Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Facing the Results

I am basically a jeans and t-shirt woman at heart. Always have been.

So it's always felt funny to me that I wore as much makeup as I did. I really didn't want to, but I genuinely felt like I had to hide my skin. So, in the mornings, on went the concealer and the foundation. Every day. And every day as I put it on I sincerely wished I didn't feel compelled to use it.

About a month ago I posted a pretty vulnerable admission to my lifelong struggle with my skin. Many people very kindly responded that they didn't see what I see or that they always had thought I was pretty. Interestingly, most of those people were friends I haven't seen in years, friends from back in my high school or college days. Days when I most assuredly was wearing a very thick veneer in their presence. Nonetheless, I am grateful for their responses even if I felt that maybe they were complimenting the covered me. It is never a bad thing to hear a nice words.

For me, though, it was never really about the pretty thing. It was about feeling comfortable in my skin. I never really thought I was ugly, to be honest. I didn't mind how I was put together. I'll never be a model and I'm comfortable with who I am and what I look like. What I was trying to express was how much I didn't like how unhealthy my skin always looked and felt to me. Raw, red, dry, discolored, blemished. I just always felt aware that it was there. And aware that I wanted it to look nicer, but only really being able to make that happen by covering it up. And while my blogging journey the last five years has been about uncovering a lot of the spiritual and emotional things I kept hiding for years, I rarely delved into the physical.

Just recently, I opened up a magazine and saw the title of an article: "Three Rules for Faking Great Skin."

It really sat wrong with me. Probably because that is what I tried to do since I was old enough to be allowed to use makeup. And I'm tired of that being the solution.

I immediately thought, "Wouldn't it be a much better article if it were "Three Rules to Actually Having Healthier Skin?"  But this is what we're sold in terms of body image. Cover up, deflect, hide, buy the right stuff to mask your flaws. Don't actually work towards good change, just make do with what you have and BUY stuff to cover that which you dislike.

One of the reasons I finally shared my struggle was that I really was hoping for a change. Hoping to no longer hide it. To wake up in the morning, wash my face, slather on my sunscreen and then happily chase my toddler around without the worry and bother of makeup. Now, let me say here that I recognize for some that the use of makeup is fun or artistic or creative. Fantastic, I salute you. Possibly I would feel differently if that is what it was for me but for me, it's a hassle. It's a way to fake great skin, a way to feel like maybe no one is going to notice how awful it looks. And for me, I know that's not a healthy reason to be wearing it. So I needed change.

Today, I am posting again my "BEFORE" picture.
Before - January 2015
I have been using these new products for 60 days now and I am very excited to say that as of this week, I am no longer wearing foundation. I am no longer scratching my face because it is itchy and dry. I'm just using a little concealer here and there. I am so much closer to my goal. To feeling healthy and confident in this one area that has plagued me for so long. I never expected results this quickly and am honestly blown away.

Here is my 60 Day picture. Totally makeup free.

And you know what? It's not just that it looks and feels healthier. I feel good. I am not thinking about my skin much during the day. I am not washing my face halfway through the day to apply a new layer of foundation before whatever evening activities I have planned. I am just living. And I am fully confident that by Day 90 I will feel totally ready to achieve my goal - to wake up, wash my face and head out the door in my jeans and t-shirt. Without a hidden face.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Naptime Challenge Day 2 - Pen and Paper

We had a reasonable morning around here. Lots of eating, a few hours at the gym and tons of rolling around on what seems to be the toughest balloon ever known in the history of man. I hate to think what'll happen when that thing eventually blows. Ah well, fun for now. Tears later, I'm sure.

As littlest just went down for a nap, I came downstairs ready to do my challenge.

Here's Day 2:

(1) Again, leave little person(s) room and ignore tyrannical lists for now.

(2) Get out a pen and paper. Or that notecard you picked up on clearance at Target two years ago and promptly never used.

(3) Sit down and write an actual note. Yes, a handwritten note with pen and ink. Pick just one person. (or two if you are feeling cah-razy today.) Mine is going to be a "I've been thinking about you and sad we never find time to skype or talk but you are a big part of my life and I wanted to say hi" type of note.

(4) Get out an envelope, address the darn thing and, if you even own any at this point, put a stamp on it. If you are like me and don't do this crucial step, your note will sit on your counter until everything you wrote in it becomes irrelevent and you have to start from scratch two years from now the next time you see cute notepaper on sale.

(5) Do whatever you need to do with it to make sure it actually gets mailed.

That's it.

A note. From you to someone you love or miss or just want to remind that he or she matters.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Naptime Challenge Day 1 - Dance It Out

If you didn't read yesterday's post, I am attempting to integrate a new habit during my youngest son's naptime in an effort to focus my freedom. I'm going to try it for a week- if it turns out it adds stress, I'm dropping it, but I invite you to give it a try with me.

Naptime challenge for today?

(1) Leave your child's room - ignore the mess and the lists and find your ipod or computer or whatever plays music around your house.

(2) Find a wide open space and your favorite song.

(3) Turn it up as loud as you can without waking the kiddo(s).

(4) Then, my friends, DANCE IT OUT.

Seriously, dance like you used to when your husband wasn't home and you had the house to yourself with no kids and the sun was shining and you could do any move you wanted without anyone pulling on you or interrupting you or requesting a different song.

Dance it out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Naptime Challenge

Choice is a powerful thing.

And for someone who has too many interests, lots of responsibilities and to-do lists posted on every floor of her home, choice can be paralyzing.

Parents of little people will understand that moment of elation and freedom and possibility when you leave the room of a napping toddler. Most likely, if your child is like mine, you haven't sat down properly since you woke up 6 hours before. You've put out fires, quelled tantrums, chased little people back into time-outs for pinching you in the boom boom as you try to make them lunch, read the same books over and over to curious little minds, kept them from flinging themselves off playground precipices and, hopefully, giggled a lot in the midst of it all. And now he or she or they are asleep. And you have somewhere between 1 and 3 hours to get EVERY. SINGLE. OTHER. THING done. To press the reset button on patience and sanity and hope. To maybe even quietly rejoice in the victories of the morning.

Seriously, though. Dinner prep, laundry, shower, clean up the train wreck that occurred the first half of the day, get ready for the older to arrive home from school and head to soccer or drums or whatever. The list goes on. And it's rarely fully checked off in this season. I often don't know where to even start.

And you know what? Some days the sheer magnitude of what I could accomplish in those short minutes prevents me from accomplishing anything at all.

So, I had an idea.

What if I did ONE thing every afternoon that had nothing to do with my lists. Nothing to do with keeping the house going or survival or keeping my personal hygiene to at least a mildly socially acceptable level?

What if I did one thing during his nap that was either just for fun or for the good of someone else?

Maybe the tyranny of the rest of it would seem less chaotic if I started the afternoon differently. Rather than coming straight down to the lists, taking even 10 minutes to do something totally different.

So I'm going to try a week-long experiment. Every afternoon starting tomorrow (except the weekends), when I walk down from his room to a quiet house and a few hours of possibility, I am going to post one challenge. Just one thing that I am going to attempt to engage with that is not on my to-do lists.

If anyone wants to try it with me, consider this your invitation. I'm hoping that changing up my routine in just one small, quantifiable way will open me up to tackling all the things that really do need to get done with just a bit more focus, joy and satisfaction.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Becoming Superhero

My son has a favorite caregiver at the Y. If she's there, we have no problems at drop-off. If not, well, you know.

Just yesterday as I was signing him in, a young father was dropping off his two children. She, as usual, welcomed them with cheerfulness and made the dad feel secure in leaving them. He happened to ask her about her own family and she shared that she had three daughters, all now young adults, and that she was close to all of them. He asked her her secret.

"The key is not to react. Just to listen, to respond as well you can and to make it clear that they can come to you for anything."

"Even in the teen years? I'm kinda worried about those. " He said.

"Especially in the teen years. You might even find you like them." She said.

Not to react, huh? Challenge extended, Carolyn. Challenge extended.

You see, I am not a big fan of drama. Some days the second my son wakes up I know we are in for it. The look in his eye when I enter his room, the tantrum while he is still in the crib because I did something unknowable wrong when I walked in. The audacity of my intent to change his diaper and attempt to put pants on a toddler. All these things can start our day with drama. I've found when it starts that way, it rarely gets better. My firstborn wasn't quite this challenging in the drama area. Clingy? Sure. Had his own share of challenges? Yup. But the colossal tantrums are a new thing for me.

I was sharing with a group of women who I have become close with over the past months how some days I just wake up and I already dread the day. I fear the tantrums. I plan every move two steps ahead in order to contribute to as few as possible.

And to be honest? I HATE that I do that. I hate the dread, the fear, the pre-tantrum walking on eggshells.  I was having trouble relating just how my brain feels when he is screaming at the top of his lungs and a friend sent me a post by Momastery that nailed it.

"My first instinct is to freak out. My first instinct is to remember that yes, this chaos is proof that I have ruined my life and the lives of everyone in my home and that we are a disaster of a family and that no mother, in the entire history of mothers, has ever been forced to endure the drama, decibels and general suffering of this moment. My instinct is to tear my clothes and throw myself on the floor and bawl and cry out worthless declarations like “I can’t TAKE this anymore!” My first instinct is to allow my anxiety and angst to pour out like gasoline on a raging fire and indulge in a full-on mommy meltdown."

Yup, that's it. Even if I am rational and calm and ready for it, that's where my brain goes when things get so loud that I can no longer think. Her solution was to put a smiley face on a paper bag and try to defuse the situation by wearing it on her head. I tried this but quickly abandoned ship when my son mistook it for a punching bag.

SO, I felt like it would be helpful to begin to find ways to help my soul handle this phase. Everyone assures me it won't last forever and I hang on to that promise with a white-knuckle grip. In the meantime, strategies.

I recently heard about a study done in Psychology Today that looked at a person's body posture and it's relation to the relative power and control one feels. If it were possible to find an image of a female superhero that didn't look hypersexualized, I'd go ahead and post that right now for us all so we could have a nice image in our head. Suffice it to say, that ain't happening.

The byline of the article says this: "Stand like a superhero, feel like a superhero, act like a superhero."

I should backpedal for one moment in case some of you are worried I'm about to delve into some kind of argument that super-parenthood can exist and that you will be plunged into deep wells of self-loathing and feel terrible that all you can accomplish during the day is keeping your child fed. 

Rest assured, I don't believe supermom or superdad exists.

This is an argument for something else entirely. 

This is an argument for posture.

At some point, as I mentioned earlier, I began to dread our days together. I'd wake up defeated. I tried getting up earlier than him and spending time in scripture and prayer and reading. I like to do this anyway. But, like many toddlers, he has radar. I swear, he KNOWS when my alarm is about to go off and will wake up one minute before it just to cause the most amount of damage to my psyche possible. So, sometimes I can get up before him and read in peace and feel ready. Other times, I have about 4 minutes to get my self out of that bed and get my head on straight before it's a full-scale screaming meltdown from the next room over.

So, I began to wonder if this study might impact my mornings a little bit. What if, especially on those mornings when I didn't have time to truly prepare myself, I became a superhero? Just for two minutes? The study just proposes that putting oneself in a stance with open posture will do what you need, but it's a lot more fun for my husband to stumble in on me in my jammies, hands on hips, legs apart, shoulders back and chin pointed up a la Superwoman. Our bodies are amazing - if we stand like this we get a rush of testosterone and we actually feel more powerful and in control. If we hunch or cringe in a closed posture? We feel stress. So my curling up into myself in dread was actually causing my body to create extra stress before I even walked in his room. Helpful.

So, for four days straight now, I have become superhero. Just for a few minutes. Just before I go in to get him. 

And you know what? Whether it's the placebo effect of expecting to feel different or because this works, I have walked into that room with my head held high. With confidence that we were going to have a good morning. With cheerfulness and readiness and hope. With fewer stressful and chaotic emotions banging around in me and a better well of patience with which to respond. And he has responded to that. We have had fewer tantrums. He has followed some directions (a very new thing for him) and we have laughed together more than we have in a long time. 

This is no small thing for us. 

My son actually did sleep in a bit this morning giving me time to spend time with God and then write this. But before I hear him calling upstairs, it's time to go stand up straight for a few minutes and get my morning dose of superhero. 

Is it time to go get yours? 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Close to Home

My sweet, beautiful little black boy is asleep upstairs. He spent the morning enjoying the spring weather, splashing in mud, grinning at me and using his newest word, "outside", over and over with evident pride and delight.

And as he sleeps, I cry.

Not because we are having a hard week or because I'm overwhelmed parenting a tough toddler. No, grace has been abundant this week. I am feeling good, prepared, rested, supported, hopeful. It doesn't hurt that tantrums are down a bit from last week. No, on the whole things are good in our home right now.

So why am I crying?

Because Ferguson came home to Madison this week.

Just this past Friday a young, black, unarmed man who graduated from the high school my boys will attend if we still live here 10 years from now was shot to death by a police officer.

Young, unarmed and black. Someday my son will be all those things. And because of that, he may be in danger.

So I am crying because of words recorded yesterday at a rally. A rally where countless numbers of young people who have had enough of the fear and the anger and the hate came together to hope for a better Madison, a better America. A rally where a local pastor spoke and prayed. And the words he spoke? Well, I can only hope that if we do stay here, we will see them come true.

You can see the video here.

As I sat here and prayed along with him, deep sadness welled up.  Some days it is hard to hope for change. How people who have experienced this type of hatred and prejudice and systemic injustice for years maintain any hope is purely miraculous to me.

Today, I stand with Pastor Gee and the Madison community and pray that

"it will not happen here again and it will not go unheeded and we will stand for justice so give us strength to stand as a community, to love each other, to hold this family and to move in a way that will honor this young man's legacy...move us beyond trying to protect our own little territories and interests and our kingdoms and our churches and our organizations and our offices...give us the strength...give us the strength to be the Madison that we want to be, that we can be, that is wonderful for every one." 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Never Going Back

Recently a friend asked me if I could send him some of my earlier blogs that dealt with infertility and loss. As I began to look through my posts, it occurred to me that I have been at this for over 5 years now. 5 years! I couldn't believe it. What started out as an experiment during my (reluctant) sabbatical when my oldest son was just 2 years old has turned into a very real, very necessary part of how I process life. You could never have told me that would happen.

As I looked back through what I had written, I began to see how much had changed. The secrets, the shame, the frustrations and guilt. So much of that starts to strip away as I read through the posts. I can SEE the work of the Lord happening. The work that I've learned can only happen when I refuse to buy into the lie that keeping it to myself, that plodding through it all in stoic silence, makes me a strong person. The change that occurs when secrets are exposed, when struggles are spoken of before there is victory.

And what I really didn't anticipate was how many people out there would read this, how many would relate to the infertility and the miscarriage and the life transitions and the hard family relationships and the chaos of being a working parent and a stay at home parent and adoption and waiting and weight issues and well, everything I've ended up sharing. Sometimes I think I'm crazy putting it all out there and I haven't always had positive responses.

But mostly?

Mostly what I've seen is that people are longing for vulnerability. For honesty. For someone to voice their own confusion, their own fears, their own failures, successes, hopes and, yes, victories. In a culture that mostly feeds us things that have already been packaged up in lovely boxes or tells us who to be on the surface, we are longing for more. Deeper friendships, healthy living, life abundant.

Possibly the neatest thing for me has been that people who may not agree with my belief system still feel the freedom to read and chime in. That good conversations have come from this. That we can agree to disagree in civility on some things and still find commonality and joyful agreement in others. I love that.

So, as I've read through some of what I've written, I've been truly humbled. Someone told me to take a risk and try this at a point in my life where, as I wrote in my very first post,

"I'm faced with the true situation of my soul. Fatigued, sad, confused, unsure of what's next...my blog is, in a sense, my own personal bomb crater. The place where I will sit, waiting to hear the voice of the Lord, wondering what will next come in this uncertain life and hoping to hear from the "Command" about what next move will advance the grand campaign."  

I thought at that time that the blog was just for me and just for a few months. But it has been so much more. The freedom I have gained from speaking what is hard and hidden cannot be described in adequate words.

So, more than five years later, I want to declare that I won't go back. Tempted sometimes to hide again, to stop, to keep quiet, to recoil in the face of critical feedback, I will keep writing and rejoicing in the changes I see. Changes that are so small I may have missed many of them until asked to reflect this past week. So, to the supervisor who first suggested I try this and to the friend who asked me to look back through and send him some post,s I say "thank you." 

I had no idea how much had changed, how much good had been done in the dark and quiet places. I am so truly overwhelmed and grateful to see the bigger picture of who I am becoming, how God uses truth and community so powerfully and how relentlessly and lovingly God is in pursuit of all of us.