What Defines You?


You have the ugliest feet I’ve ever seen!” he slurred.

I remember where we were
The dirt stain from one end to the other of his well-worn white t-shirt
The way his breath stank of cheap booze from 4 ft. away
His skinny arm around the beautiful girl he was with
The grin that spread across his face, exposing the toothpick pinned between his upper and lower teeth
I cannot, however, remember his name.

We all kind of laughed quietly and awkwardly.
For the next 3 years, anytime I was in public, I wore closed-toe shoes.
He had confirmed what I suspected all along. My ugly.

A guy.
I’d only just met.
When I was 18 years old.
At a concert.
Who I haven’t seen since.

That’s messed up.
But so very normal for a girl like me with a mind and emotions like mine.
I wish someone had told me that.

It’s regretful to think of all the time I’ve wasted replaying scenarios of happenings decades ago and because I was not already defined in my own mind and heart, I grabbed hold of them and said, “You will define me.”

Fast forward 20 somethin’ years later…When it was time to unshackle myself from these definitions.
It has been an incredibly painful process…the tearing away of that which was never meant to be part of me at all, but by doing so has, by fire, refined me.
Not without tears and wounds, and, at times, gnashing of teeth.
Not without a notable amount of doubt.
But nonetheless, improved.

Why must we strive so hard to hold on to that which keeps us paralyzed?
It is only when seeing the space once bloodied and torn, peeled away for the first time, I can appreciate the beauty of the scar that remains.

I do not find it coincidental that the season of life when I’m learning the most is in my 40’s… when I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my own skin…but something is always breaking down, requiring repair.
We’re not talkin’ about a few split-ends or a smudged manicure, we’re talking degenerative disc disease and bone spurs, torn ligaments requiring an air-cast one would wear when walking on the moon. (okay, I made that last part up about the moon, but still…) I ended up flat on my back for 3 days after pulling a muscle while bending over to pick up a receipt.

Simultaneously, as this body is going into “just out of warranty” mode, my spirit has never been so free.
Is that strange? Or is it as each decade has been?
Looking back makes more sense than I ever thought it could.

I actually don’t think I would have wanted to be 40 in my 20’s. While I could have prevented some astronomical errors in judgment, I also wouldn’t have experienced the pain that led me here, to this moment of spiritual freedom. Of that, I am certain.

Shame is a powerful thing, friend.
It has weighted down my spirit for many years making me more accessible to the chains of the lies that bind and deplete.
It’s easy for me to look back now and think, “Why didn’t I do this SO much sooner?!
As I feel a quiet voice in my spirit speak, “Because the lesson wouldn’t have been the same.”

Everything is timing Y’all.
Or as it’s said, “Timing Is Everything.”

If you’re reading this and you’re in…
… your 20‘s, you’ll just have to trust me. You’ve been skimming this anyway so maybe set a digital reminder to come back and read it in a few years.
… your 30‘s, you’re nodding your head a bit realizing that more is being revealed. Even now, in the midst of uncertainty. You may have grinned and laughed a little at the thought of being bedridden from bending over. Careful. I probably laughed too.
… your 40‘s, you may have read half way down and already related to my beginning… Even said an “Mmm-Hmm.” “Yeah, Girl!” “Me too!” “I feel you!” Or maybe you’re thanking God for those of us who were good enough examples of what rebellion looked like to keep you on the straight and narrow.
… your 50‘s+, my guess is that you’re thinking, “Darling, just wait!”
And I’ll be honest, I’m going to take that as something to be both excited and terrified by.

(Guest Post) 3 Lessons I Learned from a Catheter

This post is my father, John Riley‘s, words. If you’ve heard him speak you will be able to hear him within these writings. I hope he will continue talking about the lessons he’s learning through his personal journey into grief that began in the Fall of 2015 after the sudden death of his brother, Buddy. As long as he keeps telling stories, I’ll keep typing. 

Our hope is that these raw renderings will provide some much-needed relief and hope to those who are new to pain and loss. The ones among us who suffer silently while wishing for the person who understands to share their experience so they can say, “Really? Me too!”

I would encourage you to listen to the newly added audio with dad reading the post. Hearing a story read by its author gives it the ability to come alive. It will also give you a glimpse into why he is such a gifted communicator.

CatheterWhen someone in a white lab coat with the letters M.D. on the end of their name that’s stitched on the pocket, starts talking about you and a catheter in the same sentence, it’s sobering.

Once you get to thinkin’ about the reality of the proposed solution for what you hope is a temporary problem, it can really getcha down.

So… you have conversations… with said catheter and you get real honest.
It may sound something like this, “You and I are not going to be friends but, we’ll put up with each other as long as we have to and then we’re through!”

For me, it was only a month.
For many, it can be the rest of their lives.

Now y’all, that’s serious.

I don’t mean this to be too light hearted. It’s just that, trying to learn from it was better than cryin’ and cussin’ and carryin’ on… I suppose.

So, here are three things I learned from my catheter.
Excuse me, THE catheter.
I never wanted to own the thing.

1.- Pain can have benefits… if you let it.

Well, shoot! It’s hard to say what the benefits are because I can’t really think of many, but mainly you appreciate times of no pain.

After two weeks when I was told by my doctor (who is absolutely fantastic), “Sorry, we have to wait another week and another test.” I was upset. I had to process it.
It was only then that I could be thankful for this thing, discomfort and all, making it possible for me to heal inside.

So, I was extremely grateful that I was improving and that the greater percentage of my body was pretty healthy.

I also found gratitude for whoever invented the catheter. (That sounds weirder than I thought it would.) But seriously, I got really thankful for all the lives this person saved, including mine. Without this dang catheter, I would have already exploded five times over! Now, that’s enough to make even me grateful.

2.- Compassion has been defined as entering into the sorrows of another person and thereby showing mercy. I think that’s the way it goes?

How could I possibly enter into someone’s sorrow when I had never had the same sorrow?

I have been through the deaths of… well… everybody in my family older than I am, but this was my first time with a catheter. Now I can really feel for someone who has to have this great invention for a day, or for life.

Also, it teaches me that even though I don’t know personally what someone else is going through, I can know that it’s hard… even though I’ve not experienced the same thing. I thought I understood what it meant to be empathetic, but I’m not sure I ever truly have… before this. I hope that I will never again be unconcerned about another person’s problem.

3.- Make adjustments

By this, I don’t just mean which leg to put the bag on… but everything… well almost everything, you’ve done for many years.

Here are just a few that I have learned… fast… ’cause I didn’t have a choice.

Sleeping – don’t move around much. Get accustomed to sleeping on your back and your side. It’s not bad… except for sometimes… when it is.

Shower – unplug, clean, replug, dry… always makes ya feel better.

Dress – got me a whole new set of underwear, relaxed and unrestricted.
I didn’t realize boxers could be so comfortable! Wear ’em all the time now.

I have some that look like shorts, but the other day at my little community bank I go to, my friend the loan officer told me he could tell they were underwear. Oh well…

Loose pants are my friend. Especially sweat pants. But on days when the temperature in Alabama is 85 degrees, it looks kinda weird. So… I just stayed at home a lot.

Walking – was sometimes pretty easy, annnnd sometimes not.
Most of the time it felt like I was walkin’ with my legs spread like I just got off a horse. Nobody seemed to really notice except for one friend who did say to me, “Why are you walkin’ so funny?!”
“It’s a long story!” I thought to myself. I have lots of conversations in my own head these days. Know what I mean?

Exercise – wasn’t on the agenda. Every day made me look forward to the time I could really start back exercising and made me feel a deep concern for those who never can.

So, the catheter has taught me to be open to learning new ways of doing things. As I get real close to being 70 years of age, it makes me realize I want to keep growing.

Considering these three things, I hadn’t really thought of it, but maybe the catheter was my friend? However, I’m not gonna have it framed and hang it on the wall. (Can you imagine?! Yuck!)

What are you going through that people can’t necessarily see, but is making a huge impact in your everyday? Has it taught you a kind of gratitude that you never knew you wanted to learn?

10 Things I’ve learned being a Mom of Boys

Silly faced boys

  1. They have one level of volume LOUD.
  2. They eat… constantly.
  3. They will find dirt where no dirt has ever been found.
  4. They wear cleats in the house.
  5. They run everywhere they go.
  6. They have an inhuman burst of energy around 7:30 p.m. and it’s best to let them get it out before attempting bedtime.
  7. They are surprisingly sensitive.
  8. They laugh at anything that involves “potty words.”
  9. They are incredibly curious, making everything an adventure.
  10. They love their mama.
    < I CANT STOP AT TEN! THERE ARE TOO MANY MORE. >
  11. They potty train successfully when allowed to hit a target (preferably outside… like on a tree or off the deck. Yep, I’m that mom)
  12. They will wake up on the weekend an hour before the sun comes up, but you will not be able to drag them out of bed for school.
  13. They have to be reminded multiple times a day to, lift the toilet seat, put the toilet seat down, flush the toilet, wash their hands…with soap, and to keep their pants on.
  14. They smell like wet puppies after playing outside. Whether it be for 5 minutes or 2 hours.
  15. They consider anytime a good time to get dirty.
  16. They don’t understand why I would ever want to have privacy.
  17. They give real hugs. Not the ones where you barely connect. The ones that squeeze all your breath out.
  18. They use any opportunity to be naked. The less clothes, the better.
  19. They take everything apart (including jewelry, lingerie drawers and large purses) in order to put it back together so they understand how it works (even if it doesn’t go back together.)
  20. They crave love, affection, encouragement, admiration and security as much as any of us girls do, they just don’t show it or need it expressed in the same way.
  21. They need the freedom to be boys.

Y’all, I grew up with sisters. We had curling irons and a different brush for every hairstyle, rollers and special conditioner. We had makeup and purses, dresses and patent leather mary janes (only to be worn on Sunday.)

I came into this journey of mothering boys with no prior knowledge of how often they were going to use the word poop and think it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I entered into this commitment of motherhood never realizing that I would be considered the one with odd body parts.

Bella was my only one for 8 years and I have to be honest, nothing could have prepared My Bellame for the reality that is raising two boys to be productive members of society.

It is incredibly challenging, always an adventure, hours of laughter, many conversations that I don’t know the answers to, lot’s of prayer, goodnight kisses on the forehead, holding little hands while walking down the stairs, several, “I’m sorry for yellingconfessions, stock in Costco sized clorox wipes, a much larger grocery budget and a constant sense of wonder.Dahlias as big asIt now makes perfect sense to me why Chris has 2 first aid kits in our house and 1 in each car. I didn’t understand it at first, now I am so grateful for his prior knowledge of skinned knees, bumped heads and random cuts laden with dirt. I’m thankful for his preparedness for the unexpected.


I’m okay saying, “Go ask your dad.” when the boys come to me with questions about body parts I don’t have. Father and Sons

I’m okay letting them know that I don’t have all the answers.

As long as they know they are loved.
As long as they know they are enough.
As long as they know their Creator.

The days when they pull their hand from mine when walking down the sidewalk because they need to run, will be okay.

The afternoons they come in from soccer practice, cleats packed with mud and track it on my hardwood floor, will be worth it. (That’s what the vacuum is for… and swiffer… and mops.)

When I’m doing my daily round of toilet cleaning, I thank God for these little men that He is trusting me to raise.

Pure JoyI love being a mom to boys.

It’s never a dull moment. (Which is great! I bore easily.)
It’s always an adventure. (Who wants to sit around not living life anyway?)
It’s incredibly challenging. (I. Love. A. Challenge.)
It’s simple. (Have snacks EVERYWHERE you go.)
It’s immeasurably rewarding.

Okay moms of boys, sisters of brothers, wives who had no prior exposure to behind the scenes with boys, what did I leave out?

Watching the Orangutan

We were at the zoo this past weekend and I had such a great time watching this orangutan do somersaults (while eating) to get where he wanted to go. He had so much character. It was a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy the slideshow.

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These moments were captured using a Canon 60D, 70-200mm f/2.8 L, in sports mode.

 

Is that a baby in your belly?

My youngest, who is 4 and very curious, walked up to me and asked, “Mama, do you have a baby in your tummy.”

My insecurity screamed inside as I rationalized the fact that my “pooch” apparently resembles more of a baby belly?! If I had walked away at that moment I would have scrutinized my body for the remainder of the evening.

Some of you are thinking, “You care that much about what a 4-year-old says?!

The answer is…”Yes…sometimes…depending on what kind of mood I’m in.” That’s not the point!

I didn’t walk away, I answered him, “No, Darling. Mommy does not have a baby in my tummy. Do I look like I have a baby in my tummy?”

To which he replied, “I was just checkin’! Miss Jill has a baby in her belly.”

“Yes, Darling. I know she does. Do you want me to have a baby in my belly?”

“No.” he exclaimed, “I want a cat with green eyes.”

“Well that’s good!” I said. “Because I’m done having babies!”

Though this was a funny exchange between my preschooler and me it was also an opportunity for me to learn. It made me think of all the times I have had conversations with people when one word or phrase they used would send me spinning into assumptions instead of listening and seeking to understand.

Our children can teach us so much. If you don’t have children of your own, find some and listen to their conversations. What my son reaffirmed today is that God knew what he was doing when he gave me 1 mouth and 2 ears. I need to listen twice as much as I speak.

I’ll have…an overwhelmed June Cleaver with a side of crazy, please.

“Oh, June. With your pearls and your 19 inch waist, in your polished beige heals, fryin’ it up in a pan to have on the table when Ward, Wally and the Beave get home. How did you do it, June?! How did you hold it all together? (Is that a pill bottle I see by the cookie jar? Or maybe the pill bottle IS the cookie jar. Nice cover!)”

Being a wife and mother is hard difficult virtually impossible left to my own devices. Thankfully God knew this and makes it clear that I am not alone when that affirmation is needed the most. For the record, I’m not feeling any affirmations from June. I bet she was drinking straight gin from the freezer between takes! And who can blame her?!

I step over a growing mound of laundry to sit in my “writing chair” and purge my day of mental processing, I stare at the laundry and remember the fact that I need to vacuum….thank you notes need to be written…emails need responses…Bella is leaving again tomorrow…the lump comes up in my throat and that old familiar feeling of being overwhelmed attempts to settle in. Why does this happen?

I don’t think men have the incessant thought pattern that we women have. From the time I get up in the morning, the thoughts come pouring in. Hot off the presses from my unconscious mind to the conscious mind, continuing throughout every moment of every day.

It is imperative to start my day with 3 things; God, Quiet, and Coffee. If I miss anyone of those I’m setting myself up for failure, but especially the first one. It must look something like this for me…breathe in God, breathe out God (repeat), dwell on God and his promises (without ceasing), speak God into every circumstance…all God all the time. If not, my ego will sneak in and screw everything up.

For those of you who are parents, maybe you can relate, for those who aren’t, consider this mental preparation for the day you might someday become one. By nature, we are selfish creatures. Some of us more than others. I have to make a conscious effort to invite God into my day or I tend to leave him at home, waving good-bye as I speed away in the minivan with my praise music blaring. (It’s hard to yell at your children with praise music on. Yay for preemptive steps.)

What I’ve learned is that God does not force himself on me. He’s a gentleman. Sure he can be intense and fierce, but in my day-to-day he tends to wait for me to approach the throne of grace. “Why?” you ask. Because there is just something in the effort of me taking the initiative. When I don’t approach the throne of grace, opening my hands to survey those things thought to be of the utmost importance, I will keep my fingers tightly closed, missing all of the things that are waiting to be poured into them. I don’t want to do that! And yet, I still do it. Do you see my dilemma?

It’s me!!! I am my own dilemma!!! “Why not just fix it then?” you ask. Because I’m stubborn and doubtful and slow to change. The world screams at me in every way that if I’m not doing this, wearing that, volunteering there, eating these, I’m doing it all wrong.

I have a couple of different choices in this situation, I can continue to beat myself up with how I’m never going to win be nominated for “Mother of the Year” or I can turn to the voices of truth that refresh my soul and renew my mind. Like these gals…

I opened a recent post from my friend Courtney over at Lil Light O’ Mine where she was writing about her precious Ella not wanting to wear glasses because no one else her age does and everyone asks her about them. Courtney’s answer was beautiful and exactly what I needed to hear today. (Sometimes it helps to talk to me like I’m a Kindergartener, especially when I’m acting like one!)

Another awesome chick whose every word I hang on is Joy Phenix. Not just because she has an awesome name, but because she doesn’t pretend to have it all together, even though I think she’s one of the most stellar women on the planet. She writes over at Joy: Defined and one of my favorite posts is her take on the unattainable “balance” in life. She recommends working on your life “blend.” You can read all about it by clicking here.

My mentor is another irreplaceable gift in my life. Pam started a blog recently though she has been writing, speaking and coaching for years. I look forward to her posts as I can hear her beautiful southern accent through the page. It leaves me with a hankerin’ for sweet tea every time.

Who is that person for you? Do you have a person? If not, you can borrow mine until you find one or forever. These ladies have more wisdom and insight than they will ever be able to give away. They continue to grow and stretch themselves everyday in new ways. That’s what I want to be doing…growing and stretching. So when I have days filled with “mommy time-outs” I will rejoice in the gifts that are my children and I will thank God for the blessing of strong beautiful women who remind me that I’m not alone on this journey and that “perfect” may as well be a four letter word.

Awesome Resource at your fingertips! The one and only, Andy Stanley is in the middle of the series, Future Family. It is so great. Click here to watch the messages and print discussion questions. (You can thank me later, cause you’ll want to!)

Butt Prints in the Sand

One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen.
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.

But then some stranger prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?”
Those prints are large and round and neat,
But Lord, they are too big for feet.

My child, He said in somber tones,
For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait.

You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know.
So I got tired, I got fed up,
And there I dropped you, on your butt.

Because in life, there comes a time,
When men must fight and men must climb.
When men must rise and take a stand,
Or leave their butt prints in the sand.

~ Author Unknown ~

Hopefully this does not offend any of you. I read this years ago and it made me laugh. When I came across it again today and felt guilty for laughing it reminded me of how serious we “Christians” can be. Laughter is good. We don’t always have to find offense in everything.

If anyone happens to know the author, please leave it in the comments section.