Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 114

Thanking God this week for...
  • encouragement from a dear friend
  • the music of Brooke Fraser
  • the instant gratification of buying an mp3 album online
  • an awesome deal on shoes for Elijah
  • aloe gel with lidocaine
  • our dishwasher
  • comfy new flip-flops
  • providing what I truly need
  • the discipline of fasting
  • being slow to anger
  • His compassion
  • His steadfast love and faithfulness

Desert Song - An Anthem

Recently Jon at Stuff Christians Like asked the question, "What's your anthem?" I didn't give it a whole lot of thought at the time. But this week I've discovered a new (to me) song that I would like to make mine.

My dear friend Sara found it and thought it would encourage me, so yesterday she sent me a link to a video of it on YouTube. I loved it and bought it from iTunes, then listened to it all afternoon. Here are the lyrics--may they inspire and encourage you, too:

"Desert Song"
by Brooke Fraser (Hillsong)

This is my prayer in the desert
When all that's within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is the God who provides

This is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flame

I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here

This is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I'll stand

All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

This is my prayer in the harvest
When favour and providence flow
I know I'm filled to be emptied again
The seed I've received I will sow

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Immeasurable Riches Forever

"[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6-7).

"There are two astonishing things here. One is that the purpose of our salvation is for God to lavish the riches of His grace on us. The other is that it will take Him forever to do it."
(John Piper, Future Grace)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 113

Thanking God this week for...
  • warmth and sunshine
  • the hopefulness of dozens of buds on our peony bushes
  • a playdate with Jamie and her kiddos yesterday
  • progress and growth we see in Elijah
  • his newest trick: "somersaults" (putting his head on the floor and then rolling over sideways)
  • the power of story
  • the gift of conviction

Blah...and Some Link Love

I hate neglecting the blog...but I'm feeling so uninspired lately. I've had writer's block, it seems, ever since I finished the motherhood series. Thanks for reading and checking back anyway...I'll try to kick it in gear next week. Meanwhile, if you're so inclined, you can check out a few posts I've found interesting/worthwhile this week:

Beautiful Simplicity
Yesterday We Lost a Member of Our Church Family
Peer Pressure
Twitter Dot Dash

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 112

Thanking God this week for...
  • last weekend's visit home
  • lunch and shopping with my mom
  • Elijah's soft, smooth skin
  • the therapeutic effects of sunshine and exercise
  • thin & chewy peanut butter cookies
  • the huge bag of summer clothes for Elijah that a friend gave me
  • an endlessly patient husband
  • my dad's homemade ice cream
  • the simple joy of blowing soap bubbles
  • reminders that I'm not perfect and it's foolish to try to be
  • the cross and the empty tomb
  • the promise of resurrection

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Letter to a Mother

[fourth and final post in a series...start with part 1]

Back in December, I told you about an amazing Internet phenomenon called “The Mother Letter Project.” A man named Seth compiled hundreds of letters from mothers to give as a Christmas present to his wife, Amber. I felt compelled to contribute to the project, and I’ve wanted to share my letter here, but felt the need to provide more context first.

Now that I’ve done that, here’s my mother-letter. The first half will sound familiar if you’ve been reading along over the last week, but I hope you'll find the ending to be a blessing.

* * *

December 24, 2008

Dear Mother,

I’ve spent the last sixteen months feeling completely unqualified to be a mother—so I hardly know how to write you an encouraging letter about motherhood. Rather, I’m sure you could teach me a thing or two. Never in my life have I felt so utterly incompetent at anything.

And yet I can’t stop thinking about this Mother Letter Project, can’t ignore the compelling urge to be a part of this sisterhood of motherhood. So here I am.

In this new season of life, I have floundered; my days have been marked not by enthusiasm and confidence but by fear and overwhelming guilt. I know women who say things like, “I was made to be a mother—it is the most incredible experience of my life!” But the truth is, those statements are foreign to me. My journey as a mother hasn’t been “This is hard, but it’s totally great. Without a doubt worth it.” It’s been, “This is hard—really, really hard. And I am not thriving.” I wish I could echo those delighted mothers’ comments, but I can’t—and so the lack of enjoyment is compounded by a crushing weight of guilt for not feeling like a mother “should” feel.

The day I gave birth was not the greatest day of my life; it was the most traumatic. I expected motherhood to be love at first sight. You always hear mamas talk about holding their babies for the first time: "head over heels in love"..."totally smitten with this new little person"..."never knew it was possible to love someone this much"... That's how I expected it to be. I never imagined there could be any other reaction. But when my son was born, I felt more shell-shocked than anything else—less "love at first sight" and more "what just happened to me?" I didn’t feel that tremendous, instantaneous bond people talk about. And you know what? A year and a half later, I still don't feel that overwhelming sense of "I could never love another child as much as I love this baby."

Eventually, I found the courage to open up to a handful of women who reassured me that I was not alone. Not everyone has that love at first sight experience, and that’s OKAY. But I still struggle to shake off the oppressive weight of guilt and shame. I feel like I can't talk about it because women who had that “smitten” experience everyone expects, who adore motherhood, are secretly appalled or horrified that anyone could NOT feel that way. I feel like an awful person for admitting it is not like that for me.

But what I am learning, Mother—or rather, what I am telling you in hopes that it will sink into my own heart—is that love is a choice mothers make. Maybe you are one of those mothers who, upon seeing your babies for the first time, felt as though your heart would explode. Or perhaps you, like me, lack those mushy motherly emotions a lot of the time. Neither makes you more or less a loving mother, if day by day you choose to love.

I’m learning that motherhood—loving my son—means dying daily. Laying down my desire for comfort and ease, my independence and freedom, my preferences, even some of my dreams. It means I show my love, mushy feelings or not, by changing stinky diapers, reading the same story for the six-hundredth time, waking at three a.m., spooning vegetables into a hungry mouth.

Each day as I care for my son, I must die to laziness, to self-centeredness, to pride. And it’s in death that I am most beautiful, because it’s here that I look most like my Savior—the One who died that I might live.

“And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.’” (John 12:23-25)

Yet death is not the ultimate goal of a mother. I die so that I might live—and so that, seeing me live abundantly, my son might also have life to the full. As a living mother, I am selfish, prideful, angry, impatient. But as a mother who has died to self and sin, I have hope in the gospel, in the power of Christ to change my flawed and broken ways.

“He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

The day I depend on my own strength to mother my son is the day I fail miserably. But my Savior, whose death purchased my forgiveness and reconciliation with God, also purchased my transformation and gave me His Spirit. He who called me and justified me has promised to glorify me (Romans 8:30). And that means His grace can provide what I need to be an effective, faithful mother.

That grace is available to you, too, Mama. And so I pray that each day you’ll find the grace you need to die to self, in order that you and your precious little ones (and others who are watching) can love and live abundantly in Him.

Grace and Peace,


* * *

Previously in this series:
Crushed by Mother-Guilt
Breaking the Silence
A Mother in Process, Clinging to Hope

Thursday, April 09, 2009

A Mother in Process, Clinging to Hope

[part 3 in a series...start with part 1]

A while back, a friend of mine wrote an inspiring post about how it’s easier to share about our struggles once we’ve conquered them. Jenny said:

Sure it would be easy to wait 'til I was dried, fluffed, and sassy to tell the story. But I think that we as Christians do that too much already. We want to wait until there is a neat bow on the story to share it. I want to wait until there is a bow...

But I share what I'm going through in hope, in faith that I will not always be this way.

So I am writing this series on motherhood; I am putting my vulnerable heart out there. Because like Jenny, I have hope that I will not always be this way.

The last 20 months have been the hardest of my life. Motherhood has been a dark road, full of ugliness as I am slammed day after day with the selfishness that pervades my heart. Again and again I am confronted with the nasty, painful truth about my self-centered desires and my pathetic weakness, my angry impatience when a toddler’s needs thwart my cravings for comfort, ease, pleasure.

I adore the belly laughs, the cheeky grins, the "squeezes." I can't get enough of the dancing, the singing, the moment of recognition in learning something new. But then…I’m enjoying some quiet time early in the morning, and the monitor pierces the stillness with agitated squawking a full hour before I expected to have to go upstairs. I’m trying to fix breakfast, and no matter how quickly I work, my reassurances of food coming soon only serve to escalate the whining. I'm witnessing firsthand where the phrase “blood-curdling scream” came from, and I have no way of knowing what he wants. It’s hard to know who’s more frustrated.

Discouragement threatens to overwhelm (and often does) when I see my sin only revealed and exposed, not removed or transformed. Many days I am miserable. It is an ugly thing to admit, that I could ever be miserable mothering a precious, beautiful little boy—but it is the raw truth.

The quote above from my friend Jenny refers to something Brad O’Donnell once told Nichole Nordeman:

Christians are somehow prone to talking more about where they’ve been instead of where they are. Very few people want to speak up while they are in process… They’d rather wait until their junk is resolved, so they can give a 'testimony' about the happy ending. As it relates to your writing, please don’t feel the need to tie it up with a bow at the end."
I am very much “in process,” with plenty of unresolved junk and no immediate happy ending in sight. I’ve learned that I am definitely not a fan of the newborn stage (and that my perspective is more common than I realized), and at various times over the last several months, my hope has been in many different things, especially Elijah’s growth. Sure that the next stage will be an improvement, I so easily get caught up in the mindset of, “I can’t wait until Elijah can [fill in the blank].” Most recently, I remarked that I thought I would be a new woman once I had a verbal child—I figured motherhood would be so much more fun when I could really communicate with my son.

I can’t tie this story up with a neat bow yet, much as I’d like to. But as much for myself as for my readers, I can’t leave the loose ends hanging in sin and despair. Bit by bit, however agonizingly slowly, I’m learning that my hope cannot be in that simple phrase “it gets better!”, in a future day when motherhood will be easier or more fun, when circumstances will change. My hope must be in the God who will sustain me in the meantime—and in His promise that it WILL get much, much better. Perhaps in a few months or years, yes, but even more so in eternity, when I am free from this sin-sick heart and can glorify Him like I was created to do.

In the meantime, I keep plodding on, muddling through mothering. I keep trying to point myself, and my son, and you, to the One who died to set me free from sin and despair—the One who alone can bring peace and joy in the midst of motherhood.

[tomorrow: conclusion to the series]

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Breaking the Silence

[part 2 in a series...part 1 is here]

One of the places I’ve found encouragement as a struggling mother has been from an unlikely source: Heather Armstrong of I say unlikely because in almost every way, Heather and I could not be more different. But she has been refreshingly candid about her hellish journey through postpartum depression, and if nothing else, her blog has been a place for me to see that I am not alone in my struggles with motherhood. Her PPD was so severe that she spent a few days in a mental hospital about six months after the birth of her daughter, and several months ago, she felt compelled to write a post about the joys of parenting her now-four-year-old, wanting to encourage women who need to hear what she needed to hear back then. Heather wrote:

Maybe it's because I've been going through collections of old photos from the first years of her life, or perhaps it's because the anniversary of my stay in a mental hospital is this month, but this morning I felt like I needed to say something to someone out there who may need to hear this right now like I did so badly back then: it gets so much better.

In fact, better is not even a word that can do it justice. There are very simple times that I'm with her, when I'm brushing her hair or watching her read herself a book on her bed, when the feeling that comes over me is not unlike how it was when I was a kid walking through the gates at an amusement park knowing that I was going to have the most awesome, most memorable day. And it's not the feeling of riding the roller coaster or being allowed to eat an entire bag of cotton candy, it's the feeling before all that. It's the excitement, the anticipation, the general sense of being in one of my favorite places.

When Leta was born I thought I would automatically feel this way, and many women do. But I did not. And I did not know if I would ever get here. So many women reached out to me to let me know they had gone through the same crisis and came out the other side, and it was the hope they gave me that pulled me through. If you happen to be in that place right now, I want you to know that it gets so much better. And one day you're going to be having a complex conversation with that baby who is screaming her head off right now, and you're going to go, holy ****, I made it. You will make it.

Like Heather, I thought I would automatically have those feelings so many moms describe. But I did not. And although I enjoy Elijah so very, very much more now than I did a year and a half ago, in many ways I am still struggling—still clinging to the hope that it will get better. I am floundering, falling far short of my expectations. I am wondering when I’ll ever feel comfortable and confident in this mother-skin, when I’ll love its weight instead of squirming in this ill-fitting identity.

The comments on Heather’s post showed me just how un-alone Heather and I are. I read comments like this:

You wrote this for me, as I bounce my crying, 8 week old son in his bouncy chair. There are lots of days when he and I just cry together and I think I am so not cut out for this, even though I've wanted it my whole life. It's a lonely place…

And this:

Yeah, everyone gives you that crap about "falling in love with your baby immediately" and so NATURALLY I felt like a total failure for not loving the newborn phase and the newborn who was in it.

And another:

This cannot be said enough. I have no doubt that women (and men) are genuine in declaring that their absolute, passionate, and unwavering love for their newborn switched on in the delivery room, but it's not a universal experience. And the love of a mother whose love for her child grows over a matter of days, months, or years--rather than hitting all at once as in a lightning strike--can be just as strong and is every bit as valid.

I actually went through and skimmed all four hundred of the comments. It was kind of incredible to read about all these other women feeling like I do. It’s like the best kept secret in motherhood. I thought about how much I wanted to write about it on my own blog, but how scared I was of doing so. Then I read this comment:

I wish more women who've experienced post-partum depression or have simply been overwhelmed by the whole motherhood thing would share their experiences. It would sure save those of us who went through that "I'm not so sure I like this being-a-mom thing" a lot of guilt and heartsickness.

I guess I have to.

So here I am several months later, blabbing the secret—hoping to save another mama some guilt and heartsickness.

More to come...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Crushed by Mother-Guilt

I've known I was supposed to write this--needed to write it--for a long, long time. Today, finally, I am summoning the courage to share a story from the most vulnerable parts of my heart: the truth about my experience of motherhood.

I’ve never known love at first sight.

When women talk about how they felt when they first saw and held their babies, you hear certain familiar phrases: “head over heels in love”… “instantly smitten with this new little person” … “never knew it was possible to love someone this much” … That’s how I expected it to be. In fact, I never imagined there COULD be any other reaction. But that’s not how I felt when Elijah was born.

The day I gave birth to my son was not the best, most wonderful day of my life. It was the most traumatic. When Elijah was born, I felt more shell-shocked than anything else—not “love at first sight” but “what just happened to me?” I did not feel that tremendous, instantaneous attachment people talk about. And over the days and weeks that followed, I felt crushed by the guilt of not feeling like a mother “should” feel about her child.

The early weeks of motherhood were painful in every way: Physically, because I developed an infection, and because breastfeeding initially felt like some sort of torture device involving pliers and sandpaper. Emotionally, because I was miserable. Were my mothering hormones broken? I wasn’t loving motherhood like I expected to; I didn’t feel bonded to my baby. And socially, because my misery was compounded by a smothering weight of guilt. It was painful not just because I was miserable, but because I felt so very alone.

Eventually I spoke with a handful of women (you know who you are, and I will be forever grateful to you) who reassured me that not everyone has that “love at first sight” experience, and that it was OKAY—common, even—to feel as I did. And over the last year and a half, I’ve discovered that a stunning number of mothers—many more than I expected—have struggled just like me. Unfortunately, most of us don’t talk about it, because even as we feel relieved and validated to find each other, we still have a hard time letting go of the guilt and the shame.

Well-meaning people, including mamas who truly are thriving, are quick to say things to a new mom like, “Isn’t motherhood the greatest?” “Don’t you just love it?” But those kinds of questions don’t leave much room for the honest answer I desperately wanted to give: “Um…no.” If nothing else, I’ve learned to ask open-ended questions to new moms, not “questions” that expect shiny, happy, euphoric-new-mother answers.

I’ve put off writing this for over a year now. No other reason than fear, really. I am afraid to write it because I know I will be judged. There are women who have had that love-at-first-sight experience, who thoroughly enjoy motherhood, who will be appalled at my lack of warm-fuzzies. There are women who have never had children—who haven’t reached that season of life yet, or who struggle with infertility and have suffered through miscarriages—who will resent me for not cherishing my own blessing enough.

But today I am taking a deep breath and saying, so be it. Because there are also women who are scared, women who feel so alone, women who are looking at their babies and saying, “What have I done? How will I survive this?” There are women who are suffering in lonely silence, googling “not in love with my newborn” or “I hate motherhood”—and hating themselves as they type those words. And so I write for them. I write for me.

Part 2: Breaking the Silence
Part 3: A Mother in Process, Clinging to Hope
Part 4: Letter to a Mother

Monday, April 06, 2009

"I Want to Wake Up in a City That Never Sleeps..."

I think you either love it or you hate it.

There are people, like my husband, who despise New York City. The crowds, the noise, the smells...Steve thinks it's dirty and sensory-overloading and would be perfectly happy never to set foot in Manhattan again. (Crazy man.)

Then there are people like me, who step off the train at Grand Central Station, walk out onto Park Avenue and have to resist the temptation to bust out *jazz hands!* in glorious delight. I can't even explain it, but that city is in my blood.

Lucky for me, Steve's brother and his wife live just outside the city, one block from a commuter train station that takes you to Manhattan in 30 minutes. Also lucky for me, I have an incredibly selfless husband who agrees to go someplace he does not enjoy because he knows I adore it so much. And then you add in the huge blessing of generous in-laws who invite us to join them on a spring break vacation...YESSSSSS.

We don't get to see Chris, Michelle and baby Olivia all that often, and when we do, the time is often rushed and jam-packed with activity. So it was really nice to have a long weekend with plenty of downtime. We flew out on a Friday, and the plane rides went very smoothly. Elijah did great--here's a (blurry, from Steve's phone) shot of how he occupied much of his time:

The seven of us (Steve's parents, his younger brother, Chris, Michelle and us, not including the two little ones) got to play games, enjoy good food and catch up on conversation. I even got to have some fun girl time with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law at a Ladies' Night their church hosted. We also were thrilled that Elijah and Olivia (who are a year and two weeks apart) loved each other. It was fun to watch them interact.

Then on Monday, we all took a trip into The City. After arriving at Grand Central Station, we walked up Fifth Avenue to Rockefeller Center. We posed for a family photo in front of the plaza...

...and on Top of the Rock (that's the Empire State Building in the background):

As you can see, both my brother-in-law and I are rocking the Ergos. Totally, totally indispensible on this trip. I don't know how we would live without ours.

Here's another Top of the Rock photo, with Central Park in the background:

After our very windy morning up there, we grabbed lunch, and my mother-in-law bought Elijah an awesome hat. I have every intention of brainwashing him :)

We spent the rest of the day just wandering around--a (chilly) stroll through Central Park, a subway ride to Times Square (because you can't visit New York and not at least pop into Times Square, if you're going to commit the travesty of not seeing a show...). Here's the Statue of Liberty as seen in Toys R Us, made entirely of Legos:

Then we hopped back on the subway and rode down to Greenwich Village, where we checked out the Strand (motto: 18 miles of books). So not enough time to spend in that overwhelmingly wonderful place. Our time in Manhattan was over not a moment too soon for my poor patient overstimulated husband, and far, far too quickly for me.

And thus concludes our New York City vacation. Here's one last shot of the two older Kannel brothers and their wives and kids, in front of Chris & Michelle's apartment building. We're so grateful for their hospitality and the time we got to spend with them and the rest of the family!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Learning to Eat with a Fork

I don't think I've posted any photos of Elijah in quite a while, so I thought I'd share a funny from last week. He woke up with an unbelievably crazy and cute case of bedhead, and so I got out the camera during breakfast. We're working on teaching him to use a fork--he typically opens his mouth extra-wide to make sure he hits the target :)

More photos here, if you're so inclined.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 111

Ack! Sorry the blog has been dormant all week. We just got back late Tuesday night from a fun mini-vacation with my in-laws in New York. I want to give the trip its own post, but haven't finished messing with my photos and would like to wait until I get some from my sister-in-law :)

Meanwhile, there's always much to be thankful for...
  • safe travels to and from New York
  • Elijah's agreeable behavior on the plane
  • the thrill of seeing the nighttime Manhattan skyline as we descended into LaGuardia
  • relaxing quality time with Steve's family
  • his parents' incredible generosity
  • the way Elijah loved playing with his baby cousin
  • girl time over a nice meal with my MIL and SIL
  • the thrill of stepping off the train at Grand Central Station and walking out onto Park Avenue
  • a day spent in NYC, my very favorite city
  • our Ergo carrier--totally invaluable on this trip
  • the catching up on sleep Elijah did yesterday
  • a long walk and good conversation with Steve last night after dinner
  • our soft, cozy bed
  • the new study I am starting
  • the fact that the life-giving bread that can satisfy my soul is free