More of the Story: Finding a New Normal

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

(continued from this post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…)

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

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

Unexpected Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Note for Creative Moms

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supporting Friends in the Aftermath of Miscarriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adriel writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring a New Horizon

 

Sometimes, all at once, the horizon looks different than it ever has before. I’ve looked at it countless times–wistfully wondering what lies out there beyond my vision. There have been hints and hopes, but no form to discern, and no quick way from here to there, even though “here” is always constantly changing. I’ve been moving forward, I know that much, but toward what? I didn’t really know until now.

Perhaps it is no secret that I enjoy writing. It has taken me a good decade to recognize that I don’t only write because I’m compelled by urgency (which is true), but also because I honestly just deeply enjoy it. Where once I felt a little panicked about always wrestling writer’s block or, worse, writer’s torture–to have ideas but not the focus, tools, or skills to harvest them–I’m in an entirely new season. I’ve grown comfortable with letting the words be what they are, and committing them to pages whether or not they’re coherent on first-writing; whether or not the collection of characters amount to a dazzling finished work. The joy of words is in the consideration, the gathering and treasuring, and tossing them to a soil where they can sprout up into something fruitful.

I’m ready to commit myself to writing intentionally and often, because of the joy it brings me, and because of the musings I perceive will have a life beyond me. I’ve updated this website (which used to be the home of my family photography business) because I’m beginning to write more publicly around the internet, and it seems fitting that people would be able to find me easily by name. For those who have followed my writing for years, I’ve transferred my former personal blog (lightandloveliness.com) to this space, and I hope to pick up where I left off–only with a little more attention than this past year. Light and Loveliness will soon redirect here and be entirely phased out.

It also seems fitting to share that I have begun the early stages of writing a book. It will be a long journey: years, most likely. That fact used to intimidate me, and I have questioned whether or not I have enough words on one topic to artfully craft a work of book-length, but I’m ready to try, and the words are waiting for me to put them on pages. For friends & family not as familiar with the publishing process, there are many steps to go through on the way to publication, and many ways to go from hobby-writer to published author. I am currently in the first phase of pursuing traditional publication. My current goal is to write a book proposal, which is basically a giant, involved document that details all the aspects of the book I will later be writing. It is a slightly intimidating, but worthwhile process for clarifying the thoughts and purpose of the book, and includes a robust plan for how to market the book if/when it gets to publication. I’m especially prioritizing this part of the process over the next 3-4 months since our weekly family activities settle down during the summer and I have a little more time to work on it, but I don’t have designs on a particular timeline beyond this initial goal of completing the book proposal by early August.

So welcome to my new/old blog and these new adventures. I hope to be in a little better communication throughout this process. Your encouragement and support mean everything. I have imported my former email list from Light and Loveliness (you can unsubscribe anytime if you don’t want to hear from me about this), and if you’re not on my email list but want to stay connected as I chase this dream, I would encourage you to subscribe in the sidebar. I hope to send an email every 1-2 months with an update on my book proposal process and links to my writing around the web.

Thanks for being on this journey with me. Sending love.

xoxo,
Emily

 

A Chapter Closed (The Bread You Find)

page turned, the click of a door closing
face to the sky outside a place of comfort left behind
pause on the step to remember and remind the soul
there is a time for everything
for coming and going
for lamenting the loss of lovely things no longer at hand
for wonder about what waits in steps ahead

panes hold back the grey of filled eyes
broken heart spilled of desire to preserve
both moment and memory of first embrace
coming in to warmth and welcome
a place for healing wounds
a respite from war fought in unseen places
a home and refuge for a season

a blink, then gone on a truck
the symbol of how and where my loneliness found connection
i did not know as i watched it leave
my grief would seize me
with love for what i held and hold
with sorrow for what is no more
and a voice that guides me always to grace

i will not remember the details of every blessed night
when stillness hushed my soul as we grasped each other, rocking
hours of exchange, nothing and everything without a word
you, small and dependent but giving more than meets the eye

i remember that much and hold it dear

sustenance for you, my child
shall not be discontinued
only know that as you look—the answer is not gather and keep
but gather and give the bread you find

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

1431. a sitting corner and a warm robe, 1432. stitches and a comedic doctor, 1433. new mornings, 1434. a safe place to say what is on my mind, 1435. small victories, 1436. healthy meals and diminished desire for sugar, 1437. inspiring friends, 1438. bedtime exchanges, 1439. grace in words through email, 1440. food at the door

 

A Servant’s Heart

Day 14 ~ A Servant’s Heart

I look at disheveled spaces within my house and feel instantly (and repeatedly) overwhelmed. The jobs are mine, but I don’t want to do them. A surge of resistance wells up, followed by a momentary feeling of panic that I might not be able to beat the mess. For me, clutter feels like an actual monster that swallows my willpower in one gulp. I’ve never been especially good at keeping things tidy, which I blame on the fact that I seem to be missing the natural ability to put physical things in order. Nearly all of my energy pours into kids and creative spaces instead. It is energy well-used, but for certain, at the expense of a peaceful, well-ordered home.

Some people seem to have a knack for it. They have no emotional response to tidying keeping them from whipping items from one location to a more appropriate space. Without even thinking, they clear down a mess with methodical intention and astounding efficiency. My oldest son is one of these people. Every day I find him in a new corner of the house, intent on setting order to a small space thriving on the satisfaction of a job done well. The child is a gift to me; a rescue even. Without his help, I would be drowning even more than I already am.

He’s not a flawless person, by any stretch, but he is a servant, and I’ve learned many things from him about serving well. He is able to do work that needs to be done (with only minimal whining about the fact that no one else in the house can match his efficiency and focus). He is not deterred by challenges, not derailed by other pursuits, and not one to let others get out of their responsibilities without speaking up about it. He’s a leader in training.

He does have personality traits that clash with mine sometimes, but most often that clash results in sharpening for both of us. I see good in it.

Some observations I’ve made and stored away in my mama-heart about leadership and service while watching him work:

Leadership is important, but service is the lynchpin of influence. Leaders who do not serve and only spout orders do not command the same respect as leaders who join in a task and encourage along the way. Leaders who act like they are too good to do a job (and I’m even talking about parents here) miss the opportunity to bolster their own authority in the eyes of their constituents. When you get in the game as a servant, you gain a level of influence that is not otherwise available. It builds trust, grows confidence, strengthens bonds and forges respect.

Servant leaders put their energy into work done well alongside others instead of wasting energy on trying to look good (or trying to comparatively look better than others).

And finally, I’ve been pondering the distinction between helping and serving. They may seem like the same thing, but I assure you, they are different.

The satisfaction in helping hinges on the response of the person you’ve helped. Just think, if you help someone and they criticize something about what you’ve done, it most often sticks in a resentful space of the heart.

However, if you’re serving someone, which in-action might look exactly the same as helping, except it doesn’t come with the same strings. You offer yourself without expectation of what you might get out of it (even that satisfying feeling of helping), and you are also free of the burden to manage how the other party feels about you. Serving is about selflessness and honoring those who you serve without expecting something in return.

As I think about how this applies to my life as a mom, and while I could explore this idea for hours, at the bottom line, I think it helps me to see myself as a servant and embrace the reality that I am not too good for the humble tasks of my home. It is my honor to sacrifice and serve these little ones around me, and I need not waste my energy worrying about achieving an A+ for my housekeeping, only that I faithfully keep at doing what I can to make our house a home. I still do the jobs, and I still struggle through them, but with a helper and a few good tunes to liven the mood, there isn’t much that can keep me from showing my kids the way to servant leadership–by example.

1421. successful escape from the sugar monster + new (healthier) cravings, 1422. slippers from christmas, 1423. my new self-care corner, 1424. seating for all in our living room, 1425. successful series on KM, 1426. some earlier bedtimes and early productive mornings, 1427. sweet exchanges with my love, 1428. positive visit to a new church, 1429. grieving seasons as they change, 1430. new nail polish (thanks natalie)

Look at Your Brother

Day 13 ~ Look At Your Brother

If you ask me, the pecking order of siblings, the constant bickering and squabbling over tiny things is a torturous way to sort out your place in the world. Or maybe it just tortures mothers. At any rate, I have two sons that are adept at finding the one thing that will make the other squeal in protest at the injustice committed against them, and this exchange happens multiple times a day, most days at our house.

For many years now, I have been conflicted about how to handle this scenario with them. It drives me bonkers, so most of the time simply letting them sort it out isn’t an option. After all, we have mama’s sanity to think about. I’ve disciplined with time-outs, assigning chores, loss of privileges, and many other things but nothing seems to get us to a point where they will actually regard each other with respect. It wears on me, patience-wise, but it also saddens me to see my boys–who are surrounded by a loving family–push, shove, and jostle their way to receive what they think they’re entitled to or attempt to have power over each other.

I try to think about what is going on under the surface, asking myself why their immature minds always seem convinced that, “if I want to be top dog, I have to step on the face of the other guy.” I know that some of what is going on is normal–and maybe even good for them as they learn how to navigate giving and taking, sharing and setting boundaries under the watchful eyes of parents who care–but earlier this year, they went through a stretch of brother-bickering that had my patience rolled so thin, I was ready to snap.

Both boys come to me, crying–one holding his arm around the bicep, the other with a hand tucked under his arm to shield some kind of minor injury on his trunk. They are at an impasse that has turned physical, and they are each squawking their cases to me about who did what and why their own actions were justified.

I’ve heard it so many times. I take in a deep breath instead of letting my sharply-risen anger out. I ask God for help because I’m so over this recurring issue cropping up day-in and day-out. I can discipline to modify behavior all day (and often do), but I’ve clearly not been reaching their hearts. Help. What to do?

I’d love to call it a stroke of brilliance, but it is more likely to be attributed to God’s swift answer to my prayer.

“Look at your brother,” I say to both of them sharply. “Turn and look at each other’s faces.”

They shuffle a bit, standing face-to-face about 2 feet apart, each still holding his wound and sporting a low-hanging head and eyes barely lifted to obey my command.

I let an awkward pause hang in the air. One tries to look away.

“Look at your brother,” I repeat. “Look in his eyes. Do you know what an incredible person you are looking at? Do you know what a special thing it is to have a brother?”

They are both reluctant to look, but they oblige me. Stubborn is out to play and we share a few tense moments where I am trying to proceed slowly–looking for a way to their hearts–and they are each trying to decide whether they are going to hold their offenses or set them down.

“Do you see what you have done to your brother?” I ask gently. “Do you know that you guys could be an awesome team that encourages and supports each other instead of fighting all the time?”

More silence. More internal debates worked out on their faces.

“Look at your brother’s goofy smile.”

They both crack and smile and drop their offenses against each other, following with repentance and forgiveness. I explain that each one of them is responsible for their own actions and what they do affects other people, whether or not they think it does.

I will say, I don’t necessarily think this method fixes everything–as evidenced by our still-present brother squabbles–but I do think having to face one’s brother and look him in the eye makes it more difficult to justify one’s own poor behavior. Acknowledging a person’s humanity–and ultimately a person’s value–begins with looking them in the eye.

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

1411. being done with christmas shopping well before christmas, 1412. mild seattle winter days, 1413. kids making clay crafts, 1414. big baby snuggles, 1415. a night out with my guy, 1416. many voxer friends, 1417. a quiet month of not too many activities, 1418. writing day with a friend, 1419. seeing the generosity of others, 1420. crock pot dinner freedom

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

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

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