Thursday, November 20, 2014

right here


I think I could explode. Seriously, right in this moment, I could blow sky high.

It's been a fine morning around here. My husband let me sleep in til my body woke me up at exactly 8:00. All of the kids had baths today. I labeled some more bins in the playroom. I can't remember what else we did. But then it was nap time for all three. Andrew cozied Harriet into her crib and I fed the boys and put them down.

Andrew took Murphy for a run and I sat down at the kitchen table to read my Bible. Not even two minutes later, Louie was fussing. I returned to his room to help him out. Big burp. Wide awake baby. I tried to bounce him, pat him, coax him to sleep, but his eyes just continued to brighten and I knew we weren't getting anywhere. I laid him back in his crib to see if he would put himself to sleep.

Back to my Bible, my journal and my study book - one about the miracles of Jesus. I took a deep breath, picked up my pencil...more crying from the boys' room.


We went through the familiar routine several times, and I was getting more frustrated with each round. I grabbed my phone with my free hand and desperately typed a text to the women from my accountability group:

Ladies, can you please pray for me? This has been a week where all I'm 
asking for is twenty minutes to read my Bible. Not trying to sound pious. 
I'm just seriously needing even fifteen minutes to sit down 
with Jesus and it's not happening. I'm trying  to do my study right now because 
it's supposed to be nap time for all three of them. And I have been interrupted 
four times in ten minutes. I have also had to stop my boiling water 
for the RAMEN NOODLES that I am trying to make myself for lunch THREE 
times so that I can deal with someone who needs me. How pathetic is that?!?! 
I am getting so frustrated with God that I just keep crying to Him - 
"I am trying to spend time with YOU!!!! Throw me a bone here!" 
Please pray that I will have miraculous patience. 
My throat is full of burning tears.

And it was. I wasn't upset with Louie. I was angry with God. Because I keep trying to be with Him and my life keeps getting in the way. And not just today...every day. I could understand if God allowed the demands on my time and attention to be so much that I wasn't able to check Facebook, send emails, clean my house, compose posts for this blog...but when my goal is to spend twenty minutes talking to and hearing from God and He doesn't give me that window, it leaves me confused...with a throat full of burning tears.

It's not just a time thing either. I just got my first real, grown-up study Bible. One with maps, diagrams, a concordance, and commentary that fills up half of every page. I love it. I had been using it for only about a week when Harriet splattered bright orange butternut squash soup on the pages.

And my prayer journal...about every third page is covered with scribbles. Sometimes prayer feels like scribbling. But these scribbles are not of the prayer variety. These are the type of scribbles that happen under the table while the offender "needs privacy." I thought that was code for "I'm trying to poop" but apparently it's code for "I'm trying to do exactly what you told me not to do."

What are you trying to teach me, God? What's the point of this craziness? Why does it sometimes feel like my kids are making it impossible for me to know You well? 

I knew my faithful, faithful sisters were praying, but the situation wasn't changing. So I started over -  nursing Louie again, gingerly placing him back in his bed. 

Silence.

I sat down at the table and not even half a second later, the dog was barking at me, wanting to come inside. How long does it take to let a dog inside? Maybe five seconds. BUT IT WAS THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING! 

I sat down again. Got my marching orders from Kay Arthur. Flipped to Malachi. Then to Isaiah. Tried to wrap my frazzled brain around the prophecies. About three minutes after I let the dog in, Gus was crying. Nap time was over. 

I stood in the kitchen with a talking, happy baby in my arms, trying to breathe through the frustration I was feeling. Andrew, who was finishing up some work in the garage and knew nothing of the battle that was raging in my heart, must have seen my tears through the window, because he came inside and with few words, took Gus into the living room.

I sat down at the kitchen table yet again. My Bible, my journal, my study book, my pencils...it was all there. But all I could do was cry. I pressed hot palms against my eyes and sobbed outloud, wiping tears and snot on the sleeves of my sweatshirt, until I was done.

I opened my book and read the same sentence for the eighth time. I felt a little nudge from God, telling me that maybe I should write instead. So that's what I'm doing, and while I still feel sad and confused, I no longer feel like I'm going to explode.

---------------

It's been nearly a week since that combustible Saturday, and the things I wasn't ready tell you then, I can finally tell you now.

I was holding Louie in that not-dark-enough room, about to set him down for the third time, and I just wanted to scream. And Jesus said quietly...always quietly..."I'm here too, you know?"

My eyes closed slowly. My chin touched my chest. "Yeah...I know. But I don't want to meet you here! I want to meet you there with my tea and my Bible and my colored pencils!"

And again, that same truth, whispered ever patiently into my stubbornness, "But I'm here too."

And He was. He was deeply, deeply there. With me and my boys in that room. He didn't need tea. He didn't need colored pencils.

And over this last week, with the gift of time and perspective, I'm realizing that accepting Jesus' invitation to meet with Him in the midst of life's chaos and constant interruptions...Well, it's kind of like going on a date with the love of your life...to Chuck E. Cheese's. He is still Him. And you are still you. But rather than basking in the candlelight and the violins, you are surrounded by flashing lights, electronic noises, and the combined smell of bad feet and stale pizza. And you just have to work a little harder to focus on the gift of time together, right here.

What's your right here?

Maybe it's a windowless cubicle on the forty-second floor.

Maybe it's an overfull, underfunded classroom.

Maybe it's a cold, sterile hospital room, completely devoid of hope.

Maybe it's the dorm room you share with someone who doesn't respect you.

Maybe it's a home where the conflict never seems to end and the the voices never seem to soften.

Maybe your right here looks a lot like mine - a loud, messy, sleep-starved house where the menial tasks are endless and the little voices always seem to be calling your name.

Can you hear Him whispering to you? Is He telling you the same thing He told me?

I'm here, too. Even here. Seek me, my precious child, and you will find me.

Every day, I make my best attempt at setting aside time to talk to and hear from God. Sometimes He gifts me with a time of quiet stillness...like right now, when I am able to look up from the table to see a big, fat woodpecker outside my window, doing his bizarrely beautiful woodpecker thing, and I'm able to smile at this moment I'm sharing with God alone, and praise Him for his sense of humor and creativity. And other days, I don't get that time. And those are the days that I have to look a little harder for Him...in places that sound like whining toddlers and smell like dirty diapers. But even there...



...even here, He will always, always be found.




Thursday, November 13, 2014

friendship and infertility

Here's the second half of the two-part series about supporting friends through infertility. Enjoy this guest post from my treasured friend Ashlee, one of the dear ones who walked the road of infertility with me. Here's the story from her point of view.


On September 12, 2013 at 12:03pm, I got a text from Em.

I know you are at work. Call when you have a minute.

Em & Andrew had started on the path to pregnancy several months prior, and a text like this does something in the heart of a friend who has felt the ups and downs of infertility. My first thought was strangely hope filled: she’s pregnant. But instead of letting the excited anticipation bubble up in my heart, I held it in with control, excused myself from work, and called her immediately. Keep your voice steady, I tell myself, be ready for whatever the news.

She’s pregnant. And it’s twins.

Even as I write those words, my throat tightens and my heart so quickly goes back to that day of release. When, again, our prayers were answered. I am tempted to say we fought hard for this day, but I think the real fight was within ourselves to find patience and peace in the waiting, and to learn that love is not about commonality as much as it is about commitment. 

That’s why I am writing this piece - to talk about friendship and infertility. Em has taught us all so much about the very intimate, personal experience of infertility, but this story is being told from one supporter to another. To all the friends and sisters who love and hope and cry and feel so helpless right alongside the ones who are waiting and fighting. It can be a tough path to navigate, and I messed up plenty of times. Hopefully my mess ups can somehow translate into encouragement and support for you.

Em and I have been friends for over a decade, meeting our very first year of college. We bonded over the usual topics - shopping, boys and our big dreams for the future. But what really solidified us as friends was our unique ability to process thoughts and life together. We talked about our faith, our families, our trials and the things that got us excited about entering real life. We walked forward on our own unique paths to adulthood, taking different routes but always staying near to one another. 

Graduation brought new experiences. Em and Andrew got married, I went to work. We each found new places to call home and new opportunities for learning and discovery. I remember the day Em told me she was pregnant with Ethan. I’ll admit - it felt strange. She had already been experiencing the mercilessness of infertility and this pregnancy came as a pretty big surprise to all of us. For me it was mostly because I couldn’t understand her determination to have a baby. I would open her car door and watch her push stacks of parenting and pregnancy books into the backseat so I could sit down. We were focusing on such different things at this time in our lives and I had a hard time relating. This is where our story got hard, and where I learned the most about love. I really had to learn how to be a good friend in the midst of the doubt, disappointment, financial stress, and physical pain brought on by infertility. I had to learn that my expectations for those years were not going to be the same as Em’s, and that they didn’t have to be in order for us to love one another.

The day we lost Ethan, I remember the phone call, the tears, the confusion and the pain. I also remember that this once slowly approaching disconnectedness was suddenly coming at us at full speed. It felt like huge wall had come between us. I thought of her constantly, wanting to be with her so badly, but being completely frozen on the other side of that wall. I slowly began to realize that my own fear is what put and kept the wall there. What if I say the wrong thing? She asked about my job, but when I start talking I can see in her face that she wants to talk about Ethan. Should I ask? Or does she want me to distract her? I don’t know how to anticipate her needs. Does she even know what she needs? These insecurities and feelings filled my mind for several months, and if there is anything I can say to the friends who are affected by infertility or loss, it is this: don’t let the wall win. It will come at some point, but you have to be stronger than it is. Some people are able to march right around it, hardly even acknowledging that it is there. I watched some of Em’s strongest supporters do that, but at first I just couldn’t. I felt too afraid. I didn’t want to mess up, say or do the wrong thing, and I ended up dropping the ball for a time. If you need to take time to process, go ahead, but make sure you are always moving forward.

What does moving forward look like exactly? Read Em’s post about secondary infertility. I didn’t have access to such a great resource, so for me it was born of mercy and a lot of trial and error. After one of Em’s miscarriages, we had gone to her in-law’s cabin for the weekend and on Sunday we stood on the driveway saying our goodbyes. She started to cry and I just stood there, totally frozen. In that moment, I let the fear win. (Don’t worry, I eventually hugged her, but it took me WAY too long). A few weeks after Ethan died, I remember Em telling me she was so afraid that no one would remember him. I cleared out a spot in my heart for Ethan at that very moment and he will never leave it. And with that, a part of the wall was gone. There really is a choice in these moments. Choose to be close. And if you are afraid, be honest with your friend. Maybe you are both feeling the same thing.

I will say, there are times when you, the friend, will do a lot of heavy lifting. Every text or happy hour will be about pregnancy, or the lack of it. It might feel draining. You might feel ignored. You might be dying to talk about a terrible first date, or a weird conversation with your boss and you go to your friend and leave feeling discouraged or unheard. You will see the worst side of your friend when the fight gets really hard, but isn’t this exactly when our love should kick into high gear? Don’t jump ship in the face of pain. Stay. Sacrifice. And then do it a hundred more times because one day she will look at you and say, “how are things at work?” with a genuine look in her eyes. It will happen.

And let’s not forget, there will inevitably be times when you need your friend to do the heavy lifting for you. While Em & Andrew were pursuing parenthood, I began to long for a life partner. We found a connection in that and began to pray for each other. There were times when I just couldn’t pray for myself one more time - the burden of loneliness seemed too heavy. So Em prayed for me. And when she felt weary, I prayed for her. To support one another in prayer invested us in each other’s hopes in a such a real way. Being able to pray for each of Em’s children, and then HOLD them as brand new babies in my arms, have been some of the holiest experiences of my life. 

I was able to meet Harriet at the hospital the day after she was born. I didn’t know it then, but I was going to meet my goddaughter! Her mouth was a perfect little rosebud and her skin soft and red with newness. What seemed like a regular moment - holding a baby was something everyone on that hospital unit was doing that night - was supercharged for me. I remember thinking, this is so special and so … normal. It was right and it was a miracle. I suppose that is what redemption is: bringing the things that always should have been back to us in a miraculous way.

Here is a picture of Em, Harriet, and me on my wedding day. Our smiles are looking a little off because as soon as we stepped in front of my photographer, Em & I both started crying. There we were, Harriet between us, me in my wedding dress. The six years leading up to that moment had been complicated and challenging but suddenly all we felt was happiness. Beautiful, gracious, undeserving happiness. I will cherish the gift of this photo, and the beautiful, messy story of friendship that it tells, forever.


c/o Cara Lemmage Photography

Monday, November 10, 2014

another

So you have this friend. And she has a child. Maybe she has a few. Perhaps her kids are a little older. Maybe they're still really young. But here's the thing. She wants another.

And it's just not happening.

Maybe she's been acting kind of strange - withdrawn, sad, distracted. So you asked her how she was doing and she started to cry...explaining that she's afraid her son will never have a sibling or that her dreams of a big family won't come true.

Or maybe she emailed you out of the blue, mentioning that she and her husband are starting fertility treatments and she's wondering if you'll pray for them.

It might have been a quick text - Sorry I have to cancel our plans for Friday. I have an appointment with my reproductive endocrinologist.

So now what? You're a good friend and you want to support her through this trial. But maybe you're not sure how, not certain what she needs from you.

I hope I can help you. Although I don't know what it's like to have secondary infertility (trouble getting pregnant again after having a child without the help of fertility drugs or assisted reproductive technologies), I do know what it's like to pursue fertility treatments when you already have a biological child. Plus, I'm in touch with lots of women who've experienced secondary infertility and have shared their hearts with me. Also, many of you who keep up with my blog have been there or are there right now. So whatever I miss or mess up in this post, I know you'll help me out in the comments section. Thanks in advance, friends.

But back to you - the support person. Here a four things you need to know in order to walk with your friend as she faces into this emotional, financial and physical trial.

One.   Please don't take lightly the fact that she invited you into this journey. She's taking a big risk and showing that she really trusts you. Oftentimes people who haven't been through it themselves really struggle to understand secondary infertility. A lot of people will call her selfish and ungrateful, probably not to her face but definitely behind her back. Many will question why she's willing to spend all kinds of money to have a child when she already has one. Others will judge her for not pursuing adoption.

Maybe that last paragraph has you sweating because you've been thinking those same things and getting all judge-y yourself. You know? It's okay. She's probably judging herself too. I know I was. I had this beautiful, perfect, longed-for child in my arms...but I still wanted more. It made sense and it didn't. I tried to dampen that desire, shut out that voice that was telling me that our family wasn't yet complete...but I failed every time.



The thing about building a family is that it doesn't always take the practical path. It doesn't always make sense. Because families are about love, something that's neither practical nor sensible. Your friend may try to explain why they want another child. She may list reason after reason to assure you (and herself) that the goal they're pursuing is a worthy one. You know what? You have the power to be her lifeboat in a sea of self doubt by saying the one thing she doesn't even know that she needs to hear. Put your hand on her arm and speak these words straight into her heart - "It doesn't even matter. This is your family and you get to pick."

See that look in her eyes? Yeah, she needed that.

Two.   If your friend is like me and has gone through fertility treatments before, know that this time around, it's going to be easier for her...and it's also going to be harder.

It will be easier because she already has a child. When she gets bad news from the doctor or a has another failed cycle, she still gets to tuck her little boy into bed that night or play at the park with her daughter. Probably nothing you can do or say is going to be more healing than snuggling with that child or those children. Kind of a relief, right? Delegate that stuff to the kids.

But it will also be harder because she already has a child. And fertility clinics frown on bringing kids to your appointments. So in addition to timing her cycles around her doctor's surgery schedule, her husband's travel schedule and her body's hormonal schedule, she also has to factor in child care. If she works outside the home, it's probably killing her that she has to spend even more time away from her kids. And fertility treatments are spendy, so paying someone to watch her children might feel like an incredibly heavy burden.

So if you are able to help her out, do it. I had several friends and family members who were more than willing to hang out with Harriet while I attended my frequent appointments. They'll never know how much Andrew and I appreciated their generosity and the kindness they showed our daughter. So if you can, be one of those people.

Three.   Your friend is going to be very, very, very tired. The fertility drugs will exhaust her. The constant appointments will wear her down. The hope/defeat roller coaster will drain her. If she's pursuing adoption, her days are filled with paperwork, home studies, phone calls with social workers, and the sort of waiting that only adoptive parents can understand. And she still has to be a mom to her kids. And probably lots of other things to lots of different people.

So if she doesn't want to join you for girls' night or takes forever to reply to your texts, please give her grace. I'm not saying that she gets a bottomless excuse for being a crappy friend. I'm just saying that for now, she might need you to stretch yourself a little further in her direction. She may prefer movie nights at home to loud parties because most of your friends have lots of kids and she hates that she feels jealous when she sees them. She may prefer conversations via text to in-person lunches so that she can stay in her pajamas. She may not be able to do those Saturday morning walks around the lake that you love so much because her ovaries are really angry with her right now. So again...grace, my friend. Grace.

Four.   You can't be everything to her. She's going to need a team. She has her doctor. Probably a partner (but maybe not). She is going to need people who have firsthand experience with secondary infertility. Encourage her to seek out a support group. Help her start a blog and get plugged into the online infertility community. (If she doesn't know how to find the community, send her my way. I'll hook her up.) Put her in touch with another friend who's fighting a similar battle. If she's having a really tough time, she may need someone to strongly encourage that she see a therapist or talk with a pastor, mentor or spiritual leader of some sort. Do not attempt to be everything to her. You'll end up bitter and your friendship will suffer. Instead, help her brainstorm ways that she can add people to her team.

That's all I have for now. But remember that online infertility community I talked about? They'll comment below and fill you in on everything else you need to know. The fact that you've made it through this whole post tells me that your friend chose wisely when she decided to share her heartache with you. I'm wishing you grace and courage and perseverance as you enter into the sacred heart of true friendship, a place where only trials can take us.

Grab her hand and go there together.


----------


Stay tuned for a guest post from a dear, dear friend of mine who walked this infertility road with me. I'm so excited for all of you to read her perspective on what it's like to be the support person. 

Also, this post is over on Momquery today, titled Four Ways to Support a Friend Through Secondary Infertility. So if you have some ideas about how friends and family can support those going through secondary infertility...or regular ol' infertility...copy and paste your comment there too! 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

that imaginary t-shirt

It's silly but true...one of my life's passions is our state fair. The fairgrounds closed not even two months ago and already, I'm itching for August. I can't get enough of the sticky, greasy, sugary, spicy, frosty, salty foods. I love the rickety, loosely bolted rides. I savor the wide variety of smells - from fresh hay in the cattle barns to corn dogs and ketchup on the midway. But most of all, I love that feeling of togetherness...the fact that our whole state seems to come together for ten days just to celebrate the end of summer and have fun. The people-watching from afar is great, but in recent years, I have loved striking up conversations with strangers at the fair. Whether I'm asking what they think of the walleye taco they're sampling or inquiring as to where they're from, when I'm at the fair, everybody's a friend.





So this past August, on my fourth and final fair day, I was sitting on a dusty curb and feeding Gus a bottle when another couple rolled their stroller up next to me and sat down. The dad took a fresh mini donut out of the white paper bag and tossed it from palm to palm while blowing on it. Then he passed it to his wife who seemed excited to give their one-year-old son his first taste of this state fair delicacy. The little boy devoured it...obviously. The parents smiled to each other and just as I was opening my mouth to comment about how much he was loving it, the mom said, "I wish I was wearing a t-shirt that said - we usually feed him kale."

I closed my mouth.

I had thought she'd be relatable. You know, we were both feeding babies. We were both wearing Keens. But her comment was such a turn-off for me. It came off as so snobby and I had zero interest in playing the mom olympics with her. My kids don't eat kale. I don't even eat kale. Kale is a hassle. So I turned back to Gus and the bottle, feeling very proud of having liberated myself from such heavy societal pressures.

And then a gentle voice from heaven reminded me what I'd been thinking not even five minutes earlier...

I wish people knew that I usually nurse him and that this is a bottle of breast milk.

Boom. Just like that, Mrs. Kale and I were one and the same. I had been wishing an imaginary t-shirt on myself the same way she had, a declaration to the world that "I'm a better mother than I seem to be at this particular moment in time because I...fill in the blank." She and I were both making the same assumptions...that feeding our kids certain things a certain way is what makes us good or not-so-good moms. And that the world cares. Both are false.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I've worn many, many imaginary t-shirts since becoming a mom.

There's the "I have a masters degree!" t-shirt that I've worn in my mind when interacting with smart, professional women who are getting solid sleep at night and don't struggle to come up with basic words like "tooth" or "television" in conversation.

When Harriet had an absolute meltdown at Target and I had to literally carry her out of the store upside-down, I wished I was wearing a t-shirt that said, "This is the first time she's ever done this...no, seriously, it is."

And then there are the really yucky t-shirts...the ones I wish on my kids. Dumb things, like when I am out with one of the boys, I feel compelled to tell people who comment about him or interact with us that he's a twin. It's like I'm wishing he had a t-shirt that says "I'm a twin" on the front and "I have a two-year-old sister" on the back. Heck, might as well throw in a little baseball cap that says "My mom sure is impressive, huh?"

Ugh.

I wish that last paragraph was wearing a t-shirt that said, "Please like me anyway." Or, "I know this is messed up, but I'm working on it."

When I take my daughter to a playdate or ECFE, I find myself wishing that she was wearing a t-shirt that says, "My parents are doing their darndest to teach me to share." Or, "I'm 98% potty trained." It's like I want to throw a precursor out there in case anything goes wrong...in case kid stuff happens. What's with that? Like I expect people to expect her to be perfect? Plus, let's be real. We're all only about 98% potty trained, right?

Some imaginary t-shirts are less self-involved and more about just trying to survive.

After we lost Ethan, I imagined myself into a t-shirt that said, "I'm a mama."

When I was pregnant with Harriet, I wished I had a maternity shirt with "No, this isn't my first" on it.

And even after Harriet was born, I had an imaginary t-shirt for her that said "I'm an IVF baby" to give other infertile families hope.

I know that lots of you are wearing imaginary t-shirts right now. Some of them say "this isn't a baby bump, it's fertility drugs" or "please stop asking me when we're going to have kids." Others say "I could really use a friend" or "Sometimes I feel like my worst case scenario is starting to play out." Some pretend t-shirts say "I'm not dumb/mean/bitter, I'm just so tired." Those aren't the ones I'm talking about today. Those are really legit. Keep wearing them if you need to, and I really hope that if I see you around, I'll really see you and the words on your imaginary t-shirt.

I've worn lots of those t-shirts. And I've unfortunately also worn a lot of the self-involved ones, too. I have to admit that it matters so much to me what people think. I thought I'd outgrow it but I never did. And I think it got worse after having children. That's the thing about kids - they put all of our garbage out there for the world to see and they don't care one bit, which leaves us with a very important choice...Do we double down and care enough for ourselves and our kids combined? Or do we follow their example, strip off that pretend t-shirt and just dance around in our imaginary nakedness?

I hope that I can learn to choose the latter. Because, as a good friend has been reminding me...I have an audience of One. And He is far less concerned with the meals I'm feeding my kids than with the truths I'm feeding them. He's not worried about the cleanliness of my house but rather the purity of my heart. In fact, I think He cares less about my role as a mother than He does about my role as His daughter. 

An audience of One. The kind of audience that gives a standing ovation and throws roses even when I've forgotten my lines, split my costume or straight-up fallen off that stage. Why? Because of that whole daughter thing. Imaginary t-shirt or not, He sees straight through to my heart.

So...what does your imaginary t-shirt say today? And what would it feel like, just this once, to leave it at home?


Thursday, October 16, 2014

sometimes you're washing rocks in the rain and your blog goes viral

One night in late September, Andrew and I were bouncing the boys to sleep in their room. I don't know if it's the darkness, the whir of that white noise machine, or the sleepy sweet baby in my arms that does it, but that's the time when I often start fashioning blog posts in my head. Most of the time, the good ideas vaporize the second I set that baby down, but prayer was something I'd been thinking about a lot, something I really wanted to write about, so after I put Louie in his crib and tiptoed out of there, I sat down at the computer for about five minutes and outlined a post about praying for the parents of the babies that might someday marry my kids. At 5:00 the next morning, I filled in the missing pieces, and later that morning, I put it up on my blog.

I always post my writing on Facebook for my friends and family to see. My mom always shares it. My husband often shares it. Occasionally another friend or two. But that day, maybe eight people shared it, and from there, it just kept going and going. It was exciting and fun to watch my view counter hit 1,000 then 5,000. I was shocked when it hit the big numbers - 10,000 then 50,000 and eventually 100,000. That's when I started freaking out a bit and considered taking the post down altogether. But I knew that people would ask why and I didn't have a good excuse besides, "It was stressing me out."

Emails started rolling in - from grandpas and grandmas, pregnant mothers, seasoned fathers, new moms struggling with postpartum, other twin parents. People were commenting like crazy. And then ABC contacted me. They wanted to post If My Child Marries Yours on their website. I gave them permission to post it, just as I did for few other websites (including one in Spanish and one in Portuguese) and my favorite - a church bulletin.

That's when it really blew up. The boys were napping and I was in the backyard with Harriet, picking rocks out of the grass and helping her wash them under the drain spout. The rain was soaking my hair and the sweatshirt I was borrowing from my husband. A pink rain slicker with legs was giving me instructions, "More rocks, Mom! Here, can you put them in a pile?" I was on a quiet mission to fill a plastic bucket with backyard rocks and all the while, the world was reading my heart.



At one point that drizzly morning, my post was getting 10,000 views about every four minutes. (Andrew kept me grounded by reminding me that half of those were probably my mom.) I could no longer follow all of the shares, likes and comments on Facebook. It felt bigger than I was, certainly must faster, and it was leaving me dizzy. As my audience broadened, the negative comments started coming in. Some were one hundred percent correct, pointing out the fact that my post promoted gender stereotypes. Some comments were downright mean and unfounded. Most were somewhere in between.

I was struck by the fact that people were judging me as a parent, as a Christian and as a person based solely on this one piece of writing - a simple blog post that was really the electronic equivalent of scrawling something on a napkin, written in an unfiltered manner and for a very small audience.

The most common criticisms I got for the post were often posed in the form of a question - What if your child is gay? What if your child doesn't get married? What if your child marries someone with a background that's different from yours? What if your child doesn't have children? A few even questioned whether I would still love my kids if they didn't follow the path my post seemed to lay out for them. While I will not respond to all of the negative comments I received, I very much want to respond to this one, so please listen carefully...

My ultimate dream for my children is not that they are heterosexual, that they marry or that they have children. My ultimate dream for my children is that they will know God and follow Him. Not because I want them to follow in my steps but because I want them to follow in Christ's. Because I know the hope, freedom and transformation that comes only by trusting Him, and the thought of them living and dying without Jesus is more than I can bear.

My prayers for my babies are not dominated by thoughts of their spouses, but rather by thoughts of their character. My main prayer for them, the one I recite over and over again is that they will seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8). That they will stand up for those whose voices aren't heard. That they will be kind down to their core. That humility and selflessness will define them. And that most of all, they will walk with God. This, I'm not budging on. This, I will battle all of hell for.

But like I said, at night when I sometimes feel alone, my thoughts go to those other parents who are perhaps doing the same tasks I am doing and to that larger legacy that we might be building together. That vision is something that helps me see past that mile-high stack of dirty diapers and the seemingly endless string of sleepless nights. It helps me remember that the menial tasks I'm doing right now...are important.

I don't moderate comments. You are all welcome to say whatever you want here. A comment would really have to cross the line in order for me to delete it. But a lot of the comments did sting...more than I thought they would have. Those first few days after the post went viral, I kept telling Andrew that I wished it never would have happened. I felt bruised by unkind words and I felt like so many assumptions were being made about me that weren't true. I also felt like my blog had been overexposed and was struggling to feel welcome in my own space. It is going to be a challenge for me to find my true voice again without examining every word for fear of either offending or being judged. In my last post, I wrote Harriet had been drinking a lot of kool-aid...and then deleted it because I didn't want people to point out the fact that she shouldn't be drinking something so sugary and artificial. That made me sad because if I'm censoring myself all the time, this blog is worthless to all of us.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of my very favorite comments were from people who identified themselves as atheists. They said that although they don't pray or believe in the God I follow, they still loved the heart of my post. They picked out things in my post to celebrate rather than nit-picking things that they didn't agree with. I am so sad that all of these commenters were anonymous because I would love to write to them and thank them for choosing to be so positive. I so wish that more Christians would do that. So, my dear readers, if you are a Christ-follower, can you make me a promise? When you read something online, written from a worldview that's different from yours, can you please look for the good? Can you please choose to encourage rather than argue, to find common ground rather than pointing out differences? A friend of mine recently told me that her husband said that he hopes he's never the type of person who clicks "dislike" on youtube. Amen, Nathan. I hope the same thing for myself and my children.

Having a post go viral was a crazy experience. At times, I felt like I was flying and at other times, I felt like I was sinking. What kept my head up? The comments and emails I got from struggling parents saying that the post was exactly what they needed to help them get through that particular day.

Also, I am humbled and grateful that a string of simple words got so many people dialoging about prayer...prayers for our children. And no matter how big that particular post got on that random Tuesday or how absolutely itsy bitsy it will be in the near future...because that's how the internet works...I hope that our prayers for our kids will stay big...and bold...and uncensored.




Two quick things...

1. If you are a "no reply commenter" or always comment as "anonymous," please consider claiming your comments and giving bloggers an opportunity to respond to you directly. There were so many comments - both positive and negative - that I would have loved to respond to, but I wanted to do it via email to assure that they'd read my response and to avoid a public argument when a private discussion would be more appropriate. It was a bummer to not be able to connect with readers more directly.

2. If you are one of the many who stated that you disagree with letting babies cry it out, know that I'm right there with you. Please read these two posts, not because I'm trying to convince you of anything, but because I want you to know the sleep journey that we've been on (or at least part of it).

lullaby and goodnight

sweet dreams

Thursday, October 2, 2014

red

Sunday morning, eight o'clock. Gus cries and wakes me. I double take at the clock. They never sleep in, but of course when they do, we have someplace to be. I hop up fast and jump into high gear. This baby needs to be nursed. So does that one, but we don't have time. Andrew gives him a bottle. I skip stairs on my way up to Harriet's room. Grab clothes and start dressing her, but she doesn't want that dress...melts to the floor in tears. I pick her up, skip stairs on the way up to her room again...way out of breath. Note to myself that I need to start working out.

"What do you want to wear?" I say in my best negotiating-with-a-toddler voice. I'm working hard to stay cheerful. She picks something goofy, too small and rather inappropriate for the weather.

"Perfect! Great choice!" I say and wrestle this child who has mysteriously and suddenly lost all muscle tone into this lousy excuse for an outfit.

I hear Andrew from downstairs, "Why don't you hop in the shower and I'll get the kids ready?" I know, most women would LOVE hearing this. But I'm annoyed because it feels like he's trying to control the situation. We're often late, and he hates that, usually blames me. I do my best to avoid you're-not-the-boss-of-me mode. I'm only moderately successful.

I try to make myself some oatmeal. The dog is in my way. The dog is always in my way. This morning, I'm not in the mood, so I put him out in the backyard where he can roam and explore and run. But he wants back in...very badly. "Fine. Come on in buddy," I say and open the door. He just stands there and about five mosquitos come inside instead.

The clothes I planned to wear? Dirty. Those earrings? Missing in action. That purse? Emptied out on the living room floor. The oatmeal? Totally forgot to pour it into the boiling water. The babies? Crying. The toddler? Not even sure where she is.

I burp Gus while I grab a pack of pop tarts from the cupboard. He lifts his head off the burp cloth and pukes down my neck. New shirts for both of us. Burping Louie, letting the dog out again. "Go outside Murphy. Hurry up," I say while holding the door ajar, welcoming in the rest of the mosquito family. Murphy finally goes outside while Louie shoves the burp cloth out of the way and empties his stomach all down the back of my shirt. Without even thinking, I slam that door as hard and as fast as I possibly can. The thunderous crack echoes in the kitchen, stops Gus's crying and brings Harriet out from hiding. I walk slowly through the intense silence and into my bedroom to change...for the third time in one hour.

I was frustrated. Frustrated...disappointed...such gentle, fancy words for something so plain and simple - anger. I was angry. Boiling mad like the oatmeal-less pot on the stovetop. Furious as the storms that were apparently raging inside my babies' tummies.

I've never been an angry person. I don't mind conflict, probably because the more intense things get, the more calm I get. I've never struggled to stay cool in the midst of relational tension...until I became a parent. In her book Surprised by Motherhood, Lisa-Jo Baker writes that she didn't realize that she had a temper until she became a mom. Same here, Lisa-Jo. Same here.

Maybe it's the sleeplessness. Maybe it's the feeling of powerlessness that happens when you can't get an eight-pound baby to do anything you want her to do. Maybe it's the caldron of emotions that gets stirred when two adults from different backgrounds try to parent the same child. Maybe it's the hormones. Maybe...yeah, pretty sure it's all of the above. And then there are the endless toys everywhere you walk...all of them somehow sharp or squeaky.

My husband's not immune from it. In fact, he's the primary target. I remember when we were having such trouble getting Harriet to sleep, we went for a morning walk. Andrew was full of advice and theories, and I literally had to step to the other side of the path to keep from slugging him. And not in a playful way. I wanted to punch him in the arm and I wanted it to hurt. I was angry. Sometimes, my fuse is short...too short. Sometimes it turns into sarcasm. Sometimes I get loud. Sometimes it's just a seething silence.

We're potty training around here. Have been for quite a while. We've taken a really relaxed approach to it. Partially because we want her to lead and partially because we're lazy. Some days she wants to wear a diaper, and that's fine. Most of the time, she wants to wear her underwear, which is exciting. I'm so proud of her. The other day, she was drinking a lot. She had four accidents in about three hours. I kept asking her if she had to go, and she'd insist she didn't while doing a dance that looked like she was standing on hot coals. I begged her to use the potty. Enter power struggle. I backed down, knowing that this was a battle I couldn't win. All of a sudden, she's standing in another puddle. I already had the boys in the stroller, all ready to go to the park. I didn't want to leave them in the driveway while I got her changed, so I wheeled them into the garage and hurried her into the house.

They were kind of like this...except crying.
I was annoyed. Okay, I was mad, and she knew it.

"I'm not mad that you peed, honey. I'm mad that you keep lying when I ask you if you have to go."

"But Mom, I...no, not those pants!"

I did not have time for this. I ran and grabbed a few pairs for her to choose from. She deliberated for several minutes before announcing her decision. All the while, I'm sighing loudly, rushing her, feeling my face get hot. I put the pants on her and gently push her out the door.

"Mom," she says in her best preschool teacher voice, "It's not a good idea to push kids. And when you use that hard voice, it hurts my feelings."

"Okay, I'm sorry, sweetheart. Let's talk while we walk."

And we did.

I usually find that my temper flares when my self care is low or my sense of self entitlement is getting the best of me. Like when I haven't had time out of the house in a few days. Or when I have insisted on doing the nights by myself for a week straight. Or when I realize that it's 6:00 pm and all I've eaten are some chips and fake guacamole (yeah, when you're eating artificial guacamole, you know it's bad).

Or when I start to think that I deserve this or that, because really, I don't deserve anything at all. And this season - the parenting one - is a season of sacrifice. When I was a little kid, we would sing this song:

Make me a servant, humble and meek
Lord, let me lift up those who are weak
And may the prayer of my heart always be
Make me a servant, make me a servant
Make me a servant today.

This has been my prayerful song for the past few months. You'll hear me singing it at the strangest times, all throughout the day. Reminding myself that I'm a servant mama, making sure that while I'm wiping their hands and faces, I'm also metaphorically washing their feet. If I'm able to take good care of myself while maintaining a servant's heart, those red hot angry emotions usually have a hard time besting me.

Here's the thing...I don't think there's anything wrong with anger. It's an emotion just like sadness or excitement or fear. We can't judge it. In fact, I think our kids can learn just as much from our anger as they can from our joy.

Every time we mess up is an opportunity. An opportunity to show our kids that we are flawed, sinful people, and that apologies are some of the most important words we can speak. In fact, the first words I spoke today were apologies - to Harriet for being crabby with her during her bedtime routine last night and to Andrew for...pretty much everything I did and said all evening long. My blog post was going viral and although I was excited, I was also feeling the weight and responsibility of those two million views heavy on my shoulders. I was digging deep to fight off the discouragement that I was feeling from the negative comments. I was exhausted (like maybe five hours of sleep in three days exhausted) and everyone in the family was feeling the prick of my spiny mood. So this morning started with two apologies, both graciously accepted. Harriet even told me that she thinks Jesus is warming up my heart.

That's good news, my girl. Really good news.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

if my child marries yours


If my child marries yours...

I just want you to know that I'm praying for you.

When I'm awake at night - feeding babies, burping babies, giving tylenol to a feverish toddler, covering up chilly toes, tucking green monkeys under little arms - I think of you. Because chances are, you're awake too, doing the same sorts of things. Taking care of tiny children that I already love because they will someday hold the hearts that are beating against my chest tonight.

I'm praying that you'll stand firm against the pressures to overcommit and hyper-schedule, that you'll shut out the voices that tell you you're not doing enough, that your kids aren't doing enough.

I'm praying you'll have the wisdom to know when to pick that crying baby up out of her crib and when to just sit outside her door, your fingertips pressed to the wood, willing her to feel your love and comfort and just finally fall asleep.

I'm praying that you will take those children to church...that the mothers and fathers of our future grandchildren will grow up knowing what it means to worship, even when that means missing out-of-town basketball tournaments and marathon sleepovers.

I'm praying that your love for and commitment to your spouse will swell with each year you're together, that you will grow to love the legacy you are creating just as much as you adore the person you're creating it with.

I'm praying that you take lots of pictures so that I can see where our grandchildren got their sticky-out ears and their mischievous grins.

I'm praying that Jesus will give you just enough strength each day to keep you from losing it but not so much that you forget Who that strength comes from.

I'm praying that we will be friends.

Will you pray those things for me too?

I don't really pray for your child. Maybe I should. My husband does that, and I think it's wonderful. But chances are, your child is just fine. And chances are, a lot of the time, you aren't. Chances are, if you're anything like me, you're very tired. And some days, you get so discouraged. Sometimes, your temper erupts, your selfishness wins, and your smile is fake. Sometimes you forget to change the baby's diaper, to spend time being silly with your toddler, to really see your spouse. So it's you I am praying for right now, in the still darkness, with this baby fist pressed up under my chin and this sweet, sleepy breath on my ear. May you feel these prayers when you need them the most.

We are in this together, you and I. We are building something beautiful with each onesie folded, each invisible owie kissed, each story read.

You don't know how much it means to me that you give your children everything you have every single day...even on days when it's not much at all. Because your child will fall asleep next to mine for fifty-some years. Your child will be the one holding my child's hand when our first grandchild is born. And when they face the darkest days of their lives, it will be your child and mine, facing into the struggle together.

I'm pretty sure that our longest days - the ones that are brim-full with hair-pulling moments, impossible messes, and toddler meltdowns - those are the days that we are fashioning hearts. And someday, one of the hearts I'm helping create will crash into one of your love-crafted hearts, and what spills out as a result of that jolt...it's kind of up to us. I promise to tend to these hearts with utmost care, to plant in them humility and peace and selflessness...especially selflessness. I promise to plant Jesus seeds in these hearts every chance I get. And I promise to keep praying for you.

I'm praying that you will hug your boy tight when he's sad or lonely or scared. Because someday, my girl - all grown beautiful with babies of her own - will be sad or lonely or scared. And he'll need to know how to hold her. Teach him.

And let your daughters hear you speak righteous words that bring life and hope. Because someday, my sons will be worn and weary, and the words you're placing in your daughters' minds today just might become the balm to my sons' souls.

I'm doing my best to do the same. And sometimes...much of the time...I fail. Pray for me too.

Someday we will sit on opposite sides of the aisle...all fancy and with gobs of tissues tucked into our fists. We'll watch our silly, sticky, sweet babies somehow transform into brides and grooms and make the same promises to one another that we ourselves have kept...against all odds and only by His grace. And we will watch these children create families of their own with the ingredients we have given them. The ingredients we are slipping into their souls today.

But until then, I'm sitting here in the dark with babies in my arms.

And I'm praying for you.


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