The Power of Vulnerability: Being Beautiful Means Being You!

It’s 11:00 AM, and I hear the doorbell ring.  In a moment of sheer terror, I try to decide if the person ringing the bell has already seen me through the window, or if I could possibly get away with not answering, pretending like I’m not at home.  A lump in my throat arises as I see my friend, Alex, waving at me through the window.

“This is a nightmare.  She knows I’m here,” I think to myself.

I approach the front door, still in my pajamas, thinking, “will she believe that I’ve actually been busy since the moment a crying baby woke me up this morning?  Just because I’m still in my fuzzy pink PJ pants doesn’t mean that I’ve been online shopping or checking Facebook.”

As I approach the door, I catch a glimpse of my unkempt hair in the hall mirror.  I slept on my hair while it was wet because I didn’t get a chance to take a shower until 10:00 PM last night, and Lord knows I didn’t have time to dry it before my twins were hungry, and then I collapsed into bed.  So my hair is now about the size of San Francisco, and just as wild.

My four-year-old and two-year-old  boys are sitting on the couch, glued to cartoons on TV.  Cooper only has a shirt and diaper on (in the 40 degree weather) and Hudson’s hair-do looks like a cross between Elvis and a Dr. Suess character.  My twins are lying on the sullied carpet floor, right next to several dirty diapers that I failed to throw away after their last diaper change, because I had to stop everything to reassemble the fichus tree that Cooper knocked over and managed to de-leaf.

“Hi, Alex,” I say with a fake smile as I open the door and greet her.

Entering my house, she steps over the three baskets of dirty laundry that I left there two hours ago.  I got distracted on my way to the washing machine by a crying baby who needed to be diapered, and then my 4-year-old who had an accident on his way to the bathroom.  She walks to the kitchen, where cheerios have been dumped on the floor.  I was trying to sweep those up as I heard the doorbell ring.  I see her eyes glance at a Tupperware container with soiled pants and underwear soaking in it (after Hudson’s early morning accident) and then at last night’s dirty dishes, which are still in the sink.

She was in the neighborhood and just wanted to say hello, she says.

Thanks a lot, Alex.  So glad you did.  (Next time, call first, why don’t ya?)  

After the most awkward, briefest, most embarrassing visit known to man, I shuttered as I closed the door behind her.  She just saw me at my absolute worst, I thought.  Then, for the rest of the day, I couldn’t shake the feeling of mortification.  I was exposed.  She saw the truth about the way that mornings often go in my house these days.  I didn’t have time to make myself look good before she showed up.  She saw the real-deal; the down-and-dirty me.

I flashed back to the 4-years-ago me.  The pre-kid me.  The girl with a cute, clean house with nice, non-stained furniture.  The 15-pound-lighter version of me without post-baby tummy-flab, who could afford cute clothes because she wasn’t paying $6 a day to diaper twins.  The girl who seemed somewhat successful; who had a good job, a master’s degree, a clean car, and a social life.

This morning, that girl and the frizzy-haired girl I saw in the mirror seemed to be two completely different people.

It used to be so much easier to look good when I didn’t have kids.  But, once I become a mom, I was just bumbling and fumbling my way through motherhood, learning as I went, making mistakes, losing it sometimes with my kids, getting behind on laundry, running through the drive-through because I didn’t have time to make a healthy dinner, and I felt fruitless and flawed.  It doesn’t matter that I was once successful in many ways.  So, I spent a lot of energy trying to look good in other’s eyes, so that, deep down, I would feel successful.

Even when I only had two kids, I could still manage to fake like I was actually on top of things.  But last spring, I got pregnant with twins, was very ill, and was put on bed rest at 21 weeks.  Suddenly, I was unable to do the things that made me feel more successful.  Bending down to pick up toys, sweeping, vacuuming, cooking, or cleaning could actually prove fatal to the babies I was carrying in utero.  And, to make matters worse, sweet friends and family came to my house every day to help with my kids (I couldn’t have done it without you all!), so many people were daily seeing me at my worst.  I struggled with feeling embarrassed, exposed, like people must think less of me because my house wasn’t in order and my kids looked slightly homeless…but there was literally nothing I could do about it!

It was during this several-month period that I learned something.  First, none of us were meant to carry the burden of being perfect.  Perfectionism is a trap.  It’s like the time I dreamt that I desperately wanted to walk across town to a friend’s house, but after I’d walked for miles and miles and hours and hours, I realized that I was walking on a treadmill, and was no where closer to my desired destination than I was when I started.  It’s one of the most beautiful privileges in life to learn and grow, to sharpen our character by learning from our mistakes.  It’s a beautiful thing to learn to be content with who we are—not continually striving to reach some pinnacle of perfection—not continually trying to look good in front of others.  Perfectionism takes me away from my kids and makes me “me-focused”—worried about what others think about ME, wanting to be the perfect ME.  ME, ME, ME!  I will never be a successful mother when I only think about me.

And most importantly, I learned the power of vulnerability.  While I am still working on totally understanding this, there’s something so liberating when you expose your inner-self to others—because then there’s nothing to hide!  When my friends would come over, and dishes were in the sink, laundry was strewn throughout the house, etc., I would think to myself, “well, here I am.  This is the real me.  I am a work in progress.  Love me or leave me.”  When I adopted that attitude, I found that life was much easier to live!  I didn’t need to rush around every time I knew a friend was coming over, trying to look good in front of her.  Oh, what a joy it is to drop the perfectionistic persona I’d tried so hard to be –and just be me!  Flawed, but growing, little me.

Recently, a friend came clean about a particularly ugly aspect of her past.   She was impressively open and vulnerable about it, and when she was finished, I was aware of one fact—she, though imperfect, was the most beautiful person in the room.  She had exposed her ugliest self to me, and all I could see was beauty.  I was so proud of the person she had become, and the picturesque life she’s managed to form out of malice.

As social-worker and Ph.D., Brene’ Brown, says “what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.”

I want to live out loud, warts and all, and not fear what others might think about me, or what might happen if they find out that I am….shocker…not perfect after all!  I don’t want to waste time trying to look good when I could be spending time with my kids or doing something of eternal significance.  Now, that is a beautiful life.

So, thanks, Alex, for this reminder that I am more beautiful today—with my dirty laundry hanging out for all to see (literally)—than I would’ve been had I cleaned everything up and tried to be picture-perfect.

Being vulnerable makes you beautiful.  And you can’t have “beautiful” without the words “be you.”

Hey Moms, We Need Each Other!

Picture 369

When Hudson, my first-born, was a baby, I saw a kid wearing a onesie that said, “My mommy doesn’t want your advice.” For years, I’ve wished I owned that onesie and could shove it into other moms’ mouths as they offered unsolicited advice. I daydreamed about dressing my child in it as I went to a public place, hoping to ward off unwelcomed advice from those busy-body, I’m-better-than-you-and-I-can-prove-it mothers that I often encountered. I was elated when I recently saw that very onesie at a consignment store, and I immediately knew that I wanted to buy it for my 2-month-old twins. Grinning like a woman eating Swiss chocolate, I threw it into my basket, mentally listing off the names of other moms who I hoped would see the onesie and get a clue! I just couldn’t believe my luck!

My devioius inner-monolgue was so loud that I barely heard that teeny-tiny voice in my head that whispered, “Is that REALLY the message you want plastered on your child’s body? Is that even what you believe?” Oh, brother. Suddenly, my heart was exposed. I could see bitterness oozing out of it like the thick, unsightly, black oil my old minivan recently spilled onto my driveway. “Am I really THAT bitter?” I thought.

I didn’t want to be bitter. I didn’t even really realize that I was bitter. I didn’t want my heart to be like dirty oil. And, the problem with oil is that it stains. It’s not easy to clean up the mess that it makes.

I started to ask myself some hard questions. “Why was I so defensive when other moms gave me their opinions? Why did I feel the need to put up a wall and exclaim to all who were watching, “I don’t want your advice!”?

When I first became a mom, I was very interested in asking others for advice. I was desperate for it! I knew nothing about raising kids. I barely knew how to change a diaper. I’d never given a baby a bath, tried to get him to sleep, or dressed him. I will never forget the first time that little Hudson cried. I thought, “Oh my gosh! I have absolutely no idea about what to do here!” It was a feeling like I’d never experienced before—I had a precious life in my hands and I was SOLELY responsible for it.

Somewhere along the way, I started to notice that Hudson wasn’t “on-track,” developmentally, according to those guilt-inducing emails I received each week, claiming to know my child and what he should be doing that week. I began to ask my mom friends for advice. But something changed in my heart. The advice I received began to sting a little. Some well-meaning friends claimed to know THE answer. And, when it didn’t work for Hudson, I felt like I must’ve been doing it wrong. Maybe I was the reason Hudson wasn’t sleeping well, wasn’t talking yet, wouldn’t drink from a sippy-cup, and many other things that he should’ve been doing at his age.

Again, I’d ask for advice, but this time, I was defensive about it from the start. I began to feel like friends were looking down on me—wondering why I couldn’t just get my kid to stop screaming, start eating vegetables, sleep through the night. “That’s easy,” a lot of them would say. And then they’d offer their simple solutions, but most advice that I received didn’t seem to work for my child or for me.

I guess somewhere along the way, I stopped asking for advice all together. And guess what? I began to feel alone. Very alone. I felt like I was facing the biggest challenge of my life (raising kids), and I had no one who could help me with it. It was a very scary, dangerous place to be in.

I was insecure. Which led to rejection. Which led to shame. Which lead me to disconnect from my community. Therefore, I was alone. Insecurity and shame locked me out of my community and threw away the key. Like an awkward 11-year-old pimple-faced girl, sitting at the back of the playground by herself, I had isolated myself and was missing out on the joys and privileges of living in community, of learning from others’ strengths and giftings. Like the insecure preteen, I was alone instead of playing on the teeter-totter and jungle gym with the other kids.

Living in isolation was not the way God intended for me to raise my kids. It does them no good to only learn things from me—to only learn to do things the way I do them. Even though I’d like to think I know it all (ha), my kids’ lives are like blank pages from a coloring book, just begging to be filled in by many different colors and shades and hues. I can only contribute a few colors to their page. I only know how to be red, whereas my mom is crimson, my mother-in-law is ruby, my sisters are russet and auburn, and friends are fire engine, burgundy, scarlet, and maroon. My kids’ lives will be so much more colorful, and so much more beautiful if I will humble myself, put aside insecurity, and ask others for their advice and opinions.

I’m reminded of 1 Corinithians 12:19-24 (from The Message Bible)

No matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”?

Do I really want to isolate myself from the rest of “the body”?

You know something, I’m frustrated every time I see those ugly oil spills my van deposited on my driveway. I don’t want my life to be spotted, spilled, and ugly–dripping bitterness on every surface it encounters. I want to learn about all the shades of red—and every color. I want my kids’ lives to be dripping with color.

And so, I took the onesie out of my shopping basket and moved along, dreaming of how many things I need help with while raising my 4 kids, and of the many moms whose advice I will welcome.

Mom Guilt: What a Rip-off!

Some of the scariest words you can hear while your 4-year-old sits on your lap are, “mommy, you’re getting all wet!” That’s right. Hudson had decided to skip a trip to the bathroom. Peeing in mommy’s lap would work just as well! As I removed the foul-smelling, pee-soaked, 30-pound urchin from my now-defiled legs, I was shocked by the emotion I felt. Was it anger? Rage? A need to retaliate? No. It was Mom Guilt– that dreaded foe who often pays me an un-welcomed visit—like a neighbor who somehow found a key to my house and makes unannounced visits to my living-room, bringing cyanide-laced coffee, and rat-poison cookies for me to “enjoy.”

Why is Hudson still wetting himself? He’s 4 years old for goodness’ sakes. Clearly, I’m not doing something right or else he’d have gotten the whole potty thing down by now. (cringing) I’ll bet it’s because I just recently had twins, and was on bed-rest for 6 months before that. He’s most definitely feeling unloved…and rejected. Oh man, this is all my fault! He’s never going to get over the grief that my having twins has caused him! He’ll wet himself forever!

Sound familiar? Another attack of Mom Guilt—that sneaky little voice that first tells you how badly you’ve messed up and then assures you that your kids are destined to be screwed up because of it.

I’ve entertained many visits from Mom Guilt over the past 4 years.

It started when I had a c-section with Hudson, my first-born. Living in Northern California, a natural-birth is the much more respected form of childbirth. But, after 36 hours of horrific back labor, 9-lb Hudson actually traveled back up the birth canal. A sonogram confirmed that he was having too much trouble descending into the birth canal because he was positioned backwards and sideways, so a c-section was the only wise thing to do. Later, well-meaning friends couldn’t understand why I would let the doctors talk me into such a thing. “I was just trying to save my baby’s life,” I thought. And yet I heard Mom Guilt screaming, “You didn’t do enough. Women are created to give birth naturally. You just weren’t cut out for this.”

A few months later, I realized that Hudson seemed to march to the beat of a different drum, developmentally. He didn’t like to be held. He had a very hard time nursing. He was slow to make eye-contact, and try as I may, I could not figure out how to play with him. He was waking up 10 times or more each night, though I was following “Baby Wise’s” directives to the letter. He didn’t say a word, not even “mama,” until he was 2 years old. Enter Mom Guilt, with her shifty smile and shame-inducing voice shouting, “See. I guess you aren’t cut out for this mom thing after all.”

There were so many things to feel guilty about. Hudson wouldn’t eat a single fruit or veggie. I tried. And I tried again. I begged. I bribed! I sneaked them into smoothies, pastas, burgers, everything. I bought books on the subject. I enrolled him in several therapies. And yet, he refused to eat anything except a hand-full of non-nutritious foods. Before I had kids, I snubbed my nose at friends who allowed their kids to eat sugar, but I found myself begging Hudson to eat anything—ice cream, candy, sugar-coated cereal—I just wanted him to eat something! (By the way, Hudson is doing great now.)

There are so many things I have felt guilty about. My water broke 8 weeks early with Cooper, my now 2-year-old. Must’ve been something I did. I lived in the hospital for a while. Then, he was in the NICU. Will he feel loved by me because strangers are taking care of him and not his own mom? How do I not ignore Hudson while I’m at the hospital every day? Cooper caught RSV at 2 months old because I didn’t feel right about giving him the vaccine. Guilt guilt guilt. His lungs might be damaged for years, said the doctor. Later, we discovered that both of our boys had hearing loss, and all indications were that it was hereditary. What was wrong with me? With Hudson’s developmental challenges and now this hearing loss, I thought, “I should never have had kids with genes like mine.” Now I’ve had twins and have 4 kids under the age of 4. What kind of mother does such a thing to her kids? I will never be able to give them the attention that they deserve.

I don’t read. I don’t sew. I don’t clip coupons. I don’t cook. I don’t make the cute crafts that I see on Pinterest. My house is a mess. My kids disobey. I give them fast-food. But I change diapers. I go to doctors’ appointments. I nurse twins. I kiss boo-boos. I survive.

“You survive?” Taunts Mom Guilt. “Is that really good enough? You need to be more. Your kids will suffer. You are definitely not cut out to have 4 kids under the age of 4.”

Who knows how many times I’ve believed Mom Guilt’s opinion of me over the past 4 years. I feel guilty just thinking about how often I’ve felt guilty! But here’s the real question—has Mom Guilt ever encouraged me to clean up my mess, or does she just rub my face in it? Has she ever helped me be a better mom in any form or fashion? When I feel guilty, I disconnect myself from my kids, which makes me feel guilty about my lack of connection, and then I shut down. What a devious little scheme she plays. She’s ripped me off from one of the most priceless things I’ve been given–time with my kids.

Today, I read this verse. John 8:44—He (the devil) was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Could it be that Mom Guilt is the daughter of the father of lies?

This year, I am resolved to tell Mom Guilt that she can take her rat-poison cookies and shove it! I’m calling her bluff. In fact, I am going to shout the word “lie” every time I hear her sneaky little voice whisper into my ear.

“You aren’t a good mother.” LIE!

“You weren’t cut out for motherhood.” LIE!

“You need to be more. Do more. Give more.” LIE, LIE, LIE!

And furthermore, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” so even if I do need to change the way I parent, God can help me. Mom Guilt cannot. Mom Guilt brings death. God, the Father, brings life.

So, the next time Hudson pees (or worse….poops) on my lap, I think I’ll look Mom Guilt square in the eye, steal my house key back from her, and expose her for the liar and un-welcomed guest that she really is.