One of my all-time favorite professors told us there were “beer papers” and “coffee papers,” and he didn’t know which we should want ours to be. When he graded papers, he usually sat at a bar drinking beer or sat at a coffee shop drinking lots of coffee. He advised us to quibble over our grades if we needed to, because “I might have made a mistake. It might have been the caffeine. It might have been the alcohol.”
“Fight for a better grade if you need to. Use my office hours. I will warn you, though–if you bring me your paper asking for a better grade, who knows? I might find more things wrong with it.”
This is one of the most prominent memories I have of feeling empowered to argue a case (with someone other than my parents). I was a college sophomore. You better believe I showed up for office hours and tried to get better grades when I felt like I deserved them. This professor did a generous thing, inviting us to confront him; and in these small conversations, where I had to display confidence and provide solid reasoning, I learned skills I would carry with me in the workplace and graduate school.
That being said, I still struggle with the whole concept of saying what I want. To show up and go against the grain, to not just take what I’m given, to say “Listen, I need this,” is not in my comfort zone–and yet, it’s a completely reasonable, freeing, helpful thing to do. When someone says to me, “Hey Liz, I really need [fill in the blank],” I’m like, “Huh. Thanks for telling me.”
So, why don’t I do it more often?
Sometimes I don’t know what I need. I’m in good little soldier mode, getting things done, just kind of sticking to the plan. When I brush my teeth, I’m thinking, “It’s gonna be a good day. I’m gonna do this…and that…and then this…” I’m not thinking about starting a revolution or pushing back or disturbing the peace. It’s just not my default to do so.
I got into some trouble over the last few months because I couldn’t really identify what I needed. Which meant I also couldn’t tell people what I needed. Here’s what happened.
Hyatt was born on July 10. I had a great maternity leave, full of laughter and crying and learning and sleep loss. Then I phased back in to work on September 17. On September 24 we had a glorious birthday party for Lincoln. I was proud of our growing family, and I felt capable of going to work, taking care of the boys, and even being able to cook food for us most nights. Things were good.
I officially got back to working at a full time capacity on October 1. The next day, my brother-in-law’s wife Amber passed away. I was stunned. Amber was my buddy, my parenting consultant, and a sister in crime. I dealt with the loss by…quickly getting up and putting one foot in front of the other. I was doing important, challenging work in the office again just a few days later.
Well, I know for some people, getting back to work is one of the best things you can do after a tragedy happens. The routine of work can be soothing and distracting. For me, this was the case–but with one caveat. Because of my busy job and my busy household, I needed to create space to do the important work of grieving. And I didn’t. Instead, I boot-strapped my way through months of baby-induced sleep deprivation (we love Hyatt!), despondence, and holiday/work busyness, only to realize–whoa, next time something really rough happens in my life, I’m going to proactively schedule at least five counseling sessions, just to make sure I give myself time to be sad. Instead, I was just slowly and slowly getting more and more downcast, quietly, by myself, rather than crying out to God in a relational, confrontational way. I think He would have been willing to talk more than we did.
I think a lot of people would have have been willing to talk to me.
The months kind of went like this: September, cannonball. January, drowning.
You don’t have to be sad and grieving to not know or say what you need (though grief tends to have a dulling effect and can make things foggier than normal). Many of us struggle every day with how to articulate, “Something isn’t right. I need [x, y, and z].”
We’ve been talking a lot at work about the importance of raising flags. We’ve joked about standing on a table and shouting until we get what we need. A client I love used to always say, “Let’s call the audible.” There is something so freeing about asserting a need confidently and decisively.
So, that’s what I’ll be working on in the months ahead: identifying what I need, and then saying what I want. I hope you do, too.
I’m still sad. It’s still affecting me.
I want to talk about it sometimes.
Jesus, please meet me in this.