Could Mother’s Day be more complicated?

rock stack

What is it about Mother’s Day that makes it so full of emotional triggers? More than any other holiday, this one always feels especially complicated.

Last year as we waited for our first foster placement to come, I thought I’d feel something different in the coming year. I felt excited about the journey to come, even while the old triggers still gave little zings.

I thought I’d have a sense of arrival, of landing somewhere.

But, nope.

It’s a new year with new life circumstances. But instead of simpler feelings — I just have a deeper bucket of weird and complicated.

There’s deep gratitude. I’ve found myself making lists this week of women who’ve shaped my life at various ages and stages. And it’s not just the obvious — mom and grandmothers. There was the little old lady from across the street who picked me up from school three days a week while I was in 8th grade (and she took me out for icees nearly every time too), and the junior high history teacher who took me under her wing in the year my mother died and for several years afterward. My aunt Victoria taught me how to paint my nails (and I think of her every single time I paint my nails).

There were the church ladies who jumped in after my mom died. I wasn’t particularly a fan at the time, standoffish and awkward. But looking back, I’m touched by their efforts and the way they hung in with me and kept inviting me to things despite my reticence.

The college professor who mentored me and can be credited for J and I making it this long together. After one notable date, she looked at me and said, “You better let that boy know you like him, because he doesn’t know and if you don’t tell him — you’re not going to see him again.” (She was right, and I did. And here J and I are all these years later.)

There’s pride in the many women in my life who are tremendous mothers.

There are the old zingers that don’t go away even with a year of loving babies. Mother’s Day is a reminder of scars; there won’t be biological children, and there’s no simple or “normal” family story for us to celebrate.

I feel the loss of my mom this year in a new way. Maybe I just wonder what she’d be like as a grandma. Likely we’d make each other crazy, but still it’s a question. And I wonder sometimes if kids coming to our home are shortchanged by only having two grandparents. I was so blessed with the abundance of 5 grandparents who nurtured and spoke into my life.

And then there’s a new layer of awkward and complicated that I never imagined: how to navigate Mother’s Day as we think of us and think of first families for kiddos. I’m a foster mom, not actual mom. Temporary.

I’m okay with that narrative. But it gets tricky when people ask me how I’ll celebrate Mother’s Day or how I’m feeling about this day now that we’ve had little ones.

Mostly I feel awkward and would rather not make a big deal of the whole thing. And I don’t want to have to explain all the things and have others say all the reasons I should want to be celebrated or deserve to be celebrated.

Perhaps what I’d like most on Mother’s Day is respite from the expectations and personal questions. I’m too upfront when people ask things, and I don’t know how to simplify the answer to a socially acceptable shorthand because many things are true.

I am happy. I am thankful. I am still grieving — both my mother and a tiny. Meanwhile, I love our life fostering, and it is also very hard (and currently very exhausting).

Mostly I have no idea what I’m doing each day as I parent, and I live one foot in front of the other while praying for a deeper reservoir of grace and mercy than I can muster on my own efforts. God has come through so far, but it usually involves me feeling fragile and smashed open like an egg afterward. Grace and mercy aren’t cheap; they cost us something. Sometimes Jesus asks a bigger sacrifice than I think I have to give.

Most of all, I think I just look forward to Monday, when this day can be put behind me for another year. It’s just a day. I’ll survive it and all the feels it brings.

Anyone else have a deep well of complicated on this day? What’s your story?

Anniversaries and starting new chapters

Wally in the front seat

One of my favorite social media memories to pop up! Oh the joys of road trips with the Wall-nut!

 

Stories fascinate me. In particular, the way humans create narratives about our lives, linking the memories we frequently call to mind into a bigger picture about who we are.

And, so too, the role of Facebook memories in all this intrigues me. With over a decade on Facebook (When did I get that old?) , there’s oh so many memories to pop up on my “On This Day” feed. Photos of family meals, evenings out with J, vacations. The occasional odd story, like the spring when neighbor children stole about $600 worth of flowers out of the front yard in spite of repeated conversations with the parents (they didn’t care), buying the kids flowers for their own yard, and installing 6 foot deer fencing as a deterrent.

Then, there’s the anniversaries that catch me off guard — like last month’s reminder that it’s been five years since I stared up into the blinding operating room lights before the surgeons removed an ectopic pregnancy (and a ruptured fallopian tube along with it).

Five years since waking in a hospital bed, pregnancy hormones still flowing, no longer pregnant and minus a fallopian tube. The blonde, blue-eyed Jesus portrait on the wall mocked me as I laid there that night.

But five years down the road, the sorrow wasn’t wasted. Somehow that particular loss and my willingness to share my story cracked me open like chick emerging from eggshell.

I found myself in the writing. There was something profoundly healing in connecting with others in their own messy, broken middle stories. The middle story is where you can’t go back to where you were, but you’re not sure where you’re going yet or even how you’re going to pick yourself up to go anywhere else.

Somehow I forgave my body for not living up to my expectations, and I rejected the impulse to see my infertility as a badge of public shame.

Slowly two quiet convictions — that God doesn’t owe me for my years of good girl behavior and that God wasn’t punishing me with this crap hand of infertility — settled into my bones.

The ectopic pregnancy changed my life, like a punctuation mark. Recognizing the end of the sentence took a while (ahem…years). However, the process of story making as I grieved launched me into a whole new chapter, not just another sentence.

This past year we (finally) became foster parents after a long period of hemming and hawing and filling out stacks upon stacks of paperwork.

And in the busyness and routine of diaper changes, naps and bottles this summer, I forgot the anniversary as I happily went about the business of work and family life.

It’s the first time I forgot.

And then later that day Facebook reminded me of the anniversary as it highlighted my vague post about needing to find an easier way to get the hospital grippy socks that I love so much. (Yes, I love hospital socks. They’re fluffy, warm and non-slip — perfect for curling up on the couch with a book and a mug of lavender Earl Grey tea.)¬†

I felt horribly guilty for forgetting — as though somehow I failed as a mom for not thinking of the loss this year.

But now a month down the road, I think there’s a better explanation. It’s no longer a primary narrative in my story. It’s an important chapter, one that changed entire direction of my story, but it’s not the chapter I’m living anymore.

The stories I find myself sharing and the questions I’m asking have shifted to this new role of foster mother.

A new chapter began, and that’s the way life works. We die to things, thinking there’s no way life could go on after such an event. But, it eventually does, however much we might wish otherwise. Life springs up boldly, like weeds sprouted in concrete.

I’m so incredibly happy in this current chapter — even as I’m stressed, tired and generally overwhelmed like just about every person I know. Five years ago, I couldn’t see how the road would curve. I just kept putting one foot in the front of the other trusting the path to lead somewhere. Eventually, it did. And here I am now, still learning to simply put one foot in front of the other. Minute to minute. Day by day. Different questions, but similar process.

Flipping the switch: on becoming light this Advent

3335CDD9-5825-4509-B4E5-C4C66CECDE4BAdvent feels different this year, and not just because I actually started holiday shopping before December 22 for what seems like the first time ever.

Normally a season of quiet, wistful reflection for me, the time of waiting for the birth of a baby once reminded me of what I wished God would do for me in my infertile state. This year the infertility story isn’t a trigger or focus for me, and instead I’m more focused on God breaking into the world.

How does God slip into this dark, broken place?

As I read news stories, I feel overwhelmed. The world feels dark, and I find myself anticipating impending doom. Is anything good happening out there?

Plus, since we learned our cat has lung cancer, I spend days waiting and watching this cat’s every move, wondering when a coughing fit might be his last, or which cuddle nap will be my last with the warm fur ball.

I want the god who sweeps in to fix things. I want a snap your fingers, wave your wand instantaneous magic.

But, that is not what I got this year. This Advent I find myself hooked by Isaiah 61 and the parable of the talents (or the bags of gold or the three servants, all depending on your translation) in Matthew 25:14-30.

I read Matthew 25 back in November, and it lingered in my thoughts. Driving to work. Sitting at my desk. Sipping coffee at local cafes. Everywhere I went I meditated on it, whether I wanted to hear it or not. For weeks now, it simmered in my brain, bubbling and distilling.

I found myself troubled as I read the first time. I carry a Jekyll and Hyde image of God, and I hadn’t realized the duality of these pictures. I wait for God to kick me to the curb ruthlessly for reasons I don’t understand, and yet I’m also convinced that I’m loved and warmly welcomed. God wears two faces for me. What scares me perhaps the most is the thought of an arbitrary God.

And so, I stewed and stewed on this passage. Fearfully. Angrily. Nervously.

Light flickered. I want a god who magically fixes the world outside of me. In my timidity, I want to sit passively by waiting for God to act. I want the god who doesn’t expect too much from me. But, perhaps, none of those are actually true of God. Perhaps those are idols I created.

In the parable of the talents, the master distributes the money according the ability of each of the servants (Mt. 25:15). The first two act with faith in the one who invested in them. The third, gets scared of losing the little he was granted, and buries it (Mt. 25:24-25). In that time, burying valuables was a common way of protecting an investment. But the master was less interested in hedging bets, and more interested in those who acted with faith.

I wanted to be like the servant who successfully invests the greatest amount of money and is publicly praised, but in reality, I think I’m most often like the servant who buried the money. I’m scared of epic fails, and so I’d prefer to play it safe and hide.

What would change for me if I acted with faith, trusting God to bear fruit — instead of withholding in fear of making a mistake? What if I trusted God actually gave me gifts and talents he confidently thinks I can invest? What if I placed my faith in God, instead of resting on my ability (or inability, for that matter) to make things happen?

Because the truth is, I am not helpless or useless. Neither are you. We are flush with capability, you and I. The question is: whether you and I will place those gifts and talents in faithful service to Jesus.

The practice will vary for all of us; we all have different calls and vocations. And the beauty of seeing these work together astounds me these days as I watch my church community work together in living out their passions.

As God acts throughout the Bible, he acts through human hands. Paul. Deborah. Peter. Huldah. Isaiah.

Isaiah 61 reminds me, too: God acts through human hands. Isaiah proclaims, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners (Is. 61:1).” Isaiah speaks a word of hope and good news.

And this message is repeated by the incarnate Jesus as he proclaimed these words at the start of his public ministry in Luke 4. Jesus entrusted his followers with this same mission: to carry on the work of becoming good news for those to whom good news is a far-off, seemingly impossible thing.

This season instead of personal comfort, I find myself challenged in a different direction.

Instead of waiting for light to come to me, I wonder about glowing with the light of Christ for others. A switch in me has been flipped. I wonder what it means to become one who is good news to the downtrodden and hopeless? How does the overflow of who Jesus is to me spill over into the welcome I have for others?

In the darkness of this Advent instead of waiting for God to work magic outside of me, I find myself asking Jesus to transform me to be more like him.

Making peace with awkward small talk

Trail of the Cedars

Every time I think I’m done writing about infertility, life throws surprises, and I find myself with new stories to process. Starting a job in a church and meeting loads of people brings up new rounds of questions for me.

I’ve been infertile for a decade, and I keep thinking I’ll finish working through my issues at some point. It’s naive, and, frankly, I should know better because grief doesn’t quite work that way. We get better at carrying it. But, still it sneaks up on us in cycles and waves.

I started writing in the middle of the story because I found myself aggravated by the published materials sanitizing the dramatic, painful middle with happy adoption endings or magic surprise babies. Finding material that helpfully wrestled the tension in the messy, broken middle was difficult. And so, I wrote my story here.

Mostly, I’ve made fragile peace with this story. This is my life. I can’t change it. And, there’s so much that’s wonderful in my life. Infertility is only a portion of my story — not the whole thing.

But, in the midst of getting-to-know-you small talk these days, I found myself with new waves of shame and deeper questions. Every time I think I figured out how to navigate the small talk game, like in this old post, the rules of the game change. Continue reading

The Grace of “Good Enough”

the grace of good enough

I aim for perfect.

The goal isn’t praise or accolades; praise makes me awkward, especially when I’m just doing what was expected of me. Really, I want to avoid disgruntled comments. I desperately want to be competent, and the fear I’ll be weighed and found wanting drives my compulsive striving. I manage better when I limit the areas where I feel a need to be competent.

The problem: I forget to set my limits consciously and strategically.

When everything is up for grabs–home, family, faith, work, photography, friends– my vision blurs like a telephoto zoom lens panning in and out without focusing. It’s exhausting. Continue reading

Casting … and waiting

071417 the dress

the sauna-like dress

The navy dress I wore for my interview looked quite professional and cute, but the fabric did not breathe. In my jittery, “oh, please like me” state, that means I was sweating as though trapped in a sauna for hours. The outer fabric, however, did not reveal my drippy condition, while I sat trussed up by the red belt threatening to cut off my air supply. Lacking oxygen and overly warm, the anxiety threatened to consume — as it does whenever I would really like something to work out. Continue reading

Waiting with unanswered questions

081916 garden bench

A little over three years ago was the last time I saw a positive pregnancy test. After months of fertility treatments, the month we did nothing, I was pregnant.

And three years ago this week, the dream crashed and burned at our ultrasound appointment, which ended in me being whisked off for an emergency surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy (and a fallopian tube).

Looking back at the blog posts then, I see my hope that God could bring about a pregnancy shrinking as I took stock of my new reality. I found myself asking: “What happens to faith in the midst of unanswered questions?” Continue reading