Addiction and Grace

I’ve learned that the beauty of setting goals isn’t because there is satisfaction found when they are met, but that they serve as a litmus test to a self-proposed idea.

I set out with a goal to publish two posts a week. In the past, I blogged several times a week with ease so doing so twice truly felt like a reasonable and attainable goal. Boy, was I wrong.

The past two weeks I have had a myriad of posts writing themselves in my head and no chunk of time to bring them to life. Well… let me rephrase that. We make time for what’s important, right? Homeschooling two has felt important. Saying yes to spontaneous travel has felt important. Opening our home to a baby in-between guardians has felt important. Helping my mom and friends design their new or renovated homes has felt important. Finding unexpected quiet and taking naps has felt important.

In the movie, Perks of Being a Wallflower Charlie writes letters which help him navigate his way toward discovery and healing. In the end of the movie he writes, “I don’t know if I will have the time to write any more letters because I might be too busy trying to participate.” I thought of that line this week and on my day’s to-do list I marked out “write blog post” and replaced it with “choose peace.”

Addiction runs in my family. I told a girlfriend four or five years ago that I was grateful addiction hadn’t shown up in my life. She quickly and confidently replied, “Yes it has. You’re addicted to productivity.”

Earlier this year, Corey and I met with a man whooooo… let’s call a prophet. (If you know me you know who I’m talking about because I talk about him so much. He has significantly affected the trajectory of my life and I will forever be grateful for him.) He was sitting juxtaposed in our cushiony swivel chair, dressed in pressed khakis, a collared shirt and sweater when he asked me this: “When did you become addicted to being anxious?”

“When my brother died,” I quickly replied.

When tragedy hits damage is left in its wake. For me, I believed that if I just kept a tight enough grasp on this wild world maybe just maybe nothing bad would have to happen again. Or if it did, nothing bad would happen as a result of something I did or didn’t do.

The thing about thinking you’re in control of something you’re not in control of is that it leaves you feeling really empty. And tired.

I’ve surrendered a lot of things this year in order to focus on my addiction. This week I realized old habits die hard. Here I was again, setting a benchmark and ending each day never quite making it. Lots of people struggle with not feeling as if they are enough. I have a weird abundance of self-confidence so that’s never been an issue for me. Oh no… mine is I’m never doing enough.

It was in the middle of Home Depot, the girls running around all of the Halloween decorations, bringing all the scary mannequins to life, when it hit me like a Mack truck. Everything surrounding me these days are things I love. Why then do I feel so anxious? I would be a perfect candidate for medicine and as I’ve written here before I’m not opposed to it. But, I wonder what would happen if when I felt anxious to instead recognize it, normalize it and choose peace. A simple decision of the mind. With that I knew I needed to make things easier for myself and let a few things go. My goal and desire to write here regularly is on that list.

Grace upon grace upon grace. For you, for me, for all of us.

/ / /

To make this the longest post ever written here I wanted to also share (rather timidly) something I wrote last week. The Nashville Statement left me in tears. I imagine there’s nothing that makes the Enemy happier than seeing Christians argue. The Nashville Statement caused an influx of that. The gospel – yet again – lost and forgotten in the chaos.

We’ve done dozens of fertility treatments and have done IVF once. For the first four years of our marriage we used birth control pills. Even with unexplained infertility we have managed to control the growth of our family. If anyone deserves a shiny website with 14 articles about what the Bible says about people who play God in their own lives it’s me.

What I wrote and sent to friends is below. I hope it’s not misunderstood. I just believe with all of my being that when we call out specific sins in a mob-like fashion we are really missing the point.

/ / /

I was a sophomore in high school clothed in quintessential teenage angst, both bold and confident and confused and insecure. At night, post-soccer practice and homework, I did one of two things: I talked on the phone until well past midnight about all existing (or manufactured) high school drama or I read my Bible. I did both with precision. If I was going to engulf myself into all that went down that day in the hallways I was going to know every juicy detail. If I was going to read my Bible I was going to do it with highlighters and note-taking. I was determined to find myself in either the world or in God. I hadn’t yet learned they were indivisible. 

Spring break found me and six of my best friends on our way to Florida, our cars loaded with extra-large suitcases, as many bathing suits as there were days, Case Logic cases mixed with Notorious B.I.G., Bruce Springsteen, 311 and Tim McGraw, and hidden packs of cigarettes and fake I.D.s.

One day a few of us went on a mid-day walk on the beach. We were possibly a few beers in and most certainly several cigarettes down. I saw him up ahead and I gasped. Was it possible to quickly turn around without being obvious? Just then he looked up and saw me, too.

Me: “Hi! So good to see you!”
Him: “You, too…. woh…” [dramatic coughing] “Have you been smoking?”
Me: “Oh um, yeah no… no… yeah…”
Him: [eye roll and awkward laugh]
Me: “Well, good to see you!”

I was mortified. Embarrassed. Shamed. 

I first met him in 1993. He was a youth pastor and I was a seventh grader.

After school on Wednesdays, my best friend, Valerie, and I would walk down to the Taco Bell at the bottom of the hill and work on our homework for two hours while we waited for her mom to pick us up. She would take us to youth group at the church down the street. We went for the extra hours of freedom from our parents. What I didn’t expect to find was God.

At the time, church was something my family visited only for weddings and funerals. I spent countless hours staring up at my ceiling asking questions. God, are you really real? I felt a presence outside of myself in those moments. I’ve since experienced multiple crisis of faith, yet when I return to those moments as a tween seeking, I find security again knowing that I wasn’t alone. I know less and less these days it seems, but that I hold close to my heart with the utmost confidence.

At that time, I knew nothing about the Bible. I could not have even shared common stories like Noah’s Ark or David and Goliath with any amount of accuracy. I once had a neighbor who asked me if I was saved and I replied, “Uhhhh… yeah. Duh.” I had no idea what she was talking about.

Wednesday night church gave me a launch pad to start reading my Bible on my own at home. I had a quick and easy belief in God. But my understanding of my role in all of the details left me overwhelmed and confused. I kept asking Him questions and I kept reading and then Valerie and I spent the night with a friend whose mom left us for the night so she could spend the night with her boyfriend. Valerie’s moral compass was significantly larger than ours so she sat and watched while we sipped liquor and used matches to light-up half smoked cigarettes left in the ashtray.

Wednesday night youth group turned into multiple nights a week at the church playing basketball, working out, scouting out new boyfriends. And on the weekends, I would sneak out and light up half smoked cigarettes with all of my other rowdy friends. We were so rebellious. And cool. Obviously. 

High school arrived and with it liquor and cigarettes presented themselves around every corner. I liked all that came with it before and during. The after, however, would inevitably arrive on Sunday nights to find me and guilt staring up at the ceiling asking God questions. God, are you really real?

I had what was in front of me and I had what was inside of me and I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile the two.

By tenth grade my curiosity of God paired with my natural tilt to chase after all that was opposite of Him reached its breaking point. Like a clumsy and passive break-up, I decided church was stupid. I slid my Bible under my bed and I chose to distract myself from my decision with any and everything that was in front of me.

I never could talk myself into believing that God wasn’t real. His presence felt like an overwhelming force many days. I simply knew I couldn’t reconcile a relationship with him when I was so unworthy. I knew he must have been so disappointed in me. I knew I wasn’t invited.

My fears were affirmed that day, post-beers shot gunned and cigarettes smoked. His judgmental cough and laugh was all I needed to know for sure that I didn’t belong in church. God loves good people. And I was not good.

The summer before my senior year church snuck back in, this time dressed in grace.

Me and my friends shared packing lists and anxieties for our 10-day trip to Colorado. We were on our way to Frontier Ranch, a Young Life camp. I no longer cared what others thought about me and my smoking. I had built up a wall of indifference. This is who I am, take me or leave me.

It wasn’t the fact that this Christian camp allowed smoking that surprised me, it was the fact that our leader sat in the smoking pit with us. She didn’t smoke herself, but she certainly gave no indication she cared we did. Her presence didn’t condone it or condemn it. Her presence simply said, these cigarettes don’t define you, I just want to be with you and a little smoke isn’t going to deter me.

My wall of protection – the one that I began to build years before and that was sealed that day on the beach – began to look and feel different. Paradoxically, her sitting in the pit with me, smoke circling her head, gave me permission to take a deep breath. I felt God again.

A few days later, under a blanket of the brightest stars I had ever seen I asked God again: God, are you really real? That moment defined the rest of my life. Every act before that moment flooded my memory and I felt an overwhelming amount of love. LOVE. Unconditional, unequivocal, unmistakable love. Boys, liquor, lying or the pack of cigarettes in my back pocket didn’t define me. I was His. Made with love by love to love.

It was then I realized I had a choice. (and it’s a choice I’ve recommitted to a thousand times since then.) Choosing love and freedom over guilt and shame did not come easy. It is in our nature to want to work for gifts. But Grace demands that we just receive. That is not easy to do. But man, how that love has transformed my life.

/ / /

The girls went to their co-op today and the baby went to daycare. It started to rain so I decided to come home. I opened my Bible and read the intro to Galatians.

Occasion and Purpose:

Judaizers were Jewish Christians who believed, among other things that a number of the ceremonial practices of the Old Testament were still binding on the New Testament church. Following Paul’s successful campaign in Galatia, they insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity abide by certain Old Testament rites, especially circumcision. They may have been motivated by a desire to avoid the persecution of Zealot Jews who objected to their mingling with Gentiles. The Judaizers argued that Paul was not an authentic apostle and that out of a desire to make the message more appealing to Gentiles had removed from the gospel certain legal requirements.

            Paul responded by clearly establishing his apostolic authority and thereby substantiating the gospel he preached. By introducing additional requirements for justification (i.e. works for the law) his adversaries had perverted the gospel of grace and, unless prevented, would bring Paul’s converts into the bondage of legalism. It is by grace through faith alone that people are justified, and it is by faith alone that they are to live out their new life in the freedom of the Spirit.

/ / /

Paul, motivated by the way Jesus lived, did not write off the law. He called it holy, righteous and good in Romans. He was simply fired up because the Judaizers were hell-bent (literally) on pushing people to abide by ancient customs and Paul didn’t want them burdened by the law. Grace through faith alone. Not grace through works or rites or being good. The latter would only divide, frustrate and most damagingly, in my opinion, distract.

What is occurring today – hate and racism, a leader lacking in integrity, and a religious group who wishes to define a people group by their sexual identity – is not new. Similar stories are all over the Bible. This is why a Breath of Fresh Air came in the form of a baby. He came to show everyone that it’s not about who you are or aren’t. It’s about who He is.

Love made us with love and called us to love.

I feel confident that if Jesus were walking this earth today he would not have been sitting in a temperature controlled conference room creating a statement that would come across like a closed door. I believe He would have been riding around in a boat rescuing people from roofs in Houston.

p.s. Thank you, James Martin.

Why we talk about skin color at home

When we lived in Cincinnati the parks we frequented looked like the United Nations. My best friends had multi-race families and we, too, have a child of color. Skin color is something we talk about a lot in our house. Lola says often that her and I are twins with our brown skin and Charley and her daddy are twins with their pink skin. Her new friend at school is African American. She came home last week and told me that she made a new friend. "His skin is black and he is nice." With age and experiences I become more and more aware of racism in myself. Racism and ignorance, I’ve learned, go hand-in-hand. I combat it by asking lots of questions and talking about it openly with my family. 

Last week my dad and I sat on the back porch beers in hand. I talked to him about my continual surprise at the language people use when talking about people of color. He asked me, “What if your mom and I taught you from a baby on to fear anyone that was different than you?” This struck a cord with me because the most significant lessons I learned from my parents were the ones taught without words. Kids don’t have to be taught to fear with words. They can learn by example. They can learn by simply being raised entitled. 

My initial reaction to Saturday wasn't tears, it was anger. Deep, hot anger. I was surprised though that when preparing my mind to write and meditating on all that has unfolded how my anger turned to sadness. Deep, hot sadness. I thought back to my dad’s words and my heart went from fire to lead thinking about the fact that - still today – fear-filled people are teaching their kids to be fear-filled, too. All in the name of self-preservation. How are we to expect children raised by racist parents to grow up and not operate in the way they’ve been taught to operate?

I know people break generational patterns all the time (both my parents and my in-laws are living proof), but when repetitive patterns are consistent and the insecurities rampant (hello, Mr. President) not everyone sees the freedom they have to see different. To be different. They are simply fear-filled children, stunted in their maturity, living in grown-up bodies.

/ / /

In times like this I go through the same pattern of thought. I feel confused and then I feel helpless and then I feel guilty and then I look at my children and I remember. There is something I can do. 

I can continue to operate with conviction. Unapologetic conviction.

My stance can be known in a significant way right here at home.

I won’t raise my kids to be “colorblind” because being colorblind is not what our world needs. When we choose to not talk about our differences in a way that is positive and enlightening our kids will make conclusions on their own. If I chose this mode of thinking and if my kids were old enough to access the internet I would be deathly afraid of how they would be making sense of what they are seeing today.

Instead, we talk about cultures and skin color a lot. We celebrate the fact that this world is filled with people who are all beautifully diverse. We travel to places where people groups are different than ours. We eat food that is different than what we typically eat at home. We read books about people and cultures that are different than ours. 

Our greatest, most important work, is right here at home... teaching two humans that will play a very small part in a very big upcoming story. If they know they are loved deeply, they will view others with the same type of love. Our job is to instill in them the confidence to live amongst people who are not like them and to celebrate differences unabashedly. Our job is to show them that diversity is both critical and beautiful.

/ / /

We went to the bookstore this week and we read about Harriet Tubman. I found it nearly impossible to properly explain slavery to my five and seven year old. They were so confused. (Thank you, God!) 

We watched Pocahontas and talked about Native Americans. (I was both surprised and happy that in the Disney movie the Powhatans referenced the Europeans as the "pale people." It made for more talking points.)

We went hiking yesterday and swam in icy cold water. I walked slowly over to what appeared to be a dead monarch. It was laying on its side. As I got closer it’s wings opened and tiny baby blue butterflies flew out from under her (or his?) wing. She wasn't sleeping, she was simply protecting them from a world they're not quite ready for. Nature again was teaching me. My babies are still young, protected within our wings for now. When they are old enough to go out on their own they will approach this life with the same unapologetic convictions they learned at home. 

Taken shortly after I saw the monarch. Spruce Flat Falls. 

Taken shortly after I saw the monarch. Spruce Flat Falls. 

p.s. I highly suggest reading the book Nurture Shock or this article, at minimum. If you are not openly talking about skin colors to your children I would start today. 

p.p.s. Two books we bought this week that I have loved reading to my girls are The Girl Who Ran and She Persisted.

Share your life with the people you love.

After our first year living above the Mason Dixon line I learned that making friends there required a different approach than making friends in the South. In the South even if someone isn’t interested in making new friends, if you invite them to hang out they’ll not only say yes, but will most likely offer to host. In the North if someone isn’t looking for new friends they’ll find a kind, but unmistakable way to say, "no thanks." The first time it happened to me I was flabbergasted. The third time I was enlightened.

There have been times in my life where I genuinely didn’t have the bandwidth to explore a new friendship and yet if I or we were invited to a dinner or an event we were obligated to say yes. Otherwise, it would be rude. Because making up excuses or passively avoiding follow-through or faking enjoyment for the sake of avoiding hurt feelings was far less rude. So the Southern way had taught me to believe.

Enter enlightenment.

After seven years living in the Midwest I not only adapted to, but adopted the “Northern way” of making friends. It’s far more efficient and once you’re invited into someone’s home you can pretty much bet you’re going to be lifelong friends.

We’ve now been back in Tennessee for two years and yet our friendships made during our seven years in Ohio have proven my theory that when a friendship is made it’s for life.

Last week one of those friends, Lisa, texted me saying she wanted to visit soon. I was working on homeschool stuff and sitting in front of my planner. It was a Thursday and Corey was working through the weekend. “What about this weekend?” I replied.

The following day she and her three kids pulled into our driveway and the following day, after a very lazy morning spent over coffee and avocado toast, we headed to the mountains for the day to swim in the cold mountain water, eat the best ice cream in all the land and hang out of the sunroof in search of bears. (We saw one!)

There are two types of people in this world: The “Here I am!” types and the “There you are!” types. Lisa is a "There you are!" friend. She always leaves me feeling refreshed when our time together is over.

Being with her this past weekend reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from the book Bittersweet:

Share your life with the people you love, even if it means saving up for a ticket and going without a few things for a while to make it work. If you let the routine steamroll your life, you’ll wake up one day, isolated and weary, and wonder what happened to all those old friends. You’ll wonder why all you share is Christmas cards, and why life feels bone-dry. We were made to live connected and close. You can try to go it alone because you don’t have time or because your house is too messy to have people over, or because making new friends is like the worst part of dating. But halfway through a hard day or a hard week, you’ll realize in a flash that you’re breathtaking lonely, and that the Christmas cards aren’t much company. So walk across the street, or drive across town, or fly across the country, but don’t let really intimate loving friendships become the last item on a long to-do list.
— Shauna Niequest

It never (ever ever) seems convenient to travel to keep connections strong with the people I love, but when I greet a Monday morning tired from a weekend spent opening my home to friends or driving far away to share air with someone I love I never regret it (ever ever).

Showing up and leaning in.

There's something that happens when two people experience a tragedy together. When both hearts are shattered into a million little pieces and the world no longer looks as it once did before.

As I get older and I experience peripherally what happens to couples when tragedy hits my respect and appreciation for my mom and dad deepens. 

When their third child and last -- due to complications and a mandatory hysterectomy -- breathed his last tragedy arrived unannounced and uninvited. All that was left behind was me and my older sister, an empty crib, shattered hearts that had to be pieced back together and an option to do it together or separate.

I now know that choosing to stay together as they both battled grief in their own unique ways is not something that is common. Yet they did. Every day they showed up and leaned in.

Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in.

For us girls, yes, but for each other as well. No longer showing up for each other was very possibly something that looked like the easy way out many days, but ultimately wasn't a road they chose to take. My parents never have been the type to take the easy way out.

I would choose infertility over losing a child every day, but regardless my own walk with grief has left me doing the only thing I have been shown to do: Show up and lean in. 

Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in.

I often wonder if it's my parents' combined personality types or the way their younger parenting years were marked by death that led them to raise us with such freedom. When I was growing up the outdoors were for exploring barefoot, beds were made for jumping on and washing your hands before grabbing a handful of grapes on your way back outside was optional. We lived with dogs and birds and a duck. I could successfully beat grown men at shooting pool when I was just ten years old. When we drove to our lodge in Western North Carolina my sister and I would "sit" in the back of dad's truck on a mattress. (It's a two and a half hour drive.) I learned young what the true feeling of adventure feels like - like your upper stomach is doing a somersault. It's my most favorite feeling ever and one that I consistently seek for myself and my girls still to this day.

I was raised believing that life was made for letting loose, seeking out reasons to laugh from the gut and exploring anything new.

Every day I continue this quest. If we're not actively on our way to our next adventure you can bet I'm daydreaming of one.

And for this reason I am most happy we returned to East Tennessee where the Smokies are a peaceful 45-minute drive away. Without planning I can clean up breakfast and decide on a whim that the mountains are calling. I throw loads of food in a cooler, grab bathing suits and towels and tell the girls we're heading to the mountains.

We always first find water and seek out fish and crawdads, bees and butterflies and river otters. We head to the campsite's shop for the best ice cream ever made (it's far more about the nostalgia than the taste, but still...) and then explore Cade's Cove seatbelt'less with arms and heads out the windows. We touch and we smell and we see different things every time we go.

Cell reception is lost upon arrival and perspective always regained.

I guess in a lot of ways our lives as a family of four has been branded by grief as well. With both of their births goodbyes were necessary and far more tears were shed in the beginning than smiles.

But I've learned that grief has this really wild way of changing people. I know for everyone it's a bit different, but for me the girls' births brought my life full-circle in a lot of ways. Life lost. Life gained. And the proof that we are but mortals with one, precious and wild life. 

Maybe it's my innate personality, maybe it's the mark my brother left on my life, maybe it's the way I was raised or maybe it's all of the above. There are all sorts of things I don't know, but what I do know is that this Earth is painfully beautiful and deserving of being noticed. Cold water felt, bees noticed, wind appreciated, sunroofs used for gaining a better view, and afternoons made for napping after tiring mornings spent exploring. Showing up and leaning in. Together.

Because God sees.

I heard a story this week of a man who went to visit a cathedral that was being built. He stopped to watch one of the workers who was meticulously carving a bird into a beam that would eventually be covered up by stone roofing. The man asked the worker why he was giving so much of his attention to something no one would see. The carver, without even looking up from his work, replied, "Because God sees."

Weekend at Bernie's and Jesus

I’ve officially decided that I’ve made writing feel like the most impossible task in all the world. Because there’s just too much to write about and when that rare spark hits me and I’m moved to write – in a way that is fueled by clarity and focus – I only have a very short window to get it all out before the kids are up or my brain is too fried from the day. They’re here and they’re young and as much of me that wants long days of quiet to write to my heart’s content I want just as much to be with them in all their loudness and learning. It’s hard to find a balance when you love two competing things -- quiet and chaos. The quiet fills my bucket, but the chaos is significantly more fun. We surpassed our one-year anniversary to our move home to Tennessee this past June. Which means it was just last summer that I never let the girls out of my sight for more than a few minutes to ensure they weren’t doing something that was dangerous or destructive. They still push the envelope every single day, but now – like right this very second as I write this – they can play together upstairs in their bedroom. It is being trashed, I’m sure, and the house is vibrating from their running and jumping, but still… I’m sitting in the living room all by myself while both of my kids are awake and I’m not worried at all that they may die.* This is huge.

We have a list of running jokes about all the ways Corey and I are different. He’s math and science and I’m arts and crafts. He’s data and research and I’m feelings. Lots of complex feelings.

When we were newly married and way less sophisticated we had this joke that if one of us was talking about something the other person didn’t care about (like science to me or art to him) the listener would just go to sleep, looking like Bernie from “Weekend at Bernie’s.” Nowadays, we’re way more mature so we don’t do that anymore. Instead, we only use “Bernie” when signing off on notes to each other and if you’re ever with him and there’s an emergency, call “Bernie” in his phone. You’ll reach me.

After my last post he texted me the following day from work and said, “I read your blog. I wish I understood more of what you go through and feel—it makes me feel like a robot.” And then added this GIF of two robots – one with a heart on its chest filled in with color and the other one with his heart empty of color. The empty hearted robot puts his hand on the girl robot and half of the color drains from her heart while his fills up half way. And then they start fighting unseen bad guys. It is quite possibly the greatest GIF I have ever seen because of its accuracy. I replied, “you’re my favorite robot.”

I’m sure there’s some fancy psychology research report on why it is that us humans tend to fall in love with people who are quite different than ourselves. My one and only theory is that what we lack we look for. And also intrigue… because what intrigues us excites us and what’s different to us intrigues us. And intrigue is fun and exciting. Until, of course, it becomes ordinary. Then you hit a rough patch and you either call it quits or you forge ahead. For us, we forged ahead and I think it’s past the bump-in-the-road-called-ordinary that you truly find extraordinary.

I’ve been writing a lot more in the last few weeks. I’ve got some good stuff to say, but I can’t figure out how to not sound quite so whiny.

A few days ago a girl I haven’t talked to in over a decade sent me a message through Facebook asking me to fill her in on my life because through my pictures it looks so diverse, fun and inspiring. I replied with this: "Wellllll… you have to find it hard to be home and have an insatiable appetite for all things new and open air." I should have also added that I have to work hard to feel happy and non-anxious and being outside in new places is one of the most straightforward ways I know to find it.

My sister and I got in a conversation the other day about women who have affairs. She can’t wrap her mind around how anyone who’s married with kids could possibly find the time. I told her I think that some people wake up to a life that’s the American Dream realized and every day feels a little like groundhog day and they forget that living an adventurous life takes work and so they accidentally fall into adventures that they didn’t mean to. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but for some people I believe it is. “It’s important you know your shortcomings,” I told her. “I mean I know there’s a lot about myself I’m still learning, but one thing I know for sure is that I’m always on the verge of crazy.” She laughed because she’s not literal like my husband. When I told him about our conversation that night he said, “do you really think you’re going crazy!?” He’s a doctor. He was picturing bi-polar or schizophrenia. Different, remember. We’re so very different.

Since we’re on the topic of medical conditions, earlier today I Googled “do I need an anti-depressant quiz.” If you’re curious to know of the results I scored a 35-52 which equaled yes, you absolutely do.

I told my girlfriends about this discovery tonight over dinner and wine and they said, “What!? You don’t look very depressed!” If any of us learn anything out of this ridiculous rant of a blog post let us learn that some of the most put together people parading through life are the most in need of help. That girl over there with her perfectly dressed self and kids and manicured nails and curled hair with a smile across her face? She’s at her lowest point. Be kind to her.

Listen, I’ve experienced being situationally depressed (new city in the winter with no friends and a husband that worked all the time and a sad sad case of unexplained infertility) so I know what it feels like to feel completely unable to get out of bed until well past lunchtime. And, I know what it feels like to have to muster up all the energy I had to smile at the girl that bagged my groceries at Kroger. I went home and unloaded said groceries and then laid down on the couch out of sheer exhaustion. I had to make eye contact and smile. More than once.

In high school I struggled with motivation and healthy sleep patterns and anxiety and low energy and being overweight and then I left for college and all of the above went with me. One day I had the same conversation I had had with my mother a hundred times before except for this time it made her wonder if we should talk to my OB about all the above things. And, so we did and he suggested I go on a low dose of Prozac and to sum up a very long story it changed my life entirely. The following year everything felt easier and I slept better and I lost nearly twenty pounds.

In short, I am a big big fan of anti-depressants.

If you need them, of course. Which I don’t believe any of us want to go on anti-depressants if we don’t think we need them. But, I really do think that people who are able to say out loud, “I think I need some help” are some of the bravest people in all the world.

The idea of being done with the baby stage has me torn right up the middle. (Time out: Remember how I said in paragraph #1 that I find it impossible to write these days because of my lack of big blocks of quiet time? These choppy rants are how I think I will write now because they’re the only way I can make it work. I hope you don’t judge me too much. I’m not on anything. Yet.) Because other people’s babies terrify me, but I LOVED having babies of my own. I was made to be an attachment parent, carrying them 75% of the day and sleeping right next to them at night. But, the lack of sleep and the crying and the spit-up and the being stuck at home for naps part is not a stage I miss. And, we’re leaving for Iceland next week for our family vacation and the girls are old enough to really enjoy it. But, there’s a baby missing from our family. A boy. I can practically see him. But, I’m obnoxiously unable to get pregnant. Like it just doesn’t happen. Ever.

Last week, I had an exceptionally emotional week about it all and one night after Corey and the girls were sleeping I felt so inside my head that I felt like I was going to explode. So, I wrote this super long, dramatic letter to my girlfriend living on the complete other side of the country. Here’s an excerpt for you:

"What a funny stage of life this is… the one where what I wanted when playing MASH in middle school is right here in real life sharing the same roof as me. Yet, I still find myself feeling so conflicted. Because I believe the Lord has more in store for me. And, one might say, 'well pray and journal and find scriptural confirmation and seek what it is He has in store for you,' but I find that impossible to do. So, instead I flounder and I look at everyone else and I write and study other people’s reactions and I drink too much and I stay up too late and I sleep in too long and I over-think pretty much everything and I feel way too much for pretty much everything. In a nutshell, I’ve pretty much grown into a narcissistic, emotional asshole.

Part of it is because infertility has made me slightly crazy. Unexplained infertility, mind you. The type where when you go – even 5 years after your last visit – you are told, yet again, that all of your $1,000 worth of blood work shows that you are perfectly healthy. So, you know what that means: more book reading and temperature taking and vitamins and acupuncturist and the newest, chiropractics. But, in the back of my mind constantly (constantly!) is this: where is Jesus in all of this?! Because I don’t believe that Jesus is formulaic. And, I don’t believe that Jesus has made us unable to conceive because he was waiting on us to hear that ONE podcast that wasn’t set to air until April 2015. I just can’t believe that any one thing is going to fix the problem."

That, mind you, was just a very small bit of a very long rant. And, I can tell you that it felt incredibly therapeutic to write that out to someone whom I trust deeply. To someone whom I know will get it and resonate with it and not judge me for any one thing and reply with understanding and hope. I think everyone needs someone like that in their life. Actually, I think everyone has that person in their life, they just have to be brave enough to be naked in front of them.

An excerpt from her reply which she addressed “To my favorite Narcissistic Emotional Asshole:”

"I had a moment of clarity the other day (like literally the first moment I've had like that in a couple years) where I was able to de-clutter my mind for just a few minutes, and it struck me how truly flaky EVERYTHING in this world is except for Jesus. Like even when I have a pretty good hold on reality (kids taking a sh#* on the carpet in the living room, two screaming babies, a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, 8 loads of laundry piled on the floor, etc.) even my reality is warped by a lack of clarity that comes from living in a sinful fallen world (and being the sinner I am). And man--as if Jesus wasn't refreshing enough in and of himself, when you put him up against the "reality" of this world, ahhhhhhhhh. It made me thirsty for him. Wonderful, perfect and true him. And lucky me.

I hear you saying you aren’t finding fulfillment in him and I’m right there with you. So I’m tempted to give you (and me) what we want and say something like “To be honest, most days, the bible is just too damn boring. And I have like a 30-second attention span, and there are no pictures” (truth). But we have to go somewhere from there. We can’t let ourselves off the hook that easily. We have to do something with the cross. Everything we feel or do or say or know relates back to the cross, and we have to keep taking this life up the ass to find that (Jesus hanging lifeless and bloodied, as you said awhile back in reference to my beer-in-the-teepee rant) in everything. Otherwise we’re just like everybody else. And we’ll never be satisfied. So here’s what I’ve been doing lately: envisioning Jesus’ arms held out in front of him like a cradle. And I crawl up into them and nuzzle my face against his broad chest and let him squeeze me tightly and listen to his lungs breathing air in and out and he runs his fingers through my hair and says to me “you are my beloved, woman. You are that because I made you, and not because of anything you can make or do in your life. You are beloved because of me, not because of you. You have nothing to offer me but your broken body and still I ask for it. If you will sit here with me like this always, I will be glorified by my enjoyment of you. You cannot be glorified until you are with me in heaven, so for now the closest you can get to that, the most genuine act you can perform (for all else you try to do is "filthy rags" to me), is this. Be still and know that I am God.

And half the time I can’t get to that point, but sometimes, I do. And he is warm, and beautiful, and strong, and he wants ME. I’m like that dorky band girl with glasses and he’s the star athlete and he looks into the crowd and points at me and says “I choose you. You’re the one I want.” 

I think one of the very smartest and conniving things Satan does is make us believe that we are alone in our struggles. Because there’s nothing more dangerous than believing that what we’re experiencing no one else will understand. Or even worse is experiencing fear or pain or heartache that we believe is so embarrassing because we shouldn’t have let ourselves get there in the first place that we make sure we never let anyone know.

I told my girlfriend while out on the lake last week that this world is overwhelming beautiful (“I mean look at this night… this weather… this water… it’s all so sacred.”), yet this world is overwhelmingly hard. And, we should never ever let ourselves believe that our pain is something no one else will understand. Doing so robs those around us the chance to say, “Yes… yes… me, too.”

So, I’m happy to announce that I think I’ve found a new way of writing. It will be in the form of super choppy, super tangled posts that are far more in a “dear diary” style than a typical blog post style. (as if this blog is even remotely typical – ha!)

Signing off with love…vulnerability and nakedness and so much love...



*p.s. about half way through this post Charley came out of her room to tell me that Lola was “pouring water into the nightlight.” The nightlight is plugged into the wall. The nightlight was soaked with water and incredibly hot and the room smelled of smoke. I take back the line that I no longer have to worry that they’re going to kill themselves. In the future you can assume that all posts were written with my children duct taped to their beds. It's the only way, people.

Bird by Bird

You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.
— Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird

I’ve felt this way before. Pregnant with an aspiration that for the life of me I can’t find an easy way to birth.

There was a time in my life when I would have just started already, but I’ve done that enough times now that I know there’s more to it than just jumping and figuring things out during the fall. Ignorance is only bliss until reality shows up. "Vulnerability hangovers,” as Brene Brown has coined them, are a real thing.

But the alternative is living with a desire that never moves out of our hearts because the unknown is too scary. And, I believe that dreams that we don’t explore… we don’t ever let see the light of day… can manifest themselves in negative ways like grumpiness or anxiety or depression or tiredness or worse... on a cellular level.

I love to write. But, I only know how to do it one way: painstakingly candid.

And, writing honestly is mildly terrifying. Being vanilla may be boring, but it’s safe. (Except maybe… on a cellular level.)

I’ve been trying for a long time to decide if I am brave enough to face the potential negativity that comes with expressing oneself honestly. What I’m not having a problem deciding is if I’m okay missing out on a life that has only my name on it. My life is just a breath, this I know, but I don’t believe God gave me a breath to go wasted.

So, I’ve been doing what I often do when I'm feeling the heat to jump already. I’ve been living in my mind. And I’ve been obsessively studying others who have jumped. And I’ve been reading. A lot.

I tell my photography students there’s a time and place to study others’ work and words and there’s a much bigger place to not study anyone’s work. It’s easy to fill our minds with so much of others’ truths and creativity that we can no longer decipher what’s our story to tell (or live, but that’s a post for another day).

Since I know all the answers I did exactly what I knew I shouldn’t do and I read even more. Memoirs and self-help books and blogs and the Bible and then one day I stumbled (literally it was a holy find, a gift for me) onto a graphic online that had a quote that grabbed my attention. I don’t even remember the quote, but it prompted me to search the title of the book and I was so intrigued by it I bought the Kindle version immediately, put the kids down for a nap and began to scroll through the book with urgency.

It was Anne Lamott’s book titled, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

I’m not even done with it, but I can tell you that it’s brilliant and inspiring and so so practical.

“I don’t even know where to start,” one will wail.

I highlighted the line in bright yellow.

She replies to whichever student at the time wails the line by charging to, “Start with your childhood. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flanner O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Now, the amount of material may be so overwhelming that it can make your brain freeze. So start with Kindergarten.”

And, then I let out a ginormous-humongous sigh of relief because that was what I needed. When we’re stuck inside our heads sometimes we just need someone to push us… to boss us around.

I’m a big believer of returning to your childhood memories because most of the answers to our weirdness and our goodness can be found there. Our childhood shapes us (not to be confused with defines us, although sometimes it does that, too).

And, it’s fitting for me to start at Kindergarten because it was one of the most significant years of my life. The year I was in Kindergarten was the year my brother died.

The following day I put the girls down for a nap and I sat down on my bed with my computer and I began to write. This time, the words came effortlessly and soon I was crying. My free time ran out and I returned to motherhood and before I could muster up the bravery to show it to anyone or even finish it for that matter I suffered yet another vulnerability hangover. I felt silly for writing it. For returning to the source of that memory that holds so much emotion. I felt silly for wanting to be a writer at all. Everyone has a story to be told. Why do I think people will care about mine?

Days turned into weeks and although I thought about writing every single day I couldn’t even muster up the courage to open my computer. If I had only written as much as I thought about writing I would have written a 200-page book by now. It would have been a really shitty first draft and I would have been mortified if anyone had read it, but I would have been outputting a bit of all of my inputting and I don’t think I would have felt quite so conflicted internally. So stuck.

I’m fascinated by people who get stuck in life. Who want to do something big and bold, but don’t. Like why not, I often wonder? What is holding you back? This life is so short! Majority of the time when we say out loud the reasons we have said no to pursuing life goals it's because of really small reasons that can be overcome with ease. It’s often a mind over matter problem. But for me… I’m too close to the problem. I couldn’t figure out my own limiting beliefs no matter how much I had mental anguish over it.

But then I had this really surprising moment of clarity last night that I knew was truth because of how much it made me feel simultaneously free and uncomfortable.

Everyone in the house was asleep and I was editing photos and watching TV. A girl on the show I was watching was talking about her late husband’s death and how nothing makes her cry anymore. She described herself as a tough cookie. But, some events unfolded during the show and there she was sitting with his ashes, wiping the tears off her face. She had grown numb because it was her way of surviving.

And, in that moment I saw myself. Because as much as I am willing to talk about the 9 years we’ve never been able to get pregnant (minus that one time) I've numbed myself to the ability to feel it.

I have never been shy about expressing what or how I am feeling about most everything in life. And, I really love bold and brave people who can do the same. Being vulnerable with one another is far more difficult to actually do than it is to read or write about. To be able to not only cry with each other, but to also talk about things that are really important – like hopes and dreams and fears and struggles and disappointments and things we’re feeling proud of – is what makes this complicated life sincere and rich and meaningful.

But sometimes there’s something in your life that you just don’t want to talk about anymore. Too much time has passed or the topic has been exhausted or sadness has outstayed her welcome or for your sanity you just need to move on or ALL OF THE ABOVE. Focusing on the present isn’t just a quote hanging in one’s kitchen. It’s deliverance. Finding a new perspective and purpose and meaning is a non-negotiable. And, talking about the wound again and again sort of feels like continually putting a fresh band-aid over an old wound even though letting it breathe is what you know will bring it healing.

This doesn't mean their isn't a scar, but sometimes you just need freedom to not give the scar so much energy.

The moment of clarity I had that’s put me in a basket of uncertainty is this: is being numb synonymous with being changed? Like the way a death changes you? Or the way an unwelcomed life transition changes you? Like the way finding out you've been lied to changes you? Or the way 9-years of infertility changes you?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s changed me.

Because there was a time when I had a lot of fight in me. And there was a time when I was willing to try everything. And there was a time when I knew it would happen, it was only a matter of time. And there was a time when talking about it and writing about it was incredibly therapeutic for me. And there was a time when I cried A LOT.

But now, I’m a lot more resolved. And, I’m no longer willing to try everything. I’m no longer sure it will happen and with each passing year I actually feel a little more convinced it won’t happen. And, I don’t want to talk about it or write about it all the time. And nowadays it rarely makes me cry.

Infertility has changed me.

But if one side of the coin is a changed me then on the flipside is where numbness resides. And I find myself still with resiliency and a stubbornness that makes me want to buff that coin clean to allow the emotions hiding under the numbness the freedom to breathe again.

Because numbness is like vanilla. It’s safe. It’s a winter parka and Uggs. IT'S ISOLATING.

Letting myself feel sad or afraid or disappointed is dangerous. It’s choosing to sit in Times Square naked. But only if I refuse to hide do I give camaraderie a chance to be enjoyed.

I suck at doing scary things and giving people an inside look at what it looks and feels like to be infertile sounds and feels terrifying to me. But, in all of my obsessive reading I read something somewhere that not doing that thing we feel we are being called to do is not only cheating ourselves, but the rest of the world as well. I don’t want my one fleeting breath of a life to be one that fear controlled.

You know how the more you drink alcohol the higher your tolerance gets? I’m really hoping that writing works the same way… the more scary writing you do the higher your tolerance to vulnerability hangovers get. I’m really banking on this.


I went to an infertility doctor for the first time in 5 years the other day. The check-in counter was filled with Christmas cactuses that hadn’t been watered in quite some time. They were all empty and sad and sagging off the edges of their pots. I sat down and stared at their sad little selves and thought to myself that if my options are to find solidarity in the plants or get over myself, write my story already and find solidarity in humans living near and far sharing my same story I would chose option B all day, every day.

So, here's my awkward start to buffing my coin...


p.s. I wrote most of this last night and I knew for certain I would share it when I stepped into my bathroom to brush my teeth and realized I felt like a heavy wool blanket had fallen off my shoulders. Freedom comes with truth-telling.

p.p.s. I’ve been thinking a lot today about how numbness dulls sadness, but it also dulls joy. So, I know for certain that buffing away the numbness will also let a whole lot of beautiful things breathe again and for that I'm ready.

p.p.s.s. Thanks for being here. You matter to me.

A lesson learned during one of the darkest seasons of my life


It was the lowest point in my entire life. A season filled with a whole bunch of sad things and hopelessness and the worst of all, loneliness. One late night, I was walking down the stairs from our bedroom and as I got near the bottom my foot slipped and I fell on my back, hit my head and slid down and underneath the dining room table sitting just a few feet from the base of the stairs. I stood up and looked behind me because it happened so unexpectedly and rather aggressively and I was convinced someone had pushed me. I was home alone. It was just me and exhaustion. It was winter, Corey was in the thick of his residency and working ridiculous hours and I had just returned home from one of the saddest weekends of my life. My close-knit family was falling apart at the seams and we had all spent the weekend in Wisconsin for three intense days of family counseling. We all returned home more hopeful than we had been before we arrived, but we were reminded again that the only way past heartbreak is to walk right through the grief of it. And after over a year of trying, we were still very un-pregnant which only added to my feelings of brokenness and loneliness.

We were new to the city and friendships were pretty non-existent so I spent my days looking for meaningful work to fill my free time. I kid you not, I couldn’t find anybody who wanted me. Not even a non-profit, looking for volunteers. I’m telling you, it was sad.

This depressing season of life drug me through the mud for two more years. And that’s only because it took that long for me to grasp the lesson I needed to learn:

I can’t control all of my circumstances, but I can control what I see.

Life sucked because my husband worked all the time, I hated living in the Midwest, I didn’t have any friends and we were battling unexplained infertility.

I couldn’t change my husband’s schedule or change the climate we were living in or make people want to be my friend or make my effing body work. It suuuuuucked.

And I felt totally sorry for myself. Some days I didn’t get out of bed until 3:00. In the afternoon. And, the only reason I would get out of bed was so that I could take our dog for a walk and make a sandwich before I sat down to watch Ellen on TV which came on at 4. It was so bad. And so sad. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

But then one day I started writing. And I realized for the first time in my life that I really liked to write. And I started taking pictures for just myself and I got pretty good at it because I wasn’t creating art for anyone but myself. And, then I started doing house projects and I taught myself how to lay tile and refinish cabinets and I realized I was pretty good at working with my hands. And then, there was an unofficial final moment where I symbolically threw my hands up and surrendered every last bit of what I was longing for. I said to myself that if this is all I ever have then it’s enough. And I believed it.

Because in college after I nearly flunked out my first semester due to all of my pre-med classes that I sucked at I wrote in my journal that I would just marry a doctor instead. And look, somehow I had! And he loved me with a fierceness and made me laugh really really hard all the time. And I ordered a Happy Light to combat my self-diagnosed SAD and I started taking rides around the city to learn it better and as much as I didn’t want it to it started to grow on me. I started taking our dog to a nature preserve near our house every few days and every time we winded through the giant trees and wildflowers my hopefulness for life would elevate ever so slightly. And, I learned that you can’t expedite the type of meaningful friendships that take years to build so I made the choice to be patient with the process, knowing that every encounter was adding to the time log.

And we all know that there really is something so true about the stages of grieving and so maybe it was just me finally getting to the step of acceptance. Or maybe it was just me gaining a fresh outlook on life. But, one very big and important day I mustered up the courage to look my worst-case scenario right in the eyes.

Worst-case scenarios are really just a code word for fears, you know. My fears were never being a mother, going through the treacherous years of med school and training alongside of him and then having God tell us to move to a third world country and lastly, I feared I would never make close friends in our new city.

Of course this sounds a little ridiculous written out, but most fears are. I’ve since learned to write my fears out on paper. Because it’s only then that I can really see which ones are in fact legit (barely any), while the rest almost instantaneously lose their power as soon as I see them in writing.

On this big and important day I thought about all my fears happening and then I had this vision of us living in a hut in Africa, him working on sick people, and me being an unofficial mother to orphans. The vision alone made me actually long for a life like that. I even went so far as to ask Corey if we could move to Africa when he got done with his training!

And in its glorious and proverbial way the last frost melted and the leaves and flowers returned.

I was happy again.

My circumstances looked nearly identical as they had two years prior. Truly, very little had changed. Except for in my mind that is. My mind had changed drastically.

The funny thing is that my “spring” happened well into the fall, when most of the trees had shed their leaves. But, I didn’t fear winter anymore. I looked forward to it. I wanted the excuse to spend more time writing in front of the fire and having new friends over for coffee and spending evenings with Corey drinking beer under a shared blanket and watching movies without feeling guilty. And in all of my other spare time (which was a lot) I played Dr. Mario on the Wii. And I gained weight. Kind of a lot. But, it was the happy type of weight gain. The kind you gain when you’ve gotten really comfortable with someone you’ve fallen in love with or are traveling through a country that makes really good food. It was by far my most favorite winter ever. Same circumstances, different mind.

I’m not discounting the fact that sometimes we just need a bit of time in a dark valley to regain a fresh perspective on life (which is why I never feel sorry for people who find themselves in dark valleys. I’ll never hesitate to hold your hand there, but I won’t rush you out). But I also know that my season of sadness was prolonged by my own doing.

It was the first time I couldn’t control my circumstances and it was really pissing me off. I felt victimized by life and I wanted everyone to feel sorry for me. One day I told a new friend all about my super sad circumstances and she said, “well yea, you know what you want and you can’t have it. It sucks not getting what you want.” Her words pissed me off because I thought she made me seem awfully bratty. I mean all I wanted was a husband who didn’t have to work so much and a baby and a few friends. Was that really so selfish to desire?!

I stewed over what she said for days and then with humility seeping from my pores I realized that she was right. So so right. I was pissed I couldn’t have what I wanted and I was throwing an adult-sized temper tantrum over it. This doesn’t mean it’s not okay to long for something, but I was doing more than that. I was saying without saying that I wasn’t happy with what I did have. That’s why her words pissed me off so bad.

My gratitude for life had been replaced for feelings of victimization and ultimately, with little effort, every day became about me and what I wasn’t getting.

It was then that I finally learned the life lesson I’ll never ever forget: You can’t control all of your circumstances, but you can control what you see.

As soon as I started to look at my free time as a time to learn more about myself and my husband’s long days as a result of him pursuing a life goal and my inability to get pregnant as the chance to really learn compassion I started to see my life as extraordinarily meaningful. As meaningful as every other human I marveled. Suddenly I was a well of talents and a wife that played a really important role in their husband’s dream-chasing and a friend that could handle any less than happy news by meeting them right there in their dark place with ease.

I went from sadness to kickassness.

And hell shuddered because there’s nothing scarier to Satan than someone who knows their worth and can find happiness regardless of their circumstances.

This was over five years ago. Of course now we know my worst-case-turned-wishful-life turned out quite different than I had expected. Two children later, both adopted, a husband done with his training and around more than ever, a house on a little bit of property and although we’re not living in the Midwest any longer some of my very biggest soul sisters were found there.

Don’t be fooled though. I still battle daily desires to victimize myself. I’m still infertile with no explanation, I often feel like I have dreams that will never be pursued because of the demands of motherhood and there are diagnoses within our family that tempt to paralyze me with fear. But, I’ve learned now to really see and what I see makes me well up with joy over how amazingly beautiful this life is. And on the days that’s not enough I allow myself to look my worst-case-scenario-fears right in the eyes and I’ve yet to see anything in my potential future that keeps me from finding happiness.

Life is without doubt sad and hard and cruel sometimes because sometimes we need things we can’t get or we’ve lost things we can’t get back, but this life is also tremendously beautiful. Sometimes it’s not easy to see the really beautiful and that’s okay. Because for some of us (hand raised) we need a little time to trudge through the darkness to fine tune ourselves before we’re willing to look upward. And for some of us we’ve forgotten how to walk uphill because our muscles have atrophied and walking on a flat surface feels like the easiest option. But for all of us we need the same thing: a heavy dose of empathy (not to be confused with sympathy), a lot of love and a whole lot of patience. Because we’re all moving forward, it’s just that sometimes our terrain looks different than the person’s next to us.

Yet no matter our terrain or our pace one thing remains the same: we see what we look for. And that season of life lasted just long enough to never let me forget that I cannot control my circumstances, but I can control what I see.