than the best from life and the people around us. When we allow someone to ignore us, disrespect us, or knock us down, and we don’t defend ourselves. When we’re confronted with the obstacles in life and we don’t fight back, but instead give in.

All of these too are children see, and they will follow in our footsteps.

I find myself thinking of all the ways that I don’t want my daughter to be like me. Those are the very things that I need to work on. Yes, there are lots of ways I would be happy to have her follow in my steps I do many things well, but that doesn’t discount the ways that I want her to be better than me, more than I am.

4029757ce58eb958d4137859df44694fAnd I am realizing in a way I never have before, that the best way to do that, is to be more than I am. I need to become what I hope she will one do become, so that she has an example walking before her, one that I feel like is totally comfortable with her following–and I’m not there yet.

I know I can’t be perfect. I know I will fail and I will fall, and no matter how hard I try, those failures may hurt my daughter and she will carry some of that into her future. But I need to know that I did my best, that I became the best I could be so that she can be the best that she can be.

I didn’t ask to be a hero. I don’t deserve to be a hero.

I’d better do my best to become one though. There is a little girl who is watching me to see what heroes do, and one day she will echo the choices I made.

That’s an awful lot to live up to!

Move Over Red Shirt, and Make Way for the Heroine!

There is so much of being an adult that isn’t what I expected. I’ve always considered myself a fairly rational person (despite my idealism . . . maybe I didn’t have a very real picture of myself after all . . .).

Maybe I should blame it on being such an avid reader. After reading so many stories that follow the same basic principle, maybe my subconscious actually started thinking it would work that way.

You know, the heroine, misunderstood and under estimated, meets the boy who sees her for who she really is, they fall in love and walk merrily into the future hand in hand where everything comes up roses and sugar blossoms. Happily Ever after and all that.

Like I said, I do have a fairly large rational streak, and I certainly never thought that is how it would work, in my head at least, but my subconscious expectations, well . . . maybe they weren’t so rational after all!

I guess, whatever it is I expected, this wasn’t it. The normalcy of life, the hum drum progression of days where each one looks pretty much like the one before, this is NOT what I expected. The endless succession of ordinary tasks . . . getting the kids up for school, getting them out the door, cooking cleaning and cleaning some more only to start over with the same list of “to dos” the next day . . . . I have more in common with a scullery maid than the heroine in a story!

And see, there is the rub. I used to feel like the heroine in my own story. The same feeling I feel at the beginning of a good book, that feeling of potential and anticipation where the unexpected, the magical could be waiting for me just around the corner . . . I lived life in that charged place.

And like a good story, insecure, underestimated girl did indeed meet the boy who helped me believe in me and who swept me off my feet. I heard the swell of Andrea Bocelli in the background and felt the fireworks in his fingertips. I had my story and I was the heroine and it was glorious.

Next comes the happily ever after part, right? Like I said, I was too rational (and too smart!!) to really believe that. I knew that life in the real world was something very different. What I didn’t expect was that I would stop being the heroine of my own story.

These days I feel much more like the red shirt in my story rather than Captain Kirk. Aren’t I supposed to be the protagonist in my own story?  I feel like an insignificant extra. I feel like when I had my children, my story ended and theirs began.

Maybe a good mother would be okay with that. Maybe a selfless person wouldn’t think about it  twice. Certainly June Cleaver never would have spared a second for such selfish thoughts! But, then again, I am no June Cleaver! Though I am a good cook, even Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals are fancier than I tend to cook. Not to mention that when it comes to housework, well, I am simply an abysmal failure. All my extended education did not prepare me for the impossible task of balancing the endless mountains of laundry and the messes left by some of the world’s messiest people! And I always thought that I was so good at multi-tasking! Hmpf!

But I digress. Maybe it is pure selfishness that makes me so crazy about not being the heroine of my own story. Maybe it shouldn’t bother me. Maybe a good mother is content to fade into the back story and live her life through her children.

But I don’t think so. Shouldn’t we all be the heroine of our own story? Should our sense of potential and anticipation disappear just because girl has already met boy? I don’t think so! My story is not over at 35! I won’t allow it to be!

Ah . . . but then there is the guilt. Shouldn’t this be enough? Shouldn’t I be perfectly happy just as I am? My husband is hot and he is my best friend to boot. I have three amazingly beautiful, smart children when genetics should have kept me from having any at all. Shouldn’t this be enough?

My family is my world and I would die for any one of them in a heartbeat. I know I am a good mother. I do put my children first and I suspect I always will, but that doesn’t mean that I need to play the role of martyr either.

I think the modern mother walks a difficult road. We have left the role of June Cleaver behind, but we see the error in the career mom who is an absentee mother. We long for balance. We want to be the heroine in our own story while teaching our children at the same time to be the hero/heroine of their own stories.

Most days it leaves me feeling like there is an internal tug of war being waged inside of me, and sadly, most often, it leaves me feeling like a failure at pretty much everything.

I don’t need to be the center of the universe. I don’t even need to be the center of my little family. But I do need to know that there is more waiting for me around the corner than Saturday’s soccer game. I need to know that I still have a role to play in this crazy story of life and that my role is more than just being the expendable red shirt.

I need to know that I am indeed the heroine of my own story, and that my story is not over, not now at 35, not at 55, not even at 75.

I think we all have a duty to step up and be the hero in our own story, to not sit back and let the story happen, but to find our role, to be an active participant.

Ever hero has to overcome, ever heroine has conflict and crisis that must be met. If you don’t have conflict, if you don’t have crisis, you’re not living your story.

Or, if you’re like me, and have had lots of conflict, always remember, the hero always has a choice; he can rise to the challenge and overcome and live the story he was created to live, or he can sit back and be the forgotten red shirt.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a red shirt! I won’t be a forgettable extra in my own life! I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m going to keep trying to find that line, the line of being the best mother I can be while at the same time being the best me I can be.