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.

How to Stop Competing and Start Celebrating

How to Stop Competing and Start Celebrating

I love playing games…when I’m winning. Games that I don’t win aren’t fun. It’s kind of an issue.

I blame my drive to win on my days as a competitive athlete. Playing volleyball through college taught me the value of hard work, the beauty of team, and the necessity of discipline in training for a goal. It also taught me to compete. Competition fueled my desire to perform at the top of my game, motivating me to work harder than if there wasn’t another player trying to outscore me.

But there were also times (I’m ashamed to admit) when my competitive drive led to a disdain for the opposing team, when the athletes across the net became more than just opponents—they became the enemy. In those moments, my desire to win changed how I viewed those I competed against; competition dehumanized my rivals.

I don’t play collegiate sports anymore, but you can’t take the competitive streak out of this girl. This week in an exercise class I go to (I can’t tell you that it’s Jazzercise because you’ll assume I wear legwarmers and a leotard and lose all respect for my athleticism), competition inspired perseverance when I did NOT want to do another lunge. The gal next to me was a former college volleyball player too, and working out with her motivated me not to slack because once an athlete, always an athlete and I WILL NOT BE BEATEN!

I told you, it’s an issue.

I love it when Ali the ex-volleyball player is in class because she inspires me by her example to give every move my best effort. When I’m sucking wind, I can look over and see that she’s tired too, but she’s not stopping. She gives me the look back that says, “This is SO HARD…and we are SO AWESOME for not quitting!” And because I don’t want to be seen as the one who couldn’t hack it, I keep squatting, jumping, and lifting those weights. She inspires me to do more than I could on my own.

Competition at its best motivates us to become our best.

But there is another side of competition that plays itself out more often in groups of women than I care to admit.

When we walk into a room and size up the other women there to see how our outfit, our hair, the size of our thighs compete;

when we evaluate our success based on how it compares to the achievements of those around us;

when our insecurities cause us to feel threatened by the beauty, strength, or opportunities given to others.

There is no winner when we compete out of our own sense of inadequacy. Jealousy robs us of the chance to make others better. It steals our ability to see the beauty in those around us. It keeps us bound by insecurity instead of releasing others to become their best selves.

Brené Brown talks about the principle of “scarcity” in Daring Greatly. Scarcity is basically the cultural fear that there isn’t enough of ______ to go around. We never have enough time, enough energy, enough money, enough of whatever we think we need. Scarcity tells us that life is a competition for limited resources.  It’s what makes us jealous of something others have that we want because we feel like they are leaving less of that thing for us. Scarcity tells us we better compete or miss our chance to live the life we hope for.

Scarcity is lying.

I have some amazing friends who are committed to cheering me on in my gifts and passions. (Like writing, for example—these are the same friends who told me I should start a blog and then read it and told me I should keep writing.) They are generous with their words of encouragement and love. They see beauty in me that I can’t see in myself, and they are relentless about saying those things out loud. I feel safe and loved and known by these women.

These same friends are incredibly gifted and breathtakingly beautiful. I’m not just saying that because they are my friends—it’s really true. One friend has an eye for beauty and can capture it in the most mundane, ordinary moments through the lens of her camera. She is generous and gives the most thoughtful gifts, and she opens her peaceful home to others as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Another friend creates beauty out of anything—ribbon and paper, hair and bobby pins, sticks and string, paint and canvas, furniture and color—her artistic creativity leaves a wake of pretty wherever she goes. But her beauty is deeper than just what you see; everything about her heart, words, and actions genuinely and sacrificially loves those in her world.

I have other friends who are organized and disciplined with their time and possessions. Their homes are tidy, their bathrooms smell good, and they structure their days with intention so that the most important things always come first. Some of my friends love to cook, some love to garden, some love to exercise, some love to travel and find new adventures all over the world.

I have amazing and talented and beautiful friends who are gifted in ways that I am not (ahem, especially in their areas of cooking and creativity), but their giftedness does nothing to threaten the unique way I am wired. In fact, being surrounded by women who freely use the gifts they have been given inspires me to lean more fully into mine.

So why is it that the most beautiful and gifted women I know leave me inspired instead of insecure?

Because secure women are generous with their words of love and belief in others.

My friends genuinely celebrate with me in success and grieve with me in failure. They are uninhibited with their encouragement and frequent in expressing their affirmation. My friends have taught me that women who cheer one another on can celebrate the uniqueness of others without competition.  

Women who tell one another the beauty they see in each other prove that scarcity is a lie. Competition subtracts but celebration multiplies. The more we believe in those around us, the more belief comes back in abundance.

There is more than enough beauty and meaning for every human on the planet. Like the air we breathe, there is an adequate supply of grace for every person to live the life of purpose they crave. God’s limitless creativity is reflected in the awe-inspiring diversity of humankind.

So who can you celebrate today? Let’s all go tell someone what we admire about them. May we use our words to point out the the beauty of God reflected in the people around us. Let’s use our belief to set people free to become all they were made to be.

Deciding to Chase a Dream

Deciding to Chase a Dream

My heart is beating a little faster as I type these words. I’m sitting here at my dining room table, candle burning for ambiance, fresh flowers to inspire me with their beauty, and holding my breath a bit as I decide today to begin a new chapter of my writing journey.

I’ve come to realize through the encouragement of my man, belief of my friends, and burning within my own heart that I can’t just wonder anymore what it would be like to become a writer. I’ve got to actually put my heart on paper, risking the possibility of failure for the sake of chasing after this dream. As my dear husband told me last week, it’s time to give my writing the attention it deserves.

But I have no idea what I’m doing.

Following these nudges to write feels simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. Success is not guaranteed. I don’t even know what steps to take. If I’m honest, I don’t even know the final goal. A book? Sure, I’d love that. More? Dare I even hope? Even if I don’t know exactly where I’m going, I know I have to move forward.

Even just saying the words out loud, “I want to be a writer,” almost makes me tear up at the sheer exhilaration of embracing a dream that has felt too impossible to ever pursue. Who am I to think I have something worth saying? Who am I to assume people actually care about what I write? Who am I to attempt what thousands of others are already doing so well?

As those questions have bounced around my mind over the past year and a half that I’ve dabbled in blogging, a deeper question echoes within my heart in a response that feels truer than any of my doubt: “Who am I NOT to give life to the dream growing inside me?”

As Marianne Williamson so beautifully expressed in A Return to Love,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?…We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

We were made to let our light shine.

And every life shines differently, in diverse beauty. Every one of us has been crafted with a unique set of passions, gifts, experiences and perspectives that is not replicated by another human being. There has never existed another living person with your unique make up in all of history—another you will never be repeated for all eternity. No one else can reveal the glory of God in the way you can.

Vulnerable as it feels to share my heart with the world through writing, I don’t want fear of failure/rejection/criticism to keep me from doing the thing I was created for. I want to be brave enough to let my light shine.

Trying new things, especially in the creative realm, can be daunting. My parents are both inspiring me right now with their courage to explore untapped musical passions. They work full time and have plenty of demands on their evenings and weekends, yet they are both choosing to invest time, money, and energy into fulfilling dreams they have each carried as long as I can remember.

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A couple years ago, my mom surprised my dad with a music lesson for his birthday. His lifelong obsession with classic rock was the inspiration for his desire to play bass. After the birthday lesson, he started taking lessons regularly; a couple months later he coaxed a neighbor to join him in weekly jam sessions. Now my dad’s pursuit of his dream is giving both him and his friend, who had previously refused to play in front of anyone, the chance to shine their musical light.

When we pursue our own best stories, others are brought along for the ride. Living our own best life gives others permission to live theirs.

 

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My mom has always wanted to learn to play the cello, so a few months ago she signed up for cello lessons. Who does that at 58? Only someone willing risk the discomfort of a steep learning curve for the satisfaction of doing the thing that fills her heart.

So I’m following my parents’ example and venturing into the unknown world of creative arts. Even though the prospect of writing more seriously feels completely overwhelming, I’m committed to taking the next step.

Today I watched a webinar on how to write a book.

Tomorrow I’m going to research writing conferences.

I don’t know what it will be after that (suggestions, anyone?), but I’m committed to taking whatever step arises next.

Consider this post my public declaration of my intention to pursue writing more seriously. Don’t ask me what that means, because I honestly don’t know. I only know that I can’t ignore this growing sense of responsibility to use the gifts God has given me for his purpose and plans.

And I’ll tell you this, even the ability to admit that I have a gift with words—a passion for expressing my thoughts, feelings, and observations through written and spoken language—feels like a brave first step. Recognizing that I have light to shine—and so do you—may be the most important part of living a courageous life.

What is the dream stirring deep inside your heart, waiting to be released? (I’d actually love to hear–it inspires me to know how you’re living fully!) You’re light is waiting to shine. Just take the next step.