Sunday, September 23, 2018

on calling {part 2: on serving}

We drove for hours yesterday. Hours that felt like days. We were driving home from our annual September vacation refreshed from time spent together without distractions and exhausted because we have a 6 month old. We arrived home in time to attend chuch. After a quick breather we hopped back in the car and drove the short distance.

I spent the service wrangling Harper in the back. I tried her in the nursery, but she wasn't having it, so we sat in the back. I managed to listen to most of the sermon even as Harper climbed all over me and fussed on and off. Our pastor was speaking on Philippians 2: 1-11 - specifically the idea that "in the Kingdom of God the way up is down."

(This is a side note, but this idea in particular struck me: When Jesus came to Earth he came as a helpless baby. "The One who created language couldn't speak." Isn't that an incredible thought?)

I was making notes on being a servant, on helping others and avoiding self-promotion, when God spoke to me. I wrote, "Our primary calling toward people is to be their servant," but I had to go back and re-write it because in my head I heard, "Our primary calling toward people (MY KIDS INCLUDED) is to be their servant.

Serving at home is as important as serving outside the home.

Outside the home I am the queen of I will do that for you. Inside the home I am the queen of must I do that for you.

That's a hard realization to sit with.

I have this wall up in my mind and heart against being subservient to my family. There's a tangled mess of roots and raising and being a certain kind of wife and mother in my mind and heart that I've consistently rebelled against even as I struggle to understand it.

In Find Your Brave Holly Wagner writes about the Proverbs 31 woman and how misunderstood she is. Before reading Wagner's words on the subject I regarded that passage as a rebuke. Wagner explains that the Proverbs 31 woman being referred to as virtuous doesn't mean what we think it does.

" ... the word virtuous is the Hebrew word chayil and has to do with might, strength, and valor. It actually means a 'force on the earth.'  .... At first I was rather put off by Proverbs 31:15, the verse that challenges us to rise 'while it is yet night.' ... The truth is, however, that verse has less to do with the time of day we get up and everything to do with being women who rise up when earthquakes and chaos and heartbreak and calamity abound. In the darkest hour, she rises. .... When everything around us is in the midst of chaos, when our own world is quaking, we are to be the she who rises. .... God is looking for a company of women who who will find their brave and rise in the midst of any and every challenge - and then be a force for good to help others find their brave."

Including my kids.

I need to be all in with them like I am all in with the family across the road who is struggling. I need to help them put on their shoes for the twelfth time in two days with as kind of an attitude as the one I wear when I offer to bring a friend dinner.

And I need to remember that being a servant to my family doesn't mean I stop caring for myself. I have this idea in my head that good mothers care unceasingly for their children without wearing out. That God gives them endless reserves of energy while I am constantly ten steps behind searching for a magical energy source.

Oh friends, that is so untrue.

The mothers I know are tired. They don't have time to do what fills them. They don't have room in their lives to bake, read, draw, write, or even think. They are busy from the time they wake until the time they go to bed - often after the kids have been asleep for a couple hours, often after cleaning the house, packing lunches, organizing schedules, making the trains run on time. Why do we carry this weariness with pride? 

Why don't we admit it's impossible to do all that needs done with joy when everything inside feels weary and empty?

That's the crossroads I'm standing at.

How do I fill myself up so I can serve in and out of the home with joy and energy? Where do I find the time for that? How do I find the time for that?

Can we mothers make loving and caring for ourselves matter as much as loving and caring for others does so that we can become "life-givers" as my pastor said, or "women who will find their brave and rise" as Holly Wagner said?

Do we care enough about ourselves to do that? Do I care enough about myself to do that?

Friday, September 14, 2018

on calling

A couple weeks ago I read One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler. In her book, Fulwiler talks about the tension between being at home with her kids and her desire to write and have a career. Fulwiler talks about the idea of a "blue flame," something one is compelled to do, which made me think about my calling.

The idea of finding and understanding my calling has been rolling around in my mind for a long time. There are always echoes of that famous Mary Oliver poem, The Summer Day, running through the background of everything I do. It ends:

"Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"

After finishing One Beautiful Dream I wrote a quick post on Facebook about finding my calling, which led to an interesting discussion about whether or not one's calling should be easy. When I read Fulwiler's book I extrapolated that if one is driven to do something it should be easy, when in fact I think God gives us callings that stretch us so we will lean on Him. A friend commented on my post that she absolutely feels called to foster and adopt, but it is far, far from easy. In fact, it's the hardest thing she's done.

I've had this dream, idea, notion even, that my calling is in what I write and say. I am nowhere near realizing that dream, and I'm not even working towards it because I find it wearying in this season, but I've still held it in my heart as something that will happen for me.

But friends, I now don't think I am right about that. That is my dream, but it is not God's calling. I mean, I am an introverted people pleaser who hates to travel. Have you seen the women who are writing and speaking for our Lord? Have you observed the criticism and vitriol they have to endure? God has strength aplenty to get a person through those precarious valleys, but I don't think it is where I would thrive. Now that I am praying about and seeking God's wisdom for my life's purpose I see that arena is not for me.

On Sunday we had Bennett's birthday party at our house. We needed a basket to put a few things in, so Jon dumped one of the baskets of books by my bed out. This week I've been striving to wake up at 6am, feed Harper, and have a quiet time. On Monday morning when I looked at the piles of books on the floor I noticed a couple I hadn't looked through in a while, as well as one I hadn't read. I began reading them for my morning quiet time and was hit upside the head with what God has been trying to tell me for years.

The Bible says - "anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!" Matthew 11:15 - but I wasn't listening. I was saying, "Over here, Lord, this is what I want do" while God was trying to send me in an entirely different direction. When I began seeking my calling from God through prayer He made sure the words I needed to read would be so obvious I'd have to crawl over them to get in and out of bed.

First I paged through Love, Henri - selected letters from Henri J. M. Nouwen. I read what I had underlined, flipped pages until I came to these words near the end of the book:

"Our first and most important spiritual task is to claim that unconditional love of God for ourselves. We have to dare to say: 'Whether I feel it or not, whether I comprehend it or not, I know with a spiritual knowledge that I am God's beloved child, and nobody can take that divine childhood from me.' This is not easy to say because the society in which we live keeps suggesting to us that we need to be successful, popular or powerful to deserve being loved. But God does not need our success, popularity or power in order to love us.
God has given us a heart that wants to be loved unconditionally. If we can accept God's unconditional love for us, we can live in a world in which people often put all sorts of conditions on us ...... If we do not claim that divine love, we will waste much of our time and energy in trying to change people and make them fit our needs. That only increases tension and conflict."

So, it doesn't matter if other people love me. What matters is that God loves me.

Then I began reading Unseen by Sara Hagerty.

These words jumped out at me yesterday. I read them again today and had to underline them.

"There are times when God tucks us away ..... He might hide us in a crowd where we feel lost - unseen - or behind the front door of our homes, changing diapers and burping babies. He does this all so that we might see another side of Him, this God who looks deeply and knowingly into us when no one else is looking or noticing, and come alive under that eye, Sure, this hiddenness may feel undesirable at first. We resist it ..... We want to climb out from underneath burp cloths and laundry and serving in silence into a world where someone notices, where we're not only seen but appreciated, validated by those around us ..... We feel like we're waiting it out or merely enduring hardship, but, from God's angle, these times are purposed.
In the words of Paul, these hidden times allure us to "think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth" (Col. 3:2) .... We need help to look at the unseen, the things of heaven, not the things we can touch with our hands or guage with a measuring stick. Our truest lives - once we come to know Him - don't reside in the temporal world. Hiddenness is God's way of helping us with this holy detachment, slowly releasing our clutch on the 'things of earth,' which we were never intended to grip."

Oh. So. This is it. The kids. Homeschooling. Our home. A hidden life. A quiet life. A life our world doesn't value. This neighborhood. Our community. Helping in small ways. That's my calling.

My entire life I've looked for accolades and recognition - again, people pleaser here - please tell me you like me and I've never done anything to upset you - but God has placed me in a servant's role where the accolades are few and the ones I am trying to please cry because I handed them a dress when they wanted to wear pants, or throw up on me, or don't say thank you when I make their favorite dinner.

I thought B and Ainsleigh would hit a certain age and then my life would begin. My calling. My purpose. I didn't understand that this is IT. This everyday busy is my life. And since I wasn't understanding that, God gave me Harper. Another dependent life. Another reason to be at home. More years of hiddenness. And to be completely honest, I haven't handled that unexpected addition with enough grace or joy.

In Unseen, as Hagerty continues to talk about being hidden and relying on God, she writes, "We who live most of our days in and around the people of this world don't naturally hide ourselves in God. We don't naturally look to His expression toward us to drive us. We respond instead to the looks and applause and the direction of others around us. Thus, He hides us."

I feel like that's the place for me to start understanding my calling.

Stop seeking approval from anyone but God.

That will be so hard. All of this is a lot for me to take in and process, but at least I can change my focus and attitudes and begin to understand why God has me right here loving the people right in front of me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

one day {our homeschooling journey}

It's so hard to find the time to write.

Today was really good. I decided to write about it because I want to remember it when the days are long and difficult. This evening the really good got really hard, but I'm still going to write about our day because it had many elements of my ideal homeschool day.

Homeschool has been hard. When we initially set out on our homeschool journey our sweet Harper girl was not even a consideration. But the Lord had different plans for us and now I find myself with a busy 6 month old (she is pulling to a stand!!) and a full time teacher mom job.

Harper girl "helping" with the laundry

This post is about how I homeschool with 3 kids, only one of whom is doing lessons right now. Ainsleigh goes to preschool 3 mornings a week. She'll be 5 (!) at the end of October. Bennett just turned 7 (!) and is my full time homeschool buddy. Harper hit the 6 month mark on the 1st of September.

During our school time Ainsleigh has a special bin on the homeschool cart she can pull out and utilize, but I'm trying to encourage her in the direction of playing solo for a while. There's a lot of, "you're still doing school???" whining and I think if she could occupy herself away from the school table she would be a lot happier.

When Harper is awake she wants to be held, which makes teaching really challenging. Every day with her is different, which makes it impossible to predict how our school days are going to go. Today she napped well twice, which has not happened for a while, and that helped the day run smoothly. If she has a bad night that can make the school day really difficult because I'm so tired it's hard to put together coherent thoughts.

Yesterday Bennett and I went to an archeology dig a couple blocks down the street from Ainsleigh's preschool. Last week his history lesson covered the roles of archeologists and historians so it was a perfectly timed event. Today was a quieter day, but it's how I'd like a lot of our school days to look.

6-7 am: Wake up, nurse the baby, devotions, quiet reading time for the big kids. Harper usually sleeps until 7:30 or later (I don't get out of bed until 7 unless there is no possible way to avoid doing so)

7-8 am: Breakfast, clean up

8-8:30 am: Phonics lesson, spelling lesson

8:30-9:00 am: The kids listened to classical music and colored while I fed the baby and rocked her down for her first nap.

9:00-9:15 am: 15 minute mile - I saw a video of school kids in England running for 15 minutes every school day, which equaled about a mile. I decided we should incorporate this into our school day so at least 3 times a week we open the gates on either side of the house and run laps. The neighbors think we're crazy, and today the dog slipped outside and we thought we lost her for a few minutes, but it's really good for Bennett to get the exercise. It's good for me too! I can't run for the whole 15 minutes yet; B laps me at least twice.

9:15 - 10:00 am: Play break for the kids while I got ready for the day.

10:00 - 11:30 am: Handwriting lesson (writing birthday thank you notes), science lesson, math lesson, grammar lesson

11:30 am - 12:30 pm: Clean up from our school day / lunch time

12:30 pm - 2:00 pm: Mama time! I had a good friend come over for a visit. The baby took her second nap during this time. The kids played outside in the rain for a while, then played with toys and games / interrupted us while we chatted.

2:30 pm: Local bookstore run along with a quick store run for diapers. Everyone got a book (or three) even the baby.

3:45 pm - 4:45 pm: Playing in the rain (again) followed by read aloud time.

Please note that we got all of our formal schooling done in 2.5 hours!! That's one reason why I love homeschool!! If you add in our read aloud time we were "in school" for 3 hours and 15 minutes today. That's exactly where I want us to be as Bennett is only 7.

We're one week in to this school year and I am realizing that schooling my kids is fun, a sacrifice, and definitely a calling. I've been asking the Lord to reveal my calling to me, and I think he's pointing me in the direction of being all in all the time with my kids, even though I am an introvert and would benefit from dropping them off at school every day. BUT - I really like teaching Bennett and I don't want to drop the kids off at school every day.

It feels nearly impossible to find time for me, but today was a good example of how I can teach Bennett, raise the girls, and take time to do things I enjoy: chat with a friend, go to the bookstore. Now I need to figure out how to find enough energy to get through the 5:00 - 8:00 pm hours because that's when I (and the kids!) tend to fall apart.

What do your homeschool days look like?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

morning reflections

At 5 am I airlift you over the high side of the bassinet and into my bed
You are still newborn enough it's awkward and I wonder what you make of being lifted high while your head slightly flops and your whole world shifts
You are restless, but I'm hoping for more sleep
I stretch my right arm out - the one that aches from 3 months of this
- overuse - my chiropractor said shaking his head when I walked in wincing and cradling my right shoulder -
I place your head on my tender shoulder and you instantly roll to your side, press your face to my neck, and enter a deep sleep
This is our reward for making it nearly an entire night on the recommended "seperate sleep surfaces"
In the beginning I strived to place you in the bassinet
The older ones slept with me as infants, but you seem content on your own so I work hard to deposit you in your bassinet, even as my head nods sleepily over your nursing body - curled like a tiny shell on a warm sandy stretch feet from a cold ocean -
At 28 days old - the number etched in my mind by the constant repetition of doctors with furrowed brows - you developed an upper respritory infection that knocked us all for six
Our anxiety rising like a tide as we were tasked with nursing you through your first illness
We held you upright through sleepless nights
Counting your breaths and willing you to continue breathing
Though we knew from experience willing a baby to breathe doesn't always work
When you were healthy again I continued sleeping with you in my arms
We were both comforted by the nearness, but I'd pray every night for safety
I'd scour the internet for safe bed sharing guidelines at 3 am when you woke hungry and seeking comfort
One night I read that mothers should only co-sleep if they would not feel guilt if their infant died next to them in the night
I threw my phone aside
Could anyone ever achieve such a lofty place of motherhood? A mountain top of achievement and enlightenment where guilt doesn't exist?
I already carry the guilt of one dead baby  I've been assured I can set it down by all the professionals and loved ones imaginable
However, after all this time, the critics who don't know me are the ones whose voices are the loudest
They encourage me to hold the guilt close. To accept fault. To shoulder the blame.
I've set it down a thousand times, but at their urging I always return to it and heave it into my arms once more
The next night I placed you in your bassinet
And you slept
Without me
Though I hardly slept without you
So when you wake for milk at 4 or 5 am I keep you with me
I don't know why my mind believes you're less likely to die between 5 and 8 am
But it does
And the hurting, broken part of my mothering heart that split into pieces when your sister died craves the comfort of a soft infant head pressed against a swollen shoulder
The pain reminds me I kept going through the worst pain of my life; that an aching shoulder pales in comparison to outliving a child
- A backwards order that should not exist, but if you take the time to ask you'll find many mothers without children, with less children than hoped for, with heaven side babies they wish to drag earthside, because while the fierce missing abates it is never entirely gone - 
Your tiny curled fists and squeaky sleepy noises are a reminder of the power of hope to carry one through the darkest most anxious moments of pregnancy and childbirth after death has visited a sacred time that should never be visited by such darkness
If you grit your teeth, if you rely on all your sources, if you take it minute by minute, it is possible to wade through the trauma of pregnancy and birth after loss and find yourself in this peaceful place where babies live and breathe and need you
I doze, never quite falling into a deep sleep, as the house wakes around us
Perhaps that's what makes me feel the early morning hours are safer than the middle night hours when sleep is deepest and caution overpowered by the basic need to sleep so the following day isn't filled with the harsh voice of a snapping sniping mother
Your dad is on the other end of the house
We - the mother / infant duo - always send him to another room for a few months
It creates a powerful us against the world feeling
Though we don't hesitate to tiptoe through the dark house - bare feet burning from the cold tile floor we must cross to get to him - if the night feels long and sleep hard to come by
Your siblings sleep next door
Not all of them
One of your sisters is busy with heavenly things
I'd like to think she's waiting for us, but I'm fairly sure the waiting is our task and burden to carry
But two of them are next door
Your face will light up when you see them in a couple hours
I'll feel full of joy as we all tumble out of warm sheets and begin our day
As we rise I thank God for your life
That we made it another night with all of our lives intact
Eight years ago I confronted the temporary fragility of life
I learned breath can crumble in an instant
That ceasing to be can happen fast as a thunder clap and resonate through those who are left for years and years and years
You have two sisters, dear heart, I whisper as the sun begins to rise
You'll always have three siblings though you'll only know two
We'll always be surprised by you, darling unexpected one
And I'll always believe you were sent to us by a wise God advised by a loving sister who knew we needed another dose of the healing only a baby can bring

Friday, March 23, 2018

answered prayers and a child's worry

Harper has her first cold. That's what happens when you have older siblings! She's been congested and coughing on and off, but fever free and still doing all the necessary newborn things.

This morning I was snuggling with all of the kids in bed when Harper began coughing. B looked at me with worry in his eyes and asked, "Will she die from a cold?"

"Oh honey, no! Absolutely not." I said. "She's fine, she just has a little cold."

When Harper was born I realized how much mental health work I've done since last January.. I did not expect to see that work bear fruit during a very traumatic experience, but it did. Hard work with a counselor plus a whole lot of prayer and a deep knowledge that God was present in the hospital room where Harper was born, resulted in a calm birth where I was able to maintain focus and a feeling of peace.

Here is a short list of prayers that were answered before or during Harper's birth:

- The week before Harper was born I prayed for my labor signs to be very clear. I wanted someone to tell me I was in labor / be at least a 6 before getting the epidural / be sent from the doctor's to the hospital, but I figured that was unlikely / impossible / never going to happen.

When I went to my doctor's on the morning of the 1st to discuss induction on the 5th I was shocked when my OB said, "You're having this baby today! You're 7 cm. Go to the hospital, get the epidural and then they'll break your water."

- I was apprehensive about going through the traditional labor and delivery admittance process, but being sent to the hospital from my doctor's clinic allowed me to bypass triage and go straight to a room.

- I stayed at 7 cm for 3 hours while waiting for the epidural and I stayed calm! I refused to progress because I was terrified of delivering without an epidural. All of the work I put in with my therapist proved useful and helpful. I kept my cortisol levels low and my meditative breathing was so effective I dozed off while waiting for the anesthesiologist to finish his emergency c-sections even though I was contracting on and off. I was so worried I would have a panic attack while in labor, but instead I was in this other worldly state of calm. I did not create the bubble of peaceful centeredness around me; that was all Jesus.

- When the epidural failed to work on one side I prayed, "Jesus, fix it. I don't want to feel strong contractions. The anesthesiologist came back and fixed the epidural so it was fully effective. I said, "I am literally praying this works" and when he came back 20 minutes later to check in I was happy to report my prayers were answered.

- Pushing was quick - 10 minutes - AND I did not hemorhage!!!! I was scared to push because the medical staff kept mentioning Harper's head position not being optimal, but pushing was easy. And when they said bleeding was normal I couldn't believe it. 

During labor my doula said, "I hope this is a healing experience for you." And it was! Ainsleigh's birth redeemed the postpartum period for me - though I did still bleed a lot and needed extra recovery time - but Harper's birth redeemed the entire birth experience for me.

I've felt amazing the last three weeks - physically and mentally. I haven't been as weepy as I usually am during the immediate postpartum period and the anxiety I've carried with me when the other kids were small is hardly present. When it does appear I have the tools to tamp it down and move on.

But I see the shadows of my anxiety in the haunted questions B asks. And I understand now that my next hurdle is teaching him how to live without those shadows even though he has co-existed with them his entire life. Being the first child born after unimaginable loss is not an enviable position, but now that I'm mentally healthy I can begin to change the tides for him and everyone else in our family.

I doubted God's vision and wisdom for our family when I found out I was pregnant again, but I see now how desperately we needed this sweet girl who looks exactly like her sister Charlotte.

harper finley

Harper was born March 1st at 7:46 pm. Her birth was by far my easiest; God answered so many prayers and was very present during my labor and delivery.

Harper was 7 lbs 5 oz, right in the middle of B and Ainsleigh's weight. She is beautiful and healthy.

We are so in love!!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

35 weeks

Okay, we're not quite at 35 weeks, but on Tuesday I will be so I'm claiming it now.

I haven't written very much about this pregnancy because life is waaaay busier now than it was when I was pregnant with B and Ains.

I'm in the middle of the last month slog: twice weekly non-stress tests, iron infusions, chiropractor appointments, therapist appointments, baby preparations. I've had some mild contractions, and one quick trip to L & D for anxiety soothing, which is enough to make me want to have everything ready by 37 weeks. Which is 2 weeks from now.

The house is in complete chaos as Jon is refinishing the floors in the baby's room. All of the baby stuff is in our room and it feels like we're on the brink of a Hoarders episode. I just need everything settled and in its proper place so I can feel like I have a tiny bit of control over things.

This pregnancy has been so interesting as I navigate the (frankly) unfriendly waters of traditional OB care. I have thoughts and opinions about standard OB care now that I've tried most maternity care options available.

One thing that really bothers me is that I have had absolutely no emotional support from the OB. If you have a patient who has had a full term loss shouldn't you check in on their mental well being sometimes? I am lucky to have great support - including a therapist and doula - to ask those questions and assess those things, but what if I didn't? The amount of self-advocacy one has to take on in the standard medical care world is burdensome. To add in mental health on top of that seems so overwhelming. And I feel like if I tossed out, "I'm really struggling"at the end of one of my 10 minute appointments the OB would not be sympathetic / would say the wrong thing / would say something trite in her rush to get through patients.

I miss midwifery care. I have seen one on and off throughout this pregnancy when the OB's schedule is too full, but the appointments are so rushed and everyone is very to. the point.

Weight fine. Baby fine. Growth fine. Heartbeat fine. Any questions?

It feels like a very rushed fast moving system and I don't like it at all.

The kids are excited about the baby, but at the same time we're starting to hear some "I don't want to be a big brother / sister" hesitation. We're starting to slow down on homeschool - I have 5 appointments this week alone, there's no time - and I think the kids are sensing the impending changes.

I don't think anyone is ready, but we need to get to that place soon because we only have five weeks - or less - before we meet our third baby girl.

I'm going to spend my afternoon getting a pedicure and buying the last few baby things we need. A little break before the busy week ahead.


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