Thursday, November 9, 2017

on firm ground.

Two years ago this week, I wrote this post. I was riding the roller coaster of post-partum emotion, giddy with love and oxytocin one minute and crashing from exhaustion the next.

Two years later and I find myself writing a different, yet similar post.

We just celebrated Eva's second birthday and it was perfect. R and I made a last minute decision to skip even a small party and just celebrate with my Mom and sister who were in town for the week. We stayed in our pajama's all morning and ate birthday pancakes and spread the gift opening throughout the whole day. It was relaxed and sweet and I may never throw another birthday party ever again.

The lazy day gave me the time to remember everything I was doing the day she was born and in the weeks that followed.

In those first few days of Eva's life, I was caught in the riptide of joy and fear, exhaustion and awe. A constant ebbing of emotions that felt bigger than me kept knocking the wind out of me. From where I stand now, two years later, those same emotions are ebbing up and crashing, but I'm thankful to be standing on firmer ground now.

I'm standing on ground made firm by confidence. I don't have to wonder if I can keep this little person alive or if I have what it takes to be her mom- I have 730 days of proof that I can and I do. Every day that she doesn't get scurvy from eating only Goldfish or I don't empty my bank account and drive off to forge a new kid-less identity is a day that reminds me that we're going to make it. And so grows my confidence.

I'm also standing on ground made firm by God. In the first weeks and months of motherhood, my whole identity was wrapped up, swaddled if you will, with being Eva's mom. If I did that well, then I was okay. But if I messed that up, then I was a failure. The problem with that thinking was that the potential to mess up was lurking literally everywhere. You only have to be pregnant for approximately 12 minutes to know how much pressure exists to "get it right" as a mom. I believed the lie, hook line and sinker, that there was a right way and a wrong way to mother and I went about the task of figuring out the right ways. I talked a little about kicking that to the curb. And I found my way back to the truth that my worth does not hinge on my success or failure as a mom. It was a life giving change. It changed so much about the way I mother.

But also much has remained. I think it just two short years, what I've come to know about motherhood is that you just keep circling back over the same ground in a different way, made with new insight or new humility. My own mother who has been mothering for nearly four decades seems to concur.

There is still joy like I couldn't have predicted in my wildest dreams. Her delight at new discoveries and budding friendships. The way she says "Daddy!" when R walks into the room, even when he's only been gone a little while. Her laughter, deep and unhindered. The feel of her growing body against mine as I sing her our goodnight songs.

There is still exhaustion. Even when I get 8 hours of sleep, there are still battles to be fought all day long, boundaries to be pushed, rules to question and break. The care and keeping of toddlers is enough to wear down even the most well-rested parents and our headstrong little wilding is no exception. I sigh heavy when I finally make it to 7:30 after the longest days and the mental exhaustion whirs along still, long after bedtime.

There is still fear. Not the kind that took my breath away in the first weeks and months. As I said before, those chains are broken for me- the kind of fear that made my chest feel tight and my heart race and my palms sweat. But there is still fear. Am I doing enough to stimulate her mind? Is she getting enough iron and Vitamin A? Are we watching too much TV? Are we using discipline and boundaries well? Each question opens the door for thirty more questions and before you know it, I'm having to talk myself back down off the ledge.

But there is still so much awe. Somehow, in two full years, that feeling hasn't waned and I pray it never does. I still look at her just like I did the moment they handed her to me and marvel at this little person that is both my flesh and blood and also completely separate of me. I'm in awe of watching her brain grow and make connections and discoveries about the world around her. There is awe as R and I stumble and stride through parenthood, with absolutely no guidebook or precedent, and somehow we all remain intact and alive. Once in a while, we'll all be piled into bed in the morning, even the dog, and I'll feel like my heart could burst open wide at the awe that I've been given these lives to love.

Photos by Melissa Yates Photography
Two years have both flown and somehow crawled by and I'm humbled by the journey of motherhood almost daily, especially as I write this with a whole new little person nestled inside me. I'm sure I'll revisit this ground again, the awe and the fear, over and over with her as well.

As long as I'm standing on firm ground, let the waves crash.

Monday, September 18, 2017

telling stories.

I recently read this post by Sarah Held Evans and it struck a chord in me. 

I've long wrestled with blogging and it's purpose. I started this little blog when we set out on our first move after college as a way to keep our parents and friends updated about our travels. I don't even think I put the address on Facebook because I figured, "Who else but my mom wants to read my ramblings about life?" 

Somewhere, that voice hasn't really left. All these years later, I still find myself asking when I sit down to write a post, "Who even wants to read this?" 

Even when people do read it and say they really liked what I wrote. Even when I read other bloggers who share their hearts and my heart is changed and made better for it. 

Some other voices chimed in over the years, as well. The voice that said, "You have to blog like this to get noticed." And the voice that said, "You can never really say it as well as she already did, so why bother?" And lately,  the voice of hesitation that wonders if maybe what I've written is too honest or too spiritual or too personal. Or maybe it's not enough; it's not funny enough or not relatable enough. Then some competitive voices started urging me too look at how many page views I was getting and how many followers I had and I was comparing myself to other bloggers and getting more and more unsure and discouraged. 

A lot of voices joined me on my blogging journey and I lost sight of why I started. 

But I read that post and I remembered. I thought back to before I listened to all the voices and I was reminded that I used to get an idea for a blog, I'd sit down and write it, and press publish without much hesitation. I wrote about serious things and I wrote about not s serious things. I wrote about how I was feeling about moving and my career and I wrote about my car breaking down. I didn't think too hard about who was reading it or whether or not they'd like it or page views or followers. I just wrote what was on my heart. 

I wrote my stories. 

And I wrote them because I love to tell my stories. I love to hear stories and I love to tell them. It's just that simple. Rachel's post reminded me that there is power and comfort in telling our stories. Our stories are the way we know we're not alone. They are the little filaments that connect my heart to yours. C.S. Lewis said it best when he described the power of that connection this way; " born at the moment when one man says to another "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself..." It's the sharing of our stories that ushers in those moments. 

I want to tell the story of my marriage and how after more than a decade together, we're relearning everything and its hard and wonderful and I need to hear about how you made it through the tough seasons, too. I want to tell my story of motherhood, the beautiful mundane moments that are making my heart crack open wide and the moments that are so tedious and exhausting that I think I might run away from home and I need to know I'm not the only mama who constantly keeps a glance between love and frustration. I want to tell the stories of my successes and cheer you along in yours and I want to tell the stories of my heartbreak and be reminded when I hear yours that we aren't really alone in anything.

So, I'm quieting the voices that would tell us otherwise and I'm telling my stories and encouraging you to tell yours too.

Thank you for reading along as I do.

Friday, August 25, 2017

on my second pregnancy

On June 5th, I was at the grocery store alone, which is not common. R was home with Eva, so I was taking my time meandering up and down the aisles because those are the kinds of luxuries motherhood has reduced me to.

As I walked through the feminine hygiene aisle, I remembered I needed to probably pick up some more tampons. Then, it occurred to me that I probably already should have started my cycle. I stood in the grocery store doing a quick mental note of the date and just to be safe, I grabbed a cheap $1 commissary brand pregnancy test and figured I was just being paranoid, and continued my slow and leisurely walk to the cereal aisle.

When I got home and unloaded the groceries, I figured, "Hey, I'll take this test real quick. It'll be negative and I'm sure in a few days, I'll realize I wasn't pregnant and I can roll my eyes at myself for always being so nutty about these things." So into the bathroom I went.

And no sooner could I pull my pants back up did I see two very dark pink lines on that cheap pregnancy test.

My initial reaction was surprise and shock, I really didn't think I was preganant. I even bought the tampons cause I was convinced I was just being silly! When I got pregnant with Eva, we were trying, so I was paying close attention to every little twinge and change in my body and I could just tell even before I took the test. Not this time!

I was so surprised that I told R I was going to go for a quick run, but really I walked to the nearest park and did some Beautiful Mind style math to figure out when and how. Then I sat for a long time and stared. The thought that kept repeating itself in my mind was, "I'm not ready!" We had been talking about adding another kiddo, but it didn't feel like the right time yet. It wasn't in my "ideal plan".

I told R that night after we put Eva to bed. We sat on the porch and I shared a beer with him (a last hoorah, if you will) and his reaction put me at ease. He was a little surprised, but mostly joyful. He reminded me that getting pregnant is a huge blessing and also reminded me that we'd never truly be ready. Now was as good a time as any. Thank God for even keeled husbands who speak a little rationality into the mix!

Since then, I've been amazed at the difference between my two pregnancies so far. Not so much in the physical, in fact #2 has had a little more nausea, a lot more headaches and fatigue, and way more food aversions. Mostly in the way I'm feeling about what lies ahead. I've made no secret that I was pretty much a ball of anxiety when I was pregnant with Eva. I researched and worried and then researched and worried some more, just to be sure I'd covered my bases.

This time around though, I'm feeling much more relaxed. I'm Googling less (a tip I'd recommend to any expectant parent!) and journaling more. I'm trying to soak up the time with my first baby as much as I can and anticipate Baby #2 with excitement instead of stress when I think about all the unknowns. So far, so good!

So tell me, second time Mamas- what advice would you pass on about preparing for Baby #2? I'd love all the guidance I can get!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

amazing grace.

Eva woke up in the middle of the night, maybe from a nightmare. I rocked her and hummed all the songs I sing her, and I found myself humming 'Amazing Grace'. 

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me..."

This season of marriage for us is being stretched by grace. I've written about this already. We are learning and re-learning how to be good forgivers.  

The thing about grace is that is causes us to see everything in a new light. When I peer through the lens of grace, suddenly I'm not standing tall and I don't have the upper hand, I am a wretch who was saved. And through the lens of grace, my husband who moments earlier looked wretched to me in his pride, is no longer the wrong-doer, he is something else entirely. Grace shows me the truth and the truth is that my husband is a son of God, redeemed and right and spilling over with something holy. 

If you were raised in the church, grace is something you've been singing about and hanging on your walls since before you could possibly understand it's meaning. I've always said I want to be like Christ, full of grace towards other people. That's what was coming out of my mouth. What's been flowing from my heart is a different story entirely. God is showing me what grace should look like for real and he's using my marriage to do it. 

And here's something they won't put in cursive and sell at Hobby Lobby: Grace can be fucking hard. I want badly to hold a record of wrongs, to dig my heels in when I feel justified, to dole out grace only when it feels deserved. I want to forgive when it's comfortable, when it doesn't cost me anything. I want to sing about grace and I want to be offered grace without conditions, but give it out freely? No thanks. 

God is doing a new thing here in my marriage, here in my heart. He's inviting me into the upside down world of the gospel, where the first are last and the last are first and grace given freely sets me free. He's inviting me to look at my husband differently, with more compassion and with a gentler gaze. He's inviting me to examine my own heart differently, to check my pride and lay down my rights in exchange for something holy. 

It's not easy. I get it wrong more times than I get it right. But I'm slowly, reluctantly accepting the invitation and something is happening. My marriage and my heart feel different than before. There is growth here that we couldn't have conjured up on our own if we'd tried. There's communication and understanding in places where there used to be assumptions and hurt feelings. There's gratitude where there used to be selfishness. 

I'm more convinced than ever that it's grace that will carry our marriage from this season into the decades ahead of us. God is stretching me in grace and it's amazing indeed. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

when grace blows in.

When we were engaged, I made a habit of asking other married couples for a bit of advice. "What's one thing we should know about marriage?" I would ask. We got all the typical advice, "Don't go to bed angry." "Say I love you every day." It was all a bit generic, if well-meaning. But I realize now that even if these older couples had given it to me straight, I wouldn't have heard them. Much like youth is wasted on the young, marital advice was mostly wasted on me. I was 22 and energized by love and arrogance and I didn't need advice. I knew we might encounter 'for better or worse and sickness or health', but I thought our love was so strong it was exempt from the work of marriage.

Imagine my surprise then when I came to find myself eight years later, standing in my kitchen, eyes red from crying and completely exhausted by the work of my marriage. We were deep into an argument about coffee that wasn't about coffee at all. You probably know the kind I mean. It wasn't about coffee; it was about trust and sacrifices and the little hurts we had inflicted on each other over the years that we thought we had forgiven, but really we were holding on to, collecting like little stones. The weight of them had added up and suddenly the argument about coffee laid bare the real issues and our frustration and pain was bursting at the seams.

I have to imagine every relationship finds itself at this crossroads, perhaps many times in the course of a marriage that spans decades, the moment when you see past the coffee and into the heart of the matter. You make a choice to keep fighting about the thing that's not really the thing, or you make the choice to address the heart of the matter. We both knew we had to drop it about the coffee and go deeper.

And perhaps what happens next is what makes or breaks us all.

We started to wade into the murky waters of pain, into the things we've said and done to each other, usually subtle and usually without realizing our wrong doing. With reluctance and trepidation we each held our hearts up to the other, showing just where the stones had bruised and cracked. We untangled the mess of things that hadn't been said and unpacked the assumptions that had left both of us protecting our hearts with iron gates. As we waded deeper, I could feel the temptation to hold on to the hurts, to declare 'my right' to be angry, demand the absolution I thought I deserved. 'Protect yourself!' my heart cried out.

But I didn't. I did the harder thing.

I asked for forgiveness. I named my wrongs, both seen and unseen. I laid out those little stones one by one and repented for each one. I left the watch over my own heart to tend to his. But he did the other hard thing- he forgave me wholly and completely. He assured me he wouldn't keep a record of these wrongs. He let down the gates around his heart to let mine in.

Where there had been pain and hurt, words unspoken and resentments piled on top of one another, there was now release. Grace blew in like a cool breeze.

And it was a victory for our marriage. It was victory for every marriage.

Maybe after eight years I'm starting to realize why no one gave me the hard hitting advice I was looking for at 22. Maybe they could see the youthful arrogance in my eyes and they thought, "Better to let this one figure it out on her own."

Because I know now that if I had the ear to hear it, anyone who has been married longer than five minutes would have said, "Your love is so special. But that doesn't mean you're exempt from the work of marriage, it means you need to work harder to protect what you've got." Maybe they would have looked me in the eye and said the thing that is true, that the real work of marriage is grace. Grace is monumental. So much hangs in the balance in those moments when we choose to do the hard thing of apologizing and forgiving. Maybe they would have told me that marriages are forged in the fires of forgiveness, galvanized not by standing firm on the high ground of pride, but in laying down low, apologizing first, erasing the score. 

Maybe they knew that until I had a few years of marriage under my belt, the posture of grace wouldn't feel as significant. Maybe that's why they settled on "Don't go to bed angry."

To the naked eye, there was nothing special about what happened in our kitchen when we stopped fighting about coffee and let grace blow in, but we knew something big happened. We knew we'd come across a piece of wisdom that will change our marriage for the better. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

reasons why my toddler is upset.

This emoji sums up my face a lot these days.

We are entering Toddler World over here and that means the beginnings of tantrums. My precious little angel baby is usually an easy to please lady. Keep her fed with a constant flow of animal crackers and pick her up whenever she raises her chubby little arms and generally she'll be a happy camper. 

But sometimes she makes requests that I simply have to deny, mostly because I'm mean and cruel, but also sometimes for her safety and whatnot. Thankfully, we're not at full on tantrums yet, but she still lets me know when I've disappointed her with some tears and a little protest. 

Here are a few reasons why Her Majesty has been upset with me lately:

Because I wouldn't let her eat dirty tissues out of the trash. 

Because I pulled her sleeves up. 

Because the dog ate the cracker that she handed to him. 

Because I insisted we cook the oatmeal and I didn't give her a bowl of dry oatmeal. 

Because I wouldn't let her get into someone else's stroller at the park. 

Because after she dumped all her lunch off her plate, I refused to put it all back on her plate and hand it back to her so she could dump it all off again.

Because she wasn't allowed to pull tampons out of a box and unwrap them and discard them all over the house. She was legitimately angry about this. 

Because I didn't share my wine. Seriously. 

So cheers to you if you're also making your kid cry these days. We're in this together, comrades. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

a letter to myself at 21.

Dear 21 Year Old Me- 

You think you have a lot figured out. You think you're a pretty wise old soul. You still have a lot to learn. 

Especially about love. At 21, you've been with R long enough to be taken seriously but not long enough to relax and stop white-knuckling your way through love. It's a common theme for you and in ten years you'll still be trying to master the art of just letting that man be and learning to love him right where he's at. You will, somewhere along the way, figure out though, to stop grasping for the grandiose love story from the movies and somewhere in the failures and stumbles and the mundane, you'll find a love that feels solid to stand on. It won't be perfect, not in ten years and maybe not ever, but it will feel more and more like home with every new season. 

Guess what else? Your life is not going to look anything like what you think it will in ten years. You think you are going to be changing the world at a non-profit, maybe working with kids in the inner city or feeding the homeless, but that's not how it shakes down. In fact, your career which will barely advance in fits and starts, will feel like the most unfair lot in life, At 21, you have big hopes for the kind of career and life that people will look at and be impressed with. You've written it in your journals and whispered it in your prayers, "Let me be someone important." And you are, just not the way you imagined. In ten years, instead of being someone who people ooh and ahh over, you're going to be changing the world by changing diapers and no one is going to see it but you and Jesus. And in ten years, you'll only just be starting to come around to the great mystery that somehow the things no one sees are the most important things there are. 

Do you want to hear something really good? At 21, you're still in Milwaukee and your world hasn't expanded too much yet. Your crew is still the same girls you skipped class with in high school and your dilemmas are still pretty minor league. A decade later, those girls are still your crew. And the ten years of marriages and  births and deaths and distance between you all has only made those friendships sweeter and more priceless than you could have ever imagined. You grew up together and you're still around to cheer each other on. And there's even better news? In the ten years between your 21st and your 31st birthday, you add even more girls to your tribe. College friends and Navy wives, co-workers and mama friends- you do a good job of choosing quality over quantity and they make every tough season sweeter. 

Here's some advice from someone who knows you better than you know yourself. 

Stop worrying so much. Stop caring so much what other people think. Stop striving for things that don't matter. And stop buying cheap trendy clothes from Forever 21. 

You're going to be just fine.

Happy Birthday!

Love, 31 Year Old Me