Instagram and I are taking a break

I did a drastic thing tonight, because that is what I do. I make major sweeping declarations or act on knee-jerk impulses. It's always been my personality. I deactivated my Instagram account. It's gone. To be fair, this decision to take a step back from Instagram isn't really impulsive, or on a whim. I've been struggling with Instagram (really, the internet as a whole) for months, if not the better part of two years. I deleted my Facebook account when I was pregnant with Xavier and had zero interest in ever coming back to it and yet, here I am, friending people from high school and getting caught up in viral posts about whatever the latest thing is.

I've taken days, weeks and once an entire month-long break from Instagram and it hasn't changed my habits. And I'm struggling....a lot. Struggling to stay afloat, above the comparison and judgment and constant scrolling. Struggling to be present in my very own life. Struggling to slow my brain, let alone turn it off sometimes. Struggling to find white space. I've been dealing with some major anxiety and depression again lately and I know - deep in my heart - that my consumption of social media is a lot to blame.

So I deactivated my account tonight. It's gone. When you search for my name, you'll get an error message. It's similar to deactivating Facebook - it's not deleted, so if and when I decide to come back, all my posts will still be there. I'm not sure when or if that's happening yet. I'm not giving myself a timeline. I just know I need a hard break, for awhile.

We are the first generation to be raised alongside the internet. I've had social media since the 7th grade - the majority of my life. There isn't anyone who's been raised on the internet who's gotten to be old and gray to tell us their experience of having it their whole entire lives. We're making it up as we go. And my biggest fear is: what if we're getting it wrong?

What if I'm telling myself my social media consumption is innocent, no big deal, a mindless distraction, when it's really something much bigger? Is this how addiction starts? Will social media addiction someday be recognized as a real affliction, the way addiction to food or gambling or alcohol is? I don't know. I'm not willing to take a chance, not on myself. Not on my life.

Matt and I have been talking a lot about internet boundaries for our kids. Sure, Xavier is only two, but goodness we are realizing how early it starts. We cut out TV completely and he hasn't so much as touched the iPad in months. And yet anytime I pull out my phone, he gravitates to it. After a few minutes of playing with the toys at the library, he wanders over to the computers to press all the buttons. I know this is 2018; technology isn't going anywhere and I have to accept that. But how do I expect to set and enforce social media boundaries for my kids when I don't have any for myself? Talk about a hypocrite.

I want my kids to remember that their mom was present. I don't ever want my kids to wish I hadn't posted a photo of them or shared something about them on the internet. When I really think about it, I'm so grateful that my parents didn't have that option when I was a child. My childhood was mine. Not something to be shared and then dissected by thousands of strangers.

Sure, I'm nervous about the impact taking a break will have on my business. I'm in network marketing...and I just quit my biggest network of 5,600 people. But what is the point of making money or growing my reach or anything really, if I miss my life and lose my soul in the process?

I'm tired of feeling beholden to anything or anyone besides the Lord. I'm tired of feeling trapped in my life and in my habits. We all know what trapped animals do - they react, right? Fight or flight mode. I feel like I've been in such a reactive state these past few weeks and months. I don't want to react to my life. I want to live it, embrace it, be present for it, savor it. I want to capture photos because I want them and not because they fit my aesthetic. I want to leave my phone in a drawer and forget about it entirely for hours, maybe days.

Most of all, I want to live my life for the glory of God alone, and not for likes, comments, followers or "engagement." I'm missing it, I'm missing my life. I'm missing one thousand opportunities to commune with my Creator, to listen to Him and talk to Him. I don't want to miss one more second.


40 days of real food

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, the season of self-reflection, fasting and penance in preparation for Easter Sunday. I've observed Lent for as long as I can remember, since my elementary years when fish sticks were served in the school cafeteria every Friday and giving up potato chips was the biggest sacrifice I can muster. In my adult years, I've given up everything from social media to sweets, coffee to complaining. This year, I spent a good chunk of time really praying about what my Lenten observance should be this year. What was God calling me to? The biggest question: what is holding me back from holiness?

Of course, there's one hundred answers to that question, because I am a sinner living in a fallen world. Anything and everything holds me back from holiness. But for Lent, I wanted to focus on one main thing. What is keeping me from growing in my relationship with Jesus and therefore, my relationship with others? And I kept coming back to one answer: food.

Don't think me too crazy - I am not fasting for forty days straight. I am however embarking on what I'm calling "40 days of real food" modeled after 100 days of real food. Because here's the reality: I do not have a healthy relationship with food. I eat emotionally in unhealthy ways. I gravitate toward certain foods when I'm sad or stressed, or even happy and wanting to celebrate. For years, I have been ignoring the way God made me - with specific dietary needs and food sensitivities. I eat whatever I want, then my family and friends pay the consequences in the form of my attitude and actions. The food I eat makes me feel certain ways which makes me act certain ways and it's all a vicious cycle. I am called to be a wife and mother and to serve my family with my best self. I can't be my best self when I'm not fueling myself properly.

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So it might sound crazy, but I'm giving up everything but REAL FOOD for Lent. I'm saying adios to added sugar, processed everything, alcohol, takeout, pizza, snack food, chocolate, chai lattes, all of it. I'm saying yes to doing the hard work of honoring the way God made me, and relying on His strength and grace to overcome my cravings, sugar addiction and self-entitlement when it comes to food. To the right are the official guidelines I'm sticking to (and you can read a bunch more on the 100 days of real food blog).

Why 100 days of real food? I've done whole30, I've researched keto, we've embraced paleo for awhile. I know veganism is all the rage right now. I saw the 100 days of real food blog and account pop up here and there on instagram and was curious, so I checked the book out from the library and read through the whole thing, and it just made so much sense. It echoes everything I've been learning from all the nutrition research I've done, and seemed a lot more doable than the super-strict whole30 and without the obsessive counting of keto (no hate for keto lovers - but I know it'd easily be a slippery slope for me.) For years I've been trying to adopt a balanced approach to food. One that encompasses everything I've earned from my food research, but that is more realistic and doable for everyday life. I like that the "100 days of real food" pledge focuses on quality food - knowing WHERE your food comes from and buying food that was grown/farmed in a responsible and sustainable way. We are working with finite resources here on planet earth and I do believe we have a duty to be good stewards of what God has given us. Unfortunately, our modern conventional food practices are not what I would call "good stewardship." I'm also really curious about including 100% whole grains and 100% organic, grass-fed, full-fat dairy in my diet. In 2013, I was diagnosed with sensitivities to dairy and gluten via allergy testing. But I've been curious about those diagnoses for awhile. I guess I'm not totally convinced that I have a true allergy or sensitivity to wheat and dairy across the board. I'm curious to find out if 100% whole grains really cause an issue for me, or if it's a sensitivity to conventional bread products, which are full of fillers and junk. Same with dairy - am I truly sensitive to dairy, or is it all the sugar and additives and preservatives that my body can't handle? I don't know, but I'd like to find out.

I'm excited for the 40 days ahead. It's going to be hard, refining work. To learn to lean on Jesus instead of chocolate or wine or coffee or cookies. To lean into His strength when it's 7pm and Matt is working and bedtime was hard and all I want is delivery pizza despite a fridge stocked with healthy food. I have a lot of emotional stuff to work through surrounding food and it's going to be hard to face those feelings head-on and bring them before God. But, that's exactly what Lent is for. For the soul-scrubbing, hard work that leads us to holiness. My prayer is that at the end of this season I'll be a tad bit healthier and a whole lot holier. Soli deo gloria - for the glory of God alone.

Welcoming Zelie James

Now that Zel Belle is 8 weeks old, I figured I should write down her birth story, huh? It was beautiful and hard and redemptive and nothing at all like I expected or planned. Are births EVER what you expect or plan?!

My duedate was June 13th. If you follow me on instagram, you might recall that Matt had been at the law enforcement academy since March 6th, and wasn't due to graduate until June 16th. He was able to have his phone on him during the day once I hit 36 weeks, but I was still really nervous about the timing of everything - the academy is about 90 minutes from our house. The hospital is actually on the way from the academy to our house, so he could meet me there if need be, but I really wanted him to be home with me and for us to go to the hospital together. All in all, there were a LOT of moving pieces and unknowns about who would drive me/who would watch Xavier/when Matt would get there, etc. I was trying to pray hard for peace and that I would trust that it would all work out okay, but I'm not going to lie - it was HARD. There was a lot of anxiety surrounding her arrival and how it was all going to work. Xavier was born on his duedate, and Matt happened to have that day off work, so he was with me for every single minute of Xavier's labor, every single contraction. I was really scared to go into labor with Matt at the academy, and have to do it solo. We had a wonderful doula and I knew my mom would come over if I needed her, but it's just different than having your husband, you know? My only experience of labor was Matt by my side for every second, so I was just scared of not having him there this time.

As it turns out, God always knows best and I should never worry about anything, ever.

I was actually pretty convinced I was going to go into labor early, since the duedate I had calculated for myself was May 28th - a full two weeks earlier than the duedate the doctor gave me at our first ultrasound. May 28th was based on my last cycle, but the June 13th duedate was based on how she measured at that first scan. But in my mind, May 28th was the date all along. I just had a feeling she'd come around then. Also, I had 5 or 6 friends who were all pregnant with their second babies with duedates close to mine, and ALL of them went into labor early (like a couple weeks early) and ALL of them had crazy fast, barely-made-it-to-the-hospital-in-time births. So of course I was assuming the same would be true for me.

Long story short: the same was NOT true for me.

May 28th came and went, and no baby. My duedate inched closer and I was so discouraged. I really wanted to attend Matt's graduation on the 16th, but knew it would only be possible if I went into labor early enough that I would be healed a bit and could go, or if I was still pregnant (aka overdue, since my duedate was a few days before his graduation.) I was so annoyed that I was still pregnant when it seemed like all my friends had their babies in the arms. I was over it.

On Sunday, June 4th, I was having steady, timeable and strong contractions for several hours. They were close together and regular, but nothing too painful - I could walk and talk through them. And after several hours, they stopped. The same thing happened on Monday. All day long, I had steady, strong, regular contractions, only to have them fizzle out around bedtime. And again on Tuesday. I woke up around 4am with the exact same feeling I had when I went into labor with Xavier. Strong, crampy feeling contractions. I woke up in labor with Xav, too, and he was here by that night. I texted Matt and told him that he should tell his supervisor that today was probably the day, and expect to leave at some point. But then they never really increased. They were steady and strong for hours, then they'd stop. I kept texting him updates, although there wasn't much to report. They fizzled out completely for a few hours and I was SO MAD. I thought for sure today was the day! But in the early evening, they picked up again, and I called my doula to ask what she thought. She said I still sounded good (aka could talk, laugh, etc.) but that it sounded like the real deal and could turn a corner at any moment and go pretty quickly, it being a second baby and all. I asked if it would be dumb to have Matt come home? She said if that was an option, I should call him. So I did, and Matt was able to come home from the academy to spend the night. I figured that if it was nothing and they died down again, he could just go back at 5am the next morning and tell them "false alarm." But if it WAS the real deal and picked up overnight, he would already be home to drive me to the hospital. 

Which is exactly what happened. I fell asleep around 10pm on Tuesday night, still contracting, and woke up around midnight because they had increased significantly and I couldn't sleep through them anymore. I woke Matt up and he talked to Brandie, our doula. Even though it was early - I could still comfortably walk and sort of talk through them - I decided to go to the hospital. I just wanted to know if this was real labor that was progressing, or a false alarm. The starting/stopping was SO taxing mentally and emotionally, and since Matt was home, I just decided we'd go ahead and go in. If it wasn't real labor or I wasn't far enough along, I'd just go back home (my water hadn't broken or anything.) We called my mom and she came over to stay with Xavier, and we headed to the hospital around 2am. I was convinced it was a false alarm and they'd send us home. Or maybe I was just preparing myself to be disappointed, so I wasn't too attached to the idea of having a baby today.

Before we left, I tiptoed into Xavier's room to hug him and tell him I loved him. It hit me so forcefully that we might be coming home forever changed, a new baby sister, no longer a family of three but a family of four, him no longer my only baby. I got super emotional and cried as I held him in his dark room and swayed side to side, just telling him over and over that I loved him, that he'd always be my baby. Getting teary-eyed now just thinking about it.

The drive to the hospital was uneventful. Speeding down empty roads in the dark, holding Matt's hand. There's just no way to describe that twilight zone when you think you might be finally meeting your child after months of knowing them but not seeing them. Loving them without ever seeing their face. It's truly indescribable. The excitement, the nervousness, the fear, the joy.

We got checked into triage and they checked me - I was 3cm. Considering the fact that I was "barely a 1" when I got to the hospital in labor with Xavier, I was pretty happy about that fact. The contractions were doing something, after all! They said I could stay for a couple hours and walk around to see if labor progressed. We walked up and down the halls, pausing as contractions intensified. After two hours, I was 4cm, so they decided to admit me, since labor was clearly progressing.

I should have mentioned in the beginning - my goal was an intervention-free birth, but I had much more open hands than I had with Xavier. My biggest desire was to cling to Jesus and glorify God. No matter what Zelie's birth looked like, I wanted to cling to Jesus and glorify God through it. I also really wanted to offer up the pain and difficulty of labor for special intentions. I'd heard of offering up suffering before, but never really understood it or experienced it, and I wanted to. I had a list of intentions with me and hoped to offer up contractions for those special intentions. Early labor ended up being one of the most beautiful, spiritual experiences of my life. As we sat in the tiny triage room, I would picture the person I wanted to pray for as the contraction would start, holding their image in my mind as I breathed through each wave. It's hard to put into words...but I don't know that I've ever prayed as fervently as I did during those hours, those contractions. It was a beautiful way to unite the pain with an offer up my discomfort for a cause.

We got settled into a room and I continued to labor naturally. The essential oils diffuser was going constantly with lavender and peace and calming...hymns playing from my Spotify playlist, Matt and I occasionally singing along. I would have Matt apply essential oils here and there...lavender for relaxation...valor for courage...deep relief on my low back for back labor. And then....everything stopped.

Around 8am, my contractions totally fizzled out. Just stopped. I could not believe it...I was SO mad. I thought this was the real deal! There was nothing for about two hours. The nurse said the monitor was picking up little contractions, but nothing I could feel. I wanted to throw something. After all that, after thinking this baby was coming, after believing it would go quickly, here we were again. I asked if the doctor could come check me and we could talk about my options. I was 4-5cm dilated, and I asked if they could break my water, wanting to try that before starting pitocin. Breaking my water wasn't an option, though, so Matt, Brandie and I had a quick conversation about what we could do. I could go home, since my water hadn't broken and I was less than 6cm, and come back when and if labor picked back up. Or we could start pitocin at a low dose and see if that helped. I couldn't even imagine going home after all that and having MORE waiting, MORE wondering. So we decided to go with the pitocin at 2 units and see if that helped jumpstart things. Our amazing nurse said it usually took about an hour for the pitocin to kick in, and that sometimes mamas just need "a whiff" as she called it. Well, within five minutes, contractions had MAJORLY started again, and in between them I was moaning, "I thought she said this would take an hour!"

Turns out a "whiff" is all my body needed, and I was back on my way. I continued to labor without an epidural for almost two hours, through intense contractions. I remember crying at one point (also cried in labor with Xavier) and wanting my mom (again, happened in labor with Xavier. Maybe for a future baby I'll have my mom there with me!) And I also remember clutching my rosary tightly in my hand, and specifically hanging onto the crucifix. With each contraction, I ran my fingers over the metal crucifix and pictured Jesus hanging on the cross, the physical suffering he endured for our sake. I tried to pray for specific intentions, but it was tough at that point. But just holding onto the cross, knowing that Jesus had also felt intense physical pain and was right there with me, was so helpful.

As the contractions intensified, I got checked and was 6cm. Oh, and my water had broken after getting pitocin, so they contractions were pretttttty intense at that point. The idea of having to go 4 more cm, not even being in transition yet, and being in more and more pain was too much. I hadn't slept in two nights, hadn't eaten in almost 24 hours, and was so exhausted. Labor was, by all standards, going fine, but it was taking so much longer than I thought, and I was spent. "I can't do it." I told Matt. He and Brandie were quick to reassure me that I could. "Okay...I don't WANT to do it." I clarified. Matt encouraged me that I could keep going, but getting an epidural was okay, too. Just knowing that he supported me whatever I decided was so helpful. I considered it...and knew that an epidural was the best route for me in that moment. We asked the nurse to call the anesthesiologist and within a half hour, the epidural was placed and the pain was gone.

And you know, it's funny....getting an epidural with Xavier was such a hard decision for me, one I re-played over and over again in the months after he was born. I felt such shame and regret about it. I felt like I failed him from the get-go, didn't try hard enough, let him down. Everyone had said "my body was made for this" and I felt like I must be broken, that I was somehow less-woman, because I'd needed an epidural to bring my baby into the world. There were a lot of emotions I had to work through and process around his birth, and it took a long time to make my peace with it. And this time...there just wasn't. Praise God. As I thought about it, after the epidural was placed and I was capable of coherent thought again, I realized that when it comes down to it, I do. not. care about getting an epidural. There are things in our life we value - buying ethical clothing, buying organic food, etc. But an unmedicated birth is just not something that makes that list. It would for some people, and that's awesome! We're all different, and that's a beautiful thing. I think if circumstances align - you're well-rested, well-fed, haven't been in off/on labor for weeks and are in a better mental state, a completely unmedicated birth is totally possible and totally awesome. But for both of my births, an epidural was 100% the right decision for ME in that moment. I can say that now with total confidence. And it does not make me less-than. There is nothing to feel guilty about, or regret. An epidural allowed me to get some much-needed sleep, so I was better prepared to meet our daughter. It allowed my body to relax, and go from 6cm to 10cm pretty quickly. An epidural (or c-section, or whatever) is not the lesser option. It's simply an option, just the same as an unmedicated birth, or a home birth, or a water birth, and that's that. Birth is birth is birth is birth. It's ALL heroic. It's ALL sacred. It's ALL beautiful, regardless of what route you choose.

So, I napped, laughed and joked with Matt and Brandie, snuck as much food as I could when the nurses weren't looking. And pretty soon I was at 10cm, and they were calling the doctor. She took one look and went ahead and scrubbed up, because Zelie was READY. I pushed for 6 minutes - maybe 4 pushes total? - and she was here. Crying her perfect loud cry, covered head to toe in that weird vernix stuff, and being put on my chest, absolutely perfect.

All told, it was 17 hours of labor from when I woke up at midnight to when she was born at 5pm. It was not at all the quick, lets-hope-we-get-to-the-hospital-in-time labor I was hoping for and expecting, but it was exactly the birth I needed and that God intended for me to have. It was beautiful. It was meaningful. It was prayerful and sacred. It was redemptive, and healing. It is a day that will be forever etched in my memory as a shining example of God's goodness and love.

So that was her birth day! And now it's been eight sweet weeks of getting to know this darling girl. Our eyes are tired, our hearts are full. We love you to the moon, Zelie James. 

A baby, a bulletproof vest and a long blog hiatus

Friends! Good morning! I feel like finding some kind of GIF that says "I'm BAAAAAAACK" but to be honest, I have NO idea where/how people find GIFs (what does GIF even stand for!?) so pretend there's one here:

For a long time (like, several years) I've been going back and forth on blogging. When I had my photography business, I struggled with whether or not I should have a business blog for all my photo stuff, and a personal blog for everything else I wanted to post. In high school and college, I loved keeping a personal blog for more personal, long form writing - almost an online journal. Then it seemed like overnight, there was an explosion of professional blogs and sponsored posts and blogging for money. I decided that I wanted to go that route, so suddenly it felt like my blog couldn't be a space for personal rambling - it needed to be and look legit. Long story short, there's been a lot of pressure as to how this space should look. All self-imposed, of course. And it lead me to wanting to quit altogether. But I've realized over the last several months that a) I really miss blogging and b) I'm done with the pressure. So, I'm back! And I'm really excited about it.

The last few months have been FULL. Crazy, hard, amazing, so sweet. Matt is a full-blown police officer now! I mean, he's still in training until November, but he gets dressed in his very official uniform and goes to work in his very official police car so it feels very official to me :) I was SO hoping that I'd be able to attend Matt's graduation from the law enforcement academy and the stars aligned to make my dream come true...Zelie, Xavier and I were able to go (thanks to my mom, Matt's parents and our friend Christine who were also all there to help, as I was just 10 days postpartum!) and it was so incredible to watch Matt walk across that stage and graduate after 15 long weeks. The police academy was so challenging for our whole family, but also a season that bore so much fruit for me individually and also for our marriage. I'm grateful :)

So now we live in the world of bulletproof vests, Matt having to sit facing the door every time we go out to eat, missing him while he works nights and trying to get out of the house with the kids while he sleeps during the day. It has been a truly hard transition to be honest, but we are figuring it out more each day with LOTS of help from our village and LOTS of conversations about what is and isn't working.

And...we had a baby! Of course she's been introduced on instagram and I hope to have her birth story up here soon. Sweet Zelie James is an absolute dream and we are smitten. Xavier loves to say "hi" to her in the mornings, put toys on her while she's sleeping aaaaaand rip her pacifier out of her mouth as soon as she falls asleep. Life with two under two is crazytown, as expected, but also incredibly more fun than I could have ever imagined. Don't get me wrong...there are a LOT of tears on all parts (especially mine) and a lot of me just stopping amidst the crazy to yell "WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING RIGHT NOW" (yep, true story) and a lotttttttttt of prayers of "Jesus...I can't. Please help!" And of course, He always does.

All in all, I am so grateful for this season and all the lessons and gifts it's brought and continues to bring. I wouldn't trade this wild life with my three sweet humans for the entire world. Hoping you're all having the loveliest summer and so excited to be hanging out with you again, here. xo!