The Breastfed Gospel.

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I spent my 30th birthday in bed, moaning in pain from a knock-out case of mastitis. Mastitis is an infection you get from breastfeeding, except it affects the whole body. It’s like the flu, if the flu was trying to kill you. My incredible mother-in-law Debbie used an entire week of leave from her job to stay in town and care for me and my kids, since my husband had to work and I could not get out of bed. It was the sickest I have ever been; at one point Debbie was spoon feeding me applesauce as I deliriously cried in her arms, unable to lift my own head. I hadn’t showered in three days, I was sticky with breastmilk, sweaty from my fever, and could not stop weeping. It was quite the birthday party. And also, GOD BLESS MY MOTHER IN LAW.

I have had a baby at my breast for most of the last 4 years. I have taught myself and three newborns how to nurse, I have kept three children alive with my milk, and I have suffered greatly at times in order to do so.

Breastfeeding seems like a normal, easy task when you see other women doing it. They sidle their baby up to their chest, an invisible transaction occurs, and then they both go back to their lives. I love nursing my babies, but it is most certainly not the easy task I once assumed. It demands physical and emotional sacrifices that can’t really be explained: I can tell you that it hurts to have a baby learn to suck on my nipple, and I can tell you that when my milk comes in a few days after birth I can’t sleep from the pain of engorgement, and I can tell you that setting aside all other responsibilities every two hours all day long means that I lead a life of constant disruption; but none of that makes sense until it’s your own baby, pressed tight to your own chest, trying to drink milk from your body.

The complications of breastfeeding often feel like the hidden shame of new mothers. Because we’ve seen so many depictions of it happening so freely, when problems arise (when, not if) we wonder why we didn’t know how hard it would be. We wonder why everyone else nursing looks like an oil painting that might be entitled “Peaceful Mother and Baby at the Brookside,” when our own experience looks more like uncomfortable latches and too much milk and choking babies and not enough milk and infant reflux and painful breast infections and tied up tongues, and wanting to give it all up because we are tired. 

Damn the brookside, we say.

I’ve never wanted to give up nursing my babies until my birthday bout of mastitis. I wondered why in the hell I was putting myself through such madness. Because there is another way, of course, and baby formula is a remarkable answer to how we can feed our babies when breastfeeding isn’t working. I have no qualms with formula. I’ve seen both sides of the bottle-fed equation: the mom grappling with her guilt over using it, and the happy, healthy babies drinking it. I know there are lots of studies that tell us breast is best, and I think breast milk is a miracle from our bodies, but I also can’t tell a lick of difference between the kids given formula and the kids given milk. The kids are all fine.

I know this about myself- it’s not about bottles versus breast for me. I don’t keep breastfeeding for the baby’s sake; I do it for my own.

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I keep nursing because – and maybe this is petty, maybe I shouldn’t admit it- breastfeeding cleanses something in me. That’s why it’s so important. Not because I think my kids will be ruined by formula, or because I want to prove something to someone, or because I think breastfeeding will make an enormous difference in the lives of my kids; I breastfeed because it requires an offering.

Like a lamb on the altar, I offer my body for the sake of a greater cause, and pour out my life to save the life of another. It is a hallowed act, one I find hard to match. There simply aren’t many ways to sacrifice myself so easily. My privileged way of life doesn’t naturally produce opportunities for pure, selfless giving. Even sex with my husband, the most raw and exposed of interactions, can exist in a vacuum of self. I have to be deliberate in that space, be mindful in the giving of myself and accepting of his vulnerability, to become one out of two when I often prefer to just be one, if only for the beige ease of being independent. 

Motherhood is a balancing act on the pendulum of martyrdom and selfishness; somewhere in the middle is a meeting, joy in the giving, but also peace in receiving what I need to be healthy. I don’t want to be a shadow of myself, burning at the stake of my children and their future. And I don’t want to be a shadow of a mother, cooly standing in the corners of my children’s lives.

And though I live under a gospel of grace, the law now abolished by love, there is still an essential element of sacrifice in my faith. A sacred transformation takes place when I offer myself on the altar, when I lay down my own life for the sake of another. That’s what breastfeeding is to me- here is my body. Here are my open arms. Here is my time. Here is my life. Let me nourish you. I wonder what would happen if I could find that depth of love for everyone, not just my babies.

This is something that continually draws me towards the Christian faith: the fact that though my salvation is complete, and God has finished all that is required to forgive me, there is still a wholeness yet to come. We will be made whole. He is writing love into me, circumstantially and holistically, through pain and suffering of every weight, through the mundane and the grand. So though the work of being saved is done, there is still a great work being made in my life to reveal the goodness, the completion, the truly loved and realized version of me. That’s beautiful. And it is unique to the God I worship- no other god or religion makes this distinction. There is no earning anything from the God of the Bible. There is only grace. Only sacrificial love, righteous justice. And there is no perfected version of human on earth, no priest or holy woman or prophet above anyone else, because we are all being perfected until the day of Christ Jesus. I love that.

We can’t be perfect. I can’t. I can barely manage to be kind of good, and only on a few odd days. But I can pay attention. I can look for ways to be softened, to be humbled. I so badly want to be made whole. And if I know anything, it’s that being made whole only comes after being taken apart. For me, right now, breastfeeding takes me apart. It makes me pause. It makes me give up time and space in order that a baby might live. And in that time, in that space? On my couch, on a park bench, in a public bathroom, at church, at the booth in the restaurant, in a class that I’m teaching or a group that I’m leading, I sit with a baby at my breast and offer my body up to another, humbled and amazed.

When I pray outside my house at night, under the hazy stars of a suburban neighborhood sky, muffled street sounds a block away, breathing in the air of home, I always ask for more of God. And over the roofline, across the horizon, settling like dew on the windows to the rooms which hold my sleeping children, I always hear these words come floating right back:

Pay attention, dearest.
I’m right here. 

 

 

 

we hope.

IMG_1031It doesn’t feel like Christmas Eve. Maybe because we’re away on vacation, or because it’s warm here, or because I’m not going to be up all night wrapping gifts and cleaning my house. But part of me feels like it’s not Christmas Eve because I can’t stop worrying about all the mothers. It’s a storm inside me tonight, the thunderous heartbeats of all the hurting moms in the whole wide world. There are mothers laying beside babies tonight, comforting them to sleep because all they have to offer is comfort- even though their kids are cold and hungry. There are moms dying a million small deaths as they ache for the children they’ve already lost, even though no mom should ever, ever have to say goodbye to a child. There are mothers and children being abused, punished for the crime of being vulnerable, crushed beneath the weight of a world gone wrong.

So, yeah. Christmas Eve. The pain doesn’t really care about holidays or holy days, does it? The pain seems like king, a reign of suffering, holding court over a broken and weary kingdom.

I felt silly doing it, as useless as a candle in a storm, but I prayed for all the mothers tonight. The ones I know and the ones on the news, the ones I want to shake and the ones I want to hold. I prayed and I cried, imagining all the hurts of the planet piled up on my tired limbs. How can I carry this? I asked while I prayed. How can I hold the suffering without dying under it? And Why, WHY won’t You fix all of this? Don’t you care for the mothers? Don’t you care for the abandoned?  Where are You in this?

I wrote this poem from the perspective of Mary, mother of Jesus,  and performed it a few weeks ago as a part of our Advent service at church. The message that week was Hope, and I cling to news proclaimed here. It’s all broken; but we have a Rescuer. All will be redeemed. All will be redeemed. We are waiting and waiting, hoping and hoping, and we will not be left to solve it ourselves, or die beneath it.

May I learn to bear the burden beside Him, aware of the pain but not buried in it. May I weep with those who weep, while always facing the light.

I am praying Hope and Light over all of you, dear ones. And such thanks to my friend Brenda, who helped me find my way through this piece. Love you Boots.

And Merry Christmas, friends.

We Hope. by Jessie Horney

I carry two heartbeats.
A son I’ve smuggled beneath my dress,
he is my best-kept secret.
The closest anyone will get to my heartbeat,
the closest anyone will come to holiness.

Bethlehem clatters tonight,
bustles with Jews,
uncles, cousins, chattering grandmothers,
we gather to be counted.

From the far fields of our fathers,
broad skies of our mothers,
They will count us all
beside our Roman neighbors.

 These counters,
census-takers,
money-makers, government men,
they come to count
but they don’t know as they haw and hem.
They do not know
the king cloaked beneath my skin.

For so long we’ve been captive,
haven’t we.

Stuck in wordless prayer,
for so long you’ve been silent,
God.
The silence,
God,
lays the oceans aside.
Shadows the mountains.
Lays heavy on the hearts of your people
as we watch our world
crumble.

But now: this.
Ten fingerprints of the Almighty
forming inside me
Belly ripe with hope
I am sowing your son
one day at a time.

 

Blood will be spilt where
this babe is born,
ancient stain of new life
as he passes from my womb
into a crumbling world
he is meant to save.

Blood will follow him.
My son.
Him, whose hands flutter inside me,
His hands will heal nations.
Him, whose feet press against my ribs,
His ribs will be pierced.
Him, whose tiny body arches and twists as I lay awake each night,
Soon,
crumbling people,
his body will arch in agony
splayed out for all to see.

My baby.

And yet,
King of Kings.
Hope-bringer.
God with us.
I hold his heart
like He will hold ours
and I whisper,
“Be at rest once more,
oh my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.”

Our Lord. Who counts us all,
one by one,
and declares us
Beloved.
Declares us
redeemed.

 

Oh, I have hoped.
I have prayed.
Generations of breath-holders,
I too, have anticipated.

With Abraham,
with David,
with Isaiah,
and still now I hope
along with Zechariah,
for the “tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us
from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet
into
the path
of peace.”

My body is heavy with anticipation.

I keep my hope.

He keeps His promises.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes my life feels small.

I left the kids at home with Sam last month, for the first time ever. I flew on a plane by myself for the first time in three years, and spent three days without my family. I cried a little the day before I left, preparing things and writing lists and making arrangements for me to be gone. I cried, not because I didn’t want to leave, but because I didn’t want Clara and Sammy to feel sad after I left. But I only cried a little because, quite frankly, I was too tired to really care about how they would feel. This pregnancy has been tiring, and I don’t feel like myself, and I can sense the introverted parts of me creeping to the surface as they tend to do when I’m carrying a baby. I’m relieved to see the seasons changing and to finally wave goodbye to summer, with its never-ending social engagements and that underlying expectation of having fun fun fun all the time all day long! It’s exhausting. And hot. So now as the rains come, and the leaves flame out, and the cold eases over us, I am pulling us back inside our house, so that I can pull back inside myself.

When I was this far along with Sammy, I was in my last semester of college. Clara was 14 months old, I was 30 weeks pregnant, Sam was still working out of town, I had a full-time schedule at BSU and I was directing a musical that I wrote for an elementary school. I was busy and stressed, barely pulling myself across campus, steeling myself through Clara drop off and pick ups, and then hustling to evening rehearsals with a cast of 30 kids. I was accomplishing a lot every single day, small tasks and enormous projects, working towards a degree and a creative endeavor and parenting too. I look back on that time with pride, but also with a nod of love to that girl, who was so spent, and so overwhelmed.

Life doesn’t look like that now. It’s two years past that season. Winds have shifted, the earth has rotated. I am older, rotating too, walking along curious new paths.

Sometimes I miss school. And having a job. Sometimes I miss the hustle of my old world. Even though I love being with my babies, and it would kill me to leave them with someone else to work outside my home. And if I’m honest, most jobs feel like jail to me. I’m not great at doing the same tasks every day, which is why I got a writing degree and plan on a life of poverty-stricken (free-wheeling) creativity.

But the thing is, sometimes my new world feels little. The reality of my life is that I wake up early with two tiny kids and tend to them all day long. My life isn’t centered around them, but it does move around them and their needs. I mean, it has to. There’s not much they can do without me. And in the endless apple slicing, face-wiping, story reading, sleep coercing, listening and disciplining and training, I sometimes wonder if I’ve forgotten how to do anything else. And in those moments of insecurity, of hoping I still matter and hoping motherhood hasn’t rendered me irrelevant, I worry that I am losing myself in the slender margins of caring for my children.

I guess there’s a part of me that wonders if everyone feels this way. Do we all compare ourselves to ourselves? For better or worse, do we gaze upon our past selves or future selves and wonder when we will arrive, or when we lost our fire? It’s like I’m afraid that I’m not as good as I once was, but also that I’ll never be the future self I dream of becoming. What an odd vice to squeeze through, those two pressure points of my past and my future; as though either one of those ghosts could clear a path for me.

Will I feel this way when I’m 40? When I’m 60? When I’m 90?

Sometimes my life feels little. Does yours? When this happens, when I sit at my desk and write into the wind, or when I’m chopping vegetables, or walking, or talking with one of my sisters, I consider this quiet, seemingly small time, and what it’s worth. In my life, and in all of ours lives.

Because sometimes, we work at jobs we don’t love. We get degrees we don’t remember caring about, or we drop out because we don’t know what comes next. We trudge along in stagnant relationships, praying for a new fire. We can’t seem to finish our novel or start our business. We feel stuck. We are waiting for success and fame and love to come bounding our way, all while we wake up each morning and pour ourselves a little bit further into our daily work. 
Sometimes we feel little. And in a world that wants microphones and platforms and influence, this quiet toil is dismissed as the time before we arrive, before we become. 

I refute this. I refute it in my own life, and I refute it for yours.

My friend Jimmy died when he was 24 years old. And his life was rich, grand with friendship and accomplishment. Thousands and thousands of people mourned his death, and still ache for him today. That’s not normal. 24 year olds don’t carry that kind of a legacy with them; but Jimmy did. After his death we all told story after story about him, written in letters to his wife, spoken over drinks at the wakes held all over the world for him, whispered to his parents in reverent tones: stories of how Jimmy changed us. They weren’t stories of grand acts of valor. It wasn’t because he was brilliant (he was) or that he was brave (he was) or that he never failed (he did.) Jimmy’s life mattered in the quiet moments. In Bible studies with aetheist friends who trusted him. In med school classes where his peaceful spirit shone like a spotlight. In loud laughter, in worship on Sunday mornings, in expensive scotch and cheap beer on Saturday nights, on the crags of the mountain tops he scaled on weekends. In how he treated his little sister. In how he loved his wife.

I think about what this quiet time means for me, this season of small movements, and I look at Jimmy. I remember that this moment, this is it; this is what matters. What I do with my hands. What I say. Who I love, and how I love them. That’s what the quiet time reminds me of: that the essentials are simple. And that my work is essential, no matter what it looks like to anyone else. When done with great love, and great humility, all of my work matters.

Sometimes my life feels small.

Good. May the smallness remind me of God’s greatness, and press me towards the grandiosity of living in the light.

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why we don’t have another baby yet.

There’s a fast-approaching date on the calendar that I’ve been waiting to experience. It’s the day that Sammy turns 16 months and 16 days old, the exact age of Clara when he was born. I look at him every day and can’t imagine having a newborn at home as well. I don’t know if it’s because Clara is our oldest, or because she’s always been a little more observant and socially aware than he has, but Sammy seems so much younger at every stage. We dote on him, it’s way too easy to dote on him, and he also has Clara to direct and control his life (which she attempts with great pleasure and a small iron fist), and for these and many other reasons he still seems like a baby to me. Let’s be honest, it probably also has something to do with the fact that he is still nursing. I never really knew how I felt about “extended” breastfeeding until I found myself doing it, and it turns out I am not a fan. Every time he sits up afterwards and says “Ahhh! All done!” I am embarrassed for everyone in the house.

Maybe it was just ignorance, honestly, that convinced me to get pregnant when Clara was 8 months old (she’ll be so much older when he’s born! I said. She’ll practically be an adult! I said) but when it came time to think about our third baby, I felt a definite hesitation. Not in the longing for a baby; I daydream about our other children constantly, and pray every day that I can have more. But I haven’t felt a peace about trying again. Isn’t that strange? I never felt this kind of pause with our other pregnancies. I don’t normally pause for anything, in fact.

My family, my big family of my siblings and their spouses and my parents, recently struck a conversation about our Meyers-Briggs personality profiles. We all took an online version of the test and then read through each other’s profiles, gawking at how accurate they were and how different all of us are. I am an ENFP, an introverted kind of extrovert, full of ideas and love and short on follow-through and common sense. I’ve read through lots of information on my personality lately, trying to figure myself out and how to be a better person.

Mostly what I’ve noticed is that I am impatient. I am the opposite of a perfectionist: I am a “it’s good enough and if it’s not I’m sure we’ll all survive anyways” kind of a person. This is mostly because I have so many ideas and dreams that I couldn’t possibly be expected to spend any time finishing and perfecting just one of them, how dare you suggest it. Also, I am lazy. These traits cause problems for me, especially with my husband, who is too particular to even let me do the laundry because I forget which t-shirts don’t belong in the dryer. I just don’t care about doing things right, or about how they will get done, and I fail to see any value in following a set of rules for something that can be done faster and or easier.

And what a surprise, but I pay for this mindset constantly. My teachers always said, “You have so much potential if only you would finish something,” and they were right. I am impatient and I suck at being faithful in the details.

But now, as a mother, there’s not a lot of room for that part of me. Mundane tasks, maintenance chores that no one notices unless I don’t do them, a day revolving around the essentials of life; this is my new normal. (Do you know that children must eat at LEAST 3 times a day? It’s never-ending with these people!)

This is hard for me. It is hard almost every single day. But you know what? And this is my qualm with all those personality profiles, all of those lists of strengths and weaknesses: They don’t leave much room for grace or transformation. Because I can change. I mean, I can’t change who I am. I will always prefer major projects to small tasks. I will always enjoy creatively solving complex problems to doing the actual simple, good work of everyday life. But I am not my own person anymore. I don’t answer to Jessie, I don’t worship at the altar of Jessie, and I sure as hell don’t need Jessie and her personality traits determining my life. Simply put, Jessie makes a lot of messes. She’s not exactly my role model.

Inside of those four letters- those ENFP traits and ticks- I depend on the God of mercy to sift through me. Like the farmer methodically sifting wheat and chaff, like a judge and her intuition sifting fact and fiction, I pray for refinement as God sifts through me and presses the truth of who I am into my soul, letting the unsightly habits fall away one by one.

What does this have to do with babies? Well. We don’t have another baby yet because God said Wait. I know it was God, because it wasn’t me. Impatient, jump head first off the cliff me- she would have tried to get pregnant a long time ago. And I know it wasn’t the devil because he actually normally sounds a lot like me, which tends to make him  more convincing of course, and I would have told myself YES, go for it, now is always the right time.

I haven’t always heard God so clearly. Motherhood has chastened me, gripped me, led me into a lifestyle foreign to my tastes and behaviors. This isn’t some creative project I’m working on, these children and my home like some grand masterpiece preparing to be revealed; this isn’t one of my plays or my essays or even a full day of creative work culminated in a finished product. This is a long study. This is devoted work. This is work of the heart, produced by steady movements of my hands and my body, a work that is making me quiet down the demons of my personality and be still. Be steady. Listen. 

And in the listening, I heard Wait.

So here I am. With my two beautiful kids, an ache in my skin for many more, and a renewed trust in the One who knows me and keeps me, loves me and cherishes me, and is doing the work of sifting and refining me.

Wait. Be still. Be refined. 

Waiting is so hard! Waiting is the worst! But in the waiting, I’m hearing so much. I am mother; but I am more. And I am less. I am Jessie, which means I am impatient and impractical, foolhardy and visionary; but I am learning to listen. Learning to be the truest version of me. With kids, without kids, whatever: the sifting is necessary. And it’s good. So- I wait.

 

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(Imagine her sunscreen budget.)

 

 

sammy’s birth day video

You know, it’s strange. I can write about a lot of things, from the ridiculous to the deeply personal.  But when it comes to the birth of my children, I find myself stumped. I have so many different starts with so many different angles in the telling of Clara and Sammy’s births, but the words never flow. They never seem to stick without getting sticky, you know what I mean? I don’t know, maybe one day I will sit down and stop self-editing long enough to just tell the stories without worrying about telling them right; until then I’ll choose an alternative mode for organizing their birth stories, which is to keep making poorly edited movies and slide shows. (Cause if you can’t do something right, just keep doing it worse. I think that’s a saying, isn’t it?)

I know it’s almost March and that means my son turned one almost two months ago, but I finally finished the video I wanted to make for his birthday. This movie is much more intimate than anything I’ve ever shared about my kids’ births or their first few days. I’ve gone back and forth with myself wondering if I should post it at all, if maybe it’s a little too much to give the world. But, Sammy’s life has been shared by many friends and family and strangers even, a whirlwind of prayers bookmarked by two frightening January events, cold days bitter with wind and fear. The video opens with my baby hooked up to IV’s and ends with him hooked up to IV’s, stark images that bring back a lot of feelings.

Due to some complications with my pregnancy and some impossible decision-making, which you can read about here, Sammy was born 2 1/2 weeks early weighing 4 1/2 pounds. That’s a small kid. When I watch his birth video I feel sad for the mother I see on that hospital bed, sick with worry about the baby that she knows is too small and the panic of not knowing why. Nothing was wrong- we just make tiny babies. But I didn’t know that. I just knew that the boy I pulled up onto my chest was the tiniest human being I had ever seen in person, a bundle of bones and tight skin, dark hair and the most impossibly skinny legs. We spent the week in the NICU letting him gain weight and learn to stabilize his own blood sugars, and then took home a four pound three ounce human, ours to feed and nurture and keep safe from a world full of germs and idiots.

It was terrifying. I wasn’t very happy: in fact, I was depressed. I didn’t see it at the time, I just knew how tense I felt about his health and how pressed in I felt for the two months we weren’t allowed to leave the house. But now when I watch these videos, these 3 minute snippets of our new life as a family of four, I can see that tension in my shoulders and the aging on my face. Over the course of the year I watch my baby get fatter and the sun start to shine again and it is a peculiar phenomenon to actually watch yourself climb out of a hole and back into your own skin.
It’s reassuring.
It’s emotional insurance for when dark days most assuredly come again.

It makes me ache for that woman I see on the screen, and it makes me love her very much. For straining towards the light, for opening her white knuckles one by one to let the fear drop like stones into a pond; I want to hug her long and tight. God was so faithful to me this whole year, as I was squeezed and shrank and then grew again, as I learned a new way to be myself and found joy in the morning. Joy in each morning, joy in the letting go, joy in the new life that filled each corner of our house. New life in our children and a whole new life for me as well.

I graduated from college a few weeks before Sammy was born and didn’t look for a job afterwards. We decided to keep our kids home and that meant that I would stay home, after 12 years working and 3 years pursuing my writing degree, after a decade of paychecks and staff meetings and projects and leaving my house every morning with a cup of coffee and my hair looking good; I chose to stay home. This was the first year since I was 15 years old that I didn’t receive any W2 forms in the mail for tax season, and quite honestly, that wasn’t easy for me. Money is such a straightforward measure of success, a spendable way to know you are appreciated. No one pays me for anything I do. No one really knows anything I do, nor do they care. That’s also hard to swallow. It’s not for lack of opportunity- I’ve had job offers almost every month this year, but it’s never been work that was worth time away from our family. So I keep saying no, and I keep wondering what the future holds, and I keep holding tight to these precious, quiet years that I have with my babies. Sam’s job affords me this luxury, and it is a privilege I don’t take lightly, but it’s been an ego and identity adjustment all the same. And I see that too, as I watch this video- I get to see where my time went, get a visual of the dividends I am paying into my family and see fruit from my labor as my children grow and change and live good lives with me, their mother. Not just their mother; a million other things as well, but for now: mother most of all.

The video closes with pictures of Sammy back on hospital beds and monitors, his face swollen with fluids and anesthesia. His infection and emergency surgery (talked about those here and here) were an arresting reminder that his life is completely out of our hands. He started his life scaring us and brought his first year to a close scaring us again. What a potent message from that happy little son of ours:

That no matter what we feed them, no matter how many times we check both ways on the street, no matter the brand of carseat or which direction it faces for how long; no matter what meager measures we put in place to protect the heartbeats of our beloveds, we cannot control their breaths. Each day with them is a gift, truly, even the shitty days, and if I’m thankful for a million things from this last year, the simplest is that their blood kept flowing and their lungs kept expanding.

God brought me back to life after a dark season, and gave me 365 more days with my kids than I could have given myself. So I sing my thanks, and I cry silent tears for the grace of it all, and I hope in the light that reflects on this crashing river of love. Darkness will not win. Tragedy will not triumph. No matter what comes, no matter the loss we carry or the fear we fight, hope will come again. Because hope never left.

 

This video was so fun to make. Our son was, perhaps, the happiest, easiest baby we have ever met. I forgot how early and often he smiled- it was almost impossible to find pictures of him NOT smiling. Every time I watch this I fall in love with him and that twinkle in his eyes all over again. He’s a lover, that Sam guy of ours!

someday you will miss that robe.

Dear Jessie,

Someday you will miss that robe at the end of your bed.

Someday you will miss that pink robe, the one draped over your bed covers. The one worn thin by round baby cheeks pressed against you in sleep. The one with the left shoulder constantly caked with spit up or animal cracker or drool, that left shoulder where so many nights and early mornings you invited a sleepy head to rest. You wear that robe like a cape some nights, tossing it on as you rush to save your crying baby. You are not even completely awake, but you know the tone of their cries, you know the sound of their breaths, you know something is wrong even through the walls of your house. You are not a hero, but to them? In those long and dark midnight hours of pushing through new teeth, waking up with painful coughs, or that restless newborn confusion: you are everything they ever wanted. You are mommy. In her pink robe. Warm and quiet and soft, swaying with that ancient dance of motherhood that has rocked civilizations to sleep since Eve held her boys to her breast. You are home, you and that robe.

Someday, I promise, you will miss feeling tiny hands climb over you and into your bed. You will be more rested, I think, when these days pass, but your bed might feel bigger than necessary without those warm, wiggling bodies twisting between their tired parents. You will miss her curls, his chubby feet, their dreaming fingers fluttering inches away from you in deep slumber.

I know you’re tired. I know you are so, so tired. It’s ok. These are hard nights. It’s hard to be woken up, it’s hard to always be a parent, even in the middle of the night, even when you are exhausted. It’s hard to be kind in the morning after you slept on the couch with a sick baby, or when two-year old molars were coming in all night, or when no one has slept well for a week. It’s hard to wake up and make breakfast and say “Good morning, babies,” and be patient when people are fussing on a really good day, much less on a really tired day. But you’re doing good. Good job for apologizing when you snapped at Clara for whining. Good job for knowing you needed to take the kids to see their cousins this morning when you couldn’t handle telling Sammy’s book-tearing hands “NO” one more time by 9 am. That’s good. You’re not a hero, remember. You wear a pink cape that rests on the edge of your bed and you pray all day long for more and more and more of whatever it is that makes God love you and your fussing so much, and that’s great. That’s it, that’s all you need. Because He knows. He sees you. He will bear with you, and teach you to bear with them, and He will show them love through you, at all hours of the day. That’s good.

And remember, ok, remember this when the days seem impossible, or you are almost afraid of how happy you are to be their mom, or you just can’t remember how to be a mom at all: remember that life is meant to be interrupted. Your broken sleep is merely a reflection of this breaking inside you, as your old way of life is interrupted and a new, thick thread weaves it way through your story. You won’t be the same anymore. You aren’t meant to be, after these babies come. This thread is pulling, tugging, changing your tapestry in ways you cannot imagine. It’s gonna hurt sometimes. It’ll feel too tight. It’ll feel wrong, this piercing, tugging thread of motherhood. But it’s just right. These minutes filled with the needs of others, filled with the clatter of disruption and disorder; they are the thread that is hemming in your story and creating the rest of you. 

Because these precious, beloved children of yours? They won’t be here forever. In fact, they’ll leave soon. Someday they will sneak past your bedroom door instead of through it. Someday you will throw on that robe to answer midnight phone calls instead of cries, to whisper advice instead of lullabies. You will still be you, changed by their very heartbeats, and they will still be them, hearts beating outside of your grasp and in a world all their own. Don’t lose yourself in these tired nights. Don’t forget the astonishing joy of being their everything, nor the price you pay to raise someone well, nor the woman beneath the robe who exists beyond the nursery door, in a world all her own. Remember that the thread of motherhood is a part of your story; but not the very end. Remember that these babies and their needs are a gift, and will not last forever. Remember that the love in their eyes is saved for no one else.

Someday you will miss that pink robe on the edge of your bed. You won’t miss being woken up all night, or feeling hung over with exhaustion, or planning your sex life around a nap schedule. You won’t miss being thrown up on or changing wet pants or the onslaught of questions and requests that begins every morning at sunrise. But you will miss this simple kind of tired. The one that means you are doing your job well. The one that goes away with sleep. There will be new kinds of tired, you know? As these babies grow up, and hurt themselves or others, you will not be able to sleep away the pain you share with them. And when those days come; when you feel lost and hurt and wonder how on earth you can ever help them find their way again; remember that a long time ago, you held them tight and loved them well. You kept a robe waiting at the end of your bed so you could hurry to meet their needs, and that kind of love will dig into them. It will grow with them. It will teach them to love others and to love themselves.

These midnight hours matter. These tired days matter.

You and your babies are going to be ok.
Tomorrow morning,
and all the mornings after.

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Uncomfortable Love: Merry Christmas

Christmas is coming, and we need to talk about love.

It seems easy, at this time of year, when my house is slung with cheerful decorations and twinkling lights, when I’m wrapping up gifts and singing soft Christmas lullabies to my babies as they fall asleep each night;

it seems easy to know what love looks like.

Isn’t that love there, flickering in the pooling wax of advent candles? Listen, it’s there, in the reverent strains of O, Holy Night, The Stars So Brightly Shining.
Isn’t love so pretty at Christmas?

But real Love? The kind that builds us up, brick by sturdy brick, the kind that doesn’t  make sense, the kind that never gives up?
Real love isn’t always pretty. It’s not always easy or comfortable or found in the warm glow of holiday nights.

Sometimes, love is uncomfortable.

Sometimes, love is inconvenient.

Sometimes, love can even look downright unholy. The Bible is full of stories that are full of the kind of uncomfortable love that makes us cringe and look away, because it’s just too complicated and inconvenient to try and understand.
The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in a desert… that’s love?
Hosea marries a prostitute and welcoming her back again and again and again… that’s love?

Even in the opening lilt of “Away in a Manger, No Crib for a bed,” we are handed the uncomfortable picture of a baby born in the barest of circumstances, welcomed to the world on the dirty floor of a dirty stable.

Why does this holy love look so,

unpolished? humble? even foolish?  

In this Advent season, as we pause and reflect on the coming of our Savior, let us revel in the strange and surprising love illuminated by His birth.

Love is a scared young mother in Bethlehem, arched in pain as she labors with the bloody birth of the Christ Child, giving herself over to the Task at hand.

Love is a nervous father, called to carry the Holy Burden of marrying this pregnant teen before him and calling the son she bears, his own.

Love, Emmanuel, God with Us, left Heaven and came to earth,
on a journey from an all-mighty kingship, to helpless body of a baby.

Love came down because Love didn’t mind
our dirty hands and our broken hearts.
Love came down because HE WANTED YOU.

He knows you, He sees you, He heard you, and yes yes a million times yes-
He. Wants. You.

Born without a bed. A man without a home.
Infant in a crude and simple manger,
teacher hung on a crude and simple cross to die-

His life? Was uncomfortable.

His love? Is transformative.

It’s  a moment of crisis. A tilting, hinging fulcrum in time, a grip on your heart so great that you can take or leave it
but His Love cannot be ignored.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave his life for us. And there is no greater love than this, than he who lays down his life for his friends…
and, dare we say it?
This inconvenient, unholy thought on the holiest days of our winter season…
love laid down his life-

for his enemies.

This messy, Perfect Love goes slogging through the worst of times.
When the mud is deep. When the edges are frayed. When the frame on which you’ve built your very life  has snapped beneath you:
This Strange Love presses on.

Love came down into our darkness and shone a great light.
Love came down into our darkness.
Love came down.

For you.

 

Merry Christmas.

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