Estranged + Astray

God has felt so far for too long. 

He seems like nothing more than a distant relative. It's as if I know He loves me like an aunt I've only seen a handful of times "loves" me merely because we're of the same blood.

I know God loves me because I have faith in His word and His promise, but do I really believe it? 
Do I fully trust that He loves me so much that His son died on the cross for my sins and conquered death for me? 

To the Lord, it's as if I'm an estranged daughter to her father, an estranged sister to her sibling. I've been led astray by my own hurts and sadness to seek comfort in the things that entice me with the promise of instant satisfaction. It's easier to watch that show, listen to that podcast, or read that article to feel smart, clean the house to champion productivity, eat that piece of cake, drink that glass of wine... only to find that all of it is ephemerally satisfying and none of it eternally. It's harder to look inside of myself and acknowledge my mess, ask forgiveness for my wrongdoings, and lay my sin down at the Lord's feet. 

And, yet again, I know a life pursuing God will be eternally satisfying because of His word,  but am I willing to lay my life down for Him? And if I'm not, does that mean my faith in Him is actually not faith at all but a false sense of security in thinking that at least I won't be condemned to hell as long as I believe when I really don't?

I hate that I don't really know.
I hate that lately I only have questions and all of them are unanswered.
I hate that I'm clawing at the door, begging for it to open, only to find I'm at the wrong door, that God isn't there.

Where is the Father's voice? 
Where is His overwhelming peace?
Where is His love?

Where  are You, Lord?

Grief + Joy

It has been 100 days since my mom's passing. From her cremation to her memorial service to the birth of our son, it seems like forever ago that she took her last breath; but the pain of grieving her death feels like she passed just yesterday. 

Grief is a funny thing. It comes and goes, ebbs and flows like waves. Some days, I can't contain the overwhelming emotions of sadness and grief; I'm a puddle of tears and nothing can console me. I go about my day in a fog, eating but not feeling satisfied, sleeping but not feeling rested. Other days pass me by not with tears but with fond memories of her. I smile knowing that she is a part of me and that I will never forget her. I think about her daily - I just can't not think about her daily.

 
 

This time last year, we knew that she probably did not have much longer to live. Her health was so obviously deteriorating. By summer, all of her doctors recommended that she stop treatment altogether and instead simply manage her pain. But managing pain is not simple by any means - she suffered a lot in her last days up until she finally admitted herself into hospice care. Even in hospice care, it wasn't completely painless and for the first time in her 7 years of battling cancer, my always resilient mother looked defeated. 

I'm still not sure whether or not she knew she was dying or not. She never said anything to suggest that she didn't think she'd be here for the birth of our son. She only said she hoped she would be feeling better by then so that she could at least come visit me in the hospital and at home. By the time I said my goodbyes to my mom, she lay in bed with her eyes lifeless, as if she was unconscious, unable to speak. I only knew she was able to comprehend my words when she grunted at my "I love you"s. 

The day she passed, I held her cold lifeless hand tightly, hoping to bring warmth back to just a small part of her body. I didn't want to let her go but knew she would want me to. She was going to the Father; she would not need me, or any of us, where a place was prepared for her in His house. She was finally at peace, no longer suffering, and her spirit exactly where she was supposed to be.  

As I grieve my mother, I'm realizing more and more that grief doesn't just end. I will carry this grief with me my entire life; it just won't be the same grief throughout. My grief will change as my life continues on. I take steps forward and then step backward; my grief evolves into strength at times and deviates into sadness and pain other times. 

Honestly, as a believer in Christ, I have no idea where I'm supposed to find the joy amidst the grief. I have no idea if her suffering was or is or will ever be glorifying to God - was her suffering even worth it? Was her life worth anything to God? I may never know the answer to those questions, and maybe I'll never even find the joy in my mother's passing.

But one thing I know is God is faithful; he was and is and always will be. 

And for now, to that I will cling.

I never wanted to be a mother.

Today marks Week 14 of our first pregnancy. I am now at a point I can truthfully and sincerely answer the question, "Aren't you so excited?" with, "I am getting excited! I'm not as anxious about it as I was." It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was dealing with so much guilt and shame, which is accounted for in today's blog post.

This post was originally a  journal entry written frantically into my phone at 2 am, about a week after we found out about our pregnancy. I was barely 6 weeks along. I thought a lot about whether or not I should edit this before posting it, or even if I should post it at all, because there are some expletives that are uncharacteristic of my writing for this blog. However, these words are my raw emotions, these words are real, and I would not be doing myself or other women like me justice by sugarcoating my experience.


Nothing like pregnancy has made me so painfully aware of how out of control I am of my life and everything around me.

Physically, pregnancy has made me feel like shit. I’m nauseated, exhausted, and all I want to do is sleep, watch tv, and eat grilled cheese sandwiches or peanut butter mashed into bananas. And none of this helps me actually shit anything out. I feel like a burden to my husband, who has taken up most of the cooking while taking care of me, and I feel like a bad wife.

Emotionally, pregnancy makes me feel like a lunatic.
I’m crying one minute, depressed the next, and then completely in awe of the life inside of me, only to feel all of the feelings all over again. It’s a never-ending fucking cycle.
I feel burdened by the possibility of miscarriage - it scares me, haunts me, and I have cried on many occasions just thinking about it, just saying it outloud.
All the while, I feel guilty about secretly hoping I will miscarry so that this will all be over.

As we have slowly started telling family and friends that we’re pregnant, people expect me to be more excited. They’re surprised by my candor - "how can you say it like it’s just something normal?" And I want to shout, "But it is normal! It's part of being a human! Should I have built up the suspense for you? Am I supposed to wave my arms around and shout, 'Surprise!' How am I to respond to your response? And how am I to respond to you responding to how I responded?" 

I am left feeling so guilty and ashamed of my feelings, wishing I'd never said anything at all.

But why do I feel so guilty for feeling all of these perfectly normal human feelings?
Why should I hide these emotions away? 
How dare others tell me that it’ll be worth it later?
How dare they tell me that having children will be so much fun?
What about me now? What about my emotions, now. What about NOW?
Do other pregnant women not feel this way? Or think these thoughts?
Am I alone?

In no way do I want to wrap this up and finish it off with a bow.
There’s nothing about how I feel that I want to package up all nice and neat and pretty.

 
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I never wanted to be pregnant.

I will never say, “Every woman must/should/has to experience pregnancy and motherhood!”
No woman should ever be made to feel guilty or ashamed for not wanting to be.

I never wanted to be a mother.

I never even pretended I wanted to be. Whenever I played “house” with friends, I always refused to be “mom”; I called dibs on being the baby or the house pet.

I’m not even sure I feel love for the baby inside of me. And maybe that sounds terrible, but right now it’s the truth. I’ve seen the sonograms, heard the heartbeat, but it still doesn’t seem real yet. And maybe it won’t be until the baby is born.

I don’t want to lie and say, “I can’t wait to meet my baby!”
Honestly, in my bare-naked selfishness, I can’t wait to just not be pregnant.

I can’t wait to not feel like a burden on my husband.
I can’t wait to  not worry about my heart rate spiking too high at the gym.
I can’t wait to eat all of the foods I love that I can’t eat or currently make me nauseous.

I just want my body back.
I want my life back the way it used to be.

And then I think about all of the women who have struggled and are struggling with infertility, those who know the pain of miscarriage, and I feel even more ashamed. I feel ashamed that the blessing in my belly seems nothing more than a curse to me, nothing more than a barrier to the things I want to do. And it all comes down to the shameful realization of how selfish I really am. The shame turns into guilt and then into fear - I am not ready to be a mother. I don't deserve to be a mother. Why have I been chosen to be a mother? Has God made a mistake?

I just want to trust God. I want to believe - no, I do believe He does not make mistakes.
However, in my flesh, I want control and have yet to let go of that control to God. But I don’t want that anymore. I want to put my trust Him.
Not trusting God is not a new thing. But now it’s amplified by my experiences of pregnancy thus far. I am hyper aware of the fact that God has been absent in my life for quite some time now - I’ve pushed Him away thinking I was fine without him.  

But is my awareness enough for me to cry out to Him?
Is His goodness and grace enough for me?

Emily Carlton | Portraits of an Artist

What is your name and what do you do?

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My name is Emily Carlton and I'm an illustrator & designer based in Nashville, TN.

How did you start making your art? Why do you keep going?

I started as a child and I just never stopped. I think some children stop creating art because someone said it wasn't very good or laughed at it, but I think I just saw those comments as a challenge to be better. I wasn't the brightest student in other subjects, but I did see myself excelling in art. I have a competitive nature and I wanted to be better than everyone else at something, and that happened to be art. I continued because my family was (is!) encouraging and creating brings me a lot of joy. I can't not do it.

How do faith and creativity collide for you?

It's messy! Knowing God gave me a gift and not knowing exactly how to use it for His glory is something I'm still learning about and working through. In the past, I've not been a proponent of art and faith mixing, particularly in today's Christian culture as history and personal experience has showed me the combination hasn't been very beneficial. A lot of Christian art I see is cheesy, distracting, inaccurate, or just plain bad.

I used to be a designer for a church for about 3 years, and I got a lot of fulfillment out of using my gifts and talents to help people worship, learn, and hear the gospel. More recently, I began doing sketchnotes and graphic recording for clients. (Sketchnoting is documenting a lecture, experience, process, etc. using written words and images to create a more engaging and memorable visual record.)  I really enjoy the medium and want to get better at it, and one way I do that is by sketchnoting the sermons I hear on Sundays. It's been a really neat way for me to use my gifts and share the message when I post images of my notes. I've had quite a few people tell me they love looking through when they miss a Sunday or that they like the visual aid. I love being able to capture information and bring life to it visually to help share the gospel.

 Sketchnote by Emily Carlton

Sketchnote by Emily Carlton

While I still have some design and illustration clients that are churches, missions organizations, and non-profits, I have come to the believe that you don't have to work at a church or use your gifts for the church in order to glorify God with your gifts. I think simply using them pleases Him.

What are you thankful for in this season of your life, your work?

I'm thankful that I live in a creative environment. Nashville has been a place of tremendous growth, encouragement, and support. I especially love the opportunity to be around other great creative people at WELD. I'm so thankful that I get to create art for a living, and that my personality, passions, and desires are being fulfilled with my career.

What are you working on now? 

I'm working on a few things right now - I am learning how to do hand-lettering and I'm also spending more time improving my drawing skills. I have a lot of room for growth and want to be the best artist I can! One of my new year's resolutions is to draw every day; I've been posting many of the results on Instagram to share, even if I'm not proud of it. We all have to start somewhere!

What inspires you?

I'm inspired by a lot of things that are hard to recall after the fact. I love being outside - it clears my head and renews my sense of wonder. I love talking with other people about what they're passionate about - being around someone who is excited and driven inspires me to be the same way. And, as silly as it might sound, I'm inspired by cartoonists! I love how they tie in art, humor, and story in a tiny space.  

What does "being creative" mean to you?

I think creativity is problem-solving. "Being creative" means being someone who solves problems in ways that haven't been solved before. "Being creative" means seeking new things, learning, and innovating.

Was there an artist in your creative field you admired when you were young that inspired you to become an artist? Why?

I love Gary Larson, cartoonist for the famous 1-panel comic The Far Side. I loved that he was a talented artist. Moreover, I admired how he could make you think and laugh in a single panel. It takes a lot of wit to be able to do that, and it's something I aspire to be able to do myself. I loved the fact that an adult was drawing for a living and I wanted to do make that happen for myself, too.

What are you reading/watching/listening to right now?

Right now I'm in the middle of Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, Creative, Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho, Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldridge, and Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine. Faith and creativity are colliding in my reading list!

Any advice for women who are aspiring creatives in your field?

Work hard. Put in the hours and take the time to become an expert at what you do. I think if you are serious about your craft, people will take you seriously. Not that they shouldn't already, but I think there's a new level of respect people have for you when they see that you are dedicated.

 
 "I like this quote because it reminds me that life is not always going to be easy, but that the trials I face are preparing me to be a better person. I have a purpose, and smooth sailing rarely happens when you're living out that purpose." - Emily Carlton

"I like this quote because it reminds me that life is not always going to be easy, but that the trials I face are preparing me to be a better person. I have a purpose, and smooth sailing rarely happens when you're living out that purpose."
- Emily Carlton

 

How does being a woman of faith inform/influence your art-making?

I don't know that it does - not consciously, anyway. I don't create art that is controversial or vulgar, but I think that's more personal taste than anything having to do with me being a woman and being a Christian.

Describe your perfect day of recharging/relaxing.

I'd keep my normal morning routine of waking up early and writing. After that, I'd make breakfast tacos and read for a few hours. Then I'd go hiking or kayaking, and come home to clean up and make a delicious dinner for myself and some friends. I'd spend the later evening drawing & watching a movie, and then I'd go to bed early.

I cannot live without...

 a sketchbook.



Illustrations and hand lettering by Sojung Lee.

If you'd like to be featured, please contact me: sjlee@sohostory.com