On the doorman, and the power of a kind word

Earlier this week, I took Ian to his 6-month ear tube check-up. The ENT (whose name I can never remember) is housed in this large medical office building with a doorman. (Sometimes a doorwoman, but usually a man.) To have a doorman seems like an antiquated practice, but I think it’s because this building is full of different offices, and it keeps people from getting lost. Not to mention, it’s become pretty clear (during my limited observations) that most people entering and exiting the building are elderly; the doorman helps a lot of people to their cars in the snowy winter. One time, I was leaving an appointment right as a snow storm was beginning, and the guy stood with the boys in the doorway while I pulled up the car. So, I had filed the doorman under “a little unusual but very helpful.”

The kids and I are quite a spectacle these days, when I’m brave enough to venture out with all three in tow. Everywhere we go, we elicit comments like, “Wow! You are a busy lady!” and of course, “You sure have your hands full.” At the mall a few weeks ago, I actually overheard someone say, “I feel a little bit sorry for her. My boss only has 2 kids, and his life is miserable.”

I am not the type to give a snarky reply, though I usually think one silently in my head. (I’m nothing if not passive-aggressive.) What bothers me most is that none of these comments is ever offered as an impartial observation; they are always tinged with a hint of pity or even condescension. Sometimes, I really want to say, “Yes, my hands are full, so how about you handle this grocery shopping trip for me? I’ll sit here on this bench.” But of course, I don’t say that.

I walked into the doctor’s office lobby on Tuesday, Leo and Ruthie in the double stroller and Ian tagging along beside us. The diaper bag was slipping off my shoulder, overflowing with everything we might need to survive this outing. As we squeezed through the entrance, the doorman looked at me and said, “Wow! How old are your kids?”

I continued walking towards the elevator as I rattled off their ages and braced myself for the coming critique of my life choices.

But instead, as I glanced back over my shoulder, the doorman looked me in the eye and said, “Wow. You are so lucky.”

I was so caught off-guard by this. Not once–in the entire period of time since I was obviously pregnant with a third kid–has a stranger said something like this to me. I just smiled, and tried not to cry, and squeaked out a “Thank you.” And then the elevator door opened, and we were off to the most miserable doctor’s appointment I have ever endured.

We ended up waiting over an hour to see the doctor, and the actual appointment lasted less than 10 minutes. It fell in the middle of naptime, so all the kids were tired and cranky. In approximately 2 minutes, Leo ate through the snacks I had packed, and no one was interested in the toys I brought. I chased Leo through the office and carried him screaming back to the lobby. I kept straightening the magazine pile they were destroying and rocked the stroller back and forth to console whimpering Ruthie. I tried singing “Wheels on the Bus” loud enough to entertain them, but not loud enough to bother any of the other waiting patients. When we finally arrived into the exam room, Leo threw up everywhere (because, apparently, he had not actually chewed the fruit snacks I had given him 20 minutes before).  I actually considered ditching the appointment entirely and heading home, but we had already endured 50+ minutes of waiting.

I held Leo, trying to get the wet clothes off of him without getting covered myself, and I kept telling Ian not to step in the puddle of vomit he was dangerously close to. As I cleaned Leo with baby wipes, I heard the doorman’s voice in my head, and I prayed. I’m so lucky. Thank you. Jesus, for the privilege of being their mother. And I meant it.

I know me, and let me just tell you: I don’t handle situations like this well. Most days, I avoid going anywhere with all three kids because the chaos of it is too much for me. This was not at all my normal response to a moment like that, but the doorman’s words had changed the course of my morning.

I know we hear it all the time, but our words really are powerful.

When I’m out and about lately, I usually have tunnel vision, focused on the complicated logistics of bringing three needy children out in public. I’m hardly noticing the people around me. I don’t feel bad about it, exactly, because, you know, my hands are full and all that. But now, I’m determined to serve others the way that doorman served me. Even when offered in a quick, fleeting exchange, a kind word is a special kind of generosity.

So, to the parents: “You have a beautiful family.”

To the kids: “You have wonderful manners!”

To the cashiers: “Thank you for the good service.”

To the customer service person on the phone: “I appreciate your time.”And to the mothers with double strollers and heavy diaper bags and sleepy toddlers: “Aren’t we so lucky?”

And to the mothers with double strollers and heavy diaper bags and sleepy toddlers: “Aren’t we so lucky?”

 

What I’ve Read in 2017 (January-June)

Yikes! We’re already halfway through the year. I’m sure you don’t need me to say, “Where is the time going?” I know you feel it too.

I didn’t set any big reading goals this year, but I sort of informally decided to try to read what was already on my shelves. I’ve done that so far, with the exception of a few advanced reader copies.

When my dad was here a few months ago, we got to talking about how many unread books were on my shelf. (I counted about 20-30.) He said, “Oh! You could finish those in a month.” I wish. He grossly overestimated how many books I read. Usually, I read about 30 books/year, but 2017 has been a slow year. I’m at 12 books in about 6 months. But you know what? That’s ok. No matter how many books I read in a year, I always wish it was more. So I’m satisfied with this list so far.

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Today, I’m sharing quick reviews of what I’ve read this year and linking up with Anne Bogel’s Quick Lit.

1. My Name is Lucy Barton: My friend Melissa finished reading this book while she was here visiting, and she handed it off to me before she left. (I can always count on Melissa for great recommendations, and she’s super generous about passing her used copies on to me.) This was my first experience reading Elizabeth Strout, and she’s no slouch; a Pulitzer winner, after all. And I really did think the writing was excellent. The story is quite sad and melancholy, and even a little disturbing at times. What struck me about it was that the writing is very sparse; there is no extraneous detail. As Lucy Barton recalls events from her life, she often shares the bare minimum and leaves you wondering what actually happened. But that allows Strout to include a lot of stories, each interwoven just slightly. It left me wanting more. At the same time, it’s a phenomenal case study in clear and consistent voice. (I’m so curious to read more of Strout’s novels and see how the writing and voice compare.)

2. Essentialism: I started reading Essentialism a long time ago, right before we moved to Michigan. I’ve wanted to pick it up and finish ever since, and I finally made that a priority. It’s a good book to read at the beginning of the year or any time you’re looking for a reset. I found the few few chapters to be really challenging and even paradigm-shifting, but the second half of the book really dropped off for me. Most of the examples and ideas focus on the business world, and I found it difficult to make connections to my own life as a stay-at-home mom. I also think that the book could be a whole lot shorter, ironically. Still, a worthwhile read.

3. Bel Canto: I’m only on the third chapter, but I’m hooked. Ann Patchett is a phenomenal writer, and there are sentences and phrases that are sticking with me. And the concept is so interesting: a Japanese business man travels to Brazil to hear a private concert from an opera star, and they are all taken hostage by a group of rebels. With the hostage situation, I was a little nervous this would be too intense or violent for my taste, but not so thus far. Can’t wait to dig in more.

4. The Storied Life of A.J. Firky: This was another delightful book with a good mix of happy and sad. I’d say it’s about the unexpected relationships that come into our lives and how they change us over time. Not to mention, books and a bookstore play a prominent role in this story, so it’s ideal for book lovers (and, frankly, literary snobs). It’s a quick and easy read that I really enjoyed.

5. The One-in-a-Million Boy: I loved this story. It’s a wonderful mix of happy and sad. It reminded me of A Man Called Ove, in that it made me both laugh out loud and cry, and that a lot of the story is about how meaningful connections and friendships can develop among people from different generations. And indeed, those friendships are essential to understanding other human beings, and they enrich our lives and communities in meaningful ways. I also feel like this is a new genre of books: stories about people with special needs (usually the Autism spectrum) and their quirky behaviors, and how those turn out to be enriching. I’m thinking about The Rosie Project, Mockingbird, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and now this one as well. (Do you know of others? Please share them!) But what I loved most about this book, perhaps, was the writing. It is not overly poetic or romantic; it’s straightforward, but it’s still beautiful. It’s concise, but packs a punch. There were several phrases and sentences that I highlighted and came back to just because they struck me. Phenomenal.

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6. At Home in the World: I’ve been reading Tsh’s blog for years—long before she published her first book! But somehow, this is the first of her books that I’ve read. (I’ve checked both of the others out from the library but always had to return them before I got to them.) This is a wonderful memoir. Because of our budget, Evan’s work schedule, and three small children, we aren’t doing much traveling these days. I picked up this book thinking, “Great! I’ll live vicariously through Tsh and her family.” But this book was about much more than living vicariously through someone as they travel the globe. It is about how we reconcile a love of home with a love for travel, and how our restless feet can be a blessing whether we’re stuck in one place or not. Tsh touches on the truth revealed by seeing the world and by putting down roots. (If you read The Art of Simple, I think you’ll find her writing here familiar, but also better than what you’d encounter in a run of the mill blog post.)

7. A Family Shaped by Grace: I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of this book. It was different than I expected, in both good and bad ways. I knew tiny bits of Gary’s story—how he was an alcoholic from a long line of alcoholics, but has been sober for decades and changed his family’s legacy. I found I wanted a bit more of that story; I think it would have made the book more compelling. That said, I found the book to be convicting, and full of practical, straightforward advice. There’s one thing, in particular, I can’t stop thinking about, and it’s bringing a lot of healing to my motherhood journey. But that’s a whole other blog post.

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8. Chasing Slow: I really enjoyed this book. I love Erin’s blog; the way she writes about family, creativity, and life at home really resonated with me. This book was no exception. I especially appreciated her honesty and vulnerability in this book: she talks about her husband’s brain tumor, their bankruptcy, and more with candor. My word of the year is “dwell,” and this book was a perfect fit.

I also read a slew of home decor books while we waited to get into our new house. (Frankly, they skew my reading total a bit, because they were super image-heavy!) My favorite was Design Sponge at Home.

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What I’m Reading Now: Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore, The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, and The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.

I’d love to hear what you’ve read so far this year and what you’ve got on the docket!

Motherhood, Shaped by Grace

One of the greatest challenges of motherhood is the way is forces me to let go of my control freak tendencies. The mess. The unpredictable behavior. The demands on my time and energy. All of these things are out of my control.  I know you don’t need me to tell you all the ways toddlers and newborns can thwart our attempts at order, cleanliness, and calm; I’m sure you’ve seen all your mama-friends’ Instagram stories.

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But I don’t only like to control my environment. I really like feel in control of myself—my time, my emotions, my personal growth. I like to have it all together, and though I hate to admit it, I like for other people to think I have it all together. And if not, I at least want to have the choice. Dirty dishes in the sink? I decided to leave them there; I’ll deal with them tomorrow. Going out of the house with spit-up stains on my shirt? I chose not to check the mirror one last time before I left; I decided no one would notice or care; I decided I didn’t want to make the effort to find a clean shirt again. It’s all my choice. I am in control.

Until I’m not.

I’ve spent my entire life trying to keep it together, but postpartum depression was the thing that finally brought me to my knees.

I often describe my postpartum depression as something like an out-of-body experience. I was watching my anxiety attack from far away, trying to get through to that girl. I’d think, “There’s no reason to feel this way. Everything is ok. Take a deep breath. Calm down.” But those thoughts couldn’t reach whatever part of my mind was reeling. I was no longer in control of my emotions, my responses, my mind. It’s a scary feeling, to be honest.

Before this, I was white-knuckling my way through motherhood like a nervous new driver grips their steering wheel. The result was that I was often overwhelmed, because I was living like it was all up to me while believing I wasn’t up to the task.

I’ve heard it said that while we need not be grateful for every moment, there is something in every moment to be grateful for. This is how I’m thinking about my PPD; I wish I had never experienced it, but I’m on the hunt for things to be grateful for within the experience. And one of those things is the recognition that I need to cede control of my motherhood journey to Jesus.

In A Family Shaped by Grace, Gary Morland writes that even after we’ve eliminated bad habits and disharmony from our families and even after we’ve adopted more peaceful practices, we still need to hand over our families to Jesus. He writes that I need to release my family, my role, my limits, and the results. Releasing my role and my limits is what really got me thinking. Gary suggests this prayer: “Thank you that my limits are the beginning of your life being revealed in my mortal body.”

I have spent my entire motherhood journey trying to compensate for my limits, but postpartum depression taught me that I just need to release them to Jesus and trust him to fill in the gaps. Gary goes on to pray, “I act as if releasing control is a sacrifice that I have to do as n act of faith out of obedience. In reality, releasing is a relief. It’s a gift.”

This has been true for me. I’m grateful for my postpartum depression because somehow, miraculously, in its aftermath, I’m feeling a sense of sweet relief. Maybe this is how God is redeeming that hard, painful season. I feel as though God is healing not just the depression. He’s also redeeming the mothering I did before that point. I’m not merely returning to how I mothered before the PPD set in. Instead, I’m moving forward in an entirely new sort of freedom and grace.

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“You have been specifically wired and gifted to cover your specific assignment, your course on the river. Your family is your course on the river. But you were made to do this in union with God, not on your own.”

A Family Shaped by Grace releases today. It’s an easy read and very straightforward. As I read, I found myself wanting more Gary’s story of transformation, but maybe that will be his next book. 😉 In the meantime, A Family Shaped by Grace was a gentle, kind reminder about how living like Jesus really can transform our families for the better.

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What I Learned This Spring

Today, I’m linking up with Emily Freeman to share what I learned this spring. WHAT

  1. The phrase is “sleight of hand,” not “slight of hand.” I had no idea “sleight” was a word! I also learned that “carrot” and “caret” are two different words. Who knew?! (Well, not me, obviously.)
  2. An estimated 1 in 7 women experiences a perinatal mood disorder like postpartum depression. One in seven!! That is such a huge number, and I had no idea. PPD is not something that’s been discussed much in my circles, but I know now that it’s much more prevalent than I realized.
  3. Speaking of that, this spring is when I finally came to terms with the fact that from November 2015 to around January or February of this year, I was experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety.
  4. I also learned that May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s been observed since 1949. (!!!) That’s a real long time for me to just be hearing about it tthis year. (In the state of Michigan, it’s also Postpartum Depression Awareness Month.)
  5. Grammarly is like spell check, but for the entire internet. Whatever you’re typing–an email, blog post, Facebook comment, etc.–Grammarly will proofread for you. (It’s a free Chrome extension.)
  6. The Pomodoro method is pretty dang helpful, as far as productivity and focus are concerned. It goes like this, you work for 25 minutes and then take a short (~5 minute) break. Do that four times, then take a longer break. Then repeat.
  7. The Enneagram is far more interesting and complex than I initially thought. I’ve always loved personality typing, but I just started reading The Road Back to You, and I’m finding it completely fascinating.
  8. Mortgage paperwork is practically neverending. (Did we really just move into our house this season? Yup, we did. It’s only been about a month!)
  9. That bit about good fences being good neighbors? Totally false. We took down the fence in between our house and the next door neighbors’ house, and it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done.
  10. Dressing a baby girl is so, so fun. And it’s super funny when your son may repeatedly ask if the baby is wearing a ball gown. (He learned about ball gowns from this book.)
  11. When there’s something big and important going on, but it’s hard for me to write about, I get stuck. I have been struggling big time to write about my postpartum depression experience, and it’s making it feel practically impossible to write about anything else. But for now, I’m content with list-making.
Going through this list is making me realize how very, very full this season has been. And there are so many good things to look forward to this summer and fall!

This spring, I’m feeling grateful for a new home, a healthy baby girl, and emerging from the postpartum depression fog.

Grace upon grace.

A Mother’s Day Reflection

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Today is Mother’s Day, and so I’m lost in a sea of introspection, mulling over my own mothering and the influence of so many mothers in my own life. Over and over today, I’ve been struck with how blessed I am to be surrounded by wonderful mothers.

There is my own Mom, of course. She is a woman so wonderful that I think almost everyone who meets her knows within moments how special she is.  She continues to teach me about creativity, kindness, forgiveness, and family. I love her.

There is my mother-in-law, a woman who has opened the doors to her home and her family so wide, that I have always felt right at home. I love her.

Then, there are my friends, many of whom are the best mothers I know. On my hard days, they encourage me and listen to me vent. On my good days, they celebrate with me. They are examples of compassion, patience, faith, and courage—whether in mothering or not. They inspire me and make me want to be better while knowing I’m accepted as I am. I love them all.

And there are also writers, bloggers, and public figures who have transformed my own mothering experience through their words, art, and activism.

It’s a great cloud of witnesses.

One of the things I love most about being a mom is the same thing I love about being a woman—what an amazing company I am surrounded by, both near and far. It’s an honor and privilege to count myself among them. Seriously.

These days, my children challenge me and also make me insanely happy. I’ve talked so many parents about how there really aren’t good days and bad days; there are just days jam-packed with both very good moments and very bad moments. My children can be stubborn, aggressive and emotional; they are often needy, demanding, and loud. There are speech delays and allergies and behavioral challenges that keep me up at night and make me question my parenting decisions. But my children are also joyful, passionate, compassionate, and eager-to-please. They are smart and curious, always eager to learn. They have contagious smiles, awesome laughs, and the sparkliest blue eyes. They are awesome snugglers.

I haven’t been entirely forthcoming about this in my writing or on social media. (In fact, I haven’t been entirely forthcoming about it in many of my offline relationships either.) But I find that I can’t talk about Mother’s Day this year without acknowledging that since Leo was born, I have struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety. I started taking medication just a few weeks before Ruthie was born, and only over the past few months have I finally begun to feel the cloud lifting. I am finally feeling like myself again.

I don’t like admitting this part of my story. I’ve been trying to write about it for months, but I haven’t really been able to. Maybe some day soon I can share more of the story. But what I can say right now is that the past 18 months or so have been incredibly difficult, and I have struggled to find joy in my motherhood on many, many days. I have felt like a failure, and it has felt almost impossible to be the mom my kids deserve. (I know that’s not true. But it felt real, nonetheless.)

I’m grateful to be mostly on the other side of that. At the same time, I’m mourning the time I lost. Today at church, we talked about the now-but-not-yet Kingdom of God, and one of the most significant things I’ve come to understand is that in motherhood, like in the rest of life, there is room in my heart and hands for both joy and sadness. I can carry them both. As much as I feel grief over my PPD, I also feel deep, abiding joy in the presence of my children and in the act of being their mom.

Motherhood is exhausting, and there are days I wonder what in the actual heck was I thinking?

Motherhood is also my most important work. It’s not every woman’s most important work, but it is mine.

Being a mom is my greatest act of resistance, and it is my greatest contribution to the kingdom of God.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Anne Lamott says there are three essential prayers: Help, thanks, and wow. Motherhood makes me pray those three words in an endless loop.

Today, I am grateful.

It’s Time! An (in)courage Guest Post

Despite growing up attending church most weeks, I never knew much about Palm Sunday–why it mattered, why we celebrated, why everyone was shouting “Hosanna!”

Serving and working in children’s ministry forced me to figure out what the big deal was. Because, if I’m going to explain it to a bunch of elementary schoolers, I better understand it myself.

Today, I’m really honored and excited to share more about Palm Sunday over at (in)courage. You can click here to read that post.

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For years now, (in)Courage has been one of my favorite places to read about Jesus and how we can better follow him in the midst of our everyday lives. The writers and stories I’ve encountered there have changed my life and faith in a very real way. Sign up here to receive free daily notes from (in)courage, right in your inbox.

What Tulips Can Teach Us About Self-Care

Spring can be bi-polar, hinting at summer (last week) and then swinging back to snow and slush (this week). When I’m most anxious to leave winter behind, I pull out my tulip mug. It was a gift from my college roommate, who knew me well enough to choose a mug with my favorite flower.

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Tulips are magical, as far as I’m concerned. I can’t get over their different shapes and vibrant colors. But what I love most is how unruly they are, their stems always bending, reaching, and stretching towards the sun. It’s a quality I wish came more naturally to me: a healthy disregard for uniformity and confinement.

When we moved to Grand Rapids, I was most excited about how our new climate would mean more access to tulips. Still, I didn’t fully appreciate how wonderful it would be to watch them bloom all around me.

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While we anxiously waited for Leo to be born during our first autumn here, Ian and my mother-in-law planted tulip bulbs. Right now, their green leaves are just beginning to poke through the dirt in our front yard, and I’m reminiscing about last spring.

When we first planted them, I said meek little prayers for those flowers. I wondered what was happening beneath the ice, deep within the frozen ground. All along, I was afraid of disappointment if I set my expectations too high. I doubted. I assumed squirrels had sneaked our bulbs away, and I questioned whether our flower bed was getting enough sunlight. I noticed blooming plants in neighbors’ yards and concluded ours would never come.

But lo and behold, with the warmth of spring came our tulips.

Beautiful, two-feet tall purple tulips in the front. Behind them, a row of brilliant red, their leaves more ruffled. They sprouted in waves, early bloomers and late bloomers. My favorites were tall and elegant, tinted such a deep shade of purple they were almost black.

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One night, we had quite a rainstorm—hail and all, with the thunder loud enough to wake me from a deep sleep. The temperature dropped quite a bit, and when I walked outside the next morning, I found that the tulips had closed up.

It turns out that when it rains or when the temperature drops, tulips close up. Google told me this protects the pollen and ensures reproduction. I had no idea this sort of thing happened, but I was in awe.

A friend recently suggested that God speaks as much through creation as He does through Scripture. Today, I am thinking of all the ways God protects and shelters me, just as it’s somehow in the flowers’ nature to close and reopen in perfect timing.

How often do I keep pushing, fighting, and striving when surrounding storms necessitate that I stop and take care of myself a bit? I have learned a lot about self-care over time, but I still feel guilty when I choose to read on the couch instead of playing Hot Wheels with Ian, or pour an additional cup of coffee, or pay for a bouquet at Trader Joe’s, or head out for a solo evening at the coffee shop.

But, truly: even the tulips practice self-care. Nature itself knows what it can and can not handle. Self-care is not optional and not something we do to merely comfort ourselves. It’s something we practice to keep ourselves alive, fruitful, and thriving.

When I’m in a funk, I find it really difficult to get myself out; to make whatever good choices might boost my mood. Instead of choosing something really restful and restorative, I aimlessly scroll through Facebook and Instagram, refresh my email inbox for the millionth time, shuffle the clutter around my house without purpose. The pull of inertia is strong. And while it’s ok to sit with my discomfort and melancholy a bit, there also comes a time when I need to do my part to say goodbye to those heavy moods.

For the tulips in my yard, it was instinct. But my instinct is to choose distraction rather than rest. So, as any good INFJ would do, I made a list. I refer to it every once in awhile, when I feel overwhelmed and need reminders of what works and what matters.

Ways to care for myself:

-A cup of coffee in the morning. (This may not be the BEST or most healthy habit, but I figure in this stage of life, it’s a luxury I can grant myself.)

-Read the Bible.

-Go through my prayer journal.

-Make a list of things I’m grateful for.

-Turn on a good playlist.

-Log out of social media.

-Try some centering prayer.

-Leave my phone in the other room. (I’m embarrassed by how difficult this is.)

-Stretch.

-Read a book or a poem.

-Take a nap. (A nap is the elusive magical unicorn of self-care strategies.)

I want to be more willing to close up and shield myself from the wind and the rain. I don’t want to wait until it’s too late to care for myself; I want it to be instinct, with no guilt or shame involved. This is what the tulips have taught me.

What Tulips Can Teach Us About Self-Care