The Life of a Gatekeeper


A photo a week throughout 2019: our family, just as we are. 6/52

She stood at the door of the gym, facing away from me; wide stance and crossed arms, scanning the floor for unsafe behavior or toddlers who might be wandering into the path of well-meaning capture the flag players. The weather through the winter months doesn’t always allow for outside play, so indoors, the whole bunch sorts out the abundance of energy each seems to have (save the mamas who hustle around and make the magic happen). 

Some are in classrooms, preparing lessons and supplies for when recess is done and all the kids file into their assigned classrooms.

Some are cleaning up from lunch, where over sixty children eat on picnic blankets laid atop the midnight-blue carpet stretched across the church’s basement floor. Only after the flock has moved over to the gym can moms gather stray lunch items, collect wrappers and the uneaten bits left behind. Blankets are folded and carried outside to shake out the crumbs, and industrial strength vacuums are trusted to take care of the rest. 

Some moms tend their littlest ones who have come along for the ride, changing diapers and feeding in peace while their big kids play. 

One mom is in the kitchen, rinsing out the tea and coffee cups that have been used throughout the morning by all the women who have brought their children to this one-day-a-week thing we do to spark a love of learning and awe for the threads of hope and wonder woven through history, science, and the Bible. 

It’s our homeschool cooperative, and it is a haven for all of us. 

The circle we form in the morning is a beautiful joining of hands to pray for the most present and pressing needs in each of our lives. We come with joys and sorrows, petitions and praise. We stand shoulder to shoulder, each familiar with the sobering responsibility of raising children to know truth, to see connections between the physical and spiritual realms, and to apply wisdom in real-world situations. 

As the end of recess draws nearer, kids come to the door, hoping to sneak by to stop at a drinking fountain or find their moms. But experience has taught all of us if you let one cross the line prematurely, the deliberate boundaries fall, and confusion and chaos take over. 

It takes attentive vigilance to guard the door. The gatekeeper must oversee what happens and guide the kids through the transition of what will happen next. 

I’ve stood in that doorway before. It’s a job that easily overwhelms. There are other moms inside the gym that keep an eye on the bathrooms and monitor the activities, but the door job is still a bear. Kids come near, expectantly hoping the rules don’t apply to them, so they can pass through to whatever their heart desires to do next, but it can’t happen without bringing on a tidal wave of children who also think the rules do not apply to them.

Kids are smart, they watch and see what everyone else is able to pull off, what they can get away with. They know the gatekeeper is there, they know the expectation that once they’ve gone in, no one leaves the gym until it is 1pm. Ah, but if one breaches the invisible barrier, they think it gives them automatic permission to go themselves.

A gatekeeper must be firm but kind, holding the boundary for the benefit of everyone.

Being the gatekeeper of our homes is similar. Every time I set a limit, there is an attempt to breach. There is a test, a stepping in with tip-toes. Will this work? Can I get away with it? I’ll bet I can if I just keep testing. This is why vigilance is exhausting. This is also why it is needed. 

What do limits provide for our kids? I’ve grown to see limits as a loving thing. Only with limits can our kids learn to navigate freedom with wisdom. When in the gym, they can play whatever they want. Capture the flag, basketball, or tag. They can choose which friends they’re going to spend their time with, what conversations they’re going to have, and how active they’re going to be. Is it a mental decompress time or a physical exertion time? The child decides—but within the boundary. 

The gatekeeper isn’t a micromanager, just a watchful eye, compassionate guidance, and firm boundary-enforcer. As I learn more about my own limits and the freedom I find within them, the more committed I am to being a diligent gatekeeper of my home.

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1511. a stretch of chill days, 1512. flexibility, 1513. new writer friends, 1514. insulin, 1515. episodes recorded, 1516. hodgepodge snow gear (photo coming next week), 1517. protein trail mix, 1518. honesty, 1519. safe winter driving, 1520. last-minute library return

Listening in the Kitchen

A photo a week throughout 2019: our family, just as we are. 5/52

When the heart is quiet and the ears are open, there is much to hear.

I seem to discover important things in the most unlikely places. Today, I stood in my kitchen, reeling in a compounded mess: life on the go with a large group of children who would much rather stack paper plates on the counter with metal forks between them than sort the stuff, and ditch the trash upon first pickup. We’re still working on some things. They also seem much more interested in using every glass in the house over the course of two meals than making use of their reusable, color-coded water bottles.

I filled a plastic tub with warm, soapy water so the few things needing a bit of a soak could loosen food debris while I tossed napkins and individual plates in our family-size food waste bin. I didn’t really want to be there in the middle of that mess, just like I don’t really want to be here in the last trimester of a surprise pregnancy with multiple diagnoses to complicate things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled for the baby coming, but the health challenges I’ve encountered, and extra layers of complexity it brings to my household have not been my type of fun.

I like things to be easy. Some (weird) things come fairly easy to me. Pregnancy has typically always been a time where I’ve felt a deep sense of purpose, joy, and even in the discomfort, I could offer a whole-hearted yes, I am in. That’s not to say I haven’t struggled through some long, dark stretches, but I’ve found a lightness of spirit, or at the very least, I mostly remember the more positive parts from days gone by.

This has not been one of those weeks. I’ve been diagnosed (on top of my other diagnosis) with gestational diabetes. I’ve had it once before. It’s not entirely unfamiliar, but it has been entirely discouraging me this week. It’s like all my efforts to get an A on this test have landed me exactly in D- status (I won’t claim an F, as honestly there is so much out of my control here), and now I have this huge red slash through my paper.

I will be fine. The baby will be fine, but there are swirls of worries and what if I can’t manage this without medication? thoughts (which I really don’t want to add into my already high-maintenance daily routine), and how will I maintain an ultra-strict diet and disciplined exercise schedule on top of everything? I still have seven other people to feed. I already have to keep a sort-of nutty schedule in order to keep in our household on the rails.

I’m still struggling to embrace what it looks like to care for myself in the most basic ways when I’m so used to charging through walls without a thought to what my body and soul really need on a daily basis. It is a top-tier struggle to put my needs on the list at all, let alone near the top of my priorities.

I’ve always loved the meaning of names and have taken extreme care to choose names for my children that reflect lovely or poignant meanings. I’ve always had mixed feelings about my own name, not because I don’t like it, but because the meanings I’ve found for it could lean different directions based on some changes in context. For example, one meaning is “industrious, or striving to excel”, which is great if you’re talking about awesomely impressive productivity, not as great if you’re talking about “tries way too hard at most things and doesn’t know when to quit”.

But today as I stood in the kitchen—doing one of my least favorite jobs and preparing food I wasn’t all that thrilled to be eating in order to hopefully keep my blood sugar in check—I randomly remembered another meaning of my name that I came across some years ago.

Emily also means diligent one. 

Sometimes names are reflective of someone’s characteristics, and sometimes, a name is something that can whisper to your soul a small reminder of who you are and what you’re called to.

All week, I’ve been asking myself, how can I possibly do thisstay on top of injections, blood sugar checks, stringent meals, regular movement, reasonable bedtime, running a householdfor three more months? 

The whisper back was, be diligent, one day at a time. 

I am industrious. I am productive and striving and proud of how much I care about things, even if its annoying to other people who would like to see me chill out. But I am not diligent in lots of things—only those things that land on the top of my priority list, which as I already mentioned, often doesn’t account for my daily personal needs. Certainly not in things requiring deep grit and perseverance that don’t come at least somewhat easily to me.

For whatever reason, body-related things and physical care for myself is something that just isn’t easy for me. For years, I’ve practiced needing as little as possible, and have convinced myself I can sleep when I’m dead, I can get in shape later, and I can get through the right-now challenges if I handle my life a little more efficiently, or simplify whatever requires a little too much effort from me.

Well, not this time. There is no coasting through this, and with this little whisper—an invitation to rise to the meaning of this one little word. Can’t go over it, can’t go around it, but you can bet, I’m about to go through it…I’m going on a hunt to learn how to value my body as deeply as I value my soul, and apparently, muscles only grow strong if you use them again and again.

I’m about to flex my diligence muscle as I prepare for the arrival of my new son.

*****************

1501. new bag perfectly suited to what I need to carry around these days, 1502. support from unexpected people, 1503. evening showers, 1504. clear sinuses, 1505. prayers by kids, 1506. favorite snacks, 1507. painting with toddlers, 1508. marital teamwork, 1509. kids presentations done, 1510. little hands slipped in mine

 

 

 

The Futility of Making Plans

A photo a week throughout 2019: our family, just as we are. 4/52

I’m returning to the Write 31 Days series I started, but never finished, in 2017. Redemptive Motherhood: How My Children Have Changed Me is pretty much a chronological exploration of how we welcomed child after child into our family, and it is a personal goal and longing for me to write down and preserve the rest of these stories. You’re welcome to read the first half of the series, or jump in right where I’m at, beginning with this story of discovering I was pregnant with our third child.

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He was a chunky little fellow with rolls upon rolls filling out his limbs, and a resting stern-face which was pretty funny for a kid of his age. He was just under a year, and his older sister was two and a half years of spunk and wonder, never without her eyes wide open and a few stray curls sticking out in odd directions; a perfect reflection of her wild imagination and quirky personality. It was an especially simple and beautiful time—our young family camped out in a two-bedroom apartment on the third floor of graduate family housing complex while Daddy was living the grad school life. The kids and I lived our own version of it, spending long hours just the three of us trying to pass the time Daddy was at the University without losing our minds. Or maybe that was just me. 

I hadn’t quite figured out how to be out and about with both kids regularly. Logistics were not in my favor. Our front door could only be accessed by stairs, and getting little people, any bags with supplies or groceries, and my tired mama-self up and down those three flights was no small task. We kept a small stroller in the trunk of our little tiny sedan in the distant parking area because we couldn’t store or move a larger stroller between the apartment and the car, and it was in that season that grocery shopping became a family affair because I simply couldn’t do it—with the kids—by myself. I hadn’t yet figured out how to pack a reasonable-size bag of toddler supplies and snacks that could just live in the car, or easily sling over my shoulder, so we mostly stayed home. 

I have sweet memories of those days, but I also remember being bored out of my mind, longing for connection, intellectual stimulation, or any small escape from the mind-numbing mom-of-toddlers-stuck-on-the-third-floor thing I had going on. 

Everything felt hard. 

Life on a graduate school stipend in an expensive city is not exactly a recipe for financial success.

We were thrifty and economical, spending exactly zero unnecessary dollars, mostly because we didn’t have any. We had food, and our cozy little home, each other…and not much else. 

We had every intention of waiting a few years before trying to have another baby. We had one boy, one girl, and it was the first time of many we would have an even boy-girl split, the picture-perfect family and according to some, many sensible reasons to not have any more children. Given the length of the grad program we were there for, we discussed savoring life with our two fun little people, finishing school, and then—maybe later down the road—we might have one or two more kids. once we were settled and on a profitable career path. It’s funny to think about it now. 

I would say, I was generally happy with how things were going. It felt stressful to navigate the needs of a blossoming family, but we had a plan, and at the time, I put a lot of hope in that plan.

Somewhere in mid-February 2009, I slipped into a funk. I was exhausted, feeling kind of blue, and unable to shake a stewing, brewing, smoldering frustration with life. I shared with a friend that I was really struggling to find motivation to even move.

“Are you pregnant?” she asked. 

“No way,” I said without hesitation. Pregnancy was the last thing on my radar, and we had been very actively and carefully avoiding it since my cycle had returned.

“Are you sure?” she repeated, and I am pretty sure I looked at her like she had two heads. 

I was really sure—until I saw the pink lines that proved otherwise.

I could not believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I was seized with fear about how we would survive, as we were already spread as thin as I could imagine. I questioned why God would allow such a preposterous thing to happen at this juncture of our lives. Didn’t He know we were at our max for the season? Didn’t He know we had a really great plan to do this…later?

For several months, I wrestled with the reality of having a third child well before we planned to. I was eager to welcome and love the child, but not too happy about the timing, and not too sure how on earth we would manage.

As I look back on that season, I can see exactly what God was up to. 

He was giving us the very best surprise of our lives. That child remains a delight and a gift in the greater dynamics of our family, and that pregnancy tipped off a number of dominos that led us to wrap up grad school early, move back to the Pacific Northwest, and so many other details that have unfolded beautifully in our lives since that time. 

“The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”
~Proverbs 16:9

I still like to make plans. Having a plan helps me sort out a sense of vision for where I’m headed, and a sense of peace in knowing that when decisions fall in my lap, I’ll know how to navigate them according to plan. But I am much more comfortable than I once was with the reality that many things are out of my control. As I’ve seen blessing after blessing unfold in our lives, I have become convinced that control is overrated…sometimes the ride, the surprise, and the unexpected bring about better things than I could have imagined. 

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1491. generous wise input on a shift in direction, 1492. a lemon gift, 1493. (multiple) rooms full of sweet friendships, 1494. collaborative brainstorming, 1495. dental cleaning, 1496. hand-me-down baby boy clothes, 1497. outsourcing chores, 1498. clarity, 1499. homeschool planning, 1500. the abundance of comfort in Christ

Stillness

A photo a week throughout 2019: our family, just as we are. 3/52

~ For Lynne ~

You said to be still and know that You are God

I have known for many years
exactly Who You are

Still I thrashed and panicked with every wave
For ever so long

You said when going through waters, You would be with me
You were there, but so was fear

Speaking louder and more convincingly in my ear than Your still, small voice

You said in the valley You would lead me beside still waters

I could hear the water, but could not see it
So I trembled at the unknown, Walking in darkness

Afraid of what I could not see and what I could not control

You were both before and behind me
Not far, not disinterested

Not disappointed in me

As we walked, I discovered Your patience and kindness
And started knowing in deeper ways

Your faithfulness does not depend on my performance

You said I would not hurt, would not struggle, would not weep–in vain,
And would not any of those forever

By the might of Your outstretched arms encircled around me have I been held still
In the waves, in the darkness, in the pain and loneliness 

So firmly and gently 

So faithfully 

The water is washing me through
The night is peace for my anxious thoughts
And the discomfort and uncertainty of any day after this one is not my burden
But my joy and honor

Stillness is trust

Trust that You are loving 

Trust that You are Able 

Trust that You will keep what I have committed to You

You have set in motion redemption that cannot be taken
By fear, by sorrow, by suffering

By anything 

For nothing shall separate me from the love of Jesus  

This is stillness 

Remembering what You’ve said to be true

Clinging to those promises

As the sustenance of my soul

*****************

1481. little steps, 1482. what a beautiful name on the radio, 1483. sensitivity, 1484. the sanctuary of home, 1485. rolls and nudges, 1486. the honor of quiet things, 1487. cracking a new book, 1488. plans for connecting spaces, 1489. a full five days, 1490. mercy headphones

Saturday Morning

A photo a week throughout 2019: our family, just as we are. 2/52

We took this photo last weekend, and all week, I’ve been planning to share it here with some reflections, except even though I have written thousands of words this week, none seemed to be quite right for this space. I’ve got a number of small writing projects in the works, so I make small word-deposits every day in different documents as I build on ideas and thoughts in specific directions, but I’m finding the deeper I get into the writing life, the more I realize how important it is to write for the space, for those who will read. But who reads here? Perhaps you should leave a comment or send a note and let me know. And if there is anything you’d like me to write about or ask me about, please include that. I have an ample supply of words, but a bit of a question mark in my mind about what belongs here right now after the long break I’ve taken from regularly writing here.

It’s Saturday morning. Two kids are sitting on the couch, building legos out of a yellow plastic box. Little man just waltzed into the living room with two clementine oranges, one in each hand. He offers it to his older brother and invites him over to the dining room table, where he wants to peel and eat them together. Brother declines and says he doesn’t really like oranges.

“Yes you do,” he says.

“No, I don’t,” says big brother.

“Yes, you do,” he insists, belligerently.

We all laugh at his persistence, and the innocent way he is trying to command the situation.

Deciding it would be easier to just take the oranges to the table and eat them both himself, he peels the skin back in irregular pieces, discarding them indiscriminately on the table and floor before shoving huge hunks into his mouth.

Dad is in the kitchen, grinding fresh coffee and gathering the assorted pieces of his supplies to make a wake-up cup.  We have an overabundance of coffee stuff. I don’t drink it, never have, but I have enjoyed the smell of it ever since I worked in several drive-thru coffee huts in high school. Caffeine, even in smaller amounts, has always made me feel not great, so I’ve steered clear even though I’ve had many opportunities (and reasons) to develop the habit. Dad, on the other hand, has a well-developed affinity for it. Every few years, we add new coffee supplies to our growing collection and each is used for a while before being abandoned for another method. We’ve had a french press, Aeropress, Bialetti pot, Keurig, Breville espresso maker, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting. It’s probably time to pare down what isn’t being used, but since it’s not my zone, I just leave it be.

Our near-teenager is in bed still, even though it’s 9:30am. I’ve noticed a sharp turn in her sleep habits in the past few months. She doesn’t settle easily in the evenings, always stretching her bedtime as late as we’ll allow. Many times, we ask her to turn her lights out, which she’ll do until there is no longer a parent nearby and then she’ll flip her little lamp back on to continue reading whatever book she’s sucked into currently. It’s hard to hold the line on it because I remember my own early teen years and how late into the night I would stay up. I spent a lot of time pondering and puttering around my room and enjoyed the time to myself without interruptions. We have to strike a balance because, in the mornings, she can be a bear if she’s not able to sleep as late as she wants to, which is not always an option. It’s definitely new territory trying to sort out where to apply leadership, and where to step back and let her have autonomy. We’ve taken to having conversations about looking ahead to the next day. Will she be able to sleep late enough for a full night? If not, she needs to disengage from her juicy good book and choose rest. To sleep or to read? That is the question. I have to say, I’m glad that this is currently our biggest challenge with her individually.

The table is full of dishes from dinner last night and lazy breakfasts this morning. I’m not especially good at keeping the table top clear. It feels like a losing battle at this point. We rally two or three times a day to reset and prepare for the next planned meal or to create space for projects and school work, but in-between, I have to let it go for my own sanity. Even when we use paper plates for one meal of the day, we have to run the dishwasher twice daily to stay square. There are just so many people, and given that each one often uses multiple dishes per meal — let’s just say staying ahead of the mess is an ideal I may not reach for a long time.

We have been making strides at post-Christmas organizing, though. Usually, I emerge from the holidays in a fog, not quite sure how to navigate the influx of stuff that comes in, and not quite ready for the return to a normal weekly schedule of activities out of the house. This year, our entrance into January has been gentle. I’ve been making a list for the kids, detailing things we need to tackle, and everyone completes a bit of it. Everyone contributes effort, except the two-year-old who seems intent on undoing everything as efficiently as possible. Alternating the upstairs and downstairs spaces each day, we’ve emptied bins, cleared out closets, and have accomplished some of the cleaning we don’t always get to. Simplifying is a great way to start the year.

I wrote a ‘launching into January’ piece over on Kindred Mom earlier this month, and I’m now a few steps into setting my own vision for the year into motion. It is a gentle approach compared to years past. I know with a baby coming in a few short months, there is only so much I can plan, and even those plans must be held with an open hand. In the planner I’m using for the year, one of the questions posed was, “What do you want to leave behind this year?” My list was longer than I expected and even surprised me a bit as I scrawled it out. What I long for most this year is deep growth, habits that serve me (and our family) well, and quiet confidence in the direction I’m headed. In the past, I’ve always wanted to be able to show (or prove, rather) productivity and ground gained, but the events of recent months have shifted my perspective about a lot of things. I wrote, “I want to pursue diligence motivated by faithfulness rather than motivated by productivity,” and I’m starting to really understand the difference. My themes for this year are: slow, thoughtful, substantial, sustainable, focused, joyful, faithful, and my goals are aimed more at depth, quietness, and seeing the beauty of very ordinary moments than at smashing through an impressive to-do list. There are times to hustle, for sure, but hustle is not the only way–and possibly not even the best way–to get the most out of life. Some sweet things can only infiltrate the soul when you slow down, take notice, and savor what would otherwise be missed at a breakneck speed.

“With all my heart, I want you to know that your dreams and goals are valuable and important, but the pressure to produce results in one thing you can check at the door if you want to.  

Instead of feeling the pressure, you can take a deep breath and see the lovely life around you—and the limits of motherhood—as a place where you have total freedom to rock this gig one humble day at a time.”

~ Emily Sue Allen, from Embracing Your Motherhood Season

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1471. witnessing the courage of others to sacrifice comfort in order to serve, 1472. reclaiming order in small ways, 1473. a gentle re-entry to the weekly schedule, 1474. homemade stock + soup, 1475. successful podcast segments recorded, 1476. finishing school paperwork that was hanging over my head, 1477. grace for mistakes, 1478. researching space missions, 1479. when the kids take initiative to organize a space without being asked, 1480. quiet Saturday morning with sun streaming through the windows

More of the Story: Finding a New Normal

A photo a week throughout 2019: our family, just as we are. New Years Day. 1/52

(continued from this post)

There are days I could pinch myself, I’m so excited to welcome another baby. At the end of the day, all the blood, sweat, tears, and repetitive mess-mediation that happens ten times daily adds up to laughter, love, and all the good stuff in life. It’s a sweet gift to have one more child on the way to delight in, and one more layer of chaos to add to our already boisterous home. 

There are also days I tremble at the sobering responsibility of raising four sons and three daughters; at the overwhelming mountains of laundry and dishes; at the thought of going through childbirth yet another time. My experience thus far is it doesn’t get easier with subsequent births. Each one is still impossibly hard, incredibly painful, and full of uncertainty and unknowns. 

I’ve been fixated on the birth and how I imagine it will go. Because I was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism at 10 weeks in September, and because of the treatment I require through and beyond the pregnancy, I am in the care of a high-risk OB group. My birth plan is quite a departure from all my others. It will be in-hospital, induced at 39 weeks, and strategically managed to minimize the risk of any further clotting issues. I have to say, I’m not really looking forward to the interventionist approach, even though I know it’s necessary for multiple reasons.

My OB oozes confidence that it will be a straightforward, successful vaginal delivery, saying I’m a great candidate for induction, given my history and obvious knack for pushing out babies. At one of my visits, she leaned onto one knee crossed over the other and reassured me of the most recent research about inductions and c-section rates. Looking around the exam room lit by fluorescent bulbs overhead, all I could think about was how impersonal the hospital felt compared to my midwife’s couch and carpeted floor. I am grateful for the doctor’s reassurance, but I know too much about the unpredictable nature of birth to put my hope in her words. Even if it all does go according to plan, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy experience.

I know as well as anyone that my anxious thoughts do me no good, but they still hang around, especially in quiet moments when I don’t have something else to hold my attention. I often pray and ask for peace, knowing that even as it’s granted me, I still have to keep hold of it on purpose with both hands. 

My 24-week old son nudges his way around my belly, and feel extremely grateful for his movement…a reminder that I’m not going through this experience alone. We’ll do it together, buddy. You and me.

Great love and great labor. That’s what I think about when preparing for birth. It’s going to be so hard, but love is powerful, and I love this little man. 

***

I received my pulmonary embolism diagnosis around 5pm on a Monday. The ER doctor told me I was one tough mother to have dealt with the pain of a PE for over a week. I laughed, but I don’t think either of us thought it was very funny. It was a serious lapse in judgment on my part to suck it up for so long. The outcome could have been very different. 

The doctors who spoke with us couldn’t give any definitive answers as to how long I’d be admitted to the hospital for, but said to be prepared for 5-7 days, or until they were convinced I was stabilized and they had the dosage dialed in for therapeutic, but not overly aggressive, blood thinning. My entire ER experience, though lame for the reason I was there, was much more positive than I would have expected. Each doctor, nurse, and tech was attentive, compassionate, and thorough in their care. There was one long stretch no one checked in with me, and I found out a little later, two strokes and a heart attack came in all at the same time. 

The doc apologized for the wait as she burst through the door and told me very vaguely about the cases that had come in.

“No worries,” I said. “Those seem like pretty important cases to tend to.”

She said out loud I was important, too, and she was truly sorry I’d been waiting a while.

A little after five, they moved me into a patient care room on another floor. 

The nurse encouraged me to order some food and began the rhythms that continued through the next 24 hours. Vital signs, blood draw, breathing into a plastic contraption to begin the rehabilitation of my lungs. 

My husband was there to help me get settled, but planned a trip home to check on the kids, grab some stuff, and promised he’d be back later with my comfort and care items. 

When I was there alone, everything started to sink in a little. I was truly not well, and even though it seemed like I should have known as much well before that point, I hadn’t admitted it to myself. I see it now in hindsight, and it has made me more aware of those around me who have themselves convinced they do not need care, a shift in their trajectory, or a change in the circumstances they’re in. Denial is a very powerful experience—and because of it’s deceitful nature, you don’t know you’re in denial until it hits you hard. 

I had lots of questions and so did the doctors. They asked me at least half a dozen times to recall various things that may have contributed to the formation of the clot. Had I been sedentary for a long period of time? Had I flown or been on a long car ride? The only thing I could figure was it might have been a day at 8 or so weeks pregnant where my energy tanked hard and I spent most of the day parenting from my bed. I got up a few times to use the bathroom, and to get food for the kids, but my whole body felt heavy and worn out, and I decided listening to my body while growing a brand new human looked like taking a rest day. 

No one can say definitively if that was it, but it’s the only thing I can think of. 

One doctor mentioned briefly something about elevated estrogen being one cause of clots in the first trimester of pregnancy. I didn’t really have a context or understanding about it at the time but asked my high-risk OB about it at a later visit.

She explained the composition of blood being in a constant state of flux between coagulants and anti-coagulants…so your blood is always at the perfect viscosity to flow through your veins and also to not flow too well that it’s unable to clot effectively should you bleed. In pregnancy, estrogen levels are especially high in the first trimester, and it acts as a coagulant, thickening your blood ever so slightly, which in some cases (like mine) contributes to clot formation. She told me the other point at which estrogen is high is during the six weeks following birth, which is one way the body attempts to mitigate the blood loss after delivery. All that to say, even though I am healing from my experience in September, I’m not out of the woods yet. 

The only recommended treatment for a pulmonary embolism during pregnancy is to have continuous blood thinning throughout the gestation and postpartum period, and only injection blood thinners are said to be safe for pregnancy because the chemical makeup of the injections involves molecules too big to cross the placenta. That means I’m being treated, but the baby is safe from any negative side effects. That also means I’ve been shooting myself in the soft skin of my stomach every twelve hours since September and will continue through May, at the earliest. It’s by far the most inconvenient part of this pregnancy, having to remember specific times to administer my shots. 

I’ve driven home from the kids’ school more than once to pick up the syringes I failed to take with me, and we had to turn around an hour into a long road trip to come back for the zipper pouch I forgot to bring along for the few days we were going to be away. But, some things are important enough to be inconvenienced for.

The areas where most of the injections are concentrated have turned all shades of purple and green at different times, and the skin is a little tender to the touch sometimes as well. I’m glad to be more than halfway through this, but I won’t be sad when this no longer has to be part of my everyday routine. 

Ultimately I was in the hospital for about 24 hours before they dialed in my dosage and thought I really didn’t need to be there. Most of the other patients on my floor were immobile, in much more dire circumstances than me. 

Even though I’d only been gone from home a day and a half, I came home and everything was different. 

In my absence, two generous friends had cleaned my entire house…like really deeply cleaned it. I resisted the urge to feel ashamed of the state they had found it in, as the first weeks of pregnancy, and the time that elapsed since my lung symptoms showed up meant I had let a lot of things go. It was a tremendous act of love for them to make sure there was as little left to be done as possible once I returned home. 

My kids were glad to see me and cautious at the same time. They had a few details about what was going on with me, but lots of questions too. We were all in a bit of shock, navigating the bumpy terrain of a new normal. I had previously been a very involved and capable mama but was sidelined by very real physical limitations. 

Other than no longer being at as great a risk of a recurrent blood clot due to continuous blood thinning, I didn’t feel much better/different than before I’d gone in. Except in extreme cases, doctors don’t actually do anything to remove clots or drain the fluid that builds in the lungs as a result of one. The doctors said my body would break down the clot on its own over time (2-3 months) and the continuous blood thinning meant it would be very hard for a new clot to form. They also said it could take 4-6 months for the pleural effusion (fluid) to resolve. I did have prescription painkillers to help me get some rest, but being a reluctant drug-taker even in extreme circumstances, I reserved those for nights and took Tylenol during the day. I could stand for only 5 or 10 minutes before running out of all energy due to reduced oxygen in my bloodstream, and as such, things got very simple around our house.

The first week home, I barely did anything at all. I didn’t make meals, I didn’t put children to bed. I didn’t even really go downstairs at all, where the laundry piles up and everyone else in my house sleeps. I was on the couch, propped with no fewer than a dozen pillows. It would be a full seven weeks before I’d sleep in my own bed again. I still had pain in the middle of my back where I’d felt the first symptoms, and breathing was still very difficult in any position except fully upright. The weird thing was, when upright and sitting, I felt really very fine. That made it challenging to answer questions about how I was doing whenever someone asked. I was great. Feeling fine, and not in too much pain…until I moved. It messed with my mind a little, not knowing how to really share where I was at or what was happening with my healing process on social media or otherwise. I mean, what do you say when you’ve nearly just died—a flippant retelling of the story in two minutes flat? I didn’t care at all who found out or how the news spread but I didn’t know how to share just sound bites of what was going on, and I was still trying to figure out for myself how I was really doing.

Prior to all these developments, my kids had done some chores here and there around the house, but most tasks were a group effort, with me leading the way, them responding to real-time orders in a team style rally to get things done. It’s what has always worked well for us. 

Given my new physical limitations when I came home from the hospital, everything about how we operate as a family had to change. I had to lean on the older kids for much more physical help, which I’ve been hesitant to do in the past because sometimes its just easier to do things myself. They’ve responded so well—compassionate and understanding about what I can’t do on my own, and they’ve grown in their willingness and ability to handle some of the tasks that need to be done.

A side benefit of slowing down out of necessity was I started to see what was not working regarding our home care, systems, and my kids’ individual needs. Since I was knocked out of the equation from a physical standpoint, I could only direct, praise, encourage, correct without doing any heavy lifting. 

It has helped me see just how capable my children are, that they will rise to whatever bar I set for them, especially when I am engaged, clear, and encouraging. Maybe that seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to slip into auto-pilot when managing a large household.

I started leaning on the older kids to help in specific ways. One day, I had the brilliant idea to turn dish duty into a relay, assigning one aspect of kitchen cleanup specifically to one child. Red plates go to E. Cups and glasses to A. Silverware and counter cleanup to J. Dishwasher start delegated to M. 

I could come in at the end, spend 5 minutes and be square in the kitchen again because of my little bits of outsourcing. Pretty resourceful, if you ask me, and the kids were happy because they could each do their own little part in a few minutes’ time. Little bites do get you places.

We did some convenience foods, asked friends to bring a few meals here and there, and ultimately, Daddy played the hero, fielding all the stuff that needed to be done that I wasn’t able to do.

There were a few weak moments when I wondered how I’d survive it—the lowly dependence I felt; unable to carry what was mine to carry. Still, we have managed together.

It is incredibly uncomfortable to be the person in the midst of real and desperate need.

I have always been a very capable person—having both vision and follow-through, energy and tenacity. I haven’t had many experiences meeting my true limits. Anytime I’ve felt the pinch of an obstacle in front of me, I dig in a little deeper, try another way, learn a new skill, or let it go because I realized it wasn’t a top priority.

I can’t say I’ve ever had a challenge to overcome that I didn’t ultimately succeed at. Maybe I have, and I’ve conveniently forgotten my failures. I have been humbled by motherhood at many points, but never quite as this diagnosis has humbled me. 

In childbirth, especially the precipitous, unmedicated ones I’ve had, there are always moments that feel impossible—when crushing pain overwhelms and there is no rescue but to press through it. For me, births have been wild, intense, and mercifully short. The longest out of the six so far was 3.5 hours, and one labor went from 3cm to child born in 45 minutes. 

In contrast, it has been about four and a half months since the hospitalization, and while the experience healing from a pulmonary embolism doesn’t match the intensity of childbirth, it has leveled me in a more humbling manner than I’ve ever experienced. 

There are moments I have thought to myself, I’m at the limit. This is all I can do. And then I’d look around at everything that was still undone around the house or the desires of my children I wanted to respond to with gusto, but couldn’t. There are moments I have felt desperately alone in the journey. But there have also been profound gifts. I am healing. My baby is strong and healthy. My family and I are all changed for the better. We’re working together, learning how to lean in to each other, even in weakness. 

***

As I mentioned, I’m on injection blood thinners twice daily for the time being.

Around 35/36 weeks, I’ll switch to another type that will be 3x daily leading up to the birth, but the thinning agent is shorter-lasting and is something that can be counteracted if necessary when I go into labor to prevent excessive blood loss.

Most likely, I will have induced labor at 39 weeks, to hopefully avoid a precipitous birth in a location where I won’t have medical professionals available to oversee the process. I’m a little anxious about induction as I’ve had one in the past, and my body did not respond well to it. Timing the birth feels something like threading a needle. They don’t want me to be on blood thinners when I give birth, but they do want me to keep the window without blood thinners as narrow as possible. I’ll be back on within 6 hours after delivery.

I was told the pleural effusion could take anywhere from 2-6 months to resolve. I don’t know exactly when to mark it, but most of the time I don’t feel it anymore. 

I sleep in my own bed, but still have an odd assortment of pillows to achieve comfort. I lay at an odd incline—not upright, but not flat either—and I’ve been using a rolled blanket along my back and a flat couch pillow under my growing belly to create a little valley to rest my hip in while I’m partially inclined. I can lie down flat for a while if I want to, but it still feels more comfortable to be slightly elevated. 

Some of the things I’ve untangled in this time is that I spend energy in places I can’t afford to spend it. Because I’ve always valued relationships, conversations, helping others and being involved with things, I been accustomed to putting energy out in a lot of different directions. This season has required me to get very simple about absolutely everything. In the past, I have been the initiator in 90% of my relationships—happily so. I can’t do that anymore. It’s not a “don’t want to” thing…its realizing that sometimes outgoing energy is not something I can spare—not with a P.E. diagnosis, not with pregnancy, not with an extra-large family. Part of me still doesn’t want to accept that I can’t do everything I want to, but this is life.  

I still love connecting and conversations, but instead of reaching out all the time (which I often have done compulsively to fill open spaces of time and quell feelings of loneliness), I’ve tried to quiet my soul, tend to the very basic things in my immediate field of view, and respond to those who reach out to me. I’ve thrown myself into writing, which has been a serious form of therapy. I’m writing more (and more often) than I ever have. I’m writing less for productivity’s sake and more for the joy it brings me. 

I’m also preparing my heart and my home for the reality of seven children. It’s still a wild thought to consider the number of kids we have, but it makes me smile. There is a whole lot of goodness going on here, and though I’ve been humbled on many levels in the recent months, I’m full of gratitude for where we are and where we’re going as a family. 

You’ll notice the family photo I included in this post…it is the first of many to come, one every week this year. I did a photo-a-week project with our whole family in 2014, and one a week with just the kids in 2015…but much has changed in that time, and I think we’re due for an update. That means you’ll hopefully be hearing from me about once a week on this blog if you hang around. 

Thanks for being along for the journey, and for the ongoing encouragement you send our way. It is needed and deeply appreciated. 

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1461. having a family over for dinner after many socially quiet months, 1462. celebrating friends’ new baby, 1463. sweet conversations with a treasured person, 1464. new planner & pens, 1465. choosing to say my best yes, 1466. two straight days of laundry done, 1467. weekly writing complete, 1468. delicious turkey wrap w/ cranberry sauce, 1469. sunny day, 1470. clearing stuff out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You Don’t Know You’re Not OK

It was a profound moment, wrapped in vulnerability and the ordinary occurrence of dinner together as a family. I was weak, still in pain, only recently discharged from the hospital and unable to make my husband’s birthday memorable with a special touch or gesture like I might otherwise do. Because of the upside down week, we couldn’t do our usual—birthday person chooses a place to eat out for our family celebration—and we had to go simple: delivered Chinese takeout. 

Years ago, I spent time around a friend’s family table and experienced the beauty of each family member sharing their own heartfelt thoughts about one special person on their birthday or at a particular milestone. One after another, they spoke words of thanks, admiration, and took great care to notice and acknowledge aloud the attributes of the named person in personal and specific ways. The first time they included me in this ritual as the designated recipient of spoken praise, punctuated with a “You are Special Today” plate in front of me, I bawled my eyes out. I wasn’t prepared for how those meaningful sentiments would reach my soul, and I decided then, I wanted praise and thanks to always dance around my table. There is something powerful about words that punch through to the heart.

With still-labored breathing, I pushed food around my plate with a fork, feeling partly guilty for the attention that had been on me all week. I wanted to lead the kids in a round of lovely words for Daddy on his birthday in lieu of being able to show him love in the form of a wrapped gift or something. 

I said out loud, “Let’s all take a turn saying one thing we’re thankful for on Daddy’s birthday. I’ll go first. I’m so glad Daddy was born.”

He didn’t wait two seconds before blurting out, “I’m so glad Mommy is alive.”

It was silent after he said it, and as words do, his honest ones punched through to my heart, breaking the protective shell around it. Tears poured out from there.

It hadn’t occurred to me prior to that moment how near I might have been to death in the days before. I still don’t really know. Some google-searching on the topic of my diagnosis did turn back stuff like, “may result in permanent injury or death if not addressed immediately,” so I guess all the drama surrounding my hospitalization and the reactions of close friends and family were warranted. Still, it wasn’t until that moment I realized what a big deal it all was, and months later, I’m still processing the event. 

I woke up one Saturday morning with an odd pain in the middle-right side of my back. It felt like a misaligned rib or some kind of muscular tweak in that area. I literally thought nothing of it. As many times as I have been pregnant, I’m sort of used to little aches and pains. I’m also accustomed to dismissing small things that seem like they’ll resolve themselves in a few days’ time. For good or for bad, discomfort has become a way of life. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever felt miserable, and none of my ailments have been “bad enough” to hold my attention for long, so you could say, I’ve practiced overcoming by powering through. 

I continued about my weekend, as usual, just taking some time to stretch, take deep breaths, and see if I could shake loose whatever was causing the pinch.

Within a day or two, it was a little bit more uncomfortable. What started out as only rib-pain escalated into additional pain up in my shoulder area. Neither pain was constant, but it was at times significant, especially when I tried to take in a full deep breath. It seemed like a muscular/skeletal sort of thing, and because the two pain spots were on the same side, it seemed like they could be related. 

I decided I’d maybe see a chiropractor or a massage therapist.

Aside from my tremendous midwife, I didn’t have many established care providers for myself. I sought out a few recommendations from friends and tried to find a time to fit in a personal appointment in the midst of our busy week. We had classes on Tuesday and Thursday, Bible Study on Wednesday, Homeschool Co-op on Friday. The first time I could get in (and also have care for my jumbo crew) was Friday afternoon at 1pm. I chose to go with a recommended massage therapist because honestly, a massage sounded like heaven, and I thought it really could make a difference and ease the kind of pain I thought I was experiencing. 

Sometime that week, I gave up trying to sleep in my bed. When I was upright and moving, I didn’t feel as much pain but when I tried laying down to sleep, the pain increased significantly. I tried propping pillows to create an incline in my bed, but it didn’t help too much. Fully upright was the only comfortable position. Eventually, I moved upstairs to the living room couch, where I could be firmly propped on 3 sides thanks to the corner piece of the couch and the pillow pile I’d collected. For several nights, I slept completely upright, failing to recognize that the pain was subtly escalating day by day. Like a frog slowly boiled, I didn’t know when to jump.

Friday arrived, and with it,  the massage appointment I’d made. I walked in with high hopes, and simultaneously felt a pang of selfishness as I handed over the check for the service fee, like I really should suck it up and deal with the pain in a less indulgent way. A massage generally falls in the “luxury” category in my mind, and I had a hard time feeling like I belonged there in that office, while my husband’s workday was interrupted by caring for our kids. 

By that time, I was about 10 weeks pregnant, and the massage therapist wanted me on my side, rather than my stomach. I complied and explained the symptoms that had compelled me to seek out care. She spent an hour gently working through the muscle groups and doing some gentle stretching exercises, which I tried so hard to enjoy, but it really wasn’t enjoyable. I had so much hoped it would have provided some relief, but I walked out feeling about the same—a little disappointed that I wasn’t magically fixed. 

By the next morning, the seventh day after my first sign of discomfort, the pain became about ten times as bad. Would it surprise you to know that at the time, I still did not feel like it was serious? I couldn’t do all my normal tasks, and it hurt to reach, pick up dishes in the sink, and I still wasn’t sleeping in my bed, but I had somehow convinced myself I was ok. With my husband home from work for the weekend, I chilled out on Saturday, hanging close to my spot on the couch, doing minimal tasks around the house. My plan was to wait until Monday and call a chiropractor since the massage didn’t work. Don’t ask me where the logic was, but that’s what I decided.

On Sunday, we stayed home from church because I had not slept well all week, and it seemed like too big an effort to rally the kids. My husband had a co-worker and his wife coming over in the afternoon to watch the Seahawks game, and we had some fun food planned as was our usual Sunday custom. I wasn’t feeling great but I didn’t want to be a party-pooper, so we kept the plans. 

Mid-morning, I coughed some mucous up from my chest, and a (gross) chunk came up. I wasn’t about to swallow it again, so I rushed to the bathroom and spit it in the sink. It was small, dense, and very bright red. Startled, I took a closer look, picked it up with a tissue and tried to make sense of it. I gargled with water to see if there was more blood around but ultimately dismissed the red for the moment, because: boiling frog syndrome. I did decide I should skip the chiro call and that I would call our family doc on Monday to be seen. It did not occur to me for even half a second that I should go to the ER. 

With guests over, I tried to be a hostess, but I spent much of the game huddled in my couch corner, in and out of sleep, trying not to take too deep a breath to trigger the stabbing pain in both my shoulder and my back. At one point, when the guys were out of the room and it was just the young wife and myself, I apologized for not being very talkative, that I had been dealing with some unexplained pain. That was about all I could manage in conversation, and I hobbled through the rest of the day and night, doing as little as possible, moving a little as possible. 

The next morning, a friend came over to stay with my kids, and I went in for an 11am appointment. I hadn’t actually seen our family doc as a patient, but he was very familiar with our family, having seen all six of our kids for the past 2 years for their various well-child and occasional illness visits. He knows about my conservatism when it comes to medical care—that I don’t like doing anything unnecessary. 

He asked, looked, listened, and noted in my chart. Then he said, “Well…you’re not going to like this, but I need you to drive straight to the ER without going home. You have enough symptoms that could point to something extremely serious, and you’ll need the diagnostic resources of the ER docs to rule in and rule out what might be going on.”

He called ahead and sent me on my way. I made my own calls and followed his orders, even though I did still think this was all a little dramatic. 

When I arrived at the hospital and found parking, I went in through the ER doors, signed an intake form and was called back by an ER triage nurse, all within about 2 minutes. For all the waiting I’ve done in doctors’ offices over the years, it was as speedy as one could imagine. 

An older Russian nurse did a quick screen of my heart function and sent me next door to a triage nurse who asked me for all the details about my visit. He was warm and kind and assured me the medical team would do everything they could to help me.

Sounds of machines beeping, feet shuffling, murmured whispers and whimpers from various rooms down the brightly lit hallway hit my senses all at once. I felt extremely out of place—by far the youngest patient around by at least 30 years. I changed into a gown and was shown to a room at the far end of the hall where I waited for some time. The nurse checked in with me, drew some blood, took my other vitals, and explained a few first steps. My phone battery was already low, so I minimized my use of it, not really knowing what to expect out of the day. 

The kids were being cared for, my husband was at work, and the whole thing seemed like a chill, weird hangout in the ER, waiting for some answers. 

I didn’t feel panicked, or even really worried. I don’t really know why, except that maybe it was a supernatural peace. Or maybe it was me just diminishing my physical needs to the point of denial like I’ve become so accustomed to over the years. Perhaps it was both. 

The back of the hospital bed I was tipped to as upright a position as it would go, as I still couldn’t recline at all without the pain. Even at that, I sat to one side of the bed, one leg on the floor so I could sit fully upright. There were electrodes on about 8 places throughout my chest, and in the first two hours, I went for a chest x-ray and had a vascular ultrasound of my legs, looking for blood clots. 

My first conversation with the ER doc was sobering. She explained that my chest x-ray came back abnormal…that it provided them with enough information to know they needed to do more tests, but not enough information to determine what the exact issue was. It could be a tumor, a blood clot, or a number of other things I can’t remember. Tumor, I thought. Dang, this doesn’t sound good at all.

Because I was 10 weeks pregnant, there were some limitations about what and how they could do further tests. She said I would need a CT scan, which they typically don’t do for pregnant women unless it was medically necessary, which she said for me, was absolutely the case. She said, “This could be very, very serious. This imaging is really not optional. There is some risk to the baby, but it is a risk we have to take in order to better understand what is going on and to decide on next steps.”

She asked me to sign a piece of paper acknowledging the risks and assured me they would do everything possible to protect the baby during the scan, but there were no guarantees. 

By this point, I’d been there about 5 hours, visited by half a dozen different people for more blood, more vitals, more questions, and more waiting. Weirdly, I still didn’t feel worried. I mean, I wanted to wrap up this whole gig and get home, but I wasn’t fretting. I knew my husband would be along shortly, having checked in after the abnormal chest x-ray, and pretty soon, the whole picture would be clearer for both of us. I was hungry, having done an on-the-go breakfast, and no lunch before arriving at the ER. A nurse brought me a few saltine crackers out of compassion. 

A short while later, a tall, male nurse arrived to transport me upstairs for the CT scan. I had to center myself in the bed and he swung the rails up for the ride. He wheeled me out of the bright fluorescent lights of the wing I’d been in all day, through some extra-wide doors to a dimly lit hallway with two oversized elevators. As we waited for the elevator to ding, I felt the first pang of acute and gripping loneliness. I wished I wasn’t there alone.  

We went up a few floors and down a hallway, to a room with ominous machinery and 3 technicians waiting with some instructions for me. 

They mixed up a cup of barium—a thick chalky substance they wanted me to drink in order to provide an internal barrier between the baby and the radiation of the scan. Choking it down was something of an experience in itself, and one I hope I don’t have to repeat. 

The tech explained how the scan would work, what the injected dye would feel like, how I would need to be really still during the imaging. 

I would also have to lay flat on my back for the duration of the scan with several layers of thick-apron things draped over my middle to protect the baby.

I tried explaining that I needed the ‘flat on your back’ part be to as brief as humanly possible because of the pain that came on when I did so. They nodded and dismissed my plea (it seemed), and prepared me for the test. I dutifully followed all the directions like the A+ student I am, but the instant I laid back, the pain was stabbing and truly unbearable. I was struggling to breathe at all, and it felt like it was taking them forever to line things up or get things going or whatever they were trying to do.

“Relax,” she said. “Take a breath and hold it,” but I couldn’t even get a breath and I started to cry. I don’t know how long it took in actuality, but by the end, panic had overtaken me, and I emerged from the machine a little hysterical and gasping for breath as they allowed me to sit up again. I had to compose myself for a few minutes before I could even walk back to the hospital bed I had arrived on. 

The CT scan was the lowest point of the day. It was the moment I realized I was truly not ok. 

Returning to my original room, I waited for the doc and instead saw my husband come through the door. I was relieved to have a familiar face, a warm hand holding mine, and someone there when the ER doc came back to give us the results.

“You’re very, very sick, and we are admitting you to the hospital to be treated for a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lung),” she said. “You might be here a while, and you should make arrangements for your kids.”

I accepted her words, knowing for the first time that yes, I needed care, and no, I couldn’t just power through. 

She shared more details, as did another pulmonary specialist, about what was going on in my lung and what I could expect for the following days. 

My official diagnosis included pulmonary embolism in the rear lobe of my right lung. The clot itself caused a pulmonary infarction—blood loss to an area of the lung that resulted in diminished function/tissue death (and potentially long-term function loss in that localized area)—and most of my pain was being caused by pleural effusion—a significant build-up of fluid in the lining of the lung, which had been exacerbated by the compromised lung tissue. 

The pain in my shoulder was actually sympathetic pain, as the fluid put pressure on my diaphragm, just under my lung. There was no actual problem with my shoulder, just a connection in the nerves between it and the diaphragm (which I found crazy interesting, given how “real” the pain was in that area). 

My husband had worry all over his face, and I was unable to do a thing about it.

(Click here for more of this story…)

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1451. poppin pals play with toddler, 1452. cookies all done without too much drama, 1453. team effort in the kitchen, 1454. daddy feeling kicks for the first time, 1455. sisters playing beauty shop, 1456. a few minutes of Walking on Water, 1457. feeling good, 1458. a place to put my feet up, 1459. finding words, 1460. the prayers of a friend

Unexpected Gifts

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, given our history, but it truly was. I’ve kept a little stash of test strips in the medicine cabinet for a few years. They’re expired, but they still answer the big questions when necessary. After being two days late for a cycle, I decided to use one. 

I’d spent over a year trying to make peace with choosing to usher out the childbearing years. At 35, with six children, an even three boys and three girls, it seemed like the best/perfect/logical time to stop having babies, if ever the choice would be made. It came with no small amount of sadness, though. I kept waiting for that sense I hear other women talk about when they “know” they’re done. I didn’t really have peace, but I kept trying to open the door to woo and welcome it in. 

I thought for sure it was a done deal when we bought a new couch and sent some of our old furniture packing—namely the chairs I had rocked all six of my babies in day and night for twelve years. The rental truck was parked out front after transporting the sectional from warehouse to home, so it made sense to gut the house of everything else we didn’t think we’d need before returning the rental truck, donating and dumping what was no longer needed. 

I didn’t even see the chairs get put on the truck, but in a flash, they were gone, and with them—so I assumed—the season of rocking babies like I had been doing for more than a decade. Shabby as they were, those chairs were sentimental for me, and somehow their sudden departure felt like the door clicked shut on these years of welcoming babies into our family.

That’s why when the little red lines appeared on the expired test strip 7 months later, I didn’t know what to think. I’d already made some big plans for this coming year, and I was also more than a little worried that my other half would be annoyed or upset about the news. He wasn’t. As we have done many times before, we held each other, I cried, and we marched forward with profound gratitude for the honor of bearing another child. 

People have a lot of unsolicited opinions and poorly-thought-out responses to couples with larger-than-average families, especially when an already boisterous parade shows up with a mama who once again has a tummy round with life. I’ve navigated this countless times over the years, and while some days the comments roll off without consequence, I felt instantly protective about the early weeks of this pregnancy. I clammed up, and aside from telling a few essential people in our lives, we kept the news to ourselves for a long while. I didn’t share on social media largely because despite all the positivity I expected from some, I also expected an undercurrent of something else I didn’t really want in my world at the time.

I couldn’t handle any jokes (lighthearted or not) about “how this happens”, not when I was feeling profound weight and honor at the prospect of raising still another child. Motherhood is an honor. The first, the fifth, and every time. It’s not the “only” or “best” honor one can have or a role that should be elevated above other holy things like some kind of merit badge, but it is unmistakably an honor to grow and nourish the body and soul of a human person within the womb and beyond. 

Let it be to me according to your word was Mary’s response to the angel who told her she would bear a son. 

This is my whispered prayer as I consider not only the rest of this pregnancy, but the rest of my days on this earth, however many I should have. 

We are welcoming a son in a few short months while on this wild, unpredictable, beautiful ride together.

His name means Blessed Gift of God because we see this “detour” truly as a gift. 

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1441. reclaiming spaces, 1442. bear snuggles, 1443. risen cinnamon rolls, 1444. pillows and blanket rolls, 1445. little kicks, 1446. lifegiving songs on loop, 1447. the harvest of surrender, 1448. books that wait for me, 1449. socks, 1450. soul at rest

A Note for Creative Moms

Today I’m honored to have a little of my writing featured over on RuthieGray.mom with some tips about how to cultivate a creative life even with little ones underfoot. 


Every creative endeavor I’ve pursued began as a passing thought that I happened to take seriously for half a second.

That’s all it takes. A half-second pause to ponder the possibilities allows just enough time for the tiny seed of an idea to sprout. Taking a quick moment to capture that idea in some physical way transforms that passing thought into a tangible building-block of creative work, turning the fleeting nature of an idea into something of consequence.

Of course, all of this grows exponentially more difficult when your hands are plunged into soapy dish-water as rascally toddlers unravel your kitchen drawers and cupboards.

Notice I said, “more difficult” but not “impossible”.

Creative mama, you are not disqualified from having brilliant ideas.

You are capable of finding creative solutions for how to give those ideas more than a passing thought—even if you’re in the demanding years of raising little ones. As a creative mama of six kids, I know well the many challenges that stand between me and my creativity. They are often things out of my control: family needs, chronic exhaustion, and the overwhelm of noise and activity that comes with family life.

To read the rest of this encouragement for creative mamas, head over to RuthieGray.mom and read about the practical, actionable steps you can take to make space for creativity in your life as a mom. 

Supporting Friends in the Aftermath of Miscarriage

The grief was sharp and deep. It showed on her face as she attempted to restrain tears already welled up. I pushed my toddler in a swing and quick-counted my other kids across the playground, simultaneously searching for a way to comfort her. She looked at her feet for a few moments—eyes glassy and despondent—seeing only the emptiness of seven months ahead of her, a troubling countdown to a date that would come and go without the promised gift of a child.  

We’d been close friends for years, and I’d seen her walk through a long season of infertility before the glorious pink lines had appeared for her, six weeks earlier. The knife-twist for me was that I discovered pink lines myself just a week after her announcement—lines for baby number five in my already-bursting family. With this devastating news, I was looking at a long stretch of pregnancy milestones alongside her miscarriage ones.   

I wasn’t sure how to journey with a bereaved mother-friend while awaiting my fifth baby. It hurt to see her wrestle with the all-consuming grief, and I felt powerless. I feared any gestures I made might add to her pain, and wrestled with how to navigate my own pregnancy as it progressed. My baby would arrive near her expected due date, and she’d be there alongside me as my belly grew through the months.

Kicking at the wood chips under my feet, I scanned the ground, hoping I might find some words there. Thrust into an unwelcome tension, I waded through murky water, trying to figure out how to be a good friend through this challenging season of loss. 

I committed myself to being there for her, but I didn’t know what that should look like. Should I give her space? Should I be quietly present? Should I continue to say I’m sorry over and over again?

I didn’t know how to shove down the feelings of guilt I felt regarding my house full of children and my anticipated delivery while she grappled with and grieved the loss of her baby. All I wanted was a manual to tell me exactly how to thoughtfully and practically respond to her loss in a way that communicated my deep love for her.

She grieved her miscarriage, and we both grieved the dashed dream of giving birth to babies in the same month. I fumbled through months of feeling like I was unable to provide meaningful support, not because I didn’t try, but because grief is messy for all involved, even for the friend standing by.

This sorrowful day at the park was years ago now, but it remains a defining experience for me. It was the first time I was close to a loss of this kind, and the first time I discovered just how delicate friendship becomes in a grief season.

I recently read the book, Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker, and it is an insightful and poignant book about the author’s experience grieving through three heartbreaking miscarriages. In the book, Adriel shares gut-wrenching personal stories and the journey she took to embrace the unpredictable grieving process that followed each of her losses. She thoughtfully shares how she learned to hold space for her sorrow but also how to draw hope close to her chest in the midst of it. 

I have never suffered a miscarriage myself, but I have suffered other pain that has deeply marked me, and I have a profound appreciation for writers who are able to authentically capture both the uncomfortable details of suffering and the quiet but certain hope found in God. 

Adriel writes:

“I remember the days of wanting to crawl into a cave, find a place to curl up there in the quiet, and never wake up. It wasn’t that I actually wanted to die, it’s just that I didn’t know how to live under the weight of my sadness and collapsed expectations. Out of nowhere, sorrow would hit me like a heat wave, pressing on my chest, leaving me desperate to peel off layers so I could find some relief. But even while experiencing intense loneliness, I also remember feeling the sweetness of God’s presence in some of those shadowy hours. Something told me his quietness wasn’t abandonment— it was companionship.” ~ Adriel Booker, Grace Like Scarlett

Under entirely different circumstances, I have experienced this same curling up in quiet spaces to deeply mourn the loss of something dear, and I have similarly felt God’s quiet and comforting presence in the midst of it. This book gives words to intangible aspects of grief.

Adriel writes about sorrow, anger, shame, and many of the nuanced emotions involved in grief. I cried through several sections of the book, and I believe this resource will help moms (and dads) feel less alone specifically in the aftermath of miscarriage.

“It’s said that having children is like having your heart walk around outside of your body. If that’s true, it’s no wonder miscarriage feels like having part of your heart missing.” ~ Adriel Booker, Grace Like Scarlett

We need to have more open conversations about grief, how to walk through it ourselves, and how to support friends through it. This book is an excellent way to begin those conversations. Grace Like Scarlett would be a wonderful gift to offer a friend who has experienced loss—recently or in the distant past—especially as Mother’s Day approaches.

Thank you, Adriel, for your honest and hope-filled words throughout this book. You have accomplished an exquisite work of love in its pages.