“Hawaii is my happy place,” I said to no one, ever, at any time. The morning was too bright, too hot, and too lonely.
But the light’s beginning to change. Happiness, like a cockroach, has a way of creeping up on you.
“Hawaii is my happy place,” I said to no one, ever, at any time. The morning was too bright, too hot, and too lonely.
But the light’s beginning to change. Happiness, like a cockroach, has a way of creeping up on you.
Reason #1,457 I need my husband to come home: he would never let me leave a sandwich shop with basil in my teeth.
When Tim first visited me in Seattle, I dragged him around the city because I wanted him to fall in love with it like I had. Pike Place Market was at the top of the list. He had to see the flying fish, of course, but most importantly he had to eat a gyro at Mr. D’s Greek Delicacies.
His pita was filled with meat, mine with veggies and feta; both were the kind of messy you don’t plan for on a date. But they were so delicious we just had to laugh. When I was done, I turned to him and flashed a toothy grin. “Do I have anything in my teeth?”
He looked surprised, as though he wouldn’t have anticipated that kind of familiarity. His surprise surprised me, because being together just felt so simple. So easy. Like I didn’t have to overthink everything like I was so used to, especially around guys. He felt like an old trusted friend, not the romantic pen pal who had once kissed me and was now following me around my city.
But this dichotomy wasn’t new to us, this strangeness and familiarity all blending together. He was my missing piece, my long-lost friend, my other reader, the one I had been waiting for.
He grinned right back. “Gross,” he said. “You should probably find a mirror.”
He was teasing me, which I soon learned was an act of love.
Eight years ago this week, Tim kissed me for the first time.
It was a risk for us both: I asked him to be my date. He drove across two states.
It could have been the most awkward weekend of our lives. He didn’t know my friend who was getting married. He didn’t know my parents, who were also there.
The day of the wedding we decided to look for the beach. Pre-smartphone, we never found it. We just drove and drove and talked and laughed. The hours flew.
We ate burgers at a diner and before our first bite he asked if he could pray. He thanked God for friendship and prayed a sweet blessing over my friend’s marriage.
It sounds crazy, but in that moment I knew.
We danced all night, fueled by poppyseed cake and vodka tonics. We sang show tunes in the back of my parents’ car, and later, after more dancing and much laughter, he kissed me.
The next morning he drove back home in a snowstorm and I flew cross country to rainy Seattle. I waited and wondered what would become of us.
And then he sent me an instant message. And another. And another. And then an email with entire soundtrack we had danced to that night.
We waited to see what that kiss would become, and it became everything.
Jacob ran out the front screen door, exclaiming, “Christmas wreath!” in his two-year-old toddlerese. It was early December in Hawaii and the wreath I had picked up at the local Target was our lone Christmas decoration. With a deployed husband, two small children, and an upcoming holiday trip to my parents’ house on the mainland, I felt justified in skipping all the trimmings.
He couldn’t believe his luck – not only had I brought home a wreath, but also wrapping supplies. “CHRISTMAS BOWS!” he squealed, and immediately insisted we add one to the wreath. Why not. So I picked him up and steadied him as he added a huge, shiny red bow.
“Yay! I did it!” he grinned ear to ear and as soon as I set him back on his feet, he began to do his signature celebratory dance.
I was distracted for a few minutes, chatting with Monica, our nanny, as she updated me on the day’s events and prepared to go home. I didn’t see the moment when the splinter got lodged in the tender skin of Jacob’s foot.
At first, he didn’t want to let us see. He ran around the house, favoring the foot, insisting he was okay.
We were finally able to corral him, and when we saw the splinter’s size, we knew we needed to act quickly. Monica saw the horror on my face (how do I even do this?) and graciously offered to stay and help.
As I carried my screaming child to the well-lit bathroom, tweezers in hand, I couldn’t help but think of my thirteen-year-old self, spinning around barefoot on the hardwood floor of my parents’ kitchen, ending up with a splinter the size of a toothpick. I finished that day in the Emergency Room. The nurses rolled their eyes at me until they caught a look at how big it was and realized someone needed to cut it out.
Like mother like son. Please God, don’t let it be that bad. Not when Tim isn’t here. He’d know what to do.
Monica said she had experience removing splinters from thrashing toddlers, so we decided she’d take the tweezers and I’d hold him steady.
“NO THANK YOU, MAMA!” He sobbed the words I had taught him to say when he doesn’t want someone touching him, when he needs his space. “I hear you, baby. I know you are saying ‘No thank you,’ but Mama and Monica have to do this to make you feel better. I am so sorry.” He screamed, and it was heartbreaking, shattering, to hear my child crying from the depths of fear and distress, pleading with me to stop the pain I was allowing.
Tethered so firmly to the present moment, he was too young to understand sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. How could I convince him to trust me?
His tears brought tears to my eyes as I held him tightly, clutched to my chest, holding down his kicking legs and flailing arms. Monica was the essence of calm. She spoke quietly, reassuring him, doing her best to efficiently remove the splinter.
When it was done, we smiled at Jacob. “You did it!” I squeezed him. “I am so proud of you.” He drew a big, shuddering breath and said, “Thank you, Mama.”
It’s no secret that in recent years I’ve been working through some anger with God. This all-knowing, all-loving, ever present Father has allowed so much heartache and pain in my life, the lives of my loved ones, the lives of people all over the world. I’m over it. It hurts so much and he allows it to get worse. So I kick and I scream and I buck and I cry. I’m like a toddler who can’t be consoled, who doesn’t want to listen to assurances that God knows what he’s doing and that ultimately there is a greater plan.
A few months ago, not long before Tim deployed, I was in church and the pastor asked us to imagine being in the presence of God – what would be like if we were standing face to face? I suddenly had this image of me pummeling God’s chest. Just hitting and hitting and yelling and screaming and crying. And he held me. As I hit him and kicked him and said “NO MORE!” He just held me. He didn’t chastise me. He didn’t tell me to buck up. He didn’t tell me I knew what I was signing up for when I became an Army wife. He didn’t tell me to stop being a baby. He didn’t let go of me and say “I don’t deserve this from you,” or “Have you forgotten all I’ve given you?” He just held me with love and confidence and grace. He let me struggle, but never without assuring me with his strong arms and tender gaze.
How do we teach children to trust? It’s a tricky thing. Jacob and I have talked about it quite a bit since the splinter incident, and while I realize it’s going to be a while before he completely understands, I think the basic idea is starting to settle in.
I try to explain to him that I would never hurt him on purpose, that I am here to protect him, to keep him safe, to help him be healthy. That if I ever allow him pain, it is because I know it will be better on the other side. And that in the midst of the pain, he can always turn to me for comfort. Always.
Deep down I know that God is like that, too, because I’ve experienced him to be that way. In the middle of pain, and even in the middle of anger, I still know the God I am wrestling with is a God of love and patience and goodness. I have experienced his overwhelming peace at the strangest times, as nonsensical as it may seem.
He’s teaching me, in these anxious days, how to trust him again. He’s bringing me closer to the light, examining all the splinters I’ve lodged in my heart: the fear, pride, and self-pity he knows will fester if we don’t work together to dig them out. He reminds me, tenderly, that sometimes things have to be more painful before we can heal.
I don’t have a scar from the toothpick-sized splinter; in fact, I can’t even remember which foot endured the pain. But I do remember the path to healing was a long, embarrassing one. I showed up to middle school on crutches and had to explain why I couldn’t walk (I uh…got a huge splinter? When I was, uh…dancing around in my kitchen?). Later that week a lymph node swelled so badly I thought I was seriously ill. The doctor assured me it was just my body’s way of fighting an infection that must have begun before the splinter was removed. He gave me some antibiotics, and that was that.
It was done. But it took surgery and drugs and a week on crutches before the pain began to abate. The ER doctor’s scalpel was just the beginning.
When it comes to healing, there are no quick fixes, and that’s true of our hearts just as much as our earthly frames. It’s one thing for me to turn to God and acknowledge that I’m angry and hurt. It’s another thing entirely for me to hand over my heart and let him get to work. Just like Jacob, I’d much rather run away and self protect. And even when I do ask for help, God doesn’t magically make the splinters disappear; he removes them one by one with the precision and care of a surgeon. He takes his time, and he makes no promises that it won’t hurt.
It’s up to me then, whether I want to keep screaming and thrashing. He’s going to hold me regardless. I have to believe that as he holds me, my tears bring tears to his eyes, and with whatever progress we make, he is proud.
I am still learning how to say thank you.
What of the dancing? I’m happy to tell you I still dance around barefoot in the kitchen; to be honest I’d rather have the joy of dancing than live my life on the lookout for loose wood. As for Jacob, until we refinish the porch I try to make sure he wears shoes in the front of the house.
But I don’t catch him every time. I won’t, because he is full of life and curiosity and he’s just going to keep running and dancing. It is inevitable he will find pain along the way. But I will be there to hold him when he cries, just like my Abba holds me.
Two kids under two was never part of my plan.
My husband, whose sister is a mere 14 months his senior, assured me having kids close together would be not only good planning (get those hard years out of the way) but also a good investment in their friendship (he counts his sister and her husband among his best friends). My brother is six years younger than I am, and as much as I have always adored him, the years between us often seemed like eons. I figured there was probably a happy medium. Perhaps we’d try for a second baby after the first was potty trained. Or in preschool.
I am what you might call a “small plate person” – introverted, prone to daydreams, preferring a whole afternoon alone with a book to an adventure with friends – I don’t do well with multi-tasking. I knew myself well enough to know that having two kids in the span of two years would be asking a lot of myself, especially if I wanted to do it well and with any semblance of grace.
Which is why it was so strange to me that, when my first was 10 months old, I found myself saying to my husband, “Maybe I don’t want to wait much longer to get pregnant again.”
Now, if you think this occurred to me because first children are often a breeze compared to their loud and feisty younger siblings, let me set you straight. Our first, our wonderfully vibrant Jacob, is anything but easy. He (and therefore I) didn’t sleep more than 45 minutes at a time for the first two months of his life. And this was just the beginning. Often a solo parent due to my husband’s rigorous medical residency schedule, I spent the majority of my days intently interacting with my very extroverted, very loud, very intense son. I couldn’t even leave him on the play mat for the two minutes it would take to reheat my coffee without him screaming as though a piece of heavy furniture had fallen on him (this tendency did not help with my postpartum anxiety).
So why the change of heart? Partially, because at 10 months, Jacob was slightly less challenging and more solid and less prone to breaking. He had teeth and could eat Cheerios and was cruising and laughing and snuggling. We had fun together, even inside jokes. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The newborn months may have been terrible, but they suddenly felt light years away.
I began to think about my upcoming 34th birthday and how I only had a year before my womb would be considered “geriatric” (can we please come up with a better word for this?).
Originally my plan had been to wait another year, after moving the following summer, wherever the Army would send us. But then I began to think about the potential for my husband to deploy (even though he assured me it wasn’t likely to happen so soon).
Also, it may have been momnesia.
My husband was ecstatic. When can we start?
So, when Jacob was 10 months old I quit taking the pill. You know how it goes: we weren’t trying, but we weren’t trying to NOT. After one particularly romantic evening, I thought I felt a twinge in my belly and I thought Oh my – did we just make a baby? A couple weeks later I took a pregnancy test and with mixed feelings read “negative.”
Mostly I was relieved. I started doing the math and realized if I had been pregnant, the due date would be a mere six weeks before the Army moved us God knows where. I thought to myself, Maybe we should wait a couple more months so we’re not moving with a newborn and a toddler.
Five days later I realized it was time to take another pregnancy test. This time it was positive.
When the first trimester nausea hit (so much worse this time around), and each morning I found myself sprawled out on the floor eating saltine crackers in front of Daniel Tiger with my son, who couldn’t even walk yet, I thought, How am I going to do this?
I comforted myself with the idea that this baby was meant to be. It might not be my timing, but it was the right time for him or her. The last time I checked, God doesn’t consult me about his plans.
I told myself if we had waited, we wouldn’t be having this baby. This baby is the one who is meant to be ours.
And sure enough, in May, seven weeks before we had to move, our sweet Henry was born. We knew right away he was my husband’s son. He looked just like him, and, unlike Jacob–intense and emotional like his mama–Henry eased into life with a gentle spirit and a love of sleep.
There was a peacefulness about him that drew us in, a quiet calm that almost had us fighting over who got to put him to bed. During a stressful move, quiet time with Henry became a welcome respite. When we learned my husband would have to deploy only a few weeks after starting his new job, Henry’s presence became not only an anchor to the present moment but the embodiment of hope in our family’s future.
In the face of our fears, his slobbery kisses were like christening, his coos a benediction.
Sometimes, I catch myself wondering how different life would be now had we waited to get pregnant with our second, especially during this time of transition and separation. Certainly, Jacob and I would have more quality time and fun adventures to the beach and the park. I’d get more sleep. I’d only have one nap to plan my days around, one bath time and bedtime, only one size of diapers to buy (and change). Life would be simpler. Easier.
But then, I wouldn’t have Henry.
At seven months, he still looks just like his daddy, except his daddy has teeth (and, now that he is deployed, a “silly mustache,” as Jacob would say).
When he smiles at me, I see my husband: his kind blue eyes, his impish grin, his calm and steadfast love. What a gift.
And I have to think, as I rock him to sleep, maybe the timing was pretty perfect after all.
The lizard was tiny and speckled brown, and it ran across the carpet of the new master bedroom as Jake and I played on the floor. Excited to show my toddler a creature he’d never met before, I pointed to it.
“Look, Jakey! A little gecko!”
With the speed and curiosity inherent to boys of his age, my little scientist jumped up, ran to the gecko, and promptly pinned it down by its tail.
The gecko kept moving; the tail did not.
After our first week living in Hawaii, in a house without furniture or air conditioning (with a toddler and a newborn), my coping skills were at their limit.
Without thinking, I squealed. “Oh NO!”
My little boy came running back to me, wide-eyed, almost shaking with fear. “Mama!”
As he threw himself into my embrace—something that happens so rarely these days—I took a deep breath and prepared myself to do damage control. “It’s okay, sweetie. Geckos’ tails grow back. She will be okay. I was just surprised!”
“Oh no,” he repeated, hanging his head. “Oh no.”
How quickly things change from the time our little ones cannot comprehend the words we speak over their heads to the days when they absorb everything we do – our words, our tone of voice, our knee-jerk reactions. The responsibility we carry as parents suddenly shifts from not only providing them their physical needs but ushering in a safe emotional space to inhabit as well.
I held him close and whispered reassurances, but I could feel the weight of what happened settle onto his small shoulders.
Our summer was one of immense upheaval—we introduced him to his baby brother in May and seven weeks later packed our things and said goodbye to the town and the friends who had been the only home he’d ever known. On my mind throughout most of this was how he would handle so much change with so little consistency to cling to.
At a time when we should be phasing out bottles and maybe even diapers, here came a little brother who claimed my attention 24/7 with feeding and changing. And thus my toddler learned the words “Me, too!”
At a time when he needed more supervision and coaching to better understand boundaries and structure and measures of safety, I was distracted and sleep-deprived and ever-ready with the iPad.
At a time when he most needed his Mama and Dada to be loving and encouraging and kind, we were stressed and impatient and short-tempered.
All the while I kept telling myself, Just get through the summer. Soon, my husband would start his new job with more consistent hours. We’d find a church and community to remind us to keep our eyes lifted up and hands extended out toward one another. We’d find a routine and finally figure out how to parent two under two. We’d celebrate all we’d accomplished and the blessed fact that kids are resilient and thrive on even the simplest offerings of love.
Friends, here’s the truth: Life has been HARD recently. Hard hard hard hard.
Not necessarily tragic or traumatic or full of drama – just HARD.
You ever have one of those seasons? When it just feels like you can’t catch your breath or catch a break?
We are in the middle of one of those. It’s like monsoon season over here, with a newborn and a toddler and a house full of boxes and a husband who may or may not be deployed this year. It’s been hard.
And being the highly sensitive emotional introvert that I am? Well, let’s just say I’ve lost my cool more than once.
So yesterday, in the interest of self care, as soon as my oldest was down for a nap I handed the baby to my husband and declared, “I’m going up the Pill Box Trail!” I laced up my new purple sneakers and headed out.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into, stubbornly climbing my way up the steep, overgrown embankment making up the initial ascent. All I knew is that I wanted to see the Pill Boxes, I wanted to sit on the edge of the graffiti-covered concrete and stare out into the blue. Whatever came before that would be worth the climb.
So I whispered to myself “It’s okay, you can do this.”
And I remembered in a flash the moments right before my youngest was born–before the move, before the malaise, before whispers of deployment–when the pain was too much and I didn’t think I could go on. I remembered my own hoarse whisper, coaching myself through labor, reminding myself that I could do hard things.
So I kept walking. And climbing. And scrambling. And even scooting on my bum when the trail got too steep. I was slow and perhaps even timid. But I was also tenacious. I kept going.
And I did it. And it made me proud: proud of the body God gave me. Proud of the strength I’ve been slowly building at the gym. Proud of the wisdom it took to take a break from the monotony of motherhood. Proud of the courage it took to stretch into the blue sky and the hot sun and the sandy rocks.
After three hours in the wilderness my feet were worn, clothes sweat-soaked, and fingernails caked in dirt. And when I returned and my oldest approached slowly, quietly asking: “Mama?” as though he wasn’t quite sure I was the same woman who left, I smiled to myself.
It’s about time he meets this version of me, I thought. It’s about time he sees me doing hard things. It’s about time he sees the brave woman I need to be to raise his brother and him well.
It’s about time I see her, too.
I 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.
Sabbatical or a sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a hiatus, often lasting from two months to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described several places in the Bible (Leviticus 25, for example, where there is a commandment to desist from working the fields in the seventh year).
Have you ever taken one of those stress tests that tells you how likely you are to come down with an illness or get in an accident? Well, I did in the fall of 2012 and learned that I was pretty much expected to drop dead at any given moment. I know that sounds melodramatic, but those tests don’t lie.
In the previous year, I had moved a total of three times (one cross-country), gotten married, and embarked on a long-distance relationship with my husband, who was on rotation for medical school out of state. I now had (lovely! but very new) in-laws. I was telecommuting from DC for my employer in Seattle, which meant long hours at home, alone, in a different time zone from my team. Occasionally I would travel to be with my husband while he was training out of state, bringing my work with me (which was a blessing – but if any of you have ever worked out of a hotel room, imagine doing that for three weeks straight). We were involved in a community church, serving on the worship team and the youth ministry, but most of the women I befriended there were new moms (and if you’ve ever wished for a baby while being surrounded by babies, you’ll know how bittersweet and beautiful that gift of friendship can be). My husband’s schedule was inconsistent and unpredictable, and when he had free time, he wanted to train for the half marathon we had signed up for – something that was exciting and challenging, but also completely out of my comfort zone.
My husband was in the process of applying for Army medical residency programs, so we knew that in the summer of 2013 we’d be moving to Georgia, Texas, or Washington – each of which offered unique benefits, but were so different from one another it was impossible to compare. We had to wait three (seemingly) endless months to find out where we’d be sent for the next three years – to find out where we’d be buying a house and putting down roots as deeply and as quickly as we possibly could before moving once again.
With a year of marriage under my belt, I was so thankful for the time I had with my husband, but was wrestling with a deep dissatisfaction with our home life – mostly because I felt like a failure as a wife. Working from home made it seem like cooking and cleaning and nurturing would be easier, since my office was just upstairs. But the convergence of two worlds made it very hard for me to give 100% to anything I was doing. (It’s worth noting here that my husband is The Most Gracious Man Alive – the pressure to be the “perfect wife” was not coming from him in the slightest. It was all me.)
I dreamed of the day I’d get pregnant so I could quit my job and devote my time to home and family. I was a little bit concerned that these dreams of family were partly a wish for escape. I was working all the time. When I wasn’t working, I was worrying about whether I should be working. The job itself was a great opportunity – I was challenged, encouraged, and allowed a great deal of freedom to do work in my sweet spot (and, hello – in my sweatpants!). In moments of great clarity I knew that the stress and this pressure I was experiencing were mostly coming from my own head, whispered from old tapes that told me I would never be good enough, smart enough, or confident enough.
Worst of all, I had no margin in my life. I worked, I slept, I ran, I collapsed in front of the TV with my husband. No time for interruptions, unexpected phone calls, favors requested. I wasn’t living the life I knew I’ve been called to live.
I longed to do the work I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a very small child – to write creatively. To set my own hours. To have space and time for creative expression, the cultivation of lasting relationships, and the joy of a life fully lived.
One day, while on a business trip to Seattle, I had dinner with a friend and told her all of this. She asked me very simply what I would do if I learned I had only 6 months to live. I blinked. I told her I would quit my job, no question. I’d spend time with my husband. I’d write. I’d visit my family and have coffee dates with girlfriends. She then asked me if I would ever consider taking time off of work, at least for a season. I stared back at her. A sabbatical was a lovely idea. But for me? Could I really? She urged me to write it all out, share with my husband, and pray about it. Why not? (This makes it all sound so simple and rational but if my life were an old Ally McBeal episode, you’d see my head exploding into a dazzling display of fireworks right about…now.)
That night, back at my old roommate’s house, I poured a big glass of wine and sat down to write out my “Sabbatical Proposal Plan.” It included a summary of my thought process, a timeline of activities, and goals for my time off of work. It had bullets and subheaders and was very fancy. I emailed it to my husband and asked if we could schedule a time to talk about said proposal. He (who had actually told me before the Seattle trip he wanted me healthy and if that meant quitting my job, so be it) graciously took this product of manic processing in stride and told me he supported me one hundred percent. (See previous note about The Most Gracious Man Alive.)
Within a month, after working out the details, I resigned after 5 years on the job. It was a terrifying leap of faith. As much as I knew in my heart this was the right decision, I was saying goodbye to a company and to co-workers I had known for half of my working life. No longer would I be defined by what I did between the hours of 9 and 5. When meeting new people I found myself flabbergasted as I described my new situation: “I am….currently not working? Because….it seemed the right time to take a break?” And strangely (though perhaps unsurprisingly) I discovered a newfound sort of internal pressure: to use my free time wisely, to not squander this precious gift, to make sure friends and family knew how productive and creative I could be when not encumbered by a “real job.” I also began worrying that my ridiculously gracious and generous husband would soon begin to resent the fact that I wasn’t contributing financially (especially on those days he returned home and I was still in my pj’s, unshowered, surrounded by books and coffee mugs and no food in the fridge, much less a plan for dinner).
It’s amazing the lies we’ll listen to, no matter our circumstances.
In the weeks and months that followed, I was amazed at the doors that began to open. Now, after a home bought, another cross-country move, a wedding, a funeral, a two-week trip to Europe, several visits to family and friends, and the time and space to read and sleep and think and run when I want to, I am slowly adding to my plate what I choose. (Awesome new job! Amazing friends! Adventures galore! Stay tuned for more exciting details…)
And this blog? It was on the Proposal Plan. Nine months later – the significance of this does not escape me – I am ready to create, to begin something new. Writing (somewhat) creatively in my sweatpants, pondering what it means to find identity as a woman, a believer, a wife, daughter, and friend. I’m hoping to explore where I’ve come from, where I am, and where I’m headed – and what it looks like to live in the midst of all of that, all the while wrestling with the conviction that I am a beloved child of God. My prayer is that if you walk alongside me, my story will touch yours. And you’ll find comfort, grace, and with God’s help – a challenge or two.
Thanks for reading,
The other night I attended a potluck barbecue hosted by my new friend, Jess. It was one of those perfect Pacific Northwest summer evenings when the blue fades to gold and the air takes on a shimmer that seems to promise the season will never end. Jess was the loveliest, most gracious hostess and spent the evening refilling glasses of sweet strawberry sangria, praising her friends’ cooking, and making sure we all had a chance to play horseshoes or corn hole.
It was while I was playing my first round of corn hole that I first noticed Nina. Perched on a stool, brown eyes sparkling, she giggled with a friend and offered commentary on our game. Now let’s be clear about something: I am not good at games like corn hole. (Or darts. Or bowling. Or mini golf.) True, sometimes I’ll have a night when I get the bean bags in that hole again and again and again (this may have something to do with what Jess referred to as the “beer-in-one-hand” balancing system). But not usually. Most of the time, I am consistently, objectively bad at these types of games. One friend recently said “you’re very precise…you’re just not always accurate.”
Life lesson there, perhaps?
Anyway, the night of the barbecue, I was very precisely lobbing my bean bags up into the air and onto the grass just short of the corn hole board. And sparkly, giggly, seven-year-old Nina was bouncing up and down on her stool, offering us encouragement and occasionally bursting into song.
“Oooohh….you almost got it! So close! Toniiiiiiiiight….weeee are you-uuuuung! YEAH! I’m gonna play the next game and I’m going to be on YOUR team.” She grinned right at me.
Was she for real? Was she mocking me? I couldn’t be sure. But in the face of her bright-eyed, Fun!-singing youth, I felt decidedly uncool. And old.
And was I really comparing myself with a seven-year-old? I turned my focus back to the game.
Later, I noticed Lee, another lovely new friend, talking with Nina in conspiratorial tones. As I got closer, I realized Nina was schooling Lee on all things Nina. And she wasn’t just telling Lee – she was inviting her to engage with her, to evaluate her, and to guess.
“What is my favorite color?” (Turquoise)
“What is my favorite thing to do?” (Put on makeup)
“What is my favorite fruit?” (Watermelon)
She was so joyful, serene, and confident that we all wanted to know her, to delight in her. I laughed. She was delightful! Of course we delighted in her. And yet…her confidence made me uneasy. How was it, in the face of this buoyant, beautiful child, I could feel so threatened and insecure? Was I really comparing myself to a seven year old? Again?
In retrospect, I realize I spent a lot of time that night comparing myself and my own perceived inadequacies against the strengths I saw in pretty much every other female at the party. I was on high alert – we had just moved across the country, to a new town. These women were the wives of my husband’s fellow Army hospital interns; I wanted to make a good impression but was in such a funk I felt certain to fail. One woman entered with such beauty and grace she could have been a celebrity. And I thought, Gosh, I feel so frumpy and clumsy. How does she just glide around like that? One woman told me about juggling kids and a new pregnancy with the responsibilities she has as leader of one of the Army’s Family Readiness Groups. And I thought, Gee, she is so selfless and giving and speaks about her life with such humility. Why am I not involved like that? Others manned the grill (why can’t I cook?) or laughed easily with strangers (why am I so introverted?).
By the time twilight descended I had decided I was the least interesting person at the party.
All self-pity and social anxiety aside (because really, that’s what this was), I had also decided that Nina was the most interesting person at the party. She really was. That kind of confidence and joy is magnetic.
After tiring of the questions game, Nina picked up her colored pencils and began to sketch a portrait of Lee. Portrait Lee had long eyelashes, strawberry blond hair, sassy earrings, and eyes that twinkled. In short, it was Lee. Nina, the child artist prodigy, then turned to me and said, “Ok, Erin, you’re next.”
We often laugh about the incisive honesty of children, but much of the time, we don’t like to recognize what they see in us. In their art, we may end up with crows feet or a hunchback or dressed completely in black with hair coming out of our noses.
I was terrified of what she would see in me.
But Nina was gracious. She sketched me warm and open and kind. She saw through my insecurities to the genuine delight I found in her sweet spirit and chose to focus on that. In that moment, as silly as it may seem, it felt I had made a true friend.
And it makes me wonder: how much simpler would life be if we saw through to the heart of people, and that’s all we concerned ourselves with? If we saw them as a child sees them? As God sees them? As the best version of themselves?
What if we saw ourselves that way? What if we could wake up each morning and walk confidently knowing we were designed to be exactly the way we are…and that despite our imperfections (anxieties, habit of playing the comparison game), know we are worthy of delight?
I’m not sure it’s possible, but it’s certainly worth a try.
Here’s to Nina, and here’s to all of you childlike spirits who’ve graciously seen the best in me, even when I couldn’t.