The Cinderella Mom

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Hey, Mom. I see you, up late.

The kids are in bed, the husband is snoring, and the place is all yours: it’s go time on mom time.

The time has come for you to be who you were long before the kids were there – the writer, the reader, the artist, the seamstress. We spend our days as servants, ragged, worn. But when night falls and the clock strikes, our transformation takes place. Bippity, boppity, boo! The responsibilities of the day and the plans for tomorrow fall away, and for just the slightest of time we’re alone to be us, to follow our dreams, to play among our passions.

Not every night. Some nights all we can manage is a little Pinterest, maybe some Netflix. Some nights end in tears, some end in guilt over how you wish the day had gone, some end on the couch before you mean them to. Heck, some nights don’t seem to end at all because the kids keep coming out of their rooms and asking questions and wanting more water and complaining and tattling and remembering details about a YouTube video from 7 months ago and being the thirstiest person to EVER LIVE. But some nights are magical. Some nights the stars align, the alarm doesn’t taunt you, and the silence is golden. You don’t have a pumpkin carriage, but you have a couch, a desk, a favorite chair, or even just the whole living room floor awaiting you, ready to take you where you’ve been itching to go. There isn’t much time – there never is – but what you have is the stuff of fairy tales, the stuff that holds you over, energizes you, reminds you that you are more than Mom, that you can do more than laundry and shuttling and meal prepping and breaking up fights. You can produce more than milk and fruit snacks. Maybe you work magic with a pair of needles, maybe you paint, maybe you read… maybe you rest. Whatever it is that you do, it is of the utmost importance that you keep doing it.

Whatever it is that you miss about the time before becoming a mom, do that. Did you meet friends for movies? Do that. Did you write short stories? Do that.  Did you sculpt, garden, give yourself pedicures? Do those things. There may never be time to do them every night, or even every week. But there may also be no other time than the magical midnight hour to do them at all. You cannot afford to invest all of yourself into motherhood. You will never see a return on it if you do. Huge parts of you, yes. More than you knew you could give, sure. But you cannot give every part of yourself to raising your children or you will have nothing left when you’re done. And you will be done, at some point. Not tonight, obviously, but someday.

Beyond what is left of you then, the world needs what’s inside of you NOW. You, your perspective, your gifts, your words… they don’t just disappear once you become a mother. You still matter. You have not become a bookmark in someone else’s story, holding the place and marking pauses. Your name may have been changed to Mom, but who you are was not modified, what you are capable of remains.

There’s a quote that makes the rounds, I see it about once a week and the person accredited to it changes as frequently. It says, “Children are not a distraction from the more important work. They are the most important work.” I don’t know that a quote has ever filled me with so many conflicting feelings at once. Yes, this privilege we have in child rearing is great. The weight of our decisions hangs heavily over us every night, the words we speak, the job we do, can ripple outwards who knows how far. We get one shot at raising these people, and it’s a really big deal. But we also only get one shot at being us, and we have more to offer and are more impactful that motherhood alone. Do not misunderstand me, I’m not discounting motherhood and all its glories. I’m saying we’re mighty moms BECAUSE that’s not all there is to us. We were not given talents and gifts and callings and likes and preferences simply to let them waste away once we started changing diapers. You are made up of so much more than mom genes. You have ideas, passions, abilities, and the world needs them. You need to exercise them. And, just as important, your children need to see them. What better way to raise strong young women than to show them what all a woman is capable of? What better way to raise appreciative young men than to show them all the facets of you? Let your kids be in awe of you. Let them see you create, let them know what’s important to you. They see every day how human you are, so give them a glimpse of how superhuman you can be. My kids’ mom takes photographs that hang in peoples’ homes. They sit on chairs their mom painted and sometimes even wear clothes she made (though just washing the store-bought stuff is equally miraculous most days). Show them the stories you wrote that impacted people they’ve never met. Make sure they know about the baby blankets you made that will become heirlooms, or the recipes you shared that feed countless families. Tell them about the job you work at, the kids you teach, the patients you help, the companies you help run, the services you provide. Let them see the stack of books you’ve devoured, show them your art, your hobbies, your contributions, your gifts. Show them YOU.

In my experience, kids don’t appreciate the meals or the cleaning or the folding or the pick up line. They expect it, it becomes mundane. It can do the same to us. And it’s hard, pulling yourself up out of the mundane, the rut. It can be difficult to feel inspired when you’re surrounded by the same mess and chaos and laundry piles that you were in all day. But just wait. Wait for the clock to strike and allow the magic to work. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to work all day, to feel the press and the rush to get home and get everything done for the day, then everything prepped for the next, in a span of a few hours. The temptation to fall fast asleep and rest your brain must be overwhelming most nights. But sometimes, just sometimes, don’t give in. Stay up and do something for you. Transform. Be YOU. Not the employee, not the mom, but YOU. The unique you who existed long before the babies and the meetings and the appointments. Allow yourself to indulge in what brings you joy and dare to feel no guilt for it.

I admit to losing myself when I first became a mother. I won’t go into too much detail now, mostly because I’ve already gone on for so long, but also because I’m saving it for another blog, wink wink. But whatever the details, I was lost. Me, Jen, the goofy, movie-quoting, fashion-magazine-devouring, creative person had become a shell, a robot, someone only capable of carrying out tasks necessary for my baby. I didn’t recognize it at first. I didn’t know I wasn’t fulfilled, and if I had, I wouldn’t dare have voiced it for fear of being judged. But I remember the moment I realized something other than caring for my son was making me happy. I had taken photos of a family friend and was skipping through the house as they transferred onto the computer. Me. Skipping. I don’t do that NOW, and I’m sure it was just as ridiculous to see then, but something was awakening me, something had stirred a part of me I didn’t realize had gone stagnant. I was doing something creative, and I was loving it. Over the years, as with any relationship, my dance with motherhood has had highs and lows. Some days I crush it and some days it crushes me. Some days the monotony so consumes me that I forget what I’d want to do with free time, should I scrounge any up. On those days, on the really hard ones, when you’re so completely overwhelmed that you can’t see past the moment to come up with a hobby, just sit. You don’t have to create anything. You don’t have to cure cancer. You don’t have to have hoardes of fans or followers, customers, influence. But you DO have to take care of you, and just sitting can do it. Maybe that leads to reading a book you’ve been wanting to get to. Maybe that leads to getting an idea. Maybe that leads to you singing a song. Or maybe you just get to be with yourself for a little bit and catch your breath with no one to touch you, to ask of you. Your relationship with you began long before the one you have with your children, and it’s just as important to maintain it.

It can be really hard, having to wait to do what you want, to do what you’re passionate about. It can make you feel unimportant to have to put yourself on the back burner. It can make you feel guilty, to use precious and finite time doing something only for yourself. Find the time. Make the time. Heck, trade, barter, or steal the time. Cinderella had only one night and it was enough to change her. She had a pretty rough day the next day, too, and still it was worth it. You’ve spent so long being the unappreciated attendant and all you want is the chance to have a night of magic… or maybe to get your hands covered in Mod Podge or sculpting clay. You don’t have a fairy godmother or glass slippers, but an adult coloring book could be just as transformative. Make your passions and hobbies a priority, make YOU a priority. Fight for who you are, not what you do. Wait for your moment, enjoy the quiet, and have a wonderful night with yourself. Don’t be a stranger. Be Cinderella. Isn’t that what we wanted to grow up to be, anyway?

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This Blog is Not About You – Which is Why You Should Absolutely Read it

I like blogs. I like reading them. I long for the time to write more of them. I see blog posts shared multiple times a day in my social media feeds. A bunch of them are open letters, which I tend to skip most of, but blogs are an enormously untapped source of information, perspectives, encouragement, and personal journeys. Whether it’s renovating a home or educating on a childhood disorder, there are blogs by anyone and for anyone. They exist to share information, for free, quickly and easily. Yet they go largely unread.

A friend texted me a few months ago, a friend who has children with special needs and regularly shares blog posts pertaining to those needs. She asked if I thought anyone ever read the blogs she shared. I told her, sadly, that there were probably very few who do, because they think it doesn’t apply to them. Not having a child with those particular struggles, they see the title and move on, figuring there’s nothing for them to gain.

After a big news event, there is always an influx of blog posts (especially those open letter ones). Gorillas, guns, Miley Cyrus…. everyone has an opinion, and everyone wants to share theirs. Which is totally fine. They’re as free to share their opinion as I am to share mine. I won’t turn this into a rant about how many of these opinions are about assigning blame rather than dealing with the issue. I won’t. But I will address the issue I take with these opinion pieces: we’re not reading them. We see the title, decide we disagree, roll our eyes and move on. It’s not for us, so we don’t click.

Here’s the problem with that: we don’t learn. When we don’t read anything new, anything that is outside of our own perspective and experience, we fail to grow, we miss the opportunity to learn how we can support someone else. We cannot be so arrogant as to believe that our perspective is the only one and our opinion may as well be fact.

A major part of blogging for me is the catharsis that comes from giving my thoughts words, sharing my experiences, and hoping that someone else who is in a similar situation can find some encouragement in at least knowing they’re not alone. But another reason I do it is in the hopes that someone will read my words, stop, and think, “Wow, I had no idea that’s what it was like.” I want to educate others on topics that are important to me, topics that I don’t see discussed. When my friend shares a blog about children with mitochondrial disease, I read it. I can’t relate to it, but it helps me understand her struggle a little better. When my friend who lives in Australia shares links to the political happenings in her part of the world, I read them. I can’t vote down under, but it helps me gain an understanding of her beliefs, and keeps me abreast of world issues. And far more sensitive, when my friends of color share blogs about their experiences, about what it means to be black in America or the discrimination they face because of their religion, I READ THEM. And you know what else? I really, truly, learn a lot from them.

Unbeknownst to me, I grew up in a bubble. I was surrounded by people who believed similarly to me and lived similarly enough to me. I came of age at birthday parties where I was often the only white girl, and since I truly didn’t see color and my friends didn’t seem to mind my lack of it, I thought racism was dead. Because we got along I assumed we had similar lives and nothing was different for us. I live in a town now that is pretty devoid of melanin, but my feelings never changed, so when the term “white privilege” first started popping up I rolled my eyes. In my bubble, there was no such thing. Then a friend of mine, a brilliant sociologist, shared a blog that I thought I at least should check out. I gave a deep sigh at the title and prepared myself to come up with a biting defense, but the words were so…. true. I wasn’t racist, but my experience as a white woman was far different from that of a woman of color. I could not presume to know what it was like to grow up not seeing people like me on TV. I’ve never gone to a doctor’s office and been unable to communicate my symptoms because no one spoke my language. I get stereotyped and people make assumptions about me, but that doesn’t mean we’re the same. Equal as humans, yes. But our experiences are not the same, and me dismissing that fact was never going to help anyone. Not agreeing with it doesn’t make it go away, and acknowledging it doesn’t make me a racist. In discussing parts of the Black Lives Matter movement with a very dear friend, who is black, I went from annoyance to understanding. No one was saying other lives didn’t matter. No one said Black Lives Matter More. They just were saying, “SEE us. ACKNOWLEDGE us. REALIZE that our experience is not the same as yours.” Because every time we dismiss the notion, we tell them that black lives, in fact, do not matter. I’m not here to discuss riots or shootings, only people. People who are trying to tell us something that we are too entrenched in our own beliefs to listen to. Admitting that our experiences are different is not admitting to being a racist. It’s listening to someone and expanding your horizon. It’s caring about someone else and doing what you can to make sure they know they’re heard.

Your friend who shares a personal post about the struggles of parenting a child with autism – read it. You may not be dealing with special needs in your home, but it will never hurt you to learn what her experience is like. Did you realize how much she spends on therapies? Did you realize how many different therapies she schedules? Were you aware that some schools have no programs in place… or that some states will pay for private school if your district cannot meet the child’s needs? Do you know how little sleep she gets and how badly she needs a pedicure date? Do you know what a big deal it is that her son finally took a shower without screaming? It doesn’t apply to you, but learning these things sure do help you in empathizing with her, in understanding more about her experience. It cost you a few minutes to be a better friend, and she’s better for having someone who hears her.

Your cousin shares ANOTHER link to homeopathic treatments, or FDA conspiracies, or essential oil cocktails. Read them. They are sharing because they are caring. They genuinely believe they can help people, they have seen a change in their lives and want others to experience it. You don’t have to give up your ibuprofen, but you could stumble upon a nugget of information that could boost your energy, or give a name to a symptom you’ve been experiencing, or help you find an entirely new way to treat an ailment that you’re tired of dealing with. Just like when someone blessedly shares some glorious cheesy bacon chicken something or other recipe, they see something great and want to share it with others. They say, “This is AWESOME, I have to make sure everyone knows!” You may think they’re off their rocker, and sometimes they may be, but they want to help and are offering you tools to try something new.

There’s that post again, the one about foster kids sleeping on the floors of offices. I don’t have foster kids, so I don’t need to read it. Except that children need homes, and you may be the one to offer it. If nothing else, understanding their heart-breaking circumstances can give you a new purpose in your prayer or giving. You may have thought foster kids just slept in bunk beds and carried everything in their backpacks. You may have thought it looked like Annie. But when you take the time to read about the plight of these children who did not ask to be in such dire straits that an office floor is preferable to home, your heart can grow. Those kids deserve to be known about. Clicking the link won’t get you a knock on the door with unruly teenage foster quads, but it will offer you a look into a life you know nothing about.

Your friend posts a blog entry that is going viral, you’ve seen it a few times already, and haven’t read it a single time because of the title. It’s political, and you can already tell you won’t agree. But let me challenge you – how do you know you won’t agree? Unless you read the words, unless you take the plunge and consider another perspective, how do you even know that your opinion is truly yours and not just a collective opinion formed by the people you surround yourself with? Until you’ve seen all the sides, how will you know which one you land on? One of the reasons we send our children to – gasp! – public school is because  I want them exposed to different people, different songs and ideas than they’d get at home. I want them to come home and talk about them with us, so that they can form their beliefs and KNOW WHY they believe them. I don’t want my children to blindly follow my opinions, I want them to think, listen, and form their own. So I challenge you, friend, read that blog. Read it even if it makes your blood boil. Know what’s going on beyond your own bubble, beyond your own viewpoint. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to enjoy it. But challenge yourself to test your opinions against the perspectives offered by others. Because we do all have different perspectives. We all have our bubbles we’ve grown in and the internet has given us the amazing ability to pop them. Sometimes it’s shocking, sometimes it’s enfuriating, but sometimes it’s enlightening. Get out there and LEARN. Funny enough, the more you learn about another opinion, the more educated it can make you about your own.

I hate stereotypes. I hate assumptions. I hate being lumped together with a group of people based on the way someone else views me. The longer we resist learning about the experiences of others, the more we allow stereotypes to perpetuate. Having a child with autism isn’t just a kid who rocks back and forth and won’t look you in the eye. Having a kid with severe allergies doesn’t mean she has to live in a bubble. Having a gifted child does not mean the day is full of chess and math (I mean, there’s chess and math, but there are a lot of struggles that come with it, too). Having a parent with an illness doesn’t just mean a retirement home is in order.  Being black today is not the same as being white today, and ignoring that fact won’t make it change. A lot of posts about modern feminism aren’t for me, but I’ve learned a lot of facts that are. I’ve read new perspectives and theories and my mind has been opened to learn. People need and want to talk about what they’re going through. All they’re asking is that we listen.  Not every movement is one I want to join and not every political party is one I want to jump on board with (seriously, there are NO parties for me to claim now). But I can still learn, educate myself, consider other perspectives and strengthen my own position.

It’s hard having a newsfeed with so many differing ideals.   It’s hard to see those memes you hate and statements that sting. It’s hard to see yourself lumped into a group who someone just made a joke out of, and it can make you pretty rage-y when disrespect is paid towards a topic you are passionate about. But we’re also adults. I hope I never find myself back in my bubble, sealed up with only people who agree with me and concerned only with things that relate to me. My wonderfully diverse group of friends have introduced me to countless ideas, shows, songs, foods, perspectives, struggles… all because I was willing to read them. I still know who I am and I still know what I believe. I have not been swayed to join any dark sides and my head did not explode from reading about a presidential candidate I’m particularly fearful of. Debates have happened, and we’ve all survived. I don’t unfriend anyone for disagreeing with me, and I’m delighted that most of my friends don’t, either. We’re all so much bigger than one topic, anyway, it’d be a shame to lose out on what else I could learn from them just because we disagreed on an article. Surround yourself with like-minded people, yes… but be open to considering far different-minded peoples’ perspectives, as well. Just read the stuff. Learn the stuff. Be prepared to be wrong sometimes, or at least lacking in knowledge. Embrace your friends’ experiences. Take an interest in something other than your immediate surroundings. Push yourself to take it in, then prove yourself as an adult by loving them all anyway. The people with differing opinions, the people who are in very different places from you, the people who don’t share your beliefs and the people who bash your beliefs – love them anyway. They don’t have to agree with you, either. Though, hopefully they’ll have read this blog and will and least respectfully consider your stance.😉  In this age, in this climate, in this election year and this country constantly divided by one thing or another, be the one who is big enough to reach over. Don’t let yourself be part of a split. Don’t let your friends’ experiences go unnoticed. Read. Learn. Consider. And then move on and have a great day. Because it’s not about you. It’s about a better, more considerate, more educated, more sympathetic you. Go you.

The Miracle of Normal

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I know what you’re thinking. “Normal? What’s wonderful about normal? There’s nothing miraculous about being NORMAL.” And going by the definition of the word, you’re right. Normal, as we know it, means ordinary, expected. Movies and novels don’t usually revolve around the main characters rising from obscurity to become normal. In fact, most epic journeys begin with the desire to leave normalcy behind. Fairy tales end with happily ever after, not normally ever after. As a culture, we seek out extraordinary, amazing, sensational, exceptional, above and beyond even when it’s above and beyond our means or abilities. Go big or go home, they say. Stand out. A cut above. Be a big fish, capture the dream, shoot for the stars. Motivational posters don’t exist to encourage being normal, and we sure as heck don’t share about what’s normal on social media. Normal, as we know it, is overlooked, even sometimes embarrassing. No one wants to be normal – they all want to be anything but. In our quest for glory we ignore the very marvel that is NORMAL. We think that being normal means being less than, slower than, uglier than, poorer than.

My first pregnancy was not great. I mean, pregnancy itself is a generally hard experience, but my first was pretty bad. High blood pressure, bed rest, fetal monitoring multiple times a week, an IUGR diagnosis and a premature delivery via emergency C-section. We almost lost our baby and then had to leave him in the NICU for weeks. The circumstances surrounding him being born alive and healthy were nothing short of miraculous, and God really got to prove Himself. But as I found myself pregnant for the second time, I prayed differently. Though I knew God to be a God of miracles, of wonder, capable of anything and always holding me in His hand, I prayed for normal. I prayed for a normal pregnancy, a normal delivery, a normal baby. And when my uneventful pregnancy came to an end with an uneventful delivery and a normal baby with nothing extraordinary to share or anything standing out as apart from the norm, I praised God. Because God is as much in the normal as He is in the miraculous. Because sometimes, normal IS miraculous.

When the test results come back normal.

When the child develops normally.

When the baby is delivered normally.

When recovery goes normally.

When a day goes normally.

When a relationship progresses normally.

When you can eat a normal meal.

When you live in a normal house, in a normal city, surrounded by normal people.

Just ask a bride on her wedding day what a blessing it is for everything to go normally.

Because there are so many other ways it could go that aren’t “normal”. Because normal really means OKAY. It means that what’s expected is what’s in front of you. It means your head is above water and you’re making it. The relief that we experience when we share a struggle and are told it’s normal is marked. I remember very clearly a post I read on Facebook long ago. I was scrolling through, no doubt seeking an escape from the frustrations of being a mom, when I saw a post from a friend, a fellow mom: “What do the parents of normally-developing kids have to complain about?” At first it offended me a little, I’ll be honest. Because someone else’s struggle doesn’t negate my own, because it’s still hard to be a mom no matter what. But then I thought about it, and felt so ashamed and humbled by how right she was. What was I complaining about, really, while she awaited a diagnosis, an answer, any help she could find for her son who was not developing as expected, who wasn’t reaching milestones at the same time as his peers? What was really so bad about my kids being normal, high-energy, needy, rowdy, messy, hungry kids? Nothing. They were miraculously normal, they were okay. I wasn’t watching and hoping and praying for normal, because I’d failed to see how incredible normal actually is.

MANY years ago a guest speaker came to the church my husband and I were on staff at. He spoke of bold faith and big moves, and how God had blessed him in return for each of them. Passion like his is always a bit hard for me, the person who stinks at faith most times, the control freak who likes to have a hoard of canned goods and conditioner just in case. My husband came to me during the altar call of the service and told me he felt like God was prompting him to give $500 to this man’s ministry. My breath caught and my shoulders tensed. We had just, for the very first time, received a tax return (having a kid paid off!), and now had about $512 in the bank. This was new for my little hand-to-mouth family, to have such a cushy amount available. I loved knowing it was there, that bills would be paid, that I could go to the store and buy groceries for more than a few days at a time, that I could get the good toilet paper. That money meant security to me, and now my beloved wanted to give it away. We’d be right back to where we’d always been, struggling, waiting for the next paycheck, and terrified of an unexpected expense. But who was I to tell my husband what he had heard from God? Maybe God would see how much it meant for us to give that $500 and would bless us exponentially in return. I could do a lot more with $5000 than $500, right? So he wrote the check and we went on with our lives. The thing is, though, God isn’t a stock fund. He’s not something you invest in with hopes of high returns, he’s GOD. He doesn’t owe me anything and nothing I have is really mine, anyways. So you guessed it – nothing happened. No surprise checks arrived in the mail. No strangers bought our groceries in line while I was doing last-minute math to make sure we had enough to purchase them. No jewels fell from Heaven and no fish jumped out at me with coins in their mouths. We went about our lives, and I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t until years later that I realized we’d been living in the miraculous the whole time. Life went on. My husband and I, early twenties, one job, a baby, a crazy commute, a mortgage, bills, food…. we still made it. We were able to give $500 to the Kingdom and we never missed a meal. It was scary a few times, but we still made it. A young couple struggling to make ends’ meet gave FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS and still survived. Heck, we made it to where I can buy the good toilet paper if I want almost anytime I go grocery shopping (and I do). This wasn’t amazing because God did something huge when we gave $500, it was amazing because life was NORMAL after we did it. We could easily have been hit with an illness, an accident, an allergy, a ticket… anything to throw us off and keep us from being able to pay what we owed. But we weren’t. We lived life normally, and it is nothing short of miraculous.

I encourage you, friend, when you feel like your head is barely above the water, when you feel like you’re only treading water and never getting anywhere, when you feel like you just cannot get ahead… praise Him for that. Because you could go under. You could be knocked down by a wave. You may be exhausted, but you are STILL GOING. God is not a bank account to be drawn upon and there is no promise that we won’t struggle. If you’re not seeing progress, praise Him anyway. If you’re not seeing your bank account swell no matter how hard you work, praise Him anyway. If your bills are always being paid just a little late, praise Him anyway. If your child didn’t make the team they wanted or get into the school you had your heart set on, praise Him anyway. Because He’s as much God in the moments of fatigue and frustration and disappointment as He is in the moments of triumph and excitement and success. Just as the wind doesn’t have to blow for you to know it can make waves, God doesn’t have to be extravagant in His blessings to show His goodness. Can He do it? Yes. Is He any less good when He doesn’t? Of course not.

Jesus walked the earth for 33 years, yet most of what we know of His time here is limited to the last three, the time of His ministry. Does only knowing about 10% of His life make Him any less God? Jesus was just as miraculous, destined, and mighty in the 30 years we know little of as He was during the few years of His public ministry. There is still as much wonder and miraculous in the normal as there was in the wonder and miraculous of what made the Bible. As Jesus walked to the well as a teenager, as He endured taunts for being born to an unwed mother, as He went through puberty, washed dirt from His feet, was tempted, was hungry, through it all he was STILL JESUS. The purpose God had for Him and the work He would do was still going to change the world, still had eternal implications, no matter how normal those years were. God was still doing a mighty thing. Isaiah 53:2 even tells us that the Son of God “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” Jesus looked NORMAL, ya’ll. Being born in a barn, parents being judged, looking just like everyone around him… none of that disqualified Him from being miraculous. His normalcy did not mean God was not still at work.

I’ll even go a step further and say that the cross was nothing special. It was constructed, roughly at that, of wood. Just normal wood, placed between two thieves, held together with normal nails. No jewels adorned it, no gold around it, just wood and nails. Yet just as He did with a normal lunch of bread and fish, Jesus took the common and ordinary, the normal, and did something miraculous. He took wood and nails and forever changed the relationship between God and man. Because in the hands of God, nothing is normal. Nothing is ordinary. We view our circumstances much differently in the eye of the storm than He does in the palm of His hand.

I want to encourage you, friend, that you are in the middle of the miraculous. When each day feels monotonous, when you haven’t seen a miracle, when the phenomenal seems far, you are in the midst of God’s goodness. When you feel discouraged that you haven’t seen a break in the trees yet, you are still on a path and God is as good and wondrous and loving as He will be when you get out of the forest. If your rescue, your healing, your provision hasn’t come yet, if your child isn’t developing how you expected, if your bills are more than expected, if your job seems to be drowning you or your relationship seems to be dying, you are still living smack dab in the middle of a miracle. Praise Him for where you are, be thankful for what IS there, and He will prove Himself time and again to be in control, even if you don’t realize until later that the unwanted path He’s been steering you along is the one you’ve always needed. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. Boredom is not the absence of God, nor is struggle. At the risk of sounding cliché, you may never see your name in the Guinness Book of World Records, but you can be assured through your relationship with Jesus Christ that you’ll see your name in the Book of Life, and there is nothing common, ordinary, or normal about that.

Mind the Hazard Lights

I should be embarrassed to admit this, but it wasn’t until I became a driver myself that I knew what the hazard light button was. I remember noticing it for the first time in my stepmom’s little red Civic, the newest vehicle I had ever been in and thus the epitome of technological advancement in automobiles. I saw that red triangle button on the dashboard among dozens of other doodads and whatnots I didn’t understand, but the imagery of it was such that I instinctively knew it meant “DANGER”. This could only mean one thing, of course: an eject and/or self-destruct button. Like Batman. I was always very careful in the front seat, afraid that I might inadvertently hit it while changing radio stations and send us both flying into oncoming traffic. This story doesn’t really have an application, I just wanted to share it.

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I was reminded of it when my own daughter asked a few weeks ago what the red triangle button meant. “They’re for when you have a problem, ” my husband explained, “so people know to move away from you.”

This struck me.

My husband is the most selfless person you’ll ever meet, so this isn’t a reflection on his character, only on what the hazard lights have come to mean: when did “I’m in trouble” become “move along”? Hazard lights are intended to alert the other drivers that something has gone wrong with the car or driver, that they can’t go on as normal or at the same rate as the others on the road. Their distress signal has become an annoyance to others. Rather than pulling over to offer help, the other drivers see the blinking red lights and move off to the side in an attempt to get past them quicker. We see the trouble and worry only about how it affects our commute.

I once sat on the side of a highway for more than 6 hours with my hazard lights blinking. 6 hours. I’d experienced a tire blow-out going 70 miles per hour and miraculously maintained enough control to safely come to a stop on the shoulder, yet I did not have the knowledge, skills, or tools to change the tire. I made phone calls until my cell phone died (the car charger was still years away from being common), I missed all of my college classes that day, I was starving, exhausted, scared, frustrated, angry. I waited and waited while hundreds of cars passed me by, not one stopping to offer assistance. Could they have been a crazy axe-murderer who wanted to chop me into tiny bits? Sure. Those exist anywhere. But could they also have helped? Yes. But no one did. Despite the very obvious signs I was giving that I needed it.

“But Jennifer,” you say, “I don’t have time to stop and help a stranded motorist!” Well, friend, I can promise you that the stranded motorist probably didn’t have time to be stranded themselves. They had work and appointments and responsibilities still waiting for them, too. How much faster would they get to where they were headed, how much faster would the flow of traffic be restored if someone took the time out of their own schedule to just help?

“But Jennifer,” you say, “I don’t know how to fix a car!” Well, friend, sometimes just having someone there with you can ease the stress of a motor emergency. My stepdad was in a car accident a while back, a bad one. It was raining and he was alone, trapped. I can’t imagine how scared he must have been, let alone hurt. The wreckage made it impossible to reach his cell phone to call for help, he must have been there wondering if anyone saw, if anyone noticed, if anyone was coming, if anyone would help. Alone. Until some wonderful Samaritan took it upon themselves to climb in there and keep him company, keep him calm, until help arrived. Someone took a detour from where they were headed, got out into the rain, and comforted someone who was very much alone. Someone saw the hazard and responded.

You probably see by now that I’m not just referring to car troubles.

It applies across the board to life. The depressing social media shares, the mother juggling groceries and children in the parking lot, the elderly neighbor who can’t start their mower, the overweight first-timer at the gym who can’t figure out how to start their machine. People need HELP. Hazard lights are blinking all around us. Yet all too often we just rubberneck the wreckage, slow down long enough to see how bad it is, thank God it wasn’t us, and move on. We glare at the man whose car won’t start in the middle of an intersection, as though he didn’t already know he was inconveniencing the people behind him, when getting out to help him push the car would be much more impactful. We silently judge the single mother who can’t pay her bills when a helping hand, a tank of gas, or a night of babysitting would be much more helpful. We hate the way our depressed acquaintance makes us feel so down when they’re around, when helping them feel better when we’re around could be the difference between life and death. The mom you’re scoffing at for using formula – did you offer her breastfeeding support? The man you’re taking cell phone pictures of because his pants are slipping down – did you tell him and save him the embarrassment? The friend whose marriage is crumbling – have you offered an ear or just observed the wreckage? The relative who is battling a disease – have you visited, listened, helped, or just thanked God it wasn’t you?

People all around us need help, every day. It could be as easy as sharing a post from a friend’s business or as involved as taking in a family.

“But Jennifer,” you say, “I’m having car trouble, too.” I know, friend. Depression and anxiety are all around us. Financial struggles, relationship battles, health troubles, existential crises, kids, school, work… we’re all struggling. I know. And sometimes all you can do is climb inside the broken-down car and cry together. Acknowledging someone else’s struggle does not negate your own. There’s no way to measure who has it worse, nor should there be. We’re all in this together, all traveling the same road, and we all benefit when someone in need is helped.

There’s an actual, documented phenomenon known as the Bystander Effect. In a crisis, individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim the more people there are around. Seriously. The MORE bystanders there are, the LESS likely anyone is to offer any help. Victims will wait and wait for help that doesn’t come because everyone around them assumes someone else will do it. It’s mass apathy. It takes someone taking charge and giving specific instructions to specific people to get anything done. You can’t just yell, “Somebody call 911!”, you have to point to a person and say, “YOU, call 911.” While I’ve seen this portrayed several times on the always-accurate Law & Order: SVU, I recently witnessed it first-hand. I was in a situation that required police interference, and people just stood there. Watching. Some were in disbelief, some had their cell phones out to video. I had to be the one to call the police, because the bystander effect was in full force.

This idea, this stopping to help when others don’t, it’s important enough to have made the Bible. In Luke 3 we’re told of the Good Samaritan, the man who stopped and offered assistance when so many others before him didn’t. Jesus Himself offered up everything He had for the good of all of us. You may not have riches, you may not have influence, you may not have extra time, but if the Son of God can offer Himself to help everyone, even the jerkiest jerks and the buttiest buttheads, who are we to just keep on driving by? When did “I need help”, when did “love your neighbor as yourself”, become open to interpretation, prioritization, and impassivity?

We cannot live this way. We cannot allow our dependency on others to rid us of any responsibility. We cannot see flashing hazard lights and shrug because they don’t affect us. People need help, WE need help. So what are you going to do about it?

God Didn’t Heal Me Today

 

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God didn’t heal me today.

It doesn’t mean He isn’t going to.

It doesn’t mean He can’t.

It doesn’t mean I’m being punished.

It doesn’t mean He’s forgotten about me.

It doesn’t mean He doesn’t hear my prayers.

It means tomorrow I will ask again.

 

It also means tomorrow I’ll likely wake up in pain again. It means I’ll head straight to the tray on the counter full of orange prescription bottles and gulp down the first round of medications, feeling defeated before I even check my email. It means I’ll have to keep constant note of the time, so I can know when I’m allowed to eat and when it’s time for more pills, since there’s a delicate balance between medications to be taken on an empty stomach and medications that will ruin your day if you take them hungry. I’ll ask Him again, Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord who heals, to touch my body before I swallow these prescriptions. I’ll ask Him when I feel the pain. I’ll ask Him every time I glance in the mirror. I’ll ask Him when I’m doing laundry or unloading dishes or just sitting on the couch. I’ll ask Him when I feel that I need a nap. I’ll ask Him when I want to do more.  I’ll ask Him when I see the moms who can do more. By the end of the day I’ll beg Him. When I take more medicines before bed. When I see my name on another prescription bottle and double-check the dosage to make sure this is the higher one, the one that is supposed to make a difference. When I fall into bed and turn on the heating pad. When I groan, ache, sigh. I beg Him to heal me, to touch me, to change me. Most of this I do in silence. Some nights it gets really bad and I ask others to ask Him, too. But He hasn’t yet.

 

The woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8 is often mentioned in sermons. She’s the woman who suffered an unknown ailment for 12 years, a condition that left her penniless after having visited numerous doctors who couldn’t help her, and ostracized for being unclean. For 12 years. This woman is hailed as a hero of faith for having believed in Jesus still after suffering for 12 years, having felt desperation but not hopelessness for more than a decade. In just a few months, I’ll reach the point at which my body has been fighting against me for 20 years. Twenty. If this Pain were a person, it would be old enough to drive, vote, and even hold some public offices. Two thirds of my life I have walked this earth with the knowledge that my insides were jumbled, that I was different from everyone else. That my understanding of pain was different from most others’. Two thirds of my life I have experienced pain – sometimes just aching, sometimes excruciating. I have cried, screamed, vomited, subjected myself to invasive exams, surgical procedures, chemicals, hormones, rude and dismissive doctors, and God. I still ask Him to help.

 

I know He’s there. He may not be walking past for me to reach the hem of His garment, and oh how I wish He would, but He’s there. He was there when I got my first positive pregnancy test. He was there when my firstborn almost wasn’t born. He was there when my second baby was born completely healthy with no complications. He was there when our third baby left us before we even had the chance to know him. He was there when our fourth baby had some scary test results, and there when we found out she was perfect. He’s spared me, comforted me, and shown me the miraculous. I know that the God who healed the woman with the issue of blood is the same God who knit me together. I know that the same God who created the Heavens is the same God who thought the world needed me. I know He can do it. He just hasn’t yet.

 

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get mad. Anyone with a chronic condition can tell you that there are good days and bad days, and sometimes both in one day, several times a day. On bad days I get upset with God. I get tired of asking for what I know He can give me, the same way my kids get mad when I don’t give them cookies they know we have. I don’t lie to them, I don’t hide the treats, I just know I’m not giving them cookies just yet. On bad days I’m so tired of recognizing symptoms that I don’t want to talk anymore. I don’t want to have yet another complaint to share, don’t want to drive anyone away with the negativity that lurks when someone asks how I’m doing. I don’t want to pull anyone else down, but I also don’t want to go through this alone. I need to talk about it or else I’ll imprison myself in this body and let illness become my master. The less I share the more isolated I become. On the good days I’m tagged and messaged by well-meaning people, people who don’t understand that oils and Plexus and diets don’t regrow new body parts. Lessening inflammation is nice, but ultimately only a miracle from God can truly heal me. On the bad days I’m told that I’m not praying enough, that I don’t have enough faith, that I don’t look sick, or that I’m not actually even sick at all. On good days, I calmly explain that surgery doesn’t stop the body from producing hormones. On bad days, I’m asked to defend myself, my choices, my intelligence, asked to remain patient while someone gives an opinion or asks an obvious question as though I’d never made the connection that exercise is supposed to cause weight loss. On bad days, when others’ expectations exceed my abilities, I get angry. When my own desires exceed my abilities, I begin to feel hopeless. On good days I can smile and function to the point where only I know I’m suffering. On bad days I want to cry and curse and hide from the world. I’m always honest with God about how I’m feeling, though it’s not as if He didn’t already know. Praying for something for almost twenty years will get you far past formal pleasantries with God.  But whether a day is good or bad, God’s ability to heal me does not change. His power does not fluctuate, it is not seasonal. On any given day, God can heal me. He just hasn’t yet.

 

I know others who have suffered longer than I have. I know others who have suffered worse than I do. I know some who blame God and others who still turn to Him. I know some who have lost their battles and others who fight on. I know some who have been healed and many who are still waiting. No matter who I know, they all pale in comparison to the One I know in Heaven. The One I know can heal me. The One who offered His body in place of mine, who willingly took suffering upon Himself to give me the chance at a life without it. He is the One who knit me, who perfected me, who knows the hairs on my head and the desires of my heart. He knows my voice and He hears my prayers. I don’t know why God hasn’t healed me yet. I don’t know if I’m supposed to learn anything. I don’t know if He ever will. But what I do know is that He can, and so I will keep asking.

 

I Just Want to Just

It’s been a hard day.

It’s been a hard week.

I’m texting with a friend who’s been having a hard month.

We both have kids who, for different reasons, have special needs, and it is EXHAUSTING. Don’t get me wrong, any parenting of any child is exhausting. But there is a different kind of fatigue I’ve come to know since I was introduced to the “norm” my children don’t fit into. It’s an ongoing fatigue, with no promise of anything ever getting easier. Today was difficult, and tomorrow likely will be, too. Today I worked my butt off to maintain a sense or normalcy or to meet my child’s unique needs, and it will do little to affect tomorrow, so I have to do it again. And again. I can never just…. JUST. I can’t just drive through a fast food restaurant and feed my children anything from the menu. I can’t just send my child to school and expect the day to go well. I can’t just take my child anywhere and expect it to be uneventful. I can’t just watch a kid’s movie with any deaths or sad moments (so scratch every single Disney movie ever). I can’t just watch Shark Week. I can’t just Google an answer and have the question be finished.  I can’t just eat at any place in the city, can’t just accept offers of casseroles when I’m ill, can’t just enroll my child in school or watch him play soccer or introduce him to someone new or go anywhere without needing a bag for an EpiPen and Benadryl. And with the limitless access we have to blogs, and the freedom we have to write them, we’re given the unique opportunity to get a peak into the lives of other families that may not look like ours… or to feel understood by families who look very similar. I’m not alone. WE’RE not alone. There are many, many parents who, despite their beliefs or location or socioeconomic standing, all want one thing.

Parents of kids with allergies. Parents of medically fragile kids. Parents of premature babies. Parents of kids fighting cancer. Parents of kids with autism. Parents of kids struggling with their identity. Parents of kids with emotional disturbances. Genetic disorders. Mitochondrial disorders. Eating disorders. Sensory processing disorders. Mood disorders. Attention deficit disorders. Kids with IEPs. Kids with diabetes. Kids with developmental delays. Kids who can’t travel anywhere without a piece of medical equipment attached. Kids who can’t travel anywhere at all. Kids who fight authority and kids who will likely never live alone. Kids with below-average intelligence and kids with above-average intelligence. Kids who teachers don’t “get” and kids who doctors can’t help. Kids who get stared and parents who are judged.

Parents who are misunderstood. Parents who are exhausted. Parents who feel isolated. Parents who spend their free time on research and their savings on co pays. On weighted blankets. On medical strollers. On home healthcare nurses. On surgeries. On treatments. On medications. On conferences. On books. On organic ingredients. Parents who have cancelled plans more often than they’ve kept them. Parents whose schedules are mostly ruled by their kids’ needs. Parents who have hung their heads in the gaze of disapproving strangers. Parents who advocate and fight tooth and nail to keep their child from falling between the cracks. Parents who never imagined their life as it is now. Parents who just want to JUST.

Just want to eat at a Chinese or seafood restaurant. Just want to be able to leave the kids with a babysitter. Just want to spend a few dollars on something for themselves. Just want to see their friends more than they see doctors or therapists. Just want to be able to leave their child alone with their other children. Just want to walk through a store without bringing attention on themselves. Just want to enjoy their child’s laughter without the interruptions of medical equipment beeping. Just want to hear their child laugh at all. Just want to go through a day without fearing – or getting – a phone call from the school. Just want to fill out paperwork without needing extra room for all of the conditions or medications to be listed. Just want an answer so they HAVE a condition to list. Just want to be able to meet new people without having to explain anything. Just want to know that the school is meeting their child’s needs. Just want to not live in fear. Just want to dream and plan for the future. Just want to be able to attend birthday parties. Just want their kids to make friends. Just want their kids to see how amazing they are. Just want the rest of the world to see how special and loving and wonderful they are. Just want to know that it’s going to be okay.

All parents want some silence from time to time. All parents want to pee alone, go on a date, and have a healthy child. All parents want different versions of the same things. But some parents, just for a little bit, just want to JUST.

Yes, there are plenty of parents who struggle with situations “worse” than food allergies or high IQ. But that doesn’t make the very real difficulties of parenting kids like mine any easier. We’re grateful to know our kids, grateful to have been trusted enough to care for them, grateful for the access we have to modern medicine, alternative medicine, doctors and forums and blogs and therapists and support groups. But we’re tired. And sometimes we want to just JUST.

To the Mom Who Doesn’t Love Staying Home

I normally do an internal eye roll at most of the open letter blogs I see. “An open letter the lady wearing a purple sweater who let me go in front of her at the bank”. Really? Just thank her to her face. If it meant a lot, tell her. No need to tell the entirety of the internets something that only applies to one, single person. There have been some great posts, so I certainly don’t feel this way about all of them, but let’s be real: a good portion of these “an open letter to…” blogs could have easily been titled “This Happened Today and Here’s How it Affected Me”.

Yet here I am, penning an open letter, because I know it’s to more than one, single person. I know there are many out there, most of whom are silenced by guilt, by fear of others’ reactions, by stereotypes and standards that are never actually realistic.

There are mothers who stay home with their children, doing “the most important work there is”, devoting their days to their daughters or themselves to their sons, and they are miserable.

You, mom who left a thrilling, challenging career. You, mom whose degree is as useful as a PeePee TeePee. You, mom who longs for adult interaction. You, mom who misses getting dressed up every day. You, mom who feels trapped in your own home. You, mom who wanted to love it, but staying home just is not what you thought it would be. You, mom with the difficult child. You, mom who feels like she doesn’t contribute to society. You, mom who feels overlooked. You, mom who is struggling to pay the bills because you gave up an income. You, mom, whose circumstances made the choice for you. You, mom who feels left behind by the world. You, mom who feels like she has nothing left to give. This is for you.

The very phrase “stay at home mom” implies that something else is going on without you. In order to stay home, someone else must go out. Coworkers, partners, clients… they all move on and go about their business and lives and learning and making and doing…. while you stay. Every day is painfully the same, like your own personal Groundhog Day, but with just enough change and unpredictability to make you feel like you’re never getting the hang of it. People are being promoted while you’re potty training.

We’re all fortunate to have the chance, the opportunity to know first-hand the kind of care our kids are receiving (which sometimes means we take full responsibility for too much iPad time). We know that not every mother or parent is able to have lunch with their child. We know that there are millions who say “Good morning” and then “Goodbye”, and we are humbled by this. But being grateful doesn’t always make it less hard. This is not meant to be entitled, we’re very aware that our position at home is not afforded to everyone. This does not dismiss our feelings, however.

This is also not an invitation, Mom Who Loves Staying Home, to shame or negate the feelings of the moms who don’t. Some women are incredible at it. We all know at least one, at least one HER, whose home is always clean, whose children are always dressed, who not only recognizes how important what she does is, but ENJOYS it. She’s calm, peaceful, instructive, stern without yelling, and apparently has 9 extra hours a day to cook, homeschool, take her kids on outings that don’t result in embarrassment and frustration, and teach them how to sew or dip candles from their own beeswax.

Very few are this mom.

I recently participated in a discussion with over a hundred women, many of whom gave up careers – or at least put them on hold – when they became mothers, and there was an overwhelming amount of admission that they are not fulfilled in their current role as a stay at home mom. Many felt like they were terrible SAHMs, that they never should have taken on the job. They were all plagued by loneliness, disappointment, shame, guilt, and constant feelings of inadequacy. They thought they’d be better at it, they thought they’d love it, they thought it would be different. But it turned out to be really freaking hard, and a hard job will get anyone down.

I’ve worked in retail, in restaurants, at a bank, at a job where I dug a ditch by hand and gave a miniature horse an enema. I completed two college degrees simultaneously in three years and maintained a 4.0 GPA. I’ve made boondoggle keychains with only inches of plastic lanyard. So I’ve done some tough stuff in my day, I’ve worked hard and I’ve seen the results. But when those projects or work days were over, I could walk away, go home. Now if I have a hard day, I’m still at work. When I go to bed, I’m still at work. When I get out of the house, take the kids to the library or the park, I’m still at work. During meals, showers, holidays and sick days… Stay at home moms are always at work. Always. The walls of home can begin to feel like the bars of a cell, the tiny people we care for our warden. We turn down lunch invitations because it interferes with naptime or the risk of a meltdown is too great. We cancel hair appointments because WE are our only childcare. Our prayer life suffers because the few moments of silence we get, we want to just breathe or read blogs. Sometimes we lose track of the days. Sometimes we stay in our pajamas for days on end. We get lonely. Really lonely. And if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting to get a different result, then we are slowly going mad.

Too often we see the Ideal Stay At Home Mom, usually on TV, and let it affect us. We feel inferior, feel like failures. We see clean, open floor space on Fisher Price commercials and women sweeping fully dressed on Swiffer commercials. Moms who slowly and lovingly apply lotion to their smiling, accommodating baby on a perfectly-made bed. Snapshots on Instagram or Facebook of the only moment someone was able to get all the kids herded and smiling during their trip to the pet store. We see these images, then see what we are not. We try to speak up about how hard it is, and we’re met with “I wish I could stay home.” We’re told to keep a plate in the corporate fire or else society will move on and forget us. We’re left feeling drained, left behind, inadequate and messy. Our doubts often silence us and our shame keeps us lonely.

But guess what, Mom Who Doesn’t Love Staying Home – YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Not every mom feels this way, but a lot do. Thousands. The other moms you see at the grocery store in the middle of the day, fighting their toddler from tossing in everything they can reach? They’re probably having a hard time, too. The moms who homeschool? They’re probably exhausted, too. Not every job is perfect for every person, not because anything is wrong with the person. I’m a night owl who recharges from alone time and hates Minecraft. Does this mean I’m a bad mom? No! It means I have a harder time with some of the aspects of staying home with early-rising, Minecraft-loving shadows.  And I’m not the only one. You are not the only mother who is having these doubts and thoughts and longings for alone time and silence. Do not allow that idea to knock you down and shame you. Know that you’re part of a universal network of women who are struggling, who lose their tempers, who don’t derive all their joy from playing with Little People princesses for 9 hours straight.

You also can’t allow staying home to become your identity. I became a stay-at-home-mom at the ripe age of 21, a few months after graduating from college. That first year was the hardest I’ve ever been through. I had no idea who I was anymore. I went to Sears and bought elastic-waist khaki capris, t-shirts embroidered with flowers, and polos. I cut my long hair to my shoulders, I subscribed to Parents magazine, and I thought every day had to have a craft…. for a 6-month-old. I wasn’t me, I was pretending to be who I thought I had to be. But because I’m not a khaki-capri-wearing person, I was failing, floundering. I didn’t have any friends who stayed home, mostly because my friends I already had were still in college and definitely not having kids, but also because it was painfully obvious I didn’t fit in. I never wore my beloved heels, I only watched PBS Kids… I had forgotten to do what I’d loved before my precious firstborn came along.  Hobbies, nights out with the girls, internet friends…. anything we can do to stay connected to the outside world JUST FOR US is crucial. You may stay home, but you’re still valuable, you still have plenty to offer, and you still deserve new lipstick. You are still a wife, a partner, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and an all-around gem.

Despite what online comments hint at, you are not lazy and ungrateful. You’re exhausted. You’re drained. You’re putting everything you have into a job that doesn’t offer much in the form of immediate returns. You’re isolated. You’re broke. You’re in your pajamas at 3 in the afternoon. You’re always on call, never on break. You’re HUMAN. To never get tired while doing this job would require robotics… and even those would most likely get worn down or short-circuited by juice or pee spills.

Admitting you’re having a hard time does NOT make you a bad mom. If anything, you’re better for recognizing your limitations and being in tune with your needs and emotional state. No one loves doing the same thing, all day, every day, day after day. Prisoners are tortured by listening to music from kids’ shows on repeat. Seriously. It says nothing about your parenting abilities or love for your child(ren) that you break every now and then. It says nothing about your parenting abilities or love for your child(ren) if you’re in tears before 10AM. Fatigue is not the absence of love, it’s the absence of REST.  It’s okay to not love staying home. It’s okay to not find your identity in it. It’s okay to be honest about your feelings. It’s okay to be tired, frustrated, and even sometimes annoyed. Even if you made the person you’re at home with, you’re still individuals with different personalities, and they’re not going to always compliment each other. Not because anything is wrong with you, not because you’re momming wrong, but because you’re PEOPLE. Every single youth camp ever, by the 3rd and 4th day, arguments start happening. People start getting tired, they’ve spent too much time together, personalities clash, expectations aren’t met, and emotions are high. Wearing the Having-the-Time-of-My-Life mask gets tiring and true personalities begin to emerge. That’s just 4 days into camp. I’m almost 11 YEARS into being a stay-at-home mom. Trying to be someone you’re not, being surrounded by different people all day, always being needed… it gets tiring. Not because anything is wrong with me, not because I’m a bad mom, not because I love my kids less than anyone else, but because it’s a hard freaking thing to do.

Your kids don’t make you dislike staying home. It’s not your kids’ fault. Your kids are not worse than Mom Who Loves Staying Home’s kids. I know moms with kids wildly different from mine who are having a hard time staying home, and moms of kids who are a handful who have an absolute blast every day. Just as it’s not a baby’s fault when they cry, it’s not the kids’ fault that this is hard. Kids have needs, we can’t hold that against them. They need to learn things and we’re the only ones there to teach them. Kids argue, want snacks, get picky at mealtimes, need to be wiped, play loudly, and make messes. They worship us and want to be near us. They didn’t know life before us and didn’t give up anything to hang out all day with us, so we are their constant. We are their safe place. It’s not their fault, they’re not doing anything wrong by needing us. You didn’t go wrong somewhere. The JOB is what makes it hard. Remember that when it’s been a hard day, the kids are crying and fighting, you have a headache, everyone is hungry and you have to pee. Remember that when you’re cleaning up any number of bodily fluids. Remember that when they break YET ANOTHER picture frame. It’s not their fault this is hard. Don’t allow that resentment towards them to fester. We are humbly at home FOR them, and they need us. For better or worse.

Speaking of for better or worse, remember your husband, your partner, your other half? Hard days at work can sometimes cause some strain there. You’re exhausted and need to sit in silence for a little bit, and he’s missed you all day and wants to talk. You’re touched out and he wants to make out. You’re unhappy at home and he’s working hard to keep you there. A lot of the time it can feel like you’re in two different places, and sometimes you just are. It’s easy to resent him when he goes to lunches, leaves the house, enjoys a quiet car ride, and the kids behave better for him. But those things aren’t his fault. Keep in mind that as different as your days are from how they used to be, his remain largely the same. When you stayed home, he went back to work, to the same job at the same company in the same car with the same schedule. Coming home to a wife in a different role with a different energy level and different needs is going to be jarring, and will take a lot of time to get used to. It may take a really, really long time for him to begin to understand that you can’t just go to restaurants, you can’t just keep the house clean, and you don’t just sit all day watching soaps. Remember that his day is largely the same as before, and it will take time for you to both adjust to where you are now. Statistically, marital satisfaction is at its lowest when there are young children at home. It’s going to be hard on your relationship, and this is NORMAL. Remember that you’re on the same team, and hard days don’t mean you’re doing a bad job.

Remember that joke about sleeping while the baby sleeps, how everyone was trolling you when they told you that the dishes could wait because babies don’t keep? Ignore it a little. Just a little. Enough to do something for YOU. When I first became a stay at home mom, social media was in its infancy. I was lonely. I floundered for months until I found photography, which I credit with saving my sanity. It gave me something to do that I loved, that had an obvious result, something to stretch my creative muscles. With my third, I discovered online forums, specifically ones dedicated to women due the same month as myself. We swapped advice, birth stories, shared in the excitement and disappointment of the big gender sonograms… it was a circle of friends I never had to leave the house to hang out with. While we all can’t always afford a pedicure or a trip to Sephora, a new shirt, a road trip, or a date night, we can access Facebook groups. You can escape for a little while and laugh with other people without the hassle of putting on a bra. I have made legitimate, meaningful friendships with incredible women I never would have met without the internet. I play with makeup, because I like to. I watch Friends over and over, because I like to. I pull out my glue gun, I drink a Pepsi, I get something at the thrift store that I can make over, I just find SOMETHING that is for me only. It recharges me, breaks up the monotony, and unlike my lunch or my bed or the remote or my uterus, I don’t have to share it. Find something for you. If you have to let the kids watch Caillou to buy you some time with a magazine, do it. Just as you’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask first on a plane, take care of you, momma, or there won’t be any momma left to take care of everyone else.

The best advice I ever received was from That Mom, who told me that the days are long but the years are short. I cried HARD when she said this to me. Not every day is a winner. Some days all we’ve done is survive. Some days I go to bed in tears, some days I’m up late giggling with the kids. The days are as varied as their personalities, and thankfully we do NOT have to do all of our parenting in one day. We’ll mess up, and we’ll get another shot. You won’t always be wiping someone. Some day you’ll go from talking about Santa to talking about sex. You’ll trade in your audience in the bathroom for a closed door. I cried when my firstborn started holding his own bottle, because there was something he didn’t need me for, and today there is so much more that he can do without me. I can be sad about this, but I can also be proud to know that he can do these things because of what I taught him. The Karate Kid didn’t know that the seemingly menial tasks he’d been repeating were preparing him for something bigger, and we don’t always realize that what we’re doing, saying, teaching at home is laying the foundation for an adult who can change the world. So we’re basically like ninjas, and that’s always cool. You won’t always be where you are now, no matter how many times you’ve repeated yourself or cleaned the same mess. Our kids will grow, their needs will change, and our influence will take shape.

There is no shame in changing jobs. Sometimes, for the sake of everyone, you just need to call it what it is and look for work outside the home. This is not quitting. This is not failing. This is not running away from your kids. This is shifting what you provide for them to an area you are more equipped or comfortable with. No matter what, being a mom is hard. No matter what, you will sacrifice and work hard. Find your gifts and offer them to your family without any ounce of shame at what it is you have to give or what you think you should have. Be proud of what you do for your family, no matter where you do it from.

You, Mom Who Doesn’t Love Staying Home, you are strong. You are ABLE. You are a good mother who loves her kids and sacrifices just about everything for them. You are making it. You, who feels so unappreciated. You, who feels trapped. You, who is overwhelmed. You, who is tired. You, who is lonely. You, who is grieving the mom you thought you’d be. You are not failing. You are normal, human, tired, giving, teaching, and caring. You’re a ninja, a safe place, and a vital part of your children’s lives. You are important. You are valuable. You are seen and you are remembered. You are working really freaking hard, and you will not always be where you are right now.

 

 

 

*** Please know that I am writing this from my own unique perspective and experience. I know that there are many stay at home dads out there, and I am not dismissing their sacrifice or hard work, but I can’t pretend to know what their position may be like. I am not intending to leave anyone out, only offer encouragement to those who may be in a place I can empathize with. I love my kids and this is not a popular feeling to share, so be kind.

Diagnosis: Fat

That’s not an original title. There’s a whole hashtag devoted to it on Twitter, although it’s been overtaken and trolled enough by now to have lost its original momentum and intent.

This is not a post promoting obesity. I’m not encouraging people do “just do you” and ignore healthy lifestyles or guidelines. I’m not saying doctors who suggest a heavier weight is detrimental to your overall health are meanies or bullies. My feelings do not spare me from the realities of being overweight.

My weight also does not disqualify me from receiving quality, unbiased care. And THIS is what I’m writing about today.

I remember the first time I ever encountered a doctor who couldn’t see past my weight. I’d made an appointment with a doctor because I’d been experiencing some crippling anxiety and thought it was time to ask for help. I went through the usual routine with the nurse – weight, height, blood pressure, symptoms, allergies. Having never been a patient in this office before, I answered everything with patience. The handle turned, the door opened, and the as-yet-unintroduced doctor walked in, chart in hand, and handed me a pamphlet and a few information sheets. “These will help you lose weight.” Those were the first words he said to me. Barely 3 months postpartum with my second child, and being a WOMAN, I was embarrassed. I hadn’t yet realized that you’re allowed to stand up to doctors and demand they treat your symptoms, demand that they listen to you. I timidly tried to remind him what I was there for. He didn’t listen. Never once made eye contact, and wrote me FOUR prescriptions before he finally took the time to find something suitable for a breastfeeding mother. I never filled that prescription, a sort of symbolic “forget you” to the doctor I swore to never see again. For years I chalked the experience up to him simply being a jerk, a butthole, a tool, whatever. After all, in any profession you’ll find people like him, so I couldn’t assume I’d ever be treated so poorly by another physician.

Until I needed another physician.

Let me just get this out of the way: Fat people know we’re fat. No one is telling us anything new. We shop at different stores, take elevators to separate floors in department stores. We own mirrors and scales. We read the same articles and see how big of a deal it is when Target announces they’ll carry something in our size. We rarely see anyone like us in the media, and most of the time it’s only because someone felt it was their place to point out how much bigger that person is getting. Kirstie Alley has become a punch line for struggling with something the VAST majority of Americans struggle with, and somehow the same majority feels it’s okay to laugh. She knows what number stares back at her from her closet, long before anyone writes a joke about it. She knows. We know. We all know.

if you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’ve battled PCOS for most of my life. A few years ago, it began to get out of control. Not that it was ever a walk in the park, but it was truly affecting my quality of life. I sought help from a highly-specialized doctor, a man with incredible reviews and a very fancy office. I saw him several times, went through some invasive procedures, bloodwork, and tests, then sat in his office and slumped my shoulders when all he said was, “Yep, you have PCOS.” I reminded him of my symptoms, my complaints, my misery, of how I’d gained 50 pounds in a single month. Through tears I asked him if there was nothing else that could be done to help, nothing else to look for. “Well, you’re fat, so you’re not going to feel well.” Ouch. He offered to send my information to a surgeon he knew who performed bariatric surgery, despite my insistence that diet had not caused my appearance.

I worked up the courage a few months later to see another doctor. I knew that my weight was a symptom of something going horribly wrong in my body and was determined to find out what it was. This new doctor interrupted me as I tearfully shared my complaints with her to ask about my diet. My nearly 100% organic, home-cooked, acceptably-portioned diet. She was puzzled, I could tell. The confusion on her face was clear: How does she eat like that but look like this? When I told her I drank a Pepsi every day, she looked relieved and let out a huge sigh. She thought she’d solved the mystery. “Well, are they two-liters?” Out loud. She said that out loud. To me. A woman in tears, begging for her help. She didn’t care what was wrong with me, she couldn’t see past my size.

Months later, I braved the MDs again. This one actually handed me tissues as I cried. She scheduled surgery, bloodwork, tried really hard to figure out a lot of the symptoms I was experiencing. At the end of the months-long process, we were none the wiser and I was no better. Having earned my Google University medical degree at this point, I asked if she could check my thyroid. She, instead, handed me a Weight Watchers flyer. Again, yet again, this prison of fat was being seen as a cause, not a symptom. I lost my cool that time, handed her the flyer back, and gave her quite a speech on how many patients she’s probably missed the mark on because she couldn’t see past the weight.

I read a blog a few months ago that discussed this very topic, how doctors are so blinded or biased by weight that they fail to treat the actual underlying cause of a patient’s complaint. A sore knee is seen as the byproduct of bearing too much, not a possible autoimmune disorder, a legitimate injury, or even a blood clot. Labored breathing or chest pains in a plus-sized patient are met with eye rolls, not concern. There is no sympathy, no dedication. As soon as the weight of a patient is assessed, it becomes a hurdle the patient must overcome in the long path to getting a doctor to LISTEN. Yes, we know we’re fat, but please listen to what else is bothering us. Please stop staring in judgement long enough to listen with care. If doctors attend medical school for so long to help people, then start doing it already. Yes, obesity is an epidemic that causes an incredible amount of health concerns, disabilities, and death. Yes, it’s bad for us. But so are doctors who don’t pay attention to anything more than our waist band. Google “doctor fat bias” and you will find numerous studies indicating that doctors tend to treat thinner patients better and more effectively. I, for one, am less likely to seek medical care because I don’t believe that my concerns will be heard or addressed, and I don’t feel like dealing with the judgement or embarrassment that comes from being ignored.

This is a problem. All patients, no matter their size, deserve equal, empathetic care. I spent hundreds, heck, thousands of dollars trying to find a doctor who would behave like a doctor. My money is the same as that of a thin person’s. I wasn’t looking for a pat on the back, I wasn’t looking for someone to make me feel good about myself, I was looking for a DOCTOR. Yes, I’m fat, now let’s find out WHY, please. Despite treating the PCOS (which causes weight gain, hurray), I still had extreme fatigue. Hair loss. Mental fog. Aching joints. Hives. More weight gain. The overwhelming diagnosis was that I was fat. Fat people are supposed to feel miserable. Fat people only get fat by eating a whole lot. Fat people are unhealthy. Lab result after lab result showed that I was actually in incredible health. (One doctor even said “wow” when she saw my healthy blood work.) My cholesterol is fine. I am not diabetic. My heart and lungs and liver and everything else work great. I just feel terrible and won’t stop gaining weight. They all missed it. Every doctor I saw, every doctor I begged, every doctor I worked up the courage to share my struggles with, every doctor I trusted to help me. They were blinded by my size and their objective abilities to help left the room. They didn’t see the pattern. They didn’t see the fatigue, the weight gain, the hair loss, the joint pain, the mental fog, the hives, the sleeping troubles. They didn’t see a woman in front of them with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Because that woman is fat.

When I got the phone call from yet another doctor (who asked in our initial consult if I’d ever eaten a salad), I knew what was coming. A simple Google search had provided me with a diagnosis more than a half-dozen doctors couldn’t reach, months before. I knew what was wrong with me and I knew what to ask for. And while he was quite rude about it, that last doctor ran the tests that needed to be ran all along. I’d cried for years that my body felt like a lemon, like it was attacking itself, and it was finally confirmed to be true. I cried VICTORIOUS tears after that phone call. I wanted to call every doctor I’d seen and tell them the news, tell them they’d failed me. Instead my mind went to all of the other potential patients they’d failed. How many other people were walking around with treatable illnesses because they’d been diagnosed as fat? How many people who become statistics each year by dying from obesity-related issues actually have years left, but were written off as collateral damage caused by cake? I kept this news largely to myself, mostly because I’d complained enough about my health. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder, so there is no cure, only treatment. It was likely caused by the extreme imbalances from the PCOS, but everyone is different. It takes, on average, 5 years for a patient with an autoimmune disorder to get a diagnosis. And with the way autoimmune disorders work and how connected every hormone and organ and gland in our body is, those with autoimmune disorders often develop other autoimmune disorders. So we are quite literally getting worse as we look for help. We are actually wasting away. Our health deteriorates with every doctor we visit. Doctors, who take oaths, who vow to help, who wear white coats and earn letters after their names, are making their patients WORSE, simply because they don’t have their listening ears on.

I love Humans of New York. If you don’t follow Brandon and his project, you’re really missing out on an incredible glimpse at humanity. Similar to what Post Secret used to be, it shows us, every day, that we can’t judge a book by its cover, that we truly have no idea what’s going on inside someone. Until we listen.

Last night I had to go to the doctor. My throat burned like lava, I had a fever, and my lymph nodes were swollen. I needed a doctor. He walked in, sat down, and asked if I had diabetes. “No, but I have a sore throat.” It turns out I have strep throat. Treatable. Temporary. And in no way related to my weight.

Listen up, doctors. Your patients are dying and don’t care what size their coffins are.

Raising the Difficult Child – Consider the Dandelions

I wrote a concise little blog on this topic a few months back, but now I really feel like I can go a little deeper into the issue. I am no parenting expert, nor do I believe there is only one, specific, unwavering way to raise children. But I DO have a difficult child, and am learning quite a bit in the process of raising – and loving – him. I’m not naming names, but let’s just say it’s not the oldest one, and it’s not the youngest one. I’ll leave it up to your imagination. He has always been difficult. I remember our pediatrician trying to tell me in between my desperate sobs that some babies just don’t need as much sleep. He rarely napped and didn’t sleep very long. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who slept 14 hours straight at night and took 2-hour naps. I remember the night he discovered he could escape from his crib, because he did it more than 30 times. That one, single night. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who climbed out once and was so sad to have been in trouble for it that he never did it again. I remember the first time I punished him and he laughed at me. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who is so sad to have disappointed me that I rarely have to punish him. This difficult child of mine (who shall remain unnamed, remember, you’re still guessing at who it could possibly be) is stubborn, willful, volatile at times. He is easily angered, easily frustrated, and easily entertained by acting on any impulse he has. Covered in scars and dripping with swagger, he is unmoved by the concept of cause and effect. I’ve said it before that he knows about gravity, he just doesn’t care. He climbs walls, he leaps from furniture, he talks back, he gets into trouble at school, and he is extremely difficult to parent. This is particularly frustrating when I compare him to my firstborn, who is compliant, people-pleasing, a teacher’s pet, and pretty easy to parent. You can probably guess what the first thing is that I’ve learned in my journey of parenting a difficult child: you can’t compare. Comparison is the thief of joy. In parenting ANY child, comparison will only leave you frustrated and doubting yourself. One of the best days I’ve had as a mother was when the lightbulb went off, when it clicked that my two boys are different people. The more I compared the unnamed mystery wild child to the older, tiny-adult-like child, the more I was setting us both up to fail. He will never be his older brother, and that is a GOOD thing. He is unique. I don’t need two of the same kid. God spent a lot of time making him, with intention, and it was high time I started appreciating him for who he was, rather than getting frustrated at who he wasn’t. Milestones, demeanors, and reactions are as varied as likes, dislikes, and fingerprints between two same-gender siblings from the same gene pool. Wild.

Another thing I’ve learned while parenting my difficult child is that it sucks. This echoes my sentiments from the previous blog, yes, but allow me to elaborate: it really sucks. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s EMBARRASSING. It’s isolating. I cannot tell you, dear reader, how many books and blogs and journals and wise sages I’ve sought in my attempts to tame the unruly beast, all spanning different belief systems, based on different foundations, and implemented in different ways. But the one common thread is consistency. Be consistent. If it was against the rules yesterday, it has to be against the rules today, no matter how tired you are. But oh, Lord, how tired we are. How truly, bone-achingly exhausted, drained, depleted, worn we are. Every single incident, every single day, in the hopes that it will someday *click* and he’ll get it. It can make a mommy numb. It can make a mommy dejected, make her feel hopeless. Afraid to leave him with a sitter because his behavior is embarrassing, afraid to go to the splash pad because he may act up, it leaves a mommy feeling alone. Tears over what’s happening and fears over what’s to come, parenting a difficult child is, well, difficult.

The final, most important, most incredibly hard thing to grasp that I’ve learned while parenting this difficult middle child of mine (don’t act surprised, you knew it was him all along) is that it is not my fault. No argument that was ever presented to me in college has ever made me think more about nature vs. nurture than raising a strong-willed child. Sure, there are kids who act a fool because of their parents’ foolish ways, but having this handful has given me a new, more sympathetic perspective. Not every kid who talks back or doesn’t listen or has a moment is the result of bad parenting. The mom you’re judging is likely nearing dehydration from all the exasperated tears she’s cried. We know our kids are rough, it’s not something that escapes a parents’ attention.  Not every difficult child “needs to be set straight”. How do I know this? Because I’m a good mom, dangit. I know I am. I do everything I’m “supposed” to and then some. He is loved, disciplined, fed well and put to bed on time. We engage and take an interest in him, he is physically active, intelligent, and socialized. And yet he acts like a real butthead sometimes. He will always have a consequence for his disobedience, yet he still chooses to disobey. This is particularly ENCOURAGING when I compare him to my firstborn, who is from the same gene pool, is of the same gender, and is raised in the same home with the same rules, love, and attention. Two wildly different fruits of the same tree prove to me that the roots aren’t to blame, it’s just how the fruits ARE. He just IS how he is. It is no fault of my own, it’s only up to me to adapt and learn what he needs and marry that with what is expected of him. And THAT is nearly as hard as not blaming myself for my child’s behavior. I’m a good mom. This is not a cop-out, it’s a revelation. The sooner we can let go of the guilt, the sooner we can address what REALLY is causing behaviors and deal with them with an appropriate amount of attention. It is not my fault. As I sit here, my face red and tear-stained, debating just giving him an iPad for a few minutes of peace, I notice a dandelion and feel God speak to me. Dandelions are weeds. Unsightly and dreaded by gardeners. They’re stubborn, unruly, and difficult to get rid of. The more you tug at them, the harder the fight, and the more likely you are to find more dandelions next week. Just like my difficult baby. He doesn’t fit into what would be considered ideal, pristine. No one WANTS dandelions, they just pop up. But consider them for a moment. Difficult, yes, but vibrant with color. They stand out instantly not because of our feelings towards dandelions, but because they are different, bright. Dandelions can provide healing and nourishment. They undergo marked transformations, and are the stuff of childhood wishes. They spread their seeds with the wind, quickly, and all too soon are gone. Just like our difficult babies. Stubborn, tough, and not “ideal”, but beautiful in their own way, quickly-growing, and valuable. My dandelion literally grows like a weed, but he is also incredibly intelligent, creative, talented, funny, thoughtful, and can be painfully sweet. I can compare him to roses, tulips, or lilies, and he will always fall short, because he is a dandelion. Or I can appreciate his vibrancy and his limited time with me and be happy I have a flower at all. What if we all saw our own dandelions not for the pain and hassle they cause, but for the wishes we can make upon them? Hang in there, you, me. We’re not alone, it’s okay to admit we’re struggling. Having a hard time doesn’t mean we love them any less, or that we’re not doing a good job. It just means our precious little ones act like buttheads sometimes

Loving the Mentally Ill

*originally published July 2016, updated June 2018*

I’ve written, deleted, and re-written this blog for months. It’s a tough subject, and it’s hard to be honest without offending, or encouraging while still being truthful. But in light of everything that’s being said about the recent suicide of a beloved actor, I need to write this. Again.

You see, not much offends me. Things anger me, confuse me, sadden me, sure. But not a lot hurts my feelings. But I’ll say it: I’m offended at some of the reactions to the death of Robin Williams. Straight-up offended. As if it’s our place to pass judgement on a man’s death. As if our opinions on the circumstances surrounding his life and death hold any weight. As if our own experiences give us any modicum of expertise with regard to the experiences of another. I’ve seen a lot of people who claim they overcame depression, so someone else should be able to, as well. As someone who has battled depression and anxiety for decades, I still have no ounce of justified judgement towards someone fighting a similar battle. I’ve seen even more complete misunderstanding and disregard for mental illness. The fact is, depression is an illness. Sometimes it’s temporary, like post-partum depression or seasonal affective disorder. Sometimes it’s based on circumstances, like bills or illness or difficult relationships, and can thus change with the situation. Sometimes, though, it’s chemical, it’s through no fault of the sufferer, and it’s STRONG. Chemical depression CAN be overcome with prayer, but just because it isn’t sometimes doesn’t mean the person suffering has no faith. It doesn’t mean the person is weak, just as requiring insulin says nothing about a diabetic, other than the fact that they’re diabetic. Depression is a symptom of a chemical imbalance that must be corrected and observed constantly, or else it will quickly overwhelm. Depression is an ILLNESS, not a choice, not a lack of appreciation or contentment, not a weakness or a fault, and it most certainly is not selfish.

Ahh, selfishness. This is what so many of the judgements I’ve seen seem to get caught up on. The selfishness of the sufferer who chose to end their life. Does suicide affect so many more people than just the one who decided to take their life? Absolutely. But how quick we are to forget that mental illness affects the family and friends of the sufferer in life, not just in death. The loved ones of those who are mentally ill have long been experiencing pain, yet we rarely – if ever – check in with them and consider how they’re affected. How quick we are to dismiss the suffering of the depressed or mentally-ill person, alive or otherwise. We overlook the lifetime of far-reaching pain until it makes headlines.

I’m not here to argue the theology of suicide, nor do I believe that death by one’s own hand brings about a poetic release or freedom, but I will say, LOUDLY, that mentally ill persons do not think logically. You and I can think logically, yes, and using our serotonin-producing, non-muddled-up brains we can look at the circumstances surrounding someone’s suicide and decide that it wasn’t worth it, it wasn’t that bad, or they were selfish cowards. But just because something doesn’t seem to make sense to us doesn’t make it untrue. Just because you’ve never been so overwhelmed by darkness that you thought death was the only life for you DOES NOT MEAN it did not appeal to someone else. In discussing mental illness recently with a friend, she said that mental illness “gummed up” her brain, and it was the best description I’ve heard yet. Your brain may work, firing on all pistons, using logic and reason and recognizing cause and effect and multiple escape routes. But a mentally ill person’s brain does not. I need glasses to see clearly and you may not. This does not mean that because I need help to see, your eyes are better than mine. It means I need help to see. All of us, mentally ill or otherwise, have the same need and dependence upon the same chemicals and hormones to maintain a sense of balance and happiness in our brains. Really, we’re all a slight shift away from suffering, so who are we to pride ourselves over those who need what we need but can’t seem to naturally produce what we can?

I’ve lived my whole life with mental illness in the form of a bipolar mother. Is it hard? YOU BET. Do my struggles with her illness change her? In no single way at all, ever. It’s been a long road, and a very difficult one. Sometimes she does things that just make no sense… but they don’t have to. Just because I cannot empathize with her suffering does not mean her suffering is any less real. My confusion does not heal her. My frustrations do not heal her. Even my hurt does not heal her. Because SHE CANNOT HELP IT. No matter how much I want her to not be mentally ill, it won’t change the fact that she is, so I can either love and embrace her as she is, or I can live life constantly disappointed. A few times, in her darkest of days, she has even tried to hurt herself, and as a young girl who did not understand mental illness, I was offended. My feelings were hurt, I was mad, and I thought her selfish. But just as a thirsty person will drink, a mentally ill person will do what their body is telling them to. Someone with Tourette’s or Parkinson’s cannot control every movement their body unwillingly makes any more than a mentally ill person can control every thought or action they take. Cop-out? To someone who does not have understanding or empathy with regard to mental illness, maybe. The fact remains that no matter how hard it is to love someone who is mentally ill (and it’s okay to admit that it’s hard), our suffering does not negate or outrank theirs.

Robin Williams, specifically, also dealt with addictions many times during his life, further proof of his suffering, his inability to control himself, his inability to behave like a “normal person” or think clearly. Robin Williams suffered a great deal more than any of us will ever understand, even those of us who have battled the demon of depression and stepped back from the ledge just in time. The truth is that we don’t know what he was going through. We don’t know what he thought or felt or lived or saw. We do know that he made us laugh and cry and quote a lot of movies, and we should be grateful for the impact he had on our childhoods. But we should not and CANNOT pass judgement on the very last choice he made, no matter how much that choice hurts us. Because it hurt him, too. Because it may have been, in his gummed-up brain that just wouldn’t submit, the only choice he had.

This has  been a bad week. Earlier in the week we awoke to the (far too detailed) news of designer Kate Spade’s suicide. Today it was celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s decision to take his life. Once again the comments abound – “What did SHE have to be sad about?” “He was rich and famous, why would he want to die?” “Her designs were so colorful, I never would have known she was depressed.”

Again I say, nearly two years after first writing this post, that suicide will never make sense to us, those who are left behind. It will never appeal to us, those whose mental state is not gummed up, clouded, those of us who do not hurt just being awake. Their reasoning will never make sense to us, but it doesn’t have to. We aren’t owed an explanation. We are expected to care and be kind human beings. Let Kate Spade’s bright bags and Anthony Bourdain’s zest (pun intended, he would have rolled his eyes) be a reminder that we cannot always see mental illness, we definitely cannot predict mental illness, mental illness is not a stereotype, and mental illness is real.

You know someone who is suffering, I promise you. You may not know they’re in pain, or you may roll  your eyes at their frequent posts you deem to be attention-seeking or overly dramatic. It could very well be the person you least expect to be hurting. That’s the thing about depression – it’s not just sadness, it’s pain. Having every comfort in the world doesn’t preclude someone from experiencing pain, and as you know, pain cannot always be seen.

No one is ever too rich, too bubbly, too healthy, too young, too famous, too privileged, too religious, too smart, or too anything to hurt. No one is ever too anything to struggle with depression. And none of us are ever enough of anything to pass judgement on any other.  If we continue to publicly pass judgement and name-call those who are suffering from mental illness, especially those who are no longer alive to explain their pain, we will make it even harder for someone who needs help to have the courage to speak up, reach out, and get what they need. Stop making it NOT okay for someone to suffer. Have some sympathy and maybe save a life.

 

Related: The Righteous Wrong – The Flawed Handling of Mental Illness in the Church, You’re Probably Wrong About Anxiety, Measuring Others’ Pain