Yes, I know where babies come from

Yes, I have three children and yep, I do know how they got here.

You're right, my hands are full.

No, I'm not pregnant again. This oven is closed for a while.

Yes, I said "a while," because I'm pretty sure we aren't quite done.

And no, if we have another baby, it won't be because we're "trying for a girl."

These days, leaving the house nearly always requires answering at least one of the questions above. I get it. Really, I do. But to the unsuspecting stranger that will one day say, "Three boys! You've got your hands full!", and then be witness to my collapsing into a sobbing puddle on the toilet paper aisle of Target, let me just apologize now. It's not you. It's me. It's all the questions before you and the lack of sleep and the privilege of showering that seems to elude me.

Recently, I can't seem to walk in and out of a store without hearing, "Three boys!" Some take it a step further, "I guess you just aren't meant to have girls." I nod and say, "It's busy in our house," and I try to shuffle away quickly, because I want to tell them I had a girl named Lily. Her life began in me and slipped straight into Heaven. I want to tell them that, but I recognize this to be difficult Target small talk. And I know that there's something sacred about her story...I won't just throw it around.

You guys, I can't believe how much I miss her. I'm shocked at how sad I still feel when I think about her not being here. And it's a strange sort of conflict, because the reality is that this guy is here because she lived and then died. 

He is joy embodied. I wouldn't change a thing if it meant he wouldn't be here today.

I don't miss her because she was a girl and he is a boy. I miss her because she was mine. And I want her here, with him. Fourteen months later and my heart still senses her absence almost daily. Even now, to stop and actually speak about her brings new tears; so when someone, with the best of intentions, laughs and says, "Three boys!", I want to tell them we have three boys and a girl.

Sitting here tonight, listening to the squeals and laughter erupting from the back of our house, I imagine her with us. All four of my children in one room. I wonder what she would be doing right now and what her voice would sound like mixed in with her brothers; and the grief I came to know last Spring revisits with surprising force.

Women told me it would be this way. They shared stories of children that slipped away and described the sadness that lingered decades later. I hated hearing that. I wanted to believe that with time would come forgetting. But our hearts were made for eternity and there's nothing natural about death. It isn't a part of the original design.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

When we lose babies before they come earthside, I believe that their lives are purposeful. I believe their being is intentional. And I believe their existence, however brief here on earth, matters for eternity.

My hope will remain rooted in eternity.

For tonight though, I just really miss her.

Those Days I Want to Hide From My Kids

When I worked in student ministry - back before I had children of my own, when I thought I had the answers about the "right way" to raise an independent, free-willing, tiny person - I enjoyed the best parts of spending a few hours each week with someone else's kid. I didn't have to make them brush their teeth, or go to bed, or deal with the fact that I said no and my no meant that I loved them, even if they thought they hated me. That was their parents' job. I got to buy them coffee and hear them pour out their beautiful hearts. There was plenty about the job and the vulnerability of those relationships that was difficult, even painful, but there was so much more that was fun. 

As someone who worked primarily with middle schoolers, I still remember the out-of-my-mind annoyance of calling to a group (normally a group of boys) and being 100% tuned out. No response at all. Maybe they didn't hear me. Maybe they were deliberately ignoring me. Who knows. I also remember thinking, "When it's my kid, that won't happen. No way. I will teach them to listen the first time I say something."

If you're a mom and you're laughing at me, it's ok. I'm kind of laughing at me too. Laughing through tears.

I know we have a new baby and that's not an easy adjustment...and I know we're talking about a preschooler and a toddler...but you guys, for every one time I speak and they listen, there are five times I speak and they just keep rolling. Running. Screaming. Destructing. Throwing pizza while standing on the kitchen table. It's as if I'm a ghost mom and no one even knows I'm here. 

To my friends with teenagers, longing for the days when the tough stuff was just about making them wash their hands and pulling them off the top of the piano, or sitting them in timeout for throwing cars at each other - to my friends dealing with the much heavier, social issues that we are still years away from, I see you and I'm not jealous of your battles. 

But while I'm floating around my house with what sometimes feels like no voice at all, I have to say that there are more than a couple moments in the day when I want to hide from my kids. I want to pick up Jack, close the door of my room and take a nap with a newborn on my chest, who really only wants two things from me - to be fed and to be held. 

I expected the adjustment from two to three to be hard, but I figured that would be about not having enough hands. As it turns out, the most difficult adjustment is not that I have three kids, but that having a third kid changes my relationship with the first two. The dynamics shifted without apology and all we can do is reorient ourselves to what is new.

This guy is trying to figure out what it means to not be the youngest; and I'm trying to figure out what it means to have more than one baby. He has been my easy-going boy for 21 months. 

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The joke was that he never cried. If he was mad, he was MAD, but it was rare that anything upset him that much. In the last week, we've averaged 4-5 complete and total meltdowns per day. Now the joke is about trying to figure out what doesn't make him cry.

When they are screaming and taking their clothes off (why do boys want to be naked ALL THE TIME?) and tackling without mercy and climbing up my legs because I'm holding Jack and that makes them cry - or it makes whatever is stressing them out that much harder - and no matter what I say or how I say it, they carry on as if I said nothing at all...in those moments, I want to scoop up that quiet, sleeping baby and hide until BJ gets home.

Because if I don't hide, I'm afraid of what might come out of my mouth...and that scares me more.

Obviously, I can't run. I won't. Let's be honest, there's no time to hide, because stuff like this happens all day long.

So I stay to clean faces, wipe noses and vacuum up peas for the fourth time today...and I listen to the sobs - often from all 3 at once - knowing that there's not much I can do about it. In fact, staying present may be the only thing I actually can do.

As much as I am tempted to set up camp in my bedroom when I find myself holding a screaming, naked toddler while stepping over dried up pizza on the living room floor, I'm going to stand and breathe and try to say thank you for the whole story, because the whole story is so much bigger than these long days. It's a story of redemption and renewal, taking these long days and using them to write lessons I'd never have the perspective to learn on the easy days. The types of lessons you only discover when staying where you are takes real work.

In other news, as of 10:30 tonight, we will have survived our first full week with BJ back at work. Glory hallelujah! Tomorrow's celebrations will be in the form of many naps.

 

Jack's Birth: The Story

All birth pictures were taken by the talented and wonderful Layna Rae Photography.

"We didn't count on suffering, didn't count on pain. But if the blessing's in the valley, then in the river I will remain. Find me in the river, find me there. Find me on my knees with my soul laid bare." 

(Find Me In The River, Delirious)

Friday AM: Braxton Hicks...?

I had a feeling. That malaise the day before, the quiet sense to withdraw into the stillness of home, Braxton Hicks that seemed a little less practice and a little more warm up. 

First-baby-me would have sounded the alarm. Third-baby-me was reluctant to even pay attention. I'm no stranger to the prodromal game. There was no pattern. No clear signs pointing to imminent labor. Everything I felt could indicate he was coming in twelve hours or twelve days, so none of it meant much to me. Maybe it didn't mean much because I was only 39 weeks and all I knew of my babies was that they grew inside for 41+ weeks. Maybe it didn't mean much because I was afraid of what it could mean and I simply wasn't 'ready'. 

The crib wasn't assembled (as is still true today). The baby clothes were washed, but not put away. Instead of a nursery, there was a room with an empty dresser, the pieces of a bed, a box full of clothes and a disheveled pile of I-dont-know-where-to-put-that stuff. There was no hospital bag. No birth plan (bad doula). 5,000 articles of clothing in baskets, on the sofa and on the floor. Clean. But on the floor (as is also true today). Plus, I had a full weekend planned and it was my last pre-baby thing before sinking into the beautiful, messy, sleepy postpartum months.

So when my midwife offered to help move things along, I said "not yet." And when she suggested I bind up my belly to see if it started labor, I said I would wait until Monday.

Monday was my get ready for labor day. My day to write a letter to the baby and pack a bag and put the crib together and maybe even clean the bathrooms...eh, maybe not, but I planned to clean the bathrooms and that's the same thing. It really is. That was Monday stuff and this was Friday.

First-baby-me tried everything to get Ian out - castor oil, acupuncture, speed walking, eggplant parmesan...other stuff....and some of the saddest prayers you've ever heard from a girl who thought that being pregnant was the hardest part of motherhood and that having a new baby had to be easier than my end of pregnancy misery. 

Now here I was, turning down eviction offers, convinced everything was normal.

4:00 PM: Shower, time contractions, rest

Normal was unrealistic. A distracted dinner with the boys, group texts with my people, watching BJ take the boys to bed and wondering if they would wake up to a different world than the one they fell asleep knowing. Contractions that came 10 minutes apart, 5 minutes apart, 12 minutes apart...strong contractions doing the hard work they were designed to do, but unpredictable in their timing. A few phone calls to my midwife (Melanie), texts with my doula and dear friend (Amber). A little conversation with Jack promising him I was ready, it was okay, and we were excited to meet him.

9:30 PM: Bed

We prayed, said goodnight and I closed my eyes, thinking it might taper off with sleep.

Ten minutes in the dark, resting next to the man I feel the safest with, the one with whom vulnerability is wholly natural, ten minutes next to him and my body decided it was safe to have this baby. What had been strong contractions were now STRONG contractions. Each effort to sink into sleep was met with a longer, stronger, deeper wave. Or as BJ later described, I was "louder" now than I was before. Oh the poetry.

After THREE attempts to get the truck over the ice at the end of our driveway - I won't share with you the words I used in that moment, let's just say they were colorful - we were off.

Saturday 12:10 AM: Arrive, 3cm, Smile, Cry, Rest, Cry, Rest

Parker and Jack were both born in this room

Parker and Jack were both born in this room

I know the third baby rule. The third baby rule says that all bets are off. I know they have a reputation of being unpredictable, but all my optimism wanted to believe this was going to be like Parker's birth - walk in at 8cm and hold my baby earth-side an hour later. Three babies must mean that I deserved that.

Apparently not. I was 3cm. THREE. I smiled and tried to stay positive, but all I could think was "This isn't fair. Somebody bring me the labor my body earned by pushing out the first two." Instead I smiled. And then I cried. Not once had I imagined a long labor, but there it was, staring me down and the only way to the other side was through it.

They gave us the room and we settled in. BJ stretched out behind me, holding me tight during contractions, both of us resting in between, drifting into light sleep.

I imagined a conversation with the nurse:

Nurse: "Do you need anything else?"

Me: "When you get a chance, could you please bring another ginger ale? Oh, and a bag of Pitocin and an epidural. Let's just crank that thing up. Thanks!"

I laughed a little and let it go, because that was not my most pervading thought lying there in the dark. So much larger than that little thought was an overwhelming peace. I remember BJ's arms around me. I remember how soft my pillow felt in contrast to the power of the contractions. I remember the dark room was soothing. And I remember the music. We cycled through Bethel's The Loft Sessions three or four times that night, but one chorus seemed to rise above the rest. It's all I hear as I think back on those hours.

"Spirit of the Living God, come fall afresh on me. Come wake me from my sleep. Blow through the caverns of my soul, pour in me to overflow." 

That peace carried me through the night, through breaks in rest and more tears, and a return back to bed. 

6:00 AM: "Okay baby, time to listen to mama. Today is our day."

I was done being still. I was as rested as I could be on this side. BJ slept. I opened the blinds to let the first hints of sun sneak into the room and Jack and I walked. We moved together, rocking, swaying, listening to music, praying. Soft whispers sent out in trust, believing that today was the day. That early morning hour was about the three of us - me, Jack and a faithful, sovereign God. 

The simplest definition I've heard for the word "holy" is set apart for God. Sometimes we can't recognize the holiness of a place until we look back on it. Sometimes we are acutely aware of the sacred as our feet move through it. This was the latter and I was thankful to be there, in an hour set apart.

7:40 AM: 5-6cm

A few more tears. Melanie's voice reminding me that I was more than half-way through. I knew she was right. Fresh tears. Regroup. Refresh.

8:20 AM: Into the water

"Find me in the river, find me on my knees. I've walked against the water, now I'm waiting if you please. We didn't count on suffering, didn't count on pain. But if the blessing's in the valley, then in the river I will remain. Find me in the river, find me there. Find me on my knees with my soul laid bare. Even though you're gone and I'm cracked and dry, find me in the river. I'm waiting here." This shuffled into our playlist while we were in the bathroom and we smiled. It so perfectly summed up the moment and helped lift us to the next.

"Find me in the river, find me on my knees. I've walked against the water, now I'm waiting if you please. We didn't count on suffering, didn't count on pain. But if the blessing's in the valley, then in the river I will remain. Find me in the river, find me there. Find me on my knees with my soul laid bare. Even though you're gone and I'm cracked and dry, find me in the river. I'm waiting here." This shuffled into our playlist while we were in the bathroom and we smiled. It so perfectly summed up the moment and helped lift us to the next.

First-labor-me was scared and too lost in my own head to be present with BJ.

Second-labor-me hardly had time to look him in the eye before Parker came flying out.

I had two dreams for Jack's birth: (1) To be present and enjoy the experience with BJ. (2) To pull Jack straight to my chest and for him to stay there (both Ian and Parker needed extra encouragement that required they move to the warmer before coming to me).

My first dream came true 100 times over. Holding me during the night, walking with me in the morning, holding my hand by the water, he never wavered. BJ isn't a man of many words when it comes to support. Instead, he quite literally held me up when my knees gave way. He switched out cold rags, brought food, organized care for our boys, and he never looked away.

Labor is beautiful and messy and bloody and smelly and exhausting. It is a raw, desperately vulnerable kind of beauty. And he never backed down. I walked away from Jack's birth more in love with him than just 24 hours before.

10:45 AM: Out of the tub, 9cm

11:30 AM: "Being pregnant and giving birth are like crossing a narrow bridge. People can accompany you to the bridge. They can greet you on the other side. But you walk that bridge alone.”  -African Proverb

There are times in labor when we need other women to walk us to that bridge and we need them more than anyone else, even our partners. Those moments were spread throughout our time at the hospital - encouragement here, birth wisdom there, a hand that understands the pain in my back and understands how to ease it, eyes that can say "I know."

And for me, in Jack's birth, there came a point when it was the women I needed fully and completely. I needed BJ there and he never left my side, but I needed those women too, with all their strength and grace and empathy. Squeezing my hand, holding my face, kneading my back, standing with me in a solidarity that knows. Standing with me in the tradition of women for thousands of years - reminding us that childbirth, like motherhood, is not something we do alone.

11:50 AM: Crazy Town

So much of Jack's birth was marked by peacefulness. It was still, dark, quiet. In those last twenty minutes though, whatever calm I had, I lost. My team never moved, holding me tight and promising me I was safe, but I had already hit the panic button.

Up to this point, a year of birth work had been my ally. But here, in this moment, my mind flashed with memories of things I'd seen go wrong; and even though my circumstances were different from theirs, the reasoning part of my brain had signed off.

Melanie, in all her wisdom and years of experience, knew what needed to happen. She got me up, made me move and sat me down on the birth stool with BJ behind me. I sank into the arms that had held me for so many hours.

Four minutes later, Melanie said, "Cara, reach down and pick up your baby!"

12:27 PM: THIS. PRAISE!

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My second dream, that Jack would come straight to my chest and not need to leave, is exactly what happened. He was healthy and perfect in every way.

I could hear BJ crying behind me, his chest moving against my back, his face next to mine. We both knew what a miracle this moment was. We remembered how Jack's story began last summer, and we praised God for the immeasurable gift of this day and this child.

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On penguins and mountains of laundry

I had this idea, about a month ago, that I needed to get on top of the laundry and cleaning and meal planning and all that stuff I'm not very good at before sitting down to write another blog. And that the first blog following this discipline would be about how important that process had been for me.

Yeah. It was a stupid idea. A month went by, I didn't write anything that wasn't on a deadline for someone else, and you know what? Our apartment is still a disaster. The mess is the mess and it will always be the mess.

I'm letting it go. 

There are mountains of laundry in every room of our apartment. Some of it's clean. Some of it's dirty. To tell you the truth, I can't tell which is which anymore, so it just stays there and is neither worn nor washed. I am currently sitting next to one of the piles, laptop in hand, because the idea that one day it will be "under control" is laughable.

I guess it's fitting to write in the middle of the mess, because this is really just a simple post about where we are right now.

This kid is more than my heart can handle. He is relentlessly stubborn and a little too smooth for someone this small. He is passionately in love with people - ALL people - in a way that exceeds that of any adult I know.

And then there's this guy...

We didn't know what our family was missing until he came along. Like his brother, he is fiery and full of life, yet he is fabulously different in a dozen other ways. I cannot even handle how much older he suddenly seems. The words he's using. The things he understands. My pregnant hormones aren't ready for it.

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We're in the process of buying our first house (the other reason I've been absent from all writing that doesn't come with a deadline). After years of living in an apartment, with a 30-month break in there when we lived with my parents, we are about to become homeowners! It's a welcome and needed change, but the transition is laborious...as transitions always are.

I've birthed two babies and stood by sixteen powerful women while they did the same. I see a very literal parallel between transition in labor and transition as a process of life. In labor, transition refers to that last stretch before a mama begins to push and bring her baby earth-side. It's intense, painful, relatively brief and fully necessary.

This current season of transition for our family is all of those things and more. It's bringing that which has been in my peripheral vision out in front; and for a hopeless nostalgic like me, the process is ridiculous. 

I'm more than a little overwhelmed by how aware I become of time during transition. The packing of boxes and putting clothes away that my baby no longer fits in...it's a physical exercise of accepting the end of a season that we loved and are now leaving.

I think the reason I hate transition is that it is the time for saying goodbye. You can't move into a new thing without letting go of something else. It's that space between two worlds, where the excitement of the next step is suspended briefly to allow a mourning for what is being left behind.

That's the next thirty days for me.

With each box I pack, I say goodbye to our life in this apartment. Goodbye to the sounds of our neighbors. Goodbye to the long days we've spent circling this space because the weather kept us from going out and because, let's be honest, small children have a limit on how long they will politely tolerate being dragged through Target.

I went into labor with Parker in this apartment, spending the majority of the hours before his birth walking around this little room. 

When Ian was born, we lived with my parents while we finished school. This was the first place the three of us lived together, on our own.

We've huddled more friends around our tiny living room for meals than many would believe is possible.

BJ called to tell me that my grandfather had died while I sat just feet from where I am right now. We celebrated the news of two babies standing in our bathroom. And we grieved the loss of one, resting within the safety of these walls.

This is the only home Parker has ever known.

I'm ready for the next thing. Believe me, I am SO READY. But I hate saying goodbye, because I know we don't circle back around.

It was easy for time to feel more circular before we had kids. Each year was a new start to try again. But with kids, we all know what a year means. We know how much changes and we can't help but be soberly aware of how different they will be twelve months from now. There's no circling back around with them. These days happen once and then it's off to something new. 

I thought we had packed away all the fleece, onesie pajamas for Ian after his last birthday. Recent low temperatures and an adorable two-for-one set at Target convinced me otherwise. As I watched him zip up his new penguin printed PJ's tonight, running around the apartment telling everyone he was a penguin, I couldn't help but think about the tiny fleece sets he wore as a baby. I could barely breathe acknowledging how much he has grown since then.

And you guys, I am SO aware of this last stretch of time with just these two. I love the moment a new baby joins the family, but I know that it means this time of just us four is coming to a close - and that brings out all sorts of crazy, pregnant woman tears.

So here's to a month (or three) of transition. Weeks of letting go, taking hold and celebrating what has been and what's ahead!

Peacemakers in a World of Cynicism (iBelieve)

This is an excerpt from a featured article I recently wrote for iBelieve.com. Continue reading here.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

In my junior year of college, I took a class called Interpersonal Relationships. As a psychology major and an innate people person, I assumed I would coast through the semester, using lectures to complete other work. Each class leading up to the first exam, our professor warned us that the information we were learning seemed simple. It was the type of stuff you heard and thought, “well of course, I already knew that.” I heard her warnings and counted myself among the few who really did know it intuitively…until she passed back our first exam and it quickly became clear that my participation was going to require that I become less passive and more active.

For much of my life, I skimmed over Matthew 5:9 with a similar sense of apathy. Where I should have slowed down and dug in, I kept moving in search of the ‘deeper’ theology that would challenge my mind. To be a peacemaker seemed like a given, a natural byproduct of accepting Christ. It was all so simple…until it wasn’t. It was easy as long as it was passive, but when it became an action, something I was called to do, I realized there was nothing easy about it. Anyone can love peace, but to create peace is far from the fluffy, flower-power images I had in mind. It is bold and intentional and tender.

My children reflect me. The youngest physically resembles my family, specifically my grandfather; and while the oldest is the spitting image of my husband, much of his personality mirrors the extroverted, never-knew-a-stranger child I once was. As my children, they look like me.

Peacemakers will be called the children of God because their lives will reflect the character of God, just as children reflect the image of their parents. They will look like their Father. They don’t stop at loving peace. They put in the self-sacrificing work to make peace – just like their Father (John 3:16-17).

At our core, we know this is true, but we may skim past it too quickly, rather than allowing it to take deep root within us. Perhaps this is one of the discrepancies that led Mahatma Ghandi to say, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Continue reading here

A day for remembering (a birth story of sorts)

Today was her due date.

I wasn't sure how I would feel this morning. Would I be sad? Angry? Would things be surprisingly, and disappointedly, normal? I was braced for a range of possibilities, but I didn't expect relief. Bittersweet relief.

On March 15, I walked into the hospital pregnant and walked out without a baby. So many of you held us up while we grieved. And even though the pregnancy physically ended that day, my heart and my mind stayed with her. For 30 weeks, I was aware of the developments that would have progressed had things not ended so soon. I saw my friends whose pregnancies continued and I watched their bellies grow - and have now watched their babies be born. While I've spent the last five months pregnant with this one, my heart has covered two pregnancies with one breath - one that is physical and one that was emotional. Maybe that's why the whole experience has been painfully fragmented. Those mama emotions were so fully wrapped up in mentally seeing her pregnancy through, I couldn't move into a place of connecting here, both in the womb and in my heart.

As a doula, I have the honor of attending births. I stand beside women and hold their hands as their babies move out of their bodies and into the world. That home that gently protected and grew those children for so many weeks will eventually return to its starting point....or somewhere near there...ready to do its work again. 

The life of each of my kids started in this belly of mine. And though our October baby moved out seven months ago, my heart needed more time with her.

I needed to carry her to today.

Today is her birth and I'm ready to let her be born. I'm ready to let go and to make room for the one coming soon - and oh my goodness, it is crazy just how soon that actually is.

So we bought a box. The cards, the hospital bracelets, the sonogram pictures, the letters we wrote her - it all goes in the box, our place for remembering and celebrating.

And yes, it's the biggest box in the world. I had to give up my vain pursuit of the perfect box and choose to make this one the right one.

And yes, it's the biggest box in the world. I had to give up my vain pursuit of the perfect box and choose to make this one the right one.

We celebrate because she lived and we are confident that this means something for eternity. We celebrate because her life, and the exact number of days it held, means that this one can roll around today and kick me in the side. That's a gift we will only appreciate even more in the future.

This one has waited for me and now it's our time - time to get excited and more deeply invested, time to plan and prepare and dream big. Monday morning we'll be taking a peak at the family jewels - or lack thereof! 

Thank you to everyone who remembers and celebrates with us today. Her 'birth' is bittersweet and I have many tears to go, but we rest in the peace of such a good God, who loves us deeply and understands this grief more than we ever will.

"Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you." (Psalm 143:8)

Church, Let's Talk About Miscarriage (TCW)

This week I'll be over at Today's Christian Woman, talking about miscarriage, grief and open conversation. Here's a small excerpt from the article. Continue reading here.

(Brief excerpt taken from Church, Let's Talk About Miscarriage

Clinical psychologist Dr. Janet Jaffe notes that because miscarriage is a common source of pain, “the impact of miscarriage is often underestimated.” She describes it as “a traumatic loss, not only of the pregnancy, but of a woman’s sense of self and her hopes and dreams of the future. She has lost her ‘reproductive story,’” says Dr. Jaffe, “and it needs to be grieved.”

While her observations are certainly accurate, I would suggest that they are incomplete.

The cultural language surrounding miscarriage is careful and politically correct, and despite its best intentions, it leaves many parents conflicted about the appropriateness of their feelings and without words to process their experience. Words like “fetus” and “pregnancy loss” do not validate their grief over a baby who existed and is now gone.

The language we use creates a framework for explaining what has happened. So, when that framework implies that the loss was anything less than a living human being, parents may try to reason away their tears or at least hurry past them, because culture is telling them that this is the loss of a dream rather than the loss of a child. (continue reading here)

And then there were five (the story)

We left this little announcement on Facebook Monday night.

Coming this winter.

The idealist in me imagined a casual family picture with the four of us smiling and holding the sonogram. We'd be sitting in the grass in a way that felt natural, not posed, and the boys would appear serene and well pressed (read: not screaming and bathed). Their faces would say "We couldn't be more excited to have another baby and give up having our own bedrooms. Family time really is the best." The setting sun would cast warm light and a vintage chalkboard would read "Coming this winter."

Then I remembered that kids taking announcement pictures (or any picture) is an enormous joke sold to us by Pinterest. The reality looks more like this.

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After many promises were made, we squeaked by with this one and called it a day. If there was sound in the picture below, you would hear my voice bribing their smiles in return for ice cream. We do what we have to do.

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Everything about the boys' pregnancies was easy. Getting pregnant, being pregnant, giving birth - I couldn't have asked for more. Last February welcomed the surprise news of a tiny girl we weren't expecting, but quickly loved. March brought the even more surprising news of her passing. Many of you, close friends and readers, lavished us with encouragement and prayer during that time. Even now, we continue to be deeply grateful for each word you whispered on our behalf.

Pregnancy after miscarriage has been a cocktail of conflicting emotions. Gratitude for new life. Grief for life gone. Fear over how fragile the whole thing is; and running through all of it is a strange awareness that this one is here because of the one who is not. From the start, it's been different than the boys.

Then one Friday night in July, I noticed vague spotting, which wouldn't have concerned me much by itself, but my gut told me something was wrong. The pregnancy symptoms I had been experiencing disappeared a few days before (which happened in March as well) and my body was still. Quiet. After what felt like a five day weekend, I called for an appointment first thing Monday morning.

As my eyes tried to make sense of the ultrasound, my midwife began to interpret. 

The baby was smaller than would be expected. The heart rate was slow. Too slow.

Blood work suggested things weren't progressing as they should and it seemed as though everything in there was slowing down. In a phone conversation with my midwife on Thursday night, she offered to meet me early Monday morning, as she felt that would have been enough time for things to take their course. I hung up the phone and cried, letting go and preparing myself for what was next.

Throughout the week, we prayed that God would breathe new life into one that appeared to be fading, and we trusted Him with the outcome regardless. There are systems of belief in the Church that would suggest we must believe God will do what we ask and that this is what it means to pray in faith. We were brought to our knees wrestling with this question, but with each pass over scripture, we felt increasing peace that to pray with expectancy is to pray with a belief in God's sovereignty - believing that He can, believing that He is good, believing that He hears us and will respond, and trusting that He holds all of it together regardless of what happens.

That week was three times as long as any other. My body had been eerily silent up to this point, with the few symptoms I initially felt vanishing the week before. But then on Friday, I woke up with morning sickness. Saturday and Sunday it even got worse. Compared to what I had felt with the boys, it was relatively mild, but it was new for this pregnancy. Hope began to take back my heart.

Monday morning was met with a community of friends and family waiting for news, phones in hand. In our eagerness for an answer, BJ and I found ourselves at the office before anyone arrived to unlock the front door, so we sat in the hall and debated the meaningless stuff you talk about when you're trying to stay distracted.

Once in the exam room, our wait was short. This was the same room we sat in last March. The same screen that we saw her on. I remembered that morning sitting in the silence.

The midwife came in quickly and jumped right to it. She would later confess that she had dreaded coming in, as she was sure she would only be confirming a miscarriage. Instead, this is what we found...

She was ecstatic. BJ cried. I exhaled for the first time in eight days. 

Repeatedly we heard her say, "I just don't understand it girlfriend. This is a miracle baby."

Another week passed and we went back for a closer look with the OB. Everything was great.

Six weeks later we finally got the picture my heart was waiting for. Baby was now even bigger than expected. Heart looked great. No concerns. I felt free to dream about the future.

God is good and kind and always faithful, and of everything I learned this summer, one of the greatest lessons was to remember that the goodness of God is not dependent on His answering my prayers the way I want them answered. He was no less faithful in March. His goodness ran as deep on the day her heart stopped as it did on the day we heard this one. The world is fractured and bleeding; but goodness, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness - these are the nature of God. Always.

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." -Psalm 139:14

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." -Psalm 139:14

So here we go again!

UPDATE! Jack was born February 21, 2015! Here is Jennifer, the midwife in the video above, holding him the day after he was born. You can read the full story here.

Neglecting today in the name of tomorrow

We live in an apartment. It isn't a hipster city loft surrounded by museums or a renovated condo with a pool and private gym. It's old, simple, relatively spacious (as much as apartments are spacious when occupied by kids), and it's very affordable. We are deeply grateful for this sweet space and the home it has provided.

I'm starting to feel the tension though. It hangs around on these long, hot days when the boys want to play in the grass and I want them to play in the grass and while driving to the park is wonderful, what we are all longing for is a yard of our own. 

Then there's the host in me that loves to cook food for people and sit around a table. That part of my heart is also ready for a little more room. I'm slightly uneasy even saying that out loud though, because I LOVE the memories we have of turning our table sideways and crowding friends into our living room, passing the bread between the TV and the couch.

But it irks me to call this space "small". We have SO MUCH. Seriously.

Occupy Wall Street broke my heart, because every time I heard someone say "we are the 99%", I wanted to take their hand and walk them through the streets of Sao Paulo on the day I cried for hours after handing out food to hungry kids, knowing that there were more kids than grocery bags and I had to look at dozens of children and say, "I'm so sorry. I don't have any more milk."

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We are the 1%. Every single one of us with the ability to read this silly blog via access to the internet. We are wealthy beyond the dreams of most of the world, but oh how quickly we forget.

So I hesitate to call our apartment small. It's safe, spacious, comfortable and clean. We have a refrigerator stocked with fruit and vegetables and clean water. I won't tell you we need more space or are lacking in anything. I won't tell you that I need a private yard or that I deserve it or have to have it. I don't, which makes us even more grateful to have recently learned than sometime in the near future, we will probably be able to purchase our first house. Grateful beyonds words.

It's interesting, and disturbing, how the consumer in me brings out the especially ugly in me. Outside of our regular household purchases, we don't shop often because we don't have that type of cash flow. So when we are told by a bank, "you qualify for this much" and I start scrolling the internet to see what's out there in our price range, my definition of "enough" begins to morph rather quickly. Each time I catch a glimpse of my overwhelming hunger for more, I am reminded of how broken I am and how desperately I need life from a man who didn't have a home to call his own, and he was just fine with that.

I think I'm even more bothered by the way I allow plans for the future to cast shadows over today. Our home buying reality is that it doesn't matter how much we love that little rancher needing fresh paint. Until we come back to the table with the necessary downpayment, all we can do is window shop. We're working hard, but that piggy bank is still pretty hollow; and even though we're not going anywhere for several months, I'm already feeling "done" with our apartment. Our home. No longer wanting to fight for it, struggling to maintain it, giving up moments to enjoy it.

It's not just anticipating a move. It's a pattern.

Why do I so quickly allow the excitement of life's next thing to poison the goodness of life's current thing?

I'm not sure when the next thing will begin, but I do know that the boys aren't counting the days. We've talked about buying a house and the new things we could do there, but they aren't anxious or any less engaged while we wait for the savings account to fill up. They aren't whining about their routines or becoming lame-ducks in their play spaces. They're as content as ever. And when we pull up at their new home, whenever that is, they will be excited and celebrate and once again, be content.

How gentle of God to continuously use my children as two of my greatest teachers.

The temptation to isolate

I don't think I've ever been so happy to see August. I've made fun of this month in years past, annoyed by its peak humidity and lack of holidays or things to look forward to. This year though, it is a breath of fresh air. Every soggy, hot minute of it. 

There was anxiety on my part coming into this summer, as I added up my commitments and realized I had agreed to a lot more work than was going to be feasible. Trying to apply some sort of brakes, I turned off the writing part of my life. For some reason I thought that would be restful. Instead it was exhausting. I process out loud, understanding my thoughts best as I speak them or write them. So with a loaded schedule that removed me from the presence of friends, accompanied by a "sabbatical" from writing that was the opposite of restful, my brain grew slow and foggy. Add to that an unusually heavy and emotionally draining July, and I was an irritable, weepy woman.

August is here though! Praise! The promise of fall is beginning to flirt with those of us dreaming of orange trees and football games, and it's just a matter of time before we're pulling out boots and opening the windows. 

In the middle of last month, spurred on by Jen Hatmaker and her book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I also took a little break from media. We don't have cable and we watch limited TV, so it wasn't a loss to make some space there. Cutting myself off from social media required more sacrifice though. At first it was hard. Then it was easy. Eventually, I loved it. I savored the silence and knew I wouldn't go back the same way I left.

But in the mix of that July...the difficult days, the writing hiatus, the social media withdrawal, the schedule so full I couldn't see or talk to friends...somewhere in there, I began to question my need for community. I thought about how much simpler it would be to not really know what was going on with anyone else...how low maintenance it would be to stay away. I knew that life would be flat and lacking growth, but it seemed to require less energy than the alternative.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't actually moving towards becoming some sort of a recluse. But I thought about how seemingly simple it was. I saw the problems, but I also heard this voice telling me that it was safer. Quieter. Less messy. 

I eventually pushed myself out and began to move back into the noisy warmth of community. Then I read twelve little words that captured it all so perfectly.

Ian Morgan Cron had me as a fan with Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me. He is honest, funny and kind, writing with a wisdom that gently nudges my heart back to the cross in the midst of wandering. When I started reading his latest book, Chasing Francis, my respect only grew deeper. 

In a conversation between the story's narrator and a Fransican friar, the friar explains that he was once a teacher and then a hermit. Early into his days of isolation though, he says that "the Lord Jesus told me that being a hermit was too easy." Their dialogue moves on, but my mind stayed on those words. It was "too easy".

How often do we retreat because it is easier than the work of being present? How quickly do we pull away rather than putting in the effort to have the difficult conversations and engage in the relationships we would prefer to avoid, shutting down instead of opening up?

I'm a little embarrassed to tell you how many times in a single month I have to talk myself down from the cliff of swearing off writing forever. And I'm not sure you want to hear about all the moments I walk away because silence is easier than awkward or honest conversation...easier than looking someone in the eyes.

I wonder how many mornings Jesus wanted to hide and how many days he resisted the temptation to isolate himself, because he knew how much we needed his life. We didn't need to just hear about it. We needed to experience it.

Adam had everything in the garden, except companionship, and God said it was not good. The life we find in community is messy and complicated and full of grey rather than black and white. It makes us laugh harder and mourn deeper. It is vulnerable and risky and incredibly worth it. Each step out whittles away the debris and shapes us into better versions of ourselves.

If we want to imitate Christ, we have to live in the throes of people and all that comes with them.

It's true that smaller circles and less engagement would be easier, but we were never called to the easy. We were called to something wider, borders we can only reach when attached and committed to others - the ones we love effortlessly and the ones with whom love is taxing. So here's to nudging us all out a little further this week - letting go of what's easy to take hold of something richer.

Why my phone can stay in my purse...for the next 20 years or so.

Pulling away from a stop light today, reaching down to change songs on my phone, a thought ran through my head and then quickly punched me in the stomach. I could feel the eyes of my three year old behind me and I remembered that right now, today, I am teaching him to drive. The lessons are happening every time we get in the car, not waiting to begin when he turns 15. I'm teaching him how to "safely be distracted" behind the wheel...whatever that means...and he is watching closely.

I'm also teaching him how to use technology, how to create boundaries and what it means to develop a healthy understanding of self, others and an always accessible world begging for his attention every minute of every day. 

I may worry about the friends he'll meet later and the influence they'll have over his decisions, but the truth is that the groundwork is here. I can't control what will happen the day he drives off alone, without me there to slam my foot on the imaginary passenger brake and magically protect him simply because I'm in the car. I can't control if he'll text or turn his music up to a level that makes coherent thoughts unlikely. I can't control if he'll go off to college more attached to the internet than people. But I can control what we establish as normal. I can lay a foundation for the behaviors I'd want him to follow. 

Remember when a phone was just a phone? If it wasn't ringing or being used to call out on, it was forgotten. The computer was for writing and organizing and creating projects, but it had very little to do with connecting. It wasn't a window to someplace beyond. Now everything funnels through these portals. Email, bank account, connections with people I know and people I don't, creative outlets, world news, music, camera, picture storage, work....it's all right there, just waiting to be tapped into.

One day, not too long from now, my three year old will begin to wander out into that ever expanding frontier and he'll certainly be swayed by the way his peers interact with their new freedoms, but the expectations he has going in matter. A lot. We all start life thinking that the way it's done in our house is the way it's supposed to be done everywhere. That's normal, healthy, home base. What I realized today is that I don't like the way I'm shaping that starting place in a few specific areas, and that BJ and I are setting the tone for what's to come, even though one day he'll fly out of our hands and we'll watch nervously from our little nest, wondering what he'll do next.

So I'm leaving my phone in my purse and my computer on the desk.

It isn't simply about less screen time. It's about decentralizing something that should be nowhere near the center.

It's about wanting the only association between driving and the phone to be that it stays buried under my wallet. It's about wanting the world online to seem more like a passing thought...a platform we check in with every couple days...and less like a third child or a friend who swears she loves me but actually has a tendency to make me feel pretty lousy. It's reorienting values and moving items that should be in the peripheral over to the side where they belong.

Because this kid is growing fast and he's soaking up our every move along the way.

On a side note, when the day comes that he actually does crawl into a car by himself and drive somewhere independently, will someone please send a bottle of red wine and a full pan of brownies? I'm going to be a mess.

Roadblocks to Writing (and all other forms of communication)

I'm terrible at answering some of the questions that are sent through my website and Facebook page. Specifically questions about writing or major life decisions. It isn't for lack of caring or wanting to respond, it's simply because, like many of you, my day is full of a whole lot of crazy and my email and I have a troubled relationship in the midst of all that mess. Instead, I'll try to address the writing questions here.

I'm a baby writer. I'm studying and making mistakes and listening closely to leaders I respect, trying to navigate around a world where everyone with a computer is a writer. I've learned that sometimes, the message we're trying to communicate gets lost because of a number of barriers we set up along the way. Through trial and error, I've realized that avoiding them takes work, but that it also results in a message that is honest and meaningful, leaving room for people to join.

1. "It's been said, so why bother?"

The simple truth is that yes, it's ALL already been said and yes, it needs to be said again. We are all writers and storytellers. We each represent a life that is full of complex beauty and we experience growth in the exchange of our stories. Whether that happens over coffee, around the table or on paper (I would encourage a healthy blend of all three), it's in the telling and listening that we change. Your story is meaningful and we need to hear it.

Comparison is a beast. It robs us our voice by convincing us that our words need to sound like someone else's. And if it doesn't shut us up completely, it tries to change us into a watered-down version of that person we're reflecting. The world doesn't need carbon copies of established leaders. Jesus said He was making a new thing. What is the new thing He is making in you?

2. Assuming the reader hasn't already thought about what you have to say. 

I know, didn't I just say that Jesus is doing a new thing in you and that's what you can offer the world? Yes. But He is also doing a new thing in the lives of your readers and you all share many of the same thoughts, struggles, and revelations. I try to stay open minded when it comes to articles and blogs floating around the internet, but the second a post takes on a tone of "you need to...you're missing...your problem is...", I move on. 

The reader is smart and is working through life with the same depth as the writer, figuring things out and making adjustments. The most convicting, challenging pieces I have read were not written to inform me of something, they were written as a sincere reflection on the writer's own experience. It left the door open for me to see the ways my story aligned with theirs, rather than assuming that he or she knew what I was thinking without even asking. That is invitational.

3. Speaking for the purpose of being noticed. 

The first time I wrote something that was relatively popular, I'll admit, I thought I had arrived somewhere that I now know doesn't really exist. Surely my book deal would be settled by the end of the week, my speaking schedule would take off and Christine Caine would call me up for her next podcast...or just to hang out! Ok not really, but I did think that I broke through into a place that meant something it didn't actually mean. There are three problems with writing for the sake of being noticed.

(1) It leads to bad writing. We just can't pen honest words if the goal is to create something that goes viral. People can taste it, like that slimy feeling on the roof of your mouth after eating something with fake sugar. They taste it and run. Good writing comes from someplace much more vulnerable than that, and it can't have anything to do with whether or not we are noticed. Some of the posts that meant the most to me barely showed up the radar for anyone else. But they were still words I needed to say, thoughts I needed to work through. The things I've written with the greatest buzz were never created with that in mind. This one in particular, a simple idea about how we relate to the world online, I wrote it in the car the night my grandfather began to die. It seemed silly at the time, a means of coping and processing. Some of the articles I followed it with, trying to recreate that reaction...well, I didn't publicize them for a reason :-)

(2) Easy come, easy go. Readers and followers will always flow out as quickly as they flowed in, because their worlds are unique and changing and what they want to read is going to change, so that approval...that sense of being noticed...it isn't something to cling to. Not even a little bit. 

(3) Doing anything for the sake of being noticed leaves other people feeling used, which won't help any of us as writers or as humans.

4. Not listening to what others are saying.

Everything about our writing will be better when we are reading and listening to other voices. Our vocabulary, our tone, our ideas, the posture of our hearts...it is all sharpened by taking in and learning from other people. To tune them out will only drive us further away from anyone who might read what we have to say. 

These are the roadblocks, and while each can be avoided with some intentional work, perhaps it takes something more as well. 

Maybe we set out in the right direction and are better able to maneuver around the problems when we begin from a place of humility, low to the ground, fully dependent on God, because that's where the heart change occurs and the life-giving words begin to form.


Sometimes I need to just stop thinking about things so much

I have a bad habit of being nostalgic for moments that haven't actually passed yet. Normally it strikes in the present, but I have been known to lament the end of something that hasn't even started. I know I'm not the only one who does this. I am, however, the only one in my household.

BJ has a gift for living in the now and he would probably tell you that he has room to grow in terms of thinking a little more about the future, but his ability to be present is remarkable. I don't think I've ever seen him dwell on the past, and where I experience sadness today for change coming ten years from now, he can easily say, "I'll feel that when I get there." Then there are the boys. Goodness, if there was ever a lesson for living in the present, it must be children. Now is all that exists to them. Eat now. Play now. Sleep now. My three year old's understanding of time is summed up by the stickers we put on the clock to explain when things will happen. "When this hand gets to the elephant sticker, then you will take nap. And when it gets to the balloon, then we will go outside." That's pretty much it.

Unlike the men in my home, I live in a lot of places at once. That awkward conversation I had two weeks ago when I said something I didn't mean. The good and bad and beautiful and hard of today. And the emotions I will one day have to process as these times come to pass. Just writing down that last part makes me teary.

You know those songs that sing about good times gone? I hate those songs. Especially when they sing about the younger years of marriage and the tiny years with children. Those songs are like dry wood on the open flame of my anxiety. 

This week we are on vacation.

Setting aside the stress of keeping one boy above water when he wholeheartedly believes he can swim (he can't) and keeping the other one from ingesting a quarter of the beach's total sand count, it really is lovely. 

Every time we begin to sink into one of those sweet, brief moments where everyone is happy and playing or eating or resting, I almost instantly get jerked back out by an unnecessary heaviness from knowing that one day this will be gone. First there's the knowledge that today is Tuesday and in four days we'll be driving home. But then there's the knowledge that one day the boys will be big and I won't be able to lather them up with sunscreen and wash sand out from their ears. And this heaviness that I feel both here and at home, it's weighing me down.

I don't want to look back later and be disappointed by how much energy I gave to worrying over the end.

The problem I have with this whole time thing is that it isn't fair, and no matter which way I look at it, I can't find an angle that feels better. I waited and prayed and dreamed over this season of life. It only seems fair that I should get to stay in it as long as I want...you know, like forever.

I feel the fracture that happened back in that garden. Those moments that are so precious that we want to stay in them forever, I think that's because they hint at something that resembles the peace from those early days of the world. Just a trace of the peace we were made for and the peace we were made to experience forever. So of course I want to stay in this place and yes, it isn't fair that things end. Sin sucks.

Praise God for the hope we have through Christ on the cross, that things are redeemed in a way that is eternal. Forever.

For now though, I have to stop lamenting moments that aren't actually gone. My brain can only process so much at one time and if I refuse to keep filling it with this dwelling on something as unstoppable as time and change, the space that is freed up can be used to enjoy more, think deeper, laugh harder and remember with greater joy.

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While we were walking down the beach yesterday, my oldest developed a collection of rocks to take home. No pretty sea shells for this kid. It's rocks and the bigger the better. He had two handfuls that he wanted to take back to the room and store for carrying home next week, but at a certain point he came across something that, in the moment, was more exciting - a big stick. Oh the wonder of a three year old boy! Picking it up was going to require putting the rocks down though. I reassured him we could pick up more later, but he resisted at first. How could he just leave them there? He tried to hold both, juggling his treasure in one arm and dragging the stick with the other, but eventually he let go of the rocks and was free to play, no longer held back.

I saw him spin past me with both hands on the stick, digging up sand and drawing animals and shapes. In more ways than one, I saw myself and I remembered that the weight of anxiousness over what is to come will only keep me from having open hands to enjoy today.

This misplaced nostalgia wants me to think it's my friend, that it's helping me stay present and focused. But if it was my friend, it would be life-giving...and it certainly is not life-giving. If I'm being honest and calling it what it is, it's straight up, unhealthy, joy-choking, stomach-turning anxiety. It is whispers from an enemy telling me how sad it is that this will one day be gone. It's lies suggesting that if only I remember that, somehow I can slow it all down and be more fully here. But the truth is it takes me away. It produces a fear that if I forget how fleeting the whole thing is, if I forget that we are vapors in the wind of time, then suddenly it will just be over and I will have not soaked it up. People say, "you blink and it's gone." And that's my fear. Everyday it's my fear. But fear is not from God. 

I don't have a list of steps to get to a place of more freedom. Lists feel better, but sometimes the answer to changing something is to simply decide to think differently and then to do it. Sensing my anxiety over these things, my dad sent me this text on Friday: "Live in the moment. 'Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.' Matthew 6:34"

When Jesus talked about how we should pray, it was very much a prayer of the present. Gratitude and requests for today's provision. He didn't even mention tomorrow.

For those like BJ, always present and never fighting time, I admire you. For those like me, I feel it with you. Let's choose to listen to Jesus. Let's choose gratitude for those sacred spaces we find so much life in and then let's choose to enter them free of any thoughts that might detract from the joy that was intended in their gift.  Let's simply say thank you and savor it.

 

The Marks of My Children

These are my boys. They tend to leave a trail.

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You can tell where they've been by the mess floating in their wake.

There are the blueberries stuck to the TV, the stickers scattered across hardwood floors, and the assortment of crayons and markers scribbled on the couch, table, beds, windows and walls. We bought a new mattress last year and every time I strip the sheets, I spot an additional ring that didn't quite wash out. I'd like to tell you it was juice that someone spilled, but we all know what it is. Why pee or throw up in your own bed when mom and dad's room is right down the hall? Smudged fingerprints from sticky hands cover every semi-reflective surface and there are food stains in places that I never imagined could get dirty and I'm really not sure how to clean. And it doesn't matter how many times I give away the toys, they still seem to pour out of every corner of every room. I don't know who decided pillows should be loose on the couch, but whoever it was didn't have small children. Had the designer been a mother, all sofas would come equipped with pillows that are permanently attached and cannot be thrown on the floor ten times before lunch.

Then there are the residual marks, created by a lifestyle of chasing, washing, feeding and holding - bottomless laundry baskets, a home that is never actually clean, chronic sleep deprivation and a wrinkly tummy that stretched out to grow and carry babies. 

These are the marks of my children. I've spent a lot of time reorganizing over the last four days, trying to regain a tiny bit of order in the thick of chaos. But when the toys were put away and I went to the closet to pick up a bucket of paint to cover the crayon marks on the dining room wall, I paused. These are marks of my children. They are the marks of a house that is loud and busy and dirty and full of life. They remind me of a curious boy making his way and getting into trouble and hiding the evidence of his mischief under his pillow.

And one day there won't be crayons on my walls. The pillows will never be thrown off the couch and I doubt BJ will walk around putting stickers on the floor. We'll sleep 8 hours uninterrupted and the only dishes we'll wash will be from the two of us. My home will be clean, but it will also be quiet. That season will be wonderful and refreshing and full of new stories with my grown children, but it will also mean that this season is over. So I'm not just accepting the mess today, I'm loving it.

Those are the things I thought about standing in the closet, looking down at that bucket of grey paint, which is why I left it there and I left the marks on the walls. I hope that when friends come and sit around the table with us, they'll smile and maybe laugh at the crayola renderings next to them.

It's a sweet, brief time friends. And I love it so much it hurts. 

On being unable to hold anything together

This weekend, we got away.

We packed up the babies, tucked them in at my parents and headed into the mountains.

Virginia mountains may not be able to compete with the scale of other peaks, but it's hard to match their beauty. They're captivating in a confident, quiet sort of way that doesn't feel the need to announce itself, but just sits patiently and invites the rest of us to enter in.

My dad raised me in these blue hills and they feel like an extension of family, yet I'll never stop oohing and awing over them. Springs of water shooting from the rocks, deer running out of sight, wind so loud you're sure it can move buildings - it's makes us stop and admire. What strikes me is that we experience many of these things in some form here at home, yet our reaction is noticeably different there. There are creeks and lakes and animals all around Richmond, but they are mostly managed by people. There seems to be something aww inducing about that which is wild. That which is beyond our control. That which is controlled by the one Who is sovereign.

This was my view during breakfast yesterday.

Watching the shadows cast by clouds roll up and over the mountains and thinking back to the small observations we made on the drive in, I found myself thanking God that I have no real control; and I breathed fully in the freedom of knowing that He does.

I'm not someone who easily gives up control, even the illusion of it. I tend to cling to it rather desperately, hoping that if I hold on tight enough, I may actually be able to save myself. Then I take a short drive up a relatively small mountain, or I sit at a window and watch the movement of life outside and I am reminded that beyond my own actions and attitudes, I hold nothing together. And while that thought would normally cause more than a slight panic, the longer I look out this window, the more I am sincerely grateful that it isn't my job to keep the world spinning, because the story would have to become so small if it was me - and staring across those mountains, I feel how tiny and pathetic a story it would be. Instead, I get to rest in the knowledge that it is not in my hands and that the story being written is penned by One who is infinite.

It's one thing to reflect on my limitations and embrace the power of a sovereign God when life is smooth and hope seems to be a given, but my prayer is that I can remember this place when tomorrow feels less certain and songs of praise aren't flowing as naturally.

That's the challenge we all face. To rejoice on the mountaintop and sing in the valley, knowing that the One speaking life into this broken world is so very good and safe to trust.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
— Psalm 139:7-12