On Parenting Teenagers: Someone Throw Me a Life Jacket

*Disclaimer: Today’s post contains no advice, no ten steps to a better whatever, and no eloquent commentary on how to be a parent. It is merely an attempt to reach out to parents of teenagers and remind them that they’re not alone.

Parenting teenagers. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. It is the smelliest, most frustrating, most “holy shit am I going to survive this”-iest of times.

We are in the thick of parenting two teenage boys and can I just say this one thing before I go a little deeper into the subject?

I’m tired, y’all.  This season is wearing me the heck out.

I thought for sure that my exodus from their toddler years would provide me with some emotional and physical relief, but I’m discovering that every season of parenthood only presents me with a new kind of exhausting.

Me and Jackson, when we were both just babies.

There’s a caveat to that exhaustion, though, and it’s one that gives way to a glimmer of “maybe I’m actually doing something right here”.  In the midst of hormone surges, silent treatments, girl drama, and a whole lotta sass, the burgeoning adult within them makes an occasional appearance.  Some logic forms; a good decision is made; a hard thing is conquered; a rite of passage scaled.  A sigh of relief washes over me in those moments and it’s only then that I realize I’ve been holding my breath since their last “right move” – anxiously waiting for some indication that they will actually survive (and dare I say thrive?) when they leave my nest.

They’re always thrilled when we request selfies.

When they’re little, the fear is that they are so vulnerable and delicate that everything has the potential to harm.  Just because their outer shells grow bigger, however, doesn’t mean they’re any more protected.  It just means that the sources of potential pain have evolved. Instead of hot stoves, bikes without training wheels, kidnappers, or faulty playground equipment, the perpetrators of harm look more like crazy drivers on the road, AP classes, college applications, and unprotected sex. As parents attempting to teach our children how to navigate an unforgiving world alone, we have to do the hard work of letting go.

And this is when I start holding my breath.

Letting go of these budding adults is close to the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a parent. They crave independence as if it’s nature’s way of forcing what’s destined to happen eventually.  They no longer want to tell us EVERY SINGLE THING that happened in their day (although there are exceptions to this rule, even my overly communicative child withdraws to some degree). They want to experience new and sometimes dangerous adventures. They develop relationships that are void of our influence or opinion. And possibly the most painful step they take towards adulthood – they operate large vehicles on their own. God help us all.

Brothers. Best friends.

This necessary surrender is tough, especially on a mama. Our instinct is to protect, to rescue, to hover. We want to know and be known by our children and our teenagers want the opposite. I was the same way when I was that age. I didn’t want to be seen with my parents as a teenager. I went from asking to be dropped off down the block to just walking to school by myself. In my mind, getting up earlier and walking the mile to school was better than being in my mother’s car where someone might see me. I didn’t even want people to know I had parents at all. Separation is a good thing in the long run, but a hard transition for a parent.

So my challenge to myself – and I suppose the point of this post – is to stop taking it personally. When Jackson walks in and wants to retreat to his room for the rest of the day, I won’t take it as an insult. When Jake wants to stay mum about the status of his relationship, I won’t force it. I will deposit my wisdom and experience (i.e. lessons I learned the hard way) when the opportunities present themselves, but I will release them to feel the weight of the consequences of bad choices.

 

Me and my boys.

And in the meantime, I will wait for it all to come full circle. I remember the tether between myself and my parents becoming shorter as I stepped into adulthood, and even more so when I had my own children. The space between me knowing it all and them providing guidance grew smaller and smaller as I matured. And the exciting (yet also sad and scary) truth is that I’m only the blink of an eye away from that being my new season of parenting. Can I get an amen for the day when that phone call comes from my bleary-eyed child sobbing with regret about how they mistreated us because they JUST DIDN’T KNOW how hard it would be to have kids? Yep, I made that phone call myself in the early weeks of my first foray into motherhood. And it’s true. I had no clue of the magnitude of what I would be responsible for when I birthed that perfect tiny human. I certainly had no idea that that sweet, soft mound of flesh would one day get bigger and look at me with disdain while trying to convince me that he knows more than I do about life. Even as I type this, I can hear my parents gloating with satisfaction at the law of what goes around comes around.

The next time I want to slap the sarcasm right off of my kid’s face, I will instead look forward to the day when the white water rapids of the teen years will flow into relaxing Lake Adulthood. Until then: Jesus, wine, and date night are doing a fine job at keeping me afloat.

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School Days

To my sweet girl on her first day of school:

I can’t believe today is already here. Seems like just yesterday that Daddy and I were having a conversation about possibly having another baby, and now here we are – launching that beautiful baby into a brand new season; one of learning, growing, and blossoming…but for me, it’s also one of letting go.

Daddy was thoughtful enough to capture my sobs as we left school today. All aboard the hot mess express!!!

See here’s the thing – you are my mulligan.

My do-over.

When I started this parenting gig, I was a terrified single mom and had to quickly get myself into survival mode. I handed over my six-week-old infant to a stranger and set off to make enough money to feed him. Fast forward to child number two and I was in the same situation. Six weeks of “postpartum bliss” (allowing only six weeks of maternity leave is criminal but that’s a post for another day) and I once again handed my infant child over so that I could go back to work. It was agonizing, not just because I had to leave my babies, but because I knew I would be missing out on the milestones. I likely wouldn’t be the one to see the first smile, hear the first laugh, or witness the first step. But I did what I had to do and by the grace of God, I raised two beautiful boys by myself with the help of my incredible village.

And then came you. My chance to be fully aware, fully engaged, fully present for every season of my baby’s life. You were the first child I gave birth to with no medication (something I really wanted to conquer) and the first baby I was able to nurse (we lasted TWO WHOLE YEARS!!!). I was there for your first smile, your first laugh, and Daddy and I were both there the first time you rolled over. It was my hand that you let go of when you took your first step.

You are my shadow. Where I go, you go. We are the very best of friends and I have relished every moment of every day with you these last four and a half years. I am so incredibly thankful to have savored this season of motherhood with you, my girl.

But now it’s time to give you some wings. We’ve allowed you to settle into milestones in your own timing (there was a time when we thought you’d never let anyone but Daddy and I even grace your presence, let alone hold you!) and because we let you take your time being you, we know you’re ready to dazzle the world with all that feisty pizazz. Your teacher and your classmates don’t even know how lucky they are to have you around, but they will. You will make good friends and that loyalty of yours will see to it that those friends will last a lifetime.

Baby girl, it takes a whole lot of courage to get out of Mama’s van on that first day with a world of unknown waiting to be discovered. But you did it boldly and Daddy and I are so proud.

Your face as you got out of the car was priceless. Full of joy and excitement. We won’t talk about what Mom looked like.

I love you Baby Girl.

xoxo, Mama

The Offering of Empathy

I’ve been sitting on this post for over a month now, and I keep starting and then immediately quitting it. The central theme of a society that is sorely lacking in empathy just gets my blood pressure skyrocketing so much that I find it difficult for my brain to form sentences. Add to that the frustration that those who really need to hear this message will ignore or dismiss it. I know this because, in the days since white supremacists congregated on a college campus to spew their racist rhetoric, hatred, and vitriol, white folks have been all over social media defending themselves with phrases like “I’m not privileged…I didn’t grow up rich” (can’t even with that one), or “I work hard for everything I’ve got”.  So much defending, so little listening.  But I realized that this is something that I just need to say, even if I’m only saying it to myself. I process so much of what I’m feeling internally, that if I don’t get it out, I might seriously lose my shit. So here you have it. Writing is my self care and is ultimately what will keep me from engaging in pointless Facebook debates that go nowhere. We’ve all been there, amiright? It is a dark, black hole that I do not wish to get sucked into.

Where have all the lovers gone?

The events in Charlottesville this week were the catalyst that forced me to sit down and write this, but it’s a subject that has come up in at least five different conversations these last few weeks among people that I love, and here it is:

NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO EMPATHIZE.

And the real shocker? The church is one of the biggest offenders.

Yep, I said it. And I stand by it. Because while white supremacist jackholes are the subjects of today’s news, what you don’t see as much (because no one wants to talk about that elephant) is people professing to love Jesus but unwilling to look through the lens of someone suffering through everyday life difficulties. It is the common denominator in conversations that are happening in my own living room with friends that I love dearly. They’re in a tough season and navigating some really hard things and this is the time for their friends and spiritual family to step up and love them but…..crickets.

Sounds strange, right? Isn’t that what the Christian community should be known for? Our empathy towards the downtrodden? The maligned? Those in crisis? The answer is yes. But for some reason, many Christians have lost sight of the fact that empathy is the core of ministry. Without empathy, it is impossible to effectively minister to a broken world. If you claim to love Jesus, you don’t get to just wipe your hands of someone’s struggle just because it makes you uncomfortable, inconvenienced, or because you don’t agree with how they handled it.

Now let me preface the admonishment I’m about to hand out. First, this doesn’t apply to events regarding racism. NO, NO, NO. That is a systemic issue created by the perpetrators alone. I will hear no talk of anyone needing to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. says, you can’t do that if you don’t have boots. Systemic racism has robbed generations of minorities of the resources for success and yet society expects minds, hearts, bodies, and bank accounts to heal without the benefit of help.

Secondly, some folks love to just wallow in their garbage and if that’s the case, leave ’em alone and let ’em wallow. Toxic people that are addicted to drama do not get to demand your time and emotional energy.  Ain’t nobody got time fuh ‘dat.

If that’s not the case, however, then there is no “sin” so great that should ever cause a believer to give up on someone when they are in need of compassion. That divorcee?  He’s hurting. He’s grieving. You don’t get to say “this is too messy for me to be involved in it” or “I can’t handle your drama”.  That addict? She’s hurting. She’s struggling. You don’t get to say, “Well you should have known better”, or “You made the wrong choices”.  This is especially true if that person’s choices have not affected you personally. That person of color? They’re struggling with the events that have unfolded on the news this week.  You don’t get to say, “Let’s just stop talking about it” or “But I didn’t own slaves!”.  Stop defending. Stop judging. STOP MAKING IT ABOUT YOU!

What I am addressing here is real life people that are in hard seasons and are in desperate need of compassion and care, even if their pain is a direct result of poor choices. Time and again I have witnessed friends and family members (including myself) that have been “ghosted” by church members, neighbors, and friends when they are in the trenches of life. Suddenly, excuses abound and they are left to navigate their trials alone.

What is Empathy?

Because she is the ultimate communicator, I will let Brené Brown explain this.  Please take two and a half minutes to have your mind opened by this concept:

For those of you that didn’t click and watch the video, I will bottom line it for you.  Having empathy requires four things:

  1. Perspective taking.  This requires you actually attempting to see the world through someone else’s lens.
  2. Staying out of judgment.  This also requires listening.  That means that unless they ask you “what do you think I can do differently?”, you shut your pie hole.
  3. Recognizing emotion in other people.  Are they sad? Angry? Scared? Make an effort to interpret how they’re feeling.
  4. Communicating all of that. This is when you get to act out the new perspective, free of judgment, and affirm their emotions with your words and body language.

In short, empathy merely requires you to stop thinking and talking about yourself or your opinions and just step into the world of a hurting person. Bonus: IT’S FREE!  You may not ever fully be able to relate (just as I cannot understand the plight and struggle of my African American friends in regards to the prejudice they endure), but you can try.  I know what it feels like to be misunderstood, and as a woman, I definitely know what it feels like to be judged unfairly because of my physical attributes. Obviously, it pales in comparison, but I have the ability (and dare I say the RESPONSIBILITY) to look within myself and locate a modicum of similarities and use it to help my black brothers and sisters feel heard, seen, understood.

Empathy is our offering to humanity. It is an opportunity to step outside of ourselves to feel the pain and suffering of our fellow man, but empathy demands action.  It is not a feel good movie and hearty cry.  It empowers us to be a catalyst for true advocacy.  So that we (and I’m talking to myself here too) do not run the risk of merely hearing this truth without making that knowledge a part of us, I encourage you today to think of a loved one in your life that is hurting.  Get their perspective on what is causing their hurt and do so without judgment.  Understand their feelings, and then communicate that.

A lovely woman that I’ve never met recently reached out to me on Facebook to thank me for something I shared the other day concerning the events in Charlottesville.  I didn’t fix her problem, and I didn’t excuse my lack of involvement in the events (even though it was clear to her that I wasn’t).  I merely said, “I understand and I will not make excuses. I will do my part to enact change.”  She simply appreciated that I even took the time to address it.

You will be surprised at the difference the simple gesture of “I am sorry this is happening” will make.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

 

Beauty for Ashes: In Memory of John

The morning after John passed, I was thumbing through my latest issue of Writer’s Digest when I stumbled upon an article written by an author who had been struggling to get her memoir published.  The reason?  Her story ended in death.  Publishers explained that while her journey of adopting and loving a child with a potentially terminal illness was a noble one, they “wanted a book that ended with a healthy, thriving child”.  She feared that an adoption story about a child who dies would never find an audience.

Nevertheless, she persisted.  She wrote about her love for her daughter Ruth; about the struggles she faced and the hurdles she overcame.  She wrote about the neurologist who said Ruth was so damaged from cerebral palsy that adopting her wouldn’t make a difference, and of how she blossomed into a smart, thriving, beautiful girl.  She wrote of the night Ruth died and of bringing her wheelchair back to Uganda to give to another little girl with cerebral palsy.

Immediately, my mind flashed back to the day we all learned that John had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer – just ten days after returning from his honeymoon with Peggy. Their love story was an unconventional one, formed nearly 50 years after meeting as acquaintances, and a year after he’d lost his wife Madge to ALS.  Of course, it was no surprise to me how effortless it was for Peggy and John to connect.  When you share both the common bond of painful loss, as well as the love for a Savior who redeems, love is free to blossom.  It’s how my husband and I connected and fell in love, after all.  Shared pain and shared healing.  Unfortunately, you cannot have redemption without loss.

When he received his diagnosis, we were all perplexed.  How horribly unfair to receive such a grim declaration after they finally found love after heartache.  But neither of them shook their fists toward heaven in rage (like I, admittedly, have done many times since that day).  They simply embraced that this was part of their story, and they set out to bring glory to God in and through their unfortunate circumstance.  Like the author of the article I mentioned who conquered the most difficult loss any human can bear when she buried a child; they, in turn, conquered the news of his diagnosis and made something beautiful out of something tragic. Beauty for ashes. They “chose to love in the face of suffering and grief and heartache and loss – without considering what such love would cost.  Because no matter how and when life ends, only love is guaranteed to last.”  

Peggy and John, your love story has inspired me to be a better human.  To love people even when it’s hard.  To invest in relationships even when there may not be a return.  To praise God even in the midst of a storm.  The love you had for each other and the love you have for Jesus is the legacy that will last for eternity.  

To my beloved mother-in-law, your strength and perseverance to do what is right and good, in spite of criticism, and to love unconditionally will be the foundation of the crown that awaits you in heaven; and it will be stunning.  I am honored to call you both friend and family.

Lastly, I’d like to read an excerpt from a letter I wrote to John a few weeks ago:

Dearest John,

Before I say anything else, I want to apologize for not saying any of this to you sooner.  If it’s one thing I’ve learned since learning of your illness, it’s that one should never wait to tell someone how fantastic they are and how much they are loved.  And, father-in-law, you most certainly are both.

First and foremost (and most importantly), I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for loving my precious Peg.  She means the world to me and from the day I met her, I’ve longed for her to find someone like you to love…and to love her back.  And then came you.  I remember watching you gush over her that night after Grace’s graduation and how much she blushed at every compliment you gave and each profession of your affection.  And I remember coming home that night and looking Frankie in the eye and saying, “Finally!!!  She finally found someone that loves her the way she deserves to be loved.”

So thank you.  Thank you for loving her so big.  You have left a mark on her heart that will bear fruit for eternity and you’ve left a mark on mine for doing it.

Secondly, I want to thank you for being such a shining example of what it means to truly exemplify the love of Christ, particularly for blended families.  As you know, Frank and I are a blended family and you have painted such an incredible picture of what it means to love someone who does not bear your DNA.  Anyone who has walked this road can tell you that’s it’s not an easy one.  But even before I met you, I knew of you to be an excellent step-father.  As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until Frank got to know you that I even realized that they weren’t your biological kids.  You’ve never called them your step-daughters, and I love that about you.  Getting to know you personally has only cemented what I’d already heard – that you loved and fathered JT and the girls as if you were biologically related.  But I know that anything less has never even crossed your mind.  

Furthermore, since marrying Peg you’ve always called Frankie “son”, an endearment that did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.  My children have all felt as if you’ve been their grandfather all their lives because that is how you’ve loved them.  I am so, so thankful.  And I promise you this – until I take my last breath, I will do you proud in loving my kids – ALL OF MY KIDS – with the same unconditional love that you have shown to yours.  Whether you feel it or not, you have left a legacy as a step-parent that will have an eternal impact. Your influence and example will be felt for generations to come.  Ephesians 1:5 says, “In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”  The Bible is pretty clear about how we, as humans, have been adopted into the kingdom of God.  Thank you for being such a perfect picture of how God wants us to love His people.  

I’m so grateful that you came into our lives, John…and I want you to know this:

You will be leaving us better than how you found us and it is a direct result of us having you as a part of our family.  

Finding My Lane

I once had someone tell me that the best thing I had to offer this world was a pretty face. And for most of my days since, I’ve believed that lie.

You said I’d never be a leader
You said I’d never wear a crown
If I wanted to be someone
I should learn to settle down

-“Doubt”  -Mary J. Blige

In the years following that confrontation with a person whose validation I was so desperate to have, I buckled under the pressure of expectations and just gave up. I accepted what was spoken over me and settled into “good enough” instead of challenging myself to overcome. Toxic relationships and many careless decisions later, I was 22 years old and an unmarried single mother. I missed my window to be or do something great….or so I thought.

A favorite author of mine, Jen Hatmaker, joins a group of other authors and speakers for the BELONG Tour, a yearly conference for women where they share their wisdom and experience in how to live a more “vibrant, open-hearted, meaningful life.” She recently recorded a Facebook Live video to promote the tour, in which she speaks about “staying in your lane”. Five minutes into it, I knew it was going to be exactly what I needed to hear. As she spoke about what it means to “find your lane”, or purpose, I finally began to understand that I’ve not only been looking for the wrong indicators for living out my purpose, but I was not, in fact, too late. As if she had a front row seat to the movie reel of my insecurities, she spoke truth over the lie that had made itself home in my mind for so long. She relayed her own story of how she forged a new path for what she really wanted to do with her life, which looked a lot like starting over as a young wife and mom at the age of 29.

If it’s your calling – if it’s what you’re meant to do, then there’s no window to miss.

For the first time, I began to feel as if being a wife and mom of five kids wasn’t the only accomplishment I had time enough to achieve in this life. There was more to what I had to offer, and that burning deep within my soul was not to be ignored. I thought the key to my purpose was found at the intersection of money and success, but I was wrong.

The research is carefully laid out with graphs and timelines about how to achieve the ultimate dream. Experts and life coaches spewing their theories about the proper path to success: four-year degrees, fast track to partner, marriage with 2.5 kids, a paleo diet and regular yoga.  Why are we so hung up on letting someone else define how we are meant to live our lives? Well one thing is for sure – I’m done making decisions about my life based on some arbitrary definition of success. Discovering what you’re meant to do is actually pretty simple – I just had to start asking myself the right questions.

What are you drawn to?

Seems simple right? That’s because it is. I was so focused on whether my purpose would be profitable or would fit into some mold that “made sense”, that I was ignoring some very basic qualifications, one of which is simply a matter of what I’m drawn to.  Another pretty simple question I needed to ask myself was, what am I good at? The marriage of the answers to those two questions helped direct me towards how God can use my gifts and talents to fulfill my purpose on this earth. So here is where I am:

  1. What are you drawn to?  Transparency. I just want real, genuine, authentic influence in my life. Be it in music, art, leadership, or friendship, I want to surround myself with people who are willing to be their true selves and share it all – the good, the bad, the ugly.
  2. What are you good at?  Communicating. Specifically, the written word. I don’t assume that any of what I write is earth shattering, but when it comes to being transparent, it’s much easier for me to do it in writing.
  3. What do you love?  People. I love people. The end. I want to use my life to express not just my love for humankind, but God’s love for them as well.

 

I may not be a scholar or Fortune 500 entrepreneur. My writing may not be featured in the New Yorker. I’m no trophy wife and I’m definitely not the president of the PTA.  But what I do have to offer is my story.  I can sidle up next to you in your dark moments and be the thing that I’m drawn to – vulnerable, authentic, and real.  I can hear you speak your pain and I can empathize, because I’ve been there.  I can open up and reveal all the dark spots that are there inside of me too, because we all have them and sometimes all we need to be able to process our own pain is to hear that we aren’t alone.

Four years ago I wrote a blog post about marriage that went viral. As can be expected, it received it’s fair share of criticism. Sensing it had the potential to deflate me, a dear friend of mine wrote to encourage me to stay in my lane and it has stuck with me since.

The world is yearning for MORE of what you shared. I know that you won’t let any amount of hatred or ridicule you’ve received regarding what you wrote stop you from continuing to spread your knowledge, experience, love, and joy with people. You never know who you’re gonna reach, right? Your experience is valuable. Your perspective is valuable.

Keep it up. Most of us need you to. You owe it to us. 🙂

I don’t know what platform God will choose to use my perspective but whether it’s here on this blog or breaking bread at your table, I will share every bit of my pain and every bit of my victory.

And this will be my success. That I was transparent about the struggles I’ve faced and used it to give hope to someone else. I will run my race and stay in my lane and it will not only be good enough – it will be great. The song that I referenced in the beginning of this post? It starts off with struggle but ends in triumph. This is the hope that lies within me, and the hope that I promise to share with the world:

Now you’re looking at a leader
Now you’re staring at a queen
You said I’ll never be someone
But now I’m pulling all the strings…

I’m gonna be the best me.

Resisting Resistance

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been struggling a bit with the feeling that I am not walking in my purpose.  I know that seems like I’m painting my uncertainty with a broad brush, but it’s the best way I can explain it.  I am surrounded by people who are clearly walking according to the purpose for which they were created.  Artists, singers, IT specialists, teachers, entrepreneurs, and the list goes on.  They have combined their gifts, talents, skills, and life experience and they are using it to do incredible things.  They inspire people, provide for their families, influence culture, and in many cases, they are changing the world.  AND THEY ARE LOVING IT.  You take one look at these people and think, “this is what they were born to do”.

This is what I’m craving for myself.  For so many years, my job was a means to an end.  I had two young kids to provide for (which I was doing by myself), so I did what I had to do.  Get up, get kids ready, put in my 40 hours at whatever job would pay the most, go home, feed kids, sleep.  Repeat.

There was seldom room for any advancement no matter where I worked because I didn’t have a degree.  I hit the glass ceiling on the second floor.  And it was enough…at the time.  I was thankful (am thankful) for what that work was able to do for myself and my kids.  I was so busy trying to hustle and keep a roof over our heads and food on the table that I didn’t really have time to think about whatever dream or calling I was missing out on.  But then seasons changed.  I got married and had another baby and make no mistake about it – being a wife and mom is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.  But there’s a knocking on the door of my soul that is begging to come in and plant new roots.  When I first noticed that longing develop, I felt guilty.  Shouldn’t “wife and mom” be enough?  They are both such important roles in the fabric of our home and this world, so shouldn’t my work in the lives of my people be sufficient?

I began to search for the answer to that question by rediscovering my creative spirit, which for me, begins in books.  I’ve always loved to read and it’s always the place that I find inspiration.  Fiction, non-fiction, self-help, humor…doesn’t matter.  Within the pages of a book, I am able to both lose and find myself.  I’ve finished five books since January, which is a lot given my lack of distraction-free moments. I decided to finally open a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for about five years and while I’m only one-third of the way through it, it has changed my perspective in ways that I did not expect.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

The title alone pretty much nailed this inner turmoil that really feels more like a creative mid-life crisis.  As I read this morning, I exhaled with relief at the notion that I am not alone in this conundrum.  The author put words to what has been brewing in my mind about this deeper calling that I’m trying to put my finger on.  For a bit of context, the author explains, “Most of us have two lives.  The life we live, and the unlived life within us.  Between the two stands Resistance.”  Resistance, he goes on to explain, “prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius.”

And sadly, Resistance is usually us standing in the way of our own call to greatness.  It takes many forms and shapes and manifests in a myriad of ways, but always has the same goal: defeat.  What he said next hit me right between the eyes, because it precisely how I’ve been feeling.

What does Resistance feel like?  First, unhappiness.  We feel like hell.  A low-grade misery pervades everything.  We’re bored, we’re restless.  We can’t get no satisfaction.  There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love my life.  God has blessed me with a deep, lasting, holy love in my marriage, and five beautiful children.  We have everything we need and we live in a safe community.  We love our church and the people in it.  LIFE. IS. GOOD. But there is a longing beneath the surface and we all have it.  We are all wired uniquely and beautifully to not only be happy but to influence, inspire, create.  It looks different for everyone and this is the precise thing I’m trying to discover for myself.  What does that look like for me?

This is my quest: to surround myself with the creators, inventors, influencers, and world changers.  To soak in their wisdom and experience.  To no longer compare myself to their purpose but to be inspired by it to discover my own.  To those of you who are following along with me while I dip into the waters of self-discovery, thank you for indulging me.

Naming My Shame

Nightmares are the worst.  At 39, I still have some that have the capacity to make me sweat.  On the rare occasion that it happens to one of the littles, they almost always climb into our bed for comfort.  The first thing I tell them to do is explain the dream with their words.  Tell me what it was about.  Once the description of the offending dream leaves their lips and hits their ears, the fear begins to deplete.  The imagination is a powerful thing when trapped in the mind, but as soon as you hear yourself describe a giant robot with laser beam fingertips, it starts to sound a bit silly.  They are instantly relieved of their terror when they hear with their ears how preposterous is the idea of a kidnapping dinosaur.  Peace returns, and if I’m lucky it’s followed shortly by sleep.  I think the same goes for our daily fears and insecurities.  When closeted within our dark and twisted imaginations, those fears appear to be much bigger giants than they really are.  Once released from our mouths, the fear is no longer beholden to the movie plot of our imagination and it loses it’s power.  Today’s post is my quest to say the thing out loud so that it doesn’t feel like the offensive kidnapping dinosaur that’s robbing me of my peace.

For secrets are edged tools, and must be kept from children and from fools.  -John Dryden, English Poet & Playwright

So here’s the thing: I have a dirty little secret.  Well, to be fair, it’s not dirty.  And it’s hardly a secret, either.  But it’s mere existence torments my mind like a dirty secret.  Like the last pill torments the addict, like the truth torments the liar, my secret – the elephant in the room of my self-conscience – sits and torments as he waits for the next opportunity to expose himself.  And he inevitably does in one way or another.  Sometimes it’s in casual conversation with a new friend; sometimes it’s in a Facebook questionnaire asking questions like “what is your biggest regret?”; sometimes it shows up on a loan application.  And in what feels like bright, bold ink from the editor’s red pen on life’s midterm exam, the answer is displayed in my mind like a big, fat F:

I don’t have a college degree.

Dun-dun-dun.

There it is – my dirty little secret.  Now, I know what you’re thinking…

“That’s it?  That’s the secret?  So what?!  Big deal!!!”

I realize I join the ranks of millions of others who did not pursue a college education.  And I also realize this is a first world problem.  I promise I’m not over here throwing myself a pity party for something that isn’t eternal, but this is my blog and here is where I have come to process my very human feelings, trivial as they may be.  My writing is where I feel safe to process and since I’m in a season of trying to discover my purpose, I want to lay it all out here, the good, the bad, the ugly.  I’m sorry my secret isn’t something more juicy, but this seemingly banal fact about my life accomplishments, or lack thereof, sits like an anvil on my chest every time I ponder what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.  It is my secret shame.  I’m pushing 40, so purpose is something I think about on a regular basis.  My lack of a college education is the sum total of regret that I have in this life, and I’ve been spending the last 9 months or so trying to get over myself.  And truthfully, it’s not really about the degree.  It’s about the feeling that I’ve allowed the circumstances surrounding some poor life choices to derail my dreams.

Before today, the only time I’ve ever really opened up about this subject is to my husband.  Saying it out loud to him was cathartic.  He’s my best friend and I tell him everything.  Ever supportive, he affirms that this minor detail is not my identity.  But hearing that from him is like hearing my mother tell me that I’m wonderful.  While I know they mean it, they are blinded by unconditional love.

Saying it out loud here, however, feels like the beginning of not only forgiving myself for those poor decisions, but also owning and being proud of making a good life out of that mess.  It’s the beginning of convincing myself that this void doesn’t define me and it doesn’t define my purpose and it most certainly doesn’t limit what God can do in and through me.

So I invite you to join me in the coming weeks/months/years/however long it takes as I embark on the search for my significance in this world in spite of the many times I have tried to sabotage my own potential.  I’ll be writing here a lot more, as writing has turned out to be a pretty effective therapist.  It is my prayer that as you follow along with me on my journey to take back my purpose, you catch a glimpse of yours along the way.