Rachel Heath

Intentional Living: learning to be fully present

Archive for the tag “Identity”

Sometimes

A few months ago, a friend asked me if I liked being a mom. I hesitated for a moment – just a split second – before offering the answer I knew was correct, the expected answer.

Yes! Yeah, I love it. It’s wonderful. Being a mom is great. A challenge, but really wonderful. Of course. It’s great.

I heard myself repeating the same words over and over, frantically racking my brain for something specific. The truth is, in that moment, I really didn’t. I’m supposed to adore motherhood, but that day, I didn’t. I left the restaurant troubled by my response, and over the last few months that little piece of conversation has come back to haunt me at every one of my lowest parenting moments.

You’re a terrible mother. You couldn’t come up with a single reason you enjoy being a mom! Why did you even have children? 
It’s certainly no secret that motherhood has been a difficult adjustment for me. Sleep deprivation, kind to no one, I think does an especially hard job on me, and neither of our tinies were (are) good sleepers. Isabella would wake infrequently but it would take us close to an hour to get her back down, and she didn’t sleep through the night till she was 1. Barrett had awful colic for 5 months, and at 13 months old, he is still waking up 6-10 times a night.

The night before Mother’s Day (of course) was a very rough one for Bear. After he woke 5 times between 10pm and 1am, Stephen finally gave in and got him up. I was too worked up to sleep, so I got up too. We sat on the living room floor in our robes, Barrett playing quietly between us, and had an awful conversation about our big doubts, disillusionment with God, and disappointment over unanswered prayers (the middle of the night is obviously the best time to talk about these light topics).

“If I had known what this would really be like, I never would have had kids,” I muttered, refusing to let the hot tears surface.

The desperation and rage when it’s 2:30 am and I can’t get baby to calm down and fall asleep; the trembling fear of finding out just where my line is and how close I can come to it in the dark hours of the night.

The inability to walk out of a room, or even move from one spot on the floor, without my child wailing because I am leaving.

The chronic sleeplessness, the chronic feeling that sleeplessness is making me a shitty parent.

The look of fear on my child’s face when I suddenly snap and lose my temper; the satisfaction of losing my temper; the immediate rush of guilt afterwards; the many broken items in my wake.

The loss of identity, loss of autonomy, slow death of untended relationships, sacrifice of career.

The constant demand for attention, the always being-needed.

The frightening realization of just how easily I can be worn down by whining, complaining, and backtalking.

The surprise of just how much a 3-year-old’s careless and ignorant words can hurt.

The tiredness in my very bones.

Being confronted by the ugliest parts of my heart; my need for control, my anger, my deficit of Every. Single. Fruit of the Spirit.

Yes, this is part of my parenting reality… but it’s not the whole truth. I got the chance (bless my husband) to go sit by myself at a coffee shop on Mother’s Day, and I took the time to write in the journals we keep for both kids.

God began to show me that I am indeed a different woman than I was before I gave birth… and that’s exactly how He intends it. He helped me see all the things I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t have kids.

The incredible gift of growing and birthing new life.

The indescribable feeling of being the one and only source of nourishment a newborn baby needs.

20 unbelievably tiny toes; 20 chubby fingers; the pattern the blood vessels make on the inside of Isabella’s ears; the faint birthmark on Barrett’s side.

Nursing smiles.

The glorious feeling of a baby breathing deeply, sleeping soundly, wrapped on my chest as I sing and worship.

The sweet feeling of a small head resting heavily between my shoulder blades, riding on my back as I hike.

Seeing eyes light up or arms flap happily, hearing gleeful shouts of “Mommy!” when I walk into a room.

First steps, first words, first everythings.

Hearing my daughter cheerfully, and of her own volition, recite to me the little incantation of love I have always said to her, “I love you higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, and bigger than the skies!”

The surprise of just how many beautiful, clever, hilarious, stunningly insightful things a 3-year-old says during the course of a single day.

Cooking dinner to a backdrop of the loud, joyful chaos of giggling, shrieking, chasing, and playing; a home full of wild happiness.

Being confronted by the ugliest parts of my heart; my need for control, my anger, my deficit of Every. Single. Fruit of the Spirit. Dealing with it, and allowing it to change me. Where I was inflexible, closed off, and stubborn, I am softening, opening, yielding.

Isabella and BarrettHad I not had children, I would never have had to deal with the tough stuff… but I never would have known the beauty I was missing, nor the power to become better, become transformed. The truth is that parenting is hard. REALLY hard, and messy. It is also dazzling and magnificent and FUN. Like any journey worth taking, parenting is made up of many small moments. Some of them suck. Some of them are amazing. Strung together, they are the stuff life is made of.

I suppose if I had the chance to answer my friend over again, I would say:

Sometimes. Usually I like it… sometimes I love it, and sometimes I don’t.

And that’s ok.

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On Living in Relationship Without Facebook

simplicity bannerI know, it’s March 9th, and I haven’t shared anything about our No Social Media February, or our Purging and Nesting March. I’ve written and revised several drafts of this and each pass brings up new things for me to process, so I’ve been putting off the final posting.

Because I update social media for a handful of my clients, I had to get on Facebook a couple times during February, and each time, there were more notifications. At first it made me feel like I was missing out on life; I had a little withdrawal anxiety. But I started to care a little less, every time.

I was surprised how easy it was after the first couple days. I really stopped thinking about what I was missing… stopped thinking about the myriad witty ways I could sum up that experience for my status; stopped thinking about instagramming that cute picture of Izzy; stopped thinking about tweeting that headline. I stopped missing out because I was picking the perfect filter for a photograph or replying to a comment.

I stopped thinking about sharing my life on the internet and started living it, completely present, in the moment. I don’t think there’s something wrong with all these things, but I’ve discovered through this process that social media had become another means, just like my hair, of molding my identity to fit into some ideal.

I feel newly liberated from the expectations of others. Because I stopped sharing the daily details of my life, stopped receiving constant feedback, and stopped comparing them with the details shared by others, I stopped caring about the feedback and where I fell in the comparison.

Some combination of this freedom and added time on my hands allowed me to start writing more. I published a couple blog posts this month that felt scary and personal which got a surprising amount of traffic. But my journal is doubly full of stuff I wrote just for myself, and I haven’t journaled in months.

When you decide to live instead of craft a digital life that looks just-so for the benefit of others, it’s risky. Relationship is not safe.

A friend and I were talking last week about relationship – that it inherently requires risk and trust, and that if you aren’t putting yourself in a position where you could potentially get hurt, you’re missing out on the full potential of that friendship. I’m enough of an introvert that social media can enable me to fully withdraw from the real world, and this month forced me to risk with the right people instead of the full sphere of everyone I know on Facebook.

As we’ve given up social media this month, I have felt isolated, a little bored, and… surprisingly peaceful. I’ve yearned for relationship, and couldn’t fill the void with status updates from people I haven’t talked to in a decade. Instead, I’ve filled it day-to-day and face-to-face with my family, through phone conversations with cherished long-distance confidants, and over coffee dates, dinners, walks, and yoga sessions with old friends.

Surface relationships conducted through the screen of my iPhone are being replaced by messy, authentic, deep relationships with the people who matter most to me, people whose feedback I really value and who have authority to speak into my life.  Over the shouting and clamour of children; over the stirring of pots and pans; over long evenings, glasses of red wine, laughter, and many, many dirty dishes; this is where my heart has found relationship this month. And it’s better than Siri, that’s for damn sure.

I fully realize the irony of this entire post given the fact that I’m sharing it on the internet, via social media channels, my life out there for everyone to see. This difference lately is that I’m living my life in the real world and just writing about it here.

I’m not writing this to tell you the “right way” to use social media, but to challenge you to look at your own habits. When we came up with this Year of Simplicity, nearly everyone I asked listed Facebook as a major distraction from the important things in life, so I have to imagine I’m not the only one who felt controlled by it without even realizing it. For me, the issues went much deeper than wasted time and energy, and I’m still sorting them out.

Speaking of sorting things out… we’re spending this month getting rid of crap and organizing our home. Embarrassing photos of our closets to follow.

Did anyone else give up social media with us? If not, do you feel like you could benefit from a break?

On Lent

I grew up evangelical. One could even call it charismatic. (I do go to a church with two separate receptacles on either side of the stage just to hold the multicolored flags.)

Lately, I’ve been inexplicably drawn to the liturgical tradition. The world of liturgy is completely and utterly foreign to me. Many people grew up following the traditional church calendar; I had never heard of it until this year but the Lord is inviting me to experience life in what I’ve always written off as antiquated and dull.

Last December, my iPhone Bible app suggested I follow a reading plan for the Advent Season. I had an idea that Advent had something to do with Christmas, which sounded appropriately merry, so I followed it and enjoyed it. That was my first introduction to the liturgical calendar, and it was an easy one to get my feet wet with.

A couple weeks ago, my Bible app had another suggestion for me: a Lenten reading plan.

Basically all I know about Lent is that it starts with Mardi Gras with a lot of boobie flashing and drinking and craziness, and then everyone brags about giving up TV or caffeine for a month and a half. Another dead tradition, a spiritualized second try at one’s New Year’s Resolutions.

But, drawn to something very old, motivated to look past our culture’s bastardization of everything beautiful (and inspired by an article I read on HuffPost Religion), I decided to choose a reading plan and find out what God wanted to say to me through Lent. I was a day late and missed Ash Wednesday. (I cried.)

“… we can become desensitized to our needs – the real hungers –  in our lives. Observing Lent can help us wrestle with the reasons behind our perpetual consumption… [Lent] invites us to voluntarily jump off the hamster wheel of consumption and experience the pinch of abstaining from continual, thoughtless indulgence. It has the potential to give our frenetic, material selves a much needed break.” -Eileen Button, Hollow Sacrifice

When I read this quote from one of the devotionals in my bible reading plan, I knew instantly why I had felt so compelled to observe Lent, albeit in my own way.

I’ve realized that I’ve become desensitized to my real hunger, that I consume (in so many ways) without thinking or tasting or appreciating. My frenetic, material self needs a break. After all, that’s what this whole Simplicity thing is all about: Slowing down. Tuning into my actual needs. Rediscovering my deep desires. Making room for the truly valuable in my life. Exchanging that which does not last for that which lasts forever.

Lent isn’t just about giving something up, or even about living simply (as nicely as it dovetails with our family goals this year).

Lent, as I understand it, is about preparing yourself to celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter by spending 40 days in penitence. It’s a season to be reminded of our own humanity, our brokenness, and our great need for a savior.

Because I run in the Bethel crowd, I know plenty of fellow believers who don’t do Lent because it’s viewed in our circle as unnecessary and even a little blasphemous.  I am already justified. It’s done, once for all. I don’t spend my life asking for forgiveness or dwelling on my brokenness, because I’m already forgiven, and I’m no longer broken. I see myself as God sees me, as He sees Christ: whole and pure and worthy to come directly to Him. My nature is changing day by day as I look into God’s face; I live not in shame but in grace and joy and fullness. Spending a full 40 days lamenting about my sin and defectiveness seems a little silly in light of the truth of my redeemed identity. We don’t really do penitence.

But we do thankfulness. Because, justified as we are, we have a lot to be thankful for. Not just salvation, but for ongoing relationship with the only one who can save me from myself. We get to live in Heaven, here and now.

In fact, this Lent, God is reminding me that I don’t live under the law, but under grace.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” -John 1:17, ESV

“For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)” -Romans 4:15, NLT

So this Lent, I’m not giving something up so much as I’m adding some things in: thankfulness, intention, and freedom.

On Calling Myself a Feminist (even though I’m a stay at home mom)

This post is part of a link up with Kelly J. Youngblood over at Renewing Your Mind on the topic of feminism and traditionalism. Check out her post and the others that have been shared! (This is the first Linkup I’ve done. I have no idea if I’m doing it right.)

I was raised in a home where my parents generally played traditional gender roles; my mom was a homemaker for the majority of my school years, and my dad worked outside the home at least 40 hours a week. Yet somehow, I grew up free from the notion that women are bound to the home.

When I was in junior high my mom went back to school, and I thought her valiant and daring for it. She became a vet tech, a profession her school teachers had discouraged her from as a girl because she “wasn’t smart enough.” I think she determined then and there that if she had daughters, they would do whatever they wanted to do with their lives.

The church I grew up in has, to date, ordained more women than men, and half of our staff are women. The idea that women are any less than men, or that they must be relegated to certain roles in the home and church, was one completely foreign to me until high school. That was when I learned about the glass ceiling and the gender wage gap. I learned that most churches still don’t ordain women. I learned about modern polygamy. I learned about the stunning number of female babies aborted in China every year. I learned that most women worldwide are little more than property.

I was horrified by the reality of it all and dove headlong into a kind of immature, militant feminism, though I’m not sure I would have known to call it that at the time. For many years I shouted “Never!” to the spectre of marriage and children, “My whole life is ahead of me, I’m going to change the world!” (but wouldn’t you know, I fell in love with an incredible man and discovered you could be married and still change the world).

cheris KrameraeFor a long time I thought “feminism” was fundamentally the opposite of “feminine,” that anything which could be classified as conventionally female (like cooking dinner or wearing makeup or having babies) was something I should consider as antiquated, something I’ve been gloriously liberated from. As if a modern woman choosing motherhood over a career is like a dog returning to its own vomit.

I call myself a feminist, but I find myself filling the oh-so-traditional role of mostly stay at home mom, because it makes a lot of sense for our family and I (usually) really enjoy it. And though I also bear the slightly less traditional title of business owner, I often feel that I’m not allowed to use the feminist label because of how I spend most of my days: in the home. However, when I buy into the lie that my vocation makes me who I am, I’m doing a disservice not just to myself and my daughter, but to the feminist movement. That just turns feminism into another way to define me as a woman, to relegate me to a certain role, when feminism is really about freeing every woman to make her own choices.

And now, with a daughter of my own, feminism is more important to me than ever. Isabella is only 2 years old, but someday she’ll enter the adult world and get to make choices of her own. And since I don’t owe anyone an explanation about why I decided to stay home and raise kids (except the kids themselves), I’m devoting the rest of this post to my daughter. If she asked me today, “Why did you decide to be a homemaker?” this is what I would say.

Dear Isabella,

I don’t view my choice to be your full-time mommy as a concession or a sacrifice of any kind. I do important and valuable work every single day, shaping and guiding you through childhood, teaching you how to be a powerful person. You are a little revolutionary. You will change the world in the way only you can, in the way God created you to, and I get to be part of raising you up. I want to spend as much time doing that as possible.

I get up every day knowing that you will be watching me. I’m acutely aware of the influence I have in your life, and I want you to know a few things.

I want you to know that you will never hear me say “I’m fat.” You’ll never hear me make negative comments about my body, or yours, or any one else’s.

You hear constantly that you are cute, pretty, adorable, sweet, and beautiful (and you totally are), but you are much, much more. I want you to know that you are also fearless, fun, witty, compassionate, intelligent, joyous, creative, and strong.

I want you to know that no one can tell you who you are and who you aren’t. Your identity comes from Christ and not your chromosomes.

I want you to know the value of your body and your heart and how to fiercely guard both. (I certainly will, with a shotgun if necessary.)

I want you to treat others with respect because you’ve never been treated any differently by your Mommy and Daddy.

I want you to know that you are only limited in this life by yourself.

I want you to dream great big dreams and I want to dream them with you.

I want you to do these things in simplicity because I’ve plowed the way for you, because many plowed the way before me.

I love you dearly and I love watching your grow every single day.

Mommy

 

*Don’t forget that I am off social media this month. I’d love to read your comments so please don’t leave them on facebook and twitter!

On My Place in the Body of Christ

This Body. This Church.

How could something be so ancient and, at the same time, so new? The tapestry we are sewn into, the legacy of believers, of giants of the faith, is at once faded and vibrantly alive.

Sarah Bessey recently wrote this incredible piece that I still can’t read the whole way through without breaking down into tears. Partly because what she talks about is so real and so beautiful, and partly because I know I’m fairly terrible at it.  It’s so clear that this is how God meant for us to live life – together. Sharing what we have. Lifting each other up. Gathering with joy and honesty. Sitting face to face and eye to eye and hand in hand. Putting off pretention and loving unconditionally.

I’m scared to live like this. And I just don’t know why.

Maybe I cling too much to my little routine. Maybe I don’t feel like taking the time to truly care about other people. Maybe I’m too comfortable with the way my life is now. Maybe I’ve been hurt. Maybe I’m just selfish. Maybe I’m afraid to put myself out there, in real life, not just on my blog that practically no one reads. Maybe it’s all of it.

I’ve written about this before, and I’ve made resolutions to change. But old habits are comfortable and easy to slip on like a big, ugly sweater. I find myself waiting for an invitation to join the group, afraid that if I invite myself and get rejected… how foolish I’ll feel.

Yesterday, I read Sarah’s post and realized it is my invitation to a great feast, a banquet of the saints happening every moment, all around me. I realized that it’s time for me to step out of the shadows, leave my insecurities behind me, and become one of those doing the inviting.

I’m part of the body, the tapestry. You are too, we all are. We come from all walks of life, with all our varied passions and insecurities, fears and joys, gifts and faults, each of us so different yet tied together by this story so much bigger than ourselves. So I’m resolving, yes, again, to make myself vulnerable, to be real and raw, to be unashamed, to be uncomfortable and ok with it. I’m embracing the body, all of us, and I’m telling you that I won’t let fear hold be back from loving wildly.

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