For years I was praised & rewarded for being and giving and doing anything anyone needed.
For years I stretched myself to just shy of my breaking point:
Working anything from 2-4 jobs to pay the bills
While completing my bachelors degree remotely (but still traveling back and forth to a major city for 3-4 days at a time every month)
While volunteering every other additional hour I had at our local church.
I was losing weight rapidly.
I was frequently sick.
I was anxious - and experiencing extremely painful and debilitating chest pain more and more frequently.
I angry, resentful & bitter.
On the outside I was the model church goer, basically embodying the checklist of requirements that was implicitly and explicitly given to us in exchange for what I was so desperate for: Those elusive feelings of belonging.
On the inside I was a completely different person… but a polished exterior can only get you so far for so long.
Sooner or later the mess on the inside starts to seep through the cracks, and as much as I tried to prevent that - one day mine did too.
That was when I learnt that what I was doing was far from selfless - sure, the actions checked all the boxes - but on the inside it was completely selfish, it was all about me and for me, basically exchanging labor for love, exchanging commitment for community, exchanging every fibre of my being for belonging.
My box-checking was motivated by fear - not compassion - and the more I allowed myself to be propelled forward by fear, whatever compassion was left inside me was being suffocated by comparison.
I was merciless and gracless on the inside, and I was starting to use the same standards of “never-enough” as my ruler on the people around me too.
It wasn’t until after an explosive emotional meltdown at work that I started to see the truth of who I was, and who I was becoming for what it was.
I was hustling for my worth, trespassing on the emotional property of the people around me in a desperate attempt to discover who I was, and whether or not I mattered…
Here’s what I learnt about “doing the right thing” - It's not about what it looks like outwardly, but what's going on inside. I did the right things, but for the wrong reasons. Its also not just about the actions themselves. It's also about the fruit that those actions bear. My outward “right thing to do” actions were bearing fruit of bitterness, jealousy, strife, anxiety, hopelessness, depression, gossip and illness.
We need to be so careful of what we call faithful. Good. Christian. Are we talking just about behaviors or about the orientation of our hearts? My good, faithful, Christian actions were putting men on a pedestal and my own belonging was my god. The beliefs that were driving my actions were completely devoid of love, faith, trust. I believed that I had to earn my place in the world, in my church and in heaven - I was completely engulfed in the quest for self-righteousness - I was far from grace. In fact, I looked down on grace, was repulsed by it even. How dare I or anyone for that matter rest in the truth that they are loved as they are, and that in Christ, they are enough - that whoever and whatever they bring to the table - in whatever condition - is all they are expected to bring.
My choice was simple - continue on the familiar path I was on, journeying on toward a lifetime of brokenness and dysfunction driven by fear… or choose a new one, completely uncharted, armed only with faith and the hope that on that new road toward wholeness, I would not be alone, and that there was indeed a person of value worth discovering out there. I would need a completely new set of navigation tools, deeply held beliefs, and as it turns out - new traveling companions out there, but my options were basically new and scary - or death.
I chose new.
If you would like to hear more about my story, and the tools/skills & wisdom I discovered and nurtured on my journey as a recovering people-pleaser - why don’t you sign up to receive the introduction and prologue of my new book, “The Hearted-Centered Woman’s Guide to Healthy Boundaries” - you can do that HERE.
I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea. I was alone at the center of Waco's tourism hub with my 2 bigs, a very rambunctious toddler whose only speed is FAST, and no stroller.
Destination: The Magnolia Silos.
My oldest daughter’s choice: It was spring break and each big got to choose one treat and special outing - and she wanted Jo’s famous cupcakes and a stroll around the grounds in the sunshine.
I could have chosen a PDO day (I wish I had) but I believed in myself and Ellie (actually I didn’t - we were just out of time and I felt obligated to keep my promise).
The whole adventure was doomed to failure and I knew it from the minute we arrived at the parking lot.
Part 1: The cupcake line of doom
To procure a Magnolia Silos cupcake you need to wait in the Silos Bakery Co. line - which usually winds around the corner and up the street where you wait patiently, quietly, out of oncoming traffic for your turn. Noone told Ellie - we were chasing, catching, releasing her for about 30mins (how many gray hairs can a woman grow in 30mins?) before she was let loose inside the bakery while the other kids took their sweet time deciding which flavor cupcake to get.
I could feel the anxiety (and rage) bubbling up inside of me - this was DEFINITELY a BAD idea, but salvation was within reach - on the other side of my older two’s indecision was the green space where toddlers could run and play to their heart’s content.
Or so I thought.
Part 2: Green space (a toddlers playground)
Magical in theory.
Toddler is on a rampage sabotaging at least 5 different family’s game of corn hole, standing in and squishing the cupcakes I tortured myself to procure before realzing there are no fences in Magnolia- just lots of space, people, and most importantly - breakables. So many breakables.
After running after and retrieving her 6 times in an attempt to leave my bigs to enjoy what was left of their cupcakes in peace, I could basically hear the timebomb inside of me ticking away. We were on the brink of a maternal Chernobyl.
It's time to go home.
I didn't need to do much work to figure out what my boundaries were in that moment - what was required of me to create a fun-filled afternoon out at the Silos was not within my possession - we needed to try again another time.
This is where my morning nearly went even more pear shaped.
I am the mom. I am supposed to be the leader//strong//together//calm one - part of my cultural upbringing leans me into embodying this in a stern, no-nonsense, “because I said so”, armored-up posture with my kids, and especially when I am basically swimming in mom-shame to begin with. I need that feeling to go away, and when I don't catch myself on time, I become a jerk so that I can stop feeling so powerless.
What I have learnt about what I am pre-disposed to is that it cuts me off from my children in moments when we need connection with one another most.
I have learnt that I can ask for what I need, without demanding it. I can lead my children without controlling them. I can make an executive decision, and still be completely honest about where I am at and why I have decided what I have. ie: I can treat myself and my children with dignity, especially in moments when shame is doing its best to strip us of whatever dignity we have.
I was about to blow-up at my children, so we needed to leave. But my daughter had been looking forward to and planning this outing for weeks - In an attempt to save face, nurture my wounded pride and hide away from all the mom-guilt and mom-shame that was piling up inside of me by the second - I could crush her creative spirit with one solid - “because I am the mom and because I can”...
This is what I chose instead:
“Guys, I am very sorry to have to do this - I need to take responsibility for how poorly I planned out our week. I chose the wrong day for this and I own that. I also didn’t plan for the support I would need to have a blast with you today, and on top of all of that I am feeling very overwhelmed with fear for ellies safety, for your safety and to be honest, for what I am imagining the people around us are thinking about me as a mom. My fear and my pride has bubbled up out of me as anger, frustration and impatience. Please forgive me for being unkind, and for cutting our time together at the silos short. Please let me try again another time.”
My big kids looked at me blankly for what felt like an eternity before they leaned in and gave me the biggest, bestest group hug I didn’t even know I needed. Ellie even climbed in for some of the action.
“Ok mama, but could we try taking Ellie to the garden section for a minute first. I bet she would enjoy playing with us on the toadstools in the corner.”
“Ok. Let's give it a try.”
They were right - they all had a blast, the toddler was more or less contained and I got to sit for 5mins at a time.
We made it to the car in one piece and then drove through Cameron Park with all the windows open while we sang at the top of our lungs.
The Silos were a bust, but we had a pretty awesome day, and we got home exactly how I hoped we would: more connected and closer as a family.
Mama friends, here is what I hope you hear:
You’re allowed to acknowledge you can’t do something if you don’t have the capacity to do it.
You’re allowed to/should be setting boundaries with your kids if how you’re doing motherhood right now is filling your heart with resentment and frustration.
Taking responsibility and being held accountable doesn't have to have anything to do with shame. I think they're badges of honor.
You don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not to be a great mom.
Don’t take your two your old to Magnolia without an extra pair of grown-up hands, leash or a stroller with industrial strength straps. It's just not worth it.
I shared in depth about this experience in a Facebook I created and moderate called “Healthy Boundaries for Heart-Centered Women.” - If you would like to watch it, and catch up with a whole bunch of other free resources like:
- How to say no without ruining your relationships
- 31 Things I have learnt about boundaries from the Bible
You can hop on over and join by clicking here.
Nurturing, nourishing and flourishing are best friends.
As women, we tend to loose ourselves in the nurturing and nourishing of the loves around us - but we NEED to make a point of not forgetting to pour some of that nurture and nourishment into ourselves too.
We are the carers, the nurturers of others - we pour into our littles and our sisters and our loves and we want only for them to flourish.
I’ve been thinking of those acts, feminine & maternal inclinations and I wonder sometimes why we have such a hard time accepting those gifts for ourselves, why it’s so difficult to turn some of that mothering inward. .
My developing and growing understanding of self-care is best described as self- mothering. The best Mamas make you eat your veg, go to bed on time and take a nap. They also give you ice cream for dessert, give you hugs when you fail, cheer when you succeed and always, always love you just as you are while being able to see what you are going to become.
My goal with self care is mothering. It’s to Instill rhythms of nourishment and nurture. Nurtured and Nourished Women are Flourishing Women. Flourishing women, nurture and nourish others.
Friends, sisters, mamas, daughters: as you nurture and nourish the loves around you. Don’t forget to pour some of that into yourself. 🌼🌸🌼
One of my favorite self-mothering tools/practices is the establishment & maintenance of healthy boundaries.
When you are watering & weeding everyone else's gardens - your own flourishing suffers and you'll have nothing to sustain and nourish you in the harvest season.
That is exactly why I put together my book - "The Heart-Centered Woman's Guide to Healthy Boundaries" - you can hop on to the waitlist here - you'll get an email with the prologue and the introduction in it (yes, your very own sneak peak) and an email letting you know how and where to grab it if thats what you want to do!
It's happened at least twice in less than a week...
I woke up today feeling the same, except this time, rather than my own voice ringing it my ears - it was the chorus of the folks in the cheap seats or the background of my life, the people I barely (if ever) interact with, but whose opinion always seems to float to the very top of my awareness... mostly at those high stakes "crunch-time" moments.
I spent a good part of my morning rage cleaning at the frustration I felt within myself. Almost like I was trapped inside my own head, pleading my case against the verdicts handed down, lording over me.
I literally watched (or heard?) myself going back and forth with them - minutes (nearly an hour) passing as I contended for myself against an imaginary crew of faces and voices all accusing me of realizing some of my deepest, worst fears.
Then suddenly, a beautiful moment of clarity...
The rational part of me must have come back online, and after watching the mental ping-pong finally spoke up...
"hey Lauren - I am pretty sure you're asking the wrong questions, and focusing your energy on the wrong problem..."
***Insert hard blinking here***
"Who cares what they think? Is that even your responsibility to manage?
"No its not ..."
"All you can manage, the only thing you have complete control over, is whether or not you're in agreement with them, with those voices... the rest is completely out of your hands... and not even worth your time or energy."
First of all - welcome to my inner monologue. ( I feel like we know each other really well now).
Second of all... that little exchange that happened earlier is a variation of what I realized last week too.
"You're a failure"
They produce an intense emotional reaction which in me is usually ANGER - but beneath that are usually more vulnerable emotions like sadness, grief and fear.. anger just feels more powerful...
Which is interesting because what I need in that moment - is to reclaim responsibility for and power over my thoughts and the judgements I am making or agreeing with.
I think one of the most powerful boundaries we can draw is the one around ourself. The one where we limit the access the voices, opinions and judgements of others have to our thoughts.
When we draw strong boundaries around ourselves - we can create mechanisms by which we regulate or control who is allowed in, and who is allowed to take up space in our thoughts and our emotions.
This isn't the same as avoiding or suppressing them - thats not healthy or helpful.
Its actually the opposite. When we take full responsible for how we think and feel - rather than sit in blame or judgement over others for what we are experiencing - there is a much greater and more powerful incentive to steward them healthily and responsibly - because we know that the buck stops with us - we might as well get on with it and get the job done properly.
The past week has brought into sharp focus how my mental boundaries need an upgrade - I am letting too much in, I am allowing too much to stay, play and mess up what is mine to nurture and lovingly care for.
Some questions I have found are helpful in this process are:
- Who is making this judgement about me? Why do they have this kind of access to my thoughts? Are they worthy of the space they take up here?
- What is a more helpful/realistic/healthy and TRUE assessment/reflection of who I am?
- How am I pretending that what I think/feel isn't my responsibility to manage?
- If I could do one responsible/loving/healthy thing for my thought or emotional life right now, what would that be?
How about you? What are some helpful ways you clean up your mental messes?
If you're curious about what your boundaries style is, I have created a quick and easy quiz for you to take... find that right here:
Life together is messy.
This here, is the aftermath of life in community. Of a meal together. Of children playing loudly in the same room where adults sit and chat. .
Housekeeping and I were never really best friends. And if I’m being totally honest, there is a part of me that likes the fullness of being with others in my home to spill over into the following day, so I sometimes like to relish in the mess for a couple of extra hours because it reminds me of the time we enjoyed the night before.
It also reminds me to be patient with my own family. My kids. I want the fullness of a life together with them but I don’t want ANY mess. I get a moment today to recognize that very very very rarely does togetherness leave me, and my space in the same state as it found me- and that’s something I should embrace.
I believe these are some of the inconvenient truths about forging, and enjoying the kind of community that saves & heals you - it changes you, it's hard work, it interrupts and rearranges your life.
There is absolutely nothing sterile and controlled about it.
If we want real and transformative, then we need to accept messy & disruptive is just going to be a part of the deal.
Donald Miller encourages us to prioritize our conflict navigation skills. He writes:
“All human progress happens by passing through conflict. You cannot climb a mountain, build a bridge, create a community or grow a business without engaging in and navigating conflict.”
I have noticed that many of us avoid withdraw from, ignore or turn away from the mess. We don’t allow ourselves to be drawn in deep enough, and when we are and it gets messy we pull away. We shut it down. We shut them out. We start again. With new, and hopefully less messy humans. Our lives and relationships stay shallow, and we are lonelier than ever.
I wonder if sometimes the reason why we are so stuck as a society, is if on a personal as well as on a macro-level, we are all just really, really shitty at conflict. We don’t actually resolve anything when we pull away. We don’t actually get through to the other side when we cancel and mute and block.
In this way I see how boundaries are misused. They become a means of terminating relationships, rather than navigating them. They are the tools we use to build giant, impenetrable barriers, rather than bridges. We are stuck, and alone inside our safe, sterile lives. Our ‘boundaries’ are suffocating us to death.
As Brene Brown likes to say, we can only really connect with others when we’re willing to risk the vulnerability.
And as my pastor likes to say, community isn’t found, it's forged.
I believe that in the aftermath of 2020 we may be more disconnected and alone than ever. I know that for many of us, our circles are small… may I encourage you to allow them (no matter how small) to be messy.
Make room for real.
Leave space and grace for mistakes, pain and misunderstanding.
In a time where we are tired, scared and angry - Lean towards one another, not away from them.
Errrrrrg. In the meantime, dishes do need to be cleared and washed and forts need to be packed a way so that we can do it all again tomorrow. And the day after that.
Here’s to making room for others, and their mess... but also our own 🤗 .