The Secret to Being Loved—and Why It’s So Hard

The Secret to Being Loved—and Why It’s So Hard

Today I know I am loved. Radically, abundantly, lavishly loved. And, maybe for the first time in my life, I’m not just trying to convince myself that I’m loved based on the evidence. I’m not giving myself a pep talk in the mirror, convincing my heart to feel all the things my head knows to be true. I’m not trying to convince anyone that I’m lovable by attempting to earn their approval through my good behavior. I’m not grasping for an emotional experience I desperately long for but fear I don’t actually deserve.

No, this is different than in the past. Today, my heart and my head are aligned, and it’s no small miracle. Like turning my face toward the sun, I am holding still long enough to bask in the absolute goodness of knowing I am loved more than I can fathom—and I have done nothing to deserve it.

Why does today feel like such a victory? Wouldn’t anyone feel loved if they were surrounded by gracious friends, part of a generous family, and married to the best human on the face of the planet? Unfortunately, no. Just being loved (even when loved abundantly and well) is not enough to make someone believe they are loved.

Sometimes it takes breaking into pieces to experience the love that has been there all along. 

The last several weeks have been exhausting. Strike that—it has been a moment-by-moment battle for my sanity. Every single day for the past month and a half has been filled with some of the most difficult conversations, excruciating pain, spiritual heights, intimate moments, and crippling fear of my entire life. It’s been enough to make a person feel crazy—or at least worn down by intense emotions to the point of deep soul fatigue.

I’m sitting here writing for the first time since before all hell broke loose, watching the rain fall in torrents from the sky. Not even five minutes ago, the sun was shining and the sky was the brightest shade of blue. It happens like that in the spring, the weather changes quickly and unexpectedly. It’s a normal pattern each year, yet I’m still caught off guard when I’m outside without a coat and the rain pours down.

Pain always catches me off guard, too. Even though it’s a normal, expected part of being alive.

A few months ago, I had told a few close friends this was the year I wanted to be done with the insecurities and anxiety that had come in waves on and off for as long as I can remember. I told them I was ready to be free—I wanted to be my truest self, uninhibited by the old stuff I kept wrestling down, pushing it back below the surface of my heart.

No more working harder than I should because I am afraid of disappointing someone.

No more shaming myself for eating too much dessert or panicking if I miss a workout.

No more striving to prove that I’m competent even though I’ve been out of the professional world for several years.

No more hiding the pain of public humiliation from past failure.

No more fear of failing at whatever new thing I’m brave enough to risk trying.

No more longing for some other role that might satisfy my soul more than the humbling job of motherhood.

No more wishing to live any life other than the beautiful one I’ve been given.

No more pretending. No more hiding. No more performing. Only freedom.

I had no idea what freedom would cost. I didn’t realize it would require me to face every fear, forcing me to drag my husband, family, and closest friends with me through the muck and mire of my overwhelming emotions. I didn’t realize that in order to release anxiety, I would actually have to walk through it, allowing panic to fully surface in its various forms.

I didn’t expect freedom to cost so much.

But the miracle unfurled slowly, as my inability to hold myself together decreased exponentially with each passing day. I was falling apart, and I couldn’t hide it. Friends kept checking in, and I was too tired from so much heartache to pretend I was okay. The harder I worked to stop hurting, the more out of control I felt—I just couldn’t stop the storm from coming. But they never stopped checking in. They never stopped praying.

When I deserved it the very least, when I had absolutely nothing left to offer except my embarrassment over what a mess I was, my people just kept loving me. And because I was exhausted from my own battle with fear—my fear that if I couldn’t pull myself together, they would give up and walk away from my broken pieces—I finally couldn’t help but let their love in.

I needed to be loved, but I didn’t get to choose how—I just had to receive love in whatever form it came.

The rain has stopped now and the sky transformed back to blue, maybe even a clearer blue than before the storm. The air feels fresher from the rain, and somehow my lungs have a greater capacity to breathe in the gift of oxygen after so many tears.

I’ve never needed to know that I’m loved more than I do these days. Yet, the miracle is, because my heart has broken wide open, there is nothing left to keep love out. So I’m going to just keep letting it come. And maybe, just maybe, it will get out a little bit easier now too.

 

Why We Can’t Avoid Pain

Why We Can’t Avoid Pain

As I write, I’m sitting in the waiting room of my kids’ pediatric dentist, trying to distract myself from picturing my five-year-old daughter under general anesthesia down the hall. To say my mama heart is aching is a massive understatement.

Brooklynn is getting her front tooth pulled out today because she bonked it on a concrete step 3 ½ years ago, but it only recently died and became infected. Even though my brave girl is thrilled to finally lose her first tooth, this mama is terrified to send my oldest babe back for such a major procedure alone.

The hardest part is knowing that when she wakes up, recovery is going to be hard. There is nothing worse than realizing I am powerless protect the one I love from discomfort and pain.

I’ll be honest, there are few places I hate more on earth than the dentist’s office. I know many wonderful humans who work tirelessly to make high-maintenance patients like me feel comfortable, but I just can’t help how anxiety builds when I’m trapped with my jaw open, trying not to gag while well-meaning strangers ask me questions and shove various apparatuses inside my mouth. I feel helpless and vulnerable, unable to fend off the discomfort I know is just part of the cleaning process.

Yet I also know that regular dental visits, unpleasant as they may be, are necessary to prevent more serious (and exponentially more painful) procedures down the road. There is simply no way to escape the thing I want to avoid—I can either face my discomfort or ignore it until pain eventually overwhelms me.

The fact is, pain is an unavoidable part of living. I can’t protect my sweet kiddos from it, and I can’t evade it myself. No one makes it through life without experiencing hurt on some level, no matter the source. It’s not a matter of if pain will come, but when.

Our response to pain—whether we ignore it, numb it, or face it bravely by getting the help we need—will affect how much it hurts and how long it will take to heal. Just because my kids don’t want me to touch their scrapes and cuts doesn’t mean I should listen to them. In fact, they’ve each experienced tender infections after refusing to allow me to clean and bandage their wounds.

If I’m honest, I do the same thing.

At my husband’s request, I finally visited the chiropractor for the very first time last week to address the debilitating back tension and headaches that had been plaguing me recently.  I was floored by the doctor’s analysis—between pinched nerves and immobile vertebrae and a spine, shoulders, and hips that are significantly out of alignment, he told me he was surprised I could walk normally without crippling pain.

It turns out I have a pretty high pain tolerance. I often ignore pain, working through it until I can no longer function. This gets me in trouble sometimes.

It’s easier for me pop a couple Tylenol and grunt my way through a headache than to make an appointment with a chiropractor who could fix the problem at it’s root instead of just medicating my symptoms.

It’s easier for me to raid the pantry or pour a glass of wine than to tell my husband I’m feeling sad and need him to listen to my potentially irrational feelings.

It’s easier for me to buy a new outfit I can’t afford than to look in the mirror and ask myself why I’m struggling to live content in my own skin.

It’s easier for me to pretend I’m strong enough to manage my life than to ask my friends for help or prayer when I feel overwhelmed and have nothing left to give.

It’s easier to look for a new house, a new job, or a new anything than to examine the deeper reasons for my perpetual state of discontent.

It’s easier to stay busy and say yes to every invitation than to risk allowing loneliness sneak in if I slow down enough for my heart to speak.

It always seems easier to ignore the pain that threatens to take over my life, but I’m actually only prolonging the hurt.

I’m finishing this post from home now, where my healthy little girl is resting and proudly admiring the newly acquired hole in the top of her smile. Even though I had worried and prayed all morning about all the potential complications her little body might encounter, thankfully the tooth came out with no issues.

I was not prepared, however, for the intensity of emotion we both experienced as Brooklynn woke up from anesthesia. I didn’t know that confusion and fear are normal and expected.

My heart pounded as I followed the hygienist down the hallway to a recovery room where I could hear my daughter wailing in panic. I ran into the darkened room and immediately wrapped my arms tightly around her terrified body, soothing my own fear as I held her close.

Brooklynn didn’t know where she was, but she kept grabbing frantically for my face. Looking into my eyes momentarily calmed her, until new waves of emotion hit with uncontrollable force. I held her in the dark, stroking her hair and rubbing her back for half an hour or more before she finally stopped crying. There was nothing else she needed but just to be held, to know she was safe, to hear me say I was with her and I wasn’t leaving. 

Sometimes sitting with someone else in their pain is harder than bearing our own. Yet, if we are willing to hold on, comfort is just a cry for help away.

Maybe the quickest way out of a heart that hurts isn’t to avoid pain, but to move bravely through it to the other side. Love gives us the courage to keep walking.

Mom and Dad doing our best to match Brooklynn’s excitement about getting her tooth out!
A post-dentist Unicorn Frappacino makes the most beautiful breakfast treat. (Plus, the straw fits nicely through her new smile-hole.)

Why Love Costs You Everything

Why Love Costs You Everything

The tears wouldn’t stop. The harder I tried to breathe deeply and contain my sobs, the louder my cries became, exposing the vulnerability I was trying to hide. I felt out of control—my emotions betrayed my body as I tried unsuccessfully to regain composure.

I leaned against the bathroom wall, unable to hold myself up under the weight of such deep hurt. It had been triggered by something unrelated to what he said, but once the dam broke, weeks of unreleased aching came rushing in at once. I knew I needed help to calm down but wrestled with guilt over how much it would cost him if I asked. But I couldn’t get control of my body; I couldn’t compose myself, no matter how many deep breaths I took.

“Do you need anything?” he questioned gently from the other room, where my tears were keeping him from sleep. His words were careful, probing tenderly and guarding my heart against potential defensiveness or shame for keeping him awake at such a late hour. Something about his invitation to need him gave me permission to admit I couldn’t handle my heart alone.

 “I need you!” I sobbed, longing pouring honestly from my lips. He came right away, wrapping those muscular arms around me as tightly as he could. My body shook harder for a few moments as his strength allowed all my weakness to come out of hiding. Then slowly, my breathing calmed and my muscles relaxed, melting in the assurance of being held.

“I’m here,” was all he said, over and over. And those were the only words I needed. Knowing he was with me, physically and emotionally, made me feel safe. He proved that I am loved, not because I can hold myself together, but because love is big enough to hold me even when I fall apart.

 Love gives me permission to lose control and still be held.

Yet, allowing myself to be loved when I feel the most unlovable may be the hardest thing to do. Nothing feels more vulnerable—it’s almost too risky to be loved more than I deserve. What if he changes his mind? What if I need too much? What if this time I push too far?

 Receiving the kind of love I need means allowing myself to lose control.

Being loved means surrendering to the risk of being seen as I am, not as I want to be. It means allowing others to step into my mess and help me clean it up, even if they get a little dirty in the process. Being loved means speaking aloud the deep needs I work so hard to contain, trusting that those who love me are willing to pay the price to meet my needs, no matter what it costs them. It means accepting that even when I do my very best to love the way I should, I will still never be able to love perfectly. Neither can anyone else.

Being loved is costly. It costs my vulnerability, the willingness to let someone see the very worst of me and trust they will stay close.

Being loved costs my control, releasing myself from the pressure to perform perfectly and earn the love I’m given.

Being loved costs my fear of rejection, since I cannot receive love fully if I’m enveloped in the armor of self-protection.

Being loved means allowing someone to give me what I cannot give myself, even when I have nothing to offer but my neediness.

That night in the bathroom was a breaking point that opened the way for grace to rush in. As I admitted my need for help, I also invited my man to offer his strength in my weakness. And it reminded me that there is no shame in needing another to pull me out of my pit—there is actually more love than I could imagine, when I’m brave enough to ask.

It’s hard to be loved. It will cost the one who loves me everything they have, and it will cost me everything I’m tempted to hold back. But love is the only place safe enough to give and receive without pretending. And love is worth everything I can give.

Featured image by Kandice Halferty Photography

When Life Bursts Through

When Life Bursts Through

The snow finally just melted in our town for the first time since the end of November. To say it’s been a long winter is a bit of an understatement. My kids squealed with delight to discover grass on the lawns in our neighborhood, exposing its sad condition after many months of bearing a frozen topcoat. Sometimes it feels like endless winter is about to bury me too.

Over the weekend, the sun peeked out for a couple hours and we braved the chilly air so the kids could ride bikes in front of our house. I was sitting on the porch step when my son brought me something he had found in the dirt. “What this, Mommy?” he asked in his sweet little three-year-old voice.

I looked closely at the odd-shaped green thing he showed me, rounded on one end and flat on the other. Then it hit me—he was holding a bulb in his tiny hand. After months without any signs of hope, new life was sprouting through the dirt! After what feels like a never-ending season of dormancy, I’m spotting the first signs of new life in my heart, too. Hope bursts through just when it seems like the waiting will never end.

Seven years ago, I was in the middle of one of the hardest seasons of my life. Anxiety had reached an all-time high, to the point where my body and mind were so overloaded I had to take time off of work to learn how to function normally again. Those two months of sick leave ushered in a season of rest that lasted longer than I’d ever anticipated; I haven’t worked full-time since.

Moving to a new town and learning (ever so slowly) to embrace my life as a stay at home mom forced me to stop spinning all the former plates of achievement, professional competence, and busyness that had produced such anxiety in the first place. These past seven years have been my training ground for the pace of life I actually want to live.

Instead of accepting stress and busyness as a normal rhythm of life, my babies have given me the gift of unproductivity. They’ve forced me to slow down, teaching me through their constant neediness that growing deep roots cannot be rushed. Growth is supposed to happen slowly—there is no shortcut for time.

Never has the picture of the vine and the branches meant more. As Jesus instructs those who want to know him, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” If I want to grow, I must hold still.

I must remain. Remain in the place where I believe God’s love is real. Remain quiet enough to hear his voice whispering to my heart. Remain in the words he spoke for his friends to write down. Remain in the truth that I am loved. Remain in acceptance, whether I feel like I deserve it or not.

As I remain quiet and still, the vine nourishes me with its life. Hope floods my soul, just as nutrients flow from the vine to it’s branches, causing them to grow. I don’t produce the growth myself, I just hold still long enough to let love grow in me. Quit resisting, quit striving, quit squirming under the discomfort of being loved just as I am, not as I should be. A life filled with love can’t help but bear fruit.

I’m different today than I was seven years ago, and I only have one explanation for the change: Love changes everything. The work of holding still and learning to remain in God’s love has changed me from the inside out.

I’m not afraid of failure anymore, because I know I am loved. 

I don’t have to strive to prove my competence or worthiness anymore, because I know I am loved. 

I don’t have to worry about what others are thinking or saying about me, because I know I am loved. 

I don’t have to say yes when I don’t have the capacity, because I know I am loved.

While I was getting my haircut, my hairdresser and I were talking about how different we are than we used to be, especially before we both had kids. She told me something that has stuck with me: as new follicles grow over time, they replace what has fallen out so that every seven(ish) years we have a whole new head of hair. My hair is different than it was seven years ago. I am a different woman than I was seven years ago. Love has changed me, from my head down to my toes.

Life is starting to burst through. Just when the winter felt like it would never end, a new shoot of hope pokes its way through the ground. Love is growing–a new season begins today.