The Enneagram and Self-Knowledge

Being a mom, it’s easy sometimes to lose track of yourself as a person, too. Of course you exist in relationship to other people – in particular your children – but there can be times in which you aren’t sure who you are or what you’re doing, except in relation to said children.

It was fun to dig into a book this summer called The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. A friend asked if I wanted to read it with her, and we ended up having a small group of women from church get together and discuss it. We had people of most different personality types represented there, and one of the most interesting parts of our conversation was hearing about how everyone felt their very different personalities affected their lives and relationships.

Wikipedia describes the Enneagram as “a model of the human psyche which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types.” There are a few things I really appreciated about this understanding of personality types. For one thing, it incorporates tendencies toward optimism or pessimism, which I think is an important dimension of personality that isn’t always captured. But I actually don’t love the system as a whole. It seems to me to be 9 semi-random groupings of personality traits, as opposed to a systematic evaluation of where different people fall along various dimensions (like the Myers-Briggs personality type system) – and as someone who prefers logical thought and analysis, I really dislike that. I also think it’s a lot easier to type some people (me) than others (Matt). He and I read much of the book together and had interesting discussions about who we thought might fit which personality type and what that meant for how they interacted with the world, and we got our families in on it, asking my brothers and sister-in-law and then his mom and sister (who were visiting while we were reading it) what types they thought they were.

Even not loving the classification system as a whole, reading the book was still beneficial and fun. I suspect it comes as a surprise to no one who has spent more than 5 minutes with me that I am a One, otherwise known as “the perfectionist.” I’ve been aware of my tendencies toward perfectionism for quite some time, but it was still helpful to read and be reminded of the strengths and weaknesses associated with those tendencies. The summary description of this personality type in the book includes statements like:

  • People have told me I can be overly critical and judgmental.
  • I don’t feel comfortable when I try to relax. There is too much to be done.
  • It seems to me that things are either right or wrong.
  • I notice immediately when things are wrong or out of place.
  • I like routine and don’t readily embrace change.

True, true, true.

And it’s so important to be aware of all of those tendencies in myself! Being aware that I prefer to operate in black and white in the midst of a world of grays helps me not to get so frustrated by the intricacies of different situations and to be willing to look at both sides. Knowing that my tendency is to focus on things that are incorrect is a reminder to me to look at all that is correct, too. Realizing that there are reasons for my love of routine helps me to give myself space to deal with change when it has to happen.

And all of that awareness helps me to be a better wife, a better mom, and a better friend. Just because I am a perfectionist and want everything to be done just so does not mean that my children will appreciate my attention to detail. Because it is so easy for me to notice the negatives, I need to make a special effort to look for the things Matt is doing that are helpful and express my appreciation.

I also appreciated that this book was written from a Christian perspective and included information about spiritual strengths and weaknesses of each personality type. I don’t think I’d thought of my personality influencing my relationship with God in quite that way, and it was a good exercise. Some words that stood out to me were, “If you’re a One, you believe the only way you’ll know peace on the inside is if you perfect everything on the outside. It’s not true.” It really is a temptation for me to pursue peace by getting my external world in order – devising systems for regular toy pick-up, planning our meals and our school days, etc. But true peace comes from Jesus, from being real with Him, working through our thoughts and feelings with Him (the book highlights the importance of Ones being honest about their anger!), trusting in Him, and relying on His Spirit.

Since reading it, I’ve been more cognizant of the ways my personality may be affecting me throughout my days and in my relationships. I still don’t love the Enneagram system as a whole, but I have found that taking the time to look at who I am and what that means for how I live my life was illuminating and helpful!

Post-Surgery and Travel Update

Thank you so much to all of you who prayed us through our travels to Omaha for FangFang’s oral surgery and our return trip back to Missouri!

We left early Thursday morning and made it to the hospital just in time to meet the dentists who would be performing FangFang’s surgery the next day and do our pre-op consultation with them. After that we had the evening to ourselves, so we went and checked into our hotel…

…and then went out to dinner at Block 16, a hipster sandwich shop downtown, which all of us enjoyed! We tried to get FangFang a good last meal with all her teeth 🙂

She went to bed pretty well, and she actually did better than I thought she might with not being able to eat or drink after 8:00 AM. I woke her up around 7:45 to give her a clear liquid breakfast (jello and apple juice were her choices), and then I let her play with an iPad as a distraction while Catherine and I took turns getting some breakfast. We had a 10:00 AM check-in time at the hospital, so the morning was actually reasonably leisurely, and it wasn’t long before we were playing in the hospital playroom with brief breaks to consult with our nurse, a nurse practitioner, the dentists, and the anesthesiologist.

She was pretty happy right up until surgery. I actually declined Versed, and everyone seemed to think that was a good choice, because she seemed so comfortable and happy interacting with everyone, but as soon as she got about 10 feet down the hall from me, she started wailing, and they said I could come back with her. Her oral surgery was taking place in the procedure suite, which apparently has a lower standard of sterility than the OR, so I was allowed to walk into the room with her. I really wish all hospitals would do that for all procedures, whether they’re in the OR or not. FangFang is going to need a number of surgical interventions over her lifetime, and I’d prefer that, as much as possible, she see hospitals as places that help her, as opposed to the locations of traumatic experiences. Nurses seemed very concerned that it might be overwhelming to me to see her go under sedation in preparation for the procedure or have her throat suctioned afterwards, and they didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable. I assured them that I’d witnessed my husband experience cardiac arrest, so nothing they were going to do that day was going to make me uncomfortable, and if I needed to get out of the way, I’d do it. And most importantly, this is about FangFang, not me – if she’s more comfortable with me there, that trumps all else. They let me hold her and sing to her while she went to sleep, and I was so glad.

Catherine and I grabbed some lunch at the hospital cafeteria and then headed back up to our room to wait for FangFang. The dentists came and talked with us and said they’d pulled 5 teeth – the offending back molar that had the deep cavity giving her so much pain and her 4 front teeth, all of which had significant cavities. Because they’d pulled so many, they hadn’t needed to cap any teeth, but the crowding in her mouth will continue to make brushing and flossing a huge priority. They do not believe she has dentinogenesis imperfecta but that it’s more likely that we’re playing catch-up from her years in an orphanage, plus the crowding of her mouth, which is good news, because it means there’s some chance she won’t continue to have such serious dental issues.

It wasn’t long before I was allowed to go back to FangFang in recovery, and I walked in just as she was starting to open her eyes. She was in pain and angry. We got her Tylenol right away, and she wanted to leave that area, so we got to go back to our room right away, but she was still mad. We gave the Tylenol a bit of time to work, but it didn’t seem to be taking the edge off at all, so it wasn’t too long before we requested something stronger, and once she had a dose of Oxycodone, she started to calm. She cried for the mouth pain and cried in hunger and cried from her sore throat every time she had to swallow (she’d been intubated for the procedure). We started gradually introducing some clear liquids – apple juice and water and then jello, and she handled that well (no projectile vomiting!), and just before 4:00 they said we could go!

We weren’t sure how FangFang would do on the car ride home, and I was so thankful to have another adult with me who could help monitor her while we drove. She was pretty content watching Frozen and Daniel Tiger, though, and slept just a bit. She was even happy enough to try on goofy hats at a truck stop where we stopped to give her more pain meds and get gas!

We made it back home just before 11:00 last night, and she was very happy to be back, as was I!

Honestly, the trip itself went pretty well. That was really largely due to Catherine’s presence with us. I so enjoyed getting to chat with her on our drives – it was so much more fun than just driving by myself – and as a mom to four, it almost never happens that I get 10+ hours to hang out with a friend! And she was so helpful in assisting me with everything FangFang needed, getting juice or jello or washcloths to wipe up blood, and entertaining her while I talked with the doctors and dentists. I’m so, so thankful she came – such a blessing and encouragement.

And I’m so glad to be done with the procedure. FangFang was in a fair amount of pain yesterday but seems to be feeling a million times better today. She’s really been in pain for almost a month, and I’m so glad we were able to get this dental work done quickly and be done with it.

Re-entry is always rough, at least for me. I’m so excited to see everyone, but I’m also worn out. I really just want to have some quiet, alone time to read a book and relax. But there’s unpacking to do, and I’m behind on my work week since I was gone for 2 days, and kids need to be fed and cared for, and things at the house are just a little out of sorts any time I return from being gone. It always feels overwhelming to me, and I get snippy. There’s nothing that reveals your selfishness like parenting – and I think that’s doubly true when you add in any special needs. I do feel stretched, and I do feel tired, and I do feel overwhelmed at times, but that’s not a license to be unkind to anyone else, and I definitely fail at living that out.

I’ve tried to spend some time helping everyone settle back in. FangFang and I snuggled and read a book this morning, and a bit later Madeleine CaiQun and I got some one-on-one time reading on the couch together. Miranda and I had some chats, and Atticus came and snuggled with me for a while.

Matt has the kiddos out at a park right now, and I’m hoping to use this time well, doing some catch-up on all the tasks I need to tackle, but also to recharge and be prepared to love well when the rest of the family returns. I spent some time reading my Bible and praying and journaling, which has helped to settle my heart. I’m hoping that when everyone comes home, we can have an evening of enjoying being together, both in cleaning up the house some but also in just spending time together. These people have my heart, and I want to live that out, day by day, moment by moment.

Summer Reading

One of the greatest challenges for me, during this stage of life in which I have a good number of fairly small children, is in balancing all of my primary roles and responsibilities. Being a wife and a mom can, even on a good day, threaten to overwhelm all else. Yet I know that it is crucial for me to have time to think, to pray, to reflect, and to be a person in my own right.

Something I’ve always enjoyed is reading books. I love both non-fiction and fiction, the former offering countless opportunities for learning and the latter providing a glimpse into the minds and hearts of other people and thereby helping to expand my own. And while I’ve never entirely stopped reading, it’s been something that has ebbed and flowed, generally in inverse proportion to the demands of my children.

I really started making reading a priority again this past spring. Before we went to Omaha for FangFang’s surgery, I’d solicited book recommendations from friends on Facebook and received quite a few and downloaded several into my Kindle app. That was fortunate, since she spent much of her time in the hospital sitting on my lap, often sleeping, and I could do little besides read.

I’ve discovered in the last few months that I really do retain non-fiction better if I read it in actual book form, so I’ve been sticking to that, but I’ve been borrowing fiction books from the library through Overdrive to read on my Kindle app (and occasionally purchasing books from Amazon, as well). I’ve actually put the Kindle app on my phone, and I’ve read so many books that way over the last couple months. It’s not really my preference, but I always have my phone with me, so I’m able to pull it out and read for a few minutes while waiting for water to boil when I’m cooking or sit and read while waiting in the bathroom with a potty-training toddler. And a side benefit is that I’m less tempted to look at Facebook 50 times a day when I have something else interesting I can pull up on my phone instead!

As far as serious non-fiction, I greatly enjoyed reading Hannah Anderson’s Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul, and I even got to go to a book discussion evening with some other ladies to talk about it. I’ve been wanting to grow in humility, and this book was a great encouragement to me. I’ve also been reading Raising a Sensory Smart Child, by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske. It has given me some good information as I’ve been learning more about sensory processing and about ways in which our body’s sensory-seeking or sensory-avoiding tendencies can affect our lives and how we can use that information to make good choices for ourselves and our children. After finishing Humble Roots, I started reading Mike Wilkerson’s Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry and am looking forward to digging into it more as I prepare for some upcoming ministry opportunities with our church. Next up after that is going to be David Powlison’s new book, How Does Sanctification Work?. David Powlison is my favorite Christian writer and speaker, and I’m really looking forward to reading what he has written. I’m hoping also to get into Praying Together, by Megan Hill, which a lot of the people from our church are reading this summer.

Matt and I have been consistent in our reading together – since our dating days, we’ve always read books together, sometimes both of us reading the same book separately and then discussing it, more often reading out loud to each other. In recent years we’ve been going through sagas – we read almost all of Madeleine L’Engle’s fiction, then read through Harry Potter, and we just finished The Lord of the Rings. The other day we started Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency, my first Douglas Adams book, which, so far, is odd – I’m looking forward to seeing what I think of it after we get into it a bit more, since so many good friends have such a love for Douglas Adams!

I’ve really enjoyed being able to venture beyond our reading together into copious amounts of fiction reading on my own, though, sprinkling in some heavier reads among a lot of lighter, happier books. I read two excellent World War II era books: The Nightingale, which crushed me; and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, which at first I thought I wouldn’t like, due to its form of story-telling via letters between various characters, but which I ended up loving. I also loved Wonder, an adolescent fiction novel, which is beautiful and definitely a tear-jerker. My children will be reading all of those books as they reach ages at which they’d be appropriate!

I read some Nelson DeMille books, which were generally good stories, but most of his main characters just annoyed me, so I couldn’t truly enjoy immersing myself in them. But the only book I actually stopped reading before I finished was The Handmaid’s Tale. I may come back to it someday, but I found myself far too creeped out by its dystopian world. I was having weird dreams about it at night and having a hard time jumping back and forth between its world (while I cooked dinner) and my own (as children invariably came into the kitchen to make one request or another). While they’re lighter and probably less respectable as literature, I’ve enjoyed much more the thoughtful, engaging novels of Sara Donati and Christa Parrish. At another time, I might have pushed through the Handmaid’s Tale, because I feel like it’s a book I should be able to say I’ve read, but I’m learning that, just as I parent each child according to what they need at any particular moment, it’s a good idea to pay attention to what I need and want at various times. Right now I don’t need the harsh creepiness but am very encouraged by good, thoughtful stories, and I’m okay with that!

I’m so thankful to be able to grab even a few minutes here and there to do some more reading these days. I’d love any book recommendations you readers may have, as I’m always looking for more good books to read!

Post-Heart Attack Life

Life happens in layers, I think, each action and each event having far-reaching implications, many of which are not known until months or years later. We spent the months after Matt’s heart attack (if you haven’t read the story, see here for parts one, two, three, four, and the aftermath) focusing on making the necessary changes to our lives. Matt is on medication and sees his cardiologist regularly, and he began exercising, first every other day, and then every day, and we completely transformed our diet. We’re always tweaking things, and Matt is continuing to try to lose weight, but, for the most part, things have been pretty stable.

But one night in May, I came home from an evening of hanging out with other women as part of our church’s women’s retreat, and Matt told me he felt off. As I asked more questions, he said he wasn’t sure what it was, but he’d been outside that day and gotten sunburnt, and he’d used some different exercise equipment at the gym, and he was sure that’s all it was, but his chest had felt a little weird. Just to be safe, though, since he was home alone with all four of our kids, he’d taken some meds. Alarm bells immediately went off in my mind. He was sure it was nothing – but he hadn’t really thought that the chest pain he’d experienced in the couple days prior to his heart attack warranted more attention than an aspirin.

By this time it was getting late, but I’d just been chatting with a nurse friend at the women’s event, so I was sure she’d be awake, and I called and got her opinion – which was that if this was anyone else, she’d say it was probably no big deal, but with Matt’s history, we needed to check in with his doctor. We are so blessed to have, as Matt’s primary care doctor, a friend from church. I texted him and asked him to call me if he was awake, because we had a question about Matt’s health, and he called within five minutes. After talking with Matt, he advised him to head to the ER – that it was probably nothing, but better safe than sorry. Matt said he didn’t want to turn it into a big deal by having someone else come here and watch our kids or having someone come and get him, so he drove himself in, while I stayed at home with our kids.

And honestly, it was an emotional night. I was relieved when, by 2:00 a.m., he texted me to say that bloodwork was showing that his troponin levels were normal and an EKG showed nothing out of the ordinary. He stayed for another round of bloodwork 4 hours later and then, when all looked okay, came home to get a few hours of rest and then to hang out with our kiddos, so that I could go in to speak at day two of our women’s retreat. Interestingly enough, for a portion of my talk I was using as examples some of our experiences after Matt’s heart attack, so my mind and my heart were already steeped in some of the counsel I’d received then.

Most poignant among all of it was and continues to be, “Enjoy your time together, it is a gift. Use this time to draw close to God and Matt.”

After Matt’s heart attack, I hadn’t realized that I was afraid to draw nearer to him in our relationship until my friend spoke those words to me. Even knowing that our time together might have a hard stop years before we’d dreamed it could, we were and are called to this marriage relationship together, and I realized then and I know now that I cannot take him to have and to hold, to love and to cherish – as I stood in front of our family and friends 14 years ago and promised to do – if I’m holding him at a distance. And so I push fear away and draw near to him.

I’ve been thinking about Philippians 4:4-8 lately – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

These are hard verses in that they do not promise what I wish that they promised. They don’t say, “Don’t be anxious, because if you pray, God will give you what you want.” They tell us not to be anxious, and they tell us to pray, but what is promised is not the desired result but peace. What I’d like is a guarantee of long life and love, but try as I might, I’ve found that nowhere.

But I contemplate a God who is true, a God who is honorable, a God who is just, a God who is pure, a God who is lovely, a God who is commendable, a God who is excellent, a God who is worthy of praise. I trust that He is sovereign and that He is good and that this life that He has given to me and is giving to me is the one He laid out for me to have, and He will walk with me through it.

I don’t always feel peace. Matt and I are watching through the first season of This is Us right now. We just watched the Christmas episode, in which Toby collapses, and I felt my breath catch in my throat and my heart pound in my chest. I know that panic, and I know those hospital beeps. I know that there’s no guarantee they will stay at bay for years or even days to come.

And yet there is an undercurrent of peace throughout our lives. I choose to trust myself to the God of the universe and throw myself into this life He’s given to me. I expect there will be more ER trips in the future. That’s something that, 15 months ago, it didn’t occur to me to anticipate as part of this new reality, but I know now to expect it. If you experience cardiac arrest at age 39, chest pain earns you a trip to the ER to be checked out, and it’s going to happen, though I hope it’ll be infrequent.

But as long as we’re here together on this earth, living this life, we’ll press on and try to use the days that we have well.

Surgery Tomorrow Morning

Tomorrow morning we take an important step in this journey of living life with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI). FangFang is scheduled for bilateral femur rodding surgery. For those of you who would enjoy a detailed explanation, feel free to check out this link from the OI Foundation. The short version is that right now, her bone density is very low, and her right femur has significant bowing (curving). That means that if she were to try to pull to a stand (something she has been starting to attempt recently), chances are high that her femur would snap. Try to imagine for a moment the pain that would be involved in a significant break of this largest bone in your body, and you’ll understand why we’d like to avoid that scenario. Her left femur fractured about 10 months ago in China, and she had a rod placed in that leg at that time, but it will be replaced during this surgery, and her right femur will be rodded for the first time. These rods will act as internal splints, straightening the bones, giving them added strength and stability, and lessening the severity of any fractures that do occur in the future.

FangFang’s orthopedic surgeon recommended this course of action when we saw him in January, and it is the consensus of the other parents with whom we’ve spoken that it is absolutely the best choice for her. And so, instead of spring break on the beach or exploring a fun area nearby or just enjoying some quality family time at home, we have spring break: bilateral femur rodding edition.

My mom and FangFang and I made the 5 hour drive to Omaha this afternoon and got settled into our hotel room, where we hope to get some sleep before an early hospital check-in tomorrow morning.

Would you please pray for us this week as we tackle surgery and these first few days of recovery? In particular, these are some things for which we’d very much appreciate prayer –

  • that the surgery itself goes well. The surgeons performing her surgery are some of the very best surgeons in the world who specialize in caring for children with OI, and they have done this exact same operation innumerable times, and we have full confidence in them, but no surgery is ever routine when it’s for your child.
  • that we are able to manage her pain – both physical and potentially emotional – well over the next few days. Physical pain after this particular surgery is intense, and we, as well as the nurses involved in her care, will need to stay ahead of her pain with the best medications for her. Additionally, we’ve done all we can to explain what’s going to happen and read books and show her pictures, and I’m as confident as I can be for a 3-year-old who has been exposed to English for just over 3 months that she’s well-prepared, but it’s hard to know how much she understands. She’s going to wake up after surgery with an epidural and double leg splints. She’s such a happy kiddo, and I’m hoping she won’t be too distraught by her situation this week.

  • that my mom and I are able to comfort and entertain her well this week. She’s going to be in pain, and she’s going to have very limited mobility. We’re going to need to be creative and hands on in our parenting (and grandparenting) to care for her well, and while I’m hoping for some bits of down time, I don’t really know what to expect, and I know I need to be prepared for some long days and nights.
  • that Matt and our other 3 kids can have fun together during this week at home. Honestly, I think he has the harder parenting job this week, caring for 3 kids by himself 24/7 (except for brief breaks offered by a friend, for which I am SO thankful – having a couple hours to himself to run to the gym is going to make his job so much easier!).

  • that we can head home early. I’ve been told that if everything goes well, we can hope for discharge on Thursday or Friday, then they’d like us to spend another night in town, and we’d be able to head home the next day. I’d really like to be able to head home ASAP. I don’t enjoy being away from Matt and the rest of our kids, and I think FangFang will be much happier at home with her brother and sisters than stuck in a hospital room. Even tonight, as she was falling asleep in her hotel pack ‘n’ play, she repeated several times, “Night night, Atta.”
  • that we’re able, as a family, to care for FangFang well even as we return home. I really don’t know what these next few weeks will look like, and I want to be flexible with our daily routines and with school and with my expectations of what things will look like, and I hope we can all be selfless in our care for her during her recovery.
  • that the rods do their job well. FangFang very much wants to be able to stand, and we believe (and all the medical professionals with whom we interact believe) that having rods in her femurs will help her to do so safely, and we hope that is the case.

I’ll keep you informed as I’m able. Thanks so much for joining us in prayer as we take this step forward with our baby girl!