My daughters make me beautiful

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I still don’t know if I genuinely believe the title I just typed above…but I’m trying.

It never really hit me when Viv was born how she would feel about me or herself. I mean, focusing on keeping the tiny infant asleep and/or fed was more than enough for my brain to handle at the moment. But being pregnant with another daughter now while watching Vivianne grow into a smart, walking, talking, little person has really opened my eyes to my concept of how we identify beauty in ourselves and in others.

There are endless posts these days about mothers accepting and loving their stretch marks. Recently, I’ve also seen a lot of mothers suggesting that the are working on loving themselves mainly because little eyes and ears are always around us. Those little eyes and ears will soak in that negative body image you have of yourself faster than a sponge. And right now, both of those sentiments are hitting me pretty hard (and probably only about half of that is because of the pregnancy hormones)

I’ll admit, loving my outer appearance is not my go-to. I hide from pictures, focus on flaws in the mirror, and complain about my looks to my husband probably more than the average gal. And it has been that way ever since I can remember learning the words “thigh fat”. I’m not proud of it and I’m not done with it, but that’s where I find myself. Especially now as my oldest is giving my eyes dark circles and my youngest is pushing the baby bump she is creating in place of my “waistline” a little further out every day.

Recently, though, after apologizing to my husband for the billionth time about looking like a bum in public, Vivi caught my eye and I realized…she doesn’t care. She doesn’t care that my eyeliner isn’t perfect. She doesn’t care that my hair is more dry shampoo than follicle. She doesn’t care that more of me jiggles than I’d like…and in fact, she likes laying on Momma more than Daddy most days because I’m “softer”. She loves her Momma for so much more than those things and the way I look probably doesn’t even factor an ounce into that love. (Coincidentally, she also hasn’t looked in a mirror and is completely herself with wild hair flowing, stained romper outfit and skinned up knees. But I couldn’t love her any more either.)

I also know that, despite all my work and constant reminders to myself and to her about what beauty actually is, eventually this culture will teach her that she has to care. That she has to always look a certain way and dress a certain way and act a certain way. I’m terrified of that day. There are so many things I want to freeze for her now including this genuine love of people despite appearance. But here in this moment, I am settling on the vow not to add to that overpowering voice.

I will love myself for her…and for her sister…and for me.

I will stop dwelling on scale numbers and acne scars.

I will praise God for the beauty of my body that has carried children and groceries and the weight of the world at times.

I will revel in true beauty that comes directly from God and do my best to give that beauty back to Him and the people he has trusted into my care.

 

Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God.

~1 Peter 3:3-4

I am a horrible person…an ongoing saga

This thought runs through my mind several times a day. Sometimes several times an hour. Most recently, I overheard a coworker talking about how wonderful her daughter, someone I know, is at being a working mother and reflecting deeply on her experiences and on and on and on. She is a proud mom, I get that. But my automatic response was 1)Insecurity 2)Inadequacy 3)Jealousy 4)Anger.  These are old friends who visit me often…and I hate them.

IIJA (I don’t feel like writing the words every time so let’s go with this) is something that pushes me in a hole that takes me forever to work my way out of and has so many triggers. My housemates, people from my past, my saint of a husband, work criticisms…really anything. I’m so susceptible to these enemy attacks.

And I know without a doubt that is exactly what it is: an Enemy attack. And, boy, is he good at it.

I haven’t figured out a good counter-attack yet. I’m trying my best to pray for those who trigger me and hold the spotlight of my anger. I’m trying my best to “keep my eyes on my own paper”. I’m trying my best to love myself as God loves me.

I’m trying. I’m usually failing. But, with the loving support of my family, I move forward and try again.

Pray for me as I pray for you.

I think the Devil lives in my shower

There are many people and things (we just caught a mouse not long ago…yuck) that live in my house. Most of them I love. Most of them are harmless and I can deal with reasonably well. But not the one that lives in my shower.

Admittedly, I don’t clean my shower as often as I should. Any sort of cleaning that happens in the bathroom usually falls at the end of my to do list out of sheer distaste for the chore.But it isn’t the filth that accumulates on the walls and floor of the shower that gets to me. It’s the Devil that lives there.

It happens every time. Armed with spray bottles, brushes, paper towels and the thought that we cannot possibly go one more day with the shower in the state that it is in, I prepare for battle. Without fail, I get frustrated. (*spray, spray*)And angry. (*scrub,scrub,scrub*)And mean.(*SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB*)  I tell myself that no one else cares about the state of the house. I’m the only one who ever does anything.(*VIOLENT OUTBURST OF THROWING DIRTY PAPER TOWELS*) Every person in my life is ungrateful. I have long, drawn-out fights with my husband, who isn’t even in the house. I turn into an ugly, utterly selfish and inconsolable brat.

The feeling lasts for a while. I marvel at how beautiful our shower can actually be normally while forcing back tears of anger. I put away my cleaning supplies and find something else wrong with the house to be angry about. Eventually, my anger turns into sadness and despair and I can only focus on the negative parts of each day and of myself. Flaws abound and I convince my self of my utter worthlessness. I have the very bad habit of letting these, among other, moods force me into a black hole that takes me a while to climb out of on my own.

I hate the person that this ritual turns me into but I still haven’t found a way to avoid it besides actually letting the shower fall to pieces.

I cleaned our shower yesterday. I’m just now finding myself starting to  come out of the hole.

Lord, have mercy.

 

If “control = happiness = holiness”, something doesn’t add up

My attention gets sucked into things very easily. One of my offices has a giant window that looks over a hill that can somehow make any season seem beautiful. I look out this window a lot. When I used to share the office, it wasn’t uncommon for me to need to interrupt a conversation and let my supervisor know that there was a groundhog and some birds fighting on the hill and my brain wouldn’t be available for intelligent conversation until the battle was finished.

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Currently, my attention has been pulled into the world of podcasting. I’ve been binge-listening to podcasts to the point where I need to turn my cellular data off so I don’t spend millions of dollars listening to other people talk at me. My focus has mainly been on podcasts that combine some of the following topics: Catholicism, Mommy-ing, wife-ing…well I guess that’s mainly it. Catholic, mommy podcasts (let’s call them CMPs…initialisms make me feel cool), it’s INSANE how addicting I’ve found them. There’s different topics with each episode and, even if they have ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with my current situation, I can’t stop.But, that’s not what I want to focus on.

I need to talk about what the CMP’s have brought out in my brain: the need for control. It’s crazy and there’s probably a CMP episode that talks about “letting go and letting God” (gag) or “who’s really in control?”

…unrelated, I wonder if there is a job in naming podcasts cause I’d be super good at that.

 

Anyway, through learning about family budgets and books I should read and how to properly self-care, I’ve realized that I equate my sense of control not only  with happiness (a pretty common trait) but also with holiness. Being in charge of my schedule means I’m totally on the road to sainthood, eating vegetables CONSISTENTLY has to be on par with doing works of mercy  and, all those faceless people who chime “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” understand that an ordered household is the only road to heaven, right?

Clearly, the answer is no, but my brain doesn’t always live “seeing things clearly” land.

Case in point, I’ve been trying to focus on my weight/eating differently to see if I could actually take care of my body for health rather than beauty (easier said than done…look for endless ways that I will both congratulate myself and fail miserably at this endeavor). And then tonight, I ate almost an entire bag of Cheetos simply because they were sitting in my office. What followed? Guilt. Resentment. Fear of being punished.

cheetos

Hold up now. Who’s going to punish me for eating delicious cheese food-type things? God. Not eating an entire bag of Cheetos in one sitting is probably the commandment Moses would have seen if he turned the tablet over.

Ridiculous? Absolutely. Felt in my heart regardless of the ridiculousness? You betcha. I lost control and screwed up and punishment is sure to follow. I’m losing my closeness to God with every bite, even if only in my mind.

It happens in non-cheese related ways as well. If I fall behind on laundry or forget to answer a voicemail, I feel “off the straight and narrow”. These things that have nothing to do with my relationship to God are really screwing up my faith.

And here’s the thing I need to remind myself, say it with me now:  I’m actually not in control at all. The most freeing and exciting and terrifying realization about my life is I’m not in control. I need to trust in my God, who loves me in spite of as well as because of all the calories in my fitness tracker. And my dirty house. And my cluttered office. And on and on and on. He’s got this and, more importantly, He’s got me.


Be strong and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the LORD, your God, who marches with you; he will never fail you or forsake you.

Deuteronomy 31:6

What do you do?

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I sat in the office of my Ecclesiology professor anxiously as he read ALOUD the answers I had written to the assigned questions. Not really out of the ordinary, since it’s an independent study and all of our meetings take place in his office as he looks over my work. But there is still something nerve wracking about hearing your own thoughts read back to you.

He pauses as we chat about the Apostles and the role of Judaism in the early church.

“You’re a nurse, right?”

“Ummm, no.”

“Oh. I just assumed because of your name-tag and purple shirt. The nursing students wearing purple tops during their clinicals. So, what do you do again?”

Ugh. Double Ugh.

Ugh #1 (the smaller of the ughs): We have met before. We have had this conversation before. Repeating myself makes me feel unseen, Father. And, yes, I know we will probably have this conversation again.

Ugh #2: I hate this question. This goes even beyond a hatred of talking about myself. The reason I hate this question is twofold (apparently everything is going to be twofold today):

Reason number one I hate this question is that the answer is not simple. I cannot finish this conversation in one or two words. I envy people with succinct titles. Teachers. Doctors. Accountants. Astronauts. Princesses.  I am usually lucky if I can wrap up this answer within 20 minutes. It’s complicated.

Here it is in a nutshell: My paid jobs are two part time jobs squished together to form a full time job so that I can enjoy benefits. Most days, it feels like two full time jobs with part time hours. They are both in ministry positions, one in direct service of college students and one at a more administrative level at our diocesan offices. Both are very important, time consuming and, at times, brain-meltingly stressful. Beyond my paid work, I can see the finish line of receiving my Master’s degree, but I’m not quite there yet. Oh, and after that I try to fit in taking care of a house, being a mom (to a nine month old who’s new favorite way of communicating is bloodcurdling screams) , a wife (to a wonderful husband who also works way too hard at too many jobs) and a human.

That last one is debatable. I think humans have sleep and nutritional requirements I’m not meeting.

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Reason number two that I hate being asked what I do is that I’m not in love with the answer.  I like the answer well enough.I like that ministry is actually a job, since most days it doesn’t really feel like work. I like paying bills. I like health insurance. I like feeding my family. I like not having to serve fries and medium Diet Cokes to total strangers. I like being useful.

I don’t like having to split my focus between two communities that deserve more. I don’t like the hours. I don’t like the stress. I don’t like dropping my daughter off at a babysitter. I don’t like the thanklessness. I don’t like calls that inform me that I am allowing Satan to corrupt our children. (true, and very long, story)

Now, I’m not under any false impression that I am going to love any career path I take 100% of the time. And, while I still hold out for a lottery win so that I can stay home with my family full time, I’m not under any delusion that our mortgage or student loan debt is going to magically disappear and give me that opportunity. But I can get so bogged down in the labels and the titles and the logged hours and…and…and…

It’s so easy to forget my purpose in the midst of my roles, both paid and unpaid. I’m supposed to help other people get to heaven and I work to be able to see them there myself. End of statement.

 

Easier said than done, right? True. I’m not saying being a good Catholic Christian is “easier” than my day jobs, which just happen to be ministry related. In fact, it’s actually probably a million times harder.

My point, I think, in all of this rambling is that I let the little, unimportant worldly things get in my way. And I let it happen all the time. I get bogged down and wallow in my hopelessness. I let the dark win.

And, maybe even a bigger problem would be that I let all the “what do you do?” questions cloud my view of answering the real question: “Who are you?”

So, maybe that’s the lesson for the day:I am more than what I do. Or what I don’t do.

What I do will change. Who I am will not.

And who am I?
Well, at my very core, I am loved deeply by my Creator. And once I come back to that realization, which seems like a daily journey sometimes, I can do anything.

 

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I ache, too

I just got pulled into one of many of the articles that pop up on my newsfeed. This one started with the phrase “I long for normal…” and I was hooked. That’s the exact wording I have been feeling this week but couldn’t put into words. Well, that’s not true, I didn’t want to put it into words. Saying that out loud, and even thinking it, feels selfish and petty and wrong. But that doesn’t mean the feeling goes away.

Now, the woman writing the article was talking about her daughter who has a disorder that makes the family of four’s life more and more difficult. The more I read, the guiltier I felt. No one in my life is suffering this way and in no way is my life affected to the extent that her’s is…but I still ache. And every time I think about it, the guilt grows.

I should explain. I’ve been married to my wonderful husband for a month now and nothing in the world has made me happier. He is truly one of the biggest blessings in my life. But we haven’t had the newlywed experience that most do. Sure, our week spent in Jamaica after the wedding was fantastic and a honeymoon I will never forget. But, after that week we returned to our beautiful home…and our girls. Matt and I have no children of our own yet, but our house is filled with movement, excitement and noise because we have, as of Sunday, five young women living with us who I adore but who also make our life anything but normal.

Before we were married, my husband (who is truly a saint in many ways…but that is a reflection in and of itself for a later time) had founded and led an intentional Catholic living community which, in it’s two years of existence, provided the world with graces that continue to be discovered. Unfortunately, that time came to a close and left some of the younger members without a place to go because of bad family lives or other unsafe conditions. So, when we purchased our house, we were looking for more than enough bedrooms. And when we closed on our house last summer, we moved in with 3 housemates. Over the year, we have hosted a number of others for short or longer periods of time for a variety of reasons and, in the past month, have added bunk beds to our future nursery for our newest two additions. Our house now holds the seven of us pretty comfortably.

As you can see, though, we are far from normal and sometimes I get exhausted just explaining that to people who never really understand our situation…sometimes I wonder if I do! And not all days are happy Brady Bunch-inspired scenes. I get tired and frustrated a lot more than I should. I need time outs to compose myself. I need to remember the good. But my husband shines through in these instances. His heart is much bigger than mine a lot of the time and he carries the joys and burdens of others with such grace that I am in awe of him every day (ugh…I said I wasn’t going to gush. But he’s just so great!)

Yesterday, was one of those days where I came home from work and errands and just wanted to collapse in the clean and quiet house that I had left in the morning…but that wasn’t going to happen easily. I wanted to throw up my hands and run far, far away from everything not 5 minutes after walking into the chaos. Not an option. So instead, I poured a glass of wine and cooked dinner. And that’s where the miracles start. Dinner brought people to our table and the meal I was planning for Matt and I turned into a dinner for 5 (thankfully with just enough food). And though it still wasn’t a traditional family dinner, I could feel the love surrounding me, even in my tired and broken state. I saw the face of Christ through the haze of my frustration and my ache for normal. “Normal” life, though, would have never given me that grace. I am blessed with the gift of an abnormal life and when I forget that, I have scripture to remind me to love and be joyful in my abnormality:

“Above all, let your love for another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1 Peter 4:8-10

I have many gifts. And 5 of them happen to be living under our roof with us. So much for normal…and good riddance.

It’s a down day

I want the weather to be nicer for August. I want the sun to shine. I want it to be oppressively hot.

I want to love my job. I want to find passion in my work. I want my work to mean something. I want to work with people I respect and can’t wait to see in the morning. I want to feel confident in what I present to the world. I want to believe in the mission of my office. I want to interact in meaningful ways. I want my old job. I want my degree.

I want to communicate better. I want to be thinner. I want to be prettier. I want to be liked. I want to be loved. I want to sleep more. I want to have everything in a neat orderly setting. I want enough money to be comfortable.

I want a lot of things and today it doesn’t seem like I’m going to get any of them today. So far that means I’m having a bad day.

But I woke up this morning in a beautiful house with the man I love. I used clean water and ate my fill of breakfast and used a car to get to a job that gives me a salary and benefits. And no matter how bad I feel, I have a God who never leaves me. I may want a lot of things but I have everything that I need. And my prayer for today is that I focus on that instead.

(Originally posted 8/27/2015)