She’s Still There

On my way home from Uganda, I shared with our team leader some unexpected troubles I had emotionally on our trip. I had been deep in my thoughts for a big portion of our time there (the 20 hours in the air helped with that!), and came to the conclusion that part of my regular struggles as a wife, mother, and friend were due to the overwhelming feeling that I had lost who I once was.

Change is good. As we grow, we mature, become wiser, figure out who we really are. I have definitely experienced positive growth. But there was a part of me that began to be stuffed away in my college years when I was trying to be something for someone else. In high school, I became a Christian. I was passionate about missions. I wanted to make a difference in the world. I wanted to do good, fight for justice, and travel the world to do so.

Then I fell in love. And life became about marrying this man. He was a good man, the best I had ever met. He was kind, gentle, godly, and just so so good. I went overseas for the first time just after the end of my first year in college. All I could think about was possibly having a relationship with this man. I was encouraged to transfer universities so we could do courtship. And my heart’s desire to know him as more than a best friend and eventually become his wife was so much stronger than pursuing my original dream (to do overseas mission work and make a real difference in our world).

Rather than thinking through my original plan for my life (plans change, right?), I decided this was my new course. Transferring to a new school in a new state 6 hours away from my family was also an adventure, so it made me okay with this decision.

Honestly, John Brown University was so much better for me in so many ways than the university I was attending before. I loved everything about this school, but my personality shifted. I have always struggled with shyness, and talking to my classmates began to feel like this impossible obstacle of my everyday. I was awkward, so quiet, and lonely. I spent time with my future husband’s family on the weekends rather than staying at the school, which also limited my time to invest in friendships. I did make friends. I got to know some wonderful ladies. And I had the most amazing professor who invested in my life. I fell in love with my major because of her passion. I saw my life going into this new direction, children and family ministry…and I was happy with that plan. My former plan and thirst for overseas adventures was forgotten, dubbed a young Christian’s excitement and nothing more.

We got married. I graduated. We were happy. After a year and a half of marriage, we moved to Louisville, KY for my husband (and maybe me) to attend seminary. It was exciting, it was an adventure. We moved without jobs, confident we were supposed to be there. We made amazing friends quickly. I began my application to be a student…then I found out I was pregnant! It was a huge surprise. And it stopped my application. I honestly cannot remember my thought process. Maybe is was mostly concern over finances. But I decided to wait.

And then this baby girl came into the world. She was beautiful. Perfect. Everything. Her birth brought us even closer. We had struggled in the first couple of years after the 5 month honeymoon phase. It was mainly me. I struggled with anger, a sharp tongue, and inability to talk through my emotions. It was all very shocking, as I thought I had overcome these patterns of behavior long ago. I now know it was this unconscious battle of identity that I couldn’t articulate or understand completely. It wasn’t my husband’s fault. He didn’t know I had changed myself to fit into this new plan. He didn’t realize I was losing confidence, losing my voice, losing me.

But this baby girl. She wasn’t an “easy baby, but we were a team. We were up during the night together, doing everything we could to get her to sleep. We loved it, even in the hardest moments. And I wanted another one. So we got pregnant again when Tessa was 9 months old. And again, I was so excited! I loved being a mom. We had a good group of friends. We had a wonderful church. I was married to a wonderful man.

So we had number 2. And he was beautiful. Perfect. And the best baby ever.

In the midst of all of this, I had applied to be the children’s director at one of our church campuses. I didn’t get the job. I was pregnant with Tessa at the time. When the same position came up at our campus quite some time later, Crockett applied for it. He had discovered he loved children’s ministry more than he ever thought he would through serving as coordinators for over a year. He didn’t get the job. Then the person who did get the job was very hard on me in particular. Or it sure felt that way. I was talked to like a child, reprimanded, and felt constantly beaten down. I was denied an internship and no reason was given. I was a children’s ministry major for goodness sake! We had been serving with our church for a very long time and had an amazing relationship with the previous director, who had encouraged Crockett to apply for the job…it put me in a very bad place. I was pregnant with Josiah at the time, and because we were nearing his due date, we used that as a reason to step down as volunteers.

A bitterness was planted then. For another dream lost. I felt it was being thrown in our faces that we weren’t needed. We weren’t qualified. We weren’t meant to be in ministry after all. What were we even doing here?

Time passed. A new director was hired because of a move. My husband applied for it as well. We celebrated the man who was chosen. We knew he would be an amazing fit. And we joined the team again. So much had changed. We weren’t regarded as leaders anymore. The new leaders didn’t even know us. We weren’t invited to be a part of the big decisions, and it was difficult for my pride in particular. I wasn’t needed. My opinion wasn’t valued or sought out. And it was hard. But we kept pressing in and serving faithfully, quietly.

My husband began leading our small group. We had been asked a couple of times, but both were right after a birth or right before, and we didn’t feel ready. Leading our small group was the best thing that had happened to us in a long time. We loved it. The encouragement and affirmation from the friends in our group was uplifting. We began to believe again that perhaps we weren’t completely wrong about our callings.

One by one, couples moved away from our church that we began the seminary journey with. They were hired. We celebrated. We applied, but weren’t super worried about it since graduation had not happened yet. Then graduation happened, and applying became more rigorous. Job after job after job. Job after job after job. No, no, and more nos. It was difficult.

Then Crockett had a strong lead. The pastor wanted him. It would be in the same city as his family. He was the only one they were considering. It seemed a sure thing. After a personality test. he was supposed to have an interview with the elders. The call never came. The next day, the pastor called and said because of the personality test results, they had decided he was not a good candidate.  The pastor still wanted him, believed he was perfect for the position, but there would be no interview, no conversation about the results or their concerns. Just a no.

That was so so hard. We had to step back and reevaluate.

We started looking in Texas, and one position seemed promising. He made it into the final three. There was a Skype interview, then an in-person interview. The pastor was so affirming, communicated very well, and let us know that each candidate was just so very different that it came down to which direction God led them. He wasn’t chosen.

Then, surprise! That same children’s director position came open again at our church (the open positions all came about because of moves). Third time’s a charm, right? We really prepared this time. We worked on Crockett’s confidence…he had to believe, that in spite of everything we had been through, he was more than qualified for the job and he would be amazing at it. We were told there would only be interviews if the guy they had in mind for the job turned it down. And then there was an interview, so we assumed he turned it down.

He rocked that interview y’all. We were told so. But then he wasn’t chosen. Come to find out there was intense opinion on both sides about him or the other guy who had in fact not turned it down but was open to it. The reasoning was one side knew the other guy better, though Crockett had a lot more experience in children’s ministry. And it all came down to that.

We had invested so much into this interview, fully confident this would be it. What are the odds that he was turned down for job after job and then the original job he applied for years ago was now available for a 3rd time? Surely it was meant to be.

He wasn’t chosen.

I was angry for a long time. I couldn’t stay in the service the first week because I was so so angry. And I felt no one thought too much of the effect of that decision on us. He would have been amazing. I still firmly know that to be true. We still served on the team after that, without anyone knowing the emotional battle we were dealing with internally. And slowly, we got through it, accepted it, and let it go.

I was pregnant with our 3rd in the midst of this! He was planned, wanted, and we were so excited for another baby. He has been our HARDEST baby. That first year was crazy. We were trying to heal in the midst of it and figure out what our next step should be. My husband continued to apply, we continued to be rejected.

Then we decided to move to Texas. It was a seed that had been planted when two deaths in each family happened the same year, just weeks a part. We felt drawn to be present, to be closer to family. Texas would make us closer to both sides, and we wanted our three kiddos to have more time grandparents. We wanted to have real family vacations (just us 5) and not spend so much time and finances on visiting family members, causing family vacations not to happen.

So we began to look at Tyler, TX. Crockett visited a church we found online that sounded like a great fit for us while visiting my family for Christmas. He had an overwhelming sense that we were meant to be there. Turned out, they were looking for a pastor. So we moved. God made everything happen seamlessly.

Now this possible pastoral opportunity didn’t happen. Again it was emotionally a slap in the face that we weren’t good enough, weren’t qualified. But we still felt confident we were where we were supposed to be and decided to stay put. And then Sseko happened. Uganda happened. And everything felt good and right. God had used two things I NEVER thought I would do (photography and direct sales) to lead me to my original passion, overseas mission work/social justice.

But while I was in Uganda, I wasn’t who I thought I would be in another country. I was quiet. I didn’t bond with the ladies I met like I thought I would. I held back, felt my voice was just gone. I felt I didn’t have anything to offer. So on the plane ride home, I shared some of this with Jennifer. I apologized for not doing better, for not playing a bigger part, for my inability to connect meaningfully with the women. I told her I felt I had lost my voice. I had an opportunity to pursue my original dream and I failed myself miserably.

She of course encouraged me through it, affirmed the gifts she saw in me, and let me borrow this book called, “She’s Still There.”

The title alone got me. I realized clearly that I wanted that passion back, the excitement, the confidence in who I am and what I believe. And thought I’ve had so many more moments of conquering than I’ve had in a long time, the battle is still there.

This is why I’m so passionate about now sharing my struggle with insecurity. It has deep roots in my life. It was there in the midst of everything, the constant voice of “you’re not good enough” getting louder and louder over the years. And it is the companion of lost dreams. It tells me how did I ever think I could be that woman? “This shy girl who cares too much about what others think can change the world? Ha. Not likely.” And the voice made the girl who had big ideas about who she would become get smaller and smaller.

Now I have a girl and two boys in my care. I have a role to play to be an example to them of pursuing my dream, not letting my insecurity control me, not giving up on who I always wanted to be, not allowing my failures to define me. My daughter already reminds me so much of myself. That insecurity is already there. It may end up being her constant companion as well, but I want her to know early-on that it does not have to control her. Dreams are valid. And she can dare to dream big and not allow how others define her control who she can become.

The women of Sseko here and in Uganda have helped me tremendously in re-discovering my passions, re-defining my dreams, and gaining the confidence to find my voice once more. It’s not just another direct sales company. I am a part of making impact, and I am part of a fellowship of women who constantly speak life and truth into my life.

If you have stuck through the end of this, my main take-away for you is that she is still there (or he). Change is good. We grow, we mature…but if you’re like me and let go of who you wanted to be, stuffed that person down deeper and deeper for whatever reason, know that it’s not too late. “Begin with the decision to value your soul, but also accept that knowing who you are is a lifelong process and a labor of love. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to rebalance, refocus, and reaffirm what you believe about the girl in you. Know, appreciate, and accept what you know today, and look forward to what you will learn tomorrow,” Hurst, She’s Still There,  p. 78.

Battling the Lizard Brain

A word. A look. A forgotten invitation. And the slippery slope begins.

When you struggle with deep insecurity, it’s not hard to go from “That could have gone better” to “I am worthless. I will never amount to anything”.

We all battle this to an extent. Many of us will learn over the years that no one thinks of us as much as we think they do. We learn to be who we are without fear or worry. It’s a very normal path of maturity.

But for those of us who have deep-set insecurity, the journey is not so simple.

We win a battle, have a period of confidence, only to be overcome once more, attacking ourselves, believing the worst, allowing the lizard brain to take over.

What is lizard brain? The “you’re not ever going to be good enough”, “you will always fail”, “you will never have deep friendships”. It’s the slimy voice within that makes you want to hide under the covers and never show your face again.

I understand now that I may never be completely free from this voice.

I also understand that this regular battle can make me stronger, closer to the Lord, and able to walk hand-in-hand with others going through the same battle.

Here are some helpful habits to develop, your go-tos when the lizard voice begins to speak.

Habit one: Declare that it’s happening. Being able to recognize the voice allows us to take action against it.

Habit Two: Scripture. If you’re a Christian, the Bible is your source of daily truth. Memorize key passages that speak directly against the lies. You are loved. You are beautiful. There is grace, so much grace.

Habit Three: Talk about it to a friend. Isolation is the enemy. When we isolate, the voice can become that much louder. We need truth-speakers in our lives who can drown out the lizard voice.

Habit Four: Have specific positive action plans in response to specific situations. Certain things in life are always bound to occur. A positive action plan can be when you feel _________, go out for dessert with your family. When _____________ happens, have a dance party in the living room. Or a movie night, a family walk, a Target trip…whatever brings you joy + gets the focus away from the situation/event, and repeat. It will become an ingrained response and a light in the midst of your negative emotions.

Habit Five: This can go along with 4…focus on someone other than yourself! Do a service project, an elaborate gesture for a child or significant other, a surprise for a friend, etc. Focusing on others allows the blinders to be taken off so we can see what really matters. Life is too short to stay in lizard brain mode. It passes by while we’re stuck under the covers, and we will come to regret it.

So look in the mirror and smile. Declare, “Lizard brain, you do not control me. I am loved. I have others to love. And life is to short to let you rule.”

Start doing some of these things in response to the lizard voice. And do them again. And again. Until they are your habits. They can become your strongest weapon in this battle.

Ethical Fashion for the Budget-Minded Mama

So we live on a budget. A tight budget. The HARDEST part of transitioning to an ethical wardrobe has been wanting ALL THE THINGS when I find a brand I love.

One part of being a conscious consumer is researching how it is made and who it is made by. The second half is remembering to buy better NOT MORE. It’s changing the mindset that every season I need to throw out and buy more and more and more. This is simply not true! For me, it’s remembering it more for the kiddos rather than myself. Especially the girl child. I was strict on how much I bought for her this year and honestly it’s been hard. But that’s another blog post…(and just so you know, middle boy wears a uniform to school, and youngest has a lot of hand-me-downs, so I do still buy for them, ha, it’s just not as hard!).

Now if you just can’t help yourself and love to wear the latest trends each season, I would take the time (if you aren’t already) to thoughtfully consider what you’re doing with all the clothes you will no longer be wearing. Are you throwing them out, donating them, selling them? Where do they actually go if you donate? Are they being shipped overseas to a country overrun by free clothing? Ask me more about this situation if you want to know why free can be devastating to third world economies. You shouldn’t feel shame for loving to shop and being a fashionista. Our closets are not all going to be minimalist! But we can all buy more responsibly and take care of what we no longer need/want responsibly.

I am ONLY ONE YEAR into this ethical fashion journey as a budget-minded mama who also wanted to change the way I shop. So remember that. But here are my favorite brands I discovered this year:

  1. PACT ORGANIC. “We’re committed to organic cotton to minimize our impact on the environment and improve the conditions and quality of life for the people who make our clothing.” For all your basics, men and women! Pact is very generous on their first order discount, then you get rewards for sharing.
  2. Krochet Kids. “Empowerment is the reason why we exist. Our products, our partners, and our community work in unison to help people break the cycle of poverty, forever.” I love KK’s style! This is where I would really go crazy if I could. They are going to be pricier for big orders, but every garment is signed, making them extra special. They also have men and women’s fashions, plus a few things for kiddos too. Some of their pieces are made in Uganda! (Employs women in Gulu, Uganda & Lima, Peru)
  3. Sudara. Lounge/pajama pants + tees and other goods made in India. These are beautiful and so fun! “Sudara is a benefit corporation that exists to advocate on behalf of and empower women who have escaped from, or at the highest risk of, human trafficking by providing dignified employment opportunities.” They also have items for men and children, including t-shirts and goods!
  4. Sseko Designs. “Sseko Designs uses fashion to create opportunity for women globally. We provide employment and scholarship opportunities to women in Uganda who are working to pursue their dreams and overcome poverty.” Sandals, bags, scarves, jewelry, and now APPAREL. Signed products AND you can learn about each woman on our website! You can also become a part of the mission by becoming a Fellow, visit our workshop if you find yourself in Uganda, and through purchasing through a Sseko Fellow, your purchase goes even further!

Other brands I haven’t personally bought from yet but have heard great things: Accompany, Nisolo, People Tree, Fair Indigo, Amourvert, NoNasties, & Conscious Clothing

Basically, if you’re like me, most of these brands will be out of your normal price range for what you spend on clothing. It’s not supposed to be easy. And so many of the GOOD things in life aren’t. They take sacrifice. So maybe you buy better rather than more. Maybe you’re strict and save until you can afford an extra special item. Maybe you host a Sseko Party and get gift card credit 😉 Maybe you choose to buy secondhand as you make the transition. There are a few different ways to begin this journey. Ask questions! I’m an open book on the changes we’ve made and where I hope to be eventually!

 

Insecurity is Part of My Story

I’ve struggled with intense insecurity my entire life. It continues to be a part of my story, and rather than push it down or ignore it, I’ve decided to make it part of my “why”. How many of us constantly have a voice within telling us no one cares, we’re never enough, we will always fail? It’s time to realize that while this voice may never go away, we can fight it with boldness and bravery, standing firm in truth, and confidently hold tight to the bonds of sisterhood, where there is freedom an support. As I actively pursue the career of an impact entrepreneur, I want to build friendships, have meaningful conversations, and help other women like me battle this monster that threatens to control and take captive this precious life we’ve been given.

Where are you at in everyday self-confidence? Does the voice echo in the back of your mind throughout your days? Does it effect your mood, your emotions, your belief in yourself? Have you found anything to be effective in this battle?

Beginning the Journey

As Jessica went through each slide, my excitement and anticipation grew, along with a quiet confidence that this is exactly where we are supposed to be. When I found out Haddon was a boy, I had already chosen a girl’s name. This name was meaningful. And even though he was not a girl, I have never been able to shake the feeling that this name is supposed to be a part of our family. I don’t know what this journey will look like. I’m not sure if through becoming a Foster Family, we will provide temporary homes for many, many children and never have a little girl who needs a permanent home. Or it may happen with the very first placement. Or a year later. It may be a long wait. The story might end up completely different than I envision it. But one thing is for sure, this family is where we are supposed to be, beginning the journey of becoming a foster family in order to provide a safe, loving home for children in crisis. It will hard. Emotional. Straining. But worth it. I want to look back here during the hard days and remember the calm assurance I had, the there-is-no-doubt-in-my-mind that this is where we are supposed to be feeling.

Here we are. At the very beginning. Taking the first step to this amazing journey.