we may be mothers, but we are still human.

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Knees curled to chest, I see her: a woman gone wild in the bedroom corner, fresh out of the shower and on a rampage of sorts, folding and throwing clean laundry into untidy piles, loudly speaking whatever angry thoughts she has been festering toward her husband, the man who sees this ugliness and always comes back and always loves and helps me to love this woman again, too. I see her – myself, mother, wife, woman – as the last t-shirt hits the floor and I feel the bare skin of my back fall back against the cool bedroom wall and there, my eyes seep deeply welled tears. In a moment, I am uncertain of why I am so angry, sad, alone. Where does this feeling of “not enough” and “incompleteness” come from? Am I going mad?

During the outburst, words erupt like “why am I not allowed to be angry?” and “why am I the only one who cares about this?” and “why I am always wrong and you aren’t?”. Inside, I wonder, who these questions are for. What is it that I want to hear? What is it that I want to accomplish? Is it really OK to just yell and cry and throw things and let it all loose? How do I react when my children do this? Am I still just a child? Aging, but still learning to sort out my emotions?

Yes.

I am still learning.

I may be a mother, but I am still human.

There is some strange and pervasive idea that as mothers, we should find joy in every moment – in the dishes and diapers and tantrums and PTA meetings and night feedings and stretch marks and and and and…

…but what about when you don’t?

I believed this as I transitioned out of my teen years, that finding joy in every situation was the secret to happiness and the favor of God in my life, an inevitable martyrdom I would be expected to endure and applauded for. The mother who somehow keeps a clean house, feeds her children food that isn’t primarily white, volunteers, organizes playdates, responds with gentleness at every childish outburst and tantrum, exercises, remembers to feed herself healthy food, helps by earning an income and keeping a balanced budget, and does this every day, all the time, smiling and saying how blessed and thankful she is, because, children.

Except, often the stadium is quiet, there is no applause. Just the feelings of failure and guilt and notice of where we fall short compared to some other mom or household. But what mother does not ask at some point, don’t you see my sacrifice?

And yet, there is tension, always tension; because I also know, choosing joy does make a difference. It is here, in the practice of willing surrender and seeing the goodness in the midst of uncertainty, where I actually find my truest self and soul. I give up the need for admiration and in the doing for others, I find something more fulfilling than I have ever known otherwise.

Maybe the problem lies in the idea that we have to keep up. All. The. Time.

I have been the “mom blogger”, going on about my health-nut recipes and how I got my kids to eat spinach by hiding it in their chili (as Jim Gaffigan would say, “you’re trying to impress me with KALE?!”), savoring the little moments and sharing our simple, little life as if the morning meets me with angels singing their heavenly chorus, a halo surrounding me, saintly mother, giving my all to create perfect growing conditions for my children, all while staying fit, healthy, sane and joyful.

Maybe there are no angels singing, but there are moments, days even, where I see my best self.

And there are many where I see the ugly and show it to my family.

Then we get to practice forgiveness and grace and second and third and fourth chances.

I also believe in joy.

I know the deep healing practice of stopping and savoring and giving gratitude for the little things.

I love being a mom – motherhood has broken me, put me back together, stretched me, challenged me, shown me my strength and taught me I can’t do it all alone. Children are an insanely beautiful gift to us and I ache when I think of all the children without a home or present parents or opportunity like we have. And I do believe we have an incredible responsibility to be present to our children, affirming that they are human and capable as they are now, and also, a seed of the adult they will become, one we are to nurture as best we can.

I woke up this morning feeling like a complete failure.

For what? Having strong emotions, feeling alone and like my feelings didn’t matter, not getting to everything I wish was done, speaking in unloving ways toward my closest people, showing weakness, providing a gap for someone else to step into, for God to meet me with love – the love that is always there, but I don’t always notice.

Growth is important – I want to grow more to respond and communicate my hurt and feelings in a healthy way, and I believe I will always be a work in progress.

But in this moment, I’m sitting with this imperfection, the deep vulnerability and realization that I don’t have to keep everything together 100% of the time or maybe any of the time. Are we really meant to do it all alone?

We may be mothers, but we are still human.

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Childless: The Unseen Mothers In Our Midst

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I posted this quote on Instagram this morning:

“Let us keep reminding each other to breathe, to smile, to treat ourselves and one another with kindness. Let us hold each other when we need support, and let us challenge and remind each other of what is truly important. Let us take care of ourselves so that we don’t hand down our unfinished business to the next generation. Let us laugh together, and never lose our joy…And let us take care of the children, our children, all the children. Let us mobilize our fierce and passionate mother energy on behalf of all beings on this little blue-green planet…” – Denise Roy, MOMfulness: Mothering with Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace (emphasis mine)

A follower left the comment, “Although I am not a Mom yet, I want to read the book you’ve quoted! I believe I hold a strong mothering spirit with me everyday.”

And I caught my breath for a moment as I saw something I often overlook – the unseen mothers in our midst.

And I wonder, how do we be more present to those who don’t technically have children, but are mothers in their own way? There are so many women in this space for a variety of reasons – it may not be the right season in life, they haven’t “found” the right partner yet, fertility issues, health concerns, miscarriage, fallen through adoptions – this just names a few. But they still have this strong maternal spirit and yearning to mother.

And often, when someone is vulnerable enough to share this desire or their struggle in achieving “mom” status, we hurry to patch it up and instead of just sitting with it, helping hold a tiny corner of the weight of desire for motherhood, we offer unhelpful answers like, “trust me, you’re lucky to have your freedom!” or “you’re so young, don’t worry, you have plenty of time!” or “don’t give up, it will happen!” or even, “You just need to pray more”.  We might even begin to question their life choices or try to offer unsolicited advice and share how easily we slipped into motherhood.

How do we walk alongside each other and SEE one another for who we are and affirm the mother felt within each of us, even if our direct experiences differ?

Because maybe they are mothers also, but with a much different birth story.

I don’t have the answers to why.  Why some of us fall into our hopes and dreams and others don’t, why I conceived and birthed three children with relative ease, while others have losses upon losses and nights upon nights of prayers and tears and negative tests and enormous let downs and children they hold tight in their chest because they love them as fiercely as any mother would.

And I can’t speak to that experience, since it is not mine. I have watched friends give birth to their babies and I have seen them lose them and I have heard the hopes of trying and trying and trying and the piercing comments and heavy hearts and the joy and the sorrow all mixed together and it leaves me speechless with wonder at the heaviness of birth and death and motherhood.

And I have often not known what to say or do or how to be for those mothers.

But, at this moment, I see you.

And I am trying to look with wider eyes.

– b.e.

becca

Becca Ellis is an artist, writer, wife, and mom to 3 in Bend, Oregon where she works as a Director of Family and Children at First Presbyterian. One of her greatest joys is bringing women together and supporting mothers in all walks of life. This Fall, she will be facilitating Intentional Motherhood Circles in Bend, Oregon through the Mama Connect Bend community.  You can learn more about Mama Connect Bend here and follow along on IG: www.instagram.com/mamaconnectbend

 

 

 

Surviving, Thriving, and New Year Resolutions

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There have been many different seasons of my life.  Some have been times of intense focus, joy, anticipation, change, sameness. Some have been easy, others hard.

Some have made me feel like I have just been surviving.

Three young kids and little sleep contribute to this feeling. The life of a mother is ever revolving, there is always another need, another small hand tugging on your leg or calling out for ‘mama’, a rubbing, rawness that is constant and reminding you of who you are and the life you nourish and give to those around you.

There is even more to it than that, though. More a question of purpose and whether I am living to my fullest potential or not.

I have been able to find great joy in the mundanity and simple everyday moments seeping through the cracks of routine, but there is something different and life changing about living in a way that makes you feel the most alive.

Around this time of year, I feel drawn toward a word for the upcoming season. This morning while I was running, I felt the sun warming my skin and I found myself closing my eyes for a moment, imagining rays shooting out from me and an incredible joy fill my soul – I felt like I was doing something I was meant to do: thrive.

Which makes me wonder, how do I thrive when I am doing the mundane tasks that must be done? How do I infuse my life with meaning and light in a way that ignites passion and life into others as well?  What practices do I need to put into place to create an attitude and environment that brings about that change?

Is it something I do, or just a choice I make?

A resolution?

So often our resolutions are about fitting into an expectation of who we should be and how we should look or act. I am tired of vowing to become smaller or more fit, to just be a better friend or wife or mom. No more attempts at vague goals like writing “more” or being “more” generous.

Instead, I want to stop apologizing for feeling so much and allow myself to be seen. I want to set specific goals that expand my love and not be afraid of stepping out and offering that love to others. I want to live into the wild, radical and relentless love I see in Jesus and offer it to others without hesitation. I don’t want to just survive on this earth – that is not what we were created to do. Death is too much a reality and our life is too uncertain for that. There are limitless things outside of my control, but one thing I can choose is to be present and mindful of what I am doing, to bask in the joy or the sorrow or the boredom or the newness of every moment.

I want to thrive.

On summer, motherhood, dreams, and being seen.

I wrote this post several months ago, but failed to publish it. So much has changed in our life since last summer, but still, this holds a part of my story and heart and as I read this post it seemed as if I was transported back to the space where I felt these thoughts deep enough to actually write them down.


 

 

There is a leaning, a gentle swaying and arch of my body and emotions that happens when I just stop.

Stop my whining and dragging of feet and annoyance and let my step become lighter and open my eyes wider so light and love can enter.

When I see my children clearly for who they are and the needs they have and stop rushing and criticizing and reminding them of their shortcomings.

There is always so much.  So much I want to accomplish and balance. So much attention I need to give. And in the “so much” I miss out on being available.

Available to sit and snuggle and make space to listen to their hopes, dreams, desires, interests; to feel their body against mine and allow our rhythms to align.

The summer goes by without rhythm. We wake up, eat breakfast, and mostly have no plans for the day. Maybe we will go to the beach or a park, or just stay home and sit in underwear all day. We just see. I have stopped being a homeschooler who tricks my kids into home schooling in the summer.  We read books, but no intentional science experiments or “strewing” has taken place. We aren’t practicing our alphabet or letter sounds. We are being bored and finding things to do or people to engage with (or poke). An endless vacation.

Some days it makes me feel like I am accomplishing nothing in all this nothingness.

Laundry may be caught up and the kitchen clean by the end of the day, but in all of the housework and cooking and cleaning and taking care of the baby and mopping up water and dirt tracked in from happy sprinkler feet, it is never finished and I rarely get to the deeper things I ache to do.

Music has lost its presence and I as I type this I feel a physical ache in my heart. Piano is a balm for my soul. When I sit and play, I instantly feel a melting inside, like broken jagged bits softening and solidifying together again.  I am whole.

Music shakes my insides like nothing else can and loosens things in me. Playing guitar and singing with all my being reconciles worlds to me.  This has been my lifetime therapy. And I miss it. It is something I do alone, mostly.  I sing strong when no one is listening to me.

Because when no one is listening or looking I am free to express myself however I choose. No criticism. No applause. No attention. I am a wildflower, able to bloom whatever way I am meant to and not hide my brilliance or dullness out of obligation.

It is harder when there is an audience, an expectation. I go rigid. I feel like I don’t belong here. Like I am not good enough to be in front of anyone doing anything. I feel this way about everything.

Sharing my words? Not good enough. Sharing my art? My photographs and videos and songs and creations? Who cares?

I share it, anyway, because I believe in doing things that scare and stretch me.

But then, anxiety. Why does it matter?  Why does it stop me?  Why do I worry about the attention? I become overwhelmed and step back from it all and lean into silence again. Lean into my own world.  I devote myself to making kombucha and not eating sugar and keeping the floors cleaned. I find contentment in simplicity. Which is good, but it is also an excuse.

An excuse to keep from being seen.

Some people know this about me, but I occasionally worked as a fine art model for a couple of years. And I was seen by the eyes of artists. They all interpreted my body differently and it was fascinating to see the variance in shape and size and angles and curves.

When you put yourself out there and allow your heart to be seen, everyone will see it differently. You can never be everything to everyone and you will always be too much or too little to someone.

But for now, I am wading through the simplicity and the tasks summer presents for mothers of young children. I am keeping my longings and plans tucked neatly against my chest as a secret. My mind is never at rest and all day I compile and organize lists and dreams.

The song, Dream by Patricia Ahn has been resonating with me and makes me burst with the desire to dream like a child again and think things are more possible than my grown-up mind would like to believe.

How I hope my children will always believe in their dreams. How I hope I will lean into my own and have the strength and confidence to be me.

 

 

RE-POST: 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.


 

I wrote the above post back in June, nearly 6 months ago. There has been a yearning for adventure, something new for a while, but in the midst of that, we have settled down, like a babe in the crook of her mother’s strong, yet tired, arms, softly swaying, fighting the sleep.

The yawn and heavy eyelids come, we are so close to that sweet slumber, the rhythm is soothing and lulling us, the familiarity of everything around comforts us and we think this is all rather nice and why not just nestle in and rest?

But there is a pull that keeps us blinking, and now, very suddenly, we are jerked back awake.

This move is big for us, although it feels like something I have done many times before. This place – this home – where we have had babies and made friends and put down our roots, it is the longest I have lived anywhere and my heart hurts a little when I think about leaving.

Yet, I can’t count the evening strolls in our little town or the nights drinking tea and staying up too late, talking and dreaming and wondering what could be and how much more we could do and what kind of people we want to be and how it is okay and good to be here, but there is something about going that creates a stir, a catalyst for change.

Some of these simple “wishes” I am always going to be working on. But it gives me hope that some of my deep desires are becoming reality.

We got some new pillows a little while ago, also.

 

-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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.