Wanderlust

I was so thirsty.  So tired I cried as I trekked through the hot sand that seemed nothing less than an insult at the time.  We’d hiked nine miles into the Canyon and had just one mile to go but it felt like another 10.

Worse yet, I could actually *hear* the water.  Taunting and teasing me.  Letting me know it was right there, just out of reach.

I sobbed and stumbled.  He grabbed my hand and walked alongside me, pulling me to the finish line.  I was tired.  I was done.  I didn’t want to do this anymore.  But there was no other way than forward and he was right there with me.

So along we trudged, until we caught sight of this.  In the desert.  In an instant, our skin was saturated with moist air.  Our eyes delighted with sight and our ears blaring with the roar of Mother Nature in her rawest beauty.

We’d known it was there all along and yet it still came as a glorious surprise.

Much like life, I suppose.

Trudging, trekking, hoping, waiting, discovering. journeying.

To the finish line.

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Havasu Grand Canyon 2007

 

Rising

Drowning.  Funneling.  Spiraling out of control.  Down the tubes I go.

This is something that happens to other people, not me.

I’m highly self-aware.  I go to counseling.  I write about my feelings.  I am immune.

Or am I?

How far down must we go before we reach out for help?

I hit my lowest point a few weeks ago, when at 1 AM, I looked out to the water and wondered what would happen if I just slipped in quietly, and disappeared.

It’s hard to admit, even harder to type, but that thought went through my sleep-deprived brain.  Followed immediately by the remaining tiny fragments of my healthy mind reminding me that by doing so, I was only transferring my hurt and pain to my loved ones.

So instead, I wrote.  I typed out my deep, dark thoughts on a sticky note in my phone as I entered the fifth hour of non-existent sleep and waited for morning to come and save me.

How far must we go before we set aside our pride and shame and liberate ourselves by calling it what it is?

I’ve suffered in silence but now, I am reaching out.  Recognizing I cannot do this alone.  Holding the hands of others who suffer and holding onto those who lift me up as I sink.

Making it through breakfast.  Making it to lunch.  Making it to dinner.  Through bedtime. Until Midnight.  Repeating until I rise again, from my bed, from this darkness.  Reclaiming my stride, my identity and my purpose as a writer, wife and mother.

I Rise.  I Rise.  I Rise.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

 

Don’t Judge Me

Don’t judge me because I’m on my phone,

you didn’t see me playing hide-and-seek with my kids for the last hour.

Don’t judge me because I’m on my phone,

I’m checking the weather to make plans for this afternoon.

Don’t judge me because I’m on my phone,

I’m working my e-business for five minutes so that I can stay at home with my kids.

Don’t judge me because I’m on my phone,

I’m planning a playdate.

Don’t judge me because I’m on my phone,

this is the only way I get to communicate with my friends and remember who I was before kids.

Don’t judge me because I’m on my phone,

this one minute video of cats provides me just the laughter I needed to keep going today.

Don’t judge me because I’m on my phone,

I’m consoling a friend who just lost her mother.

Don’t judge me because I’m on my phone,

I’m planning a surprise party for my husband.

Don’t judge me because I’m on my phone,

this is the first time I’ve even looked at it today.

Don’t judge me because I’m on my phone,

because I wouldn’t judge you and we all deserve a little more grace.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

 

 

Celebrate

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It’s time to celebrate.

You had a rough day.  You’ve had a terrible few months.  You’ve experienced loss, exhaustion, and pain and at times, you’ve questioned whether you have the stamina to endure.

But then you read about those who have it worse and you recognize that . . .

The sun came up.

You survived the night.

Your heart is still beating.

And you’ve got a reason to celebrate.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

Choice

YR8A5052-cvaughan.jpgI checked the bag three times before I left: Extra diapers, wipes, water for me, a burp cloth and even a nursing cover.  I was ready to head to the doctor’s with my eldest and my newborn, or at least I thought I was.  That is, until I realized, too late, I had forgotten my nursing pads.  Milk saturated the right side of my shirt while the baby nursed in the waiting room.  I positioned her to burp but before I could get the burp cloth situated, she vomited an entire cup of spit-up on my stomach and lap.  Hot, sour milk saturated my shorts and coated the inside of my thighs.  It was then that she exploded from her other end and it was then that I laughed and laughed.

Because, seriously.  What the hell else are you going to do in a situation like that?

If I had a dollar for every time my mother preached about “choices” during my childhood, I’d be rich. Bottom line, no matter what life hands us, we all have a choice in how we respond. As a young girl, “She made me feel” was met with “You chose to feel” and “I can’t”, “You choose not to”.

It’s all about perspective.

So when I announced to my husband that I had shaved my legs for the first time in a month last night (my modern day attempt at foreplay) and he looked at me as if to say “Do we have to?” I laughed and announced, “You’re not hurting my feelings if you want to take a pass!”  He chuckled a sigh of relief.  We’ve had four children in 6 years.  We’re, understandably, exhausted.  Our energy focused on soaking up every moment with our children during the days and surviving the nights.

We will make time for one another again sometime soon, but the baby is only 8 weeks old and God willing, we’ve got a lifetime ahead of us.

Perspective.

I could have cried (rightfully so) in that waiting room and I could have been offended at my husband’s less-than eager reaction but instead, I listened to what my mom has been teaching me all along- I made the choice to make the best of it and I’m happier for it.

Camille Vaughan Photography

Management

A solution is what we seek.  Diagnose the condition, and prescribe the cure. Black and white. Case closed.  A temporary disturbance, a minor annoyance in the grand scheme but please, not this.  Not a problem that has no “fix”.  Continue reading

Lean In

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Welcome to the world, Elizabeth Joy!  Our fourth daughter arrived two weeks ago, abruptly ending months of anticipation and successfully shifting the dynamics of our new “norm”.

We’ve experienced this change before.  Beginning with the dance of labor, the rocking, lunging, swaying back and forth.  The sensation of extreme heat immediately followed by chilling tremors of apparent sub-zero temperatures.  The digging-in, the roaring-out.  My arms, wrapped around my husband’s neck.  My doula’s steady hands, applying counter pressure to my spine; propping me up, when all I want to do is fall.

Yes, we’ve journeyed along this road many times.  When one is too weak to stand, the other is there to hold.  And yet, what do we do when we are both weary, unable to withstand the weight of another in addition to the weight of the things we already carry?

My husband and I found ourselves in that position just a few weeks before Elizabeth’s birth.  I, carrying an extra 30 pounds on my front-side, preparing for our fourth child’s arrival while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for our 2, 4 and 6 year-old daughters.  My husband, juggling pressure from work and the sense of urgency to complete any and all major house projects before the arrival of our newborn.

Our tempers were short, our stress, high.  We refrained from burdening the other with our concerns, afraid that our additional weight would throw the other over the edge.

Withered and worried, along we trudged until we simultaneously erupted, hurling accusations and proclaiming “I’m doing the best I can!”  Our molten lava seeped from our mouths until there was nothing left to say except, “I know.”

Too weak to stand alone, not strong enough to carry another, we leaned-in.  And it was there, forehead to forehead, hands to hands, we discovered that together, we were strong enough to hold.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

First image Captured by Katie McCracken 

Discovering Your Voice

It amazes me how much we take for granted on a daily basis.  It isn’t until we injure our toe that we recognize how much we failed to appreciate it fully-functioning.  The same could be said for a heater in winter or a dependable car.  But perhaps the thing we take for granted most is our voice.

Recently, my girls and I visited a children’s play place.  I typically only frequent these madhouses during “off” times- anyone interested in a 3 PM dinner?  See you at Chick-Fil-A.  My strategy is part small-talk avoidance combined with reduced noise level and chaos for my 2, 4 and 6 year-old girls to navigate.  Nonetheless, there’s no way to totally avoid socialization unless we stay home and since I’m not trying to raise my daughters in a bubble, I embrace these encounters for what they are: learning opportunities.

So when an 18 month-old recently took particular interest in my social-anxiety-ridden 4-year-old, I prepared my lesson.  To any outsider, it was adorable.  A little blue-eyed, towheaded boy recognized himself in our Harper’s similar features and grabbed a hold of her hand.  To her credit, Harper attempted to roll with it until he refused to let go and followed her no matter how far she ran.  With pleading eyes, she looked to me for help.

A few weeks later, in a different establishment, I was alarmed to hear my two-year old crying for the third time in twenty minutes.  Since the play place was three stories tall with covered tube slides too small for my 9 month-pregnant butt to crawl into, I couldn’t figure out what had happened during the first two instances, but at the third outburst, the sibling of a child explained her sister had pinched my little Emma, for no apparent reason.  Later, in the car, after discussing it with my older two girls, it was revealed that this same child had hit my four and six year old on the head at the bottom of the slide.

I asked what they did in response and they said they ignored her and kept on playing.

Although I’m proud my girls aren’t tattle-tales who cry over the smallest infraction, I immediately thought of the #metoo movement and recognized how imperative it was for me to ensure my girls knew that it is OK and IMPORTANT for them to use their voice.

I could see it in Harper’s face- she didn’t want to hurt the little boy’s feelings by asking him to stop holding her hand.  And I knew my eldest didn’t want to disrupt the balance of play by complaining about the head-hitting but isn’t this what the #metoo movement is all about?  Women afraid to speak up because of the potential repercussions?

I recognized right then and there that being encouraged to use their voice was something that had to be explicitly taught at a very young age.  I was struck at the realization that I had assumed my girls would know what to do in those situations and cringed at the thought of ever telling them to “ignore” or “get over it” and keep playing.

I looked at my girls square in the face and explained, “Your body is YOUR body.  It belongs to you.  If someone ever hits you or touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you must use your VOICE to tell that person to stop.”

I continued with an example.

“When that little girl hit you, you had every right to say, ‘That hurt me.  Do not do that again.  If you do, I will not play with you.'”

Simple. And yet why does it feel so hard to stand up for ourselves?  I explained that if the girl or hand-holding little boy continued, then my girls should find an adult to help, just as a woman in a workplace should seek the assistance of her boss.

These things we take for granted must not be overlooked any longer.  I feel so fortunate that my daughters are growing up in the midst of the #metoo movement, when women are empowered to come forward after years of silence.  The fact of the matter is, though, many of these women did go to their bosses and were punished as a result, taught to remain silent.

No more.  No longer.  We will teach our children to use their voice so that silent acquiescence becomes the thing of generations past.

“Another thing,” I told them.  “We are a family and we stick together.  If you ever see your sister in trouble, you stand by her and help.  You are not alone.”  With this, my 6 year-old’s precious lips turned upward into a knowing smile.  Empowered.

We have a voice.  And together, we will stand.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

 

 

 

 

A Man Misunderstood: Part II

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The water is wide
I cannot cross o’er
And neither have I wings to fly
build me a boat that can carry two
and both shall row my child and I

I’ve been singing this lullaby, from the “Triangle Collection” by Music Together, to my two-year-old for weeks now.  It’s a beautiful tune, but the meaning of the words didn’t resonate with me until I sang it to my middle daughter last week, consoling her over the loss of her beloved pacifier.

She’s four, two years older than I swore I would ever allow a child of mine to use a pacifier.  We’ve gradually diminished its presence – from the stroller, car, and now only to be used at night.  She desperately wanted to nap this past week, but found herself unable to without it.  I, currently 7 months pregnant, wanted to sleep, too and yet found myself lain beside her in her twin bed singing the song over and over.

The wide water represents sleep without her comfort object.  I, acting as her boat, was helping her to cross.  I reminded her that she was not alone in her journey, that I would walk beside her to overcome her attachment.

And that reminded me of the poem, Footprints in the Sand, in which author Mary Stevenson suggests that Jesus carries us through our most difficult times.

Last year, I would have been resistant to such a notion- allowing Jesus Christ to carry me.  Always questioning, suspicious and doubtful, never fully trusting his intentions or the doctrines describing his life and purpose.  Skepticism and all, I trudged forward, watching sermons from Trinity Church online and reading books such as Jesus CallingRelax, It’s Just GodThe God Girl Journey, and Mere Christianity.

The Sicilian, Taurean, stubborn part-of-me constantly challenges every word I read or hear, but the more I learn, the more I find myself reconsidering my staunch resistance.  Whereas “softening” used to be synonymous with “weakening”, I now feel the strength that comes from opening my heart and mind to allowing Jesus to lead.

I was always searching for someone to explain to me how to get there.  Surrounded by believers, church was too intimidating.  The bible, too overwhelming.  It seemed you were either a believer or you weren’t and I felt lost in the middle.

Randy Singer’s sermons and these books became my boat, leading me across the great distance that separated me from Christianity.  Like most things in life, they did not fall into my lap.  Amidst all of my doubt, I continued to search and seek, gaining courage along the way.

I realize now that this journey will last my lifetime but oh, how much richer my life already feels.  I have so much more truth to uncover and to expose my children to but finally, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” Philippians 4:7 is mine to behold.

Jesus once was a man I misunderstood, but has gradually become the man I seek to carry me across the great divide.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

Camille Vaughan Photography

See Also A Man Misunderstood: Part I

 

 

Lemonade

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You know the saying, “When life hands you lemons . . . ”  It’s a saying that was branded into every fiber of my body at a very young age; a side effect of having a mother who traveled the country as a motivational speaker.  Growing up, no setback was too high for me to overcome.  “No one can make you feel a certain way.  You choose how you allow others to impact you.”

It’s great advice, most of the time.  But sometimes . .  sometimes. . . life hands you lemons and they are sour and bitter and no amount of sugar can turn them into lemonade.

As someone who has been raised to always find the silver linings, this realization doesn’t sit well with me.  I constantly search for the good in any crappy situation, even if it takes years to discover it.

But what do you do when you are rendered helpless in situations that are completely out of your control?  Cancer. Car accidents. Infidelity. Violent crimes. Natural disasters. Infertility. PTSD. Abandonment. Mean people. Death.

As much as you try to focus on all of the good that you have to be thankful for in your life, sometimes, a terrible situation is just that and there’s no pot of gold to be found.

It’s a tough pill to swallow- this notion that it’s not going to get better.  That it’s not going to work out the way you thought it would.  And that this bad thing is not going to politely go away so you can drink your lemonade and move on with your life.

Instead, it becomes one of “the things we carry”.  Unable to place it in a box and set it on the top shelf of our closet, it is with us wherever we go, like a meddlesome pebble caught in our shoe.

If we focused on it all of the time, we literally would be rendered helpless.  So we trudge onward, painfully recognizing it when something triggers a reminder.

I used to believe my mother, that nothing was beyond our capacity to overcome.  But now, I realize that some things are not made to be good.  Like the bad spot on a banana, you can eat around it, but it’s not going to make it go away.  A bad spot is a bad spot is a bad spot.

And it’s good and healthy to call it what it is as opposed to forcing yourself to drink lemonade when you fucking hate lemonade.

It’s a lemon. It’s sour. And bitter. And sad.  And we carry them wherever we go.