A Woman’s Body: Being Okay with Just Existing

Why is the world obsessed with commenting on women’s physical features and appearance? Why is there so much pressure to conform to societal expectations about how we should look and what our purpose is as human beings, specifically as females? Why, as women, do we worry so much about the way we look, how others perceive us and how we can be more beautiful?

Why do we have to be attractive, anyway?

I have been stripping away lies for two decades, starting from the time I was about 9, when I started becoming aware of my body and the object that it is in the eyes of culture.

I remember specifically being told once that I should eat less fries and start exercising more (although, I don’t recall anyone ever mentioned this to my brothers who ate the same amount or more), being told a few years later that I had “slimmed out” confirming my previous 10 year old chubbiness and countless other comments about my body, all of which shaped what I thought of myself – what was wrong and what I was getting right. Over time, I would listen to this feedback and make adjustments to conform more and more to the beauty standards thrust at me from every media platform and good (or bad) intentioned neighbor.

I realize there are men who also are shamed and bullied for their bodies, but as a woman, I am not able to speak to their experience – and even what I say here is limited to my own perspective growing up as a female in a beauty obsessed culture. Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University writes in her book, Beauty Sick, “Some men suffer from appearance worries, many quite significantly…The depth and breadth of the influence of beauty concerns on women’s lives means that, on average, looking in the mirror is a substantially different experience for women than it is for men.  Beauty sickness may not be exclusive to women, but it is overwhelmingly a women’s issue.”

I also cannot speak to the experience of transgender women, who as they transition definitely begin to experience having their body objectified and held up to this standard of “pretty” in a similar, yet unique way.

Women grow up understanding that they will be looked at.  When I am out with my children, people often stop to comment on their looks.  My daughter has long, curly blonde hair, big eyes, and olive-y toned skin.  She loves to wear dresses (equally as much as whatever is conveniently found in the top of her dresser), so she often hears things like, “What a beautiful dress you are wearing” and “Oh my, your hair is gorgeous” and “What a pretty little girl you are!”.  My son has been told he is handsome or has a beautiful face, but increasingly less often and not nearly as much as my daughter.

My daughter recently told me that the reason she doesn’t want to wear certain clothes that she owns and likes is because she doesn’t want people to notice and comment on the way she looks in them.

At age 5, my daughter is already acutely aware that out in public, people are looking at and evaluating the way she looks. This makes my heart drop and feel gritty and I am sad that my daughter does not feel like she can just exist. And it is amazing the smile and joy and pride she gets out of hearing me tell her that she is smart, strong, fast, clever, creative, and thoughtful. Yes, girls should know they are beautiful. But we need to redefine the word “beautiful” from simply meaning, “pretty”.

I have often wondered at why I have felt so self-conscious about my appearance for so much of my life. Maybe it is not all “in my head”.  Maybe it is because people do look and do comment. Sometimes I feel the way my daughter does – I just want to BE without worrying about what others think or notice. At 29 years old, I am only just starting to learn how to do this.

It is starting to work, a little.

Just this morning, I woke up and looked in the mirror fresh out of bed and I actually thought, “I like the way I look.” Flaws and all, I’m happy with me. And what exactly do I owe to anyone else? Do I owe attractiveness to the grocery check-out clerk or my friends or acquaintances?

Easy pep talk to give myself, until I am sitting behind the steering wheel and looking at myself in my visor mirror before getting out of the car.

I am learning to let go little by little to the beauty myths, that somehow beauty brings satisfaction and happiness and once my skin is a little clearer or my tummy is a little flatter or my hair looks a certain way or I have the right clothes I will then stop worrying about what others think.

It is all a lie and a distraction. The more I strive, the more I lose myself.

We are told attractive women are more likely to succeed in the workplace, that wearing makeup will help gain you promotions and friends and exciting opportunities. Youtube is flooded with makeup and beauty tutorials. SO MUCH MONEY is spent on cosmetics and plastic surgery it is mystifying. We are so wrapped up in looking a certain way, in our identity and our appearance that I truly believe we waste years of our lives on something that won’t last forever, because we can’t stop the aging process. Maybe we can hide it or postpone it to an extent, but one day, we wake up and look in the mirror and we are no longer in our thirties. Around the time we should have found ourselves and be displaying strength in who we are, we are instead grasping at something fleeting that we have no control over retaining.

As Engeln suggests, it is a power we do not get to keep:

It might not be fair that people care so much about how women look…but if this is the only kind of power our culture is really willing to give you, you might as well use it. It’s no secret that beauty is a kind of currency for women. It does offer a type of power over other people.  But let’s be honest about what kind of power this is…the power beauty gives resides on unstable ground. It’s power that exists only if others are there to acknowledge it. It’s never really your own power, because there’s always someone else in charge. Even worse, it’s power with a strikingly strict expiration date, because the link between youth and beauty is near universal. It’s power you don’t get to keep. (Beauty Sick, 2017)

I do not have the answers and this is a deep issue that seems simple on the surface.  My own experience is different from many others, but if I could go back and talk to a younger me, I would be affirming that nine year olds worth and beauty and strengths and try to help her realize that the problem is not her, but with the surrounding culture.

I am really glad that there has been a shift to focusing more on being fit, active and strong, taking care of our bodies and letting our natural beauty shine. I realize there can be the same problems in comparing our bodies to fitness models, which can be just as unhealthy of an obsession. I am thankful for photographers and artists and authors who are normalizing female bodies of all shapes and sizes, and showing what a “normal” mother’s body looks like after going through the changes of pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding.  I remember specifically realizing one day that I was comparing my body to 19 year olds who had never had a kid and that it wasn’t fair to myself. I recall the healing that took place when looking at Jade Beall’s work, “The Body of Mothers”.

Maybe this is easier for me to say, because I have never been good at applying makeup and have skin issues that make me sensitive to most of it anyway, but saying goodbye to the status quo makes me feel better about how I am treating my body and just because something is an ideal, why not try?

And this is even a more complicated issue than I realized, because I also like to feel attractive.  We all do. We wear certain clothes and jewelry and style our hair and wear make up and I don’t think there is anything wrong with this.  We are individuals and expression is important.  What I want to know is how can we be okay embracing uniqueness and stop trying to fit everything into a tidy little box?

How can I identify and be happy with my own personal beauty and attractiveness, because I will never look like _______?

Is it possible to just exist the way it seems many men do without inviting commentary on who I am?

I could write for days on this subject.

So, I’m wondering. Honestly, truthfully, if you are willing, leave a comment. What are the thoughts that you most hear when you look in the mirror?  How do you combat those feelings of ugliness? Who do you try to look attractive or pretty for? What have you been told about the way you should look? How do you feel about that? Does any of this resonate or do you have a different perspective and experience?

-bec

Part of the Process

I have been attempting to write everyday.

I am finding that most of what I write is not worth posting and not heartfelt. I simply type out lines of words and thoughts that aren’t necessarily cohesive or true or intentional or compassionate. It is part of the process.

But I am realizing that when I fail to connect the flow of words on a page with the beat of my heart, the result is hollow. There is no content, no point, no draw, no change.  No invitation to stop and sink into the meaning, which we must find ourselves.

If I write to convince, I start to doubt my certainty in the first place.

If I begin to research in order to back up my claims, I dig a hole of searching for answers and I must stop before I can’t reach the top anymore.

So there are many drafts of half-hearted posts, lines of thoughts and beliefs and statements I feel strongly about voicing, but I haven’t found the words.

Writing everyday is liberating and discouraging and exciting and depressing and rewarding and just hard all at once.

For whatever reason, I have a flame inside and I must write. I must write words so they don’t burn a hole in me. I hardly even know what I am saying or what it is that I am bursting with, only that the words will come.  It is not really for you, reader, that I write. Not yet. I hope some day it might be, except when I write to you, I begin lose myself and the only reason this blog exists, this tiny speck of information in the vastness of the internet, is to reveal something.

Something about myself, about the world we live in, the choices we make, the things we get used to, the people and issues we dismiss, what is important and what is superficial.

I am learning how to speak and write from a place that is not so influenced by those around me. I am learning not to compare. I am learning to put myself out there, embrace vulnerability and not do things simply to gain approval.

-b.e.

 

 

What Are You Defined By?

Teacher, writer, artist, creative, intellect, doctor, professor, clerk, housecleaner, nanny, mother, grandparent.

Who are you?

Often when we get to know someone, one of the first things we ask is, “What do you do for living?”

There are some people who have found themselves (or worked very hard to get to that position in life) able to make a living by doing what they love. Some people love their job, although it might not be their greatest passion.  Some work in order to support their hobbies or other interests, although they may never make it into their profession. Others work to survive and don’t necessarily have any time on the side for creative endeavors or hobbies.

Then I think of motherhood, because that is where I tend to go as my life is so deep in this season. I think about the times I have asked other women I meet while out at a park or preschool event, “What does your husband do for a living?”, innocently trying to learn about their family, but also inadvertently implying that her identity is somehow wrapped up in what her husband does to provide for their family.

As if it is understood that during that window of time we have young children, we somehow lose our identity within the never ending work of childrearing.

Some of us love the identity of “mother” and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, or we grieve that we have had to give up a career or passion because we are torn to be away from our little ones (or cannot reconcile the cost of childcare if we were to continue working). Some of us have no choice but to work full-time, maybe in a job that is not fulfilling, but provides food and clothing and shelter for our family. Others continue working out of choice, constantly finding the balance between home-life and their careers.

It feels really hard to me, personally, to give up time with my kids. I place an incredible pressure on myself to not look back some day and feel like I, or they, missed out because I wasn’t more present.

But, I wonder how much of this has to do with the culture I live in and the ideals I have been surrounded by as I have grown up.

I have a spectrum of friends – those who homeschool, are avid public school supporters, are stay at home parents, work outside the home, are entrepreneurs, and more. Different choices, lifestyles, parenting styles, etc. You cannot make these choices for someone else, many choices we don’t even make for ourselves to an extent. Life presents itself, and we make the best decisions we can.  It doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes, this is to be human. But, we don’t see everything and there is no way to actually put ourselves 100% in the shoes of another.

I think I have adopted this idea that if I am not constantly present with my children, I am going to harm their development somehow.  I am going to miss out on the enriching experience of being with them and seeing every moment of their childhood. Or they won’t feel loved or seen enough.

Lately, I am feeling more and more like this is a false ideal that I have clung onto in order to excuse myself from working hard and making dreams come true.

It is born out of fear.

And it is hard for me to come to a conclusion, because I see both sides of the coin. I see real value in simplicity, in slowing down. In trading in the hours at a job and the extra income it brings for time to be present and with others and to pursue passions and learning and being generous with time and our resources.  I have seen how less stuff and more time brings more fullness into my life. It is why I am continually trying to minimize our home and life.  It brings focus and shifts our values around in a positive way.

I also give great credit to those who have made sacrifices in order to fulfill a calling or dream or passion in their life and have achieved things that could seem impossible given their life situation. I think it is actually a gift they give their children for them to see their parents working.

Balance is necessary, as there are extremes on either end – there is a toxicity to busy-ness and over-achieving and non-stop go, go, going, as well as the danger of becoming lazy and so self-focused we become stagnant and miss out on community and having a purpose outside of ourselves.

Sometimes there are seasons of extremes and we must just continue to do our best and try and find balance.

For most of my childhood, my mom worked outside of the home. I remember her most as a waitress and we used to occasionally help her close up at one of the family restaurants she worked at – filling ketchup bottles and resetting table settings. She was a banquet manager for a while and I have memories of our family coming in at the end of a big brunch to eat the leftover buffets. And then some years later, she worked at a bookstore. And then a bookkeeper for a non-profit.  There may have been some other jobs in there, but those are the ones I mainly remember.  When she worked, we were usually home being watched by our older siblings. When I became older, I remember being responsible for my younger ones much of the time. Or we went with her to some of her jobs and just sort of hung out, read, did some schoolwork.

Did it harm me or my siblings that my mom worked as much as she did?  I don’t think so. There may have been other things that she could have done better (there are many things I could do better, too). But I think it is good for our children to see us work. Whether that is in the home or outside or pursuing a hobby or interest or all of the above.  To see us make sacrifices and continue to grow and change and do things for ourselves and our family and others.

More and more I feel a gnawing that my children need to see us put more focus on service and less on ourselves. To work for a greater cause than our own pleasure, development, and needs. To give up something without looking for a reward. I recall many situations in my life where I had to serve someone and it wasn’t always easy or comfortable or something I felt like doing.  But, I always felt better about life afterward and am thankful I was made to step outside of my comfort zone and do something selfless.

In doing this, I believe we will find truer fulfillment and a deeper connection with others and the world we live in.

I hope that I can be defined more by what I give (art, encouragement, support, space, inspiration, grace) and in selfless service than in what I make for myself.

-b.e.

 

Mama Re-Made

A baby birthed, a mama re-made, a dada proud, a family expanding.

There are so many words, and yet so few, because the feelings overwhelm, and how does one use words to truly convey the settling deepness of motherhood?

I confessed something out loud to my husband less than a month after my 3rd babe was born:  for the past 9-10 months, I had been depressed.

And it really was no surprise to him.  He had watched it.  His wife, who had been strong and determined, who was becoming something more beautiful than ever, suddenly began to shrink away with hollow eyes as her body swelled with new life.

There was beauty in it – there always is, in life being made.  But a light that had been burning bright whittled down to just a flicker.

Her soul was heavy.  Here was another baby.  Wonderful, sweet, divine, meant to be. But, another one, nevertheless.

It was good to speak it.  To look at the bit of grief and sadness I had harbored during that time and just let it be known for what it was. It wasn’t a great secret anymore.  It wasn’t a secret at all, I realized.

But it is scary to admit that you could have such sadness while carrying such life inside of you, when everyone around you is so very happy and excited for you, when you know you should be, too.  And you are, but it is difficult to explain, because you are split.  There is a pocket of doubt and grief you can’t just happy away.


I was so sure I was done.  No more.  So content with my two strong children. Baby things drifted out of the house.  Then the sickness.  The test.  The line. The scream. The realization of what it meant.

I stopped pursuing so many things.  I became a little cold, cut off, unable to feel like I did before.  I was easy to set off. I was so sick and tired.

Then things got better. I started getting excited.  A baby!  Who doesn’t want a baby?  So many others I know have lost babies, not been able to have babies…how could I complain? I felt strong again.  Ran, worked out. Still, ate too much sugar. But I felt good. I always feel beautiful when pregnant, even though my body ached more this time than I had previously experienced.

Fast forward to September 29, 5 days before my due date. I had been experiencing weeks of prodromal labor.

It was evening.  I had been getting contractions for weeks, but finally, they were really hurting, they were getting closer together.  3 minutes apart, 1 minute each. This went on for 4 hours without changing.  The midwife rushed to our house.

2am. Music playing, lights glowing, birth pool blown up.  The house was clean and peaceful. My hair was done nicely, I was in pretty underwear. She checked me.  100% posterior.  She almost couldn’t find my cervix. I almost didn’t believe her. I wanted to cry, but I was too tired.

This was my third child.  How could I not know what real labor felt like?  This was real.  I had to breathe.  I was exhausted. I went to bed. Two hours later, I awoke. A very strong contraction out of nowhere, blindsided.  But, they were unpredictable.  10 minutes here, half an hour there, maybe longer.  I lay in bed and breathed through them, wondering how I could go on if this wasn’t real labor.


We walked. We shopped.  We went to the park.  They still came, but randomly, each time I wasn’t prepared for the intensity and I almost cried through them. I told my midwife at 4PM what was going on.  She didn’t say much. I don’t think she wanted to give me false hope.

I went home and went to bed at 6PM, very tired. I was woken up by a contraction every 30 minutes or so. We watched part of a movie at 10.  I went to sleep around 11. Woke up again at 1AM. 1:30AM and I crept into a tub of warm water – I had to stop these or I would go mad. Warm water, relax, rest, breathe.  I leaned my head back against the hard tub side and cried and thought This has to turn into real labor, or I will die. It did, and suddenly. 5 minutes apart, HARD contractions.  At 2AM we started timing.
Blow up the pool.
I’ll call the midwife.
She came.
Check.
7 CM.
Oh thank God.  I will have a baby soon.
The tub felt so good.
I labored.  I breathed.  I was exhausted.
But baby was finally coming.
I couldn’t eat.
Vomit.
I must be close.
Hours pass.
My hair is a wild mess. My skin feels red and yellow and splotchy.
Eat.
No.
You need to eat.
I can’t.
Drink.
I take a sip.
Please, eat.
I take a tiny bite.
Vomit.
Check the cervix.
A lip.
Your body isn’t working hard enough in the tub, the midwife said.
I weakly get out, dripping.
I lay on my side on the couch and can’t be quiet anymore, it is too intense.
I moan.  I try to stay in control.
I have never vocalized before in labor. I always found strength in the quiet, the secure and predictable breaths.
I feel angry with my midwife, but also I know this is how I will meet my baby.  I tell myself it is ridiculous to be angry. Anything to stop this.
I switch sides. Then, sit on the toilet.
Excruciating.
I am shaking my legs and moaning through the contractions.
It is hot, the heat lamp is on.  My husband pushes on my lower back, he is nauseous and I am thankful for him.
Finally, I get back in the tub.
Still, a lip.
My heart sinks.
I muster my strength and push through it.  It is the worst feeling I have ever felt.
It has been 8 hours since my midwife first arrived.  I am so tired.  I am ready to push.
But it is the hardest time pushing I have ever had.  The progress feels slow, even though they tell me it is going well.
Why won’t that head come, I wonder. I am feeling it, him, down and back up again. I am pushing with all my might, I want him out so badly.
Finally, I feel the head crowning.
My midwife reminds me to slow down.
I was going to catch him, catch my baby.  But I can’t.  I can’t even open my eyes.
I hold my legs and scream.  Not because of the pain.  Because he comes out quicker than I thought he would.
I was going to be in control. I am scared I tore. I jump, startled.
Then I slow.
My midwife eases me down.  It has been 23 minutes. She says, wait.
Just hold him under the water, it is safe.
Look at your baby.
Hold him.
He is coming to you.

I begin to melt inside.

And as my abdomen which housed this babe for 9 months collapses, my heart swells and expands and it is over.


I still have an image seared into my mind of this moment.

Time stood still as I peered at his peaceful face through the surface of the water, his body still attached to mine by that pulsing cord, slowly and gently coming closer and settling my heart and loose insides.

I close my eyes now and try not to imagine it too deeply, afraid the true memory will fade.  If there was one thing I wished I had a picture of, it is this.  But also, I’m afraid that if I had an image, the recalling would not be so special.

It is one only I have. A mother’s keepsake, tucked safe within my chest.

– b.e.

sorennewborn9DSC_0147

 

Credit: Photograph of mother and child by Sara Krebsbach Photography | http://www.sarakrebsbach.com

All other photographs by author

What Does Your Worth Hinge On?

I have kept a journal since I was 10. I still have a box of them up in my closet, filled and hardly cracked open, but there.  Years of personal thoughts and growth and conflict and feelings and breakthroughs scrawled on musty papers with edges curling up.

I don’t know why I keep them, really, but there is something that feels almost sacred about the unedited version of me that is kept within those pages.

When I write in those books, with my own hand on physical paper, I don’t edit. I don’t pause to rephrase a sentence because maybe it is a little “too much” or doesn’t fit in with my “voice”. It is a therapy session, a brain dump, a place to put the deep feelings that I have stuffed down again and again.

It is prayer.

I usually write before bed, and I always feel lighter afterward.

Growing up, I learned to hide feelings at a very young age. I distinctly remember watching a girl who seemed to be afraid of everything and cried at the slightest upsetting, and I did not want to be her. I wanted to be brave, strong, shake things off – like a boy. I had older brothers and most of my friends were boys and I always wanted to be tough, I was out to prove something.

That toughness also taught me an unhealthy way to manage those deep feelings, because I didn’t realize that I was as sensitive as I am – I just coped by de-sensitizing. It is easier to just not feel those big feelings.

Sometimes when I write, I am saying nothing at all. It is just words being spewed onto a page, but once in a while, a piece of truth can be spotted within all of the chunks.

Like this:

“So much of my personal value hinges on how I feel about my body.”

A lot of this has to do specifically with how thin or thick I feel.

It is true that when I nourish my body with the right foods and movement and rest, I do feel amazing and confident and like I can do anything and feel happy and beautiful and content. And when I eat junk and laze about I begin to feel ill and my spirit dampens and I am not as kind or gentle with myself or others.

But, my value?

That I am no longer a valuable human being if I feel bloated or fat or red or splotchy or dimply or wiggly or hairy or large?

I have had an interesting journey throughout my life of learning what it means to be a woman, have a body, live in that body, compare that body, be OK with that body, take care of and nourish that body, and even begin to love that body.

We all have individual experiences of this, and I’m certain mine is not 100% unique to myself, but it has taken me nearly 30 years to peel away all the lies I’ve been told and have told myself about my body and embrace it for the exquisite, breathtaking, strong and unique gift it is.

I can say now that I love my body.  But, I also struggle to not worry so much about the way others perceive it.

And I learn to stuff it. Way. Down. There. Where no one can find it or know about it. Hidden beneath layers and pages and stuffed within words that no one will ever read where it is safe and I don’t have to look at it and deal with it.  I can just console myself when I feel bad about myself by believing my choices and feelings are wrapped up in my inherent value so I am off the hook to take responsibility and do better, guilting myself to change.

But, looks don’t really matter – right?

That’s what we say. This is a superficial feeling that shouldn’t be validated. I do agree to an extent – no one should feel like or be treated as less or more because of the way they look.

But we are all looking for love and acceptance.  We all want to feel attractive – although I know that at times, I have felt resigned to simply accept my unattractiveness to the point where my self-esteem was crumpled up and I lost so much of who I was it took years to rebuild it.

I wish every young girl, adolescent, woman could hear their worth spoken over them again and again and again.

And it is why I try to be so mindful about what I say to my daughter about her body, my own, and others. How I act when I look into the mirror.  Because the lies are pervasive and it is so easy to let them sink into our bones and filter our worth into only what we see in the mirror.

-b.e.

 

 

 

the unbearable raw

Rawness is hard and tender.

There is a draw, a pull to stare and at the same time, a compulsion to avert the eyes and look away,

because how can you look at something so unbearably chaffed and not try to alleviate the discomfort, to help heal the wound, to apply a sweet balm and make all the coarseness go away? Either you must try to forget it or do something to help. So, we try:

“you will get through this.”

“things will get better”

“just give it time”

“don’t give up hope”

“be strong”

but what about when the rubbing doesn’t stop and months and years go by and you are still living with the rawness, reliving the crude spikes of tenderness, like waves splashing over and over against the cliffside, taking away a little bit more and more and more, barely noticeable, but then, one day, it all splits and crashes into the sea.

And you swear you hear the waves roaring with laughter at another bit of you worn down and snuffed out.  A fresh new side now exposed to begin the process again, and you’re not sure how much more you can take before there is nothing left of you at all.

You ask yourself all the what ifs and feel the rubbing and the burning feeling again. What if I had said something different?  What if I had stayed instead of ran away? What if I been more? Less? 

There are always what ifs, past, present, upcoming.

What ifs don’t solve anything though.

They don’t patch up tears in our hearts or seal lost moments away for us to forget about. We ask them, even though we know we can’t change the past. We open up the wound again and again, picking at the scab until we finally decide we really shouldn’t be doing that and pull our sleeve back over it, hoping for no infection.

At some point, we need to stop asking “what if” and begin to ask, “what now”.

What now provides a path to healing and real change. It invites us to lift our chin a little and brush off the dirt and step toward a new path. We can look at our past choices and acknowledge what has happened, allowing our life to be seen for what it is, and then turn away and move forward.

What now involves us in the present.

Instead of being focused on the past or the distant future, what now asks us to look at what is right in front of us and determine what good thing there is to do next.

It is a simple practice and one that helps tremendously when I am trying to be mindful and at peace with what is going on around me on any given day. It keeps me focused on goodness and love, on slowing down and taking care of others and myself.

It requires sacrifice and an openness and awareness of new opportunities that might present themselves. And it is freeing.

-bec

Learning to Expand

I began writing this post a little over 3 weeks after I birthed our third sweet child into my arms.

He is now 9.5 months and I am just revisiting this draft.

The story of his birth I will save for another day, but as I pushed him out, I screamed and gasped for air and my midwife told me to slow down and that I could safely hold him a moment under the surface of the water, gracefully allowing him to float up toward me and everything just stopped.

I stared at this beautiful face that I couldn’t even imagine a day before, and my heart swelled.  As my abdomen, which had homed his tiny body for 9 months prior slowly collapsed, my heart expanded.

This feels so natural and unreal at the same time.  How can one person feel such love?

But my nature – and I believe our basic human nature – is to contract.

I want to be comfortable. I want to take care of my immediate needs and my family.  I want to do the things that make me happy and not really think about the impact my decisions have on others.

I am a selfish person, but the more selfish I become, the more blind and empty and callous I am to the needs of others. And the smaller I become.

Now, love.  Love is hard. It may include the feeling I get while holding my sweet, milk soaked baby, heaving soft breaths up and down, up and down, against my chest.

Or the swelling of pride and joy as I look into my sons eyes and see his compassionate heart played out in front of me.

My husband when he wraps his arms around me and tells me he loves me and I know that he means every single part of me, the squishy bits and the broken parts that are still healing and lash out critically at times.

But it is more.

It is sacrifice and surrender and strength.

It is the loss of sleep and the bouncing of the babe when he can’t settle on his own and nothing seems to help him.

It is the steady acceptance and kind discipline toward my older children when they don’t quite get it “right”.

It is the believing the truth my husband speaks to me and exercising grace when we disagree.

It is giving time to another person.

It is listening when there are so many other things to do.

It is offering resources to someone even when (and perhaps, especially) when it is an inconvenience to myself.

It is feeling deeply and mourning with others.

It is being available, even when there are no words.

It is constant.

So.

While I often find myself saying I wish my plate was smaller, instead, I am finding myself longing to expand in love. Beginning with myself and spreading out to my family, friends, and the world beyond.

– bec

Turning Toward Simplicity (again)

A few years ago, I read a book that challenged my way of living and set a fire deep within me to change the way we lived. I was running madly after simplicity – purging, going without or finding alternatives to things we “needed” before – I questioned everything we did and bought and put into our bodies and believed. I often looked like and felt like a hypocrite as I navigated this, I continue to do this unapologetically. I am pretty sure it is impossible to never be a hypocrite if you are committed to change. It is a rabbit hole, and like Alice, you are never too sure what you will find next or if your thoughts or rambling will ever make sense to everyone (hint: they won’t).

Fast forward a few years, and after some burn out, a season of feeling depressed and listless, I am finding my center again and trying to re-visit this balance.  I am compelled and deeply convicted, and I think the best way for me to achieve what I am setting out to do is by writing, sharing, and recording it.

This is not a new idea.  There is a reason there are so many apps for tracking different habits. We love to see progress and the more we see it, the more we want it to happen. Benjamin Franklin was onto something when he set out to develop his own virtuous character and came up with a system to train himself in acquiring what he calls the “13 Virtues“.

It was a pretty simple system. He created a chart for each virtue he wanted to become better at which listed the days of the week. Focusing on one virtue per week, Ben would evaluate at the end of each day how he did.  If anything stood out during the day as a failing in the virtue for that week, he would put a mark on his chart for that day.  Once he went an entire week without any marks on his chart, he felt confident that he could then begin to shift his focus to another virtue, and so on.

You become what you measure.

Besides being a somewhat bookish person who has been journaling and jotting things down since I was 10, I have seen a significant difference in how much I do (or maybe I am just noticing?) when I take the effort to write it down each day and watch for a pattern, telling myself what to do better or not at all. I have had a personal website or blog in some form since I was 12, so this format makes sense for me. Writing is like running for me – more than a hobby, it is an emotional and physical need.

This blog was originally created to focus on finding simplicity and gratitude in my life, but it has shifted over time to more broadened subjects like motherhood, faith, and photography interests.  I am still developing ideas of how I will go about making significant change again, putting on practices and habits that embed themselves in my being and become a way of life.

I have recently been challenging myself to write and read every day, and it has proven to be a sweet spot in my day I am eager to make more and more time for. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of extra time to put toward myself as a mom, but carving out that space is do-able.  I am not 100% sure what I will be writing about all the time or what I will actually share here, but I’m sure this place will also change and evolve as I go deeper into these issues. My hope is to really come up with solutions to help myself and (maybe, possibly, hopefully) other readers make lasting lifestyle changes that match our convictions. So, here’s to maybe being a more regular blogger and sharing more of what is in my heart.

-Bec

Motherhood: Striking a Balance

oregonmem024.jpgFinding the center. Give and take. Sow and reap. Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer. Striking balance.

Easy to think about, but more difficult to execute.

“If I just eat a little less…move my body a little more…”

“If I spend a little less time doing this…I’ll have more time to do that…”

“If I can just be a little less [fill in the blank].”

There is always something that I can do a little more or a little less.  There is always a place where growth can happen.

It takes noticing.

Something has to catch my attention for me to see that I need to start working on that part of me. We become so accustomed to the way things are, the way we are. We even say it to ourselves and others (or about others), “that’s just the way I am”. It is easier to shield our eyes and not look. It takes courage to turn and face the things that feel ugly. It takes even more to decide that there is no ugly too ugly to change, so that we don’t just glance, but rather stare and soften and have compassion toward ourselves and others so growth can happen.

Sometimes it is hard to see change or commit to change, because there are others we have to sacrifice our own “self-improvement” for.

My life right now is motherhood. Three young kids, a small home in a beachside town, a very modest one-income family. And, really, most of the time, I love every bit of it. There is little stress. Summer really feels like a vacation when we stay up late making fires and playing on the beach almost daily and roll out of bed late in the morning, drink coffee and sit around the kitchen table together. What we don’t have in money we make up for in time together. My kids have a pretty incredible childhood home and that makes me happy.

But

there are still the nights where I lay in bed, baby suckling on my milk filled breasts and I dream and list the things I want to do, to change. Projects and trips and desires I don’t dare speak, because maybe if I say them, the dream will die and they won’t happen. So I close my eyes again and save them wrapped up tight in my chest, where my heart is burning with fire and remind myself that this little soft and fleshy version of us – myself and the man I share a bed and family with – won’t always be so little and vulnerable and needy.

And being a mother may be the most important thing I do, because while dreams are meaningful and working with our hands and minds are good for the soul and the world, caring for the humans who will inherit that world should be ranked so much higher on the list of “valuable things to do with your life”than it is.

So, for now, I sacrifice a little for something I know will pass by quickly, and really, I believe I’ll be better for it – not missing out on something.  My husband shared a piece he was reading the other day, and I don’t remember anything about it other than the words, “having kids may be more for our formation than their own.”

These years are precious, because I won’t be who I am going to become one day without them, and the more I lean into it and try to live a graceful life, the more we will all benefit. Motherhood begins to feel less like a sacrifice and more like an investment, where I am choosing each day and moment how much I am willing to give.

-b.e.

 

 

 

A Mother’s Wishlist

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// that I make time to nourish my body through food, movement, creative outlets // my children hear love in my voice. always. // that I stop apologizing for what I feel // I make things both useful and beautiful with my own hands // a heart brimming with gratitude // a house filled with less things and more grace // that we live somewhere new, for a little while // that we nurture a sense of adventure and curiosity // that I react less and embrace more // and some new pillows would be nice, too.

-b.e.