Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Just Breathe: Why Life is Best Experienced Through the Lens of Family

My daughter has been in our house for almost 3 weeks now.

My son has been in our house (and driving me to the brink of physical exhaustion) for 134 weeks.

I just keep telling myself to breathe, because like the Darius Rucker song wisely reveals, "It won't be like this for long". I realize that God planned for kids to grow up. He is a graceful God and wouldn't leave us knee deep in power struggles and sleepless nights forever.

For now, my newly formed gruesome twosome-- which we affectionately call "the kids" (making me feel very much like an adult) is somewhat manageable.

For instance, when J is up and R is asleep, me and my son try to play together or watch his favorite movie and cuddle like the old days. When R is up and J is asleep, we just look at the skylight (her favorite) or walk around the house talking girl talk.

Now if R is up and J is up-- well there's the rub. That's when I am tested to my mental and physical limits. Those are the moments when I have one baby hanging in the crook of my newly muscular left arm (score!) and another child pulling at my leg with jam in his hair and a raisin up his nose. 

But what my life looks like today will very soon  become something different entirely. R will be awake more than she is asleep and during those moments J will just continue to become more and more of his own independent self. When those two things begin to happen interchangeably, I will desperately need a proverbial swimmie to save me from drowning.

And so as the planner that I am, I have begun to fashion a life preserver out of a new-found perspective I've discovered.

Regardless of how difficult it gets (or how difficult it already has been when both are clamoring for my attention) I am still choosing joy as the main ingredient in my daily bread mix.

I fully realize that joy is a decision. It's a choice we make. It isn't something that happens naturally. Especially in young parenthood.

So how do I get there? How do I get to a place of joy when my eyes are brimming with frustration over my son's tantrums or my daughter's demanding sleep schedule?

I imagine not having either child in my life now that they are here.

A thousand stones in my gut. Emptiness in my soul. Stripped to the bone. Raw. 

When I envision a life without my children a thick web of oddity and uncouthness swarms. It doesn't make sense anymore- that isn't who I was supposed to be. I may have given birth to my children, but God is the one who gave me life through them. 

And this leads me to something that has been very heavy on my heart.

Someone who is on the peripheral of my life finds herself facing the decision of potentially ending her unborn child's life. A young college girl with hopes of becoming a lawyer- this inconvenience would terribly derail her plans. And while I don't consider myself a particularly political person, I desperately want that child to be born.

Ashamedly, I don't think I have ever personalized this issue. It hasn't affected me so I have just let it lie in the big wide open of hot button topics that make me sweat under the collar.

However, my pride and passiveness aside-- I have realized that this hurts my heart because this is truly about a child. And in turn I feel like this is about my son. This is about my daughter. This is about your children. This is about the parents who decided to have you.  

There is room enough for us all. Not every single one of us got here in a pretty way. Not everyone's parents had a nursery immaculately decorated, names picked out, and a college fund already operating. Some of us had very sordid beginnings. I know Jesus did. People believed He was born to the town joke- a "virgin" mother who obviously had some dude on the side that Joseph was completely turning a blind eye to. The Savior was born into scandal and I think He turned out okay.

However, I am not one to tell someone when its time to be a parent. Some of us aren't ready or never will be. And even though someone may have conceived a child I don't think that means it's time to get married and make your scarlet A less red. But I do believe that God can work out all things according to His good plan. (Romans 8:28).

In truth, I am not expecting this girl to keep the child for herself. Raising kids has been the hardest and most ugly, inconvenient, revealing, heartbreaking, and jubilicious experience of my life.

But I want that child to be adopted by a family who is desperate to have them. I want that child to take its first breath, scream it's first scream, and pulsate with hope, fear, and blood like every person before them. I desperately hope that this child gets the chance to feel what the simple emotion of being alive is like.

And more importantly, I want the parent of that child (whoever they may end up being- could be my husband and I for all I know) to feel what I feel when I hold my already-born children. 

I want that parent to feel like they have rescued a child from nothingness. I want them to realize that they have not only given the child a home, but an identity. I want them to realize that we are all tattered pieces of worthless cloth that comes together in a gorgeous patchwork of imperfection and protection called family. I want the view from the parent's heart to be lavish like a beautiful landscape of jagged hills and sweeping valleys; I want them to experience mountain top moments and shadowy places, respectively.

Some families come together by violent earthquakes and others by soft rainfall. The how is irrelevant.

 I feel like I am in a place today that I would have never arrived at on my own had it not been for my children. I think I would be having the exact same struggle that this girl is having if it were me back when I was her age. I'm not above the reality that I could have been in her shoes.

And while I don't have the ability to talk to this girl in person, I have been praying real prayers (not fluffy ones that seem to float up to the ceiling and break apart due to lack of intention). I have been allowing my heart to feel deeply for this child and in turn fuel prayers of passion.

And in doing so, I have been able to love my children deeply even when I am deeply disturbed by the job description I have (poop wiper, spit up attender, tantrum finisher, fussy baby whisperer, and crying kid comforter).

So if you are having a particularly rough day (which I have all the time lately), hug and kiss your kids. Particularly the defiant ones. Because we are active participants in the important job of cultivating their life- we are their family.We are the ones who first introduce them to love- and love doesn't only happen when good little boys and girls act the way they are supposed to. It happens most effectively when our children make mistakes. Or when we do.

So whether you are a parent mediating meltdowns or are the child feeling forgotten in this huge place called life, I think we can all agree that everyone deserves to breathe.

And so I will pray for breath. Not only for this child, but for all of the would-be adoptive parents and their already designed children who are simply waiting to be found.


PS- I read this article today on what adoption should mean for Christians and it was too good not to footnote: Jason Johnson Blog: Abortion, Adoption & The Church

Friday, April 12, 2013

Newborn Confessional: A Prescription for Peace Without Spiritual Drowsiness

So it's been a week and a day since my daughter was born. And coincidentally, it has been a week and a day since my water broke in the middle of my last blog post.

At the time, I didn't know that fewer than 15% of women rupture before going into labor. This further proves my theory that our new addition, little Miss R, has a flair for the dramatic. Like I said in the hospital, "How very Hollywood of her to arrive in such a fashion". And if I am honest, I wouldn't mind having another artistic thespian to pal around with someday.

But regardless of who she becomes, this tiny bundle of life has already begun transforming our family unit. A climate shift has taken place. If you are a parent, you too experienced a shift in your home the moment you walked your baby through the door. And this shift continues to evolve every time a new little person is added to the family roster.

And while newborns sleep a bazillion hours a day in the beginning, you can't ignore the fact that the mere reality of their presence instantly and irrevocably changes everything. 

No matter if you have recently become a parent for the first, second, third (or so on) time; each child brings an entirely new layer of love into your home and along with it a new layer of complication and unhinged humanity.

In my case, I can tell that God has favor on this little girl already, because he has injected me with a large dosage of certified calm. I can't explain it any other way than that.

I was a basket-case with my son in those first few months. I was frazzled and confused. I am sure I had elevated blood pressure and I wore my sweaters inside out for weeks. I started crying when a man in Starbucks told me that it would get easier. I can't even imagine what my appearance revealed to this man in order to prompt such a verbal life preserver. Whatever the case, I can guarantee you it wasn't pretty.

I also distinctly remember yelling at God in my parked car during a downpour when my son was hysterical (again) and I couldn't figure out why. I think there may or may not have been balled fists involved.

So why the calm now? My daughter cries too. My daughter needs her diaper changed at a Richard Petty pace too. She needs my attention too, even more so in some ways than he did.

So this placid presence of mind that seems to have hovered below the surface until now-- had it always been there or was God saving that extra dose of grace for this season? Maybe I was being submitted to the full spectrum of newborn emotion when I had my son in order to get me to this point with my daughter.

I've known that this pregnancy and child was going to be different. How? Because it was clear to me that I was different. My son had transformed my heart. He had given me heart surgery- and I had discovered that I was weak. Unprepared. Selfish. And immature. His presence in my life was stormy at times- but it was one of those tumults that resulted in a smattering of discovery. Much like wandering a sparkling beach moments after a ferocious gale to find ruddy starfish and waxen sand dollars.

I hope this blog doesn't come off "braggy", because just so we are clear-- I know for a fact that I haven't become some sort of beacon of peace by osmosis.

I know for certain I am not the one willing myself to enjoy nighttime feedings. I am not the one who seems to have stretched the stitches on my capacity to love my son and daughter when I thought I was going to have to divide my emotions between the two.

I can only attribute what is happening to me in this moment as a heaping of joy. God is going berserk with blessing on our little family and sometimes I can't contain the happiness I feel. If this fact makes you want to vomit (or at least roll your eyes)- I know there is plenty of time for challenges up ahead. But in this moment, I choose to embrace the happy.

All in all, I must have matured somewhere along the way, because I only have more responsibility and personal demand than I did when I only had one child. And even though I'm nowhere near fully mature in my faith (or in life really) at least I don't feel like a teeny weeny sapling anymore. I think I am more like a gangly teenager tree.

It's ugly and unruly at times, but the potential for full growth is there.

With the help of our amazing church, true friends who love Jesus, and my commitment to pursue who this Jesus character really is--I am changing. This has been instrumental in helping me become less of a selfish brat and more of a selfless mom.

Wherever you are- whether fully enjoying your children no matter the age or the stage or you are wearing your sweaters inside out while trying to steady a sploshing wine glass; believe this: you are being transformed if you allow God to do His amazing work. Every moment you spend as a parent is preparing you for what lies ahead.

And let me tell you a little secret. What lies ahead is good. He planned it that way.

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lilacs and Raspberry Leaf Tea: A Recipe for Love & Labor

Hosea 6:8 - His going forth is as certain as the dawn, and He will come to us like the spring rain watering the earth. 

It's a still moment.

And if you have littles in your house you understand how majestic a quiet moment like this is. I am lifted by the freshly composed song of a neighboring bird announcing a new season. I marvel over the tufts of purple plumping up on my aged Lilac tree. Something good is coming. But something good is already here.

My toddler is still fast asleep and I am sipping Raspberry Leaf Tea to jump-start the little girl in my belly.  Now that I am 40 weeks and 5 days pregnant (who's counting, eh?), all signs are a go. But this morning I don't feel anxious about her arrival, I just feel at peace about my current state. 

But don't worry, I'm not naive about mothering a newborn. So ask me in a few weeks if that anxiousness is still hibernating. I'm no fool (most days)- so I know this feeling is a gift from God so I'm drinking it in.

I have only moments left being a mother of one. But I have a lifetime ahead of me of being a mother of more than that. This in-between space of time feels magical in a sense- like those odd moments where you catch yourself in the middle of a happy memory and try your best to enjoy it before it passes.

It's the summation of what that awareness is. Somehow it always lies just beyond the shiny nothingness that we get constantly get distracted by and it leads us to the gift of contentment.

This is such a loaded word in motherhood. We want to be content and yet we think that is only possible if it is inextricably linked to countless sacrifices and swallowing our swell of desires. However, I think theologian John Piper may be on to something when he preaches that Christian Hedonism is the combination of our most pressing desires being wed to the joy of the Lord. Could we really want to please God and His will for us be in perfect harmony with what we were created to appreciate? Would God be that thoughtful?

Forget the shallow tin of simply wanting more time to ourselves, better bodies, better cars, higher callings and non-existent overbites. What if we found our joy only in Him?

Believe me, I know it is so obtuse. So abstract. So out there. So very Christian.

But what if contentment wasn't found in filling up, but instead reassigning the mold entirely?

I was reading Philippians this morning, where Paul is writing to the church at Phillipi from the oppressive walls of an early Imperial Era prison.

In stark contrast, he seems to have this contentment thing nailed even when there aren't birds chirping and blossoms budding.

"Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." - Phil. 4:11-13 (The Message)

A big part of my selfish bossypants nature wants to say-- well pin a rose on your nose, Paul. 

And in reality, he could have probably pinned an entire rose garden on his nose and deserved it. I know nothing of religious persecution. I know nothing of giving up my dreams and my goals for the case of Christ. If Paul is a prophet, then I am a spiritual pauper and I know it. 

And somewhere in there I think is the power to find contentment. I have nothing in and of myself and yet I have been given such amazing gifts. I trust God's design for my life.

And while some days it feels like I am living out my reality from the walls of a self made prison (OK, so maybe that's overreacting), but God gives me moments like these. Moments where flowers and nature seem to sing the harmony parts to the melody of life's meaning- this spring rain watering my soul and yours if we happen upon a sliver of quiet small enough to appreciate it.

Cut to: Toddler crying out for "mama"

And there the moment goes. But it was enough for me.

Here is to the next round of craziness, because I think my water just broke.

In love (and possibly labor),