Dignity, Faith, Family, Friendship, Intentionality, Jesus, Marriage, Motherhood, Personal Reflection, Worthy

Enough

Several days ago, I shared a photo on Facebook. Not a personal photo. Just a photo of some words that, on that morning especially, were relatable for me. It crossed my mind that it was likely relatable for others too, so I shared the photo and moved on.

Reactions and comments are still trickling in on that post, and it hasn’t yet left my mind. The text in the photo said this: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work.”

I was already feeling this before my workday started on Monday. Although my son loves school and both of he and my daughter enjoy their babysitter, there is inevitably at least one day each week when one of them clings to me a little extra in the morning and expresses their wish that I could stay home from work with them that day. Also inevitably, that is among the hardest moments of my week. Monday morning happened to include that moment with my daughter.

I’m blessed with a good job. It is enjoyable, interesting work in a healthy environment with a solid team of people. I’m grateful for it and challenged by it daily. No matter what though, I am a mother. I am always first responsible to my family and then to everything else. So I work extremely hard to balance it all (again, a statement that so many of you can relate to, undoubtedly). Workdays, meetings, projects, schooldays, doctor appointments, drop-offs and pick-ups, mealtime and playtime and bedtime and everything in between. Balance is a constant goal.

On Monday afternoon, I had a brief meeting with my supervisor. A generous, flexible woman who knows the life of a working mother, I’ve been thankful for her understanding in this balancing act. Among other topics covered in this meeting though, she shared that someone in our office had voiced complaints about my comings and goings. This anonymous individual was bothered by what they felt were too many times I had to adapt my schedule to those school and sitter drop-offs and doctor appointments and sick kids and so on. While I was in no way reprimanded or told to stop adapting my schedule to those needs, I still can’t dismiss the disappointment that this is what someone thinks of the work I put in at my job. Whomever it is doesn’t necessarily know about the number of days in which I work through lunch, or the nine, ten, or eleven hours I put in when I’m working from home while simultaneously caring for my children. They don’t necessarily know why I arrived at 8:10 instead of 8:00, or why I had to work remotely from my home unexpectedly. They see what they see and form their opinion.

I’m going to be fully honest here. I want to look that person straight in the eye, possibly grabbing them by the collar, and say this: “I am doing the best I can do.” I want to inform them that I already know it will never be enough. Their input is not needed for me to know this.

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The current trend in women’s self-help/self-esteem culture is summed up in one phrase:

I am enough.

It crops up in articles, books, and social media posts with head-spinning frequency. I’d even wager that the image I used above was designed to serve that message. Those words are the mantra of many tired, over-extended, trying-to-meet-all-expectations women, and they are a lie.

I am not enough. You are not enough.

If we ever want to stop striving until we break, we must admit this. If we want to quit the worldwide, olympic-level competition for Instagram-worthy perfection on the surface while we are unraveling when no one is looking, we must admit this.

I am not enough.

If I were enough for my children, they would not need their beloved father or their dear grandparents and extended family. If I were enough, I would not need my husband’s partnership and love. If I were enough, I would not need my teammates and managers at the office. If I were enough, I would not need my church community, my writing community, my health and fitness community, my neighbors, or even those most precious friends who know the real me. Above all, if I were enough, I would not need my Lord.

I am not enough.

Certainly, I can understand the intentions behind the popular message of being enough. It is answering the emptiness countless men and women carry inside of them. It is speaking to the ways we punish ourselves for not living up to our or others’ expectations. It is reminding us that our worth has been forgotten. I do understand. But believing you are enough doesn’t admit your inherent need for others. Believing you are enough doesn’t admit your need for the Divine.

I am not enough.

I cannot do it all. I literally cannot. I only have one body, one mind. I only have 24 hours in my day. I am only capable of being in one place at a time. Unlike God, I cannot be all things to all people. Admitting this is not a detriment to my self-esteem. It is an enlightened self-awareness. It fosters a great amount of freedom, clipping the binding ties of strife and disappointment.

I am not enough. I am a member of a marriage, of a family, of a friendship, a community, a church, a team for that very reason. While I will always work to be my best, I will not misguidedly carry the weight of striving to be enough. I am not enough and I am happier for knowing it.

Because the Saints Said So, Dignity, Faith, Intentionality, Saints, Worthy

Because the Saints Said So: I Always Knew I Could (St. Catherine of Siena)

Today, I’m taking a bit of inspiration from Burl Ives and The Little Engine That Could. While I drove my kids to the sitter’s this morning, we sang along to some classic tunes by the beloved children’s folk singer of decades that passed long before I took my first breath. The last song to play before I dropped off the kids and switched the radio to Dave Matthews was “The Little Engine That Could.”

“Just think you can, just think you can,

just have that understood

And very soon you’ll start to say,

I always knew I could.”

Those lines had my brain rolling along for a bit. Thoughts arose of confidence and self-doubt, of faith and discouragement, and the roles they play in achieving our goals.

The children’s diddy oversimplifies the concept, of course, but it does speak a nugget of truth: our mindsets drive our actions. There is only so far you can take yourself toward a goal you don’t believe you can achieve. On the flip-side of that coin, there are few forces that can defeat you when you believe you can succeed no matter what.

Confidence is born of faith. Faith in the abilities and passions God instilled in your unique self. Faith in your willingness to try. Faith in God’s promises to be your strength and wisdom. Faith in your destiny to make a unique, unrepeatable contribution to the lives of anyone within your reach.

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If you know who you are in the eyes of God, if you know your Maker and therefore your makeup, it is not vanity to believe in yourself. Instead, it is foolhardy to doubt.

I don’t know about you, but there are few things that carry me forward with more joyful strength than the opportunities to look back and say, “I always knew I could.”

 

Intentionality, Worthy, Writing

Build: New Year, New Heights

It’s January 29th and I am now sitting down to write up my New Year’s thoughts. That should give you some notion of how the first 29 days of 2018 have been. Whoosh, and they’re gone. That’s the gist of it. This isn’t me registering a complaint so much as me slowing down enough to acknowledge reality.

My 2018 word for the year is Build. Maybe it should be Breathe instead… but I’ll stick with my first choice. Here’s why.

Last year, my word was Worthy, and I somehow managed to blog about it before the new year even began. I spent the year attempting to recognize what investments of my attention and energy were worthy of those resources, and learning to say no to (or at least shift down the priority list) those things that didn’t qualify as such. It was an exercise in both self-discipline and exploration. I found new ways to invest in myself, in becoming a better, stronger, healthier, happier version of me. I pushed myself over the edge of my previous efforts. In the course of 2017, I stretched and shifted until my comfort zone was expanded well beyond what I’d clung safely to in years past.

One key reality I noticed as 2017 came to a close was the lack of regrets I had about the year. Sure, there is always some wishful thinking about what more I could have tried or accomplished. That’s bound to happen. Compared to December 31st in most of my adult years though, this was almost nil.

That is why my word for 2018 is Build. Because I don’t want to let up. Because I want to take advantage of the gains made last year and push them to new levels this year. I will build on the foundation I’ve laid. I will nurture and grow what has taken root. Honestly, I’m pretty darn thrilled with the efforts of last year, and I desire to reach the close of 2018, God willing, having spent my twelve months building upward and outward.

When complacency creeps in, when there’s an inkling of stagnancy in my days, I have to remember why I started. I have to remember! Remembering where I used to be; remembering what I set out to do in the first place; remembering why I started is all the impetus I need to keep building.

New heights can be frightening, but not as frightening as standing still or sliding backward.

Intentionality, Writing

Turning: Hodgepodge Thoughts on Birthdays and Our Unwritten Stories

Let’s review the week, shall we? Two days ago, my daughter turned 2 1/2. Yesterday, my son turned 4. Tomorrow, I turn 36. These realities march through my brain and I find myself stuck on the word “turn.”

There are numerous meanings of the word (dictionary.com listed 40 definitions in the “verb (used with object)” category alone!), but the ones that initially come to mind when I think about “turn” have to do with a change in direction.

Turning a corner.
Turning around.
Turning toward.

Turning causes a tangible change. It involves a departure from one direction or place and an arrival in or movement toward another. But the turning of age? Intangible change.

We can turn another year older yet turn no corners, take no new directions, nor move toward anything different. Unless we choose otherwise, a birthday will do nothing but advance a digit on our annual odometer.

More than I typically do at birthday time, I am reflecting on all the turning that happened in the past year. Tangible changes abounded during this trip around the sun.

The big standout is the change from a writer continuing to wonder if she’ll ever publish her novel that she started ten years ago to a writer publishing her first novel. This birthday is the one year anniversary of my first attendance of a writer’s conference, which included a pitch meeting with the acquisitions editor of Bold Vision Books, which led to a request for a full book proposal, which led to a publishing contract offer, which led to my current state as an author about to be published. Honestly, I went to that conference simply hoping to feel like I belonged in that club of writers who are serious about their writing. The experience exceeded my measly expectation by a million miles.

(Side note: I don’t know if any other christian writers read this blog, but if so, I recommend considering the Maranatha Christian Writers Conference in Muskegon, MI.)

Beyond this dream-fulfilling turn during age 35, I also began a new position with my company (which I kind of love), lost more than fifteen pounds, ran my first 10K and a couple more 5K races, created a Facebook Author page as a home base for promoting my writing, entered the Twitter world as another online presence as an author, transitioned to primarily blogging fiction pieces, and, you know, continued to learn how to love my husband and raise my children.

It’s been a year to remember. A year to celebrate. A year to motivate.

The truth is, for the very first time, I have not looked forward to my birthday. The very first time. 30 didn’t bother me. 35 didn’t bother me. 36, however, has bothered me. When I set out to choose some words for a post here, that was the primary force behind it: I was feeling bothered. The discontented thoughts were muddled and emotional. After writing a few paragraphs, I stopped. I deleted it all. I forced myself to turn my mind from those thoughts and gain a more reasonable perspective.

This post is not what I originally conceived it to be. Instead, this is me on the last day of 35, ready for what’s next. My discontent and dread regarding my birthday has turned into excitement and ambition for the potential of the next 365 days. They are 365 pages of my story unwritten thus far. I’m ready to write and turn each one.

Dignity, Family, Gratitude, Intentionality, Motherhood, Scripture, Worthy

Do Not Laugh – Thoughts on Compliments, Selfies, and Psalm 139:14

My three and a half year old son walked into my bedroom as I finished combing my hair. Mentally, I was running through what remained of readying ourselves for the day. I was distracted and about to send him back out with instructions to brush his teeth so we could leave on time.
 
He cut me off with his words, “Mommy, you look beautiful. You should take a picture.”
 
Immediately, a voice spoke in my head, “Do not laugh.”
 
I had to close my mouth because that was the exact response I was about to make. I looked my son in the eye and smiled. I said, “thank you, peanut,” and put my comb away.
 
He remained at my side, waiting. “Take a picture.”
 
The voice was there again. “Do not laugh.”
 
Don’t laugh at his admiration for you. Don’t dismiss the clarity with which he sees you; clarity that is fogged up in you by years of insecurities. I didn’t laugh. Instead, I took the picture. He asked to see it. Satisfied, he gave me one more heart-stealing smile, then bounded away to see what his sister was up to elsewhere.
 
Honestly, I almost deleted the photo. What did I need it for? I saw the roundness of the belly where I’d love for it to be flatter; the softness of the arms where I wish they were toned. I saw the gray hairs I don’t pull out anymore. I saw the migraine behind my eyes, and the thick glasses because I didn’t feel like putting in my contacts when I could barely stand to have my eyes open in the daylight. I saw the awkward half-smile because selfies seem meant for younger, perkier people.
 
Why didn’t I delete the photo? I didn’t delete it because of a hunch that every mom ever caught off guard by their child’s admiration could relate to the thoughts filling my head. I even had a feeling that the dads out there can relate to it all, perhaps when their children look at them with unwavering confidence in their strength and capabilities. I didn’t delete the photo because, while the things I saw in it are real and true, the things my son sees are real and true as well.
 
I not only saved the photo, but decided to share it here because of Psalm 139:14, “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it well.”
 
Years aged.
Extra pounds carried.
Hair grayed and thinned.
Body tired.
Pains and illnesses endured.
Patience lost.
Voice raised.
Mistakes made.
Weaknesses experienced.
 
None of these eliminate the truth my child sees and accepts about me, or your child about you: that I am, and you are, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
 
The next time you encounter that truth, whatever the source, don’t laugh it off. Don’t dismiss it or argue against it, mentally or aloud. Hear it. Be grateful for it. Let it sink in until you can say, “my soul knows it well.”
Intentionality, Simplifying

Under Time’s Thumb

We are perched on the peak of summertime. It is the start of the weeks of heaviest heat, with air that wets your skin when you exit the air conditioning. It is now, at the height, that the signals of summer’s temporary condition begin appearing. The longest hours of daylight undetectably recede. The hayfields are cut and rolled into buffalo-sized bales. Cornstalks reach shoulder height and store’s stock harvests of school supplies.

This time of year always, always brings restlessness. My spirit is swirled up in a mixture of urgency to savor now, and serene anticipation of the transition that is ahead. I hesitate to admit that autumn will be welcome on my doorstep, not wanting summer to think I wish it gone.

Is that the way of all things? All the things under time’s thumb?

Maybe I play the comparison game too readily. When it’s something so entirely out of my control as the movement of the seasons, does it matter which is better? Or which I prefer? All that matters is what is.

A to Z, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Intentionality, Writing, Writing Prompt

A to Z Flash Fiction: Aspire

A: Aspire

“What do you aspire to be?”

The odd question echoed over the noise in Sasha’s head.

Raina waited as patiently as a therapist.

Sasha waited too. She tucked her errant curls behind her ears. She crossed her legs under the table. She waited for an answer to come. The question made her want to laugh. Aspire? I’m not sure I remember the meaning of the verb. 

Raina finished waiting. “You know I love you, right?”

She nodded. “That’s usually what you say before you tell me I’m a fool.”

“You’re a fool.”

She did laugh a little then, and it felt like the first time she’d breathed today.

“You made me promise to tell you when you’re being a fool, ever since you almost switched universities to follow that chump Carter.”

“Carter was not a chump.”

“Carter couldn’t spell chump.”

Sasha stared at her chicken entree, fighting a smile.

“His brain tree was more of a shrub.”

There was no helping the laughter now. She caught her breath. “Mother of pearl, he was hot though.”

Raina smirked over her glass of iced tea. Drops of condensation fell to the table as she took a drink.

They sat on the patio of their favorite pub. Sasha had called the emergency convocation over her dilemma. When in doubt, consult Raina. It’d been her policy since sophomore year – the year of the infamous Carter. Raina never failed her in the seven years since.

“So, my fool of a friend, whats your answer?”

Sasha paused, her fork hovering at her lips. “Answer to what?”

“What do you aspire to be?”

“That’s  a job interview question.”

Raina shook her head. The ends of her sleek amber hair swung in unison around the base of her neck. Her eyes moved from Sasha to the view across the street. A mist floated over the bay tonight, not thick enough to be called a fog. The oscillating lamp of the lighthouse cut through the mist to the open water. An empty fishing trawler, tied to the dock, bobbed on each swell and fall of the water in a hypnotic rhythm.

Her eyes still on the water, Raina said, “You asked me that question once. It was during finals week, first semester junior year.”

“I did?” She couldn’t summon the memory.

“It was during your annoying step-by-step planning phase.”

She did remember that part. “I was not annoying,” she objected even as she laughed knowingly.

Raina raised her eyebrows. “You planned everything. Everything. ‘Nothing will happen if you don’t make it happen!’ That was your motto. It drove me crazy. One of the times I complained, you asked me what I aspired to be.”

“I was clueless.” Sasha shrugged.

“You were,” Raina agreed without apology. “But you changed the course of my life.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not!”

Sasha took another bite. She watched her best friend, wondering what Raina was trying to convince her of with this claim. Raina was the poster girl for following your passions, naysayers be damned.

“I blew off your question but I couldn’t get it out of my head over Christmas break. When I came back in January, I decided I’d had enough of the coasting I’d been managing since starting school. If you remember, that’s when I switched over to the biomedical engineering program. So, yeah, changed the course of my life.”

“I had no idea,” Sasha said, mulling this over.

“Maybe you need to tap into that annoying, ambitious version of you from years ago. When’s the last time you aspired to be what you actually want to be? That’s all I’m asking. You don’t even have to answer me, but promise you’ll think about it as you make this decision.”

“I promise.”

“Good.” Raina took another drink. Her voice still reflective, her eyes back on the mist over the bay, she said, “Carter really was hot. What do you think ever happened to him?”

Sasha lost her breath laughing.

*****
Let’s get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I’ll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I’ll consider it for a prompt.