Mamahood

I Roared My Little Lion Out

IMG_5483I crouched in the hospital bathtub, wearing nothing but my sports bra. I’ve always been the girl who would rather contort herself in a bathroom stall than go bare in the women’s locker room, but my nakedness was nothing compared to the pain. The idea of laboring in the tub with my loving husband nearby had seemed luxurious and comforting, even a little glamorous. In reality it was small, cramped . . and crowded. Four sets of eyes watched me as I bore down on another contraction, waiting on me to make a decision about the epidural. Anxious, afraid, I was uncertain: as a survivor of sexual assault, I had mixed feelings about numbing the pain.

My waters had broken 12 hours before. 7 pm, at home, on my toilet, as I peed.  Nothing glamorous about that. No contractions. Just a strange, slow trickle.Could this be it? It felt so anticlimactic after months of panicked anticipation. Normally this wouldn’t mean much; normally a woman could take her time in the comfort of her own home. But I had tested positive for Strep B and needed to get to the hospital for a round of antibiotics. On top of that, the amniotic fluid was tinged with green, indicating there was a chance my son was in danger of breathing in meconium. There was a risk that he would not be able to cry or breathe on his own.

I found comfort in small blessings: my midwife, by my side throughout my anxious prenatal journey, happened to be on call that night; my overworked husband had the night off. I held on to these gifts as a brusque night nurse interrogated me and then told us my plan to try an unmedicated birth was unrealistic. At 10pm I still hadn’t had a contraction. The presence of meconium and its threat to my son meant I’d be on Pitocin by midnight.

Time moved slowly and the ache was guttural. My body moved in response to the pain and with every roll of my hips and stretch of my back I felt more rooted to the earth than I had ever been before. There was something primal brewing within me, a timeless song. But against the rhythm of that ancient melody was a frantic thrumming, an offbeat syncopation beating in my brain: No! Not yet! He will tear you apart! No amount of breathing made me feel safe enough to let go.

By 6am, hunched over in lukewarm water, I wanted to quit. I wanted my baby more, but I didn’t know how I’d ever get through the pain.My body craved expansion, but my brain threatened to shut it down. I tried to encourage myself. Remember the half marathon you ran? Remember how you thought you’d never make those last three miles? I recalled twisting my ankle at mile 10, falling to the ground and picking myself up in tears and humiliation. I can’t do this, I had thought. It’s too hard. I finished that race, though, and I would finish this one, too.

But I was beginning to think I’d need a little help. I looked at my husband, embarrassed and a bit ashamed. “I think I need the epidural,” I whispered.

At 7am there was a shift change. My trusted midwife, who had acted more like a doula than her job required, would be going home and I’d be put into the care of a woman I had never met. The new midwife had a quiet, calm demeanor. She was older and exuded a sense of motherly wisdom. I knew in my core I would be safe in her hands.

But when she said she needed to check my cervix, my stomach plummeted. I willed my body to relax, but that was hard to do with a clenched jaw and rigid limbs. Does she know my history? As she examined me with her fingers, another contraction enveloped me and I almost lifted off the table. “You’re 7cm,” she said. She put her hand on my thigh in a gesture of comfort but it was more than I could bear.“Let’s get you back into the tub.” She wanted me to continue without the epidural?

Fear, dressed as fury, thundered out of me. “NO! I need everyone to stop telling me what to do,” I was shaking. “Please don’t touch me.”

I was met only with kindness. She took her hand away gently. “Of course. This is your birth.” She stepped aside.

It takes time to get an anesthesiologist in the room. Even though anxiety began to loosen its grip on my brain, the contractions just continued to get deeper and stronger. I didn’t realize at the time I had already entered into transition.

The anesthesiologist was kind, and I didn’t care about the big needle he wielded. I just wanted the pain to subside so I could stop feeling so afraid. As the drug began its work, I lay my head back on the pillow and for the first time since my waters broke I felt calm, centered, confident.

The midwife came to check on me. “You made the right decision,” she told me, her eyes filled with warmth. “Now your body can relax and do what it was made to do.”

I felt like I was floating, my mind separate from my body. I welcomed the warm ease it brought me, and I allowed myself to sink deeper into the bed, relishing the feeling of cotton against my skin.

About thirty minutes after the epidural began its drip, a slow ache began on the right side of my abdomen. Within minutes the ache had become a pulsing burn: the contractions were stronger than ever. Panic returned. What if they couldn’t fix it? What if I had sacrificed my desire for a medication-free delivery only to feel the pain? What have I done? The anesthesiologist returned and placed the needle in a different spot. My left leg became so numb I couldn’t lift it from the bed. The pain in my right side subsided but was still present.

I rested for a little while and when they returned, I was fully dilated.

So we began. The early afternoon light filtered in through the blinds and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I met my son face to face. A NICU team appeared with their tools, waiting quietly by the door. The midwife reassured me: “Just in case.”

The pain was still there. Muted, but present. I hated it and loved it at the same time. Birthing a child is supposed to be painful, and there was a part of me that was thankful for the slow, intense burn that reminded me my son was ready to enter the world. The pain would guide me. I was ready.

I opened my mouth and roared my little lion out.

My furry little cub, filthy but otherwise healthy and strong, opened up his lungs and roared right back.

This post originally appeared on the Good Mother Project.

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Faith, Grace, Identity, Mamahood

Survivor Mama: New Life after Sexual Assault

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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.

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Faith

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

DiscoBlog_CherryBlossomsI walked beneath a cherry blossom tree, my 6-month-old son strapped to my chest. Facing outward, he reached out his tiny, curious fingers as I held a branch down to eye level. As his tiny hands gently closed around the soft, pink petals, I leaned down to steal a glance at his pensive face. His fingers, softly opening and closing, his long eyelashes blinking in almost the same rhythm, he seemed captivated by the beauty he held in his hands. There was awe in this moment, a beautiful, profound hush.

I thought, here is the mystery. Here is the beauty and magnificence of our Creator. In these petals. In this child. In the love I have for my son as he gazes upon this thing of beauty.

God has wooed me through his creation since my childhood. As a little girl I would spend hours in the back of my parents’ house, tiptoeing through their flowerbeds, dancing through the bluebells and tiger lilies, singing softly to myself and into the heavens:

“I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice! To worship you—oh, my soul, rejoice!”

There was no doubt in me; I was convinced of the Presence of the Creator, and His Son, who had come to reside in my heart at my invitation one rainy afternoon.

So there in that moment, as I joined my son in his worshipful stance, there was at once a yearning and a feeling of coming home. Be still, He says. Be still and know.

What a powerful sensation it is to be caught off guard by the beauty and majesty of our God – especially during the seasons He feels just a little too far away.

For this new mama, it’s been a tough winter. I know He’s not the one who has taken steps away from me. I know He hasn’t abandoned me, even though that is a lie this tender heart is tempted to believe. I know He’s still right there, by my side, waiting.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, spring is upon us. Life abounds. And to my son, everything is new. The world is opening up before the eyes of my boy, bright and new and spectacular. The sun has never been so brilliant. The green grass has never been so green.

Through my son’s eyes, everything is a new creation. We pass a stranger on the street, and he stares expectantly, a smile playing on his lips. We hear a crow caw and he turns his head, eager to see what fantastic creature is calling.

I can learn so much from this little one, I often think, as I gather the courage to face each moment with gratitude. Through my son and his innocence, our God is calling me away from despair and into the light.

Cherry blossoms. Chubby fingers. These are the tiny miracles that get me through each day. So we will keep walking. I will run my fingers through the greenery we pass, through shrubs and trees and vines, reaching for the soft petals of promise. I will hold my hands open, expectant, and pray my son does, too.

This post originally appeared on the Discovery Community Church blog, All In

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Faith, Identity

Creating New Life, One Step at a Time

Hi friends. It’s been a while. So much has happened in the last nine months since last I wrote, not the least of which is getting pregnant with our very first child. A child! Our child! Our son, to be exact. Jacob.

This week I passed the 35 week mark, which means we are in it for real now, folks. This guy is coming, whether we’re ready or not. We have tape and paint and rollers to transform the extra pink room upstairs into a little boy’s woodland dream. We have a bassinet. We have a few diapers and some newborn onesies and, of course, my boobs.

And honestly, as much as we have left to accomplish, I feel like even if he came tomorrow, we’d make do.

As much of a life-changer becoming a mama is, it’s not the only thing that’s changed this year. We also adopted a cat named Opal, who fills our days with laughter and — when she’s not in the biting mood — sweet snuggles. I joined a new tribe of sisters through Stratejoy’s Elevate Mastermind program, committing to a year of flourishing into the best version of myself. I applied for and was accepted into a master’s program at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. I started my first term in May and LOVED my classes. Loved them so much, in fact, I’m actually considering taking a class this fall, with the bambino in tow (we shall see). Last weekend I drove to Canada and walked an entire half marathon. At almost 8 months pregnant. (And I’m feeeeeeeling it now, folks!)

I didn’t write a novel. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Because I have been living my life and leaning into what comes next, one step at a time.

I’m glad to be back here again, sharing with you little pieces of my journey.

More substantial posts are in the works! Stay tuned. In the meantime, if you’re interested, here are a few glimpses of how I’ve been working out my faith and my path on the Stratejoy blog:

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Faith, Identity, Mamahood, Writing

What if There is a Life More Beautiful Than I Dreamed?

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I can’t remember a time I didn’t know in my gut I wanted to be a writer, or that just as ardently, I wanted to be a wife and a mother.

Sure, as a child I also thought I might be a ballerina or a taxi driver, but even so, in my imagined future there would always be a pad, pen, husband, and brood of children awaiting my return.

As a child I was also a dreamer, a questioner, and a deep thinker. At three, I wrote my first story (a morality tale), attended my first West End musical (Starlight Express), and engaged in my first theological argument with a playmate while swinging from the tree in his backyard.

My parents often shook their heads, wondering, where did this child come from, but indulged my imagination as I re-enacted musical numbers on my Fisher Price roller skates, expounded on theories of what my stuffed animals did at night while I slept, and asked questions like “What does it feel like to kiss a boy?”

But somewhere along the line I started believing the lie that I couldn’t be fully me, fully in relationship, and fully loved. At some point I decided the only way to survive was to carefully hide the deepest parts of who I am, giving myself and others only glimpses of that creative, imaginative, insightful little girl.

Guess what? I’m tired of hiding. I’m ready to be me.

In November, when we Elevate girls were sending around initial introductions, Molly asked us to respond to the question “Where would you like to see yourself in 14 months?” Here’s what I wrote:

I would like to be writing creatively every day (or at least 5 days of the week). I’d like to have a solid blog with posts that I’m seriously proud of. I’d like to be able to say “I am a writer” and know that there’s substance to back up that claim. I’d like to either be enrolled in a master’s program or know definitively that it’s not the right time to go back to school. I’d also like to have begun a family or be pregnant – but there’s only so much planning we can do for that (yes, yes, the fun is in the trying…)!

In November I felt very clear about what I wanted: to be a writer. To make a decision about grad school. To be a mama.

Fast forward to January at the Elevate retreat, and I’m struggling to really own these dreams.

I have applied to and interviewed for a master’s program in theology, arts, and imagination (that I am so in love with, because it is so me), and I’ve started training for a half marathon in late August, but I’ve thrown the blog idea out the window (I’m still working on my voice!). I’ve pushed pause on the idea of immediately starting a family. Sure – my husband and I still agree to have fun trying, but we have decided the stress of ovulation strips and monthly devastation is taking a toll on our relationship, not to mention my sanity.

The word I claim for 2014 is “Flourish.” To grow, to create, to thrive. I declare I will renew my commitment to creative pursuits, to boldly step out and pursue a theological education, to train myself physically to be strong and fit and in the best shape I’ve ever been. I barely mention my dreams of having a baby.

Two days after the retreat, I’m holed up in a Starbucks bathroom in Laguna Niguel, peeing on a stick, partly because I’m a week late, but mostly because I want to know if it’s safe to drink the bottle of wine I’ve just bought to bring to my best friend’s house where I’ll be staying the next two nights.

And there, in the Starbucks bathroom, I see my future blooming in two very distinct, very bright blue lines.

I call my husband. Laughing. Crying. We’re going to have a baby.

I’m going to be a mama.

A trip to the doctor and I discover our baby will be arriving in September. Just five weeks after that half marathon I’ve been training for.

Well, then.

On Valentine’s Day I get the call telling me I’ve been accepted into the grad school program I’ve dreaming of. I’m in! The director tells me I’m brave and impressive and they want me. They are confident they can learn just as much from me as I can from them. Giddy, my husband and I pour teeny tiny glasses of champagne to celebrate life, love, and the dreams for which we are designed.

But I’m going to be a mama. And the baby is due three weeks after school begins.

So this is where I sit for a good month: fatigued, nauseated, and completely FULL of emotion.

One of the intentions I set for myself this year was to “be humble.” When asked my reason for choosing this way of being, I responded it was because I wanted to have a realistic viewpoint of my capabilities – I don’t want to be puffed up, but I also don’t want to be so deflated I lose confidence. Humility is a personal value I have; it’s also, in my belief, a fruit of the spirit of someone walking closely with God.

After our January retreat I scratched out “be humble” and replaced it with “be strong.”

So now here I am, almost forced into humility – because really, which one of us can ordain the timing of the creation of new life? But I’m also called to be strong – and now it’s not just for me, but for the little life growing inside me.

I’ve always said God has a great sense of humor.

With barely a baby bump, I’m already feeling the need to protect and arm myself in a mother bear fashion, ready for the opinions of others. To some, like my grandma, from the beginning the obvious answer was to keep moving forward:

“Women have been having babies and going to school for decades now. Why should you be different? Don’t give up your dream!”

(Love that woman.)

To others, the obvious answer was that having a baby trumps personal ambition. And honestly, as much respect as I have for women who seem to do and have it all, at first I agreed the latter plan was the best choice for me.

I generally do best with only a few important things in my life – I’m a deep diver, an all-or-nothing introvert who needs time and space to process and practice new things. I always pictured myself as the new mom who holes away for the first few months, learning all there is to know about this new tiny creature who requires so much time, energy, and care.

But then I thought: what if?

What if I could be the mama student with the baby sling and bag full of books? What if I could still pursue all I dreamed of this year? (Okay, with the exception of the half marathon. At 8 months pregnant? No way. Not happening.)

What if I could be an example to my child, showing him or her how important it is to pursue our passions, to get clear on our values, and synchronize our lives with what we know to be real, true, and holy?

What if I could still complete the program in the two years I have left here before my husband and I are relocated?

What if there was some creative option I hadn’t yet imagined?

So I decided to be bold.

I contacted the school and explained my situation. Within a week, I had chatted with my very encouraging admissions counselor and met with a warm and welcoming registrar, who helped me set up what seems to be a manageable schedule.

I enrolled. And I start classes this May.

In one month, I’ll be driving my pregnant self to Seattle three days a week to study theology, art, and imagination, with a personal focus on creative writing. I’ll be getting a head start on the studies I’ll put on hold next fall as I welcome my sweet new baby (to hole up and process and practice to my heart’s content). The plan is to pick those studies right back up where I left them at the beginning of 2015.

But as I’ve been reminded in this season, a lot of life can happen when you’re making plans. As I keep walking forward through 2014, I pray I will do so with an open heart, open mind, and open hands, ready to receive whatever comes next.

Originally appeared on Stratejoy

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Faith, Identity, Mamahood

Big Decisions

ErinCollage-650x650In the spring of 2010, I packed up all of my belongings and jumped into my trusty Honda to start a new chapter in my life.

I had spent the last 5 years in Seattle, Washington, a beautiful, quirky, wonderful city which had begun to feel more like home than any place I’d ever lived. Now, I was leaving, heading to Bethesda, Maryland, to join my boyfriend, Tim, who was in his second year of medical school.We were serious about each other, and sensed a beautiful future stirring somewhere off on the horizon. Tim and I had been together for over a year, but the decision to move came quickly.

Within three weeks of asking my boss if I could telecommute from the East Coast, I hit Highway 90 with Tim by my side, ready to drive cross-country and spend the largest number of consecutive days we’d ever spent together.

It was one of the bravest, scariest, most authentic choices I’d ever made. I knew it was the right move, but it happened so quickly I didn’t realize how much confusion would follow me.

Three months into my new life in Maryland, much had changed.

I had an apartment much lovelier than I’d ever had before – and could hardly afford the rent.

I lived a 10-minute drive away from my amazing boyfriend, but, knee-deep in his second year of medical school, he hardly had one or two evenings to share with me each week.

I was reconnecting with old friends from college who lived in DC, but my Metro stop was a 15 minute drive from my apartment and a 30-minute ride into the city.

I felt freedom and a great deal of grown-up responsibility as a full-time teleworker, but put pressure on myself to be constantly on-call.

The more time I spent with Tim, the more I was convinced I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life, but the demands of medical school made him unable to make the leap just yet.

In short, I was lonely. I was afraid. I worried I might have made a mistake.

Enter Stratejoy and the Joy Equation. . That summer I woke every morning to journal about my fears, my hopes, my dreams, and desires – with no censorship. I visualized myself, 5 years into the future, married to Tim and expecting his child, working for myself, blogging in the mornings, maybe working on a book, and spending my afternoons meeting with friends in coffee shops, having heartfelt conversations.

I was fearless in these journal entries, allowing myself the space to dream, to seek, to yearn. I began slowly putting my goals into action, practicing gratitude, and honoring my core values. I had big, hard, beautiful conversations with Tim. We began dreaming together of the future and all that it held for us, together.

Fast forward three years to October 2013. Tim and I, married 2 years, had just moved back to the Pacific Northwest, into our first house, in Tacoma, WA. It had been 6 months since I had quit my full-time job. After a lovely sabbatical full of travel, adventure, reading, and self-reflection, I was working part-time as a marketing communications manager for an old friend. And I was once again dreaming of the future.

Tim and I had been talking about starting a family sometime in the next year, and for months it’s all I could think of.

The extra room in our new house? A future nursery.

The hot yoga studio down the street I had been so excited to try? Can’t do it – might make it harder to conceive.

Drinks out with friends? Sushi? Training for a new race? Might be too risky.

So each month I’d have a couple weeks of freedom followed by a few weeks of legalism and terror. I was getting tired of the dance. It was causing strain in our marriage, and stress on my body.

I thought what I wanted most, over everything else, was a baby. But in quiet, honest moments, it became clear to me it’s not all I wanted.

I wanted passion and purpose.

I wanted to be writing creatively.

I wanted to go back to school and learn how to help people in emotional pain.

I wanted to go back to school and learn how to talk to people about God in a way that is helpful and healing.

I wanted to begin developing a better relationship with my body, to celebrate my design and womanhood and treat my body with the love and respect it deserves.

I wanted to be fully, unabashedly ME.

I was meeting new friends, getting connected at church, already involved in my community, but I knew it would take time to develop the kind of trust needed to gain true accountability with these new friendships. Then I remembered the clarity and empowerment I gained that Joy Equation summer…and promptly began lurking on the Statejoy website. When I saw the advertisement for Elevate Mastermind, I knew I wanted to apply.

Accountability? Sisterhood? Champagne? Dance parties? Yes, please.

The night Molly announced her call for applications, I stayed up until midnight, typing and typing, fervently wishing and hoping and praying that come January, I’d be sitting in a yurt with 13 other women, risking vulnerability and dreaming big.

When Molly called to tell me I was in, I hung up the phone and prayed. And prayed. And prayed. This was going to be a huge investment – time, energy, money – and I needed to be sure I wasn’t just blindly signing up for something because it was shiny and sparkly and sounded so fun.

And the more I prayed, the more it became clear to me that Elevate was exactly what I needed to do this year. It was so clear I laughed out loud. My prayers aren’t always answered so specifically (or so quickly), but that day they were: I knew in my heart, with utmost confidence, that I needed these women who would make up the tribe. I needed to hear their stories and get to know them and learn from them. And I needed to boldly offer myself – in all my beautiful, messy vulnerability – and learn how to practice being exactly who I am and who I was created to be. And maybe, just maybe, they’d learn something from me, too.

It’s crazy to think back now, because so much has changed since that night in October. So much has changed since that magical, champagne bubbly, yurt-loving weekend in January.

I’m excited to see what comes next.

I wanted this year to be a big year, and beautiful year, a year of creation and joy and purpose. I am confident it will be, even if it looks slightly different than the way I dreamed it would be.

Originally appeared on Stratejoy

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