A Long Ramble About the Need for a Well-Nourished Life...
|Emily Sue Allen||Jan 29|| 9|
Hi friend. Thanks for joining me here in this space. I am beginning this new venture, a little monthly newsletter where I can gather my thoughts about the profound ways my life has changed over the past year and a half. I may write a little more often than once a month if time and inspiration allow, but I’m committed to at least once a month here as I continue exploring the facets of living a whole and sustainable life.
I don’t want to sell you anything, and I don’t want to become a poster-child for healthy living and all the heaps of things you should be doing but maybe don’t have the bandwidth for. I am here because the impressive house of cards I built in my 20’s and early 30’s took quite the beating this past year (as in, knocked completely down, cards blowing every which way), and what has been left in the rubble is me with a reasonably bruised ego, broken down body, and a straight line of sight to a new way of living I’m determined to explore and share with the people around me…especially mamas who are continually pouring out to their children but not finding the support under them to keep them going through the exhausting and physically demanding early years. If you fall outside that demographic, you’re so welcome here, but I know for a fact that many moms in particular are spending energy like a credit card and don’t quite know how to put anything toward the bill with the current season being as it is.
For those who don’t know me, I am a mama of seven kids, currently ages 9m, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11, and 13. I homeschool because it gives me the freedom to be in the driver’s seat of my childrens’ education and preserve our connection as a family. I’m married to a guy that makes me laugh every day and has been the best partner I could have imagined for this task of raising a big family. I am a recovering productivity-addict, a life-long overachiever, and totally guilty of being that mom who has lived like I’ll be young forever, unaware that I really am just a regular mom with normal limitations. For a long stretch there, I wasn’t sure I really had limits. I encountered challenges like anyone else, but found I could often problem-solve my way out, take a little detour to a solution, or muscle my way through. In the midst of my maneuvering, I failed to recognize signs my freight train was nearing the end of tracks extended over a precipice to some unknowns I never could have seen coming.
In August 2018, I learned I was expecting a surprise baby #7 after casually deciding that six kids would be it for us. We hadn’t gotten so far as to doing anything permanent about that, and as those things go, he looked at me one day and there was a baby on the way. That’s always how it’s been around here. It was a surprise, but one we thought we were ready for. Been there, done that, we’ve got this, I said to myself. Sure I had that thrill/terror of knowing I’d be giving birth again, likely precipitously (I’ve never had a labor longer than 3.5 hours from very start to very finish), and I was pretty nervous about that level of pain and intensity paying a visit again, but I just thought this one would be like all the others. A long stretch of pregnancy months, a short and intense labor, and then I’d get on to being my badass productive self again. You know, after some of those newborn months.
Instead, ten weeks in (September 2018), I nearly lost my life to a sneaky blood clot that found its way into my right lung, making it difficult and painful to breathe—for 8 days because I completely missed the important signs that should have had me in the ER much sooner—and shoved my normal pregnancy into the high risk zone.
I really had no idea how serious it was at first. Just a weird pain in my back that felt mostly ok when I was upright, and not so great when I tried to lie down. I decided to sleep sitting up, in the corner of my couch, to keep the pain to a minimum. I thought maybe a rib was “out,” whatever that means, and tried seeing a massage therapist, to no avail. About seven days in, I coughed up blood. Just a little. It was a weird texture (like a little bright red hunk…gross, I know) and I really tried to dismiss it as a fluke. When I coughed up blood again the next day, I realized it was a pretty concerning symptom. Not to mention I hadn’t slept in my bed—lying down—in more than a week. I went to the family practice doctor my kids had been seeing because I didn’t have an established PCP of my own. I’d only ever seen OBs and midwives as an adult. He sent me to the ER with strict instructions to not stop anywhere else first. That’s when I had my first real clue this wasn’t just a small, inconvenient problem.
Turned out to be life-threatening…and life-changing.
I was admitted to the hospital, with ‘pulmonary embolism’ pegged as the diagnosis after x-rays and blood tests and a CT scan. I didn’t have any idea what the road ahead would look like, nor how long the saga of my recovery would be. When searching online for information about pulmonary embolism details (my diagnosis), the most prominent search result was, “Risk of sudden death.” You know, not scary at all. I’m still processing the reality of having been in such a precarious spot—in a real way, on the precipice of a black abyss.
There was a moment when I was inside the CT scan machine I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I mean, drama aside, I don’t have any medical knowledge over here to determine really “how near” to death I was…I know I was terrified. I know the pain I experienced was unbearable. I know I was asking the question, “Why is no one helping me? Why am I alone?”
Except I wasn’t alone. God was there. God had me in the palm of His hand, and did not allow me to die. He did allow me to experience some intense and terrifying things, and through each part of the story, whispered hope to my weary soul. I didn’t know where the train was headed, and I’m glad I didn’t because it didn’t get easier for a long, long while.
I can tell you with more authority than I’ve ever had before: Life is a gift.
The breath in our lungs is not guaranteed. It is a grace given. The value of every breath cannot be measured because it cannot be bought.
No one ever really plans for their lives to be turned upside-down in this fashion, and while I hope not everyone has to experience this kind of dramatic story, I do know that everyone travels their own road toward wholeness—or away from it. You’re pointed one direction or another, and my hope is to help point you toward it, and toward God. There is no wholeness without Him.
I have approximately one million things I want to share with you about the months that followed this experience, not only about my finding my way back from near death, but all the threads, lessons, epiphanies, and treasures that have come to me through all of this (and believe it or not, the story gets thicker from here). I find it hard to share what has happened, partly because the magnitude of intricate details and rich spiritual lessons through everything is astounding… but I have to start somewhere, and so I’m taking a big, deep breath (with awe and gratitude that I’m able to) so I can let this story spill out.
Thanks in advance for your grace. Thanks for reading along.
I am learning as I go. I don’t at all want to give you the impression I am an expert about living a whole and sustainable life…I’m just walking slowly, taking a close look at the threads woven together (or unraveled, as it were) through this past year. I do have some legitimate gems to offer, painfully extracted from the deep, hard places, and I hope to share my stories with you not to be self-indulgent, but with hope we might together learn how to nourish our lives with intention and understanding about how an abundant life is honestly formed.
There will be rabbit trails. I can’t help it. It may be my extra-curious nature, or my knack for zeroing in on the fine details and nuances of things others don’t find worth their time, but I am convinced many of us are missing something in the “self care conversation” going on all around us. I know I have missed things. Heck, I didn’t even like the words “self care” before two years ago when over on Kindred Mom, we did a series on the topic. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since then, not realizing that the bits I would learn in that month and the conversations that followed in months after would be a lifeline for me when everything crashed down.
I didn’t know that God cares about the way I care (or don’t care) for myself, or the way I am nourished through every part of my being: my spirit, my mind, and my body. I didn’t know that the extent to which I am nourished in those ways extends to the way I am able to nourish things beyond me: my marriage, my children, my friendships, and my church.
Anyway, for the first rabbit trail, I’ll confess we are a football family. Seahawks forever! Win or lose! I am fascinated by the game (much more than I ever thought I’d be), and as we’ve cheered our team through triumph and defeat, I’ve taken note of the distinct coaching style and team philosophy that comes through media interviews with the players and game play.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I went for a long walk. My husband handed me one of his airPods so we could listen to a podcast together as we went. I thought Pete Carroll on the Dax Shepherd Armchair Expert Podcast might be a great place to start, so we pulled it up and listened while strolling in the midday Seattle mist.
During the interview, Dax prompted Carroll to talk about his 3 non-negotiable rules for coaching elite level athletes as a team.
Those rules are: 1) Protect the Team, 2) No whining, no complaining, no excuses (we’ve since employed this rule at home with our kids, and its…ahem…great), and 3) Respect.
Carroll explained his definition of respect, acknowledging that you could talk about respect from a variety of angles—10 different people would have 10 different views on what it really means, how it works in a team environment, and so forth. He said when new players come in and they’re trying to get a feel for how they might fit with the team, it is evident when players have respect for themselves and respect for the team because the their level of respect is evidenced in the way they’re invested, committed to doing their best work, and aware of the discipline required to perform at an elite level. Players with respect for themselves won’t make excuses, don’t shrink back from a challenge, and recognize the impact attitude, preparation, discipline bring to those around them. It either adds to the team, or it becomes a liability. (Paraphrasing going on here.)
Carroll described respect as having regard for oneself and others.
I’ve been chewing on this idea for a while.
Before this past year and all the challenges therein, I didn’t know how to translate what regarding myself might look like.
To regard something is to look attentively at it, to hold it with admiration or affection, to esteem it.
I don’t know many moms who do this really well. Crap, over here most days are a mad dash of chaos management, and I’ve believed for years I don’t have any time to regard myself or any right to acknowledge or tend my own needs. I’m not talking about self-absorption or self-indulgence (we’ll talk about those another time)…I’m talking about the need for adequate sleep. The need for restorative habits. The need for fueling foods. The need for a nourished spirit. How does someone really nourish their spirit? Ah, we’ll get there.
I have seven kids. I know this gig. I know that moms everywhere are digging deep in mostly-empty barrels, trying to scrape up the patience, gentleness, and intention they hope to throw into their parenting, and often, those moms—trying hard to do their best—are still coming up short and feel rotten about it. I also know that too many of us give up an alarming amount of sleep to get through the little years, feel guilty for taking a morning out to have coffee with a friend—by ourselves—even if it’s been months since we’ve done it, make our own midday meals from remnant kid-plate chicken nuggets and hours old mac n’ cheese leftover in the pot, plus maybe a package of fruit snacks to keep us going through the long days. If you haven’t been there, maybe this newsletter isn’t for you.
In real ways, I have disregarded myself for well over a decade. Not that I haven’t made any attempts to recover margins or cultivate sustainable life-giving habits, or eat healthy or figure out the sleep-code for every stage, but I haven’t been particularly successful at the holistic recipe of wellness.
What I didn’t know, is that it’s not just a good idea to cultivate a sustainable life. It is essential. I didn’t know every woman, every family, every marriage, every home is held up by invisible structures that either lend to the strength or disrepair of the entity it is joined to.
I’ll just say this: when mom goes down, the whole ship gets really shaky. The load grows extra heavy for dad. The house of cards blown down reveals what is there at the foundation.
If I disregard myself, fail to recognize I have real and reasonable needs, fail to honor my limitations and see what is truly sustainable and unsustainable in my life, the very structures that allow me to reach out, love well, serve and invest into others will cease to hold because I’ve borrowed too much against them instead of fortifying them.
You never know quite when or how they will break down, and I’ll say, the pain of my own experience fuels my newfound passion to help other women (and men if you’re reading!) peel back the layers and find a sustainable way forward.
Maybe you’re like I was and you rationalize, this is just what it takes in order to mother children, to work a job, to be a wife. I have no other choice. It’s an outright lie. You don’t have to be chronically tired (please know I am aware that some people do have chronic conditions that can’t be “fixed” with some simple ideas…I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s experience, but I do know some of us are chronically tired and can do something about it), you don’t have to let your days be pockmarked with anxiety of all kinds (again, I’m not here to diminish or explain away anxiety or interfere with measures or medications that may help anxiety-sufferers—I’ll simply be telling my own story with it), and you don’t have to prove your competence or strength by soldiering on without habits that support your top priorities.
You may have to make some hard decisions. You may have to distinguish your actual/lived priorities from your stated/perceived ones. You may have to learn how to see (and accept) your real limitations, and you may have to learn how to set boundaries for yourself, but there is a way forward.
Learning how to regard yourself is the first step…to recognize that your value is not determined or measured by your output, by your stamina, by your hustle, or by what you have to show for your time.
You are a priceless treasure. You are irreplaceable. You are a person, not a machine. Your spirit, mind, and body are worthy of care. God made you that way, so you would connect some dots and recognize that 1) He made you and loves you, 2) He has your life in the palm of His hand, and 3) He will care for you if you let Him.
I know for me, I was pretty interested in living life on my own terms, which turned out to not be great terms in the end (middle?).
So if the terms you’re living life on right now are not adding up to whole, sustainable, nourished, abundant, and free…I’d love to invite you to ask God what His terms might be.
In the meantime, I’d love to give you my translation of Pete Carroll’s 3 rules for how to get started with this wholeness stuff:
1) Protect the team. Your wellbeing (or lack of it) is much more influential in the lives of those you love than may seem apparent at first glance. The quest to become well-nourished on every level is about you, and it is also about them: your spouse, children, friends, family, church, work, and anyone else you’re connected to. Investing in your wellbeing—when done from a humble and honest place, yielded to God, not one of self-absorption and indulgence—is an investment in your team. Your loved ones need you, and a step toward a whole you is a step toward a healthy team.
2) No whining, no complaining, no excuses. Notice this rule doesn’t say no sharing your struggles, no growing through your challenges, no building resilience through the part of this journey that requires a heightened level of taking personal responsibility. Not whining doesn’t mean not talking about what is hard—it just means you talk about it. Use your words instead of cry about it (toddler tantrum remediation 101, am I right?). Not complaining is about recognizing that it is a common human experience to struggle with our limitations—the fixed constraints of time in a day, having limited energy and resources—and we all have to make hard choices. Not excusing yourself is making a promise to choose what is best, not just what is easy or convenient.
3) Respect. Regarding yourself as worthy of care is essential. You can’t make meaningful lasting progress without it. Willpower only carries us so far—and for some of us, not a great distance before it falters. We need to acknowledge that this body we live in is a holy gift, and grow to understand the role our mind and spirit play in our overall wellbeing. We need to be reminded that we actually don’t begin with self-regard, but that we are regarded first by God—created with love by Him, provided for and sustained by Him. In Isaiah 43:4, He says you are precious in His eyes, and He loves you. I’m trying to see myself how He sees me. Trying to learn to respect the generous gift of life He has offered me. Trying to learn how to honor the totality of the person He made me to be.
Matthew 6:29-36, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single our to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet i tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
I am finding my footing one day at a time. I have painfully learned one day at a time is all I can really worry about. It’s step by step. Little by little. No short-cuts or quick fixes.
If you’ll stay along for the journey, I’ll continue to share what I’ve discovered about making each little step count.