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This Difficult Advent Hope

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The baby sits heavy in my pelvis. Her heels and fists roll under my skin, her head burrows lower, her toes press against my ribs. There is enormous pressure. Eating is a problem. Some nights I can’t hold onto my dinner. I choose between eating and sitting upright on an ice pack, or skipping dinner so I can lie on my side and relieve some of the pressure. My sleep is broken, my dreams vivid and often frighteningly focused on death– apparently not uncommon during the third trimester.

They don’t tell you how close birth and death become within the body of a pregnant person. Pregnancy holds us in a layered experience of beginnings and endings, whether at the literal level or more figuratively, with the death of control over your own body, the end of your old identity and its transformation into a new one. This third time around, I know there is no way to give birth to another person without being changed myself.

In these last weeks before birth, the baby’s body has nearly taken over mine. I can feel myself drawing inward. My thoughts have trouble adhering to anything that isn’t about this impending birth. Approaching labor feels like entering new but familiar country– a passage I navigate alone, even though I’m accompanied by and accompanying a brand new life, even though I feel God’s nearness.

My 5-and-a-half-year-old daughter is more curious this year about who Jesus is, how God could come to earth as a child. For the first time, she is feeling out the deeper meaning of her favorite holiday. We are slowly making our way through The Jesus Storybook Bible, and she has lots of questions about God’s character: Why would God bring flood? Why would God ask Abraham to do that?

As we move out from the simple warmth of “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” and into more complicated territory, I find myself feeling grateful for my own experiences of questioning, of having my faith shaken. I try not to tie everything up in a bow for her, but instead admit the places where I also feel stumped, while still helping her understand that she is held and loved. This is tricky stuff. As we look at the Old Testament stories together, I’m careful to draw her attention back to the arrival of Jesus, to show her the ways that all of these stories are Advent stories, anticipating Christ’s coming. But Christ’s coming contains within it Christ’s life, death, and resurrection– the whole story of Love’s struggle to be born in us.

Meanwhile, my nearly-three-year-old son is busy exploring the shapes of our nativity set as we unwrap one each night. Sometimes he goes to sleep clutching a tiny plastic lamb. Sometimes I find a miniature Joseph in the seat of a toy helicopter on the bathroom counter. Listening to the nightly story of the little bear following the star, or trying to blow out the Advent candles as I light them, my children are doing what children do. They are making sense of this new mystery with their hands and feet, their eyes and ears– with their bodies.

Our Creator came to us in a body, and worked out our salvation in a body. He experienced birth, growth, fear, anger, joy, sadness, love, suffering, and death. Faith can easily become something we do just with our thoughts, and I’m grateful for the ways the liturgical year and the Episcopal tradition invite me to experience faith in my body. This Advent, worn out by a challenging pregnancy, I feel more than ever the paradoxes of this difficult year– its unexpected gifts alongside pain and grief– and with increased intensity, my longing for hope.

This is the third time I’ve been pregnant during Advent. The first ended in miscarriage, the second brought us our son, and this third time we are expecting his little sister. Expectation, anticipation, waiting– these are vulnerable states of being. Along with the births of my two children, I have expected and anticipated and then lost two little lives, and I am not “over” them. They have become part of me. I carry those wounds in my body and have come to understand the lack of resolution as its own kind of healing– as a place God enters and redeems, over and over, as the years pass. My active, earthside children run and play and fill me to bursting with love, with gratitude for the privilege of mothering them. I kiss their soft, round cheeks and hug them close. Along with these deeply satisfying experiences in my body, the experience of losing their two siblings is also part of my faith, this lifelong process of getting to know God.

When I started thinking about writing for this month’s theme, “tethered to hope,” my mind filled with images of that word tether. I could see the rope my husband uses to strap lumber and tools to his truck, the promise of useful things his hands can make to help us. I could see an astronaut floating in the terrifying vastness of space, tethered to a shuttle by a slim cord, the only hope of a return to earth. And I could see the umbilical cords that connected me to each of my babies, and my son’s curious gazing at his belly button, the mark that first tether left on his body.

These images tell of security, safety, connection, promise. But a tether can be troubling, too. It can be a chain that keeps us in places where we don’t want to be. In reading through the book of John recently with my prayer group, we found ourselves pausing at two little verses, where the disciples are struggling to accept who Jesus says He is. Some of his followers have begun to desert him, and Jesus asks the Twelve: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter answers him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69, NIV)

Once you know that truth deeply, with your whole being, it becomes impossible to walk away. That can be both freeing and terrifying, especially when our human minds fail to see when we have misunderstood something about God’s character. My prayer group talked about how each of us has come to a place in our faith where we felt trapped by it, tethered to a truth that can be difficult to grasp, yet alive. And we each described feeling like Jesus was holding onto us, even during times when we felt angry, hurt, lost, and confused by our faith. Even when we felt like giving up. With the loss of my first baby, I remember confiding in my pastor that I felt strangely imprisoned by my faith. Having only recently returned to church after long absence, I felt suddenly trapped inside of a new/old truth. I could not let go of it, and it did not seem to want to release me, yet I felt utterly confused about its author. God the Good Father exists and is in control, and his children experience terrible suffering in this world.

This remains an unsolvable equation for me. Through loss, God shows me that instead of trying to solve the equation, I can rest in the assurance of God’s love. I can look at the ways God has brought healing, has written the Christ story inside of my own story. From out of pain and loss and death, God grew in me greater empathy for others’ suffering, deeper awareness of God’s presence, stronger relationships with my partner, my family and friends.

I am careful not to place these things on either side of an equal sign. The liturgical year is so meaningful because it is cyclic, because in our bodies we continue to live out the mysteries of the Christ story. It is both solved and unresolved. We are always somehow waiting for Jesus to be born, waiting for His resurrection, and waiting for His return– even as we mark and celebrate the fullness of these things.

In this Advent season of 2020, my kids keep me connected to joy, even as I acknowledge the devastating losses this year has brought us all. Every morning, my daughter moves the snowman to the next pocket on her Advent calendar, and asks me, “Is it solstice yet?” She is thinking of winter, of hot cocoa, snow, and sledding.

In this hemisphere, Jesus comes at the peak of the year’s darkness, when the earth tilts furthest from the sun. Hope comes to us in the middle of the longest night. In 2020, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic, and an end to this very long night is still uncertain. It can feel painful to remain tethered to Hope, to all that God promises, when so much is unraveling around us. Advent teaches us that this is exactly where Jesus meets us– not in our picture-perfect Christmas cards, not in our matching jammies or gift-buying, not in our untroubled certainties. Jesus meets us outside of the limits of town and faith, in the stable of our brokenness, and He promises restoration and redemption.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Tethered to Hope”.

Discomfort and Joy

I’ve been writing down notes on little scraps of paper about the sweeter things I want to remember from the past 9 months. This pregnancy, which has overlapped with the strange liminal time of the pandemic, has been full of discomfort– but not without joy. These notes are part of my prayer to remember to savor this time, just as it is, even though it is not what I had hoped it would be. Great joy is often made up of the smallest, simplest things.

Raspberry Zinger iced tea. It has helped so much with nausea and hydration. I hope I still like this after the baby comes. I put two tea bags each in two quart-size mason jars and let them sit until they’re cool enough to touch, then pour them into a pitcher I keep in the fridge.

Lyle bringing me breakfast in bed every. single. morning. It has helped with the nausea and just made me feel so loved and cared for.

When Sky and Robin started calling the baby Peaches. Robin loves to nestle next to me in bed, put his ear to my belly and say, “What you DO-EENG in there Peaches?” He doesn’t stay still long enough to actually feel her kick under his hand. But Sky has become very expert, feeling for baby’s foot like a serious little midwife. She laughs out loud whenever the baby moves. To her it is brand new magic each time.

My Zoom baby shower! It filled me with so much joy and love at a time when I was feeling very low. And it restocked our nursery with much-needed items we had given away once Robin (who we thought was our last baby) grew out of them.

Taking walks around Salish Pond near our home when the weather was nice and I was feeling well enough. Getting to see my big kids explore together.

My kids playing nicely together for longer stretches of time. Where before this was sporadic and short-lived, they’re 9 months older now and they’ve learned a few things about resolving squabbles, apologizing, and what kinds of games they like to play together. It’s really reassuring as we approach the time when Mommy will be much less available to referee their fights or make suggestions for their play.

Homeschooling Sky and watching Robin’s curiosity bloom. I love having plenty of space for them to create. It is so sweet to see them busy with projects at their little tables.

My friend Stephanie’s incredible support. This woman watched my kids for eight hours on the day we moved to our new home, after gathering and delivering piles of moving boxes she spotted on her Buy Nothing page, and also spending several days painting over wallpaper with us. She has sent me encouraging texts as well as satisfyingly snarky ones acknowledging how crappy pregnancy can be. She is currently filling our freezer with meals. Along with her own two kids and two brand-new puppies, she’s watching my kids so I can rest. And she’s on-call to come scoop them up or stay with them when I go into labor. And probably a kazillion other tiny things my weary mind is forgetting in this moment. This woman’s heart and her friendship make me cry happy tears.

Enjoying a fire in the fireplace at our new home. The kids are mesmerized by it, though we really have to watch Robin, who seems destined to become fire-obsessed like his daddy. I especially love sitting by the fire with Lyle after the kids are in bed, dreaming together of who this little girl will be, and what it will be like to have not two but three wild kids in our home soon. This fireplace, this home, and this family have been dreams of ours for so, so long, and it feels so good to enjoy them.

Reconnecting to my church community through Zoom morning prayer and virtual church services. They have been praying with me through all the ups and downs of this season. Their love and humor, and their powerful prayers, have helped me get through it.

Lots of snuggles with my kids. Nothing like “morning” sickness to make all-day-jammies-and-movies a new tradition.

Knowing Sky is going to have a sister. She is already talking about what she wants to teach this baby girl. I grew up with an amazing sister and I’m so happy Sky gets to have one, too.

Three Things

Three quick things for you, on the morning of this problematic holiday, in this devastating year.

Eleanor Davis on giving thanks and letting it be complicated: “I’m thankful for Brian and James, working the night shift in the ICU. No. I’m not thankful. I’m scared. I’m angry they’ve been put in this position.”

Since it’s just our family of four this year, we’re making an abbreviated menu today, and so for the past week we’ve been serving runner-up side dishes as mains for dinner. In my family, Thanksgiving casseroles never extended very far past the obligatory green-bean-and-onion-crisps, made with Cream of Mushroom Soup, or the classicly saccharine sweet-potato-with-marshmallow. So it felt almost healthy to serve my kids this Acorn Squash Casserole with Maple Nut Praline the other night. They ate all of it. It’s so good you could serve it for breakfast. (Or maybe just make the praline and put it over ice cream.)

Our local libraries have closed again during the governor’s 4-week pause. I applaud the pause, and all the work Kate Brown has done to keep our state’s cases relatively low. But I’m sad to lose the library’s wonderful curbside holds programs, and I’m missing seeing our friendly, masked librarians during our weekly pick-up visits. I’m thankful for Overdrive, and the library’s free Libby app, allowing me to continue reading during the pause, albeit on a screen. (That link’ll help you find your library’s Overdrive site so you can quickly find something to read today for free.) I’ve been using it to slowly read A Simple Guide to John, in my favorite series by S.J. Paul McCarren. In the last two days, though, I whipped through Sally Rooney’s Normal People. We watched the Hulu/BBC mini-series earlier in the pandemic, and I’m pleased to say I liked the book even more. She is a phenomenal writer and I’m looking forward to reading her next novel.

Savoring my Non-Instagram-Worthy Pregnancy

Me in May 2015

Her heartbeat is strong, immediate.

“155 beats per minute!” says the intern cheerfully. My midwife, Catherine, adds this to my record on the computer.

“Wow, she’s excited!” Catherine says. 

She has just finished reassuring me that I can go back on the antidepressant I had stopped taking when I saw two lines appear in April. After years of  worsening, debilitating symptoms, and countless incorrect diagnoses, I had finally found a way to manage my cyclic vomiting syndrome. Within a few months on a low dose of amitriptyline, I had finally felt like myself again. And then I was unexpectedly pregnant, and my former doctor advised against continuing a class C drug. 

Now, after months of struggling under constant nausea, deepening sadness, and stress from an increasingly isolated pandemic pregnancy, I find myself suspecting depression. I need relief, support– beyond what fragments remain of a previously robust support system. It’s beginning to dawn on me how much I’ve been trying to hold together, especially for my children, and it feels so good to admit that I am struggling, that this has been hard.

The intern asks if I’d like to record the heartbeat on my phone, so my husband can listen to it. Suddenly I am flooded with images of all the appointments and ultrasounds he has missed this time around, and all the times I’ve sat in offices like this one, masked and alone, often hurried along, to reduce potential exposure to the virus. 

Instantly my eyes brim over and a sob escapes from my chest, like a strange fish hauled up from the depths. I am so happy, and so sad, at 33 weeks. So grateful for this baby, and so heartbroken by all I’ve missed this year.

I wanted, from the beginning, to truly enjoy this pregnancy. To savor the indescribable feeling of growing another brand-new person, likely the last little being we’ll welcome into our family. To savor her. To wonder over everything she brings with her, all that lies ahead that we can’t know. Listening to her heartbeat, I feel regret over how difficult it has been to do much more than just survive this pregnancy. How many times have I picked myself up again in the name of just getting through it

I finish my recording– 30 seconds of that incredible sound– make my next appointment, and head to my car in the falling light. I douse my hands in sanitizer and take off my mask, and I ask God what I can do to savor these last few weeks. I don’t want to just get through them. I want to find small ways of celebrating and recording our time together, for better or worse. There is no denying that this pregnancy has been difficult, and yet I still want to remember what it felt like to carry our daughter.

A picture comes to mind, one my husband took of me when I was pregnant with our oldest, over five years ago. It was an airless day in late May, a few days past my due date. In the picture I am sitting in the yard of our rental house, a misshapen straw hat on my head. My belly is huge and my posture bears the distinctive air of defeat and surrender that only late pregnancy can bring. I am half-smiling and half-grimacing, and my eyes are closed as if I’m sleeping. I’m not sleeping, though. I’m blinking. This is a frame caught on old-fashioned film with Lyle’s TLR camera, and with no digital proof to check, it was the only shot he took. (On the same roll of film, there were images from our wedding four years prior.) It’s the last picture of Sky and me together in just this way, a few days before I went into labor for the very first time.

In the picture, to me at least, I look totally and supremely over it. I winced when Lyle showed it to me months later, after developing it in the darkroom. I had had visions of sweeping gowns and flower fields, the kind of maternity shot Instagram would have me strive for, and this? This lumpy, tired woman in an old lawn chair? Definitely not what I had in mind. 

“Look how beautiful you are,” Lyle had said in complete sincerity, misty-eyed as he looked at the image, then up at me, cradling our daughter. I thanked him then, but put the photo away for a long time.

Now, arriving home from the midwife, I play the heartbeat recording for Lyle and the kids and I tell him I think it’s time to get that old picture out. Looking at it now, I love it because it is real and it is ours. I love the man who took it, who looks at the picture and sees peace, and the tiny person in that huge belly who has become unaccountably tall, funny, and wild about her world.

This picture reminds me that I’ve been here before, in just this same imperfect, uncomfortable, kind-of-over-it way. All of it is sacred, and so worthy of savoring. My previous pregnancies, just as they were, brought us our daughter, my spark and flint, and our son, with his soft-centered mischief. Who will this new little one be? This time around has been painful and difficult, but it has been ours: mine, his, this baby’s, our family’s. This is our time together, and I don’t want to forget it. 


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Savor”.

The Same Sea

Last night I went for a short walk along Netarts bay. Children and dogs ran back and forth on the wet sand, and the water was flat and still. It was hard to believe it was the same sea that only hours prior was slamming against the rocks, tossed by stormy winds, as the first of the season’s dangerous king tides battered the Oregon coast. Last night, the wind threw the plastic beach chairs on the porch against the sliding glass door, over and over, and this morning the sea is choppy again. The wind whistles and shakes the little beach house, and I shudder, thinking of getting back in my car in an hour to return to my family after this short retreat.

How different the same sea can look at high and low tides, especially when they are this extreme. How different my own outlook can be when the weather is stormy, inside or out.

Nearing the end of this pregnancy, I’m wrapping up 36 hours of solitude on the Oregon coast, at the end of a year of extremes, and I’m thinking about tides, seasons, solitude vs loneliness, and answered prayer.

The God I know is a God who speaks through bodies and relationships. There is so much I don’t understand about how prayer works, but I want to name what I’ve seen and experienced in the past few weeks, in writing and praying about feeling lonely.

I continue to feel God’s presence in the shared silence between verses during Zoom morning prayer, knowing that the men and women I pray with carry me in their hearts the way I carry them in mine. Sometimes there are practical things we can “do” to respond to one another’s needs and prayers, but most of the time there is the simple act of praying together, even though we are apart, all of us turned toward the same presence of God.

I’ve started reading through the book of John and praying over Zoom with a few dear friends once a week, women I’d lost touch with when the pandemic hit. What began as a book club many years ago grew into a more informal friendship rooted in a practice of praying together. Off and on over many years, through illnesses and job transitions, longed-for weddings and babies, we have had the privilege of watching God move in each other’s lives. Even in seasons when we were too busy for book clubs or studies, we’d still meet at the same bakery every few months to catch up on each other’s lives. That bakery closed permanently during the pandemic, and I realized I hadn’t connected with them in some time. I’ve been so grateful to rekindle that bond, in spite of the distance.

More chances to renew friendships and strike up conversation have emerged. Another good friend and I started reading Rachel Held Evan’s book Inspired together, and talking through some of the questions it raises for us over Facetime. I had an outdoor, socially-distanced meet-up with another friend and her children (in masks!) whom I hadn’t seen in months. And some hard conversations about risk tolerance happened with friends in our bubble, allowing me to see how much love and understanding holds up those friendships, and making room for more time spent with other grown-ups, something I’m realizing I really need to feel well.

All of this has helped give me the strength to be more honest with my children. I’ve told them that it’s hard work for Mama to grow a baby, and I need them to help by picking up their things when I ask, and being kind to each other. I’ve been amazed by the way they’ve responded when I’m vulnerable with them in this way. One day, I let them see me cry and they brought me stuffies and tissues, patting my hand and saying, “It’s okay to be sad, Mama.” What an incredible reassurance. I must be getting something right, for all I feel I’m failing them, if they can respond to me with such empathy.

Being here solo on the coast is one half of a babymoon my husband and I won’t get to take together: I stayed with the kids one weekend so he could get a few days of rest on his own, and now he’s done the same for me. I felt a little nervous that a solo weekend would only exacerbate the loneliness I’ve felt at home, but instead I’ve had time to catch up with friends on the phone, and reconnect to the writing practice that makes me feel whole.

Writing has felt less lonely since I joined Exhale last month, a positive and encouraging online community of mothers and writers, many of them women of faith. I’ve been surprised by the way it has helped me find time to write, and how good it feels to be writing again, even a little. Making that small step led to more connection than I expected: two writers I admire read and shared my last post with their readers, and I watched my words reach many more people than they ever would have otherwise. I am deeply touched by that generosity. It has felt so good to read your comments here, and to hear from friends in real life about their own struggles with loneliness. In this long season of parenting in a pandemic, there is comfort for me in knowing that I am not alone in feeling alone.

Meanwhile, my fellow SPU alum Charlotte Donlon has just published a book on faith and loneliness called The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads us to Each Other. The title could not more perfectly encapsulate what I’ve felt in the past few weeks. News of this book reached me just a few days ago, and I’m still marveling over the beauty of that synchronicity. I ordered my copy and can’t wait to read it. I hope you will too.

I see and feel God moving in all of this, a prayer answered many times over, and I’m so grateful. The extreme tides of 2020 are far from over and I know the sea will get stormy once again, so I am writing this down to remember God’s faithfulness, and the gift of renewed connections.

On Pebbles, Daniel Tiger, and Loneliness

Photo by Lindsey Middleton on Unsplash

We have a rock collection in our house. Some are from special places, some are precious stones, but most of them are ordinary pebbles that just felt good in our hands, picked up from creek beds and beaches. When my oldest feels worried, which is often these days, she sometimes picks up a purple stone with a slight indent, and rubs it with her thumb to comfort herself.

It’s a bit of polished agate I found at a bookstore in Philadelphia, when I went to visit a childhood friend expecting her first baby, whose husband was fighting cancer. I picked up the rock to soothe my own worries, for my friend and her husband’s pain and her son’s future, as well as for my children, a seven-hour flight away and missing me. I brought the stone home and gave it to my daughter, and she would often slip it into her pocket before preschool drop-off, or whenever she found herself somewhere new and scary.

I’ve been thinking about that rock lately, and worry, and how to move through scary places. An introspective person by nature, I am usually pretty comfortable and familiar with my feelings. But this year has utterly shaken my usual ways of processing my own emotions and helping my children with theirs.

Photo by Cody Chan on Unsplash

In March, as the virus took hold in the U.S. and the borders of our home life began to close in, I tried to write about how silver linings were simultaneously irritating me and keeping me sane. I wrote about trying to hold space for my friends’ emotions while honoring my own. I wrote about how I found myself on the lookout for anything joyful, hopeful, and kind.

At the same time, I chafed at the pressure to only see the good. How do I let the good moments in, and truly experience them, while also feeling my fear and grief? How do I allow myself to grieve, when so many are suffering far worse than I am?

Sometimes, you feel two feelings at the same time, and that’s okay, Daniel Tiger sings to my children. I look up from the computer. As I write this, I’m scanning news headlines and Googling sight word activities for my daughter, while simultaneously rescheduling her dental appointment, again, for as far in the future as possible. As 2020 comes to a close, we are no closer than we were in March to a time when a simple dental visit seems worth the risk. I want to ask Daniel Tiger how to be okay with feeling seventeen feelings at the same time, still, while also doing four things at once.

How to reconcile this mix of worry and overwhelm, a constantly frustrated need for time to myself, with my gratitude for the warmth of bedtime snuggles with my kids and the latest funny thing my youngest said? Underneath my unraveling patience and depleted stores of empathy, there’s appreciation for our simplified family routines and more time to be together. So it’s strange to admit that the feeling I struggle with most is loneliness.

My in-person interactions with adults have been narrowed to my husband and the two families in our bubble, all of us just barely making it through each day, often too exhausted to talk about how we’re really feeling. Could we put it into words even if we tried?

Then, too, I find myself longing for connection that grounds itself in shared beliefs. I join Zoom morning prayer with a few church members when I can, but I miss being physically in the church building with them, being able to cry together, touch hands as we pass the Peace, taste communion bread and share coffee-hour snacks. My oldest is just reaching an age when I can begin to share my faith with her, but how can I give from an empty cup?

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

I have been pregnant for most of the pandemic, coping with all of the changes to life-as-we-knew-it while riding a roller-coaster of physical changes. Instead of bread and wine, I have had a bottomless mug of morning sickness, heavy fatigue, and no childcare. Preschools closed, along with libraries, playgrounds, community centers, dance classes, and indoor play groups. My own school went to online learning in March, halving and confusing what should have been a year of in-person instruction in acupuncture, an unavoidably hands-on art. We struggled as a family to find time for me to finish my schoolwork in preparation for a leave of absence. And then we moved. And then the wildfires started.

I write all of this down not to inspire pity– no doubt anyone reading this is dealing with similar struggles, and more– but to remind myself of the specific context for my depletion, impatience, bouts of despair and discouragement, and yes, even rage. Parenting small children was already hard. Parenting small children while pregnant would have been hard. Parenting small children while pregnant and then moving to a new home would have been hard. 2020 has only multiplied those challenges and added new ones. It’s all too easy for me to overlook this, and I am learning afresh this year that truly practicing self-compassion is no longer optional.

Here’s another thing that’s no longer optional: my faith.

I am learning, again, how much I need God, and have always needed God. I am learning, again, that it is possible to turn to God after a season of “sleeping.” Learning that I have been sleeping, again, for some time now. Remembering that this is how faith works, at least for me: forgetting, remembering, beginning again. That my feelings of loneliness, isolation, disappointment, and sadness can become doorways, in Jesus, toward a deeper knowing of my belonging in the mysterious Love that is always seeking us.

I am learning that despair can be a blessing– Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. After despair sips the sweetness and color from everything, after I stop ignoring the pain with my busy task-completing and project-creating, after I admit how unloved and abandoned and mad I feel, the Spirit comes into my emptiness and fills me with a kind of stillness that allows me to see God again. Not as I once saw God, not as I wish God would be, but as God is. Passages from the Bible have news for me again– For behold, I make all things new.

I have hesitated for so long to try to talk about this, or write about it, because it feels so precious and hidden and wordless. But something else Jesus has been showing me, through my loneliness and disappointment, is that some of that loneliness is of my own making. I haven’t been my full self in my relationships. I haven’t been honest, with myself or with God or with my family and friends, about how much God matters to me. How important living with God, living a life of faith, is to me. So if I now feel like I don’t know how or who to talk to about these things– about wrestling with paradox within the context of an abiding belief in Love– whose fault is that but my own?

Jesus says, You are forgiven, and you can turn to me this minute and begin again. Turn to me and be saved, for I am God, and there is no other. So that’s what I am doing. Unexpectedly, I am finding joy again, even here and now, in 2020. It’s not loud or bright or especially sociable, but it’s real joy. It’s like a smooth pebble you find on the beach, and slip into your pocket, and somehow you know it was meant for you, and has been there forever.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Unexpected Joy”.

Meal plan and what my kids actually ate this week

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These are long days for parents. Some are harder than others. Even on our best days, my husband and I both look forward to those precious few hours after the kids are in bed when we can catch up, unwind and enjoy a little quiet before going to bed, only to do it all over again the next day. We’ve been trying out different things to smooth over the predictably chaotic transitions we all find challenging each day: waking up, getting dinner on the table, and going to bed.

We are experimenting with simple “morning invitations” to keep the kids occupied during our pre-breakfast/ pre-coffee stumble. It doesn’t happen every morning and the activities are very simple. We’re just focusing on getting in a habit of setting something up the night before, as a gift to our next-morning selves. When Lyle gets home in the afternoon, he takes the kids outside to play or does a math/science activity with our kindergartener, while I take a walk alone. At 5, the kids get to watch a show while one of us makes dinner. Since I’m slowing down here at 29 weeks, it’s often Lyle who cooks while I lie down or do some stretching. So my contribution lately has been recommitting to a meal plan, making a list, and shopping for all the ingredients once a week.

I will be honest. I do not love meal-planning. I often find it overwhelming and repetitive, and it can be frustrating to spend time planning and preparing meals only to throw much of it in the compost when our kids eat around the vegetables and just eat the starchy, cheesy bits. The title for this post could easily be a McSweeney’s prompt, as the chasm between the plan and the reality is so very wide sometimes.

To reframe it as a sustainable practice for our family, I’m trying to embrace meal-planning as something we do in the service of bigger goals and values: cultivating a calm home and connecting together, however briefly, at the dinner table as a family. It’d be nice if the kids ate up all of what we served them, but that’s not the most important thing– though I wince at their uneaten food when so many go hungry.

After reading Ellyn Satter’s book a few years back, I’ve tried to remind myself that I’m in charge of putting healthy, balanced meals on the table for my kids, and they’re in charge of deciding how much of it to put in their bodies. That is a tall order some days. It’s really tough to resist cajoling them into one more bite, or taking it personally when they don’t like something I’ve worked hard on. But I don’t want the dinner table to be a battle field, and I want my kids to grow up knowing what feels good in their own bodies. I want to respect that knowing. Taking a page from Satter’s book, we don’t prepare separate or substitute meals for the kids, but we almost always serve bread or toast on the side, so even if they refuse to eat the main meal, I know they won’t go to bed hungry.

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Robin helping to chop veggies with a Zulay kids’ knife

I thought I would share my progress here on the blog occasionally. This way I can make some notes on the kinds of things my kids like to eat, and get them into our weekly rotation more often. And maybe it can serve as a shortcut for another weary mom or dad out there, scouring the internet for ideas. I will list this week’s meals and link to some recipes below.

So far, I’ve observed a few things about what works for our family:

  • Meals need to be simple and low-prep, no more than an hour from cutting board to table, unless they involve some fairly hands-off time in the oven.
  • In this season of budgeting, small children, and third-trimester heartburn, light meals focused on vegetables and grains work best.
  • When I feel stuck or uninspired, there are two family magazines with unfussy recipes that usually do the trick: Parents and Good Housekeeping.
  • One-pot and sheet-pan meals often end up being crowd-pleasers.
  • Not all time-saving appliances actually save *us* time. A basic rice cooker? Yes. An instant pot? “Good for her, not for me.”

Meals for October 11-17

SundayRoasted vegetables and rice. Kids ate: most. Notes: This was a non-recipe meal using up the veggies in the fridge before grocery day. Sweet potato, carrot, beets, potatoes, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes, chopped small and roasted with olive oil and herbs at 425 for about 25 min. Served with brown rice from the rice cooker.

MondayPumpkin Rice Casserole with Roasted Vegetables. Kids ate: most. Notes: This was a meal I just made up based on what I had left in the fridge. I was pleasantly surprised the kids liked this, and the leftovers made for good lunches the next day.

Tuesday*Potato kale soup. Kids ate: less than half. Notes: Served with par-baked french bread from the supermarket and a green salad from our garden. I was disappointed the kids didn’t seem to like this very much, but kale does have a strong flavor. This was a hearty, blended soup that we doubled to help feed a friend going through a hard time. So even though my kids didn’t eat much of it, I celebrated it as a win for meal-planning: it helped me give a little extra during a time when I often feel like I don’t have enough time, energy, or kindness to share. *grocery day.

WednesdayRotisserie chicken with orzo, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes. Kids ate: most. Notes: Served with a green salad from our garden. This was really good, and relatively easy to prepare with pre-cooked chicken. I used to avoid prepared foods to save money but recently have been experimenting with buying a rotisserie chicken every so often. It has surprised me by being more budget-friendly than I might have thought. Served with bread and a veggie or salad, it can make for a complete meal during busy times when we might otherwise order expensive take-out. In this case, we had plenty left to use in another recipe later in the week, and by simmering the carcass overnight we also made a quart of nutritious bone broth.

ThursdaySheet pan grilled cheese with apples. Kids ate: less than half. Notes: Served with cups of leftover soup and a green salad. This was a new technique for us, kind of a DIY panini press in the oven, and we ended up cooking them a little too long. A good way to cook grilled cheese for a crowd, this helps you spend less time over the stove, but you really have to watch so they don’t burn. The kids may have eaten more if they weren’t so well-done. 😉

FridayQuinoa-stuffed acorn squash. Kids ate: Less than half. Notes: Served with toast and a green salad. I didn’t have high hopes that they’d eat this. For some reason, stuffed veggies aren’t a big hit with my two, but I keep exposing them to these dishes because they are affordable, nutritious, and some of my favorite things to eat during the cold months. We made carmelized cashews for the salad with sliced bosc pear, and that was a big hit at least.

Saturday Chicken and butternut squash enchiladas. Kids ate: most. Notes: I used this recipe as a template in order to make a double batch. I needed to make one dairy and gluten free to freeze and deliver to my friend next week, and one with regular cheese for our kids, and both without beans because they tend to make me sick. I also made my own enchilada sauce because onions and garlic gross me out during pregnancy. So, lots of adaptations. You could definitely make this dish more quickly and affordably with store-bought shortcuts. A good weekend meal since it’s more involved to prepare.

What are your favorite meal-planning tricks, habits, or discoveries?

Photo by Vegan Liftz on Unsplash

Pumpkin Rice Casserole with Roasted Vegetables

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

This recipe could also be titled Day Before Grocery Run Casserole, or What’s in the Fridge Surprise. It was Monday at 4:30, after a long day of homeschooling and potty-training, and in the fridge we had some pureed roasted pumpkin from making bread, cooked rice and roasted veggies from the night before, and not a whole lot else. After searching online for “pumpkin rice cheesy casserole” and not finding anything, I decided to improvise, and share the results with some future Googler of odd casseroles. I’m not going to wax poetic about it, as most food blogs do, because this is not in fact a food blog. This is the blog of a writer and mother with all-day morning sickness, who needed to get something palatable in the oven for her family so she could take a walk, alone.

This follows a basic casserole formula I remember from growing up: starch+ veggie + binder (egg) + cheese and breadcrumbs (a great time to use up the heels of sandwich bread your kids won’t eat.) It’s mild, comforting, and satisfying– great for hungry, picky eaters on a cold day. Feel free to experiment with those components, and adjust the seasonings to give it your own spin. I used rosemary, thyme, and parsley to give it fall flavor, but you could change up the spices depending on what leftover vegetables you’re working with.

Then get it in the oven, set the timer, and let your partner watch the kids and the dinner while you take a walk.

Pumpkin Rice Casserole with Roasted Veggies

Serves: 8
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 30 min

Ingredients
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (or any cooked winter squash)
1 egg
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp salt
3 tsps herbs of choice
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 cups cooked rice
2 cups roasted vegetables
2 slices bread, cubed
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
1 tbsp butter, plus more for greasing pan

Preheat oven to 350. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 glass casserole dish. In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, egg, cheddar, salt, herbs, and chicken broth. Whisk well. Fold in rice and vegetables. Press into greased casserole dish and pat smooth. Sprinkle bread crumbs evenly over top, and dot with butter. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, until breadcrumbs are golden brown and casserole edges are crisp.

Serve with a green salad. We did mixed greens and a dijon vinaigrette with sliced bosc pear, shredded carrots, and toasted cashews. Bon appetit.

Process Art Projects for Mixed Ages

Since the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in mid-March, I’ve been home with my kids trying to make the best of a bad situation. For our family, that has meant making things. At first I was energized by the unexpected gift of extra time with them, stepping out of our usual routine and into long, fluid days at home. We went weeks without ever getting in the car. I turned to one of my favorite books a lot during this time, The Arful Parent by Jean Van’t Hul, picking out a handful of projects to try during the week and hunting down any missing supplies in our Buy Nothing group or online.

But as weeks turned into months, and the world bent under the weight of a virus that seems intent on staying a while, our creative pace began to change. In part because my energy began to go toward growing a new tiny human, finishing the school term, and planning a big move– and in part because we are adjusting to a more long-term new pace of life.

Now, for the past week, we have been entirely indoors due to toxic air in Portland. We thank God we did not have to evacuate from the devastating wildfires that have ripped through Oregon forests and communities. The smoke has been terrible. Even with the two indoor air purifiers we are lucky to have, my lungs feel constricted after a week of breathing air that registers off the AQI charts. It has been scary and sad to wake up to skies made white and brown with thick, dense fog and smoke, a reckoning of all that humans have done to bring this on ourselves and a harbinger of the future to come, if we don’t make drastic changes.

We spent a few days in our pajamas watching endless movies and obsessively checking the news. For me, though, what keeps me sane is to pick up our routine again, reduce screen time all around, and try to do things that make us feel good. A simple healthy meal from a recipe we haven’t tried yet. Putting on an old CD and dancing in the living room. Snuggling in the big bed with a pile of books. And making things.

In general, what I’ve noticed is that we are planning less, and finding our own ways to practice simple creativity alongside one another. Making things together has become part of our daily routines, just as I’d hoped it would be, but through a wildly different set of circumstances than I ever could have imagined.

This seems to be the way many things have unfolded this year: unexpected and long-awaited changes, glimmers of hope, taking painful shape alongside worry and fear. Blessings are almost always mixed, and I’ve come to embrace the changes in our family’s daily rhythm even as I mourn the thousand losses, big and small, that have come with them.

Handmade needle book and hand-sewing kit

Before the fires, and before our move, I started a course in mindful sewing, and started bringing my hand-sewing kit out to the backyard in the afternoon, trying to stitch a row or two on a project while my kids ate popsicles and splashed in the wading pool. I set out chalk and paintbrushes, or set up their easel outside with some diluted finger paints, and let them find their way to creating when they felt like it.

And they have. My daughter tends to gravitate toward her special case of gel pens, her colored pencils, and her stash of scratch paper at different times during the day. She has filled a plastic tote with colorful sketches of people, especially mommies with babies in their tummies, and ladies in full skirts and high heels. I gather up her stack of drawings at the end of the day and smile at how her work has progressed, over time, from big monochromatic scrawls to multi-colored scenes with more and more detail. (I often recycle a lot of her sketches because she is drawing more than we can keep!) At first light this morning I heard her tiptoe out of her room and found her sitting in her jammies at her little table, rummaging through her pencil case to draw before anyone else was up. For all that I worry about the impact of this year on my kids, I’m delighted to see the ways in which it is helping her nurture an inner creative life, all on her own.

My son invariably chooses a plastic butter knife, a large plastic yogurt tub of multi-colored homemade playdough, and an assortment of other objects: little cars, rocks, large beads or blocks. His experiments skew heavily toward the sensory. He also knows where our box of Do-a-Dots is kept, and when he sees his sister or me at work on our own projects, he proudly goes to get his own supplies and sets up alongside us. He likes to practice taking the tops on and off these washable paint pens as much as he enjoys making bold, loud splotches of color on paper. Sometimes he combines the two activities and experiments with coloring on the playdough.

Maybe you have small children and are experiencing a bewildering mix of emotions as you move into the school year. My daughter is starting kindergarten, and even though I’m sad she won’t have the experience I had imagined for her, I know I’m incredibly lucky to have the privilege of homeschooling her and her brother. I’ve stopped freelance writing and am taking a year off from school to focus on them and have this baby. I know so many parents who are facing the impossible challenge of trying to work a full-time job while supervising distance-learning. In our own ways, we are all trying to survive. If making things together is part of how you cope, here are some snapshots of some inexpensive creative activities we have liked, some that take a little extra planning and some that just take a few minutes. Use whatever is helpful here and leave the rest.

Glue resist/”batik” painting on muslin superhero capes

Building a recycled village with cereal and milk boxes

Salad spinner art on paper plates

Painted cardboard robots with Make Do cardboard build kit

Painting sugar cookies with frosting “paint” and paintbrushes

Painting with cars and trucks

 

Dear Baby

June 5, 2020

Dear Baby,

Sometimes I think I know your name. Those are happy moments when I trust you are alive and healthy in there, your little heart still beating as I saw on the dark screen three weeks ago now, such an impossibly small but undeniable claim, I am here.

I discovered you were there on Earth Day, about a week after I had unexpectedly spent several days unable to keep anything down. You were a secret I carried with me for a few days, just the two of us aware that you were there. Not planned, but not unplanned, either. A sweet reminder of hope, renewal, possibility.

You don’t do it on purpose, but you bring that reminder with a heavy dose of all-day nausea and fatigue. At ten weeks today, I’ve been sick for about six weeks now, and it’s been hard. Especially as the pandemic goes on, and painful old structures get torn apart in hearts and in the streets, and there’s so much I want to give my energy to. Mercifully the days still pass as they always have, and with each morning we’re getting closer to the time when the sickness might finally subside.

There was a baby who came between your two older siblings, who only stuck around about this long. I felt this sick every day that baby was with us, so the nausea doesn’t reassure me much that you’re okay in there. I am trying to keep hopeful, to steer back toward trust when my mind starts to veer into worry. I want to trust God and to trust you, that your spirit has its own course and you will do what you came here to do, for as long you’re meant to be here. I want to believe in your life, as Sophfronia Scott writes so  beautifully. I don’t want to choose to believe in death.

Yesterday we put an offer in on a home we really love. I can imagine you and your brother and sister playing in the big yard with its wildflowers, long driveway, and tall trees. Carrying you and carrying my hope feels a little like that– walking through empty rooms and letting my heart move in. Your crib in our room at first, a baby gate at the top of the steep stairs, the Moses basket downstairs so I can put you down while I fold laundry or break up a squabble between your siblings. I arrange these things like a dollhouse, knowing none of it is certain. Motherhood has taught me nothing ever is. Each of us is a miracle hidden in plain sight.

Love,

Your mama

August 5, 2020

Dear baby,

Two months have gone by since I last wrote. I can feel your little feet or hands fluttering low in my belly. Every time I feel this fish-like swirl, I catch my breath and let amazement and gratitude course through me all over again. I am so glad you are still here with us. 18 weeks going on 19! It seems like too much goodness. I am still practicing believing in it, believing in you. Last week we closed on our new home– a different one than I’d thought, but the right one for us, I hope. It feels surreal that so much of what I’d imagined for so long seems to be taking shape. Hidden inside, somehow your little bones, muscles, skin, and eyelashes are forming. You can hear me singing now. Maybe you can even hear your big brother say, “Hello, bey-bee? You in dare?” as he does every morning, climbing into bed next to me and laying his little ear on my belly. Your sister wants to name you Lemon, Peaches, Jane, or Lindsay. At least she’s got all her bases covered.

At our new home, we are ripping out 60-year-old carpet and asking for advice on polishing and sealing the hardwood underneath. We are limbing trees, uprooting ivy and holly, and removing overgrown rhododendrons and shrubs that block the light from the windows. I imagine carrying you into these rooms in December or January, gray months when we will need all the light we can get.

The truth is, we need all the light we can get right now, in high summer. The virus is still taking too many lives, and the social change we desperately need is still slow in coming, with plenty of cruelty on its heels. The government of the country where you will be born seems more hell-bent than ever on protecting property and capital over human lives– but the truth is this has always been the case. Truth and light are not easy to take in, but they are as vital as clean air, food, and water. I always imagined I’d provide much more than that for you and your siblings, but lately my prayers are that simple, that tinged with fear. I pray that you and I and our family will survive the virus as it continues to rage this fall and winter, and that there will be enough of a planet for you to live on when you’re my age. I pray that we all make it until you’re my age, and then some.

But I am not sorry you’re coming, not sorry we brought your brother and sister into the world. Whatever comes, I don’t want to ever regret choosing you three, and I pray that you will never regret your births, either. I pray that you will each do with your life what you’re meant to do, and that you’ll get to be who you’re meant to be. I pray that my mothering makes that possible. I love you already baby girl.

Love,

Mama

August 20, 2020

Dear Baby,

On the grainy gray screen in the dim room, you open and close your tiny mouth, move your hands (five little fingers!) toward your mouth, cross and uncross and kick your legs. Your heart’s four chambers open and close rapidly, like the bellows of a bull frog’s bright yellow throat, in the pond where I take your siblings on cool mornings. Your body is as real and whole as any being in the natural world. Mostly unseen and quiet, your little life hums away.

The ultrasound technician calls you a cooperative baby. She takes her one hundred pictures in record time. She says she sees nothing that concerns her, that you are active and healthy and well. I feel like the richest woman in the world. It is 7:30 in the morning and I have been asked three times for my name and birth date, had my temperature checked twice, submitted to the eye-watering tickle of a Covid-19 nasal swab, all to be cleared for this chance to witness your shape on the screen. I see your skeleton, your profile, the innermost shapes of your organs– all of this an intimacy that feels invasive, excessive, but that nonetheless gives me goosebumps.

You’re really in there.

You’re really a little person, sent to us, mysteriously meant for us. Waiting to emerge into the waiting world. I don’t remember feeling this way with your siblings. This baffled, this late in the game. Still surprised, at 21 weeks, more than halfway through pregnancy, that we’re actually going to meet you, and welcome a brand new person into the insular world of our family. Our world that has grown even more insular these last six months, circumscribed by an unseen virus and the ever-changing borders of its reach, as we map the strange new reality we live in.

In just a few days, we’ll pack up the rest of our belongings and move everything to our new home. It isn’t far, not even over the county line, but it feels definitive in a way all of our previous moves haven’t. This is a home with the big backyard we always pictured for our family, well before we even pictured you. There’s a Norway maple with a thick limb perfect for hanging a swing, a sweep of firs at the top of the drive, rabbits that come to peer, curious, from the overgrown berry bushes at the back of the property whenever we visit. Already your brother and sister know to kick off their shoes, and run barefoot through the soft grass and shade. I picture you learning to walk and then run with them, and pray that we’ll get to watch you all grow up there.

There’s been grief, loss, worry, and stress in these early months of your budding life. Knowing you are there has brought us light and joy. We can’t wait to bring you home.

Love,

Mama