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A Village, A Year

We’re watching Doctor Strange on our TV tonight, because that’s what we were watching a year ago. It was at Flix Brewhouse, with my dad, for his birthday. The water broke then, but I didn’t know it yet. I heard/felt a pop. Later that night, right around midnight, it began. All day I have been aware of a movie reel playing as if in the back of my mind of this day last year, present-me aware of the countdown that was in place, full of anticipation of November 13th – Augustine’s birthday.

In the car on the way to Target this afternoon, I decided to see how easy it would be to make something in iMovie for his first birthday, a tradition borrowed from a good friend. Just as I was clicking the button to choose photos, I remembered that I had allowed Google Photos to “free up space” after my last back up. (I have taken approximately 6,000 photos and videos since Augustine was born. Fact.) Yet somehow there were a lot of photos to choose from – somewhere between 100-150, going back just over a year. There is probably some iCloud explanation for this (although my phone loves to remind me that it hasn’t been able to update in 4,860,227-ish days). Regardless, I was in action. I basically selected all, saved the project, and we Target-ed. Then after bedtime, Mike and I played around with it a little more and I realized just how much I needed to do that + this. The song “Boys” by Jars of Clay was a no-brainer for this video. The first time I heard it, I knew it was one I will listen to regularly for the next 60-some years. John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” was another easy choice. That is what I have called my boy since day one. I wanted a 3rd, an instrumental version of Lavender Blue as this has always been one of our few real “our songs,” but my patience with making something on my phone ran out. #reality

The photos told a story beyond a growing boy, too. Grandparents are ever-present, and it reminds me again of how INCREDIBLY blessed we are to have 5 grandparents in town, devoted to helping us raise this boy, any time, day or night. How Grandma Julie and Grandpa Ray-Ray watch him 5 days a week. How Grandda Phil has never, ever said no to babysitting and often covers school days when needed. Grandma Jo has also taken on her fair share of weekdays and babysitting jobs, and brought me lunch + allowed me the time to shower and feel human during maternity leave weekly. Grandpa Dave has a way of making Augustine melt that I haven’t seen with any other.

Aunt Erin and Uncle Tim make an appearance, and it warms my heart for their love for him and their mindfulness of our other baby Edgar pup is something I am so grateful for. Uncle Jordan makes a few appearances, and it makes me so happy that this man who was my best friend for most of my life gets to have a role in how my boy grows up. Aunt Jen wasn’t pictured, though – the mystery available photos didn’t include one of her – and Jen, that’s why you’re getting multiple sentences. You have watched Augustine for entire days more days than I can count, even though you have your hands full with sweet Eva bear. You have ALWAYS been there to listen to my verbal-processing, extremely emotional mom moments. You offer advice when I need it. Your prayers are some of the most powerful I’ve encountered, and I am grateful and jealous for them! I loved you before our closely-timed motherhood journeys, but now I truly think of you as my sister. For real. Forever.

Great grandparents are present in the pictures, too. Nana and PopPop, who took me on as a teenager who thought she was an adult at 18 for that golden summer. I’m so glad Auggie gets to love and laugh with you two, too. Grandma Marcia, Augustine LOVES you. We are grateful for you. And Grandpa Jim, gone for just over a week. I pray that Auggie grows up to be as gently influential and as steadfastly loving as you always were. Abby, Amber, Meredith, and Lindsie – you guys weren’t pictured (and some haven’t met Auggie yet!) but I also am grateful for my cousins who have been there over text or otherwise to answer questions or just send love. You guys were some of my best friends growing up, and I hope our kids know and love each other well.

Some friends snuck in those mystery photos, too! Stephanie – I am SO thankful that we shared our maternity leave school year. Just having someone to figure it all out alongside has meant more than you know. I can’t wait to actually eat lunch together again! 😉

Nicole. You are my sister forever, too. I still smile at the fact that we can’t remember when we transitioned from boss-employee to best friends almost 10 years ago, but now more than ever that detail doesn’t matter. What matters is how through our honest, analytical conversations I have learned how to live better, love better, and certainly mom (not even better – at all!). I firmly believe God brought me to that TV station so that we could become friends. I am so glad that we have held on to that friendship, because it means more to me with each milestone, big or small.

Mandy. You are my person. I am so grateful to have someone I can work with and church with and do life with like you. Someone I don’t always have to agree with, because it is usually in those moments when I get the chance to grow. Someone who let me borrow a pair of flip flops to ride a bike in and glared a hole into my skull, only to have seen a spark that turned into my career calling. Someone who moms so hard and so honestly and authentically, and most importantly, who invited me into that journey with you even though I was just a lady with no kids of my own. You valued my ideas about G, trusted me with her, and ultimately it was that Disney on Ice trip that we took last year that sparked my eyes to my next calling – I *WANTED* to be a mom, too.

Linda Luo – your picture didn’t show up, which doesn’t even make sense since I’m pretty sure you and Auggie have more pictures together than any of my friends! Your constant support and generosity are like the glue that keeps my life together. You feed me, clothe me, keep my hair looking amazing, and you even help keep us healthy and learning with oils!! You make me laugh harder than anyone else, and have taught me that giving to others is one of the most powerful ways to love. Your influence in Auggie’s life is and will continue to be vital. I hope he knows how to give like you do.

Allison. From the first time we hung out (you know, on your honeymoon), I knew we were kindred spirits. I thought we would start motherhood journeys together, but you got a bit of a head start. I’m selfishly grateful for that, too, as your boys have shown me so much about how to be wild and free and loving and sweet all at the same time. Your mothering has shown me how to both provide expectations but allow exploration and curiosity to flourish. Your care for me (like literal nurse stuff) during those first few months was life-giving. Your continued presence, even if it’s not as often as we would ever hope, is a constant that I cherish.

Emily Lunt (when I mention another Emily, I must say her last name). We were acquaintances when you lived here, and when we announced our pregnancies about a week apart, I still didn’t know how close we would come. Though we don’t talk as often now, the solidarity of having our sweet boys so close in time was so sweet. You listened and shared in turn. That is powerful, and I will always treasure it.

Alicia, though you were far away at the time of Auggie’s birth, I knew from your authentic motherhood experience that you would always be there if I needed you – and you were. Thank you for answering my questions, praying fiercely, and loving us long-distance.

Miranda, I am selfishly grateful that Sullivan was born a year earlier so that I could benefit from your experience. Thank you for being available, real, and for knowing the fun things to do with babies. Next summer I’m pretty sure Auggie will enjoy the zoo a lot more :)

Shandra! Another mama with a baby boy a year ahead of my own. I can never thank you enough for all of the clothes that you have given us from Mr. Night Boy! Thank you for helping me know what to do to get started on this journey by registering with me, and most of all, thank you for the hours of running and talking. More of that please – I feel like it’s some of the best therapy around!

Sarah, thank you for understanding me so well during pregnancy and motherhood. The clothes and heart-rate monitor you leant me saved my life. Registering with me saved my sanity. Making me laugh and sharing stories about motherhood and just about everything is one of my favorite things to do.

Rachael and Lindsay – thank you for the clothes, gifts, and wisdom you offered at the start and the encouragement and perspective you offer every time I need it. I seriously can’t believe how lucky we are to raise Auggie with such amazing people as DLC around us.

Becca – your gift of a bag of allergy-friendly foods dropped on my porch with a text notification is my favorite evidence that you don’t have to have a kid to know EXACTLY what new moms need. You get me, on a level that makes me want to apologize hahahaha.

Kat, Stacey, Stacey, Jenna, Chelsea, Joelle – my other DLC ladies – again, I’ll say it every day – it is a DREAM to raise a kid in this pack. You are strong women. Smart women. Caring women. Informed and intelligent and world-changing.

Jenna, you are in Thailand now, but thank you for holding my boy even when it scared you. 😉 Thank you for always inviting me to hang out, and coming to me or baby-friendly restaurants when that wouldn’t work. Thank you for keeping me “me” but also embracing “mama me.” Thank you for your patience, positivity, and light – even and especially from around the world.

Alisa, though we mostly communicate through “likes” on social media now, I will always remember and appreciate your solidarity when nursing felt like the least natural way to feed a child that could be. Honesty like we could share was life-giving.

Afton, you have put up with some CRAZY questions from me since this boy was born, and I am SO grateful. Without your support and advice, I probably would still be waking up every 2 hours. Not joking. I feel like I owe you a kidney or something!

Angie, Mary, Amy, Elaine, Renee – you were all so supportive at work in knowing the roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing when I first left and returned, and even now. Mary and Amy especially – there have been moments when I start rambling and your ability to provide perspective is like a breath of much-needed air.

Chris – you get a thank you even though you aren’t a lady because of a message you sent me about 2 months before I realized I had postpartum depression. Thank you for recognizing signs because of your family’s experience and for being a true enough friend (and good enough person) to say something. I might have denied it at first (to myself above all) but that message was one of the main things that gave me courage to admit I was in over my head when the time came.

Mary – another social media mama friend, but it has been so fun watching miss Z grow up online. Becoming moms around the same time creates a bond I didn’t expect :)

So here we are, less than 3 hours until midnight, until my baby boy is ONE. And while I could write (and likely will, soon) about every moment with him – while I have written and will write more about the journeys of nursing and working and dealing with physical and mental health hurdles during this past year – it only feels right to reach out and recognize our village today. This year was was as intense, beautiful, magical, real, raw, hilarious, and powerful as it was because baby – but also because you all were there to help along the way. It’s time for me to watch this one-year iMovie we made and also Doctor Strange and laugh and cry and remember some more now, but first, and always – Thank you.

Look for the oft-mentioned video on Facebook for now ;)

Look for the oft-mentioned video on Facebook for now ;)

 

 

Worlds Apart

I have been in a place lately. A dark one. A place that’s cold like a cave, echoing my fears back to me, occasionally lashing out in anger at our healthcare system, at myself for being angry at a healthcare system given how lucky I am to be double-insured, back into the depths of the cave where I’m sitting on cold, wet stones, rocking back and forth wondering how much more strain my heart can take, this third time through hyperthyroidism, plus having endured too long of a time of anorexia. It’s never really anger, anyway. There’s always something underneath it, for all of us.

At times I feel manic. I am literally so excited. Quivering from head to toe, chemicals shooting through me like magic lightning, strung tightly, like usual, but it feels so positive. But beneath this, I’m still cowering in the cave, because I know that this, too, is part of my thyroid speeding, speeding, speeding everything up.

At time I feel like I will literally break. Thoughts swimming, heart racing, worry transcending its normal rhythms and boundaries of my generalized anxiety so that it diagnostically presents as obsessive. And it is. Because that inner girl is rocking back and forth in her cave of fear, a familiar diagnosis with unfamiliar elements thrown into formula this time, making the end of the experiment unknowable.

My muscles will not relax. I don’t know how much of this is thyroid-related.

I can’t run right now. Too risky.

And this song, this song keeps coming back to me. Especially these lines: “Can I be the one to sacrifice? Or grip the spear and watch the blood and water flow?”

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I’ve been close-reading this song, and I think I’ve landed on the meaning of these two lines. Or maybe it’s my projection from this place that I’m in. Because that girl in that cave doesn’t know how to accept His sacrifice, not now in this place, and often not in other areas requiring mercy and grace. But I have worked through that part of faith, still am, but I get that second part, too, because maybe if I will accept His sacrifice, at least let me pay penance in that way, by being that close, that guilty, and that able to see proof, too, because faith is hard.

And I pray this song whole-heartedly, I have throughout my life, at these times when so much is unknown. Because when I recognize that I’m retreating to that girl-in-hiding place, when it seems I’d want stability and security the most, I recognize that this is absolutely when I need to accept my world being dismantled. Because “what I need and what I believe are worlds apart.”

This morning, I pushed through fear and found the faith to beeline it to the after-service prayer corner. And I felt Him, through the hands and words of those praying with me. In the way the Spirit whispered hidden prayers of my heart into the mouths of my friends, fears I hadn’t mentioned or asked for, but part of what healing will mean for me. And while the endocrinology appointment still sits waiting so distantly in November for now, I’ve felt peace. I’ve felt the tightening in my chest and mind relax. And I’ve remembered the last two times my thyroid went into over-drive, the precursors to it, and I see connections that bring hope for healing and prevention and maybe not-so-drastic measures.

And I think what I need and what I believe are coming closer.

scrubb

Peeling Scales

Augustine is recovering from HFM, otherwise known as the dreaded hand, foot, and mouth disease. He has spent a few nights sitting up in his crib, wobbling out of exhaustion and whimpering out of discomfort. As I would go in to hold him, feeling him twist and hearing him cry in frustration my heart broke for him. But I couldn’t cure HFM through my wishing, just like he couldn’t through his efforts. I had to quiet my fears, and listen to wisdom in order to provide my boy comfort. When my own temperature spiked into a fever and the blisters formed in my own throat, too, I knew for certain that this would be a stretching experience not soon forgotten. I was not expecting it to go as figurative as it has, however.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a spreading sort of skin condition that creates countless blistering bumps (among other things). These blisters do what blisters will, but they also dry out and peel off as the body heals. I was told this, and expected something similar to a peeling sunburn. Instead, I was surprised to find the shedding to be hard, thick, and almost sharp, like dragon scales.

Immediately I thought of Eustace Scrubb in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Eustace is a spoiled, whiny child who wanders away from the Dawn Treader’s crew on an enchanted island. He finds a horde of treasure, places a bracelet upon his arm, and falls asleep. Upon waking, he discovers that he has turned into a dragon. This literally transformative experience is figurative as well, of course. He realizes his monstrous behaviors and attitudes. He wants help from the crew, is even able to make them see him for him, but they cannot fix it. While still in his scales, he does manage to become helpful and contrite. But he is terrified, and during a mysterious scene he tries and tries to remove the dragon skin. He sheds it multiple times only to find it still remains. He is eventually transformed back into a boy, but not as he expected. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

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Reflecting on Scrubb’s experience made me think of my own efforts this year. So much has shifted, literally and figuratively for me as well. Motherhood has both toughened my resolve and softened my harsh edges. You see, my own dragon skin is this deep-seated need for control. It has manifested itself differently over my lifetime, and to varying extremes. The tricky thing about a control issue is that in order to “fix” it, I can’t overdo. I can’t take control of a control issue, because that is the control issue controlling me. Confusing, right?

Control comes from this place of fear. It is the illusion that if I am in charge, nothing can go wrong. And if it does, at least it is my fault. It is understandable. Fixable. Controllable. Illusion probably is too innocent of a word. Just like Eustace’s transformation was not just a trick of smoke and mirrors but of actual, physical flesh, my control issue is a vicious lie that I tell myself on repeat without even knowing it most of the time.

In the past, it reached a crescendo through anorexia. That happened at a time of transition and identity shift; graduating from high school while my parents separated and my brother moved out while not having any definite plans of my own for the future. Recovery from anorexia, that ugly arm of control, took years and treatment, medication, counseling, supportive relationships, and divine intervention. But recovery from the eating disorder wasn’t deliverance from control.

To understand the difference between recovery and deliverance, it’s time to look at Eustace’s transformation:

Part 3 from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.  You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place.  It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . . .”

While recovery from anorexia was a huge transformation, over the last 10 years I have quietly slipped back into my scales of control. Like before, this dangerous suit of armor has proven ineffective when ambushed. Parenting is another transitional cannonball into the realm of the unknown and uncontrollable. In most ways it has been delightful. Unexpected smiles, milestones, snuggles and slobbery kisses are joys on a level I never before knew. But in other ways, it is so hard. I chose to breastfeed, but not knowing exactly how much he was eating, if it was enough, was mental anguish for me. His sleep regression was another painful reminder of how much I cannot control in my life anymore. These are good challenges, but they have all offered a choice. Will I pick at my dragon skin myself, owning that I have an issue and working through it partially so that I see some evidence of growth? Or will I let a bigger change be effected?

When I went back to work in February after maternity leave, a few other chaotic  factors sort of imploded, and I found myself in Eustace’s shoes, painfully aware that I could not remove my own scales. I will not go back to an eating disorder. I will not go back to smoking cigarettes to numb it all. I had to go beyond myself. I saw Aslan on the beach, if you will, and I knew it was time for more than myself. Because more than myself is counting on me now. So I went back to counseling. And I went back to anxiety medication.

Eustace didn’t need to DO so much as he needed to be still. He needed to reflect, recognize the areas for change, but also his own limitations. As I continue to grow as a person, a professional, and a mom, I see my own efforts to peel my dragon skin. But there are cases when in order for a thing to be done thoroughly, it needs more than I can rush through under the frenzied guise of control. My scales are still peeling. I don’t know if or when they’ll leave me forever. But letting go of knowing is definitely part of letting go of control.

 

Augustine has let go of trying to stay awake through his illness and is sleeping peacefully in his crib as I write this. Soon I will go in, wake him up, and embrace the unpredictable chaos of spending my day with an 8 month old who is recovering from HFM and leaving literal scales in his renewed energy wake. And I will trust that by doing what I can, and accepting help for what is beyond me right now, I am losing my scales, too.

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Recognize

I’m not in a season of publishing most of my writing. As a writer, it is hard to admit this, but it’s my truth. I’m in a season of reading, observing, and soaking up my summer time with my son. And I’m also in the expected season of renewed self-discovery with the identity shift that momming brings. Sometimes, though, it takes my keyboard to help me fully form the things I’m learning.

I’ve been reading a book I never would have picked up on my own called “The Best Yes” by Lysa TerKeurst from Proverbs 31 Ministries. If you know me and know about Proverbs 31, you know I get my feathers ruffled by about 90% of the people who use this passage. So much so that I’m going to link an article at the end to help people realize that the woman described in that passage was a lot more like Wonder Woman than domestic goddess.

OOPS I went on a tangent in the introduction.

OOPS I went on a tangent in the introduction.

Why to Read

Regardless, this book has been extremely helpful for me as my identity has expanded to include that of Mom. A lot has changed since baby boy, but a lot hasn’t. What this book is providing is a way to reflect on the before and after and reset boundaries as is more necessary than ever now that it’s not just mine and Mike’s time being questioned.

Case in point for why I’ll admit I need this book: one night, two close friends and I were sitting around thinking of one word to describe each of us. They both used the word “driven” for me, and my own word wasn’t far off. Heck, the name Emily itself means “industrious.” I don’t do sitting still well. And I certainly don’t do anything half-heartedly. If what I’m working on doesn’t bring joy, I cannot continue it.  But if it fulfills ideals, then watch out! The downside of this go-getter mentality is time. There simply isn’t enough physical or emotional space to do everything that I want to or everything that I’m asked. That’s true for all of us, and it was true for me even before motherhood.

This book has several filters to put requests or plans through to make sure that it fits before saying yes. That it is truly helpful towards meeting goals. I’ll admit I skim past some of the anecdotes, but the technical aspects of it have been eye-opening. Reading always brings along introspection and reflection, and through this book I have discovered a deeper truth about myself.

People Pleaser?

There is a lot in this book about saying yes in order to please others. Honestly, I have considered myself a people pleaser for years. Primarily because I THRIVE on feedback. As far back as I can remember, when I received back a paper I had written without at least a paragraph of commentary, I was devastated. The same is true professionally today; I crave getting feedback. I think I’m one of few teachers who look forward to being on an observation year. I might as well have a sign on my forehead that says “TELL ME HOW I AM DOING WITH SPECIFICS AND AS MANY WORDS AS POSSIBLE PLZ THANKS!” I assumed this meant I was a people pleaser. Yet, last year, while reading the book “Growth Mindset” by Dr. Carol Dweck with the rest of my building, a contradiction became more clear. This book talks a lot about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. It showed me that I am intrinsically motivated…but that contradicts my deeply embedded need for feedback. Or so I thought.

Looking back, I am a bit surprised I didn’t analyze this contradiction more thoroughly. Except that I am a Gemini, and sort of use to personal dualities. And a new mom. Who was largely sleep deprived last school year. Regardless of why, I didn’t second guess this information about myself too much. I continued to tell myself that regardless of receiving clear approval, I could be content in my work. I tried to make that my reality, but it didn’t solve this nagging need.  It took an incident on a sidewalk in Evanston, Illinois to click the pieces together, turning the puzzle into a clear picture.

I was walking just behind my dear friend, who was carrying her almost 2 year old daughter. An elderly woman walked past us, smiling warmly at my friend and her girl. As I was just a few steps behind with my own adorable bundle of joy in my arms, I’ll admit I expected the same reaction. Instead of focusing on adorable Augustine, however, her sharp brown eyes fixated on my left arm’s tattoos. She shook her head and scowled. Now, this didn’t really upset me. I sort of laughed, and I remember thinking to myself that I signed up for being noticed, for better or for worse, when I decided to get visible tattoos. And I truly didn’t care what she thought of me…but wouldn’t a people pleaser care?

THE ANGST OF SELF-REFLECTION

THE ANGST OF SELF-REFLECTION

Maybe Not…

So I continued to read The Best Yes and dwell on this people-pleasing picture of myself that contradicts so many areas of my life. I thought back to how comfortable I am challenging others, even risking their opinion of me. But then I thought of how upset I get when I am misunderstood or disliked/unfriended as a result. I thought about myself in high school, constantly getting in trouble with the administration although in reality the worse thing I did was oversleep and thus arrive late. But I dressed like a punk, and so I was treated like a punk kid. And it still bothers me, although I continue to dye my hair bright red and that whole tattoo thing. I thought about professionally, how I often know deeply I am doing good things for my students but if it ruffles feathers I am questioned or worse. And I realized something big. I am not a people pleaser. Pleasing people is not what I am seeking when I crave feedback. Approval is not something I have really ever concerned myself with. It’s something different; it’s recognition.

Recognition to me doesn’t mean that you agree or adore what I suggest or work on, but it means that you are willing to look at it and see where it came from and/or where it’s going. I didn’t need my high school vice principal to like me. I didn’t and still don’t care what people think of my physical appearance choices because I didn’t and still don’t do these things to create an image that pleases anyone else. But I did need her to recognize that I wasn’t doing drugs, drinking, or smoking. I was academically unchallenged and dressing the way I did because of Christian punk rock bands and discovering Hot Topic. That’s all it was. I don’t need my superiors at work to hold me up on a pedestal. In fact, if they did and I knew I didn’t earn it, I would be uncomfortable. What I crave is their knowledge of what is happening in my classroom and their questions as to why. It’s far more about others understanding me, my work, etc. than it is about others liking any of these components. Having the Board of Education tell me they were going to help me fight for license conversion because they saw my transcripts and test scores and believed in the difference I could make for students felt a lot more meaningful than the certificates of achievement I received.

That last example brings some light to the fog of my confusion all these years about what really drives me. Because sometimes recognition does look like approval. And I am human, so I’ll own that feels pretty neat sometimes. But approval alone isn’t satisfying to me. Another way I have realized this is my post-baby body. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on how great I look. My body bounced back quickly. Like freakishly so, compared to my expectations. But I didn’t really do anything to ensure that. I had no control over it. So those compliments make me uncomfortable (which may be another issue I have to work through).

Writing this feels a little uncomfortable, too, because there are some descriptions of things that I recognize can sound like bragging. Which connects to my whole desire to be understood. I’m good with you disliking some of the things I’ve shared about myself…as long as you recognize that I shared them in an effort to be understood and maybe – just maybe – help someone else understand themselves. Recognizing ourselves is important to keep that intrinsic motivation going, after all. And it CERTAINLY helps with decision making and boundary setting!

*The link to the promised article about Proverbs 31/Wonder Woman!