I’ve decided some things lately.

First, I’ve decided to stop feeling guilty that I haven’t been able to exercise for the past four months, that my once-toned edges are softening.

This is a big deal for me, considering this time last year I had started a movement of women exercising, eating right, and watching themselves embrace an epic health journey. Rhabdomyolysis killed all of that and I’ve been left with weak legs that are still sensitive to the touch and no ability to be what I was this time last year. Fortunately(ahem, sarcasm), we took hundreds of pictures during that time, and so there is no end to the self-loathing-fest around here as I see what I once was /what I now am popping up on our computer screen saver.

I don’t like self-loathing because it means my focus is entirely on me. Considering the state of the world and, oh you know, eternity and all that, I’ve decided to stop obsessing over my thighs. I had no idea that one exercise class would wreck my body and almost kill me. I had no idea that one years worth of hard work could be undone in just a few months of atrophy. I had no idea that strong was better than skinny, if you have your health you really have more than you need, and that photographs made in pride can turn around and be weapons of shame. But now I know. So I’m making my peace with the fact that I no longer have Michelle Obama’s arms, that we cancelled our gym membership to pay off debt, and the barbie-sized jeans I bought at the pinnacle of my skinniness are a bit too tight to fit. Or as Zion said the other day, when he saw me in those jeans and my bra, “uh oh! you fell out of your jeans! I’ll help tuck you back in, mama!” (as he attempts to push my love handles back into the place from whence they came.) He also told me my breath smelled good yesterday, so wins some / lose some.

Second, I’ve decided to be vigilantly on my own side.

We left social media last March and it’s taken me being this far removed from the comparison game to come to this decision. For me, social media was a place to measure the lives, adventures, creative endeavors, and house cleaning skills of everyone else with myself. As my friend said when I told her that we had quit for the year, “but it’s just the hot place for everyone to be right now.” Hot place or not, it was a prison to my own creativity, ingenuity, joy, authenticity, and purpose. Not always, but most of the time. And life is too long to spend most of the time feeling small, inadequate, or insufficient in doing one’s laundry. So not too long ago, when the twitching of missing social media finally died off, I decided it was time to be on my own side. I’ve second guessed enough creative projects, conversations, prayers, photographs and paragraphs to last a lifetime. These days, I am making things with joy, reckless abandon, and great surety. It’s a fucking blast.

Third, I’ve decided that I’m not the best and I don’t need to waste time trying to be the best.

There are some things I am really good at some of the time. There are some things I never plan on being excellent at, ever. There are some things I care deeply about and wish I was perfect at, but at the end of the day, I still fail. Take motherhood, for example. I am wildly and unabashedly in love with my children. Truly, there has never been a time in my life where I have been more fascinated, inspired, and captivated by who these three boys are. Guess what still happens every single day? I fail them. I still get caught up in work and selfishness and busyness and pride and I fail them. I am finding parenting is a messy two-step-shuffle between intention, devotion, and missed opportunity. I’ve been a parent for twelve years. TWELVE! Seth Godin says it takes 10,000 hours to be excellent, or a pro, at something. Well, our oldest has been alive for 12 years. Let’s say I’ve been a parent 8 hours a day for those years. That’s still 35,040 – three times the excellent/pro status. Most days I feel like I’m just beginning to log hour 500.

I will say the stakes in areas of expertise keep increasing and the growth curve is rapidly rising. Instead of “do we sleep them on their backs or on their tummies?” Recent questions between Jeremy and I go something like this:

How do we help Tyler succeed in school when he hates it?
When he gets bullied on the playground that day, why doesn’t he tell us?
Why does Micah feel the need to rub his good grades in his struggling brothers face?
What do we say when our kids doubt or misunderstand God?
How to we teach our boys how to love people who are different than them and respect others?
Why can’t they just share their legos with their baby brother?
What do we teach them about masturbation and pornography when most kids in their school bring a smartphone to class and have already seen graphic images?
How do we show empathy and care for Zion’s special needs but not let his tantrums run our house?
How do we get Zion to wear his leg braces for his CP when he is so happy running and playing without them?
What do we tell the kids about Syria? about racial tensions and brokenness? about mass shootings?

yep, shit’s getting real around here
Sometimes, I feel like we are doing a pretty good job at answering their questions and guiding them. But most of the time parenting feels like making photographs on film. You click the shutter in the moment with as much care as you can, and then you wait for awhile to see how it develops. Sometimes you aren’t focusing enough or paying close enough attention, and you miss it. Sometimes, it turns out beautifully. I’m not the best parent. Sure, if I was on social media today I could come up with a post that would make it appear like I am. Luckily I’m not living under that performance burden today and can just be honest and say, “I’m not the best and that’s ok.” Because I’m present. I am clicking the shutter. And I’m learning the outcome was never mine to decide anyways.

Lastly, I’ve decided if it’s not my job, it’s not my job.

There’s an NPR show Jeremy loves to listen to called, “Not my job” As far as I can tell, the premise is that famous or interesting professionals are brought on a quiz show and asked questions about something that isn’t their wheelhouse of expertise. So a chef will be quizzed on dog racing, a supermodel quizzed on the scale modeling of miniatures, an older lady in show business gets quizzed on cougars (the animal), etc.
I’ve spent a lot of my time the past few years thinking my job was to make things, then see them change the world. I did it with photographs, parenting, faith, social media accounts, and even the whole of my existence and purpose. I care about living a life filled with intention and wonder. I am a purpose hunting missile, always have been, probably always will be. But, as all things do when in the hands of humans, my desire for purpose quickly degenerates into selfish and unrealistic expectations.

I have found great freedom in knowing that certain things are my job, and certain things are not my job. It’s my job to show up to homes and weddings and events and make photographs. 
it’s not my job to decided what happens once those photographs are delivered and seen.
It’s my job to show up to my little writing trailer and to peck words out on a keyboard or scribble them in my notebook.
It’s not my job to accompany those words wherever they go once they leave here, and babysit them or police them as the reader takes them in.
It’s my job to mentor and teach other photographers and makers.
It’s not my job to stalk them and make sure they are faithful to the changes they swore they would make.
It’s my job to be a wife, lover, partner, and confidant to my husband.
It’s not my job to define, confine, or fulfill all of my husband’s needs.
It’s my job to be a parent and to be as present as possible for my children.
It’s not my job to save my children from hurt feelings, to protect them from reality, or to make them what I have planned for them to be.
It’s my job to show up and live.
It’s not my job to make anything change the world.

If I were being interviewed on “Not my job” today, the appropriate title would be “Maker and Human Ashley Parsons gets quizzed on being God.”
I have found great freedom in accepting my roles, my job, and then opening my hands of everything that comes after that. What happens to my photographs, words, prose, kids, lover, and life after I have shown up is not my job. That is a role far too divine for me.

So those are the things I’ve decided lately. Truth be told, I don’t necessarily think it was my idea to decide these things. I am a creative person, but I was made in the image of the Original Creator. I think He spoke them into me at just the right time. I think He spoke them into me the same way He speaks out every created thing he makes- with joy and reckless abandon, and great surety. It’s His job.

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