{my son turned 10 last week and I bought a Food Lion cake. I fought myself for about an hour over this. In the past I would have pushed through crazy fatigue to make a perfect one despite recognizing my limits that day}

When I read this post of going “off-brand”, her words reflected the conversations I have had over the years with friends about how easy it is for our ideals to begin to define us. I was once branded a “crunchy homeschooling mama” who naturally birthed, nursed on demand, wore my babies, didn’t vaccinate, made all my food from scratch with at least 80% being organic and/or locally sourced, crafted and sewed birthday and Christmas gifts, recycled, upcycled, cloth diapered, used a clothesline, toted cloth shopping bags (this was way before it was a trend and stores thought I was way weird), used cloth towels/napkins, made my own laundry detergent and all cleaning supplies, square foot gardened, relaxed homeschooled, camped/hiked, preserved food, raised chickens…

It’s interesting how these choices evolved into an identity for me. This natural way of living deeply resonated with me (it still does) and I thought the outcome would be wholesome, healthy and sustainable living. The fruit of living as intensely as I did turned out to be isolation and exhaustion. Who has time for others when you are so busy living a handcrafted life with many littles? When do I find deep soul and body rest when I have so much food to cook and gifts to make and children to guide into their interests? Work hard, focus, sacrifice for the greater good.

I had many young children and little money or physical support. I worked incredibly hard in my home to fashion a lifestyle that was meaningful, focused, creative and sacrificial. Many of these things brought me such joy and life but became an incredible amount of work and started becoming an emotional burden. My work began from the time I awakened with a baby strapped to me or a pregnant belly until I crashed hard around 8-9 every evening. This “sustainable life” was slowly revealing that it wasn’t sustainable at all.

I remember feeling an incredible amount of guilt after having one of my children and thinking that I really needed to buy paper plates to reduce the crazy amount of dishes I washed each day. The environmental and financial and aesthetic angst of that was a huge mental hurdle for me. Every little lifestyle decision became black-white battlegrounds in my mind…how could I have integrity and live well if I made concessions in these small areas of my life? How could I buy my kids a box of granola bars when I could make them myself with better, healthier ingredients? How could I allow that baby to cry for a little bit so I could find breath and rest when it will clearly scar him and our trusting bond FOREVER?

Every single little decision began to trap me into perfectionistic and idealistic rules. I felt like I had to absolutely fulfill every ideal even if it exhausted me body and soul and spirit in order to live with wholehearted intention and without hypocrisy. The result? I didn’t love well. Fatigue led to chronic irritation and the desire to escape. All the work left me heavy and distracted and disillusioned. I offered my young mothering self little grace and space while attempting to create this holistic life. Holistic living was supposed to guarantee simplicity but this “simplicity” actually ended up being complicated.

I look back at my well-meaning spirit and desire to live well with a twinge of sadness and with gentle compassion. We all have to walk out our paths and be humble enough to acknowledge when the quest for health becomes unhealthy. I was doing the best I could and I needed to hear again and again that I AM LOVED and IT’S OKAY and MY KIDS WILL BE OKAY.

I value faithfulness. I confused faithfulness to ideals with faithfulness to God. I wasn’t called to be faithful to cloth and craft, handmade and from-scratch. I am called to be faithful to Him and the path of love. Love can look like paper plates and store-bought cakes because it may be the thing that day that gives me space for receptivity and presence with Jesus and others. Love happens in the choices that help me be gentle and kind which may include Amazon gifts and Method laundry soap. The only rule is LOVE.

These days I try to ask myself this…does this choice reflect love or make space for me to be loving? The answer depends on the day, my schedule, my season. I default to natural and handmade because of preference but have no problem any longer chunking it if I feel like it moves me towards pressure, perfectionism or is fueled by shame. Living well is loving well and that often looks “off-brand” because the Spirit isn’t branded. He blows one way and then another and I simply need to open my eyes to see and ears to hear where He leads.