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.

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.

Living a Faithful Life

Living a Faithful Life

Our day started with a tantrum paramount to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The sun hadn’t even risen, and already our house was filled with stomping and tears and spankings, followed by prayers and tender repentance—then  yet another round of tantrums, time outs and more tears. We were exhausted from the battle before anyone had gotten dressed. All because my daughter didn’t want oatmeal for breakfast.

Parenting is hard. Yes, there are many moments full of sweet cuddles and belly laughter and uncontainable joy, but the work that is required in the day to day training of little humans often leaves me discouraged, frustrated, and wondering if I’m doing anything right.

This year is the last time I’ll have both of my kiddos at home together before my oldest starts kindergarten next fall. I’ve felt a sense of urgency to make the most of this short season, because the cliché seems to be truer than I want to admit in the midst of the longest days of my life: time goes by too fast. More than anything, I’ve felt the weight of responsibility to use this year to pour as much of Jesus into my kids as their little bodies can contain.

My heart longs to dive fully into the work God has given me to do as a mom, but hard days often make me wish I could do anything else.

Don’t get me wrong, I begged God for my children. I longed to be pregnant, crying out desperately for God to give me the desires of my heart, then waiting impatiently through the longest months of my life to see their little faces. I wanted my babies more than anything. Brooklynn awakened my heart to depths of emotion I’d never experienced, and a couple years later, Connley expanded my capacity to love more than I’d even thought was possible.

After months of aching for my longings to be fulfilled, for God to give me kids, life turned upside down when each child was born. Suddenly, my world revolved around the little people God had entrusted to my care.

I threw myself fully into the work of mothering, reading books on sleep training and following all the rules about tummy time and talking to my baby and making myself a bit crazy in the process. I knew I was investing my time exactly where I needed to be—mothering is the most important job in the world, after all—but I felt so…well, so unsatisfied by how I was spending my days.

It was clear from the beginning that God was using my mothering journey to mold my heart into a new shape. It would take me a few years to recognize how He was also forming my children into a protective boundary around my life. Never again would I have the option to pursue a lifestyle of achieving, performing, and striving for my worth—my kids need me too much to spend so much time seeking the approval of others. (Not that I don’t still try, to my own detriment.) They guard me from my natural inclination to seek recognition for myself.

Sometimes their neediness feels suffocating, like I am drowning in the inescapable sea of their demands. Sometimes their neediness feels validating, like I have an important role that no one else can fulfill. Always, their neediness strips away my selfishness (or brings it to the surface for examination), as I’m forced to again and again lay down my own desires for the sake of meeting theirs.

I often catch myself dreaming about “someday” when I can do something else with my time, something that fulfills that inner craving for significance. Those moments are clues that I have much still to learn from this season.

My significance isn’t found in being recognized by others, but in being seen by the One who appointed me to this role. The more I look for satisfaction in what I do, the more I’m going to have to do to feel satisfied. And the harder I work to gain the approval of others, the more I will be held captive by a goal that does not exist.

For Connley’s third birthday this month, he suggested that we go on a date to Starbucks while sissy was at preschool. “Yes, son. I will absolutely take you to coffee,” I told him.  As we sat by the window watching cars drive by, Connley eating his cake pop and I drinking my caramel macchiato, I was overcome by the gift of this season. That endearing smile, those twinkling eyes, that precious little boy voice, those soft little hands on mine—there was nowhere else I would rather be, nothing in the world that could bring me such deep satisfaction.

I don’t know what next year will look like. I have dreams of pursuing writing more seriously while the kids are at school, but for now I’m holding them loosely. No matter what tomorrow holds, I’m certain of this: God is calling me to be faithful with the life He’s given me today.

As much as I long to use my gifts and passion in places that are exciting and sexy and fulfilling, God knows my temptation will still always be striving for recognition that will never satisfy. No matter how important is the work that He calls me to do, nothing will ever be as worthwhile as my pursuit of Jesus.

He is using my babies to teach me dependence on Him for all things.

He is using this season to show me how to rest in His approval over anyone else’s.

He is using motherhood to train me to die to myself daily.

He is using my struggle to remind me that He is refining me moment by moment.

He is using my joy to teach me that surrender is the path to abundant life.

God doesn’t ask us to go out and change the world. He simply calls us to live a faithful life, one day at a time. Where is God asking you to be faithful today?

Walking the Line Between Tomorrow and Today

Walking the Line Between Tomorrow and Today

Originally posted on my friend, Charity’s blog. Reposted below in celebration of my daughter’s fourth birthday yesterday, or as another friend put it, the fourth anniversary of becoming a mommy. Here’s to many more years of walking the tight rope of the present…


Last night as I was putting my precious baby boy to bed, I was cherishing the sweetness of his face and savoring the tenderness of holding him and rocking him in the dark. Then I watched as he wiggled his finger into his nose and reached up to wipe it on my chin.  Oh how quickly a moment turns.

My life is filled with moments like this these days, balancing a tension between seemingly opposite emotions and experiences almost within the same breath. Delighting in my kiddos’ goofiness while counting the minutes until bedtime. Savoring a soft baby hand on my arm until it starts scribbling on my work in permanent marker. Celebrating how engaged and patient I’d been all day until the whining hits. And just. Doesn’t. Stop.

With an almost four (going-on-fourteen) year old and a twenty-one month old (yes, we are still counting months), we are in the thick of parenting in all of its beautiful, excruciating, joyful, exhausting, delightful, frustrating, humbling, heart-wrenching, awe-inspiring glory. My kids cause me daily, often moment-by-moment, to simultaneously thank God for this gift and cry out to him in desperation for help.  And I think that’s probably the point.

Parenting is so hard. And beautiful. Really beautiful. But also really, really hard.

I often daydream about what life will be like as our children get older, how much more freedom we’ll have to do things as a family, how much more independent they’ll be, how much more time I’ll have to myself—then I interrupt my own daydream to scold myself for wishing away the present.

Sometimes it feels like my thoughts are walking a tightrope between two equally irresistible points, today and tomorrow.  If I rush too fast or dawdle too slow toward tomorrow, I’ll lose my footing and plummet to the death of my joy. Hope is like the pole that keeps me balanced as I walk—it helps keep me moving forward, believing that what’s ahead is worth stepping toward. But sometimes all I want to do is gaze off at what I imagine to be on the other end of the rope…

I’ve always struggled to be where I am. What’s around the corner seems so much more appealing at times, even though I usually don’t know what it entails. I’ve always found myself looking forward to the next thing—graduation, college, career, marriage, moving, babies, or any new challenge. Hope for change often gets me through whatever difficulties are in my present. And let me tell you, being a mom is full of difficulties. Oodles of joy, yes. But I would be lying if I said it was all sugary cream puffs and sparkly tiaras.

My kids bring things out in me that I didn’t even know were buried inside. There’s the depth of love that my parents always told me I could never understand until I had children of my own. My heart feels so much affection toward these tiny humans that sometimes I just want to squeeze them and kiss them and snuggle every inch of them so much that I can’t even stand it.  They help me slow down and play. Their delight in bubbles, airplanes, butterflies, and garbage trucks makes me look at the world with wonder through their eyes.

But there are other things that I’d rather not admit my kids have witnessed.

The anger boiling to the surface when my agenda is interrupted again.

The tone of voice I swore I would never use.

The guilt over another day when I failed to discipline consistently, let them watch too much TV or eat too much sugar.

The selfishness causing me resent how much time they demand, the dreams that are put on hold, and the sense of being trapped in a season that is just so exhausting.

The shame coming from even thinking some of these thoughts, especially knowing that these are the babies I begged God for.

Yeah, this parenting thing brings me to the end of myself. But sometimes the hardest things are the best things for us.

 Having these little people always with me, needing me, watching me, wanting me is a strange and lovely protection from thinking that my life is about me.  They force me to die to my selfishness daily, offering my very life as a sacrifice of love to the Giver of Life.

My kids make sure I’m authentic.  My words for others mean nothing if they’re not lived out consistently at home in front of my perma-witnesses. And they see everything. And hear everything. And repeat everything.

They provide built-in boundaries.  For this compulsive yes-sayer, their pull on my heart protects me from chasing every dream and ambition that crosses my mind. Few things are worth the cost of missing time with them.

They keep me humble. I may be competent in other areas, but I have no idea what I’m doing with these tiny humans. (Hence the part about crying out to God for help.)

My kids are possibly the greatest source of refinement and purification in my life. They reveal the true contents in my heart so that it can all be laid bare, out in the open where I can see myself as I really am, in all my need and ugliness and self-centeredness. And my babes reveal the heart of God to me, loving me with reckless abandon despite all that rises to the surface in my worst moments. That’s where healing begins—as shame bubbles up and grace rushes in.

As a mom, I feel stuck in between longing for tomorrow and living thankful for today.  I simultaneously want to freeze these moments and fast forward to the next ones.  I want to treasure this season with both kids at home and also hurry it up so I have more time to pursue things that make me feel more competent than motherhood.

I realize that most of what tempts me to hurry through this season—or this day—is my desire from relief from discomfort.  Anything difficult is uncomfortable, so my natural instinct is to avoid hard things. But as I look back at my life so far, nothing worthwhile has come easily. I’m trusting that these little ones are the most worthwhile thing I can invest in, not only for their benefit, but likely even more for mine.

Even now as I write, I hear cries from the other room telling me naptime has ended prematurely.  And instead of getting to choose what I do for an hour, the choice is made for me: I will cuddle and snuggle and comfort and lay down my desires for another day. And I wouldn’t want to do anything else.