Saturday, February 11, 2017

to the mama who is praying.

This post is close to my heart.

My mother, Patti, is a woman of audacious faith. She has been praying for me and my three siblings since before we were even born. Every morning, even this morning, you can find my Mom sitting on the couch in her living room, talking to God like an old friend. As I have become a mother, and as I wade into the mystery of prayer myself, I've seen my Mom's morning prayer time with new eyes.

I wrote this first as a letter to her, but as I wrote it, I thought of myself and all the moms who are praying for their children. Whether in quiet hours before they wake, or in the car during your commute home from work, or in journals or on iPads, if you've been praying for your sons and daughters, this one is for you.  

Being a mama is hard work, isn’t it?

Maybe you've been at this gig for just a few months. Maybe you've been at it so long that your babies have babies. No matter how long you've been mothering, you've done some hard work.  Your heart has swelled and broken and been kicked and then dusted off and loved deeply as only a child can do.

You are doing the hard work today.

You've nurtured your kids moment by moment, day by day, from the moment you knew their little hearts were beating, nestled deep down inside you, to this very day. You've nursed and diapered, cleaned up messes and washed bodies; you've fed meals and listened to stories, swept the floors and washed the sheets, creating homes and safe places for your kids to grow. The unseen work of mothering, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year until suddenly there are decades behind you.

But you have done more than this, if it's possible.

You've been praying.

You've whispered their names in the hours before dawn to a listening God. You've sat on your couch, your scribbled-in Bible on your lap, and spoken ancient Scriptures over them, with hope in your heart and faith on your lips. You have offered each of them up in earnest prayers of protection and safety and blessing. You have surrendered in faith these people who you love more than you love yourself to the Father.

And it is making all the difference.

Mama, listen closely to what I know is true- these children we pray for? They are the arrows in the hand of the warrior that the Psalmistis writing about. You aren't just speaking to the ceiling in those hours before the house is awake.

You are sharpening arrows.

Prayer by prayer, year by year, you are filing, grinding, sharpening. Affixing them to the arrow with prayers still.

Arrows to be thrown out in to the world to pierce the darkness, to lay bare the liar. Your prayers, thought in silence, written in journals, whispered like a song to El Roi, the God Who Sees, have been heard and they are being answered.

And don't believe for a second the liar who tells you that these prayers are useless. Don't fool yourself by thinking you could be doing more, should be doing more. What a gift you are giving them! What a love you are showing them. To pray for your children, ask for the most intimate of requests, spoken in such humility at the foot of the throne of the God of the Stars and Sun and Moon. "Who am I to ask you of these things?" We often think when we pray. "Who am I that you would hear me and listen?" But we are Mothers, wearing the crown and the robe that we received as royal daughters of God, can walk boldly to him to ask that he usher in heaven on earth by way of our children. And make no mistake, he will.

Oh Mama, how pleased God must be with you. How he must delight when he hears your footsteps approaching. "Do you see her? This is a daughter after my own heart! Look how she takes after me in her love for her children! See how she understands me when she lays down her life for them! Oh, how she makes me proud when she sees them as I see them. Look at my daughter, mothering hard. Who is like her in all the earth?"

So go on, Mama. Keep praying.

You are doing the hard work, the kingdom work, the eternal work. I know it is breaking your heart wide open. But please, keep sharpening those arrows. And in it, in the quiet sacrifice of prayer and in the hard work of mothering, I hope you are filled up and fed well by the knowledge that it matters.

The hard work isn't over yet, but it's making all the difference.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

the giving

In this old house I can hear everything. I hear her coughing sometime after 3am. It's persistent and I can hear her trying to get settled after each bout. I finally decide to make some warm milk and go in sometime around 4. I don't know if warm milk will help but it seems like the kind of thing a mom who knows what she's doing would do. I come in silently. In the room, illuminated only by the street lights outside, I can see her smile at me. She reaches for me without a sound and I pull her from her crib and we sit on the rocker and she drinks her milk. We rock and sip silently for a long time. 

It's quiet except for her sound machine. In the whir of white noise, she leans into me and I feel the weight of her body and marvel at how long it's been since I was up with her like this. She was a baby the last time I soothed her back to sleep in the middle of the night and now she's a toddler, a wriggly, busy toddler. As we rock quietly, her taking sips of her milk, then feeling around for her lovey and settling back into me, I think about the nights I used to do this several times before the sun came up. 

I've become a mother in the hours after midnight. Days and weeks after the pain of labor was gone, a new labor was beginning and I was being born a mother. Needs arise all day long for every parent but it seems to me that after midnight is when the need of this other person seems to pierce me and demand more of me. Maybe it's because no one is around to see it or probably it's because I'd rather be meeting my own need for sleep, but the simple act of getting out of bed and padding across a house in the middle of the night is a kind of sacrifice that aches. I wish I could say I'm the kind of mother who gives selflessly to my daughter no matter what the hour, but I'd be lying through my teeth. Sometimes I give selflessly, but lots of times, especially in the dead of night, the giving feels more like taking. 

Tonight I'm giving though. I stand and rock her, my arms holding her growing weight and my hips swaying in a slow dance that parents the world over know by heart. Her fingers are at my collarbone, she's gently toying with the neck of my shirt. I feel her breath getting slower and deeper and her cough has calmed for now. Her hair, fine and wispy and smelling of baby shampoo, brushes my lips and I press her into me closer still, taking in this moment with each of my five senses, not rushing despite my own heavy eyelids. It feels like time is standing still around us and tears are welling up in my tired eyes. My arms are tired as she drifts into sleep while I hold her, but I keep swaying. It feels like I can't give enough tonight. The giving feels holy tonight. 

Oh, how I love you, my girl. 

I am selfish beyond reason most of the time, but you, my little love, have tapped into a well of self-sacrifice that runs deeper in me than I could have imagined. I will wake in the night for you. I have fed you from my breasts and let my belly swell and my hips soften for you. My bones cracked open and I bled for you. And I will do it a thousand times over. I will wake in the night for you even when I am tired and you've taken from me all day long and I feel empty. I'll wake in the night despite the ache of selfishness that nags me, because in these moments, when I give once more, even when it aches, I see the face of God. He's in the giving. 

He fills me up while I pour myself out and when I press you close, I press into Him, and hear him whisper so true that I can feel it in the marrow of my bones, "Oh, how I love you, my girl.

Nicole Piper Photography

Sunday, January 8, 2017

lonely winters.

Happy New Year! My love for new years is well known. I love fresh starts and blank canvases and resolutions. And I love champagne and late night parties and all things glittery and gold. New Years is one of my all time faves.

Can I be real about what I do not love? The winter.

Three years in sunny Florida spoiled me rotten and I forgot what winter was like up North. And I'm only talking about a Virginia winter, not a Wisconsin winter, which frankly is a place not meant for human habitation in the winter months. Here in VA, the days are short and the sun is only just peeking out from some clouds today after being hidden for days. It's too cold for the park or for walks and even getting in the car to go somewhere is a giant hassle because of the whole getting a wiggly toddler into hat and coat and mittens ordeal. (Seriously, America...Do you know right now people in Florida are wearing tank tops and flip flops?! Get it together...)

This winter feels even more dreary because we just moved here a few weeks ago and I still don't know a soul. That's a real issue for me because I am the quintessential extrovert. I don't feel like I'm alive if I spend too much time alone. I thrive on connection and interaction and start to shrivel up like a raisin if I don't get enough of it. And I'm not getting enough of it, yet. It's lonely being the new kid.

Do you know what's different this time though? I think God is telling me to sit alone a little longer this winter because this won't be the last time I feel lonely.

Lonely winters tend to crop up in other places in my life. We just pulled up roots in Jacksonville and we're getting ready to put down roots here, knowing full well we'll just have to say a bunch of hard goodbyes and move in a few short years. All while living hundreds of miles from family and our oldest friends. Military life can be very lonely sometimes. But there are other lonely winters. Motherhood has seasons of loneliness. Long nights spent nursing, the isolation of staying at home, the nagging feeling that everyone else read their copy of "How to Parent with Ease" and mine got lost in the mail. My marriage can be lonely when we're not connecting or when we're standing on opposite ends of a conflict. Even my closest relationships can feel lonely when I desperately want to share my heart but I'm too scared that I'll get a side eye, or worse, a pat on the head and an overused adage like, "Prayers go up and blessing come down!" (To be fair, if you've made it into my inner circle, you've probably never said something like this to me cause you know what's good for you. If this is a saying you use and you are not a wooden sign at Hobby Lobby, then personally I think it's time to retire it.)

Life is full of lonely winters. Sometimes they're long and brutal and other times they vanish as quickly as they came, usually with the feeling of authentic connection that I crave so much. But I can feel God urging me to embrace the solitude this time so that, when the lonely winters do crop up, I can greet these seasons gently instead of my usual frantic anxiety.

The beauty of seasons is that they are always changing. I'm hoping spring will be even more beautiful and more full of life if I can wait for it's arrival patiently.

Also I'm taking the time to step back into writing, which is at times the loneliest of hobbies, spent in my own head at a computer by myself. My hope is that if you're reading this and you too are in a lonely season, you know you aren't alone. Let's be alone, together? I think it's the best way to be.

Cheers to the new year and embracing the loneliness and the changing seasons! Meet you back here soon.

Monday, November 14, 2016

one year!

My favorite things:
  • Yelling! I like to yell across the house to see if anyone will answer me. I don't care if Mom is on the phone or if Dad is trying to watch something on TV- I just want to yell back and forth!
  • Going to the park. I can't walk still, but I love swinging and sitting watching the big kids run around. I sometimes like the slide, but I'm happier to just observe. 
  • Dogs and cats! I laugh and smile every time we see them out on our walks and sometime I'm just so thrilled to see Beau come around the corner that I squeal with delight!
My least favorite things:
  • Being too far from Mom. I've been pretty consistent about this since I was just a teensy babe, but if my Mama could hold me and carry me everywhere she goes, I'd be pretty glad. 
Eva is one! And this update is overdue, but it's because we were too busy celebrating! My mom and R's parent's flew down to help us celebrate and we had a wonderful party (pictures coming soon!) and spent the week reminiscing about what a difference a year makes. We talked about what we were doing last year at this same time and I reflected on how far I've come as a parent in just twelve short months. I haven't enjoyed every single moment, but I find that as she gets bigger and as I become more confident, I'm able to take the tough days in stride and relish the sweet moments a little more. It's been a wonderful year and I am thankful and excited for the year ahead!

Here's what we've been up to this month:

Eva and her bestie Ember taking a wagon ride. 

We're in full on toddle mode over here with this little lady getting into cabinets and drawers all the time. This Tupperware cabinet is her favorite and the drawer with the Ziploc bags is my least favorite... 

Checked out our local used bookstore and Eva was in a heaven of pulling books off the shelf. 

It's not fall until you visit a pumpkin patch. And I managed to get a rare photo of her standing with no help! 

Grandma and Grandpa got Eva the same wagon that her buddy Ember has and she loves it! 

We all survived out first hurricane! (With the help of  important provisions, of course.)

She let me put this clown wig on and she kept it on for a lot longer than I expected. Maybe she''ll have a future in the circus? 

This is the scene several times a day under the highchair: Beau lets Eva kick him in the head because he knows the reward is food falling from the sky right into his mouth. 

Who knew Q-tips could make a girl so happy?

Soaking up all the warm Florida weather while we still can.

Helping Dad build a bed frame. 

Wrestling her buddy Ethan. Cue the heart eyes!

Where there is food, there is a happy Eva. 

Sometimes they look so much alike I have to do a double take. 

More heart eyes for these two!

We also began the process of selling our house! More information in later posts, but we're bidding Florida farewell soon!

And just for good measure, here's one of my two faves taken this same week last year. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

eleven months.

My favorite things:

  • Eating! I've been eating for a while, but I'm a growing girl and I am happy to sit and eat anything, anytime! (I am eating Cheerios in this picture...)
  • Exploring new things without Mom. It's no secret that I like my Mom nearby, but this month I got just a little more comfortable venturing out on my own and spending time without her.
  • Screeching with joy! Still no words yet, but I love to let out a loud screech in my car seat or my highchair to let the world know that I am lovin' life!
My least favorite things:
  • Teething. I got a molar this month and it was the worst teething pain I've had so far. 
  • Avocados. My Mom is always trying to get me on the avocado bandwagon, but I'm not having it. Get over it, Mom. 
This month I'm still working, but we left daycare and now Eva goes to a friend's house while I work. It's been such a wonderful blessing for me. She gets loved on and prayed over and cared for in a way that makes me feel so grateful for the community we have here in Jax. 

As we enter October and get ready to celebrate Eva's first birthday, I'm so amazed at how fast and how full this year has been. I'm constantly looking at our big, joyful girl and thinking back to when she was so tiny and I'm amazed at what we've learned about her and ourselves this year. 

Here's a little of what we've been up to this month: 

Helping me work. 

Eva wasn't crazy about daycare, but the ladies there were so sweet to her even though she did a lot of crying!

These flamingos at the hardware store were very intriguing to her. 

Eva lets Dad carry her like this and she loves it, but when I try she pulls my hair and whines to get down.

We took a little family trip to Tampa to try some breweries. Eva's been in more breweries before her first birthday than some people have ever been to!

We saw a Tampa Bay Rays game and Eva was less than enthused. 

She was all fun-ed out.

We lost a good friend here this month. RIP. 

A little Halloween costume shopping. I'm glad we live in a time when a waffle is a thing your child can be for Halloween.

We got to see the Packers play the Jags here and it was my first Packer game! Nothing like welcoming in football season in 100 degree weather! 

R was showing our buddy Ethan how to use the toys in the garage. 

Eva loved cruising around in her friend's new ride at a birthday party! 

Giving the team a pep talk. 

We had a checkup and she is healthy and thriving and tall! 

She loves hanging out in the fridge and gets sad when we close the door. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

ten months.

My favorite things:

  • Pulling up on errythang! I even climb Mom while she sits on the floor. 
  • Chatting and making new sounds. I like screeching and gurgling and just generally trying to see what crazy noises I can make while I figure out how to talk. 
  • My friends! I haven't always been the most social baby- I like to observe before I make any commitments. But lately I've been much more interested in other babies and even sharing toys and smiling and offering big, sloppy open mouth kisses!
My least favorite things:
  • When someone takes too long to feed me. I start in with the screeches when I have to wait for food!
  • When Mom leaves me at daycare. I always have a good time, but I hate seeing her walk away and cry every. single. time. 
We've had a lot going on over here. We celebrated Eva turning nine months in Wisconsin and spent some time getting into a new routine when we got back. I'm working temporarily, so Eva started day care and the best I can say is that she hates it a little less every day. She's so much more mobile now and getting into things all over the house. She's more social and chatty with us and she dances and claps.

It feels like almost every day of the last two months has been crammed full of work and events and dates and suddenly I looked down and someone replaced my little, fat, bald baby with a little girl whose wonderful personality is becoming more and more apparent every day. Nothing felt like more of a confirmation of that than my brother and his wife welcoming their baby girl into the world exactly nine months after Eva was born. Holding an hours hold, feather-light newborn and while my daughter sits eating cheez-its, it really sank in just how quickly it flies by. 

Here's a little of what we've been up to this month (and a little bit of last month too, because why not):
She did so well on the flight to Milwaukee! She even earned a pair of wings. 
With her Grandma Rita at her new baby cousin's island themed baby shower.
One of my favorite mama's in the world, my bestie Megan with her little man, Callum. 
Her first time at the coffee shop that started it all for her Mom and Dad!
Meeting her second cousin, who was so interested in helping her and being sweet to her. 
The only thing she liked better than the cat door at Nana's house were the cats that wanted nothing to do with her. 
Grandpa hung a swing in the backyard for her and she LOVED it! 
An Old Fashioned garnished with a cheese curd? The most Wisconsin drink this mama could get her hands on!
Callum teaching Eva all about the finer things; like chocolate ice cream. (In true toddler fashion, after she got a taste and wanted more, Callum looked at her seriously and said, "NO MORE BABY EVA." 
My mom and sister and I have a tradition of getting toe rings at the Wiscinsin State Fair and Eva got to join the tradtion this year! 
Callum and Eva. Best Friends 4 Lyfe. 
Auntie Melissa and Eva make a fine MKE duo.
Just chatting with Grandpa about things like nap time and Cheerios. 
If you're thinking of a good family dog, consider a Great Dane like my mom's puppy Kate. Gentle giant, indeed. 
However, a high chair is not so high for a Great Dane.
Playing on the playground on my old block that I grew up on. 
Just a little timeout with her Uncle Jon. 
In just a few months, it'll be time to welcome another bestie into the world; my oldest friend Erin's baby girl makes her debut this fall! 
Somehow we didn't get any pictures, but Eva got to spend some time with her two cousins, Cain and Noah. This is the aftermath of playing with her boy cousins...
Another day, another Old Fashioned. 
Meeting her brand new cousin, Ruth! 
Two days in the car on the drive home meant lots and lots of Brown Bear. Dare I say, too much Brown Bear? 
A stop in Memphis with Auntie Melissa and Uncle Jason. We weren't even in Memphis a whole hour before she was gnawing on a rib bone!
Back home and helping with chores...  
She'll be walking in no time! 
And finally, I'm lucky to have a sister who is a photographer and got some sweet shots of our bedtime routine, which is a part of the day I love (for lots of reasons!). This is one of my favorite pictures of one of my favorite moments as a Mama.
Photo credit: Yates Photography