How to Fight Perfectionism with Gentleness

How to Fight Perfectionism with Gentleness

Searching through the bathroom drawer for an elastic to braid my daughter’s hair, I glance in the mirror without thinking.  Out of habit, I pause to inspect the reflection.

My eyes fall first on my waistline, which is thicker than it was six months ago. I turn to the side and stand up tall, sucking in to see if my posture makes any difference. It helps, but not enough. I hike up my pants a bit to cover the extra bulge below my belly button and above my hips. Just suck it in, I tell myself harshly.

Maybe no one else can see the difference these extra pounds make, I reason. But the change is obvious to me. I see the way my clothes don’t fit the same, if they fit at all. I feel the way my stomach rolls over my pants, the way my jeans pull tight around my thighs, the way I just can’t get comfortable in my clothes or in my skin. 

What I see in the mirror is a girl who is not what I want her to be. And I blame her for it.

I criticize her for failing to discipline herself enough to keep from gaining weight, for not exercising more or eating less or cutting out wine and sugar. 

I reprimand her because I want her to try harder, to stay in control even when the world spins in chaos all around. 

I judge her for looking more like the overweight girl she used to be, the one who hated herself and feared there would never be anyone who could love her or her body.

What I see in the mirror reflects a lifelong struggle with perfectionism that constantly tells me I should be better. 

Exhaling disappointment, I force myself to leave the bathroom and feign cheerfulness while my hands weave Brooklynn’s hair into braids. Inside, I’m spinning. Old neural pathways quickly find their way through my brain, triggering self-condemnation that’s painfully familiar.

My thoughts spin out of control even though I know better. I know I’m healthy; my weight is within the recommended range, my fitness level is more than adequate. But my struggle defies logic.

What I see in the mirror is not based on reality, but on the impossibly high yardstick I’ve created to measure my worth.

What does gentleness toward yourself look like right now?

Someone asked me recently, “What does gentleness toward yourself look like right now?” I balked at the question, caught off guard. Tears welled quickly in my eyes as I realized painfully that I don’t know how to be gentle toward myself. I didn’t know that was allowed.

Perfectionism helped me survive the first half of my life, and it’s hard to unlearn. Pushing myself to always work harder, move faster, and be better allowed me to achieve academically, compete athletically, and succeed professionally. 

But it also created an unrealistic standard for me to attain. I could never be smart enough, strong enough, or thin enough to feel like I was enough.

How I feel when I look in the mirror reminds me that perfectionism isn’t working for me anymore. It keeps me bound up by unrealistic expectations, wasting away my life by wishing for what I’ll never become.

Freedom from self-condemnation starts by giving myself permission to be human. It means allowing my faith to infiltrate my actual thinking, choosing to trust that I am loved just as I am, not as I think I should be.

Fighting back against perfectionism starts by practicing gentleness with myself. Key word: practice. Maybe you could use some practice too?

How to Practice Gentleness:

Be realistic about your expectations.

Maybe this isn’t the time of your life to do all the things you used to do or want to do someday. Can you train for a marathon? Maybe not right now. But can you run or walk a couple miles (or a handful of minutes) a couple days a week? That’s enough. Being honest about your energy, time, and motivation sets you up for small, frequent wins instead of self-perceived failure.

Accept that seasons come and go.

I’m not a collegiate athlete anymore, and life is limited with kids learning from home. My body, and yours, will change as seasons change, and that’s normal and okay. Prioritizing your health looks different now than it did last year, and it will look different again next year. Today, you’re doing the best you can, and it’s enough.

Do what you can to stay healthy.

I know I need to break a sweat most days, but not to lose weight. A walk or a run or a dance class helps me release tension, inspires creativity, and it gives me ammunition to fight against the lies in my head. But on the days when I can’t find time or my body needs rest, I remember that health is a lifelong journey and not a test I can pass or fail.

Practice the discipline of telling yourself a different story.

I’m awkwardly repeating to myself the words I pray Brooklynn accepts for herself as she grows: “You are enough, just as you are.” I don’t believe it yet, but that’s okay. What do you need to hear? Practice saying it aloud, no matter how you feel. With enough practice, you’ll start believing it.

Looking back at this season when a global pandemic knocked the collective breath out of us, I want to say that I’m different on the other side. The truth is, I may wear a different size than I used to. But I hope my insides change even more than my appearance. 

May we give ourselves permission to practice becoming more gentle with ourselves. It just might change what we see in the mirror.

When the Finish Line Keeps Moving

When the Finish Line Keeps Moving

We had been running for over an hour and a half, and we were tired. A friend and I had trained for months, running several times a week and nursing injuries along the way to prepare for this half-marathon. Now we were in the home stretch, the finish line within reach. Entering the last aid station, I grabbed a paper cup and gratefully swallowed a drink of cold water, relieved for a reason to walk a few steps before we picked up our pace again. 

My friend glanced down at her phone where we were tracking our mileage and we realized we were closer than we’d thought–only one more mile to go! Fueled by a new wave of adrenaline, we started running faster, cheering on other runners and calling out, “Keep it up! You’re almost there!” as we passed. We ignored their confused faces and pushed harder, knowing the end was in sight. Our legs were burning and our breathing heavy as we approached the next mile marker, baffled by what it said: we had just completed mile twelve. 

We looked at each other in confused disbelief, trying not to cry as we slowed way down. We still had another mile to go. And we were tanked.

Other runners started passing us by; we stopped talking completely, trying to conserve our breath. With every scrap of grit we could muster, we forced our lead weights of legs to keep moving. We were running on fumes. A stabbing pain in my right side made breathing excruciating; her calf cramped with each step. Exhausted and depleted, we finally stumbled across the finish line, barely keeping ourselves from collapsing on the ground. 

Somehow, despite having nothing left, we made it to the end. 

Life this fall feels a bit like running a race where the finish line keeps moving.

My kids just started virtual school and it’s unsurfaced a fresh layer of grief over all we’ve lost this year. They’re aching to see friends, missing their teachers, longing for the excitement and newness that normally comes in September. I’m grieving their losses and my own: The peaceful stillness at home after walking them to school. The joy of reconnecting at the end of the day and hearing all they experienced while we were apart. The freedom to work in the quiet without interruption. The predictability and structure I crave. The mental bandwidth to pursue challenges outside of managing their needs.

When school closed initially at the end of March, I balked at the idea of homeschooling for two weeks, let alone six as the stay-at-home order was extended. We rallied though, creating new routines and finding ways to embrace this unexpected interruption of life as we knew it. It wasn’t what we would have chosen, but we could do anything for a month and a half. Right?

Then the announcement came that we both expected and feared: no school for the rest of the spring. Our spirits deflated. The finish line moved just when we thought we were in the home stretch of the race.

In order to survive, we cut back to only the essentials. Nothing extra, nothing draining, just the bare minimum learning requirements. We were pacing ourselves–I knew every battle I chose to fight would deplete the energy reserves we needed to keep from collapsing. 

I just needed to get us across the finish line and into September. Or so I thought.

It wasn’t a shock to hear that school would be a hybrid model, nor was I surprised by the decision several weeks later to move our students to full-time distance learning to begin the year. I understand and fully support the wisdom of our community leaders who have not made these decisions lightly.

But the requirements of this race–the battle over each assignment, the constant supervision of online activities, the stress of managing everyone’s schedules and assignments, the tension it creates in my relationships with my kids, the disruption of my own work–is more than I have left to give.

The finish line keeps moving, and I’m already so, so tired. I wonder if you can relate?

Maybe your race looks different than mine. 

You may be an educator who has worked harder and longer than anyone knows to learn new technology and create lessons you never wanted to teach online.

You might find yourself losing steam as you work from home, or even struggling to make ends meet after losing your job unexpectedly.

Maybe you’re a leader who has continually reinvented how your organization functions, pivoting to change your strategy each time new guidelines are released.

You might be hustling to keep the doors of your small business open after an economic lockdown you only thought would last a couple weeks.

Maybe you’re fighting the continual battle against food, alcohol, or other coping strategies as a way to anesthetize the stress of this upside down year.

You may find yourself sinking in the waters of anxiety or depression, wondering if you’ll ever feel like yourself again.

Whatever race you’re running this fall, you have every reason to be tired. And being tired doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It’s just been a really, really long race. 

It doesn’t help that the finish line keeps moving.

So how do we keep running when we feel like we have nothing left?

  1. We run together. We remind one another of what we ourselves desperately need to hear: You are stronger than you know, braver than you feel, and more necessary than you think. We look up from the ground right in front of us and notice the friend who needs a metaphorical drink of water, whether in the form of a note in the mail, a coffee on her doorstep, a reminder that she’s doing enough. And we allow others to do the same for us.
  1. We conserve our energy. We slow down and shed any extra weight that makes this long race any harder than it already is. We relentlessly cut out anything that isn’t necessary or life-giving, whether it’s a nonessential project, an unrealistic goal, a draining obligation. This is not the season to add extra–the goal is to persevere, not to win first place.
  1. We refuel regularly. We purposefully integrate practices into our daily and weekly rhythms that provide rest, renewal, and even joy. Since no one else knows exactly what will replenish us, we must be unashamed in asking for what we need. As we prioritize self-care, we give others the freedom to do the same. 

In this seemingly unending season where the finish line keeps moving, may we be extra gentle toward ourselves, in thought and in action. You are running a good race, friend. It’s not over yet, but you’ve got what it takes to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t quit. Keep breathing. I’m right here next to you, cheering you on.

How to Fight Body Shame

How to Fight Body Shame

“Why can’t everyone just leave me alone?!!” I yelled, slamming the computer closed and storming out of the room. Corey tentatively followed me into the kitchen where I was hurling plastic dishes into the sink. I wanted to eat something, but I distracted myself by cleaning up the mess from breakfast instead. 

“What’s going on?” he asked, bravely offering me an invitation to verbalize the rage he could see all over my face. 

I made an angry sound somewhere between a growl and a moan. “I can’t write with noise coming from every direction out of every single person in the house!” I shouted. Mercifully, he nodded in understanding. “I just want to go somewhere–anywhere–to be alone!” 

“I get it,” he said gently. “This is really hard.” It was just what I needed to hear. 

His acknowledgement diffused the intensity of my emotion. Feeling understood was a like a momentary lifeline out of the waves of my overwhelming frustration. Unknowingly, he had saved me from looking for comfort elsewhere–namely in the kitchen pantry.

I sighed deeply, humbled by his compassionate response to my tantrum. Apologizing for my outburst, I scrawled “do not disturb” on a piece of scratch paper and taped it on the bedroom door. Here I am now, laptop back open, trying again to fight for my sanity by typing words that help me hone in on what’s happening inside me.

The morning blowup didn’t come out of thin air; it was an emotional eruption of internal pressure that had been building and building. These days of isolation and intense “togetherness” have worn me down, depleting my reserves of patience and flexibility and optimism. I feel trapped, lonely, angry, and powerless to change the circumstances that are sucking the life out of me.

The longer we spend in quarantine, the harder it gets–and the more desperate I feel for relief.

I really did start out strong, working hard to reframe this as an opportunity–to soak up more time together, live with fewer distractions, embrace greater simplicity in our days. I focused on controlling what I could, resolved to implement practices that protect my physical, mental, and emotional health. Time alone to pray every morning, walks outside in the afternoon, regular sweat-inducing exercise and mostly healthy food choices all helped mitigate the effects of so many stressors.

But as two weeks became four, then eight became who-knows-how-many-more, my energy for self-care gradually diminished. Adrenaline and willpower wore thin and unhealthy coping strategies started seeping in through the cracks in my self-discipline. 

Instead of processing how I was feeling, I’d bake cookies; instead of going for a walk, I’d pour a glass of wine. It felt like I was already giving up so much–worrying about my food choices just felt like something I couldn’t manage on top of everything else.

Somehow, what started as sporadic indulgences became daily habits. Old stress eating patterns reemerged like muscle memory. Even as I told myself that I don’t struggle like I used to with food, convincing myself that I didn’t need to check myself as often or limit my sugar intake as carefully, I knew I was treading on dangerous ground. 

These momentary hits of relief didn’t come without consequences. Seemingly out of nowhere, my pants stopped fitting. 

Eventually, our choices catch up to us.

The old, familiar voice of shame hissed in my ear, “Look at you! You are so disgusting. You should have known you couldn’t stay healthy for long–it was just a matter of time before you lost control again. It’s no good pretending. You’ve always been fat and you always will be.”

You could say I’m a bit hard on myself. 

This battle with body shame is painfully familiar territory. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been trying to lose weight–so often focusing on calorie restriction instead of nourishment, exercising to burn calories instead of build strength, and criticizing every angle of my reflection instead of celebrating my unique shape. If I could just lose a few more pounds…

The result of endlessly striving to perfect a body that is inherently imperfect? Shame. Loads of it. 

The distorted belief that my lovability somehow increases or decreases with a number on the scale? That’s shame. My desire to hide from anyone who might notice or judge me for struggling? That’s shame. The temptation to collapse into overindulgence and self-hatred instead of admitting I need care? That’s shame. The excruciating fear of being rejected for who I am or what I’ve done? That’s shame at its core.

But shame cannot survive being spoken aloud. Admitting that my relationship with my body is complicated–that I vacillate between gratitude and contempt for it every single day–undoes the isolation and secrecy that give shame its power.

The truth is, my body bears the scars of a battle with disordered eating, a struggle with self-hatred, a fear of being unworthy of love, the birthing of two humans, and the residual pain of past injuries. It is both resilient and fragile, unique and imperfect, athletic and worn down, ever-changing and steadfast, capable of bearing deep pain and holding great joy.

It is a body that has lived hard and loved much and has not given up on me yet. 

I have legs that can run and jump and dance. I have arms that can wrap my kids tight and hold them close. I have two eyes that can see beauty all around me. I have lungs that can breathe deep and sing loud. I have skin that can touch and feel and sweat. 

I have a body that is imperfect and flawed and uniquely mine. 

A lifetime of self-criticism is hard to unlearn. In this season when my capacity is maxed out, when my feelings are big and my body is tired and I’m doing my best to survive each day, it’s hard to be gentle with myself. Maybe you can relate?

It helps me to remember what the research shows: The antidote to shame is empathy. Sharing our struggle with a safe person who can look us in the eyes and hear our heart, hold our pain, and validate our struggle without trying to fix us is like a healing balm to our soul.

As life continues in all of its sweet and sour moments, may you find a quiet place to sit alone long enough to thank your body for all it’s done for you. 

May you have the courage to invite someone who loves you into the places you’re tempted to struggle alone. 

May you find the grace to gaze gently at the beauty you carry, beholding yourself without judgement or shame. 

And may you know beyond a shadow of doubt that who you are today, imperfect and in process, is worthy of love.

Today I’m going to exercise. And buy new pants. Without shame.

Feeling Crazy in an Upside Down World

Feeling Crazy in an Upside Down World

I’m still recovering from my last trip to the grocery store.

An eerie silence greeted me at the door, compelling me to walk quietly, almost on tiptoe as I sanitized my cart. The air felt solemn, void of the usual buzz of smalltalk and laughter and even tantrums–in fact, children were conspicuously absent. Most shoppers wore masks over their mouths and noses, some homemade from handkerchiefs or procured from paint supplies in the garage.

The fear in the atmosphere was palpable, and it immediately enveloped me in its grip.

I felt myself almost holding my breath while I hunted through the aisles of empty shelves in search of the necessities. Shoppers avoided one another, and as I pushed my cart one way, people would swerve the opposite direction to avoid coming too close. Some visibly cowered as I walked by, turning their faces away from me while I did my best to give as much space as possible. Almost everyone avoided eye contact; almost no one smiled.

My head knew it wasn’t personal–social distancing is necessary to protect us all. But my heart still felt a stab of rejection. And I was exhausted by the time I checked out.

I’ve always been a feeler. I experience emotions big and loud and passionate–both gratifying emotions and difficult ones impact me deeply, for better or worse. Until recently, I believed my sensitivity to the world around me was a character flaw, that there must be something wrong for me to be so affected by life. 

It turns out that emotions are actually a really beautiful part of being human.

Emotions are neither good nor bad; they are simply our body’s response to what is happening around us. 

It’s becoming a new passion of mine, learning about the role of emotions and the way our brains and bodies are connected to what we feel. Under stress, our body works extra hard to keep us safe from perceived threats, collecting information about our surroundings before our conscious mind is even aware. Our brain processes the information it receives and tells us our body how to respond. Do we run and hide? Get ready to fight? Are we safe enough to relax?

Lately, my brain has been firing on overdrive trying to make sense of this upside down world full of isolation and social distancing. It’s exhausting. As a result, my emotions have felt like a roller coaster, climbing and plummeting without warning, sometimes even multiple days a day:

I’ll start the morning grateful to be home with my family, soaking up so much unexpected time with my kids and squeezing them extra tight. A moment later, I’m angrily sending them both to their rooms for fighting or sassing or throwing a tantrum–basically acting on the outside the way I feel inside, too.

I try to reset with exercise and a healthy smoothie, empowered and resolved to care for my body. But by late afternoon I’m nibbling on chocolate pulled from my emergency stash, struggling with self-condemnation because I can’t seem to stop.

The natural homebody in me finds partial relief in permission to stay home, but as the day goes on claustrophobia builds and I feel trapped, frustrated that I can’t find a moment or space to be alone.

I’m desperate to connect with friends in person but confused about what’s okay–can we go for a walk six feet apart? Can I sit in your lawn and sip coffee? Is there a way to both stay home and stay sane?

Not to mention the looming fear in the back of my mind, buzzing quietly enough to mostly ignore but always there, growing in volume when I read the paper or scroll the news feed or let my mind wander down the path of “what if?” It’s a constant drain on the energy I draw on to manage the other emotions in my life, all of which feel bigger in this quarantine cage. 

Life feels so confusing right now. It’s hard to know which way is up, especially outside of the normal rhythms and community that keep me grounded. We weren’t designed to do life alone–we simply cannot thrive without regular, meaningful human connection.

The more time we spend in isolation, the harder it is for me to remember what normal even used to be like. And the more I wonder if I’ll ever be the same again.

Feelings are not unfamiliar territory for me, but the scope and volatility of our collective emotional experience these days is enough to make anyone feel a bit crazy.

But you’re not crazy. I’m not crazy. We’re NOT crazy. This is just plain hard. Everything is new, nothing is certain. We’re alone and afraid and forging our way through uncharted territory, which takes loads of courage and tons of perseverance.

Today I’m angry. For no good reason, except everything. I’m tired of holding it all together. I’m tired of being optimistic and cheering us on indefinitely. I’m grieving how much I’ve been forced to give up this spring and I’m mad that I feel powerless to do anything about it. I’m tired of yelling at my kids or being mean to my husband because I’m exhausted and feeling everything extra big. I’m tired of being less than my best self.

Life will not always feel this hard. It’s hard to believe things will change in the midst of a pandemic that has no cure, no end in sight. But it won’t last forever. We will come out on the other side–we’re already closer to the end than we were when it started.

In the meantime, the more honest we can be about what we’re experiencing, the healthier we will be both today and when this whole thing becomes a memory. Buried feelings don’t just go away–they will come out eventually in the form of unhealthy behaviors or physical symptoms or relational distress or worse. 

So let’s not wait to deal with what we’re all facing. Let’s name it. Let’s feel it–because feelings are not meant to be held, stuffed, or ignored. They are meant to be…felt. And named. And shared with someone safe enough to care that you feel what you feel.

You’re not crazy. You’re brave and you’re tired and you’re doing the best you can. And your best is enough.

When Life Doesn’t Look Like You Want

When Life Doesn’t Look Like You Want

Yesterday didn’t look the way I expected. Maybe you can relate.

By ten o’clock in the morning, I laid on the floor weeping in defeated surrender over frustrated plans for my first day with my newly homebound children. One stubbornly chose to clean her room rather than join me in kid-friendly yoga, while the other curled up in a ball of tears next to me, moaning because the movements were just too hard.

My best efforts to nurture their minds and bodies were failing. I had spent hours the night before, planning, organizing, and picturing the new rhythm of school at home we would embrace over the next six weeks. From the moment everyone woke up, however, it was clear that my expectations were not going to be our reality. I pushed, they resisted; I threatened, they melted down; I controlled, they rebelled.

It was too much, too soon. Yoga was the last straw–we all broke.

None of us were ready for life to look so different so fast.

Over the past week, one broadcast at a time, the things I depend on to keep my life stable, predictable, and healthy have all been shut down. It started out slowly, murmurs of disruption whispering quietly from places far enough away to feel removed from my reality. I mostly ignored the voices of fear and alarm, rationalizing that our quiet life was safe from the panic I saw elsewhere.

The murmurs grew into figurative shouts almost overnight. A mild discomfort stirring inside of me spiraled into uneasiness that threatened to morph into full fledged anxiety as I became more and more aware that I am not in control of what’s happening all around me. 

All at once, my life suddenly looks nothing like I expected.

Catapulted into the role of an educator, reorganizing my days around engaging my kids’ hearts and minds, and feeling ill-equipped and unprepared.

Fasting and praying and trusting God to provide what we had planned to raise at a now cancelled fundraiser, believing my husband’s job will remain stable.

Stripped of the outlet to move my body and teach other women to dance, to sweat, to persevere, to fight against the forces that threaten our mental and physical health.

Disconnected from the community that helps me process the big feelings all this stirs up, isolated out of fear of infecting others or contracting a sickness I can’t see and can’t fight.

Wrestling with shame over the number of tears I’ve cried already, over the sense of failure in realizing I have no idea if I have what it takes to survive this.

Life is harder than I feel equipped to navigate successfully on my own.

I’m fully aware that there are so many others struggling for reasons that seem bigger, more significant, more legitimate. One friend is facing a potential loss of her business; another has been blocked from traveling to bring home her almost-adopted daughter. And those are just two stories–people everywhere are facing unprecedented challenges that stir up real anxiety, real pain, real uncertainty. 

No matter how big or small the interruption looks for you as compared to anyone else, we cannot escape the fact that our reality has been altered indefinitely. Comparison does nothing to soothe the ache of disappointment that comes when life looks different than we want it to.

We are all reeling a bit, knocked off-balance and unsteadily trying to step forward into a world where nothing feels certain. In the midst of so many unknowns, here’s what I DO know:

1. I can’t do this alone. Left alone with my thoughts and fears and frustrations and feelings, I quickly work myself into a spiral of hopelessness. I realized yesterday that now, more than ever, I must reach out to my people in creative new ways. Technology has the potential to steal my peace, but it can also help me build a bridge of connection–Marco Polo, Voxer, FaceTime, Google Hangouts and even strategic social media, I’ve never appreciated you more!

2. I must get outside. I need the sun to shine on my skin, the fresh air to open up my lungs, my eyes to lift off of the screen and up to the expanse of sky, to the beauty of the world beyond the often constricting walls of my house. The moment you step outside, I’m told, the stress hormones in your body immediately begin to dissipate–I need this now more than ever.

3. I must practice healthy rhythms. My physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health all need extra attention when life spins out of control. Exercise is a non-negotiable. Quiet time in the afternoon helps our whole family reset. Nourishing meals remind me to eat for fuel and not for comfort. Protecting time to pray and meditate on Scripture shifts my focus and calms my heart. Without these practices that bring life, my days feel chaotic, anxiety spikes, and my soul shrivels.

4. I must prioritize both gratitude and authenticity. Choosing to name the gifts in this moment–even when I have to grasp to find them–builds my capacity for joy. But I also need to make space to admit what is hard, or I risk missing the chance to encounter God in the places I need him most. Telling the truth about where I’m struggling releases the hold of discontent so gratitude can do its work. I need both.

More than ever, I’m resolved to fight for the practices that help me thrive. The stress inherent in this season threatens to trigger either panic or despair, which could easily morph into full-blown anxiety or even depression. (Ask me how I know.) 

I’ve learned the hard way that I cannot neglect self-care when life presses in on all sides.

After a run in the sunshine, this morning brought with it new hope, new perspective, and new resolve to find the gift in this forced slowing. Today I didn’t coerce my kids into adhering to my schedule but decided to savor the freedom of releasing control. And we all breathed a little easier. We laughed a lot more, too. At the end of the day, I’d choose joy over control every time.

What practices help you stay grounded when life feels unsteady? I’d love to learn from you!

What’s Happening Inside Us

What’s Happening Inside Us

When he was two, our son had several episodes where he would simply freeze up and stop responding. Connley would stare at the ground, unmoving for minutes at a time, as if he had checked out of his body, leaving just an empty shell of a boy.

Terrified, we would do anything we could think of to snap him out of it, crouching on the ground and coaxing him with gentle words or grabbing him by the shoulders in hopes of arresting his attention, but unable to shake him out of whatever was going on. Finally, one of us would pick him up like a rag doll and hold him close; eventually Connley would wrap his arms around our neck and let us hold him until he came back to himself.

We had no idea what was causing our son’s body to shut down, and we had no idea how to help him.

A friend who worked as a pediatrician witnessed one of these episodes, and the concern on her face sent my heart into a panic. Fearing seizures or worse, we got a referral to a children’s hospital and made an appointment to have his brain monitored.

Feigning bravery, I carried Connley into a bright exam room, then restrained him through tears while two nurses adhered dozens of electrodes to his head. Each electrode was connected to a long wire attached to a machine that would monitor his brain activity while he slept. Once he was all hooked up, I cradled him in my arms and tried to act calm so he would fall asleep for the test. I stared at my baby boy napping with wires coming out of his gauze-wrapped head and wept, praying for courage and hating that we were doing this to our son.

But we had no other way to find out what was going on inside of him.

The first time I saw him freeze up, I had yelled too loudly, reprimanding him harshly for repeated disobedience. My response was disproportionate to his behavior; he didn’t deserve such a stern scolding. But frustration had been building in me all day for a million different reasons and I had held it in–until that moment. I snapped. I shouted. And he shut down.

It should have been a clear connection; the shame that flooded my body in the aftermath of my overreaction should have been a clue that my startling anger had scared him. Triggers for other episodes were harder to pinpoint: entering an unfamiliar house with lots of voices speaking at once; playing outside and being approached by a gruff neighbor; and countless other moments that seemed innocuous in isolation. 

The neurologist confirmed it, though: Connley’s brain showed all normal electrical activity. No seizures. Nothing medical explained what we had witnessed. The doctor explained that Connley was shutting down simply to get a response out of us. 

Connley needed comfort but didn’t have the words yet to tell us what he was feeling inside. His body found a way to protect his heart when it felt unsafe. 

My body does the same thing.

I notice a tightness in my chest, a churning in my belly, a clenching in my shoulders and I’m learning to pay attention. My body knows before my mind is aware that something is happening inside of me. It cries out for help, sending signals to get my attention, bidding me to stop and notice, to provide comfort and care.

It hit me hard yesterday, the old panic gripping my chest, wrenching my belly to the point of queasiness, constricting my lungs so my breath came shallow and quick. I didn’t pay attention until my heart started pounding, hammering from the inside like a fist banging on a door. 

My body was giving me clues, inviting me to notice my internal world, to pause long enough to get curious about why I was so anxious. 

I took a deep breath, lowering the phone that had screamed for my attention and choosing to suspend for a moment the people awaiting my response. “What is wrong with me?” I asked, berating myself for what seemed like irrational anxiety. (Condemnation comes easily when I feel overwhelmed, heaping shame on top of the fear that floats beneath the surface.)

But curiosity and judgement cannot coexist. So I exhaled slowly, surrendered, and changed the question. I wondered instead, “What is happening inside me right now?” 

The answer came quietly, like a frightened child peeking out from her hiding place to make sure the coast is clear. “I’m afraid,” I whispered. Somehow, naming it diffused the pressure inside my chest. “It’s all too much,” I admitted, gently allowing the little girl inside to have a voice. “I’m just afraid.”

A few minutes of breathing, a text to my husband to ask for prayer, and acknowledgement of my fear was enough that morning to get me through those moments of anxiety. It’s not always so simple, though.

Sometimes there are weeks or months or even years of feelings that have remained unnoticed, avoided, ignored. But when my mind tries to talk my heart out of an emotion, my body eventually finds a way to get my attention.

If I ignore my loneliness, I often find myself digging through the pantry after the kids are in bed, grabbing handfuls of chocolate chips but never able to satisfy my craving.

When stress overwhelms me, I sense pressure building inside my head until my brain feels physically tight, like a balloon that’s overly inflated. The tension I carry in my shoulders eventually progresses into debilitating headaches that demand attention.

Being hurt by someone I love feels like the blood draining out of my face. I often shut down and withdraw, unable to make eye contact and disengaging in self-protection.

We aren’t meant to carry our internal worlds alone. We aren’t meant to internalize or minimize or rationalize away the things we feel, especially the things that feel unpleasant or unacceptable. 

And we all feel things, whether we notice them or not.

The longer things have been buried, the more work it takes to excavate what’s beneath the surface–so I often resist. It’s muddy at first, hard to see where to start, and I need to be willing to sift through it slowly. But I can’t do it alone.

I used to think my neediness was a character flaw. Now I know that needing help to process what I feel comes with being human, and it’s necessary for my health.

We desperately need those we love to come close enough for us to whisper “I’m afraid,” or “I’m hurting,” or “I’m lonely.” We need to be held, fully accepted and embraced in our vulnerability, protected from harm in the safe arms of another. 

Sharing what’s inside of us is both terrifying in its vulnerability and healing in its intimacy.

It seems so simple, so easy. Name what’s happening inside. Say, “I’m sad” or “I’m scared.” Our words are the invitation for those we love to come near, wrap us in their arms and help the child inside (because there will always be a child inside us) feel safe.

But it’s anything but easy. 

Sitting still with ourselves long enough to notice what’s happening inside takes courage. And using words to name out loud all the things we feel in a given day–the fear, insecurity, joy, pain, disappointment, excitement, anger, doubt, and beyond–it may be one of the bravest things we can do.

Connley’s six now and still learning to put words to the big things he feels. I’m still learning too. We’ll keep practicing together, keep choosing to invite each other in, helping one another name what’s happening inside us.

And when we just don’t know what to say, a hug always fills in the gap where words fall short.

A New Season

A New Season

As I write, I’m sipping a pumpkin spice americano with cream, admiring the golden leaves still holding on for dear life as the nights get progressively colder. Today sunlight streams in through the windows and a blue sky helps gratitude come easily. I’m painfully aware of how short this season is, how quickly the leaves will all fall and the afternoon sun set earlier.

It’s supposed to snow next week. Before I feel ready, fall will turn to winter and everything will look different. The landscape will appear more barren, the air will chill my skin, I’ll wear thick sweaters and long pants, and braving the outdoors will require more prep and motivation. 

Each new season brings an invitation to live differently than we did before. Change bids us to remember where we’ve been, to remember who we are.

Today I find myself in a different season than the one I was in a few months ago–and I don’t just mean summer to fall. The stage of my life that I never thought would end, spending all day every day with kids who needed my constant care, has begun its slow fade into my memory. It’s been a couple months now, but the milestone I’ve been dreaming about for years has finally arrived: My youngest kiddo started kindergarten.

For eight years of long days and short moments, I simultaneously treasured our time together and counted down the months until my babes were both in school all day. For this seemingly endless season, my identity naturally wrapped itself around my role as mom, sidelining other parts of me that didn’t seem to have a place in my life for a time. It was a stage as hard as it was sweet.

I didn’t realize that in the midst of it I’d forgotten who I was.

Five years ago this month, I began an experiment with writing and started a blog on a whim. I didn’t know then how much I needed this space to create, to share, to encourage, to process. I discovered that using words to share my heart made me come alive, made me feel more like myself than I had in a long time.

But then, life.

The past couple years brought a new season of deep struggle and pain that knocked me off my feet. Necessarily, I pulled back from writing on my blog both to allow myself space to process more privately but also because I didn’t have words to express what was happening below the surface.

What I didn’t realize in the midst of my journey through such a tender season was that writing keeps me grounded. Telling my story on paper allows me to understand my experience in a new way. Writing slows me down, creating space to find my bearings. It helps me to remember who I’m made to be. 

Beyond writing just for myself, sharing my story brings meaning out of the seasons I’ve lived. Offering a piece of myself to others reminds me that my life, my story matters. 

Your story matters too.

The season in which you find yourself is an integral part of your journey. Whether you can see it or not, you are being shaped by the moments you are living today. 

You might be in a season full of sweet moments with littles, where you’re savoring snuggles and grateful for this time. Or on a new adventure, building a business or earning your degree in pursuit of a dream. Maybe you’re anticipating a new beginning, or right in the middle of a stage you wish would never end.

But you might be in a season didn’t choose–maybe there’s illness or challenges at work or difficulty with a child. Maybe you’re longing for a relationship that hasn’t come or straining to navigate life with healthy boundaries. You might be caring for an elderly parent or searching for a job with financial stability or struggling with depression. You could be grieving the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage, the loss of a dream. Some days may feel like too much, like you can’t keep doing this, that it isn’t even worth it.

I’ve been there too. It’s so very hard to believe life won’t always feel the way it does right now.

But this is not the end of your story. This season may be harder than anyone knows, but a new one is coming. And you will be different because of it.

Some days have passed since I last wrote, and the snow is here now. As fall transitions into winter, I’m reflecting back on the past couple years with new eyes. I just re-read something I wrote two years ago, while I was still in the midst of a deep depression, fighting to persevere through one difficult day after another. Even though I couldn’t see it then, I now recognize in myself courage that was bone-deep, the grueling tenacity of a girl who wanted to give up but didn’t. 

My heart aches with compassion for that girl now, remembering how it felt like life would always be an excruciating struggle, like nothing would ever change. Miraculously, tediously, gradually that season ended. She survived. Looking back, I’m so proud of her endurance. 

Something about a new time of year invites us to take a deep breath, to remember where we’ve been and consider where we’re going. I’m eager to jump into something new, to run as fast as I can out of a stage so full of difficulty and into a new season brimming with possibility and potential. 

But I don’t want to miss the gift of remembering–remembering where I’ve been, how God met me, where I struggled, where I found victory, how I grew, where I persevered, and in the midst of it all, how I was transformed. 

Remembering my story helps me take hold of who I am–not just who I used to be, but who I’ve become. Remembering enables me to live with deeper courage in the season ahead.

Whatever season you find yourself in, may you receive the gift this moment offers, even if it’s buried beneath dead leaves or frozen snow. May you remember who you are and in so doing find the courage to share a bit of your journey with another. This is not the end of your story, but it just may be the beginning of a new season.

Confessions of a Struggling Mom

Confessions of a Struggling Mom

“Mom, we decided we don’t want you to work while we’re at school,” my daughter reported, little brother nodding in agreement.

“Oh really?” I asked. “Why not?”

“We like it when you’re home. We just want you to be at home all day, even when we’re not there.” Her words were matter of fact, their verdict not up for discussion.

Inside, I felt a wave of panic rise to the surface, growing into a tsunami that threatened to destroy my hopes and dreams and plans for how I will finally spend my time once they are both in school.

“Thanks for letting me know,” I told them, biting my tongue to hold back laughter or sarcasm or any other potentially hurtful response. “Being your mom is the most important job I’ll ever have.” And I meant it. Every word.

But it’s just as true that staying at home with my kids is the hardest choice I’ve ever made. I struggle with it every day. Hard.

Let me be clear: I love my children fiercely. My ability to stay home and make ends meet on a single income is a gift I don’t take for granted. It is a choice I would make again and again if presented the opportunity.

But it is also the most difficult work I’ve ever done.

Please don’t tell me how much I’m going to miss this season—how fast time goes and how I should enjoy it because before I know it they’ll be in college and how I’ll look back and wish they were still little and still needed me and all the other things I already know. Don’t make me feel guiltier than I already do for struggling.

I’m fully aware that these are supposed to be “the good ole days” and I’m missing them by wishing they would hurry up already.

I love my children deeply, yet I live in the tension between my selfish desires and legitimate dreams. My husband and I agree together that, at least for now, the best investment of the majority of my time is in caring for our kids.

And yet…yearning swells from the depths of my heart for greater purpose, for opportunity to impact the world outside these walls.

For the record, I have two of the sweetest cherubs of all time—they are funny and creative, energetic and entertaining, affectionate and independent. They are also little humans who test out boundaries and rebel against authority and lose control of their emotions frequently. (Kind of like me.) In short, they are beautifully unique, developmentally normal kids.

Brooklynn and Connley are my favorite little people on the planet. They teach me everyday about growth and curiosity, grace and unconditional love. They teach me about forgiveness and resilience, living generously and being brave, staying present and learning to play. They teach me that love is the willingness to put their needs above my agenda.

I know what you’re thinking, and I agree: my greatest contribution to the world is the way I raise my kids. You’re right. I whole-heartedly believe that what I’m doing—the mundane, day-to-day, menial tasks that make up most of my days—it matters for eternity. It is holy ground. There is no more important, more life-changing work that I could ever do for a paycheck.

And yet.

This God-given passion for leadership, for inspiring others to affect change in their spheres of influence? There’s not a place for it while I’m walking my daughter home from school.

My love of writing, of using words to tell a story that brings hope to those who might otherwise feel alone and unseen? It’s impossible to create when my kids are clamoring for my attention.

The way I come to life when I’m teaching others, encouraging them to live a more whole-hearted life? It’s hard to do with a babe on my hip.

That desire to be seen, appreciated, valued for my talents and contributions? It’s non-existent in the world of legos, laundry, grocery shopping and naptime.

And yet. I know this season is about so much more than mothering. These years—full of the moments that make up the sweetest, hardest, longest-feeling days—they are training ground for my soul. If I’ll let it, my struggle will make me not only a better mom, but a better me. I might actually find that:

Leading others starts in the hidden places where I lead myself. This season just might be where I practice prioritizing people over productivity, encouraging others over executing tasks, and leading myself over leading a team.

Creativity doesn’t happen without making space and time for it to emerge. I’m slowly learning to order my days to make room for writing, letting go of my image of a beautiful office where I can spend my days poring over words, and instead curating nuggets of quiet space where creativity can flow.

And just maybe the kind of teaching I most long to do, the teaching that builds a person’s character, inspires their heart, releases their passion—maybe my kids become a captive audience to lessons that need to be worked out in real life before they’re shared in a larger classroom.

Perhaps this season may be more about my growth in humility than my breadth of impact. As much as I long to make a difference out in the big, exciting world beyond this sometimes suffocating house, I don’t want to miss the character training parenting offers.

And I’m not just talking about training my children’s character—I’m talking about my own.

I don’t want to minimize the struggle. It’s a battle every moment to believe these days aren’t wasted, to reframe my time at home as an opportunity to prepare these little hearts to change the world.

But in the midst of it all, I ache for my heart to grow in humility, patience, and joy, even when it’s hard. I don’t want to waste the gift.

If you’re a mom who feels like you’re losing your identity as a real human with desires and passion and gifts outside of diapers and playdates and Candyland, know that you are not alone. There’s nothing wrong with you for wanting more in this often tedious season.

You are a good mom, and you are doing holy, important work. (Even on the days when it feels like anything but.)

And the bottoms you’re wiping, the laundry you are folding, the behavior you’re disciplining? It is changing you. Maybe in ways you cannot see today, but you are different than you used to be.

And you are changing the world. One snuggle at a time.

Creating Space

Creating Space

Since I stopped working several years ago, I’ve really missed my desk. It wasn’t particularly noteworthy or attractive–but it was mine.

A heavy metal beast, it had survived several decades traveling from classroom to classroom, the formica top peeling in places and brown circles from various cups of coffee stained along the edge. A wooden organizer provided a home to sticky notes, referral slips, and thumb tacks. It was functional yet uninspiring.

The desk itself wasn’t anything remarkable, but it was my own.

During my days as a teacher, my desk was the first place I’d go when I entered my classroom each morning. I’d drop my bags, pull up my chair, take a deep breath and mentally prepare for the day ahead. Whether checking email, designing lessons, or grading papers, this was my place to do the work I needed in order to be fully present with students for the rest of the day.

It was a space that kept me grounded, focused on my purpose.

Several years ago, I stopped teaching in preparation for the family my husband and I were planning to grow. Corey and I made the commitment to live on a single income so I could stay at home to raise our kids full-time.

Back then, the choice seemed easy. It was a decision we fully believed was best for our family, one we would make again if given the chance. Yet in the midst of dreaming about the baby we would soon hold, I failed to fully consider the cost of staying home.

I had no idea how much I was giving up.

I didn’t realize I was sacrificing my identity as a professional, the satisfaction of working hard all day then coming home to rest and recover, the freedom to offer others my full attention, the energy to dream and lead and create, or the opportunity to use my gifts and training to make a difference in our community.

It didn’t occur to me until later that I was giving up the space I used to be my best self.

If I’m honest, I’ve struggled through my first several years of motherhood. Let me be clear: I cherish my kids. While I’m humbled by gratitude for the ability to stay home with them, I also often find myself writhing internally within the limitations of this season. And I feel guilty admitting it.

I would choose this life again in a heartbeat, the privilege of shaping precious humans all day, but it also chafes against the very core of how I’m wired to achieve, perform, and produce visible results.

My deeper struggle, though, comes from relinquishing an expression of my unique identity outside of the role that I play as mom.

It finally hit me a couple weeks ago–I needed a desk.

Not that it was ever really about a piece of furniture. I needed a space to intentionally pursue what brings me life. Enough of responding reactively to the external forces shaping my days; it’s time to proactively build rhythms that allow me to flourish in this current season.

So I pulled together random bits of furniture from other parts of the house, a table from the laundry room, an extra chair and lamp that wouldn’t be missed. Snagging a candle here and a basket there, I rounded up decor and repurposed it for my new workspace.

It has changed everything.

I finally have a venue to create, to sit still and undistracted, to write words that bring life; a designated corner to focus fully on the people I’m coaching; an uncluttered nook to organize my thoughts, prioritize my time, and strategize for the week and beyond.

More than just giving me a place to get stuff done, setting up my own space has legitimized my pursuit of the things I feel called to do.

Glancing at this miniature office in the corner of my bedroom sparks joy, not just because it’s pretty, but also because it serves as a reminder of who I’m created to be. A wife and mom, yes, gratefully so. But I’m also a writer, a leader, a dreamer, a teacher, a coach, a professional with skills and gifts that are worth investing in.

Looking at my desk reminds me who I am.

It calls me back to how I want to live: moving forward with intention, shaping the world instead of being molded by it.

It invites me to create space for what matters, things that otherwise get lost in the clamor of what’s urgent.

It beckons me to come, sit, breathe deep, refocus, and prepare for the transformation I crave.

It offers hope, a latch to unlock the door keeping me bound inside my current perspective.

It welcomes curiosity, allowing me to settle down long enough to ask the deeper questions, which will only surface when my inner turmoil grows still.

This space allows me to re-order my days so my internal priorities align with how I spend my actual moments.

As I sit here now, I’m choosing to leave other things undone for a time. An egg-crusted pan remains in the sink, our new puppy waits reluctantly in her crate, and text messages stay marked “unread.” But while those things linger, my soul comes a bit more to life.

I don’t want to look back and realize I missed it, whatever it is. May you also have the courage to determinedly pursue what matters most in your world, one space at a time. Your life is worth it.

Brave Enough to Keep Trying

Brave Enough to Keep Trying

Since I was in elementary school, I have fantasized about performing in a Broadway musical. It doesn’t matter that I have the vocal giftedness of a robot—a dream is a dream, and it was mine.

Blame my parents for taking me to see The Phantom of the Opera when I was ten. Everything about the performance was magical, inspiring me to spend hours locked in my bedroom pretending to be Christine Daaé. I played the soundtrack on repeat, singing along and memorizing every lyric—if a casting director ever knocked on my door, I would be ready.

It didn’t matter that I couldn’t sing on key to save my life. I was brave enough then to hold fiercely to a dream that stirred my heart, no matter what odds were stacked against me.

I tried out for our town’s production of Annie, singing my little heart out in the group audition and using my best falsetto to sound just like the professionals. I didn’t get a call back; it was the last time I tried out for a show of any kind. One rejection was all it took to squelch the shaky confidence that had given me the courage even to try.

If we let it, fear of failure will keep us from doing anything that matters. 

Rejection is devastating, even if it’s just perceived. As a kid, anticipating that I might not have what it took to get a part was enough to keep me from trying out again. Even though I’m all grown up now, insecurity still squelches my courage more often than I’d like to admit.

It’s been months since I’ve written anything here after losing my confidence as a writer when my world imploded last year. A series of events outside of my control led to a season of debilitating anxiety and depression, forcing our family to focus all our energy on recovery and healing. It has been excruciating and grace-filled and painful and beautiful—a year we would have never chosen, but one God has used to build greater freedom and deeper love than ever before.

Writing again now makes me wonder if my heart has really recovered enough to be vulnerable with my words again. It feels brave to offer my story back out to the world, unprotected from potential criticism, misunderstanding, or judgment.

I’m not a professional blogger. I’ve never been formally trained in creative non-fiction. I don’t know what I’m doing when my fingers start flying across the keyboard, but I know it makes me feel alive to put my heart into words.

More often than not, I read other writers’ work and feel inadequate in comparison. I talk myself out of the unique voice I bring to the world because it’s not as witty/deep/well-written/insightful/funny/inspiring/fill-in-the-blank as those I admire.

Even though I know better, I still catch myself using others as my measuring stick of enough-ness. I forget I’m not supposed to be them, I am designed to be me—imperfect, honest, insecure, passionate, dorky, hopeful—fully myself, just as I am.

Comparison steals the joy of discovering the irreplaceable beauty only we can offer the world.

I tell myself I shouldn’t even try to write because it’s not like I’m going to publish a book or make a living on my blog or do anything substantial with my words. It’s like I’m asking, “What’s the point of singing show tunes if I’m never going to perform on Broadway?”

Because I love it, that’s why.

Just like listening to Elphaba belt out “Defying Gravity” gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes (Wicked fans, am I right?!), writing awakens my soul and brings it to life like nothing else. And even though I may not be Idina Menzel, I can still sing the song I’ve been given at the top of my lungs with all the passion my heart can muster.

What matters most isn’t the performance I deliver but the bravery of offering my unique voice, no matter the response.

So I’m starting here, choosing to do one brave thing at a time, feeling vulnerable because it requires me to step out of the safety of my comfort zone. I may not be the best writer in the blogosphere, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write anyway. I’ll never grow into who I was meant to be unless I try and try and try again.

Neither will you.

Your brave thing will likely look completely different than mine. It might be inviting someone over for dinner or applying for a new job or setting boundaries in a relationship or taking that class you’ve always thought about. But if you never attempt the thing lingering in the back of your mind, you’ll never experience the fullness of who you were meant to be.

Building courage takes practice, so let’s just keep trying. You will be braver for showing up, even if you don’t get chosen for the part. The world needs more people like you.

Since vocal performance is not in my gift set, I decided to audition for a new role last week. After months of training, preparing, and convincing myself not to quit, I gathered enough courage to do something new and scary: I became certified as a group fitness instructor. And get this: I will dance on a stage wearing a microphone!

It may not be Broadway, but it feels like the next best thing. And you know what? That’s good enough for me.