Wednesday, December 6, 2017

the unseen.

It had been a long day. She’s been sick and we had flu shots and the park was just what we all needed to get some fresh air. But then we left the park and the epic meltdown ensued. She didn’t want to come in the house, so she stood in her stroller and screamed on the front porch for a solid ten minutes.The rest of the night was like land mines were exploding all around us- everything set her off into heaving, sobbing tears. 

By the time bed time came, I felt like I’d lived five lives in the span of a few hours. We endured one last pajama induced tantrum and finally she laid her wet, still trembling head down on my shoulder as I sang to her. 

Every night, I turn off the light, turn on her white noise machine, and stand next to her crib, holding her while I sing her lullaby. The whole routine takes only a minute or so. That night though, I lingered for a few moments longer, just long enough to realize that no one but me will ever see this goodnight ritual. 

No one will see the way I spoke calmly this time when she fought me on every thing from pajamas to dinner to the way I sliced her apple. No one will applaud my gentleness when what I really wanted was to scream back at her and grab the keys and run. No one will give me a positive evaluation for trucking us all to the park when we’d been cooped up for days with a cold and commend me for for counting just the way she likes on the swing. No one will take stock of how how I went above and beyond by indulging her fascination with collecting acorn tops and arranging them for the squirrels to find. 

So much of motherhood goes unseen, doesn’t it?

I crave affirmation. I struggle almost daily in craving acknowledgment and praise in the things I do. I’ve been this way my whole life. I remember once, when I was eight or nine, my Dad telling me how witty he thought I was and days later, after thinking about it almost non-stop, I approached him to ask him to expound on that a little. “Give me an example, Dad.” It’s not that I didn’t understand, I wanted to savor the sound of praise; absorb the unexpected feeling of admiration, coming from his mouth again and again. I bloom under the light of positive feedback from employers and authority figures and I will collect accolades from friends like little treasures. 

And then God saw it fit that I should be a wife and a mother- two selfless roles that are built on the assumption that the best work will go undetected and unseen. 

And that’s been hard. Really, really hard. 

But it doesn’t go unseen. Not really. 

God sees everything. He sees what goes unnoticed, what gets taken for granted. He saw every kick, every hiccup while she was still nestled inside me. He saw every contraction the day she came into the world. He saw every latch in the long, tedious season of nursing. Every dish I wash, every diaper I change, every tantrum I deescalate. He sees each of us mothers as we bustle around each other in the library or at swim lessons and as we encourage  our toddlers to share and use gentle hands. He sees every book read seven times in a row and every request to sing something “again peese?” 

He sees what no one else notices but he also see what no one else could see. He sees when my eyes open in the dead of night because I thought I heard her stir and he sees my frantic Googling when she’s sick. He sees the mornings that begin too early and the nights that stretch on far too late. He sees what our spouses and our own mother's miss when they look at us. He sees the mental load, the endless lists. He sees my racing heart because this little person who is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh is loved so fully that sometimes the fear of messing her up lights up my nerves with anxiety. 

And the thing I’m only just now starting to realize is that what God sees is good

When he look at us, he is pleased. He isn’t some jerk boss who stands over our mothering and evaluates us. We have an enemy who does that and we are sure to come up short and filled with guilt by his measure. No, our Father looks on our efforts as moms and deems it all well done. He laughs with us at the silly moments and grows our hearts in the tender moments. He covers us with grace in the moments when we yell or slam doors and our answers are biting and laced with frustration. He pulls us in when the nights are long and the fevers spike, when the tears are plentiful and the pain stings fresh, showering us with the peace that this too shall pass. 

In the Old Testament, it’s a mother who gives God the name El Roi, “the God who sees me”. She knew the gift of being seen. So, be encouraged, Mama. If you’re reading this today and you feel like it all went unseen, unnoticed, unappreciated, take heart; I’m inclined to believe that none of it does. 

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

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.