A love letter to 2017

A love letter to 2017

Dearest 2017,

As I sit here at my desk eating Dove chocolates and staring out the window, I realize that I can sum you up with these four words: YOU DID NOT DISAPPOINT.

We’ve seen good years, and fun years, and challenging years, and long years, and years full of adventure, and unexpected years, and years that flew by, and years full of prayer, and years full of questioning.

But this year… wow! Where do I even begin? You were most certainly an unforgettable year. You did not disappoint. You brought your A-game. You went above and beyond. You were an incredible year. We’ve loved our time with you.

You were the year that prayers were answered.

You were the year that we held our dreams in our arms.

You were the year that we got to watch my belly grow, and grow.

You were the year that Shawn won $5,000 through his company, in the form of one of those comically ginormous checks.

You were the year that Shawn was promoted to manager of his own store.

You were the year that we took a risk and decided to buy a house. We saw God work in big ways behind the scenes. In ways that made us say, “That was God.”

You were the year that brought us to San Angelo, Texas. A place we had never even heard of before moving here.

You were the year that Shawn won an Alaskan cruise through his company, and saw some spectacular sights.

You were the year that we got to meet a new niece and a new nephew.

You were the year that we had some family come to visit.

You were the year that we met some great people in our new city.

You were the year that we got a Christmas puppy named Weller.

You were the year that we took a roadtrip to Colorado to introduce our daughter to my family, and the majestic mountains.

You were the year that we traveled to some new places in Texas, seeing more of this big state.

You were the year that we stood hand-in-hand at the edge of the Grand Canyon.

You were the year that our daughter Noella Pearl was born.

2016 was a year of praying. It was a year of asking, “God, do you hear us?”. Every time I drove to work on those icy Cheyenne roads, through a tunnel of trees, I would be so deep in thought. Knowing we were in the middle of our 4th attempt at IVF, I would often fear the outcome, and what the future held for us.  It was the same path, the same route, a different day, but the same year. There was something about the repetition of that same path, every day, that reminded me to just keep on praying, to just keep speaking boldly before God, to keep asking, in faith, for specifics. In many ways, that was the theme of 2016. Along that same path I would pray so specifically, and so often, that Shawn would get promoted to manager soon, knowing that then we could finally settle down. I prayed over and over that God would find the best place for us, but also knowing that we would accept any offer to relocate. So I prayed that whatever they offered us would be a place that God had in mind for us. I prayed that he would find the right city, state, community, church, and opportunities for us there – wherever he would move us next.

2017 was a year that so many prayers were answered and dreams were realized. It’s a year that will forever be near and dear to our hearts.

Here are a few other blog post highlights and some picture highlights from the year:

A daughter
Her first doll, survivor’s guilt, and timing
Grace for right now
Our circumstances, his goodness
This belly
2 years back in the USA

Say whaaaaaat?
Shawn dreams big and works hard. I’m so proud of him.
My sister and her family came to visit us in Texas, and to meet two-week-old Noella! Shawn’s parents got to come for a visit the following week. What special memories!
Noella Pearl joined our world, our family.
Our Christmas puppy Weller.
Move number 16. Wait. 16?!? Yes, we’re crazy.
Time with family in Colorado.
The nursery in our new home, all set for baby girl’s arrival.
13 years together. Love you more.
Meeting my niece Quinn. In October we got to meet our 8th nephew Graham, my brother and his wife Sara’s third son. He’s just two weeks older than Noella. How special!
We enjoyed our travels to Garden of the Gods, Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Alaska (Shawn), Waco, Austin, and Fredericksburg.
This little joy made it an unforgettable year.

2017, you were an incredible year. We loved our time with you.

2018, we can’t wait to meet you…

Christmas joy, now and always

Christmas joy, now and always

I see my baby wrapped in a flannel blanket, fresh from her bath. Little sparkly trees sit on our mantel. A new puppy fights the wreath I try to put around his neck for a picture. Shawn puts on a festive bow tie and a green vest for a short work day. Tonight we’ll put baby in her red Christmas dress and white tights, and head to the Christmas Eve service at church. We’ll sing about how a weary world rejoices, and joy will fill the room, just as it has our home over the past few months.

We didn’t send out a Christmas letter this year, just a few cards with a picture of us as a family of three. But if we had, I don’t know what I would have said other than, life has never been better. And that feels so cheesy, so “look at us in our beautiful home, with a baby and a puppy, sitting on a blanket in the yard” brag-fest-y.

This scene is new to us. Christmases past have been us sitting on white plastic chairs, wearing a santa hat, hoping the power will come back on and charge our laptop so we can watch a Christmas dvd, while finishing a bowl of rice + mystery meat the neighbors brought by. Christmases past have been us giving each other gifts we could find at Casino grocery store in Dakar (hazelnut syrup for me, and imported sausage for him). Christmases past have been us waking up early to the Call to Prayer at the Mosque, and knowing that out on the streets it was just another day, not December 25th. Christmases past were us missing family and the familiar festivities of our home culture so much that I laid on our bed and cried into my pillow. Christmases past were us cringing as other couples our age welcomed their first, second, and third child into the family, adding another stocking, and more traditions with each passing year. In Christmases past we were barely scraping by, living on support, and praying for God to provide month by month.

But no matter where life finds us, we can say that God has been good to us. This Christmas is a special one. We have the baby we’ve prayed so long for. We have the home we’ve dreamed of. We have the yard, and the community of friends and neighbors too.

These things are so special to us, and we are incredibly grateful.

But I don’t ever want to get so lost in the white lights, the red nails, the sparkly trees on the mantel, and the festivities that I forget about the great joy of this season. That great joy is Jesus. He came to save a weary, dark, lost, helpless, and sad world. He’s our remedy. And for that, we rejoice. For that, we can rejoice. No matter where you find yourself this Christmas, whether life has never been better, or you don’t know how you’ll face tomorrow, I hope you’ll know that joy, peace, and hope are possible. I hope you’ll know that your weary soul can rejoice, because King Jesus was born for a world in need. He was born for you. He was born for us. He was born that we may have life.

Merry Christmas from us to you!
Lessons on fear and trust

Lessons on fear and trust

I sneak into her room to watch her sleep sometimes, when I know she’s really out. I look down at her in her crib, and I’m in awe that she’s our daughter. I feel such love and gratitude when I look at her that I don’t quite know how to contain myself. I take some pictures, and I whisper a thank-you to God. We prayed for so long for a baby, and here she is. But I also whisper a prayer for help in choosing faith over fear when it comes to her life. It’s this soul battle that I’ve been fighting lately, and perhaps some of it is anxiety from that post partum life, and some of it is just a parent’s natural reaction, but I beg God to help me trust him with her life. My human nature wants to hold her tightly to my chest and run so far from ever saying, “She’s yours, God”, for fear of what that could mean. But isn’t placing her in God’s hands the safest, best place for her to be? 100% yes. But sometimes that struggle between my fears, and my faith, and my humanity is a battle. I get so mad at myself when I worry or fear, because look at all that God has done – both in our lives and from the beginning of time. But in my humanity I’m still tempted to take matters into my own hands and fear all the “what ifs” that this world, and my mind tempt me with. The fact that she’s here at all is a miracle, and I don’t want to take away from that by allowing fear one minute of power over me. But sometimes, if I’m honest, it’s easier said than done.

I remember when we were living in Cap Skirring, it was known that you should not drive at night for safety reasons. Both because of the dangers on the road, but also because of the risk of rebel activity. So we just never drove at night. But one time Shawn went with a group of local believers to a men’s meeting in Ziguinchor (about an hour away) and due to a number of reasons, the meetings ran late, and that meant they would be returning at night, driving in the dark – the very thing we knew to avoid. I was at home with our dog Roxy, fear creeping in as the sun began to set, knowing the risks at hand. Shawn called to tell me what I had already assumed, that they would be returning later than expected, and driving back at night. I was sick with fear. I thought about the local Senegalese taxi driver who was shot in the back of the head a few weeks prior, just so rebels could stop the taxi and rob him and anyone in the car. I thought about the accidents that took place on that road, with no good hospitals nearby, and I was scared thinking about what could happen to the man I loved so very much. Our minds sure do love to take it and run with it when there’s even a remote possibility for danger. I was too worried to even pray. I just paced our house, and then went to sit with our neighbor Yassine while I waited. It was awful. Thankfully, they made it home safe and without encountering a single incident. My worry was for nothing. But I didn’t know that at the time. The fear was real. But where was my trust in God?

With each of our six embryo transfers, I worried about what could happen. It was like a cycle of hope, then remembering our track record of loss, then back to the excitement that it could happen this time, back to analyzing everything we had invested in this transfer, and so on. The fear and the emotions were real. And although it may not have felt like it at the time, we were strengthening our ability to choose faith over fear. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t instant, and it most certainly wasn’t a natural or feel-good response.

Shawn watched me fight malaria with fear in his eyes. He saw how my body was giving up, and he saw how delirious I was. Choosing to trust God when your wife is so sick, in a country you’ve only been in for a few months, was terrifying. It was hard to trust God in that moment when fear was present and easy to grasp.

There are so, so many scenarios that come to mind of times when fear and worry and anxiety were all too familiar, and the tears and the shortness of breath were real. Like when I was convinced our plane was going down, or when my throat began to close after my Yellow Fever shot, or when Shawn was locked in a Senegalese jail cell.

Sometimes I feel like fear is validated as I remember heartache we’ve known personally, or as I’ve cried for friends over their loss, or the news of their diagnosis, or the reality of their heartache. That’s what fuels the fire of these “what ifs” that creep into my mind, into my day. I feel like they ‘deserve’ a second glance, because bad things do happen. And from there, the fear grows, and it becomes more legit as I focus on it. That’s the struggle. And it’s real. But if I feel that fear can be “validated”, how much more can trust in God be validated? He’s the author of Salvation, the designer of our blood vessels, the one who controls the atmosphere, the one who works good from bad, a great mighty warrior, the one who fights for us in a realm we can’t see or begin to comprehend. He’s powerful, he’s in control despite our circumstances, our fear, our very own worse-case scenarios. He’s the Great I Am. And that’s what I’ll remember when I watch her sleep, when I hold her and am overwhelmed at what an incredible gift she is to us.

Faithful he has been, faithful he will be. Even with her life. Even with an unknown future.

That nursery sticker, guilt and joy

That nursery sticker, guilt and joy

I got to wear one of those stickers on my jeans at church on Sunday. You know the one, a white rectangle with bold lettering showing all who walk past you that you have a child in the nursery? It was a badge of honor for me to (finally) get to wear one. I felt proud. I felt like I was “officially officially” part of the mom club. (And not the “mom jeans and harvest vests” mom club, the “cool mom” mom club. I hope…)
Anyway, it’s one of those little tiny things that I used to see other women wearing and wonder why they had a kid and I didn’t. It was one of those cruel things that set them apart from me. It was a clear and vivid sticky symbol that they were given a child, and I was not. This wasn’t so much an issue in Senegal, because there wasn’t such organized childcare, but there was the “moms with kids go first at the potluck”, and the play date social circles I missed out on, and moms waving at their kids singing on stage at the Christmas play, and other social scenes that left me feeling sad, and left out from something I so desperately wanted to be a part of.
But not today. Today I got to wear a badge saying that I had a baby.
I felt joy. And pride. And even some guilt.

A badge of emotion.

It’s a very similar feeling that I dealt with in this blog post. It’s a feeling of wanting to express to those around me, to that woman who hasn’t been able to get pregnant, or wants to adopt, or who has experienced loss, that I understand grief on a personal level too, and that I’ve seen hope on the darkest of days, and that joy is possible through knowing God. This sticker wasn’t easy to come by – well, actually it was, they literally printed it for me in a matter of seconds – but the baby behind the sticker wasn’t easy to come by. This joy, this moment, was long prayed for, hoped for, wished for, and fought for. If I have a sticker and you don’t, just know that I’ve been there. You’re not alone. And if you too want a sticker, I’ll be praying for you. And in the meantime, through your season of waiting, and through your season of tears, I’ll be your friend.

The village and Noella’s name

The village and Noella’s name

We’ll never forget our year of living in the village. Packing our belongings  and our puppy on a truck while we took the 14-hour, overnight boat trip. The indescribable heat, the living with no running water, the hurricanes that blew over palm trees. The cultural ceremonies, being a fifteen-minute walk from the ocean, the bugs. Watching the sunsets from our roof. The bug that my neighbor removed from my toe using a needle. The long power cuts. The hoping we wouldn’t lose the hard-to-come-by meat in our freezer. Land mines. The lime green snakes. The large, extended families of cockroaches. The risk of driving at night because of the rebels. The fish and rice. So much rice. The dancing. The drums. The sand. The greetings. The heartache of missing family. The vivacious bougainvillea and the vibrant hibiscus flowers. The learning to belong. The melting pot of people and languages. The loneliness. The unexplainable struggle to get pregnant after years of trying. Being an outsider in a foreign culture. Not blending in. Making friends. Spending time with my namesake baby Jenn. Learning to live outside our comfort zone. Friends turning into family. Pigs. Goats. Chickens. Kids climbing palm trees. Kids climbing on our fence. Noisy roosters. Community. Yassine. Thomas. Nando. Safi. Mami. George. Martin. Noella.

We’ll never forget our year of living in the village. More than anything we’ll never forget the people. We were outsiders living in their world, learning to navigate a culture that was foreign to us. We were far from family and friends, and they welcomed us.

One person that we’ll never forget is Noella. From day one of meeting her I loved her name. She was 13 years old at the time. She was the little sister of one of the guys in the church where we were working. She was living with her brother, far from her parents. I know family dynamics are different for Africans, but I always felt bad that she lived so far from her parents at such a young age. She would come with her brother to church and she was often the only girl there. Her life, like many women in Africa, was hard. She was up early hauling water, cooking rice, going to the market, and often spending time out in the fields, working long hours in the hot sun. But she was always so sweet and so kind.

Noella (in the green wrap skirt) helping us make a meal for Shawn’s birthday.

She stayed the night with us once while her brother was out of town. I loved being able to take care of her, to host her in our home, to watch Shawn interact with her, knowing he’d make a great dad if ever given the opportunity. I remember her curious questions as she looked around at our American gadgets (potato peeler, lime squeezer) and observed our “strange” in home customs.

The way things were going for us, and living hours from any medical help, let alone a fertility specialist, I doubted whether or not we’d ever have a child to name. But with bitter tears stinging my eyes, I quietly tucked the name Noella in my back pocket just in case we ever had the privilege of naming a daughter. Not only did I love the name, I loved Noella from Cap Skirring, Senegal. I loved her sweet spirit, and I loved how she went against the cultural norm for a young woman and came to church with a desire to learn. I loved the idea of a name that incorporated the memory of our time in Africa. In Africa namesakes are everything. You always name your child after someone.

Our Noella may never meet Noella of Cap Skirring here on earth. But she will one day. And in the meantime, she’ll hear about her, and that memorable year in the village that we’ll never forget. The year when we prayed that one day we’d have a daughter that we could name Noella.

And Pearl, her middle name, is a family name on both sides. And we also had the expression, “No grit, no pearl” in mind. Because the best things are always worth fighting for. Things like our baby girl. Things like pushing outside your comfort zone. Things like finding meaningful community in a world where you’re the foreigner. Things like love and hope.

 

 

 

For this family

For this family

For this family we had to dream big.

For this family we had to pray big.

For this family we had to work hard.

For this family we had to try and try and try again.

For this family we didn’t give up.

For this family we count our blessings.

For this family we are grateful.


A rainbow in our arms

A rainbow in our arms

Storms are bound to come. Some are harder and more powerful than others. Some are more devastating than others. Some last longer than others. Some teach us something. Sometimes that lesson is about survival, about how to weather the storm, and get through it. Sometimes the lesson is about how to come out on the other side stronger than you were before. Sometimes the lesson is about taking it moment by moment when you don’t know what’s going to happen, just to turn around and see that you made it.

The calm after the storm is such a beautiful thing: the winds and the rain stop, the waves calm down, the birds start chirping, and the sun breaks through the clouds in an undeniable display of perfect beauty. Rays of light touch the earth, right where the storm was raging not long ago. It’s a moment where you look back and see that you made it when you didn’t know if you would. Then, not always, but sometimes, there’s a rainbow. There’s a vivid and colorful sign stretched across the sky where you can’t miss it. It’s a sign that God was with you through it all. When the storm was raging, when fear and worry were present, when you didn’t know what was to come, he was there. His grace and presence were there, just as he promised.

We look back on some of the storms we’ve weathered as a couple, storms that brought grief and the loss of six embryo babies, and we see that we were never alone. We see God’s grace when we see the sun’s rays shining down, we see his grace when we see that God made us stronger through the storm, and we see his grace and mercy when we see a rainbow – both in the sky and in our arms.

We thank you God for allowing the hard, dark stormy days to make the rainbow that much sweeter.

 

13 years, a framed memory

13 years, a framed memory

I can’t believe you’ve known me since I was 16. I can’t believe we’ve been married for 13 years. I can’t believe we have a daughter! When I look around, I can’t believe this is my life. I take a picture with my mind’s eye and frame it.

When I hear songs about people looking back on their lives, wondering where that first love is now, I smile. I smile because I know right where you are. You’re standing in our living room at 2:45am rocking our tightly swaddled baby girl.

13 years looks different than any other anniversary. They’ve all been sweet, something we’ve looked forward to, and worthy of celebration. Some years have been sweet because we walked a hard road and our love was strengthened and we survived, learned, and grew together. But this year, year 13, is sweeter than we could have imagined.

There aren’t any candles or roses or lingerie this year (let’s just be honest). There are irrational tears (from me, not her… dang hormones). There aren’t any exotic getaways or weekend trips this year. There aren’t any extravagant gifts or large bouquets of flowers or lip stick notes on the mirror. There’s a kiss goodbye as you leave for work, with a sticky note on the watermelon container in your lunch, telling you how I feel about you, and these past 13 years. There’s God’s grace guiding us every step of the way. It’s his grace that has led us to this point. It’s by his grace we have memories to frame.

I love that you’ve known me since I was 16.
I love that you’re still my first love, and that I’m yours.
I love the pictures framed on my desk. They’re my favorite memories.

The proposal. A framed memory.
9-18-04. The best day, and where it all began. A framed memory.
Just the two of us for 13 years. A framed memory.
The love spread to three. A framed memory.

I love what this new season looks like.
I love that our marriage now includes a daughter. I always wanted a baby with you because I love you and I wanted to share this adventure with you. I wanted to see what a little of me + a little of you would look like. I wanted to see what you would be like as a dad to our baby. And this 13th year, I’ve been blessed to see it, to see you and her in our living room, swaying back and forth.
I love that the hard times, the tears, the loss, make the good times that much sweeter.
I love what this 13th year looks like.

One week ago you were born

One week ago you were born

One week ago he held my hand.
One week ago there was an unforgettable, joyous moment that we shared.
One week ago there was the birth of a little girl.
One week ago there was the birth of two people becoming parents.
One week ago at 4:11pm Noella Pearl DeAtley was born, joining our lives, and our family.
One week ago God’s grace was displayed.
One week ago love was born.

Welcome baby girl. We’re so glad you’re here.

7 days old.
Two becoming three

Two becoming three

He tells me he can’t wait to see me holding her.

I tell him I can’t wait to see how little she’ll be in his arms.

He tells me I’ll always be his number one girl.

We can’t wait to see her little face in real life. Not just on the screen, or in the ultrasound picture – as absolutely amazing as that’s been.

We’ve had 12 years and 11 months together, just the two of us.

We’ve loved these years with just the two of us. We wouldn’t change them for the world. But we’re also excited and ready to take on this next chapter, for this whole new volume of love in our household.

We ask God to keep us close as a couple, and as a little family. We want to fall back on the lessons our marriage has taught us along the way. Lessons of communication and not assuming where the other person is coming from, lessons of grace (where there’s sleep deprivation, there’s a need for grace), lessons of forgiveness, lessons of choosing the other person before yourself. I want us to always say, “you’re my favorite” to each other as we always have. Because everyone wants to be someone’s favorite. I want him to still text me, “missing my girl” from work. Lately he’ll also text, “how are my girls?” and it’s the sweetest thing. I want us to find time to be together, to talk about the day, to put our marriage first. Because marriage is and always will be the foundation of our little family.

I don’t know what that will look like, of course. But these are things that are special to us. And the thing about bringing baby into the picture after 12 years and 11 months together is that we have been faced with so much life up to this point: changes, transitions, and ups and downs, that we can hopefully find our place as a family of three, as a couple with a baby. We know God’s grace will guide us, as it has before, in so many different situations.

We’re just days away now, and we can’t wait to hold this little girl that we’ve prayed and fought for. Come on baby! We’re ready when you are. XOXO.

Two becoming three.