The Learning Curve of Validation

photo credit: Hollywood Sign (Vintage) via photopin (license)
photo credit: Hollywood Sign (Vintage) via photopin (license)
I have found myself, this week, smack dab in the middle of a learning curve. These particular weeks are not a favorite. As I referenced in my previous blog, time at the cabin affords me the privilege of ruminating more than usual…which is a lot, because anyone who has even remote contact with me knows this mind is rarely settled.

After my last post, I engaged in what is known as a vulnerability hangover (Brene Brown). I know honestly is usually the best policy, but really? This writing business has taught me so much about myself. And while I love it and am so grateful it has found me and I answered the call (after about 23 years of denial), it is not without its fair share of nerve-wracking doubt.

I have learned this week that I am a validation whore. Forgive me for the crass terminology, but it cannot be spun any more delicately. I daily am tempted to do and say things to be approved, validated, as my main motivation. Am I alone? Surely not.

Feedback is critical, we need it for checks and balances. When the reaction you receive is horror, or a mild head nod, or maybe snoring, feedback is important. Constructive criticism is beneficial. Accountability is essential.

The question remains for me, however, what do I say, write, do because it gains me approval? How much does this truly motivate me? I didn’t realize the force of this until this week. While I’m deeply humbled by the answer to this, I am grateful for the revelation. Will I be free, ever? Probably not, just like anyone who produces, creates, or serves. I know I need my trusted people. The ones who will tell me like it is, but who will also give me far more grace than I ever can or will.

Here are a few bits I am learning through this process. Hopefully some will resonate with you.

The longing for validation is not a measure of God’s love for me. It is my human-ness, ego, the basest part of me. It is the clutching of my shallow heart, the sugar, the quick energy, a pop to lighten the weight of mundanity. Akin to when I eat, because I’m bored or sad or anxious. If I was truly needing sustenance I’d eat a somewhat balanced meal. It’s a quick rush to quell the discomfort. Guzzle a shot of Facebook, a handful of Twitter, or a sneak of WordPress stats to provide a break, a fix. Anything to transport away if even for the briefest of moments.

What is it I’m really reaching for? Belonging, hope, recognition, worth. It’s already mine. I get to claim all of this because I’m made in God’s image, created by Him/Her. I fail to believe this because my feet get stuck in the muck of this world, while my hands reach, ever so higher, yearning for more.

Until I move to the next life, whatever that is, I’m not sure this wrestling will abate. Of course it will ebb and flow, that’s normal, depending on my security levels. But I can do the work of seeing honestly, providing relief, loving, offering gratitude.

We are all looking to leave our mark. Some of us have loftier goals than others, but it still means we want to be noticed, recognized, approved. We want significance. I think we are designed for this, truly, by God. But we mishandle it by looking to the cheap, rather than the lasting, the weighty. The work is to uncover our true need, our true desire rather than settling for the masking imposters. I can eat ice cream all day for years. I’ll have the calories to sustain my being, but ultimately I will pay a price. What price are our souls paying when we settle for cheap shots of approval? Social media validation, relying upon the shifting preferences of people will only let me down. Look at the train wreck of many lives in our celebrity culture. It’s no different for me.

We have to learn to take a longer, harder view of what truly satisfies:

Working toward justice, alleviation of suffering, joining in the pain of another, living more simply, asking hard questions, setting a new goal and working daily to achieve it, creating.

Jesus is the answer leaves me with more questions.

Let go and let God  makes me want to cling tighter to what I want.

The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it makes me want to throw my blessed Bible across the room. Who can understand even a quarter of it without having a doctorate in theology?

God doesn’t give us more than we can handle makes me want to holler from the rooftops BULLSHIT! We get all kinds of impossible, hard things. It’s a miracle people don’t crumble under the weight on a daily basis. Is He/She with us? Absolutely! Do we feel it? Nope. Sometimes. Yes.

These pat answers do more harm than good. Personally, I would rather us have more questions than answers, to keep us humble, connected, seeking, yearning.

We all want to matter. We all want to be told You are so beautiful, I love you. You’re good, please stop trying so hard. May we look to those who love us, without condition. May we turn to Hope, to Rest, to Renewal and Grace. May we rest in the knowledge that we are precious, desired, whole already.

Made in the image of our Creator, having achieved all the validation we could possibly imagine.

The Insanity of Sitting by the River

FullSizeRender-4

There is this both/and to life. This either/or, this good/bad, truth/lie, work/rest, all at the same time. When I’m at my cabin for extended amounts of time, I become a mystery to myself. Things arise in my soul and mind that don’t have much purchase in my everyday world.  Maybe it is because I have fewer people to process things with, or I’m thrown right up against the work of parenting and wanting what I want. Maybe it’s because I have more quiet and room to recognize a few coping methods. Ways I can avoid issues when life has more distractions. Maybe it’s nature, the way the trees and mountains change the familiar skyline, my frame of reference, so nothing is as it often seems. I don’t know, maybe all of this is true. I’ve meandered into a world of both/and, of dichotomy, of honesty and hard-looking.

Some days are just full of hard, nebulous, strange, vulnerable work.

I’m not sure if this is our human construction, or if it’s a newish thing with social media. I know Facebook has jacked me up in a lot of ways, while, at the same time, being wonderful..two sides of the same coin. I enjoy the life-giving piece of connection, with old and new friends, getting glimpses of daily life. I long to learn new things, and participate in discussions with those different than I.

I don’t care for the insecurity that rises up, the judgments I’m capable of making, the inability to remember life is more than one-dimension…that people want to be known and celebrated. I want to be known and celebrated. But, typically, we don’t get the whole picture. Nor do I frequently provide the whole picture.

Facebook can make me really disappointed in myself.

Here’s a glimpse into my yesterday, made more treacherous by my involvement with social media (apparently my internal voice involves a lot of curse words):

Let’s sit by the river and read, sounds wonderful. What a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. I wish it was raining. I love the rain. What are you saying, winter will be here so soon, and you want more rain? Let’s check Facebook. How is your blog doing? Look at the stats. Oh dear, maybe I wrote a bunch of drivel. That sucks. I really need to define my audience. I really need to write for myself. Let’s check Facebook. Any likes? Any comments? Nothing? Shit. Geez. You need to get off Facebook, it rules your life. It’s such a great tool. Hide those people, no don’t, what if they inspire you. You know, I really need to get off Facebook. Let’s check Twitter. Oh dear, another black person, dead. Shit. And you’re complaining about your life in the mountains, worried that people are forgetting about you. Have some perspective. Let’s check Facebook, let’s see if there’s any likes or comments. Read, for goodness sake you just wasted 20 minutes on a worthless endeavor. Trust that if your blog is going to be read, it will be read, by the right people. Who cares if they like it or not. Read. To Kill a Mockingbird, so you can learn, edify yourself. Have I read this before? I think I only saw the movie. Gregory Peck, right? Is he still alive? Read, already. Those kids, Scout and Jem. They had it good. They knew their neighbors, spent time outside ALL summer. What are your kids doing right now? On a screen again?They are probably going to become obese at this rate. Really? Get them out the door. Make them go for a hike. Get your things together, pack a lunch, drive to Crested Butte. The flowers are supposedly magnificent. Go! Good grief. Get off your ass. Get your kids off the screens. Make them come outside. Make them play with sticks and mud in the yard. Oh wait, that means, I’ll have to help them find the sticks and the mud and I’d rather sit here and do nothing. Let them rot their brains. School comes soon enough and there won’t be time for the rest. Let’s check Facebook, check WordPress, so how the blog is doing. You know you haven’t exercised today. How is that going to feel later, when you want to eat ice cream or drink your beer? You won’t feel very good about yourself. You only have this summer once, so better get to it. 

And then the kicker: I’m sure so-and-so is out and about doing AMAZING things. Look what they posted! You really don’t understand how good you have it. Look how beautiful they are. What’s wrong with you? You need to go shopping and get some cute clothes. If he/she was here they wouldn’t be acting this way. They’d want to have an adventure. Those people know how to live, how to laugh, how to connect. You’re choosing this. So, be grateful. I am grateful. 

This is painful. This was literally my day yesterday. It ended with us all going swimming at the local Rec Center. I did manage to eek out a short workout. We laughed, I felt better. Ate donuts and ice cream for dinner, beer and salad for dessert, took the dog for a walk in the waning daylight, expressed gratitude, watched a movie.

No day is unredeemable. Each day has the both/and. Every day is a management of expectations…reminding ourselves of grace. There is no perfection. There is only learning, growing, becoming, accepting. And thanking God the day can come to an end. And waiting for tomorrow…getting through. Some days, I just ache with longing, for more, for better. These are the days to settle in, be. Something is cementing, being ingrained. Or, it’s just plain hard for whatever reason, unbeknownst to me.

My goal is to be honest, to seek to connect with others, to give myself the opportunity to live in the truth of what is.

I know the summers are short. The kids are growing up, the time is limited. The winter will come and I’ll long for quiet days, near the river, on a summer day at my cabin. There will still be mosquitos and crazy, random thoughts…but maybe, just maybe, with a little honest insight, it will be just a bit less.

Winter in July

FullSizeRender-3

Gazing at the cottonwood branches above my head, laden with airy bits of seed. Hundreds in each ball, awaiting their release from the tree. Falling to the ground, staining the car, attaching with sticky might to the red plastic adirondacks. Twice a season, winter in July, the male and female trees release their genetic material all over the high altitude ranch lands.

Such a messy business, cotton caught in the cobwebs, revealing my lack of maintenance. Millions of spores in the yard alone, one-point-six acres. Little seedlings from a year, or two, or three ago. Why are there not millions of fragile baby trees?

Cotton balls waft, riding the tide of the light breeze. Few are lucky, released into the damp, fertile soil. The majority, not so much, alighting rooftop, deck, river, animal backs. Some stamped down, swept off, vacuumed even.

Seeds as words, ideas – flying, floating, plummeting. Thoughts, phrases…inconveniently interfering in those awake/asleep moments. Some words sit, burrow, nestle. Some fleet out of thought-space like a rocket. Get outta there! Some sit and attach to other words, form ideas, maybe get spoken, become parts of sentences and confessions and admission to a trusted friend. Some bury, re-attach to a memory, link up with shame, multiply in darkness.

I want to be awake, I want to learn, to see. I want to see a sprout, an idea take on life. I want to be privy to seeds of change, floating and landing upon fertile soil. I want to discern these seeds, what they mean, their purpose for me or another. How does this one line up with my heart, my mind, my desire? What are the loaves and fishes I can bring to the table, that God can miraculously multiply?

Not every cause is mine to own, or feel. Many I respect, hearts bursting for the need, the people, the children, the oppressed. I will “like” and “share” and advocate.  And I must have understanding when others don’t share mine. However, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere (Martin Luther King Jr.), so one’s specific call to justice naturally unfurls itself into that of another. We truly are of like mind when we are looking to lighten the loads of others, with the privilege that we ourselves own. Any action toward justice, toward seeking to understand another human, to alleviating the struggle, is an action toward all justice. Toward love.

I want to recognize the burning of humility. I want to move forward, if the call is still present, the motivation cleansed, drawing out greater purpose. But I also want to discern where my pride, my hubris has taken on a life of its own, where new gains may cause more harm than good. I want to see where I need to step out of the way, to see it’s not my fight, to take a step back and behind to push others to the forefront. Often my work is to plant a seed…and leave it. Other times my work is to nurture the growth, this tender shoot…and leave it. Some of us get to be a part of the dream from beginning to full fruition. This is neither wrong nor right. Our job is to pay attention, surrender, and trust.

May I choose to see the offering I can contribute. May I choose to see yours. May I honor yours, while also honoring mine, without fear of comparison or denigration of worth. May we realize we are on the same team, using our talents for the good of another, for the good of this world we’ve been entrusted, for love to grow and be displayed. May we do this without fear of judgment, or fear of imperfect motivations. May we move forward regardless, choosing to honor the divine in each and every being, making earnest and honest mistakes.

What is our thing? What seed is growing in us, ready to be released, to fly, to soar? What do we do with the privilege we have, where we are? What seeds linger upon the soil of my world? What are the things that set my soul on fire? Make me run faster and talk louder? That send me angrily to the pool? What are the stories that cause me to weep in the middle of the afternoon? What wakes me in the night, or far too early in the morning..filling journal entries, and blog posts? What about you? What makes your hands sweat and your heart quicken? What pisses you off?

I choose to believe — the more I learn, the more I know, the less I have to fear. So many of our biases, our stereotypes, our unwillingness to engage with different…is due to fear. I am afraid of displaying my ignorance though the questions I pose. I am afraid of displaying my innate racism, my prejudice, whatever, so I am tempted to choose safe. I challenge me, I challenge you…add people to your life who are different. Add people to your life who live on the margins. Add people to your life that must overcome obstacles daily, obstacles that would never cross our minds.

Each time we counter our fear, our assumptions with knowledge and truth and love we eliminate the hold of that power – the power of hate, ignorance, of chosen blindness.

Dear Eric

photo credit: Star crossed via photopin (license)
photo credit: Star crossed via photopin (license)

After my Dear Jenny post, I’ve been thinking of the desperate importance of a Dear Eric post…a letter written to my husband, after 22 years of marriage, explaining me. While I wish this was straightforward, I realize the female species is a conundrum even to ourselves. I am learning, after 43 years, to give more grace to myself than I have. To stop staying things like, “Girls are weird” or “I’m so hormonal right now”. Everything I feel, every time I react unexpectedly, the moments when I surprise myself..all of this is a clue to greater understanding and appreciation for girls and women. May we continue to learn and invite our loved ones (especially our men and boys) on the journey with us, with much patience and grace.

Dear Eric,

Thank you for your seeming limitless patience with me. I am surprised often by your calm demeanor, your willingness to explore my psyche, your ability to keep quiet. I know, at times, I have not been the easiest person to coexist with, and I know frequently your expectations and mine fail to align. I hope to help you on this road. The personal work I’ve accomplished has been greatly a result of your generosity and willingness to ask good questions and hold me in the uncertainty.

After 22 years married, we seem to have a pretty good thing going, not without its moments, but for the most part, a very life-giving relationship. I often wonder how we got so fortunate, for it has seemed easy. But, I must remind myself of the great amount of effort we’ve put into our relationship, both through working individually and together. We have been proactive in making choices to protect and defend our marriage and family, from the traps of busyness and resentment.

Here are a few things I have learned about myself (and other women):

Validation. We women are really good at comparing ourselves to one another. If someone’s thighs are better than mine, I jump to the conclusion that their entire life is better…that I don’t measure up. Please know we are not rational, and when I mention things like this to you, it’s okay to point out my amazing qualities, and to say my thighs look great. We base our perceptions on our assumptions. It takes a lot of reassurance to pull us out of that spiral. You don’t need to agree with my crazy, but you can reaffirm the other wonderful qualities I have.

Security. I don’t need grand adventures. I want a friend. I do need challenge, but I don’t love having my feet off the ground, or careening down a mountain. I appreciate your hard work, but I can’t handle a workaholic. I appreciate your ability to relax, but I can’t handle you drinking too much. I appreciate your definitiveness, but I won’t do well if you fly off the handle. I want us to have freedom with our hard-earned finances, but not to go into debt (too much). I need to be able to trust you, in the smallest of things just as much as the huge. I need a place to be vulnerable. I need you to be vulnerable with me.

Appreciation. I want to be supported, respected…regardless of how much I accomplish. I want you to notice the little things, from managing the kids and their activities, to the taxi driving, and the budget, groceries, and laundry. A small thank you goes such a long way with me. There are the times where you call me out. That’s okay. I just need it to be couched within the many mundane thank you’s.  I appreciate that you give me room to be who I am. Thank you for not pressuring me, for trusting me in how I manage time. Thank you for appreciating the balance I bring to our home.

Understanding. A lot lives in my head. It’s just there. It’s not a reflection of my level of trust in you. Things swirl around and bump up against the edges of my brain. If you notice this happen, it’s always a good idea to ask a well-formed question or two, when the kids are settled down, in a quiet space. I do need to get this stuff out, and usually I don’t even know it’s there. Give me a good reason to let it out. I have a lot of grace for imperfect methods, I just need to trust motivations.

Go mining. We have highly acute receptors, buried deeply below the surface that sense the slightest of shifts. We know when something is off. It’s never good to roll your eyes and walk away. Not much gets past us. Our intuition fires, sometimes randomly, but usually we need to pay attention. Feeling and emotions are my barometer.  Fear kicks in, leading to control…clean house, kids, food, exercise, money. It’s an indication something is amiss. Please help me. Please listen patiently, kindly. Don’t push too much or lose it. I need you. I need help figuring out my intuition too. Support my extra sense, listen when something isn’t “right”, reassure me in these moments. Work with me. Don’t analyze or scientifically debunk my theory or conclusion. Trust me, even if the fear is misplaced. I might be wrong, please don’t add to my shame. This intuition must be fine-tuned. It is useful, and will come in very handy, particularly with the teenagers we have.

Solving. I know you spend the day solving problems, fixing things, creating.  Your work with me is never done. I need you to listen, to let me know it’s going to be okay, and that you will be there no matter what I’ve done or has been done to me. Criticism is not helpful, nor is there anything to fix. I may or may not want your input, you can offer your understanding, and I might want your assistance. Unfortunately, these are very difficult times. I don’t really know the best way myself.

Play “Can You Imagine”. I like to dream, we like to dream together. Play the game, entertain the scenarios, participate in the conversation. I know our finances, our time constraints, our kids. I know all these things, but sometimes it is fun to meander down that little path. We have had some really fun adventures that are results of these conversations.

Say I’m sorry. Every single one of our issues involves the both of us. Each of us make mistakes. We each have to own our part. A well-timed, sincere apology speaks volumes to my heart. Thank you for your willingness to go there.

My home is my refuge. You seem to be able to get away, to go places, recharge. I recharge at home. I take pride in my home. I need it clean and organized, depending on how much chaos is in my life. Thank you for the abilities you have to fix things, to make improvements. I love our home. It feeds me.

To all the men out there…love the one you’ve got. The ass is not greener, according to Glennon Melton. Figure her out, make it your life’s goal to understand her. Just because you can’t or it’s hard or it feels impossible doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Don’t assume, listen, ask questions, seek answers. This life is an endless journey of discovery. I am a mystery unto myself. Please assist us in our self-discovery, be part of our team! The things we can do together are so much greater than alone. Don’t be threatened by the success of your spouse, be impressed and proud. She knows when you are enamored with her.

Eric, these last 22 years have been a fabulous ride. I am so grateful for your desire to understand me, to cherish me, to honor me. I have felt it and am trying to receive it. Thank you for persisting in loving me.

I love you,

Jen

Thirty Miles and Forty Pounds

photo credit: RSiegel_Week16 - Scarpas via photopin (license)
photo credit: RSiegel_Week16 – Scarpas via photopin (license)

Thirty miles and forty pounds. Thirty miles planned, the Continental Divide Trail through Rocky Mountain National Park. Forty pounds, the weight of my pack, bear can with food and four-season tent. Three of us, three years running now, backpacking together the same week each year. Monsoon season in the Rockies, rain guaranteed, lightning always a threat, fear knocking on the gate waiting to pounce at any moment.

Karie, our leader and organizer, lover of the outdoors, hiker extraordinaire, always awaiting an adventure. Ready and able for anything.

Becky, kind-hearted, compassionate, easy-going but definite. A reassuring presence, usually thinking of others, offering regular assistance.

Me, typically along for the ride, rising to the occasion, uber-focused on contingency plans if we need to make a quick escape. My biggest desires on the trail: a dry tent before packing, a good #2 in the morning, strong coffee and a moment to enjoy.

The expedition did not disappoint. We were entertained by a mother moose and her baby, multiple elk — men, women and children, fellow backpackers, honeymooners, interesting tracks, stunning vistas, rain, thunderstorms, afternoon naps, blistered toes, bruised hips and collarbones, marmots and other rodent-folk, cold rivers and waterfalls, mountaintop lakes. Most of all, pride, pride in our accomplishment, pride in what we worked out on the trail, pride in what was overcome to get to the trail. Pride in ourselves, a trio of suburban women, roughing it on our own, making it happen, enjoying the beauty, the majesty, the reward. Risking.

The beauty of our band is our care of one another. We are only as good as our weakest member, and three-years-running…this shifts. We lighten the load, we re-distribute, we even out depending on the needs, the burdens. This work is just as important as what happens on the trail.

Upon my re-entry, I returned, somewhat unwillingly, to the land of social media. In my Twitter feed I learned the story of Sandra Bland from Naperville, IL. While in Texas, en route to her alma mater, Prairie View A&M, she was stopped by police for failing to use her turn signal. Forcibly removed from the car, she was slammed to the ground, injured road-side. Taken into custody, she procured the bail money and awaited release. Three days later, she was found dead in her jail cell, apparently hanged by a plastic trash bag, suicide the ruling.

There are many inconsistencies with this particular story, many impossibilities and questions arising from the black community and her family. Regardless of her death, she was stopped for a turn signal infraction and injured because she stood up for herself and fought back. Would this have happened to me? White, fair-skinned, average height and weight? Possible but improbable.

Who are the people in our communities, on our streets, in our schools and churches, across our counties, states and nation that need some of the burden alleviated? We really aren’t much without one another. It is our collective work to be cognizant of the weight others are lugging. Some are obvious: disabilities, skin color, illness, socioeconomic. Some are subtle, requiring us to dig in, get to know, seek to understand, separate from safety: sexuality, mental illness, grief, physical pain, abuse.

Our community is only as good as our empathy. Our community is only as strong as the ability to love through seeking to understand another. Our nation and world can only be at peace when we lay down the weapons of hate and ignorance and entitlement.

We can’t know the weight of someone’s backpack. We can see, they may be suffering a terrible load. And just because someone appears to be able to bear the weight of the pack, doesn’t justify the burden. When Karie offered to take my tent for the last three miles, I felt I could fly. The additional weight I had been bearing was more than I realized. I just assumed she and I had similar weighted packs, that I needed to be the one to make adjustments.  But it wasn’t until she bore part of my burden, through seeking to walk in my proverbial shoes, that she could understand.

I can never know what it means to be gay, or transgender, or black, or disabled, or mentally ill. But I can develop skills involving listening, understanding, learning. Until we do this collective work, until we recognize the burden our privilege puts on those who can never obtain it, the disparity will continue. It will thrive. It will multiply. The division will further grow.

We owe our fellow humans hope. We owe one another kindness, authenticity, and a hand.

This woman, Sandra, we owe her memory justice.

The burden carried by our marginalized is more than I can fathom. It’s more than I can fully understand. It’s more than I often want to understand. My privilege enables my children, me, Eric  opportunities to seek dreams, fulfill desires, live in comfort. The freedom offered by our privilege, our lighter packs, need to extend to the burdened, the hurting, the oppressed in our neighborhoods.

How do I come alongside someone and say, Hey, I’ve got this, let me have some of your load for awhile? Maybe it isn’t my job, nor is it my story. But I can work to understand how my white privilege, my heterosexuality, my health, my marital status, my socioeconomics might put an additional weight in the backpack of my fellow brothers and sisters. My chosen ignorance, my chosen comfort to have what I want when I want it, my chosen blinders only perpetuate the problems rather than contribute to the solutions.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t even know the burdens. I’m always given a choice…to see, to choose sight or choose blindness. Do I take a risk, embark on the path, commit to the journey with someone else’s pain? Or do I pretend I don’t see?

The answer is Yes. I am equally capable and guilty of both. I do know, however, the joy is sweeter when the accomplishment is shared with another. The long, arduous climb, the body-jarring downhill, the blisters, the numbness…all of it is better with my friends as we trudge together, alternating who goes first, who picks the line. Sometimes, all I can manage is to hang on the heels of someone else, someone I love and trust. Someone who, I know loves me in return and holds my hope for me, when I cannot hold it myself.

Dear Jenny

photo credit: She Did. He Did. They Are. via photopin (license)
photo credit: She Did. He Did. They Are. via photopin (license)
This is a letter written to my 21 year old self, on her wedding day. A sampling of the knowledge I’ve accumulated over 22 years of marriage.

July 10, 2015

Dear Jenny,

I know this seems weird. You may not recognize me…22 years married is a long ways away. There’s a few things I want you to know, from this side of things. I’ll try not to freak you out, but give you some helpful hints.

I’m so proud of you, for sticking to your ideals. You are really a remarkable person with so much to share in the world. I know your expectations are very high, that the voices in your head ring with failure and trouble and fear. But you know what? You are embarking on a journey and adventure, far beyond your wildest dreams.

Eric is fantastic. He is a good one. You won’t find much better. When you were disappointed after watching Sleepless in Seattle the other day, because he wasn’t Tom Hanks, and mostly because you aren’t Meg Ryan? Pay it no stock. Movies are not real, TV is not real. Most people you are measuring yourself up against…aren’t what they seem. I know you’re at a Christian College, I know what they say, but believe me. Your discernment, your ability to see inconsistencies, will totally serve you.

Believe it or not, you will come to eventually love yourself. Hard to imagine, I know. You will actually weigh more, but be content. Impossibility! I recognize you don’t weigh what you want, you keep failing with food, some days you want to exercise and others you don’t. I know you feel as if everyone is better than you in every way. But you know what? You are going to eventually get to a place where your insides match your outsides. Is it possible? Yes. Keep moving toward health, balance.

By the time you’re 43, you will come to terms with your cellulite…mostly. You know, you’ve had it since you were ten. No amount of restriction or dieting or exercise is going to take it away. Rethink the notion of getting smaller. I know that seems the ideal, but consider taking up your space. Maybe being a woman is not what you think it is. Maybe being a woman means we claim our place…in our homes, our work, our relationships…and we own who we are, rather than striving to be less, smaller.

I’m not going to tell you how many kids you will have, that just spoils it, but I just need to say…don’t be too judgmental of those who have some “work” done. I know you have no idea what that means…it’s okay. You will.

Don’t waste your money on makeup. You’ll never wear it. And when you do..you’ll cry. It’s not worth it.

Those times when you feel Eric is letting you down because your relationship doesn’t have quite the same shininess as someone else’s? Trust him. He knows what he’s doing. He loves you more than you can imagine and will sacrifice a lot for your happiness. Don’t let joy be stolen because what you have doesn’t measure up to someone else’s. Most of that is not even true, and you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. Maybe instead of thinking about yourself all the time, you could consider the difficulties others may be facing.

That time, when he tells you that thing..you’ll know it when it happens. Maybe don’t say anything, or give it some time. You have every right to be hurt. Find a therapist.

When you come to that other time when you succumb to your martyr tendencies, when Eric is off doing something fun and you determine it’s time to take charge and parent the children alone? Yeah, pay attention. This only leads to bad things. Clear away any tchotchkes that can be thrown. This never ends well. I repeat, never!  Put the child in the stroller, go for a walk. It’s just one day, one nap. It’s not the end of the world. You could make a mistake that will sear your heart for all time. And if you do, it’s okay, from this side of things the damage seems minimal. Take a deep breath. Hug him/her. Remember you are not unredeemable. You are loved.

Ask the questions, search for answers. Remember, asking the questions is the important part. The answers will come.

Put your marriage first, in small ways. Remember, you are a perfectionist by nature, so don’t make firm and fast rules. Try to carve out time each night to talk, revisit the day, process together. Beer is a great bonding agent. Commit to putting the kids to bed early on a regular basis, so you know you can count on that time together. When they nap, you nap. You need to be able to stay awake after they turn in for the night. Aside from your prayer time in the morning (which won’t really happen consistently until they’re a little older), this is the most important time of the day. This is not selfish, this is essential.

Be careful with busy-ness. Many people are doing far more than you, and will always do far more than you. How does your family function best? I can tell you, it’s not with being busy. Reserve your evenings, be careful with meetings – church or otherwise. Just because its church doesn’t mean you sacrifice your marriage and family on that altar.

When certain people ensure you register for china..stand up to them. You will not entertain formally. It is never going to be you. Say “No” to the china, crystal and silver. They are not your friends. In fact, they will clutter your cupboards and they will have to be moved five times before you sell them for a fraction of their value. Use the money at REI. A good tent, a bike rack, hiking boots…this is your marriage. Buy a barbecue, and order pizza. This is you. This is how you entertain and have fun at the same time.

Volunteer work. Do it if it is enjoyable, not out of obligation, especially with little kids. Take care of your marriage, yourself and them. You don’t have to earn God’s favor through working at the church. You already have that.

Avoid the scrapbooking trend. If you do succumb, make sure you create books for ALL of your children, not just a couple. It will haunt you. And chances are, the kid(s) you don’t make the book for, will be the ones who care.

Please keep writing, fill those notebooks. Run. Swim. Physically, you have to get it out. Eventually your handwriting will be illegible, so no one will be able to read your rantings anyways.

Check your friendships. Maintain the girlfriends who have Eric’s back, too. A friend with an unhappy marriage could infect yours. Be careful. Your girlfriends are a lifeline, so very important for all the processing you require, make sure they are secure and content in their families. Maintain friends with different life experiences and perspectives. Varying points-of-view come in handy.

After twenty-two years of marriage, I can say it was the best choice I made. We have many ups and downs, but Eric is a good man. Enjoy the simple things, seek to understand, know that certain seasons are not forever. A solid conversation goes a long way, and if you’re stuck, get help. Guard against resentment. Fight to be your own person. Trust in what you’re called to.

Enjoy this day! It will be over soon. I know you’re ready to get on with your life together. it’s a good one!

I love you!

Jen