So small…

I went out to a Halloween party several weeks ago. I was dressed like Nicolas Cage from National Treasure, but that’s a story for another day.

At one point we landed at a bar that was packed with people. I was standing next to a bunch of friends at the bar, and behind me was a group of people sitting at tables. It was so tight that a waitress could barely squeeze through. Although I wasn’t the cause of her issue I caught myself saying to the waitress, “I’m so sorry.”

The week prior I had hung out with some of my girlfriends. One friend was telling us that her daughter mentioned that mommy says sorry too much. We made a vow at that hang out to catch ourselves when we were saying sorry for things we didn’t need to. Ever since that vow I have started noticing how small I made myself over the last few years.

We were part of a church where (for some reason) we never talked about anything related to politics. No, I’m not talking about who to vote for, or saying crazy things from the pulpit. I’m talking about blatantly obvious inequalities that people who care about loving others should give some thought to. If you never question your own privilege, and if you never learn to have empathy for others – can you ever really grow as a person? I don’t think you can.

Del was a pastor at a church for a little while. We had a congregant who posted something horrific on social media. It was both inaccurate and inappropriate. Del did what he thought was right and gently corrected the person. That person then proceeded to leave the church. I thought we were somehow keeping ourselves safe by making sure we never upset those around us. If I just stay quiet enough, if I hold in my own truth, I won’t bother others and then I can keep myself safe. It’s a tactic that probably worked for some point in my life.

I gave birth in 2020. Yes, it was a pandemic. Yes, it was a very difficult time for many people. But do you know how many people from our church staff checked on us? It was exactly zero. I had stayed so quiet to keep people around, and no one came anyways.

In 2021 I started getting our tax information together. The day I was doing our taxes I also drove into town and saw a line of homeless people waiting to get food. I pulled up online how much money we had donated to our church over the years. It was a lot. Then I asked myself a very important question. Stephanie, what are you doing to feed people in need? And I answered to myself, “nothing.”

For almost a decade I stayed complacent and gave money to support a building of people. I stayed quiet when I should have spoken up because I thought it would help me build relationships.

I was wrong.

I am working on no longer staying small when I can use my voice to speak up. Science matters. People of color matter. Women are important. We need to support the LGBTQIA+ community. And the model of churches in the United States is not serving people with the greatest need.

We stopped tithing that amount of money. Instead we started giving to others. Organizations that feed people. Missionaries that are doing great work. Places that support the arts. Friends and family in need. And good people we know who are building a new church.

Saying I’m sorry for things that don’t need an apology is a habit I’m trying to break. But I am sorry that I stayed small for so long. Sorry to people that needed a voice. I apologize for supporting organizations that were detrimental to many. I will do the work to be better. But mostly – I’m sorry to myself for not being the truest version of who I am. I am starting to voice my own needs and boundaries.

Staying small stops now.

COVID killed my life

COVID has killed a lot of things.

Hear me out. There is a light at the end of this tunnel.

COVID has killed a lot of things.

Hear me out. I promise there is a light at the end of this tunnel.

Of course, COVID has killed almost 200,000 Americans. The level of life that has been lost is unparalleled to anything I’ve experienced. This virus has also killed jobs and industries. I drove by our movie theater last night to see it totally shuttered. I’m not sure how many restaurants will not make it out of this pandemic, but I’m guessing it’s a lot. COVID killed off relationships and school ties. It’s hard to calculate the greater risk. Do I see an old relative and risk spreading an illness? Or do I wait and wonder if it’s my last chance to see them?

COVID kills. But what if COVID also helped kill things in a good way?

Before COVID I let my stress levels get high from taking on too much responsibility. I was so busy, and it kind of sucked. I would come home and dread seeing my family because my emotional energy was depleted from meaningless tasks.

Before COVID I didn’t love the mother I was. I wanted to look at Carly and feel joy, but I didn’t feel anything. I hated how much I didn’t feel anything.

Thankfully, COVID killed the excess things I did not know I did not need.

You can’t be stressed out from volunteering when you can’t volunteer. You can’t be stressed out from too many meetings, when there are no meetings to attend.

After COVID hit, I spent less time on tasks that were not fulfilling my soul or helping my family. I spent more time surrounded by my daughters and my husband. For the first few weeks I felt utterly trapped. But as time went on and the quarantine continued to stretch, a new light flickered inside me.

Thanks to COVID (and 25 mg of Zoloft) I started feeling rested again. Renewed joy sparked inside of me. Instead of feeling stressed out all the time I felt relaxed. I hadn’t felt relaxed – honestly – ever in my entire life. My husband told me he has never seen me like this, and I’m certain he hasn’t.

When I had no choice but to stop taking on excess responsibility I was finally free from the things that I let weigh me down.

Of course I realize my privilege here. I’m privileged to be able to work remotely and have childcare available. I’m privileged to have a spouse who splits our household division flavor. Our family stress has waned while I’m certain there are many who are under much greater duress.

And don’t get me wrong. My anxiety over being pregnant and potentially getting COVID was remarkably high. But what pregnant woman/new mom wouldn’t be a little more stressed out right now?

My maternity leave ended, and I went back to work this week. I’m working with my husband and my therapist to make sure I keep my stress levels down. For the first time in my career I’ve started taking breaks. I work for a while, actually take lunches, and stop to pick up the girls and cuddle them for a few minutes. Then I go back to remote work.

Life has forever changed for us. I don’t know what a new normal will be, and I don’t think our old ways will ever return. How do you live through a pandemic and come out unchanged?

For all of the negatives this virus has brought us, it is not without many positives. I can see many lights shining in this darkness. Like Noah’s raven I can see the water starting to recede.

COVID killed my life, and there isn’t a day that goes by I’m not thankful for it. I have emerged from this renewed, refreshed, and reborn. The drowning waters have subsided, and my life is beginning anew.

On Killing my Darlings…

Sometimes when you want to grow – you have to kill your darlings.

To innovate, to create something new – to move beyond what you are and into what you want to be – you have to kill your darlings.

Darlings are precious little things. I’ve become accustomed to holding onto them when I need to feel comforted. What are my darlings?

• I love my little charts and graphs. Give me some numbers, and I’ll make them visual.
• Analyzing people is a favorite past time. Finding an origin issue, yes please! Pointing out a pattern of behavior? I’d love to!
• Justified anger. Give me a social justice issue and I’ll gladly yell about it from the top of my lungs.
• Gossiping. Whispering little things about people.
• Cutting myself down so I never get too big.

I love my little darlings, big and small. When I feel scared I can fall into them. After years of clutching onto them I’ve begun to wonder: how are they serving me? Are they serving anyone else?

• Yes, probably.
• Maybe.
• Not really.
• Hell no.
• Oh. No.

How do you kill a darling when you love it so much? Can you drown it or bury it six feet under? That seems doubtful and unlikely. But it’s a question I’ve spent months thinking about.

When you finally know and see the things you can overcome to move onto something better why do we stop jumping? Is getting angry about a social issue and screaming about it really serving anyone? Not really. Is whispering little things about people I know helping myself or another person? No, it is not. And ultimately, do any of these things make me feel better about myself? No, they don’t.

Darlings are like sleeping on an old mattress. You know what it’s like – you know every curve and divot. You’re accustomed to what laying on it will feel like. But the longer you lay in that same spot the more your body aches. The support has worn out, bed bugs are starting to crawl, and you really need to get new mattress.

So for the last few months, killing my darlings has been my goal. And as much as I hate cliches, here’s what I’ve been attempting to do to help me move forward.

1) See a darling
2) Confront it, and then ask
3) Am I reacting out of fear and anger? Or am I reacting out of love and kindness?
4) If its fear and anger – try to abort. If it’s love and kindness, try to go for that.

I don’t know how long it will take to kill these things, but I’m guessing a while. They’ve been here for decades, so why would they just cease overnight?

But, I’m trying.