Tag Archives: being realistic

I Quit Forever.

I made a New Summer’s Resolution. I am quitting all diets forever, and I mean forever.

This isn’t a new idea. “It’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle” has become cliché in our age of dietry. So I want to be clear: when I say I am quitting all diets forever, I don’t mean I’m adopting a certain diet as my new way of life. I am not a new Paleo convert. I literally mean I am quitting. All diets. Forever.

It occurred to me one day that I have spent a ton of time being afraid of and simultaneously drawn to a few “bad” foods; namely, cookies, sweet tea, and French fries. These are my heroin, my security blankets, and my antidepressants (that seriously don’t work). But these foods have no inherent value; they are not “bad.” They are inanimate, valueless. My method of consumption is what determines the wisdom of eating them.

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t want my daughter to end up waging the same war I have for 30½ years. I want to win it and end it, perhaps for us both at once. I’d rather my daughter know that some foods are everyday, all-you can eat foods; some foods are treats; and some foods are just for parties. I want her to see food as sustenance and occasionally a social enhancement and definitely a gift from God (as evidenced by the existence of taste buds, according to my pastor). What food is not is an emotional anesthetic or a substitute for affection. I want her to know that fruits and vegetables have superpowers, and that’s why God made them so bright and colorful. I want her to know that singing and dancing and laughing and playing all make for better journeys than Oreos do.

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I don’t want her to be scared of food. I definitely don’t want her to be scared of being fat.

So I’m not quitting health. I’m actually kind of finding it, now that I’m exiting the diet funhouse with all its mirrors that distort and lie and frighten. It’s a hard place to leave, because as restrictive and hateful as diets can be, they’re also seductive. They tell you sexiness and happiness and all your dreams-come-true are in following their simple regime.

It’s a lie.

Instead, we walk together, my daughter and I. We have Bath-Time Dance Parties. We snack on grapes and avocados when we’re hungry. We point to different parts of our bodies and say, “Anna has pretty arms; Mama has pretty arms! Anna has pretty feet; Mama has pretty feet!” And we remind each other that strong is more important than gorgeous, but gorgeous is a given.

A really beautiful memoir I read earlier this year included the line, “Contentment doesn’t double by the serving.” Very true: more potato chips have never led me to more joy. But I’ve learned that you don’t have to diet to eat fewer potato chips. You can just choose an alternative ending. Sure, you’ve always eaten the whole bag. See what happens if you don’t this time. I’ve been practicing. The skill sharpens with repeated success. And it definitely keeps proving the point that more food never equals more contentment.

When I get to the end of my life, my daughter with me in my room, I sure hope she doesn’t say, “Mom, you taught me how to diet.” I hope she says, “Mom, you had soul. You knew how to fight and win. You knew how to dance.” If that’s the story I want to tell, I’d better stop the dieting, choose something greater than the cookies, and just for the love of God get started dancing like she does:

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Patterns.

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In the first grade, I failed at patterns. The worksheet asked us to color a series of shapes in a red-blue pattern, but that bored me. Instead I colored mine teal-violet-violet-teal-violet-violet – a pattern, to be sure, but the wrong one. My teacher not only gave me an F for the assignment but also refused to let me leave during bathroom break. The anger on my mom’s face when I told her about it that afternoon might have been amusing had it not been so terrifying.

Still, it is of vital importance that we get our patterns right. Like a quilt is composed of its patterns, we humans are composed of patterns too. A repeated choice to numb pain with alcohol creates an alcoholic. A repeated choice to overeat in loneliness creates a food addict. A repeated choice to light up creates a smoker. The patterns make the person.

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Not only that, but our patterns end up manifesting themselves in our children too. They do what we do. That scares me a little; I know how often I fall short of perfection. However, blessedly, this is a biblical concept, which means there’s hope attached. In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul thanks God for Timothy’s mom and grandma, who passed down their faith, establishing a pattern of Godliness for Timothy. They were examples to him of how to live wisely, and they also raised him in truth and love. We can do the same, constructing the same type of patterns within ourselves and our children. If our children can be persuaded to scream when angry because that’s how they see it done, they can also learn to be patient when angry if it happens around them. Paul says that’s what teaching is for in the first place – building patterns for living. In verse 13, he tells Timothy to “keep the pattern of sound teaching with faith and love in Christ” (NLT, emphasis added). We’ve got to show our children how to live according to Godly patterns.

Some transparency: in my story, what has most often kept me from the patterns Jesus wants is a belief that I have no self-discipline, as in, “I’d eat better, but I just can’t seem to stop.” That often leads to a second, more detrimental belief: “It’s just who I am.” But that’s not Godly. First Timothy 1:7 says, “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” It’s not a quality you have or don’t; it’s part of the Spirit given to you by God. If you have him, you have self-discipline. Self-discipline for the Christian is like quad muscles: you’ve got them already, but you have to exercise them if you want them to be strong. You can get your patterns sorted out. You can stop yelling when you’re angry. You can find another way to deal with boredom. You can end any bad habit or any destructive pattern. Jesus gave his life to secure freedom for everyone (1 Timothy 2:6), which means you’re in.

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In addition, I’ve spent a lot of time believing that “one piece of chocolate won’t hurt.” It seems many of us fall prey to this: “one cigarette won’t hurt,” “one porn film won’t hurt,” “one beer won’t hurt.” And maybe it won’t (although these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA), but the pattern you’re setting up will. The pattern of all that chocolate, all those cigarettes, all those hours of porn, all those beers, all those moments spent killing time when you could be talking to Jesus…those will eventually hurt. In fact, they’ll eventually destroy.

Know what I’ve found to be even harder? When you know all that, and you even keep trying to change your patterns, but your efforts produce nothing. Simon Peter, the day he met Jesus on the lake, had been trying all night to catch fish, and nothing had worked. Every fisherman’s technique he knew failed him. Then, Jesus said, “Try one more time. Row out to the deep water and give it one more go.” Simon says, “I’ve already done that. But hey, if you say so.” He rows out and, boom! More fish than he and his partner can lug into the boat. (The story is found in Luke 5.) That’s the power of obedience: it can change your patterns. You’re trying, you’ve seen yourself fail repeatedly, and Jesus says, “Just one more time.” When you respond, “Okay, if you say so,” it will work. It will. It still may not be a straight shot from sickness to health, but you’re headed in the right direction. Just take his advice; he’s Jesus, so he’s right.

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It probably goes without saying that you won’t ever get your patterns right all by yourself. It’s not because you’re weak. It’s not because you’re a failure. It’s because you’re human, a condition that’s not going away. But God has “unlimited resources” (Ephesians 3:16) to help you follow a different pattern.

And we have to – we really don’t have a choice if we’re going to be followers of Jesus. It’s part of “training for holiness,” as Paul labels it in 1 Timothy 4:7, 8. Paul knows we won’t get it right the first time, just like you’re not ready to participate in the Iron Man until you’ve spent a considerable amount of time training. We are called to holiness, and that’s a tall order. But we’ve also been equipped for it by a God with unlimited resources. Besides, imagine what that would be like: complete freedom from the pattern you’re so tired of following.

So maybe give it one more try. See what happens if you row back out one more time. Jesus will make sure you have everything you need to change your patterns. Jesus will set you free.

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Hot Water

I’m not so much on the science, never have been. It explains away so much of the poetry in life. I remember being actually sad in the third grade when we learned that rainbows were merely light passing through water. I’d rather them simply be a sign from God, like in Noah’s story, rather than banal scientific fact. Same with flowers that spring up where you didn’t plant them. Why do we have to attribute that to bird poo? In my book, they’re just a beautiful surprise from a romantic God. My distaste for demystification goes all the way back to my very young days in which I was amazed at how the insides of an egg went from soupy to solid after some time in hot water. How could something so simple bridge the difference between splat and boing? How could the possibility of bouncing exist in the same egg that minutes before had been such a mess on the inside?

I want to think this is what trials, the “hot water” in our lives, are for: to get us from being so easily splattered to people who bounce. If we’re supposed to equate problems with “great joy” (James 1:2), it had better be for something worthwhile like that. Personally, I am not holy enough yet to respond naturally to trials with joy. I will not be joyfully cheering if my car explodes tomorrow. But…to see the grace of God while I rebuild my life, that would produce joy. Albeit slowly, I’m guessing.

In Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace, he claims God gives away grace in a way that is “almost wasteful.” It’s sloshing out of the too-full bucket with every step. In fact, this is how God gives everything. The disciples needed some fish. When they did as Jesus suggested and threw the nets over the other side, “they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it” (John 21:6, NLT). A crowd needed dinner. Jesus created so much that everyone ate and twelve baskets of leftovers were collected (John 6:13). You need a Savior who loves you. The love of Jesus is so wide and so long and so high and so deep that it’s literally impossible for the human brain to understand (Ephesians 3:18). You have a life, but Jesus offers you one that is “richer and more satisfying” than anything you’d have by following your own desires (John 10:10b). Jesus is all about infinitely more, fuller, bigger, greater, wilder than you can ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). It’s not just that Jesus is all you need; he’s all you need and a billion percent more.

If the hot water fortifies your heart and mind and the fortification of your heart and mind allows you to bounce, then I suppose I can stand the heat. As Dallas Willard wrote, God’s “overriding concern” is for my joy, and it’s clearly more fun to bounce than splat.

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Eight Things You Have to Stop Saying to Women Who Struggle with Infertility.

Last month I wrote a paper about counseling women who struggle with infertility. Having received that diagnosis myself and living through multiple miscarriages and failed attempts at pregnancy, it’s a pain I know much more intimately than I would like. It’s also a pain God is redeeming by allowing me to study counseling. I hope one day to sit with women who experience this sorrow, comfort them, and let them know so much joy and magic are out there for them when they’re ready. Here are eight things I believe no woman in this situation should ever have to hear (and also four things I bet she would love to hear).

  1. “God has a plan for you,” “God gives us the desires of our heart,” or any variant of any Scripture. Like you, I believe these things too. If the woman in your life who is struggling with infertility is a Christian, then she believes them too. But when the plan she has always dreamed of is stolen, she doesn’t want to hear Scriptures, even if she believes them. She’s confused and heartbroken; platitudes, even Scriptural ones, aren’t helpful. When Jesus comforted people, he did not spurt Scripture and leave it at that. He cried with them (John 11:35), affirmed them (Luke 7:9), and spoke gently to them.
  1. “I couldn’t have a baby for years, but now we’re on Miracle #2!” That’s great for you. But it feels like you’re rubbing it in her face, not giving her hope.
  1. “Everything happens for a reason.” Where is this in the Bible? We do know that God works out everything for the benefit of those who trust and love him, but she doesn’t want to be told that right now. She’s hurting, and it feels like you don’t care when you say things like this instead of putting your head on her shoulder and crying with her.
  1. “You can always adopt.” She knows. She might decide to later. She’s heard the same stories you have about how beautiful adoption can be. But if adoption isn’t in her heart, it won’t suddenly change her countenance for you to bring it up. She won’t say, “Oh, you’re right! I never thought of that!” She’s dealing with jealousy, confusion, fear, anger, grief, shame, stress, and probably other painful emotions. Right now – and maybe always – adoption sounds to her like raising someone else’s child, not being a mother.
  1. “Just relax, and it will happen.” Sure, there’s science to back up the fact that plenty of women have conceived after it seemed all hope was lost. But telling her it’s her own fault that she hasn’t yet conceived because she’s too stressed isn’t a welcome theory. A little wine and a bath won’t cure grief. She needs support while her heart finds its way.
  1. “My kids fight all the time / cost us so much money / still don’t let us sleep through the night.” She would love to hear kids fighting in her house! She would love to have a baby who wakes her in the middle of the night! Even though you’re trying to tell her “kids aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,” you know you would never trade yours, and so does she. It’s like complaining that you have to take your Lamborghini to the mechanic.
  1. “Never give up hope!” Here’s the truth: she might never have a baby. Neither of you know what will happen in the future. Let her deal with the uncertainty on her terms. She might choose to keep trying to get pregnant or she might not, but that’s her business, not yours. 
  1. “I know how you feel. My cousin/sister/etc. couldn’t have children either.” Unless you have been diagnosed with infertility – actually had the sentence leveraged on you by a medical professional – you don’t know how she feels. Fearing you might not be able to have children doesn’t count. Having a relative who couldn’t have children doesn’t count. Taking longer than you wanted to get pregnant doesn’t count. No one knows how she feels except Jesus and the people she chooses to open up to. Let her tell you how she feels if she wants to.

Four Things a Woman Struggling with Infertility Might Love to Hear.

  1. “This isn’t fair.” Let her know she can vent her anger at the situation, even at God, if she needs to. It really isn’t fair that some teenagers get pregnant without trying or wanting to and some wives/stepmoms/aunts/Sunday school teachers/etc. are ready and deeply want to, but never conceive the first time. It’s not fair that she, this woman who so desperately wants to experience motherhood, isn’t “getting her heart’s desires.” Let her work through it.
  1. “If you don’t feel one speck better tomorrow, it’s okay.” When the third specialist confirmed my diagnosis, it seemed my some of my church acquaintances wanted me to starting getting over it immediately. Witnessing grief can make people uncomfortable. I went through times of hope, times of anger, times of feeling stolen from, times of jealousy, and I would’ve loved for someone to say, “If a bad day turns into a string of bad days, I’ll still be here. I won’t lose patience with you. This is hard, and it’s okay that it’s hard.”
  1. “I am here for you.” Don’t say it unless you mean it. But if you’re willing to truly walk through the darkness with her, she would be grateful. It’s a hard thing: if you say this, you’ll have to be ready to let her feel her feelings in all their intensity, call you at 11:00 p.m. because she read someone’s Facebook post and got insanely jealous, question her faith in front of you, and cry with her on Mother’s Day. But if you mean it, she could certainly use a friend who is willing to understand her.
  1. Nothing. Just hug her.

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Enough With the Suicide.

Orange and yellow are sneaking up on the trees across the street from my house. I’ve noticed it while walking my dog on these cooler, drizzlier mornings. For some, I know autumn brings on melancholy and loneliness, brings dying to the forefront, but I’ve never looked at it that way. Sure, everything is letting go: leaves are turning loose, summer is breathing its last, and the sun’s heat is fading. But it’s all so nature’s renaissance can play out again at the right time. This is what’s happened to me over the past nine months – a shattering of who I’ve been so I can get rebuilt.

I first noticed it a few weeks ago when my man made his daily after-school call to me. His greeting is always the same: “How are you?” My typical answer sounded like this: “I’m finishing up some grading and then heading to pick up the baby. How are you?” You might already notice the discrepancy, but it took me two years to realize my answer didn’t match his question. He didn’t ask what I was doing. He asked about me. My “I’m-working-hard” response betrays one of the reasons I landed where I did after my daughter’s birth: empty, depressed, hiding. I have worked so hard for so long to please so many – God, my parents, my man, my children, my superiors at work, my students. I have aimed for perfection and a happy audience, but I can’t keep up with myself any longer. I’ve shattered.

My counselor says the root of perfectionism is shame: we try to be perfect because we’re ashamed of who we really are. This is true of me, with perfectionism leading straight to jealousy. Deep, intense jealousy. I’ve been jealous of other’s bodies, relationships, families, and even ministries. I’ve been jealous of my man’s creativity, my mom’s determination, my sister’s beauty, my dad’s sense of humor. I’ve been jealous of one friend’s intelligence, another’s gentleness. Underlying it all is the sense that if I had that – whatever quality that might be – I’d be better, worth more. The problem with all this people pleasing and jealousy is the same: it’s suicide. It’s all me attempting to be, or wishing I could be, something God didn’t make me. Luckily, I shattered at the right time. I’m a new mom, I’m a new wife, and I’m weeks away from 30. Everything is just beginning (or re-beginning, in this case).

Here are some things that are true:

1.) I am not a person enticed by money or any other god of the for-profit world. I would rather play with words, notice the subtle shifts in my daughter’s face over time, and breathe in a sunrise than be in the office early to earn six figures. The shame I’ve carried over this aspect of my reality has shattered. It doesn’t fit me.

2.) I am not the perfect mother. We eat a lot of spaghetti and tacos because I don’t like to cook. I get frustrated when my nine-month-old cries a lot. In fact, I sometimes put her to bed early because I need a few extra minutes to myself. I couldn’t breastfeed, I am not currently teaching her French, I don’t play classical music for her, and she does not get my best every day. My guilt over not being Mother Incarnate has shattered. It doesn’t fit me either.

3.) My journey toward increased health will not be a one-time turn from all my bad mental and physical habits. I am stumbling my way there. I am learning self-care and hope to one day be able to teach it to my children, especially my daughters. My shame over my imperfect body and mind that has grown like a snowball over the years has finally shattered. Just like a pair of size-4 jeans, it doesn’t fit.

Since guilt and self-hatred haven’t worked for me yet, I’m beginning to try grace with myself. I’m trying to allow myself to be rebuilt from the rubble of all that’s broken, sorting through the façades to find the solid stone. I can accept who I am with grace and honesty, or I can keep, as my man says, should-ing on myself, telling myself I should be smarter, slimmer, happier, more graceful, ever more compliant, and so on. The fact is this: I have an identity, a soul, given to me by God. Allowing anything to eclipse it – whether perfectionism, shame, even good things like motherhood – kills a precious piece of the human puzzle. Where I am is acceptable. Where I am going is even better. But all along my journey, I am needed to be me, you are needed to be you, and together we will hold hands and breathe and find ourselves some peace.

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Theme for Motherhood 101

Here is a confession.

Every moment with my daughter is not beatific smiles and homemade cookies.

This is what my Facebook hopes you will believe, because it is what I would like to believe. I am a classic perfectionist: in my mind, I should start each morning at 6:00 with a bright smile, brew my husband a steaming mug of Cost Rican coffee, spend an hour in powerful intercession as the rosy-apricot sunrise streams golden bars of light through my window, dress my daughter in a fashionable baby outfit that stays clean all day, work out my slim legs and shapely arms for an hour in the gym, cook a healthy and delicious dinner for my family, and cuddle myself into bed at 10:00, at which point the Lunesta butterfly will settle on my shoulder and marvel at my seraphic glow.

Alas, that is not my life.

Except for the Costa Rican coffee, which I typically brew for myself.

The truth is more like this: I wipe sleep-slobber off my face and groan when the baby monitor tells me my nine-month-old has awakened before I can eat breakfast or even brush my teeth. We survive the day until 3:00 p.m. when she morphs into a screeching monkey. I’m endlessly patient until, you know, 4:00 p.m., when I find myself counting the hours before bedtime: three and a half. We sigh, we cry, we grunt. We just generally wish the other understood why she has to stop acting like this right now I-mean-it. I flop into bed later than I mean to, stressed and aggravated with myself over my stress and aggravation. And if any medication-induced fauna enters my bedroom, it’s most likely the green Mucinex crud-globs, trying to invade my sinus cavities in the night.

Perhaps women like my perfect dream-twin do exist, but I think they might be fairy-tale elusive, like woodland sprites. In my lucid moments, I know this; in my more numerous everyday moments, I believe I should be one because I believe everyone else is. It’s probably this belief that led me to hide in a closet a couple Sunday mornings ago, shaking and sobbing, with my journal – failures splashed in blue ink all over – covering my ears to block out the dreadful waking-up sounds of another day. The reason I am even around my daughter at 3:00 p.m. is that the doctor wrote me out of work for three weeks to try to recapture whatever dim glory I might’ve had before The Closet Incident. Simultaneously being a wife and new mother – if you’re aiming for success at both – is really hard on the soul.

In life as in writing about it, I’m accustomed to ruminating on the difficulty of certain situations and then tying it up neatly with a crystalline truth, something sweet and precise, maybe even helpful. However, since becoming a mother, I feel sort of shabby, like my crystal isn’t polished anymore and the prisms are harder to come by. I am exhausted, disappointed with myself, and frequently at a loss for truth at all, much less that which can be artistically voiced. The one solid bit, the gravity holding my feet to the ground even when my feet are drenched with tears and hidden in the closet, is the knowledge that Jesus loves me. How odd: Jesus loves a shabby, puffy, ill-tempered mother on antidepressants. Jesus loves a screeching-monkey nine-month-old whom I call “sweetheart.” Jesus loves a stressed-out set of parents who beg incessantly for his help, even though He has a perfect track record of coming through for us since well before Day One.

Jesus loves me.

Jesus loves me.

Jesus loves…me.

Maybe I’ll make it after all.

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Why We Are All Good Enough Already

When I was inducted into the Mommy Club, I had no idea the dues included massive heaps of guilt. I generated enough all on my own, but I also found myself accepting it from others. “You’re doing an all-natural vaginal birth, right?” a lesbian chiropractor, a stranger, asked when fate crossed our paths at Dave and Buster’s. “You’re putting her in daycare? Wow, I don’t even trust daycares anymore,” said a brazen acquaintance I saw at Walmart. I could continue with comments about our formula supplementation, the length of my maternity leave, and a thousand other “issues” (that of course are not issues).

I was accepting the guilt with a weak self-defense – and a sinking heart – until I heard a father quoted on the radio one day. NPR is my #1 preset, and my curiosity was piqued when they interviewed an author who wrote a book about the experience of parenting in America. When asked what her favorite finding was, she talked about asking a man on a plane, “Do you ever feel like a bad father?” He said, “Absolutely not. I am the standard.” He explained that he went to work each day, helped with the kids, and took care of himself and his wife emotionally. Who could ask for more than that? So no, he never felt like a bad father. The author said she was so struck by his conviction that she had “I am the standard” printed onto customized bumper stickers and handed them out to all her friends and clients.

The most guilt I have felt is over feeding my baby. For several reasons, I haven’t been able to produce all the milk she needs. Everywhere, including in my own head, abounds the pressure to exclusively breastfeed, but my body just won’t allow that. Certain days I would hold my daughter and start crying that she couldn’t get all she needed from me. But when airing my sorrows to a friend one night, she commiserated and then said, “Maybe think of it as ‘just feeding,’ nothing special. Just feed your baby.” That, coupled with the belief that I am the standard, has Scotchgarded my motherhood from (most) guilt. I provide all the breastmilk I can and supplement the rest. I read to my baby. I dance with my baby. I enjoy her awakening spirit. I pray for her daily and for my man and me, that we will parent her with wisdom and grace. I change her diaper, feed her, take her out with me. I am the standard.

A superb book I just finished, Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, quotes a French mother, wife, and lawyer on the issue of guilt: “I never wonder whether I am a good enough mother because I really think I am.” That, my friends, is a confident woman. I want my daughter to think like that, talk like that. So it’s up to me to show her. I no longer wonder whether she has the right mom. Because I really think she does.

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