Thankful Thursday – Gentleness

I slapped off my alarm Monday morning, the one I set so I could have coffee before yoga. Eh, maybe the later class.

I missed the later class. Eh, I’ll go to the gym.

I had no energy for the gym. Not even for a run around the neighborhood.

So I used the dog as an excuse and took her for a slow and ambling walk around the block.

Thoughts spinning in no discernible direction, I felt crazy. One week, exactly one week, and I will not have time to slap off the alarm. I’ll hop out of bed, wake the kids, take a quick shower, and rush everyone out the door into a fully loaded out-of-state-college-bound car.

Walking helped. Just some gentle movement and I felt my mind and body reconnecting in synch. As if body and mind had had an argument, followed by a long wrestling match, and an eventual compromising decision—without bothering to tell me—that this week I need to go slow, to be gentle with myself.

This week, I’m rejecting all the shoulds. I’m eating healthy when it also sounds good, and what sounds good even if it’s not the healthiest choice. I’m sleeping when I want to sleep, reading what entertains, saying no as necessary.

I’d like to be more productive than I have been, but bare minimum feels like what I’m capable of for now. I’m sure I have more and other things to do; I can’t for my life think what they are. [I’ve been waking regularly from stress dreams: former employers have left me binders of task lists that I should have memorized (but don’t), scattered over a large and crowded room. I have to find and integrate the lists in some comprehensible form to know how to proceed…]

I turn on the computer and get lost down the social media rabbit holes because I can’t recall why I turned on the computer. Maybe habit. Or that most of my work lives on my computer. Either way.

Teen seems to have settled into acceptance that he is leaving, and soon. He is slowly finishing up his details, slow being better than the complete denial he devoted himself to so far this summer. Mainly, he’s spending every minute with friends. That’s good, too.

Tween must be growing for the number of hours he spends in bed. I could wake him, but considering next week we will drive states away to drop off his brother and return the night before he starts school, why? He should rest, and when he wakes, he should play—the point of summer when you’re thirteen years old.

A college professor once told me that her creative husband could only tackle one creative activity at a time. When he wrote or edited, he couldn’t paint. When he painted, he traded dabbling in words for dabbling in color. His creativity faucet could only handle one temperature at a time. His total being became engaged in one form of creation.

And I think that’s the key: this week is a creative transition in our lives. Teen is on to a new and exciting phase of life. We are so over-the-top excited for him. But it means a transition for all of us. We are recreating the reality of our family: who we are together and separately.

I need to stop fighting, trying to force myself to do something else, and instead gently go with the flow of this new creation. Like transition in childbirth: for now, it is all about this baby…

The rest—productivity in working and writing, yoga, healthy eating, the (for me) ever-illusive organized home, all the things—will be waiting on the other side.

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Orientation

Orientation [awr-ee-uh n-tey-shuh n]
noun 1. the act or process of orienting; 2. The state of being oriented; 3. An introduction, as to guide one in adjusting to new surroundings, employment, activity, or the like: New students receive two days of orientation; 4. Psychology, Psychiatry. The ability to locate oneself in one’s environment with reference to time, place, and people. Synonyms: direction, location, adaptation, assimilation, bearings, coordination, familiarization, position, lay of the land, sense of direction, settling in.

I awoke with vague dream recollections: three of my former professors (college? grad school?) had pulled me aside to say that I needed to go back to school. Apparently my Ph.D. awaits me, in some area of study at some school.

Do I have college-envy? I’ve heard other parents of college-bound kids say that college visits evoked similar responses in them, that they wish they could go back to school at this stage of life.

Last week Guy and I accompanied Teen to his college orientation. As we walked across campus I thought: “This is the exact right place for my kiddo, but I would have gotten lost here.” Something like 30 of my private, liberal arts college would fit on his university campus.

I do feel a tinge of envy at this exciting stage in his life: for all the things he will learn, experiences he will have, friends and mentors he will meet. But that’s far from my only feeling…

He is our first-born. I am grateful he’s found his place, and anxious for him to transition well. After helping him maneuver life for eighteen years, it is so hard to let go, to cheer him on from a distance, to know that he will succeed and he will fail and somehow it will all work out.

His departure will change the day-to-day reality of our family’s operational structure. I will carpool Tween to places Teen has shuttled his brother. We will redistribute his chores. Our grocery bill will decrease. I will miss him like crazy, and sometimes I will (quietly) exult in the new quiet his absence will create. We will hope that he will fit in time to communicate on occasion beyond “Dad, I need money!” (To which we could respond, “So do we!”).

None of us understood why the college required orientation prior to the days just before classes begin this fall. In fact, Guy almost didn’t sign us up for the parent-family track. We’re both college graduates—how much can have changed? Teen just wanted to register for classes online and spend every minute of summer with his friends at home. Turns out, we didn’t know how much we didn’t know!

We dropped Tween at sleep-away camp on Sunday and left for college Monday. Teen was quiet (tired?), then visibly angry (“I’m not carrying that bag!”), sullen and snapchat-focused, dismissive (“Stop trying to be funny!”), and finally, candid: “I don’t want to go to college!”

He does want to go to college. He knows this is his school, his program, his time. He knows that, even though his friends will mostly attend schools on quarter-system and it seems now that they have longer summers, they will leave eventually, too. He doesn’t want to be the one left behind. He just doesn’t know how to manage the biggest transition in his life thus far.

Thankfully, Session 1 of parent-family orientation addressed the emotional transition in which we currently find ourselves. The Associate Dean of Students referenced William Bridges’ book, Managing Transitions. Here’s the model:

And here’s the synopsis: It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. They aren’t the same thing. Change is situational: the move to a new site, the reorganization of the roles on the team. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological; it is a three-phase process people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.

At any given moment, any of us can be at any stage of transition: not necessarily the same stage, and it can all turn on a dime. I had been feeling so excited for Teen’s new beginning (less so for ours, but it has its highlights as well); his fear and anger evoked in me both sadness that he was having such a difficult go of it and a panic that he might ditch the opportunities before him.

With a travel day on either side of the two-day orientation, over four days we watched Teen ride an emotional roller coaster, moving at break-neck speed through All the Big Feels related to this transition: loss, grief, loneliness, anger, denial, resistance, despair, excitement, hope, doubt, fear… We saw him wipe away embarrassed tears, endured his angry barks, listened when he overflowed, all in snippets of time that our orientation tracks intersected.

We asked if he wanted our opinion (sometimes yes, others no). We asked questions he sometimes answered. During one conversation I admitted that I, too, had been on the verge of tears throughout the day. He responded, “But Mom, the difference is you will never lose me. I will always come home to you. But things will never be the same with my friends…”

We encountered so many moments confirming his choice of school, from conversations with staff, to the presentation by his major advisor, to watching him make friends. And our conversations with other parents confirmed that our experience was far more common that we could suspect. One dad said, “I am so grateful for that transition presentation, because I’m watching my son live it out before my eyes.” Yup, us too. Another dad said, “To look at people, they seem like they have it all together. But when you talk to other parents, you realize that we’re all dealing with the same things, the joys and fears, anxieties, situations…” So true.

Teen had a great roommate for the dorm overnight. At a different stage in his own transition, they talked from 9:30 pm to 1 am, helping Teen process in ways his parents could not. That next day Teen was like a different person, calm, tip-toeing into the excitement of all to come. But later that day he talked with friends from home, one who was freaking out and another who was currently at his own college orientation. They’re all on this crazy ride and they’re jostling each other this way and that.

Back home we are orienting to the present moment, enjoying summer and friendships and down-time. The college shadow looms, but for now he wants to stand firmly in the sun. And that’s fine. Orientation introduced us to new surroundings both physical and emotional. We’ve done a lot of healthy processing of emotions and details. Settling in will take time.

 

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Sifting Shifting Sands

I look at the calendar and question whether I must be in a state of deep denial: Teen has only a handful of school days left, then a few days of finals, before he graduates high school. Fifteen days, including weekends, before this long leg of the journey comes to an end.

Oy, I just choked back tears. Not for the first time, certainly not the last.

Obviously I knew this end was coming. In a vague sense, since January I’ve been counting the months, the weeks, now days. I’ve been spending more time at home—more work-at-home afternoons, more nights in on weekends—intending to be present for those unpredictable times when he suddenly overflows with information. I never know what will turn the spigot, and whether it will trickle or gush, but I’m ready to catch the flow.

Sometimes the flow smells more like sewage than good, clean water. Undoubtedly, Teen could tell you more about the biology behind the term for this, called soiling the nest. Fledgling birds apparently make a mess of the nest so their birdy mamas will kick them out. The nasty stench makes it easier to say goodbye.

By refusing to get out of bed, or go to school, or contribute in any meaningful way to a positive home environment; by making me want to scream in place of fruitless nagging, and clench my already-aching jaw, go for a power walk, and come home to a glass of wine consumed in the privacy of my bedroom, we both become ready for a separation. The ridiculous part: by being his worst at home I’m supposed to believe he’s ready to show his best to the world?

I’ve reminded myself: he’s afraid. Everything he’s known and counted on throughout his lifetime is changing, and change is never easy. Sure, the adventures ahead are so exciting. He’s going to his #1 college choice to study his life’s consuming passion and play his sport. A few weeks ago he got a text from an Olympian who recently graduated from the school, congratulating him on his choice and looking forward to working out together. So cool!

Still, he feels vulnerable, unsteady as the sands shift beneath his feet. And I am a safe arm to grab hold of, to catch all the junk he doesn’t know how to process. He can actively push away because he knows we will always be his soft landing spot. Push and pull, shove and yank. Some days it feels like a fistfight; others, a cling-for-your-life embrace. Hard, and normal.

Thankfully, some days I see the man he is becoming. Some days my presence at home has been rewarded with pleas for advice, details of his adventures, arguments on real-life issues he’s working out in his head and sounding out in private. Just yesterday, he invited me to watch one of his favorite movie scenes with him. We laughed side-by-side on the couch, a tender moment (for me) until the scene ended and he said, “That’s it. You can go now.”

We have lived on the California coast his whole life. When he was little, we sat facing each other in the sand, kitchen items between us—colanders, slotted spoons, Tupperware—sifting sand, tossing out the rocks, turning the shells over in our hands, collecting water and building sand castles. Always ready, I watched as he toddled away from me, playing catch-me-if-you-can with lapping waves.

Now he strides into his future, leaving me behind on the beach sifting memories and moments; tossing misshapen ones, treasuring the intricate beauty of others. Long ago as the sand slipped between my fingers I daydreamed of who he would be, how his exuberance would develop into passion for something larger than himself. Now I have space to daydream of other shorelines—and mountain trails and jungle paths—where we will walk together, creating new memories, as he explores life.

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Meatless Monday – Birthday Mac & Cheese

The one who made me a mama was turning 18. Because his birthday gift is a 3-day trip to an out-of-town concert venue with family + seven teenage friends over New Year’s (yes, we might be nuts, but we also have a lot of experience chaperoning teens…), we decided to have a celebration dinner at home. And because on his Thursday birthday he had rugby practice while Brother had a band concert, we made Sunday his birthday dinner.

He asked for homemade mac & cheese.mac-n-cheese

And because he will only turn 18 once and I have only this year leaned hard into a (mostly) plant-based diet, I gave him what he asked for.

Not only that, but between four different lunch requests between three people and several courses for dinner, I cooked for five hours and made nine different recipes: boxed mac & cheese with veggie dogs for Tween; a big salad and a tuna melt for Teen; spicy coconut noodles for me; homemade mac & cheese, veggie meatballs, and coleslaw for dinner, and orchard crumble for dessert; and–since I opened a can of tomato sauce but only used 3 Tbsp–enchilada sauce which would provide the base for two more weeknight dinners.

Food is most definitely one of the key’s to this young man’s heart! (Not to mention the traditional gingerbread pancakes and homemade applesauce he devoured for his birthday breakfast…)

This has been a big week in our lives: Thursday he became a legal adult. Friday Guy and I designed a congratulatory ad for his high school yearbook (and yes, I cried just a little, admitting to myself that there is no one else on this planet with whom I have such a unique relationship). Saturday he got his first job (other than kid-, pet- or house-sitting): for almost eight hours of absolute downpour, he stood outside and helped people select and attach their Christmas trees to vehicles; Guy had to take him not one but two dry changes of clothes (he even stole the shoes Guy had on!), and he did it all with a big smile and great attitude. And today, four days into his nineteenth year, he found out that he got accepted to his #1 college choice: Colorado State University at Fort Collins, where he will study Wildlife Biology and play rugby. And yes, I cried just a little more. He even let me hug and kiss him more than once this evening as the news sinks in…

Go rams!

Go rams!

So, yes, I made him exactly what he asked for and more. How many more birthday dinners will I have the privilege of cooking for him?

Macaroni & Cheese

¼ c red onion, diced
1 ½ c elbow macaroni (I used whole wheat mac)
3 T margarine
3 T flour
2 c milk
½ t salt
1/8 t pepper
2 c sharp cheddar cheese
Bread crumbs (mix w/ a little extra cheese & Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning salute)

Boil the macaroni according to package directions.

Warm small amount of oil (veggie or olive) in a sauté pan, then sauté onions until tender. Set aside.

In a large stock pot, melt margarine and blend in flour. Add milk, cook, and stir until thick. Add salt, pepper, and cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Mix sauce with macaroni and onions and put in a casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Notes:
I use one large stock pot to cook onions and make mac & cheese.
You don’t have to use oil to cook onion; you can sub a tablespoon of water if onions start to stick.
The roux (margarine, flour, milk) always looks like it won’t work, and it always does. Seriously, it has never failed me. Just keep stirring and breaking up flour clumps by pressing them with a wooden spoon against the pot.

 

 

Panic Attack

I arrived home from work mid-afternoon and found Teen seated on his yoga ball hunched over a stack of papers in front of the family room computer, his study spot. I came up behind him and while I was yet two feet away, he abruptly stiffened and threw his hands in a “Don’t Shoot!” position. Without looking at me he shouted, DON’T touch me!”

I recoiled, slapped by his words. Without a sound, I tip-toed a wide berth and gingerly reached to remove the bowls containing crumbs and residue of his chips and salsa snack.

An hour later Tween and I had flopped on his bed to read aloud a book we’re enjoying together when Teen poured himself in alongside us. He said, “Mom, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted at you. I was in the middle of a full-blown panic attack and I just couldn’t handle it. I needed to be alone, and couldn’t deal with interruption.” He explained that he’d been trying to figure out his current GPA and what he would need to score on various final exams to keep or raise various grades. He had felt utter despair of being accepted to any college he’d want to attend – the list of which has gotten both shorter and longer as we’ve accepted a realistic assessment of his high school academic performance.jeremiah-29-11

We have prayed this verse over our child since the day we knew we were pregnant, about eighteen years ago. He knows it by heart, and he prays it for himself. And so we talked about the hard fact that God’s plans might not look like ours. As much as he wants to attend a four year college straight out of high school, and he might, perhaps that’s not his only or best option. Maybe taking classes at a community college, getting out of the way classes that would be more difficult at a four-year school, getting a part-time job and a super-cool internship, maybe all that takes some stress off. Maybe it’s okay to not live the Lamorinda norm. YES, it is okay not to live the cultural norm.

Wise beyond his age, Tween understood his presence wasn’t helpful so he slipped off his bed and out of his room while Teen and I talked. I mostly listened as Teen poured out his heart and mind – classes he likes and doesn’t, teachers he loves, teachers he likes but wishes they put more love into their classes, teachers he feels don’t give a damn… None of it an excuse because it’s still up to him to be responsible, work hard, and do his best, but easier done if you feel like the Teacher has invested in both subject and students.

The conversation ended as it was time to move on to sports practice. He trudged to his room to gear up and I followed him. I said aloud his name, and wordlessly my Big Kid poured himself into my arms for a hug. My Teen, generally touch averse, needed a Mom Hug as much as I needed to hold my child for a moment. “Thanks, Mom,” he whispered into my hair.

This weekend he’s out of town for a huge college/high school sports tournament, a high school recruiting event and the only one like it he will attend. Next week he has finals, bad timing. Meanwhile I hope he plays aggressive and safe, and leaves behind some of that stress on the field so that he returns home tired but energized, ready to sleep and then study. He’ll be fine even if the path winds in unexpected directions. We have faith.

Good Enough

When I was in high school, Good Enough was good enough. We did our best – and sometimes not – and we did well. Most kids in my middle-class high school were on the College Prep track; we knew a few in the “non-College Prep” classes, and we understood they struggled; we knew a few who took Honors/AP classes, and we understood they might just be Too Smart.

College Prep classes fit the majority, and College Prep classes prepared the Super Motivated to take AP tests as available. Those who took and passed AP tests could get a GPA boost, but AP-specific classes were not the norm, as there was no reason to offer college credit to high school students. 3.0-4.0 was A-OK! And most of us went to good colleges.

Fast Forward a generation…6352769082_2fe37679b6_b

It was too late to drop by the time we realized Teen – now a junior with Pressure ON! – was struggling. He could have taken an easier class. Had he wanted to, he also could have taken this class at the local community college. Kids who fail classes at our High School receive A’s at our local Community College. I recently asked Why?, and was told that the High School has to keep up its standards of being in the Top 1% of schools in the country, while the Community College has to pass the Average Student.

Anyone see a problem there?

We signed him up for professional tutoring, and it has helped. On his own – and without our knowledge – he has attended twice-a-week on-campus tutoring. He studied HARD for the last test, and he felt confident.

He failed the test.

Dismayed, he went at lunch to talk to the teacher. She wouldn’t show him the test, wouldn’t talk with him about how he’d gone wrong. She said, “You do work for other classes in my class.” Once, early on. She said, “You come in late.” Last week, his car broke down; this morning, the alarms failed us. He has apologized; she hasn’t accepted.

What to do about a teacher who won’t meet a student part-way with compassion?

Teen has learned that first impressions, and subsequent impressions, matter. Studying matters. Working his tail off in a subject that stumps him matters, and one might expect that taking the initiative to approach a teacher – teenager to adult, no easy match – should matter. He did his best, and he got shot down.

Head hung low he said, “It’s only my future. I guess I won’t go to A Good College.”

His college counselor said that, without a 4.2 GPA, admission to a University of California or California State school will be a long shot4.2 is now what it takes to be noticed and accepted for in-state California colleges? How many students take how many AP classes to average an above average GPA?

The norm is no longer The Norm. Good Enough has died.

Last spring the four schools in our high school district took the Stanford Survey of Adolescent School Experiences, the “stress test.” The goal is to work with schools to create a less stressful and more engaging school environment for students. [Read more here].

The results highlighted the dire reality that our students feel stressed, exhausted, and stuck in a rat wheel. Surprisingly, it’s not that they are so caught up in their daily school work. Rather, students see the hyper-competitive culture in which they are growing up, and they’re grasping at straws trying to differentiate themselves. And yet the college counselor made it clear: the colleges no longer care about differentiation, just that 4.+ GPA.

I’m confident Teen will go to college. He’s a smart kid, inaccurately assessed in the wrong circus arena. Now, if his class took place outside – up a hill, in a tree – somewhere he could touch the subject and explore it for himself; if assignments weren’t one-size-fits-poorly; if high schools had majors and he could focus his interests like he will be able to in college; well, then he’d have that stellar GPA. He will, someday. He’s going to surprise himself.

People move to our town for the schools, and rightfully so. We are fortunate to have access to an impressive educational system. But just as in people, strengths can also be weaknesses. The lessons they intend to teach might, for now, have less to do with English and algebra and history and way more to do with perseverance, conflict resolution, and staying true to self when others apply ill-fitting labels. These lessons are hard-won with plenty of bruises and at least a few scrapes. They hurt. And in the end, they’ll prove to be more valuable than a GPA, more than good enough.

 

Let it Go!

Sometimes a theme pops up, seemingly out of nowhere and suddenly everywhere, and begins buzzing around my brain like a catchy song. The last few days the theme has been, “Let it Go!”

No, not the song from Frozen, although it certainly is catchy… (Oh, to sing like Idina Menzel! Hum along with me? Aw, heck, let’s belt it out, off-key as we may be! BTW, if you haven’t yet, you must see this amazing multi-language version).

And yet, maybe one of the reasons the song became so popular is that Elsa is really on to something. Let go of what others think. Let go of that “perfect” image you’ve created. Let the chaos out. Unleash all your glorious potential. Become your truest, wildest, most beautiful self.

Yesterday I saw this quote on one of my favorite blogs, The Art of Simple: “The greatest step towards a life of simplicity is to learn to let go.” ―Steve Maraboli

I’ve been thinking about simplicity since we left for two months in Costa Rica this summer. The whole trip was complex – and simple. Just the four of us, exploring and living in a foreign country. Although everything was new and different, things were also simpler – no jobs, school, homework, extracurriculars, friends, distractions. We let go of life at home to embrace something completely different for a time, and we came home again hoping to figure out what we could let go of here in order to maintain some of the simplicity we gained there. Learning to let go is complicated, but living simply is freeing.

Wow, there’s a paragraph for you! Did you follow? It’s hard. It’s complicated. It’s simple. It’s a process. It’s worth it!

Then up pops this article – 15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy. Give up. Let it go. We can’t always be right or in control; blaming, critical and complaining; reminding ourselves of our real (mostly perceived) limits and defeats; focused on labels, impressions, fears, excuses, and the past; change-resistant; and still be happy. It’s quite a list, and in some ways it’s common sense, and it’s helpful. C’mon! Let all that gunk go already!

Case in point: Renee Zellweger. What did she do with her quirky, funny, beautiful face? I can’t buy the “healthy, happy lifestyle” blah-blah when her face has fundamentally altered. What must have gone through her mind, what overwhelming insecurities drove her to the plastic surgeons? And how sad must she be that her million-dollar calling-card face has become unrecognizable?

This morning I listened to a speaker challenge a group of preschool mommies to look in the mirror first thing in the morning – hair disheveled, teeth unbrushed, make up-less, and declare themselves “Beautiful!” Because, really?, who would dare tell God that He does bad work? We are His creation and He creates works of beauty. I got teary. So hard. So…impossible? No, possible, just difficult. And, poor Renee, I’m sad for her. If only she could have “Let it Go!” of the pressure to change what perhaps had been deemed less than Hollywood perfect…

How about with our kids? When Teen was only a toddler I heard a mom stressing over whether her child would get into the “right” preschool because, of course, the right preschool leads to the right elementary, middle, and high schools, and ultimately the golden snitch: the right college. When I suggested that maybe she could let go a little, that God would take care of her daughter’s life path, she bit my head off and accused me of having faith as a pastor’s wife’s prerogative. Um, no. Pretty sure God offers faith, and peace, and joy, to all who rely on Him.

School hasn’t been an easy road for either of my kids, but we’re all better off when I let go of the stress and remember that God loves them more than I do. They may not fit the mold, and that’s just as it should be. As Teen makes his way through high school, we have encountered increasing pressure to consider “What’s next?” Read: college. But that’s not the only option, folks. I have a sweet friend whose son, newly high school-minted, leaves next week for seven months abroad serving with a group that rescues child slaves. Amazing. I am so in awe of this kid’s bravery, and I can’t wait to see what God will do with his willingness to serve in this way. It’s not the cultural norm in our area, to forego the path straight from high school to college, but the cultural norm is not God. As this article says, let it go. The truly important questions:

Does your child have a compassionate soul?
Does your child have a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity?
Is your child resourceful and independent?
Is your child happy with who she is?
Can your child creatively problem-solve?
Is your child passionate about anything?
Can your child sit with himself and enjoy his own company?

I would add: Does your child know that he or she is known and loved by Jesus?

There is more than one way to lead a successful life. Parents, let it go on behalf of your children! Yes, encourage them to be the best versions of themselves, but One Way is not the Only or Best Way. Guide them to the One who will direct their paths, then let go and get out of the way (and yes, I am talking to myself here…).

Finally, this article. A professional and mom of four, the author had to set limits, to let go of some things, in order to live fully. I’m not there, but I’m proud of her for taking this step, inspired by her decision. She writes: “My task doesn’t determine my value. But I had to let go of something to grasp this freedom.” And her guiding mantra – “Do what only you can do” – is so wise. No one else can love and care for my family like I can. No one else can write my thoughts and prayers. To say “Yes!” to one thing is to say “No” to another. I must let go of those things others can do in order to truly live the life God has created for me.

Let it go!