Independent as a Mother

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Image: Pexels

About three months ago, I had a baby. I’ve written some posts about what that’s meant to me. To us. I hope these words mean something to you, whether you’re a parent or not. If I’ve learned one thing over the past 10+ weeks, it’s that being a parent is just like any other major life event. It depletes you. Challenges you. And then, all at once, life starts to move on again, and it’s up to you to make sense of the mess all this change has left behind. And what a privilege this lovely mess has been.

Thanks for being here. Thanks for reading.


What happens when you spend 30 years figuring out who you are and nine months stitching together someone else?

All those hours of therapy, quiet moments (my god, the hours) of self-reflection, the easy escape to drinks or movies or books. What happens when all that’s cut away in a matter of 13 and a half minutes?

What happens when, after 30 years of carving out your independence, another life comes first?

I was 31 when I found out I was pregnant with Jude. 31 and ecstatic. After all, does anyone really know what it’s like to be a parent before two strange nurses wheel in a cart carrying a tiny, squirming ball of flannel and leave it next to you like a dessert tray of responsibility?

All of the sudden, those nurses are gone (don’t worry, they’ll be back every two to three hours to blast you with overhead lights, usually after your broken body has just fed and quieted said strange bundle), and they’ve left you with a revolutionized idea of pain, priorities, and, above all, modesty.

In between those moments of blaring lights and doctor’s rounds, I found myself balanced precariously between the deep love everyone expounds about in Instagram posts flooded with natural light (GUILTY) and the question vibrating off my skull: “What have we done?

I’m ten-ish weeks into being a parent, and it hasn’t suddenly turned me into the best version of myself. Many times, I’m at my worst  — usually around 3:00 AM when my bundle of joy turns my well-meaning breast into a punching bag. In these moments, I wonder where those 30 years of hard-fought independence have gone.

But, of course, they remain.

I find them when I carve out time to write with a sleeping babe strapped to my chest. I find them in my ability to ask for help when I need it. I find them when I challenge my child to a cry-off and win so soundly he should feel embarrassed. And I find them when I give myself grace, acceptance, and forgiveness for messing up.

These moments are quieter. And I feel the distinct pressure to write them off as somehow less empowering or important than milestones in my career. But they are not.

The truth is, when I’m stripped down to my most bare and broken — in the early hours of the morning, clutching my child and wondering how the hell things change so fast — I’m amazed that I feel those roots I worked so hard to cultivate.

I have value that wraps around my heart, self-trust that climbs up my spine, and understanding branded into my skin.

Becoming a parent didn’t turn me into a mother earth figure who’s steadfastly calm and innately nurturing. There are times when my son is fussy and my first instinct is to hand him off to my partner. I am not suddenly a bottomless well of patience. I still bite my nails and curse too much. And my little boy has already sat through more episodes of “The Bachelor” than most self-respecting adults.

But none of that diminishes my independence. None of it makes me lesser. There is wholeness in looking at yourself truthfully and honoring what you see. And when I look at myself lately, I see someone who’s independent as a mother.

On Being “Feminine”

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A few years ago — after celebrating a friend’s birthday a little too hard — I found myself waiting in line for a late-night hot dog. Luckily, I was next to a man waxing eloquent about how women who got married had “settled.”

They’ve given up on life, just so they don’t have to be alone,” he patiently explained to me.

And he, “no offense,” felt sorry for the collective “us.”

Cue the Gene Wilder eye-roll meme: “Oh, you’ve never been in a long-term relationship but have lots of thoughts on married women? Tell me more.

I wish I could say I dressed him down with my fledgling feminist ideals. Instead, I boldly exclaimed to everyone in line that I was a strong, independent woman satisfied with her life, and could prove it by … buying everyone’s hot dogs.

Days and, obviously, years after I my Oprah-like awarding of free wieners on everyone in line, I wondered why this man’s comments had bothered me so much.

Coming of age in the Bible Belt, you’re routinely reminded how meek, submissive, and ladylike a young woman should be. In middle school, I attended not one, but two Bible studies in which the female leaders explained demurely that sex was made for a man’s pleasure, and that it was the woman’s responsibility to “keep his candle from going out.” Because these are apparently still important lessons we must teach young women in the 21st century.

The year I graduated high school, women in Middle America collectively raised their voices (at an appropriately ladylike level) to rejoice the recently published book, “Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul.” It was a beacon of virgin-white light to young Christian girls everywhere. And, with my own dog-eared copy in tow, I launched myself into freshman year determined to find a husband who would ladle “intention” on me like holy water.

A woman is a warrior too. But she is meant to be a warrior in a uniquely feminine way,” the authors write. “We think you’ll find that every woman in her heart of hearts longs for three things: to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty. That’s what makes a woman come alive.

If you think these are platitudes best reserved for two hours on Monday nights when Chris Harrison emerges from a dark hallway, clinks his crystal of doom, and declares this “the most dramatic season ever,” you’d be right. But these words. These opinions, garishly painted as truth and scripture, are what aided in forming my view of femininity and relationship.

What bothers me isn’t the book itself. It’s not the small group leaders. It’s not even the parade of men who prayed for my purity, my gentleness, and my servant’s heart throughout high school and college. It’s the doctrine that pushed this and other ultimatums on the men and women it raised so faithfully. These opinions plagued and poisoned me as I grew up, started dating, and struggled to develop my own ideas of self-worth, purpose, and, yes, femininity.

Telling young women they should chase divine adventures while being “uniquely feminine” is confusing, demeaning, and stunted my views on what a healthy relationship — both with myself and with men — should be for quite some time.

The idea that my soul was biologically looking for a man who could “handle it gently” created a false sense of frantic necessity. Instead of reading books that told me to explore myself, know what I wanted, and be OK alone — I got books telling me to have roommates while I was single so I wouldn’t get too used to living alone. I read pages telling me my purpose on earth was twofold: to love God, and to find my other half — a man who I would serve, and who would take care of me in return.

This blog is my truth. It’s not meant to represent anyone else’s. But as I think about how I would approach the idea of femininity with a daughter of my own, or what I would tell the 17-year-old version of myself desperately trying to be “worth pursuing,” or even what I would tell my 26-year-old, hot-dog-bestowing self — I’d like to think I’d tell her that no man gets to dictate which of her choices she’s “settled” for. That being “feminine” means owning and wielding empowerment that comes from deep within. That adventures are just as fulfilling alone as they are alongside an equal. And that she doesn’t have to wait for anyone to unveil her beauty. It’s already there. Just for her.

Oh, and I’d make that boy in the hot dog line pay for his own damn wiener.

On Rebuilding

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How do you rebuild? When nothing particularly terrible has happened to you. No fire has ravaged your home. No disease has taken hold of your body. You’ve been born with privilege and advantage.

How do you rebuild the way you view your small world. How do you rebuild a faith?

Nine months — or maybe nine years — into my rebuilding process and I still don’t quite know the answer.

When you’ve spent your formative years being told to be meek. Be a servant. Be married. Be pure. Be submissive. Be feminine. What do you do when you grow up and don’t check all those boxes?

The first answer is that you find a fucking great therapist. The second answer is that you get a little lost. You have to. At least, I had to.

But the hardest part is re-learning how to deal with difficult times when the only way you’ve been taught is to “Give it to God.” When I broke with the church, I broke inside. I wanted to deal with my problems on my own. I ached to take ownership over my hurt. I wanted to be as far away from that all-knowing Father as I could be. I didn’t want Him to feel the shame I carried so heavily on my back for falling short of agreements I never chose for myself.

When you can’t breathe in the scriptures and churches and arms you used to find all your solace in. It’s hard. It’s so hard.

I spent almost a decade being angry. A decade unsure of who I was. I would go home and be asked to circle up for prayer. I’d feel my insides recoil at the grip of hands on either side of me.

When I’m asked to pray out loud today. The words are ashy in my throat and dry out my lips. “Be in this place, Father,” “Fill us up, Father,” “Be near to us, God.” I don’t really know what those words mean. And I don’t think I ever really did.

They always felt foreign. But they always gave me comfort.

When I first brought up my faith with my therapist a year ago, I still felt shame over the loss of it. I gave my canned response, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Then I gave my honest response, “I miss it.

I missed the camaraderie, I missed the feeling of belonging, I missed the solace I felt buried deep in my bones. A comfort so strong it snaked around my muscles and tendons like vines run loose in a summer garden. If I felt such longing for the faith that had cut me — had burned and blistered me — why couldn’t I enter a church without feeling the heat of those scars?

You know, you don’t have to go to church to have faith,” my therapist said.

She told me to read books, experience different religions, find groups of people who were just as confused as I was, study it. Study my confusion. Study the hurt.

I’ve never been one for groups of strangers, so I picked books. I read Bell and Miller, I read books on eastern religions, books on meditation, and ones on Christianity. I read fiction and nonfiction. I talked about the books with dear friends and I cried over pages alone on my knees.

What I found was embarrassingly simple. It doesn’t have to look like it did. And with that very obvious realization, I greeted a part of myself I hadn’t been able to look at in years.

It’s small and it’s ugly. It’s weak and easily distracted. It’s been cut down and confused. But it cries out that it believes. Not what it’s been told to believe. Not what it did believe. But it believes in a goodness that transcends expectations. A peace that settles into the marrow. It believes in acceptance and love that doesn’t know how to hate — but acknowledges when it fails. It believes in those things, because I do. And it cries out to a Holiness that sees nothing shameful in my past. It is a love that is whole.

And so I’m rebuilding. I still don’t know the right words to pray. But, you see, part of the problem was that I thought there was a right way.

On the Ambition of Southern Women

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I didn’t grow up thinking I would amount to much. It wasn’t because anyone told me that I wouldn’t. My parents were supportive, proud, and encouraging. But it was clear that I wasn’t into school. And even my major in college, English Lit. (because Journalism required an extra Statistics class and I just couldn’t deal), was rather uninspiring because, really, what was I going to do with that?

I met my husband during my junior year of college. We were married the summer after I graduated. I was 23. When we moved to DC to pursue my dream of working for a nonprofit, I was cautiously optimistic about the great job I would land, the doors that would be flung open to us, and the feeling of wholeness that was sure to follow.

What greeted me was something I was not prepared for. You see, in Oklahoma I had been one of the last in my circle to get married. I was a bit of a late bloomer. Many of my friends already had a child or two of their own. But in DC, when I introduced people to my husband, or mentioned that I had recently been married, the responses were … dismayed.

The eyes would widen, the questions about age would follow, the proclamations that I was “a baby” were inevitable. So I stopped mentioning that I was married at networking events. I think I may have even slipped my wedding ring off in an interview or two. I felt sheepish when coworkers at the corner shop I worked at would ask if I was dating anyone.

Could I blame them? I was young. I felt young. I was 23, married, really had no idea who I was, had no focus for my future, and spent my days bagging up expensive wine for twenty-somethings before bagging up expired, leftover food to take home to my husband.

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I also started noticing how women in the South were being portrayed elsewhere in the country. TV shows, movies, and op-eds depicting Southern women as happy little homemakers. Sweet-as-sweetened-iced-tea women who were as oppressed as they were blissfully unable to form thoughts outside of what their men told them to believe.

If only I’d known myself and the women around me well enough then to call bullshit. Bullshit that I should feel less qualified for a job because of my marital status. Bullshit that having a family should make you less ambitious. Bullshit that because you go to church every Sunday, you’re automatically pigeon-holed into being “quaint” or “small-minded.”

The women I grew up with are some of the strongest I know. My aunt Ginger is a career teacher who holds a master’s degree and has spent decades championing students with special needs. My old college acquaintance, Amanda, who organizes and consistently shows up for ACLU, Amnesty International, and Pro Choice events — not an easy thing to do in Oklahoma. And my longtime friend Stacy, who dedicates every day to raising three beautiful girls as honestly and as gracefully as she knows how.

They all do it in the South, and each of them knows their own mind, thank you very much.

What do we do when someone else’s ambition looks different from our own? It’s easy to qualify it as lesser. I think I do it when I’m afraid. Afraid that I’m missing out, or that my own choices won’t amount to “enough.” Why do you do it?

I start a new, seriously great job on Monday. For the first 25 years of my life, I didn’t think I would amount to much. What would I say to myself all those years ago? Bullshit.

The Way You Carry It

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it” — Lou Holtz

How do you show up in times of adversity? Growing up, I leaned on my faith. I asked God to help me when I was nervous before a test or waiting for a boy to text me back. I asked him “why” when disappointments came. I told him I knew it was all in his plan. I asked him to help me understand.

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Even now, when my steadfast Mother tells me she’ll pray for me before a big event in my life, I feel a wave of peace wash over me. I still believe God hears our prayers. I just can’t rectify his willingness to help me pass my 8th grade math exam with the fact that so many other children my age were being sold into slavery, sexual servitude, or death. I believe in the comfort God provides, but I also believe in free will and chaos.

So how do I cope with adversity now? I wish I could tell you I was good at it. That I reach deep down and become Tami Taylor-meets-Khaleesi, when life’s at it’s hardest. But I don’t. I generally reach deep down, reemerge with a pint of cookie butter and a sleeve of Oreos, and proceed to dwell on everything I see as wrong with my white, reasonably successful, middle-class life.

That’s not to trivialize that these last few weeks have been pretty hard. Leaving a home, a life, and a community behind has not been easy. We spent six weeks in a tiny rental basement apartment while we waited to close on our new home. I kept telling myself that when we were finally in our home i would feel better. I didn’t. Then I told myself that I just needed to unpack everything and I would feel better. Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

After a night when I was particularly brutal to JD, I found myself remembering a few words my blessed therapist shared with me. “Sit in your feelings. Really feel them. Acknowledge them as valid. And then decide how you’re going to move on.”

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I realize that I haven’t been allowing myself to feel the loss and loneliness that is only natural when leaving all that is loved and familiar behind. I’ve been looking into the future and waiting for it to fix me. The truth is. I feel broken right now. And that’s OK. I need to take a minute and acknowledge the fullness of that brokenness. Then I get to decide how to move forward.

As my worldview has changed, I’ve had to build new “agreements” around how I handle difficult times. That, in itself, has not been easy. For me, that looks like taking more responsibility for what I feel, why I feel it, and what the outcome of those feelings is. I still ask God for peace and clarity, but I struggle asking for help when so many others require it more.

I could keep waiting for circumstances or a Heavenly Father to make me feel better. Or I could acknowledge what I’m feeling, decide how I’m going to move on, and then go do it. “You get to decide who you’re going to be here,” JD has been telling me excitedly over the last few weeks. And he’s right. Who do I want to be? Who do you want to be?

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Fear & Loathing in San Francisco

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I live in a great deal of fear. I was going to backspace and add “with fear” rather than “in fear,” but I very much and very often live IN it. It’s the basic first-world stuff. I’m afraid my career won’t be enough. Afraid to be around too many people. Afraid I won’t be around enough people. Afraid to fail. Afraid to make wrong choices.

A few months ago, JD received a really great job offer — in San Francisco. My immediate reaction was “No! Just, NO.” We had a full life in Denver. We had plans there. How could he ask us to leave? But I looked into the bright blue eyes I fell in love with almost 10 years ago, and I knew my answer would be yes.

We spent weeks listing the pros and cons before finally deciding to go for it. We made that decision together. So it bothered me that, months later, I was so afraid and a little angry about the move. It had been my choice. I gave the OK. Why was I so resentful?

“Well, did you really have a choice?” my therapist asked one day. Of course I did! JD told me he wouldn’t even consider it if I wasn’t interested … But would I ever really have done that to him? Would I have told him to forget about a really great opportunity just because I was afraid to leave Denver? Of course not. And in that way, it’s true, I never really had a choice.

I realized I hadn’t really made a lot of big decisions in my own life. As someone who was married by 23, I went from a structured and protective family, right into a partnership with my husband. And we made a lot of decisions — together.

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Together is what brought us through spending a year living in Cairo, Egypt. It’s what brought us through our first married year in DC grappling to find jobs during the recession. It’s what brought us to Denver, where we found success, healing, and a community of friends who were unfailingly good to us. And now it’s what’s brought us to San Francisco.

Not all of those decisions were my own. Some of them were compromises, and most of them scared me. Which brings me back to fear. Once I realized why I was angry about the move, I wanted to know why it scared me so much. “Not all fear is bad,” my therapist offered. Running toward my fears had led me to a great deal of good in my life. If I hadn’t pushed past fear, I would never have left my hometown, I wouldn’t have taken my first job as a copywriter, I wouldn’t have married JD. Fear has given me some of the sweetest things in my life. What if I started leaning into it a bit?

Maybe this move wasn’t really my choice, and maybe, even three weeks in, it scares me a little. But I couldn’t have imagined the love and light that engulfed us in Colorado, so maybe there’s a little of that waiting for us here.

So here I am. Back in a basement apartment, in a new town, scared shitless, but doing it. Sometimes fear pushes us towards the good in life. So maybe we should stop, well, fearing it. What good things has fear brought you?

I Am My Own Shame Nun

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The Bible Belt taught me a lot about shame. It also taught me a lot about the importance of hard work, kind words, and the value of family, however imperfect. But shame, for me, was its specialty.

I’m not talking about the kind of shame you experience when you have four-too-many jello shots at a work karaoke party and sing “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” with a little too much vigor (shout out to last Friday night). That’s the kind of shame that keeps you from doing things you’re (mostly) not proud of.

I’m also not talking about shame that comes from anyone externally. I’m talking about the shame that comes from agreements I didn’t choose for myself.

A few months ago, I read a book called The Four Agreements. The agreements go something like this:

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word — Avoid using your word against yourself. Instead, use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally — Nothing others do is because of you.
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions — Find the courage to ask questions and express what you really want.
  4. Always Do Your Best — Simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

The idea is that if you master these four agreements, you’ll break your bad habits and welcome love and happiness into your life. For some of you, this might sound a lot like Biblical teaching. That’s great! For me, it was kind of the opposite.

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You see, before you even get to the first agreement, the author tells you a secret. You’ve already made agreements. You’ve been making them since you were born. Some of them you chose, and maybe you still choose to follow them today. Some of them, you didn’t choose, and maybe you don’t want to follow them anymore. Those agreements — the ones you’ve believed the longest, but didn’t choose for yourself — those are the hardest to break.

When your parents taught you that it was responsible to have a summer job and make your own money, that’s an agreement you probably still buy into today. It’s likely you didn’t choose to spend your summers rolling posters of US Marine Corps Lieutenant General Chesty Puller in a hot warehouse (wait, was that just me?). But your parents told you it was right, so you did it. And that probably ended up being a good thing.

On the other hand, maybe you went to a Christian high school and had your 11th grade Bible teacher spend a class explaining the “science” and “value” behind ex-gay therapy. At the time, you might have believed him because you were a child and he was an authority figure. But now you realize that what he was speaking wasn’t truth, it was bigotry and fear. You might want to change that agreement for yourself. Let’s be honest, for me, the latter agreement wasn’t a hard one to break, but you get the idea.

For me, breaking agreements I didn’t choose for myself has shown up in years of confusion and guilt. Not because of the people who helped me form those agreements, but because I’ve grown to believe many of them as such unwavering truth. Such foundational truth that I felt an incredible amount of shame when I pushed back against them.

Shame that I had sex before marriage. Shame for launching into my thirties without children. Shame for having lived with my husband before we were married. Shame for not feeling comfortable in church years before I stopped going. Shame for not putting down roots in my hometown. Shame that there have been times when JD and I have had to fight for our relationship, when so much of what I was taught was that “when it’s right, it’s easy.” *cough*bullshit*cough*

The fact is that while I felt many years of shame for these things, I never felt that any of them were wrong. My shame wasn’t anyone’s fault. It came from not knowing that it was alright to believe differently. To live differently. As JD likes to point out, I am my own shaming nun. And shamed myself I have, for a long time.

The agreements we never chose for ourselves are the hardest to break. So I’m working on breaking a few of mine. You see, a few of the agreements I mentioned above might be agreements that you’ve chosen for yourself. I think that’s great. This blog is not about your right looking the same as mine. It’s about finding your right and the courage it takes to live it boldly. Without shame.

Which agreements didn’t you choose?

 

Why I Marched

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I marched on Saturday. Some of you are already rolling your eyes and some of you are cheering, but I marched without question. That is, until I got there and, surrounded by 200,000 other Denverites, the friend I was marching with said, “I need you to write a blog post to remind me why I’m marching.” I paused for a moment and thought about my own motives for being there. I’ve got to be honest, it was a gut reaction to the election. I didn’t think, I just clicked “Interested In” when the event invite scrolled past my screen. So why was I there?

I have a distinct memory from my senior year of high school. I sat in English class and listened to our teacher explain to the young women before him, “Girls, if you get to your junior year of college and are not married or in a serious relationship, it’s natural that you’re going to panic a little and it’s going to be hard for you.”

To be fair, this was not all that uncommon. Our English teacher doubled as our Bible teacher, and there was often overlap between Shakespeare and Song of Solomon. But those words stuck to my 18-year-old soul. I carried them with me all summer and into the fall semester of my freshman year of college.

The first week of class, I had one thing on my agenda; to find a man before it was too late. If you’ve never seen a Bible school introvert with virtually no life experience and an unfortunate collection of gaucho pants try to snag a husband, you haven’t really lived. Thankfully, I was not successful.

Why did I march? I marched for the 18-year-old girl who thought she needed a man to feel whole. I marched against the culture of telling girls they need to find a Prince Charming, a patriarch, a purpose. I marched because someone should have stood up and called bullshit on that teacher 10 years ago, but none of us knew how.

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I marched because I am so proud to have a partner who marched with me. A feminist is someone who seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. Sound like pretty basic stuff? My husband agrees with you. I grew up being taught that I needed a prince to rescue me from an unsatisfying single life. I was pretty proud to have a partner instead of a prince by my side on Saturday.

I marched because I know what it’s like to pay for birth control on a fixed income without health insurance and before the Affordable Care Act. It. Is. Not. Sustainable. When my husband and I were newly married, we worked hourly jobs seven days a week, rented a room in the basement of a house, and were in no way ready to support a child. Paying for birth control was confusing, stressful, and never more necessary. No one should have to struggle to make such a responsible decision.

I marched because I believe in Planned Parenthood. While working in the public health program at a refugee resettlement center in DC, I saw firsthand how difficult it was for refugees and asylees fleeing horrible, sometimes life-threatening circumstances to navigate their limited health coverage in the United States.

I remember one client in particular who injured herself on duty at a factory job. She lost the baby she was carrying inside of her and she developed an internal injury that threatened to take her life. I called specialist after specialist explaining the situation and NONE of them would accept her insurance. I couldn’t believe it. I got to the last name on my list and dialed Planned Parenthood. She was seen and treated almost immediately.

Most of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding comes from Medicaid reimbursements for preventive care, and some is from Title X. The government never writes a blank check to Planned Parenthood, and zero dollars of federal funding ever go abortion services. I support Planned Parenthood because they saved the life of a woman whose longtime employer refused to pay for a life-threatening injury that was due to neglect of their own machinery.

I support Planned Parenthood because if I hadn’t been so afraid of them, JD and I could have saved a meaningful amount of money on birth control when we were newlyweds. I support Planned Parenthood because it’s the right thing to do.

I marched because I voted and I wasn’t happy with the result. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen a post this week that went something like “why didn’t those 3 million women march themselves to the voting booth in November …” First of all, we did, which is perhaps part of the reason Hillary won the popular vote by about 3 million votes. Second, I voted, which is why I felt it was important to represent and grieve for that vote, much like the Tea Party movement did after the 2008 election. It’s our right as Americans, and I think it’s pretty beautiful.

I marched because I’ve been grabbed by the pussy without my consent and I didn’t particularly like it.

I marched because too often, I don’t show up for things I believe in. Whether you agree with Saturday’s march or not, we all have moments in our lives when we haven’t shown up. Sometimes it’s in those moments when an executive looks at a row of men, and me, and asks me to make him a pot of coffee. Sometimes it’s when I don’t show up in my marriage. Sometimes it’s when I tear myself down internally, telling myself that this is the blog post where people will stop reading. Saturday was me showing up in a way that I was proud of. I think we can all relate to that.

I marched because I am not that little girl anymore. To that girl, I would say that a relationship is only part of what makes life full. I would tell her to walk a path of honesty, hard work, and hard decisions and to invite people to walk that path with her who will do it as a partner and as an equal. Lastly, I would tell her not to be afraid to show up. Because, at the end of the day, everyone benefits when you show up.

PS. I didn’t make that man coffee. I pointed him in the direction of the nearest coffee shop, because I had shit to do.

On Making Unpopular Decisions

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I dated some nice men in college. Arguably, the nicest. People congratulated me on these relationships. They cheered for me. They giggled with me in excitement. My Christian sorority (that’s a story for another day) even had me stand on a chair at our weekly meeting and tell all 50 girls about how so-and-so asked me out, where we went, and where we were going (straight to the altar, in case you were wondering). When these relationships inevitably ended, people cried with me. They encouraged me. They prayed for me.

Then I met my husband. He challenged me. He could be painfully honest. And he was not overtly religious. Suddenly I had made an unpopular decision. No one had me stand on a chair and tell the story of how we first met. Very few people congratulated me. And virtually no one cheered for me. I still had people tell me they would pray for me, but the meaning was very different.

That judgement showed up for me in a few ways, the worst of which was doubt. I doubted my decision to be with a man I already loved, because he was different from what I was told to expect. I doubted it so much, it almost ruined the most beautiful, messy, and complicated decision of my life. All because I was afraid of what other people would think.

During my sophomore year of college, I took a semester off to intern for a San Diego nonprofit called Invisible Children (before Invisible Children itself was an unpopular decision). Those six months taught me more about self worth, relationship, and worldview than almost anything else in my life to date. I remember one evening, in particular, near the end of my time there. All of the interns, roadies, and staff had gathered in a backyard to listen to Joel P. West play his guitar and to say goodbye.

Two things stand out to me about that night. The first is that someone brought chocolate-covered amaretto cherries and I was terrified that if I ate one I would get fall-down drunk. The second was something IC’s co-founder, Jason Russell, said to us. “Don’t ever let someone tell you that you have something to prove to them. You have already proven your worth.”

You have already proven your worth. YOU have already proven your worth.

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I’ve made a lot of unpopular decisions. My guess is that you have too. Some of us let the questions or criticisms roll off our backs. Some of us let those same questions and criticisms chip away at our independence, our confidence, and ultimately, our worth. I get it. I’ve been there.

I chose to stop going to church. We chose to move to Washington DC in the middle of a recession without jobs. I chose to stop taking birth control because it makes me C.R.A.Z.Y. I chose an easier career path over chasing my dream of working at a nonprofit. We literally chose Hideaway Pizza as our wedding meal. I chose to start seeing a therapist. I chose to see Celine Dion seven times. I chose to quit my Christian sorority when I got back from my internship in San Diego. I chose to marry a man who is my partner, my encourager, and my opposite in many ways. I choose to own each of these decisions.

Some were huge mistakes. Some were not. None of them are my regrets. All of them are my privilege.

You have already proven your worth. Now what?

Let’s Leave What’s Heavy Behind

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I grew up on the plains. I grew up with red dirt on my knees in the summer and straw-colored grass on them in the winter. I grew up going to church every Wednesday night and Sunday morning. I grew up being taught that I should be a lady, a Christian, a virgin, a wife, a mother, a servant, an evangelist. I grew up being taught that yoga was evil, demons paced the halls of my high school, and that those who believed differently from me were somehow lost.

I started this blog as a place to talk about home. But a different kind of home than the one I believe in today. I’m never going to take beautifully sunlit photos of the china at my dinner parties. Realistically, we have “dinner parties” twice a year and serve chili in paper bowls every time. At least one of my dogs will get into the desserts, and we’ll probably set the yard on fire once or twice. I’m going to call it. A “lifestyle” blog is probably not in the cards for me.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my therapist’s office talking about why, even today, I can’t enter a church building without shuddering. “Why then,” I asked her, “do I still feel like I should be trying?” She prescribed a book called “The Four Agreements” which explained that the agreements that are the hardest for us to break are the ones we were born into. The agreements we did not choose. Those are the agreements that we cling to, that we feel we have to fight for, even when we don’t. So I guess this blog will be about breaking those agreements I didn’t choose, and embracing the ones I did.

The thing is, I still believe in God. He might look a little different to me than he looks to you. He might require different things from me than he requires of you. But I believe in him. And I think he’s the same God I believed in when I lay hands on people in middle school praying they would be healed. I think he’s the same God i believed in when I marveled at the incredible faith of a little Muslim boy kneeling in prayer between our tutoring sessions in Cairo. I think he’s the same God I believe in when I laugh with good friends and cry during Celine Dion’s concert finale of My Heart Will Go On (I know it’s coming, but it gets me. Every. TIME).

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At the end of our session, my therapist told me I might be able to help some people with where I’d been and where I am today. To be clear, she told me I should get a PhD in theology and teach a class, but I thought redirecting my mostly dormant blog was more on par with my personal levels of motivation and drive.

For 23 years I believed a lot of stuff I don’t believe now. That doesn’t mean that what I grew up with was wrong (except for that shit about yoga being evil…and maybe a few other things). I respect the devotion of my friends who faithfully serve in their churches. I am in awe of women my age who have two, maybe three children, and raise them so lovingly. And I’ll be damned if I don’t delight in ordering a Big Country pizza (all the meats!) with two sides of Ranch dressing when I go home to Oklahoma. It’s a thing of beauty that deserves some sort of anthem and salute all its own.

So, this blog will still be about home, but the home that raised me and the home I live now. I think our homes represent truth to so many of us. Our homes are where we cry, where we fight, and where we’re probably the most truthful with ourselves and those we choose to love.

This blog is a place for me to share the painful marks and many blessings of growing up in the Bible Belt. I hope that sometimes it will be funny, sometimes it will be uncomfortable (I just told you I see a therapist!), and sometimes that it will strike a chord in your own life.

I hope it’s a place to leave what’s heavy behind. Let’s leave what’s heavy behind.