I Was Such a Liar

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Long before the infertility diagnosis I remember begging God for the opportunity to be a mom. I fondly remember my “never conversations” with God and wonder if he was laughing at my ridiculous ignorance of parenthood and myself. I clearly remember praying profoundly dumb things like, “I promise to never take a moment with my kids for granted,” or “I will never be a mom who yells,” or my personal favorite, “I will LOVE EVERY MINUTE, even the dirty diapers and attitudes.”

I was such a liar.  Not on purpose mind you, it was well intentioned, but they were absolute lies.  I truly had no idea what I was saying. It was the uttering of a mad woman in the bargaining stages of grief.

While others are precious about their stories of parenthood, sharing all that they love and how baby Q was potty trained in utero. I will speak to that which is my reality…

Sometimes parenthood sucks. Sometimes it feels soul crushing and unrelenting.

There are moments when I have cried so hard that my eyelids have actually fused together in solidarity, willing me to stop.  I have lost count on the number of times I have raised my voice or at the very least mentally fantasized about duct-taping them to the wall for a well earned time out. I have actually asked God if he made a mistake, sometimes being certain I was more fit for the mental ward then motherhood…though sometimes I wonder if they are one and the same.

Parenthood has broken me in ways I could never have imagined and it has taught me more about the love of God then any other experience I have had in life.

It is also so amazingly good I could weep a thousand years at Jesus’ feet in gratitude.

This month marks my 13th year of actually parenting my village.  And lest you more chronologically seasoned then I should scoff, take note, mine is not a traditional story.  13 years ago, one week apart, a baby and two teens arrived in our home. Separate stories, now forever intertwined.  For the first, I was mom number 3, for the later, mom number 5 and 6.  If we were an old school Facebook relationship status it would read “It’s Complicated.”

For these children I prayed, right?  So it should all play out like the life saving fairytale it is…

Real life is far too dang messy to be a fairy tale.  I don’t care if you have birthed, adopted, or hatched those you parent, it will change you and them.

So as I reflect back on the last 13 years, and all of their drama, here is what I know for certain:

You were never meant to do this solo.  It requires dependency on God. In fact, it requires so much dependency, that you need him for every.single.step. If you don’t allow him to be the navigation system on this journey of love that costs you everything then you will be wrecked and they will miss out.

So, here I am, 13 years later, not living the fairytale, praying this prayer instead:

God, keep my eyes so fixed on you, my ears so sensitive to your voice, that I will know exactly where to place my next step.  May I be so dependent on you that I would not be tempted to think I can do this on my own, for that was never your plan. And may I be ever present of the truth, that if I don’t go to you, the source, that I will have nothing to give, that is will wreck me, and that my loved ones will miss out on the gift that was meant to be….true love. Help me to never forget that this journey, my purpose, is ALL ABOUT YOU, not me. Amen.

 

When You Are Certain You Are Failing

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Another academic year has started and the mommy taxi is always on the go. We are not even a month in and my phone is buzzing me with reminders of who, and what, and how often all the things are happening, and I can find my shoulders tightening. Then there are the curveballs– the colds, the shifts in schedule, the drama because of all the different things to navigate with all the hormones raging, and then there are the children…

I had these expectations for the year. I had goals and dreams and hopes.  And it took exactly 2 days into this school year before I started to watch them crash into the shore line, breaking along that jagged coast that is reality. Sometimes I am truly certain I am failing at all the important things… I feel like I should know better by now, and yet, here I am again wanting to cry into my latte, wondering how it is all going to roll this year if I am already so worn?

Then, I found myself having what I like to call a “come to Jesus moment” with one of my beloved children this week.  You know, when everything gets so real it might even hurt, and often does, because you have to own your junk? We were talking about school and choices and consequences when she asked, “so are you just going to quit on me?”

I had to hold onto my inner black granny who wanted to exclaim, “what you say chil’?”

Instead, I looked her in the eyes and asked, “have you met me?”

She needed a reminder.

I continued, “I will never quit on you. I will never stop loving you.  I will never stop cheering for you. This is forever right here. Your choices, not even your failures, nor your struggles will ever change my love and commitment to you. Period.”

Even when my heart breaks, even when I wanted better for them, even when they hurt me, even when they run from all that is good and true, even if it costs me everything, they will always have all of me–that is what parenthood looks like.  That is what God does with us…maybe I needed a reminder too.

Parenthood has taught me more about the deep, unwavering love of God then any other life journey– bar none.

So, when you are certain you are not enough, when things are messy and broken and hard…

Be quiet, breathe, and know that the most important thing is not dependent on you in any way. God has not changed his mind about you and he never will–even when you fail, even if YOU ARE doing it all wrong.  I gloss over that like it is routine, and maybe that it why I forget it too easily….maybe that is why my kids forget too.

So, like a broken record for my soul ears:

He has me in the midst of all the mess.

He is faithful when I am not.

He is never changing, THAT is why I can breathe…and that is truly amazing and exactly what I needed to be reminded of.

 

Maybe I need a tattoo to actually remember this…

 

Time Hop

Rachelle age 15, Ariana age 14, Emily age 1

A photo can act like a time machine set on mute. In a instant it can send you through time, replaying different moments and scenes, sometimes even playing on your senses–but you can do nothing but watch.

Welcome to 2005, near the beginning of our parenthood story. A time of optimism and naivete, a time of hope and hard, and a time when I still didn’t realize I could never be a savior. Of course, at 25, that is NOT how I would have worded it–it would have sounded more like, “If we love enough, work hard enough, fight for enough THEN…the story will FOR SURE have a happy ending.”

Sometimes I have to remind myself that it is not yet the end…

That when hope lies deferred and my heart grows sick that God is still able…

That even though I have no answers to a long list of why’s it is all still worth it.

Sometimes I have to remind myself several times a day.

But woven through the hard is the beautiful–gleaming like Christmas tinsel among the darkened tattered places…

This cheap wally world studio shot is our first family photo. I remember trying to find matching clothes for two teens and a toddler, being frustrated but excited that I even had the opportunity at all.

I remember Ariana and Rachelle allowing me to curl and braid their hair for the very first time–humoring me in my desire to dress them up like dolls (see age 25).

I remember staring at them while the photo was shot, overcome with emotion, and in awe of how beautiful all three of them were. They were not yet officially ours at the time of this photo…that would be a long road…yet they were ours. They were already sealed in our hearts, forever.

I remember whispering to God, “please let me be their mom, let there be no more good-byes, not because I am deserving but because I know the love I have for them only you could create.”

And I remember the whisper of that moment: then you will become a fierce warrior…

and I have been learning how to fight for them ever since.

12 Years Later

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12 years ago today I almost died and I would have welcomed it that day.

August 21st, 2006.

Digits seared into my soul–so many digits.

17 weeks, when my water broke on twin A. 18 weeks, when I was asked to abort them. 21 weeks,

August 9th, 2006, the day I left bedrest and gave birth to twin A, a girl, we named Ashley Faith.  Labor stopped.

15 minutes, the span of time I held her, watching her try to breath before she left us.

2, the number of times I gave birth during the month of August, and the number of daughters I had.

24 weeks, Bethany Grace is born alive, but septic, just like me.

0, the number of minutes I held her while she was alive because I begged them to try and help her as they were working to save me.

15 minutes, the length of her life.

12 years and my body still remembers, like clockwork.

I will never understand why.

2, the number of days in the year I let my grief roll, unapologetically unchecked.

September 11th, 2006, the day of their funeral, the day I felt the hope breathed into my soul that one day I would want to live again.

Standing before the smallest soft pink coffin, questioning how I could possibly go on, a song of praise began to stir inside me– defying all reason.

Worship, in every season, in all things?

God poured the words out, into my mind, out of my mouth, and a warmth filled into all of my brokenness. That is when I knew that if I served a God so big that I could sing at my daughters’ funeral, he would somehow carry me through the days ahead. There I stood, for the first time truly understanding how completely powerless I was without God, no more delusions that I could do any part of this journey on my own strength.

He is so much more than…and he is faithful, so very faithful. No matter what happens in the storms, whether he quiets them or guides you through, the point and the gift is that he is right there with you, carrying you, loving you, in all the seconds, forever.

Nothing can touch that, not even death.

So, today, we will remember the two girls that helped me surrender the last of my “self” to the one who is worthy of all of me. We will eat cupcakes. We will cry. And I will once again stand at their grave and remember…this is not the end of the story.

 

The Hard Place

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.  14 years I waited, while hope of ever carrying a child myself grew worn and faint. Yet it steadfastly flickered on–unwilling to be snuffed out.  Three years ago this month God breathed life into her lungs as we heard her cry for the very first time. Hope majestically fulfilled, finally.It was one of the single most incredible moments of my life. It also marked the beginning of a journey through physical pain that I never even dreamed possible.

Hope flickers, still unwilling to die.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  I wasn’t supposed to be a broken mommy. And yet

It is life in the hard place.

The place of questions and fears and battling to hold onto hope and God when you just do not understand.

The hard place.  Perhaps you know it? If not, you will.

It threatens to steal your breath and snuff out the flame of hope.

Somewhere along the way He has drawn me in and completely convinced me of his greatness and his goodness, even in the waiting, especially in the hard. He is it. When he doesn’t quiet the storm, when the pain continues, when wave after wave of hard hits, he still has you.

And the gift?

You see him more clearly in the pain, all ideas of your “god-ness” fall away.  You finally comprehend that you can’t do this without Him. The sweetness of total surrender is now understood because you are certain of your need. Maybe that is the greatest gift in the hard–the pearls of his presence unequalled even in seasons of great pleasure.

I wish there was some other way, but we wander. We are too quick to believe the lies, and to take our eyes off of Him. And so, though it never ever feels like it, maybe it is one of his greatest mercies after all– lest we get so full of ourselves we believe we never needed Him.

My hope remains unbreakable because it firmly rests in Him.  Where is your hope today?

 

Redemptive Snapshots

Sometimes God gives a reminder of just how big he is and it makes my eyes leak.

26 years ago last month, our second oldest daughter was born in Mexicali, Mexico a month before I turned 12.

Today, her 13 year old little sister in serving in that same town, along with her father and about 60 others from our church family.

I saw this picture, along with a few others and I was deeply moved as God whispered to me again of his unmatched big-ness in it all.

-How he wove us together through all the broken and labeled us forever family at ages that still make me laugh.

-How that then poor 10-month-old, drug exposed, failure-to-thrive baby girl, arrived a week before her big sisters–making her first but not oldest.

-How I was told no and never to becoming mom to all three of them.

-How now that baby with all the labels is 13 and wanting to help change the world–her beginning absolutely unable to trap her in chains of forever.

-How she is wanting to love and serve those in Mexico in the name of Jesus, even as her heart aches with love for her two older sisters.

How…

There is redemptive beauty in this scene, a beauty beyond my ability to completely see or understand, but I see it spilling out like light around the edges.  God’s power, his ability to redeem, his goodness, how he weaves together a story–it takes my breath away. He is the master storyteller.

Sometimes we are tempted to want to pull a string that we don’t particularly like and remove it from the tapestry of our life– but it would change the whole masterpiece.  We are the masterpiece and God has got us– in all the beautiful and broken details. One day we will be able to see it all clearly, until then, I am thankful for the amazing, redemptive snapshots.

 

To the Parent-Who-Just-Can’t-Today

To the Parent-Who-Just-Can’t-Today,

To the new mommy who is trying to figure out breast-feeding, is still rockin’ those awesome post-partum mesh undies, and cries at all the things, I see you. To the weary parent of littles who can’t use the bathroom without interruption, who hasn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since before parenthood began, and who feels their biggest accomplishment today might just be the shower they squeezed in during naptime, I see you. To the parent who faces the child entering the land of hormones, where their mouths can be as big as their mood swings, and are tempted to ask the doctor to medicate one of you so that you’ll both survive, I see you.  And to the parent who is saying goodbye as their adult-but-will-always-be-their-baby heads out into the world, who is flooded with all the feelings, who wrestles with wondering if their precious will be ok and if their parenting was good-enough, I see you. To those parents who feel like they just can’t today, and secretly wonder if they are failing at this parenthood gig, this is for you.

Just breathe– right now, right where you are. Just take a deep breath.  This is life in the middle of the beautiful and hard, the stretch-you, teach-you, touch-all-your-buttons-and-remind-you-that-you-need-Jesus messy middle. Just breathe.  You are not alone.  I am there along with all the others who do the work of showing up for this parenthood gig.

One question: What has captured your focus, the mess or the Maker?

That was the question that whispered over and over in my mind as I observed a newborn baby and her daddy this week.  The baby girl in his arms perfectly surrendered to his care, staring wide eyed up at his face, tiny fingers wrapping and unwrapping around his finger; perfectly held.  The love of the father pouring over his precious child was evident in every detail. The look, the attention, the hold, the provision–he had her and she knew it. Stunning.

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The mess was my focus. The strength was my own. The peace was gone along with my patience, replaced by fear and doubt while everything pulled for my attention and drained my emotions. Sometimes the busyness in the hard is the enemy of our focus and the thief of our peace.  Sound familiar?

The moment I decide to, I can be in the presence of my Father, eyes firmly fixed on Him while he lovingly tucks me in and holds me in the middle of the messiness.

Let this sink in a moment:  The God who heals the sick, who raises the dead, who gives sight to the blind, who touches lepers, who loves on outcasts, who walks into all the pain and all the hard of all the people who call on Him, who remains steadfast in every season, and can do all things is the God who says, “Come to me.”  Why would we not go to the one who CAN when we know darn well we CANNOT? He has us, but do we know it?

So, dear ones, I encourage you to keep your focus fast on Him and not on the mess.  Let your body relax as you lean in and he wraps you in his amazing peace. Let him quiet your heart, equip you with the strength you need today, and listen to His neverending wisdom.  He will hold you in His perfect love even when the storms rage…and that changes everything.

 

The Why (The Day I Attempted Suicide, Part 2)

“…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32

IF I were dying, THEN they would realize how much they love me–this was a fantasy I would play out in my mind often as I tried to fall asleep at night. My mind was a safe place where I would try to sort out all the feelings that were far bigger than I was at the time.  At four, one does one’s best to wrestle with complex issues, and this was part of my feeble attempt. It was the year I was first sexually violated and lost my innocence. Throw that into a whirlpool of flourishing familial dysfunction, and I would begin to understand pain and rejection for the very first time. Sometimes our greatest traumas come from what isn’t given.

Survive–we are hard coded to survive until it is pecked away by the brokenness. Surviving is not the same as thriving… So much can be robbed from us in moments, leaving behind decaying parts that long for redemption to breath new life.

17. He spent at least a year grooming me, testing to see just how broken I really was, before he attacked me. After so many sexual assaults through the years, THIS ONE had to be my fault, right? I should have known better. I should have been wiser.  And yet, wasn’t this story familiar somehow– the one that seemed to speak of my worthlessness again and again? I had even met Jesus, so how could these things happen still? I was tired of surviving. After I managed to get away, I sat mostly naked and sobbing on my bedroom floor.  I studied the pill bottle on my vanity. Gone were my childhood fantasies, left were rotting wounds. How could I go on? What was the point? So much pain. That first thought was nothing but a whisper…just take the pills

The seed had been planted before I was old enough to add, watered with every trauma life brought, and fertilized by my ignorance.  Suicide...maybe it was the only way the pain would ever stop. It became the new fantasy, a false promise that maybe it was the only way to end my pain after all.  So, with every incredibly dark and painful season this thought would echo through my mind like a sweet promise of freedom…

Lies are always powerful, but the truth holds greater power still.  I had yet to learn that lesson, though.

The day I attempted suicide, the birth control pills had pulled the proverbial trigger, but the gun had long ago been loaded.  Take away the synthetic hormones and my mood would indeed regulate, but it would not teach me what I desperately needed to learn. The trigger was always there, tempting me to just pull…

…when the infertility news arrived.

…when my twin daughters died.

…when I faced rejection more profound than I had ever dreamed possible before…

..the thought came like a drink of water that promised to extinguish my fire. No more pain.

What was wrong with me?  Who thinks these thoughts? Clearly only crazy people! The shame that enveloped me held my tongue until I was bone weary of the plague it had become.

The perspiration beaded on my brow and soaked through my shirt as I finally blurted out my secret to my therapist.

I struggle with thoughts of suicide, and I don’t understand what is wrong with me!” I cried.

The flood gates opened, the tears I had cried behind closed doors for years spilled forth, climaxing into an ugly, snotty sob of confession.

Amazingly, she NEVER said what I was so terrified was true–that I was indeed crazy.  (In fact, I asked her repeatedly just to be sure.) Instead, her words would shatter my shame, breathe life into my desert, and pave the way to greater freedom than I had ever previously known.  I would finally understand the why, I would begin to see the truth and slowly she would teach me to understand just what I could do.

Freedom. Finally.

 

The Day I Attempted Suicide

21, married only 4 months to the man of my dreams, and desperate to make the pain end.  Death. My death was the only possible solution. The darkness was so profound it felt like a weight on my chest.  How did I get here? Who could I tell? I was certain that if anyone knew how broken I truly was all they would do was judge me and reject me.  I would be left alone and ashamed. Oh, the shame, the deafening, debilitating shame that engulfed me was choking the life out of me in my silence.  No one could ever understand…

I can still remember watching the pills fall into my hand.  How many would it take to actually end my life? I didn’t know.  I could feel my heart thump loudly in my chest, my pulse racing steadily as my husband beat on the bathroom door begging me to stop, completely lost on what to do.  He didn’t understand, no one understood, I could not go on with this pain any longer. When the world glanced my way, assuming I should have been my happiest, my darkness was growing more profound every day.

The pills called to me, making me promises of peace–I wouldn’t have to fight anymore.  I could be done.

God, will you forgive me?  Will you forgive me for being too broken to fix?  The shame. The doubt. The darkness. I found myself pouring the bottle of pills out into my hand.  The coldness of the bathroom tub I sat on matching the coldness I felt inside. One gulp, some pills sticking in my mouth in protest, more water.  Another gulp, this one slipping down with ease. The door crashing in, my husband–tear streaks staining his cheeks, phone in hand– ripped the bottle from my hands with the power of all the love he felt.  His eyes, showing a devastation that I could not bare, made me stare at my empty hands. He truly did not understand, and really neither did I. And so I stared at my hands, tears coming from a depth I didn’t before know was possible.  What had I just done? Everyone will know now. The shame will be unbearable. Jesus, forgive me and take me home

The sirens.  The lights. The humiliation of being seen in this moment.  How many pills did she take? Exact number unknown. I hear my husbands words as I was strapped to the gurney, “Most of the bottle.”  So many words float through the air as I am swallowed up in my shame and darkness. How did she get here?everyone, including me, is asking the same question.

Alone.  I remember feeling the irony of being strapped to the cold hospital bed–unable to see anyone as per hospital rules (others presenting a possible danger and all)–choking down the liquid charcoal concoction that was working to bind up my death and reject it from my flesh.  I was alone…ironic really. The one human I was certain loved me, that it was even possible to see in a moment, was my husband, and he was refused admittance to me for an undefined amount of time. Alone.

Is this what I wanted?  No. I wanted my pain to end.  I just could not find any other way to make the pain stop.  Suicide is one last tired, desperate cry to end a life crushing battle. When I could not see, when I did not understand, when I felt all alone, I remained silent.  Shame was my great silencer.

My husband, sitting in the waiting room, was brave enough to ask for help.  Two friends, men he barely knew at that time, sat with him in the waiting room. They offered no judgement, no answers– just warm hugs, tears, presence and prayer.  This was love. This was entering someone else’s hard and saying you are not alone. Profound and powerful.

Me? “If only I had known then what I knew now,” isn’t that the saying?  Yet, it is only in the going through that we learn, no skipping past to the last chapter even though we often wish we could.  Thankfully, my story didn’t end that night. The question everyone wants to know when a person attempts or succeeds in committing suicide is why?  And those why’s are as varied as are the personas behind them. I have learned that sometimes it is a brain chemistry issue, for others a lack of healthy coping tools in the hard or through the traumas, and for others still it is complicated by addictions–sometimes it is all of the above.  For me, in this instance, starting on birth control pills 6 months prior was changing my hormonal balance so significantly that I was rapidly falling into a profound depression. My new chemistry mixed with a lack of healthy coping tools led to my choice that day, but really that is over simplifying it… (to be continued)

 

Jiggly Bits, Inflated Udders, and a Bathing Suit

There are some choices that you realize were not your brightest only when reflecting back. This was one of mine.

Post-partum was such a wardrobe challenged time, at least for me, as my belly was stuck somewhere between marshmallow and deflated balloon.  On one hand you are delighted in your precious child, while on the other hand you are daily trying to vacuum slurp your abdominal jigglies into all the clothes while they beg you for mercy.

Jesus provides mercy; clothes do not.

So, here I sat, unwilling to go shopping for new clothes while my old ones most certainly did not fit, but desperately needing to go for a swim. No problem, I will just wear my maternity swimsuit! I could sequester and hide all the bits with ease! Problem solved.

At this point in the story, if you were watching this unfold on the big screen, I am certain the music would change–a foreboding tune to prepare you for the disaster ahead.

Everything was fine outside of the water, you know, where gravity puts everything down.  The problems began once I got INTO the water. At first, I realized that my newly inflated udders were going to make swimming more difficult simply because they were incredibly effective flotation devices.  I mean, I didn’t even have to put forth effort, and I could float with ease, the udders leading the way. It was like trying to swim with buoys strapped to my chest.  No problem, I just tried to shove them to the sides and hope my armpits would help harness them in a bit. “Divide and separate” failed me.  Nope.  One over-zealous set of flotation udders to the rescue! Whatever. I would just swim or float until my alone time was done. It was nighttime, and only a couple of people were in the pool anyway.

Enter a party of 3 skinny college kids, who clearly knew NOTHING of wobbly bits, jumping into the lap lanes on either side.

Perrrrfect.

I adjusted my goggles and pushed off from the wall, prepared to glide effortlessly through the water…when I realized that my wobbly bits had wobbled right out of my swim bottoms with a force akin to biscuit dough breaking free from its vacuumed captivity.  This was not happening…

Oh well, it was dark! Wait. The pool was lit. Awesome.. Trying to sink unsuccessfully below the water (see flotation udders mentioned above), I tried to pull up my bottoms while not drowning myself in the process. I flailed and rolled and popped my head up occasionally for air.  The more I struggled to harness my wobbly bits the more my udders threatened to tear free from my somewhat loose, v-necked maternity swim top.  I managed to push, shove, and trap everything back into submission again.

This worked until the next stroke, when my jiggly bits begged release once again and declared their freedom as my bathing suit bottoms rolled down, helped by the friction of the water as it glided innocently by.  It was at this point that I created a new stroke entirely, I’ll call it the super-uddered-flotation-wiggle-stroke. Just 10 slurps back into my bathing suit britches later, and a handful of udder re-entrapments and I was out of the pool.

I clearly rocked my mommy time (all 5 minutes of it) and the faces of the college kids sitting on the edge of the pool proved it.