Category Archives: friends

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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Some Advice for My Amazing Single Ladies

When someone gives you advice, you can either take it or leave it. Feel free to do either, you amazing single lady friends of mine. Here are just a few things I’ve learned from dating and from being a counselor. I see your heartbreak and frustration in your posts on social media. I often shake my head and hold back my advice (not in judgment, but because I’ve been there). My heart goes out to you. But, maybe you could benefit from me just telling it like I see it.

I’m 31 and married with 2 kids. I’ve “settled down.” However, before I got married, I did a good bit of “research” and figured out quite a few things about relationships and men.

My advice is as follows:

  1. Have a list of “oh hell no’s”. Meth/crack/heroin/porn/gambling addict? Chronically unemployed? Felon? Womanizer? Oh hell no, I don’t mess with you. I don’t care how nice and wonderful and what a good person you really are deep down, I don’t want that mess. Girl, you don’t have time for it. You don’t deserve it. You are not Jesus or Mother Theresa. You are just a girl trying to work her butt off, take care of her kids, be happy and keep her kids happy. You are not into making bad choices, so you don’t have time for some guy’s. You can’t “love him out of it” (but he can make you miserable in the process). Most people who are already that far down the road of hardcore drug addiction or legal problems don’t do a 180 change (yes, I know some do, but trust me I see the women they abuse, the children they neglect, and I would say 90% don’t do anything but leave destruction in their path like a tornado. Get out of the way of the tornado ladies!).
  2. Make a list of what you want from your ideal guy. It can be long or short. Include non-negotiables  (no legal problems, wants kids, whatever you must have in a guy) and things that would just be nice to have (loves water-skiing and cats). Look this list over often. Compare potential suitors to this list. If you are spiritual, pray for this guy, pray often for him to find you.
  3. Older guys. Go for the older guys (not just 2-3 years older either). You know, the guys who are stable and have already established themselves as non-drug addicts, have some sort of career or at least steady job, and take care of any kids they do have well. Maybe they even own a home. This isn’t to say you want their money or you are materialistic. It is just to say that you want someone who has proven they can “adult” well and not burden you with their financial irresponsibility, emotional immaturity, or whimsical behavior that takes them where ever the wind blows. Also, older guys are from a different generation, a better one. One that understood (for the most part) how to respect women, to treat her with kindness and manners. They know they have got a good thing going on when they have you, the beautiful, intelligent younger lady on their arm. They don’t take that for granted. And they don’t ask you for money.
  4. If he has a bunch of other ladies barking up his tree (you can usually notice this on social media), just step out of that line. Do you really want to be a contestant on “The Bachelor”? Find that nice guy who gets friend-zoned by everyone or that guy who isn’t constantly taking selfies with other girls and talk to him. To him, you will be a winning lottery ticket, not just another contestant in his show.
  5. Don’t date him if he has tattoos on his face and/or neck. I have no issue with tattoos. But, someone who gets “Young Money” or whatever tattooed on his eyebrows has given up on any kind of legit career or interaction with mainstream society. That guy is relegated to drug dealer or stolen goods merchandiser or….yeah that’s about it. Ain’t gonna happen.
  6. Go for the “boring” or “nerdy” guys. It doesn’t always mean they are boring or nerdy in romance or the bedroom. Give them a chance. Because they are going a whole lot farther in life and will treat you much better than the guy who thinks he’s a “gangsta.”That boring, normal, nerdy guy working at the bank or in IT at the county government wants to take you along on his next business trip to the beach. He wants to take you on a real date and give you good conversation over a dinner he pays for. Try it. It isn’t nearly as boring as being stood up or having to bail a guy out of jail.
  7. Repeat after me: It doesn’t matter how hot he is. Looks fade. A hot 20-year-old who posts pictures asking what piercing he should get next is so immature and is just in love with himself. Instead, focus on the guy who posts “I wonder what job offer I should take?”, “I wonder what I should buy my kids for Christmas?”, “What soup kitchen should I volunteer at?”  Let the self-obsessed guy go on loving himself and asking all the girls on the internet if he should get a lip ring or not. That guy is probably working at McDonald’s (and not as the manager) or still trying to be a “rapper.” That six-pack doesn’t mean much when he is asking you for money to buy a six-pack of beer.
  8. Love yourself, take care of yourself, don’t “settle” for guys you know deep down are just bad news or players because you _______ (are a single mom, aren’t a beauty queen, could lose a couple pounds, don’t have a great job, etc.)  There are so many reasons women settle for icky guys. Don’t do it. You are more amazing and beautiful than you give yourself credit for. Some nice, established older man will tell you so.
  9. Look for guys at places that are on the up and up. Don’t look for your next love on Tinder or on the internet in general. Don’t do bars and clubs unless you are looking for a one-night stand (no, girl you aren’t looking for that). Strike up an IRL conversation with that nice guy with no wedding ring who keeps smiling at you at the grocery store or the bookstore. Try a singles group that goes on adventures or hosts events. Try church groups. Ask a friend to set you up with a nice, mature friend who is also single. Make it known that you are looking for Mr. Right and anyone who spots him can send him your way. Go back to school and strike up a conversation with a fellow student.
  10. Don’t seem desperate or crazy. Desperation and codependency-fueled crazy is a huge turn-off for most decent men. Resist the urge to text him all day long. Send one text, maybe two per day. Hold back. Put the ball in his court. Don’t chase him. If he wants to go, let him go and thank him for moving on. There is this thing we learned about in counseling school called the “pursuer, avoider” dynamic. If you pursue someone like crazy, they usually avoid you. They run. If you avoid a little bit, hang back, act like its no biggie, act sane, then he will start to pursue you more. I’ve seen it work many times. A guy doesn’t work hard to get a woman who is already chasing him. He chases after that woman who is walking on with her bad self wherever she pleases taking care of her business and creating her own happiness. Guys are drawn to her like flies to honey.

See also: Madea’s Advice: Let em’ go

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11. And last, but certainly not least….If you do introduce your suitors to your kids, just introduce them as “Mommy’s friend” and never let them see you show physical or verbal romantic affection. To many kids, “Mommy’s boyfriend” = “Finally, I have a Daddy who loves me” and when that relationship dissolves, it just another loss for a child who has already been let down too much. Better yet, don’t introduce your kids to your new guy until you are engaged. Kids don’t deserve guys popping in and out of their lives. It really messes them up.

I wish you all love and happiness. I know its hard and confusing to be a single lady navigating the minefield of not-so-great guys to find that one diamond. Don’t settle for a lump of coal.

BRAVE: Self-love and bucking the trend of deprivation-focused eating as a woman

This weekend our Pastor gave a sermon on what it means to be “brave.” I pondered what it means to me to be “brave”.

I thought to myself, “Its brave just to be a female in our society who actually EATS!” Most women I know are either on a diet or just live a lifestyle that is perhaps not a diet but is undeniably restrictive and deprivation-focused. “I don’t eat carbs” “I eat Paleo” “I had a fat-free, sugar-free yogurt for lunch” “I only eat vegetables” is the way most women live. Even when I starved myself on an ultra-restrictive low-carb diet and compulsively exercised daily, I didn’t fit into society’s “beauty box”. I looked like a flat-chested body builder. Guys would come up to me in the gym and ask me how I got my legs so massive and ripped. No matter what I do, my body will never be waif-like aka “model-like” unless I go full-out anorexic. Today, I take a stand as I write this. I will never go back to that. I will never go back to feeling tired, hungry, angry and deprived all the time (even when people give me all kinds of compliments for doing so).

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I am all for healthy eating. I am not saying go out and eat a KFC “Double Down”. Fruits and veggies are our friends. But dessert doesn’t have to be our mortal enemy. I’m just saying that I don’t want my day-to-day life to consist of counting calories, culling carbs, and smoking cigarettes to try and keep my appetite suppressed. I don’t want to feel bad for putting dressing on my salad. I don’t want to feel bad for having…God forbid…a cookie for dessert. If I had a daughter, I would want her to feel free to have that cookie and not stress about it. I wouldn’t want her on some restrictive diet trying to lose weight so that her friends are complimenting her instead of criticizing her natural shape. By “natural shape” I mean the shape she finds herself in when she eats a balanced, healthy diet and engages in regular physical activity. I know girls who eat so healthy, work out, and are a size 12. What’s wrong with that? We all have different size frames, genetics, etc. Some of us are 5’5 and a size 8 in peak condition. Some are 6’2 and a size 14. That’s ok.

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I think we should celebrate diversity and health. Today, I celebrate the fact that this body of mine grew and birthed two strong and robust baby boys without the need for any medical assistance. Yes, I received prenatal care, but there were no medications or interventions at any point. I birthed both of my boys at home with a midwife present. See, these wide birthing hips are actually a genetic advantage, an asset. But, my whole life I hated them and saw them as abnormal because all I saw on TV was a bunch of narrow pelvises and women who looked like 13-year-old boys with breast implants.  Even when I was anorexic, I was a size 7 because of these hip bones. And that’s ok. I don’t want a “thigh gap.” My husband loves these thick thighs. I told him about the concept of “thigh gap” and he snarled his nose up looking disgusted and horrified. God, I love my man.

What’s funny is that most men I know don’t even particularly like the skinny girls more than the thick girls. But we women want to be skinny girls or uber-fit girls. Why? Because we think it makes us “better” and then the slippery slope “better than.”  I think we women actually perpetuate this culture of deprivation, alteration, and lack of acceptance because we internalize it so deeply that we spew our dissatisfaction with ourselves onto other women. We project it onto our friends and daughters.

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Mothers urge their daughters to slim down and worry that their daughters might get the slightest bit overweight. They don’t worry like this about their sons. A “stout” boy is ok, but a “stout” girl? No. Grandmas tell us to stand up straight and suck that stomach in.  Our friends ask us to join them on fad diets and restrictive cleanses. I always want to say “ok so are you saying I need to diet? Cause personally I don’t!” when asked to buy the latest diet supplement or join a fad diet. We buy Spanx to hide our real shapes. We buddy up about weight loss because we need “accountability” not to have that darn cookie with dinner. We lust over our husband’s butter-laden baked potato while we act happy to eat steamed broccoli. At least I do…or did yesterday…dang it I’m just not going to live like that. Because that’s not living. It’s trying to shave off the square edges of WHO I AM to try and fit me into this small round hole that is the “beauty box” society tries to sell to us women and girls everywhere we look. I like baked potatoes and I like my wide hips and strong thighs.

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Brave is standing against that. Brave is loving my body as-is. Brave is just continuing to do the next right thing for me, for my health, not for a number or a size or a thin aesthetic. Brave is eating like French women do. For pleasure and for health. In balance, with portions that are not too large or small. Without cutting out bread and wine. With a nice long walk after eating.  Enjoying life. Balanced and happy. Chocolate and champagne are not off limits. We shall see how it goes…

Tell me, how do you eat in a way that is healthy and doesn’t leave you feeling deprived, angry, and sad? What works for you? This women and food thing is difficult terrain to climb alone. Let’s wing it together and fly to the top of this craggy mountain! 

A broken foot, a broken heart, and the boss who made my friend work late on a Friday…3 friends and an unusual girls night out. Come hell or high water.

More and more I find myself in awe of how people weave in and out of each other’s lives. I think of it as sacred weaving. I have heard it called divine appointments.

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It is Monday morning and I am still in gratitude reflecting on the experience I had Friday night with two…no three…women whom I love dearly. The first woman is my long-time friend who knew me during my “bad girl” high school days. She is one of only two people I call when I am ugly crying and can’t make sense of anything about life. The second woman is a more recent friend. She is someone I love more every time I talk to her and learn more about her.  The third is author/speaker Glennon Doyle Melton. I discovered her truth-telling during a time in my life when I needed to read exactly what she was writing. When I heard her TEDtalk, I decided to try her whole “just do the next right thing and that will take you all the way home” advice out.

Back to Friday night. So, a few weeks ago I was reading Glennon’s blog and she posted a list of upcoming speaking events. I thought I might get lucky and she might be speaking in Atlanta. I live about 1 (or 2 depending on traffic) hours from Atlanta so I would be willing to drive to see her speak. NO. She was speaking in MY LITTLE TOWN! 10 minutes down the road from me! What!?!? Divine appointment right there! Nothing comes to my town. This was really weird. And the event was not some $195 conference. It was $30. I registered myself immediately and then thought about these two friends. Their names just popped into my head. The three of us hadn’t been out together in about 2 years (we all have kids with special needs, work/school, etc.). They were down, so we all put Friday 1/23 6:30-9pm into our schedules as a girls night out.

Then Friday came. I had torn a tendon in my foot 5 days before and was in a stabilizer boot and on crutches. However, I’m going come hell or high water. One friend was having the day from hell at work and her boss made her stay late rather than her slipping out early as planned. She had to pick up her kids and get them home then get back to my house by 6 so that we could get to the event. It was raining cats and dogs. Of course there was a wreck between her house and my house (which are 10 minutes down the street from each other). I could hear in her voice that she was drained from a rough work week, 3 young kiddos screaming in the background, and now this. “It’s ok, we will be late if we have to”. She made it to my house come “day from hell” and high water. “I swear, this lady must be about to say something that will change my life, because the devil really doesn’t want me to make it there tonight,” she joked.

I had been talking with my other friend on the phone that day discussing some really difficult decisions she was facing and I could feel her heart breaking through the phone. The kind of heartbreak that I know all too well and I wish I didn’t. The kind of heartbreak that happens when you try and try to make it work, but it still isn’t working. The kind that brings judgment from the people you need to love and support you unconditionally when your heart is breaking. It hadn’t been a good week. For any of us. We all had reasons to cancel on each other. But we showed up with our various physical and emotional ailments. We just showed up. That’s half the battle in life right there.

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From the outside, when we walked (hobbled) into the lobby, I was the only one who was visibly hurt and broken.  These two friends are so beautiful that even though one had cried her makeup off in the car on the way to my house and one hadn’t had time for a shower or make-up in days, no one would have known they had the week from hell. I have noticed this with myself and with other women. If we have had a day or week from hell, we think it shows in our appearance. Good week: I’m alright. Bad week: I look like Shrek. I wanted to take a picture of the three of us, but they were horrified at the thought.

So, Glennon was speaking at a big church. When my friends and I walked in, we all looked at each other and commented that we felt a bit out of place. Jokes were made about it being a miracle the church wasn’t struck by lightening as we walked in. We laughed. We smelled like cigarettes. At least we had each other in this swarm of women we didn’t know. I think that as we looked around and saw hundreds of women, we saw their “outsides” and maybe assumed that because their “outsides” looked fashionable and put together with great care that their “insides” matched that image. We didn’t have scarves or nice boots or carefully styled “hairdos” (I tried but my hair fell into a stringy mess in the rain). We just showed up as we were. We found our seats and sat there waiting for Glennon to come out.

I wondered if maybe they wouldn’t like the event and think I had turned lame and boring spending my Friday nights at a church. Our last girls night out 2 years ago had been at a bar…Wild Wings…anyway… Glennon came out and started speaking. I looked over and my friends were laughing so hard. Whew, I felt relieved that, at the very least, my friends were smiling and laughing after a long, hellish week.

Then Glennon started getting into the kind of stuff that I was so hungry for back when I first read something she had written. The messy life stuff, the tough stuff, the BRUTIFUL stuff. Like this. 

There were things I had wanted to say to my friend whose heart was breaking as we talked on the phone. I had once not so long ago been the one on the other end of the phone not knowing whether to stay or go. Whether I had tried hard enough or not. Whether I was right or wrong.

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Glennon!

But then, this magical thing happened. Time slowed to kairos….which is exquisitely described by Glennon here.

Glennon was talking about the time when she and her husband separated due to very valid reasons (not just some “I’m not happy and I think I can find a hotter man” whimsy) and that some of the very people she needed to love her through this heartbreaking time were the ones who judged her and told her that marriage was more important than her healing, more important than her safety or misery. Many of these people were members of her church family. She said it so well “What if we are making an idol out of marriage? As if staying married is the only important thing?” Then she discussed the epiphany she had that whether they found redemption as a couple or apart, that separating and taking the time to heal, pray, seek change, go to counseling, etc. was what would bring them that redemption. No one should have to just decide to live a miserable or unsafe existence because they idolize marriage and fear the judgment of their church or family. I loved it when Glennon said something to the effect of: I know God loves me, I know God loves you, I just can’t believe His will is for us to suck it up and give up on healing and redemption and just hunker down in a miserable or scary marriage.

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It was as if everyone else in that room faded out and only the three of us were sitting there with our hearts swelling with love and pain and life experience. My friend heard something no one else had said to her in the exact way she needed to hear it.  I looked over and saw these big tears welling up in their eyes. I put my arm around my friend. Tears were streaming down my face, too. I had been there. Here we were, one friend who had been divorced for a while. One friend, sitting in between us, smack dab in the midst of that difficult decision and what life would even look like moving forward. And myself. Although now happily married, my husband and I had separated. Twice.

Looking back, I remember a girls night out when I was crying about my relationship over a pitcher of margaritas to friends who made me laugh even when I was a hot mess with mascara and eyeliner running all down my face. I am thankful they were there for me when I felt so alone in my brokenness and uncertainty. They didn’t presume to know the path I needed to take to find my redemption. They just loved me through it. Since then, some of those same friends have been divorced, separated, back together, remarried to someone new. This relationship and marriage stuff is so hard. It’s really messy. Love is the most brutiful (brutal and beautiful) thing I’ve ever experienced. No one should get up on a high horse and judge because you never know if you’ll get bucked off and need a friend to help you up out of the mud. There are things we can do to try and cultivate a great marriage, but I don’t have a crystal ball.

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So, Glennon wrapped up and there was a time for us to come up and take pics with her, but my friends and I slipped out the back and went to a Thai restaurant instead. Each of us had gotten what we needed. With our spirits filled and overflowing, we sat and talked over curry and Pad Thai about the kind of really deep stuff that usually doesn’t come up on a “girls night out” like our bad habits, fears, insecurities, our love/hate relationship with our bodies and we laughed until they started flashing the lights at us to leave so they could close the restaurant.

We will keep winging it together through this brutiful life thankful for how favorite authors and bad weeks and a girls night out all weave together to make a beautiful piece of our tapestries.

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Our fortunes. Hers, mine, and hers.