Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Romeo & Juliet, John Legend & Jack Johnson... and Birth Control

The day had been long and dreary, which I [weirdly] actually kind of liked. Jason was working hard at his office late on a Saturday to finish a big school project. I had had a quiet, uneventful and yet happy day with the boys - drunk in love with the 70 degree run I got on my favorite greenway trail in the late afternoon. After we had eaten our simple supper of leftover pizza - hooray for no KP! - and the boys happy babbles in their room had finally quieted; the locusts were chirping loudly outside the open windows, and I curled up on the couch with a glass of Shiraz and the iPad. Inspired by the crispness of the air coming through the open windows, I closed Scandal on Netflix and instead opened up Romeo & Juliet. 

I cannot get enough of this love story. As an English minor and Shakespeare addict, I do understand that Shakespeare was not, in fact, channeling an early Nicholas Sparks with this play. I get that there is much evidence within the text itself to point to the fact that he was not necessarily glorifying the type of love that Romeo and Juliet had.

But just as there is a vivid and unique beauty in the very short-livedness of the Day Lily - the flower that blossoms overnight in rich, full hue and shrivels by the next day... there is a beauty that anyone can appreciate in the youthful love that surges up in an flash and rages, passionate and all-consuming, til it is put out. "These violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph die, like fire and powder" [Act 2, scene 6]. I personally have always thought that Shakespeare was neither spinning the world's most famous chick-flick, nor was he simply penning a cautionary moral tale.

I will never be too cheesed out by Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet either. And this song:

Kissing You (Instrumental) by Romeo & Juliet on Grooveshark

I love the poetry of this play; the imagery, the lines I have practically learnt by heart over the years; the liveliness and energy of the characters. And watching it the other night made me realize something else I love. Although I did not marry my husband the day after I first clapped eyes on him... although I did enter into my marriage with a prudent check on the passions flying around... there is something Romeo and Juliet-worthy about the kind of in-loveness we have committed to guarding and growing for our whole marriage. The kind of oneness we seek together daily. 

Here is a love that is pure and fearless and completely self-giving. It would not have endured the last few centuries if we didn't all recognize some poignant beauty within it, some heart-wrenching truth. 

The love that gives completely of self without fear or manipulation or control of the situation. The love that isn't hedging its bets while kissing you. The love that is ready to die to self without a second's hesitation. This is the kind of love we all, deep down, desire. I believe the truthfulness of the story lies in the fact that no great love is without struggle. 

You can never have it all. This is life. There are downsides to every beautiful thing. There is nothing you can fall in love with on this earth that won't disappoint or challenge you in some way. Romeo and Juliet had this intensely beautiful ideal of each other; the unique heart-aching beauty of their story is that their love ended before any disillusionment could enter. Though the romantic in me likes to believe that, just as Juliet was able to choose to love Romeo after he had killed her cousin in a hot temper, so they would have been able to continue to choose to accept and cherish one another with each test of time and hardship. 

While I have a humble love that endures through grumpy days and sick days, and long nights up with a baby, and dirty laundry, and balancing the checkbook, and gas after eating Mexican [not exactly that intoxicating high of a new love, most days]... there are those days that catch you off guard with the intensity of love that you feel when you look at his profile and adore his strong jaw... or when something happens to make you feel all over again the rush of excitement and disbelief that you get to be his. Jason and I have found there are so many ways you can encourage these moments and continue to woo the heart of your spouse. Ever since we were dating, we committed ourselves to aiming for a protection of our "inloveness".  We believe the love that surges up strong again, after each test of time and tiredness; the love that never stops cherishing and respecting the other person or forgetting their "otherness" - never treating them like an accessory or appendage to oneself [in other words, not making your marriage all about you]... We believe that enduring love is every bit as awe-inspiring and gut-wrenchingly beautiful as Romeo and Juliet's youthful, passionate new love. 

I want complete oneness with Jason. I want to never take him, nor the fact that we get to make love to each other, and only each other, for the rest of our lives, for granted. Not using contraception is the biggest and most effective way we guard against that. 
This does not actually mean that we are going to have 13 kids. We are not the in the Catholic camp that necessarily wants a huge family. Some days we love that idea, other days it seems overwhelming. We are going to take it one baby - (slash job/house/circumstance) at a time. [Did you know that a woman is infertile except for the day she ovulates? There are some caveats to this - all biologically proven and much more unique to your body than the old "rhythm method", and which you can easily learn in a few classes. The extent to which you follow the rules (i.e., how many days pre and or post-ovulation you are willing to risk intercourse) varies greatly based on how seriously you need to avoid pregnancy. ] What it does mean is that every time we make love, we do it all the way. And yes, there is always the recognition that there could be a chance that you read your chart or your body incorrectly, and you are ovulating. This adds unbelievable excitement to lovemaking. 

In my love life, I believe I should give of myself completely - I believe I should completely receive the gift of love from my spouse, without doing anything to my body or to his to effectively manipulate the physical act. A good analogy to why we believe that would be wrong, is why you would believe someone had a very real eating disorder if they ordered delicious food that they chewed and tasted and then spit out so they wouldn't take in the calories. We believe that, like anything else in life when it comes to our bodies, sex is good [and sometimes really really really good ;)] but it has real consequences. You have to approach it with moderation and discipline to enjoy it fully, neither trying to trick nature nor taking zero responsibility. 

There are many nights in a given month that we can't make love. Many days we are looking at my fertility tracking chart and DYING. Its not easy... it is definitely a sacrifice. But there is nothing like the anticipation of that first night you get to be one again after you've been waiting and waiting. (For me, right now with breastfeeding hormones all over the place, that can be up to a 2 week waiting period). 

I am not trying to convince anyone that my way is the only way to go. Everyone has their own journey, and this is definitely completely counter to everything common in our culture. I get that. 
But I do think its important to share what I see to be the beauty of Jason and my choice. Indulge my romantic over-the-topness and believe that I am neither exaggerating nor sugarcoating anything to spread an agenda. 
Two examples I can give of the kind of love that Jason and I choose each day, are two songs that may surprise you.
One is John Legend, "The Beginning". There are a few lines that give me shivers...
"Soon as I saw you, baby, I had plans
Plans to do it til we have a baby
Even if the world is crazy
Pick some names, boy or girl,
And we'll change, change the world...
Its the beginning of forever
You don't have to go
Sometimes you just know
Its the beginning of forever
It don't have to end
Keep doin' it, and doin it again"
The Beginning... by John Legend on Grooveshark

There is something powerful about making love and knowing you might be making a baby. Not because you are necessarily trying for heirs or you've had your 10 kid-free years of marriage already under your belt or you're lonely or its just the next box to check... no, that kind of approach to sex can totally feel like work. But I'm talking about something different; when you are so in love you want to go all the way, the way nature intended it to be. You want to feel that your love is so real, so intense, that it can literally create new life. Sometimes you might be a little nervous about that - a little unsure of yourself - but sure of your love and unafraid of that love being tested by babies and brief cases and coffee-stained mornings and dark-circle-under-your-eyes late nights. 

In that sense, I do live in a Romeo & Juliet type love, because we face our future with that same kind of passionate, fearless eagerness to give everything. The difference is, we promised to "keep doing it, and doing it again" when the lows of life hit us. And they do, and we prepare for that. We neither freak out about it, nor do we settle comfortably, nor do we go off in search of new loves for the thrill of the high. I think life is like the tide; there is an ebb and flow to it. Peaks and valleys. Things don't get progressively harder nor do they just hit a steady status quo. Love doesn't get progressively more boring, nor can it stay at the same intense altitude of besottedness. As we are committed not just to loving but to being in love with each other, we make date nights and little weekend getaways a priority, not a luxury. 

I met him after his class a couple weeks ago for an impromptu little wine date. We stayed up way too late and it was more refreshing than countless hours of sleep.
The last song is Jack Johnson, "Angel".
"Got an angel
She doesn't wear any wings
She wears a heart that can melt my own
She wears a smile that can make me wanna sing
She gives me presents
With her presence alone
She gives me everything I could wish for
She gives me kisses on the lips just for comin' home
She can make angels,
I seen her with my own eyes
Gotta be careful when you got good love,
cause those angels will just keep on multiplying"
Angel by Jack Johnson on Grooveshark

Isn't it funny how both the songs that talk about this kind of selfless, fearless, "rash" openness to new life, to making babies out of nothing more or less than love... isn't it funny how they both also talk about changing the world? I don't think its a coincidence. I think its reflective of something true... something about that kind of love, that kind of powerful approach; I believe it does have the power to change the world. 

I know for me, my heart is full. Our life is not easy. But it is also kind of exciting that it's not stretching out ahead of us in boring, careful predictability. There is a daring kind of adventurousness to our life and our approach to making babies. I mean, really... when is making a baby ever easy or cut and dried? How can you ever be truly prepared when you never know ahead of time the physical and emotional challenges of each unique baby?

There was a Buzzfeed thing going around recently - I don't really understand why - the decision of one company (with many competitors who would happily take their business) to plead their right to refuse to pay for birth control? - the whole thing seems odd to me in a nation where birth control is not hard to acquire for anyone, and is in fact pushed on you at every visit to the Gyn. It seems odd in a nation where using birth control is the rule and not the exception. Anyway. I know several women who were angered by the Buzzfeed post, which felt like a flip of the bird to their own very personal sacrifices and non-confrontational religious beliefs, rather than a necessary or helpful contribution to any sort of dialogue. 

 I for one just felt sad. I freely chose to not bring birth control into my lovemaking for wholly positive reasons. For reasons that have brought beautiful fruit into my marriage and effects I feel each day. AND HEY! I didn't have 5 kids in 5 years! Not that there's anything wrong with that - but I think many people imagine you would only give up birth control along with family planning. Jason and I still do approach our family with planning, but we believe it is less cold and calculating and cut-off than it might be were we using artificial means. I didn't choose this way of life because I felt forced to or because I felt judged. In fact, I feel like a strange minority most of the time, even among other Catholics. But I am okay with that because I am so grateful for my choice. Its sad to me that there are so many people who have no idea what it could be like, what they are missing out on. 
I choose this way of life daily because I love the consequences of my choice. I find it incredibly romantic. I get to date my husband on the few times of the month we can't make love - I get to feel like he wants me so badly, not just sex. I have to say - when I was pregnant both times, and we got to have sex whenever we wanted, we both actually missed the romance and anticipation that comes with doing Natural Family Planning and abstaining from intercourse for some of every month. 
I am aware that people may look at me, 25 years old with 2 children and open (physically and emotionally) to having an undetermined number of more in the next 15 years... they may look at my husband and I not being able to have sex whenever we feel like it - regardless of my fertility cycle - unless we're pregnant or trying to be... I am aware that people may look at us and feel pity. It doesn't bother me in the slightest. They don't know what they're missing. I know what I'm missing; trust me! Its a sacrifice; a sacrifice of convenience, of the feeling of total control. But I am willing to make it, day in and day out, for the unique beauty of the life I choose instead. The beauty of never being taken for granted (or at least, making that much less easy to do ha); of never being used to scratch a sexual itch (intentionally or not); of only making love when we can do it all the way; of my husband seeing me as fertile and liking that - seeing me as an "angel making angels"; the beauty of accepting the gift of children with a love that stretches and expands to meet their needs, trusting in grace from the Author of Life, rather than coldly calculating it ahead of time. Of course, simply not using birth control does not give you a free pass on all of those things I just mentioned. Selfishness has a way of creeping into everything. You can never just relax and be like, I got it in the bag. But it makes it a whole lot easier for us to be selfless, to be focused on each other with mutual appreciation, to grow and grow and grow in love. "Did my heart love til now?" That is a sentiment I have been lucky to feel many times over again in the last [almost 5!] years I have spent as Jason's girl; feeling like you are more in love than you ever were before, even when you couldn't imagine that being possible. This, we believe, is the beauty of a love that gives freely of self, a love that is total, fruitful, and faithful

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Running for a Mother's High

This post is an ode to running.

 To feeling like you could dance, or laugh, or fly 
in the middle of the sweatiest of runs. 

To the highest of highs. 

To feeling like you are a free, fast-moving GPS dot in the map of a big beautiful world. 

To having music fill your ears that makes your heart beat harder, your legs fly faster, your head lift higher. Like you are a character in a movie with a really, really great soundtrack.

This song does it for me right now, every run.

To soaking in the beauty and strangeness of new surroundings. Running on little Edisto Island in 3 mile circles looked like this...

and this...

and this...

I have never felt hotter while running. As in temperature, not state of mind. ;). It was blazing. I could literally inhale the heat rising from the pavement. But it was weirdly exhilarating. 

And it gave me such a burst of energy every day. I could keep up after my boys even after Jason had to leave us for a few days... I could take them for long bike rides and chase them on the beach and splash with them in the pool. 

I credit running for the energy I have been blessed with for this special and especially exhausting season in my life. I am not the most productive or organized of mothers. But I am pretty much always energetic. No one feels happy all the time, and nobody's life is without suffering and hardship and work... but I can honestly say that even on tough days, I feel like I am given just enough grace (and energy) to choose joy. Real, tangible, grateful, humorous joy. Much like how, in the hottest of runs on the island, sweat pouring down my back and heat pounding on my face, I was able to press in and get a heart-soaring, muscle-tingling second wind. 

Running is a gift from God right now. It fills my sails and my tank and my heart. That second wind - physically and emotionally - is the greatest help I could get right now. 

A few nights out at the beach, after the boys had crashed from a long day of sand and saltwater, I was able to hop on my rental bike and leave the baby monitor with my sweet mother in law and her as-sweet sister. 

It was special to just feel like me for a few hours. And it was special to be able to see things like this... 

That color  is not a filter, hand on the bible. It was unbelievable - a hurricane raging offshore from us, and the whole island was lit with this eerie, fiery glow. 

I dropped my bike and ran up to the beach to catch the sight of lightning flashing over the water in the distance, as the sun set behind me. 

I felt in that moment, sitting on the sand by the sea, and then riding back to the condo with the wind in my hair and the pink fading overhead - that I am loved beyond measure. I am a small person in a big world, and it is exciting and dangerous and beautiful. And there are so many adventures I get to have. Not the least of which are the two pairs of bright eyes that greet me every morning and just want to play with me all day long. This is how I feel about being a mama.

I am grateful for the zest and energy for this time in my life that I honestly think comes from running. This time in life can be a tempting one for us women to feel like martyrs or victims or has-beens.  Its not that we don't love our babies - but I get how it just overwhelms you, along with the piles of crusty dishes and moldy laundry. I am grateful that God gave me a stress outlet that also fills me. And its free. ;)

getting a run in with my double Bob on my favorite trail at home, right before a storm

Running isn't for everyone. My mom had this experience with cycling [she is a badass on a bike]. But I have to believe that God is able and wanting to help every mother find something to give them the joy and energy needed for their vocation. I know myself... I know my own failings and temptations... and I know I can't give myself the credit for the fact that I am simply loving this season. Sure its a lot of work; duh I yell and cry and say bad words plenty of times. But it is every bit as full of laughter and slobbery kisses and hilarious hijinks at bedtime and the contagious delight of your child getting to discover God and the world and himself. The tipping point, for me at least, is having the energy to lift up your head from the spilled milk and stained walls and see it. Having the energy for the bathtub splash fights and kitchen dance parties and epic story telling - these things make all the difference. Having the energy to laugh instead of cry. 

So, here's a surge of gratitude to running... for this joy it gives me that I get to be right where I am, with every sweaty fiber of my being. 

If you find yourself stuck in the hardships of motherhood, I have been there... and I know it has nothing to do with being a good mother, or being cut out for the vocation. I truly believe, if you press in just a little harder, if you seek out your own God-intended outlet and energizer... that second wind is waiting for you. 

"My yoke is easy and my burden is light; come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will refresh you." - Matthew 11:30

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Scattered Morning

Good morning! 

This Tuesday morning, as Henry is napping and Will is drawing his first real picture (in that you can look at it and kind of see where he was going with it)...

"a picture about the rain with thunder and light-ming"
...and also finds me attempting to tear myself away from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries that I, shockingly, just discovered. I am surprised at how addicting little 3 minute vlogs can be, but I can't seem to stop clicking "Next Post"... 
Anyways. I did, however, manage enough productivity in the last couple weeks to come up with a Guest Post for new mama Erika at stethoscopes, style & grace... check it out! If not for me, for the opportunity to fall in love with Erika's adorable blog. 
Oh! And I must credit Stephanie for planting the idea in my head months and months ago to do this type of post. I guess it didn't take much for her to perceive my shoe-obsession, and the fact that I am a wholly disinterested [read: unsponsored and unknown] party makes my passionate recommendations possibly somewhat helpful. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Family Adventures

We found ourselves in Colonial Williamsburg last weekend on a very quick trip up to a friend's first baby's baptism in Virginia. 

My grandma - who divides her time between my parents' house in South Carolina and my mom's sister's house in Dale City - still owns the house that my mom grew up in, in a beautiful old neighborhood just outside of the colonial square, by Queens Lake. We crashed there Saturday night and got to visit with my cousin and my aunt who lives around the corner. 

It was an exhausting trip, honestly. We were up at 5 am to leave for Williamsburg on Saturday, and we pulled back into our driveway, crumb-covered, baggy-eyed, wrinkly and stiff at 11:30 Sunday night. Without kids, that is plausible. With a toddler and a baby, it was a little nuts. (I guess that would explain why it is Friday that I am writing about last weekend). 

But they were champs. 

As we packed the car Friday evening, Will hopped up and down and around us asking 5 million and one questions about the "Ahbenture" we were about to take him on. He was excited by the dent in the routine, and it was fun to surprise him with a few new books and cheap toys for the road, the way my mom used to do with us. He got so contagiously excited over a little Crayola pack and matchbox cars. 

And then, there was Williamsburg. 

In all the years of my childhood making visits to Grandma's house every other year or so, I realized in the car that I don't think I had ever been there in the summer. Fall, winter, and spring, yes; but I really don't think I can recall a summer trip. 

Since we have been coming to Williamsburg my whole life, we never do the [expensive] tours, but it was nice to walk around the shady streets and point things out to Will. Naturally, his favorite was the horses pooping in the road. Naturally. 

Something you may not know about me... It is a little point of vanity for my mom's family that my grandma's maiden family name is inscribed above one of the pews of Bruton Parish.

Okay, a big point of vanity. ;) I can't remember if it was put there for her grandfather or great grandfather. But as a girl, it gave me a little shiver of appreciation for the fact that my grandma is a DAR. And I guess I could be too, if I wanted to pay the yearly dues. 

But really? I was there walking down the road with my babies, seeing all the intense history buff tourists, geared up for walking this town like its the AT - in fanny packs, Camelbacks, and sensible shoes... and I realized, despite my heritage, this place doesn't really do it for me anymore. This town is a museum. The culture of the city is the past, not the present. After having seen much more of Charleston than Williamsburg in the past 4 years, I realized that is a huge difference between the two. Charleston has a living breathing culture of the present as well as a tenacious appreciation and preservation of the past. It is invigorating to experience the tension of that contrast when you visit! 

Williamsburg feels hollow in comparison. 

 My favorite part about Williamsburg honestly is the Parkway. Someday when I can afford my dream Gary Fisher road bike I'm coming back to ride the whole thing. 

It was cool to run out there again though, and I loved seeing my cousins. They were so kind and welcoming. It felt weird and amazing when I gave my older cousin Amber a huge hug and introduced my sons to her for the first time. She has known me all my life, and she had never met Will and Henry. It was wild to realize, I have had a life outside of these guys... these unique, lively little persons who fill my whole world... there was a time not too long ago that they weren't even a blip on the horizon. The feeling was almost as wild as the coming-of-age moment when you make a version of that discovery about your own parents. 

And the baptism in Richmond was beautiful. Though my poor cramped kids were so sick of sitting still, there was nothing for it but to let them crawl and climb all over the back of the church during the ceremony after Mass on Sunday. 

Thats us in the background, trying to stay out of trouble. ;)

While I chased them around back there, Will and Henry started playing their very first game of Hide and Seek. You should've heard Henry's big ole belly laugh!

Taking little "Adbentures" as Will calls it with your family, no matter how exhausting, is fulfilling in a way that nothing else quite is. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Swimsuit Season

 I am going to come out and raise my hand to say something. I am a young, conservative Catholic, who was homeschooled and sheltered and didn't date until college... and I wear a bikini! Not strut-my-stuff proudly, not sexed-up or showily, but I wear a bikini... comfortably

Jason used to be in seminary before we got married. He says that it was always funny to him, a native Southern boy who grew up in the heat of Charleston and Greenville, hearing these guys from the midwest and northern states go off on how scandalous the idea of bikinis were to them. For Jason, and all the guys who came from a coastal, warm-climate background like himself, this was as foreign and bizarre to hear as "all swimsuits on women are scandalous". Or jeans. Or makeup. 

Bikinis in context, when other people are also wearing them, are appropriate. Just like any other article of clothing. Once an article of clothing has become a cultural norm, the task of modesty, in my opinion, is to just approach said-article with a slightly higher standard - just so you don't stick out either way. The idea of trying to reverse or ignore the cultural norm is as funny to me as the idea of people choosing to talk in Chaucer's English because they are so disgusted with ye auld slang vernacular. 

I would not have been the first woman in the world to wear jeans. Not because that particular article of clothing is evil. Or historically symbolic of liberal feminist man-eaters. But because modesty is all about choosing to not deliberately draw attention to your body. Once every woman was wearing jeans, my task as a woman is just not to wear the tightest jeans in the land. Or to pair my skinny jeans with a looser top. For this reason, I don't wear itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny bikinis. I am most comfortable in bandeau tops because I greatly dislike showing cleavage. I don't think its dignifying. 

The modesty issue, to this Southern girl, is all about the context. I don't wear a bikini in the mall. Just like I don't wear shorts or strapless dresses to church. I avoid posting pictures of myself in my bikini on Facebook or Instagram, where people at home might see them out of context; I just think they stand out more that way, and its unnecessary at best. I don't even walk around in my bikini at the beach house; I throw on a coverup when I'm not on the sand or water.  But I have grown to feel comfortable in a bikini, and brought my sisters and even my mom around to the same. I want my sons to grow up comfortable with women wearing bikinis, because I can't change their cultural context. They will go to the beach or the lake or the pool at their grown-up apartments and see women in bikinis. That is our cultural norm. And I don't want them to suffer unnecessary embarrassment because they simply didn't grow up expecting to see that and be totally accustomed to it. 

I didn't feel comfortable wearing a bikini until I got married. I was surprised to realize my husband - who is not the type to want to "show off" his wife, but in fact always wants to err on the side of caution in most clothing situations - loves me wearing bikinis. 

I actually had been scarred by a lot in my impressionable teens by one too many modesty talks by many well-meaning Catholic speakers. As a budding and very young woman just becoming aware of my own sexuality, the main thing I heard lurking unsaid behind all these talks was, and forgive me for putting it bluntly - "Guys struggle with masturbation. And if you're not careful, you will make them do that." It naturally horrified and disgusted me, and also made me incredibly, painfully self-conscious about my body and my interactions with males in general. Throughout high school, I was so uncomfortable if I had to be driven home after babysitting alone by the kind, friendly (totally respectable) dad. Or if some kid flirted with me at Youth Group. I have a golden father who loves me deeply, so I turned out okay... and my good, pure-of-heart gentleman of a husband has also really helped me to find the balance. But I for one will not be giving such modesty talks to my future teenagers. I will take the Southern route, and emphasize modesty in dress and language and body-language as being about manners. Because it is, after all. Its about what is appropriate in the society in which you live. My sons will open doors for women, they will never use swear-words in the presence of ladies, and they will not address their elders by their first names without saying "Mr" or "Ms". Such behavior is still the standard in the Carolinas. And if I am ever blessed with a daughter, she will be taught to wear a slip under a sheer dress, a bra at all times, and to dress with concern for the context and the season, keeping in mind what is comfortable and what everyone else will be wearing. And that will be all. Striving for purity of heart in all things will be a separate and unconnected conversation in my household to practical modesty. 

[Even the study that proved men who saw a picture of a woman in a bikini had some biochemical reaction fails to inspire shame in me... because again. Context. If you are sitting at home at your computer, and are not out in the sun half-naked yourself, yeah I imagine such an image would jump out at your brain. It would to mine too.]

I loved reading this post from Jenny last summer about what she learned watching the Italian women. Its true. Bikinis are comfortable in a way that one-pieces aren't. And I'm not just talking about the lack of extra spandex on your torso. Bikinis force you to be at ease with your body. Wearing a tight one-piece, you are acutely aware of whether it "makes" you look skinnier or taller or whatever. Bikinis on the other hand, can't make you look anything other than what you are. When you sit down, your tummy probably pooches out a bit, planks everyday regardless. Things might jiggle when you walk. You might, like me, have stretch marks. If you are at all self-conscious of your body while you are out in the boiling sun by the water, you will be miserable. Or you can just decide to get over it. 

Since most of us women in America would be loath to claim we think our own body is perfect - we each seem to have something to complain about - experiencing a day in the sun where you force yourself to just forget about your body... is unbelievably refreshing. 

So, that's why I wear a bikini. Its intentional. I am not trying to make anyone feel challenged in their own swimsuit choices. After all, this simply is a cultural norm, and its not a big issue or a hill to die on (because, cultural norm). So if you are uncomfortable with the idea of being in a bikini, its probably not worth it.

But I am very glad I decided to get over it. Swimsuit season is not about looking a certain way for me anymore. Just as modesty isn't about a completely self-conscious and absurdly over-spiritualized emphasis on what is going on inside everyone else's heads. Its about the context. Its about getting outside and feeling the warmth of the sun hit every angle of your body along with all the other people around you, men and women, and choosing to not worry about your body in all its imperfection.
( I swear I am not a nudist.)

p.s.: If you are trying to get comfortable with bikinis, J.Crew is my go-to for conservative, lady-like options. And PSA: they are running a huge huge huge swimsuit sale right now. :)  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Run Free

...from the book Born to Run, by Christopher MacDougall. Wise words by one of the most legendary (and now deceased) ultra runners. 

This is my chosen mantra while running. It helps me maintain good form. And it keeps me in love with the sport. 

I don't run like a hamster in a wheel, exhausting myself to lose weight or look a certain way. I run for the pure love of it, for the high after a hill, after a refreshing 6 miler, after stepping out the front door on vacation into a whole new area that you get to explore for an hour, after you stretch out your tingling muscles at home.

Its the cheapest Me Time I can get. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

To Live the Life I Want

It is a good sign, I believe, when you leave behind a perfect week of vacation at a wildly gorgeous beach, and yet, as you walk through the quiet walls of your little home putting away the laundry, inhaling the old familiar smells of your favorite cleaning spray, your own fabric softener, your scented candles... your heart hums with contentment. 
Oh, that beach. I did use a filter, but honestly it was the only way to get the picture to come close to the beauty in person. It was shockingly beautiful out there on the southern fringe of Nags Head. 
I have always daydreamed of moving back to the beach. About 85% of all the baby pictures from my infancy in Oviedo, Florida were on the beach, my little bum covered in sand, my dark brown hair bleached blonde by the sun. We were the Floridians who actually went to the beach. Consistently. My dad taught us how to body-surf when we were tiny. We'd tread water right next to him out in the sea just before the breakers, and he would show us how to watch for a good wave forming in the distance. 
We moved a few times throughout my childhood, but we always ended up back by the coast... until we didn't, my parents settling irrevocably in the rolling, blue mountains of South Carolina. 
But the salt was in my blood. The damage done, the heart set, the restlessness remaining every moment that I spend away from the ocean. 

I know saying "I love the beach!" or "I am a beach girl!" is kind of like saying "I love cake!" or babies! or sex!

I think most of us have an instinctive, awed response to the sea. It is so much the untouched handwork of the Creator. 

I don't even care if its unique to me or millions of people or whatever. All I know is, I have counted it among my life's greatest blessings that I have been able to get to the sea at least twice a year in the last 4. And when I get to the beach, I feel the waste of every second I spend not actually on the water or laying in the sand, or walking the shoreline for miles of quiet joy. 

This trip was no different. I felt an underlying buzz of excitement and aliveness all week that we were there. I was sleeping with our window open to hear the beating heart of the sea, I was hitting the sand as soon as I could get the babies lathered up in sunblock, and I was dragging Jason back out after they had gone down for the night. 

Of course it was all over as soon as it had begun. 

As we pulled onto the highway early Sunday morning, I turned back with my window down for one last breath of salty air, and I silently prayed the prayer I always do. "God, bring me back. And please, someday, bring me back for good."

I expected to feel blue for a few days when we got back to Charlotte. I prepared myself to feel that longing, that ache to go back. But now I find myself suddenly back into the routine, the work, the fulfilling exhaustion of our daily lives with, yes, happiness. 

I don't crave a life of vacation. I was more than ready to be inundated with my daily chores, with the happy trips to the grocery store, with my regular schedule and my endless list-making. 

I just would love to live that busy, hard-working life with the ocean in my windows. 

I have resigned myself to the knowledge that I will never stop longing to be by the sea. To live a life where I can fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. To be soaked in the sun and the salt. 

In the meantime, I need trips like this as often as I can get them. It helps reset me. A visit to the ocean is the only thing that effectively snaps me out of discontent, consumerism, over-spending and unintentional living. Being by the sea I am reminded that it really doesn't matter what I am wearing... I feel just as beautiful in 5 year old cut-offs and a holey white tank as I do in Free People. I am thrilled by the simplicity and the beauty of life by the ocean. 

I think some people have this same reaction to the mountains, or to farms in the countryside, or a peaceful lake, or the snow, or traveling the globe. Wherever your heart seems to beat faster, wherever you have been wired by nurture and nature to feel closest to God, closest to perfect happiness. 

Someday, I believe, I will end up back on the coast. 

My relationship with God has been one story after another of Him surprising me with fulfilling the deepest desires of my heart, so much better than I ever could have.  He always allows me to have a burning desire that I have to surrender to Him; to go through a season of tasting that longing, of yearning and letting it go. But when I have sought to give up everything to happily do what He wants me to do... when I embrace the present moment and accept the grace He offers to do the work He has for me... I have never been disappointed by that work. I have never had cause to look back in regrets or what ifs. 

I don't know what His plan for me is, and I am okay with that! And if I never get to live seaside in this life, I have to trust there'll be a drafty, splintery, big-windowed beach house for me in heaven. 

In the meantime... my week by the ocean refreshed me for more intentionality in my lifestyle here in Charlotte. For the cooking and cleaning, for the endless dishes, for the early mornings and sleepy evenings. For the baby babbling and the dirty diapers. For saving my money for the next beach trip - and in doing so, realizing I don't actually need any more stuff. Walking for hours on the beach will do that to you; make you realize how unnecessary all that nice, material "stuff" is. Give me an old house on a beachy island, with shabby wicker furniture and rice for dinner, and my life will be complete. 

I am home, I am back to work with a new excitement and awareness of how good God is, how beautiful His plan is right here in the present moment... and a mission is to simplify and save. And here is where I am going to make an embarrassing confession. One of the big changes I need to make is cutting myself off from most of my favorite big, beautiful, highly-sponsored lifestyle blogs. I hate it, because I have grown to adore so many of these cute bloggers and truly appreciate their impeccable tastes. But there's a very real problem that it creates, for me. I am naturally tempted to materialism. And when I get online and I see that one of these girls - whom I know from years of following doesn't own her house yet, or has some financial struggles, or has a husband in school with similar student loans, etc etc - is wearing a gorgeous $500 dress by a designer branded for the occupants of the Hamptons... it creates this very real frustration and brewing discontent with my clothes from last season on clearance at J.Crew, and my Hobby-Lobby decor (which even then I can barely afford), and my handmedown Buick lacrosse. 

Blogging makes money because it works. Peer marketing is incredibly effective. Seeing a girl I admire online, whom I also happen to know isn't financially ahead of me, so to speak, wearing and using and enjoying these beautiful high-quality and highly priced things, I feel myself starting to justify going into debt and living above my means in order to have it all too. It makes little difference that I know she couldn't really afford that dress either.

Of course its not that simple. There are many other factors in the vicious cycle of American consumerism and record personal debt. And I am definitely inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of these women - making a name and a business for themselves. But I have had to admit to myself that lifestyle blogs are becoming highly problematic, at least for me. And that kind of lifestyle - this Pinterest-perfect, on-trend lifestyle that is completely accessorized by to-die for throw pillows and necklaces and hats and ohhh the list never ends!... that's become a problematic kind of lifestyle for me to be daily admiring.

The problem is not the lifestyle blog. The problem is the type of lifestyle my favorite blogs have been encouraging, inadvertently or not. I need a new lifestyle to emulate and be inspired by. Being at the beach made me re-realize it. I have been reading the thoughts and reflections of the guys at The Minimalists... I got the book on Audible, and have been so uplifted and challenged in coming back from the beach with my renewed desire for someday living again the simple saltwater life - realizing that however silly it may sound, that is one of my biggest passions - and everything else that I have been spending money on is just empty filler in comparison.

I am so grateful for the reset. I needed it. My walks on the beach, my hours watching the sun rise and set, my unplugged week, uninterrupted in experiencing the beauty of nature, has lit a fire under me to choose that lifestyle for myself and my family. 

p.s.: What do y'all think? Am I crazy? Or way way way too materialistic that I am at all affected by harmless lifestyle blogs? 

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