What Mothers Give

They did a May Crowning at my daughters’ school today.  It was a bit of an emotional experience for me because my oldest was doing her first reading at a Mass and my youngest was strapped to me struggling to breathe with pneumonia and May Crownings just in general bring tears to my eyes.

I stood in the back the whole Mass hoping not to get close to anyone so as not to pass on our germs, and as I stood there, rocking Tessie, the 2nd graders all lined up in their First Communion outfits, and the eighth graders walked two by two up to the statue of Mary and placed flowers in a vase.

Meanwhile Magoo was up there with the choir singing quite a few of the songs I used to sing to her as I was feeding her during those first few precious months of my motherhood.

And I started to think about how much being a mother requires of us.  I *had* to be at that Mass.  I could not miss her doing her reading.  She needed me there.  Not because I was going to mouth the words to her or was going to be her courage when she got intimidated.  But because we belong to each other.  Because I am the face in the crowd that she searches for when things get exciting or scary or new.  And because nothing could be a greater honor than to be that person and nothing could be of greater importance than to live up to that honor.  To be there.  To show up.

And then I looked down at the sick little one strapped to my chest.  I thought of the responsibility I have to her.  I thought about how my arms are the only ones that will do when she is upset.  I thought about how she might not understand a single word I say, but that we communicate seamlessly through affection and familiarity.  I thought of how my body produces antibodies to actually fight off her illness for her.  She needed me.

And I have four of these little people.  Four people that I have such a huge responsibility towards, and then I looked up and saw the kids placing flowers at Mary’s feet, and I realized that she, too, was a mother.  That the most celebrated fully human being in human history is celebrated because of the very fact that she was a mother.  That she played that role.  That she ushered in that grace.

Things are changing in the world these days.  Definitions are being changed and expanded and morphed.  Roles that were once prized are scoffed at and roles never before imagined are becoming commonplace.

And at the center of all of this is the role of women and of mothers.  We are told time and again that women can be more than just mothers.  That we don’t have to be limited to it.  That we don’t have to be tied to it.  That it’s not a responsibility we need to accept if it is given us.  That we can be more.

There’s a whole lot there that can cause so much division among so many.  And the last thing I am prepared to do right now and right here is to jump right into the middle of that.  But what I would like to say, what I feel I need to say, is that motherhood matters.

Being a mom is important.

Being a mom isn’t a “just” thing even if it’s not the only thing.

Being a mom isn’t a lowering of oneself.  It isn’t a step back from the world.  It isn’t a resignation.

It’s not a rock we are tied to that will sink us down into the deep even as it is a responsibility we are tethered to for the rest of our lives.

It might be our primary responsibility.  It might be one responsibility among many competing ones.  It may be where we find our greatest joy or where we find our greatest stress.  Or it may be both.  Or it may be all.

But whatever role motherhood plays in our lives and whatever role it plays in our days, it matters, and it matters deeply.

And so I might be sitting there, laughing at the absurdity of having to be almost everything to so many different people.  But the gift of motherhood is in the giving.  It’s in the pouring out of ourselves into the lives and the hearts of others.  It’s in saying, “yes.  This is the most all encompassing and intensive role we could possibly play, but we are up to the challenge, and we will give our whole selves to it.”

We live in a world that wants to make things easy.  That believes we are owed the easiest path of least resistance.  That believes suffering should always be alleviated and that it never can have a greater good.  It believes that we look out for ourselves first and give our own needs precedence.

But then moms come along, and we turn all that on its head.  We say that to give to others is our greatest joy.  To center our lives around other people’s dreams is what can give our own dreams meaning.  And we say that it can be hard, really hard, but the struggle is worth it, and it will forge us, hopefully one day, into human beings who are worthy of the title mom.

I hope this doesn’t come across as saying there is one type of mother because that is not what I am saying.  This has nothing to do with whether a mom stays home or works, whether she home schools or boarding schools.  It’s not about the individual choices she makes for herself or her family, and it’s not about sacrificing her own sense of self.

Instead it’s just about that gift all moms give.  The one thing that unites us regardless of the paths we choose.

This self giving love is our gift to the world.  It’s our example to this world.  And as we saw in a small village working class woman two thousand years ago, it can be how we live on through eternity.

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Word of the Year: Home (Hygge)

So every year, I pick a word of the year.  While it has taken me over four months to write about this word, it has been “home” (or hygge for any Norwegians out there) since the beginning of the year.

It’s a lot different from the words I chose in years past.  Usually I choose a word that describes how I want to approach things or a motivational saying to help guide my decisions.  But when I kept trying to think of the perfect word, this is the only one that fit.

I thought back to a few years ago, shortly after we moved into our house, when we went for three months without any income.  It was awesomely fun with three kids at the time.

Yea, obviously it wasn’t awesome, but honestly, there was a lot that I learned – I learned about trust and faith and peace.  But the most important thing I learned was how to feel like what I have is enough.

I’ve always had big eyes – I see things and I want them.  Concepts like minimalism never came easy to me.  But then during those months when we had no income, I realized that we really didn’t need very much at all.  As long as my kids had food in their bellies, school to nourish their hearts and their minds, a safe home to live in, and us, then they had all they rally need.  I had all I really needed.

And it’s a lesson that stuck.  It hasn’t been often since then that I have bought things I didn’t need or very seriously desire.  It’s been great!

So I guess you could say that I learned to find abundance in very little.  And one place that I found that abundance was in my home.

It’s not big.  It’s not fancy.  We have one bathroom for six people.  (Barely civilized, I know!)  But it’s ours.  And it’s safe.  And thus far there haven’t been any mass rodent invasions.

I think people think I’m silly when I talk about how much I love the place that I live.  But I really and honestly do.  I love the crown molding.  I love the floor trim that is all different sizes because it was installed and added to and replaced over the course of 137 years.  I love that the trim around the windows is different sizes and that the windows upstairs were apparently put in so that people could lay flat on the floor and see out the windows.

I love that our basement used to be a cellar and that Mae’s room is some sort of old sitting room and that there aren’t enough closets because there simply weren’t a lot of closets a century ago.

I guess you could say that I love sitting here and thinking about all the people and lifestyles and decisions that went into making this little quirky place what it is.

And so today, when I found myself with absolutely zero energy or motivation to do anything, I started to feel a bit bad.  Here I had this home that really does feel like home for my family, and I simply could not convince myself to do the laundry and the dishes and vacuum – all simple enough things that would have just made it that much more comfortable for my family.  All those little things that are important to me and that basically make up much of the day of a mom to multiple littles.

I started to get lost and a little depressed, and I decided that it was time to focus again on my word of the year — home.  Instead of trying to make it perfect, I just wanted to remind myself of the little places of loveliness.  The places that bring me delight.  The parts that wrap my girls in a warm hug.

And so I thought perhaps I would bake some fresh bread so that the scent could waft through the house.  And then I laughed because who was I kidding – burnt dough does not smell good.

And so instead I went out to a couple of thrift stores and I searched for the perfect little thing to make me smile.  And for far less than $20 I found a few.

I thought today that I would share some of these with you as well as some other parts of my home that make me happy.

And then I throw it back to you – what makes you smile in your house?  What makes you feel at home?  What parts are you proud to share with your kids?  I would love to hear or see pictures.

A few of my tangible, material loves.

I love fresh flowers

Especially fresh picked ones.

And I love anything hand knit or crocheted or handmade.  Especially if it’s in an unexpected place.  We have a serious yarn obsession.

And I love lace.  I’m hoping to make some doilies for my living room walls soon.

My kids like decorating too.  They take my hygge spaces and put stickers all over them.  Or notebook paper with words.  Go figure.

And I like just random pretty things.

And of course there can’t be home without books in every nook, cranny, and basket.

And finally, I’m a mom.  So perhaps my favorite places are those places decorated by my girls by hand.  Goosie made this for my window about a year ago.  I love how it catches the light, and I just can’t convince myself to take it down.

Well, that’s about it.  Like I said, it’s not big and fancy.  But these are some of the little parts that help me live my word of the year, and help me feel glad knowing I’m giving my family a comfortable and nurturing place to call home.

Sometimes soon, I’ll write about some of the non tangible ways I try to bring a spirit of comfort and inspiration and hygge to our home.

And this daytime post, of course, is brought to you by all sorts of naughtiness when I wasn’t looking…

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Photo Shoot Anxiety

I’m nervous y’all.  And you can tell I’m nervous because I always use the phrase “y’all” when I’m nervous even though I’ve never lived further south than the Chicago suburbs.

But I have people coming over to take my picture tonight for a magazine blurb.  They call it a “photo shoot”.  I call it “people coming over to my house to take a picture” because it’s way less scary sounding.

I used to write about veggies and getting my kids to try to new ones for a local farm’s website a couple of years ago.  Apparently this makes me a “foodie mom,” and I’m going to be in an article about such.

This is pretty exciting.  It’s not something that happens every day.  And yet I am so scared because there are a few things that scare me:

  1.  Getting my picture taken
  2. People coming over to accomplish something when my children are all awake.
  3. Feeling out of control.  And this is making me feel really out of control.

Arguably, I don’t need to have my whole house spotless.  They are just coming to take my picture in the kitchen.  But this is currently my living room.  While it has been worse, this is way more than my nerves can handle today.  (Notice that mic children occasionally like adding to our decor by writing words on pieces of notebook paper and hanging them on the wall with scotch tape.  We are super classy.)

I used to have serious home anxiety.  I would get so nervous whenever anyone would come over.  My mind would race and I would be terrified that something would be out of place.  Unfortunately, what often happens when we have that much anxiety about something is that we work and work and work to make things perfect until something inside of us snaps and then we give up and chaos ensues.  Oh the pictures I could show of those days!

Not a fun place to be.

And so I learned to let go.  I learned to let things be “good enough.”  I learned that perfect houses and little children don’t mix.  I learned that the less we try to be perfect, the better we become.

And I finally realized that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of my house.  It doesn’t matter if people like the decor or the furniture arrangement or the fact that nearly every single item in my home has some word or phrase on it.  (Hey, some of us love words.)

It doesn’t matter if other people’s homes are bigger or cleaner or fancier or trendier.  Or anything really.  All that matters is that it’s my home and it shelters and comforts my children and my husband and myself.  And that it nourishes us.  And is our refuge.

And I really do believe that.  It’s not just something I’m saying to make myself feel better.

So why am I terrified of someone coming over to take a picture of me in it?

I guess it’s just the joy of human insecurities.

And the fact that my kitchen floor currently looks like this.

And that we decorate with paper leprechauns made in kindergarten and achievement shields made in preschool.

Oh well.  I’ll survive.  I just wish I was someone who could relax with a glass of wine afterwards.  I totally would, but alcohol makes me dizzy and anxious, and so the thought of celebrating an anxious situation with wine would be a bit counter productive.

Oh well.  I’m going spend the rest of the day trying to remind myself that trying to impress people with my home is silly.  That all I need to be is me.

And then I’m going to go clean up that mess on my kitchen floor!

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Let Your Light Shine

I wrote a few weeks ago that I was having difficulty with the idea of blogging.  I was letting all of the negative comments get to me.   Some of these comments were written, but most of them never actually existed out there in the wild.  They were inside me, in my head.  They were the criticisms that I assumed people were silently thinking about me in their heads.

It’s hard to counter invisible made up criticisms.  After all, they could be saying anything!

I started thing blog about five years ago I believe.  I wasn’t exactly sure why I was blogging.  I’ve just always felt a call to write (literally from my earliest days,) and I felt that maybe it was time I listened.  I didn’t know if anyone would read it.  I didn’t know why anyone would possible want to read it, and I felt rather foolish.

But still I started.

In the beginning, I wrote about random things.  I tried to write daily.  I tried networking with other bloggers, and I tried doing all of their challenges and tried getting immersed in the blogosphere.

Most of it felt forced.  Besides the writing, I didn’t enjoy it much.  And it reminded me of why I quit my job in advertising all of those years ago — I hate selling stuff to people, most especially my own self.

But luckily I kept at it.

Well, I can’t really say I kept at it because that implies some sort of conscious choice.  Really I kept writing because it’s what I do.  And when I don’t do it, I don’t work well.  My brain doesn’t work well, my heart doesn’t work well, and my life doesn’t work well.

I don’t write because I think I have something that the world needs to hear.  I write, quite frankly, because I have things I need to say.

As I continued on this journey, I started to realize that writing was helping me to become me.

I have a very odd version of germophobia – I don’t worry about getting people sick or washing germs from myself.  I worry about infecting others with invisible germs.  Both actual germs as well as metaphorical ones.

In short, left to my own devices, I would spend my days trying not to touch the world.  Trying to make sure that none of me gets out there because surely any part of me touching the world would just taint it, infect it, make it less than.

You can probably see then how writing is the exact opposite of this.  Not only am I being in the world, but I am pushing myself out into the world.  And not just my physical presence, but the essence of me, who I am.  What I think and what I aspire to me.

I am taking the single most authentic pieces of myself and I am sending them out there.

And I’m hoping people read them.

Maybe that’s the craziest part.

The great thing about stepping out of your comfort zone, however, is that the more you take the risks, the more you realize that you were meant for those risks.  Taking the risks doesn’t take something away from you — it moves you closer to who you are and what you were meant to offer the world.

There have been some failures while writing.  I’ve written things that make me cringe afterwards.  I tried to enter the inner circle of blogging communities only to realize that either they didn’t like me or there wasn’t any room for anyone else.

But there have also been successes.  I’ve had some pieces be read by over ten thousand people, and I’ve had the opportunity to write for publications that have inspired me over the years and that have made me want to grow.

And I’ve had people tell me I’ve helped them.  I’ve had people tell me I’ve given them different perspectives.  I’ve had people tell me that they see themselves in my writing.  I’ve had people tell me that I make their journeys less lonely.  And I had a man once tell me that he decided not to commit suicide one night because of something I wrote.

I’m not writing all of this to brag.  I’m not writing this because I think highly of myself or what I do.  (If you know me, you know it’s more accurately the opposite of that.)

I’m writing it to remind myself — writing might be emotionally hard.  It’s psychologically risky.  It’s emotionally risky.  And yet, it’s important.

I try to hide those things.  I tell myself, who am I to write my ideas?  Who am I to make myself heard?

But then the other side chimes in and says, “but who am I not to?”  Who am I to take the one thing in the entire world that seems to come easily to me and hide it out of fear?

We all have gifts and we all have parts of ourselves that we are meant to share with the world.  And there’s nothing scarier than actually sharing these parts of ourselves.

But what if we all abstained for that reason?  What if we all took our passions and hid them?  If no one let themselves and their lights shine?

What a dark and dreary and dismal place this world would be!

And so as I end this rambling, rather self-indulgent blog post, I ask you all – what is it that you excel at?  What comes easily for you?  What makes your heart sing?  What makes you feel alive and alert and inspired?

And how can you take that and shine it throughout the world?  Or at least throughout your own world?

I’ll always wonder if I’m good enough.  If I’m making a fool of myself.  If I should just keep my words to myself.  And I can think of probably a dozen reasons why all that negativity is true.  But in my heart, I know that this is what I was meant to do even if it only reaches one other soul.

I’m not going to hide myself.  I made that promise to myself a couple of years ago, and I guess it’s time to live up to that challenge.

Even when it’s hard.  Even when it’s scary.  And even if I really don’t feel up to the challenge.

And by the way, these words are brought to you by CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters and Matthew Kelly’s Resisting Happiness.  I’ve been reading them over the past couple of weeks, and they have helped me find the courage to do what it is that I want to do.

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The Hard Days

So I had an ear infection, and I believe I blew out my ear drum.  I can’t hear much.  

I think I could imagine that such an experience could be peaceful – a brief respite from the noise and chaos of everyday life.

That’s not how it feels.  

It feels really scary.

I feel like I’ve been sitting here in my own world, still a part of everything but watching it more from a distance.  I can hear and I can talk, but I feel like there’s a veil up, and I can’t quite touch the world.  I can’t reach beyond it to anyone else.  Everyone is a hare’s breath away.  

And when you are talking about isolation, a hare’s breath might as well be a continent.

I’ve been really sad lately.  And anxious.  

There’s no reason really.  Nothing horrible has happened.  Everyone is still standing.

I think perhaps it has been the stress of the last few months, and possibly most of all the acute stress during January.

I’ve come down from it; the adrenaline has lowered.  But now in its wake, I don’t know what to cling to or where to turn.

I need security.  I need to know what is solid and what can stand and what will be there and what can surround me.  I don’t know how to go out into the world without that.

And I feel like the last few months have shaken that.

You come so close to losing so much, and you can’t go back to how things were.  You sometimes can’t even find yourself in the wreckage.

And so I’m sitting here in my silence, and I can’t distract myself with a million thoughts or conversations.  Even the words I speak to myself in my head are muted by the ringing in my ears.

So instead of being able to talk myself into the light, I find myself sort of stuck in the sadness.

And I know it will pass.  So will the doubts and fears and insecurities and the onslaught of criticisms I shoot at myself.  For awhile at least.

But for tonight they stay.

I didn’t ask for this.  For TJ’s illness or for the fear or the terror or the uncertainty.  Or the anxiety of the OCD or the depression.  Or even for the ear infection.

And sometimes that makes me mad.  I didn’t sign up for this.  I don’t want it.  Take it away.

But I know that’s silly.  We don’t sign up for our struggles.  But they are our greatest teachers.  They are what will soften our edges until we emerge a better person.  They are the inevitability of life.

But sometimes I still rage against them.  They still overwhelm me.  And I still feel they have taken too much from me.

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An Honest Answer to an Honest Question

Goosie was cuddled up to me yesterday.  She looked over my shoulder and saw on my screen a picture of a young boy, probably only a year or two old, who was suffering from severe malnutrition.  I could see her looking at the screen, and I could see her eyes trying to make sense of it.

Finally, she asked me, “what is that?”  When I responded that it was a child, she asked me if he was real.  It was an honest question.  The boy’s features were so contorted from dehydration that it made his features appear slightly off from human.

Then she asked me why he didn’t have enough food.

I could have told her that people in some parts of the world don’t have access to food.

I could have told her that droughts and other natural disasters can wipe out food supplies.

I could have told her that wars displace people from their homes and their ready access to nutrition.

But all of those answers sounded paltry when she could look over and see my bowl of leftovers.  When she could recall what she had eaten that day and she couldn’t recall any time in her life when she had been truly hungry.  When she can clearly see that while we don’t have it all, we sure have an awful lot, especially when compared to those with the least.

She could have asked me, why do we have when others have not?

And I guess I never could have actually answered that question because I don’t have the answer myself.  That’s a big question and involves a lot more than a single person or small group of people could control.

But there’s another question that we are all accountable to.  That question is, “what are we doing about it?’

This question feels like an indictment to me.  After all, I like thinking that I’m a good person.  I help people.  I teach my children what I believe they need to know.  I pray.  I don’t steal or kill or act violently towards people.

But what am I doing for the least of these?  The lost?  The forgotten?  The left behind?

Don’t get me wrong.  I do some, and I do enough to make me feel like I’m doing something.  But am I doing enough?  Am I doing enough to stand in front of that question and confidently give my answer?

No I’m not.

That question will be asked of me again when I come to the other end of this life.  I have the rest of my days to compose a better answer.  I have the rest of my days to live an answer that won’t embarrass me in front of my girls.

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Post Trauma Fun

So it has been just over two months since TJ was admitted to the hospital.

Two months since I saw him lying on the floor after collapsing at Urgent Care.  Two months since I followed the ambulance wondering what was taking them so long to leave – worrying that he had had a stroke or a heart attack in the ambulance.

It’s been two months since I heard the phrase, “septic shock” and spent an entire night staring at monitors willing his blood pressure up.  Two months since I first saw the inside of an ICU.  Two months since I heard “guarded condition” and “not stabilized” and “central line,” and “your husband is really, really sick.”

It’s been over two months since that evening I paced the hospital in the middle of the night praying “Hail Mary” after “Hail Mary” asking Mary to intercede for him and for God to do what I simply could not.  Two months since I worried about having to shatter the worlds of my girls should the worst happen.  Two months since I called our priest for Anointing of the Sick.  Just in case…

Two months is a long time.  You would think by now the things would be back to normal.  Even though he isn’t completely healed, you would think that the psychological wounds that we incurred while he was battling his physical wounds would have healed.

After all, shouldn’t a spirit be easier to heal than a leg?  Especially one that has been that wounded?

Well I don’t know about normal, but for me, two months isn’t enough.

TJ made it up the stairs last night to sleep for the first night since the night before his hospitalization.  He told me he was going to try to make it up there, and my heart started to pound.  I wasn’t worried about him going up there; I was remembering back to that night in January.  The night when everything was perfectly fine… right before it wasn’t.

Last week I passed the hospital he was at – a hospital I pass many times a week.  But the time of day and the blinking yellow lights and perhaps something about the traffic pattern brought me back to those nights when I would race to the hospital after giving the girls dinner.  The memories made it difficult to breathe as I felt the fear that would overwhelm me as I would pull into the hospital in anticipation of the ICU nurse’s report.

Then there was the day I saw all of the ambulance’s flashing lights approaching the Urgent Care where he was picked up.  I had to push those thoughts out of my head in order to feel safe enough in the world to drop my children off at school, to let them out of my sight.

And I have dreams.  Last week, I had a dream that I heard a thud coming from the kitchen, and even in the dream I didn’t need to wonder what it was.  I heard the sound, and I knew that it was TJ having passed out again.  In the dream though, it was the worst case scenario that happened, and I didn’t even need to look to confirm it.  Luckily I was able to will myself awake and back to reality.  But reality didn’t seem a whole lot safer.

But it’s not all bad.  Wounds can leave behind strength when they heal.

These days when I see an ambulance race by, I say a prayer and I feel a kinship with those involved.  I know what it’s like to face down one of your worst nightmares.  I know the loneliness that washes over you as you wake up in uncertainty and go to bed in a world where your one and only partner isn’t totally present.

I don’t want to know those things.  I don’t want to feel those kinships.  But I do, and so I’m given an opportunity to make the best of that.  Any time we understand people better and feelings better, we can be a stronger force for companionship in this world.

I’m not asking for help here.  I’m not saying my world is falling apart.  Words are just the only way I know how to make sense of the world.  And the last couple of months haven’t made much sense to me at all.

One day I pray it will again.  One day I hope I will feel safe.  One day I won’t feel a hare’s breath from disaster.

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The Worlds Kids Open for Us

I used to live in a fairly large world.  I lived in a couple of large cities.  I went to college and grad school.  I worked for one of the major advertising firms in the world.  I volunteered and had friends.  I read a lot and I taught at multiple different colleges.

It seemed as if all of the possibilities in all of the world were open for me.  The world, as they say, was my oyster.

Now I stay home with my four girls.  I write, but I don’t have a formal, full time job.  All my volunteer work is done for organizations that my girls are a part of.  I still read frequently but not nearly as much as I used to.  I live in a tiny suburb far away from the nearest city, and most all of my driving is done between my home and three different locations.

My world, looking at it, is pretty small.  I have a lot of responsibilities that tie me to my current situation and prohibit me from exploring too far outside of my family.

That’s on the outside.  That’s what the world sees.

But for me, my life has never seemed richer, and my world has never seemed so large.

My oldest, Magoo, just started gymnastics a few months ago.  She loves it.  (And by loves it, I mean she would probably choose it over me if given the ultimatum.)  She has her first showcase today.  She was so excited, and she was so nervous.  And we spent two hours in the gym watching her and her closest four or five dozen friends do cartwheels and round offs and swing around on the bar.

When it was over and she had received her participation ribbon, she came and sat by me.  Her eyes were shining.  Her legs wouldn’t stop kicking back and forth.  Her smile was as wide as they come.

She gave me the smile she reserves for only me during big events in her life.  The one that’s almost a secret code between the two of us.  The one that is our inside story.

She told me she had been so nervous during the first two events.  She wasn’t used to so many eyes on her.  She said she relaxed after that.  She told me it was the most fun she had had in ages.  She loved that it was at night.  She loved that it was looooong.  She loved that people were watching.  And she loved her new leotard.

And I can’t help but sit back and look at this glorious gift that this life and these girls are.  That parenthood is in general.

The glory in parenting is about seeing the world open for your child.  It’s about watching them step a toe out into the world and realizing that it is fun and safe and that they can stand out in that world on their own two feet.  It’s about watching them realize that there doesn’t always need to be a line between them and us, that sometimes we can become a part of something great if we want to.  That we don’t need to be afraid.

It’s about the way our hearts break in the best of ways when we see the innocence in our children meet up in a harsh world and realize that sometimes the innocence wins and the world stays safe and their smiles are guarded for the time being.

My world might seem smaller now than it used to.  The me of twenty years ago might have actually thought that days like this would be boring.

She doesn’t know a lot though.

My world has never been larger or more beautiful.

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Blogging is Scary

I used to love blogging.  It used to be my lifeline.  I used to get almost a high from writing my feelings and thoughts out and sharing them with people.  For me, it was a lesson in existing.  It helped me realize that my opinions were valid and that the world wouldn’t shatter if I shared them.

It was liberating.

Lately though, it hasn’t felt like that.  Lately I’ve been really anxious for a day or two after I publish a post.  All I can think of is all of the readers out there taking my words and analyzing them and rejecting them.

See there’s this nasty thing about writers — we have almost a compulsion to share our words and ideas and yet we are often way more sensitive to criticism and rejection than your average person.  It’s a tough place to be.

And obviously our current climate doesn’t help anything.  A climate where everyone is sitting there waiting to jump on someone for expressing any opinion that differs from theirs.  A world where we no longer prioritize respect and we strive to gain respect by demonizing the other side.

It’s ugly.  It’s all so ugly.  And writing makes me feel like I’m smack dab in the middle of it.

A few years ago I followed a well-known blog that I loved.  I looked forward to reading what the writer had to say and the glimpses into her life that she offered.  But then slowly she stopped.  Instead of posting her thoughts, she was just posting recipes and reviews and random pictures of her life.

Eventually she came on and wrote about how she stepped back because she couldn’t stand the stress of the rejection and the criticism.  At the time I thought it was so sad that she stepped back from her passion because of what others said.

But now I think I understand.

To me, the only good writing is honest writing.  It seems pointless to share something that isn’t real, and it’s really only the most raw writing that appeals to people.  We all want to see our reality in someone else, and that’s usually only possible when we share the parts that the world doesn’t often see.

But it’s hard.  It’s so darn hard.

I keep thinking back to that other blog, and I don’t want to go the direction she went.  I don’t want to give it up because it got too hard.  And honestly I don’t feel like I have that luxury because writing is the only thing that keeps me sane.

But somehow I have to figure out some way to make it work.  Perhaps instant publishing writing isn’t the direction for me.  Then again, I just renewed my domain name for another year.

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To Be a Woman

So it is International Women’s Day.  I don’t think I ever previously knew such a day existed, but considering the planned Day Without a Woman, it has been on my mind a lot today.

I didn’t participate in the Day Without a Woman.  There are multiple reasons for this, the least of which is that I couldn’t exactly tell my nursing babe that I was going on strike for the day.  But honestly, it never even got to that level because I don’t feel my politics make me welcome and faith make me a candidate for such an event.

But like I said, the day has caused me to think.  A lot.  And regardless of any other outcomes, that’s good.  I think we all need to think about the role of women in our society, and if we are women (which I assume possibly everyone reading this is) then we need to think about it for ourselves and determine what this label means to us.

What does it mean to be a woman?

This question causes me some anxiety because I am raising four future women.  When I think about my girls, there are some things that I feel confident about.

I feel confident that I can give them a good moral foundation.

I feel confident that I can help them succeed academically.

I feel confident that I can help them learn how to be a good friend and a good person.

But giving them a model of womanhood… that feels more daunting because at 39 years old, it’s not something I quite have a handle on.

But if forced to come up with an answer (as, indeed, we all are) I would have to say that for me, I think being a woman is about living for other people.  It’s about recognizing our gifts, developing our gifts, and then it’s about giving them away for the service of others.

I think it’s about bolstering other people up, being the foundation from which others can rise.

It’s about finding what we excel at, and it’s about excelling at it.  Not just because it’s fun or because it feeds our ego, but also (and more importantly) because it moves the world further along a path to fulfillment and development and equality.

I think being a woman is about finding the vulnerable in the people around us, and it’s about using our strengths to fill in those gaps.  It’s about plugging holes and reinforcing weak spots.

Being a woman is about noticing where we are vulnerable, and it’s about embracing that vulnerability.  Not because it’s easy but because it helps us be open to the pain in the world around us.

Being a woman is about using our hurt and our pain and our suffering and letting it soften our edges and open our hearts to the suffering.

And it’s about being loud or quiet, gentle or rough, weak or strong, funny or serious.  All those things – the external things – those are ours to make of it as we will.

There is no single definition to womanhood because no two woman are alike.  We are free to take the calling and do with it what we will.  We are given the opportunity to blossom and thrive where we are as we are, and as we do, each of us adds a little bit to the definition and makes it so much more vibrant and alive than it could have ever been without us.

Many people might disagree with different aspects of my definition.  That’s great.  Surely I’m not the authority to decide what it is that a woman should be.

But that’s what it means to me.

And twenty some years from now, there will be four more little women walking the streets of the world, and I’ll look to see how they have defined womanhood.  I’m excited to spend the next couple of decades watching them figure it all out.

And that’s where I find my strength – knowing that the lessons I learn today will help provide an example for them to follow tomorrow.

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