Three stories – and #payitforward

Well, I won’t lie – it’s been a hard week, for reasons I don’t want to explain to you. Would you like to be entertained? Here are three snippets that made me laugh.


First

Dear Stranger in the Thrift Store:

I do not usually bum a diaper off someone I do not know. Thank you for being gracious.

You see, I had moved all of my baby’s diapers and wipes to a different purse, to give to the babysitter on the night I had a date—and I forgot to return them to my shopping purse. So that day in the store when I was smelling whiffs of diaper trouble, and whisked my girl off to the bathroom for a change, I got as far as unfastening everything and assessing the damages when I realized I was completely, entirely, 100% fresh out of options.

Several ideas flashed through my mind, none of them pretty.

Then I remembered you and your little girl playing by the toy section, and how we’d smiled at each other. Thank you for letting me come beg from you, and for refusing my money, and for offering me your wipes too as I turned away. I’m sorry that I smiled and clung to my pride and said I was okay, I’d use the paper towels in the bathroom. They were not as helpful as I’d hoped.

But I will remember you and your kindness. If you ever need one, you know where to come.

#payitforward
Shari


Second

I’ve been trying to find new coping strategies for worry.

The other day when something was eating at me I thought I would text it to The Boss, but suddenly wished I could text it to Jesus instead – as a way of forgetting about it and letting it go. So just for the kick of it I typed Jesus into the address line (53787) and wrote my little worries and hit send. I knew the message would bounce right back to me, but I didn’t care. What I didn’t anticipate was what my phone said – in large letters on the left side, JESUS, and on the right side, FAILED.

Not quite the sensation I was going for, but it cracked me straight up.

Since then my husband outfitted me with an extra number by which I can text to Jesus, that only he will ever see. I have been keeping it hot.


Third

I do not usually write here about my speaking engagements, for two reasons. First, it feels like showing off, and second, I don’t have many of them. So if you come here hoping for my opinion of your event, I’m sorry – you’re logging up the wrong tree.

But.

Last year about this time I was preparing to speak at an unusually stressful venue, for me. It was going to be a large audience, both men and women, in a Christian setting so conservative-minded that I figured if I mis-dressed or mis-spoke I might as well build my own coffin and go lie down in it, cuz it was all over.

While packing to go, I dithered about what shoes to wear. I’m not a big shoe person, so it came down to a choice of two pairs: snappy black dress shoes with inordinately high heels, which I had not worn for months – having a faint memory of discomfort associated with them – or black flats with big cream fabric flowers on the toes. I thought with a long skirt, the heels would be the less offensive of the two, so I picked them.

All went well, and I wore those shoes for two long days without mishap, until a week or so after the event when I developed shooting pains in my big toes. Both sides.

Cough.

So, if you were at the event or if you come from a church that has Opinions on such matters, I thought it would comfort you to learn that I lost two toenails to that wretched experience, and everything your pastor tells you about high heels is true. They are from the devil.

I can’t remember just now if I threw them vindictively into the trash can, or donated them to the thrift store to ensnare a new owner.

Like I said,

#payitforward
Shari

Peanut butter and dragon wings

Confession: My son caught me crouching in the pantry with a large spoonful of peanut butter and honey halfway to my mouth.

pb n honey_0120

??!!?? he said.

The spoon made it the rest of the way, hastily.

Regan, I said firmly, I am gathering shthrength to care for my children. Now go play.

*

Three weeks of intense coughing by Mrs. Zook developed into 100% of her kiddos sick, including foster-baby-for-at-least-the-weekend who turned into foster-baby-for-at-least-two-weeks and then began upchucking violently. The washing machine stopped working and several inches of water pooled in the basement from all the rain. My mother got her first chemo treatment and my sister arrived from Israel, but I stayed away for the sake of all those germs.

A great weight loss program, all told; I highly recommend it. There is so little time to actually eat.

That is why I was crouching in the pantry fortifying myself with a chunk of peanut butter. I figured it was better than eating the entire bag of York mints.

And it was within reach, too.

But things are looking up. My man hotwired the washing machine and drained the basement. My friends sent food and comforting text messages, despite sickness in their own troops. I made it to the doctor, and the baby stopped puking (and oh, she is sweet), and the coughing bug caught the final child. We are fresh out of children for this bug to catch. Unless it starts catching them over again, which—heaven forbid.

*

My friend Anita owned the one piece of clothing in the world that I coveted, a webbed scarf knitted in a dragon’s wing pattern, deep turquoise with flecks of all colors woven through it. Her mother made it for her; not the kind of thing you can go buy at Walmart.

The week after Christmas I got a surprise package from my friend Heidi in Canada. I unwrapped a beautiful light turquoise store-bought scarf with flecks of color all through it. Hey, my son said. That looks kind of like the dragon’s wing.

I laughed in delight, and wrapped it around my shoulders. I wore it in season and out of season, matching and not matching, shelter me in the shadow of your wing. His provision is not a sparrow’s wing, as I always imagined, but something akin to a dragon’s wing. I wore it on the night the baby came and on the nights I sat up with her and I wrapped it around everyone I rocked to sleep.

scarf n baby_0090

I think He sent it on purpose, right before my crazy time. I wore it till I could feel it around me whether I was wearing it or not. I’m wearing it now.

I debated and debated about the color, Heidi said. I thought you liked blue.

*

I had to fill another spoonful of peanut butter and honey for the sake of a photograph, but I didn’t mind. Neither did Regan, who stayed home sick today from school. He got to eat this one.

regan_0121

In the thick of it

You might cry, at nine o’clock pm on a Saturday night when you’re cleaning the last bathroom and your man comes in and finds you. “Hey, hard workin lady,” he says gently, and holds you.

You might cry then, though you’ve been strong all day. They’re in bed now.

It’s not so much that you mind cleaning the house in the dark and quiet, it’s just that you’re so flat tired. You don’t know how it happened, but somehow the second week of the twins’ life with you coincided with the first week of summer vacation, and the birth of four goats, and the mail delivery of twenty-one newborn chicks. It didn’t help that you had sick babies all week, and three lengthy doctor’s appointments in there. It doesn’t help that you’re ten weeks pregnant.

There is no part of your life you would dispense with, not for worlds. It’s just that you’re so flat tired.

You say you forgot what it was like, being in the thick of mothering toddlers, but you’ve never quite been here before. There’ve never been so many small people dependent on you for life and happiness, so many piles of laundry, so many poopy diapers. There’s a perpetual explosion of toys all over your floor, but it’s not only toys, it’s also the whisk attachment from the Kitchen Aid, the expensive phone they know they’re not supposed to have, somebody’s socks, the latest issue of National Geographic for Kids, the foot pedal of your sewing machine, and fifteen Kleenexes pulled from the box. The mess from a single lunchtime looks like this, when you broom it up.

food on floor_1874

You forgot the brain-numbing aloneness, and the blessed relief of a friend’s face at your door, with a box of donuts and enough warm jackets for the twins, in just the right sizes. It hasn’t really been that long since you interacted with other adults, but sometimes you’re afraid you’re forgetting how. Could you even have a normal conversation anymore? Do you remember the rules? Speech these days comes in short bursts, disjointed praises and commands.

Good job, baby!
Yay!
Honey, please don’t slam the door.
Thank you for helping me, son.
Oh no-no, don’t eat that!
Give Mommy a kiss…
Can you put away your own laundry?

Every part of your body—your dish-soapy hands, your sniffly-allergic nose, your strong feet, your growing belly—gives thanks to Jesus for His gifts.

Oh thank you thank you thank you thank you.

But you make a lot of mistakes, and you have to pray for grace and forgiveness. You lose your temper and you drop out of communication with people, and you nag your husband too much about a thing that really doesn’t matter.

You begin to take an absurd joy in the smallest achievements—getting one section of the kitchen floor swept clean, folding a shirt smooth and straight, killing that fly.

You’re going to make it. You can feel it in your body—you have enough for these kiddos, and for the one growing inside you. Enough food, enough love, enough body fat. After the crying is done, you sit on the stoop with your husband in the cool evening air, and refresh yourself with strawberries, and garden tea, and ten minutes of quiet talk under the stars. And then you go to bed and sleep in peace.

Tomorrow is new. You’re going to be okay.

*****

I wrote this in second person, because that is the voice in which I heard it in my head. “You” won’t identify with all of it, but which parts ring true?

Just for new moms

Confession: Nowadays, my biggest mothering challenge seems to be saying “What?” so many times.

“Hey Mom.”

“What?”

“Guess what?”

“What?”

“Do you know what happened today?”

“What?”

“Um… I forget what I was saying.”

WHAT??!?!

Okay, there might be a few bigger challenges, like sibling rivalries, preadolescent attitudes, and foster bye-byes. But my point is that it’s gotten smoother.

It’s easy to forget my earliest days of mothering, when being responsible for the health and happiness of a small person 24/7 was oh, so daunting. Probably every woman makes the transition to motherhood differently. For some, those first baby days are sweet and simple, everything they’d hoped for and more. For others, they bring a serious reality check.

The work never ends.

He won’t stop crying.

Will I ever have time to take care of myself again?

She’s such a good baby, but I just feel overwhelmed all the time.

If this is you, take heart. You’re not alone.

newborn feet

After my first child was born, and I was dealing with post-partum depression I didn’t recognize, I couldn’t hear of someone else’s pregnancy news without thinking “Oh honey, I’m sorry. You have no idea what you are getting into.” I worried all the time, listening for his crying, stressed out that I’d do something wrong. I felt like I had become a different person—my body and moods unfamiliar, my old routines shattered.

I remember the first time I left my son for half an hour with Grandma. Though I was desperate for a break, I felt a chain tied between my baby and I, tugging unbearably every moment I was gone, and I thought I’d never be free again.

Though my first child was by far my easiest baby in temperament, I fought months of exhaustion and discouragement. It wasn’t so much the work as the responsibility. This small person would be utterly dependent on me for an awfully long time. There was no mom to call on but me. At any hour of the day or night, he might need me and I would be on duty. Some women thrive on that sweet dependence and connection, but for me, the first time around spelled claustrophobia and fear.

I felt small and inexperienced. I thought all moms were selfless, and tireless, and above all knew what to do. I was just me, trying to wing it. Living in a new community without extended family, just beginning to form friendships, I felt so isolated and unprotected. Who would guide me? Who would take care of me?

If this is you, take heart. You’re not alone, and it gets better, I promise.

newborn crying

Though I now mother four children, and regularly conquer task lists that would once have looked superhuman to me, I’d personally take this stage any day over that first one. It was hard!—and new moms are brave!—and I never had to go through it again. My others babies didn’t come close to packing the overwhelming responsibility of the first. I’d deal with a couple weeks of emotional drama post-partum, and then things would level off. I can do this. I remember how. It’s going to be okay.

{If by any chance you are pregnant with your first baby, this is not the time for you to start freaking out. You will surely be one of the moms who finds those newborn days simply sweet! And there’s this…}

The thing about mothering is, you have to learn as you go.

You can read the best books, be loved by the best husband, line up the most support, and in the end, it’s still you who has to show up and make this thing happen. But you have Jesus. He won’t leave you. You’ve never done this before, and that’s okay. You won’t do it perfectly, and that’s okay. Babies are more resilient than you think, and although there’s a lot you can learn, there isn’t one right way to do it.

You are in a role that nothing but the role quite prepares you for. And you’ll get better at it.

You don’t have to love every minute. You don’t have to feel that all your dreams came true and your baby is a squishable shnookums you can’t stop holding. You just have to show up. Ask for help. Talk to your husband/ your doctor/ a few friends about what you’re feeling. And show up.

“When do you start liking it?” a young mother asked me lately. She wasn’t talking about mothering so much as housework, endless dishes and laundry in a lonely house when she’s a woman who loves people and getting out.

“You don’t have to like it,” I said firmly. (The “loving every minute” jazz puts way too much pressure on the rest of us.) “You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.”

Whoa, I thought. What kind of advice is coming out of my mouth?!?

“And pretty soon, you’ll be good at it.

kissing a newborn

Pretty soon, you’ll find that the bewildering blur of diapers and nursing pads and sleep schedules has settled into quite a workable system, and you’ll be whirring in the hub of it, doing what you’re good at.

There is a lot of joy there.

*****

All photos in this post were taken by my friend Shaunda Stoltzfus when my daughter Kelly was two weeks old. You’d never know it, but five of our older kids were tearing around and climbing all. over. us. during this photoshoot.

On miscarriage

Dear Son,

It is always easier not to feel.

Some days, even weeks, I am entirely numb, knowing I lost you but unable to feel a thing—no love, no loss, no tears. Then comes a day when it all breaks over me. And afterwards I get up and clean my house again and cook supper for my family.

I am getting good at loving people I cannot keep. When someone says to me “How many children do you have?” I do not know what to say.

There is one I loved who never belonged to me, and another whose eyes fill my mind, though I only see him once a week. There are three precious ones who were born to me, loved and nurtured while days turned into years. There is another I’ve loved for five months and will never forget. There is one baby with Jesus, and another whom I prepared for and gave a name to but never met, and another we pray for every night, who has not yet been. There are nine nieces and eleven nephews whom I love more than I thought possible, and more on the way, and more in heaven. There are children of friends and colleagues passing through my home every week, children whom I love like mine while they are here. There are little strangers whose pictures hang on my refrigerator because I love their mothers.

These names I say in my mind, these faces I hold in my heart. I do not know how many children I have. What does “have” mean?

My heart is not whole anymore. But you are in it as long as I live. This is what is true, though you feel irretrievably gone, passed clean out of this world into another where I cannot follow. I will never hold you in this life. My own body betrayed me, dropped this precious thing I intended to carry, dropped it down down down

You were a gift in a circle, from God’s heart to my body to God’s heart. I learned to wail like David, a song I never hoped to sing. My son, oh my son, my son.

I have rarely found God when I screamed into the sky (though I have done this many times in my life), but when, after my grief and outrage are spent, I turn to see Him standing at my elbow. He is always quiet then, and His eyes are steady. There are tears on His face.

I lost my Son too. I love more children than I can keep.

He is not up there somewhere dealing out pain to humanity. He is here in flesh at the grave, weeping, ready to speak the resurrection words.

I am learning that belonging to God does not spare me deep sorrow, loss, and pain. I am human—not immune to suffering, not held in a bubble of calm in a world of injustice, but allowed like Christ to pass through anguish. Love is the only thing that redeems, and love cannot live in this world without being wrenched on a rack.

But you? You are forever safe, forever loved.

God does not have to explain Himself to me, nor I to you. You have passed into the realm where questions meet the Answer, and all explanations are behind you. You are my rich gift of God—this is the name we gave you. I hold to Him in hope, and to you, though it does nothing to dissolve the pain.

We are loved, little son of God.

-Mommy

*****

Thank you for your kind words when I told you I lost a baby. It means something to me to know you care, though I dare not wallow in your sympathy. I would prefer this, especially if you have lost a pregnancy of your own—please tell me what comfort you found most precious then, what truth God planted in your heart, how someone loved you. Next time I will take my turn, and share what has been most healing for me.