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.

Fashion Blogger

Welp, it’s been a minute hasn’t it? I don’t know how I’m suddenly so busy except to say that I’ve decided that it’s finally time for me to pursue my true calling in life and embrace my identity as fashion blogger.

I know what you’re thinking. “Mary Susan,” you think. “You’ve always been known as an international fashion icon! Whatever can you have up your obscenely fashionable sleeve??”

Well, let me just tell you what’s up. I feel as though my entire life has been leading me to this moment, a moment in which so many seemingly unrelated paths have converged resulting in a cataclysmic realization of my true calling as uber fashionable fashion person.

I mean…the fact that we’re in a global pandemic, giving me more time to focus on my looks, combined with the fact that one person on the internet told me that I should definitely do more how-to, instructional type posts ought to be enough confirmation for anyone that this is who I am now.

And so I begin. Ahem.


We currently find ourselves in a time of social isolation and many moderately attractive women are completely throwing in the towel! Is it acceptable to toss fashion to the wayside simply because we never leave our homes, never see humans aside from those we spewed forth from our loins, never have an occasion for dressing up??? I submit that it is both not acceptable and unacceptable.

Certainly, we are compelled to admit that times have changed and thus, fashion must change as well. Take me, for example. I have absolutely, 100% not at all let my looks go just because of a silly little pandemic. No, ma’am. I have merely adapted to the “new normal” as they say and have upgraded my normal “chic mom about town” look to a more relaxed “chic mom about house” vibe. Tres chic.

Here’s how to achieve this look in a few hundred simple steps:

First you’re going to want to be really sporadic about hygiene. Now is the time to go aaaalll natural and embrace the primitive essence of our ancestors. This means that if you do shower daily, you need to keep in mind that time in the shower is time away from your offspring and you certainly wouldn’t want that. At the very least, try to make sure that you don’t wash your hair. Just hit the important spots and get out of there asap before a kid gets out the glue again.

Now, some might argue that letting go of hygiene is literally the opposite of what I just said about not throwing in the towel. But let me remind you that we are playing the long game here. We’re going for wow-factor and impact, so setting the bar low for a while is important. Also, not showering allows you to literally not throw the towel in the laundry, thus saving some time for other more important pursuits like binge watching Schitt’s Creek (because ironic fashionistas do not watch Tiger King like commoners, thankyouverymuch.)

Okay, so the moment you shower, people will notice. I, for one, had not released my hair from a greasy ponytail for at least a fortnight. I showered yesterday, strode into my living room like a queen, and the people practically applauded.

When choosing an ensemble like the one above, here are some tips and tricks:

  • Pair your oldest, nastiest, holey-est (not holiest, save those for Sunday) pair of leggings with some slippers that smell like death are are also falling apart. They have these at Wal-Mart and sometimes come with the smell built right in. Voila!
  • Combine that with a dressed up top such as a doula t-shirt that reads, “Your worth is not measured in centimeters.” It’s both true and everyone knows that a good cervical dilation reference is all the fashion these days.
  • Next, throw on a cardigan because layering.
  • Now, you have the option of make up at this point. I personally just like to *think* about putting on make up. I find that the mere thought of make up is enough to flush the natural pigment of my face, so I just go with that. Either way, follow your heart.
  • Lastly, let that hair be free. Just let it hang all scraggly and limply wet.
  • Also, if you’re going to photograph your look, be sure to really dial in on the artistry of grunge by using a mirror that hasn’t been washed in ages and a cluttered and dusty background. People will think it’s a photo from Vogue and it practically is!

When I revealed this look yesterday, my eldest child literally said to me and I quote, “Wow, Mom! Are you going somewhere?? You look nice!!” Mission. Accomplished. Sassy. Fashion. Snap.

And here’s another note on hair. If you want to attempt to copy me (and who doesn’t) my biggest piece of advice is to let your hair air dry. It’s important to honor the hair and let it choose your fate. Your hair will lead you to fashion, that’s just the honest truth.

Again, I give you an example for to meditate upon. Here I am after letting my beautiful locks air dry while chatting on the phone with a pal about current events. Feast your eyes on the finished product.

I hope these tips and tricks have inspired you to aim for greater levels of beauty in these time of social distance. However, I do want to offer just a word of caution. Guys, we can’t all be me. Some of you are going to have to face facts and understand that natural beauty trumps effort every time. I’m sorry to say that some of you might have a hard time duplicating my looks and I’m immensely disappointed on your behalf. It’s tough to be this gorgeous and, while I’m sad that you’re probably jealous, I guess this is just my cross to bear.

Do let me know what other hard hitting fashion tips you’d like me to cover. I mean, I’m obv an influencer now, so it’s only a matter of time before the requests to do product reviews to start rolling in and I’m swamped with interviews for In-Style and Country Living. So, get those requests in now and I’ll be happy to continue to teach you how to be a fashion maven like moi!

xoxo,

Mary Susan

True Connection: Hiddenness, Solitude, Truth and You

In a world that predisposes us to yearn for social connection, hidden seems horrible. We’re surrounded by promptings to share our lives, compulsions to photograph our food, document our days. Pinging phones remind us that people are waiting, posting, moving, doing and if we don’t check in, we’re missing out. 

Now obviously there is so much merit to the community found on social media. Now more than ever, the ability to socialize via the internet can 100% be a lifeline for those weathering tough seasons of life. We’re in a unique time when many of us are literally unable to socialize in any way other than social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. These are all the connecting threads binding us together in a bizarre time when we need each other. And that’s good. What a gift it is to communicate and connect.

But the other side of this connection is the compulsion to share, to be relevant, to create content. We’ve seen it before when tumultuous headlines light up our Facebook feeds: there’s also the compulsion to panic, vent, share our unfiltered opinion, comment on every post that irks us. I can only speak for myself, but I have frequently felt the urge to chime in with something in order to feel…important, valuable, noticed, preferred, validated. I want to be noticed and social media is my stage. If I get enough comments, enough validation through likes, then I’m not hidden.

But, y’all, hidden doesn’t mean forgotten. Read that again: Hidden does not mean forgotten. Hidden doesn’t mean unloved or unloveable. Hidden doesn’t mean irrelevant or unimportant.

We have been drawn into a time of hiddenness against our will. None of us has chosen this pandemic, none of us desired this time of separation. This is hard and it’s scary and it’s lonely to be hidden away like this, to suffer in this strange way.

I’ve written before that the Lord has spent the last year and a half or so leading me into solitude and silence. It has taken (and still takes) extreme focus and discipline for me to settle down into silent prayer, to be still when I’m with the Lord in Adoration, or to quiet my thoughts just to be with Him.

Henri Nouwen said the following and I think it’s so beautiful and true:

Every time we enter into solitude we withdraw from our windy, earthquaking, fiery lives and open ourselves to the great encounter. The first thing we often discover in solitude is our own restlessness, our drivenness, and compulsiveness, our urge to act quickly, to make an impact, and to have influence; and often we find it very hard to withstand the temptation to return as quickly as possible to the world of “relevance.” But when we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the gentle breeze, and so come to know the Lord of our heart, soul, and mind, the Lord who makes us see who we really are.

Henri Nouwen

We Americans are really terrible at slowing down. We value productivity, measurable achievements, checked off to-do lists, profits. We have bought into the lie that we’re only worth as much as we produce whether that be in the currency of dollars or follows. We have to make, do, create, impact, influence in certain ways in order to be “worthy.” For us to be forced to stop, for us to be isolated, unable to do is unthinkable. Our society has enslaved itself so intimately to this lie that we literally have people licking airplane toilet seats during a pandemic in order to be noticed. How deep must our addiction for notoriety and attention be if we are willing to prostitute ourselves to these ideals so easily.

Y’all, I call bullshit. I’ve spent the last year and a half learning over and over and over again that it isn’t what I produce that makes me valuable. My identity as created human being, Beloved of the Father is what makes me valuable. Period. This is such a difficult lesson to learn and I’ll keep learning it until the day I die. The lies are loud, but the Truth is deep: I will be just as valuable if no one comments on this blog post as I’ll be if it gets shared across the entirety of the internet. I will be just as valuable if I impact people with my words as I’ll be if I’m ignored.

This deep desire for acceptance, validation, recognition is what spurred me to give up social media for Lent. If I’m honest with you, every time I publish a post, I stalk it. I check back minute by minute (not exaggerating) to see if anyone liked it or commented. Because if you like my writing then you like me. If I get lots of attention from a post, then I get a dopamine hit and I feel worthy. Perhaps I’m less dramatic than the girl licking toilet seats, but I’m just as much as slave to the lie as she is.

Now is a time when we’ve all been put in an uncomfortable place and we get to choose how we respond. Will we fight and rail and scroll, scroll, scroll, starving for connection that won’t truly satisfy? Or will we use social media as a tool for connection, mindfully utilizing it to feed our hearts and minds with content that leads us closer to Truth? Will we use this time to connect with the people who have been gifted to us: our partners, parents, children, roommates, friends? If we’re alone, will we call and check in rather than letting Twitter updates do our talking for us? Regardless of our station, will we take time to do the hard work of silence and solitude, allowing it to transform us?

Solitude is hard, uncomfortable, and pushes us to a place where we’d rather not be. It’s up to us to decide if we will put ourselves at the service of the problem. My prayer for us all is that we would suffer well, that our interactions, whether online or via some other medium, would be truly connecting in meaningful and helpful ways. My prayer is that we would not be slaves to the internet, but rather let our solitude transform us and, after connection to Christ through this time set apart, that social media might serve us and be the medium through which we communicate the Belovedness of others.

Hidden is not forgotten. He will not leave us orphan. Christ is present, He is moving, He is real, and He adores you. Go be a light and walk in the truth that you are incredibly, indescribably loved just as you are, no matter where you are.

Peace and perseverance in all things,

Mary Susan

Note: Take a listen to the Abiding Together podcast to hear more about this idea of hiddenness and our identity as Beloved. They’re discussing Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen for Lent and there is so much good truth being shared there.

You Matter

Guys, I’m struggling a lot lately and I know a lot of other people who are, too. It just seems like so many of us can’t catch a break. We don’t feel seen, we don’t feel heard. A myriad of big and little hurts has piled up and we can’t catch our breath for the weight of life pressing down on us. This is hard.

 

But here is what I know to be true: We matter. You matter.

 

flowers stock photo

 

Pope Benedict XVI said,

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.

 

You are necessary, friend. You are valuable. You were thought up and planned out and you are important.

 

I’m going to take some time today to meditate on that truth, the truth that I’m necessary and I’m loved. I’m going to dig deep and breath deep and do my damnedest to feel it deep in my core that I am a remarkable creation, deeply loved by God, redeemed by Christ, and pursued by the Holy Spirit. And you are, too.

 

You are so incredible. I hope you know that.

 

xoxo,

Mary Susan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo via https://www.pexels.com/photo/flowers-flower-pink-17666/

On Bodies

I knew it would happen sooner or later. Kids are curious and vocal, so I can’t say I was super surprised by the question my five-year-old posed to another mom after story time.

 

“Do you have a baby in your belly?”

 

Shit.

 

She clearly didn’t. I mean, she was wearing an empire waist dress, but she was obviously not pregnant. Also, we’ve got a hard and fast rule about saving your questions/comments about other people’s bodies until we’re in a private place.

 

The mom (a new and wonderful friend even after the comment, thank goodness) brushed it off with a self deprecating comment about how her belly was just “big” – she’s got a body I totally envy, by the way – and we got on with our conversation. It really wasn’t a big deal, except it was. It is a big deal.

 

Body image is a huge deal to me, something I desperately want to get right with my kids. I know without a shadow of a doubt that these little souls in my care are completely and utterly beloved by their Creator. I believe that more than I believe almost anything else in the whole world. They are glorious creatures and I will fight to the death for them to know that and hold it as truth deep within themselves.

 

I feel like I’m in a losing fight, though. I mean, I’m just one person and these sweet babies are living in a broken world, a twisted system that has been screaming the opposite from the moment they were born. My five-year-old girl has already been so inundated with labels, and appearance, and the importance of prettiness…it’s second nature to her and to me, too, if I’m honest.

 

I also feel like I’m up against a ticking clock. Right now, these kids take my word for Gospel. But that window is rapidly closing and we all know the day will come when my opinion won’t count half as much as the opinions of their peers. And I get that it’s just the way it goes.

 

I’m also very aware of politeness. I mean, it’s generally pretty rude to make comments about people’s appearance. And the Southerner in me is horrified by the thought of having impolite children.

 

But, after the episode at the library, I couldn’t bring myself to chastise my daughter because I really didn’t feel that she’d done anything wrong. I refuse to squelch her curiosity and I felt like the whole thing was more of an issue of tact than anything else. Honestly, I had no idea how to broach the subject with her.

 

Because the whole damn thing is a catch 22, isn’t it? At our house we believe that all humans deserve dignity and respect because they are creations of God. We believe that all bodies are worthy of respect…big, fat, tall, skinny, whatever. Those are descriptors. All bodies are valuable and, because of that value, they are beautiful. But we also believe that words have power. So, even though I know the word “fat” is just a descriptor, and even though I know that  am fat and most days I’m okay with that because the word “fat” in no way negates my value as a human, I also know we’re functioning in a broken system. I can’t very well teach my kids that words like “fat” are just descriptors and send them out to the playground. The first time they describe someone as “fat,” they’ll be accused of being mean and that’ll leave them so confused and hurt.

 

So what do I do? How do I teach my daughter to love her body and to recognize all bodies as valuable and worthy of love in a world that won’t play ball?

 

I stewed over this for weeks and finally called my best friend who gave me some good advice, ’cause that’s what brilliant best friends do. Acknowledging the weird double-standard of the situation, we agreed that my aforementioned rule of “don’t talk about people’s bodies until we’re in a private place,” should stand. And then she suggested that I give the kids some options. And it’s brilliant. In my experience, children respond better to alternatives than to just being told to say or do nothing. Teaching kids methods of self soothing as an alternative to violent outbursts is far more successful than just telling them not to get mad, for example. Also, I don’t like the idea of children internalizing things and not being allowed to ask questions. We need more question askers in my opinion.

 

So, instead of saying, “Is there a baby in your belly?” my daughter can say, “I love the happy colors in your dress,” and then feel free to ask me about the baby thing when we’re one-on-one.When I discussed it later with the kids, it went a little something like this,

We know that it doesn’t matter what you look like, a person’s heart is what makes them beautiful. But not everybody knows that. Sometimes people believe that you have to look a certain way to be beautiful or people sometimes think that there’s something wrong with their bodies. And it seems kind of silly to us because we know that that’s not true, but those people are confused and it makes them sad to talk about their bodies. We always want people to feel loved when they’re with us, so we don’t talk about things that might make them sad or hurt their feelings.  If you have a question about someone’s body or how they look, that’s totally fine, but wait until we’re alone and then you can ask me about it without being rude.

 

And then I gave them some options of what to say instead.

“I love the way your eyes look when you smile.”

“I like your purple shirt; that’s one of my favorite colors!”

“You look really strong/happy/joyful/healthy today.

“I really like playing with you; you’ve got great dance moves.”

I also think it’s important to consider how to compliment and comment on the person rather than just their appearance.There was a fantastic article by Sarah Powers in the Washington Post on how to compliment little girls that addresses this really, really well. Haley over at Carrots for Michaelmas also has a good post on how to nurture a positive self-image in our girls.

While I certainly haven’t solved the world’s body image issues here, I think I’ve found a solution that will work for our family. We’ve practiced what we might say in certain social situations, but I’m not naive enough to believe that there won’t be more awkward gaffes in our future. And that’s cool because that’s how we learn. Ultimately I just want to raise some decent humans who make other humans feel decent, too.

What are your thoughts on teaching young kids about body image and respecting others? How would you have handled the situation? Lemme know!

xoxo,

Mary Susan