On This Day

*written on our eleventh anniversary on 7/16/16

On this day eleven years ago, I woke to a cloud of a wedding dress hanging by the window—the skirt, billowy tulle, and the bodice, intricately beaded. I didn’t bother to have it properly fitted, because no one told me I should, and with my college student wedding budget, I had insisted on buying a gown I could take home off the rack. It was perfect to me just as it was, and two little safety pins worked wonders on the slightly-too-long straps. The cloud skirt was a touch long, but I proudly hiked it up or outsourced it to my groom at certain times throughout the day and he didn’t seem to mind. We were on the clouds together, declaring our vows to one another in front of everyone we knew.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day ten years ago, we ate outside at a seafood spot on the Seattle waterfront — me with a giant watermelon-belly, and my husband with a twinkle in his eye, hoping I would go into labor at any moment so he could finally see the little girl he had been longing to meet for months. Two days later, my water broke spontaneously on the carpet of our bedroom, not long after he had been playfully heckling me about why I wasn’t in labor yet. Our sweet firstborn daughter would be born less than four hours after that, kicking off a new, exciting, and humbling season of parenthood that would forever change us both.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day nine years ago, I was bursting with news that we were expecting our second baby together. The first year of parenthood had proved to be enjoyable enough to warrant a second round. Our firstborn—a year old—toddled about with the wide-eyed wonder she still has to this day, enjoying to its very fullest all that life offers. Her untamable curls matched her free spirit and that year we grew each other in untold ways. She catalyzed my rediscovery of joy and beauty which I had struggled to see during my earlier years of depression and wrestling with God, opening and mending a wounded heart that spent too many years closed off to freedom. We often skipped and danced around in our living room together.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day eight years ago, we had two little people – a mini-me and a mini-daddy. The little guy at three months old was just starting to pack on the signature rolls of Allen babies. More than smitten with her little brother, sister often crouched near where he lay in the round curve of a Boppy nursing pillow, surrounding him with stuffed animals of every variety, and employing whatever antics necessary to get a giggle out of him. I knew in my heart then that he had a lion-heart just like is dad. The four of us braved a couple of lean years in the heart of the city of Angels while daddy worked toward his graduate degree and I sorted out some of my identity as a mother and frustrated artist.

All-in for whatever might await us.

On this day seven years ago, I was round with a second boy-child, feeling the heat with swollen ankles and a weariness known only by moms very pregnant in the sizzling summer months of southern California. My heart was full and growing fuller, even though another baby at this moment wasn’t my plan and would not have been my timing. Sometimes God ignores our plans and instead directs our steps in a way that will ultimately bring out the best things we never would have chosen without a nudge. A wrinkle in my ideal turned into a blessing that I would never give up. Later that year, we moved north with our new son and two toddlers back to the only place that felt like home—Seattle—without a home or a job to count on.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day six years ago, we were just starting to settle in to the first and only single-family home we have ever lived in together — a quirky off-white house of considerable square footage, mismatched flooring in every room, and more space than we knew what to do with. Our firstborn fittingly called it “our castle” and it truly was. I swept the floor feeling overwhelmingly grateful for the gift of this space and the sparse furniture that couldn’t have filled even one room in the house, but was all we had at the time. We made the ends meet with a creative combination of jobs between the two of us—our roots reaching down into the damp Seattle soil where things grow lush and lovely. We leaned hard into grace and into each other to bring it all together.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day five years ago, we found ourselves the new owners of a sparkly white minivan, an unexpected blessing that preceded the discovery that we would be welcoming a fourth child into our family. For a few years, we had been driving a sedan with three car seats in the back (looking something like sardines in a can), but on a cloudy afternoon, someone took off in the sedan and we never saw it again. I walked through the lot where I had parked it, in disbelief that our car had really been stolen, and quite aware that we were not in a position to replace it. It seemed like an impossible situation. That month, I learned about trusting that God will meet my needs, which He always does, and I keep wondering why that surprises me every time. We spent weeks looking for the right new vehicle with strikeout after strikeout because of budget constraints or a vehicle’s questionable condition. In a story of far-too-many incredible details, we ended up with a van that we couldn’t have afforded, except that at the perfectly right time, some friends unexpectedly sent a substantial check in the mail as a free-and-clear gift that made it possible for us to purchase the van we have now been driving for five years. It was only a week later that I found out we were expecting another baby. The van was a need, a gift, and a comfort for us as we marched into new territory as a family.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day four years ago we had our hands full with four beautiful children, two boys and two girls, and we decided at the time that our family was complete. Rather unexpectedly, daddy got a new job that perfectly fit the needs of our crew and launched him in a new career direction, prompting a change in my role around the house. It was a gentle, but important shift for me. I had been mothering for six years, but truthfully, I resisted the role and title of homemaker the entire time. I loved my kids, but I did the bare minimum it took to manage the household because I despised all the mundane tasks it involved. We had always equally shared the household load, and I liked it that way, but my husband’s career shift meant a number of things had to change. I could choose otherwise, but wisdom said to me, “Invest yourself. Dig in and do the work of a homemaker with your whole heart, and see if it does not bring about immeasurable blessing.” So I tried, and over time have found that promise to be true. We still work together as we always have, but it strikes me funny that we are now in oddly traditional roles, even though we both had always been averse to them before.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day day three years ago, we traded our certainties about family size for a little more adventure with the announcement of yet another pregnancy – one fraught with unexpected challenges and turns, but one that would bring us surpassing joy in total surrender to God’s will for our lives. Months later, we welcomed a fierce little force of nature whose name means, “life of favor and joy”. Our daughter’s entrance into the world profoundly marks the place in my life where fear (which once held me by the throat) would no longer rule me, and it doesn’t.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day two years ago, we looked around at our once large and sparsely decorated house to see that it was truly filled to the brim with love and children. We filled up that white van with car seats in every available space and added mountains of wrappers, papers, jackets, and random trinkets to the van floor—evidence of the adventures of a big family.

All in for whatever might await us.

On this day one year ago, we celebrated ten years of marriage—a decade of loving, laughing and growing together—with the announcement that yet another child would be joining our family. He is a little boy that now lights up our lives in this present time that we celebrate our eleven years together. We have learned about giving everything we’ve got to love each other well. We have learned to laugh often, to forgive readily, to believe the best in each other, and to live with wide-open hands to receive God’s great gifts and surprises when they come.

All in, for whatever might await us.

The Tender Weeks

The weeks after birth are interesting. They are a blur of disrupted sleep, healing from the physicality of birth, navigating wildly unpredictable emotions, encountering new challenges, and adjusting to the shifting family dynamics—something that happens with the arrival of every baby whether its baby one, baby two, or baby six. I find the whole thing to be something like an obstacle course run with a blindfold on. There are tumbles and bruises and feeling wildly lost while I’m bumbling along, but there are also sweet, tender, intimate hours of bonding with my new little person and discovering new things about the resilience and abilities of my other kids.

Sometimes I have to laugh at how silly it all is. I am a mother of six children. How did we get here? How did they get here? It has been a blink and a journey all at once.

I am filled with wonder at the beauty of life, at the gift of children, at the untold glories of being a mom. I am also up to my ears in the ocean of newborn-and-lots-of-other-kids’ needs while trying to physically and emotionally recover from childbirth myself.

A few nights ago, I conversed with a sweet friend who gave birth to her fifth child, also at home, about two weeks after my little guy’s birth. She recounted her arduous natural labor, her tender first days afterward, and the struggle to process both the beauty and terror of her experience. I resonated with every last word even though I have already started to forget. It has only been five weeks, but the memory of the most horrible parts of labor are already fuzzy. I’m still tender, for sure, but I am healing—thanks to the generous support of the community around me. There have been meals, gifts, prayers, helpers, and maybe most importantly, listening ears.

Four days old

The conversation reminded me about how incredibly important it is for women to process their birth experiences in the weeks and months following—for their own inner healing. This is true for mamas who experience unexpected trouble during the birth process and those who experience heartbreaking losses, but I also think it is important for mamas who have a normal labor and a perfectly healthy child in their arms afterward. I know for me, with special regard to my unmedicated labors, the births were beautiful, but they were also traumatic. Being able to share the story (sometimes again and again) with trusted friends, to acknowledge the hard parts for what they were, and to give voice to the fears I fought against in order to welcome my child into the world make all the difference in my well-being post-partum. Talking about the pain and the fear somehow lessens their hold on my long-term memory, and helps me move forward into wholeness.

I think maybe this goes for other parts of life too. Sometimes talking about the hard things we’ve been through makes a way for healing to find its way into deep places. If something comes to your mind when you read that, maybe you could use a compassionate friend to listen to your story? If there is anything I will always make time for, it is this very thing. If that is where you’re at, ring me anytime, or find a trustworthy person to share with. It is important. You are important.

“When God our Savior revealed His kindness and love, He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:4-5

1221. glorious sunshiny days, 1222. park adventures with six, 1223. our collapsible wagon that makes park days possible, 1224. time with friends that fills me up, 1225. surviving birthday month, 1226. baby smiles that started Easter morning, 1227. some longer sleep stretches, 1228. new (free) cabinet for storage, 1229. successful writing time, 1230. new tunes

Victorious: A Birth Story

*This is an account of the birth of our newest sweet son. It is intensely personal, not especially graphic, but may not be of interest to all readers.

The way I get through difficult experiences is to let true words ring in my ears over and over, helping me to focus my mind on what is true instead of what I am afraid of. My soul considers words carefully, repeatedly turning them over like a rock in a pocket; worries rubbed right out against the smooth and even surface of true things. I draw in deep breaths, hoping the air I take in will displace the angst that ominously threatens to rule me.

In sitting position, I listen intently and rock gently with closed eyes. Music pours quietly from the tiny speaker on my phone beside me, straight into my soul, strengthening me through increasingly intense waves of pain. Contractions started suddenly only minutes ago, but they are already full-force and close together. I can’t handle sensory input from anywhere else, so I shut everyone out of my laboring space and give myself to the process and the music. I am strong, but tender. I am ready, but uneasy. I am well aware of the work ahead.

I know my husband is preparing the delivery space just outside the door from where I am, which is little more than a twin mattress on the floor, properly made up to receive a struggling, laboring woman, a new child, and the fluids that go with. It’s a humble stage, but somehow comforting as such. He flurries around trying to piece things together without a road map, and I feel his excitement after waiting long weeks and months to meet his new son. For the sometimes gruff exterior, the man has a beautiful soft heart for his children.

I hear the midwives arriving. I can’t open my eyes, but I start to cry when they reach me. I am relieved to have skillful, compassionate women at the ready to help me through what I know will be a trauma even as it is a gift. I hear my sweet sister-friend arrive at nearly the same time as the midwives, ready to help our older kids upstairs settle into their temporary bed on the fold-out sofa mattress. She whispers excitedly that she will take care of everything upstairs. I can’t acknowledge her in that moment, but I feel a deep sense of gratitude for her willingness to drop everything and come straight over to help in the small but essential ways she does.

The midwives set up their supplies and check in on me. I answer questions when I am able, and I resolve to not brush away the doppler they put on my belly to hear the little one’s heart rate every so often, even though its almost a reflex to wave it away. The music continues, and I sway and rock in rhythm, deeply focused on overcoming each excruciating contraction, which continue to come with vigor.

Every so often my phone dings with a message from the friends that know I am laboring. I don’t read them until later, but I find strength in the sound of them coming, knowing the content is prayers and encouraging words sent my way.

At the peak of the discomfort, I want to crumble. Each contraction is so difficult to manage, and they fall so close together, I have very little relief. I dig for the grit in my bones to press forward, to open and surrender instead of bracing against the pain. In one moment I can do it. I am convinced. In another, I sink low, tense up my shoulders and hope that someday this agony will end. After a minute of angsty pause and counting slow breaths out, the pain lightens for a moment, only to begin again a moment later.

The music lifts me in the perilous moments of struggle.

“I will trust here in the mystery, I will trust in You completely,” and I choose to trust again at the start of each contraction.

“Let the weary rise, lift their eyes to see Your love crushing every lie, every doubt and fear.” I am aware that while I tremble, I am overcoming my fears in real time. I am doing it. I am breathing through it. I am moving through it.

“With Your breath in me, I will worship.” I realize anew that worship in distress is perhaps the most effective way to overcome. It doesn’t help to try and hide, disengage, complain, or cower from the trouble before me. Worship is a battle cry of perseverance through hard things.

“Hallelujah, hallelujah You are making all things new.” A new little person is on his way into our home. I am in so much pain, but so eager to see his face. I am so honored to have this task.

“You will lift my head above the mighty waves…and in my weakness You are the strength that comes from within.” I am reminded that the power of God is perfected in the weakness I feel acutely in these hours. He is sustaining me, upholding me in the moments I am sinking.

“You cause my faith to arise, stand at attention, for You are calling me to greater things.” I pour out every last bit of myself for this task, reserving nothing, giving all. Great love and great labor.

“How I love you, You have not forsaken me.” I feel the nearness of God–peace to steady me when everything physical within me is torrential. Somehow the brief space between the swells filled with calm and resolve.

“I am the wind in your sails.” I am convinced my sails are going to buckle and collapse, until a wind carries me forward in the very momentary relief between the close, intense contractions.

“It will be worth the risk you’re taking, what you make of this moment changes everything.” Once I see this boy, my life will never be the same. I know my son will be in my arms soon, even though time slogs along agonizingly slower than usual.

I replay the songs again and again as labor progresses over the course of two and half hours, clinging to the words more fervently with the escalation of pain.

It all starts to feel impossible, like the pain will never end. The baby will never come out. I will never open my eyes again, and I cannot remember what not-pain feels like.

The water breaks and I break too. It is all so much.

Somehow we get to the mattress outside the door, the midwives, my husband, and me. I am having an out of body experience, hearing myself scream and feeling contortions of my body that I cannot control, my eyes still tightly closed. I know nothing except the strong arms that keep me from breaking apart…the arms of my husband who is heroically holding me through the last frightful minutes. I am terrified. I am screaming. I am frozen.

And then he is there. My heart and womb spilled out. I am broken and filled in the same moment. My son, whose name means victorious, is in my arms. With that, I am pleased to introduce you to the newest member of our family who was born in the late hours of a Friday evening at the end of February, about five days overdue. He weighed 10lbs 4oz, and measured 22 inches.

*The music referenced can be found here and is very worthy of a listen.