Christmas Eve

I’m remembering this time last year – praying that the new reflux medication would be the last, trudging through post partum depression and the depths of severe anxiety. I remember worrying about baby calorie intake and watching the clock for naps, anger that bubbled up every time my mom mentioned that she never had to see a Gastroenterologist, just generally not feeling like myself. Did last Christmas even have any joy?

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Photo credit: Twinkle Toes by PV KS via Flickr

This year, I’m finding it hard to believe that it’s really Christmas Eve. Today doesn’t feel like Christmastime. I’m thinking of grieving friends, our sin-drenched world, how completely unfair it seems and yet how completely undeserving we are.

I’m remembering 5 days of consistent contractions with no progress. A season of waiting. Of holding onto the promise but not seeing it come to fruition. I’m thinking back to a virgin on a donkey, riding long through the desert with no place to stay, probably not without signs of imminent birth.

I’m thinking of a world waiting in labor pains.

If internet memes are any indication, we can all agree that 2016 has not been a welcome friend. Yet, letting go is hard too. What will the next year bring?

Looking back at photos and videos from one year ago today, Christmas Eve 2015, it’s hard to believe I was in such a dark and fearful place. I see myself laughing as my 9 month old daughter learns to shake her head “no.” I see that emaciated little face filled with curiosity and wonder as my dad knocks ornaments on ribbon so they swing like pendulums in the window. When my sister asks, “Do you like them?” she squeals.

Was it ever really so bad?

One ordinary night, over 2,000 years ago, shepherds were met by angels singing, “Glory to God,” and they left to find the promised baby, lying in a manger. He had yet to do anything really, but that night God came down to dwell among men.

God with us.

God for us.

They didn’t know then how the promises of God would look in the end. All they had was this little baby, marked by a star, the prophesied Messiah. King. Savior of the world.

Love came down. Love is with us. Love sustains us.

This year, I remember the promises. I hold them close like the most precious gift, close like the newborn baby, in awe and wonder at how heavy and emotional blessings can be. And the light that indwells it all, if only we look again.

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Homecoming

It felt like an eternity, but it was only two years. Or maybe three, counting the first bout of depression. Today, for the first time in a few years, I made a schedule for the evening. I used to be a person who made schedules, and I’m astonished that I’ve made it to a place where it’s become my natural tendency once again. I didn’t even have to think about it.

I didn’t delve deep into depression and anxiety on purpose. It’s not a hole you dig for yourself–more a pit you fall into. I didn’t realize I was there until I looked and saw a little glimmer of light and realized that I had been living in complete darkness. It looked like a whole lot of work to get out, and it was, but I think I’ve stepped out. I’m more me again. And I’m coming to think that there is always an end to despair. Hard times reveal to us our strengths. Believe your strengths. (Hint: 2 Corinthians 12… your weakness is where you will find strength!)

So, tonight I have a schedule. Not just intention to do laundry or make dinner, but a timed-out plan and a husband to hold me accountable (because of course I sent him a text outlining the night).

After a three week visit “home” I am feeling refreshed. More myself. I can do this.

Daily Bread

There’s Garth in the kitchen again, saving me from myself. I tried to make our go-to brownie in a mug with almond flour–it didn’t work out. Actually, it exploded in the microwave, leaving me with boiling brownie-flavored goo in a mug. I shouted to him that it was a failure and sat down to sulk at my computer. He rubbed my shoulders, gave me a kiss, made grilled s’mores sandwiches with Nutella and marshmallow fluff.

It’s not his job, by the way–the saving. And, for a moment of complete transparency here, right now I’m struggling with this idea of marriage as a blessing. A friend of mine was recently widowed, and grief has taken hold once again. One of the ways it’s manifested is making every single thing about my marriage…well, sad. I love my husband so much. I love watching him be a dad. But it breaks my heart completely to know what my dear friend is going through. And I hate how this has affected our relationship right now too, how I know, how I feel. I am wife while she is widow, I am married mom while she is single. And sometimes I can’t go on a simple ordinary date with my husband without breaking down in the car first, because it is so completely unfair.

But I know the Beatitudes. I know how blessing carries weight. The poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom, the mourning will receive comfort. The thorns of life make us more aware of our weakness, and our weakness is where God fills us in with his unfathomable strength.

So I guess you can say in our weakness we become glorious.

Strahan’s words waft in from the kitchen with the smell of melted butter, “You are my daily, you are my daily, you are my daily bread…”

Not my husband. Not my child. Not what I have but to whom I belong. The rest is just dessert, a bonus. It’s not what we’re lacking but what we have that really matters. And it’s enough.

Daily bread.

More than enough.

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“Give us this day…” by Kris via Flickr

 

No Bad Babies: When Parenting is Hard

The last few days have been hard. The baby is napping and I don’t know how much time I have, hopefully at least an hour, so I sit down with my warm coffee and open Facebook on my phone. The first post I see is from a mom on my favorite mommy group.

“My baby is such a good, easy baby. I’m afraid to have another. What if the next isn’t this easy?” asks a mom, with what I have a hard time thinking is a legitimate concern.
“Good” baby? Easy, sure, but good? Are hard babies not good babies, too?

She has no idea, I’m sure, how this cuts into the hearts of mothers like me. Mothers with the reflux babies, babies with intolerances and allergies, the babies that cry for a whole day at a time and keep us up all night and make us wonder if it’s something we’re eating or if a new medication is in order or when this nightmare of child rearing will end.

If good means easy, what will keep me from resenting my baby?

I want to tell her how lovable hard babies are and how mysterious and sweet and strengthening it is to love a difficult child. Not that the baby herself is difficult, but that her start to life has been just as unpleasant as my entrance into motherhood, and that to be pushed to the brink together every day tugs our hearts a little tighter through each trial. We’re in this together, no matter how alone I feel. That hard baby is somehow a blessing.

I want to help her know what she can’t know without the experience I’ve had that a hard baby can still be a good baby. That “good” doesn’t mean easy or even enjoyable but that it makes us something better than we were. And I’m sure being the mommy to a generally easygoing baby makes you better than before you were a mom, but please, give me credit. Not pity, but credit. Give my baby credit, because her life so far has been hard, and it’s not her fault.

Being a mom–for me so far–has meant giving up control. So if “good” means “if I’m not in control I at least want it to be easy,” then I guess she has a good baby. But I think good means more than easy. I think good tests us, molds us, leads us to a new understanding.

Having a hard baby has left me vulnerable to the very depths of depression and anxiety. Most days it’s difficult to motivate myself to mother beyond I have to. I second-guess everything and sometimes have a hard time feeling like I really love my child. Some days I feel I hold and coddle her too much, other days I feel I don’t give her nearly enough attention and she and I will grow detached. And then Saturday happened.

It was an anxious day for me. One of those days that I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, I was just off. I was also very hands-off and left most of the parenting–comforting, diaper changing, entertaining–to Garth. He was on full-time Daddy duty for most of the day. As I had a break-down in the kitchen after spilling steamed half and half on the floor (and almost on my child), there was Clarabelle. My hard baby. My hard to love baby. This nine-and-a-half month old crawled into my lap, pulled herself up on me, smiled, gave me a hug, and pressed her head against my cheek. We sat that way for a good few minutes until a smile broke my sadness.

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girl/afraid via Flickr

All of my questions about how I’m parenting just disappeared. How did I do this? How did we do this?

The baby who we’ve had to give up comforting and just let cry for 20, 30, 45 minutes at a time until she’s tired and will finally go back to sleep. The child who always needs to be held, who cries at our feet when we have to put her down just to wash our hands, who sometimes screamed through most of a day because of pain from reflux. This baby came to comfort me.

I must be doing something right. She must not be bad.

And actually, aside from all the stressful, fearful things that have happened this first year of her life, she is a good baby. She explores, smiles, laughs, experiments, hugs, cuddles, sings herself to sleep at night. I can’t even focus on all the hard things. I used to and it destroyed me. I forgot all the good things. As I paid more attention to the good things intentionally I noticed them more. She is a good baby, I was just too busy comparing my experience to those of others and feeling sorry for myself. But the good is there, all around.

There are no bad babies.

 

I Won’t Suffer in Silence

WordPress kindly notified me that my blog-anniversary was a year ago. Last week. And I missed it. Life gets away from me sometimes.

The last two and a half years has been an ongoing battle. Or an on-and-off battle, maybe. I don’t know. I have the test results to prove that the battle was at one point off, but recent tests show it’s most definitely back on. That sick intuition that something just wasn’t right with me was confirmed two months ago when I was diagnosed with post-partum depression. But no, not enough alone, this time it’s doubled up with anxiety.

I know the good memories are in my brain somewhere, I just can’t remember them. They’ve been buried under the stress, the sleepless nights, the burden of anger at a helpless little human who can’t communicate through more than tears and screams. Most of the time I can’t take it.

But I have to. I’m a mom now. There’s no vacation from being a mom. And my heart hurts.

As always, I’m finding the burden of mental illness gets lighter when I just talk about it. I need to dig out, and I can’t do it alone. By the grace of God I can say I know we’re not meant to do it alone. Don’t try to dig out alone.

I’m not just talking about prayer, about “casting your cares on the Lord,” about the yoke that is lighter than my worry. No. Heck, guys, we are the church. What does that even mean, anyway, to be the the hands and feet of Jesus?

I won’t suffer in silence because I can’t. It’s not safe there. It’s not safe in my quiet prayers that when left alone I feel fall on deaf God-ears. I need you. Yes, you, my friend. So what can you do?

Don’t tell me I just need more Jesus. I have plenty of Jesus. I know his love and his grace, his comfort, his mercy. I’ve found that often we need to receive those things in tangible ways to get out of our own heads. I’m sure it’s not just me. It has to be true for some of you too. Be those tangible means. I need you to come and show me through your actions and your words and your spoken prayers that God is listening. That he hears me and I’m truly not alone. Because this darkness is a damn lonely place and I know the love is there all around me but I just can’t see it most of the time. Don’t always wait for me to ask for help. Just come. Come wipe the grime from my mind’s window and show me the reality that lies on the other side. The love and the comfort and the peace and the joy. Be Jesus to the suffering, friend.

Most days I’m just angry. Angry that this is happening again— this time getting in the way of me feeling the love I know is there for my daughter. And I know with time I’ll probably get better. But what if I don’t? Does that make God less compassionate or powerful? Does that mean my faith is less than someone who fully recovers? I just don’t think so.

God has a purpose. And cognitively I know that he still loves me. My heart needs to get there, too. Because of my miscarriage and other little threads of life, I know that the commonality of experience heals others when we’re honest about our stories. The only thing holding me back from sharing is my own self-talk. Life isn’t about having everything you want anyway. It’s not about marriage or sex or family or money or even happiness. My happiness may be muted most days, but I still have joy. Love may not come easy for me all the time, but I know I am God’s and that he loves me. He delights in me, he delights in my daughter, and that cracks open my soul to receive his joy.

I’ll hold on to what I know is true. Though depression takes my happiness and anxiety tries to take my peace, I am saved and I am beloved and I am, somehow, free.

Say Their Names

The month of October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I actually didn’t know it existed until the year I miscarried, and it inspired me to share my experience. The one thing that healed me the most while trudging through the depths of grief was hearing and reading stories from other women who had also lost their babies. In one sense, it made the pain lighter knowing others were carrying the weight of such loss also. But as I encountered more stories, I also realized how much someone can go through without breaking. So many women have had miscarriage after miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancies, stillbirths, babies with fatal defects both known or unknown before birth, babies lost to SIDS. I realized that my one miscarriage was something that could make me stronger, and at the same time that even if I were to successfully carry a baby to term, there are no guarantees that everything will be okay. I don’t think people realize what a miracle babies really are.

Another thing that helped me heal was naming the baby. It’s very hard to name a baby you never knew, especially if you don’t know if that baby was a boy or a girl. Garth and I didn’t like any of the gender-neutral names we could find, so we gave up. We couldn’t give our unborn baby a name we wouldn’t choose had the baby been born.

Some PAIL organizations are encouraging mothers to “say the name” of their unborn or deceased babies. Garth and I haven’t shared the name with anyone who hasn’t asked, but today I want to share that story.

A few weeks after my miscarriage, while I was taking a shower, the name Henley crossed my mind. I obsessed over it for awhile and moved on to thinking of something else. The next day the name crossed my mind again, this time more clearly as a name for a girl. I thought about it a little more and wondered why this name had come to mind. The third day the name came to mind, I remembered it was the name of my favorite style shirt on Garth, again brushing it off and moving on to think of something else. For a month I thought of the name Henley every day, each time more strongly convinced that it was a good name for a girl.

For our date night that month, Garth and I went the homebody route and rented a movie from Redbox, made some popcorn, and turned the space in front of our TV into a fort in our living room. We started the movie Now You See Me and snuggled into the each other. Probably about fifteen minutes in, the lead female walked down a hall holding her to-go cup of coffee, the name Henley sprawled across the top of her cup. I paused the movie.

“Did you see her name?” I asked Garth.

“Uh… no?” he said.

I rewound the movie and had him look again.

“What do you think of her name?” I asked. I could feel my pulse in my fingertips.

“Henley? Like the shirt? I’ve never heard it as a name.”

“I hadn’t either, until recently. What do you think of it?”

“It doesn’t sound like a girl name.” He said after chewing on the inside of his cheek for awhile.

I had actually thought it sounded good for a girl. I told Garth about how the name had been haunting me in the shower, how I thought it sounded good for a girl and I felt like we should add it to our list of baby names. He finally agreed with me.

Before we could make a decision on the name, we had to look up its origin and meaning. The name is English, and it means “high hill” or “high meadow.” We found it was actually a boy name, which conflicted with my feeling that it sounded good for a girl. We spent months bringing the name up and debating whether it should “go on the list.” When we finally asked his sister what she thought of the name, she was a pretty harsh critic. We held off officially putting the name on our list.

February rolled around and so did my empty due date. I grieved quietly and didn’t mention it to anyone until the next day. My baby was still gone, my womb was still empty, and we still had no name to call our lost baby.

“Henley,” I said to Garth one morning as he woke up.

“You want it back on the list?” Garth asked groggily.

“What if God gave us the name?” I asked, pulling the covers to my chin, shrinking in insecurities. “It’s the only unisex name we’ve actually liked. What if that is the name of our baby.”

He rolled over and nibbled his cheek for a moment. “Yeah,” he said.

“Our baby’s name is Henley?”

“Our baby’s name is Henley.”

Read This Book

Back in April I was trudging through the newness of parenthood. I had a one month old who never slept long, day or night, I was exhausted, malnourished, and rocking the baby blues. I desperately needed a friend and coffee.

Enter Truest.

I know Jackie Lea Sommers personally though not well. She graduated from the same undergrad program I did (years ahead of me), learned from some of the same professors, worked at my college, and went to my church. I had heard of her and encountered her a number of times, but I never really connected with her until I got to get excited that she was living the writer’s dream: getting published. And by Harper Collins none the less.

I have to say, when I learned about her success I was a little star-struck. I had so many opportunities to approach her, ample Sunday mornings to ask her about writing, about getting published, about her book itself. But I froze every time. And it was really silly, because she is really gracious, nerdy, and cool.

Well, our pastor and his wife have really cute kids. Jackie is close to the family, so she often comments on their Facebook updates. The kids are sassy, fun, and growing at the surprising rate children normally grow, so I occasionally leave a comment as well. Through ‘liking’ and responding to each other’s comments, Jackie broke the ice and decided to friend me on Facebook. Cue giddy little fangirl freakout.

And through our little online interactions, I gained the opportunity to read an advance electronic copy of Truest.

Oh, what a friend! West, Silas, Laurel. I lived in the town of Green Lake for a week and forgot a little about how absolutely hard taking care of a baby was.

I spent one afternoon with a not-napping Clarabelle (what else is new?) on my lap while I read a few chapters out loud–swear words and all. That was the moment I learned what an attentive listener Clarabelle is. She watched the words scroll across the computer screen, hearing every word I read. My girl is a reader, I thought. A listener and a reader.

When I finally finished the novel, I scrolled to reveal the next page–it wasn’t there. It was over. And I thought, yes. The ending didn’t tie everything up in a pretty little bow. It was more like a fade-out, cue the soundtrack crescendo, roll the credits. So satisfying.

But I missed my friends. I missed Silas’s quick wit, Laurel’s philosophical ponderings, Gordon’s sessions of wise advice. I missed the Harts’ den, the rooftop, the beach, the bell tower.

And that was all before the final edit. Still good.

Soon, I will have my hard copy. The final cut. I can’t wait to take it to a local coffee shop and read it there, revisit Green Lake and my friends, see what the story became.  And read it again. And again.

Good things are coming from Jackie Lea Sommers. She is definitely an author to watch for.

Guys, Truest will be available for purchase at your local bookstore on September 1st. Go check it out. It’ll be a good addition to your home library.

In the meantime, you can read reviews of Truest here. (The worst I saw were 3 out of 5 stars. Not bad, Jackie.)

Truest book cover.

Look for this cover.

*Edited 7:10 pm 8/29: I realized I wrote that Truest comes out on Monday when September 1st is, in fact, Tuesday. The original post has been changed to say the date rather than the day of the week. Ugh, Mom Brain strikes again!