Holding to Empty Spaces


I plundered ahead in my chores. We were digging out from under mounds of dirty laundry, undone dishes, and still carrying an intense craving for sleep. Summer had been diagnosed with the flu the week before. We saw temperatures rise to 106, and had poured hours of time into seeking remedies online, and consulting doctors and nurses. We are so grateful we are all now healthy.

In an effort to maximize my time in the wake of this plague, I allowed Siri to read me the book of Ephesians while my robot vacuum cleaned my carpets and I folded clothes. Meanwhile, Baylor entertained Summer in the dog bed.

In an instant, I realized how little life I was absorbing. I was sitting in a powerful moment, yet life was passing me by. Yes, multitasking felt unbelievably good. But, in the haze of sleeplessness and an unreasonable desire to pair all of the socks, I realized I simply had my hands in too much.

I reflected on a recent conversation with my mother. I joined her for breakfast and asked if I could interview her for a blog series. She wrapped her cold hands around her coffee and responded to my first question with a statement that deeply struck my heart:

“Don’t miss it,” she said. “Your generation does a lot. And often, you try and do too much all at once. In your multitasking, you walk past powerful works of God without being changed and coming alive in the gifts He has for you in that very moment or season. Don’t get to the end of this life journey and realize you’ve missed it. Just say no to over commitment.”

She was right. How often do we allow one activity to happen at a time? How often do I isolate one subject and allow it to fully resonate with my 5 senses?

At this very moment I’m writing, listening to music, sipping a glass of wine, looking sporadically over Scripture, and eavesdropping on a conversation happening behind me. It’s rare that I do one of these activities at a time. And I know I’m not the only one.

We all walk around overwhelmingly distracted. We are numb to these distractions because this pace of living is now normal and expected. Expected by our kids, our culture, our schools, our families, our employers, our friends and our teachers. The concept of holding onto empty space feels like a wasted opportunity. 

Empty spaces such as vacant rooms, blank canvases, a blank TV screen, silence, and blank squares on a calendar are quickly filled lest we feel discomfort, fear of failing, or fear of missing out.

And, ironically, we are missing out.

In that moment, I paused Siri, halted the sock pairing, and turned off the vacuum. In the silence I felt God whisper, “Create more empty spaces.”

When I considered this experience later, I remembered a particular class I had when studying to become a mental health clinician. It was a class with one of my favorite professors, an older man with gray hair and the sweetest smile. He leaned against the table, looked at our small class, and folded his hands. He said,

“Silence will be one of your greatest assets in a therapy session. Don’t fill it. Silence can be your co-pilot and your mentor. You will quickly learn: silence is powerful. And no information is, indeed, information.”

I left this class with a new approach to helping others.

I began harnessing silence, which existed in many of my awkward moments of internships.

At the time, I was interning at a hospital. I was often the first person, other than the physician, who would sit with patients after they received devastating news: they had cancer, AIDS or ALS, their spouse had passed, their parent was diagnosed with a terminal illness, CPS was being called, or they awoke after a failed suicide attempt. You know, easy moments (This statement is dripping with sarcasm).

I’ll never forget meeting with a woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Her medical intervention was causing hallucinations and mental distress. I went in her room to conduct the typical assessment. Then, I sat next to her bed and allowed awkward silence, per the advice of my professor.

I did not try and answer questions for her or tell her that the hallucinations did not exist, I just sat. And enjoyed her. She was discharged and, as is typical with such hospital work, I did not expect to see her again.

Six weeks later she was readmitted. She called and requested me, by name, to her room. She was claiming that her IV stand was a man trying to attack her. Upon arriving to her room, I sat next to her bedside and allowed silence to fill the space. She looked beautiful. And tired. And so, very confused.

She looked at me for a while and after sitting for 3 excruciatingly awkward minutes of silence, she pulled a Bible out from under her hospital blankets. “Can you please read me this?” The Book was opened to Ephesians 6 and she pointed to the passage. I read it, and a dialogue opened up that still brings me to tears. Silence bred life and love that day.

In this season, I feel God asking me to intentionally invite this silence back into my life. Not just to help others, but to help me. And not just silence, but empty spaces in general. Empty blocks on my calendar. Empty pages. Empty rooms in my house. Empty places at my table. No background noise. Simplicity. Guiltless, beautiful, simplicity. 

I want this emptiness to act as my co-pilot and mentor, just as it has in my professional life.

This means I am starting to say no to play dates and coffee dates and grocery shopping. I have stopped doing some chores and my laundry is typically left unfolded in the dryer. I don’t always do the dishes nor do I have my typical Scripture reading with beautiful Bethel worship music filling the silent background. Nope. I sit in silence and Jesus shows up.

I realize this is a season, and life will not always carry on in this manner. But I’m enjoying what God has for me in the now. I’m enjoying the process of embracing empty spaces as my personal mentor and co-pilot.

I approach my time from a different angle these days. 

In the mornings, I now sit my toddler by me in a big, comfy chair. I sip my coffee and she holds her plastic coffee mug. I do not play music in the background. I try to place my phone across the room. I put all my books and my computer out of reach. I just look at her. I drink in her beauty and the precious moments that I’m getting with her. And, in this silence, she talks my ear off. She has started saying some words. She now sings. She laughs a laugh that would shatter the hardest heart. 

These moments are bringing me to tears as God ushers my heart through a process of coming alive and healing from the darkest year of my life.

In the coming weeks, I hope to share more about my journey over the last year. I hope to get to a place where I can utter words that feel so hard right now. I pray my fingers can dance across this keyboard and wrap words around the realities involving our journey through postpartum depression, when I visited the darkest corners of life I have ever known.

Today, to be with my family – in the noise and the silence – is a gift I almost missed. And so I can now, more than ever, appreciate soaking in the empty spaces alongside them.

In an effort to embrace empty spaces, I’ll be stepping away from blogging, snapchat, and Facebook for the month of April. I’m taking a healing vacation with my family. 

We are going to an empty island off the coast of NC where we will purposefully look to Jesus and celebrate what He has carried us through. We will celebrate our marriage and the strength we have today because of the battles this season held. We will celebrate our new-found understanding of Jesus’ resurrection power. And we will rejoice in our precious bond with our daughter, Summer. We will miss our furborn, Baylor, but he will be in good hands with his Uncle Nay.

May happens to be Postpartum Awareness month. Perhaps the Lord will help me process a bit of my journey so that I can help raise awareness and extend a hand of hope to other women suffering with PPD in the month of May, 

For now, I pray you all have a wonderful Easter and that you, too, may relish in the resurrection power Jesus offers and enjoy the empty spaces  life hands you.

Online Mama ~ English Dictionary

I recall the tears clouding my vision at 2AM as I rocked my inconsolable 3 week old. I was sleep deprived, still recovering from birth, and felt like a mommy failure. I consulted Google and Facebook pages to try and find answers. As if my tired brain could handle one more obstacle, I found the online community of moms using a language I had never seen. I needed a translator. Or, at the very least, one place to de-code this new language. After months of using the internet for guidance in my mothering journey, I do believe I may be nearly fluent, or at least conversational in this online mama language ;).

I hope this tool helps a new mama interpret her findings. I plan to continually update this dictionary.

Online Acronym ~ English

 

AAP – American Academy of Pediatrics

BM – Breast Milk

BF – Breast Feeding

BFN – Big Fat Negative (pregnancy test)

BFP – Big Fat Positive (pregnancy test)

BLW – Baby led weaning

BW – Baby Wise

CIO – Cry It Out

DC – Dear child

DD – Dear daughter

DF – Dairy Free

DH – Dear Husband

DP – Dear partner

DPO – Days Past Ovulation 

DS – Dear son

DSD – dear step daughter

DSS – Dear step son

DW – Dear Wife

DWT – Designated Wake Time

EBF – Exclusively Breast Fed

ETA – Edited to Add

F – Following (the person intends to follow future comments on the thread)

FTM – First Time Mom

FF – Formula Fed

GF- Gluten Free

HPT – Home Pregnancy Test

IBCLC – International Board Certified Lactation Consultant

IPT – Independent Play Time

LC – Lactation Consultant

LMP – Last Menstrual Period

LO – Little One

MC or M/C – Miscarriage

MOTN – Middle of the Night

MO – Month old

NBFR – Not Breast Feeding Related

OT – Off Topic

PG – Pregnant

PPD – Post Partum Depression

POAS – Pee On A Stick (pregnancy test)

R&P – Rock and Play

US and U/S – Ultrasound

SAHD – Stay At Home Dad

SAHM – Stay At Home Mom

SIDS – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

SF – Soy free

SMH – Shaking My Head

STTN – Sleep Through The Night

TBH – To Be Honest 

TIA – Thanks in Advance

TTC – Trying to Conceive 

VBAC – Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Section

WO – Week Old

WSS – What She Said

 

Have you happened upon another commonly used acronym online? Submit your request for an addition to the Online Mama ~ English Dictionary below. If you do not know the meaning, you may still submit and I can help find the translation.

Understanding The Millennial Mom

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When I first discovered I was pregnant, I did what any resourceful Millennial would do, I consulted the World Wide Web. “How far along am I?” I asked Google. “How big is my baby?” “When am I due?” “When do I call the doctor?” “How should I tell my husband?”

What I found online was unexpected.

I did not expect to come across countless contradicting articles. I did not expect AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) to issue, what felt like, 10 new safety standards a day. I did not expect to feel irrational pressure to abide by all the safety guidelines and modern philosophies of parenting. I did not expect the cruel world of mommy bullying. And I did not expect to have to essentially learn a new language to understand the resources I found online (Click here for my Online Mama ~ English Dictionary).

These surprising revelations led me to consider how the Millennial’s experience in this world has impacted our approach to parenting.

The millennial generation was given advanced tools to solve problems. From the age of 9 or 10, this generation had new technology and devices to reach one step beyond where the prior generation had landed. Expedited problem solving and product delivery became standard.

This generation was expected to use new processes for learning. It became vital to get the highest grade, engage in various extracurricular activities, get the right internship, and score high on the SAT to even be considered for college.

Most students in this generation spent 4-7 hours a night on homework, and 10 hours a week in extracurricular undertakings. This generation was taught to focus on the grade and the resume.

According to this article  published by the US Chamber Foundation, science is showing our brains actually evolved to produce equally excellent products while multitasking in order to accomplish assignments, squashing the myth that multitasking leads to decreased performance. A millennial brain literally operates different than other brains.

Due to the economic downturn of 2007-2008, this generation lived through the crisis of losing first jobs, or seeing their parents lose jobs. Many of our generation lived in families that suffered foreclosure, lived through homelessness, and visited food pantries for the first time during this economic calamity.

In the midst of this pressure, technology was leveraged by this generation as a means for social connectivity. As this generation entered adolescence and the approval of peers became increasingly important, they turned to social media. Under the pounds of homework, and unyielding pressures from schools and society at-large, this often became the quietest and safest place to pursue pressure-less relationships.

Therefore, this generation learned to cope with emotional pressure by connecting through social media. They learned how to appear perfect. They learned how to get the approval of others. They learned how to sound smart. They learned how to filter their lives. And they learned how to get answers quickly.

It was not that the importance of success changed from generation to generation, it was that the perception of success changed.

Success became remarkably quantitative. Extraordinary pressure was placed on this generation to achieve metrics, and to do so quickly. According to a recent poll, 67% of Millennials feel a debilitating pressure to succeed in life. And the underlying message based on qualitative research is that many members of this generation perceive themselves as failures if they have not reached lofty career goals by the age of 20. Much of this “immediate results” mindset is likely due to a lack of patience (a direct result of this technology-driven society).

A great deal of research has been done, and many speakers have graced the subject of “Millenials in the workplace” (If you are unfamiliar with the subject, I encourage you to watch this short video.) But, not many have approached the crossroads of Millennialism and motherhood.

According to Pew Research Center, Millennial women accounted for 82% of births in 2015. About 1.3 million Millennial women gave birth for the first time in 2015. It has been said that to be a mother is the most powerful position in our world, and so we must consider how the experience of this generation impacts their mothering.

There seems to be overwhelming pressure on this generation of moms to “get it right.” Instead of asking older women for input, this generation is consulting the Internet. Instead of calling an experienced woman for guidance, or checking out a book from the library, Millennial moms are sifting through 9,724 hits on Google, or reaching for real-time feedback from other moms on Facebook.

Studies have shown the wide array of options and choices available to this generation have actually compounded stress. Perhaps the overwhelm of information available to these moms feeds a perception that perfection is, actually, attainable.

Interestingly, Pew Research Center has found over half of the millennial generation identifies “being a parent” as a core element of their identity, which is remarkably higher than the generations before them. Unlike Baby Boomers and Generation X, who prioritized “having a strong marriage,” Millennials report that “being a successful parent” is their highest life goal.

By appreciating this generation’s history, one may better understand their parenting experience. The growing pressure to succeed, to achieve metrics, to stand on the shoulders of those before us, to use technology as a means of connectivity and problem solving, to seek approval of peers (which, with social media platforms, typically include often over 500 friends), and to constantly apply ever-evolving child-rearing strategies is a new and unique parenting struggle that has not existed in previous generations.

So, when a new, hormonal, millennial mama graces the web for pressure-less connectivity and answers but, instead, finds an entirely new world of expectations, an identity crisis is likely.

Parenting in this information age is a blessing and a challenge. There are different articles circulating on recalls and updated safety standards issued almost daily. Every week a new story is placed in front of us about how a baby died from an incident with a standard household item. If a mama admits to practicing a strategy that strays from what is recommended by AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), or the IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) community, she can expect immediate discouragement and, often, public online shaming.

So, be gracious to each other.

To the wiser and more experienced parents,

I urge you to consider before you “share” the recent article you found on Facebook about PPD, SIDS, walkers, strollers, car seats, outlets, bathtubs, sleep training, pacifiers, batteries, swaddles, rock and plays, breastfeeding, formula etc. Realize that she probably has already seen that article, and what she truly needs is your support and the advice you can give from your experience (when and if she asks).

To the millennial moms and future young-mamas,

let’s consider how our experience has shaped our approach to nurturing our babies. Could it be that we are becoming disillusioned by the plethora of information and countless safety standards in attempts of “succeeding” as a mom? Are we losing sight of what matters in the journey because we are too busy researching the details of baby gear and methodologies? Are we missing our baby snuggles because we are worried about “parenting” our 7 month old? Are we disconnecting from our kids’ hearts because we are distracted by the Pinterest possibilities or their test scores?

We need to lean deeper into the hearts and experiences of our grandmothers and our mothers. We need to disconnect a bit from technology and connect to our mama gut. We need to recognize that raising this human will not be measured in metrics, it will be a beautifully hard journey that requires wisdom found in human experience, not Google.

To all moms who love and follow Jesus,

our identity is not “mother,” it is “daughter of God.” Our goal in life is not to succeed as a parent, it is to love well. What God meant for good, the enemy uses to tear us down. Our online connection can be sanctified and powerful as we live out our true goal to love and honor one another. As we cower at the bullying, the shaming, and the unending standards that are put before us day after day, let us remember that we are not placed here to please other women. We are already a pleasure to God. We do not have to know it all, He will go before us and behind us. We need simply to be humble, and admit that we need a “counsel of many advisors” (Proverbs 15:22), not the counsel of the World Wide Web.

Please feel free to use my Online Mama ~ English Dictionary to help you in your online research.

Friends who Leave Rocks

Summer’s high-pitched crying stole my ability to think. I grabbed my stress ball, plunked down in the rocking chair, and continued to rock my inconsolable baby while allowing every ounce of frustrated energy to pour through my hand and onto that stress ball.

I was beyond depressed. I was angry with the Lord. I felt like He had dealt me the worst hand. No matter what I tried, nothing seemed to work to calm my baby.

Continue reading “Friends who Leave Rocks”

Marriage: Our Most Foolish Commitment

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There it was. The white dress dangled from the staircase for that popular snapshot just before it adorned my body. My sister and cousin buttoned up all 1,987 buttons, joking that Ryan would never be able to get that garment it off of me.

I took a sip of champagne and laughed nervously about how I wasn’t sure if I  remembered how to kiss, as it had been several years. I was not sure if I even knew what intimacy was. I had waited for this moment for what felt like ages!

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Not to kiss. Not to have sex. Not to wear a wedding dress….

I had waited for a promise.

Continue reading “Marriage: Our Most Foolish Commitment”

10 Pieces of Unconventional Advice for a Long and Happy Marriage

Since getting married, I’ve kept an ongoing list of advice people gave us that sounded strange, but became the most meaningful pieces of wisdom. I also took time in my recent interviews with couples who have been married 30-50+ years to ask what advice they would offer a young newlywed or engaged couple in order to set them up for a long and happy marriage. I have combined my list and their comments to create…

10 pieces of Unconventional Advice for a Long and Happy Marriage: 

Continue reading “10 Pieces of Unconventional Advice for a Long and Happy Marriage”

6 Sex Related Questions and Qualms

Disclaimer: In this post I discuss critical subjects surrounding sex and sexuality. I do not dodge popular issues. The Church and sex-ed, for the most part, have done enough dodging. Instead, I use direct language to address these matters. I use words such as porn, orgasm, masturbation, and libido. If this sort of candor causes you to feel discomfort or offense, I lovingly encourage you to spend your time elsewhere.

Continue reading “6 Sex Related Questions and Qualms”

Momgerie and Other Sexy Thoughts

Disclaimer: In this post I discuss critical subjects surrounding sex and sexuality. I do not dodge popular issues. The Church and sex-ed, for the most part, have done enough dodging. If this sort of candor causes you to feel discomfort or offense, I lovingly encourage you to spend your time elsewhere.

Continue reading “Momgerie and Other Sexy Thoughts”

Created for Connections

 

Within the soul of every human being there is an innate thirst to know, and to be known. To love and to be loved. We all have it. This desire rests under our skin and inspires our behaviors, our cravings, and our emotions. It is the rudder by which we steer our lives. This thirst is the reason we choose relationships.

Continue reading “Created for Connections”