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.

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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.

 

 

 

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

An “Unplugged” Summer

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It has been almost two weeks since I posted on my Instagram account.  In fact, I haven’t even scrolled through my feed.  I did log onto Facebook to post something to my business page and check on my notifications, but I didn’t miss much.  I wonder, a little, if anyone has noticed my absence in the vast sea that is social media. I worry if someone thinks I am purposefully distancing myself from them by not engaging with their posts. Funny that this is the reality I live in, people thinking I am angry because I do not respond, our main source of validation coming from a tiny blue icon of a hand gesture.

I haven’t had any very profound moments since I “unplugged” a little, but the margins created in my day-to-day life without checking notifications and mindlessly scrolling feeds have provided much needed space.

Space to sit and listen and think without being prompted by a meme or inspirational quote; to dream and imagine and wonder without comparing myself to the accomplishments of someone else. I have grabbed my “real” camera more in the past two weeks than I have in the past 5 months and have been reading books, rather than stare at a screen.

I am also learning something interesting about myself.  About what it means to do something without the appeal of being able to show it off, without it being a means to an end of praise and approval. Without Instagram on my phone, I can’t simply snap a picture and post with a humble hashtag or two. I know how many times I have raced to finish a product, only because I wanted to be able to post it so my friends could see.

The strange thing about myself is that I crave acknowledgement and admiration (who doesn’t?), but I don’t know what to do with the attention.  I wish I could just stuff it into a little bottle and take a look at it whenever I need it, when I begin to doubt myself and wonder about what I do and why it matters. When I begin to doubt that anyone genuinely likes me.

We want the things that we do to be of importance. We want to share our lives with others.  Yet, what happens after a day or two when we haven’t shared?  We are all but forgotten. The notifications disappear and the images fade from our friend’s daily scroll and that amazing moment or clever post is no longer present in anyone’s mind. We are all too involved in what is happening next.  We are all too concerned with our own search for connection and the next thing to keep our voice in the mix.

So, I’ve committed to going the summer more unplugged.  I deleted my FB and IG apps off of my phone and I have decided to not scroll through my feeds.  I am allowed to log into Facebook to check notifications and perhaps post on my business account when needed, but otherwise, I am checking out.  I find that as more time passes, the less I check or even think to log in.

And, I am hoping to write more again without the anxiety that comes with sharing a post on Facebook, or the obsessive checking if anyone is “liking” it or wanting to delete it if no one does within a couple of hours.

-b.e.

 

the “lost” years

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Are you familiar with the Chinese Bamboo Tree?

Once planted, it doesn’t break through the ground for 4 years.

During this time, gardeners tend to this seemingly bare spot of earth – water it, fertilize it, nurture it – with no visible display of what difference their care has made.

But then, after 4 years of “nothing”, in the 5th year, the shoot bursts through the ground and grows at an amazing pace.  In just over a month, it will tower over you at 90 feet high.

I feel like this relates to so many areas of life.

It resonates so deep within me right now.

Because some times I give up tending to certain things I believe in.

Sometimes we don’t see the outcomes of our kindness, generosity, patience, grace.

Sometimes the grueling, gritty, every day work just doesn’t seem worth it.

Sometimes we fail and instead of learning from our mistakes, give up prematurely.

Sometimes we look crazy devoting so much time to something that gives us so little in return.

Sometimes I look at everyone else’s bamboo trees and instead of enjoying their beauty and celebrating the hard work it took to grow them, I allow envy to settle in my stomach.

Then there are those moments – days, weeks, years – where incredible growth takes place.  It was happening all along, but you didn’t see it.  You couldn’t.  Maybe it is all timing.  Maybe you just weren’t ready.  Maybe someone else came along who believed in you and even did the hard work and tended to your garden for a time when you neglected it.  Maybe there are a slew of reasons.  Maybe you were so busy tending to that barren ground that it just sort of changed overnight and things are suddenly happening at a dizzying pace.

I feel like I have experienced these stages at different times in life.  Some times I give up and move on.  Some times I wonder and doubt and second-guess why I am even doing the things I am.  Or I am just lost and don’t know what is next or what I should be doing at all. And then there are times when I stand back and see the outcome and feel full and satisfied.

But you can’t skip the seasons and you can’t get the lost years back.

There is so much going on below the surface that we don’t see.

As a mother, this feels poignant.

I sense that many of us with young children feel like we are just getting through these early years with our kids.  We have lost ourselves somewhere along the way and feel like every drop of energy is devoted to their care and nothing is left. We just have to get through these years and things will change. Not that we don’t enjoy it.  Being called “momma” and caring for my children is a great joy.  And it is hard and I have never found myself more than through childbearing and child raising.

It has loosened so many lies I believed about myself and others, about where I actually find my value and what is important in life.

Even those formative years in our children’s lives are like tending to a bamboo tree.  You might not see the outcome of what you pour into their every day, the sacrifices you make for them, for years to come.  And we bear the wrinkles and tired eyes from the laughter and frustration and sleepless nights and dim, early mornings.

But when I think about the bamboo tree, and I think about entering my last year in my 20’s, and hear the stories of others’ lives and the abrupt ending we some times have…I also feel a broader call, an urgency.

Not to see change, but to work toward it.

Because some times the work takes years and years and maybe I don’t even get to enjoy the shade that will one day come from the daily tending.

But,

I can imagine who will.

And I wonder, what have I been tending to beneath the surface all this time?

-b.e.

take hold

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Extended hand,
uncurled fingers,
exposed palm –

my eyes freeze for a moment
and slowly lift,
tracing the lines from wrist to forearm to elbow,
stopping once more at the shoulder,
and then,
taking a bounding leap to those eyes.

Fierce and full,
they reveal a depth I am afraid to know
and yet, also a love I long for.

And so, the moment lingers.

What do you want to save me from?
What happens if I place my hand in yours
or, is it much more than just that?
What do I lose? What do I gain?
Where will you take me?

Passion, faith, dreams,
creativity, ambition, love –
What reaches out now
and how long will it extend it’s arm
before the moment has passed
and all is as before.

 

 

embracing what is

DSC_0016DSC_0007DSC_0019bwDSC_0012DSC_0018Her quick steps lightly skip across the pavement, beckoning me to hurry and catch up.  We dash down the gravel path and round the corner to the museum entrance.  Her face is aglow as she realizes that the words I spoke this morning, the promise made of places yet to be seen, really did come true.

—-

Days come and go quickly and sometimes, seasons change abruptly.  I can recall some early September mornings when the air grew cold overnight and you wake up and dig in your drawer for the wool socks much sooner than expected.  It can feel a little bit like the earth is betraying you – summer hasn’t lingered quite long enough and suddenly, the cold creeps in and steals your last warm sunsets away.

But after a bit, you relax a little.  Pull your sweater around snug and cup your mug of tea with your hands, feeling the warmth transferring and transforming.

The cold is doing its job.

If we remained stagnant forever, what would life be?  How would we grow and how limited would our perspective be?  In the end, we are thankful for the changing seasons.

—-

January 1st.  Just a day.  It could be any day.  But this day has ushered in a new season for me.  Nothing has really changed around me, but I have chosen to embrace what is.

Being more present to my children, finding time to reflect and plan, and being more intentional and mindful with my time has opened up so many possibilities for this year already.

I am dreaming again.

Today, this meant embracing the odd schedule my son’s classes are and devoting that time to my daughter.  We went to the local children’s museum and played together, and I reveled in watching her role play and problem solve and practice her social skills.

We walked to the art museum and catching a glimpse of the wonder in ehr eyes and hidden pleasure as she listened to the very sweet woman who, with joy, guided her to a whimsical woodland scene. Time at the library together, and before we knew it, time was up and we picked up her brother.

I was starting to feel like the drive and the time “stuck” in the area was a complete inconvenience in my life.

But just a small shift of perspective reveals that truly it was a beautiful opportunity.

b.e.