Growing up my grandparents lived on a farm in northeast Ohio about an hour from my parent’s home. During my childhood, the farm was my happy place for so many years. As a child fitting in was not my strong suit and I didn’t have the wisdom I possess now that fitting in is never the goal; belonging to our own hearts is. Whenever we visited my grandparents I felt at peace against the chaos of the world. I suppose I knew a little about belonging because on the farm I felt it.
As a child every summer my parents would take us for a week to learn and live with my grandparents. My grandma Virginia was a beautiful quilter and wanted to teach all her grandchildren to sew. Kristen, my sister, took to this quickly and to this day has a quilt rack in her office. Me? I am perfectly capable of sewing (thanks grandma) and it literally makes my stomach sick to focus on details that small. To this day I also still take my sister my mending pile.
To escape the task of sewing I trotted at the boots of my grandpa Bob and did whatever chores he was doing. Each morning before the sun would rise we would get up and put on our “shit” boots then head down to the barn. I would pull the hose bringing water to the chickens, pigs, sheep, cows, goats, ducks, and my favorite; the cats. We would scoop food together, muck out stalls and make sure all the animals were ready for their day. After our early morning activities, my grandpa would pour me a bowl of cereal, slap it onto a metal tray, and we would watch whatever farming show was on in the morning on the shaggy carpet of their living room. Throughout the day I would drag buckets of water to my grandpa as he planted and by night we would rock on their porch swing eating popsicles made from my grandma’s grapevine.
I was in love with this life. Walking through the fields, watching the animals, nursing bottle-fed sheep in the morning, and kicking off my very important shit boots right alongside my grandpa. There was never a moment when there wasn’t something the earth needed or wanted. My grandma told me on a farm that the work is never done, it is waiting for its keeper. When summer ended we would visit the farm about twice a year to see my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Traditions of their own came with the holidays and gathering with my family, while different from me, filled me with quiet gratitude.
In the spring of 2020, my marriage was at a critical juncture and at the same time the world shut down for 12 weeks. I was at home terrified daily for my business in the first days of the pandemic and I knew in my heart that something had to change in my life. I had spent the last decade in Illinois building my business, making friendships that will last a lifetime, and becoming a mama to three beautiful boys. At the time I didn’t know my marriage would end but I did know I needed a happy place and missed my family dearly. I then did something that to this day I don’t know if it came from wisdom or fear. I bought a three-acre farm in Johnstown Ohio sight unseen in 24 hours. My children and I moved to the farm in August of 2020 and within a month I separated from my ex-husband.
Re-Discovering Life in the Country
The past two years have been nothing short of painful but they have also brought me incredible joy. I am a woman who always has to know why and to this day I’m not really sure why I’m here in Johnstown or bought the farm. The only thing I can settle into is this is our healing house. The family who built this house put such love, care, and detail into the home. Each room of the home has a detail that reminds me of beauty and each acre of the land has something new to explore. When I bought the home, I slid open their junk drawer to find a piece of paper to say thank you. Instead, I found this, “Have the Heart of A Shepherd and the Spirit of a Warrior.” It felt like my soul’s mantra and is now on a painting in my office. This home has wisdom I do not yet carry.
When I bought the farm I thought I could replicate the farm my grandparents made for our family. I imagined the 4th of July with my cousins, weekends with my aunts and uncles, and a deep gathering of family members. When I left my marriage some of my extended family turned on me claiming I was either lying about the reasons I was leaving my marriage or breaking God’s plan to follow the man in my marriage. The rest of my extended family either went silent or attacked my beautiful father for supporting his daughter.
It wasn’t the loss of my marriage that broke my heart, it was the loss of my family. It wasn’t until what felt like betrayal and grief passed that I realized I couldn’t lose what I never had. I accepted that I loved my family and they did not love me in return and that was OK. This allowed me to choose the family I deserve versus being hurt by the family I was born into. I know I’m more than the pain they attempted to bring to me and still attempt to bring by spending time with my ex-husband spinning hateful stories about me and my dad.
On the farm, I’ve learned a great many things about myself, how to be present, and how to love what is right in front of me. I have also learned that one week in the summer does not in fact give the skill sets you need to actually run a farm. Turns out I really dislike vegetable gardens, have killed my darling black raspberries, and at five Henry has a better green thumb than me with his pumpkin patch and sunflowers. It also turns out that finding time to add any animals to the farm feels like a task I’ll never have time for but something my soul is still curious for. Baby steps. This fall I’m going to take horseback riding lessons and actually take Simon, my boxer, back to obedience school instead of buying a puppy. The farm has after all taught me to pay attention to what is right in front of me.
Each day I try to find a piece of time to care for the land or the home. Some days I fail at this and some days I remember. But like my grandma said, my farm is always waiting for its keeper. Life is not what I expected it to be when I moved in night from Illinois to Ohio. There are days I still doubt where I am, what I’m doing, and if I’m making the right choices for my children. In those moments I smile gently to my soul reminding myself to bloom where I am planted
Two weeks ago, after the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, I wrote to you for the first time in months. I shared with you that over these past two years I had felt as though I’m living in purgatory. That life was going on around me while some very real and hard events surrounded both my personal and professional lives. I have also found gratitude and joy along the way, the light within a dark time in my life that has made it palatable to continue moving forward. It was the light breaking into darkness time and time again that reminded me it is our goodness and humanity that will create the change we all so desperately need.
What kept me frozen was having a front-row seat to see a corrupt system up close for so long. If I am ever able to share my personal experiences many of you would not believe me I am sure. Yet, if you have told me that as women (and individuals) we would lose the right to abortion and that making birth control illegal (in Ohio, where I am) is now on the table I would not have believed you.
There are people in power using their power to obstruct and restrict justice in widespread ways. These people in power have created an ignorance amongst the population to support their wide-reaching attempt to take control of our lives. Insidiously, like a frog boiling, the legal system of our control has planted fear in an attempt to keep us all small and steal our rights.
No. Fucking. Thank you.
Liberty and Justice?
In witnessing what has occurred and is now the reality of millions I say “there is more coming.” The overturning of Roe vs. Wade is the tip of the iceberg, the canary in the coal mine telling us that something is incredibly wrong with our government. As Amanda Doyle says, “The walls of our justice system will need to be rebuilt before we can have any type of roof.” The foundation of our country was liberty, yet the system is run by predominantly white men. Over 200 years later it is clear that this liberty was only designed for them.
It is painful to witness what has occurred in this country, what has been taken away, and the manner in which decisions are made. What I do know to be true is that if fear keeps us small and stuck, bravery can unearth this oppression. I also know quite personally that the fear feels paralyzing when your own safety and freedom are directly at risk. I have been told more times than I would like to admit that I turn into a controlling, crazy, type A bitch when speaking for my own safety and freedom. What I hate to admit is that I stayed in this gaslit narrative far too long and questioned my own behavior and what I was doing wrong. The answer was nothing. The answer is still nothing.
I listened to a We Can Do Hard Things podcast this week that featured Natalie Portman. I loved her before but now I know my girl crush is 1000% justified. Natalie didn’t speak as an actress, she spoke as a woman in a leadership position of her experience inside the industries she is involved in. During the podcast, Natalie reminded me that as women we are all facing prejudices if we dare to speak or lead. Natalie shared her experience that when she experiences gossip in the movie industry that it may be a red flag of an assault that may have occurred. That, if a director is saying a woman is a difficult actress, she listens closely, not to his words but to the warning, which basically says ‘this woman doesn’t put out.’
As women, we must listen to these warnings and speak out against abuse, tyranny, and the restriction of rights. That, if a woman is called a bitch, controlling, or difficult, we immediately think~what could have happened to her?”
Reshaping the Narrative
The gaslighting of our society and the hot and heavy fear breathing down our necks must end. We must stop the insanity of believing that, as women and/or individuals, somehow we are wrong, difficult, and overbearing after we simply speak our minds. While I agree with Amanda Doyle that we have new walls to build, I would like to add we have a few more to knock down as well.
Yes, these wounds are difficult to look at and these wounds tell us where to heal. Just like my once broken body, our country’s wounds tell us as a nation what we must fix.
I started writing this two weeks ago and didn’t know where to start; that it felt like too much. Then I remembered, “The Blueprints of Heaven are in the Hearts of Women.” All we have to do is face the fear, tell it, that it cannot keep us small, and demand our justice and the justice of our children. Side by side, arms linked, we can do this together.
Over the course of that last month, I’ve written to you about finding joy amidst hardship, living through pain, leaving domestic violence, and navigating fear. This is not a light load for anyone to take, let alone write about. Outside of my own personal experiences, I know that the people I love (and the world) are carrying hardship too.
LIfe has always had joy, pain, happiness, sorrow, and other dualities. Add a 2+ year pandemic to any of those feelings and we have an additional ongoing hardship to navigate in addition to life being, well, life. How are we surviving and how can we thrive during this time? I don’t know the answer to that but I do know that taking care of our own hearts, bodies, and spirits is truly the only option to get through it.
Taking Care of Yourself
I’ve been a healthcare professional for longer than I’d like to admit (15 years and counting). Over the course of my time with an active caseload, I cannot tell you how many times I repeated the age-old line “you have to put your oxygen mask on first!” when talking to exhausted caregivers of children with behavioral disorders. Fast forward a decade to when I became a mommy and joined the bandwagon of “self-care isn’t selfish, really!” as I carved out time for myself to have enough capacity to raise my little men. Talking the talk is easy to do and going through the motions of self-care has also been extremely publicized over the years.
Need more you time? Pour a glass of wine. Exhausted? Slip into a hot bath. Don’t miss the gym! Press that green juice. Where is your yoga mat? Society and marketing firms have a list of activities that we all can do in order to recharge our batteries and put ourselves first. While we might actually enjoy some of these activities, these slogans and lists completely miss the mark.
You see, all the slogans are telling us that we could actually be more perfect at taking care of ourselves in addition to a mounting list of things to do in order to live the ‘ideal’ life. Perfectionism is not in short supply these days. Neither are product lines nor marketing companies that profit from our deep dives into perfectionism and trying to be ‘good enough.’
In short, the way society (and I) used to talk about self-care is a one size fits all methodology, but one that can actually leave us more exhausted than relaxed. But self-care is really important, and recharging is essential during well, life, and times of high stress. So how do we fill these needs for ourselves? How do we take care of our beautiful but exhausted hearts, spirits, and bodies? My first piece of advice has literally gotten me through my entire life (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Ready for it? My mother would be shocked. Don’t listen to anyone. Like anyone.
Listening to Your Real Needs
I mean I can apply “don’t listen to anyone” to most facets of my life (it’s not always right!) but in regards to self-care I know I’m on to something. How could anyone from the outside world tell you how to take care of yourself when our needs as humans come from inside of our bodies and spirits? The only voice that can actually tell us what we need to recharge is our own. When we need it, how we need it, what feels good, what doesn’t, and so on. Self-care looks like being a guardian of your own energy and putting what your heart, spirit, and body need before the needs of others. Yes, even your children and especially every other person you love.
In a world where we are buzzing and being “so busy,” simply saying, “firm no,” to anything and anyone is the first step to listening to what you really need. It’s impossible to be honest with yourself if you do not make time for yourself. Self-care isn’t a status, it’s a way of being, one that I needed to be more honest with myself about recently. Burning at both ends has been my status quo for well over a year (OK, more than 5 years). Then I remember the wise voice inside of me that wished for my health and happiness above all else. Then I remembered to sit down and listen to what I really needed.
For me, I needed more time with my friends and family and more quiet time to reset on my own. It was a balance. I also needed better food, less sleep (I was over napping… a lot), and finding time to be quiet in my own body (so I did sign up for some yoga classes). I’m not fully re-energized yet but each morning I remind myself I am my own guardian and that I’m worth it. Trauma comes, hardship comes, and our hearts, spirits, and bodies need us to care deeply and kindly for them as we navigate our own personal pain (or just a bad day). We all need a little more kindness starting with ourselves.
It is only in taking care of ourselves that we can care for others. I won’t go all oxygen mask on you but I will challenge you by asking you this, “what hurts, what is tired, and what do you need?” Turn off the noise of the outside world, tune into yourself, and find out. It’s a journey worth taking, I promise.
Last week I wrote to you about integrity and my own personal experience in being unwilling to bend as a woman. I spoke about my experience not only as a businesswoman but also as a woman who has left domestic abuse and is walking through divorce. That, in my unwillingness to bend, I have had to grow a tougher skin in order to stand my sacred ground. That skin, or cloak if you will, represents my boundaries. My boundaries are how I protect myself, my work, my children, and my soul. My boundaries are also what shame has told me to ignore and each time I did I lost myself.
In writing to you about my unwillingness to bend, I also wrote to you about society’s general expectations that women should be docile and accommodating. That from a young age we are taught to put down what we actually need in order to please another person (males, teachers, adults, authorities, etc). With this social conditioning, there are no lessons on protecting your own worth, needs, and desires, leaving boundaries as never a topic that is never discussed.
Setting Boundaries Isn’t Selfish
For an incredible amount of time, I thought that boundaries were selfish, that when I placed a boundary on someone else who had a need or request I wasn’t serving humanity. Each time I placed a boundary and received backlash I measured my own worth against it. I thought that somehow my boundary was denying another person what they needed. It wasn’t until my experience leaving domestic abuse that I learned how life-saving boundaries are.
Just as many women are coming to find out that self-care isn’t selfish (I’m sure it’s a hashtag somewhere), I discovered that boundaries are also not selfish. In her work surrounding shame Brene Brown teaches us through her research that boundaries are actually compassionate. Compassionate to ourselves and the person with who we are setting boundaries. Boundaries tell us what we are willing to do in alignment with our own values (and person) and what we are not willing to do.
When a person does not respect boundaries it is not a reflection of the worth of the person setting the boundaries, it is a reflection of the person pushing your boundaries. Over the last year, I have learned that people pushing boundaries are expecting their happiness and “power,” to come from another person. Neither of these things can be true.
Boundaries & Happiness
You see, happiness is a choice we make. It is a sacred emotion that lives in our own hearts that only blooms when we remain true to ourselves. Without knowing what makes our hearts glow warmly it is impossible to know what makes us happy. Without knowing what can harm us it is also impossible to be happy. Boundaries are a lifeline to our happiness and hearts. They protect our souls.
Control is a perceived human condition, when we seek to control another person or outcome we have lost trust. We have decided that the world is hostile and that people cannot be trusted. That we must control the enemy, who is taking away our happiness so that our life can be fulfilled. Control over another human being is always about taking and never about true happiness.
As a woman, a business owner, and a survivor I have lived in both of these worlds for too long. Thinking it was somehow my job to make others happy before myself. Thinking that when someone wanted something from me (personally or professionally) it was my job to give it to them. In the biggest lesson in my life, I learned domestic abuse breaks your boundaries in a way where you lose yourself. Gaslighting was a constant theme in all of these scenarios, scenarios that were telling me I was crazy when I did not give in.
Here is what I have learned to be true in a year of healing. Boundaries are a lifeline. Whenever you do not know what to do, how to respond, or who to be in a relationship with, consult your personal values. Then, after you truthfully consult your values, you can insert a boundary. When you insert a boundary that is aligned with your values you will be at peace even if others are not. When others tell you they are uncomfortable because you have drawn a line in the sand you will be strong enough to withstand it. You will be strong enough to know that being at home in your own heart is all the strength you need.
Start Setting Your Boundaries
I have a list of boundaries I lean on now. If you don’t know where to start with boundary-setting, feel free to use a few as you put these lifelines in place for yourself:
- I will not make an excuse for harmful behavior
- I will not excuse my own harmful behavior
- My children and I come first
- I will not go against my personal values or needs to please someone else
- I will not be involved with someone whose words and actions do not align with my own
- I will not be in a relationship where I am not cared for, loved, and respected
After writing to you about my career and company, last week I detoured into my wishes for my nieces’ futures. I wrote of some of my own personal hardships as a woman in business as well as as a woman leaving domestic abuse. This week I’d like to speak to you about my perspective as a woman who is unwilling to bend, and the cost and benefits.
Women in Society
Over the past year, as I have stood my sacred ground, I have witnessed both the external and internal costs of taking a stand. Externally I have navigated (and continue to navigate) cultural stereotypes. Internally I have fought and am fighting to keep the voices at bay that tell me I am being too loud; that I must become small. I’m walking through fire and slowly learning that I am in fact fireproof.
As women, we are taught from a young age to make ourselves small and to make other people comfortable. That it is somehow our gender’s job to make men comfy. And not only should we make men comfortable but we should excuse ourselves at any point in which a person around us is hurt or offended by anything we say or do.
By societal standards the perfect woman is polite, accommodating, nurturing, and apologetic. She is beautiful, slight in her waist, and ready to smile through the adversities of life. I realize in writing this you may have a gut reaction of, “I don’t expect this of other women, or myself,” but if you ask yourself, “has society taught me this or shown me this,” I assure you the answer is yes. While we do not wear the corset of the 1800’s I guarantee you each woman reading this article has tried a diet at some point in her life. We are still wearing the expectations of our gender on a large scale even if your experience isn’t as dramatic as mine.
Internal & External Perfectionism
In the book, “Brave, Not Perfect,” the author writes about the concept of perfectionism as it affects women. On a much deeper level, she recants how from infancy through college (and even well into marriage) women are taught to be perfect and polite. Soft and docile. Desirable. In her work, she writes about overcoming the need to meet society’s standards and to be brave enough to be herself. It sounds like a small thing but as a woman, I assure you it is not. As soon as you slip off “soft and docile” the crowd in the stand wakes up. I have yet to meet a woman who is boldly herself that has not pushed away these crowds and at times even gone to battle with them. What does this battle entail?
In my experience, the battle is first and always presented internally. You know you have something to say, you know injustice is happening, and you know your soul is trying to break free. Your internal self scans the external world. Unskilled in any first attempt, when a woman boldly speaks her mind, she is almost always met with judgment. Sometimes she is met with hate. The judgment could be from an external person scolding or bullying the woman for being bold or from her own internal interpretation of how the world perceives her.
In both instances, the woman will question her own mind, her own soul, and her own desires. Was standing up, speaking out, and being herself worth the cost? The cost of losing a perceived community, relationship, place to fit in, or being ‘liked?’ In extreme cases, like domestic violence or any type of restriction of safety/liberty, the woman is hurt for speaking up.
Speaking up, unwilling to bend on who she is, the woman will learn quickly who in the world is not ready for her and who accepts her as the being she always was. The thing here is that the woman, unwilling to bend, has to accept herself as she always was. She must learn to ignore the explosions from the outside, call internal questioning a liar, and stand her sacred ground. As the wounds from the outside accumulate the woman must tend to the wounds with care and not accept the wounds as a reflection of her worth. They are battle scars from the fights.
Looking to the Future
As I wrote about my nieces I wrote with hope for a future in which no corsets (physical or mental) exist in the world. Where they are free to boldly be themselves. This goes for my three sons too. To set a future for our children when little boys and little girls are able to be who they are and one where we as parents don’t bend. We cannot accept the status quo or any type of gender stereotyping that restricts the freedom of another person. This freedom can be tiny, such as domestic division of labor, or large, such as equal representation in the legal system. We have a long way to go. But if more of us are willing to stand our ground and realize that by speaking our desires and advocating for our equality there will eventually be more people in the ring fighting for justice than the stands.
I’ve been down here a solid year, fighting for equal representation in domestic law, I’m not tired yet. I am my children’s mama, my niece’s aunt, and I am a woman unwilling to bend.