Thoughts

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

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. 

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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

Through Glass and Fingertips

hollowed out, a log fallen
flat on the forest floor, a collection of ruins
heaped and spread, beyond repair

sand settled low in the funnel, time through glass and fingertips
the sum of years, sunk
treasures lost in shuffled lives lived facing different directions

different eyes see different things, but not the others
walls up, hearts held back
to hide in neutral, uncontested space

but love.

Love is bold, to break through
new life in the hollow
the promise of beauty from ashes, sprouted

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There was momentum, success in writing some of the most precious stories of my heart, and then radio silence for two straight months. A series half-finished, and a heart consumed with other matters…in many ways shaken awake to responsibilities and realities that beg my attention more than my need to keep up appearances that I am a writing machine. I am not a writing machine. I am a busy mother in a season of living family adventures and challenges. I meant for it to be a momentary pause, but on occasion, moments stretch into months, and when the lungs I’ve been willfully holding breath in for many years finally exhale a swoosh of release from the need to always strive, always outrun the fear of tumbling blocks…well. The blocks have tumbled, and I have happened upon some of the most important personal discoveries of my adult life these past few months.

I have limits, and I rarely live by them. I swallow an elephant and look around for dessert. I shove some things to the side if they happen to be something I don’t really want to deal with at that time or anytime soon, and I try to fly with several overloaded satchels hitched to my wings.

It hasn’t worked out. I mean, I gave it a good run for a long stretch, but I’m halted, and wonderfully so. There is nothing especially dramatic. Just a wind of change. A hope for a healthier balance of life. I have every intention of finishing my series, it will just be on a looser timetable. I guess since I’m the boss, I can do that.

As I plunk the stories out, I will share them. Thanks for reading, and thanks for patiently waiting.

1401. The victory of a half-finished series, 1402. the quiet, but pivotal changes at my door, 1403. soul-swelling music that streams from my kitchen cupboard (via bluetooth speaker), 1404. rearranged rooms for kids, 1405. seeing the beauty of small, certain steps, 1406. the freedom to set down burdens, 1407. how words illuminate, 1408. toddler cuddles, 1409. the delightful taste of fresh oranges, 1410. embracing where I am

Processing Pain

One photo a week throughout the year. 6/52

My phone vibrates in my pocket and I want to dig it out to see who has sent me a text message. I’m puttering around my over-stuffed kitchen. There is hardly any counter space and there is food and mess and dishes for eight people, which means it pretty much always feels like a disaster, even if I diligently scrape and rinse and stow dishes away after every meal. On one level, I’ve made my peace with it. On another level, it feels like an irritant; a constant reminder of all that I’m not good at. I reason there is not much that can be done. The space is small and there isn’t much storage space.

It’s a problem in more than one area of my life. There are a lot of things floating around that don’t have a permanent place to land. I’m not especially attached to any of it, but dealing with clutter takes a special brand of focus and energy that seems to run in short supply for me. I care far more about connection and creativity to stress about which papers go in the recycle bin and which should be filed away, so all the papers live in piles wherever they might be least likely to be disturbed. I would like to say I know where most of the important things are. I used to be able to keep those kind of details close at hand in my brain until I started having kids. Now, it is possible that I might be holding a pen in one hand while I look around for the location of that same pen on the surfaces around me, frustrated that I can’t find something to write with. I joke with my husband that I sacrificed most of my brain cells to give birth to six beautiful children, and we both laugh because its partly true.

The sink water runs while I dry one hand on the towel near me to retrieve my phone. I read the words.

“I miscarried last week. It has been rough for me. Trying to reach out.”

I flick the faucet handle down and feel instantly powerless to comfort, powerless to help in any meaningful way. My chest tightens up and tears scratch at my eyes and I suddenly forget how to pick up dishes, rinse them and set them in the dishwasher. This isn’t the first pregnancy loss. Or the second, or the third even. With each one, I watch the hope drain out from afar, and it breaks my heart. Truthfully, I don’t know the pain in any first-person way, but I imagine it and feel whatever it is that one feels when wanting to absorb the shock that someone else is feeling in the midst of their sudden emptiness.

What do I say? What can I say?

I can’t land on anything solid.

One of my children dashes through the kitchen and down the stairs to the basement with a younger sibling in hot pursuit of some stolen treasured item that went down the stairs with the former. My guess would be it is a bouncy ball or a flip-open magnifying-glass toy, but I don’t care enough to ask or intervene.

I keep looking at the text and wish I could be instantly there, holding her head in my lap, stroking her hair gently, and praying for God’s comfort to meet her in the sorrowful moments—in this sorrow-filled season of uncertainty—while we both cry about it.

It seems unfair to encounter sorrow after sorrow when the desire of the heart is great. Maybe it is unfair, or maybe it is part of what is knitting us closer together. I have never miscarried, but I have seen other hopes die. I know the pain of loss in other ways and these reminders of it are what keep me tender-hearted and compassionate to others in their own seasons of struggle.

With all my heart, I wish I could find a way to help her around the pain instead of having to watch her go through it, but I’m aware that I don’t have that kind of power.

I fumble with my phone while I dry the other hand and manage a lame text in response. Lame because it accomplishes nothing, fixes nothing, and doesn’t make me feel any better either.

I sit down on the floor of my kitchen, my back against the cupboards under the kitchen sink. The only comfort I have ever found in these moments when my heart is deeply grieved comes from Jesus. It feels simplistic to put it like that, but it is true. When I discovered for myself that He shows up and enters into the wounded, hurting space to set a weeping woman free from lifelong fear, freeing her—or rather me—from the heavy responsibility to hold every last thing together, from the grip of despair, from the anger that drains all the beauty out of life…when I discovered that every last ache will one day be redeemed by the power of His all-consuming love; that was a day that changed everything for me.

I turn my heart inside out and beg for His sweet mercies to land close to the broken heart on the other end of this text thread. I ask Him with fervor to gather up her brokenness and comfort her the way He has comforted me in the lowest moments of my life. Tenderly. In the protective way of a good Father. Lord, in Your mercy, let it be so.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV

1331. new shoes for all the kids — at 70% off, 1332. the beauty and mystery of transformation, 1333. late night dreaming-while-awake, 1334. seeing a vision coming to life, 1335. fabric for a new baby banner for a friend, 1336. engagement party for a girl I knew when she was less than 10 years old, 1337. a lasagna gift, 1338. roozy boozy showing me where her feelings live, 1339. hubba-la-bubba-la baby babble, 1340. purple birthday plans in the works

The Generous Parent

I sit on my deep red couch with my journal open on my lap. The chatter of childhood surrounds me as my six kids alternately play and argue their way through the morning, fighting over random toys or who gets to be in charge of the pretend play scenario they have cooked up. I make a list of things I shouldn’t forget to do, and jot down notes of quiet thoughts I simply don’t want to lose track of in the momentum of family life. I write down: What does it mean to be a generous mother?

About then, my seven year old plops on the couch next to me and leans into my personal space. One part of me wants to send him back to play with the others and preserve the gloriousness of not having someone touching me at every moment, but before I give that command, my eyes fall across my journal page—a Holy Spirit invitation to recognize that this is a moment I can choose to be generous with my son.

Even though I really want my space and a little room to think my own thoughts, I close my journal and put my arm around him for the awkward cuddle of a long-legged, tender-hearted boy who feels the need for midday mama-snuggles. I know these days won’t last, and just this once, I feel satisfied that I am aware of his need and prepared to sacrifice my space for a few minutes of filling his heart with my attention. In this moment, I am a generous mother.

I don’t always make the gracious choice. In my heart, I want to, but tiredness, busyness, and spread-thinness impedes my ability to give my children my best at all times. Most often, I am stumbling through parenthood, powered by love, but not always able to get the tenderness I feel for my kids to show through gentle actions and encouraging words.

Nothing else has illuminated my humanity and the daily struggle to circumvent selfishness in order to humbly serve my family quite like parenthood. I find that sometimes even small gestures of kindness require a significant effort (especially when I am short on sleep, and consequently short on patience). Sometimes it is easier to stay focused on my to-do lists, and on the never-ending tasks of ordinary life, without pausing to attend to the little ones who simply want my attention for a few moments.

Like any other mom, I want to give my children the best of everything, whenever possible. I entertain hope that they might be spared suffering, ridicule, poverty, and challenges throughout their lives. I pray for those things, but deep down, I recognize that I can neither promise nor guarantee safe distance from adversity. I often forget that what I can give them, and what they really need in these years at home, is a parent who is invested, attentive, and tuned in to their emotional needs in addition to their physical ones. I forget that generosity doesn’t always mean giving them stuff. Sometimes it means allowing the inevitable interruptions of childhood, and purposing to give my attention generously to each as they seek me out.

At Christmas, we give gifts wrapped with paper and tape that can be opened in the excitement of Christmas morning. Every other moment of the year, we have the opportunity to give gifts that are only opened with the tenure of relationship, by forged connection and trust built in the mundane moments. We must recognize that our attentive presence is invaluable for our children.

This is what it means to be a generous parent: to see and embrace our children, to hear about their dreams and worries with listening ear and words of encouragement, and to celebrate the small victories they have in every stage of development. If we can do these things in their years at home with us, they will see return on our investment throughout the rest of their lives.

*This post originally appeared as a guest post for Meredith M. Dangel. 

Contentment: The Struggle to Find It

We’re only here for whipping cream. I first looked for it at Costco since it is usually in the dairy section there, but this time it was nowhere to be found. I had to make another stop at another store with a parade of kids behind me. While they’re exiting the minivan, I make them stand on the white line that separates the parking spaces. It makes me laugh when they naturally line up in order of height. As we go, I look like a mother duck and her ducklings; quite a sight for the city-dwellers around who can’t seem to hide their incredulous expressions at the length of our line. It is equal parts thrill and chore to get through the aisles of a store with all six in tow for one item. I have to lead the way and simultaneously mind the line so no one strays or knocks merchandise off of shelves as we go by. It’s not the easiest job, but I have learned to be at peace with the work it takes to accomplish anything with a bursting nest…most of the time.

In a few days, we will be in full feasting mode, and the preparations for Thanksgiving Day has me reflecting in the quiet of my heart. I ponder the merits of having not only a thankful heart, but going a little bit further to cultivate full-fledged contentment. It seems like the two ideas could be the same, but in my mind gratitude is a start, and contentment is a deep space where profound peace resides.

A brief look at the differences: Gratitude is a currency—something I offer in response to gifts received—but honestly, I can say thanks all day long and still harbor hidden feelings of envy and bitterness about my life and what I don’t have. I can outwardly feast and inwardly feed dark things in my soul that erode my joy. In contrast, contentment doesn’t allow such an internal conflict to persist, because it is not a currency like gratitude.

Contentment is a posture.

It can be practiced in every kind of circumstance. I can cultivate contentment even when the extremities of my life exist in tension—joys and heartaches intermingled in the same space. I recognize that cultivating contentment is merely embracing the truth of what is in front of me, joys and challenges alike.

For many people the joy of this season is laced with anxiety, loneliness, relational struggles, and heartaches of all different kinds—troubles carefully hidden behind the shiny things, twinkling lights, and warm greetings. I have experienced all of these things over the years, and even though I am currently in a sweet season with my crew, I find that holidays still seem to paw at my tender heart spaces. It’s the pause between the action that gets me; the reminiscing, the longing for restoration in relationships, the acknowledgment that even while everything around me is beautiful, I still find it a challenge to celebrate every moment because some moments are just plain hard.

Contentment means I own what is true in my life and see the value in it, whether the season I am in is full of joy or full of challenges, or an odd mix of the two. It means choose not to waste my energy trying to escape what is before me, but instead engage it and work through it, believing that God has a purpose for allowing each season. I struggle to find contentment when I am looking for something tangible to hold tight in my fingers that makes me feel like I am in control of things I am actually not in control of. Contentment means I lay my heart wide open to receive what God gives, and I remain open to the strength, encouragement, and guidance He supplies daily as I commune with Him, whether or not my daily reality is bright and shiny.

Contentment is an invitation to embrace what I have been given, even if those things are not what that I expected or wanted.  Contentment is seeing the purpose in my present situation. What can I learn? How can I grow? How can I give thanks for even the challenges I have in front of me?

Contentment is being present in this moment. Instead of dwelling in the past and the sorrows of yesterday, I am awake to the opportunities to love today. Instead of looking into the distant future and all the not-yet things, I am tuned in to the blessings that hedge me in. I have a roof over my head. I have warm (albeit well-worn) slippers on my feet. I have the noise of happy children around me as I continue sorting out my journey with the Lord in the humble spaces, doing the unglamorous but faithful things.

Contentment is not static. It is an active, intentional cultivation of gratitude in this moment. Contentment is an open-heartedness that lets beauty in and lets stress, pressure, disappointment, and struggle out.

Contentment means I recognize that the nagging pang of inadequacy, and the need for “more” of whatever I don’t have—is a foe that is deliberately working to undermine my joy and my ability to fulfill the purpose of my life with intention.

We struggle to find contentment because we erroneously believe that to cultivate or embrace contentment is to say something akin to “everything is right in the world”. Certainly everything is not right in the world. However, cultivating contentment is a way of saying that in my small space, and my small life, I recognize that the blessings afforded to me are extravagant in comparison to many people and I am grateful for them—even though I may also still struggle to reconcile other things in my heart.

Contentment doesn’t mean I have no further goals or desires. It doesn’t mean that I feel total peace at every moment. It means that in this moment, I choose to shut out the noise and strong messages coming from everywhere that I need more, more more. It means that I acknowledge that who I am and what I have are enough to find a measurable amount of peace right here and right now.

Contentment means I pause to account for the endless gifts in my life that I can easily overlook when I’m plunged deep into worry.

Contentment is a recognition that the things I don’t have, weight I have not lost, the brokenness in relationships that has not been restored, the emotional, mental, or physical challenges I have faced—do not define my value, do not define my success or failure, and do not change the reality that God’s mercy is new every morning. All of the above things do not preclude me from giving thanks for the smallest things in my life that fill the empty pangs in my soul, even if only momentarily at times. I can struggle and still stretch my heart open to receive from God the good things He gives.

Contentment is a way of celebrating tiny milestones, and if practiced faithfully, contentment is a sure way out of despair, discouragement, and disconnection, just not always in a timeframe that suits my sensibilities.

Instead of looking down at the mud I stand in (sometimes up to my hips), it means turning my face upward to the sky in gratitude for the rain that falls, washing away what is not needed and nourishing my roots that are stretching down deep in the soil, growing stronger all the time.

Today, I invite you to turn your face up and open your arms wide. You might still feel the mud at your feet, but do you also feel the rain?

“For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” 1 Timothy 6:7

1271. the full and good season I’m in, 1272. my ever-faithful husband, 1273. visitors coming, 1274. simplicity, 1275. steadily regaining strength, 1276. toddler conversations, 1277. helpful children, 1278. super deal on a nice dress, 1279. chubby baby hands with a really strong grip, 1280. writing time and new writing friends

The Truth About You

Welcome friends.

This is day 18 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first two weeks can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Life is full of all kinds of messages about who you are and what you need.

They say, “You are sick! You need this product to make you feel better.”

They say, “Your house is a mess! You need a swifter wet-jet to make it clean!“

They say, “You are out of the game! You need to get a new outfit and land an interview for a new job!”

“They” say a lot of things.

“They” say a lot of things that are not true, as well. I didn’t write the toughest ones, because it stung a little too much to see them out there, because even though “they” say those things, I often believe what “they” say about how I look, what I don’t do well, and all the ways I don’t measure up.

I am guessing you might know a little bit about those kinds of thoughts?

Pursuing simplicity of the heart is about carefully discerning if the messages I receive—from an outside source or from within my mind—are true or not. Just as with real clutter, this helps clear away not only the unnecessary things I dwell on, but the untrue things as well. 

The problem with messages — true or untrue — is they require a response from us. There is no message going in that does not prompt a response going out. Sometimes the response is to absorb the message and believe it, even if it isn’t true. This happens often, and many times we hinge even bigger belief systems on a core thought that is not true. Sometimes the response is to identify which messages are untrue and reject them along with the heavy burdens they bring.

Much like I try to keep clutter from coming into my house, I try to keep clutter from coming into my heart as well. Some things just need to be left at the door.

Today I want to tell you some true things about yourself.

You are incredibly valuable.

Your value is not determined by your productivity or your perfection or the lack of either.

The things you believe in are evident in your life, whether or not you talk about them.

Every morning, you have the opportunity to start over.

Your words matter. They will build up or tear down. Words are never neutral because they are loaded with power.

You can learn so much from children–your own or other peoples’.

The mundane tasks you do in your home are much more important than it feels like they are. They are the very things that build a life.

The season you are in will not last forever. If it’s a good one, cherish it. If it’s a difficult one, persevere friend. Ask for help or encouragement if you need it.

You are capable of more than you realize.

You can embark on an adventure anytime. I find imaginary adventures with kids to be the most entertaining.

Your intentions matter, but your actions matter more.

You are resilient.

You are enough.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Love Others Well: Be Attentive

Welcome friends.

This is day 17 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first two weeks can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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I am thinking of a friend who—every time I see her—leans in for conversation, listens to what I have to say, and engages in a more intentional and interested way than most people do. Whenever I spend time with her, I go away feeling deeply loved by the attentiveness she gives to me whether we have five minutes or five hours to hang out.

This got me thinking about how to love others well, mostly because I see her do it with such grace. There is more than one way to love others, for sure, but the way I want to discuss at the present moment is loving well by listening well.

It takes intention to love others well in this way. We can only listen well, or become attentive in relationship, is if we create enough of a margin in our lives to be able to respond when someone reaches out to us and turn our attention to their needs, spoken or unspoken. Taking a phone call at a critical moment, or rearranging our schedules to meet with a friend face to face can sometimes be the difference between the pit of despair and the bedrock of hope.

Attentiveness is a product of simplicity, and is a highly-valued gift in a culture where time is a commodity that is typically given first to productivity. Attentiveness is more than listening; it is being aware, conscientious, interested, and observant. It is an investment that turns back an unpredictably high return in almost all cases. It reinforces the building or re-building of trust, and when one party is truly attentive to another, there is weight behind whatever response is given to the sharer, because the attentive party has no agenda other than to comfort, acknowledge, support, and resource the sharing party.

In my years-long journey toward inner-healing, I was blessed with quite a few friends who offered me this brand of attentive friendship. Those women have my deep respect, admiration, and gratitude, because the ways they loved me through that season have significantly marked my life for the better. I would say the attentive care of these friends (and also my husband) created the space I needed to sort out my inner turmoil and embrace the good (and sometimes unexpected) things God wanted to do in my life.

I guess I just wanted to say: Do not ever underestimate how powerful it is to listen well. When you offer someone your attention, you are in a unique position to also offer them hope, encouragement, and strength through whatever battles they may be going through. This goes for friends. This goes for spouses. This goes for children. Next time you have the opportunity, I encourage you to give this gift generously and see what beautiful things come of it.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Discover Your Real Priorities

This is day 4 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October! If you missed the first few posts in the series, you can check them out here. Thanks for taking the time to spend a few minutes here.

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I had a baby earlier this year. He is a butterball of lovey goodness, and I am cherishing these months of his sort-of-littleness. Those of you who know him understand why I must describe him as sort-of-little. He’s young, but not actually little at all. He was 10lbs 4oz at birth, and at 7.5 months is now 22lbs.

The year before he was born, I challenged myself to run or walk ten miles a week, every week for 2015, and managed to log 600 miles for the year even though I was pregnant for half of it and wasn’t in the best shape when I started. That was a real victory for me, as I have never been a consistently active person. Before that year, I always intended to prioritize fitness, but never made it happen. I would have told you that health was a priority for me but that was not entirely true until 2015 when I verifiably got moving and kept moving.

Many people don’t realize that their intentions and priorities are not the same thing. We intend to do plenty of things that we never actually do. For something to be regarded as a priority in our lives, actions are needed to affirm that what we declare to be a priority is truly a priority. In the process of pursuing simplicity over the past few years, I have learned that what I think my priorities are and what they actually are don’t always match. It is a conundrum that is easily fixed, but can cause a lot of grief if the imbalance persists without being addressed.

I have no desire to tell you what your priorities should be, but I do care that today you go away with a mind to honestly identify what your priorities truly are so that you can be sure you are making deliberate choices toward living them.

Real priorities are evidenced by the choices we make—how we spend our time, money, and energy—and by how we organize what is in front of us in order to live by those priorities.

Before we get too much further in this month of Soulful Simplicity, I would encourage you to take an honest evaluation of what your priorities are based on what you do, not what you intend-to-do-but-don’t-really-do. What are your real priorities? Please note I am not looking for the “right” answer. I’m looking for the truthful answer. And actually, you don’t even have to share that with me. Just think about it. Thoughtfully.

If I say my priority is to have a well-organized home but there is clutter in nearly every corner of every room (true of my house in this present moment), it is safe to say that having a well-organized home actually isn’t a priority for me. Did you know that it is really ok (and sometimes advisable) to not stress out about having the neatest and most organized home? (Type A friends can pick a fight with me now…I can take y’all). My true priority is that my home be a sanctuary for all who live and visit here. Sometimes that priority involves doing stuff in the organization and tidiness zone (not my forte), but it also includes sometimes tending my soul by taking time to pray or write or read a book, thereby leaving dishes in the sink overnight. Sometimes it involves ignoring laundry for a stretch while I teach my children and take time to invest in their growing hearts and minds. Sometimes it means getting motivated to tackle all the unglamorous mundane household things so we all have the space we need to live in harmony with each other without total meltdown.

If my house is a bit disheveled here and there, but my family relationships are flourishing — I am succeeding at living into my priorities, and can celebrate that victory. When I can see that I am living into the true priorities I have, I am inwardly encouraged and find energy to outwardly keep moving in that direction. I can see the value in the work I do, even in the tasks I don’t like as much but need to be done.

In this way, identifying your priorities helps you understand your purpose, and when you are clear on your purpose, you gain a wonderful momentum that allows you to infuse the passion you have for the things that are most important to you into the tasks that are necessary to tend those things well. Determining your true priorities helps you establish reasonable expectations for yourself, and helps you set healthy boundaries in areas where things have a tendency to get out of hand.

Are you beginning to see how identifying your priorities can lead to freedom from impossible or unfair expectations of yourself? Are you beginning to see why the pursuit of soulful simplicity has become one of my top priorities? I’d love to hear from you if you give this exercise a try and see some benefit in it.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33 NLT

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!