[9] 29 Lessons

Having children changes everything.

This is not an experience everyone will have, certainly not one everyone will have in their twenties. Before I became a mother, I questioned if or when I would have children. I wasn't sure I had maternal instincts (which is hilarious since that's basically what I run on now) or how you just make the decision to bring a human into the world. Have you thought about how monumental that is? That your body can grow an actual living person to put into a spot on this earth where, before your physical efforts, there was no one? I've done it twice and it still blows my mind.

One thing I was keenly aware of, however: I knew having kids would change everything. I'm working on an article forFellow in which I've been discussing this with other urban parents--the changes to their lifestyles once adding kids, and etc. In my pre-motherhood selfishness, that was what I considered "the change" to be: Obligatory adjustments to my life because I was responsible for a small person. 

Oh, and there is some of that. I hear I'll never sleep the same again. I will probably never, ever be on time again. I will never watch a Disney movie the same, nor will I be able to do anything in life without thinking of the Daniel Tiger jingle that accompanies it. Thanks to pregnancy food aversions, I doubt I'll ever love cucumbers again. (Weird?) I only spend limited, very scheduled amounts of time with some of my best friends; and Trevor and I have tried to find ways to reserve our night confined to the house after 7 as time for us to be together. All of these things are changes you make after having kids.

But this was not the everything that changed as I grew to know my daughters, as I held their little, squirmy bodies, as I watched their personalities peek through, as I experienced big things and small things in life through their bright eyes. The everything that really changed was the everything inside of me. Who I am as a person is forever altered because they are now my people--the people that I brought on to this earth. 

For someone who writes a lot about motherhood, I often struggle with how specifically to convey this exact thing. Because it's easy to joke about the ups-and-downs of a day that involves playing kitchen and poopy diapers; and it's not so hard to draw inspiration from a childlike perspective; and it's certainly fun to tell the little stories I've been collecting along the way. But at it's very core, why can I say nothing more than "motherhood has changed me," when it literally has turned everything upside down?

Today I read this:

Becoming a parent is difficult to talk and write about, not because the words are hard to find (though they are), but because when you find them, they feel too intimate to share. The smells and sounds and stirrings of the heart are individual and holy. There’s a sense in which the universal experience is yours alone when the opposite is actually true. You hesitate to say anything at all, as if staying quiet better preserves the miracle.

-Nikaela Marie Peters

And so today, I tell you, having children has changed everything for me. It probably will for you too, if or when you have children. But I can't say why or how. You probably won't be able to either. Which is why is motherhood will forever be the most phenomenal thing a person could do with her life.

[8] 29 Lessons

You can keep learning.

Here is a funny thing that I didn't anticipate: Once school was over, I had a bit of an identity crisis. I wasn't anticipating this because, what is school if not preparation for what comes after school? But truth be told, I loved being a student. I loved being in a mess of learning and other people learning and walking around campuses with their stately trees and hiding in old libraries full of musty books. I loved lectures and talking to professors and meeting professionals who thought I had "promise." I got an actual adrenaline rush from stapling a finished paper. Bonus points if it was so fat that I had to use the fancy industrial stapler. (Dork!)

I was really comfortable in school, and, honestly, I was good at it. High school was breezy, and I was your average over-committed teenager. College required some mental reorganizing, but once I got the hang of it, it was life changing. There were extraordinary learning experiences during those years. Then grad school came right away. Why? Probably because I didn't know what else to do! But I felt so me flitting from my student job to my classes and pumping caffeine into my body on-the-hour-every-hour so I could power through a paper each night, late into the night.

Then I put on my last tasseled cardboard hat. I was thrust full-force into that terrible, horrible, awful, nerve-wracking, frustrating thing known as a job search. I didn't think I was going to survive that, and when I did, it was only to actually enter the workforce--and if anyone can figure that place out, well, I salute you. 

I walked a very stale line for awhile, tip-toed even into feelings of uselessness and aimlessness. It was sort of like I didn't know what to do without a student catalog telling me what my goals should be. I had so heavily relied on the step-by-step process of education, the senses of accomplishment and closure that came with each passing semester, that suddenly the vastness and opportunity of adult life was too overwhelming for me.

It wasn't that I didn't realize I could keep learning. Of course I could, and pursuing knowledge for the soul purpose of pursuit is beautiful and liberating. There are always books to be read, places in the world to explore, languages to study, and arithmetic to remember so you can convert the stinkin' fractions in your recipes. Of course we can keep learning.

For me, the real gorgeous part of the lesson was living to learn--to see that learning is living. We can learn ourselves, we can learn others, we can learn the unique ways of the world, and all of this is quite tangible, useful knowledge. Our process of learning should not define us because we should always be learning. Maybe this blog started from the same rush of stapling my papers together: Here is what I've seen and learned and think! You don't have to be a student to study, to find joy in discovering something new and telling about it. Never stop learning, never stop sharing what you've learned.

[7] 29 Lessons

Love doesn't fail.

If I had to choose one of my big, big ugly faults, it would be that I am not good at remembering this. I have been so fortunate in life to be surrounded by many who love me well; yet despite these radiating examples of true love, I sometimes choose to heed the inner-curmugeon just waiting for people to let me down.

It's my biggest obstacle in relationships. I've worried about disappointing my parents, despite their constant reassurances that I'll make them proud by simply being happy. I've kept friends at arm's length or turned away at the first hint of turbulence just to avoid the messy business of watching love do its great work of keeping things together. This is a fault of mine, no one else's.

The person who loves me best of all is a man hell-bent on making me see that his love will not fail me.  He won't let me not believe it.

I'm talking about a man who has born witness the worst parts of me that exist, and he still admonishes me to look into his eyes so that I see him telling me he loves me--meaning it. I'm talking about a man who pays attention to my needs (even when I don't), who sends me on rejuvenating trips, and takes me on thoughtful dates. He's the same man who once jokingly bought me a pack of cigarettes because I felt terribly regretful for not having [what seemed at the time a completely necessary] teenage rebellion. I'm talking about a man who believes in me when I want absolutely everything, and who believes in me equally when I think I want absolutely nothing. On Valentine's Day this man gave me a beautiful rhinestone bangle; and when I put it on, he gingerly held my arm to admire me wearing it. "When I saw it," he said, "I just knew that it would look like this on your wrist." Because he is the man who considers these things.

While he leaves me no room to worry that his love may fail, I have often taken his love for granted by not being constantly aware of the depth of it. His love covers all of me at all times; and though my head realizes it, my heart does not always live in this attitude.

I'm also guilty of failing to see the bigger picture in this love: Which is, True Love awaits everyone (not just those lucky enough to marry Trevors) if they only turn to it. There is a Love that loves us well, despite our hidden evils and sins. It Loves us well in the face of who we are, talents and quirks and dark fears and confusion. It is a Love that bids us to go and to do and to be who we were created to be. And it is a Love that knows us, from our wrists to our hearts and the hairs on our heads.

It is not Love that fails us. It is we who fail Love. We fail Love by refusing to see, by refusing to succumb to it, by not appreciating and reciprocating its graciousness every day. By simply doubting its steadfastness.

But Love does not fail, does not fail, does not fail. Repeat until it is imprinted on your heart.

[6] 29 Lessons

Life is life.

Somewhere along the line, some youthful version of myself decided that if I was living life the right way, it would all always fit right and it would all always be exciting. I've got this penchant for adventure and big changes, a sort of restlessness about me; and when you're young, it's easy to buy into that--to feed it, like that's the way things are supposed to be.

But I've got news for you. Actually, I've got news for myself, because it's been quite hysterical to sit down to write these lessons each week and realize that I'm still really learning all this stuff. But the news is: Life is life. In the grand scheme of things, life is an adventure. If you are living life freely, there is a certain surrender unto change and grandiose gestures. But no matter how much of that exists in your life, you still have days in between. Not just, like, a day. Dayssss(sssss). And this is where we get the term day-to-day, which I think we've been conditioned to consider blahhhhh.

You may try to avoid it! You may succeed for awhile! But if you want to Instagram your fabulous life, you're going to have to pay for that phone. Eventually, you'll come to the conclusion that you would like to determine the colors of your walls, and you will get a mortgage. You'll find that employers aren't so keen on European tours as "life experience" and "resume building." We will curse the long-termness of all these inhibitors, claiming the creators of such rules are narrow-minded and bored with life and the evil, evil man. (Because for awhile, longer for some than others, we all get some foolishness in us.)

It's not just the paying of bills and the growing of roots and the institution of structure either. Sometimes it's just sheer monotony. One day, you'll wake up and you'll do all the exact same things you did the day before and in a moment of panic you'll question, "When did life become so dull and dry?" At this point, it will be time for another life crisis, and this is a horrible and exhausting pattern you'll continue until you realize: life is life.

I read somewhere once that it's in our darkest moments, we start to compare ourselves to others. But all we know of others' lives is what they share. Instagram and Facebook and even conversations are the highlight reels of someone's life, but these are their moments we consider when we're living our behind-the-scenes (is sort of more how what I read went). 

There's a certain kind of beauty in that day-to-day boredom though, you start to learn. It's comforting. It's spacious for thinking. It's slow, since we all need less busy and more routine than we're willing to admit. Though your twenty-something self will tell you that you've turned into your grandparents and you've lost your zest for life, I say this: In reaching this stage, you have accomplished something. You have accomplished actual living. All those big leaps and meanderings before? Those were not real. They were experiments. They were tastes. They were memory-builders. And they all got you to this point, where you've matured and experienced enough to build a life around yourself, one that is so cozy it can even lend itself to boredom once in awhile.

I don't think we ever stop dreaming and yearning, and I don't think we should ever stop trying and living. There are many more adventures to have in my lifetime. My lifetime, my life, which is comprised of big markers and the little days in between upon which those big moments stand--the life part of life.

[5] 29 Lessons

Just flounder a little bit.

I do not like this lesson. I do not like it at all. The need to keep it together is woven into the very fabric of my being. Unglued is the worst. Disorganized is the worst. Confusion and uncertainty are the worst. They leave me floundering.

It still doesn't feel good to flounder, but at this point, I can at least see the benefit in it. Because here is the long and short: If I was jumping from point to point, life decision to life decision, without a misstep or a question, I wouldn't learn anything. I'd be missing out on knowledge of life and of myself and of the world, not because I knew enough already, but because I wasn't growing. To make mistakes and question one's self is to grow. To grow is to learn, though it is painful.

(When I'm floundering, I like to call it my "existential crisis." By now I've already had multiple existential crises, but the fancy label makes these little floundering moments seem much more important and necessary. In my head.) 

Typically, when I feel like I'm floundering about, I'm really in between some things. It's a moment of transition, and that feels awkward. I've moved on from one thing and another thing is coming up, but there's sort of this horrible purgatory moment journeying from the first thing to the second. And all the related decisions seem monumental and all the results seem just out of reach. It feels like your life is ending; but then when it's over and you look backwards, you realize it was all just a bridge.

Truth be told, I'm floundering a bit right now. I'm trying to avoid looking at the water rushing underneath me, washing away what I had been working toward, and see the bridge that is actually supporting my feet, moving me to what's next. I thought I was doing one thing, but I've left it behind for something else. I've just got to make it through the questions and the fear and realize that the crossing is the hard part--but then I've reached the other side. 

Even floundering, we are not just fish flopping about aimlessly on a dock stuck out at sea. What needs to be done is to keep going, to keep your feet moving--"just keep swimming!'; but it's like floundering because sometimes it does feel like barely keeping your head above it. Treading water. It's so tiring, it's so scary. It's hard to just be there, to keep a present mind when you feel your very core splitting between what you let go of and that unknown that is inevitably on it's way. But do it. Flounder. Explore all your options. 

I can pinpoint previous times of floundering, when I felt so lost in life; and in retrospect, all of those periods were great moments of change for me. They were life-defining, actually. Without a point of focus--since floundering lacks focus--I was able to instigate incredible changes in my life. Floundering is the catalyst for bigger leaps of faith, the discoveries of grand dreams, and the sweetest surprises. If you surrender to the flounder, you will be loosed of inhibitions, and you're in the perfect position to just go for it.

So here I flounder, right now, behind this computer. I've got what I've done on one hand, what I'd like to do on the other, and my heart is in the middle just trying to figure it out. I'm telling you to submit to it while I struggle to do that myself. But as I acknowledge what this is, where I am, I have started asking big questions--bigger than I would have if I had stayed behind or if I'd run across to the other side. Suddenly I see this vision uncovered that I wasn't mine before. But there it is now, right on the other side of floundering: all mine if I survive the middle. And I think I will.

[4] 29 Lessons

Follow your heart.

I will tell you this: For all my plan-making and expectation setting and detail-oriented quirks, I am still a bit of a feeler. There's a certain logic to my madness, and in some ways, I function like a rational person; but despite my best efforts, I'm pretty apt to go with my gut on things. I'm not sure what it's like to not naturally be this way and try to be. I do know what it's like to be this way and try not to be. Maybe it's too hard to fight your nature. Yet I still say: It's important to learn to follow your heart. 

And here is why. It's simple really. "The heart wants what the heart wants." You can sit around and question and analyze and write pro/con lists, but I guarantee you, more often than not, after all that obsessive work is done, your decision will likely still closely reflect your initial thought. I'm a firm believer that God gives us instincts for a reason; and sure, some of us are more discerning than others. But what you feel instantly, without thought--that's what you want. What you feel after you've consulted that back corners of your mind and old journals and text conversations with every friend you have? That's what you want tainted with the thoughts and opinions of others.

Wise counsel is a must in life. I'm grateful to have people who have poured wisdom into my life, freely, and with true care for the condition of my heart and how my life turns out. But you want to know what those incredibly wise people generally asked me when I was facing crossroads? "What do you think?"

There have been times I have trusted the voice in my heart instead of logic. And I have never regretted the decisions made in the fast moments where I just go with what I feel. For example? I decided to study in London in the course of five minutes. It is still one of the most meaningful adventures I've had to date. And my marriage? Well, when I graduated college and could have gone anywhere, my heart was telling me that a boy I'd only been dating for four or five months was worth sticking around for. I knew, I just knew, that he was for me. And here we are. Becoming a stay-at-home mother, I think, saved my life in so many instances. That decision blurted out of me one day in the office before I even realized it was coming out of my mouth. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Also, there have been times when my heart has been misguided. Often I find my heart unable to let go of something and so I keep after it and keep after it until the end comes anyway, and I'm hurt. What then? Should I not have followed my heart then? As much as it pains me, I argue no. No amount of logic would have convinced me to act differently in the moment anyway; and besides, better to have failed knowing that I tried my absolute hardest. It leaves for fewer questions of "what if" plaguing my brain in time to come. 

The most funny part of this whole lesson, to me, is that it seems rather youthful. Like, by 30, I ought to have learned to make smart choices rather than going with a "feeling." But I think that learning to listen to those feelings is a certain kind of maturation. It's like I have come to know myself and trust myself. My heart speaks, and even if logic argues, I can't help but to listen.

[3] 29 Lessons

Leave room for surprises.

As I've been diving into this series, it's been funny to write out lessons I have learned this last decade and realize that they are lessons I am still learning. The reason it's humorous is because it completely goes against the grain of what my younger self imagined 30 might be: The point of actualization, I think! But we don't reach a point of arrival, thank God; we are always growing, always changing, and it is good to be reminded of what we have learned and how far we have come.

January has shaped up to be much different that I anticipated, leaving me to wonder how different 2014 will be from what I imagined. Dreams had been written into goals, and goals organized into tangible steps, and I thought I was heading in a certain direction. I'm not.

But then I remembered that it's good to leave room for surprises. 

I'm a lover of surprises. It's a tough thing to do, surprise me; but if you're successful, I promise you'll be pleased by the reaction. I adore a surprise. Funny (and sad) I can't initially recognize life's surprises as the same sort of thing. Life is so full of the unexpected. Just when we're sure we're set in our ways and that it's a good thing, we're forced to reckon with the fact that none of us are ever really in control at all. Fighting a change of direction is a bad idea. If you yield gracefully to a new plan, you eventually find yourself wondering why you ever doubted that things would be okay.

A few weeks ago, I was pretty focused on my recent let-down. I mulled over what I could do to get everything back on the track I imagined was the right one. And then, perhaps as a gentle reminder that things work out, I got a note from a friend of a friend that was so encouraging. It was filled with possibility and ideas and support. And then I thought, "What if I could dothis instead of that? Wouldn't I like it more? Wouldn't it be even better than the first plan?"

I'll tell you what. It will be. 

A disappointing surprise collided with an unexpected solution, and though I don't know what the outcome will be, it's the element of surprise that's making me hopeful and excited. 

Our younger selves thrived on surprise, you know. We didn't know what was coming and we didn't care. We made a choice and jumped in feet first and then when a new opportunity came up, we took that too. Who says that growing older means we have to lose the element of surprise? Who says we can ever know what's around the corner, or that to not know is a bad thing? There is always room for more. 

So sit back and relinquish control, I say (ha! and try to do). Because life is full of surprises. 

[2] 29 Lessons

See the world, see yourself.

I have the world on my mind lately.

I've felt that itch that gets way underneath your skin so that you can't scratch it gone. You can only relieve it by stretching your wings a bit and stepping out into some new air. It's a certain kind of restlessness that I've learned is the soul's way of saying, "It's time to find something different."

At the end of my junior year of college, I randomly decided to study abroad in England. I think when you are young you move through semesters and friends and activities and boyfriends and summer jobs and quick trips and plans and ideas so quickly that you don't have time to get restless. You're just hoping for some rest. And then I had such a tough year, the kind of tough that you can't really put your finger on, you just know it's hard. Rest didn't sound like the answer. So I went away.

It wasn't my first time traveling, not my first time abroad, but it was the first time I sort of made a decision to get out there on my own. I went alone. And then I found my way. Someday when I'm old, if I'm mapping out my life, I'll probably point to this little semester and say, "Not only did I find my way, I found myself."

These days, traveling is a luxury. That kind of time is not afforded regular adults, especially not regular adults with kids and jobs and budgets and families and lives. Still these days, I feel that pull, strong as ever, to get outside myself to truly find me. 

Probably all the bits of me I found abroad I could have stumbled upon here too. I am where I am, therefore all that's in me is always with me. I just need a new perspective to find it. It's a selfish time of life, being in your twenties, so we think that the "I found myself" pieces are the important ones. But there's a reason you find yourself outside of your comfort zone: It's because you're looking outside of yourself. Now that I think about it, the times when I'm focusing outwardly are the times I feel most content and alive.

There is world to see everywhere. I may have learned the tactic traveling it, but it works just as well to explore your city or to meet a new friend or to help someone in need or just to switch up your routine. These are all ways to get out into the world, ways to see the world.

And if you see the world, you'll see yourself.

[1] 29 Lessons

Trust yourself.

Suffice it to say, 2014 hasn't actually begun the way I counted on. It's a little early to say, just a few weeks in I suppose, but I'm just betting that the whole year might wind up a bit different than the one I'd designed in my head a month or two back.

As of this week, there are exactly 29 weeks until the week of my birthday. That's a week for every year that I have lived so far, a week to count down to the big 3-0, which has always seemed the milestone of milestones for me. Maybe therein lies my high hopes for 2014. Sometime long ago, I got it in my head that the thirties would be great because I would have it together. I think that's true in a certain sense! I wouldn't say I exist in orderly fashion now, necessarily; but what I have got is a whole lot more "WHO CARES" up my sleeve. Which is my way to say that I'm comfortable with myself and things now, what I likely meant, whether I knew it or not, when I enacted the grand plan to "have it together" by 30.

The thing is, we know ourselves way better now than we give ourselves credit for. Your instincts and your hearts' desires are not trying to trick you. Those things are part of you, and so, what I think, is that they are worth checking into. Trust yourself. 

This is an important thing. It's not a pass to be ridiculous. It's not an excuse neglect others. It's not meant for you to distrust the wisdom of those more important--God, for example. And parents also. It's rather an assurance that the advice or opinions of others are not the end-all-be-all to hearing God's word in your life. He speaks into us. He pours into us. The beautiful things that make us inherently us are parts of him, as we are. Though we are all made human, which means we have imperfect desire in us, I think so often we fail to consider that our desires can also be good. They can be a guide. Desire can serve as a gauge and compass for what we’re meant to do. We should rid ourselves of the need to please others and recognize that some of the desires and dreams inside of us are God-given and worth being pursued.

This week, I forced myself to remember this. Sure things are not off to the start I thought I was making when I flipped my calendar page. (OKAY. I don't flip calendar pages any more, my phone does. But I like these old-fashioned nuances. So.) But that doesn't change what is at the heart of me. It doesn't change anything about me, actually, if I don't let it. Today I can make the choice to flow around the rock in my path and continue toward the destination I believe was set before me.

We don't really think about how we got to where we are once we've arrived. If I wasn't being careful and if you'd asked me how I've grown or changed in the last decade, I would tell you I haven't. But that's not true. I have come so far. And if I look back and I honor those lessons I've learned, it makes me hopeful for what else might be coming. We are always growing, always learning, always changing, always more on our way to being more ourselves.