Enough

This moment is a quiet one. One where my little people are occupied and the baby is snoring on my chest and my thoughts slip into focus. Those savory thoughts I file away, deep in the back of my mind to come back to when I have the time to fully explore them. Ideas float in and out as if gliding on the summer breeze. Ideas I long to work out with the written word.

But his little sighs remind me that I have a new baby. My time is precious. And actually, I’m savoring this. Sitting here, rocking this tiny body. Peace and delight in the moment.

In the other room I hear the almost three year old humming her little ditties. She hasn’t quite been herself since the baby, and I make a mental note to sit and play wit her just as soon as my hands are free. And then my mind drifts to the six year old who is thriving in our homeschool because I work hard to create an atmosphere for learning. I feel proud of what I’ve managed with him this year, but that is territory to explore another day because down the hall a messy house calls, clothes lay in a heap on the floor, and bellies won’t fill themselves. There’s a husband to support while he’s been on the road, and a marriage to nuture when he is home. Suddenly I feel tired. Because in all this I have to sleep sometime.

And so, my friends, things get a bit neglected from time to time. Our souls collect dust and the things we enjoy crust over. All rusty in the joints. It’s the squeaky wheels that get my oil these days.

How dare we allow it, says our culture. Make you a priority. Convince yourself you are worth it. You can have it all–great kids, great marriage, a job you love, nights out with girlfriends, date nights with hubby, hobbies, spa days, and vacations.

But really, I think all I want is to simply be enough. Being Mom is enough. It’s enough, I say.

It’s enough to spend an hour making your baby smile because he likes listening to you sing. It’s enough to go for a walk and let the kids ride their bikes and then fall and scrape their knees.  It’s enough to play catch in the backyard without signing him up for T-ball. It’s enough to do the laundry, make the food, wash the dishes, organize the toys, settle the disputes. Must we really add the guilt of not doing something else onto it?

Maybe there’s more I’m missing out on. More I could have. More I should want for myself.

But I don’t. I just want to enjoy my children. I just want to do this job well.

And so I see you Mama. I see you at home, doing the day-to-day thing that isn’t worthy of an Instagram post. That thing no one gives you credit for. The thing that–really–you don’t even want credit for. I see the hard days; the ones that require an inhuman amount of patience. I see those rare days that are bliss. The ones somewhere in the middle. This is life. And it’s a glorious life. One you chose. One you commit to each morning. One you should be proud of. And one that is  enough all on its own. 

The Canvas in my Home

Soft fibers warm my harried fingers as I evict this load from the dryer. The scent of fresh laundry fills the room, and I shove the heap of clothes into the basket at my feet, hauling it to the living room where I begin to fold.

It’s never-ending, this cycle of dirty to clean again.

Her shirt is on the top of the pile, and I eagerly reach for it first. Scanning the front I notice the markers washed out and the ketchup is gone. The tearstains are visible only if I squint. Victory! Completely respectable for everyday play. As I fold my little Ruby patters up the steps and toddles around the corner. “Hi Mama. What are you doing?” she asks with a curious brightness.

I glance up to find her hands covered in blue, the kitty cat on her shirt showing evidence of the same crime. “Can I help?” She reaches for the clean clothes as I scramble up to grab her before the residual ink ends up on my laundry–or worse. “What’s all over your hands? We need to wash them. And how did you get this on your shirt, too? Ugh…I just washed this.”

She stares at me like only a child can, that innocent truth piercing my adult facade of togetherness. “Oh it’s no big deal. I just coloring. I can wash it off.” I shrug and take her to the sink.

Later, laundry finally folded, I find myself scouring the internet for a recipe. The clock is ticking; it’s already 4:23pm and I have no idea what to do with one chicken breast, a half a box of pasta, and a few questionable looking vegetables. “Why didn’t you go to the store today? They’ll be hungry soon,” I tell myself. “Find something. Anything! You can’t take more any more whining about food today.” But Google disappoints, and in defeat I turn my strained neck toward the window.

Out there, framed by the dormant trees, soft hues come alive in the sky. Reflected by the raw waters below a glittering glow covers every corner of the view. Beauty floods the window, and jealousy floods my heart.

Jealousy. An envious grudge against the Artist for His marvelous masterpiece hanging on the world’s largest canvas so elegantly displayed in front of my eyes. Every night it is something different. Something so wildly amazing, calling me to explore while the shackles of dinnertime bind me to a stove. Because in that moment all I wanted to do was abandon dinner and the  scattered toys overturned in front of me. I wanted to kick the laundry basket down the steps and leave it for someone else to pick up. I wanted to reach for my camera and create. Fill my canvas with something beautiful. Something interesting and quiet and inspiring. But the light was fading too fast and by the time I got organized to step out into the cold winter sunset, it would be gone. The masterpiece erased by the darkness of night. I sighed, moving toward the kitchen. Another canvas left unexplored. Another creative pursuit in chains.

An hour later, tired from the work of the day, I poured dinner into tall glasses. A mixed berry smoothie was all I could muster. They approached the table, surprised but excited to see something so scandalous for dinner. She climbed up into the chair next to mine. “What’s that on your sleeve?” I asked.

Glancing down, she began to proudly point out the various marks and stains. Yogurt from breakfast, marker from school time, some dried Play Dough from that afternoon, peanut butter from lunch, a wet sleeve from washing dishes, a few peeling owl stickers from a sheet she’d discovered before dinner. Her shirt had been transformed to her canvas. Her day a wearable reminder of the things she created and invested herself into. Tomorrow it would be different. Something new, a story that excited her in a different way.

And looking around my table, I see evidence of my own canvas. There is plenty of mess. Plenty of disorder and mistake and things I’d run out of time for. But on their faces are smoothie-covered smiles. The air around us comes alive with laughter. The only dish in the sink is a blender; a gift. It means extra time to play before bed.

Before children my camera was an extension of my arm. I could pick it up anytime and get lost in the world of abstract visions that called to me. But now my arms extend to a different canvas. They hold books, hands, dishes, and hearts. Each morning I am presented with a fresh, blank slate and each evening I sit back and evaluate the image. What did I create today? Did I use all the space? Did I sweep all the edges? Did I harness the Light in the best possible way?

The sunsets and flowers and color will always be there. They will wait for me, and someday my photography will not be held back by the handful of children buzzing around me.

But for now, they are my art. They are my canvas. They are the masterpiece the Artist is asking me to create.

Newborn

Soft squeaks awake me from a shallow sleep. Seven warm pounds stir and stretch against my deflated belly, rooting around to find a meal. I awaken to find two dark little eyes peeking at me through the dim light of our bedroom.

The whole world is sleeping, and my whole world is you.

Three babies in and most would think me a seasoned mother. One who would recognize, even come to expect, this feeling. But its all still so wonderfully new. I get butterflies when you look into my eyes. And your brown skin and dark hair are so beautiful I cry just looking at you. Every time I set you down to give my tired arms a rest, I miss holding you. And when you curl up in a ball, sleeping on my chest, my heart cracks open letting even more of you in. Pressing even more of me out, making a space all your own inside me.

This time with you is precious. It ticks rapidly by, your newness. Rushing forward I cannot stop you from getting bigger. Stronger. You are healthy and thriving, and for that I am incredibly grateful. Someday my son, you will be a mighty man. You will do great things and love in great ways.

But holding you–a newborn–in my arms I am surprised to find myself starting over with you in the same way. Fresh. Innocent. Full of possibility. Thank you, my sweet boy, for giving me the overwhelming wonder of being your mama. For letting me fall in love with you. For giving me the chance to be newly born into this marvelous mystery of motherhood all over again.

I cannot hold you back from outgrowing my arms. But you, my precious stone, you will never outgrow my heart.

Broken

On New Year’s Eve I sat in the rocking chair near my bed, struggling to put on my socks, a swollen belly limiting my motion while this little miracle kicked around inside me. Tears caught in my throat. A familiar feeling these days. Another day of pain.

Across the room an unmade bed seduced me with it’s fluffy pillows and warm sheets. A place of tenderness for my hurts. A warm embrace ready to thaw my frozen soul. A hiding spot to sink into until all this was over. Voices in our house interrupted my numbness; they were both crying while he tried to settle the squabble. These children needed their mother; this man needed his wife. And I realized I was capable of being neither.

I was broken. And ashamed.

Sobbing my way through the day, I finally admitted to my husband that night that I was depressed and had been for months. Maybe even a year. At first I thought it would get better. I just needed help or a break from the rigors of motherhood. And then, when a little someone took up residence inside me, I convinced myself I’d feel better when the nausea was over. After that, I needed just to get through the big move. And when none of that worked, I knew.

The chaos had led to exhaustion, the exhaustion to depression, and the depression into brokenness.

Brokenness extended into every area of my life, causing emotional distress and even physical pain. Unable to cope with the smallest of daily hurdles, I found myself for the first real time in my life giving up. Engaging required more than I had and more than I could summon. Everything I relied on–my rosy outlook on life, my ability to persevere, the endurance I developed, my strength of character and depth of faith–none of it was enough to repair what had been damaged. Or even inspire me to seek help.

It was my husband who stood up and rallied a network of support around me. My parents, concerned and dismayed, jumped to help while my husband drove me to my doctor’s office and held my hand through therapy sessions.

Postpartum depression is a term most are familiar with and usually sympathetic to. After all, a new mom has just been through huge changes, both physical and psychological. It’s easy to see how her emotions could become unbalanced. But depression during pregnancy carries a different stigma. It seems so foreign; a vibrant, glowing young mother cast down during the brightest of times. To the world it seems her demeanor should be one of radiance, not disfunction. And so the worst part is the shame. How could someone like me–a woman grounded in truth, living in a place I love surrounded by people who love me more–how could I be so lost?

I see now in my hopelessness there was so much helplessness. A shameful cloud of defeat, inflicting pain and exhaustion each time I tried to lift it. A broken spirit I didn’t recognize. Myself so lost, so confused, so buried in withdrawal the only thing left to feel was shame. Shame that I was not myself. Shame that I couldn’t will myself to feel better. Shame that I was so deeply shattered I pulled away from those who needed me most. As horrible as it sounds, even this little one growing inside me I kept at a comfortable distance.

I am broken. But it’s ok now. I have let go of the shame. I see now the shackles depression bound me in. Thanks to loving people who tenderly came to my rescue, a Christ-minded therapist, and a sympathetic OBGYN, I am overcoming this doom. I am healing, slowly regaining strength and learning about why this happened. My doctor is hopeful my strength will return in full force once our baby is born and the hormonal cocktail surging through my veins settles down; my therapist is helping ensure I can harness that strength to make the changes that need to be made. My husband stands strong beside me, being the man I need him to be right now. My family supports me with prayer and help, allowing me to find quiet space for restoration.

And so now I journey out of brokenness. It is hard work in the weariness, but rewarding as the first signs of healing begin. Happiness is returning from a spring of joy and peace as God collects all the broken pieces of my spirit and makes them whole again.

A Vision for my Valentine

He rises in the early hours of the morning. Toes touch the cold floor, back creaking upward after a long night. He breathes, bracing himself for the day, surveying his battlefield. Planning the strategy. Calculating his moves. No one prepared him for this. No one gave him the plans, the skills, the basic training. He learned this part by committing. By investing his heart into uncomfortable places.

He stands tall. Available. Sure. His confidence comes not from his experience or his own might, but from the Mighty One who stirs in his spirit. All his senses are alert and awake. Too many men have fallen into slumber, a trap of complacency and abdication. Not on his watch. Though the task is grueling and the road one of sacrifice, he will step up. He will lead. The enemy will stay far from his camp.

Eyes on the horizon, he dutifully protects his own. These gifts in his hands will not slip through the cracks. They laugh and play in the tall grass, safe under the watchful eye of their father. Joy spreads across his face at their vibrance and growth. And though he trekked miles to find this humble place, he would go a thousand more for them. Here in the lush meadow he has built his house; a short walk to life-giving streams, sheltered beneath the tall trees. It is not the flashiest or the finest. It is not set on a hill for all to see. Modestly it exists on the edge of beauty, but it offers him every advantage for the things that matter. A good place to do the fine work of raising warriors.

And a perfect place to keep her heart. Daily he fights for her. Cherishes her. Provides a soft place for her soul to rest. Attentively he seeks her out. He knows the deep value of her wisdom, the beauty in her spirit, the restoring power of her smile. And though it costs him dearly, he would stretch himself to any length for her. No price is too high for her heart. Because in their harmony is a never-ending depth of enjoyment.

But beyond their home the shadows loom long. Still streams can flash flood in an instant, and he readies himself for the days ahead. He prepares and trains, scanning the edges for dangers. Derailment results in disaster, and he has learned that lesson. And so each day when he rises, he leans into the day with intentional respect. With valor. With a prayer for beastly boldness to defend, restore, and show up.

He is not just a good dad. Not just a nice husband. Not just a driven guy who works hard to make something of himself.

He is a man who invites grace into his own heart to disrupt him from himself. From his failures and successes. His downfalls and his dreams. A man who seeks truth, and with courage, falls to his own knees, humbly accepting the radiance the Maker is abundantly pouring into his soul.

This is who I see. My true love in the hands of the Master.

Five More Weeks

Five more weeks. Likely a little less; possibly a bit more. Thirty-five weeks ago you appeared on the scene, a spec of dust now stretching my midsection to its max. What once was an imperceptible pebble now feels like a small boulder strapped tightly to my tender back. Your arms and legs press against me, testing the limits of their strength while my belly surges and hardens in response.

The time is nearing, little one. But despite my discomfort and swollen belly, I treasure these last days with you. I want for you to take as long as you need. Because when you come, you must begin finding your own way, and that seems like a lot to put on a baby.

The day is coming where you and I will physically separate. You will learn the harsh realities of a bright, loud, cold world. And though my arms will be waiting to scoop you up and hold you close, I cannot shield you from it all. You will feel hunger and the need for air. You will feel cold. Afraid. Out of control. Exhausted. You will perceive at once that you are not me, and that will be terrifying.

Right now we are linked; an intimacy so rare and so wonderful, the closest two human beings can ever get to complete oneness. We all begin this way: wrapped in another, sustained by her blood. Our identity enmeshed with her’s; our every need met by a mother’s sacrifice. It is a role I take great pride in and have ultimate respect for.

But the day is close, sweet baby. The day my role will change, and you must begin discovering who you are: a cherished creation apart from me.

You must learn how to make your needs known, how to cope without the constant warmth of my body and sound of my heart. You must learn to find sustenance, how to rest, and the value of forward movement. You must learn attachment, and then detachment. And we will be there to receive you. We will be there, ready to ease your transition; to encourage, comfort, and sustain you in your growth. But the task–the actual becoming of you–that rests on your shoulders.

It’s a severe truth to thrust onto such a raw and innocent life. I wish I could expand indefinitely, protecting you from the realities of the journey you must face. But to do so would be to deny you life itself.

So know this, my precious stone: this life is your gift. And the Giver is glorified in your soul’s abundance. I pray you learn to love Him for it, and seek to nurture what He has bestowed on you.

Take your time, baby. Come when you are ready. My arms eagerly await your arrival but my heart treasures this time.

Sparkle

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White stacks of steam rise up from the waters that stretch out from below us. Perched atop the bluff I stand watching the massive body of water sink into it’s wintery state. Candles on the table twinkle in the dim light of the early sunset. At the flip of a switch our tree comes to life, illuminating the dark corner and sending the sparkly glitter on the glass ornaments into a frenzy of show. Even the jingle bells and sprigs of holly gleam with gladness.

And in my house their small faces light up. Christmas is meant to sparkle.

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Splendor and spoil surrounds us, and I am glad for it. Saying so may make me a bad person, but I believe Christmas was always suppose to be a big deal. He lead the way, after all, with a shining star. The gifts, after all, were lavish. Angels filled the sky with song, and the hearts of all who saw Him were overwhelmed with joy. The Prince of Peace had come!

His mother was probably a young, poor girl and His father a simple carpenter, struggling to get by. They didn’t have a lot; they weren’t expected to sparkle. But He was. As God sent down His beloved Son that night, He created a new family while healing another. He took this broken world–His children who had run so far from Him–and He made for them a way back.

Under our own tree, there is a small collection of gifts. Extravagant they are not, but they are packaged in loveliness, some even in homemade wrapping, celebrating the creativity of the giver. A nod, I like to think, to the humble, spectacular delivery of the ultimate Gift on that first Christmas. Simple things though they may be, each one was carefully selected to show love and thoughtfulness. Each one weighed and considered and sought out so that when the anticipation of the promised gift finally arrives, delight and love fill their hearts.

The miracle of Christmas is about celebration. It is about the songs we sing and the cards that come in the mailbox. It’s the joy of Dad’s brioche French toast on Christmas morning and blowing out all the candles on Christmas Eve. It’s the miracle of fresh snow on the ground.

When the star hung overhead, it’s brilliance filled the sky. Twinkling in the darkness, giving hope. Being Light. An entire universe in celebration. Christmas was always meant to sparkle.

And so as we gather around our tree admiring the pretty decorations and special presents, I don’t feel guilt or excess. Christ does not get lost in the celebration. In the fashion of our generous Father, we give. We receive. We wrap things in beauty and sing of His glory, just as He did so many years ago. Because in marveling at His goodness, and in modeling it ourselves, a light fills our hearts. Warmth radiates from the joy in our spirits, and we step closer to becoming the family He desires.

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Standing in last rays, we watch the beauty slip into a deep slumber across the frigid lake. The final dusting of color fading into the heavens, stars glowing above. Around me twinkly lights hang and the tree fills the corner with glee.

“Look,” I whisper to them. “Look at what God has done.”