Nov 10, 2014

When the Curtain Pulls Back and I Can See


This morning we walked to school through the woods.  

Our breaths made hot little puffs in the cold, soggy air and I kept thinking, "This is like coffee for my soul."  (And soul-coffee is definitely a good thing these days.) We trekked over fallen logs and under branches and I realized that I'm never paying this much attention to anything before 9 a.m. Annika and I mostly kept pace with the neighbor's dog...  Fall behind, run to catch up, fall behind, run to catch up. 

I got home just now, hung up my keys, transferred a sleeping Michael from the Ergo to the couch and knew for sure: I JUST GOTTA TESTIFY.

I'll back up.

There was a time, not so very long ago, that I couldn't sleep for the weight of life choices needing to be made.  We had just moved here, there were a million good things that my heart desired to be true about life here, and I knew that it was impossible to have them all. I felt like I had a handful of tiny puzzle pieces and no final picture to guide me as to how to assemble them. 

I wrote this in a blog post: 

I don’t know exactly how the pieces of my life might finally work and flow together in a free and less-complicated way.  I don’t know what that might even look like because the pieces, all my hopes and dreams and plans, just don’t fit as separate pieces.

I'm not afraid to say it out loud: I just can't do this thing by myself.

Only God, the Lord of the Harvest, can see my life unfolding in all its fullness, a different and more heavenly dimension, and shape-shift my heart and my time and my relationships into something beautifully functional.  Something fruitful and alive. Something for him.

Where he gets the glory and I get the joy.

And then I watched as God began to make it all work.

It started with completely changing my heart towards public school.  I never did write about it here, but it was almost as if he pulled back a curtain and showed me how (even though I had firmly decided against it for my many reasons) public school was actually a place where so many of my longings could be filled.  With public school in the picture, so many little pieces began snapping into place and life did begin to unfold in a beautifully functional way that I never expected.

I could go on.  But fast-forward to now.

Our little bus-stop recently shut down and so I've been driving Annika to school every morning. I was disappointed because I had assumed the bus-stop was my connection to neighborhood moms- I loved the idea of standing around with cups of coffee and yelling at our kids together. 

Without the bus-stop, it has been rushed and isolated mornings ending with me saying a quick goodbye as Annika hops out and a parent in a yellow vest motions for me to drive away before I can even see her walk in the front door.  

But Saturday night at a neighborhood dinner party, a sweet mom invited me to join their "walking bus," which is just a group that walks to school together. I didn't have high hopes for all of us being ready early enough or Annika walking that far without complaining, but figured it was worth a shot.

Not only was it a gorgeous, slow-moving morning through the woods (and I could personally walk Annika into her classroom and spy while she settled into her Morning Work) but I got to walk back home with another mom and have the conversation that has brought me here to testify.

It didn't take long to realize that we were both Christians, so we chatted about Mars Hill and life and Annika's school. And then slowly, another curtain was pulled back as I listened to her and I found myself wiping tears back as my heart prayed, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."



Just the walk itself was a gift, a strong cup of soul-coffee that I desperately needed after the draining nights I've been having. And meeting another Christian mom in such a natural way was a sweet surprise. And learning that there are actually quite a few believers scattered through our neighborhood was deeply encouraging. 

But the overwhelming and humbling thing was listening as she told me how this little school has a uniquely strong presence of teachers that are Christians. And this is not to say that there is anything "Christian" about the school, the classrooms or the curriculum.  It is still very much a public school that is extremely diverse in how many faiths and walks-of-life are represented there. 

But... But... now I know that as God was whispering and drawing me towards this decision, a decision that was tough and scary for me, he was probably smirking.  Because (like always) he knew so much more than I did.  He knew that in a place where we have so little physical family, a new city where I was asking him for real community outside of our church walls, this little public school was the answer to my prayers.

I feel like testifying because I am made aware, again, of this - there is always an undercurrent happening deep within our lives, sometimes totally independent of (or even contrary to) the flow of things on the surface. And God works in the surface things, but I think he kind of lives in that undercurrent. 

The surface of my walk in the woods was getting Annika to class, the undercurrent was a gift of peace and, shockingly, Christian fellowship.

The surface of Annika's education is a public school intentionally and carefully separated from our personal faith. The undercurrent is a faithful presence of God's people within the very same walls.

The surface of my circumstances is lack of sleep and exhaustion.  The undercurrent is a season of learning to fully rest in his goodness and super-natural joy.

The surface of our days is largely secular, but the undercurrent is constantly and completely sacred.

Nov 5, 2014

In the Watches of the Night

In the Watches of the Night:
A Breastfeeding Mother's Rendition of Psalm 63


O God, you are my God.

You let me say that even when there is nothing earnest about my soul right now.

My flesh is fainting and thirsty because this child is gleaning his life from mine.  He thrives on what I give and I can't replace it fast enough; my nutrients transfer into him, I coo and talk all day so that he can learn how, I'm awake so that he might go back to sleep. Its hard to keep up with how much he needs.

I am literally so thirsty that I'm fantasizing about the Brita pitcher in the next room... this kid's bedroom at 3 a.m. is a dry and weary land where this is no water.

All I know is this is what it feels like to need something in a really, really deep-inside way. Exhausted, dehydrated, all-around-mama-weary.  This is the ache of being totally spent and feeling like restoration is just out of reach.

I feel it now in the body but I have felt it in my soul. I have needed the sweet goodness and realness of you, God, needed it like cool, pure water in the desert. And then I tasted it, I looked upon you and was able to catch a glimpse of your power and glory. 

It was deeper and bigger and sweeter than my sadness then. 

It was better than life. 

And even though there is no hustle in my game these days, no passion in my prayers or diligence in studying the Scriptures, even though my flesh seems to yearn so much louder than my spirit, I can still say- you are my God.

I will trust you as long as I live and it is only towards you that I want to stretch my drooping arms. If I'm going to lift my hands and praise, I want it to be for you.

My soul can be, will be, satisfied with you.

As with a dark and quiet room at 3 a.m. when little tummies rise and fall in heavy sleep and I can finally snap my nursing bra back into place and join them.  As with the feeling of floating away that comes as my exhausted body and brain turn gratefully off.  As with the smell of coffee as I climb out of bed and into a new day of giving all that this child needs to live.

The way I crave the good, good, goodness of those things is almost tangible. 

But you, Lord, are even more than all that.  Even better.  Teach my soul to crave you like that.

Because for now it just clings to you, barely hanging on.  I'd never hang tight enough if you weren't upholding me. You have always been my help.  You have never let me wander too far without scooping me back inside the shadow of your wings.  

These things I will remember when I finally get to crawl back into a dark and quiet bed, even if it is just for a couple of hours.  

I will meditate on you in these watches of the night. 

Nov 2, 2014

The Story of Us Right Now

There are so many ways in which life is hard to describe these days.  It's fun to try and describe it, and I often write mini-blogs in my head as I go about the day (or night) doing all the million little things that fill my existence right now.  But its all so blurry, even now, four months after Michael was born.  It's all so slow and uneventful, and yet our worlds and souls are changing, right there under the surface.

So much is different and it will keep on changing. Life will never again look the way it does for us right now, right in the thick of all this hard, beautiful, sanctifying change.

And that's why I was so thankful when my professional-photographer-best-friend came to visit and blessed us with these pictures. Because they are so much more to me than just pictures, they are the story of us right now.

They are the fun, playful bond between Annika and her Daddy. She wants to be strong and cool and just like him.

They are the soft chub of Michael's cheeks pressed against mine because that's the way he likes to be held. And his thoughtful "scowl" that we're always laughing at.

They are the muted sunlight in tall, dark Washington evergreens and memories of rainy winds chasing us out of the woods. 

They are the way Annika is becoming my little woman.  The way she is learning to listen and trust my words more than ever, and yet still learning to not need me quite so much.

They are me and Josh, in this together, laughing and knowing that beneath all the sleepless nights and long commutes and PTA meetings and "it's pizza for dinner again"... we are so grateful to be exactly where we are right now.














Sep 16, 2014

Brokenness and Bravery (Thoughts on Race and Racism)

When Michael Brown was killed, the internet exploded.

There was such a profound, emotional response to all the issues that his death brought to light and I (like I'm sure everyone did) ended up reading a lot of articles and opinion pieces in the aftermath. 

I wanted to know the true things. I wanted to feel the right things. I still do.

Some of what I have read has been enlightening and overwhelming, to say the least.  But there has been other stuff... stuff that has felt twisted and weird, even though the high level of viral shares would seem to speak otherwise. 

One blog post was a How-To about having conversations about race with your kids.  There was dialogue between a mother and daughter about Native Americans and how awfully they were treated by the early American colonists. What threw me was how the mother kept saying "we" when referring to the colonists....  We did those awful things because we wanted their land. We were afraid of them so we pushed them out and we killed them. 

What? 

America is largely made up of immigrant families and their descendants, right? So it seems like odd language to encourage loads of readers to use. I know my family background is mostly eastern European with a little Spanish and French mixed in. My dad's side of the family came from Czechoslovakia just a few generations ago. I just wouldn't consider the pilgrims to be my people.  But obviously the idea was that the colonists were the white people in the story, and so they are the ones that we (as white people today) are forced to identify with when we have those kind of conversations.

And lets be completely honest, yes- we can certainly identify with them.  But that's not racial affiliation, it's just humanity. 

We can all relate to fearing what is different, wanting what doesn't belong to us, resorting to violence or aggression, taking advantage of others, or lusting after power and control. Any person with a human heart can identify with at least some of those ugly feelings... unfortunately our imperfection is something that will always unite us as human beings.

When we look back through history, if we're honest with ourselves, we should all be able to see ourselves in the "bad guy" sometimes.  

But then, there was another blog where a mother ended with saying that, while she may not have to fear her son being shot because of his skin color, she did have to fear him becoming the shooter one day.

And, again - what? Why?

Are we trying to say, starting to believe, that a child's whiteness makes him more inclined to be a murderer? 

Is that really the kind of thing we want to say? 

And if not, then what is it that we really want and need to communicate to our kids as we teach them (and we must) about racism?

I remember learning about slavery for the first time, a little white girl in small-town Georgia.  When I heard the stories about how people with white skin forced other people with dark skin to be their slaves and I was outraged.  I became obsessed with Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.  I stalked through the woods in the back of our house singing "Follow the Drinking Gourd." I never thought to identify with the slave owners because I knew they were wrong, instead I felt my heart race when I thought about the abolitionists, the runaway slaves, and the people who hid them.  I wondered if I'd be brave enough and good enough to risk my life for someone else's freedom, I wondered if the Christians were allowed to straight-up lie to protect a runaway. (If you're wondering, I think the answer there is ABSOLUTELY.) 

Women like Harriet and Sojourner Truth were my heroes, I wanted to be like them.

So last week I saw an image circulating the internet of little Ruby Bridges (Annika's age) taking the first steps towards desegregation at a formerly all-white school.  She was so small, so courageous. I immediately wanted to share the story with Annika, so I started doing some research and pulling up other photos.  

And then I ended up staring into another photo.






Going back and forth between the two, my heart was conflicted. 

I wanted to show her images of bravery conquering fear, I wanted to ignite her little soul with stories of courage and righteousness in the face of ignorance and injustice. But now, I hesitated. I looked a long time into those white women's faces... one screaming and hurling insults, another in her flowery dress, marching steadily with such hate in her eyes.

I was all rambly in my brain with the words and attitudes of bloggers, magazine articles, and status updates.

I had wanted to tell her these stories so that she could identify with Ruby as a brave, six year old little girl.  I wanted her to identify with human beings who stood up to something wrong, specifically racism and segregation, and who took scary risks that would begin changing the world. 

But now, instead of being inspiring stories about humanity and courage and equality, I felt like the world today wanted me to tell them as frightening, cautionary tales about white privilege and our natural and unique inclination towards bigotry. I felt like I was supposed to be making her aware of her part in systemic racism.  I felt that I was obligated to tell her, "You are not like the black girl in that photo, you are like the white girls." And I worried that I was in denial if I didn't.

The simple truth is, I don't want Annika to identify with the majority of the "white folks" in those stories. I don't want to communicate that we are from shameful stock, and she is guilty of personal choices she has yet to even understand or make for herself.

Instead, I want to examine these stories and see where we land as human beings.  I want to ask hard questions about ourselves. I want to teach her how to search herself and admit when we might be acting like those women in the second photo, even in the quiet and secrecy of our heart.

Are we being unfair to others? Are we being selfish and wanting to take from others so that we can have more? Are we being proud and believing that we are better than someone else?  Are we judging and making decisions about people before we truly know them?

I do realize that I must open her eyes to discrimination and help her to see the ways in which things are not equal for everyone.  Because of these recent events, I've recognized ways that my perception of the world has been shaped by racism without my even knowing it, so I want her to be part of a more discerning generation. And I especially want her to know - when you realize that you benefit from some kind of privilege (racial, educational, financial, spiritual, whatever it may be) that privilege can be a powerful tool, used for the glory of God and the good of others.

When I tell these stories about Harriet or Sojourner or Ruby, or Trayvon or Michael Brown, I want to be honest about how racism influenced the attitudes and actions of others.  But I also want to look beyond a story of race vs. race and tell instead the same stories of fear, judgement, ignorance, pride, corruption or greed (things we are all capable and often guilty of) being met with courage, boldness, perseverance, and self-sacrifice.

We all have the potential for those things, too. 

I want her to know that we must be willing to see ourselves in the bad guy sometimes.  But I also want her to know, we are all free to see ourselves in the good guys, too.

Aug 29, 2014

The Sleepy Blur of Babyhood



"Well, there goes another one."

It's been my thought for weeks... another day come and gone in which I've been sure that I could get to this glowing screen and blinking cursor and pour my heart out into words somehow.But the days just come and go, time slipping sweetly away into the happy blur of Michael's babyhood.

I'm so often sitting in the corner of our room as I cradle and nurse this darling baby boy. If I'm not on my phone (which I try not to do but do anyways) then I'm just staring at him and out the window and thinking.

First of all, breastfeeding exhausts me. I've read that there's actually a chemical release of some sort that causes drowsiness while nursing, but I also think its just the sudden STOP of activity that forces me to feel how tired I am. (Working mamas, I do not know how you do it.) And breastfeeding has been hard, too... which is an understatement that probably deserves a strongly felt expletive somewhere in there. But I'm thankful that I can do it, and I'm also thankful for the slew of prescription meds that has made it bearable. 

Michael is still the most easy, smiley baby I've ever known... which basically means he is more easy and smiley than Annika was. We watched some videos of her when she was 8-9 weeks old and it was crazy to see that they are truly different little people.  She was more expressive, more beautiful, and full of noises.  Michael is less vocal, less emotional, but he lights up like a light bulb when we look at him. 

That kid... he smiles with his entire body.




Sometimes, though... Sometimes I hold him or watch him sleep and the love I feel is so big that suddenly (and strangely) I am painfully overwhelmed with the unfairness of life. I think of mothers that have lost their little babies or suffered through infertility or who might hold their sweet baby now and yet still fear for his life because of war or poverty or sickness. And yet here is this baby, this beautiful, alive-and-well-baby in my arms, a miracle baby after all those miscarriages, and I hardly know how to handle it. Its too precious. How could I ever grasp what a gift he is? Me, who deserves him no more than any other. 

The blessing of him almost burns.

 And part of me hesitates to even get into all that... all the weird, heavy stuff... but it's daily there right along with the sweetness.  The happiness is tinged with sorrow. I almost welcome it, though, because it leaves me with a deeply thankful feeling that doesn't take his life lightly - and doesn't assume that tomorrow is promised to us. 

It makes me want to cry out to God with joy and fear and gratitude. 

And I'm also just really tired, which in the end just makes me want to collapse into Him in a weary, giant surrender of everything that is too big to feel or understand. 

If anything, this blurry season is making me to see how real God is despite my lack of energy or passion towards him.  My devotion in the past months has been less than fervent (read: tired and lazy) and yet... there he always is.  In the silence of 3 a.m. when my mind drifts into these things, in the very moment that I open my Bible to the Psalms and they wash over me like a balm, in the community of believers with lifted hands on Sunday morning - proclaiming "no power of hell nor scheme of man could ever pluck me from his hand." 

There God always is.

So I guess what I'm learning is this... 

When I - instead of being a disciplined, Bible-reading, praying, blogging, passionate Christian woman - am instead a weary, spiritually uncertain, coffee-dependent mama who is doing good to spend five minutes with an online devotional - When I can still come to God and feel him accepting me in that same sweet and winsome way, then I can finally start to understand how little his affection for me depends on my own good behavior.   

I have no idea how to punctuate that sentence.

Basically, grace. And mercy. And Jesus.




I can press my tired back deep into the rocking chair at 3 a.m. and be comforted that Jesus loves me in that moment.  I can trace the curve of Michael's fat cheeks (inherited from me) and trust that Jesus loves him, too.

And I can know that when I finally open my Bible or lift my hands in worship and feel that warm press of an awakening Spirit inside me, its not because of some emotional "high." (Seriously, I have negative amounts emotional energy for creating my own exaggerated, spiritual dramatics.) And it's not because of some habitual routine that has trained my brain to feel these things... because my habits in the last month or so have been more about binge-watching Orange is the New Black while I breastfeed than any kind of spiritual discipline.

But - when I drag my eyes away from the worldly, away from the habits and the flesh, and surrender yet again my tired, un-righteous heart... there he always is.

Jul 8, 2014

The Night He Came (Michael's Birth Story)


Annika came early- five days before her due date. We assumed Michael, being the second child, would do at least the same.  (Are all the parents with two children laughing?) So when I hit 39 weeks, my brain and body both checked DONE and we all held our breath with expectation. Any moment now! 

But he didn't come at 39 weeks.  And then he didn't come at 40 weeks.  And then every single day seemed to drag by like an eternity as my belly stretched and sagged and remained.  My parents were coming soon and I started to worry that he wouldn't even be here for their visit.  Every morning I looked at my calendar and tried to persuade him that today was the Very Best Day, but he would just press his heel deeper in to my ribs as if to say, "I'm pretty comfy here, thanks." And every night, Josh and I would sigh and iron another shirt for another day at work.





Finally, I started thinking about my options.  My induction options. For me, induction was a four-letter word that I never thought I'd say... so I bounced back and forth between strongly considering it and then recoiling in horror at myself.  My last resort was to send an SOS text thread to the tight circle of girlfriends who've known me since I was 15 - surely they would tell me what to do.

We talked it all out, all different women with multiple children and a broad range of birth stories that resulted in beautiful, healthy babies and proud, un-regretful mamas. I slowly realized that my greatest fear wasn't that induction was dangerous, my issue was that it wasn't me. It just wasn't the kind of story that I liked best or wanted for myself, so it seemed wrong and a little yucky. And so one dear friend, who knows me deep enough to see through to that, simply said, "You've experienced birth one way, now try it this way.  Let yourself go a little." 

I laughed. And I felt at peace for once.  I acknowledged how much my own stubbornness and control issues were complicating things.  It was true, I had experienced a spontaneous labor with Annika.  It was also true that I was completely unprepared for the 20+ hours of  intense labor that, besides being un-induced and not having an epidural, fell pretty short of nearly everything else on my birth plan. (Including getting stuck with a DUDE doctor with a high rate of C-section.) Was it possible that a carefully-approached induction with a doctor I trusted might actually get me closer to the slowly-progressing, bathtub-floating, Sigur Ros-swaying birth that I wanted?

I called my doctor.  She said it was a slow day at the birth center and I could come on in.  Like, right then. I texted Josh... he was game.  I ran around the house moving things and curling my hair and brewing Raspberry Leaf tea.  Today was going to be the day!

I was actually comforted by the thought that making a huge, life-impacting decision on an impulse and a prayer was actually exactly like us.

Josh came home and we loaded up in the car.  We giggled about Michael's empty car seat and how the next time we saw it, there would be a baby inside. I rubbed my belly and stared out the window as we exited for the hospital.  It was the middle of the afternoon on a perfectly sunny day.  I'd imagined this drive a hundred times and this wasn't how I pictured it happening, which made me feel anxious and wrong but I tried to relax and embrace the moment.  I prayed to ask God for his blessing, and also his forgiveness, just in case.

We got checked in.  I put on a hospital gown and climbed into bed, Josh and Annika got comfortable on the couch.  Our plan was to start with a pill that would soften my cervix (which was already 70% effaced) to 100% and then we would leave the hospital and walk around the lake for 2 hours.  Hopefully this would be enough to start labor, but if it didn't we could either go home or have my water broken. 

I drank my tea and browsed the room service menu. Our excitement was growing as we got more and more at home in the little room. I was just about to order a milkshake when the nurse came in with some shocking news. Another patient had just arrived and they were short-staffed. She was in active labor, I was not.  Long story short? I would not be getting my water broken. She kinda-sorta apologized and suggested we go home, rest, and see if the pill alone would put me into labor. 

I was mad.  

Not at her or the hospital necessarily, just at life.  I had finally gotten cozy with my decision and was ready to meet my baby - now we had to go home and wait some more?

Yeah right.

I was determined that if the doctor wasn't going to get my labor started, then I would do it myself.  We went on to the lake and power-walked around it. I hiked up and down stadium stairs. I did weird squats and stretches in public. I could feel Michael heavier than ever, pressing down like never before, but no contractions.  We ate greasy pizza (with labor-inducing pineapple, for kicks) and went home disappointed.




I was also strangely relieved, though, because deep down I was still afraid of getting my water broken and ending up with a self-inflicted C-Section that would plague my memories forever.  Again, we decided to just embrace things as they were and keep praying. Josh snapped this picture of me as I supervised Annika cleaning her room before bedtime, and then we all went to sleep.




Then a little past midnight, I woke up.

I woke up to pee, which was normal, but I laid awake in bed afterwards because I was feeling low and crampy contractions, which were not normal. I tossed and turned and then felt a small trickle of liquid.  I dismissed the thought that my water might have broken until it happened about twice more and the contractions intensified. 

I woke Josh up - "This is real.  Well, I think this is real." We timed the contractions which were coming on strong. I was able to re-pack and gather up our things between them but had to stop and focus on breathing when they came.  They were painful, but I was so excited that I welcomed them and prayed they wouldn't stop. 

My water had definitely broken, so we drove to the hospital.  We were alone on the road, in the dark, in the rain.  I moaned quietly through my contractions but smiled at Josh and said, "This is the drive I've been wanting to make."

By the time we got to the hospital, I was in very active labor. I paced the waiting room while slow-moving and bubbly nurses annoyed the life outta me with their casual questions and registering. Someone finally came to escort us to the birth center and the walk seemed to take forever, by this point I had to stop and squat or lean against a wall when a contraction came. (Annika has vivid memories of this long walk and how impatient she felt. "It was really hard to wait for you, Mom!")

I don't remember much of getting into the hospital room because the contractions overwhelmed me so completely. Someone undressed me and snapped on a hospital gown, at some point Josh left to properly park the car, I just kept my eyes closed and tried to survive.  Next door, a woman was screaming through her labor, crying out constantly in what sounded like another language. I think I sank even deeper into silence to compensate. 

I had sworn that I wouldn't labor the same way that I did with Annika, which was sitting quietly on the edge of the bed and not moving for hours, but I ended up in the same position. They brought me the birthing ball I had wanted and I shook my head in complete disgust; There was no way I'd be straddling anything round and huge and bouncy.  I didn't even want the doctor to check my dilation because I couldn't fathom getting up onto the bed. I just closed my eyes, held Josh's hand, and shook my head "no" to everything. 

Then things began to get weird because Michael's heart rate started dropping. It was usually around 140 bpm but had slowed to 60 bpm and was not recovering.  The nurses were getting concerned and apparently the room was quickly filling with them.  Josh remembers this much better than me... he was hearing the possibility of emergency C-sections and felt afraid for Michael and me both. The doctor said that I could possibly be in a position that was causing stress on the baby so they asked that I climb onto the bed and get on my hands and knees.  I said no.  But I heard Josh tell me I needed to do it, so somehow I did. 

It helped.  His heart rate returned to normal in that position.  The doctor quickly checked my cervix and let me know I was 5 cm dilated. For anyone that doesn't know the lingo, that's only halfway there. I remember pressing my face into a pillow and thinking desperately that I simply could not endure any more contractions. When I was in labor with Annika, I still had about 15 hours to go at that point.  I tried to find the strength and breath between contractions to tell someone that I wanted an epidural, but the effort to communicate anything to anyone seemed too much. 

Suddenly, about 20 minutes later, I started having the uncontrollable urge to push him out.  I assumed this was wrong or dangerous because I was only 5 cm dilated, so I cried out - "I can't stop pushing!" 

The doctor checked me again and I was fully dilated - I was completely shocked and grateful.  The room filled again with noise and nurses. One nurse coached me gently, speaking softly into my ear and pressing hard on my lower back as I pushed through the contractions.  These contractions were different, easier in a way... they were less full-body overwhelming and more concentrated down by his head. And there was 5-10 seconds of real rest between them.  But the pushing burned and I screamed into my pillow each time, fueled only by my body's insistence, the nurse's firm hand on my back, and the doctor's promise that I wasn't tearing. 

And then finally, just a few short hours after we had arrived, Michael slipped softly out of my body and into the world. 

The doctor caught him and passed him up to me through my legs.  He lay on the bed for a moment, crying and waving his long arms, while I stared at him in disbelief.  It seemed my hands were far too cold and dirty to actually touch him.  I did though, kneeling upright on the bed as strength and relief flooded my body, holding my warm, wet, crying son.  His cord pulsed it's last from the placenta that was still inside me.

They helped me roll onto my back and latched him onto my breast.  Then Josh cut the cord and I cradled Michael in my arms as I pushed the placenta out - the last and final effort, and it was over.  The whole thing had taken less than three hours.

The woman next door was still screaming, I felt such a conflicting burden for her pain and amazed relief that my own was over. 

Everything was surreal.


We learned later that this wonderful nurse is also a Christian and has been to Thailand and met some of Josh's missionary family out there!

Josh and Annika soon slept.  She promised that she wasn't tired and we promised that if she closed her eyes, sleep would come.  Parents are always right - she was snoring in five minutes.  (And it was 4 a.m.) I stayed awake until morning, just looking at him and listening to the other women laboring all around me.  It felt like the strangest sisterhood, I rooted and prayed for them as I held my own precious reward. 





The next day, everyone asked Annika how she felt about being a big sister.  She answered everyone the same, she was happy and excited.  (We knew the truth- she was mostly excited about ordering breakfast from a menu and spending that next day and night with her best friend.) They asked what she thought about the birth, she informed everyone that she mostly played her LeapPad but heard me scream "It's burning!", so she watched Michael come out and then went back to her game.  

We spent that next day ordering room-service and watching World Cup games on cable, passing Michael back and forth between us and napping. It was a little hard to say goodbye to free food and housekeeping. 




But home is different now that Michael is here.  It is lovelier. 

First of all, things are filled.  His bassinet, the swaddle blankets, my diaper bag.  All of the things that were stocked up and waiting for him are now serving their purpose and an everyday part of our new lives.  But mostly, we are a new family.  Josh and I have a son, Annika has a little brother.  We are all different now. 

We are filled.  





I had wondered if I could ever love another child like I love Annika and I know now that I can - and I do. It's strange to treasure a little person so much when you know so little about them, but I guess that's part of what makes him so precious. He is a gift and a mystery.  

We are so thankful. 



Jun 2, 2014

In Which I'm the Bad Mom at the Park


The whole mess probably started with overly-high expectations.  (I've found most of my parenting meltdowns do.) It was a gorgeous Seattle day with no plans weighing it down and no pregnancy exhaustion holding me back.  I heaved Annika's little bike into the back of our SUV and headed to a perfect neighborhood park.  Even Banjo was invited, that's how confident I felt.

Annika had recently gotten the hang of riding a bike and she could ride like a boss now.  Long distances, sharp curves, rainy days - she loved it all.  And this perfect park had a perfect sidewalk loop next to the swings where she could ride her heart out and I could stroll behind with a well-behaving Banjo on leash.

But- enter the unexpected problem: a hill.  A bump, really.  A tiny incline on one side of the loop and the tiny decline on the other side. We reached the top and Annika hit the brakes so fast that Banjo ran into her.

"I can't do the hill," she said.

I sighed.  "Can't" gets annoying.  "You totally can," I smiled, and tried to give her a little push.

But the little push was offensive and horrible to her, she got mad at me and backed up even more.  "I can't" quickly turned into "I won't" and the outing that felt so light and free was suddenly weighing on my nerves like a traffic jam.

See... this is a recurrent thing between the two of us.  This "fear" conversation. My one-two-three-GO approach to a challenge versus her sense of extreme caution and nervousness.  I've seen it completely paralyze her and either rob her of joy (a tall slide, for example) or create a terrible scene (like getting a shot). And sometimes its so nonsensical that I can't help but laugh (like how she refuses to sit on a toilet with an auto-flushing sensor) and then she feels insulted and I have to apologize and discuss again the total safety of flushing toilets. 

But we weren't getting anywhere with a discussion about the safety of coasting down this particular "hill." She wanted to dismount and walk the bike until the trail was completely flat again.  I wanted her to find her courage, trust her own ability and put some faith in my promises.

Neither of us were budging.

The sun was burning my pale Seattlite flesh, Banjo was pulling the leash after a squirrel, and Michael was shoving his foot deep in my ribcage as I bent over her little bike. I can't make any promises that my tone of voice was kind or patient.

So I gave her an ultimatum: ride down the hill (with me right beside you) or we put the bike in the car and don't haul it to parks for a while.  "Because the earth is not flat and parks have hills and I'm not dragging this bicycle around town for you to not actually ride it."

She was on drama-maximum-high, crying and pleading for bicycle rights but refusing to make a decision.

"Fine. Let's just put the bike away," I'd say.

"No!"

"Then come on, let's go down the hill together."


"No!"

It was about this time that I noticed another mom was watching, had been watching, from a not-so-subtle distance.  She half smiled when I caught her eye but not in a sweet, sympathetic way.  It was forced and read "I have thoughts about this."

My first thought- Greeeeat.  She's probably a blogger.  You're welcome for the material, lady!  I'm sure it will be lovely and all about gentle parenting and encouragement over criticism and picking your battles. Feel free to tag me when you tweet it. 

My second thought- You know what, though?  Maybe this is a battle that I'm picking.  Maybe this is worth it. 

I straightened my back, tried to rub the Braxton Hicks out of my left side, smiled sweetly (or "sweetly", unfortunately) and just made the call.  We put the bike in the car, hugged on a bench for a while and then I pushed her on the swings until going home.  

It was a decent ending, but it plagued me for days afterward.

I berated myself for being too hard on her and ruining her confidence and making her feel like a failure.  And then I defended myself for wanting to shape her long-term character instead of simply averting short-term meltdowns. "I don't want her to create habits of avoiding anything that frightens or intimidates...I don't want her to miss opportunities for joy and freedom because she is afraid of risk." And then I spy on her while she plays quietly in her room and my heart melts with regret because I just feel so hugely aware of her tender, sensitive heart. And how young she still is. 

Finally, the jury in my head quieted enough that I could hear some counsel from the Holy Spirit.  It simply dawned on me... how many second chances have you had, little one?

Oh yeah.  I hadn't really thought about that.  About God and his parenting process toward me.  How he certainly teaches hard lessons and lets me fall and flail and fail but how he never ever says Game Over.  He never takes away my chance to try again... to start completely over.  

So I scooped her up in my arms that very night at bedtime and asked her if she remembered our talk at the park, about the bike and the hill.  She nodded.  I told her again about fear and not letting it control your choices, about trusting me, about trusting herself.  But then I apologized and told her it was wrong for me to say she couldn't try again, for as many times as she wanted.  I told her how patient God is with us and how he reminds of his promises and waits for us to trust them so we can finally know how good he is.


We will take your bike to the park and you can ride to the top of that big hill again and again and again.  And it may seem scary every time. And every time I will say that you are safe and that you can trust me and that you can do it without falling.  And every time you might decide not to try.  And I might get frustrated but you can remind me to be patient with you.  And I will choose to be patient because I know that one day you will get to the top of the hill and feel different. Maybe it will look just a little bit smaller because you have gotten bigger or maybe just braver but one day you will decide to ride down the hill.  And then you'll feel a little wind in your hair and you'll hear me cheering for you and the hill will be behind you.  And then you'll know that you can trust me and you can do hard things, even when they are scary.  But until then, we will just keep going to the top of the hill. I'll go with you for as many times as it takes.

I looked down at her.  She was asleep, of course.  I tucked her in and flipped off the light and finally felt a nod in my own Spirit about the whole thing. And even weeks later I'd listen to a friend, much more seasoned in these parenting trials, talk about inhibition versus action and helping our kids to find that sweet spot between the two. So all I can do is keep urging her on toward that place.

But I'm not always a sweet, gentle, patient mother so I know (without a doubt) that I will sometimes loathe dragging that little bike to the same dang park over and over again, always expecting that fear will dominate her and she will back down.  And I'll feel a twinge of disappointment as she climbs down and walks her bike safely to the flat, un-exciting sidewalk. But I'll keep asking God for the wisdom to see her like he sees me, with infinite love and unconditional acceptance.  And perhaps just a bit of his perfect patience.  

And I know that I'll fail, but he'll hang in there with me - for as many times as it takes.

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May 17, 2014

The Truth about Teenage Daydreams


Last week I celebrated my 29th birthday, which means this is the last year until I am in my 30's and unarguably "a grown-up."  

This whole process of getting older is just so surreal. I think back to 16 years old and can remember the feeling of that age so plainly.  I can remember wishing away my still-chubby cheeks, and running errands for my parents just for the exhilaration of driving alone (which, after kids, is exciting again). I remember the way my safe, average, middle-class, teenage life was completely saturated with dreams of a more adventurous future.

Oh, I was so passionate. So cliché. I'd sit in my window seat, high above manicured lawns and clean sidewalks, and feel too restless and free-spirited for my life.  I'd tape pictures of Africa into my journal and listen to Enya and dump boyfriends that didn't live up to Cowboy Take Me Away.   (Because Jesus was my Cowboy Boyfriend that was gonna sweep me away to far-away places and passionate stories.)

And somewhere in the mix of all that, I got really "into" wildflowers...mainly, the symbolism of something that could naturally and beautifully flourish in the most uncultivated of places. I was totally that wildflower, and I was so confident that my life was going to be amazing and I was going to thrive with nothing but God's good ground underneath me.

But that was nearly half a life-time ago for me. These days, I don't think so much about what life will be as much as what it is.  The question can't sit vague and innocently in the future, it weighs on me right here, in the Now. Sometimes heavy and pressing.

Am I thriving? Am I fruitful?  

Even now, I have these romantic, silly ideals of what "flourishing" might look like. And, unfortunately, it's still not much better than a teenage daydream. I still steal away on some evenings, maybe for some forgotten dinner ingredient, and sing loud with the windows down and feel the wind in my hair and imagine the possibilities of our life turning around new, exotic corners.  I still gaze out the window on rainy days and wonder where I'll be five, ten, fifteen years from now.


I still make the mistake of believing that when I am flourishing, my life will be transformed into music videos.

Because if circumstances aren't blossoming in prosperous and vibrant ways, if my talents don't seem to be making an impact in the world, if -at the end of the day- I can't use words like "abundant" or "passionate" or "relevant"... I get tricked into believing that this can't be thriving.

I imagine that a flourishing life will look large and bountiful. It will be overflowing, copious, lovely. There will be Enya music in the background and God will be oh-so-glorified and pleased.

Then there's reality.  In reality, I constantly run up against words like "insufficient" and "insecure." Sometimes, at the end of the day, I feel meager and trivial and tired and I think, I just don't have it in me to flourish like other people do.  I guess my life just wont be like that. And the 16 year old in me hangs her head and feels like watching Dawson's Creek with chocolate. 

But oddly enough, as I fall short of the thriving Eden, I'm reminded of the silly little wildflower.  The one I used to doodle into margins as I dreamed of the future and it's wide-open spaces. I'm reminded of how it peeks up through cracks in ugly sidewalks or dots far-away hillsides, unseen to human eyes. I'm encouraged that it is not always gathered up into bouquets or applauded or greatly enlarged.  It is just obedient to bloom, to be whatever color and shape it's DNA tells it to be, and then it fades and another blooms in it's place.

Yes, I believe God does love to use us in big ways that affect and transform our surroundings. We can be that lamp that illuminates dark spaces and changes the world for one or many people.  Our flourishing hearts and stories have power and impact in very real, tangible ways. A hunger for those kind of stories still color my teenage daydreams, even at 29 years old.

But... it doesn't always start that way.  And it's not up to me when or if it will ever look like "that."  

So I abide, which is all I can choose.  And I obey and submit to the story that unfurls as my life slowly opens, reveals itself, over time.  I rejoice in the uncomplicated freedom of flourishing - me, just one fragile, short-lived little bloom. A simple, abiding heart that happily can live and die, flourish and fade, to the glory of God. 

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Linking up at SheLovesMagazine for this month's topic of "flourish." If you haven't checked out this sweet group of writers from all around the world, go on and click over... you won't be disappointed.

May 1, 2014

Blinding Pain, Bright Glory

I remember giving birth to Annika.  Just barely and strangely, but I remember it.

There were plans about how it was supposed to go, and the doctor had humored me by tucking them into my file.  I never saw them again... though I'm sure the bullet-ed list with it's carefully selected font was somewhere on someone's clipboard that day.

I remember sitting on the edge of the bed, groaning through contractions while people took turns feeding me small chips of ice. I would look down at the bulge under my hospital gown, morphing shapes as my insides were being made over again.  In my mind's eye, I saw blinding light radiating out of me - a freight train pummeling it's way through my body. 

Light and heat and steam and force.  There was life being brought forth.  Me, just a vessel transferring it from one world to another. 

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

I looked into someone's eyes, anyone's eyes. "I can't."

"You can," they all promised. And Josh promised me a large strawberry banana smoothie when it was over.  We were so broke those days, that was a big deal. 

Then eventually, in a scorching blaze, Annika and I both blinded by the fiery light of pain or florescent lightbulbs, she came. 

I was spent and shattered and suddenly empty. But they handed her to me.



And just like that, I was done.  Radiance and life had been brought forth.  The un-seeable glory of God had moved it's way through me and I had not been destroyed, even though I would have told you in that moment, "I can't survive it."

I look down now at the bulge under my dress and feel a little nervous. Can I do this again?

Can I do that again?

For whatever reason, I want to feel it.  I want the hard, fiery, impossible reality of labor and birth... to go all the way down into it.  Where so many women have gone before and said "we can't" and then we do

If anything, it makes for a good story. What else on earth is like this?

He's in there now, this second little passenger, needing to be delivered soon.  Into my arms, to our family.  Into the world. Into a brand spanking new life.  Our son. 

The questions rise and fall in waves, contractions of the uncertain heart. Will labor be shorter this time?  Have I prepared enough? Will he be healthy? Will it all be okay?  Will I take get to take him home and watch him grow into a little boy? What kind of story is this going to be?

I know the power of surrender, letting myself be the vessel as a life, or a life-giving story, is brought forth through me and in me. I know how pain and glory can bleed into one another so brightly.

I breathe deep... in through my nose, out through my mouth.  Relax my brow and my jaw and prepare to breath again, deeper this time.

I think I can, I think I can, I think can. 


Apr 17, 2014

A Whole Lot of Nothing



I've entered the time of pregnancy that I like to call "third trimester sleep training." It's that period of time where you start getting conditioned to frequent wakings, uncomfortable positions in bed, and the eerie/almost-reverent feeling of those wee hours as you climb out of bed again for a bathroom break.

Farewell, Bedtime Cup Of Tea, you are not my friend anymore.

So my mornings drag into a slow, sleepy rhythm and again I feel like I'm walking that familiar line between peaceful and lazy.  As much as I love being an early riser - I wonder if I will ever get the hang of it? I roll out of bed just in time to fry eggs and pour coffee before Josh leaves for work, and if Annika stays asleep then I sneak outside to feed chickens and inspect lettuce leaves for slug-bites. 

I've invested too much money into a little crop of Seascape Strawberries and the slugs are my greatest enemy.  Annika has found a few of them and they are immediately peeled off the under-side of rocks and tossed before five ravenous chickens.  The chickens don't seem to love the taste of slugs but they just can't help themselves - they'll eat anything that moves.





Next door Miss C's house is being sold again.  They've renovated it and hired a staging company to furnish and decorate the inside.  When I peek over our fence and into the windows I can see water glasses arranged just-so, sparkling and inviting, perfectly placed pillows, fresh flowers on a table.  

I feel the urge to clean my house immediately. 

But instead I kick dirty boots off at the back door and re-enter my quiet, very lived-in little house.

The butter is softening on a little plate by the stove, more eggs waiting to be fried.  Counters to be wiped.  Floors to be swept.  At least there's actual coffee to be drank. 




Life seems like a constant repeat of these same familiar things.  But I realize lately how thankful I am for them.  For the familiar, simple little things that have begun to define life here.... feed the chickens, walk the dog, share a meal, share a laugh, bedtime stories, goodnight kiss.  And then it all starts over again the next day.

Sometimes it feels like a whole lot of nothing too important. And yet, it all fills my day and my time completely. Whats that thing they say - how we spend our days is how we spend our lives?

I read the quote and feel the urge to clean up my life immediately.

I want it to be radiant. Attractive. Inviting.  I want it to be be purposeful. I want to have powerful, meaning-filled words to share here.

But instead I kick off dirty boots and take a look at my quiet, very lived-in little life.

The truth is, I feel guilty for being too busy and I feel guilty for not being busy enough.  I sometimes rejoice in the way God weaves my days into the days of others and seeds are sown and miracles unfold.  And then I sometimes doubt that I'm doing enough - loving enough, engaging enough, sacrificing enough.  

But if I feel the Holy Spirit whispering anything, it's to stop striving so hard. Stop concerning myself so often with who I am and what I'm doing with my life.  Because maybe, in a realer and more spiritual sense, how I spend my days isn't necessarily the best representation of my life and what it means.





Maybe the daily spending of myself will be the thing that, in the end, shapes my character - and my story. 

Whats hiding inside these little, familiar things... these incredibly average-looking, normal things?  Serving my family, serving my friends, serving my neighbors.  Being served by them. Learning to soften my heart and open my life to others - to friends here and to flesh-and-blood people all around me.  Many of us so average-looking and normal on the surface.  Maybe that's more than a whole lot of nothing.  

Maybe that's something. Maybe that's powerful. 

So I rest. I put my phone on do-not-disturb (I don't turn it off completely because I need it for taking pictures obviously) and I keeping do my thing.  I just try to be present and open-eyed and rested while I do it.  

And God help me, because all of those things are hard.
So often I feel distracted, unfocused, and tired.  But God help me to be rested, thankful and simply ready to spend these days.