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.

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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.

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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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”.

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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

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

3 Things to Let Go of this Fall

3 things to let go of

These trees are about to show us how lovey it is to let the dead things go.” -Anonymous

I felt the cool wind rustling my wispy bangs and wondered why it was I always seemed to cut off my hair when any big life changes occurred.

It was September, and instead of preparing to go back to work as a high school teacher, I was sitting outside of a tiny cabin at a Catholic Hermitage retreat center. It was my last night there, and my last chance to contemplate this new step I was taking, or was it an old step that I simply wasn’t taking? I wasn’t sure what direction I was headed, only where I no longer was.

Looking up at the sky, I saw more stars than I normally could from my home in Chicago. A million tiny white sprinkles in a blue orb framed by the dark shadows of trees shedding their leaves. Out here, away from the smog of the city, the stars were clearer. I wanted more than the stars to be clearer. Silently I prayed that these swirling questions in my life would be answered. That things really would become clearer.

It was then that I noticed the trees. These giants above me, stretching towards the clear sky, their branches shaking in the wind while their roots stood firm. And their leaves were swirling all around me, making the stars even clearer as they did so. They didn’t hold on, grasping for what once was but never could be again. They knew it in their bones; now was the season to let the dead things go.

Stars peeked out behind where those leaves had once been, and precious light shown through what once was. I also had to let the dead things go. Not just of who I was or what my career used to be, but of all the unfulfilled hopes and expectations that I had for my life. It was no use holding onto them. They were blocking the light. They were blocking clarity…

It’s been almost four years since I quit my job and let go of all the expectation I had for my life as an inner city teacher. I now have a new life and things are much clearer, at least when it comes to most things. But I am finding that now is still the season to let go.

This fall, here are 3 things I want to let go of–let go, and never look back–let go, and let the light shine down brighter–let go, and know that I can practice minimalism, even in my own needs…

1- The Need to Look Good

We’ve all done it– slipped on the ice in the parking lot and immediately looked around to see if anyone noticed, all the while silently praying that no one did. We have this desire to always look composed and like we’ve got it all together. As a woman, I have often felt the pressure to look a certain way and maintain a certain image so as to “look good”.

But what if I let that all go? What if I didn’t need to look good every moment of the day? Would the shame of tired and eyes and messy hair at the 3:30pm trip to the grocery store go away? Would I feel freed up to wear what’s comfortable rather than what’s cute? Would I stop comparing my lack of makeup skills to that of my friend at MOPS? Would I stop obsessing over my skin and eyelashes and weird postpartum hair loss/regrowth?

And what about the need to look good, as in to look composed, smart, funny, and morally “good”? If I let that go, would I feel less embarrassed when I misspell a word in a text message (yes, even despite autocorrect)? Would I be unafraid to ask a question about a word I don’t know in my Bible study class? Would I cease to feel insecure when I’m out with my husband at a party where all of his actor friends are discussing the shows and films they’ve worked on? Would I stop feeling like a failure when I hurt someone’s feelings by accident and simply seek forgiveness and genuinely try to make it right?

The need to look good can never be met.

The beauty of youth fades, bodies change, and lack of sleep or time to shower while caring for a newborn… well, it happens. I don’t always have to look good.

Instagram isn’t real life. I make mistakes. I am not always hilarious nor do I always understand the jokes of those who actually are hilarious. What I consider a successful day in my life isn’t what everyone else may consider success at all. My house will get messy. I’ll forget to put my daughter’s sippy-cup or wipes or her bib in the diaper bag and then I won’t look like a “good mom”. Yes, I will sometimes look silly and dumb. Sometimes I actually am silly and dumb. But that’s okay.

I want to let go of the need to look good so I can focus on what is already good in my life. Trying to be perceived a certain way is never fulfilling or fun. I want to let it go.

2- The Need to Feel Good

I began my journey towards minimalism in part because I realized that comfort had become an idol in certain areas of my life. I wanted to feel good rather than do the hard things. Sometimes I wouldn’t even do the very things I actually wanted to, because they would require some sacrifice or suffering. Can you relate?

No one enjoys suffering, and it is human nature to avoid it. But sacrifice is necessary to achieve our goals and make progress in our own character, families, relationships, careers, and lives at large.

The need to feel good is actually extremely temporary. It’s the need to own modern conveniences and comforts that make us feel like we’re worthwhile, even though “stuff” can never define who we are. It’s the need to relieve stress with retail therapy, which only lasts as long as it takes to remove the price tag. It’s the need to be comfortable and have an “easy” lifestyle that is actually wasteful and irresponsible in the long run. It’s the need to play it “safe” and not go the extra mile for someone, even if that someone is our own selves.

Mandy Arioto of MOPS International recently said this: “We resist the suffering we need to do to get what we want, but then we stuffer just the same.” This is exactly what happens when the need to feel good outweighs our deepest desires, hopes, goals, and convictions. We cannot accomplish much of anything if we refuse to feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and press into the hard feelings of life.

And this is why I’m letting go of the need to feel good. It’s overrated.

3- The Need to Be Right

If Facebook has taught me anything, it is that the human brain is trained to seek out information that we agree with–that makes us right. The articles that I and my friends, family, and acquaintances all post on social media are rarely objective. The news we tend to watch is probably the same. It all has a slant to it which we are already inclined to agree with.

I want to let go of the need to be right. I want to approach people and places and news articles and conversations with curiosity, not assumption. I want to be open to other people’s opinions and when I disagree, because sometimes I genuinely will, I want to be okay with that person thinking I’m wrong. I want to let go of the need to defend my case, to explain myself, to feebly attempt to control the way I am perceived by other people.

Being an Enneagram Type One, this is especially challenging for me. Type Ones are always seeking out what is good and right and true in the world, which is positively noble. But we also have an insatiable desire to be right and also, to be perceived by everyone else as right.

Being in relationship is messy. People misunderstand one another. Apologies are necessary. Some conflicts cannot be reconciled. Agreeing to disagree rarely comes peacefully or easily. But being in relationship with people who think differently than I do is more important than being right and needing to express all of the reasons why I am.

This will be humbling, but if my “One Word” for the year has taught me anything, it’s that I cannot hope to keep stumbling towards wholeness without letting go of some things. 

So let’s start with these three.

Never A Failure

Never a Failure (1)

I began my career as a high school English teacher with an unapologetically idealistic attitude about the difference I could make in my student’s lives and in Chicago’s far South Side community as a whole. After all, when you’re young and energetic and still on an academic high from all of what you’ve learned as a recent college graduate, there is literally no passion you cannot chase successfully.

I think I envisioned myself as one of those young, inexperienced, yet unexpectedly inspiring and successful teachers you always see in the movies. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to achieve, but I also had no idea how hard it would be.

After three years of teaching in Chicago Public Schools and living in the Roseland community, that passion I had clung to so dearly dwindled from a raging fire to barely a smoking ember. What I believed to be God’s calling for my life now felt far away – lost, even.

I was tired; I was bogged down with paperwork; I had too many classes; I had over-crowded classrooms; I had a steep cultural learning curve that I was barely getting over the hump with, and on top of that, being a recent hire made my job security slim to none. Some students consistently skipped my class; I struggled immensely with getting certain kids to listen, or to even pick up a pencil; many of the tests I gave came back with dismal results; I was constantly sleep-deprived and over-stressed, and I got sick more times in a single year than I had in the past four combined – in short, I felt like a complete failure.

So, when I left the teaching profession at age 25, I felt disillusioned and disheartened about passion as a whole. I thought that if I couldn’t live out my perfect dreams of being an inner city educator, then how could I hope to live them out in any other area of my life?

But mostly, I was just afraid – afraid that because I had quit, that meant I would forever be labeled a quitter – afraid that because I had given up on a past hope, then all hope was lost for me – afraid that because I hadn’t achieved this dream, I would never achieve anything of value.

But more than anything, I was afraid that all of this meant I was a failure.

Two years later, when I found out I was pregnant, those fears resurfaced. I was afraid to have any expectation of motherhood at all, or of my child, for that matter. I didn’t want my passions to be killed yet again.

And I didn’t want to fail.

But how could I hold a new life inside of my own body and not have wild and courageous dreams for her? How could I not hope for so much in this tiny person’s future? How could I not cling to the promises that God had made to this little baby, and also to me?

 After quitting teaching, and especially after becoming a mother, I was pitched into a new season of life where my motivation was very different than it was when I was fresh out of college. But I’ve come to realize that isn’t bad.

We would never say that the little girl who dreamed of being a ballerina at age 5 failed because she ended up becoming a doctor at age 27.

In the same way, God showed me that I wasn’t a failure simply because my dreams in college changed into different dreams even just a few years later.

My passion for teaching impoverished urban kids has grown into a passion for raising my own kids to befriend them and advocate for their rights and for their futures. My passion for living in the Roseland community of Chicago has grown into a passion for pushing myself to see things from other’s perspectives, and learning to love all people where they are, not where I think they should be.

It would take more pages than I can count to recall all of what my former students have taught me, and all of what I am still learning from my Chicago neighbors and South Side friends. But I know that God has used these experiences to mature me and help me see that his perfect plan for me is never just one thing.

My daughter is toddling around now, and a new life is growing inside of my belly, along with new passions and new hopes. I know not all of those fleeting and idealistic dreams will come to fruition in this lifetime, but some of them will, at least to some extent. The rest can wait for heaven.

Passion, in the form of tentative hope, peeks forth from already-fertilized soil. Dreams have grown and died and been stripped away to make room for a new and freshly pruned crop. It’s the way things grow, and it’s the way we grow. And I know now that it is never a failure.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog

Learning to Say “No” Without an Explanation

No is a complete sentence

I had this section in my Bullet Journal that I absolutely love. It’s about three and a half pages of graph paper with Washi-tape sectioned off squares and rectangles—it’s my quote page. In the tiniest of squares is one of my favorite quotes that I keep having to go back to time and time again, especially during seasons when I get caught up in the people-pleasing hamster wheel.  The quote reads:

“No.’ is a complete sentence.”

I’m not sure who first said this, but many have taken this concept to heart, and I am one of them.

For a long time I struggled with feeling like I always had to explain myself.

Many times these explanations came off as lame excuses. “I’m so sorry I’m late to lecture; I my roommate locked me out of my dorm this morning when I got back from my run.” 

Many times these explanations actually included very helpful information. “I won’t be able to make it to your baby shower because my father-in-law’s funeral is that same day. I wish I could be in two places at once.”

But sometimes these explanations were unnecessary and were born out of a desire to tell people what they wanted to hear when I couldn’t give them what they really wanted. 

If they wanted time, money, or really anything else from me, but, for whatever reason, I could not give it to them, I felt like I needed to explain why. If my choices went against what someone else would have chosen for their life, I felt like I needed to justify my decision. If I even got a whiff of disapproval from pretty much anyone, I felt like I needed to go into all the details so that maybe–just maybe– they would understand and not be disappointed in me.

All in all, these tugs to explain myself were coming from a place of not believing in who I was or what I was doing with my life. I needed validation from others to feel like I was worthwhile or that my decisions were “good” ones.

But I have come to realize that “no” truly is a complete sentence. And while sometimes further words are needed for the sake of sensitivity and comprehension, the idea behind this quote, for me, is that I am allowed to do what’s best for myself and my family and my life without needing everyone else to approve or even understand.

We all desperately want a fulfilling life. Yet the more we fill it with things—items, busyness, worry, unnecessary commitments, debt, pressure, stress, people-pleasing–the more cluttered and unfocused and empty it becomes. We have to say “no” to these things.

Explaining myself was one of those things that was emptying me. It left me feeling like I could never please the people in my life. It left me feeling unsure about my choice to say “no”. It left me comparing myself to other people’s schedules and commitments and lives in general. I wasn’t confident in my choices. I wasn’t sure of myself. I didn’t stand my ground in what was best for me or what I knew I needed to do, despite what anyone else wanted.

There are times when we need to sacrifice and say “yes” when we don’t want to. There are times when saying “yes” is joyfully easy.

There are times when saying “no” is the hardest thing we have to do, and there are times when we say it as a knee-jerk reaction. Most of the time, it’s hard. Even if we really don’t want to do something, often the pressure to say “yes” makes saying “no” difficult. But after we do the hard work of saying “no”, we need to be okay with that choice.  We need to know that we don’t owe anyone an explanation if it comes from a place of pressure and people-pleasing.

We can say “no”.

We can let people think what they want about it.

We can know in our truest selves that we made the right choice.

And then we can have room to say “yes” to something even better.

On Unkindness and Cowardice and How Truth is Essential to Defeat Both

white and pink flowerson a book beside eyeglasses

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

I am not the kindest person I know.

I am sometimes socially shy to the point of rudeness; there are moments when I value my own comfort over making others feel comfortable; I can be extremely harsh and judgmental, to my own self as well as to everyone else; I often have mean thoughts about other people that pop into my head.

I share this with you all today lest you think this post is coming from a “holier than thou” place. It’s not. I’m a pretty mean person sometimes. I think we all can be.

I recently went to a wedding this past year that was beautiful. The ceremony was heartwarming, the music was fun, the food was tasty, and the decor was gorgeous.

But the people… the people were mean.

No, not the bride and groom… I’m talking about their guests, whom I was one of.

There were countless times at the wedding where the guests made a snide remark about the wedding itself, or even the bride herself, or the way they chose to order the events. Overall, I got a sense of extreme judgment going on, and it was very unkind.

Being a pretty mean person myself, this still baffled me.

Why on earth would you attend a wedding where you didn’t love and support the couple getting married? Why in the world would you expect someone’s wedding to entertain YOU rather than be the bride and groom’s special day? Why, oh why, turn the happiest day of these people’s lives into a haughty evaluation session of their clothes, taste in music, wedding budget, and food choice?

I was astounded at the unkindness I saw from the so-called “guests” at this wedding.

I know that in American middle-class society, there is are norms of what a wedding should be. Sure, there are subcategories of style and location and theme, but there are some expectations about what happens at a wedding these days. I don’t know if I was ever aware of this before I got married myself, and I know that many of these key expectations were not present, or were dramatically altered at my own wedding.

So, self-centeredly, the unkind guests at this wedding, an event which I thought to be pretty standard with societal norms, made me wonder what on earth was said about my own wedding, and my own choices for one of the biggest moments of my life.

Was my choice to walk down the aisle in sunglasses to Hall and Oates’ “You make my dreams come true” scoffed at? Did people roll their eyes when the guests were asked to move chairs from the wedding location a few yards to the reception tables? What about the buffet of Hy-Vee catering– did people turn their noses up at it all? Was the dollar dance seen as cheap? Was our music contemporary and trendy enough? Did people think a dry wedding reception was lame?

I’m so glad that I didn’t think about these things the day of my wedding. I was too focused on becoming Mrs. Florine, and how grateful I was for all the things I wanted my wedding to be. What others wanted my wedding to be didn’t really enter my head. Maybe that was another sign of my self-centeredness, but if you ask me, that’s the way it should be for the bride on her wedding day.

A wedding is about two people getting married. 

It’s not about how fancy or expensive things are or even how smoothly everything goes. And while I think it also should be a fun party for the guests, I really think a wedding should be whatever the heck the bride and groom want it to be, and the guests can deal. It’s not about them. 

But regardless of what you believe a wedding should be like, I have to wonder how being kind plays into the lives of these guests I keep referring to.

As I stated earlier, I am far from the kindest person I know. But this is something I am not content to sit in.

I hate my unkindness. I hate my selfishness. I hate when my reflex is to be mean or judgmental or harsh, even if it’s behind someone’s back. No–especially if it’s behind someone’s back, because that means I don’t even have the spine to tell someone to their face that I think a certain way about them (which usually would imply that the way I think is cruel).

Or there is another option. Perhaps I don’t tell them something to their face because I’m too much of a coward to do so. Even as I write these words, I think there might be fear behind much of this blog post. Fear that stops me from telling these guests to their face that their comments are unkind and rude and downright mean.

Sharing the truth isn’t easy, and often we don’t get rewarded for it. Perhaps this is why we even have the temptation to gossip or talk poorly about someone behind their back: because telling someone something negative to their face is hardly ever appreciated, even if the comment is true or warranted.

The comments that these guests made were not warranted, and most of them weren’t true at all. They were just cruel evaluations and harsh opinions.

But here on this blog, where I evaluate these wedding guests and share my own opinions, harsh or not…. is it really much better?

While I refused to participate or even listen long to the gossip I heard, and while I didn’t make a cruel remark myself, I certainly didn’t call out these people for their unkind behavior.

I’m doing it now… behind the shield of a semi-ambiguous blog post.

And it’s now that I realize that truth has a huge part to play in the remedy of both unkindness and cowardice, two things I think we all struggle with from time to time if not everyday of our lives.

When we are unkind, the truth is we are often just masking an insecurity we are feeling. We do this by putting another person down. It makes us feel elevated ourselves because “at least we’re not like so-and-so”. Or sometimes it’s because we are masking a deep wound that we feel from the other person’s actions, and instead of addressing the hurt, the sadness, or the betrayal, we simply lash out at them and are either unkind to their face, or behind their back. Covering up these truths only makes the wound deeper, and the insecurity’s power over us stronger. It does no one any favors.

When we are cowardly, we hide from the truth that needs to be exposed, either in our lives, or in the lives others. We refuse to look at our own mess in the light and shy away from facing our fears. And we won’t speak up when someone else is being oppressed or abused or even just gossiped about because it means confronting someone else’s unkindness and potentially alienating ourselves, or becoming the brunt of more unkindness. Refusing to act out of cowardice hides the truth and allows others to become victims. It makes us into guilty bystanders instead of advocates for the less powerful. It also does no one any favors.

I am guilty of both unkindness and cowardice.

And so are you.

We all are.

To be kind means to speak the truth in love. This is also what it means to be courageous. 

To the bride and groom: I truly hope your day was everything you dreamed it would be. You both looked beautiful and the whole day was so special. I’m extremely happy for you both.

To the guests at their wedding: I truly hope that your unkind behavior is exposed to you in some way so that you can examine the root of either your insecurity or your hurt. And I truly apologize about not being courageous enough to speak truth to you at the time. While you may have been offended in the moment, I know that it’s my responsibility to be honest and loving and kind, and part of that means saying things that are uncomfortable but true.

This blog post is an attempt at sharing truth, feeble and untimely though it may be. I should have said something simple, kind, and true in the moment, and not allowed my cowardice to stop my mouth in the face of someone else’s unkindness.

I will try to do better next time, as I hope we all will.