To My Firstborn

My sweet, sweet girl. You will never know how much it has meant to me, for the past three years, to call you all mine. Every moment of you being my only has been cherished, and each memory is buried in my soul to feed my joy and delight. Soon, you will no longer be my only, but you will forever be my first.

In five short months we will have another little soul enter this world and our home. Whether this soul is your brother or your sister, it is already a soul that is loved so dearly. This soul will require much of our attention, just as you did when you cheerfully came to us. This soul will need to be held and rocked. This soul will need to be nourished in many ways. Although I will delight in providing this new soul all that it needs to thrive, just as I did you, I will lament over the time I had before spent pouring into you.

As I hold and rock your new brother or sister, I need you to know several things. I need you to know that the love that I am now pouring into this new soul does not remove a single drop of the incredible love that I have for you. I need you to know that I love this new soul the same, and that mommy’s love is immense. It fits you, it fits daddy, it fits this new soul, and it will fit anyone who may join our beautiful family in the future. No matter how many people mommy’s love spreads over, it will never, ever change. My love for you will forever be unconditional. It will be unshakable.  It will forever be unwavering. There is no one that can ever come, and nothing you can ever do, that will change this truth.

I need you to know that I still cherish our time together just like I did when you were our only one. Our time may have more interruptions than we are both used to. You may have to share your time more than you would like. Our moments alone together may not last as long as they had before. My hope is that these things do not signal to you that our time together is less valuable than it once was. My sweet, precious girl, every moment I spend with you is a treasure, now until the end of time. I promise that I will prioritize alone time with you. I promise I will listen when you tell me you miss you. I promise to put away outside distractions when we have the opportunity to be just us. Time with you will always and forever be one of my most cherished possessions.

I need you to know how much you have taught me. Sweet baby, when you entered our lives, I thought I knew all about myself. I was under the impression that I had ironed out most of the kinks and that I was ready to be a great mother. Your presence quickly showed me that, although I was overjoyed to be your mommy, I had so much to learn before I could become great. Precious girl, in the nights when you woke me from sleep so that I could feed you, I learned just how much patience I was lacking. On the days when I yearned to go to work, or to do something for me, I learned that I was more selfish than I knew. However, in those same moments, you taught me that you, and any of my future children, were absolutely worth all the patience in the world. You taught me that I could be great, and that you deserved for me to be great. You taught me that the greatest work that I will ever do, the best hours that I will spend in this life, are the hours that are spent pouring into my children. You taught me that the delight of motherhood would outweigh any doubts that I had of myself. The delight of bringing up a world changer is greater than any ounce of satisfaction I would find in another area of work. Thank you for the lessons.

I need you to know how crucial your incredible personality is to the strength of our family. Sweet girl, your joy is infectious. Your humor brings cheer when life is busy bringing countless worries. Your consideration for others fills your daddy and me with hope; you are proof in one body that the world is not all bad. You, my love, are a natural born leader, and we need that in our family. We need all the parts of you that make you you. We need you to be joyful and funny and considerate and a leader. We also need your imperfections, because these are the things that make us whole as family. So, my sweet girl, as we enter a world of exploration with this new soul coming into our home, I pray that you are never overlooked. I pray that you never feel insignificant or inferior. I pray that you never feel that you are not enough. You are, and always will be, more than enough.

My dear firstborn, you will always hold the special spot of being first. Although you will no longer be our only, you will forever be the one that made me mommy. That is a place that no one else will ever be able to claim. As we grow from three to four, I rejoice in the opportunity to pour out more of me. I am excited to witness you develop into the best big sister. Our family will forever grow greater because of what you and your new brother or sister bring to it.

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Why I March

I remember so much of that night like it was last night. I had just finished a long double closing shift at my serving job, so, covered in food splatter and grease, I undressed and started the shower. Out of habit, I wrapped myself in a towel and double checked the locks on the front door and every window of my apartment. This was a nightly ritual, but it became especially important on the nights when I would be blocking out the sounds of the outside world with the running water of the shower, therefore making myself vulnerable. I had two roommates but both were out with friends that night.

My bathroom was located inside my bedroom, so tonight I had left the bathroom door open and the bedroom closed, the usual. I needed to be able to hear outside of the 40 square feet of space I was enclosed in.

After determining that I was safe in my home, I turned on some soft music (romantic, my favorite), lit a couple of candles and finally began to wash away the sweat and stress of the day.

After a few minutes in the shower I heard a bang, like someone forcing their way in to my apartment. My ears perked like a dog’s, my senses immediately heightened. Within what seemed like the next second, there was a man in my bathroom. A man I knew all too well, or thought I had. A man who had witnessed my weaknesses and shared in my celebrations for the past year. My ex-boyfriend. Before I had the chance to get out of the shower and cover myself, he was in it. I saw stars as my head met the wall as I was shoved. His hands groped me, and I used all of my might to tear his fingers off one by one. I cried out, knowing there was no one home to hear me.

Unaware of how I got there, I was on my bed, my body still unclothed and soaking wet. A cracked, dry palm covered my mouth, another hand pulled my hair. Lips violently swept across my neck. I kicked and I punched, but there remained what felt like an enormous weight on top of me. I felt the scratches of a rough mustache on the inside of my thighs, fingertips digging into the backs of my forearms to keep me down. The sweet melodies of the romance music playing in the background intensified, covering the sounds I managed to get out, as everything around me seemed to conspire against me. Then I felt a different kind of pain. As this man, who I once trusted, kissed with joy, was inside of me, a new kind of pain flooded my entire being. If there hadn’t been tears covering my face before, there certainly was now.

I can’t remember much of the rest of the night. Whether my mind has chosen to delete the memory, or the extreme pain and exhaustion enveloped the memory and dragged it away, I remember enough to know I’m thankful the rest is gone. Hopefully forever.

The first thing I did the next morning was call my manager to tell him I wouldn’t be at work that day. Then, I called my best friend. Sensing the urgency in my voice, and having been called into work to take my place, she came over immediately and asked what was wrong. I half attempted to keep my composure, but I knew that was a lost cause. I began to confide in her, to tell her what had happened. She listened only for a few minutes then left, saying that she would be late to work. I was alone in my apartment again, and I had no idea what to do next.

Determined to be strong and unaffected, I returned to work within a few days. You would have thought I had walked through the door with the plague. I quickly learned that the woman who I trusted as my best friend told others what I had confided in her. You see, the man who violated me was popular and well-loved. To most, he was kind, funny, sweet, one of the best men they knew. During our relationship I had learned the dark parts of him, and eventually broke it off. So, coming into work that day, I was now the whore who spread rumors and lies about their beloved college football star.

My workplace became unbearable. I was insulted daily, I lost all close friends and acquaintances I once had there. Not once did anyone ask if I was okay, if I needed a friend. To them, I was a liar. To them, I was out for revenge against a man who had broken my heart.

All this happened after months of harassment. That one night was a culmination of months of being followed, of having to change my number, of police reports, of police escorts to make sure I arrived home safely after work. Of having my apartment broken into, of threatening notes and messages left in my bedroom and in my text messages. It all seemed like a horror movie, one with the worst kind of ending, but it was my reality.

Now, I can’t be touched by my husband without having flashbacks. I own a gun and grab it before answering the door when I’m home alone. I carry a knife, and have it open when I walk alone at night or with my 9 month old daughter when we’re alone. If I wake up in the morning and find the door unlocked, I check every room and closet to make sure there is no one in the house. I nag my husband for not ensuring a window is locked when he shuts it. If a stranger happens to be walking behind me when I’m out for a walk, I turn the other direction even if it’s out of way.

I tell this story not to throw a pity party or to ask for sympathy; for the most part, I have worked through the effects of that night, knowing there will be some that will never go away. I tell this story in response to something that was said to me: “As a woman in America I find it hard to understand what women in America feel they don’t already have. Maybe you can enlighten me.”

So, stranger, I will enlighten you. Besides the obvious, such as equal pay, how about safety? I am a woman in America. I am one of countless women who will never receive justice for horrible crimes that have been committed against me. In place of that justice, I have received insults, threats, and blame. And now, because I am a woman, I no longer feel safe in my own home. When my husband is away, I stay up all night and read while I watch over my sleeping daughter, rather than make myself vulnerable with sleep.

Today, millions marched in solidarity with women seeking equal rights. To those who say we have equal rights, or that we have everything we need already, I say this: We women must march every single day.

I am marching when I seek safety in my own home. I am marching when I bathe my 9 month old and talk to her about why her “privates” are private. I am marching when I ask my husband to take the car for an oil change because I am tired of being spoken to like I’m stupid. I am marching when I do double the work to land the job I am competing against a man to get. I am marching when I speak against the unwanted advances of strangers on the street. I am marching when I put thought into every outfit choice and think, “If I am raped and killed while I am wearing this, will I be blamed?”

So, to the women who don’t agree with a women’s march, or don’t understand the point, I am so glad that you have not had the same experiences I have had. I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. I’m glad that you have never felt limited because of your gender. I’m glad that you have been privileged enough not to see the point. But I, and the millions around you who haven’t been so lucky, will continue to march.

Tough Thoughts on Parenthood

I am almost six months into parenting. Even though I am still in the beginning months of this new era called Parenthood, I have already learned a lot. When my husband and I were preparing to have kids, and when I finally got pregnant, we were told countless times to take advantage of sleep while we could, enjoy our babies while they were young because they grow so fast, and to make time to keep dating each other after kids. All true, yes, but all typical things everyone says. There has been so much that we weren’t quite prepared for, things no one was talking about.

I don’t think anyone goes into parenthood expecting things to be easy. It’s pretty much a given that things are about to get tough in a lot of ways. And I doubt that anyone expects joy 100% of the time while raising children. I’m willing to bet that all of the future parents know at least a little bit of what they’re getting themselves into. We know that babies require a lot of attention (understatement of the century?), that selflessness is essential in ways it has never been before, and that there will inevitably be moments when parenting is really not that joyful. These are all the things everyone knows when entering the journey, but there is a problem with this. This is really almost all we hear. There is so much more that we aren’t prepared for, and even though we know our lives are about to change, we can’t know all the ways in which this is about to happen. But why aren’t other parents talking about these other things? Maybe I am an exception, and I somehow missed the memo containing all the tough parts of parenthood, but I still sometimes feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

In this day and age, we are constantly bombarded with snippets of others’ lives through social media. We see the perfect families with their clean homes, real food meal preparation, dream careers, efficient cars, and well-behaved, beautiful, smart children. It’s easy to get discouraged by thinking that we are somehow falling behind everyone else because we don’t have our lives as together as they do. But what we must remember is that what we see on social media are the snippets of life these people are choosing to share. And, really, who shares the icky parts?

I am absolutely guilty of this. I am ashamed of the ways in which I don’t have it together, or I am embarrassed, or I simply don’t want to be a Debbie Downer. Whatever my motives have been for sharing only the good parts, I have managed to make my family look almost perfect online. However, this is not even close to reality. There are more hard parts than I could imagine, and I have learned some huge lessons that I didn’t expect to learn.

1. Moms are generally an overly judgmental group and that makes being a mom even harder. 

I have never felt more watched and more judged than I do now.

Feeding my daughter is the hardest thing I have ever done. I chose to breastfeed, but she still gets formula. Sometimes I don’t have enough milk for her, and sometimes I just really don’t want her on me at that moment so my husband feeds her a bottle of formula. Some moms believe this is the worst thing in the world; breast is best! Other moms’ babies don’t get any breast milk ever. No matter how my baby is getting fed, there’s always someone there to say that what I am doing is wrong.

I personally choose not to let my daughter “cry it out.” I can’t emotionally handle letting my daughter cry while I  do nothing about it, and I have heard countless times that this will only cause her to be spoiled, that it’s not okay to always pick up my baby when she cries. I disagree. However, other moms choose to let their babies cry it out and that’s what works for them. These moms also receive unbelievable amounts of criticism. Whatever we do, it’s a lose-lose!

When someone parents differently than me, it’s not better or worse, just different. There will always be someone to point out our flaws. Social media feels like a constant game of Who’s the Best Parent Today, and the constant criticism can easily become overwhelming.

2. I’m not as good at taking care of myself as I thought I was. 

Self-care has always been important to me because I have struggled on and off with depression for several years. I can recognize my triggers (change is a big one!), and I have learned how to care for myself in these seasons. However, everything is different now, and so is the way I need to self-care.

I am absolutely crazy in love with my daughter and I am so thankful that I don’t have to work and I can spend my time with my growing girl, but a large part of my identity has always been placed in the work I do, and not having a job is hard. Yes, of course raising a baby is hard work, but it’s not the same as having a job. I am not leading. My responsibilities are mundane. I don’t have daily adult interaction. I am lonely. My closest friends and family don’t live in this city, so I spend the majority of my time at home, and my face is the one my daughter sees all day, everyday.

This has taken a toll on me emotionally and mentally. I am irritable 80% of the time. I have lost the desire to do the things that I love. I don’t shower everyday, even though I have opportunities to do so. I am thankful for my body, but I don’t love the way it looks, and I don’t do enough to fix this. I have found that cancelled plans with friends have been discouraging enough that I have stopped reaching out to others, and accepted that my days will be Charlotte and me.

The reality is, I still don’t really know how to be this new version of myself. I am now my last priority and I don’t know how to change that. I have learned that postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are real, but that experiencing these struggles doesn’t make me a bad mom. I know that I am a great mom, even though I don’t love every second of it. I have countless moments of admiration and love, and I can’t get enough of my daughter, but I also have moments  when I want to be selfish and worry only about myself. When I don’t want to feed another person every two hours, especially with my own body. And when I want to spend my day completely alone without being bothered. And this is all okay. I still love my daughter well. I shouldn’t be expected to only have the best things to say about being a parent 100% of the time.

3. Marriage is freaking hard after kids. 

Oh man. Can someone please re-teach me how to love my husband well? Because I seem to have lost that skill. I have heard moms say their marriage was even better after having kids, and that children didn’t really strain their marriage, but I have heard this from maybe 3 moms ever. So why isn’t anyone talking about the difficulties of marriage after kids?

I find myself just wanting to sleep after the long day I’ve had with my daughter, and not be bothered with caring for my husband. I still ask him about his day, but I don’t check in with him past anything surface level. I still kiss him and hug him, but other than that I don’t want to be touched. After feeding a baby all day, I don’t want to make him dinner. After cleaning the house, doing laundry, and changing dirty diapers all day, the last thing I want to see is his mess lying around, and I get unreasonably frustrated about it.

My husband and I are learning how to be parents, but we’re also learning a new way to be married. It was so easy in the beginning. We fell in love quickly and married after a year of dating. We had some rough months in the beginning of marriage but never lost sight of who we wanted to be as one. We dreamed of starting a family. But when we did, we started to lose sight of the couple we once were. We don’t play or laugh like we used to. We don’t dance like we once did. We don’t touch, we don’t cuddle, we don’t communicate, we don’t pray. This is not to say that we don’t ever do these things. We do. But not as often as before, and not in the same ways. We’ve been on three dates in the last six months (one of which was our anniversary date), even though we’ve had several offers from friends and family to care for our daughter while we go out.

I spend more time griping at my husband than I do speaking life and encouragement over him. I feel annoyed when he says he’s tired because he sleeps more than I do at night, even though he works long, hard hours in order to provide and care for our family. We purposely say and do things to get under each other’s skin. Sometimes it feels like the arguments are endless. We have accepted that we need wisdom and guidance from others to help us figure out how to do this, because trying to figure it out on our own is just not working. This doesn’t mean we have a bad marriage, it just means we’re not perfect. Knowing where we need to put in work and being committed to it doesn’t make it easy. I think we thought that somehow wanting to be parents so bad would automatically make us good at doing all of it, and that’s a lie.

I don’t need to expand on how great my daughter is, because chances are if you’re reading this you’ve already seen and heard me talk about her often. I will say that even though I have had the best six months of my life, I have also had the hardest. I feel like it’s an unspoken expectation of new parents to share the joys but hide the difficulties, and that’s not okay. I am not okay with plastering photos and posts on social media about all the wonderful moments of motherhood without being transparent about the rest of it. So there it is. There is the some of the rest of it.

 

Loving When Loving Is Hard

I have a Bachelor’s degree in youth and family ministry. For years, I have been wanting to work with teenagers, but not always for the same reasons. Initially, my heart yearned to be around teenagers for reasons I could not clearly articulate. The only thing I fully understood was that being a teenager was a really hard thing, and I wanted to help them through the rough parts as much as they would let me. Then, I was sure that I wanted to work in a church with a youth ministry. Because of the ways that I grew because of Jesus, I had a desire to walk alongside youth in their faith journey, witnessing their growth and change, aiding in any way possible. By this point, I knew only  2 things: I wanted to walk with teenagers through the hard parts, and I wanted to teach them about Jesus along the way. I have ministered (such a corny word) in churches, jails, safehouses for ex-prostitutes, beer gardens in Asia (Asian style of strip clubs), in the downtown streets of large cities, in shelters, food pantries, soup kitchens, in the homes of young women who have escaped from sex trafficking, and in the homes of my own friends and family. I have loved every one of these opportunities in so many ways, and have been wonderfully challenged by each of them. Although these opportunities have helped me grow in countless ways, both in my own faith, and in the way I speak with others about Jesus, the culmination of each of these ministry moments could not have fully prepared me for the season of ministry I am now in.

As I have written about before, I am an Adolescent Care Specialist… which is a fancy name to say that I am a mom to young girls in a group home. I am going into my fourth month, and I have felt more emotions in the short three and a half months I have been in this job then I have in the years I have spent at other jobs. I have probably been more challenged than ever before, even more than in jails and with drug addicts and prostitutes. This could very well be attributed to the fact that every type of personality and background I have encountered in all the different places I have named, is here in this house. I work in a place that is home for 11 girls, ages 12-21. They are here for different reasons, and they have stories that contrast in a number of ways, but they all have several things in common. These young girls have been through the worst and they have been so broken down. They have been addicted, sold, homeless, sexualized, severely neglected, abused in every way, abandoned, lost, and hopeless. Some of these girls know how it feels to have no one, and plenty have felt the emotions that come with having absolutely nowhere to go. Some have made poor decisions which have led them here, and some are purely victims. Some cannot comprehend the reasons they are here. Each of the girls brings their individual backgrounds and traumas, which presents unique challenges for us in every situation. And I can’t say that I am always happy about it.

These girls have called me names and threatened me. They tell me they hate me pretty much on a regular basis, and according to them I am awful at my job and I don’t know what I’m doing. I would be exaggerating to say that I hear these things every day, but it happens fairly often. And let me be the first to say that it does not make loving them always easy. Last month I ended a shift in tears because I had the hardest night I had ever experienced in a job. Several girls were ganging up on me, to the point I thought that I was probably no longer safe. And I don’t scare easily. I ended up calling the police and it turned out to be a long, hard night. I thankfully had a couple days off after that, but it was so so hard to prepare myself to return to work with the heart to love the girl who was the main one involved in the incident. Initially, I had no desire to love this girl. I only wanted to yell at her, to call her the names that she screamed at me that night. Loving her was the last thing on my list of to-dos. But the hard thing and the great thing about God is he knows this. He convicts me when I am hardening my own heart, but he also equips me to respond in ways that reveal his character and glory. He loves me so well and so much that I can only pour it out. He teaches me that even though this is not a church, and this is not necessarily a place where Jesus is a common topic, I can still spread the news about him and declare his goodness through my actions.

In the past few months I have learned so much about loving, especially when I have no desire to love. This lesson has been both a frustrating challenge and a joy, all at the same time. When all I want to do is express anger, I pray to be filled with kindness. When I am hurt by their words and (embarrassingly) only want them to hurt too, I take a deep breath, and ask for Jesus to take over my responses. I know that my loving presence speaks volumes to these broken girls, and daily I pray that this is all I give them: loving presence. It’s not always easy… actually, it can be unbelievably hard, but loving presence is what invites healing into broken girls, what aids mending in shattered hearts. I have been invited into the lives of amazingly wonderful young girls, and I have the honor of being a vessel of hope and a pillar of light to them, however small it may be. Although it is most definitely an honor, it carries a lot of responsibility. I have to constantly be aware of my words, my body language, my actions, and the promises I make. Before I speak, I have to make sure each of the words I am about to say is covered in love. Because although the girls who live here can be challenging and mean, they are such beautiful, wonderful, worthy daughters of the God that I answer to, and my job and my heart’s devotion is to teach them this and treat them as such.

Although it is sometimes hard to love these girls, it really is so easy when I lose sight of myself. We dance together, play together, karaoke together, watch movies together, share meals with each other, and have so many laughs with each other. They teach me how to be better at basketball when I’m making my team lose, throw the frisbee to me even though I probably won’t catch it, comfort me when I am sad, and fill my heart with so much joy. Much more than difficult, my job is so life-giving. It is important, it is unfortunately necessary, and I witness so much of Jesus every single day. I am incredibly thankful to have been given this responsibility. I am also very lucky in this type of job to work with a staff who is so in love with Jesus. I have bosses who pray for me and a whole team of people who I can pray alongside. Working with Jesus lovers means that I have encouragement when I am down and accountability in areas I am struggling with. I have several people near me who do the same job as me, know the same difficulties, and understand when things are rough, and for this I am so immensely thankful. Without my team and especially without Jesus, I could not love every day the way that I need to. I could not speak words of life and encouragement to 11 teenage girls on a regular basis. This job would not be such a joy. But I do have my team and I do have Jesus, and It would not be possible for me to put into words the love I have for each of the girls in this house.

Love

I remember being 18 years old and thinking I was in love. I thought that the joy I was feeling in my relationship, the laughter and fun, were as good as it gets. In the best moments I felt that if that was the best it would ever be, I would be okay with that. Actually, I would be more than okay with that. But that was before I knew God.

That was before I knew my value and my worth. Even before I knew how much I was really, truly loved. I had not yet known that I was covered in the best kind of love there is or that I was even worthy of such a love.

And that’s the thing that baffles me. I AM worthy of such a love, but not at all because of me. I am worthy of such a love because my creator IS such a love. The voice that commanded mountains to stand, the beauty that rocks gentle ocean waves to soothe, the power that split the seas… all these and more created me. They created my delicate heart that I criticize too often. They created my imaginative mind, which I suppress too often. They created the hungers within my soul, which I neglect too often. They created my eyes, my hair, my physical body that I too often take for granted and condemn. All these things, they created every part of me. But it was not just any creation, some kind of overlooked piece of art. It was a perfect creation, a masterpiece to marvel. I am not calling myself perfect at all, physically or in any other way. But I am calling my creator perfect, and I know that a perfect artist does not make mistakes. When a perfect artist moves his brush, it is on purpose. And when a perfect artist creates a perfect masterpiece, he does not look upon it with disdain. He marvels, he protects, he takes care of it. And, in the same way, my Father in heaven… OUR Father in heaven takes care of us. Because we are his masterpieces to marvel.

And because we have a creator, a Father, who desires to love on us, and only knows how to do that perfectly, we are given such great gifts. And the greatest of these is love…

The two greatest gifts God has given me is love in the form of two different men. First, his son. He has given me life through death, freedom through chains, fullness through betrayal and corruption. Because of this I can laugh a joyous laugh, I have boldness to be great, and I can recognize sacrifice and selflessness. Because of this, his greatest gift, I am more than gladly bought.

The second man he has given me is his husband. I am convinced that God has given me my husband because he has taken away the physical body of his son. Because what better way to show his love for me than to give me a sacrificial, selfless, Jesus kind of love that I can actually physically touch. The book of Matthew says that if we, who are all sinners, know how to give good gifts our children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good gifts to us, his beloved, precious, so dearly loved children! Oh, how this is so beautifully shown in what God gives us through true romantic love.

I realize now that those emotions I felt as an 18 year old were so insignificant, so far from a true love because the relationship I was in was not the gift God wanted for me. I had not yet known my identity or value so I was incapable of acceptance of such a marvelous gift. The relationship that I was in was not divinely orchestrated, and it was not glorifying anyone except ourselves. In short, it was fake love.

But now I see the kind of love that the world so desperately needs. I see the love that creates and builds and protects and makes the world go ’round… literally. I can recognize and accept the immensity of the perfect love I am covered in because I have a glimpse of it through my husband. This love is a kind of love that consistently leaves me speechless. It fills my days with happiness and my nights with hope. It’s a love that causes tears of joy to burst, simply upon reflection. It is a love that challenges me, encourages me, teaches me, and betters me. It is a love that stands as a constant reminder of whose I am and how so very well I am taken care of. Because I am a woman who has lied and cheated, and much worse. How could I, me, this broken person, be given something so divinely and perfectly orchestrated? Because that’s the kind of gift good dads give their daughters. I fall more in love on a daily basis, and through my husband’s eyes I see Jesus.

I guess, all this to say, thank you daddy.

Chili’s, Ministry, and Changes

It is almost midnight. I’m sitting in the office at my job, the sounds of Bellarive worship and ticking clocks have been threatening to put me to sleep. An hour ago I put to bed 8 precious girls. I wished them good night and sweet dreams, and switched off the lights after they left to their bedrooms. I picked up every mess that was left in this big house and checked every door and many windows, making sure that these precious girls and I would be safe through the night.

This is the night shift of my new job. My mom instincts kick into gear during night shift. I make sure the girls are happy and ready for sleep, clean up their late night messes, check on them throughout the night, and provide for them whatever they may need: medicine for a cold, late night conversations, more blankets to feel comfortable. Then when 6am rolls around I wake before anyone else, making sure the girls get their morning medications, eat breakfast, and on weekdays, make it to the school bus on time and with everything they need.

When I was 14 years old I got my first job in the restaurant industry as a busser. That was where my family started for as long as I had known. All my cousins and my older brother started off in restaurants. Ten years later, and I am still in the restaurant industry. I took a five month break to try retail (no.), added some other jobs on top of my restaurant jobs along the way, and took a summer away from for an internship in ministry. Other than that, restaurants restaurants restaurants.

I have met countless kind strangers. I have been encouraged. I have made connections. I have had the privilege to pray with people I had only spoken a handful of words to. I have made great friends through the shared struggle of the restaurant life. I have learned so many things about how to treat people and about common decency. I have grown in patience, maturity, endurance, conversation, multi-tasking, striving for excellence, and learning how to take a chill pill and realize that what is happening in this moment is not the entirety of my existence. I have learned how to accept things as unchangeable when they really are, and how to recognize when things simply don’t matter.

But I have also gained several pet peeves. I have worked 16 hour non-stop shifts in which I sat down for a total of two minutes. I have hurt in every part of my body, had to deal with constantly aching wrists and hands. I have cost my bosses plenty for having to replace dishes that have fallen victim to my clumsiness. My arms, hands, and face have been scarred from burns. I have even had a black eye and bruised cheek for a week because of work. I have been yelled at and had 50 year old men put their finger in my face and call me ugly names. I have been treated as less than human on countless occasions. On the roughest of shifts I have cried.

And it is simply not worth it anymore.

For a long time I have been feeling empty. God has been showing me he has created me for greatness, and I have been left feeling incompetent. I have been leaving work feeling completely unfulfilled and unsatisfied. I have been yearning to do something important, something that matters. Yes, we all love to go out to eat sometimes, but in the grand scheme of things, what happens in restaurants really does not matter. I have been so tired of the same small talk, the same duties, the routine that wears me out in every way. On my best nights, I have been wanting something else.

I finally started to put that into action about a month ago when I found a new job at a group home. I care for 10 girls with pasts so incredibly heartbreaking yet so deeply inspiring all at the same time. Since beginning this job, my wonderful husband has begun to notice more joy in my life. He has a better time in sending me off to work each day, knowing that I’m doing something that matters. But for the last month I have been doing both jobs “part time” (closer to full time with both), and that was one of my worst ideas. I have not had time to do things that fill me up, which gives me less to pour out onto these young girls. I have not seen much of my husband at all, and we didn’t marry each other just to sleep in the same bed at night. I have been so tired that I am doing neither job well. I have worked this many hours before… as a single woman with simple jobs. I have worked this much while taking 20 hours of school… as a single woman with simple jobs. But my work in a group home, in ministry, is not simple. It takes every part of me and more of me than any job I have ever done. I can’t do this job well while still working so many hours at my other job and not making time for me, which is why this week I let my bosses at Chili’s know that I will be leaving. This may not seem blog-worthy, or like a big deal to anyone, but to me it is monumental.

I am someone who does not do so well during change. Getting married and moving to Denver (WHOA BIG CHANGES) has left me feeling lonely and sad much of the past nine months, and it has nothing to do with either marriage or Denver. Both are so wonderful. It has to do with change. As hard as I try, adjusting to big life changes does not come naturally to me; I usually have a pretty hard time with it. Which is one of the major reasons I have been working in the restaurant industry for so long, and have been at Chili’s for three and a half years. So, leaving Chili’s is terrifying to me. Serving is the one thing that I know for a fact that I am good at and able to succeed in. It gives me stability and routine (I know, I mentioned hating that routine earlier), which I crave. No matter what surprises may come, I can pretty much predict how my week is going to go when I am serving. And no matter how bad it gets, I get to leave the job at the job and forget about it during my time off.

Working at this group home, really beginning my journey in ministry, is NOT something that I know for a fact that I am good at and able to succeed in. It is completely unpredictable much of the time, and it is a job that I have to take home with me. It is a new challenge every day, and it tests me in many ways. These are all things that I have always wanted in my job, things I was craving but not getting at Chili’s, but that does not make them any less intimidating. I am confident in God’s call on my life to do things that matter, and in my soul I know that he will equip me in every step along the way. I know that it is not what I do that matters at all, but what he does through me. But that does not make this job any less intimidating.

We can’t pretend it’s not there… money. I am going from a job where I make good money to a job where I make half. I won’t go home with cash every night, and I won’t be able to pick up shifts last minute to make that last little bit of rent. I will truly have to trust God with my finances because I don’t know how we are going to make it with my income being cut in half. And my finances are what I have consistently had the hardest time trusting the Lord with. I was raised to be an independent woman and not have to depend on anyone financially, and now I’m having the hardest time shaking that mindset. Even though I know that my income is not mine.

As I work my last shifts at Chili’s I am praying for many things: provision, strength to trust, wisdom to know what I AND my husband need from me, boldness to walk out of Chili’s and never to return to the restaurant industry because of its temptations of money, routine, flexibility, or any other reason. Chili’s is NOT what I was made for. Greatness is.

I used to have so many dreams, and have put them on the back burner for far too long… God, grant me the courage to chase them wholeheartedly. For you did not give me a spirit of timidity and fear, but of love and power.

Men and Body Image

My husband likes to call me things like “gorgeous” and “sexy”, but I don’t believe he sees me that way, and I don’t blame him.

About a year ago, during our engagement, he and I were alone in my little brother’s bedroom. My parents’ house holds a lot of people in not very much space, so it’s always difficult to find privacy. I don’t remember the context of the situation at all- what we were talking about, why we were having alone time- I only remember this one sentence he said to me that is still stuck with me. He said, “It would be nice if you were thin.”

In the moment that was said I was 5 feet tall and encroaching upon 130 pounds. The year before, when my now husband and I met, I was 115 pounds, closer to where I “should” be, based on my petite frame.

Of course what he said hurt my feelings and I said one thing to him: I wasn’t sure I forgave him. After a while it no longer hurt me, but I knew that it would stick with me. I knew that his words would stay.

Several months later, only about two weeks after our wedding, I had broken the 130 mark, and I was at 135 pounds when he told me I should try to lose weight. That conversation didn’t last long because I was determined not to enter this marriage unhappy with each other physically. I brushed it off and tried to pretend he never said it. I knew I was gaining weight for a number of reasons, but I thought I could work it off.

Fast forward a few more months to just a few weeks ago. My husband and I were traveling home for the holidays, and towards the end of our trip I started a discussion about my weight. For a couple of months I had been feeling insecure to the point I was embarrassed to undress in front of my husband, and he knew this was happening. I was still a small five feet tall, but now 145 pounds, the heaviest I had ever been, and 30-40 pounds above where I was supposed to be, again, based on my petite frame. I was expressing my frustration at my weight gain and inability to work it off. He knew about the ways I looked at myself in the mirror with discontent and yearned to be smaller, and I was trying to express my unhappiness in words. I also told him I wanted to be thinner for him. My husband is a very attractive man who deserves a very attractive woman at his side. But instead of love and encouragement, he responded similar to the way he had earlier in the year. He said, “I wish you were the size you were when I met you.”

I broke down. I was hurt that I had a husband who didn’t find me sexy. I was angry that at my lowest point when all I needed was some love, he opted for the opposite. I could no longer ignore his “suggestion” for me to lose weight from a few months earlier. But these emotions didn’t last as long as the anger I immediately felt toward our whole country.

I have never been thin. According to my doctors I have been overweight my whole life, but I really am not that big. I would not call myself fat by any measure. Yes, I have plenty of fat on my body that doesn’t belong, but I wouldn’t necessarily look at a woman my size and say that she was fat. However, I have felt how it feels to be a fat woman in this society.

Before my husband came along I dated a lot of boys. Every single guy that ever came into my life expressed their unhappiness with my body. Some were gentler than others about it, but they all said it. Some were encouraging, helping me get into a healthier lifestyle; others were harsh, pointing out better looking girls on the street and comparing my body with theirs. It was always hard for me to understand- I wasn’t fat! The best thing that was said to me, though, was by one guy I was interested in, who said “You may not have the best curves but you have confidence, and that’s worth far more. Never confuse skinny with beautiful.” But I was still not “hot enough” to date him (his words).

Like most young girls, I once had a dream of being a ballerina. I went to one ballet/tap class where I had to wear a skin hugging leotard. My mom took me to the class and I walked into the changing room filled with excitement. As I put on the outfit, however, that excitement faded. I had caught a glimpse of the other girls as I walked into the changing room and as soon as I started to change I noticed the outfit did not look the same on me as it did on them. I saw curves where they shouldn’t have been and rolls in my stomach, already feeling embarrassed before I exited the changing room. The black leotard seemed as if it was out to get me and expose all my flaws. All I remember about the rest of that class was that I didn’t fit in. As much as I wanted to be a ballerina, I didn’t look like one. In that moment, as a young girl less than ten years old, I discovered what insecurity was. I never returned to the dance class for that reason, and my ballerina dreams died instantly. Now, as a 23 year old woman, one of my greatest desires is to learn how to dance.

My husband is one of the best people I know. He is always encouraging and loving and kind and gentle. There are so many good things to say about him and not one negative thing, except maybe that he spills things on the bedspread. He has apologized up and down for the ways he has hurt me with his words, and has genuinely tried to take them back. He loves me, every part of me, and I know this. I don’t think it is his fault he is unsatisfied with my body.

In the moments after he expressed his dissatisfaction, after I got over the idea that my husband thinks I’m fat, all I could think was “Do we really live in a society where our men are trained to love only one body size?!” And we do!

We talk so much about how our girls are taught to be dissatisfied with imperfect bodies and to do everything possible to obtain this thin, tight, flawless body. We live in a day where eating disorders are no longer taboo; they are common.

And what has this done to our men? It is also teaching them that there is only one acceptable and beautiful body type. It is showing them images on a computer screen designed to create lust and lure them into an ideal world where every woman is desirable and attainable, and they all look the same. The advertisements of stick thin women are not only reaching us and telling us our bodies are not beautiful, they are reaching our men and telling them this is beautiful. This is what to look for in a woman, this is what YOU can have.

We live in a society that is training our men how and what to lust after and to desire. We live in a society that is training our men to hate imperfection. We complain that our bodies are unaccepted, yet we continue to take off our clothes and place our perfect bodies in mens’ magazines, cologne commercials, video game advertisements. We are teaching them that this is what they want.

And I don’t know how to stop it, how to make the vicious cycle end, but I know that it needs to. Otherwise we are going to have a lot more broken women AND men.

It has been a few weeks since my husband said that to me, and I am still angry. I have gained weight over the last year mostly because of health issues that I can do almost nothing about, and I have been trying SO HARD to lose it, but I am not unhealthy. Despite what the world we lives in tells him, my husband sees this and he does a wonderful job of loving me through all of it. He knows where his flaws lie, and we know know where mine lie, and they are not in our physical selves.

All I can do through all of this is continue to love others, to learn to accept my imperfections, and to believe my husband when he compliments me, to let myself be loved.

As far as how to change this, I haven’t quite figured that out yet.