Category Archives: fear

Sink Deep, Rise Victorious after Loss

Grief is a universal experience. Every person will at some point in his or her life experience loss in some form. The only way to stay safe from loss is to never love, never care, never attach. The amount of grief we feel tends to correlate to the amount of love we have for a person, pet, job, situation, etc. As a counselor, I advise my clients to let themselves make space for grief and mourning rather than trying to be “fine” and shoving the grief down, drying up the tears, and getting on with life too quickly. In many cultures, mourning is a sacred time set aside for weeks so that a person is allowed to cry, wail, be surrounded by loved ones who do nothing other than “be” with them witnessing this pain and offering kindness (not advice). Being able to sink deeply into grief and truly mourn enables a person to rise more quickly in a state of emotional freedom in which they can feel joy again rather than numbness. Putting off mourning, trying “get it together” and act “fine” by going back to work and regular life duties too quickly only prolongs the healing process. Sometimes we try to “speed up” the grieving process because we are uncomfortable or even terrified of the sinking- the feeling out being out of control, of emotional pain so severe it is hard to breathe, the fear that if we sink we will never rise again. Other times we try to speed this process up because we are of a practical mindset and feel that there is no time to be “in the feels” and we have things to get done. However, grief always finds its way to force us to experience it one way or another. Sometimes, in maladaptive, negative ways such as drinking too much, workaholism, an affair, emotional numbing, disconnecting from loved ones, etc.

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Recently, I experienced a miscarriage. I had gotten my hopes up after an early ultrasound that showed a strong heartbeat and baby growing on target. My blood work was perfect. Everything was in line. Post-miscarriage pathology testing revealed no genetic abnormalities. I was left with no explanation other than simply it must have been God’s will for me not to have this baby right now. I know God loves me and isn’t a magic genie there to just give me all my wishes and make life peachy. I believe that God uses life as a testing ground to teach us the lessons we need to learn to evolve spiritually. Unpleasant experiences teach us things we would not learn from happy times. I can accept what happened and want to ask what I can learn from this rather than “why me”, but I still needed time to grieve as my body endured the physical and emotional suffering for days on end of the miscarriage process at home. For a moment, when I got the news that morning that the baby had no heartbeat and a miscarriage would start soon, I actually considered going into work that night and not telling anyone. I am that much of a workaholic. I had to use my counselor voice on myself and say “Jen that is nuts! Go home!” so I made the radical move of taking a full week and half off from work. Thankfully, I have PDO saved up and could do this. Just FYI, if anyone has to go through this horrible experience I would highly suggest you ask your doctor for pain pills, take the week off from work, get childcare for your kids, make sure you have plenty of Gatorade or electrolyte drinks in the house (hydration will keep you from dying or having to go to the hospital), prepare your mind with prayer and wise counsel (thank you Angela for helping me when I was in spiritual warfare by reminding me of the truth) and plan to settle in for a hellacious ride. I have given birth to two full-term babies with no pain meds at home with a midwife. This was worse simply because the pain was for absolutely nothing. There would be no baby at the end. There was no finish line, only empty arms. If you have never given birth naturally before, it is probably less emotionally and physically traumatic for you if you just schedule a D&C procedure at the hospital. Doing it naturally isn’t something for the faint of heart. It took 5 days for everything to be over.

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But, through this experience I realized this was the first time in my life that I have ALLOWED myself the chance to SINK DEEP and truly MOURN. I remember when one of my best friends was dying of cancer, I only took one day off from work. When he passed, I didn’t take off any time to mourn. I never told many people what I was going through. I just kept soldiering on. And I fell into a depression for about a year. No one knew because I just soldiered on being “productive” while feeling barely able to do so. But, this time I would not make this mistake. I would sink and I would rise. I cried until my eyes were almost swollen shut. I lived on the couch wrapped up in comfy blankets for a week. My church brought meals and my Mom kept my boys for a few of the worst days. My husband made sure I wasn’t passing out from blood loss and was eating. But then….it was over. As if I had “cried it out” and truly felt an emotional release of all the pain. I went back to work the next Monday feeling JOYFUL and grateful to be back to being able to help people and shocked at how good I felt. I wasn’t soldiering on depressed and dying inside. I was ALIVE. I had done my work. I had processed my grief because I allowed myself the time to truly “ugly mourn” the kind that many people avoid doing. It requires courage to sink deep. It requires knowing you will come back up eventually and for me, it requires knowing God is there with me in the sinking and in the rising. I feel closure and peace and it hasn’t even been a full month. Sure, I still have moments (usually when I’m alone driving in the car listening to music) that I feel pangs of sadness or “what if?” but they don’t take my breath away and I let them come and let them go like the ocean tide comes and goes. There is nothing to stuff down or soldier through. Only an allowing, a coming and knowing it will eventually go out too.

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Grief isn’t something we talk about much in our society and most of us just wing it the best we can. But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31  May you sink and then rise soaring on wings like eagles as the Lord renews your strength.

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Never Say Never…2016 Year of Surprises

2016 seemed to start of just fine, perhaps a bit more boring than usual. Things seemed on an even keel for once. My oldest son was making strides with his autism and the memories of constant struggles were slowly fading away as all of his (and my) hard work, time, and money over the years seemed to be FINALLY paying off in spades with consistently calm behavior, excellent self-expression and language, increasing social skills, no more potty accidents, and only good days at school. We were badassing autism, I would say. My youngest son had found relief through acupuncture from the tics that tormented and embarrassed him so badly at school due to his Tourette’s disorder. He had become BFFs with the neighbor boy. With our boys doing so much better and both of us working stable jobs, my husband and I were getting along better than ever before and having less heated disagreements over house chores, finances, and such. In early May, we went to a winery and I remember feeling caught by surprise and delight that I was falling back in love with my husband as we watched the sun set drinking glasses of Malbec on the patio. The overall stress level for our family seemed to be getting to that of what most people experience in their normal day to day lives. We had been living in financial and autism crisis mode for so long, I had forgotten what it felt like to just kind of coast through life some days. I posted cute pics of the kids or what new recipe I tried that night on Facebook. I went to yoga class regularly, folded laundry while watching Netflix, squeezed in the occasional coffee with a friend, date night with my husband and juggled the pressures of my jobs like a boss.

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Then, that equilibrium that I hoped would be my new normal slowly disappeared in a domino effect leaving me in utter brokenness, some of the darkest nights of the soul I have ever experienced, on my knees pleading to God, crying my eyes out in my car, calling doctors begging for help for my son, sitting by the lake talking myself out of wanting to swim away and never come back, counseling sessions, trips to multiple specialists for a new medical and mental health condition my son developed called PANDAS (“because moderate autism just isn’t enough is it God?” I lamented) which occurred after a bout of strep throat. He was also starting puberty. Crap. Humbled. Waving the white flag by calling the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta crying and breaking down begging for someone to help my son and to help me. They did….with a psychiatry appointment. The last thing I ever wanted for my son. Never say never…..

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We had previously experienced so much miraculous success with naturopathic medicine and diet changes, public school special education programs, SonRise program and therapies (Occupational, Speech, Aquatic, and Hippotherapy), that I NEVER thought I would be one of “those parents” (sorry, I was just so ignorant) who put their kids on psych meds. As a mental health professional, I understood theoretically that there is a time and place for meds, but I observed that often parents tend to just jump the gun and go straight for meds rather than trying other treatments first and using meds as a last resort. I still advocate a conservative approach to medication. But, where I went wrong was assuming that because I am a mental health professional, well versed in natural treatments for various ailments as well, that my son would just NEVER need meds. WRONG. Last resort was exactly where we were at. At least I could feel confident I had exhausted all the options first I suppose.

PANDAS (see article) plus the onset of puberty made autism look like a cake walk. PANDAS made debilitating OCD symptoms, insomnia, and aggression appear. These tormented and took over my once sweet and docile son’s daily life and thus my life, my youngest son’s life, my husband’s life, and even affected our extended family and friendships. We had to stop going to church, taking him to the store, visiting friends, or going out to eat as a family. He just couldn’t handle noisy or crowded places anymore. We would spend hours trying to get him to finish up his rituals of closing doors certain ways or counting to 12 over and over. One night, I stayed up until 2am waiting for my son to stop repetitively banging the bathroom door to the count of 12 over and over again for hours. If we tried to get him to stop or even so much as breathed too loudly during these rituals, we would be violently attacked. My son is as tall and weighs as much as I do. I would have heated disagreements with my husband and my mother about medication. I was desperate and wanted to try it for my son, they were adamantly opposed. One day, one of my younger son’s friends came over to visit and made the mistake of “opening the door wrong” and my son went into a rage. When I tried to calmly de-escalate things (even thought I was on the verge of a panic attack) and make sure my younger son’s friend wasn’t attacked, my son started pulling me by my hair to the ground where we wrestled and I had to pin him down just to get him to let go. I am a trauma survivor and every time my son had one of these episodes I would end up going into the bathroom crying and barely able to breathe in the throws of a panic attack. I would have to drink a small glass of wine just to feel like I wasn’t going to hyperventilate. I was worried about one of us being seriously injured or that I would snap. I just wanted it to STOP.

I knew hospitalization was an option people would advise if I told them the truth, but I refused to put my son in a mental hospital where God knows what would happen to him. I saw news reports of children at local mental hospitals dying or being scalded in the bath. I would rather have my ass kicked all day long or let him kill me than risk inhumane and traumatic treatment for my baby. This is how so many parents feel and why so many families end up in tragic situations. We can’t trust the quality of the help and many can’t afford it if they could trust that care would be adequate. “I am a mental health professional, I will make my home my son’s treatment facility”, I decided. I just didn’t have prescribing privileges, so I needed a doctor’s help. That’s when I reached out to Marcus Autism Center. They normally have a 6-8 month wait list for psychiatry. After I told them the truth about what was happening and how I didn’t honestly know how much longer I could take it, they worked us into a cancellation spot 4 days after my call. I just had to hold on 4 days.

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The first medicine, Clonidine, helped so much with sleep. My son sleeping again helped me feel like I might make it after all even though the days continued to be torment. I found the place he raged the least was in the pool, so every day off was spent at the public pool for as long as we could stay. I still had to pull myself together and make it into work looking like my son hadn’t been attacking me and act as if nothing was wrong and do my job as a mental health professional. It doesn’t make good water cooler talk to discuss how your son kicks your ass if you breathe wrong when you work at a domestic violence victim’s services center. I needed to keep my job and my paycheck. Next, we added in Prozac supposedly for the OCD, which made my son violent and manic all of the time. Now, I had a child who was in an irritable mixed state mania plus it didn’t do crap for his OCD and PANDAS. I called the psychiatrist and told her I was stopping the Prozac. She wanted to try increasing his dose at first, but I said hell no as politely as possible (you HAVE to advocate and speak up to survive this thing as a parent) and she made an appt for us to come in the next day for another treatment plan. That’s when the decision was made to put my son on Risperdal. As a hippie, crunchy type mom this was a “big gun” antipsychotic med I did not trust and did not want to try. It was going to make my son diabetic and make him grow breasts, I feared. But, in utter desperation I honestly would have tried a tranquilizer dart for a bear at that point so I said “what the hell? I don’t even know anything anymore, screw everything I think I know” and got the prescription filled. I lied to my husband about it. Within just a few days my son was BACK. He kept getting better day by day, calmer, happier, engaging with us, not zombied out like I had feared. Biting himself less, attacking less, then I realized days had gone by and he hadn’t gotten physical with us, I hadn’t had to tell my younger son to lock himself in his room for safety. It was a MIRACLE. I finally told my husband and he cried because he finally had to admit that our baby did need meds and that they were helping. This isn’t what we had wanted to do. But never say never….

After he was stabilized mentally, I had the energy and strength to start going more hardcore into researching PANDAS and treatment options. I found a pediatrician in Atlanta (Dr. Rodbell) who takes our insurance and is PANDAS informed (many doctors aren’t) and we got on the wait list to see him. We started a treatment protocol of long-term antibiotics. This made me cringe because we avoid antibiotics in our crunchy natural household like the plague. Never say never….

Lots of driving back and forth to Atlanta ensued (about 1.5 hours away from our home). I somehow shuffled my work schedule around to be off some half days to take my son to his specialists and therapies myself and not lose hours. I proceeded to get quietly then loudly pissed off at my husband for working his 9-5 job, going about his business, and not really seeing all that was going on in my world at home in the “mental hospital” I ran while I wasn’t at work at a domestic violence crisis center and all of the stress that I felt was damn near killing me. I said I would never be “martyr mom” who did absolutely nothing for herself, but that’s exactly who I became during the Summer. There was no time for me to even think about what I might like or want to do. I didn’t go to yoga class for weeks. Those who know me know that I need my yoga just to stay sane and that I NEVER miss. I wasn’t sane. I looked like shit. People probably thought I was on drugs or worse. Nope. Hanging in there. Pulling up at the school in my PJs to drop the kids off late. I never imagined I would let myself go like that. I fought so hard to not let that happen, but it did. Never say never…

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I came out of the “Summer of Hell” now embracing the wonders of psychiatric medication (still as a last resort, but one I wish I had tried much sooner before things came to a crisis point when I barely had the will to live left). Never say never. Crunchy hippie natural mama meets hell yes for RisperDONE. That really is the drug name. I joke with my husband that I would gladly make a TV ad for Big Pharma smiling and saying in my sweetest Mary Poppins voice: “RisperDONE…for those times when your child’s aggression and violence make you want to say I’m just DONE son!”

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So, we were back on track with my son’s mental health. We resumed his therapies and he went back to school no longer headbutting the teacher and giving him a bloody nose now that his meds had him stabilized. Life seemed to level out….but that feeling of love for my husband that had surprised and delighted me when we had that winery date watching the sunset on the patio overlooking the vineyards had gone…somewhere…away….we had devolved over the course of that summer into being simply fellow survivors living in the same fresh hell.

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We tried to maintain connection the best we could. We never stopped talking or being physically intimate, if nothing else just for moments of free stress relief….but the connection, the love, the emotion just wasn’t in it. We were both like shell-shocked zombies stuck together by trauma bonding. I found us a marriage retreat for special needs parents and was so excited to go in October. This was going to fix everything, right? We just needed to chill out and really connect. Love would surprise us again…right? Sadly, my precious Grandma had to have emergency open heart surgery to fix several life-threatening issues a month before our retreat. My Mom is our only respite care provider by choice because I have high standards and trust issues. She is the only person I am confident can handle my boys as well as I can over long periods of time. She had to stay in the hospital with my Grandma for over a month. We had to cancel our trip. I cried and soldiered on. I was worried about my Grandma, but she came through and is doing well thank God! We registered for the December retreat instead. We went on the retreat, connected, had fun, laughed, had one spat about housework, but overall it was a fabulous time with new friends who “get” what living the special needs kiddos lifestyle is like. Love didn’t arrive to take us by surprise as it had done at the winery, but something else was happening. It felt cleansing, painful, but good. We did realize how much we still have in common and how much we enjoy each other’s company still after all these years.

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Then, one week after the retreat when I’m walking on cloud 9 all hopeful thinking things are starting to maybe look up for the first time, we had gone out for sushi, picked up the kids at my Moms, and just had to get them put down to bed in order to continue our date night 😉 So, I’m walking into the kitchen all la-ti-da in my pink PJs to get a drink of water after putting the kids to bed when I’m hit square in the face with the fact that my husband is not who he claims to be at all, not Mr. Self-Proclaimed feminist Christian who is sensitive to the fact that I spent years in therapy getting over anorexia and trauma. That every time he portrayed himself as “someone who doesn’t struggle with THAT” he was lying. Nope, he was all of a sudden in a flash of a second none of these things he had so frequently and vehemently claimed to be. He was cheating on me. He was some shady bastard I didn’t even know anymore. I won’t go into the gory details out of respect for him, but there was no mistaking the proof. In this age of technology, it can be confusing what even constitutes “cheating” anymore, but when a husband and wife discuss and agree upon THEIR boundaries, needs, and definitions then anyone who violates that while their wife is looking forward to them coming to bed and paying her some attention is cheating, plain and simple. Cheating your thirsty spouse out of your love, attention, and affection and putting your sexual energies into someone else is cheating. And it makes that person wonder why? Am I not good enough? Do I look bad? Should I start starving myself again and undo the 6 years of therapy that got me to the point of being able to say “I’m no longer anorexic at all and I am actually able to view myself as beautiful FINALLY”? When my husband would support my recovery and tell me he thought I was more beautiful not scary skinny, was he lying to me?

Regardless of how it went down, in that moment I felt everything I believed to be true crumple into a big ole pile of bullshit. I could barely stand. I yelled the first thought that raced through my mind, “Well I guess I’ll just go out and do whatever I damn well please with whoever I damn well please now (expletive) huh!” and ran to the bathroom to throw up. I threw up over and over again all night long. It was like labor. I felt my body, the one thing that has never betrayed me and has always tried to protect me, trying to empty me of whatever was causing me to feel so sick. My body, unlike my husband, was trying its damnedest to protect me and cleanse me of anything noxious or harmful to my health. My mind was whirling around. I always said that I was the type of woman who wouldn’t put up with certain types of bullshit. I won’t put up with disrespect in my own house after I bust my ass at work all day and take care of the kids anytime I’m not working. I won’t put up with cheating when I’ve offered the option of an open marriage. I just won’t abide a liar who claims the highest fidelity in order to coerce loyalty from me. I own my home with only my name on it. I make my own money. I pay my car note. I am by no means stuck, I thought. All bets were off. What was good for the gander might just be good for the goose…..So, I told my husband to get out of the house until I could stop raging and wanting to kill him and go seduce the nearest unmarried person. I alternated between crying so hard my body shook, being so angry I almost broke my hand punching a door, and dolling myself up and flirting a little with strangers out in public. I don’t regret it. I survived being punched in the gut and having the wind knocked out of me, emotionally speaking, so I think its only fair and normal I came up swinging rather than being sweet and doing all the “right” things.

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Finally, one night I was crying in bed alone, my hand outstretched onto my husband’s now vacant side of the bed. Cold crinkled sheets. I can do this. I can survive this. I’ve lost loved ones, lovers before. I know how to suffer. I know how to feel like you are going to die…and yet survive. I started praying. Blubbering crying and praying. God reminded me of everything wrong I had ever done to my husband. How I wouldn’t marry him for so many years because I didn’t know if I could be faithful or not, 99% certain I couldn’t be. How I had messed up just weeks before we said “I Do” due to my fears creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and how, even in spite of my Herculean efforts at recovery, I had grown overly confident that I no longer could be tempted, allowed myself to be in a compromising situation and almost slipped and cheated while I was newly married, catching myself at the last second before going through with it. I realized that my husband had forgiven me much, as had God. But ultimately, the realization that was the most profound was that even if my husband wanted to see other people, I still wanted him to come home and be my best friend. I wanted him to come home to my bed, my body, my table, my food, his children every night.Heartbreak.jpg

There is no rational explanation. Just LOVE. Not co-dependency, because this isn’t insecure need out of fear of being alone (the thought of being alone actually excited me and relieved me in many ways), this is simply what I WANT and what I choose right now at this juncture. His pros outweigh his cons. I forgive him and he has forgiven me. And to me, that is love. 14 years. Plenty of reasons to leave, but more to stay and try. Maybe we could work towards reconciliation, I thought. When we had a heart to heart, he finally acknowledged the truth and shared that in counseling he had realized that he honestly didn’t trust me and thought I was still cheating on him which made it easy for him to do what he did. Maybe, I thought, instead of signing a lease at an apartment using our kids Christmas presents money as a down payment, he could just come home and we could work through this by the grace of God somehow…..It’s been tough…and beautiful…and surprising in so many ways. Surprising like that day at the winery falling back in love over wine. Except this time, we are falling back in love over honest, heart-felt conversations rather than the buzz of wine. I’m still figuring it out and realizing I don’t have to figure it all out. I can just let it unfold. The boys are super happy to have Daddy home. So am I. One thing is sure…I will never say never again after this year’s humbling lessons. I will just continue to wing it…together with my sons, my husband, and you all my sweet friends and strangers 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Bless Our Mess

My son’s occupational therapist shared with me something cute my 8-year-old shared with her at school. She said, “He said my house sure can be a mess sometimes, but its the best mess. Its my favorite place to be.” At first, I have to admit, I was mortified because I carry a little bit of secret shame about my free-spirited, “just trying to survive and stay sane as a working mom” housekeeping philosophy. But, then, I was struck with how profound my son’s statement really was. Our house, our family, ourselves sure can be messy, but messy can still be amazing. Messy can still be our favorite place to be. A big ole come as you are mess is actually quite comforting and endearing. You are always accepted and don’t have to clean up first and fit everything into a neat and tidy toy box. It’s the expectation of shiny, well-organized constant perfection that trips us up in so many ways, isn’t it? I honestly don’t want a constantly neat and tidy house. I want a sanitary house with clean dishes, the litter box scooped, enough clean clothes for the week and the trash taken off, but do I want floors with daily fresh vacuum lines and with toys neatly in their place or my son’s art supplies in perfect order at all times? No, I really don’t.

One of my favorite things about my Mom’s parenting style was that she was very relaxed when it came to her expectations of the house. She would rather let us relax, study, and play at home most days than to have a rigid chore chart schedule. There were times she asked for help or told us “alright that’s it, your room is a disaster its time to clean it up,” but overall there was always a sense of home being a place to rest, get schoolwork done, and to not have to be as tightly wound as the outside world expected. I want my kids to look back on their childhood the same way. That their home is the one place of constant refuge where they can kick back and relax, be messy, be themselves, but also a place where they can earn a dollar if they help Mama do the dishes.

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Of course, I’m not advocating never cleaning or letting your house be unsanitary, but I am all in favor of relaxing a bit and instead of shaming myself for my messy home, savoring the fact that this is my son’s favorite place and “the best mess.” My kids don’t care that my desk is overflowing with books and papers for the online class I teach. I’m thankful my youngest son’s room looks like a Lego explosion and he feels creative freedom and relaxation. I’m thankful my oldest son’s room is an explosion of stuffed animals and art supplies where he can shut the door and decompress after school. I’m thankful I can go to yoga or read a book instead of spending hours each day trying to get my home to look like a magazine. I do not enjoy cleaning at all because it is an exercise in futility and I don’t have the time to put any effort into futile pursuits my kids will just undo for me. Why spend an hour picking up Legos or hounding my son to do so when I could instead be playing Marvel versus Capcom with him or even just sitting by him on the couch reading a book, available if he wants to talk while he draws? He is just going to empty out the Lego boxes looking for the perfect Darth Vader helmet tomorrow anyway, so why bother? Ain’t nobody got time for that. I sure don’t. I work 3 jobs for goodness sake and take care of 2 boys, one of whom has special needs that take up any excess energy I might have. When you are just trying to survive as the parent of a child with special needs, you don’t have time to get neurotic about perfection. You start to accept and cherish the beautiful mess that is your life because your ideas about perfection were shattered the day you received that diagnosis.

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As I think and write, I realize that housekeeping tends to be a deeply personal issue for me and for probably most of us women. Men are pretty much off the hook because if someone comes over and the house is a wreck, no matter if the wife works just as many hours or not, somehow the spoken accolades or the passive-aggressive disapproval falls on her. Her only hobby  after working full-time should be cleaning and childcare right? That is the unspoken expectation so many of us feel. It is us women who frantically announce, “Ya’ll! Clean up NOW Grandpa is coming over in 2 hours!” as we bust out the mop, the vacuum, and the shovel for all of those toys simultaneously in a flurry of panic at the thought that our family member or friend is going to judge us harshly for slacking off and maybe playing with the kids or reading instead of non-stop cleaning.

Who do you allow into your home? I am very selective. I know which friends are my “safe friends” who I don’t have to clean up the house for if they want to swing by for coffee and these friends are the same ones I go to when something serious is going on in my life and I need to share my pain or my emotions without having them judged “a hot mess” or offering to “tidy up” my feelings for me either. There is something beautiful about accepting the messy parts of ourselves, our people and our homes. Let’s cut ourselves and each other some slack as we wing it through parenting, housekeeping, and realize we are all really a mess in one way or another. But we can find the love in our messiness. We don’t have to get it all in the toy box to be loved or enough.

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Sorry I Missed Your Call. I’m Busy Riding the Autism and OCD Parenting Roller Coaster.

When I was a little girl, my parents would take us to the county fair or to Six Flags over GA to ride roller coasters. I was always the type who would get on any ride or roller coaster not because I wasn’t terrified, but because I knew I wouldn’t die and that at the end I would be so exhilarated that I did it! Some of the rides were fun, but some I would just have to hold on tight and scream my lungs out to endure until the end. When you scream out “Stop the ride! Let me off!” no one hears you. They can’t stop the ride just because you want off or you think you are going to have a heart attack. No one cares. You can scream or cry all you want to, but it changes nothing. You just have to hang in there and endure. You have no idea when it will be over. It feels like forever. You can’t even really think straight to evaluate how far along in the track you are. You just hold on tight, scream, cry, pray, and try not to throw up. This is very similar to my experience as the parent of a child with autism who is going through the tween years and has recently developed OCD as well (because no, Lord, autism just wasn’t enough). It often seems as if just when I have caught my breath and think I’m gonna survive this thing just fine, I am thrown into another upside down loop de loop, tilt a whirl and I’m in danger of losing my lunch, my glasses, and looking pretty rough when I get off this thing. Thankfully, I get a chance to get off this roller coaster sometimes when my son is at school or at my mom’s when my husband and I have a date night, but even then it feels as if although I’m not actively riding it, I’m just standing in line, trying to settle my nerves taking deep breathes and waiting to get back on again.

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I love my son more than anything and we have beautiful, wonderful moments which are exhilarating like the moment when the roller coaster stops and you smile and laugh with glee because you did in fact survive this thing and the endorphins and adrenaline are pumping through your body. Woohoo! A sweet hug! Another milestone met! Another new word! Eye contact! Potty trained! He only turned the light switch on and off 11 times instead of the usual 12! But, watching him struggle so much in spite of all of the extra stuff I am doing and buying and trying….well it makes me want to scream “Ahhhh I  hate this ride! Someone get me off! I’m gonna puke again!” pretty often.

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ASD is a spectrum and presents in a lot of different ways for different kids and adults. You may have ASD yourself or have  a child who has ASD or OCD and it may feel like a walk in the park to you, I don’t know. All I know is my experience and my truth about how it feels to parent my particular child in my particular circumstances and it feels hard right now. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on things, here comes another loop I’m thrown for whether due to a new developmental stage, illness, finances, etc.

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I think people must assume that because I say  it is so hard, I’m just doing it wrong. I wish they could see how much time, money, energy, therapies, diets, supplements, now even medicine we are doing to try and help my son thrive and be happy day to day. I feel like I should be able to make this work somehow. I should be able to not look so frazzled or I should be able to stay in Mary Poppins mode and not ever raise my voice. I should just get up earlier to avoid looking disheveled and a mess at the morning drop off at school (nevermind I’ve been dealing with his sleep issues all night long and I work late two nights per week). I should pray (check, I pray almost constantly). I should work from home. He should take this supplement (yep, already taking it), we should try this diet (yep doing that), I should _______________ (not be writing about it?). I should change my perspective (yep in therapy myself trying to do that). There has to be something I could just fix and make this easier on myself. I wish there were. I spend hours each day researching how to make this better, how to be a better mom, how to accept this unusual life journey and find more joy in it, how to make my marriage survive this, how to help my other son cope, how to make extra money to fund my sons needs, etc. Although many of the things we have done for our son and for ourselves have helped tremendously, I am still working uphill just to get my son to the most basic level of functioning and to get my family to the most basic level of functioning. Even Pollyanna would admit that’s kind of hard.

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Each day is a roller coaster of stress and I am horrified at how I must appear from afar. This is not me. This is me just trying to survive. My son isn’t going to go into remission after his treatment. He isn’t going to be sick for a little while. This is a long-haul thing for us. A marathon, not a sprint. I feel like the main character from the movie “Bad Moms” who is just stressed to the max, except I don’t have the option of just telling everyone to take care of themselves for once, because my son can’t. So, I publicly apologize for seeming constantly scattered, self-centered, crazy, stressed out, no time for small talk, snappy with the front office staff at the school, not put together, too focused on my son’s ASD diagnosis, flaky, not a good friend, forgetful, not 100% on top of every little detail at work, not having the energy to invest into things that aren’t my business or I don’t care about anyway, frequently venting to my BFFs, always broke, not able to hang out much, bursting out in tears and saying “But I work 3 jobs and what we are doing now is already so hard!” when my son’s reading teacher asks me to do add extra homework, frequently not able to answer the phone, giving up on daily gym workouts, holding tight to my Saturday morning yoga time, not up for any kind of “fitness challenge” because my life is already a 365 challenge, or just distant and crabby in general. I apologize for being strangely open (oversharing) and also really defensive (pretty much not wanting to hang out with non-special needs parents much at all).

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This is my norm, this is my life. I am just trying to hold on tight, scream, and survive it without losing my lunch just like a kid riding a killer rollercoaster. I promise you that this has nothing to do with you, I really do like you a lot. I would love to be able to hang out with you more, to relate to your stories about your kids extracurriculars and how proud you are, to put more effort into my home businesses selling amazing things, to have more of a social life that is not online in nature, to laugh more, to volunteer more at church instead of crying through all the songs just to release all that stress, to be able to just throw my kids in the mix of all the other kids at church and go chit chat with the other moms rather than having to go sit next to my son and try to hold back my tears as I rub his back while he’s biting himself and rocking back and forth because the music is too loud and there are too many kids having too much fun in there.

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Maybe we all have our roller coasters, I don’t know what goes on behind the closed doors of your mind or home, but I do know that it really does help to just let it out and scream your head off sometimes when you need to, to hold on tight to the people you love, throw your hands up and laugh hysterically sometimes, breathe deeply, and remember that you won’t die even though you may feel like it on the loop de loops. We special needs parents will survive as we wing it together. If you need to talk to someone who “gets it”, call me. It will likely go to voicemail, but I will call you when I’m driving alone in the car. Reach out to Parent2Parent or a support group. You don’t have to ride the roller coasters alone, there are plenty of seats and we can hold hands and scream together as we go through the dips and curves.

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Writing My Story

I was asked to tell my story…in front of the group of women I fear the most. Church women. Why do I fear this particular group of women so much? After all, my church isn’t even like most. They are the most grace-focused, loving, authentic group of ladies I’ve ever met. They have welcomed me with open arms. I have grown to love them and enjoy our life-giving friendships. I have been in women’s growth groups overjoyed in finding out that we have the same fears and frustrations and “unglued moments.” I have found that my quiet, yet lingering, fear that “they” have it all together and I’m just a warty toad of a mess is dissipating the more I actually take the time to get to know them. And yet…I wonder if they would judge me for things like the fact that my favorite song about Jesus is “Heart Like Mine” by Miranda Lambert…

You see, I am not a straight-laced, quiet soul even now. I’m saved and baptized and you know what? I am still loud and stubborn and rebellious. God knows who I am. He made me. He made me willful and wild and big-hearted. He knit me together in my mother’s womb to be who I am with the strengths and weaknesses that are uniquely me. It’s just that ever since I started seeking Jesus and really inviting Him into my heart and my life, I try my best to channel those personality traits in a very different way, in a way that isn’t self-destructive. I champion the causes of the disadvantaged, the rejected, the disabled. I rebel against becoming a “Martha.” Check out the story of Mary and Martha here. I am learning how to use my natural personality to serve rather than trying to change my personality to fit someone else’s idea of service. Guess what? I’m still human. I still have temptations and imperfections, but I am no longer bound up in the chains that once wrapped around me. Jesus broke those chains, made a way for me, and He holds my hand every day leading me, refining me. I am in awe of that. I thank God for that. I was once so lost I didn’t know if I would ever be found.

Yet…I often wonder if who He made me is acceptable to the church ladies…I wonder what they really think of me. Do they think I am selfish or ambitious or loud or unladylike? Does my desire to be more like Mary than Martha rub them the wrong way? I marvel at how MUCH truly awesome and needed service some of them are able to do when I feel like I can barely work my 2 jobs (one of which feels very much like a spiritual calling and mission field working with abused women and children), take care of my 2 kids who attend public school, lead a Sunday morning Bible study, and serve in the nursery once a month. I have to remind myself often that God made us different for a reason. Because the Body of Christ doesn’t need all hearts and no hands…or all eyes and no ears. We all have a role to play. I hope they are reminding themselves of that too…I really want to believe they are. “It takes all kinds of kinds,” as Miranda Lambert reminds us (I promise I do listen to Christian radio too).

One day I was driving down the road asking God this stuff, and got this surge of energy and had a lightbulb moment. I resolved through this epiphany  that regardless of what any lady at that church might think of me, my stubborn self is claiming my place at His table by golly! “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come”, Casting Crowns sang one day as I was driving down the road. Ya-uh! That’s my kind of rebellion and challenging the status quo right there. Everyone’s in baby, whether the more judgmental peeps like it or not. Claim your seat at God’s table. We ALL get an invitation. Don’t let anyone take that invitation away from you. Open it, read it, its a love letter. God loves you, no matter who told you that you can’t sit at the table because of _____.

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I refuse to let fear of judgment and rejection cause me to go sit in a dark corner, isolated away from all that is good about church again. You see, that’s what I did in high school. I was rejected by the “Christian” crowd (which at my school also just happened to be the popular and privileged crowd) and I thought I’d show them by going to sit with the “freaks and drug addicts” at their table in the back corner of the lunchroom. I was rejected, so I reacted by putting on a facade that their rejection didn’t hurt me and I didn’t want to waste my time with their boring, small minds, or their God anyway. I let them drive me away from my place at God’s table, from my place in the Body of Christ which is the church. Oh, how I wish I would have looked at that rejection as an opportunity to go love on “the least of these” and brought God’s love to that misfit table I sat at for 3 years of my life instead of bringing my hardened, angry heart.

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Anyway, now that you know why I fear sharing, I’ll also tell you why I am convicted to share. I don’t want my story to be about making sure you stick to the straight and narrow for fear of the consequences. I want my story to be honest about how He saved me from myself. If I had always been perfect, a “good girl”, if I had always walked the straight and narrow….would I have needed saving? Would I truly “get” things like grace and mercy so deeply that I ugly cry every time I hear “Amazing Grace”? There is such mystery about why and how God weaves each of our stories so uniquely, using EVERYTHING for good according to His plan.

A friend of mine who has lived her life in a much more righteous (meaning right choice that glorifies God) way once told me that she thought at one point she didn’t need grace and mercy. Then God showed her she did. Not through wild, wrong choices like I made, but through depression and anxiety. Wow, God is such a creative teacher, I thought to myself. Maybe all of us are broken at some point, either through our choices or our circumstances, and it doesn’t really matter how we came to that point of brokenness. What matters is that we acknowledge this human brokenness as something as universal as God’s unconditional love and our need for that love. 

We all have different sins or weaknesses, whatever you prefer to call it. Some of us are wild and rebellious. Some are judgmental and prideful up on a high horse. Some are overly materialistic and flirt with idolatry and envy making sure our lives look picture perfect from the outside. Some of us are gluttons and find joy in food rather than God. Some are addicts. Some are vain. Some have let lust burn down lives like a forest fire. Some actually think we can achieve perfection in various areas of life. Some have control issues and don’t want to give our burdens to God. We all have issues, they are just different issues. I can’t look down on you for your sin du jour just because its different from mine. I hope you don’t look at me like I’m a 3-headed toad because mine is different from yours. All sin is dangerous. Its even more dangerous when we start to think some sins are harmless because they come wrapped up in nice looking, even enviable, packages the world applauds. No one wants to be a sex addict or strung out on drugs, but many covet or define themselves by that nice big house on the lake or that nice car.  We have to be careful not to fall into traps of socially acceptable sin. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2

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When I was a little girl and I would mess up, I would beat myself up verbally and mentally about it. My Dad would always say in his most gentle voice, “you know Jen, there’s only one perfect person and that’s Jesus. You might as well stop trying to be perfect because no one is.” So I stopped trying to be perfect and instead started trying to just be “good enough”. Good enough to fit in. Good enough not to be rejected. Good enough to get a quality man. Good enough to get a full scholarship. Good enough to get a good job. Good enough to look down on the people who rejected me. Good enough. But all along, it was the voice of the world that was telling me I had to try SO HARD to be good enough. God’s Word is clear that He created me and that I am much more than “good enough.” Right now, I have to challenge my self-sabotaging thoughts that tell me, “why would YOU think you are good enough to tell your story at a CHURCH of all places?” How do I challenge them? With the Sword of Truth:

I am a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I have been healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

I am the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5:13)

I am the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)

I am a child of God. (John 1:12)

I have eternal life. (John 10:27)

I have been given peace. (John 14:27)

I am part of the true vine, a channel of Christ’s life. (John 15:1,5)

I am clean. (John 15:3)

I am Christ’s friend. (John 15:15)

I am chosen and appointed by Christ to bear His fruit. (John 15:16)

I have been given glory. (John 17:22)

I have been justified…completely forgiven and made righteous. (Romans 5:1)

I died with Christ and died to the power of sin’s rule over my life. (Romans 6:1-6)

I am free forever from condemnation. (Romans 8:1)

I am more than a conqueror through Christ, who loves me. (Romans 8:37)

I have faith. (Romans 12:3)

I have been sanctified and called to holiness. (1 Corinthians 1:2)

I have been given grace in Christ Jesus. (1Corinthians 1:4)

I have been placed into Christ, by God’s doing. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

I have received the Spirit of God into my life that I might know the things feely given to me by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)

I have been given the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)

I am a temple…a dwelling place…of God. His Spirit and His life dwell in me. (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19)

I am bought with a price; I am not my own; I belong to God. (1 Corinthians 6:19,20; 7:23)

I am called. (1 Corinthians 7:17)

I am a member of Christ’s Body. (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:30)

I am victorious through Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

I have been established, anointed and sealed by God in Christ, and I have been given to the Holy Spirit as a pledge guaranteeing my inheritance to come. (2 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13,14)

I am being changed into the likeness of Christ. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

I am reconciled to God and am a minister of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18,19)

I am given strength in exchange for weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I am now living is Christ’s life. (Galatians 2:20)

I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. (Ephesians 1:3)

I am a fellow citizen with the rest of God’s family. (Ephesians 2:19)

I may approach God with boldness, freedom, and confidence. (Eph. 3:12)

I am capable. (Philippians 4:13)

I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins. The debt against me has been cancelled. (Colossians 1:14)

The voice of the world tells me a much different story, but that is why I have to meditate not on reality TV and celebrity news or obsess with my appearance, but fix my eyes on Jesus and serving the hurting. Loving God with all my heart and loving one another as He has loved me should be my goal. Philippians 4:8 advises us to be intentional and mindful about what we allow to marinate in our minds and hearts. “Therefore, my brethren, those things that are true, those that are honorable, those that are righteous, those things that are pure, those things that are precious, those things that are praiseworthy, deeds of glory and of praise, meditate on these things.”

As I write my story this week, I will meditate on these things. I will focus on how God has loved me unconditionally, saved me, healed me, never let me go, taught me how to love, forgive, understand, serve and of the miracles I have seen unfold in my life. I will focus on giving Him the glory. I chose to cut through every thought of “not good enough” or “you don’t belong here” with the Sword of Truth, bit by bit, little by little. Letting God Chisel. Because, in the end, I’m just a girl who loves Jesus…winging it through this crazy world…taking my place at the table…trying to fly on home….

Showing up…even when you feel a hot mess and inadequate… is 99% of the battle…

One thing I have learned in my 30 years is that, most of the time, it is a good idea to just show up anyway even when you feel like a mess or like you don’t know what you are doing. It isn’t realistic to avoid starting a new job due to fears of inadequacy or to tell your boss “I’m taking a personal day” once a week because the waves of life are getting rough and you feel stressed out, hurt, or angry.  Don’t feel like something is wrong with you and you can’t go into work or to yoga class or to the park with your kids because you are a hot mess. Show up with your hot mess, authentic self anyway.  You will feel better. Avoidance and isolation because you are afraid to show everyone your mess only leads to the downward spiral of isolation and depression. Kind of like how some people feel like they have to lose weight before joining a gym. NO. That’s what it is there for. Get out there. Connect with someone. Anyone. Join that gym. Go to work. Don’t turn down that invitation to join your friend at church. Go walk at the park. Can I tell you a secret? Most women I have talked to are about one more thing away from crying or becoming an episode of “snapped” most of the time. We think “they” have it all together, but they don’t. We women juggle so much, care so much, love so deeply. We get hurt. We feel inadequate or scared. It’s ok. Just show up anyway.

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I talked to a stranger at the park about her horrible divorce yesterday. The conversation started with her commenting that I was almost inspiring her to get up off the park bench and run circles around the playscape like I was doing. I told her I was only doing this because I comfort ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s the night before and I’m feeling like crap about it now. You never know. Sometimes if you are honest, someone else will be honest and then you realize that the lady you thought was a Stepford Wife is actually going through an awful season of life and needs support. You are not some weird crazy person who is a failure because you have issues and sadness. You are doing the best you can. Just like all of us. Some people claim to have unlocked the mysteries of the universe and they can “manifest” only rainbows and sunshine but while I do believe in the power of positive thinking, prayer, being mindful and intentional, I take issue with the theory that all you have to do is learn to “manifest goodness” and nothing bad will ever happen in your life ever again. Seriously, I have a ton of positivity and spirituality going on, but I still have my days. I still had to earn my degrees. That 160 page Master’s thesis didn’t just manifest itself. That’s life. It has ups, it has downs. It has seasons, it involves change. It requires work. Change and work isn’t always fun. I hate it when I’ve had an awful day and I feel like a stressed out, emotional wreck on the verge of busting out in tears or having a panic attack at any moment and I have to go into work and be all “calm counselor” or attend an IEP meeting for my son with 5 professionals staring at me talking to me about my son’s behavior challenges. I can’t just “manifest” my way out of those things. I can, however, just show up with my authentic self, put in the work, and do the best I can.

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I feel things deeply, but I know that I have to reign in my intense emotions if I want to do things that matter a lot to me like living in my own home in a safe part of town, feeding myself and my kids, clothing myself and my kids, staying married to the man I love but sometimes don’t like, and just in general living a sustainable and stable lifestyle. That is not to say one should suppress or repress emotions, we MUST have a time and a place to completely release. I have learned that can be crying in the car on the way home listening to country music or in yoga class before work (its ok to cry in yoga class, I checked) or sitting outside and writing in my journal on my lunch break. I don’t have to call out of work or stay in bed all day and comfort eat. That crap just makes you feel worse.

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I love how author Lysa TerKeurst says “feelings should be indicators, not dictators” meaning that our feelings are giving us valuable knowledge about the state of our hearts, but we don’t have to react immediately and self-sabotage just because we feel really sad, hurt, or angry. We don’t have to call out of work and end up losing our job or bail on girls’ night out because we aren’t sunshine and rainbows. We don’t have to go to the courthouse and get divorce papers just because our spouse is really, really pissing us off right now. We can tune into the information our feelings give us, but choose to delay reacting until we can react in a way that doesn’t destroy what we work so hard to create in life. Are we working for or against what we truly want and need? The long-term patterns determine the long-term outcome.

My first experience with just showing up was when I was 16. I was so scared to show up to my first day of work. I almost no-showed. But, my grandma had used her connections to get me the job, so if I didn’t show up it would certainly get back to her and to my parents. So I just showed up. All pimply, skinny, scared, untrained, young and wearing very unprofessional clothes. But, it was OK. It was fine. I SURVIVED. I LEARNED. I even LAUGHED a few times that day. They didn’t fire me due to incompetence! I learned that I can figure out a cash register and deal with difficult customers by just trying to understand their frustration and acting like I cared. I learned that a smile and kind voice go a LONG way. I learned that sticky notes and to-do lists are my best friend. As time went on, I realized that showing up meant money, MY money and no one could tell me what to do with it. Missing a day meant missing MY money and MY freedom of choice. I went in even on days when I had fought with my high school boyfriend or had a hangover. I went into work 3 days after my best friend suddenly died. I learned that work actually helps. It forces me to get my shit together mentally enough to function. I learned that having to smile and act happy sometimes made me actually feel happy by the end of the day because someone would be nice to me or I would observe something that would remind me that life is still a gift no matter how much BS is a part of it.

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Looking back, each season of my life has given me PLENTY of reasons/excuses not to show up at all or to quit. But also many reasons why I HAD to show up. Not just at work, but in my marriage, in my friendships, as a parent, etc. Stressful life circumstances and grief/loss could have been my reasons to just throw in the towel and accept my misery so many times, but instead they catalyzed me. I could have refused to show up and try when I was a massively overwhelmed, broke 22-year-old with an underemployed boyfriend, a newborn and a 2-year-old who was newly diagnosed with autism. There were endless therapy appointments and paperwork. We couldn’t pay our bills. I got by with one pair of shoes until they wore out. There were months when I didn’t know how we would pay rent and I had to contemplate really bad options. I skipped meals to save money. Ultimately, I realized I had a choice. There was so much worry. I didn’t even have my faith to lean on during that time because I was so spiritually empty, stubborn, rebellious, and lost. I hadn’t yet learned that I don’t have to bear my burden alone just on my aching shoulders. I hadn’t yet had my desperate prayer on the bathroom floor “come to Jesus” moment yet. But, I did know that I had a choice, I could do what needed to be done. I knew the rent wasn’t going to pay itself and it would be a cold day in hell before I was going to move in with family and all of the headaches and dysfunction that would entail.

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Over the years, I have worked as a waitress in a smoky bar until 2am with men sexually harassing me, I have worked as a preschool teacher caring for twenty 2-year-olds all day and doing the hours of cleaning at the end of the day just to do it all again the next day for $8/hr…and going home to my own 2-year-old who didn’t let me rest either. I worked a physically demanding job running up and down flights of stairs carrying baskets full of laundry, walking around helping clients, and standing on my feet all day during my pregnancy with my youngest son until one week before he was born. I would go home having contractions and wondering if my son would be born premature because I had to push myself so hard. Thankfully, my body didn’t let me down and he was born at 37 weeks strong and healthy into my hands at home without pain medication or a bunch of unnecessary interventions. I didn’t fear or fight the pain of labor. I knew it would end eventually and it wouldn’t kill me. My big, strong boy showed up, opened his eyes and looked into mine. Worth it. Every bit of it.

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My boys, my motivation

I once worked a job driving around po-dunk providing early intervention special education services in-home for at-risk children, sometimes being told to “get the f#$% off my property you DFCS b#$$%” and threatened to be shot. I somehow was able to not run for my life, but rather explain to these people that I was not DFCS and was only there to teach their special needs child colors, letters, and numbers. I actually ended up getting along well with that family. I worked myself to the bone all through graduate school while also caring for my young children because there was no other option. Well, there were options. I could have left my kids with my mama or my man and run off to live with some guy or I could have just tried to be ok with a diet that only consisted of ramen noodles for my kids. But those options are unacceptable to me. They were traps, illusions that short-term pain and sacrifice was harder than long-term bad choices and the long-term consequences and pain they bring. I’ll take short-term suffering to create the life I want to live over that any day.

“No one ever said life would be easy or fair” I remember hearing several relatives say over the course of my life. Why would I expect it to be? I am strong. I am smart. I don’t need easy-peasy puddin’ pie. Anything worth having is worth working for. I hope if anyone gets an easy life, its people who are truly so weak or unable they need easy. I’m perfectly capable of showing up and doing what needs to be done even if I feel like I’m falling apart sometimes.

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I remember when one of the best friends and mentors I have ever had was dying of cancer. It was a situation where I could have walked away with all of our good times and just let his daughter care for him by herself. She asked me “are you in this for the long haul, until the end? Because if not, just say your goodbyes and leave now before it gets really rough.” I felt like I could barely breathe. My heart physically hurt and I shook when I cried as I said, “I’m in…until the end.” I rarely missed a day coming to see him and care for him for at least a few hours. I only missed one day of work during this whole time and that was because he needed me. He could have been my excuse for quitting work and letting myself completely fall apart. But the fact remained that my kids needed to be sheltered, clothed, fed, and cared for. I’m in it for the long haul when it comes to them. Nothing has ever or will ever motivate me like my kids. I kept my job. There were many days when I would hold it together all day long at work counseling women and children, only to fall completely apart listening to music on my drive home. There were days when I would lay my head on my steering wheel in my driveway and just shake crying so hard I could barely force air into my lungs.

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Working and taking care of my children was what kept me from being a wreck 24/7 while mourning my friend’s passing. At work, I HAVE to find my strength, muster my resources, and get it together. At home with my children, I have to tune into them and out of my pain and be present. I find joy in those moments with my kids or at work helping people. I didn’t have to do this, I suppose. Plenty of people just give up and stay in bed, drink or drug themselves to death slowly or quickly, or neglect their kids. But, it doesn’t make sense to me to take the easy way out in the short-term only to reap more pain in the long-term or worse to redistribute that pain onto others. Life is hard, but we can do hard things. We can find strength when we don’t already have it in things like showing up to do our life’s work whether that is being a stay-at-home mama or a CEO or just extending love and care to those who cross our paths, being honest, reaching out for help when we need it, and helping someone who is even worse off than we are.

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The most courageous thing I can do is just show up anyway no matter how crappy I feel. Just put on my big girl panties even though I feel about 4-years-old in the moment and go into work, take the kids to the park, read bedtime stories, and then at the end of the day cry in a bubble bath listening to that song that just touches something deep in my heart. I pray the most in the shower and in the car. I pray God will keep giving me strength to just keep showing up no matter how scared or inadequate I often feel. God hasn’t let me down yet. I’ll keep doing my best and let God do the rest. That’s all anyone can do.

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Don’t feel like you are not good enough to show up. You are. You are as good as anyone else. No one is perfect. We are all just winging it. Winging it alone is hard, if not impossible. So just show up where you need to be today and let’s wing it together. 

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Can you think of times in your life when you just showed up even though you were scared or felt inadequate? How did it go? Did you learn anything about yourself?

Breaking News: Boobs! Meanwhile in New York beautiful things are happening…..

So I go online this morning and the “top news” story trending is this story about a celebrity’s breasts (although I applaud her speaking out about the negatives of breast implants): https://gma.yahoo.com/melissa-gilbert-feels-going-size-dd-just-average-134014073–abc-news-celebrities.html 

I look forward to a day when women’s bodies are no longer “breaking news” and instead our minds, hearts, spirits, professional accomplishments and philanthropy are the “top stories”.  Amazing things are happening in this world! Flowers are breaking through the hardened sidewalk of society. Stories like this one:   http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/24/living/feat-humans-of-new-york-harvard-fundraiser/

How are we in 2015 and still women’s bodies are not only fair game for commentary, news stories, judgment, etc. but these stories overshadow stories about exemplary women who are making a difference in the world every day in ways that have nothing to do with appearance? How many news articles do you see discussing a male politician’s new hair-do or fashion choices? How many male actors are plastered on a magazine shamed for gaining weight? No matter how accomplished or dignified a woman is, her body is still subject to the gauntlet of public opinion. News stories about women’s bodies or fashion choices trend, while other stories get overlooked. Why is that?

little girl

It’s no wonder we women are so dang messed up and every woman I talk with has some kind of body image issue. Some part of her body she hates. Instead of seeing herself as a whole woman with inner and outer beauty, a woman will take issue with her breast size or shape, how big or small her butt is, or how big her nose is. Why can’t we all rise up and just buck this trend? Because it is all around us. It is pervasive. We can’t dig a hole, crawl in and escape it.

I am an accomplished, professional woman who has received numerous kind and crass comments about my body over the years (especially during my stint waiting tables and during my dating days) from women and men alike. I just want to tell all of them “please don’t comment on my body; its mine you know. I’ll ask if I want your opinion.” I hate how every time we are at the park with my father-in-law he comments on women’s appearances. I hate how one of my best friends slipped and called me fat the other day joking around…even though she knows my struggles…and she struggles too. I hate when I try to open up about my insecurities to a friend and she offers me diet advice instead of advice on how to love myself…

nobody

The worst thing for someone like me is when all of a sudden I start receiving a lot of compliments about how good I look when I’ve lost weight. You see, I don’t ever let myself get “scary skinny”. This is a common misconception about eating disorders. That only people who look skeletal have one. Not true. These people who complimented my slim physique were well-meaning, but they were complimenting my eating disorder. They are positively reinforcing my anorexia. When I slip back into my patterns of restricting food and compulsively exercising, I am literally flooded with all of these comments about my body from women and men alike “oh you look so good! What are you doing?” I’m starving myself eating an apple, a yogurt, and a salad everyday….I’m exercising for hours at a time hating myself….I don’t recommend it. It’s a pretty miserable existence.  No one compliments you when you gain weight, even if on the inside you are psychologically the most healthy and happy you’ve ever been. In our society, weight loss and uber-fitness is lauded as the pinnacle of success. “She has it all” yeah…including an eating disorder and self-loathing….no I don’t have it all. For Pete’s sake, I don’t even have dessert! Have you tried living like that?

If I’m about 10 pounds overweight I’m in my happy place with my eating disorder and food. If I’m skinny again, I’m losing. Losing and risking my life. I’m having heart palpitations and my stomach is screaming for food and I’m not listening. But I sure do get a lot of compliments….

eatingdisorder

For the past two years, I’ve been in the best place of my life. I have felt like I was in full recovery and have started to love myself as-is instead of constantly trying to change myself. My husband and my counselor have both helped me start to love myself even with a little extra weight on me that comes from….you know…eating and not compulsively exercising. My husband is the only person who tells me I look better the way I am today than when I was 100 pounds. Even my friends remind me that I looked “so great” back then. Sigh…they can’t help it. They are women and they have been acculturated just like I have.

So I’ve been doing well with this thing, but yesterday….I saw a picture of myself and was horrified. Utterly disgusted. I broke down crying. It triggered something in me that I couldn’t talk myself down from. I couldn’t see the sweet moment I was having with my children in that picture. I couldn’t see the smile on my face. All I could see was fat. FAT. FAT. FAT. DISGUSTING. LET MYSELF GO. NEVER GOOD ENOUGH. I cried and cried and then I had to go to work. I didn’t eat all day. I felt dizzy.

There are three precious little girls at work. They asked me why I was only eating a small piece of chicken and a small salad for dinner as I sat with them. They knew I normally ate more and enjoyed dessert. These girls tell me they love me every day. Over and over. They smile and run to hug me when they see me. They want to be around me 24/7. They want to play games and eat with me. I couldn’t bear to tell them the truth. I lied to them. I told them I had a late lunch and my stomach wasn’t feeling so good today. But it wasn’t my stomach that was hurting. My heart was breaking. My mind was racing and at a loss. I don’t want to go back down the road of misery, but I don’t want to look at pictures of myself and feel horror.

When I start focusing on doing the “Paleo diet” or whatever other “eat this, not that” diet people tell me to try, it spirals out of control into orthorexia then anorexia. Honestly, I’d rather just not eat than eat food that I don’t like and get no pleasure from eating. I don’t like being in a deprivation mindset. It feels icky. It feels wrong to me. The only way I have overcome anorexia is trying to eat healthy foods, but not put too much thought into it. As long as it doesn’t contain MSG, artificial sweeteners, or anything else that is just plain toxic, its ok by me. Carbs are ok. Desserts are ok. I don’t count calories (counting calories always becomes a game to me of how little I can eat and survive). I just focus on moderation and healthy choices as my goal.

dieting

But, look where “not thinking too much about it and just eating normally” has gotten me? To the point where I am horrified by a picture of myself. Obviously this “eating like a normal person” thing isn’t working either. I don’t know what to do but turn back to my old ways…nothing I’ve learned in counseling school works for me. No advice my healthy friends give me works. Mindful eating? Nope. I enjoy it too much and fixate on the pleasure of food to the point where I binge. “Healthy eating” turns into a contest to see how I can use fruits and veggies to drastically reduce calorie intake. Treating my body like a temple? Then I start feeling guilty for not being able to eat perfectly (I hate smoothies and I can’t stay on a “30 day challenge” of any kind) and I get depressed because I am a failure and my temple will never be good enough.

Food and I have such a messed up relationship. I don’t understand how some people just go about their lives eating and not having this love-hate, starve-binge, freak out if their pants are tight, freak out when they see a bad pic where they look fat issues….I wish I could just be normal. But I’ve struggled with this since I was 9 years old. I am a highly sensitive, perceptive, and intelligent woman who grew up in this culture where women’s bodies are always the subject of commentary and news stories. My mom would go on and on about how much she hated her stomach and how fat she was (she wasn’t actually ever overweight). Family members would praise me when I was starving to be thin. This stuff has deep roots.

My natural body type is curvy with wide, child-bearin’ hips and thick thighs. I am short. I have never had a perfectly flat stomach even before kids. I’m stronger than many men. My biceps are bigger than my husband’s. That’s just how God made me. I am still living in a culture which floods my mind with photoshopped images of women who look nothing like me and I can’t even scroll through my Facebook newsfeed without someone posting pictures of scantily clad women or their “before and after” weight loss pics (they usually look better in the before though). I wonder how my husband could want me when there is so much (real or fake) “perfection” out there. But he does. He is so good to me. He always says the right thing and he is so atypical.

I would never want this for these little girls I was sitting and eating dinner with. I would never want to model food restriction to these beautiful, perfect angels. I would want them to know that they don’t have to be what the magazines try to tell them they need to be. They are wonderfully made by the Creator who made the stars. I want to be a role model for them…but I’m back-sliding….it feels like I’m sliding down the mountain and I’m grabbing onto it, but my fingernails are breaking off and I know I can’t hold on. I pray and pray and cry and cry. I don’t want them to see me fall. All I can do is hide from them how I really feel. And that is not who I am. Of all things, I never want to be a liar again. Authentic is my goal, my mantra. But tonight, I can’t.

friends talk

I can look at any other person who is overweight or normal weight and not ever think a judgmental thought. I actually think women who are “thick” are so beautiful, so sexy. But not me. I see me at a normal weight, maybe 15 pounds overweight and think “Oh my God what have I done! I’ve let myself go and pretty soon the next picture I see of myself I will look obese and then…..”(down the rabbit hole I go with all of the awful things that will happen to me if I don’t look good enough). Why can’t I just love myself when I am able to love every other person on this Earth just the way God made them? My whole life has been chasing “good enough”. I’m still chasing it. Why can’t I find it? Intellectually, I understand that God made me perfect, whole, loved, accepted, cherished. But in my heart I know that this world doesn’t run according to how God sees me. And, as much as I hate it, I have to live in this world. 

friendschristwhoyouare

We have to live in a society that tears women apart with subtle things like every single magazine having articles like “How to stay slim without feeling hungry”. Women compliment each other on weight loss and eat fat-free Nutrasweet laden yogurt for lunch. Men download porn and view women as 2-dimensional objects who exist solely for their guilty pleasure. They don’t wonder who these women are…what they think…what their lives are like…if they are sad or addicted or contracting AIDS. They don’t wonder if maybe when she was a little girl she really wanted to be a doctor or a teacher, but she’s doing this instead because she has 3 kids to feed and they have a deadbeat daddy. They don’t know that a lot of abused girls grow up trying to take their power back by claiming to “enjoy” doing this for a living. They don’t realize that girls who are posting naked pictures of themselves online seeking attention are feeling empty and insecure. They don’t care.

There is so much sickness in our society. Even women who have fulfilling careers, who excel academically, who earn professional degrees and hold our heads high as our strong bodies walk down the street know eyes are looking at us. Not at the whole woman, not wondering who we are, what we do, what brings us joy, what good we are doing for the world….those eyes are looking at our body parts… undressing us with their eyes. Other eyes are comparing our waistlines to their waistlines. We women are all trying to answer the question, “Am I ok? Am I good enough?” 

I hope the women in my life I love dearly have found their answer and that it is “yes, I’m wonderful.” However, based on what clients tell me in counseling sessions, most girls lose that confident assurance around the same age they go through puberty and start looking outside into the world asking the world that question and receiving a resounding, “NO. Not good enough” everywhere they look.

I’m gonna fight this thing. I am determined not to slip as far down as I once was. Today, I may still be sliding down the mountain. Yesterday, I lost the battle of my mind. Today, I’m going to try again. I’m going to try and make peace with food, with bad pictures. I’m going to try to “love myself as my mama loved my baby feet” (thanks Mary Lambert). I’m going to try and see myself how I see those precious girls at work. “You don’t have to try so hard, you don’t have to try try try try, you just have to get up get up get up you don’t have to change a single thing” my Pandora radio sings to me as I write this.

Today I’m going to make a Youtube playlist and listen to songs like these over and over, winging it until something sinks in…are you winging it through a messed up relationship with food? Are you a woman who is just trying to figure out how to live in a world which tells us only certain body types are acceptable or attractive? Share your wisdom, struggles and thoughts with me please.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXoZLPSw8U8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8NvU9Ah-uY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3f1zii5skA

Jumping In

As a little girl, I was scared to death. All the time. Of pretty much everything new or unfamiliar. I was the child who didn’t fight or take flight, but would simply freeze and smile trying not to look as terrified as I perpetually was. It is a miracle my little heart didn’t just explode it would often beat so fast. I remember taking swimming lessons at the local community college at the age of 5 or 6. First, there was the part of getting dressed in the ladies locker room all exposed with these other naked kids. Then, we were herded out into the pool room and told to sit on the side of the pool. Oh, the goosebumps on my cold little shaking arms! Every sound echoed and the pool was soooooooo BIG it might as well have been the ocean. We were sitting on the side of the shallow end and my eyes grew wide as I watched the older kids diving off the high dive fearlessly. “Just do what the teacher says, just do what the teacher says, just watch the other kids and act like them” was running through my mind at rapid speed like a CNN ticker tape of updates.

“Everyone in!” the instructor shouted in a sweet yet authoritative voice as she blew her whistle. I slid in like the other children and then clung onto the side wall for dear life. After blowing bubbles and back floating and being told repeatedly by the instructor that she would rescue me if I started to drown, I started to ease in. I realized I could always just back float if I felt like I was going to drown. I learned to tread water. Then I never worried about drowning again…until it was time to learn to jump off the diving board and then try to dive off the high dive.

Luckily, my fear of crying and having everyone laugh at me and think I’m a big weenie is (still) more powerful than my fear of….pretty much everything else. So, even though I shook so hard I thought I would fall off the ladder, I climbed every rung and put my little hands together and let myself fall head first off that diving board. I dove…well I belly-flopped. I swam for my life thinking I would never, ever reach the surface of the water and find air. But I made it. And I learned that belly-flops don’t actually hurt that bad. The 20 or so belly flops I did before doing a decent dive were worth it.

I fell in love with swimming, diving, all things water related. I held my strawberry-blonde little head high and told my mama “I don’t need any water wings because I can swim all by myself.” I’ve been winging it through my many moments of fear and sheer terror ever since. Some things I have experienced would terrify anyone, some seem so silly looking back.

Can I tell you a secret? I love to write, but I have resisted writing for a long time out of fear of belly flops. So here I am at the bottom of that diving board ladder…afraid to click “Publish” because I’m afraid people will laugh or (worse) just not care what I have to say? Will I occupy this moment and every other moment in my life thinking of all of these ideas but never actually writing any down? Or will I just belly flop into the pool and write so that one day at the very least my kids will have a neat collection of their mother’s writings to reflect on when I’m dead and gone? If you know my kids, you know they are going to need as much post-humous guidance as I can give them. This is my first blog so I guess I’m in the pool and I’ll just plan on dog-paddling around with my water wings on until I figure it out. But, of one thing I’m sure, whatever it is you or I or anyone is scared to do : JUMP IN! We won’t drown. We’ll wing it. Together.