They did it for the James Beard Award

The other day I was at a really nice restaurant eating some delicious food with a friend of mine. We were commenting on how flavorful the food was and how nice the service was. The next time our waiter came over to our table, we decided to compliment him, as well as the chef. The waiter then proceeded to tell us about how the goal of the restaurant was as to do “x, y, z” things differently because “they wanted to receive a James Beard award.”

And then I just suddenly lost my appetite. Like, I wanted to regurgitate the delicious food I had just ingested. Something inside me had such a strong reaction to his statement: “we are doing this–making good food, giving you excellent service so that we can receive an award.”

Really?  That’s why you’re making this food good? It’s not about nourishment or providing healthy and delicious creations to your community?

And I’m really trying not to be judgmental here, because I want to approach this young man and this beautiful restaurant from a place of love for their food and love for the community they have built within.

But what I am trying to do is to point out that our intention for doing things is important. And, I am hoping that this restaurant does not go over to the dark side and turn into one of… them.

Who is “them,” you ask?

I’ll tell you about “them.” To be truthful, there’s all a little bit of us in them. But I need to tell you about “them,” so that you don’t completely cross over to the dark side and fully BECOME one of THEM.

“Them” includes people who work for their egos. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “But don’t we all need to work to provide for ourselves and our families and for a source of income?” Yes, yes, we absolutely do.  But I’m not talking about that kind of work.  I’m talking about the work that says, “HEY LOOK AT ME AND LOOK AT WHAT I’M DOING!”

Why do they do it? Our culture rewards them. They are intermittently given accolades for their hard work and for the attention they receive from others. I mean, after all, they are doing the work, right?  They are in there, day after day, giving it their all.  They are doing the thing–whatever that thing might be–to the best of their ability. (What’s obviously not being examined, however, is why they are doing it.)

Our culture–our internet–our society LOVES celebrities like Kim Kardashians and Donald Trumps and people who continually put themselves out there, in order to receive something in return.  Those people are rewarded frequently with “likes,” “retweets,” and even AWARDS–fame, offices in politics, and 24-7 spotlight and access to microphones to say to the whole world whatever their hearts desire.

I’m not just talking about famous people of course either.  I’m talking about those in your community, your church, your workplace, and maybe even in your own family, who are operating from a spirit of “them.” They are working their butts off, and want someone to just pay them in return.  They deserve that, right?  They do good continually on the outside and for others…AND YET: it’s for the benefit of themselves and what they can receive in return: attention, acknowledgment, awards, etc. 

The spirit of them may look shiny and bright and perfect and good, but it’s actually kinda dark underneath.  It’s the birthplace of fear and of wanting love and attention from others because deep down there’s some emptiness.  There’s a fear of missing out and of losing acknowledgement, since the attention of our culture is so short spanned. The spirit of them measures success with public acknowledgement, words, attention–not growth.  It is not resilient.  It is not based on how far someone has come.  It is based only on what someone is doing right now and how loudly he or she is doing it.

And think about it–can you imagine if all the people in your lives working around you did what they did so that they could receive acknowledgement or attention or an award?  What if the main reason I was a teacher was so I could get an award?  What if, I showed up day after day and did my best performance in the classroom, for the sole purpose of being recognized? Would you want me to teach your child?  HECK TO THE NO.  Because what you want is someone who cares about teaching your child because she cares about your child and wants him to be successful. 

The people who are truly doing beautiful, good, and right things are not doing them loudly or saying “look at me.”  Instead, they are showing up, day after day, and doing the work and minding their own business.  They don’t have time to worry about attention, because that is not what they are there for.  They are there to do good work– work which positively impacts others and their community regardless of whether or not they receive accolades.  They draw attention to ISSUES–not to themselves.  They draw the attention to what needs to change for the good of the people–not about what needs to change for them to make their life easier.

And here’s the thing: every beautiful, true, steadfast thing I know of does not ever come from a place of them.  Like, ending a war.  Walking away from an abusive relationship. Deciding to get sober and stop using drugs.  Beginning a non-profit to help children in the community have a safe place to go after school.  Standing up for those who cannot fight for themselves, and addressing racism and sexism by taking responsibility. Those are ALL actions that are BEAUTIFUL and TRUE and HAVE DEPTH. They are all hard work, but do not ever come from a place of “them.”

So if we can just do one thing today, I hope it is this: can we acknowledge–whether that means give a voice to, or lift up, or honor– those who are there for the good of the cause, not for the good of themselves?  I, for one, am determined to not go down in history as someone who gave a microphone to someone who already had one.  I am going to give that metaphorical microphone to those who don’t necessarily think they need it, but who have a voice that needs the volume to be turned up on it because they are seeking change for the greater good.

I heard a quote this week, which I believe sums this sentiment up:

“Our metric for success, it seems to me, is off…  There are no reliable statistics for hearts opened or wounds healed.”– Josh Radnor

And guys, I’m all about the hearts opened and wounds healed. Let’s create a community where we can share the microphone with those who do not receive attention, but who are working for open hearts and healing.

“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.

Should I Stay for the Kids?

When a couple is in a committed relationship, and one of them is contemplating leaving, he or she may ask him or herself questions such as, “Is this bad enough for me to leave or good enough for me to stay?” However, when that same couple is in a committed relationship with children, there is a much more disconcerting thought that may enter his or her mind: “What would leaving do to my children?”

I am 41 years old.  I am divorced.  I am clearly not a psychologist or a relationship expert.  I am not going to furl data or research at you.  However, I have had the privilege of witnessing profound personal growth in people who were willing to dig deeper into the layers of this aforementioned question:  What would leaving my children’s father or mother do to my children?

When I hear people ask this question, I also hear the following underlying/interconnected  questions:

  • What would it do to me to see my children suffer through this pain?
  • What would it mean for my children to come from a broken home?
  • What will happen to me as I explain this to other people?
  • What will people think of me for leaving a marriage or partnership that doesn’t look “that bad?”
  • Shouldn’t I be able to tolerate it, at least until the children get older, so that I can give them a “stable” home life?

These are really hard questions that I am sure many a therapist has heard in their offices. These are questions that have been written into journals and secretly tucked under people’s mattresses where no one else can find them.  These are questions that are whispered in quiet corridors where lovers meet to have affairs that feel more comfortable to them than leaving the status quo.  These are questions that people ask themselves as they drink a bottle of wine every night in order to go to sleep, because numbing out is easier than answering these questions.

While I️ don’t know the answers to these specific underlying questions, what I️ do know is this: OUR CHILDREN NEED US, NOW MORE THAN EVER BEFORE.  And when I say “need us,” I mean need US–the real, most true version of ourselves.  If we are in a relationship that does not offer us the opportunity to be the most REAL and TRUE version of ourselves, then staying in that relationship CANNOT be what’s best for our children.

When a mother walks into her home, and feels like she can’t be herself, that has a negative effect on the little people in her home.  When a girl looks into her daddy’s eyes and sees a person who does not love himself, that actually has a negative impact on that little girl’s mental health. When anyone walks into his or her own home, feeling broken-hearted because love doesn’t live in his or her marriage, his or her children will FEEL the effects of this sadness.

I know kids.  When I come to school to teach, and I seem frazzled for whatever reason, one of these insightful little people will come up to me and say, “Have you had your coffee yet?” BECAUSE THEY KNOW THINGS.  I don’t really wear makeup much anymore to work, but the first day I stopped wearing it, a five year old asked me the minute I stepped into the building, “What happened to you and where did your pretty eyes go?”

These are children–some of the most curiously perceptive people on our planet.  They FEEL things in the air and see between the lines.  They know when we are trying to distract ourselves from our lives in order to avoid living it.  And they definitely know when we don’t love ourselves.

They can also sense when our lives are unfulfilled.  They can feel when there is an emptiness in our hearts.  Our children know when we are pretending, and if we continue to show them that pretending is okay, they will begin to start pretending and stuffing their feelings down, too.

And one of my mantras for this year has been: there is no power in pretending.  We do not want our children to believe it is okay to behave like someone they are not. When we push down who we are and what we want, in order to avoid causing other people to experience pain, we aren’t actually LIVING, and are in fact, BETRAYING our truest, highest selves.

We must start to understand that there is a way of being that is authentic. And in this space of authentic living, we will find that what is good and true and right for us (and I got this line from Glennon Doyle, because she’s a genius) is going to be what is good and true and right for “our people.” And our people include, but are not limited to, our children. Now, this does not mean our children will not suffer pain. Divorce is painful. Painnnnnnnful. Heartbreaking, in fact, for adults, children, and members of the extended family. But–and I️ cannot ask this question enough-is it our job to protect our children from ever experiencing pain and heartbreak? Is that truly what being a parent means? Or, does being a parent mean to hold our child’s hand and show them how to be their truest selves, even when it’s hard and not popular or right?

Could it mean that we are actually doing our best parenting when we teach them that they can walk through pain and come out stronger and more resilient?

I️ don’t know about you, but for as much as I️ hate seeing my daughter in pain, what I️ would hate even more would be for her to never know the lessons that pain can teach. That grief can teach. That heartbreak can teach.

Perhaps if our children can learn to withstand heartbreak and grief and pain, they can learn to sit with others and have empathy for them, too, when they see them walking through the same. And when our children can learn to hold space for each other and practice empathy and compassion, they can change this very world.

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.)

How to Get Over Someone

A dear friend asked me, “How long does it take you to ‘get over’ a guy?”

And I had to pause and think about it.

Because every break-up or “getting over a guy” experience has been slightly unique for me, and so my instinct was just to answer, “Oh, it depends.”

But then I had a moment where I realized that was a crappy answer. Because I know the real answer to be this:

“I made the decision to stop thinking about him.”

And that’s actually the truth.  And when I mean stop thinking about him, I REALLY MEAN STOP THINKING ABOUT HIM.

This means no analyzing what he may be doing, maintaining no connection whatsoever, no rehashing or thinking about the good or bad times.  It means that whenever one of the aforementioned thoughts begins to creep into my brain, I look at that thought and I say, “Oh, hi there, thought. I know you’re trying to protect me by tricking me into analyzing this and obsessing over this, because for so long, you were a way of survival.  I used to imagine all kinds of scenarios, thinking that I could somehow pick apart a situation and understand and take away any pain I was feeling.  But now I am developing new trails and a new way of thinking.  Soooo, thanks for stopping by, but masochism and anxiety don’t live here anymore.” And then I close the door and say, “See ya.”  Because I know I’ll see them again.  They are still kind of a part of me.  BUT THEY DON’T LIVE IN MY BRAIN anymore.

When I shoo the negative thoughts away, I feel a little fearful for about 2.5 seconds. And then I remind myself I am more powerful than my thoughts.  I remind myself that I deserve to think softer, more compassionate thoughts.  I start to watch a funny tv show or go do my nails or go to the gym.  Or I may allow some tears to come, but I do not let the thought stay, because negative thoughts no longer deserve my attention. I DESERVE MY ATTENTION.

In the last few months, I have become more cutthroat about my relationships with men than I ever have been. When someone exhibits qualities that I do not desire, I show them the door. (On a scale of cutthroatism I’m still probably only a five or six, but that’s an substantial increase from my previous level that was probably between 0.5-1.0.) I have even become a little, dare I say, baller. Maybe even precocious. And most definitely more decisive.

I now know that jacking around with one’s  heart is not for me. And that is because back when I finally decided to put my heart back together, I began to see the need to protect it.

I figured out that THIS IS WHO I’M SUPPOSED TO BE. I’m supposed to be decisive and strong. I’m supposed to be a woman with standards. In fact, I AM a woman with standards. It has taken me 40 years, but hallelujah I am here, and I’m here with standards.

I have blocked phone numbers, unfriended former love interests on social media, blocked former love interests on social media, and avoided going to places at all costs where I believe I may run into a former flame.

Some men have told me that’s “mean” or “harsh.” But if they think that’s mean, that’s just another indicator that they are not for me.

Because the important thing is this:

When I block someone from my life, I may be deleting him, but it is not about him.  It is about me.  It is not about being mean or vindictive in any way shape or form.  It is about protecting my heart and my spirit and my vulnerability.  It is about protecting my brain and my space.  There are people in this world–precious, kind hearted people- who need my attention.  It is very important that I protect my energy and attention for them. I will turn my attention to those who are ready for my love. 

I know this to be true.  There is a plan for me, and there is a plan for you.  And this plan is not between you and others; it is between you and God anyways.  So as long as we listen to the still small voice, it will not lead us astray, it will light our paths; even with the bridges we have burned along the way.