Mama’s Simple and Wise Life Lesson

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

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My wise mama taught me an important life lesson, one that as a kid I would roll my eyes and think “well when I’m an adult, I’m not going to have to do this.” Instead, it’s a lesson I now appreciate, cherish, and will teach my own kids.

Mama would always say:

When you leave somewhere, leave it better than when you arrived. When you borrow something, leave it cleaner than when you brought it home.

And she diligently applied this rule to every aspect of our daily life:

860272_1874362465723_1815623652_o.jpgWhen I’d try on clothes, mom would make me hang every single piece back up, button it, straighten it, fold the jeans, etc. and give them back to the attendant. When I’d leave a restaurant, if I made a mess on the floor, she’d have me tidy it up. If I missed the trash bin, she’d make me go pick it back up. I’d often get frustrated and say something along the lines of “But they hire people to do this! This isn’t my job.

She’d make me do it anyway.

Today I walked into the bathroom at my workplace and saw trash thrown near the trash bins and paper towel scraps near the dispenser. It looked pretty bad. Of course the average person probably pulled out the paper towel, grabbed it wrong, let the scrap fall to the ground, didn’t have a second thought, and moved along. The average person also might walk in, see what I am looking at, and think “this looks awful!” and leave with the same thought, taking no action.

This is my second home. It’s where I work, work I take pride in. It’s where my coworkers spend the majority of their waking hours. It’s a place that’s been good to me. I know my coworkers here, their spouses, and their children. I know our mailman. I know our janitors, and know many of their life stories and have shared with them my own.

I stooped over and began picking up all the trash, and tidying the bathroom. It took me about 20 seconds to do.

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When we care for these smaller things, when we take time to notice the impact of one person, we start to understand the world differently. We can suddenly see the impact of 10 people who stopped caring, and realize the impact of an entire culture who, out of habit, thought “someone else will do it.” We start to see how little decisions “pile” up – and these small teachable moments translate to every aspect of our life, our home, our family, our workplace, our lifestyle, our culture, our world.

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Daughter, I won’t tell you “You can be anything you set your mind to” without one clarification

IMG_0967Tali,

I want you to believe in yourself. I want you to be confident in who you are. I want you to try new things, and try again when you fail. But there’s something about this motto I want you to fight against and resist– and a new meaning I want you to focus on.

When you hear the phrase “You can be anything you set your mind to” or “You can be anything you want to be” most people are using it in reference to careers. And, this is somewhat true. But, I can’t promise that grief won’t overtake you, that illness won’t steal your talent, that injury won’t cripple your career. I can’t promise you that you’ll have the resources to be a stay at home mom. I can’t promise you that a loved one’s illness won’t make you have to quit your job to take care of them. Perhaps you weren’t born with a voice to be singer, with an IQ to topple tests to be special intelligence, with the eyesight to be a pilot, the grace to be a dancer, or the stature to play basketball. I can’t promise that you won’t have to take on a job with long hours while studying for classes. And, baby, mommy won’t always have the money to send you to practice the hobby of your dreams. We may not always be in the best school district. I can’t promise either that all of your teachers will believe in you – or push you to thrive.

See this motto has a false facade of failure built in to it, as if when you see people with a lower paycheck or without a “desirable” job – that they’ve somehow failed. That they are lazy. That they quit too early. They didn’t give it EVERYTHING. That they didn’t prioritize. That they didn’t want it bad enough. And, we dismiss them. We dismiss their journey. We dismiss their humanity. We discount and dismiss the profound effect that where we grow up, our community, our opportunities, our income, our resources, our health, who we knew, our parents, ABUSE, DISEASE, ILLNESS, GRIEF, education, etc. have on our journey. Heck, perhaps they gave up a career for something more important to them — like having time with family. We forget that perhaps a woman isn’t “moving up the ladder” because moving up means less time with her newborn baby. It’s as if a job description defines how much we “tried” or the depth of our character – and we forget about the journey we’ve all individually and uniquely walked.

If success is only measured by a career, you may miss a more important aspect of life – and you may miss the opportunity to meet someone amazing. We forget in this phrase that THESE people without titles and distinctions and accolades of awards deserve respect and love too for their journey. That these people are role models with profound wisdom for us. And, we forget that sometimes stepping away from a dream can be an open door to love more vibrantly, to have more time with a loved one, to fight for a cause, to rest easier, to pursue ‘dead-end’ but enjoyable, fulfilling hobbies, and more. 

Sweetie, I’ve seen the most miserable, lonely CEOs, and the most vibrant, joyful, lively janitors.

So, let me tell you what you CAN and SHOULD choose. Of far greater worth than your career is your CHARACTER. This is what makes you “who” you are – the small choices you make everyday that define your journey and mark your path. You may not make a sports team – but how do you react to failure? People may be cruel to you, but do you still choose love? People may disrespect someone in front of you; do you stand up for them even if it’s unpopular? Do you choose patience? Kindness? Self-control? Do you get back up when you fail? Are you an encourager? What do you think upon when you have free time? What do you do when no one is looking? Are you continually learning and growing? But, do you also rest when you need it and take time to mourn? Do you know when to close a door and open another?

Baby, accept who you are. Embrace who you are. And, pursue your dreams – and push through even when no one believes in you. Give it your best shot, and anything that happens is a success story. But, remember along the way, it’s not your job title that defines your journey or your worth or how hard you tried — and not making it into a career doesn’t equate to failure. Success has many faces, the most important being your character. Pursue character first. Then, whatever career you have, you will be a success.

I love you.

– Mommmy

Body Image: Your body’s sole purpose isn’t to please a gaze

 

 

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My body wasn’t meant to please your gaze. My body’s purpose is not to sell your brand of clothing, makeup, hair color, shoe brand, etc. Its sole purpose is to not be a over-sexualized symbol to turn the heads of men. Its purpose is not to wear a bikini in the summer. It’s not for other women to have an object to compare their body to. Its purpose is not to retain my 16 year old figure.

My body is meant for many things in fact. And a sexualized, ‘perfectly shaped’ being is not the highlight.

My body is for usefulness: it’s to move, to jump, to run, to breathe, to child rear, to breastfeed, to digest, to hear, to see, to feel, to climb, to make, to read, to create, to go, to write, to play music, to contribute, to renew, to grow, to age . . .

My body is made to express: love, art, kindness, compassion, beauty, gentleness, frustration, anger, to serve, to hug, to kiss, to hold, to be held, to assist…

My body is to create: to create peace, to create shelter, to create art, to create music, to create joy, to create new things, to recreate old things, to create a space for community, to create a family, to create beauty…

My body is for my husband: to love, to make love, to serve, to hold, to assist, to laugh, to cry, to grow old with, to behold, to take care of, to admire, to create with…

My body is for my children: that I may bring them into this world with the growth and marks of pregnancy and the pains of labor, that I may pick them up when they are sick and cradle them. That I should chase them when they take off the first time they ride a bike without training wheels. That I should have bags under my eyes because I didn’t sleep because they were awake and lonely. That my hair and nails aren’t done because instead I spent the money to go on a trip with them…

At the end of my life, I want my body to be marked. Marked with smile wrinkles. Marked with scars from adventures. Marked with stretch marks, my tattoos left by my children who forever changed my life. My breasts will hang differently from breastfeeding. My hips will be worn and achey from playing on the ground with children and grandchildren. My skin will be aged from playing in the sun and gardening. My nails will be torn and worn from working hard and serving others. My feet will have callouses from staying active and moving.

And, my life will be full.

Women, allow your body to be marked by life — in the most beautiful of ways. Embrace the shape you are in, the skin you are in, the hair you are in, the type of clothes you can afford, the color of your features, the shape of your legs, your thighs, your marks, your scars. Remember all that your body is and does and has been through — and its endless beauty in these moments — It’s not just some outer covering meant to please some passerby’s eyes. It never has been. It never should be. And it should never be your definition of its worth.

Tattoo for My Daughter

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“When the scar, this scar, formed I was astounded to find that for the first time people looked at me. Not unkindly, and with interest. And they were not the sort of people I had known before. Oh no, these were interesting people, people who were not unmarked by life. And my mark, my scar, made me in some way approachable; this blemish gave me confidence. And it occurred to me then, or very shortly thereafter, that perhaps it might be best to wear lives upon our skin. And so I do.”

– Excerpt from “Marks” within the collection of dramatic monologues “Talking With…” by Jane Martin –

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What is a tattoo? There’s something different about this type of art. It’s the inner reflections of our soul painting the outer shapes our bodies, the willing waiting canvas. We all wear our tattoos, but some are just simply more visible to others. Some are kept written on our hearts while others are cemented in ink. Some people, you see, just choose to make it more permanent, to make the memory physically present when it seems it’s slowly slipping out of their grasp. And unlike an artist who paints on a canvas, who can choose to walk away from their creation, to recreate, to rehang, to store, to sell, this type of art remains with you, a part of you. It goes with you. It matures with you. It tells a story.

As soon as I was pregnant, I started thinking about this permanent design on my body. I knew its form, its shape, and the potential location. I knew it perfectly captured my journey into motherhood, a moment that forever changed my life. To capture even a glimpse of this moment on the canvas of my body would be beautiful, sacred even. Although, I was equally anxious, anxious to have a new mark.

I watched the design take shape for months, my fingers tracing every new line, the artist working delicately with great care to document my journey. I smiled. And, I hesitated. I showed my husband, his own fingers tracing the change to my skin, telling me, reassuring me of its beauty, insisting I be confident if people thought otherwise. He marveled in its design, a physical representation of what was growing not only in my womb, but in our hearts.

Today, my design is still taking shape. It’s still growing with me, changing color, changing form, changing texture. And, I imagine with time, it will continue to. The design is recognized as “stretch marks” by most, those outside of motherhood. To me though, they are my “tiger stripes” or my “mommy marks” or “mommy lines.” Most people would tell me to prevent them. To hide them. To have a body untouched by my journey in life.

No. I will not hide them. I am not ashamed of them. I will not be scared to show my tattoo, life’s mark. You see these lines on my body? These lines mean this body, my body, carried life! Created LIFE! Sustained LIFE. With no practice, no preparation, my body knew what to do to make itself a home. For nine months, my body worked, watched, and waited as her entire being was being formed from a blueprint invisible to the naked eye. It was present as her heart took shape and when the first beat of life sounded.

My body is beautiful, and its journey is beautiful. I display that beauty outwardly with this tattoo. I show you my journey through the lines. The artist? My daughter. Who better to mark my body with her life? With the life we created together as a family.

We all wear our tattoos, but some are just simply more visible to others. Some are written on our hearts while others are cemented in ink, while some are written on the canvas of our skin as the wrinkles in our faces, the dimples in our cheeks, the scars from surviving a fire, and yes, even the lines of childbirth.

Mommies, celebrate your lines. Celebrate your journey. They are not flaws. They are resilient, strong, and beautiful. Wear your tattoo with pride.

Photo subject and credit: Mandi Brock

The [Im]perfect Nursery and the Joy of Simplicity

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“So, what’s your theme?” she asked me.
“Theme? What do you mean?”
“Your nursery! Animals? Butterflies? Princess? And what about the type of wood of your nursery furniture? White? Dark wood? Light wood?”
“Lavender?” I replied unsure of myself.

I knew this lady was trying to be helpful and considerate in asking me the theme of my baby’s nursery. She wanted to make sure she bought a gift for the shower that would perfectly coordinate. In all honesty, this thought hadn’t even occurred to me until this moment. Decorating a nursery? I suppose in America it would be considered a rite of passage. I know, I know . . . SURELY I would have seen all the advertisements in baby magazines and all the nursery picture posts by friends; however, when you find out you’re pregnant, plan a full wedding in two months, move twice, and figure out the very basics of being a wife, being pregnant, and becoming a mom, it doesn’t leave much room for browsing magazines and window shopping. Even if I HAD seen these beautiful coordinating nursery ads though, I still probably wouldn’t have paid it much mind. We see “perfect” all the time in ads. The perfectly fashioned female model. The perfectly polished, fast sports car. The perfect office space promoting creativity and relaxation. No one pays attention to the “perfects”! Well, perhaps I underestimated how big of a rite of passage the “perfect” nursery was. For me, this really stressed me out.

Up to this point, I had really enjoyed the simplicity of pregnancy. Wait . . . before you crucify me, hear me out. When you’re pregnant, there are less choices and you stick to the basics. When you’re pregnant, only a few items on the menu appeal to you. When you’re pregnant, entertainment choices are limited (no theme parks, no hiking, no rock climbing, etc). When you’re pregnant, only the handicapped bathroom stall will do. When you’re pregnant, bedtime is as soon as you get home. When you’re pregnant you give up on painting your toenails. When you’re pregnant, high heels are a definite NO. When you’re pregnant you grow out of your bras faster than the Irish sunburn, so a Victoria’s secret lacy little thing with velvet trim and push up padding for 80 bucks is out of the question. My favorite part was that, for once, I had a small manageable closet of maternity clothes and the choice between two pairs of shoes that were comfortable and fit my swollen feet. It wasn’t really hard to get out of bed and be ready in the morning . . . well, besides the sitting up from lying down part.

My family helped us out a lot on relieving my tension of figuring out a nursery. Tucker’s brothers (who by the way are GIANTS and don’t have to have a step stool to reach a ceiling) painted Tali’s room lavender. And, with the help of friends and family, we bought white matching furniture and received simple fitted sheets and other necessities in the color lavender. No, there weren’t decals on the wall. There wasn’t a rocking chair nor a decorative pillow embroidered with the letter “T.” We didn’t have a matching quilt, picture frames, diaper pail, hangers, lamp shade, lavender princess booger wipes… or whatever else you can buy in a “theme” for a baby’s room (you’d be surprised). By the time my labor was induced, the room wasn’t even completely put together. Tali’s new clothes from showers were still laid out all across the floor, her toys were in their plastic store-fresh containers lining the hallway, and the dresser was still in pieces with a manual on how to assemble it lying beside it. And, as I cried out in pain in my hospital room as Tucker embraced my hand and we waited to meet Tali, in my purse I still had a long unfinished checklist of things I absolutely must buy, things I absolutely must do, and books I must absolutely read.

When Tali arrived, I learned quickly how little we really needed. Although we had a lot of beautiful and thoughtful items from showers, to get us through those first few weeks all we needed the most were a carseat, about three footie pajamas, a pacifier, diapers, wipes, a bath towel and baby soap, breastfeeding supplies, a swaddle blanket, and a crib. The consumer baby market would be ashamed. Of course I needed a wipe warmer with a built in digital clock and room thermometer; an automatic spinning, music playing crib mobile; and sanitizing, alcohol free, gluten free, paraben free, dye free, calorie free baby safe pacifier wipes!

My husband and I didn’t have a lot of money, but we were happy. It really doesn’t take thousands of dollars worth of stuff to bring a baby home. And, there’s no shame in not being able to afford it. In fact, I learned quite a lot while I was pregnant and those first few weeks with Tali. I was happier with less. I was happier with more time with Tucker and Tali, less time organizing the clutter, and more money to spend traveling to see family.

So to the moms out there like me overwhelmed by the expectations,

You’re doing great! You don’t have to have a straight-from-a-magazine room for your baby! You don’t have to have the latest fashions or the trendiest baby clothes! The room doesn’t have to be tidy. Toys don’t always have to be put away from sight. Chores can wait.

Mommy, you’ve adorned your baby in love. You’ve decorated her room with your voice. You’ve grown rich in her laughter. And perhaps save a penny or two and go buy yourself a coke, and after she finally falls asleep, slide yourself down the wall onto the floor with your messy dirty hair, your unshaved legs, your pile of dirty laundry in the next room and breathe. And smile. You’re doing great.

The Truth about my Pregnancy: Fears, Anxieties, Wonders, and Awe

 

Pregnancy. Is. So. Bizarre. (…and beautiful)

Looking down feeling this thing in my tummy that I am not in control of move and kick, my tummy jiggling side to side (without my permission), is quite awkward in the midst of company. The cravings even more bizarre, and unless you become a pregnant lady yourself or live with one, you won’t ever quite understand the ups and downs of pregnancy, including the possible horrors (no sarcasm intended). “Coping with pregnancy” sounds insulting to women desiring to be pregnant or to the life growing inside me, but the beginning of pregnancy for me was just that—at first.

Commercials always show moms bouncing their little ones on their knee looking down and smiling while their baby grins, energetic dads throwing their toddler up into the air beaming with pride, and expectant moms smiling in the doctor’s office as the doctor comes in with the news, “It’s a GIRL!” But, what about the times in-between?

Until I had a child I never realized how much my life was dependent on myself, on stability, and on consistency – something pregnancy allowed no room for. As a single woman, I had a routine, had ambitious goals, and made a plan to achieve them. I worked full-time on salary, had a small apartment, was saving money, planned to get a masters within the next few years, and hopefully be married as a graduate masters student with money saved and little debt or stress. I also rigorously trained in CrossFit. In fact, a few months before I found out about baby, I hit a PR (personal record) for the Deadlift at 205 lbs, about 2.2 times my bodyweight, and a month before accomplished 7 strict pull-ups, and a few weeks before achieved my first muscle-up, an advanced movement taking tremendous strength and technique.

Because my pregnancy was unexpected, there was not time to prepare emotionally, physically, financially, or mentally. The changes were rapid and constantly altering—demanding flexibility, patience, and trust. Morning of sickness, days of looking in the mirror at my bloated swollen tummy (the abs I worked so hard for hidden underneath), moments of seeing my once smooth facial skin scattered with red-raised bumps, and weeks where my eyes displayed deep dark circles—revealing nights of tears, sickness, and worry. Although I never thought I worried about my appearance, I did for the first time. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore.

The realization that I could never be alone terrified me. There was a being inside me that I couldn’t simply ask to leave and come back tomorrow. I felt her presence and her demands on my body every moment. This commanded immediate attention and knowledge. For the first time in my life, I was not prepared, I had no plan, and I had no idea where to start, but the clock was already ticking. The physical changes though were nothing compared to the emotional turmoil: shame (read my first entry), guilt, fear, excitement, awe, and wonder all mixed together brewing and not knowing what the outcome of the recipe would bring in the end. Time both slowed and raced by as, within a few months, I found out I was pregnant, got engaged, planned a wedding in a month, got married, Tucker moved in, we searched for a new home, we both moved out, we made a new budget, planned for a baby, signed up for parenting classes, and encountered countless other adjustments (all of which I plan to talk about in a future blog in detail).

However, something changed in both of us, something beautiful and profound. The changes in our life didn’t matter anymore. My bulging body, my acne, my old life goals, the sleepless nights, the drained savings account meant nothing to me once I saw her little body on the ultrasound machine and felt those little wiggles for the first time. The realization of the beauty and mystery of life was astonishing. At our first apartment Tucker first felt her move: we sat together with his hand on my tummy and his eyes widened, “Was that her!?” “Yes,” I beamed.

Throughout the whole experience, Tucker and I became strong, united, and crazy about our little one, not being able to imagine (or want) our life any different. The stretch marks, sleepless nights with dark circles under my eyes, the cramping legs, the new diet meant THIS body can bring about LIFE! The little dark lines on my skin were evidence of a healthy, growing, beautiful baby. Why would I see them as anything less? I stopped caring that my house wasn’t perfect, that my bank account wasn’t overflowing, that I didn’t have my once sporty-body, that I couldn’t keep up in CrossFit, and that I wouldn’t have “PhD” tacked onto the end of my name within a few years. Our life now was about this new little life and waiting to look into her eyes for the first time.

It’s funny how in life we often make our own plans and set goals believing that “If I only had ______ or achieved ______ ,” I would be happy and feel complete. And yet, when it was all taken away and I didn’t have a choice, my life became most complete, filled with awe, adventure, wonder, spontaneity, faith, and love. I no longer fought the changes but instead welcomed them, searched their boundaries, stood in awe of their mystery, explored the unknown, and trusted in my Heavenly Father who promises provision for His children. Often my hands go to my tummy (have you ever noticed this with pregnant ladies?) rubbing the sides just a little as if cradling and cuddling my baby, and my eyes fill with tears—no longer tears of fear, but tears of complete joy and love. My little family is what matters now and creating a life of beauty for my little girl.

Tucker has been incredible in this journey, right from the start. He’s been loving, thoughtful, helpful, and faithful along the way—without him I wouldn’t have made it this far. Our family and friends, we couldn’t thank enough. And to our pastor, parents, and mentors, your encouragement, example, strength, and support led us to fight through, keep our heads high, and connect with the Lord in a way we’ve never experienced.

And to our little baby daughter, you are our sunshine. You changed our lives in the most beautiful and unexpected ways. Mommy and Daddy can’t wait to hear your laughter, pick you up, cuddle you, and see you smile. We can’t wait to feel your little fingers wrap around one of ours in a warm embrace. We know there are difficult days ahead of long sleepiness nights and frustrations, but know that we love you more, and have already fought hard for you, through our fears and stretched beyond what we thought we could bear, and we aren’t giving up now or ever. And, as much as we don’t wish to see you in pain or disappointed in this life, we know that in those moments we find our true strength, are able to push out our idols, and press on to faith, hope, and love. Tali, we love you and will see you soon.