Pictured here are giant black circles under my eyes and heavily dry-shampooed hair in a half-hearted bun. Not pictured are my sore nipples from a constantly nursing newborn baby; a strong-willed and overly excitable 4-year-old banging on the piano while singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” in an attempt to deliberately wake his sister from a morning nap; and a husband blissfully maintaining his commitment to self-care with his yoga practice in a quiet room. Did I mention we’re living with my mother-in-law currently while undergoing a whole house renovation of our own home, which has been sitting empty now for two months while we hammer out budget issues with our contractor, who has yet to even swing the first hammer? And, that’s tea in my mug because I get sick to my stomach when I drink coffee, so I don’t even have coffee as a crutch to propel me toward lunchtime.
Friends, it’s time for me to Begin the Practice of Honesty.
I walk around in a stupor most days because, yes, I have a newborn and I am tired. But, I’ve been walking around in this damn stupor for a while now. You see, four years ago, I was a single woman living in Nashville, Tennessee, with a home, a business, gobs of friends, and fabulous shoes. And then I fell down a rabbit hole. I met a handsome, kind, loving man, fell in love, and while I was considering moving to the small college town that he lived in, we found out we were expecting a baby. Then *BAM*, I’m married and living in that small college town with our newborn son.
If you’ve followed my story of Living Hope, you know that I once worshiped at the altar of marriage and motherhood. I was confident in my ability to one day slay the motherhood, marriage, and happy homemaker game to the point of judgment of women who were actual mothers, wives, and homemakers.
Let me be really honest with you here – motherhood has hit me between the eyes like a laser-guided stun gun. I walked into the hospital to give birth to my first child – a boy – with a detailed birth plan, which was just short of a water birth with dolphins, and got wheeled out with a colicky baby and a 4-inch incision at my bikini line (not that I had ever worn a bikini before or will be likely to wear one in the future).
I stumbled through my son’s first two defiant years with the help of a weekly cleaning crew and a lot of takeout suppers. I began to realize that the life was being sucked out of me. In the afternoons while my son napped, I sat staring at Ina Garten on television making the gourmet meals I had envisioned myself whipping up for my family every night, and then texting my husband a to-go order. My son struggles with transitions, so instead of bouncing around town with a baby on my hip, I found myself in sweatpants following after him in a stupor after failed attempts at showering or getting him in the car. I was too exhausted to even cry about it. So, I indulged in my normal response to stress – I hired out the stressful part and got a nanny.
So, here’s my guilt. I haven’t suffered any form of primary or secondary Big T-trauma. I’ve got an amazing husband, two healthy children, and, really, we don’t want for much of anything materially or financially. But I got lost in the pivot from who I expected to be as a wife and mother and who I am in reality as a wife and mother.
Let’s just get real here, friends – we can inflict some serious trauma on ourselves in the expectations we set for our future selves.
When I got pregnant with my second child – a daughter – I knew I had to find my way out of the fog and quick. I ruled out depression as a culprit with my therapist. Then, the breakthrough: instead of approaching my therapeutic work through the lens of my past self, or even my present self, I needed to approach it in relationship with my future self. In essence, I needed to form a metaphorical relationship with my future self, making all present decisions while referencing the past and remaining conscious of how the future self might be affected. But therein lies the problem. I have lost all connection to Self. I have no idea who I am anymore, making it impossible to even picture who my future self would be because of all the expectations I had going into my life as a wife and mother. And I am SO pissed about it. I am still SO attached to those expectations. And when I’m not stunned by the lack of what I expected, at times I am angry and bitter about it. I’ve recently realized that I was becoming that wife who is constantly complaining at her husband and that mom who is quick to yell. Is this at all relatable, friend?
I recently read Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, and she discusses terms and invitations; terms being what is beyond our control but constant in our lives and invitations being the opportunities that come our way. She says: “We like to think we set the terms, and we issue the invitations. But maturity, perhaps, is the realization that we are not handing out terms or invitations.”
Light bulb moment here friends. This was my invitation to make peace with the terms in my life at present and to view them as invitations to grow and experience the beauty in the terms that I thrash hardest against.
My terms: I no longer live in a burgeoning metropolis with endless cultural and social opportunities; my husband sustained a spinal cord injury in his 20s and his mobility is not as fast or agile as I wish it could be at times; my son is extremely strong-willed and easily overstimulated, which sometimes means that, by 8 a.m., we have had a major meltdown and I have to concede defeat and admit that the plans I had on my agenda will need to get pushed aside; my house is under construction and I am living in, and trying to create normalcy for my children in, someone else’s space.
My invitations: I am a more focused wife and mother in this town because I am not distracted by outside obligations; I am adjusting to life at a slower pace, which gives me the opportunity to be more present in my marriage; my son requires a great deal of structure which is often something I struggle to provide for myself, so in meeting his needs, I am meeting needs I didn’t realize that I had; for these six months at my mother-in-law’s house, I have additional support with the children and I don’t have as many household responsibilities – furthermore my mother-in-law is a blast!
I’ve recently lifted my head just above water, and I’ve put a lot of thought and prayer into reclaiming the vibrancy that I had found in my life prior to all of this transition. I founded Living Hope in response to the death of a dear friend, but the truth is, subconsciously, I founded Living Hope, in part, to respond to my personal disconnection from Self.
I’ve been preaching this concept of the Practice of Hope, but I haven’t been committed to it myself. And, so, I’m taking all of this Truth about myself, my expectations, the invitations, and the terms, and I choose to Begin the Practice.
When I crash into one of the terms that typically keeps me in the fog or throws me off, I must choose to Practice Surrender and let go of the expectations I have for that day: how I expect my son to behave; how long I expect my infant daughter to nap; when I expect my husband to be home from work; what I expect to cook for supper; the work I expect to get done for Living Hope. I must choose to take a breath in each of these moments in response to what I release and reorient myself in a brief moment of Stillness. I must take a little moment for Grief, and sometimes that means I cry for five minutes in the bathroom when I have to cancel plans with a friend because the terms aren’t working in my favor. I must get Honest with myself about my circumstances and choose to become Curious as to why I am fighting against these terms so hard. I must choose to Forgive myself for how I react when I have to let go of my expectations, and, oftentimes, I must ask my husband or my son to forgive me for that reaction also. I must accept the terms and the invitations through my Resilience and feel grateful for the gifts that my present Self is privileged to experience. And, finally, I must choose Joy – the Joy that comes when I can find contentment in the present despite how it might be in conflict with my expectations of it.
Each time I choose to Practice Hope in the midst of a struggle, I connect to my Self more authentically and strengthen my commitment to my future Self – a woman who is content in her circumstances and chooses to take delight in them. A woman who says Not Today Satan and embraces the Invitation that comes with each moment of the day.
For those of you who are still trying to work out what we mean when we share our stories of the Practice of Hope, I invite you to follow me on social media and on the Living Hope blog as I Begin the Practice and choose to pursue Hope in the midst of my own personal struggles. Fellow wives and mothers who are thrashing against your own life’s terms and rejecting the invitations for growth and awareness, Begin the Practice of Honesty and define your terms. Define them and make peace with them, because it’s in that peace that you will find their Joy.
This is Living Hope.