Arrows out: a birthday wish

Today is my 29th birthday. As I have reflected on my 20s these past couple days I’ve been filled with so much gratitude. The last 10 years of my life have been filled with many changes and life-altering decisions. Your 20s are often referred to as the “decade of decisions,” to which I shout a resounding AMEN.

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Eight years ago I was living in Orlando and heard Elder Jeffery R. Holland, an apostle of the Lord, Jesus Christ in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, give an inspired talk. I sat on the stage in the very back of a very crowded church building. I could barely see him standing at the podium. But his words pierced me to my heart. He spoke about service and compared it to a tithe on our lives. If we lived to the age of 100, he said, that meant 10 years were dedicated in service to the Lord.

I knew he we speaking of cumulative years, laboring all our lives to serve God and His children rather than a specific block of years. Regardless,  his words touched me profoundly. It was here, sitting on that hard metal chair, jotting down frantic notes, and wiping a tear from my eye that I decided to serve a mission. Elder Holland’s talk has redefined the last near decade of my life.

Just last week, I woke early one morning, thinking I would need to feed my sweet son, but he was sleeping peacefully. As he slept, my mind began to travel though a photo gallery of memories of the last 10 years. I thought of all the places I’ve traveled, the faces of the people I’ve met and loved and learned from. I thought of my family and how it’s grown. Challenges come, often times masking the progress I’ve made or the lesson I’m learning. Yet what always brings me back to myself is service.

Service has been a constant in my life. Not because I’m necessarily good at it, but because I need it. It has provided me peace, strength, joy and the most defining moments of my wonderful, blessed, beautiful life.

So for my birthday this year, I wanted to do something special. This year, I’m giving my birthday to someone. Anyone, really. Anyone who needs it. I want to fill this next year with intentional service.

Please don’t mistake this post for professing an inflated sense of self, or tooting my own horn, if you will. I simply know that if I don’t share, and provide a means of accountability, this goal will simply become a good intention.

I invite you to join me. Let’s fill our lives and the world with goodness, pointing our arrows outward rather than inward. My 29 ways to serve are quite simple. I have two small, demanding children at home who are my first priority. Yet as I brainstormed ideas for how to fill my time this next year, I thought of so many easy ways to serve and even involve my kids on a few.

Please share with me the ways you serve! Let’s lift each other.  And thank you to each of you for serving me with your friendship, kindness, words of encouragement, uplifting comments and wonderful examples. I love you.

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So without further ado, here is my list of 29 ways I will serve this next year!

  1. Donate blood
  2. Knit scarves for refugees
  3. 100 percent visiting teaching
  4. Have patience with my kids
  5. Participate in a food drive
  6. Cheer up someone sad
  7. Babysit a friend’s children
  8. Make baby blankets for the hospital
  9. Help someone move
  10. Write to a missionary
  11. Help a new mom
  12. Pay for the person behind me in the drive-thru
  13. Go to the temple each month
  14. Prepare five names for the temple
  15. Write letters to my grandparents
  16. Write thank-you letters to local police officers and fire fighters
  17. Make a blessing bag for the homeless
  18. Create a warm fuzzies jar for my home and teach my children about service
  19. Plant a tree
  20. Clean the temple
  21. Participate in the Light the World service advent calendar at Christmas
  22. Play Secret Santa
  23. Invite someone lonely to share a holiday
  24. Run in a 5K for a good cause
  25. Clean a church building
  26. Feed the missionaries
  27. Host a bake sale and donate all the proceeds to charity
  28. Send a care package to a soldier
  29. Feed a hungry child

Motherhood with the Monster

Motherhood has got me feeling pretty crazy these days.

Tonight, for example, I put face wash in my hair and forgot to use body wash during my shower. Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened.

To be fair, I love being a mom. Bell brings me so much joy. Link brings me so much peace. I love watching them grow; love teaching them how to live a life built on joy and faith.

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A lot of days, my motherhood looks like my happy Instagram feed. But there’s another face to my motherhood. Yes, I’ve alluded to it before. Blogged about it even. But when it comes down to it, I have a hard time looking this face in the eye.

Each semester, I teach my students about writing from a brilliant feature story called Mrs. Kelly’s Monster. It won the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1979. Mrs. Edna Kelly’s Monster is a collection of blood vessels that have grown into an abnormal mass in her brain. The story tells a detailed account of her surgery to bravely have this Monster removed, but in the end, she succumbs to it.

Though my Monster is nothing like Mrs. Kelly’s, it is just as sinister. My Monster is a shape-shifter. Sometimes it looks like anxiety. Other times deep loneliness and hopelessness. A few times, OCD behavior. More recently, it’s materialized as postpartum depression.

We don’t talk about these taboo words — these Monsters — enough. I think part of that is because of the nature of the Monster. Part of it is because the Monster manifests itself to so many in so many different ways.

For me, the Monster is cunning.

I’ll be making it through my week with somewhat ease, feeling great about my life because I actually cooked my family a vegetable. Well done, Super Mom. The laundry will have made it out of the dryer into a laundry basket to be rummaged though for a few days until it finally gets folded instead of tripped over. (I’ll take that victory, thank you very much.) Bell and I got outside for a walk or by some miracle of miracles I even made it to the gym once?? Yes. That happened once.

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But then, just when I’m feeling confident in the melodious monotony of motherhood, BOOM. There’s the Monster with the stealth and strength of a samurai, beating my soul, my bruised and battered I’m-trying-so-hard soul into a heap upon the ground. And before my soul knows what has hit it, the Monster is there laughing, shoving a grey-tinted filter onto the bridge of my nose, altering my view of my beautiful life.

Suddenly, those vegetables are soggy and worthless because they only ended up on my table once this week. Just once! They laundry is suddenly overwhelming and never-ending. Poor Bell deserves so much better than being locked up with me in a tiny apartment all day. And the gym? How could someone as out of shape and gross as me ever reach her goals?

“Give up,” the Monster whispers.

My brain and my heart try to rally.

“No!” They say. “That’s ridiculous! You’re working so hard, and doing so well.”

But the Monster feels so much stronger. So convincing. So real.

It spins horrible half-truths of failure. It breathes berating inaccuracies about my abilities. It flashes terrifyingly life-like images of horrible things happening to my babies. My precious, innocent babies. And what can I possibly do to stop the horror from reaching us? Try as I might to shut out the world and keep us safe, all I have to do is turn on the news. Horrible accidents, pain and evil have hurt dozens of others. Each is someone’s baby. What makes mine any safer?

And all the strength that this poor soul has tried to cultivate for weeks and days since the last time the Monster struck has finally given out. Fear has taken hold and threatens to never relinquish its grasp.

“No. Please, no,” the soul begs.

But the Monster only laughs harder.

And so the withered soul does the only thing it can think of. It puts up shield after shield, building a wall, an impenetrable fortress with the only resource it has left: anger. And the anger is vicious.

It seeks to rise up against the Monster. To ward it off with its rage and its frustration.

And yet, the anger just seems to feed the Monster.

And the grey-filtered glasses become my new normal. Everything sets me off. Everything puts me on edge. All my effort is focused into keeping a level head with my children and friends and neighbors.

“Don’t show them who you really are,” the Monster whispers.

“How could I?” the soul wonders in desperation. They all depend on me for something. “How can I let them all down?”

What’s left are illogical fights with my husband and irrational fights with myself.

And so the soul desperately turns to the Lord, hiding behind a wall of anger and fear, pleading to feel whole again. Pleading to defeat the Monster once and for all.

Time passes. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.

Eventually the defeat comes. But it’s always just a battle. Never the war. The Monster goes into hiding for a time, and the soul creeps out from behind the wall. The filter fades. My perception of reality adjusts to what it once was. Confidence slowly returns.

“I can do this,” I think as I go back to folding my laundry and blowing bubbles with Bell. “I’m a good mom.”

But it never lasts long. And on and on the cycle goes.

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Postpartum depression affects 1 in 7 women. My Monster might look a lot different from theirs, but it’s no less vicious. Millions of people struggle with anxiety and depression.

I am currently engaged in a bitter battle with the Monster. It’s not going well. And so I cling to faith. Weakly, at first, with the resolve to try harder the next hour, then the next, then the next.

And a lot of times, at first, I feel nothing. But to me, that’s what faith is. It’s trusting in God, even when you’re not sure he trusts in you. Because at the finish line of every long battle, Christ is standing there. And turns out, he always was. That devilish Monster was just blocking Him from my view.

I was afraid to write (and mostly share) these words. Maybe now you’ll see the Monster when you see me. I hope not. Maybe your monster looks similar. I hope not. But if somehow, these words help one person face their Monster today and tomorrow and the next day, well then I’m glad I wrote them.

And if you too are fighting your Monster, whether you’re a mother, a father, a sister a brother or a friend, I say to you what I say to myself: press on.

Please press on. I need you to. So many need you to.

We’ll vanquish that Monster one faith-filled battle at a time.

The untold truth of every Momcation

I am currently in Denver at a very geeky journalism conference. Go NICAR.

It’s the second trip I’ve taken away from my sweet babe, Bellamy. She’s almost 9 months old and she is the dearest darling you’ll ever meet.

Here’s proof.

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See?

Now, I love this girl more than most things.

But sometimes, you need a vacation from being a mom. Continue reading “The untold truth of every Momcation”

{Almost} Everything no one told me before Motherhood

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I would like to take a minute to hold all the new moms out there. Let’s just fall into each other’s arms and cry for a hot minute. Or five. Or maybe a whole hour.

It’s so hard, mama.

You either already have or very soon will cross the threshold into Mommyville. I wish someone had told me before I joined the ranks of the many, the broken and the barely-holding-it-together. Continue reading “{Almost} Everything no one told me before Motherhood”

4 ways to keep my family spiritually strong

IMG_1820Children have always terrified me.

In fact, perhaps the most horrifying moment of my life to date was the birthing class I attended before having my daughter; a moment of trauma rivaled only by the time accidentally watched the hobbling scene from “Misery.”

But despite the fear of physically bringing children into the world — which turned out to be amazing — raising children in a world with crumbling morals is far more frightening.

As a woman of faith, creating a faith-promoting environment for my family is one of my top priorities. Continue reading “4 ways to keep my family spiritually strong”