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

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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 responciblity–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.

 

 

 

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

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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 I smile– I have always had a very self-critical eye when it comes to looking in that mirror.

During my high school and college years, I struggled deeply with depression and a dangerous combination of anorexia and bulimia. This lasted seven long years, and left a lasting impression.

While I am now free from the physical manifestation of my eating disorder (Praise Jesus!), old habits, as they say, die hard; it is difficult not to revert back into those former patterns of thinking. Especially now.

Especially now, because my body is changing quite a lot lately, and it seems as if everyone who sees me feels the need to make comments about it.

Especially now, because I’m pregnant. 

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My growing belly is a welcoming landmark for seemingly harmless comments to be tossed carelessly and amiably at me, a sensitive soul to begin with, but even more so due to those lovely pregnancy hormones.

So this is a letter to my acquaintances who naively believe your comments about my body to be of no consequence during this very fragile and challenging time in my life before motherhood:

Dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well,

Not all of you may consider yourselves to be “older”, but you are all older than I am. Not all of you have even been pregnant, but if you have, it’s been a good while. I assume this, because you probably have forgotten what a very vulnerable and emotional time pregnancy is– otherwise I do not believe you would say the things you do.

Some of you I see almost daily, or at least every week or so, and I might even call you my friends. Yet, I know you must not know me well, for you would not speak as you do if you truly knew me.

And yes, you are always a woman.

So, dear older, non-pregnant woman who doesn’t know me well, please listen and learn from an emotional pregnant woman who is being deeply wounded by your careless comments.

Listen. For the sake of any other woman who has struggled with body-image, which statistically is about every woman you see around you.

When I’m 18 weeks along, please don’t inform me that most women don’t even look pregnant at 18 weeks. Please, resist that urge to be the first to tell me that I must be carrying twins, because when I find out that there is only one baby in there, I’ll remember your comments about how big I am, and even though I try not to, I will feel shame creeping over me.

When you haven’t seen me in a few weeks, please don’t tell me I’m carrying the baby in my hips and butt. I don’t know many women who want to hear that they have gained noticeable weight in these areas of their body, and I am not any different.

And besides, what do you expect me to say to that comment? “Why thank you. I’m so glad you noticed that my backside is expanding– I thought no one ever would!”?

Not likely.

When you ask me what type of birth I want, please don’t scoff and tell me what you did instead, implying that it was a better or easier decision. Please don’t discourage me from a natural birth that would benefit the health of my baby and empower me as a woman and mother. Please don’t assume my expectations are unrealistic. Let me figure that out for myself, or let my very experienced and qualified midwife tell me.

When I reach for another helping of pizza, don’t look at me sideways and then exclaim, “oh right, I guess you’re eating for two now”, implying that otherwise it would not be okay to eat as much as I am eating.

When you curiously ask me what pregnancy symptoms I’m experiencing, please do not tell me it’s odd I’m still getting morning sickness, or that you had energy all the way through your second trimester, or that you’ve never heard of round ligament pain “so early along”. It doesn’t feel good to have someone evaluate the worst of my pregnancy symptoms and articulate the strangeness or normalcy of each of them in comparison to another’s experience. Besides, you telling me that it’s strange to have acid reflux during pregnancy won’t make mine go away. 

When you see me drinking coffee, don’t assume I have not been informed about the dangers of caffeine during the first trimester. For all you know, I am trying to live off of a cup a week, and this is my designated time to enjoy a latte.

And when you ask me how I’m feeling and I respond “tired”, because most people forget that growing a human is rather exhausting work, please don’t tell me to “get my sleep now”, implying that I do not have the privilege of being worn out without a crying hungry baby waking me up in the middle of the night.

Please don’t tell me my face looks fat. Don’t tell me my boobs look bigger. Don’t tell me I am “skinny pregnant”. Don’t tell me I look larger than I should.

Don’t try to scare me with birth horror stories. Don’t only speak of the hardships of motherhood. Don’t force your own observations or “insight” about how it will be when my particular baby comes into the world.

Just don’t.

Instead, smile and listen and tell me I look like a healthy and glowing pregnant woman, or better yet, don’t make any comments about my appearance at all! 

I know I could suck it up and deal with it. I’ve come a long way since my eating disorder, and I’ve gotten good at shaking things off and not placing so much of my self-worth into how I look.

But I need to tell you that your comments do sting. I just need to.

Because, the thing is, I believe you say all of these things–these comments about weight and pregnancy symptoms, and crying babies, and epidurals, and lack of sleep–I believe you say all of those things because you are excited that I too am now going through this experience of pregnancy, and soon, motherhood, and because I think it probably makes you think back to your own experience.

And this probably makes you say some things you might not otherwise. 

I am trying to assume the best and be strong.

But I cannot lie. Sometimes those comments land at exactly the wrong time. When I’m exhausted, hormonal, feeling useless and scared and huge and disgusting. When I wonder if I’ll ever be able to do ab exercises on my back again or if I’ll get stretch marks during my third trimester, or if my swim suit will fit this week, if I’ll be good at being a mom, or if my husband is telling the truth when he says I still look attractive.

It’s so hard for me to fight off negative self-talk, self-doubt, and body-shaming thoughts during times like this.

 

So, dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well, although you may think I am being overly sensitive and although you may be right, I urge you to remember, or at least try to understand how tender the heart is during this fragile time of pregnancy.

And if you were one of those super-woman confident feminist mammas who worked full time up until week 40, never got morning sickness or pregnancy acne, and who hardly took other people’s comments seriously, please consider that I may be a bit different than you.

Be kind. Be considerate. Be gentle. Don’t just say whatever you’re thinking.

Dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well, I hope you will listen. And I hope this helps you know me better.

With love,

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

One Word 2016

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“If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can probably think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five…”

These words can be found on the now wildly popular One Word Website.  And oh, how true they are. This time of year seems to be the time for a litany of imperfections to be perfected and a throng of promises to be made commonly titled as “New Year’s Resolutions.

At the gym I work at, we have an expectation that the Monday after January 1st will be crowded with people who have vowed to “get their life back together” by coming to cycle classes and pumping iron in the weight room. My boss tells us to be ready for the New Years crowd, but we all know that that crowd will disperse by mid-February.

And so it seems to be the case with other new years focus on problematic areas in need of correction.

Workout regimes fall to the wayside, diets are broken, cuss words are spoken, and those pictures we told ourselves we’d finally take or put into photo albums remain caught behind lenses or just not taken at all. It seems that the juggling act of trying to improve different parts of our already messy and chaotic lives is just too hard. How can we stay consistent with self-improvement when our focus is split into fractured pieces– our work life, our love life, our families, our personal fitness goals, our dreams, our desires for a better “me”?– it seems impossible to focus on all of it!

The idea behind Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen’s “One Word” philosophy is that we can do something about one thing this year instead of nothing about everything. They encourage you to boil it down to just one single word, to move beyond the cycle of long lists of changes you want to make that never get tackled.

“This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future.-myoneword.org

I was first introduced to this idea by one of my best friends, who told me that God always gave her a word that He used to teach her through each year. I thought I felt God using specific words to teach me as well, but I never formally chose one single word to keep my thoughts tethered to during these lessons.

Finally, I was encouraged by another friend to actually pick my “one word” last year, and, although I don’t think I lived it out perfectly, it was helpful to have one theme to keep coming back to  throughout 2015.

My one word last year was “Slow”, which came, unknowingly at the time, during a year that would prove to be chaotic, shifting and a complete whirl-wind.

Having to keep coming back to the word “Slow” kept me grounded during times of change, patient during times of waiting, and calm during times when I normally would have lost my head.

This one word reminded me to breathe when I wanted to just walk out of my classroom full of students and never go back. It kept me patient when our heater wasn’t working in subzero weather and when water leaked all over the floor, pulling up the tile and making it impossible to walk anywhere without slipping or getting a shoe-full of dirty water.

This one word kept me from making hasty decisions when we were house-hunting, and kept me silent when I normally would have exploded with frustration at husband’s and my disagreements.

It kept me patient and plodding along as I trained for my second marathon, restless to race through a long trek that was going to take more out of me than I expected.

This one word kept me from jumping to conclusions when misunderstandings with family and friends arose. It kept me patient and prayerful when I got the letter in the mail that I was no longer employed by CPS, and it kept me hopeful and trusting when I still didn’t have a position number or a paycheck as 109 students met me in my classroom on the first day of school.

“Slow” kept me restful when I was sick and itching to get out of bed and get back to work.

It kept me patient with myself and determined when I was so depressed that I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning to go to a job that I hated.

“Slow” kept me patient with myself during the ongoing transition into working with my husband at a job I had no idea how to do. It kept me calm during times when I felt frustrated with my lack of progress, reminding me that this might be a slow process, and that it was more than okay.

“Slow” also showed me areas in my faith walk that I had skipped over, impatient to grow in places where God had not yet given in the increase for lack of my quiet and calm attention. He scaled me back with “Slow” so I could be nursed in areas I needed to mature in, a slow process that I couldn’t rush through no matter how determined or strong-willed I was.

I’m not saying I did it perfectly– there were plenty of times I flew off the handle and was completely out of control when I should have been slow and calm, as my husband, friends, and students will be quick to tell you– but this word “Slow” helped me keep it together more than I normally would during a year when I needed to rest, have patience, refrain from rushing into decisions, be extremely calm, and have painstaking endurance.

“Slow” permeated into all areas of my life– my personal life, my relationships, my work, the forming– or rather, the unraveling– of my identity, my faith walk, and even my health.

And so this year I trust that the word God is giving me will be perfectly designed to get me through 2016, even if I do not live it out perfectly.

As this new year was approaching I began to ask God what word He wanted me to focus on. Over and over again I kept hearing one word repeated to me, but I didn’t want to listen. You see, it was sort of a scary word for me, and I was hoping that it might be something else. 

But as I scanned my journals, BSF lecture notes, written prayers, and even the songs I had been listening and dancing in worship to, I knew that this was the word He was giving me.

 My one word for this year is “Surrender”.

Is there a more important word in the life of a Christ follower? But even more personally, is there a more important word in the life of a control-freak, type-A, worrier like myself?

I think not.

And so, as I look towards the year ahead, there are definitely some big decisions, plans, and changes coming along down the road. And I’m going to need to surrender all of them to God. 

This doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything about anything or have no part to play in what happens. It just means that I will take every thought, decision, action, and plan captive to Christ Jesus, and be obedient to Him and Him alone. It means letting go of expectation and preference so that I am I indifferent to any choice that is not Jesus-approved. Surrendering my plans, my dreams, my body, my mind, my desires, and my plan to Him and allowing God to really take control of where I end up.

Hm. Sounds a lot like what it means to follow Jesus doesn’t it? I should probably have been doing this already…

But to have a whole year to focus on simply surrendering… is a little scary because it requires complete trust in what I cannot plainly see. (That’s what faith is isn’t it?)

I remember when I first became a Christian about 6 years ago, laying in bed imagining what my life would be like, and God clearly spoke to me saying, “Claire, your life is not going to be anything like what you can dream up right now.”

I still believe that is true today, and that no matter how many times I envision the future, my life is not going to be like anything I can imagine.

And so far, that has proved to be true.

The thing that makes it less scary is that I wouldn’t change it for the world. So I guess I can trust Him, can’t I?

I know I have little hope of living out a long list of resolutions that I might want to make– get up every morning at 5:30am, workout everyday, get certified in 6 different fitness formats, master html and photoshop, open up an online store….. I could go on.

But I can do my very best, with God’s help, at living out one word to the best of my ability, and to allow it to permeate all areas of my life.

And with a word like “Surrender”, I guess I have no choice but to let it control everything I’ve got.

What’s your “one word” for 2016? I’d love to read about what word you’re going to live out this year!

On Pouring Into Others: a privileged girl and a dying man

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This sign hangs in my little make-shift office that is in reality just a corner of my dining room blocked off by bookcases and a paneled screen.

I often look at this sign as a reminder that I need to take care of myself SO that I can take care of others. “Put on your own oxygen mask first”. But today I am wondering to myself if I use this as a justifier.

How do we know if we are really pouring into others? 

I get up at around 5:45am and have my quiet time with God. I eat some zucchini bread with some coffee while reading and journaling out my prayers. I do my p90X workout at 7am, then clean the kitchen until about 8, then work on some marketing projects for our family business. Around 9:30 I step out of my little oasis, my safe-haven of a home, and rush off to the Kroc Center to teach my weekly PiYo class.

On the way I see people. I see a man sleeping on the sidewalk near a gas station, a tarp covering him. I see women walking with their children all bundled up, trying to catch the bus on this blustery cold day. I see men with cardboard signs making their way to the busy intersections near the highway, trying to gain the sympathy of passer-bys.

I teach the class to about 8 participants and we have a great workout and prayer time after; specific prayer is requested for our neighborhoods that are riddled with gang violence. After that, I drive home, get out of the car, and I see my neighbor. I yell his name and he immediately turns directions to come towards me.

(I’ll call him Leo, but it’s not his real name.) Leo lives in a little house across the street from me– lived there for a long time. Leo is about 45 years old, but he looks over 60. Leo is dying of lung cancer.

He’s completely drunk, as usual, but I stand with him by the curb and listen to him talk for a good half hour, making sure he’s not in the street when cars drive by. I don’t really know what to say or how to help him and it makes me feel helpless.

His mind wanders, and he keeps talking, but I’m not sure about what. The alcohol is making him slurr his words and the man has only a few teeth left, so it’s hard to understand him. I recognize the hurt in his voice. I have no idea what he’s going through right now– to know that he’s dying and to know that he could have prevented it–but I can imagine.

I can imagine and it brings tears to my eyes. He tells me they will take him to the hospital soon, but until then he keeps staying with friends and family because he doesn’t want to stop breathing in his sleep and lay alone in his house until someone finds him. He wants to be found by friends. This is where I start to cry.

He reflects on his children. His wife. He hopes he can kiss her again in heaven. He tells me in one breath that he is so angry at himself for doing this to himself, and then in the next that he has no regrets and that he’s happier than he could hope to be.

He smells like cigarettes and liquor, and I wonder if he will remember this conversation. I hope he will remember the hug, the warm smile in the bitter cold wind, the patience with which I try to listen to him. I hope… I wish he would surrender this habit of cigarettes and booze. I wish he would try to live out the rest of his short life in sober consciousness, with intentionality and dignity. I wish he knew something other than drunkenness and a chemical high.

I wish I could encourage him to change now, to let him know that it’s never too late… but… it is too late, isn’t it? He’s going to die. Soon. What would I do? Would I change? If there no hope for a future improved by my choices? Would I even try?

I suddenly want to leave, and I feel so guilty for it. But it’s cold and my ears are starting to go numb, and I really can’t understand a lot of what Leo is saying. Still, I listen intently. This conversation is making me so sad and I can’t do anything about it. But he seems comforted just talking to me, so I stay and I listen, and I pray…

Lord, please give me the words you would have me speak.

Nothing.

Lord, please show me what I should do.

Nothing.

Lord, work through me so that I can help this man.

Nothing.

What the heck? God, why can’t you use me here? I’m right with him! I can do something, can’t I?

But God didn’t have anything else for me to do. There was nothing of myself that I could pour into Leo. There was nothing I could change in him. There was nothing I could say to make it better. My cup, regardless of whether it was full or not, was seemingly not pouring into any of the people around me who seemed so desperately to need filling.

And even now I ask myself, why? Why couldn’t I have helped? Why couldn’t I have done something?

I think the answer is a little more simpler than I usually like: I am incapable.

I don’t really know if Leo simply needed someone to talk to, or if there was something that he needed to hear in that moment. All I know is that I didn’t do any “pouring into”. All I did was listen to him speak, simultaneously listening to the quiet sound of my heart breaking.

I go inside my warm home with quaint decor and a clean kitchen, with two cats sleeping on the chairs and reminders to “do all things with love” on the walls. I feel utterly guilty for having what I have, living how I live, and owning what I own.

I only hate my own privilege when I can’t seem to use it to help someone who doesn’t have it.

My cup– if we’re going with this whole metaphor thing still– feels completely drained dry after my interaction with Leo. I’m emotionally exhausted, guilt-stricken, and heartbroken for my neighbor, and for this community at large.

“It is not selfish to refill your own cup so that you can pour into others. It’s not just a luxury. It is essential.”

But to refill my cup would, in fact, seem selfish–like a luxury. In fact, most of what I did today– the quiet time, breakfast, workout, job, cleaning, and marketing work– it all seems like luxury compared to what I see when I look outside at this dark and hopeless part of the city that I’ve now been calling home for the past 3 years of my life.

“Put on your own oxygen mask first!”

–I’ve been told to do this, but it doesn’t seem right. Not when people are sleeping on sidewalks and sleeping at friend’s houses because they might die in their sleep.

No it doesn’t seem right when there are people in need everywhere and when it’s really hard to know if helping is helping or if helping is hurting… a lot of things seems pointless and stupid when looking at the heartbreak that surrounds me.

This world isn’t fair. I believe that this outrages God more than it could even outrage us.

And I believe that God loves Leo and the homeless man at the gas station and the bundled up mommas and their little sweet babies and the men standing at the intersections with signs. He also loves the drivers who pass them by and the ones who roll down their window to toss them some change. He even loves the helpless white girl who doesn’t know what to say to a dying man.

This world is dark, riddled with guilt, and it’s so sad. But the beautiful thing is that God’s cup never runs dry, and he continues to pour it out in the form of Christ’s blood. It doesn’t always look like I think it should look, at least not on this broken side of eternity.

But it’s like Leo said to me today, “Oh I believe it’s going to be much better after death Miss Claire. I do. I just don’t know what it will hold, and that’s what scares me, but I believe it’s going to be better than this…I do believe that…”

I do too Leo. I believe it will be a time and a place where all of our cups will runneth over.