Clean Slate

This year, I am going to blog more often. I like doing it. It’s cathartic for me. And others seem to enjoy my posts. I started posts so many times last year, and there they still sit… In the “drafts” section of my blog’s dashboard, unfinished and unnamed. I just couldn’t bring myself to finish anything. How do you bounce back from two blog posts about the untimely and sudden death of your mother?? How do you start over from there? Life has gone on, though, and there is so much I want to say. So that’s my goal this year- to do so. Maybe no one will read it. Maybe six people will. Whatever. I just want to write. And I’m putting it out here to keep myself accountable, and to remind myself that this is something that is important to me, and that’s enough reason to do it. So here’s to new beginnings and clean slates at the beginning of this year.
It’s good to be back in the blogosphere. I hope you’ll meet me here every once in a while :)

God in the Tent

I’ve been meaning to write this for a long time. There are some things, though, that I simply have not had the courage to think about, so writing has seemed daunting. It has been weighing on me, pressure on my chest, a load of bricks on my shoulders. I have started this post countless times. And it just sits there, unfinished. Jumbled thoughts. Incoherent phrases. I haven’t been sure exactly what to say. So I’ve decided to just start talking. I’m not going to think about how it sounds or even if it’s structurally sound or grammatically correct, so you’ll have to forgive me that. There are things that simply need to be said. They need to be known by people who care about me, my family, and my mother. Before we begin, though, let me suggest that you first read this post if you haven’t already, then come back here.

The things that you need to know are the ways in which I knew God was and is present… both for my mother and for those of us she left behind. So if you will bear with me, dear reader, I will tell you a few stories.

1) How the family found out
As you read in the previous post, I got a call from my Uncle Kimet, my mom’s brother, on Christmas morning, informing me she had been killed. At the time, I didn’t really think about how he had found out. Later on, he told me that his daughter’s boyfriend had been the paramedic to respond to the 911 call. I assumed that he had met my mom several times and called my cousin or my uncle upon seeing her and broke the news to them. After the funeral, I found out what had really happened.

Uncle Kimet’s daughter, my cousin Brooke, is dating a guy named Scott. Scott is a paramedic. He had never met my mother. Scott doesn’t work in Richmond County, where my mom died. With it being Christmas, he had volunteered, out of the goodness of his heart, to work the downtown Augusta area so that others could have the time off to be with their families. He responded to the call and because of the situation, it took him and his partners a while to get there. She and her boyfriend, Bobby, were living in a tent by the river. They lived among others in a makeshift “homeless camp” of sorts, and needless to say, they were off the beaten path. No electricity, no street lights, no address. Bobby had gone out to find a phone to call 911, and from my understanding, ran out into the road with a flashlight to wave down the ambulance. He tried. The paramedics tried. But Scott knew, upon arrival, that there was nothing that could be done for my mom. She was already gone. She had sustained two blows to the head. This particular call had affected him greatly… the sadness of the situation. Homeless, penniless, fatally injured, young… Christmas morning. Still thinking about it when he finished his shift, he and Brooke went to my Uncle Kimet and Aunt Karen’s house to celebrate Christmas, and he began to talk about this heartbreaking call he had responded to. My aunt and uncle hadn’t heard from my mom in months. They had no way to get in touch with her and they had no idea she was dead. Scott talked about the squalor he had found this woman in, and my aunt and uncle noticed some similarities to my mom’s situation. They began to talk about her, and as realization began to dawn, someone finally asked what the woman’s name from that morning had been. Denise Green. My uncle found out in that moment that his only sister was dead.

I am not one to overspiritualize things, but I do know when I see God’s hand in something. It’s a sad story. A really, really tragic story. But I am so overwhelmed with gratitude that Scott volunteered that night and that he was the one who responded to the call. What if it hadn’t been him? What if it was just some random paramedic? She had no personal items to speak of- I assume she didn’t have a list of phone numbers that she carried around from place to place. I don’t even know if she had ID. Would we ever have known what happened to her?? How long would it have taken any of her brothers or her dad or my sister or me to finally think, “I haven’t heard from her in a really long time…” and start searching for her? Would we always have wondered? Scott was able to reassure us that, despite her history with her boyfriend Bobby, and despite the injuries to her head, she had NOT been beaten up. I had been thinking about it for days, tormented by thoughts of this man beating her up, hitting her in the head, and killing her. The knowledge that she was otherwise unharmed and that, honestly, it looked like she had simply fallen and hit her head, was an immeasurable blessing. If it hadn’t been Scott, could I ever have known that? Would I always have had nightmares about this monster beating and murdering my mother??? God was gracious in His orchestrating of events that early Christmas morning. I am immensely grateful for it… and I am immensely grateful for Scott.

2) Some hope in her final days
A few weeks before my mom’s death, I got a Facebook message from an old friend. Julie and I had had a few classes together at Augusta State, and I have always been very fond of her. She’s one of those good people. Honest, compassionate- but she might not let you see that at first, straightforward, funny, genuine. I hadn’t heard from her in a while, so I was glad to see a message from her…. but quite surprised when I opened it. She had met my mom. She was working with Mercy Ministries, a homeless ministry in Augusta, and my mom was one of their clients. Her message informed me that my mom wanted me to know that she was getting her feet on the ground. Changing her life. I had heard it all before, and I told Julie so. I didn’t mean to be cynical but, honestly… She had been “turning her life around” for the past 20 years. I would believe it when I saw it actually happening. Julie informed me that, now that she knew Denise was my mother, she would do everything in her power to help her. They had talked about getting her GED (she quit school in the 9th grade) and maybe even taking classes at Augusta Tech to help her get a real job. She was going to help her get housing for abused and addicted women- which would necessarily keep her away from Bobby, who had a history of beating her up. Julie had shown her some pictures of Juliet, my mom’s only granddaughter. And she told me how her face lit up and then fell when she saw those pictures. She started to cry as she talked about how she wanted to be a good mother and grandmother- one worthy of being in her kids’ and grandkids’ lives. Julie was committed to helping her do that.

My mom died before she had a chance to realize any of those dreams. That is so, so sad to me. But I take comfort here again, knowing that God orchestrated this, too. I know my mom well enough to know that Julie is the type of person she would have loved and trusted. I know that she would have believed Julie was really going to help her. I allow myself to believe that, even as she was dying, she finally had hope. Hope that her life would turn around. Hope that she would see my sister and me again. Hope that she could be a real grandma. And hope that she could be the woman that she always wanted to be. Her death was a tragedy, no doubt about it. But what would have been even more tragic is if she had died without hope. And I believe that maybe she died with her head held just a little bit higher than before, believing that life was finally going to change for the better. I’m forever grateful to you for what you did for her, Jules.

3) Not-so-chance encounters
In planning her funeral, one thing we struggled with was the question of who would officiate. We grew up in church, and my mom had been in and out of churches since her teenage years, so we knew that there were quite a lot of preachers who knew her. The hard part, though, was that we knew that all of them had known her when things were bad. They knew her in her wild teenage years, or they knew her in good times when she was married to my dad… but that meant they also knew her when she walked away from everything good and chose a dark path for her life. Honestly, I was terrified that our only options were either someone who didn’t know her or care about her, or someone who knew her and thought she was trash. My sister Rachel and I decided that the best thing to do was ask someone who knew me… at the very least they would care about her and what had happened to her simply because they cared about me. Patrick and I, having been very involved in the church scene in Augusta for years, know lots of pastors and preachers. We could basically take our pick of any number of them. We discussed it for a while, tossed a few names around. But one name kept resounding in my head. Over and over and over again… Every time we would discuss anyone else, I just kept hearing “Jason Mitchem.” Jason and his wife April used to be Patrick’s youth pastors. They are an amazing couple who I only just started to get to know a few years ago, when we came home from our first year in Denver for winter break. I loved them instantly. I felt comfortable with them instantly. They are kind-hearted, compassionate, generous, loving, funny, warm people. Still, though, I thought it was odd that Jason’s name kept coming to me. There were certainly other, more obvious, choices. People to whom we were more directly connected. And other than one visit to his church, I had never known Jason as a preacher. But I decided just to go with my instincts. Patrick asked him and he immediately said yes. He didn’t ask my mom’s name. A few days before the funeral, Patrick, Rachel and I met Jason and April for lunch to discuss what we wanted for the funeral, and to tell him a little about our mom and our relationship with her. We told him what had happened to her and talked a little about her life. A few minutes into the conversation, he realized he didn’t know her name. When we told him it was Denise Green, he and April exchanged a look and then started to describe a woman named Denise who their church’s ministry to the homeless had encountered a year prior. They couldn’t help wondering if it was her. April said that the woman she was thinking of was warm and sweet and that she had been very special to them. She had impacted a lot of lives in their church just by virtue of who she was. She said the woman could not talk about God without crying. She said that whenever the music would start at their outdoor worship services, this woman would just begin to weep. I knew it was my mom. Jason pulled up a picture on his phone of their son Devin talking to the woman in question, and, though it was blurry, it was undoubtedly her. We were all shocked at this bizarre, unexpected connection… and, again, at the hand of God orchestrating events. April went on to tell us that they had talked with her several times and given her food, clothes and other necessities. She said that her son, Devin, in particular, had really connected with her and loved her a lot. They hadn’t seen her in a while and they had often wondered what had happened to her…
Every time I think about this, I cry. It’s yet another example of God’s goodness and faithfulness. I thought we would be stuck with a stranger speaking at her funeral… or someone who thought very little of her. Instead, we got someone who not only knew her, but loved her. Jason spoke beautifully that day. And he was able to speak as someone who had shared a little piece of life with her and who cared for her a great deal. I hadn’t let myself imagine that would be a possibility. But God knew. And a year ago, when He brought the people of Revivify Church and my mom together, He knew that this was going to happen. He knew what my fears about her funeral would be. And He already had a plan. I’m so grateful to Jason and April and their church for what they did for her. And if we hadn’t asked Jason to speak, we never would have known. We wouldn’t have known that not everyone in her life turned their backs, or looked at her with an air of superiority. We wouldn’t have known that good people, people who loved her own daughter, no less, loved her too… And even reached out with love in their hands and their eyes and told her she was worth something. We would never have known.

4) The perfect song
This last story is much smaller in significance than the previous ones. But it remains another example of God’s concern for even the small things we care about. As I’ve said, my mom’s name was Denise. But throughout her life, everyone who truly knew her called her Sissy. As I searched the internet for songs to use for the slideshow of pictures that would be played at her funeral, I was getting a little disheartened. I had no idea what type of music she liked. Most “mama” songs didn’t seem appropriate because they didn’t accurately represent my relationship with her. But as chance would have it, I stumbled upon a song by Alan Jackson, called “Sissy’s Song.” I’m not much of a country music fan, so I had never heard this song, but I decided to try it, just in case. It was perfect. It talks about a woman, “Sissy,” who died unexpectedly, far too young, leaving shocked and saddened loved ones behind… The chorus says that she flew up to heaven and walks with Jesus now, looking down on her loved ones and saying “Don’t worry about me.” It was exactly what we needed.

As I recount these stories for you, I am again overwhelmed and in awe at how God works in the lives of humans. It would be so easy to question where God was throughout her life when so many sad things happened, or where He was while she lay dying in her tent. But I know the answer to that question. God was there with her. He is here now, with those of us she left behind. He was there through every tragedy of her life, through every bad decision, in every moment of happiness, in every song that made her cry. He rescued her many, many times. I hope this doesn’t sound cruel or heartless, but I sort of think it was His grace that took her away. Life had dealt her a cruel hand. Maybe God decided that she had had enough, that He had seen her suffer enough… and that it was time for her to come home to a place where there would be no more suffering and no more tears. Maybe. That’s just a theory.

But here’s what I do know. God was in that tent.

A line that I will never forget from a song Patrick sang during the service (My Father’s World):
“Let me never forget,
that though the wrong
seems oft so strong…
God is the ruler yet.”

Thank you for reading.

 

My mom, age 19, pregnant with me, holding my sister

My mom, age 19, pregnant with me, holding my sister

For my mother

Yesterday was Christmas. Usually on Christmas morning I wake to the sounds of nieces and nephews shrieking, their feet pounding through the house, the scent of cinnamon rolls in the oven (the kind from the can- the only kind I like). This year was different. This year, I woke to a phone call from my uncle. He had left me a voicemail, his voice frantic, saying my mother, his sister, had been in an accident and that I needed to call him back. I immediately called him, thinking he was going to say she had been in a car accident and that she was in the hospital with a broken leg or a dislocated shoulder. The moment I heard his voice as he answered the phone, though, I knew. She was not in the hospital. She was dead.

The rest of the day, a mere 24 hours ago, is a blur, a fog in my memory. It was a frenzy of phone calls to and from uncles (her four brothers), my grandpa (her father) and the coroner. Informing a few close friends who I didn’t want to find out on Facebook. Opening presents and eating Christmas dinner and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for the kids. Feeling anything but normal. Being exhausted by 4 pm and wanting desperately to go to bed, but terrified of the nightmares that were sure to come. Her death is being called “suspicious,” likely a murder. I couldn’t get the image of my mother fighting for her life out of my head. Surely those images would make their way to my dreams. It was going to be on the news, everyone said. I dreaded that. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach.

The truly sad, tragic thing is that this is a phone call my sister Rachel and I have been expecting for a long, long time. My mother’s life was full of sadness and unfairness and injustice. She made a lot of terrible choices, yes, but beyond that, she was a tortured soul, a person who did not believe in her own worth. She had left my dad, my sister and me when I was five years old. Rachel was six. She was in and out (mostly out) of our lives ever since. We watched her spiral downward as she did one stupid thing after another. Some small, some life-altering. Rachel and I went from devastation at her absence to burning anger to utter indifference. In the last few years, she had made several attempts to be a part of our lives again. But we could never keep up with her. She was in and out of a bad marriage, in and out of her mother’s house, her grandmother’s house, her brother’s house. In and out, back and forth, up and down. There was no end to the instability. And through it all, she was tormented. By heartbreaking, atrocious things that had happened to her as a child. By things that she had done and could never take back. She was held captive by her guilt, shame, sadness, and she never believed she deserved freedom. Sadly, a lot of other people didn’t think she deserved it either. So she kept doing stupid things. She kept running in the opposite direction whenever anything good put itself in her path. And the path she found herself on instead held a lot of pain, a lot of rejection and a lot of heartache. A lot of shit that she did not deserve.

Most people who knew my mother judged her. A lot of them thought she was as worthless as she believed she was. But what a lot of them did not know was that she had a kind and soft heart. She had a beautiful, albeit severely wounded, soul. She loved deeply, she hurt deeply. She moved in with her grandmother and took care of her (the grandmother I was extremely close to) in the last several months of her life as she was dying. They drove each other nuts. But oh, how they loved each other. They would have done anything for one another. She loved God. She couldn’t talk about him without crying like a baby. She loved my sister and me. She made a lot of mistakes. She left us. At one time, she thought she didn’t want us. Maybe even then, she thought she didn’t deserve us. But she was immensely proud of us and she loved us more than anything. I really do believe that.

I don’t know why I’m writing this now. It just happened yesterday. I thought it would be a while before I would be able to say anything more than just giving the details to people when they ask. I don’t want this post to cause anyone anymore pain than they have already suffered. I just felt like writing. It’s a strange feeling that I feel about this. It is not the overwhelming sense of grief and loss that would be sure to follow if anything happened to my dad. It is not the sense of panic, of not knowing what to do with myself, of dreading waking up in the morning. She was too long gone from my life for that to be the response. It is more a dull ache. A total lack of energy. And sadness. Intense sadness for her, for the tragedies that seemed to come at her from every direction, for the way she lived, and for the way she died. I had always hoped that before she died, she would find some peace, that she would be able finally to have a sense of dignity and worth about herself. That good would come to her and that she would embrace it instead of running from it. That she would get to meet her only granddaughter. All I can hope now is that, in death, she found the peace that eluded her in life. And that she is finally free.

I can’t help thinking about all the times she would inundate me with phone calls over the last few years and how, more often than not, I would roll my eyes and send the call to voicemail. She tried so, so hard to win her way back into my heart and to make up for times past. But I thought it was too little, too late. Where were you when I needed a mother? I’m grown now. I don’t need you anymore. My reasons for not wanting to answer the phone were selfish. I couldn’t take that sound in her voice. The sound of trying way too hard to convince me she was okay. The sound of being absolutely anything but okay. The obsession with making me accept her. The avoidance when I asked her where she was living and who she was living with. The knowledge that, in this relationship, I was more the parental figure while she played the part of the child. I didn’t want to deal with it. And so a lot of times, I simply didn’t. Then, inevitably, she would fall off the radar again and I wouldn’t hear from her for another several months. In those times, I always wondered if she were alive or dead, and I wondered if I would ever even find out if something did happen to her. But I didn’t really believe it could happen yet. She was so young. Forty nine years old. And there are so many things I never said. I pray that she knew I loved her.

Her funeral is Saturday. I don’t know how to prepare myself for it. Maybe you can’t. Maybe there just is no preparing for this kind of thing. She will be cremated and her ashes will be sent to Germany, where they will be spread on the family plot, like we did her mother’s ashes almost six years ago. She would have wanted to be with her mother, my Granny.

I don’t mean to sound cliched and hokey. But I hope if you’ve read this, whoever you are, that you will forgive them. I hope you will squeeze them tight. I hope you will let go of your grudges. I hope you will say I love you. And I hope you will always answer the phone.

Live Your Truth

A few weeks ago, I had a dream that Juliet was playing with some other kids and was misbehaving in some way. So I said to her, “Juliet, remember when we talked about living your truth? And what is your truth? That you are a good girl and a sweet girl who knows how to share.” Or something like that. I woke up and told Patrick about it and we got quite the kick out of it, joking that it was going to be our parenting philosophy. I told some friends about it too, and now it’s an ongoing joke. Having a bad day and just want to sit on the couch and eat chocolate? Live your truth, girl. Can’t help the fact that you just really can’t stand someone? Hey, live your truth. Truth be told, though, as funny as it sounds, as crazy and let’s-all-just-love-the-earth-and-embrace-our-energy nonsensical as it sounds, it might not be totally nuts. Maybe there’s something to it. While I was trying not to be too intense about it, I did do a little thinking about what it might mean to live my truth… about what my “truth” even is. After weeks of pondering this, I still don’t have a definitive answer. But I think maybe it has something to do with who I believe myself to be, or, rather, what I KNOW about who I am, if that makes sense. Obviously, this would not apply to those moments of self-doubt or self-loathing (hey, we all have them at one point or another) or hating what I see in the mirror or thinking of myself as a failure in life or motherhood (we all have those, too! Don’t even judge). No, this “knowing” would be what’s underneath all the insecurities, fears, and negativity. The knowing that’s in my bones. Here’s what I know about who I am:

I am intensely compassionate.

I was created to sing, and to do it for God.

I am passionate about worship- my own and others’.

I want justice. Always. Not the kind that excludes mercy. The kind that brings freedom for the oppressed.

I love deeply.

Relationships are of monumental importance to me, and they are worth fighting for, even if that means conflict or awkwardness.

I love beauty. Beautiful landscapes, music, faces, sunsets, art… If it’s pretty, I like it.

I need a creative outlet. Often, it takes the form of writing or cooking, but I would love to expand it. Fear is the only thing holding me back.

I am a peacemaker.

I want everything to be okay.

I truly believe that laughter is the best medicine, and that there is no point to a day that has no laughter in it.

I am a good mother, who knows what is best for her child(ren).

Being a good friend, a true and loyal friend, is one of the most important jobs human beings have.

I have a good life.

I am blessed beyond measure.

I’m surrounded by amazing people who genuinely care about me and want the best for me.

I worry too much. It is often entirely unwarranted.

I value peace and quiet.

I have a husband that most girls dream about their whole lives… and he loves me fiercely. And I love him fiercely. We would do anything for one another.

I am utterly imperfect, and yet wholly loved by a very, very good God.

 

Obviously there is a lot more to any human being than a few items on a list. We are multi-faceted creatures with many different shades and layers. But, for me, this is at least the beginning of a good grasp on the things that make me who I am. “Living my truth” can be a lot easier if I have a clear picture in mind of what my truth is. Still, I’m not entirely sure what that looks like on a day-to-day basis. I think keeping these things in mind when I start to doubt or get discouraged or when I’m trying to make a big decision will help tremendously. I spent many, many years trying to be something that I simply was not. If you asked me my opinion on a certain matter or whether or not I liked something or what I thought I might do in a given situation, more often than not, I simply couldn’t answer. I truly did not know. I didn’t know myself, I didn’t know who I was. I was a chameleon. It always took a different form, based on whatever it was that I wanted or whoever it was that I wanted to be like at any given moment. Become this for your boyfriend. Look like that girl because she’s the prettiest. Have this sense of humor, people will like you more. Change your personality because it’s annoying. Be everything to everyone at all times. If you haven’t figured this out yet, fyi, it’s exhausting. As 30 grows closer and closer by the day, I’m honestly just too old and too tired to keep pretending to be something I’m not. It’s a struggle for me, because I place a lot (probably too much) of value in what other people think of me, and in their approval and acceptance. But as I’ve gotten older and wiser and had experiences in life and relationships, I’ve gotten stronger. I’ve become more comfortable with who I am and who I’m not, and I no longer apologize for either. I just want to live my truth, y’all. The sad reality is that living my truth (and I do hope you realize that I do know how kooky that sounds!) means that some people won’t like me. But that’s okay. The freedom to live as the person that God intentionally created, instead of the person I have tried to create for so many wrong reasons, will be worth it. And being able to teach my daughter out of my own freedom that she can be free to be who she is, and that who she is is in fact good enough, will be worth every ounce of heartache and turmoil I’ve ever encountered to get here.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on living your truth, what that might look like for you, etc. in the comments below!

The Mommy vs the Dreamer

I recently blogged about my experience thus far in loving my child, about how loving a child changes you. I got overwhelmingly positive responses from readers on that post (thank you!). But it doesn’t seem… honest, maybe?… to write that without writing this. “This” being that I feel, despite my unconditional and overwhelming love for my child, maybe just a little bit lost.

I’ve always had a guilt complex. I’m notorious for it. I’m also a born pessimist. I’ve been trying to work on that last one for the past few years, and I promise, it has gotten so much better! But those two things come together to create a fair amount of chaos in my mind sometimes. For instance, I feel like there has to be “more” to life than raising kids. And I feel incredibly guilty for feeling that way. But should I? Yes, there are so many people throughout the world who would give anything and everything to have a child of their own. Who would willingly risk it all for the chance to “just raise kids.” And there are women everywhere who feel that raising children is their purpose and calling in life. They stay at home and they kick ass doing it and they love every minute of it. And honestly, I wish I were one of those people. But I’m just not. Maybe I should embrace that fact and stop feeling bad about it. I’ve never wanted to be a lifelong stay at home mom. I never had dreams of what my kids would be like and the magical things we would do together. I always wanted the family AND _____________ (fill in the blank). Part of me thought that might end after Juliet was born, but it hasn’t. I love her. More than anything. We are in a position (thanks be to God) where I don’t HAVE to work in order for us to make it. And so I stay home and take care of her because she is so little and she needs me. But every day I feel as though I’m failing her. Because that natural-born caretaker, that desire to be a mother and nothing else for the rest of my life… it just ain’t me. And I feel that she deserves better. I also feel that I’m just not that great at this whole being a mom thing. She gets a lot of love, a lot of kisses, and a lot of milk, so there’s a part of me that thinks that’s what’s most important. But there are CONSTANT questions in my mind: “How should I do that? Should I be doing this instead? Should I get her on a stricter schedule? Am I setting her up for bad habits in the future? Should I stop putting her in the bed with us? Should I hold her more? Should I hold her less? Should I let her cry? Should I pick her up every time? Do I feed her too much? Do I feed her too little? I don’t know what to do with her all day, should I be doing this or that? Should I get her more toys? Am I making her dumb? Am I making her lazy? Should I leave her with other people so she can socialize? Should I keep her by my side every moment of every day? Should she be sleeping through the night? Can I make her do that? SHOULD I??? AM I THE WORLD’S WORST MOTHER?!?!” Needless to say, it’s pretty exhausting, and it really does not help the guilt situation.

Along with the guilt and the pessimism, I’ve always had big dreams. Dreams that I believed were given to me by God for a purpose. But it’s hard to see how those dreams could ever come to pass now. (<— pessimism) I know, though, that God has never before been thwarted by my human inability to see how things could happen. I also know that I’ve led a good life. I have had amazing experiences. I’ve lived abroad, travelled extensively, met amazing people, sang with people I had admired for years, got my master’s degree in a field that I am passionate about… And even now, despite my feeling a little lost, life is GOOD. I truly can’t complain. Still… there is always that thought tugging at the back of my mind. Will there ever be more? And if not, can I ever be fully content with things as they are? I watch other people living their dreams, or even just pursuing them, and I feel uneasy, unsteady. Can’t I do that?? There is MORE. I know it. I just don’t know where or what, or how to go about getting it.

I wish I could end this with happy thoughts or some epiphany about life’s journey. But this is it right now. More to come.

Love

My baby is now four months old (!!!!), so I figure it’s probably time to update the ol’ blog. Here’s what’s been on my mind lately…

You hear all over the place, all the time, about the love you experience as a parent. “A love like nothing you’ve ever known.” To be totally honest with you, I always thought that was a bunch of hooey. I mean, yeah, everyone loves their children and most people would do anything for them. But you love a lot of people in your life. Your parents, siblings, spouse, friends… And love is love, right? Suffice it to say, I was wrong. Loving a child really is like nothing you’ve ever known. It’s a different thing altogether. Remember the first time you fell in love? The butterflies in your stomach, the inability to think straight, the belief that all was right with the world, the constant high you were on? Yeah… it’s nothing like that. It’s not mushy or sappy and there are no insects of any kind involved. The love you have for your child is strong and bold and tenacious. It grips you in its vices and you know there is no chance it will let you go. It is a realization that a part of yourself is somehow now living and breathing outside of your body. It is joy and heartbreak intricately wrapped up together in every moment of every day. Joy because you understand the enormity of this gift you’ve been given, and heartbreak because you understand how fragile that gift is. It is almost cruel, because you know there is no possible way to shield your precious child from all the things that could go wrong. Fear takes on a whole new meaning. Things that never would have crossed your mind before now come, with full force, to bombard your brain pretty much constantly. You understand, with acute clarity, that if anything ever happens to this child- pain, sickness, injury, a broken heart, (God forbid) death- it will be your own pain, your own death. And yet, millions of parents have children who have gotten sick, had their hearts broken, died… And those parents get up every day, they continue breathing, they keep living. And that’s because being a parent gives you strength you never dreamed you could possess. It must. Otherwise, it would all be too much to bear. Maybe this is what love was meant to be all along. Maybe that other stuff isn’t really love at all.

Loving a child is a difficult thing. But it is everything.

I will admit, as I have before, that parenting is hard. Much harder than I anticipated. I have moments when I lose my patience and get frustrated, and even (*gasp*) when I miss being “free” to do whatever I want, to be selfish. But those feelings just don’t matter. Because more than any of that, there is this smile.

Her laughter. Her eyes. Her tiny hand, wrapped around my finger or clinging to my clothes or my hair when I carry her. Her voice when she talks to me when she wakes up in the morning. Her face lighting up because she just saw me or Patrick or heard our voices. So I’ll keep coming every time she cries, I’ll keep letting her sleep next to me or in my arms, I’ll keep holding her for no other reason than she wants to be held… Because she’s tiny and she needs me, and before I know it, neither of those things will be true anymore. I have a friend who just recently lost her baby a mere two hours after he was born. His name on a charm adorns her neck. He is her son. He lives in heaven, but he is her son. I saw her a few weeks ago and I saw it in her eyes. I never would have understood before having Juliet. But it just changes you. I guess that’s what all these ramblings are really trying to say. After loving a child, you cannot ever be the same.

Ebenezer

On our mantel, amongst other, typical mantel adornments, like pictures of Patrick and me at various stages in our relationship, a few greeting cards, and some pictures from Juliet’s first sonogram, sit two rocks. Ostensibly, they are quite ordinary rocks. They are not attractive or unique or special in any way. They are dull earth colors: brown and gray. If you’ve been to my house, you’ve probably either not noticed them because they are so unspectacular, or you noticed them and thought Patrick and I need some lessons in home decorating. But that’s because you don’t know what those rocks mean. You don’t know that those rocks have gotten us through desperate times. You don’t know about our ebenezer.

Ebenezer means “stone of help” in Hebrew. There are several instances in the Bible where God’s people used stones as a memorial. Even today, Jewish people use stones to memorialize their deceased loved ones. I don’t know why. Maybe because in the first record of this happening in the Bible (when the Israelites crossed over the Jordan), there wasn’t a whole lot else on hand at the moment for the purposes of setting up a memorial to God. Maybe God had them use what was available and then it just stuck. The point is, stones are in fact what they used, and they did so to remind themselves and generations to come that God had helped them. He had been faithful.

Our rocks, too, serve as a reminder of that very thing. Last fall, we were in a desperate financial position. After having spent our summers abroad and having lots of unexpected expenses as a result (including an extra two week stay in China for Patrick), we had used up most of what we had and were hanging on by a thread. We couldn’t even afford groceries. We weren’t sure what we were going to do. All we knew is that we were desperate and that we needed something good to happen, and fast. We needed a miracle. I started to believe, as I am so often guilty of in times like these, that God had abandoned us. That, yes, He had come through and provided every time before, but just maybe THIS time would be the time that He decided to push us out of the nest, so to speak. Maybe this time He would leave it up to us to figure it out for ourselves. It just seemed that His timing was pretty terrible; it was almost too late for Him to do anything.

In the midst of this crisis, I woke up one morning and opened our front door to find an envelope; two rocks served as its paperweight. Inside was money from an anonymous donor (we have our suspicions!). I looked at it and cried. It was enough for groceries. More importantly, it was enough to remind me, yet again, who I belonged to, to remind me that despite my doubts and worries and fears, yet AGAIN, God was still there, still on our side, STILL providing. I picked up the rocks and placed them on our mantel. I looked at them every day and cried every time, overwhelmed at the beautiful reminder that God was our help, and at the perfect symbolism of those stones as memorials. And after that, it seemed that Heaven suddenly opened up. Several other things happened in rapid succession… things that couldn’t be explained, things that “shouldn’t” have happened, things that, together, would ensure that we would be okay after all. God, once again, was faithful.

As it happens, we now find ourselves in a similar place, both having just graduated (read: JOBLESS). Luckily, our little Juliet costs us zero dollars (cloth diapers and breastfeeding for the win!). Still, times are tight. Desperate, even. And the difference this time is that there is no longer a guarantee of an incoming financial aid distribution or payment from school. There are no more guarantees, except for the fact that the bills will continue to come, like clockwork, every month. Times like these, it is so easy for me to forget, just like last year, that God is present, involved, and working on our behalf. It’s easy to think we won’t be okay. But the other day I looked at those rocks on the mantel and I remembered. They serve their purpose well. We decided to save them for this very reason: to look at them and remember. And I do have my moments- moments of panic, of hopelessness, of being utterly overwhelmed, thinking there is no way, NO WAY, we will make it. But for the most part, everything is okay. For the most part, I believe, I know, that great is His faithfulness. And every day, we do make it. Every day, we’re a little more okay than the day before. Those two rocks, our own personal ebenezers, keep reminding us.

If you can identify with something you’ve read here, I would strongly recommend having your own ebenezer. It doesn’t have to be a rock, just anything that will remind you whenever you look at it that God provided when you needed Him most. Put it somewhere that you will be sure to see it every day. And when you look at it, take a moment… and remember.

Juliet Analise

Photo by AD Benson-Jaja
http://www.adonyejaja.com

She is finally here. My little girl. After nine months that went by so fast but were still the longest nine months of my life. As of today she has been with us for three whole weeks… I can’t believe it. I’ve started this entry so many times but I always get a few words in and delete everything. It just never seems sufficient. I mean, what do you say about your child? How do you describe with words the little piece of perfection that was given to you to love and nurture? I have no idea. Even now, I have no idea what the rest of this post is going to say.
I guess I’ll start by talking honestly about the last three weeks. They’ve been hard. Harder than I expected. The lack of sleep plus the excruciating pain of nursing, the still-raging hormones, the physical pain labor and delivery left me in, the sometimes inexplicable and inconsolable crying (I’m talking mostly about the baby here), the perpetual state of chaos that is now my apartment, and some other personal stuff we’ve been dealing with have all come together to make it a really difficult experience thus far. But difficult can be a good thing. It can show us what we’re made of and bring us to a place where we know we can’t do it on our own- where we have nowhere to look but up and no choice but to ask for help. Difficult puts things in perspective and brings gratitude to the forefront- the place it should have been all along. And I certainly cannot complain, because we are incredibly lucky to have family and friends around us who have blessed our socks off. My parents came to visit just two days after we left the hospital with Juliet. We not only had a great time with them, but they helped us out in so many ways; we may not actually have made it without them. They also let me take naps in their hotel suite while they took care of the baby, and that, my friends, is the greatest gift you could ever give a new mother! Two days after they left, my best friend Angela came and stayed for five days. She is a super low-maintenance houseguest, the kind who doesn’t need to be entertained. She was here to help, and having that third set of hands around made such a tremendous difference for us, but put us into a state of minor panic when she left, thinking, “Crap, we actually have to figure out how to do this by ourselves now?!” We also had some amazingly lovely friends from church who brought us meals for two weeks, without which we would have been eating popcorn and canned beans every night. Maybe a granola bar here and there. SO, all that to say, despite all the “difficulty” of being first-time parents and figuring it all out, we’ve been abundantly blessed, and we are so grateful.

It’s been amazing, too, watching Patrick with her. It seems to come so naturally and so easily to him. He just loves her. He never gets frustrated or loses his patience, he just adores her 100% of the time. For me, adding a child to our life has been a huge adjustment- bigger than I ever imagined. It’s been challenging in the sense of figuring out what our life is like now that we can’t just do whatever we want whenever we want anymore. But for Patrick, she just eases right in to our family. I envy that. Maybe it’s because (for the most part) he gets to sleep for several hours at a time… Either way, his love for her inspires me… to be better, to love harder, to let go of the things that don’t matter, and to see this whole experience for what it truly is: the greatest gift God ever gives anyone.

And little Juliet Analise… The difficulty of the whole experience is really nothing compared to the beauty of this child. I am definitely not one of those moms who just always wanted to be a mom and cares about nothing else in life, or who looked at her child the moment she was born and felt indescribable bliss that lasted for the next 18 years. That’s just not me. I still have no idea what it means to be someone’s mother. I do know, though, that I will never forget the moment they placed her squirmy little body on my belly and I gathered her up in my arms. I will never forget that little face as she turned her head (she’s a strong one!) and looked at me for the first time- her mouth forming a tiny little “oh,” her pointy little chin, her deep brown eyes big and round and peering straight into mine and making me think we might just have an old soul on our hands. The innocence on that face completely crushed me; it is an image that will forever be burned in my brain and on my heart. It was like we both knew, “Hey, it’s me and you, forever.” I was hooked. And I knew that no matter what frustrations and difficulties and tears were about to come my way, I would always, always, always, with every bit of me, be in love with this child with the angel-face. And that little face continues to get me every day. When I’m up to my ears in frustration because she wants to eat literally every hour, or she won’t go to sleep at night, or I can’t get anything done because she won’t let me put her down, that little face is all it takes to make everything okay. At night, lying in bed, I just stare at her. And when she looks back at me, those big brown eyes turn in to half-moon-shaped slits and she scrunches up her chin to make the cutest little expression you have EVER seen. She’s a beauty, no question. She’s also a super mellow kid (like both her parents), and the only thing she gets excited and upset about is food (like her mommy). Also, I think she might have a flair for the dramatic (NO IDEA where she gets that from).

I suppose I’ll stop for now- Patrick took the baby to run some errands so I could take a shower and have a minute, and I have spent the entire time writing this blog instead… Showers are a rare treat these days (I’ve seriously had maybe six since she’s been born… Okay that’s probably an exaggeration of the truth… But not really. Yeah it is. JK), so I’m going to take advantage of this moment. Thanks for reading, as always, and thanks for all the support and love. We could not do this without all you wonderful people!

Ready

I’m officially ashamed of myself for not having written in over two months. Eep! Slap on the wrist for me! So I thought I should write now, since yesterday marked 37 weeks (pregnant, that is), which means I’m full-term. And for those of you who don’t know, the due date is at the 40-week mark (May 22!), but being “full-term” means the baby could now sustain herself if I were to go into labor, so the doctors would no longer stop labor at this point. Anyway, I thought I might do you all the great honor of regaling you with tales of my physical woes. Fun, huh!

In all honesty, I have been really lucky. This pregnancy has been relatively easy compared to what a lot of women go through. I did have some morning sickness in the first trimester, but it was just nausea, never vomiting, almost always went away when I ate something, and ended promptly when I started my second trimester. I’ve had to have lots of tests for lots of concerns, and everything has come back normal. I haven’t had to deal with excessive weight gain or bloating, stretch marks (knock on wood!), swelling (except for my left foot for the past two days… what the heck!), crazy skin issues, heartburn/acid reflux or other digestive issues, crazy cravings (although from day one, I just want fruit… ALL THE TIME!), insomnia, or even peeing when I sneeze- thank God. I HAVE had back pain from the extra weight I’m carrying, extra-sensitive gums (weird, I know- but common in pregnancy), difficulty breathing, ligament pain in my belly from things stretching out so much in there, the occasional leg cramp, and just general discomfort, but that’s really it. I am so very grateful, because I’m really not sure I would have been able to handle a difficult pregnancy on top of everything else life has been throwing my way. ALSO I’ve been having “warm-up” (also known as Braxton-Hicks) contractions- those are pretty crazy! Basically, the uterus is practicing for labor. For the most part they are painless, but sometimes, not so much. That’s always interesting. Every time I get one of those, I just KNOW I’m going into labor. Thankfully, I’m always wrong. Anyway, despite it having been fairly easy as pregnancies go, I am definitely ready to have possession of my body again. I can’t wait to fit into normal clothes, and to sleep on my stomach, and to be able to see past my belly button, and to actually HAVE a belly button, and just generally not to feel like a boat. But… I know I will miss it. My favorite part of being pregnant is being able to feel the baby, feel her move and kick and get comfortable in there, feel her little hiccups, feel her responding to her Daddy’s voice or going crazy when I give her sugar :). If you haven’t experienced it, I’m not sure if you can understand it, but trust me when I say there is nothing quite like having another person, YOUR little person, living and moving inside your body. It’s crazy and it’s amazing and it proves how awesome the female body is and how phenomenal human beings are and how unbelievably brilliant God is. There wasn’t a life there, and now there IS. There was no person, and now there’s a tiny, brand new one, with a heartbeat and tiny finger nails and hair and her cousin Caleb’s profile… Patrick’s ribcage (if you have seen Patrick’s ribcage, you will know what I mean by this) and long legs, and my feet that turn up at the toes. She can differentiate between our voices and respond to music (she likes it when I sing to her), she can see light and dark through the thin skin on my belly. She is a PERSON. It’s so surreal!

People keep asking me if I’m “ready.” I’m not really sure what that would even mean, but I am absolutely not ready. I have no idea what it takes to be someone’s MOTHER for Pete’s sake. That job description is no joke. But is anyone ever ready to take on such a task? We’ve got all, or at least most, of the important stuff we need to make life comfortable for us all (well, as much as possible anyway, in a little one bedroom apartment). And Patrick and I both absolutely can’t wait to meet her. But ready? That I cannot say. I know having a child will impact my life like nothing else ever could, but I have no idea what exactly that will look like. And with graduation just over a month away… I mean, it’s just a crazy, crazy time, and I have no way of preparing for or being “ready” for any of it.

That said, though, and as crazy as it sounds, I’m actually sort of looking forward to labor. And of COURSE I know it will be painful and probably a little bit, or a lot, miserable. But it will also be the most exciting day of my life, knowing I’m about to meet my baby! And I’m interested to see just how much I can handle without pain meds. The female body was created for this very thing, so technically I CAN handle it all… But it will be interesting to see where my tolerance bottoms out.

Anyway, I’ll leave it there for now. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to write again before baby arrives! Thanks for reading!!

On My Mind

With all the recent and soon-to-come changes in my life, I need things that feel like home and that reassure me I am safe and okay. At the same time, though, these changes are leaving me inspired, and wanting to find inspiration in other places. So with that in mind…

Things that are comforting me lately:
– Hot tea
I drink the stuff like it’s going out of style. (I know there are certain kinds that may be unsafe during pregnancy- I’m not drinking those:)) I’ve liked it since living in Australia, where an electric tea kettle is a staple in EVERY home. So I did a lot of tea drinking during those two years, and I hadn’t done much since. Lately, though, for whatever reason, I just can’t get enough tea! There’s something about the warmth of it after a long day that helps me find a little peace and reminds me that things really aren’t so bad. Not to mention that, with just a splash of cold water and a few dollops of honey, it tastes heavenly. Add a few toasted crumpets to that, and I am lovin’ life, all warm and cozy.

- Baths
I’ve been a shower person for the majority of my life, but lately, the idea of coming home at the end of a long and/or stressful day and lighting some candles, brewing some tea, grabbing a good book, and sitting in hot water for an hour or two appeals to me tremendously. The tension and chill of the day melt away and I have my own little cozy world. I highly recommend it.

- Cooking
This one might surprise you if you’ve know me for a while, but I promise it’s true. I am one of those who got the nesting bug after getting married. And I’m so glad I did, because I  used to be pretty hopeless in the kitchen. Now, I find it a source of comfort. I love the creativity of throwing ingredients together and having something entirely different (and hopefully edible) emerge minutes later. I get in the zone while I’m cooking, not thinking about anything besides what is in front of me or currently on the stove. And the joy of handing my husband a plate of something I’ve created and watching him love it (meaning he won’t be eating cans of frosting and chocolate chip cookies for dinner) makes it that much more special.

Things that are inspiring me lately:
-Baby kicks
I don’t know how to explain it really… except to say that I’ve never felt more alive, or more in awe, than when I feel my child moving… Realizing that there is an actual person living in there. I can’t help but be amazed at God’s workmanship and genius, and okay, the  crazy things my body can do (i.e. sustaining another human life). It’s a surreal and awe-inspiring experience to say the least.

- Friends
The older I get, the more I realize how much harder it is to make (or maintain) friends the older I get. It’s harder to take time from our busy lives and reserve it for other people. It’s harder to find things in common. I’ve had the same best friends for ages and I am becoming acutely aware of how rare that is, and of how grateful I am for it. Two of those best friends, Rebekah and Angela, spent most of their weekend in Charleston. They sent me pics (and a crazy 1 am phone call) along the way, and it was a little reminder that the three of us are not “us” unless we are all there together, that they wanted me there as much as I wished I could be there, and that moments like those are ones we’ll treasure forever. Those are the moments- the last minute road trips, the 1 am phone calls that serve no purpose but making us all laugh hysterically, the not-so-funny phone calls just to say “Everything will be okay” in the middle of the week, impromptu brunches with old friends who know you better than most, girls’ movie nights that end hours later with the movie still waiting to be watched because there was simply too much to talk about to even consider pressing play – are kinda what make life great. They are the moments that I need a whole lot more of in my life. I’m inspired by all the new people I’m meeting and fascinated by how different they all are, and how different they are from what I expect them to be, and how really, we all want the same thing. Connection. Relationships. Feeling known and understood. I’m inspired to make more of an effort with people I think I could be great friends with but don’t talk to because I think they’re uninterested or because I’m too lazy. Because finding that spark with someone is one of the most inspiring and worthwhile things you can experience.

- Love
Love is one of those obvious things, one of those that inspires most of us. Nonetheless, it makes the list, because it has been inspiring the heck out of me lately. I couldn’t have ended up with a better guy. I love him more every day, and every day he gives me reason to do so. He has taught me to love because he loves better than anyone else I’ve known. And when so many people, some close to me, some strangers to me, are getting their hearts broken, saying goodbye to someone who treated them badly, regretting that “one who got away,” I am so very grateful and, yes, inspired that I get to come home every day to someone who would do anything for me, someone whose smile makes my heart melt, someone I could never live without, someone I know I am truly lucky to have found. Love… it’s such a beautiful thing.

What is bringing you comfort or inspiring you lately?