31: memento mori & memento videre

Turning thirty-one offers a little relief in settling into true adulthood. Part of this means that if my idea of a good time is talking about latin catchphrases on my blog while my children “nap” (today this means “alternately fuss in their respective beds for an hour or so”), I can do that. I’m an adult now.

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these grew in my yard. happy birthday to me! 

So, memento mori and memento vivere are the words that come to me when I think about this past year.  “Remember your death” and “Remember to live.” Especially during Lent and Holy Week, I see how inseparable these are, kind of like twin mottos that uphold each other. Most of the lessons and highlights for this year fit neatly into this intersection.

Memento Mori & Household Stuff.
Around my birthday last year, my mom and her siblings moved my grandfather into a nursing home and sold their big iconic family house in the woods. I morbidly joked to Aaron that meant he wasn’t allowed to die in the near future because my early widowhood backup plan (raising the kids in that house) was now off the table. But a big part of that process, which I followed from afar, was clearing out the basement and closets, sorting trunks full of unlabeled pictures, and nearly continual donation trips to the neighborhood Goodwill. I’m pretty sure my mom still has loads of this stuff in her own basement now because it’s hard to sort through things when you’re so emotional. My grandparents were not hoarders by any stretch, just upper middle class Americans who had lived in the same house for 45 years. (Which is to say, the ideal best case scenario for my end of days, too.) I’d read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo before we moved here and implemented what I could from her discarding plan (especially the “joy spark” question) as we packed and unpacked, but I’ve been challenged to continually tackle the clutter battle as a way of life. Because really, memento mori: I’m going to die someday, and I’d rather have my kids talk about their memories of me or the words I left them than know they will be sighing about cleaning out my basement, which I am quite sure was just sighed over and cleaned out by the children of this home’s previous elderly owners before I bought it, too. With this in mind I passed out all the kid toys that made annoying sounds, recycled 80% of the professional photo prints from my wedding (no one is ever going to look at them!), and donated a whole extra van load worth of household stuff… And you know? There’s a lot more living in our home when there’s less picking up, so it’s worth decluttering in the spirit of memento vivere, too.

Memento Mori & Projects
I am always, always up for planning a new project. The number of possibilities (household! Diy! education! reading! church! writing! handcrafts! start five podcasts!)  rolling around in my head is absurd, and I’m humbled every time I open my binder of family recipes, because I see a note in my Grandma’s handwriting. “This is the first edition of the long awaited Niemi cookbook – more to follow.”

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Surprise! There were no later additions to this collection. And it’s not just because she got sick. It’s because life is what happens within limits and you can’t do absolutely everything. This is true for all the ideas in my head, too, and memento mori here means making peace with unstarted and unfinished projects (which are legion), because I’m going to leave a bunch of things undone when I die anyway. Abandoning ideas more quickly, even ones that already made it to a mid-project stage, doesn’t mean that perseverance and completion are unimportant. It just means I can have a clearer head to discern and finish the ones that do matter.

Memento Vivere & the St. Louis Climate
Maybe you have heard of “hygge,” the Scandanavian lifestyle ethos that is trending everywhere these days? It’s all about the quality of being cozy and hospitable, and as a knitter, a candle-lighter, a true woman of the north, I want to embrace this. I feel silly complaining about warm weather after experiencing two of the most brutal winters on record during the short time we lived in Minnesota. But man, it’s unbearably hot and steamy for four or five months out of the year here, and I’m not paying to join the neighborhood pool until the kids learn to swim. We’re going to be trapped inside for much of the summer as long as we live here. So I’m doing my best to memento vivere and ignore the siren call of the Hygge life during winter, embracing every sunny day we can get out for a zoo trip and bundling the kids for playground time now. Winter here is for living, not hibernating. This means we can fully embrace the vibrant splash pad scene here when it warms up. Maybe order some fun inside activity gear. Buy Tazo Passion Tea in bulk to DIY my favorite coffeeshop summer treat. And save excessive movie watching for August, as backwards as it seems.

Memento Vivere & Motherhood 
If my life is a memoir, the chapter I’m living right now is titled “Everyone Is Crying.” There are a lot of good days with the kids, especially now that nearly all outings are possible with both kids on my own, but it’s amazing how easy it is to slip into the belief that life is what will happen next – When they can procure their own breakfast so I can hide in the basement and write every morning until Aaron leaves for work; when we finally get the house projects done so I can get a piano again; kindergarten, glory.

But if I wasn’t waiting to start my life until the kids were born, I’m not waiting to start it now. I really don’t have enough time to do the things I want (and even need, really) to do for my own peace of mind, but remembering to live means figuring out how to fight for even a glimpse of peace in the middle of all this hustle. So maybe spending mornings at a gym with a nursery isn’t an option, but I can still grab the stroller for a walk or turn up fun music to have a “dance party” with the kids. (In doing this I have learned toddler interpretations of the lyrics to basically all my desired workout songs are definitely “explicit.”) Maybe I can’t sit down and write like I’d want, but I can play hard with the kids in the morning and let them watch a few shows after their nap so I can spend an afternoon lost in a book even when there are not enough solo hours to craft paragraphs myself. A little extra screentime isn’t as damaging as growing up with a crazy mom, you know.

This year memento vivere means that anything worth doing is worth doing even a little bit. Because if I have to wait until I can spend an hour at the gym or drink hot coffee alone or sit still long enough to create something beautiful in my journal or on a set of knitting needles to really live, I’m not going to be able to live contentedly with what God has given me. And that’s no life at all.

 

 

 

Present Joy & Past Sorrow

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Though I’ve shared before that [having kids isn’t “the key to healing” from the grief of a miscarriage], the present joys of raising my children do offer some perspective on those past sorrows. While it doesn’t erase previous hardship, mothering my living children has helped me understand even more about the miscarriages I had before they were born.

  • Motherhood (of any sort) is emotionally intense. My love for my children is overwhelmingly fierce and surprising. Every so often I’m overcome by the burst of affection for the kids I have, which is saying a lot for me because I generally just have lots of feelings all the time anyway. Compared to the way I felt after the miscarriages, it’s a little like Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion in my heart: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  My grief and sadness about the miscarriages was equally intense, surprising, and often unpredictable  – and it makes more sense to me now. It would be extremely concerning if I didn’t experience such joy with the kids now, and these “highs” helps me reconcile the emotional lows from the miscarriages.
  • The unknown potential of what “could have been” from the other babies is still a little haunting sometimes. Due to gracious doctors who knew how comforting this would be, I have very early ultrasound pictures from both of my kids. I occasionally marvel that the little 6-week-old pulsing sweetpea (the baby is basically all beating heart at that point) we saw in December 2013 is now exploring and babbling and making herself known throughout my home every day. I witnessed a miracle then, just as I do now: all the potential in the world, wrapped up as a bundle of flesh and blood and water. I also have ultrasound pictures of little babies before this, whose potential will remain unknown. The possible beauty and joy of the other babies’ lives before that was just as significant. What sorts of delights and needs would those babies have brought? Who would they have grown up to be? We’ll never know here what would have been. It doesn’t steal the happiness we have now, but I’ll probably always wonder about this.
  • … Equally haunting is the frailty of the ones who made it. What if I hadn’t take that exact cocktail of medicines to keep hormones doing their jobs at the beginning? Would my daughter be here if that paranoid doctor hadn’t ordered the extra “unnecessary” ultrasound that diagnosed a treatable-but-concerning problem? Would I have survived my son’s birth if he had been born in the car instead of right after we got to the hospital? The number of things that have to work just right to bring a child from conception to birth is staggering, and I marvel at how it all worked for these kids. I know a child is not something to take for granted.
  • Miscarriage really is a mini-birth in so many ways. I’m the opposite of a birth-junkie. Other people get really excited and enjoy talking or writing about private body parts with all the sensations and whatnot that brought their child into the world, and it’s legitimately meaningful for them. I am not like that. I thought maybe I was grossed out by this because the topic of having a living baby was so tender for me; I usually felt like people around me got way too personally invested in the details of their birth plans, or were overly spiritualizing and competitive about their natural deliveries. I would have cut off my right leg to have had a c-section and a formula-fed baby myself. Then I actually had a baby and … I still don’t think it’s that exciting to talk about the nitty-gritty details of birth most of the time! But, on this topic, I did find that all but 5 minutes of my son’s (unmedicated and nonsurgical) labor and delivery was actually the same or easier than one of my miscarriages, which validated my shock at how painful and difficult the physical experiences were. My post-partum hormonal fluctuations and heightened awareness/anxiety after birth and miscarriage were nearly identical, as well. 
  • Sometimes it is still better not to know. It’s amazing how many people have said, “It’s too bad you didn’t know you’d have these two kids back when you were having all those struggles!” In some ways, this is true. It was painful to wonder if I would ever get to have a baby and experience all this joy, and maybe it wouldn’t have been so hard if I had just known that it was really coming. But [sometimes not-knowing is a gift,] and the all-knowing God met me in my unknowns in ways that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. We hope and pray for more good to come, with these kids and maybe with more in the future. Yet plenty of bad things (including, but absolutely not limited to, more miscarriages) could be ahead for our life. We can rest in the truth that God is in control and works everything for his purposes, but it really is a measure of mercy that we don’t know what’s coming before that. 
  • Every baby is part of me forever. There’s no way to make me “stop” being a mom to any of my kids. My home now is bursting with laughter and diapers and coffee; the particular love and delight of each child changes me in new ways every day. Their blue eyes and belly laughs are etched into me; no matter what happens to any of us, we’re bound to each other for life. But there is still a bit of frustrated maternal instinct from before. I’m not “just” the mom of these two, because my miscarriages gave me a little baggage and a lot of perspective that spill into life now, too.
  • Being a child of God is more important than being a mom. The mother-identity that comes from my children is overwhelmingly huge. Going too far in one direction, this identity quickly becomes an idol for many women. On the other side, we rightly assess a woman who does not connect with her baby as suffering post-partum depression or anxiety. The identity balance can be tricky, but it’s necessary. Wrestling with motherhood (am I a mom? am I not? why is this so hard?) was a big part of recovering from the miscarriages, too. Situations or relationships where my lost babies were not acknowledged or where mentioning anything was awkward became an overly-personal rejection to me… but I also worked hard to make my life about other things, too: teaching piano, reading, writing, DIY projects, and other things like that. I’m not sure anyone ever strikes the identity balance perfectly. I certainly didn’t (and still don’t!), but God graciously provides all that we really need, by creating us in his own image and saving us by his own son. 

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[You can check out more posts & my recommended resources about miscarriage here!]

On Miscarriages & Reading the Bible

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Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” – Matthew 22:29

My miscarriages revealed that I didn’t understand how the Bible really works. Even after 12 years of earnestly studying it, leading numerous devotional groups, writing Bible Study leaders’ training curriculum, and earning a college degree in Christian Studies! Me, of all people, not knowing how to read my Bible! The first thing that clued me in? You don’t get many responses from a Bible word search for verses about miscarriage. There’s a few small references, but on their own they were kind of confusing. For being the book that’s supposed to be the source of all life and sufficient for guiding you through any situation, I found this extremely disconcerting. Women were having miscarriages in Bible times, too, so if the Bible doesn’t talk about them… is it even relevant right now? Was it EVER relevant?

My Scripture-Reading Pedigree is reasonably impressive. I already knew you couldn’t just use one phrase of the Bible to “claim as a promise” without considering the context (knowing the culture or life story of the author and original audience). And I knew my feelings were not an interpretive tool, but I still felt lost to figure out how the Bible spoke to me after a miscarriage. 

Since I couldn’t find chapter-and-verse to give me a solid explanation, I sought out what other people were saying about miscarriages and the Bible. Maybe I was just missing it and someone else had already figured it out? I looked at all the blogs written and ordered whatever books I could find. Pickings were slim and unhelpful. (Thankfully, much has been said since about miscarriage from a Christian perspective and I do have a list of my favorite articles and books I recommend on the menu of this website.) Blogs and books are useful, but they are only a tool; they do not replace the living and active word of scripture. What I needed was not just “a book about miscarriage from a Christian perspective,” but a more cohesive understanding of how the Bible fit together to speak a better word to my sorrow than any online concordance could supply.

You don’t have to geek out on complicated words or reading dead theologians to figure this out. I liked those things long before I had any miscarriages, and they hadn’t brought this to light for me. Plenty of my college classes and personal reading had circled around this topic. For some reason, reading scripture as part of a “meta-narrative” (where all the parts serve to ultimately fit into an “ultimate story” of the gospel) had seemed dry and unwelcoming to me. This sounds crazy now, because nothing seems relevant or approachable about flipping back and forth between random passages of the Bible when you’re looking for help or hope. Reading the Bible with the full lens of the gospel (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) proves it is rich with encouragement and sufficient for difficulty, even the hardships of our lives that it barely mentions by name.

CREATION
From the beginning of the Creation narrative we read that God created all people in perfection and gave the first command: “Be fruitful and multiply.” It doesn’t say “Be fruitful and miscarry!” We were originally created to have bodies and relationships that worked the right way, which would mean a baby wouldn’t die before it was even born. Other passages celebrate God’s special work in forming and developing every child in the womb of a woman.
See: Genesis 1-2, Psalm 139, Jeremiah 1, Ecclesiastes 11:5

FALL
The earth and the animal kingdom experience the curse of sin right away, in broken fellowship with God and woman’s increased pain in childbearing. This is not limited just to labor and delivery, but encompasses trouble in all facets of maternity: debilitating cycles or hormone shifts, infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, post-partum depression, birth injuries, and the ongoing difficulties of motherhood. Every woman, even one who is happily childless, battles some bit of this in some way.

This same curse later meets mankind in the worst possible way: the death of an innocent son. It strikes me that when humans experience death, it’s Abel who gets killed, not Adam or Eve (who have no earthly parents). Knowing that we have to read the Bible in terms of the “big picture,” this points us clearly to the death of Jesus, the innocent Son of God. Knowing that the Bible speaks to all sadness, this also validates the particular grief of parents. Now, I know people who have held full-term babies that never drew breath, or who trace their child’s name in the cold, hard etchings on a gravestone. I certainly imagine (in brief, horrible moments) that losing one of my living children would be a new, more awful devastation than the miscarriages I had before, but miscarriage is still the death of a child in it’s very earliest stages. At the core of the gospel, the Fall shows us that death is, indeed, a really big deal. 
See: Genesis 3-4, Hebrews 11:4, Hebrews 12:18-24.

REDEMPTION
At the crucifixion, Jesus faces death, carrying the full weight of everything that is wrong and broken upon himself. Beyond our individual sin and the sin of the world, our sorrows and grief were laid upon Jesus as well. This is where some of the overly-simple talk about “Jesus dying for our sins” in childhood altar calls becomes less helpful for understanding the gospel in real life. At the resurrection, Jesus physically rises from the dead AND makes the pathway for the resurrection of all the dead, which is why Paul calls Jesus “the firstfruits of all who sleep.” As Christians, we know this means we will be restored to eternal life. It also promises us that all who “sleep” (are dead) will rise, including babies lost in miscarriage.
See: Isaiah 53, Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, John 13-21, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

RESTORATION
Do you know where you actually find the word “miscarry” in the Bible? The Old Testament. Moses’ writings about how miscarriages and barrenness will not exist in the Promised Land are actually the most explicit places the Bible talks about it, and these passages are pointing beyond Israel to an ultimate fulfillment in heaven. Unfortunately most of the discussion about miscarriages and heaven twists this a little bit, focusing on finding hope in “seeing your babies in heaven someday.” A faith that is held up primarily by the desire to see your baby (which is, of course, entirely appropriate) does not follow the pattern revealed in scripture. Whether those babies we lost are in heaven or not, focusing on that point alone is small comfort compared the profound hope in the gospel: Christ promises that in the Resurrection, everything will be made new. It’s eternal life, perfection, without sorrow or tears or death. It’s a life where God fully satisfies every question, longing, and emptiness with his love. Christian hope in the wake of a miscarriage or other loss is not about having another child on earth or reuniting with a child in heaven. It’s about experiencing full, unending communion with God himself.
See: Exodus 23:26, Isaiah 25, Isaiah 40, Isaiah 61, Isaiah 65:20, Matthew 22:29-33, Revelation 21:4-8

 

“And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.
…All flesh is like grass…
The grass withers,
the flowers fade,
but the word of our God will stand forever.”
– Isaiah 40:5,7,8

Reclaiming Martyrdom

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” -Hebrews 12:1-3

My mother used to joke that sometimes homeschooling me was a breeze; she could just “accidentally” leave a dictionary or encyclopedia out for me to get lost in, and I would spend dinner recounting what I had been reading all day. Now that I’m an adult and “know myself” a little better, via compulsively journaling through life experiences and taking too many online personality quizzes (ENFP all the way), it makes perfect sense that I would get a little bit obsessed with a lot of random things and enjoy figuring out how these were all connected.

Resulting from my early encyclopedic studies, I can become a bit of a stickler about language and word definitions. I like finding just the right term to express something, and I have a strange fascination with watching how the use of words impacts discussion. Sometimes I hear a sermon and wonder why the pastor chose one word over another, or excitedly tell Aaron that I think our last fight happened because we were using the same words different ways. (He is not always so enthused to hear my explanations.) It also means I bristle on the inside when a word is used ambiguously (like the word “blessing”) or wrongly (like “dignity”). The one that’s been bugging me lately is the cultural use of the word “martyr” pejoratively: “Mommy-Martyr,” describing a woman who complains and exalts her sacrifices as a parent.

This phrase irks me because it belies a serious misunderstanding. If we roll our eyes at someone acting like a mommy-martyr, we’re wishing she would stop complaining, maybe get herself pulled together. A mommy-martyr is usually working harder than necessary to draw attention to herself, but she might also just have a bad attitude about the legitimate hard work of raising children. Remedying this requires more than just a better perspective on parenting; we need to better understand martyring and we need to better understand Christ.

To be a martyr is to die, to have your life taken for the sake of your faith, and most of us will probably never have to do that in a full, physical sense. But our lives are full of opportunities to emulate Christ’s sacrifice in some way when we offer our selves and bodies to God in physical acts of worship. This is not just about parenting. Maybe it means turning down reproductive technology that might give you a desperately-longed-for baby because you aren’t willing to risk the destruction of embryos inherent in those processes, or choosing joy in the midst of difficult relationships that may remain frustrating for the rest of your life, or taking on the requisite challenges of any other situation where immediate desires have to be sacrificed for the sake of Christ and not necessarily for the sake of future earthly gratification. The fact remains, though, that children (especially when they are so small like mine) are needy little neighbors and a parent is called to love and sacrifice for them every minute of the day in some seasons, without firm promises about what their future holds.  So I actually think christian motherhood is very much a form of daily martyrdom.

Primarily, of course, it is becoming a christian that solidifies the call to lay down your life, but the landmark sanctifying experiences most people point to (like marriage, ministry, loss, chastity, parenting, etc.,) are usually where the rubber of christianity hits the road of real life. Yet if you do not lay yourself fully down in marriage, or singleness, or other difficulties, the results may not be so immediately obvious. There was plenty of sanctification and living sacrifice happening before I had children, but in extremely personal ways without many immediate witnesses. If I chose self-denial or self-indulgence at those times, few would necessarily know about it, and I might not see the repercussions for good or bad. If I choose selfishness now, the consequences are really drastic: my kids aren’t going to have lunch. The choice to care for these little children well is an act of thanksgiving to the God who made them and gave them to me. Doing so all day, every day, even when it is hard, is a physical act of worship. Looking at it this way, decrying “mommy martyrs” irritates me because this rightly identifies complaining as a problem but loses respect for the bravery and beauty of true sacrifice in the process. 

Maybe the solution to the problem of whining that gets called “mommy martyr”-ing is to replace the focus on self with a heart that tunes in to the devotion of actual martyrs, even today around the world. Where the “mommy-martyr” complains and looks at herself, measuring her identity by her children and what they have taken from her, a true martyr faces the very real demands of laying her life down by looking to Christ and finding her identity through all she has received in him. My heart, and the heart of any Christian mom, can be renewed by the same thing. 

Raising living children is not a vocation of victimhood or self-glorification, but in many ways it is one of living martyrdom, as all God’s callings are in some sense. And maybe through this we can reclaim the sacred honor of true martyr, so that calling someone a mommy-martyr could be a colloquial praise of her love and selflessness, as she raises a family with her eyes fixed firmly on the all-giving Jesus instead of her all-needing children or herself.

[Even Unto Death by Audrey Assad, written in tribute for the 21 Christians martyred in Libya in December 2014 and January 2015]

the long good-bye

Though the past year was one of the most demanding of my life, I read a few very short books while I was pregnant with Thomas, mostly on the occasions I would leave Annie with a friend so I could attend some of my OB appointments solo. One of these slender tomes was The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work by Kathleen Norris, which I have had on the radar for several years. I was glad to finally read it in a stage of life full of cloth diapers, when I was figuring out church with children in tow, and grappling with how staying home with children was transforming my daily life… which is to say, at a point when I was already thinking about laundry, liturgy, and “women’s work” quite a bit. It’s not a perfect book, but I appreciated some of the insights and affirmations that the “daily grind” of a homemaker need not develop into oppression, but instead cultivates opportunities for worship and a deeper understanding of God.

As I scan through the pages again now, with soup simmering in the crockpot, toys and board books strewn about the floor, a dog snoozing at my feet, and one baby sleeping in crib in the next room while a smaller baby sleeps on my chest, the portions about sharing in God’s grace while “doing-the-next-thing” seems a little more meaningful. When I originally read this under posters about gestational growth and development, during some of the only times I really gave much conscious thought to the new little baby, this is what resonated:

“At the deepest level, a pregnant woman must find the courage to give birth to a creature who will one day die, as she herself must die. And there are no promises, other than the love of God, to tell us that this human round is anything but futile.

…Now the new mother, that leaky vessel
Begins to nurse her child
Beginning the long good-bye.”

-Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries

Maybe because this year I’ve also known more women who watched their children rest in caskets than before, or because my social media feed is full of discussions about abortion providers, or because I have sobbed while reading about drowned refugee children, I know that passing into the “magical” second trimester of pregnancy did not guarantee ultimate protection for either of these children. Now this imagery of saying goodbye to my children seems a little more real – and therefore more morbid – at this point than it did at other times.

However, it’s not just the potential loss of their earthly lives that stands here in my mind. It’s also the fact that they are each in full possession of their own personality, with plenty of surprises about who they are. (And they can’t even talk yet, so we will be seeing exponentially more of that in the coming years.) We have dreams, prayers, and hopes for these children, which is such a central part of parental love. It comes out when I feel like my heart is bursting out of my body because Annie loves pressing piano keys and wearing a stethoscope, or praise her for being so kind to Thomas, “because he is your brother and your best friend!” or proudly dress them in Hillsdale gear. There is nothing wrong with hoping my kids have meaningful careers, a close relationship with each other, or  follow in our footsteps for college, but it would become twisted if I clung to any desires I have for them more than embracing the children themselves as we discover what their unique gifts are. It is very possible that what I want for them in any aspect of life is different than what will happen, and I don’t want to set myself up to be disappointed in the ways God lovingly works in their lives.

Receiving these children as an undeserved gift means saying good-bye to some of my desires. Right now it’s usually sleep, drinking hot coffee, and being able to wear the same clothes all day without being slimed on by either one of them. But as they grow it will also mean subordinating my dreams and rejoicing that they were created to fulfill God’s plans, not mine. Even under the best circumstances where I would share a long life of loving and mothering these children, receiving them as the gifts they are means living the hard goodness of this long good-bye. This is the best way to truly celebrate the work God has done in bringing them to me.

“As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.
I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.
So now I give him to the Lord, for his whole life…”
– 1 Samuel 1:26-28

 

full hands

“When you pick this up, the pharmacist might look at you like you are crazy.” – My doctor, while writing me a prescription when I was first pregnant with Thomas.
“If it keeps me pregnant again, I’ll have two babies in thirteen months… which means I should probably get used to that.”

I expected to get lots of negative comments about having two children close together. After years of fending off mostly well-meaning comments about how I should have kids, and battling the urge to break down when innocently asked “Do you have children?”, this is a welcome change, though annoying in a different way. Even in the hardest and most exhausting moments of this fall, I have had very little patience for someone who would complain about having children.

When I enter a grocery store with Thomas in a carrier, Annie on my hip, and am hanging on to my purse and produce bags, someone usually tells me I have my hands full. They are right. My hands are actually full. I mean, if you waved a thousand dollars in front of me, I would not be able to take it from you. So I usually respond, “Yes, full of TREASURE!” or “Better full than empty!” and kiss whichever child is nearest to my mouth. This usually garners a smile. And I think I’ve had just as many positive compliments as any other kind, which has been a happy surprise.

Is it challenging to have two children, especially when they are both as little as mine are now? Yes. There are reasons this is biologically rare and few people purposefully space their children so closely. They both need so much from me. I can see where having a two- or three- year-old sibling would make the transition easier. At the same time, there are some unique blessings in this, too.

  • Annie is still young enough to have been napping twice a day throughout my pregnancy and Thomas’ newborn stage. I think they would have been much more challenging for me if she wasn’t sleeping so much during the day.
  • By entering her “big sister” role so quickly, Annie will never remember a time without Thomas. I’m glad they will grow up so close in age. Even if they aren’t best friends (my hope and prayer), they will still learn a lot about sharing and respecting others from their earliest days.
  • Far and away, the hardest week of parenting was last month when Annie had Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. This means over a week of pure misery: fever, open oozing sores all over her mouth, face, and hands, a throat so sore she couldn’t eat or drink enough, crying from hunger which made her throat hurt even more… It. Was. Awful. I would prefer experiencing natural childbirth every day for a week over reliving anything like that. It was a little more intense to have a newborn in my care as well, but it would have been the worst week ever even if she was an only child.
  • I’m keenly aware of how quickly babies grow up right now. Thomas is a much more challenging baby than Annie was… I mean, we are nursing every 2-2.5 hours around the clock here, people. (Yes, I’m confident he is getting full, and we have been much more intentional about our sleep signals and routines this time around, but no dice. Whatever. It’s tough, but it confirms my hypothesis that “sleep training” for little babies isn’t all it is talked up to be.) I’m pretty sure watching her toddle around while he needs to eat or be held (again) makes it easier to savor the sweetness in those inconveniences. In a year he will be so big and running around with her… Before the eyes of a parent, that is not very long at all.
  • Raising even one child is going to bring a parent to their knees on a regular basis. The fact that there are now bigger challenges with two little children who need so much points me directly to the Holy Spirit for strength and wisdom in parenting.
  • If we homeschool, I’ll be able to teach them both at the same level in many subjects for quite a while!
  • And… I get to skip the awkward stage of having a one-year-old where people start asking if I was thinking about having another baby anytime soon.
two kids, two grocery stores - one giant bundle of blessiing

two kids, two gallons of milk, two stores… the days of getting the groceries to the house in one trip are past. 

welcome, little thomas!

hummel family

Thomas Ephraim Hummel, Sept 8, 2015

Because, of course, on the day I’m supposed to run a bunch of errands to settle a contract for a new house we’re supposed to buy, and then get a little fix made on our new van, and then take a deep breath about dodging the COBRA health insurance paperwork bullet because the new health insurance from Aaron’s job starts the next day… This baby, who I’m assuming is probably one of the most eager individuals on the planet, would decide to be born and nearly redefine the idea of a “precipitous birth” in the process. Every little bit of his existence over the last 9-10 months so far can be summed up with the phrase, “He’s not Annie.” After plenty of discussion over nearly every name used for  men in the English-speaking world, he is named after our favorite apostle Thomas and the second-born son of Joseph, Ephraim (“fruitful”), because we share his blessing: “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:52)

annie and Thomas

Annie and Thomas

These two dear children are full of many little needs, and our “babymoon” this time around has included: horrendous world-class chigger attack recovery (Aaron), nasty cold/sore throats (Aaron and Annie, just a little one for me), lots of paperwork and inspections and decisions in house-purchasing (Aaron and me), more struggles with eating (Thomas), and not enough space, privacy, or peace with all of us and Max in our echo-y 700 sq.ft. apartment. This is a little nuts, and absolutely no detail of this summer and fall is what we expected at the start of this year! This move, Aaron’s new job, and especially this little boy are good, good gifts we would not have dreamed of even asking for or expecting this year. And it’s a little crazy to say this, but with one-and-a-half days of Daddy being back at work with me at home, my growing suspicion is that doing the newborn/toddler/dog care during the day when Aaron works regular hours is going to be less stressful than managing the newborn/puppy care while he was gone 15 hours every day in Minnesota. thomas sleeping!

Welcome to this chaos, Thomas. Our family will never be the same and we are so in love you, little boy!

Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” …Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger. … And he blessed Joseph and said:

“May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
— May He bless these boys.
May they be called by the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly upon this earth.”
Genesis 48. 

reading round-up (5.15.15)

Both of our Minnesota springs to date have negated the adage “April Showers bring May Flowers” for different reasons. Last year, it was because there was too much snow for too long. This year winter ended at a reasonable time, but we just haven’t had much rain. Now in May, it is finally coming down and our grass is finally coming up. (Aaron far prefers working outside, so he is glad to be done with the new floor and seeing progress in our lawn and garden!) This year we’re just doing tomatoes and green beans.

Both of our Minnesota springs have included excitement about other kinds of growth, too. We’re ecstatic and humbled by another healthy pregnancy! This one means welcoming a baby boy to our family this fall, and by some sweet mercy, the first half of pregnancy has been significantly easier (physically and mentally) than the first half of my pregnancy with Annie. I’m especially grateful for an easier pregnancy while managing an adventurous nine-month-old, and I’m still blown away to think we’ll have two children. I spent a long time wondering if I would ever have any kids, and this
really feels like winning the lottery twice.

Parenting
I thought there were some great thoughts in 8 Items for Christian Parents to Ponder, especially the encouragement to “Consider that there is no one in the world more likely than you to be instruments of their eternal good. ” It’s easy to get bogged down with the idea that we could possibly be really ruining some aspect of our kids’ lives, and I’m grateful for the reminder that we’re also in the position to be the greatest instrument of goodness and blessing for them, too.

I also really appreciated 9 Things Adult Daughters Want Their Mothers to Know. It resonated with me as a daughter and inspired me as a mother.

On the flipside, Raising Gentle Boys was good encouragement for thinking about the new baby. He’ll be himself in so many ways that are more about just being his own person and not necessarily about his gender, but since I don’t know anything about those other things yet… this is what I’ve got to think about: ultrasound technology reassures us that the baby seems to be developing normally and is, in fact, male.

Personality
This post on the benefits of knowing yourself was great. I’ve followed Kristin’s blog for a while and really appreciate so many of her reflections on frugality and family life. I remember the sense of relief that came when I decided I was done with “couponing” and then again in the last few months when I decided borrowing baby clothes was more stressful for me than it was worth, and her advice here resonated deeply for me:

“We don’t all have to be good at the same things, and we don’t all have to love the same things.
(No one can possibly be good at everything and love everything!)
The important thing is to live within your means and manage your money responsibly, and there are a zillion ways to do that well.”

If knowing yourself means identifying with a Myers-Briggs personality type, this Definition of Hell for Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type might extremely accurate. I am an ENFP, but just barely on to the extroverted side; I’m pretty sure Aaron is exactly the opposite, an ISTJ. Hell for an ENFP is essentially the description of the job I held for 3 years when Aaron and I first got married, and it was just nice to (again) be affirmed that I wasn’t being dramatic when I told people it was like a living hell.
For the ENFP:  Every minute of the rest of your life has been scheduled for you – and it’s a long series of arbitrary, solitary tasks.
For the ISTJ: You are expected to complete a highly esteemed project with absolutely no guidance as to what’s expected of you.
In some ways, this describes both of our current occupations as well, which is particularly laughable. (I will say, the monotonous aspects of life as a stay-home mom are much more tolerable after living through some of the truly horrendous -for me- tasks in my old job. and both of these descriptions apply to quite a bit of parenting.)

Productivity 
Aaron has been reviewing different management and productivity materials for companies he is interested in working for… There’s a lot of interesting stuff out there! This Tedx Talk from David Allen (who wrote “Getting Things Done”) is an oldie-but-a-goodie. We were just talking about some of the stuff he says here, and I think it’s very much worth 22 minutes of your time. (Grab a notebook to take some notes and jot down some thoughts afterwards!) We were just saying we might need to review this together every few months… It’s not a bad idea.

Science
Another Ted presentation from Pamela Ronald talks about the intersection of “Organic” farming and GMO crops hits on some good points for lay discussions on agriculture and biotechnology.

Miscarriage 
This blog from Mandi covers a lot of great topics about recurring loss and pregnancy after miscarriages. In some ways she seems like my Catholic twin in reflecting on those topics and I think this blog is a great resource for interested parties.

Reading 
I recently rediscovered LibriVox, full of free audio books in the public domain, and I’m enjoying working through the Anne of Green Gables series again. I find that YA literature is just right for listening while I’m working around the house — it’s engaging but not so dense that I can’t get something else done, too.

Music
Annie recently discovered the joys of hitting things with a plastic spoon, so I gave her some tupperware to beat and turned on Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare For the Common Man. So much fun. So much proletariat ire. (Copeland was a phenomenal American composer with strong ties to progressive/socialist  politics. I’m linking to it’s performance at a 9/11 memorial to compensate on the other side, maybe?)
Musician mama side note: I really like showing her videos of musical performances where she can see the instruments!


We’re looking forward to a low-key weekend with a few little house projects, playing outside with Annie and Max, and lots of much-needed relaxing. Have a happy weekend, friends!

under the shadow (mother’s day 2015)

This year’s avoidance of any Mother’s Day greeting card displays has been due mostly to having a little more to juggle while I’m at the store these days, and less to do with feeling like everything inside me was shriveling up every time I thought about children or the idea of being a mom. I definitely like it better this way.

annie at store

 

The past nine months of real-life mothering have been so dear. I wouldn’t wish the journey I had before this on my worst enemy, but I wouldn’t trade the lessons coming from that and my sweet girl for anything, either. It’s also a little pointless to think about what I would trade because I can’t go back and change anything, anyway. My initiation to motherhood was not at all what I expected, and this means so many of my attitudes and perspectives about life as a parent are different than they would have been otherwise. Sometimes that is still hard, and today I still come in to relationships with the shadow of past grief, carrying a lot more baggage on the topic of children and pregnancy than I would have liked. I have been profoundly blessed by the example of Mary, who was also decidedly shocked by the way she became a mom, too. I take comfort to know that she saw clearly how the purpose of her role as a mother was not primarily that she would have a baby, but that she would encounter the Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise, even when it happened in ways that confused her and seemed so different from how she might have planned it.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you; and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” – Luke 1:35.

While I was pregnant with Annie, I wondered how mothering a child would differ from the sort of “mothering” that came out of my miscarriages. There is everyday stuff to sort through, yes, and more to juggle than before, but at the core I think these things have been mostly the same. The everyday acts of raising my daughter are hard work. They require sacrifice: of my time, my pride, my selfishness. I am diligent to read and pray and make decisions we deem best on every topic imaginable, like medical care during pregnancy and delivery, how to feed the baby, where she sleeps, what kind of structure we have to our days and nights, consoling her or letting her cry, vaccinations, education, spiritual formation, etc., and then continue carrying on relationships where other people have also thought long and hard in making those same choices for their kids and somehow come to the wrong conclusions. I know. But the demands I experienced before: sacrificing so much without a choice in the matter, battling so much insecurity and uncertainty about the future, and navigating awkwardness in some relationships because I was so tender? That was also incredibly difficult, and it happened without the obvious joy of a child to bring such delight! Parenting now is difficult because I feel the weight of responsibility so heavily. A child is a real person; the stakes are high. But I take great comfort to know that parenting Annie — and the new baby coming this fall! — is supposed to be overwhelming, and the strength needed for this task comes under the protective shadow of the Holy Spirit. The difficulties of life before and after the arrival of a baby are both satisfied by the same faithful promises of help and joy. Even with the reality of parenthood, the true satisfaction of life is not found in relation to a human child but a heavenly father.

Several people have asked me if motherhood has provided any “healing” from the losses and heartache of the last few years, and it has been interesting to think about. There is so much joy and delight in the very places I was so sorrowful, yes. Maybe even more happiness than I might have experienced otherwise? Who knows. It is not difficult in any way to look at my beautiful girl or my again-expanding midsection and wonder how this could be a blessing, like I had to do with the babies I lost before this. But “healing”? I don’t want to think of it in those terms. The answer to the true problems posed by those miscarriages, the wrestling with death and grief and what it meant to be a mother? Those questions are met with the same gifts I find for the troubles of today: The presence of the Holy Spirit now, and the coming full understanding in the resurrection, when the shadow of death is removed completely.

Many people are burdened with desire for many things — having a baby was not the lone thing I longed for — and the beauty of any wait is that it is not a waste when it clarifies the source of true fulfillment. I look back and say the grief-shadowed wait was beautiful not because it led to children, but because it led me closer to the everlasting shadow of God’s love and protection.

There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. – Isaiah 25:7

My soul will be satisfied… for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. – Psalm 63:4-7

reading round-up returns!

[What We’re Up To]
This week started with Aaron home for the MLK holiday, so we painted the ceilings in the entire upstairs of the house, and then spent a huge (for us) amount of money purchasing new flooring for the main floor. We’re cutting off the bottom of our door casings to prepare for the installation, and Max is extremely helpful in his supervisory role.
photo 1Aaron is working even more than he did during his PhD, which makes for very rough days and sloooow progress on the DIY front, but when we actually can work on a project, it’s a great way to spend time together and (bonus) have a better-looking house.

We also had a noteworthy birthday for Aaron — the big 30! — celebrated with his favorite dessert, Guinness Cake. I had forgotten he didn’t like icing on it, so now I am left with an entire bowl of homemade frosting in the fridge. Forget the “Whole30 Food Challenge” so many people are doing in January… I’m just trying not to gain a Whole 30 Pounds lick-by-lick off the spatula.

[Surfing the Web] 
Mommy-Blogs: There’s a big thing I wondered about how motherhood would change me: would I start enjoying “Mommy Blogs”? After five months, the answer is still NO.  I know now that wasn’t  that I couldn’t read them because I was so sad about not having a baby myself… It was just that, beyond the fact of my own desires to have a baby, I still thought reading regular things about other people’s kids were kind of boring. Every so often I’ll find an article or post that resonates, like They Should’ve Warned Me, which beautifully mirrors my own experiences with a baby, but I still skip posts about “basic updates on pregnancy and child growth/development.”  I do really, really like kids, I just don’t find it particularly noteworthy or entertaining that some stranger’s five month old can roll over. (I, of course, gush over Annie’s milestones to my mother on a near-daily basis.) I also have problems with monetized mommy blogs, which usually make me feel like the child’s privacy has been violated, and I don’t see the point of making money because you took pictures of your kids eating spaghetti or something like that. Hannah Anderson’s article on “Women’s Discipleship and the Mommy Blogosphere” communicates some of my previously unarticulated frustrations about how often legalism flourishes in that setting, with a noted lack of sound theology and critical thinking in most cases.
Life and Death: I thought we would have some family funerals this year, and three weeks in to 2015, I’m on pins and needles expecting to hear of our second family loss. I’m still chewing through some of the thoughts on A Far Green Country: Looking Past Uncertainty Towards Eternity. And This post about how life is like a pregnancy and death is a birth is just… profound.
Christianity and Education: No matter where formal education takes place in our family, the curriculum will include a strong emphasis on formal logic and the creeds and catechism of historical Christianity. Here are 7 Reasons to Teach our Children Church History from an evangelical perspective. And this article about the theological differences in the Christology of orthodox Christianity and Mormonism is, in my opinion, a fabulous illustration about the necessity of critical thinking and a thorough understanding about whether a difference is “denominational” or “ultimate.” How many people would read the statements about Jesus from the Mormon perspective and think they were consistent with evangelical teaching?

[People I Actually Know]
From my friend Hannah — What They Should Tell You When You Are Dating. (my alternative title: The Things People Who Believe In Courtship Forget About What It Takes To Sustain A Relationship For Your Entire Life. Other alternative title, if I had written it: Why I Will Encourage My Daughter To Date At Least A Few People Before She Gets Married.)

[Books] 
A chapter from The Jesus Storybook Bible and a complete read-through of the Pout-Pout Fish are daily occurrences. I love it.
I’m discussing Desiring God’s compilation “Mom Enough” with some friends, and enjoying a more balanced look at motherhood in light of the gospel than is promoted in most Christian arenas. You can download a PDF for free!
I’m working through What’s Best Next by Matt Perman — definitely not aimed at stay-home-moms, which means it doesn’t always feel immediately applicable, but very useful thoughts on the gospel and productivity.

[Music]
We sing lots from Andrew Peterson’s Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies, and we’ve been enjoying the original Fantasia on Netflix during the day. (That might count as watching? Annie definitely watches the screen. But it’s just classical music and fine art rolled in to one, right? So it’s like baby education multi-tasking?)

[Fun]
Here’s a look at ordinary (some gross, like the foot of a fly) things under a microscope.

Happy Weekend, friends!