For Natalie: Parents need to stop it with the Shaming

 

Yesterday on my Facebook feed I saw a picture of a young teenage girl, sitting on some stairs and holding up a sign that read: “My name is Natalie*. I am a kind, caring, smart girl but I make poor choices with social media. As a punishment, I am selling my IPod and will be donating the money to the charity Beat Bullying, in hopes of changing my behavior as well as bringing awareness to bullying. Because bullying is wrong.” (What in the world would her punishment have been if she refused to write the sign and take the picture? What could be worse than this as a teenage girl? Standing naked in the middle of the mall?!? Plus she still has to sell her Ipod  because being humiliated in front of thousands of people isn’t punishment enough? Remember when we could just look the other person in the eye and say that we’re sorry? That was no easy task, either, and we actually learned a lesson from it.)

My heart immediately went out to this young girl. I can’t begin to imagine the shame and humiliation that she is currently feeling. (Heck, I freak out when I’m tagged in an unflattering picture that only a few people see on Facebook.) I was also flabbergasted by the number of parents that actually liked this post and congratulated Natalie’s mother on a job well done. I am usually not the one to judge another person’s parenting skills. At the end of the day, we are all just trying to do what’s best for our children. We suffer enough self-doubt and guilt on our own and the last thing we need is another parent adding fuel to the fire. But, on behalf of Natalie and all the other kids who are being publicly shamed by their families, it’s time to speak up for these kids. No matter the offense, public humiliation is never okay. It’s not funny. It’s not righting a wrong. It’s creating an even bigger problem because the only lesson it’s teaching is that parents are the biggest bullies of all and our children will hate us for it.

Disciplining kids is not an easy thing. We are all going to make mistakes. We are all going to lose control and blow it every now and then. None of us is perfect. One of our main jobs as parents is to correct and guide our children by teaching them empathy, by teaching them the Golden Rule: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. You want your son to honor you? You must also honor your son.  The goal of discipline should never be to induce guilt or shame. All this will do is create a rip in your relationship with your child. Your daughter looks to you as her protection, her safety in the crazy storm of life. What happens when she begins to see you as the tornado? Discipline should come from a place of love. It should be a learning opportunity for growth. Discipline should teach how to right a wrong. Discipline should shame the behavior but should never shame the child. 
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Can we agree as caring parents that enough is enough? Can we stop humiliating our young and instead lead by example? Can we stop shaming our kids instead of truly disciplining them? Because, as Natalie said, bullying is wrong.

*I intentionally changed the name of the teenage girl and did not post her picture to avoid spreading her name and image even further. Unfortunately, her story and hundreds like hers are real.

Ahimsa

I read somewhere that our calendars reveal the truth of our craziness. In my life, this has been proven true time and time again. The more I try and cram every breathable space with activities and appointments, no matter how fun they seem at the time, the more out of balance my life becomes. When I lose my balance, it’s usually only a matter of time until I fall. I never fall gracefully, either. When I fall, I usually create a huge mess on the way down. This last time was no exception.

Christmas break started off harmlessly enough. Hadley, my 4 year old daughter, had three weeks off from her preschool.  My husband also had time off from work and so we tried to plan some fun activities for us to do together. Since both of our families live close, we attempted to space out Christmas activities so that we were able to see everyone without being rushed. This year, that meant starting on Dec. 23rd and going full throttle until Dec. 27th, for a total of 7 different gatherings, 3 of which we would be hosting at our house.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when the shit hit the fan, but hit the fan it did. Perhaps it was the fact that I hadn’t had a second to myself in 6 days or maybe it was the fact that Christmas literally vomited all over my house, but I found myself turning into robot-woman one afternoon as I frantically began cleaning out Hadley’s playroom to make room for all of her new Christmas treasures.

Christmas vomited all over my house.

Christmas vomited all over my house.

Kirby took one look at my flashing eyes and crazy hair, grabbed our daughter, and headed outside. My breathing was like that of a pissed off dragon, shallow and loud, almost panting. I took great pleasure in throwing away and donating box after box of old junk and trash. Cleaning always helps calm me down when I feel like I’ve lost all sense of control. After a few hours of some pretty intense house work, I finally slowed down and caught my breath. I happened to see my reflection in the mirror and realized that I had completely lost it. I grabbed my mat, hollered to Kirby that I was leaving, and headed to yoga class.

Freedom. Time for myself for the first time in 6 long, exhausting days. After the best yoga class of my life, I drove home and spent some time in reflection. I realized that by trying to be superwoman, by trying to please everyone, I had forgotten to please myself. My ability to love others is directly related to how well I love myself. I had allowed the craziness of the holidays to make me feel hurried, powerless, and out of balance. To live a balanced life, I must listen to the guidance and wisdom of my inner voice. I sometimes believe the lie that sacrificing myself is worth the cost to be there for others, yet all it does it cause me to become frustrated and angry. In reality, when I spread myself too thin, I have nothing left for anyone.

I usually hate New Year’s Resolutions. I have tried them in the past as some vain attempt to change something that I didn’t like about myself. What I have found is that any attempt I make to change myself keeps me trapped in a vicious cycle.  Instead, this year I’m going to have the goal of loving myself more so that I am better able to love and serve others. I have realized that I can’t be harsh and demanding with myself and then expect to be loving towards others. It just doesn’t work that way. Love demands a self in balance, a self that is not frustrated or angry as a result of feeling out of control. Love means taking time for my own needs and not feeling guilty for taking some time for myself. It means being brave enough to let my own walls down, to fully accept myself, failures and all, so that I am better able to connect more authentically with those that I love. After all, the love I have for others comes directly from the love that I have for myself. When I feel empty, I have nothing to give. When I am able to love myself by rising above anger, doubt, aggression, fear, jealousy and resentment, I will be able to love fully from my heart instead of just going through the motions. Peace begins with me.

Doing Christmas

If you are an observant person, you might notice that just about everyone around you is miserable right about now. Scowls on faces. Pissed off drivers, customers yelling at salespeople. Parents yelling at kids. Kids crying. Couples fighting. People hopped up on adrenaline and caffeine with very little sleep. Whoever said this is the most joyous time of year is full of crap.

Is it just me or does time seem to speed up around December each year? Be here. Do this. Buy this. Wrap this. Send this. Cook this. Donate this. Decorate this. And the people. Do we multiply around the holidays or something? It’s like some of you are little ants that come out of your holes as soon as the shopping malls bring out their first Christmas decorations to hypnotize us to spend! spend! spend! Hordes of people. Everywhere. There is no escape. And the extra help they hire for the holidays? The ones that just got trained and take forever to find the right buttons on their keyboards, creating a line a mile long winding behind them? Why do they always seem to be on duty at the same time? It takes FOREVER to check out of ANYWHERE. A fast line does not exist during December. It’s feels like time is literally pressing down on us, like we’re having to rush to the store to buy supplies before the big storm hits.

Having a 4 year old is bringing back lots of Christmas childhood memories for me. As a kid, Christmas was awesome. Days off from school, dad home from work, PRESENTS! I loved the Christmas lights on houses. Driving around at night became such an adventure and I would BEG my dad each year to put lights outside. The best we got was a string of colored lights around the front door, but man I thought that was pretty awesome. I remember driving to my grandparents’ house, listening to Christmas music on my dad’s country and western station and hearing my mom harmonize to every song that came on the radio. Christmas really was a magical time as a kid.

So what happened? What ruined Christmas for me? Did I ruin it for myself when I asked my mom about Santa Claus when I was in kindergarten? Pretty sure that wasn’t it. I still loved Christmas many years after that. I still loved Christmas in college. It meant coming home. It meant a few weeks without classes. It meant catching up with old high school friends. It was still pretty magical.

No. I’m convinced that Christmas stopped being a joyous time when I became an adult and felt like I had to “do” Christmas. Christmas became just one more thing that I felt society expected of me.

No photo miracle for us this year. Happy holidays, anyway!

No photo miracle for us this year. Happy holidays, anyway!

Have you seen the Christmas cards over the past few years? The professional looking ones showcasing a perfect family photo with color coded outfits in front of a beautiful setting? We did these for a few years and holy crap! Getting good family Christmas shots is no easy feat. It is a small Christmas miracle if you are all looking at the camera with your eyes opened and smiling. And the Christmas trees? Have you seen the pictures on Facebook of the beautiful trees with the actual ribbon and bows, with hundreds of matching glass balls? My tree looks nothing like that. We have a cheap Christmas angel that my daughter picked out at Garden Ridge Pottery proudly resting on top of our artificial (go ahead and judge) pre-lit Christmas tree. Nothing on my tree matches. There are no ribbons- just some cheap gold beads that I thought were pretty about 15 years ago and all of Kirby’s and my childhood ornaments. However, I love my tree and all of its tacky ornaments and all of the memories that come along with them and really don’t want to make it all professional looking. To me, it’s the most beautiful tree in the world because it represents my entire life. But man, some of your trees are gorgeous. I have to fight the urge to let my Christmas tree and my Christmas cards (not doing one this year and it feels pretty amazing!) become one more thing for me to “do.” Cards and trees should be happy memories, not stressful times like they sometimes seem to be.

Being an adult means that I’m also now in charge of buying presents for everyone on my “gift buying” list. If your family’s like mine, that’s a lot of names. It’s a lot of buying. It’s a lot of spending. It’s a lot of agonizing and worrying to think of a gift for someone. It’s a lot of driving and crowd fighting. I usually love buying presents for those that I love. Why then, does it feel like such a chore this time of year?

I want to take Christmas back. For my family. For myself. I think that most people, regardless of religious preference, can agree that Christmas should be a time of love and peace. Yet, it appears to be one of the most unloving times of the year. Feelings of impatience, anger, jealousy (hello Christmas cards!) and worry are not characteristics of love. When I find myself getting mad at strangers in a line because they are slowing me down and yelling at cars in traffic, I am learning to take a step back and breathe instead of letting the agitation grow. I am learning to slow down Christmas. I am striving to ignore the consumerism that is thrown in my face. Instead, I’m taking a moment to go for drives at night just to look at the lights. I’m slowing down long enough to appreciate all of those magical moments that come with this season. The magic of Christmas never stopped. I just got too busy and stopped looking for it. I no longer want to “do” Christmas. I want to live it.

~ala

The Purge

I HATE cleaning out my closet and drawers. With a passion. Every once in awhile, though, I become inspired and start cleaning. I am always amazed at what I find once I take everything out and begin the sorting process. “When did I buy these pants? This shirt still has the tag on it!” This last time, I even found a pair of my old biker shorts. That I wore playing volleyball. In 9th grade. I have a tendency to keep things that I haven’t worn in quite awhile, either because I might need it one day or because I spent a lot of money on it and suffered buyer’s remorse once I got it home. (I hate those skinny mirrors in stores. Fall for it every. single. time.)

Before purge- what a mess!

Before purge- what a mess!

Not this time, though. This time, if I hadn’t worn it in the past year, it was history. If it was one of those things which looked cute on the hanger but not so cute on me, it got tossed into the donation pile. I felt pounds lighter as shirt after god awful shirt got tossed into the pile. Getting dressed is much easier and faster now because I don’t have to dig through my old junk. True, I have less clothes now than I did before the purge. But, it is refreshing and freeing to open my closet door and only see those things that I like.

I’m learning that it is just as therapeutic and beneficial to do a thorough cleansing of my thoughts and memories. Some things that I’ve been storing in my mind no longer fit or serve me in any way. Some thoughts are just downright ugly and destructive. Yet, I hold onto hurts and disappointments, storing them and piling them up. Sometimes I like to take them out and let myself get angry and worked up all over again. Like my old biker shorts, some of these hurts date back decades. Forgiveness is always more beneficial for me than for the one that I am forgiving. Once I forgive, I can move from that hurt and make room for more joy in my life. Otherwise, my mind becomes filled with rage, anger, jealousy, and hurt and my actions soon follow. If I want to be a light in this world, if I want to radiate love and joy as we were called to do, I must continually remove that which I no longer need.

Feeling like an Old Hag

Even though my daughter is now four, I still want to inhale her scent and smother her with kisses. I could spend hours watching the sunlight play with the highlights in her hair. Hadley is an unfiltered version of herself. She is now old enough to express herself quite clearly but is still too young to know how to be anything other than her self. She is absolute delight and joy and her beauty comes from deep within and shines out of her every pore. I find myself thinking how beautiful she is throughout my day and very often will say the words out loud to her. I would imagine that every parent could say the same about his or her child.

Lately, I’ve been really trying to teach Hadley why I think she’s beautiful. I want her to know that her beauty comes from within and has absolutely nothing to do with her outward appearance. I think (hope) that she kind of gets it. If I ask her, “What makes you beautiful?” She will smile and say, “My heart.” My fear is that this lesson will not hold. Society is already teaching her that appearances do matter. The cuter she looks, the more attention she gets.  photo

I turned 38 a few days ago and sometimes feel like the invisible woman with the lack of attention that I now receive. There is no hiding the fact that I’m officially middle aged. Thirty-eight means that I can no longer just look “good.” I am now at that dreaded “she looks good for her age” stage. I am being called ma’am all over the place. The conversations that I have in my head regarding my own personal appearance are really downright rude. I’d never say the things to another person that I say to myself about my own appearance. It’s ridiculous. Obviously the lesson didn’t hold so well for me.

When did I start believing the lie that my worth is tied to my appearance? Why do I avoid being in pictures if I don’t like the way that I look at that particular time? Why do I sometimes pray that I won’t run into somebody I know while I’m out running errands and haven’t taken the time to make myself up?

Why do I chose to live like my beauty is tied to my appearance when I know better? I know my appearance is going to continue to change. If I continue to live, I will continue to get older. There is nothing I can do about that. I might gain a few pounds. I might lose a few pounds. I will continue to get lines and wrinkles. My hair will gray. I will eventually die. This is only scary if I allow myself to believe that I am my body. I am not my body. I am a soul living in this body for this moment of time. My true beauty, my soul, the essence of who I am, my spirit, is that part of me that will live on.

Life is funny. Hadley is beginning to really enjoy spending time looking in the mirror. She is completely fascinated watching her own reflection and is truly able to observe herself with absolutely no judgement. She fully accepts herself, just as she is. I am the opposite, usually trying to avoid direct eye contact with myself, to do what I need to do and get the heck away from the mirror before I notice a new flaw. I wish I could pinpoint that first critical thought that told me my appearance was not perfect and therefore I wasn’t good enough. Maybe it was my first bad haircut or maybe it was my first zit. Maybe it was the first time someone told me that I had bird legs. Regardless of when it was, I haven’t looked at myself in the mirror the same way again. I’d like to change that and I am, SLOWLY.

I daily have to refuse to believe the lies that tell me that my worth is based on my appearance.  I must strive to spend my time and energy concentrating on making my heart beautiful. May I, too, be absolute joy and delight. May my beauty come from deep within and shine out of my every pore. May I learn to appreciate my body more and criticize it less. May my life be a blessing to others. Then, I will be truly beautiful.

~ala

For more thoughts on how to speak to little girls, check out this great blog post by Lisa Bloom:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/how-to-talk-to-little-gir_b_882510.html

Scaling Down

I opened the door to my Grandmother’s new apartment and immediately spotted my Grandmother propped in her wheelchair, waiting in the middle of the empty room. The wheelchair seemed much larger than normal due to the smallness of the room. Granny tried to smile but I could see a small tear slowly gliding down her left cheek. My Grandfather had passed away three years earlier and the time had come for my Granny to move to a smaller unit that offered more round the clock assistance and care. A woman after my own heart, my Granny’s biggest concern was how she was going to decorate her new, much smaller home. Together, we waited for the few comforts from home that would fit in to her new space.

Scaling down is never easy. In this world we are taught that more is better. We want more clothes, more food, more home, more money. Success and happiness are measured by those who are able to obtain the most.  Possessions become our validation.  We work so hard for stuff- we want the house, the car, the yard. The more we have, the more we want. The more we buy the more we are forced to work. It’s a vicious cycle, one that we will spend our whole lives chasing, one that will escape us every time in the end because no matter how much stuff we have, we will all eventually die.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though, and I’m pretty convinced that my Granny has it figured out. One day I asked her for a piece of advice that she would give to her younger self. She thought for a second and then said something like, “Get to know yourself. Love yourself. Love and appreciate others in your life. Don’t spend your life trying to accumulate wealth. You can never take it with you when you go.”

That all sounds good in theory but what is the purpose of ambition if I don’t aim to achieve money, power or possessions?  I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I don’t think it means that I would somehow need to turn off my ambition. I believe ambition is a blessing, one of those things that propels humanity forward. The problem arises when I use my ambition for selfish reasons, often at the cost of someone else. When I view the world as a competition, it is hard to be happy for someone else’s success. The bigger someone else becomes the smaller I feel. I become jealous of what someone else has. I begin to covet material items like new furniture or designer clothing. If I allow myself to live in a state of constantly wanting more, I will never be satisfied. I will never be fulfilled. I will never be at peace with my life. Instead, what if I am able to use my ambition to serve others with the goal of contributing something good into the world?  What if I can begin to see the world as a collaboration instead of as a competition? What if I can truly replace greed and envy with love in my own life?

My Grandfather’s obituary outlines most of his worldly accomplishments: “Attended Rice University. Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. Retired after 50 years of service. Appointee to the Texas State Finance Commission.” The accolades go on.

What it won’t tell you is that my Grandfather started his successful career in banking as the bank’s janitor. He slowly worked himself up the ladder by serving others. At his funeral, people didn’t talk much about his business success or about the beauty of his home. They talked instead about how my Grandfather blessed their lives in some way. My Grandfather dedicated his life to loving and serving others. He made the world a brighter place, not because of his successful banking career, but because of the positive impact he had on those around him. He never failed to realize his higher calling.

I don’t think that serving others means that we will be destitute somewhere or that we have to become organic farmers and grow our own food. It just means doing whatever we do out of love and not out of our own egos. When we invest our time, energy, and our life on doing our part, we might possibly still be considered successful in the world’s eyes. We might still have lots of stuff. But, we realize that our success is not validated by our material wealth. When we stop chasing the dollar we become free from the vicious cycle and can truly live a life of joy and abundance. In the end, all that will matter is how well we loved while we were here.

~ala

The Fall

Sometimes I get so stressed trying to “stay ahead” that I have no idea of where I am right now. I am having one of those moments. Actually, a week of those moments.  I love the fall, especially the smells, but as soon as we get close to the month of October, my body starts to tense, getting ready to brace itself to face the next 3 months or so of craziness. I am already finding myself getting easily agitated by others, becoming forgetful, and becoming the person I swore last year that I would not become again. My body is reacting by creating enough snot to flood my kitchen. I am pretty sure I get this “Fall Madness” at the first spotting of holiday decorations. Or, perhaps it’s brought on by the mourning of the start of Football season, knowing that my best friend will be seasonally preoccupied. Whatever the cause, my body is immediately brought on high alert, acting as if the gun is about to bang for a big race. It’s all a competition and I want to win. Best birthday party with the cutest goodie bags, best Halloween costumes, most adorable Christmas card with the picture perfect family, most festive house. The list could go on, and we all know that Pinterest will make sure that it does. Not this time, Fall. This Fall, may I take it one moment at a time. One activity at a time. May I not look at the week’s agenda and wonder how I’m going to get it all done. May I not look at the monthly calendar and hope for just a few blank squares. This Fall, may I say yes to only those things that I truly want to do. May I not give myself too many balls to juggle. May I enjoy and take care of each precious moment, knowing that now is all I truly have. May I not get caught up in the consumerism thrown in my face. May I appreciate and love those that I am blessed to be around. May I be truly happy and thankful. May I realize that my life is a blessing and not a battle. May this season be the one where I refuse to fall.

Five Days

 

Five beautiful days of vacation spent with my husband and two of our best friends in one of  the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Five days of not being a mommy. Five days of only being responsible for myself. Five days of being able to go to the bathroom without having the company of my 3 year old. Five days of being able to have uninterrupted grown-up conversations. Five days of not having to entertain anyone. Five days of getting to choose and decide what I want to do. Five days of being unplugged from technology. Five days of total bliss.

I’ve been home from vacation for less than 2 weeks now and the transition back into reality has not been easy. Not only is the jet lag a total killer, but my daughter has not slept through the night since we’ve been home. She’s up between 2-4 times a night, which is not at all normal for her. She’s tired. I’m tired. Kirby’s tired. I find myself totally discontent, bored, and restless. No, I do not want to play ponies again for the millionth time today. No, I really don’t want to go to the grocery store, again. No, I don’t want to play outside in the humid, suffocating air while trying to fend off mosquitos the size of watermelons. Time to do laundry again? Seriously? Didn’t I just sweep up all the dog hair?

I find myself grumpy, at odds with life, moody, and just all around negative. While gone, it was heaven to not have a cell phone for 5 days. Now that I’m back, I find myself using my phone as a magic transporter that can send my mind to a different place, offering me escape and retreat from a reality that I am allowing to make me miserable. What is going on?

Can I be very honest right now?

Being a parent is WAY harder than I ever thought it would be. Being a parent of a toddler is exhausting. I have given up and sacrificed much more than I ever thought would be required. I miss my independence. I miss my long showers. I miss being able to be selfish. I miss getting to randomly go to a movie with my husband. I miss my old life. This vacation allowed me the luxury of returning to a life without a child and I loved every minute of it. And then I felt guilty for loving every minute of it.

As I returned home from my vacation, I began to dwell on all that I had given up and sacrificed. We have all heard about the Law of Attraction, that like attracts like. As I was feeling negative and down, I began to only see negative experiences around me. I kept piling up these negative experiences and anything that made me feel like even more of a martyr until I literally was about to explode with unhappiness. I did this to myself.

Once I realized what was going on, I had to take a step back and spend some time alone. I had to stop feeling guilty about missing my old life. Just because I miss being able to be selfish does not mean that I do not love my child; it’s actually the opposite. Because I love my child so much, I was able to stop being a selfish person. I also realized that I had stopped living a life of gratitude on my return home. When I strive to be grateful and to look for the positive, like attracts like and I find myself with much to be grateful for.

Every day I must decide what I’m going to attract. Will I live a life of gratitude or will I search out a list of grievances? I have the choice of being either a positive or a negative person. I have the choice to accept that I have everything that I need in this very moment of time; if I don’t have something, it is because I don’t need it right now. Thoughts and feelings that try to tell me otherwise are deceptive in their certainty, making me sacrifice peace for the promise of an imaginary future replete with all that I believe should be mine. My goal should be to always be present in this moment, turning off the commentary my mind wants to add.

When I am able to do that, then I can appreciate the way the sunlight reflects off of my daughter’s hair. I can become fascinated with the stories my daughter creates while playing. I can (almost) do laundry with a smile, being grateful that my family has clothes to wear. I can sweep up piles of dog hair and think of all of the joy my 115 pound canine friend brings to our family. I can rest assured knowing that every moment is just as it should be. I can be content. I can be at peace.

~ala

My Lesbian Experience

“Diana’s a lesbian and we’re moving out.” I literally dropped the laundry I was putting away and turned to look at two of my roommates. Diana had almost instantly become my best friend during my freshman year of college. We were inseparable. We were soul sisters. Gay?  No way. We were in a Christian sorority together for Pete’s sake. And, we shared a bathroom together. If Diana was gay, I would be the first to know. I told my roommates that I was sure that they were mistaken yet they both moved out a few days later.

Two more roommates moved into our apartment and I tried to continue life as normal. However, I was no longer comfortable with the easy closeness that Diana and I once shared. I was paranoid about sharing a bathroom with her and so I moved to the other side of the apartment. I was completely terrified by the idea that my best friend might be gay.

I had grown up Southern Baptist where I was taught that homosexuality undermines God’s creation. God created Adam and Eve to procreate, to “be fruitful and multiply.” Although the church taught that we all sin, homosexuality was seen as a sin that carries a heavy judgment. Practicing homosexuals live a life of sin and therefore have to face God’s holy condemnation. Although there are only 7 Bible verses that address homosexuality (and none of these coming directly from the teaching of Christ) I knew them all well. And these verses, according to my Southern Baptist preachers, did not paint homosexuals in a positive light.

As a 19 year old, I was torn. Here was my best friend that I loved dearly and on the other hand was my church, which was very important to me at the time, telling me that my friend’s sexual preference, which I still wasn’t positive about, was an abomination. I wish I had talked to Diana about what was going on. I wish that I had been there for her as she was struggling to find her identity. I wish I had been there to root her on and to tell her that I loved her no matter what. I did none of these things. I was a coward. I ran away. I refused to face the uncomfortable. I was a horrible friend that was not there when my best friend needed me the most. We graduated from college and moved on. I barely remember telling her goodbye.

About two years went by when I received a random phone call from Diana. In the call, Diana told me that she was indeed a lesbian and had met someone wonderful. I told her that I wasn’t surprised, that I was happy for her, and that I loved her no matter what. And I meant it. But, I was still struggling with the whole issue of what my church was teaching me about homosexuality. I was beginning to feel like the church preached that God is love out of one side of its mouth and then preached about judgement and condemnation out of the other side. I was afraid to question the church’s teachings. What if I found out that they were wrong? Would the foundation of my religious upbringing come tumbling down?

I was afraid to discover the truth for myself and terrified not to. I was beginning to strongly believe that anybody, including a church, that treats another human being like a pariah is wrong. How is it right for a religious body to make anyone doubt that they are a child of God? Thus began my own spiritual search for the truth. I won’t bore you with all that I read and found, but just know that for every preacher that claims that homosexuality is a sin, there is another pastor preaching that the scripture has been misinterpreted and misused. I came to the conclusion that I must form my own conclusions after doing my own research. If I never question why I believe the way that I do, I will never grow.

I know a lot of Christians that practice “tolerance” towards homosexuality. They believe that while homosexuality is a sin, it is not their place to judge. I struggle with the idea of tolerance. To me, tolerance is something we choose to put up with. I tolerate the disgusting heat and humidity of Houston in the summer. I tolerate my husband leaving his shoes all over the house. We are forced to tolerate things that bother us because we live on this planet and there are things that are out of our control. Yet, as people, I think freedom is moving from just tolerating one another to being more open and accepting of one another.  For me to be able to move to a place of acceptance, I had to determine for myself what the Bible was actually saying. I ultimately came to the conclusion that the God that I have loved since I was a little girl is not likely to vilify any one of us. We are all His creation. God just doesn’t “tolerate” some of us… He loves every single one of us.

I believe that if God truly is love and requires us to love one another, I must be open-hearted and accepting of others. No exceptions. When I come from a place of having to be “right”, making the other person’s views “wrong”, I am coming from my own ego. True love does not come from ego. It moves beyond having to be right. It moves beyond having to have things my own way. True love does not dishonor others.

For these reasons, I refuse to be a part of any organized group, my old church included, that refuses to practice love. We are all children of God. We are all worthy. Thankfully, there are many religious bodies that are accepting of all people.

And to my dear friend, Diana, thank you for coming into my life and teaching me the true meaning of love. Love knows no boundaries, no race, no gender, no religion, no country, no sexual preference. Thank you also for teaching me that I didn’t have to stop believing in God to be accepting of you. I just had to stop going to churches that didn’t fully understand the meaning of God’s love. I had to learn that because God is accepting of all others, that means that He is truly accepting of me.  I’m sorry that I was unable to see this as my 19 year old self, but I hope you know that you have had a lasting impression on me. I believe that you came into my life to bring me something that I needed to learn. It was not an easy lesson. It was one that took hours of researching and studying, one that required me to question a deep-rooted part of myself, one that went down into my very core. But, because of you, I am a better person.

~ala

The Slide

When Hadley first began to crawl I couldn’t wait for her to begin walking. It wasn’t so much that I was looking forward to the actual, you know, walking. It was more of a desire to be able to take her to a park and see her chubby little legs walk up the steps and the pure look of joy as she came down the slide for the first time by herself. The park, to me, symbolized the time when I could officially begin to have “We’re out of the house having play dates with our kids not completely attached to our hips AND we’re not sitting on the floor of someone else’s living room watching our kids roll around like a bunch of inflatable ‘Fisher-Price Bat and Wobble Penguins'” days.  I was pretty sure that fireworks would go off the first day I got to take my kid to the park and she would actually play instead of just crawl around eating wood chips. Glory day!

Soon after Hadley first crawled around the house I began scouting out children that were walking. I’d make my way over to the mother of the walking toddler and begin by smiling and giving her an understanding look. “How old is he?” I’d ask. She’d tell me and I’d mentally start doing the math in my head. “Alright. Hadley has 6 months until she’s behind this kid.” “Aren’t kids fun?” I’d tell the mother with a smirk. She’d smile and walk off, never knowing that her child would forever be a mark on my mental ruler of comparison.

I didn’t realize that I was making comparisons. I was just being a good mother making sure that Hadley was meeting her benchmarks on time, or even better, earlier than expected. “She’s a genius!” I’d think each time she accomplished something a few months ahead of schedule. I didn’t realize that I was making comparisons until one day, one slipped out:  “Hadley. Grace isn’t afraid to say hello to the nice lady. Don’t you want to be friendly like Grace?” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I wished that I could suck them back in. Why in the world would I ever want to teach Hadley that her value is based on how she compares to others?

I know she’s going to screw up. I know she may suck her thumb until she officially starts to look like a chipmunk. I know that she is shy. I know that she is timid to try new things.  I also know that these characteristics stick out to me because they are the exact things that I wish that I could change about myself. I wish that I was more outgoing. I wish that I was more adventurous. I have spent most of my life wishing to be these two things that I am not. And, to spare Hadley this pain, I sometimes wish that I could somehow help her to become more  extroverted.

I also know that Hadley is kind, that she has a huge, tender heart. She is very philosophical, already asking the deep, tough questions. She likes to play with others but is content to play with herself. She has a very active imagination. She is gentle. She is quiet. She loves deeply. She picks up new learning easily. She asks good questions. She plays well with others. She is able to sense the needs of others. She is unselfish. She has the power to change the world. She is a child of God. She has unlimited potential. Her strengths are very much tied to her introverted personality. I wouldn’t change one of them and I definitely wouldn’t change her personality, that part of her that makes her who she is.

As a mother, I have the power to encourage Hadley’s strengths, to help her to become the best version of herself that she can be.  I can teach her to always be true to herself. Or, I can constantly worry and fret, trying to turn Hadley into something that she is not because I am still insecure in who I am.

What I realized was the person I had a difficult time loving was myself. Why? Because at some point in my life, I started comparing myself to others. Am I faster, smarter, taller, richer, prettier, more popular? Sometimes I came out on top, often I did not. And the parts of myself that I found lacking are the parts that I still dislike. But, I’ve learned that my “unlikeable parts” are essential to who I am. Without them, I am not me.

Having realized this faulty thinking, I am now trying to turn off thoughts and feelings of comparison. It isn’t easy. Comparison made up a huge percentage of my everyday internal chatter. Each day I make a little bit more progress and what I’m finding is that when I stop wasting energy worrying about how I am going to compare in any given situation,  I have more freedom to just be myself. It’s kind of like being able to go down the slide by myself for the first time again.

I have the power to change the world. I am a child of God. I am full of potential. It’s time I start embracing who I am and living that truth.

~ala

For a great article about introverts, please read the following article from the Huffington Post.