Eden Sarah

On May 4th, 2016 at 11:35 am I delivered a daughter, wrinkled and beautiful, and lifted her into my arms. We named her Eden Sarah.

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Eden means delight and Sarah was chosen after my great aunt Sarah Durksen, a woman of faith who had a deep influence on my life. I was 41 weeks and 2 days. When I pulled her out of the water, I thought, “Oh there you are”. She looked exactly like I had pictured her these last 9 months. She was born weighing 8lbs even and has a head full of her daddy’s curly dark hair and the most elegant, long fingers. She has shown herself to be a relaxed and calm baby who dislikes noise and prefers to quietly snuggle the days away. Basically the exact opposite of her older brother who was loud, intense, and loved activity from the moment he was born.  We are happily hibernating at home, nursing, sleeping, and letting the new normal come slowly into our daily life.

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*Photo credit- Janane Doutrich

41 weeks and leaning in

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Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

41 weeks

These are not the days for shopping, brunch, and hiking. These are not the days for company and hosting and busy evenings. Those days came in the last month and filled the waiting with beautiful memories. Now they are gone and it is time.

Time for a quiet house, slow days, and leisurely walks. Time for leaning over the kitchen table, or the counter, or the bed and breathing deep through the slow, early process of labor. It’s time for the faraway look, the tired eyes, and the emotions all on my sleeve.

Each day holds expectation, disappointment, and surrender. Each moment floats between what our life has been and what our life will become, not firmly attached to either, just connecting them for a moment.

Early labor has started over the last two days. The midwives agree that I have probably inherited the birth journey of my mother, which was long, long early labors and short active ones. Since my first baby was posterior I not only had three days of early labor, but also three days of active labor, which they promise me will not be case this time. My daughter is positioned well and patiently waiting.

The hard lessons of my first labor into motherhood were not wasted. I sleep between the breathtaking contractions instead of trying to walk them stronger. I embrace them when they come strong and let go of disappointment when they slow down.

I might be here for hours or I might be here for days.

It’s time to lean in.

 

35 weeks, mountains, and elusive tea

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

35 weeks

We took a weekend away, just the three of us, into the mountains. It was supposed to be just Justin and I, reconnecting before everything changes again. The weekend that it worked for both of us to be off work ended up being difficult one to get a baby sitter for so we decided to take Merek and make it a family event.

As I told my friend yesterday, you can do more with a child than people try to tell you, but it just takes more energy. “It takes more spoons? she asked. “Yes, exactly.”, I said.  Being 35 weeks pregnant takes more spoons as well, at least for me.

I told Justin I wanted to be outside. I wanted to sit in the wilderness somewhere and stare at trees for a while. I wanted to drive where I could see massive mountains and listen to birds sing in fir trees.

Just because you have children growing up around you and inside you, doesn’t mean you aren’t still fundamentally the same. They say motherhood changes you, but not the basics, okay? So if you are like I was and are terrified that having a child will push you into a bizarre, blank caricature of yourself that is obsessed with cheerios and what color the diaper contents were today, rest easy. It’s not that dramatic.

I still like to be spontaneous, drink hot tea, read for hours, and I still want to sit and stare at trees, even though I don’t get to as often.

The main thing that changes is that you don’t get to be so obsessed with yourself and what you need, which is never a bad place to grow, I imagine. You get to be selfless every day, all the time, even when you are in a bad mood.

We did drive and stare at mountains and I did hear birds sing. We hiked along a creek and Merek ran, and “ooohed”, and tried to throw himself off the bank into the water at every chance he could. It was perfect. We went on spontaneous exploratory trips to find wild places that ended up being covered/closed/inaccessible because of snow, but got out to enjoy the landscape anyways . I like snow. Merek, we discovered, is terrified of it and views it with deep distrust. Some Canadian he turned out to be.

 We attempted a museum to be good educational parents, which was only partly successful because all Merek wanted to do was be outside, running around the museum grounds and happily poking sticks in their little landscaped streams.

Justin stopped whenever I wanted and let me look at trees and sit by rivers and breathe. We ate food I didn’t have to cook and cute, hole-in-the-wall places we happened upon.

It was not all idyllic though.

One evening, after our afternoon hike and supper, it had become too cold to spend more time outside but not late enough to head to bed. We assumed shopping would be our best bet, only to discover, after wandering around for several hours that everything closed early. Winter hours? I was so cold and Merek was very tired of his carseat and was screaming in the back.

“I just want a cup of tea”, I pleaded.

Yelp revealed that the first 10 coffee shops listed were already closed. I found one, far down the list, that was still opened. We drove around for about 30 min looking for the café only to discover no parking and standing room only due to a Celtic Music event they were hosting. If Merek wasn’t along we would have parked farther away and squeezed in to join the party, but holding Merek in a crowd of swaying hipsters seemed overly ambitious even for us. My pregnant self was almost out of spoons. I found a Starbucks, farther down the list that said it was open. We drove around for another half century looking for it, only to pull up to the doors and find it closed.

By this time all I could think about was that elusive cup of hot tea.

“I need a cup of teaaaa”, I moaned.

Merek wailed.

Justin muttered.

We found another Starbucks that promised us it was open later than the rest and drove another 10 minutes to find it.

It was open. Hallejullia. And there was lots of space and empty leather couches.

I breathlessly ordered the largest, sweetest London Fog they could give me and collapsed into a chair, imagining Justin and I softly chatting over our drinks while Merek sat tiredly on the couch and played with his new puzzle.

No sooner had I sat down than I realized Merek was past the sleeply-tired stage and into the manic, over-tired stage. Probably brought on by spending the last 2 hours in his car seat.

He promptly took each piece of the wooden puzzle and threw it over the back of his head where they clattered below tables and couches. Then he pulled the straw out of his drink and tried dump the liquid onto the floor. He pulled the little end table, screeching behind him, across the wood floor.

This was all before Justin had even joined us with his order. My feet were swollen, I was still cold, and I just wanted to drink a cup of tea in peace.

After about 5 minutes of Merek racing crazily from one end of the café to the next, bouncing off whatever he hit, Justin picked him up and I dejectedly followed them out to the car where we headed back to our motel room for the night. I drank my tea on the motel bed while Merek ran off his manic hyperactivity in circles around the room.

Having children doesn’t mean I don’t like tea anymore. It just means that sometimes I don’t get to sip it by the river or in a quiet café like I really, really want. I sip it on a motel bed with an overtired toddler sneaking in the bathroom to empty all the little free cosmetic bottles into the toilet. As I told that same friend yesterday, that doesn’t make me unselfish or heroic, it just makes me mother. A unselfish mother would have probably been playing with her toddler, not sipping tea on the bed while he snuck into the bathroom.

On our way home we stopped at a favorite summer swimming hole in the mountains to let Merek throw countless rocks into the river and I sat in the wet sand for the short thirty minutes we had left. The moss was damp and warm in the sun. Someone had thrown an ugly, outdated TV down the bank, but the trilliums and violets were blooming around it and the air smelled like spring. I thought about the next few months and the sleepless nights that are coming up along with marathon nursing days and two children in diapers. I thought of all the unheroic, normal things I would do for the sake of my two babies just because I needed to. I thought about all the horrible things happening around the world and how I could make a difference.  This is why I knew I needed nature. To think and pray while filling my senses with beauty and order that I was not responsible for creating or maintaining. It is strangely comforting when you feel like you are always responsible and always maintaining to realize that along river banks and mountainsides there is moss and wildflowers, growing and blooming and being beautiful without your help.

Ten minutes later we walked up the bank and finished our weekend with supper at the local Mexican restaurant and then took Merek home to his own bed. I drank a cup of tea in peace that night and thought what a gift it is to drink tea in a warm, safe house with my baby asleep in the next room. A gift, not something I deserve or a right I possess.

Now when I have trouble sleeping at night I remember the mountains and the blue-green river and I think about the violets and how beautiful they are even beside a broken, abandoned TV screen. And I remind myself that my own life doesn’t need me to be heroic and unselfish and full of energy all the time to make it beautiful. Then I turn over and I go back to sleep.

33 weeks and facing the fear

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33 weeks

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A few months ago I read over the labor and delivery notes from a hot July day in 2014. I had my midwife print them out for me so I would never forget the details.

The notes are cryptic, medical, and to the point. It doesn’t mention the exhaustion on my face as I neared the end after five days of labor. It doesn’t note the wry smiles as Justin and I passed sarcasm and jokes between contractions. There is no mention of the deep place I went as each contraction came or of the limp relief when it left. It can’t hold more than the bare details; fetal heart rate, position of baby, what I ate and drank, where I was laboring. But it is enough to take me back and all those small details are there, hidden in the memories.

I don’t remember fear. I remember everything else so I know it wasn’t there

I don’t remember fear, that is, until I get to the very last few lines. Only 15 minutes, the notes declare.

There is more cryptic charting. The fetal heart rate suddenly doesn’t look good. There is mention of oxygen administered, more worrisome heart tones, and a slight urgency to the words. It is professional and you might not even notice anything too alarming as the casual reader. There are more memories there for me too, between those last few entries.  

There is no pain here. There is only fierce determination and deliberate mental calm as I used every last ounce of energy I had, after so long, to help my baby. Under all that control though, I feel a clawing fear that I don’t even allow myself to acknowledge. After Merek is born I laugh, I cry, I celebrate, and I am so exhausted I can’t even lift his beautiful little screaming self. Over the next year I celebrate how much I accomplished in those endless 5 days. I remember all the beautiful, intimate moments and how laughter got us through.

I don’t look at those few, fleeting moments of buried terror until I am nearing 30 weeks with this pregnancy.

Suddenly, they are all I can think about.

Suddenly they are causing me to catch my breath as my heart pounds and my hands feel clammy.

“Oh, hello, did you think you could pretend I never existed?”, the fear asks.

I am an oldest child. I am an idealist. I have always believed I have what it takes.

That reality of knowing I was not able to control the health of my baby undid me. I controlled it so well in the moment, but underneath was my dread and debilitating powerlessness.

For the last few months I faced that wall of anxiety and stopped short. I could see no way around. I could not face that unpredictability of life vs death again. I. could. not.

I have talked to dozens of women who have multiple children, asking them, “Did ever you face this?”

Most of them clucked sympathetically and told me, “Yes”.

“Not every time”, they said, “but before ______ was born I struggled more”

Not everyone had the same reason though. For some it was pain, the magnitude of the process, the fear of complications, etc.

The unpredictability is what they all faced in some form or another.

“How do you deal with it?” I ask.

Here the answers get even more vague and varied. Every woman had a different journey through to peace and acceptance, I found. Like birth, it seems, this is every woman’s own unique journey and they all seemed to think that the suggestions they had were not as helpful as a simple, “You will get through this too, don’t worry”. I was annoyed they could not be more specific.

They were right, of course.

I moved forward because you have to. You have no option. Weeks are flying by and the time is being accomplished that you should be delivered, to use the biblical language.

I prayed. I re-read books I thought were just a first-pregnancy necessity. I prayed. I went over all the good and beautiful things about bring Merek into the world. I laughed at all our labor jokes and looked at pictures.

Then while I did dishes and folded laundry and took Merek for walks I listened to women tell their birth stories through my ear phones. Happy ones, sad ones, easy ones, hard ones, fast ones, slow ones, and even the sad, heartbreaking ones. It was here I broke through. I followed my own unique journey through the anxiety, as I realized that birth is unique for everybody and the big, constant thing about it is that it is always, always unpredictable. Always. That’s how it’s supposed to be. I can prepare and plan and do all the right things, but I still don’t get to choose, in the end, how my story goes. Life itself is exactly like this too, we just ignore it for most of our lives, burying the fragility and unpredictability underneath daily life, cliques, and denial.

I realized that what makes labor and birth beautiful by nature is that this is one rare place in life we cannot escape that reality. It’s not the physical experience that is always wonderful or I would be excluding many, many women who feel very differently.

I think I’ve come to accept that experiencing the overwhelming power and overwhelming fragility of life all in the same moment is why most women count, in the end, birth to be a miracle, no matter what the outcome.

As I read through those notes again today, I still caught my breath as I neared the end of the page, but I didn’t feel the panic. I still remember how powerless I was, but it doesn’t make me afraid like it did months ago. I feel only wonder and joy.  

The last entry reads,

07/20/2014     16:59:08       Birth- Baby Crying

And I realized with overwhelming peace that the last entry was fully known by God before it was ever written and the next last entry, written under my name in two months’ time, is already known as well, so all I have to do is surrender.

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32 weeks and feeling the space.

For the next month and a half I’m going to be sharing a week-by-week journal of the last stretch of this pregnancy. I have been realizing how little attention I like to give to this stage in my life and how much I shy away from being “that pregnant lady”, always minimizing this stage because I am afraid to exclude people or be put in a box. I think the conscious writing might be helpful for me to accept and celebrate instead of ignoring and minimizing. This is unusual for me to focus on such a narrow, and rather exclusive subject, so this is my fair warning.  Click that little X and move along if you want to. I totally understand.

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32 weeks.

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

I remember feeling this invisibility about the same time during my pregnancy with Merek. Physically I grow heavier, stretch out, and move slow, like a bear right before hibernation. Inside I feel a sudden shrinking and narrowing of myself. I feel empty and invisable.  Esta, whoever she is, shifts backwards into a dark corner to make room for the new life I am carrying and laboring into the world.

It was very jarring the first time and yet still caught me off guard this week. At first I feel a sudden boredom with books, and people, and the new music I got for Christmas—things that normally excite me. Everything gets quiet and empty in my mind. Then I panic. I kept Justin awake one night even though his brain had already shut down thirty minutes before.

“I feel like I am just useful. Like a household appliance. More needed than a toaster, though. Like a washing machine? I am just a washing machine. ”

“I’m sorry”, he says, trying to pat my back in the dark despite the fact his eyes are already closed.

“I just want to leave for a week. I want to go somewhere exciting. I want to do something drastic”

“I’m sorry”, more awkwardly placed pats.

“You know what I mean?

“I’m sorry”, he mumbles.

Even though I am tired, and swollen, and about to be sleep deprived for the next year, I think that it would be a great time to reinvent who we are, what we are doing in life, and oh, we should totally hike 20 miles next Saturday just for fun.  This is not how people describe the nesting stage. That has already come and gone for me a few weeks ago. Suddenly, I am empty and I want to fill it with BIG THINGS, not cleaning out my closets and washing walls.

I remember this exact stage with my first pregnancy. We were sleeping on our bedroom floor, for reasons I don’t remember, but I do remember knowing I was not going to be able to get off that floor-bed without a winch and maybe a crane to haul me up. I also remember staring at the ceiling and saying almost the exact same thing.

“I feel empty. Bored. Like who I used to be is just gone and I’m a shell. I don’t think I’ll ever be me again”

Super dramatic, I know. Poor Justin. I think he gave me awkward pats and a bewildered “I’m sorry” that night too.

This week I stopped feeling dramatic about 10 minutes after that late night washing machine speech, because I suddenly realized I had been here before. And I remembered how tiny and invisible I felt and I remembered how short that feeling lasted.

I don’t’ know exactly why this happens. Maybe other women experience this too, I don’t know.

It didn’t go away for me until Merek was born, but I got used to it.  Somehow it became part of the last stretch before birth.  I feel progressively more “taken over” by pregnancy until there is nothing left to do except surrender to the fact that I am making room in my life for another human and that requires that I become less for a while. I think maybe that desire for BIG THINGS also helps me look ahead to labor with less trepidation. I want big things? Well just wait a few weeks, missy.

Today, after my existential crisis, I stopped panicking about never being myself again and did the same normal things I do every week.

I read “Snow!” to Merek only about 100,000 times. I went to work and realized my scrubs are just too small and you will just have to have your vitals checked by someone in maternity clothes from now on, as humbling as that is for me. I listened to birth stories on my phone while I folded laundry to start psyching myself up for what’s ahead. I woke up at 230 am every night and got up and did 20 squats in the dark in my pjs, because otherwise I can’t go back to sleep. I bought baby clothes and pinned sewing projects on Pinterest that I will never do, as much as I think I will.

I think this time around I will embrace the quiet space inside and instead of feeling like a household appliance I will accept that I am simply 32 weeks pregnant and we can’t all hike 20 miles whenever we want to.

 

Small is scary

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There is a scene in Micha Boyett’s spiritual memoir, Found, when after struggling for a week with feeling guilty and resentful for not being in Haiti helping with earthquake cleanup instead of taking care of her husband and small son, she turns to her husband in church and says, repentant,

“I love you more than my idea of being remarkable”

I barely focused on the next couple paragraphs and that silly sentence flashed across my brain for the next two days.

I tried to tell Justin the same thing tonight, feeling some repentance was due me as well.

He was sprawled out on the floor with Merek, coloring on one of those giant coloring pads that you get hoping it’s big enough your toddler’s crayons wont stray onto the linoleum.

“Honey…”, I start from the kitchen.

[long pause as I try to remember the exact quote]

“What?” he says, after the pause becomes too weighty

“Ugh, never mind”

“No, tell me”

“Never mind”

“Tell me!”

“I can’t remember the exact words of the quote I was going to say! Ok? And now it’s just silly.”

This is what happens when I try to be romantic while I am packaging leftovers and the last burrito will not fit into the yogurt container I am stuffing it into.

I can’t even be remarkable when apologizing for wanting to be remarkable.

I packed the leftovers into the fridge, but I did not do the dishes.

I am twenty eight long weeks through the pregnancy of my second child, and even though I am happy to carry and meet my daughter, my body is decidedly not, this time around. In my mind’s eye, during my pregnancy with Merek, my body was constantly bragging like a four-year old, “Look what I can do! I’m amazing!” And I went around the entire nine month wondering what all the grumpy pregnant women through the ages were complaining about all the time. I never felt huge or clumsy and I slept great without special pillows.

Now all the grumpy, pregnant women through the ages are my soul-sisters, my cheering squad, my kindred spirits stretched across time. In my current mind’s eye my body is sulking in the corner, arms crossed, furious that I dared to do this again, without asking her special permission. ”Pamper me or I’ll make you pay”, she says this time around.

So I don’t do the dishes. I leave them for tomorrow.

I don’t know if I have ever felt more like an unremarkable, giant cliché as I do these days.

I am the swollen-footed, giant, beached whale that is too tired to push herself off the couch even though her suburban toddler is drawing on the wall again with his Crayola crayons.

My 20-year-old self would have just shivered a little if she could read blog posts in the future.

All I know is that when I dreamed of “Standing in a Wild Ocean Life”, I had no idea how cold and windy it could actually get.

What I was picturing back then was not scary. Yes, it was exhausting, rewarding, and “stretching”, in the way us good ol’ evangelical kids used that phrase, but it was big. Big and safe. I was asking for what I wanted and what I thought would be best.

Ministry was safe. Adventure, since my earliest memories, was safe. It was spiritual and it was safe.

This is terrifyingly unremarkable and still very exhausting, without all the bells and whistles and recognition.

This is small and therefore scary.
I’m scared to be small.

I think I was hoping for the Pacific-Northwest , you know. Sitting in a thick, chunky sweater on the beach by a driftwood fire, drinking strong coffee with my other hipster friends.

This seems more like the Bering Sea, not as cool, but still very cold and hard to navigate.

Esta’s Summer Book List

I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite books of this spring/summer. The majority will be fiction since that is the cycle I am in right now. (All of you lifelong bookworms know how the seasons change) I am shying away from Christian non-fiction right now for personal reasons. I couldn’t read one more book, no matter how GOOD and inspiring it is, that had nothing but answers and solutions. I need to leave space for the unanswered questions in my life–so for the time being I read stories instead.

*As a disclaimer, I do not endorse these for everyone. I have a very clear individual sense of what I can and cannot read. I know when I have to put a book down because the “ugliness” it describes is too much or is in violation of my conscience. You have to research what you read and use your own discretion for your conscience and situation.

1.) Lila, Marilynne Robinson. This was my favorite book this year by far. It is a beautiful, haunting story full of unanswered questions, yet clear hope and love. The two books that proceed this in the series, Gilead and Home, are also amazing, but I think this was my favorite.

2.) Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife, Peggy Vincent. Funny, engaging stories from a modern midwife. I laughed out loud and cried too.

3.) East of Eden, John Steinbeck. This came close to rivaling Lila as my favorite. It was definitely the most surprising. This was one of those books on my “ought” to read list. You never know if you will finish that type just relived you can say you read it or actually discover you genuinely love it. This was the latter.  *This book has the most matures themes on this list. Not recommended for teens.

4.) All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. Most popular book I read this summer. I wanted to love it so much, and I did. Just not as much as I wanted to. It was described as a “enduring love story” , which threw me off. I was unconsciously waiting for love story. I think if I would re-read this again knowing it is a book about how lives intertwine during hardship and war I would love it as much as I wanted too. Such beautiful writing through out.

5.) The Select Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume III, L.M.Montgomery. You can ignore this one unless you are an L.M. Montgomery fan. These are hard to find in the States so I was overjoyed to find one at my local used bookstore. I found this fascinating as only a die-hard fan would.

6.) The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from a Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv. I am not finished with this one yet but so far find it FASCINATING.

7.) Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, Frederick Buechner. This was a re-read but I found it meaningful for what I am working though in my spiritual journey. Fredrick Buechner is the doubting preacher, the theologian with more questions than answers. Sometimes you just need to know you can hold faith and doubt in the same hand for a season and it’s OK! I also read two more of his books this year Telling Secrets in the Dark, and The Magnificent Defeat, both collections of sermons.

Honorable Mention

What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty. I actually read this book last year but it gets honorable mention because I read three other Liane Moriarty books while I was sick this spring and none were as good as What Alice Forgot. This book will speak the most to married women between the ages of 25-60🙂 Fun, light story but with deep undercurrents. * this book also deals with mature themes, but is not explicit.

Roughing it in the Bush, Susanna Moodie. If you like Canadian history this is a must read. If you have no interest in that subject it is still a classic and has witty, charming observations from a early Canadian settler’s wife.

And no, I did not read To Set a Watchman this summer. Some obscure time from now I will quietly pick it up and read it through. Quietly. Once all the loud voices have hushed.

For more of what I am reading you can follow me on Instagram and the hashtag #doutrichshelves

These are two of my favorite things

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Is there anything more adorable than a baby in the woods?

I don’t think so.

As those who know me can attest, I was never that girl after church wanting to hold all the babies and play with the toddlers.

My mother always told me, “It will be different when it’s your own”

I sigh sometime with the relief that she was right. I can send a whole day with a naughty, messy toddler and still notice his crooked grin and chubby legs when I am rocking him to sleep. I think his obsession with animals is adorable and his love of adventure melts me.

There is only one thing that makes him even more dear and that is when we load him up in the car with the thousand supplies to keep him fed, clean, and alive and find the out-of-doors.

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I have loved the wilds before I even have memory. This was not a passion I discovered in my teens or a hobby I picked up after following adventure photographers on Instagram. It’s not the physical activity that appeals to me or calls me back. Nature stills me in a deeply spiritual way. I long for it the most when I am feeling exhausted or dealing with hurt.

Justin and I discuss the implications of raising our kids in a digital age. We don’t have much for opinions yet, we just talk. However, the one thing we do know is if you are going to take something away, even just in small amounts, you need to have something to replace it.

We hope that nature and organic play take up some space in our son’s life along with the Nintendo battles Justin is already dreaming about.

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I haven’t finished this book yet, but Last Child in the Woods is a great place to start, if you think about some of these things too.

This summer has not been exactly what we planned as far as outdoor adventures because of the extreme heat and Justin’s involvement in the grass seed harvest. We have done a lot more water exploring than long distance hiking and more day trips that weekend camping.

It takes Merek about 20 mins to get comfortable enough to enjoy a new natural environment. We don’t force him, but he almost always comes around and doesn’t want to leave.

The light on his face when he is fully enjoying himself is almost too much to look straight at. You can’t quite take it in.

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For a nature junky like me, seeing my own chubby son splashing around in a cold mountain stream is about as close to visual joy as I will get here on earth.

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Convoluted thoughts on women, callings, and personal growth.

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Somehow I pictured having a baby would take who I was and turn me into something else.

Because you get that, as a single woman. “A woman’s highest calling…”, “Never felt such love…”, “Most rewarding thing I’ve ever done”, etc. etc. These are accompanied with lots of precious pictures of an adorable tiny baby wrapped so chic in white swaddle blankets, or sleeping peacefully on your chest, with the most romantic smoky bags under your eyes that make you look like a beautiful, tired, angelic mother.

There would be the cliché negatives of course–the sleepless nights, the restricted social life, the pain of childbirth. All of these would also go to work at changing you into A MOTHER.

This elusive title that only people with children can claim.

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I feel like 95% of what we hear about marriage and motherhood, especially in our Mennonite culture, makes both seem like these exclusive, members only clubs. They have their own set of wonderful character traits you acquire simply by signing a marriage certificate or having children. And you won’t truly understand until you join yourself, sorry. You can build character outside of these, of course, but it won’t run as deep and pure, because you know, being married to a man and going through labor just transforms you!

I believe this is partly due to our misconceptions about what the “highest callings” of womanhood actually are, but that is another discussion altogether.

Now, before you get all defensive, let me say (and I can say this since I am married AND have a kid, ha!) that OF COURSE marriage and motherhood and labor and sleepless nights transforms you! I am not arguing that or trivializing that experience. I’m not saying those are not valuable, Biblical roles!

I am just proposing that those are one part of a bigger picture, and not as exclusive for growth as is perceived.

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I wish there was a way I could shake all of those presumptions off of my shoulders, because I find them debilitating. And I believe they make us exclusive and spiritually arrogant in a sneaky way.

We have an infuriating disposition to swing between feeling defensive about where we are in life or obnoxiously superior.

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If you are widowed or single or a stay-at-home-mom, I can’t truly identify. I can’t. I would be arrogant to assume so.

I bet you know love and loss and joy just as deeply as I do. Even if it looks totally different. There is no objective way to measure individual selfishness, contentment, loneliness, or personal sacrifice. No blood test that measures how well you love. I choose to assume you are right where God wants you to be.

In the same way, just because you are a mother, work outside the home, and love your child does not mean you can identify completely with me. Your life is not my life. You are not me. Your life experiences are different.

I bet you know love and loss and joy deeply as well.

It is so easy to measure everyone else by our own individual life experience. If marriage was way more transforming that you expected it is hard not to automatically assume that everyone else feels this way too. And if becoming a mother was a pure, refining fire that turned you inside out, it is hard to imagine anyone changing so deeply without that experience.

Can I recognize that for my friend Emily, years of chronic illness, missing high school memories, and having to move away from family and friends, was probably as spiritually transforming, if not more so, as my last year as a mother, even if it didn’t look the same? She certainly has encouraged me in the last year as I have struggled with motherhood because she understands sacrifice, selfishness, and fatigue.

Or what about  my sister-in-law Janessa? I am fairly certain if you ask her she would say that moving across the ocean as a young girl, embracing new cultures and languages was just as difficult/rewarding as getting married, only in a different way, because God used both to mold her. She teaches me so much about social justice, the importance of the Holy Spirit, and how to not freak-out when your husband has a crazy idea.

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I am not advocating that we stop expressing and marveling at the ways God changes us. We don’t need to stop talking about how marriage and motherhood transform us. Not at all. We need to celebrate them. I am simply wondering if there is a way to keep it in balance—to look a little broader. In our own lives and in others.

This is not a new discussion, I realize. This has all been said before. 

Maybe we just need a reminder once in a while.

A reminder to listen a little better. A reminder to tone down some of the exclusive language we throw around. A reminder to stop asking only married ladies with children to take teaching roles in women’s ministry. A reminder that even if we can’t identify with each other in practical aspects, we can surely benefit from each other’s wisdom on the deeper, universal battles of doubt, identity, sacrifice, and how to live out your individual calling.

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You know, I don’t feel like my capacity to love is magically deeper since I had Merek. If it has changed over time it has been a long process that included my sleepless nights in Slate Falls, my longing for friends as a missionary child, my marriage to Justin, and yes, partly through Merek, but a thousand other experiences as well. Honestly, I am still as selfish as I was as a single woman. If not more so.

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I guess all of these convoluted thoughts were just to say that sometimes I think we miss the whole picture of womanhood because we get caught in a narrow view of how God works, in relation to our gender.

I would love to hear your ideas.

Reading Into Place

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Merek’s first word was “buhk”. When he was 9 months old he became obsessed with Mr Brown Can Moo Can You?. I read it nearly every hour for several days. He would cry when I stopped and I would read it again because finally it felt like something in motherhood made sense to me—something actually fit.

I didn’t settle into motherhood, or excel at, it like I expected. I stumbled through the days and the longer nights.

So when I picked that very first board book, the one with playful kitties on every page, held him on my lap, and turned the pages I was sure he would be distracted in seconds. I expected reality to be different than my expectations. Again. But he watched intently and reached out to carefully touch the bright colors.

In the early weeks after I knew I was pregnant I bought piles of children’s books from Goodwill and used bookstores. The clothes and blankets and tiny shoes came much later, after I collected all my old favorites and filled the bottom bookshelf. I didn’t read any parenting books until after Merek was born. I just bought Bread and Jam for Frances and re-read A Cricket in Times Square.

Today his favorites are We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Go Dog Go. He can make the “ogh, ogh” for the gorilla and “rarrr” for the lion in Goodnight Gorilla.

He toddles after me as I work around the house, book tight in his fat baby hands, and lifts it up toward me when I turn around. And every time I stop. How could I not?

I don’t say all this as a Mom bragging on her child. Most children love books, I understand.

I say all this because sometimes the places we find ourselves in life—vocations , relationships, life stages—don’t seem to fit us very well. Or rather we don’t fit into them.

Motherhood has been that for me, in many ways I never expected. Domestic arts are not my forte . Oh, how very not! Organization, disciple, and structure are not my strengths. Merek doesn’t know sign language for please or thank you.

But here?

Here in these quiet moments throughout the day as I sit on the floor with my baby in my lap and we read through the stack of books he’s carefully piled, everything fits. Just for a few minutes, before I forget he was supposed to be napping an hour ago.

Sometimes all you need are those few minutes of clarity in the middle of all your doubt. Sometimes one more round of Brown Bear, Brown Bear is enough to remind you that you were called to be here all along and this foreign place you find yourself in was not an accident or a mistake.