They asked about when we got evacuated from Guinea. Nobody ever asks about that. I forgot to mention that the shooting continued every night for a few days. I forgot to mention how I wanted to hide but I also wanted to see the hundreds of people running for their lives on the railroad tracks below our building, being herded like cattle, the military shooting their guns into the air. It was hard to look away. Shawn stayed on the balcony and watched. I hid in the bathroom and occasionally looked out the little rectangular window when my curiosity got the best of me. Nobody talks much about how the culture in West Africa is so different from here, and how for six years our lives were so different. But last night they did. Last night my friends asked about Africa, and IVF, and what brought us to San Angelo as we ate nachos and guacamole and queso and little shrimp appetizers at one house, and tacos at another, and dessert at another. (Progressive Dinners just may be my love language. Food and seeing people’s houses, and riding together and visiting, and more food… yea to the yea.)
I asked about her rainbow babies. She told me about the blood transfusion. There were tears over tacos.
She told me about how she moved here knowing nobody. Not one soul. I told her I could 100% relate. And remembering those first few months and how hard they were, not knowing a soul, and now looking around and seeing friends and community just made me so thankful for the tangible answer to many prayers.
I say let’s have more parties and dinners with people, but while we’re at it, let’s ask the deeper question. Maybe ask about the loss because everyone else is afraid to. And because even though there may be tears, talking about it validates the heartbeats that were. Ask about their marriage and how they met. Ask about how their military career has been, and would they do it again if given the chance to have a do-over?
I was so, “Mehhhhhhh, idk.” About joining mops because I’m new to this mom gig, and I’m definitely not the “Wife, Mom, Boss” or “Chaos Coordinator” t-shirt wearing kind of person. And I feel like there’s more to life than talking about kids and kid stuff, so the last thing I wanted to do was talk nap schedules and weaning timeframes. Hard pass. But then I realized that it’s helpful to know what other people are doing, and what works and doesn’t. (Since we’re all just giving this our best shot anyway…) And with time I learned that all these “moms” are cool people who happen to have kids and backgrounds and that this was a community that I needed.
And when you can provide community and food: I’m all in.
I have lots of journals, but I’ve never really been a big “journaler”. It’s too much pressure to try and think back on the day, and sum up the good and the bad, and spell things right (not even kidding, I just spelled that “write” – case in point), to find the time, and not get a hand cramp because who even writes any more anyway. And to be a “journaler” just felt a little too dorky and a little too rule follower for my personality. Although somehow being a blogger isn’t. Perplexing, I know.
But I saw a quote recently that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. “Eat Cake for Breakfast”. Nope, that wasn’t it. Well, that was one of them I guess. That quote, that life motto, I should say, always seems to cross my mind. Because I love cake and I want it always. No, the quote I’m talking about here in this journal entryblog post was, “Write it down. You think you’ll remember it, but you won’t.” GAHHH! They’re right! (Not “write”. The English language lost its mind a long time ago.) They’re right that in the moment when you see that Noella’s toddler ankles are too fat for the zipper to zip on her boots that you could never forget anything so adorable. Or when she attempts to say “elephant” for the first time. Or when she laughed and squealed at the sight of a swing. Or when she stood by the snacks table at the birthday party, channeling her daddy’s introverted side. Or when she tried to give her sister a drink from her sippy cup. Or when she gets it in her mind for the first time ever to attempt to get on the couch by herself. You think you’ll remember something so cute and awkward. With her long lashes over her determined eyes, and her whale spout ponytail bouncing around as she hoists her leg up in another failed attempt to get up on the couch. It’s something we do a billion times all our lives, sitting on a couch, and we think nothing of it, but I bet no one recorded or remembers your first clumsy attempt to get on a couch.
I feel like I’ve been more aware than ever that life is one million Tuesdays that pile up. I say Tuesday because it’s kind of the blah whatever day to me for some reason. It’s a million comments (the good, the bad, the regrettable, and the ones that make you fall in love all over again), it’s a million “want to try that new taco place?” (<--- file under "make you fall in love all over again, amiright.), it's lots of "made baked beans for small group", "felt anxious bringing the baby out in flu season", "got a Redbox", "Shilo starting to smile", "our picky eater just wants cheese", "fed Shilo at 3am and 7am", "Shawn grilled chicken", "Noella drug a pile of toys and clean laundry around the house in a laundry basket", "apologized for being critical", "Shilo with her baby fists by her face", "Pee on the couch", "Walked with the neighbor", "Shawn playing Euchre", "Shilo hanging onto my shirt while nursing", "Shawn's day off", "beef stroganoff for dinner", and so many other little things that become big because they're your life. And those are the kind of things I'm trying to remember to jot down. Nothing seemingly big. And yet they're everything. And it's up to me if I want to jot down three sentences about the day, or write two pages. Do it because you want to remember, not because you have to. Do it because you probably won't remember Shawn smelling so good in his green dress shirt as he heads off to work and how now your pj shirt smells like his cologne, or Noella saying "down please" when she wants up, or the way Shilo has hair and cheeks for days and is the biggest snuggle bug in her 3 month hand-me-down pjs at seven weeks of age. Write about the hectic evening hour before bed, how Noella thinks she has to say a word 6500 times in a row to be heard (dear baby Jesus OKAY! HONEY! I HEAR YOU!) and how you did, in fact slay the day by doing all the laundry, but oops... no dinner.
Write it down. Or blog about it. Whatever. Either way, you'll be glad you did.
I wanted to feel that flicker of life in my belly.
When other pains came into my life, I dreamt of a pain that would result in new life. I could handle anything, I thought, if pain had a reward at the end.
I ached to see the growth, and see it on the screen in a blurry black and grey image.
I wanted to watch his face as I felt pain on behalf of us, and our future.
I wanted to know what it felt like to be hours, or even moments away from a rush of emotion and joy and blood and tears, as new life entered the world.
I wanted to hold that fragile little being and know that they were ours.
I wanted to see what my body was capable of.
I wanted to watch him bring me a can of Dermoplast and a large hazelnut latte because he’s cool like that.
I wanted to see the pride on his face.
I wanted to experience his tenderness in helping me get up to walk for the first time.
I wanted to hold my breath as he held our baby for the first, and for the 200th time.
I wanted to feed my baby skin to skin.
I wanted to know chaos in the form of an 18-month-old asking 200 times in a row for a drink of water, while the other decides to make the ‘witching hour’ a nightly tradition.
I wanted him to watch me become a mom, not just sit by me (as sweet as that was in its own way) as we grieved the babies that weren’t.
These were things I wanted so desperately for so long. And because God is so kind and so good, these are all things I’ve experienced. Twice now.
I stare at you, and I stare at you, and I’ve stared at you for a month now and I can’t believe you’re here.
I hold you in one arm in Shawn’s big been-around-longer-than-me recliner, and Noella (plus her big teddy bear, plus her little white bunny, plus Minnie Mouse) in the other arm, and I can’t believe we have two daughters. I can’t believe this is reality, and that God aligned back to back miracles to come into our lives.
Don’t doubt God. He’s capable of big things. He’s at work when we can’t see it. He’s good beyond our earthly definition of good. He’s a miracle worker.
Shilo Hope, you’ve been with us for one month already, and we’re so glad you’re here.
Now, let’s go rock with sister and the gang in the recliner. Okay? Okay.
Our love is an adventure. One that God orchestrated.
It began as an adventure: meeting in Bolivia, driving in a bus loaded down with luggage, leaning too close for comfort to the edge, seeing missions first hand, seeing a dense jungle, and people sleeping under tarps tied to banana trees, and eating cow utter. Yes, cow utter. It tasted like a sponge. It tasted nothing like chicken. Thanks for asking.
Many Valentine’s Days ago, you sent me a three-page handwritten letter asking if a guy like you could ever have a chance with a girl like me. You took the risk and poured your heart out. And the fact that it arrived on February 14th was all God. That letter kick started the adventure. One that in 16 moves brought us all over the world, and back again.
The adventure included long waits in the doctor’s office, wondering what the protocol would be after another failed attempt at IVF. It included nerve-wracking flights and trips on ferries to get to our home in the village, in the southern region of Senegal. It’s included “in sickness and in health”, lessons on being the first to apologize, the first to forgive, and the relationship bonding power of making fun of each other.
The adventure has included dodging tear gas, (many) language faux pas, mountains, beaches, and volcanoes.
Today it includes two beautiful daughters who you call Buddy and Spike. (Which I think is so adorable because they sound like two bikers you met downtown as opposed to two sweeties in matching heart pajamas.)
The adventure looks different now. It’s one we fought hard for. It’s showing one girl how to use a spoon, while swaddling another. It’s one of less sleep (no rest for the with kid) and one of diapers and feedings and so much joy. It’s an adventure we wouldn’t trade for anything.
We’ve been side by side through a lot.
Flying over the Andes Mountains on a small five-seater airplane in Bolivia on our way to a remote village in the Amazon, moving to Quebec (and its five feet of snow) in our car and learning French, arriving in Conakry, Guinea after a 24-hour international journey, not knowing where we’d sleep or live once we arrived. Evacuating from our home in Guinea in a few days’ time, going through years of infertility and heartache together, living in an African village for a year (and all that entails…), 16 moves, welcoming our first daughter into the world, and now, side by side documenting this time of anticipation for the birth of baby girl #2.
Maybe darkness isn’t just in extreme sadness or difficulty, but in gloomy days, in the dog chewing up the ropes and ruining baby’s swing, in dropping raw eggs on your clean rug, on breathing treatments and nebulizers and waiting two hours to pick up your prescriptions. Maybe it’s in those moments of doubt and wondering if you’re cut out for this, in wondering why dinner isn’t planned yet. Maybe darkness is in questioning your worth. Maybe it’s in congestion and runny noses and sore throats and bills and dishwashers breaking. Perhaps it’s in those big and little inconveniences that throw you off your game.
Our culture presents Christmas time with a pressure for perfection, hallways and mantels lined with evergreen and berries. And good gosh, if there’s raw egg on your clean rug, and you’re asking God to help your baby breathe better, how can we soak in the magic of the season, with violins playing Silent Night in the background?
Here’s how: we remember that the mess never intimidated Jesus. Not then, in that dirty foreign place where he was born, and not here and now in our world. He’s not intimidated by the mess in your world, in your living room, with the laundry and the noise and the sinus pressure and your struggle to find your place. He sees our doubts and pressures and he whispers hope into our being. He whispers purpose because in him we have what we need. He came to be our joy so we don’t have to find it in ourselves or this shattered world that leaves us feeling empty. He came to be the solution. He came to save us from the darkness that we were born into.
This is the good news that makes us want to turn on the Christmas tree lights and let them shine brilliantly into the street for all to see.
It’s a loss that’s hard to define. But who says losses have to be defined? There’s pain because there was love. Even the love of an embryo, or six, that never grew to full-term, or made it into your arms, or even onto the screen for an ultrasound.
One of the hardest things about a failed IVF transfer is that not only are you grieving the loss of that baby and that pregnancy, and the dreams that came with it, you’re reeling from the realization that you’ve just tried all you know to try, medically and physically, and you’re at the end of the road. Again. You’ve invested your money, and your time, and you’ve gone through hundreds of painful shots and so many procedures and another surgery, and the thought of this being the end of the road, the, “Well, we did what we could. I guess we’ll just never have kids” mindset is an unwelcome reality that must be faced.
In the mess of this season, this season of back to back (times three) failed IVF transfers, someone gave us a crib. It was an innocent gesture because it was given to us to use in the guesthouse we were managing at the time, if there was a need. But it was also a “use where needed” crib. So we thought maybe, just maybe, it would become our crib. But then it was made clear from our most recent failed transfer that it wouldn’t become our crib. It would become someone else’s baby’s bed. Someone else would decide if it should be painted, or if it should be on a rug, or placed diagonally in the corner by the window, and if neutral or colored sheets would be used. Those weren’t our decisions to make anymore.
Lots of things caught me off guard and made me want to sneak out of the room and sob in the bathroom: comments that were made, a newborn being passed around, women standing around “planning” how many kids they vs. their husbands wanted to have, pregnancy announcements, and the like. Shawn and I learned that it was okay to grieve differently, because we were different, but to still communicate to each other how we were feeling. It was okay if I wrote an angry letter to God that I would burn later, or if Shawn needed time alone in his workshop with the music turned up loud. But the crib thing didn’t bother me quite like it bothered Shawn. As the man, and the provider, it was a need he was happy to meet, a need he could physically meet, a project he was happy to take on for us. But for the need for a crib to be coldly labeled “c’est negative” by a nurse (because our results were negative) was too much for him to think about. He’s the one who saw the crib every day in his workshop, sitting there needing to be assembled, another job he would have happily taken on. Now it was just a pile of wood that symbolized another loss. The crib found a new home where a baby was confirmed, and on the way. Loading that crib up for someone else was heartbreaking, but necessary.
Fast forward to today, many years later, and Shawn just finished putting the second coat of paint on our SECOND CRIB! It’s so easy to want to jump to the end of the story. No one wants to experience grief and loss, or to read about it, or to have to sit on the couch next to someone who’s trying to tell you through choppy tear-filled sentences why they’re heartbroken. But would joy and hope and answered prayers mean the same if we never had to experience or come face to face with what it feels like to be at the end of the road, or to go to sleep and wake up with a heavy grief?
All I know is, I’m so thankful that this story has gone on to include two cribs, when we thought there might never be a crib, and that God works hope into every story.
I shuffled out of our bedroom like a 90-year-old, hair in its truest rooster form, glasses smudged, heading into the kitchen to make oatmeal for the just-woke-up-and-needs-to-eat-breakfast-NOW little girl in her crib.
The demands of feeding a young child are felt most to me in the morning because you’re not really given the luxury of waking up slowly, allowing your eyes to adjust, your back to stretch into place, or your slippers to be on the right feet. You get up, and you spring (shuffle) into action.
And just like that, the day has begun.
I turn the corner and am stopped in my tracks by a striking sunrise out our kitchen window. The oatmeal can wait. I see the handiwork of God before me. He knows I like those bright, vibrant colors. Especially when the morning feels drab. This sunrise feels exceptionally close, like I could touch it if I wanted to reach for it. It was brighter and closer and just altogether more present than it normally is. I walk closer to the window and can almost hear the beauty whisper to me, “I have it all under control, my child.”
I felt at peace. The master artist created this sunrise with his voice, and it was there to remind me that if such colors and textures can awaken the birds and the people, and it can tell of his glory, then it can also remind me that he is in control over any and all worries, concerns, anxieties, fears, things that easily overwhelm, the future, the pain of being human in a fallen world. He had control over that sunrise and look – it’s perfect in all of its majesty.
The sunrise whispered that I was his child. The one who spends her day caring for another is cared for. I can trust the artist. I can let the artist’s love be as real and tangible as those colors, the shading, the texture, the placement, and layering of that sunrise.
As I made the oatmeal, I stared out the window at that vibrant sunrise as long as the changing sky would let me, still amazed at how close it felt, and I woke up slowly to its sweet message painted across the sky for me, his child.
If there’s one thing I’ve had to learn how to do, and then do over and over, it’s make friends. Our nomad lifestyle over the years has forced us to learn a thing or two about making friends and valuing those friendships. Living far from our families for most of our married life has also allowed some of these friendships to turn into beautiful and unexpected adopted family relationships. What a gift.
What’s ironic is that most of the time, we’ve been the leavers, the movers, the “we’re only here until April-ers”, but twice now since our return to the US we’ve been placed (by God and by Shawn’s job, but mostly God), in military towns. It’s ironic because so many people are here temporarily. And for once we’re trying to settle (we’ve lived here for almost two years… is that a new record!?) and everyone’s all, “Yea, we move again this summer.” Or (worse…), “Next month.” And if they aren’t military moves they’re oil field moves and for crying out loud I just want to live somewhere where we stay, they stay, our kids and husbands are best friends, and we host holiday parties together. IS THAT REALLY TOO MUCH TO ASK?!
So here are a few things I’ve learned in my life crash course of moving and making friends:
– Be the first! Send a text, message them, follow them on Instagram. Don’t wait around for someone else to make the first move. You think you’re shy or awkward? Newsflash: everyone else feels the same way.
– The “little random texts” are the biggest. Like when Carolyn wrote me this week and asked if she should get bangs. That meant everything to me because it meant she was thinking of me when she could have texted 50 other people with this life-altering question. So skip the formal and just jump in head-first into the world of random text messages (that also means you have to actually ask for their phone number). “What did you say the name of that donut shop was?” “Hey neighbor, do you have any use for 15 egg whites?” (PS- Donna, we can’t wait to taste test those meringue cookies that you have magically created from an oddly colored sack of 15 egg whites that I carried to your house. And Carolyn, I say to skip the bangs. Your forehead is perfect and bangs are always more work than they’re worth.)
– Find a way to be present in their life and they’ll in turn be present in yours. That’s friendship!
– Along those same lines, make a plan to hang out. Have them over. Embrace the mess or the just-vacuumed. You do you. Just let them in. Meet for coffee or for a walk. Or at the library for free. Or plan a party. You need friends, they need friends. So hang out. Don’t overthink it. (Or you can do like African Jenn and just stop by to say hi.)
– If making friends with Africans taught us one thing, it’s the power of a phone call or text saying simply, “Just wanting to say hi (greet you) and see how your family is doing.” That’s it! That always made us feel loved and thought of. You had to pay for phone credit as you used it over there, so sometimes that was literally the extent of the phone call. But guess what? It spoke volumes. And it taught us to do the same.
– Don’t forget about basic stuff that you learned in Kindergarten: smile, say hi, introduce yourself, toss out a compliment, exchange numbers. Who knows where that could lead.
– It’s hard to make friends if you’re at home watching Netflix all day. (Or so I’ve heard…) So get out there and get involved in something. A ministry at church or in the community, take a walk in your neighborhood, join a small group, take a pottery class, join MOPS, etc. Our culture says that people are too busy and that we should leave them be, but how offended are you when someone says hi, and crosses beyond your basic pass-in-the-hallway greeting. And for crying out loud (at risk for sounding like a grandma here, but also I don’t care) put your phone down. Life on the screen isn’t real life. Even *GASP* in line or in the waiting room, make eye contact and have a real conversation with someone. (Side note: how can we ever share about the hope we have in Jesus if we’re scrolling our lives away and never meeting people or talking to them?)
– Don’t judge a book by its cover. Just because half her head is shaved and her ears are gaged all the way to her collar bone doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t be good friends. And the same goes for the mom in her old college sweatshirt with three kids hanging on her and no time for makeup. People are people. It can’t ever hurt to get to know them.
– Don’t just migrate to friendships in the same lane as you. I love friendships with older women, younger women, single women, veiled women, career women, women in the same season as me, women from vastly different cultures as me, etc. Variety IS the spice of life.
– Not every person is a “next level friend”. And that’s ok! Love them at the level of friendship where you are and see where it goes. Care for them because we’re called to love all people. Serve them if and when the opportunity arises. But you don’t have to beat yourself up if your paths don’t cross that often or they’re not the first person you text when wondering whether or not you should paint your bathroom an eggplant purple.
– When you do find those few and rare gem “next level friends”, make time for them, talk to them, work at it as you would any relationship of deep meaning and value.
– Invest in the mover/relocating/soon-to-deploy person too. You never know when it could be you, and at the same time, you never know when your paths may cross again, how keeping in touch could mean so much, and if/when you might end up in the same town again.
– Long distance friendships can still pack a lot of punch and value for your soul. So just because you’re moving or they’re moving doesn’t mean it’s over.
– Cliché as it may sound, they don’t have a friend like you. And don’t assume they already have enough friends, or that because they have family in the area they don’t need friends. Wrong. We all need people in our lives, and friendships enrich our lives in so many ways.
– When tragedy or grief or hard days come, don’t shy away. That’s when they need a friend the most. Don’t know what to say? Then say, “I don’t know what to say. But I’m here for you.” And in my own personal experience with grief and hard times, food goes a long way.
– If you’re needing a certain kind of friend, or friends that fit you as a couple, or friends to help or encourage you, or friends to have fun with (etc.) take it to God. He knows, he cares, and he’s the maker and provider of all good things. Throw out your cares and requests to him! And in the meantime, know that there is no better friend than God. Although, honestly, IDK if he would choose eggplant for your bathroom.