Photo Credit: Vicky Falk

(Post written Sept 2018)

Jesus says that in Him, I am enough.  So to the lies that lurk around trying to make me question my value and identity, I say, “ENOUGH!!!”.
I learned so much this summer that I actually created an outline of what I want to share in my blog posts this fall.  This post was to be about the importance of my role of mothering; but as the days press on into Sept and more challenges arise I realize it is so much more than just my role as a mother, it is about the entirety of my identity.  I know that I have written about my struggle with identity this spring; but it keeps coming up.  What I thought I had learned already, I realize will be a lifelong learning journey and already in the past 2 weeks what I thought I had learned morphs into something bigger.
I’ll start at the beginning.
I feel like I’m in the middle of an identity crisis.  I’ve written (see post: Identity from June) about no longer knowing who I am and feeling like even if I get a glimpse of who I am now, I question, is it enough?  The loss of my career struck me hard and deep.  I’ve had trouble letting go (*1); but it’s more than just letting go.  I did not realize how deeply I tied my identity to my career, how it served as a self-created metric of my life-performance and more.  In my journal I wrote this:
“It’s hard to let go of my career, because I do not know who I am without it.  I have been performance and accomplishment driven for my entire life.  Who am I when I just…am?” 
Then here’s the rub,
“Am I lovable, worthy of admiration and affection as I just am?”
After I realized this was the question I fell into my husbands arms weeping, honestly imploring him if he still loved me just as much now that I was no longer a (working, producing, capable) pharmacist.
Of course he does; but I needed to hear it from his lips to be sure.
Thank God for my dear friend Amy, who in her own parallel challenges has become the most kindred and cherished friend.  Amy and I share a driven determination in academics, career, mothering and faith in Jesus.  Though our challenges are different Amy has been a treasured and faithful friend who “gets it” and speaks wisdom into my life.  This summer our brief encounter at the playground as our kids played meant more than I can express.  Following this playdate Amy wrote me these words (printed with permission):
“God knowing intimately all your interests, abilities, education and gifts (which are considerable) has given you the task of loving and raising your family right now.  Trust his wisdom that that is what both they and you need most right now.”
With this affirmation from Amy I pressed into fall with a new sense of my identity.  This is what I wrote in my journal:
“My “job” this fall is to love my family well, to begin cutting through the anxiety(*2) the trauma of my diagnosis created, and to engage wherever I find myself in my neighborhood, my city, in conversations.  Creating spaces to interact with others, to engage in the battles that others are fighting: for their benefit and my own.    
To learn I am still valuable even it I am not “accomplishing”; to live out my very beliefs of valuing life simply because it’s life; and to live out the beauty of life lived generously in relationship (where currency is not money, but rather time and quality, care and emotional involvement that can hurt in a way that gives life.)
THESE are my jobs and they are so worthy a calling!”
This post was supposed to be about my journey to finding the beauty and value of this new call and of mothering.  Certainly, I’ve found myself able to engage more deeply with my kids because I’ve cut away the internal scorn I felt in being “only” mom.  I’ve found deep satisfaction in being present and engaged in their little lives.  I’ve been able to allow these experiences with my children (positive and negative) to warm my soul.  This has been a step forward to embracing my life as it is today and making the most of what today has for me.  And truly this has been beautiful and worth celebrating!  Little moments of delight have begun to feel monumental.  This is where I thought this post would end: re-embracing the importance of mothering.
However a decades-old setback reared her head into my life again: self-esteem crisis.  Honestly, I was rather blind-sided, but awakened, by this emotional crash this week. In the midst of seeking to live optimistically my identity crisis returned as a self-esteem crisis.  This has provided me with “aha!” revelations. 
This all came to a head following a hair-cut.  My hair feels like it’s a really awkward length, I’m so ready for it to be to the next stage, you know, longer.  Well my hair was driving me nuts.  I hadn’t had a haircut for a few months, so I thought “a hair cut will fix how I feel about my appearance!”  My lovely and talented sister-in-law has been cutting my hair since it started growing back post-radiation.  She cut my hair again giving it more style (as I had hoped, you know freshening it up while I grow it out.).  It ended up a bit shorter in the back than I had expected – but with great “shape”.  Really I wish my hair were longer overall, no fault of the haircut, that’s just me wishing my hair to grow faster!  However, my absolutely wonderful husband does not like my haircut.  He bumbles around talking about it, trying not to say the wrong thing and it’s kinda humorous.  Usually I’d be able to say, “So what if he doesn’t like my haircut this time.”  This time I can’t.  I cry in private and I am discouraged.  And I question again, my value, my identity and is it enough?
Really it’s not the haircut, that was simply the precipitating factor; but, this is indeed a real struggle.  I’m sure every woman reading this will nod her head in agreement; we’ve all had self-esteem struggles (*3).  As I wait for my hair to grow and as I wait for my heart to believe what I keep trying to affirm with my head (that I am beautiful, that I am valuable, that I am treasured NO MATTER WHAT) I am reminded of Habakkuk climbing into the watchtower and waiting for God’s response.  Waiting expectantly.  Hair growth takes much time.  I’m starting to get mighty impatient with growing out my hair.  The optimistic, “I’ll make the most of losing my hair to cancer treatments and have fun with my hair as it grows” is getting old.  Here I must be deliberate as Habakkuk was.  I must deliberately, daily climb into my watchtower and wait, patiently but expectantly.  Wait to see how God will respond, how God will show up.  Because show-up he will and I want to be ready!  I have to choose not to be deceived by the lies that are trying to pierce me like arrows, deflating the purpose God has for me.  Though these days it is work to believe I am God’s beautiful creation, I choose to press into this work until my heart again believes.  Life is far from passive.  Each day I choose to hope in God, I choose to believe in the beauty he has created in me and surrounding me, I choose to open my eyes to the blessing surrounding me so I can come to the watchtower expectant.  This is difficult work.  
Circling back to my newfound priority role of mothering I see clearly the importance of this difficult work.  How can I teach my girls their true value if am not working on sorting out my own?  Furthermore, I want to be a voice for my girls; but also for all women.  In showing here my struggle for confidence, for strength I want to be a voice to help men understand the struggles we as women face.  I believe there are many wonderful men who are truly loving, caring, compassionate men (like my husband) who do not understand the “female battle.”  I believe we are doing a disservice to our husbands, especially the fathers of our daughters, if we do not vulnerably share our struggles.  In the same breath I ask husbands to open-mindedly seek to understand your wives.  So as a mother desiring the best for my children, I will share my heart here.
A year or so ago I wrote this (I reference the following image):

Driving to church this image that I saw on Facebook popped into my head. I was on the verge of falling apart; driven by the exhaustion of having 3 sick kids on top of our just barely manageable daily life.  This was too much.  When I first saw this post I thought, ” this is poignant truth.”. And I was compelled to affirm the one who posted it, to affirm, I’ve been there, I see you, and you are beautiful, lovely, and treasured.
I take the time today to write out these words because this image needs to be understood.  I have so very many wonderful, emotionally healthy men in my life- topping the list with my husband and my dad.  I am at a tremendous advantage in this regard, and yet I too struggle with elements of these shame-filled thoughts.  My husband is completely baffled and can’t even grasp how these emotions of insecurity and shame could even possibly be present in my life.  This is my amazing, supportive, loving, wise husband (God bless him!) who can’t capture a sense of what women face.  So I write these words to try to bring light to this struggle. I write not because I am educated in the subject- far from it. I can only write my experience and try to be a leader in giving women courage to voice their stories.  I write this because my brain cancer diagnosis says I will not be there to help my husband navigate with MY girls when preteen, teen, young-adult, adult, motherhood challenges come.
Women have unique struggles.
The world tells us we are not enough- we are not thin enough, we are not beautiful enough.  There is a constant struggle to feel worthwhile.  Girls struggle to feel that they are enough, just because they are.  So to try to bolster themselves girls attack each other. At its worst they cut one another down, bully one another.  At its best they quietly compare, hoping to come out better in some tangible way in order to be validated.
Validation.  A girl, a woman, wants to know that she is loved simply because she is loved.  She wants to be told in words that she is loved, just so she can be certain. Similarly she wants all that is beautiful within her to be affirmed.  She wants to know there is somewhere that she can fall and depend on when these affirmations don’t come or worse when she is lied to and told she is ugly and worthless.
This is the war of a teenage girl- to determine if she is allowed to believe she is beautiful, cherished, loved, and worthwhile.
If the young woman claws her way through youth and manages to have a positive view of herself, the struggle still never stops.  Men, this struggle is real and on going.
There is a longing in women’s hearts to be treasured through affirmation.  The world shows us unhealthy ways to try to fill these longings, while at the same time creating an illusion of what healthy relationship is.    A loving, devoted relationship and marriage will never be easy nor will it be fairytale-like.
My husband cannot solve all my problems. He cannot be Prince charming who rescues me from all my troubles.  But he can be there supportive, loving, affirming at every part of the road.  I personally am so in love with my husband not because he’s the most romantic (in fact, I would say, he struggles with romance) but because of our shared, loving history and commitment- and because I know that no matter what I can find myself in his arms for comfort and companionship.
Girls, remember that you are beautiful because that’s how God has made you! You’re His daughters!  You are His masterpieces!  You are His delight!
So find that diamond (passions, gifts, talents) He’s placed in your heart and soul and polish it so it radiates brilliantly!  What do you love? What are you good at? What makes you feel like you could fly?  Pursue these things- God has given them to you as gifts!
By doing this, you can fight against the shame so many women face.
By doing this you can help other women see their true beauty too.
I understand it will still be a battle.  So arm yourself with truth.  Read God’s truth about you.  Know the truth that you are cherished, loved, treasured, beautiful!  If you feel contrary to this truth tell Satan to scram and speak these truths outloud.  
The world may not know what to do with a girl and a woman so confident in who she is.  That’s okay because truly this posture is for the world’s benefit.
Dads, husbands affirm the girls and women in your life: compliment them, compliment them in front of others, hug them, buy them small gifts, look them in the eyes and say “you are beautiful”, do something nice for her without her asking, take her on a date YOU planned for her.  Seek to learn what makes her feel loved and work at showing love to her in ways that are meaningful to her.

Moments that mattered in my life, bringing me to where I am, thoughts from what I’ve learned:
I recall a season when I was maybe 9 or 10, where I would ask my parents regularly if they loved me, even accuse them of not loving me.  I see this now as a call out for affirmation. I choose to write this here since it seems that remembering this marks it’s significance.
When I was 13 there was a girl in my class who called me fat everyday.  I was clearly slender and so I brushed her off.  But her mean words were cutting.  And I was absolutely frightened of getting fat; perhaps because of her words or perhaps because of the ideals of society. Whatever the reason, for the next 15 years I found myself with a very unhealthy relationship with food.  I teetered on the cusp of an eating disorder and couldn’t imagine how I would ever cope if I were to have a few more pounds on my body than I wanted.  I could not grasp that I was beautiful no matter what shape I was. Nor did I understand that being healthy is not about trying to be thin. Being healthy is about feeding our bodies good wholesome food, treating them well, so they will function optimally.  Being healthy is about balanced exercise, moving our bodies because it’s good for both of mind and bodies.  Health is not obsessing about high calorie burn.   Our bodies are beautiful creation that enable us to participate in so many blessings of life.  I have come to a place where I am simply so thankful for this body and what joys it allows me to participate in.  I am ever learning how to fill my body with nutritious food. Why? To help my body function optimally, a positive appearance is simply a by-product of this.  I love physical activity like running and soccer and I am so thankful for what this body has done for me.  I have “ugly” varicose veins, my stomach muscles are so separated and my tummy skin wrinkled and stretched.  But that’s because of what my body has done for me!  I still find it phenomenal that this body “grew” 3 children, 2 of them at the same time!!!!  Our bodies are amazing!  I have come to love my body for all it can do for me.  But this was a journey.  Daughters, I hope you can see much earlier in your lives that you are absolutely beautiful, from the inside out. And I hope early on in your lives that you can learn to love your bodies.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Don’t let the world tell you otherwise.  It will try hard.  Satan, our enemy, knows our weaknesses;  always remember God has overcome the enemy!  When the world tries to lie to you, yell and scream and fight back with the truth!
What else mattered to me?  Having a Dad who made me know I was loved.  He wasn’t a man of many words.  He was often worn out himself from health struggles.  But through a few key actions I knew through adolescence how much he loves me:. He would come when I was sitting at the kitchen table and he would affectionately pat my head.  I would shriek because he was messing up my hair.  And Dad would call me”his squirrel”.  It probably didn’t matter what called me, but in this nickname I felt love.  Finally, when Dad said, “that’s my girl!” to me on my wedding day, it held so much weight.  (Thank you!)
Fathers ensure your daughters know, beyond a doubt, that they are yours and you will always have arms for them to run to.
Gentlemen, we need you.  As you come to see our battles as women more clearly, I deeply hope that you can see how your words and actions have such power to either bolster or hinder our pursuits and passions.  Do not take this role lightly.  Love the women in your lives openly, tenderly, compassionately.  (This is the kind of man I long for my son to become).
Thank you Dad, for ensuring I always know I am loved. Thank you Ryan, for loving me deeply, intimately, bravely, fearlessly. 
Lies tell me that I will never be enough.  And I truly will never be enough on my own might; but in God’s mercy I AM enough!  I am enough to make a difference in my family, my children, my neighborhood, my city, my world.  I am enough to bring light into the darkness.  I am enough to speak life into the death that creeps around me!
Women, let’s walk this out hand-in-hand, with increasing vulnerability; not pretending that we’ve got it all figured out.  Let’s voice our aches so they can be heard amongst one another and be soothed.  It can be difficult to find our voices when we don’t feel beautiful.  Acknowledge and release any lies so you can start believing you are beautiful.  This is not easy work; vulnerability is hard, honest work.  It is difficult to talk about stuff before it’s all sorted out and returned to a semblance of being picture perfect again.  But, it is my hope that we can be a womanhood who stands waiting along the watchtower wall banded together hand in hand expectant for good on the horizon.  A womanhood praying hard for the hope we all need.  A womanhood seeing and being seen so we can love richer and deeper and so our worlds can be changed!  This is the confident, empowered and optimistic outlook I want my girls to step foot into.  Therefore, I commit earnestly to blaze a trail for them, by God’s grace, living out an example worthy of following; continuing the trail my ancestors blazed for me.  Join me.  I’m rather certain this will be spectacular.   
1)     We must keep moving forward.  I realized that I want to cling to the beauty of the past.  A couple weeks ago we were at our close friends’ house reminiscing, looking at photos of the past 9 years, about the fun times we’ve had.  Remembering who we were then and the joy and awesomeness of it.  The sermon the next day was about keeping moving forward.  Our pastor, Pastor Scott spoke about Phillipians 3, essentially, about forgetting the past and pressing forward.  He said, “The old good days can be our greatest hindrance of the new good days.” And I realized I’m trying to cling to what was.  Oh, it was good, but it is not the present.  I need to believe and trust that the present and the future are also ripe with goodness.  As long as I’m looking backwards I will never be able to look ahead and grasp today’s goodness.
2)     Post to come on learning about my anxiety/trauma
3)     I believe men have these struggles too, in a different kind of way that I don’t fully understand, but which are even more “hushed” than women’s