I’m in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms.

I'm in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms 3

While riding in the back of a golf cart, holding my toddler in my lap, and bouncing through the rows of trees in the apple orchard a thought confronted me: I am enjoying myself.

Before we arrived at the orchard, precautions had been taken to make sure each person was wearing layers, gloves, hats, and boots. But preparation isn’t everything, I’ve prepared for things like this before and still hated the experience all the way through. Every minute felt like pain, and none of it seemed worth all the effort. I love my family, and lots of times the experience we are aiming for was my idea. So I don’t know why I have grudged through so many should-be-good times.

But this morning, as we were bumping along in the golf cart – the confrontation of my thought startled me. I could feel that I was in the moment. I wasn’t worried about finding the right apple variety. I wasn’t anxious about holding my toddler while not in a seat buckle. I knew the whole excursion would be exercise (not my favorite thing). I accepted that this was going to be work.

I'm in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms 5

 

I breathed in and knew that it was good. I thought, this is good – no matter what happens, no matter how much it costs, no matter how much my kids appreciate it – this is good.

So good that I was giddy, fully alive with joy.

I breathed in and knew that I wasn’t afraid. I looked at the sky, clouds threatening to block out blue and sun, and felt the energy of the day. I embraced the strength that was available to me in that moment. And that’s when I knew I was changing my habits. I was focused on breathing so I couldn’t be fixated on trying to control the outcome of the experience.

I'm in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms 4

It’s the outcome that fools me into thinking that I can control the experience. Like a mathematical equation: We are here to pick apples. I will pick apples, pay for them, leave with them, and eat them. Money and time out – apples in. Whenever I get caught up in this sort of mentality, I get fooled into thinking that the life in between making the plan and acting on the plan should be easy and controllable.

It never is.

I'm in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms 6

I’m still learning this whole hard work thing. I’m a slow learner, so I’m not the most exciting member of our family to be around when the going gets tough. I’ve missed out on the joy of so many fun family activities simply because I was trying to control the outcome so much that I wanted to fast forward through the moments that seemed like filler just to get to the point.

If I had been in this mindset, I would have missed the golf cart ride.

I would have held my breath through the filler part. I would have stressed about all the things I could not control and missed the moment. But instead, I took a deep breath and thanked God for that very moment – the bumpy, exciting, unknown, beautiful moment. And that’s when I realized that my problem hasn’t been that I’m just a grumpy person with a bent toward complaining. My problem is I’m a fearful person who simply needs to learn to breathe again. I’m learning that pain has created a lot of bad habits in my life, some that have nothing to do with other people and everything to do with how I experience my own life.

Confession: I’m in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms. I hold my breath when I’m scared.

I'm in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms 1

I know there isn’t any logic in holding my breath. Like the analogy of bitterness: drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. I fear the lack of control in my experiences and hold my breath, waiting for someone or something to hand me back the reigns.

I don’t hold my breath consciously, but I do remember the first time I consciously took in a full breath and practiced that over and over. I realized that I had been making my daily life more difficult because of my coping. I started to recognize – like waking up and seeing objects come into focus – I was holding my breath all the time. I just did it automatically whenever I found myself in new situations or in fear inducing circumstances.

I didn’t know that all my breath-holding was a means of grasping for control. I didn’t connect that my grasping was actually robbing me of the freedom to enjoy my own life’s experiences. But learning to breathe – the simple full breath in, full exhale out – in the midst of new or scary experiences has taught me the beauty and joy of letting go of the things that are unknown.

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So when the thought I am enjoying myself jolted me – I took a full breath, thanked God, and told myself that no matter what happens in this orchard I will breathe. I will choose to remember this moment of pure joy and be grateful for this life and this experience. I won’t worry about the outcome or about whether I have enough strength for the hard work. I will choose to rest in my spirit and trust God for my next breath.

And that’s exactly what happened. I kept breathing, and I enjoyed myself all the way through the experience. One small victory over fear, one giant amount of joy, one breath at a time.

The Hardest Part: Home Schooling with a Broken Heart

Today, I'm sharing the hardest part of my home school journey for the SimpleHomeschool.net series. My hardest part may not be similar to yours, so be sure to click over and check out all the wonderful, vulnerable posts - I'm sure there will be one or two that provide support and encouragement to you.

“Many people die at twenty five and aren’t buried until they are seventy five.”

—Benjamin Franklin

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Everything about home schooling was difficult for me after my marriage fell apart. From teaching letters and sounds, to describing how electricity works, to balancing free play with engagement, and constancy of the work required for both home and school – everything was burdened by the weight of my broken heart.

Each day, I would gear up. I tried to get my head in the game. Doing everything I could to be ready for whatever my day might require of me.

When my children were babies and toddlers, I would hide from them when in the most pain. PBS Kids and Curious George provided happiness and discovery that I didn’t have the strength to produce on my own. I allowed them to indulge while I built up my strength to make another meal or pack another diaper bag.

But hiding my broken heart proved to be a challenge I could not overcome.

I developed a clock-in/clock-out mentality. When I had built up enough strength I would clock-in and do the work of being the best mother and teacher I could be. When I was on the clock, I felt like I was in control and able to do what was expected of me. I would count the hours until bedtime, always ready well before the time for my little ones to go to sleep so that I could clock-out and mend my broken heart again.

As my children grew, they began to see me crack under the pressure of pain more and more.

Blankie and more than a blankie

Because pain isn’t tame. It doesn’t come in manageable doses, it doesn’t schedule it’s arrival in advance, and it doesn’t behave the same way from one day to the next.

At first, I got angry with the pain because I felt like a failure when it caught me off guard. I felt embarrassed. I didn’t want my children to think less of me. I couldn’t bare the thought of them not wanting to rely on me – I felt like I needed to always appear strong for them to do so.

Always trying to hide my broken heart from them created a barrier between us that hurt me even more. I could see the pain beginning to form on their little faces because the joy, laughter, and easy hugs they needed from me were gone.

Somewhere in my process of hiding my broken heart, I clocked-out from my own life.

Sure, I still made peanut butter and honey sandwiches, we still went to the library, and I still read to them every night before they went to bed – but I was only there in body. My heart and soul were hidden behind the shell of me. I felt weakness throughout the entirety of my being.

From this place of weakness, I tried to build a foundation for our days which ended in complete failure. And from repeated failure came shame and defeat. From defeat came lies in and hypocrisy out.

This is what it looked like: Monday – I planned to sit down with my children to read 2-3 books, review letters, colors, and sight words. If I still had their attention, then we would go over the calendar and weather.

But it was hard to get their attention, and they didn’t want to do the same things at the same time. They would begin to argue and fuss with one another, and the noise and chaos of it all exaggerated the pain and brokenness that I already felt to the point that I couldn’t take it.

I wave the white flag in surrender, and they go back to their pretend play and puzzles.

Then when a well-meaning friend or family member asks: How’s school going? I say, it’s going great! Because I don’t want to reveal the pain on top of the pain. I desperately needed school to be going well so that I would have one good thing in my life. I couldn’t admit defeat, and I had no clue how to recover from the daily battles that left me in the constant state of it.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

– Winston Churchill

This was all before my first trip to the Great Homeschool Convention*. The sessions I went to were so helpful in strengthening me to be the mother I needed to be in order to be the teacher I wanted to be.

Also, time and truth built courage into my soul. The more time past, the more I was saturated in truth, the more I was able to endure the pressure of pain in my everyday life. That isn’t to say it isn’t still a struggle, but I’ve learned how to still love and nurture my children without being afraid of them seeing me in pain. I’ve learned to let them know me. I’ve grown to appreciate their presence and embrace the humiliation of feeling defeated again.

“The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places.”

— Ernest Hemingway

The hardest part of my home school journey has taught me more than any textbook or online course ever could regarding love, growth, self-control, and personal discipline. I would not change one thing about the path that I have had to walk, and I no longer dread each new day for the fear that somehow there will be more pain that I won’t be able to hide from.

Because the hardest part of my home school journey has brought me to a place of strength I never would have found without it – on my knees. The place I avoided – the weakest place – has become my strength.

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Because of the hardest part, I’ve learned the sweetest part. I’ve learned the surrendered place, the ordered and disciplined place, and the place where prayer lives. Open, honest, and ready to receive – no longer hidden, counting hours, and avoiding connection.

I’m reminded of what Steve Lambert said at this past year’s GHC*, Homeschooling is an invitation only party… he went on to explain that it is an intimate call from God to home educate your child. God intends to change you (the parent) for your good and His glory through the hard work of it.

Yes, I thank God for the hardest part.

* Affiliate link.

My Week of Unfortunate, Painful Events

It all happened before I realized I had created a problem.

I had pulled up my anchors and was just waiting for the change to take place. Summer schedules, a move, and a whole new way of life was just on the horizon – so I stopped relying on the routine without even realizing it. Leaving myself exposed to all manner of pain. 

Mommy, she said just as I was rinsing my hand in the sink. I didn’t realize I had just put it under scalding hot water.

I burned my hand. It was the last straw. Like a camel, my back was broken.

I stomped my foot and burst into tears. 

I’ve been hurt too much today. This is the hardest day I’ve had in a long time. I said, and I stood with my back to her and sobbed.

I’m not a crier. 

Even though I get choked up often over worship songs, Little House on the Prairie, and the word “newborn.” I don’t cry over my own pain very often.

I was embarrassed to be so vulnerable with my kids, but if there is one thing kids understand – it’s pain. 

So, I let my kids see me in pain. I’m honest when things hurt me, and I make sure to tell them the difference between emotional pain and physical pain. 

Pain doesn’t have to be justified in order to hurt.

All day I had been working to fix a technical problem with my internet. I could write a whole rant on ISPs, but I’ll save you from having to read that. 

In the quiet moments of the day, my mental dialog was demanding that I figure out whether what I was going through was heaven-sent in order to test me or hell-bound in order to tempt me.

I felt obligated to remain neutral in my thoughts or behaviors until I traced what was happening to me to the source.

But if it was from God to test me, then being “good” doesn’t prove that I was worthy of the test. Or if it was from the devil, then my being “bad” isn’t justified. 2 wrongs don’t make a right. I was stuck not knowing how to respond. 

Either way, I was suffering under the weight of fresh pain. Not only from the website stress, but also the move, the lack of anchors, the scalded hand, etc. I told myself I don’t have to know the source in every situation before I act – because whatever the source of this painful situation, I don’t want to give pain the power to control me.

In everything, I need to be able to acknowledge that God is indeed sovereign. I want to give my daughter a visual of what to do when the hurts feel like too much. I want her to hear me giving thanks, even when something is hurting me to the point of complete humiliation. I want her to know that it is possible to suffer from pain and still endure.

And sometimes, sobbing at the kitchen sink is enduring. 

Because enduring is honest. It isn’t white knuckles.

Enduring is telling my daughter that I just scalded my hand, and I’m in a lot of pain – I can’t talk right now. 

Enduring is praying in every moment that feels like it is more than I can bear. 

Enduring is steady; it is more than skin deep. It isn’t harsh or angry when tested. 

Enduring is getting over hurts quickly because on days when it’s really painful – the next thing to go wrong is coming up fast – I won’t have relief any time soon. It’s better to let the first hurt roll off.

Hurts aren’t worth collecting anyway.

And even though it is true that hurt people, hurt people – I don’t have to be doomed to hurt my kids in the way that I talk to them and treat them. I don’t have to be defined by my pain and heap shame into the mix. I don’t have to slump into the bad-mom-mentality and lose ground for good in my soul and theirs. 

Pain reveals what’s underneath my efforts. It exposes my weak spots. It calls either calm or clamor to the forefront. 

How I respond when a weak spot is under attack teaches my kids. Sometimes it teaches them loudly even if I don’t say a word.

Through every season of deep pain in my life, I have come to recognize a more intimate demand on my heart. It’s the part of self-control that I struggle with the most – what do I do when I’m in conflict with myself. Pain is the truest test of self-control, just like waiting is the trust test of patience

And just like scalding my hand isn’t that big of a deal – it isn’t the size of the test of self-control that matters as much as the passing of it. I want my kids to see me living and thriving, not just surviving. Sometimes stomping or sobbing – hopefully more calm than not – always admitting what I’m learning so that they can see there’s a much bigger Teacher behind it all.

My Loneliness Story (Self-Destructing and Frustrated) :: Warning Signs of Loneliness in Kids, Part 6

No one would want to play with me anyway. I don’t have any friends. No one likes me, I’m dumb.

Or:

Why do you always… why can’t I ever… you never let me…

And it may be that both have been said by the same child. I know I said both.

People mean well when they want to help or fix these bad feelings. But it isn’t as easy as choosing not to be grumpy by putting on a smile. When the root of the matter isn’t being addressed the bad feelings grow and it becomes a habit. The struggling child expresses self-pity or disrespect consistently.

It is heartbreaking when adults ignore these signs because they label the child as “pitying themselves” or “rebelling against authority.” While both of those labels may be true and trained through with the child –it is feedback behavior.

Again, heavily focusing on these words and the feelings behind them are not going to produce the desired result. The words or the attitude isn’t the primary issue. The root of the issue isn’t that the child needs better self-esteem or deeper submission. Spending energy trying to train a child to put on a better attitude or to quiet their expressions will not stick. It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that needs stitches.

The pain from loneliness has been internalized and the child believes that they are wrong or broken for having needs that are going unmet. It causes a reaction of distrust and resentment toward parents for not knowing or helping the child.

In young children, this can also create a sense of panic or fear.

Fear and pain have a way of motivating us. I was a little powerhouse of words, attitudes, and emotions growing up. I would speak up to anyone: anytime, anywhere. Collecting labels that only grew more burdensome as I grew older. As my feedback behavior was being disciplined, punished, quieted – the pain grew and my fight with it. I tried every wrong way to force others to notice me and meet my needs for support and companionship, but very few adults could tolerate me.

This was true for me: hurt people, hurt people. And anyone close to me was hurt by me.

If only I could go back to my teen years and take back the awful things I said to my parents. The ongoing frustration I felt toward them was simply caused by misunderstandings and lack of communication. We addressed the surface issues, labeling actions and emotions as character flaws. But on my own, I didn’t have the tools to change my character – who I was becoming felt like a freight train that had lost its brakes.

Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I became who we all feared I would become. The labels and the troubles crushed me.

It took me years to unravel the pain and fear. After the social stages of schooling, I was on my own and alone, and that’s when I began to understand how loneliness had been at the root of so much of my destructive behavior.

And after more than a decade of healing I am able to share and learn from this painful part of myself.

My Loneliness Story

Learning to work through pain and to help others is the motive behind writing this series. The amount of compassion I have for kids who are hurting is beyond my physical reach. That’s why I’m writing. If you’re reading this, anything you can gain from these observations can be used to heal and help provide support and companionship.

Also, lest I close the series leading anyone to believe I no longer struggle with loneliness allow me to reveal how I recognize red flags as an adult: I act is some counter intuitive ways. I put on personalities that aren’t mine, and they don’t fit. And it looks like one or more of these:

  • Suddenly becoming bubbly and outgoing, with a strong desire to be the life of the party
  • Spending money impulsively and a ravenous desire to have something I’ve been saying “no” to for a long time
  • Gradually becoming isolated: ignoring phone calls from close friends and family because I just don’t feel like being with anyone
  • Feeling panicky when I don’t know where my phone is – checking social media compulsively
  • Mismanaging time and emotions – becoming angry and frustrated with myself for an overall lack of discipline
  • Speaking negatively about myself to others and rejecting encouragement

Why is there an ongoing struggle with loneliness? Because it’s hard to ask for support when I feel unsupported. It looks weak, it feels vulnerable, and it requires reflection and work to resolve. Often, I don’t know where to start, I’m overwhelmed. Guilt lies to me.

Moving forward, I look at my core needs and work up from there: security, identity, and then belonging. And like Dr. Kathy Koch taught me: Belonging is “who wants me” not “who needs me.” Belonging is a need, and healthy relationships are possible.

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series, you can check out the titles here.

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Made to Respond {How to be sick on Valentine’s Day.}

When I was so sick that I thought I might pass out, this thought came to me: What if this pain is clearing out not only all the food I’ve ever eaten, but it’s also boiling down the purpose of my life.

We tend to get sick a lot.

Last year, I wrote about coming to grips with all the costs and sacrifices of caring for my little one. It hasn’t been the path I would have chosen for my son or myself.

But here I am at home again. And on Valentine’s Day.

How to be sick on Valentine's Day

I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel the pain of loss when the rest of my family walked out the door. But what if that pain was making space for something more beautiful?

Patience. Contentment. Peace.

What if pain wasn’t a punishment? What if it was a tool, useful for revealing realities that normally remain unseen?

This is what I was thinking when my toddler was vomiting all over himself and the floor. I’m not good with puke. Ask my husband. I tend to freak out a little, as if my poor little people aren’t scared enough of their body’s revolting – enter the image of me waving my hands in front of my face saying “I can’t do this, I can’t do this!” 

I haven’t come by motherhood gracefully.

My daughter has witnessed more of my parenting fails than my sons. For many years, I didn’t have a grip on how to stop myself from reacting (and over-reacting) to every little thing. I would go in circles.

  1. Disciplined and self controlled – focused on the good things, ready to accomplish life’s tasks.
  2. Disappointed or discouraged – lack of sleep, lack of exercise, lack of adult conversation, and lack of purpose.
  3. Dragged down by demands – this would inevitably lead to an over reaction to one more thing gone wrong.
  4. Determined to go back to step 1 – repeat.

And that’s when pain broke this cycle. Only then did something more beautiful take the place of my over reactions. Grace moved from the outside in, and taught me to quiet my soul, take time to wait, and then respond.

I’ve found that the more I wait, the more content I become, the better I am able to handle a trying situation.

See, I believe, we are all made to respond. It’s at the core of every living thing. Reacting is just the bossy version of responding. It lies and tells us that we should avoid pain which just fuels the need to react when pain comes.

Because pain always comes. 

So this Valentine’s Day, as I spend it at home with my little sick guy, I want to inspire you to grow in beauty. Identify the things in your life that cause you to react. Let grace move in and teach you to wait. Patience, the right response, and peace will follow. It will be worth it.

Learning, growing, responding – these are the real, pain-revealed purposes of my life.

 

Monday Mindset and Links :: Vol. 2

I found a new friend. Many new friends actually. And I’ve needed them. Each one has been an answer to specific prayer.

I’ve been gathering answered prayers around myself like pillows on a soft cozy bed.

One of these such friends {Holley Gerth}, doesn’t know me very well yet, but I’ve been joining her for her Coffee for the Heart writing prompts. Two weeks ago, I was too sick to even contemplate writing. But her prompt was “What Brings You Joy?

My first response to that prompt? Pain.

Yes, pain. Hear me :: I am not a masochist. And I do not by any means seek out pain, but I’ve learned {and am continuing to learn} to be patient with pain. To lean into the Spirit who dwells within me while in pain. And what I’ve experienced for a while now is the reality that when “bad things” happen, I’m drawn closer to the Spirit of the living God than when I coast through life without a catch.

So for my Monday Mindset this week, I’m going to be tying these two thoughts together. When pain presents itself in my life {emotional, physical, relational, etc.} I can breathe in joy and exhale fear because I know that just like physical exercise strengthens the muscles, so too spiritual exercise strengthens the faith.

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Goal: Perseverance and mature faith. Process: trials of many kinds. Mindset: Pure joy knowing that this process is directed by a Sovereign, Good God {who is a gentle, compassionate Teacher} and will work it all out for my good.

And that’s how I know that pain is what brings me joy because it draws me closer to Him.

Now for Links:

I would love to hear from you in the comments! If any of these thoughts or resources met you right where you are today, please let me know, or Follow me for more Monday Mindsets. Thanks for reading!

the barrier to my belief {story of sickness}

Not too long ago, I sang Healer in church.

I believe You’re my healer, I believe You are all I need. I believe.

And I do believe. This song has been a balm for me, and I have sang it many times through trials and tears. Ever since I sang it with the congregation at a great church in Orlando. Standing in pain – emotional, relational, and spiritual – while brothers and sisters all around supported the hurting by laying hands and singing the words that were then new and now dear. You hold my every moment, you calm my raging seas…

Not too long after encountering hope in that moment, I was led to the passage in Exodus where God defines Himself as the Israelites Healer. When everything around them was bitter and barren. There was no refreshment to be found in their environment. The circumstances were hopeless. Marah. Where they finally found water and their eyes were filled with hope! Only to taste and find that it was bitter. Sometimes what hope this world offers is a huge let down. Bitter. They grumbled against Moses. But he cried out to the Lord! And the Lord showed Moses a log that once in the water healed the water and made it sweet.

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

 

There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” Exodus 15:25b &26

Sounds great, right? None of the diseases! Oh, how I would love to see God work in my life that way. To make it through the test, to follow all the commandments and keep all his statues, and to receive the reward of healing! And I often walk away from this text with that view. Okay Cara, just do what’s right, hold tight to the Lord, and he will heal. But sometimes I don’t, and he doesn’t. Often times I lose diligence and my hearing goes horizontal. I do what’s right in my eyes. And my prayers for help and healing turn circumstantial.

And that’s how it has been in my home recently. Circumstantial interruptions. We have one babe with RSV. He’s been sick since October 7th. He wheezes chronically. Multiple chest x-rays, countless nebulizing treatments, test after test. We’re on a first name basis with our nurse, and when I call to make appointments the staff recognizes my voice. We have to keep the little guy out of the general public for 6 weeks due to the contagious nature of his sickness. And then the doctor said that he must be out of nursery settings until spring to protect his health. From this January view, spring feels a long way off.

So I have prayed a lot. Many sleepless nights listening for sounds of breathing. Swinging thoughts from I believe to please just fix this.

And then another child got sick. His screaming shocked me awake. It was a night where the babe was sleeping peacefully – making it through the whole night without a need. But the other was in great pain and demanding comfort every 45 minutes. Finally my adrenaline kicked into high gear, and I laid awake even when he was calmed and sleeping again. My prayers became angry. The pain was too real. Too bossy. I didn’t realize that I had lost sight of the gospel, lost hearing the still small voice.

Instead of reviewing promises, I was rehearsing offenses. How could you let me hurt like this? Why don’t you show me you care? I forced truth into my mind, like You will never leave me or forsake me… But I felt forsaken. I felt lost in the pain. I thought hurtful things. Because if you don’t already know this – hurt people, hurt people.

In the morning, I just sat in stillness and pondered Jesus.

I wasn’t angry anymore. I wasn’t carrying baggage or burdens. I wasn’t trying to stick Baid-Aid promises to my pain.

Then I rehearsed the gospel. Jesus faced pain. Real, bigger than I can imagine pain. Relationship pain, rejection pain, sleeplessness pain, physical pain, brutal pain. He faced it all. He took God’s wrath so that I won’t have to. He redeemed my life from the pit. And here I am whining and stomping and demanding that he fix our bodies because I don’t like how they’re broken.

After thinking awhile about pain and anxiety and writing this post, realizing that I’m losing my faith over this, I finally regained perspective and made a faith-filled decision to fight. Stand firm and fight. It’s all the gospel. About the gospel, for the gospel, with the gospel, in the gospel. Life is worth living because of Jesus. That’s it.

And the log that turned my bitter circumstances into something sweet? I see it now. It’s the cross.

So, I don’t want to end with a conclusion that leaves you thinking, she made it! Because the truth is, today was a fight for gospel thinking too. We still have our pains and brokenness to deal with, and I fail in my thinking. But it was huge for me to stop trying to “promise think” my way out of pain, and go back to thinking of Jesus. Just begin with Him, and then knowing His promises make all the difference.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in {Jesus}. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.