Self Portrait: Cozy

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February 28, 2017

There are goosebumps on my arm, and I am relishing them.

The tradewinds are blowing. The hot Hawaiian sun is resting behind the clouds. I’m snuggled up in my favorite pair of sweatpants and sipping hot coffee from a mug the size of my head.

This is me, feeling cozy. This is me, feeling like myself.

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Future Me

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I was walking toward my future self on the sands of Lanikai Beach as the sun rose over the Mokulua islands (a short drive from my house and a favorite spot of mine). She was sitting on a woven blanket, wearing yoga pants and a ponytail, looking healthy and relaxed. I asked her how she got to be so happy and she laughed.

“I’m happy because I chose to come watch the sun rise. I’m still exhausted. Life is still hard. But I’m choosing what makes me happy.”

I sat with her on the blanket and watched the sun as it grew in strength and color, and I was struck by how peaceful and calm we both were. All I was focused on was the sun and the sand and my breath.

Suddenly, she laughed, jumped up, and began sifting through the sand – she had a gift for me but had forgotten where she had hidden it. Finally she unearthed something gold and shiny from  beneath a large weather-beaten log.

She grinned. “Buried treasure!”

She handed me a golden compass hanging from a chain. I asked her what it was for, and she just shrugged and smiled.

***

For the last three Decembers as a part of Stratejoy’s Holiday Council I’ve embarked on a simple guided meditative journey to meet with my future self. She is always thinner than present me,  calmer than present me, and better rested than present me. Her hair is always in a perky ponytail (she’s finally mastered the art of effortless beauty), and she always looks invitingly cozy. The first year she was curled up on the couch in our Tacoma living room wearing a chunky sweater. The second year she was cooking in our Tacoma kitchen, laughing with Jake as he clapped in his high chair. This year she was alone on the Hawaiian shores, soaking in the sunrise, strong and healthy after a year of yoga, running, breathing, and prayer.

It’s always such a grounding exercise for me, to let my mind wander and unlock hopes and fears and questions I have about where I will be the following December. The first year, I was afraid I’d never get pregnant, and it was unclear whether the woman I saw  was reading on the couch while her baby slept or if she was still waiting expectantly. The second year, I had high hopes of learning how to cook and creating a warm welcoming space for our family to grow. This year, I was afraid to ask whether her husband had returned to her, whether her kids were safely tucked in bed under the protective gaze of their father, so I focused on the only thing I know I can control: myself. The past two years I have been seeking family, coziness, and community; this year I was seeking freedom, self-renewal, a release from the anxiety that binds me.

I’m unsurprised I found her on the shores of Lanikai Beach, a beautiful hideaway I first discovered with Tim when we first visited Oahu many years ago. I’ve watched a couple sunrises in my time here and they always leave me feeling more centered, like I’m back to being no bigger and no smaller than I am meant to be.

***

As a Four on the Enneagram, the Individualist, or Romantic, I am what you might call moody, defined by ever-shifting emotions, and motivated by the need to feel heard and understood. No matter the life circumstance, I often feel as though I am missing something – like I lack some fundamental character trait that others possess that allow them to get up every day and live a drama-free life. I often struggle in the tension between wanting to be fully known and fearing that no matter how vulnerable I am with others, I will never truly be loved for who I am. So I withdraw. And I project. And in the confines of my self-protective fantasy world, I imagine a future self who has everything figured out: she has found the mysterious secret others seem to possess, that elusive ability to remain content regardless of her circumstances. She’s calm, unruffled by her ever-changing emotions. She’s free of anxiety and her constant suspicion that others are judging her for being different. She’s self-forgetting and is no longer caught up in the tragic stories from her past or the ideal relationships and accomplishments she dreams about in the future. She just exists. She is connected to her body and she is healthy, happy, whole.

***

This year, I decided my guiding word is breathe. A simple, grounding reminder to a woman whose wheels never stop turning, whose emotions never seem to settle. Faced with deployment, solo parenting, and a lifetime of unknowns, I have finally realized I have got to get a handle on this inner turmoil I have often unknowingly exacerbated. Life is hard enough without trying so hard to emotionally color all of my experiences in the attempt to turn it into an epic work of art.

Further study of the Enneagram has helped me identify all the ways in which I am my own worst enemy, the ways in which I’ve been contributing to this pervasive feeling of melancholy for most of my lifetime — but also the ways in which I can choose to (however slowly) make changes. I’ve begun to see that perhaps the future self I dream of isn’t an emotionless yogi on the beach, but instead an integrated, emotionally intelligent woman who is wise enough to know when to act on emotion, and when to let it go.

So how do I get there?

Perhaps the answer lies in her gift to me. Perhaps, I need to remind myself there is goodness and beauty in the world–whether or not it feels good and beautiful. Perhaps, if I work a little harder at attuning myself to all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable*–if I remember I already have the tools to get to where I’m going (even if they are buried deep in the sand)–I won’t worry so much about trying to feel my way to true north.

*Philipians 4:8

You Can Do This

pill box feetFriends, here’s the truth: Life has been HARD recently. Hard hard hard hard.

Hard.

Not necessarily tragic or traumatic or full of drama – just HARD.

You ever have one of those seasons? When it just feels like you can’t catch your breath or catch a break?

We are in the middle of one of those. It’s like monsoon season over here, with a newborn and a toddler and a house full of boxes and a husband who may or may not be deployed this year. It’s been hard.

And being the highly sensitive emotional introvert that I am? Well, let’s just say I’ve lost my cool more than once.

So yesterday, in the interest of self care, as soon as my oldest was down for a nap I handed the baby to my husband and declared, “I’m going up the Pill Box Trail!” I laced up my new purple sneakers and headed out.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into, stubbornly climbing my way up the steep, overgrown embankment making up the initial ascent. All I knew is that I wanted to see the Pill Boxes, I wanted to sit on the edge of the graffiti-covered concrete and stare out into the blue. Whatever came before that would be worth the climb.

So I whispered to myself “It’s okay, you can do this.”

And I remembered in a flash the moments right before my youngest was born–before the move, before the malaise, before whispers of deployment–when the pain was too much and I didn’t think I could go on. I remembered my own hoarse whisper, coaching myself through labor, reminding myself that I could do hard things.

So I kept walking. And climbing. And scrambling. And even scooting on my bum when the trail got too steep. I was slow and perhaps even timid. But I was also tenacious. I kept going.

And I did it. And it made me proud: proud of the body God gave me. Proud of the strength I’ve been slowly building at the gym. Proud of the wisdom it took to take a break from the monotony of motherhood. Proud of the courage it took to stretch into the blue sky and the hot sun and the sandy rocks.

After three hours in the wilderness my feet were worn, clothes sweat-soaked, and fingernails caked in dirt. And when I returned and my oldest approached slowly, quietly asking: “Mama?” as though he wasn’t quite sure I was the same woman who left, I smiled to myself.

It’s about time he meets this version of me, I thought. It’s about time he sees me doing hard things. It’s about time he sees the brave woman I need to be to raise his brother and him well.

It’s about time I see her, too.pill box

Originally shared on the Good Mother Project Facebook page

How Do I Want to Show Up in the World?

IMG_5063-EFFECTSLast week I came back from a week at a summer camp for women. Talk about a situation ready to send you right back into your junior high insecurities: a bunch of women sleeping in the woods, swarmed by mosquitoes, constantly sweating in the moist North Carolina air. We shared our cabins with mice. We shared our showers with spiders. We logged fewer hours sleeping than I normally do at home with my teething baby.

It was the kind of environment just uncomfortable enough to let others see glimpses of your heart.

My heart? It was insecure. Lonely. Needy. Afraid. Longing for my own bed and my husband’s reassuring arms.

This was the first time I’d been away from my 10-month old son for more than 24 hours. I’d already been gone for two days and I had five more to go. Without his tiny body hugged to mine, I hardly knew who I was. What would I talk about? The exhaustion I embody and the extra pounds I carry seem more acceptable somehow when I am carrying him in front of my soft belly. Without him I felt exposed.

I was bombarded by self-doubt the minute I drove up to camp: Will anyone want to sit with me at dinner? Will I make friends? Will I be fun enough? Will people think I’m boring and wonder why I’m even here?

All my giftings that made me excited to be a camp counselor—my capacity for compassion, my ability to listen, my leaning toward grace—were darkened with shadow. All I could think about was how quiet I can be, how slow I am to make friends, how I will always choose quiet time over an afternoon of lawn games. In short: I began to wonder why I was even there.

Thankfully, the women attending camp were big-hearted women seeking joy and love and truth, women who speak and live with grace. Women who desire to show up fearlessly, exactly as they are, leaning into the beauty of who they were created to be. Each woman I spoke with radiated warmth and gratitude. Each woman had a ready smile.

As I journaled on our first morning there, I realized the problem wasn’t with camp, it was with me. These feelings of inadequacy weren’t bubbling up only because it was the first time I was away from my son or because I was losing sleep to the song of the cicadas. My feelings of unease were very familiar: I spend so much time and energy wondering and worrying about what other people think, about which parts of myself I should show them to make them feel more comfortable, that I hardly remember the design of creation. I hardly remember I am made in God’s image, reflecting his glory in a unique blend of the many facets of his character.

Rather than wasting time and energy focusing on how I fall short or fail, I wanted to lean in towards the person God created me to be.

So I challenged myself to ruminate on the following:

How do I want to show up in the world? How do I want to be remembered?

From that moment on, each time I began to feel the pinch of doubt or the rush of fear, I stopped, took a breath and asked myself how I wanted to show up in the moment. Would I let destructive patterns of self-protection keep me from engaging with others? Or would I trust that God had equipped me with all I would need?

I asked myself how I wanted to be remembered. When I was honest with myself I knew it wouldn’t be for winning any games or making people laugh or telling a moving story in front of the whole camp. But maybe I could be remembered for the connections I made with others, for being vulnerable in my cabin, for making others feel safe to share the truth of their own stories.

So that’s how I showed up: a little quiet, a little awkward, a little scared. But I showed up anyway. And the conversations I had with the women who crossed my path were some of the most heartfelt I’ve had in a very long time.

Maybe this is who God created me to be.

Maybe that is enough.

How do you want to show up today? How do you want to be remembered?

This post originally appeared on All In

Survivor Mama: New Life after Sexual Assault

ErinC-009

source: eran jayne photography

Today I am seven years a survivor. So grateful to the Good Mother Project for publishing this piece yesterday. It’s time to use my voice again. It’s time to speak the truth. 

When I got pregnant, I didn’t realize I was a rape survivor.

Mere hours after my son was conceived,  I sat in our counselor’s office with my husband, gripping his hand tightly and holding my breath as she said the word: rape. It was rape. She was referring to an event that had happened six years before, something I had miscategorized in my mind. I had told my husband a bit about that night, but I had only shared vague details:  it was always “the night I regret,” “a huge mistake,” “taking advantage.” But: Rape? We had never used that word.

I wasn’t sure what to do with this new information. My entire world as I knew it, as I had constructed it around me, was changed. I had endured violence of the most vulnerable kind and my brain had protected me from the knowledge of it. For six years. Six whole years I had been living in a haze of despair, uncertain of its cause. Now I knew it wasn’t anything I had done, and yet somehow I still felt responsible. I read the books, I repeated the words (it’s not my fault). Still, a sense of shame and feeling of filth lingered, like cigarette smoke you can’t get out of your favorite sweater.

Two weeks later, two little blue lines showed up on a pregnancy test. The baby my husband and I had been praying for.

I was ecstatic. I was terrified.

I spent the first three months of pregnancy curled up on our couch in the fetal position. Despite the standard exhaustion and consistent nausea, my physical symptoms weren’t bad. But mentally and emotionally, I was a wreck.

The anxiety that built up within my quickly changing body manifested in ways I could easily blame on pregnancy: hiding in my house, watching Netflix for hours, ignoring phone calls from friends and family. I felt like I was too full of emotion—filled to the brim—and any additional stress would send me over the edge. How could I have normal, happy conversations with people about my pregnancy when I had such a dark secret lurking beneath it all?  I thought about it much more than I wanted to, but I didn’t know how to stop, or who I could talk to. No one wants to hear you say you’ve been raped. Especially when you’re supposed to be joy personified, bursting with excitement about your unborn child.

When I did have the emotional energy to speak with loved ones, I was truthful about my excitement and fear (who isn’t afraid of childbirth?), but I never felt as though I was being completely honest.  As someone who generally wears her heart on her sleeve, this was exhausting and painful.  So, I spent most of my free time in full-on hibernation mode. My one goal was to incubate my growing child, protecting the precious, innocent life still unknown to me. I built myself a cozy little nest of blankets and books and read everything I could about preparing for birth.

Close to the end of my second trimester I finally got up the courage to see a prenatal therapist. She was calm and nurturing and made me feel safe. Still, it took weeks of therapy before I was finally ready to tell her exactly what had happened to me the summer of 2008. With great kindness, she listened to me, validated me, and also helped me admit to myself that one month before the rape, I had been sexually assaulted.

So there I was, very pregnant, very hormonal, very emotional, preparing for birth, and also trying to come to terms with the fact that I had been violently violated not once but twice—and I hadn’t let myself recognize the truth.

Any shred of security I once felt was lost to me. Suddenly everything and everyone seemed a threat to my safety. Trust was a dirty word. It didn’t help that at the time, our neighborhood was experiencing a wave of break-ins and burglary, and my rock of a husband, working long, hard shifts as a medical resident, was hardly home. My sleep, fitful and hard to come by, became punctuated with horrific nightmares.

It seemed impossible to escape the reality that I lived in a violent, terrible, evil world where women are raped (and children are molested and teens get addicted and men are tortured, and so on). And I was bringing a baby into this world. How could I protect him—how could I be a good mother—if I couldn’t even protect myself?

Yet I smiled for pictures. Shared my growing bump online. Dressed up for baby showers. I clung desperately to whatever joy I could find.

As my due date approached, the anxiety I felt around childbirth was palpable. I practiced self-hypnosis, imagery-based meditation, breathing, prayer—anything I could think of, and it still wasn’t enough. I was terrified that in the midst of labor I would be triggered; routine pelvic exams were difficult enough. Pain could be a trigger. Medication could be a trigger. Mentally, I could shut down. And even if I wasn’t triggered? This baby could rip me in two. He could destroy this body, already used and battered and worn. I could die. He could die. There was no way to know how labor would go or how I would respond.

I was completely vulnerable.

In the end, it was this very vulnerability that made room for the hope that saved me.

Interspersed with my fear and anxiety was the shimmering hope of redemption: my body, my story could be made new again. I thought about the strange and almost supernatural timing of my son’s conception: could it be a coincidence that in the hours I was first recognizing the truth of my past, he was being knit together in my womb? I began to meditate on the feeling of release I experienced when I learned I was a survivor: the way my shoulders dropped, as if letting go of a heavy weight; the way my entire body warmed as though melting away years of falsehood. The new life inside me was a promise of what lay beyond the empty devastation caused by acts of violence so very long ago. This new life, my son, was created out of joy and laughter and the love I shared with my husband.  

God began to feel very present to me, even amid my pain and fear. I felt very certain he had a hand in the timing of my pregnancy, that he was preparing my heart to be a mother as he led me through the hard truth about my past. The strange co-mingling of revelation and gestation began to feel like a gift. In my final weeks of pregnancy, a steady confidence began to build within me. Somehow, I knew I would survive birth and deliver a beautiful, healthy child.

God would get me through it. He had gotten me through much worse. I knew he would, not only for me, but for my son. Despite my fears, the sun seemed to shine a little more brightly, the air began to feel a little more crisp. The colors of early autumn seeped their way through my skin and stirred up my soul, reminding me of the beauty and goodness and light that can keep the darkness at bay. I was reminded of all I wanted to offer my son: the adventures we would take, the stories we would tell, the love we would share.

Today, my son is almost 10 months old, a sweet, active little boy with a mischievous grin. After all my worrying and wondering, he came into the world with relative ease. Oh, there was pain. And there was fear. I had to battle anxiety throughout the entire process. But I did it. I made it through. And in the end, I held the most precious gift.

So, why tell this story now? Why share something so private, so painful, so raw? I write these words because I know I’m not the only woman who has felt broken, used, and afraid. I share my story because I am confident that the evil of this world will not have the final say. I am speaking out because I want to be a witness to the beauty that has risen from the ashes of my life. I am reaching out in sisterhood to other survivors to say you are not alone.

jakeI’m telling this story because I want to teach my son by example. I don’t want him to live in fear or feel the need to hide from his past.

This journey of mine isn’t over. I still have days I’m overcome with anxiety, faced with the certainty that no matter what precautions I take, there’s only so much I can do to protect my child from harm. Each day is a practice in trusting and letting go.

Each day is a practice of faith.

Someday, I will tell my son about the half marathon I walked with him at eight months pregnant. I will tell him about the heat that beat down on me as I walked, feet swollen but heart bursting, through the brilliant beauty of Stanley Park. I will tell him how I thought of him the whole time, how I wanted to show him his mother was strong.

I will tell him how he taught me to be brave.

This post originally appeared on the Good Mother Project.

I’m Not Enough

IMG_5555It was 3am. I was more than sleep deprived; I was going a little bit crazy. Jacob, my new baby boy, was less than a week old, and he was hungry. His screams pierced the darkness and pierced this new mama’s heart.

The pediatrician’s office had called that afternoon to say we needed to supplement his diet with formula, and I was crestfallen. In my mind, nursing was the one thing a mother should be able to do for her child, and I just couldn’t make it work. Faced with his suffering, I caved, offering him as much formula as he would take. He filled his little belly and slept sweetly and deeply for the first time. In my gut, I knew I had made the right decision: the most important thing was for my child to be nourished and rested.

And yet, despite this small victory, when I awoke to his wailing, the word failure was all I heard.

I knew I would be tired, but I had no idea how wrecked I would actually be. I hardly slept because my poor son never stopped crying – unless, of course, he passed out in my arms, waking up if I put him down. During the day I’d hand him off to my husband and sneak in a quick catnap only to be woken by another high-pitched wail. Swaddling helped a little but not much. I gave him a pacifier a lot sooner than I had planned. Even when he couldn’t nurse, I pumped and pumped and pumped, hoping I might still provide him what he needed to grow and sleep well. But it was never enough.

Read more on the Discovery Community Church blog.

Truth Be Told…

The truth is, I am fearful.

The truth is, I am brave.

The truth is, I hide.

The truth is, I make excuses.

The truth is, I have big dreams.

The truth is, I am afraid to fail.

The truth is, I stumble every day.

The truth is, I am rusty at relationships.

The truth is, I crave connection.

The truth is, I push people away.

The truth is, I have a great capacity to love.

The truth is, I have felt abandoned by God.

The truth is, I know God to be ever-present.

The truth is, I am imperfect.

The truth is, I am beautiful.

The truth is, I am a mess.

The truth is, I am a coward.

The truth is, I am a survivor.

The truth is, I am a warrior.

The truth is never fully told.

But I will keep telling it, in hopes of getting close.