“Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.”
I am the kind of person that is often frustrated that there is no jazz-hands emoji. That is to say I’m an optimist.
The glass isn’t half-full. It’s all the way full if you think about it, because no one ever fills it to the rim anyway, that would be silly. And if it’s 3/4 of the way full we should just round up! Cheers!
Between my natural disposition and my training in PR, I am THE QUEEN of silver linings. This is not an entirely positive trait.
I had to learn how to sit with hurt – to just let things suck when they sucked. I learned that when I was sad or mad or hurting, I didn’t need a positive spin, I needed to let it be. This taught me that when other people are sad or mad or hurting, they don’t need silver linings. They need someone to sit down beside them and say, “Yeah, this sucks. It’s the worst. I’ll sit here with you, if you want. And if you want to be alone, I’ll just fold the laundry on my way out the door.” I am growing in this.
I am still an optimist, but I am no longer a rainbows-and-unicorns optimist; I ‘ve seen enough of life to know that things are not always good.
When I was in high school my optimism looked like **jazz hands**. Today, it looks like hope.
I believe unswervingly that there is always hope.
I believe that everything is redeemable. Everything.
The thing is, redemption almost never looks the way I think it will.
Isn’t that always the way? They looked for a king and got a baby. They looked for a conqueror and got a servant. They looked for a throne and got a cross. Redemption never looks like you think it will. It’s hard to see coming.
My life looks nothing like I imagined, in a lot of good ways, but also in some hard ways. I have no idea how things are going to turn out. I’ve given up guessing, because I’m not yet thirty and I have three kids and three books and I’ve moved 8 times so just WHATEVER. But I am not discouraged by the fact that I have no idea what’s going on, or by the fact that a whole lot of things look pretty darn UNREDEEMED. I am steadfast in hope because of this glorious mystery:
Christ in me, the hope of glory.
I have Christ in me. I can’t not live a redemption story. I could no sooner stop hoping than stop breathing. I can’t stop thinking that everything is going to turn out great, because I actually believe it.
I actually believe in crazy-grace and Jesus the death-conqueror. I actually believe that I could not extinguish the love, the providence, or the delivering, sustaining arms of God if I tried. I am His, and He won’t stop redeeming my life. (Oh my word, is this what it is to trust?)
Christ in me, the hope of glory. That phrase is tattooed on the front lobe of my brain these days, on the inside of my eyelids. That is where my hope lies. That’s the source of the spring of my relentless, grown-up optimism.
So maybe you are in the middle of surviving, and are running a little short on hope and optimism.
Maybe you thought redemption would look like healing, but you’re finding it looks more like purpose.
Maybe you thought it would look like saving that relationship, but you’re finding it looks more like beauty from ashes.
Maybe you thought it would look like a good job, just in the nick of time, but you’re finding it looks more like a tribe of people to carry you through.
Maybe you thought redemption would look like a baby, but you’re finding it looks more like the birth of compassion, a calling.
I don’t know what it’s going to look like like, but I know that it’s gonna be good. I know that some days will suck like leeches, but it’s going to be okay. I have Christ in me, his breath in my lungs, and he makes everything glorious.
Hope has become an accidental theme of my life. I chose Hope as the middle name for my daughter, not knowing the prophecy on my own tongue. She is Madeline the hope-giver, and she is glorious.
I am a grown-up optimist. I cannot have it any other way.
“As for me, I will always have hope, for He who promised is faithful.” (Psalm 71: 4 and Hebrews 10:23)
“We will probably be moving from Texas to Connecticut (God is really hilarious) when baby #2 is about 8 weeks old. I have never moved with one kid, much less a 3 year old and a newborn and I was thinking about who I knew who had moved with kids and naturally you came to mind. Do you have any advice you could give me about moving with kids? Anything would be helpful.”
I move a lot. If I’m counting every home, I’ve moved 8 times in 7 years. It comes with its own set of challenges, but mostly I don’t mind. (HAVEN’T minded. For the sake of my babies and my own tired heart, I’m ready to be finished for a bit.)
A major move is among one of the most stressful life events a person can experience (it ranks near the top along with the death of a loved one, divorce, pregnancy/new baby, and getting fired). Even a positive move for positive reasons is a total disruption of almost every category of life. Different jobs, different homes, different streets, different friends, different grocery stores, different hair dressers, different daily interactions. Add the stress of packing/unpacking, the inevitable financial hit, and the affect the process has on children, and WHOA.
No matter how wonderful the situation to which you’re headed, you must uproot – and uprooting is stressful.
I wrote a post called “Puppy Box” a few months ago, right after we arrived in Raleigh. It was about surviving life-change. The three things in that little post are what I would tell to anyone who is staring straight down the barrel into a major life change – move, divorce, death, pregnancy, et al. There is no quick fix, but I think that those are the start to a real one.
I am still personally pressing through that list, holding my own toes to the fire, doing the next right thing. I am cultivating a beautiful space, I am sharing with my safe friends, and I am finding routines that work for me.
As for the nuts and bolts of moving, I’ve learned a thing or two. Here’s how I minimize the chaos:
1. When in doubt, throw it out.
(Or give it away). Stuff costs. The more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to wash. And store. And care for. And fix. More clothes don’t help you do laundry less. They just help you put laundry off until you have THREE TIMES AS MUCH to do. I halved my wardrobe 2 moves ago and it changed my life. I got rid of our coffee table and it changed my life. I got rid of all but one set of glasses – because why? I am in a constant state of re-evaluating “need,” and moving is a perfect time to do it. You already have to lay hands on everything. If you don’t want to move it, consider how badly you really want to have it.
2. ZIP-LOCK BAGS.
What goes in them? Makeup, nail polish, 24956230946243 pieces of play kitchen food, silverware, Play Doh tubs, scarves – I put every sub-category of thing in its own bag and when I look down into my organized moving boxes my heart swells with joy. There’s nothing floating or rattling around in boxes. Everything shuts and stacks neatly. Be still my heart. Hefty makes Jumbo sized ones, 2.5 gallons or something amazing. They are the new heavens and the new earth.
3. Don’t undervalue comfort items.
In your overnight bag, pack your kids’ cup, plate, sheets, towel, soap, and nightlight. Of course you could do without them for a day or two, but in keeping as much familiarity as possible, you give those little hearts some tiny anchors. They’ll sleep better and transition better, and therefore so will you.
4. Use disposable dinnerware and/or eat take out for a week, or three.
The environment will understand. 50% of all your boxes will be kitchen boxes. This allows you to JUST DO IT. No “Will I need a colander this week? A knife?” Save the time and mental energy of categorizing and planning and agonizing – you have more important places to spend it.
5. Color-coordinate your boxes by room.
Get a few rolls of colored duct tape and slap a piece on your boxes so that all your helpers (YOU HAVE HELPERS, RIGHT?) don’t have to ask you where every. single. thing. goes. And you won’t have to re-move everything after they leave. Blue tape? Bedroom. White? Kitchen. GAME CHANGER.
6. Set up your bed before your help leaves.
You’re going to be exhausted, and you’re going to want to sleep in your own bed like you want to BREATHE. As the truck gets emptier and people start asking, “Is that all? Is there anything else?” Say, “Yes!” Pay them in pizza or ice cream or whatever you have, but assemble the frame while the help’s still good. At 11:00 at night when you walk into your room, sweaty and spent, the difference between a bed and a pile of beams and screws will be the difference between life and death.
7. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Early on, it’s easy to one-more-thing yourself to death. I get excited about nesting and settling in. I love unpacking. I love creating a beautiful space. I want to create Apartment Therapy-worthy bookshelves and hang ALL THE GALLERY WALLS. But that’s a recipe for burn-out. The kids’ and mine. I am learning to say, “That’s enough for today.” Eat dinner with your kids. Don’t unpack the plates while they munch, sit and look them in the eye. Play the Wii amidst the boxes. Get out of that chaotic house and go for walk. Turn off the music and sit in the quiet. Sleep. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
8. If you can get someone to watch the kids for a week, do it.
Send ‘em to Grandma’s. A week will sound like FOREVER. It will be hard, and you’ll miss them. But when they get to their new home, it will be a HOME. If you can, schedule it so they’re gone for the 2 days before moving day, the day of, and 2 days after. You’ll be able to move 12 times as fast, you’ll be able to pack up their rooms and toys without saving things for “the last minute.” You’ll be able to run errands – drop off the donations, clear the boxes, make their beds, GET GROCERIES. It will save them from the most chaotic part, and alleviate some of your mom-guilt for being busy and feeling like they’re in the way.
Right this second I am racking my brain, really searching my bank of experiences, to see if there is a better feeling than a good, hard laugh.
I can’t think of one.
Humor lightens everything – it lightens THE AIR. Laughter breaks the ice, binds us together, and comprises our very best memories. Our favorite days are the days we LAUGHED, hard.
When I am around my people it isn’t vulnerability or intensity or prayer that bubbles up, it’s silliness.
My best friends are my silly friends.
My favorite people are people who laugh easy.
My favorite authors make me laugh out loud.
My favorite parents are parents that laugh at and with their kids – that find the whole thing entertaining.
You can’t dislike a person who consistently makes you laugh, even if you disagree with every other thing they believe. Every woman I know wants to be with someone who makes her laugh. Aside from maybe kindness, that’s at the tippy top of the list.
If you are a teacher, a parent, a husband, a wife, a boss, a pastor, or a political figure, I humbly request MORE HUMOR. I’d like to see some wit, some silliness, maybe a dash of satire. I believe that humor is tragically, woefully, underused in business, church, therapy, academia and EVERY OTHER PLACE. It’s so effective.
Also, humor is a survival tool, straight up.
A few months ago, I was all battered and beat up by life. I was plum out of feelings and thoughts and words, and was wandering through my house like a zombie. I was the undead, incapable of reading, writing, doing dishes, returning texts, or caring that new episodes of Scandal went up on Netflix. It was bad.
One night, I was in need of a feeling. Any feeling. Anger, hope, compassion, conviction, accomplishment – any feeling would do. I turned to the vast, vast internet. I checked every single social media outlet that exists, and they all sucked. I thought,
“WHY IS THE INTERNET SO BORING TODAY?”
It was so boring that I opened up Pinterest. PINTEREST – the place of crafts and recipes and weight-loss scams disguised as before and after bathroom mirror selfies. I pulled up my boards to see if there was anything I’d saved for later that I could build or create. Working with my hands is therapy: no abstract thinking, just reasoning and sweating and figuring stuff out.
In case you aren’t familiar with Pinterest, it allows you to have up to 3 secret boards, where you can collect ideas and images that no one else can see.
My secret boards are called “Cornball,” “Profane,” and “Reclaiming my body.” They are filled with internet memes I’m embarrassed to love, profane pins that I can’t pin publicly because some people are sensitive about that and I get it, and fistpiration stuff/tattoo ideas – respectively. (I think that sums up a lot about me as a person. Related thought: if you are considering dating a person, check out their secret Pinterest boards.)
On this night of the living dead, I opened my “Cornball” board. And do you know what happened? I LAUGHED.
I laughed SO HARD. It started as a giggle, which surprised me, and before long, I was sitting alone in my kitchen BUSTING A GUT and wiping away the tears.
I think this image was the turning point:
The longer I looked at it the harder I laughed, until I got the “church giggles” and I could. not. stop.
Here is what I know: There is no hug, no prayer, no Bible verse, no hard rain that could have infused that kind of joy and hope back into my life.
I laughed and laughed, and with every stupid cat picture I remembered that I was a fun person. That I could laugh easy, at stupid things. I remembered what it felt like to be light, and to delight in things. Not deep life-is-beautiful-and-I-am-blessed delight. SILLY delight.
Laughter is sacred. It’s right up there with prayer.
A few weeks ago my friend Sara asked me kind of jokingly about how to survive being 24 and undergoing 15 major life transitions all at once. I COMPLETELY UNJOKINGLY said, “Pray a lot. Laugh and sleep as much as you can.”
Humor is undervalued and underused and sometimes it can save you. Laugh easy and often. It really is the best medicine.
If you do not yet have a corny, internet meme Pinterest board, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Start today. In the meantime, you can borrow a few of mine:
I am friends with the most amazing people. I don’t mean they are amazing. I mean they are THE MOST amazing. I don’t know how that happened, probably because it takes a certain caliber of person to put up with me.
In keeping company with these amazing souls, I have learned a thing or two about jealousy.
I know that when a naturally thin and unfairly beautiful friend plans a visit, I can drop 15 pounds in two months. I’ve done that.
I know that when a childless friend plans a surprise visit, I can clean, reorganize, and RE-PINTEREST my home in 48 hours. I’ve done that.
I know how it feels to want to quit everything. I have wanted to quit writing. Quit blogging. Quit shopping, quit cooking, quit eating, quit cleaning, quit marriage, quit parenting, and go live in a hut on the beach. Because if you’re going to feel like an embarrassment in EVERY SINGLE WAY A PERSON CAN FEEL LIKE AN EMBARRASSMENT, you might as well feel small in front of an ocean instead of in front of other people.
I know about that.
And I know about feeling guilty for resenting GOOD, AMAZING, WONDERFUL people just because your heart can’t handle their wonderfulness. I know how it feels to resent yourself for being so resentful.
Jealousy and insecurity go hand-in-hand. It’s very chicken-or-the-egg. Am I jealous because I’m insecure? Or am I insecure because I’m so jealous? The answer is, “Yes.”
They feed off of each other in a downward spiral, like a whirlpool, taking your confidence, joy, peace, friendships, and focus with them as they go. Like an airplane stealing tree limbs on the way down.
Jealousy is not something you can just live with. You can’t allow it to occupy a little room in your heart, like it’s paying rent, and try to get on with your life while it’s sitting there on the sofa bed you made up for it. Jealously will burn the place down. Jealousy starts a slow burn that will eventually leave your whole heart in dead, white ashes.
A few years ago I decided to quit jealousy.
And that’s what I did. I quit, cold turkey.
And you know what? It really wasn’t that hard.
Here are the four things I do when I battle with jealousy and survive:
The absolute fastest way to kill jealousy in its tracks is to look another person in the eye. It breaks the trance. Sit across the table from somebody, and listen to them talk. People don’t get to edit in real-time conversations, so when you talk to someone you normally interact with online, you’ll be amazed at how … NORMAL they sound. If you are jealous of a real life friend, go to her house more than once. You will notice that her baseboards aren’t always clean, and this will free you. She might even have ants. I will never forget the day that I walked into the house of a childless person and saw an ant. AN ANT! It was one of the most validating, freeing experiences of my entire life. It was like that ant said to me, “I do not condemn you, human. Be free.” When you look somebody in the eyes, you remember that real life doesn’t come with Instagram filters. You might even see traces of hurt, struggle, fear. You might see some of the weight that they carry. You might notice that even the slenderest of people have thigh-meat, and that thigh-meat might set you free.
Take their success before their success takes you. This is public relations 101; he who breaks the story, writes the story. He who makes the announcement, owns the announcement. When someone has a success, celebrate it like it’s yours. The more you practice their joy, the more you’ll feel their joy. Become a good celebrator. You’ll be surprised by how much you mean it.
Remember that your life is yours to live. Remember all the treasures with which YOU have been entrusted. Remember that that THING, or that TRAIT, or that LIFE that you’re so jealous of is not yours to live.
Amena Brown (who is a treasure and my favorite) said it this way in her poem How to Fly.
“You never carry dreams given to you by someone else.
You figure out which things you gotta check and protect,
And which dreams you hold close you to.
You let go of everything that was sold to you as true.
Too much hurt affects your wingspan.
You see flyin’ ain’t about provin’ to someone who is struggling to be somebody That you ‘gone be somebody too. Flying is about taking what you got, being who you are, And doing what you do.“
Know yourself, and dare to like yourself. This is audacious gratitude and it will change everything. Four years ago I realized I was carrying dreams given to me by someone else. I looked around, full of gratitude, and the most amazing thing happened: It dawned on me, like someone walking into a room and turning on the light, I like me. I think I’m smart. Maybe not book-smart, or street-smart, but some kind. I think I’m funny, funny enough that I’m not bored by my own thoughts, so that’s good. I think that I’m cute. I’m no physical specimen to behold or anything, but I think I’m cute and I’m okay with cute. Mostly, I’M ME. I am this whole collection of thoughts and experiences and values and beliefs and quirks and proclivities, and I LIKE ME. I put down all the dreams given to me by someone else, and I gave up trying to prove things to people who weren’t even watching. Gratitude turns your eyes up to The Giver, and you can’t behold The Giver of All Good Things and still be looking around feeling jealous about stuff.
When you love someone, jealousy gets edged out. The love presses it out, occupying the space it used to hold, filling all the gaps. When you love someone, you see their hurt and your heart grieves with them. When you love someone, you see their joy and your heart leaps with them. When you love someone, you want their best, their happiness. You actually DESIRE their growth and maturation – you are on the edge of your seat, breathless to see what their lives could hold. And you want to be on the sidelines, cheering them on, holding them up, because, LOVE. Love causes us to lose sight of insecurity, competition, lust, idolatry, and entitlement because it causes us to lose sight of ourselves.
Kick jealousy out. Stop taking his rent. Quit him.
Connect, celebrate, remember, love – and breathe the free air.
When she was three-years-old, it was hard for her to learn self-help skills that come more naturally to sighted children. Putting on socks. Using a fork. As a sighted person, it was hard for me to know how to teach her, and as a parent, it was hard to watch. If independence was my goal for her (it was and is), I had to insist she learn. I had to hold her toes to the fire a little bit. But I also had to acknowledge that it was hard.
Growing up is hard anyway; we ask children to try new things every.darn.day. ”How do you know you don’t like it if you don’t try?” My brain would implode if I was asked to try half as many new things as the average four-year-old. Do something that I haven’t mastered? BUT I MIGHT FAIL. That’s like asking me to play a team sport. I break out in hives thinking about it.
Growing up is hard. Learning to put on shoes is hard. And it was hard for Madeline.
A phrase I used every day, was
“You can do hard things.”
She wasn’t allowed to say “can’t.”
She could say, “I need help.”
She could say, “This is hard.”
She could say, “I am frustrated,” or “I am tired,” or “I am sad.”
But she couldn’t say “can’t,” and she couldn’t quit.
(I hold myself to the same standard of language and toughness. It’s always okay to say, “This is REALLY HARD. I am tired. I need help.” But I try not to say can’t. I try to do the next right thing. Gotta go through it. Inch by inch.)
For her entire life, I have been telling her, “You can.”
You can do hard things. And here’s the thing – she has.
I believe in the power of not quitting. I believe in the power of “You can do hard things.” Thomas Edison said, “If we all did the things we were capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” I believe that. I believe that there is a divine spark in each of us, and that that spark can ignite courage and perseverance and creativity and great compassion.
Here is what I hope for Madeline (and for you and me and everyone):
I hope that I am not the only one telling her that she can. I hope that a whole host of people rally around her and remind her that she has a divine spark in her, and that just because a thing is hard, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
I saw these two commercials this week, and both of them made me cry. I’m thankful for the little insurgence of messages like this in advertising. Alone, they don’t negate all of the terrible messages we get from the people that are trying to sell us things, but there is something inside of us that springs to life when it hears the truth. Like there is a sleeping cat in our hearts, all drowsy and curled up – but when it hears TRUTH, it shoots its head up, the way cats do, like they are spring-loaded, and it locks eyes with that truth. There’s a knowing, isn’t there? My inner cat wakes up in church a lot of times – I’m sitting there listening when he shoots up, and I think, “This thing I’m hearing right now is THE REAL DEAL.”
So I hope that when people – men and women alike – see commercials like these, their inner truth cats sit up. I hope that in the constant stream of promotion and consumerism and materialism and idolization of beauty, sex, pleasure, and comfort, these messages ring so true that they are downright startling.
ALL THAT TO SAY:
We can do hard things.
Wake up, little truth cats.
“Don’t be delicate. Be vast and brilliant.” -Shinedown
Yesterday morning I was sitting on a long sheet of white paper, waiting for my OBGYN to come in and let me hear my tiny baby’s heartbeat for the very first time, when I got a text message from my friend:
“I’m either having a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t call. Please pray for us this morning.”
Before I could respond, my doctor came in.
So I sat, listening to the strong, healthy heartbeat of the baby we didn’t plan – the baby we were trying not to have – while one of my best friends sat, hundreds of miles away, bleeding.
I scheduled an ultrasound to determine the sex of our third child; she went into surgery to have the ectopic pregnancy removed.
In that moment everything about motherhood seemed arbitrary and upside down and unfair.
Perhaps the most unfair thing of all is that my friend is not the exception. Neither are my 6 friends that have miscarried in the last couple of years. Neither are my 2 friends who are battling infertility. Neither are my 3 friends who are waiting for adoptions to go through. Neither is my friend who had an unplanned pregnancy, and just as she was getting through the fear and into the love, lost the baby. Neither are my dozens of friends who have heard the words, “It’s anencephaly.” ”It’s cerebral palsy.” ”It’s autism.”
Neither am I – even I who have easy pregnancies, easy deliveries, and healthy babies.
Two unplanned pregnancies: two rounds of fear, and “I’m not ready,” and “My life will never be the same.” And one veryhard day when a doctor told me, “There is no treatment; she will never see like you and I can see.”
Thinking about it all, I went back and re-read a chapter of Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet, called “Eight for Eight.” It is all I’ve been able to think about for the last twenty four hours.
Motherhood is the most beautiful, transformative, sacred thing I’ve ever done. I would choose it again every single time, forever. But some days – it sure does hurt.
“…And then I realize that as much as I want my friend Jenny’s abs, she wants a baby, and we’re all yearning for something.
When I take a step back, I’m surprised to realize that the topic of pregnancy and birth and mothering, for every single one of us, has been touched with pain or just a shade of heartache. The odds of that surprise me. Eight women, and eight stories of waiting or yearning, of brokenness mixed in with deep delight. If we’re a microcosm, is this how it is? We’re eight normal women, if normal exists in this or any realm. And one by one, eight for eight, one or another aspect of motherhood has pricked us and made us bleed.
…As for my dear friends and me, our hearts are full, of course, but also a little tender, bruised, tired. Motherhood, and the journey towards it, has battered us a little bit, each in our own ways. From ambivalence to longing to loss, from the anger that our bodies won’t do what we want them to, to the consuming, crushing love for a baby that is just hanging on…Motherhood laughed at our plans, twisted up our expectations, and gave them back to us upside down, covered with blood and stretch marks and Goldfish cracker paste.
We are very thankful, and we adore our children and one another’s children. But as much as it’s beautiful, the process is a little harrowing. Who knew we could want something so badly and then not be able to just wrestle it into existence? Who knew we could want to provide something so desperately for our children, to heal and protect them, but find ourselves profoundly unable? The stakes have gone up in our lives, the way they do, it seems, every time you decide to love something.”
Surviving parenthood is simple.
Why do people think it’s so difficult?
Take if from me, if you do this one thing, you will be the most prepared, peaceful, wise, Zen parent alive. Here it is:
I’ll give you a quick 10 to get you started.
The Floor: Is it navigable? Yes = clean. No? Put all toys in a hamper and shove said hamper into the nearest room with a door that closes. Bam, clean.
The Dishes: Can you see the dirty dishes over the horizon of the sink? Are they “breaking The Plane?” No = clean. Yes? Rearrange the dirty dishes so that they are no longer breaking the plane. Bam, clean.
The Fridge: Can you smell it? No = clean. Yes? Does the smell offend you? Throw away all Tupperwares and sippy cups. Do not open them, as curiosity might actually kill the cat here. Wipe down with Clorox wipes. Bam, clean.
Your Laundry: Is there a visible spill/stain? No = clean. Yes? Can you scrape it off with your fingernail? Can you dilute it with a wet washcloth? Yes = clean. No? Can you smell it from 2 feet away (which is likely the closest you’ll come to another human)? No = clean. Yes? Just wear the jeans again. Just ooonnneee more time.
The Children’s Laundry: Do they have pants? Yes = clean. No? Do they really NEED pants today? No = clean. Yes? Go swimming instead. Bam, clean.
Your Car: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
2. Redefine “productive.”
Did you do any 3 of the following?
Shower, brush your teeth, change into different pajamas, leave the house, get the mail, make a phone call, reply to an email, feed yourself real actual food, consider exercising.
Yes = productive. No? Life is hard, try again tomorrow.*
*In seriousness, parenting is inch by inch, moment by moment, Chinese takeout by Chinese takeout. If you nourished the body, mind, and soul of a small, helpless person that has been entrusted to your care, if you taught them about love, and that the world is a safe place for them because YOU are a safe place for them, if you played and cooed and held and disciplined and kissed and nurtured a little heart – you did a great big thing. You are shaping healthy humans. You are pouring LOVE into the world, because you are pouring LOVE into another person. And that is no small thing. Some days it will cost all you have, and that’s okay. Spend it. Pay it. And don’t think twice about the dishes.
3. Redefine “dressed.”
Men, are you wearing pants? If so, you are dressed! Women, are your breasts covered? Yes = you are dressed! No? Are you breastfeeding? Yes = dressed! No? Put something on, out of the hamper is fine. Bam, dressed.
4. Redefine “date.”
You didn’t know these were dates, but they are:
Grocery shopping, watching The Office on Netflix while eating dinner leftovers at 11:30 pm, taking the kids for a walk, holding hands while driving and listening to the Frozen soundtrack, sitting beside each other in church while the kids are in the nursery for a WHOLE GLORIOUS HOUR.
5. Redefine “privacy.”
The last time I was in the bathroom for any reason and the door was closed was 2007. Can your neighbors see you? No = Congratulations, you’ve achieved “privacy.” Yes? Ces’t la vie.
6. Redefine “dignity.”
Imagine your child is throwing a holy terror fit because he is possessed by the kind of demon that only comes out by prayer and fasting. Imagine he is screaming, kicking, gagging, sweating, and very, very red. Now, imagine that you are in Barnes & Noble, a traditionally quiet establishment. Imagine that you are dragging your demon out by his arm, at great risk to his tiny shoulder socket, as he flails/gags/kicks/screams behind you. Imagine that you are visibly sweating through your clothing, and that your mommy muffin-top is poked out because you have another baby on your hip. The small baby has his arm shoved down between your breasts, exposing your bra to the patrons of Barnes & Noble. Don’t worry, EVERYONE IS LOOKING. Imagine that as you drag your noisy, paralyzed demon, that you can hear the other patrons talking amongst themselves about you and your “parenting style,” and that their opinions are neither kind nor empathetic. Now – are you embarrassed by this? Yes? Your pride will be the death of you. No? Congratulations, you have achieved Zen parenting. Drag that demon out as calmly as Linus dragging his blue blanket. Carry on, warrior.
7. Redefine “dinner.”
You didn’t know the following things were dinner but they are:
A packet of peanut butter crackers and a glass of milk, cereal, assorted nuts, “pizza” (hotdog buns topped with pasta sauce and shredded cheddar cheese in the toaster oven), baby carrots and pickles, a milkshake from Sonic, a generous helping of Wheat Thins, Pop-tarts, granola bars and bananas.
8. Redefine “sleep.”
Here is a simple equation to help you determine whether or not you are receiving enough sleep:
Begin with your number of children.
Raise to the 4th power.
Divide by the number of pets in your home.
Multiply by zero.
Are you getting at least one (non-consecutive) hour of sleep? Yes = rested. No? Feign serious injury, get admitted to the hospital, and sleep for several uninterrupted hours. Pay your exorbitant medical bills and get back to your regularly scheduled programming.
9. Redefine “worth.”
You probably thought that you were very enlightened and mature and deep, and didn’t measure your worth by your home, appearance, productivity, job, or general likeability and good-naturedness. But you did. Even the Buddha, the Dali Lama, Mother Teresa, and the Virgin Mary did. When you have children you are forced to look that reality in the face, and are confronted with what you’re going to do about it. Here is the answer: You must RECKON WITH AND APPROPRIATE the reality that your worth is not in any of those things. Your worth is in you because you are a person. Because you have life and breath in you. Because you were created in the image of God and are loved by Him (scandalous!). There is no other measure – there could be no lesser measure, and there could be no greater one.
It’s strange that people without children so often feel that their lives are less complete because they haven’t experienced parenthood. There are so many posts out there saying, “You matter too!” And at the exact same time, on stage left, parents feel like their lives aren’t worth as much because all they do is raise children. There are so many posts saying “You matter, too!”
This is evidence that finding your worth anywhere except for inside of your given-to-you-by-your-Creator-life, is hollow. You can take a deep breath – there’s nothing to earn and nothing to prove. You are lovely, valuable, enough.
10. Redefine “love.”
I don’t know how it is true that you can love fully before kids, and then add more fullness when you have them. I don’t understand the math of heaven, adding fullness to fullness and growing it. I know that people that do not have children love fully and sacrificially and that their insides twist and flip inside out and they have WHOLE, COMPLETE, INFINITE LOVE. I know that. I also know that I have never loved anything on this planet like I love my children. I can’t figure out how that works, but I believe that it’s true. Dear mother, you will have to redefine love. It might not be right away. It might not be in the hospital. You might not cry when you hold that new baby that looks like a stranger to you. But sometime, maybe a week or two in, you will be rocking and soothing in the middle of the night and you will not want to stop. You SHOULD want to stop, to go back to sleep, but you won’t. You will want to sit and stare at her forever. You will never want to blink again. You will feel fierce and angry at anyone who would ever leave a baby – hurt a baby, neglect or abuse a baby. Something in you will break like a dam and you will think, “OH. THIS IS MOTHER-LOVE.” And you will never, ever, ever, ever be the same again. I cannot explain that. I just know that it is. The love will break you. You will hurt more, worry more, cry more, despair more. You will want more, yearn more, scratch and claw more, PRAY MORE. You will consider the possibility of God more. I do not know the mechanics of this. How could love that is already maxed out, grow? But whatever you think love is, hold on tight. Because you’re about to be flooded and drowned and smashed and buried in love. And it is good.
We’re going on a Lion Hunt! (We’re going on a lion hunt!) We’re not scared! (We’re not scared!) Look what’s up ahead! Tall grass! Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go around it. Gotta go through it.
Swish, swish, swish.
“Going on a Lion Hunt” was always a favorite of mine – rhythmic, suspenseful and fun. But now, as an adult, it is also my mantra: what I whisper to myself when I feel the tendrils of despair start to curl around my heart.
All of my favorite people have been through some stuff – terrible, awful, heartbreaking stuff. I’m proved right every time I meet a new person whom I instantly like; the more I get to know them, the more I learn about the stuffthey’ve been through: chronic illnesses, serious depression, betrayals, affairs, ugly divorces, deaths of children, addiction, cancer.
I like them, I’ve learned, because those terrible circumstances create something beautiful inside of us. Something precious is forged in our hearts as we walk through the difficult, painful places. The gauntlet strips off pretension, pride, insincerity, piousness, and anything false. Underneath we find gentleness, humility, wisdom, compassion, bravery, and indomitable strength. Refined by fire, the Bible calls it, burning off the dross, leaving the gold.
There are no shortcuts to that beautiful, beautiful countenance. You have to go through some stuff to get there.
Just like there is no shortcut to a baby; you have to go through labor, and morning sickness.
Just like there is no shortcut to a Thanksgiving table full of well-adjusted grown-up children; you have to go through the Terrible 2′s.
There is no shortcut to seasoned love; you have to go through the fights – all of them – no giving up.
There is no shortcut to forgiveness; you have to feel the pain to get to the other side.
There is no shortcut to health; you have to trudge through the pain, the meds, the therapy.
There is no shortcut to healing, to moving on, after a catastrophic loss; you just have to keep walking through.
When it comes to the tough stuff of life, the best way out is always through.
So if this season of life seems so hard you can’t breathe, know that while you might come out weary, broken, a little worse for the wear, you’ll shine. Refined, like gold. Take a deep, raggedy breath, say a prayer, and steel yourself.
Because you can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it. You gotta go through it.
I KNOW, I KNOW.
I know what they’re getting at. They’re getting at living intentionally, taking risks, investing in a preferred future. They’re getting at tapping into passions, and living a life of courage and adventure. I believe in all that with my whole heart – so much.
But until the larger population is capable of not applying a cliché that is true sometimes, ALL THE TIME, we have to be careful about the sweeping advice we’re peddling. “Life is too short not to do what you love” is confusing and hurtful to people who just aren’t there yet.
Here’s a litmus test: would I tell this to someone living in the third world? Would I give this advice to a young man living in a Calcutta slum? What exactly is he supposed to do with that pearl? I think (having never personally lived that reality) that if he even entertained such a notion, he’d probably think, “You’re telling ME that life is short?” He might say, “You know what I love? My family. School. The stray dog that lives around here. Eating.”
We spend all this time telling people that fulfillment doesn’t come from their jobs. “Stop trying to climb the corporate ladder,” we say. Then we turn around and in the same breath tell them that if they turned their passions into jobs and lifestyles, they would be happy.
But satisfaction isn’t in your passion-oriented job either. It’s not in a creative-career. It’s not in a ministry-career, a giving-career, or a family/parenting-career. It’s not in any career at all.
We look through a Humans of New York feed, and applaud the blue-collar workers who are sorting linens and scouring industrial kitchens. We say that they are providing for their families, doing a noble and honorable thing. Then we turn around and tell people in the same position that they should consider what they’re passionate about.
I am confident that if someone suggested to a migrant worker that he consider what he’s passionate about, they might get an earful. So here is my new personal rule of thumb, if I wouldn’t say it to a boy in a slum in India, I think twice before saying it to a single mom, or a dad working at Starbucks.
Their lives are very, very different, but the underlying struggle is the same: they are surviving.
The truth is, must-have-them-to-eat jobs often keep us from doing things we’d rather be doing. I’m not talking about golf or Netflix. I’m talking about spending time with your spouse, or attending church. Things like writing, drawing, and dreaming. Sometimes jobs take up mental and emotional energy, leaving you unable to spend that limited resource in other, “passion-y” places.
Sometimes parenting takes up that energy. Sometimes poverty does. Sometimes divorce does. Sometimes grief does.
Our privileged cultureis guilty of telling people that if this is true for them, they’re doing something wrong. We are guilty of telling people that if they just TAPPED INTO THEIR PASSION, everything would be better.
Listen – it’s easy for me to say, right? I mean, writing is my job. That happened last year. For the first time ever, I got paid to write something. I started blogging, and after a few years of hard work for free, Jesus intervened and made everyone very exasperated with TEENAGERS and very interested in what I had to say to them (which, as it turns out, is the same stuff I would say to everyone).
But I am not “doing what I love,” in the way that a lot of people think about “doing what they love.”
I am doing some things I love, sometimes.
The reason I often write about finding joy in rituals – in small, daily ways – is because that is the way that I experience joy. The way that I experience God. I get to write, that’s true. But I get to write at midnight when my kids go to sleep, and I drink a probably-unhealthy amount of coffee, and I almost never do laundry. I find JOY in my writing. I am PASSIONATE about it, gifted to do it, and I am among the privileged, no doubt. But most days, I also find joy in unnecessarily indulgent hand soap. Joy in morning walks, joy in my (third) jade plant that I have not yet killed.
I am not joyful because of my writing career. I am not joyful because of my beautiful kids. I feel blessed and flattened and astonished at those things often, but I am not living in joy because I’m “doing what I love.”
I am joyful because I am thankful.
I am joyful because I am at peace.
I am joyful because of Christ.
Here is what I have to say to those among us that are not “doing what they love.”
If you aren’t to the “thriving” place yet, that’s okay. If you are just “surviving,” that’s okay. You aren’t doing anything wrong. You have not missed your boat. You are not less inspirational, less mature, less “together.” You are not less-than. You have as much wisdom to offer. As much life in you. As much story to tell.
You are muscling through. You are doing the hard work of living. You know something of grit and self-discipline, and what it means to be sustained through something that is NOT WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE CHOSEN.
If you are just surviving, take away the “just.” You are SURVIVING. You are being carried. You are being sustained. You have arms to carry you, wings to cover you. You are hemmed in, behind and before.
You are complete and whole and significant.
And I would change those inspirational pins to say,
“Life is too short not to find one little something that you love.”
Thriving isn’t about finding passion, it’s about finding joy.
The two are related – passion brings divine joy, no doubt. But so does gratitude. So does nature. So does peace. (Anne Lamott says, “Peace is joy at rest.” I love that.)
Dear one that is surviving,
I hope that you find one little something that you love. A ritual. Something that marks your day. Your made-bed. Your little plant. The game you play with your son on the way to school. Your evening tea. Your church.
I hope that, as you practice finding joy there, in that thing, you will come to laugh easier. That gratitude will increase, slowly, steadily, blooming like a flower in your chest. I pray that after many months, years, or decades of SURVIVING, one day you will pick up your head and gasp! I pray that you will see a life peppered with laughter, and gratitude, and peace. And that you will see that you transitioned to thriving after all. Maybe without even knowing it.
Are you surviving or thriving or both?
Do you ever feel less-than because you are “just surviving?”
What does “thriving” look like to you?
How do you balance pursuing your passions and still doing things you don’t love?