This season of life has brought a lot of introspection. A lot of that introspection lately has been focused upon my early days as a mother and even earlier days as a girlfriend and eventually fiancé and eventually wife. I've always judged myself harshly, even now, knowing the power of grace that has transformed my current life.
I wished I had been more present with my oldest daughter in her early years. I wished I could have been less focused on seeking my spouse's attention in our early years, always threatened by everything that seemed to be going right for him when I was still floundering in the world. I wished I had found the value of a good friendship earlier. I wished I'd understood that life was meant for communion and community earlier. I never had to do this all alone.
But none of these came to me until I grew up. I'm still growing up.
What I did realize today after many years of feeling like a massive mess, a total screw up for most of my twenties and some of my thirties is that I was never the problem. The only problem was that I am a trusting person, because trust is my natural inclination. I am naturally connected to my heart, and my heart is always yearning to be vulnerable.
The world is cunning. The world told me many things that conflicted with my heart. I finally learned my heart has always been right and in doing so, pulled a splinter from my heart that has been festering for years.
My world told me I needed to be married to not live in sin. I should never have sex before I was married, but I should always look and feel sexy nonetheless. My world also told me when I was ready to get married, too bad, it was not my decision on when; it was the man I would marry who got to decide that. When I felt frustrated with the timeline, my world told me I was the crazy one, I was a hot mess, I was too aggressive, I was one of "those women." I felt the guilt when I had a meltdown to vent my frustration over not knowing any whens or hows or ifs. I felt like I was going insane, when all I really desired was equal agency in the decision of what would become our partnered destiny. Stay polite, stay chill, be cool, calm down, let it flow, let it happen, don't force it, don't be the caricature of a girlfriend who's pushy, who has her own ideas for the future, who desires a sense of collaboration in the face of a ridiculously one-sided social norm.
When I was sad about having to leave my name behind to take another's the world told me, "this is just what we do, get over it." I was made to feel like the crazy one when I had to choose the connection to my family of origin or my future children. I willingly abandoned a huge part of my identity to go along with the rules. I would abandon myself so many times before I understood my fear of abandonment came from inside. The splinter was heavily lodged.
This festering continued into my thirties. My world told me I needed to make a name for myself, but also that I needed to have children before it was too late. I did both, always, always feeling in conflict trying to do everything at once. The first piece of professional writing I ever turned in had a deadline that also happened to be my first day home with my newborn baby. High on hormones, I wrote the piece before my baby ever latched onto my breast, turned it in and beamed at my ability to multi-task. I would unintentionally turn my back on my baby many more times in the spirit of opportunity and a byline. Instead of bloody nipples and lonely, isolated days, at least people knew my name, read my words. I had a check to cash. The baby would always be there, but would that feature story be available a year from now? Surely not. The world told me I had to move now and I had to move fast. Babies will be fine. Your career is the highest of highs. Motherhood is for naturally maternal women. I didn't feel maternal at all, so I leaned into my career instead.
My world taught me to be transactional, but my heart was always wanting to be relational. What can you do for me? What can I do for you? I felt overwhelmed by an intensely isolating motherhood and by a fast-growing yet still never-enough career. I never felt in control of anything. I was never taught you could live in seasons of life, finding focus in the cycles rather than the illusion of security and outward identity in the linear world.
My world taught me that my spouse was competition and not a collaborator, as we vied for each other's attention over jobs, careers, kids, friends, social lives. You take the kids tonight, I have something. It's my turn. It's your turn. It was always a tug of war. You're supposed to always crack jokes about laundry, drinking wine to feel less stressed and feel like your husband is a babysitter, right? My heart always knew we were collaborators, that we could find the softness in our relationship, that THIS was the way, always in conflict of the ways of the world. This is not possible, said the world. This is just how it is. Thankfully, I was able to evolve and grow alongside my spouse, and we both figured it out through conflict and hard-fought battles that we are indeed on the same team.
What I FINALLY realized today, though, is that I have never been the crazy one. I have never really been the mess. What I have been is gaslit many times by a society that I never knew to question until I was older. Nothing was ever wrong with me, I was simply trying to serve two masters - my heart and the world. For many years, my heart lost. Thankfully in the last decade, she's gone from a whisper that I could barely hear to a raging roar that I can never ignore.
You have never been the mess. You have never been crazy. You have been in conflict with your heart, and one day your heart will win you over and everything will feel clearer than it ever has before. It could take a miracle or it could take millions of miracles over many lifetimes. Just know you're not a mess. You never have been. Remove that splinter. It's ready to come out.
For more thoughts on this realization, you might be interested in HERE IS OUR PERMISSION SLIP: On Envy, Shame and Owning Our Potential.