Brave Women

I meet a lot of brave women wherever I go.

I am sure that you do to, you just may not know it.

I meet my grocery checker pregnant with number two, kind enough to stand on her feet all day and still have a smile on her face.

I meet my neighbor, a retired mama, still caring for her family, bravely sharing with me her story of loss in the middle of that same grocery store aisle.

I meet brave women who have so much joy that it overflows out of them like a garden hose spigot you can’t turn off without getting wet first.

I meet brave women with tears in their eyes, unsure whether they should share their true selves, wondering if even Jesus can take the whole truth. (He can. He always can. That’s a promise.)

I meet brave women who are married and single, from different backgrounds, different corners of the globe. We’re all different sizes. We think differently, brave different challenges, eat different foods, laugh at different jokes, fight for different causes, and have interest in different topics.

As part of the Altogether Beautiful movement, I have decided to begin to collect all the brave, so we can share it. I don’t want to keep the beauty, the resilience, the thoughtfulness, and the impact I see to myself. I always respect anything someone tells me confidentially. We should be keepers of trust and intimacy. So I only share what women give me permission to share, but I do think we can all step further out and further in, changing this world with the simple act of saying,

“This is my story.”

“This is where I’ve been. This is where I am. This is where I’m going.”

“This is the real me.”

These women I meet are Altogether Beautiful.

Made beautiful by a Creator.

Loved fiercely by a Savior.

Today is the first edition of Altogether Beautiful Brave Women. In this short 1 minute and 30 second video, I hope these women encourage you to be a little bit braver too, to share with someone your story, your struggle, and what He is making #altogetherbeautiful.

Because I know, without a doubt, it is Altogether Beautiful too.

Thank you to these first women who participated in our video project! Look for more to come and if you’d like to participate, email me at ilovemyshepherd.com@gmail.com.

I Was the Angry Mom

I hate school supply shopping.

I don’t like mass bins of glue sticks, highlighters, and colored markers. All I can think about for a good month near the end of summer is if I correctly calculated the number of composition books versus spiral bound notebooks everyone needed from their lists.

I feel overwhelmed by the mere mention of 120-page packs of wide-ruled notebook paper and 12-count packages of no. 2 pencils in yellow, no plastic, no color. I create mental images every year of the pink eraser that will evade me, imagining I end up stuck in a discount store for hours, knee deep in a bin of multi-colored erasers looking for the single pink nugget that everyone waiting behind me is also hunting for.

In order to avoid all my long-shot fears related to school supply shopping, we usually end up going at 9pm on a Tuesday to avoid “the crowd.” I’m not sure if there is an actual crowd or if I made this up in my head, but it makes me feel better, so that’s what we do.

Two years ago, while waiting patiently in the checkout with our cartful of folders, pens, notebooks, colored pencils and more, we ended up beside the “As Seen On TV” merchandise. There were light up pillow pets, copper non-stick pans, and garden hoses that claimed they stored really well. In the middle of all these products was a steam cleaner that looked like a small, middle-aged Russian doll in an apron. It was called the “Angry Mom.” You put water in her torso, screwed her head on, set her in your microwave on high, and as the water heated her head popped up and steam came out to neatly clean your family’s caked-on, month-old mess.

My kids were entertaining themselves with, “Oooo- this looks cool!” and “Hey, I need this for my room!” when I felt a small poke from the side hug my eight-year-old, Jyeva pulled me into. I looked down at her face and I will never forget her words –

“I’m so thankful you’re not the angry mom anymore.”

Time stopped for me, right there in the Walmart checkout lane.

I could hear my heart beat in my chest.

I could taste my saliva.

And I could feel the hot tears starting behind my public, smiling mom-face.

I took a deep breath, hugged Jyeva back, got down on her level, and looked into her eyes,

“I’m so sorry, Jyeva. I’m just so, so sorry.”

Jyeva, who is my child always overflowing with grace, looked back at me and said point-blank –

“No, Mom. You used to be the angry mom, but you’re not anymore. That’s really great. That’s awesome. You’re not. You were…and now you’re not!”

To say that EMDR changed my life would be an understatement. 

I was the angry mom.

I was nice, then I was nice, and I was nice some more, and then I railed.

It came fast and hard and it looked more like anxiety welling up and overflowing onto my children than disconnected rage, but it was ugly. I never physically hurt my children. I don’t think my family walked on egg shells, but I do remember the look they got in their eyes that said, “She’s gonna blow.”

It’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re gonna blow, fyi. People tune out as a defense mechanism, and children are just smart smaller people. They know intrinsically how to protect themselves, so they shut down and check out at the very moment you really want them to grasp your point because it’s too loud, too harsh, or too assaulting.

I knew all of this. I knew all about child development and communication, and active listening, and all that stuff they teach you in graduate school. But there was a disconnect between all my awesome knowledge and what I could put into practice.

I started EMDR, which is a memory processing therapy, because I signed up to see a therapist and he happened to be an EMDR therapist. If God has had a hand in anything in my life (which He clearly has) this is one thing I can point to and say, “Woah – God at work!”

Let’s not evade reality…EMDR was hard. Sometimes it felt a little like walking through a minefield of my brain’s own making. At about month three of therapy, I realized I was foreboding, and avoiding, holding back, canceling sessions because of the discomfort, the struggle, and the pain that comes with processing old stuff, but my therapist was safe, my husband was safe, my family was safe, and for the first time in my life I saw Jesus as a real, tangible refuge.

So I kept walking forward.

I attended regularly scheduled EMDR appointments for eighteen months and I felt like a new person. I saw life differently. I was free from the constant personal judgement that barraged me for years. Anxiety was still a thing for me, but it lacked the teeth it once had in my daily life. Then, in that Walmart checkout, I realized this life-changing reality –

I was not the angry mom anymore.

Praise be to God.

The cycle of frustration and anger and ugly that held me captive lost its grip. Life was still hard. Parenting, ministry, marriage, being a friend, none of it was magically easier, but I was no longer reactive to it in the way I once was. I finally felt like I had two feet on the ground at all times and I could clearly see the shield of God in my hands, placed firmly there by a Savior who loved me. I felt empowered. Together we were ready to deflect whatever junk the world wanted to throw at us.

I believe that God creates our bodies with the ability to heal in amazing ways – from broken elbows and cancerous cells, to stuck tight memories and angry outbursts. I also believe, thanks to an eight-year-old brave enough to tell me in the middle of a checkout lane –

I’m not the angry mom anymore. 

*EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

To find out more about EMDR therapy or to find a certified EMDR therapist near you, visit EMDRIA.org. You can also pick up Getting Past Your Past by the creator of EMDR, Francine Shapiro, to understand the basics of memory processing theory and find some very useful tools for healing.

(Disclaimer: this blog is not a substitute for counseling and local mental health resources. Local resources and counselors are your best bet for ongoing treatment and support.)

The Four Myths of Friendship

I once believed in the lie of Disney channel friendship.

I looked around me as a middle schooler, a teen, a college student, and then a young mom praying over my life, asking God to send me the friend that everyone else seemed to have. I wanted real friendship, real investment.

Then I found myself praying the same thing over my heartsick nine-year-old daughter, who also longed for this mysterious friendship.

God did answer my prayers, but not in the way I expected. Instead, he removed the scales and opened my eyes.

We all long for a good friend. We are all crafted as different individuals. We have different needs and different personalities. Some of us search for companionship and intimacy more than others, but friendship is a deep human need. Between practicing therapy and life in the church I have found a flaw in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Most people I have met would take a good friend over food any day. Survival is significant, but connection is part of that survival, not a secondary system.

Still, friendship is hard and complicated and the lies of friendship prevail, swirling around us. I talk to teens and adults all the time that express a desire to have one of these things in a friend:

One really good friend, preferably who lives next door and occasionally brings you chocolate or wine for no good reason

A friend you don’t have to tell your backstory to, someone that just “gets” you and instinctively “knows”

A friend who never makes you feel bad by bringing up your flaws

or a friend that calls first, that magical unicorn of an individual who picks up the phone and reaches out instead of you having to do it all the time

This is our cultural idea of friendship.

This is often how we define “besties”, “mates”, or “bff’s” whether we are eight or forty-eight. We may not struggle with friendship the way we did when we were 13, but somewhere inside of us, most of us will continue to struggle with unrealistic ideas about friendship our whole lives, because life is a journey of learning, not a destination of knowing. We will always be walking this journey of trying to understand relationships until heaven meets us here on earth. The moment we stop learning about relationship is the moment our relationships suffer. They will lack what is real, what is honest.

We would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t recognize there is at least a little bit of a spiritual battle in there somewhere sorting through friendship. To love well, to love often, to love first, to love more – these are the things of God, of course the devil would like to destroy them, mangle them, or rearrange them.

I say this as one warrior on this journey to another – the cultural lies of friendship are keeping us from real friendship.

Today we call out four myths of friendship so we can claim real friendship:

The myth of one best friend – this is awesome, but exceedingly rare, and tv makes it look as common place as tomatoes in salsa. Most of us adults, either set the idea of a best friend aside for a few really awesome friendships because we refuse to compare apples and oranges much less the people we love. Or we have an amazing friend that we confide all our hopes and dreams in but they likely live three states away, so we have to be creative and use Facetime a lot and it’s just still not all slumber parties and clay face masks.

The myth of a friend who just “knows” – this is as destructive as expecting our spouse to read our minds. No one reads minds, except for Jesus, and the Bible tells us He’s a friend like no other, so that makes sense. Friendship is about knowing, deep intimate knowing, and it’s really awesome when your friend sends you Star Wars undergarments because she “knows,” but she didn’t read your mind. Instead, you had conversations and shared details and listened and took notes. It takes time to build friendship, and effort, and more sacrifice than reward. It takes hard stuff happening like loss and transition and life change to get to the good stuff and they still won’t just magically know. This is a hard realization.

The myth of the friend who calls so you don’t have to – it’s nice to get a phone call. (Or if you’re like me, a text, because all my friend’s know I don’t answer my phone.) It’s nice to be invited places, but so many of us miss out on genuine friendship because we are waiting to be invited. When you look around you and long for a friend, I have found that God’s answer is usually “lean in.” By this I mean, we have to be willing to call, to text, to invite, and to ask in, because most other people are waiting to be asked in as well. If we stand around and wait, we may be standing around a very long and lonely time. It’s nice to be invited, yes, but it’s better to friend, to reach out, because that’s where the good stuff is, the worthwhile, and God works there with an authenticity we would miss otherwise.

Last, the myth of a friend who never points out your flaws. Lord, at 38-years-old I do not want this person in my life. I want friends who tell me I’m beautiful, friends who tell me “well done,” but I also want friends who say, “I forgive you” because that means we’ve been our real selves going through real stuff together. I don’t want harsh friends, hurtful friends, or mean girls in my life, but I do want to give my friends permission to be awkward by being a little awkward myself, permission to mess up by messing up myself, and friends who are full of grace which means I have to give them a reason to share grace in this life.

Real friendship, this is the goal. It isn’t easy. It isn’t simple. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen and it starts with His love, tucked inside of you.

(Learn more about real friendship, real relationship, and what is really beautiful in both in Altogether Beautiful.)