my bread & butter

There is a science behind bread-making. This post is not going to explain that science, because I am very much still learning it, but just know that there is a science.

There is an art to bread-making too. Just look at the beautiful artisan bread-maker’s Instagram accounts and you will see absolutely beautiful works of art that you can smear with butter and eat your fill of.

Perhaps it is this wonderfully complex combination of science and art that has enticed me into baking bread. That, and the extra time I have on my hands due to the stay-at-home order in Illinois, and the global pandemic. Also, my mother was a baker of bread. Simple, delicious, braided loaves that I used to tear off pieces of and toast with cold butter so it would melt into the nooks and crannies. There is something healing about bread. And there is something healing about baking it.

But I also have an affinity to bread-making because of this science and art balance that I mentioned above. Because, while so many of my friends and family seem to fall into a definite camp of either left-brain logical or right-brain creative, I am smack dab in the middle with equal parts artistry and order. To my knowledge, I’ve always been this way: borderline neurotically organized, yet wildly creative and artistic in multiple categories.

Bread-making requires both of these skill sets and aptitudes, but it also requires both a love of both the product and the process.

The Bread-making process reminds me of the necessity to be totally present in life, intentional about showing up, and completely committed to doing something outside of my comfort zone. Because, in order to make bread, I have to commit: I have to plan several days in advance. I use what I have to make something and the goal is usually something pretty specific. I mix and get messy, and I time it out as best I can. I take notes, mess with temperatures and flours and hydration percentages; I learn as I go and eat the product of my labor, even when it isn’t perfect.

Like so many things in life, if it’s only a love of the product, or of what the product is suppose to be, or of what the product says about me, then it’s not enough to keep me going. Because I can totally buy bread at the store. No, it’s the process of baking bread that I have ended up falling in love with, and the little things that make that process mine.

This morning, I rose early to catch my sourdough starter at it’s peak. I smile as I see that it’s tripled in size, and smells sweet and tangy with lots of little bubbles grasping at the sides of the glass mason jar. I had pre-measured the leftover whole wheat and All-Purpose flour combination the night before, which was just what I had during this pandemic-induced-flour-shortage. In the quiet, dark morning, while the coffee brews, I decide to use significantly less water this time, as last time my dough was too wet and I over-worked it. I adapt.

It’s only 7:15 am, and already the process is going strong. Springy bubbles ripple at the top of the softly domed dough, and I can tell the gluten is being strengthened with each stretch and fold, which I repeat every hour for at least four more times. It won’t be until tomorrow that I can pop my loaf into the hot oven, and even then, it still may not turn out exactly as planned.

Showing up and working hard and long at something like bread, knowing that the end product might be exactly what I’m hoping it’s not, well that’s humbling. It’s also life. And it’s also beautiful.

I’m finding that sometimes God leads me into other areas of life that way. He draws me into a process that entices me, but where I’m not exactly certain of what I’m doing. There are moments I feel totally in over my head. I’m learning on the job, and I’m excited but also nervous about the end result. It’s messy, and while it can be a forgiving and flexible process, I have to pay close attention; I have to take each step at the right time. Too early and it won’t work, too late and it’s a wash. I have to show up, plan accordingly, but also be ready at a moment’s notice to move and change and adapt to what’s next.

This is what life is like with God.

This is what I’m learning through bread-making.

I suppose I could be learning these lessons through so many other things, because truly, The Lord places metaphors for Life with Him in everything, if I’m looking.

But right now, I’m learning it through baking bread.

I’m learning to show up, to properly prepare, to take the next right step, to be slow, and to move at the right time, and to let go of expectations and trust the process with Him by my side.

This. This is my bread and butter. 

And He is the Bread of Life.

Comparative Suffering: your piece of pie

2019 was hard for me.

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Photo by Stefan Lobont on Pexels.com

As I type this, a flood a guilt washes over me. See, 2019 has been hard for many people that I know and love, and in my estimation, it’s been harder on them than me.

My mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. As a result of emergency brain surgery, she now has epilepsy, suffering from seizures almost monthly.

My best friend’s husband recently broke both of this elbows after falling off a 13-foot ladder, 170 miles away from her. She helped him to do literally everything in a hotel room since they were so far from home, all the while trying to keep up with college graduate work, and her own internship and job.

My grandmother lost her husband of 65 years, my Papaw, in October of last year. Six grown children spread across the country all lost their dad.

A woman I serve with at Bible Study Fellowship has lost her daughter, and her heart aches to be away from her grandchildren, who are missing their mommy, and who live thousands of miles away.

My husband’s friend lost his wife a year ago, right after she delivered newborn triplets. He now has three babies who look like her, but no companion to help him take care of them or share in the joys of their development.

My friends at the Agape Center just lost a dear friend to a short but intense battle with liver cancer. This, among colicky newborns, the stomach flu, previous yet fresh family losses, and a generally tough season serving a hurting and underprivileged community.

I know of a man who’s daughter fell off a golf cart, and seemed totally fine, but now has severe brain damage and needs constant care and medical attention. She’s not the same little girl she once was. His family’s whole world has shifted.

There are people living in cardboard boxes in Calcutta. There are people living in tents under viaducts and highway bridges in the below-freezing windchill right in my hometown of Chicago. There are girls selling their bodies out there on 103rd and Michigan, right down the street from the place I call home. There are over-crowded classrooms and disheartened teachers–ones I can identify with all too well from my own teaching days. There are innocent people in prison. There are men who work all day, everyday, with no breaks and who still can’t catch a break from the relentless bills and car break-downs, and sick kids.

When I think of these people in my life, I begin to compare my own struggles and heartaches to theirs, and a level of disgust sets in.

How can I be so ungrateful? Why would I even compare my life with theirs? Am I kidding? I have a great life!

Truth be told, I started writing this post before the pandemic. You can probably tell simply by the reference to Chicago wind-chill, or the crowded classroom–Illinois, at least, will not be finishing off this school year in a classroom setting due to COVID-19 and it was in the 60’s just this morning. I thought about editing the beginning of this piece, but I decided not to. I’m going to leave it as is. I believe it still can be relevant, even in light of what’s changed, and especially with what I’ll get into next. Also, I’m sort of tired of everything changing, and pretty much everything has since “social distancing” became a common phrase in our vernacular.

My husband recently reminded me of something that he learned in counseling–that there are degrees of suffering, but we also can only compare our current suffering to that which we ourselves have experienced. There is no comparing our pain to the pain of others. We all experience it differently.

What sets me over the edge will not be what does so for another person.

What completely derails someone else’s life may not phase me nearly as much.

But we do this all the time–compare our hurt to someone else’s pain. It’s called comparative suffering, and it comes from the false belief that empathy is like pie pieces, and once you’ve doled out the last crumbling morsel, it’s just gone. This is why we get it into our heads that we can’t feel like our world is falling apart because, “compared to fill-in-the-blank”, we’ve got it made.

This has come up so often for me during quarantine.

I feel depressed or lonely or stressed, and then I feel guilty for feeling those things because I know my shelter-in-place is absolutely a privilege. I am not a nurse in the COVID ward or a mail carrier going door to door with no off-days. I am healthy, and so is the rest of my family at this current moment. What right do I have to feel sad? I should feel grateful…

The truth is though, I do feel those negative feelings, even if I’m not suffering the way that another person is. And the truth is, I’m also grateful, even if I feel lonely. I still know I’m blessed, even if I feel depressed. I still am overall very content, even in moments of stress.

There is enough empathy inside of me to feel compassion towards myself and also to feel compassionate for others more or less fortunate than I am.

And this is true for all of us. It’s true for you too, regardless of where you find yourself today. There is empathy enough to go around for you and for the first responders and for the homeless and for the very sick.

raspberry pie

Photo by Asya Vlasova on Pexels.com

To quote a dear friend of mine, “what’s real for you is real for you”. So let’s stop beating ourselves up for how we feel. Let’s be honest about where we’re at, in general, but especially in this world-wide pandemic. Because, while it’s true that each of us will experience this season differently, this is also something that can and does unite us all in a way nothing else in our generation has before. And there is enough empathy and compassion for each of those unique experiences, as well as that world-wide connection. There always will be.

shelter & half-hearts

There are so many thoughts running through my head. So many essay topics and ideas to explore. However, I feel like anything I might write about that doesn’t have to do with the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic may come off as rather tone deaf.

Maybe I’m wrong and we all could use reading about something other than the pandemic. Maybe we are all sick of hearing the word “coronavirus”.

But I also feel I may be right in thinking that, even if we are sick of news articles about this current world crisis, we all are thinking about how this has changed our current realities. And we could all use some encouragement that we are not alone in fighting the unavoidable fear that comes with an invisible and possibly deadly virus.

I wrote this piece as a reflection of my personal quarantine:

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It’s springtime. Officially.

The birds sound beautiful. A smattering of chatter, each calling distinctly, some close and some in the distance. A robin rifles through the trash, perhaps looking for food or something with which to make a next. I love the way my ears tingle and lungs burn with this chill.

The world is far from quiet. There is still bustle and hustle and cars rolling by.

A plane here and there.

But it’s lonely.

6 feet from embracing. Masks blocking smiles. Never touching. 

As if distance was not already preferred in this day and age. Now it’s enforced by law.

At home, we wash are hands so often. We sing, “God is so good” to get the timing right. And then she says, quoting Daniel Tiger, I’m sure, “wouldn’t it be fun if we could see the germs go away?”

If only we could. 

But this is the sneakiest of potential killers; invisible; tiny; deadly; mutating to cause the most damage for as long as possible.

How can life be so different and yet seem so normal at the same time?

We don’t put living on hold until something else clutches at our life.

Somewhere there is someone fighting for that life in the ICU on a ventilator. Totally alone. Somewhere not so far away from me at all.

On hold.

No one can hold them.

This hits close to home. And yet I pray it doesn’t hit our home.

Our temporary home.

This was the sound.

A burning.

A cry.

Water gushing, numbness, and loss, loose skin.

My heart leaving my chest.

Twice.

How can I keep track of beats and blows with my heart half-ed in two little bodies?

So warm. So naive. So innocent. So strange. 

Here they are: a car crash of human beings, unaware of any disaster but spilled popcorn and knotted hair.

My heart sill in me fears for them when I am not centered in He who is at the center.

And thankfully it’s true; I always arrive back to You.

You who make the mountains melt.

You who come down like fire.

You who are as gentle as spring rain.

You who shelter me as I shelter-in-place, by preparation for the test that comes next.

Always equipping, never ceasing to defend the loves of your life.

Oh Jesus, tell me this:

How can your heart beat in tens of thousands of Your people’s breasts, and yet You remain the only one who is and always will truly be

whole?

Here we are: a car crash of human beings.

We’ve made a mess again and now we are all alone,

walking alongside each other but never connecting;

our hearts have left our bodies for fear of a silent killer.

Only You can save us.

Yet it may be only in the next life.

The one that’s not on hold.

The world is far from quiet. There are birdcalls and burning wind and 6 feet apart conversations.

But it’s lonely. And it’s fearful.

Perhaps that’s not very different than normal here on earth.

I will rest in Your shelter, in the place You’ve made Your home–my heart–half-ed though it may be.

And I will resist the urge to fear for the time when You take me and my little half-hearts home to make us

whole. 

Our eternal home.

This is the sound.

The sound of You restoring my heart to whole.

It’s quieter than I thought.

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Life-Giving: a reflection

I love a good reflection tool, and so here’s one I found from Emily P. Freeman, who is one of my fav writers and also a four. You can use this to reflect on the previous month, the year to date, or just a season of time. Do it when you can, and please comment to tell me what you find–We all could use a little more “life” in our lives, and I’d love to hear about what that looks like for you.


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“For me, in a cabin on top of a mountain is often a place of reflection.” -Claire Florine

My most life-giving “Yes” so far this year:

In Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, (which is one of my all-time favs by the way), she suggests taking yourself on an “artist date”. This doesn’t have to be going somewhere to do art, but it could be. All it is, is going somewhere and doing something by yourself that feeds your soul, your creativity, and brings you life.

My husband is wonderful, and he works to give me some “me time” each week so I can have a break from the kids and just do something I want to do outside of the house. For the past two years, I have pretty much done the same thing each time: gone to Starbucks and spent time writing and/or reading. While this is very nice, the monotony was getting old, and I needed something more exciting to feed my soul and spark  creativity… like the “artist date” is meant to do.

So, my most life-giving “yes” so far this year has been to take myself on an intentional “artist date” every week. My favorite one so far was heading to Hyde Park to walk around campus and the Smart Art Museum. I wound up in Dollop Coffeehouse and spent some time doing writing exercises and sketching with water color pencils. It was lovely.

My most life-giving “No” so far this year:

This one is simple. Putting the phone down while I nurse my baby has been so life-giving, and has helped me on this journey of “less”. My little one nurses at least 4 times a day, for at least 10 minutes each time, and I found myself scrolling through my phone while he drifted off to sleep before naps or bedtime. This would sometimes spark the temptation to browse online for more of what I don’t need. It’s much easier for me to embrace “less” and refrain from spending money when I don’t look around for things to buy. Being on my phone was a temptation to look, and so putting the phone down was a very life-giving and money-saving “no”. It is helping me break bad habits and an unhelpful spending cycle.

A bonus: I’ve also found it to be so freeing to just sit and think or pray while I nurse. Being present is also something I am working towards for this year. Putting the phone down and just being with my baby has been wonderful.

Something I want to leave behind as I move into March:

I want to be finished with feeling bad about my limitations as a mother of littles.

This has truly been a struggle for me. Shortly after I had my first child, a wise friend told me that I could not compare myself now with myself before a kid–not my body, my capacity for friendships, my schedule, or how clean I could keep my house. I think it’s taken me until now to also realize that I cannot compare myself now with two kids to myself before with just one.

Lately I have been finding myself in situations where I feel the need to apologize for my lack of availability, focus, and resources for other people. This lack is coming from a place of needing to give time, attention, and energy to my kids, and not much is left over for other commitments I might otherwise have been able to do.

I have noticed situations where this comes up repeatedly, along with a nagging sense of guilt. I think I have decided that I am tired of apologizing for the season of life I’m in and for my completely normal human limitations. At this time, my kids absolutely need a certain amount of me and what I have to offer. I suppose they always will. What I have to offer is also different than what others have to offer, and my capacity is not the same as anyone else’s capacity. There is only so much I can give, and I want to trust that the people who love me and know me understand that, and that they know I am doing the very best I can.

Leaving these bad feelings about being human–a sometimes depleted, exhausted, sad, distracted, and forgetful human who becomes these things for reasons entirely different from any other human– well, that certainly will be life-giving for me.


What was your most life-giving “yes” and “no” during this past season? What do you want to let go of moving onward into the next? I’d love to know.

four

The other night I realized I had mistyped myself on the Enneagram. This, after I just linked to the “One” description in my previous blog post, indicating that I identified as such. This lead me to read this description, extensive, and written by scholars of the Enneagram Institute, and I could not see myself in it. Only a shadow of who I was trying to be or how I thought others saw me.

This is a poem I wrote about this process. It’s unclear, but I guess that’s a nod to this whole self-discovery thing… or whatever. Also because Type Fours are said to be the most complex number on the Enneagram. Go figure.

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Find this here.

 

“four”

 

I’ve been drinking copious amounts of coffee these days

I blame it on the peppermint taste

and the nights up late

laundry sits unfolded but clean

and I come up for air in between

between the kids’ naps and those loads and our arrivals and his departures and contacts on this reject-phone

I do, I do

I do see beauty in this mess

but I recognize my tendency to be

thoroughly drenched in tragedy

swinging back and forth, yes, in between again

in between the lines of these pages with a borrowed pen

but in between the delirious highs and the moody lows

there is a deep-seeded part of my heart that knows

I have been hiding from who I’ve always been

and pushing past and away from the people who knew me when

It’s easier and far more beautiful

to stand behind a well-written metaphor

but each time I hear a song I once knew by heart

my eyes fill with rain and I play my old part

the one listed in dusty playbills, burned cds, and poetry written on gum wrappers found in worn coat pockets in my childhood closet…

what is it? I can’t make out this role…

it’s my soul

I don’t chew gum anymore, or act on stage

but poetry cuts in deep during this “melancholic” rage

maybe I am hiding behind this extended metaphor

maybe my heart needs to break to be sure

this, here, this mess upon my sleeve is proof

of what I’m not sure, but it feels like truth

I’ve been drinking copious amounts of water these days

gulping down tears for fears (and the cure, and alkaline…)

I don’t believe I’ve ever really been one to pretend that I’m fine.

my year of less

woman sitting on wooden planks

Photo by Keenan Constance on Pexels.com

It’s twelve days into the month. They tell me that by this time, most people have already broken their new year’s resolutions.

I’ve tried the resolution thing before. It’s been these etherial statements like, “get in shape”, or “stop being negative”; but like, what on earth does that even mean and how the heck would I even measure that?

Then I stumbled across this whole “One Word” thing, and that was pretty great. I did really feel God lead me to a single word during a single season. The “problem” was that it was never within the confines of a single year. Case and point, I started my One Words in 2014, and I’ve only had 4 words since then. It seems God needed far more time for me to learn tough words like “surrender” or “journey” than one little neatly-packaged year.

In fact, I think I’m still learning all of them–slow, surrender, journey, and grace–and I’m sure I’ll keep circling back to these little words with their powerful lessons on a more-than-annual basis.

But this year I did feel a release from my last word, which was “grace“, and it came right before Thanksgiving.

I’ll spare you the details, mostly because they are pretty private, but I’ll tell you that I finally learned how to forgive someone major in my life, and it was an eye-opening experience for me.

Letting go of “grace” isn’t really letting go of “grace”, but I think I’ve learned it well enough to loosen my grip of focus on it for the time being.

God has given me another word to turn round and round like a prism in my hand, examining it and asking “what are you? what do you need to teach me?”

The word is very simple, and almost painfully vague. It’s “less”.

Less? Less of what? you might ask. Good question.

As my former blog title/alias once stated, I’m a “wannabe minimalist” with the tagline, “less stuff; more freedom”. So the “less stuff” part is truly on my heart, for sure. But the truth is there is a lot more in my life that I think I need less of than just tangible “stuff” (though I guess it all is just “stuff” isn’t it?)

I’m a list person, so here is a list of things I want less of in 2020:

less spending

less coveting

less consuming

less stress

less idols

less selfishness

less striving

less preoccupation

less anger

less exhaustion

less bitterness

Part of this pursuit of less has lead me to take a shopping ban a la Cait Flanders’ “A Year of Less”, which, as she points out in her book, is also very much a browsing ban. See, I like to spend my time looking at things on Amazon, price comparing, reading reviews, adding items to my wish list, or my kids’ wish list, or searching the lightning deals for gift ideas. It reaches a fever pitch at Christmastime, which it probably why this year’s word hits right at the New Year this go round. Browsing often leads to purchasing things I don’t need (I did say I was a wannabe minimalist– did you catch that?). I would feel a little giddy rush getting items in the mail. Even if the items were not for me, but for someone else. This made me concerned that “retail therapy” was actually becoming a thing in my life, and that thing is actually, in reality, just a funny way of saying idolatry.

Online shopping was becoming an idol, and that was no good.

Another part of this pursuit of less has lead me to officially delete my Facebook account. This is the reason most anyone who might possibly have read this, probably won’t. But Facebook made it so easy to compare myself to other people and be preoccupied with basically nothing at all, and it was a temptation to check out and not be present to my actual life. So it’s gone, at least for the year, but probably forever. I’m really over social media you guys, and I’ll probably never be an established blogger for this reason. I think I’m okay with that.

And probably the most etherial of the bunch, I want less stress.

I remember in high school–flippin’ high school guys!–I was stage managing this show and the director said to me, “Claire, you always seem stressed. You should like, smoke or something.” (This was a college student director for a summer project, not a teacher telling me to go smoke some weed, which, for the record, I didn’t. Smoking is not one of my vices, though I’ve got plenty others.) And then, this past July, I went to get a massage. The masseuse who worked on me didn’t remember me from the last time I was there until she felt my shoulders, which were completely riddled with knots. “Oh yes, she said, I remember this tension. I don’t want to upset you, but yeah girl, this kind of stress is pretty rare.”

This, this is true about a gal who’s been trained in the Alexander Technique and used to teach Yoga? This, also is true about a very entrenched Enneagram Type One, desperately hoping that there is an actual way to achieve perfection (yes, I am aware there is not, but I am also not one to give up on my dreams so easily, it seems).

So yeah, yeah, I’m trying to be less stressed. Trying to let go of striving for the elusive perfection, trying to be everything to everybody. Trying to make sure that everyone and their mom likes me, like, really likes me. Trying to say “no” more often because too much on my calendar makes me absolutely crazy. Trying to leave early so I’m not stressed about being late. Trying to…. trying to… trying to….

Aye, there’s the rub. All this “trying” stresses me out. And here we come to my word again.

Less.

Less trying. Less striving. Less working at it. Less taking care of it. Less fixing it. Less “I’ll get it together, don’t worry; I’m on it.”

Less doing. 

More being.

Because, in reality, when there’s less of something, it leaves room for more of something else. Something better.

Less spending leads to more saving.

Less coveting leads to more contentment.

Less consuming leads to more creating.

Less stress leads to more joy.

Less idols leads to more freedom.

Less selfishness leads to more sacrifice.

Less striving leads to more stillness.

Less preoccupation leads to more presence.

Less anger leads to more connection.

Less exhaustion leads to more energy.

Less bitterness leads to more forgiveness, yes, more grace.

…   …   …   …   …   …   …

So, although this year of “less” will also be a year of “more”, the “less” is what I feel led to focus on. Less stuff, less time commitments, less stress, less worry, less striving, less to-do’s… When faced with a choice to add an unnecessary “more” to my life, I will consciously choose less

didn’t have time

I had words caught like flies

The fear, a web thick in my spider’s throat

My child brain fooling my age

that I’d have some time

–always another opportunity

to be.

But human frailty is an ugly thing

That I thought I could ignore it in icy indifference

(I am not capable of such)

You see,

this heart of mine is warm and dripping with emotion and un-numbed pain

It crashes over my frame in blood-waves,

guilty of still being here and alive…

While you, my friend, no longer are.

O’ how I regret as I never have before

Mortality has never felt so close

Not even at “mid-life”

and yet a crisis of a heart-wreck

a train of tears besmeared my gown

My daughter, like the maid, keeps straightening and primping

with Kleenex.

As if wiping away the evidence that I feel

would change the fact that your death

has stopped my inner world.

Outer keeps spinning.

Altogether.

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I never got to say a proper goodbye

On the phone, you rushed off to go use the bathroom.

The package you sent never came, but if it does, I will likely loose

it.

–cue Kleenex yet again–

Oh my dear,

Could I claim that I loved you “best of all”?

I wish I had loved you better.

I thought I had time.

I didn’t.

Hashtag Authenticity

Dear Best Friend:

Social media has made it easy to walk through my online existence believing that I am completely vulnerable and “authentic”, with no new news to share with you.

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Photo by Tracy Le Blanc on Pexels.com

One time, when I visited a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, she looked at me and said, “I know what’s going on with you because I look at your Facebook all the time”, and then she turned to my husband and said, “But I don’t know what you’ve been up to. Tell me.”

This made me sad. One, because my friend assumed my entire life and experience would be reflected accurately in my Facebook feed, and two, because she paid more attention to my husband than to me, but was my “friend”. At a time in our friendship when we hardly saw one another, she made it known that all that needed to be shared could actually be done so via the Internet. It made me wonder why we were getting together in person at all.

But doesn’t this happen in our brains sometimes? Perhaps less rude and obvious, but don’t we also do this—decide not to ask someone what’s really (like, really) been happening because we’ve seen their posts on social media? Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe someone asks us what we’ve been up to, and we go, “Don’t they follow my blog? Didn’t they see my Instagram stories? They should know that I recently got a new job. They should know that I’ve been struggling with anxiety. I posted it all over the Internet for everyone to see…”

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Photo by Lum3n.com on Pexels.com

When I was in high school, I made my best friend because we shared a secret with one another. This grew our friendship deeper than most, I would say. The ability to share a secret with someone who feels safe, especially if that secret is also a shared struggle, is pretty successful at bonding two individuals together.

This was just as the social media boom was starting to form. Kids my age had things called MySpace pages and wrote in Live Journals or on Xanga accounts. They used AIM messenger. Some of us were invited by a way cooler college student to join Facebook a few years later. This was the start of it all—before smartphones and apps and hash tags, and way before emojis.

But despite the new lure to divulge myself from behind the protective barrier of a screen, I never shared my secret struggle with an eating disorder online. I only spoke about it in whispers to a select few, one of whom became my best friend for the time being.

Now, I can look up #eatingdisorder, or #recoveringbulimic, or #formeranorexic, and I get hit with a bunch of people sharing their vulnerable struggles on social media via posts, pictures, and articles. It’s the #MeToo generation, and there is so much good that comes from this.

But I also wonder if it’s made true, distinct, and deep friendships harder to come by.

Oh, I know kids are getting less socialized in the real person-to-person way that is necessary because of smartphones. But I am really just talking about the practice of sharing (or over-sharing?) via social media.

But isn’t this helpful? Isn’t this normalizing what used to be wrongly taboo? Isn’t this helping people feel less alone?

Absolutely.

I just think is a less valuable alternative to sharing a secret with a safe person, and thereby making a fast and long friendship that will impact far past the rush of getting 94 “likes”.

apps device digital earphones

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Mind you, this is coming from a blogger. This is coming from someone who gets kinda personal via Instagram posts. This is also coming from someone who also “secretly” despises the concept of “building a platform” or “attracting a following”. Social media both enthralls me and disgusts me.

“Psychology shows that friendships are built through many factors—common interests, proximity, shared struggle, etc. But there is one thing that grows a friendship deeper than just about anything else: the sharing of secrets. There’s a bond that’s formed, almost instantly, when we share appropriately with people in our life who have invited us to do so.” –Allison Fallon

Up until this point, best friend, this hasn’t really sounded much like a letter. And that’s because it’s not. It’s a blog post. A personal letter to you, my best friend, wouldn’t be posted on the inter-webs for just anyone to see.

Some things just need to be kept just between us.

But I have to shake my head a little at myself when I don’t honestly answer and in-person “how are you?”, but then divulge my struggle with postpartum depression via Facebook.

And so, best friend, I want to say this to you: from here on out, I will not dodge that question with an easy answer, no matter how hurried I might be or how confused I might feel about how I really am doing. I will answer as honestly as possible. And I promise I won’t let you find out my innermost secrets and struggles via the Internet.

And you can do the same for me.

Deal?

Deal.

Much Love,

-Claire

My kid would never…

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I feel like this is an obligatory post. Like, every person who has children has come to this conclusion and so why in the world would anyone need to read about it? But if I’ve found anything to be true, it’s that we read about what we know deep down to be true anyways because it reassures us and realigns us with the truth—the truth about this life, and the truth about ourselves.

So here it is: I used to judge people by how their kids acted.

If a child refused to eat their vegetables, I would think to myself, “my kids will eat whatever I put in front of them.”

If a child threw a tantrum about having to leave the park, I would silently assure myself that when I became a parent, my child would know exactly what was expected of them when it was time to leave anyplace. They would NEVER behave in such a way.

If a child pushed another kid, was unwilling to share, hit their parent, said a cuss word, or was flat-out disobedient, I would judge the parents hardcore. I would absolutely know that my kids would NEVER do those things because I would be a better parent than whoever this child’s unfortunate mom and dad were.

Parents of children older than mine, I humbly ask for your forgiveness.

Today, my daughter, who is a pretty awesome little girl if you ask me, was having a meltdown at 7am because, for whatever reason, 5am is the new start to her day (and my day too), and she gets pretty darn exhausted rather quickly. She would not eat her broccoli at lunch, and she cried giant crocodile tears at the library because she wanted to continue to play with the plastic ice cream cones, which she would NOT share with the other kids. And that was just today. Last night she pushed her cousin off of the four-wheeler bike because she wanted a turn and also refused to give her little brother a goodnight kiss…

Yes, to my utter dismay, my 2-year-old is not perfect. And contrary to what I previously thought, I am not in much control of what she does or doesn’t do.

This is not to say that I do not or will not take responsibility for things that my kids do. This is simply to say that I now understand that there are just some times that kids do things that do not reflect what their parents have taught them or how they were raised.

But here is what I’ve learned:

I’ve learned that when I judge other people, my brain cannot distinguish these judgments as separate from my own self-talk. This is backed up by brain science, actually. When we even think negative, judgmental thoughts about others, our brain registers them as evaluations about our own selves.

All these times I have looked at kids with that side and rolling eye, and have labeled their parents as “bad” or “unworthy” or “lazy” or “unfit”, I have really been evaluating the type of person and parent that I am or will be.

Yes, I might get that little rush of superiority and ego boost, but very much like the crash after a sugar or caffeine high, it’s not long before I’m wallowing in a judgment hangover that can only be cured with… more judgment.

One moment I’m all like, “Wow, her son just completely disrespected her. I would never let my kid get away with that. She must not be very consistent. I’m a way more intentional mother…”

And then the next moment, my little one does the unthinkable and throws a tantrum that has everyone at the Target check out line staring at us, thinking Lord-knows-what, and all I can do is keep the judging cycle going by getting defensive…

“Well those people have it easy. They all can afford a babysitter so they can go shopping by themselves, or their kids are older and less needy, or they probably have had way more sleep because they don’t have a newborn at home… how dare they judge me! Don’t they know they I am doing the best I can? What type of person judges a mom based on what their two-year-old does? Nothing is wrong with me… it’s them…”

 Except I don’t recall that I’ve just done the exact. same. thing. If—big ifthey are even judging me at all in the first place! They might, in all reality, be thinking something sweet like, “oh poor thing, I bet she’s exhausted and her little one is too. I sure hope she can find some time to rest and won’t beat herself up too much about how her kid is acting right now.” And wouldn’t that be sweet, and way more helpful, understanding, and honestly accurate too?

It’s then that I am reminded of the responses I want to have. And the fact that the actual cure for the judgment hangover isn’t more judgment at all. It’s compassion. It’s love. It’s a raised hand saying “me too girl; I get it”.

If my brain cannot distinguish between a commentary on someone else and a commentary on myself, then I want to rewrite my judgment commentary entirely and break this cruel, defensive cycle.

Because if judging other people makes me feel all the stress and shame I am doling out on them in my mind, then it’s working the opposite way I want it to. Deep down, my inner “mean girl” is hoping that judging people will make me feel better about my own self. This is why behind most every “mean girl” is actually an anxious, nervous, insecure little person—hurt people hurt people, right?—and my own inner “mean girl” is the same.

I don’t want to be judged for what I do on very little sleep, or for how I feel on my worst of worst days, so why would I want to be judged for what the little human I birthed, who has entirely no shame at all, does on a non-regular basis? I don’t.

So I’ve got to stop judging my fellow mamas and papas who also don’t deserve it. We are, in fact, in this together, if we want to be. And I do.

Also, I recognize that most of my judgments come from an entire lack of knowledge and experience. Case and point: I rarely judge a mama with a kid younger than me, and I find that most of these “my kid would NEVER”’s have popped into my brain far before I had even conceived a child.

But this entire revelation, which I think many of us with little humans running around our homes have also come to, has made me wonder how much of the way I judge people for other things is the same.

If I judge a person for being out of shape, does it also make me think poorly about my own body?

If I judge a person for their lack of preparation, does it also make me harsh with myself when I miss a deadline?

If I judge a person for how they choose to spend their free Saturday, does it make me also judge myself when I am not a productive or restful or… (insert whatever “should” is on my latest list at the moment)?

And I think it does. I think my judgments of others keep me trapped in judgments of myself. I judge because I think judgments protect me, but in truth, they make me put up the perfectionist façade and pretend like I’ve got it all together when I really don’t. They make me defensive and angry, and thinking the worst about others and about myself. In short, judgments are not helping me or doing anyone else any favors.

So this one is for my fellow mommies and daddies, but also for anyone at all who has ever judged anyone…(Think you don’t judge anyone, just listen to a few minutes of a radio station that plays music you dislike—we ALL can be judgmental at times.)

Let’s stop this judgmental cycle. Let’s choose to assume the best of one another. Let’s stop pretending we’ve got it all together when we really don’t. Let’s put an end to this negativity that keeps us all trapped. Let’s realize that thinking or saying “bad” about someone else does not make us “good” or better. Let’s be kind, understanding, and gracious to one another, if for no other reason than because it helps us be kind, understanding, and gracious to our own selves. I’m assuming you could also use a little extra grace around here, and so could the closest two-year-old’s mommy near you.

“Today I release the judgments I’ve used to protect myself. I am safe.”

Dear Younger Claire,

Dear  Younger Claire,

11266245_589879207820363_1672999799066846212_nDo not write that note to Julian in 8th grade. Just don’t—it’s not a good idea. Trust me on this one.

Also, just flippin’ call your parents if you’re going to miss curfew. Don’t test your limits just because you think they are unfair. Your parents are trying to keep you safe. They love you; they honestly do not want to ruin your life. I promise.

You are nowhere near fat. Stop worrying about it.

Okay, yes. I know it is not that simple. So just know that disease, this disorder, is what truly brings you to Jesus. Sharing about it catches the attention of your future husband, and battling it in every human way possible brings you to your knees so that God can take over… Don’t loose heart. You will not be sick forever. God works even this into something good.

Just because someone likes you does not mean that you have to like them back. A lot of guys like you Claire, whether you are aware of it/believe it or not. If you had the confidence to know this, you wouldn’t get yourself into a relationship you should never have been in. Just say “thanks, but no thanks” and move on. You don’t have to be with someone in order to be worthwhile.

When your friend sells you his awesome bike for a ridiculously cheap price, make sure you bring it inside every. single. night. Don’t leave it out in the rain, be sure to give it regular tune-ups, don’t leave it someplace without chain-locking it to something immoveable. Seriously girl. Flippin’ take care of the stuff you have. Especially the nice stuff.

Train better for your second marathon. And take your best friend’s iPhone when yours dies. You’re going to need some pump-up music those last 6 miles.

The “in” crowd is myth because it doesn’t last. Just know this. Just know that you don’t have to be anyone else to be amazing and loveable and beautiful and talented. Just be you. I know it takes a while to figure out who that is, but go with your gut—it does not lie to you, you crazy-awesome Enneagram Type 1 (you’ll understand later). So be nice to your fellow nerds, no matter how awkward they are —yes you are a nerd; in fact we all are, in some way, shape, or form. You all are way cooler than anyone else who is “popular” in middle school, high school, or even college.

It’s good that you’re going to counseling, but do know that there are bad therapists that exist in this world, so take your time in finding the one what is going to help you the most. Also, remember that it gets harder before it gets easier. Do not give up on yourself. You are making progress, no matter what it feels like. You will be working on yourself for an entire lifetime, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Most of what you will need to keep doing again and again is forgive your parents. Forgive. Your. Parents. Seriously. They did the best they could. They currently are doing the best they can. And really, they are pretty awesome people, who love you and your family as best. they. can. Get it? So please give them a break. You will want your kids to do the same for you.

In college, when you are laying in bed agonizing about whether you should do a teaching internship or go out for a part in a professional theatre production and also whether or not your boyfriend at the time really does want to marry you…you are going to hear this voice that tells you to quit it because your life is not going to look anything like what you could ever imagine in that moment. Believe that voice. It is the voice of God and He’s got a crazy-awesome journey planned for you.

The first time you and a boyfriend break up needs to be the last time. As in, do not go back. It is okay to not want to be with someone. Give yourself permission to want something else and know you deserve better. Even if you break his heart. Even if it breaks your heart. Do not go back and forth on these things. Be clear and honest and decisive. Again, your gut does not lie to you Claire.

When you meet the man who you are pretty certain is your soul mate and he says he doesn’t really want a relationship right now, or at least nothing labeled, just laugh and say, “okay sure”. Your daughter will have his musical talent; your son will have his gorgeous smile.

And finally: do not cut your own hair. Do. Not. Cut. Your. Own. Hair. But seriously, not even if it’s just a trim, or you think you can get it so that your pixie cut will look good growing out. No. Do not do it. In fact, after the first one, just don’t do the pixie cut thing again. Okay? Okay.

Love always,

~ A little bit wiser Claire