Category Archives: work

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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Always Struggling? What God is Teaching Me About Success and Humilty

Do you ever feel like the struggle is just all too real and all too constant? “What am I doing wrong here?!” you may ask yourself. Been there. Still there. Where did we get this message from the world and start buying it that success = ease and plenty? That we should be embarrassed by our struggles and seek to portray ourselves as “winners” rather than just struggling people saved by the grace of God?

In the course of living my life as a working professional and mama to two boys with special needs, I have found that in spite of my best efforts and many prayers, feeling like I have it “together” typically only lasts for a few hours here and there scattered among days that are exhausting, filled with challenging behavior and sleep deprivation that requires constant patience and “therapy mom” mode, then having to go into work acting like I’m the “with it” professional who can garner respect and making sure all of the paperwork for my son’s therapies and insurance is completed in a timely manner. I’m almost always at least mildly struggling. I’m always coming up short. I am not perfect. The pictures I post on social media don’t show my struggles. I’d really rather not be lookin’ all busted in my pictures, but you should see me as I walk my kids into school in the morning lookin’ a hot mess (I go home and get ready for work after I drop them off). I definitely do not have it together. One bit. Just doin’ the best I can over here.

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 I want you to know that YOU ARE NOT FAILING AT LIFE JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE STRUGGLING THROUGH LIFE.  When did struggle become shameful? There is so much freedom in hearing a friend say “me too” and realizing you aren’t the only person going through it. I find comfort in God’s Word. God never promised us that we would be free from struggle or weakness, only that He would never leave or forsake us in it. The world’s image of “winning” was NEVER the standard on which we are meant to judge our “success.” He said we should boast in our weaknesses, that His strength is made perfect in weakness.” I actually hate the word “success” because it brings to mind all of the worldly definitions of  “winning” and “success” being financial prosperity, vacations, beauty, health, lack of struggle and strife and also how  many “successful” people look down on those who are “unsuccessful” as if the advantages they have had in life had nothing to do with their “success” as they claim the glory for themselves rather than giving full glory to God in utter humility for every single blessing received from innate intelligence to being born to a loving family to having good looks to being able-bodied and able-minded.

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This idea that lack of struggle = “success” is so dangerous and discouraging. It isn’t from God or at least what I’ve read in the Bible. Sure, sometimes we bring struggle upon ourselves by acting like little kids who throw caution to the wind and do whatever we want regardless of it being wrong (like a little kid who eats all of the Halloween candy in one sitting and then spends the night throwing up asking “why am I so sick mama?” because all that sugar at once made them sick.)  We can’t blame God when we just act dumb or lazy, go against His advice and knowingly YOLO it. But, I’m not talking about messing up on purpose. I’m talking about doing the best you can, looking to God for guidance every day, and still struggling through life. That doesn’t mean we are doing life wrong or that we are just “unsuccessful” or “ineffective” losers. Take heart. Be encouraged.

Here is what God’s word actually says about suffering and struggle:

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV   

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV 

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Romans 5:3-5 ESV 

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Psalm 23:1-6 ESV 

A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. …

Luke 18:9-14 ESV     

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ …

John 1:5 ESV

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Romans 8:1 ESV 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:13 ESV 

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

James 1:2 ESV   

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

Hebrews 13:1-25 ESV 

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” …

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

1 Corinthians 2:1-16 ESV     

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. …

 

Matthew 7:1-2 ESV 

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Exodus 14:14 ESV 

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Romans 14:10-13 ESV 

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

Psalm 71:20-21 ESV 

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.

1 Peter 5:10 ESV    

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

2 Corinthians 1:9 ESV 

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Acts 14:21-22 ESV    

When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV      

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Romans 5:8 ESV    

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 8:18 ESV          

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

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I find it hard to hold my head high with my struggles sometimes, but maybe that’s the point. Thank you God, for humbling me daily and bringing me to my knees so that I can go to work and meet my clients who I counsel in a place of my own suffering and humility that I may never make the mistake of implying that life is about “lost” versus “found” and “successful” versus “unsuccessful” people. I am lost and found daily. I am both successful and unsuccessful daily. Thank you Jesus for always finding me and giving me what I need rather than what I want as I wing it through this life…

P.s. I know I whine more than I should, please forgive me and keep giving me what I need, not what I want. Also, if you could make my kids behave better and give me more patience that would be much appreciated. 😉

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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.

failure-is-not-an-option

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.

Just Say “NO”: Underwhelming Our Family Schedule

“Jen, don’t feel like you have to be on all the committees for the PTO and all the other junk people will pressure you into when you have kids. The best thing you will ever learn as a mom is how to just say NO.

I remember my Mama giving me this nugget of wisdom when I was just a little girl and she was slaving away baking all this stuff for some PTO bake sale she had somehow gotten stuck baking the majority of the treats for after working all day at her job. I tucked away that little nugget of wisdom and thankfully remembered it when I had my own children and all kinds of requests coming at me to “get involved” “make a difference” “sign up!”

aintnobodygottime

For a long time, I thought I had depression or anxiety. Turns out, I didn’t. I just had an overwhelmed schedule that was underwhelming my spirit. I felt dead inside and constantly “on high alert” scrambling, trying to be on time, to get everything on my list done, to achieve at work, at home, and anywhere else I could. Then, I started having migraines and feeling like I had no motivation. I burnt out. I got to the point where I threw my hands up and just said “NO! Living like this is not really living!” and I quit one of my three part-time jobs, stopped feeling like I had to bake cupcakes for the class party (those Publix cupcakes are really pretty decent) or had to go with my kids as a volunteer on every single class field trip , realized my 4-year-old would survive and thrive without the team sports I signed him up for even though he didn’t ask me to, and I didn’t have to sign up for everything there is in terms of church service or volunteer stuff in the community, etc.  I basically just quit.

yup-i-freakin-quit

I quit everything other than my job, my family, and the things I actually enjoyed. I zoomed out and realized that first things first really is a good philosophy. I have to take care of me first, my family second, and if there is anything left over, then sure I’ll let that overflow and help out somewhere. But, right now there isn’t any overflow. Or very little. I do lead a women’s group on Sunday mornings, but that is because meeting with other women and talking about Jesus is something that I love doing, not something I have to grit my teeth through. I am tired of gritting my teeth through life. Instead, I vow to enjoy life and let my children see me doing it.

My Mama’s wise advice has become my mantra. It helps me feel less guilty about having no desire to “get involved” and “sign up!” due to the fact that I feel like most days I can barely keep my head above water trying to raise two young children (one with special needs), work 2 jobs, make some half-hearted attempt to cook and keep my house semi-clean, and spend some romantic time with my husband at the end of the day trying to keep our marriage from falling into complacency or roommate status. Ain’t nobody got time for nothin’ else! At least not this mama!

I think we all owe it to ourselves and our kids to make a life that we actually enjoy living rather than being “Yes girls” who are so pressured into service (either through our own internal chatter or other people’s requests) we feel like the life is being sucked out of us and there is no time in our schedule to breathe or actually enjoy mothering and living. 

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I love my kids. They bring so much joy to my heart. I love playing outside with them in the sweet bliss of knowing I have NOTHING on my schedule. No school, sports, church, or extended family events on my calendar that day. My kids have expressed zero desire to sign up for sports, thank you Jesus! They would rather play with each other out in the yard than get together with a big group of kids or a team. I certainly don’t want to sit around watching them practice and ferrying them around in Mom’s taxi service from one activity to another. I am thankful that my boys love free play and free time outside as much as I do. We are a spontaneous and unscheduled family because I refuse to do things just because we “should” do them.  One day if they really, really, really want to play sports, I will allow it and figure out some kind of carpool co-op, but today I relish the fact that my kids are so much like me and I will not push them to “fit in” and do team sports or anything else that doesn’t bring them joy. We would rather go swim, run around the yard, go find a cool place to hike, or go paint some pottery together at INK. That’s just us. I love us.

We love our church family and I am so thankful they have made my son feel welcome even with the challenges that go with his special needs. Our whole family looks forward to going every Sunday morning and worshiping, learning more about Jesus, etc. But I’m just gonna go ahead and say. Wednesday church isn’t for our family. We love ya’ll, no hard feelings, but it just isn’t for us.  1) It’s too much for me because I run my butt off all day at work for 8 hours helping women and kids in crisis at a shelter and I have to go back and do it all again Thursday nights. Call me selfish, but I want to sit down and chill with MY kids when I get home on Wednesdays. I miss my kids and my husband. I want to sit around my dinner table and talk with them in an unrushed manner. I want to go hike down to the lake and talk to my kids about their days. I want to sit my butt down and breathe. I need a slower pace after a hectic day. I just don’t have anything left in my heart to give. I can dig deep and fill in in the nursery if there is an emergency and I’m really, really needed because there will be 20 kids unattended if I don’t. But I really just want to be home. Maybe that’s bad. But it’s me. It’s honest. 2) My kids feel the exact same way. They are tired and just want to go home after going to school and being babysat by Grandma until I finally get off work at 5:30. Yes, I could rush them through Taco Bell drive-thru and tell them to cram it down their throats because we HAVE to go to Wednesday church and then listen to them be grumpy and irritated because they really just want to go home and rest. But, instead, I would rather just go home and take my time making healthy food while they play outside or just sit down and play in a relaxed state because they are home where they want to be.

Since my kids and I are on the same wavelength, we are just going to do what is right for us and hope no one judges.  Busy mamas, if even God Himself rested on the 7th day, shouldn’t we get some rest as well? Is all this stuff we do really necessary? Thank you Lysa TerKeurst for this wisdom (read “The Best Yes” if you want to go deeper on this issue). My heart soars when it doesn’t feel constricted with external demands and pressures.

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Maybe you are a “go, go, go” family. That’s ok. I don’t judge. Maybe that works for you and your kids. All I ask is that you understand and don’t judge my decision to underwhelm my schedule so that our family of introverts who need peace and quiet can enjoy our lives. It is not due to laziness or lack of ____________. It is what we truly need in this season.

Maybe you are where I once was and feel like your schedule is so overwhelming you can’t breathe. I assure you, saying “no” doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a devoted mama, it doesn’t mean you are selfish. It just means you are human, you can’t do it all, this isn’t the right season for tons of service (other than to your young kids and family) and maybe you want some time to spend with your kids that doesn’t involve the words “Hurry up! We are gonna be late!” Remember, saying “no” makes way for you to say “yes” to the good things, the things God whispers in your heart for you to do. Things like walking leisurely to the lake talking about Jesus with my kids.

We all just have to pray and listen and intentionally underwhelm our schedules in ways that work for us so that God can overwhelm our hearts with His loving presence and we can feel Him nudging us towards our “best yes” assignments, the things that we are passionate about and do bring us joy.

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We mamas (and daddys) are all just winging it through parenthood, juggling so many balls. Sometimes its ok to just intentionally drop the ones that don’t bring us joy, that don’t bring our kids joy so that we can juggle the ones that really matter with a confident smile on our face knowing “we got this” rather than a look of terror that all of the balls may drop at any moment. Can I get an amen? 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My boys, my motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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