An Act Of Worship.

My Life Class leader was praying this morning, and he lifted up motherhood. He prayed that each mom would be encouraged today, knowing that each act of motherhood that they do is an act of worship to God. I’ve kinda pondered over it all day.

Each act of motherhood is an act of worship to God. That statement alone is stunning to me. It encompasses the biggest events, like giving birth and adopting, to the mundane events of endless nights helping with the math homework you don’t even understand and breaking up fights and wiping sticky fingers and changing diapers, to the unseen moments of sweeping crumbs and preparing tomorrow’s lunches long after the kids have gone to bed, and stumbling in the dark to tend to a crying baby, or the prayers you pray while tears stream down your cheeks as you beg God to rescue your son from his addiction.

It also encompasses those times you don’t feel like mothering. But you do it anyway. When you had plans to go out of town with your best friend but minutes after you leave you get a call saying your kid is throwing up. And you turn around, and you go home. Or when your daughter tells you at 9pm that a project is due tomorrow and she forgot about it (also right here let me drop a quick mom hack: always have five to seventeen extra poster boards hidden in your home for such a time as this. You will thank me at 9pm on a Tuesday evening.) and you have to skip your show and help her do a science experiment and you let her go to bed and you finish noting the changes in her chemical reactions of her Coke every hour until your eyes fall out and you want to disown her. And when your four year old throws herself on the floor because she doesn’t want to wear pants even though we wear pants every time we leave the house, it’s suddenly a surprise to her. And she screams until your ears bleed and she makes you want to drive your car off cliff. But instead you wrangle pants onto your baby octopus during the weeping and gnashing of teeth while every explicative runs through your brain and you smile freakishly big and tell her she doesn’t have a choice, she has to wear pants when she goes in public, and she can do it with a happy heart or an ugly heart but she’s WEARING THE PANTS.

Those moments. The noble ones and the frustrating ones. Those acts of mothering are acts of worship to God. And the ones you think are unnoticed and unappreciated… are noticed and appreciated by the One being worshipped while you do it. Mothering is hard. It’s painful and messy and broken. But it’s so beautiful. Your acts of mothering are not in vain.

To my loved ones whose arms are aching for a little one… your acts of motherhood are very much acts of worship to God. The longing in your hearts, the anguish every month, the hot tears streaming through your fingers as you cry out to God… the way you face each day bravely and keep going.. you have a strength I will never possess. You have a love for your babies lost and babies wanted that I strive to have for my own. Your mothering heart is an act of worship to God, and while you may feel unseen and unnoticed today… you are very much seen and noticed.

Don’t Walk Alone.

Hey you. The one who is seeing everyone’s Top Nine Instagram posts of 2018 with their exuberant experessions, and reading everyone’s Facebook Diary of resolutions.

I see you. You’re “liking” their posts and maybe dropping an encouraging comment here and there. I see your fingers tapping out feigned joy… but your shoulders are slumped and your face is expressionless.

You aren’t looking forward to 2019. In fact, you may not be looking forward to tomorrow. Because there is a giant you are facing… seemingly at every turn. It’s there when you wake up, and there when you go to sleep.

You’re overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, and terrified. You feel trapped and are suffocating. But you don’t show it. You have to put on a facade at work, at home, at church, and pretty much everywhere. It feels like you don’t have a safe place to be you anymore. You want to run outside, tear your clothes, and scream at the top of your lungs the horrific crap you are going through. But you don’t. You put your make up on, fix your hair, step into your heels, and go about your day like you have every other day. Perhaps the most important thing you put on is your smile.

I see you. I have been you.

Someone telling me “I see you” in my deepest, darkest trenches was enough to break the dam and shatter the facade. Being seen is invaluable. A friend and I were talking the other day and all she had to say was “I know you’re exhausted” and I burst into tears. She saw me.

To you, the one who is exhausted and overwhelmed, hurting and fearing the giants in your life… reach out. To those who can be trusted, invite them into your trenches and into your mess. The enemy wants you to fear their rejection, and wants you to walk this alone. But that is the exact opposite of what God wants for you.

That giant you’re facing? It is powerless to the God you serve. In the Bible, David approached Goliath with his staff, some stones, and a sling. The giant mocked him and said, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” and David answered, unwaveringly, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts… this day the Lord will deliver you into my hand… that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” (1 Samuel 17:40-46, emphasis mine).

Goliath was over nine feet tall. He had been a warrior since his youth. He never lost. David was a shepherd, young and untrained. But his trust was in God, not in his strength or might. He approached Goliath in the name of the Lord. That’s all he needed to fight the battle and win, because the name of the Lord is that powerful. You can face this giant in your life. Your God will go before you, stand behind you, and fight for you. “…With confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). His grace and mercy will meet you in your mess and cover you and sustain you.

For those of you who “see” that person… the one you know is hurting. I implore you to reach out. Don’t expect anything. Just reach out and simply say “I see you.” As my friend said the other day, “Let me help you. Let me love you.” She made it clear there was no pressure, and didn’t press for a single detail. She just wanted me to know she was available and that she loved me. So— reach out to that person. [Side note: nosy people need not apply. Just don’t. You make things worse. And you think you can fool us. But we can see it a mile away and literally no one likes nosy people so just stop. Thanks.]

I’m going to wrap this up with what is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I know I don’t know how to stop writing sometimes but for real just pay attention, I’m almost done, and this is important.

In Exodus 17, the Amalekites came up against Moses and the Israelites. Moses had men go out to fight this monstrous army, and said that the next day he would go out and stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in his hand. While Joshua and the Israelites fought with Amalek’s army, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill with Moses. As long as Moses’ hand was raised with the staff, the Israelites would win. But he grew weary and had to lower his arm, and the Amalekites started to overpower the Israelites. Aaron and Hur found a stone and had Moses sit, and they each grabbed an arm and held it up for him, and they held them up until the sun set, and Israel won (Exodus 17:8-13).

Be the Aaron and Hur your friends need. Be there for however they need you in their weakness. Show them they are not alone. Fight with them and for them. Hold their arms up when they can’t.

And if you are the Moses in this story, let them hold your arms. God doesn’t want you walking alone.

From my trench to yours,

Emily

When It’s Hard To Celebrate.

There’s nothing remarkable about it, and I certainly wouldn’t notice it among other bracelets if I were jewelry shopping. But I can’t remember her ever not wearing it. I slipped it on this morning as I got ready for church, the same way I do on those days I need to feel her close.

If I’m honest, Mother’s Day is a weird day for me. Its supposed to be about celebrating moms. I have four kids. But I don’t like a fuss being made about me, my Mom has been gone for seven years (the exact number of years I have avoided the card aisle at Target), and I have too many family members and friends who are hurting today. And every time I looked at my mom’s bracelet today, my heart broke a little more. I don’t have her, and they don’t have their babies. For me, Mother’s Day has become a proverbial elevator encounter with a stranger. It is so painfully awkward, and I just want to get off.

But getting off won’t fix things. It won’t give me back my mom, and it won’t give them their babies. It’s not fair.

I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that God is grieving, too. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. The reason it’s so hard to experience death and pain is because we were not created to ever experience it.

We live in a broken world. Sin has stolen, killed, and destroyed so much. The pain we experience is God’s beckoning to trust Him and show us that His salvation is better than our losses and griefs.

I’ve shared this quote before, but it is so profound that I need to share it again. “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” Dear one… God is with you in your loss, your pain, your grief. He knows full well what you feel, because He felt it when He watched His Son beaten and hung on a cross for something He didn’t do. He allows these things so that ultimately we might seek and find Him.

If you’re one of the ones hurting today… I see you. I see your brave face as you sit in the church seats while all of those babies are being dedicated. I see you breath in deeply and hold your head up to smile for a picture with your sister who has children. I see the wind get knocked out of you when you find out yet another friend, who wasn’t even trying, announces she is pregnant.  I see your eyes glisten when you watch a friend and her 65 year old mom grabbing lunch and pedicures… and it has been months, or maybe years, since you’ve heard your mother’s voice. I see you reach for your tissues when you see a young man who looks just like your son did before he unexpectedly passed away. I see you. I’ve prayed for you multiple times today. Through tears I have asked that the Lord meet you wherever you are. Whether you’ve buried your baby, or buried your Mama. There is nothing quite like the pain of aching arms longing to hold a child or to be held by a mother.

God is with you. It may not feel like it. But He is. I pray that you would feel His presence and know His peace. That in your pain, and possibly anger… you would learn to lean into Him. Knowing He will not waste your pain.

One day there will be no more pain and no more tears. And everything will be made perfect and whole. In your grief, let your pain compel you to long for Heaven for which you were made. Where the broken will become unbroken, and your aching arms will ache no more.

The Frailty Of Human Love.

Crap. I thought to myself. I need three cups of flour and I only have two. It was 1:00 this morning and I was baking Valentine M&M cookie bars for the kids’ lunches today. I wasn’t going to the store because of one cup of flour. I had already mixed together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and two sticks of room-temperature butter. I was too far in to back out. So, I took a scoop of the pre-floured goop out, crossed my fingers, and hoped the mixtures would even out and bake properly.

While my cookie bars were baking, I finished setting up the kitchen table for this morning. Cute little decorative plates, a vase of tulips, a smattering of pink, silver, and red Hershey’s kisses, little mailboxes for each kid with their favorite candy inside, and little wooden paint sets (Target dollar spot never disappoints). Finished with a cake plate of freshly baked muffins and store-bought chocolate Valentine’s donuts, and handwritten note cards to each of my babies. It was late, I was still in my scrubs from a busy day at work, but I loved looking at my decorated table. It took quite a bit of work, but it is so worth it to see my kids’ faces in the morning. It felt like Christmas Eve all over again!

Why go all out for Valentine’s? Of course, I want them to know how much they are loved. But if there is one thing I want to teach my kids about Valentine’s Day, this is it:

“God allows us to feel the frailty of human love so we’ll appreciate the strength of His.” -C.S. Lewis

Think about it. One portion of the population is all about roses, rings, and chocolates. Then there are parents running around looking for that blessed box of Star Wars cards with glow stick light sabers in them that little Timmy HAS to have. And not just one box, he needs two. Because his class has 20 students in it and there are only 18 cards in a box. FOR THE LOVE!!! And then another portion of the population just wishes it was the 15th already.

We all have reasons we love, tolerate, or hate Valentine’s. And I’m willing to bet, many of those reasons are other humans.

Maybe this is a good year for you. Maybe you have a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day for the first time, or maybe the first time since whatshisname broke your heart a few years ago. Maybe you received a bouquet of roses at work today, and your dinner plans included candlelight and wine.

Or maybe this isn’t a good year. Maybe Valentine’s just reminds you of just how lonely you are. Maybe it stings to log on to social media and see all the gushy posts about “I’m married to my best friend and soul mate and I would die for him!” while you’re *still* single. Maybe it hurts to see pictures of Father-Daughter dances because you never got to experience that with your dad- maybe he wasn’t around, or- maybe he was, but emotionally and verbally abused you, and otherwise completely ignored you. Maybe your spouse left you. Maybe you’re happily married, but your significant other doesn’t do anything to make you feel important on days like today, so you steel yourself and put on a front and “Oh I just don’t even care about Valentine’s Day, it’s just a commercialized Hallmark holiday that people just waste too much money on. Really, it’s stupid. I would rather pluck my eyelashes out one by one.” (Calm down Susan). But really, there’s a part of you that really, really hopes there will be flowers when you get home… even though you know there won’t be.

The last thing I did before crawling into bed at 2 this morning was cut out red, white, and pink hearts. On each heart I wrote a Bible verse about love. And then I placed them on the wall next to the table in the pattern of a cross.

The Bible says that God “has set eternity in man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) What that means is there is a God-shaped void in every human heart. Every human has a longing for God- but we all fill that longing with other things. Often times these are good things. But if we keep filling a God-shaped longing with other things, that longing will never be satisfied. And those things have a nasty way of dictating our self-worth.

So, the cross shape on my kitchen wall and the verses on each heart are significant. Because even though I want my kids to know how much I love them, I’m also going to fail them. A lot. I want to point them toward the One who will never fail them, leave them, or forsake them (Deuteronomy 31:6). I want their hearts to stay steadfast in assurance of the love God has for them- that He loved them while they were yet sinners and had nothing to offer Him. He saw every dirty and nasty sin they could ever commit, and He said they were worth dying for. He sent His Son to live a perfect life that they could never live, to pay a debt they could never pay. And He did that because He loves them. He did that because He loves YOU.

Having a date on Valentine’s is wonderful. Sending your daughter with her daddy to a dance is precious. There’s nothing wrong with flowers and cards and candy. But ultimately, where are your longings for love being directed? Are you filling that God-shaped hole in your heart with other things, and other people? From my own experience, the more I fill that longing in my heart with God, the less I fill it with other things and other people.

Filling your heart with what God says about you will be an anchor for your self-worth, so no matter how you experience the frailty of human love, your soul will find rest in God alone and in the strength of His love for you.

It’s Time To Move.

February 2nd is a hard day for me. She didn’t pass away for 12 more days, but the 2nd is the day I found out she wasn’t doing well, and didn’t have long.

For me, this day is actually harder than the day she passed away. I relive exactly where I was and what I was doing when I found out… the confusion and shock followed by gut-wrenching sobs. Then the frantic gathering of my things- hair still wet, no make-up, no shoes, as I calmed myself just enough to press a quick kiss onto my then-three year old’s forehead before running out the door. I flew down Falls of Neuse Road, driving like a bat out of hell- weaving and passing in turn lanes and running lights. I was only six miles from Duke Raleigh Hospital, but it felt like an eternity getting there in the middle of lunch time traffic in Raleigh. My mom was dying.

I ran into the waiting room, and the front desk could tell by my face exactly who I was there to see. My sister appeared, her red nose and splotchy face giving away what her older sister brave face was trying to protect me from. I followed her to the back, and saw my mom curled in a ball on a gurney, her frail frame looking more like a 12 year old than a 61 year old. I curled up right next to her, getting as close as I could, tears soaking her pillow. Weak and barely able to speak, she quietly said, “Oh honey…”

Once my brother arrived, I excused myself. I couldn’t watch him fall apart, and I couldn’t watch her trying to comfort him. He was always the favorite… the bond between him and my mom was unmistakable. Just seeing her looking up at him was enough to drive a stake through your heart.

They moved her to a private room at the hospital, and the pain meds began to work. She was able to sit up, cuddle with her two grandbabies, and entertain an endless stream of visitors. She received a call from her nephew that his son had been born, named after her beloved grandfather. She faded in and out of sleep for two days, but managed to keep us laughing. My favorite story was when she went to the bathroom to “take a shower”, turned the water on, and suddenly we smelled cigarette smoke. I went and found the nurse, because what else do you do when your dying-but-stubborn mother lights up in the hospital?? The nurse looked me in the eyes, smiled, and said “Honey, she doesn’t have much longer. I ain’t about to tell her to stop now.” And I watched in amazement as the nurse knocked on the door and called out, “Ms. Marcia? You may want to put a few towels at the crack under the door so your shower steam doesn’t get out.” Followed by a surprised, “Thank you” from my mother. I swear she got away with everything.

Those two days were filled with friends and family, and visits from mom’s lawyer, signing the power of attorney papers, and making decisions about hospice care. We began the 12 days of saying goodbye and letting our sweet and stubborn mother go.

I was 26. I was too young to lose my mom. We had only just begun to heal from many painful years of estrangement. All of my teen years and the beginning of my twenties, I held on so tightly to the ways I felt she was wrong, and the things she did that I didn’t agree with. I wasn’t able to process them maturely and allow her to just be herself, agree to disagree, and not let it affect our relationship. Finally, after having my first baby, I realized how much I needed her. By the time I had my second, she had become my on-call doctor, my seasoned counselor, and my comedy relief. My love for my children showed me my mother’s fierce love for me and my siblings… and broke down my guarded walls as I realized that a mom can mess up, but still be a good mom.

I can’t get those lost years back. I wish I had known then, what I know now. That messing up and making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad mom. It makes you human. I have wept in sorrow over my judgemental years and how the plank in my own eye caused me to miss out on so much. But like the good mom she was, she loved me when I loved her least. Once I let her back into my life, she never held how I handled things against me. She acted as though it had ever happened. Her ever-present love was the forgiveness I never knew I needed.

How about you? Are there lost years? Maybe not with your mom, but perhaps someone else? Dear one, you never know when you will get that call. I never expected my mom to die at 61- and she had had cancer for 17 months. I am forever grateful to the Lord for softening my heart so I could have those three short, but precious years before she died.

But we don’t always get those chances. Don’t wait for that person to apologize, or apologize the exact way you want. Often times when we dig our heels in and want God to move someone else, He is waiting on you to move. To first, get that plank out of your eye, and then move toward forgiveness and healing. You may never get an apology… but you don’t need one to offer forgiveness. Don’t let your bitterness and stubbornness eat you alive and steal your joy, and rob you of precious years.

Make the move. Today. The enemy doesn’t want you to. He wants you to stay comfortable in your misery and indignation, and remind you of all the ways you have been wronged that the other person needs to right. Don’t wait. If you do, it could be too late. I know it’s hard. Forgiveness is costly. It’s costs you your right to be the judge. When you have a hard time forgiving, look to the cross. It was costly for Christ. But He willingly was beaten and nailed to a cross, to die a sinner’s death that He didn’t deserve… all to bring you to God. You were worth it to Him.

If you believe that, and you have been forgiven of much… then you have the power to forgive much. The more you see what all you have been given grace for instead of punishment, the more you are able to extend grace to those who sin against you. If you are struggling, know that you can ask God to soften your heart. Forgiving doesn’t make what that person did okay. Forgiveness simply takes the burden of being the judgment-bearer off of you, and rightly places it on God.

Don’t lose one more minute. Whenever your February 2nd happens, you will be eternally grateful that God softened your heart.

Because He Loves Us.

I got my first tattoo a year ago. I had decided a few months prior that I wanted to get the outline of North Carolina, my home state. I had to build up my courage to actually go and get it (you can read about the ridiculous debacle here, if you dare). I was going through some pretty painful things, emotionally speaking, and distinctly remember thinking, “I’m going to get my tattoo this weekend. I’m actually welcoming the physical pain.”

That likely sounds crazy. But I think the reason I wanted to experience that physical pain is because I knew it would hurt like crap, but then it would be over. And it wouldn’t hurt anymore.

Emotional pain isn’t like that. It hurts, then hurts some more, then weaves its way into every other area of your life. It can threaten to swallow you whole… and you wish it would. But it doesn’t. It just keeps hurting, and it’s a feeling that won’t end. You go to bed with it, sleep restlessly because of it, and wake up with it right in your face.

Maybe you’re in that season. Maybe it’s not like Winter or Summer, that only last three months each. Maybe this is a season that doesn’t feel like a “season” at all… but more like a life sentence. There are countless reasons you may find yourself in pain, left feeling like you’re in the dark, not knowing which way is up, or which way is out.

I read a Bible story with my kids every night. A few weeks ago, one of the questions at the end was, “Why does God let bad things happen to His people?” My 8-year-old son answered, “Because He loves us.”

Now, I don’t know if he just misheard me, or if what I’ve been teaching him is actually clicking. But I. was. floored.

His answer doesn’t seem right, does it? It actually is.

When we think of “good”, we naturally think of happy things, pleasing things. Things that are of gain, advancement, approval. But what is our standard of “good”? If you are a believer in Christ, then your definition of good should be “God”.  Myrna Alexander writes about some of the attributes of God in her book, Behold Your God. Here is an excerpt from her book from the fifth chapter; God is Good:

“When Scripture proclaims, ‘God is good’ (Nahum 1:7; Psalms 25:8; 86:5; 119:69), the absolute declaration being made is that God is the source of all goodness in the universe. Therefore, good cannot be found apart from God.

Because God is absolute good, He has never done nor can He ever do one thing to you that is not good. God also cannot change, and so has never been more or less good to you than He is right now.”

If you are a believer in Christ, then you know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

You may be wondering, “If God works ALL things for my good, then how can my infertility be for my good? My job loss? My son’s drug addiction? My mom’s cancer?”

Believer, if you believe that the definition of good is “God”, then here is your answer:

Anything that makes you more like Christ is good.

If your infertility drops you to your knees to cry out to God and in doing so, you draw near to God… that is good.

If losing your job makes you pick up your Bible and lean on Christ through prayer and tears… that is good.

If your son’s drug addiction makes you constantly come to the Lord, praying protection over your son and deliverance from his addiction, and asking God to guide you and give you peace in the process.. that is good.

If your mom’s cancer diagnosis breaks you to the point where you give up and tell God you don’t know how to handle this, and causes you to cling to Him for peace and hope… that is good.

My pastor was preaching on Jonah back in June. Brian stated that God uses two methods to draw believers to Himself. Theology and affliction. First, He uses theology. When that doesn’t get our attention, He allows the painful circumstances. But His sovereignty in our storms is always directed at a purpose: to break down our self-reliance. To draw us near to Himself.

I just read an article from The Gospel Coalition this week by Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic.  She said a Bible study friend of hers from the 70s said ten words that set the course for her life:

“God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

The article continues, “God hated the torture, injustice, and treason that led to the crucifixion. Yet He permitted it so that the world’s worst murder could become the world’s only salvation.”

Friend, understand this: God hates your infertility. He hates all the crap you have to go through while trying to bring new, precious life into this world. God hates that you are in financial distress and are fearful of how you’ll pay your mortgage and provide for your family. God hates that your son has a drug addiction. God hates cancer. Yet, He is permitting it for the sake of Christ in you. To draw you close to Himself.

Yes, God allows bad things to happen to His people because He loves them.

It hurts God to see His people in pain. But, I’m going to say something that you may not like. God is not for your happiness. He’s not. I have not seen a single verse in all of the Bible in the years I have been reading it where God says He is for your happiness. No, He is for your joy. Happiness is circumstantial, but joy can be yours in the darkest hours of your life (James 1:2, Romans 5:3-5) and produces perseverance, character, and hope in Christ. Steward your pain well, knowing it is not in vain.

This world is broken.. our lives are filled with hurt. Sometimes God moves mountains… and sometimes He makes mountains unmoveable (my life song right now is “Even If” by Mercy Me… have a listen if you are going through pain right now). Let your pain compel you to the feet of Christ, knowing He is for your good (Christ in you!). Know that Jesus is the Light of the world, and whoever walks with Him will never walk in darkness (John 8:12). Cling to the Lord and yearn for the hope of Heaven, where one day all the brokenness will become unbroken.

 

His Good Heart.

I have been a stay-at-home mom for over nine years. My babiest baby is not even two yet. I had zero plans of changing my at-home status until she was in Kindergarten four years from now. Even then, I would look for a part-time gig.

Things change. God opens and closes doors at will, and we can either resist or follow. Following doesn’t always mean glitter and gold… in fact it can downright suck. But there is purpose in the suckage.

The second-to-last week of August, we moved into an apartment (after owning a home for 7 years, this has been interesting to say the least). The next week, I walked my second and fourth graders into their classes. The week after that I walked my pre-K and toddler into their preschool classes. The week after that, I suited up in my old faithful scrubs, donned a mask, picked up a scaler, and was launched back into the working world as a full-time orthodontic assistant. Just like that, I went from being home 24/7, to being gone until 5:30 every day.

I love orthodontics and love assisting. I was trained on the job as a measly 18 year old, fresh out of high school in 2003. I worked at this office for four years, until I had my first baby, and stayed home after that. I filled in here and there for a while, but home was my calling. This summer, when it became evident that going back to work was the next stage in my life, I immediately got in touch with my former boss. I didn’t want to be away from my babies. But if I had to, then I had to love my job. There was no other way. I was hired back immediately, welcomed by my boss, a new boss, and an entire staff eager to have me working with them again. I won’t go into all the details, but it was very clear this was exactly where God wanted me. I tear up any time I think of it. I love LOVE my job.

But its not all sunshine and butterflies. My job is fantastic. But I am struggling in so many areas. I am used to being on top of things, over-preparing in advance, and moving at my own pace. Now, life is mostly dictated by a clock (and traffic. Raleigh drivers, get your crap together). There aren’t enough seconds in a minute, hours in a day, or ounces in a coffee cup.

The hardest part? The mom-guilt. In no way have I ever looked down on or judged a working mom. But myself? Well, I guess it’s true that we are our own worst critics.

On Thursday morning, I had a 7:40 conference with my son’s teacher. His teacher and I hadn’t really clicked yet. Which I, of course, internalize and blame myself for. If I wasn’t working, I would be more involved with his class instead of just hastily initialing his weekly behavior sheet and clipping Box Tops. I knew I needed to be up front with his teacher from the get-go of the conference. I owed it to her, to myself. Within two minutes I broke down in tears and apologized. She thought I was apologizing for throwing a take-home-reader book away (#ihaveitalltogether #allthetime) and tried to encourage me that it was no big deal. I sucked in my breath and squeaked out, “No. Not that. Well, yes, I am sorry for that. But that’s not what’s going on.” She waited patiently and let me lose it for a minute. I shared with her a few things, none of the least of these, were my failings as a mother. I had never been away from my kids, and am struggling. Struggling with being away, with not being able to stay on them and their assignments, not being intentional with reading, not being involved with class, not knowing the kids they talk about. My life has been thrown into overdrive, and I get home and after I smooch all over my kids and hear three excited stories and one excited jibber jabber, all at the same time… I begin dinner. While dinner cooks, I’m prepping four lunches for the next day. In the middle of slicing strawberries, I’m signing permission slips and behavior charts, writing notes to a math teacher, reading through paperwork, throwing books away by accident, forgetting to pay for school photos, forgetting water bottles, burning the (frozen) pizza, all while holding my baby who doesn’t want to be put down and listening to a fifteen minute shpeal on a Wax Museum Project and asking my son if he read to his nanny, and getting my four year old out of the Halloween candy at the top of the pantry, and stepping on goldfish (internally screaming as I type this by the way), suddenly smelling a poopy diaper, breaking up an argument, sending kids to get their pjs on… then dinner. Then clean up. Then bed time. I’m trying to balance a very busy job, errands, chores, the gym, relaxing, and being with my babies. I told my son’s teacher that I feel like I am failing as a mother. In every. single. way. Not being home is ruining my kids for the rest of their lives. Through tears and sniffles I told her, “I promise I’m a better mom than this. I promise I’m not this horrible of a mother.”

Mrs. G was so gracious. As I went through eighty-seven of her Finding Dory tissues, she encouraged me and told me that I was doing the best that I can, she understood.. and was ready and willing to help on her side of things in any way I needed. We proceeded to the actual conference, instead of my therapy session. Levi was doing extremely well in math, which didn’t really surprise me. Math clicks with him (he did not inherit that from me). But the reading that I was sure was spiraling downward because of my absence… he is already at the level 2nd graders need to be at by the end of the year. I was further surprised when his teacher told me that he gets taken out of class with a few other students in the grade to be in what they call a “Book Club”. That’s the PC way of saying he’s in an advanced reading group. I was floored. Utterly floored. I had no idea. His reading log is crumpled up at the bottom of his backpack, and I don’t remember the last time he wrote an entry (never mind that he’s supposed to log it every single night).

We were wrapping up the conference when his teacher closed her notes. She said she wanted to tell me something else. An unnamed boy in the class had recently been identified on the autism spectrum. He had been struggling. But Levi… my sweet boy. Mrs. G informed me that Levi talks with this boy all the time (mostly about Pokemon), doesn’t ever seem to notice a difference about this boy, and sits with him every day at lunch- that the boy always saves him a seat. She wanted me to know that Levi’s character was amazing and it was obvious that whatever he was being shown or taught at home was making an impact on him.

You guessed it. I cried like a baby.

Suddenly, his math scores and reading level didn’t seem to matter. My son befriended a boy who many would label “different”. My son intentionally spends time with him and loves him like Jesus does. Every single day. I sat Levi down later when I had some time. I told him that I was proud of how well he was doing in school, and asked him why I didn’t know about the Book Club. Then I grabbed him in my arms and looked into his huge blue eyes,  and I told him I knew about his special friendship. He didn’t seem to think it was a big deal (which, actually, I’m glad about)… but I told him that though I was glad he was smart and works hard, nothing made me prouder than knowing he was loving others and showing them Jesus. I didn’t care if he was the smartest boy in his class, or if he had to repeat second grade- the most important thing was loving others well. That that was enough. He was enough.

I was so thankful for that conference with his teacher. Beyond academics, I needed that conference for my soul. It was encouragement I didn’t foresee, and certainly struggled accepting. I beat myself up constantly for not being able to do it all. I’m in a season of my life where just about nothing is in my control. And a lot of the time- it is dark for me. I’m trying to balance my priorities- which, FYI- dishes are low on that totem pole now. I’m trying to keep up, and most days I feel like I am absolutely drowning.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. Other than to share that I’m struggling. Maybe someone else needs to know they aren’t alone with the balancing and the mom guilt and the thoughts that they are ruining their kids’ lives. My facebook would probably make people assume that everything is hunky-dory. Dressing up as a hotdog and dancing around Target, or riding a bike with a unicorn helmet and life jacket on around the store, or chasing people with a light saber and a Ninjago mask on… it looks fun. And it is fun. But it’s not an entirely accurate picture of my life right now.

A more accurate picture would be if you followed me into Harris Teeter Friday afternoon with all four of my kids. One screaming that she wants to walk as I push her through the entire store, one asking incessantly if we can get this, and get that, and get those, and get this, and and and and (internally screaming again), one telling me every food he hates as we walk past them (which is about 98.6% of the store), and the four year old disappearing and climbing into shelves of toilet paper, touching every product at her level, running away, reappearing with apples she has already taken bites out of, the food-hater pressing the call button at the butcher counter over and over as I’m getting onto the apple eater for apple eating before apple buying. The baby screams when she sees food she wants (why did I go to the store at 4:30. That’s an amateur move, Emily). Everyone wants a different colored apple. We’ve lost a paci, so now we backtrack through the store because that stupid paci was $18 (it is a pink giraffe wubanub. It made sense when I was sleep-deprived.) and I refuse to lose that thing. We go to check out, and I forget a few items. But they are on the other side of the store so SCREW THAT. I made the mistake of going to self-checkout. Not only am I keeping up with four children, I am now arguing with a machine about my item in the bagging area.

Just when I’m about to snap, this older mom and her mother walk past me. I had seen them several times throughout the store. As they were heading out and I was shoving dollar bills into the machine, I hear, “You’re doing a great job”. And a kind smile offered by both women toward me.

You guessed it. I cried like a baby.

So. Here I am. Being honest with you about my struggle. My struggle of not being enough. My struggle of failing miserably as a mom, even as a person in general. I don’t have much to offer in advice right now. But if you’re struggling, just know you’re not alone. If the happy-go-lucky lady dancing in the hot dog suit is struggling, you’re allowed to struggle, too. I imagine you’re at the end of your rope. Struggling to keep your head above water.

The good news, and what I cling to- is that God is with you. A few weeks ago my pastor said something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. That you can trust God’s good heart when you can’t see His good hand. There are times we struggle or suffer, times we are in the dark and are hurting. We can’t see God’s good hand in the situation. But we know God and we know He is a good God- that He works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He loves us so much.. so much that He gave His only Son as a ransom for our souls. If He spared not His own Son to show us how much He loves us- we can trust His good heart when we can’t see His good hand.

Another Cup Post.

Monday night, I was beat from working all day and going straight to trick or treating. I went to bed early (for me) and decided to just take my shower in the morning and make the kids’ lunches then.At 2:58am I get a wake up call from my almost two year old. I calm her down, crawl back into bed, close my eyes, she cries out again. I go back in, calm her down, go back to bed, close my eyes, she cries again. This continues about 7 times before it wakes my four year old up and now I have two to calm down at 4:02am. I get the older one to sleep and start to drift off again myself, when my baby cries out again. I’m getting a migraine from the constant disrupted sleep. “Screw this,” I think as I swing my legs over the rail and climb into her crib. I laid with her for 45 minutes, she was quiet, but her eyes were wide open. I doze for snippets at a time. Meanwhile, I’m having dreams of her crying out and not being able to calm her. She has stayed quiet long enough where I decide I can leave her. I climb out of the crib, go back to my bed, annnnnnd she cries out again. I have to be up in like seven minutes. I pulled my pillow over my head as I apologized inwardly to my baby for ignoring her in the name of sleep and sanity. I sleep for mere minutes before my alarm goes off to shower.

I can’t skip. It’s staff photo day at work. So, I jump in. Half leg in of shaving and my razor head breaks off the handle. Of course it did. Why wouldn’t it? I proceeded to shave the rest of that leg and my other leg with two hands steering this tiny razor head, taking three times as long as normal. Now I’m running behind. I have to dry my hair and put my face on… I don’t have time to make four lunches. I know….I’ll send cash with the big two and they can buy lunch. Now I only have to make two lunches. I scramble between finishing lunches, counting out quarters for the $2.25 lunches, blow drying and straightening my hair, and putting my war paint on. Of course I get a zit over the weekend that takes residency on my left cheek. Seventeen layers of putty, caulk, and paint and it’s still laughing at me out of my peripheral vision. I’m going to have to pay this photographer for some photoshopping. Whatever. I have to go.

It’s Novermber 1st. No matter how ridiculous my day has started off, I know I can count on my first Christmas song. Yes, I am one of those people. I peel out of the neighborhood scanning the radio. I can’t find a Christmas song anywhere. I was a little irritated, but- no matter what is going wrong this morning… I’m going to Starbucks. Because November 1st is Red Cup Day. It should be a recognized holiday in my opinion. Anyway. I walk into Starbucks, thrilled TO DEATH that there is no line (unheard of at 7am). I asked for my Tall With Whip Vanilla Latte. I see her grabbing a white cup. No red cup in sight. My heart rate starts to climb. “Um, ma’am? Where are your red cups?” With a smirk, she answers “There are no red cups.” “Until when? When do you get them in?” “Never. No red cups this year.” I passed out cold.

Not really. But my blood pressure bottomed out and I was light headed. Controlling the confusion and hurt, I managed to choke out, “Ever? This it my favorite day of the year. I have looked forward to Red Cup Day since last Red Cup Day. Are you sure?” She laughs and says she will have a red solo cup for me tomorrow morning. I couldn’t even fake a courtesy laugh. She mentions that the red is gone because of the uproar about it last year. That ding dong with the “Merry Christmas” mess ruined Red Cup day for me. I told the lady I had written a blog post about that debacle last year. She shakes her head, and says this year the cup is green. But they didn’t have those yet. I cannot believe this is happening. I was broken. Crushed. This day just went from bad to terminal.

I mosey over to the counter to wait for my stupid white cup. I have never been sad waiting for my Starbucks. I was beyond sad. I was morose. This Vanilla Latte is going to taste like toilet water now. In my head, I’m writing a eulogy for the Red Cup, when suddenly, the cashier barista looks past the barista at the espresso machine, to some ruckus in the back. “Hold that cup right there” she says to the barista. “Don’t make that drink in that cup.” The girl looked so confused. The cashier barista and I locked eyes and she gave me a mischievous smile. My endorphins were on high alert. Did they find a magic stash of red cups? What is going on?! The anticipation was killing me and I was about four seconds from hopping the bar and running to the back. The male barista pokes his head around the door and grins. And then, a cup appears. A green cup. For me. Just for me. He walks it out to the barista to make my drink, and I was close to tears. I was overjoyed. They made my whole day.

It sounds ridiculous. But it’s true. I really do love November 1st. I’m not big into Halloween- I do the costumes and love taking my kids trick-or-treating. But my favorite thing about Halloween is the fact that the next day Christmas starts. The music, the Red Cup, the hustle and bustle, the lights and decorations. I love it. Christmas is my favorite time of year, and I want to stretch it as long as I can. November 1st-December 31st (as much as I love it early, I do not like it extending into January. Or April… looking at you, people who still have icicle lights on the porch for Easter.) I had had a rough start to my day, so I was really looking forward to my Christmas in a Cup. And when that wasn’t going to happen, I was bummed. And super annoyed at the dude who got the country in a tizzy over the Red Cup last year. I would have loved to have had his phone number at 7:03am. But that Barista humored my sulking, and found me the next best thing- the Green Cup. The one they hadn’t put out yet. He got it out just for me. It made me squeal and clap, and I actually had tears in my eyes. Not because the Green Cup was that amazing (let’s face it, it will never be the Red Cup), but because they went out of their way to make my day. It was so simple, but meant so much.

I’ve shared my Tuesday Green Cup story with anyone who will listen. Today, I got on Facebook only to find that there was an article, “Starbucks’ New ‘Unity’ Cup Draws Fire”. I have never groaned so loud or rolled my eyes so fast in my life. I didn’t want to even click on the stupid link, but click I did. And it confirmed my fears. More people being offended by a Starbucks cup. That the Unity Cup was “political brainwashing” and “liberal bias”. And some were angered that the cup didn’t carry “a stronger holiday message and accused the company of attacking Christian values.” Can somebody please explain to me how Unity automatically means liberal bias and anti-Christian?

Anyone?

 

Bueller?

 

Bueller?

 

Bueller?

 

I mean, do we really not have more important things to talk about right now? Like the fact that we have “Fall Back” on Saturday night which every mom of young children hates because the kids don’t get the extra-hour-memo and instead of waking at 6am, they are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 5am? Or the fact that Brett Eldredge came out with his new Christmas album, Glow this week and he sounds like Frank Sinatra and everyone needs to pick up a copy (Yes I said “pick up a copy” because I don’t do iTunes and don’t have a clue how it works and I still live in the 90s. Sorrynotsorry.).

The only uproar I’m interested in regarding the Green Cup is protesting in order to bring back the Red Cup. I mean, when Chick-fil-a replaced their original barbecue sauce with that nasty Smokehouse Barbecue sauce this summer, the masses went into uproar and tweeted the fire out of Chick-fil-a. One person even tweeted, “If I tweet you everyday for a year like Noah wrote Allie in the Notebook for 365 days will you bring back your original bbq sauce?” And guess what? CFA IS BRINGING BACK THE ORIGINAL BARBECUE SAUCE. This month. I’m convinced it is because they love me and it’s a birthday present to me. But that’s another post for another time.

There is a glimmer of hope. Articles addressing the “offended” (using quotes because in order to be offended, there has to be an offense. and there just isn’t one.) mention that the Green Cup may not be the company’s holiday cup this year, because Starbucks’ statement said the cups were for a “divisive time in our country” and made no mention of holidays. So I’m crossing my fingers and holding off on my Red Cup eulogy.

As for the “brainwashing” and “bias”… if promoting unity in a country that has had SO much divisiveness this year (hello, elections + police + BLM + everythingandanythingapparently) is brainwashing and biased and wrong… then I don’t want to be right. I say kudos to Starbucks for reaching across lines and wanting to join people together. We have all heard it before- United We Stand, Divided We Fall.

Go to Starbucks and pay for your overpriced latte in a Green Cup. Or stay home and use your Keurig. Whatever you do, find something more important to do than talk about what is or isn’t on a cup. I’m sure your toilets could use a cleaning.

How To Drop Off Your Babiest Baby For Her First Day At Preschool.

YOU DON’T. YOU STRAP HER BACK IN AND PEEL THE HELL OUT OF THERE LIKE THE SCHOOL IS ON FIRE AND INFESTED WITH SNAKES AND SPIDERS.

This day came much quicker than I anticipated. Two years quicker, to be exact. I dropped my babiest baby off at preschool for her first day. I figured there are a few other moms out there who did the same thing this morning, or will in a few days, and needed to know their ridiculous tears aren’t the only ones making puddles in the parking lots.

How DO you drop your babiest baby off at preschool for her first day?

It all starts the week before. When you are getting all of your kids’ school supplies and rummaging through strewn pencil boxes and composition notebooks and looking for that stupid yellow-plastic-three-pronged-with-pockets folder (is it just me or does that sound similar to a Starbucks order? “I’d like a grande-with-whip-decaf-upside-down-caramel-macchiato. With pockets.”). You see the lunchboxes hung on a wall and realize your babiest baby will be eating lunch at preschool and will need something for her lunch to travel to school in. The anxiety starts setting in. The lunchbox you choose will be the lunchbox she eats her food from next week. WHEN YOU’RE NOT THERE TO FEED HER. Your eyes well up with tears and your nose does that God-forsaken tingly crap as you try to hold it together. This lunchbox will be no ordinary lunchbox. This lunchbox will scream “MOMMMMY LOOOOOOVES YOOUUUUU MY SWEEEEEET BAAAAAABY, PRETEND ITS ME FEEDING YOU I MISS YOU AND WANT TO KISS YOUR FACE OFF RIGHT NOW!!!!” So you pick the cutest most adorable print that you know will send that subliminal message to her every day.

The night before you drop her off, you’re in denial and self-preservation mode. Your to-do list is a sanity saver. You have to pick out her first day outfit, and it has to match or complement her older sister’s first day outfit. Because pictures, duh. Then you have to pick out a change of clothes for her to send in in a gallon zip lock bag (which you don’t have, so now a Target run is on your to-do list… and you’re not sad about that, hello). You have to label every one of her diapers (heaven forbid they accidentally put a Pampers on her rear instead of my knock-off Luvs), label her bib, label her paci clip, label her lunch box, label her soul. Then you have to make four lunches. While you’re rolling ham slices up and cutting strawberries into bite sizes, you mutter under your breath how you should have bought stock in ziplock storage containers and go-gurt. It’s eleven at night, but you know what? Your Keurig needs de-scaling. It doesn’t have to be done tonight, but in actuality, it has to be done tonight. Because it keeps you up later. And if you don’t go to sleep, tomorrow won’t come. And you won’t have to actually drop your babiest baby off at preschool. While your nose hairs are slowly burning off to the rancid stench of white vinegar running through your Keurig (seriously, how is coffee ever going to taste good coming out of THAT again) and you seriously consider just buying a new coffee pot just to not deal with that smell… you realize you haven’t eaten dinner. You’re five, so you bust out the Frosted Flakes you just impulse-bought at the check-out line at Target. You have no to-dos left, but you’re a professional piddler, so you start SnapChatting with your friend while watching Friends and lolololololololing at each other’s beard filter snaps. You’re an adult, but the two of you looking like crosses between Flynn Rider and Jesus- you’re absolutely howling.

The first day arrives. Somehow, the Sand Man found you, and now it’s 6:45 and all the creatures are stirring, even the mouse. You get up and get dressed and put your war paint on. Warning: you should probably skip the eye make-up today. But you didn’t skip it, because you go nowhere without seventeen applications of mascara and your winged eyeliner. You go to your babiest baby’s room and see her ragamuffin hair across her face and you scoop her up to snuggle her one last time before she’s officially a preschooler. But she wants none of the mushy, she wants her paci that she threw out of the crib and to get down and run to her milk in the kitchen. After she eats, you get her dressed and fix her hair for school. YOU FIX HER HAIR FOR SCHOOL >insert 912034 crying emojis here< You get all four kids out the door to take pictures. Your expectations were  clearly too high. Baby just wants to run to the car and falls and scrapes both knees, four year old won’t look at the camera and keeps lifting her dress to wipe her nose, the older two start playing in the dirt. Just wave the white flag and pile them all into the car and figure the pictures out at school. You drive to the elementary school and pray with your kids, asking God to bless ALL OF THEM at school and the tears start. The older two hop out with a quick kiss, and it’s just you, the car, and two miles to the preschool. If you take a left, you can just go home and pretend preschool doesn’t exist. If you take a right, you have to put your big girls panties on and do the preschool thing. Your heart says left, your steering wheel turns right.

You’ve arrived at school early. Your four year old is running amuck in the car, excited about going back to school. Your babiest baby is hollering “I want out!!!! I want out!!!! OUUUUUUTTTTTTT!!!!” But first you text your sister the only photos you have so far, and text your friend who is dropping her twin boys off for their first day of Kindergarten. You finally get out to attempt some more pictures on a pretty bench near the school. You cannot get over how your babiest baby looks simultaneously huge and teeny with her humongous preschool knapsack and lunchbox. The main doors open, and the director and assistants welcome you with a hearty “Good Morning! Welcome back!” and you plaster a fake smile as you walk by. You drop off your four year old first. It’s her last first day of preschool ever. And you want to have all the feels about it, but she’s so excited and ready she hardly glances at you while she darts toward her new best friend, Ms. Sara. You literally have to make her come back to you for a kiss, and she gives you one on the fly-by, all but telling you “BYE FELICIA” and disappears into her class.

It’s time. Do you run out the door and strap your babiest baby back in and floor it, or do you hold yourself together, put one foot in front of the other, and go drop her off?

One foot in front of the other. You take her to her class, drop her bag on a hook, put her lunchbox in the bin, give her a kiss and a hug, and put her on the floor… and you walk out. You hear her crying, and it’s all you can do to make it the bathroom to shut yourself in a stall to sob your eyes out. You aren’t ready for this. You don’t want to do this. It is literally breaking your heart to pieces. It’s a new chapter of a book you weren’t planning on reading yet- but the pages are turning and you have to keep up. It’s how your life is right now. A lot of changes, a lot of new things- changes and things you never dreamed of and were prepared for. You don’t know what will happen down the road, but you do know today. You know that today, you put one foot in front of the other and you walked your babiest baby to her class, and you put one foot in front of the other, and walked away from her class. You collect yourself after several minutes of sobbing, and you blow your nose, and you keep it together long enough to put one foot in front of the other all the way to your car. The second the door closes, you put your hands to your face as hot tears escape and find their way through your fingers. You wonder if you will ever get used to dropping her off. If you will ever not cry walking away from her. If driving off will ever not rip your heart out of your chest.

You put the car in drive. And you leave the parking lot. You know your baby will have so much more fun at school with structured and intentional learning and playtime, rather than at home with you telling her to go play with a spoon for two hours. You go meet up with a friend who is an elementary-empty-nester and cry your eyes out with her. You grab breakfast and decide to go back to her place to eat because even your frequented Chick-fil-a can’t handle all the tears you would be leaving there.  Then you go home with the intention of cleaning your teeth with fury for your afternoon dentist appointment. Or cleaning up. Or taking a shower. Or going to the grocery store. But by the time you pull in, you already know you’re going to sit down and write. That some Mama out there needs to know she’s not alone this morning, this week. It’s confirmed when you walk in and see your babiest baby’s giraffe wubbanub paci and itty bitty pig jammies the moment you walk in. This post is brought to you by fresh tears and a frosted coffee from CFA.

You may be dropping your first child off at school today, or your second, or your last. You may be walking your only child into Kindergarten. You may be starting your first day at homeschool with your little one. Or you may be dropping your child off to daycare on your way to being a working mom. Or you may be leaving your infant with a babysitter for the first time so you can run some errands. This season of life, with little ones, is bittersweet. We are so excited for their next adventure, their next milestone. But every step they take in independence, is another step away from needing us. We rejoice in their accomplishments, but if we are honest, it breaks our hearts. Some things we never get closure for-it happens before we realize it and we never got to cherish that one last time… such as the last nap in the crib. If your baby climbs out of the crib, you put her in a big girl bed. You didn’t really get to treasure that last nap, because you didn’t know it was going to be that last nap in the crib. Some things, we know the chapter is ending and the anticipation alone can threaten to kill us. I have literally cried every time I have thought about my baby starting preschool. Not just watery eyes; big fat my-life-is-over tears that make me change my shirt. And some things- we don’t know if they are temporary situations, or indefinite. But we feel God calling us to do them. So we do. Often, in blind faith, not knowing the outcome, but trusting the One who does. One foot in front of the other. We can’t always see the next step, but God is faithful. If we walk in obedience to Him, He will be a lamp unto our feet, a light unto our path, and will make our paths straight. Even when it looks like a dead-end. God can make a way where there is no way, and is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.

Mamas… just know you’re not alone. If it’s drop off day or you’re struggling with a health scare, or your finances are in shambles, or if things in your life seem to be unraveling… you aren’t alone. Sometimes you just want to run the other way, even when you know you’re called to move forward and face it head on. Whatever you’re facing today, the Lord is with you and will guide you as you put one foot in front of the other in faith. And if those steps lead you to Starbucks or Target, well then, AMEN AND AMEN. God is with you, God is for you. You can do this. One foot in front of the other.

From my trench to yours,

Emily

“I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

How To Get A Tattoo In Twenty-Five Easy Steps.

Last Saturday, I got my first tattoo. Some people were shocked, others not at all. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the process, so I thought I would break it down step by step for you if you are considering your first tattoo.

 

1. First things first: you finally land on the tattoo you want. Years and years of throwing ideas around, you’ve finally got it. You think about how you’ll feel about it ten years from now, 40 years from now. You still love it.
2. You decide you are ready. You are 31 and you have wanted one since you were 18. But thank God you didn’t get one back in 2003 because Lord knows it would have been a hibiscus flower on your lower back.
3. You hit up your brother and cousin who have tattoos and ask for a referral to a legit artist. You will not go to a tattoo parlor attached to a Chinese restaurant that says “Tattoos While You Wait”. You know if you did, your arm would contract gangrene and fall off by next Thursday. Not interested. Brother doesn’t return text (maybe because he is busy, but probably because he doesn’t believe you’re actually serious). Cousin texts “What?? Who are you?!?” Clearly, she saw this coming.
4. Finally, you land on a legit parlor. After no less than 1724 back-and-forth conversations in your head, you work up the nerve to call them. You attempt to sound like you know what the crap you are talking about, “Yeah, hey…. man… uh… So I’m looking at getting a tattoo on Saturday. Do you have any availability?” Your tattoo is small (I mean duh, you’re brave, but also a freaking chicken) and the dude says to walk in when they open at 1, they’ll work you in.
5. You don’t tell anyone. Not even your best friend. Because if you chicken out (which is highly likely) you don’t want to admit it.
6. Anyone you see who has a tattoo you ask how bad it hurts. You tell them where and what you want. Some tell you it won’t hurt at all. They didn’t even feel it (spoiler alert: they are liars lying out of their lying liar holes). Some tell you it feels like a continuous carpet burn or a cat scratch. And you don’t even know how to process that, but suddenly you are attempting to scratch your own arm to gauge your pain tolerance. Because your trim, rounded fingernails are probably so similar to a cat’s sharpened claw.
7. Saturday comes. You eat at noon, knowing if you don’t, you’ll hit the floor the moment you walk into the tattoo parlor out of sheer fear and wake up on a stretcher. Every fry you bite, you shake your head. There’s no way you’ll go through with this. You should just go back home and put your pj pants on and watch Friends until your heart rate returns to normal.
8. You park your car in the back lot of the parlor. It’s 12:58 and you are about to get stabbed and jabbed until you cry or pee or pass out or run away. You walk into the parlor as cool as a cat being given a bath.
9. The manager, Fox, tells you it will be closer to 2 before you can be worked in. You don’t know if it’s a chance to relax and calm down or a sign from God to run like hell.
10. You calmly tell Fox,, “That’s cool”. And proceed to tell him what you want, ask him how long it will take, how bad it will hurt, how do you clean it, what’s that sound, can you watch someone else get it… He smiles at you. The kind of smile that says he has dealt with many an idiot before you. Yet here you are. When he finds out you’ve had four kids he laughs and tells you, “I’m pretty sure you’ll be just fine.” And he tells you the sound will probably bother you more than the pain. Suddenly, all you can hear is the sound of needles buzzing. You look through an open window at a girl getting her tattoo on her upper back and you just know you are about to see your burger and fries again.
11. You go sit on a pew. Yes, a pew. In the tattoo parlor. Against the window. Clearly, it’s a place where people say their last prayers. Have mercy the sun is beating through that window. Is it really that hot, or is it another sign to high tail it out of there. I think I should take my migraine medicine now.
12. 2:00 rolls by. Justin Bieber walks in the parlor. Well. The closest look-alike you’ve ever seen. You cannot help but giggle over this man-child and his hat with a flat-bill (I’m certain there’s a cooler word for that that I’m unaware of), his tank top, his skinny jeans, and his silver high tops. Give that boy a mic and “Baby, baby, baby, ohhhhhhh!” You even snap a picture from behind like a fangirl. Whatever takes your mind off the impending doom. Fox informs you that Steve will be doing your tattoo, but he’s not ready yet.
13. You have talked with your friend, your cousin, and her bestie. Yes, you had to bring a support group. The cousin who has all the tats informs you that if you try to bolt, she will smack you and force you back in the room. Praise the Lord for her understanding and gentleness.
14. 3:30 rolls around. Steve comes out and introduces himself. He has blonde braids, a backward hat, sunglasses, sambas, and 47273 tattoos. You stand up to follow him, but he tells you he just wants to know what you want so he can draw it out. Oh. Okay. Well you tell him you want an outline of North Carolina. He leaves, you sit down and realize you haven’t breathed in the two minutes you thought you were about to go back to Steve’s room.
15. You juuuuuuust start to calm back down, check Facebook, instagr- oh Steve is back. You pop up like a jack-in-the-box thinking “OKAYTHISISIT!!!!” as you wring your hands until your knuckles turn white. Nope. Steve just wants to make sure you like the outline he drew up and the size. Now he has to go set up. He leaves. You sit. You are about to the point you need jumper cables to make you breathe again. Maybe you should just leave. The door is right th-
16. “Okay, Steve is ready for you” says Fox. It’s go-time.
17. You pass Bieber, who is laid out on a table to your right, getting his sleeve worked on. You cannot help but giggle again. You get to Steve’s room, with your entourage. You should have brought him an Edible Arrangements or something, poor dote has no idea who he is about to work on.
18. You immediately tell Steve you want a single dot first- so you can take a picture of it and send it to your bestie with a Friends quote from the time Phoebe and Rachel go to get tattoos. Phoebe chickens out (like you know you’re about to) and gets one dot and runs away (she has always been your spirit animal….). She says “It’s exactly what I wanted. It’s the earth as seen from a great great distance. It’s how my mother sees me from Heaven.” Surprisingly, Steve laughs and tells you that you did an incredibly good impersonation. You’re flattered that Steve knows Friends, the two of you now have a bond. He has you lay down and tattoos a dot on your arm- and you think “Oh that wasn’t bad, it almost felt like it was licked on by kittens” (another Friends reference. Sorrynotsorry). You take your picture. Now, back to that kitten-licking.
19. You get the stencil ink pressed onto your outer wrist and make sure you like the placement. You do. Steve has you lay down and rest your arm on his little table. Here goes nothin’. If you wanted out, you shoulda done it earlier. Your cousin is blocking your getaway anyway. Steve tells you if you need a break, just let him know.
20. The needle starts buzzing, and the kitten licks turn into the cat scratches. Ohhhhh. Okay. It’s okay. You have this. You’re shocked how the second he takes his needle off, you don’t feel a thing. How is that possible? You ask Steve about his tattoos and his calming, monotone voice comforts you as he talks about his back piece that took a year and a half. You wince. You have the wrist of an 8 year old, all of your skin is thin. But mannn, when he gets to the NC coast, you are biting the tip of your tongue and desperately trying to dig your nails of your other hand into your flesh to deviate the pain receptors, all while trying not to flinch as his needle travels south from Elizabeth City to Sunset Beach. And then the smattering of the Outer Banks.
21. Suddenly Steve puts his needle down. Tells you “You did great!” And you look at the clock and realize he finished in 8 minutes. A perfect outline of North Carolina, your home, adorns your wrist. Forever.
22. You take pictures. Keep calm. You talk your friend through her tattoo while Steve buzzes away on her. 20 minutes later, you pay, tip, and walk out of that parlor like the bad-ass that you are.
23. You get in the car and SCREAM that you “JUST GOT A TATTTTOOOO!!!!” And say it every five minutes. For the next three days.
24. You don’t really know what happens after five days. Because that’s only how many days you’ve had it before you write an entire blog post about it. It itches. It’s ridge-y. You’ve texted your cousin a dozen times with “is this normal” questions. She tells you to calm down. Over and over.
25. Five days in, you really, really love your tattoo. You thank God you waited so many years to really decide what you wanted. For you, personally, to make sure it wasn’t just something connected to one thing, but something that encompasses as much of your life as possible. North Carolina is your home. It holds your childhood, your entire adulthood so far, your dreams, your pains, your losses, your faith, your laughter, your friendships, your memories. You made a good choice. Or maybe it chose you. Either way, it’s there forever now. And you may or may not already have ideas swirling for another tattoo.. or two.

I have always loved tattoos. I genuinely enjoy seeing people who have them. They tell so many stories! It bothers me to no end when someone looks at or says something unkind or toward another person regarding their tattoos. We really should stop looking and assuming based on outward appearances and take more time to see someone’s heart. The world would be a much richer and more beautiful place.

My advice if you’re thinking about a tattoo: Do it for you. Not for anyone else’s approval or disproval. Make sure you know what you want, and make it mean something to you- whatever that is. And let it be a part of your story. Tell your story. Be bold. Be you. Or get there and hear the buzzing sound and run out so fast Usain Bolt’s head spins. Whatever. Just be you.