Limits Are (Not) Illusions

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I have been trying to hop into a shower for nearly an hour at this point, but I cannot pull myself away from the mirror. I am staring, running my index finger over the two dime-size patches of smooth skin at the tip of my widow’s peak where, just weeks ago, I had hair. I am inspecting it over and over again through eyes glassy with tears that want to come out, but remain in an uncertain state on the tear line between utter breakdown and stoic persistence. It was in this very moment that I called to my eldest daughter to fetch my computer.

I’ve been stuck on a blog topic for a while. Life is busy, right? In May, I actually work longer hours than usual, for the bonus income and to prepare for the Fall semester. This summer I am doing so while recovering from ankle reconstruction surgery, so that is adding a level of difficulty and seemingly unmanageable pain to every daily task. But, like always, I soldier on with a smile.

Soldiering on is easy when everyone around you is patting you on the back. Days filled with proclamations such as, “Of course you are up and about already! You are a rock star!” “You are Superwoman!,” and social media comments extolling you as #momgoals will have you believing that you can do everything.

But, the jarring truth is that I am balding from the stress of it all. Yep, you read that right: I. Am. Balding. I have stress-induced Alopecia Areata. I still have to let that sink in… And, it is pretty ridiculous that THAT is what shook me so deeply. I also have hypertension - at a healthy weight with an active lifestyle, at age 38. My body is quite literally rejecting doing everything.  

I am not sharing this for sympathy. In fact, the prospect of someone reading this and then asking to see the patches that I so carefully tuck away with strategic parting, is terrifying. The thought, even in this moment, that someone would offer to help me accomplish even menial tasks, reeks of humiliation. It makes me want to hide away on my couch for eternity. I am only sharing this, because I am certain I am not alone. And, I want someone else to hear that they are not alone.

The truth is, being a single parent is unfathomably difficult. Yet, we are yoked with feelings of shame that come from asking for help. It is a difficult line to walk for friends and family, between recognizing the hard work and accomplishments of a single parent, and making that parent feel as if they must maintain that perfect balance in order to be worthy of such praise. The people in our lives don’t realize that they are helping to construct that albatross of expectation and potential shame, when they are so quick to recognize what we are doing right but fear offending us by offering help.  

We need help. I need help. To hold down a full-time job with any degree of success and raise happy humans as a single parent is overwhelming. It is a constant tension between feeling like more of a parent and somehow less of a parent than our partnered household counterparts. It is wanting to prove to ourselves that we can do it (anything, that is), while knowing that, in reality, it is physically impossible. But, who would ever want to stop trying? Once you fall into the glow of sentiments being thrown your way, how do you acknowledge your real limitations without losing the community of affirmation that keeps you going?

I don’t know these answers yet. All I know is that, in my life, God has been screaming at me. I have been sent message after message that I need to make changes, but I have not listened. I arrived at a point where the fear of not exceeding expectations (of not being admired) outweighed my concern for my own health…my own life. And that is the only thing more embarrassing than the balding.  

You are not alone. I want to make sure you hear that. You are not alone. God loves you. God roots for you. Perhaps more importantly in this moment, God knows that physical limitations are not illusions as so many Instagram motivation posts try to have us believe; nor are they arbitrary. God sets limits (Genesis 2:3) and He created us to work within them (Genesis 2:7). Limits protect your well-being and you need to find a way to respect them. I need to find a way to respect them. Together, by joining hands in the reality that we are falling apart from pushing past our limits, I hope that we can find a way through the noise of expectations and back to God’s vision for our lives.  

By A. Smith

I Can't

photo credit: Tapout Fitness Woodland Hills

photo credit: Tapout Fitness Woodland Hills

Last weekend, I stood with the usual gaggle of moms at the gym as we chatted and watched our kids play. “You are such an inspiration. Seriously, such an inspiration,” I heard in a pleasant tone over my left shoulder. I knew this voice, this woman, was talking to me. Without even turning around, I knew she was addressing me, because I hear this well-intentioned, all-too-familiar sentiment on a regular basis. I am a single mom. That fact in itself seems to strike a chord with other moms, leading to the constant squishing of my entire identity into the neat little box of SUPERMOM.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the affirmations or that I intend to criticize people who are so outwardly supportive of single parenting. It is just a frustrating trope to occupy, because it doesn’t always align with my real life. I am not a super human. I am a deeply flawed, constantly failing, consistently overwhelmed human. And, usually, it feels like I am parenting as a heavy breather leaning over my own house of cards.

You see, today, the prospect of coming home, after a long day, to work on homework, to smile as they tell their stories, to clean up behind them (again and again), to prepare their dinner (and then their lunches), to participate in the ostensibly endless cycle of needing more kisses, then having to potty, then needing water, and probably more kisses; it just feels impossible. And sometimes, sometimes I feel like I can’t.

Today, I can’t breathe. I can’t do my job as well as I’d like. I can’t sleep. I can’t be the mom I’d always dreamed I’d be. I can’t escape the loneliness. I can’t escape the fear. I cannot extricate myself from the prison of knowing that every single part of my children’s lives are dependent upon me - me alone. Every cent, I have to earn. Every nutritional need, I have to meet. Every boo boo, I have to mend. Every medical decision, it is mine alone. Every life lesson, me. It is so much pressure, every single day. And sometimes, well mostly, I feel like I can’t. 

I have spent nights curled up in my shower crying beneath the pounding of water on tile, simply because it all feels so daunting. I have pulled over on the side of the road during my commute, because I couldn’t breathe while wondering how I was going to make it all work. I am not SUPERMOM. I am broken, again and again, by my grasp of the gravity of the task before me. I am terrified, every moment of every day. Fear robs me of patience, stress infuses my voice with tinges of undeserved anger, and frustration annihilates every schedule I make. And mostly, I feel like I just can’t. 

But today, this day that has highlighted the hollowness of my performance as SUPERMOM, I realized that I don’t have to. I opened my Bible to Isaiah and was reminded that, as much as I like to lament, I was never asked to do this alone.

“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NKJV)

I remember that God trusted me with these two amazing little human beings. He had faith in me. He saw my heart, knew my abilities as well as my limitations, and He still trusted me because He planned to walk with me. 

I am not alone. 

When I am crying in the shower, I am not alone. When I am pulled over on the side of the road gasping for breath, I am not alone. When I give up and let my kids eat ice cream for dinner, I am not alone. 

So, yeah, mostly I feel like I can’t. But that’s ok, because I know God can. And the next time I feel overwhelmed by the praises of women wondering how I make it all happen, instead of blushing, I will proudly tell them that I don’t make it all happen alone. I make it happen, sometimes just barely and often less elegantly than they imagine, because of God’s grace and unrelenting love.

~ A. Smith