Life can be messy, chaotic, and overwhelming, but when you change your perspective, you can see something truly beautiful, much like the inside of a kaleidoscope. When you turn the kaleidocope just right and look towards the light, you can see the most beautiful, intricate, unique picture, created out of a random array of beads and broken glass, or a mess.
Last year, at 36 years old, I got my first tattoo…quickly followed by second tattoo. I wrote about it here: Mountains and Valleys. I started thinking more about metaphors, symbols, and also I had learned about about leaning into the pain and leaning into the season.
After a series of many dark years, I learned that I am someone who likes to push forward or avoid my current situation in an effort to finding more pleasant experiences. I think that is rather typical for human nature: avoid pain, seek comfort. But, all this hiding from pain, or dreaming about the next thing, left me missing out on the current thing, even if the current thing is pain.
Through my heartache of depression and alcohol addiction, I learned that that by hiding from pain or suffering, you are not escaping it. Eventually, when you come out of the hiding space, it is still there, and oftentimes in a much more layered pile. Ugh.
Eventually I had to face it all.
Eventually I had to be present.
Eventually I had to learn the beauty and the growth that comes in the suffering and in the still.
There is beauty in all the seasons.
Life is a series of seasons.
A series of growth, abundance, death, rest.
A cycle of new beginnings, flourish, harvest, and still.
It is so fiercely rhythmic that it cannot be denied there is a gloriousness in the way our days unfold over time.
But still, we often forget about the roots in each of these seasons. The roots that spread, give life, and hold us up strong. Our roots do not disappear in the dark days. The growth does not cease, it is just not visible from the surface. Roots are essential to growth and to life.
It is so challenging to the human design to stay planted in our current season. We keep wanting to move ahead, or at least this is how I am wired. So, last year, with my new tattoos on my arms, I was paddling with my husband, sitting on the paddle board because the wind and the current had taken me a bit downstream, and I mentioned to him that I want to stay grounded in my current season. If it is good or bad, challenging or easy, I need to stay grounded in it because there is a lesson to be learned in it, plus life has taught me that the season will change. We have to show up for the lesson and suffer well.
I began drawing this preliminary series of four lines and a flower in all the stages of seasons, being sure to always have a root present. I have drawn this several times, always with the understanding that I am not an artist, but this is what I want and I want it on my foot as a reminder to stay grounded in my season. Keep my foot planted in the season. Stop moving.
Fast forward to this April, I got that tattoo.
And…since I am all about balance, I got a tattoo on the other foot too. I got an arrow. I had been thinking about this idea for a bit, but nothing as deep as my seasons, or my mountains and valleys, or my garden… but a simple arrow that reminds me that sometimes in order to propel forward, you have to pull back.
There is a story in everything. Each season teaches us so much. Share your stories too.
Plus, for anyone keeping count, yes, I have gotten 4 tattoos in 9 months.
I have never denied having an addictive personality.
To tell any story, I guess we should start at the beginning. I am sure there are a lot of people reading this wondering, what happened?! See, I do a half-decent job of covering things up because I am an Ennegram 3 and care far too much about appearances and how people see me. So, I did the things needed to play the role of a middle-class, thirty something mother, wife & teacher, until I didn’t.
I suppose we should go back to 2015. I was pregnant with our third child and also in school to get my administration license. We thought doing both these things at the same time was a good idea. It was and I am grateful for it, but still, it was a lot. After the birth of our daughter in the dark days of November, I noticed that it was really hard for me to snap out of postpartum depression feelings. Mostly because you cannot snap out of postpartum depression. It does not work that way. But, I tried.
I also was invigorated by career opportunities that were coming my way with my administration license. These opportunities gave me the drive to keep going. I focused heavily on my career because I felt like I could do that. My emotions were spiraling but I could do this. I heaved ahead. And personally, I was able to lose the baby weight and seemed to feel like things were coming together. But they weren’t. I had just buried my emotions under piles of distraction.
The next school year I had an amazing opportunity to become a literacy coach. It was huge for me. Dream job. I dove full in. I had to travel away from my family, which is a big deal for a teacher and a mother of 3…with our baby less than a year old. But, I was in. I was in, in. I gave it all to this opportunity for a full school year. I was feeling good about everything and pushing through. I had distracted myself from any of the ick in my heart of postpartum feelings by only focusing on work.
and then it fell.
After a year of training, four weeks out of state away from my family, countless hours doing additional learning, countless days out of my classroom with a guest teacher…the position was pulled across my school district. Everything I had given myself to was gone.
along with it went my identity and my distraction.
Now, I think it is important to note here that now, a few years out from it, this is exactly what needed to happen. I am very happy in my classroom and love what I get to do. I am grateful for all the training I have had because it helps me in so many capacities within the classroom. And my family… I am so grateful for the lessons I learned about priorities and to shift the focus back to my family. I know that this situation had to happen for my heart to realign some priorities. But, at the time, it was devastating.
When everything was pulled, summer was just beginning. Summer meant no structure. Summer meant Summer Shandys. So, Summer Shandys I drank.
Fall came and I switched to Blue Moons.
Winter came and I continued with Blue Moons.
Summer came and I learned about White Claws.
All those feelings of postpartum that I had buried under my work? Well, they grew into full depression..also because it is hard to say it is postpartum when that newborn is now a year and a half old. Now I also got to add shame and regret for my misalignment with my priorities to the layers of negative emotions I had. Regret from all the time I wasted away from my family. How can one pretend there isn’t any depression?
That baby weight I lost? It came back and then some. Which also led to more depression especially with my history of being 23 years old. 300 lbs.
Heavy depression that was getting heavier each day.
Things started small with a drink because it was summer…then a drink because it was a less than great day…then a drink because it was a great day…then a drink because it was the weekend…then a drink because it was Tuesday.
And somewhere along the way… a drink turned into six.
I had fallen. Fallen hard. It was now 2018 and I was in the worst depression of my life. I have had two hard depressions and this one shook me the hardest because now I had a husband and children. It was not just about me anymore.
Should a career blow cause this much devastation? No. But, my heart was misaligned. I allowed that role in my life define me. This needed to be adjusted and it took this fall to show me that.
Should I rely only on myself to fix myself? No. But, I thought I could…until I clearly couldn’t and then I felt compounded shame that I was not strong enough to fix this myself.
Should this have happened? No. But, I am grateful it did. I’ll explain…
This mess does not stop at our tree either. Typically this mess would give me quite a bit of actual anxiety and cause me to be rather nasty to everyone I love. But, for some reason, it is different this year.
It is December 27th. I walk through my home and I hear our girls playing together in one of their rooms. I see our son at our dining room table turned Lego central, building what must be his sixth Lego kit. My husband has been grinding our coffee beans and drinking several cups of hot coffee while building with our kids. I finally showered, since..ahem… Christmas Eve. We have really soaked in the days after Christmas to just be together and it has been amazing.
Anyone in the generation one step above mine, with kids grown or who have left the house, have made it clear that Christmases like this are for a very short season in life. Soon the sounds of screams on Christmas morning over the perfect toy, the wonder of how these toys got here, which toy to play with first, will be replaced by Christmas brunches with most of your kids, if you are lucky, as they start spending Christmas with their significant other’s family. Your trees will be perfect and orderly as no one will be touching them. The mess will be cleared as soon as it is made, if it is made. The wonder of it all fades away as your children age.
I am a bit… or rather a lot… particular about our house. If you have ever been to our home, I am particular about making sure things like the toilets are always clean (we can’t let anyone know that we actually poop), the counters are cleaned off, and things are in some order for use to live in an efficient manner. Also, quite honestly, I like when our house looks nice. There I said it. I care a lot about appearances and I want our home to be functional but mostly, look nice.
This makes me super fun to live with. Also, it is hard on my mind to keep up with it all. It exhausts me. So much. The guilt and the struggle, the frustration and the anger I have towards myself for not just letting things be, but also the genuine anxiety I get with clutter and mess. It is just a whole thing in my mind, that the people I love the most get to experience from the front row.
But, right now, things are different. We are on a pause from life and it feels so good. As a teacher married to a teacher, we worked right up until Christmas Eve, in what we can all describe as a very different year. Our family, as with many families have experienced a lot of tragedy this year, life just keeps taking some hits, and we have not had a moment to even process them. Everything just keeps coming at us and life keeps going but this week, right now, in the days between Christmas and New Years…we have no plans because you can’t have plans this year and we are just being here, with each other, in our joyful mess.
We aren’t rushing the moment along. We aren’t yelling at our kids to get their stuff together for school, in whichever learning model they are in. We aren’t meal planning or grocery shopping. We aren’t worried about the laundry because pajamas for tomorrow sounds really nice. We are playing. We are building. We are napping. We are being together.
We can’t do this forever. We will have to return to the world soon. But for right now, I am going to soak in the mess. This is the most rested I have felt in a very long time. The most calm I have felt. The most present. The most loving. We are giving our family this time to just be and to enjoy one another.
I am grateful for the women ahead of me who have spoken such truth into me about enjoying the right now, as the season is fleeting. These women remind me about the loneliness of a clean family space. The heartbreak of sharing your children with another family. The sorrow that comes with the great joy of raising your children to be adults with their own lives.
Therefore, right now, we will enjoy our mess.
We also ran out of trash bags, so that has been a real hangup on the whole cleaning up thing. The tree is raining needles, making it painful to walk by it, and the trash is really piling up outside. We will have to pick up tomorrow so that we can continue to play but have the space to do it well. And…the mess is starting to get to my husband. Maybe he has more of my mind then we thought.
we are all made of many pieces in one really messy puzzle
vulnerability and authenticity
These are two traits that I have come to realize are extremely valuable to me.
What you see of me is who I am, in all settings. However, they are just pieces of me.
The smiling family photo.
The piles of laundry in the corner of our bedroom.
The row of degrees that fill the top of my resume.
The deep need for naps on weekends.
The methodical lesson planning.
The unkind word spew when I am tired.
The loud, energetic story teller.
The withdrawn wallflower.
The put together, trendy, and with wedged boots.
The unshowered, messy bun, have I brushed my teeth yet today?
The one who is pushing through.
The one who has surrendered.
The human mess.
These are all true of me. Every single time.
I bet some of these are true of you too, but I also know you have other pieces.
I am not faking it. Those smiles you see are real, but so are the tears and the push through. The calm is followed by the chaos. I am all these things and each time you see a piece of it, do not think that there is not more to it.
We have a saying in my circle, “layered onion.” We are all layered onions. There is so much more there than what is first seen and it does not mean that we are hiding anything or building walls, but sometimes, you are seeing a piece. An authentic and often very vulnerable piece.
But we are all much more than one simple piece.
I have come to the understanding that being known and deeply understood is really important to me. I love deep relationships and really struggle with small talk. I love when I have the opportunity to know someone’s heart and to share my heart with them. I take it as such a gift when people lower their walls and let me in. I know that this is a huge privilege as many of us walk around with fortresses covering anything beyond weather conversations. But, we were made to know each other on much more profound levels and to be deeply known.
The only way to be deeply known and deeply loved is by letting people see the pieces. That takes a lot of courage. Vulnerability comes easy to me but I completely recognize that it is not the same for everyone. However, offer a piece.
And on the other side, when you see a piece of someone, also remember it is only a piece. We have areas where we really rock it and also areas where we completely sink. Do not allow yourself to be fooled into thinking others are hitting levels you think are not possible for yourself because of the pieces you see. When you see that person doing amazing in one area of their life, celebrate and honor that, but also remember that they probably have areas where they are really struggling. Remember, pieces and layered onions. These people who are straight up slaying it in some areas might be fighting really hard to do so and need your encouragement and still need your love because they are probably fighting some hard mental things to gain that one win.
I know this because I am this. But, I also know this is true for everyone because I have been a human long enough to know that everyone has a struggle. Allow me to share a few of my pieces to help paint the picture of how messy our puzzle pieces are:
I am currently mentally stronger than I have been in years but life is throwing a lot at our family, as with many of yours right now. I am still showing up at school and doing my best. I smile and encourage. I help facilitate professional development and I suppose, from the outside, I present a picture of someone who has their stuff together. I am genuine when I smile, encourage, and walk beside my peers in this unknown world of teaching in a pandemic. But also, I come home and am spent. I am quiet and withdrawn to recharge my batteries. I need weekend naps and rest. I have cut down how much I even build some of my other relationships right now because I am so worn down from trying to do something that is very new and ever changing at school, while also trying to focus on loving my spouse and our children well in a very hard season. Both these sides are very, very real and very true of me.
And if we take it back two years, I was coming off a huge opportunity to grow as an educator, having just done a ton of additional training out of state for a year, and was building my resume in huge ways at school, but also was privately struggling with the second largest depression of my life which lead to me having a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol, which in many ways stole a few years from me. Since then, I have grown significantly in realigning my values and have now been sober for over six months and fifteen months since my last bout with alcohol where I walked with a lot of shame. However, both of these sides are very, very real and very true of me.
We are more than our smiling faces. But, please do not dismiss the smiling face as a fake face. Rather, we can all try to see more and give grace for the more. We all have stories to tell, or to hold tight, but we all have stories. We all have pieces.
Please start sharing your pieces and please start seeing the pieces of others.
Encourage one another when they have great wins but also encourage them in the unseen sorrow.
Start looking at people as pieces and strive to help build the puzzle, one interaction at a time.
A bit more about how I got here:
I am currently thirty six years old. Yes, I did just have to stop and think about that because I have now become the age that you do not know your age immediately upon being asked. But, I am 36 years old and it has taken me 35 of these years to actually begin to know who I am and become comfortable in my own skin. I have come to this place after a series of lots of lows, some highs, lots of love, therapy, refection, Jesus, and time.
I am an 3 on the Enneagram. If you have not learned about the Enneagram yet, do it. It has opened up my eyes on how to love and accept myself and has also really helped me to love and accept the ones who I walk with. Threes are achievers. Threes often define themselves by their accomplishments. Threes struggle with feeling that they have value or are known without direct words affirming this. Threes also fear that they will be misunderstood. This is a wildly simplified explanation of a three and I am sure I will write heavily on this in the future. But, for today, to help you understand your heart and to understand the hearts of others, I really encourage you to take a deeper look at the Enneagram for yourself. But, some key things to note:
You cannot type someone else. This is about the motivations in your heart, not your behaviors.
While the tests are helpful, you do need to look deeper into each type and be really honest with yourself to help see which type best fits you.
You are not just a number. You can identify closely with the type, but let us also remember we are also individuals.
Do not weaponize the Enneagram to bring others down by being whatever type they identify with, but rather allow this tool to help you to understand people who see the world different than you.
This is not an excuse to keep doing the thing you do because of the type you identify with, but rather gives you the opportunity to see why you do something and help you to grow to see how to do it in a healthy way. (Example: I try to get my value and self-worth from my accomplishments. I did not realize I did this until I studied the Enneagram. Now, I try really hard to remember my self-worth does not come from what I accomplish and to be okay with who I am just based on whose I am. This is an ongoing struggle for me.)
This is not a “Christian thing” but rather a tool for anyone. It has become very popular in Christian culture because it allows you to see yourself for how you were designed and also allows you to lean into the grace of the gospel for all that you can grow in.