A Story About Fear and Anger

Do you know what it’s like to live with real fear? I’m not talking about typical anxieties that we all face… like fear of failure or fear of not being “enough.” I’m not talking about life struggles. The real fear to which I’m referring shapes who you grow to be. It shapes your personality. Have you ever gone to sleep at night with a fear of waking up and losing everything you’ve accepted as your normal? Have you ever lived with the fear that a stranger might bust through the doors of your house and drag you away from your mommy and daddy? Have you ever lived with the fear that you could be taken from another home, another family you love, and the only safe home you have ever known? Have you ever lived in fear that the only people who really know your heart and your struggles (your siblings) could be ripped away from you? The answer for you is likely, “no,” and I’m grateful for that. Unfortunately, this fear is a real one for foster children across the country, and this fear is real for the three little humans I love the most. This is a story about fear and anger.

When my husband and I chose to enter our adoption journey through the avenue of foster care, I was prepared for struggle. I was prepared to receive countless evening phone calls from social service workers stating, “I know your home is already full, but we just need somewhere for this child to stay for one night,” when there was no realistic plan for said child on night two. I was prepared to meet children with major developmental and intellectual delay requiring special services and attention to succeed academically and socially. I was prepared to meet children whose trauma resulted in odd and disturbing behaviors, such as hoarding food under mattresses or urinating in the corners of bedrooms. I was prepared for tough struggles as I entered a relationship as a foster-to-adopt mother to three children under eight years old.

I was beyond ready to face parenting nightmares constructed by behaviors of children, but the nightmares never came for me. My three daughters are the result of my first and only call for a placement by a social service worker (unless you count the other call on the same day before the girls had officially been placed in our care). My three daughters are all above average intellectually and easily achieve academically. My three daughters have never exhibited odd and disturbing behaviors. Instead they build relationships and friendships with ease, sleep well, and eat well. The expected nightmares never came but loving these children who live with intense fear of instability has grown into a nightmare of its own for our whole household. I was not ready to face parenting nightmares constructed by incompetent adults.

The exact date my girls were taken into state custody is a little blurry. The paperwork is full of discrepancies, and major legal documents are missing, but we know it occurred over five years ago. There’s a shortage in safe, licensed foster homes (I can only speak to the condition of the foster system in my home state as it is the one with which I have both professional and personal experiences). As a result, a kinship placement (living with a relative who has been quickly licensed as a foster home for an individual case) is the preferred placement for children who are removed from the care of biological parents due to neglect and/or abuse. My children spent years in an unsafe, overlooked kinship placement that resulted in continued neglect and/or abuse. They finally met their parents (my youngest describes my husband and I as her “real parents”) at seven, five, and two years old. That was nearly two and a half years ago.

The past two and a half years have overflowed with love and good memories. We have taught our daughters practical life skills, such as proper hygiene, tying shoes, tidying up, and how to ride a bike. We have taught our daughters our values, such as prayer, work ethic, spending time outside, and placing importance on relationships over possessions. We have consistently provided hugs and kisses, balanced meals, family fun, and appropriate structure and discipline for our girls. We have had countless kitchen dance parties, built the best blanket forts, thrown the most ridiculously over-the-top birthday bashes, and regularly hosted “framily” cookouts. Even with all these good, “normal,” and balanced family blessings, the nightmare continues.

Every time one of my children has a panic attack, flashback, or anger outburst due to intense fear of losing her “normal,” I face this fallacy: “I am not enough. I have no control. I am less than mediocre.” I mask this feeling of inadequacy with anger over the social injustice children face at the hands of incompetent adults. I cannot look my children in their eyes and promise stability. This makes me unbearably angry. This floods my soul with self-doubt. It feels excruciatingly unfair that my babies still go to sleep at night in fear when all my husband and I want is to put an end to the instability that being a “foster kid” brings. Friends, the reality is I am enough, and I am creating change. I am doing all I can do to help my three favorite people beat the odds and live their best lives in spite of a broken system far larger than us. Today I encourage you to invest in the lives of the people closest to you. Even if you feel powerless and mediocre, your love and faithfulness in another human being’s life is important. Create change even when you feel like you can’t. Just paint the room black. There’s a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

A Christmas That Represents More Than Noise

You know that family that does it all for the holidays? The inside of the Joanna Gaines’ style, rustic-modern farmhouse home is elegantly and professionally adorned in sparkling hues of red and green. Each room houses its own uniquely themed, lighted tree. The outside of the flawless craftsman-style house is so extravagantly lit that the electric bill quadruples any mundane month of the year. Between crowding each seamlessly wrapped gift chosen directly from each child’s ten-foot wish list under the tree, remembering to move the elf to a new clever location daily, attending every local light show, eating pancakes with Santa, and making sure the children are the best dressed at each Christmas program, that perfect mom is no doubt crashing at the end of her bed fully dressed with a glass of wine in hand and wrapping paper taped to the side of her face at the end of each day. I refuse to be a part of the family that does it all this Christmas. Honestly, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season leaves me longing to experience a Christmas that represents more than noise.

As a nontraditional family unit, we face unique hardships. Though filled with joy and laughter, the holidays also reflect ghosts of the past. Painful memories of moving in the darkness of night from everything they knew to a new home in a new city with a new family occurred during the cooler months for my girls. Our first Christmas together was somewhat fun but mostly awkward. We were celebrating the season of perpetual hope with homesick children whose worlds had been shaken (We’ll call that my greatest understatement yet). They went through the motions of novel traditions and enjoying the company of strangers, but the expressions on their beautiful faces screamed of disorientation and confusion. We awkwardly stumbled through our first Christmas together, and I reflect on it fondly as a time our army of loved ones united forces to help our household survive the holly jolly season.

As fall approached, and our one-year anniversary as a family drew near, I vowed to construct a season so full and busy that we wouldn’t have time to feel the lingering effects of the foster system. I vowed to beat my own mediocrity as a mother. We marched together through every community, friend, and family event we could find. Every evening at home included a themed activity. We did it all (with oversized bows, ugly boots, and all). What was the result, you ask? My children did feel less disoriented than the previous year, but that growth can probably be accounted for by noting their first Christmas was spent with Mr. And Mrs., and their second transitioned into a time spent with Daddy and Mommy. That perfectly hectic time of year with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s done “right” spurred the start of what would become the most difficult and painful year of my life.

My children transitioned beautifully into our home as foster children in a new foster placement. They had done this before. One year in, some messy truths began to tear through the facade of easy transitions. We were no longer just a new placement, we were a real family. One of my tough little babies found her role in this new real family to be a hard pill to swallow. She had honestly had the easiest transition at first. She was a fierce leader and the most affectionate child I had ever encountered. She loved the routines, daily baths, healthy meals, and safeguards of her new home. After a year; however, she began to forget her old home, and losing memories (both good and bad) made this little fighter feel outraged. For the next twelve months, we wrestled with her emotional instability, battled a daily power struggle of defiance, and we were determined to allow love and connection to survive hateful manipulations.

We survived a year of battles, pain, and transitions. We look different. I’m much less organized, much less productive, and much less concerned with how I appear to the rest of the world (talk about feeling mediocre). My husband is much less guarded and has surrendered to the helplessness of being completely out of control in his own home. My children are much less anxious and fearful of losing all the love and blessings life currently offers, but they’re also much more anxious that any sign of discomfort can turn into an epic battle of wills. We prayerfully and painfully survived.

This holiday season, I have chosen peace. It’s not my job to distract my children from the painful memories of their past. It’s not my job to keep everything light and happy. It’s my responsibility to focus on hope and accept each obstacle thrown my way with humility and grace. This IS the season of perpetual hope. I have hope that 2019 will be the year that my family of five will finally transition from three last names to one, representing just how connected these five individuals truly have grown to be. I have hope that we’re approaching a year where hard feelings can be accepted and coped with as a family without a war. I have hope that this household will continue to focus on the beauty of our ability to ban together and survive an unimaginably tough season of life and cross to the other side stronger and more solid than we were before. This Christmas we’re doing the activities and events We WANT TO DO. We’re not rushing around juggling obligations and shopping for countless items that represent empty bliss. We’re choosing to focus on the parts of the holiday that offer peace and comfort. Just as Christ brought hope to the world as an infant so long ago, His love continues to bring hope to a broken people. Maybe my family was built in a nontraditional fashion, but as I look around, I realize, everyone is battling ghosts of the past this time of year. We’re all broken. Losses, worries, and feelings of inadequacy are reflected in the eyes of each of us as we cloak ourselves in mediocrity. Friends, I challenge you to quiet the voice that tells you your pain makes you mediocre. I challenge you to focus on the hope of the Christmas season. I challenge you to quiet the noise that is commercialized holidays and comparison to others. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

Just Wear Something Black

You know the It girl? Throughout her childhood and adolescence, she sets the bar for must have name brands and trends for all of her fashion disciples. Because of this It girl, kindergartners across the state own the same pricey pair of ugly leather sandals, as well as an even pricier pair of ugly winter boots. She casually glides from her mother’s luxury SUV into the halls of her elementary school (it must be the effect of the pricey ugly shoes) with her generic monogrammed backpack (so let me get this straight, I’m supposed to buy the kids uniforms and backpacks then pay extra money for someone to stitch something on them as well… and buy them a whole separate wardrobe for after school? Nope.) setting the “keeping up with the Joneses” standards for her classmates almost as high as the excessive oversized bow atop her darling head. As she enters middle school (or honestly earlier because real lives are irrelevant today), every piece of clothing or accessory is chosen to maintain the approval of her Instagram followers because God-forbid, she ever build a face-to-face relationship based on something deeper than the plunge of her blouse’s neckline (but Mom, I can’t take that one down; look how many likes it got). The craziest thing about this trend following It girl is her destiny of being chained to a social norms fashion standard that traps her in a bubble of mediocrity for her entire life as she dresses like all the other good, affluent mothers at the PTO meetings. No battle in life expires without first opening fire on one’s own insecurities. I believe so deeply that fashion is important, defining, and transformative for individuals… even if I live by the mantra, “Just wear something black.”

I could relentlessly mock the multi-billion-dollar fashion industry and its control over the lives of robotic humans across the country, but fashion is art. If the wearer of the clothing is mentally-well, owning a healthy view of self, fashion is an effective vessel for expression. It doesn’t have to be an all-consuming money-game enslaving individuals to a lifetime of coveting and an insatiable desire for a larger closet. What one wears is both a reflection of her inner-self and a manipulative that can alter her view of self. As a therapist, one of the first questions I ask individuals who struggle with depression is, “Do you groom yourself and dress well routinely?” Dressing attractively (and in an outfit that makes you feel confident) is an instant mood lifter. Treading in a society that consistently sends the message that mediocre attempts to build successful relationships, families, and careers are ineffective, a little confidence boost can be the difference in giving up on and achieving your dreams.

As a child, I was imaginative, pretend-playing, independent, and perceptive. I fearlessly played with the big kids and roamed my neighborhood earning scrapes and bruises “until the street lights came on.” I was bold… at home. I wish I could say the same for the youngest, most innocent version of me when her feet marched (more like tripped) across the school campus, but I was painfully insecure, attempting to blend in, and failing miserably. As I reflect on those important identity and self-esteem shaping years, I am unsure if any of my peers actually knew who I was. I would clumsily stumble over my own lanky legs and big feet adorned with the off-brand version of whatever pricey ugly shoes were It at the time, never making eye contact and saying very little to the less mediocre students.

I vividly remember a turning point in my life where three (ridiculous and hilarious) older boys thought my cynicism was entertaining enough to compel them to accept my awkward middle school being as I truly was. Feeling confident in my opinions and humor began my growth (or maybe spiral) into the boldly bitter me that was my adolescence. I felt freed from trying to blend in so while all the other girls wore their pricey but ordinary It girl uniforms, I overfilled my closet with thrift store steals (translation: other people’s dusty rags), beat up chucks, and rock (Emo) band tees. Honestly, my angsty, disheveled appearance was a pretty accurate reflection of my perception of self and overall worldview. I was chaotic, dark, and in pieces as I failed to balance my love of persons with my distrust of people and allowed panic attacks to eat away most of my potential.

Decades of mistakes, therapy, and spiritual growth resulted in a pretty mediocre adult me who is pretty okay with my own mediocrity. I can genuinely report that I am in no way compelled to attempt to blend in with the adult It crowd by way of colorful maxi dresses, floral kimonos (seriously, ladies. Mississippi summers are unbearably hot; would it be so image-shattering to ditch that extra layer?), and overpriced sandals (honestly, I simply feel if I wear color, people will expect too much). I feel even less compelled to rebel from the It crowd with dingy second-hand finds and ridiculous accessories that make me look more like a bad 90s anti-drug campaign than a professional wife and mother of three.

Self-awareness and self-acceptance are essential to happiness. When I use the term happiness, I’m not referring to a state of joy. I’m talking about contentment and finding a space each day to reflect on the beauty in the journey down whatever road of life you’re traveling. I came to terms with my own style, self-expression, and confidence years ago. I can tell you what it doesn’t look like: I think the unicorn and fairy explosion style is painfully tacky (it’s a lot classier to wear the same 15-year-old pair of converse with lyrics written on the sides in pen, right?). My seven-year-old, however, rocks the pastels, the neons, the florals, the rhinestones, the glitter, and (most importantly) the unicorns on the daily. She even went through a phase where she wore a crown EVERY single day. One might expect that I would buck this girly-girl, oversized sequin bow, colorful explosion as it bounces into my unconventional mom-mobile every morning. Friends, I’m so glad this diva knows what she likes. She genuinely doesn’t care about fitting in (yet). She just wants to shine and feel pretty, so ridiculous beaded accessories (I mean, it’s really costume jewelry from the dress-up bin), bows larger than her head, and tall printed pink polka dot socks are a regular part of her school uniform, and feel pretty, she does. Whatever makes you feel heard, seen, beautiful, and slightly less mediocre is worth it-even if I sound painfully superficial encouraging you to spend your time and money on the outward you sometimes. JUST WEAR SOMETHING BLACK. There’s a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

Falling into Freedom

You know that little girl who is everyone’s favorite? She’s bursting with character, charisma, and confidence. She never meets a stranger and shows no sign of fear. She willingly builds friendships with her peers and just as enthusiastically climbs trees and soars from their branches. Though I certainly just described my own four-year-old daughter, that bold little socialite is the opposite of who I was as a child. I clung to my daddy’s leg in public and shirked away from greetings of both strangers and acquaintances. If I did engage in words with a kind neighbor, it was likely to mock her baby-talk (my mother claims I came out of the womb sarcastic-ergo, it’s not my fault, right?). In elementary school, I struggled socially. Maybe my social lacking is the byproduct of only child quirks (I wasn’t a true only child, but because my sister is nearly a decade my elder, I consider myself developmentally only child-ish). An imaginary friend is a common concept for only children (or in my case, only child-ish types-and let’s be honest, I’m basically just admitting I was lonely). I was so quirky, I didn’t settle for an imaginary friend, I had an imaginary posse (there were five of us, and I recall all their names-I cannot make this stuff up). While I admit I was a strange child with a vivid imagination, my social struggles were more likely the result of my crippling anxiety, particularly when I was noticed or addressed in a huge, suffocating crowd larger than three people. At an early age, I started a losing battle for control in my life. Isn’t control really all any powerless, mediocre individual hopes for? This is the tale of a power-hungry woman falling into freedom from herself.

My adolescence can be best described as a balance of meticulously tip-toeing across the straight and narrow and a double-dose of angst. Honestly, I don’t know what was darker: my hair and thick black eye liner or my view of self. As racing thoughts and panic attacks grew more consuming over the years, my desire for control and perfection multiplied. It didn’t matter if my focus was faith, family, or friends, I was careful to remain guarded, poised, and cold. My fear of vulnerability morphed into a full-on fight against that ugly little monster who consumed my thoughts and made every achievement taste a little bitter. Though I cautiously kept people at a distance, I always believed in love. I never questioned that though the world around me was filled with injustice and pain, its people were beautiful and created to reflect a beauty and strength beyond human comprehension. Though I believed in and had received the depth of that love, I was too controlled to flourish in it. The more I cautiously calculated plans and decisions for my life, the more my life seemed to spiral out of control (at least cognitively- I am admittedly no stranger to hyperbole).

Living in the shackles of racing thoughts limited my ability to build relationships beyond acquaintances for far too long. I only dated two lucky fellas before meeting my husband (apparently angst and suspicion aren’t exactly traits bringing the boys to the yard). I only had a hand-full of friends who knew the real me. Honestly, all I knew about myself was no matter how hard I tried, I rarely felt I even achieved mediocrity. As my freshman year of college rounded to an end, I found myself unattached, uncertain, and underwhelmed by my future. Persons have always fascinated me. I’ve loved the way the brain responds to human interactions. I’ve loved that behaviors and interactions have the power to alter one’s mood as swiftly as the flip of a light switch. My problem was never persons; my problem was people. General human behaviors and being forced to face, join, or expose myself to a crowd left me feeling so mediocre. Naturally, my initial career decision was research and writing in the field of psychology. That was the plan. It made sense to study people rather than invest time and emotion in them… until it started sounding more empty than exciting. At this fractured time in my young adulthood, a lifelong mentor of mine called me and asked if I would “lead a group of students at a camp.” I wasn’t really doing anything else, and after chatting with him on the details, it sounded at least slightly less painful than dental work (just kidding, Brian). I wouldn’t really be singlehandedly in charge of anyone. I just had to kind of be a mediocre adult and pray with and for teenagers while they played with and built relationships with children from a different walk of life than theirs.

I walked into a novel situation to act as a leader, and the result of my first night meeting everyone was a panic attack in my car. I actually left the camp (which in my defense involved sleeping in the same huge room as roughly one hundred other females-have I mentioned I don’t do well with crowds?) because the mob of strangers was too paralyzing. I had this extraordinary feeling that I was supposed to be there despite my neurosis, so I went back to the camp the next morning. I had always made the thoughtful decision, but as my thoughts told me, “this isn’t your thing,” my heart told me, “step out of your comfort zone.” Apparently hearing and trusting your heart and allowing yourself to feel something deeper than nervousness is a more powerful move than creating a pros and cons list because that was the day I met a boy who forever changed the trajectory of my life. (Now you’re expecting me to begin this sappy unraveling of a love story, right?) Friends, that was the day that a four-year-old, rowdy, messy little boy taught an angsty, guarded college girl how to love. This rowdy boy was my exact opposite; he did everything wide-open and fearlessly. While his tenacity no doubt resulted in optimum fun, such nerve also landed him in trouble a lot of times. He and I spent hours in one-on-one conversation (I didn’t exactly exude “kid person” at that time so naturally I was assumed to be more of the disciplinarian) where he talked so openly about his feelings and the “hard stuff.” Before I knew it, I was opening my heart to this little feelings ninja. And just like that, I experienced the power of the gospel and began to see my future more clearly. I wasn’t missing out on fulfillment because of mediocrity or missteps. I was experiencing emptiness because I refused to feel. My fear of vulnerability had been blinding me from understanding what it meant to live and love in freedom.

If you feel like you’re wandering aimlessly as an extra in the film of your life, you are. We’re all just extras in the story of unconditional love. If you’re not allowing yourself to feel, love, or trust the persons around you (I specify persons because though I’ve been transformed in many ways through love and grace, I still don’t do crowds of people well), you’re missing out on just how exceptional your mediocre existence can be. If a four-year-old trouble-maker (who I remained friends with for several years until he moved away) can turn a bitter, detached perfectionist into a child and family mental health therapist (specifically a play therapist who opens her heart to small children and their mommies) and adoptive mother of three (facing the challenges of the foster system heart-first), imagine how you can impact those you encounter day to day. I still battle with anxiety and those racing thoughts, but it’s not so lonely anymore as I am surrounded by people who genuinely care to know me (regardless how mediocre I think I am). Friends, if you’re living a life dictated by your desire for control, let go and feel something other than the weight of your mediocrity. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

An Imposter Stay at Home Mom

You know that good mom? Let me correct myself: you know that exceptional mom (we won’t even acknowledge homeschool moms who are real life angels from above)? She’s an early riser and completes a 7 mile jog before any other member of her household’s feet graze the perfectly scrubbed and polished hardwood floors. She cooks a balanced and delicious breakfast for her fleet of children before flawlessly garbing them in hand-sewn smock dresses and handmade oversized bows to match. She’s always early, dressed to impress, and every homemade, gluten-free, dairy-free, flavor-free snack in her children’s lunchboxes is carefully constructed into the shape of his or her favorite animal. She’s a volunteer at every school fundraiser, classroom party, and class field trip. She’s the president of the PTO and holds the highest respect, fear, and envy of all the lesser parents and school faculty. While her children complete a typical day at school adorned with gold stars (or greens on the behavior log) and A+ marks, she completes all household chores, errand running, a fruitful visit to the gym, and she even squeezes in lunch with the girls. She is the first in the dreaded carpool line where she catches up on some light reading about perfect mom topics and completes a crochet project for her neighborhood’s newest baby. She’s the perfect stay at home mom. Since rapidly expanding my household from a young,  unattached, working, married couple to a chaotic family of five, my husband and I have made a weighty amount of difficult choices regarding family, finances, and future career opportunities. I thought it would be a good idea to take a swing at this stay at home mom thing (I blame my husband as well for supporting the endeavor- we’ve been a couple for a decade; he should have known better) for a few months between career transitions. Let me preface with the confession that I’m not the exceptional mom. I’m pretty sure I’m not even the mediocre mom. Friends, this is the account of an imposter stay at home mom.

I started out giving that excellent mom a run for her status (I can’t say run for her money because stay at home mom is both a payless and thankless job). I would wake up early (ish) every morning. Maybe I wasn’t the first to hit the ground running, but if my husband would bring me coffee in bed (yeah, I hear your reading eyes rolling),I could at least face the day by 7:30AM, and for a night owl, such as myself, that was a win. I would cook bacon and eggs, pancakes, or some other impressive breakfast variation on which  the girls and I would dine as a family. After achieving full bellies and happy smiles, We would trek to the neighborhood park where the children would flex their imaginations while I ran a solid mile (I mean I was honestly just striving for mediocre) then we would drop by the public library because we believe in opening our minds and imaginations with reading (that’s actually not sarcasm-reading is one of my greatest passions.) After returning home, reading our fine finds, and participating in some kind of creative art activity, we would eat lunch just in time for quiet time/nap time (depending on the age of the child). The afternoons were reserved for the pool. Our summer togetherness routine was working out just lovely until I returned to my lazy morning ways and refused to wake up at a reasonable time, and the children grew ungrateful of a homemade breakfast (final result: cereal at 9:00AM). Before long, we skipped the park and library altogether to jump straight to the pool (in this Mississippi heat, every day is pool day… until October). The result was an extra 10 lbs on mom and over $30 in late fees at the local library.  I lasted three weeks in a well functioning routine that would no doubt be required to maintain if I wanted to experience even the most mediocre degree of mental wellness. This was the beginning of my imposter stay at home mom spiral into mom failure.

While I stuck to my guns over traditional values, such as limited television time, more time spent outside than indoors, and family meals at the table every meal, I made significant stumbles in other areas. My oldest child’s laziness dictated far too many daily plans, my middle child’s disruptive nature dictated far too many of my moods, and my overconfident baby called far too many shots. We ate too much junk food, fought more than we smiled, and played more than we learned. Friends, in our own mediocre family style, we survived the summer. In my own less than mediocre style, I survived life without thriving professionally for a few months (though volunteering at Vacation Bible School nearly did me in as I was blessed with the crying group). If I were to chart my emotional stability, self-esteem, and stress over the summer, it would look like a preschooler’s drawing of the Appalachian mountains.

There were some definite perks of staying home with the girls. For instance, stay at home moms, you guys are holding out on how amazing nap time is. While I started out my summer using that quiet time to complete chores and it morphed into midday wine consumption and viewing Netflix originals rated TV mature, I thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from that quiet time. It was my lifeline. I even used it productively at times while I did some backyard yoga or painted to clear my mind. I know 20 years from now I won’t reflect on that summer I proved to myself I need a career to feel complete. Rather, I’ll remember that summer the girls and I played in the water hose for hours in the blazing sun, even though I was fully dressed and unprepared, and I had to drag one of them outside while she threw a diva tantrum. My summer as a failing mom taught me that I am special, useful, and worthy regardless who speaks those truths to me day to day. I am created to serve such greater people and purposes than myself and my own gain. When I feel down, I can choose activities and relationships to pour into that bring healing. There is no failure in this mediocre existence that we all face together. We’re all just living our best lives, right?

I learned from this summer attempting the stay at home mom gig that to be a good stay at home mom, I need a prescription for sleeping meds, self-control (this girl loves carbs, sorry not sorry), and a much higher sense of self worth and overall higher self-esteem than I own. Let’s be honest: I’m probably always going to be a mediocre mom (“stay at home” or “working” because friends, it’s time to go back to work). This experience was a huge struggle mostly due to impossible expectations I set for myself and my desire to receive praise and appreciation for a job well done. Maybe I’m a mediocre parent. Maybe I’m even a mediocre human. Sometimes we’re so concerned with being good enough that we forget to admire the beautiful things in our lives. It’s beautiful that my girls and I spent more quality time together in three months than we had in the two years before this storm of a summer. It’s beautiful that these gifts from God call me mommy in the first place. It’s beautiful that though one of my children tore us all to emotional pieces, she is starting to put herself and all of us back together in a priceless mosaic pattern better than we were before. It’s beautiful that my husband supports me in whatever unexpected, untraveled path my heart leads me. It’s beautiful that I’m painting again. It’s beautiful that I am being equipped to go back to work in an exciting, risky, and influential way this fall. Quitting my job was hard and bold… and scary, but I knew in my heart the timing was right. Friends, trust the cry of your hearts. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

Life Worth Celebrating

You know those people who are always negative? It is as if there’s a rain cloud following them overhead making it impossible to feel the warmth of the sunshine. You pass by them in the grocery store and casually hand out a, “Hi, how are you” (in true southern style), only to receive an unexpected dark anecdote about how their mediocre husbands, mediocre children, and mediocre careers are keeping them down in the most mediocre way. Regardless the beautiful blessings flooding their daily routines, they are always bursting with complaints, groans, and sighs. While they sit in waiting rooms to deal with their mediocre children’s mediocre health, they scroll through social media posts of their picture-perfect acquaintances’ picture-perfect lives and mumble to themselves, “ugh, I hate happy people.” You know these people, and if you’re honest with yourself, you’ve been some version of these Negative Nancys at some point of your mediocre adult life. The bleak reality is that you and I probably have every right to own a negative perspective on life many days. Life is hard. Surviving financially in a “things” driven society, achieving career success in a results/numbers driven work climate, maintaining a fulfilling social existence among a pool of individuals who fear commitment, deepening and growing a supportive marriage when divorce is the norm, rearing children who are not a nightmare to eat a meal with when cellphones and iPads are the most active parents in any public venue, and even finding motivation to love ourselves enough to eat something green can be exhausting. Of course we get bogged down by the hard things, but feeling like a mediocre survivor at best is no way to live. The world is filled with emptiness and devastation around every street corner and in every media outlet. Why not pour extra time and energy into the small things in life to help us find balance and identify something worth smiling about?

For the past several years, I have been fixated on birthdays. I believe the entire month of November is my time to celebrate the good in MY life. The more gifts and celebrations in honor of another trip around the sun, the better. My children describe me as a birthday fanatic. While I generally focus on simplicity in my parenting and relationships, that message is lost entirely when a friend, family member, or especially one of my children’s name pops up on the calendar accompanied by a birthday cake emoji. Years ago, my husband was grumbling and complaining (geez, how mediocre could he be) about my insistence that we celebrate his 30th birthday with a huge party. I just smiled and explained to him, “in a world full of so much bad, can’t we just celebrate the good?” Celebrate the good, we did! Our closest friends came over to enjoy one of the best themed parties I have ever experienced, Forever Young. This group of adults dressed like children, ate like children, and played children’s games with an adult spin, and we had a blast like children. My hardworking, passionate, and entertaining husband’s life is worth celebrating. Your life is worth celebrating, friends!

Our family throws big birthday bashes for each child. The birthday girl chooses her theme, and we run with it and invite way too many family members and friends to party with us in our tiny house and our sunny backyard. Our girls have experienced significant trauma in their past, but possibly the greatest hardship each of them would identify is loss. They have lived with 3 different families in their short lives, and they experienced so much grief before meeting their mommy and daddy at ages 7, 5, and 2. Of course we love the idea of throwing big birthday bashes simply because my girls deserve a day to celebrate their uniquely beautiful personalities, but more importantly, we place importance on their gains. While they have lost past relationships and significant memories, my girls have gained a huge support system overflowing with people who love them. We party in an exaggerated fashion for that moment when a little girl sitting in front of her birthday cake (or birthday snowball for my gluten and dairy sensitive child), hearing a roar of voices sing her name looks up to see a crowd of blessings. Through all the losses, the fears, the anger, and the sadness, each girl has an opportunity to see a mass of people (children and adults) who think she is one of the most precious and worthy individuals on the planet. Going overboard is worth it when relationships are the motivation because relationships are far from mediocre.

While our family opts for great gatherings for parties, my husband and I do not give our children birthday gifts (at least not in the traditional sense). They have plenty of toys. They’re not as materially spoiled as many while still more materially spoiled than most. Between gestures of family and friends, my children always have more toys than our tiny house can comfortably hold. Let’s be honest… even children I have known whose households are modest due to financial strain own plenty of toys. Instead of toys or electronics (my opinion on the childhood technology addiction being fueled and perpetuated by adults is a topic for another day), my children are given a special date for their birthdays. Anyone who has more than one child empathizes with my family’s struggle to offer quality one-on-one time with each child. As an adoptive family, my husband and I feel an even greater urgency to create space for this quality time due to “time lost” before we met our babies. We are able to grasp the occasional one-on-one time with one parent and one child present due to some carefully constructed tag teaming (teamwork makes the dreamwork), but we nearly never spend time with both parents and one child in our household. Nothing makes a parent feel more mediocre than realizing your child feels like he or she doesn’t know or relate to you. The fear of this mediocre experience led to our only child date idea. The birthday girl chooses an outing for three: mommy, daddy, and birthday girl. This outing might be a day at the beach, a day at the zoo, dinner and a movie, or some other day trip or exciting activity. During this individualized time, my girls don’t have to fight for a chance to sit in mommy’s lap or ride daddy’s shoulders. They don’t have to wait their turn to share stories and opinions with mommy and daddy. They don’t even have to take turns with every day moments, such as choosing where to eat or getting to pray before a meal. These dates are priceless, and the result is three humans left feeling happily exhausted and far from mediocre.
Life is often hard, heavy, and hopeless. While ignoring unpleasant feelings and experiences doesn’t lead to healing, neither does remaining fixated on the negative. Take the time to feel blessed. Take the time to be blessed. Focus on the good things in life that we often miss due to the painful chaos of our mediocre routines. If you’re feeling suffocated by the sad, I encourage you to invest your time and energy in constructing positive experiences and relationships. Celebrate life, reaching goals, and building strong relationships with the people in your circle. Don’t accept a norm of negativity and disappointment for the sake of being ordinary. Find your personal good and celebrate it. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

This Thing You Call A Risk

You know that girl who lives the charmed life? She has every detail of her future peacefully and perfectly planned, and rightfully so, as it was all thoughtfully stacked in a tidy pile before she was born. Between her college fund and her trust fund, she has no need for exploration or finding her passions. Her life is mapped out before her, and she easily journeys along to the finish like a game piece in a friendly game of Candyland but without those infuriating cherry pitfalls (you know, the stuck spots in the game.) No offense to this charmed individual who glides effortlessly through life following the unwritten instruction manual, but I am beyond thankful I am not her. I feel certain she is more a facade than a real girl with a real life anyway. Life is full of mountain and valleys, twists and turns, dead ends and open highways regardless genetic fortune or socioeconomic status. Without life’s ups and downs, there’s no reason to take risks. Without risks, we never learn to fearlessly pursue our hearts’ desires. My adult journey looks much more like bidding blind nil in a game of spades than dominating a whimsical child’s game. The past decade of my life has been speckled with risky decisions due to a tug on my heart that always turns into a beautiful mess of expression and self-discovery. We all battle feelings of mediocrity. Why not bust out of our feelings with boldness?

At 21 years old, my fiancé had earned his title by explaining that he believed when you’re ready to be with someone, you know, and waiting to marry me was a waste of time. I, in my education and career focused state of mind, had planned to complete my PhD before even considering marriage (still waiting for that opportunity to be dropped on my doorstep), but I figured when you find a charming, daring, and handsome redhead, you don’t tell him “no” to forever. As I researched and pursued graduate programs, my heart’s desires led to fixation and certainty of an out of state program. I knew it was the fit for me, even with the out of state tuition. I remember the panicked look on my young finance’s face when I showed him my tuition statement. Nonetheless, I was unshaken. In my heart, I knew where I was meant to be when the fall semester blew in with the changing leaves. Only hours after opening my hefty tuition statement, I received a call from the department head of my graduate program who offered me a graduate assistantship for which I had not applied. This position included part time pay and 100% tuition compensation, including out of state fees. This is how I began to free fall into adulthood in good faith.

Halfway into my graduate school journey in that program my heart so desired, just in time to begin my first clinical semester, my husband was called to interview for a job position back in our home state. This position would allow him to work alongside staff he already knew, respected, and trusted and with students both of us believed in deeply. After thoughtfully weighing pros and cons, it was clear making that major life change would not be a logical move for us. I was at the point of no return in a graduate program where I was growing and thriving. Beyond that, the move would mean a significant pay cut for our household (not that it was impressive as it was). Prayerfully, we took the risk anyway because our hearts were bent in an unreasonable way. Shortly after moving into our old, fixer-upper small-town Mississippi house and completing significant cosmetic renovations but with many more costly renovations to come, we left for a fundraiser not knowing that as we turned the key, our feet were walking out of our home as we had known it for the last time. An EF4 tornado literally opened, crushed, and ripped our home and belongings into chaotic tidbits. Moving across states was a huge risk, and there we sat, broke (I still laugh in disbelief about how little money we had to our names), exposed, and homeless. It only took moments for us to pull ourselves together in trust that we made the right decision to move to this state, this city, this neighborhood, and this house. Days later, we sat down with a dear friend of ours who happens to be a phenomenal architect. We planned to rebuild because we felt in our hearts we were in the right place, even when people made hasty comments about how we could choose to move to a “better neighborhood.” Later that week, we were called by a new HGTV television program who wanted to help us rebuild our house. Exactly two months after losing our little fixer upper to a natural disaster, my husband and I moved back into our home except this time it held the functionality necessary to eventually provide shelter and stability for our growing family. Our hearts said, “go,” and though no part of taking those steps was painless, I have no regrets. This move gave us our home which is a lot more important than the walls and roof of our house.

Only a few years later, I had just completed my M.Ed. where I was named most outstanding by my faculty. I had served as an officer in my program’s honor society chapter, and I had built important connections and relationships… in that state. Here I sat in my rebuilt house in a state and area where I would have to start over professionally. While diligently completing job applications and trying to find balance in living in only one state and home again, a friend announced that he needed a couple to take on the role of exchange parents for a teenage Belgian female. Everyone told me I was crazy to consider bringing a stranger so close to our age into my home and under my supervision, but I had this stirring in my heart that assured me this beautiful new home wasn’t simply for my comfort. Responding to the call of my heart is how my husband and I became possibly the youngest, most nontraditional exchange parents in history. The result of this risk was a lifelong best friend who has become, is, and will remain our companion in international travels. She is my soul sister, and I can’t imagine a life without knowing her calm spirit and adventurous passion for life.

Taking chances has been a part of our story since long before our young marriage whether we realized it or not. My husband and I have had a stirring in our hearts independently and as a couple to the adoption cause for more than ten years. As I slaved away ceaselessly as a community mental health counselor over the years, my heart was bent toward the issue of sibling separation. More than 5 years ago, my husband and I vowed to adopt siblings before attempting to conceive biologically. This choice lost momentum and simplicity as the years passed, and we experienced major hardships, namely a parent undergoing a liver transplant (donate life, friends) and another parent suddenly and unexpectedly dying at a young age. People have expressed question, disbelief, and judgements over our risky decision to begin our parenting journey as a foster to adopt household rather than taking the more obvious path to building a family. The result of this risk has been a lot of hard life lessons, a lot of pain, and immeasurably more beauty and blessings. My daughters were the missing pieces to our family’s puzzle.

Before I began this risky journey, I was owned by anxiety. Every choice I made was primarily influenced by fear of failure, fear of judgment, and fear of mediocrity. The secret is this thing you call a risk, I call faith. I take risks in good faith that the stirring in my heart is more than a feeling. Playing it safe and following the rules and basic social protocol may produce success, but taking risks produces freedom, confidence, and fiercely fulfilling relationships. I watch my daughters trust fearlessly when they enter novel situations, such as starting a new school mid semester or jumping off a 20 ft. ledge into the river. I admire and aspire to such fearlessness and faithfulness. Friends, if you’re feeling the weight of your mediocrity today, I challenge you to take a risk. Create your own reality in a world full of pain and destruction. Do not let fear and anxiety own you. To reach a destination of happiness and fulfillment, we must first own the courage to take a leap even if the free fall feels scary rather than thrilling. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.