Feeling Crazy in an Upside Down World

Feeling Crazy in an Upside Down World

I’m still recovering from my last trip to the grocery store.

An eerie silence greeted me at the door, compelling me to walk quietly, almost on tiptoe as I sanitized my cart. The air felt solemn, void of the usual buzz of smalltalk and laughter and even tantrums–in fact, children were conspicuously absent. Most shoppers wore masks over their mouths and noses, some homemade from handkerchiefs or procured from paint supplies in the garage.

The fear in the atmosphere was palpable, and it immediately enveloped me in its grip.

I felt myself almost holding my breath while I hunted through the aisles of empty shelves in search of the necessities. Shoppers avoided one another, and as I pushed my cart one way, people would swerve the opposite direction to avoid coming too close. Some visibly cowered as I walked by, turning their faces away from me while I did my best to give as much space as possible. Almost everyone avoided eye contact; almost no one smiled.

My head knew it wasn’t personal–social distancing is necessary to protect us all. But my heart still felt a stab of rejection. And I was exhausted by the time I checked out.

I’ve always been a feeler. I experience emotions big and loud and passionate–both gratifying emotions and difficult ones impact me deeply, for better or worse. Until recently, I believed my sensitivity to the world around me was a character flaw, that there must be something wrong for me to be so affected by life. 

It turns out that emotions are actually a really beautiful part of being human.

Emotions are neither good nor bad; they are simply our body’s response to what is happening around us. 

It’s becoming a new passion of mine, learning about the role of emotions and the way our brains and bodies are connected to what we feel. Under stress, our body works extra hard to keep us safe from perceived threats, collecting information about our surroundings before our conscious mind is even aware. Our brain processes the information it receives and tells us our body how to respond. Do we run and hide? Get ready to fight? Are we safe enough to relax?

Lately, my brain has been firing on overdrive trying to make sense of this upside down world full of isolation and social distancing. It’s exhausting. As a result, my emotions have felt like a roller coaster, climbing and plummeting without warning, sometimes even multiple days a day:

I’ll start the morning grateful to be home with my family, soaking up so much unexpected time with my kids and squeezing them extra tight. A moment later, I’m angrily sending them both to their rooms for fighting or sassing or throwing a tantrum–basically acting on the outside the way I feel inside, too.

I try to reset with exercise and a healthy smoothie, empowered and resolved to care for my body. But by late afternoon I’m nibbling on chocolate pulled from my emergency stash, struggling with self-condemnation because I can’t seem to stop.

The natural homebody in me finds partial relief in permission to stay home, but as the day goes on claustrophobia builds and I feel trapped, frustrated that I can’t find a moment or space to be alone.

I’m desperate to connect with friends in person but confused about what’s okay–can we go for a walk six feet apart? Can I sit in your lawn and sip coffee? Is there a way to both stay home and stay sane?

Not to mention the looming fear in the back of my mind, buzzing quietly enough to mostly ignore but always there, growing in volume when I read the paper or scroll the news feed or let my mind wander down the path of “what if?” It’s a constant drain on the energy I draw on to manage the other emotions in my life, all of which feel bigger in this quarantine cage. 

Life feels so confusing right now. It’s hard to know which way is up, especially outside of the normal rhythms and community that keep me grounded. We weren’t designed to do life alone–we simply cannot thrive without regular, meaningful human connection.

The more time we spend in isolation, the harder it is for me to remember what normal even used to be like. And the more I wonder if I’ll ever be the same again.

Feelings are not unfamiliar territory for me, but the scope and volatility of our collective emotional experience these days is enough to make anyone feel a bit crazy.

But you’re not crazy. I’m not crazy. We’re NOT crazy. This is just plain hard. Everything is new, nothing is certain. We’re alone and afraid and forging our way through uncharted territory, which takes loads of courage and tons of perseverance.

Today I’m angry. For no good reason, except everything. I’m tired of holding it all together. I’m tired of being optimistic and cheering us on indefinitely. I’m grieving how much I’ve been forced to give up this spring and I’m mad that I feel powerless to do anything about it. I’m tired of yelling at my kids or being mean to my husband because I’m exhausted and feeling everything extra big. I’m tired of being less than my best self.

Life will not always feel this hard. It’s hard to believe things will change in the midst of a pandemic that has no cure, no end in sight. But it won’t last forever. We will come out on the other side–we’re already closer to the end than we were when it started.

In the meantime, the more honest we can be about what we’re experiencing, the healthier we will be both today and when this whole thing becomes a memory. Buried feelings don’t just go away–they will come out eventually in the form of unhealthy behaviors or physical symptoms or relational distress or worse. 

So let’s not wait to deal with what we’re all facing. Let’s name it. Let’s feel it–because feelings are not meant to be held, stuffed, or ignored. They are meant to be…felt. And named. And shared with someone safe enough to care that you feel what you feel.

You’re not crazy. You’re brave and you’re tired and you’re doing the best you can. And your best is enough.

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.

Brave Enough to Keep Trying

Brave Enough to Keep Trying

Since I was in elementary school, I have fantasized about performing in a Broadway musical. It doesn’t matter that I have the vocal giftedness of a robot—a dream is a dream, and it was mine.

Blame my parents for taking me to see The Phantom of the Opera when I was ten. Everything about the performance was magical, inspiring me to spend hours locked in my bedroom pretending to be Christine Daaé. I played the soundtrack on repeat, singing along and memorizing every lyric—if a casting director ever knocked on my door, I would be ready.

It didn’t matter that I couldn’t sing on key to save my life. I was brave enough then to hold fiercely to a dream that stirred my heart, no matter what odds were stacked against me.

I tried out for our town’s production of Annie, singing my little heart out in the group audition and using my best falsetto to sound just like the professionals. I didn’t get a call back; it was the last time I tried out for a show of any kind. One rejection was all it took to squelch the shaky confidence that had given me the courage even to try.

If we let it, fear of failure will keep us from doing anything that matters. 

Rejection is devastating, even if it’s just perceived. As a kid, anticipating that I might not have what it took to get a part was enough to keep me from trying out again. Even though I’m all grown up now, insecurity still squelches my courage more often than I’d like to admit.

It’s been months since I’ve written anything here after losing my confidence as a writer when my world imploded last year. A series of events outside of my control led to a season of debilitating anxiety and depression, forcing our family to focus all our energy on recovery and healing. It has been excruciating and grace-filled and painful and beautiful—a year we would have never chosen, but one God has used to build greater freedom and deeper love than ever before.

Writing again now makes me wonder if my heart has really recovered enough to be vulnerable with my words again. It feels brave to offer my story back out to the world, unprotected from potential criticism, misunderstanding, or judgment.

I’m not a professional blogger. I’ve never been formally trained in creative non-fiction. I don’t know what I’m doing when my fingers start flying across the keyboard, but I know it makes me feel alive to put my heart into words.

More often than not, I read other writers’ work and feel inadequate in comparison. I talk myself out of the unique voice I bring to the world because it’s not as witty/deep/well-written/insightful/funny/inspiring/fill-in-the-blank as those I admire.

Even though I know better, I still catch myself using others as my measuring stick of enough-ness. I forget I’m not supposed to be them, I am designed to be me—imperfect, honest, insecure, passionate, dorky, hopeful—fully myself, just as I am.

Comparison steals the joy of discovering the irreplaceable beauty only we can offer the world.

I tell myself I shouldn’t even try to write because it’s not like I’m going to publish a book or make a living on my blog or do anything substantial with my words. It’s like I’m asking, “What’s the point of singing show tunes if I’m never going to perform on Broadway?”

Because I love it, that’s why.

Just like listening to Elphaba belt out “Defying Gravity” gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes (Wicked fans, am I right?!), writing awakens my soul and brings it to life like nothing else. And even though I may not be Idina Menzel, I can still sing the song I’ve been given at the top of my lungs with all the passion my heart can muster.

What matters most isn’t the performance I deliver but the bravery of offering my unique voice, no matter the response.

So I’m starting here, choosing to do one brave thing at a time, feeling vulnerable because it requires me to step out of the safety of my comfort zone. I may not be the best writer in the blogosphere, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write anyway. I’ll never grow into who I was meant to be unless I try and try and try again.

Neither will you.

Your brave thing will likely look completely different than mine. It might be inviting someone over for dinner or applying for a new job or setting boundaries in a relationship or taking that class you’ve always thought about. But if you never attempt the thing lingering in the back of your mind, you’ll never experience the fullness of who you were meant to be.

Building courage takes practice, so let’s just keep trying. You will be braver for showing up, even if you don’t get chosen for the part. The world needs more people like you.

Since vocal performance is not in my gift set, I decided to audition for a new role last week. After months of training, preparing, and convincing myself not to quit, I gathered enough courage to do something new and scary: I became certified as a group fitness instructor. And get this: I will dance on a stage wearing a microphone!

It may not be Broadway, but it feels like the next best thing. And you know what? That’s good enough for me.

In the Midst of Struggle

In the Midst of Struggle

I zipped up my running jacket and stepped out into the cold drizzle, a biting wind blowing against my face. Taking a deep breath, I resolved to make it a short run and started down the street. My thoughts swirled with reluctance as the chill penetrated each layer and settled into my bones—it was cold and wet and miserable—what in the world was I doing outside?

I knew the answer, even as I forced my body to ignore the myriad reasons I should turn around and pour another cup of coffee instead of running in the rain. My natural inclination is never toward discomfort, even when facing it leads to benefits on the other side. But experience has proven that perseverance is always worth it, even when it feels easier to quit before I begin.

Sometimes life feels like running in the rain.

Hard days—or seasons—make me want to hide at home in my jammies where I’m safe and warm. I’m in one of those hard stints now. Lately, anything beyond the basic activities required to get through the day feels too overwhelming to attempt. Extra things like reaching out to friends, writing thank you notes, and organizing the piles around my house have shifted temporarily into the “not today” category.

So I haven’t spent time writing in a while. Not only because I haven’t made much time to write, which takes considerable determination during any normal season, but also because it feels tricky to put my heart into words. If I’m honest, I haven’t wanted to admit I’m fighting a battle for healing that isn’t over yet.

I’m still in the midst of my struggle.

For a writer, it’s vulnerable any time you are brave enough to put your heart on a page and press “publish,” opening yourself up to the opinions and potential criticism of others. But when life knocks you facedown in the mud, the risk of sharing your struggle from that vantage point feels like an invitation to be kicked in the face while you’re down.

Yeah, I guess it’s time to admit I’m that writer. Here I am, facedown in the mud.

The details don’t matter, because we’ve all been there or will be at some point. Maybe it’s a period of grief, a struggle with depression, a life transition, relational pain, some sort of loss, a hard diagnosis, or another type of crisis—whatever the cause, it leaves us reeling, uncertain which way is up and if we’ll ever be the same as we were before.

I keep waiting to reach the other side of my particular season of struggle, eager to share all the lessons I’ve learned after surviving such a difficult time. I know I’ll have a story to tell of God’s faithfulness, that I’ll point to different moments when my heart changed and my load lifted on the road to eventual transformation. I’m clinging to the hope that I’ll have words of encouragement for anyone on a similar path, cheerleading those who are struggling in their own ways to persevere.

But I’m not on the other side yet.

I’m still in the midst of my own battle to remember who I am, piecing together my identity by sorting through each broken fragment. So instead of waiting for the end of this slow, arduous process, I’m writing from the middle of it—in the midst of a place I’d rather not be.

Transformation isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. Like Cinderella’s experience with her fairy godmother, I’d much prefer to wave a magic wand and arrive at the final destination of this healing journey I’m on, where in a flash I’m altogether different than I used to be—stronger, braver, more whole-hearted.

Real-life transformation, however, requires a lot more tenacity and grit. Change comes almost too slowly to notice, demanding stamina to keep moving forward with almost no evidence that forward is really even the direction you are going.

Sometimes perseverance looks like things that are intuitively productive, like journaling or exercise or counseling or heartfelt prayer. Other days perseverance looks like getting out of bed. Then doing the next thing and the next, one tiny next thing at a time. And sometimes it looks like simply not giving up, even when giving up feels like the only thing that makes sense.

Perseverance eventually changes us if we keep not quitting, no matter how slowly movement comes.

Today, the gradual ascent toward transformation looks like admitting I’m still not where I want to be. I’m writing from the midst of my struggle, where my capacity has been exponentially diminished for a time. It’s humbling for this recovering perfectionist to say no to invitations and back out of commitments, but pretending I’m at full strength will only use the precious energy I need to keep pressing on.

It’s tempting to push my people away, as if distance will keep others from seeing the dirt smudged across my face and caked in my hair. But the vulnerability of telling the truth about where we are opens our eyes to see that we’re not alone in the mud after all. Sharing honestly with safe people helps us to lift our heads enough to see a whole heap of others who thought they were the only ones here too.

If you find yourself today in a place you’d rather not be, you are not alone. You may be in the midst of it, but this is not the end of your story.

I’m here with you, cheering you on and reminding you that you don’t have to climb a mountain today. You just have to choose not to quit. Go for that run or make your bed or light a candle and spend some time breathing deep. And if that one thing is all you do right now, it’s enough.

Sometimes victory simply means not giving up. Let’s keep pressing on together. We’re going to have a breathtaking story to tell on the other side.

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

My Stained Glass Life

My Stained Glass Life

We started looking at minivans on craigslist last week. Yup, minivans. The car I swore I would never drive—the one you have to trade in your cool card to own. The car that says, “I care more about opening the doors by pushing a button than about pretending to be young and hip and sexy.”

But the thing is, I’m not young or hip or sexy—I’m a mom with two kids under five and more crumbs and abandoned toys in the backseat than I know what to do with. My current car is so small that I have to move the passenger seat all the way forward for my daughter to sit behind me—my legs are too long for any more of this nonsense. The time has come to look past cool and embrace my real life. Ugh…I must be growing up.

A couple years ago, as a friend and I were talking about my dream car with all the fancy bells and whistles I would never be able to afford, she made a statement that changed everything for me. She said, “I never want the car I drive to make people think I’m something I’m not.” It hit me—I want a cool car so others will think I’m cooler than I really am.

And it made me ask myself, what else am I pretending to be so that others will think I’m more than I actually am?

I’ve spent too many years thinking that if I work hard enough often enough, I actually can pull myself together. I believed the lie that if I could just…

figure out how to work out consistently,

keep my house clean,

remember birthdays,

avoid dessert,

manage my budget,

update my wardrobe,

plan healthy meals,

organize creative activities for my kids,

find time for myself,

and do it all without being tired,

THEN I would feel like enough. And more importantly, others would think I’m enough.

In reality, if my value is based on my ability to live up to the impossible standards I set for myself—aided by Pinterest, social media, and a tendency to compare and compete—I will never measure up. I just can’t do it all. No one can.

I don’t want to pretend to be more than I am. Pretending to have it all together is kind of like driving a fancier car than I can afford—and it’s a barrier that keeps people from seeing the real me, flaws and all. And my flaws are many.

For example, parenting brings out ugliness in me I never knew existed; staying home with my kids is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not to mention the guilt that comes with admitting I’m not completely satisfied by the beautiful gift of motherhood (gasp!).

You should also know that I’m a recovering perfectionist. It’s still a battle to believe that my performance does not equal my value. I am continually relearning that failure is not the enemy—but failure to risk failing is.

I struggle almost daily with what I see in the mirror, choosing to believe that beauty is not how our world defines it. It can’t be bought, applied, or styled, and it doesn’t require me to exercise for it or lose weight to find it. Beauty only grows as my body changes and ages and my heart softens and deepens.

Add to the list of flaws that I’m a terrible housekeeper. Just the thought of cleaning the house again overwhelms me—didn’t I just clean the bathrooms last week? Wasn’t that enough? Don’t even ask what’s for dinner…

I don’t know how to ask for help. I’m learning the hard way that I can’t do as much as I think I can. It is paralyzing and humbling and exhausting to worry more about burdening others than to ask them for what I need.

I’ve experienced depression so deep and crippling that the thought of continuing to live was unbearable. I know what it feels like to lose hope to the point of believing death is the best option—and I know that it’s possible to come out of the darkness more alive than ever before.

The list goes on—and yet, the freedom to admit I don’t have life figured out is worth the risk of being perceived as the mess that I really am. I’d rather live honest and free than hide behind an inauthentic self.

Fellow perfectionists, performers, and strivers: You are already enough. You can stop trying so hard. You are enough because you are made on purpose to reveal a God who shines most brightly through your cracks.

I don’t want anything in my life to create a perception that I’m anything other than a real human person, dependent on grace to get me through each moment. And if you’re a real human person who struggles in any way, I want you to know this: You. Are. Not. Alone.

I don’t want to waste any more energy or time trying to make myself into someone I think you’ll like. Instead, I want to allow the pieces of my life to be displayed as they are—without pretending. Transparent enough to let God’s perfect light shine brightly through my brokenness. Like a stained glass window.

The journey I’ve been on over the past couple years has been one of identifying the themes of struggle, heartache, joy, and passion throughout my life and asking God, “What do you want to do with that part of my story?” Over and over, the answer has been something along these lines: “Tell the world how you’ve seen my beauty—and let my beauty shine through your cracks.”

It feels scary to admit that I’m such a work in progress. But I want to be brave and honest and curious about the things I experience—and give others permission to do the same. Our lives are too short and too precious to pretend they’re not hard. Let’s be brave together instead of struggling alone.

May we all have the courage to tell one another the truth about how we’re really doing, holding with tenderness the pieces of others’ stained glass lives entrusted to our care. You are enough, struggles and all. Let the Light shine through your cracks.

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.

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.