“Well, it depends.”

One of the most bizarre things a mother can experience is that she can birth a child into the world who has a personality completely different than her own.

My mother did just that.

I came into this world, very quickly (my dad barely made it to the hospital in time) and very loudly, according to my father. I was a horrible sleeper (a trait I passed on to my own child) and sensitive and fearful. I was wired for anxiety and phobias and seemed to be driven by my emotions.

From the time I was two years old, up until adulthood, my mother spent a lot of time sagely advising me to slow down. To wait. To be patient. To think. I didn’t like that she was telling me these things, but I mostly listened because something inside of me knew she was speaking wisdom to me.

But the best piece of advice my mother ever gave me of all time was simply two words, or sometimes three, depending on how she framed it:

“It depends.”

That’s right, folks. Two words: IT DEPENDS. Sometimes she added in the extra word, “well,” at the beginning, and in that case, she said:

Well, it depends.”

If I had a dollar for every time my mother said, “It depends,” I would be rolling in the dough. To this day, she says it frequently in response to people making “should” statements that are filled with emotion. The following are a list of statements to which my mother has responded with her adage, “Well, it depends.”

  • Our culture: “Follow your heart.” Mom: “Well, it depends. Sometimes the heart is just a bunch of feelings.”
  • Our culture: “Be fearless.” Mom: “It depends; sometimes fear is there to protect you.”
  • Our culture: “Live your life with no regrets.” Mom: “Well it depends. Sometimes regret can teach us things.”
  • Our culture: “Stand up for what you know is right.” Mom: “Well, it depends. You may not be right and may just be being stubborn.”
  • Our culture: “Take the bull by the horns and act quickly and efficiently.” Mom: “Well, it depends. You can take your time and be efficient as well.”

You see??? IT JUST DEPENDS. That is what I have learned from my mother.

My whole point in sharing how my mother’s phrase has helped me, is because I realize today that it has caused me, despite the fact that I’m wired to be emotional and even anxious, to choose to be OPEN to multiple perspectives. To be OPEN to multiple ways of existing, and feeling and thinking.

And while there are definite moral truths that cannot be argued with when it comes to equality and justice for humanity–no matter who you are, where you live, or what you have done– beyond those universal truths lies the world of “It depends.”

No one has this freaking thing called life figured out. We are all going to make independent judgments based on our experiences. However, there is great comfort in knowing that feelings are just feelings and, as a wise yoga teacher once said, “I am determined to see this mountain as just a mountain. It’s not a statement on my life,” (meaning not everything we perceive as terrible that’s happening to us has anything to do with us).

Pastor Rob Bell says our culture is all treble and no bass. People get their news and develop their thoughts from what they are exposed to on social media. Through the lens of technology, we have begun to believe there are quick answers to everything. In the craziness of all of this, my mom has been my bass, my voice of reason, by asserting that we cannot depend entirely on feelings, or easily swayed by new voices simply because they sound good. It just depends.

I close with a photo of my Mom, telling everyone to chill out, because no one knows what’s going to happen. “It depends,” she probably is saying. ⬇️

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.

I am a Pokémon 

It is 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I am lying here in darkness and typing this blog on my phone on the eve of my 41st birthday. 

I am contemplating who I am and how I want to evolve. I’m like a Pokémon or something. (I don’t really understand Pokémon at all, but I know they, like, evolve, right?)

I want to continue to evolve and change who I am by changing what I do. In honor of my 41st year of life, I am sharing 41 truths I’ve learned as I have changed my thinking and my actions over the years. 

I love to elaborate. People who know me know that I’m the queen of elaboration and talking too much and overexplaining things.  But I will refrain from doing that in this instance because I only have a few minutes to write before my yoga class.

So here we go. How to evolve like a Pokémon, a.k.a, 41 random things I have learned:

1. Kids pay more attention to what you do than what you say.

2. A daily practice of meditation and prayer will change your life.

3. Judging others is not good for your health. It’s also a negative “low vibrational energy” way of thinking. 

4. Choose being truthful over being nice. 

5. You don’t have to be nice.  Like, really, you don’t. 

6. It is your responsibility to practice loving kindness, but this does not equate with being “nice.” It simply means you act in love for others and for yourself. 

7. The most courageous people show up even when they don’t feel ready. 

8.. That still, small voice inside of you will never let you down. It is there to protect you. It is the voice of God, speaking to you in quiet moments of truth. That is the voice that reminds you of what you need in this life, what to do next, and who you are. 

10.  When you are laughing you are healing. 

11. Practicing yoga helps you develop an understanding and compassion for your body.

12. Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love. 

Geesh, I can’t think of anything else. Maybe I don’t know 41 things. I’m going to yoga and then coming back.

13. It is not our job to make everything sunshine and rainbows for our kids. It is okay for them to experience pain and discomfort, and we walk beside them in this experience without trying to take it away. This is how they become resilient, kind, empathetic adults.

14. You don’t have to wear underwear. 

15. Processed food can make you ill. 

16. Meditate and pray. I know I already said that but that one needs to be on the list twice. 

17. Do not be afraid of pain.

18.  When you feel sad or anxious, go outside and breathe in the outdoor air. 

19. Let people be who they are. 

20. Do not assume what others are thinking. Ever. Ask them instead. 

21. Things that matter are going to take some time. 

22. You deserve happiness, respect, and peace of mind. 

23. What we cannot see, we cannot heal. 

24. There is no power in pretending. 

25. When you’re angry, ask yourself, “What needs to be protected?”

26. We can do hard things. 

27. Drink lots of water. 

28.  It is beneath your dignity to maintain relationships with people who do not honor your self worth. 

29. Relationships that you have to keep a secret are not relationships that contribute to your freedom. 

I can’t think of anything else. I lied about knowing 41 things.

==================================

Hey! I’m back four days later, and I’m now too legit to quit, which brings me to my next truth…

30. Don’t quit on your goals just because they are hard or you’re having a brain freeze.

31. If you want to find your tribe, you must first find yourself. 

32. When choosing a life partner, consider first and foremost if the person is right for you (and your kids, if you have them). Family members and friends love to give their two cents, but when it’s all said and done it is you that must live with the person. 

33. Ask for help when you need it. 

34. Set boundaries with people. 

35. Get your “news” and facts from reputable books and research–not television news channels. 

36. Don’t write lists like these. 

37. I know nothing. 

38. Only you know what’s best for you. 

39. After all, I’m a Pokémon. 

40. When trying to decide whether or not you should stay in a relationship or marriage “for the kids’ sake,” remember that you being in a state of unhappiness is not healing for you or your children.  You being authentically YOU is what your children desperately want from you. 

41. You are what you love. So make sure who or what you are loving is good for you. 

Maybe Love Isn’t What I Thought

I bow my head in preparation for Namaste, as I hear my yoga teacher say, “As you go about your day, open your hearts to love.” I cringe. Yuck. I can’t. I don’t want to. When you love, you hurt.

************

I am four years old. I am sitting on the countertop of my parents’ kitchen in Kokomo. My mom picked me up and sat me there because she is about to give me a spoonful of cough syrup. I ask my mom, “What is love?” She looks at me strangely, and cocks her head to the side as she ponders a response.

“Love is…caring for someone. Like, me giving you medicine now. That’s love.”

************

I am 25. I sit in the women’s Bible study at the Baptist Church. I look up at the pastor leading the study. I like her because she tells me what to do and I have been searching all my life for someone to just tell me what to do.

“Love is a choice,” she says. “Pray for your husband. Show him love in your actions. You will not always feel like loving him. But you can make the choice to be loving.”

***********

I am 27. I am lying in bed in my apartment in Lexington, Kentucky. It is 1:00 am. My husband is not responding to my texts. I wonder if he is coming home. I feel crushed because I know in my soul that he simply doesn’t give a damn about how his actions affect me. The words from the Bible study echo through me, “Love is a choice. Make the choice to be loving.”

And so I do. Again and again. If this is love, I hate loving.

***********

I am 34. I look into my boyfriend’s eyes. He tells me, “I more than like you. I think I’m falling in love with you.” I repeat this back to him and believe it, because I feel it. I know it is a feeling, though, and feelings can be fleeting.

When we break up 9 months later, I channel my inner Whitney Houston and tell him, “I will always love you.”

**********

I am 35. I do not speak to my ex boyfriend anymore and barely remember loving him. He is a memory.

**********

I am 33. I see my daughter running at the pool at the YMCA. She slips, falls hard to the ground and has a concussion. I cradle her in my arms and carry her out of the building. I drive her to the doctor. She vomits and then falls asleep as I am driving. When I arrive at the doctor, I run in and tell the office staff through tears, “She has to be seen! Right now!!”

I know she is going to be fine, but I am afraid. I love this baby. She’s all I have. It doesn’t matter what she does. Love isn’t in the doing when it comes to her. It just is.

***********

I am 39. I tell a man I love him. He is not my boyfriend. It is…complicated. I tell him not to say it back because I am afraid he doesn’t love me back. But then I realize I don’t care. I realize I can love without receiving love in return. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It is good, because it causes me to love without expectations. It is bad, because I forget that I am worthy of being loved in the same way.

*********

I sit in hot yoga class. I am 40. My teacher repeats the same mantra at the closing of class. “Open your hearts to love.” I realize that I am not cringing this time though. Maybe that’s progress.

Perhaps love is not simple. Maybe it is layered. Maybe it is light and it is dark; sadness and laughter. Maybe it’s supposed to be scary because it requires courage. I am still terrified to love; but I begin to think that love is a lot like faith. When you have faith, it does not mean things will go as planned; it simply means you show up and are open to what may flow out of you and to receiving what comes back.

*********

Today, a week before my 41st birthday, I lie at home in bed, and take out a book I have been trying to read for some time, Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love.  “As we demonstrate love towards others, we learn that we are lovable and we learn how to love more deeply…We will always learn what we have chosen to teach.”

These words are words I can now understand, but they are still hard to swallow. I want to love but not stop loving myself. Perhaps that is the whole point: what you put out will come back to you. In some way. In some form. No love is wasted.

Happy Re-Birth Day to Me


9 years ago today, after laboring for 30+ hours, my daughter, Aliana, was born via Caesarian section at 7:50 am. After experiencing what my OB-GYN proclaimed to be a freakishly challenging pregnancy, that included sciatica, kidney stones, preterm labor, and gestational diabetes, it was mind-blowing to me that a human this extraordinarily healthy had actually been percolating inside of me for nine months.

On this day, June 15, 2008, I was 32 years old, yet I was just a shell of a person.  I had no personality, no likes or dislikes, and no idea how I had gotten myself into the mess of an abusive marriage.

And now I had this tiny, gorgeous human with a full head of curly black hair, that was staring at me with the deepest coffee colored eyes I had ever seen.  And somehow, those eyes were the only thing that ever could break me of my numbness.  You see, I could no longer disassociate from my life, because that would mean I was disassociating from MY OWN CHILD. 

In the intensity of her gaze, I imagined she was saying to me, “I am here.  I am LIGHT.”

Her existence broke me into a million pieces so that I would be somehow be forced to make a plan to put myself together again, because her eyes–HER LIGHT–showed me that she needed a mama who was whole, and that mama had to be me.

One day, I was giving her a bottle when her father entered the room.   I don’t remember what I had said that upset him so much, but he spat on me.  His spit ran down my face and dripped onto my shirt.  I didn’t react, as I knew that would make it worse, but Aliana did. She screamed at the top of her lungs and she no longer wanted the bottle.  Her screams and her terror reminded me of my own terror–reminded me that I needed to finally be terrified in order to be her mother. My heart of darkness slowly began to crack, and I allowed her light to seep into me.

Her birth was my rebirth, so in many ways, this day, June 15, is sacred to me and forever will be. It is a day that I was also born, as this baby was the one who brought me back to life.

Sometimes people say to me, it’s unfortunate that you and your ex husband conceived a child together, because that means you have to still communicate and can’t be completely unattached. What people who make these comments don’t understand is that if I hadn’t had my daughter, I might still be living in that marriage. Aliana’s existence propelled me into a completely new level of life, because I finally loved a person so much that I didn’t want her to live the way I had been living.  The love I couldn’t feel for myself, I could feel for her. 

Something deep inside of me knew that I could never be the mother she needed unless I could fully be myself, and the journey to self discovery started with her birth. 

Changing lives is serious business, and this girl wasn’t even planning on getting into that business; the universe simply deemed it so.

And for that I will always be thankful. Happy birthday, Aliana. 

Your Children are not your Children

My mom was born in her grandparents’ home in the cold of winter on January 14th, 1939. Her mom, Ruth, was a homemaker, and her father, Clayton, was a farmer and Mennonite pastor. They named her Grace Elaine. 

This is the home/farm where she grew up:   
She was the first born of three children, and the only girl, but was not spoiled in any way shape or form. Those Mennonite grandparents of mine were too busy thinking about how to put a meal on the table and sew their own clothes and milk cows and crap. 

Here’s a photo of my mama and her cousins when she was younger. My mom is in the center, with her hands up by her mouth. Her younger brother, Elson, is in the front, putting God knows what into his mouth. 

 

When I asked her to describe her childhood, she said the following, “We had good, simple food and were never hungry because we had cows my parents milked and food from the garden which was canned in the summer. We kept potatoes and apples in the basement during the winter.  

We had chickens who laid eggs which we needed to gather. Sometimes we bought groceries from a huckster, a man with a truck which had shelves of food. ”

I have no idea what the hell a huckster is. 

Anyways, my mom was a good girl. She pretty much did what her parents wanted her to do. Despite that fact, they SENT HER AWAY to Mennonite boarding school–a private, Mennonite high school that was located two hours from home. I guess they just wanted to make sure she was a hundred percent Mennonite a hundred percent of the time. 

And she pretty much was. She sewed, read the Bible, sang hymns, cooked awesome food, and even wore a covering on her head. She was beautiful, but concealed her beauty in order not to be vain. That was the “Mennonite way” during that time.

My mom was a unique mother. She became an ordained minister when I was in the third grade. (More on that here, if you’re curious.She was extremely matter of fact all of the time, as well as logical and honest. When I was around seven years old, she sat me down and talked to me about menstruation. I was like, “This sucks, and why the heck are you telling me about this because I’m freaking seven years old??!!” 

Her reply, “Because it’s going to happen someday, and you need to be informed.” Such a Grace answer. 

She bought my brother and me a book about body parts and bodies changing. When she saw us reading it, she said, “Let me know if you have any questions. It’s okay to talk about the book.” We were like, “Um, no,” and quickly put the book away in embarrassment. 

She believed in rules and following them, but definitely picked her battles carefully. If she said, “If you do that one more time, you will get spanked,” she meant it. 

For whatever reason, she neither encouraged nor discouraged us from believing in Santa or the Easter Bunny. My theory is that she could not tell a lie. Ever. She was like freaking George Washington, for God’s sake. 

She rarely showed emotion, and was often even-keeled–the opposite of my dad. However, when she lost her brother to cancer, I remember seeing her tears. She says, “My saddest time was when my brother Elson died from a four year battle with cancer. Since he was 18 months younger than I, I felt he was part of me. I had so many tears even though we lived hundreds of miles apart for many years. Even a long time after the funeral I was surprised that when I looked into a mirror I felt like crying. That has never happened before or since.”

That’s what cancer does, people. It’s devastating. 

My mom continued to parent me into my adulthood. The first time my exhusband and I separated prior to my divorce, that woman sent me a freaking Bible verse every.stinking.day through email. Every morning I knew I would have a piece of encouragement in my inbox when I woke up. 

When I was in the midst of grieving the death of my marriage, I literally could not get out of my bed one day. The tears flowed from my eyes to the point that my eyeballs were swollen and I couldn’t see. My mom stayed with me. She baked me homemade bread. She prayed. She told me she envisioned me like a beautiful flower who was about to blossom, but I had been covered with dirt for so long and I was finally reaching out of the soil. She saw my potential before I did.

I wanted to be my mom. She’s just that kind of strong woman I was longing to be. 

So right after I gave birth to my own daughter, I started to breastfeed. It was very challenging for me on many levels. I went back to work when Aliana was eight weeks, my marriage was continuing to crumble, and I was trying to do everything perfect. I put tremendous amounts of pressure on myself, and I was an  emotional post-partum wreck. 

I decided to see a lactation consultant. 

When I was sitting in the consultant’s office, feeling overwhelmed, I said, “My mom nursed me until I was two years old! I know I can do this. I just don’t get it.”

The consultant looked at me and said, “You are referring to your mom a lot, and that’s okay. Could it be, though, that you are a different kind of mother?”

Ugh. When the truth stares you in the face, it’s often hard to hear, but necessary.

I realized in that moment that I would never be my mother, and I would need to accept that. The truth was, I was a working mom, whereas my mom stayed home with us until I went to school. The truth was, I was in an unhealthy marriage that was falling apart and I had minimal support in my child rearing, whereas my mom had the support of my dad. The truth was… I was NOT my mother. 

Not only were our circumstances different, but our personalities are very different as well. My mom is shy, and I’m a social butterfly. My mom is graceful under pressure, whereas I get emotional. My mom is the best cook I know, I am not. My mom is a minister, and I MOST DEFINITELY am not. 

The educator in me wants to draw a Venn Diagram for you to explicitly show you our similarities and differences, but it’s getting late, and I don’t have time for that, and neither do you. 

What I will say is this: Parenting is hard. I am thankful I had good parents. I am also trusting in the fact that although I am very different than my mother, that I am designed to parent my daughter. 

And I know that my daughter is not me either. It can be difficult to accept that our children are not going to be us or be exactly who we want them to be. 

This quote from Kahlil Gibran (one of my heroes), sums it up:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, 

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

I love you, mom. ❤️

Esmeralda

So I have a lot of things I want to say right now because it’s been a thought provoking week. 

But first I want to tell you about Esmeralda.  This is Esmeralda. ⬇️ I just met her a few days ago.

 
Esmeralda was diagnosed in January with Stage 2, Hodgkins’ Lymphoma.  She had to start chemo right after she received her diagnosis. 

When she found out that she had cancer, she sat down with her twin daughters who are seven years old, and explained her diagnosis to them.  

 “Are you going to die?” one of them asked her. 

“I am not going anywhere,” she told them without hesitation. “We will fight and kick cancer’s butt!”

And everyday she fought that ugly disease. That same disease that had taken the lives of her mother and sister and brother. 

Her older son, who is in his twenties, had difficulty eating and sleeping and begged his mother to not give up. He had seen others die in their family from cancer and was afraid of losing his mama. 

Esmeralda felt fear everyday. Nights and mornings were difficult. When the fear gripped her, she would cry herself to sleep, thinking about the possibility of her children growing up without her. She contemplated missing her little girls’ firsts in life. In the morning, she would cry in the shower, sometimes out of fear, but also sometimes in pure gratitude for receiving another day of life. 

Each day was another day. One day at a time, she focused on making it through THAT DAY.

She went to work, despite the fact she was going to chemotherapy. Esmeralda wanted to show her family that she was strong. She refused to sit in bed and wallow. 

She developed a love/hate relationship with chemo. She loved the fact that it was shrinking her tumor, but hated the awful side effects. 

Esmeralda prayed everyday. She encouraged her children to pray when they were sad or afraid. “Don’t forget to pray! God hears you!” she told them.  She has no doubt that her faith carried her through the darkness of her disease.

And in June, her cancer went into remission, and she completed her last chemo. 

When I asked Esmeralda what she learned from this experience, she said, without hesitation, “With strong faith and a positive attitude, anything is possible in life. The energy you GIVE is what you GET. Wake up (each day) and leave the past and hate behind…Live life…Have love in your heart!”

Wow.

Wake up.

Have faith.

Thank God for another day.

Repeat. 

Esmeralda fought a battle against cancer and won. Each day is a new day. A clean slate. An opportunity to have love in your heart.