5.11.2016

So your child has eczema...



Because we have shared our eczema journey quite openly and transparently over the years on this blog, across social media and now on Landon's eczema awareness Facebook page, people reach out to us quite a bit with lots of questions. I absolutely love that we can offer advice and walk through the journey with others, because I need to believe that in some way, Landon's pain and suffering will help others. I have to believe that there is a purpose to all of this much greater than any of us can see. While I'm sure I will never fully understand what it is, I hope that a small part of it can be helping others through what we've learned over the past seven years.

I've been trying my best to respond to each and every inquiry we get, but lately it's been a little overwhelming and I thought it might be helpful for me to make a blog post that walks through the steps I'd take if I were in the shoes of some of these mamas (and dads!) and was just starting out on the journey toward healing my child. I hope and pray this is helpful or encouraging to you! I know so well the desperation that you feel. Seeing your child in pain is one of the worst feelings in the world. And not knowing how to help makes it a thousand times worse. Hugs to everyone out there battling this awful skin condition! Keep in mind that I'm not a doctor and that we haven't beaten the eczema monster ourselves, so this is in no way some expert opinion, just a ton of options you can try based on the years of research I've done and solutions that other parents I know have found. Hopefully I can at least relieve some research burden from your shoulders.

Remember that every child and every case of eczema is different and has different triggers, so the recommendations we make here are based on our own trials and may not translate to success for you. I wish I could promise the moon and stars! 

MILD + MODERATE ECZEMA TIPS // START HERE


SWAP OUT YOUR PRODUCTS


If my child had mild eczema (behind the knees, in the elbows, nothing life-altering or emotionally debilitating), I would start by swapping out all my products to clean, natural products. You can spend a ton of money on this, but I honestly think most "green" products aren't as green as they claim anyway (green-washing is a term for a reason) and cost you so much more than sticking with the basics. I was shocked when I started looking up some of our "green" products in the EWG database and found that some were quite hazardous to health. You'll learn about detergent elimination here in a minute, but to make things simple, you can go ahead and do some simple detergent elimination in this early step by switching your products to cheap, easy, non-detergent products. Your child's skin will thank you. Toxic cleaners cause a myriad of health problems, eczema being just one of them. I'm so glad that this generation is waking up to the dangers of our cleaning and body products.

For all purpose cleaning, I use a simple vinegar spray or Branch Basics (which I LOVE - it's not as cheap as vinegar but it cleans better. I bought it in bulk 2.5 years ago and still have a ton left). Find the recipe here (note that I rarely use essential oils in mine and don't think it's necessary, but it does make it smell yummier!). You can clean nearly everything with either the vinegar spray or the Branch Basics, which makes life so much easier. Instead of 8 different spray bottles, I have two - an all-purpose and one diluted further for stainless steel.

You could go crazy with this and buy a book like this (I have this particular one and love it) or this and experiment to your heart's content. 

In the laundry room, you can use a simple soap-based laundry detergent or even a SmartKlean Laundry Ball . You can make your own detergent using a recipe like this one. Or you could buy a soap-only "detergent" like this one (smells so yummy!). Our favorite laundry detergent comes on recommendation of the solveeczema.org founder and we love buying it in bulk to save. Find it here

Remember that the chemicals present in most cleaning products on the market today can trigger and possibly even cause asthma, and many are carcinogenic. Improving eczema should actually be the least of our concerns in this regard.

Chemicals present in personal care products are unregulated and many contain known carcinogens, allergens, irritants and toxic ingredients. We try to stick with a natural soap and we use it as both a body wash and a shampoo. We've used Dr. Bronner's baby unscented liquid soap or bar soap, a grassfed tallow soap like this oneEarth Mama Angel Baby's unscented castille soap,  and probably our hands-down favorite is the Sappo Hill unscented bar soap. It doesn't dry your skin out at all. Even my mom converted for good years ago!

STOP CONSTANTLY MOISTURIZING


Contrary to common belief, moisturizing has always made my kids' skin worse. When we frequently moisturized, their skin always looked inflamed and had a general, overall red appearance, almost like a sunburn. This persisted for all three kids while they were being moisturized, but mysteriously disappeared when we stopped frequently moisturizing. There is such a thing as moisturizer withdrawal, and I've known so many people who have had much success doing this (though there is a temporary period of worsening for almost everyone, just not our kids, luckily). I'll be talking about Dr. Aron later in this post, but his theory is that since those with eczema have so much more staph on their skin than those without, moisturizing without antibiotics spreads the staph all over the body and, thus, the eczema.

This would explain quite well why all three of my kids with eczema got so much less inflamed and red when we stopped moisturizing except for right after bathing, which we do infrequently anyway. This runs contradictory to almost everything you will ever hear prescribed to treat eczema, so certainly don't do this if it makes you feel uncomfortable, and go into it knowing that you may need some topical antibiotics after you've stopped moisturizing to kill the staph, so please consult your doctor on this if you stop moisturizing and things get much worse.

The other theory that many subscribe to that at least passes the common sense filter is that the more you moisturize, the less oils your skin will produce, making your body dependent on the moisturizer. So during the times you must go without, like throughout the night, you'll be miserable and find yourself having to wake up and moisturize because your body has become too dependent on it. We have never been one to moisturize our children, or even ourselves, in general. We're training our bodies to stop producing their own oils when we artificially slather ourselves in creams. I don't have a personal issue with using oils from time-to-time, like when the heater is just cranked to its max during the winter, but I don't think moisturizing should ever be a daily occurrence, especially for our little kids whose bodies are still trying to learn how to live in this world. When you have eczema, you usually constantly moisturize your skin - all day, every day. What is this teaching the body? It makes sense that the body would get the message that it can stop producing its own oils, because you've augmented your moisture level. I'm not a scientist, and I've yet to see any scientific literature about this, so we tried it on a hunch and saw a lot of success. If you don't see success with it after a couple of weeks, perhaps it's not the process for your child. This did not cure their eczema whatsoever, it only made it much less inflamed and red, which was a definite improvement and helped their comfort level a lot.

Some doctors say the skin needs to stay constantly, thoroughly moisturized, and typically with a barrier cream like Vaseline or Aquaphor or something super thick. The reason for this is because we know that those with eczema have "leaky skin," and that things can get through and be absorbed into their systems much more easily than for those without eczema. If you keep them constantly moisturized, theoretically you are allowing less from the outside world into their little bodies, some of which are allergens and can trigger flares. While this also passes the smell test for me, it didn't help our kiddos in the least. I never would have known that had I not tried eliminating moisturizers, though. Do what makes you feel most comfortable, and maybe you can try out both processes and see which produces better results.

If you do decide to continue moisturizing, I would recommend trying out a moisturizer that is a little more natural (those with eczema have porous skin, remember, so anything you are slathering all over them is also going INSIDE of them). Some good ones we have used and liked are:




If your child has weepy, wet eczema, this stuff is MIRACULOUS! It will dry it up in a snap.

Remember that every child is unique and what works for my kiddos may not work for yours. Unfortunately, eczema relief is mostly trial and error.

WATCH WHAT THEY EAT


Eczema is often triggered by allergic reactions. The most common culprits in eczema flares are allergens, emotional stress, heat/sweating and infections. Many children with eczema also have food allergies or intolerances which look and often feel just like allergies but won't show up in a test. When someone with eczema is exposed to an allergen (or an irritant for that matter, like the chemicals we talked about above as well as chemicals in processed foods), the body sends in inflammation-producing cells to the skin. These cells release chemicals that cause itching and redness. The more the child scratches, the more inflamed the skin becomes, triggering a vicious cycle that can turn mild eczema into severe eczema.

Diagnosing food allergies is incredibly tough, and we've never had any luck except for peanuts with our first son, but we didn't even need an expensive test to confirm his peanut allergy. His reaction to his first exposure was proof enough. Back then, we didn't know any better and we paid the hundreds of dollars for testing and put him through a painful experience only to end up receiving several false positives (things the test said he was also allergic to, like eggs, that he has always eaten without problem). That's when we learned that food allergy testing is notoriously inaccurate and, essentially, worthless (for skin prick tests, only 20% of positive results are accurate and blood tests aren't better). This means you might end up withholding a lot of foods from your child's diet that they aren't actually allergic to.  This is the opinion of my family but also of both of our family doctors. We've been told numerous times since that the best way to confirm food allergies and intolerances is with a food diary and food challenges. For babies, take diligent notes as you slowly introduce foods and watch for any reactions. If your child already eats normally, remove suspected foods for a month or so and re-introduce, keeping detailed notes of any reactions at all. You can start with common allergens, or also foods you have grown to suspect based on reactions that may or may not be related.  For serious food allergies like nuts, you can do a food challenge in your doctor's office.

A definite first step is to eliminate all processed foods. It isn't always possible, I understand, but as much as you can remove, you should. Especially known irritants like food dyes. These are harmful for our kids for a thousand reasons, eczema being only one of them, and they lurk in so many processed foods. When I started reading labels, I was shocked by how often food dye appeared.

Though I have yet to personally read this book, I've heard it come highly recommended by other mamas going through the food allergy battle with their children who have eczema: Dealing with Food Allergies in Children and Babies

GUT HEALING


If your child was born via c-section or has had many rounds of antibiotics (even one round can set it off), you may want to explore the option of gut-healing diets. Even conventional medicine has now embraced the idea that our gut bacteria is absolutely imperative for so many things, not only our skin health. We did GAPS and saw incredible improvement in our daughter, though it didn't help Landon, probably due to the high histamine content and our lack of knowledge at the time that he was sensitive to high histamine foods. Yes, GAPS is very difficult. This isn't something most people take on until they've reached a rock bottom eczema low. At that point, boiling foods for hours, battling massive fits and meltdowns over "disgusting food" you give your children and spending an enormous sum on your grocery bill seems much easier than living with severe eczema, which should tell you something. There are other diets aimed at improving beneficial gut bacteria, as well. Here are some helpful articles/books:



Clean Gut (I have and really like this book)


You'll also want to make sure your children are on a high quality probiotic. I don't think this is a cure-all by any stretch of the imagination. It didn't help my children. It's usually the first thing recommended to people with eczema. "Oh, do you have your child on a probiotic? That's what you should do! It'll cure them!" Unfortunately, the research doesn't back it up. The research does say that if we could do all this beneficial gut inoculation BEFORE birth, we would drastically reduce the chance that our kids would get eczema. But at this point, it's too late. Our kids don't have the healthy bacteria they needed at birth, and for whatever reason, inoculating them after birth doesn't have the same effect. But that doesn't mean that it isn't a good idea for their health in general, because healthy gut bacteria definitely is. Culterelle does have the Lactobacillus GG strain that is said to be beneficial for skin health and is most commonly prescribed by doctors, but there are others on the market, too.

LESS BATHS, LUKEWARM BATHS


Baths dry the skin out, as does whatever you need to use to clean your child off. Bathe less often than you do now. Once a week is good for eczema kiddos, but as they get older, they obviously need more frequent baths. I wouldn't do more than once every other day if it were me, and I'd stick with a very mild soap, not a body wash (see the above section about swapping out products for our own recommendations).

AVOID STEROID CREAM


Whatever you decide to do, as long as the eczema is still mild and not a real burden on the life of your child, I would avoid steroid cream at all costs. It's quite likely that you will be able to address the eczema with one of the above suggestions, and if not, there's a much better option than a tube of powerful steroids, and we'll get to that in a minute. Kids, especially babies, can often outgrow eczema quickly. My first child got eczema somewhere around his first year of life. Coincidentally, it was shortly after he had his first peanut exposure, which he was quite allergic to. We tried every natural remedy we could come up with and eventually a series of diet eliminations. Things would seem to work for a short period of time, but then it would come back again, so I'd write it off as a coincidence. And then miraculously, one day it just disappeared. It was only around for about six months, even though it was quite severe during that time. I have strong feelings that if we had turned to steroid creams, we would have set in motion a cyclical, never-ending eczema cycle. But instead, we have a child with beautiful skin today! There is research to back this theory up, and you can read about it here if interested. Our second child, our daughter, also had very severe eczema for a short period of time, at which point she mostly outgrew (or GAPS healed, we really don't know for sure) the severe form. Today, she has mild eczema during spring and summer that doesn't bother her much and beautiful skin during the winter.

Unfortunately for our third child, Landon, he didn't fit the wait-it-out mold. We've tried for four years now to just wait it out, let his body figure it out and ignore it away. None of those things has worked. If you're in that boat, too, the next section is for you!

If you've already used steroid cream, even OTC hydrocortisone, and the eczema seems to be getting worse, read the next section.


SEVERE ECZEMA TIPS // OR, WE'VE TRIED EVERYTHING ABOVE AND IT DOESN'T WORK



DETERGENT ELIMINATION


This was the first drastic step we took in our eczema journey. One day, I broke down in the shower and begged God to just heal my children. At this time, I had two of my three children covered in bloody, raw skin, unable to sleep or even rest. My husband and I were desperate. That day, I stumbled across solveeczema.org. Hopeful that it was our answer, we set out to eliminate all detergent sources from our home. This is a grueling process, I won't lie. But I met moms with kids who had complete healing from their eczema by removing the detergent from the environment. When we say "remove the detergent," this doesn't mean the stuff you put in your washer or dishwasher. It's a complex process that I can't sum up well in a blog post, so do click through to her site and read around. She has done an amazing job gathering all the info you'd ever need to know. We had some initial success in this process, but it didn't end up being THE solution for us. We still try to live a basically detergent-free life because I don't think these products are good for us anyway. We wrote a little post about this journey while going through it that you can read here.


TOPICAL STEROID WITHDRAWAL


This only applies to those who are currently on, or have been on, topical steroids. I wrote pretty extensively about this after we went through what was probably topical steroid withdrawal (or perhaps a staph infection/spread...I will never truly know). You can find that post here; it sums up the issue well. 

ECZEMA CLOTHING


This is a step we had to take early on in our journey because the constant scratching was leaving our children vulnerable to severe skin infections. It's cruel, but for those with eczema, their skin is typically weakened, meaning it doesn't take much scratching to rip the skin right open. We adored our Scratch-Me-Nots when the kids were smaller, before they would take them off. There's also a Scratch-Me-Not body suit available here. You can even DIY some scratch sleeves. We did this using Target tights. You can find a tutorial from my friend here. The only concern I had with those is that the fabric isn't very breathable or natural. Kickee Pants, though not made for eczema specifically, were (and still are) a huge favorite. That fabric is the most comfortable fabric I've ever placed my hands on. It's cool, it's crazy soft - it's amazing. If I could afford to outfit my children in nothing but Kickee Pants, I would! I think it's just the perfect fabric for those with eczema. 


WET WRAPPING


Wet wrapping served a definite purpose in our life for the times when their skin was completely inflamed and their itchy fits were out of control. It basically involves a long soak in the tub followed by a quick toweling off (but barely, essentially you want to leave their skin soaking wet) followed by thorough moisturizing. Then you put a wet layer of clothing on to cover the whole body, then a dry layer on top, leaving that concoction on for a few hours or so. You can read a more detailed post about this here. This is the suit we had and used with Landon, and we put dry pajamas on top. It actually was a great protective suit, too, that we used during the days, as well. It kept his skin out of his reach but was lightweight and more comfortable. He ripped holes in his pretty quickly, though, as these kids tend to do with all the friction from scratching, and we couldn't afford to buy a new suit every couple of months, so we had to eventually use cotton sleepers instead. We would layer one wet sleeper with one dry one.


AVENE HYDROTHERAPY CENTER



The Avene Hydrotherapy Center in France has been responsible for remarkable healing in many children with severe eczema. I've watched firsthand as a handful of friends I've made online have taken their kids here, who have gone on to make incredible improvements. Some walk away with virtually no eczema at all. My favorite part about the whole things is how holistic and natural it is. The treatment involves spending three weeks (preferably three year in a row) soaking in its mineral-rich waters. It sounds hokey, I know, but it's a legitimate center run by legitimate dermatologists, and the proof is in the pudding. This has worked for so many people. The price tag has held us back, and we've tried to raise funds to get there because $10,000 once per year for three years is way out of reach for us. At this point, we haven't been able to get there, and I know it's out of reach for most people who aren't in France. If you live close by, it's actually a pretty affordable treatment! It's the travel costs that make it so expensive.

DR. ARON


This is our very last-ditch effort before we throw in the towel and resign ourselves to living with Landon's severe eczema until he (hopefully) someday outgrows it. Years ago, someone in an eczema FB group I was part of mentioned Dr. Aron. I believe it was in the TSW group and it was met with a lot of negativity, since Dr. Aron uses steroids in his course of treatment. At first, I completely shrugged it off and didn't even bother to do research knowing the steroid component. 

Dr. Aron is a doctor who practices in London and South Africa and has treated thousands of children from all over the world. From his website

"Conventional treatment fails many patients with Atopic Eczema (AE) for reasons which may become clear when studying the principles of my therapy, the ARON REGIME.  It is simple to apply, economic in cost and effective in most patients if the principles of the treatment are carefully adhered to. I have been in practice as a dermatologist for forty years.  In 2008 I decided to offer my treatment regime as a service to patients worldwide via the internet.  In the last seven years I have treated approximately 6,000 patients with AE in America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and countries further afield.  I believe that this reflects the generally positive outcome of the ARON REGIME. The principles of my treatment are the use of readily obtainable products, viz. steroid, antibiotic and moisturising creams, advice in regard to diet, sport and exercise, bathing, clothing and sun protection to create a holistic treatment structure."

Fast forward a year or so, and I began hearing more and more success stories. One of our friends even chose to go down that path despite our gentle warnings about steroids. Their child was basically healed. Even so, I was too scared. Steroids terrify me for a very real reason. We went through hell and back once before, and to our knowledge, it was from steroid cream. 

Eventually, I joined the Dr. Aron Facebook group (which now has over 10,000 members!) and saw firsthand how many children had been nearly cured of their severe eczema. I began to talk to my husband about it a little. I posted in their FB group and asked about TSW and the use of steroids. I asked if anyone had ever seemed to develop an addiction to the cream. A few people voiced the same concerns, but eventually the thread was deleted and I was booted out of the group. Ouch. I began receiving emails from friends of the TSW group advising me against using Dr. Aron's cream, and the entire situation left a horrible, horrible taste in my mouth. A few emails I received were kind and full of nothing but concern, but many more were downright mean. I never realized how political the eczema scene was or how passionate people are about their views, to the point of chastising fellow mamas who are just doing their best to heal their suffering children. 

A few weeks ago, I asked for prayers for Landon in my Bible study. The next week, posts from others about Dr. Aron were flooding my newsfeed. A story had gone viral about him. Was this a sign? I felt a prompting to look into it more than I ever had before. This time, Tim was on board, too. We spent a night watching Youtube videos and reading blog posts of others who had been through the Aron Regime. You can find these with a quick google of Dr. Aron eczema on Youtube or you can read blogs here. The videos tore both of us up. To see other children who had skin as severe as Landon (or worse) who, within a very short window of time, were living normal, happy lives...it tears you up when you've been through four years of hell.

My biggest question loomed, though. What about the steroids? What about topical steroid withdrawal? I needed to research this further, because I've heard that some kids have to remain on Dr. Aron's cream indefinitely. I started trying to read every interview or paper of Dr. Aron's to determine if this was safe. This article is a good summary of why he believes TSW isn't necessarily a product of the steroids, but of using steroids alone without doing anything to stop the staph infection. Essentially, since we know that those with eczema have much greater rates of staph living on their skin, using topical steroids alone reduces inflammation temporarily, but when moisturizer is slathered all over the skin that is now less inflamed, it allows the staph to spread across the entire body more easily than it could when the skin was inflamed from the eczema. Now the staph infects larger parts of the body and exacerbates the whole process. I don't have a solid personal belief about whether TSW is real and related to steroids alone, or if TSW may actually be a staph infection gone crazy. I have seen firsthand a lot of people suffer through TSW only to come out on the other side healed, but there are often serious infections, years of misery, lost jobs, lost relationships and worse before that happens. I do feel comfortable using an incredibly low-dose steroid on Landon with a mission to be off of it as quickly as possible if it gives him a chance of living normally. We did TSW. We went through it years ago, and we didn't come out healed. Each spring and summer, our life returns to misery and our little man falls apart. Each winter, he gets a seasonal, cyclical break, and we are so grateful for that.

I became pretty interested in learning more about staph. This research was particularly interesting to me given how many children with eczema also have food allergies and histamine issues. From that article:

"An interesting link has been shown between S. aureus and atopic diseases, such as dermatitis, rhinitis, and asthma (5), in which it has been hypothesized that S. aureus can exacerbate the immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated reactions. For example, studies have shown greater S. aureus colonization in the skin of patients with atopic eczema/dermatitis syndrome than in the skin of normal healthy subjects (7, 38)."
In layman's terms, Staphylococcus aureus produces a toxin that causes immune-system cells in the skin to react in a way that produces eczema-like rashes (that's a FANTASTIC article, by the way).  Landon has tremendous issues with histamine and allergens in general. I've always known there's some link, but I assumed it was just that he is an allergic child in general and that eczema is an allergic condition. I never suspected that it could all stem from a bacteria.

This sealed it for me. I was comforted in knowing that the mixture Dr. Aron prescribes is almost all moisturizer with a TINY amount of steroid (in our case, 0.1%) and a little bit more antibiotic cream, which he aims to remove from the cream quickly, and the cream is tapered down until the goal is to remove it entirely. Contrary to what many people told me, there are plenty of Dr. Aron's patients I've met who are off the cream entirely and only need occasional spot treatments during flares (and for some, none at all, ever). I was led to believe that no one has been able to come off the cream, but this simply isn't true. We decided that even if he had to be on this cream for years, we'd rather him have a tiny steroid exposure a few times a week than live in agony, not able to go to school, sleep at night or be a normal child in any way, which has been his life to this point despite trying everything above.

The next day, I emailed my doctor, because Dr. Aron can't prescribe medicine here in America, since he doesn't practice here. You'll need a doctor on board to prescribe the specific regimen Dr. Aron works up for your child once he reads his/her history and views the pictures you send in. Our doctor was fully on board, so we submitted our paperwork/history and prayed. Dr. Aron emailed me within a few days with Landon's formulation. Yesterday, we picked up our cream and started our regimen. So far today, he has not scratched one single time. His skin still looks terrible, but I have a twinkle of hope. We're documenting this process pretty thoroughly in video and pictures, so hopefully soon I'll have a success story to share in depth, but we're also trying to be realistic, as we've been down the road of hope so many times since Landon was born only to have our hope shattered. 


OTHER OPTIONS



There are other options out there that some people have had success with, and perhaps one day, if our current treatment really doesn't work, we can explore these options. But at the moment, we are drained and worn down and ready to admit that this may just be completely beyond our control. 

Some other options to explore on your own are:

Homeopathy - I've heard good things about this, this and this. 

Boosting the immune system with a supplement like this.

Chinese Herbs/Acupuncture - I honestly don't know much about this but there's a little info here.


We live insanely holistically compared to most people we know. The irony that our children have battled a disease which many say is caused by not living cleanly enough is not lost on me. We all have our trials, and right now, this is Landon's trial. 

I'm comforted when I read books from parenting experts that say children today do not face enough trials during their upbringing and they go on to become incompetent adults. This is totally another post for another day, but the rate of children who turn 18 and don't leave home - or more shockingly, turn 25 and still live there! - is a little terrifying to me. We have to constantly restrain ourselves from babying Landon and waiting on him hand and foot. Right now, this is Landon's trial, but we try to treat him as normally as is humanly possible given his condition, because we know that if he doesn't learn to cope during childhood, the chances that he'll have solid coping skills as an adult are pretty diminished. Chronically ill children often have a hard time adjusting to life outside of the home, as, through no fault of their own, they are relatively entitled. We don't want him to be another statistic. Maybe this trial is setting him up to be a strong, independent grown man with amazing coping skills and a passionate concern/empathy for suffering. A mama can hope, at least. 

Best of luck to any of you suffering! My heart literally aches thinking of all the other children (and adults) out there who suffer every single day of their lives. I can't even fathom what it would be like to be in pain nearly every minute of every day or to feel such a compelling and uncontrollable urge to scratch that you would willingly rip your skin apart. It's so sad that this disease is spreading out of control, but I think it should be a catalyst for change. Something is clearly wrong, and we're watching allergies, eczema and asthma literally explode within the youngest population. It's time to demand changes in our environment and be the best advocates for the next generation. We're in this with you. Xo.


2.15.2016

When it all seems impossibly hard.

I embraced transparency in 2015 and so in 2016, my goal is to move forward, pursue it harder than ever without fear of being lambasted for it. So there will be a lot of this in 2016.



Dear, sweet mama,

I see you, swinging your arms wildly to corral all your children in the van. Your daughter is walking so slowly you're sure she's doing it just to get under your skin, dragging her coat across the dirty ground, having ignored your 18 requests to put the thing on. Your frustrations are mounting and your temper is bubbling just below the surface. You can feel the pressure build and know it's only a matter of time before you blow up, probably the moment you're alone with them, because you can keep your cool in public.

The youngest screams as you try to get those straps around her chubby little arms. Your oldest two fight in the far back, as if your requests to buckle themselves up were spoken into a black hole, gone unheard. Your three-year-old is sitting quietly in his seat, waiting to be buckled up, and you cup his sweet cheeks in your hands and kiss his pouty, perfect lips, hoping he can feel how much you appreciate his momentary obedience. They take their turns, your four kids, being the obedient one. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it, probably because there isn't. They're kids, after all. They're subject to the same daily ups and downs as you and I, with some added immaturity thrown in, but sometimes we forget that life can get them down, too.

When finally you slip into the front seat and turn the key in the ignition to a jerky, somewhat rumbling start, someone starts screaming from the back. Between the wails, you manage to pick out a few words. Hit, mean, book, stop, hate.

Then it happens.

"JUST STOP IT! ALL OF YOU! MOMMY NEEDS EVERYONE TO JUST...STOP...TALKING!" you yell.

Two of them get silent while the baby begins to cry and your daughter in the back continues her ranting. Your face falls into your hands and you turn the radio up to drown out the chaos.

I said I'd do better today, God. Why am I always failing? I don't understand why you put these four in my care when I'm so clearly incapable of being a loving mother. 

You call out to God often, in those weak moments, knowing you've failed yet again and sincerely wondering what on earth you've done with your life, thinking you would be competent to raise four human beings to adulthood. Sometimes you think he hears you and speaks back, other times you feel emptier than ever, on your own to do this impossible thing called parenthood.

I see you because I am you.

I'm that mama of four who feels beat down on a daily basis. I've lived this way in shame for 15 months, when our fourth baby was born. When people ask me, "Honestly, was there much of a change between your third and fourth?" I can't lie. Yes. There was a tremendous shift in our life between our third and fourth child. It wasn't that some magical scale had been tipped, but a perfect collision of events had occurred. I've been trying to pursue my side business harder than ever, we've set some lofty goals that require a lot of hard work, my oldest is in first grade and it's surprisingly demanding. The guilt of not being able to always be at the school gets to me. But juggling a full-time self-imposed work schedule on top of caring for four (still very young) kids on top of navigating school work and volunteering is a lot. It's a lot no matter who you are.

But so often, I find these thoughts running through my head: "Well she could do this," "Look at so-and-so's mom, seemingly juggling a million things and crafting Pinterest parties and school treats on top of it all!"

It doesn't matter what your own unique challenges are, you'll find a way to stack them against your neighbor's challenges and declare yourself an utter failure. As women (and probably to some extent, men, too), it's one thing we are universally amazing at achieving.

My challenges come in the form of four little kids, a demanding work and home life, the requirements of dietary needs that mean cooking most everything from scratch, and a large home to take care of (first world problem, I'm well aware). For mothers across the globe, the challenges look different. I'm no stranger to the notion that most of the problems we face in America are first world problems, but that doesn't mean we aren't allowed to succumb to overwhelm, to cry on a daily basis, to wonder what we were thinking and to oscillate daily between quitting everything and moving to a secluded location to live a simpler, slower life or taking on even more to either assuage some guilt or provide more/better for our children.

When it all seems impossibly hard, take a moment of solitude and repeat to yourself: I am good enough. I am human. I make mistakes, but I do great things, too. Every mother in the world has moments of failure, and each one suffers fleeting feelings of doubt and insecurity that she should even be allowed to care for her children. Today, I'm allowing myself to feel whatever I'm feeling, and to love myself in spite of it. I allow myself to make mistakes without self-hatred, recognizing that with every mistake, a little forward progress is made by way of learning. 

Maybe it's a little woo-woo for your taste, so make up your own words but keep the premise. You are enough and you were chosen to be the right parent for your child. Take solace in knowing that this is a fundamental part of humanity. We aren't broken. We are human mamas doing human things. And human things include failure. Love yourself so that your children learn to love themselves in spite of their own failures.

10.12.2015

On abortion














I've been struck lately by a million things. This is definitely The Year of the Wrestling with Everything.

One thing that has been challenging me to my absolute limits lately is learning to be at peace with others who differ from me politically. I don't mind political differences in and of themselves, but I definitely battle with coming to terms with my brothers and sisters in Christ being conservatives. And even more so, the notion that they think I am a confused, lost soul who can't possibly be a real Christian because I lean liberally. 

I've talked about it here on the blog before and I've only grown stronger in my convictions the longer I've known Christ and the deeper my faith gets. But the Lord is showing me a lot lately. He's showing me that one cannot possibly align themselves with any political party and claim that it is the "Christian party." We can vote on our morals, but no party is a Christian party and we would be remiss not to talk about that. In this country, there has been an accepted "fact" that to be Christian is to be conservative for far too long. It's been refreshing to see that notion being challenged on a greater and greater scale as I find more likeminded friends all the time who are devout Christians and tend to vote for liberal ideals more often than not. 

God's showing me that it's absolutely okay to surround myself with Christians with all different sorts of belief systems. I've grown in the process and I've learned in the process and I'm continually being refined and remade. Because there is no "Christian party," I'm free to have close friends who differ completely from me who are my sisters in Christ, because God isn't calling us to choose a political side and only be in relationship with others who choose the same side. I only hope we can learn from each other as we live out our lives during our brief time here. I only hope we have open ears and an open heart that gives out grace in the sometimes-murky waters of disagreement. That said, I hope you'll have open ears and an open heart and give me some grace as I make my own rebuttal to the constant cries I hear from my conservative Christian friends who ask me how I can possibly be liberal because abortion. 

Abortion is always the thing. It's always the thing that divides and often the thing that leads Christians to call themselves conservatives. While I am pro-life (ahem...all life; sorry, I had to), I will likely continue to align myself liberally for the entirety of my life, provided I don't have a total heart change. That's because I don't believe either party will abolish abortion, so I consider it a non-issue when choosing a candidate. No conservative has been able to overturn that decision, and while it is a talking point during the election, it is rarely a talking point once a conservative is in office. And at the very least, the law won't be overturned. 

Conservatives, on gun control, often point out that gun violence is a heart issue, not a law issue, but in the same breath that they slam increased gun control, they demand that abortion be outlawed. While it's a tough pill for me to swallow, I do believe deep down that more important than abolishing abortion is the need to work on matters of the heart, on educating our children and most importantly, on supporting women in crisis pregnancies and then mentoring them after. 

That last one is THE one. It's the thing I believe in most strongly when it comes to changing the face of abortion in America. Making it illegal isn't going to put an end to abortion, though it will decrease them. What it will do is increase dangerous abortions which not only take the life of the baby, but often the mama, too. We know this because we've lived this as a country. 

Today, I filled out my form and agreed to go through 18 hours of training to become a counselor to women in crisis pregnancies. I'd encourage you to look into doing the same in your town. Most don't need a huge commitment. Even 4 hours a week is amazing. Tim and I have talked at length about what it will look like to support women in crisis pregnancies in our own family. We're only one family, but we hope to inspire change. We have an extra bedroom and extra resources, and we want to use those to help women who desperately want to keep their babies but don't see any way out other than abortion. With no support, financially or emotionally, keeping a baby is an absolutely terrifying prospect. I know this fact well. In a documentary I watched recently, something like 70% of women who walk into the clinic to have an abortion desperately want to be saved from it. They feel forced into it, with no help and no clue how they could possibly care for and support a baby on their own. 

Many people picket abortion clinics with their signs and their loud voices, proclaiming damnation and evil. That will never work. What we need more of is loving people with their understanding (not judgment) who step up to the plate and care for these women during their crisis pregnancies. We care for them by taking them into our homes, by educating them, by loving on them, by donating our time, money, baby clothing and more. We need more families stepping up to the plate to foster. Many kids who end up in foster homes are the product of mothers who weren't prepared to have those babies, whether emotionally or financially. They had little support, little education and in desperate times, they did terrible things. Often these mothers grew up in their own cycles of abuse, being exposed to atrocities we can't even fathom. Raising children, for them, can be an impossible feat without any help or outside love. 

What I often see in the conservative party is a vehement pro-life attitude that stops at birth. Yes, it's a talking point. But more than that, it is TRUTH. Some of the same people who cry out that abortion is the very worst plague on our nation do nothing for the moms in crisis. They not only don't support them personally, they get furious that their tax dollars are used to support them after baby is born. They deem them lazy, scum, leeches and worse. 

Even in the very worst circumstance, let's imagine a mom who keeps churning out kids to collect larger checks. Let's even pretend she drives a fancy car and - God forbid! - sometimes buys crab legs with her food stamps. Maybe she has the newest iPhone and a designer handbag. What we don't see is the broken life that brought her to that point. The child abuse at the hands of her uncle. The violence she saw firsthand from a tender, young age. What we don't see is that deep down, she is fiercely loved by God and desperately wanted by Him. Our duty as Christians is not to slaughter these people with our words. Our ONE SINGLE DUTY is to love them and thereby show them Jesus' love. Loving them looks like kindness and help and relationship. It looks like embracing them, weaknesses and all, and slowly and patiently trying until you're allowed to be let in. It is sometimes a slow process. It can sometimes feel impossible. But that person, leech or not, is just as worthy of love as you are. Let's not forget that we're all sinners. I sin every single day. Even when I try so impossibly hard not to. Her sin might be taking advantage of the system because it's the first time in her life that she felt some tiny semblance of being cared for. That doesn't make her a terrible sinner and you the good kind of sinner. You were lucky not to end up in her shoes. Yes, you were. No matter your own life experiences, it was not your doing that lead you to success. It was God's doing and God's blessings. I've experienced some really hard things in my life. Most of them I've never talked about publicly. Even so, it is by God's grace and love (and the fact that I was lucky enough to be raised by two good parents in a safe neighborhood and was introduced to Christ and His love) that I am okay today. If you use God's blessings to slam others and deem them evil or worthless or a drain on humanity because they haven't fared as well as you, I fear you will greatly regret that decision on judgment day.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ - Matthew 25: 34-45
Friends, there is no Christian party. I align myself liberally mostly because I believe so strongly in caring for the least of these, so in that vein, it is always the Democrat party who fulfills those morals. But no political party is perfect. In fact, they are all far from perfect. I don't align myself with either party anymore because they're all corrupt. But I'm pumped to vote for Bernie. When I went to his rally a few months ago, my friend and I cheered as he described getting our country back, making it work for the average Joe, ending corporate greed, changing the landscape of political fundraising, etc. But we both stopped cheering as he talked about women's rights. As Christians, we couldn't possibly cheer about the idea of abortion. You should never align yourself so tightly with a candidate that you agree with every word that comes out of his or her mouth. If you do find yourself in that position, you've probably either drank the Kool-aid or are fooling yourself.

Still, I'm not your typical pro-lifer. I can't say in good conscience that I agree with outlawing abortion entirely without regard for special circumstances and I can't say that I agree in any way that that's the way to go about ending abortion. It's way too complicated an issue for such a simplistic solution. I know, from experience as a former pro-choicer and as someone who is friends with many pro-choice people, that most people don't celebrate abortion. Most people view it as a necessary evil that is occasionally needed in extreme cases. We yell and scream at each other from across the aisle, but we often miss everything we have in common. Let's have open ears and an open heart that gives grace to all. 

9.17.2015

Questioning Everything, Part One


The last few months have been some of the most monumental, heavy, emotional and exciting months in our marriage. I've wanted to blog about it all so many times, but I've been so, so busy and when I do have down time, all I've wanted to do is get some rest in. I miss the feelings of relief and release that come when I've had a blogging session, so today I'm making it a priority to put these feelings and thoughts on paper, no matter what. If I don't do that, it will never happen.