11.06.2016

finding for free

When I stepped away from the bible and church for a bit I wondered if I was leaving god behind along with them... Then I planted a garden and I found the divine in the dirt under my feet and fingernails and in the sprouts and buds and blooms.

I went to yoga and I found god in my breath and tears and sweat and the movement of my body.

I gave away over half of my stuff to explore minimalism and I found god in the empty spaces created by living without as much excess.

I visited a shaman and I found god in her wisdom and healing words and affirmations.

I made a date with the sunrise and found god in the orange and yellow and pink streaked across the sky.

I grew and birthed a baby and found goddess in my body with all her gentle strength and fierceness and wisdom.

I put parts of my heart that were feeling the growing pains out on a page for the world to see and I found god in those lines of black and white and in messages from strangers and new stories from old friends.

I listened, really listened, to music again for the first time in a long while and found god in my quickened pulse and hot tears and anger and hope - even in my sock feet dance moves in my kitchen.

I picked up a paint brush and I found god all over the canvas in every brushstroke and texture and color variation.

I met a new friend and found god in the steam rising up from our hot chocolate and in her voice as she invited me into her also broken story.

I sat in the rocking chair on my porch while a storm became and I found god in the gusts of wind and thunder and sheets of rain.

I wrote a letter of letting go and found god in every word across that tear stained page and again in the flames as practiced open hands, and in the full moon that watched it all.

I saw a therapist and I found god on that blue sofa and in her honest eyes and the kindness in her voice.

I took a walk and I found god in the changing leaves falling and crunching under my feet.

I went to a meeting and I found god thick in every vulnerable story and knowing smile and validating reading.

I snuggled my baby close and found god in his milky breath and fuzzy head and velvet skin and dreaming sighs.

I talked with a person who was homeless and found god in his sky blue eyes and the creases around them when he smiled and the childlike way they sparkled when he talked about himself as a young thing.

I stood where the earth meets the sea and I found god in the breeze rummaging through my hair and the sea spray on my face and cold sand under my feet and the mighty of the waves and the delicate of the lingering salty foam.

I chased squirrels with E and I found god in the grassy carpet under my bare feet and in the sun dancing in the trees and pouring through the gaps in their leafy tops and in his squeal-giggle-squat and the innocent joy in his eyes.

I visited my granny and found god in her brave truth telling and charmingly out of tune piano and every bloom and butterfly in her garden.

And that's roughly when I decided it was time to stop listening to the folks claiming to have the corner on the god thing. Why jump through those hoops - contort and tame and prune away the wildness in my soul - to get something that it keeps finding for free all on its own? What if the wildness itself is god essence? If I'm really honest, I like that the divine I keep finding is the type that does side deals. While some art and literature would try to define what god is or isn't right down to approved and disapproved places, vocabulary, theologies, ethnicities - while they put stipulations on what folks have to do and be and think to get on the god list and where to go to find "him"- I like that the divine disrespectfully side steps the rules and shows up in sunrises and hiphop and the homeless. And even more, that whatever divine is inside me, it recognizes and draws me to the divine outside of me... I only have to listen to my soul, because it's already old friends with the truths I've just met.


It reminds me of one of my favorites by Mary Oliver..

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

9.23.2016

dear friends,

I can feel this shift happening and I need to talk about it. In this space, with you. It never occurred to me that the chasm between who I was and who I'm becoming was growing so wide until someone recently talked with me about their troubled marriage. I could feel the expectation on the other end of the phone... But your marriage is amazing now, yes? God fixed yours and he'll fix mine too, right!? I felt frozen and useless. I knew the words she wanted to hear, but couldn't muster them. I don't want to tell anything but the truth. I don't have any promises or magic prayers, and I felt like I was letting her down. I didn't mean to trick anyone with hope. I hate the bait and switch. But above all else I want to know in the core of me that whatever my story contributes to the conversation about marriage and infidelity and healing in recovery... that it is wholly honest. I need it to be, for me. 

"To tell it honestly"...that's been my guidepost from start. Even when it's uncomfortable. Even when people don't like it. Even when what was true for me then isn't true for me any longer. So I've typed and backspaced and slept on it a few times over. I think to myself, just write the next true thing. Write the truest sentence you know... And the more I change, the easier and harder that becomes. There is still plenty that I'm not ready to say because I'm still sorting it out internally. But I can offer some context surrounding what I wrote two years ago and share a bit about where I am now - namely how I've changed, what I would do differently, and what I'd say to someone just starting the journey of recovering from an affair. I want to share what these years have taught me... what they're still teaching...


Why did I blog about my marriage and do I regret it? 
One reason I shared it all so publicly at the time was because I was tired of running into someone I knew at the grocery store, and trying to not lie and also not overshare when they asked "How are you?"... A question with a dozen different meanings. I was weary of relaying the story and reliving the trauma over and over each time. But I also didn't want to isolate, and knew that was my tendency. I wanted my heartbreak to fuel conversation and connection, not start a rumor mill... I decided, this is my life and I'll be the one to decide how I share it. I also had this tiny suspicion that there were others who may find comfort that they weren't the only ones. After I hit the "publish" button I panicked. I can't undo this. Then as my inbox began filling with messages I didn't want to anymore. I realized that stuff like this is happening ALL around us and we're all hurting, but hesitant to speak up. Shame told me that I had somehow failed and it kept me quiet until I named it and found my voice... and that was precisely when I found the strength to begin the process of healing.

Of course, if I were writing that initial post today it wouldn't be the same, because I'm not. What I shared fresh after the affairs, I wrote from a place of honesty. The thing I didn't realize at the time was that I was still in the aftershock of trauma and in the very beginning stages of grief. My emotions were raw, but my behavior indicated that I was still in denial. Numb. Disoriented. Surviving. My belief system was the only "stable" thing I had at the time, so I clung to it like a life preserver. I was desperate for safety and security, a place to catch my breath while I tried to make sense of what had just happened. The bible and church/religious gatherings were familiar to me and comfortable... I knew the people and spoke the language. I went there seeking refuge, and that's what I found in a few relationships, but also a lot of pressure to stay and make my marriage work along with cliche explanations, insensitive declarations, and bandaids. I didn't want a bandaid. For the first time since my life shattered I realized that I had been using religion, not to heal, but to numb. To medicate, take the edge off the pain, keep from feeling it all at once. 
I didn't want to numb the pain anymore. I was ready to sit in it and let it teach me.

But I felt rushed and hurried along - like some people needed my story to have happy ending and as soon as possible. They needed my marriage to be a redemption story. I realize that may have been born out of good intentions, but it wasn't what I needed. I needed space and time to sit in the discomfort of it all - because that is where the transformation happens. My choice was to get quiet and start faking it again or to keep working out my grief, living in my truth as long as it took. Church had become a house of triggers. Triggers and bandaids. So I decided to break up with organized religion to explore my relationship with spirituality - something that's still messily, beautifully unfolding. 

And while that first blog post was heavy on the bible and possibly even portrayed "God" and "grace" as quick fixes - all highly inaccurate representations of my current thinking and experience - I'm still proud of myself for having the courage to talk and write about it at all. Though I did it imperfectly, it is still one of the bravest things I've ever done. In spite of criticism and invasive questions and opinions and judgements and unsolicited advice, I didn't run and I didn't fight, I stood in my truth. And I got stronger. 


How has this changed me?
Trauma and crisis open our eyes to things we can't unsee. In moments I wanted to shut my eyes tight (denial) - it's almost reflexive, like walking out of a dark theatre into bright sunshine. But shut eyes can't keep the bright truth away, they just keep us from seeing it. So opening my eyes and giving them time to adjust was the very beginning. 

Once they adjusted to the light I began surveying the damage, and in the wreckage of my marriage I found a gift: my own dysfunction coming from old wounds and trauma and with them, the opportunity to begin healing. ACA has been the greatest catalyst for that healing work for me. Hard, beautiful, ugly, messy work. It's as if a lot of true things were woven together with lies to create the fabric of my thinking. I'm taking it apart strand by strand and starting over, deciding what to discard and what's worth keeping. This arduous, tedious task has ushered in a season of reevaluating and questioning. I haven't been to church in a long while and it's been refreshing - hushing the voices telling me who I'm supposed to be as a "christian", as a wife, as a mother, as a woman... telling me what to do what to think what to say what not to say what to wear what to feel what not to feel... Hush. I answer to the voice within me

I'm learning to listen. I'm carving out a safe space for myself to heal. That choice has opened up a lot of room for healthy spirituality, starting with self-care which, for me, looks like this: 
I am setting boundaries, as uncomfortable, awkward, and strange as they may feel.   
I am painting. 
I am listening to the music I enjoy.
I am feeling uncomfortable feelings without numbing them or denying them.
I am meditating.
I am openly and honestly looking and asking questions, even - especially - those without clear answers.
I am moving my body and thanking it for all it is and all it does.
I am spending time with my recovery community and working my program.
I am abandoning false beliefs and naming them. 
I am taking baths, using oils, burning incense.
I am writing.
I am going to therapy. 
I am being as gentle, encouraging and patient with myself as I would a close friend or my own children.
I am practicing yoga.
I am focusing on healing for myself rather than fixing or rescuing others.
I am learning to live untethered from both what has already happened and what hasn't happened yet, fully in the present. 

And I need to own something here. When I talk about self-care, and especially when I practice it, I brace myself for criticism and judgement. My model for how to love was this: Give to the point of the complete depletion, exhaustion, and burn out. Give until you have nothing left. Others over self... all things to all people. Like the book, The Giving Tree. Irresponsible giving. It led me straight into depression and resentment; repetitively over the course of my entire life. And I'm not only talking about irresponsible giving to the church, I did it in my marriage too. I've often wondered, why is it so uncomfortable for me to acknowledge my needs and ask for what I want? Why does giving feel superior to needing? What is it that compels me to do all, do it perfectly, and do it with a smile disregarding that my insides feel simultaneously desperate and dead? Do men feel this the way women do? I think part of it for me is perfectionism, to shield me from feeling the old messages of "not enough"... maybe if I do it all and do perfectly I can avoid the criticism and disappointment... I'll never let anyone down. 

I tried on all the expectations like clothes. Don't feel. Don't need. Keep quiet. Be happy. Make others happy. I put them layer after layer and when they didn't fit I felt like something was wrong with me. Since these are the clothes I've been handed and they don't fit I'll just change myself... maybe I can grow into them. It never occurred to me that those costumey, overwhelming, suffocating expectations were the problem to begin with. Still, taking them off feels scary... naked, exposed, vulnerable... but also lighter. How else can I feel warm sun and cool wind on my skin... maybe this is how I learn to feel human. And living fully human is to feel more than hollow happy. I'm no longer interested in divorcing parts of myself to keep others comfortable... so I keep practicing letting my soul speak up. Maybe this is I how to learn to stop apologizing for being. I never dreamed that loving and caring for myself would feel like such an act of defiance! But that's exactly what it is. 

Self-Care: Caring for my body, mind, and soul. 
Not fixing them up to be presentable to other people. Getting to know them, listening to them, and loving them as they are because they are mine. 


Do I regret staying with him?
You guys, healing trauma requires willingness and intentionality and it happens really slowly... Like the way a tree grows, or how a stream of water carves out rock. I think maybe I was hoping back then that God would just make J into a new person then our life would be new... but the tools for newness turned out to be twelve step programs and lots of therapy ...and that work is life long work. He may choose sobriety or not, but the old wounds, the family stuff and personal choices took years and years to shape him and I can't rescue him from those things. That's his work. His journey. Though sincere, I think I was sincerely misguided as I focused outside of myself on what I hoped I could fix, oblivious to the depth of my own wounds and trauma. 

I made a lot of choices then in the name of "grace" or "forgiveness" that make me cringe. What I know now is that those words by true definition can and will look different for different people and they could have looked different for me as well... and that would have been okay too. It would still be okay. I don't know if we'll stay married or not, but the lack of certainty is no longer paralyzing. I am whole and loved with or without my marriage. 

One of my greatest concerns from all I've written is that someone may read my words and feel that there is only one "right" choice, when that isn't the case at all. Please hear this: Sometimes grace can look like divorce. Sometimes forgiveness looks like strong boundaries and distance from an unsafe person. Sometimes love looks like protecting yourself and/or your children so you can actually begin a process of healing. Only you can decide what is right for you, and what is right for you today may not be what is right for you tomorrow. That is for you, and you alone, to decide. Whatever you choose, whatever the voice within you whispers, I hope you find the courage to listen. I'm still learning how one moment at a time over here. 

. . . . .


I just found out my spouse/significant other has been having an affair. Now what?
These are things I found helpful for me during that time of crisis. Your journey is going to be your own. Please don't rush it or tidy it up. It doesn't need to look the same as mine or anyone else's. These suggestion won't make the pain go away, but they may help you a safe framework in which to process it. 

This is trauma and you are in emotional ICU and need a support team. Surround yourself with the handful of people who have proven themselves trustworthy. I'm talking speed-dial friends. Ask a few friends if you can check in with them regularly and get brutally honest about how you are with them. Not everyone you know has to know every detail. If you don't have the emotional energy to maintain superficial or unsupportive relationships for a while, that's okay. It might just be one of the most refreshing and liberating choices you could make. I also can't emphasize strongly enough the value of finding a twelve step community and working your own program. After that initial post about my marriage, someone contacted me and suggested Al-ANON.. and I was so confused because I thought twelve step programs were just for alcoholics. Then someone else recommended ACA and I thought she too was confused because I didn't grow up with alcoholics. As it turns out, "not-an-alcoholic" isn't the same thing as healthy, and I'm so proud of myself for going to that first meeting. I've never belonged somewhere more in my life. There are so many amazing twelve step fellowships that offer an opportunity to heal in a way that you and I simply cannot in isolation. I'm so thankful that I found my own fellowship and started working my own program. 

Find a therapist. If you were in a wreck and had a physical injury or trauma you'd go to a doctor. Your emotional health is just as important. Maybe you're lucky to have some great friends or wise mentor type folk in your life.. Awesome! That's your friend or mentor, not your therapist. Maybe even have a pastor or some other spiritual leader you can turn to. Wonderful! That's your pastor or spiritual leader, not your therapist. In the same way if you needed surgery it wouldn't be enough to just webmd it or call your nurse neighbor, you'd need an actual licensed surgeon, the same is true in this case. You need an actual licensed therapist. If the first therapist you try isn't a good fit, try another one! The first person I talked with was an out of towner I spoke with on the phone a few times and she was so helpful! The second person I talked with was a local "counselor" from a prominent church that offered free counseling services. Her advise was so poor and damaging it was part laughable part scary. My friends and I still shake our heads and joke about some the of the unbelievably misguided things she said. (Remember that part about credentials? Yeah.) The third person was great for a season, then I needed someone else to help me work through some specific trauma, which led me to my current therapist. The work with that person has been invaluable.

You don't have to decide if you're going to leave or stay right now. You don't have to make that decision tomorrow or this week or this month, but you DO need a safe space to heal and take care of YOU. Create that safe space and guard it fiercely, however that may look. Stay or leave, the relationship with yourself is one you'll have forever, so invest in it - especially right now. Practice some really good self care. As tempting as it may be to numb and check out, those only delay the inevitable. I know this is painful and it's so hard to sit in the feelings. When they began to creep up my immediate reaction was to escape them with planning and busy and distraction. But they didn't go away. Being intentional about time alone was helpful for me... to journal, feel, scream, cry, grieve. I know it's uncomfortable, but this part is important and I've learned it doesn't last forever. It's like cleaning out a wound. Is it going to hurt? Hell yes. But if you don't do it now and just slap a bandaid over the top. it's going to get infected and hurt so much worse later. It's also possible that you don't feel anything right now, and that's okay too. It's normal to be in shock and that can be a gift. I was in shock for a while. It gave me the clarity to make practical logistical choices for myself (I separated from Jason, found a therapist, purchased some books and a new journal, gathered my support team). Look up the stages of grief. Just as if someone close to you died, you have to grieve your way through this and there aren't any shortcuts to true healing and it takes a long time... And by long time I don't mean weeks or months, I mean years. But you don't have to do it alone.


I highly, HIGHLY recommend these reads: I read through a LOT of good and bad and lots in between and out of everything these continue to have the greatest impact on my life and healing/recovery. 

The Betrayal Bond by Patrick Carnes (google "trauma bond")
The Voice of the Heart by Chip Dodd
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
Rising Strong by Brene Brown (youtube her tedtalks) 
Scary Close by Donald Miller


If you have gone through or are going through something similar, I'm so sorry... With all my heart... I hate it for you and my gut response is to wish it away. I don't want you to have to experience the pain. Yet, from my own experience, I've learned that the discomfort that feels like it may kill you can birth something new inside you if you let it - stay with it, don't run from it, rush through it, or numb it. I've finally reached a place in my own journey that, though I would love to erase the circumstances that brought me here, I wouldn't dare trade the healing and growth for the world. Truly. It's been a TON of work to get to a place where I can say that honestly, but I'm beginning to view it less as a "getting through this" and more evaluating how I want to live and who I want to be, then actively taking steps daily to make that happen as an ongoing practice. I'm finding myself able to look back with more gratitude than regret. I'm paying attention - learning to honor my still small voice. Learning a spirituality new kind of spirituality that doesn't shame my humanity but celebrates it. 


Wishing you love and light on your journey,


Whitney 

10.21.2015

the gift of flawed and chosen family

It's 3am and I'm wide awake, heart-broken for the flawed and dysfunctional family my sons get no choice in. The family I got no choice in, or didn’t know I was choosing. Trying to wrap my head around why and how any parent and grandparent would choose themselves over their children and grandchildren. Trying to imagine how wisdom answers the hypothetical answers my son will ask in 2 or 5 or 10 or 20 years.

But that’s not my family, right? And of course, it’s not Jason’s or yours either. Because we all went to church and look super sparkly on Facebook, and the good, “godly” kids like us respect their family name and sing their parents’ praises and work a part-time job polishing their family image. Well here’s the truth folks: While all our parents have some great qualities, they also all have some rough edges. Some perhaps more jagged than others. No one can convince me that there was a more perfect dad on the planet to raise and nurture my heart and spirit and I’m thrilled that he’s also "Pop-pop" to my little guys. Even still, we are who we become partly because of our parents and partly in spite of them, and I find not an ounce of shame in that.  

I will happily be the first to lay down the family polish. When you’re heart-broken you don’t have energy for pretense and so I lost the ability a while ago. My family, Jason’s family, is flawed and broken and dysfunctional. After staring into that hard reality many a 3am in which it felt like only a nightmare, I woke up to the gift that is. It’s easy to look at the absence of a family member here or there and see the lack, but I’ve starting noticing what that space is filled with instead - and that is the gift of choice

I get to choose how I want to be treated. 

I get to choose those who are loyal and kind and full of character and wisdom. 

I get to choose, hand-pick even, those people who my sons will look up to and create special names for. 

I get to choose who is trustworthy and privileged to be part of my most vulnerable. 

I get to choose who sits around my table and loves on my babies - and we don’t necessarily have to share any resemblance. 

Some of the people I have chosen I happen to share blood with, and some of the ones I've chosen, I don’t. But how is that any less? What makes us think that there is something in shared blood that creates exceptions? Shared blood doesn’t create loyalty or character or love, though sometimes a common interest of family image management can create the appearance of those things. When those qualities truly indwell a person, it doesn’t take shared blood to draw them out. And if a person doesn’t embody those things, shared blood won’t create them. Yet somehow we’ve come to see this type of blood family as a form of identity that it was never meant to be - that if I can make these people I share a name with appear flawless, then somehow that says something about me. To be quite honest, it’s those glossy families that I’ve become a little leery of the older I get. Sometimes, the more broken, the more the need to create the image of perfection. But the especially beautiful souls who have graced and enriched my life - some blood related and some not- tend to have one thing in common: They are not image managers. 

They own their flaws and brokenness. 

They are the ones who are quick to say sorry and have forgiven before I ask. 

They aren’t in the business of self-promotion. 

They are comfortable in mess, both mine and their own. 

They are comfortable being “in-process” 

... and vulnerable enough to share struggles and doubts while they’re still working through them. 

They are quick to see their flaws and my strengths, and never try to fix me. 

They are the ones I want to become more like.

They are the ones I choose to be family.  

And what an incredible gift! A gift that I share blood with some people like that and a gift that I get to choose rest to fill the empty spaces. I can say that life down here at the bottom, in the humble and messy, it may not be very popular on Facebook or gain you a ton of Instagram followers, but there’s no place I’d rather be. When we trade in likes for the real friends who can weather the storm and aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, we find the best kind of family. To be honest, I’d have to say that mine is still small, but growing as I’m learning to trust people again. And one of my favorite things about this kind of family is that (because they don’t care much for image and pretense either) there’s room at the table for you too, and nobody cares if the extra dishes match. It may not be the kind of gathering you can post pictures of to become the envy of all the block, but it’s exactly where I want to eat. It’s where I can be my most authentic, vulnerable self. It’s where I want to raise my kids and navigate the hard questions. 

And y’all, creating that kind of family IS hard work... because it requires all of me, showing up, being willing to be known, risking, rough edges and all. 

It’s built when I choose to pick up the phone and call that friend when I’m about to lose my ever-loving mind instead of checking out and comparing my messy life to someone else’s seemingly greener life on social media. It’s built when I stop trying to impress and invite those friends over at the last minute even when my house is a construction zone and dinner is coming from a box and served on paper. It’s built when instead of judging I see that struggle in you and say “me too.” It’s when I choose to reach out for help instead of pretending to have it all together. It’s when I choose to be the kind of person I want to call family that I participate in creating it - flawed but together, broken but chosen. 


8.04.2015

a tribute to Willow

Some of you may remember way back when we bought Willow (FOUR long years ago) and my blog temporarily turned into a documentary of all our amateur renovations and home improvement projects. Well we just took on a brand new project house, far beyond anything we’ve tackled before… and I can't wait to share all this renovation goodness with you!
BUT FIRST!! We stumbled across this album the other night of all the “before” pictures of Willow and our jaws dropped. Even we had started to forget how far she had come and I just couldn’t resist a trip down memory lane with some good ole before and afters - as a tribute to Willow. She’s been so good to us and it makes us so happy knowing that it’s another family’s turn to get to enjoy her. 



















Oh, and the very best thing we got out of living in our first home?! That stray, skinny little 20 pound pup that wandered up looking for a home. Of all the things I’m grateful to Willow for giving us, Mocha pup is the greatest gift of all... and all 95 pounds of her is coming with us!! 




Farewell, sweet Willow. We know you’ll make the lucky next family so happy! 

. . . . .

As we move on to a new chapter, J and I are just so blown away by how purposeful everything has felt.
The timing.
We just. can’t. get over it.

NOTHING about the buying and selling process worked out “as planned” but in retrospect every detail has fallen into place more beautifully than we ever hoped it could. I’m planning on sharing some sneak peaks of new little construction-zone, soon-to-be-home soon. Her name is Evelyn and she’s the perfect place for some fresh beginnings. She’s a major change, a very purposeful downsize into the city (which I can’t wait to share more about) and feels so in alignment with some heart shifts that have been in the works for a while.

5.17.2015

when God doesn’t feel good

Have you ever doubted that God is really good?

I sat in church not too long ago and that line was in a song... or maybe someone said it from the microphone. I don’t remember. Only that instead of that “God is good!” inspiring excitement or hope, it made me really, really angry. I thought about my life, the details that I don’t blog about, the deepest parts of betrayal and wounds that still haven’t healed, the evils that seem entirely unnecessary.

I thought about a family who had just lost their precious little one so tragically. I thought about the documentary I watched about sex trafficking, about children who are practically babies when they’re sold and treated like soulless objects and this is all they know - no way out. I thought about pornography addiction and the millions of people who claim to “follow Christ” - people who go to church and sing those songs and quote bible verses - but instead of liberating the oppressed like Jesus did, they fuel an industry that enslaves the people he gave his life to free. I thought about the stories that don’t have happy endings and the people that die never experiencing what real, human love actually feels like.

How can a good God let those things happen?

I thought about the person who said or sang those words. I don’t know their story, but I thought they certainly don’t have one like mine… and they sure as hell haven’t seen that documentary about sex slavery! I wondered if I’d ever tossed those words around and if anyone who was hurting, doubting, questioning heard them and wanted to punch me in the face.

I actually used to feel comfortable with the god is good crowd. Messy stories that involved suffering made me really uncomfortable. I think it was because I didn’t have any good answers and I felt like I should. I felt like I needed some way to explain the unexplainable to make it have a purpose or happier ending, but I didn’t. I tried, of course, but the “comforting” explanations always felt grossly insufficient at best… even to me. I didn’t know how to help. I didn’t know how to make god good in that scenario.

The past year I’ve become a lot less comfortable around the god is good crowd, and the people with messier stories and lots of questions have started to feel more like home. Once my own life started feeling like a giant cosmic mistake, I finally saw what I’d been missing before when I was so eager to offer “help” and answers. People in the middle of mess don’t need quick fixes and pretty answers or bows to put on top of their crap. They need safe people with whom to ask their questions and have their doubts and not be alone. They need to be surrounded by humans who believe in something non-human that’s big enough to handle tough questions without any good answers. And generally speaking, those are the ones who have walked through a lot of messy things either themselves, or intimately with others.

I’m starting to wonder if the peace that heals our deepest spiritual unrest isn’t in theology, but relationships.  It’s awfully hard to find Jesus in isolation and even harder to live like him alone. What if our spiritual understanding can only grow as deeply as we plant safe people in our lives and offer our vulnerable, unfiltered selves to them? What if it’s our overly-simplistic answers rather than our wildly honest questions that have been keeping us from experiencing community? I think it’s interesting that in the gospels, Jesus wasn’t offended or put off by people with doubts and questions… his response was always come and see, come and follow, join this community, learn from me, let’s have dinner. And the people who had all the answers and looked down on the ones who were asking bold questions? Jesus used some strong and vivid language to call them out and cursed them for being oppressors, making a show of their religion, and keeping people from God.

So why do we feel this need to defend God or be able to explain him? Why did I feel the need? Maybe its just the human condition - fear of what we don’t understand, a need to make meaning of things, a desire for predictable outcomes and reasons we can wrap our brains around or fit into tidy equations. Whatever the reason, I’m working on being okay in the discomfort of a God who is bigger and less explainable than I once thought. I’m struggling to find peace while I have zero answers. I'm getting more comfortable admitting that sometimes God feels trustworthy and safe, and sometimes it feels like my life is screwed over for his glory and I don’t want any part of it.

But most of all, I’m finding that sometimes faith isn’t about creating reasons or answers for God. Sometimes it looks like having faith that the God I’m struggling to trust is big enough to handle my honest doubts. Could mustard seed type faith in some seasons mean risking being painfully vulnerable, laying down my bare, open questions before I have a chance to polish them up to make them "doctrinally sound”? I think my mustard seeds look an awful lot like that right now. And if that’s the season that you’re in too, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. I don’t have answers to make the unthinkable make sense, but I’m honored to sit in the unpolished vulnerable with you as we ask our questions and have our doubts. Together.

4.02.2014

Essential Oils

This post has been in the works for quite a while, but with the little guy learning to walk and dropping one of his naps, I’m working double time just to keep the house standing! ;-)

So on to the oils...

I just want to share our experience with them. I had bought and used less expensive oils from Whole Foods before and was pretty underwhelmed. The scents were short-lived and turned really funky after a short while. I honestly didn’t really get all the hype over essential oils until I did more research and learned that there are actually different grades or qualities of oils. The really inexpensive ones (like the first ones I tried) are inexpensive because they cost less to produce. These oils are extracted from the plant using heat or chemicals which destroy the quality of the oil, can alter the smell, and are not as effective for medicinal use. Some inexpensive oils are also diluted with an inexpensive carrier oil to save on costs as well. High quality oils are more expensive because they cost more to produce… they take more time and effort. The reason I decided to try out Young Living oils is because they produce some of the highest quality essential oils you can purchase (100% pure, undiluted, therapeutic grade) I LOVE their blends, and found their prices to be pretty competitive. Though they are certainly not the only reputable brand with high quality oils, they seemed to be the best fit for our family and needs. 


Here are some things we no longer use (store-bought) since we started using essential oils:

Candles
Perfume
Deodorant
Shampoo
Conditioner
Lotion
Mouthwash
Toothpaste
Household Cleaners
Dryer Sheets or Fabric Softeners
Diaper Cream
Bug Repellant
Tick and Flee meds for Mocha 
Medications (Tylenol, Neosporin and allergy medications were our most used in our house pre-oils)


Here are some of the oils we use instead and some of my favorite uses for essential oils:

>>  I love wearing the blends Joy, Peace & Calming, and Stress Away as perfume… they smell SO incredible and are totally non-toxic and actually beneficial to the body and mind (unlike conventional perfumes which are cocktails of known carcinogenic chemicals. Studies have shown that repeated exposure to these chemicals actually alter the DNA in our cells. Sorry Chanel. I loved you, but it’s finally over). 

>>  Candles. Oh, you guys… I used to burn candles all the live long day; and never dreamed there was anything unhealthy about them. In fact, I didn’t even buy essential oils as a substitute for candles or with any intention of giving them up. I just fell in love with my YL diffuser and used it constantly and loved how great I felt breathing the essential oils that I phased out my candles without even trying. It was only after that I learned how bad candles are for our health. Here is a really informative article about why they are harmful (and if you just can’t part with candles, how to make sure you buy ones that are not toxic).



>>  I make my own deoderant now with equal parts unrefined coconut oil, arrow root powder, few tablespoons of baking soda, and blend of essential oils. My favorite at the moment is Stress Away because when it’s mixed with the coconut it smells totally exotic and tropical!

>>  For shampoo I just use baking soda and water pre-mixed into a paste and add rosemary and peppermint essential oils. They smell soooo good in combination and are great for restoring the health of your scalp and promoting hair growth. Since I stopped using regular shampoo my hair is so much shinier and smoother that I don’t even use heat on my hair any longer. It hasn’t been this long or thick since I was pregnant. 

>>  For conditioner I use 1 part apple cider vinegar to 3 parts water and few drops of peppermint and rosemary. It restores the natural PH of the hair and makes it super shiny. 

>>  For lotion I use I mixture of unrefined coconut oil (whipped!) and my favorite essential oil scent.. usually Peace & Calming or Lavender at night.

>>  We make our own whitening mouthwash now using 1 part food-grade (yes, it’s important that it’s food-grade) hydrogen peroxide and 3 parts water with 5 drops of clove oil and 10 drops of peppermint oil. Your mouth will feel so freakin’ fresh (but not dry like can alcohol-based mouthwashes can). You won’t even believe it until it happens. 

>>  I also make my own toothpaste (you can make it into a paste, but we prefer it as a powder) based on this recipe… Again, the peppermint and clove combo is so amazing and make your mouth feel fresh-from-the-dentist clean. It’s not foamy like regular toothpaste (which may be a love/hate thing). I personally love it, because regular toothpaste makes me gag really easily (especially when I was pregnant), so in my opinion it’s a huge bonus!

>>  To clean floors, counters, toilets, sink… literally EVERYTHING (except for windows on which I use diluted vinegar) I use a blend of Purification and Thieves mixed with water and a drop of dish soap to keep the oils suspended. Purification is anti-bacterial and a natural bug repellant (bonus!) and Thieves has been proven more effective that chemical cleaners in killing bacteria both airborne (when diffused) and on surfaces including staph, e coli and salmonella. I feel so much better spraying this stuff knowing that my family isn’t breathing (and licking) residues of toxic, chemical cleaners that have been linked to asthma and all other sorts of upper respiratory problems. Here is more info on the effectiveness of Thieves.

>>  Instead of dryer sheets I use a few drops of whatever essential oil I’m feeling that day (usually lavender or lemon) on my wool dryer balls and clothes come out smelling so fresh!

>>  Tea Tree, Lavender, and German Chamomile are amazing at protecting the skin and curing all kinds of rashes, including eczema and yeast. I use one drop of Tea Tree in spray bottle of water to use on cloth wipes, and use a blend of all three in diaper balm I make (with unrefined coconut oil, Shea butter, jojoba oil, beeswax, and vitamin E). I use the diaper balm on any dry areas as well because its super gentle and healing. Eli has been 100% rash free since we started this combo. 

>>  Bugs don’t like purification… and I mean ALL types of bugs, and it’s waaaay safer to for humans and four-legged friends than chemical bug sprays! We use it on our skin to keep away mosquitos, ticks and chiggers; and we put several drops on Mocha’s collar each week to keep ticks and flees away which it has thus far (and we go hiking in the woods multiple times a week so I feel pretty confident in recommending this one). 

Our medicine cabinet “before” on the left and in the trash,
and “after” on the right. This is all we need.
>>  Medications. This is whole other side of Essential Oils that I knew nothing about before trying Young Living and I’ve still only touched the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more I’m learning every day, but have been blown away with all I’ve experienced thus far. Since Eli has been been born (a year this month!!) no one in our family has had to make a single sick visit to the doctor. And we live pretty social lives… we go on play dates or play groups multiple times a week, we have people over, we go to the park, Eli licks surfaces in public places (in spite of my best efforts to prevent it). Pretty much, we have plenty of exposure to germs (of course some families may have more or less, but we certainly haven’t had to live like germaphobes to stay well). I think there are a lot of factors playing a role in that (eating a lot of vegan raw foods, spending lots of time outside/exercise, homeopathy) and I’d be happy to talk more about those if anyone is interested, but for now I just want to share some ways that we use essential oils to support the systems of the body rather than just masking symptoms like many otc medications can. 

***Due to the FDA giving YL a lot of attention lately in the form of new restrictions regarding testimonials, I cannot claim that essential oils can be used to heal, treat or prevent any health related issue or decease. I have some thoughts on that, many of which this lovely blogger put perfectly into words right here. I can however tell you when and how I use essential oils. I can also tell you that now, almost a year after writing this post, we still have yet to make a sick visit to the doctor or have any need for even a single dose of any OTC or prescription medication. 

Headaches: Lavender and peppermint on the temples, forehead, and base of the neck. Works better than Tylenol and won’t do serious damage to your liver. 

Stratches, Cuts, Scrapes, Papercuts, Burns: Lavender. This stuff is AMAZING. I’ve seen it stop bleeding and pain almost instantly, and helps the tissue repair and fades scarring (in my experience) faster than Neosporin. 

Ulcers, Teething, any pain in the mouth, lips or gums: Clove oil, diluted with a carrier oil. Clove oil is both antiseptic AND anesthetic (numbing). I rub it into all of E’s wooden teething toys and diluted with coconut oil directly on a tooth bud using a q-tip if I know where a tooth is coming in.

Congestion, Sneezing, Runny Nose: Peppermint, Lemon, and Lavender. I prefer to diffuse them rather than dilute and apply topically, but either way works extremely well and does not have any side effects like drowsiness… or sleeplessness, Hallelujah Amen!

Eczema: Lavender, Tea Tree, German Chamomile, and Melrose diluted in coconut oil are what I use. I had horrible eczema as a child and even still have recurrences of it when the weather changes. The only thing that ever worked for me a specific prescription medication. That is until I tried these oils. The itching and pain was gone almost immediately and in 24 hours there was no sign that it was ever even there. 

2.24.2014

Dear Eli,

You’re days away from 10 months and even though this phase demands more of me - my full attention, and creativity - it’s my favorite yet. You understand so much and get excited when we say or sign certain things like “milk”, “outside” or “mocha” and squeal when I ask “can I wrap you?”… you love riding on my back like a little monkey and lean back and forth to see what I’m doing and are especially fascinated when I’m chopping up vegetables or cooking.

I love when you stop right in the middle of something you’re playing and toddle over to me and throw yourself into my arms and lay your head down on my shoulder. I give you a hug and kiss then you dive back down to the floor and crawl away faster than lightening back to whatever you were playing.

Last week felt like the beginnings of spring with sunshine and blue skies and temps in the upper 60’s… absolute heaven! We stayed outside as much as we possibly could and you’ve since decided it’s the only place you want to be. When Mocha goes to the door, you follow her there and try to crawl out after her. The second the door shuts, you stand up with you hands and face pressed up against the glass door and cry huge tears like every dream in your little heart has just been crushed. The second I open the door again and let you out, the tears dry up and you wear a permanent smile. You pull grass, and crunch leaves then taste them. You squeal and chase Mocha around the yard. You pick up her toys and feed her grass which she chews on, obligingly.

You’ve also just discovered how much you like cardboard boxes and climbing the stairs. Also, you eat everything.

We listen to Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Roots album a lot these days because it reminds me of changing seasons and the months before you were born when I listened to it on repeat. It was around this time last year that I started really anticipating your birth and meeting you for the first time. Every time I hear Soul Rebel it takes be back to when you were just days old and we danced to that song and I hoped that you would grow up with a heart that feels light and free and curiosity unquenchable.

See the morning sun, On the hillside…
 travel wide
I'm a rebel, soul rebel
I'm a capturer, soul adventurer


You are a little adventurer in your own way and I not-so-secretly love every ounce of mischief in your body.

There’s nothing you can do to make me stop loving you.

2.19.2014

right now

Making: Plans 
Cooking: Apple cider. Does that count?
Drinking: Water. I don’t drink nearly enough, but am trying to up my ounces.
Reading: Give Them Grace… you guys. SO GOOD. J and I have really been examining our parenting “defaults” lately (you know, the way people tend to parent the way they were parented) so we can be really intentional about our choices, decisions, perspectives, etc. with the little guy. It’s the most thought-provinking book I’ve read on parenting by far!
Wanting: To remember this sweet phase of our lives forever. The late-night movie marathons with my guy, the way E whispers “dada” through his little smile as we wait for him to come through the door at night, holding hands on our walks woods, the way E smiles and stretches with those just-woke-up eyes in the morning, the way we adore every little thing about him, this feeling that there is not a thing money can buy that even comes close to this kind of happiness.
Looking: At vacation details for our first trip… just our little family… in July. SO excited!! We’ll also be flying with a baby. Any advice is welcomed.
Playing: With E and Mocha. All day. Every day. Like it’s my job. ;)
Wasting: warm air with open windows. Something about clean, chilly air is just so delicious. 
Sewing: Headbands and shoes for a friend’s baby out of some fabric scraps 
Wishing: For this amazing weather to STAY! Yesterday we played in the grass without our shoes and chased mocha and threw sticks for her to fetch. 
Enjoying: Nowhere to be and nothing to do.
Waiting: On all these bizarre ingredients to come in the mail so I can make my own organic shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toner, toothpaste… I even have a recipe for a bronzer that I’m super excited to try all from this amazing ebook. Trying to eliminate as many chemicals as possible. 
Liking: Along the same lines actually, I’ve been doing that thing where you don’t use shampoo or condition on your hair. It’s been horrifically dubbed “no-poo” but the results are pretty great! I only “wash” my hair every 5 or 6 days with baking soda then do a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse. Though it was pretty wild in the beginning it’s getting shinier and fuller the longer I go and shockingly doesn’t smell at all! 
Exploring: The woods
Loving: Baby wearing… specifically the glory of woven wraps. Makes both of our lives a thousand and one times happier. 
Hoping: To be the kind of mother that listens carefully to intuition 
Marveling: At how fast time passes since E entered our lives.
Needing: To paint the bathroom. 
Smelling: Fresh air
Wearing: My little guy
Following: The olympics! 
Noticing: How quickly our chalkboard of “joys” is filling up
Knowing: I have more than I need
Thinking: That I could probably never ever get tired of sun-dried tomatoes even if I ate them every day for the rest of my life. 
Feeling: Eli’s sweet breaths while he sleeps on my chest
Bookmarking: All things Maine 
Opening: Windows
Giggling: At E’s faces… specifically the squinty-eyed, tiny-lipped, pretend-sad face.
Feeling: Completely content.

Ps: Yesterday Eli discovered the joys of feeding Mocha grass









Eli, you’re my dream baby.


list via: This lovely blog

1.26.2014

sleep

We didn’t start out deciding to any sort of bed-sharing arrangement with E, and we didn’t at first. He slept in a pack n play in our room and I woke up 4 to 8 times a night to nurse him, rock him back to sleep etc. Basically, he was a totally healthy newborn with totally normal sleep patterns. I brought him into our bed a few times on difficult nights, but never laid him down because J was uncomfortable with it.

When he was about 3 months old I was so sleepy and nursed him to sleep in our bed then accidentally fell asleep… and didn’t wake up until 6 hours later. Neither did E. It was like pure magic. He woke me up with a little stirring, I nursed him, and he slept for another 4 hours and when we woke up I felt like a new human being. Normal again! Guess where he’s slept every night since then! ;)

I’m not sharing this to make anyone feel bad for their choices or pressured into something they aren’t comfortable with. In fact, I didn’t feel comfortable with a newborn sleeping in our bed at first and neither did Jason, but unfortunately a lot of our discomfort was based on faulty “facts” and pressures from our western cultural norm (that really isn’t normal at all when considering how babies are designed). I’ve learned that a lot of people are “closet” co-sleepers, so it’s difficult for a new parent to learn anything about how it practically plays out. I for one, am happy to shed some light on the topic, both from personal experience and some tidbits from the books and studies I’ve read. We’re so content (and well rested!) with our current set up that we’ll be bed sharing from the start with babe #2. 


>>> Here are some things I love about bed sharing: 

We all sleep all night! I have just as much energy as I did before I had a baby and don’t feel tired until bedtime. J says the same. Before E slept with us he would wake up every time I got out of bed and was starting to have difficulty concentrating at work. Post bed sharing? He sleeps great!

J and I love listening to little squish’s sweet noises and deep sighs as he’s drifting off to sleep and waking up.

That tiny little hand on my arm. or chest. or face.

When E does "wake up" to eat he doesn’t have to cry and usually doesn’t even open his eyes… he wiggles in close, latches on, then goes right back to sleep. This requires me to wake up for approximately 10 seconds or less.

I’m close enough to monitor every little thing that’s going on.. if he’s sleeping well, has a fever, is stuffy, etc… things I’d never be able to tell over a monitor from another room.


>>> Here are some myths and why I think a lot of parents feel hesitant about bed sharing:

"It’s dangerous" This myth is primarily based on a research study that was done in the late 90s. The study itself was quite helpful, but MANY articles sense then have and continue to misconstrue the facts of the study… which of course causes a lot of confusion about the safety of bed-sharing. The study included bed sharing parents who were under the influence of drugs, alcohol, and/or prescription sleep medications. Others also practiced un-safe bed sharing with too many pillows, heavy blankets, waterbeds, spaces between the mattress and headboard (where the baby could roll and get stuck) and other things that posed a risk of suffocation to the baby. When common-sense safety is used, bed sharing is actually far safer and results in far fewer cases of SIDS and infant death than babies who sleep alone.

“Your child will never be independent” Research actually indicates quite the opposite. Studies show that children who slept in a family bed are actually more independent than their peers, more confident, have fewer behavior problems, are less influenced by peer-pressure, and are less likely to need any type of counseling or therapy as a teenager and into adulthood as compared to independent sleepers.

“It will affect your relationship with your spouse” This one especially cracks me up. Believe it or not, they did a survey on this, and found that parents who practiced bed sharing were actually intimate more often than parents who did not practice bed sharing. Maybe it’s because they get more sleep and therefore have more energy? Maybe it’s because a baby in the bed encourages, ahem… creativity? Whatever the reasons, I can tell you that mine and J’s relationship is perfectly healthy and having a baby in our bed has in no way inhibited our relationship ;)


>>> And here are some facts:

When practiced safely, bed sharing actually drastically decreases the risk of SIDS and infant deaths.

Children who co-sleep with their parents grow up to be more independent, more confident, and have fewer behavioral problems compared to their peers.

Parents who co-sleep get an additional 45 minutes of sleep per night on average compared to parents whose baby slept in a separate room.

Parents who practice bed sharing have more sex than the parents of infants who sleep independently.

There is a growth hormone in babies that encourages growth, brain development, and maintains healthy systems. This hormone spikes when the baby is touching its mother (and why the big recent push for “kangaroo care” and “skin to skin” especially for premies). But this isn’t just true of newborns.. all babies continue to rely on this growth hormone as they grow. One study found that even an hour away from the mother causes this hormone to drop. Cortisol (a stress hormone) is responsible for this. Many parents may assume that as long as their baby is not crying, they are not experiencing stress. However, research has shown that babies who sleep alone and do not cry experienced the same levels of cortisol (and reduction of growth hormone) as babies who were crying, alone in their crib.

Children who grow up bed sharing tend to maintain closer and healthier relationships with their parents and others.
. . .

If you’re considering bed sharing, I highly recommend reading “Good Nights”, “The Other Baby Book” and “No-Cry Sleep Solution” for some great tips for healthy, happy sleeping.  =)

Ps. This arrangement would not be an example of safe bed sharing ;)

12.03.2013

juggling

Have you guys seen the movie “I Don’t Know How She Does It”? I watched it a long while back, then again the other day because it had been added to netflix and I was in the mood for something wintery and remembered that snow scene at the end. And because I love SJP. Anyway, there's this analogy throughout the movie about how she’s like a juggler. As if there’s so much on her plate she can’t possibly give all the pieces the attention they deserve so she just spreads herself thin and does the best she can.

To some degree I empathize.

There have been points in my life that felt that way, especially when I was teaching, working 50+ hours a week. I felt like there wasn’t anything unimportant enough to let go so just did my best with a smile on my face and held my breath for Saturday morning to come. Or a long holiday. I was a juggler then too. I think it would be easy to become one again… especially with a baby.
Definitely, with a baby.

Too often I thrived on being busy busy busy. And when someone asked me how I’d been I’d say “busy!” like it was synonymous with productive. But here’s what that movie pointed out so perfectly: This world glorifies busy. Even more so, it glorifies jugglers… and I don’t want to be one of them.

I don’t want to be one of the people who makes all their memories on-the-go. I don’t want to be one who is so busy doing good, church things that I don’t have time to notice subtleties in the seasons changing or have time to get into conversations with my neighbors. I don’t ever want to have to rush home from a walk or a trip to the park because we have something “more important” to do. I want to be that kind of friend you can call up midday for a drop-in playdate and we’re available.

I want life to move slowly enough that I don’t subtly send my precious boy the message that who we are and what we have in this moment isn’t enough. As if our value is determined by our degree of activity.

That’s really where I find the trouble with juggling.

To keep all the pieces in the air - you can’t let them get too close - you have to keep on throwing. And the pieces that we’re talking about are people.

You know those people you could talk with for hours and come away feeling like your soul finally took a deep breath of fresh air? They never rush or interrupt. They don’t give unsolicited advice. They don't check their phone or try to multi-task. It feels like you have 100% of them, right there, in that moment.

I want to be more like that.

I don’t want people I have relationships with feel like they’re pieces to juggled - especially J and E. My tendency all my life has been to make quick, surface friendships that don’t ever get very deep. Honestly, I never really saw much of a problem with that until a few years ago when I realized I had a full calendar and didn’t know--really know--the vast majority of the people in my life. I may have known their schedules and preferences in TV shows, but I didn’t really know them on a heart level.

There’s no glory in juggling. The only people who will ever be impressed by the jugglers are the ones on the outskirts who will never be influenced from such a distance, while the ones closest who desperately need that person to be fully present have to fight for attention at best. A full calendar doesn’t equal a full life, and for me, means just the opposite. So my aim is to be choosey with my obligations, guard those blank calendar days against meaningless “busy” and be fully present for the people in my life like it’s my job… Because I can’t think of one more important.