The anticipation of joy

The anticipation of joy

Three pieces of French toast in the skillet, all for me. Shawn’s already at work, purple paisley tie in place, and Noella is napping with lavender chest rub on her chest, and her humidifier on high because she’s sick/allergies/teething/who-knows-really. I make myself some coffee, pour some orange juice, and give myself a shot in my belly. I give myself that shot every morning, and I’ll continue to until the baby is six weeks old. Although it’s not pleasant, it’s my daily reminder that I’m pregnant. Of course, her kicks and movements are also a reminder that I’m pregnant. It’s our second front row seat to a miracle we never knew if we’d get to experience. And I love it so very much. I try to visualize what body part is poking me in my side, and tickling me under my skin, and I wonder for the 7500th time what she’ll be like. I wonder if she’ll look like Noella. I wonder how her eyes, personality, and newborn preferences will differ.
Yesterday Noella made a loud happy screech about something (probably Cheerio’s) and the baby in my belly responded with full body flips and kicks. They say babies in utero can hear and respond to noises from the outside, and this was no doubt a clear response. It warmed my heart because it was like they were communicating. There was a connection between sisters, even if they weren’t fully aware. The same movement happened the other day when Noella was screaming in an attempt to boycott a mandatory diaper change, and it just made me smile to think of the little one hearing and knowing her sister’s voice/cry/screech/laugh/scream.
Noella loves to pick up my shirt and “look at sister” which is so cute until we’re in public and then it’s so many shades of awkward, and the public is exposed to the belly bruises from my shots, resulting in looks of confusion. It’s also adorable when she lifts up her shirt and looks at, pokes at, and pats her own belly. I died a little the other day when she crawled over and gave the baby pictured on the wipes box kisses. ONE THOUSAND HEART EYES. Aside from the way she violently throws her dolls, and ruthlessly slams them to the ground, I think she’ll be a great big sister.
It feels like a far away dream I’ve been dreaming my whole life to have a baby, and then two, and then to think of them meeting, and to see Shawn holding another newborn baby girl, and to see and hold her in her first moments of life. It’s beyond me!
But the reality of those first few months, and the adjustment does overwhelm me at times. I need God to give me strength. We don’t have family here to help, Shawn will have to go back to work, there will be nursing demands 24/7, and the frenzy of two under two, and a house to sweep and meals to make, and laundry and dishes, a dog to feed, no doubt a scorpion or two to kill, two to bathe and dress and feed again, all mixed with who-knows-what postpartum insanity and hormonal rollercoaster of the day. Oh my!
I’m so so excited and ready, but I acknowledge that I need God’s strength. I know that now, having gone through it once. I want to soak up every sweet moment when our time as a family of four comes. So I pray now for the strength I’ll need then – and it’s a strength that will be available to me by God’s grace! And meanwhile, I’ll enjoy one of the sweetest things pregnancy has to offer: the anticipation of the joy that is to come. And three pieces of French toast to myself!

Sharing the bruised up story

Sharing the bruised up story

Addiction. Anger. Abuse. Affairs. Anxiety. Thrilling topic, throw a cricket in my coffee while you’re at it. Infertility. Loss. Miscarriage. Depression/Post-Partum depression. I wouldn’t mind stepping on a Lego right about now. Disease. Suicide. Debt. A rocky marriage. A teen pregnancy. Children who are struggling. Pass me the Chick-Fil-A sauce, I think I will stay for lunch, after all.

It seems there are two cultural responses to ‘the struggle’ (whatever that struggle may be):

  1. Tell everyone. Have shirts, wristbands, hats, hashtags, tattoos, and bumper stickers of ‘the struggle’ made. Alert the media. Find a way to get on the TODAY show, if possible. Talk about it, even story top at parties if necessary. Yours is the only struggle that matters, so make that known. And definitely don’t bother to listen to someone else’s struggle, or even ask their name or where they come from. And certainly don’t get help, because if you do, what on earth will you tweet about?

Examples one and two may be slightly extreme, but that’s how it seems to me, often times. When you find yourself in a new social circle, or hey, even with your same old group, when and how do you bring up ‘the struggle’? “Thanks for loaning me your weed eater. Btw, my husband and I are dealing with ongoing, unexplained infertility.” “How’s your cinnamon and spice latte? Ps- my brother is in rehab. Again.”

Our world may have an extreme and skewed way of sharing, or (I’d say more often than not) NEVER sharing ‘the struggle’. But when we can be vocal, as Christians, about the hardships, the loss, the pain, the rockiest road we’ve ever walked… then we can also freely and openly point to a God who redeemed us, saved us, brought healing, and a way out when we saw nothing but darkness and no light. There is hope, and there is a cure. THAT’S something to share from the rooftops. “I was blind, but now I see.”

We can own our stories not because there’s any glory for us, but because our God works in the mess, and only he can take a bruised up story and make it beautiful for his glory.

No matter how bruised up your story is, there is hope and there is a cure.
The gift of being loved

The gift of being loved

If there’s one thing that could make me cry every time I stop and think about it, a sweet place my mind wanders to, a place of deep gratitude, it’s the feeling of knowing that I’m loved by Shawn. He has told me, and shown me, and proven it to me a million and one times. Even in the midst of my own childlike fits of rage, rudeness, and disrespect, he’s shown me that he will always love me. I don’t deserve it. When I’ve messed up, and have finally given in to the burning tears, I ask, “So do you hate me now?” And he says, every single time, without hesitation, “I could never hate you.” And he means it.
Most anniversaries are a celebration of how the couple has made it another year. I’m a huge fan of anniversaries and I think they should be celebrated. For our 10th anniversary we had a beautiful custom cake made for ourselves with a gold fondant “10” on it. Because it’s worth celebrating. And also… cake!
But this anniversary, our 14th, I want to let my mind wander to that place of deep gratitude where I can reflect on this undeserving grace I have been given in knowing I’m loved. That has impacted me more in my life than probably anything else. To have, and to know this kind of love is the greatest gift of my lifetime. But let this be a reminder to us all that God loves us this way, and in even bigger and more powerful ways than we can even wrap our minds around. He pursues us, he looks at us when we’ve landed on the floor in a pile of sobs and says, every single time, without hesitation, “I could never hate you.” And he means it. He loves us because he loves us. He loves us because that’s his character. He loved us at our worst, at our darkest, and he still chose to step up and take torture, death, and hell on our behalf.
Most anniversary blog posts don’t mention hell, and most wives don’t brag about how much they’re loved. It feels… oddly… conceited or something. But it has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with God, and it has to do with grace, and it has to do with Shawn choosing to love me no matter what, and taking his vows seriously. May we all learn from his example. May we all choose to love without hesitation. Because this kind of love does, after all, exist. “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

A peek at some past anniversary posts:
13 years, a framed memory
Just married… 10 years ago
Another mile marker
The love story is (still) being written

The lady without a baby has one now

The lady without a baby has one now

Not everyone gets a baby. For a long time, that was me. The lady not getting a baby. I had to try and wrap my mind around the unfairness of it all. Why them? Why her? Why not us? Were our prayers being heard? I knew they were. But that didn’t make the wait any easier. I knew my tears and pleas weren’t going unnoticed. But that didn’t make it any easier. God’s silence was real. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t there. That didn’t mean he didn’t see, know, care, and work continually behind the scenes on our behalf.
Would God still be good if he never, ever gave us a baby? Of course we were hit hard with that question over the years. It was one we handled often through four IVF treatments, and losses, and years of not knowing the outcome. The answer was yes. God would still be good if he never, ever gave us a baby. Our earthly view and our circumstances never change his goodness and his character. Man, that was a tough one to wrestle with.

I felt a form of survivor’s guilt when my belly started to grow with Noella. I wanted to scream everywhere we went, “I waited TWELVE YEARS for this. We worked hard for this! It took about 1500 needles to get us to this point! This didn’t come easy! Etc.” just in case there was someone like (former) me, looking with sad, semi-judgmental eyes thinking, “Well that must be nice.” And to be honest, I really wasn’t (always) so harsh with pregnant women, because deep down inside I still hoped to be in their shoes one day, so I was usually happy for them. But when it was a stranger, I just assumed it was a quick and easy dream come true for them.

Another form of survivor’s guilt was knowing my prayers were (finally) being answered in the way we wanted, but what about those who weren’t seeing that come to pass, and may not ever see that come to pass? I spent a lot of time feeling sad for them. I would wonder if they had the capacity to trust God, to keep trusting God, even when the window to a baby was closed. Could I have kept trusting God? Would I have kept trusting God? Would anyone care for them, and be sensitive to their situation?
When we were in the middle of this infertility battle, there was no end in sight. All roads led to no baby, so my mind had to live with the heavy realization that there was probably not going to be a baby. But then there was! And then there was another one on the way! In my state of happiness, I couldn’t dwell on their suffering. But I kind of felt pulled to. It was a weird place to be, leaving that place, the ability to relate, and moving over to the side where you get to hold your own baby, or wear the daily physical sign that one is growing right this minute. I had to let my faith be my own right where I was, and let God handle their hearts, their situation, their devastation, just as he did for us, when we were in the thick of it.

I’m so thankful that for whatever reason, God saw fit to give us a baby (babies!!). We thank him often. We also thank him that he didn’t forget about us during the times when it felt like we were all alone, and when it was me sitting there wondering if I’ll be the woman who would never get a baby. Man, those emotions are still so real to me and hopefully they always will be. Because in remembering how that felt, I can both appreciate where I am now even more, and I can love the woman who wonders how her story will end. Let me just remind you of this, my friend, if you trust a faithful God, the story will have a really, really good ending.





Sweet because of you

Sweet because of you

And finally, there you were. Your eyes were wide open from the very first moment I saw you. We made eye contact, and time froze. It was love. It was love from the moment we knew you were on the way.
You were new here, but I could tell you felt right at home the first time you were in your daddy’s arms, a safe and warm place to be. He cried looking at you. I filed that moment away in my memory one million times, so that I would never forget it.
August 24th became one of the sweetest days of all time.
And this whole past year has been one of the sweetest years we could have imagined. It’s been sweet because of you, Noella Pearl.
Happy FIRST birthday.

Is this a mom blog now? Don’t put a label on me.

Is this a mom blog now? Don’t put a label on me.

Some days we sit on the back porch and watch Weller scarf down his dog food in a frenzy. Well, she’s watching him, I’m watching her. Her cheeks are chubby and her eyes so wide. Her hair, which I still can’t pinpoint a color for, is growing over her little ears. She’s caught off guard when he chokes on a piece of dog food and she laughs really hard. Oh no, did she inherit my sense of humor where she laughs when people find themselves in a state of misfortune, get hurt, or fall? *Awkwardly backs out of the room, not making eye contact with anyone.*

I thought maybe I’d get Cabin Fever being a SAHM. It’s all new to me. I had no idea what to expect. Would I get bored? Miss all day adult human interaction? Miss the routine of leaving the house in the morning? Would I be a slave to clean floors since I was home all day?

As is life, things have come in phases, and that’s been my favorite part of being a SAHM. And good gosh, don’t look at my floors because if I’ve done anything with my time at home, it hasn’t been to scrub them floors. Is it bad that I give Noella her treasured Puffs in a little pile on the floor, like a puppy? Don’t answer that. Plus, God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt. Boom.

The first few months were all about learning to fly solo during the day. Feed baby around the clock, make sure Shawn has at least one clean pair of dress socks for tomorrow. If your to-do list contains one thing and it’s “make sure there’s at least one clean pair of socks for tomorrow”, and you accomplish that task, you’ve won the day! Do cheer for yourself. Don’t beat yourself up that there was just that one small thing on the list. Sometimes we start small, and build from there.

I’ve loved being home with my baby over this past year. I found a strong sense of pride in caring for her, even in the little every day things, and in caring for our home. But those feelings didn’t just fall on my lap. It was a supportive teammate doing his part to keep me home. It was Shawn reminding me that I’m behind every sale he makes at work, and that caring for our daughter lets him do what he does. All the while knowing that it was him working hard day in and day out that kept me at home taking on the greatest role I’ve ever had.

It doesn’t mean every day is a sunshine cake walk. Just about 45 minutes ago, I literally screamed, “No! Don’t eat that!!!” as I watched in shock and horror as Noella picked up some poop from her in-crib diaper explosion. SO. yeah. Life. It’s messy. Even when it’ sweet. Like anything, it’s work and it can be exhausting. More so lately because she’s getting more mobile, and screams when she doesn’t feel like having her diaper changed (“Lay still for 45 seconds?! FORGET IT. I have a life to LIVE, mom.”), or wants the donut of the man sitting next to us. And we want to guide her, and lead her the way that God would have us lead her. So it’s a learning curve, no doubt. Our culture says to just let babies and kids be. Not us, we want to ask for wisdom in this venture. We want to talk to parents who have done a good job. We want to end the day exhausted, but knowing we gave it our all. Even if that means someone has to learn they can’t have the stranger’s donut. (Looking at you, Jenn. Geez. Control yourself.)

Texting Shawn about the day…

I’m so thankful for people like Kathleen Nelson who send me resources on raising kids. Because she’s done it (X8). And done it well. I’m thankful for people to look up to, and older friends to help guide us. Cause this is our first rodeo. And come January it’ll be our second rodeo. Whoop!! (Guess I can break out my “This ain’t my first rodeo” shirt.) It’s a privilege. And as sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet as the newborn, and first few months are, the work shifts from loving and cuddling, to training in love. To asking God for extra patience, because *someone* just threw the remote at your face and it may or may not be bleeding. (Looking at you, Shawn. Geez. Control yourself.)

It’s true, some days can feel mundane. And I wonder if I’m “doing” enough, if it matters, and if anyone even noticed I killed the 75 spiders on the windowsill.

But with a teammate on my side, and my identity set in Christ, and not what I accomplish in a day, I’m reminded of my worth. I’m reminded that I have nothing to prove. I am loved, accepted, and a daughter of the King, no matter how society views SAHMs. No matter what a day holds.

From day 1 I felt the hugeness of this job: to shape and mold and influence. May God give me what I need, what we need, as parents. As teammates. And for crying out lout, will that stranger just share some of his dang donut already?!?!

I see Africa

I see Africa

I see a baobab tree on my walk.

I see Africa here sometimes. When I’m on a walk and there’s a gravel road with wide open spaces and just a few trees here and there, growing up out of the dry ground. There are no leaves or anything, just mesquite bones reaching for the sky. They remind me of baobab trees, but of course not nearly as tall and majestic, or as ancient as kings.
I’m told to watch for rattlesnakes here (by people who have lived here their whole lives), so my eyes dart left and right the whole time, always on the lookout for snakes. Only here I’m on pavement most of the time, so looking for snakes is much easier. And there are no land mines, so that’s a plus.

The wind is hot, and summer is about six months long, so it feels like Africa when I’m outside. I feel like wearing skirts and tank tops and a thick headband to hold my already short hair back. But AC exists here, making denim shorts and a shirt with a cami, and even jewelry, doable. Speaking of shorts, you can show your legs here in America! If you want to. Knees and thighs aren’t nearly as sexual as they are in West Africa where they must remain covered, preferably under a fun patterned wax print. Although on the flip side, I have yet to drive downtown or by a field in Texas and see a topless woman. But then again, we’ve only been here a year and a half. (Fun fact: In Guinea Shawn coined the acronym ATBO “Air Them Babies Out” because of how many old topless grannies we encountered.)

There’s one really chipper guy at church who asks more than just, “How are y’all?” He asks about the week, baby, and if she’s teething yet. I feel like I’m in Africa with a greeting like that. And I like it. I’m chilly during the service though (that AC thing again), and the service wraps up before 2pm, so I’m reminded that I’m not, in fact, in Africa. Although things I miss also remind me I’m not in Africa. I miss the spontaneous testimonies where someone just has to get up and declare that God is good because this happened during the week. I miss the over-the-top energetic, give-it-your-all clapping (with a triple beat), and the dancing because we can’t hold still with the joy we’ve got.

I feel sad sometimes, thinking about the world, the globe, and the need that spreads wide throughout. It’s hard to have seen it, lived with it, and not think often of it. Maybe that’s why I see Africa here.
Africa is one of my home away from homes. It was for six years. So I like to find things here that remind me of there. I’ve always been that way with my various homes. When I was living in Cap Skiring, or Quebec, I found little things that reminded me of Colorado, or that cool mountain (lacking in oxygen) air.
A friendly smile, a goat on the loose (it happened in our neighborhood recently), a power outage, a hot afternoon where I dream of fall, a tree growing on the horizon, I see Africa there. I miss seeing babies on backs, eating mafé (although Shawn made some last year and froze it, and I discovered it in the freezer yesterday, so it’s on our near-future menu), seeing kids run out to greet us when we arrive in a village, hearing drums, or cheers when someone scores a soccer goal… but living here in West Texas I’ll take the little reminders I can get of one of my home away from homes: L’Afrique.

I see the familiar silhouette of huts.
I see Joine, or Ziguinchor, or Velingara in our neighborhood sometimes.
Gerbera daisies, pork chops, and such

Gerbera daisies, pork chops, and such

When Noella was just about 15 hours old, Shawn surprised me with three pink gerbera daisies. One for each of us, a family of three. It was such a sweet gesture that made me cry in the midst of an already emotional and unforgettable high in our lives.

I had gerbera daisies in my ‘wildflower’ wedding bouquet. I’ve always loved them.

As soon as we leave church on Sundays Shawn has to go to work until about 5 or 6. I’m not a fan of that, but c’est la vie in the world of retail. And yay for hard working husbands! It just has a tendency to feel a little like the Monday morning grind with dishes and baby nap schedules, even though it’s the weekend. Meanwhile, I assume everyone else (in all of the United States) is fishing, hanging out with family at grandma’s house, sitting on some patio with friends, etc. So I was just being lazy, and feeling a little sorry for myself that it was a blah weekend. Shawn texted me and we decided to grill pork shops for dinner and he asked what sides I’d want. I said how about we grill some of those long green things with tree tops? (Pregnancy brain could not be more real. They’re called asparagus, guys. It’s not hard. You can only imagine how Shawn proceeded to mock me for the rest of the night.) And I’d roast some brussel sprouts (in wild orange olive oil, thank you very much. Yes I will host my own Food Network show. That’s not a problem for me if that’s what you want. Says the girl who can cook about six entrees and about four decent sides. But I’m getting there!).

I realized my outfit, my hair, and our house were looking a little “blah it’s Sunday and the whole world is having a potluck without me”, so I put on my Lady A Pandora station, cleaned speedy fast, put on a new shirt that was longer and less “pot belly”, and more “15 weeks pregnant”, some bright red lipstick (holla), and my red leather earrings (because at that point baby was in bed and there was no risk of her yanking them through my earlobe, causing me to need emergency surgery before my pork chop).

I was ready and committed to make it a fun Sunday night “date night in” together. It’s amazing what some red lipstick can do for your attitude. Seriously! Try it sometime. Make your bed, light a candle in the living room, put on some lipstick, and you’re unstoppable.

Shawn came in the door (I love his “coming home from work” look with that tie undone… and that white undershirt and dress pants…) and he had FOUR BRIGHT RED GERBRA DAISIES for me. (Flowers are not something he brings me very often. Unfortunately, that’s my own fault because I was a brat once and shot myself in the foot when he surprised me with a giiiinormous bouquet in front of my friends and it was so over the top huge that I acted weird and embarrassed and later said I didn’t even like flowers that much. I know! I’m a jerk! But good grief, that was like 11 years ago. I love flowers now! Can we move on? And ps- when I say that bouquet was huge, it was like three feet tall. There were birds of paradise! Those aren’t dainty. Gah, I know it’s silly that I cared. Any girl should be so lucky. But it was too much for me. Kind of like ordering the sizzling fajitas in a restaurant. I can’t do it. Too much attention. Too much “look at me”. Anyway, I’ve changed. I’ve grown. I’ve matured. Bring me all the extravagant flowers!)

Anyway, the daisies…

“Four”? I asked with a grin. “One for each of us” He said.

It was the sweetest surprise. And how perfectly in line for our spontaneous Sunday night date night he didn’t even know we were having!

I walk by those four flowers which I’ve placed on our kitchen table, and I just smile.

I’ll take a vase full, whenever and however, if that’s what God has planned. There were just two daisies in that vase for a long time. The wait is the hardest because you feel like you’re in the dark, and that maybe God forgot about you, your prayer, your request, your plea. “He certainly didn’t forget about everyone else!” You think to yourself.

I love that there are four daisies in there now.
And we’ve loved more than words the three daisies in that vase, and we continue to soak up this time we have as three.
And I love the memories of just the two of us for thirteen years. So many memories. So many adventures. I would never trade that time we had together.

The pork chops were good, by the way. The red gerbera daisies were the perfect centerpiece for our Sunday date night in.

Here’s to miracle #2

Here’s to miracle #2

Pour yourself a glass of Sprite with lime, or a glass of Blanton’s from our blue cabinet. I’d like to make a toast – to us!

Here’s to back-to-back miracles.

Here’s to a different kind of miracle.

Here’s to God working behind the scenes when we had no idea.

Here’s to praying big, honest prayers.

Here’s to many years of prayers being answered.

Here’s to a little gummy bear up on the screen, moving its arms and legs.

Here’s to baby Noella becoming a big sister.

Here’s to me running into the kitchen in my pink and white whale pjs yelling, “WELL! I’M PREGNANT!”

Here’s to two under two. Go big or go home.

Here’s to not knowing the gender from day 1 this time, and counting down the days until we can find out.

Here’s to Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal sounding like God’s gift to humanity.

Here’s to the best kept secret.

Here’s to telling the world.

Here’s to hoping our story offers you hope in your wait, in your story, in your longing, in your questioning, on the road you’re on.

Here’s to surprising our doctors and nurses in two different states.

Here’s to God’s goodness in our lives.

Here’s to BABY #2!

“Wrap your arms around me”

“Wrap your arms around me”

Journal entry from April 2011:

1 week in Cap Skirring:
-Trying to unpack (with no closets and minimal furniture)
-Cockroaches everywhere
-Trying to find a place for everything
-Dealing with Roxy peeing in the house, not eating, killing someone’s chickens
-Piles of moldy clothes on the bed, everything needing to be washed by hand
-I don’t speak Wolof
-I don’t speak Jola
-Muddy tiles, no mop
-Mosquitoes, risk of malaria
-Visitors and neighbors stopping by
-No running water
-Here for the unforeseen future

I won’t ever forget those days, especially those initial days, of living in the village. It was hard, lonely, isolating, and I wrote in my journal, this list of struggles, and a prayer where I asked God to wrap his arms around me and give me his strength. So many times I’ve prayed that same prayer. It’s my go-to when I don’t know what else to pray. It’s a picture I have in my mind of God: never far, always listening, stable and dependable, strong, working on my behalf even when I lose sight of hope, even when I make God seem small. It’s my go-to prayer when I’m overwhelmed and feel like I’m by myself out at sea, on a little boat, being tossed around, riding out the situation while holding my breath and hoping I don’t drown in circumstances that are beyond me.

I prayed that same prayer, that God would wrap his arms around me and give me strength, every day of the IVF treatments we did, and even more so through the last one. It was our fourth and final attempt, our last chance at having a baby, and this was after we had already exhausted all of our resources. Humanly speaking, that is. God works best beyond the realm of the possible. But when you’re going through it, and you have no idea what the outcome will be this time, it’s easy to forget that he’s the God of a million miracles. Miracles we havent’t even seen or experienced- or even dreamt of yet. But man it’s in the waiting where I needed God’s presence, that reminder that he’s stable when my thoughts and emotions are all over – tempted to fear, tempted to question, and tempted to doubt.

“I’m weak, God! I need you. I can’t see you. I can’t hear you. But I know you’re there. Show me. Let me feel your presence in a time where I’m desperate for your presence.” It’s that familiar plea I’ve prayed in so many situations. As a new arrival in the daunting village, when riots broke out in the capital and tear gas blew into our home, when the turbulence was more than I thought I could handle, when we lost another embryo, when another move and another transition felt like too much, when we were setting sail to our new home in the Casamance, and the thought of capsizing (as one ferry had done on the same route) tortured me, when I was about to be put under for my first egg retrieval surgery. “I’m weak, God! I need you. I can’t see you. I can’t hear you. But I know you’re there. Show me. Let me feel your presence in a time where I’m desperate for your presence.”

It’s interesting to me how different these situations are from each other, but nevertheless I had a need for God and he didn’t ignore me. He didn’t belittle me for my fears or concerns or yell at me for acting childish and not having more faith, even though he’s proved himself time and time again.

When I pleaded for him to come near, he did. He always did.

“Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.” George Mueller