Making Room for One More

A few months ago, among the quaint shops along the grid-like downtown streets of a coastal Mendocino town, a toy shop called the Spunky Skunk lured us in with it’s cheerful sign and brightly colored window display. Following my wide-eyed children from one aisle to the next, I found myself pausing in the newborn section, gently running my finger along the edge of a smooth silicone teething toy. My eyes slowly scanned over the plush baby blankets, various baby carrier options, the star, sun, and moon crib mobile, and the display bassinets in the corner, and I remembered the tiny human dancing inside me. Between keeping an eye on Gabe and making sure Abby wasn’t pulling all of the plastic tops and bouncy balls out of their conveniently placed containers on the bottom shelf a few feet away, I was struck with a sudden dose of reality. I am preparing to do this all over again: Third trimester aches and pains, labor, delivery, trying to get the swaddle just right, nighttime feedings, teething, baby poop, spit up, all of it.

Am I ready? Can I do this again?

We weren’t really trying for this third baby. But we weren’t trying to prevent it either. I hadn’t found a contraceptive that worked for my body and figured that between breastfeeding and two toddlers who always ended up in our bed, it would be birth control enough. We knew we wanted a third eventually, but with our youngest just over a year old, this almost felt a bit too soon. I suppose Miguel and I were doing what we always seem to do: wing it.

So here we are, folding tiny onesies and washing bottle nipples again.


It’s eight o’clock on an average Tuesday night, and both children are laughing hysterically as they run down the hall, Gabe stopping momentarily to switch on all the lights. Again. It’s time for bed and they know it. They’ve been running from me all evening, putting up a fight at every step of bedtime. Tonight is the last of my husband’s four-in-a-row night shift work schedule and my last shift of solo parenting for this week, and my energy, patience, and creative parenting reserves are running dangerously low. My children’s gleeful squeals and giggles are cute for all of 10 seconds, after which it all begins to sound like high-pitched noises of rebellion, making my skin crawl. I speak through gritted teeth to keep myself from screaming or using the profanity that has suddenly surfaced from the recesses of my long term memory.

I’m tired of chasing them so I let them run for a minute while I zone out and stare at a spot on the carpet. Suddenly, Abby decides she’s had enough running and roughhousing with her brother, and begins her ear-piercing, headache-inducing scream-cry. It’s funny to run away from mom, not listening to anything I say no matter how I try rephrasing, coaxing, or scolding, until it’s not funny anymore. Finally succumbing to the fatigue I can see on both their faces, they crash into an emotional, clingy, screaming heap at my feet. I lose it.

“GO TO YOUR ROOM. BOTH OF YOU. NOW!!!!” I roar. They run to their bedroom, fear and hurt in their eyes, while I follow, still yelling, “YOU CAN JUST SIT IN YOUR BEDS AND CRY ALL NIGHT FOR ALL I CARE!!!”

Escaping to the farthest corner of my room, I listen to them cry, my insides still a churning, boiling, fuming mess.

I correct my son when he yells, acting out in anger at his sister. I tell him it’s ok to feel angry, but it’s not ok to take it out on his sister, but when it’s my turn, I struggle with the same thing he does. “Take a deep breath when you feel angry,” I tell him. “If you don’t know what else to do, call mom and ask for help.”

This is the second time today I’ve had to apologize to my children for losing my temper, responding more like a child still learning how to control my emotions than the adult parent I am supposed to be. I try to take deep breaths, the way I tell my son to, whispering a prayer for strength and wisdom. Then I will myself to rise, give hugs, and apologize. Again.

“I’m so sorry. I did not use kind words. Will you forgive me?”

“Sure, mom. I’m sorry too.” my three-year-old says, his own tears starting to fall again. We cry together.

Broken, emptied, exhausted, and feeling completely inadequate, the life inside me stirs, poking as if making her presence known. This baby’s arrival is rapidly approaching and I try to imagine adding an infant to all of this. A third child, a newborn needing my full attention. A third human to teach and shepherd, complete with her own strengths and weaknesses, personality and will.

I love you Little One, but I’m not sure that I deserve you. I can barely handle the two that I have. I’ve collapsed inside, suffocating under the refrain dominating my thoughts – I’m not enough. Wrapping my arms around my swollen belly, kneeling between stray cars, books, and plastic apple slices, I weep in the darkness.


A couple weeks later, I am at a weekend women’s church retreat with about 20 women, most of whom have lived more than twice my years. I clearly stand out as the youngest woman in the room, and I am also clearly pregnant, making me even more conspicuous. As one might expect, my pregnant belly is the primary topic of conversation. Oh honey, you are going to have your hands full. Good luck! Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl? Enjoy every minute! They grow up so fast.

One woman, with shuffling steps and a slight tremble in her hands, grasps my arm with surprising strength. White curls frame her face, etched with the wrinkles that time inevitably bestows. I’ve met her briefly before and see her at church most Sundays.

“How are you doing?” she asks.

“I’m well!” I cheerily respond. She doesn’t move, firmly gripping my arm until the silence starts to feel awkward, staring at me as if she knows that behind my smile and two-word answer, tears sting my eyes. There is a letting down of your guard, an opening of the doorway into vulnerability that is triggered when someone cares enough to sincerely ask how you are, then is willing to wait for whatever the response may be.

“I’m just not sure how I’m going to handle three,” I say, my voice breaking.

“If there’s room in your heart, there’s room in your home.”

I’ve heard this phrase before and dismissed it as cliche, but it doesn’t sound cliche coming from this woman. She says it in a matter-of-fact way, her voice filled with the genuine conviction that comes from having lived out the truth of a statement.

“How many children do you have?” I ask.

“Five,” she says, smiling, her eyes sparkling, vibrant and full of life. One of her eyes is a wandering eye and I’m not quite sure if she is looking at me or staring into the past at a flash of beautiful, treasured memories. In that moment, I see her as a young mom, her own belly taut and round, with a baby on her hip and three small children trailing behind her. She is strong, confident, smiling down at her precious brood with those same vibrant blue eyes. Our age difference becomes irrelevant as we see each other, mother to mother. This woman has walked through the mountain tops and valleys of motherhood and come out the other side still standing strong.

She lets go of my arm, and gives it a loving pat before she walks away. I can’t help but believe her.


We are in the home stretch now with just a few short weeks to go, and we have been doing what we can to prepare – talking to the kids about welcoming a new sibling and encouraging gentle play with baby dolls, pulling out the bassinet from the garage, rearranging bedrooms, sorting through baby clothes, and filling our Amazon cart with baby items that need to be replaced. But at the end of the day, we are still winging it, trusting in love to make a way. And when I run into those tough moments where the thought of having three children feels impossible and overwhelming, I have a new refrain.

There’s space in my body. There’s room in my heart. That is enough.

Grief in Hope: A Blue Christmas

“What you are describing sounds a lot like grief,” my therapist observes in one of our recent sessions. Grief. Yes, that’s what it feels like – struggling through the emotional lows of pregnancy and feeling deeply the pain of those I love who are going through challenging times. Sometimes we forget that life doesn’t pause just because it is Christmas. People still get sick, experience hardships, sink into depression, mourn the unexpected death of a loved one. Old wounds open and begin to fester, loneliness and loss are most acutely felt. In our fast paced, commercialized, consumer-driven holiday season, there doesn’t seem to be any space for sorrow. Conversations on social media and text threads about Christmas plans, cookie parties, and matching family pajamas swirl around me like sparkling snowflakes. Words like peace and joy and hope are tossed about as if they are tinsel. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and here I am, unbidden tears dripping off my nose and onto my open journal. I feel isolated and alone, the way a bare tree with stick branches reaching to the sky, dark and spindly, might feel in the midst of a grove of evergreens.

I wonder how to reconcile this grief I feel with the joy and hope Christ’s birth offers. Does hope really have the weight and gravity we need it to in the grittiness and pain of life? Or is it just a cheerful platitude, beautifully scripted on mugs, wall decor, and pillows, deflating with every disappointment like a balloon with a slow leak? Often, this is what it feels like, an overused word for optimists.

****

This morning is a Blue Christmas service at our church. We have only been attending this particular church for about six months, so walking in this morning, I have no idea what to expect. I only know what I heard in announcements last week – that it’s about making space for sorrow.

The pastor begins by lighting the four Advent candles, explaining what they each represent on this day: Grief, Courage, Memories, and Love. “In this season, we acknowledge grief and pain and we remember that Jesus grieves with us,” he tells the congregation. He invites us to come forward, to light a candle in memory of someone or to represent a loss or sorrow that we carry with us this holiday season. Solemnly, people file into a line, some dabbing at the tears slipping down their cheeks. I see the woman who lost her husband this year a few rows in front of me, shoulders hunched, weeping as each church member gives a touch of comfort or a hug as they pass her.

I light a candle. I think of those I have loved and lost: my Aunt Lori, my Grandparents, my childhood pastor and mentor, my best friend’s mom. I think of the lives lost from gun violence this past year. I think of my uncle’s severe health issues and the toll it all has had on both him and my aunt. I think of my cousin’s 6-year old son, his body wracked with unexplainable and untreatable seizures, his parents hanging onto threads of grace between seizure episodes. I think of my friends facing infertility, longing to feel the tiny kicks of life inside them, and my friends mourning miscarriages. I think of the thirteen-year old crying in my kitchen, carrying a burden no child should have to bear, crushed by her mother’s poor choices. I think of the national division, hatred, and racism that continues to run rampant in our country, causing a subtle, constant undercurrent of sorrow that has settled deep in my heart. I light a candle and feel grief over it all. I don’t push it away. Instead I let it sit, heavy and hard.

I am surprised to find that having this space to lament, amidst all the frills and rightful joy of the holiday season is like an unexpected balm to my soul.

The pastor returns to the pulpit and lights the center candle, the Christ Candle, representing Christ as the center of our lives. The center of our grief. The one who truly knows our pain and offers hope and healing. After all, doesn’t the prophet Isaiah call him a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief?

****

The Christmas story itself is full of grief as much as it is with joy. Zechariah and Elizabeth spend what must have felt like a lifetime of infertility. Jesus’s people are living as a conquered people under the rule of the Roman empire. Jesus is born into a world that doesn’t want him. Herod sees his birth as a threat, and to prevent anyone, no matter how small, from disrupting his rule, he commands the brutal slaughter of all baby boys under two in the city of Bethlehem. This fulfills what was spoken in centuries past by the prophet Jeremiah, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18) The characters of the Nativity were no strangers to grief. Yet in the midst of it all, they tenaciously clung to hope.

Tucked in the small book of Lamentations, the words of a grieving prophet, we find these hope-filled words, “It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:26) The Hebrew word used for ‘hope’ here is the word ‘khool’ and it has a surprising meaning: “To twist or whirl, i.e. to dance, to writhe in pain.” According to my Strong’s Lexicon, depending on the form and how it is used, it can also mean “to bear, to bring forth, to grieve, to hope, to travail, to trust, to wait patiently.” Being very pregnant right now, I can’t help but think of this word, hope, in the context of giving birth. Even as I hope with eager anticipation, I know I must endure the pain of labor and delivery. Acknowledging and expressing pain does not mean there is no hope. In fact, it is the sure hope of meeting this new baby that will keep me going when the pain mounts to its peak. This is hope that grieves and travails and brings forth.

If the hope offered by the God of the Christmas story was enough to carry the prophet Zechariah and his wife through barrenness, the Magi through patient years of studying constellations, and Mary and Joseph through the mysteries and pain of raising the Christ Child, then it must be enough for you and me. This hope is not passive or one dimensional. It is not a simple platitude or call to optimism. It is a vessel strong enough to bear us up through the seasons of calm, peaceful waters and the raging storms of suffering. Even as we look forward with joy to Jesus Christ, our Savior, God With Us, we lament and rejoice, we writhe and we dance. This is hope.

Stretched

As published by Coffee + Crumbs on 11/9/2018.

It is dark and quiet in the house, that precious hour before the sun and children wake up. After digging out my yoga mat from behind the vacuum in the hall closet, I unroll it and lay it in front of the TV in our living room.

Carefully, I follow the instructions on the video, trying to correctly perform each pose. Yoga is a new endeavor for me, and in this moment, I am thankful for Youtube and the ability to learn an unfamiliar exercise routine in the privacy of my own home. Despite being a bit awkward and clumsy, I feel pretty good until we transition from a low lunge into a calf stretch. While the yoga instructor smoothly bends at the waist, hands effortlessly passing her perfectly flexed foot, my hands just reach my shin before my leg muscles start burning, and I struggle to hold the pose.

I’ve never liked stretching because it always reminds me of those flexibility tests they made us do in middle school P.E. class. Seated on the floor, we had to lean as far forward as possible while the teacher measured our reach. No matter how hard I tried, I could barely touch my toes. I hated the fact that even though I could pass all the other physical fitness tests, I could never make the mark for flexibility.

The Youtube yoga instructor tells me to breathe slowly and steadily, in through my nose and out through my mouth. She says good breathing helps to make sure adequate oxygen reaches my muscles, and will help ground me in the moment.

Over time, I am surprised to find the dreaded calf stretch pose isn’t as horrible as it was when I first started. My muscles still burn as I fold forward, but I learn to practice breathing slowly and steadily. I let myself lean into the discomfort and relax in it, quieting both body and mind, gradually stretching deeper and farther.

And in the release, I find a calm.

***

Naptime: I dread and long for it.

It is a gamble if both kids will actually sleep, how long they will stay asleep, and how much crying will be involved. Today we play outside, giggling and shrieking the winter sunshine warming our faces, But as soon as we step inside, the meltdowns start. First, the baby. All of a sudden the need to nurse is imperative, and she begins to cry hysterically. Then, the toddler. He hangs on my leg, momentarily forgetting to use words, resorting instead to high pitched screeching. The baby screams as I change her diaper, and the toddler screams to out-scream his sister.

So much screaming today.

Finally, I sit to nurse the baby, who is immediately calmed by my breast. Undeterred, my wailing toddler attempts to clamber up on my lap and squeeze into any space his sister is not currently inhabiting. No amount of reasoning will calm him.

“If you just wait five minutes while I get your sister to sleep, then I will hold you. How about a book? Why don’t you go get a book?”

My voice, at first coaxing, becomes tense with frustration and desperation as I continue to beg, “Just lay your head on my lap. No, you can’t sit there. Stop! You are on top of your sister!”

He will have none of it because he wants me. And he wants all of me now.

****

Read the rest here!

The Liturgy of Dishes

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

 

A pile of dirty dishes covers the counter and fills my sink to the point that I can’t even see it anymore. All I can see is the mound of precariously stacked plates halfway scraped clean, bowls with dried yogurt at the bottom, brightly colored sippy cups, a few mixing bowls, my coffee pot, and the pan I used to make eggs this morning. The floor I just swept and mopped is littered with clumps of drying out scrambled egg, bread crumbs, splatters of yogurt, and dropped strawberry chunks radiating out from my one year old’s chair to the rest of the dining area. If a stranger came over right now and walked into my kitchen I’m sure that person would assume I have not touched my kitchen in days. I stare at the mess before me and think, “Wait. Didn’t I JUST do the dishes???” Sometimes I bitterly wonder, what’s the point?

Every evening, my son “helps” clean up his toys. We call it “putting the cars to bed.” Every morning, he wakes up excited to “wake up my cars,” and proceeds to pull them out one by one or completely dump over the entire bin, depending on how he feels that morning. “Why clean them up if he’s just going to dump them out the next day?” my husband asks.

Life is built on rhythms and cycles, patterns that continually repeat themselves over and over again. Every year, the seasons repeat themselves. Winter, spring, summer, fall. Winter, spring, summer, fall. Each week, the days come and go in the same order, Sunday through Saturday. Without fail, the sun will rise in the east in the morning, flooding my kitchen with glorious light, and it will set in the west, painting the sky in deep oranges and pinks. Science itself and everything we know about nature follows distinct patterns and rhythms. This is one of the foundational steps of the scientific method, isn’t it? Your results must be repeatable. As my daughter has so keenly discovered, she can drop her spoon or unwanted food and, thanks to gravity, ten thousand times later it will still fall to the ground . Even my body functions in rhythms. I wake up, I sleep. I get hungry, eat until I’m satisfied, then get hungry eat again. Without thinking, my heart beats without stopping, steadily filling, emptying, pumping the blood throughout my body. My lungs fill with air and empty. Fill and empty.

****

Liturgy is a fancy word for a ritual that is performed as part of religious worship. In a church context, liturgy encompasses the way church services are ordered, the practice of communion, or the pattern of call and response followed by clergy and congregation. In the book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, author and Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren examines our daily habits and routines as liturgy. As a mom, I am very familiar with routines. My days are constantly punctuated with repetitive tasks. Sometimes I repeat the same task so many times throughout a day, I am not even sure what I have accomplished by the time I lay my head on my pillow.

In the chaos of a day, my routines certainly don’t feel like liturgy. Every evening, I help my children follow the same bedtime routine, sung to the tune from that Daniel Tiger ‘Good Morning/Good Night’ episode (Parents, you know what I’m talking about). “Put on jammies, brush teeth, read books, say a prayer and off to sleep.” And every night, my children put up some sort of grand resistance, especially between “put on jammies” and “brush teeth”.

I finally get my son to the bathroom after asking, reminding, and commanding him to go brush his teeth.

“I don’t like brushing my teeth,” he says.

“Well, sometimes we have to do things we don’t like to do.”

“But why?” he asks, as toddlers love to do.

I give him some answer about taking care of our teeth and preventing cavities, and he continues to ask why about three more times.

I get it, son. I often find myself asking the same question of my own daily tasks.

Even though I explain why, I know my three-year old doesn’t fully understand the reason brushing his teeth every day is important. And in the day-to-day grind I too often fail to see the long-term benefits of the insignificant, mundane tasks that fill my minutes and hours. As the small, repetitive strikes of a hammer on chisel or the back and forth strokes of a paintbrush make up the foundation of a great work of art, in the same way, it is the moments of ordinary repetition that make a life. Tish Harrison Warren says it this way: “The crucible of our formation is in the anonymous monotony of our daily routines.” The thought that the smallness in my life can actually be something significant, like a spiritual practice, comforts me as I take in the pile of dishes in my sink, pick up the baby to change another diaper, and tell my son to please go get his socks for the twentieth time.

If my everyday-ness is a type of liturgy, then perhaps the discarded food scraps all over my just mopped floor, the next meal I have to prep for, the piles of books and toys I have to put away again, and that endless laundry pile can serve to remind me that in my own personal walk of faith, I must intentionally return to the rhythms of prayer and repentance and grace day after day, moment by moment. Perhaps, by simply showing up and being willing to do the same thing over and over again, I become a reminder to myself and those around me of the faithfulness of the God who will never stop pursuing, forgiving, and loving us no matter how many times we wander.

Unlike the sun and our beating hearts, we may tire of repetitive tasks and the seeming never ending-ness of it all.With a shift of perspective, even the most mundane daily rhythms can become beautiful acts of worship.

****

I roll up my sleeves, dip my hands into the warm, sudsy water, and begin to wash dish after dish. The plate, the fork, the cup become tiny, whispered, repeated prayers as my hands briefly meet around each one. Though it certainly doesn’t always feel like it, here, standing at the sink, this is my spiritual practice. This is my liturgy.

Showing Up

It’s been a while.

What is one supposed to do when she is absent from her blog for an extended period of time? Do I address it head on? Admit that I will probably never finish my post about my Mexico trip because trying to figure out how to post multiple photos (and get them to look how I want) just took too much time and brain power for this poor, technologically challenged mom of two? Or do I just post something new and pretend that the past four months of silence never even existed?

Since I’m new to all this, I don’t know what proper blog etiquette requires, but I do want you to know, my four, maybe five, lovely readers, I’m still here.

Consistency has always been a challenge for me. I could spend hours telling you of all the exercise programs I’ve started but never finished, the cleaning schedules I’ve mapped out and written neatly in my notebook only to be forgotten about two weeks later, or all the daily devotional books I’ve tried to follow, only to find them a year or two later, dusty under my night stand. Follow through is not my strong suit.

Lately, I keep hearing about how important it is to just “show up.” Especially with regards to writing. All you have to do is show up, do the hard work of making time, setting aside space, and start typing.

I do my best to show up to things, honest. I try to show up to write or read my Bible or pray. I try to show up to Sunday morning church, the birthday party, or the family get together. Every morning I try to show up to make breakfast for my family, change diapers, clean up yet another potty accident, and kiss away tears from skinned knees and bumped heads. I try my best to show up for laundry, for dishes, and again for dinner. Then on those rare nights when the kids get to bed on time, the house is quiet and both of us are home, I do my best to show up for my husband.

But sometimes (or let’s face it, most times) I’m not that great at showing up. Or I do well showing up for some things, and for the rest, I’m marked as missing, a no show. Even worse, sometimes I try to show up for too many things and end up checking out, being half present for everything. It’s a juggling act, figuring out what to show up for and what to miss. And I’m still learning. I’m learning that I can’t show up for everything. I’m learning what I need to show up for and what I want to show up for and how to prioritize it all.

So that’s where I’ve been lately. Showing up for other things. In the past four months I’ve gained a sister-in-law, mourned death and remembered life, met with dear friends that inspire me to keep showing up, felt the tiny, exhilarating flutter of new life growing inside me, and worked on some deep soul searching about who I am and who I want to be. I’ve traveled the spaces between joy and pain, gain and loss, celebration and mourning, life and death. What is a life but a journey between these places, traversing through valleys and climbing to mountain tops only to find oneself descending again? It is in the space between things where life is lived and stories are written.

There are so many things I’m still processing, still working through, still defining, (And also #life) so my posts may not be as regular as they probably should be, but for now, here I am. Here at my computer, clicking away at the black and white keys, practicing scales, plunking out a melody of words.

It’s a little clunky and a bit choppy, but it feels good to show up.

Mexico Vacation 2018: A Mini Travel Memoir

The following is a collection of photos, reflections, and memories from our recent trip to Veracruz, Mexico, based on entries from my travel journal. This will be a multi-part blog post series.

PART I

Day 1

Just last week, my anxiety and apprehension about traveling with a 3 year old and an almost one year old was palpable. Worst case scenarios replayed themselves over and over in my mind despite my rational brain telling me that everything was going to be fine and that I shouldn’t be thinking about worst case scenarios. My instinct was to opt out. To cancel. “Let’s just go when the kids are older,” I told my husband one night in a moment of panic. But as the day of our departure approached, something surprising happened. All my worries began to melt away into peace. Perhaps my fearful self finally gave up knowing that we were going and there was no backing out now. Perhaps I felt more confident when the packing was finally completed and my to-do and to-pack lists were well on their way to being systematically ticked off.

But no matter the reason, today we fly to Mexico, and I believe I have been given a God-given peace, His hand of mercy on this worrying mother.

As it turns out, both kids do much better than I expect on the plane, and between naps, books, a tablet, and an in-flight movie, we are able to keep them well entertained.

After a long day of flying, we descend into Mexico City through thick billows of brown-gray fog. Then, one more short forty-five minute flight later, I look down to see the lights of Veracruz sparkling beneath us, while my baby girl sleeps and Gabe is too interested in the Lego Movie to notice.

Ready to go!

Day 2

A brilliant Veracruz sun shines through our hotel window, light diffused by humid air, making me squint.

We enjoy our first breakfast with the family who come to meet us at the airport, Miguel’s cousin Lupe and her husband Herardo. I have chorizo and eggs with cafe con leche, flavors bursting in my mouth.

Of note, there are no car seat regulations or requirements in Mexico. We rent a car seat from Hertz for Gabe but it is so old and the straps are so flimsy, I complain to Miguel that we might as well not even have one. I am grateful we brought Abby’s seat. Eventually, somewhat out of necessity to transport, we give up on car seats altogether. I hold tightly to each child, breathing a prayer each time we squeeze into the car, driving five minutes into town, twenty minutes to the coast, over some paved roads and some not. The amazing thing? We all survive.

At the Port of Veracruz, El Puerto, the blue green water of the Gulf of Mexico greet us. Vendors selling colorful wares line the streets, call out to us. This part of the city, the old part, feels worn and rich with history: cobblestone streets, concrete buildings showing the cracks of age painted bright orange, pink, and green, patterned tiles, and arches. I am obsessed with the arches, things of symmetry and beauty, whispering to me of majesty.

First breakfast in Mexico.

Day 3

From Veracruz we drive three hours south to Catemaco, the town where my father-in-law’s family lives.

One more side note about car seats. I do insist that both my kids be in car seats for this drive. Three hours seems too big of a risk to take. Even a flimsy car seat feels safer than the reach of my arm. Then I see a family of four on a motorbike, two adults and two young children, not much older than my own. Nobody is wearing a helmet. I think about the trust that mother must have in her driver and other drivers around her. Or perhaps this is just the way of life and she doesn’t think about it like that.

Once we are out of the city, acres of lush green tropical foliage whizz by as I watch from the car window. Then small towns with tiny restaurants, outdoor markets, and ranch lands. Cattle roam lazily in the heat of the sun, looking rather thin to me. I wish I could perfectly remember all the colors. So many vibrant colors – brightly painted pottery, fruit stands displaying ripe yellow bananas, mangos, melons, and papaya, wide brimmed hats with ribbons and bows, houses and buildings painted ocean teal, bright coral, and sunshine yellow. I try to take pictures as we pass, but iPhone photos from a moving car just can’t do it justice.

All of a sudden, the ocean fills the horizon, and we are passing sand dunes and plump water filled cactus, dotted with soft buttercup yellow flowers, prominently displayed. Then sugar cane fields as far as the eye can see, and trucks heaped precariously high with dried sugar cane stalks. My father-in-law says that the sugar cane workers are not treated well – overworked and underpaid. “It makes you want to stop eating sugar, doesn’t it?”, Miguel says. I have to think about this, how that 1 lb bag of white crystalline goodness I buy from the grocery store comes to be, and how happy a hot, melty chocolate chip cookie makes me. I feel guilty that my immediate answer is not yes, then I wonder if I can find fair trade sugar when we get home. After that, we are silent for a time.

Finally, Catemaco. Our first stop, Tia Juana’s house (Tia means Aunt), a small cinder block and cement building with open windows under two giant, sprawling mango trees. We are greeted with open arms and a kiss on each cheek by family – aunts, uncles, and cousins. Then Miguel’s grandma, they call her Mi Licha, greets us, tenderly touching each child. She and Miguel hold each other for a long time, and I am glad we came.

We are served a simple meal of spiced chicken, rice, beans, and freshly made tortillas on rectangular shaped Styrofoam plates. While enjoying my food, my fingers messy from dripping chicken juices and salsa, I watch my children enjoy dirt and toss gravel, gray smudges all over their faces, arms, and legs.

There is no running water at Tia Juana’s house so we use the bottom of a soda bottle cut in half to scoop clean water out of a giant barrel. I pour some water on a cloth to wipe my children’s faces and hands. We try to use the water sparingly, but I feel guilty as I watch it drip to the ground. It’s too late when I realize I probably should have just used my wipes. I mentally ask forgiveness for using this family’s precious clean water when I could have just used my wipes, and make a note to pay more attention to what I am doing in the future.

The next house we go to, Tia Lupe and Tio Herardo’s house, is where we will be staying for the next five days (I am grateful that we do have running water here). It is situated on a steep hill along a road so full of ditches and large, sharp boulders jutting from it that we are not sure our small four door sedan is going to make it. But do we make it. Very slowly. I had argued with Miguel about paying the extra money for full coverage insurance on our rental car, but now I am thinking maybe it was a good thing.

We climb the tile stairs and put our suitcases in a tiled bedroom, looking out over the tiled courtyard. Tile is apparently the flooring of choice here. From the small upstairs balcony, we can see a grove of giant mango trees with tiny yellow fruit hanging. Tia Juana says the mangos will ripen in May or June. Beyond that, the blue waters of Catemaco Lake shimmer. Oddly, this reminds me of Clearlake, the way the lake glistens in sunlight.

The family gather again and we enjoy leftovers in the coolness of the evening. Tia Anna wants to love on my children but they are apprehensive, and cling to my legs.

Day 4

As I open my eyes this morning, feeling sticky and sweating already from the heat, I remember that it is my daughter’s first birthday today. I’m not sure how I feel about being in Mexico on her birthday. Sentimental mostly I suppose. I’d be making her a birthday breakfast, hanging the birthday banner in our dining room if I were home.

I know that the family is going to be gathering again this evening, but what I don’t know is that they are planning a birthday party for her, complete with balloons, a birthday banner, a lovingly prepared meal traditionally eaten on special occasions, tres leches cake, and the surprise appearance of a mariachi band.

Gabe and I decide to take a short nap, soothed to sleep by the finally cool breeze of the late afternoon blowing through the giant open window. I am unsure how much time has passed when I awake to the voices of family arriving, and as I emerge from the bedroom I am surprised to see party preparations well underway. Tia Rochy is busy blowing brightly colored balloons and hanging the ‘Felicidades’ banner, while Tia Anna, Tia Lupe, and Tia Juana work together to finish the labor intensive meal they had lovingly spent the day preparing. Chile en nogada: Tender charred roasted green peppers filled with a savory ground beef mixture with tiny diced bell pepper, onion, and plump raisins, then topped with a creamy pistachio sauce and finally sprinkled with bright red, juicy pomegranate seeds. It is served with a simple pasta on the side. Tia Anna explains that this dish is served on special occasions such as Mexico’s Independence Day because it is the colors of the Mexican flag: Green, White, and Red. I’ve never had anything like it and it is absolutely delicious!

As I take it all in, I am overwhelmed that people we just met would do all of this for my baby girl. Tears sting my eyes, but I don’t get to cry as I am rushed into the preparations.

I watch the women work together. They all seem to know exactly what to do without anyone particularly organizing or leading, forming an assembly line for the final preparation and plating of the chile en nogadas. They have done this many times. It’s like an instinct now.

These women are strong. They work hard without complaint, sweat beading on their faces, dripping down their chests. They own businesses and shops, working long hours every day, and when they come home, they cook, clean, care for the children and grandchildren, and hand wash laundry, hanging it to dry in the hot tropical sun. Some of their husbands work. Some don’t.

After dinner when everyone is happy and fed, they don’t clean. They visit, they dance, they laugh, and dance some more. They are fierce, vigorous, and confident, their bodies swaying to the rhythm of the music. They dance with each other, throwing their heads back in laughter.

These women are the glue that hold the family together.

Tia Anna grabs my hands and pulls me up to join them, a smile on her face and twinkle in her eye that transcends language barriers, and I dance too.

La Familia

 

The Darkness of Saturday

 

It is Saturday. The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The day of darkness.

Depending on your tradition, you may recognize Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, and even more likely, Good Friday, a day that is recognized widely with school half days and special candlelight services. And then there’s Saturday. We don’t usually talk about this day.

I imagine the grieving, traumatized disciples huddled together in a dark room, shutters drawn, doors locked, shivering with fear and the deepest sorrow. They must have been in complete shock over the events that had just transpired, hardly believing just two days before they had been sharing a meal of bread and wine with the One whom they had placed all their belief and hope in, the One they thought would be their Deliverer. His words had given them a reason to rejoice. He had promised them peace. But now, He was gone. Unfairly tried, mercilessly beaten, then finally crucified on an unforgiving cross.

In that moment, one could not help but question God. Why God? Why did you let Him die? Why did you bring Jesus into our lives only to allow this? Was Jesus really who he said he was? Were we fools for following him? What do we do now?

Instead of answers, the disciples were faced with the haunting silence of a sealed tomb.

They didn’t know about Sunday.

They didn’t know that God was working in the silence. In the dark spaces, God was moving, hovering, orchestrating. Like the moments of darkness in a theater before the brilliant stage lights shine, God was setting the stage for His most glorious feat.

Saturday is the breath before a song. It is the space between death and life. It is the waiting space between a prayer breathed and a prayer answered; It is the space between brokenness and restoration, between tearful goodbyes and joyous reunions; It is the space in the waiting when no end is in sight.

The darkness of death may feel overwhelming today, but take heart my friends!

In the wind-song of the leaves, in the reverberating tremblings of the earth, in the beating of a million hearts, whispers of resurrection echo throughout the universe. There is hope in the darkness.

Sunday is coming…

 

On Turning 31

Last week, as the clock moved from 11:59 PM to midnight, I entered my 31st year of life.

Thirty-one. In the week leading up to my birthday, I kept seeing this number, turning it over and over in my mind, trying it on, attempting to get an idea of how it would look on me. For some reason, thirty wasn’t a problem. It seemed to fit just fine. It was still exciting, a milestone. But thirty-one? This was different. It looked like the suddenly blotchy, porous skin across my nose and cheeks, the soft, plush belly that comes to stay after birthing two children, the skin on my hands dry and wrinkled from constantly washing dishes, washing my hands, washing children’s hands, and washing more dishes. Even though I try to lotion regularly, the dry skin on my hands never seems to get any better.

Honestly? Thirty-one felt old. Not in an elderly sort of way, but in a mature sort of way, a grown-up sort of way. This is the age you are supposed to be doing that thing you said you would do when you grew up, isn’t it? At thirty, it’s ok to still be figuring things out. But thirty-one is the age where you arrive. Arrive where, I’m not quite sure, but I think it should look something like knowing who you are, having a definite purpose in life, being able to say you have an ‘expertise’, the age you start your world changing ministry. The rest of adulthood should be smooth sailing from here.

With just a few short weeks to my birthday, I became suddenly overwhelmed with how short I had fallen from my own expectations (however unrealistic). I still feel like I am on the journey of self discovery, not quite sure what I really want to do when I grow up. I still don’t feel quite confident in my own skin, I still struggle with fear, insecurity, negative self-talk, and feeling easily intimidated in a group of women, as if I’m still a 6th grade girl with braces and a rolling backpack at a new school. Shouldn’t I be over this already? I feel like an impostor in my own life. I’m sure I can’t possibly be almost thirty-one with a husband and two kids. Thirty-one year old mothers don’t struggle with things like this. They are confident, established, working on multiple endeavors, becoming mom-preneurs, starting blogs, businesses, and podcasts, getting published, getting interviewed, somehow finding time between kids, work, and home, to be successful at all-the-things. At least on Instagram they are. As I write this all out, it certainly looks silly. But without really realizing it or verbalizing it, this is the perception I had about 31 before I got here.

Recently, I read a book called Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. In it, she simply tells her story – World travels, directing a women’s ministry, discipling a group of young girls, writing, making a difference, getting married, having a baby (And she has only just turned 30 during the course of the book). She says that everyone has a story to tell. I found myself struggling to believe her, struggling to believe that, even if I had a story, anyone would care to hear it.

I find that, if I’m not careful, the enemy of Comparison will easily turn my heart sour, clouding my perspective. Comparison and Inner Critic work as a team. They tell me that I don’t belong, that I’m never good enough. My opinion is usually unnecessary and I really have nothing interesting or important enough to add to the conversation. They tell me that I can’t. Comparison is said to be the thief of joy, and when it teams up with Inner Critic it is also the thief of words, silencing me more often than I would like to admit. Myself: my own worst enemy.

The more I thought about thirty-one and what it should be, the more I was dreading this birthday.

But then it came, gently dawning like every other day, my morning brightened by sunshine and the smiling faces of my two precious children. And it was a lovely day. A sweet card from my husband, phone calls and messages from dear family and friends, a bouquet of flowers delivered by a friend on her way to work, dinner with my in laws, all punctuated with the beauty and silence of about an hour of softly falling snow (a huge deal for us Californians for whom any form of precipitation other than plain old rain is a novelty).

Like the start of a new year, the day brought with it sprinkles of hope and gratitude. Then, a flicker of something inside me, the sparking glow of embers from a faded dream that I too have a story to tell. I repeat it to myself, louder this time. Yes, I do have a story. And it is a story worth sharing.

In the passing hand squeeze from my husband that speaks a love language only 5 years of marriage can teach, the glowing faces of my children as they help me blow out the candles on my cake, an encouraging word from my brother, I am gently reminded that a remarkable life is built from the sum of the everyday. It is underneath the seemingly mundane, ordinary moments of doing dishes, sharing meals, goodnight cuddles, making beds and brushing teeth that my story and your story is found.

In this year of being 31, I no longer want to be my own worst enemy. I know that sometimes there will be two steps forward and three steps back. I am resigned to the fact that I will still struggle with fear and insecurity, and probably will in some capacity for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean I stop moving forward. In fact, more than ever, this is the time for taking steps, digging deep, letting God work in me and through me, investing in relationships, reading, learning, and choosing to be vulnerable.

To my surprise, thirty-one does fit, and it is beautiful.

January Recap and Everyday Intentionality

Hello February! It is hard to believe that the first month of 2018 is already over.

January started with a bang as we spent an amazing week with my parents, my brother, and my beautiful future sister-in-law in San Jose, that included a day trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a big, loud, impromptu barbecue with the extended family, spending some time with dear friends from high school, meeting my cousin’s new precious daughter, Kariese Lael, and a whole bunch of treasured moments and conversations with some of the people I love most in the world.

The rest of the month was filled with the everyday, mundane tasks, doctor and dentists appointments, loads and more loads of laundry, changing sheets, picking up toys that never seem to stay where they belong for more than two seconds, family dinners, and bedtime routines. And somehow, with all of these things that make up our lives and fill our days, all of a sudden a new month is upon us. We are reminded again of the passage of time, that each moment we have is precious and fleeting.

I did a lot of thinking in January about what I hope to accomplish or change in 2018 (mostly while taking showers or washing dishes). And I admit. I am a sucker for New Years resolutions (Is it too late to talk about those? But hey, it’s only February, right?). Personal improvement, goal setting, and empty planners make my heart happy. Do I ever keep any of the resolutions I make or accomplish the goals I set? Rarely. But I am always inspired by the idea of a new beginning, a fresh slate. And so, whether it is realistic or not, the new year always has me making plans in my head, trying to find the time to sit down and get these goals on paper.

Wake up early (before kids).
Create (and stick to) a daily routine for our family.
Write something every day. Even if it’s only a short journal entry.

I try to make my goals simple, achievable, and flexible. I have two small children. The likelihood of achieving any lofty goals is minimal at best and I’d prefer to spare myself the guilt of being unable to accomplish my goal by setting the bar low. Perhaps that is cheating. Like writing an item on your to-do list that you’ve already done just so you can cross it off. But at least it gives me a sense of direction and accomplishment. And God knows, as I navigate this stay-at-home mom life, these two things are desperately needed.

Last year I felt like I was floating, unsure of my purpose without a job outside the home. My fringe hours were spent scrolling social media, comparing my life to everyone else’s seemingly perfect life, wondering what I should be doing with mine. But I want to change that. So, my word for the year is Intentional. I want to be purposeful about how I spend my time, what I say yes to, the words I write, the words I read.

Cue January 1st. This is the day! I will wake up early and start 2018 on the right foot. I will be intentional about carving out some time to start a bullet journal and do some goal setting. Everything is going to be amazing!

But here is how my day really goes. The baby doesn’t sleep well so I am awake much of the night and oversleep. Great. I already failed my first goal.

I start to work on breakfast. The baby is crawling everywhere and eating everything and anything she can find on the floor. So I quickly sweep and vacuum. Gabe is awake now. He is hungry so I serve him breakfast. The baby is crying so I put her in her high chair with a teething cracker, start some coffee, and mash some banana. I finally sit down to shove cold eggs and toast in my mouth and drink a quarter of my coffee while getting splattered with said mashed banana. The kids are antsy and want to get down. I get them cleaned up and wipe up the banana that seems to be everywhere.

Finally. The kids are quietly playing. This is my chance! I sneak down the hall to grab the things I’ll need to set up my bullet journal and sit down, triggering a toddler meltdown (of course it’s when I sit down). When I get the toddler settled with crayons and paper, the baby wants to nurse.

Another free moment! I seize it. I need a ruler and can’t find one. The kitchen is a mess and the clutter in our office is suffocating. During my ruler hunt, Gabe breaks the baby gate and she is again crawling everywhere. Skip the bullet journal. I’ll just try to write. I pull out my idea notebook but apparently my water bottle leaked in my bag, soaking everything, including my notebook.

My coffee is cold. It is lunch time.

I kind of want to cry. What is wrong with me? I set three simple goals and I have not been able to meet one of them! Welcome 2018. I give up. Why set goals or make New Years resolutions so I can fail to meet them? Even good intentions cannot help me accomplish goals when I am constantly pulled in several directions at once by these little ones that need me so constantly.

Then it dawns on me. What if an intentional perspective is just as important as my intentional to-do list? What if I need a perspective shift more than a perfectly set up bullet journal? I mentally rewind my day to find all the good.

Gabe and Abby squeal at each other in their own sibling language at the breakfast table. While getting ready to nurse Abby, her face lights up in the biggest smile, revealing all five of her new teeth. I set up couch cushions and pillows on the floor like an obstacle course. Gabe pretends to be Spider-Man and Abby climbs up on a couch cushion all by herself. Gabe chatters away, telling me about his cousins, being Spider-Man, and playing cars. I marvel at how big he is getting, at how well Abby is crawling.

What if I started intentionally choosing a posture of gratitude even when things don’t go my way? What if I became more intentional about letting go of negative self talk and feelings of failure and instead focused on living in the moment? What if I was intentional about enjoying this stage of motherhood for the chaotic, beautiful, consuming time that it is?

Now here in February, Intentional is still my word, and while I still aim to be more intentional about my time, my focus has shifted. I do set goals but I hold them loosely. My bullet journal doesn’t have to be full of fancy calligraphy and color coordinated lists. There will be mornings I get up early to read, pray and write, and on some glorious days both kids will nap at the same time.

But on the day I push snooze too many times, the kids go on nap strike, the bathrooms haven’t been cleaned in weeks, and nothing is going the way I think it should, I resolve to intentionally choose gratitude instead of frustration. Grace instead of guilt. Joy instead of anger.

December 26th Reflections

 

It’s the day after Christmas. The pile of presents under the tree is gone, the recycling bin now extra full of shredded wrapping paper and empty boxes, the extra dishes from having family gathered are (almost) done, all the new toys have (mostly) found a home, and the house is quiet. Today two miracles occurred. First, both kids are napping at the same time, and second, I got to close my eyes for a few minutes AND have a little time to spare for writing! Seriously, this almost never happens. Thank you, Jesus!

I recently read that in the traditional church calendar, the Christmas season is the 12 days after December 25th. Um, yes, please! How did I miss this?? Sometimes it feels that no matter how hard I try, the chaos of December still seems to overwhelm me by the end of the month. But after December 25th there is a bit more space to think and just be. It is in this space I now sit, pausing to reflect and actually write some thoughts.

Throughout this Advent season, I have been repeatedly drawn to this verse: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah‬ ‭9:2‬ ‭‬

On those living in a land of deep darkness a light has dawned. The older I get the more clearly I see the darkness around me and inside me. While Jesus has defeated sin, death, and hell at the cross, we still live in a fallen, broken world filled with deep darkness.

A 5 minute scroll through Facebook or a short glance at a local newspaper (I mean website. Who reads an actual hard copy newspaper these days?) will reveal enough darkness to discourage anyone. Darkness in the world – Injustice, oppression, famine, war, refugee crisis, ISIS, violent extremist groups, poverty, disease, natural disasters. Darkness in our homeland – Violence, racism, white supremacy, division, abuse, pollution, consumerism, political extremism, polarized opinions and dogma so tied to one’s identity that the ability to find common ground is lost, senseless deaths, and the list could go on and on. This isn’t even touching the darkness in our own personal lives or the darkness in our own hearts. Pride, selfishness, hatred, complacency, idolatry. My head aches just thinking about it all. I want to hide under my covers and watch YouTube videos of laughing babies and kittens all day, pretending that none of this darkness exists. I don’t want to face the immensity of it all because when I try, it is simply too overwhelming and I am crushed by its weight and the impossibility of ever finding a remedy.

I think of how dark it must have felt for the Israelites in the space between the final prophetic words of the Old Testament and the fateful words of the angel to a young virgin girl that marked the beginning of the New Testament all those years later. Until that day, there was only divine silence day after day after day. Unrest, captivity, injustice, living as refugees, senseless death, and war must have been overwhelming. How hard it must have been to continue to hold on to the prophesies, the promises, the words of hope spoken by the prophets of old: On those living in a land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

But all of a sudden, on one seemingly ordinary day, in a small, inconsequential, ordinary town, an angel appeared to one ordinary young girl and light began to dawn. The slumbering, hibernating world began to waken, stirring and stretching as the voice of God once again was heard on earth. I think of the dawning of a new day, the first rays of light piercing the darkness of night, the atmosphere glowing in anticipation of the rising sun. Luminescence replacing darkness.

This is why we can celebrate and rejoice in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us, in the midst of our brokenness and pain. On that ordinary, extraordinary day, heaven came down to earth. Immortality became mortal, the All Powerful became helpless, the King of Kings became a baby, born in a humble manger bringing with him Light and Life for all people.

In this Christmas season it is the Light of Hope that we celebrate. We celebrate a light that reaches to the darkest of places. Even though we do not yet see it’s full effects, we believe and hope in the truth of this Light. The evidence of darkness remains all around us, but we live in the the tension of the now and the not yet. We live in the reality that Jesus came and He is coming, and as we encounter darkness our heart’s cry is, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This means that for that exhausting day the toddler keeps throwing temper tantrums and the baby won’t sleep, for the refugee crisis in war torn lands, and for everything in between, there is hope illuminated by the Light of Jesus.

Rejoice, weary soul! Light has dawned.