To Feed Another: a Journey Towards Wholeness

img_5066.jpg

Feeding myself has been a journey.

I think about this as I watch my little girl grasp a steamed string bean in her hands, fervently cutting her new little shards of teeth on the limp pod.

On March 8th at 12:32 am, I became the one person who could feed this child a concoction that was designed by the Almighty and my own body—specifically for her. Before then, my responsibility in providing nourishment for my daughter consisted of me feeding myself well, something which I continue to do, so that the milk which flows from my breast to her tongue will be sufficient in helping her to thrive.

But this—this feeding myself well—it hasn’t always been so easy or important to me, even in the recent past.

I often think of my eating disorder and how it successfully passed from my mother to me, and the potential reasons why it did so, because I am determined that it will stop with me.

There are probably a lot of control issues behind this level of determined thinking that I need to be conscious of. But it is good that I be mindful about how I am feeding myself and how I am feeding my daughter, and also, how I am feeding myself in front of my daughter.

I first began distressing about feeding my daughter on the second night she was alive. Technically it was the first night, since she was born shortly after midnight, but after fifty hours (yes—five, zero) of labor, and three and half hours of pushing, I had not slept in three days and so technicalities escaped me. My husband, who had also not slept much or eaten a real meal in a few days, lay knocked out on the family bed at the birth center’s recovery room. I meanwhile, tried my hardest to latch Esther’s mouth onto my nipple every 12 minutes, in fear that neither of us were “doing it right”. The lactation consultant had not been by, and I attempted to remember what I had learned in the breastfeeding class I had attended a few weeks prior.

I remember looking down at my cracked and bleeding nipple and at my squirming newborn’s hungry mouth and thinking, “Am I really the only one who can do this right now?”

In that question were housed a multitude of doubts, and not simply the exhausted frustrations of a brand new mother at 3am.

They were doubts about my own ability not just to learn the tricky art of breastfeeding my particular baby, but about whether or not I could really feed another human being, and do it well.

Food. Sustenance. Nourishment. It is essential to life. The food we eat or do not eat determines of much of our health and wellbeing.

Perhaps the “normal” mother is not intimidated, much less frightened by this task of feeding. Perhaps it is my history with food that makes this responsibility so terrifying, which sends me spinning into questioning my capability to do any of this.

Doubts plague me—doubts about whether I, a formally bulimic and anorexic girl who got pregnant, had to deal with all kinds of people coming up to her, touching her belly and commenting on how “big you’re getting”, who lost all her modesty in the delivery room, and who is now dealing with a crap-ton of postpartum hormones—whether I can really do this thing called “being a mom”.

Mostly because “being a mom” means I’ve got to feed my kid. And I only just learned how to feed myself.

But then again, Perhaps the “normal” mother, regardless of how well or poor she has fed herself in the past, or how much she struggles with insecurities or how many doubts she has about her capabilities…perhaps every mom feels this pressure: the pressure to nourish; the pressure to sustain; the pressure to feed.

Perhaps I am just as “normal” as everyone else.

I decided I wanted to breastfeed my baby well before she was even conceived.

Oh, I did my research, and I knew that it was the healthiest option. Also, my husband and I were in agreement that I would stay at home with our kids, so I wouldn’t have to worry about pumping while at work or some of the other challenges that sometimes lead mothers to choose formula over the breast. I had read articles, books, blogs, and testimonials, and I was pretty sure I would be that “crunchy mama” with the cloth diapers, baby carriers, and avidly breastfeeding until well after most kiddos are weaned.

But, I’m not going to lie; the simplicity behind breastfeeding is also what attracted me to it.

No mixing and warming up bottles in the middle of the night, no spending hard earned money on formula, no forgetting to bring enough milk for a trip out of town. As long as my baby was with me, my breasts would be there, ready to supply all of their nutritional needs.

            It’s beautiful.

I realize now, that breastfeeding is not always so simple.

Many women struggle to develop a good latch. Some have trouble maintaining an adequate milk supply. Others get plugged milk ducts and mastitis, or even thrush. These things could happen to me too, and they could be difficult. I learned this as I browsed “What to Expect When Your Expecting” while 30 weeks pregnant, and at the breastfeeding class I took at the birth center where I would deliver Esther a few weeks later.

And while these challenges scared me a little, I still wanted to do it—to breastfeed my baby. The pros greatly outweighed the potential cons, and I knew that this commitment to breastfeed would be the first of many decisions I would make about feeding my little one once I finally brought her into the outside world and out of that cocoon of coziness she was wrapped in, germinating for 41 weeks and a day inside of me.

And on that exhausting night in March, when the thunder and lightning raged, the wind blew, America celebrated women, and Jews celebrated Purim, I met the one I would be saddled with feeding. I met my daughter.

I remember how she looked against the bright lights as my midwife and my husband handed her up over to me. I remember Dennis exclaiming, “It’s a girl!” as he cut the cord and I kissed her head on my sweaty and bare chest.

I remember saying to her, “Hi baby, I’m your mommy.”

And when they finally left us alone as a family, after they cleaned me up and I had stopped shaking, I remember pulling that little unnamed baby close, and feeling her mouth grope for my breast, as they were already leaking the golden colostrum that was designed especially for her.

Getting the hang of breastfeeding Esther came in stages for me.

First, it was just getting over the sore nipples and engorgement. Then it was fretting about my forceful letdown, which left Esther sputtering and me spraying milk at whatever happened to be a foot in front of me at the time. Then it was regulating my oversupply while still staying comfortable, which involved pumping at least four ounces of milk first thing in the morning.

By five months, I finally felt confident.

…And then a month later we started solid food with her.

Quickly, it became clear that feeding my child would no longer be as simple as pulling her to my breast. No. Now there were bibs and sticky messes and baby spoons and packing pureed goop into glass jars next to ice packs.

Suddenly, I was reading all the labels and spending evenings blending large batches of whole foods and freezing them into ice cube trays. Suddenly I was worried about whether Esther was getting enough zinc, or protein, or—as my little one just battled some crazy constipation—fiber.

IMG_5242

I lament at the amount of time and preparation this all takes.

And I think back to when I first learned to feed myself well, or rather, when I began my process of learning to do so.

I remember the intentionality with which I packed my lunches when I first committed to recovery from my anorexia and bulimia. They had to have the right kind of nutrients: enough “healthy fats”, as my dietitian called them, and each of them had to contain the correct serving size of each food group, and enough calories.

At an age when most people were living off of late night pizza and beer (college-aged), I was learning to feed myself.

Now, I’ve been recovered from that seven-year-long disease for four years. But I still have to deal with the root issues as battles in my brain.

Now, Esther doesn’t eat many baby purees, and we’ve embraced the simpler yet messier task of baby-led-weaning (BLW). But I still read labels and plan out her nutrition intentionally.

And every day I’m faced with the pressure of feeding. Feeding myself, feeding my husband, and feeding my daughter.

I do the grocery shopping. I do the meal preparation. I eat, and what I eat goes into producing the milk my daughter eats. I fill the sippy-cups with water and prune juice. I cook the dinners. The snacks I buy are what we end up pulling out at 9pm when we’re watching The Newsroom and our little one is sound asleep in her crib.

How did slowly learning to feed my own self well suddenly turn into being crowned “Queen of Feeding”?

IMG_5241

We will have more kids. And I will be in charge of what they eat.

I will feed my tribe.

This sinks in slowly over the months, like tea seeps into hot water in a steaming mug. Like I slowly conquered breastfeeding, my milk supply leveling out as I finally stopped leaking milk through all of my shirts. And I suppose that’s how it has been: gradually and with grace, until I’m ready to sustain. I have become this source of nourishment slowly, and it still is a process.

The anxiety about feeding lessens as the days pass. As avocados are sliced and coffee is brewed and I scrub sweet potato off of the dining room floor. As my child weans herself and I grow into my motherhood and food begins to taste different without the pressure of the very new.

And I remember the first time I ate ice cream after anorexia without wanting to empty myself clean. And how soon it isn’t painful anymore.

I want to teach my daughter that eating is good, and food is an adventure, and if it ever starts to feel hard, that I know how it is, and that I got through it by the grace of God and His determination to make me whole.

Feeding myself has been a journey. 

Feeding my daughter has been a journey.

And I am walking closely to grace as I teeter past these milestones and menus and meals, eating whole foods and whole pints of ice cream like I’ve always known I was capable of once I became whole.

Advertisements

Sufficient for Me: a hard word for 2018

IMG_0243

This month is a weird month for me.

This time last year I was finishing up the last of my Bradley birthing classes, rubbing cocoa butter on my stretch marks, and doing crazy amounts of walking and squatting as to attempt to induce labor.

My little girl is 11 months now, and we are a month away (obviously) from celebrating her first birthday.

Cue emotional sobbing about the swift passage of time.

Milestones such as this one that is about to occur are a chance to reflect on the year past. However, I will save my motherhood lessons until next month when my little Esther will actually be 12 months.

For today, I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold (yes, I know people usually do this in January, but I’m different and slow, so deal with it).

For those who used to read my previous blog (The Art of Breath), and this post (yes, all five of you), you know that God usually gives me one word to focus on throughout the year. This word was usually given to me in September because, up until fairly recently, I was either a student or a teacher for whom the new school year was usually the best time for start fresh with a new focus. But somewhere between quitting my job and having a baby, the word “Journey” was my word for like a year and a half. This January, The Lord released me from that particular word, although not it’s lessons, and gave me a new one.

That word is Grace.

Grace is one of those words that has a very different meaning depending on who you ask. A dancer might say it is elegance with which movement is executed. A young boy might tell you it’s the short prayer he says with head bowed and eyes closed before he is allowed to dig in. A landlord might think of the period in which she allows for her renters to get away with being late on their payments when the term “grace” is used.

But my word of “Grace” for this year of 2018 refers to the unmerited favor of God, and then my responsibility to extend forgiveness to others based upon my state of such gracious love. Grace, for me, encompasses so much–forgiveness, freely giving without expectation, long-suffering, forbearance, seeing God’s blessing in and among trials, and choosing to bless others when it’s hard.

This word might sound precious and sweet, and oh, it is! But it is also a hard word.

There are some people I need to show grace to (forgive), people who really do not deserve it, or even know that they have hurt me or continue to do so.

There are some situations I have to walk though gracefully, choosing to experience God’s blessing, even though it seems like there is no good that can come from such circumstances.

There is gracious service to give, and the call to not expect anything back in return– not even a “thank you”.

There is the task of letting go of my own ambitions goals and expectations for myself and to receive grace in each disappointing let down that comes this year.

I began this post by writing that I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold. This is not exactly true. Because in all honesty, I do not want to do these things that grace requires. They are not exactly fun to work on and sometimes seem to be bitter pills to swallow in the name of no immediate recognition. And when I’m merely thinking in terms of this world, rather than eternity, I really just want to toss this new word out the window and pick a word that fits with what the selfish person inside me really wants 2018 to hold.

And then I am reminded of hose verses that Shane & Shane put to my current favorite song.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “…’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And I know that it is the weakness in me that cringes at this grace-word, and all it means for me. Not just for this year, but also for the lessons I will learn and carry with me into the next year, and years to come.

And I am reminded too, of the whole point of each “one word” for the year. It is not so I can focus myself on what I would like the coming year to hold. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. The whole point of each one word is to submit to what God wants to do with me and in me for this period of time.

But it is not I who have to worry about producing enough grace to accomplish all of these things–the forgiving, the serving, the walking through trials, the patience, the loving till it hurts. No.

His Word says that it is His grace that is sufficient for me. His mercies are fresh every morning, new and tailored for the particular day, which I am always ill equipped and ill prepared for. His power is perfected in my weakness because it makes me lean on Him fully, rather than relying on myself.

And so I start this February out–because, yes, I’m a little late on the New Years Resolutions, and also because this is not so much a resolution as an acknowledgment of God’s work–with this beautiful, hard, complex, and scary word. A grace-filled word. A word chalk-full of potential and freedom and life. I start this season–because I don’t really know if God will release me from it after a neat little calendar year–with this word:

Grace. 

His one word is sufficient for me.

Stuff That Lasts

I used to have a poverty mentality when it came to stuff. Like, physical stuff. The poverty mentality is one which decides that more stuff for less money is better because, well, you get more. It’s about the quantity of stuff (food, clothes, gum balls– whatever), not necessarily the quality.

But after one too many “BOGO” sales at Walmart and Rue21, clipping coupons for processed food that I knew wasn’t healthy for me, and that I would never buy unless I had a coupon, as well as after the 10 Hanger Project, I realized that cheap stuff doesn’t usually last.

It was a few years ago that I started to think of my wardrobe as a year-round capsule, with some very seasonal pieces here and there I could stow away for the winter or summer (think shorts and bulky sweaters). With this in mind, I decided to invest in a few very nice, and quality pieces, which I usually got secondhand via consignment stores, eBay, or Thredup. I’m talking things like a pair of J Brand skinny jeans, my Matt & Nat saddlebag, and this super versatile Market & Spruce navy blazer that I’m wearing now. This worked wonders for my tendency to shop for clothes, because I was very specific about what I needed (read: wanted) and would be willing to spend money on.

I started to apply this principal to other items too. Baby products were a go-to, since my little girl is just under 11 months, and most first-time mothers research the heck out of their baby products. But I also tried to think about it with kitchen utensils, household cleaning tools, home decor, and even food.

(Note: With food, think of it as what will make a lasting difference on your health or on your experience of the food, not so much about the quantity or expiration date. Organic chicken has less hormones that will screw up your system, for example, so it might be worth it to spend the extra cash. But that tray of Fanny Bay oysters with butter sauce and $18 glass of Chardonnay may not add to your health, but is worth the splurge when you and your hubby are celebrating your 10th wedding anniversary because you will always remember it and smile. That kind of lasting.)

I’m finding that if I’m careful about researching the quality and functionality of a product, whether an item of clothing or a kitchen gadget, I’m more likely to appreciate it, and also take good care of it. In addition to it simply being of higher quality and lasting longer, my care and pride in these things also make them last.

This is a good lesson to learn. The Tripp Trap high chair my daughter sits in at breakfast will probably be used by all of our kids. My long sleeve wool black dress will likely be a staple in my closet for years to come. Even our stainless steel water bottles will no doubt help us save money for as long as my husband can keep track of them 😉

But even these heavily-researched, quality-made, price-compared, and highly-functional items do not fall into the category of “stuff that lasts”.

Tee shirts get holes. Evens ones from Banana Republic. Sheets get stained. Even ones with good reviews and high thread counts. Purses wear out. Even ones that go with every outfit and fit all of your “essentials”. And while I don’t think there is much wrong with hunting for the few quality items that will make your wardrobe functional and fashionable, or that will help you be more sustainable in your cooking and lunch-packing, I cannot deny that for me, it is easy to get swept away by these seemingly lasting things, which are, in all reality, completely temporary.

They are temporary not simply because they all will get holes, stains, or wear and tear. They are temporary because this entire world is passing away. Even your kids are temporary. Even your best friend or your spouse or your mom is temporary. Even you are temporary.

Here’s where this post takes a turn, people.

“So we do not loose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing fur us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

As a follower of Jesus, part of my job while I’m here on this temporal earth is to stare at the unseen–the eternal– to not become blinded by the transient. And, if I’m honest, I spend far too much time looking at temporary things. My heart, on the surface level, loves things that don’t last. There is always something immediate and attractive that keeps me from anticipating heaven, and all of those unseen things that are little tastes of what is to come.

God has used many things to get me to be smarter about what I spend my money on, and choose to own. For ethical reasons, like: who made it and how were they treated? For practical reasons, like: am I really going to wear that enough to justify the amount on the price tag? But the world still tempts to distract my wandering heart, even in this noble call to minimalism.

I am reminded that spending hours price-comparing a purse that I don’t actually need is not saving me anything, and is actually hindering me from being of use for the spread of God’s Kingdom. Being prideful about the fact that all of the furniture in my home was purchased used or given to us as gifts does nothing to prepare me for my future home in heaven. Researching and reading reviews of the safest and most versatile baby carrier might help me rest easy when I wear my daughter out and about, but it does nothing to foster those invisible Fruits of the Spirit that will help me rest easy in the gracious arms of Jesus.

My point is, even being prudent and wise and a minimalist can make a girl take her focus off of the real point of this life. This time we spend here on earth is merely a blip on the frequency of eternity, and none of our capsule wardrobes, safe carseats, or eco coffee mugs will matter one we get to heaven and see our Savior’s face.

Temporary things don’t matter as much in light of eternity. Peter says that a person can become “so nearsighted that he is blind” (2 Peter 1:8). We are capable of getting so focused on temporary things that we become blind to the things that actually matter. A mouse infestation can make us forget about our future inheritance, eternal security, and the grace that God promises to pour out for us for all eternity. We quickly loose the joy of our salvation and future glory because of a grape juice stain on the carpet. We become focused on the here and now. And it’s not that we shouldn’t pay any attention to the issues that surround us, what we choose to spend money on, or how we choose to do life with our families and friends, but we need to look at all of these things with an eternal lens.

At any moment, I am going to be taken into a new existence. I will not care at all about some of the things I currently obsess with.

So while I’ll probably still be very choosey about what I hang in my closet, and I’ll likely still invest in grass-fed beef over the cheaper tubes they sell at my local grocery store, I will remember that these things are not a part of that category of “stuff that lasts”, and I will fix my heart, my treasure, and my eyes on what truly is. The invisible stuff. The God stuff. The real stuff that lasts.

Begin Again

I’ve done it again.

The thing I vowed to never do and the thing I knew was oh-so wrong, even as I found myself doing it.

My husband has left the house for a few hours to cool off and I sit alone shame-faced, tear-smeared, and utterly disappointed in myself.

Not but four days ago I remember writing in my journal how I was giving up being negative for the month of September. And now I am eating those written words like a bitter pill.

I screwed up… again.

I silently wish over and over that I could do tonight all over, to not be critical, to hold my tongue, to pray instead of voice my disapproval in such a nasty and disrespectful tone of voice…

Oh God, could I just start over? Please?

And it’s not until now that I remember the words of St. Benedict: “Always we begin again.” And I think about what it means, in my faith, to be born again.

So often I want the development of my character (and the character of others) to be a neat and tidy process. I want to look back and see a steady progression into a better person, more self-controlled, patient… (I could keep going).

But all too often I look at my journey and I see a tangle of stuff– good things and bad growing up together. One stupid habit abolished only to be replaced with another one, equally as detrimental. I see plateaus and back-slides and screw up after screw up– the same ones over and over again!

If I look at the world, I don’t often see much grace for this kind of messy progress or lack of improvement. If I look into myself, I don’t always see hope, especially when I’m here–sitting on the couch waiting for my husband to come home so I can apologize once again for being the way I don’t ever want to be.

But I do see hope in those words.

Always we begin again.

And I think of the way life is.

How trees say goodbye to their own leaves each fall, and how they start from scratch come spring.

How each January the first, most of the world makes promises and vows that are oddly similar to last year’s.

How, in the beginning, children need you oh-so badly, and then they grow to leave you and be needed by their own little ones.

How even though I’ve been born already, 28 years ago to my then 28-year-old mother, I was born into a different kind of life at age 20–a life that is now reminding me of my need for a kind of grace which I cannot get from the world at large.

Always we begin again.

I see that supernatural grace in the eyes of my husband, who knows Jesus, when he holds me once again. I see it when I wake up in the morning with the permission to be different, to “put on” the woman I know I can be despite the woman I was last night. I see it when I forgive my parents for the things I’ve vowed to do differently for my daughter. When I let my upstairs neighbor borrow my vacuum for the sixth time this week and patiently explain how to use the new washing machine (I’ve lost count of the number of times).

I see it in God’s love– a love like a kid loves a raggedy old stuffed doll to pieces. And I know that I am that ragged little doll. And I know He loves the stuffing out of me. It makes no sense. And that’s why it’s grace.

And I know that I must give myself this love-grace too. Otherwise, I don’t think I am ever really able to begin again.

So tonight I’m starting over. And when I screw up in this same way a few days, weeks, or months down the road, I will breathe deep, let go, and I will begin again.

Always.

Mommy-Jeans: wearing the motherhood I want to wear, and wearing it well

I wake up to the sound of her babbling in the next room. Lately she has been fascinated by blowing raspberries with her lips. I briefly wonder why they call it that– blowing raspberries– as I look at the clock.

5:30am.

I lay in bed for another five minutes, praying that she goes back to sleep for another two hours, but I know better. I don’t even bother looking at my husband; I know he’s sound asleep, the lack of those ever-hearing “mom ears” keeping his sleep peaceful and uninterrupted. I try not to be jealous.

Something happens to me as I pull on jeans and a zip hoodie over my ever-trusty and completely over-worn nursing tank: I become Mommy again.

I tip-toe out of the bedroom and swing the door open into her’s, switching on the lights as I do. My sluggish and exhausted body is no longer acting sluggish or exhausted. I am Mommy. And so I energetically sing our morning song to the little 6-month-old girl who is giving me the best open-mouthed grin I could possibly hope to wake up to.

“It’s time to rise and shine and give God the glory! Rise and shine and give Him the glory! Rise and shine and give God the glory! Give Him all our praise!” 

For the next two-ish hours before her morning nap, I am Mommy. And when I say that I become Mommy, I don’t mean that I wasn’t a mother before I got out of bed. But lately I have been thinking about my motherhood as something that I put on like clothing–a new pair of jeans that need breaking in as well as some time to clean up in the wash, and to give my stretch-marked tummy some room to breathe once in a while.

This allows me to be more intentional with my motherhood; thinking about what kind of Mommy I want to be. One that responds in the way she feels at 5:30am when she was up three times during the night and really just wishes her husband would get up with the baby and let her sleep in a little, or one that chooses joy and sings the morning song even before the coffee’s on or hair is brushed?

One that looks in the mirror and reverts back to old wounds, wishing these birthing scars would disappear, or one that chooses to see beauty and life across the abdomen that stretched to become a home for this incredible little child that now sits on the hip, curiously reaching for this and that?

One that looks back longingly at the life she used to have of staying up late, spending hours training for marathons, drinking coffee all day long, and working long hours out of the home, or one that lets go of the things that used to formulate her identity so she can embrace a new responsiblity–rather, the best opportunity– to become another’s whole world for a period of time?

I know myself.

I know that if I get too cozy in my motherhood, I become lazy, disillusioned, bitter, and I forget what’s important to the Mommy I know I need to be.

But if I step into motherhood–the motherhood that I want to give to my daughter–I wear it so much more gracefully.

I become better able to deny my selfishness, to embrace imperfection, and to choose joy, even when it’s hard.

And when this motherhood I wear gets tired, frayed at the edges, and a little dirtied by grass stains or spit-up, I can peal it off for a little while, for the sake of my sanity and my family, and rest while those Mommy-jeans get cleaned up.

How can I peal off my motherhood?

By arranging for my husband to wake up with the baby so I can run three miles at the local park. By taking nap time to journal with a cup of tea, or try out a new paleo recipe I’ve been wanting to make. By asking a friend to watch the kid while I grab some groceries at Mariano’s, and take my time browsing while sipping a fresh-squeezed drink from the juice-bar. By going to MOPS and BSF, and taking care of my husband, and coaching praise dance, and getting together with friends, and by just being myself, who is more than “just a stay-at-home-mommy”.

Pealing off motherhood means you need a break every so often. It means you can rest while God scrubs up the kind of motherhood He wants you to wear. It means that He sanctifies and fortifies your role as a mother so that you can be the Mommy who sings in the morning and laughs at the bow-out diapers and knows that no matter how hard it is to run errends in between naptimes, that life is so much more full and excellent now that there is this beautiful new person in the world that you get to be “Mommy” to.

It’s 8:30am now, and baby girl is yawning, and rooting around to nurse and fall asleep. I have worn my motherhood well this morning, despite my exhaustion– praise God! And as I lay her down in her crib, noise machine going and her belly full of breastmilk, I tip-toe out of that bright, patient, energized, and positive motherhood, and I fall into the arms of Jesus.

Like a dirty pair of jeans, He washes “Mommy” up, while Claire rests in the presence of her Strength and Hope…and maybe a bubble bath. I know in about an hour and a half, I’ll have to put on that motherhood again, and I know it will be ready and waiting for me, clean and fresh and replenished as only it can be when I leave it to The Lord.

It’s a new thing–this Mommy role– and I want to wear it well always. But I know I cannot possibly do it alone.

 

 

What Minimalism Isn’t (to me)

It’s been about a year now since I began my minimalist journey– or rather, my wannabe-minimalist journey. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff, mostly clothes, and I’ve reworked a lot of my schedule to reflect a more simplified … Continue reading

A Letter from a Self-Conscious, Sensitive, Formally Anorexic, First-Time Pregnant Mother

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t at least a little self-conscious about my body. Whether it was my hair, my skin, how big my thighs were, how small my breasts are, or the puffiness of my face when … Continue reading

“So what do you do?”: on work, Millennials, and identity

identity

It’s been well over a year now. I haven’t been a CPS teacher since June of 2015. It seems almost impossible, when I think of that young idealistic teacher setting her sights on her newly decorated classroom, nervously awaiting the first wave of Freshman to enter in and take their seats.

That girl was going to change the world. Despite all odds, she was going to stick with it and be strong. This was what she was made to do.

… Okay, so maybe I never really felt like that. But that’s what you think you feel when you’re a newly graduated education major about to become educator. You just assume that stereo-typical, overly-idealistic, “Freedom-Writers“-esque attitude that may or may not be around at the end of the first semester. You just do. Because, if you don’t, it is way too easy to admit that you’re discouraged already and are hoping and praying no one notices that you have no idea what you’re doing. And also because, every other young new-hire in urban education acts like they feel this way, so, I mean, what real choice do you have? So you convince yourself that you are going to change the world, one student at a time, and you put on your game face and you assume this attitude as who you are.

What a mistake I made in doing this. 

Because three years later, when I find myself utterly hating my job and myself, and feeling completely ineffective and drained, I decide it’s time for teaching and me to part ways. Yes, it’s only been three years. But I’ve been in romantic relationships for less time than that before I realized it wasn’t meant to be either. So, there.

But now that I am no longer Hilary Swank, the dedicated teacher who is willing to give up her entire personal life in order to reach the “unteachable”, who am I? And why did I place my identity in such a fragile place as a 22-year-old hoping for the best in a toxic work environment with little to no resources or support?

I don’t think I am alone in this. I hope not. Because then this blog post is solely for my own benefit, which I guess is fine…

The Millennial generation, of which I am a part of, often gets a bad rap for being socially inept, obscenely selfish, and unable to hold down a job for more than a few years, much less have a successful longstanding career. Now, believe me, I could write an entire blog post on why I think this reputation has come about, and my response to it, but I’ll save that for another time.

I will say though, that after being laid off every single year I worked as a public school teacher, I was only able to successfully be rehired each time (sometimes the only rehire in the entire school), by working long hours, volunteering to lead professional development, obtaining outstanding evaluations, and sufficiently increasing my student’s test scores. I was able to successfully make myself invaluable to my Principal and co-workers, and I hardly think I could have been rehired each year without some level of social skills, strong work ethic, and an inexhaustible desire to keep my position. Just sayin’.

But the reason I mention the whole Millennial thing is because I think this reputation (specifically about the job/career piece) stems more from the changing times than from a character flaw spreading across the entire generation–which oddly includes 19-year-olds all the way to 39-year-olds.

According to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker today will stay at one job for an average of only 4.4 years. And according to a recent survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers, 91% of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for even less than that: three years. This means that most men and women of this age group will have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their entire working lives. But this is due more to things like an unstable economy and technology replacing workers than to an entire generation of fickle people who can’t make up their mind about what they want to do with their lives… which is sort of how I feel, but which I don’t think is the norm.

This intrigues me for a number of reasons:

  • 1.) I have found that many people’s response to my 3-year “career” as a teacher is mixed. Upon examination of the different reactions, many people within my generational age group (20-something Millennials), seem to totally get it, while the majority of retired people (of the Baby Boomer generation) seem to view my short-lived career as puzzling, even if they act extremely polite about it all.
  • 2.) I have always been told that job instability on a resume could cost one a future job. From what I understand, “chronic job-hoppers” are often screened out, and recruiters instead seek prospective employees who seem to offer longevity.
  • 3.) From my limited experience, and from a bit of research, the average person gains a sense of identity from their work. The question we almost always ask a new acquaintance at a party is “so what do you do?”, meaning not “what hobbies do you have that make you happy?”, or”what do you like to do for fun?”, or even “what is your mission in life?”. No, this question invariably means “what is your job?”, which places a lot of importance on what we choose to do to make a living, rather than how we choose to live. I find this interesting coming from a generation that will ultimately answer this question of “what do you do?”, 15-20 different ways throughout their working life.

Okay so, that’s the end of the statistics and research part of this post. Back to the point.

I have been mulling over this whole  “identity thing” for a while now– really, ever since I quit my job last year. What are the elements that go into shaping who we are, and how is who we are perceived differently by different people, and do those different perceptions impact our identity?

As a Christian, I often remind myself that my identity is in Christ. However, I believe that God made each of His children to have unique characteristics and purpose, despite our commonality of contentment with our lives through His will. I know that I personally have discovered more of my true identity as I draw nearer to God, which I have done quite a lot since last year. So, although I know that my mission is the same as other Christ-followers in helping to bring God’s Kingdom here on earth, I know that God has equipped me to do this in a way that is true to my identity, and which will not be the same as every other Christian.

As a Millennial who has accepted the fact that job-hopping is probably unavoidably in my future, I am seeking ways to define myself verbally to others so that more of myself is revealed rather than simply what my job happens to be at that particular time. I know I am viewed differently now that I do no answer the question “so, what do you do?” with “I’m a High School teacher in the inner city”, although I do not think the core of who I truly am has changed much at all. How one makes money at a particular season in life, is not always an accurate reflection on who they are.

All this is rather complicated. And I find that it is made further complex by this new season in life that I now find myself approaching currently.

You see, I found out in June that I am pregnant. And since then I have had this vacillating sense of what this means about my identity, as if the other stuff wasn’t enough to think about.

Don’t get me wrong! I am extremely happy and utterly ecstatic about this news! The baby was planned, and my husband and I are over-the-moon-excited. This is what we want. And yet, it’s difficult to imagine, or rather, realize, that my identity is now shifting due to another living being occupying my body. Already, this little creature is impacting who I am–what I eat, what I (don’t) drink, how often I eat, sleep, and pee, and what limitations my body has, even down to what positions I can comfortably sleep! These things are also not who I am, but I’m sure they effect other’s perception of me, and I know I personally am starting to see myself differently: as not simply a woman or even a wife, but as a mother.

Side note: this is totally the first time we will be sharing this news publicly online (for those that actually read this far), so please forgive the lack of cute announcement photos or “bump pics”– that’s just not our thing.

Upon reflection of the loss of my “career” as a teacher, the realization that my elder Baby Boomer friends and relatives  probably won’t fully understand the generation I was born into, and this growing child inside me, slowly becoming more and more a reality that impacts the way I do life, I guess the question I am really wrestling with is this: how do I apply a minimalist ideology to my ever-shifting and complex identity?

We live in a world where who we are is presented in so many public ways. To some extent, we can even control the public perception of ourselves by way of facebook, linkedin, “about me” sections in blogs, and other social media outlets. And sometimes these things do truly reflect our true selves. But I believe it also over-simplifies our identity. Which makes me wonder if having a minimalist approach to defining my identity is even realistic or possible.

Perhaps this continuous exploring, changing, and figuring out of one’s identity is simply a part of our work as people living in a complex and changing world. Perhaps finding our calling is more about finding the common thread in our motivation for life rather than what our work entails in the moment–public school teacher, fitness instructor, or stay-at-home-mom. Perhaps it’s less about saying nice phrases like, “my identity is in Jesus” and more about figuring out how God made us, so we can understand what that truly looks like in real life.

So when someone asks me that question, “so, what do you do?”, I think I’ll respond with something, well, not so minimal. Something like,

What do I do? I wake up every morning praying that I can figure out who I am so that I can live the way I will be most successful at bringing knowledge of Jesus Christ into people’s hearts. I try to eat healthy so that my baby can grow strong and develop good eyesight and a taste for a variety of foods, while at the same time, making sure I don’t throw up at Praise Dance rehearsal. I blog, but not as often as I would like, because I’m trying to balance sleeping 8-9 hours a day and helping my husband with his career, which often means hardcore napping, but also filming random auditions or promo videos at moment’s notice, or faxing in music contracts or mailing out posters in time for upcoming shows. I thought I was going to be a teacher for my whole life, but now I’m content with teaching fitness classes and preparing to be a stay-at-home mom in the not-so-distant future, and maybe homeschooling our kids–who knows!? I hang out at Starbucks and work on my book, I make color-coded lists and meal plans in my passion planner, I do my BSF lesson every morning, I go to MOPS on Tuesday mornings, and recently I started swimming laps since I can’t run while I’m pregnant. I do a lot of stuff, actually, and hopefully some of those things will give you an idea about who I am. But mostly, I just hope that you can be courageous enough to know that your identity is not always defined by what you do, especially what you do for a living, because it’s taken me a while to come to this conclusion, and I’m still shedding so much of who I thought I was in order to see who I truly am. 

But…that’s not really my initial idea of a “minimalist answer”. However, I do think it’s probably more genuine in reflecting my thoughts and feelings towards the question. And who knows? Maybe it will let people know what I actually do.

That was the question in the first place, right?

5 Ways to be a Minimalist on your Smartphone

Today’s technology is incredible. We can communicate so easily and share ideas, photos, videos, and art with countless people via the internet, social media, or even just email or text messaging. That said, our smartphones can be powerful tools in … Continue reading

Am I really Enough?: Living life on the verge of doubt and learning to dive in deep anyway

“Shame is all about fear. We’re afraid that people won’t like us if they know the truth about how we are, where we’re from, what we believe, how much we’re struggling, or, believe it or not, how wonderful we are … Continue reading