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Saturday, April 1, 2017

On Being a People Who Pay Attention

We were talking about the homeless population in downtown Norfolk, Virginia.

There's a group of 12 of us or so that meet in a dim city house that belongs to our church. The hardwood floors smell like a bookstore, and the couches are plush with history of countless Sunday school lessons and Bible studies.

That night was the end-cap of a very rough week, pregnancy wise. So often I forget that there is more to growing a baby than measuring your bump and making sure you don't eat soft cheeses or drink too much caffeine for nine months straight.

It's spiritual and overwhelmingly empowering on its best days. At its most challenging, it has a complete clutch on your emotions and the lens you see the world through.

That night our small group discussion leader was talking about his wife. How bold she had been on a missions trip to California, where they spent a good portion of their time on Skid Row.

The bad place. The place just adjacent to the lives of the rich and famous.

The place where so many are left abandoned because their addictions or circumstances are too far outside their control. The place where everyone wants to be, but no one wants to go.

We talked about our own city. What we were doing to take notice of the people around us.

I was slumped against my husband on the other side of the room, feeling my baby kick and wanting him so badly to be a man of action. Someone who shares, who is patient and kind, and does the right thing.

So often I don't. Not really. 

So often I mean to do something. So often I'm at the store and think about buying an extra box of granola bars and water bottles to store in my car. But I'm in a hurry. I'm budgeting. Always pushing off my intentions for later, later, later.

Next thing you know, you're pregnant. And you realize you've lived in a city you love with all of your heart for three years without really noticing the hurt around you.

And you start to cry.

There are those of us who are bold, the people who don't glaze over the hard and uncomfortable. Who notice to hurt on Skid Row, sure, but who hear the hurt in our coworker's sigh, or who pick up on the desperation of a friends, "I need to talk to someone about this," text.

People who notice.

I have a great number of those people in my life. Those who not only take notice, but work to make it better. Who pray and have the actions to accompany their faith in a whirling duet. And to me, it sounds so beautiful because it's so rare to hear.

I know this, because after group that evening these people in my life crossed the room. They held my hand and wrapped their arms around my shoulders. They let me talk through my emotions – the parts of my walk that I could explain, and the other parts. The parts that were overwhelm, joy, worry, doubt, certainty, stubbornness.

Changing the world starts right there.

I'm learning that it's not those who seek attention who make the world better, it's those who pay attention.

Because my friends could've chocked up my reaction to simple hormones, and predicted that my story would echo the same one I've spun over the last eight months.

But they didn't ignore it. They took notice and did their best to comfort the crying pregnant woman in the corner of the room.

And if they noticed me. The one who tries to have it all together, who's at times too stubborn to let her vulnerability show, who else do they notice?

Who else do they reach out and show love to? Because the people in their lives, the friends, family members and total strangers that they serve, are made better by their presence. By their actions. By their noticing.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

4 Things Expecting Mothers Have Already Heard

Unsolicited advice in any season will make your head spin.

But in a place where you're preparing for a newborn, with all of its unpredictability, advice - especially conflicting advice - can do a lot more damage than good.

As my husband and I head into the last eight full weeks of pregnancy, we're focused on readying our home and hearts as best as we can with the information we have. The truth is, other than the fact that he jumps around every time I eat a PB&J, we don't know our little fella yet.

It's hard to make decisions about pack-and-plays and 300-dollar jogger strollers and tacky plastic gadgets when so much about dealing with life as an expecting mother is unknown.

Here's what most of us do know: we will hear a lot of the same tired phrases and woes from the people who've been there.

This has been a season of guarding my heart and listening to the short list of people in my life who I trust to approach with my questions and concerns. Mostly my mom, aunts, grandmothers, sister-in-law, and the mother of my godson.

I ask them about nursing and burping cloths, sure. But I lean on them more for advice about raising good children. About matters of the heart. About becoming leaders in our homes. About wrestling with the tension of working in an office and making it home two hours before bedtime.

I'm already so thankful to know that there are women who will speak life, encouragement over our family as my husband and I become parents. 

For the rest of you, the strangers at the grocery store, kind-hearted acquaintances, here are a few things that we expectant mothers already know (and what you can kindly stop reminding us of):

Sleep While You Can!

"This is it. The last time you'll ever sleep. In your life. You will forever be a walking zombie, that is, if you can muster the strength to walk in the first place."

Do you know what's really not helpful? Someone telling you to "sleep while you can!" in a chipper Mary Poppins voice when you're already wide awake at 3 a.m. for no good reason.

We're likely battling fatigue, a bump (that moves!), restless legs, getting up to use the restroom every half-hour, or our minds are just racing trying to picture baby's face.

The time for adequate sleep is long gone and we know it only gets worse. We have the internet, too.

Being a New Parent is So Hard!

The ever-complicated 40-week process of becoming a parent and then the little detail of incredibly painful labor clued us into that.

But in all seriousness, we know. We know it changes everything. We know it's a blend of hard and wonderful. We've been strangely happy and scared about this since we became pregnant.

There's a tiny part of me, I confess, that can't wait to have the baby so that everything can "finally go back to normal." The realization that there will only be a new normal from here on out is jarring at best.

But there's no turning back, now. So we may as well embrace the difficulties. Solidifying a narrative we're already battling internally only makes it more difficult.


You Will Get Depressed

This is something we need to have a serious chat about.

First and foremost, those brave writers and bold women who have had the courage to speak up about their experiences - please don't stop. The information and rawness you provide can only help other women identify their own struggles.

While I am thankful for the lifted stigma (though I realize there's still some work to be done in this area) and the women who have spoken out about their experiences, depression or anxiety isn't something anyone wants or needs spoken over them.

To those tempted to project their experience onto an expecting woman, trust that your new mama friend is receiving all of the details that she needs. Her doctor should be tracking her emotional and mental progress throughout the pregnancy, and she's likely very aware that her emotions will be haywire after delivery.

If she's anything like me, she's already crying for no good reason already.

Depression and anxiety isn't something that you can always see from the outside. But if you have a friend or family member who you're concerned about, reach out by all means. Offer to help her get counsel. Intervene, respectfully and make sure she knows it's out of love and respect.

However, please think carefully before speaking the words, "You will be depressed," over another woman. Especially when she already may be battling the anxiety that comes with being a new mama in the first place.

I Was in Labor for 434,000 Hours

And you wouldn't believe what happened to my...

Nope. Nope. Nope.

If you're tempted to share any details of your unplanned C-section, show us your scars, tell us the details of your changing lady parts, or to tell us that you're still losing "the baby weight" 10 years later, pump the brakes. Seriously, back up the train.

My response to anyone who has word-vomited about their labor, delivery and traumatic "fourth tri-mester" experiences have received my canned response:

"I am so sorry this was your experience."

Our bodies are different. Every baby is different. And just because something unraveled the way it did in your experience doesn't mean that ours will be a carbon copy.

Do I want an unplanned C-section? No. Do I realize it's a possibility? Of course.

Maybe you remember how difficult the last few weeks of pregnancy were?

 Let us get through those, first. We can swap war stories after we've stormed the beaches and returned home with our medals of new parenthood.

Until then, repeat after me: you look fabulous, you're going to be a fantastic mother, and get ready for the best, most special years of your life.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

How to Lead With Authenticity

Once upon a time (okay, last week), I cried on a podcast.

We were talking about the big moments in our lives; and when I began to share about the moment my husband and I discovered we were pregnant, my voice cracked.

"Our world turned upside-down," I said. And I couldn't keep my emotions at bay.

Upon listening to the raw audio file, I almost asked my co-host to cut it. To strip it from the record. After all, who wants a high-pitched bird-voice chiming into their earbuds?

Not me. Cue all the eye rolls. Lock it up. Chin up. Stay strong.

And if you can't in a moment of weakness?

The solution is simple: cut the audio. Erase it. Pretend it never happened.

After all, you can't hold yourself to something that was never spoken out loud.

But in that moment, those emotions were real. I couldn't keep them together; I didn't even have the energy to try.

As I listened in later, I fell into panic mode. I forgot to clean up my act. I forgot to cover my tracks and breeze over a real-life moment.

Even it was the most truthful thing I had confessed that day – or in a long time.

There's a lot of buzz about vulnerability these days.

There are extremely smart women who give great Ted Talks about it. And who write magnificent books, and manifest great podcasts about the matter.

They encourage us to live with arms and thoughts open. To make ourselves available to empathy and to relinquish control for how others perceive us.

For many of us, yours truly included, this can be a difficult mountain to climb. Especially when your own standard of vulnerability isn't matched heart-for-heart.

Further, how vulnerable is too vulnerable? Do you open your heart up to a man you just started dating? Do you share with a friend you've only just met the month before about the demons of your past? Before trust is truly established?

Can you guard your heart while being truthful with your words, actions and your thoughts behind them?

This is a pretty gruesome and exhaustive place to start. 

Like anything, we can't reach expert-level without some practice. Without some hours clocked-in. Without stepping into the shallow end of vulnerability – authenticity – with the people around you.

Like most everything, someone has to start. Someone has to make the first move. Someone has to be the one in relationships (or podcast episodes) to start.

And it might as well be you. It might as well be me.

I don't anticipate crying in every podcast episode. Or laying out my deepest, darkest secrets in the form of blogs or other blips-by-night on the internet.

But I think, for now, I'm going to start practicing being content with leaving in the bits of my life and story that aren't curated in hopes to lead, in all things, with authenticity.

Perhaps, then a community of vulnerability will follow.

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