Expecting

I finally put a package of tissues in my purse because I kept finding myself with a dripping nose and rivulets leaking from my eyes with nothing to catch the stream. I used the last of the package on Easter morning during the sermon, after I had used the second-to-last in the car on the way to church. And I couldn’t keep blaming allergies.

“It’s like you’re pregnant,” said John, as I reached for the Kleenex box at our kitchen table a few hours later over a cup of coffee with my love.

“It IS like I’m pregnant,” I wept.

Only I’m not pregnant, I’m just expecting. John and I are in the process of becoming licensed foster parents and there is a beating heart out there that will likely join our family within the next nine months.

When I carried my own two children in my body, I imagined their faces and their personalities. Now I am wondering what this new child will be like. Unlike my two pregnancies, I am also wondering how many days we will get to shelter and love this child.

There will be no ultrasound, no quickening. Labor pains will begin with a phone call with the basic stats of gender and birthdate and maybe some additional information. My water and heart will break, I am most sure, and I’ll reach for the box of tissues.

When I was pregnant, I prayed for my daughter and son’s health and development and safety. But really, the odds were enormously good that my babies would be just fine, and they were.

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I am praying again. Only this time I am 100% guaranteed that this next child is not fine. The fact that the child will be with us at all means that his or her health, development, and safety are threatened – perhaps this very moment, even, which is terrifying in my expectant state.

So, I pray. I pray for this child’s mama and daddy. For an aunt or uncle or grandparent or neighbor to love and protect this child as best as they possibly can. I pray that addictions may be lessened, that doors will stay closed, that harmful words, images and actions will be quelled. That the child will know love, even if imperfectly.

And I cry. I hear a song, read a story, watch a video, and the dam bursts again. During Passion Week, I understand the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection with fresh ears and heart. The Friday abandonment of his Papa, the Saturday carrying of all the sin and ugliness of the world – sin that usually (and deceptively) looks pretty sterile in my comfortable bubble, but rears ugly and gut-wrenching in the world of foster care. The women waiting outside the tomb – mama hearts breaking from the injustice applied to the guiltless Son.

And finally, Sunday’s Resurrection. The snake crushed, life restored, hope eternal. Jesus, our brother; adoption as sons and daughters of the King. The Gospel is good, good news to a broken world. Jesus saved us in our brokenness and sends us out to find the broken. Jesus brought us back into relationship with our Father so we could be restorers of relationships.

And so we find what is broken, and offer our life and that which is most precious – our family, to mend and restore.

We are expecting, and we wait and wonder. With heavier hearts this time around, but with the same cloud of support (and then some) who buoyed us up when Ellie and Jack were born. Our parents, grandparents, siblings, aunties, uncles, cousins, and friends, who are cheering for us, praying for us, and ready to love a new child, perhaps even more fiercely, because of what came before and what is at stake.

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We anticipate both pain and joy – but isn’t that always the case with an expectant mother?

…Teach us how to weep while we wait,
and how to hope while we weep,
and how to care while we hope.
– Walter Brueggemann

I Know You Will

My daughter and I are about to be separated for 16 days, by far the longest time we have spent apart these last nine years.

Ellie leaves first by heading off to Eagle Fern Camp – her first overnight camp experience. A couple days later, I leave for Kenya. One of the most difficult parts of my decision to travel to Africa was this departure from Ellie.

That is not to say that leaving my son Jack will be easy. After all, I will be gone during the last couple weeks of the Year of Little Boy, Six. He is a mama’s boy through and through, and I anticipate some tearful nights during those weeks. jack

But some children are tethered to us with stronger cords, not because we love them more, but because of the way they have made us wrestle – with ourselves, with them, with God. Ellie is such a child.

Within the first days of her life, we noticed that, if awake, Ellie was rarely in repose, but would arch forward  from her swaddled or buckled-in position with eyes wide open, earnestly taking in the world, gathering observations, making judgments, per se. The stimuli around her were like data to be mastered. After the first few weeks of newborn rest were over, daytime sleep was a battle to be conquered, and if she was vanquished (napping), at least she had the victory of not going down easy and staying asleep for only enough time to unload the dishwasher, change the laundry, and take two sips of coffee. ellie 6m

Then there was the feeding battle. Nursing Ellie was never an idyllic, bonding experience. Here’s a fun little rhythm we practiced: she’d cry to be fed, then cry as she waited for letdown (which was likely prolonged due to my stress over my stressed-out baby), then I’d cry, then she’d cry louder at my crying, then she wouldn’t sleep.

The first nine months were pretty much a blur. I remember thinking, how do women do this, all over the world, with so much more daily hardship than I have?

By 10 months, Ellie had gathered enough “data” to start using it to control her world in another way: Speech. Her favorite things were spoken in two syllable, repeating consonant-vowel strings: “Fa-fa” was “fan”. “Cah-Cah” was “clock”, looked for, pointed at, then enunciated with the assumed demand that her grown-ups repeat the word, looking at the favored item with appropriate excitement.

As any self-respecting speech-language pathologist/first-time mom probably does, I counted all my child’s words in preparation for her one-year checkup with the pediatrician. Ellie had 75 words. The count grew so rapidly after that, I stopped keeping track. When she was two and-a-half, during a particularly stressful moment in a parking lot, she astounded me by carefully verbalizing from the back seat, “I feel exhausted when you say those words to me.” Was she miraculously reading the Social Communication IEP goals I write for my students? Who knows.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to win arguments with children who were that clever with language and emotional manipulation at the age of two? ellie2 ellie 2

But here’s the thing: she is the girl I never knew I always wanted. She delights me with her interesting observations and conversations. She sees things so clearly and can discern and describe ideas I never considered. She is smart, brave, strong, and adventurous, #LikeAGirl.andy and ellie 1andy and ellie 2We love each other ferociously, even when we don’t exactly act like it. My relationship with her draws out both beauty and ugliness in me, which I can assign to their rightful places. Mostly, she has drawn me closer to Jesus, because he knows her and loves her in ways I can’t. Sometimes there are no books or google searches that will reveal answers to the questions I have about her, but Jesus leads me gently as I parent her and that is a comfort. ellie

Ellie listens to music as she falls asleep, and I recently bought her a CD by J.J. Heller called I Dream of You. Tears sprang the first time I listened to one of the songs, I Know You Will, because it put words to the kind of feelings and prayers our relationship triggers. It’s a hopeful song when you’re parenting a child who baffles, exhausts, and worries you, but who also carries a glow so bright you know she’s gonna shine like a city on a hill.

I know she will.

 

Little Boy, Six (and a Half)

Recently I spent a delightful evening at my sister’s house, celebrating our cousin, Anna, who was about to be married. Aunties, cousins, grandmas, sisters, and mamas – girls from five to 80-something – gathered and chatted and spoiled the bride-to-be as women do. I loved it. One of my cousins and I were talking with another cousin who has a six-month-old baby girl. This new mama shared some hard things she has discovered about motherhood, but then ended with, “I’m sure I will look back on these days and miss them.” My other cousin (who has two toddlers) and I looked at each other and shrugged. “Maybe.”

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To be completely honest, I don’t miss those days too much. Oh, there are moments when I glimpse tiny pudgy hands or remember rocking my babies to sleep that I feel a twinge of nostalgia. I also miss all those rhyming and lift-the-flap board books. But mostly, I’m loving the stage my kids are in right now.

A couple years ago, I heard the saying, “The days are long, but the years are short,” and wholeheartedly agreed. Now, the days and the years are flying by, and I want them to slow down. I’ve started feeling like I’m missing opportunities every day to speak love and truth into my kids’ hearts, so every night, I try to remember to tell them: You are the girl I always wanted. You are the boy I always wanted. ellie and jack walking

My youngest is six (and a half, if you ask him) and in first grade. He no longer gets rocked to sleep, although we do still read books before bed and he asks me to “lay down for one song” when we tuck in at night.

Last year, when Jack was in half-time kindergarten, he accompanied me on many grocery shopping trips. On one such outing, after Jack cheerfully chatted with me along the aisles, then helped me bag the groceries, then put them in the car, then buckled himself in his booster seat and started reading a book while I walked the grocery cart back, I thought, in a few months, he will be in school every day, all day. Just when he’s finally old enough to be a pleasant, helpful shopping companion, I lose him. And it happened. This year, I do all my grocery shopping on my days off when the kids are in school.

There is something absolutely dear and magical about little boys, six years old. For one thing, they don’t have big teeth yet. jack and diorama

This little guy’s mind is exploding with knowledge about the world, yet he still conjures imaginative possibilities, intertwining reality and fantasy. When Jack was three, his most favorite thing to do was don a black cap and dance around the living room with a broom to the song, “Step in Time”. He was a chimney sweep.

Now he becomes Luke Skywalker, light sabering his way through the Death Star full of storm troopers. Playing with Legos is accompanied by loud sound effects and intense dramas, and dozens of quickly assembled creations that cannot be thrown back into the bin (because they are like, real). Jack Jedi

Taking inspiration from Calvin and Hobbes, he recently found a big cardboard box and drew buttons and knobs and the word, “Duplicator” on the side. He climbed in and closed the lid over his head. When he emerged, he seemed genuinely disappointed that there was still only one of himself.

He still loves to dance. At my cousin’s wedding last weekend, he was a fixture on the dance floor from the time the music started until the bride and groom drove away. At one point, Ellie ran over to me, yelling: “Mom! Look at Jack!” In the middle of a particularly bass-thumping song, there he was, bouncing up and down on a groomsman’s shoulders, surrounded by 20-somethings dancing around them. “THAT WAS AWESOME!!!” he cried when he finally escaped the mob.

I observe six-year-old boy when I’m at his school, and I see him squirming on the carpet, in his chair, and in line. He touches or bumps into whoever is near him. Thankfully the other six-year-old boys understand, and usually it’s not violent enough to catch the teacher’s attention. ninja hands

School equals recess and PE and science experiments, and LOOOONG passages of time in between that involve pencils and much erasing. He still says things like, “I had to do a fousand fings for maff today,” and his friend might say, “We thwew the bock chips at wecess and got in twouble.” His second trimester report card included the telling comment: “Jack is a spirited young man….” When he gets home from school (or I get home from work), we meet with big, crushing hugs and sloppy kisses.

John and I typically get one these answers from Jack in response to “How was your day?” (He is uncannily clever about preemptively striking follow-up questions):

1. My day was awesome. It was so good. Every single part of it was good, so I can’t tell you what was good about it.

Or,

2. I had the worst day in the universe. Well, maybe the worst day on earth. Don’t ask me what part was bad because every single part was bad. I can’t talk about it. 

These responses are characteristic of a boy prone to exaggeration and the use of sweeping generalizations to avoid unwanted outcomes (ie, long conversations about his school day). This tends to put him at odds with Dad and Sister who are diametrically opposed to hyperbole and can dissect an argument with the precision of a defense attorney.

Jack became an avid reader, and I can hardly tear him away from books about volcanoes, Calvin and Hobbes, and the Disaster Strikes series in order to introduce him to the delights of Beverly Cleary (“I know there is a girl on the cover, but I promise you’ll like it!”). Jack reading

He still has to be reminded most of the time, but he sets the table, puts away his laundry, practices piano, and picks up a room without help, and sometimes sings and dances while doing it. He practices ninja moves on the way to the bathroom and forgets what he went there for. He considers the consequences of war and decides that weapon stockpiling and mutually assured destruction are faulty constructs. He loves soldiers, but he can’t handle the thought of guns being used to kill living beings – human or animal.

He has innumerable quirks and habits. In 20 years, I wonder if I will remember his daily requests for “triscuits and cheese slices”, his abhorrence of wearing wet socks, a gross habit of wiping his constantly drippy nose (allergies) with the hem of his t-shirt, and his unshakable fear of entering a dark room alone. He measures people’s ages by whether they were alive during notable volcanic eruptions or earthquakes (so far he has met no one who experienced the destruction of Pompeii). When we come home and enter the house from the garage, he holds the door open for me, and walks up the stairs behind me.

Six-year-old boy daily perfects his role as a nuisance to Big Sister, but also repeatedly tells us how much he loves his family (even Ellie). In fact, love is his favorite word. When he talks about his love for God, me, and the stuffed cat and dog he sleeps with, his face squeezes tight as he flexes his whole body to show the fierceness of his emotion and devotion. jack and ellie walking

Poor Jack is a second born surrounded by assertive (bossy) first borns (Mom, Dad, Sister, little cousin “N” and little cousin “E”) who are used to wielding power and inspiring (commanding) respect. Jack has become a de facto middle child in our family gatherings, and sometimes people are surprised when he says something clever or demonstrates an accomplishment (Oh, yeah – Jack’s here, isn’t he?). cousins pi day

He never fails to make us laugh. Dad and Jack laughing

He really wants to be a volcanologist when he grows up, but also is determined to only go to college for one day, then come back and live with me, so we’ll see how that turns out.

Oh, Jack, you are so wonderfully you I almost deleted this whole post because I can’t possibly put into words how marvelous you are at six. Jack - six

Ok, you were pretty marvelous at five, too.

Jack's School Picture

I’m pretty sure you will be marvelous your whole life long, because you are the boy I always wanted. But you already know that.

 

January Moms

Earlier this month a friend and I threw a baby shower for another friend who was pregnant with her fourth baby, her first girl. Being literary types, my friend and I thought it would be fun to read aloud a charming selection from a book or poem hailing the special bond between mothers and daughters. As we scanned our shelves and memories for such relationships in literature, we came up with nothing. Well, nothing that would encourage our dear friend embarking on daughter-rearing.

(Why are all my favorite stories bereft of good moms? Strong child protagonists often have mothers who are either dead or absent (Anne, Harry, Pevensie children, Pollyanna, Heidi…), wicked or neglectful (Mary Lennox, take your pick of fairy tales), or too precious, practical, or silly to be true (Marmee, Ma Ingalls, Mrs. Bennett). Oh, there are exceptions (I love Anna Hibiscus’s Canadian mother, raising her family in Nigeria with a houseful of in-laws, and Mrs. Quimby has the patience of a saint), but it’s a shame that great children in literature rarely spring from normal, loving, good moms.)

I have known this friend since before we had children, and I know she is going to be a Mom of moms to her little girl. The kind of Mom (with a capital M) who will never be “mother”, but who evolves from “Mama” to “Mommy” to “Mom”, and plants herself right there, flourishing in that title.

Karen

Gorgeously nine months pregnant

I recognize the type – the woman who inhabits the role of “Mom” not as a back-up plan, or to get out of an unfulfilling career, or to improve or “recreate” herself through her children, or to tack on the job to an already full life. A woman like my mom, whose three grown children still sit in her presence and are washed over with love, acceptance, and encouragement.

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Me, Mom, Baby Sister

My mom, like my friend, also got surprised by a January baby of a different gender after she thought life was complete with a couple of girls who were well past the “little” years.  Mom was also labeled “advanced maternal age” by her healthcare practitioners during her last, unexpected pregnancy (I did a little calculating one day and realized that my mom was exactly the same age, to the week, as my friend when my brother was born). And like my friend, she is also a “Mom of moms”.

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Mom, surrounded by her daughters, granddaughters, and mom.

My friend gave birth to her baby girl last week – perfectly formed and lovely, coming at just the right time to a houseful of boys who adore her.

Annaka and Jack

My friend, who I would normally describe as “perky”, is now subdued and quiet, like a January garden. Words and energy come slow due to lack of sleep and the pouring out that comes with the first weeks of tending to a new life. It has been seven years since she last did this, but it is all coming back to her, and she glows in the familiar patterns and delights of tiny fingers and toes.

My baby brother turned 22 this January. Sometimes words and energy come slow to our mom, too, due to sleepless nights of a different cause. When she took a few days off work this month to surprise Baby Brother in Seattle for his birthday, she came home glowing from good sleep and the joy that comes from spending time with her January baby who has turned into a strong, smart, loving man.

Taylor

We spent a happy January afternoon with my mom on the tail end of her mini vacation, watching the Seahawks beat the Packers, making some apple-y dessert, and chatting about 22-year-old Brother and such.

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Good Moms become good Grammys

These two moms are what come to mind as I search for something good about January. It’s been a dark, dreary month and I pretty much despise this time of year – dark, wet, gloom coming off the high of Christmas (and Hawaii). But light and happiness broke through with the birth of a baby girl to a mom-friend I love, and the birthday of a boy whose mom always has the power to make me warm in January.

 

What a Summer Book Club for Little Girls has to do with Justice

Part of our family’s mission statement is to “seek justice in our world.” It is probably this piece that we have most intentionally talked about and practiced as a family, mainly because of a journey we have been on discovering God’s heart for justice and opening our eyes to injustice in our world.

Compassion for the poor and powerless has long marked my heart, but this stirring of my soul for justice grew after I became a mom. Motherhood shook the carefully laid foundation of my life – suddenly I was no longer in control, my heart softened, the world grew larger, and the gravity of decisions weighed heavy. Life was absolutely full to the brim with monotonous messy chores and moments of crazy joy. And exhaustion. When my youngest was two, I had reached a point that seems to be common in many moms with young children – desperation. I felt like one of those rainbow-colored parachutes with handles that PE teachers or preschool teachers pull out once in a while to the glee of young children. All my roles were pulling me tight in different directions and I felt like I was going to tear.

At the same time, God was also doing a powerful work in my heart, drawing me closer to him, strengthening me where I was weak, and enlarging my heart for the things that matter to him – like justice and compassion. I came across a book written by Gary Haugen, the president of International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights organization that rescues and restores victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery, and oppression.  My kids were sleeping through the night at this point, so I had the mental clarity to read Haugen’s book, The Good News About Injustice. It profoundly impacted me. I felt outrage and grief over injustice in the world, amazed at the work of IJM, hopeful because of God’s heart for justice, and inspired to do something about it.

Initially, I despaired that I chose to become a speech-language pathologist instead of a lawyer or social worker for a career. Then I became discouraged because I didn’t think I had anything to offer – I was just an average woman in a small city with a husband, two kids, and a job – too busy, too boring, no connections. So I followed the example of Haugen and his IJM colleagues and I prayed.  I thanked God for sparking a passion inside of me for justice and asked him to show me how to work for justice, and contribute to the work of IJM, and to do it in a way that my little family could be on the journey with me. Within a short amount of time, God answered that prayer very clearly. The idea of a mother-daughter book club literally popped into my head one morning after meditating on a passage in Ephesians the night before: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth).  And find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11).

I began to think about my little children of light – the light of Jesus in our hearts and in our home, the light-filled existence of choice and freedoms and opportunities we enjoy, the love and passion I have for my kids. What if, together with some other moms and their daughters, we lived as children of light – teaching our girls about justice, compassion, courage, and love; and shed light on the darkness in our world in a way that was developmentally appropriate for our girls, drew others into the journey, and raised support for the important work that IJM is doing to fight against injustice and oppression in the world? The first “Summer Book Club for Little Girls” began to take shape.

This summer will be the fourth year we gather as moms and daughters to read and talk about books, discover what justice looks like in our home, community, and world, and together, raise awareness and funds to support International Justice Mission. Last summer we raised about $1600 by sewing and selling stuffed “Freedom Friends”, having a cookie and lemonade stand at a garage sale, and telling friends and family about our book club.

The last couple years, my son has lamented the injustice of not having a book club of his own, so this summer, my friend and I are launching a boys book club. I anticipate it being more active, noisy, and laden with great battles against injustice. I’m trying think of a way to convince them to sew “Freedom Friends” with us. Freedom Friend Ninjas? Robots? Superheroes? We shall see.

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The end-of-summer project capturing the theme of our book club, taken from “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes: “She was never going to stand by and say nothing again.”

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Gracie and her “Freedom Friend”

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These moms and girls sewed and sold more than 27 “Freedom Friends” because they want to help free some of the 27 million slaves in the world today, through the work of IJM

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