Category Archives: love

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 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Miracles

Every Christmas, I look for miracles. My dictionary reads: A miracle is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws. Such an event may be attributed to a supernatural being, magic, a miracle worker, a saint or a religious leader. So what miracles would this year bring, I wondered? I have been  praying for miracles for an injured family member, an overwhelmed friend,  a little girl in my community who is fighting cancer and for Joey Feek, whose music and testimony has touched my heart deeply in a way I can’t logically explain. My sons and I have been donating to (because sometimes you have to help miracles along with love when you can) and praying for the refugee women and children who are in need of so much more than we have to give. This world really needs some miracles right about now, doesn’t it? 

So, I was praying for people who needed a miracle. I was keeping my eyes and heart open in gratitude to see the many miracles all around us that we all too often fail to see. But, in some ways, I just wasn’t feelin’ it this year. Ever had trouble just getting into the Christmas spirit? You try and try and just can’t quite get there? That was me this year. I had been feeling a little (ok a lot) burned out. Stressed out. Feeling stretched beyond my limits, but without any real options to change my situation or reduce my stress load anytime soon (believe me, I’ve rolled my options around in my head 1000 times, crunched numbers, and I’m just gonna have to hang in there as is unless an amazing new opportunity that doesn’t involve selling anything comes along). My headaches had started coming back. All of this was waaay before Christmas even rolled up…I was feeling like this in November. The past year had been filled with challenges at work, home, financially, everything breaking down all at once, health issues, etc.  So that’s where I was at emotionally in early November. Cringing as the stores brought out Christmas decorations and my go-to uplifting Christian radio station started playing “Jingle Bells”. Just exhausted, wanting to hop on the first plane to the Bahamas and run away from it all before Santa even flew in to take up residence at the mall. And then something interesting started happening….

Through a strange serious of events, I was called to help a young woman (not a client). More disadvantaged, alone, scared, and facing many more obstacles than any of my clients, she was someone I could not in good conscience decline to assist. But, if I’m honest with you, I have to admit that some of my first (selfish) thoughts were, “oh no, Lord why me? I don’t even know if I can be of much help or if this is just going to cause me more headaches and be the stress that pushes my sanity into a ditch. I know I’m supposed to be servant-hearted, but I’m dry bones, Lord have mercy I’m tired. And in December? Really?” But, I answered the call nonetheless. It was a situation I am uniquely qualified to help with for many different reasons due to my life experience and professional training. Saying yes, I will help, has resulted not in further burnout, but instead in my own Christmas blessing! God and those mysterious ways again…

My faith is expanding as I’m seeing God work in miraculous ways in this seemingly impossible situation. I’m doing my part to be love and practical help (within my means) to someone who needs lots of love and support right now. In doing so, my heart has been touched deeply, my faith expanded, and I have been re-energized about my calling and my life’s work as a counselor. So many things have come together in such a short period of time. God’s hand is undeniably all over it stirring sweet grace and mercy into the situation with the help of a network of believers as generously as Paula Deen stirs butter into her recipes with a spoon. The Body of Christ has come together so beautifully it is restoring my faith in my fellow Christians (many of us didn’t even really know each other well before this need arose and we don’t even come from the same church family). I wish I could tell you the details and tell you the full story, but I need to keep the details private. My part of it is just doing what I can and thanking God for this Christmas blessing of expanded faith and confirmation that I need to stop feeling guilty for not doing things that are not my callings and the gentle yet firm reminder to say yes to my callings even when they don’t make sense or appear at first glance to be too much. Lord, your yoke is easy and burden light (Matt. 11:30) because what you ask us to do, those things that are our true callings, end up blessing us back in return.

Speaking of miracles….at Christmas, I always meditate on Mary and what it must have been like for her. She was called to do something completely out of her comfort zone, something that initially jeopardized her upcoming marriage/life plan/stability, her safety, stretched her heart and soul, put her on a physically arduous journey to Bethlehem and upon her arrival (in active labor no less) was told there was no room at the inn. No room. No. The world couldn’t make room for her or this baby. Mary did what she was called to do in spite of all of this, even though it was hard and illogical. She was likely feeling exhausted and scared. What that moment must have been like between Mary and Joseph as this young couple struggled through labor and birth far from home in a stable with animal noises and smells. What would it have been like for Mary to be lying on hay, nursing baby Jesus and see the shepherds and the 3 wise men from the Far East converging upon them to gaze at their baby in wonder and awe, handing gifts of great value to this poor couple who no one could make room for just a few hours ago!? Wild. What a wild night. Mary bore a lot, but how blessed among women did she feel at the end of that night? Maybe she still felt confused and tired, but certainly she must have been more sure of her calling and her faith must have been expanded exponentially with baby Jesus lying in her arms and a star shining brightly above that stable.  

This is the true miracle of Christmas. The story that we can reflect upon in gratitude year after year with its rich symbolism and continued relevance, regardless of our circumstances. Regardless of if our prayers are answered as we wish they would be in our human understanding, the original Christmas miracle is one that we all too often overlook as we listen to the voice of the world that tells us the lie about “buying Christmas.”  I’ll take the original Christmas story over the modern consumerist story any day.

 

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.

Of Mourning, Dancing, and a Polka-Dot Dress

On a cold, grey December day in 2012, I said goodbye to one of my dearest friends. Friend isn’t even an adequate word. This friend had helped me through some of the worst seasons of my life and helped me find joy even in the months and years I wanted to literally run away from my life, my struggles that seemed never ending, and the pain I held in my heart as I forced a smile onto my face in daily life. It was an unconventional and unlikely friendship by all outward judgment, but it is one I cherish to this day. He: a deeply depressed and lonely person. Me: a young, frazzled mom feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders, having almost daily panic attacks while trying to attend to my children, go to school, and work a job. Somehow, our brokenness collided and somehow started a healing process for us both. With each other, we were both able to smile amidst the hand life had dealt us.

And then he started getting sick. First, just stomach aches. The stomach aches would come and go. Good days and bad days. I figured it was gallstones or something. He saw a doctor and they didn’t think it was anything serious, probably acid reflux. The medicine didn’t help. Then, things started to take a turn for the worst, then a nose dive for the worst. The doctor ordered some invasive medical tests. I took him to those appointments, sitting in the waiting room reading a book until it was time to go back and see him in the recovery area. The doctor tried to ascertain if I was his daughter or wife or what (“just a friend”) and we laughed a little about that when the anesthesia was still in effect. I helped him to my car and took him to get a Steak and Shake milkshake that sounded good to him. He couldn’t even drink more than 2 sips. I knew this was more than acid reflux. It got so bad that I took him back to his family doctor one day and went in with him to his appointment. With tears in my eyes, I said “please, this is serious, help him.” The doctor took a closer look and realized he was jaundiced and I saw a look of serious concern spread across her face. She ordered some blood tests and a full-body scan.

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He received the dreaded phone call about his results when I was on my way into work one day. Employers don’t look kindly towards “I need to take a month off to attend to my sick friend” so I had to trudge on taking care of him while having to go into work and perform while holding back my desire to curl up in a ball and cry. I received a text in a Kangaroo gas station parking lot that would change everything. “It’s not good, it’s cancer, it’s terminal.” Leaning on my steering wheel, I whimpered like a dog, barely able to catch my breath. I texted back, “You are not alone in this.” It was all I knew to say. His daughter bluntly asked me to just cut ties now unless I was in it until the end. Not a second thought, yes, I am in this. I don’t leave the ones I love in their time of need.

I still had to keep the rest of my life running as my friend was slowly and painfully dying. I couldn’t lose or quit my jobs. I couldn’t neglect my kids. It was really hard to explain to my children’s Daddy who was planning a wedding with me after we had finally reconciled why I was going to visit another man daily who was dying, but somehow he understood the best anyone could under the circumstances.

Then, that December day came when we said our last goodbyes.  I got some sort of closure. I sat in the 3rd row of the chapel during his memorial service silently shaking and weeping in a black dress with frills and tiny white polka dots. A close friend of mine who had lost touch with me for a year or so due to her own difficult life circumstances and issues really came through for me that day. She simply sat beside me so that I wouldn’t be alone in that pew. She held my hand and anchored me when I felt like I was going to pass out. She understood the gravity of the situation because she was one of the only people I have ever been able to tell everything to. We have gone through some difficult things since then, but that day (and others) will forever anchor me to her, no matter what.

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Psalm 30:11 (ISV) says: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with a garment of joy.” During my period of mourning, I had read this verse and felt a mixture of impossibility and hope. Although I have always loved to dance, I didn’t dance for a year. I didn’t feel music in my body, I didn’t feel anything except a crushed heart for many months. Most people didn’t realize what I was going through, and thus didn’t offer support because this was not my spouse, my child, my parent, etc. It was admittedly an odd friendship. I learned there is a name for this kind of grief: disenfranchised grief .  I realized it was up to me to do this grief thing more or less on my own. I started seeing a counselor. I had started going to yoga classes before he passed away as a way to cope with the anxiety and panic attacks I was having. I continued this and found myself crying silently in class as yoga helps release deep emotions. Yoga was a huge part of my grief journey. It helped me re-connect to my body and my numb or conversely chaotic emotions. I prayed, I read stories of grief and mourning. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman spoke to me on a deep level, although it is not necessarily a grief oriented book. The characters all experienced losses and had to go on heroically. I feel that it is important to share what helped me during the grief process. It is an active process and not a passive one waiting to one day be ok.

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Fast-forward to 2015. I am usually so busy with work, kids, home, etc. that I don’t go out much if at all. I just try to keep my head above water on any given day juggling all my responsibilities. I had made a new friend whose kindness and genuine Christ-like love for others still has me a bit in awe. He gifted my now-husband and me two tickets to a charity gala. My husband and I went to the gala and in a series of unfortunate wardrobe events, the dress I had planned on wearing didn’t work out. We were late to the event, so I just grabbed the first thing in my closet that would work without thought. It was the black frilly dress with tiny white polka dots on it that I had worn to my friend’s funeral. I didn’t even think about it at the time. I just threw it on, grabbed my high heels and ran to the car. We were bickering on the car ride over to the country club about some matter of no importance. So, when we arrived, we both grabbed a glass of wine immediately. I seldom drink, so when I allowed a couple more glasses to find their way into my hand, I am not even going to lie. I was drunk. Then the music was crunk. And before I knew it there I was dancing in my seat then up on the dance floor doing the Cupid Shuffle then dancing to “Que Linda Back It Up” and my dancing was hearkening back to days of yore when I would shake it like a Polaroid picture and drop it like its hot on a regular basis. My husband isn’t the dancing kind, so he just sat mortified, amused, or perhaps jealous at the table drinking another glass of wine….it was pretty hilarious but also the source of some bickering on the way home about why my kind of dancing isn’t appropriate for public viewing. That was fine though. It was worth it. The next morning I woke up and realized that I had worn my FUNERAL DRESS to the gala and my MOURNING had literally been turned into DANCING and JOY.

Sometimes I still feel a wave of grief welling up in my heart and I let it wash over me. It comes and it goes. No point fighting it. Just like an ocean wave, you just ride it out. If you fight the rip tide, you will lose. But if you surrender, you will come out the other side. But, I smile at the fact that even this one time I was able to dance and rejoice. I also now understand why wine is a prominent feature in the Bible.

I’m still winging it through this grief and dancing and joy thing….do you relate to my story? Leave a comment with some advice or your experiences and let’s wing it together.

When Taking a Sabbatical Isn’t An Option: Inside My Life as a Working Mom and Special-Needs Parent

“You’re 5 minutes late again, Jen. Is everything alright?” my former boss questioned me…again. I wanted to be honest. I wanted to tell the truth, but the truth was that my son’s autism wasn’t going to go away, I still had to keep this job, and it wasn’t my boss’s problem. It wasn’t something someone who isn’t the parent of a child with special needs will ever understand on any level anyway. I’m sure my boss assumed I was just having trouble with “time management” or taking too much time getting a latte (which I couldn’t even afford) when the truth was and is that I have trouble with “life management.” If I didn’t HAVE to work to keep a stable home, the lights on, the water running, food in the pantry, clothes on my kids backs and shoes on their feet, I wouldn’t. I would have taken at least a season off. I would have at the very least taken the season off from work when I had a newborn and was driving 2 hours to Atlanta for testing and therapies for my 3-year-old son who was being diagnosed with autism.

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This was the season when my heart was breaking and I would collapse in tears on my pillow every night after completing yet another 10 pages of paperwork fighting to get him the early intervention services that I was told would make or break his future functioning (no pressure or anything lol)  that I couldn’t afford on my own. It was the season when I kept my make-up bag in the car so that I could put my make-up on when I pulled into the parking lot at work so that no one would notice (hopefully) my red, puffy eyes from crying on the drive into work when my son had yet another meltdown when I had to drop him off at his special-needs preschool. Thank God we even have a special needs preschool in my town so that I could put him in daycare. He couldn’t function at a typical daycare center. It was the season of covering up his claw marks on my arms with long sweaters some weeks. It was the season where he gave my mom a black eye from flailing around during a meltdown. It was the season when I was not only working, but trying to finish my Master’s degree so that I would be able to work part-time and actually make a living wage. I knew working full-time would never work for me and my son’s needs. Someone has to take him to therapy appts twice per week, he cannot stay in a typical after school care program (he can barely hold it together behaviorally during the school day), and I knew that I would not be able to have the patience and energy to deal with his challenges if I was drained from a 40+ hr work week. So, I worked 30 hrs per week while I attended graduate school full-time. It nearly killed me. I wasn’t the best, most patient mom during this time. But this was the only way I saw to make it to a sustainable lifestyle. I did survive by the grace of God and threw myself over that finish line, walked the stage and got my Master’s in Clinical Counseling Psychology.  I collapsed in bed with a migraine that lasted for a month after graduating. Thank God I had enough money from student loans to take one month off to try and heal my body and mind.

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Thank God, after an exhaustive job search, I was offered the first job that didn’t require a long commute giving community awareness presentations and working with women and children who have experienced trauma in my town. I am still there today because I find my work fulfilling, but also because it is a family-friendly workplace where I get some limited benefits and a stable, predictable salary. I feel like my bosses care about me and I could tell them if I needed to take time off for my son. I make a decent enough living and work outside the home only 20 hrs per week. I supplement my income teaching online college classes here and there. It’s not enough to have a savings account, take vacations, or feel “set,” but I know I won’t be in danger of being homeless or unable to meet my children’s basic needs.

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I often felt like if I could just be a stay-at-home mom, then maybe I wouldn’t feel like a basket case all the time. There is nothing worse that having people look at you with that, “is she alright?” look at work. No, I’m not alright. I struggle every single day. My child requires more from me than typical children do. He has had sleep issues (thank God finally resolved with natural supplements, but he didn’t sleep through the night for 6 years), he requires a strict routine and I can’t just make him run to the grocery store with me because I forgot the ketchup and he’s demanding ketchup. I have to keep him on an even keel by making sure he has time for relaxation, to sit on the potty at the scheduled time, to go to his therapy appointments. He requires so much love and patience. He has taught me so much love and patience. Did I mention I also have another child 2.5 years younger than him? I have to deal with the challenges of a sibling who is frustrated with his brother’s special needs. I mediate fights and try to understand both their viewpoints. Putting on my game face for work and acting “put together” and “professional” isn’t easy. I don’t have time to accessorize or do my hair, so its usually in a messy bun. I could be having an full on panic attack and you wouldn’t even notice because I have trained my mind and body to just sit there and ride it out, knowing it will end at some point. Anxiety is a liar I don’t have time to listen to. I used to feel like a big, fat phony. Now, just feel strong. I survive my challenges and my life everyday.

I’m a warrior, I soldier on for my son every day. I don’t completely unload my whole story and all my struggles on my co-workers, but I’m honest enough about the fact that I have struggles and I know what its like to be past your breaking point and still soldiering on because that’s what we good mamas do for our kids.  I think that makes me a better counselor, especially for other parents who have special needs children or have trouble finding ways to balance all of the demands of life. It doesn’t make it easy. I invest some money each month on self-care so that I don’t end up in the mental ward or dead from a heart attack. I have to take care of myself or where will that leave my kids? Without a functional mama. So, I do yoga, I pray, I listen to music, I journal, I get acupuncture when I can afford it, I get cheap massages from the local massage school, I garden and run around with my kids in the yard. I thank God I have a home and a yard.

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Sometimes, now I think that working has been good for me. Not having the option to stay home means that I have always had to pull my $#@# together every day, even if I don’t think I can or I don’t want to. I don’t have the option to sink into alcoholism, addictions, self-pity or depression. I have to “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” and that keeps me from sinking down deep. I can’t sink or my kids will sink with me and they don’t deserve that. They deserve my all, my best. I refuse to fail them as long as there is breath in my lungs and my hands are able to work. Work demands my all, my best as well. So I have to find ways to be my best me, to cope effectively. Yes, my ultimate daydream is to be a kept woman, but knowing that is about as unlikely as a winning lotto ticket, I just keep going. I cry, I scream and pound the steering wheel of my car when I’m alone in the car sometimes, I call my mom or my best friend and get out my “its not fair, this sucks” moments. I listen to songs that make me feel like God has me and I’m strong like:

You might be thinking I’m a single mom as you read this. I’m not. Times are just tough and they always have been. My husband has always tried his best, but he has had some tough stuff to deal with too, like lay-offs and being unable to finish school due to caring for his sick father and trying to support their family when he was only 19. Now, he has health issues himself. He works hard, but without a college degree or hulk-like physical strength to do manual labor in a 105 degree factory all day, he has never been able to fully take care of our family’s financial needs by himself. I know it breaks his heart and his pride watching me struggle. We live frugally. We have a tiny house, used cars, thrift store clothes, discount shoes. We are not snobs, but I refuse to live in the projects where I can’t sleep in peace at night. I need a car to get my son to his appts. My son requires a lot of vitamin and mineral supplements to help his behavior, sleep, and stomach issues. My son’s therapies require co-pays. I have had to buy things to help him learn and communicate better like an iPad. There are so many extra costs that come with his needs. It is what it is. But he is worth it. And I will do my best. Thankfully we have extended family support if the car breaks down or the pipes burst. That support for emergency needs is more than many struggling families have. hope

This is my life. It is raw and honest. I would be lying if I said I didn’t ask God, “why?” sometimes. But usually the still small voice in my heart just reminds me that I am strong and I can learn. If God only gives us what we can handle, apparently I’m just a bad-ass.

But on a serious note, I give thanks that all of my prayers for my son have been answered. I have prayed over him every single night with tears flowing. He is thriving in spite of his challenges. He speaks (not only speaks, but articulately and with a beautiful vocabulary) and he has not had a meltdown in 3-4 years. He has friends, loving teachers, an accepting church family, and kind therapists. He finally started sleeping well and using the potty. He still needs peace and calm in his daily life. He still can’t go to the after school program, but that’s ok. We are making it. He is making it. Living on the love of God and family, we just keep winging it. Giving up is not an option. We will wing it together.

I’m Sorry You’re So Much Like Me, Son.

Oh my youngest son…how I treasure our similarities. How I delight in your dimples, swell with maternal pride at your heart that seeks to comfort anyone you see who is hurting, stand in awe of the way you plop down on a dirty old couch and fist bump a stranger who looks so different from you without a second thought under the graffiti-ed bridge when we go serve meals to the homeless outdoors, thank God for your analytical mind that goes round and round trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe, laugh at how you insist on acting at least 4 years older than you are and how you cry because you are only 7-years-old and the teenage girls you swoon over don’t think about you in “that” way and won’t give you the time of day.  Bless your precious heart my sweet baby. I love you so. Even your rebelliousness, stubborn never-back-down resolve, and your love of using curse words (in context and scholarly used for the added emphasis and emotion of course) make me throw my head back with laughter. You are my mini-me on the inside and your Grand-daddy on the outside. While you look like him, your mind and heart are carbon copies of mine.

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As much as I love these things about you, I know you are in for a rough ride at least until you are 30 and muster the courage to shamelessly embrace your heart and your gifts. You will experience more intense highs and lows in life based on my experience living as a highly sensitive, intensely emotional, empathic, yet mischievous warrior for love. When you lose someone you love for the first time, I will know that you just need me to lay there with you and rub your back as you cry for hours on end. I will put on some soothing music or a movie for us. I will never, ever tell you not to cry or to toughen up. I don’t want you hardened or cold. I want you just as you are. I will do my best to help you see that who you are is a gift to this world and you don’t let the cold logic and sarcasm of this world make you feel less than. At some point, I hope you realize that some people are just piss and vinegar and you are nectar and ambrosia. Screw em. Let em have their piss and vinegar. It’s always ok to say “that one’s just not for me” when it comes to people, ideologies, food, etc. I hope you don’t judge others for their choices, but always feel free to say “nah, that’s not for me” when it doesn’t feel right.

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I hope you see in the way I live my life that in my 30 years I have found some things that help keep me joyful and at peace. You know mama needs her yoga and her time with Jesus. Other things that help me and might help you as you climb this mountain called life include focusing on what I can control and letting go of what I can’t (for instance, I can’t control someone being rude and critical, but I can sure as hell control whether I hang out with that person or not), breathing deeply while thinking of all I have to be thankful for in life,  keeping negative people at a nice distance, understanding the importance of boundaries and honesty, hanging out with people older than myself, taking good care of myself so that I can take care of others, yoga, prayer, singing, reading my Bible, reading books on all kinds of spiritual philosophies and traditions, taking some quiet time to feel the beauty and wisdom of nature, and helping others. If you want to get yourself out of a funk, just go out in the world and be nice to somebody. Give a waitress a great tip. Give hugs and kind words liberally. Go bring those homeless people under the bridge some good food and encouragement. Its hard to feel bad for yourself or weighed down by the cruelty in the world when you are being the love the world needs more of.

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And as far as older women…honey, one day those older ladies will start to notice you…a lot…and you will have the time of your life as you bypass the immaturity and insecurity for wisdom and experience. It will work out. But, it may take some patience. In the mean time, you know your mama is going to teach you everything I can about being a respectful, romantic man. You can ask me anything and you know mama’s gonna give it to you straight.

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My goal is for you to be happy, loving, and make this world a better place than before you came into it. That’s it. My job is to show you the ropes and help you spread those wings to fly. Don’t forget that we are ALL just winging it through life. You aren’t the only one, baby. You’re gonna be alright. Because we’ll wing it together…always.

And the walls came crumbling down…

When I was a teenager and friends described love as this intense physical sensation of heart-fluttering warm and fuzziness I just didn’t get it. I had never felt it. I knew that my parents loved me because they were always there for me. They worked hard, provided for my needs, talked with me about my problems, and told me they loved me no matter what. When I was a teenager and started having romantic interests, we would both profess our love. But, when I think back on the physical sensations it was just a mix of nausea, anxiety, and hormones increasing circulation to certain areas of the body. I didn’t connect with these high school romantic interests on a spiritual or emotional level capable of making me feel intensely beautiful sensations in my body. I never felt my heart swell and almost explode.

I moved in with my college boyfriend (who became the father of my children and then my husband) out of mutual financial necessity. We were compatible. He was intelligent, tall, handsome with long hair, he worked for a living, went to college, he wasn’t a liar, we were both a bit wild but introverted…I could go on and on, but I’ll just stop right there to avoid giving other women reasons to come after my man. He was in love with me. Heart-pounding, shaky knees, swooning, crazy love. He got into a fist fight with an ex of mine over me. He was a keeper. But, I had been through some traumatic things as a teenager that had made me build some really big stone walls around my heart that no man or therapist could break down no matter how hard he fought for me. A girl I went to camp with told me she would pray that God would soften my heart. I wasn’t too happy with her. But now I realize she saw a need in me for healing. A need for freedom. A need for those walls to come crashing down.

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It took a tiny baby to shatter these walls, bust my life and my heart wide open, revive something in me that had died, and finally…finally…help me feel these elusive physical sensations people call love. Because of my trauma history, I didn’t feel safe giving birth anywhere but at my home, on my terms, where I was in control of my body, with my wise and loving midwife holding that space sacred and telling me I was doing just fine. What she did for me helped heal me. I love her for that. She believed in me and she empowered me. I labored for 20 hours with my oldest son. Blood, sweat, and tears. I wanted to give up, but I knew I couldn’t. My man wouldn’t see weakness in me, he kept telling me that I was the strongest woman he had ever known and that he knew I could do this. I was so scared. But in that place of vulnerability and ugly crying, I found my strength. My son emerged and my heart filled with this love everyone had talked about, but I had never felt before. He started wailing and I cried, “Oh Grey, I know, it was so hard baby, I know. I’m here, its ok” and I latched him onto my breast instinctively. He found comfort and nourishment. I found out what love felt like. Heart chakra wide open and swelling to the point I worried my heart would explode, holding my son and smelling his tiny head. I looked into my man’s tear-filled blue eyes and felt visceral love for him for the first time. I think I had always loved him, but my body and mind had just been too numb to fully feel it. Suddenly, I had come alive. My body is powerful and I brought life into this world in a sacred space of love and respect.

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My heart burst open again 2 years later when we welcomed our second son. He taught me different things, namely to trust my intuition, to surrender and to have faith. I wasn’t scared when I birthed him. He didn’t cry when he was born. He just looked around surveying the room calmly. The same midwife who had been present at his brother’s birth placed him in my arms. My man was so in awe that his whole body froze. The midwife had to tell him it was ok to touch his son. My best friend was right there with me. I called over all of my family members. That bedroom was so filled with love you could feel it. Love for this little baby who had come at the “wrong” time when we were broke and young and had just received an autism diagnosis for our oldest son. But, none of that mattered in that moment as our newborn baby looked around at all the people who loved him no matter what.

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I learned later that year that love isn’t all fuzzy warm butterflies and swelling heart sensations when my man was laid off from work, my Dad was laid off from work and both my parents and my own young little family lost our homes. The economy was crashing and decent work was scarce. I learned that love is using whatever you have, doing whatever you have to do, facing fears, trudging on together, it is pulling together as a family and each member doing whatever they can to help the others. Love is ferocious. Love does what it has to do. Love feeds its babies first and goes hungry sometimes. Love is my husband taking the first job he could find and going to do back-breaking manual labor overnight for $8.50/hr. Love is me waking up at 5am getting my special needs 3-year-old and my infant son ready for daycare so that I can make it to my 8am college class and then going to work until late that night fueled by coffee and the fact that I refuse to fail my children. Love is crying so hard my body shook when I pulled away from daycare knowing my babies should be with me, but I had to make money to feed them. Love is my Mama picking my boys up from daycare and taking good care of them until I finally finished working for the night. Love is my Daddy getting laid-off after busting his ass for 25 years and getting right back up and back to work. I learned love can still grow in a tiny, falling apart rental house. Love is sitting up all night with a sick baby in the ER when you can barely keep your eyes open and your head is throbbing. Love is coming home and writing that paper and waking up with my face on the keyboard. Love is making a better life for my kids. Love is the courage I see everyday working with survivors of domestic violence who refuse to be abused any longer and will do anything to keep themselves and their kids safe. Love is giving to those who have less and struggle more than I have. Love is the sweet church ladies who bring food to shelters feeding abused women and children, the homeless, and making sure all bellies in need are full. Love is being there for someone who feels alone.

Love is a verb. Love is a noun. It is a feeling and it is also something we put into action. If we only look for the feeling, it will elude us. If we put it into action, it can change the world. Love is what Jesus taught. Not judgment. Love. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” John 13:34

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