Faith

No Effs to Give: On Body Image at Eight Months Pregnant

I recently posted a few pictures on Instagram from our babymoon in Thailand. A few people kindly commented on how confident I looked. At first I thought they were just being nice, but looking back at the photos, I can see what they mean.

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It’s true that I’m not self-conscious about my body or about how I look pregnant. It’s not that I look at my swollen belly and my stretch marks and think, “I’ve earned these tiger stripes,” or whatever it is the mommy bloggers like to say. I know I look huge. I am huge. But it’s also abundantly clear why I’m huge. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

My confidence is that of a person who has zero effs left to give. And I realized that that is a far cry from who I was nine months ago.

***

Back in January, I wrote this post about how very much I was struggling with my body. I had reached an all-time low, exhausted by self-loathing and feeling powerless to make any lasting change.

I spilled my guts about my desperation, and six weeks later I found out I was pregnant. Hilarious, God. Truly.

As you probably know, my initial reaction to the news was not positive. I admit, one of my first panicked thoughts was, “I can’t be pregnant now. I am the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I am going to be HUUUUGGGE.” I understand that extra weight and a changing body are a small price to pay for creating a whole new life, but at the time it felt like one more way my life was being taken from me.

Now here I am 8 months pregnant and it turns out that losing control has been one of the best things that’s ever happened for my relationship with my body. I have felt freedom from self-criticism and self-hatred for the first time since I was ten years old and became aware of my body as female and of all the expectations that go along with that.

Some pregnant women are filled with love and appreciation for what their bodies are capable of as they move through the stages of pregnancy. And yes, it is miraculous. But for the most part, I have not felt this way. Most of the time I feel this odd combination of being intensely aware of everything going on in my body while also feeling like a stranger in it. I feel every ache and pain and jab and stab acutely, and at the same time I have the sense that I am floating around inside of this vessel I do not recognize, just waiting to get my life back. While this distance from my body has been isolating in some ways, it’s been healing in others.

Let me be clear. I have not particularly enjoyed pregnancy. I do not feel beautiful, sexy, or powerful the way some women seem to feel during pregnancy. I don’t particularly likethe way I look pregnant and I definitely don’t like the way I feel. But I’m also not disgusted by my body the way I was pre-pregnancy. I just honestly don’t care.

For the first time in my life, what is happening to my body is really and truly beyond my control. I could eat organic kale for every meal and workout twice a day and I would still going to have this giant belly. Since there is nothing I can do to change what my body looks like right now, I have no brain space or energy to waste worrying about it.

My expectations of my pregnant body are so vastly different from what my expectations of my body have always been. As an adolescent growing up with the mixture of societal pressures and the targeted messages of purity culture, I was constantly aware of the wrongnessof my body. There was the shame of not being attractive enough, along with the shame of being inappropriately attractive. I felt the expectation to simultaneously figure out how to be thin, toned, feminine perfection, and to dress in way that protected helpless men from that thin, toned, feminine perfection.

As I got older, I stripped off some of the burdens of purity culture, but struggled as my weight fluctuated and my self-worth rose and fell with the expansion or shrinking of my thighs.

Now for the first time, my attractiveness is utterly irrelevant. I take up more space than ever before. People are hyper-aware of me and my body. And at the same time, I have never felt more invisible. I feel no expectation, from myself or from anyone else, to be attractive. My body is no longer an aesthetic object, it is pure function. I am an incubator. That’s all.

Of course, I don’t want to feel this way forever. I don’t want “mother” to become my identity. I don’t want to disappear. I want to walk down the street and have someone think (but maybe not say) “Daaaaayummmmn, girl!” But there are also things I hope I take with me from this time.

I hope my base level expectations of my body have permanently changed. Instead of valuing myself based on arbitrary measures of attractiveness, I hope my foremost expectation of my body is for it to be healthy and strong so that I can do everything I need to do. No more. No less.

I want to feel attractive again someday, but I hope that feeling is based on confidence and acceptance, not meeting an external expectation. I think it can be incredibly attractive for someone to say, “My body is just my body. I look how I look.” If I can accept without difficulty the fact that I have blue eyes and small hands, could I also accept whatever shape my body ends up being when this ride is over?

I don’t know what to expect or how things will change post-partum, but I’ll be sure to keep you updated.  Whatever the next part of the journey looks like, I kind of hope that I’ll continue to be fresh out of effs to give.

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Living in a Land of Protest: An Expat’s Take on the Hong Kong Protests

At 10 PM every night the shouting starts. The voices of men, women, and children mingle together in a passionate call and response. People lean from the windows of their flats or shout from where they are walking along the street. The courtyard below my apartment rings with cries that bounce from highrise to highrise and echo off the soft waves of the bay. 

For 10 minutes each night, the people of Hong Kong stop what they are doing and raise their voices together in a moving show of unity, chanting protest slogans like, “Reclaim Hong Kong: Revolution of our times!” I open my windows to hear it, and feel I am bearing witness to something intimate and holy.

This summer has been a season of upheaval for Hong Kong. In June, millions of Hong Kongers began a series of demonstrations to protest a proposed bill regarding the extradition of criminals from Hong Kong to mainland China. (If you’d like more understanding of the background to this conflict, this video from Vox sums it up very clearly).

On the day of the first protest, my parents were visiting Hong Kong. We were all returning from a weekend trip to Cambodia and were not aware of the build-up to the protest. We arrived at the airport and learned that there were major traffic jams on Hong Kong Island. We took a taxi home and didn’t encounter any protest activity along the way. Later, we watched the footage online of what turned out to be a peaceful march of over a million people, including many families with children.

“Good for them,” I thought. I was inspired to see so many people joining a peaceful demonstration against what seemed to be a problematic policy. Like most Hong Kongers, I had no idea then that this was only the beginning. 

Over the last 13 weeks, protesters have continued to assemble for organized marches, rallies, and demonstrations every single weekend. Over these weeks, the situation has escalated, becoming quite violent at times as police have indiscriminately used tear gas, rubber bullets, and excessive physical force to try to control the situation. In response, protestors have grown angrier and more destructive, lighting fires and smashing windows. Many people’s faith in their government in general and in the trustworthiness of the police force specifically has been shaken. More than 1800 rounds of teargas have been deployed this summer, often in residential areas and several times (very dangerously) inside of MTR stations. 

Aside from the marches, there have been dozens of different protest activities designed to disrupt daily life in Hong Kong. Several targeted campaigns have caused disruption to the MTR and bus systems that Hong Kongers rely heavily on for transportation. Protest action at the airport successfully brought the eye of the international community to the situation in Hong Kong.  

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An example of a Hong Kong protest schedule

The protests are about the extradition bill, but they have also expanded into something much bigger. Ultimately they are a fight against perceived corruption in the government and the police force and against the steadily growing influence of mainland China on Hong Kong’s government, economy, and social structures. The protesters have declared their five demands:

  • The complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill
  • The government to withdraw the use of the word “riot” in relation to protests
  • The unconditional release of arrested protesters and charges against them dropped
  • An independent inquiry into police behaviour
  • Implementation of genuine universal suffrage

The people are angry, and they are also determined, and they show no sign of backing down. Last weekend the police arrested several key protest leaders and denied the permit for a planned assembly. In response, thousands took to the streets all across the city in what turned out to be one of the most violent weekends so far. The city is splitting at the seams in constant conflict, not only between the protesters and the police, but between citizens who support the protesters and defend them and citizens who support Beijing and defend the police.

There are endless news stories you can read about these events and all of the various angles and opinions. I’m not a reporter and I am not equipped to talk about the political and social nuances of a government and a culture that are not my own. I can only talk about my experience. 

It’s strange, sometimes wonderfully so and sometimes frighteningly so, to be living in this city at this time in history. In some ways, these events affect my everyday life. I am alert to disturbances and spend most of my Sundays at home, not wanting to be caught in the crossfires of any conflicts between police and protesters which more and more often make their way into MTR stations and other public areas. 

There have been times when my commute to work was lengthened because the MTR service had been suspended. One morning I thought I would not make it to a doctor’s appointment because of wide-scale disruptions to the transportation system. An incredibly kind and generous couple offered me a ride even though it was out of their way. Last Saturday, my afternoon classes were cancelled and I went home early to avoid protest activity taking place near my work.

At the same time, I have not had to walk through tear gas to get home and I have not witnessed any violence. Most days I carry on with my life as normal. At 31 weeks pregnant, I am especially mindful of my safety for the sake of my little one. And yet, I am not afraid for myself. I continue to feel much safer in Hong Kong than I ever feel in the US. 

I honestly have no idea how this will resolve. Sometimes, I cannot imagine a way forward. What I know is this. I am moved, sometimes to tears by the hundreds of thousands of people who are risking their safety and their future to stand for what they believe in. Over 1,000 people have been arrested, some under rioting charges which can carry a ten year prison sentence. This is not a temper tantrum. These are people who are love their home and who love their people and are willing to risk great loss for the hope of a better future for themselves and for their children. 

I can’t help but wonder, have I ever held a belief so strongly that I would honestly risk my safety or my future to defend it? The largest march this summer had over 2 million participants. In a city of 7 million people, that is over ¼ of the population. Can you imagine of ¼ the population of the US cared deeply enough about something to take to the streets and raise their voices relentlessly until something changed?

There is so much injustice in the world, but what do I believe in passionately enough to act on and to keep acting on until something changes?

****

Just as I have finished writing this, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has announced her intention to move for the final withdrawal of the extradition bill. This still has to be voted on by the legislative council, but it is the first glimmer of any kind of concession from the government.

If social media is any indication, the response of protesters has mostly been, “Too little too late.” The streets continue to ring with the slogan, “Five demands, not one less!”

Do you hear the people sing?

6 Lies Y’all Told Me About Pregnancy

I usually roll my eyes at “Things nobody tells you about x, y, z” posts. First off, they very rarely contain information I haven’t heard before. (Just because nobody told you something doesn’t mean nobody is talking about it. Maybe lots of people were talking about it and you’ve just never paid attention). I also usually roll my eyes at listicles. But…I still write a lot of them for my side hustle. So this post is a listicle, but it is not about things supposedly nobody told me. Instead this is a post about what I would like to call “Lies.” Mostly told to me by people like you. Possibly you yourself. (If you think it might have been you, you’re probably right). Fair warning…there’s some TMI here.*

Lie #1: “Morning sickness gets better as soon as you reach the 2nd trimester”

Liars go to hell! I thought benevolently, pouring sweat and streaming tears as I wretched into an outdoor public toilet at 16 weeks. My nausea and aversion to all food did dissipate between 18 and 19 weeks, but let it be known that that was 6 weeks past the date I had been promised my salvation. And I am one of the lucky ones. I have a friend who threw up every single day of her pregnancy and others who had to be hospitalized for dehydration. 

Lie # 2: “Your boobs will look amazing.”

First off, I’m not into big boobs on me. I find them annoying to keep covered and also think they make me look like a Pillsbury biscuit canister that has exploded and is oozing biscuit dough out of all of the crevices in the previously vacuum-sealed container. 

Second…this is clearly being spoken by someone who has only ever seen pregnant boobs in clothing. 

Early in pregnancy, your areolas get larger and darker, ostensibly to provide a “landing pad” for the baby to aim for when breastfeeding. In other words, my boobs now look like two pieces of salami ringed by a tiny rim of regular boob flesh which is mottled with bright blue veins and the beginnings of stretch marks. Additionally, my previously perky boobs now point straight down. So when I’m sitting down, I can rest my nipples on my belly-shelf. Sexy.

Lie #3: “Now that you’re in your second trimester, you are probably experiencing a sudden energy boost!” (Quoth “TheBump.com”)

False. If I could sleep 22 hours/day, I would. I am much more tired than I was in my first trimester. I may or may not have fallen asleep while teaching a class recently. (Don’t worry. I think the kids believed me when I said I was just thinking really hard).

Lie #4: “The sex is great!”

Also false. I mean, it’s not not great, but mostly, the sex is…complicated. Not only do you physically have to negotiate what works and what does not anymore with your constantly changing body, but also, it’s hard to feel sexy when your unborn child is kicking you in the vagina, reminding both you and your spouse of their presence there with you in your special moment. 

Another factor in this…grooming the lady bits becomes significantly more difficult when you cannot see them. Lately I’ve just been going at it blind, trying to use my intuition. My “Lily Tingle” if you will. (10 points if you catch the reference). Results have been…suboptimal.

Lie #5: “When your baby kicks it is the most magical feeling in the whole world”

I admit, I really like being able to feel the baby move and know it is OK. What I’m not wild about is feeling like there’s a basket of snakes moving around inside of me. 

When the movement is near the surface, it feels like involuntary muscle spasms. Like when you drink too much caffeine and your eyelid won’t stop twitching. Except much bigger. And in your abdomen. Not something to make me weep in wonder, but not a big deal. 

But when that kid goes for your organs? Uh-uh. My child believes in expressing themselves by alternately grinding a heel into my bladder and ultimate punching me down the vagina. I swear sometimes the shock waves radiate down to my kneecaps. If you have not experienced this, it’s like when you go in for a pelvic exam and the doctor hits a sensitive spot, but instead of pulling away, he punches you there. Sometimes I swear a little hand or foot is just gonna pop right out.

You say magical, I say akin to having a vengeful alien take over your body as its host and show no mercy. Tomato/Tomahto. 

Lie #6: “You might experience more vivid dreams”

Not a lie. Just not nearly warning enough.

After a friend showed me her engagement ring which had been custom-made from some family pieces, I dreamed that she had entrusted me with these precious family heirlooms and I had had them set into a diamond and sapphire encrusted molar. Yes, a molar. As in a tooth. I kept my fancy molar safe in the back of my mouth and then one day it fell out! And some of the stones came loose. I was distraught. My friend had entrusted the family jewels to me. What to do?! Luckily, I was able to track down the little old man who had made the molar in the first place and he successfully put the stones back. (Incidentally, he looked just like the guy who fixes Woody in Toy Story 2 complete with the big magnifying glasses). How I got the molar back into my mouth, I’ll never know. 

I also recently dreamed that my baby fell out. Like whoosh, just fell right out there. Fully clothed in a onesie. And I was just chilling there for a while and then remembered Hey, it’s not supposed to come out this early, I should put it back. And then I kept trying to put it back in there, but an arm or a leg kept falling out like it was a baby doll I couldn’t quite fit into the toy chest. And then I had an epiphany Wait a minute! You’re not supposed to put them back once they come out!  Then I started panicking about how early it was (I think I was 20 weeks at the time) and decided to take a closer look to see if it was OK. I took it back out and laid it on the bed. It was a completely normal-sized baby, except its legs were only 2 inches long. 

This is like every night, y’all.

***

If you’re pregnant or have ever been pregnant, maybe you can sympathize. Or at least laugh at me. If you’re thinking of someday being pregnant, take this as an alternative truth, And if none of these things apply to you, I sincerely apologize for any damage this has caused your psyche. Just wait til I tell you about some of the unique experiences of being pregnant in Hong Kong.

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*Obligatory Disclaimer: I know that every body and every pregnancy is different. The liars are probably speaking “their truth” or whatever. And also, please note that I’m really not complaining. Much. I’m very thankful for a (so far) uncomplicated pregnancy. Please take this in the spirit it is intended. 

 

Expectation and Entitlement: Basically a Ton of Questions and No Answers

I grew up believing in a God who bestowed favor on his children in all kinds of tangible ways. When I snagged the last pair of shoes that just happened to be in my size and, surprise, they were on sale…divine favor. When the vending machine accidentally dropped two bags of chips instead of one…divine favor. When the closest parking space to the door became available just as we pulled up…divine favor.

We prayed big prayers with loud voices. We lifted our hands and we claimed the “promises of God,” whatever we thought that looked like in a given situation. We were bold in our requests and confident in the outcome. We cursed the devil and all of his works, from cancer to witchcraft to democrats.

We were like horsemen, using prayer to direct a mighty power, the way the rider uses reins to tell his horse which way to turn. 

In college I discovered theology for the first time. I learned about different forms of biblical interpretation and different faith traditions, and I started probing into the “why” behind what I believed and how I expressed it. Along with many other things I questioned, I started to feel like there was something pretty arrogant about telling God what you’d like him to do and how you’d like him to do it. 

If the favor of God* was evidenced by material gain, physical comfort, or what many would deem “good luck,” what did that mean for the mother trapped in a cycle of poverty, unable to provide for her children and hopeless to find a way out? Or for the child who was abused while the world looked the other way? Or for the man who was shot and killed because the color of his skin sparked fear in the heart of someone more powerful? I could not accept that God was answering my prayers and showing favor by arranging a convenient parking space while another woman died from a lack of clean water. 

The result was that over time my prayers became more vague. Now I pray for peace. I pray for God’s presence. I pray for direction. I pray for the faith to trust in God’s provision. I rarely ask for anything specific. This is partly from the theological conviction that we are not God’s puppetmasters, but if I’m honest, it might also partly be to protect myself from his silence. If I pray “God, please help my husband find a higher-paying job,” I am set up for disappointment if it doesn’t happen. If I pray, “God please be with me,” I am guaranteed a positive answer. God is always with us. Crisis of faith avoided.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I am living through a season of tremendous uncertainty. Every plan I had for the future and everything I thought I knew about the shape my life would take has changed. In about 4 months I will become a mother. On a very practical level, I do not know yet how we will provide for our child financially, what our childcare situation will be like, how my mental health will be impacted postpartum, or how long we will be in Hong Kong. These are concrete questions that need concrete answers. But I find myself unable to ask God for any of these things. I haven’t prayed for a higher salary or that I wouldn’t get postpartum depression. I’ve just prayed for “provision” and “peace.”

Is it a theological issue of believing it is wrong to pray for the things I want? Or is it that I no longer believe in God’s ability to impact real-world scenarios? Do I pray in big-picture terms for God’s provision because it isn’t my place to try to dictate how God should provide? Or is it because I don’t believe he is powerful enough or interested enough to change my circumstances? Do I dare ask God to provide a way for me to stay home with my baby and still save money for our eventual move home? Is that an arrogant request in the face of a world with so much real need and real suffering? Or is it holy boldness? The kind that gave Peter the confidence to say to the lame man, “Stand and walk” ?

Can I ask God for something and believe wholeheartedly that he can make it happen without believing he should make it happen? And if so, how do I ask with expectation-with hope–but without entitlement? ________________________________________________________________________________

*I wrote a post a long time ago now about how my understanding of divine favor has changed. You can read it here.

 

On Unplanned Pregnancy: When You Don’t Have the “Right” Feelings

I want to begin this post with both an announcement and a content warning of sorts. If  you’ve been wondering where I’ve been for the past few months, this might explain some things. At the beginning of March, my husband and I found out that we are expecting our first child. The baby is due at the beginning of November and will be born here in Hong Kong. The content warning is this: This was an unplanned pregnancy and I have complicated feelings about it that I am going to share in this post. I am incredibly mindful of how emotionally sensitive so many issues surrounding conceiving, pregnancy, the decision to have children, and parenting are. With all of my heart, I do not want anything I say about my own thoughts and experiences to cause pain. Please don’t feel you need to read this if you are someone who is walking through infertility, miscarriage, waiting for an adoption, or any other situation that makes hearing about my pregnancy painful for you. Wherever you are with these issues, and whatever your feelings are, they are valid. I wish I had the words to heal those wounds. You are seen, you are loved, and you are enough.

Much Love,

Lily

***

When I hear the phrase “unplanned pregnancy,” I tend to think of teenagers who didn’t practice safe sex, or a woman who became pregnant but does not have a relationship with the baby’s father, or a couple who are in that young, wild, and free stage of life and weren’t ready to settle down. Part of what makes these situations so difficult is that the parents (or mother) often do not have the financial or emotional stability necessary to raise a child. But what about when an unplanned pregnancy happens to a happily married couple in their 30’s who both have stable jobs?

Believe it or not, I had thought about this scenario many times and had always assumed that if it ever happened, I would be shocked, but would quickly become excited. Frankly, this has not exactly been the case. Not only have I been trying to process everything I’m feeling, but I’ve also been hit hard with guilt over feeling anything other than joy, excitement, and gratitude.

If you know me at all, you know that I’ve thought about having kids A LOT. I’ve had several people tell me that they’ve never known anyone who has thought about it as much and as in-depth as I have. Over the last (almost) 9 years of marriage, I have wrestled with so many questions. Should we or shouldn’t we have kids? What would be our reasons for having kids? Are those good enough reasons? What would our life look like if we don’t? Is it selfish to have them? Is it selfish not to have them? I could never seem to reach a resolution. My husband and I have actually said to each other before that if we ever got pregnant accidentally, it would be a relief in some ways because it takes so many of these questions off the table. Little did we know…

Early one Saturday morning at the beginning of March, I woke up and took a test. That plus sign popped up immediately and everything in my life changed in that instant. I confess, the first words out of my mouth were, “Oh shit.” Then I paced around the apartment, alternately laughing and crying and staring at that little white stick. When I told my husband, another round of crying and laughing and more crying ensued. And that’s pretty much how it’s been ever since.

When I say this pregnancy was unplanned, I don’t mean, “We were thinking about it, but we weren’t expecting it to happen so soon! What a surprise!” I mean, without going into the gory details, we were planning on not getting pregnant, and it was statistically unlikely to happen.

Beneath all of the other feelings, there is a kernel of awe and wonder that this has happened at all. There were several factors that had led me to believe it would not necessarily be easy for us to get pregnant if we ever decided to try. And yet, here it’s happened and in a fairly improbable way. For the first month or so, I couldn’t fully accept this as reality. In spite of being quite sick, I continued to think of it only as a “potential baby” until we’d heard the heartbeat and seen the little bean wiggling on the sonogram screen at 8 ½ weeks. Only then did I start trying to wrap my mind around what this all means.

There are moments when I feel truly excited and curious about who this new person will be. But I have also felt a lot of frustration, anxiety, and even anger. The best way that I can describe it is that, even though this is a direct result of my and my husband’s actions, this feels like something being forced on me. In a weird way, I feel betrayed by my own body. On the one hand, it is amazing that my body knows what it is doing without me having to tell it. On the other hand, it is extremely unsettling. It feels like something is being done to me, to my body and to my life, without my consent.

One of my greatest fears in life is being stuck. Being denied choice. I have always been terrified of being in a situation I feel I cannot get out of. Ironic, right? The hardest thing about pregnancy so far (besides all of the puking) is that I feel like I have lost agency over my own life: what my career will look like, what we will spend our money on, what kind of travel we will do, and what is going on with my body. Of course, we will still make decisions about those things, but in many cases it feels like the baby is dictating those decisions. I’m a firm believer in fitting the baby into your life, not shaping your life around the baby, but the truth is that what happens next in my career and in my husband’s career will be whatever best allows us to provide for the baby. Travel will depend on how much money we can put towards it with the additional costs of having the baby as well as balancing the desire to go home more often to see our families and friends against our desire to travel. Because I will be having the baby in a public hospital in Hong Kong (something I can explain more about some other time), I will not have the luxury of choosing the kind of birth I would like to have. I will have a safe birth with excellent care, but I will likely not be able to choose how I want to labor or whether I can have an epidural. After the birth I will stay in a ward with at least 8 other women and their babies and my husband will only be able to visit for 2 hours/day. No agency. No choice.

I know some of you reading this will be very tempted to point out all the things I have to be grateful for. And you are right. I do. Especially when there are so many people (including several dear friends of mine) who would be overjoyed to be in this position. I have spent a lot of time beating myself up for feeling these things. But at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s helpful to try to force myself to feel the “right” way. I think I can be grateful and amazed and excited and also be frustrated and anxious and tired.

I am sad to be having a baby in a foreign country where I have no family and very few friends.

At the same time I am humbled by and grateful for the love and support my family and friends have shown me, even from so far away.

I HATE that I do not have control over what is happening right now.

But I also need the reminder that I am not God and there are so many things I am not in control of.

I want to drink wine and eat soft cheese.

But sometimes being an adult means doing things you don’t want to do…or not doing things you do want to do…because you know the long term results are more important than the temporary satisfaction.

I hope in some way this encourages you to let yourself feel your feelings. You don’t have to let them rule your life, but it’s ok to acknowledge that you don’t always feel the way you’re “supposed to” feel.

I am having a baby, and that is a miracle, but at least half of the time, I do not feel excited about it. And I have no doubt that I will love this little person with everything in me. Both of these things are true, and for now that will have to be enough.

 

The 300th: An Ode to Failure

This is my 300th blog post.

Three hundred separate times, I’ve sat down and written a thing and posted it on the internet. Sometimes they were words I couldn’t keep in for a moment longer so that they spilled out in an almost violent rush. Sometimes they were words I spent weeks weighing and measuring, trying to say something true, but in the most careful way I could. And sometimes they were words without any great weight behind them – snapshots of the moments that make up my days.

Today is also my 31st birthday. I have so many things to be thankful for in my life. Without being too mushy, I will just say that I am deeply loved by some of the most wonderful people on this planet and they do an amazing job of showing me. That is all I could ever ask for. But this post isn’t about how lovely my life is.

It’s about failure.

In reflecting on the last year, I’ve had many wonderful and meaningful experiences, but I’ve also failed in a lot of ways. I don’t believe I’ve ever tried to project an image of perfection here. I’ve been honest about struggles and difficulties. But I also don’t know that I’ve talked much about real failure–as in the things that are entirely my fault and entirely within my control.

There are the small things:

  • I accidentally betrayed a confidence. I didn’t do it intentionally, but I should have been thoughtful enough to avoid the topic entirely instead of assuming what the other person already knew. Nothing catastrophic has come of it, but I still should have kept my mouth closed.
  • I completely forgot to check in on a friend who I knew was having an important appointment. I genuinely wanted to know the outcome, but I failed to follow up with her which communicated that I didn’t really care.
  • We have a four-cup coffee maker (which in my house is actually a two-cup coffee maker) and a few days ago I heard Jonathan waking up, so I ran to the kitchen and quickly poured the last cup of coffee into my mug before he came out so that I wouldn’t have to wait 5 minutes for a new pot to brew.

And there are the bigger things:

  • I recently shouted at a family member in moment of self-righteous fury that was both ungracious and unnecessary. Also, I am not a shouter. A very animated talker, yes. But not a shouter.
  • I kept a secret from my husband for the better part of a year because I was so ashamed of it. Me. Someone who would identify authenticity as one of my core life values. I kept a secret from the person I am closest to in the world. Like a lying lier who lies. This was just one factor that led to a serious and scary breakdown in my marriage, something I always thought was too rock solid to be shaken.
  • I quit on an important project that I care deeply about and want to support, but simply couldn’t get my shiz together enough to participate in fully.
  • A few weeks ago, I had a conversation where I speculated on someone else’s sexuality. Even though I sincerely believe this to be an unkind and above all unnecessary thing to do, I did it.
  • I am really struggling with resentment towards someone in my life. It has nothing to do with them. It is entirely my problem. But at least 50% of the time, I want to punch them in the face for daring to exist.
  • I set out to write a book a long time ago, but I do not have the discipline or the work ethic or the perseverance to see it through. Every time I try again, I end up quitting.

I promise, there is a point to all of this. The thing I’ve learned the most over the past year is that there is no such thing as a failure-free life. As a recovering perfectionist, this is hard for me to accept. I am programmed to believe I should always be making progress. I like to think I can outgrow failure, or at the very least, that I can learn not fail at the same thing twice. Experience says otherwise.

Failure is inevitable, but it’s not the end. It’s an opportunity to identify my priorities and to really ask myself if my actions reflect my goals, my values, and the kind of person I want to be. It is humbling to admit to being wrong and to ask for forgiveness. And it is beautiful to receive forgiveness from others and from myself.

The other great gift I’ve received from all of my failures is that, in my better moments, it has given me greater compassion towards others. Understanding my own inability to stop failing makes it easier to forgive other people’s failures too. It’s so much easier to live believing that those around me are doing the best they can, but, despite our best efforts, we all still fail sometimes.  We all need the grace of God, myself as much as anyone.

In the next year, I hope that I will grow as someone who is kind and genuine and generous and gracious. I want to invest more in my writing with the goal of one day being self-employed as a writer. I want to make peace with my body and manage my mental health better. I want to love the people in my life well. I want to explore more of the world and to have new adventures, but also do a better job of appreciating all there is to explore and appreciate in my everyday life.

I will probably (definitely) fail in both small and spectacular ways at all of these things, so along with all of these hopes, I am thankful to be in a place in my life where I feel secure enough to fail. My worth and my worthiness are not dependent on my successes or failures. I only need to be humble enough to admit my failures, to ask for forgiveness where necessary, and to have the courage to try again.

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Featured Image via Ted.com

 

 

We Must Risk Delight: Or How To Combat the Devil One Tattoo At a Time

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all bound by routine. Even the most spontaneous of humans cannot escape the cycles of time and nature. Repetition–of the sun each day, of the moon each month, of the seasons, of new years–creates a rhythm to our days. For me, these rhythms always include the ominous beats of depression and the frenzied syncopation of hypomania.

Sometimes depression is triggered by a specific event that I can point to, but most often it creeps over me slowly, the way the sun sinks slowly to the horizon at the end of the day until, seemingly all at once, it’s gone. For me, depression is caused by carrying an excessive amount of pain just as much as it is by synapses misfiring in my brain. When this happens, I am also consumed by guilt. I feel that it is wrong for me to be weighed down by pain and sadness when by most measures I live a safe and wonderful life. It has only been in the past few years that I’ve come to understand that the pain and the sadness I carry is often not my own.

I am a highly empathetic person and I am deeply affected by the feelings of those around me both in my daily life and in the world at large. I am particularly sensitive to their pain and suffering. This is not something I have the power to turn on and off; it is part of my nature. I cannot help absorbing the feelings of those around me the same way a sponge cannot help soaking up whatever moisture it touches. Often, I do not even consciously recognize that I am doing it until one morning I wake up feeling crushed by the weight of it all.

Last year I experienced relatively long periods of depression. In spite of many beautiful moments, the undercurrent of my days was heaviness and sadness. There was so much sorrow and injustice in the world in 2017, and I wrestled with the question, How do I dare experience joy when there is so much pain and so much grief in the world? One day as I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s fantastic podcast Big Magic, I heard her quote the poet, Jack Gilbert in his poem “A Brief for the Defense.” It spoke beautifully to this exact question. I immediately found the whole poem and read it in tears at least a dozen times in a row.

A Brief for the Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
                         -Jack Gilbert

I still cannot express how much this moved me except to say that I knew immediately I wanted these words with me always. Without a way to burn them into my heart, I settled for inking them into my skin.

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Umm…so it is really hard to take a picture of something on your upper ribs without things going downhill really fast. It is actually straight in real life. Many thanks to my husband/photographer for making this look as appropriate as possible.

This poem gave me the answer I desperately needed, and the fog of depression slowly began to lift. We all have a responsibility to acknowledge the real pain and suffering of others and to do what we can to alleviate it. One way that we fight despair is with delight. “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.” The question then becomes not, How dare I experience joy in this terrible world? but How dare I not?

More joy in the world is always a good thing. More hope in the world is always welcome. Experiencing peace does not dismiss the reality of suffering. Instead it points out that pain is not the only way, and it calls out injustice as evil. Perhaps the way to fight the devil is the way of the Who’s down in Whoville whose Christmas was stolen by the Grinch, but who sang in spite of it. Perhaps fighting the devil is having the courage to embrace joy instead of letting despair win.

When we see goodness for what it is and we dare to enjoy it, we give glory to the giver of every good and perfect gift. We bear the banner that says Hope still exists. Peace is not a fairytale. Joy is alive. This is a sacred calling. I do not know if this knowledge can ever save me from depression, but I believe that this is true: We must be brave. We must risk delight. We must admit there will be music despite everything. We must cling to Joy on behalf of those who cannot.