Grace Elaine Sommers Whitehead

This past week my mom turned 79. It’s kind of jolting, because I don’t think of her as being someone who is close to entering her octogenarian years. She’s just my mom. However, she’s MY MOM. And being that I’m a mom, this has caused me to reflect on what it must be like to be my mom.

Sometimes I look at old pictures of myself from when I was a kid, and try to remember what my personality was like. I’m guessing my mom would say I was a happy and talkative child, and I was, for the most part. I liked to play outdoors in the dirt, ride my tricycle, talk to the neighbors, and play in the sandbox. I also liked to pretend I had imaginary friends and even children. One day I told my mom that I had two daughters–one named Ruthie (after my grandma who I was obsessed with) and Crouton (after my favorite salad bar topping-BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T LOVE SEASONED BREAD?!). I was creative and liked to color and draw and watch the birds at the bird feeder.

My mom would sit at the foot of my bed every night until I fell asleep. We said bedtime prayers, and she helped me to learn how to pray. She cooked healthy food for us, and we always ate at the table.

(God, I should stop reminiscing because this is actually making me think about all the ways I’ve failed as a parent.)

But before I stop, I must mention one more thing.

I remember lying in bed in my childhood bedroom. Only I wasn’t a child anymore. I was 30 years old. My mom had pulled the curtains up, in hopes that I would feel the sunshine. It was springtime and it was beautiful weather. And yet, I couldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew my parents were concerned, but every time they tried to speak to me, I either cried or shut down. And all I remember thinking was, why can’t I just enjoy the sunshine? There are actual people who are getting up with the sun and going outside and living their lives and going to the grocery store and shit. And getting up to go pee was overwhelming to me. Eating was overwhelming to me. Showering was overwhelming to me.

I felt like I was getting evicted from my own life. This was during my second separation from my husband. Things were crumbling and I did not want to surrender. What I didn’t yet understand was that, as Glennon always says, nobody gets evicted from his or her life unless she is being called to a truer, deeper life. Rock bottom is always an invitation to something else- something even more authentic and beautiful.

My mother came into my bedroom. She sat down on my bed. She told me she had baked some homemade bread and had fresh strawberry jam, made with strawberries from our garden. While my mother is an incredible cook, it was very out of character for her to make homemade bread. I looked at her, perplexed. But then I knew: she’s trying to get me to eat AND baking may be her way of coping with the fact that her child is feeling hopeless and not eating or sleeping.

She convinced me to eat a piece of bread. She brought it upstairs to me and sat on my bed. I put the bread in my mouth and could tell it was nearly a perfect tasting piece of bread, so I began to chew it, even though I wasn’t enjoying the process of eating. Every time I swallowed food, it went into the pit of my stomach and I thought would vomit. But I didn’t vomit. So I continued to slowly and thoroughly chew the bread in my mouth so that I could nourish my body at least.

“I’ve been thinking,” my mother suddenly said, “about you.”

I sat up in bed. She had my attention.

“I have this vision of you in my mind. You are an exquisite, beautiful flower. And yet, you’ve been buried for so long under the dirt. The ground above you is hard and cracked, and the soil is not good. However, you continue to grow and you will soon sprout above this ground that is holding you back–this ground that has held you down for so many years, and you will begin to bloom. And you’re just the most beautiful flower. You’re becoming yourself and you’re stunning. You are going to bloom and break free.”

I looked at her in awe, because she was envisioning things for me that I simply couldn’t see. But what she said–her words–were so intricate and fascinating, that it drew me in.

Everyone has always loved my mother. At times I resented this, because I didn’t like sharing her. I would get jealous and hide for attention or act out (when I was a child, to clarify-not last week 😜). But now I know why people are so drawn to her-it’s because she showed up for them, and never fell apart. It’s because she’s a vault when it comes to trust. My mother has exhibited grace under pressure, time and time again. When others are stressed, she remains serious. When people are crying and crushed, she responds with compassion. That’s why people love her.

So that is my mother. She is a believer in things that dwell in truth and possibility. Happy birthday, Mom.

The One Time I Earned a Pretend Medal

I turn the corner onto Virginia Avenue, and suddenly I see him walking on the sidewalk. Aaron (my ex-something-not really a boyfriend but something like that) is tall, dark, and handsome–my archetype, so he stands out.  I stare at Aaron through my car window, jaw dropping, unable to believe that he’s in my neck of the woods.

Why in the world would he drive an hour to have brunch at Milktooth?  I mean, Milktooth is cool and everything, but he’s NOT even a foodie.

Aaron spots me in my car, since I don’t have the foresight to close my jaw and stop staring at him.

Like, this is a photo of me in that very moment:


I have this feeling that the universe is conspiring against me. I want to evaporate into the rain puddles I’m surrounded by in the street.

Aaron waves.  I wave back.  I suddenly have a flashback of the time he made me a mimosa for breakfast and I didn’t have the courage to tell him that it was the worst mimosa I’d ever had in my life. I quickly snap back to reality as I spot a girl walking next to him, attempting to keep up with his long stride.

Now normally, this would REALLY bother me:  seeing an ex-something but not really a boyfriend with another woman. (I mean I’m kinda zen, but not THAT zen.) However, in this very moment I realize I have no reason at all to feel weird about it, since I’m about to do the VERY same thing: brunch with new man 😳.

I pull out my phone and text Aaron, “Hey!  What are you doing here?” followed by a smiley emoji so he doesn’t think I’m being confrontational.  I just need to figure out if he’s going into Milktooth (where I’m meeting my date, Justin), because if he is, I NEED TO KNOW THIS MINUTE SO I CAN AVOID COMPLETE AWKWARDNESS.

He texts back that his “friend” is visiting from Boston, and he just picked her up at the Indy airport and decided to eat brunch at Milktooth since it was ranked #1 on some foodie thing and BLAH BLAH BLAH I stop reading since I have my answer.

I find a parking space and immediately text Justin.

“Hi!” I say and then stop.

Because I have no clue what to say next.  This feels like one of those life or death moments, since I’m now sweating about the prospect of a FIRST (yes, I said first) date with a guy I really like (at least so far, over text) at a restaurant where I will have to watch another guy whom I have dated eat brunch with another girl.

I just literally CANNOT EVEN with this shit.

“Now is not the time to beat around the bush,” some gut instinctual voice whispers in my ear.  “Now is the time for ruthless honesty.”

I suddenly imagine myself wearing some kind of medal for being courageous, which feels ridiculous and yet soothing at the same time. This image somehow propels me into typing the next part of the text.

“Can we meet at a donut shop up the street?  I know you really want to go to Milktooth, but I can’t go there today because a guy I know is there on a date and I have gone on dates with him before and it would just be awkward.” Push send now, damn it, before you have second thoughts.

I push send and wait.  A minute passes.  Two minutes.  Finally I see those little dots on Justin’s side of the IMessage which tells me he’s typing.  I stare at those stupid dots because, in this moment, I believe they hold the power to decide for me whether or not this day is going to be shitty or half-way pleasant.  The dots suddenly stop again.  UGH.  I wait another minute.  Then the IMessage text comes through.

“Sure that would be fine lol.”

I was in shock that I was honest and he still wanted to see me. Like, I SHOWED UP as my awkward, embarrassed self and he still may like me.

This story happened over two years ago, and I’m still scared to show up as me. I continue to struggle with the fact that it’s okay to tell the truth from the start with someone about the awkward shit we feel and experience. Like, I may be someone who is easy to talk to, but I am not someone who is completely comfortable with being my awkward self all of the time.

Some of our most painful experiences stem from the times we have shown up to the party as ourselves, and people left the room. (Yes, this is a metaphor, but if you’re nerdy like me, it has actually happened literally too.)

Being myself is SCARY and I need to give myself medals for doing it.

Because, here’s the thing: there’s a part of me that knows that the only way I can find “my people” is if I tell the truth. There will be people who may leave the room when I show up as me, but there will also be people that feel my “realness.”

And even though Justin turned out to be a complete meanie (more on him some other time), I am thankful that I learned how to show up as me. Because it also gave him the opportunity to decide if he wanted to come to my party and help me put on my new, shiny pretend medal- the one I awarded myself for being me.

We are in this together

I’ve been writing a ton recently, but all of it feels too personal or too fresh or too dark or too much to share with the internet at this moment. 

And yet, here I am now, in my bed, trying to sleep, and I suddenly feel the need to write something. So I’m typing this blog out on my phone, and I guarantee you there will be typos and awkward sentences because I may not even proofread it. 

You guys, my students come tomorrow as I am entering my 18th year of teaching. I am excited. We (the teachers) are just as nervous and have just as much adrenaline as the kiddos who walk through our doors. And it’s because of one reason: we want to make this year their best, and we know how important that first day is for setting the tone of the school year. 

So here I am, thinking about those kiddos, and thinking about my own kiddo who is nervous.  She doesn’t want to go to school because she’s kinda wired like me in that she is a ball of nerves. But she’s doing it anyway, and took photos of all her school supplies because she absolutely loves school supplies, and she’s thinking of how this new school year is always a chance to start something new. 

Every school year, I am nervous, because it is new. And every school year, I am excited because it is new. It’s a rebirth. It’s a new opportunity to show up and hone my craft. It’s a new chance to be real and loved instead of shiny and perfect (Glennon’s words, not mine). 

This summer I participated in the Hoosier Writing Project and met a group of teachers who inspired me to keep writing and to keep teaching. I also traveled to Mexico for a yoga retreat in a remote location that was only reachable by boat.  At home, I went to the farmers’ market and went to the pool with my daughter. I cooked and I wrote a lot of stuff that was the darkest and deepest stuff I’ve ever written. I met some interesting men who weren’t right for me. I argued with my daughter but also let her sit on my lap as much as she wanted to. I let her watch a ton of television and I didn’t feel guilty about it. I took my dad who has Alzheimer’s and my child on a vacation to California and I felt so many emotions during that trip that I had forgotten how it feels to be so up and down. I cried at the airport when two TSA agents didn’t understand why the airline needed me to walk my dad back to the gate. A TSA agent named Svizak came over to me, and said, “We will make this situation work. We are in this together,” and showed me such kindness that I cried even more with him because I felt safe and understood.

That was my summer. It was lovely and beautiful and hard. And now, I am ready to begin again. 

We have got this. We can make anything work. We are in this together. ❤️ 

Sit Still, Look Pretty

Sometimes it’s hard to be a girl.

“Why do you not want to give me another chance?” I hear the boingy Facebook messenger notification sound, and look down at my phone to see this message.

I am confused by this question, because I already told him why, several months ago. We dated almost five years ago. He broke up with ME. 

Five years ago when he told me that he and I just “didn’t fit,” I drove with my then four year old daughter all the way up to Fort Wayne to visit my aunt and uncle to escape the pain I associated with this statement. But you all know what happens when you try to escape your devastation, right? Those feelings of devastation end up hijacking your body. They cause you to lean up against the kitchen counter in your aunt and uncle’s home and find yourself sinking into the floor because you can no longer stand. The feelings then cause you to crumble and get smaller and weep and suddenly forget that your very aware four year old daughter is looking at you, and tearing up at the sight of your pain. 

Your aunt and uncle distract your daughter by taking her into the basement to watch the Disney Channel. This is good, because you need to cry, and so you do. You sob, crouched on the kitchen floor, with your back up against the cabinet, until you’re tired. 

And then you wipe your face, drink some water, take a hot shower, and realize somewhere deep inside of you, that you are still loved and still worthy of love. The voice that tells you this is very quiet, but you still know it’s true. 

Fast forward to five years later. You receive the aforementioned message from this guy who broke your heart, and you remember sitting on the kitchen floor at your aunt and uncle’s house, and all you can say is what. in. the. f*ck. 

But I (because we all know I’m talking about myself, and not you), decide to provide an explanation. 

“Ummm, you broke up with me. So, I got over you. You didn’t like me getting over you, and you unfriended me on Facebook, which is fine. But now here we are: you are messaging me on messenger because you don’t even have my phone number, and you want to know why I’ve moved on. We are at different places. I don’t know what to say…other than I ‘just know’ I don’t want to date you.”

He is quiet, and confused. Not satisfied by my response, but accepts it. 

The next day I receive this message: 

“Are you just trying to make me feel like shit, talking about how I ‘dumped you’? None of it makes sense. I have far more to offer now than I did then, yet either it’s not enough for you, or an excuse. Are you actually saying to me that you can do better, and that’s why we’re not at the same point in our lives?”

I feel these words like a punch in my gut.  They feel like a snake bite, venom pulsing up my arm and into an artery* flowing straight to my heart. 

I choose not to respond to his message. I move on with my day. And yet, I’m clearly bothered by it. 

You see, I was taught from a very young age that you don’t say “no” to others, if it causes them pain. I don’t know if boys are taught this or not; but I know that lots of girls are. We are subtly taught that being kind means being small and pretending to be happy. We are taught that if we say no, we must say it nicely, and that if we offend or hurt someone with our “NO” that it is our duty to ameliorate that. 

In very subtle ways, we are instructed to be peaceful and pleasant and pretty. We do not rock the boat. We apologize when we forget this, and acccidentally rock it. 
When a girl begins to date, this translates to “don’t overwhelm guys by being emotional or needy” or “if he doesn’t like your personality, you need to tone it down” or “don’t ever initiate anything, ever.”

It all comes down to playing small. 

And the problem with playing small is that when you play small, you are never truly being you. And more importantly, you are never truly free.  

I want to be done with playing small. 

I want to be done with feeling guilty for saying how I feel. I want to be done with not trusting how I feel. I want to be done with not trusting my thoughts and my logic.

I want to be loud and take up space. I want to show my daughter that it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to say no, if saying yes means compromising yourself–ESPECIALLY if saying yes means compromising yourself. And while being kind and respectful to others is important, HONESTY and INTEGRITY and BOUNDARIES are just as important. So when it comes down to being nice or being truthful, I will hope she chooses to speak wisdom and truth.

Telling the truth is fundamental to our development as people–into our development of WHO God ordained us to be.

And we were not ordained to be small. 

*(It is arteries that go to our heart, right? Or is it veins? I don’t know and I’m too tired to google it.)

The Ocean, the Sun, and Dory

Aliana and I just came home from a short trip to Florida.  At the airport, a stranger asked me where I was going.  I told him, “Naples, Florida.”  He asked, “Who lives in Naples?”

“The ocean,” I said.

He looked puzzled.  I almost asked him, “Have you not seen the ocean?”

As Aliana and I swam in the waves on Tuesday afternoon, I asked her a question.  “How do you think you are like the ocean?” Together, we made a list of the ways that she is like the ocean:

  • Strong, yet soft
  • Beautiful
  • Constantly changing, yet still the same
  • Full of life
  • Deep
  • Fun
  • Majestic

Then last night, we watched the sun set over the ocean.  And all I could think about was how this same sun has been setting on our earth every day since the beginning of time. The sun gives us life and is such a powerful part of God’s creation, yet I have never stopped to even think about how that ball of fire keeps me alive.  That MASSIVE star keeps our earth going. It goes up every morning, no matter what, and goes down every evening, no matter what.  It does its damn job without complaint.  And when it shines, it’s amazing how that makes all of us feel.


So as I was having these thoughts and trying to practice gratitude for the beauty that was surrounding me and has been surrounding humanity since the beginning of time, I started thinking about what it means to surrender to the forces around us–God, nature, circumstances.  Whatever they may be.  And I realized this:  Surrendering is freaking hard.  It’s not in our nature to let go.  It’s not in our nature to let God and the universe make decisions for us, yet that’s exactly what sometimes happens.

People have often asked me why I’m divorced (which, by the way, is a somewhat invasive question to ask someone you don’t know well, but anywho).  Rather than going into an excessive explanation, I have started saying, “I married a person who God didn’t intend for me to marry.”

There is no doubt in my mind, that God didn’t want me to marry my ex-husband.  But I wanted to marry him, and so I did.  And while I have this incredible child as a result of my decision, I can still honestly say that I was not acting in accordance with God’s will when I said, “I do.”  I was acting in accordance to MY WILL.

Along the same lines, I do not understand when people say, “I have no regrets.”  Because, I think regret is an important teacher.  I have LOTS of regrets, guys. I regret hurting my parents by being selfish.  I regret having no boundaries with people.  I regret putting myself in danger.  I regret hurting people by not being honest with them.  I regret gossiping about others. I regret trying to control people.

While I learned from those decisions (notice I don’t call them mistakes, I call them decisions), I’m still a work in progress, and I hate that I am that way, but I am.  Because I’m like Dory from Finding Nemo (I totally stole that analogy from Glennon, by the way)–I now know all this “life stuff” and “who I’m supposed to be” in my head, but then I sometimes have days or weeks where I forget it.  It’s during those moments that I make decisions that are sometimes less than stellar–decisions I regret.  But I’m trying to iron my path out so I have less of them.

And, if I take the time to pay attention to the forces of nature, they just may remind me everyday to SURRENDER to who I am and to the universe.  If I were in control of my life, things would be so different right now, but I’M NOT.  And strangely enough, I also believe God knows what God is doing, and I am just gonna try to get out of God’s way so I don’t jack it up.

 

 

 

No Love is Wasted

I had the opportunity several days ago to meet someone I deeply admire, Glennon Doyle Melton. And because I am touched so much by what she writes and the actions of her charity, Together Rising, I naturally burst into slobbery tears when I  met her: 

 

Glennon spoke at St.Paul’s Church. She spoke about love, kindness, vulnerability, and pain. While listening to her speak, I laughed and I cried. 

  
Oh, and I got to meet Mary. 

  
Mary was sitting next to me and my friends. She asked me two questions: 

1) Did I find Glennon on the Internet?

Yes, Mary, I did. The Internet is a simultaneously wonderful and scary place.

2) Are you and your friends millennials?

No, Mary. I’m almost 40. But I’m flattered you think I’m that young, so now you’re my best friend. 

Anywho, back to Glennon. Throughout her talk, and in the days that followed, I replayed the following quote of hers in my head: 

“And I do not judge a love’s worth by how it ends. I do not. I believe that NO LOVE IS WASTED…Love is worthy of the time and sweat and tears it takes from us simply because it changes both lovers forever—whether they stay or go.” -Glennon Doyle Melton

I kept pondering that quote, over and over again, because it gave me so much comfort. It’s a comfort, for some reason, for me to know that as I look back at my relationships with the men I loved or showed love to–NO MATTER the outcome of the relationship–that was NOT wasted energy. 

Because it changed them. And it changed me. 

After my divorce, I waited a year to date. Once I started dating, I had two relationships back to back. I was still not healed from the pain of divorce.  I was raw.  I was kinda needy. And I was just wanting to love someone–to give and receive love. Like, I picture myself at that point in my life both as approaching relationships with my arms wide open, but also wanting to not let go of the man who fell into my arms. 

Fast forward to today: now, I understand that there is much more freedom in love, than what I was allowing myself and my partner to experience during that time. I now understand and desire a healthy space from my partner while in a relationship. I know that for any worthwhile relationship to sustain itself, there must be both self love and love of partner present. If I practice self love and compassion, I’m much more equipped to give love away to my partner. 

That’s me now. (Yay!! Yay!!) I prayed and healed and did the work to get to where I presently am. But let’s go back to that other girl, five years ago. 

That Emily didn’t know these truths yet. I gave love away like it was nobody’s business. I baked cookies for my boyfriends and made mixed CDs for them and homemade lasagna and tried to twist myself into a pretzel so that they felt loved. 

And when I wasn’t loved back, I was devastated. 

Over the years, since this time in my life, I have thought to myself, “Geesh, you wasted so much time giving love to men who didn’t even love you. How did that work for you, Emily? HOW DID THAT WORK? Awful, Emily.AWFUL. Don’t ever give like that again to someone who doesn’t appreciate it.”

Now cue some Beyoncé music or something here.  

Because BOTH  of the men that I dated during that time recently reached out to me and told me: 

“I realize now that I’ve never had anyone show love to me in the way that you did. You were just so ready to love me. And I didn’t understand that and wasn’t ready then. But now I am.”

The following emojis describe my reaction to that: 

🤔😳🤓😱

I said to both of them, “I’m not that person anymore. I was needy then. I was giving love away with the intention of getting love back, and that’s not even real love. I’m sorry, but I have no desire to go back to that person I was or to our relationship.”

But they weren’t hearing any of that, and so I just listened. Because they needed to  reflect and remember 34 year old Emily, who was acting like 19 year old Emily, who was also acting like 12 year old Emily. I gave love because I was hungry for it. 

And so I let them have their memories. They reflected on our relationships as very happy times in their lives.  They remember me as someone who truly made them feel loved. And even though I’m not that same person anymore, I find great comfort in knowing I gave love away and touched someone’s life in a somewhat significant manner.

And you know what they gave to me? The gift of self love. The gift of “no.” When they told me they wanted to break up, I finally learned that I needed to take ALL that love I was giving to them, and pour it on myself. Give to myself, nourish myself, love myself. To quote the wise band, Def Leppard, I poured that sugar right on me. 

No love is ever wasted. Ever. ❤️