Faith, Grace

Friendship For All Seasons

girl-690614_960_720I walked through the chilly evening dark and got into the car without a diaper bag. I turned on music that I like – which at this point is anything that’s not songs from Sesame Street – and I headed out to visit a friend and watch The Bachelor. As the pregnant mom of a toddler, this felt like the ultimate luxury.

The night was glorious—we sampled chunks of orange-infused dark chocolate and snuggled in cozy blankets on her soft brown leather couch and giggled at the ridiculousness of the show. During commercial breaks we chatted about life.

She updated me on her job and life in her new house. I updated her on pregnancy and toddlerhood. Our lives, each busy and all-consuming, are in such different seasons right now, and for that I am grateful. To me, her perspective is as refreshing as the cool quiet of the night, as welcome as the absence of Cheerios stuck to the couch.

The funny thing is, this friend and I only recently connected for the first time over coffee a couple of weeks back. We’ve seen each other at church, we have mutual friends, and we’ve always talked about getting together, but as often happens, life has gotten in the way.

When she learned we are moving away in just a matter of months (can it really be less than half a year?), she told me she didn’t care; she wanted to get to know me anyway and it was about time we got coffee.

What a gift. It’s a radical, beautiful, irrational thing, to invest in a person right before you part ways.

It’s easy for me to start to fear the move, to begin to grieve for the friendships I’ll be losing before they’re even lost to me (I hate to say the word “lost,” because in this age of Facebook and Facetime people aren’t really lost, but it still takes a lot of time and understanding to keep friendships afloat once you no longer live close by).

It’s easy for me to start distancing myself from those I care about, those I’ve invested in and who have invested in me, thinking Why does it even matter? We’re moving soon anyway. It’s easy to instead reach out to friends who don’t live here, to remind myself that, as difficult as it can be, time and distance don’t have to end friendships. And perhaps to convince myself that if the friendships I have made here don’t stand the test of time (many will), at least I have others in my corner, however far away they may be.

So then why does it also feel easy to let someone else in, even this late in the game?

I’ve been thinking about Jesus, how he was often a stranger in a strange land. He didn’t settle down and build a community around himself and build relationships that were tied to a particular place. He had a purpose and a mission and he lived it out in the places he was called. Along the way, he made deep, meaningful connections with others by simply seeing them, hearing them, and loving them in a way that showed how much he valued each one.

“Love your neighbor,” he said. And when your neighborhood is constantly changing, it becomes especially clear that the word “neighbor” means whoever is currently nearby.

In this way, my new friend has loved me like Jesus. It may not seem that profound, but it is, kind of. She sought me out; she made me feel loved and welcomed me into her home. We haven’t solved any of the world’s problems (yet) but we have started to share a little of our hearts (and our opinions about over-produced reality television). We’ve shared laughter (and chocolate). It’s such a simple thing, really, to reach out to someone and make them feel seen. Perhaps not an easy thing—in fact, it’s quite brave—but a simple thing, nonetheless. I want to be that kind of friend to others, no matter where I live and no matter how long my stay.

Because in the end, it’s in the experience of this kind of love, and this kind of community, that God reminds us of who he is: a God who sees, a God who values, a God who longs for relationship. Made in his image, it’s no wonder we crave the things he offers so generously.

So tonight, as my new friend and I meet once more and giggle together—this time on my Cheerio-covered couch—I will remember who sent her and who he is calling me to be, no matter the season.

Originally appeared on All In

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Faith, Mamahood

I Want to Forgive

The sonographer sat my chair upright and told me we were finished. The doctor would be right in to discuss the pictures she had just taken during the twenty-week anatomy scan of our second child, another baby boy. As she turned to leave, she paused. “Wait.”

She studied the scans she held in her hands and seemed to change her mind. She looked at me blankly. “Actually, I need you to remove your clothes. I couldn’t get a good read of your cervix. I need to get a better look.”

Remove my clothes. Look at my cervix. She had to do an internal exam.

My throat went dry, my eyes wide. I looked to my husband, panicked, wanting him to help me, to pull me out of the spiral of anxiety into which I had suddenly plummeted. The room was silent. “You have to do an internal exam?” I asked. I needed her to confirm that’s what she meant.

Her response was annoyed, harried. “Yes, of course. You’re okay with that, right?”

No. No, I was not okay with that. She wanted to shove a probe inside me and she was acting like it was no big deal. Have some respect, woman.

I told her no, I’d rather she didn’t and then asked if I had a choice.  No, she said, not really.

Well, then.

She didn’t understand. In the dim light she didn’t see the blood rush out of my cheeks. She didn’t see the hairs rising on my neck or the goosebumps on my arms. She didn’t hear the quickened thrum of my heart in my chest.

She didn’t understand.

How could she? How could she know that the mere suggestion of an internal exam felt like a violation? How could she know that my body went on high alert as though it were about to be used without consent?

She couldn’t. She couldn’t know that my mind went to a different place, a dark place, where I believe the lie that I don’t have a say over the protection of my own body. How can you, if you’ve never been there?

I left that day full of grief and anger and frustration—a day that was supposed to be one of celebration and joy. Why had she been so cold? Could she not sense even a hint of my anxiety? Where was her compassion?

She was just doing her job. Maybe she was having an off day. You can’t blame her for being oblivious.

These are the thoughts I used to comfort myself as I tried to calm down and focus on the good news: the baby growing inside my belly was healthy and strong.

But the joy that would quietly bubble up was stifled by the heavy darkness that hung around me. Maybe a better woman would be able to let something like this slide, but I’m about as pensive as they come. I kept thinking: Another boy. Boys, who take advantage and ruin your self-image and put you in a place just like this, so you’re left dissociating from a normal medical examination because the memories are a nightmare.

The anger within me had been sparked by the sonographer but this all-consuming fire had nothing to do with her. I was angry at the men who had assaulted me. I was angry with men—all men.

Why would God make me the mother of two boys?

An illogical train of thought, perhaps, but a powerful one.

My husband held me as I cried.

Later that afternoon, I went to my son when he woke from his nap. Sleepy and snuggly, he rubbed his eyes and smiled. “Mama!” I held him close and smelled his sweet baby skin. My son. My boy. My sweet firstborn who loves his mama unconditionally, who is innocent and untouched by the world.

How can I hold such bitterness in my heart when these warm brown eyes are so full of love and expectation? How can I hang on to such hatred when his daddy has proved time and time again to be true and tender and kind?

I leaned into their love for the rest of the day.

The intensity of emotion I succumbed to that afternoon could not be trusted. I’m learning that slowly, again and again. I know that I must learn to identify triggers for what they are—triggers, not actual threats to my safety. I want learn how to dive into my emotions and then let them pass over me like a wave.

And I want to forgive.

I want to forgive the hands that betrayed my trust.

I want to forgive those who use careless words that trigger me.

I want to forgive myself for carrying these hurts for so long.

I want to forgive for the sake of my sons.

And I will try. Day after day I will practice gratitude for where I am and what I have and lean into the love around me. I will continue ask God to give me the strength to leave the past behind. Because walking in freedom is the only way I want to live.

Originally appeared on the Good Mother Project

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Doubt, Faith, Identity

How Do I Want to Show Up in the World?

IMG_5063-EFFECTSLast week I came back from a week at a summer camp for women. Talk about a situation ready to send you right back into your junior high insecurities: a bunch of women sleeping in the woods, swarmed by mosquitoes, constantly sweating in the moist North Carolina air. We shared our cabins with mice. We shared our showers with spiders. We logged fewer hours sleeping than I normally do at home with my teething baby.

It was the kind of environment just uncomfortable enough to let others see glimpses of your heart.

My heart? It was insecure. Lonely. Needy. Afraid. Longing for my own bed and my husband’s reassuring arms.

This was the first time I’d been away from my 10-month old son for more than 24 hours. I’d already been gone for two days and I had five more to go. Without his tiny body hugged to mine, I hardly knew who I was. What would I talk about? The exhaustion I embody and the extra pounds I carry seem more acceptable somehow when I am carrying him in front of my soft belly. Without him I felt exposed.

I was bombarded by self-doubt the minute I drove up to camp: Will anyone want to sit with me at dinner? Will I make friends? Will I be fun enough? Will people think I’m boring and wonder why I’m even here?

All my giftings that made me excited to be a camp counselor—my capacity for compassion, my ability to listen, my leaning toward grace—were darkened with shadow. All I could think about was how quiet I can be, how slow I am to make friends, how I will always choose quiet time over an afternoon of lawn games. In short: I began to wonder why I was even there.

Thankfully, the women attending camp were big-hearted women seeking joy and love and truth, women who speak and live with grace. Women who desire to show up fearlessly, exactly as they are, leaning into the beauty of who they were created to be. Each woman I spoke with radiated warmth and gratitude. Each woman had a ready smile.

As I journaled on our first morning there, I realized the problem wasn’t with camp, it was with me. These feelings of inadequacy weren’t bubbling up only because it was the first time I was away from my son or because I was losing sleep to the song of the cicadas. My feelings of unease were very familiar: I spend so much time and energy wondering and worrying about what other people think, about which parts of myself I should show them to make them feel more comfortable, that I hardly remember the design of creation. I hardly remember I am made in God’s image, reflecting his glory in a unique blend of the many facets of his character.

Rather than wasting time and energy focusing on how I fall short or fail, I wanted to lean in towards the person God created me to be.

So I challenged myself to ruminate on the following:

How do I want to show up in the world? How do I want to be remembered?

From that moment on, each time I began to feel the pinch of doubt or the rush of fear, I stopped, took a breath and asked myself how I wanted to show up in the moment. Would I let destructive patterns of self-protection keep me from engaging with others? Or would I trust that God had equipped me with all I would need?

I asked myself how I wanted to be remembered. When I was honest with myself I knew it wouldn’t be for winning any games or making people laugh or telling a moving story in front of the whole camp. But maybe I could be remembered for the connections I made with others, for being vulnerable in my cabin, for making others feel safe to share the truth of their own stories.

So that’s how I showed up: a little quiet, a little awkward, a little scared. But I showed up anyway. And the conversations I had with the women who crossed my path were some of the most heartfelt I’ve had in a very long time.

Maybe this is who God created me to be.

Maybe that is enough.

How do you want to show up today? How do you want to be remembered?

This post originally appeared on All In

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Faith, Grace, Identity, Mamahood

Survivor Mama: New Life after Sexual Assault

ErinC-009

source: eran jayne photography

Today I am seven years a survivor. So grateful to the Good Mother Project for publishing this piece yesterday. It’s time to use my voice again. It’s time to speak the truth. 

When I got pregnant, I didn’t realize I was a rape survivor.

Mere hours after my son was conceived,  I sat in our counselor’s office with my husband, gripping his hand tightly and holding my breath as she said the word: rape. It was rape. She was referring to an event that had happened six years before, something I had miscategorized in my mind. I had told my husband a bit about that night, but I had only shared vague details:  it was always “the night I regret,” “a huge mistake,” “taking advantage.” But: Rape? We had never used that word.

I wasn’t sure what to do with this new information. My entire world as I knew it, as I had constructed it around me, was changed. I had endured violence of the most vulnerable kind and my brain had protected me from the knowledge of it. For six years. Six whole years I had been living in a haze of despair, uncertain of its cause. Now I knew it wasn’t anything I had done, and yet somehow I still felt responsible. I read the books, I repeated the words (it’s not my fault). Still, a sense of shame and feeling of filth lingered, like cigarette smoke you can’t get out of your favorite sweater.

Two weeks later, two little blue lines showed up on a pregnancy test. The baby my husband and I had been praying for.

I was ecstatic. I was terrified.

I spent the first three months of pregnancy curled up on our couch in the fetal position. Despite the standard exhaustion and consistent nausea, my physical symptoms weren’t bad. But mentally and emotionally, I was a wreck.

The anxiety that built up within my quickly changing body manifested in ways I could easily blame on pregnancy: hiding in my house, watching Netflix for hours, ignoring phone calls from friends and family. I felt like I was too full of emotion—filled to the brim—and any additional stress would send me over the edge. How could I have normal, happy conversations with people about my pregnancy when I had such a dark secret lurking beneath it all?  I thought about it much more than I wanted to, but I didn’t know how to stop, or who I could talk to. No one wants to hear you say you’ve been raped. Especially when you’re supposed to be joy personified, bursting with excitement about your unborn child.

When I did have the emotional energy to speak with loved ones, I was truthful about my excitement and fear (who isn’t afraid of childbirth?), but I never felt as though I was being completely honest.  As someone who generally wears her heart on her sleeve, this was exhausting and painful.  So, I spent most of my free time in full-on hibernation mode. My one goal was to incubate my growing child, protecting the precious, innocent life still unknown to me. I built myself a cozy little nest of blankets and books and read everything I could about preparing for birth.

Close to the end of my second trimester I finally got up the courage to see a prenatal therapist. She was calm and nurturing and made me feel safe. Still, it took weeks of therapy before I was finally ready to tell her exactly what had happened to me the summer of 2008. With great kindness, she listened to me, validated me, and also helped me admit to myself that one month before the rape, I had been sexually assaulted.

So there I was, very pregnant, very hormonal, very emotional, preparing for birth, and also trying to come to terms with the fact that I had been violently violated not once but twice—and I hadn’t let myself recognize the truth.

Any shred of security I once felt was lost to me. Suddenly everything and everyone seemed a threat to my safety. Trust was a dirty word. It didn’t help that at the time, our neighborhood was experiencing a wave of break-ins and burglary, and my rock of a husband, working long, hard shifts as a medical resident, was hardly home. My sleep, fitful and hard to come by, became punctuated with horrific nightmares.

It seemed impossible to escape the reality that I lived in a violent, terrible, evil world where women are raped (and children are molested and teens get addicted and men are tortured, and so on). And I was bringing a baby into this world. How could I protect him—how could I be a good mother—if I couldn’t even protect myself?

Yet I smiled for pictures. Shared my growing bump online. Dressed up for baby showers. I clung desperately to whatever joy I could find.

As my due date approached, the anxiety I felt around childbirth was palpable. I practiced self-hypnosis, imagery-based meditation, breathing, prayer—anything I could think of, and it still wasn’t enough. I was terrified that in the midst of labor I would be triggered; routine pelvic exams were difficult enough. Pain could be a trigger. Medication could be a trigger. Mentally, I could shut down. And even if I wasn’t triggered? This baby could rip me in two. He could destroy this body, already used and battered and worn. I could die. He could die. There was no way to know how labor would go or how I would respond.

I was completely vulnerable.

In the end, it was this very vulnerability that made room for the hope that saved me.

Interspersed with my fear and anxiety was the shimmering hope of redemption: my body, my story could be made new again. I thought about the strange and almost supernatural timing of my son’s conception: could it be a coincidence that in the hours I was first recognizing the truth of my past, he was being knit together in my womb? I began to meditate on the feeling of release I experienced when I learned I was a survivor: the way my shoulders dropped, as if letting go of a heavy weight; the way my entire body warmed as though melting away years of falsehood. The new life inside me was a promise of what lay beyond the empty devastation caused by acts of violence so very long ago. This new life, my son, was created out of joy and laughter and the love I shared with my husband.  

God began to feel very present to me, even amid my pain and fear. I felt very certain he had a hand in the timing of my pregnancy, that he was preparing my heart to be a mother as he led me through the hard truth about my past. The strange co-mingling of revelation and gestation began to feel like a gift. In my final weeks of pregnancy, a steady confidence began to build within me. Somehow, I knew I would survive birth and deliver a beautiful, healthy child.

God would get me through it. He had gotten me through much worse. I knew he would, not only for me, but for my son. Despite my fears, the sun seemed to shine a little more brightly, the air began to feel a little more crisp. The colors of early autumn seeped their way through my skin and stirred up my soul, reminding me of the beauty and goodness and light that can keep the darkness at bay. I was reminded of all I wanted to offer my son: the adventures we would take, the stories we would tell, the love we would share.

Today, my son is almost 10 months old, a sweet, active little boy with a mischievous grin. After all my worrying and wondering, he came into the world with relative ease. Oh, there was pain. And there was fear. I had to battle anxiety throughout the entire process. But I did it. I made it through. And in the end, I held the most precious gift.

So, why tell this story now? Why share something so private, so painful, so raw? I write these words because I know I’m not the only woman who has felt broken, used, and afraid. I share my story because I am confident that the evil of this world will not have the final say. I am speaking out because I want to be a witness to the beauty that has risen from the ashes of my life. I am reaching out in sisterhood to other survivors to say you are not alone.

jakeI’m telling this story because I want to teach my son by example. I don’t want him to live in fear or feel the need to hide from his past.

This journey of mine isn’t over. I still have days I’m overcome with anxiety, faced with the certainty that no matter what precautions I take, there’s only so much I can do to protect my child from harm. Each day is a practice in trusting and letting go.

Each day is a practice of faith.

Someday, I will tell my son about the half marathon I walked with him at eight months pregnant. I will tell him about the heat that beat down on me as I walked, feet swollen but heart bursting, through the brilliant beauty of Stanley Park. I will tell him how I thought of him the whole time, how I wanted to show him his mother was strong.

I will tell him how he taught me to be brave.

This post originally appeared on the Good Mother Project.

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Faith, Mamahood

My 2 a.m. Friend, or The Day I Thought I’d Lost My Son

FullSizeRender (5)One minute we were lounging on the picnic blanket in our backyard. Jacob was happily chewing on a toy and I was happily snapping pics of him as he rolled back and forth, wiggling his toes in the air. The next minute, I noticed he had a piece of grass sticking out of his mouth, and as I reached to remove it, he began to gag.

I picked him up, set him on my lap and looked at his little face as my heart stopped. Is he choking? He’s not breathing. He quickly drew in a breath of air. Sweet relief. And then his stomach tightened, he began to cough and then vomited right down the front of my shirt, onto my pants, onto himself. I held out a hand to catch the rest of the vomit—which just kept coming. I thought it was strange that a single blade of grass would cause such an intense reaction, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Babies get sick sometimes, and everything seemed pretty normal. I picked up my son and our soiled blanket and took him inside for a bath.

I had barely made it through the back door before he began to gag and heave once again. This time, it was definitely not normal. Jacob’s face turned bright red and he began to cry a terrible cry, a sound I have never heard before. He kept heaving. I looked at his handsome little face contorted in discomfort and fear. He looked to me for reassurance, but I was so panicked I couldn’t breathe.

No, no, no… My brain was on an anxious repeat loop. My baby is going to die. Maybe there was fertilizer on that grass. My baby is going to die because I don’t know the number for Poison Control.

911, do I need to call 911? My husband, at work, did not have cell service. I was completely alone, completely responsible.

Jacob got sick again. I ran into the bathroom and held him over the sink. I saw a thin trickle of blood. I was overcome with a feeling of despair. Is this it? Is this how quickly the life of a child can end?

“No, no, no…this isn’t happening…” I heard myself say, as one hand gripped my puking son and the other shakily searched my phone for the number of Lauren, a friend and fellow first-time mama who lives across the street. She picked up on the second ring. I’m a text-only kind of girl, so she knew something was up.

Lauren is a practical, no-nonsense kind of woman, wise and cool-headed. I knew she would talk me down if I was crazy and would tell me to get to the ER if she thought that was what I needed to do. And I knew she would pray—something I just could not bring myself to do.

My words hardly came out for the hyperventilating. Lauren, who was on the road, sitting in Seattle traffic, listened patiently and calmly encouraged me to keep talking.

She listened. She let me tell her I was scared. She let me tell her I was worried I had somehow let my child get poisoned from sucking on a piece of grass. She let me sob in fear and desperation. She did all of this with grace even as her own baby sobbed in her back seat.

She told me she thought Jacob sounded okay, from what she could hear. She told me I should trust my gut, and if I’d feel better driving him to the hospital, I should absolutely do that. But she also said she thought it would be all right for me to wait it out a couple of hours.

She talked me down off the ledge (and let me tell you, if you’ve never been on the solo-parenting-postpartum-anxiety-first-time-mama ledge, it is pretty freaking high.)

By the time I got off the phone, Jacob was calming down. I cuddled him close as I ran a cool bath. Within minutes, he was playing and splashing as if nothing had happened at all. He was fine. He was going to be okay. I sobbed again, out of relief. Out of exhaustion. Out of gratitude.

Once he was dried, fed, and calmly sleeping in his crib, I texted Lauren to tell her he was all right, to thank her, and to apologize for being such a nut job on the phone. Despite the very real fear I had experienced, I felt pretty embarrassed. Had I blown the whole thing out of proportion?

Her words in response brought me to tears again: “Don’t worry about perception, friend! You did the right thing. You had insight, you reached out, you weighed your options, you acted. You nailed it, truly! You are a great mom. You proved it again today.”

Her words were like a balm. It was exactly what I needed to hear.preggoladies

In the two years we’ve known each other, Lauren and I have shared thousands of late-night texts and emails offering prayer and words of encouragement, but on this particular day, she proved to me again how important it is to truly invest in each other’s lives. She reminded me how crucial it is to surround ourselves with people who are unafraid of the messy, vulnerable parts of our stories and ourselves, who will let us feel whatever it is we are feeling and then calmly offer guidance when we need help.

For an introvert with a love-hate relationship with community, this lesson can be hard won. Sometimes it comes in the form of an eight-month-old baby projectile vomiting, forcing you to pick up the phone and cry out for help.

In the end, Jacob was fine. I still don’t know what caused him to get sick that day – it could have been the heat, it could have been something he ate. I’d like to say I’d never wish that kind of discomfort or fear on him again, but I’m not sure I can. If vulnerable situations teach him how to reach out to others, to rely on friends like Lauren in times of need—and learn how to be that kind of friend himself—then I believe the discomfort might be worth it in the end.

This post originally appeared on the Discovery Community Church blog, All In

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Faith, Identity, Mamahood

I’m Not Enough

IMG_5555It was 3am. I was more than sleep deprived; I was going a little bit crazy. Jacob, my new baby boy, was less than a week old, and he was hungry. His screams pierced the darkness and pierced this new mama’s heart.

The pediatrician’s office had called that afternoon to say we needed to supplement his diet with formula, and I was crestfallen. In my mind, nursing was the one thing a mother should be able to do for her child, and I just couldn’t make it work. Faced with his suffering, I caved, offering him as much formula as he would take. He filled his little belly and slept sweetly and deeply for the first time. In my gut, I knew I had made the right decision: the most important thing was for my child to be nourished and rested.

And yet, despite this small victory, when I awoke to his wailing, the word failure was all I heard.

I knew I would be tired, but I had no idea how wrecked I would actually be. I hardly slept because my poor son never stopped crying – unless, of course, he passed out in my arms, waking up if I put him down. During the day I’d hand him off to my husband and sneak in a quick catnap only to be woken by another high-pitched wail. Swaddling helped a little but not much. I gave him a pacifier a lot sooner than I had planned. Even when he couldn’t nurse, I pumped and pumped and pumped, hoping I might still provide him what he needed to grow and sleep well. But it was never enough.

Read more on the Discovery Community Church blog.

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Faith, Identity

Truth Be Told…

The truth is, I am fearful.

The truth is, I am brave.

The truth is, I hide.

The truth is, I make excuses.

The truth is, I have big dreams.

The truth is, I am afraid to fail.

The truth is, I stumble every day.

The truth is, I am rusty at relationships.

The truth is, I crave connection.

The truth is, I push people away.

The truth is, I have a great capacity to love.

The truth is, I have felt abandoned by God.

The truth is, I know God to be ever-present.

The truth is, I am imperfect.

The truth is, I am beautiful.

The truth is, I am a mess.

The truth is, I am a coward.

The truth is, I am a survivor.

The truth is, I am a warrior.

The truth is never fully told.

But I will keep telling it, in hopes of getting close.

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Faith

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

DiscoBlog_CherryBlossomsI walked beneath a cherry blossom tree, my 6-month-old son strapped to my chest. Facing outward, he reached out his tiny, curious fingers as I held a branch down to eye level. As his tiny hands gently closed around the soft, pink petals, I leaned down to steal a glance at his pensive face. His fingers, softly opening and closing, his long eyelashes blinking in almost the same rhythm, he seemed captivated by the beauty he held in his hands. There was awe in this moment, a beautiful, profound hush.

I thought, here is the mystery. Here is the beauty and magnificence of our Creator. In these petals. In this child. In the love I have for my son as he gazes upon this thing of beauty.

God has wooed me through his creation since my childhood. As a little girl I would spend hours in the back of my parents’ house, tiptoeing through their flowerbeds, dancing through the bluebells and tiger lilies, singing softly to myself and into the heavens:

“I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice! To worship you—oh, my soul, rejoice!”

There was no doubt in me; I was convinced of the Presence of the Creator, and His Son, who had come to reside in my heart at my invitation one rainy afternoon.

So there in that moment, as I joined my son in his worshipful stance, there was at once a yearning and a feeling of coming home. Be still, He says. Be still and know.

What a powerful sensation it is to be caught off guard by the beauty and majesty of our God – especially during the seasons He feels just a little too far away.

For this new mama, it’s been a tough winter. I know He’s not the one who has taken steps away from me. I know He hasn’t abandoned me, even though that is a lie this tender heart is tempted to believe. I know He’s still right there, by my side, waiting.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, spring is upon us. Life abounds. And to my son, everything is new. The world is opening up before the eyes of my boy, bright and new and spectacular. The sun has never been so brilliant. The green grass has never been so green.

Through my son’s eyes, everything is a new creation. We pass a stranger on the street, and he stares expectantly, a smile playing on his lips. We hear a crow caw and he turns his head, eager to see what fantastic creature is calling.

I can learn so much from this little one, I often think, as I gather the courage to face each moment with gratitude. Through my son and his innocence, our God is calling me away from despair and into the light.

Cherry blossoms. Chubby fingers. These are the tiny miracles that get me through each day. So we will keep walking. I will run my fingers through the greenery we pass, through shrubs and trees and vines, reaching for the soft petals of promise. I will hold my hands open, expectant, and pray my son does, too.

This post originally appeared on the Discovery Community Church blog, All In

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Faith, Identity

Creating New Life, One Step at a Time

Hi friends. It’s been a while. So much has happened in the last nine months since last I wrote, not the least of which is getting pregnant with our very first child. A child! Our child! Our son, to be exact. Jacob.

This week I passed the 35 week mark, which means we are in it for real now, folks. This guy is coming, whether we’re ready or not. We have tape and paint and rollers to transform the extra pink room upstairs into a little boy’s woodland dream. We have a bassinet. We have a few diapers and some newborn onesies and, of course, my boobs.

And honestly, as much as we have left to accomplish, I feel like even if he came tomorrow, we’d make do.

As much of a life-changer becoming a mama is, it’s not the only thing that’s changed this year. We also adopted a cat named Opal, who fills our days with laughter and — when she’s not in the biting mood — sweet snuggles. I joined a new tribe of sisters through Stratejoy’s Elevate Mastermind program, committing to a year of flourishing into the best version of myself. I applied for and was accepted into a master’s program at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. I started my first term in May and LOVED my classes. Loved them so much, in fact, I’m actually considering taking a class this fall, with the bambino in tow (we shall see). Last weekend I drove to Canada and walked an entire half marathon. At almost 8 months pregnant. (And I’m feeeeeeeling it now, folks!)

I didn’t write a novel. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Because I have been living my life and leaning into what comes next, one step at a time.

I’m glad to be back here again, sharing with you little pieces of my journey.

More substantial posts are in the works! Stay tuned. In the meantime, if you’re interested, here are a few glimpses of how I’ve been working out my faith and my path on the Stratejoy blog:

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Faith, Identity, Mamahood, Writing

What if There is a Life More Beautiful Than I Dreamed?

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I can’t remember a time I didn’t know in my gut I wanted to be a writer, or that just as ardently, I wanted to be a wife and a mother.

Sure, as a child I also thought I might be a ballerina or a taxi driver, but even so, in my imagined future there would always be a pad, pen, husband, and brood of children awaiting my return.

As a child I was also a dreamer, a questioner, and a deep thinker. At three, I wrote my first story (a morality tale), attended my first West End musical (Starlight Express), and engaged in my first theological argument with a playmate while swinging from the tree in his backyard.

My parents often shook their heads, wondering, where did this child come from, but indulged my imagination as I re-enacted musical numbers on my Fisher Price roller skates, expounded on theories of what my stuffed animals did at night while I slept, and asked questions like “What does it feel like to kiss a boy?”

But somewhere along the line I started believing the lie that I couldn’t be fully me, fully in relationship, and fully loved. At some point I decided the only way to survive was to carefully hide the deepest parts of who I am, giving myself and others only glimpses of that creative, imaginative, insightful little girl.

Guess what? I’m tired of hiding. I’m ready to be me.

In November, when we Elevate girls were sending around initial introductions, Molly asked us to respond to the question “Where would you like to see yourself in 14 months?” Here’s what I wrote:

I would like to be writing creatively every day (or at least 5 days of the week). I’d like to have a solid blog with posts that I’m seriously proud of. I’d like to be able to say “I am a writer” and know that there’s substance to back up that claim. I’d like to either be enrolled in a master’s program or know definitively that it’s not the right time to go back to school. I’d also like to have begun a family or be pregnant – but there’s only so much planning we can do for that (yes, yes, the fun is in the trying…)!

In November I felt very clear about what I wanted: to be a writer. To make a decision about grad school. To be a mama.

Fast forward to January at the Elevate retreat, and I’m struggling to really own these dreams.

I have applied to and interviewed for a master’s program in theology, arts, and imagination (that I am so in love with, because it is so me), and I’ve started training for a half marathon in late August, but I’ve thrown the blog idea out the window (I’m still working on my voice!). I’ve pushed pause on the idea of immediately starting a family. Sure – my husband and I still agree to have fun trying, but we have decided the stress of ovulation strips and monthly devastation is taking a toll on our relationship, not to mention my sanity.

The word I claim for 2014 is “Flourish.” To grow, to create, to thrive. I declare I will renew my commitment to creative pursuits, to boldly step out and pursue a theological education, to train myself physically to be strong and fit and in the best shape I’ve ever been. I barely mention my dreams of having a baby.

Two days after the retreat, I’m holed up in a Starbucks bathroom in Laguna Niguel, peeing on a stick, partly because I’m a week late, but mostly because I want to know if it’s safe to drink the bottle of wine I’ve just bought to bring to my best friend’s house where I’ll be staying the next two nights.

And there, in the Starbucks bathroom, I see my future blooming in two very distinct, very bright blue lines.

I call my husband. Laughing. Crying. We’re going to have a baby.

I’m going to be a mama.

A trip to the doctor and I discover our baby will be arriving in September. Just five weeks after that half marathon I’ve been training for.

Well, then.

On Valentine’s Day I get the call telling me I’ve been accepted into the grad school program I’ve dreaming of. I’m in! The director tells me I’m brave and impressive and they want me. They are confident they can learn just as much from me as I can from them. Giddy, my husband and I pour teeny tiny glasses of champagne to celebrate life, love, and the dreams for which we are designed.

But I’m going to be a mama. And the baby is due three weeks after school begins.

So this is where I sit for a good month: fatigued, nauseated, and completely FULL of emotion.

One of the intentions I set for myself this year was to “be humble.” When asked my reason for choosing this way of being, I responded it was because I wanted to have a realistic viewpoint of my capabilities – I don’t want to be puffed up, but I also don’t want to be so deflated I lose confidence. Humility is a personal value I have; it’s also, in my belief, a fruit of the spirit of someone walking closely with God.

After our January retreat I scratched out “be humble” and replaced it with “be strong.”

So now here I am, almost forced into humility – because really, which one of us can ordain the timing of the creation of new life? But I’m also called to be strong – and now it’s not just for me, but for the little life growing inside me.

I’ve always said God has a great sense of humor.

With barely a baby bump, I’m already feeling the need to protect and arm myself in a mother bear fashion, ready for the opinions of others. To some, like my grandma, from the beginning the obvious answer was to keep moving forward:

“Women have been having babies and going to school for decades now. Why should you be different? Don’t give up your dream!”

(Love that woman.)

To others, the obvious answer was that having a baby trumps personal ambition. And honestly, as much respect as I have for women who seem to do and have it all, at first I agreed the latter plan was the best choice for me.

I generally do best with only a few important things in my life – I’m a deep diver, an all-or-nothing introvert who needs time and space to process and practice new things. I always pictured myself as the new mom who holes away for the first few months, learning all there is to know about this new tiny creature who requires so much time, energy, and care.

But then I thought: what if?

What if I could be the mama student with the baby sling and bag full of books? What if I could still pursue all I dreamed of this year? (Okay, with the exception of the half marathon. At 8 months pregnant? No way. Not happening.)

What if I could be an example to my child, showing him or her how important it is to pursue our passions, to get clear on our values, and synchronize our lives with what we know to be real, true, and holy?

What if I could still complete the program in the two years I have left here before my husband and I are relocated?

What if there was some creative option I hadn’t yet imagined?

So I decided to be bold.

I contacted the school and explained my situation. Within a week, I had chatted with my very encouraging admissions counselor and met with a warm and welcoming registrar, who helped me set up what seems to be a manageable schedule.

I enrolled. And I start classes this May.

In one month, I’ll be driving my pregnant self to Seattle three days a week to study theology, art, and imagination, with a personal focus on creative writing. I’ll be getting a head start on the studies I’ll put on hold next fall as I welcome my sweet new baby (to hole up and process and practice to my heart’s content). The plan is to pick those studies right back up where I left them at the beginning of 2015.

But as I’ve been reminded in this season, a lot of life can happen when you’re making plans. As I keep walking forward through 2014, I pray I will do so with an open heart, open mind, and open hands, ready to receive whatever comes next.

Originally appeared on Stratejoy

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