Gwillis – or Virginia Eowyn Louise

March 27, 2015

This time it took us about 8 weeks to come up with a “creature name” for our newest member. If you remember, Wyatt is more commonly called “Sproot” and for a very long time Gilead’s only named name was “Piggle”. Henry has a fascination obsession with words and how they sound, so what was once an accident or a passtime has become an object of real consternation: finding a “creature name.”
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{Here she is a coule of weeks ago. I just can’t get over how beautiful she is!}

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{Here are the boys at roughly the same age, for comparison. She looks like a Shuffle, doesn’t she?}

We started calling her “Gwil” – or something like that – in imitation of Wyatt who has to be schooled in proper pronouns every time he refers to her. (My favorite was Wyatt, during a diaper-change he was observing, remarking to Henry: “He has a seashell. He has a seashell on his penis.” We are not used to girls around here. So we tell him, “she’s a girl” and he says, “Oh. She’s a gwil.”) But we couldn’t think of something unique that would stick though we were trying every day for weeks. Eventually, Henry said it to me and I laughed and it stuck. Our daughter’s nickname is Gwillis. I call her Gwillies.

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She is actually named after some righteous women, though. In both senses of the word. Virginia was Henry’s Grandma Shuffle’s middle name. He never met her. She died of lung cancer the year before he was born. His grandfather – with whom he had a special relationship and who died two years ago at the age of 103 – called her “Jin” or “Jinny.” The first Thanksgiving I spent at his house when we were dating, he handed me a wedding picture of theirs straight out of the photo album because I said I wanted to copy one. The man was known for being hospitable and generous, but what I hear of Jinny from Henry’s dad and uncles was that she was home. It’s something I feel passionate about because I think it’s disappearing. In fact, all of my children have names that reflect our feelings about home and that will hopefully remind us, and them, to be brave. All three of her names are reminders to us of real, and fictional, brave women: Ginny (Harry Potter. Because it wouldn’t be a Shuffle name if it wasn’t somehow derived from nerdy literature), Eowyn (Tolkien) and Louise, which means warrior. Funnily enough, there are two family names we’ve used that have stood for multiple grandparents. Wyatt’s “Robert” is after both of my grandfathers. Louise was both my Grandma Swank’s and Henry’s Grandma Zaffke’s middle names. I eulogized (is that a word?) at my Grandma’s funeral that she was a mighty woman. She did everything. And she taught me to sew. I miss her all the time. I wish she’d been able to meet this one.

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A Glimpse of Heaven From My Bed

February 17, 2015

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I think this may have been the day after we got home from the hospital. It’s a blur, but I can tell from how she fits into these preemie size pajamas (she doesn’t fit anymore) that it was early on. When we left the hospital, Ginny weighed 4 lbs. 3 oz. She now weighs north of 6.5 lbs. In under three weeks! In the words of my doula: “you have cream.”

I sat here for a minute trying to come up with the one impression to sum up my birth experience with Ginny and the feeling that stands out – stronger than the fear and pain and stress that preceded it all – is that of profound rest when I finally sank into my bed in my new home. My mom and one of my best friends, Megan, were in the house caring for my sons and making a delicious dinner. There were flowers and tiny gold baby shoes waiting for me on my table and I got to hold my daughter and just sleep with her in my arms for the first time since she’d been born. I know so many people have to wait so much longer for this moment (like another client of my doula’s who had also been planning a home birth, went unexpectedly pre-eclamptic and was induced two days later. Her son had heart surgery this past week, so she still hasn’t gotten to hold him in the comfort of her home. My heart goes out to her every day.) but it’s the first time I haven’t gotten to immediately hold and cuddle and sleep with one of my babies. I had the thought before I crashed into sleep that this, undoubtedly, was a bit of how heaven would feel: the feeling of having fled from terror and pain into the embrace of perfect peace and rest.

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Aside from that I’ve been trying to decide what’s worth telling. This morning I have to confess that I’ve gotten angry with my kids several times because of various thing preventing me from writing this post. It seems like such a small thing to want to do. I keep thinking surely it’s not selfish to want to write this post. But my babies need me and staring at a screen doesn’t count as being present. Right now they are watching PBS kids so we can all calm down but I just can’t keep parenting this way, so this may be my last post for a long time. I wish I could write all of the things in my head about television and attachment and bonding and joy and parenting but I think I’m not mean to write right now while I’m in the trenches. Perhaps, even, what I write right now doesn’t even have much significance! 🙂

Anyway…the birth was very different from my other two. I was prepared to be in labor for much longer because it was an induction. From the time I knew it would be an induction I was also prepared to accept an epidural if I needed one and was trying to be prepared for the possibility of a c-section. It all ended up going about as well as could be expected while spiraling down from health to a dangerous end of my pregnancy. I went, in 16 or 17 days, from thinking I was in a perfectly normal and healthy pregnancy and expecting to give birth at home to having a preemie in the hospital. The steps in between are hardly relevant anymore. There were a lot of doctor visits and many tests and tears. I was very afraid, when it came to the day before I would be induced. That afternoon I put my boys down for their naps thinking there was at least a chance we’d never see each other again in this life. I knew I probably would be fine, but I couldn’t help trying to leave them with a sweet memory in case this was goodbye.

I ended up going to the ER the night before my scheduled induction because my BP skyrocketed and I was feeling even worse than I had been. It turns out I’d gotten the stomach bug Wyatt had that morning. He’d thrown up on me before I left the house to go have my long ultrasound. They gave me a dose of Cervidil at 10:30 p.m. and it felt a lot like the gradual beginning of natural labor, except that I hadn’t been able to eat anything all that afternoon and evening and was super weak and shaky. In the early morning I started throwing up and couldn’t keep any liquid down. The contractions were getting a lot harder, too, and I couldn’t really get out of bed to deal with them because of feeling so weak and because they wanted to have the monitor on Ginny as much as possible.

I just re-read my post about my experience giving birth to Wyatt. I wrote about feeling pretty lonely the whole time. If I’d had more energy to reflect this time I’d probably have said I felt more alone than I ever have. I spent most of my laboring time with only a sleeping or sleepy husband to accompany me. I didn’t even have a friend in the state and hadn’t thought even to bring music. It was just me and Jesus in a dark hospital room and some texts from friends. I think the fear kept me from feeling the loneliness. And the prayers from ya’ll.

There were two points at which things got inexplicably better. One was after the neonatologist came to talk to us about how our baby would be doing when she was born. I literally threw up in the middle of talking to him but he reassured us that our baby would probably be fine and be able to come to me and nurse right away. He also assured us that nothing would be wrong with her long-term despite my having been told she was in the 3rd percentile size-wise and that she hadn’t been getting what she needed in the womb for a long time. Shortly after he left I got some anti-nausea meds, which probably helped too but when I was re-telling this story a couple weeks ago I realized that period when the darkness lifted coincided with the original time I’d told people I’d be induced and many people didn’t know I’d come in the night before so they were probably praying at that moment.

I labored on for a few hours with renewed strength after that. I couldn’t eat anything but the meds were helping me not feel so shaky and I’d stopped throwing up at least. The next moment when things really changed for the better was when I got the epidural. I have two thoughts about this: one is that I probably would have been able to get through the induction without it if I’d been able to use the tub or be more mobile and the other is that I’m so grateful it was an option for me and that my doula didn’t shame me for it. My decision to get one was based on being weak, not being able to eat or drink much, knowing I may have hours and hours to go (I was at 4 cm dilated with a thick cervix) and needing to lie down and rest if I could (This was Thursday late morning. I’d been awake since 4 a.m. Wednesday morning and had gotten an average of 5 hours of sleep for weeks before that). It was absolutely the best decision for that moment. I just felt so grateful when the contractions got weaker and – at least for 30 minutes or so – went away altogether. I needed a rest.

I didn’t actually get to sleep! The end came much more quickly than any expected.

The epidural probably kicked in at about 2:30, Henry got lunch and then we settled in for a rest with the lights off. I tried to sleep between being turned from side to side every 15 minutes but not long after the first or second turn I could feel contractions getting stronger through epidural. I’d gotten one dose of pitocin and she’d turned it up once so I thought that was probably why. I made a mental note to ask if they would wait to turn up the pit for awhile so I would get more of a chance to rest. The contractions got closer together and I started to feel a twinge of nausea after one would subside. I don’t know why I didn’t think it was the nausea meds wearing off, I just didn’t. I started to think maybe I was in transition. I mentioned the pain returning to the nurse and she said I should just use my extra dose of epidural – which I did – then she turned me on my right side and left the room.

This is the crazy hilarious part. Get ready for it.

As soon as she turned me (this was probably 3:47 or so) the contractions got super intense and there was no let-up. I was having to moan my way through them even WITH the epidural. The ONLY time I’d ever experienced this in the past was when pushing was imminent but I didn’t want to cry wolf. I also had to throw up, so I woke Henry up to get me a bucket. I added, reluctantly, that he should probably tell the nurse that I thought I might be in transition and call Courtenay. I dimly remember him doing that as I was on my side trying to position the bucket so I could puke. Then I dimly remember the nurse coming in as I threw up and my water broke and saying to her afterward, “yep, it’s transition. My water just broke.” She was moving around doing various urgent things as I threw up again and said “I just felt her move down” and I truly don’t know what, if anything, had time to transpire before my third puke that PUSHED MY DAUGHTER OUT to which I replied “a whole bunch of stuff just came out.”

A whole bunch of stuff.

Stuff.

The only reason I can think for saying it like that was that I didn’t want to admit I’d just puked a baby out and didn’t wait for the doctor or possibly that she was so tiny and in her caul that it didn’t feel like a baby at all – just a bunch of stuff. Seriously. It did NOT feel like a baby at all. And I could feel it. It wasn’t because of being numb. Epidurals don’t actually prevent you from feeling the “ring of fire” sensation of pushing. I just didn’t feel it.

Anyway…

The nurse came over and lifted my blanket (yes. I was still covered in a blanket, on my side, with all the lights off) and said into her walkie-talkie “and…we have a baby.”

Oh man, was that doctor in a controlled panic. She was obviously not ready for this. None of us were. Henry was standing by my side, stunned. He couldn’t muster a word for a good 5 minutes. I was trying not to crush my daughter with my leg, worried there was something wrong with her because of his expression as he looked down, and sad that I couldn’t really see her. Apparently she was covered in a thick layer of vernix. In 10 seconds we had roughly 50-100 people in the room (Oh, hi med student I chatted with this morning! welcome to my vagina!) and everyone calmed down when it became clear that Ginny was fine (crying, pink and perfect. We got a thumbs up from Dr. Boxwalla [the neonatologist] and she came to me about 2 minutes later) and that I hadn’t just ripped my lower body in half puking out a baby. In fact, the first smile my OB cracked was when she looked up at me and said, dryly, “no lacerations.”

The other awesome thing about my epidural was that because I gave birth so soon after I got it, it was still in effect for a lot of the after-birth contractions which suck so badly.

Ginny had to spent about 15 hours in the special nursery and I got almost no sleep for the ensuing two days while at the hospital, but that is all done now and feels like ancient history. I’m just so grateful it all ended up the way it did. I’m also grateful I’m not still pregnant. I totally could have been still pregnant as I write this. Her due date was yesterday. And I’m grateful for you all – for your love and support and timely words and prayers. I couldn’t have done it without you.


Blood, Brazen Poetry and Bad Dancing

February 9, 2015

I’m working on a post about Ginny’s birth, but it’s slow going so I’m just going to write about a few random funny things if that’s okay.

So, I watched some of the Grammys last night. It was about what I expected. It’s funny to watch something like that when you never do. I find I look at it all with a kind of detachment that makes the spectacle funny. I can’t take any of it very seriously. Like Madonna, for instance. Did anyone else think she looked vaguely arthritic while she was dancing? I also caught the Lady Gaga Tony Bennet duet. I’ve never really seen her perform so this is just my first off-the-cuff impression. I thought she nailed that style vocally but watching her perform I thought, “this is a woman who is NEVER off stage. She’s incredibly self-conscious.” Her performance was flawless but I had the impression she knew what every molecule in her body was doing at any given time and was in tight control of them all. I wouldn’t want to be her in a million years. I guess that’s not funny…just interesting.

A couple weeks ago on our way home from church this Hozier song came on. I mean, THE Hozier song came on. Can I just ask what’s up with the white British boys who sound like black men on the radio? It’s disconcerting when you find out what they really look like! And Meghan Trainor…also not black. Sorry…anyway, I made Henry let me listen to it (he usually flips to NPR automatically) and we got to talking about how much we love this song. I said there was something appealing about the lyrics even though they kind of use religion in a non-religious way. Henry said he thought it was good poetry. He said it was brazen, like a passage from Moby Dick – which he finally just finished reading – where they do a mock communion about catching the whale. It’s not holy, but it’s kind of powerful used sparingly. Anyway, I just like everything about the song. And, OK, I bought the album today. Did anyone see this last night? Gah! Totally worth watching the Grammys to see. I had chills. Then I proceeded to hear the song all. night. long. in my dreams. I woke up from a dream where I was sitting at a piano vainly wishing I could play and sing it and arguing, a la Wheaton College days, with a couple of random young men and my sister about the finer points of theology and culture w/r/t church and sex. I was on the point of using Henry’s example to back up my liking of the song when I woke up. Guess I liked it a little TOO much. 🙂

So…on Friday – my second day home by myself with all three kids – I was sitting on our sun porch nursing Ginny when I heard an altercation upstairs followed by Wyatt crying. Nothing out of the ordinary. I figured he’d come to me if it was bad enough. He usually does this. After a few minutes with no abatement in crying Gilead came to me and casually mentioned that Wyatt wanted me because he’d hit Wyatt on the head with a block but that it had been an accident. I sighed and put Ginny in the crib (where she proceeded to cry for me…what the heck, mom?) and stomped to the stairs. I looked up to see this:

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It was funny later, I promise. He was more upset about the blood he could see on his hands than the pain in his head. It was a very minor cut, it just bled a lot. After a bath and some ibuprofen, he was fine. But just picture me sitting in the bathroom on a stool holding and trying to nurse Ginny with one arm while I sobbed and tried to mop up a sobbing Wyatt with the other and, in between sobs, admonishing an whimpering Gilead in the doorway not to hit people because he could really hurt them. It must have been an awe-inspiring scene. Good times.


Triage

January 8, 2015

Triage

I have been meditating on this word a lot these last few weeks. How fitting that Arvo Part’s “Magnificat” comes on as I sit down to write this post. Literally, just as I started to write.

Latin

English

Magnificat anima mea Dominum.

My soul doth magnify the Lord,

Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo.

and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae: Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.

For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est : et sanctum nomens eius.

For he that is mighty hath magnified me; and holy is His name.

Et misericordia eius a progenie in progenie timentibus eum.

And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo: dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.

He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

Deposuit potentes de sede; et exeltavit humiles.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and the meek.

Esurientes implevit bonis: et divites dimisit inanes.

He hath filled the hungry with goood things and the rich he hath sent empty away.

Suscepit Israel, puerum suum, recordatus misericordiae suae.

He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel;

Sicit locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semini eius in saecula.

as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed, for ever.

Even in the midst of this all, I hear that I am not forgotten and that He still wants all the same things for, and from, me.

I have been in triage pretty much continuously, lately. Literally and figuratively. I found out this morning that’s not likely to change any time soon. More on this later. What I mean by this is that we have been reacting, rather than planning or able to see the road ahead for more than a day or so, for weeks and even months. I never knew how much I counted on my delusions of being able to see ahead until this was taken away – particularly in the realm of my health and my visions for childbirth. But really, it extends to every place in my heart and in my life right now. I have daily bread and that has had to be enough.

The good news is that we made it. We are through something – if not everything – and there is some amount of rest now after a peak in activity and stress the likes of which I haven’t experienced in my life as an adult for at least a very long time. The closest I can compare it to in my own experience was my postpartum time with Wyatt – and even that pales. I feel so incredibly exhausted – emotionally, physically, mentally – that it surprises me when I still have the ability to cry about something! Unexpected hard parts are the cold this week and that being on Eastern time means the sun doesn’t rise until after Henry leaves for work and sets long before he gets home. I knew on some level before we moved that this would feel like hope coming out of a dark place – and so I was, and am, grateful that it happened in the very midst of Advent and Christmas. The living out of this reality is, well, more real than my fancy made it beforehand. It’s just gritty. I’ve never felt so weak.

To avoid wallowing and also repeating all of the hard things in yet another form, let me just say that since the week before Christmas, it’s been one new crisis after another. I’ve been in triage taking non-stress tests starting in Chicago (I spent 4 hours by myself with no phone there on Christmas Eve…I felt very sad for myself) because of some swelling that felt alarming to me and ultimately because my blood pressure is getting higher. I found out this morning that I am throwing very elevated levels of protein – which is starting to point to preeclampsia. So I will continue to spend a good amount of time in triage in the next six weeks. And I hope very much that it IS six weeks – I could be looking at a more emergent situation. Of course, there was the actual packing and moving and then the loss of both of our phones, basically, being out of touch with everyone I loved and having no home for a few days – I realize now THAT’S the hard part about moving! No home!! I felt so grateful we were lucky enough to have a home to go to. Our homelessness was very temporary. Our minivan keys were lost on moving day which set up a whole cascade of other problems we had to deal with and then right on the heels of that my blood pressure problems started to emerge. We spent the early morning in the ER the day Henry was supposed to start his new job.

So, along the way there have been everyday miracles. Henry’s mom and stepdad spent a week with us helping to unpack, cook, clean, do laundry and take care of boys so that I could rest a lot. And they brought presents! And bought groceries! It was the first real rest I’ve gotten in so long. And, of course, we had meals and gifts and outings paid for by all of our friends in Chicago before we left. We had incredible times of reconnection with people that will sustain us while we try to find a foothold here. We had such love and care demonstrated to us by those who came to help us move – I can’t even find words to say how grateful we are. And we’ve had a wonderful welcome at our new church here. It’s amazing to feel as though we are still at home somewhere.

So, I wanted to just share some photos of our Christmas morning making cinnamon rolls in our crazy, packed-up apartment. That day was a little oasis on the journey. And I wanted to take some photos of our new, light-filled little house just as it is right now. It’s messy and we are still in our pajamas and things probably won’t get much more unpacked or decorated than they are right now for a long, long time. I am perfectly okay with that. I can’t believe it’s even as nice as it is now. It’s totally due to my sister, husband and in-laws. I wanted to focus on the things making me happy right now in pictures. Exhausting as it is right now, there’s still so much that’s good and hopeful and ordinarily wonderful. This day, for instance. I don’t have to go anywhere and my boys are still happily playing in the house. I don’t care how dirty it gets in here, I consider that a raging success.

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{He’s such a beautiful boy, don’t you think?}

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{trying out a silly face for the camera}

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{helping mommy make the frosting}

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{Hot chocolate. Lots of little indulgences going on around here lately}

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{my helpers sprinkled sugar onto the buttered dough}

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{The view from our living room into the dining room. In this picture, the front door would be behind and to my right. I love that my grandma’s dishes are in a place that actually makes sense. We all love and delight in our new cuckoo clock from Germany that was a Christmas gift from Henry’s mom and stepdad…but the boys are especially delighted}

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{The view from our front door into the hallway (to the left) and the dining room. The kitchen is directly opposite the camera’s viewpoint. I had forgotten all about the wingback chairs we were to be given. When they showed up on moving day – via the wonderful Nancy (Henry’s stepmom) along with the dining table and chairs and the boys’ new beds – I was initially distressed not knowing where they’d fit, but we are using them and they are very much needed. Not to mention adding a ton of style to our living room!}

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{This is the beautiful, but cold, sunporch off of our bedroom, which is at the back of the house. I also got a pile of vintage sheets from Henry’s grandpa’s house. Don’t those just make you happy? Lots of Ginny dresses in their future}

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{The view of our neighborhood out of our dining room window. A close-up of the cuckoo clock}

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{Gilead’s wild hair today, with his picture of “blood.” Book ends from Henry’s grandpa. Another unexpected and lovely gift}

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{The kitchen from both sides. As you can see, so much space. There’s a little alcove to the left containing a huge refrigerator and room for a big, messy pile of recycling plus promising space for wall shelves or hooks. That’s my ikea shelf, which I love, and the perfect nook for coffee and toast. Pantry to the left and one of my Christmas gifts from Henry: a Rifle Paper Co. 2015 calendar. It was the first thing to go up on the wall.}

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{Our room. JUST enough space for the king bed fit along the back wall, leaving plenty of room for dressers so that I can have my craft table on the sunporch. Not that I’ll be sewing for a while. 🙂 }


A Garden of Wildflowers – God’s love for Detroit and me (and, incidentally, we’re moving there)

December 12, 2014

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{This title comes from a conversation I had with a dear friend the other night. I thought it was apt. Also, here is what is probably going to be our own little slice of heaven in Berkley, MI.}

I can hardly believe this is happening, let alone in two and a half weeks. I have to sit and collect my thoughts to write this post. I really thought I would not be writing this. Ever. A year and a half ago, when my baby Wyatt was an infant, I was driving to a dentist appointment. I remember, because I was alone and it felt like a break even though I was going to the dentist. I remember cruising down highway 53 listening to NPR and hearing that Detroit had filed for bankruptcy. I really want to remember, or to be able to find the program I was listening to, but there was an author being interviewed about the kinds of things Detroit would need to do to rebuild, based on his knowledge of how things had been rebuilt in other midwestern cities in similar situations. I can’t even remember which cities he listed or all of the things he was prescribing. Great beginning, huh?

I just remember starting to picture myself going to a place like that: to picture the kind of lifelong dedication it would take – on such a large scale – to turn a dying city around. I had checked out a book for Gilead called The Curious Garden. It’s a story of a restoration project that was done in Brooklyn, turning miles of abandoned train track into garden.

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It was those illustrations in my head, along with the pictures I’ve seen over the years of blighted Detroit.

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It was like someone was putting his vision into my brain, connecting disparate ideas and images like a moving picture. As this author talked, I saw gardens growing (he wasn’t talking about gardens, just to be clear) and whole communities of people buying homes and moving into neighborhoods together. I saw asphalt turned into jungle. Along with these images came a growing sense of longing and urgency in my heart. It was so intense it was like a physical groan that I couldn’t get out. I found myself beginning to cry out for this vision to be realized. It felt like I wasn’t one voice, but part of a chorus of tiny voices all crying together for the same thing – even though we didn’t all know what we were crying out for. The aftermath of that vision was that I continued to feel a profound love for Detroit – for that specific piece of land and the people living there even though I’d never been there and didn’t know if I knew any of them at all.

At that stage of learning to hear the voice of Jesus, I still wasn’t totally sure how to place emotions I was feeling or imaginative visions I saw that fell in this category: they felt partly like me but partly coming out of nowhere. I hear stories on NPR that make me sad all the time. Sometimes they even move me to tears. Hardly ever do they make me feel like my whole being is groaning toward a certain place or people group. Perhaps this is what intercessory prayer ought to feel like more and more as I (hopefully) grow closer to the Lord and am trusted and blessed with seeing His heart for more of the world. Part of me hopes this is the case: it is a new intimacy with another being I never thought possible. Part of me hopes to stay on the safe side and not experience this more than I have to. It’s very overwhelming. Part of the reason for this could be that, as I discovered quite recently, I am actually a highly sensitive person. Those who know me well (or maybe even those who don’t know me very well) have probably sensed this and refrained from rubbing it in my face, but I certainly was in the dark until a few weeks ago when a Huffington Post article on Highly Sensitive People “randomly” popped up in my Facebook feed. I know someone who self-identifies (and has been diagnosed) as such and always thought I was not in that category. Little did I know, my husband has known this all along. Maybe Jesus meant for me to find out for myself and only after having been able to experience some of the “pros” of being an HSP. I don’t know. All I know is, I took that test and so many things fell into place in my mind – just like when I re-took the Myers-Briggs this year with Henry helping me to answer more honestly and came out as a INFP instead of a “J.” It’s highly surprising and highly freeing. All of this is to say: not everyone is meant to experience God’s heart this way and if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you can’t hear Jesus’ voice. For me, it was a matter of experimenting with – and ultimately coming to trust because it has become clear when my intuitions and prophetic words line up with scripture – the idea that I am actually hearing from God in my imagination. When I finally GOT that idea – that maybe God was trying to use my tears or sense of being moved by something in order to transmit a message to me, the floodgates opened. I began to realize just. how. often. Jesus was shouting at me and how I’d always written it off as the weakness of being a woman. The next step in this process was that I began to understand it as primarily a gift to be used for the edification of others – just like in scripture, right? The branch doesn’t bear fruit for itself.

Anyway, this kind of thing kept happening. I would go back to my normal life and forget about Detroit – forget I’d ever felt the things I’d felt – and then I’d stumble on an article or hear another something on the radio or find out someone was from there and I hadn’t known. And I’d feel those same things or remember again what it felt like to feel those same things. One day at nap time I was in my dark bedroom nursing Wyatt. I’d probably just read something online or whatever, but I decided to pray about it while I was rocking instead of pushing it out of my mind. I remember feeling like this act of prayer was simply acquiescing to this little question – will you let me in? I remember feeling the love and burden and longing for this city flood me again and I remember shaking with sobs, tears running down my face (a pretty common occurrence; not alarming). And the longing – it’s the best way I can describe it – became so intense that I felt I could not feel God’s feelings for the injustice and pain and blight and His vision for what He wants to make happen and just go on the same way I was before. I could reject it, and know that I had rejected it, or I could say yes. I could say, with all my heart, that I would go there if He wanted me to go there, even though I had no idea how it could possibly happen or what I could possibly do there once I got there. At the time, Henry was unemployed and a month away from starting an accelerated accounting masters. We were untethered and could see nothing beyond staying afloat long enough to finish the program in order to finally start his real career.

If you are a lover of Tolkien, like me, you will perhaps forgive me for referencing the Council of Elrond. It’s one of my top three favorite moments in the whole work when Frodo – after all of the wise have said their piece and it becomes clear that the ring has to be taken to Mordor and that the powerful couldn’t be entrusted with the task – says simply: “I will take the ring, though I do not know the way.” This is the moment when everything changes – especially when you have read the story already. Every time I hear those words again (once a year, in the voice of Rob Inglis) I pray that I would speak them truly, again and again. The more times you read the story, the more you see the hand of invisible powers at work in it – without which careful orchestration events wouldn’t line up the way they do. It’s why Gandalf is adamant that Gollum be allowed to live and why it’s so important for Frodo that he trusts Gandalf.

So, without knowing why it even mattered because I STILL have no clue what difference I could possibly make to the city of Detroit, I said to Jesus that of course I would go if He wanted me to go. I couldn’t see love like that and not respond. And then I was at peace. I said to the Lord: of course You know You have to somehow get my husband there.

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To be clear: I still don’t really WANT to move. I have called this place home for 14 years now – far longer than any one location in my entire life before college. In a lot of ways I’ve been parented by Church of the Resurrection. I’ve met Jesus here in ways that have deeply touched and changed my entire being. I’ve grown in my faith. I’ve nestled myself down into a fat little nest. Yes, we’re cramped in our two bedroom apartment. Yes, this area is expensive to live in. Yes, I do feel out of place here a lot of times. But it’s home. So many of my friends live here.

But we are moving. In 2 1/2 weeks.

When Henry started looking for jobs this Summer, we knew it was both a long shot he would get the kind of job he needed to support a family of 5 right away and that it seemed absolutely imperative that he do so. When his mentor – who is an accountant – reached out to everyone who owed him a favor, letting them know Henry existed and was looking, I just wasn’t surprised that it turned out to be Detroit. I knew, immediately, that the Lord had given me all of that time to think about Detroit – that He’d asked me, totally apart from my husband or our family, if I was willing to go there – because He loves me. Because He wanted to prepare my heart to accept something more easily than I could have otherwise. And He knew that somehow, in the way my crazy brain works, I would get excited about the renewal taking place. Detroit is not yet, really, a hip place to live – or even very safe (we opted for a rental home in the northern suburbs instead of looking in the city for now) – but there are exciting things happening.

The reality of moving and of seeing the city has been far more detailed and sometimes overwhelming than those pictures in my imagination. I still don’t really know if or how I might serve that city. But I know moving there is a good first step, haha. Jesus has given me the gift of seeing this all unfold: first He put the love and desire for this city in my heart, then He moved me to want to live there even though I don’t understand it and am leaving my comfort zone to do so, and then He provided the ONLY job offer Henry has received in 5 years of searching and it just happens to be an amazing career opportunity and enough money for us to live on. Even if only to me, this looks very much like a miracle.


The source of my contentment in the midst of being poorer and fatter than ever.

August 19, 2014

 

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{This is me in June or July – mostly covered by Gilead, but you can see it in my face. I’ve gained more weight since then because of pregnancy.}

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{This is me circa 2009 after having lost 30 lbs. I keep obsessing over looking this way again. Then again, I did have virtually all of my time to myself at that point.}

Ugh. It’s 10:19 on a Tuesday and I haven’t showered, haven’t made my grocery list, haven’t dressed the kids – who are watching Monsters Inc. so as not to (gasp!) play and disturb the downstairs neighbor while I finish trying to write an email. As usual, I have spent some time reading articles instead of getting ready and then flipped over to Pinterest for a moment. I shouldn’t spend time on this, but today it inspired me to write this post:

I am a recovering materialist. It came home freshly to me the other day when I picked up an Anthropologie catalogue and a Boden kids catalogue from the recycling container in our foyer just for fun – something I haven’t done in a long time. I think they stopped sending them to me when they realized I’m not going to buy anything from them. It gave me a new perspective on something I’ve been struggling with for years now.

Since I had my first son I have been carrying around various amounts of extra weight that I don’t want. Amidst trying to cope with two pregnancies (well, now three) and two kids right in a row, I have only started to acquire the discipline to actually make most of our meals instead of buying frozen pizza or getting take-out. I know a lot of moms who are better at this, and who are better at eating healthily but for me this is an almighty struggle. So, I haven’t made a drastic change to our diet that I keep fantasizing about. I had dreamed and planned to lose the excess weight before getting pregnant with our third but then we made the intentional decision to be more open and less plan-happy with the begetting of children (a whole other post which I may or may not get into here), and here we are. I’m just struggling to accept what things are now without despairing that I will ever have a healthier diet and lose the extra weight.

But here’s what I realized. I keep remembering this period of time after we got married and had put on a bunch of weight and then gotten on Weight Watchers and lost a bunch as a really happy time for me. And what I have been remembering is actually a few isolated moments of “happiness” that involved the buying of new clothes. When I picked up that catalogue I was reminded of how I spent the majority of my thought energy at that time – it was in scheming how we could afford for me to wear J Crew and Anthropologie clothing. (On one level I think this is hilarious because it shows how middle-class are my aspirations. I had no yearnings toward designer clothing, even though I’ve always been an avid watcher of Project Runway. And I love me some Ellie Saab and Marchesa (can I get an amen?). On another level it’s really sad that my virtual environment has me pegged so well – that I have put myself into a position to be sold-to at such a relentless pace) I was actually very dissatisfied and unhappy with my life. The loss of weight had only reinforced the idea that I could improve my life by making myself into the images I saw.

Circumstances since then have put us – and me in particular because there is less reason for me to have a lot of new clothing – in a place far removed from the possibility of affording clothing from those stores. Unless I happen to find something from J Crew at the Salvation Army (where I buy the bulk of my clothing). And I realized when I saw those catalogues that I’m actually, in that respect, so much happier and more content than I ever have been before in this respect. Even though I am much poorer and fatter than ever before.

In a kind of crazy revelation from God that I had on Saturday walking through the city to Ogilvy from North Ave. beach I started to see the polished newness of all of the stores and the glam appearance of many passersby in a new light. Juxtaposed with the many homeless people on the side of the street, I had the sense that not only were the homeless people suffering (indeed, that was obvious) but that all of those other people (myself included) – all of the bunches of teenagers and svelt couples in their twenties dressed so trendily and middle-aged women with huge rocks on their fingers – were suffering just as badly, if not worse. I began to see the oppression under which we all labor to be people, to be purely ourselves who we were made to be, to be holy (that is, set apart for beauty). I began to feel that never-satisfied hunger radiating out at me: the hunger to be seen, to be known, to be loved. And those edifices took on a new significance. I recognized, dimly, the longing I still have to go into Pottery Barn and just look at all the perfection; To be able to buy whatever I want and to feel a part of something that is socially enviable. But I saw, also, the utter emptiness those stores promised me. For a long time I have hated that on my own behalf, but this time I looked around – into the eyes of some of those precious souls surrounding me and I hated it on their behalf much more. I guess you could say that for a minute or two, I saw things as they really were – in the way Jesus sees them.

My secret is really no secret except for the mercy of Jesus in keeping me from those things which targeted my weakness by the simple expediency of having a lot less money. The longer I’m kept from them, the easier it is to be okay with having just what I need and not everything I want. I keep telling myself that “if we just had more money” I could go to the gym every day and blah, blah, blah and feel better about myself and blah blah blah and have a better life. The other mercy of Jesus is just His gentle reminder that even when I had what I thought I needed to make me happy, it didn’t make me happy.


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February 27, 2014

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{happy}

This is my new nalgene. I lost my old one somewhere in Minnesota after Christmas. I got a great lakes sticker for it, which I just love. Those are carrot banana paleo muffins – sans any type of sugar – and that makes me happy because they were delicious and we’re back in the saddle. Plus the cake stand and dome makes me happy because I love bell jars and I finally have one of my own.

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This is Piggle’s first picture using the big heavy camera. Well, one of his first. It was on the multi-picture setting, so we got quite a few of this corner of the play room.

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Paleo chick-fil-a. It did not taste like chick-fil-a but it was delicious. And after all that work (most of these are in our freezer now), neither of my sons wanted to even taste one. Sigh.

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I love this quality of light and his little mouth making train noises. Getting rid of our t.v. has been unbelievably hard and unbelievably successful. Meaning, I’m seeing improvements in all areas: language, obedience, play, creativity. Also, I’m now VERY aware of the holes in his “education” thus far. Like, how he doesn’t know how to help clean up. Oops. Or sit at the table for a meal. But one step at a time. I find that, being engaged in life myself now, I am more able to be clear-headed about what needs to happen to get him where he needs to be, on a moment by moment basis. And that is worth getting rid of anything. I thought I couldn’t do motherhood without the break t.v. affords, and I find it’s actually quite the opposite. It was hindering me from much more than I thought. It wasn’t that I was constantly watching it myself (although it was happening far too often), it was that getting rid of that voice made everything else so much more clear.


Light

February 19, 2014

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I have been dwelling in darkness here lately, on this blog. At least it feels that way. Trying to dress up what are essentially complaints to make them more user-friendly. I knew I was doing it, which was why it was hard to justify continuing to post things. Also, our old computer was not working. I find, however, that we have this new fabulous computer at a time when a sudden growth is happening in my heart.

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When did this start? I can point to other little blooms of growth along the way. Times when I started to feel more spiritually stable, more at peace with where I stood in the world, more accepting of what I couldn’t change and didn’t like. Times when I spent more time doing and less time ruminating on what God wasn’t doing for me. Times when I would catalogue my life and get real about the people I’d hurt and the sins I’d committed and then go back and say sorry for them as best I could. And all along, all of my whole life, sometimes because of what I was taught sometimes in spite of what I was taught, I could feel that God was there. I would be moved by things not even understanding why I was moved. Embarrassed even, to be choked up in the midst of people who had more command of themselves. I would sit with my face in the window of our minivan watching midwestern fields slide by and just catch the glory waiting there, though it wasn’t grand. I remember long and solitary bike rides listening to DC Talk. One in particular where I rushed upon a field of new-budding something that was brightest chartreuse and I remember gasping, shocked by this jewel in the midst of dreary brown.

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When Gilead was born I felt this expansion. Actually, AS he was born. For weeks afterward even in my pain and the fog of first sleeplessness (when is it ever harder than that first time?!) I was giddy with new understanding  of God’s grace and my creatureliness. And, thinking I would feel it all over again, I was disappointed when Wyatt’s birth turned out ordinary. For the last year and a half I have been sliding. One long, slow, slide into the dark. I listened too much to voices not His, I looked to hard and long at things I didn’t have and I – as He recently put it to me – tried to merely rinse out my mouth in the stream of life instead of drinking long and deep.

In the midst of it all, however, a bud. Something. Hope. Bright spots in the dimness. I attended a couple of classes, I had spurts of praying more and I could occasionally see beyond the fog I’d created for myself. I found myself wondering whether those moments of womanish emotion I’d fought so hard to keep hidden in groups all my life were actually, maybe, the movement of the Holy Spirit in me. As soon as I admitted this might be a possibility, the floodgates were open. The more I admitted might be possible, the more I could see, the more I could feel, the more pointed the messages I received. He’d been trying, trying, trying to speak to me all along, all the time, over and over. It was never more clear than at the ordination of two men in our church. I’d never been at an ordination before. It was the most sacred, most joyous thing I’ve ever witnessed, excepting the birth of my two sons, I think. When I shared with Fr. Gregory Whitaker (one of the men) my impressions of that day which were just too blindingly real to be ignored, and also substantiated by Henry’s impressions, he told me (among other things) it was because that ordination was FOR ME. To build and affirm the body of Christ.

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So recently I’ve returned to the spending of time God in the early morning. It’s the only time I have. Much of my complaining at home and to friends has been about not having time and not having resources to feel like a person. And it was largely centered around Henry’s not being there for me in some way. There were many ways in which I felt this was the case, at different times. And then it got centered around, if I was honest, God not being there for me. Getting stuck in this situation where we’re in our 30’s with kids and ONLY NOW starting a career, and myself not having a career because who can count raising kids and keeping house as a career? Anyone could do that, I would say to myself and anyone else who would listen. And who cares if I mop the floor today? By this time tomorrow it will look the same as it did yesterday. Breakfast and Dinner are eaten together, yes, but punctuated by much, MUCH screaming on some days and over in about 5 minutes for all my slaving at the stove. My job just doesn’t matter, I would say, and I don’t have the wherewithal – or the resources – to lend it a bit of grace via some beautifully crafted blog or Etsy store.

And you know what? I don’t know what got me to the point where I could pray the prayer that started the change, but I remember when I finally realized it was the only prayer I could pray because there was no other answer.

Willingness.

That’s it. Willingness to do what I have to do.

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I’m telling you, as SOON as I prayed that prayer. It feels like, as soon as the IDEA of praying the prayer entered my head I felt better. It was a small, no, tiny turning. But that’s the Kingdom of God…like a mustard seed. The tiniest of seeds grows into the largest of trees where birds can make their homes.

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I don’t have time to write about everything that has happened since that moment. The highlights are that we have found what feels like a home in our small group at church. This didn’t happen because we were actively seeking or because I was especially virtuous in any way. It just sort of happened. But I could immediately tell that they have so much joy. And I can say from longer friendship with at least one of the couples – the joy is there because of practice. When they lost their first baby three years ago just after I’d given birth to Gilead, to my astonishment their first reaction was literally to worship God. It would be one of life’s greatest gifts to walk alongside people like this.

The other thing that has enriched many of my days since then has been the gift, by my Mama, of two books: Jesus Calling and One Thousand Gifts. I wish I could tell you that I received them in the spirit with which they were given, but when I did finally open them I found only (as ever) a reiteration of the message I have received from God since the day I was born: “join the dance. Be part of the beauty. Come, run with me.” As I see it now, a flood of images and words and beauty that He has lavished upon me, because He loves me. All I have to do is to say yes.

I was pondering that mystery today as we took a walk through the neighborhoods in our 40-some degree weather. Do you ever have the experience of being moved by something and not even knowing why? I remembered this image from the Planet Earth series. I can’t remember if it was the opening overview showing images from around the globe or if it was in the jungle segment, but it was a time-lapse shot of the jungle floor. At first I didn’t realize it was a time-lapse and I remember being about to make a joke that the movements of the small plants were a little too sexual-looking for me: They would swell and grow a bit larger with each “breath”, heaving themselves upward toward the light. And then when I understood the time lapse I thought about how that must be how God sees the world – or could see the world if He chose – everything stretching, breathing, straining toward Him.

And then today…I just got it. In a new way. It IS SEXUAL. Rather, sex IS this…this thing. This reality. Or one embodiment thereof. We ARE all meant to be pushing, straining, panting, longing after Him. Jesus. Pure light and life. That is why the rocks would cry out if we did not; because they ARE! We just mostly can’t see it. Or we can’t see it if we’re not looking. And the way to look is the YES. Stewart says it all the time in his sermons, C.S. Lewis says it in all of his writings, there it is in Ann Voskamp as soon as I crack it open. All it takes is one little turning, one little yes. So simple, so small, so unbelievably stark. A turn away from sin isn’t just a turn into nothingness as I so often have blinded myself into believing. It’s a turn from un-reality into that which is the only, utterly real in existence. And we have to say the yes to be with God because God IS the yes. All of God and all of creation come together in one big ecstasy of YES!!! THAT is why Jesus death on a cross isn’t the dark, shameful, horrible thing I grew up feeling it was – this thing that made me feel pity but not much more. Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross but He did. He said yes. And the Bible is actually very clear that that moment, unexpected by the very people who had been trained to look for it, that moment when He was stretched out – arms wide to the sky – abandoned and suffering for the sake of the world. THAT  was his greatest victory. His greatest yes. The emblem of all emblems of the essence of God.

He came so we might have life abundant. The only way to that life (not merely the life-everlasting of someday heaven, but the grab-it-by-the-balls LIFE that is thrumming under our feet and everywhere all the time)  is the yes – even unto death.


Wyatt turned One!

February 14, 2014

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I’m not a huge birthday person. I mean, I like my own birthday and I like to celebrate the birth of my kids and my husband, but not with huge parties every time. In fact, we didn’t even have cake for Gilead’s birthday this year. But for both boys’ first birthdays I just felt like celebrating. For a parent, it’s a huge milestone. I think making it through the first year of a baby’s life is akin to making it through labor and delivery. Although I have to say 3 is turning out to be as much of a challenge – if in a different way.

Anyway, I realized yesterday as I was perusing all of our old photos that I hadn’t posted these amazing ones Harold (Henry’s stepdad) took. There are many more beautiful images that didn’t make it to the post. He’s really good!

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Hard to remember it was this hot outside at one point.

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drinking the bubbles.

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What did you think about that Rosie?

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He took to cupcakes very easily.

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{pfhr}

February 13, 2014

So, for the first time in a loooooong time I am going to link up to and post a {pretty, funny, happy, real} (Those of you who read this or know me at all or have ever had a 30 second conversation with me have heard me mention “the catholic lady blog,” which is my favorite. Every Thursday they do a context of contentment post. I like that. I look forward to it. I’m always mentally filing things under one or other of those headings.

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{happy}

This is a picture from Henry’s sister’s phone. She came on his birthday to watch the boys for a little bit while we went out for dinner. She sent me this picture a month or so later. But my most amazing piece of {happy} is the new computer I’m using to type this entry. It’s the only way I could be typing it because ALL of my media was failing me. We got a HUUUUUGE tax return and decided this was a much-needed priority. Henry got it set up for me this morning and I am already in heaven.

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{real}

I told Henry this morning, we live in the Fortress of Solitude. Enough said, I believe.

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{pretty}

Right after Christmas we got (with the help of my family) the other apartment painted, finally. It houses our playroom and Henry’s office and  we’re renting the other part of it – hopefully soon to a nice gentleman. The difference of a coat of paint is amazing. And there’s the teepee I made. Three times. Third time is the charm, I guess.

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{funny}

We moved our dinging table out to the common area, so it’s next to our living room furniture. Thus, I guess, feels more like living room furniture and made to be climbed-on-top-of. I am forever getting Wyatt off of the table. Here, I guess, they were playing nicely – which was nice – but on top of the table, thus the slightly guilty looks I got.