Tuesday, December 16, 2014

joy in chaos.

I was asked by the Children's Pastor at church to reflect on JOY in Christmas. I had the opportunity to share my thoughts before our annual Children's Program, appropriately titled A Super Christmas where all the little people donned facemasks, crowns, & muscle suits (& sometimes a combination of all three) & sang about our ultimate Superhero, Jesus. 

The season seems rushed this year, doesn't it? Thanksgiving was yesterday & now this: Frenzied shoppers, thick traffic, Yuletide Greetings on recorded repeat that narrate the tree trimming & turkey basting; it feels so chaotic.

I tried to plan Christmastime activities for our two-year-old this year. His favorites are the Chocolate advent calendar & moment of wonder at the first tree-lighting. He is terrified of the Abominable Snowmonster, thinks candy canes are “disgusting”, & can suck our joy up with a straw when his famed bedtime habits have us waking & pacing at all hours of the night.

In the midst of the fruitcake & mistletoe, I feel chaotic too—the inside of me, that is. Adding the hustle to an already-bustling life certainly doesn’t feel very merry. But I call out Holiday greetings anyways, & I sing off-key Jingle Bells & enter my name in Secret Santa’s & raffle baskets,  & bring my 4 dozen cookies to a sugar-exchange because I think I need more of this in my life. And besides, COOKIES.

We flip the calendar pages, pop out new chocolate shapes each day of December, & it seems the anticipation rises with the numeric date. Like every juxtaposition in life, the Christmas we, as Americans, celebrate tends to spread on the guilt like thick peanut butter. Or maybe Trader Joes Cookie Butter, because, COOKIES. Matching the rise of anticipation is the breaking off of thrill for this thrashed season; each day that passes slicing off small pieces of my Holiday happiness until, just like the December moon, only the tiniest bit is left on December 25th when I give in & exhale my last exultation.

Isn’t it ironic that the Anniversary of anticipation for the dawn of a New Testament leaves me frantic, frenzied, & emptied?

And isn’t it ironic that the very season that feels so rushed, so hectic, & so diluted took  many slow centuries of God-making & mixing & matching & molding. The roller coaster of daily chaos aside, the history books point to a very different holiday, sans the cookies & certainly sans the hurried expectation.

You see, the tale woven throughout the shroud of history tells a tale very different from the frenzy that fills my December. The story is slow, stretches across centuries & finds itself on the fringes of foreign lands & families with Aunt Gertrude’s taste for the dramatic; it weaves a colorful tapestry of obedience & simplicity, always showing up on the edges of cultural popularity & always falling back to the promises of God.

From the heartbeat of Moses to the crown of David, straight through to humble Habakkuk & finally landing in the womb of the young blushing girl called Mary, God’s tapestry is painted heavily with slow brushstrokes & missing every hue of hurry.

Habakkuk 3: 17-18 says: Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, & the fields lie empty & barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be JOYFUL in the God of my salvation!

Your cry might be different this year. You might feel that your health is failing and there are no gifts under the tree. Maybe your scans came back positive; and the bank accounts are empty. Like Abraham’s Sarah maybe your womb is barren. You might be tired of studying & these tests cannot be over soon enough, and the heart-hearth is low & the debt is high and the smiles on our faces are fading and our stress is rising and even though it feels so chaotic, I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be JOYFUL in the God of my salvation!

You see, the golden glue in God’s history book writes love-notes of JOY. JOY in the mundane, the miniscule; in the MERRIEST of all seasons. And of course, God’s history book sings a slow song of JOY in the simple mantle & the humble Manger.

He converts our chaos, relieves our rush, & gently nudges in the expanse of stars & the expense of Starbucks that He is who He has always been: a God of reprieve who fastens miracles to dysfunctional family trees & sends smiles and salvation to YOU, His love.

The forever-song of God, the one floating through Eden and whispered to Jesus, is that of HOPE: hope that He will keep his Isaiah-promise & send a savior to bring slowness & salvation to a broken & bustling world. And it is one of JOY: that in the most unexpected way with unbridled compassion he sent Jesus to be tenderly loved as a child.

In just a moment over 75 little feet will walk out here on stage. There will be cameras & Grandmas & tears & waves and predictably, there will be chaos. But just like the rest of history, each of these little souls is part of the tapestry of Christ. The same God of rest that calls us to slowing for this season also wants to teach us to savor his Creation. Closer to the womb than the World, these little lives are going to sing forever-songs to Jesus.

And although there will be chaos, OH WILL THERE BE JOY.

So this season, one draped in commercialism & immersed in chaos, we invite you to slow for JOY. This season, which for so many is stretching & sorrowful, we invite you to the crux of the God who sends love notes to YOU. And this season, the one that is celebrated & anticipated & filled with so many cookies & the echoing songs of centuries past, we invite you to experience JOY unbridled, unkempt, & uninhibited.

Find JOY in these little voices. 

Friday, November 14, 2014


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It was the summer after my freshman year of high school. Rumors of the Blair Witch Project spread like wildfire, permeating the air of my gospel-centered mission trip with ash and brimstone. We were on a remote island in Honduras—one where Army-style-showers were required and bathing in torrential downpours were optional, where no cars drove (they weren’t allowed) and the nearest “conveniences” were conveniently 2 hours away…by boat.

Night had fallen after a busy day of laborious work laying bricks and painting the broken boards of Oceanside bungalows owned by the residents. And while the sun lit the sky, talk of spiritual warfare and ghosts and all things dark and scary lit our minds and mouths. Quite predictably I was terrified by dusk. The leaders finally noticed that things were awry after the cabins of girls clung to one another like clucking chickens in a robbed henhouse.

The panic was paired with something bigger, deeper, darker. The fear of the unknown took root.

The night ended with a mission-trip storybook ending: we talked, we prayed, we debated, and then we bounced down the stairs and slept soundly beneath our mosquito nets. It was an alarmingly innocent taste that there was something much bigger than me at work in the World. Casper the Friendly Ghost had been thrown out with the Golden Books and Cinderella-dreams.

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I don’t normally struggle with anxiety, probably due to some clunky combination of faith and forced training. Maybe it is because I’ve finally made 30 trips around the sun that I consider myself seasoned enough to take life as it comes. Maybe we can equate it to the innocent fears of spiders and spindles and dark hideways, or ankle-grabbers and Monsters in the closet of the bygone days of childhood—as if those unknown’s threw callouses over my fright of that- which-is-bigger.
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The truth is that I probably don’t struggle much with anxiety because I like to hermit-hole myself away in my own little world. My corner of the great USA is quite cozy, thankyouverymuch. I stopped watching the news when Jon was deployed and never started again—I find it depressing. Aside from a few distracted glances at the stories floating around social media (all laden with fact, I’m certain), I generally miss ALL THE MEMOs on all the flashy headlines.

Like ISIS. And Ebola. And genocide. And Death with Dignity. And preventable diseases in first world, educated countries.

Because instead of those sad realities that I’d rather not think about, this corner of my hermit world is filled with pumpkin scented candles and fall wreathes and baking cookies and organic apples. Here, there are toddler giggles (and tantrums) and clean rags to wipe snotty noses with. Here, the tickle monster comes to visit each night instead of the monsters of mankind and I tuck our children into cozy beds with Downy-infused fleece blankets instead of tucking them into makeshift wooden boxes laid deep beneath the ground.
 Sometimes it is easier to hole-away than let the stinging reality of LIFE burn a hole in your heart.
In the corner of my world, the heat is from our furnace, blood is patched with Mickey bandaids, and my God is one who calls me to greater things and then “blesses” me with a padded grocery budget and streak-free windows. 
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But the World is bigger than me, darker and deeper. And the reality of the depth of despair experienced by most of the world on a daily basis has taken root somewhere across the seas, spreading its seed to my corner of the world.

Their heat is from blazen rockets, ricocheting off century-old buildings and crumbling livelihoods and memories. Their blood is shed from sword, sweat, and solidarity to religion, to race, to riches. And their God is one who bridges the gap, feeds the hungry, clothes the poor and bends low to the desperate in prison, in poverty, and in perishing.

How small I consider Him. How much I have shrunk His power.

If only there were happy endings and mosquito nets for us all. If only the world’s children could be protected by prayer, innocence saved from reality, and the ledgers of the faithful transformed from meager intentions to eager realism. The truth is that my blessings are backed by privilege and geography. Because of where I was born, my life looks very different than theirs. And because of what I have been given, my faith looks very different than theirs.  
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So we go on, habits forming livelihoods and decisions pouring the foundations of our days. And life goes on, too. Sometimes gracefully. Sometimes full of deflation and despair. And sometimes we feel all the feelings—too much, too little, or maybe just enough—just in time to let the One who is Greater lead us, mold us, carry us.

And when we all disagree—among the states and the red and the blue and the Christians and the atheists—when we all feel we are more right, more sound, more knowledgeable, maybe we the Believers can consider Him. And His Cross. And his Ghost. And we can let that Jesus who lives in our hearts find a candle to light a fire there. Let a flame burn to inspire, to stretch, to take in all the World in the shadow of All His Glory. And then, maybe we too—the ones with the birth certificates that read “privileged” and the Mickey bandaids will be the careful feet and calloused hands who mend and feed and clothe and bend lower than ever before.

The world will always be bigger and darker and deeper than us.

And God will always be bigger and brighter and stronger than It. 

Sunday, November 09, 2014

catching that ball.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop for the first time in 7 months. I’m kid free, laundry-free, and appropriately care-free for the next hour. And although my mouth is most certainly silent, my mind is yelling loud. It has been this whole time, actually. Rarely does it get the chance to be heard through the drumming of keys, the black and white of paper. That’s not to say the words aren’t there.
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This transition has been better—that life-shock that rattles when a new lump-of-a-pooping-baby joins the family. Adley’s entrance was much more predictable, more mellow. In many ways, it was more surprising too. Like the 6 day hospital stay after birth while she glowed in bili lights, fighting off the knife of hemolytic anemia (hello life, surprise!). But we finally got her standardized and bundled, blessed by the signature of discharge from a trusted community pediatrician; we finally got her home.

And since then, we’ve had expected ups and downs. The transition, when all is considered, went rather smoothly. Some days it feels like we’ve blindly navigated our way through sleepless nights (both kids, thanksforasking), the woes of two-year-hood parenting, and that sticky mess that follows family change in any marriage.

But we are in a better place this time. I’m in a better place this time.
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I don’t feel like I’m sleeping better. The last two mornings I’ve woken and felt rested after six hours of broken sleep; which happens to be an improvement on the three-something hours I was raking up each night before. I thought the sleeplessness would end with residency, with a second birthday, with the two-year-molars. IT DIDN’T. I got tired of talking about it, thinking about it, living it. I got tired of people asking how we were doing because I got tired of saying that nothing had changed. In a rare “we are in the car for 4 hours so lets talk” opportunity with Jon, I finally was able to put into words that sleeplessness felt dysfunctional to me. *I* felt dysfunctional to me.

No wonder.

Perhaps it’s the magic of the second child—the bottle sterilizer is packed away, the special infant-has-sensitive-skin extra loads of clothing have been caught in the stormy sea of laundry, and the concern over choking and perfectly blended baby food has been replaced with whatever we are eating. I’ve brushed up on the Heimlich just in case.

Adley is a happy baby. After we figured out her guts didn’t like dairy, soy, or beef--and after we gave her time to heal, we’ve been amazed at how go-with-the-flow she is. A joy, really.
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I think most importantly, among the post-partum body adjustment and mental fortitude it takes to endure those first months, I’ve realized that life goes on. It goes on despite the sleepless nights. It goes on despite the 16 time-outs in one day, the 4 cookies Thatcher snuck from the counter, the mismatched too-short pants both kids are wearing. It goes on through job stress and boss struggles and disappointments that visit in the most vulnerable of places.
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It’s funny, actually. Life throws curve balls at the least convenient times. And somehow, whether it is a spouse or friend or our own last-stave effort of contortion, the balls always land in laps and hands and hearts after a wayward journey to the plate. Seemingly triumphant, we can say with confidence that we are making it, doing it, catching that ball.

I’ve put away my phone. We’ve warded off most technology--and I’ve noticed a significant difference in my parenting, my patience, and my praise of our kids. We’ve walked in the rain, splashed in some puddles, picked autumn “weaves”, and raced Little Tikes plastic cars on the sidewalk (the ride-able kind. Just imagine the Tin Man riding a matchbox car. You are welcome.). And instead of idealizing other moms who seemingly have it all together (you know them too, eh?), instead of looking to the past with fondness because I wasn’t there and didn’t know the charm of being a 1950’s housewife serving microwaved beans for dinner, instead of tearing into my own skin criticizing my faith-life because my Bible is dusty and the pages of If You Give  A Mouse  a Cookie are curled and torn from wear, instead of comparing all those things, I’m realizing that I am, in fact, catching that ball, too.

I have 7 loads of laundry waiting for me at home. I just cleaned my floors for the first time in 3 weeks (I wish I was joking). Our vacuum spits dirt everywhere, so I’ve just sworn off the task entirely, cringing at the thought of emptying our fun-account to buy a new one. I have stains on my shirt. And even bigger ones on my heart from the hugs Thatcher gave me this morning and the sideways glances Adley throws my direction in a “just making sure you are there, Mom” when nursing (ouch, by the way). Instead of rolling the other direction in bed, too tired to talk and too distracted to listen, I’ve actually found Jon’s hand a few times and held tight—praying through closed eyes and exhausted voices from discipline and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” sung 47 times that day. I’m giving my kid Mac and Cheese for dinner tonight and will probably find a package of PopTarts to call mine after the kids go to bed.

But you know what? It’s all good. We are all catching that ball—or at least making our best attempt at it. In the midst of the mommy-wars, the upward battle to the best #checkyourselfie, and the photoshop attrition invading our perception of reality, I would presume we are really all just doing our best to don a catcher’s glove and move toward the fast-pitched object flying in our direction. My “homemade dinner” is probably different than yours—as are my standards of a clean floor and an acceptable inseam for shorts and cute throw pillows and good music. We might be able to agree on a good wine, though—maybe share a glass sometime over talk of stepped-on lego’s and missing puzzle pieces and the good old days just like every matronly generation of the past has done over quilting looms and mulled cider, hook rugs and martinis, and jazzercise tapes with celery sticks.

We are all on the same team, sister. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Letter to New Mama's

Dear New Mamma,

Things are crazy right now. Trust me,  I get it. Society hides the post-partum period—probably for good reason. The waves of emotion and visitors, the endless nights and laundry piles, the shrill cry of your new little human--and sometimes even the piercing sound of your own sobs.

Don’t worry, these feelings don’t last forever.

I want you to know that you are normal. And beautiful. And brave. I want you to know that I admire your jump and that soon the world will be admiring the wings you’ve managed to find on your way down. I’ll tell you honestly that I find it ironic the Lord told us to be “fruitful and multiply” in an entirely separate Biblical passage from the one outlining that “children are a blessing from the Lord”. Probably because, if you haven’t discovered already, children and their blessing-hood don’t always flow beside one another.

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Kids are hard. Sometimes it feels like they ruin your life. And to make the emotional roller coaster worse, other times it feels like they are the ones that provide life itself. I had a rough go of it the first time around. The body-shock, sleepless nights, and defunct joy that i thought would never come left me weary and wanting. And so, I want you to try to remember these things—cling to them and to God, the same God that paints the rainbows and smiles on your baby’s face also paints the stretch marks on your stomach and tear stains on your cheeks.

Be yourself, whoever that might be at the moment. I hole-away after my kids are born. Like some sort of alternative hibernation, I tend to run from society and into my bedroom. Probably as a defense mechanism: I feel fragile, broken, and split. Split between who I once was and the new “me” I’m forced to become because of this new little Life. Split between the body I saw a year prior and the one that meets my gaze in the mirror. Split between my husband and this little creature; between explosions of love and hope for the potential this baby holds and eruptions of grief and fear for the “what ifs” and “I can’t’s”.  And so the world’s axis tips just a bit farther than normal and my emotions spill out—I isolate myself from both the joy and criticism of other passers-by. Some days I am who I once was—feeling selfish, independent, and dream-filled; others I am surprised at the way my world stops to watch the little movements and hear the little sounds of the new person in my life. And though it often feels like there should be two or ten or twenty of me to get the job done, one of me is enough. Know that, okay? One of you is enough. And that one has full liberty to be whomever she needs to be to survive the moment (no one said anything about thriving here yet).

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 Love your baby, right where she is at. I made a mistake with our first one: I paid attention to the books instead of the baby. I think our fourth trimester would have been much different had I taken a step back to realize that this baby will grow just as she should and develop, with our help, into exactly who God intended. For the little moments, forget about the nap schedules, the sleep training, and the ultra-green-ultra-healthy baby food. Forget about the organic diapers and just that one single brand of baby wash because nothing else will work. Forget about the advice you’ve been given and the gifts you’ve received. And remember your baby. Love your baby—love this one and the next one and the next one after that. And love them all differently. Learn their cries. Go with the groovy flow of their sleeping patterns (or lack thereof). And let love rule.

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Find your mantra. Days will come where you need to shout it from the rooftops or tattoo it on your forehead. The days when you hold your pee all day because no one will let you go into the bathroom alone. The days when the laundry monster overwhelms and the twentieth stain shows up from the invisible grease-elves in the washing machine. The days when dinner burns and the fridge is bare and the food budget has nothing left. The days when you have nothing left. Find your mantra—the reason you do what you do. And engrain those words, that purpose, in your heart. You’ll need to find it more often than you think.

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 Give yourself grace. I was under the impression that mothering was something I could add to my life-resume. Not for hiring purposes, of course, but mostly for the purpose of claiming those two little souls that have taken up residence on Earth in Our House. I knew our lives would change, our weekends would look different, my body would be stretched. But WOWZA. I’m learning the full expanse of grace along the way. Abandon your expectations, first impressions, and last remarks. Live day to day. Measure your efficiency by how many hugs you give instead of how much you get done. And even though you failed yesterday at being loving and patient and creative and supplying endless hours of fun for your toddler, today is a new day. And if he says “pay twains”, you play the best damn trains you ever have. (hi mom, yes I just used the word “damn”…I needed something with emphasis). And if he says he wants to hunt for bugs, don your binoculars and go on a bug-hunting safari. You (probably) have another chance, although nothing is a guarantee. So love and live. And do it well.

Give yourself time. Time to shrink back down to your pre-partum size. Time to learn the cues from your new baby. Time to make coffee in the mornings and time to brush your teeth for the first time at 4pm. Ignore the clocks. Life is not infinite—don’t pretend your days are.

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I was under the impression that I’d rock this thing called Motherhood. Like I’d be the Jennifer Lawrence of an alternate form of Hollywood—that my wit and humor and easy-going sense would glide me through life like oil on a mud puddle. Instead, I just found myself feeling like I’d tromped through a mud puddle wearing a clown costume with crazed hormones and throw-up on my shoulder.

Welcome to your new life as a mom.

The reality is that you are the one that sets your own expectations. So give yourself a break. Drink some coffee. Eat a DQ Blizzard. Unbutton your currently-too-small pants to make room for the belly your kid left you. Treat yourself to a pedicure. Kiss your husband (like, really kiss him). Look at Instagram when you need a 15 second escape from the craziness (and don’t feel guilty about it). Morselize guilt.

This is a stage. Tomorrow is a new day.

 I want you to know that you are normal. And beautiful. And brave.

Go love ‘em, Mama.

Friday, May 23, 2014


Glossy coral polish covered her toes. It was a newish pedicure, I think. No chips, at least. It was my third week of ICU & I hadn’t even thrown a glance toward my feet since starting. My toenails probably resembled a troll’s. The other intern even commented on how pretty her toes were. Of course, they stood out against the drab walls & maze of medically-acceptable colored tubing—helping her breathe and pee and live.

She died within two hours.

Her daughters, two of them, held her hands when we detached the tubes and lines and bags. They held on tight, almost as if they wished life could somehow be transferred from one warmed being to a cold one. Kind of like a Fairytale collision of Tangled & the laws of thermodynamics.

I stared at her toes.

There was life there, once. A mother—one who held her babies tight and folded their laundry and kissed their chubby, drooling cheeks. A wife—one who made dinners (only sometimes burnt) & tirelessly folded and scrubbed and comforted and loved. A daughter who made her parents proud, a sister who was present in all those childhood memories. A lover. A reader. A cookie-eater.

A woman.

A woman with coral-colored toenail polish who fretted about her post-partum figure and the finances and friendships.

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I haven’t had a pedicure in over two years. It isn’t that I don’t like them—I can usually justify spending the money elsewhere. But just yesterday when I was trudging through the sixth load of laundry, losing my patience with Thatcher, and wiping the spit-up off my already-wet shoulder, I remembered her coral polish. And for the first time since my rotation three years ago, I thought of her. And I thought of her daughters.
I thought of how they loved her and honored her, even until the last breath. And I thought of how, at some point in her life, she loved and honored them, too. And all that mothering;  the love that was so expansive it was barely contained in those frail bones and lentigo-skin and the hours of the clock that those eyes saw when her daughters were little and the loads of laundry folded by those hands and the places visited by those feet and the secrets whispered between the sheets…

It is an honor to be a woman.
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And mother.

And wife.

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Most days, I don’t carry that honor well. I mess up. I get mad at my kids. I get madder at Jon. I lose my patience over pretzels dumped all over the floor, spot-cleaning the seventh outfit at noon because of poop explosions, giving baths and smearing creams and administering medications. I tend to get lost in idealism, robbing reality of its Fantasia. And some days I don’t even carry love well.

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This post-partum stage is a melting pot of emotions and hormones and sleepless fury and broken expectations. I get lost in the have-nots and could-have-been’s and should-have-done’s. And I go sniffing for unicorns and hunting for rainbows because I’ve somehow convinced myself that this life, loving these littles, is not enough.

Life only comes once.

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These years, the ones in the trenches of selfless demand, are the ones that women across the globe look back on with fondness. The sleepless nights etch crows feet, the tired feet form bunyons, and playing at the water table for a few hours too long cause solar lentigo spots.

Someday I’ll learn to cherish each of those little sun kisses and callouses and crows feet.

And one day, hopefully not soon, there will be contrast in my life as well. I’ll miss the scrubbing and cleaning and whispering and snuggling. I’ll miss the “mommy pay twains” and the incessant demands for graham crackers and nursing. I’ll miss the warmth of Jon’s embrace after a day of cold-shoulders from the kids. And I will miss mommy-ing these two miniature souls.

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I’m working on carrying that honor a little bit higher,  a little bit brighter, and a lot more proudly. I’m working on grabbing ahold of each day--& welcoming whatever comes with it. And I’m working on finding that Neverland of balance.  

I have a pedicure scheduled for next week.

Coral, in honor of her. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

a slip, not a fall [post-partum depression, part 2]

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The path was worn and slippery. 
My foot slipped from under me, 
knocking the other out of the way, 
but I recovered and said to myself, 
"It's a slip and not a fall." 
– Abraham Lincoln

Photography was a gem for me. It helped me cope during Jon’s deployment. It gave me a much-needed creative outlet during my “playtime” in medical school. And as my skills grew, my camera grew. And my business grew. Capturing life was honorable and enjoyable-it reminded me of why living and loving and friendship and faith were such important bookmarks.

But the irony came when I didn’t want to take pictures of my baby. Without iphones and Instagram, I’m not sure Thatcher’s first months would be captured. My memories of them are formed through photos—my own mind provides only deep space of sleepless nights, feelings of inadequacy, and innocent threats to my own self-worth. I felt frozen, symbolically cold. Looking back, I realize now that I did things because I was supposed to. I took him for walks. I gave him tummy time. I dressed him and changed him and fed him. And I suppose that I loved on him. 
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It was months before I finally starting loving him.
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I cringe even writing that. Mom’s are supposed to love their babies. A new-mom-friend texted me last week and told me that she couldn’t wait to pick her baby up after their nap. Another cried at the thought of going back to work. The harsh truth is that I wasn’t in a good place. My valley was deep. I couldn’t wait to put Thatcher down for his naps—my space bubble was invaded all hours of the day and night. Going back to work wasn’t negotiable for me, and so we dealt emotionlessly with the throes of pumping and feeding and nursing and schedule changes and long-call-shifts and unpredictability. I shed no tears over my return to the job—if I’m honest with myself I was excited to get back to the only scheduled thing in my life.
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The fog started lifting around the 10 month-mark. I was back to (and well-below) my pre-pregnancy weight. My boobs were finally tamed and I no longer had to bite Popsicle sticks during nursing sessions. We’d successfully made it through 4-failed-“Get Your Kid to Sleep” books, 1 horrendous OB call month, 35 days of Daddy being away, and 7 months of working-pumping-not-sleeping-during-residency insanity. And while I was certainly still feeling insane, the communication between Jon and I was finally turned back on. We started to connect again. He’d found his way through the spiderweb of feelings I had spun and figured out how to best support me. And I took my “my kid screams all the time” earplugs out long enough to listen to his feedback.
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We’d made it through the lowest point in our relationship. And though involuntarily and probably subconsciously, I’d started to hike out of my own valley.
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I gave up my cleaning schedule. My floors were swept every 2 weeks and collected crumbs and dirt and mud and tears and dust bunnies in between. I’d managed to plant a garden during the summer (I needed something to do during the 2+ hours of cry-it-out each night) and felt satisfied about the freezer stocked well with harvest. Our marriage was growing stronger—slowly and painfully, but growing. And miraculously, Thatcher had survived my black abyss that clouded the first months of his life. I finally started to enjoy him—the smiles and babbles and food-fights and habits that he had developed shone light into the fading darkness.
His sleeping is still irregular. But around 15 months, another month of OB-call shifts forced him into a more rigorous schedule. We are still waking up 1-4 times per night. He is almost two. I’m waddling now from another baby on the way (1 month and counting). And the truth is that I’m in a much better place. Sometimes memory gets in the way of living. In this case, though, it is memory that provides life. I didn’t realize the depth of my despair as a new-mommy until recently—friends having babies and being in such different places than I was served as a hot-plate of reality that what I referred to as a “blur” or even “post-partum adjustment” was depression. It was true and real and unsympathetic.
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The scientist in me still attributes it to changing hormone levels, a c-section with maximum intervention, and a personality that goes against the grain of deep sentiment. But I’m learning to be a realist with my feelings and call things as they are. And although it has taken me almost 24 months to fully admit it, I was depressed. Those months were hard and dark and the despair ran deep. The feelings of inadequacy plagued every breath and utter exhaustion filled every space in my life. The self-criticism was ruthless and pungent—its stagnant odor piercing everything from body image to baby gear. I think if I am honest with myself, I’ve always viewed depression as a form of mal-adaptive weakness. In other words, something that certainly was not me.
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But it was me. And in many places, it still IS me.

There is a certain amount of fear that hops alongside the depressed—like a remora on the back of an aging whale. The fear dictates feelings and hopes and dreams and emotions. And when pressed the wrong way or twisted the wrong direction, it bites.

My 4-inch surgical scar was just the beginning.

My identity as a mom is still in flux. The truth is that I hope it always will be. Stagnation forms blood clots and smelly ponds—two things my heart and life don’t need. I’ve had to re-evaluate my priorities (more than once), (try to) give up my self-fulfilling desires, and learn the hard way that I’m not number one in my life. Perhaps this is obvious to most mom’s. Our culture feeds a pre-packaged meal of low-fat love and chemically-laden falsities when it comes to parenthood. The glam is highlighted in golden sparkles and the trenches are made out to be for weak ones. But the truth, as I am learning, is that LIFE happens in the trenches and valley’s and deep, dark places. It is dirty and tiring and dangerous and sometimes it is stagnant.
Babies come and leave cuts and scars and bruises. They give us wrinkles and gray hairs and saggy stretch-marked skin. Along with the package of parenthood are free sleepless nights and bubbling frustration over spilled fingerpaints and cultural fallacy that bunnies and fulfillment are at the end of each rainbow. But also with those sleepless nights, toothless smiles, and (out)bursts of joyous emotion from unregulated toddlers is rich, rich reward that cannot be duplicated or imitated. For as much as Thatcher has taught me about parenthood, he has managed to teach me more about myself—my selfishness, my commitments, and my timeline—none of which were ever mine to control in the first place.
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Many days of the week, I am still a disappointment. I lose my temper. I find myself playing with the fire of high expectations. And what I’m guilty of most is missing the blessings disguised in unpredictability.
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Maybe parenthood itself is a valley. And on our way up to sea-level, maybe we are meant to brave the rocks and dirt and smelly pond water. It is inevitable that we will stumble. We will learn to work hard and play harder. We will learn to love the trenches--and decorate the walls with Pinterest crafts and clean the floors every 2 weeks because it is all we can mentally handle.  And somewhere along the way, we’ll learn to embrace our scars. The old ones that have healed with keloids and memories. The unexpected ones that have branded us in places we didn’t want visible. And the ones yet to come that will shape our failures and our futures.
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On our way out of that valley we’ll encounter inclimate weather, lose pavestone, and setbacks. We’ll inevitably emerge with new scars—the result of lose soil and clumsy footing. But I keep trying to remember that when I find myself face down on those dirty floors of mine, the ones that haven’t been cleaned in 2 weeks, that I’ve only slipped.
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It is a slip, not a fall. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

broken strings [post-partum depression, part 1]

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My first breakdown was when he was 6 weeks old. I’d fallen asleep nursing (again) and Jon came in to check on us. The end result was a two hour conversation, an entire box of Kleenex tissue, and heaving sobs from the new unknown I’d become.

It wasn’t pretty.

I was exhausted from his birth. The c-section was a surprise—I’d gone in hoping for minimal intervention and walked out of the hospital with a new kid and a 4 inch scar across my lower abdomen. It was the first of many cuts.
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I look back at photos of that cold day in February: membranes ruptured, walks and bouncing and stair-stepping and deep-house-cleaning and 12 hours later just a hotspot of back pain without much progress, and into the hospital for waiting and rolling and deep breathing and stalling and IUPC’s and epidurals and cutting and first breaths and crying. It was all so rote for me—routine, emotionless, numb. I remember the back pain, the breathing. I remember the referred right shoulder pain and the bruise that the anesthesiologist left on my trapezius—probably some deeper sign of the metaphoric changing colors happening inside. I remember the awe that Jon captured through the camera, the tears that flowed freely from the Grandma’s, and the Benadryl that was like a sweet relief for me at the end of a long day. I remember all these things—these good things, exciting things, new things.
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But I don’t remember smiling.
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I didn’t take things seriously for a while. The day after surgery I walked around the room like a zombie—learning to breastfeed, feeling poked and bruised and cut-open. And for the healing that had already happened, I felt like I had a million more contusions to work through.

The first week home I ate an entire pound of Kirkland Fruit and Nut Medley, a few bites of cottage cheese, and choked down the water that was forcibly leashed to my side. Thatcher had jaundice with an elevated bilirubin, which meant daily trips to hear him scream while they squeezed rich red out of his heels. My milk was in 3 days after he was released into our lives—making me feel both satisfied that my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to and miserable that my clothes and bras and conscience were now even more cluttered with awkward lumps and sag than before.
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I’d committed myself to Baby Wise. The rave reviews from family and friends convinced me that because I wanted a baby who was a scheduled, dependable sleeper, it was the best answer to a problem I didn’t know existed yet. And so, for the following six weeks I violated every law passed down by Matriarch’s: I WOKE THE BABY. We ate. We played. We tried to sleep. I was a stickler for the dream of routine. And by “we”, I really mean Thatcher—the kid who nursed every hour for 45 minutes and refused to sleep in blips longer than 20 minutes.
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I don’t think I loved him then. I liked him then—he was our kid, afterall. But I never felt drawn to him as much as I felt obligated. There were no tears of joy after the birth; I told Jon he looked like a bruised old man. I wasn’t overwhelmed with motherly love.

I expected the feelings to pass—I expected to love him more and want to hold him more and just relish in being his mommy. I expected more feelings to come, ones that were good and plenty and whole.

But the feelings never came.

And at the 6-week mark I found myself sobbing over a finally-sleeping 16-pound baby that had literally and figuratively sucked me dry. I blubbered over all the disappointments and unexpected feelings. I didn’t like being a mom—it wasn’t anything like I had expected it to be. Some days I didn’t even like my kid—the one who sucked on me and invaded my space bubble and ruined my sleep schedule and left purple ugly lines on my stomach and flab on my love-handles and challenged me in ways that I DIDN’T WANT TO BE CHALLENGED. Motherhood was not looking good on me. I was ready to throw in the towel or throw down a stiff drink laced with Prozac.

It was my deepest valley.

I gave up on Baby Wise and I half-abandoned hopes of a scheduled child. Just six weeks later I would find myself on 24 hour calls every-other-day, delivering other people’s babies and watching the obsessive, uncontainable joy through sobs of Daddies and the satisfactory hard work of laboring mommies.

I truly couldn’t relate.

Jon left in June for his month of obligatory National Guard duty. This left me with a 3 month old sleepless, schedule-less child, 24-hour OB shifts, and a sister who was a saving grace in every sense of the word. It also left me feeling like a weary lunatic.

We did cry-it-out.
We Feberized.
We cradled.
We rocked.
We nursed.
We did cry-it-out again.
We tried the Boppy. And towel rolls. And the swaddle. And the absence of them all.

And still, Thatcher ate and grew and ate and cried and ate and really didn’t sleep.

Residency changed my mindset. Ask me where I spent most of my time between 2006 and 2008 and I’d be able to tell you that aside from 45-60 minutes at the gym every day and 2 hours on Saturday mornings when I was leading Sit and Be Fit and Bingo classes at the local nursing home, I was sitting on a black pleather office chair studying. I stayed up late. I got up early. I studied in the coffee shop and at dinner and  even in the shower. And as a result, sleep became secondary. VOLUNTARILY secondary. I learned that old saying about Working Hard and Playing Harder was true. And so, on weekends and weeknights and every moment in between, I studied and played myself through medical school.

And then residency came. I expected the worst. And to my surprise I found that it was bad and sour and awful—but not that bad and sour and awful. I was just tired. ALL THE TIME. And sleep deprived. ALL THE TIME. But the truth was that I was used to it. And when the Sleep Angels did visit me? THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING. I learned to cherish my sleep—the little that I was allowed. Naps were taken. Saturday morning sleeping-in was initiated when possible. And I (we) survived.

And then we had a baby.

When Thatcher was 6 weeks old, I was tired.
When he was 12 weeks, I was exhausted.
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And at 6 months and 9 months and 12 months when he still wasn’t sleeping through the night, I was shattered. The places that I had invested my hope—the sleep, the schedule, the sweet coo’s of a baby—were things that I’d held on to so tightly, by necessity or obligation or frivolity. The gray hairs popped up and the stretch marks started to fade and the strings of that hope were stretched and thinned and worn and bruised and cut and stitched.
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One day, they finally broke. 

{continued...part 2 coming soon}

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

on getting bucked off.

Decaf coffee was probably my first bad decision today. Actually, come to think of it, maybe getting out of bed at all was. Today was not my day. I argued with my toddler. I was bitter. I said a four-letter-“s”-word more than once…maybe more than three times. I was ungrateful. And frustrated. And perhaps a bit too eager to throw in the towel.

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This, after the thought that life really couldn’t get any sweeter last night. And this, after my heart almost burst with love yesterday for that little human who almost ruined me today.

Motherhood makes me feel like a lunatic sometimes.

When I was pregnant with Teaspoon, people asked me if I was excited. My reaction—steady and emotionless—probably should have been the first clue-in that I wasn’t going to fall into the category of a doting, love-at-first-breath mother. I watched as my friends fell head-over-heels for their sweet bundles of pooping joy before they left the hospital. And I sat in awe as they talked about their love for nursing and the bond and the baby and the boobs and IT WAS JUST ALL SO AMAZING. I couldn’t relate. And some days, I still can’t.  For as devastating as it was for me, I don’t think I realized the depth of transition, emotion, detachment at the time. The truth is that I think I’m still grappling with Teaspoon's “fourth trimester”—a time frozen in my mind of which I only recall sleepless nights, sore nipples, and his incessant crying. I’m also just now realizing how difficult of a baby he really was.

Maybe motherhood is like this—the gradual realization that nothing is how you intended it to be and everything is just as it is supposed to be.

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I tend to err on the side of pessimism and on bad days, like today—the ones that start with 3 night-wakings, 2 trips to the potty for my acorn-sized bladder, 1 diaper blow-out, 2 skipped-naps, 2192 time-outs, and frustration that boils out of my mommy-heart and drips on the floor behind me like an over-thought wedding veil—on bad days I convince myself that no other children, no other mother, no other woman has ever felt like this. I somehow finagle my heart into believing that the clock will never hit midnight and my head into thinking that at any time in the schedule book, I’m way beyond the grips of Grace.

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My Grandparents had a horse named Skojo when I was growing up. I first learned to ride when I could barely walk. She had a long back—perfect for 4 or 5 grandkids climbing up and taking a leisurely stroll around the pasture. She handled bare-back perfectly—which was convenient for the kid who hated the saddle. I was old enough to be riding solo when she first bucked me off. Apparently she had decaf coffee that morning or something—it just wasn’t her day. I don’t even remember now who was there to pick me up out of the dirt (manure?). The point, though, is that I fell: off the horse, through the air, into the dirt bruised and scraped and shocked. And the bigger point is that I got back on. Not immediately. Not willingly. Probably not even gracefully. Given the (ehem) emotional child that I was, I would imagine that the scene was ugly-full of tears and wailing and kicking feet. (Something to match one of my own toddler’s tantrums today about reading the wrong page in a book or refusing to let him watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for the 92nd time this month.) Skojo waited while I climbed back on. My memory has conveniently deleted the subsequent events—for all I know, I could have been bucked off again and landed on my head, an event which would surely explain so many things about my life right now.

But I got back on the horse.

The little minion is sleeping now. The one is my stomach is training for the 2034 Summer Olympics gymnastics events. And I am here…finally, in the quiet dark of deep breathing. I stepped on two toys on my way to the couch and half-tripped over a pile of clothes waiting to be taken to the thrift store. The dirty dishes are piled in the sink, the laundry is spilling out of the washroom, and the toilet still needs to be cleaned. But I am here. Finally present for today—the day during which nothing went how I would have hoped and everything went as it was Planned.

And maybe tomorrow will be different. Then again, maybe it won’t be. My kid will still be almost-two. My heart will still work overtime for the mommy-bond-with-holes. My dishes will still be undone. And the toys will still spill out of their hiding places and find their way to the soles of my feet. But the clock will have struck midnight and we’ll all get back on that proverbial horse trying to ride again. And maybe tomorrow instead of decaf, I’ll slowly sip the Grace that is sure to come with each new morning. And maybe I’ll let life buck me off a few times and depend on the Hand with Holes to pick me up. And if I’m eager enough about life, I’ll watch the kid-who-makes-me-crazy “toot toot” his trains around the house and rebuild the train track 39 times before 9am and savor the strips of sunlight in this gray of winter, knowing full-well that this day and this stage and this life can only be lived once.

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And everything is just how it is supposed to be.

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