How I Became an HGTV Stalker

How I Became an HGTV Stalker

This week, I discovered that an HGTV pilot show is being filmed in our very own town! (Deep breaths…I’m TOTALLY calm.) Right now, in Ellensburg, a local couple is renovating a house as camera crews document the process. I’ve gone from dreaming about planning a trip to Waco, Texas to meet Chip and Joanna Gaines to driving past The Porch House and introducing myself to Cathy and her team in just a matter of days.

ALL MY WILDEST DREAMS ARE COMING TRUE. I’ve always loved home design and decor, ever since looking through floor plans with my mom when I was a kid, “playing mind games” as we dreamed about building a new house someday.

I love how HGTV allows regular people like me to dream about ways we can make our own worlds a bit more beautiful.

There really is something hope-producing about taking an old house, especially one that’s run down and seemingly past repair, and fixing it up. I love watching people like Cathy and her husband, Garret use their vision, creativity and massive amounts of hard work to transform four dilapidated walls into a beautiful home.

Don’t we all love beautiful things? Beauty in any form causes me to crave more of it–whether it’s in the form of breathtaking nature, a compelling story, loving moments between kids, or a room that says, “You are welcome here.” Beauty is meant to inspire, to invite us in, to make our hearts sing.

It turns out that imperfect things are the most beautiful. Imperfections are proof that something is real. Authenticity is always more lovely than artificiality.

That’s why I love home renovation shows. I used to dream about becoming an interior designer, even helping a handful of people make design decisions for their own homes at different points. Then I realized my gift is less in the artistic design process and more in the appreciation of good design. I sure know something pretty when I see it, but please don’t ask me to create beauty out of nothing! I can’t handle the pressure.

Even though I’ll probably never fulfill my dream of becoming the next Joanna Gaines, I can’t get enough of her story and stories like hers. Reading about her and Chip’s journey in The Magnolia Story inspired me to start dreaming again, giving me permission to risk and ask “Why not?” when obstacles arise.

I’m so thankful for the advent of reality tv and how it invites us in close as normal people live their lives for us to watch. It’s heartening to know we don’t have to fit a certain mold to live our dreams–we just have to be ourselves. Thanks, Cathy and Garret, for bringing a good old-fashioned dose of inspiration to our world! We need more people like you to give us permission to embrace our real lives and become our truest selves.

Out of curiosity, did anyone notice that my blog has changed names several times in the past few weeks? That’s because, just like me, this site has always been a work in progress.

I started this blog a couple years ago, fighting against every perfectionistic ounce of me that wanted to wait until I knew what I was doing to start writing. Oh, how thankful I am for my friend who told me just to start, perfect or not. Isn’t that just life? We’ll never try anything if we wait until we know what we’re doing.

So, like the new name says, I’m releasing perfect. The more I publicly declare my intention to live fully today (instead of waiting until someday when I get my life together), the more I live freely as my real, imperfect self.

There is nothing this heart desires more than restoration. What if, like an old, dilapidated house, restoration is possible for the broken down, imperfect parts of ourselves too? I think it is. Scratch that, I actually know it is–because I’m living it. (But I can’t say too much here. Spoiler alert: I’m working on a book about my whole story! It’s a beautiful, life-giving process just to write it all down. I hope there will be a chance to share it someday!)

In the meantime, I will do everything I can to promote  “Rehab Crazy,” but not just because I love HGTV. And not just because our town really is a hidden gem full of old historic homes and amazing people with inspiring stories. My true motive in becoming an HGTV stalker is because watching people living their dreams gives others the hope they need to chase after their own.

Check out more of Cathy and Garrett’s story on their blog, thegritandpolish.com

Featured image used with permission and originally appeared here.

Being My Truest Self

I had a friend show up at my house recently, kids in tow and coffee in hand. She walked in as I was making dinner, handed me my favorite drink and burst into tears. We hugged as she cried, and my husband ushered all our kids outside to play (bless him!) so that we could talk uninterrupted. The coffee had been a reason to get her out of the house—she went on to tell me about the ugliness of her day, parenting battles lost, discouragement over moments she couldn’t take back.

I didn’t have much wisdom to offer in that moment, but I felt deeply honored to sit by her side, heart aching with her pain, as she poured out her real-life, human struggles. And I loved her more than ever because she showed up at my door, weakness exposed, defenses down.

There is something precious about being invited into the parts of someone else’s story most people don’t get to see. Vulnerability is a gift both when it is given and when it is received.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a mess I am. I don’t say that to berate myself or hint that you should tell me otherwise. I’m just trying to own the fact that, just like everyone else, there is stuff I need to work through. No matter the life stage or season, there is freedom in admitting we still have room to grow.

If I’m honest, I’ve got a lot of room to grow in every single area of my life. I used to think that if I worked hard enough, I could actually make people think I had my act together. Now I realize that having my act together isn’t actually the goal—freedom is. Freedom to be myself, completely authentic, fully alive, whole-heartedly engaged, bringing the fullness of who I am—my weakness, insecurity, beauty, talent, pain, compassion, and unique story—wherever I go.

The world needs more of that kind of freedom.

It’s more exhausting to pretend I’ve got my act together than to admit that I don’t and embrace the mess—or really, to let those who love me embrace me in the mess. I love how Donald Miller put it in Scary Close when he says, “We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are. Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.”

This fall the reality of what it means to be loved as I truly am hit home more deeply than ever. I had been planning and praying for months about a new thing I felt compelled to help start in our town. For the first time in the five years since we moved here, I would be leading in a public setting. It forced me to wrestle again with fears I thought I had conquered—fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, fear of losing my reputation (whatever that is).

As I stepped out of the safe little nest of our home, I realized how deeply rooted is my need to do all things well. Deeply rooted and crippling. Similar to old patterns, I found myself trying to shoulder the weight of the entire thing single-handedly.

We are not made to carry our burdens alone.

I finally asked some friends to intervene. I needed to get to the root of my stress—my fear that I won’t have what it takes and that people will walk away when I let them down.

(Out of curiosity, do you know anyone who is perfect? Me neither. In fact, the people who are closest to seeming perfect are the hardest ones to be around. Maybe because you know they can’t be real—you almost want to poke them with a stick to see if they flinch. Or maybe because the pressure they put on themselves to be so close to perfect makes you feel like I have to act more perfect to be in their presence. I don’t want to make anyone feel like that.)

Even though imperfect people are the ones I’m most drawn to, I still struggle to give myself permission to be an imperfect friend, an imperfect wife, and imperfect mom, an imperfect daughter, an imperfect sister, an imperfect leader. If grace really sticks to imperfections, I want to be less perfect and more grace-covered.

So my friends prayed for me. Several from far away, some from their own homes, and a couple right in the same room. They prayed prayers of love and life and hope and freedom from the lonely prison of perfectionism. And even more than anything they prayed for, I felt so incredibly loved that they showed up in that moment.

They wanted to walk with me through my messy parts that make me feel most unlovable. They didn’t have to, but they chose to be with me in my fear and failure and insecurity. They were willing to stop everything else to put their hearts and faith and our friendship on the line so that I would know I’m worth loving.

Talk about feeling vulnerable. To ask for help is one hard thing, but to actually receive it exactly where I was most weak, that took all the courage I could muster.

I don’t want to forget the power of being myself. Not the shinier version, or the skinnier version, or the funnier version, or the more together version. Not the more thoughtful version, or the version who always knows what to say. I want to be the truest version, mess and all.

Because the messy, imperfect, real-life version of myself is the one who most needs to be loved anyway. And that’s the version I want to use to love others in their mess. Hiding who we are is the loneliest way to live—and the only way to be fully loved is to be truly known.

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.

When Failure Leads to Freedom

When Failure Leads to Freedom

I love birthdays.  Everything about them. But especially the generosity with which people tend to shower you with love and adoration.  I especially like that part. I also like thinking about my birthday as a milestone, a flag in the sand marking the distance traveled since this time last year.

As I celebrate what my family lovingly calls my “birthday month,” I’m struck by how different my life looks today than it did just a few birthdays ago. I’m more myself, more alive, more secure in who I’m created to be, and more resolutely convinced that this life-long journey toward whole-hearted living is worth the hard work it requires.

I’m further on my journey than I used to be, but I’m still traveling one step at a time. And sometimes the steps are really, really hard. Remembering the journey gives me courage to keep pressing onward. Looking back, I can also see firsthand how nothing is wasted when surrender is the outcome. Because sometimes we have to fall apart to discover who we really are.

*     *     *

Five years ago, my world came crashing down.  It was the culmination of a lifetime of performing, achieving, working to earn my value in the eyes of myself and others.  I had always prided myself in my capacity to handle more than most people should, but my inability to see the danger of a lifestyle defined by busyness, urgency, and a need to be needed led to my breakdown.

For the six years before that point, I had been doing a job that I loved, but where my duties had gradually increased to a point that was beyond any one person’s capabilities.  I alternated between feeling inspired by the challenges of my role, gratified by the impact it allowed me to make on students and school culture, and feeling overwhelmed by the impossible weight of my responsibilities.

Stress was a constant.  I depended on adrenaline to get me through the days, and my mind would spin on overdrive during my workday and beyond. There was always too much to do and never enough time to do it.  It became more and more difficult to sleep, as if my body was constantly in fight or flight mode, trying to survive the danger of anxiety to my mental, physical, and emotional health.  I felt alone, as if the burden of changing school culture was mine alone to bear–prideful in my belief that I was even capable of such a mammoth undertaking.  But my passion and belief in the significance of my work made it easy to ignore the warning signs of an unsustainable lifestyle that was driven by a subconscious fear of failure.

I finally hit a wall midway through the school year five years ago when sleep deprivation and mental exhaustion forced me to deal with the limitations of being human.  I. Could. Not. Keep. Pushing. The job was too much for me.  My expectations of myself were too much for me.  I had reached my breaking point.

My husband had been watching me struggle, carrying the weight of my stress more and more in the previous months.  He agreed to let me submit my resignation, effective at the end of the school year, still several months away. The relief was indescribable, but so was my sense of failure. I ended up taking a couple months of sick leave, providing time for my body to recover from extreme fatigue and for my mind to slow down from months and months of constant spinning.

Even though I was desperate for rest, I couldn’t shake the sense that I was abandoning the students who needed me, the school I had poured my heart into, and my dreams of the positive changes I could make if I could just keep fighting. I was tempted to fill my time away from work with other stuff I never had time to do–but Corey kept reminding me to rest.  Don’t waste the gift of time, he would say. Just rest.

It was a fight, but a couple weeks into my sick leave I slowed down enough to start really sleeping again.  It was uncomfortable at first, but I finally learned to enjoy moments of stillness in my days. I was quiet and unproductive. I read books and attempted painting. I felt like I was wasting time, but in reality I was healing from years and years of spinning, striving, and working to earn the approval of others.

After my sick leave was up, there were still a couple months left in the school year. I went back to work with a new awareness of my limitations and with a much lower capacity for stress. I wondered with much trepidation, “Will I still have what it takes?”  It turns out that I didn’t.

I had changed for the better after two months of recovery time, but my job was the same as when I left it. I found myself unable to function at the pace I’d set earlier in the school year—it felt like I was sitting on the freeway while cars raced past and I was still struggling to start the ignition. I’d lost momentum in my teaching and credibility with my students, and I felt isolated and alone.  I just didn’t have it in me to keep pushing anymore, but I had to finish out the school year somehow.  I felt trapped. Stuck. Overwhelmed. Hopeless.

Depression set in quickly as I realized that my best efforts weren’t enough.  I was failing to live up to the standard of performance I had set for myself.  I was failing.  It was more than just a hard couple months at work, it felt like it was defining who I had become. My worst fear had become my reality—failure.

Somehow I managed to crawl across the finish line at the end of the school year, but things only continued to spiral downward. My confidence was gone, my energy was depleted, and I was finishing my Master’s degree as we prepared to move to a new town where my husband was called to a new job in ministry. Life was too much to handle.

I didn’t know who I was anymore.  I had always been Jillian the overachiever, the perfectionist, the hard-working one who can do it all.  Now I was just Jillian, the failure. What was I worth if I couldn’t do anything important? I could barely get out of bed in the morning anymore, let alone work to earn my worth in the world. I was spiraling quickly into darkness that felt consuming.

We moved and Corey started his new job, but I didn’t have it in me to even look for work.  Bless the man I married for seeing my desperate need for rest.  He told me again and again that taking care of myself was my job for the year. Even that was overwhelming some days.  I had lost hope. It seemed like this new version of myself was who I would always be now—paralyzed by anxiety and despair, believing that God had abandoned me and I deserved it.

In my hopelessness, I sat one morning alone in our living room, sobbing over the mess I had become. I finally cried out loud a desperate prayer for rescue, yelling, “God, don’t leave me like this!” I held nothing back. All my shame, anger, fear, and anguish came out in ugly tears as I realized that I had no hope of doing anything to change the way I felt. I could not rescue myself.

Freedom comes with surrender, and that was my moment of freedom.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, hope started to creep back in. There were small glimmers at first, then moments of relief, then even days and weeks at a time when I started to feel like myself again. I was able to talk about how I was feeling without being overwhelmed by hopelessness.  My eyes were lifted from my own consuming pain to see the truth that I had never been abandoned by God, I had just stopped believing his promises were true.

Months passed, and I realized that the circumstances that had brought me to such a dark place were divinely orchestrated. God used my sense of failure to rescue me from a lifestyle of busyness, perfectionism, and endless striving for approval that would have killed my soul if I had continued in it. Someone once told me that the only difference between a rut and a grave is its depth.  I had been digging my own grave.

It took failure to break me free from the pressure to perform.

It took hopelessness to force me to examine where my hope actually comes from.

It took coming to the end of myself to realize that my identity is deeper than the things I do.

I would have never guessed it at the time, but my greatest sense of failure has since led to a greater freedom than I’ve ever experienced. It has come over the past five years of learning to be still and rest in God’s presence, listen to his voice, and believe what he says about me. Freedom comes as I continually fail to live up to who I think I should be and instead choose to rest in who he says I am.

My strength comes in recognizing my weakness.

My freedom comes in surrendering my fear.

My purpose comes in sharing my story so that others might know that God is exceedingly trustworthy. I am living proof.

The Beauty of New Beginnings

The Beauty of New Beginnings

I’m one of those people that love New Year’s resolutions.  There’s something about a fresh start, like a real life do-over or something, that makes anything feel possible.  It feels like the gradual increase in caloric consumption between Thanksgiving and Christmas won’t count against me.  Like the whirlwind of family visitation, holiday festivities, and gift-buying won’t leave me too exhausted to regain balance. Like all the areas of discontent in my life can be channeled into specific action steps that will transform my life experience from this point forward.

Something about a new beginning recharges my battery, helps me shake my past failure, and motivates me to work harder at the things I decide matter most. Starting over in January (or February) feels like a fresh chance to apply what I learned through trial and error, as well as through joy and success in the previous year. This usually involves promising myself that this year I’ll eat healthier, exercise more, figure out our budget, be a more intentional mom and more loving wife, and generally become more disciplined in every area. The problem is, my renewed optimism often leads to an inflated perception of what is actually possible.  No matter how realistic I try to be about my goals for the year, there is always more that I want and need to change in my life than I have the capacity to accomplish.

And so at some point, months, weeks, or even days after I resolve to improve myself, I surrender to the reality that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.  I give up hope for a different future because of my inability to achieve what I set out to do.  Ah, the sting of discouragement.  It’s almost like the failure to meet my goals is more detrimental than not even trying to improve in the first place. Isn’t it better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all?  Yet each time my best efforts fail to bring about desired change, I feel more discouraged, less hopeful, more resigned to self-deprecation in that area.

All that to say, this year I found myself resisting my usually joyful tradition of creating resolutions.  This time around, I didn’t want to make any more empty promises that I couldn’t fulfill.  I didn’t want to put extra pressure on myself to do “one more thing.”  Because all striving for self-improvement has done until now is leave me feeling exhausted.  Beyond empty resolutions, I want this year to be different somehow—not just hoping it will be different, but experiencing real, lasting change.

Truthfully, my need for change is deeper than just the things I do—it’s my attitudes, thoughts, and hidden life that come out in behaviors that are much easier to try and fix than what lies beneath. If I’m honest, I don’t need just changed behavior, I need a transformed heart.  I long for a new beginning, a fresh start in so many areas, yet I’m painfully aware that my best efforts consistently fall woefully short:

My inability to deal with stress reveals itself when I raid the pantry for anything sweet that will bring temporary relief. I can cut out sugar to limit stress eating for a while, but anxiety always returns to test and eventually break my resolve. I need a deeper peace.

My lack of patience leads to words of frustration spoken harshly to my daughter at bedtime.  I try to remember to be the grown up who is bigger, kinder, wiser, and stronger—but then she gets out of bed just one more time and I become the parent I don’t want to be.  I need greater compassion.

My limited time and perspective make it impossible to be the friend I want to be to all the people I want to love.  I fail to pursue, miss opportunities to encourage, and cause hurt feelings by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  I need real forgiveness.

My controlling agenda and selfishness with how I want to use my time comes out in anger and tears when my toddler wakes up early from a nap we both needed. My best attempt to spend a moment of quiet in prayer turns to frustration and mental expletives in a heartbeat—what a quick decent into ugliness. I need redeeming grace.

My self-centered view of marriage as a means to meet my emotional needs leads to resentment toward my husband when his needs conflict with mine. We both crave honest vulnerability and connection, yet all too often he experiences bitterness and disengagement from the wife who promised to put his needs above her own.  I need authentic love.

The list goes on and on. I need a new beginning not just every 365 days, but every day.  Throughout the day.  No matter how many times I resolve to live right, I come up short—and even if I manage slight improvement, I’m still not fully the woman I was created to be.  And I feel it.

My struggle with perfectionism tempts me to try harder, dig deeper, discipline myself more to be my best self.  The truth is, no matter how hard I work, we all fall short of God’s perfect, glorious standard.[i] I’m not just being hard on myself here—we were made to dwell with Perfection. The frustrating thing about living outside of Eden is that imperfection comes with being human, and it keeps us separate from the Life we were made for. We either seek satisfaction in places that fulfill us incompletely or numb ourselves to the disappointment that life is not what we hoped. These moments remind me that I’m missing something—I’m not the complete version of who I was created to be, and I’m unable to effectively, permanently change myself.  I need Divine rescue from the endless cycle of striving for self-improvement.

Maybe what I need this year isn’t to spend more energy striving to change the things I do; instead, I want to stop “doing” and let Grace transform the person I am. I want this year to be the year when I really learn what it means to receive God’s acceptance, surrender to his rescue from self-made perfection, and live in the beauty of a new beginning.

Peace instead of anxiety.

Compassion instead of impatience.

Forgiveness instead of failure.

Grace instead of control.

Love instead of resentment.

I don’t have to live in the hopelessness of my moments of ugliness, and I don’t have to depend on my own grit and determination to change myself.  I don’t have to be perfect, because I know Someone who already is—and his perfection rubs off on anyone willing to come close.

Hope is believing that change is possible—even if I’m not there yet. So this year, instead of working harder, I’m choosing to be more thankful for gifts of grace all around me.  I’m on the lookout for ways that God is already showing up for me, through me, and all around me.  Because when we spend our energy noticing the gifts of Love, our eyes and mind and heart focus on what’s true: God sees us and wants us, just as we are.  And thankfulness leads to transformation.

I’ve started keeping what my husband calls my “Joy Journal,” literally writing down the sweet moments and morsels of joy that I notice each day, no matter how big or small. It wasn’t my idea—I took it from a beautiful book that a friend recommended over a year ago called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. There is something about keeping an actual written record that makes thankfulness more than just a passing thought—it’s like training my mind to make gratitude an automatic default.

The more I look, the more I’m starting to see Grace everywhere:

my fresh cup of coffee brewed just before I wake;

relief at a doctor’s visit;

the friend willing to watch my kids while they’re sick;

an unexpected date night;

family wrestling matches;

honest conversation;

a moment of sunshine to break up the fog;

those little arms wrapped tight around my neck…

There are always more nuggets of joy than I have time to write down. And the most beautiful thing? The list of gifts is always longer than my list of failures. Always.

The real relief for me this year is in believing that I don’t have to wait until January 1st to have a new beginning.  Today is a fresh start.  This moment.  As I choose to receive the gift of surrender, trading striving for thanksgiving, I find freedom to live fully in this beautiful moment. Imperfect but alive.

[i] Romans 3:23, New Living Translation

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Starting a blog is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.  It’s kind of like that dream we all have in some form, where you show up at school naked. The other one I often used to have revolved around being on stage opening night as the lead in a Broadway musical (my secret fantasy), except that I had no idea what the show was about, what my lines were, or what I was supposed to be doing.  Both of these recurring nightmares were excruciating because they caused me to experience one of my deepest fears: being exposed as a failure, revealed as inadequate.

But I’ve decided I’d rather live a courageous life than let fear define me.  Even though you could be reading this right now and think I’m an idiot/emotional mess/arrogant/hypocritical/completely wrong/insert negative perception here—even though you could read the things I write and reject me—I’ve decided to enter into the discomfort of vulnerability by sharing my heart. We can’t experience meaningful connection in life without it. And I need all the practice I can get at being courageous.

The truth is I’m a recovering perfectionist, my subconscious way to avoid vulnerability through achievement in order to limit risk in my relationships. I’ve spent most of my years believing that, if I worked hard enough in every area of my life, I could actually eliminate any potential for others to perceive me as inadequate. If there was nothing lacking in me, nothing others could criticize, I subconsciously thought I’d be more worthy of love. As a teenager, it wasn’t enough to be a good student—I had to be the top of my class. Athletics brought joy when I had a good game, but anything less than my best statistics brought on a torrent of self-flagellation. Regardless of the context, my good performance was reinforced by positive feedback from others, but my perception of negative performance just caused me to work harder at achieving perfection.  The problem was, perfection doesn’t exist in humans. And I am very much a human.

This paralyzing all-or-nothing mentality carried over into my adult life and how I approached my teaching career, marriage, friendships, and even my parenting.  If I wasn’t the best teacher/wife/friend/mom I could possibly be, I felt like a failure in that relationship. My expectations were crippling, and my people pleasing habits made it nearly impossible to differentiate my own legitimate desires from my need for approval from others. The more positive feedback I received for my work ethic or achievements, the more pressure I felt to raise the bar on what I had already accomplished. It was an addicting and exhausting cycle.

Moving to a new town four and a half years ago proved to be the beginning of my salvation.  Too worn out from the charade of having it all together in my previous job, I didn’t even apply for work as the new school year began.  My dear husband gave me permission and encouragement to rest, recover, and regenerate my heart after the extreme burnout I had left behind.  Shortly after we moved, I got pregnant with our first babe and knew I would be staying home for several more years to raise our family.  Even though it was the plan we had always discussed for our family, the reality of losing my identity as a competent professional caused an emotional crisis.  I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t performing.

As I have grappled honestly with my struggle to be a stay-at-home mom for the past several years, I have become more and more thankful for Divine rescue from my previous pattern of busyness, performance, and people pleasing.  In the process of sharing my frustrations, fears, and hopes with those I love—my family and trusted friends—I’ve learned the healing power of being known, understood, and unconditionally accepted. My raw, messy struggle for worthiness has been the door to deeper intimacy with the God who created me, as he affirms again and again that I can’t earn his love. I already have it.

Instead of seeking to earn approval by doing, I’m finding real peace in being still and learning to be present.  Instead of striving to make myself lovable by being perfect, I’m discovering the relief of sharing my messy journey toward wholeness with other imperfect people.  Instead of exhausting myself by fretting about what people think, I’m learning to appreciate the beauty that my uniquely designed heart brings to the world.  Instead of comparing my performance to what I see on social media, I’ve decided to use real people as my sounding board for the kind of mom, wife, and Jesus-follower I want to become.

Letting go of perfectionism is a bit like pulling back the curtain that shrouds me from the judgment and potential rejection of other humans. It means being honest with myself and others about my faults, my mistakes, my failures. It means opening myself up to the potential to be seen as “not good enough.”  Even with those I love and trust deeply, sharing my real emotional process is difficult and uncomfortable and a bit like showing up naked on the first day of school.  It means the possibility of deep hurt. But vulnerability might also be the key to a life with meaning, purpose, connection, and joy. I can either maintain a façade of flawlessness, or experience real relationships.  I choose the latter.

I’ve heard it said that every man’s deepest desire and greatest fear is to be known. This rings true—I long to share my heart, to be seen and loved as I really am, yet I am fearful that you will see what’s just under the surface and turn away in disappointment.  However, without being fully seen, we cannot be fully loved.

Bringing our authentic selves to a situation or relationship can feel unnatural at times, but it is also necessary to living well.  Dr. Brené Brown, who has studied vulnerability and its connection to becoming what she calls “Wholehearted” over the past twelve years writes in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.  It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.  If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path (34).

Vulnerability—showing up and fully engaging in my life and relationships, even as it opens me up to the possibility of hurt—is so much easier to talk about than to live. It’s easier to stay angry than to share the reasons I feel hurt.  It’s easier to withdraw than to tell you why I feel like a failure in our relationship. It’s easier to be critical of others than to look at my own faults. It’s easier to eat an entire batch of cookies than to feel the weight of disappointment. It’s easier to turn on the tv than to ask you how you’re really doing. It’s easier to give you the silent treatment than to admit I was wrong and ask for forgiveness.

I feel vulnerable in the moments I can’t control. When I look through the crack in the bedroom door to watch the love of my life and our sweet daughter shrieking giggles in a tickle fight before bed and my heart overflows. When I pray hard and don’t know how or when the answer will come.  When I think about my babies and the dreams I have for their lives, not knowing what they will choose. When I try something new and risk failure. When my heart overflows with gratitude beyond my ability to express in words. When I reach out and don’t know how you will respond. When I share something that matters to me and wonder if it matters to you. It seems that the most meaningful moments in my life are the ones when my heart is at greatest risk.

We cannot experience real connection without engaging our hearts, risking hurt, and embracing vulnerability. I want my real self to live connected with real people, with the real God. This means perfectionism doesn’t work for me anymore. Instead, I pray for the courage to live authentically–faults, struggles, mess and all. I want to show up for the life I’m living. It’s the only one I get.