“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.

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.

You Were First Given Yourself

I want to tell you tonight about something that has taken me 39 years to learn: 

You are not for everyone. 

You are not for everyone, but you are YOU, and you are freaking amazing.

Along those same lines, you were given yourself. Yourself. Yourself. Yourself. Yourself. 

I keep saying “yourself,” because I’m talking to myself, just as much as I’m talking to you, and I have to drive this point home tonight within the recesses of my thick skull.

I am still working to internalize the fact that I was GIVEN to ME. 

There was a time in recent years when I felt alone.  I experienced a series of betrayals.  I tried to talk about what I was going through with others, but at that point, many people in my support network were sick and tired of hearing my depressing story.

I was so focused on analyzing and picking apart and trying to understand why these things were happening to me. And no one else could really get to me. 

People were talking to me, but I wasn’t capable of believing what they were saying. And that was because I had forgotten the cardinal rule: You were first given yourself. 

I am the only one in charge of me and that is my power. I am the one, in difficult situations, who gets to decide whether or not I want to hold on or let go. I am the one who was given EVERYTHING I NEED to get through life. God did not create me with the intent of NEEDING another person’s love or respect to get through life. Instead, God created me with the intent to SURVIVE sufficiently, and with tools to get through difficult times. 

One day, I was sitting in my therapist’s office. There was a man that I thought I loved, but I knew he was wrong for me. I looked at her and said, “I just can’t let go. I mean… I don’t want to let go. It’s too hard to be without him.”

And my therapist looked at me and said, “You are definitely NOT giving yourself enough credit. You are SO capable of being without him.”

I went home that night and cried. Then I got up and looked in the mirror and saw myself. There I was–I was the one given to me. I saw in myself, this great, tremendous responsibility to myself to BELIEVE in ME. 

Please don’t think I’m suggesting that we are meant to be totally independent in every way in life, and that we don’t need a support network. I am not saying that. What I am saying is that there WILL be times your support network fails you. There WILL be times you have to walk alone, because that is life, and life is freaking hard.

But that’s why I was given me, and you were given you. You are amazing and you are not for everyone. 

Now go to sleep, get up tomorrow morning and SLAY the day. 

The Ditzy Decision

On Monday night,  I made the ditzy decision to dismount from a trampoline onto a plastic, unstable kiddie slide, leading me to fall forward, land on my forearm, and dislocate my elbow.

But I’m not really here to talk about that in detail. That dangly, dislocated elbow was GROSS, like, GRODY GROSS NASTY TO THE MAX and I’m trying to get it out of my mind. (Thank heavens no one took a picture of it.) What I’m choosing to focus on, instead, is how this experience surprisingly ripped me open. I can honestly say that it was the first time in a long time where I felt raw, intense, physical and emotional pain.

And with pain, always comes awareness.

My emotions have been ALL over the place these last few days. I feel depressed by the realization that I’m not able to do Crossfit and yoga until I’m healed up.  Working out is part of my therapy. When I work out, my body releases endorphins that makes me want to be a better human. So I’m afraid of what I might feel in these few weeks without being able to connect with my body in the same way.

However, I want to also take a moment to be thankful to my body for not breaking. The doctors were SHOCKED that my bones didn’t break. The physical therapist I saw today told me that I “must have superhero bones.” And I’m also thankful that because of the strength I’ve developed through Crossfit and yoga, I’m able to maneuver my body in unexpected ways. For example, the paramedics were surprised that I could move my entire body, inch by inch, from one side of the mat to the other. This was by slowly lifting my glutes, legs, and shoulders off the mat. You guys, YOGA TAUGHT ME THAT. I need to take a moment to just be thankful for the hard work my body has done in preparation for healing me in this moment. I feel strong, and that physical strength has prepared me for what is about to come.

While in the hospital, though, I literally COULD NOT STOP CRYING. I felt so out of control. I was quite possibly THE most emotionally intense patient they had seen in years. 🙄 I spent the first two hours (prior to them popping my elbow back into place,) crying and wailing and moaning about how I was feeling. “I’m scared! What’s going to happen to my arm? Oh my God, I’m so sorry I can’t stop crying! OH. MY. GOD!” were some of the statements I was wailing through tears.

“Ma’am, do you have someone you can call to come and stay with you,” they asked me, as I’m sure they were totally over me.

But my stubborn self kept saying, “I don’t know,” because I didn’t want to call anybody. I didn’t want someone that actually knew me to see me like this. I wanted to do it alone, because I thought that was what a strong person would do, even though I wasn’t feeling strong at all. And none of these hospital people knew me or what my norm is like, so I was totally fine with THEM seeing crazy, wailing Emily.

Then the staff began to ask me why I was afraid. I finally responded, “I DON’T KNOW. But can you guys please stop repeating the same questions, and, like, consult together so I don’t have to keep talking and I can get back to wailing?”

They were SO over me.

My friend, Terra, by the grace of God, texted me at that very moment, “just to say hi” and I responded by calling her and telling her through my blubbery tears that I was in the hospital and that I broke my arm (the xrays hadn’t come back yet to reveal that it was a dislocation, and not a fracture or break).

My friend Terra was there in a flash. And wouldn’t you know… I began to calm down. I’m not saying I was totally calm, but I suddenly had someone next to me to listen to my cries and worries and rants and talk me through it. And you guys, that’s what we need. We all need to not be afraid to call a Terra–a person in your life who loves and cares about you and who shows up.

When they had Terra leave the room, right before they sedated me to pop my elbow back in, I called out to her: “Just tell me again that I’m not gonna die!

“Emily. I promise you that you won’t die,” she said calmly. Thank GOD for that woman.

We ended up laughing when we were stuck there later into the night about some of the characters in the hospital and what an adventure I’d had. This is pic from the part of the night where we laughed:


I am home now. I am calm. I am peaceful. And then the next moment I’m in turmoil. I’m raw. I want to jump out of my skin. My heart feels like it’s been split open.

That’s what pain and injury does. It forces you to stop, and start all over again in a new way. And all those tears I cried in the hospital were like my rebirth, I suppose, my renewal of sorts.
Crying is what makes us human. It’s an emotional release. We are not robots, we are emotional human beings who FEEL things.

And that’s what I’m going to continue to do–heart wide open, feel the feelings. That’s what yoga taught me. ❤️


Hey look! It’s my new and improved splint! 🙏🏽💪🏽