Finding Home

Home (1).png

Steam from my coffee fogged my glasses. After padding back to my bed after hours spent rocking my early-riser, I found my flannel sheets cold and uninviting. I love having the house to myself in these quiet morning hours, and that longing overruled any chance at returning to sleep. I was up for the day.

I made oatmeal and frothed cream for my coffee, feeling lucky on this icy morning when most of my county was without power. I lit a pine candle, its wax nearly gone, and sat down to write, hoping my words would offer direction. I had some big things to sort out.

“… this is what good writing allows us to notice sometimes. You can see the underlying essence only when you strip away the busyness, and then some surprising connections appear” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 84).

Dancing is complicated when there are two leads. My heart is dreaming, but my mind is the voice of reason. I feel God’s tug on my heart, but I can’t visualize the next step. I’m tied to a place I was called over a dozen years ago, and now here I am, in a completely different season of life, still fulfilling that pursuit. God planted a different calling in my heart as a child, and I yearn to water it, nourish it, and allow it to thrive. Is God calling me to move back home? If I move home, will I become that version of myself– the dreamer, the creative?

How do I embrace the risk of stepping out in faith when I am not a risk-taker? Is my hesitation from a place of fear of disappointing myself, other people, or God? Or is it a fear that I will lose my spot if I give it up and then fail?

Watching others step out in faith offers me hope as I see God bless their efforts. I look for answers from other people when His Word is where I need to be.

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:2, NIV)

While I cling proudly to my area code of origin, I’m not feeling called to return there right now. My heart is here, with my friends, my church, and my boys’ entire lives.

I don’t know where you’re leading me, Lord. Clearly you are stirring my heart, drawing me out of complacency. You recently gifted me two ice days at home with my boys — we took things slowly. We ate lunch together, read books, and worked on creative projects. I am happier having stayed at home with them those days. My time with them wasn’t relegated to the few hours between homework and bedtime, dominated by the routines of homework, piano, dinner, bath, reading, and sleep. These windows offer me glimpses of a different life.

The more margin I make to write, the more strongly I feel God tugging on my heartstrings.

To simplify. 

To let something go.

To live smaller so that I can live bigger.

To open my eyes more, to see the world.

How do I surrender when I’m not sure where to step?

I know that “how” is not for me to understand, but I grant myself permission to write out my dreams. I list my questions, my concerns, and my doubts. What can I do now? I write four action steps ending with, “Continue to listen and pray.”

Lord, where am I supposed to go to follow You? Where do I feel your presence? What gifts lie dormant as I yearn for a quiet space to draw them out? Lately I’ve heard the message, “go where the love is.” I’m struggling to discern exactly where that is when we have family and friends — loved ones– in so many different places. Is it about the actual decision, Lord, or the process? I can’t stop thinking about all the small details and logistics, and I need you to show me where home is. Amen.

What is home?

“The Definition of Home. Be it ever so humble, it’s more than just a place. It’s also an idea — one where the heart is.” Verlyn Kinkenbord

Whenever I return to my childhood home, I stop in all my favorite places. I remember the traditions and routines of my youth. Those traditions allow me to relive my memories through a more-experienced perspective and offers me a chance to invite my husband and children into my past.

As I grow older, I also crave for my boys to experience my childhood traditions. Does that mean I need to move back home to recreate those opportunities? For a moment, I feel homesick, second-guessing the life we’ve created here over the last decade. But when I sit down to list all of the places where my heart is now, it’s in the life we’ve built here. I reflect on words I associate with home as I allow God to guide my heart: hygge, sanctuary, comfort, safety, family, gratitude.

Home | the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household; (verb) — of an animal, return by instinct to its territory after leaving it

I find home in writing. I’m homesick for this first calling, homesick to get back to a place of feeling fulfilled in my work. My heart bursts with a longing to create. Until I sat down to write, I assumed I should be looking for a new house in a familiar town. But for all the perusing real estate apps I’ve been doing, I’m not going to find home listed there. Home arrives with my pen against the page, soft music playing, a candle flickering nearby. Home is the time spent listening to God.

“A black man at my church, who is nearing one hundred thundered last Sunday, ‘God is your home,’ and I pass this on mostly because all the interesting characters I’ve ever worked with– including myself– have had at their center a feeling of otherness, of homesickness. And it’s wonderful to watch someone finally open that forbidden door that has kept him or her away. What gets exposed is not people’s baseness but their humanity. It turns out that the truth, or reality, is our home” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 200).

Lord, I don’t want to present you with plans. I pray that you offer me the next step. Where do I look? Where can I find the breathing room to savor what I have here? What if I have to unravel all the little pieces I’ve worked into place? I surrender these questions to you, Lord. Amen.

God isn’t giving me a next step–not yet, anyway. He is drawing me home–here, at this writing desk– to keep going, to keep writing, to keep bringing myself closer to Him in these quiet moments. God’s welcome mat is always out, ready to receive us, to invite us into His presence. The pineapple of hospitality hangs on His door, no matter the season. 

I am homesick for that younger version of myself. For the little girl who not only dreamed of writing, but did it with confidence. She wrote books with her best friend in second grade. She wrote action stories with her next door neighbor in 4th grade. She won countless writing contests and did all of this without self-doubt or inhibition, only the pure joy that comes with doing what she loved.

Naysayers tried to discourage me when I wanted to be a photographer, a teacher, and so many other ambitions. “Everyone wants to do that, you’ll never succeed” they challenged, or “You don’t want to do that.” But nothing has ever discouraged me from writing, not even the rejection letters.

No, my roadblock in writing is finding uninterrupted time. I constantly seek the quiet space I need to draw out my very deepest thoughts, longing to make those connections, and I become anxious knowing that other commitments demand my attention or interrupt. Morning quiet time is never long enough — my boys are awake and asking for breakfast, and my concentration is lost, my attention demanded elsewhere in the rush to get out the door to work and school.

I am so desperate for a retreat alone to spend time in quiet reflection over the life we’ve created. I have so much to process. With seven consecutive years of pregnancy and breastfeeding with no break, I’m homesick for alone time. I’m homesick for me, for the girl I once was before motherhood took over. I struggle finding the words to explain it to people who don’t understand. Even now, I’m balancing a toddler in my lap as I type an essay I’ve been working on for weeks.

Passion | pati (Latin) – to suffer | a strong and barely controllable emotion; an intense desire or enthusiasm for something

This longing for home is a desire for the time and space to write, think, and be in my head, and somewhere along the way I’ve come to believe that unraveling all that I have accomplished is going to take me back to that place. But it won’t. I have to advocate for it, because no one else will. Others continue to stack demands on my time if I allow it. Work obligations suffocate my quiet time.

When I was little, I placed so much expectation on my birthdays that I often met the day a little sad that it had finally arrived and thus was already ending. I wanted it to go by slowly and perfectly after a year’s worth of anticipation. In the same way, I am already putting so much pressure on this elusive writing retreat that I’m going to take once my toddler is weaned. I’m so afraid that once it is here, it will vanish too quickly, and that it won’t have been enough. That I’ll get sick, or that one of my kids will get sick, or that I’ll feel self-indulgent and invite my family along at the last moment because they won’t understand why Mommy needs space alone. But the truth is, I need time to be home. To be that little girl who loved to write, and had all the time in the world to get lost in doing what she loved the most, embracing God’s gift before she knew it was a calling.

How Do I Know What Is Next?

How do I Know What is next_

“Here,” I navigated from the passenger seat, gesturing to the off-ramp for a scenic overlook along the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rain continued to pelt the glassy interstate roads as my husband guided our Toyota into the parking lot, every spot available on this chilly, rainy evening.

It was early November before the time change. Fall’s colors had peaked later than expected after unprecedented months of rain. I was determined to see the leaves before the season’s finale and the onslaught of winter. I composed a few pictures, drenched by the downpour and racing the setting light.

The five of us were the only souls at the overlook, as a heavy fog whited-out any chance at a view and rain threatened anyone else away.

The next morning, the view would be clear, and this same scenic overlook would buzz with activity. But this evening, I stood, ankle-deep in a puddle, bracing my camera beneath my umbrella even as the rain gushed sideways against me.

I showed up hoping to see even a fleeting view of autumn color–and for the unique beauty that only fog can create. My family, waiting a few yards away inside our warm, dry car, might not have understood. Other folks driving by must have wondered why a lone car was stopped at a foggy overlook. But I saw past their dismissal of the scene before me.

Fog has a way of isolating the closest object. Honing in on the lone tree before me, I noticed its stand-alone beauty against the backdrop of fog, its edges a silhouette of color against the otherwise blurry sky. Hours later, visitors–my family included–would flock to this very spot, looking beyond that tree to the bigger picture. But when I returned, I still appreciated the detail of that tree, and I remembered the journey I took to see it, the puddles I waded though and the feel of the cold rain against my fingers.

I tend to pray for the big picture. I’m a detail-oriented person, and left to my own, I’d jump in to piece them together if I only knew the big picture. But God doesn’t want me to work like that. He needs me to need Him in this journey. He needs me to do the work of showing up, opening my heart to the one thing He is choosing to spotlight this time, the very next thing along my path.

What if, instead of waiting for the grand view, we could listen and be obedient to the next clear directive? With one piece of clarity, He gives us the gift of direction and affirms our continued need for His presence.

In my current season, I’m standing before a great fog, and God is waiting for my obedience. My obedience comes in accepting this one beautiful detail before me as enough. While God has the ability to put on a spectacular autumn show, the one fiery tree is enough to warrant my undivided attention. With the promise He brings through a single detail, He reveals my next step. It is up to me to listen and notice.

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” (Ephesians 5:13, NIV). 

My Writing Says it Best

My Writing says it best

A flame flickers behind the glass encasing the autumn candle nestled on the farmhouse coffee table where I probably shouldn’t be resting my feet. Worship music emits softly from the boombox radio on the bottom shelf of a curated bookcase, and the hesitant notes of my six-year-old’s piano lesson round the corner into this cozy nook where I wait for him to finish his lesson. I don’t want to rush it. It’s so easy to feel Jesus in this space. God doesn’t mind that there’s a lesson going on in the other room, or that I brought a book to read. He knows that I am a captive audience, thirsty for His own lesson. He chose to call me here, on this plush white couch, and put weight into the tears I’ve been holding at bay all day in what becomes a beautiful release.

Borrowing a phrase from a small counseling group I facilitated this afternoon with six-year-olds, today felt like a total “wipeout.” I missed every opportunity to ask for help, to vent — I couldn’t summon all my troubled thoughts and corral them into words in time for an adequate response that would do any justice to my feelings, so I pretended like everything was okay with a simple “I’m fine” or shake of my head. If I paused to collect my thoughts, I feared someone would find discomfort in the silence, jumping in to speak for me.

A note in my Bible beside James 1:2-3 presents the idea of “productive pain” — and God has a way of getting to my heart when I am hurting. In the same way that He makes His presence known when I need rest — when I long to, as Emily P. Freeman says, “sit down on the inside” — when my mind is racing. I need rest. Mostly though, I need solace.

solace | comfort or consolation in a time of sadness

I’m not good at communicating my inner world. Words are my most valued commodity and I have always used them sparingly and with great consideration. I calculate how every word is presented, I anticipate its delivery and reception before it is formed on my lips. I place a great weight on my words, because they represent the deepest part of me. And so in order for me to share my heart with someone else, I need a quiet place to stir my heart to form exactly what it is I’m trying to express. I’ve been misunderstood enough to know that I need to be earnest in my intentions, direct with my words, and honest with my thoughts. I’ve been told countless times, “You don’t say much, but when you do, it is so powerful.”

Sometime I just want to shake my own freckled shoulders and look into my big blue eyes: “Sweet girl, just SAY what you want to say instead of pretending like the status quo does not bother you. Your frustration later will not be worth it, the processing over and over how you should have responded, formulating better words with each new draft. Just say it. Just say it! Give feet to those precious wishes on your heart that don’t want to be camped there forever.”

I used to think that my biggest pet-peeve was a “story-topper,” someone who swoops in to tell of a bigger and better experience they had even as I stumble over my own storyline. Comedian Brian Regan jokes that he wishes he could just respond to those people with, “I walked on the moon.” Boom. Mic drop.

But as I get older, I begin to realize that this happens often between introverts and extroverts, when the latter takes advantage of a segue to have the floor and the former lets it happen, the ever-patient listener. I leave the conversation feeling used, a professional listener and an introvert by nature. I’m learning that my deepest thoughts require a time and a place — a quiet, slow, deep place– for me to draw them out in hopes that they will resonate and be validated.

Besides my husband, I didn’t tell anyone when I initially found my tumor last year. I’m fairly private by nature, but that’s because sometimes I can’t handle other people’s reactions on the spot. I’m also afraid of becoming an emotional wreck and losing my opportunity for authentic words, even though my emotions would represent even more authenticity. I don’t want to burden someone else with my troubles. I have a hard time asking for help.

I didn’t tell anyone the last time I changed jobs, either — at the time, I was reading through a Bible study that advised against announcing big prayer requests. (Seriously, it really said that.) Ever the rule-follower, I still hesitate to share big news. In the next few weeks, I’ll begin to hear back from several opportunities, ideas I’ve planted, so to speak, but in order to protect myself, I limit my sharing and thus can avoid having to follow-up with disappointing news if my ideas don’t come to fruition or aren’t accepted readily.

I was quick to tell three people when I first became pregnant in 2011 and then I had to relive the subsequent heartbreak when I had to tell all three people that I had lost the baby. My heart of hearts longs to spill forth, but I keep my circles small.

In my mind, it’s easier to present a tidy analysis after the fact, once I’ve had time for the dust to settle and to process my own experiences and feelings before I attempt to invite another person along.

I know, I know –this muddy thinking is all kinds of wrong. It isn’t healthy.

This raw place I require to process comes only in deep introspection, and it’s hard for me to get there in my everyday life with the constant noise at home and at work. After all three boys are asleep, I’m physically exhausted, my resources drained even when my heart is ready for a slow opening. I long to spend time pouring over my thoughts the way apple cider is best when mulled slowly over an open flame.

mull |

  1. think about (a fact, proposal, or request) deeply and at length.
  2.  warm (a beverage, especially wine, beer, or cider) and add spices and sweetening to it.

A text from a friend today had me in tears. “If you need someone to talk to, I’m all ears.” Its sentiment was sweet, simple, and affirming. Those words were life-giving as I pondered how I could even begin to summon all my fears into a coherent stream of thought. In her offer alone, I felt validated. Even as I fear that it would cheapen my thoughts to attempt to explain them. I fear I’d lose confidence unless I had the proper space to rehearse, and knowing I can’t do that leaves me frustrated with myself, even as I know my gift is in my written word.

I’ll admit, in my anger today, I did not have immediate access to what helps me best cope. I was standing in the misty rain, replaying the day’s criticisms and frustrations and feeling ashamed. I had my son with me and 100 sets of eyes driving past me, and it took every once of professionalism I could muster to stand there and pretend that I was okay, to go through the motions of my job and act like it’s all okay when my inner world was a fiery chaos — everything I’ve been keeping inside for a very long time. Too much to even relate in a single blog post.

And I need a break so desperately. To plan my next steps. I need a spiritual retreat where I can listen to God and just be with Him. Even though I know it is not God that has taken a step back from me, I blame myself for refusing His persistent call over the past few years. I know I’ve been too far from Him lately. Burning the candle at both ends, I give, give, give, but filling myself with Him feels too selfish, too indulgent, even though I know it’s ridiculous even as I type those words in this vulnerable place. Lately I have put my focus on what comes most easily and yields results most quickly, instead of allowing space for His slow process.

This afternoon I finally arrived home with my oldest, who, luckily, thrives on routine and sat right down to finish homework and squeeze in one last practice before his piano lesson. I had already arranged for my husband to pick up the younger kids from the sitter, so I stole a few minutes to myself in an attempt to reset my surly attitude. I set my campfire mug of hot pumpkin coffee on the side table I procured from HomeGoods for such a time as this and collapsed into my favorite paisley chair in my library. I adjusted my earbuds and accepted the invitation of my Bible’s pages, my pen poised over blank pages of my own. This was the fastest path to damage control I knew in this season. It also happens to be my favorite.

I may not be the best at thinking of my feet, but I know recovery. Perhaps that is why people expect so much of me– I can present a neat package if left alone. I’m constantly wondering whether I set the bar too high for myself. I get so jealous of young moms who already have the wisdom to recognize when they need a break, but even moreso, when they give themselves permission to take it and embrace it fully and unapologetically. I question why I can’t do that for myself even as I feel like I juggle more and more despite my best intentions to simplify life with three little boys. I have had such a hard time this year articulating this sentiment without hurting someone’s feelings, but I saw it written best here:

“To protect your energy it is ok for you to say no, and have it not be because you are too busy, but because you don’t want to be too busy” (@mamabirdandco, Instagram post 10.6.18).

Last year I went to The Homestead for four days and took my nursing baby with me. It was for a work conference, and I carried him in my Tula to every session. That was the closest I’ve come to alone time. But a solo retreat sans babies? A girls’ weekend? A vacation with just my husband? I feel like I could have never treated myself to such indulgences — I’ve been pregnant, miscarrying, or nursing with no break since June 2011 and have not had a weekend to myself, although I desperately need one. It’s taxing for an introvert like me, to be so needed by little ones, physically, mentally, and emotionally, no matter how accessible and approachable I seem. I dream of places I might go on a solo retreat once I am able, to stake out a table in a small European cafe to write or explore the cobbled streets of faraway places.

As a mother, I am always responsible for someone. I may be in my library with earbuds in, but I’m aware of what my son is doing in the next room and the reality that my younger boys are both still at the babysitter’s. I know I’ll have to wrap this up in about ten minutes to rush off to the next thing. I am always, always responsible. It seems to come with the territory. At work, even if I want to take off any amount of time, I have to write substitute plans, which takes hours and is usually not worth the advance effort — ask almost any teacher!

“What if?”

I spend a few minutes allowing myself to entertain dreams onto the fresh thin lines of a new set of mini notebooks, four bound together in one unit by camel-colored leather branded simply with the word “Notes.” I write out the most audacious of thoughts, in rambling form, to think about later. Seven ideas in all.

Seven “What ifs?”

I notice that if even one of these come true, the rest would fall into place. And that is both exciting and terrifying.

God, help me to commit to writing out my prayers to you more frequently. To find the quiet places and carve the time to rest in them, even if “rest” means a brain dump to quiet my thoughts, knowing that are out on paper and in your care. Lord, I spend an inordinate amount of time yearning for quiet and solitude, but also SOLACE, to validate my racing thoughts and corral my ideas into coherent sentences. I have always been able to make sense of them through my writing. And I don’t know where the disconnect falls, but writing brings forth personal acceptance, depth, and raw emotion–my own personal truths. Before I even write a word it is composed in my heart, ready to deliver to the paper. It’s as if the message is sent to the pen instead of my mouth. Because I know the paper is ready and braced to receive my words in a way that human nature might not be ready for. I worry too much about how my words might be received by another person, so they (usually) leave my lips highly filtered and thus drastically altered in translation. This is the start of my frustration in trying to audibly process all that is spiraling in my inner world. How do I dare convey this to another soul? This raw, unfiltered , deepest version of me? Do I dare share it with the world? I bring it to you, Lord, in my writing, and thus you use my frustration, even, to draw me closer to you. And maybe that is its purpose, after all. “Productive pain.” Amen. 

 

 

When God Restores Weakness with Renewed Purpose: Living with Spondylolisthesis

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Time is often conveniently and unofficially measured by milestones. If we want to be technical, we can sometimes quantify those milestones.

  • Seventy: My grandparents just kicked off the start of their 70th year of marriage together, the official milestone only a year away.
  • Ten: the number of years I have been a School Counselor. Also the wedding anniversary we just celebrated on a hot air balloon ride!
  • Seven: My body has been pregnant, miscarrying, or nursing for over seven years with no break. The end of this streak will be an emotional one, simultaneously bittersweet and freeing. It will be marked not only by the passage of time but by all the memories and moments in between. 
  • Six: The number of years we have been cloth diapering! (And parenting!)

Oftentimes, we mark time with “before and after” a major event, a critical turning point in our stories. Schooling, births, accidents, losses, jobs, moves. Befores and afters. Achievements. Milestones. 

Today would otherwise pass by, a normal day, unacknowledged for what it is to anyone but me. But July 16, 2018 delivers its own silent milestone. Today marks the day I have lived exactly half my life with a cadaver bone in my body. Someone’s priceless donation holds my spine in place, downgrading my Grade 4 spondylolisthesis diagnosis to a Grade 2 so that I could live a stronger life. Seventeen years ago. 6,209 days ago. July 16, 2001 separated all things “pre-op” from “post-op.” The day I had to quit 13 years of ballet, give up a minor role in my recital, and quit my Cross Country team for good.

That morning, just after being prayed over by my pastor, I received both an allograft and an autograft. An allograft is formed from donated bone, and an autograft is harvested from the patient–in my case, grafted from my hip through the same large incision, a once-seering-red scar now the silvery pink prime meridian of my back. As a teenager undergoing a surgery typically performed on an octogenarian, the bone in my hip was still thick enough to scoop from the iliac crest and form around the new fusion, which would later facilitate and support new growth.

My own bone was repurposed, engineered by God for its first 17 years as an unassuming but important piece of my hip, yet all the while He knew it would later help anchor the weakest crux in my body.

Unbeknownst to my 17-year-old self, this new anchor would grow and strengthen my spine to support some of the most life-giving work my body would ever do. Dancing with my husband at our wedding. Carrying and birthing babies. Running marathons. Nursing babies. Sitting with students at school during their most vulnerable emotional breakdowns. And all my life yet to come.

It would also allow me freedom. I can continue things I used to love and have new adventures with my family. My “after” includes long-distance running and even a semester of ballet in college. It’s a handstand on the Four Corners, a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. Hiking Glacier National Park and walking the streets of Dublin, Ireland. Exploring Arches National Park and climbing the steps to the top of the Griffin roller coaster at Busch Gardens. And just this week, climbing into the wicker gondola of a hot air balloon just before its launch and climbing back out after a safe landing.

As Christians, we are each a “before and after” story. Christ rescued us from the sins of our former lives, building us and refining our gifts to serve His kingdom purposes. Our gifts were dormant, but it took the element of renewed purpose to draw them out. He gives us freedom from our past sins, even as we continue to fall short.

The “Ortho Info” website describes an allograft for a spinal fusion as acting “as a bridge that allows the natural bone to grow through its surface.” God breathed new life into that cadaverous bone, designating it to strengthen all the other working parts of my body, each serving a specific and unique purpose but working in tandem. It fostered new growth and restoration while continuing to strengthen and refine itself with newfound life and purpose.

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (NIV, Romans 12:4-5)

Before we can minister to others, we have to care for our own spiritual well-being. That restoration comes through time in the Word and time spent in prayer with God, through fellowship with others, through acts of worship. It is necessary and restorative in times of both weakness and strength, in times of both confidence and of insecurity.

I don’t know whose life my cadaver bone supported before mine. I don’t even know whether it was in a girl or boy, man or woman, or how long it lived. I don’t know the circumstances that ended its first purpose, or what led the person to commit to part with it. I don’t know where it traveled or what adventures it’s been on. But I met it with gratefulness and a sense of renewal that it would restore a failing part of me.

@tendingwild
ashleybartley.com.png

Invisible to the naked eye, I can feel it. I can still see its eerie glow on my x-rays, my own bones dull in comparison, a strong new stake fusing my lumbar to my sacrum. That very spot on a good day is a dull ache, on a bad day creates a pain radiating down my left leg and stiffening my entire body. Lately, it has been the latter.

Spondylolisthesis is an invisible, painful disability I carry every day, accompanied by its cousins, scoliosis and painful sciatica. But just because it’s invisible to others doesn’t mean I need to ignore it. My routine maintenance fell to the back-burner right after I had my third baby a year ago. Driving 56 miles to and from the doctor with three little ones in tow on a regular basis just wasn’t a priority, although it should have been. Careful maintenance had usually kept the pain at bay. Specific, low-impact exercises during pregnancy stretched my piriformis enough to take pressure off my sciatic nerve, but since then, the pain is back with debilitating vengeance.

Healing this time will require frequent trips to the doctor, slow and careful stretching, and frequent ice. It will necessitate pulling out my orthotics to use not only for running, but all the time. I have flat feet, which push my pelvis forward, putting all the weight I carry on my lower back. Orthotics correct that misalignment by creating an artificial arch.

I also shudder, remembering the dreadful white plastic body brace I wore in high school. Anytime I had to bend or sit, I had to unlock a hinge that connected the brace around my torso to the brace down my leg. When the brace finally got to come off for good, I instinctively walked for months with one arm behind my back, protecting the vulnerable scarred area. My muscles would spasm against any slightest touch. I went to physical therapy after school every day to build back up the muscles of my left leg, encased in plastic so long, to match those of my right leg, which had to overcompensate. The massages at PT left me in tears. It was work, and I pushed through. Because of the brace, I learned to breathe differently and sit perfectly straight, which are ingrained habits even 17 years later. 

Our faith needs routine maintenance to remain a constant dialog with our Creator. We can’t take our faith for granted, because when we do, it becomes strained and weak. We become thirsty and forget to reach for a drink from our Healer. But when we get off-course, we can ask for help. We can bow in prayer, asking God to lead us back to Him. We can pull our Bibles off the shelf and allow His Word to lead us, and He will restore us again. He will support us at our weakest points and breathe new life into what feels bereft.

In what areas do you need His leadership now? Take a moment to pray over it. Allow God to point out your weak points, and listen for what He might be asking you to repurpose or restore so that you can continue to build His Kingdom.
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If you would like to know more about my journey in spite of spondylolisthesis, you can read herehereand here.

Seeking Contentment in Every Season

Seeking contentment

When was the last time you felt true contentment in your life?

For months now, I’ve relished a feeling of peace and contentment that I’ve been missing for years. But just recently, I feel like something is off, as if there’s a hole in my life, and I’m desperately trying to put my finger on the crux of it. Perhaps it’s a certain longing, knowing that the infant stages are slowly slipping through my fingers as I begin to purge my house of baby gear and infant boy clothes. And, if we’re being honest, the girl clothes I had been saving, just in case.

I go through phases of wondering what it is, trying to fill this longing myself.

Is it staying home with my baby? I pray relentlessly about that option, knowing that my heart wants nothing more.

Is it writing? Writing has always fulfilled me, and it’s the one dream that has remained constant since I was seven. I build a blog, start a new writing Instagram account, join a writer’s membership group, and submit articles to magazines. I write 62,000 words and then let it sit for two months. I debate about going to a conference with an all-star lineup of motivational author-speakers.

Is it throwing myself more into my school counselor role? I continue to build yet another Instragram platform and create content for my Teachers Pay Teachers store for other school counselors to use. I write a children’s book and keep it under wraps, wondering whether to seek out a publisher. I make a spreadsheet comparing different publishers.

Is it a combination of some of these things? Staying home and writing? I look into my options for opening a daycare in my home to fund my dreams but quickly realize that would not fulfill the longing in my heart, instead adding wear-and-tear on a house that’s already impossible to keep clean underneath three small boys and their messes.

Is it a new pet? I research cats, visit SPCAs, donate to local shelters, and fill out endless adoption applications all over the country. I clear my schedule for a last-minute trip to another state to meet a potential puppy to rehome, my family just one of several other families hoping to be considered. I take my boys to play with puppies both at the pet store and at a breeder’s farm, just to hone in on which breed/age might be the perfect to later adopt for our family from a rescue. My arms are empty, with nothing to show for it except a newfound cat allergy and 13 applications that were never quite fast enough despite relentless searching and refreshing.

I return to something that absolutely fulfills me, one of the fondest memories with each of my babies.

I commit to rocking my baby during his naps. It’s that simple. I turn on my essential oils diffuser, close the blackout curtains, and for two-to-three glorious hours every afternoon, I rock my sweet baby. Desperate to make up for all the naptimes I miss when I’m at work August through May, I attempt pack 10 months’ worth of snuggles into two months. I let my friends and neighbors know I’m not available in the afternoons for playdates. I race home from whatever summer morning adventure we’ve been on, obsessing over getting lunch on the table before noon because I know that around 12:15, the baby will start fussing from his highchair, anxious for his nap and that blissful quiet, one-on-one time with Mommy.

My older boys (ages 3 and 5) know not to disturb naptime, although that doesn’t stop them from running full-speed into the nursery, flinging the door open to tattle or ask for snacks a dozen different times in piercing whispers and whines. But the baby’s afternoon nap has become a sacred tradition in our home. My Hillsong playlist cued up on iHeart Radio and the scent of Sweet Orange diffusing in the nursery cue my baby’s whimpering to become giddy coos when we enter his darkened room. This time is just as important to him as it is for me, especially since he is the youngest of three little boys and cannot always have my full attention. He nurses and is asleep within seconds, it seems, but I don’t put him down in his crib. This is as beautiful a rest for me as it is for him. I never fall asleep– despite only sleeping 5 hours each night– instead, I marvel at how unfathomable God’s love is for me, as I rock my sweet boy. I know that one day, he’ll have dreams and goals of his own, but for now, his love and need for me is probably at its greatest. I also realize my mom’s love for me as I rock my baby the way that she rocked me. She always sang to me, no exceptions. I don’t always, if we’re being honest. I let iHeartRadio take care of the soundtrack most of the time.

The baby’s still-fuzzy newborn hair turns sweaty and strawberry blonde with the full weight of his melonhead pinching my left forearm. His baby toes are too adorable for words and I know that even as we rock, they’re quickly becoming dirty, stinky, little boy feet.

My heart is already sick knowing that these special moments will come to an end when I return to work on July 30, less than two months away. I’ll still have weekends, of course, but I’m afraid we’ll lose this bond once he’s back at a sitter and our weekends are full with family time.

I fiercely guard my sweet time with him. The house is almost quiet. I bury my nose in his soft cheek and marvel at the beauty of this baby. He was completely a gracious gift of God, one for whom, for a long time, I felt undeserving. So much on social media makes it seem like some mothers are more worthy of a pregnancy than others, that some babies are more of a miracle than others. That guilt has always ridden my pregnancies of the full joy I should have been embracing, along with the burden of fear of yet another miscarriage.

It took me years –and four pregnancies–to realize that I am responsible for my own feelings about these things. My wise sister told me during my 4th pregnancy that I was just as deserving of that pregnancy as anyone else. No exceptions. I’ve stopped trying to stifle my own joy to protect myself, to guard my heart from fully embracing the gift, one for which I’ve never felt deserving. I’ve stopped trying to please everyone at the expense of my own mental health. Because, for the most part, it’s just wasted energy, and will hurt my confidence and stamina as a mother.

As I rock, I still wonder about this longing in my heart. Ultimately, I am the only one who will pursue my dreams; I care the most about them. I am on this journey with God. Other people have their own paths, and while I have the beautiful option to encourage and support them, ultimately they are going to see their dreams through (or not), because they most likely care more about them than anyone else.

I wish I knew, six years ago, that family time is one of my most cherished gifts. I wish I knew that I could say no to other things–good things, even– to commit more time to family. I never realized that simple family time is just as valid a commitment as any appointment on my calendar. My oldest went to a sitter at only 7 weeks old because I didn’t know I could take 12 weeks of maternity leave. I’ll never get that time back.

I’ll never get it back.

So mama, take care of yourself. Look out for yourself, because no one else is going to walk God’s marvelous path for you. No one is going to pursue your dreams for you because you care about them the most. This includes your priorities. If rocking my baby to sleep is a priority, I treat it just as importantly as I would a doctor’s appointment, and I refuse to feel guilty or indulgent about it, because it is just as worthy an excuse as anything else. Our priorities are worth it. Our relationship with God is worth it. My 15-month-old is certainly worth it.

Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Feature image by Kathy Denton Photography