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.)

 

 

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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releasing the gaps.

I was 16 years old before I realized my parents had faults. I mean, maybe I suspected it before then and of course I was rotten to them for years before that but still. It was a shock to me when they became human. I wonder if everyone has that moment, or if comes more gradually for some of us, that moment when our moms and dads shrink a little and the world sort of zeroes in on their inadequacies and suddenly, SUDDENLY nothing can be trusted. If my parents don’t know everything, then what the heck does any of this mean? we might ask ourselves in that moment of revelation. There are times I look at my own kids wondering if they aren’t just looking right back through me, already aware of my deep, abiding failures as a human being.

A while ago we went to Washington to visit our family. Sam left me and the kids there for the week while he went back home to work. It was the first time I’d ever been away by myself with Clara and Sammy, and each night of our trip was a small battle for a full night’s sleep. They couldn’t relax, they couldn’t get comfortable, and, of course, they both came down with a cold. Every night I laid in a twin bed in the downstairs office, the babies burrowed into my sides, occasionally waking themselves in a start and reaching out for me with shaky arms. They would whimper my name and feel around in the dark for my face. Assured I was still there, they would fall back asleep with limbs draped over me and each other, safe in the knowledge that their mother was close by.

And it occurred to me on that trip; in the dark of the small office where the three of us slept side by side, their bodies tucked into mine; in the kitchen where I settled each of them on a hip during those cranky late afternoon hours; when I would come up the stairs and watch both of their faces light up at the wondrous sight of their mother approachingit occurred to me what an enormous privilege it is to be someones everything.

It’s also scary as hell.

These babies, you know, they live and die by me. They would follow me to the ends of the earth and I am the center of their knee-high universe.
But about when my kids stop worshipping me? What about when they wake up and realize that beyond being imperfect, I have actively been screwing them up for decades?

It’s probably going to take my kids a long time to see me and their dad through the open truth of adulthood. They will adore us for years to come, copying our every steps and voicing our opinions like they are their own, reenacting our way of life because, just like every kid, they will believe it is the only way of life. It’s scary, isn’t it, that kids believe and trust their parents so willingly? We are their first mirror. They seem themselves through our vision, they see the world through our lenses, they believe what they believe because we say it so.

And yeah, YES, that is unsettling.
Because I know me.
I know what they will eventually find out about me, I can count to the stars and back all the ways that I fear letting them down, those gaps in my parenting and my person hood, and it is deeply terrifying.

Parents make enormous mistakes. Parents hurt their kids. They try and they fail to be everything their own parents were not and they try and they fail to be the one family who doesn’t screw everything up.

And you know what? You might do a really good job of that for awhile. You might do your best and things will be fine but let me tell you! Let me tell you. The day will come. Problems will arise. It will all hit the proverbial fan and it. will. stink.

However.

The good news.

The news I carry around for safe keeping.

It is in my mistakes that God shines through. It is in the gaps that the God-light of true and perfect love has room to break through and warm my kids’ hearts, melt away those ugly parts of them that I can’t reach or even begin to understand. That is a God job. And He will use my mistakes to do it. Just like that feeling of safety in the dark and that wonder in their eyes when my babies know I am near, that is a whisper to them of the safety and wonder in their true Father’s arms. It’s both things, you guys. We know goodness through our parents and we know failure through our parents, and both are so important to our growth.

This is why God puts us in families.
Why He gives us parents, I think.
To see His goodness in their goodness. 
And His completion in their faults.  

The failures of me as a mother reveal my lacking. My defects. And I hope- I pray- that the lack will send them hunting. Send my kids to search for something better. Something that fulfills them and knows them more than even I could dream.
Someone without defect. Someone with perfect love.

May any goodness in me point you towards heaven, babies.
And may my mistakes do the same.