Team Clark

It’s that time of year when Keenan and I get real competitive! 😉
 
I had this sign made for him as a Christmas present early in our marriage. It may seem that it is a knock on him, but in actuality, Keenan paid off my student loan debt. And with his GED and innate leadership skills, he has successfully grown the family business to take care of our family. I think he expected me to make a lot of money with my degree and now he says it is confirmed that I am the smart one- since somehow I managed to get out of “working”. (Yes, of course he knows that staying home with his three children has been in fact- work.) Anyway… getting a business degree from Georgia Tech and in effect not using it has been a part of my story that I have until now NOT been able to integrate with who I am today.
 
We were at the pool the other day when my youngest asked, “Do you HAVE to go to college or can you just skip straight to being an adult?” I always cringe a little when people overhear our educational conversations with our kids. I feel like they probably don’t happen the way they happen in most families… The answer is “No, you DON’T have to go to college necessarily.” AND “There is no skipping the process of BECOMING an adult.” (That varies in length of time based on YOUR choices.) For me, the college part of it took SIX YEARS because I took a detour by way of drugs (alcohol included) and distractions.
 
I went to Georgia Tech because I wanted to live in Atlanta, and I chose business management because that seemed like the right path to choose when you don’t want to be an engineer. I immediately felt like a small dumb fish in a big smart pond. Writing wasn’t on my radar as a career choice in college, but it kept me company. My favorite class at Georgia Tech was a writing class based on the plays of Shakespeare. Eventually this creative outlet would make its way out of the shadows and onto the page, but first I had to grow up and learn a thing or two about life…maybe so I would actually have something to write about.
 
During my freshman year, I met Keenan and got derailed. That is its own story that I won’t go into here, but the short version is this: I got swept up in a lifestyle that didn’t mix very well with pursuing a degree from a university known for its academics. Soon, I flunked out of Georgia Tech. The reality of what I had done shook me a little, but I was getting pretty good at numbing my emotions. Still, something inside me knew that I couldn’t do NOTHING, so I enrolled at Kennesaw and limped (high) through a couple of semesters. Gradually Keenan and I would stop making so many bad choices and begin moving back (thank the Lord and our praying mommas) in a positive direction. (More good stories there for another day!)
 
At some point I looked hard at the decisions I was making, and then I made an important one. I decided that I wanted to go back to Georgia Tech. I wanted to finish what I started there. I had learned some lessons the hard way and I wanted to prove to myself that I was not a quitter. And to prove that I deserved to be at Georgia Tech and get my degree. I re-applied. I asked a friend who was a former football player and alumni from Georgia Tech to write a letter on my behalf vouching for my character and change of heart. I wasn’t sure this sort of thing even happened, but THEY LET ME BACK IN!
 
I graduated from Georgia Tech in 2003 (the 50th class of female graduates!) with a BS in Management and a certificate in Marketing and earned mostly A’s my Senior year. I did it. I chose to grow up. During this time, I stopped most drugs (alcohol would hang around for a while) AND Keenan and I moved apart to maintain a celibate engagement. (I told ya’ll there were some good stories in here!) I took responsibility for my own actions. I owned up to my “failure” and I set things right in my eyes. FOR MY OWN DAMN SELF. This was one of my defining moments.
 
But now what? I remember walking through a career fair just before graduating. I bought a pant suit and printed out copies of my resume. I walked the halls filled with various company booths and eager representatives ready to hire the newest crop of business graduates. I didn’t hand out a single resume. I walked past every booth, politely smiled and after about a half hour I whispered to myself, “Well, crap.” None of it was appealing. Did I choose wrong? I have a piece of paper from a prestigious school and I’m not sure what to do with it. Make a paper airplane? It was the beginning of my Quarter-life crisis.
 
Life kept moving. I got a job with a side of depression sprinkled with anxiety. My smart husband started working hard on his business one good choice at a time. He was building our future. We struggled with infertility and then had one, two, three kids in a row. I was officially over-educated and under-qualified for my current position of stay-at-mother of three kids ages 3, 1 and infant.
 
Our story has been messy and beautiful, broken and redemptive. Writing is now my career. And I have lots to write about- but I’ve always felt like Georgia Tech was a waste of time. I got a diploma that SAYS I know stuff, and my husband has a GED and a successful business that PROVES he knows stuff. I’ve struggled to own that piece of life. I’ve “hustled for my worth” to live up to being a Georgia Tech grad when I have really felt like an imposter. I told Vikki (my life coach) that I was just a good memorizer and regurgitator of information and that’s how I graduated and she said, “You ain’t that smart.” 🙂
 
Vikki suggested I sit with my thoughts about all of this, to ask God to help me integrate this part of my story. So I did. What was the purpose? Why did I go to college at all? Why Georgia Tech? Why a business degree? (why not writing?) Why the detour? Why SIX YEARS?
 
The answer came in STILLNESS…
 
The purpose was not the paper. It was never the paper. The purpose was in the process- who I became during those six years. Who I was when I entered Georgia Tech was not the same Bonnie that graduated from Georgia Tech. I needed that process. I needed THAT school at THAT time with THAT experience to become who I am today. It was not wasted.
 
Nothing is wasted in the BECOMING of who we are.
 
I see it now. I’m grateful for the lessons learned. Not the ones in the classroom, but the ones I learned about myself. Based on our experiences, what Keenan and I hope to communicate to our children in terms of education is this: “We don’t care about college prep as much as we care about LIFE prep.” And that looks different for every person. (Worst case scenario ALL of our kids go to college- LOL!)  Currently Selah wants to be a surgeon and that’s A LOT of school, but maybe they choose a different path. Maybe they join the AMAZING hair industry (no college required). Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s writing. Whatever they choose, we will encourage them to KNOW who they are, to SHOW up to life (make a plan + get a mentor) and to GROW up (take responsibility for your choices). And then the hard part: We will trust (gulp) that there is a Master plan (detours included) for each of them written by the Great Storyteller.
 
GO TEAM CLARK! House Divided

1 Year: medicine free!

Today is my ONE YEAR anniversary of being completely off anxiety medication!

I am celebrating, because my EXPERIENCE with anxiety (not MY anxiety) has been a pivotal part of my story.
For two seasons of my life, I have suffered with debilitating panic. The first time over a decade ago I was also struggling with depression, infertility, loss of identity and alcohol abuse. (My poor newly married young husband!) I didn’t want to live this way. I barely wanted to live at all. But with the recommendation of a trusted therapist I chose medication. And I believe it saved my life.
BUT I also WORKED ON ME. I went THROUGH the brokenness of losing my singing voice to steroids. I went through the brokenness of not knowing if I would ever be a mother. I put down the most destructive drug on the planet- alcohol. I got my life back. I made the CHOICE to come off medication, because I didn’t want to be on it forever, AND I told myself that I would never experience panic and anxiety as long as I was SOBER. Oh the power of the mind! I believed that SO deeply that it became my reality- or so I thought. I see now that I still experienced anxiety, but I had conditioned my mind to reconceptualize it as something else. I thought I was in control.
But it came back. When I was minding my own damn business. When I was doing what I needed to do. Being a good wife. Homeschooling my three young kids. I was freakin’ SOBER for God sake!!!
It blind-sided me.
It engulfed me. I couldn’t leave my house. I would wakeup and immediately every cell in my body began to vibrate. I’d lie on the couch praying to escape my body. The walls of sobriety that were supposed to keep me safe came crashing down and then disappeared. I realized they were never really there to begin with. I was exposed to the threat of myself and my genetic predisposition to mental chaos.
I was angry. Why did I have to go through this shit again?I had three kids depending on me and I couldn’t get my head above water. I wasted NO time calling my doctor. Once again, I got on medication and it helped. I don’t regret it. (But the weight gain sucks.)
By divine intervention I came across Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book Switch on Your Brain and my jaw dropped when I read the back cover: “You are not a victim of your biology!” This is the opposite of what I heard from doctors.
Once again, I GOT TO WORK on me. My life coach says that there are only a few lessons in life, but we learn them over and over, deeper and deeper. This time, I did not fight, I surrendered and I accepted the gift of anxiety. I detoxed my brain from the negative patterns that had resurfaced. It was a process, but I took back my thought life. And healing came. After intentional brain self-therapy with the wisdom of Dr. Leaf and the guidance of the Holy Spirit I started my taper off the medicine. I took natural supplements, took care of my body and I did it S-L-O-W-L-Y under the supervision of my doctor.
It hasn’t been easy. And I tried to sabotage myself by adding alcohol BACK into my life, but that was another lesson I had to learn yet again…
Today I am one-year medication free and full of hope for the future. I got my life back. I’m telling the story I want to tell. I am embracing the lessons I needed to learn AGAIN and I am grateful for the journey.

The Great Miami Re-do

In March I posted about The Great Shi**y Trip to Miami. You can read all about that here. But since then I got take my re-do trip to Miami so I thought I’d fill you guys in on how that went. But first I turned 40…

On May 17th, my actual birthday, my husband threw me the most AMAZING birthday party ever! We had the entire outside lawn and patio at Nuevos Amigos Mexican Restaurant and it was decorated in black and gold with a huge “Bonnie” banner across the outside stage. Our long-time friend DJ’d so I could dance all night to ALL my favorite music. (my kids will need therapy from some of my moves)

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Almost everyone I love was there. Family, Friends and Book worlds colliding. It was perfect. From the hugs and laughs and insanely gorgeous sunset, I was hyper-aware of all of the love I received that night. Keenan thought of everything. Even a “blowy guy” wind dancer that I may or may not have dropped a not-so-subtle hint about inviting. There was photo booth, endless food, gifts and the margaritas flowed. (Just because I’m sober doesn’t mean I want you to be. Ya’ll funny.)

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And the cake. The cake of all cakes that was designed by my husband and made by my niece. It was just for me. No, literally we forgot to cut it and it came home with me. (We ate as much as we could) Every detail of the evening was well thought out and executed. He even hired “sexy” acrobats as entertainment! One of the acrobats happens to be my cousin! (Did I mention the talent that runs through my family in various creative outlets?) And yes, they brought a pole as a prop so you can insert inappropriate jokes about the ex-stripper who was present and hosting here_______. 🙂

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I was completely sober. Can’t say that about my 30th. Wide awake and feeling everything about the night. And then the speeches. Family and friends saying things that made me laugh and cry and thank God that I was here in this moment surrounded by so much love. One friend said “everyone should have a Bonnie.” and Keenan took the mic and said, “Snagging you was my greatest achievement.” Wow. It’s a beautiful thing to be loved…and known so well. I wish everyone could have that feeling just once in their life. I received it all with an open heart. Fully present.

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I didn’t want the night to end, but we had to get home and get some rest…we had a plane to catch! To Miami…

We don’t get out much so we pretty much stink at travelling and almost missed our plane. But thankfully we made it. I brought my b-day cards on the plane so I could take my time reading each one and so I could be distracted. Flying is not my favorite. I looked through pictures of the party and stopped every few to kiss Keenan on the cheek and say “Thank you.” I probably thanked him hundreds of times during the weekend. Mostly with words. 🙂

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Miami was the same place, but I was a different Bonnie. Last year I was detoxing off my anxiety medication and unwisely adding alcohol back in. I was a mess. I couldn’t enjoy the scenery or my favorite person because my body and mind were at war. But after I came home and processed the trip, I received the gift. I chose differently this time and I was able to (finally) enjoy every moment. Starting with our awesome boutique hotel: COMO Metropolotian and the chocolate birthday cake that welcomed us in our room.

August 14th is my one year anniversary of being completely off my anxiety medication. A decision I made for myself that wasn’t easy during the process but has been a blessing in my mental health journey. I still experience anxiety from time to time, but I have learned so much about myself and the power of the mind that I know I am equipped to feel all the feelings and live the life I WANT without mind numbing pharmaceuticals. FOR ME (I say that because my journey is my own) it was the best decision.

August 17th of this year I will celebrate 200 days of sobriety. Another decision I’m proud of. This time in Miami, this Bonnie was sober. Alcohol does not serve me and I don’t like the person I become when I’m drinking. Moderation doesn’t work for me. It requires too much mental energy. SO I was wide awake to enjoy each sensation with complete awareness and joy. The sunshine, the sand, the books, the FOOD! I could barely eat last time because I was sick and trying to make myself worse. This trip I got jacked up on espresso every morning and switched to freshly cut coconut water in the afternoon. I savored every drop like it was liquid gold. Servers would bring me sandwiches and iced tea until I would pass out on the beach in a food coma. I would wake up and thank Keenan for the umpteenth time for everything- the party, the trip, the “right now” that I would never forget.

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We connected on so many levels. We flirted like we were on our honeymoon. We laughed at all the prime people watching that is Miami South Beach and we talked. We talked about our life. Our history. Our amazing kids. And our future. The future we get to build together one truth at a time. Because truth-telling comes with a clear conscience and real intimacy and never a hang-over. I completely get the whole “two become one flesh” because when Keenan isn’t with me- he’s missing. My most favorite way God loves me.

Every part of that trip was a gift that I will keep in my heart for the rest of my life.

You could say my re-do trip turned into redeemed.

Thank you Keenan.
Thank you God.
Thank you Bonnie- for showing up to your own life.

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Choices: Participation

DAY 9: I choose to PARTICIPATE in life.

A few months ago I DID something that I had TALKED about for years. I took my kids to a local nursing home to visit. I’m not telling you this to brag. In all honesty I am sad that we didn’t do it sooner. I didn’t post about it on FB or IG because of the whole “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” thing in the Bible about doing acts of charity for the wrong cause- applause. And here I am telling you guys…

But this is why I’m telling you. Visiting the nursing home every month with my kids has opened my eyes to what it means to “love in action and deed.” The first visit we were all nervous. They asked all sorts of questions. “What is wrong with that man?” “Can that lady hear me?” “What is that smell?” We walked in, and smiled at all the faces that had assembled in the “party room”. We introduced ourselves not sure who was coherent.

Andre sat down at the piano and started to play… Music filled the room- Happy Birthday, Amazing Grace, Elvis Presley…smiles slowly spread out across the faces at the tables. Some people were dancing in their seats! The girls worked up the courage to go around giving out hugs and asking questions like, “What did you like to do when you were my age?”

I was overwhelmed by what was happening. My kids were participating in bringing Heaven to earth. I told them so later. There is nothing more important than using your gifts and time to love others. That is true religion.

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other, let us show the truth by our actions.” – 1 John 3:18

I recalled a conversation with one of our kids when they were smaller, asking about why we follow Jesus and I was disappointed in my “Sunday school” answer, “Jesus came and died for our sins so we can go to heaven one day.” The words didn’t sound right as they were coming out of my mouth. Really? That’s it?

My own answer didn’t sit well with me. Is it true that I follow Jesus is so I can GO to a ANOTHER place one day? We get to BE with him later, AFTER we LIVE through all the HELL down here?! That’s the gospel? No wonder people reject Christianity.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” – Jesus

“The Son of Man did not come to destroy life, but to bring life to the EARTH.” – Luke 9:55

He came to give us life NOW. Later yes, but also NOW. Right now.

Right NOW healing and freedom are available.
Right NOW joy is possible.

And he’s invited us on the journey.

If Jesus went to prepare a place for us, and then immediately set up camp in our hearts then doesn’t it make sense that we are to ALSO prepare a place for us? For others? For heaven on the NEW EARTH? He intended to use US, the vessels carrying His image & Spirit to prepare a place. He wants US to participate in taking care of His creation and His most prized creation in all eternity: His people.

We can create hell on earth for ourselves and everyone around us, OR we can be image bearers. Encouraging others with our words. Doing for others who are not capable. Feeding the hungry. Sitting with the lonely in the nursing home. Using our hands and feet to be the hands and feet of Christ.

I don’t love Jesus because he promises me a room one day in the clouds. I follow Jesus because he has given me NEW life TODAY. He came to set us free. And he calls us to participate. In our OWN healing and then in the healing of others. Because when we do for others we are bringing Heaven to earth…

to comfort widows,
to free men from the chains of pornography addiction.
to give women clarity from the fog of alcohol.
to give husbands eyes for their wives and the ability to love them well.
to give wives the wisdom to not ridicule or reject their husbands- in private and in public.
to relieve young people of debilitating anxiety.
to give hope to the depressed so they can see the light through the darkness.
to get strippers off the pole.
to heal children from divorce and abandonment.
Free from the hurt of a distracted mother and a distant father.
Free from opioids.
Free from shame.
Free from panic attacks.
Free from the scars of sexual abuse.

He came to write a new story on each of our hearts. To rescue us from ourselves and our propensity towards destruction. And He uses us. He put on skin to show us how its done and he gives us free will to choose Him, to choose LIFE and life to the FULL. (real life!) We have the power of life and death in our thoughts, words and actions. We are co-creators with our Creator.

That is a much better reason to follow Jesus than the one I gave my kids. The promise of Heaven ONE day? I’ll take Heaven TODAY. I will participate in my own healing and I will reach out to others. I will bring heaven to earth to someone who needs it by DOING the next right thing instead of talking about it.

We aren’t some cruel human experiment with a harp for a prize at the end. I think “Well done my good and faithful servant is reserved for those who PARTICIPATE in THIS life for His glory forever.

All three of my kids wouldn’t dream of missing our monthly visit to the nursing home. We know that Ms. Betty will dance in her chair, Ms. Francis will show us her new craft, that Ms. Brenda will have on a different baseball hat, that Ms. Sharon loves Mickey Mouse, and that Ms. Donna will cry when you hug her. We know that there will be heaven in that room.

I choose to PARTICIPATE in life.

Choices: Others

Day 8: I choose to do LIFE with OTHERS.

A couple of years ago I wrote a pretty sad blog about being lonely and desiring close friendship. It seemed that everyone around me had a best friend and I was jealous.
After that blog I had a few ladies tell me that they felt the same way. Surrounded by acquaintances but no real deep friendships. This is not how it’s supposed to be!

God modeled relationship in his very Being: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We each bear a unique image of our Creator that is magnified when we come together.

We were not meant to live in isolation. That is where soul sickness begins. We were designed to do life with others. To be in the messy middle with people- not virtual “friends” on the internet.

Finally, in my thirties (I can say that for 3 more days!), I have deep authentic friendships with women that I adore and look up to. Things started to shift for me when I started to become the friend I was seeking: Real. Trustworthy. Encouraging. Non-judgmental. The friends that God has brought into my life, the old friendships that re-surfaced and the new ones that God has gifted me have been real, trustworthy, encouraging and non-judgmental. The energy I put out into the universe is the energy I received in return.

Maureen has a magazine worthy home and is a boss-mom and amazing wife. She decided recently to try painting with watercolors and she’s incredible! Always trying new things. Open to being changed and renewed daily. I owe her a debt of gratitude for introducing me (not literally) to Mo Willems and the re-discovered world of picture books which is now my career! She is also my girl when I need to give or receive inappropriate memes and gifs. And if I called her right now and told her to meet me at midnight for a “thing” she’d show up in a ski mask. No questions asked. That’s a friend.

Tara- my incredibly intuitive friend reads me before I can tell her anything. She has spoken so much truth and prophesy into my life since we‘ve been friends that it has absolutely blown my mind. She is adventurous, fiercely loyal and filled with a super-human amount of grace for people. A free spirit who gives others the freedom to be their truest selves. She is also learning to “long board” which is skateboarding to those of you who aren’t cool. Because clearly she is.

Steen is my mommy/author/artist friend who’s creativity has no limit. She can paint with words and actual paint. We share a love for books and words and when we’re together we laugh until it hurts. I feel lucky just to know her- let alone be in her “circle” She inspires me to be better mom and wife. She just took a dream trip to Italy (the setting of her first novel) with her husband and I photo stalked her on FB while she was gone. It filled my heart to know that she was living her dream. Seeing my friends happy makes me happy.

When Rachele and I are together we just pick up where we left off. We’ve been through some serious stuff and we can laugh our asses off about it all. (We can also dance our asses off.) She’s done some pretty damn hard things and still radiates JOY. I have watched her selflessly become the full-time caregiver to her in-laws and serve them gracefully until they left this earth. She has shown me the face of God in the way she loves her family. And I know she is a safe place for me to be me.

I have friends who won’t flinch when I confide in them my deepest confessions.
I have friends who are my loudest cheerleaders when I have something to celebrate.
I have friends who won’t judge me when I just need to vent.
I have friends that will look me in the eye and tell me that I’m screwing up.
I have friends that will sit with me in stillness and share tears.
I have friends who will shake their booty’s with me to some 90’s rap music…

My joys are greater and my sorrows are less because of them. THIS is how it’s supposed to be.

Surround yourself with people who encourage you to be you and inspire you to be better. Friends who want you to succeed and who will pick you up if you fail. If a person’s life is judged by the quality of their relationships- then I am winning.

I choose to DO life with OTHERS.

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” – Ecc. 4:12

Choices: Embracing Pain

Day 7: I choose to learn from PAIN

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world”- C.S. Lewis

Pain is a powerful teacher. Without physical pain, some common injuries/illnesses could be fatal, but because of the gift of pain we know that there is something that needs to be attended to. Pain demands a response. It can’t be ignored for long. It reminds you that action is necessary. But first you have to feel it to know which direction it wants you to go.

I learned this profound lesson in childbirth. All three of my births taught me different things. I have written about all three and the lessons I learned, but it was the birth of my third child that was the most transformative in terms of understanding myself and the intricate design of childbirth. By my third birth I was no longer afraid of the pain. ( I had proof- my other two children- that I would survive) I was prepared to listen to my body and deliver Amera in my bedroom surrounded by family and friends (and a midwife!)
When contractions started, I danced with Keenan. My body told me to sway back and forth and leaning on him helped take some pressure off. Every time I felt a sensation of discomfort I responded. Asking it what it wanted of me. It amazed me how clearly I understood what my body was trying to tell me. Each contraction communicated a different message.

Rock back and forth.
Squat down.
Breath deep.

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It was a dance that I welcomed and surrendered to. When the pain intensified (quickly) I craved the relief of the water. Relief came.

Near the end I wondered if I could go on. “How much more can I take?” I thought. I turned around in the birthing tub onto all fours. This can’t be the way she is coming into the world? Shouldn’t I be laying flat like in the movies? (the worst position to be in while giving birth.) This isn’t very ladylike! But that is exactly what my body told me to do. I braced myself on the edge of the tub, my head hanging over into Keenan’s arms. I took a deep breath.

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With little effort and zero sound, I pushed Amera into the water and out into the world. For a brief moment, only she and I knew she had arrived. The pain was over.
The discomfort of labor was purposeful. It encouraged me to make a move. To change something.

If I had numbed the pain I would have had a different experience. I may have delivered (at the suggestion of someone) flat on my back. This might have made my labor longer and the trauma to my body greater. If I wasn’t able to feel the pain, I wouldn’t have known how to listen to it. And I wouldn’t have received the gift of the experience. I would have missed the dance. With Keenan and with my baby as my body synchronized with hers to aid her exit.

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Pain cannot be ignored. If you listen, pain will tell you the next step to take. If you lean into the discomfort you just might give birth to your own NEW life.

But there is risk in feeling your pain and that is: It will hurt.

Pain demands attention. Ignored pain, numbed pain, could cause a much bigger problem down the road. More hurt potentially.

Emotional & spiritual pain, which can manifest as mental illness can be a life-saving signal that something needs to be corrected.

Anxiety is a signal. For me, it was a gift in disguise to finally acknowledge what had not been working in my life. What didn’t serve me. What I had over-committed to. To give me a chance to course correct.

Depression is a signal. If you feel hopeless, maybe you have neglected your spirit. Maybe there is a childhood wound that needs to be healed. Or maybe the things you loved to do as a child have disappeared and your soul is crying out to be nourished.

(This is not an anti-medication post. I am thankful for modern medicine and I know there are times when medical intervention are necessary. I have needed medication in the not so distant past, but I also acknowledge that it was numbing my brain-not helping at the source of my problem. I did the work at the source.)

Now when I am faced with pain, discomfort, depression or anxiety, I ask questions. What is it you want to teach me? How can I move with you to get to the other side of this?

What new thing is trying to make it’s way out?

Painful experiences are often times better teachers than joyful ones. I will lean in. I will let it guide me.

I choose to learn from pain.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”- Jesus

Choices: Presence

Day 6: I choose to be PRESENT for my kids.

I was a perfect parent BEFORE I had kids. But actual real-life children can really complicate your parenting plans. Most days I feel like I’m being punked. 😜

People tell me all of the time that my kids are great and I have to agree with them! My kids are amazing. But between the snuggles and laughter they are a lot of work! Being their mom is both exhausting and exhilarating. I worry all of the time that I’m not doing enough or that I’m screwing them up. My husband, however, does not share these same thoughts with me. He tells me all of the time when I’m second guessing myself or worrying that “we are doing the best we know to do.” He’s right. He’s usually right.

I guess it is a credit to me that at least I care. I have read a bajillion books on parenting but mostly I seek out the experts- those who are in the trenches of parenting WITH me or a few years ahead. Those are the parents I want advice from. Not people with letters after their names in a book.

I was at a friend’s house the other day when I noticed a letter board in her kitchen. She spelled out in white letters on black felt: EVEN IF AND NO MATTER WHAT. She has been going through a particularly challenging stage with her young son and she told me that those words were given to her from their counselor. That we are to love our children “even if and no matter what.” That struck me and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It simplifies this parenting thing. My job is to show up and love my kids even if and no matter what. And also to pray. I can do that.

Parenting is scary because there is not manual, and “good” parenting doesn’t guarantee “good” kids. Everyone is born with free will and that freaks me out a little when it comes to my kids.

I know why.

I had a wonderful childhood. My parents were great. My dad was a pastor. My mom was involved. I was encouraged and loved.

Aaaaand I went off to college and dated a stripper.

That is not how that was supposed to work out. My poor mother!(I have since then apologized to her for the undeserved angst I put her through) Our story is miraculous and redemptive. (And long and interesting!) I married that guy. But obviously he’s not the same person. Somehow God worked the not-so-good decision I made into a beautiful part of the story he is telling in our life together. That God redeems the broken. And he works all things for our good. Like a good Father, He showed up in the middle of our story because he wanted to tell a new one.

Do you know who also showed up? Our mothers. They showed up. EVEN IF AND NO MATTER WHAT And they prayed. Keenan’s mom prayed that he would find a “good” girl who knew Jesus. My mom (probably) prayed for that guy to disappear. And He did. Jesus gave him a new heart and life.

We both believe in the power of praying mommas. 🙏

Of course I struggle with how to present our story to our kids one day when it is appropriate to share. How do you communicate to a teenager the importance of choosing well when God took my bad decision (to date a stripper) and turned into the greatest blessing of my life (a husband who loves me like Christ loves the church) Keenan suggests telling them “You play the odds. Odds are dating a stripper is NOT going to work out for you.” Truth. He’s funny.

At the end of the day I’ve just decided to show up. To be present for each of them in every stage. NO MATTER WHAT and EVEN IF. Because that is what my perfect Heavenly Father does for me. I will encourage them to make wise choices based on who they are in Christ. And I will pray because I know they are not just my children- they are God’s children. And HE has an amazing story to tell through each of their lives.

I CHOOSE to be PRESENT for my kids. 💗

Choices: Marriage

wedding

DAY 5: I choose my MARRIAGE (before my kids)

It goes without saying that I am crazy in love with my children- but I am more crazy about my husband and investing in our marriage. I was a wife before I was a mother and when the kids are grown and gone (that day is getting closer and closer) it’s going to be just us- and I want to like US then. So I prioritize him over them.

We communicate this often to our kids verbally and non-verbally. We are embarrassingly affectionate. They see us going on dates, “So mommy and daddy can smooch uninterrupted!” And we make a point to get away at least once a year together. Because we know that healthy marriages don’t just happen.

Good marriages are intentional. Neglected marriages die.

I know we will have plenty of parenting fails, but I also know my kids will benefit now and in the future with a thriving, intact marriage to look up to. I want this for them. So we pursue intimacy like it’s our job.

Intimacy means to fully know someone and be fully known by them- no secrets.

Like whole health, intimacy in marriage has three parts: emotional, spiritual and physical. When one of these parts suffer, the other parts suffer.

We choose EMOTIONAL intimacy. We encourage each other in our individual pursuits so we stay interesting and interested. I’ve witnessed the many phases of Keenan: dancer, bodybuilder, triathlete, jiu-jitsu-er…it’s hard to keep up! But I enjoy trying. (I’m into this bearded version at the moment 😜) Likewise, I know he is interested in me and all of the things I love to do. He’s encourages me in my writing and likes who I am and who I am becoming. (He also knows my basic needs are food, sleep and compliments.) We make time to get to know each other better as we evolve, because if you don’t take an interest in your spouse- someone else will. Stay interesting and interested.

We choose SPIRITUAL intimacy. For some reason we have the BEST conversations about life and faith in the hot tub! We put the kids to bed and talk. I give him the cliffs notes of the books I’m reading (because he won’t read them) and he shares with me the podcasts he is listening to. (does that count as reading?) We wrestle with deep questions and we pray together. I love getting to know his heart and asking his opinion because he is so wise and because his perspective is so different from mine! (I’ve always thought that in the body of Christ- Keenan is the middle finger.) We both love Jesus but he is heavy on Truth side and I’m heavy on Grace. We make a good team.

We choose PHYSICAL intimacy. Married people- this is the time and the place! To enjoy each other physically is a gift- I say it’s worship. (Hallelujah!) As long as it is healthy and honest. Do you want intimacy husbands? Maybe you need to put down the phone. Pornography kills intimacy. Your fantasies will rob you of what your real sex life could be. Do you want intimacy wives? Maybe you need to put out. You can’t be tired or not in the mood all of the time. That is damaging. You are your husbands only legitimate source of sexual fulfillment and he is yours. I’m aware that this area can be complicated, but it can’t be ignored. A sex-less marriage is doomed.

Marriage is the most sacred expression of God’s love for us. But like anything worthwhile-it takes effort. We will not drift towards solid healthy relationships- just like we don’t drift towards being healthy physically. It’s much easier to sit around and let the pounds of unexpressed frustration and resentment add up. But I choose Keenan. I choose us. I choose to invest in our marriage emotionally, spiritually and physically so that we can enjoy each other fully. This pleases my Heavenly Father.

The grass will be greener on my side because I will water it…and fertilize it…and pull weeds… and occasionally aerate… you get the picture!

I choose my marriage. I choose Keenan.

Call the babysitter. 😁

Choices: Sobriety

Day 4: I choose SOBRIETY

Take inventory of what is not serving you in this one beautiful life that you have- and cut that crap out.

For me, it is alcohol.

I’ve had an interesting relationship with alcohol. Like most, I had my first drink in high school and made it a part of my life in college. Drinking was a fun and socially acceptable way to relax. Alcohol wasn’t drugs (I thought) so what could be the harm? Only losers would let it get the best of them.

When I was going to Georgia Tech I remember starting my school day with a drink, and downing a beer on the way home. My high-school-class-president-self was extremely insecure about being a little fish in a big pond, and I found that having a drink made me not care as much. It worked except when a professor would call on me to answer a question. Then I just felt foggy and full of shame.

Turns out, alcohol was the gateway drug to other drugs (that have permanently altered my life) AND the culprit of most of my bad decisions.

But NOT drinking was never on my radar. I was a grown-up and I could make my own decisions. (dammit) When I got married my drinking increased because…well…we were celebrating! Drinking made me feel confident and sexy and funny and fearless- until I woke up the next day feeling shameful and nervous and anxious and guilty. But by the time the evening rolled back around I felt better and that first drink always made the yucky feelings go away.

But there came a time when my choice to drink on the weekends extended through the week. And one glass of wine turned into bottles. I had a problem. Throw in some anxiety, depression and infertility and I had mixed up dangerous cocktail.
It wasn’t a fast or easy decision, but my choice to live a sober life was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I’m not sure why I decided to drink again.

I guess I felt like I was in such a good place in my life. I had a wonderful husband, three amazing kids and I was finally pursuing my dream of writing. I guess on the beach that day, the idea of enjoying a drink- toasting my beautiful life seemed romantic and glamourous and perfection.

Cheers. (clink)

At first I felt liberated. I am a new person after all- a confident, successful woman who has her head on straight and who would never go down a dark path again!

I was relaxed after one drink, funnier after two and sexy as hell after three.

“This,” I thought “will be a good addition to my wonderful life.”

My recovering alcoholic Life Coach actually interrupted herself during our session when I was sharing this with her, to cuss me out. She’s good at her job.

Here’s the TRUTH:

I used to have a drinking problem. I still do, but I used to also. (Mitch Hedberg style)

When I have a drink, I am no longer present. Alcohol hijacks my mind and I am laser focused on one question: When can I get another drink? I am no longer on a date with my husband, I’m on a date with my drink. I’m not really listening to my children, I’m listening to the voice telling me to drink more.

My brother-in-law recently went through rehab. Heroic. We were all so proud of his decision. It opened up some uncomfortable and necessary dialogue with our children and the conversations began to stir up a lot inside of me. We visited him near the end of his stay there and being there (on the other end) made an impact on me. I looked around the room. Couples, brothers, sisters, friends. Hugs and tears and lots of stories written on all of the faces. But one table caught my eye. A family. I studied the faces and figured out that it was the mother who was staying in the facility. THE MOTHER. Her husband sat beside her and her children gathered around her and I was overwhelmed.

It’s not supposed to be the mother.

My kids sat around the table, sipping water out of Styrofoam cups and staring bored as we listened to their uncle tell us about the food. For a moment I imagined they were visiting me. With my history with alcohol, who knew where I would be had I not been sober for those 9 years. God, what was I doing?

I woke the hell up.

I know 2 things about alcohol for me.
1) I can have a drink any damn well time I please ’cause no one is the boss of me thank you very much. AND
2) It’s a slippery slope.

Eyes wide open.

This week I will celebrate 100 days AF (alcohol free.) and I feel good AF (the other one).😁

I choose to be SOBER and vigilant.