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!

My Stained Glass Life

My Stained Glass Life

We started looking at minivans on craigslist last week. Yup, minivans. The car I swore I would never drive—the one you have to trade in your cool card to own. The car that says, “I care more about opening the doors by pushing a button than about pretending to be young and hip and sexy.”

But the thing is, I’m not young or hip or sexy—I’m a mom with two kids under five and more crumbs and abandoned toys in the backseat than I know what to do with. My current car is so small that I have to move the passenger seat all the way forward for my daughter to sit behind me—my legs are too long for any more of this nonsense. The time has come to look past cool and embrace my real life. Ugh…I must be growing up.

A couple years ago, as a friend and I were talking about my dream car with all the fancy bells and whistles I would never be able to afford, she made a statement that changed everything for me. She said, “I never want the car I drive to make people think I’m something I’m not.” It hit me—I want a cool car so others will think I’m cooler than I really am.

And it made me ask myself, what else am I pretending to be so that others will think I’m more than I actually am?

I’ve spent too many years thinking that if I work hard enough often enough, I actually can pull myself together. I believed the lie that if I could just…

figure out how to work out consistently,

keep my house clean,

remember birthdays,

avoid dessert,

manage my budget,

update my wardrobe,

plan healthy meals,

organize creative activities for my kids,

find time for myself,

and do it all without being tired,

THEN I would feel like enough. And more importantly, others would think I’m enough.

In reality, if my value is based on my ability to live up to the impossible standards I set for myself—aided by Pinterest, social media, and a tendency to compare and compete—I will never measure up. I just can’t do it all. No one can.

I don’t want to pretend to be more than I am. Pretending to have it all together is kind of like driving a fancier car than I can afford—and it’s a barrier that keeps people from seeing the real me, flaws and all. And my flaws are many.

For example, parenting brings out ugliness in me I never knew existed; staying home with my kids is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not to mention the guilt that comes with admitting I’m not completely satisfied by the beautiful gift of motherhood (gasp!).

You should also know that I’m a recovering perfectionist. It’s still a battle to believe that my performance does not equal my value. I am continually relearning that failure is not the enemy—but failure to risk failing is.

I struggle almost daily with what I see in the mirror, choosing to believe that beauty is not how our world defines it. It can’t be bought, applied, or styled, and it doesn’t require me to exercise for it or lose weight to find it. Beauty only grows as my body changes and ages and my heart softens and deepens.

Add to the list of flaws that I’m a terrible housekeeper. Just the thought of cleaning the house again overwhelms me—didn’t I just clean the bathrooms last week? Wasn’t that enough? Don’t even ask what’s for dinner…

I don’t know how to ask for help. I’m learning the hard way that I can’t do as much as I think I can. It is paralyzing and humbling and exhausting to worry more about burdening others than to ask them for what I need.

I’ve experienced depression so deep and crippling that the thought of continuing to live was unbearable. I know what it feels like to lose hope to the point of believing death is the best option—and I know that it’s possible to come out of the darkness more alive than ever before.

The list goes on—and yet, the freedom to admit I don’t have life figured out is worth the risk of being perceived as the mess that I really am. I’d rather live honest and free than hide behind an inauthentic self.

Fellow perfectionists, performers, and strivers: You are already enough. You can stop trying so hard. You are enough because you are made on purpose to reveal a God who shines most brightly through your cracks.

I don’t want anything in my life to create a perception that I’m anything other than a real human person, dependent on grace to get me through each moment. And if you’re a real human person who struggles in any way, I want you to know this: You. Are. Not. Alone.

I don’t want to waste any more energy or time trying to make myself into someone I think you’ll like. Instead, I want to allow the pieces of my life to be displayed as they are—without pretending. Transparent enough to let God’s perfect light shine brightly through my brokenness. Like a stained glass window.

The journey I’ve been on over the past couple years has been one of identifying the themes of struggle, heartache, joy, and passion throughout my life and asking God, “What do you want to do with that part of my story?” Over and over, the answer has been something along these lines: “Tell the world how you’ve seen my beauty—and let my beauty shine through your cracks.”

It feels scary to admit that I’m such a work in progress. But I want to be brave and honest and curious about the things I experience—and give others permission to do the same. Our lives are too short and too precious to pretend they’re not hard. Let’s be brave together instead of struggling alone.

May we all have the courage to tell one another the truth about how we’re really doing, holding with tenderness the pieces of others’ stained glass lives entrusted to our care. You are enough, struggles and all. Let the Light shine through your cracks.