Choosing not to

When my friend Bruce invited me to his concert next weekend, I was stoked—and then immediately felt totally bummed. His band, Living Sacrifice, has impacted me spiritually for a decade and a half. I’d love nothing more than to watch them perform again on their home turf.

IMG_8757But I can’t. Not this time. My daughter, Maggie, is barely a year old and has not mastered bottles or cups yet. She still relies on me for some of her sustenance, and with a baby latched onto me (literally), I’m limited to what I can do and when. She has yet to fall asleep without first nursing and listening to me sing God songs to her, enveloped in my warm arms.

So I just can’t.

I can’t.

For the past year, those are the words I’ve chosen to use each time I’ve declined an invitation to a show, a party, a conference, or a big to-do. It wasn’t until I responded to the invitation to attend Bruce’s concert that I realized that those words weren’t completely honest.

Me at 26, with my friend's baby girl

Me at 26, with my friend’s baby girl

At age 21, I was an independent, strong-willed, adventurous young woman who proclaimed that she had no desire to have children. At 26, I seriously contemplated sealing the deal medically and making it impossible for me to conceive—that’s how sure I was that having a baby wasn’t the right life choice for me.

Then I met my husband. And everything changed. I began envisioning the beauty of creating life together and the joy of taking our child along with us while climbing mountains, watching sunrises, devouring Waffle House hash browns while traveling down Route 66, praying and reading classics aloud before bed, and catching trout on the White River. I began to imagine sharing our lives.

With my husband, 2010

With my husband, 2010

I changed my mind.

We began making choices to put our family in the position of being able to spend as much time as possible together in the future before we even knew that Maggie was on the way. I made different choices about jobs and turned down opportunities to interview for positions requiring me to spend lots of time away from home. I went back to school and earned my Master’s degree with the sole intention of teaching at our local community college—something I’ve always wanted to do. We found a great church. We bought a home and renovated it, even though we underestimated how much space we’d need when two became three.

We got ready.

Good thing, because before all our plans were cemented, Maggie came along and blew my expectations for what life could be like out of the water. I love being her mom more than anything. I didn’t have to stop working, but I wanted to. I didn’t have to nurse her, but I wanted to. I didn’t have to stay so close to home last winter in the midst of cold and flu season, but I wanted to. As I reflect on the past year, I feel at rest knowing I have tried to make the best choices.

When I was pregnant and unsure about whether to stay home with Maggie and for how long, my friend Vicky, who is a little older and much wiser than I am, said something that’s become a mantra.

“You may regret a lot of things in life, but you will never regret the time you spend with your kids.”

She was right.

I’ve missed out on some pretty wonderful opportunities since becoming pregnant with my daughter. I didn’t walk across the stage to receive my diploma when I graduated with my Master’s degree after working my tail off and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. One of my high school friends got married, and I missed quite possibly the most fun ever had at a wedding, complete with a live band and oodles of cowgirl boots. Right in the middle of Maggie’s worst teething crisis, I had to cancel plans to spend the weekend with one of my closest college friends and missed out on some Damgoode Pie pizza and beer and plenty of quality time. I had lunch with some of my friends from across the United States prior to a women’s conference I hated to miss, but a few short hours with them flew by, and I found myself missing them the rest of the weekend.

I’m sorry I can’t put Maggie first and still participate in every exciting event in life.

IMG_1744But I don’t regret putting my baby first, and although I have missed some special moments in my loved ones’ lives because of catering to my baby’s schedule and putting her health and well-being first, I don’t regret it. I can’t put my child on hold—she’s here, and today’s the only second day of December in her second year of life that I’ll ever get to spend with her.

It’s not that I can’t find a babysitter and check out for a few hours while watching a movie. It’s not that I can’t send Maggie to daycare tomorrow and go back to work full-time. It’s not that I can’t go to my friend Bruce’s awesome show on December 6th.

I just choose not to today.

Crying over spilt coffee

Finally napping

Finally napping

After performing crib gymnastics and break dancing for half an hour, Maggie finally crashed and began her brief nap. I painstakingly held the alarmingly loud button in on our microwave door in order to retrieve my cup of coffee, which I’d reheated three times due to lack of opportunity to properly enjoy a cup of coffee while caring for an infant.

Apparently my memory of how to correctly use a microwave oven has also been affected by a syndrome commonly called “baby brain.” The coffee was bubbling inside the mug, and the minute I touched the handle, I dropped the half-full cup of coffee all over the floor. Molten brown java sludge covered my floors and soaked into my socked feet. I danced around while silently cursing, trying to remove my hot socks in order to prevent any real burns on my feet. I saved all but one of my big toes.

I laughed at myself, grabbed a dish towel, and crawled around my kitchen floor, cleaning up my messy mistake. Then I noticed the dark brown speckled cabinets surrounding me. The day before,  I’d carefully scrubbed each cabinet door and handle with a clever combination of Lysol disinfectant wipes and a Magic Eraser, removing all traces of crumbs, drips, and crud. All my work was in vain. I’d have to spend another 20 minutes cleaning the bottom cabinets.???????????????????????????????

That’s when the laughing turned to crying.

That day, which happened to be a Monday, of course, was not my day. Honestly, ever since getting pregnant last February, I’ve struggled to maintain my faith, my attitude of gratitude, my decision to be kind and loving toward others, and at times, my sanity. Pregnancy was tough on my body, not to mention my emotions. I did not have a beautiful, wonderful, happy experience. I worked through repeated physical setbacks over the course of 41 weeks before giving birth to my beautiful daughter. The delivery was ugly and complicated as well. The recovery was not terribly painful, but after undergoing a blood transfusion after giving birth, it took my body a few weeks to return to anything resembling normal. I never knew that having the right quantity of blood in my body made such a big difference in my sense of well-being. Who knew having plenty of blood would help me avoid episodes of blacking out and fainting?

I wish I could say things are all peachy keen now, and that I feel like I’m on top of the world, but that would be dishonest. I love being Maggie’s mom. I would not trade that for the world. But being a new mom is tough sometimes. I get frantic when I can’t immediately detect the reason for Maggie’s tears. I detest looking in the mirror because my once absolutely perfect abs are not so perfect anymore. I often feel overwhelmed by the stress of managing motherhood, graduate school, and homemaking. And life has also thrown me some additional lovely curve balls lately. I’m not referring to the tiny ticks and fleas of life; these are serious, private, heavy matters.

The speckling of my stark white cabinet doors didn’t really merit tears. The speckles were just the cherries atop my terrible turd sundae.

As I scrubbed the floor as quickly as possible in order to prevent the molten java from oozing into the cracks in our hardwood floors, I heard God say to me, in that mysterious voice that assures me that I’m not just talking to myself, “Think about how many times you’ve done this to me, right after I cleaned up your mess.”

Touche, God. Touche.Goo

He has. Countless times. I’ve made those stubborn Hebrews wandering in the desert due to disobedience look like saints. I’ve been battered and bruised and scraped and scarred, and He has been my Good Samaritan, bandaging me, paying my bills, and sending in the Great Physician to heal me. He has scrubbed clean more than just the surface of my life. He’s renovated it.

Photo by Bethany Wallace

Photo by Bethany Wallace

I can cry over spilt coffee. But then I must clean it up, stand up, change my socks (after applying aloe vera to my throbbing big toe), and take the next step forward.

If I’ve learned anything in the past 12 months, it’s that if things seem dark, it’s not because there’s no Light. It’s because I’m not looking at It. It’s always there waiting to transform my perspective.

“This is your time of grief. But I will see you again. You will rejoice, and no one will rob you of your joy.” –John 16:22

 

2012 gift list

My first meal in 2012 on New Year's Day

My first meal in 2012 on New Year’s Day

Last year, I started a tradition of writing a gift list, recording the ways God had blessed me by teaching me a new lesson, adjusting my proverbial eyesight, or concreting an abstract concept. As I celebrated New Year’s over cabbage rolls with my then boyfriend and his family, I had no idea what gifts God had in store for me in 2012.

This morning, as I crept out of my newborn daughter’s nursery and quietly filled my mug with coffee, I reflected on how vastly different my world seems now compared to then. And yet one thing remains constant despite the myriad of changes whirling around me–God never ceases to surprise me. He blows my expectations away. He gives me what I do not deserve and withholds harsh and painful consequences that I do deserve. He dusts off places inside me I’d resigned as impossible to clean.

When I look back, I see His beautiful fingerprints all over my life.

These are a few of the gifts given to me in 2012.

  • The big picture. Throughout my life, God has allowed many negative and painful things to elapse. One of those things toward the top of that terrible list is the experience of being raped the first time I had sex at the age of 16. As many of you read about over the course of a series of blog posts on this topic, God did what He has rarely done for me before–He allowed me to see the big picture and brought many of the puzzle pieces together before my eyes, revealing to me various reasons and motives behind the question, “Why did this happen to me, God?”
    I am not sure why He chose to bless me with the information and insights He shared, but I am grateful nonetheless. I’m grateful for my good friend who shared his secret with me, which shed light on my own story due to the intricate connections between us and the man who raped me. I’m grateful for my counselor who led me through the valleys of shadow, death, and grief as I unearthed years of buried emotions. And I’m grateful for the clarity I found on the other side.
  • Forgiveness. As a result of this clarity, I found fuel to forgive the man who raped me. This sparked a series of revelations regarding sins and missteps I’d never forgiven myself for. Five years ago when I began the process of recovery in a twelve-step program for families and loved ones of alcoholics, God showed me in subtle ways that I must first forgive myself before finding fuel to forgive others. Since then, He has presented me with opportunities to apply this lesson learned to real life situations. Forgiving the man who raped me was a mountainous obstacle to overcoming this complicated roadblock to peace.
  • 001Timing. This year, God perfectly timed and ordered my circumstances for my maximum benefit. I believe He has always done this, but I haven’t always noticed. This year, I noticed. I noticed that He healed me from painful parts of my past just prior to surprising us with the news that we would soon be parents. I noticed that He pried the invisible calendar from my hands containing minute details of the order of MY plans for MY life and politely crushed it into a tiny paperwad before tossing it into the trashcan. I begrudgingly let go of my schedule, crossed out all the items on my to-do list, and let God reset the timer. I learned that it’s impossible to plan out every second of my life and that some of the most wonderful things occur when I stop trying.
  • About 30 weeks along, September 2012

    About 30 weeks along, September 2012

    Patience. Wise friends in recovery have warned me against praying for patience for years–if you ask God for patience, He gives you opportunities (which are often painful) to grow in patience rather than granting your wish and instantly filling you with the virtue. At least that’s been my experience. I did not ask God to let me become pregnant, but He blessed me with my baby anyway. As someone who has feared and loathed pregnancy my entire life, I did not look forward to spending 40+ weeks of my life dealing with the growing pains of pregnancy. Although I did not enjoy being pregnant and hope to avoid repeating that experience, I definitely gained patience as a result of the complications and symptoms I faced during pregnancy which were utterly out of my control. As I sat in my recliner for hours on end, I learned that letting the dust accumulate on the carpet for a few more days would not cause anyone any harm and that taking only one course in the fall semester would simply slow the rate of completion for graduate school, not stop it. I didn’t ask for patience, but I’m glad I got it.

  • Security. I’m not sure why, but ever since I was a child I’ve had an unfounded fear of someone breaking in to my house at night and hurting or murdering me and my family. I didn’t watch horror movies or even scary television shows as a child, so I’m not sure where this fear originated. After circumstances surrounding my experience of being raped, my fear of this increased and seemed logical rather than irrational. I have been known to refuse to sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door, to check the locks on doors and windows countless times, and to lie in bed for hours on end, listening to every little creak and groan of the floors, wind, and tree limbs. I’ve been too scared to sleep, literally and not so literally. In July of 2010, when I met my husband, the number of sheep required for counting each night began lowering.
    Tying the knot at our home, April 2012

    Tying the knot at our home, April 2012

    As I watched him choose good over evil, right over wrong, and truth over deception repeatedly, I believed his declaration of love for me more and more. I learned to trust him. This year deepened my trust for him in many ways. He cared for me selflessly during the roughest patches of my pregnancy. He encouraged me to quit my job in order to focus on finishing graduate school and resting during my pregnancy, promising me that he would take care of me financially. Having started working at age 13 as a tutor and never remaining unemployed for more than a few weeks ever since, trusting someone else to meet my needs felt foreign. But as I learned to still my worried mind, and close my watchful eyes, I found myself finally able to rest.

  • With my darling, November 2012

    With my darling, November 2012

    Fulfillment. I thought I’d felt fulfilled before. I’d accomplished plenty. I made all A’s in high school. I graduated from college with honors. I have maintained a perfect GPA in graduate school so far. I have held great paying jobs and managed people, events, and departments. I’ve donated my time and energy to serving others overseas and in my local community. I’ve reached out and helped others and experienced the joy of being used by God as a catalyst for growth and revelation in others’ lives. I had no idea that I’d never felt as fulfilled as I could, and I certainly didn’t expect that I’d feel completely fulfilled by becoming a mother. But I do.

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that the unexpected gifts are always the best.

 

Right where I belong

“What’s one feeling you’ve had since having her that has surprised you?”

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

One of my best friends posed this question to me a few days ago as I rocked my drowsy five week-old baby girl.

How’s she doing? Are you recovering from the delivery? How do you like breastfeeding? Isn’t it crazy how fast they grow?

I’ve been asked these questions countless times lately. Maggie’s doing well. I’m recovering well. Breastfeeding is complicated but worth it, I think (ask me a month from now). And yes, it’s insane how quickly she grows, changes, and develops adorable rolls of baby chub.

But my friend’s question caught me off guard. Not many people have asked how I feel about being a mom.

Honestly, I hesitate to write about it. I hesitate because when I was pregnant, I felt skeptical of all the women I knew who believed that pregnancy was beautiful and the most wonderful experience of their lives. I doubted their statements about how the negative moments would one day vanish from memory. I admit that I often rolled my mind’s eyes while listening to them recant their fond recollections of pregnancy.

I hesitate, expecting to elicit eye rolling from those of you who can’t relate, to tell you that while I still detest the pregnancy process, I love being a mom.

I don’t just adore my little darling because she’s sweet and beautiful when she’s sleeping. I don’t just love her because she is the product of the most precious relationship I’ve ever had. I don’t just like her when she’s smiling, cooing, or cuddling me.

I mean that I love being a mother in the core of my being.

Most of my life, I’ve found meaning and significance in my career and educational journey. I’ve prided myself on making perfect grades. I’ve patted myself on the back for being an expert problem solver, finding holes and filling them in every job role I’ve ever held. I’ve planned out my days based on making meaningful contributions to others through work and volunteer efforts. That worked for me very well. It made me feel complete and significant.

Until now.

004I am most surprised that right now, I feel more like I am right where I’m supposed to be, doing precisely what I’m supposed to be doing, more than I’ve ever felt that way in my entire life. More fulfilled than I could have possibly imagined I’d feel. More perfectly aligned with God’s goals for me than I’d dreamed.

Even at 2 a.m., while sopping up projectile vomit and wiping away my own tears of pity for my daughter. Even after changing five diapers in 15 minutes while nursing a 48-hour migraine that I can’t alleviate with medication while breastfeeding. Even during the afternoon when I plop my exhausted pajama-clad self into the recliner and gaze around the room at the unswept floor, the pile of laundry to fold, and the Christmas cards to address.

Always, I am where I belong.

 

Angina

Me and Liz, 2010

Me and Liz, 2010

I experienced my first bout with angina at 28 years old while walking through a Wal-Mart parking lot one cold winter night with Liz, my former stepdaughter, who was a gangly 13 year-old at the time. A pickup truck full of men, appearing to be in their 20s, drove by us and honked, hooped, and hollered. At LIZ. Not at me. I’m sure their cat calls were for my precious 13 year-old because I donned the world’s largest, bulkiest, floor-length coat that night. Liz’s long legs were covered in skinny jeans, topped off with a cute puffy jacket.

Along with the curses I hurled in the direction of the pickup truck, I remember turning to Liz and putting my hand on my chest.

“Oh my gosh, it’s my first official chest pain.” Apparently the idea of my precious Liz being eyeballed by perverted men was too much for me.

Photo by Jessie Covington of Say Cheese Photography

Photo by Jessie Covington of Say Cheese Photography

Three weeks ago, our daughter Maggie was born. Even after the trauma of delivery and the complications of our recovery, I find myself riding the emotional and hormonal roller coaster daily. When she eats and looks up at me, cracking a smile out of the corner of her mouth, I cry. When she cries out in pain and frustration from a gassy belly and pesky hiccups, I cry. When her dad holds her and looks down at her in adoration, I cry. As she steadily outgrows each and every one of her newborn outfits, I cry. When her umbilical cord finally came off yesterday, as I changed her in her dark, cozy bedroom after feeding her at 3 a.m., I cried, knowing that the last tangible symbol of our physical connection had passed.

Sometimes when I cry, that same sharp, achy feeling fills my chest.

I know now that it’s not angina, and it wasn’t angina that night in the parking lot with Liz.

That was my heart breaking a little bit, unable to hold in all that love.

 

Superlative

November 16, at 4:21 p.m., our little girl Margaret Jacqueline became a tangible, visible, audible part of our lives.

Those of who you regularly read my blog know that my pregnancy experience was less than perfect. I’ve never imagined pregnancy to be “the best time in my life,” as some of my friends and acquaintances describe it, but I hoped it would not be the worst.

In some ways, it was the worst.

In other ways, it wasn’t so bad. I watched my husband grow into even more of a man, a leader, and a compassionate lover than he was before–and he was already practically perfect in every way (step aside, Mary Poppins). I learned to adjust my personal timetable and tastes and to yield to the ticking time bomb growing inside me, concerning myself primarily with her best interests. I discovered goldmines of gratitude in little daily kindnesses from my husband, friends, church members, and family.

Overall, however, I am not the kind of woman to claim that “you forget all the bad stuff” once the baby arrives. On the contrary, I recall all of it quite vividly. I won’t share my entire pregnancy, labor/delivery, and recovery story with you, but suffice it to say that it was no walk in the park. Things did not go according to plans on many fronts. Complications multiplied as dollar signs danced before our eyes, partnered with pain, fear, and inconvenience.

When my baby was finally delivered, and our wonderful doctor handed her to me as my eyes readjusted after a spell of blurry vision, I beheld the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I held it in my very hands. And all I could say, choking down tears and looking into my husband’s eyes, was “Oh my God.”

In that moment, He trumped the weight of the misery tenfold.

He outdid Himself. She is more than and better than every hope, dream, goal, and joy I’ve ever known. She is the superlative of our lives.

Pregnant pleas

I write this as I attempt to eat something which will not induce vomiting.

In case you didn’t read my latest blog post, I’m pregnant.

I’m excited about being a mom.  I was a stepmom for six years and loved it, and I still love my Lizard to death. I’ve worked with kids of all ages and have tons of kids in my extended family. I’m not worried about enjoying being a mom or concerned with some of the things people with little “kid exposure” might worry about.

But I’m going to be honest. So far, being  pregnant is not fun. It’s quite miserable, actually.

I expected it to be, based on what I’d watched my sisters and friends endure, but at the same time, I don’t hear many people giving honest assessments of the down sides to pregnancy. I believe our society encourages us to pretend we’re happier than we’ve ever been before–and quite honestly, I think we keep that cycle going ourselves. I’m not sure why we feel it necessary to sugarcoat the sour side of life. Anyone who knows me knows that I attempt to see the bright side, focus on the positive, and find things to be grateful for in the worst of circumstances. But pretending to be something I’m not is not who I am, and it never will be. While I am ecstatic that James and I are going to be parents together, I’m not ecstatic that I have to go through pregnancy and delivery in order to get to that end result.

I don’t want any pictures taken of my bare stomach. I  know lots of people do it, and that’s fine for them, but it’s not for me. For me, it’s just a little odd. Period.

I appreciate people taking an interest in our lives and in our baby, but I am growing weary of unsolicited advice (one of my top five pet peeves, in case you didn’t already know :).

I don’t feel well. I know pregnancy’s different for everyone, and that this stage may pass, but I feel nauseous about 90% of the time. I’m battling migraines without the few medicines that have ever worked in treating them.

So, friends and family (or anyone out there reading this who might someday encounter a pregnant woman), I implore you to do the following.

a) Let me sleep when I can.

b) Please don’t talk about gross things around me. I normally love gross things. Not right now.

c) Understand that I’m not trying to shirk relationships or responsibilities, but right now I am doing well to function halfway normally, and I have very little energy left for anything else.

d) Practice what I consider to be some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: it’s not your business if it’s past the tip of your nose. Keep this in mind when asking questions and doling out advice.

e) Don’t try to force me to love being pregnant. It’s really and truly just not a delightful experience for everybody.

So far, I’ve figured out that pregnancy is a growing process. A very awkward, painful one. Many times in my life, the process isn’t pleasant, but the outcome exceeds my expectations. I believe that’s how this will be–and I’m looking forward to it.