Holding Space (the motherly art of doing nothing and everything)

I'll never stop being surprised by how much of my energy is spent trying to get my kids to sleep. Seriously. Who knew so many hours would be spent simply doing that one thing? It's 11:30AM. All of my people woke up just after 5:30 today, which means I've been jumping back and forth between kids for the past four and half hours trying to convince them they were ready for a nap. As of 10 minutes ago, all three are knocked out. However, it should be noted that I hear footsteps in the hall. I'm going to pretend I don't though. They'll find me eventually.

And it's not just sleep, is it? It's baths, play, everything related to food, witching hour - whoever claimed this to be a single "hour" was delusional. Or they forgot that we can count. Witching hour begins at 4pm and ends whenever all small people are asleep. It's a full quarter of the day, at best - so. much. time. just making sure they don't hurt themselves. I am a full grown adult women with a college degree and a job history that includes directing hundreds of teenagers at one time. Yet somehow, I can't figure out how to put laundry away without my two-year-old scaling the wall to the fireplace mantel. True story. I include them in chores and cooking and I let PBS babysit so I can have a few minutes of stillness, but it doesn't change the fact that an inexplicable amount of time is devoted to watching and waiting...especially when all three are awake together. There's just no point in convincing myself I can do something else. It's watch and wait.

In birth work, we call it holding space. As a doula, there are moments at a birth when I'm very busy - massaging a tired back, changing out cold rags, cleaning up, fetching water, whispering affirmations, offering suggestions, reassuring dads, answering questions. And then there are times when I'm not doing much of anything. Just sitting there on the floor. Standing nearby. Maybe my hand is on her back, firm but still. No words, just rocking slightly and smiling back at her. 

The idea is that we (doulas) are holding room for a laboring woman to do her thing by creating a safe place for her to move, moan, cry, sleep...whatever she needs. We're protecting that moment for her, supporting her by being fully present.

That's what these days feel like. Wading through thick hours of trains and snacks and matchbox cars, lying in a bed and pleading with my eyes for them fall asleep, holding space for them to be curious little boys.

I seem to have a vague recollection of how I once imagined this stage of life. I think it involved smiling over a hot cup of coffee (hot, HA!), watching my kids play peacefully on the floor, working at my desk or reading a book or making dinner while they roamed, independent and content. It did not involve three hour bedtime shenanigans, smashed blueberries under my feet or staring at the clock with desperation because, heaven knows I love my children with a fierceness I can't put into words, but the road between 5:00PM and sleep is LONG.

I imagined I would give birth to these wild at heart babies and that I would give them all of the things they needed to play and thrive and learn through experience, and that they would do those things while I did the other things - like the laundry or the meals or the working-from-home things. I had no idea how, during this stage, so much of what I'd "do" would be holding space, nor could I have conceived just how exhausting that task would be.

And yes, you know and I know that these years are devastatingly brief. I have not once looked at my boys and wished they were older. Not for a second. I am kind of obsessed with this season and I'm immeasurably grateful for the chance to be with them for so much of it. All of that's true. But reflecting on the swiftness isn't what I need reminding of, because honestly, I can't escape being aware of that reality. It's the music underscoring the minutes. 

Instead, I'm learning the importance of staying faithful in the small things. The unloading and reloading, the folding and putting away, the sitting and waiting and talking and watching, the wiping and cleaning and sweeping, the giving up my need to do and the being patient and still, the holding space for them to be.

To this sisterhood of weary women, rocking babies and gathering legos and eating frozen pizza for the third time this week, our presence is what's needed. Our faithful presence in the moments that feel small, that is enough. Even when we're absorbed in exhaustion, we're holding space for something sacred. Carry on mamas! 

On learning what love looks like (happy 7 years babe)

Seven years ago today. It was hot. Literally, record breaking hot. With a heat index close to 110, the air was heavy and sticky and all the things we expect from Virginia summers. There were no quiet guests reading the program and waiting for the ceremony. Not at this party. Instead, a gentle roar filled the sanctuary of that Baptist church - my grandparents' church - packed wall to wall with more than 600 of our people.

Our village, 600 strong, filled wooden pews to stand with us at the altar. We made vows, promises to stay and sacrifice and work.

We were babies. BABIES standing up there, pretty sure we had it figured out, completely unaware of our own not-knowingness. Yes, we aren't that much older now. Seven years really isn't a long time. Maybe the biggest change today is that we see that we are but babes in a world of much wiser adults, finding our way with all the grace of a toddler learning to walk. We're clumsy and a little foolish, but at least we know it now. Our kids have a way of unveiling just how not-cool and not-together we actually are.

So here we are. Seven years, four babies, two college degrees, five homes, ten jobs and still hardly any money later. I love you even more today.

Recently, some artwork circulated the Internet. This is what real love looks like, it said. It was sweet and well intentioned and onto something important. Love looks a lot less like the sexy grandiose from Hollywood and a lot more like everyday moments. I looked at the pictures babe, and while I understood what they were trying to say, it didn't look like the love you've taught me in the last seven years.

We have different ways of communicating, you and I (hello understatement of the decade). You process internally and then, maybe, speak it out loud. I process as the words come out of my mouth and are picked up by my ears. Where I have ten words, you have two. You receive information based on what you see and hear. I receive information by listening to the gaps. In those differences, words can sometimes fall short, so you've shown love in action.

Your quiet faithfulness has taught me what love looks like. The quaint dinner and the card games and the holding hands contently, those are beautiful pictures of our first two years together and when those moments slip in today, they are lovely. But the part of love I couldn't find in those sketches, is the staying part. The planting our feet right where they are because we promised we would and doing the hard work of ordinary life part.

You taught me that love looks like saying the words you don't want to say, because you want this to work and you care more about us being healthy than us being superficially comfortable.

You taught me that love looks like lying side by side in the dark, still simmering from what we said before, choosing to breathe in peace and breathe out forgiveness.

It looks like crawling on our hands and knees with a bottle of bleach and some plastic gloves, cleaning up after the kid that got sick in the middle of the night.

It looks like taking turns...over and over taking turns. I'll stay home so you can go out. You'll get up with the boys so I can sleep a bit more.

It looks like showing up when we want to shut down. Lowering our voice when we want to raise it.

It looks like a determination to bring peace into conflict, a decision to speak gently over brashly.

It looks like taking out the trash in the rain and bringing me water during the night. It looks like sinks of dirty dishes and your incredible patience standing over them.

It looks like three births and 55 hours of labor. It looks like you holding me up when my knees quite literally gave way.

It looks like dreaming together and grieving together, regrouping and pushing forward. 

It looks like knowing when to let it go and get over it. It looks like a willingness to stop and work it out when it matters.

You've shown me that love looks a lot like sacrifice - everyday, ordinary, not-so-sexy (but actually incredibly sexy) sacrifice. Thank you for your relentless love babe, for our family and for me. Our boys adore you because you are kind and intentional and present. I'm changed my your consistency, your steadfast pace and remarkable humility. Thank you for staying when it's hard, when it's boring, when it's heavy. Thank you for risking so much to speak truthfully. We're still just kids in many ways. Here's to the years ahead and continuing to grow up together. All my love.

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.

....................

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.