Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Being Thankful Part 1

I thought I should take some time for the next few days to focus on being thankful and really dig into the parts of my life where I struggle to find anything worth being thankful about. So, my challenge to myself for the next three days is to think of something in my life that I am viewing as a negative right now and discover a reason to be thankful.

The first thing that comes to my mind is an ongoing family situation that has caused a lot of pain and stress over the last two months. Without going into too much detail, lets just say that it is impossible at this point in the process to be thankful for what has happened  in my family. But as I reflect back on the many visits, emails and conversations that have filled these anxious weeks I can see a bright spot if I really search for it. I am exceedingly thankful for my mother.

Growing up I always thought I was more like my father, and I have so many memories of all the effort I put into my relationship with him. Because my mom was home full-time and homeschooled us, my memories of her during my childhood are not filled with the same intensity, she was just a peaceful constant. Now since getting married, moving away and having a son I am seeing more and more of my mother in me and unlike the way it is portrayed in movies and TV, I have no dread of being like my mother.

I remember her buying me groceries on the day I moved out, driving out to be with me in the middle of the night after a tough break up, coming to check up on me when I was sick. She was the one I couldn't wait to have arrive after the birth of my son and despite the distance the separates us I know she would come at a moments notice if I needed her.

Witnessing her struggle through this difficult time in my family I have discovered a new depth to my mother. I have seen more strength of character, more stubbornness of will, more honesty, more faith and reliance on God, more unconditional love then I ever expected to find in anyone. She is not perfect and I do not know why God has chosen to grow her in such a radical way, but as I watch her wade through a dark place in life I am convicted and challenged and thankful. I am thankful that God is breaking the waves for my mother, thankful that in the midst of all this change she is the person I have always known her to be, thankful that she is broken but not destroyed. Perhaps the greatest blessing God bestowed on my family is my mother, and for that I can say "thank you."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Biological Imperative

And now the munchkin is walking.

That happened fast. Every day he is choosing to walk more and more in his uneven, precarious way as he perfects the balance of stepping while standing. Absolutely adorable and at the same time saddening for me as I watch him walk (literally and figuratively) a little more away from me.

Every time he falls I feel sure that he will give up walking at least for a little while until he is stronger and more balanced, but no matter how hard the spill he eagerly gets back up and steps again. It is incredible to watch and for me personally challenging. It looks so hard, yet he was obviously made to do it as evidenced by his determination to get it right and his excited concentration with each stride.

As I have watched him learn how to hold his head up, sit, crawl, stand and now walk I am amazed by the biological imperative that drives a baby to go from a fully dependent newborn to a willful independent toddler. Mastering these skills never seemed optional for my son. Watching him it never appears that he one day decided to walk. Instead I see him and it is almost as if from the moment he took his first breath some invisible force has been pushing him to get up and discover the limits of his body.

Do these biological imperative end after childhood? I don't think so. I can see in my own life that I am hardwired too. Everyday I feel an invisible force pushing me. In just the same way that God programmed my son to learn how to walk, I am aware of my own biological imperative to seek and yearn for a relationship with my creator. Maybe this all sounds corny, but until I had my son I don't think I had ever witnessed such a clear example of how our wiring as humans shapes our behaviors. I don't think I ever really understood that I was made to worship God.

Yes, we can choose to ignore God, or even deny him, but I think in all of us there is still that longing. It is a denial of our very being to turn away from relationship with our creator, and though that is a choice we each get to make for ourselves, that does not mean that the soul can reject it's programming and cease to feel the need for God. Needing God is not a choice, anymore then we choose to learn how to walk. It is just a part of how we are beautifully and wonderfully made.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Right Around the Corner

I discovered on Monday of this week that next Thursday is Thanksgiving. Ok, I guess I should have already been aware of that, but I think my mind had created an extra week of breathing room between me and the holiday season.

Now that I am having to face reality of the holidays being right around the corner, I have started evaluating our holiday traditions and habits. This year seems filled with more meaning for our family then past years because we are more of a family unit having the munchkin to worry about. This year to me symbolizes all the many years to come and the traditions that will imprint beautiful memories on our sons mind.

First and foremost I am eager to find ways to downplay the commercialism that is synonymous with Thanksgiving and Christmas, and find ways to focus on God and family and others, the truly important things that we have a chance to choose to remember at this time of year.

My husband and I are feeling very gift phobic this year in particular, I think because so many people want to give our son gifts. While I am so grateful and touched by the generosity and giving spirit of those around us, I also want to find a way to get away from the gift giving and emphasize more meaningful things.

So after discussing how we want to handle the gift question in our little family, my hubby and I decided that this year will be homemade gifts only. Whether this is something that becomes a family tradition only time will tell, but this year it feels right. Even as I started working on my gift for the munchkin I could already feel how much more special this gift is then anything I could have bought at the store. I am investing part of myself in this gift and every time my son plays with it I will think of the nights I spent working on it and perfecting it just for him.

I am loving homemade gifts and the attitude about the season that is being shaped by our choice to celebrate the season in ways that are more meaningful and true to what we believe this time of year is all about. I would love to hear ideas you all have about other ways to create meaning this time of year....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My List

During my quiet time this morning for some reason the thoughts that kept popping into my head were all about things that I would love to have a chance to do at some point in my lifetime. So, I decided to make a list in hopes of getting them out of my head to make space for other more pressing matters.

1. Run a marathon. Why I want to do this is hard to say. I hate to run, have never been good at it. But, for many years now I have had a desire to really challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone and take on a task that requires discipline, perseverance and courage. Ideally I would like to do this one with someone else who is also not a runner.

2. Go on a missions trip. Preferably overseas to a third world country. This one has been on my heart for a very long time. It may be very pretentious and American of me, but I truly want to see with my own eyes the need that exists in the world. I want my heart to be changed and my perspective shaken.

3. Write a book. Even a children's book, whatever. I just want to write something.

4. Visit Jerusalem.

I can't think of a 5th thing otherwise I would call this my top 5.

How about you? What's in your top 5?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Letter to My Son

So, now you are a year old. This past year has been the most amazing of my life. What a blessing it has been to watch you grow and learn and develop into this little person that makes my heart feel like bursting every single day.

From the moment I first held you in my arms I knew my life would never be the same. And it isn't. Everything has been changed, and as I am reflecting back on how the last year has molded and shaped me, my lifestyle and my relationships I don't think I would change any of it back. I feel as though I have learned and grown right along with you. Being a mom has taught me true sacrifice, selflessness, joy, and how to play again.

I remember when we first got you home from the hospital. Your dad and I looked at each other and started wishing right away that your Grandma was there to help us. It was hard work for those first few weeks and months as you seemed to be a bundle of never ending need, from nursing to sleeping to your incessant desire to constantly be in someones arms. Looking back I remember that I was frustrated at times and there were days when all I wanted was to be able to put you down for 10 minutes together so I could rest, but those feelings have been replaced by beautiful memories of long days spent on the couch together, cozy and inseparable, when I could ignore the housework and the cooking because you were a newborn and I was a new mom and that was allowed.

These days you are more and more active and energetic and I am getting a clearer picture of what your personality is like. You are so curious and at times very serious as you explore the world around you. No matter how many times you have been through the house, you still manage to find something new to discover, and I am discovering all these things with you. You have reminded me of how interesting measuring cups, pot lids, Q-tips, toilet paper, socks and coasters really are.

I worried for a long time that you were very solemn and for most of the past year your father and I have gone out of our way to coax smiles and the occasional laugh out of you. But now you have decided that smiling and laughing are your thing and you do them non-stop. I think you just had to learn more about the world before deciding there were sufficient reasons to express happiness and joy every day. Or perhaps you just had to get old enough to be able to appreciate how funny your parents truly are. Our house has never been filled with so much laughter as it is these days.

I am thankful for so many things over this past year. I am thankful that I held you all the time when you were little. I am thankful that you chose to sleep in bed with us, and that you still spend part of the night co-sleeping with me. I am thankful that I am home with you for most of the time so that I am not missing the joy of watching you grow and change every day. I am thankful for every time I chose to wear you in the sling close to my heart instead of letting you ride in a stroller or cart. Now that you are getting so big and want to be more independent, I miss it. I am thankful that I did not chose to wean you by 1 year old. You are still so little and I can't bear to lose the excuse to cuddle with you for long periods of time several times each day.  I am thankful that you are strong and healthy and fearless, and that you move and climb and yell just the way a little boy should.

This time is going so quickly and I can see clearly that you will be grown before I am ready. I am praying every day that God would watch over you as you grow and that he will lead and guide you throughout your life. There is so much that I want to teach you, but I know that you have so much to teach me too. This next year is going to be full of discovery, exploration, learning and connecting as a family. I can't wait to see what you become. Happy Birthday little one. Love, Mom.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Love Unconditional

Tonight I am feeling the weight of love burdening my spirit. I don't mean the joyful kind of love that is full of happiness, laughter, expectation and intimacy. No, that kind of love is easy. It is no burden to bear.

Tonight I am feeling the other side of what love is, what it truly means. I am confronted with the claim of unconditional love, and it is a huge burden indeed. Unconditional love at it's core is not about the ease and ecstasy of loving all the good and kind and comfortable things about another person. Unconditional love is about loving a person when it hurts you to do so.

I believe in unconditional love. I believe in it because I have felt it, I have been on the receiving end of it at many times in my life, and I recognize that my life will be one bump after another requiring the kind of love that can withstand the incredible beating that marks life on this planet. I believe in it because I know God lived it and offers it to me every day.

But now a very important person in my life is living in such a way as to call to account my claim of unconditional love. I am witnessing a depth of darkness that I did not know was possible in someone this close to me, and in the midst of this heartbreak and anguish I am learning an amazing thing about my love for the people in my life. Unconditional love is real.

I have never had to give it before. Until this season, this moment, when I said that I loved someone unconditionally I could only assume it to be true. Now I know it is possible, and my overwhelming feelings are awe and fear. I am in awe of the beauty and compassion that is unconditional love, and I am at the same time frightened because I know it is not something that I am fully capable of. It is a gift, a gift that I am so thankful for, but when I recognize it as a gift I am forced to recognize God's hand print on my life and feeling the hand of God on me creates a weight that presses deeply into me.

I feel tonight as though I am getting a small glimpse of the love that God has for me. The kind of love that is sobering and painful even as it encompasses all the wonderful things that love is known for. What an amazing and scary thing love is. It is something that cannot be fully experienced unless is challenged and dragged down to the dark places. It is something that is so far beyond my grasp. On nights like these it is a burden that is potent and heavy, that reminds me of the sacrifice God made for me and the sacrifice I am called to make for those around me that I love unconditionally.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Days of Remembering

Some days are days of remembering
when memories are ever before me
when the past I can't change is pressing into me
when the things that are done are weighing down on me
These days that I am remembering
are over and gone
yet in my mind they live on
taking life from these days that do not last long
Why am I remembering
when I should be living
so that my memories will be worth remembering some day

Monday, November 1, 2010

Gift Giving

As my little one's first birthday and the holidays are quickly approaching one thing that has been at the forefront of my mind is the issue of presents. Since the munchkin will only be one year old I have to admit that my hubby and I have not gotten him anything as of yet, and I am not sure we are going to. Right now he does not need anything, and lets be honest, he won't remember years from now whether or not we even got him a present.

But besides the age factor, I am finding myself torn about the gift idea altogether. Don't get me wrong, I am sure giving gifts to your children is a lot of fun, especially once they are old enough to really appreciate them, but I have always known that I did not want to be one of those parents that showers their child with every gift they asked for and then some. I have been to some little kids birthdays where the parents have to start taking away some of the toys that were opened first because the child is so excited about them that they don't even care to open more presents. I remember very clearly witnessing one of these parties and thinking to myself, "Wow, that kid would have been perfectly satisfied with the first gift he opened. Why does he even need eight more gifts?"

My instincts are to limit the number of gifts that are given at birthday's and Christmas. I would rather give one or two well thought out gifts then have my child surrounded by a pile of presents that will likely only hold his attention for a short time, regardless of the euphoria that situation might create for him or her. Not to mention that since the munchkin was born we have been careful about what kind of toys he plays with. We have avoided many toys that light up and make noise because we want him to play not be entertained. We have chosen toys that require him to learn and think and imagine.

So, this is a question that my hubby and I are wrestling with and will probably have to iron out as our little one grows and the pressure to get more and more presents mounts.

During a recent visit with my Grandpa he said something that has really stuck with me and made me evaluate the idea of gifts for our children. Grandpa was one of 9 children and growing up he did not have a lot of toys, but felt that having to make do with what he had built so much character in him. As we talked about his childhood and raising children he said, "I think one of the biggest challenges facing parents today is knowing that they can afford to give their children so many things yet making the conscious choice not to."

I don't want my son to have everything. I want him to know what it is like to not get what he wants all the time. I truly believe that children can learn so much more through the absence of abundance then they can with it, and that part of character formation is being able to appreciate the things you have. This is taught first and foremost by the example that my husband and I set, but secondly by the message we send on birthdays and Christmas.

Yes, we will give our son gifts, but my earnest desire is that he can grow into a man who does not require more and more things to be satisfied with his life, and that he can learn to be happy with the little that he actually needs so that his abundance can be used to bless other people.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Discovering Parenting

When I had my son I wouldn't really say I had much of an idea what my parenting philosophy was. Of course I had some things clearly spelled out in the do's and don'ts columns. For example the do column contained cloth diapers and extended breast feeding, while the don't column contained pacifiers, television, and daily intake of sweets.

But I am not sure there is truly a way to know what your parenting philosophy is until that baby is in your arms and suddenly you have to start making on-the-spot decisions about how to respond to it. That explains how we fell into co-sleeping, how my child was almost never out of someones arms until the age of 3 months, and how we quickly rejected any cry-it-out methods of sleep training. I would say being a parent is 80% reaction and about 10% intention, with the other 10% being taken up by moments of insanity.

It has taken a good year for my husband and I to really come into our own as parents, and that is not to say that we have arrived by any means. It feels as though our parenting philosophy is daily challenged and in constant flux. But, we do know in general how we want to respond to our son and what things are really important to us as molders and shapers of this future autonomous person.

As the munchkin is approaching his one year birthday it is amazing to look back and see how far we have come. Our baby has grown so much, but it feels as though I have grown even more. My relationship with my husband has been stretched and strengthened, my relationship with my friends has adapted and grown, my relationship with God has evolved in a way I never expected and I can feel that who I am at a deep level has been changed.

Becoming a parent is about so much more then how much television to let your child watch and what type of diapers you use. It is about discovering a completely new side of yourself that can be more selfless, more giving and yet full of the most unique kind of love and joy that can only be experienced through the challenges and ups and downs of parenting.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Calls for Help

This season in my life has been drenched in prayer in a way I have never experienced before. I have always struggled with prayer. I would sit down with the best intentions of spending 10 solid minutes communing with God, or I would try to pray throughout the day, on my drive to work, before I fell asleep, but always my mind would wander off without my even knowing and I would usually say "amen" in frustration.

But now I find myself in a situation far beyond my control or ability to cope, and throughout the day I am leaning more and more on prayer. Don't get me wrong, I do not pray all day nor do I have long, fruitful conversations with God. What I have found is that in this time of true need as I am struggling to rely on God as my only source of help and restoration, my heart seems to be calling out to him at times even without me consciously choosing to.

Mostly it manifests itself in little desperate calls for help that sound to me a lot like begging. I will be doing the laundry or brushing my teeth and I catch myself praying "God, please restore what is broken." or "Lord, we need you so desperately in this situation."  It may not sound like a lot, but it keeps happening throughout the day, sometimes for longer periods, and for me at least it is so much more then at any time in my past.

Even as my prayers are increasing I am also aware of mixed feelings regarding this new development in my walk with God. I feel as though I am using God. I did not pray as much as I would have liked to in the past, but now that I need something from him prayers seem to be flowing out of me full of requests and demands for intervention. There is also a part of me that does not want to pray and ask God for anything because of my fear that if this situation is not resolved to my liking that I will resent God for not having stepped in. I would rather not ask then risk being denied.

Yet, my prayers continue. It does not feel optional. I recognize my need for God during this season, and fair or not, answered or not, I do not think my heart will let me stop praying. Perhaps that is why God brings these times in our lives. To spread our hearts open to him and pour out of us all those things that we know are beyond our realm of influence and require a deep touch from God and a healthy dose of prayer.

Monday, October 25, 2010

DOING

Church has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was raised in the church, my parents were always involved in church ministry at a deep level and our weekly routine flowed around activities linked to the church.

Since moving to Chicago I have struggled with finding a church and more importantly, finding the point of attending a church regularly. Somewhere along the way in my journey I have become disillusioned with church and religion in general. Yes, I believe in God, but I am not sure how to find him amidst the rituals, rhetoric and relevance that personify organized religion to me.

At work last week, one of my patients illustrated to me a perfect example of why I am struggling with church at this time in my life. This patient was a young woman, a single mom to two small children who is in the end stages of a devastating cancer. During our visit she confessed to me that she is too sick and fatigued to make good meals for her children and feels guilty with always having frozen lasagna. I asked if there was any family to help her and she said no, she was on her own. Digging deeper I asked about any other organizations she was involved in that might be able to help her with home cooked meals.

Her response was this: "My church was sending me meals, but the lady who was in charge of it said I was too much of a burden, so I don't ask them for meals anymore."

My sadness at hearing this was matched only by my anger. Of course I know that not all churches are like that, but what this story illuminated for me is what a poor job many churches do of actually DOING anything. Right there in that congregation was a woman in desperate need of home cooked meals for her kids and her need was viewed as too much of a burden, at least to the particular woman in charge of that ministry.

My patients story reminded me of all the reasons I am frustrated with churches. I am frustrated with the huge buildings, the lavish interiors, the concert style worship services. I am frustrated with the three point messages, the color bulletins, the souped up visual effects. But, I think on a deeper level what I am really frustrated with is myself and my own inaction and lack of DOING something to meet the needs of the truly needy around me. 

I have not given up on church. I will continue to seek a church home and more to the point, seek what place I have in these less then perfect institutions that are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I can recognize that I have no right to criticize unless I am also willing to roll up my sleeves and do what needs to be done, to take on the burden of those in need and to show love to those I have an opportunity to touch, through the ministry of a church or at times in spite of it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nights Around the Fire

There is something about fire that draws people into intimacy. I know that is kind of a weird thing to write, but it is something I have experienced twice now over the last month.

Several weeks ago during a visit with my family, my siblings and I spent two long evenings gathered around a fire pit talking, laughing, crying, praying and arguing in the way only the six of us can. There was just something magical about gathering around a fire, watching the flames leap and dance while pouring our souls out to each other. Somehow the darkness that surrounded us, broken only by the fire we circled, provided a safe place to unburden myself, to be honest and open as though there was nothing else I needed to worry about except the intensity of the flames that warmed me and the company of the people I loved the most around me.

This week, after a difficult day, I suggested my hubby and I have a candle lit dinner after the munchkin was in bed. Once the house was quiet, I cooked up a quick meal, turned off all the lights in the house and we ate a cozy dinner at our dining room table with only the pale flicker of candle light. I don't know if it was the candles that I have to thank for that evening, but the conversation that flowed between us was deep and rich and exactly what we needed as a couple. We talked about our relationship, family and God, but instead of settling for the surface interactions that mark our day to day communication, we were able to really dig into each others mind and heart and find that deeper level of openness and connection that can be so elusive in our daily routine.

As I have reflected back on these moments that have been so meaningful to me, I really think, as funny as it may sound, that coming together around fire be it bonfire or candle light, creates an atmosphere of ease and intimacy that allows people to say things they might not have felt comfortable or safe enough to say in broad daylight. Around a fire with everyone's gaze directed at the flames and just enough shadow on your face to make you feel protected, you can expose your heart just a little more, you can be truthful about who you are even in the dark places and you can allow yourself to share an intimate moment with those around you in a way you might not have been able to do without the help of the flames.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Biggest Fan

I love movies, but don't really follow the life and times of movie stars. Music is not really my thing.I do watch a few select TV shows, but can't say that I have any interest in meeting the cast. Don't even get me started on politicians...

But meeting my favorite author, now that turns me into one of those crazy, obsessed "biggest fan" type people.

One of my favorite authors (Non-fiction. For fiction that would be Jane Austin hands down, I read Pride and Prejudice every year, no joke) is Shauna Niequist, and she recently released her newest book Bittersweet. Since she is based out of Chicago, I had the opportunity to go see her at one of her book release events this last week. My friend Jen is the one who introduced me to Shauna's writing, so we made a girls night out of it and traveled together.

Now I knew there would be a chance to get my book signed, so the entire car ride over I practiced what I would say to Shauna Niequist once I met her. It was pretty ridiculous I admit. My biggest fear was that I would come across as the nutty, star-struck fan that I am, so I was trying to think of how I could be "cool" and say something meaningful without coming across as insane. Oh the speeches I constructed in my head.

The event was a lot of fun and I basked in the quality time with such a close friend while also sharing the joy of hearing Shauna speak and getting a glimpse into her life that cannot quite be felt through the pages of a book. At the end we hurried to be one of the first in line for the book signing....the big moment. And then we were face to face with Shauna, this author that absolutely inspires me and challenges me with her beautifully crafted writing, her fierce love for her family and friends, and her deep, rich relationship with God.

It went something like this: I handed her my book, told her what name to put in it including the spelling, asked if she takes pictures with fans which she graciously agreed to, got to put my arm around her for a picture (oh yes, I basically hugged Shauna Niequist. Very cool.), said thank you, and all of a sudden Jen and and I were in the parking lot walking to my car. Wow.

I cannot even describe my disappointment as I buckled up and drove away. In my great concern for coming across as obsessed, I missed out on the chance to express my gratitude and admiration to someone whom I believe is truly deserving of it. I wanted to tell her how thankful I am for every sentence she wrote that was exactly what I was feeling. I wanted to tell her how many times I have chosen to slow down and appreciate a moment in time because her words reminded me of all the good things I am blessed with and how important it is to soak in every minute of it. I wanted to tell her about the other beautiful women in my life who have been touched by her books and have taken steps to change things in their lives because her wisdom and honesty challenged them.

But, I said nothing. Now of course I recognize that there was not time to gush all of this to her, and I am sure she hears very similar things from other fans everyday, but I really would have liked to add my voice to the chorus.

So, I guess I learned something new about myself that night, and if I could do it again I would not let my fear of making a fool out of myself leave me instead full of regret that I did not take the opportunity to make a fool out of myself and be the huge fan that I am. Like Shauna's books have taught me, savor each moment and take every opportunity you have to touch the lives of those around you. Don't be afraid to be the biggest fan.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

All These Things

Beauty and riches
long life and happiness
Family and friendships
Time and patience
Inner peace and kindness
grace and compassion
Ease and contentment
healing and restoration
Wisdom and understanding
a heart of love and mercy
Talent and motivation
discipline and humility
But of all these things, what I want more, so much more then anything
Is to know you

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Blogging Grace

I have blog envy.

Since I have started blogging I have also started reading more blogs (including some blogs that are supposed to teach you how to be a better blogger) and I will admit that on some days I kind of hate my blog. The very best blogs that I have found are well written, focused on a specific topic or niche and are spearheaded by a very interesting blogger who usually has unique characteristics that define his or her life.

At this point my blog has none of those things. I don't mean to say that in a woe is me kind of way, it is just a simple observation that my writing is rusty, my topics are all over the place, and if I'm being honest, there is nothing that unique about my life these days (not that I'm complaining, I love my simple, beautiful, ordinary life).

So, some days I hate my blog, and on those days I am forced to search my thoughts and feelings for the reason why. Why does it matter to me how popular, read, or followed my blog is? Why am I blogging in the first place?

I started blogging because I wanted to write. Period. No agenda, no niche or clear cut topic, no platform. I guess what I am finding is that, yes it is great that I want to write and I am doing that, but it naturally follows that I want to be read too. Hence the blog envy when I visit some of my favorite blogs and see the followers in the thousands.

My good friend recently told me something to this effect, "You have to be able to give yourself grace."

I am not good at that in any area of my life really, from the cleanliness of my house to my exercise habits, I like to have it all put together and can be very hard on myself when things do not stack up. But as I deal with my blog envy the concept of grace is where I am putting my efforts. I am trying to give myself grace to have a very new blog that is still discovering itself, grace that I have not yet decided where I want to go with my writing, grace that I am still exploring the things in my life that I am passionate about and that fuel my writing.

My instincts and personality tell me that I want to have it all now, I want to have arrived, but I know there is a long road of discovery that I still have to travel as I decide what this blog is all about and what I am all about. I don't have to have everything all figured out right now, though wouldn't that be nice. I just have to have grace for myself as I am writing and blogging, learning and growing, finding my passion, my niche and maybe a little bit of myself along the way.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sick Days

Mothers do not get sick days.

I realized this many months ago when my little one got his first illness and I of course caught it too. He was sick, I was more sick, and it was a struggle to get through those few days when all I wanted to do was take a long, long, loooong bath and curl up in bed for several hours of sleep. I had only been a mother for two months at that time, but I learned an important lesson about being sick in this new context of my life: there are no sick days.

Today the munchkin and I are both sick again, and I do not have any words of wisdom about how to cope with a coughing, snotty, sleepless infant when you yourself have the body aches, sinus headache, chills and congestion. There is no easy answer. I wish there was someone who could step in just for a few hours so I could get the rest I need, but that is not the reality of this moment. Today is one of those inevitable days in mothering when I have to grin and bear it.

But it is not all gloomy, and I will take a break from my pity party for a minute to appreciate the beauty of today. For a few brief moments this morning the munchkin and I shared a deep belly laugh as we played with the cat, when we both woke up bright and early we laid in bed together for a few extras minutes snuggling, and before he left for work my hubby gave me some much needed support and sympathy.

Mothering as a full-time job comes with a completely different set of benefits then all my prior jobs. There are no sick days, no lunch breaks, no holidays and I am beginning to have a sneaking suspicion there are no vacation days either. Instead I am paid in smiles, giggles, arms outstretched to be held, the joy of the word mama, and the trusting clasp of a baby hand. Quite a different currency, but when I really think about it, it is enough to get me through these long days of feeling ill and tired.


I would love to hear from you! How do you handle sick days with a little baby?

(This blog is part of the mom's 30 minute blog challenge hosted by Steadymom)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Journey

I am discovering that the absolute best part about being the second oldest of six children is the opportunity to watch my younger siblings grow up. To a large extent I had a hand in raising them. When they were young I changed their diapers, helped with laundry, fed them, played with them (when mom made me), babysat them, and had the chance to teach them many things. Of course their was fighting and power struggles, disagreements and all out battles, there was a time in my teenage years when my younger siblings admit they hated me, but through it all seeing the beautiful people they have become makes me so thankful.

In this difficult season in life I have been grateful for the strength I am finding in my siblings. I am especially impressed by my sister Stephanie who is two below me. Growing up we were anything but friendly, and I used to pick on her mercilessly for no apparent reason, but now as she has entered her 20's I am continually amazed by the beautiful young woman she has become. Her ability to trust and befriend people inspires me, her artistic flair baffles and amazes me, and her faith in God challenges me each time we speak. She is a beautiful spirit in the truest sense of the phrase.

It amuses me to think back to our younger years and how my poor middle sister was always the one forgotten. When we were introduced to others or people outside the family interacted with us, she was the one who's name people couldn't remember, or they were so sure there was one more kid in our family, but couldn't put their finger on who they were missing. No one would do that now. Stephanie has blossomed into a stunning young lady, and her engaging personality makes her unforgettable.

All this to say that she has started a blog of her own and I am so excited to get this window into her mind and continue to watch her journey into womanhood.

www.stephanie-journeys.blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Crisis

Crisis comes. It is a fact of life. Our lives are full of seasons, and when we are in the midst of a season it is hard to imagine life being any other way. My past few years have been a season of relative ease and happiness, but this week has marked a new season in my life, and I see that this will be a season of change, heartache and growth.

Today I am focusing on being thankful for what is good and intact in my life; my husband, my son, my amazing group of friends that rally around me, my family. Last week in the midst of a crisis I traveled to be with my family, four sisters, one brother and my parents. It was a busy, noisy, crazy few days full of tears and laughter, hope and brokenness sometimes all at once. There were meals together at crowded tables, conversations by the campfire that alternated from supportive to combative, endless trips back and forth between houses and restaurants, and at the end of the weekend I found myself tired and emotionally exhausted. But, as I traveled home I recognized the healing that can take place just by spending time with the people you love, who love you for who you are even though they know all the messy things about you.

Yes, crisis comes, but that does not mean that life is destroyed or that hope is lost. My husband is a daily reminder of how I am blessed, my son smiles at me and I feel hope again, my sister calls me and I am overwhelmed by the strength of our bond through difficult times. And above all I am learning to trust God. In the most challenging, heartbreaking way, I am reminded of the only thing I can place my hope on that will never fail, whatever crisis may come.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Co-sleeping

Last night was a momentous milestone in our small household: my baby, who has never slept for more then a few hours without me beside him, spent half the night in his own crib, in his own room. While it was on one hand a nice treat to have some unhindered sleeping time, I am still not sure whether to celebrate or mourn. I think the occasion calls for both.

When my little one was born I had no intention of having him sleep in our bed. Quite the opposite in fact, I had a nice little co-sleeper purchased on a bargain off Craigslist for him and it was set up within a few hours of bringing him home from the hospital. I can still picture clearly the moment when Matt and I laid our newborn in his tiny little bed and stared adoringly down at him sleeping peacefully....for all of 20 seconds. He informed us right away that he had no intention of sleeping all by himself in his separate compartment when even a 2 day old knows it is way more snug and cozy to sleep curled up next to mommy and her warm milk. We had a lot to learn as new parents.

The first thing I learned was that having my baby in bed with me was one of the most beautiful and natural arrangements for us as a mommy and baby pair. Everyone got more sleep, the bonding experience of shared sleep is beyond description, and I got to satisfy my new mother paranoia at a moments notice by gently checking the sleeping form beside me. Some of my most cherished motherhood moments have come from those quiet moments in bed with my little one, sleeping curled between my two boys, or waking up to a sweet baby smile nestled against me.

As the baby has grown, however, the shared sleep set-up has resulted in less sleep for everyone. Instead of gradually decreasing his night waking as he got bigger, my little one went the opposite direction and began waking up more frequently, to nurse and receive comfort from mom. Many a gentle attempt was made to encourage him to sleep longer and nurse less at night, but the habit has persisted and my husband and I reached the point of needing to take bigger steps as the fatigue accumulated from almost 11 months of interrupted sleep became overwhelming.

Through a complex 4 phase process which required a lot of trial and error to perfect, we have succeeded (at least for these two nights) in moving him into his crib for naps and to start out the night. As Matt and I went to bed last night alone in our own room for the first time in almost a year, all I could think about was my baby sleeping alone (and of course in my mind he was cold and frightened) and how many things change as your child grows.

For now I am happy to continue to welcome the baby into my bed in the middle of the night when he wakes, though I know as time passes that will be less and less. As I reflect back on our months of co-sleeping I am so thankful that my baby forced co-sleeping on us, and more thankful for the support of my husband to go along with it, even at times when he felt crowded in so many other areas of his life as well. I wouldn't trade those nights for anything.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of motherhood that I am learning is that nothing stays the same forever, and those things about being a mom that are sometimes inconvenient and seem so difficult, are also those things that form my most treasured memories and make mommyhood the most amazing journey of my life. Tonight I mourn the loss, celebrate the sleep and look forward to the wonderful years of motherhood ahead that will be full of so many moments of celebration mixed with just a tinge of mourning.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wholeness

Broken
by the great healer
Broken
for what purpose I cannot tell
from where I stand
but when I land it will be broken
Perhaps that's how you want me
easier to mold
so many pieces from which to choose
How will you use me
when I am broken?
Faith and trust must be enough
for the brokenness
to be the wholeness you were seeking
I must come apart
so I will not be apart from you
Broken
by the great healer
Broken

I wrote this poem for several people in my life who are experiencing difficult times. Brokenness seems to be a theme in this season.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Act

I have never been one of those people who believed in living a balanced life. In fact I truly believe that my life at it's best is unbalanced and that the thing that inspire me should be what gets the biggest share of my time and attention. In the years leading up to the birth of my son, my entire life was focused on my husband in the most unbalanced way possible. I did two things; worked hard at my job and then came home and poured my time, energy and passion into our marriage. I am so grateful for those years.

But now I find myself working outside the home two days a week, spending every other second mothering my little one, struggling to squeeze in time for God and my marriage while also yearning to engage in the pursuits that I am passionate about and that feed the part of me that is just me.  This equation has resulted in frustration as well as a tendency to never really be engaged in what I am doing because all the while I am thinking about the other things that I need or want to get done. I recognized this week that I am searching for balance, a balance that I don't even believe in and have never cared to have before.

Prior to the arrival of the baby, being unbalanced was ok because I got to choose how I wanted to unbalance my life. But now, that choice is no longer mine. Everything in my life has become skewed towards the baby. I give the best part of my time, energy, love and attention to my munchkin, and so I find myself in a situation where I suddenly want to tip the scales back in the direction I want them to go, to have some control over what my existence looks like and to rescue some of my time and energy for those things I loved long before my days were turned upside down.

Having the desire to re-balance my life has been a positive thing, causing me to take a critical look at the flow of my days and what is indispensable to me outside of the hours I give to raising my child. I have carved out a small amount of time alone for myself, and my husband and I have set aside a few nights a week to be a couple again and to laugh and connect the way we used to in our unbalanced years. While I have no illusions that doing these things has tipped the scale in my favor, I acknowledge how much easier it is to give when there is also time to hold onto a part of myself too.

At the end of the day, I absolutely do want my life to be unbalanced. I do want my son to monopolize me for this season, which I know will pass so very quickly, leaving me with too much time on my empty hands. So for now I give my time and attention to him, while in the same breath I am learning to be mindful to preserve those things that are also of value, those things that make up who I am outside of motherhood, and which I will need once I can again unbalance my life in whatever way I choose.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

30 Minutes

I just recently discovered my new favorite blog by Jamie at Steady Mom. One of the many cool things she does is host a Mom's 30 minute blog challenge each Tuesday. I thought it would be fun to join in, so here goes...

I felt like a 30 minute post would be very appropriate for me since I had the good fortune to give birth to a 30 minute napper. Ever since my munchkin was 2 months old, he has persisted in taking abbriviated naps of 30 minutes exactly. I could set a clock by him, 30 minutes on the dot from the time he was put to sleep he would pop awake and cry for my attention.

As a mom-to-be I had had this vision in my head of holding my new baby, nursing him, and quietly putting him down for a two hour long nap while I took the time for myself to read, exercise, clean or do anything my heart desired. I have distinct memories of reassuring my husband when he worried about us not having time together after the baby was born, that babies take naps and we would have plenty of time on the weekends while our little one slept peacefully.

Needless to say, my bundle of joy's propensity for painfully short cat naps came as quite a shock.

Initially I tried everything to make him sleep longer (though I refused to let him cry). I would sneak in at 29 minutes and stand ready to pop him on to nurse the minute he stirred in hopes he would drift back to sleep, I darkened the room, ran loud fans, played soothing music, let him nap in a swing, and once I even tried the poke-the-baby-after-20-minutes-until-he-stirs-and-then-settles-in-for-a-long-nap trick (which was a huge disaster, believe me).

Unfortunately I found that the only result of my efforts was increased frustration on my part after every failed attempt.

After many exhausting days and much reading and researching I finally came to the conclusion that it was out of my hands. So, I backed off. Now, I wish I could say that because I learned my lesson my baby magically started sleeping longer, but that was not the case. What did happen is that when I set my expectation at the 30 minute mark and let go of trying to control his nap times, my level of stress and frustration starting inching down. I found that I could find a measure of peace in 30 minutes, I learned to decide ahead of time what was most important during that time and stick with it, and I learned that I could be satisfied with just 30 minutes of me time if that was all I had.

Now that my munchkin is 10 months old he does take longer naps on many days, it is something that he has grown into in his own time (and I like to think that my gentle nudging helped, but it's quite possible that I had nothing to do with it). Still, for as many times as he naps for an hour and a half, he just as often sticks to his 30 minute special, and I am reminded on a regular basis that many aspects of mothering are out of my control and some days the best I can do is ignore the laundry, dishes, cleaning and that book that is calling to me and focus instead on what my child truly needs; love, hugs, kisses, and time with his mommy, not necessarily a 31+ minute nap.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Little Eyes

There is nothing more incredible
then to watch those little hands
those little feet
that little mind
twist and turn
grow and learn
Every day is a new adventure
each minute filled with life and joy
love and laughter
when seen through those little eyes
that little soul
that little heart
the world is so much bigger then I ever imagined

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Open Doors

I have been searching for a sense of home for a long time now. After my husband and I got married 6 years ago we moved to big city Chicago several hours from where our parents lived in small town USA. Since our move up here we have lived in two different apartments and one house and none of these places has ever felt like home to me. Whether because we have always rented and never owned, or because I haven't lived in a room with anything but white walls for many years now, or the fact that all our family lives other places, I have always struggled to find that sense of belonging in Chicago.

I always thought the reason I did not feel connected to Chicago was because my family was not here with me. Over the years plans to move closer to family have come and gone, with each attempt fizzling out for a myriad of reasons that always leave me wondering "what are we still doing here?" I often feel as though the universe is playing some kind of joke on me because every time we resolve to make the move, we somehow become more entrenched in Chicago, this place that we try so desperately to leave.

Most recently I have begun to have this sneaking suspicion that Chicago is our home at least for now whether I like it or not, so I have made efforts to create an atmosphere of "hominess." I tried redecorating, I talked and talked about painting at least one wall, we have had numerous conversations about actually buying a house, and I have used all the mental imagery possible to imagine a life settled here. Meanwhile, in the midst of my valiant efforts to trick myself into feeling at home, something else happened, gradually and without any intention on my part. Our friends invaded our home.

Matt and I have never been very big on having people over or hosting pretty much anything. I would definitely call myself an anxious host, who stresses over every small detail and spends every gathering wondering if everyone is having a good time, getting enough to eat, is there enough light for everyone to see, and on and on to insanity. However, since the munchkin was born we began hosting our weekly small group, and what started out as a convenient set up turned out to be something much more. While initially I was so timid and awkward when having people over, it seems the more often I open the doors to my home the more often I want to.

I think hospitality might be contagious, not necessarily to other people, but definitely to yourself, kind of like that cold you keep getting over and over, all winter long. Opening the doors to your home opens up a part of yourself too, and that is at first scary and vulnerable and intimidating, but the more you choose to open your door, the wider open you yourself become, and I have found as I become more open that I have connected with others in ways I never expected. I love that my friends don't knock when they come to our house, that they know which cabinet my glasses are in and they help themselves, that our living room has been the scene of so many meaningful conversations that have challenged and stretched me.

While I still hope that someday soon we will find ourselves living in a place surrounded by our family, for now I am learning to be content with the surrogate family God has blessed us with here. And with each gathering of our friends I am finding that our house, which we do not own and which will likely be white walled to the day we leave, has become a home, not because of the things I have done to it, but instead because of the people I have welcomed into it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Best Advice...

I attended a baby shower recently for a dear family member. It was one of my first baby showers since becoming a mom myself and it brought back a flood of memories of my pregnancy and the early days of motherhood. The excitement and anticipation nearing the end of the pregnancy, the surprise and anxiety on the day my water broke, the struggles and overwhelming love surrounding the first days with my baby. Though I restrain myself from saying this to everyone I know who does not have kids, I now understand why many parents are so eager to encourage others to have children of their own. There is really nothing else like it.

On the beautifully arranged, bunny themed tables at this shower there were large white index cards on which all the guest were asked to write motherly wisdom or words of advice for the mom-to-be. I must have stared at that card for a good 15 minutes. I, as a new mom should have so much advice fresh in my mind to pass along, but instead I stared at that card and tried to think of a nice way to say "ignore all the advice you get on these cards."

From the time my belly first began to show (in the obvious pregnant way, and not the way where I just looked like I had hit the dessert table too hard) the advice came pouring in. Of course all the wonderful people who showered me with their hard earned wisdom were motivated by a sincere desire to make my transition into motherhood as easy as possible, which I have a great appreciation for. But, what I found once I was holding my bundle of joy was that all the advice I had been given that sounded so reasonable in theory did not work in the least for my baby, nor did it fit me as a mom.

Mothering is not simple, and each baby is so different, a fact I have come to know well, but as a new mom, all I knew was that for some reason I did not fit the accepted pattern of advice that I was given. Somehow I was deficient, or my baby was abnormal. I held my baby all the time, slept with him in my bed, refused to let him cry himself to sleep even though it meant getting up several times a night (to this day...), nursed him as much and as often as he wanted, and never napped when he did, all in direct contradiction to everyone's eagerly offered opinion.

There are of course some wrong ways to be a mom, but there are many, many right ways as well, and broad parenting advice ignores the uniqueness of each mommy-baby pair. In looking back on my first few months as a mother I wish I had had enough confidence in my instincts to let others advice roll right off of me, instead of letting it make me feel insecure and conflicted about what I thought was best for my baby. Advice has it's place in parenting, but for me the best advice has come when it was asked for, and at times sought out in desperation.

At the baby shower I thought long and hard about what to say and finally wrote, "you can only be a mother to the baby you have." I hope that statement can be empowering for this mom-to-be and helps her to realize that she doesn't have to do things "by the book," that she is free to improvise and respond to her baby in a way that feels right, and that all the advice in the world can never take the place of motherly instincts. Perhaps 20 years from now when my baby is grown I may be eager to share my wisdom with new moms, but for now as a new mom I hope that instead of advice I can offer friendship, instead of books on mothering I can offer a listening ear, and instead of formulas for sleeping I can offer my own two hands to help out when mothering gets overwhelming, as it does even for those of us who are given the best advice.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hero

To be a mom
is to be a hero, but to also be in need of help
to be a mom
is to be overwhelmed with feeling beyond what you have ever felt
to be a mom
is to be sleepless, you are giving day and night
to be a mom
is to be patient, very little seems to ever go right
to be a mom
is about sacrifice, but it is also about all you gain
to be a mom
is about laughter, and learning to play again
to be a mom
is to be completed though you did not know you were not whole
to be a mom
is an adventure that does not conform to what you've been told
to be a mom
is to know you'd do anything to protect your little one from harm
to be a mom
is to grow in beauty from the day you hold your baby in your arms
to be a mom
is to hold those little hands when your child takes their very first step
to be a mom
is to watch your baby grow and begin to wish to turn time back

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Woven

     You know those moments in life when you are stopped in your tracks and forced to acknowledge your life's connection to someone else? I had one of those moments while doing laundry. This may sound silly, but I was reminded of doing an almost identical load of laundry about 1 year ago, when I was nearing the end of my pregnancy and preparing the nursery for our little one. It was so exciting to do that first load of baby items, and to fold each outfit while dreaming of the tiny body that would fill it, wear it out, grow in it and then grow right out of it. So many of the items had people attached to them. People who had generously gifted tiny onsies, or teddy bear hats, or duck towels. In particular I remember folding up a Winnie the Pooh blanket that one of my patients had given me.
     This patient was someone I had known for a very long time, since the beginning of her cancer journey.  Her type of cancer was aggressive and difficult to treat. We visited every time she came for treatments even though she had no nutritional problems and was handling the chemo like a champ. We would talk briefly about how she was doing with her cancer and then the rest of our time would be spent discussing her job, her kids, her husband and her life in general. She just liked to connect with me on a personal level, a fact which I respected given the uncertainty of her situation and the distance she traveled, usually alone, to receive treatments.
     When I became pregnant she was overjoyed for me. We spent lots of time talking about the baby and my preparations, how I was feeling and coping. She shared stories with me from her own pregnancies and offered friendly advice and wisdom. A few weeks prior to my delivery she came for her treatment bearing gifts for my little one: two Winnie the Pooh Blankets and some hooded baby towels. I was touched, mostly by the obvious joy giving the gift brought to her.
     When I returned from maternity leave, my schedule was shortened and our paths did not cross for several months. My co-workers informed me that she continued to ask about me at every visit and they shared baby pictures with her, which she was thrilled with. About 2 months ago, her file came across my desk and I had this feeling that I should call her to say hi, but it was a busy day and I put if off for the next week. Three days later she passed away.
      Yesterday I pulled one of the Winnie the Pooh blankets out of the dryer as I have done countless times before, but for some reason this day was different, and the sight of the blanket filled me with memories and sorrow for this beautiful woman that was so eager to give, and with whom I did not get to speak one last time. I would have told her how blessed I am at having had her in my life, how brave she was for fighting as hard as she could, how I will tell my little one about her when I snuggle him into the blanket and hug him as close as I can. Every time I see that blanket I think of her and I am reminded of all the beautiful ways in which I am connected to those around me, like an intricate web that is woven throughout my life. I am reminded to always say the important things, the big things, the little things, to those I care about and to never wait for a time when life is less busy to appreciate all that I am blessed with.
Annette, I am happy to have called you friend. You are missed.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Seashells and Alzheimers

This weekend was family reunion weekend for my mom's side of the family. For as long as I can remember, Labor Day weekend has involved a trip to a pictueresque clubhouse situated on a rivershore to have lunch and visit with a large group of extended family. Growing up it was as close as I ever came to a beach. Families with six children do not vacation much. But, on Labor Day Sunday we would all travel up to the reunion and after the meal was over, I would escape with my siblings and scoure the shoreline for seashells, dreaming of what a real beach must be like. The shells I would find would be small and stinky, but plentiful. No matter how many years I went it was always the highlight of the day to spend hours searching and filling a cup with tiny shells that would smell up the entire car for the ride home.
For several years now I have not been back to the family reunion. Once I entered college I could not see the sense of wasting a precious three day weekend traveling to see a bunch of family that I did not know well, and at my age searching for seashells was no longer a motivating factor. I was content to drift away from the family gathering for a time. This year was different.
My Grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimers a few months ago. When my mom called to tell me the news I felt a weight drop in my stomach. It has been awhile now since I spent much time with Grandpa, but during my childhood he was a very influential figure for me. He is a man that is unfailingly kind to everyone. His relationship with God is woven so seemlessly into his life that it overflows into every conversation and every action, not in an obnoxious "church" kind of way, but in an honest, simple way that is clearly a part of who he is at the deepest level. It has always amazed me how he could say "God bless" instead of goodbye, and never come across as holier then thou. When he says it, I know he truely is praying for God's blessing in my life. Grandpa has always been the ultimate example to me of what a relationship with God can look like.
Dealing with his diagnosis is difficult and it immediatly forced me to confront myself and my failure as a Granddaughter. I have been too busy living my life to invest my time and energy into my relationship with my Grandpa. And now I know my time is limited. He is in the early stages and likely has many more years with us, but even that does not seem like enough. I do not like for him to have an expiration date.
So this weekend was a particularly special family reunion as many of our family that has missed in more recent years made an effort to attend. We all know how important the reunion has always been to Grandpa, and each of us wanted to honor him by being there. We spent time together, laughed together and reminesced about old times. I felt like I spent the entire weekend trying to drink in every moment with my Grandpa. I would sit with him taking mental pictures and trying to imprint his voice and his wisdom in my mind.
Down at the shoreline I watched my niece and nephew gather shells as though they were candy, and I was reminded of all the years when I had done the same. All the times I had come to the family reunion, all the seashells I had gathered, all the years I have had with my Grandpa. I do not own a single one of those shells anymore, but my heart is filled with memories of time spent with Grandpa, and those do not have an expiration date.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The First...

My heart returns to writing
waiting for words to come
create meaning from what's jumbled
straighten out or end undone
Seek the spark that breathes into me
find what's humble in my pride
earn good standing from a beggar
come full circle in my life