Home

Quotefancy-1730472-3840x2160

Image from quotefancy

About a month ago, I arrived alone to my small group after a tantrum filled, no-nap day with a toddler. Everyone was tied up in their various conversations, and I took a seat on the far side of the room to take a breath and just be. A newer family walked in right then, and I thought about how we only had two months left here. Not enough time to connect with this family, to get to know them well, to develop a friendship. Not enough time left to have those relationships with anyone. I thought of moving to our next place, and how we’d only be there for a few months before moving on again to something new.

“I don’t belong anywhere,” I thought. I felt tears coming, restricting air. I got up quickly to leave, grabbing my keys to make it look like I had forgotten to lock my car, but really I simply went down the walkway, turned to come back, and sat on the front porch crying alone. A room full of people on the other side of the window, not noticing.

We have reached our last month in Davenport. Finally. Already.

As we leave, I’ve been reflecting on all the drafts of unshared work I’ve written. I have over ten posts saved, unfinished, all on what it’s like to be a “temporary transplant” in a community. To be both new and leaving.

Most anyone who has uprooted their lives to move has felt an intense loneliness for months or even years afterward. It is hard to leave your family and friends for a completely new place (even if you looked forward to the adventure), and harder still to make connections with people who are already engrossed in their own communities and busy with their own lives. This is no different for Christians, even though we have the opportunity of searching out and joining a church. There, we’re able to find connection, or at least some weekly guidance and sustenance, but being part of a church isn’t an automatic “fix.”

I so wish I had the answers.

Our first year here I was pregnant and struggling to find a job, my husband had just started school, and we visited a different church every few weeks before finally settling into one after Clarabelle was born. It took another year to feel we were making some solid friendships, and then we only had a year left here.

It’s hard to connect with new people in a deep way when you already know your time together is limited. Being new and on our way out at the same time brings a vulnerability to relationships. We can’t put down roots, but still we need soil.

At the same time, we had literally nothing to offer. The reality of grad school is that it takes you hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt, and especially when you have a family, that financial burden isn’t only immediately felt but extends uncertainly into the future. Our small apartment doesn’t offer much for entertaining, and a chiropractic school schedule coupled with a stay at home mom with no reliable babysitters or nearby family to help left us feeling a little trapped within our own lives.

As we move and settle into a new place, I hope that my family is eventually able to extend the opportunity of friendship to others. To recognize newer families, couples, and singles, and invite them into our home and out with us. And to extend that invitation over and over again even if occasionally turned down. To make meals, to buy lunch, to show up without being daily hampered by nap schedules and bedtimes. Because we know what it’s like to be new, to be temporary, to be far from family and support, to long for something familiar.

I so hope to become something familiar in a new place for future friends. To fulfill the call to love the sojourner in our land, even if they only come from the next state over.

I want to nestle into life here. Buy a house, open its doors, go to birthday parties and raise my babies with these people. But it’s not our time for that yet.

I’ve had the strongest sense these last three years of not belonging. Maybe some of that is in my head. After all, I suffered severe depression and anxiety just after my daughter was born, and mental illness is a liar. It tells you all kinds of things that drag you down, and part of overcoming is facing those lies and calling them what they are. But on the other side of that, I’ve come to terms with a feeling of not being home. This isn’t home, here.

I’m not home.

Maybe I feel a sense of being foreign because my soul truly is foreign here on earth.

And that means, no matter where I am, I have work to do. And the work I do, what I diligently put my hands to, is sufficient because it’s from God. Sometimes that work will be more internal. In this season, God has been doing quiet and slow work within me. In other seasons, it’s more outward and the fruits of those quiet seasons of growth are produced. I look forward to the day I see the fruits of this growing season. In this life or after.

The writer of Hebrews talks about the patriarchs (plus some women) of the Jewish and Christian faith. He says they were strangers and exiles on this earth, seeking a homeland that was not the land from which they came (Hebrews 11:13-14). This is encouraging to us who find ourselves in strange and foreign places. We don’t need to make this place home, we need to trust God in his work here and remember where home ultimately is.

And maybe we won’t see all that God is up to in these places. Maybe we will never know. But Hebrews ends with such a marvelous comfort to us who trust God’s work in each season, that “God provided something better for us, that apart from us [his plans] should not be made perfect” (verse 40).

You may not feel at home here. Maybe you don’t feel effective in ministry. But God’s plan for you is so much greater than you can see in this immediate life. Wherever you are, you have a purpose, and he will fulfill it in you. His kingdom waits for you.

Home awaits.

 

Advertisements

Losing Babies

20170809_200459

Photo by Madeline Strobel

Today is pregnancy and infant loss awareness day. Every October I half dread the prevalence of the topic and the emotions it brings to the surface, but I also look forward to the space for shared stories, comfort, grief, and awareness. Sometimes we become an advocate for something that we’d rather not have any experience with. For me, that’s miscarriage.

This year in particular I’m feeling the need to be among the voices that boldly, maybe sometimes hesitantly, bring to light something that feels so personal and isolating. This isn’t a loss of a life that touched many, it’s not a unifying or shared grief filled with painful but healing memories to look back on with other loved ones – it’s one that is often very lonely, unshared, a very personal pain. And I still write about it because it affects one in four women. One in four women who feel alone. One in four women who need to know they’re not the only ones. There’s a whole community of us, and when you speak out, you find you’re not alone.

This October, I treasure the child I have and the one growing inside me, and I also remember the two we lost, one who would have been born only two weeks from today.

Two babies I’ll have never hold, two babies I’ll never even see on the ultrasound screen.

Two babies I’ll carry in heart and memory until my life ends and I see their faces in God’s kingdom, and I’ll know them.

And even as I sit in the refreshed grief of a baby that won’t be born this month, I feel this little child stretch within me, one who would not exist if I had my October baby. This is a joy in the midst of grief that my mind can’t make sense of. A little confused and conflicted, I am grateful.

In my last semester of undergrad at University of Northwestern – St Paul, I took a course in poetry. Our final assignment was to write a poem based on the style of another we had read in class. I chose to write my poem imitating Hymn by Carl Phillips. Still mourning my first baby without another to cherish, I wrote about the grief and the waiting. The past few weeks I’ve been contemplating that poem, and with some sleuth work I managed to dig it up from an old jump-drive. I think maybe it even more appropriately relates to my motherhood now than when I wrote it.

I’ll share it here, untouched and unedited since submitted for class in 2014.

 

Prayer

Less the branches,
than this the bud, pushing, through it.
Less the bud sprouting than

the pink, with which
blushed.
Less the blush as cheeks shy,

to either side of shrugging petals, than–
between them–the stigma that must
promise, one day, heir.

Less the heir.
More, mostly, the spirit
in it.

If I think of life, the sheen of
the earth expanding, bursting, pulling me
outside myself, it is only

as one of many long days
waited with the irrationally
red memory, again the drug store’s

blue strip purchased not for reading
but for keeping
courage close, the mind

longing, impatient, until it finds
the muscled patterns that
finally, given time and

relief, womb holds.
When I think of love,
it is in the close way that I do

God: as Father, any stern
and patient shadow, man that is only
love, he ever waits

to be trusted.
And I the daughter who, more than a little,
should learn faith.

My dreams–as I have dreams–
are of how deep I should be, trusting,
and in my later cresting how

insufficient, moreso than you
are gracious, Lord,
all my other misdirected desires.

The Empty Seat and Who Will Fill It (Counting Rainbows)

On May 1st, my birthday, we stopped at the local Dunn Bros coffee shop for my birthday frappe and headed west on the interstate toward Des Moines. We were meeting my sister and brother-in-law, whom I hadn’t seen for nearly a year. I snapped a picture of my mocha frappe between answering “happy birthday” texts from friends, and posted the image on Instagram – cool blended coffee with a backdrop of my dashboard and the road ahead. I tucked my phone in my purse and looked up as we rounded a bend, where a rainbow stretched before us over the interstate. I think I knew it then, but I didn’t want to be too hopeful.

“Not February,” I told Garth weeks later when it was clear I wasn’t pregnant yet.

“Not February,” I prayed to God, then tried to control the outcome anyway.

February, that black spot on the calendar. The due date that brought no baby, the death of a friend, that second miscarriage that was still so new. Yet, God insists on redemption. He emphatically insists on lavishing us with good things, even in trials, if we will trust him.

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus tells his disciples (John 16:33). And we do. Not to punish us but as a consequence of living in a fallen world. We see all around us brokenness. Chromosomes multiply too rapidly to sustain new life, hearts fail, hurricanes wipe out whole corners of already impoverished islands. And if we focus on it all we find ourselves in one season after another of grief.

“But take heart,” Jesus continues, “I have overcome the world.”

He promises that we will be in his very presence, that we will have joy, and that nothing can take that from us. Redemption. Hope. What more could we ask for?

And yet.

DBA_4344_blog

We’re adding to the family.

“Never again,” I said to Garth in that hard, sleepless season of infant reflux and anxiety, depression, insomnia. “I won’t survive a second baby like this.”

I’ll tell you something about miracles: Not only can God open wombs but he can change hearts and circumstances. I can tell you it is nothing short of a miracle that I survived that season of such intense loneliness. And it is another miracle that not only am I pregnant, but that this child was prayed for, wanted, desired.

And our firstborn – that hard baby – she’s a strong-willed yet loving and intuitive toddler. The day I told Garth I was pregnant, she came to me, fingers in mouth and mumbling under her breath. She wanted a hug. She curled into me and then leaned back on my lap and pointed at my belly. She’s so excited about “our baby.” Her level of comprehension surprises me every day.

DBA_4328_blog

She doesn’t even need practice, she’s ready.

Right now, when I look to the future, I see so much to fear. Will I feel lonely again? Will this baby be hard? Will Garth get a job that can provide for us straight out of grad school? Will I have anxiety or post-partum depression again? Will this baby continue developing normally? What trials await us?

But God didn’t give us a spirit of fear but of “power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV). He pushed back the darkness to reveal the light, and nothing – nothing – can undo his work. Whatever trials lie ahead for me in this broken world has already been undone and restored in his kingdom. I trust that.

I can look back at how he’s worked redemption and restoration in my life up to now, and I know his work is ongoing. It isn’t over yet.

And now I’ll get to look at two living evidences of that grace. I’ll have two rainbow babies to remind me of God’s promises and how he brings us to them.

DBA_4508_sneek

Room for two. We look forward to filling this seat next summer.

Strobaby dos will be joining our family this next February!

A special thanks to Studio 124 Photography and Design in Austin, MN, who graciously provided the images for this post.

Reconstruction: A Season of Waiting and Rebuilding

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about calling, wondering what it is God has called me to. I keep asking myself if I’m too afraid to move or if God really has commanded rest. What I keep reminding myself is that I can’t go wrong, God will have his way.

I’ve been envisioning myself on a plateau lately, which I suppose is a bit cliche. As I turned down a job opportunity last month, I told my friend that I feel ready to take a leap of faith. And if God said jump, I was going to jump. But he didn’t say, “Go” he said, “Wait.” And so I here I sit on my plateau, I guess I should learn to enjoy the view.

But I’m not on a mountain plateau, I’m in a second-story apartment, overlooking seemingly endless construction that has been here as long as we have.

I suppose the imagery there is more fitting and significant.

Construction is inconvenient. It’s loud and takes up a lot of space. It closes roads and frustrates drivers. And it is slow work. The vision isn’t enough to call the work complete. It requires many hours, manpower, patience, kicked up dust, expertise, labor. And first it requires destruction of what was there before. The original structure has to be torn down or gutted, or if you’re starting fresh from the ground, it requires zoning and digging to get started. And it isn’t ever pretty.

My daughter, though, she loves to watch the construction. At the age of 18 months she was learning the names of diggers, bulldozers, cement mixers, cranes, dumpsters, and flatbeds. The sight of men on a roof are common occurrence to her. She’s fascinated by the piles of dirt, the sound of a drill, how a forklift carries loads across the landscape, the men who walk alongside large machinery, guiding it. Many times she has taken me outside just to cross the street, sit across from the site, and watch the work. Watching with her is just one way I’ve learned to slow down.

Never ending construction work

Our view from the second floor. It almost looks complete from here.

And me, I’m under construction myself, reconstructing the very core of who I am. I’m constantly seeking some more interesting work to put my hands to, yet the work God and I are doing here and now is not finished. It’s not mine to declare finished, either.

In the past year I’ve learned that I need to take responsibility in, well, a lot of things. If I’m feeling lonely, I need to reach out. If I want friends, I need to pursue others. I had spent so much time blaming the church for not taking care of me that I forgot to invest myself into relationships. To do unto others as I’d have them do to me. To take care of what God has given me. Stewardship. It’s scary and sometimes messy, but I’m finding community is our tangible Jesus. And I need to be actively invested in community in order to be part of it.

If I’m feeling unaccomplished in this season God has me now, it’s my own fault. So what if he has called me to be just a mother? What if the work he calls me to next requires abilities I’m learning now? Then my work as “just a mother,” “just a housewife” is important, isn’t it? We’re reinforcing the structure for something here, and I can’t rush through it. It has to be sound.

Also, no one is “just a mother.” Mothers are world changers through their children, and part of what makes motherhood sanctifying is also what it opens our eyes to. Suddenly, I see patterns in my life that need breaking, and by extension patterns in society that need healing. I have swallowed up study after study about sleep, health, the causes of anxiety, all in the name of being a good mom and passing on what I’ve learned. That is no small work. It’s not something I would have done without this slow and lonely season of early motherhood, either.

I don’t have any inkling as to what comes next. What I do know is what God has been whispering to me for two years now, what I’ve found both comfort and complexity in, what I have yet to actually do. And that is to heed his call, to be obedient in whatever that may be. For now, that call is to be still. To let the master craftsman do his work in me.

To trust the one who knows what comes next. Who is preparing the way for me.

Obedience. Stillness. Rest.

It’s dusk now, and the moon is vibrantly reflecting the sun. The construction crew went home hours ago, leaving behind sleeping machines and so much dust. They’ll be back at it early in the morning, early as the sun, accomplishing their tasks at an almost indiscernible speed–drilling, soldering, digging, hauling, building. And tomorrow they will go home again, tired and satisfied that they have accomplished progress, valuing the slow work.

On Choosing Joy

On the one hand, I’m grieving. On the other, I’m in a good season. 

When I’m with other moms and the topic shifts to pregnancy, I want to join in, because been there. But especially if there’s a pregnant woman in on the conversation, it’s also a reminder that I am not currently pregnant. The conversations I want to enjoy and the people I want to be happy for have become bitter reminders. It’s hard. But I know I’m not alone. 

I’m choosing to appreciate the good in this season. I love my family, even with its missing pieces. My heart is broken and full all at once. I’m loving the parts of this moment in time there are to love, because if I don’t I know I will look back and wish I did. We have no idea what joy or heartache the future holds. The choice is mine–I choose joy.

On the one hand, I want to rush through this season and run away. On the other, there is so much here for me. 

Two

At the beginning of the week, we celebrated miss Belle turning two. We dressed her up in clothes she picked herself, went to church, let her try her first ice cream (yay egg-free ice cream at Coldstone!), and went for a walk since the day-before-spring weather was so nice.

IMG_3672

It was a good day.

Our rainbow baby, a testimony of God’s grace.

Last month, I wrote about February being both a celebration of the month I started dating my husband and a reminder of the due date that never came. A few weeks after writing that post, I found out I was pregnant(!). I was shocked and excited, expecting this whole thing to take longer like it did last time. But the symptoms kept coming, the tests showed positive, my belly started showing signs of making room.

We started planning how we’d tell our families, as our daughter turned two, that we would soon have TWO babies. There was a whole lot of preparation going on in just a week.

And then I felt a complete shift in hormones, and on that Saturday found a friend to stay with my napping toddler while we went to the ER to confirm a second miscarriage.

From two kids to two angel babies, as if it never happened at all.

And instead of announcing another baby to our families, we had to deliver news of another miscarriage.

February continues to be a tragic month. An empty due date, a friend’s husband buried, and now another miscarriage. I thought this baby would redeem February, but it will continue to be a blunder on the calendar.

Except for that anniversary. Except for my sunshine child who proves that even answered prayer is such a hard blessing.

This time has been easier. Not that miscarriage is easy, it is such a lonely thing. I know now so many women who have been through it. I know that 2, 9, 11 miscarriages do not mean you will never have another baby. And even if it did, the family we have now is enough. I know that God’s timing is so mysteriously perfect, his heart grieves our losses with us even as he receives them, his work is made complete in us in the fire. We have experienced such grace in those who shared joy with us in news of the pregnancy, and who prayed with us, for us in our grief. I can say, somehow, we really are doing ok. I don’t feel like I should be ok, but I am.

Friends, keep praying, God hears you.

So now, once again, we pray for a second rainbow baby. I watch my daughter care for her dolls as if they were real–putting them down for naps, comforting silent cries, and changing doll diapers like a pro. She’s so sweet to them my heart can’t take it. I want to give her a sibling.

But I know this longing won’t make being a mom of two any easier. Post-partum depression scared me into waiting this long to even try for another baby. I had to see myself get better. And now I need to let go of my perception of control. Obviously, this is not mine to control. Every aspect of this motherhood thing has proven that.

Even my worst days, though, have their own spots of light. When my daughter grabs my hand in the middle of dinner and bows her head, repeating, “Thank you, Lord, thank youuuu…” I know she doesn’t only see the ways I mess up. I hope the good is what stands out to her the most. And I hope that, if she’s turning out okay, we can make more spots of light in this world too.

If you think of us, pray with us. God hears you.

Image credit: Silver Blue via Flickr

On Grief and Grace

For the past month I keep thinking, “My baby is almost three.” It crops up all different times of day, recurring without warning, causing me to pause.

One problem, my baby is almost two. The one I have here with me, anyway.

This weekend, my first baby, the one I carried in me for eight weeks before miscarrying, would have turned three.

Henley, baby, I never met you but I miss you.

I have to stop myself sometimes from wondering what life would be like if that baby had lived. I don’t even get to justify the thought that if it weren’t for my miscarriage, I wouldn’t have Clarabelle. My body has the propensity to bounce back fairly quickly. Just one month after miscarriage, within three months of giving birth. And I know I am blessed in my fertility, I know that from my own miscarriage and from watching friends experience infertility. I am so blessed. But the February due date and Clarabelle’s birthday will always be reminders to me that I could have had both, biologically speaking. They would have been 13 months apart and life would be interesting and complicated, but it could have been possible for them to both exist in my life.

But that’s not the way they both exist in my life.

I can’t focus on the way things could have been because that’s not the way things are. The reality is, I have Clarabelle, and I have a three-year-old in my heart whom I will not know here on earth.

For the first time in three years, I am not overwhelmed with grief at this empty birth date. It is not with bitterness I approach this weekend, but with thankfulness and even joy, tear-tinged with sadness as it might be.

Grief, in different ways, has some joy and gratefulness about it, doesn’t it? When I learned that I had miscarried, I was sad, but I also remember this unusual feeling of peace. My anxieties had eased. We had lost our baby, but I knew. The time of fearing the worst was over. The worst had happened, and that was all there was to it. Yes, I wanted desperately for things to be different. But I knew there was no better thing than going to be with Jesus. I was a little jealous of my baby getting to go there before me. I was a little jealous of Jesus that he got to hold that baby when my arms would remain empty. But I get to look forward to a joyful reunion and a beautiful face–as if we ever needed more to look forward to when we get to heaven. God is gracious in the most unexpected ways.

fullsizerender

Sidenote: While looking on my phone for a potential image, I found this photo, taken on this day 3 years ago. Thank you, Lord, for the beautiful, healing sunshine.

Speaking of God’s graciousness, this weekend is also the 9th anniversary of when Garth and I were snowed in at Luther College, the first night we stayed up all night talking (an all too regular past time of ours–you’d think we’d learn). That was the weekend that started this whole crazy thing. Without Garth, I would have been spared a whole lot of heartache, but I would have missed out on a whole lot of goodness, too. So this weekend we honor grief and we celebrate.

So to quote the words I sing to my daughter each night before tucking her into bed, regardless of what happened that day, “God is so good. He’s so good to me.”