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!

When You’re Not Who You Want to Be

When You’re Not Who You Want to Be

It’s been a hard kind of summer. The kind of summer where you look back and remember more of the struggle than the sweetness. The kind of summer that makes you look forward with hope to a new beginning come fall, to the crispness of a new school year with new rhythms and new energy.

I’m ready for a fresh start, not just for my schedule, but for my heart.

Part of what made summer so hard this year was that I didn’t expect it to be hard. I looked forward to the time we would spend away from home, including five weeks serving as a family at Young Life Camp. I was excited about the change of pace and the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Sometimes the hardest parts about making an eternal impact are the everyday sacrifices required along the way. It’s in the unseen, ordinary moments of surrender that the true contents of our hearts are exposed. And often when my comfort is on the line, what I see in my own heart looks more like selfishness than anything else.

I started this summer’s camp assignment with energy and excitement about what was to come. I was hopeful and prayerful and optimistic about all the ways we would all grow from serving while at camp for the month.

But as the exciting first hours turned into days that turned into weeks, reality set in. I missed my husband as he worked long days to run camp for hundreds of middle school kids each week. My own kids were over-stimulated and over-sugared and I was over-tired from living somewhere that wasn’t my home. After full days of rallying my kiddos to transition from our room to a meal then back again over and over, I had no relational margin to connect with the other women who seemed to be so gracefully navigating the parenting waters at camp. Oh, the familiar deathtrap of comparison—it never ceases to shame me into a sense of utter and complete failure.

I wasn’t the encourager I had envisioned—I felt discouraged. I wasn’t the laid-back mom I imagined—I was frazzled and tired of saying no to all the fun things constantly beckoning my children. I wasn’t the confident wife joyfully supporting my husband—I was emotional and needy and missed him like crazy.

My expectations had created a familiar prison of performance that I couldn’t escape. The gap between who I wanted to be and who I had the capacity to be during those weeks felt like failure, and I was trapped inside.

“I don’t like who I am here,” I told a group of women one morning as we gathered together. The female spouses on our team made it a priority to find time each week to connect and pray. Those two hours became my lifeline at camp, grounding me in the reality that I was not alone. One woman looked at me with understanding. She nodded and affirmed that it wasn’t just me. That’s all it took.

As I explained how I felt stuck in my own struggle, wallowing in the difficulty of my days instead of looking for the beauty in them, something shifted. Admitting I actually wasn’t okay gave me permission to stop pressuring myself to be who I thought I should be. Sharing my struggles out loud released me from the snare of shame, which feeds on isolation and hiding.

I was able to just rest in my reality.

Stop fighting against myself and accept that my capacity this summer was less than in summers past.

Quit putting pressure on myself to perform to a standard that no one else knew existed.

Believe that people could love me even when I wasn’t at my best.

Let myself be known as someone with nothing to offer but my honesty. And let it be enough.

As they prayed for me that morning, and as others prayed from home, something in my heart lightened. I felt more like myself again—loved not because I was functioning at my highest level, but loved just because I’m me. It’s a reminder I need every week, every day, every hour: I am loved, just as I am.

This summer proved that I have nothing to prove. My hope is not in my ability to avoid struggle, but in being loved whether I’m struggling or not.

I learned the hard way that I can choose in every moment to give thanks or to grumble.  And my choice affects my ability to see life as a gift to be enjoyed or as a burden to be endured.

Sometimes the miracle doesn’t come in changed circumstances but in a changed heart. As I focused less on myself and more on the grace all around me, my perspective widened. I whispered more prayers of thanksgiving for the small gifts of time with my kids, for unexpected rest, for the chance to sit in the pool on a hot summer day, for community, adventure, and opportunities to grow through discomfort.

I tend to think that if things are hard, I must be doing something wrong. The truth is, life is just hard. But not a moment is wasted for those who are willing to look for its gifts. Thankfulness draws my eyes and heart heavenward, rescuing me from the bottomless pit of self-pity. I need to be rescued regularly. Hourly even. Sometimes more.

As I enter a new season with a new schedule and new weather and new commitments, I’m choosing a new way of thinking about my moments. I’m going on a treasure hunt each day for the gifts of God’s love all around me. No matter the gift, no matter how big or small, I’m writing them down—keeping track in a “joy journal” of sorts to train myself to see with new eyes.

A two-year-old who loves to cuddle, even at 3 am.

Coffee delivered unexpectedly.

Sun breaks on a dreary day.

Multiple errand stops in a row with no tantrums.

A candle burning in the middle of the afternoon.

A five-year-old who loves to dance when no one’s watching.

Silence. Sweet silence.

Will you join me? Grab a pen. Put your list to paper. Don’t make it easy—stretch your current capacity for thankfulness. Can you find five gifts each day to write down? Ten? Let’s do this together and test for ourselves what all those experts are saying about gratitude being good for our health and happiness. It might just be good for our souls, too.

Eyes on the lookout for bits of grace in everyday moments create hearts overflowing with beautiful gratitude. And that’s who I want to be.

Being Seen and Loved

Being Seen and Loved

I waved good-bye to a treasured friend last week. As she pulled out of my driveway, her car loaded down with the last remnants of her now empty apartment, my tears flowed. Tears of grief over the loss of time together. Tears of gratitude for the beauty of hearts connected. Tears of love for this friend who is forever a part of me. Tears of hope for the new life that awaits her.

And I was overcome by the preciousness of being known, understood, and loved by another human.

I’ve learned a lot about friendship in the past few years. I used to think that it was the result of a shared history—just live enough life in proximity to one another and you have friendship. But now I know that real friendship—the kind of friendship makes you feel safe and known and like your best self—doesn’t just happen as time passes.

Real friendship takes inviting people into your house with a sink full of dishes and not even picking up the kids’ toys. It takes a willingness to tell you there’s something in your teeth—or listening to you so deeply that they don’t even notice it. It takes crying together over the fear of the unknown and not forcing words into a silent moment. It takes time spent on your knees together, for one another.

Real friendship takes work. Intentional investment. Mutual commitment. It takes time–there is no shortcut for time. My closest friendships also have also grown out of shared laughter, walks, coffee, fashion consulting, parenting advice, marriage counseling, meal delivery, prayer, tears, food, and varying amounts of wine. Most of all, real friendship takes a willingness to show up and be seen, just as I am.

Real friendship gives me the courage to stop performing, pleasing, hiding and start embracing my authentic self.

After I shared my last post on failure, I had one of the worst vulnerability hangovers I’ve ever experienced. (Yes, a vulnerability hangover is a thing. Just ask Brené Brown–she’s a vulnerability expert.) I immediately questioned the wisdom of publicly sharing one of the most painful, shame-filled journeys of my life. I felt naked and exposed, vulnerable to potential criticism, judgment, and misunderstanding about who I really am.

But I’ve learned through friendship that we all need to hear about others’ struggles, assuring us we’re not alone and that there is real hope for our story. The beauty of vulnerability is that it invites others to share their stories by having the courage to go first. 

My safe, life-giving friendships are where I feel brave enough to tell my whole story, not just the easy-to-share, shiny parts.  This type of friendship disarms me and gives me permission to be exactly who I am. Friends in this category believe in me, even when I can’t believe in myself. They see me as I am and encourage me to grow into who I want to be.

I didn’t always know how to be this type of friend. I wanted so desperately to be who people needed me to be that I couldn’t necessarily identify what I really needed in return. I cared too much about how I was perceived to give myself freely to others—I just wanted to be loved, even if the version of myself I revealed was tightly controlled and incomplete.

There have been so many beautiful women at different points of my life who have modeled real friendship. They’ve shown up for me when I had nothing else to offer.  They’ve pursued me when I’ve tried to hide out of fear that I wasn’t enough. They’ve let me into their struggles and shown me the beauty of authenticity.

Last year, one of these women gave me a book that has forever changed the way I view friendship, and set a new standard for the way I want to do life with others. As I read Freefall to Fly for the first time, I heard my own unspoken voice in the pages, pieces of my story articulated as Rebekah Lyons shared hers. One of my favorite parts of her story was the description of friends who gathered weekly to encourage one another by speaking out loud the gifts they saw in each other. I want to be a friend who gives life to others with the words I speak, cheering others on to become their best selves, celebrating their uniqueness while resting in the security of my own.

Sometimes hearing how other people see us changes our view of ourselves. I’ve experienced this firsthand. Friends who are willing to speak words of life to me–identifying gifts, casting vision, encouraging dreams–have transformed how I see myself, giving me courage to pursue my purpose and calling.

My friends are the ones who encouraged me to start a blog. They told me that I was good with words, that I was able to express things they felt in ways they couldn’t articulate. “Really?” I asked, incredulously. I’d honestly never thought about that before. And vulnerable as I feel stepping into this blogging world, their words of affirmation are what make me brave enough to keep pressing in.

And as step into what feels like an exhilarating/terrifying/life-giving new undertaking of sharing my heart with the world through the words I write here, I feel more alive in my own skin than I thought I could. Because they saw (and said what they saw) a gift in me that stirred a passion for words I had never explored, I’m embracing a part of myself I didn’t know was there.  And I couldn’t have believed in myself without their belief in me.

Friends who know us completely and love us just as we are give us courage to live fully as we were designed. The thing about these friendships, though, is that for people to see us fully in all our giftedness and potential, we have to allow ourselves to be fully seen. It takes a willingness to share struggles, fears, insecurities, and the ugly stuff most people don’t want others to know is in them.

Nothing builds authentic community like transparent hearts. And authentic community transforms us.  Being seen and loved frees us to take off our masks and stop pretending to be something we are not. Friendships where we are fully known and fully accepted give us permission to admit we’re not perfect. It sets us free to live in our real story as real people in real life together.

But someone has to go first. Someone has to be courageous and vulnerable, to ask others to join them on their journey. We’re all just waiting to be invited.

I’m so thankful for the friends who have invited me into their stories. It’s an honor to share mine.