The Cure Part II: Connection

The tensions are palpable, so much so they are now impossible to ignore. And they aren’t all exactly the same – everyone you see is carrying a burden you know nothing about. Lack of resources, sick family, loneliness from isolation, anxiety of the uncertainty to come, the list goes on.

I was out grabbing a few essentials yesterday, and amidst the flood of UPS and FEDEX trucks on the road making up for all of the stores shutting down – one of the biggest upheavals of our day to day during this time – a knot formed in my stomach.

Things are not good. They’re going from bad to worse, and there is simply no getting around it at this point. The economy is beginning to crumble like we haven’t seen before, small family businesses are becoming obsolete, people are losing their jobs right and left (and those who haven’t lost their jobs have their hands tied with a lack of childcare).

It’s all too much. All for reasonable measure, no doubt. But it’s still okay to say – it just feels like too much.

As I looked around at all the cars on the road, though, into the faces of the people in them, I realized something else, too – their faces matched mine. It was almost as if they were hearing, listening, feeling their ways right into my head and heart. And you know what?

They were.

There isn’t one human who isn’t being affected by this terrible, strange invasion of every sense of normal we knew even just weeks ago.

Because the reality is that as different as we all are, there is one thing every one of us has in common, and that is our humanity. Our humanity that at its core is much more humble, more more limited, much more imperfect than we lead ourselves to believe here and now in the 21st century. In this day and age of incredible technology and access to anything and everything we may need at any given moment, we have become very good at deceiving ourselves into thinking we are immune to one of our most basic humans needs: each other. But in doing so, we are denying the reality of our very being. This works temporarily for our mental and emotional needs because we can hide those from the naked eye – a little concealer here, a fake smile there.

But enter a worldwide pandemic (nod to you, Covid-19), and it’s hard to look another person in the eye with any sort of agenda, be it social, political, religious, parenting, etc. Because all you’re looking at, really, is another human.

Another human just like you.

And it’s blatant. What is every store sold out of right now?

Toilet paper. Lysol. Soap.

Why?

Because it turns out we’re actually a lot more similar than we think to our neighbor – the atheist, the feminist, the rich one, the poor one, the preacher one, the gay one, the straight one, the staunch republican, the staunch democrat.

Every one of us needs. Not one human doesn’t.

And to need is a vulnerable thing because we associate it with weakness in our culture.

But what if we stopped projecting that tainted view of being in need onto one another, and instead offered it some understanding, some empathy, some compassion? Because we’ve all been there. Heck, we’re all there right now. And some a lot more so than others and for reasons that are way outside of their control.

Let us keep moving forward. We can. If there was ever a time to lay down our pride and comfort to save and support one another (literally), it is now. Let us be kind, let us be understanding, let us be generous, let us be self-sacrificial in the ways that we are able to.

May we bear with each other’s grief with extended empathy and understanding, and when your eyes meet those of another human’s, smile before you look away. Connect. Remind people they are seen. Of all the needs we don’t have the power to meet right now, this is one that we do.

And I believe that we can.

 

The Cure Part I: Perception

Living to see and experience a pandemic is something that has left me at a loss for words, but not in the way I expected. Everywhere we turn right now, it seems we are being tempted to fear.

The hoarding, the quarantines, the closing of businesses – it is so much. Life as we know it has come to a screeching halt. It’s downright eerie, this panic and quiet desolation. And for good reason, might I add. If we want to live to see the other side of all of this, this is undoubtedly the way through. It is not this that I have come to question, but something more. Something deeper. Something we are at risk of missing if we are not willing to look more closely.

The question, as always, is what are we to make of this? For again, as always, the answer is deeper than what we’re given at face value.

Have we been sentenced to cabin fever, or a permission to slow down?

To be cooped up, or to rest with our families – the very ones we have committed ourselves first and foremost to?

I wonder if our lives have become so rushed and distracted that we’ve lost the ability to see the ordinary, everyday beauty right under our very noses. It is all too tempting to slip into “FOMO,” to deceive ourselves into believing we are missing out on the spectacular busy-ness we have so accustomed ourselves to.

But what I’ve found over the last couple weeks of what I thought would be extended time “cooped up with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one to see” is how misguided my perception has been of what is truly spectacular.

We were created to be, to experience, and to know deeply the extraordinary, yes. But maybe we can use this standstill in time, space, and activity to redefine that word, rather than living in fear and dread of what it looks like to live “without.”

If our bodies and souls are nourished with food and the people we love, after all, are we really without?

Maybe the extraordinary has been here all along and we have simply ignored it, swept it to the side, in the name of bigger, better, more.

May we look up.

May we keep doing our daily, ordinary things – brewing our coffee, preparing our meals, working (accepting whatever form that comes in right now and releasing those parts that we cannot control), cleaning our houses, folding our laundry, bathing and snuggling our little people (did you ever stop to notice the preciousness that is their bedhead?), taking our vitamins, drinking enough water, eating well, supporting the smaller businesses and creators who work to bring beauty and good into the world so that their worlds can keep spinning too.. the list goes on.

And for the love of all that is good, wild, and holy, may we step outside. May we breathe in the fresh cusp-of-springtime air, smell its beautiful flowers, touch the moist, fertile earth it all comes from, and remember that it, too, is what our creator has formed us from. May we prune our gardens, simple or grandiose, remembering the importance of shedding what is dead, unnecessary, or both, to make space for new life.

There are so many things – so many sacred things – right in front of us, if we would only look.

Yes, we are whole right now. As is. The world is not stopping – it is our pace and perception that are simply being held under a magnifying glass. May we have the courage to truly look at and make the space for what we find this close up.

 

 

 

 

First Birthdays and February Snow

You came into the world after much waiting and anticipation.

And then it happened – you happened. On May 17th, 2018, that second pink line began the countdown of meeting you.

I didn’t know it then, but your big blue eyes and curly blonde hair (both of which convince strangers I am your nanny, not your mother) – my womb was forming all of it. All of you.

I did not take one of those 268 days for granted with you inside my body; I savored every second – even the hard, sick, bed-ridden ones. You were alive, you were healthy, you were there. I don’t know that I’ve ever held such tension before: paralyzing fear, while also wanting to be fully present, knowing how fleeting the season is of holding your baby in your womb – the quickness of it, the temporary-ness, the excitement.

The fragility.

And then you were here – all 6 lbs, 3 oz, 18.5 inches of you.

Earlier this week, we woke up to snow falling and time stopped. For a split second, your bare, tiny, two-day-old body was swaddled against my chest once again as we rocked and looked out the window of our apartment on Lone Pine Drive. The flakes were big and quiet that morning, but we were warm and nestled next to the fire, both of us exactly where we wanted to be.

Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Rest and snuggles were the only agenda we had.

No one expected it then, the snow. No one saw it coming. We never do; when the weatherman brings false hope for it enough times, you know better than to get your hopes up for such a thing.  But there we were, marveling at it all coming down, and I couldn’t help but think of the parallel between it and you. Of the magic of you. The wonder of you. The surprise and (un)expectation of you from the start. You were finally in my arms. Yes, the gift of you was -is – more than my heart could hold.

And then I blinked.

Now you are one and here we are once again, just as pleasantly surprised by those big, silent, February flakes covering the grass outside our window.

And still just as pleasantly surprised by you.

 

You are Here

It was time. 12 days early, but ready we both were. My heart was having a hard time holding on (literally) and needed you to be outside of my body. It needed to beat normally again; I needed it to beat normally again. And you were ready enough, they said.

So we went.

It was 4:30pm when we arrived at the hospital, 8:30pm when my midwife gave me the IV to tell my body we were ready for you. She asks all of the necessary questions, for all the things she needs to know so you can come into the world as healthy and safe as possible. I give her my heart history, including the pregnancy complications. She looks at my monitor and says, “Oh, yes. You do run a bit low.”

She leaves the room and comes back with what seemed like a million cords and monitors.

As differently as I pictured my labor with you going, it turned out to be perfect. Those first ten hours turned out to be sleepless for both of us, but so sweet. I imagined you were frustrated at the sudden upset in my womb, beginning to contract and force you out of the only comfort you’d known for almost nine months. On the outside, I spent the night with my eyes glued to the monitors, watching our hearts beating side by side, my hand resting on my belly for what I knew would be the last night with you inside. The nurse came in hourly to increase the pitocin. I kept watching, holding, waiting, breathing.

The night eventually passed and morning came. More contractions. More waiting.

Fast forward several hours; things are progressing.

I’m sitting on an exercise ball now. I can no longer talk. Breathing is hard and takes every ounce of my energy.

I’m leaning over with all of my weight pushing against the bed. Head down, eyes closed, I breathe in big and slow. I breathe out big and slow.

Wash, rinse, repeat every 2 minutes for the next 3 hours.

The midwife comes in to check me and I am still only dilated at a 6. My heart rate is steady, but still too low. They worry the stress of the pain will be too hard on my heart.

“The anesthesiologist will be here in an hour,” they tell me. “And then we will break your water.”

That’s 30 contractions. I can do 30 more.

The anesthesiologist is kind. He tells me to breathe, and that relief is coming. Turns out the lidocaine shot, however, didn’t work and I felt every inch of that needle go into my spine.

We are 20 hours in at this point. I scream and begin to weep.

My midwife squeezes my hands, looks in my eyes, and tells me, “You’ve been a fighter since you were born, Alex. You can do this. You are doing this.”

I nod and cry harder. She’s looking straight into my eyes.

I cry because of her willingness to step into the pain and help me hold it up. It doesn’t make it go away, but it makes it just a little bit lighter; it makes it bearable. If only she knew that in holding up my body, my IV’s, my 17 thousand cords to make sure my physical heart didn’t slow down too much, she was holding up my all that my heart was holding, too. She wasn’t afraid of my pain, emotional or physical.

Her eyes are still locked on mine.

“You can do this,” she says. “You can. You are.”

I cry. I breathe.

“Thank you,” I whisper.

The epidural begins to set in over the next hour, give or take. Time is a blur, after all. They break my water and tell me it will speed up quickly from here.

So I wait. I rest. The lights are dim now and music is playing softly in the background. I wonder if I’m about to meet my baby boy or you. I wonder about your hair color, your eye color, what name I will be calling you in just a matter of minutes, now.

It is time to find out. The doctors and nurses put on their gloves – my midwife on the left of my face, Nate to the right. I watch too with the birth mirror, because I’m obsessed with watching life come into the world; there is not one thing like it on this earth. There are no words.

I push 3 times and s h e – you, my Rainbow Baby – are here.

A rush of blood, an umbilical cord, a loud cry.

The most beautiful, alive cry I have ever heard.

Your eyes open almost immediately when I bring you to my chest and lock with mine.

More tears. Endless tears.

“You are here,” I say to you. Over, and over, and over again.

The years of single pink lines. The countless ovulation tests. The vulnerable risk to hope again after loss. You were worth it all.

Yes, Zinnia Leigh. You are here.

 

 

White Flags & Foil Art

Aluminum foil, that’s all it was.

“For decoration!” she said. “I want to make something for decoration.”

“Foil is not for playing,” I say. “It is not a toy.”

She turned and walked out of the kitchen and as she did, my heart sank.

Her shirtless little torso (because, age 4), blonde curls bouncing, face hung low; my cold words cut her little curious heart like a knife.

Life is decoration in her world – be it magnets, picture frames, plants, handmade art in some form or another; the girls loves to create. It happens to be one of my favorite things about her. And her pride, oh her pride in her creations. 

And today, I wounded that pride. I shot down her wonder in the name of “obedience.”

In the name of “submission.”

In the name of “winning the battle.”

Time and place for all of those things – yes. We’ve encountered 72 of those other times and places today, in fact.

But the battles that make your heart sink, the ones that shoot down positive intent (in the name of play, in the name of art, in the name of beauty, creativity, wonder)… the ones that create wounds in some form or another – those ones are worth a pause.

Must I pick every battle?

I look down at my chopped veggies that I’m about to coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and spread on my beautifully foiled baking sheet to be roasted.

Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes or until edges are browned, it says.

But I pause. I pause in the name of presence.

In the name of creating.

In the name of wonder.

In the name of Her.

I peel off a square of foil, fold it hot-dog style, once more in half, and once more. I give it to her and she smiles, not saying a word. I kiss her forehead and walk back into the kitchen to the tune of giddy squeals and rustling foil.

There are, in fact, some battles worth surrendering to.

Foil art being one of them. 

 

Treading Water

I close my eyes. I hold my breath. I jump.

The water is cold, but bearable.

Suddenly, I am the 10 year old shell of myself, like a fish in the water. Not a care in the world but the temperature of the water and keeping it out of my wind pipe.

I press my arms and hands forward and feel the bigness of the water, its freedom.

In this moment, I release life and focus solely on my destination, on the buoy ahead.

On my breath.

I push the water behind me with each stroke. I feel the coldness of the river rush over me as I inch little by little towards the buoy. I can see it each time I come up for a breath.

Head up, breathe; head down, push.

Over, and over, and over again.

Just when it seems like I’m making no progress, like I am merely treading water, I look back and see the dock far behind.

I press forward.

My arms are tired. My legs are burning. My ears ache, for with each breath I submerge deeper and the pressure builds; I long to know there is space for it all, for every ounce of myself; limbs and toes, fear and pain.

Under the water, I hear the roar of the boats. They are miles away, but they ring loud.

I am spent; I have nothing left.

But then I look up and realize I am only two feet away now.

As my hand touches the buoy, I exhale hard to catch my breath and realize I am yelling. I don’t fully know why or how or when I started or when I stopped, but I know that with each shriek I feel release.

I feel free.

I look back at the dock, my starting point; it’s so far away now.

I take one more big breath before heading back.

Breathe, push. Breathe, push.

Over, and over, and over again.

Finally, my hand touches the dock.

I’ve made it. It turns out that what felt like treading was not in vain.

And though I am tattered and exhausted, I am thankful to feel. It is in this depth of feeling that I realize I am, in fact, alive.

With every ounce I have left, I pull myself up onto the dock.

Now, I rest.

Now, I am still.

Now, I am whole.

 

Bigger Than the Sky

My Sweet Lucy Girl,

It is your last night of being three. We have been counting down the days all week. Tonight you wanted an extra book for bedtime, and I caved because, well, “It’s your last night of being three.” I tell you this as if to set a precedent, a proper expectation.

But deep down, I don’t mind.

Deep down, I know that there will come a day where I’d give anything to go back to your last night of being three to read you an extra book, to breathe in the smell of your hair (washed all by your big girl self) as you rest your head on my shoulder and listen, thumb in your mouth and bear in your hand.

We go through the bedtime routine, just as we do every night; the book, the song, the back tickles, one last drink of water (tonight, your “last one as a 3 year old”).

And then you ask me for one more snuggle. I say yes. I lay next to you and watch you rest your eyes and try so hard to keep them closed because all you want is to wake up and be four already. On the outside, we are cheering and counting down, for we are only hours away now.

But quietly, I blink back tears.

Quietly, as I watch you rest, I think about you, Lucy, and all the precious ways you are you.

I think about your books, the way you sit with your huge pile and “read” out loud.

About ladybugs, how you love to catch them and let them crawl up your arm.

About Rosie (the flower you planted yourself and named), and how excited you were to have your very own flower in the garden “just like mama.”

About swings, oh, you could swing for hours.

About music, and how much you love it – bonus points if it’s a song you have memorized so you can sing along.

About how you make your sister’s bottles, then stand on a chair at the kitchen sink and wash them, one by one.

About how much you love to help me fold washcloths and hand towels – oh, and your own socks, as of last week.

About how goofy you are – you’ve got yourself quite the sense of humor, and girl, you make us laugh.

About how much you love making cards for people you love, always covered in the same five letters (H, L, I, O, and A) because so far those are the ones you can write all by yourself without tracing.

About how much you love collecting rocks, sticks, leaves, anything from outside, really.

You are growing, girl. So fast. They say the days are long, the years short. As cheesy as it sounds, it could not be more true.

There are so many things I want you to know. So many things I want to tell you.

But for now, little one, I will leave it at this: be free, and be four. Be wild and strong and brave and curious and kind. Keep growing and learning and loving like you do. You inspire me every day with your love of learning and your stubborn spirit – regardless of how we butt heads at times, it is a beautiful thing and I am positive that you will change the world with it.

In the meantime, know that it is my honor to get front row seats to watch it all unfold, to watch you unfold and grow and become more and more you.

Above all, know how much I love you, my big 4 year old – “bigger than the sky.”

 

The Communion of Scrambled Eggs

The act of making breakfast this morning was the most sacred moment of my week by far. Maybe of the last month. Nothing fancy, just the usual buttered toast and scrambled eggs (salted please, Mommy).

That’s not generally the way I would describe cooking with a 3 year old alongside “helping,” but once again, I’m learning things in the least expected of places.

“Can I stir the eggs, Mommy?”

My insides wince, knowing that will mean twice as long and extreme supervision because – toddlers + raw eggs + glass = no good outcome ever – but I surrendered.

Surrendered to patience.

Surrendered to mess.

… Surrendered to j o y.

The simple kind, similar to that you would find in the first bloom of spring, or the first quiet hours of the morning when everyone else is still asleep, or finding a coupon for a free espresso beverage at the bottom of your purse (and every mother of tiny people said AMEN).

Joy in the simplest of places – why am I always caught so off guard, as if it’s not a lesson life teaches me over, and over, and over again?

It wasn’t until the food was plated and I carried it to the table that it hit me, the beauty of that moment. The frustrations of yesterday still looming, the chaos of life still very real, stress still rearing its hideous head and wreaking havoc on our souls more often than it should.

But in this moment, we stopped, my little side kick and I. We stopped to break bread. A meal we prepared together, with our own hands. We slowed down enough to nourish both our bodies and our souls with simple things like toast and the presence of each other.

And today, that is more than enough.

 

A Warm Welcome

It is the first day of spring, but it has been creeping up on us for weeks it seems, so close I’ve been able to taste it. I can feel it beckoning me outside every opportunity it gets.

Birds chirp in what was just weeks ago the dead silence of winter.

Fragrant, breathtaking flowers bloom on recently bare branches.

The sun – comforting, crisp, warm – beams down on my face.

I am thankful.

The kind of thankful that doesn’t have words or reasons, it’s just there, filling my soul in ways that only spring can.

I’ve longed extra deeply for sunshine this winter, for the warmth of its rays and the beautiful aftermath it leaves in my garden. Particularly, its symbol of promise and hope.

I love spring because it reminds me that death does not have the last word. It reminds me that no matter how long the winter, the promise of those breathtaking cherry blossoms still remains. It reminds me that there’s nothing that can stop the sun from eventually coming out, from bringing beauty to the blank space of winter.

The fact that you can literally watch the bare branches of winter morph into beautifully adorned limbs lining every street in town, completely unprompted yet perfectly timed, is one of the most holy things on earth.

Perhaps what fascinates me most about spring is the tangible example it is of change. It is a reminder that there is an allotted time for everything in life: laughter and mourning; joy and sorrow; celebration and loss. We don’t just know the sweet smells of spring; we know the bitter cold of winter, too. Without the quiet, bitter, colorless chill of winter, the warm colors and smells and sounds of spring would not be as profound, as powerfully life-giving.

To know spring is to know winter. It is to understand that there are seasons in life, some full of joy and laughter, some full of mourning and heartache. I don’t know that you can have one and not the other in life. But the beauty about seasons is that each one cultivates a deeper gratitude for the others. By the time winter rolls around again next year, I’m sure I’ll be ready for it, too – whether I know it or not. My soul will be full after soaking up every moment of spring, summer, fall.

Of course, there is certainly something to say for the fact that when those autumn leaves begin to fall off the trees and we begin to head into the winter months, I’ll be ready for that bitter chill, too. Once again, winter’s predecessors prepare and strengthen my heart to take on the frigid winter months of quiet, still reflection. They refill my reserve to brave the cold, figuratively and literally.

But for today, that glorious sunshine is calling my name. And I can’t get enough of it.

 

Adjusting the Lens

This week marked a turning point after two weeks of sickness in our home. Sickness is monotony at its finest – especially when kids are involved.  It has a way of making time obsolete. Two weeks, but really, it felt like one continuous day that simply built on itself every 24 hours. Not only is every day slow and repetitive, but there is a seemingly gargantuan lack of sleep mixed in all the snot and body aches and fevers and fussiness.

Oh, what a glorious hot mess we have been over here. And yet, as usual, out of the the most strenuous and exhausting times come the most valuable lessons.

“And all of a sudden, what’s valuable is not the multitasking, but the single task – being with [her], only [her], doing nothing else.” – Shauna Niequist, Savor

There could not have been a more timely reminder; not just in the midst of this awful flu season, but in all of life.

Presence.

The mundane matters. It matters more than productivity, efficiency, responsibility; this is the hardest lesson I’ve learned, perhaps.

Appreciating this season for what it is, for all the “inconvenience” that having a two year old brings with it. Because maybe the “inconveniences” are not inconveniences; maybe they are in fact the good stuff and our lens just needs to be adjusted.

Reading all the books again.

Again.

Again.

Slowing down enough to let her into my everyday instead of trying to orchestrate her around my “everyday,” even if it means accomplishing less.

Because sometimes we need to slow down. Do less. Juggle less – sometimes less truly is more.

More for your soul.

More for your mind.

More for those closest to you. I guarantee that the people you share a home with are more concerned with a joyful you than that perfect life rhythm you seem to be chasing – so why aren’t you?

Contentment where we are is such a hard lesson to learn.  And by the time we do learn it, it’s often too late; our opportunities to enjoy the moment for what it is have already come and gone. I think there are two secrets to contentment in the present:

The first is that there is no such thing as the “perfect” life. In every season, even the best ones, there will always be something we wish we could change.

Secondly, the perfect life does not equal the “good life,” anyway.

These two principles change everything. Contentment is learning not only to be satisfied and grateful with the imperfect, but realizing that maybe the good stuff is the imperfect.

It’s the slobbery kisses.

It’s the unwanted interruptions; one day they won’t need you for everything anymore. And while that’s a good thing, you won’t miss it any less.

It’s reading Corduroy for a billionth time (no hyperbole there); when they’re older, their love for books will implant a hunger for learning that will drive them their entire life, yielding an invaluable depth to their human experience – and to the people around them, for that matter.

It’s all of the cuddles that come with being sick because the cuddles get fewer and further between as they grow.

It’s the little bubblebath footprints all over the bathroom that won’t always be little.

It’s flour covering every inch of the kitchen; one day that mess will become some of your most cherished memories (and theirs, too) and what you’ll remember is not how much longer it took to make those cookies or how much lumpier they turned out because you let tiny hands do the mixing.

Sure, teaching them along the way is important, but it’s not more important than creating a fertile ground for connection. For relationship. For gratitude. It’s much easier to teach a child how to clean up a mess or do their own laundry than it is to teach a child the significance of patience, of love, of gratitude – of the good stuff. What good is a perfectly ordered life if the latter are not the foundation of it all?

What if we could learn to refocus our lens? What if we could see what seems like inconvenience now through the lens of what it may look like 10, 20, 30 years from now?  What does it look like to be content in the “now,” that precious “now” that we will eventually be wishing we had back?

The answer is easier said than done, but it is simple:

Learn the sacred secret of joy.

Learn the art of cultivating an inner groundedness that is not based on being happy, but being grateful. Learn to be thankful for every glimpse and glimmer of good that God is whispering through his good world. Cherish every second of the life you have been given. And remember that everything lasts only for a season – which can be bittersweet, depending on the context.

In the bitter, may we remember that morning will come again and that there is always good to be found in the meantime – we may just have to look extra hard to find it.

But yes, it is there.

In the sweet, may we remember to slow down, soak it up, and enjoy every second.  It will come to an end too, as every season does. And when that end comes, you’ll want to look back with gratitude that it happened, not regret that you let that time slip right through your hands.