Rediscovering Messy Art

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From my walk, because I love yellow.

“If I could take nice pictures and had a camera, I’d love to photograph the changing seasons,” I thought to myself. Again. I wished I’d been blessed with the gift of photography on the day that talents had been handed out.

I had the same thought again a few days ago as I looked out my bedroom window, noticing how much the trees had changed in such a short period of time. And thinking how much fun it’d be to document the transition. “If I could take nice pictures and had a camera,” I began again. And then I stopped. Wait. I do have a camera.

Within a matter of minutes I was shoving on rain boots and grabbing my camera, throwing its red and white polka-dot strap over my shoulder as I marched out the front door. Whether or not I could take “nice” pictures didn’t even matter, I told myself. I enjoyed taking pictures, so I was going to take them.

Once I was outside, heading onward towards autumnal adventures, I turned my camera on and flipped through the last pictures I’d taken. They were vacation photos. I hadn’t touched my camera, not even once, since Ian and I had been on vacation. My camera had just been hanging by its strap in the closet, waiting.

Waiting for what? Read More


A baptism into self-love (or, the first time I wore a bikini)

There I was, standing in the sun, showing off the body that is mine.August 13, 2016. I feel like I should permanently mark the day on the calendar because exactly a week ago I accomplished one of the most radical acts of self-care and self-acceptance I’ve ever undertaken.

I wore a bikini in public for the very first time.

It was a hot day, so the husband and I decided to go to the lake after dinner. We’ve gotten to know the lake with its regular crowd rather well this summer — Pokemon Go players wondering around with their phones, guitar-strumming lifeguards singing when it’s too chilly for people to swim, hookah smokers camping out at their usual picnic table, Mormon missionaries attempting to catch a Pokemon Go player or two, children throwing rocks at ducks, and I even saw a baptism once. Baptism. The last time I’d swam in a lake I was in high school, and it was the lake I was baptized in.

As I’d watched the baptism out of the corner of my eye from the shady patch of grass that I’d claimed, I found myself remembering the baptism class I took when I was 12. “Baptism is an outward expression of an inward commitment,” the senior pastor had said. It was a way of announcing to the world what you’d already privately decided. It was a way of proclaiming that as a result of your commitment to Christ you were no longer the same person.

As I watched the woman being baptized come out of the water soaking wet and smiling, my own baptism felt like a lifetime ago. It had been a statement that I was different. But as I looked back, 12-year-old Kelsey felt so much different than 29-year-old Kelsey. I’ve changed again. I’ve changed a lot. Read More


Self-Care: Learning to Say No {Guest Post by Steve Austin}

Hey there, everyone. This Friday I’m happy to introduce you all to Steve Austin. As a blogger, freelancer, and regular contributor to the Huffington Post, Steve writes on a variety of subjects — faith, family, mental health, social justice, and more. And he’s also pretty active in the comment section here on the blog so you’ll likely see him around.

I actually first met Steve via the comment section on my blog. His comments stood out because they were so encouraging and because while our own histories with growing up in very conservative flavors of Christianity might not be totally identical, they sure do rhyme.

I hope you enjoy what self-care looks like to Steve. And be sure to say hi and leave him a comment.

Learning to Say No

Four years ago, I was a youth pastor, sign language interpreter, wedding photographer, radio host, husband, and father. In that order. My weeks were full of activity: long days and long nights were the norm. I worked in a school full-time, had after-school activities with the student I interpreted for, had a radio show Tuesday and Friday nights, church activities Wednesday night and all day Sunday, and my Saturdays were consumed with photoshoots or youth group activities, or both. People wondered how I could keep so many plates spinning, and in my religious fervor, I judged their lack of busyness. The only thing worse than a Democrat, in my humble opinion, was a lazy church person.

My wife begged for attention, my friends constantly complained that I was missing in action, and my anxiety was through the roof. But what could I possibly do about it, other than pop a little white pill and hope nobody found out. I had bought into the lie that it was my job to save the whole world. If not me, then who? Souls were at stake! Lives were hanging in the balance and who could possibly sleep when the blood of someone’s eternal damnation would be on my hands?

As a teen, we had the coolest youth room around. The back wall was painted with a city scene and above the skyscrapers was the phrase, “Win the Lost, No Matter the Cost”. I’d been raised to believe there was no greater joy and no more heavy a burden than preaching the gospel at every opportunity.

But somewhere along the way, I missed the part about my greatest calling being loving my neighbor and myself. In my late twenties, I failed to see the great responsibility in cultivating relationship with my wife and my children. I missed the part about resting. Every night, my wife would lay next to me, longing for intimacy, for deep conversation, for friendship with the one who had promised to cherish and respect her, but I was lost in connection on my iPhone, a million miles away, planning the next Great Awakening.

I figured she must be so proud. Look at all I was doing for the Lord! Yet, I in having no personal boundaries, I allowed a wall to be built, taller than anything Donald Trump could ever dream. And the people I was keeping out were the ones who loved me the most. I didn’t know it was okay, and even appropriate, to tell others, “no”.

These days, I shoot photography once every other month or so, there’s no radio show, no youth group, and I only work 29 hours a week. I would be lying if I said I never feel the tug of the American male, the breadwinner, to do more, because busyness equals success, right? Those lies were deeply ingrained, but all my busyness eventually came with a price.

Now, I start and end each day the very same way–at the kitchen table, with my wife and kids. We are more connected as a family than ever before, because I learned the hard way that I am not the Savior of the damn world. We may not have as much money in the bank as I would like, but that’s not what matters to me any more. The other day, my wife pulled me close, grabbed my chin, looked into my eyes, and exhaled, “I’m happy. I need you to know that. There’s nothing else in this world I want, but you.”

In stopping my ridiculous search for fulfillment in the local church, I have found my greatest calling. My house has become a sanctuary for my often-weary soul. We break bread at the altar of our own kitchen table. Morning and evening, we laugh and sometimes cry, but we do it together. We sometimes get our butts kicked, but we do it together. And often, we celebrate small victories, together.

I’m in religious recovery now, but I’m still seeking out genuine faith.

I now realize I was just as “lost” as every other freckle-faced teenager I was witnessing to on countless Friday nights at the mall. Wandering, searching for the approval of my local church instead of resting securely in the fact that I belong to a God who loves me immensely, totally, without question, for no other reason than Love is the very essence of his character.

In learning to say “no” to busyness and bullshit, I have learned how short life truly is, and just how precious my family is. I am learning that I am not what I do, but my worth is found in who I am. My worth is found in the legacy my wife and I are creating together, as equals, for our children.


12842374_204002123299101_1539091025_oSteve Austin is a family man, writer, and speaker from Birmingham, Alabama. Steve is a passionate advocate of second chances and he blogs regularly at www.iamsteveaustin.com. You can also connect with Steve on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also check out Steve’s ebook Self-Care: Manifesto for Hard Days.

Kelsey’s Recommendation: One of the unfortunate possibilities when you’re friends with a Christian (of any variety) is that if your theology suddenly shifts they might decide that you now need to be “saved.” I’m speaking from personal experience here. As I wrote about in I Love You More than My Ideologies (Or that Time I was a Shitty Friend) I’ve been that Christian. More than once. And in his article I Don’t Need to be Saved, Steve talks about how he’s recently had more than one close friend pull this same stunt that I pulled in the name of theology on him. I highly suspect that more than a few of you will relate.


When Self-Care Looks Like a Photo Shoot

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The earliest known footage of me, currently locked away in vault known as a VHS, shows a not-quite-school-aged Kelsey standing next to a fence post at her grandparents’ place talking about the horses. “I wanna ride Pride,” I whine in a high little voice. The next shaky home video scene starts up abruptly, exactly a year later. I’m whining again but this time I’m running towards my grandparents’ house while crying, “Noooooo!” I would not be participating in this year’s filming.

Grandma had thought it’d be fun to rewatch the previous summer’s footage, so for the first time in my life I’d seen my awkward, gangly self on the screen. The first time I’d heard my high little voice. “Is that what I really sound like?” I’d asked my dad. “Um, yes?” was the reply. I nearly cried.

People say a camera can add ten pounds. But can it also make my voice several octaves squeakier? Can it add about six times more social-ineptness than usual? Can it highlight every insecurity better than a neon-yellow highlighter?

To my surprise, it turns out the answer is no. Or at least, not always. It depends a little on lighting and makeup. And it depends a lot on who is standing behind that camera. But sometimes a camera can capture the confidence you don’t always see when you look in the mirror; the confidence you can’t quite feel.

I’ve been wanting to get professional photos for my blog since I reached 500 followers, but that meant standing in front of a camera. So here we are, just celebrated reaching 7,000 followers, and I only just got the pictures.

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I remember reading that J.D. Salinger refused to have any sort of image on his covers because he was afraid it would detract from the book; it would impact the reader’s imagination; it would [insert more annoyingly artsy reasons, and so on and so forth]. And in addition to being camera shy I was afraid a picture might detract from the content on my blog. I was afraid of looking “un-Kelsey.” But I was more afraid people wouldn’t take me as seriously because I might look as awkward as I feel. You see, one of the best things about the internet is that you can be faceless. You can seem more confident and like maybe, you know, you actually have your shit together. Plus, the fact that I look so young for my age doesn’t get in the way when it comes to text. Text looks good on me; it really complements my complexion.

But I’ve been wanting to move beyond only blogging. I’ve been researching this scary thing called freelancing. I’ve been collecting helpful bits of information and editors’ email addresses. I’ve been makes notes of all those articles I’ll write … someday.

I just haven’t been able to start because I haven’t had a headshot, and a selfie didn’t exactly scream Take Me Seriously, Dammit. But I finally did it. I booked a photographer. I wore my favorite sweater and I had her do my makeup. And I think it was one of the most radical acts of self-care that I’ve taken in a while.

I took myself seriously. I took my writing seriously. I told myself that my writing wasn’t “just blogging” and “just a hobby.” It’s important to me. And taking it seriously was worth the time, money, and camera anxiety. (But, honestly, it wasn’t stressful.)

My photographer, Alisa Clark of CapturedBy:Monaalisapro, made the whole thing much smoother than I ever would’ve hoped. And to my surprise I actually enjoyed having my makeup done (I’m the girl who didn’t even buy special makeup for her wedding). And posing wasn’t awful. In fact, the whole thing was actually fun and I’m planning on having a couple’s photo shoot in the future with the hubby so we have more than just wedding pictures and couple’s selfies.

I love my pictures. But what I love the most is that I feel like I take myself more seriously now. I feel more confident about submitting pitches. And I even feel more confident about blogging. I’ve started working my way through that list of articles to write. I’ve stopped waiting for someday. To me, my pictures say it’s not “just blogging.” No just about it. It shows that I take myself seriously, and that you should take me seriously, too.

What does self-care look like for you today? What does it mean for you to take yourself and what you love seriously? Bloggers, is it time for you to book your own photo shoot?

(Any Seattle-Tacoma folks, be sure to check out Alisa’s website and Facebook page. She’s the perfect mix of laid back and professional. And the next time I need photos, I plan on using her again. Plus, she can do makeup, like, professionally and I can barely even get my mascara on without making a mess.)


Fighting the Winter Blues

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Flickr cc Stefan Lins

I shuffle from the kitchen in the direction of my desk, unshowered and still in my pajamas, a bowl of cold breakfast cereal with blueberries in my right hand and a mug of chamomile tea in my left. I pull out the chair and sit down at my oversized black desk. It’s perfect for art projects, laying out books while researching, or collecting clutter. Today it just has clutter. After settling myself into my chair, I turn on my happy light.

I live in Washington, not too far south of Seattle, so we don’t tend to get a lot of sunshine here. I love all that glorious green but we pay for it through the nose by giving up most of our sunshine visitation rights. And like a lot of Washingtonians, I’ve become rather well acquainted with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) over the years. Last February, however, was different. Last year it felt like the smog of depression just wouldn’t lift (save those rare days when the sunshine lit up the sky and made all of us poor sun-deprived folks more than a little gaga). So I bought one of those fake-sun lights and added it to my morning regimen, right before showering and right after pouring almond milk on my favorite cereal.

The light does cut through some of that I-really-could-use-some-vitamin-D depression; it does help me wake up. But what I hadn’t expected was for it to become such a self-preserving, soul-saving morning ritual for me. Here it is a year later and I’m still using it. This February just in need of it as the last. February is one of the hardest SAD months for me; there are no longer any holiday lights to add some warmth but it’s still cold, dark, bleak winter. The winter solstice might mean that we’re halfway out of the dark, but February says, “You’re not out of the dark yet.”

After I turn on my light, I sit there crunching my cereal, and when I’ve fished every last piece out of the white ceramic bowl, a favorite wedding presents from two years ago, I start in on my mug of tea. The pace is slow and rhythmic, like breathing—breathe in, breathe out. I don’t plan my to-do list for the day. I just sit there focusing on my warm tea as I gradually sip it down.

I’m a recovering productivity enthusiast. Relaxation makes me uncomfortable, just-for-fun is hard. What is the purpose? I want to know. How is this being productive? What greater good is being achieved? How is this helping anyone? But there is nothing to achieve, no purpose to accomplish. I let my drive to be productive go, at least a little. And I just sit there greeting the morning, being aware of the now.

Breathe in, breathe out.

The timer indicating that it’s been forty-five minutes hasn’t gone off, and I’m done with breakfast. But I don’t move on to the to-do list. Instead, I journal or collage; play with poetry or read a novel; make a greeting card or compose a letter. I relax into the moment. I stay in the moment. I enjoy the moment. (Or at least I try.)

Breath in, breath out.

Since I was a kid mornings have always been the time of day I’ve seen as having the highest productivity potential—a chance to really get the day started off well. Part of this was my childhood church’s emphasis on morning devotions happening every day (and it literally had to be in the morning). Ideally, you would pray for about fifteen minutes, then read a chapter or two in the Old Testament, followed by a chapter or two in the New Testament, and then if you were really an overachiever (I was) you’d also add in a Psalm and a chunk of Proverbs. And then finish it all off with another prayer (being sure to include the different types of prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication).

For me mornings weren’t spiritual, they were regimented. And I didn’t always keep to my rigid schedule, so often times there was a lot of guilt hanging in the morning air. Guilt, like depression, is heavy and sticky. And it’s hard to shake.

Some of this morning legalism was church related, and some of it was just me and my own purpose-driveness. But my forty-five minutes with my little happy light has helped with both. My new morning ritual has made mornings about relaxation rather than achievement; self-care, instead of perfection; spirituality, instead of legalism; fighting the winter blues, instead of fighting demons.

As Lent begins tomorrow I find myself looking forward to Easter, spring, and the summer solstice. I want to wear bright colors and unpack my sandals and run my fingers through the cool, green summer grass. I want a little more sunlight, dammit.

As a quasi-Lutheran, I somewhat observe Lent. I don’t fast. Even though I wasn’t raised in the liturgical tradition so Lent wasn’t a part of my life or faith, I’ve done enough fasting in the name of religion to last a lifetime. So I use it as a season of self-care, a chance find light and warmth in the winter. This year during Lent you’ll find me in the mornings with my happy light, thankful that we’re more than halfway out of the dark.

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In related news, I not only got a pretty awesome inner-child-inspiring card from my friend Stephanie, she also sent me some homemade sunshine. Homemade magic. It’s currently next to my happy light. Go find some light, dear readers. Go make some sunshine. 


Self-Care: Relaxing Into My Body

I cautiously dip my toe into the bath in order to check the comfort and safeness level of the water. Then, as the faucet is still spewing warm water out its mouth, I gradually lower myself into the tub. As a kid, bathtubs felt like huge water-worlds unto themselves, but now I feel like an adult trying to fit in a child’s world. The water sways like it’s listening to its favorite song as I try to figure out where to put my feet.

As a kid bath time meant bath toys. My bath toys lived in a white mesh bag that hung over the showerhead, out of reach. I’d play in the bath until the water was cold and my fingers looked like I’d just aged about a hundred years. But I didn’t care that the water was cold. I didn’t care about my fingers. I didn’t even care about my exposed little body. All I cared about was that the bath toys were finally within reach.

Maybe I should buy a rubber ducky, I used to think when I first started taking baths as an adult. Maybe it would give me something to do, something to distract myself from … well … me. My body. My skin. My thighs. My stomach. Everything. That’s what’s so troublesome and wonderful about baths now, you see; all those parts of me that I try to hide are visible.

I look down at my stomach, at the soft roll of skin and fat that’s sticking out even more than normal thanks to the smallness of the bathtub. It reminds me of the first time I ever noticed it, the first time I thought it was wrong and ugly. “Your thighs are getting flabby,” the tactless observer had said. “And your stomach is starting to stick out.” And then she poked a criticizing finger at my stomach. “You need to go on a diet or you’re going to get fat.” I was only 11-years-old and had barely even noticed the early signs of puberty setting in but with her words still hanging in the air I tried to suck my stomach in a little more, crossing my arms over it to provide extra coverage.

I went on a diet after that, the first of many. In middle school I regularly skipped breakfast and sometimes lunch time, too. I was hungry a lot. In high school I gave up desserts and French-fries and chided myself on my inability to give up pepperoni pizza with gooey, stringy cheese.

The apostle Paul, who I don’t think was exactly a self-care enthusiast, said that he “beat his body into submission.” And this, sadly, became my diet mantra. My body was defective. My body was weak. My body was broken, flawed. So I would force it to submit to my will and ideal pants size.

This self-abusive weight management continued until I was in my mid-twenties when I caught a horrible stomach virus. I was sick, really sick. And I started dropping weight like crazy. By the time I was over the Stomach Flu From Hell, I was one whole size smaller than my Dream Size; the size I’d never been able to get my body to stay at for longer than about half a breath; the size that I thought would make me valuable and whole and pretty and happy. And I was smaller.

When I went to the store, trying on pants in order to find a new pair that fit, and I realized that my horrible-awful-no-good stomach demon had left me so malnourished I’d lost more weight than I ever had before, I wasn’t happy. In fact, my very first thought was, “Maybe, if I work hard enough, I could go even smaller!” I wasn’t happy. But maybe then I would be. Maybe then I’d be pretty. Maybe then I’d have worth. Maybe …

Somehow reaching that point made me realize that there wasn’t a magical number on the inside of my dress or on the scale that was going to make me happy. There wasn’t a number that could tell me my worth, value, and beauty. Even if I managed through obsessive self-abusive dieting or catching extreme stomach viruses to achieve my Dream Size, it wouldn’t matter. I wouldn’t be happy. And then Dream Size would just be replaced by a different, smaller number.

Dream Size was nothing more than a mirage promising me palm trees, acceptance, worth, and a body that would make Victoria Secret models dead jealous. I was running through the hot sand, dehydrated and malnourished, as I chased after happiness and self-worth in the form of a number that told me absolutely nothing about myself.

Remembering the years of dieting, the countless times I’ve yanked at my stomach in disgust and all the lies about my body I ingested when what I needed to be ingesting was food makes me sad. “I’m sorry,” I gently whisper, running my hand over my stomach.

When I first started making baths a more regular part of my self-care regimen this past year I’d put a hand towel over my stomach so that I wouldn’t have to look at it. But now I pat it encouragingly. “You’re beautiful,” I say. I’ve been telling my body that a lot lately, especially my stomach and thighs because they’re still bruised from having heavy, jagged words like ugly, worthless, embarrassing and disgusting hurled at them. “You’re beautiful,” I say again, this time meaning it a little more. “You’re beautiful.”

I relax into the water, breathing in the hint of lavender from the bath salts. And I relax into my body, at least a little more. My body and I have a long, complex history together, but one bath at a time, one You’re beautiful at a time we’re slowly mending the rift in our relationship.

It can be hard sometimes to not fall back into old patterns, especially when it’s Diet Season, but generally I don’t self-objectify as much these days. I don’t think of my body as a thing that’s not cooperating or working correctly. I see my body for what it really is—alive. And living things need to be gently cared for and loved.

This year you won’t find me standing on a scale or trying to shrink myself into an old pair of jeans; this year you’ll find me in the bathtub, getting comfortable with my own skin and what an actual body—not some airbrushed, photoshopped Dream Size model—looks like. You’ll find me learning to tell myself that I’m beautiful rather than waiting to hear it from someone else. Instead of dieting this January 1st, I’m celebrating six years diet-free and that, unlike so many other numbers that I’ve worried over, is actually a number worth celebrating.

My New Year’s wish for all of you is that you’ll relax into your body. May you tell yourself you’re beautiful, and begin to mean it a little more each time you say those precious words. May you be reminded that you have worth and dignity. May you begin to believe that your body is magic. May you tell dieting to fuck off.


Special Update: January, with all its messages yelling that it’s time you get your butt and linen closet in gear, can be an especially hard time to practice self-care. Everything from our home organization to the shape of our bodies is called into question and scrutinized; everything seems to be old, outdated and in need of repair and a fresh coat of paint.

So I have a special treat for you. Every Friday, starting next week and going through February, I’ll be featuring a guest-post series by writers I respect on how they practice the art of self-care. Small, intimate slices of life that were dedicated to self-care and can help remind all of us to take care of ourselves.

Happy New Year. It might be a different year but you’re still the same fabulous, beautiful you.


You don’t have to

You don’t have to be good.
You don’t need to emotionally flog your tired soul
when you don’t meet your own definition of perfection.
You don’t have to be right.
Your theology doesn’t have to pristinely answer
all of your lingering, haunting questions.
You don’t have to be certain.
Your waves of doubt aren’t going to drown you;
they’ll help you to finally begin to heal.
You don’t have to be pure.
You’re not some white gown that can be spoiled;
you’re an enchantress, a body, a soul.
You don’t have to be devout.
Your beautiful life isn’t measured in how many
holy books you chant or prayers you whisper.
You don’t have to be tame.
You’re wild like the wind and fierce as fire,
you just don’t know it yet.
You don’t have to be selfless.
You’re a creature of worth and dignity,
and you deserve your care and kindness, too.
You don’t have to save the world.
You’re not responsible for saving more than one person,
and that person is you.

***

The first line, “You don’t have to be good,” was taken directly from Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem “Wild Geese.” After reading the first few line of her poem, I felt like I wanted to make a list of what I don’t have to do or be; I so often need to be reminded.