Praise and Pain in the Same Space

Day 9 ~ Praise and Pain in the Same Space

I was holding my breath. Everything difficult held in, everything beautiful kept out. I was frozen, avoiding any movement because everything hurt. Everything stung. I let out little bursts of air that caught in the back of my throat because the pain picked and picked and picked. The only way to cope was to pant it out. There was never complete relief, but occasionally there was a little, momentary suspension in time that reminded me that there is something to feel other than pain.

Then came the babies. One and then two. Girl and then boy. I heaved in a breath, filled my lungs deeply, and realized I was not dead. I was not lost. I was anchored in a little family with a man who pledged his life to my happiness, and who to this day keeps his promises to me.

The girl splashed colors on my black and white world, and the boy…The boy brought about discoveries of important things that must be searched out; treasures hidden in quiet and unexpected places.

Before his birth, my life was most significantly marked by sorrow. I was a serious, heavy-hearted girl that found myself a mother a little before I felt ready. My first baby brought a bright streak of joy into my life, but in many ways, I still felt more like an observer of joy than a partaker. I thought in order to be joyful, I would somehow have to say goodbye to sadness, which was never going to happen, not with this over-sensitive heart. Sadness was, and is, here to stay.

At age twenty-five, in my home with two little ones, I discovered a truth that has pushed open a door to healing in me that still mystifies me.

Did you know that praise and pain occupy the same space?

Praise and pain are intertwined together, as are the joy and sorrow of our earthly experiences. They cannot be separated into separate, tidy spaces. Praise is an act of faith in the midst of our sorrow and suffering; a declaration that God is good in spite of the wounds that would lie to us and try to convince us otherwise. God is good. God loves. God heals and restores and transforms, but He does so only for those who give Him permission to work in His way, on His timeline.

That sure does strike a blow in the whole “must control everything” or “must be the captain of my own ship” thing.

We are free to say yes, and we are free to say no.

Does it not follow that God’s enemy (whom He tells us prowls around looking for someone to devour – 1 Peter 5:8) would do everything within his power to keep you from saying yes?

It happens right under our noses. The liar, the accuser tries to put every obstacle between us and God.

My son, named Judah (which means Praise) tore his way into the world to bring me a message that I cling to now more than ever.

My praise in the midst of my pain is what frees me from fear.  

It’s not a destination—I have not arrived at a fear-free juncture, but the power fear has over me is no longer crippling. It is no longer the defining, pervasive part of my story.

Praise in the midst of pain is the long, but certain path to freedom, peace, and joy.

I don’t mean to make it sound easy, because it surely isn’t. Simple, but not easy. It requires the excavation of our lives, digging up the dead bones and hard things, and surrendering them up to God. The work of redemption and restoration isn’t a switch to flip or a microwaveable solution.

It is a daily choice to acknowledge God, give thanks to Him for the good in our lives, and invite Him in to renew us from within. It is a constant conversation, building trust and watering seeds of faith as they sprout. It is to intentionally apprehend true things and digest them slowly.

I used to think that if God was good, He would prove it by fixing all the wrong things in the world. I mean, can’t He see what a mess this is?

The thing is, one day, He will fix all the wrong things.

He says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

We’re just not there yet.

We’re still in the “former things” stretch, and in this stretch, He leaves it up to us whether we want to discover the fullness of His love, and see His transformative work in our lives.

He dignifies us by giving us complete freedom to choose Him….or not.

The thing is, it’s not a passive choice. We choose to make our lives according to what seems best to us (being wise in our own estimation, leaning on our own finite strength), or we choose to make our lives according to what God says is best for us…a mysterious and confounding journey that unfolds as we step forward in faith and often requires that we see things differently than when we looked at the world with eyes that do not yet know the revolutionary love of God.

If there is a ‘yes’ and a ‘want to’ in the heart, there is a way forward even if the darkness feels thick all around.

For me, seeing differently started with the traumatic precipitous birth that brought my son earthside. It was wild. It was a deeply painful experience—both literally and spiritually. I’ve left out some of the details of that, but on the near side of the birth, I had my little praise-baby. My shout to the Lord that even though I was low, still hurting, and still battling fears on several levels, that I believe He is good to me. I believe that He will uphold me. “For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12 

Before, I thought a survivor survived by muscling through. I thought faith grew from seeds of proof and predictability. I thought praise was something to be offered when the weather was fair.  I never imagined that God’s world would ask me to look at everything upside-down. A survivor heals through surrender to God. Faith grows from praise and thanks offered, even from a humble station…maybe especially from a humble station. God sees us acknowledging Him, inviting Him in, and He shows up.

If we wait to praise God until the pain is over, we will be waiting and waiting, and the deep and miraculous healing we long for will remain out of reach.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:6-10

 

Fast & Furious: A Repeat Precipitous Birth

Day 8 ~ Fast and Furious: A Repeat Precipitous Birth

I am pregnant with my second child, a son, at the ripe age of 25. After the unexpectedly quick birth of my daughter, I know there was a very real possibility that my next birth could be a repeat precipitous labor. As my due date approaches, I watch and wait for any nuanced indication that labor might begin so that I might not be caught in a compromising birth situation, as I imagine I will be in dream after dream for months in advance. This time, I opted for midwife care, and when I share with the midwives my quick-labor history, they casually dismiss me. Birth pro’s: listen to your mamas.

We live in Los Angeles, far away from family, so my mama flies down to help with our not-quite-two year old. I spend many hours with her when she arrives, anxiously walking around my apartment complex, trying to put myself into labor. There is a random, unimpressive contraction here or there, but nothing to indicate any real action on the horizon.

I go to bed around 10pm, disappointed that nothing is happening, but wake with significant contractions around 2am. I time a couple of them, and they seem to be seven minutes apart. I call labor & delivery, reminding them of my history, they tell me that seven minutes apart is still a little too early to come in.

“Wait it out,” they say. “When your contractions get to five minutes apart, just come in. You don’t have to call us again.”

My mom wakes and sits with me on the couch while I breathe through hard contractions. My husband is fast asleep in the other room (I told him to sleep as much as possible in advance), and the toddler is also in her bed, surrounded by stuffed animals.

Mama times my contractions and we keep track of how many minutes are between them.

Seven.

Seven.

Three.

Three.

THREE.

“You have got to get out of here!” she exclaims, both of us knowing that the time has arrived.

I rouse my delirious husband, and we stumble down three flights of stairs, stopping on the bottom floor because I’m breathing very hard through a contraction.

It is so intense, I can’t move during it, not even a little bit. Husband urges me on.

“Wait,” I say. “I. (pause) Can’t. (pause) Move. (double pause.) Yet.”

I wince and breathe and will my legs to move forward through the courtyard to where our car is parked. I have to stop two more times before we reach it.

I climb in and sit on the towel-covered seat (I strategically layered up a few several weeks ago just in case we had another spontaneous rupture), and my husband screams out of the parking area in our little sedan, brazenly hitting every pothole up Westwood Blvd on our way to the hospital. I want to yell at him for the dips and jarring bounces, but I can’t talk because I’m hunched over in the passenger seat, eyes tightly shut, white knuckles on the door handle with my contractions intensifying.

It’s after 3am and there is no one on the road, thankfully.

We zoom up to the old UCLA hospital building (our third child, story forthcoming, was born in the new one), which has no easy after-hours entrance for laboring women unless you enter through the emergency room, which is (of course) on the opposite side of the building as labor & delivery. We opt to park in the garage a little closer to the not-so-easy after-hours entrance, which requires that I walk through the garage, into an elevator, up a few stairs, across a courtyard, and through the hospital doors in order to reach a security checkpoint. We stop literally every 30 seconds because I cannot walk through the furious contractions. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, pause….

At the security checkpoint, I think I might push the baby out at the security guard’s feet. He won’t let us through until he receives confirmation that L&D is expecting me. A call is made.

“You can go through,” he says.

I shuffle forward as best as I can, stopping every 20 feet because of another unbearable contraction. A man asks if we want a wheelchair.

Darling husband says, “Do we want a wheelchair?”

I answer with a heavy breath, hand up on a brick wall to stabilize myself with my head down with intense focus on the pain I’m in.

“We want a wheelchair,” he says for me.

The man disappears to find one, but I say, “We can’t wait for him,” and we keep inching our way toward the elevator.

My husband is quite aware that this is about to become a dire situation. We are within 2 feet of the elevator and I stop, unable to move. He pleads with me to just step on it, but no. You must wait, kind sir. No can do. 

I’m in the elevator. “What floor?” he asks. Bless him.

“Four,” I blurt out, fully pulling a random number out of thin air. He mashes button number four.

We go up and the doors open to two employees behind a desk with very wide eyes. It is a dark and quiet floor, most definitely not where babies are born. One employee whips a wheelchair around and sits me in it to navigate us to our desired location within a few minutes.

The next thing I know, we are in a tiny, fluorescent-bright triage room. A bubble-gum nurse hands me a gown with a huge, perfect smile and asks me to put it on in a sweet voice. I can’t do it, not by myself. I am resisting the urge to punch her for her perfect sweetness. They help me with the gown.

“Please lay down on the exam table, mam.”

I can’t do it. I can’t stand. I can’t sit. I can’t lay. They move my body for me. She checks and exclaims, “Oh my! She’s complete!”

At that second, I grunt and involuntarily bear down with a guttural moan that scares me. The bed starts moving out the triage door and down the hall to a delivery room. Twenty people appear from nowhere.

“Don’t push yet,” she instructs, and I’m trying but I can’t help it.

I wave off forms that have been shoved in my face. The on-call midwife is bolting through the door with no gloves on yet. There is only one person ready to catch a baby, and it is an observing resident who springs forward to catch him as I wail, scream, heave, and expel my son in two pushes.

That’s it. He’s out. Except I am hysterical, sobbing, shaking, moaning, and babbling myself through the trauma of it. I don’t remember the choice words my husband swears I used at that point. It is 4:05am.

I can’t calm down for a long time. Because I am shaking, they cover my upper body with blankets even though I’m still delivering the placenta down below.

I cry and cry uncontrollably. I can’t stop. My wrapped up son is in my husband’s arms. Fifteen minutes after the delivery, he offers the baby to me, but I’m still hyperventilating, and I tell him I can’t, I’m not ready yet. It takes me a full half hour before I can hold him.

I write this with tears in my eyes nine years later, that is how profoundly the birth scarred me; my first unmedicated, precipitous birth.

A dear friend of mine who had a similar type of birth a few years after mine said to me of her experience, “What happened to me was not ok.” I nodded, knowing well the terror and fury of the experience.

If you ever hear a woman tell of her unmedicated, precipitous labor, please, whatever you do, do not exclaim, “Wow! It must be nice to have such easy labors!”

There is nothing easy about it.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” Isaiah 41: 13

 

Holding Space for a Free Spirit

Day 7 ~ Holding Space for a Free Spirit

Wonder can be lost, and confidence buried. The vibrant spirit can be weighed down and freedom can be taken. Truth can be obscured, strength can be impersonated, and the fear of failure can be deeply tucked away in the caverns of the heart where we barely recognize how it motivates every decision and colors the lens through which we see everything around us.

Ask me how I know.

At 4 years old, I knew nothing of the undercurrent of the crumbled and complicated lives of adults. I spent my time sitting by the wildflowers my dad and I planted in our backyard, singing songs to myself while I picked haphazard bouquets of flowers until my heart was content. I was carefree, imaginative, and weightless in the world of wonder I shared with my two year old kid-brother.

By the time I was seven and my second brother was a year old, things were a different story. Some of the trouble in our home kicked up, my eyes narrowed, and I traded the magic of childhood for an oversized helping of worry for the next eight years, until the depression years began and further compounded the burdens I carried forward from there.

That means that sometime between age four and age seven, I lost some things that I never did see again until my oldest daughter was born. I have spent the last eleven years learning things about her and rediscovering things about myself. I can’t say I’ve liked everything that has bubbled up, but I have found that simply seeing what is there in the recesses of my heart has made me a better mom and a more courageous woman. A child is a mirror for the parent who is willing to see it.

While I’ve always been hyper-aware of social norms (so I can make sure I expertly fit into them), she is unaware or unconcerned with what people think (I can’t tell which it is), and I love that she is not bound to the need for approval, as I have been. She is creative, unafraid to try new things, always busy with a new artistic discipline or technique, always enthusiastic about learning and growing, even when it feels uncomfortable. In short, she is one of the most resilient, intentional people I know.

I recognized early on that she had her own brand of brilliance—the free spirit kind—and because I am acutely aware that free-spiritedness can be easily edged out by worry, I have gone out of my way to fiercely protect that childlike part of her, to hold space for her untamed heart. I see my mama role as one where I can best shape the identity of my children by giving them whitespace—beating back the sea of noise and voices that want to tell them who they are and what they must do to be enough—so they might discover for themselves what it is they have been created for. Let me tell you this: They were not created to stand in a line, to look like all the others, or to be timid, passive players in life.

For this reason, I have oriented my life around how to afford each of my kids the opportunity to explore the wonders and mysteries of the world, both outside and within themselves, by homeschooling them. Before this fair one, full of courage and creativity, turned five, I had zero intention of homeschooling her. I was not myself homeschooled. I actually looked at homeschool as a fairly weird or undesirable choice for my family, knowing that most homeschooled students I personally knew were on the quirky side, and that simply wouldn’t jive with my social norms paradigm.

It wasn’t until we were on the cusp of kindergarten enrollment that I started waffling. Our neighborhood school (the physical space) seemed cold and overwhelming. It was a secondary school building converted into an elementary and did not have the warmth and design that would make a young child feel at home. I also happened to meet a mom with multiple children who sent her oldest daughter there a year before, and she relayed to me how she watched her vivacious, creative daughter closed in, struggled with challenging interpersonal issues (with other five-year-olds), and how and the end of that year, she decided she couldn’t continue watching her daughter flounder through the system. She pulled her out to homeschool. This conversation happened a few weeks before I would have enrolled my bright girl in this same school, and it was a critical conversation for me. I had never before considered that might shining girl could be stripped of her outside-the-box thinking and unique personality in a kindergarten classroom. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether that is what would have happened or not, but it set me on a new course.

With a desire to protect her active imagination, capable hands that figured out how things work, and intrinsic desire to learn, we started homeschooling that fall, mostly as an experiment. I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself and reasoned that if it was a total failure, she could start kindergarten again at 6 in a school situation. We ended up having the time of our lives, learning, discovering many things about ourselves (myself most of all), and that one choice is something I feel has given her the room she needs to tend all her marvelous interests. She started sewing at 6 years old and pieced together 3D stuffed animals without a pattern not long after that. She picks up creative skills like a boss, all of her own interest and motivation, and the many benefits we have experienced as a family cannot be overstated. She is curious, tenacious, and always is planning out the next mess, I mean project she is going to make.

I continue to guard the space around her because I believe it to be the best gift I can give her in these years before she launches into her adult life.

I don’t want her to spend her time trying to become desirable or praiseworthy in the eyes of others. I don’t want her to shrink to fit in the boxes that other people have constructed. I don’t want her to carry heavy things before she has the strength and maturity to do so. I don’t want her to lose the wonder, confidence, strength or freedom I see growing in her, and so I deliberately put her in spaces where these things are well-tended.

I want her to be concerned with being her most brilliant, fearless, and authentic self; unashamed, undeterred by limitations, and aware that she is loved for who she is, random quirkiness and all.

As I have intentionally held space for her free spirit, I have realized there has also been space for me to rediscover mine. My whole perspective on learning has changed. My approach to life has changed. My experience of freedom and delight in the small things is largely because of her insatiable desire to enjoy everything. It’s true when they say, “A child shall lead them.”

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

 

Colors through the Gray

Day 6 ~ Colors through the Gray

Before I had a twirling wonder of a child, my world was gray. I was mostly-sunk, like a tired swimmer treading water with the waves pulling me under, my upturned face the only thing still above water to gulp in enough air to stay alive. At that time, everything I did was chosen entirely for its function, not for beauty, and even now, I struggle to truly delight and savor things because the muscle memory of trauma skips joy for the substance of whatever is feels certain. I hold to things that feel permanent, even if the thing itself is of no value or consequence, because of the comfort that comes with things not changing.

I locked out joy, and could see only what was necessary for the next breath or the next terrifying step toward healing which often involved learning to trust, learning to love, or letting go of stuff, none of which are particularly easy for a sensitive, wounded soul.

In the seven-year period I regard as my depression years (age 15-22), I never did see a counselor or therapist to work through my issues. (Please note this is not my recommendation, just my reality). At the time, I honestly didn’t know that counseling was available or that it might be able to help someone like me. I feel dumb acknowledging that now because it sounds so silly that I would struggle and struggle for years without help, but on this side of it, I know that this happens far more than people realize. I wonder if my healing journey might not have been quite as drawn out, or quite as painful as it was if I had more proactively sought out help. It has only been in the past few years have I read about symptoms of depression and realize, that was me for so many years. Those are the years I lamented, cried, became numb, robotic, developed a serious co-dependency problem that I’m still recovering from, and found it incredibly difficult to find anything at all to smile about. Every ounce of my energy was put toward staying on the rails and not falling apart.

Never really landed in a singular friend group during high school or college because I was preoccupied trying to not die of sorrow and didn’t have it in me to do the fun things all my friends and acquaintances did. It sounds dramatic, but I’m not exaggerating. My cares weighed heavy on me for so long, I forgot how to enjoy anything, I forgot how to notice, or dance or twirl. I forgot how to let my lungs be deeply filled and let out a satisfied sigh. I couldn’t see anything past the fog in my face.

This child twirled her way through the gray and brought with her bright colors I had long forgotten. When she was still in utero, my mother-in-law offered to make some things for the nursery, a crib skirt, and blanket, with my choice of fabric. I didn’t think about it long before I chose bright, bold, nearly neon colors. I can’t say why they especially appealed to me (other than I am truly no decorator), but I think something in me was desperate to cut through the gray of my life with the promise of this sweet girl coming. The first year of her life was something akin to a black and white world that slowly turned into color whenever she touched something.

From her earliest days, she wanted to experience the fullness of everything. If we visited a friend’s house with a new playroom full of toys, instead of finding something interesting to play with for a while, she would search out every bin/drawer/basket that could be moved, and would dump out the entire contents of each one, and look over, touch, feel, and love every last thing in them, without exception.

With her there are no barriers, there is no moderation, there is no dainty or cautious or waiting for permission to love or enjoy something. There is only chocolate smeared across her two, seven, and eleven-year-old face—still the messiest eater in the family to this day because of her delight in the food she consumes. There is a constant smile of possibility on her face when she’s come up with an idea of something she wants to make or something she has imagined to be. There is an undying commitment to stop, smell every flower, and savor its heavenly greeting in the form of a satisfied smile. There is close-the-eyes and spill-the-music-from-her-bones in untrained, unrestrained motion along with the sounds from our speakers. There is, “Twirl with me, mama. Let’s dance,” and I let her lead me on the ever-continuing journey to discover beauty and cherish the small things that make life sweet.

For years, life was all gray for me. Then she burst in—all rainbow sun-shiny and wide-eyed—determined to squeeze the very best out of life from her earliest years forward, and determined to help me do the same. When she was three, a friend asked her to come and join in on a complimentary dance class, and we leaped at the chance because, at the time, we didn’t have the means to enroll her in an ongoing dance program. We borrowed some little dance shoes and slipped a leotard and tutu on her, and she joined a dozen little girls in a fairly small studio for a half hour of bliss. She followed exactly zero directions from the teacher but she loved the music and the opportunity to twirl around, chubby hands and awkward toddler body with no grace or form, but all the joy in the world. Pure delight.

She has changed me in ways that are hard to describe because I’m still not able to find all the words to tell our private mother-daughter story in all its layers. It has been a slow, beautiful process of learning from my sweet daughter that soul survival is not primarily about guarding against pain, but wholeheartedly inviting beauty into the gray places to do the healing.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3

 

First Brush with Precipitous Birth

Day 5 ~ First Brush with Precipitous Birth

For weeks, Daddy had been randomly asking me why I wasn’t in labor yet. He was excited to meet the baby, but with him, excitement rarely looks like excitement. He bumps the heckling banter-factor and impatiently but playfully pokes fun at whatever it is he is excited about. He watched me closely at our anniversary dinner on the Seattle Waterfront, enjoying his meal and hoping that I would tell him we needed to head to the hospital to have a baby. Heavily pregnant and more than ready to get things started, I can say it was also my wish to have a first-anniversary dinner-turned-baby’s-birthday, but it came and went with no labor action.

I waited two more days before the pop and gush happened. I bolted up from my bed, where I had been stretched out in the late afternoon, waiting for something resembling labor to rustle up, calling various friends on the brick cell phone I used all through college to pass the time. I called to the other room that my water had broken and it was baby time. He sprang up and I waddled my way out of the room. None of the fluid got on the bed (miraculously), but there was a puddle on the floor, and I left a bit of a trail as I inched to the bathroom, fluid leaking and both of our eyes big. It was finally happening. I was enthralled that the day had arrived, and blissfully naive about what the next few hours would look like.

I called my doctor, and she said to get straight to the hospital, don’t wait. I don’t know if she knew something I didn’t, but I was surprised she was so insistent. I mean, I knew I was going into labor, but I hadn’t had any contractions yet, and I didn’t quite understand what the big deal was. We flurried around, exchanged nervous smiles, and snapped up the bag that had been waiting by the door for weeks, pre-packed with all the things I thought we might need at the hospital, of course, extracted from every checklist I could find in the weeks prior.

We zoomed across town in our little car to the largest hospital in the area. Twenty minutes into the ride, I was not smiling anymore. I stared at the clock on the dashboard and breathed hard. Really hard.

7:35pm

We shuffled through the doors of the hospital and a nice man with badges around his neck whipped a wheelchair around and sat me in it. We arrived in L&D triage a few minutes later. The room was white, several alcoves around a circular nurses’ station, separated by curtains but not all that private. I was connected to a monitor and the nurse tried in vain to collect a sample of the amniotic fluid on a pH paper.

“You’re 3cm dilated,” she says. I had actually been 3cm for a week, so I wasn’t terribly excited to hear that through the contractions that were furrowing my brow and making me more irritated by the minute that they wouldn’t just admit me. They were still trying to decide if I was in labor, because if you are a 23-year-old first-time mom, apparently you don’t know anything.

Ready to swear if I had to, I wanted them to get me to a room, pronto.

When they finally directed us out of triage around 8pm, I couldn’t walk to the room (steps away) on my own. They wanted us to sign papers and put on a gown and settle in, but all I could think was to get myself to the toilet, where I found comfort through the contractions by relaxing my pelvis and rocking back and forth.

For months, I had primed Daddy with all the different techniques I’d read about for labor support measures so he could jump in, but when I was in the thick of things, I couldn’t handle anyone talking to me, touching me, or being too close. I drew intensely inward and had to do this part of it by myself. It was not really a voluntary choice, but the pain and intensity were so consuming that I couldn’t communicate or respond to much, and just waved everyone off.

Later he told me it hurt his feelings that I didn’t involve him more. It was a sorry/not sorry situation. I did feel bad that he felt hurt, but I literally couldn’t do any other thing than what I did at the time. A woman in labor cannot be concerned about other people’s feelings, even if she wants to be. Sorry, dads.

Labor was furiously intense. I spent an hour in that bathroom groaning and swaying with an unsnapped hospital gown (I couldn’t get it all the way on) before they coaxed me out to a birth ball at the end of the hospital bed. I wasn’t totally happy to be on the ball, but I couldn’t move anywhere, so I dealt with it.

I was comforted by the monitor, and Daddy took to announcing  when a contraction had peaked and was on the descent. Finally, a job I would let him do. We kept at that for a little bit. Around 9:30, two and a half hours into labor with my first baby, I was deep in my own world, eyes squeezed shut, shoulders up to my ears to get through the contractions that were coming every 2 minutes with barely a breath in between.

Everyone in the room (my mom had arrived, a nurse was there) spoke in hushed whispers. I heard the nurse say, “She probably has 4-6 more hours of this,” and my spirit broke at that moment. I could NOT do this for four more hours, I knew it. I blurted out that I needed an epidural. NOW. The anesthesiologist came soon after, stuck me a few different times while I hunkered over during unbearable contractions, and I was blissfully free of pain within minutes after that.

I lay on my back, oxygen mask over my nose and mouth, free of the excruciating pain I’d been in knots about only minutes ago. Within ten minutes of the epidural, I started grunting and involuntarily pushing the baby out. I couldn’t stop it. They urged me to try and wait for the doctor (who whipped into the room about that time), but it was go-time.

With a full-bore epidural on board, I did not feel the pain (or the tearing I had so desperately feared). The doc said I could do it. I could push my baby out. Put my legs here. Tuck my chin. Bear down with the counting. Twenty minutes and there she was; my sweet wonder child with a little nose smashed to the side, born in a wild 3.5 hours from the spontaneous rupture.

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:17

The Power of Yes: Embracing New Life

Day 4 ~ The Power of Yes: Embracing New Life

We had a deal. I would keep the calendar, and he would always ask if we were in the fertile window. I have a deep-in-my-bones aversion to taking anything, be it birth control, Tylenol, or ironically, prenatal vitamins, so that left us with natural family planning as the most appealing option for sorting out our reproductive lives. Is anyone really surprised that there was an afternoon that he didn’t ask, I didn’t speak up, and biology happened?

Afterward, standing in the shower, I casually mentioned that maybe we might be a little bit close to the fertile window. There was an incredulous, “WHAT?!” followed by a shrug of the shoulders, which is also par for the course in our marriage. We roll with things. It’s the Allen Way. It has served us well and spared a whole lot of unnecessary grief about a great many things.

We still tease each other about the fact that he didn’t ask, I didn’t say a word, and that is why we’re now up to our ears in children.

I know we chose natural family planning and all, but the idea of becoming a mother did not seriously cross my mind until the lines blinked at me. Or I blinked at them with a thrill and gasp and a resounding yes within me. I embrace you, little one, I wrote in my journal that day. I let my usually-heavy heart soar in those first weeks, daydreaming my way through the evening grad-school classes I was taking at the time (and could barely stay awake for because of first-trimester exhaustion). When the semester ended, I bounced from school to turn my full attention to preparing for motherhood. There was much I had to learn; as in everything.

I was nervous, but not really afraid. I take that back, I was afraid of one thing: tearing during birth. The sheer thought of skin tearing—down there—oh dear. I couldn’t handle the thought of it, even though I knew it was pretty likely to happen. When I wasn’t fixated on that, the knowledge that I was going to be a mother and the swell of my belly filled me with a sense of purpose and a will to flourish like nothing else ever had. I pondered how great it might be to be a mom, but I didn’t anticipate the way this growing child would be deeply healing for me; a triumphant declaration that the hollowness I had felt in my soul for years would be filled with the teeming life of a little girl who would win my heart with a nose that was smashed to one side upon her arrival and a personality that still can’t be pinned or pegged into a category. I didn’t realize that what was broken would become life-giving, life-bearing…that what felt fractured in me would prove to be productive, fruitful—a meaningful realization that embracing the new life of a child might also mean embracing a new kind of life for myself. I would not be like the person who counts up all the things they’ve lost or given up in the course of parenthood, but instead be someone who keeps a tally of what has been gained in the full surrender of saying yes to God, yes to adventure, yes to motherhood. There are now a host of tally-marks on my slate.

Saying yes—and living into that yes—was the start of a beautiful, unexpected new season for me.

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word.’” Luke 1:38

“God sets the lonely in families, He leads out the prisoners with singing…” Psalm 68:6a

The Start of Us

Day 3 ~ The Start of Us

He made his very serious intentions clear early on. I was the girl he wanted to love forever. I was not as certain as he was, mostly because my heart came with some hefty baggage dragging along behind, and I was convinced that if he discovered just how messy it was, he’d want out. It’s not that I didn’t recognize at the beginning that he was quite the catch. I did, and that’s what terrified me. I knew this could be it.

Following weeks of conversations and “chance” meetings in the cafeteria and other places around campus, we went out on our first date. We sat on a bench at the top of a hill overlooking the Seattle skyline, I nestled myself in the flap of his jacket to shield me from the stinging November wind. By that point, I had learned enough to know that I was sitting next to a remarkable individual. Unfortunately, I was also sitting in a war zone—caught between a desire to respond to his kindness and attention, and the slightly-more-convincing desire to run. One moment, I hoped he would kiss me, and the next, I stuffed down these frightening feelings and slammed a lid on that in a flash.

The prospect of loving and being loved wasn’t something I was ready for, so I made a valiant effort at maintaining walls around my heart. I kept a tight reign on the love coming in, keeping at a slow drip what would otherwise have been a tidal wave. Too scared and too sensitive to take things any faster, I made him stand in the figurative mud with me for three years before I agreed to marry him.

It seems like it should be easy to receive and bask in simple, uncomplicated love, but that is not so for the broken-hearted. The cracks in my soul sucked in and leaked out what my husband-to-be poured in. There was no reliable reservoir where trust could pool up and show me a consistent waterline, and because I was fixated on proving that I was truly too broken to love, I tried everything I could to sabotage our blossoming relationship so he might give up, and thus validate my fears. Except he didn’t give up (although he does admit that there were times he wanted to, which I don’t blame him for).

People that knew him wondered why he continued to pursue me. I wondered the same thing. He tells me there was something in him that wouldn’t let him quit; the whisper of a voice urging him to not give up on me. I attribute that voice to God, who already knew His plans for us—that we were a good match and that together, we would heal from broken homes, broken hearts, and find a flourishing way forward.

It was slow progress at first because I was not only running from love, I was running from God too. I didn’t yet trust that this man, or the God who had whispered hope to me, would love me (or could love me) no matter what. I thought love was earned, kept by doing all the right things, and was something that hinged on me holding myself together (which I was unable to do at this point). I also thought that— stats against us and confidence shot through—the likelihood of a marriage “making it” was slim, so I wasn’t exactly eager to jump in. Somehow, this incredible guy won me over anyhow. When he asked me to be his wife, I didn’t answer, started crying, and crumpled over his shoulder (while he was still on his knee) and answered with uncontrollable sobs. Does this mean yes? he timidly asked. Oh yes. Yes, through tears. That pretty much sums up most of our marriage, I guess.

At the risk of giving you details you never wanted to know, I’ll tell you about the wonderful wedding gift given to me by years of 90’s purity culture. When I was finally made a wife, I spent my first weeks (and honesty, first years) as a married woman trying to face and overcome the deep shame I had come to associate with my sexuality, a pursuit emphatically marked by me literally throwing up after sex on our honeymoon. It was traumatizing for us both. He was as patient and loving as a freaked-out new husband could be, but for me, that event was an indicator that not only was I an emotional wreck, I was, in fact, actually broken.

This is right about when motherhood came into view. Three months after our wedding, I took a test that gave me back two pink lines. Surprise!

Before we met, I did not desire or plan to have any children. (Insert irony into this all-too-serious-story). I had reasoned that there was just too much risk and pain to bring a child into the world, and at the time, I was all about risk management. After we met but before we married, I decided that maybe we could have some kids after we had been married a while. I knew this guy would make a really great dad. I was right. We had a five-year plan that turned into a first-anniversary baby instead. Best laid plans.

In the years since our humble beginning, I have learned that while there are no guarantees, our marriage will be whatever we make it. The point is not certainty or even a sense of control. The point is daily, faithful commitment to see the good in each other, surrender the offenses we shoulder, ask for forgiveness, and laugh ourselves silly when the opportunities arise.

We are individuals; each regarded with dignity and respected for who we are, as we are…and together we are us, the Allens, on a grand adventure—trusting God to work in us and through us as we forge a legacy that is worth facing our fears to achieve.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Psalm 127:1

 

Fractured: The State of My Heart Before Motherhood

Day 2 ~ Fractured: The State of My Heart Before Motherhood

I don’t blame anyone for the disintegration of my childhood family. There was broken trust, alcohol, infidelity, and a number of other things that colluded together to rip us apart, piece by piece, but I can’t land on a singular target to blame that makes me feel any better about what happened. I’m not mad and I point no fingers, but the sadness I carry is one that never leaves me. It is the melancholy thread that winds through every one of my days–sometimes blending beautifully into the tapestry, sometimes a jagged, off-colored streak across a swath of a different hue.

My brothers, my parents; they were my heart, the whole of it for my first fifteen years. When we fractured, I fractured too, shards and slivers scattered and tossed to the wind. I was left with one thing: a gaping wound that could no longer love or receive love in healthy ways without first slaying the demons that stood between me and a future of good things.

I medicated myself with perfectionism and beat the hell out of every class I took, acing tests and pumping out soul-less, formulaic essays that somehow earned me the gratifying straight-A’s I was awarded for seven solid years. It may have looked like I was excelling, but I was trying to escape the menacing darkness that threatened to consume me from the inside. I was hollowed out and out to prove something, deep in grief and partly in denial that I needed help.

I turned to co-dependent relationships, and a string of internet beaus who propped me up while I tried to sort out the mess around me from the one within me. I made many questionable decisions that could have resulted in catastrophic consequences. I nearly drove off a road at 16, returning home from a four hour drive to meet a guy six years older than me that I met on the internet. I didn’t die in a car accident, and I wasn’t raped or kidnapped, although all of the above could have happened that weekend or during any of several other situations I found myself in during those years.

I was lost, broken and on the brink of total despair.

The summer after I turned sixteen, I encountered Jesus in a way I never had before. Despite my inner-mess and private life, I had a reputation for being a “good girl” and a capable student that I rather enjoyed. It’s always nice when you can cover up the parts of yourself that are more unsightly and let people thing well of you, yes?

But standing in front of a literal cross that towered over my head–rough wood, and resolute promise–the shiny outer-shell around me cracked. If I was going to nail my notecard to the cross–scrawled front and back with all the things I wanted to surrender to God, the things I wanted Him to transform and redeem about my life, the things I needed help to let go of–the shiny outer shell would have to go with it and I’d have to come to terms with the real mess in my heart.

That night, I discovered that broken doesn’t mean worthless, and struggling doesn’t mean failure, though it would take me years to unpack what that really means.

Late into the night, I cried myself out with my youth group circled around; stars above and a quiet voice that said to me, “Emily, if you will journey with Me wherever I ask you to go, I will restore you, heal you, and give you a deep and unshakeable joy in place of your sorrow.” I would have settled for anything close to no-longer-hurting, but this was a pretty sweet deal.

I said a quiet, but critical “yes” in my heart, and thus, the journey began.

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’” Jeremiah 29:11-14

“The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.” Psalm 34:17-22

 

 

Introduction to Redemptive Motherhood

Day 1 ~ Introduction

There are many things a mother treasures in her heart; a baby’s hearty giggle, the knuckle and elbow dimples of a chubby toddler, the wonder and wide eyes of a captivated child, and the horrified screams of a seven-year-old’s first ride on a roller coaster. That last one happened a week ago, and I’m still laughing about it.

There are those sentimental sorts of things that are etched into my mind of fleeting moments and seasons that tug at the strings in the center of me, and then there are treasures hidden even deeper where hopelessness and heartache have given way to profound healing, clear purpose, and unshakeable joy that I would shelve in the Miracle category, given where I have journeyed from.

I have set out to write this series because I want to trace the lines of God’s faithfulness to mend my deep personal brokenness in unexpected ways through these tender years, so that my children will one day know these stories, and so I don’t forget them myself. It is easy to forget the graces of early, humble days where a foundation is laid and built upon. It is a risk that our stories might be stripped of their original beauty because we have only logged the blur of years flying by.

This series is a pause and reflection; a bucket drawn up from our deep family well; a tale of our beginnings and the restoration of my heart, which I once thought was irreparably broken. It turns out, healing can happen. Hope can triumph over heartache, and redemption…well…

Redemption can come in the form of a baby. Or six babies, in my case; three boys and three girls who have changed me, a husband who has held and strengthened me, and a true and trustworthy God that whispers close to my heart the promise of purposeful surrender to His plans for me.

“After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10

 

Growing and Changing

It’s been a while since I’ve written off the cuff; a glimpse into our current everyday. This year has been full of new ideas, new projects, and new challenges. I’ve been surprised at myself, on several fronts.

Kindred Mom has received the lion’s share of my creative attention this year, and with it has come a quiet season for other creative things. I haven’t been taking many photos. I haven’t been sewing or painting or lettering (all things I enjoy), and I haven’t been here on this personal blog capturing bits of our lives as I did for years before. I’m missing this space, and the sweet reflections about life as it happens in real time.

It’s not all bad, though. This year has been one of stretching and growing in unexpected ways. My littlest guy is half a year from his two-year birthday, and I have an eleven year old that is wearing my shoes. Weird stuff, I tell you. The family landscape is changing by the month as everyone grows into their new grades and we’ve experienced some giant developmental shifts into the moody pre-teen zone. My free spirit girl is looking me in the eyes. My nine year old is outsmarting me. My middle boy is learning legit hip hop dance moves (goodbye goofy gangly arm-flinging). My middle girl looks a bit like a miniature fitness instructor; ponytail, spare energy, and bright, overeager face and all. The purple-loving girl is finding her voice among the chaos while she sings Moana’s “standing at the edge of the water” with enough toddler-speak still mixed in to make me feel like she’s still my baby even though she doesn’t look like it. Hank the Tank has graduated out of his crib after learning how to climb (and fall) out of it. That means I have six kids and no one in a crib. Someone hold me.

They’re all growing, and I have been too. The spring brought a wave of grief with the passing of several special women in my life. I have experienced the shift between feeling like life is full of possibilities and wonder, to feeling the sharp pang of loss and the fragility of life. I know its not one or the other–its the tension of both–but it does make me feel a touch more aware that today is a gift, and tomorrow is not a guarantee. It makes me feel like I need to say to you who are reading this–I love you and want you to be well and whole and surrounded by love. I want you to know that whatever you feel about God, He wants you to be well and whole and surrounded by His love, if you’re open to it. That is His heart. Even if Christians or other religious people have made you feel otherwise by their judgmental views and behavior. I’m sorry for the times that has been me, not loving first, but living by fear or guarded because of my own insecurities. We have a finite amount of days, and fear will not rule mine.

I’ve been sorting some things out in my creative life, and having started up the Kindred Mom adventure in February, it has taken me a while to figure out how to tend both spaces–here and there. I’ve thrown everything I have into that mission for the past 6 months, which I do not regret. It’s been a tremendous experience and I’m hoping it will continue to grow and be an encouragement to mamas in the trenches, but I want to be back here too. I’ve been writing in other online spaces for the purpose of promoting Kindred Mom, and I’ll be adding excerpts of those essays here in the near future, but I also want to be here sharing less-crafted snapshots of my own motherhood journey and our family adventures. I want to do my best to capture the stories I hope my children will read as adults and remember what a precious season of life this is. Last year in October, I did a Write 31 Days series on Soulful Simplicity. It was a terrific experience that I hope to repeat this October with a new topic. I’m tentatively calling my new series 31 Days of Redemptive Motherhood, and will be sharing stories and treasures I’ve collected these past 11 years from giving birth to and mothering these remarkable children. They have changed and challenged me. They have blessed me and ballooned my heart. It seems fitting that I’d spend an extended amount of time chronicling these things.

If there is any part of my journey you would be especially interested to know about in that series, I’d love for you to share with me so I can try and touch on those subjects as I write the series. I’m taking the month of September to plan everything out, and then you’ll (hopefully) hear from me every day in October. Maybe.

Sending love to you, wherever you are right now.

“For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” Ephesians 2:18-22

1386. a new spiral bound planner to plan out my writing, 1387. unexpected opportunities, 1388. invitation to a silent retreat…yes please, 1389. eclipse viewing with the kids, 1390. recent visits with family, 1391. calendaring out fall’s adventures, 1392. baby’s fascination with my soft belly–that he caused, 1393. football season back again, 1394. backyard time with the VWs, 1395. wednesday night group bbq, 1396. new fall routines around the bend, 1397. mighty m’s cheek healing up, 1398. worship in the kitchen while doing dishes, 1399. warm, mild summer days, 1400. being back on this blog