My bestie Alycia was nearing her licensure test. She graduated with a Masters in Social Work a while ago, but in order to practice clinically, she needed to be licensed in her state. I thought of everything I know about this woman, how she’s been doing this work informally since I’ve known her, how good she is at it, how it lights her up.
“Yes, you’re cut out for it.” All I can picture is my mom’s bedroom floor with a green cutting mat and rotary cutter and do-not-use-on-paper-or-you-will-die scissors and pieces of tan tissue-paper pattern attached to fabric with straight pins of various colors. “This is exactly the shape of your soul. It’s what you were made for.”
It’s been a few months since we had this conversation. She took the test and passed it without breaking a sweat. She’s been up here for part of that time, and is now walking toward this part of her calling.
And I’m still thinking about the conversation.
How, exactly, does one figure out the shape of her soul? I’m by no means a seamstress, but my mom certainly is (she made my wedding dress from a picture of me in a David’s Bridal gown and it was amazing), so I at least have an image of the process. Right now, I’m looking at a bunch of random pieces, wondering how they’re supposed to fit together and what they’ll make when they’re done. I have no doubt the Designer has something in mind, but I’m not sure what. I’m not even certain they are all for the same thing. Maybe it’s a collection of various pieces. I have no idea. This metaphor breaks down here—I don’t think God is giving me a puzzle to solve: if He wants me to do something, it’ll unfold as it should and I just need to live my life as it does. But I do wonder what it’s becoming. Not with anxiety, usually, but with curiosity and amazement. I’m finding pieces of me I didn’t know were there, or maybe even are contrary to what I thought was there.
So I’m paying attention.
My interests and passions are different than I expected at 20. I suppose I could have seen writing coming, but I never would have pegged me for a photographer—certainly not of birth—but I’m 100% fired up about showing women their beauty as they bear humans into the world. More on that some other week. I expected to be fully fulfilled by marriage and motherhood, which was a particular type of idolatry I’ll need to explore later. I didn’t care at all about politics except for policies surrounding unborn babies and now I definitely do—particularly about the intersections of politics, the church, and Jesus—but my pro-life bent is taking me some places I would not have guessed, places at odds with who I thought I was then. (Another post for another day.) I expected to homeschool my hypothetical children and love it and be good at it. I am homeschooling some of them, and I love and am good at parts of it, but it’s different than I expected—20 was just a little before I realized how truly terrible I am at teaching. My passion for marriage in general (and in particular, now) remains, but again, real life has added some nuance to my clear-eyed idealism. I stopped exercising and eating carefully because I hate my body and started exercising and eating carefully because I like it, which doesn’t sound like a huge shift, and behaviorally it isn’t, but you’re smart, and if you’ve been reading for any length of time, you know how hard-won this non-change is.
I could go on, but that paragraph is a beast already and I have about a month’s worth of blog posts embedded in it and that’s plenty. Basically, things have grown and morphed and nuance has been added in the last couple decades and I no longer have the very concrete, specific idea of who I’m going to be at 35, and 35 came and went a couple years ago.
So there are my interests and passions, which surprise me, and then there are the pieces of my actual life which are bigger and, in many ways, more significant.
There are my children, which, surprise! I actually don’t have as much control over as I thought I would, and that’s both delightful and terrifying.
There’s my home, which takes a lot more effort to keep than I ever thought about, and also I really love the liturgy of keeping it, except for the constant interruptions from aforementioned kids.
I’m an HSP, which presents some challenges, but is its own sort of superpower, too.
After a lot of years of neglecting sleep as a habit led to adrenal fatigue a couple years ago and now I have to be really careful about physical limitations.
So where does this leave me?
And why am I telling you?
It leaves me paying attention to my life, trying to discern my next right thing at any given moment, and encouraging you to do the same.
And the posture of paying attention and next-right-thing discernment is important, too. Many points would find me stressed out, fearful of missing something important. But now there’s quiet anticipation, trust, curiosity. I don’t actually need to know all the things now. I didn’t know all the things at 20—I thought I did in some cases but I didn’t, and the areas where I did know about the information gaps freaked me out significantly—and I don’t know why I’d expect to know them all now. To be honest, I’m glad I keep being surprised. A single straight line toward maturity without any detours or points of interests would be lame.
Last week was spent off-grid in a town outside Boston. I have thoughts about the time spent at L’Abri, but they haven’t coalesced into anything that makes sense yet. (I think last year’s visit took multiple months, and this year’s study was much less focused than last, so we’ll see.) For now, all I have is this:
Sleep is important.
Feel free to go back to Facebook or Instagram or email or whatever you were doing… this feels like a dumb post to share, but I decided I’d post every Thursday and this is all I have. It’s mostly notes to myself: L’Abri trips need to be slightly longer to account for travel recovery time.
I flew about 20 hours there Sunday before last, arrived Monday morning, had a full day to stay awake. It took until about Friday or Saturday to recover from what ended up a 36-hour day punctuated with three 1-hour naps, then Saturday night, I went to bed with a 2:30 am alarm, woke and traveled for 25 hours. As I write, it’s Wednesday and I’m nothing like functional.
I learned almost exactly two years ago that my body doesn’t take kindly to being ignored. If I choose to push past her demands for sleep, eventually she’ll just refuse to cooperate. I never want to be in the adrenal fatigue place again. I don’t have time for that crap.
So I sleep. Instead of my morning routine of gym or pool followed by quiet work time, I have been starting the day way behind, stumbling out of bed when my children require me, fumbling for coffee, muttering incoherently at my people while my brain struggles to come online. Usually I’m pretty functional about 10 minutes into a workout, which is nearly three hours before my children need me to have words and thoughts and directions for them. Not so much this week. I’m kinda dying to get back to my regular life, but for now, I’ll honor my own humanity and rest.
Resting when I would rather not is an exercise in finiteness. God doesn’t sleep, but I’m not Him. I may be made in His image, but I’m also made with some distinct limitations. When I choose to skip the gym out of a genuine need to recuperate, when I nap when I “should” be doing laundry, it’s a declaration to myself and my family that I have the same limits we all do. Where I would once would have berated myself for laziness, there’s a quiet agreement that His design is good regardless of my to-do list.
Last year, my word was “small.” After the tremendous mess that 2018 was with adrenal fatigue and a mental health crisis-bordering-on-emergency that bled into the beginning of the year, I needed to focus on doing the tiny thing in front of me. Basically the only goals I had were little habits: Sleep. Move. Find silence. Keep up on crap.
I fully expected the year to proceed in that fashion, with little acts of obedience to a big God adding up to nothing much—just another year of life with my family, which feels like nothing much and, at the same time, everything.
But as the year unfolded, my small steps started to become bigger and bigger risks with bigger payoffs and bigger crashes. We put Jenna in school because that seemed to be the next right thing for our family. I got a new camera. I don’t quite know how to talk about the crashes right now—there were a few—except to say they were as good and right as they were painful, and sometimes small steps toward what the Lord has for me are also small steps away from what he had for me in a different season. I’m not trying to be coy and I’m not hiding any big news, but the stories don’t all belong to me, so I’m figuring out how (and whether) to talk about those in ways both honest and honoring.
And then there were the exciting things… Writing for Kindred mom in 2017 led to joining the team in 2018 and excellent friends in 2019 and we’re all getting together for the first time next month and a passion for editing I did not expect. A 100 day project meant practicing hand lettering a few minutes a day from April through July and now I know how to do that. Saying yes to engagement with a new friend on Instagram followed by some collaborative work led to a mastermind group where we encourage and hold each other to account for our creative endeavers.
General awkwardness is pretty much my worst nightmare, but saying, “hey, I think you’re cool, wanna be friends?” followed by skipping small talk and diving straight into borderline overshare territory has resulted in so many actual friends and one or two perpetually awkward acquaintances (in which I reached out and there was no reciprocation).
The camera made way for a birth photography mentorship which led to shooting a couple of births which led to oxytocin and more potential births and suddenly the thoughts I had about taking up birth photography in about five years when gave way to “now is good, I guess?” and a website and business cards and all things legit. A homework assignment led to my first art show rejection followed by my first acceptance and now a couple of pieces of mine are touring museums around the state for the next two years.
As I was thinking through 2020 and what I was going to focus on, I jokingly told people I was going from “small” to “badass” or “kickass” or maybe just “ass,” as it’s apparently the most complicated word in the English language. (For real. Go watch the video. I’ll wait.) The jump from “small” to whatever 2020 was going to be felt jarring, but the thread that kept surfacing was “creative risk.” I’m just going to have to leap.
I hate leaping. It feels scary and naked. I’ve never started a business before. Marketing feels icky to me, and it’s going to have to happen. I’m afraid to hang out in a birth space, taking photos, trying to stay out of the way. Don’t get me wrong—birth is totally my jam—I’m just nervous about it.
So 2020’s focus is courage. I’m just going to do it scared. The writing, photography, business, friendships… all of it.
I’ve been trying hard to take time to slow down and look back instead of plowing forward into 2020’s new stuff AND THERE IS PLENTY OF THAT. So, because this blog is sort of my personal record of all the things, let’s look at it together, shall we?
What didn’t work
We’ll start with the downer because it seems lame to end on it. Here’s what didn’t go so well:
This is a huge bummer to say, because it’s important and a huge part of my life. But it’s not working. My brain is glitchy and I’m not consistent and I’ve basically trained my children to ignore me. Changes will be made in 2020. I’m excited to take this course that starts in February. I don’t expect it to be a magic bullet, but anything is an improvement.
Unpopular, but moderation doesn’t work for me. My doctor gave me the okay in June to have sugar and dairy in moderation and I basically turned into Cookie Monster. I gave up extraneous spending for Lent last February and the exercise was illuminating, but after abstaining from discretionary purchases for a few weeks, I rebounded HARD. I don’t half-ass much, so if something is good, but only in small doses, I need to basically make hard rules about it so I don’t try to moderate. (I can have one sugary thing, but on Sunday, for instance. This is not my rule, but it could be. Once those praline pecans I got from Costco today are gone.) In Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, she talks about moderators vs. abstainers—how some people do great moderating, but others are better served not trying to. I’m an abstainer. My moderating ability is abysmal.
Keeping on top of logistics
I really thought 2019 would be the year I got household routines under control. Not so much. Things like cleaning and keeping up on photo albums and reimbursements for homeschool were all things I started to put systems in place for so they didn’t all pile up. And then I got distracted. I can’t remember what by. The systems looked good on paper, but I didn’t actually implement them. Will tweak and try again.
We tried it this year. (Still in it for the remainder of the school year, most likely.) I love everything about it. The families are great, I love connecting with the other parents, my kids are doing great in their classes, I love the classical model in general and this curriculum in particular. But… I can’t do it. The long and early morning with so much noise and so many people (even if I like them!) has drained me and made Thursdays a thing I dread. I will miss the individuals at CC next school year, but I’m going to have to work through the material on my own. So far, twelve weeks in, I haven’t found a good way to salvage the day.
What did work
I got in a really good rhythm of going to the gym and pool with a couple of BFFs on the regular. I found ways to pick up quiet moments to read or write. I have a good system of study and rest. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough and plenty to build on.
I put Jenna in the school around the corner after much internal turmoil. (Actually, I made Andrew make the final call because I simply couldn’t.) Not only does she thrive in a classroom environment, but we all do. Her relationships with siblings and me are improved, my relationships with all four kids are better, and the relationships of those at home still are all better as well. I know I said I didn’t believe in a magic bullet for parenting, but this kind of feels like one in this little area.
I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and I’m pretty happy with it. My favorite part? Every time I come across a book to read, I can add it immediately. I know that’s goofy (and I could do the same thing with my phone) and it’s at least as stressful as it is useful because my “books to read” list is about 150 books long, but still.
Y’all, my kids are all weaned. I took my first truly babyless trip in 2018 (no babies in or on me) and a few more last year. I like my kids a lot. I like them even more when I get back from some time where nobody is calling for my attention at all, let alone every five seconds. I actually don’t even care where I go. I’ve loved Santa Barbara and Boston (area) but I feel like Bismark, ND would work as well. Is there a quiet spot? Are there books to read? (No? No biggie! I brought fifteen, because I can’t moderate even my book packing!)
I get intimidated by things I don’t know how to do. I am not good at being bad at stuff. I get frustrated fast and just want to burn it all down. But this year, I did the 100 day project and lettered daily from April into July, and now I know how to do brush lettering. I got a new camera and was sorta forced to learn Lightroom and it’s fine. Maybe this year I’ll figure out Photoshop past “watch YouTube videos and cry.” Mostly, I’m glad to have practice being bad at things and getting better. I feel like it’s an important skill.
So every year, I put together a list of my favorite books of the year, and it’s fun to look back through and remember what I’ve read. It’s… a lot. I don’t say it to brag or humblebrag or anything else. I read eighty books last year, which is a record by a long shot. I can hardly handle watching tv or video… apparently it frees up some time.
The list of books that I’d marked as “favorite” was about a quarter of those. I’ve whittled the list down to eleven. (I tried to do ten, but just couldn’t cut it any more.) The descriptions and photos are all swiped from Amazon, but I’ll add notes about why I like them, too. These are in no particular order and the inclusion of both Amazon summary and my brief thoughts on them is owed directly to Emily P Freeman, whose 2019 “books” post I read this morning.
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.
Why I liked it: This is the first Tolkein I’ve ever read. I don’t know why it took so long. I read it at the very beginning of the year, and I still find myself recalling parts of it. Masterful. Lord of the Rings is definitely on my list this year.
Newsweek called renowned minister Timothy Keller “a C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century” in a feature on his first book, The Reason for God. In that book, he offered a rational explanation of why we should believe in God. Now, in The Prodigal God, Keller takes his trademark intellectual approach to understanding Christianity and uses the parable of the prodigal son to reveal an unexpected message of hope and salvation.
Why I liked it: A take on the familiar parable in which the main character (the Father) gets the focus and the needs of both older and younger brother brother are addressed. The writing is intellectual, but the concepts are soul-deep. It’s on my stack to reread in 2020.
Widely-acclaimed author Mark Buchanan states that what we’ve really lost is “the rest of God-the rest God bestows and, with it, that part of Himself we can know only through stillness.” Stillness as a virtue is a foreign concept in our society, but there is wisdom in God’s own rhythm of work and rest. Jesus practiced Sabbath among those who had turned it into a dismal thing, a day for murmuring and finger-wagging, and He reminded them of the day’s true purpose: liberation-to heal, to feed, to rescue, to celebrate, to lavish and relish life abundant.
With this book, Buchanan reminds us of this and gives practical advice for restoring the sabbath in our lives.
Why I liked it: I need rest so deeply right now. This book helped me see that, and helped me understand why.
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Why I liked it: Eleanor is quirky and awkward and self-protective and unhealthy. It was fun to see her unfold and grow and let others in. It was hopeful for me because I share some of her neuroses.
Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust. He explores innovative treatments—from neurofeedback and meditation to sports, drama, and yoga—that offer new paths to recovery by activating the brain’s natural neuroplasticity. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score exposes the tremendous power of our relationships both to hurt and to heal—and offers new hope for reclaiming lives.
Why I liked it: I didn’t This book triggered the crap out of me. BUT it was also so incredibly helpful… It creates a framework for the way my brain and body work and also made sense of the behavior of so many others I love. This is kind of an “everybody read it” important book, but also, it’s a little like eating lima beans: good for you, if not entirely pleasant.
As Aidan Errol is pronounced Wilderking, a pact is signed between Corenwald and the Pyrthen Empire, but as Aiden shoulders the weight and glory of his destiny, Corenwald is double-crossed and an epic battle to save the kingdom ensues.
Why I liked it: This is a total cheat. It’s the first of a trilogy, an allegory that tells the story of young King David of Israel set in a southern swampland. I liked all three, but I didn’t feel like listing them individually and this list is plenty long as it is. Rogers’s writing is masterful and the story is engaging.
More than ever, politics seems driven by conflict and anger. People sitting together in pews every Sunday have started to feel like strangers, loved ones at the dinner table like enemies. Toxic political dialogue, hate-filled rants on social media, and agenda-driven news stories have become the new norm. It’s exhausting, and it’s too much.
In I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), two working moms from opposite ends of the political spectrum contend that there is a better way. They believe that we can
choose to respect the dignity of every person,
choose to recognize that issues are nuanced and can’t be reduced to political talking points,
choose to listen in order to understand,
choose gentleness and patience.
Sarah from the left and Beth from the right invite those looking for something better than the status quo to pull up a chair and listen to the principles, insights, and practical tools they have learned hosting their fast-growing podcast Pantsuit Politics. As impossible as it might seem, people from opposing political perspectives truly can have calm, grace-filled conversations with one another—by putting relationship before policy and understanding before argument.
Why I like it: The political party I’ve identified with for my entire life has worked its way farther and farther from my actual values, but it’s taken with it a lot of people I love. This offers a blueprint for discussions about tough topics with a goal of connection rather than winning.
For twenty years, Gregory Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. In Tattoos on the Heart, he distills his experience working in the ghetto into a breathtaking series of parables inspired by faith.
Arranged by theme and filled with sparkling humor and glowing generosity, these essays offer a stirring look at how full our lives could be if we could find the joy in loving others and in being loved unconditionally. From giant, tattooed Cesar, shopping at JCPenney fresh out of prison, we learn how to feel worthy of God’s love. From ten-year-old Lula we learn the importance of being known and acknowledged. From Pedro we understand the kind of patience necessary to rescue someone from the darkness. In each chapter we benefit from Boyle’s gentle, hard-earned wisdom.
These essays about universal kinship and redemption are moving examples of the power of unconditional love and the importance of fighting despair. Gorgeous and uplifting, Tattoos on the Heart reminds us that no life is less valuable than another.
Why I liked it: Father Gregory Boyle is warm and endearing and tells stories that had me alternately laughing and tearing up (often in the same paragraph). He lives in a world I have never experienced but removes the us/them barriers.
Austin Channing Brown’s first encounter with a racialized America came at age 7, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. Growing up in majority-white schools, organizations, and churches, Austin writes, “I had to learn what it means to love blackness,” a journey that led to a lifetime spent navigating America’s racial divide as a writer, speaker and expert who helps organizations practice genuine inclusion.
In a time when nearly all institutions (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claim to value “diversity” in their mission statements, I’m Still Here is a powerful account of how and why our actions so often fall short of our words. Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice, in stories that bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric–from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.
For readers who have engaged with America’s legacy on race through the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson, I’m Still Here is an illuminating look at how white, middle-class, Evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility, inviting the reader to confront apathy, recognize God’s ongoing work in the world, and discover how blackness–if we let it–can save us all.
Why I liked it: This challenged my worldview in important, necessary ways. I thought I was going to have all the words to say about it, but months after finishing, there’s just a strong desire to listen.
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.
Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
Why I liked it: Y’all, the buzz is REAL. I’d heard so much “ohmygosh this book is so good” since it published mid-2018 but actually knew almost nothing about it going in. If you read the summary above, you know far more than I did at the outset. I’m going to let that be and just say it’s an amazing story, well-told.
(Christian/creative living) (I made that genre up.)
Making something beautiful in a broken world can be harrowing work, and it can’t be done alone.
Over the last twenty years, Andrew Peterson has performed thousands of concerts, published four novels, released ten albums, taught college and seminary classes on writing, founded a nonprofit ministry for Christians in the arts, and executive-produced a film—all in a belief that God calls us to proclaim the gospel and the coming kingdom using whatever gifts are at our disposal. He’s stumbled along the way, made mistake after mistake, and yet has continually encountered the grace of God through an encouraging family, a Christ-centered community of artists in the church, and the power of truth, beauty, and goodness in Scripture and the arts.
While there are many books about writing, none deal first-hand with the intersection of songwriting, storytelling, and vocation, along with nuts-and-bolts exploration of the great mystery of creativity. In Adorning the Dark, Andrew describes six principles for the writing life:
serving the work
serving the audience
Through stories from his own journey, Andrew shows how these principles are not merely helpful for writers and artists, but for anyone interested in imitating the way the Creator interacts with his creation.
This book is both a memoir of Andrew’s journey and a handbook for artists, written in the hope that his story will provide encouragement to others stumbling along in pursuit of a calling to adorn the dark with the light of Christ.
Why I liked it: Um, duh, it’s Andrew Peterson. Also, he’s talking about creating and the spiritual import of doing so. Somehow he managed to make a work of art out of a book about making art. I don’t understand, but I’m also not surprised.
There it is. If, for some reason, this list leaves you needing still more books to read, here’s 2018 and 2017.
Hey! I have this piece up on Kindred Mom today! Remember that time at the end of October when I made some bad decisions and opted to paint my kitchen after approximately zero minutes of deliberation? Well, there’s an update. You can read the whole thing here, or read on for a teaser.
I have to do something with this kitchen. I have lived with it for ten years. In some seasons, I’ve even ceased to notice, but today, I’ve decided I cannot live with it for one more second. The dark brown cabinets with antique brass pulls and big decorative medallions beneath them. The bright orange countertops. The cracking linoleum—a mosaic of browns, oranges, and something I can only describe as “dijon yellow”—with two-inch circular holes where knots in the subfloor deteriorated beneath it. This kitchen is older than my parents’ marriage.
Additionally, my children are being noisy and demanding. How many pickles do y’all need in an afternoon?!? The obvious answer to my building frustration with both the children and the kitchen: half an hour of Pinterest and one poorly planned decision. “Pack it up, kids, we’re going to Lowe’s.”
I spend fifteen seconds choosing a gray to paint the cabinets. Morning Fog seems like a solid choice for a kitchen, no? Then I spend about five more making yet another brilliant choice: “Big girls, if you can agree on a color, I will let you choose the paint for the interior of the lower cabinets.” I leave them to make a choice while I take the preschoolers to customer service in search of someone who can mix paint. I return to find Jenna (8) on her hands and knees with Katherine (7) standing on her back to pick out the perfect shade from the top row of paint swatches: Robust Pink. Cool. Pepto Bismol with a hint of salmon seems like the clear choice for my cabinets.
I’m 27. I’ve been out of the pharmacy for almost a year, subbing for the school district and working for an eye clinic doing reception and data entry.
We’ve recently moved upstairs from the tiny apartment we lived in all our married life into the house Andrew’s dad and his family recently vacated. Becky and Cole, freshly married, either just moved in downstairs or are about to.
We’re about ready (after nearly six years) to start a family. I just know I’m going to love motherhood. But real quick before I do that, I want to get healthy [read: get skinny]. I decide to consume no solid foods for the entire month of January. (Spoiler: this did not work. I did it, but I lost a nominal amount of weight, which I promptly regained. Do not recommend.)
We’re a few months out from the existence of Sprout (who became Jenna).
I’m heavily involved in our church’s Saturday night service, on worship team, coordinating nursery, all the things. We narrowly avoided cancellation a few months ago, and we’re about six months out from our actual last service.
I recently turned down an invitation to a friend’s wedding on principle: she was marrying a nonbeliever and I didn’t want to somehow affirm this choice by my presence. (I’m sorry, Rhonda. That was crappy.)
Andrew and I have a little Canon Powershot that mostly he uses as he’s the only one with any photography training. Ninety percent of our photos involve a fluffy bear of a dog named Kannon who’s about a year old and hasn’t yet grown into his enormous paws.
I am annoyed by the preponderance of personal blogs. As if everybody and their mother wants to read the random thoughts going through your head.
Everybody owns a smartphone but me.
I’m buried in a pile of children we made in the last decade. Nearly suffocating, in fact. I found out motherhood is actually a crap job and it’s horrible for my mental health, but they’re (mostly) delightful small people and they make it worth it.
I‘m not skinny—four kids later, I’m about where I was at the beginning of January a decade ago—and that weird juice fast was the last diet I ever attempted. My body and I have reached a treaty that we abide by most days. She’s done a remarkable job in the past decade of growing five children and birthing four. (Clarification: the one not birthed was an early miscarriage. I am not pregnant now.)
I have my own blog (obviously) with some 200 posts that everybody and their mother decidedly does not read, but some do. (And hello! Thank you for giving me your minutes!) I’m also on the team of a delightful collaborative blog for mamas that strives to bring grace and wisdom to the trenches. I podcast with them regularly and the five of them have become my people. All of us are meeting up for a weekend next month. I will be meeting two of them for the first time.
I got, learned to use, and outgrew my first DSLR and am getting ready to start a birth photography business with my new “big girl” camera. I’m learning from Sarah, who, ten years ago, was just starting out and hadn’t yet become my photography hero (and then photographer and then friend). The dog I used to take pictures of died a year and a half ago under maddening and tragic circumstances.
I’m homeschooling most of my kids as planned, but one of them is in public school and I’m not sure how long any of it is going to be true. Apparently I meant it when pre-parenthood Robin would expound on the decision to do what’s best for our family, for each child, each year. (I don’t know where the commas go in that sentence.)
Speaking of pre-kid Robin, that girl knew an awful lot. If only she’d talked less than and remembered more now.
I’m at the same church, though it took me three or four years to not feel some sense of weirdness over being “new,” except not at all. Now there are a litany of new challenges because we’re all sinners and we all kind of suck.
I no longer worry about whether I’m legitimizing or affirming someone else’s choice by being kind. If I use my relationship with Jesus as a reason not to be kind, then I apparently don’t know Him very well. Also? Nobody is looking to my behavior or attendance at an event to decide whether their choices are okay. (Except my kids, probably. And actually, evidence says even they don’t care how I feel about the choices they make.)
We’re still in our house and it’s gotten FULL. Andrew’s dad, who used to own it, died tragically a couple of years ago and we ended up buying it after the dust settled. Beck and Cole lived downstairs a while, had two kids, moved. Our new tenants are a sweet young couple that remind me a little bit of us 15 years ago.
My life looks almost nothing like it did. The things that remain are Jesus, our house, our church, and Andrew. (I realize this is a great deal more than remains stable in a lot of people’s lives.)
My friends are different, my hobbies are different, my family is a lot different. I’ve been to a lot of therapy in that decade, dealt with a lot of crap, become somebody 27-year-old me would not have expected.
I have this tendency, even now, to believe that what I see is what there is: this is how my life is and also how it will be forever and ever. It’s bizarre and not supportable. The Lord is working in my heart to complete the work he started in me (long before 2010).
Your heart is also under construction. I’m interested to learn who we both become over the next ten years.
…but I actually want to talk about something that happened on your most recent UNbirthday.
You and I both hit a milestone yesterday. (Weirdly, your last birthday post was also about an unconventional milestone.) Well, I hit a milestone. You probably care less about hitting the milestone, because what you really remember hitting was a metal pole. With your head. And also the ground, with your face.
You got your first mild concussion! Congratulations! And I managed my first concussion as a mama!
For posterity and those following along, you were at recess. You’d forgotten your gloves, and I guess Mrs. Friedrich has a loaner pair that you borrowed, but they didn’t fit quite right, and mostly they weren’t yours so they didn’t feel quite right on your hands. The story, as I understand it, involves you trying to slide down a pole, losing your grip, hitting your face on the ice at the bottom and your head on the pole. I’m fuzzy on the rest of the details because, well, you were pretty fuzzy as well.
The nurse called me, saying protocol was to observe you for 45 minutes, but it had been ten and she was worried about you. I was to come get you and take you to in. I struggled to get your siblings in the car—you know how long it takes us to get loaded up under the best of circumstances, and we were having lunch and your baby sister had a dirty diaper for the first time in weeks (she usually uses the toilet for that) and I was was flustered and not moving in an especially organized way.
Here’s what was going through my head: Traumatic brain injury. Hemorrhage. Death. A lady I follow on Instagram has a daughter—eight, like you—who hit her head and… it’s going poorly. Eva is making small improvements and they’re praying hard for healing, but right now, they talk frequently about how much they miss their girl who could talk and play and crack jokes.
That’s what I was picturing. My firstborn, in a hospital bed. Your dad and I, probably flying back and forth between Seattle Children’s and home with the other three. Your siblings, asking questions I wouldn’t be able to answer. A CaringBridge page. Fear. Sadness. Uncertainty.
Nurse Alyssa called again, wondering how long I would be. It had taken me ten minutes already, even though we live a two-minute drive from the school. She was worried because your O2 was a little low. (92, so not dangerous on its own, but not normal, either.) I got the sense she was trying to decide whether to wait for me or call an ambulance. (I don’t know if that was the case or not.) “We will be in the car within five minutes, and at the school two minutes after that,” I promised.
The little two bickered on the way downstairs. There was pushing and an uncharacteristic refusal from Lilly to let me buckle her in. I was frustrated with them and worried about you.
We parked and I led my weird little parade into the nurse’s office.
There you were. A little hazy, but conscious, responsive, aware of the date and the accident. You had normal pupils, your speech was normal. You seemed stunned, but you were with it enough to add a little dramatic flair. We didn’t go to the ER as Nurse Alyssa suggested, or even to urgent care. She doesn’t know you well enough to distinguish between “hurt plus a little bit of flair” and “really, really hurt, take her in right now.” We brought you home, you laid on the couch with a movie, and by late afternoon, you wanted to come shopping with us for a dress for your birthday and choir concert tomorrow. (Today.)
Jenna, I do not recall ever spending so many minutes wondering if I was about to lose you. I’m really sorry your head hurts, but it probably doesn’t look like sympathy because I’m just so. darn. happy. You’re fine! It’s a headache! Here, have an ibuprofen! Also, a hug! (Sorry. Too tight.) Yes, you can watch another movie. You’re asking me for screen time, just like every other day! Do you need an ice pack? Some Lucky Charms? Here you go!
The day before and day of your birthday are always days I spend thinking about when you were born… me, draped over a huge yoga ball, laughing at the first Twilight movie with RiffTrax with your Uncle RyLee and a couple of his high school friends, all home from their first semester of college. None of them knew I was surreptitiously timing contractions. Me, laboring on the same ball, inexplicably in the hall bathroom, listening to a CD of holiday piano music while your Dad played Halo. (I just wanted to be alone. I didn’t know this at the time, but that’s just how I do labor.) Him and I (again, in the bathroom) discussing whether we were going to name you Jenna or Kathryn/Katherine. (This is the Very Deep reason we chose Jenna: we couldn’t agree on a spelling.) The drive to the birth center, settling on your middle name, painfully needing to pee but not being able to because you were pinching something, feeling every. single. bump. Getting out of the car at midnight at the birth center (when it was still downtown)… Dana wasn’t yet there, but I absolutely was not going to sit in the car for one more second, and no it didn’t matter that it was twenty below. Heading in with Dana, who’d delivered Uncle RyLee in Nana and Grandpa’s bedroom 18 and a half years prior, being grateful she was on call. The tub. The fast birth. Me freaking out, yelling, “There’s something coming out of me!” and Dana nodding patiently, “Mmhmm. That’s a baby.” You came out so fast after we got there that Vanessa (the second midwife) didn’t make it until you were out. Going home and Kannon deciding you belonged to him and nobody was allowed to hold you without his explicit permission. You had your own giant, fluffy bodyguard.
All of that is still there this year, but also this overwhelming relief mixed with a light residue of sheer terror at what could have happened. I might be a bit of a mess.
J, you’re a gift always. I’m just a little more cognizant of it today than I usually am on birthdays. And you are definitely growing up just right.
This morning, I had Plans. With a capital P. My birth-photographer-turned-friend-turned-photography-mentor Sarah had a mama scheduled for a c-section, providing the baby remained breech, and I was invited. I wouldn’t get to see the actual birth, of course—Sarah had never even been in this hospital’s OR. The parents had a pretty solid arrangement for her to be inside for the birth, but my plan was to gain experience pre- and post-op, catching details of the waiting and the triumphant exodus from the ER. I was pretty stoked. It was generous of Sarah to offer to let me tag along, generous of the mama to invite me. I was just happy I’d get to be there.
But instead, I’m in Starbucks like I am every Wednesday morning, getting some words out before I need to be someplace at eight.
Toward the end of last week, I got up early for an appointment. I didn’t really want to leave my warm bed for my cold room, so I grabbed my phone (duh) and checked for notifications… I had a text from Sarah from ten minutes ago. “Good morning… [the mama’s] water broke, so she’s getting ready to head into the OR (she said in about an hour or so—we’ll see if I can make it) SO. No pressure.” Well, that will get me out of bed…
I threw myself together, almost forgot my camera (battery at a whopping 40%), flew out the door. I called to excuse myself from PT saying, “A client went into birth” (what?!?) and forgot where the entrance to post was, driving the long way around town to get to the main gate for the pass I was already planning to get that day “in case” she ended up going into labor early.
Sarah and I ended up at the Visitor’s Center for passes at the same time (she also had “get weeklong pass” penciled on her to-do list that morning), so I just followed her to the hospital, not trusting myself to BS my way to the right place. Look at me with my Very Legit Camera. I definitely know what I’m doing. Please tell me where the laboring mama is getting prepped for surgery. OF COURSE I know her last name—my friend texted it to me this morning. She’s going “into birth.” Eye roll. But Sarah’s getting close 70 births, so she knows her way around and isn’t flustered by any of it and I was glad we arrived at the same time.
We hung out in the mama’s hospital room with her husband, parents, and parts of her birth team. I shot a few pictures while trying to stay out of the way and wrap my head around this is really happening. Someone came in and passed out paper coveralls and masks and hairnets and booties for those who would be in the OR. Sarah and the grandma-to-be suited up, and we were on our way. I followed everyone through the labyrinth toward the operating room. Sarah, Grandma, and I waited outside, they in their bunny suits and me in my street clothes, while Mama was in getting an epidural and otherwise being prepped.
A number of staff walked by, saw two bunny suits and me, and verified: yes, these two are going into the OR. Yes, I am staying in the hall. But then the OB came to me, grabbed a suit and mask off the cart, and handed it to me. I started to stammer out something about me not going in and she looked in my shocked, enormous eyes and said, “Yes, really.” I didn’t fight it.
And that is the story of how I ended up in a very crowded OR shooting my first birth, which happened to be a twin cesarean.
Oh, I didn’t mention there were two? There were two.
I spent the whole time grinning stupidly and exchanging “is this for real?!?” looks with Sarah and shooting furiously and muttering incoherent half-prayers from behind the mask I put on upside-down. “Jesus, what?!? I can’t even… how is this… THANK YOU!!!”
I’m glad I watched a few c-sections on YouTube (you can find all kinds of stuff on YouTube) so I went in knowing I was unlikely to pass out. The only part that made me a little squirmy was actually the same thing that makes me nervous about non-surgical birth—the tiny slit they cut stretched to an alarming size to accommodate the removal of actual humans.
All in all, incredible. I got closer to crying that morning than I did at any of my own births, honestly. I don’t even really have any more words for it. I’m still a bit buzzed from the oxytocin, days and days later.
It feels like generosity and grace were rained down like so much candy at a parade, and all I could do was gather it up and shove it in my pockets until it was spilling out.
I’ve had to check myself constantly to avoid verbally assaulting every stranger I meet: I got to shoot a twin c-section from inside the OR! In other words, Here! Have some candy! I can’t even hold it all, let me throw some at you! But that’s hardly appropriate, so I’ve tried to keep it tamped down, limited to people who I know actually like this kind of candy.
But now I’m tossing it at you, because I’m still just brimming with it.
This kind of grace only comes from one Place. Would He still be good if I didn’t get into the OR? Obviously. And I was excited about that. But the confluence of factors that morning made it really obvious: this was a gift, like the kind I occasionally get to surprise my children with: the kind I never imagined to ask for.
That’s all my words. Have a few of my favorite images from that morning. That I took myself.
Hey, all! It’s another Kindred Mom day! You can click over there to read the whole thing or keep reading for part of it.
As I rocked my toddler before bed, the thought came from nowhere: “You know, we haven’t had a stomach bug in a while…”
On its heels: “CRAP. That’s always what I think right before we get one.”
Like clockwork, the barfing begins the next morning (well, middle of the night). I almost laugh at my magical fortune-telling superpowers, but I can barely manage to run back and forth between the preschooler in the tub and the bedding. Good Lord, the bedding. What did she eat?!? I don’t remember having anything like that for dinner. And it’s all down the walls and the sides of the mattress and…
Sanitize cycle. We just, for the first time in fifteen years of marriage, got a brand-new washer and dryer. And it has an “oxi-sanitize” cycle in which I add Oxi-clean powder and some puke-laden towels, and it runs for two and a half hours and magically kills whatever caused my kid to expel the contents of her stomach.
I marvel at the timing, thankful (maybe more thankful than the situation warrants) that the bug waited until the week after the new washer and dryer were installed.
The next morning finds me still cleaning. My sorta-smart watch says I got three hours of sleep divided among five different stretches. I’m passing out Gladware™ square bowls that we use for this (and also for leftovers). The count is now three kids down, Daddy in bed dying (I don’t begrudge him this—I’m a bigger nausea/vomiting weenie than he is), one kid still apparently fine, and me.
I feel mildly queasy, and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been thinking about vomit all day (and have cleaned it out of my bra once already) or because I’m the next victim…