The Freedom of Self-Care and the Freedom to Be Yourself

Last time I had my hair cut this short was in high school. This was way back then.

2010 Hair

2010

When I started college, I blow-dried and styled my hair every day.

While we were in college, Kelsie (my best friend and roommate) taught me how to embrace my natural, un-blowdried hair and let go of the need to get ready every day.

Kelsie

This is Kelsie. She’s great.

 

During that season of my life, that didn’t mean I wasn’t taking care of myself because self-care looks different depending on the stage of your life and your own needs. In college, I needed that extra time to spend with people or outside. Now, I need to get ready sometimes so that I feel special and beautiful. I feel beautiful without makeup, but there’s something special about putting a little on and fixing my hair.

Most days, I still embrace my natural hair and let it do whatever it is going to do. I feel free to do that, and I also feel free to wear makeup when I want and to totally leave it out of my morning (or afternoon) routine if I feel like it.

For me, college set me free from a lot of cultural pressure to wear makeup, do my hair, have nice clothes, and fit in. I’m so thankful that the culture at my university encouraged the godly friendships that have really shaped me and helped make me into who I am today.  In those friendships, especially those formed my freshman year of college, I really experienced the freedom to be myself.

Freshman Friends

Some of my closest friends from college.

I felt the freedom of a community that showed me God’s love and grace despite my shortcomings and my immaturity. I felt the freedom to embrace my personal interests and not conform to someone else’s. I felt the freedom of God while walking alongside other believers in encouragement and truth.

Walker B

Walker B. My freshman hall.

Now, as I continue to grow up and gain a little wisdom, I see that I still have the freedom to take care of myself the way I need to. It is easy to give excuses that I don’t have time for self-care because of ____________ (being a mom, cleaning, cooking, working, or whatever else it might be). However, I’ve seen that lack of self-care hurts my friendships and leaves me with little to give to my family and to others.

So recently I told Landon that I really needed to go get my hair cut somewhere nice. (Thanks, Emily at OCCO!) I started taking more time to myself to read. I started cooking for myself and buying avocados because I really like them. I started exercising (just 10 minutes a day) because it makes me feel strong afterwards.

New Short Hair

New Haircut!

Mamas, you have the freedom to take care of yourself. Sometimes, you’ll need another person’s help to make that time and space depending on your stage of life. Also know that you have the freedom to be yourself and enjoy self-care how you enjoy it. It doesn’t have to look like my self-care or the self-care photos you see on Instagram. It just needs to be something that lets you feel like you. Enjoy it. Love it. Love being yourself.

 

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A Letter to Moms with College Degrees

Dear Mama,

Motherhood is not a waste of your college degree.

I understand how some people would think that you just spent a lot of time and money on four years of school only to become a mom, but you aren’t “just a mom.”

You are shaping the next generation. You are teaching your sons and daughters how to love others, how to read a book, how to pull lessons out of everyday life, how to observe the world around them, how to test hypotheses, how to follow instructions. You are teaching your children how to learn. Your college degree will benefit your little ones. Your vocabulary will build the minds of your babies. Your education will help you relate to your children when they feel the pressure of deadlines and juggling extracurricular activities and making friends.

You are a teacher.

You learned a lot at college. You reviewed some things you may have learned in high school, and then you learned how much you really don’t know. You learned how to communicate. You learned how to get things done even when you feel busy and overwhelmed. You learned how to let go of perfection and enjoy time with friends.

You are a counselor.

College taught you a lot, and having a college degree doesn’t mean you have to have a career in the business world. Moms, you have a career. You have a job that requires you to be on call 24/7. You feed, change, play with, talk to, and nurture little souls. You have a full-time job that impacts the world.

You are a cook, a chauffeur, and a nurse.

When someone from the alumni department calls you and asks if you are working in your field, tell them you are. Tell them how your English degree is teaching your children how to look at literature and learn from it. Tell them how your psychology degree is helping you understand what may be going on in the mind of your child when he or she is upset. Tell them how your education degree reminds you of the developmental stages of the brain, and you know what your baby’s needs are because of that Understanding the Learner class. Tell them how your business degree teaches your children to think strategically and come up with plans and goals. Tell that person on the other end of the line that your degree is not being wasted. Tell that person (the one who gives you a judgmental look when they find out you don’t have a “career”) that your college degree is benefitting your children.

One of my professors told me that motherhood wasn’t wasting my English degree, and I will never forget that. This man, who taught many of my classes and taught them well, is a dad of four who sets his family and marriage above his work, yet he still puts so much time and thought into this classes and grading. He told me that my degree prepared me well for motherhood, and that is an encouragement that I treasure.

I learned so much in my English program that will impact Asa. He will grow up reading books. He will see me pick up books and mark them with a pen and a pencil. He will see me read through a book critically, analyzing even “boring” books for their value. He will see me read for fun, research for understanding, and revisit old favorites. He will see me write, then edit, then write again. He will see and hear me use words to teach others, to encourage others, and to love others. My English degree taught me how to do those things, and now it will teach him those things as well.

If you feel like your degree or education was a waste of your time and money, think again. Think about how your college degree prepared you to be a mom. Your degree probably taught you about late nights and pressure and stress. It prepared you to take on this crazy journey that is motherhood.

Don’t be ashamed that you are a mom because you aren’t “just a mom.” You are a lot more, and no one can do for your children what you are doing in loving, serving, and nurturing them.

Cheering you on,

Emily

A Body Broken for You

We just celebrated the Resurrection of Christ from the dead! That gives me so much hope. Christ has defeated death. He is STRONG. He conquered sin, and He gave me His righteousness. Wow. That truth should affect every area of my life, right?

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about body image. After my pregnancy with Asa (and my HUGE baby bump), my body looked very different. I learned that there are a lot of physical changes and issues to deal with after a delivery. I don’t often think of Asa’s birth as traumatic, but I guess it was considering I had about 20 internal stitches and 7 shots of lidocaine. So there’s that.

Maternity 1

Since Asa was born, I go back and forth between feeling good and feeling discouraged that things weren’t going back to how they used to be. Skin is stretched. Muscles are separated. My body won’t go back to how is was before. But why would it?! I carried a baby for 42 weeks and then birthed all 8 lbs 13 ounces of him! No body is naturally going to go back to normal after that!

After a really good phone call with Victoria Yates on intuitive eating and body image last week, I thought a lot about how I viewed my body. Here’s the big encouragement that I took away from that conversation and my own processing:

My body was broken to give another life.

Christ’s body was broken to give me life. 

In my broken body, I am reflecting the Gospel.

That doesn’t mean my body is broken beyond repair. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t love it and take care of it. However, it does mean that I am reflecting Christ in my motherhood and my body, and I am just fine with that.

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One other thing I realized? Asa has brought me more joy and laughter than keeping my pre-baby body ever would have. I’ll take his giggles and curiosity and cute dance moves any day!

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There’s joy in a mom body! I’m going to take care of this body with good exercise, rest, food, and essential oils (a little Geranium and Patchouli EO has really helped out my stretched skin!). God gave me this body, tools + resources for taking care of it, and the joy + responsibility of being a mama. Christ was broken on my behalf, and I can joyfully give myself to model the Gospel for others.

Parenting Expectations Revisited

When I was pregnant, I decided to meet with a midwife and go to a birth center.

When Asa was little, I learned all about the “crunchy” parenting things people were doing these days.

Asa has a Baltic amber teething necklace. (And full disclosure: I’m not sure if it works. It SURELY doesn’t make him drool less, as some parents claim.) Now that I’m writing, I’m a bit at a loss for what other “crunchy” things we do for him.

Let’s revisit a few of the things I THOUGHT I was going to do but didn’t:

  1. Make my own baby food. Some people do it. I would have loved to! I just didn’t have the capacity, and that’s ok.
  2. Co-sleep. Asa slept with us when he was little and our house let in cold air through the windows. Once he got bigger, though, he moved around a LOT and took up most of our bed. We all slept better when he was in his own bed. We sleep BEST when he is in his own room. After about 7-8 months, Asa moved from our room to his own, and I am not a bit sad now. IMG_20180212_153015_600.jpg
  3. Let Asa self-wean and eat table food early on. Asa had a super sensitive gag reflex until he was 11 months old. He wasn’t even eating oatmeal and baby food on a regular basis until he was probably 8 or 9 months old.
  4. Never let Asa eat sweet things or processed foods. We don’t let Asa walk around with cookies or candy, but he loves tasting new things. Except ice cream. He doesn’t like ice cream, but I think that’s just because it is really cold. Asa’s food staples at the moment: fruit, yogurt, and bread.
  5. Avoid ANY screen time for the first 2 years. When the only way I can get Asa to stay still enough to clip his fingernails is to play a video clip, it is worth it. Otherwise, Asa has claws. It isn’t great for a young child’s brain development to watch a lot of television or stare at screens. We did pretty well avoiding screen time that first year, but when you occasionally go to restaurants with screens, you just let go. Also, at the end of a long day, we have let Asa watch a movie with us. Or part of one.

Parenting has been a number of lessons in letting go of expectations. Letting go of rules. Embracing the moment. Occasionally letting Asa throw his food on the floor while I try to load up the dishwasher. There’s a place for teaching and discipline, yes. But there’s also a place for letting go. Asa will remember the fun times he had when I was present way more than all the super crunchy things I did for him to live a hippy life.

Is there something you thought you would do when your first kid came along but didn’t do? Is there something you anticipate wanting to do but not actually doing it?

What is Motherhood?

Motherhood is not getting much sleep at night.

It is regularly cleaning up pee, poop, or milk.

It is becoming a child all over again.

After Asa was born, I had about 20 stitches to fix some tearing. Those 20 stitches reminded me of what it feels like to be helpless and vulnerable. They reminded me what it means to have childlike faith in someone. I couldn’t get up off the couch or out of bed without Landon’s help those first few days. I couldn’t dry off my legs for myself. I couldn’t feed myself because I was so tired. I was completely dependent on other people for help.

With that helplessness comes a need for childlike faith. I had to believe that my husband, my mom, and Landon’s mom would help me in the midst of my exhaustion. As Asa is completely dependent on me, I was completely dependent on others. The hardest part of labor for me was not the vulnerability of giving birth but the vulnerability of relying on others.

It is so scary to rely on others. Eventually, they let you down. I don’t say that because anyone has let me down in the last few weeks but because I know I have let so many people down in the past. I know I will let people down in the future, too. Trusting another person is a very vulnerable act that we all have to do if we are to live well with others.

I am a helpless child. I am a helpless child, and I am responsible for my own helpless child. I have never felt that responsibility more strongly than here in motherhood. Motherhood has caused me to cry out to God for help more desperately than ever before, especially while I was in the pain of healing from stitches. Without strength from the Lord, I wouldn’t be able to wake up in the middle of the night to nurse Asa, burp him, and change his diaper. Without strength from Him, I couldn’t get up in the morning and start my day. Once I’m up, I am awake, by the grace of God.

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Motherhood is about humility. Motherhood is about recognizing my weaknesses, my pride, and my inability to do everything on my own. There’s no way I could function on my own. I have to remind myself of that. Rather, motherhood regularly reminds me of that when I begin to forget.

As a helpless child, I needed Landon to change Asa’s diapers in the middle of the night since I couldn’t get out of bed for myself. I needed my mom to help me with chores and Asa just so I could relax enough to take a nap. I needed Landon’s mom to pick up groceries and cuddle Asa so that I could breathe. I needed our church small group to bring us meals. I needed God to strengthen me when I was exhausted and in pain.

I still need Him. Every hour of every day. I need Him to give me childlike faith. I need Him to give me the strength to trust other people and be vulnerable with them.

Motherhood is learning to be a child again and believing the best of everyone.

Motherhood is completely worth it.

Advent: What It Feels Like to Wait for a Baby (And Comfort for Those Still Waiting)

I wrote this blog post on November 29th, but I want to share with you these honest thoughts and feelings I had before Asa was born on December 2nd, 2016. May the Lord use them to encourage and comfort.

In a world full of darkness and fear, I am learning to hope. I am learning to trust.

Nine months of pregnancy all began with a scare. Just 10 days after Landon and I discovered that we would be parents, we lost that joy. For four and a half days, we grieved and mourned the loss of our blueberry-sized baby. I sank into sadness and depression and apathy with one whole month of the school semester left. Emotionally, I did not have the strength to focus on academics in the midst of such sadness.

Spiritually, too, I was drained. We were not yet planning to start our family, and I was supposed to graduate with my undergraduate degree December 2016. A baby due in November 2016 would be a lot to handle with just one month left of school. However, we began to look forward to meeting our little “Blueberry.” When we thought we lost him, I didn’t understand why God would prepare us to receive such a precious gift only to snatch it away. I didn’t understand what He was doing.

Then I saw a doctor. Our Blueberry was okay… His heart was still beating… His light was still shining…

And I had a big choice to make: I could cling so tightly to this gift, terrified to let go lest I lose it again, or I could trust that the Lord’s plan was good and perfect and beautiful, whatever it held in store for us.

As Mary did when she sat at Jesus’ feet, ignoring Martha’s nagging to stress over the details of a meal, I believe I have chosen the better portion. I have taken my fear of loss and laid it at Jesus’ feet. I have chosen rest for my soul despite the possibility of hurt. Trust can be so scary if you don’t have Someone trustworthy to rely on.

Sometimes, my heart is tempted to stray away from trust. It is tempted to clutch tightly to the gift Landon and I are waiting for, despite God’s tender call to release my grip. At times, I tremble at the possibility of our little boy’s heart giving out so late in my pregnancy and feeling no more baby kicks. No more kneading on my bladder when our baby needs more room in my womb. No more.

Occasionally, I must talk myself down from a ledge of fear. The fear that I will fail. The fear that something tragic will happen to my child. The fear that my son’s heartbeat will stop and mine will have to continue on without his. These are just a few fears mothers experience.

That fear is a reality for so many parents. A worst fear realized.

“No parent should have to bury their child.”

Yet it happens in our world of darkness and despair. I will never stop wishing that this would change.

Sometimes, my heart is tempted to feel guilty that I thought I lost my tiny baby and didn’t. Sometimes, I don’t share my story for fear I will awaken painful memories in another woman’s heart and incite bitterness in her soul.

I don’t want my guilt to crowd out gratitude. It is not my merit that preserved Asa’s life thus far. It is God’s mercy. A mercy I do not understand. A mercy I wish would touch each broken woman of our world.

In a way, it does. Somehow.

That little baby we have all been waiting for… He came. He is the One we wait for each Advent as we celebrate His first coming and anticipate His return. Then, 2,000 years ago, the Father endured the death of His Son so that we might have life and joy and hope.

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That is a hope and joy that will never be snatched away from the broken heart of the believing woman. The darkness cannot extinguish the Light of the Gospel.

My prayer for this season for those who have lost hope is that you will open your heart to healing and joy. I have had a taste of your pain. The teensiest, tiniest taste. And I mourn with you. I pray for you. My heart grieves with yours. May the Great Physician heal you and the Holy Spirit comfort you as you enter this season of waiting and wishing and anticipating.