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thankfulness

Exactly four years ago tonight I was in a hospital room in Portland, hooked up to an external fetal monitor, waiting for my life to change. I had the same feeling I get when I’m about to go on a trip somewhere – the excitement and anxiety of a new adventure waiting to unfold.

And it has been an adventure indeed. The process of becoming a mom was a bit like entering an alternate universe where the idea of an unbroken 9 hour night of sleep was the stuff of fantasy. A world where my body didn’t really belong to me. Now, with a son who’s just turned 1, I’ve been either pregnant or breastfeeding for the past 4 years and 9 months.

I’m not sure if these past four years have gone by in a flash or if they’ve crept by incredibly slowly. But I do know that I remember the time before motherhood now as if it were a dream.

Happy Birthday tomorrow to my sweet daughter. You are a fierce, playful, quick-witted, resilient bringer of joy. I can’t imagine life without you Marie. Last week we just finished our first chapter book read-aloud – C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair. This evening as we walked down the hill to visit my grandmother, you ran through the cherry blossoms and shouted, “It’s raining cherry blossoms!”

And to dear little Paul who just turned 1 on Easter: We love you and are so thankful you joined our family. Paul with the gap-toothed grin and the curly red-gold hair. At this age you are like a little caveman wandering about our apartment, communicating by pointing. You know the signs for “more,” “all done,” and “please.” When you get mad, your fair skin turns bright red, and you also like to throw yourself down on the floor and cry. On your birthday we sat around my parent’s dining room table and everyone said something we appreciate about you. Except Marie, who said, “No, I don’t want to talk about Paul. I want to talk about Jesus, because it’s Easter.”

But I know the truth – she loves you. I’m in love with you both, and am looking forward to getting to know you more in the years to come. I’m praying that God will bless you both deeply, that you will be far from harm’s way, that you will be filled with a deep peace and love that overflow into those around you.

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

 

 

I was reading a post by author Sarah Thebarge a few months ago about working in a medical clinic in west Africa. It was a grueling experience. She lost more patients in one week than she’d lost in the past decade of working in the U.S. She said she felt a bit like Sisyphus, eternally pushing a boulder up a hill. Futile.

I have spent time in west Africa, too. It’s stuck with me – the open sewers, the diesel fumes, the trash piles. The leper begging on the roadside. The inability to call home because our phone could only receive incoming calls, and that only sporadically. Getting the last flight out on Ghana Air before London’s Heathrow airport grounded the plane for safety concerns.

The. Last. Flight.

It changed me to experience those things. I had entered a new country, and the world would never again be the safe, sanitary place I had known.

But there were other things too. Sitting on a tropical beach, looking up at the full moon. Tasting a fresh mango. Swimming in a warm rainstorm. Seeing the smiling faces of children.

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Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

In her post, Sarah went on to say that several commentators – Kafka and Camus – imagined Sisyphus to be happy. Happy because he was in love with the work.

I entered another new country about four years ago. A country where my body and my time are not my own. The culture shock was brutal, and this time there was no return flight home.

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He claps his hands with joy on his 10-month birthday.

Over the years I have learned to love the work of motherhood. I think that’s one of the big keys to happiness – you have to fall in love with your work, whatever it is. Sometimes this just looks like reframing our perspective, and looking for the good in our situation.

My 3-year-old can be frustrating. Here’s a typical exchange:

“Sweetie, please put your shoes on so we can go to school.”

Marie hides under her blanket. 30 seconds pass.

“Put your shoes on.”

“No.”

“Please put your shoes on!” Pause. “1, 2….3.”

Marie continues hiding under her blanket. I see that she is about to be late for school. I put her shoes on for her.

The battles over every little thing are difficult. The interrupted sleep is difficult. The constant neediness is draining. I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism, so now I know I’ve been battling an extra layer of fatigue plus frequent dizziness that is beyond normal.

I don’t want the physical, mental, and emotional fatigue to steal my joy. I need to remember self-care. And I need to remember that yes, motherhood really is hard work.

But I can be in love with the work.

Can you relate to doing hard work and loving it? Tell me about it in the comments below. I’m off to change a diaper…

 

 

Last night I was working to finish up our family Christmas card in time to take advantage of Shutterfly’s Black Friday sale. (And I did end up saving more than $60 off the regular price…yay!).

I started doing photo Christmas cards every year after Marie was born, and before that for a few years I just sent out a Christmas letter. Everyone loves to hate the Christmas letter, but of course as a writer and avid reader, I think it’s a lovely tradition.

Anyway, I was thinking how for a lot of my relatives, my annual Christmas card is my only communication with them. And if someone only knew me by my Christmas card, with its adorable family photos and paragraph on the back about the highlights of our year, that person would probably think I had a really blessed life.

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My family at the zoo – baby’s first visit!

And then I thought, if that person knew what our annual income was, they might think – eh, not so blessed.

Or if that person knew about some of the really tough struggles I’ve had with depression and anxiety – off and on throughout my life – again, not so blessed.

Then I thought, well the truth is actually this: I do have a really blessed life.

And hello there dear reader, I think you have a really blessed life too.

Did you know that about 26% of the world’s adult population is illiterate? And women make up two-thirds of all illiterates?

Did you know that 20% of the world’s population lives on less than $1 a day? And nearly half of the world’s population survives on less than $2 a day. Did you know that 1 billion people in the world today do not have access to safe drinking water?

Or this fact: women make up slightly more than half of the world’s population, but they account for 60% of the world’s hungry?

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Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. If you’re reading this post, you are literate. You have Internet access. You probably get enough to eat, have a safe place to sleep at night, and have access to clean drinking water.

Most of us in the Western world have our basic needs met and more, and yet we are never satisfied with our material wealth. We consider money and material objects to be the greatest possible blessings.

But then why do we who have so much, struggle so much with depression and anxiety?

What if money is not the greatest blessing?

What if the greatest blessing we can have is something that can’t be measured or hoarded?

What if the greatest blessing of all is love, actually?

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My daughter, one of the great loves of my life, sits in the Appreciation Chair and Portland Children’s Museum.

What are some of  the greatest blessings in your life?

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Resources:

United Nations Hunger Statistics

World Literacy Foundation

A few ways to help:

MercyCorps

Doctors without Borders

Fistula Foundation

Do you have a favorite nonprofit? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you know, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. As an adult, I’ve been more of a fan of Thanksgiving than Christmas, since there are not quite as many expectations. Just share a meal together, and give thanks. I like the idea of a holiday that’s centered around gratitude.

This Thanksgiving eve, my heart is filled with gratitude. I’m so blessed to be a mom of two healthy and (mostly) happy little people. Yes, being a mom of a 3-year-old and a baby is exhausting and often overwhelming. But there couldn’t possibly be a more rewarding job than mom.

I’m so thankful that I get to stay at home with my kids and supplement our family income as a writer/editor/publicity person. As a work-from-home mom, I get to be there for it all. I was there when baby Paul started crawling in his fifth month, and I will be there when he takes his first steps. I was there to hear Marie’s first word – “Mama,” and there to see her little toddler legs run across our living room as she yelled, “Runnnn baby!”

I’ve been thinking lately how it takes a large investment of time to build close relationships. I haven’t been able to invest much time in friendships since becoming a mom. I would like to focus on that more – having friends is nice. But, I have been investing very deeply in building relationships with my children and my husband. My whole self is pretty much invested in these people.

Marie & Paul, if you read this post someday, I just want to say that I love you both with my whole heart. I’m so glad I’ve been able to spend this time at home with you while you are small. There is no place else I’d rather be.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

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The other week, I attended a dinner party hosted by a lovely couple who had recently lost their baby.  At 38 weeks, he was full-term, ready to join our world. Now, a flickering candle keeps alive the memory of the child they almost had.

I was invited because my husband and I had made them dinner in the weeks following their loss. I was a little nervous about going to dinner. Having a young baby myself, I didn’t want to be a reminder of their pain — as if they could forget.

I was glad to see them strong and healthy, able to talk about their loss without tears. Able to talk about their hopes for a future baby, to smile and laugh.

They were still standing, this attractive and successful couple who had experienced every parent’s greatest fear. It’s hard to imagine surviving such a loss, going back to ordinary routines of work and television and dinners with friends. But what else can you do?

The wife said it helps her to think that her baby is in heaven, and that God needed him for some other task. I’m glad she believes that. And I’m glad I believe it too.

Sometimes it’s easy for me to lose sight of the bigger picture in the midst of the day-to-day. I get caught up in laundry and diaper changes and paying bills. I can forget that I believe in a God who loves me and has an underlying purpose for my life. I forget about my belief that my true home is in heaven. I like how C.S. Lewis describes heaven in The Great Divorce, as a reality even more real than this earth. The ultimate reality.

Still in spite of that, the idea of losing someone I love is devastating to contemplate. To open your heart to love is to be vulnerable to loss.  It would be safer not to love at all. But without love, we would strip life of its meaning. I am so thankful for my daughter and my husband, the joys and struggles and love we share.

 

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(Candle photograph from Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

Sometimes blessings come in disguise. I have been thinking lately about this Chinese story we read in grad school:

There once was a poor rice farmer, who had a very small field just large enough to feed his family.

Then one day a herd of wild horses came run­ning through the vil­lage. They ran into the farmer’s rice field and got stuck in the mud, and since they couldn’t get away, they were his.

His neigh­bor came run­ning over and said, “This is good news! Such good for­tune! You are rich, this is amaz­ing!” And the rice farmer said, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”

A few weeks later the farmer’s 12-year-old son jumped up on one of the wild horses for a ride, only to be thrown off and have his leg bro­ken. The neigh­bor comes run­ning over and says, “Oh no, this is such bad news!” And the farmer said, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”

A week later a Chi­nese gen­eral is march­ing through the farmer’s vil­lage on the way to war. On this march, the army is con­script­ing every healthy boy over 10 years of age. So they took every boy in the vil­lage except the farmer’s son because of his bro­ken leg.

The neigh­bor comes run­ning over and says, “Yes! This is won­der­ful news, how lucky are we!” And the father replies, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”

During my maternity leave, I was laid off from my job at a private school. Enrollment was down, so my position had to be eliminated. This probably sounds like bad new! But it has allowed me to collect unemployment benefits, about equal to the amount of money I would have been making at that job. So, it is sort of like getting paid maternity leave for another six months or so. This gives me precious time to bond with Baby Bear while she is little.

Another thing is that I did not have health insurance through my work. As a result, I became a member of this great cost-sharing organization called Christian Healthcare Ministries, which paid for all of my prenatal care. They would have also paid for my delivery costs, but I was able to get Medicaid to pay for those costs. And now Baby Bear is on Medicaid, so we don’t even have to pay a co-pay for any of her doctor visits. Other people I know with regular health insurance have had to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for their deliveries. We didn’t have to pay anything. A huge blessing!

I am sometimes a little bit worried about not having a clear plan for the future. I get frustrated with applying for jobs that I know have hundreds of applicants. I would have had a better chance of getting into an Ivy League college than I do of getting most of the jobs I apply for!

Because I am receiving unemployment, I had to go to the WorkSource office a few weeks ago to take some tests and meet with an employment counselor. The counselor looked at my resume and said, “Oh, you’re a teacher. Time to think of Plan B. We see so many teachers every day.”

Okay, sure. I would also accept a job as a writer for National Geographic or Outside magazine. Maybe White House Press Secretary. I do have a journalism degree, that should be worth something right?

Right?

Well, the point is, I don’t know quite what the future holds. Besides a lot of diaper changes. All I can do is enjoy this opportunity I have to bond with my daughter while she’s a baby. I am thankful to God for this opportunity. I love our time together! Although our conversations are a bit one-sided.