I'm Still Here, Just Different

It has been a minute since I posted, about two months actually. Are you still here?

I am.

How are you?

I'm different...

I've spent the last two months traveling around the country offering my Rising Ever Upward workshops and intensives. Oh the stories I have...but you'll have to wait for that book to come out! I've met some incredible people, grown this tribe, visited super cool cities, and eaten my fair share of amazing food! I believe in this work more than ever and am honored to continue to offer it and live it.

I wanted to stop by with a few updates:

  1.  I booked a TEDx talk!!! Actually 2! I am speaking at TEDxDearborn October 13th and TEDxLaSierraUniversity November 10th. I will let you know if these events will be livestreamed, and of course, share once they have made the TED website!
  2. More workshops and intensives are coming soon! Make sure to check here for future dates.
  3. My next book, The Complicated Gray, is in final edits as we speak! And, I am in development for the next one too!
  4. This fall I am launching a 3 part video series based on my workshops and intensives for network marketers.

Now for the different... I have done a lot of work and growth this year, especially in changing my relationship with my pain. This has enabled me to reach more people and build what is slowly but surely becoming an empire. While my team (I have a team guys, small and mighty, yay!) and I get our barrings, especially in figuring out what this looks like starting first with a one stop, all inclusive new website, I'd love to share a series I have started on my Facebook page called #TherapyThursdaywithJustine (TT). Each week we will post a new TT video for you here. If you don't want to miss them live each Thursday, make sure to like and follow at www.facebook.com/justinebfroelker.

Thank you for sticking with me. Thank you for the continued support, love, and prayers. There are really big and exciting things coming, and I can't wait to share them with my community here.

For now, here was a bonus TT (for FREE,  accountant Chad always likes to add) I did this week about judgment...

 
 

The Bounce House

A germ infested warehouse filled with bigger-than-life rainbow colored bounce houses, and we have the place to ourselves!  Stomach-dropping fun for every child, a place of refuge for their tired parents, and a place of nightmares for most infertile couples. But not for us.  We worked our way out of the nightmare to be the exception.

Some call us “childless.” Some even say we will never know true love.

My heart, full of a mother’s love, albeit longing love, begs to differ.

The soft structures breathe an undercurrent hum behind the happy squeals of the only two other children who are already there. Baby Ben is sleeping in his car seat.  McKinley kicks off her Crocs, my husband Chad unties his shoes, and I unzip my boots, racing to see whose stocking feet can hit the bright red vinyl floor of the bounce house first. We both run after McKinley as she hurls her tiny, not-quite-three-year-old self into the soft structure.

“Wait for us!” I yell, already immersed in breathless excitement.

All I can hear are her giggles. I fall into the sides a few times before I have my bearings, but quickly, because McKinley is attempting to scale a wall that is way too big for her.

Her smile and laughter burst brighter than the colored world we are stumbling in. She flings her body in complete abandonment, jumping so high that our faces cramp from smiling so much. For an hour we trail behind her, playing, helping her up the ladders, so she can climb walls that are too big for her tiny arms and legs.

“Hold onto the straps so you can pull yourself up,” I say.

“Come on, McKinley. You can do it!” Chad says looking down at her from the top.

“Okay,” she assures me with a nod of her tiny head, grabbing the strap.

This small teaching lights a spark under her as she races up the ladder at double the speed. My knees ache as I try to catch up to her.

All three of us perch precariously at the top of a slide that is much bigger than I anticipated, as McKinley shouts, “Race!”

My stomach drops at the steepness of the slide and a laugh escapes my smile so loud I even startle myself.

“Again, again!” McKinley shouts.

“Okay!” I shout back in a high pitched goofy voice, much to her delight.

“Myself,” she states back, brimming with threenager attitude.

This time I wait for her at the bottom, my arms open for her. Her blonde hair sticks straight up as she catches wind on the way down, her face shining with unbridled joy like only a toddler’s can.

My thirty-six year old back is telling me I need a break, so I go over to the bench where my friend Casey is holding Ben. I take Ben out of her arms with a smile silently saying to her, thank you for letting me love your children, my chosen children.

At only eleven weeks old, he has the new baby smell that fills my nose with maternal love. His eyes light up and he cracks a huge smile imitating back to me my joy. I nuzzle him, smile at him and feel his warmth in my arms, making sure to soak in every scent, smile and snuggle that I can.

Casey asks, “Want me to take him back so you can go and play again?”

“I’m good for now,” I say.

“Need a little break, huh?” Casey asks, as if to say, we are getting so old aren’t we?

She assumes my body needs a break but it’s my heart that needs one most. I glance back at Chad picking up McKinley to help her make a shot in the basketball bounce house. They are both giggling and jumping everywhere. The thought creeps in ever-so-slightly, just like it usually does.

He would have been a great dad.

God, I wanted them so badly.

Two back surgeries and a year in a body cast annihilated the first rendition of our parental dreams. A couple of failed rounds of  In Vitro Fertilization with a gestational surrogate, tens of thousands of dollars and three lost babies later we ended our journey without the desired, hoped for, dreamed of and paid for outcome of our own children.

Instead, all we have left of them is a black and white picture of their eight cell embryo beings.

In our world’s most accepted definition of the word “parent,” we will never meet the criteria. I will never birth a child and we are not adopting one.

But childless we are not. We are childfull parents, birthing a rare kind of parenthood. We must seek out, ask for and remain open enough to receive the gift of being involved in our friends’ children’s lives, our chosen children. This love will be our legacy, left not in biological children we raise but in our chosen children’s lives.

My mind wanders to a scene not long ago when two sisters walked into our home with the bright eyes of children who know they are getting an awesome gift. Hannah, the oldest, handed me a handwritten note with my name spelled wrong, yet phonetically right, that read, “Thank you for the costumes Justiene.”

“Can we try them on now?” she asked.

The house was filled with the familiar smells of Thanksgiving dinner, our first with our new friends and their three daughters. “Let’s eat first, then we will have the most awesome fashion show ever,” I said.

After lunch, we all rushed to the basement. Hannah and her younger sister Maya squealed with excitement at the site of the huge trunk filled with a lifetime of my dance costumes.  “We can have all of them?” Hannah asked.

“You can! But only if we make up dances and have a recital when I come over to play.”

“Thank you,” they both said without being prompted by their mom.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

I helped the girls try on all the costumes for the next hour, tap shoes, tiaras, tutus and all. I looked at their mom Izzy with gratitude, Thank you for letting me love your daughters.

All while thinking, God, I hope we’re always allowed to be such active parts of our chosen children’s lives.

“How old is he?” a very blonde mother asks, interrupting my thoughts. I notice quickly she is playing on her phone while her two kids run and bounce away.

I give myself permission to think the first thought that comes as the woman who can’t have kids, Play with your kids, lady. You get to have them.

I know all-too-well how little time and care most mothers provide for themselves, especially as a mental health therapist. Most of my work with mothers consists of teaching them how to take better care of themselves, so they don’t end back up in my office in their fifties lost and completely empty. I quickly practice my empathy and think, I’m so glad moms have places like this to entertain their kids a bit so they can get the occasional break.

“Eleven weeks,” I smile and reply to her question.

“Oh my gosh, you look aaaamaaazing!” she exclaims.

“Oh no, he isn’t mine. We’re in town visiting.”  I point to Casey and say, “That’s his mom, my friend Casey.”

“Oh, well, you look great too!”

We all exchange obligatory smiles and I walk away before she can ask me where my own kids are.

Shit, Justine, don’t get sad. Breathe! Stay present.

Standing with Ben in my arms, I shift my focus back to Chad and McKinley bouncing away, as I allow the sadness to well up inside of me. Some days it comes in waves like this, waves of sadness triggered by thoughts like, It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Other days it is the longing for my three children who never took a breath of this earth’s fresh air.

Always, I acknowledge the thoughts and the feelings, giving myself permission to feel them all.

I am simply too afraid not to, because then it is like they never existed, and they are our children. Even if the only thing we have left of them, besides our longing hearts and changed lives is a picture from our infertility clinic.

I fight to take a breath and look down at Ben. He is a true miracle in my life. I take another breath, deeper and more knowing, and look back at Chad and McKinley jumping like crazy in the bounce house together. With yet another deeper breath, a space begins to open up within me, allowing the sadness to move just enough to grant space for another choice.

I am so grateful.

I am grateful for this life.

I am grateful we were given our never-to-be babies. I am grateful we were chosen as their parents if only to love them from afar.

Because they are what we have.

And, don’t we love what we get at the end of the day?

 
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Those three babies, who I never got to meet, made me a mother; a mother who loves endlessly and who loves well.

A love with lifelong wonder of who they would have been and who we could have been as parents. A loss, I must choose, every damn day, in how it defines me for the rest of my life. Because who I become because of them is how I choose to honor them.

McKinley runs full force past me into another bounce house as Chad takes the baby from me. “Go play for a while,” he says as he kisses the top of my head.

“Thank you,” I reply allowing him, and only him, to see my eyes glistening with the slightest of tears. I run to catch McKinley headed up the ladder to the big slide. We reach the top together, Chad waiting at the bottom for us holding one of our many chosen children. I feel the pull of my forever longing and my gratitude, all at the same time. We make eye contact to silently say to one another, It is okay. We are okay. And, this is amazing still.

I hold McKinley’s hand tight, throw my head back, let laughter explode from my gut and fill my soul, as we slide down together one more time.

~~~

I wrote this piece over 8 months ago, in fact baby Ben just turned one year old! After working with my friend Laura Munson editing it and submitting it to well over 20 platforms and magazines, I decided I had been rejected and waited enough. Because I love this piece and I love these children. So I brought my bounce house home to Ever Upward, where it has belonged the whole time.

11 Easy Ways to Calm the F Down

I’m tired all the time.I am not sleeping well.

I worry so much.

I just want to be happier.

I feel like my life is passing me by.

All comments I hear from almost every single client who has ever had the courage to walk into my therapy office. These are also comments I hear from just about all of my friends and family on a regular basis.

As a true educator and mental health therapist I have a usual first recommendation for just about every single client and my loved ones: self-care.

So much of our lives will be improved by working on self-care, however most of us are not choosing to make the time to practice it daily. Self-care that includes a morning and nighttime routine, exercise, proper nutrition, supplementation, water intake, meditation and true talk therapy, especially talking about shame and fear must be practiced daily.

We cannot give from an empty well.

Practicing self-care fills up our well.

The biggest eye rolls and groans I ever get?

That, of course, would be whenever I mention the word meditation.

Despite the growing research and popularity of meditation it, unfortunately, is still far from a household name, let alone a daily practice.

The biggest complaints about meditation being:

I don’t have time to meditate!

I can’t get my brain to shut off!

I don’t know how!

My responses to these complaints, right after, “I know, it can feel so hard!” are:

Meditating will actually help you to feel like you have more time and energy!

It is really more about focusing and freeing your mind than shutting it off!

There are so many ways to try!

I practice what I teach and have meditated more days than not the last four years despite being wired as someone who will never be naturally meditative and calm.

As my new acupuncturist asked me a few weeks ago, “Do you consider yourself pretty Type A?”

To which my response was a scoffing and owning, “Um, yes!”

“You’re pretty intense aren’t you?” he asked.

“I am. I like it. I’ve learned to manage it and I don’t want you to take it away,” I proudly stated back.

Type A, intense or passionate, no matter how you describe it, it is one of my best qualities.

It can also be the quality that kills me if I am not careful.

Our strengths can become our weaknesses, and so I’ve learned to manage my intensity with my self-care practices, and especially with my mediation practices. The most helpful way I have stuck with my meditations is to have a toolbox of different ways and resources to meditate.

Because I have chosen to find some way to meditate most days, my sleep, mood, presence, immunity and happiness are all much improved!

Here are some of my favorite resources to get you started as well, give me five to ten minutes every day for the next 21 days using one of these techniques:

  1. Color in an adult coloring book. I love Johanna Basford.
  2. Use an app like: HeadSpace (my personal favorite), OMG I Can Meditate, Calm, Mindvalley Academy 6 Phase Meditation (my new favorite) or Oprah and Deepak’s app.
  3. Watch a candle flame.
  4. Use an scented essential oil, rub it on your hands and wrists and sit quietly, when you get distracted smell your wrists and refocus your mind.
  5. Listen to the same instrumental song every single day. Breathe by Stanton Lanier is my favorite.
  6. Search a guided meditation on YouTube.
  7. Use a mantra. For example: I am calm or I am loved or Love (in breath), Peace (out breath). Repeat it over and over.
  8. Chanting like from Gabby Bernstein’s YouTube channel.
  9. Try acupuncture.
  10. Count your breaths, inhale 1, exhale 2, inhale 3, exhale 4 and so on. Only count to 10 then start back at 1. Repeat for ten minutes
  11. A real time feedback tool, my favorite is Muse. Muse provides you with nature sounds for feedback, such as birds chirping when you are in the calm state.
 
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So sit your @ss down and try one of these meditations for ten minutes every single day.

Challenge accepted?

I bet you feel a difference for the better, and if you don’t let me know.

But, I’ll probably tell you to try again with a different tool.

It is all about being open to new things and finding what works for you.

Go out my intense, passionate, Type A warriors and find the glory of calm.

~~~

The only affiliate link above is Muse. By purchasing Muse through this link you get 15% off the purchase price and I make a small commission. All the other links are simply because I love their work and have found them helpful in my journey.

***Contains Amazon Affliliate links.

Momscast Podcast

I knew a few months ago when I was interviewed by Mel of Momscast I knew it was my best interview to date. To get words like great vulnerability, humor and wisdom to describe my messages from some of my fellow bloggers and friends is the sparkle on top.  I'm so proud of this interview and excited to share some of my new messages. Please share far and wide. Thanks so much! 

Click here to listen

Penned Musing: A Lot

Today's writing prompt felt like it needed to be shared. What if you stopped asking permission to be yourself and stopped apologizing for who that person is?

~~~

Chin up. Chill out. Calm down. You're so intense. Don't be so dramatic.

The messages from life, society and sometimes, even people I love.

Sometimes meant to shame, other times meant for love.

I am a lot.

And, I love all of her.

I feel. I love. I fight.

Hard.

I am everything of wholehearted.

Fully and completely sincere. Enthusiastic. Energetic. Hearty. Earnest.

I am pure energy. I am whole love.

I love loud. I live full. I am mighty.

I am a lot.

 
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The Permission of And

  I stand on my brick patio looking up at the churning sky. My lush butterfly gardens, all four of them, surround me with all the shades of green you can imagine and the sweetest scents to ever fill my nose.

I force the deep breath in through my nose in an attempt to not allow the sobs to escape and tears to roll.

I look up, GodI need something. Take this away if it isn't for Your good or Your plan. Give me something, show me what I need to keep going, that I am on the right track. Please give me the strength either way.

Three pleads. Three requests.

Three.

And, there they are again.

I release the deep breath from my mouth which only seems to give permission for the tears to come.

I breath in again, breathing in how much my soul longs for my three, Have you forgotten me?

I make myself pause with my exhale; stopping to listen.

The birds are chirping and the wind is blowing through my milkweed plants and all the trees.

In the breath of the wind and churning of the sky I hear, I am here child. I've got it. I am good. Trust me.

I feel a new and slight sense of peace and my lingering frustration. Once again, I am reminded of the complicated gray I feel everyday without my children here on earth.

The complicated gray of the longing joy and the childless mother.

With eyes and heart wide open to receive and the courage to ask, the next two weeks He fills my life with example after example of the complicated gray. As if He is saying, Make the time, this is your path, write it, share it, shine it.

The client who is about to deliver her sons after years of trying; feeling happy and scared.

My team who battles the fear of what others think and their belief and bravery to help others and share something they believe in.

The client who loves and must let go of people she really cares about.

The reader who is finally pregnant after years of trying only to realize her fear is stealing her joy.

The muck between knowing we are worthy, lovable, enough and the old stories our head tells us that we aren't.

The acquaintance who desperately wants and needs to make a change in her life and feels comfortable even if it is in her known misery.

The client who is very early in a pregnancy after a miscarriage and a stillbirth, feeling the pull to protect the memory of her sons while also loving and hoping for this new baby.

My pride in a growing business and the frustration in it not happening fast enough.

All of it the complicated gray and what I am learning is my gift for this world.

 
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Because the complicated gray is the permission to change the but to an and.

Giving ourselves permission to feel it all, all at the same time; the anger and acceptance, the  joy and the longing, the fear and the hope.

The permission to walk into the muck of the gray between the certainties of life; allowing ourselves to hold both truths, as difficult and uncomfortable as that is, we will awaken to life in color.

The anxious hope. The doubting worth. The frustrated belief. The boundaried love. The yearning acceptance.

The longing joy as the childless mother.

So, I will continue to fight for this next book because it is needed, I see the power in it every day in my life and He seems to be reminding me of it more and more.

Thank you for your patience as I continue my advocacy work, my jobs that actually pay the bills and working on the follow up to Ever Upward. And, I'll take whatever prayers, positive sparkles, love and shares/tweets/likes you've got.

We Are More Than 1 in 8

I've been attacked for my infertility journey. I've been misunderstood.

I've been judged.

I've been pitied.

I've been ignored.

I've also been loved, listened to and supported through it and still thereafter. 

National Infertility Awareness Week is April 24th-30th and I want to make sure we all feel seen and heard this year.

No matter where you are in the infertility journey. No matter what your ending was from it. No matter how your family has been defined. Kids. No kids. Adoption. Surrogacy. Donor. Successful treatments. Unsuccessful treatments. Any level of treatments. Any diagnosis. Any length of time. Longing grandparents or aunts and uncles. Parents of loss. Longing parents.

Whatever your story is, was and may be through the infertility journey; our voices are stronger together, we are fellow warriors.

What people say or think about infertility, or their lack of understanding or acknowledgement, does not define us or our happiness.

We define it.

Our journey to wholeness is our ever upward.

 
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There are still millions of people hiding their infertility battle in shamed silence.  Change starts with us.  Let's show the world what more than 1 in 8 really looks like.

Together we can open the doors to a much needed, and much bigger and healthier conversation that brings us healing, growth, love and happiness - in forms that are uniquely you.

Let's see your ever upward, even if it's still in progress, and stand together.

For ourselves. For our families. And for those who are fighting alone.

Over the next few weeks I would love to hear from  you, and especially see you!

 
 We are #MoreThan1in8. I am thriving after infertility by shining my light through the darkness of the journey for others. I am thriving through self-care and love because my work, my life, honors my babies.

We are #MoreThan1in8. I am thriving after infertility by shining my light through the darkness of the journey for others. I am thriving through self-care and love because my work, my life, honors my babies.

 

Let's make the world hear our shattered silence and see our faces; the voices and the faces of the battle of infertility and it's survivors.

Send me a picture of you (and your spouse or family) via email or by posting on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Make sure to tag me and/or Ever Upward and use #MoreThan1in8. I'd love to hear how you are surviving and thriving through and after infertility. What makes you more than 1 in 8?

Throughout the week of April 24-30th I will have a surprise that tells all of our stories using our pictures.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/everupwardblog

Instagram: www.instagram.com/jlbf4

Twitter: @JustineFroelker

Email: everupwardbook@gmail.com

Choosing to Make the Time

Today I am part of the Rewired Life Blog Tour, where we are all exploring and digging deeper in the concepts of Loving yourself, Healing your body and mind, and Celebrating life. Click here to read all of the other amazing bloggers!!! ~~~

Four years ago my life fell apart and together all at once.

And every day since, I've fought, white knuckled, practiced and chosen my life in recovery.

There is not much like a failed infertility journey, three lost babies and the darkness of grief, anger and general life-isn't-fair-and-I'm-the-victim to get you deep in the darkness.

And still, I believe, we must realize that it is always a choice.

A choice to be a victim to life, a victim to what has happened, what has been done, the losses. traumas and tragedies or a choice to overcome through choosing how to respond to it and redefining ourselves and our lives.

Just a week ago one of my clients said,

I know you are so, so busy. How do you do it? How do you still do all the self-care?

With ownership of my own work I responded,

I make the time. No one has time for anything extra in their lives. We are all busy, too busy. We must choose to make the time for what we want and need in our lives. My happiness and sanity ride on me choosing daily self-care.

She responded with a bit of exasperation in her voice,

But when do you do it? How do you find the time?

Four years into my practice of fighting for my redefined happy life it is easy to instruct someone on this work,

I think good and doable self-care is 3-5 things every morning and 3-5 things every night before you go to sleep that you make the time for. Some days it is a complete struggle and I must force myself. I force myself because those choices are aligned with who I want to be. Other days those choices are natural and easy, but this is also years into my journey.

She replies,

And, you still do it all? Every day?

With authentic honesty I reply,

Pretty much very damn day.

There must come a point for us all that we have had enough. Enough of feeling miserable. Enough of being busy with things we don't care about or that don't make us happy.

Enough.

The hardest part of reaching that state of enough is that it means finding the time and space to add more to your life. One more thing, that we already feel like we cannot possibly fit in. Except that one more thing is finally choosing to make the time to change our lives through taking care of ourselves.

 
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My daily choices to choose the life I want through my self-care has not only saved me from the darkness that follows when life doesn't turn out how you hoped and dreamed, but it has opened me up to receive the life filled with dreams I never even imagined.

So I challenge you, what can you add to the start of your day and the end of your day, every single day, that will fill you up?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Color! Adult coloring are not only a fad, the relaxing and creativity building effects of them are being more and more supported in the research.

Meditate! Some of my favorite resources are the Headspace app, The Tapping Solution or using a song or a scent.

Intentional reading! A devotional of some kind, does not have to be religious necessarily. My favorites are anything by Sarah Young (Christian) and Panache Desai'sFinding Your Soul Signature.

Journal! Write about your day, the peaks and valleys and most especially finish it with a gratitude. I prefer 1-3 things that I am grateful for (they have to be different every day). Then I write 3-5 sentences about why I am grateful for one of those things.

Write! Set a timer and write for five minutes based on a random writing prompt you find online.

Walk! Specifically, walk outside in nature and practice presence. How many shades of green do you see? What do you smell? Do you feel the wind?

Read! Especially at night before you go to sleep, read a real book!

Hobby! Do, practice or create something that gets you excited and makes you curious. For me, it is gardening, raising monarch butterflies and volunteering.

Gratitude! It is the single most important and life changing skill for getting out of this thriving and not only surviving.

~~~

Yesterday we heard from Yogi Tish over at her blog Ocho Brazos Yoga.

Coming Monday we get to hear from Dan Mason over at Creative Soul Coaching.

Finally, don't miss a free sample chapter of Rewired Life by my friend Audrey Michel here.

15 Promises to the Couple Dreaming of Babies

Five years ago this week Chad and I placed an ad on a surrogacy website beginning the journey to make our family. Besides the obvious differences of less hair (sorry Chad) and more wrinkles between our two pictures, there is a lifetime of things you cannot necessarily see. To start...

 
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  • a healthy, stronger and better marriage.
  • three babies who live only in our forever scarred hearts.
  • a woman found.
  • happiness.
  • trust and faith in God.
  • new curiosities, purpose and passions.

And so, with these five years of hell and back, through the darkness of a failed infertility journey, this is what I would say to that couple five years ago who was dreaming, planning, hoping and paying for babies:

  1. It will be okay. Even if you do not get the 2.5 kids out of this, I promise, it can be okay.
  2. You must turn towards one another; remember why you looked at one another and chose each other to do life with. I promise, it was not only to procreate.
  3. Find you and your identity in many things. And, it is not only as your roles to one another as husband and wife or your roles as parents.
  4. You can be pissed at God. It is okay to ask why and think you deserve more and better; and still feel His love and trust Him always. Don't forget to breathe and look up.
  5. Give yourself permission to feel it all, all at the same time; afraid and brave, sad and joyful, angry and accepting, longing and content. Your clarity, your answers and your truth lie in the complicated gray of it all.
  6. Decide your limits, how much and how long, together. Know they are not set in stone. Be honest with yourself and with one another. Ask for what you want and need. Together you can get through this stronger.
  7. Remain open. You will have many choices. What you think is not survivable, is. What you think is the only happy ending, is not the only version.
  8. You can always make more money but you must be realistic with the long term effects of spending what you don't technically have.
  9. Even though you will feel invisible and ignored for the rest of your life at times, trust you are seen, known and loved by those who really matter.
  10. Find the things to be grateful for, it will be the single most helpful and significant thing for coming out of this alive.
  11. Speak your story even more. It will be the only way you get the support you will desperately need through this.
  12. Forgive others often and over and over. They don't get it, but they do try and mean well most of the time.
  13. Don't be so harsh and judgmental towards yourself. Unfortunately, you will get plenty of this from some of your loved ones and society, be nice to yourself and to one another.
  14. It is only through this struggle that your dreams will come true. And even though they may not look like how you had hoped they are even more than you can imagine.
  15. You will be parents. And, every day you will honor and love your three in how much love and light you put into this world.
 
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Penned Musing: Rude Awakening

Sitting across from my new friend at her kitchen table she says,

My friend follows you on Instagram. She said she sometimes feels guilty that she got kids and you didn't.

I smile with loving appreciation and reply,

I wasn't always this person. God gave me those three babies, I have no doubt, to make me fight for the person I am today. No guilt needed.

Do we really have to suffer and lose to gain?

Only with the hindsight of time and the work of recovery do we actually walk into the gain.

Would I trade it all for my babies?

No doubt.

Do I consider this all a gift and trust it is exactly as it is supposed to be?

Absolutely.

I was different before. My demons much more powerful, keeping me shackled in the darkness of mild depression, anxiety, and most of all, perfectionism and scarcity.

I struggled daily. What I did not know then is that a huge part of my struggle was not fully embracing all the parts of my story and of myself. Accepting that happiness is a perspective, a choice and work.

And most of all finding my voice, my light and living it out loud without apology.

It is a rude awakening.

Because when you awaken, you awaken to the dark parts of you and your weaknesses.

But in the fully awakened in color life you also realize that within this darkness is also your light.

That in this complicated gray of the dark and the light of ourselves lies our truest self.

 
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Time Flies Through Forever Ago

The two little girls see us come into the bowling alley and their faces light up with the childlike smiles I love and yearn for each day. Granted I am holding a shiny present in my hand for them, so that excitement is most likely for the gift and our presence is just an added bonus.

We laugh, we bowl and we chat for the next couple of hours until they open their Christmas gift (better late than never) from Chad and I.

The wonder of what is underneath the shiny holiday wrapping that melts into the joy of the gift they absolutely love is something that will never get old to me.

And, with the direction from their mom, as is required of any elementary age kid, "What do you tell Justine and Chad?"

"Thank you!" they say in unison not even looking up from their new found treasure.

The moments of childfull living I seek to create, work to accept and am beyond grateful for.

After bowling Chad and I head out for a quick bite to eat. Over some chips and guacamole we realize that ever elusive concept of time, realizing that Chad has been at his "new" job for 4 years this March.

"It's gone by so fast," we both agree.

It is then that I realize what next month will be for us.

"Next month is five years since we started our infertility journey." I say through a sense of disbelief and knowing all in the same breath.

Chad replies, "Now that, for some reason, feels like forever ago."

"I know, kind of weird right?" I reply back.

He shifts his focus down to his plate of warm, delicious Mexican food.

"Maybe it is because everything is so different, and in many ways better and healthier." I say with the complete embodiment of the complicated gray.

Because those five years have flown by but only through forever ago; five years ago I placed an ad on a surrogacy website asking for advice and more information. Little did we know what would lie ahead for us. That through the black fog of synthetic hormones, through the desperation of tens of thousands of dollars spent and loans taken out, through the devastating loss of three babies and through the soul crushing and soul completing bittersweet decision to define our own happy ending lay the life we choose to live now.

It has only been through this forever ago, that we were able to create this incredible childfull life we live today. An incredible life laced with forever longing of our babies, like a heavy stone I carry in my pocket always, and with the joy and health we've worked hard to create and maintain.

This is living life in the complicated gray; embracing the mucky space between grief and joy, the dark and the light, to awaken to life in color.*

 
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*Watch for updates here and on my social media as I continue to work on my 2nd book, The Complicated Gray.

Penned Musing: Flight of Feathers

She looks around and sees the speckles of blood littering the sidewalk with bright red splashes, almost as if firecrackers bright in the night sky. The white feathers float all around.

The mother in her looks frantically around tuning her ears to hear a distressed bird to only hear silence.

The feathers are everywhere but nothing else.

I guess that is good, she thinks to herself, she must have been okay enough to fly away.

She is only left to wonder and be in awe of those feathers.

What do the mean as the float around one of her favorite places in all the earth? They're scattered around her light and love filled butterfly garden. The place she seeks and feels God. The place she quiets her mind and fills her soul.

Those feathers, some fluffy white and others big and bold in color, like mere wisps in the wind; a reminder that many things are never meant to be caught.

Again, the constant lesson of letting go in her life.

 
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*Penned Musings are posts based off of my daily writing prompts. You can read more here.

Petite Post: The Empty Well

Sometimes our loved ones do not have what we need, or perhaps, what we deserve. Our work is in accepting their limitations, loving them anyways and setting boundaries if need be.

 
My version of Johanna Basford's Secret Garden adult coloring book.
My version of Johanna Basford's Secret Garden adult coloring book.
 

Stop going to an empty well expecting there to be water.

But, also do not be the person who stops going to the well completely, because people can change, grow and surprise us.

Instead, go to the well to enjoy the sun, the beautiful flowers and the peace you can find in yourself and in your acceptance.

And, if there is water one day, if your loved one can give you what you want, need and deserve, you can be pleasantly surprised.

*An updated excerpt from Chapter 5 of Ever Upward.

Four Days Before Christmas

December 21st for most people marks just four days before Christmas. The mad rush to the grocery store to get all the ingredients for Christmas dinner and the sweet treats we all love. The last minute shopping, braving the stores filled with people, for those gifts that just came to mind. And, the finalizing of the schedule of when and where we must be and who we all need to see. December 21st  for me is all of the above plus the yearly reminder of our final due date. The last embryo of our IVF journey, should our baby had taken solid footing in Michelle's womb, would have been due today.

 
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It is a day I remember all three of them the most, probably because of the holiday season.

A day forever scarred on my soul with the wonderings of who they would have been and who I might have been.

A day filled with longing acceptance.

A day I honor them and myself.

More than ever before in this lifelong journey I feel myself embracing what can only be described as the complicated gray of planting my feet firmly and yet spreading my arms to soar and to receive.

I am finally letting go of the hustle to be seen and instead am truly embodying my work to know I am not invisible; standing my sacred ground in all of who I am and knowing He sees, knows and loves me most. It has only been with this work in letting go that my voice has begun to roar again, allowing continuing healing and advocating in a way that does not leave me abandoned.

Our babies would have been three this year, and I don't think it is at all a coincidence that my grief and my ever upward journey is much like a lovable and very opinionated threenager; oscillating between stubborn temper tantrums and funny, loving cuddles.

And so this day, my three babies, I speak about you, breathing your life into this world. And I love you always with the longing yet full heart of a mother with empty arms. Thank you for changing me, thank you for making me a mother.

What I Wish Others Knew

I hit my knees in gratitude yesterday when this piece went up. I have submitted several times to mindbodygreen and am thankful and sooooo excited this piece was chosen. It is a piece that I feel like I am finally figuring out my balance between my truth and my mission. I hope I made you proud too.

My IVF Treatments Failed. Here's What I Wish Others Struggling With Infertility Knew

In our Realtalk series, we're sharing personal stories about fertility and family planning. We hope they offer support and inspire honest conversation about an incredibly tough topic.

Infertility treatments did not work for my husband and me. Unlike other families, we don't have a long list of years of trying and endless procedures.

Financially, all we could afford was one round of in vitro fertilization. And when it didn't work, and we lost our two babies, we took a loan out the next day to try again. In the end, we lost three.

Continue reading here and please share!

Small and Mighty

Wherever I travel I visit the local butterfly pavilion/house/garden/sanctuary/palace, this should not be a surprise to you by now folks. My recent annual trip with my parents to Branson, Missouri always means a trip to The Butterfly Palace. This year we only had to share the space with a handful of people on a slow day in December and of course around 1,000 butterflies. Walking around in the warm humid air, as sweat trickled down my back, I took pictures for the blog and thanked God for the miracle and beauty of the butterfly.

During the butterfly release I was blessed to meet a Butterfly Palace employee as she noticed my tattoo. Through a quick explanation of my story, honoring my babies and telling her about the meaning of butterflies to me, I made a quick connection with someone who gets it; a fellow warrior in life, a survivor of the struggle.

She soon found Ever Upward and commented:

I love your honesty and your transparency. I think if you were a butterfly you’d be a beautiful, delicate-yet-strong Glasswing!

 
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And so, after a quick Google search on the Glasswing butterfly I am astonished at the home I feel in the parallels to this incredible creature.

The Glasswing butterfly has wings which are quite literally see-through. Where other butterflies have scales, the Glasswing does not. The transparent wings make it difficult to see the butterfly, at times making it appear invisible.

Not much unlike how invisible I can feel as a woman without children in our society. Often times feeling forgotten, left behind and misunderstood. I find myself fighting the urge to hustle to be seen and overwhelmed by the fear that I am invisible.

The Spanish name for the glasswing is ‘espejitos’. Literally translated, this means little mirrors.

 
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Not much unlike how much I am constantly doing the work to see myself, to work on my own insight and improve my well-being and self; in other words owning my shit. The work of self-evaluation and self-responsibility has been the only way I have dug my way out, chosen change, embraced all the parts of my story and defined my own happy ending.

The Glasswing is one of the strongest species of butterflies. Although it might look delicate and perhaps even powerless, it has the ability to carry nearly 40 times its own weight. It is also very fast, with the ability to fly up to eight miles per hour for short periods of time.

Not much unlike me, I am little but strongly capable. And for those who know me well, you know that I do nothing slow...ever (sometimes to my own demise).

And so, I guess I see a lot of myself in the Glasswing butterfly and again am in complete awe of the lessons, the connections and the miracles; of this incredible life.

And there is your biology lesson for the day ;)!

The Gift of Childfull Living

 
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"What do you want to do today Evan?" I ask him with just as much excitement as his three year old bright blue eyes are beaming with. "Just(ine) Dance!"

Of course, we could probably play Just Dance all day long if I let him.

My friend Sam thinks I was helping her out on this random Friday, when in reality she was handing me a gift. She was headed out of town for a girls weekend and her husband not quite back in town yet from business, and so I had a full day with their youngest son, Evan. We had the whole day to ourselves, just needed to be home in time sitting in the cul-de-sac for his two big brothers to get home from school.

 
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And so we played Just(ine) Dance before heading out to ride the carousel and see butterflies (of course). He fell pretty hard at lunch, scaring me half to death before being completely cured by a few cuddles. We played games. Many, many games; three rounds of Candyland, half a round of Sorry! and three rounds of Memory to be exact.

"Oh yea, oh yea!" He says doing a wiggle victory dance as he literally scores 7 matches beating me in the game of Memory.

We finish our day looking at pictures and videos from the day while we wait for his brothers to get off the bus. As they run up Lane hands me his turkey art and Noah is asking to go to a friend's house.

 
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"Nope, we're going to play together today, your dad will be home soon." I say with the most motherly sternness I attempt to channel from Sam.

After a bit of moaning we settle on playing Battleship in teams...and we laugh.

And I feel myself fill up with the gift of childfull living.

~~~

She walks in with the look of yearning any child on the cusp of getting a gift they've been excited about would have. She hands me her handwritten thank you card, "Thank you Justiene for the costumes."

And she immediately, follows up with the question, "Can we try them on now?"

I kneel down on her level and promise her, "We're going to eat Thanksgiving lunch first and then we'll get out all the costumes and you both can do a fashion show for us. For now, how about you go downstairs and play?"

With the true disappointment of crushed dreams, Hannah takes her sister Maya downstairs to play Just Dance.

It was their first Thanksgiving with us, as they were new, yet quick,  friends of ours from church. We don't have kids to enjoy the holidays with and my friend Izzy does not have her family here, so I asked them to Thanksgiving day with us when in reality I was basically asking them to become part of our chosen family.

After lunch, we all headed downstairs, my parents included, to go through the massive trunk of dance costumes from my childhood. Costumes ranging from when I started dance at age 4 to when dance was taken away by two back surgeries at age 13.

 
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The memories flooded me in songs and steps as I pulled out each costume for Hannah and Maya to run to the bathroom to try on. They both would run/skip/saunter/dance out to show off how each costume looked on them.

 
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The steps Maya made up in the emerald green with gold beads and green feathers. The twirl Hannah spun with the red ballet skirt flowing out from her. The pure joy on everyone's face, especially theirs and most definitely mine.

And again, I fill up with the gift of childfull living.

~~~

One of the only ways I have thrived after failed infertility treatments is by making sure to have children in my life. Creating this childfull life means I am not left a shell of a mother, it means defining my own happy ending.

It is a true gift, this childfull life; a gift I must ask for, a gift I must receive and a gift that has not come without the cost of loss.

But a gift it is; a gift of grace.

 
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Penned Musing: I Don't Care

Penned Musings are posts based off of my daily writing prompts. You can read more here. ~~~

"I don't care." she looks at me with eyes so full of pain I knew she meant it.

"Don't care about...?" I ask her back with my eyebrows slightly raised leaning my body somewhat forward, exuding the love and blessing I desperately need her to feel from me but more so from herself.

"Anything." she declares now more with a frustrated adamancy that I know as the stubbornness that is the suffocating stuck we can all feel in the dark.

"Then what made you show up today?" I question with love, curiosity and a tad of that I-know-the-answer-and-I-know-you-do-too sarcasm.

Her eyes shift downward as they fill with tears and her body relaxes softly into the dark brown leather of my couch. The geese fly overhead in the picture window of my office which makes it feel as if we are sitting in a sunlit washed tree house rather than a therapist's office. The geese are practicing their V formation as I feel the shift of change both in the room and the season they are doing flight practice for.

Change of the work ahead.

Change of the glimmer of fear and faith of something better.

Change that she dreams, hopes and wants it to be different.

I across from her sit knowing the journey as I've walked it myself, some days still walking through the dark into the light and love of the life I choose.

Drowning the I don't care.

Because I do.