Pain and Pruning

I’ve been thinking a lot about pruning. About vines and branches, about dry and brittle undergrowth, about the coming harvest. I’ve been drawn into a season of pruning myself. The perfect storm of past hurt and present pain are intermingling in my heart and demanding to be dealt with. It’s hard, to be honest, but I keep trying to remember that hard doesn’t necessarily mean bad.

I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every brand in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.

I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.

John 15: 1-6

How often do I separate myself from Christ, put myself at the mercy of others, allow myself to be gathered up by whomever and whatever version of “good” and “successful” comes along only to be burned again and again and again?

It seems to me that either way there is pain. Both pruning and leaving the vine guarantee a certain amount of suffering, but only one requires suffering in order to bear fruit.

The question remains, will I put myself at the service of the pain? Will I submit myself to pruning in order that I might grow? Will I trust Him?

We’re inching closer to the feast day of St. Joseph, probably my favorite saint. St. Joseph was presented with a situation which he certainly didn’t plan for, a set of circumstances that stripped him of the future he had imagined for himself and set him on a path of hardship. (It was also a path of immeasurable beauty, to be sure, but we can’t say it was easy being the protector and provider of the Holy Family.) I think we can all agree that St. Joseph could be granted a meltdown or two. One can imagine the temptation to fall into self pity or anger, especially at the outset of this journey. I mean, that’s what I usually do when things don’t work out the way I expect them to.

And yet, when given a situation that was confusing, when dealt a change that was challenging to his belief system, that required great sacrifice to his reputation as well as his physical safety, Joseph didn’t have a pity party. He didn’t lament and moan and look for sympathy. He waited. He made a plan to act out of charity. He prayed. Most importantly, he stayed open and receptive to the voice of God. St. Joseph was sensitive to the working of the Holy Spirit and he trusted that the words spoken to him from God were true. So, when the angel advised him to take Mary into his home, Joseph partnered with the problem, offered himself in service to the pain, and humbly submitted himself to God’s will, putting aside both his plans for a “normal” marriage and his plans to divorce her quietly.

Mercy, how I long for a faith like that.

So much about enduring suffering and darkness has to do with perspective. In an often isolated post-Covid world, where there’s still so much doubt and uncertainty, I find it particularly difficult to see the glass as half full. I struggle a lot with partnering with the problems in my life. I find it difficult to view the dead ends as anything but just that: closed doors and locked gates. In a season when I’ve endured more loneliness than ever before, when I’ve seen the carnage of fractured relationships and been disappointed by so many things, large and small, I’m just done. I don’t want to endure any more. I don’t want to partner with anything, I just want to be done and for things to be easy.

But that’s where my need for pruning is shown. That’s precisely why I need a Gardener to rein me in, redirect my growth, train the tendrils of my heart to wrap around Him instead of growing out and away, grasping for whatever the world tells me is sturdy.

My friend Henri Nouwen says,

…what seems a hindrance becomes a way; what seems an obstacle becomes a door; what seems a misfit becomes a cornerstone.

Jesus changes our history from a random series of sad incidents and accidents into a constant opportunity for a change of heart. To wait patiently, therefore, means to allow our weeping and wailing to become the purifying preparation by which we are made ready to receive the joy that is promised us.

And so prayers of lament and complaint being uttered, I’m left with the choice: do I look to the Lord with trust, submit myself to His hand and His pruning, or do I go my own way offering myself to whomever wants to gather me up knowing full well I’ll get burned again?

Either way there is pain. Either way there is suffering. But only one way contains the promise of joy, a joy I have seen lived out in the lives of the saints and proven again and again in the scriptures. So my prayer must become one of trust, one of offering, one of partnering.

Jesus, change my heart. Take this anxiety and anger, this frustration, loneliness, and grief and change it all into something beautiful. I cannot do it on my own. Help me, Lord, I need You. Show me how to be held in your arms, to be loved by You in the pruning. Heal my heart and reorient it toward Yours. Help me to endure the suffering, endure the pain, endure the not knowing, to stay steady and to bear it all for love of You. Help me to be your partner, to submit myself to your pierced hands. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put my trust in You.

You are loved, my friends. Eternally adored by a Creator who thinks that you’re worth pruning, worth guiding, worth redeeming. It doesn’t matter how far we’ve wandered or how tightly our hearts are wound around the world, He’s waiting to prune and to train those tender vines so that we might bear more and more fruit for his Holy and Sacred Name. Even the wildest, most overgrown, driest, and thorniest of hearts can be redeemed. That’s where the hope lies, in the truth that the places in our lives that look like dead ends and closed doors are just odd looking ways back to Him.

Mood Rings and Magic

My daughter has been begging for a mood ring. An introvert caught between a social director of an older sister and a baby brother/class clown beloved by all, she holds space sixteen months apart from the other family introvert. They huddle together like two sensitive little peas in the middle of the pod of four. 

She’s highly perceptive. She takes in so much about her surroundings, is an empath consistently tuned in to the needs of those around her. She feels deeply and she believes deeply. She’s always struggled to communicate her emotions, finding it difficult to articulate what’s going on in that beautifully complex heart of hers. Some days she’s prickly and reminds me of a cat. The more you want her to love you the more she makes you work for it and I kind of love that about her. Every day she is tender-hearted and quick to defend the underdog. She frequently defers to others, doing her best to keep the peace which is a pretty monumental task around here.

Simply put, the girl is magic. 

So, she wanted a mood ring. Had her heart set on the glory that would come when she didn’t have to verbalize her mood, but could simply flash a ring, and the people around her would just know

She had it all planned out, already counting on the convenience, the time saved, the anxiety relieved from having the magical ability to just show a ring instead of having to grapple with her feelings and express them to the people around her. She was counting on the power of the mood ring, so when she got not one, but five, shiny new rings in her boot for St. Nicholas day, she was thrilled. 

She tried them on, reveled in the truth that it was blue proving that she was happy! She looked up all of the colors’ meanings, working hard to decipher the intricacies of the ring and plumb the depths it would reveal.

And then her helpful older sister told her how mood rings work. 

The spell was broken. She was crushed. She was angry and annoyed, but didn’t let it ruin her day. However the disappointment was still there, simmering under the surface, lying in wait until the tenderness of bedtime broke the dam. 

Gracious, it’s hard to be 8. It’s hard to believe in magic when the world is out to prove you wrong. It’s harsh and humiliating to have believed and to have the rug ripped right out from under you, to have put all your eggs in a basket of hope only to have them dashed by reality. 

First mood rings go and then fairies. Before you know it, it’s Santa Claus and humanity as a whole. 

We’ve been studying the catechism together, this sweetheart girl and I. We go over the questions and ponder the mysteries of our faith on the most fundamental levels.

As I work to teach her about our faith, I can’t help but see all the ways we humans long for easy. We’ve evolved to look for ways to expedite, to simplify, to cut corners, to avoid the work. But what we can do for assembly lines and long distance dissemination of information, we can’t do with our hearts. There’s no escape from the messiness of the human condition, no magic ring to make it easier to be a human being with a broken heart living in a broken world. Sometimes we just have to do the work. 

But still we cling to the hope that there’ll be a quick fix. And the world is only too happy to offer any number of potential solutions for us. And just like gullible children, we believe the promises the world offers every single time. We buy the magic pill because it’s so alluring. It seems easier to cover our pain with a better body, with new shoes, with the right fill-in-the-blank. If we eat these Oreos or drink this cocktail, if we purchase this workout system, or watch the porn we’ll feel better quick and then things will be fine. It’s easier to patch our pain up with a bandaid than to do the hard work of actually finding healing. We’ll be comfortable without having to delve into the ick of our humanity. Easy peasy.



But God doesn’t want fine for us. He doesn’t want easy because he created us for more. And the mind boggling paradox is that while there’s no easy fix, there is magic. I don’t mean the cheap version of magic that the world tries to pass off in mood rings and quick fixes, or even the magic ball, cast-a-spell, witchy kind of magic that seems fun on the screen. I mean that deep kind of C.S. Lewis eternal magic that I believe pulses through the world: the magic of light and goodness and beauty and truth. Truth that outshines mood rings and empty promises. Truth that offers eternity. 

There is no simple way to be a human, but there’s magic to believe in if you want it, magic to hang your hopes on. Perhaps it’s not the glitzy magic the world promises but it’s magic nonetheless. It’s supernatural magic of the little when they’re chosen, of the Virgin when she delivers, of the baby come save us. It’s the bizarre ability to believe in a power that doesn’t operate on our timeline or within our understanding, but Who chooses to be Incarnate on our plane because


If you’ve been burned by the treasonous nature of mood rings and betrayed by belief, I’ll tell you what I told my girl:

You are too intricate a creation to be summed up by rings or jobs or things or even your own body.

You were created by Love, for love, to love.

You were created to be loved. You were.

You in all your messy, inconvenient, uncommunicative glory, you are worthy and good and lovely.

Remember who you are.

Remember Whose you are. 


After a good cry, and a pep talk, and a good night’s sleep, she slipped the mood ring on again. I can’t be certain, because I certainly have no power to decipher the mind of the 8 year old, but I’d venture a guess that she was able to see the truth that the magic doesn’t come from the ring or the emotional ease it offers, but from a deeper power within. The belief isn’t in the ring, but in the confidence that comes from knowing and trusting the one who made her, who gifted her with eyes to see his love for her and eyes to see the magic in the world, ring or no ring.

Personal Litany of Truth

I stumbled upon an Instagram post the other day that was especially great, greater even than the posts of cats being scared by cucumbers or those people I watched doing a frantic mini trampoline workout, believe it or not.

The writer, Lauren De Witt, introduced the idea of writing your own litany of truths. Apparently she learned about it from a Moms in Peace workshop, which I know nothing about, but I’m determined to give credit where credit is due because girl power is a thing and I am here for it.

The basic premise is something that I preach to my doula clients all the time, but oooobviously neglect to practice in my own life. I’m real good at offering sage advice to others, but real sucky at taking it myself. C’est la vie.

Any time my clients are feeling worried, doubtful, or afraid I always tell them to remember what’s true. It’s so easy to let our worry and anxiety snowball until it gets bigger and bigger and buries us completely. But we can stop that shiz right in its tracks just by naming what’s true. Once you start naming what’s true, it’s amazing to see how many falsehoods you were starting to believe.

What reminded me of the idea of making a personal litany of truth is that yesterday I ill-advisedly watched an Insta-stories post by someone detailing their homeschool work load. Y’all, is there anything that’ll make you feel like crap more than accidentally stumbling upon someone who’s doing “life” better than you? (Clearly I need to take a break from Instagram, that’s what.)

Here’s the thing: the homeschooling mom I saw is doing an incredible job with her kids. She wasn’t even pretentious or ass-holey about her homeschooling success. She was really lovely and genuinely proud of herself for homeschooling for the first time ever during the time of Covid and ain’t nobody going to fault her for that!

But for some reason her post just hit me right in the most sensitive spot in my jealous gut, the place where I’m already predisposed to feeling like a failure or at least a fraud. Y’all, this woman could’ve chronicled her own clean laundry mountain and I’d have felt like mine wasn’t good enough (and we all know my mountain of clean laundry is the best, duh).

So, as I felt myself spiraling into a pit of comparison and negative self talk, I remembered the litany of truths! For once in my life, I genuinely took my own advice and that of wonderful Lauren from the internet and wrote down a list of solid truth.

I ended up breaking it down into sections because I can’t not be verbose. Here’s what it looks like:

Parenting/Home Relationships

  • My children and my husband are not my report card.
  • I am not responsible for making everyone happy, but rather I am responsible for loving well the souls left to my care.
  • My parenting and homeschooling are mine alone. I am not competing or comparing, not better or less than, just walking my own path.
  • I am not solely responsible for how my children turn out. I am a guardian and a guide on their way, but I am not ultimately in control of who they become.
  • My children are not a product I am turning out. They are people with their own free will.
  • I am not responsible for other people’s emotions. I can see their emotions and try to help them, but I am not responsible for the speed at which they process or whether or not they accept my offer of help.
  • Most things are not about me anyway.
  • I am one person. I cannot do it all. But I can ask for help and accept it.

Mental/Emotional Health

  • My body is the dwelling place of the eternal God. When I abuse it, I abuse His temple. When I protect and care for it, I am worshipping Him.
  • My anger cannot overcome or overpower me because it comes from me. Like a labor contraction, I can see it coming and ride it until it ebbs. It will subside just as quickly as it rises.
  • I do not have to give space to frantic, worried thoughts. When I feel them I can stop, be still, and know that He is God. I can do this through Christ who gives me strength.
  • Being a good steward of my gifts means I am allowed to devote time to my talents without feeling guilty.
  • Discipline is an act of faith.

Fundamental Faith Truths:

  • I need Jesus in the Sacraments to be whole.
  • When I am weak, He is strong. My growth is found in humility.
  • I am beloved, created by love, for love, with the mission to love while on this earth. Nothing I can do or accomplish can change that truth.
  • The forces of Resistance cannot overpower the One who is in me.
  • Every moment is an opportunity to choose love, to die to myself and my will, to step out in faith believing that while I am not in control, He is.

So, that’s my personal litany of truths. I’m going to keep it and maybe put it on my white board and probably sleep with it and tattoo it to my face. If you see me looking like Post Malone, you’ll know I just really need to remember what’s true, mkay?

I’ll probably add to and take stuff away, but I’m pretty jazzed about how good it made me feel to just write all that out. I highly recommend it as a simple, concrete way to feel better about life. This has been my PSA, please go write true things down and be good to yourself.

You can find Lauren De Witt’s original post on Instagram @thecontemplativehomemaker…she’s a real good follow and her own litany is just beautiful.

As always, I hope you know how wonderful you are, my friends. You’re really important and even more loved. So go put that on your own list of truth. That’s an order!

It’s Fine, We’re Fine, All Good, Definitely Great

Hey, gang! It’s been awhile…things are great here, why do you ask??

Look at this idiot. Just over here carrying the team, surrounded by piles of half packed away Halloween decor, shuffling through tangrams on the floor, blissfully unaware that laundry is falling out of the basket, just hoping that she’ll make it to Mount Unfolded that’s just out of frame.

Mercy, what a state.

Spoiler: Mount Unfolded consists of four other baskets of clean laundry that’s probably not clean anymore because of the amount of time it has been sat upon. And jumped upon. And stood upon. And rooted through. Pillaged and plundered, really. At this point, it’s just part of the furniture…like the pictures leaning against the tv stand that were taken down for a painting job and have remained leaning there for an eternity and will so remain until the Lord returns in His glory, amen.

So anyway, how are y’all, team? Everyone faring well? Are you fine?? Everything’s fine, I bet. I bet you’re great. You’re definitely not preoccupied with anything or carrying any tension in your shoulders at all. Probably not at all. You’re good. You’re great. Nothing to see here. Move along Mary Susan, we’re fiiiiine.

I’m just here to take a hot second to remind you that you really are great. Like, maybe not on the surface level, or even the mantle (that’s how it goes, right? Crust, mantle, core? Your girl needs to brush up on the layers of the earth, not gonna lie), but deep at your core you are truly great. You are. You were created out of love, to love, to receive and give love, and you are beautifully great.

You are great, especially in your smallness. You are good in your grubbiness and your anxiety. You are wonderful just as you are, just where you are, in all your fear, your hurt feelings, and your lumpy body parts.

You are great, do you hear me?

Let your identity sink in today, gang. Let yourself dwell for a little while in that space deep in your core that houses truth. Sit there and listen to the voice of truth reminding you that you are loved and you are good and you are wanted. Because, despite what the world may say, despite what the media is shoving down your throat and forcing through your eyeballs, that is the truth. You matter. You are precious. You are good.

And every mundane moment of butt wiping (your own or others’), or dish washing, or report filing, or shelf stocking, or paper submitting that you do today matters. It matters deeply because it is your opportunity to live out these little moments as acts of sacrifice, giving of yourself and your talents, offering the gifts you’ve been given to a world that may not understand or appreciate them. That is beautifully difficult, no? But it’s what Christ has called us to. He calls us not to be understood, but to be faithful. He calls us to love, not because others are deserving, but because they’re not.

Show up in faith today, darling friends. Show up even when you feel misunderstood, misrepresented, and miserable. Show up even though things are not perfect. Show up because others need your unique brand of light and beauty. Show up because we need your goodness in this world.

And if you’re really struggling to keep showing up, please know that you’re not required to show up in any one kind of way. Showing up can mean being a light on social media and it can mean quietly stepping back to tend to your own heart. Showing up can mean staying deeply invested in our world while establishing boundaries that protect you from people/profiles/media that prevent you from feeling peace. Showing up can mean retweeting and making calls and advocating and it can also mean watching cat videos and finding all the babies laughing on the internet. Gracious, we need all of that.

At the minimum, showing up means loving your neighbor and tending to the hearts that are entrusted to your care, not excluding your own. How that plays out in your own life is up to you.

Be gentle with yourselves, guys. Be gentle with the people around you. Rest in the truth that you were made good. You matter. I see you and I love you. And more importantly, so does He.

I believe in you and I’m rooting for you!

-Mary Susan

May Auld 2020 be Forgot

We’re on the cusp of the holiday season.

Don’t shoot the messenger, y’all.

I’m thinking we’re divided into two camps here: those who are burying their heads in the sand and avoiding all thoughts of holiday celebrations because they’re certain to be decidedly not normal and those who are chomping at the bit to get to the new year.

“Just get through the year” has been the rallying cry for so many as 2020 has dumped load after load of challenge, pain, injustice, and illness on us all. I mean, obv it has been a doozy.

It is completely normal for us to want to embrace that feeling of “just get it over with” and wish the rest of the year away. But I worry that this mindset is misleading us.

While I think it’s important to find ways to mark the passage of time in a dismal year, I also think that we can’t delude ourselves into thinking that the moment the clock rolls over at midnight on January 1, 2021 everything is going to be fine. I mean, it’ll be fine, but it might be this kind of fine.

https://www.theverge.com/2016/5/5/11592622/this-is-fine-meme-comic

So, what’s the game plan then, team? How can we avoid putting all our eggs in the basket of the new year and transition into 2021 with better(ish) attitudes?

Obv I have *all* the answers so here’s my official 2020 Holiday and New Year Survival Guide Trademark Forthcoming.


Acknowledge that we’re in now now.

It’s fine to look back and it’s fine to look ahead, but we’re in now now and that’s all we’ve got. Carpe diem, live laugh love, etc, etc, all we have is this moment and y’all should probably print that out and hang it on your bathroom wall.

Like it or not, this moment that we’re in is 2020 with all the trappings of chaos and craziness that come with it, but wishing our lives away will not change any of that. No new year is capable of providing the happily ever after we might be wishing for, so we’ve got to do our best with what we’ve got.

Decide how you want to handle the now that you’re in. 2020 has been hard. How do you want to spend the last months of it? How do you want to enter into 2021? Do you want to spend this time jumping into bitterness, envy, remorse, and fear like Scrooge McDuck jumping into his vault of gold? Or do you want to spend this last bit of the year cuddling up to gentleness for yourself and others? (I did a little exploring along this vein over at The Living Person if you’re interested in that little tangent.)

You’re not required to figure everything out, but I’d venture to suppose that the rest of the year won’t feel so empty and wasted if we circle the wagons and put forth the effort to guard our hearts. (Shout out to all my fellow bible college graduates who were told to guard your hearts in every chapel message ever of all time but kinda didn’t know what that meant.)

What this looks like is setting boundaries and identifying which things we want to give space to. I don’t weigh myself without checking in with myself first to make sure I can emotionally handle whatever that number says. (Haven’t weighed myself in months for this very reason.)

So, guard your heart. Check in with yourself before you look at the news. Are you willing to give head and heart space to the potential negativity you may find there? Check in with yourself before you read the comments, before you entertain that potentially intense conversation, before you head into that zoom call with that one person. Even if you can’t avoid the conversation or the meeting, you can set boundaries within it and make sure you’re giving space in your life to people and things that matter and respect you. It’s totally fine to say, “I’m sorry, I just can’t talk about (fill in the blank) right now. I’ll feel more peaceful if we stick to other topics,” and then you take a sip of your OceanSpray and move along down the road.

You’re not required to consume all of the media. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to read it or watch it or engage with it in any way. You’re allowed to step back. Odds are you’ve already developed your opinions and your mind isn’t going to be changed by a stranger on the interwebs. Odds also are you’re not going to change anyone else’s mind. (Insert cringy face and also please keep not shooting the messenger.)

I’m not saying we shouldn’t engage in challenging conversations and discourse with people who think differently than we do. What I am saying is that we’re not required to do that if we’re not up for it emotionally. If you walk away from a conversation, account, news outlet feeling furious, depressed, or hopeless, maybe don’t engage with that shiz in the future.

Curate your social media feed to be a place that fills you up and reminds you of the decency of humanity. Mute, block, snooze, unfollow until you achieve a peaceful scrolling experience. I suggest anything having to do with the Hebrides and/or following this guy. You’re welcome.

Don’t fall victim to the pressure of turning lemons into lemonade. I predict that there will be a ton of reflecting on “what we’ve learned from 2020” and “what the year from hell has taught us.” While I think it’s great to look back and see how we’ve grown, it’s also important not to put too much pressure on ourselves. It’s okay if all we accomplished this year is survival. It’s okay if we look at 2020, take stock of how we’ve coped, and realize that we struggled hard and are still struggling. We’re not required to come out of this year battered, bruised, but carrying earth shattering self-knowledge and a kickass sourdough starter. We’re allowed to come out just plain battered and bruised. We just are. The sooner we give ourselves permission to welcome the uncomfortable truth of our own unique experience, the better able we’ll be to heal.

Also I threw my starter away because sourdough is too much work and I’m not sorry.

Send 2020 out with a bang. Do something drastic and fun you’ve been wanting to do for no other reason than you can and it’s 2020 and I’m bringing YOLO back. Dye the hair, get the tattoo (Mom, don’t comment on that or I’ll send you a video of how far my eyes are rolling), run the race even if you have to walk it. Decorate for Christmas whenever the hell you want to and wear an old bridesmaid’s dress to eat Papa John’s on the couch and maybe also paint your front door orange? Surprise yourself by having a stupid amount of fun just because life is short and you should. Spontaneity is fun and it’s still a thing we can do even if things are weird or kind of hard.

It’s not about you. 2020 has been a year of isolation which has led a lot of us to do some serious introspective thinking. A little self evaluation can be helpful at times but can also result in us becoming a little too preoccupied with ourselves. We can all agree that we have been personally victimized by 2020 and if this year had a name it would be Regina George. But it’s super important to remember that it’s not about us. Anything we can do to draw ourselves out of our own self-focus is a win.

Make New Year’s resolutions, but not shitty ones. One way to remember that things are not about me is to make some New Year’s resolutions. Now, I’m no fortune teller and I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think 2021 is going to be the year that I start drinking all the water, or lose the weight, or whatever. But, it can be the year that I make it a priority to love others more! Here are some fun resolutions I came up with to remind myself that it’s not about me.

  • Adopt someone to love each month. Send them coffee money, mail a card, or text an inappropriate gif that will startle them into laughter when they’re hiding from their job in the bathroom.You don’t even have to know them! You could just pick a random residential address each month and send flowers to that house. Or send flowers to a nursing home with instructions that they be given to a resident who needs some happy. Whatever you decide to do, just pick one person each month to reach out to and remind that they matter.
  • Donate to a different nonprofit each month. Doesn’t have to be a lot of money, fam. Even $5 is helpful and will make you feel a little less helpless in this big bad world. I suggest checking out Beauty 2 The Streetz and Abide Women’s Health Services as good places to start.
  • Invest in a service industry professional. Maybe you feel guilty about getting a pedicure. Guess what? You’re allowing a person to provide for her family by paying for her services. That’s a gift. Maybe you feel weird about paying to have your house cleaned. Same thing. Perhaps you see the same cashier at WalMart every time you go. Guess what? Working there probably sucks some of the time (lots of the time) so do something nice for that person. Take donuts to the Aldi on a Monday morning. Bring coffee to the post office staff. Jump on public transportation just to pass out balloons to the driver. Challenge yourself to see the people who slip beneath the radar and show them some love.
  • Participate in the new challenge I just invented. I’m calling it Random Acts of Silly and I we’re gonna have a hashtag (#randomactsofsilly) and go around spreading silliness. I’m starting by ordering a giant pack of googly eyes to keep in my purse so I can stick them on stuff when I’m out and about.
  • Take up a new devotion. Set aside time to pray for others. This could look like making a list of intentions or just praying for general ones (local, national, and world leaders, those suffering in other countries, etc). I’ve recently been praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy (a devotion I’ve avoided because I’m too hip to do the thing that everyone else is doing please roll your eyes at me) and it 100% lives up to the hype.

That’s all I’ve got, gang. What would you add? How are you planning on handling the transition from 2020 to 2021? We didn’t really tackle the intricacies of holiday celebrations in this post, so if you’re at all interested in the ramblings of yours truly on the subject, just let me know and I’ll take a stab at it.

Either way, friends, you are loved. However you’re feeling about this last bit of the year and the idea of a new one approaching, you’re loved. You’re precious and important. You matter so much. We need you, just you remember that.

I’m an Addict and So Are You

So, addictions are fun, huh? It’s so interesting to me how things that seem innocuous can somehow sneak into our hearts and set up shop. Whether it’s alcohol, shopping or, in my case, social media and food, these things walk right in and start selling their wares.

I’ve been struggling with my consumption a lot lately. I can’t stop myself from taking in garbage, compulsively filling my body and mind with substances that don’t nourish and ultimately leave me feeling dissatisfied and emptier than before.

They really sell it, though. My addictions are so compelling when they tell me that they hold the secrets to finding peace and comfort. The dopamine hit that I get from scrolling Reddit and Instagram combine with the hit I get from secretly eating three pieces of cold pizza after everyone else is in bed and it is comforting…for a moment.

And then the moment passes.

What my addictions hide in the fine print is the immediate shame, regret, and hunger for more that comes like tsunami completely wiping out the comfort. But then the cycle repeats because it’s just so easy. I know feeding my addictions won’t ultimately satisfy my needs, but gosh they’re so tangible and approachable. Scrolling for hours or stuffing my face with garbage candy are tangible things I can do and those things are so much easier to approach than taking time to wrestle with my confusing emotions.

I’m such a slave to the quick fix. I want results now. I want answers now. I want conflict resolution now rather than waiting and giving myself time to accept my reality, take stock of my emotions, trace them back to their roots, and consciously identify next steps. That crap takes forever and I don’t have time for it (read: I won’t take time for it), so I scroll and fill my mind with unhappy news, angry comment boxes, and fuel myself with comparison. And when that makes me feel like crap (because it always does), I root through my son’s leftover birthday candy or eat a half a jar of olives and hope it does the trick. Spoiler alert: it does not do the trick. Ever.

And y’all, I don’t know the answer to all of this. Lots of people have studied addictions and written amazing books and I’m working on reading some of them. I think the answer is as individual as the addict and I think that for me it’s a combination of prayer, self-awareness, doing hard emotional work, therapy, grace, conversations with people I love and trust, and lots of do-overs. Also taking part in the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation help, too.

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV on Pexels.com

I was journaling and praying about all this this morning and I remembered an old quote. It’s the one that gets used a lot with school kids usually in reference to thinking before you speak. There are lots of versions, but the one that came to my mind goes like this:

Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve upon the silence?”

Sai Baba

It occurred to me that this list of questions isn’t just a good model to follow regarding our speech, but also in how we conduct ourselves, how we treat our bodies, how we use our time, how we treat our earth, etc. So let’s take for example my struggle with food addiction.

Is it Kind? Is this thing I’m about to put into my body kind? Is it going to support my performance, help me grow in the ways I want to grow? Is this food/drink chemically supportive of my body or will it hurt me? Is this a treat that will genuinely hit the spot or is it a treat that will cause me to feel shame later? Just like I learned in college, any relationship you have to keep a secret is probably not a good one…and that goes for food, too.

Is it Necessary? Am I really hungry right now or am I eating for another reason? If so, it is more necessary for me to take care of the real root of my hunger than to numb it with food. Is this food necessary for my body to work properly, or is it an unnecessary snack that will hurt me? Is it really necessary for me to eat the appetizer/birthday cake/have the second helping or is this an opportunity for me to find a different way to celebrate or find contentment and peace elsewhere? Conversely, am I waiting to eat for a good reason? Am I pushing my body into deep hunger because I’m “busy” or punishing myself for yesterday’s choices? Would it be wiser to take the time to fuel my body now rather than pushing on and potentially making poor choices later?

Is it True? Is this food what it claims to be? Is it secretly full of junk or hiding stuff in it that doesn’t align with my goals? Is this food telling me that I’ll feel better after I eat it, even when I know that that’s false? Have I made this food into a false god or am I consuming it for what it is, just a food that exists. If it causes me to fall into a place where I am harming my body/mind and putting my confidence/comfort into that food, it’s not true to my morals, so best to skip it.

Does it Improve Upon the Silence? Will eating this food or at this particular moment improve my life? Will I truly benefit from consuming it or will it cause me to stray into a place that I don’t want to go? Is this desire to fill myself up with something come from a place of physical hunger or do I need to check in with myself or someone I trust to deal with the real hunger I’m feeling?

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

This is all easier said than done, obviously. But, guys, we’re all addicted to something. We’re all guilty of using something to numb the pain or uncomfortable feelings that inevitably come from life. These things usually aren’t dangerous in and of themselves (But sometimes they are…I mean, porn and drugs are pretty much never going to be helpful). However, it’s our relationship to these things that makes them dangerous. It’s so easy for us to fool ourselves and pretend that the thing we’re abusing isn’t as bad as all that. But if we’re dependent upon something other than God for comfort or coping, we need to be very honest with ourselves about what that says about the state of our hearts.

Maybe you think I’m overly sensitive or projecting my own stuff onto you and you’re welcome to think that. That may be the case…but I kind of doubt it.

If the only thing you post on social media is “funny” memes about how much you’re drinking or how much alcohol you need to “survive” your regular life, maybe you need to take a look at whether or not those jokes are actually funny or if you’re using humor to deflect a real problem.

If you’re buying yourself an extra treat at the grocery store and scarfing it down in the car so your family doesn’t know you ate it, you need to examine why that’s a behavior your engaging in.

If you’re spending too much money on Amazon and blaming it on the pandemic, you need to ask yourself what it is you’re trying to cover up with all those boxes on your porch.

If you’re secretly surfing porn at night and can’t stop yourself, you need to figure out what’s at the root of that void you’re trying to fill.

If you’re spending hours and hours staring at your phone, closing and reopening the same apps over and over, maybe it’s a good idea to examine your heart and see what it is that you’re trying to escape from.

This work is hard. It’s a long road and it’s lonely at times. Confronting our addictions forces us to confront ugliness in our hearts and that’s never pleasant. I’m no expert and I certainly don’t have my own addictions whipped, but I do know that being open and honest about who I am and where I’m at takes away the power that shame tries to wield over me.

At the end of the day, I struggle with food and social media addiction. That’s just the truth of it. But the other more important truth that I cling to is that I am beloved by my Lord. My addictions and struggles are an opportunity to grow in holiness. They can sanctify me if I let them. My addictions are actually crosses that can lead me to Christ if I allow them to transform me rather than control me.

One day at a time, my friends. You are loved exactly as you are exactly where you are.

Fashion Blogger Strikes Again

Well, I had not planned to write a blog post today, but sometimes life hands you a golden opportunity and you just can’t not share about it.

Mine came this morning in the form of this hair.

Y’all. Can we appreciate the fact that this hair is just next level amazing? I’ve already previously established that I am a fashion blogger and this is why. It’s because I wake up like this without any effort at all.

So this look is phenomenal, especially since the one thing I had to get done today was to renew my driver’s license. Obv, when I looked in the mirror at 7 AM this morning, I knew the day was shaping up to be a good ‘un.

So I hustled like crazy, tamed the hair, and got myself to the DMV bright and early before they opened so I could get in line behind all the senior citizens who are smarter than I am because they brought their own chairs. I had super low expectations for the whole thing because I had to get one of those certified licenses that’s next level you-can-get-on-an-airplane-please-enjoy-your-complimentary-bag-of-covid license and I had to bring a ton of proof that I am, in fact, myself.

Gracious, that was a lot of work trying to round up all of the paperwork to prove that I am who I say I am, but I was so thrilled because I got through the DMV outdoor screening and made it inside with all the right stuff and it went off without a hitch. Like, they didn’t question any of my documents, except my bank statement mail and that’s just probably because few people have that little in their bank account. It’s a real old account that only has $5 in it and I don’t know why I haven’t closed it yet, but it had my name on it and not my husband’s, so it counted as real mail and proved my identity, so holla atcha old account.

Anyway, the whole thing was seamless. The employees were so kind and friendly, it was super clean, every single person was wearing a mask and not being an asshole about it…all in all a delightful way to spend a morning! (And that is a commentary on our current situation.)

So I get to the part where I take the picture and I’m already laughing over how bad my hair was this morning and how funny it would’ve been if I had just showed up at the DMV looking like Bellatrix Lestrange ready to renew her broom license and it was all so humorous.

So I go to take the picture and was asked to keep my glasses on since I use them to drive. Cool. No problem. Next I’m asked to tilt my chin down, “just a millimeter or two,” just to reduce the glare on my glasses. Also, don’t smile because we need you to look like what you’re going to look like when you get pulled over. So I tilt my chin and there’s a glare. We repeat the entire process a couple of times, each time increasing the chin tilt until we end up with this gem.

Y’all. There aren’t words. The level of disgust that this photo encompasses is just astronomical. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but can I just vote myself Poster Child of 2020, or do I need to wait another month or two?

Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking, “oh bless her heart,” and that is totally fine. Y’all are probably wondering why I didn’t demand another retake since I’ll have this photo for four years. Some of you are probably ready at your keyboard with your sweet comments about how nothing can diminish my real beauty.

Frands. I do not need any of that. All I need in this moment is proper congratulations for pulling of the most ah-mazingly fantastic i.d. photo that has ever existed. I cannot tell you how hard this has made me laugh or how much I genuinely love this photo. I am not lying, I love it.

Guys, drivers license photos are not supposed to be attractive. They’re, by nature, required to make you look like a psychopath and, gang, I. nailed. it. It is the single most wonderful photo that has ever existed of me and I am genuinely tickled to death that I get to keep it for posterity.

Y’all, can you imagine the glee I am going to have every time someone asks to see it?? I am going to cackle laugh every single time. I am going to start buying Robitussin and spray adhesives just so I’ll get carded and have the chance to show that beauty off! Can you foresee how many people I am going to bless with that i.d. photo?? It is such a gift and I am beyond honored to be the recipient of such a treasure.

I seriously sat in my car and laughed until I cried because that photo is so great. And then I sent it to my mom and we both laughed our faces off over it. Gosh, it is the absolute best.

So anyway, that’s my Monday and I’m thinking it went super well. Zero complaints, only compliments on my glamour shot from here forward, thankyouverymuch.

Speaking of which, I think in four years when I go to take another photo, I’m going to curate an actual glamour shot look. Like, how great would it be for me to show up in the studded leather jacket/biker hat combo? Or take my i.d. photo in an off the shoulder feather boa?? There are so many options and I know it’ll take a while to narrow it all down. Thank goodness I’ve got four years to plan!

A Light Read: Sobriety, Codependence, and Coming Back From the Edge

The fifth of July is a really special day for our family, but not one that usually get’s a lot of pub. This is mainly because July 5th conjures up some pretty painful memories and not all of it is my story to tell.

However, it’s a story that’s worth telling because it is an example of perseverance, answered prayer, and an incredibly faithful God. July 5th is my husband Vinnie’s sobriety anniversary. This year marks two years sober for him and I could not be more proud or grateful.

I checked with Vin before I wrote this post because I really wanted to make sure that he was okay with me sharing and that he read it all before I pressed the publish button. It’s really important for me to make this distinction because being vulnerable about alcohol dependence – or dependence upon any substance, for that matter – is hard. Really, really, hard. I’m incredibly grateful that my husband is okay with me sharing publicly. Because, here’s the thing: I know we’re not the only ones and it would be such a gift if we could be an encouragement to someone in a similar spot.

I’ve learned so much in our two years of sobriety. I could probably write and type and talk all day about the things I’ve learned and am continuing to learn on this side of alcoholism. But I’m going to try to reflect a little here and see where we get.

Vinnie is probably the smartest person I know. He is so clever and quick. He’s one of those guys who can figure out how to fix just about anything and we always joke that he knows just enough about enough things to bullshit his way through the rest and come out on top. I’ve never seen someone who’s able to turn nothing into something like Vinnie can.

When we moved to Cleveland from Florida, we were pregnant with our second baby, jobless, with few prospects. It was a low point to be sure, but Vinnie managed to find a job as a deli clerk at a grocery store and worked his way up from there. He became a journeyman meat cutter, then snagged a spot on the opening team of a new upscale grocery chain, then became the head butcher at a high-end steak house in town. Eventually, he worked his way up to sous chef at the restaurant and has since moved on to become one of the most highly trained butchers in the area. He’s really great at what he does and I’m so proud of him.

But what most people don’t know is how deeply dangerous the food industry can be, especially for people who are predisposed to depression and/or substance abuse. Vinnie checks both of those boxes off, so while he was succeeding and growing and advancing at work, it was in a toxic environment.

Restaurant life is brutal. The hours are abysmal. Employees arrive early and leave late. The pace is hectic and stressful. Good restaurant crews are able to create amazing food for countless tables, simultaneously balancing special requests, cook times, miscommunications, and endless complaints from obnoxious customers. The pay is low, the thanks are nonexistent, the hours are shit, requiring employees to work holidays and weekends, and success or failure is just one bad Yelp review away.

If you’re scheduled for late service “late” means 2 am some nights. And after you’re finally done with service, the party culture restaurants are famous for leads the crew out to drink either celebrate a good night or drown their sorrows. It’s common for staffs to leave work, party hard, then stagger back the next day hungover just in time to do it all again.

I only understand a shred of it because I’ve never personally lived it, but I have seen what it does to people and I know I’d never make it. No chance.

The restaurant industry chews people up and spits them out only after making sure they’re mentally, emotionally, and spiritually stripped bare and broken. It’s no surprise that the people who making the industry tick struggle mightily with mental health and turn to numbing behaviors to get by. It’s no way to live. We’ve seen friends deep in the cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and have lost some, too. People are dying, literally dying, and yet the industry gets no breaks. (If you want more information on this, check out this article that references some interesting studies and work being done to support people working in the food industry.)

Our story unfolded somewhere in the middle of all of that. When I look back at what we got through, what Vinnie survived, I am just floored by how lucky we are. We dodged the bullet in a lot of ways and all by the grace of God.

Man can fly from everything in nature, but he cannot fly from himself.

Venerable Matt Talbot

We’ve been married 11 years now and a lot of that time was spent in denial. We both knew there was a problem, but neither of us wanted to address the elephant in the room. Add to that the fact that we had four babies in five years, lots of stress and job changes, and the grinding culture of restaurant and retail work, and you can see how we became more and more dependent upon our addictions. His was alcohol, mine was food.

During the worst of it, I was deeply struggling with codependency, something I’m only now fully realizing and continuing to work through. It was really easy for me, the non-alcoholic, to feel smug and self-righteous because I wasn’t doing anything “wrong.” But the more things spun out of control for Vinnie, the tighter I tried to control it. I micromanaged and nagged and obsessed and stalked. I compulsively checked his text messages and looked for any excuse to catch him doing something wrong. I obsessively talked about it with my best friend in Texas, rehashing arguments and airing a laundry list of worries, complaints, and fears. Weirdly, this behavior made my husband pull away from me.

The one thing I got right in all this was that I prayed. My prayers may have stemmed from a place of fear and control, but the deep desire of him being stripped of dependence on alcohol and falling into dependence on God was real and pure. I became good friends with St. Joseph and St. Monica. I prayed novenas and rosaries, offered masses, and begged the Lord to deliver us, to heal our relationship, and to save Vinnie’s life. While I frequently feared for his physical safety, I was desperately afraid for his soul and my deepest desire was for Vinnie to see his own worth, to be known and held by the Father.

I need to let you know, though, that my prayer life wasn’t perfect. There were plenty of times when I let my resentment, pride, and anger stop me from praying for him as I should have been. My heart has been hardened and broken too many times to count. While this is a story of Vinnie overcoming an alcohol addiction, it is also a story of me being humbled over and over and over again, learning to listen and to surrender it all to the Lord.

Eventually, I started going to therapy. Y’all, every damn person needs to go to therapy. Yes, that means you, too. If you haven’t tried it, you are seriously missing out. Self awareness can be harsh and hard, but it is so healing. We can’t expect to effect change in our relationships until we identify and take responsibility for our own negative behaviors.

In the darkest part of this journey, I was so worried about controlling my children and husband so that we could check off the boxes to show we were doing things “right” that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I became a person who was only as happy as others were with me. I blamed myself for everything. It was my fault that the children didn’t behave. It was my fault that he had to work such long hours. It was my fault that he was drinking so much. If I were a better wife, he wouldn’t do that. If I were a better mother, they would act the way they were supposed to. I was caught in a cycle of self loathing and self pity, and it wasn’t pretty. I was desperate to control everything and furious that it wasn’t working. I was murdering myself to make everyone else happy and then completely filled with resentment when they weren’t miraculously joyful.

My therapist taught me the mind-blowing truth that I’m not in control. Then she took it to the next level and told me that I’m not responsible for anyone else’s emotions. And then she told me that I can only control the way I choose to react to situations and that maybe, just maybe, not everyone else processes things as quickly as I do. It was revolutionary.

I did a lot of hard work to stay in my lane and to take responsibility for myself. Allowing others to make their own choices and letting them experience the repercussions of those choices has been the number one game changer in how I approach parenting and my marriage. I will struggle with this for the rest of my life, just like I struggle with my own numbing behaviors and unhealthy relationship with food (a post for another day), but just being able to name the thing has been life altering. It’s hard to fight a battle when you can’t articulate the thing you’re fighting.

And that was when we had the breakthrough. It was the ugliest, most depressing July 4th of all time and I won’t go into a lot of detail on the particulars, but at the end of that day I put it all down and told him he got to choose. And he chose us. On July 5, 2018 my husband signed up to receive emails from Alcoholics Anonymous and started the process of getting help.

And then we lived happily ever after…in an alcohol saturated culture where it’s almost impossible to go against that stream. Vinnie decided to get sober while he worked in a place that kept whiskey on hand for the sole purpose of staff drinking. He decided to get sober in a country where it’s culturally expected that you drink under all circumstances. Celebrating something? Have a drink! Having a tough time? Have a drink! Want to have fun? Have a drink! It’s more fun! Want to relax? Have a drink! You’ll be more chill! Want to be hip and masculine? Have a drink! This one has a beard on the can! Are you the mom of small children? Rosé all day, mamas!

During his first few months of sobriety, we had to navigate a lot. Birthday parties held in bars, holidays, explaining over and over again that he quit drinking and then dealing with the absolute weirdness that comes from saying that to another human. Fam, if someone tells you they don’t drink, please don’t feel awkward. Just say, “Cool!” and move on. They probably don’t care if you drink. They’re well aware that other people don’t have the same problem that they do and they don’t expect the entire world to stop drinking just because they did. Alcoholics live with this unfairness every day. You’re nothing new. If you do want to abstain around them, that’s incredibly kind and we thank you, but don’t make a big thing of it. Maybe just congratulate them and then talk about something else. It doesn’t have to be weird unless we make it weird.

In all of that, Vinnie just went cold turkey. We got better at communicating and giving each other permission to feel how we feel. I started fighting my own addiction demons, which kind of made us feel like we were more on the same team. We started making our faith more of a priority together and we have scraped and crawled and grown so much in the last two years.

Obviously the struggle is not over. There will always be days when Vinnie wishes he could drink. There is often a feeling of being left out of the club and sometimes the awkwardness takes us by surprise. But he will be the first one to tell you how awesome it feels to not be hungover on July 5th (or any other day, for that matter). We’re going to be working on this for the rest of our lives and that’s okay. We know what it looks like now to look our ugliness in the face and give it to the Lord. We’ve confronted a lot of demons and are living witness to the fact that God is faithful. He loves us, He hears us, He pursues us, and redeems anything.

Our story is not over. God is still healing and working on our hearts. I can only say it is such a privilege to have been chosen to be Vinnie’s wife. I have seen him look his demons in the face and fight for life. I have seen him grow into the husband and father I knew he could be when I first fell in love with him. I have seen him come back from the absolute brink and I have been generously given back the husband that I lost to alcohol. I pray that I may be made worthy of my vocation as his wife and the mother of our babies. I pray that we would both be given the grace to carry our crosses well for the greater glory of God and I am so thankful that God can use even this to reveal His love to us.

If you’re in the middle of a dark place, take heart. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert and I obviously realize that your story won’t necessarily play out like ours has, but regardless of how things are resolved, you’ll never regret pursuing God first or taking responsibility for yourself. If you’re struggling, keep going. Things won’t get better overnight, but healing does come. Fight for your spouse. Hold them accountable and hold yourself accountable, too. On this side of alcoholism and codependence, I can assure you that the benefits are worth every single minute of struggle.

Yes, in all my striving, He is both the rest and the restoration I seek.

Megan Hjelmstad for Blessed is She

Resources: If you’re a book person and want to dive into addiction and codependence I suggest starting with The Book of Waking Up by Seth Haines and Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. Even if you think you don’t personally struggle with either, I’d be willing to bet that you’ll identify with some of what you find in these books.

You can also hear Seth Haines featured on the Fountains of Carrots podcast, which I highly recommend.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

You are loved, you are loved, you are loved. You are deserving of the goodness that comes from a life free from addiction.

Motherhood: The Maximum Threshold

Hey, gang…how y’all doin’? I hope you’re well. I wanted to talk to all you mamas about something that I’ve noticed many, many times in my years of motherhood, but that I was recently reminded of in a Facebook comments thread.

Here’s how it usually goes: Someone will post something about struggling with motherhood and it’ll get a chorus of “me too’s.” Inevitably, somewhere in the comments, one of those sentiments of solidarity carries a caveat, “I feel that, too, but I only have X number of kids.” It’s got that unspoken sense of comparison and failure that says, “It’s okay for you to feel that way because you have more children than I do, but if I also feel that way then I must be doing something wrong because I don’t have that many kids. I must be failing.”

Y’all, that is straight up bull slaw and I will not have it.

Listen to me. Your personal max is just that, the maximum threshold of challenge you have ever personally navigated. Struggle doesn’t discriminate based on family size, experience, age, or any other variable. This shiz is hard regardless.

We do this comparison/failure thing all the time with all sorts of things. You’re allowed to complain about being sore after running because you’re an ultra marathoner. I however, should shut up and stop whining because I can only run six miles, never mind the fact that I’ve only recently taken up running. You’re allowed to struggle with exhaustion after your work week, but I’m “only” a stay at home mom or I’m “only” a student without a “real” job so I should have nothing to complain about.

Guys, this is not only completely untrue, but it’s also unhelpful and unhealthy. When we’re talking about this issue as it pertains particularly to motherhood, I think it’s even more dangerous. Motherhood is intrinsically connected to the depths of my identity in a deeper way than being a runner, or an employee, or a student ever could be. My identity as mother defines me to my absolute core, so a sense of failure as a mother is felt far more deeply than any other failure I can think of. I think this is true for most moms I know.

We all know that comparison is as unhealthy as it is a natural response to being a human. We’re constantly tempted to check where we are in relation to the herd. Are we behind? Ahead? Keeping up? Holding people back? It’s human nature, which makes it that much harder to resist.

Mamas listen unto me. Hear my voice and take a second to really think about this. You are currently working at the maximum level of motherhood you have ever experienced. Of course your experience of parenting feels like it’s pushing you to your limit because it is. The number of children you have does not dictate the level of difficulty you are allowed to experience. I have friends with one child, friends with five kids, even a pal who has eleven. Each and every one of them is allowed to feel the magnitude of what they’re being asked to do on a daily basis. It does not matter if you have one child or fifteen, you’re allowed to feel the weight of that responsibility. You’re also allowed to be annoyed by the noise, mess, and sacrifice and also to laugh about it all. Numbers simply do not count here.

We wouldn’t expect a novice runner with shin splints to suck it up and stop complaining just because she’s never run a 10K or a marathon. Shin splints hurt no matter who is experiencing them. We wouldn’t tell a student cramming for finals to shut up and work just because she’s not currently a lawyer. Intellectual exertion pushes us to our limit regardless of the level of work we’re doing.

Mamas, you are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to admit things are hard and frustrating. You’re allowed to say, “me too,” and laugh at the absurdities of motherhood right alongside your sisters who are juggling more or fewer children than you. You are allowed to be there in the comments section, taking up space, and being part of the community. You’re allowed to be there, because here’s the thing. We want you there.

Comparison wants to whisper shame and tell you that not even your struggles are enough. Comparison wants you to be small, and insignificant, and alone. But in my experience, the right group of moms, and honestly the group that I’ve worked hard to cultivate and attract to my posts and writing, is the kind of group who wants you. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on another voice validating us. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on a chance to love you. If you don’t comment or say, “me, too,” we’re missing out on another voice in the herd reminding us that we’re all in this together regardless of family size, experience, or ability. We need you to show up. Desperately.

Now, I know that not all comments sections are kind. We obviously have to be wise and share our hearts with people who are safe and can be trusted, but that’s true no matter if we’re sharing on the internet or in-person. The other side of this is that we need to be on the look out for mamas who are making those comparison comments, the ones we can see who need a little extra validation. Those are the friends (or strangers) we need to speak up for, offer a hand and a reminder to that they’re important and loved. We need to take care of those mamas. Odds are, we’ve been on the receiving end of another mother’s kindness, too, and it’s our responsibility to pass that on.

Motherhood is such a gift. We get to experience creation, sacrifice, and intimacy with another human in ways that are almost inexplicable and then we get to have that person puke on us, and make us laugh, and walk away. It’s hard and it’s funny. Motherhood pushes us to our absolute maximum threshold every single day. The silver lining is that we also get each other. We get to be part of a community of sisters who gets us and sees us right where we are. We come in all shapes, sizes, numbers of kids, types of jobs, different cleaning styles, religions, ideologies, and so on. There are infinite differences, but we can all agree that this is the toughest, most rewarding gig we will ever have the privilege of holding down and navigating it alone is just not an option.

You belong here. You are wanted, and needed, and necessary. I hope you know that, my friend.

xoxo,

Mary Susan

Rest and Rise

I recently reached the point in the ‘ole pandemic in which I was crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I mean…if you’re not crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot, are you even coronavirus-ing?? The tl:dr version is that I hit a wall.

The long version is that it was the first day of our weekend. My husband had worked yet another 60+ hour work week, and while I am eternally, eternally grateful that he’s still got a job, his working so much means I’m home alone with the kids. Again, I am so grateful but it’s hard. (Yet another of life’s strange truths: you can be indescribably thankful for something and also be completely over it.)

I started the day tender, emotional, and testy. I eventually set out to do my once a week apocalyptic Wal-Mart run, which was awful because Wal-Mart and also extra awful because pandemic. Ugh. The register was possessed and either wouldn’t scan things or inexplicably scanned things that weren’t even near it. Not kidding, a package of graham crackers was ghost scanned like ten times, so the poor cashier had to void that out and then move on to peppers that wouldn’t scan at all. The whole experience was trying, made extra frustrating by the fact that I got home and realized I had left two bags at the store.

I took it really well. (Please see: lying liar who lies.)

After I finished teaching the kids new curse words (let’s be honest, reviewing the word’s we’ve been working on for the last few weeks), I set in to fight with my husband who was being nice to me. He foolishly offered to help me, perhaps forgetting that I am a native Texan born and bred and also the clone of my mother and don’t nobody try to help me when I need it thankyouverymuch. It was one of those moments when I knew I was completely in the wrong and I needed to shut up and be humble enough to accept help, but I just couldn’t get my dumb self to do it. Lawd.

So I found myself crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot, texting a dear friend who replied, “I feel like that so often. Cry it out is my theory. Don’t block the feeling because this f*$%&@! sucks.” And ain’t that just the perfect truth? So I cried at Wal-Mart and went in to get my stuff and kept on moving forward, which is just kinda where we’re all at these days. (As an aside, can I just say that masks work real well to hide the fact that you’ve been crying in the parking lot, a perk I wasn’t expecting when this whole mask thing began. So there’s a little silver lining.)

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. Trying to piece together why I’m wound so tight, finding it so hard to cope some days. Even my (completely patient and not stubborn like me) mother told me yesterday that she, a retired person, feels inordinately stressed, rushed, and busy. She’s been making masks for folks, perfecting her pattern and sending them off to friends and family who need them, but other than that her daily life hasn’t changed all that much. She lives in a rural area in Texas that sort of forces her to isolate just due to geography. Mom and I agreed that, regardless of our life situation, there’s a pervading sense of urgency to everything we’re doing these days that seeps into our consciousness. The fact that we’re always at home doesn’t affect this pressure at all. We’re collectively operating under a sustained high level of stress, like some sort of twisted carpe diem that urges us to hustle and do “enough” while we’re effectively forced to tread water. What a time to be alive.

Separated from the Sacraments, unable to do my weekly holy hour in Adoration, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly more prickly. I’ve allowed myself to settle into the mindset that I have to do things myself, my wellbeing is dependent upon my actions, I’ve got to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and it is through my own power that I will forge on ahead into the new normal, as they say.

I realize that this is clearly not due to separation on God’s part, for He is nothing if not constant. This change in attitude is due to my own weakness and sin. I’ve allowed my grief to build up walls in my heart. We’ve lost so much and I think it’s normal for our defense mechanisms to spring up. Perhaps you’re finding that, like me, you’ve become critical, prickly, and judgmental when you desperately desire to be gentle, open, loving, and free.

While this response is normal, it’s never satisfying, at least for me. The walls I put up on my heart always end up being constricting and the “control” I create is stifling and suffocating, certainly not freeing like I intend. I find that my version of “in control” often ends up looking more like paranoia and a vice grip on the steering wheel rather than the confidence and peace I’m really searching for.

The truth is, of course, that nothing I manufacture for myself will ever satisfy. The deeper truth is in the resurrection, the truth that every death I experience is a new beginning and Jesus is deeply present in both. Right now we’re in an ongoing new beginning that seems to stretch on in an eternity of unknowns. We have laid so much down, been required to offer up, sacrifice, let go, and take away. It hurts, this death of our previous lives. It hurts deeply. But after death there is always resurrection. Christ is present in it all consistently redeeming it with His endless mercy and grace. In a reflection over at Blessed is She, Kelsey Dassance says, “Let us rest and rise in His invitation to grace. Let’s live for eternal life.”

Rest and rise. I love that.

Guys, we can rest in grief. We can let ourselves be sad and cry in the Wal-Mart parking lot. We can take a moment and feel the weariness and acknowledge the fear. But we are an Easter people, are we not? We get to live the truth of the resurrection every single day. It is only in claiming that truth that we can make peace with where we’re at.

Claim the truth of the resurrection every moment of every day. That which has been killed, the places we’re laid low, the dead ends, the broken backs, the space where we’re just done…that’s where He is. Christ is right there waiting to hold space with us, be near us in our woundedness and redeem it all. Each ending, however large or inconsequential it may seem, is an opportunity to receive Him. The key, I think, is in laying down our will and taking up His. Christ specifically said,

“…I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.”

John 6:37-40

Guys, whether we’re grouchy, afraid, crying at the Wal-Mart, or lashing out when others offer us help, now is the time to rest and to rise. Now is the time to live the truth of the resurrection over and over and over again, as many times a day as we need. Jesus is constantly working, constantly moving, always redeeming and raising us up in every single dead space we experience. But we have to claim it. We have to open our prickly, grouchy, fear filled hearts, rest in Him and rise in His truth.

And as a caveat, let me remind you that we’re not required to rise and seize the day and come out of all this like perfectly transformed butterflies with new business ideas, angelic children, and the recipe for world peace. Shit, we don’t even have to have mastered foamy coffee or sourdough. We’re simply called to rest and rise in Christ. And when we rise, let us rise in the deep truth of our identity: that we were created from love and created to love. Let that be our transformation, to love others and ourselves through the gentle, redeeming eyes of a Savior who’s been there.

Rest and rise today, my friends. You are indescribably precious and loved.