Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Shadow of the Past, Shadow of the Future

I hear it often enough.  I’m thin, as I always have been, and the scale balances a mere 10 lbs heavier than it did before my babies came.  “You look so good!” is common to my ears.  “You don’t look like you even had a baby!"

In many ways, I do look good for having two kids, one only three short months ago.  Yet, I remember well what my body was like.  These days when I look in the mirror I only see a shadow of what my body used to be.  Stretch marks dot my skin...scars from carrying new life within me and then bringing it into this world twice over.  Love handles that never used to be there, even after my first baby, hang over the top of my jeans.  My belly pooches out in a squishy mess of extra skin (thank you, Nora, for making my belly so stinking big!).  Things sag that didn’t used to and squish where there used to be firmness.

Then there’s the rest of my physical appearance.  My fingernails sit chipping and needing attention for weeks because I can never seem to find the time to paint them.  When I do finally paint them, invariably some child will unexpectedly need my attention and they’ll end up smudged and imperfect.  I usually manage to get makeup on, but by the end of the day it’s badly needing to be refreshed.  I tend to go one too many days without washing my hair, and my outfits are planned around nursing.  I never wear white because that would just be insane, plain and simple.

Yet, I’ve honestly never felt more beautiful.  I’m lucky enough to have a husband who thinks this post-baby me is more attractive than my pre-baby, skinny-as-a-rail self…and he makes sure I know it.  My children find comfort in my squishes and rolls.  My extra skin is Miles’ favorite place to snuggle when he’s sick or tired.  As I gradually transform my wardrobe to accommodate nursing and motherhood, I find myself discovering better my own personal styles and tastes and dressing accordingly.  Most importantly, I am proud of each stretch mark and roll.  They’re the lasting memorials of the two precious babies I bore…my two little blessings from God. 

Maybe, after all, my current body is not the shadow of its former self.  Maybe it’s the other way around.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Grey Days of Motherhood, Outside Voices, and Joy

It's late afternoon and I sit in my car on the side of the road overlooking a lake several hours from home.  We were supposed to be enjoying a rare, midweek getaway, but my husband had had some service calls to make and work to do, and I’d had to entertain the kids most of the day.  Both little ones were recovering from a nasty cold and were terribly overtired, and I finally just had to escape the room, thinking I’d get some peace and quiet.  But then the baby screamed in the car and wouldn’t fall asleep, and I couldn't take it and had to pull over

So here I sit, parked in a dusty parking lot.  In the rearview mirror I watch the toddler’s head sag as he finally drifts off to sleep, and I look down to the fussy baby sitting on my lap.  The grey skies outside seem to reflect my heart all too well.  A hotel coffee mug with strong, black tea sits next to me, getting cold.  I decide to sit here until it's gone, and then I turn up the music, heart weary.

"Messiah/You're Beautiful” comes up on shuffle and peace immediately floods over me.

***

My head swirls with outside voices.  Voices proclaiming how strong and worthy working moms are.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, voices proclaiming how you should be able to handle baby after baby in succession and be happy about it.  And all I feel is failure in light of those voices.  Because I trudge away at home.  Because I don’t want to, or feel called to, have baby after baby for the rest of my childbearing years.  

I feel tired...so very tired.  And not just because of how little sleep I got the night before.  I feel soul tired.

Earlier that day I went to Target thinking I would be refreshed and instead spent the whole time bouncing and nursing a fussy baby, and wishing I just had a kid who’d fall asleep and stay asleep in their car seat.  Wishing, too, that I had more money to spend.  Wishing that the tall Starbucks coffee I’d bought wasn’t too small for the nifty coffee cup holder on the cart.  Wishing that I could just sit in a coffee shop for a couple of hours…with just quiet and coffee shop music to distract me.

***

The baby on my lap finally nurses.  I put her in her car seat and sing along to the music playing.  She rewards me with a big, toothless grin.  I realize that I wouldn't trade a million quiet hours at a coffee shop for that one smile…that I wouldn't trade a job or being super mom to a billion babies for that one sweet smile from my girl.

And I know that I won't always be so tired.  That someday I'll sit in a coffee shop, heart aching for the fussy baby smile.  

And I know that those voices are just voices.  They are not me and they are not God, and all they do is make me lose sight of what God has given me to do…and they steal from me the joy that is found in being exactly where God wants you.

And I know that my days will not always be easy.  Sometimes I may just want to scream and cry.  Some days may seem pointless and rote.  And that's okay. That doesn't make me a failure.  Even in those days, I am right where God wants me.  I know that He will give me the strength and wisdom to see them through.  


***

Later, I pause before going back in the hotel.  The sun is setting burning orange in a beautiful painting from the Lover of my soul...the perfect balm for my worn and weary heart.  And He knows it.  I am not alone.  He is what I need.  He is all I need.  

Both babies are napped and happier.  I think of the good food and good sleep that definitely hopefully awaits me inside.  Almost imperceptibly, joy creeps into my heart.  Joy that is only found in the center of His will…joy that cannot be quenched or lost, even on the greyest of days.  A smile creeps across my face.  And inside, I’m smiling too.   

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

To the Young Parents Out There

Recently, I found myself sitting at a friend’s home on a Saturday night watching a football game.  Truth be told, the little crowd that had gathered wasn’t really there to watch the game.  We were all mid- to late-twenty somethings with at least one or two kids apiece.  In reality, getting together for this football game meant being able to let our children play, eat some good food, and just be able to sit down, breathe, and have some grownup conversation.  By 9 pm, we were all falling asleep and ready to go home.  If you’ve got any number of little ones at home, I’m sure you can relate.

I’m sure you can also relate when I say that there are times that I look at the lives of my childless peers with longing.  Not that I want to be without children again, but that sometimes being a parent is so stinking hard.  And sometimes it’s the farthest thing from fun.

You see, when you’re a young parent, whether through planning or fate, responsibility weighs especially heavy on you.  Many of your friends are still single or childless, and one glance at your Facebook newsfeed quickly makes you realize that your place in life is not the norm for people your age.  You may feel like you’re missing out on all the fun and spontaneity that should come with this age you’re at, overwhelming burdens ever holding you back.  While your childless friends can just up and go out tonight without even a thought, you would find yourself wishing that you had enough money for a sitter.  And even if you did, you’d be scrambling to pack the diaper bag, only to end up having to cancel everything because one of your children had come down with something.  I repeat: sometimes being a parent is the farthest thing from fun.

But sometimes it’s the most ridiculously amazing fun.  

There’s nothing like the joy that floods your heart when your baby smiles at you for the first time, or the pride you feel when your child says thank-you to the cashier at the grocery store.  Your two-year-old can make you laugh harder than any comedian ever could.  And have you ever taken a kid to Disneyland?  It’s like being a kid and seeing the magic for the first time ever yourself.

I’m sure that our single, childless peers would find our Saturday nights lame and boring…proof that you shouldn’t have kids young.  Some may shake their heads and say that we're tied down or missing out.  And maybe we are.  But I think they’re missing out too.  

If you’re a young parent, like me, your life stopped mirroring a Taylor Swift song a long time ago.  And that’s okay.  You can still have an amazing impact on this world, have fun, and enjoy your youth, even with little ones in tow.  Children and responsibility don't have to be terrible things to put off and avoid.  In fact, sometimes the most freedom and joy is found when we are  “tied down” with little ones.  We know the purpose God has for us today because that purpose is looking up at us with a crooked little smile every morning at breakfast.  And knowing that gives us the freedom to grow and be and change and do without spending time worrying about committing to the wrong path.   

Someday when our kids are all grown and our peers are still raising theirs, they’ll be the ones looking at our lives with longing.  Meanwhile, we’ll be off adventuring and changing the world.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I Didn't Want a Daughter

I knew before the ultrasound tech said it.  It was a girl.  Part of me was thrilled.  I had a little boy, and now I'd have one of each.  Yet, secretly, there was a part of me that was stunned.

I love being a woman, don't get me wrong.  But I was supposed to be that mama with the boys...the cool mom who played Cowboys and Indians and went on crazy, fun adventures with them.  I loved growing up in a modern-day version of Little Women [read: three sisters, no brothers], but I thought that us girls had enough hormones and drama for a lifetime.  Being something of a tomboy as a child, the very thought of tutus and giant bows and pink everywhere was foreign to me.  It even made me cringe a little bit. (Don't hate me, that's just me!)  To quote a line from one of my favorite musicals, "You can have fun with a son, but you've got to be a father [insert "mother"] to a girl."  

Up until the day my daughter was born, I was scared.  Scared that I wouldn't enjoy her the same way I loved my little boy.  Scared that I wouldn't know what to do with a girl.  Scared that she'd be a dramatic little diva.  Scared that I'd mess it all up.

And then our sweet little Nora Jane was born.  

Nora means "light" and Jane means "God's gift", both names that are incredibly fitting for the sweetest of babies that is our Nora.  From day one she's been the most easygoing baby.  She's an incredible sleeper, colic has been almost non-existent, and she really only fusses when she needs something.  She lets me cuddle her, rock her, and sing to her...all things that Miles never let me do in the early months.  While I loved him indescribably, his colic and high-needs personality left me little time to just sit and relish in his preciousness.  But Nora?  Well, I've been able to just enjoy her.

The bows and pink and sweet little girl things just suit her, and I love them.  Sometimes I wish she'd have more blow-outs, just so I'd have an excuse to change her into another adorable outfit.

And I look forward to the future.  I look forward to getting to watch "girl" movies with her, and to getting to see the princesses at Disneyland and not just the action heros.  My heart melts thinking of seeing her dance with her daddy, or introducing her to Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe for the first time.  I can't wait to see what kind of girl, and eventually woman, she'll be.  Will she be a free-spirited horse lover, as I was?  Or will she live for tea parties and tutus?    

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: God knows what we need.  He knew that after Miles (and really, with Miles ongoing), I couldn't have handled a Miles II.  He knew the deepest fears of my heart, and blessed me with a beautiful, precious little girl that I can cherish and adore.  A little girl who, instead of wanting to be like daddy, will want to be like me.  A little girl whom I can lead and guide.  A little girl who will one day, hopefully, be a beautiful, strong woman of God.

I will never be one of those moms who can refer to her all-the-same-gender kids as "the boys" or "the girls".  Instead, I get to say things like "the kids" or "my children".  I would never have guessed that I'd have a boy and then a girl, nor would I have wished for it.  Yet, knowing what I know now, I wouldn't trade my son and my daughter for the world.

Our Nora Jane.  Not a diva or a drama queen.  Instead, a sweet, exquisite little blessing who stole my heart from the first moment I saw her.

No, I didn't want a daughter.  But, thankfully, God knew better.     


 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Woman I Want to Be in 2015

I woke up this morning without any New Years resolutions.  The past year, and especially the past month, have been such a blur that I haven't even had a chance to give resolutions a thought.  For planning, goal-setting, control-loving me, that's unusual.

In the quiet stillness as everyone else slept I got out my journal and started writing.  To my surprise, words and goals began pouring out on the page.  Apparently they were all there, they were just waiting for me to let them spill out.

What I discovered was that what I want to be this year is a better version of myself.  Here's what I wrote:

In 2015 I want to be a better...

...follower of Christ.  Exuding His joy and light.  Recklessly abandoned to what He calls me to do.  In awe of His majesty.  Taking joy in His blessings.

...wife.  Less nit picky, moody, and naggy.  More full of grace and love.  Abounding in love.  More supportive.  Speaking with more thought and tact.  

...mother.  Spending less time on distractions like TV shows and Facebook.  Less eager to push my children.  More time spent relishing every moment.  Less anger.  More grace and truth.  

...friend.  More communication.  More seeking out.  More dependability.  Becoming a better listener and confidant.  Caring more.  Being more empathetic.  Being more truthful, but in love.

...homemaker.   More diligent.  Less frivolous with my time.  More about simplifying and less about buying.  Being happy with less.

...gardener.  More diligent.  More focused.  More realistic.

...cook.  Paying more attention to detail.  Better at planning.  Better at balancing taste and health.  Better at eating seasonally and storing for later.

...exerciser.  Start over.  A little each day.  Staying healthy for those I love.

...caretaker of my body.  Better at eating and staying active.  A little more attention to how I look and present myself.  Simplifying my wardrobe.  Making it represent the woman God created me to be.

...improver of my mind.  Less TV and social media.  More books and writing.

...writer.  More consistent about blogging.  Being more careful with words.  More honesty.  More of the real me.

...caring more about the tasks God gives me to do, and finding joy in them, than the frivolous, empty things of the world.  Being brave enough to be the woman God created me to be, and letting go of everything else.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What My Children See At Christmas

I was determined to have beautifully wrapped presents under our Christmas tree this year.  I'd looked up tutorials on how to make gifts look professionally wrapped, and I had everything all laid out.  But then Miles wanted to help wrap the presents for his daddy.  

As any parent knows, a two-year-old little boy isn't exactly the most helpful when it comes to wrapping presents.  By the time the few presents were wrapped, the paper was wrinkled from being stepped on, there were pieces of tape in various random places, and the gifts looked anything but professionally wrapped.  I found myself snapping at my little boy who had been so eager to help.  I saw the crushed look in his beautiful blue eyes, and I hated myself for it.

I set the presents under our Christmas tree and remembered how just the day before I had contemplated replacing our cheap, Walmart angel and ornaments.  Yet, each piece had been bought in love and excitement by two beautifully happy newlyweds...each item budgeted for and purchased with the little money they had at the time.  No, they weren't magazine worthy, but they were full of memories and love and a symbol of a new family being formed.  I knew then that I would not be able to replace them, even though I could afford to.    

I looked again at my mangled gift wrap job and smiled.  I wouldn't trade those random pieces of tape and the wrinkled paper for the world.  In them I see my tenderhearted little boy, always eager to help and love others.

I pray that my children will not grow up thinking that Christmas means store-bought perfection straight out of a magazine.  May they grow up with treasured memories of family, hope, and love.  May they see Christ in Christmas...and may they see Christ in me.    


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Winter

Today as I drove home from town, I watched fog roll down the mountain behind our house.  The trees were barren and lifeless, the fields empty and brown.  I shivered as I hurried my two little ones into the house and plunked the three of us in front of the fire to warm our chilled bodies.

Winter in Arkansas is often grey and cold.  The damp air makes the cold seemingly settle right into your bones, and many times into your soul as well.  For the girl who spent most of her life in sunny Arizona, it can be incredibly depressing.  I was used to cold winters, but not to the wet cold or the endless days of grey.  Each winter here, I find myself struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Extra Vitamin D helps, but never completely.

Today, though, I actually saw beauty in those barren trees and in that cold fog.  Today, as I warmed myself by the fire, I was reminded of another fire that once warmed my bones, but this one an ocean away.  It's been almost seven years since my friend Caris and I went on our grand adventure to England in the dead of winter.  Seven years since we sloshed through sheep fields in the rain and climbed up hills to abandoned castles together.

It was grey there, too.  It was cold, dark, and oh-so-wet.  Yet, I don't remember anything but joy from it.  Looking back, I see a girl on the cusp of adulthood, full of fear and hope, still trying to find myself.  I realize now how crucial those two weeks were to my journey and my path.

I remember fondly the time spent by warm fires.  I remember wearing cozy sweaters and drinking gobs of tea and hot chocolate.  No thought was given to walking through soggy fields or traipsing down wet streets in the rain.  We adventured anyway.  I remember laughing and singing and dancing, and snuggling in under cozy blankets, reading books quietly.  I remember making new friends and eating pasties and flapjacks; watching movies and letting the rain soak my hair; taking a hot bath and sleeping in late; reveling in the smell of old books in a bookshop; feeling God speaking to me so very strongly, altering my course from there on out...and all in the middle of grey, dreary winter.

That shy little not-quite-woman could never have imagined where she'd be seven years later.  It's ironic, really, that the grey winter days that changed my life and brought so much joy now eat at my happiness.  Yet, I know that they don't have to.

Winter, whether actual or a season of our life, can be hard and isolating.  Like the leafless trees behind my house, it can leave us barren, raw, and exposed.  Some days you may feel like you just can't get warm.  Yet, it shouldn't stop us from pressing on.  It shouldn't stop us from doing God's will, adventuring, and finding joy.  Sometimes it is those quiet, dark winter moments that are exactly what we need to hear Him speaking.  The question is, will we stop to listen?      



This winter I've determined to choose joy and embrace each cold, grey day.  I've even started a Pinterest board dedicated to it.  Will you commit with me to not let Satan steal the beauty of this season from us?