Faith and doubt

Chelan river

I stand at the edge of the river, gazing out at the horizon. Azure sky and mountains and wind and sunlight surround me, threaten to engulf me. Alone on a bridge in central Washington, I listen. Rapids rush beneath me. A smattering of leaves flutter down from a distant tree.

I wonder what it’s like to live someplace where the earth feels so alive it’s singing to you.

Earlier this year I stopped going to church for a season. Not because I don’t love my church or because my church hurt me. On the contrary, I love my church community. Deeply. I stopped going because I couldn’t hear God speaking to me there and I couldn’t bear to take communion while feeling like a hypocrite.

The truth is, I was angry at God. Everyone is carrying something, and for two years, I’ve carried the weight of family illness. I questioned. I doubted. I buried myself in work. Anything to avoid the deafening silence of prayers unanswered.

I have spent 10 years working in ministry, telling stories of God’s creative and redeeming work. Being a professional Christian typically does not afford time or space for a faith crisis, you keep working through it all. You cannot stop.

But when the opportunity to press pause, to take a sabbatical this fall became available to me, I applied, knowing how much I needed it. I needed to step away. For my family. For my heart.

Today I’ll take a boat to Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in the mountains. I’m going there to rest. To listen. To worship. To write.

On the bridge: This song, it’s not so much a voice as it is a feeling. Warmth. Joy. Presence. Comfort. I let out a sigh. How long have I been holding my breath? And I consider: Perhaps God also speaks to us in our darkest moments. In the silence. In the doubt.

Becoming

I don’t think anyone can fully prepare you for how pivotal it is to become a mother. It’s not that they don’t try. In fact, when you’re expecting, you may find everyone from your great aunt to your coworkers to well-meaning strangers dole out parenting advice. Whether they’re parents or not, many know the searing ache, the bliss of parenthood from their own lives and feel the significance of this new chapter of life of which you’re on the brink.

The journey to parenthood is in and of itself a new chapter, one that for many women and men is full of hopes and heartache. I remember this pain well. Several summers ago, while vacationing with dear friends from college and their families, I stood sobbing in a bathroom stall, wracked with envy. The only childless couple on the trip, my husband and I watched as their beautiful children shared hugs, spread joy and spilled Cheerios.

At the time, we were months into trying for our first child, and it wasn’t going great. For one, after months off birth control, my hormones were all out of wack. Getting pregnant was supposed to be easy, I thought. But now, at 30, it had become clear conceiving a child was much more calculated than others let on. I worried that my body was failing me. I worried we’d waited too long. I worried that my deepest fear — that we wouldn’t be able to have a child — might be true. Over that long weekend, while I observed my friends love on their littles, the thought that dominated my consciousness was, “I want that. Badly.”

Little did I know, I had that. I was actually pregnant with my son, and the hormones were making me tired beyond belief and weepy. The next chapter of my life was already underway.

Flash forward to today. Today is Mother’s Day, and I am actually spending part of it alone in a Starbucks writing. Time alone is a true gift for mothers of small children like myself. It’s what I asked my husband for this holiday, and he graciously granted my request.

Now I am two years and counting into motherhood and feel like an old veteran. I know this sense of security is sketchy at best. Like the time after my son began sleeping through the night consistently, but then began to act — as toddlers often do — in new, headstrong ways. Because I’ve been there before, I know I’ll forever be encountering new challenges and delights. Or, as my coworker and friend Karen says, “Bigger kids, bigger problems.” The constant change of motherhood is exhilarating and unnerving.

But going from expecting to birthing a baby, that change, that new chapter of life is monumental. And not just because your baby is changing. You are too. Those early, grueling months of learning to change diapers and feed a baby on demand are a time of becoming.

In her piece, “The Birth of A Mother,” reproductive psychiatrist Alexandra Sacks says it’s “an identity shift, and one of the most significant psychical and psychological changes a woman will ever experience.” I read this piece weeks into new motherhood, and it brought me so much peace and clarity, I teared up. This year I even had the privilege to interview Sacks for an article I wrote for The Everymom. When we spoke, Sacks said it’s time for us to shed light on this major life transition so that new moms know they’re not alone in their mixed feelings.

I only need look back on my posts from the early days of my son’s life — when caring for a newborn was all consuming, when sleep was a battle, when I felt a love so strong it scared me (still does) — to know the weight of learning to mother.

One of my favorite writers, Shauna Niequist, begins her book, Present Over Perfect naming a period in her adulthood in which she experienced dramatic change as a “sea-change, the journey from one way of living to another.”

And that’s exactly what happens when you become a mother. With a newborn in your arms you toss all your old habits and ways of living out the window and learn to live with and care for another person. Your person. You are no longer alone. You trade freedom for a new way of living. You are a mom! Niequist goes on to say this about her major life transition:

This is a love story, like all my favorite stories. It’s a story about letting yourself be loved, in all your imperfect, scarred, non-spectacular glory. And it’s about the single most profound life change I’ve yet encountered.”

–Shauna Niequist

I could say the same about my motherhood journey. And I’ll add this: loving my son was the most profound life change I’ve yet encountered. Being his mom is one of my life’s greatest love stories, and it’s still unfolding.

About a month before I gave birth to my son, I started this blog. Since 2008, after I graduated from college and became enamored with blogs, I wanted to have my own. I made a few feeble attempts at blogging over the years but in December 2016 I finally committed. In committing to this blog, I not only committed to writing, I committed to myself, to my story. I was beginning to believe that my words might matter to others.

Then, in January 2017, Jack was born and writing our story has been a tool for me to process, heal, share and reflect on all the highs and lows I’ve encountered throughout motherhood. What a gift to be a mother-writer, what an incredible gift. I look back and see my journey of becoming is written in my heart and on the page — of this blog, my journal, other publications.

In writing through motherhood and sharing it with others, I’ve connected with many other parents — a great blessing. Parents of older children often respond to my stories with comments such as, “Savor it!” and “This time goes so fast.” God, if they only knew just how much I agreed with them.

I’m doing everything in my power to savor this time, even when it’s boring (ever watched three episodes of Umizoomi in a row or cluster-fed a hangry newborn?) or hard to be present (when you have a million deadlines to worry about at work and dirty dishes piled up in the sink). That’s exactly why I’m writing through motherhood — so I can remember it. And give thanks for it. Also: I want others to remember too. Ultimately, when I give birth to a story and offer it up to others, I want it to be a gift that they might use to claim their stories as well.

My friend and writing mentor, author Callie Feyen wrote this about her daughter, “I am a writer because of her not in spite of her.” This resonated deeply with me. When I finally took ownership of my identity as a writer — when I realized I wasn’t just a journalist, I had my own stories to tell — was, consequently, when I became a mother. For that, I am deeply grateful.

Spring is coming

I’m halfway through Ross Gay’s essay collection, The Book of Delights, which has enlightened my gratitude practice. My practice, which I call “evening pages,” is a spin on creative guru Julia Cameron’s morning pages—three long-hand pages on any topic you want, done first thing in the morning. Instead of every morning, I do this at night to unwind.

Often as I write I find myself listing my delights: singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” to my giggly toddler, the first zesty spoonful of homemade marinara sauce, finishing a juicy book, starting a new one (or three), my dog curled up in my lap, 40 degree weather, budding pink tulips (#thegoodlist, ala Erin Loechner).

Gay, a poet, is teaching me there’s room to revel in small wonders while holding pain.

This isn’t a popular hashtag, but there’s a bad list too. You have one? Here, I’ll go first: when churning thoughts lead to sleepless nights, when doubt comes knocking, jealously too, when I’m tired.tired.tired of all the guns and hate and suffering in this world, when my heart’s so starved for good news no amount of praying or Scripture satisfies the craving.

In essay 14, Gay celebrates the tactile pleasure of a cakey, vegan donut while pondering the heavy reality of life and death, joy and sorrow. “It astonishes me sometimes—no, often—how every person I get to know—everyone, regardless of everything, by which I mean everything lives with profound personal sorrow,” he writes. “Is sorrow the true wild? And if it is—and if we join them—your wild to mine—what’s that?”

This idea, that we can carry each other through despair, softens my hunger pangs.

During Lent, the Christian church joins together in repentance while we march, with shaking hands, toward the cross. We mark our heads with ash, a symbol life is always on the cusp of slipping from our fingers. The older I get, the more I notice myself waffling between doubting Thomas and a religious zealot, desperate for the Easter story to be true.

Just when I think I’ve lost my way, hope springs forth in a neighbor’s kindness, in green shoots pushing up from the hardened earth, in the promise God’s making everything new.

Spring is coming, can you feel it?

A word about walls

brick wall

You can build a wall with words;
brick by brick, stack up fear and hate.
Sir, the wall you seek?
It’s already standing.

Here is the ugly truth: this nation was built through genocide, on the backs of slaves, upon the false principle whiteness reigns supreme.

Here is another truth: my family is no different than those at the border. I am a descendant of immigrants. Brazened by hope, they crossed the Atlantic to start anew and blessed me with a better future.

I want to spend my life tearing down walls of hate with words of love. I raise my voice because my faith demands it.

Listen. Our brothers and sisters wait at the door. Will we show them heartlessness or compassion?

This year, I want to be brave

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” he asked, looking at me in the mirror.

From height of my salon chair, I studied myself. Some iteration of long hair has been my look the majority of my adult life. My senior year of college I received a poorly executed shorter cut that left me emotionally scarred. It was almost as embarrassing as four-year-old me’s infamous bowl cut. I’d vowed to never go short again.

For months my stylist urged me to try a “lob”—I resisted. Now it was the middle of December, my birthday and Christmas looming. Yet I found myself longing to speed up the clock and turn the calendar to a fresh year. I needed to put the last year behind me. I craved change the way a desert wanderer craves water. I was thirsty for it.

“Oh yes. Let’s chop it.” I answered confidently. “This year, I want to be brave.”

I love the energy of a new year. There’s something about switching out my calendars and starting fresh that inspires hope and optimism in me. I love seeing others set new challenges and attainable goals for themselves. I even love the idea of resolutions, though personally, I don’t set them. I haven’t for years.

Instead each December my practice is to select an intention—a word or phrase on which to focus in the coming year. A new year’s intention is both a catalyst for change and slow burning theme that seeps into your dreams, eventually spilling over into real life and disrupting old patterns of being.

Last year my intention was “create and connect.” I hoped to build relationships with my network by continuing this blog. Though I work full-time at a faith-based magazine, I dreamed of expanding my horizons—exploring other topics and reaching new readers—via freelance writing. Most of all, I wanted to publish more stories and connect with others.

In early 2018 especially I wrestled with self-doubt and rejection. Rejection is common in publishing, but when you’re just starting out it can feel deflating. Amid a sea of unreturned pitch emails, I held tightly to the wisdom of established authors who’ve repeated this seemingly simple advice: if you want to be a writer, write. Easier said than done.

For me, writing is both a passion and an act of courage. When I write, I have to tune out my inner mean girl who claims my story isn’t interesting or helpful or original—and listen to my sure, strong voice. Anchored by my 2018 intention, I pushed past fear and pecked away on my laptop anyway. While I did, a funny thing happened: The more I wrote, the less I heard my inner critic. Because of this, I spent the last year immersed in creativity and connection. A few highlights:

I attended the 2018 Festival of Faith and Writing with my colleague and left SO invigorated. I went to Austin with my college girlfriends. I met some amazing youth at the ELCA Youth Gathering and penned a story on it. I blogged. I networked. I traveled to Boston and Florida to help produce four video stories. I clinked champagne at the weddings of life-long friends. I published a Coffee + Crumbs essay on working motherhood. I went to Disney with my sweet husband, son and college pals. I had heart-to-hearts with my old pastor and my father. After weaning my son, I finally developed a morning writing routine. I shared my son’s birth story with readers of The Everymom. I returned to my yoga mat and church sanctuary again and again for stability and inspiration. (Missing from this list are myriad milestones from Jack’s second year; more to come in a future post marking his birthday!)

What I didn’t know last winter was how much I’d need my craft and community when we faced a family crisis last summer. Our circle of family and friends stepped up to the plate to help carry the heartache of my husband’s illness. Our parents especially went above and beyond to lighten the burden and for that, I am deeply grateful. God accompanied us in the pain, even though I couldn’t always see it. Writing through it—journaling for myself, reflecting here—helped me find hope when it felt like I was drowning. Yet I wrestled to put down big feelings on paper and with how much to share about that tender time in our lives. I still do.

My intention/word for 2019 is “brave.”

I want to be brave—take more chances, open my heart, speak my mind, live my faith because I’ve noticed the pay-off when I do. I come closer to living out my vocation when I am brave enough to reject the noise around and inside of me telling me I’m not worthy.

When I think of bravery, I think of my father. He survived four years at West Point. He flew Blackhawk helicopters in Desert Storm. He soldiered on through disempowering unemployment then reinvented himself. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, even if it upsets others. He taught me to always do my best, even if it’s not perfect. He leads with his heart.

In 2018, I was brave. I shared more than I ever have on this blog and social media. I shouldered the bulk of parenting duties while my husband received treatment this summer. I aimed to be openhearted in my relationships.

Still there were plenty of moments during which I despaired and cowered, paralyzed by fear. Hearing on the radio the cries of children separated from their families at the border, I drove to work, sobbing. Nights after one of many mass shootings, I laid in bed, riddled with anxiety, endlessly scrolling through my phone as if it were the Bible. Other times, I sat in my privilege indifferent to current events and the man asking for money at the Addison exit. I failed to speak out or act or donate or show up or say, “I’m sorry.” And while I don’t expect myself to get it right all the time and certainly don’t feel called to comment on every major news or life event, I do think all areas of my life could use a healthy dose of courage in 2019.

There’s a best practice in creative nonfiction writing described as “facing the dragon,” which means exploring points of tension in your story rather than avoiding them. This is key to honest, authentic writing. I also think it’s the key to living a more authentic life.

Before I saw a therapist, I struggled with acknowledging difficult emotions. In the beginning, when my therapist asked me how I was feeling, I usually answered, “Stressed.” I had a limited vocabulary for talking about pain.

One Saturday I arrived at her office and she handed me a stack of papers.

“Here, I want you to have this,” she said. “It’s a catalogue of emotions.”

“Oh this is great,” I exclaimed, flipping through it. There were dozens of words to describe the range of human emotions—angry, jealous, anxious, elated, scared, frustrated, depressed. Armed with my new knowledge, I began to slay the dragon in conversations with her and, eventually, others.

I want to slay the dragon in my writing, too. I want to lean into discomfort; to go out on a limb; to acknowledge my short-comings; to be a voice for the voiceless; to speak the truth in love.

This is why I write anyway, to inspire and encourage others. Not because I know what I’m doing, but the contrary. I want to pull up the veil in this image-obsessed world and show you about hardship—and joy—because we all need someone in our corner cheering us on, encouraging us to face the day, to remind us we’re not alone. Because, sometimes, the bravest thing we can do is just show up IRL.

This year I want to show up for my community;

For my spouse;

For my son;

For myself.

I want to have the hard conversation;

To donate time and energy;

To honor my limits;

To step back and just be still;

To give thanks;

To know nothing I say or do in 2019 and beyond makes me more or less worthy of the life-giving, centering love of Jesus. That’s the story I’m called to tell again and again and again as I share my life in word and image.

In 2019, I’ll be turning to the wisdom of author Cheryl Strayed, which makes me feel a little braver: “You don’t need anyone’s permission to be the author of your life. It’s yours. Write it.”

This year, I want to be brave.

Do you have any goals, resolutions or intentions for the new year? Anything you’re looking forward to in 2019? I’d love to hear from you! Message me or tell me in the comments.

Gets better with age

In my early twenties, I worked for a large, progressive Presbyterian church on Chicago’s Gold Coast. I’d graduated in 2008 with dreams of working for a magazine or newspaper, but this was the year of the financial crisis and although unpaid internships beckoned, I could not afford to take them. I needed a paying job. That’s how I ended up at the church.

Unsurprisingly, working for the Lord wasn’t lucrative (still isn’t) but what my church communications job lacked in $$$ it made up for in other benefits—a chic location, colleagues and congregants with plenty of character and a relaxed workplace in which I could cut my teeth. Somewhere around my third week on the job, I stared out the antique window of the old parsonage-turned-office, at the bustling city street below and wondered: Is this it? Is this my life now?

I was privileged to have a secure, stable job but I couldn’t shake the feeling as though I’d abandoned a dream. Should I have moved to New York and maxed out my credit card on a fancy, insanely expensive publishing boot camp for recent grads? Should I have gone after that unpaid cub reporter internship in Louisiana? Or that unpaid magazine internship in Indianapolis?

Instead I was in a church, copyediting bulletins. And while I was grateful for the work, honestly, the thought of it didn’t exhilarate me. On the other hand, I had a two-bedroom apartment with my college girlfriend, health insurance and funds in my bank account. I was lucky. Though I pined for the freedom and flexibility of college life, I slowly assimilated to my 9 to 5 — meeting deadlines, taking lunch breaks to explore the city or chat with new friends, and navigating workplace politics and conflicts.

My first real job out of college exposed my inner demons, in particular, my penchant for perfectionism and people-pleasing. I struggled with confidence in my body, my work, my voice. I struggled with contentment in my relationship (long distance with no end in sight, everyone else seemed to be engaged) and my career path (describing my job often resulted in the response: So, you’re a church secretary?). In a way, I lived small. I read others’ blogs with delight and envy. I didn’t think I had the talent to write my own. I half-heartedly applied to grad school because it seemed like a good idea at the time (???). (It was not a good idea; I am grateful I did not get in.)

For five years I worked for this church, watching colleagues and friends come and go on to more exciting adventures. I replaced my old dream with a new one—advancing my career. I took on new projects, eventually landing a promotion. With new responsibilities and pressure, I agonized over my work, sometimes overextending myself. I secretly agonized over my slowing metabolism and weight gain, overanalyzing everything I ate and feeling irrationally guilty when I missed workouts. My third boss there, an amazing mentor and wise sage, once told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to see a therapist. (She was right.) She also gave me some advice about aging I’ll never forget.

“Your twenties are hard,” she told me. “But your thirties? That’s when it starts getting better. You’ll feel so much more confident in your own skin. And wait until you get to your forties–you’ll love yourself in your forties.”

Today I turn 33.

So much has changed for me since I was naive, young lass in the city. I’m married to my college sweetheart, we have a car, a dog, a mortgage and toddler (#adulting). I managed to land a job at a magazine I love and still pinch myself everyday because jobs like this are rare. And while I’m proud of my beautiful family and the trajectory of my career, what brings me the most happiness can’t be layered in a resume or posted on Instagram.

Here it is: I’m much more comfortable in my own skin now than I was at 23.

Aging well isn’t about looks–it’s about what’s on going on inside us. The inner work I finally did with a therapist acquainted me with my flaws, bad habits, negative self-talk and uncomfortable emotions. Because of her, I’ve recovered from crippling perfectionism and people-pleasing. I make mistakes all the time. I disappoint people regularly. I still feel bad about both. But it doesn’t derail me the way it once did.

After leaving my first job, I discovered yoga. Nearly two years ago, after my son was born, I ditched dieting for good and began practicing yoga regularly, which transformed my mind and body.

Today I’m so much more self-aware, confident, wise, grateful and compassionate because I’m older. I’m living bigger than before. When I get it wrong, I’m grounded by grace.

My boss was right. Like a fine wine, we get better with age.

How I coped with weaning my son

Erin and Jack

About a month ago in August, after a three-day work trip to Boston, I stopped breastfeeding my son. He was 17 months old, and my husband and I thought this trip was a good opportunity to wean him.  Prior to the trip, he comfort nursed twice a day, in the mornings and evenings. I dropped to these two sessions when Jack turned one–I’d planned to stop when he simply lost interest.

Jack loved nursing, and I did too. Yet over time, it became clear those two feedings were affecting Jack’s sleep. Bedtime wasn’t so bad, but I knew Jack needed me to fall asleep. Mornings, on the other hand, were a challenge. Jack rose every morning at 5 a.m. crying out for me to feed him, a call I loved and hated. I loved starting the day with him. I hated the 5 a.m. part.

On one particularly exhausting morning last spring, I took Jack to back to our bed, positioned him the crook of my arm and elevated his his head, then fed him, blissfully, until we both fell asleep. This became our new routine, and it was something I savored. Early mornings became much easier, until Jack’s wake-up time started creeping from 5 to 4:45 to 4:30 to 4 a.m. By summer it was clear something had to change to remedy the situation.

For months I was so afraid of what was on the other side of weaning. Weaning marked the end of Jack’s babyhood, even though he’d dived into his toddler phase in February, when he took his first steps. Once Jack was weaned our relationship would inevitably shift. In August, it was time for that shift.

A difficult transition

Weaning, like breastfeeding, was surprisingly painful. Unlike breastfeeding, where the pain is raw and physical, the effects of weaning hit me squarely in my heart.

The night after I returned from Boston, I led Jack through his usual bedtime routine, skipping his feeding. He’d already experienced three nights like this; I hoped it would seem normal. Standing at the foot of the crib, I cradled Jack and sang him a lullaby, the final step in his routine. He wrestled and craned his neck toward my breasts. “Milk? Milk?” he asked sweetly. My heart dropped.

“Mommy doesn’t have any milk now,” I answered gently.

“Milk? Milk?” Jack asked again, and I shook my head no. He screamed violently. I tried to stay calm, but I could feel the panic rising inside my chest. I put Jack down in his crib; he went ballistic. I picked him up again, he tried to nurse, then cried, so I put him down again. He cried harder. I hated that I couldn’t soothe him with nursing. I worried: Did I wean him too soon? Soon I was crying too–big, heavy tears.

The noise woke my husband, who was asleep in the other room. “Erin, Erin, are you OK?” he called out sleepily. Jack cried. I cried. Jack cried some more.

“No,” I finally blurched. “Help me.” I was so overwhelmed, I wasn’t sure I could last any longer. I wanted to run far away from this baby, this choice, this heartache. I tried to hold Jack and rock him, but he continued to wrestle. On the verge of collapse, I felt my husband’s loving arms encircle my waist. He stood behind me and rocked me–and our son–in his arms. “Shhh” he whispered, urging both of us to relax.

Jack finally fell asleep that night, but I couldn’t. I tossed and turned, plagued with anxiety. I couldn’t stop turning over this choice in my head. Had I made a mistake?

I loved everything about breastfeeding my son: the soothing effect it had on him, the bond it created between us, the feel-good chemicals it created in my body, and heck, the calorie burn was a nice treat. Most of all, I loved that it was a way for Jack and me to start the day together, and to reconnect after a long day, usually spent apart at work and daycare. Now our special time together had ended, and I was full of sorrow and doubt.

Morning came. Some time between 4 and 5 a.m., Jack called “Mommy! Mommy!” I felt so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. I roused Jay and asked him to take over. I couldn’t do this, it felt too damn painful. Jay helped my son with his morning routine that day. For Jack, that morning and the one that followed weren’t as painful. Morning nursing sessions were easily replaced with breakfast. He had some moments of frustration about the change, but they paled in comparison to what we saw at bedtime.

Bedtime, which was once so easy, became a war. Jack didn’t want to be rocked to sleep. He didn’t want to be patted to sleep. He didn’t understand why we were skipping his favorite part of bedtime, when he reconnected with his Mommy. He was frustrated–he longed for his old routine. I did too, but I knew it was too late to go back.

Some nights I cried, but other nights I got angry. Once I got so angry at Jack for refusing to lay down in his crib I stalked out of his room and slammed the door loudly. “I can’t go back in there,” I fumed. My husband roused himself from bed and finishing putting Jack down.

My whole body, especially my breasts, ached for Jack. My hormones were out of control. I was irritable and grouchy, and also weepy and sentimental. I mourned the change in my relationship with Jack. Would we ever be close again? I kept googling “weaning and depression” and only came up with a few helpful results. I read all of them. I texted my mom friends for advice. I called my mom. I wrote in my journal. I went to yoga.  I allowed myself to feel sad.

A week passed and one day, Jack slept until 6 a.m. When I looked at my phone I could barely believe it. Finally the early rising we’d grappled with for 17 months was righting itself. We had made the right decision after all, I thought, and my heart felt a little lighter.

A silver lining: Reclaiming my time

Jack’s sleep continued to improve, and so did our moods. We were getting along better, learning to connect in new ways. The breastfeeding hormones were leaving my body, and after about two weeks of sadness, anxiety and frustration, I began feeling like myself again. The only thing that hadn’t changed? My body kept rousing itself around 5 a.m. each morning.

I’ve always been a morning person, but after giving birth to my son that shifted due to his schedule and my sleep deprivation. Honestly my whole world shifted when Jack arrived and I never thought I’d be able to reclaim my mornings–until now. I used to get up early to workout, but I had a pretty established evening workout habit these days. What to do with this time?

One of my dear friends is a full-time working mama and prolific, accomplished writer. I’ve always admired how she prioritizes her writing amid her many responsibilities as a manager at work and mother at home. She told me her secret: getting up early a few times a week to fit in writing. When she shared this with me, Jack wasn’t yet one, and I knew it would be a long time until I could try this for myself. At August’s end, I had an epiphany: the time was now.

Thus I began reclaiming my mornings and rising early to write. Replacing something I loved so much–nursing Jack in the morning–with something I love that’s just for me–writing–has been amazing. It helped me let go of the final dregs of sadness about nursing Jack, and it’s helped me move forward in my writing goals. It’s been about a month since I started, and I’ve worked on a handful of writing projects–some to pitch to publications, some to share in this space and on Instagram, others just for me.

I worried I’d lose steam but I haven’t. It feels amazing setting aside this time for myself to do something I love most mornings during the workweek. It’s only an hour or so, but writing in the mornings before Jack’s awake, making time for myself first thing, sets the tone for my entire day. As many mothers know, feeding a child takes a lot of your time an energy, especially when your child is young and you’re on call about every two hours. Now that I’m finally on the other side of breastfeeding,  I’m so grateful Jack and I were able to share that special time together and I’m also delighted to finally reclaim my time for myself. This is a new beginning for me; these writing sessions are my silver lining.

Children grow so quickly–from exclusive breastfeeding to fruit and veggie purees to table foods to weaning, from crawling to toddling to walking to full-out running, from cooing to babbling to words to phrases–and each time Jack grows I continue to be amazed and surprised. Sometimes, like with weaning, the change is especially hard. Other times, like when Jack started talking, I was thrilled.

What I’ve learned from this is that it’s OK to mourn change even while you celebrate a new beginning. Looking back, I can barely believe I breastfed Jack for 17 months. I’m grateful was able to and I’m grateful we had that time together. Although weaning Jack was painful, he is sleeping better, is more independent and we’ve grown to connect in other ways.

Here’s to difficult goodbyes and new beginnings. May you find your silver lining.

Are you an early riser? Have you had a similar experience with reclaiming your time after a major life transition? I’d love to hear from you–message me or comment below.

Everyone has a story

IMG_3505“Are you going to interview me now?” he asked expectantly. My colleague and I had just wrapped some video interviews at the church we were visiting, and had no intention of filming more. Yet I could see something in this man’s eyes—not desperation—an earnestness, a longing to be heard, that made me reconsider.

“Sure!” I said, motioning to a folding chair and pulling out my notebook. He had a problem with alcohol, he said, and he slept on park benches at night. But he’d been coming to the church soup kitchen for a while now, and he liked how it made him feel. I got the sense he was trying to turn his life around, like so many others I met that day.

I later described the encounter to others as “the ministry of interviewing.” What I meant is the act of listening deeply to someone share their life story meets the deep need we all share to be truly seen and truly heard. Listening—really listening—communicates, “You are worthy of attention. Your words matter. You matter.” Interviewing isn’t just about finding the perfect the soundbite or collecting information. It’s also about holding space for someone, exploring who they are and getting to the heart of their story.

I’ve spent more than ten years telling others’ powerful stories. It is an honor and a privilege I do not take lightly. What I’ve learned is that everyone has a story, everyone’s carrying a burden and there is something sacred about the ministry of an interview.
His story matters—and so does mine, and so does yours. Tell yours, and keep listening.

Spring cleaning

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Know what I realized lately? So much of the creative process (and life) is about getting out of your head and following your heart.

Noticing your inner critic—who says you can’t make anything original/you’re not talented/you don’t have a story to tell/you can’t finish that project/etc.—and flipping her script. Talking back, then moving ahead.

Wanna try it?

Repeat after me: I am original, creative and talented. I have a story to tell. I have something to say.

Be your own cheerleader. It’s that simple.

It’s time for some spring cleaning: Let go of the clutter and negative noise crowding up your head space. Replace it with something powerful and beautiful instead.

The world has enough angry voices shouting for our attention. How can you give yourself a little more love today?

Keep practicing

crow pose yogaWriting is a lot like yoga. Want to do crow pose? You have to put in time on the mat before taking flight. So you practice & practice & practice. You come to your mat and put in the work. It takes courage. Discipline. Some days you fall. Some days it seems like you’re never going to reach it—you tell yourself you’re not good enough, it’s too hard, you just don’t have the coordination. But you keep showing up. You keep trying.

One day you decide to test your balance. So you lift one foot. Then the other. And suddenly, for a moment, you start to fly. The more you practice, the easier it gets, and soon you’ve mastered the pose and you’re moving on to other, more challenging inversions—side crow & hurdler’s pose & headstand.

Want to get published? Keep writing. Keep coming back to your notebook, your keyboard, even your smartphone and put in the work. Keep showing up. I have dozens of half finished essays, half baked blog posts and rejected submissions in my files. I know it stinks getting rejected. I know how hard it is to silence your inner critic who says you aren’t really an artist. I know what it’s like to be afraid, to stall.

Today I received some good news; today I felt as if I might be starting to to take flight. I know I’m not there yet, but I’m making progress. And I’m more determined than ever to keep writing.

So I’m saying this to you as much as it is a reminder to myself: Keep practicing. Keep trying. Keep showing up. One day you’ll surprise yourself and soar.