Who Am I?

9/5/2020

Who Am I at Twenty-Six?

This coming Wednesday, September 9th, I will be twenty-seven years old. I’m sitting here struggling to figure out how I’ve gotten here and how so much time has passed.

Since becoming an adult, the week of my birthday has come to be a time of deep reflection for me. Looking back on my life, where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, what I’ve accomplished up to this point in my life. My main focus of reflection usually ends up being on the past year of my life. So, I’m looking at September 9th, 2019 to the present.

To put it briefly, this past year has been one of the most challenging years of my life. I’ve struggled in a lot of areas in my life, and to be quite honest I haven’t been doing well mentally and emotionally.

I think it’s fair to say that 2020 has been extremely difficult on everyone. We’ve all struggled in different areas of life to different degrees, but no doubt we have all felt some type of loss and sadness. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and all that comes with that, for starters. And so many of us are hurting in so many ways.

I just celebrated my son’s second birthday, which means that I have now been a mother for two years. Earlier this year my husband and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary, which means I have been a wife for four years. I wish I could say that after these past few years I feel like I’m a confident wife and mother, but the truth is I don’t feel that way at all.

This past year has broke me in so many ways, some good and some bad. There are many names I go by in life — Wife, Mother, Daughter, Doula, Christian — these are my roles in life and names that others call me. But here recently I’ve really been struggling with figuring out who I am to myself.

All my life I’ve dreamed of the person I would become as an adult. During my college years I thought that I was getting a clear picture of who I was and could see a bit of the bigger picture. I could see myself and my husband making the life that we had been dreaming about. But here recently I’ve been questioning what it is that I want anymore. Some days I feel like a complete stranger to myself. And if I don’t know who I really am, then how could anyone else really get to know me?

In Order to Know Others, I Must Know Myself

It’s no secret that I’ve never really had a lot of close friends. I was homeschooled growing up so I always considered my siblings my best friends (still do). In college Brendan was my best friend and I almost exclusively hung out with him. I had a few friends during the first couple years of marriage, but they turned out to be co-workers more than deep rooted friends. Now that I’m a mother, I have a couple of mama friends, but I don’t see them very often and I know the friendship doesn’t currently run as deep as I’d like it to.

So what am I trying to say here? Honestly, I don’t really know. I think I’m starting to peel back the layers, the roles and names I go by, and begin to take a long hard look at the center of myself and what’s at that very foundational layer, what’s at my core.

I think it’s fair to say that I don’t have many friends, or am afraid to let people in, because I don’t even know who I am myself. How could I let others in and allow others to like me, to care for me, to love me, if I don’t even love myself?

I know that my family loves me, my husband loves me, and my son loves me. But even more important than that I know that the God of the universe knows me down to my very core, sees the ugliest parts of me that I keep locked away and hidden in closets, and He still chooses to love me. And I’m embarrassed to admit how often I ignore Him and don’t take the time to get to know Him better and to love Him like I should.

I think until I take the time to get to know God better, and learn to love Him better, I will never know how to love and accept myself. Only then will I be able to let others love me and accept me for who I am.

And that’s kind of where I’m at now.

What’s My Role?

After I gave birth to Ellis, I feel as if a part of me died and this new person emerged. It was as if one day I was me, myself, the Ashley I had always known, and then the next I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman standing before me.

I’m sure many people know by now that I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety after having Ellis. It’s been an on-again off-again battle I’ve been fighting for two years now. So that coupled with the huge identity shift I experienced when I became a mother has left me wondering who I am and who I’m supposed to be.

I don’t feel like the person I used to be before having Ellis, and I’m struggling to put all of the pieces together to figure out who this new woman is. I think in an effort to give myself a name, to find a new identity for myself so to speak, I’ve tried to rush into things I’m not ready for, roles I’m not ready or equipped to fill.

During the winter of 2019 I started doing some freelance photography work here and there when the opportunity presented itself. When I went to my first shoot I felt like I found a little piece of the old me that had gotten lost along the way. I felt happy to be using my talents and my college degree again and I felt important because I was filling a role, doing a job, and getting paid for it.

During the spring of 2019 I decided to go to a doula training through DONA International because I felt that God had put this calling on my heart to get involved with birth work. After my own pregnancy and home birth experience, I felt passionate about learning how to help educate, advocate for, and support women who wanted to birth differently. My own doula was amazing and I felt she truly supported me. I wanted to be there for other women like she was there for me.

I attended my first birth as a doula a couple months after my training and felt that I was really on the path that God wanted me to follow. This felt like a new piece of me that I had never known about before, a piece of my new identity.

Then I attended my second birth as a doula on January 1st, 2020. And that was such an amazing experience that I am forever grateful to have been a part of. I saw raw emotions, unconditional love, fierce mama lioness power, and a new life birthed that night. In that moment and the days that followed, I couldn’t think of a more messy, humbling, magical, beautiful way to start a new year and brand new decade.

I was believing for a bright and beautiful future in the year 2020.

During the month of January, Brendan and I did a 21 day fast along with our church to start the year off right. Those 21 days were transformative for me. I chose to give up social media, which I’m embarrassed to admit has come to take up so much of my time. I felt like my eyes had been opened and I started to see what was really important in my life.

During that time I was reading my Bible more often and felt like I was connecting with God on a deeper level, Brendan and I found a house and put an offer on it that was accepted, and I started to feel God nudge me in a different direction than I had felt at the very beginning of January.

January was a beautiful month full of life, growth, hope, and excitement. February was a pretty great month too and I felt like I was starting to get a clearer picture of who I was and how I wanted to take care of my family. And then March came and the whole world, not just my little corner of the world, got turned upside down.

I Hear You, God.

During those first couple of months when a lot of people were staying home and were unsure of what the next few weeks and months were going to look like, I felt myself slipping to the end of my rope. I needed help and I wanted answers and the only place I knew I could turn to was God and His Word.

And you know what? These past few months have sucked in a lot of ways. But, I can say that I see how God has used this year to break me down and bring me closer to Him than I have been in years.

Looking back over this past year, I can see that God has really been trying to show me where He wants me to be and what He wants me to do. I knew it in January, but I ignored the still small voice I heard. And now, after months of thinking about it, I feel like I can’t ignore it any longer.

Deep down in my bones I feel that God wants me to focus my time and energy on my home and my family, to be a homemaker, and to accept that and to be content with and at peace with that for this stage of my life.

Moving Forward

I’m currently twenty-six years-old. Last year I jumped into twenty-six not knowing what an exhausting year it would be. In a few days I will be twenty-seven, and right now that number feels refreshing and inviting to me.

I’ve tried to push myself, to adapt, and squeeze myself into everything I think others want or expect me to be. I’ve done this for years, and it just doesn’t seem like something a twenty-seven year-old should do to herself anymore.

Ever since I gave birth to Ellis, I have been in way over my head with this whole role of being a mother. Ellis has been a dream baby and for the most part is so easy going and easy to please.

My husband has been more amazing than I could have ever asked for when it comes to caring for me and Ellis, supporting me in whatever goals I have for myself, and helping around the house and with Ellis. But still, I find myself drowning trying to stay afloat and take care of my easy-going baby and husband.

I look at other mothers and wonder how they seem to manage taking care of more than one child, serving their husband, and also working either full-time or managing some side project, and I’m over here silently screaming for help because I feel like I can’t even watch my child and take care of the house while my husband is at work. I’m not trying to compare myself to others, I just haven’t been able to figure out whats wrong with me.

All the while I hear God telling me that it’s okay to do what He’s asking me to and to to stop fighting Him. I’ve been striving so hard to try on different hats, or different roles, that don’t fit me quite right. Or, at least they aren’t the right fit at this point in my life.

I’ve been feeling guilty about not having a job and not making any money to help us get out of debt a bit faster.

I feel like I’m falling behind on my doula certification because I’m nervous and I’ve taken things extremely slow.

I feel like I’m not a great mother because I spend my time wishing Ellis would entertain himself or take a nap so that I could work on my doula studies or have some time to myself.

And I feel like I’m not being the best wife because my husband and I don’t get to spend a lot of time together at the end of the day, and my time and energy have been used up by then.

I’m kind of rambling on at this point. But what I’m trying to convey and process is how this past year has broken me, reshaped me and my mindset, and given me perspective and clarity into what’s most important in my life and the direction I think I want to take from here.

The thing is, nobody has made me feel inadequate in any of those areas. It’s me that puts the pressure on myself to do more or be better. It’s me who worries what other’s will think of me if I decide to take a different path. I’m worried I’ll disappoint others and worried I won’t be enough if I’m simply a wife, mother, and homemaker.

Deep down though, I’ve known that this is always the role I wanted in life. This has always been my highest calling.

Who Will I Be at Twenty-Seven?

There are a lot of things I’m passionate about and a lot of areas I’d like to work on in my life.

I’m passionate about birth work and helping support mamas on their journeys through pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.

I’m interested in learning about gardening and herbalism and how I can grow my own foods and medicines to help nourish and keep my family in good health.

I love different styles of writing and would still like writing to be a part of my life whether I’m getting paid as a freelance writer or just using this little blogging space to connect with a few people.

Photography is still one of my favorite ways to express myself creatively. I take pictures every single day and love to document my family’s life that way.

But my big take away from this past year of my life is that in order for me to focus on helping others or using my talents to do a certain job, I must first take a step back and learn how to place my focus and energy on my family. Because if I don’t know how to take care of myself and my family, then how am I to be expected to know how to care for others properly?

I just really want to make Twenty-Seven a year dedicated to growing closer to God, following where He leads me, and letting go of other’s expectations of me, and letting go of my own expectations of myself.

I know that this has been an extremely long post, and if you’re still reading I’m humbled that you would take the time out of your day to read these words.

I rambled on quite a bit because this started out as a simple journal entry, but I felt lead to share my thoughts and feelings in the hopes that it may help someone else not feel so alone. Trying to figure out who you are as a person and what role you are meant to play in your life can be very overwhelming. But I know that above all, I am a child of God and I can take comfort in that on the days where I feel lost.

So here’s to Twenty-Seven and all that is to come and all I am to be!

A Day in the Life — August 1st

Hello, August! I can’t believe you’re here already. 

This morning after I finally admitted defeat to my toddler and accepted the fact that I was not going back to sleep, I cracked the blinds and we said “Good morning, world!” like we usually do. Sometimes we say “Good morning, sunshine!”, but this morning’s sky was gray and cloudy. Brendan had left the house early to go play basketball this morning, so it was just Ellis and me that crept down the stairs and into the living room. 

First I fixed Ellis some breakfast — cereal is his go-to, must have breakfast item of choice at the moment, much to this mama’s discontent. Next I turned on an old Mickey Mouse cartoon for him — again, another current favorite of his. I feel like I am becoming the mom I didn’t intend to be, but I absolutely understand how mothers get here…the toddler sass and drama can be real when you try to suggest something other than what they have their mind set on, and sometimes fighting it just doesn’t seem worth it. 

So cereal and Mickey Mouse it was this morning. Does that make me an awful mom? No. Do I still feel like a failure for giving him crappy cereal and letting him watch a cartoon first thing in the morning? Yes. What can I say though, I’m learning as I go and I’m trying to give myself grace on the days I fall short of my own mothering expectations. 

After getting Ellis situated, I went into the kitchen to brew myself a cup of coffee and fix myself a super nutritious breakfast of toast. ha. That’s right, I’m being real with you guys today. No nutrient dense, healthy breakfast for me this morning, just toast. While I waited for my coffee to finish brewing, I watered my plants and whispered good morning to them. Then I took my breakfast into the living room to watch cartoons with Ellis and share my breakfast with him. I didn’t need a whole breakfast for myself anyway, right?

The weekends are known as “Daddy Days” around here because Brendan is home instead of at work and Ellis gets to spend more time with him. It’s become a weekly ritual for the boys to go downtown to the train station in the morning on the weekends to see the Amtrak train come into the station. Brendan loves trains and is sharing that passion with Ellis now. It makes me happy to see them bonding together in that way and its adorable to see how fascinated Ellis is with trains. 

While the boys were out this morning I took a moment to write out a to-do list for the day and put a bit a makeup on — such mundane things really, but if I take the time to do them in the morning then I feel a little bit more put together and ready for the day ahead. 

Then I brought my cup of coffee and my journal outside to the deck to take in the beautiful morning. Today is August 1st and still very much summer time, but I’ve been feeling the subtle pull of autumn in the air recently. A few crunchy leaves on the ground here and there, crickets chirping in the early morning mist, and the gray overcast sky this morning had me day dreaming of cozy autumn days in this beautiful house. 

While outside I took some time to write out some of my intentions for the month of August and I also decided to write in my prayer journal, something I don’t do often enough. This time and connection with God and nature was good and grounding for me. 

I spent the early afternoon tidying up around the house and doing some chores that were neglected on Friday. I washed our new sheets, washed the dishes, and cleaned out the fridge. I fixed Ellis a smoothie and continued tidying up while the boys had lunch together. 

Then to my delight, I realized that Brendan had taken Ellis up to the bedroom to try and put him down for a nap. It was a bit earlier than Ellis usually goes down for a nap, so I wasn’t counting on him falling asleep right away. But thankfully, he dozed off almost right away and didn’t ask for mama to come upstairs and be with him. 

I was able to sneak away this afternoon to go grab a cup of coffee and find some outdoor seating where I could set up to do some blogging and reading. I like writing in the home office, but sometimes it’s nice to get out of the house and not feel like I have to focus on chores. 

After a couple of hours to myself, I felt a bit more calm and motivated. Brendan said that Ellis woke up from his nap happy and asking for dinner from our favorite Mexican food restaurant. So while I packed my things up and got ready to head back home, the boys went to go pick up dinner. 

We spent some time playing legos, listening to music, reading books, and running around the house with Ellis after dinner. The weekends are so nice when we’re all able to spend a little down time together. 

Once Ellis went to bed around 9pm, Brendan and I got ready to finish watching “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, which we had started the day before in honor of Harry Potter’s birthday. Yes, I am a Harry Potter nerd. Go ahead and judge me. 

Going forward with the month of August, I want to be more consistent with blogging regularly. When I first started blogging about 6 years ago now, I did a lot more photography and “weekly recap” lifestyle type posts. I honestly kind of miss that, so I might tap into that a bit here and there. What type of posts would you be interested in reading? 

A few more questions for you: How do you spend your mornings on the weekends? Do you write out monthly intentions? If so, what are some of your intentions for the month of August?

Finding Light in the Darkness 

This afternoon I’m feeling angry. Angry at our government, angry at ignorant people, and angry at the situation we all find ourselves in today. I know there are some things I can do, but for the most part nearly everything is out of my control. 

I don’t want to make light of the situation and what is happening in the world and in our country, because honestly I feel that there is a lot of evil and deception that is going on and a lot of people either are oblivious to it or are turning a blind eye toward it, but I have had to stop myself from going down these rabbit trails. I find that I get so caught up in everything thats circulating and my mind starts swimming in a sea of anger and despair. And that’s right where Satan wants me, but it’s absolutely not where God wants me to dwell. 

In the late afternoons when I usually get some time to myself, the gears in my mind start to turn and I have to be careful what I choose to focus my attention on. I can either reach for my phone and be brainwashed and consumed by what I read on social media (whichever side its coming from), or I can pick up my Bible or a mind nourishing book and spend my time there. I don’t always succeed in choosing the latter, but when I do I find that my evenings are filled with more hope and peace. 

The afternoons that I have chosen to nourish my mind and soul rather than give in to letting my mind and spirits decay, I have walked out of my room feeling like there is some hope left in this world and that I have a lot of fight left in me. It’s easy to let other people fill me with doubt and fear, but I find that it really helps me to choose getting to know what God has to say about life and the world and understanding what He wants me to do during this confusing time. 

All of that to say, I’ve always been the type of person to believe that we can look into a horrible situation, find the good in it, and extract something positive. I’ll admit I’ve let myself sit in the anger, the fear, and the complaining for too long. But I’ve been trying to mindfully think about all of the good that I see playing out in my life that may not have happened if it weren’t for this pandemic.

So here are some things I’ve observed in my life and the world around me that are positives during all of this chaos. God is teaching me a lot!

  • Due to schools being shut down and continuing classes online, my sister moved out of her dorm and came to live with us for the rest of the semester. 
  • Since all of this “lockdown” stuff started happening right as we were moving into our new house, it’s given me the time to get settled into our new home and get to know this house. 
  • I used to go out most afternoons, either to aimlessly shop around and kill time or go on a drive while Ellis napped, but since we moved I’ve been staying home more often and getting into a comfortable rhythm with Ellis. And we’ve finally established a pretty good (flexible) nap time routine.
  • I have been trying my best to be less wasteful and use what food we have and eat all of our leftovers to save money and trips to the grocery store (it’s a madhouse out there!).
  • I’m finally getting the opportunity to plant my very own garden. This mess we’re living in has really pushed and motivated me to start wanting to be more self sustainable.
  • I truly feel that God is giving us this opportunity to pause, rest, think about what is important, and determine whether or not we are on His side. 
  • I haven’t been able to see my grandma in over a month, but I’ve had some great conversations over the phone with her that have really been special to me. 
  • I’ve also had some great talks with my dad about life, politics, gardening, end times, the Bible,  and house projects. Those kind of talks don’t happen very often, but I’m so grateful that these topics have surfaced for discussion. 

And here are a few things that I think are positives amidst all of this chaos (not everyone will agree). 

  • People are staying in and treating more minor illnesses at home rather than running to the doctor for every little sniffle. I hope that this time at home gives parents more time to research and practice more natural forms of medicine when pharmaceuticals are not needed.
  • Families are receiving a very rare opportunity to reconnect and spend time together. Not out running errands, taking children to museums, birthday parties or fields trips, but nestling in T O G E T H E R at home. 
  • A lot of people are getting the chance to slow down and think about what’s really important in life. 
  • Children are spending more time playing outside in the fresh air in the sunshine!
  • More women are realizing that home birth is a viable option (when woman are not considered high-risk) when it comes to birth. A hospital is not the safest place to give birth, especially during a pandemic. 

I really do hope that people are using this time of uncertainty as an opportunity to reconnect with their family and loved ones, ask the hard questions about life and this situation we find ourselves in, research and learn to think for themselves when it comes to important issues, and become more self-sustainable. 

What are some of the positives that you have found during this lockdown? 

March — A Journal Entry

March feels like it’s lasted longer than 31 days this year. 

The year 2020 started out beautifully — full of life, hope, and change. January was, for me, a month of blooming. I attended a birth as a doula, went on a 21 day social media fast, and put an offer on my dream house with my husband. Everything seemed to be falling into place and we were brimming with excitement. 

February was kind of a drab month. Nothing was wrong per-say, I just felt like my routines and good habits started to unwind and fall out of place. I stopped doing yoga regularly, we all caught a cold (rare around here), and we were holding our breath during the house buying process and counting down the days until closing. 

Enter March! March 3rd was closing day for us and also the day Ellis turned 18 months-old. During that week I was feeling full of gratitude for the closing process going so smoothly and the fact that I was on the mend from illness and my body was feeling lighter, stronger, and healthier. 

Then everything kind of started to shift, and sway, and close in around me. 

Out of nowhere (or so it felt), I started seeing people talking about the corona virus on social media. Yes, I had heard about it here and there when it was just in China, but since I don’t regularly consume what the news outlets have to say it wasn’t something I was dwelling on. 

Next thing I know, people are talking about there being a shortage of toilet paper because everybody is stocking up on it, friends are saying go get groceries and stock up on everything you need now before the weekend because things are about to get crazy, and there was talk of being quarantined at home while this virus continued to spread. 

Almost overnight, I felt that there was a change in everyone’s mood and I was seeing a lot of panic, fear, and uncertainty. 

I myself didn’t know what to think at first. I sent Brendan to the store one evening after scrambling to make a quick grocery list of a few items I thought we would need (one of them being toilet paper because we were literally down to two rolls). I remember talking to different family members about everything I had heard and we were all trying to make sense of what could potentially be happening in the following weeks. 

This was around March 12th. It was finally starting to feel a bit like spring and my main focus was on getting our belongings packed so that we could move our family into our new house. That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t feel like going out and fighting people to get toilet paper or worry about stocking up on all of the essential foods we would need because of potential shortages and weeks of quarantine. I just wanted to be excited about starting this new chapter of our lives. 

Things rarely go as planned in life, and that’s just something we all have to learn at some point or other. I’m very grateful that our moving day went smoothly, despite it being a long day for everyone. My family came to help and it was chaotic and fun and exciting. For that day, it was nice not to dwell on what was going on in the world, and to just focus on family and new beginnings. 

Even though I feel I have handled everything that’s going on pretty well and have remained upbeat and positive for the most part, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t concerned. I’m not afraid of the virus itself or of coming in contact with other people that have it (which is a miracle considering I’m a pretty extreme germaphobe), I’m afraid of what our country is going to look like in the weeks and years to come. 

I try not to let my mind wander down too many rabbit holes, but its easy to do when seeing all that is being spread around on social media. It’s hard to know what to believe and who to trust. But I know one thing is for sure, I can trust God in times like this and cling to His promises. 

The other day as Ellis was napping, my mind started slipping and wandering down the path of worry. Worrying about what the future is going to look like, feeling concerned for other people and choices they are making, etc. And then it hit me that I didn’t need to dwell on these things and stress myself out. That would only lead to fear, and it’s fear of things that I have no control over. It was in that moment that I felt God telling me to place all my worries into His hands, trust Him, do my part (whatever that may look like) stay informed, and then let it go. 

To be honest, things haven’t changed that much for me. If anything, I’ve finally gotten into a little rhythm with Ellis around the house. The only difference in our day-to-day that I’ve noticed is that I’m not randomly going shopping at stores like Target several times a week.

I consider myself an introvert for the most part, but I do miss gathering with others and having that human interaction and connection that I think we all crave, no matter how introverted we may be. I miss going to the mother’s circle I’ve been attending for the past year, I miss coffee dates with doula friends, and occasionally going out to the movie theater with my husband for a date night. 

In a way though, I feel like I’ve been preparing for this time of so-called “quarantine” my whole life. Growing up I was homeschooled and my family lived in a farmhouse in a small town that is kind of in the middle of nowhere. We usually went out to “town”, as we called it, once a week (if that) to get groceries. So for the most part, it was just my mom, my siblings and me hanging out at home doing some school work, entertaining ourselves by playing outside, playing board games and video games together, watching movies, reading, talking, scrapbooking, cooking, you name it. 

Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about the way my parents raised my siblings and me and my heart is overflowing with gratitude towards them. This whole situation and my outlook on things could look a lot different if it wasn’t for the knowledge and values my parents instilled in me. We were not only educated at home from textbooks, we were taught life skills and lessons that I see coming into play now and seem more important than ever. 

Growing up, my siblings and I learned how to garden and grow our own food, my dad taught us how to safely and properly handle a gun, we learned how to chop and gather fire wood, my dad taught us how to hunt and fish, and my brothers even learned how to process and freeze their own deer meat. Of course I learned even more rudimentary skills such as cooking/baking and how to clean and take care of a household. 

While there are days I find myself wishing we could go back to how things were before this pandemic chaos, I’ve really been humbled by the way God has been using this time to bring some of the desires of my heart to fruition. I’ve learned a lot recently and I want to share some of what God has been teaching me, but that will have to wait for another post. 

I know this post was a long one, so if you made it to the end know that I appreciate you taking the time to read some of my thoughts during this confusing time. If there’s anything you’ve learned over the past month that you’d like to share let me know in the comments! 

Autumn in New York City — The Upper West Side

This past Monday Brendan and I took the train from Wilmington, Delaware into New York City for a day trip. We try to visit NYC every year and we usually end up going in May to celebrate our anniversary. I was excited that we got to visit my favorite city in October this year. It’s always been a dream of mine to visit the city in Autumn and I was not disappointed by the golden foliage and festive decorations we found.

I have so many photos from our trip that I want to share. But for this post I want to focus on the photos I took on the Upper West Side. We wanted to visit different locations this trip and I had read that the Upper West Side knows how to do Halloween. So we wandered the streets and admired the creepy crawly festive houses all decked out for All Hallows’ Eve.

What’s your favorite time of year to visit NYC?