Monday, December 31, 2012

The Best Thing I Ever Did in 2012 (besides make a baby)


On January 2, 2012, I started something I'd never done before. Inspired by Ann Voskamp's book, “One Thousand Gifts,” I began writing out a list of gifts that I'm thankful for. The goal? To make it a daily practice so as to have a list of “one thousand gifts” by the end of the year. Honestly, I kind of expected this to go the way of all my other New Year's resolutions and peter out somewhere near the end of January.

But here's what happened instead. The more gifts I penned down, the more I wanted to do it. It's like eating homemade guacamole. Once you start, you gotta keep going back for another dip and another dip. Only instead of ending up with that bloated shouldn't-have-done-that feeling, I felt an overwhelming sense of wholeness and satisfaction, an awareness of completeness. Now, when I miss a day (or two or three), I feel a sense of loss. Because I've surely missed some gifts, and now they're gone into the abyss of my forgetfulness, passed by without a whispered “thank you for this.”

But the gifts that I do capture onto paper, they have become my treasure. On this, the last day of 2012, I penned down my one thousandth gift.  It reached the bottom of my fifty-third page.  Before all this, if you had told me I'd type anywhere near fifty pages of anything this year, I'd have laughed, out loud. Ain't nobody got time for that! But turns out I did, with just a few minutes each day.

It is my thank offering to the Giver of all these gifts. And as the Giver does, he gave back beyond my expectations. This list has become a journal of sorts, a record of our year, a remembrance of all the little things that have touched me deeply and made 2012 what it was. So as a recap of our year, here is a smattering of excerpts from my one thousand gifts.

4. The silkiest softness of my son's white blond hair. Jan 2

10. The longing of hearts apart. Aaron in Thailand for three weeks of classes, my heart missing him with a longing that hurts. Jan 2

38. Ellie still asking for her bedtime song to be “Hark the Haver Angels Sing.” Jan 4

60. A gift in the mail, precious people wanting to tangibly show that they believe in what we're doing. Jan 10

95. Aiden toddling along outside, soaking in the world, when suddenly, urgently he turns back to me and shouts, “Mama! Kiss!” My heart is a puddle on the ground. I bend to touch lips to his puckered fish mouth. Jan 30

107. Aaron: “Come here, birthday girl.” Ellie: “You can call me 'Princess.'” Feb 12

113. A short night, a long week ahead, meeting my love in the kitchen for a soothing embrace. Feb 13

167. Swelling with new life. Baby bump for all to see. March 13

196. A fro-yo date with my daughter. April 2

212. A husband who knows when not to go the extra mile in his homework so he can be there for his family. April 20

228. Making birthday cake art for my two year old, him shouting in delight, ““Beeball! Bootball! Babeeball!” April 26

276. My truly gorgeous sister, radiant as a bride. June 8

291. There was no confusion that first night of big boy bed-ness. No, “Hey, I belong in my baby bed.” Just pure confidence that he had entered big kid-dom. When I went to cradle and coo my nightly song to him, he shushed me with an emphatic finger over his mouth as if to say “I don't need that baby stuff now.” June 13

342. Our family on two chairs, snuggled under a blanket watching the sky light up with American celebration. July 4

439. Ellie spooning ice cream into her brother's eagerly waiting mouth. Aug 7

441. My children's endless enthrallment with sand and waves. Aug 7

453. An empty baby bed next to mine, just waiting to be filled. Aug 13

478. The moment I grasp my slippery new son to my skin. Aug 16.

484. The shocking tininess of a newborn diaper. Aug 16

496. Each day the bond growing stronger.  This little one that was unknown, becoming known. Aug 19

499. Friends and family around us, graciously giving and serving. Aug 19

532. How Aiden says “mamich” for “sandwich.” Sept 2

575. Dinner on the edge of the sea, celebrating 8 years of this soul bonded life. Sept 18

594. Hearing my grandma's last words to me, “I love you.”

672. A husband that took care of the 4am sickness while I slept through Oct 16

692. Hearing the story of our Chinese friend. The father who threatened to disown her and the mother who threatened suicide if she was baptized, are now paying for her seminary study in America. Oct. 20

774. Flying round and round on spinning swings with my daughter, our arms outstretched, heads thrown back, shouting wild and fearless and free. Nov 12

814. Kissing my baby's pillow-plump cheeks, him giggling with glee. Dec 1

 925.  When Mary and Joseph enter the stage, cradling the baby in their arms, Ellie whispers as loud as can be, “I WANT TO SEE BABY JESUS' FACE!” People all around chuckle.  May you never, ever lose that desire, baby girl, to see Jesus' face. Dec 24

929.  The first Christmas with my family in 9 whole years.  Dec 25

956.  Ellie: “Daddy’s always joking me. It dangs me crazy.” Dec 27

985.  Reflecting on the goodnesses of this year, and feeling that my eyes are more opened, my heart more tender for all the gifts, both sweet and hard that will come in the year ahead. Dec 31

1000.  Penning down my one thousandth gift and knowing I have only just begun.  Dec 31


And now I say a whispered “thank you” to YOU, dear ones, for being among my one thousand gifts. Thank you for journeying alongside me this year.  Thanks for letting me speak a bit of my life and heart to you.  Love and blessings to each of you.  Happy New Year!    

(3 Things about this pic:  1.  Yes, that background is for real.  2.  Sorry you don't get to see Titus' face 3.  Yes, Aiden is trying to make me eat my own hair.) 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"Guns Don't Kill People" and Other Lies We Believe

On December 14, not one, but two crazed men placed their hands the door knobs of kindergarten classrooms.  Both men are the definition of sick and wrong, both bent on the destruction of innocence.  One brandished in his hand a gun, the other man a knife. One in Conneticut, the other in China.  Today the loved ones of 26 Americans are preparing for funerals.  In China, the parents of 22 children are nursing stab wounds.  Wounds.  Not deaths.

We all deal with grief in different ways.  Me?  I hurt and ache and hold my children tighter, and then...I get mad.  And I want to fix it.  I want to just STOP hearing of yet another mass killing.

Did you know that in the last two decades America has had 62 mass murders carried out by firearms?  And, read this slowly, more than three quarters of these guns were obtained LEGALLY.   


Dozens of assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns were legally placed in the possession of psychopaths who turned and sprayed bullets into humans. 

Now, I fully understand that killers will find ways to kill.  There's no way around that.  However, with what ease can they obtain an object that with one flick of the finger obliterates a life?

Guns don't kill people, people kill people.  Right.  Why don't we say, "Bombs don't kill people, people kill people"?  You got a bomb in your basement, you can guaran-dang-tee no one is going to say, "Hey, that's your right, pal." 

Now, before you go calling me a crazy, get this:  Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, I do believe it IS our right to bear arms.  However, have we ever stopped to think that maybe, just perhaps, we should willingly give up our rights?  In the spirit of the one who gave up his rights of heaven for the sake of those that could not save themselves?     

I can responsibly handle owning a gun for purposes of entertainment or protection or whatever.  But I happen to live in a world of weaker brothers who cannot handle that same ownership.  And for their sake and the sake of their victims, I'd give up my right of ownership in a heartbeat. 

I know we don't often go looking at China as a model in policy making.  All I know is that having lived there for five years, I felt much safer there than I do in America, knowing that it is extremely difficult and illegal to obtain a gun.

Again, killers will find ways to kill.  China has had it's own host of violence and school attacks.  No guns does not equal no murders.  But legalized guns do equal more murders.  Don't take my word for it.  Take Harvard's.   We cannot stop madmen from killing.  The question is, "What tools are available for them to commit their crimes?"  Guns are the most efficient legal means for killing in America. Without those efficient tools available to the general public, lives will be saved.

But let's be realistic and acknowledge that all this talk is probably for naught.  We already can own guns, and we're all not going to give them up in a beautiful drop-your-gun-off and sing "kum by ya" with us campfire.  Ultimately outlawing guns would lead to a search and seizure scenario that would violate the Constitution, culminating in a Civil War or at least the cessation of Texas. 

But perhaps all this talk and all this grief will spark something in someone smarter than I, who will step up with some genius policy making.  And perhaps all this talk and all this grief will move us to actually going along with it.  One can hope and dream.

Other than that, we are left to weep with those weep and to echo long and loud, "Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Put an end to all this."  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pure Charity



Did you even know such a thing is possible?!  It's true!  A percentage of money that you're already spending can go to a charity project of YOUR choice.  I had no idea.  But I know now.  And I think it's pretty amazing, so I'm telling you. 


It's called Pure Charity.  And it's pure genius, I tell you.  They have partnered up with a bunch of major retailers, places you shop, like Target, Walmart, Apple, Best Buy, etc, and arranged for a percentage of your purchases to go into your own personal giving account at Pure Charity.  Then you get to choose which charity project who want to apply your funds to.  Add your own cash at any time.  You can even apply to have a project added to Pure Charity. 

It's socially networked so you can rally your people around a project of your passion.  I'm not a prophet, but I'd say this is the future of charitable giving. 

So how about it?  I'm trying seriously to think of one valid reason why a person shouldn't do this and.....nope, can't think of one.

Might I suggest a particular project for you to back?  It's called the Legacy Project with Help One Now.  They are building a school in Haiti for an orphanage and it's surrounding community.  I'm a firm believer in using education to break poverty cycles.  This organization?  They've done their homework.  They are committed to empowering nationals for long term sustainable change, not just feel-good projects that can have a negative domino affect on the community. (I could write a whole series on this.)

Check out the project, and if you have some charitable giving to do, consider helping them out.  They are already in phase 8 of 10, and their goal is to complete it by Christmas.

Wouldn't it be great to know that the rest of your shopping this Christmas is ALSO helping orphans in Haiti?    

So here's what you do:
 
1. Go to purecharity.com and create an account
2.  Register your debit/credit cards
3.  Back the Legacy Project
4.  Network - invite and follow friends
5.  Install the web browser plug-in so you know when you're online which merchants partner with Pure Charity.

And then let's offer up three cheers for those revoltionary thinkers that are using their genius to change the world!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tea Party for Two

I bet if I counted all the times each day I say "Ellie, do this" or "Ellie, don't do that" it would add up to ... I don't know, A LOT.  I know it's part of parenting - necessary training.  But, wow, it's a lot like nagging.  When I'm feeling energetic, I like to make it fun, talking in goofy accents, making it all a game.  But sometimes I'm just tired, and all that silliness takes energy and time you know, and really, Will you please just put your shoes on NOW?  

I try to have time every day that is just for her, time where I'm not telling her what to do or not to do, time for just the two of us to snuggle, read or play, but with two little brothers, that time more often than not, gets crowded, literally.  So when a friend mentioned a local tea house, I knew that it was time for a tea party for two.

It took some time to work it into the schedule, but the day came and I announced to Ellie what we'd be doing.  Bouncing up and down, she passed the news on to Daddy saying, "Me and Mommy are going to a tea party to a place that's just for big girls!"

Because I was determined to conquer Mt. Fold-Me, I ran out of time to shower, so I threw on a skirt, blouse, pony tail and an extra swipe of deodorant.  Then we kissed the boys goodbye and headed out, Ellie chattering, "I'm so excited to have a Mommy day with you!"

We walked into the tea room, and her eyes lit up.  She sat down in her chair before the fancy place setting and put her "big girl" face on.  I watched and marveled, wondering how in the world my baby girl could be sipping from a china tea cup already.  We ordered raspberry tea, because pink tea is the prettiest, don't you know.  Ellie plopped ice cubes in hers.



She kept looking around and sighing happy sighs.  She's a quality time girl, this one, just like her mama.  Doing something special with just her simply makes her glow.  Touch is her other love language, so she'd say things like, "Don't you want to hold my hand, Mommy?"  And our hands would then grasp each other's and rest on the flowery table cloth.  At one point, she got up and said, "I want to give you a big hug," and I said, "Yes, please."

Our dainty sandwiches arrived, along with fruit and scones.  Ellie ooh'ed and ahh'ed over everything.  She was enthralled with using her dinner knife to cut her sandwiches, because that's what grown ups do.  I, on the other hand, inhaled my food.  Because, you see, motherhood has taught me to eat in record time so as to have both hands free for the next impending disaster.  I do it instictually now, even when I should be eating leisurely.  Before Ellie had really begun, I was already done.  So I sat back and watched her.

When she propped her elbows on the table, I held my tongue.  I mentally declared this a "no nagging" zone.  When she tilted her head back so that a tid bit of scone would roll from her lip to her mouth, I chuckled.  Overall, I thought her four-year-old table manners were not bad, certainly good enough.  So I just let her be, and basked in the wonder of her, silently giving thanks that this girl is mine.  And all those tensions that build up between the daily do's and don'ts, they just drained right out.



We wiped the corners of our mouths with the cloth napkins like the fancy ladies do, then we sauntered over to the corner to try on the tea lady hats.  Funny how something you formerly would have considered ridiculous somehow becomes magical when you're with a little girl.  With flowery feathery fluff a top of our heads, we twirled and whirled and courtseyed in front of the full length mirror.

Then we left hand-in-hand, this memory framed in our hearts.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Quiet

Five Minute Friday on Quiet


Pinned Image

Wind rushing through leaves

Train piping and panting in the distance

Children giggle silly inside

This is my quiet

My few precious moments

They feed me

My spirit listens

My heart gives thanks

And I am carried through my day

By the Quiet of my soul

The great inner I AM


STOP



*Photo source

Friday, October 26, 2012

Unedited Voice

I'm joining in the Five Minute Fridays writing excercise.  Here goes:




Real.

Raw.

Unedited.

These are the buzz words of my generation.  We're done with fake and shiny.  We want vulnerable reality.  This is the cry of my heart, with one exception.  The unedited part.  That very word "unedited" makes me all antsy inside.  Because....I JUST CAN'T!  That's why writing takes me forever and a day, why the publish button gets clicked all to infrequently.  Because every word has to be thought and rethought.

Yes, I want to show the real me, be real about my weaknesses.  But writing?  I want you to only see that as my strength.  I want you to read about my struggles through the lense of heart touching, well worded, thought provoking posts.  And that just can't happen in a five minute pouring out my thoughts in rapid fire clicks.  I can't stop from re-reading every sentence I write. 

Just DO it, something in me cries. 

Beat back the fears.  Write it out hot and messy.  Click publish.  Let your voice be heard.  And then get back to the babies.

STOP

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

3 Things to Make a Mama Happy

Life has certainly gone from full to fuller, hence the lack of posts lately.  I'm not finding all the time I'd like for writing, and I'm missing it for sure.  But life is good.  I'm counting my blessings, literally.  Each day my eucharisteo list is growing, and penning down the gifts is growing my gratitude, helping me grasp the moments.  I'm at 682 today.  Will I make it to 1,000 by the end of the year?  I'm hoping.  I know the gifts are there, and the pausing to note them, to breathe a "thank you," is changing me.

It is what is getting me through the craziness of three babies four and under.  There are a few other things that are helping me through my days.  Things that you actually buy.  I'm not a product-review kind of blogger, but these are the things of my life right now.  And my heart beats for other young moms, and so I want to share anything that might add a dash or two of sanity to their lives.

So here are my Top Three Baby Products: 

 
1.  Ergo -  This is hands down, without a doubt, my #1 don't-think-I-could-make-it-without-this baby item.  I've tried a lot of baby carriers, I mean, a LOT.  And the Ergo surpasses them all.  It is a baby's happy place, snuggled close to the beating of mama's heart.  Other carriers may provide the same idea, but have left me with either mastitis, pinched nerves, or aching back muscles.  Not so with the Ergo.  It's ergonomically designed to make you carry the weight in your hips rather than your back, making it possible to carry around a baby (or even toddler!) for many hours.  Trust me, I've done it many times.  It was thanks to the Ergo that I managed a baby and a two year old while living on the fifth floor with no elevator.  Seriously.  Now, as a mother to three, when baby needs holding and I need my hands free (so ... like multiple times per day) the Ergo is my answer.  It's just two quick clicks to get it on.  And yes, it is a bit pricey, but it is also the only baby carrier you'll ever need.  From infancy to "No thank you, Mommy, I don't want you to carry me any more." 

If you have a colicky baby or if you're living/traveling overseas, I might just wrestle you down and force you to get one, I believe it's that necessary.  But I've also been surprised at how much I use it here in America with my non-colicky baby.  It quickly soothes the fussies away, and it helps him get into that calm sleepy state, so I can then lay him down to nap.  He happily naps in it while we're out and about.

So if you're needing a baby carrier, GO BUY IT NOW.         

2.  Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper -  (click armsreach.com for all the info and options)Ok, I know this one will depend on your personal sleep preferences.  I know some moms can't sleep if baby is in the room with them.  If you're like me, though, and you want to have the baby nearby, OR if yo
u're like me and you're trying to fit five individuals into 917 sq. feet (#firstworldproblems), then the Arm's Reach is for you.  It is basically like a pack n' play with a bassinet, but one side is lowered and attaches to your bed.  That way you can co-sleep with your baby but still have your bed to yourself.  And for me, it makes a huge difference if I don't have to actually get out of bed for the night time feedings.

There are a lot of things that I used to think were necessities for babies.  But our lifestyle has forced us to simplify, and in the process I've been amazed at all that you can do without.  Like, we have never actually owned a crib.  In fact, rather than having a bassinet, a crib, a toddler bed, and a pack n' play, we just used the Arm's Reach.  Aiden slept in it from birth to 25 months (The bassinet attachment comes out).  Then he moved straight to a full size bunk bed. Oh, and just throw down a travel diaper changing pad onto the Arm's Reach, and voila!  It's a changing table.



3.  Woombie -  This product is new to me, and oh, how I wish I had this with my first two babies.  Parents know how babies love to be swaddled.  They also know how babies are experts at wiggling their way out of blanket swaddles.  So there are now multiple "swaddler" options out there.  We tried to go the cheaper route and got some swaddlers that use velcro.  They worked, sort of.  But it felt a bit like putting a baby in a straight jacket, and he would sometimes fight against it. He also hated the ripping velcro sound!  Then we got a Woombie as a gift, and I wanted to throw the velcro swaddlers in the dumpster.  The Woombie is so much better.  It allows baby to move his arms around as if in a womb.  But it keeps baby's arms close and secure, preventing the jerking movements that wake and startle him.  AND, it has a double zipper, which means I can unzip the bottom half and change his diaper, without unswaddling the top half!  He's a much better napper than my other two ever were, and I'm gonna have to credit the Woombie with this novelty.  Also, he looks like a big jelly bean in it, which makes me want to eat him even more!  (Ok, that's enough exlamation points for this post)   

There you have it.  I wish I could buy these three items for every mom out there, but you're just gonna have to take my word for it.       

Really, though, if you want to be a happier mama, these products ultimately aren't going to do it for you.  Making a list of 1,000 blessings?  That just might. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Grandma


My grandmother passed away last night, on the eve of a crisp autumn night in Colorado.  I've spent the last few days here with her, saying goodbye.  This is what I shared with her. 


Grandma,
I can’t let you leave without doing the only thing I know to do, the only gift I have to give.  Words.  Words to celebrate, remember and grieve.  I need this for me, for the pain of losing you.  And I need you to hear these words before you go.

Grandma, we’ve all felt your touch pressing into our souls.  It’s the touch of nurture and knowledge, of strength and beauty. 

I sit awake in the wee hours of milky nights nursing my babe, and I think, “You’ve done this seven times over.”  Seven times you birthed new life, wiped bare bums, soothed scraped knees.

Your mother touch reaches down and around to the fourth generation.  You’ve nurtured us all in a way all your own, with popcorn, piggy banks and peanut brittle.  With tiny tea sets, cozy blankets and nickel gum balls.  You’ve fed us all with your made from scratch love. 

My soul breathes deep as I see these finger prints of nurture you have left on me.

There may be no plaques on your wall, nor degrees in your hand, but you have the knowledge of the very best kind.  You’re a learner of life, never ceasing or stagnant.  Through books, newspapers and stacks and stacks of National Geographic you’ve lapped up this world.  A love of learning can never be taught.  Rather it is tasted and touched through a life like your own until magically it seeps into us.

My soul breathes deep as I see these finger prints of knowledge you have left on me. 

You may loathe the weakness age has forced on you.  But we all know this frail shell holds the lifetime of a lioness inside.  Someone tells you you can’t, you’ll show them you can.  The fibers of your being are gumption and fortitude, spunk and guts.

This strength has carried you across the many miles you’ve traversed, up and moving your home, then visiting your children spanned far and wide.  This strength has carried you through pain and through loss.  And now it’s this strength that can finally rest.  No more striving, enduring, just peace, glorious peace in the arms of Him who created you a lifetime ago. 

My soul breathes deep through the pain and the loss for I see these finger prints of strength you have left on me. 

Though you’ll be gone, you’ll not be forgotten.  For you leave with us all a legacy of beauty, lasting and true.

We will see you.  We will see you in the ruffles of the iris and in the softness of the African violets.  We’ll see you in the flight of the loon and in the quiet of the mountains. 

And we will remember.  We’ll remember the way your lips touched your flute.  We’ll remember the way your finger tip rubbed circles round your thumb print.  We’ll remember the way you crafted beauty from clay, goodness from flour, song from breath, blossoms from soil.

And we will celebrate.  We will celebrate the life that you lived, the woman that you are.  And we will breathe deep, a long exhale, for we see these finger prints that you have left on us all.  Nurture and knowledge, strength and beauty.

Go in peace, Grandma, knowing that you leave us with your touch pressed deep in our souls. 

July 2011
  

 

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Story of My Titus



It will be replayed in my mind a thousand times.   It will be rehashed at each birthday party every August 16th.  The story of my Titus.

So before time dulls vividness, here's me writing it out.

Wednesday evening, August 15th, I sat at our kitchen table chatting over watermelon with my Russian student who had come by for a visit.  That's when the contractions started...again.  I didn't even mention it to my student, but just listened to her talk about her plans for the coming month.  I did give Aaron our little signal that I was having contractions.  This was the forth or fifth evening in the past two weeks that a whole series of contractions had come on, and every one of those nights, we had scurried around making sure everything was packed, everything set for the babysitter.  Each of those nights I had gone to bed thinking, "This is the night."  And each morning I awoke to two kiddos peering over my mountainous belly as they crawled into bed with the still very pregnant me.

So on this evening, I didn't want to get my hopes up or even interrupt the conversation with news of these contractions.  They were so mild I could easily keep talking, although I did, perhaps, give my watermelon cube a stronger stab with my toothpick.  Aaron knew to check on me and let my student know what was going on.  But like the other nights, the contractions stopped after I went to bed.  I was awake for a good chunk of the night, but again, this was not unusual for me in the third trimester.

Morning came.  I groaned my way out of bed and set about getting the kids breakfast.  I finally set the spatula down.  "I don't feel so good," I said to Aaron as I made my way to the couch, ever so grateful that he was home that morning.  He was anxious to know if "this is it."  But I couldn't say for sure.  They certainly weren't the gut-wrenching contractions that I woke up with the day Aiden was born.  And we'd had so many false alarms this time...

And it just happened to be in the tiny three hour window that we didn't have childcare arranged for the kids.  Our babysitter had left town at 7:30 that morning.  My mom was flying in at 10:30.  So, of course, that's when baby decides it's time.  Aaron and Ellie were getting ready to head to the airport to get my mom, when I had THE contraction.  The one that is sharp enough and strong enough to convince me that this is for the reals.  That's when I told Aaron, "Start calling friends."  So he did.  We found someone to watch the kids and someone to pick my mom up at the airport.  Thanks, Lord, for friends. 

We called our dear Doula Rachel, and off we went to the hospital, reminiscing that this ride was a bit more pleasant than trekking to the hospital in the back of a taxi across the entire city of Beijing in rush hour traffic during Aiden's labor.

We got to the hospital at about 10:30am, and met our labor and delivery nurse, who just happened to be a jolly Thai woman.  When we told her our daughter was born in Thailand, she giggled "Really??" as only Thai women can, and we instantly became her best friends. 

My body seemed to have a pretty good idea of what it was doing this third time around.  I focused on being in the most comfortable position possible and riding the waves of contractions. 

This is where having a doula was simply wonderful, especially someone like Rachel.  As terrifically supportive as my husband is and was, there is just a whole other dimension of support that comes from a doula.  She anticipated needs I didn't know I had.  A pillow here, a touch to my tense forehead to relax my brow, counter pressure to my back, and her empowering encouragement.  In the midst of my mind-blowing pain, she compassionately whispered, "I know."  And she did.  She'd done this three times herself.  I could feel her sharing my pain.  Then she rallied me with her words, "You've got this."

And I did.  Because by some miracle of master design, my body was made to do this.  To conceive, to grow, to birth this child.  Of all this grand earth's mysteries, this, to me is the greatest.  That the Creator invites me and the seed of my soul mate to co-create with Him. 

A human soul emerging from my body.  A completely other person whose life will touch and change this world in innumerable ways large and small, makes its entry through the passages of my body.  Though there's a familiarity to the process this time, the magnitude of it all only grows.

The pain reaches unspeakable peaks.  I want nothing less and nothing more than to squeeze this person out of me.  With the first push, my water explodes across the room.  (Oh, the mysterious marriage of water and new life.)  Two more pushes that feel like death and pure joy, and Titus Daniel enters the world.

A magical Saturday morning in December, the touch of the Maker's kiss, thirty-nine weeks of sheltering this soul, and now he is here.

"It's a boy!" Aaron breathes in wonder as the ruddy red 9lb. 3oz. body is placed on my chest. 

"Ellie got her wish for another brother," we chuckle in amazement.

His cries quiver him, and I murmer into his thin thatch of dark hair, "Mama's here." 

As he calms to the beat of my heart, the tones of J.J. Heller float through the air.

"How does someone so small
Hold my heart so tightly
I don't even know you
I love you completely

I get to be the one to hold your hand
I get to be the one
Through birthdays and broken bones
I'll be there to watch you grow
I get to be the one"

And I am undone.  




Titus Daniel born August 16, 2012 at 2:19pm in Fullerton, California. 
9lbs 3oz
21.5 in


Thursday, August 30, 2012

By Tomorrow Morning

Writing for 5 minutes on "Change":

Nothing makes me want to freeze time like content little you.  I know by tomorrow morning you will have changed.  You'll be bigger, different.  You're my third wee little one.  So I know.  I know how fast it will go.  I want to bottle up every drop of newborness, to savor the sight of your milky lips, the feel of your fuzzy head, the sound of each baby breath.

Yes, there are dishes to be done, a toilet to be scrubbed, laundry waiting, but I think I'll just sit here a while and hold you forever in the nape of my neck.  And I'll memorize your newborn face, so as not to forget it when you all too soon grow into your boyhood face.  There's nothing like it, these first days and weeks of knowing you, of falling heart sick in love with you.  The very sight of you makes me achy inside.





Linking up with GypsyMama for a 5 minute Friday on "Change."

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Stretch of Birth

The belly skin stretches tighter than taut. 

The night stretches long into dawn.

And you are churning, churning within.  Time to emerge and greet the world.

My body heaves with you and stretches open inside.

Pain, pain, I must greet it, not fight it.  It's bringing my baby to me.

I meet the moment when I know I cannot, and then I do, stretching deeper than I know.

The stretching of all that is in me, my strength, my heart, my all, to bring you forth.

The blessed relief, then one more push, and you're here.

"It's a boy!" your dad gasps in awe. 

Then you're in my hands, on my skin, smelling of new life.



You are here.  You are here.

My soul sighs.






**Linking up with gypsymama for "5 Minute Friday" on the word "Stretch."**







Friday, August 10, 2012

Dear Baby, Welcome to the Family

Dear Baby,

You'll be here soon.  A few hours, days or weeks, I'm not sure, but I feel it.  I feel it in the crazy mix of exhaustion and excitement that's pumping through me.  You are coming.  Together you and I will work you out of the depths of me and into my arms, into our lives, into this family of yours. 

You know us all a bit by now.  You know we're loud, but you can't yet see we're messy too.  You know we love books, you've bounced the many that have rested on my belly.  You likely have Goodnight Moon memorized too.  You know I sing off-key to your siblings twice a day.  You know we love good food, shared round our table.  We also love the ocean's spray, the taste of saltwater on our lips.   We love to go, to travel, to do, to see this great big world.  We also love a whole day at home with no pants on.   



You know sometimes my patience runs thin, you've felt my heavy sighs.  You've heard me yell, and I'm sorry for that.  I will surely need your grace just as you will need mine.  This life you're entering, it will be crazy at times.  But you know there are those perfect morning moments where we all squish in bed together, nuzzling each other's necks, cozy, warm, and quiet, just basking in our love for each other. 

We are family.  We are yours and you are ours.  Nothing will ever change that.           

Here are some of our family phrases, core to who we are.  May your ears know them well, before your lips can even form them.   

"I'm sorry."  We will fail you, frustrate you, hurt you.  We are a broken people of this broken world you are entering.  But there's another phrase.
 
"I love you."  Know you'll hear that daily, no matter what.  May the words never lose their power, may you never for an instant doubt our love for you.  These words are fierce and true.    

"Thank you."  The secret to joy, my dear, is found in thankfulness ... always in all things.

"Yes, Lord."  These two simple words.  They are what lead us.  You'll have your own "Yes, Lord's" to make, but until then, we'll live ours out together.    

So, little one, you've felt us dance and you've heard us shout.  You've bobbed with our laughter and quivered in our tears.  You're already a part of us, but here's the official welcome to the family.         



Don't you worry, you will find your place.  It will be unique and needed.  You don't have to be like me or your dad or your sister or brother.  You be you, and we know that we will adore you. 

Awaiting your arrival,

Your family

P.S.  If your sister and brother ever brag about being born abroad, just tell them that you can become president and they can't.

Friday, August 3, 2012

This is What's Saving Me Right Now


So I'm told that "the glory of God is man fully alive."  But when the kids shout angry, and the belly hangs heavy, and the son's tooth is infected, and the nights blur into days, the life in me trickles out. And this longing for glory is left as a wee little puddle in the cellar of my soul. 

My husband knows this, reads me straight through, and this is why after dinner he sent me away.  He told me to leave.  God love him, he promised to clean and put the kids to bed while I'm gone.  Only a fool would turn down that offer.  So I left.  I packed up some books, headed to the Tea Leaf, drank a glorious rooibos chai latte, and ate up some scrumptious reading time.

I came back more fully alive, my mind quieted, my soul centered.  I came back noticing.  Each moment holds something.  I'm just usually too distracted to notice. But it's the very noticing of the moments, the living fully in them that is saving me right now.   


Pinned Image
framedart.com by by Conrad Knutsen
There's the moment my toddler boy stumbles into my arms, smelling of sleep, hair all askew.  This alone is worth waking for.  

Each morning I open the porch door.  There I see the blasted black cat that thinks he lives on our porch.  He's killed my potted herb basket, making it his nightly bed.  He can't be shooed or scared away.  Believe me, I've tried.  I'm quite certain I hate him.  But after the moment when I saw my daughter whack him with a broom and my son give him a fierce tiger roar, I realized feline hatred may not be a trait to pass onto my children.  So here's to learning to love (or at least tolerate) my enemy.  

There was the moment in the waiting room, as I listened to the screams of my two year old while daddy held him down for his tooth pulling.  I tried to choke down the pain in my heart, to hide behind the book I was reading to Ellie, but everything in me felt it deep and the tears fell.  Motherhood makes your heart all mush but demands the strength of steel. 

There was the moment I laid down on the kitchen floor (at 36 weeks pregnant) to get a good look at my son's tooth gap, him rolling his cars across the hard surface.  After a satisfactory check, I attempted to get up.  Like a walrus carcus washed ashore, I just sort of flopped there.  "I can't get up," I heaved.  My four year old erupted into a fit of unstoppable giggles, apparently finding my situation hilarious.  Her laughter was catching, so now I lay jiggling in stitches on the hard floor.  Nothing cleanses like belly laughs.  After a few deep breaths and a herculine effort, I somehow managed to get up.  And my daughter and I looked at each other, no words, just twinkles in our eyes and aches in our sides.  We'd just lived gloriously. 



Each moment a gift. A choice to fully live or muddle through.  To glory Him or trickle dry.  

 


 
 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

It's My Birthday and Here's What I Want...from You.

Ok, I'm just going to say it.  I want you to like my blog.  I feel totally lame and self-serving saying that, but if there's one day a year that you're allowed to be all "Me! Me! Me!" it's your birthday.



Today is my 30th birthday, and so I'm asking you to "like" my blog.  If you want to know why, keep reading.  If you'd rather get back to scrolling through FB status updates, just take 0.2 seconds, click "like" on that facebook box on the right and be on your way, satisfied that you just gave someone the perfect birthday present. (Or even better you can also subscribe, especially if you're not a super avid facebooker.)

Alright, back to the why.  Birthdays of course have the tendency to cause reflection, especially these big ol' decade markers.  For quite a while, I've been dreading this birthday, which is a first for me.  I wrote about the big 3-0 being my goodbye to youth and my official welcome to wrinkles, sags, and stretch marks here. 

So today I'm feeling, deep in my veins, the truth about beauty.  That it is knit up in our souls, the very dust of our beings.  It's found in you and in me and in the grit and glory of each day.  For me, this blog is about that.  Since Saturday November 12, 2011, I've been writing bits of me out in this little corner of the internet, and in doing so, I am finding my voice.  And I'm finding the beautiful voices of others echoing across these wireless waves.  And it's life blood.

They say your twenties are about finding yourself.  I don't know that I found myself as much as I myself was formed by all that the decade held - marriage, motherhood, ministry, moving.   



As I step into this next decade, I've got some dreams rolling around in my heart that are not yet ready to share, but I will say that they are tied to writing and building community - not just for myself, but for a certain group of hearts that are yearning for the beauty and art of their hearts to be unleashed.  And in the craziness of today's age, your clicks can help me with these dreams.  It's still very much a whispered prayer at this point.  But me asking you to subscribe, to like, to follow (yes, by golly, I'm actually tweeting @danielleNYT), it's a step towards the dream. 
          
So there's that.  And then there's the fact that I'm pretty much terrible about picking up the phone to call anyone, and almost as bad about getting newsletters out.  So this blog-o'-mine is really the best way to stay connected to us and this gypsy life of ours. 



Some day on these pages, I get riled up and soap box-ish about things.  Other days, I'm writing it down so as to not miss the moments or the beans between my toes.  I'll let you peak into my marriage.  You'll probably hear about my slimy-yogurt-faced son and my chatter-me-crazy daughter, and why they're the best in the world.  I'll share my fears about not being enough, and you'll hear me admit we're in therapy.  I'll likely get super sappy here in a few weeks when baby is born.  You can rock with me through the sanctuary of sleepless nights.  Then in a year you can watch us up and move across the world again, following this conviction in our bones.

And maybe, just maybe you'll hear more about this dream of mine and see it unwrap.  Until then, go click me a birthday present, and help me holla at my thirties.   

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Love Letter To My Body

(Edited to add: This post was chosen and featured at shelovesmagazine.com)

There is currently a synchroblog happening at shelovesmagazine.com where women are posting love letters to their bodies.  It's real, and it's raw, and it's gloriously bathed in hope.  Here's the thing about hope, it's got to be shared so it can roll big.      

So do it. Click on the link and read.  Cry with these women and sing anthems of hope with them too.  That's what I did, and I was happy to leave it at that.  But in the caverns of my heart I knew.  I knew that for it to mean something real and deep, I had to do it, too.  I told myself I didn't need to, that I'm not struggling like they are, really...

And then I stopped lying and got on with it.  So here it is. 

Dear Body,

You know our story is different.  We're not sure how, but we've mostly managed to evade the threads of self-loathing that seem to be woven into the fabric of the female being.   This heart of ours that pumps bloods through you and emotions through me, it rips a bit when we read of the hatred and disgust women have for their earthly shells.  And we wonder what umbrella kept this curse from raining on us.  Whatever it was made us one of those rare spectacles that actually believed in our beauty.  Through the bad glasses, the not-right haircuts, and the freshman fifteen (or, uh...twenty five), we remained obliviously, blessedly confident.


Source:fabandluxe.tumblr.com via Danielle on Pinterest

We've got to know.  What is that umbrella that we held that made us believe in our beauty?  Because we want that umbrella for her, for the big beautiful baby girl that you pushed out of us.  We want that umbrella to lift her above the pit of comparison that will constantly snatch at her ankles and to shield her from drenching lies evil will pour on her.  We want her to always glow in her current four-year-old confidence that chimes, "My name is Ellie Grace Beautiful."  May she always know that she is beauty itself.      

And let's take a moment to be brutally honest and admit that right now we need to know for us.  Our thirtieth birthday is days away, and for some reason this birthday, unlike any other, makes you cringe.  I look at our face in the mirror and see crinkles for the first time.  And this belly of ours blossoms big with the third baby.  People wonder if we've swallowed a basketball.  Stretch marks spider across our skin.  Fear begins to weave its sticky web on the inside.  

Maybe the body of youth is gone forever.  Perhaps those pre-baby numbers on the scale are not to be seen again.  Perhaps this time when the milk runs dry, the breasts will be shrunken forever.  The crinkles will only grow deeper, the skin only sag lower.

Maybe we cringe at this birthday because in our mind it's the official goodbye to youth.  While we evade the curse of self-loathing, perhaps we still drink the lie that beauty and youth are inseparable.  

We grew up thriving under our umbrella, while those who suffered by starving and purging writhed in their lies and others shriveled in the desertlands of wishing they were other than themselves.   Will we now lose our grip and toss away the confidence to join the masses chasing the tails of youth?  

We've got to know.  What is our umbrella?  What made us believe that beauty is us?                     

Maybe it is your nineteen-year-old unwed mother deciding to leave you, the blob of cells, nestled in her womb.  You know this body, this life is a gift.  

Maybe it is growing up knowing the twinkle of your daddy's eye.  It was he who helped you first believe, "You are beautiful."   

Perhaps our umbrella is never knowing abuse.  Guys treated you with respect, never trying to take a piece of you to have for themselves. 
 
Maybe it is the sacred moment of unveiling on your wedding night and the words of wonder from your groom.  He made you the treasure worth waiting for. 

Maybe it was all of this, and oh, to wrap it all up and give it to every little girl that ever was.

But let's look even deeper and realize that all these are things that happened to you, circumstances outside of you.  These all helped you to believe, but they are not what made you beautiful.  For if what makes us beautiful is defined by our circumstances, then aren't we doomed?

For a man could ravage your body, cancer could steal your breasts, time could warp your bones.  And what then?  If beauty hangs outside of us, then it is there for the taking.  But if beauty is knit up in our soul, then it is only ever and eternally ours for the keeping or for the selling.  

Maybe it's not an umbrella to cling to at all.  Although there are days we forget and join in the toxic wishing, written on the flesh of our heart is the truth that beauty is the very dust of our being, gathered before time, breathed upon with holy kisses, made to mirror all that is glorious and good.   

Building dirts
If beauty is found in skin and scales, then let our thirtieth birthday be our official goodbye.  But if beauty is who we are made to be, then let's make an official welcome into the rest of our life.  Welcome all you wrinkles, stretch marks, and sags!  And welcome all that time will hand us.  You will be our beauty marks of a life lived full. 

Goodbye, youth.  You've been grand, but we are no longer you.

So my dear body, let's drop the fear and get on living with the confidence that comes from being ... beautiful.

Love,

Me

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Halfway Through Our Two Year Chapter



A year ago we left China.  We left the bustling streets, those rivers of humanity with heads of black hair bobbing up and down.  We left the street vendors, the taxi drivers, the bicycles, the buses.  We left our students, our friends, the birthplace of our son, and our home of five years.

We threw last-minute items in bags as the waiting taxi honked impatiently.  I shoved a lollipop into my daughter's eager hand.  Anything to keep her quiet and happy in the midst of all this.  The adrenaline of change pumped through my veins, but beneath that thin chemical coating was deep weariness caused by  lack of sleep and the pain of uprooting.

There with us was our beloved Ayi (auntie/helper), a rock of sweetness, as always.  She'd been there with us through the broken faucets and flooding floors.  Her hands had folded countless diapers, cooked our favorite noodles, and kneaded the dough to the world's best bagels.  She'd swept up more dirt than any floor should ever produce.  More than that, she'd been our friend, patiently communicating with words but all the while able to just read our hearts.


Always she wore a smile.  Even on that day that she knew would be our last, she smiled all day long, that is until the very last moment.  We'd hugged her tight and piled into the car.  She stood at the door waving us off.  I glanced back at her one last time.  She didn't know I was looking.  That's when I saw her face crack and her real feelings show through.  I'll never forget that look.

Nine flights and two months later, we landed in So Cal, and for the last year we've been making a new home and a new life here.  I can't quite articulate the journey it's been, the ways we've been changing through this whole uprooting and re-rooting in our old-yet-new culture.  I started writing shortly after we moved here as a means to help myself process it all.  Most of what I wrote during those first few months I never shared with anyone.  (This was before my blog.)  Some of it was very raw, as I brought my brutal honesty to God.  I blatantly banged on his door, asking him to please, please show us how he was going to provide.  We'd risked everything to go where we knew God had led us.  But doubt creeped in those first few months.  All the while, God smiled knowingly at us.  "Ye of little faith, wait and see."

So we did.  And God has provided, is providing.  I'm humbled by my wee little faith, and perhaps this all has grown that faith a bit. 

Aaron has completed a year of his program, and we're thrilled at how much this is equipping him for what we're doing.  And we feel a bit spoiled to be here in this land of perfect weather, gorgeous beaches, and abundant opportunities for this season.  Hopefully knowing that it's just for a time helps us to receive the blessings with thanksgiving rather than taking them for granted.

We've reached the halfway point.  In just over a year (August 2013) , we'll be packing up and moving back to China, this time with three little ones in tow.  Already, I find myself wondering how each of us will handle this next transition.  Some would call us crazy, all this moving across the world stuff, but we know with every fiber of our bones that we are meant for this. Not at all saying it's easy, but knowing it's what we're meant for helps us hold on when it's hard.

They say transition is like a being on a bridge, going from one side to another, suspended above the deep waters.  They also say you can be tied to bungee cords as you navigate this bridge, with a cord constantly pulling you back to the past or a cord dragging you into the future

In many ways it feels like we're in a two year transition.  This past year in many ways has been about processing our five years in China.  We're realizing how we've changed.  Here at the halfway mark, I am already feeling a cord wrap itself around my ankles, ready to mentally drag me into the not yet.  This coming year could easily be about the planning and worrying and getting ready for leaving again.

But I recently read a gem of advice: "Cut the bungee cords...and do so by living fully and completely, wherever we are. Not ignoring the past, but not wishing we were there, either. And also not pretending like the here and now is a waiting room for the next gig; that God has us where we are to be fully there, all of us in every way."  --Tsh Oxenreider (SimpleMom.net)

So this is me cutting the cords, living fully in the now, letting tomorrow worry about itself while I count the blessings of today:

- Feeling my son's heart thump while watching his very first fireworks light up the sky.

- My daughter making new "best friends" everywhere she goes.

- An evening away with the husband, sitting huddled together on a blanket on the beach, the smell of bonfire in the air, the sky dusky with sunset.

- Swelling large with new life.

- Longing to hold, to know, to kiss this new life.

- Being able to experience and love two very different worlds.

 


Happy 4th of July, ya'll!