In the trenches

Asher is now two and a half months old. We are slowly etching out a new normal, creeping our way towards a bit of routine, and I am significantly adjusting my standards for what it means to have a “successful” day or a “nice” time out with the boys. “Was your time at the library nice?” Keane asks. And my answer is not based on whether or not our time was uneventful, but rather how many times it all hit the fan. The most significant help to me in all this has been candid conversations with dear friends who are also parents of little ones who normalize my experience by sharing about theirs, and who show me a whole lot of empathy and compassion in the process. It’s been the best kind of personal challenge to hear these friends recount their stories, eyes rolling, heads shaking, and laughing the whole time. My oldest friend (oldest here equaling longevity — it’s quite a feat for a TCK like me to have a friend from middle school) recently regaled me with her trip to convenient care, catching the vomit of one in her bare hand while she juggling her toddler and a large diaper bag in the other. Oh, yeah, and she was about 38 weeks pregnant at the time. I suppose there isn’t room for anything other than laughter after such an awful body fluid disaster.

In all of these conversations, more people than I can count have referred to this period in our lives as being lived “in the trenches.” It’s a dramatic phrase. During my years in Germany I was able to visit (read: crawl through) some World War I trenches, to see exactly how close the German and French frontlines were in relation to each other, to try and wrap my imagination around the horrid conditions of those trenches during rainstorms and snowstorms and on hot and humid days. I think we can all agree that it’s fairly ludicrous to compare parenting little children to actual wartime events. Although admittedly, I have occasionally likened our two year old to being a dictator and am pretty sure some of the toddler diapers I’ve changed are a sign of the apocalypse, so I suppose over-dramatization is, you know, my thang.

And still, the phrase sticks. In the trenches. These are days of being in the trenches. In the dirt, barely able to see ten feet ahead, tired, hungry, wishing we could get back to a life of rest and comfort.

Lest this phrase completely dissuade anyone I know who is considering parenthood and who now realizes that would be a step of insanity, I am happy to tell you that the analogy breaks down, and fast. The first weeks are hard, so hard. The sleep deprivation can be shocking, like stepping out of a hot tub and cannon balling into a frigid pool. If you have a child biologically, the postpartum hormones are real (for both mom AND dad), and the physical recovery can be brutal. For my friends who have adopted, there are a whole other range of attachment issues to consider, and even still, sleep deprivation is sleep deprivation. Whoever you are, however this baby came into your life, you’re still probably splitting your nights into shifts, dozing off in lazy boys, wondering if you’ll ever sleep in the same bed as your significant other again. But six or eight weeks in, that little baby smiles at you. The trench gets a little shallower. Fast forward a few weeks, and maybe baby is sleeping for slightly longer stretches. You begin to feel human again. It’s still hard, but the saving grace of the newborn phase is just that — it’s a phase. In rapid succession, small changes and developments take place, and slowly, without realizing it, the trench you’re in transforms from something so hard into something beautiful.

Two nights ago, my little man woke up five times in the space of 12 hours, and yesterday my toddler was full of emotion and defiance and pent up energy. Last night, the baby woke up once, and today the big one has been (mostly) eager to please and enjoyed several hours in the sunshine at the park. I don’t know what tonight and tomorrow will hold. I’m so grateful for the presence of the Lord in the trenches. Sometimes I’m even grateful for the trenches themselves. But today, I am so grateful for a chance to step outside of these trenches, into the warm sun, and to be reminded, again, that there is joy and delight even in this season.

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all the grace

This past week, Keane and I have had ample opportunity to make each other mad.

It’s partly the tiredness. We don’t sleep much right now, which always make me, anyway, the thinnest, smallest version of myself emotionally. We’re also feeling pretty depleted in decision-making capacity, the ability to form cohesive sentences…you get the picture. But, let’s be honest, we grow angry and irritated with others because it’s who we are at the core. Tiredness becomes a really nice excuse for the yucky stuff that already lives inside of us.

On top of being tired, Keane and I have more opportunities than normal to find irritation with each other now that we are crossing paths with each other three and four times per night. (Keane is so wonderfully involved with night feedings right now, which means I am getting so much more rest than I had been. I’m forever grateful for this man who forgoes the basics in life, such as sleep, for me). If I am being brutally honest with you, the biggest reason we could get angry with each other is, well, ME. I can be a real pill, y’all. And I’m only saying pill and not several other choice nouns because I never know if my mom is reading this blog. And so I get mad at Keane because I’m being a, um, pill, and I choose the dumbest things to be irritated over or because I expect him to read my mind or because I feel sorry for myself. And Keane could get mad at me because, seriously, I am a lot to handle sometimes.

But this last week we had a beautiful instance in which we really could have been mad at each other — and we weren’t. There was this moment of clarity that we are in a stage that requires generous, overflowing grace. There is no space for anything else. If we don’t choose grace in moments of fault or forgetfulness, we will become bitter, resentful, and mean. Will our marriage make it through these stressful days? Definitely. Will it thrive? That depends. And I am becoming more and more convinced that it depends on grace.

How gracious our God has been to us in redeeming us and giving us new life in the here and now and in the future. He continues to rescue us from our ugliness and heal us in our brokenness. Who are we to show each other anything less than total, relentless grace when we have been the recipients of such a profound grace?

We still mess up. (Okay, I still mess up. My husband is seriously so amazing.) But what goodness it is to be reminded of the grace I have been given, and what an additional gift to remember that extending grace to others is the only option that is good.

P.S. There are so many thoughts floating through my head on parenting and grace right now, all thanks to Paul David Tripp’s book Parenting. Anyone else read that? I am about halfway through and highly recommend it so far if you want to completely reorient your goals and perspectives on parenting your children’s hearts.

on neediness

There’s nothing like having a baby to highlight neediness.

Oh, yeah. By the way, I had another baby. I am officially a boy mom — Boys, 2; Girls, 0. What is even happening? God keeps giving this low-energy introvert these active, tall, hungry, handsome, brunette boys. They steal all my energy and the literal food off my plate in return for bags under my eyes, and I love them to pieces, but come on. MAMA’S TIRED. As soon as I found out we were having a second son, I started letting Elias climb on so much more furniture. I figured, why fight the inevitable? I also bought myself a pair of Converse sneakers. If I’m going to be chasing these crazy kids all over the place, I’m at least going to look a little cute while doing it.

P.S. Yes, my second son is only seven weeks old, and so yes, I am forecasting a bit. If his in-utero kicks and constant nursing are any indications, though, he’s going to be just like his big brother.

However, I digress. I had another baby, and we are currently in what many call, with great lament and longing for respite, the fourth trimester. Sleep is sparse and alone time is pretty much isolated to my every-other-day showers. I made it to six weeks this time before hitting an exhaustion wall that required Keane to become very involved in night feedings. He’s been amazing, just like last time, and hardly seems affected by what I know are long, tiresome nights. But we are more than halfway through this bonus trimester, and this time I know that this phase will eventually end, and relief will come.

And like I said earlier, there’s nothing like having a baby to remind myself that I need other people so badly. Not just Keane and his daily (and nightly) support. I need help as I go to doctor appointments for myself or the kids. I need adult conversation from any mom who dares to make eye contact with me at our local library. I need friends to go with me on outings to the museum or the park, because I still don’t think I can chase one child while nursing the other (#awkward). And in this need for other people, there’s a little bit of MK grief going on inside of me, because almost all the people on whom I’d most like to call for help are not here.

Not my mom or my sister, who are thankfully only one time zone away, but whose east coast addresses would mean a 14 hour road trip. Not my best friends from high school, who live at least four states away (with others in Europe and the Middle East). Not my best friend from adulthood, who last year moved out of state as well. Even my closest friends from our years of working in Germany, with whom I bonded over new babies and sleep training and overseas loneliness and maneuvring childbirth in German, even these are scattered all over the globe. I miss these people, miss them with the deep ache of longing. I want them all here, in my life, in person. I am grateful for Facebook messaging and Marco Polo video chatting, but those social media connections won’t keep me company as I push my kids on the swings or chase them around the farmers market, or as I sit down for a glass of wine in the evening or a cup of coffee on the weekend.

So many of us who grew up nomadically overseas would, at this point, feel the need to assure the reader that we wouldn’t trade the complicated lives we had for the lives we could have lived in one town or even one house in our passport countries. That’s true for me. But I still feel the reverberations of my childhood losses in my adult life. I still face the hard fact that most of my best friends were made overseas in temporary, transitory holding spots (ex. boarding school) where we were only able to enjoy each other’s company for a few short years before going our separate ways. And I still feel the loss of these sweet relationships in my daily living. How I wish we could do life together as women, as wives, as mamas, the way we were able to do life together as teenagers. I know my life would be the richer for it.

Still, I have been gifted with people and friends here. My relationships, if not immediately rich, have the potential to become so. I don’t think I could have anticipated, though, how lifelong some of these griefs would be, how they would revisit my heart as I try and navigate a life of staying home with littles, and as I miss the chance to see these friends in their adult lives.

If you dear people are reading this, you know who you are. I still ache for you even as I try and add new dear ones to my life. I love you all so much that, yes, I would do it all again…not that it would be any easier a second time around.

And I am getting better at asking for help.

P.S. I feel pretty convicted about the above post and my lack of acknowledging dear, dear friends who are neither mothers nor married. I am blessed to have a number of incredible, strong women in my life who are unmarried and without biological children (though their spiritual mothering is staggeringly extensive). I am sorry to have written a post that does not capture your place and meaning in my life. In case I do not find the time to reword my post, I will leave this postscript here.

tck purgatory

Okay, I’m being a tad dramatic.

But can we just stop and acknowledge for a second the unsettling discomfort of moving from one place to another? The time has not come to say your goodbyes, because you are still living every day life in the present place — grocery shopping, writing emails, heating up your lunch in the staff kitchen. But your mind is also trying to plan the next steps — where you’ll live, how it will feel to walk into church that first Sunday back, whether or not you should even attempt to take home all of the pottery you’ve acquired. I’m here and I’m there and I am just not good at doing the splits.

Let me tell you something that may come as a surprise, considering I am 32. This is the first time I am making a conscious choice to leave somewhere. Okay, yes, Keane and I decided to leave Chicago three years ago, but we did so knowing that we would probably return. Before this, I have never really been part of the decision-making process to uproot, transplant, regrow. Now here I am, willingly subjecting myself to that temptress, that backstabber: change.

It won’t surprise some of you to hear that I have been waaaaaaay over-preparing for this transition. I’ve been mentally keeping track of all the ways this could be difficult, and all the ways that my friends back home have changed or moved on, and all the ways I will feel culture shock, etcetera. I snuffed out my own excitement about moving back home weeks ago.

Then, this past week, God spoke to me through at least three different people. One friend told me boldly and wisely that I needed to start finding things to look forward to, not just dread. The hard things will happen, and I can’t put a stop to them, but I can allow myself to anticipate and then savor the sweet things that are coming our way. Then Keane and I attended repatriation (meaning: moving back to the motherland) training, and the greatest gift of that time was in being reminded that reentry to the States is not an illness to be gotten over as quickly as possible. It’s a part of a journey in which God is working in my life and my family’s life, and we need to be experiencing that, not rushing through it. And finally one of my most matter-of-fact, practical (dare I say “Iowa strong”?) friends told me to shut the heck up about being worried about certain parts of moving back, because it was utter nonsense and I needed to cut the crap. (Okay, you didn’t say it that way. But that’s how I heard it and how I needed to hear it and I love you.)

So here I am, living in the in-between, willingly, with hands that are slowly opening, releasing the fear and my tendency to prepare for the worst, and receiving the lovely, life-giving words of dear people whose capacity for wisdom and hope are greater than my own.

what goes around comes around.

Hello WordPress, my old friend.

I feel I should give a nod to the time that has passed since my last post. I would much prefer to simply jump right in to my latest rambling thoughts, but a passing reader might one day visit this blog and be baffled by my four-year disappearance. So, Time, I tip my hat to you, acknowledge that you have passed by rather quicker than I thought you would, and by the way, could you possibly slow down just a bit? Because now I have a baby, and he’s growing up much too fast.

Back to the matter at hand. I first began this blog out of a desire to find some kind of grounding, some platform for processing who I am and who I am becoming in light of the innumerable changes I experienced while growing up. As the byline of my blog states, I was a Third Culture Kid who had been replanted as an adult in the States, but was having a hard time taking root.

In the years since my last post, roots appeared. There are lots of reasons for that, and perhaps I will share those reasons one day. But the questions I had had about myself and my place in the world were gleaning answers. It felt so right, and long overdue, but very worth the wait.

So what am I doing back here? Well, back in 2014, my husband and I decided to take some risks, step out in faith, and move overseas to become workers at a school for TCKs — the same school that I attended as a teenager. And in six short months, we will be wrapping up our time here and reentering the States.

I am really looking forward to certain aspects of this impending transplant. I miss people. I miss English. I miss Trader Joe’s. I miss, Lord help me, preservatives in my food. But I am also anticipating feeling like a square peg in a round hole, again. I remember too well what it was like to move back to the States for college, a prelude for what became the most difficult and lonely year of my life. Now I am an adult, married and with a child, returning to friends and family and a church. I will not be walking this journey alone. And yet 100% of the people I have known who have walked this path of repatriation ahead of me have struggled. No one has really been able to put their finger on the problem; they just unanimously agree that this is an uncomfortable and even painful process.

If you know me, you won’t be surprised that I am pre-processing these future changes, even though I know I can’t really prepare for them. So please bear with this TCK as a whole lot of processing is about to happen.

Here we go again!

continuity

How is this only Tuesday?

That question probably clues you in to the kind of week I am having. Oh man. It’s not been a bad week by any stretch of the imagination. Just full. A very full week. More conversations and experiences and emotions have been poured into the last few days than I thought possible.

This weekend I was privileged and grateful to run another half marathon with my dad. The man has turned into a running machine, yet still refuses to leave my side during these races. Once more, I’ve sworn it will be my last…though I admit the itch has already started to resurface. (Shhhh. Don’t tell dad.) I love spending time with my parents and the continuity of time I feel when I am with them. They’ve known me my whole life (thank you, Captain Obvious), and I love the stories they share that connect my current existence with life in 1985, and 1996, and 2001, and last week. I love feeling rooted to my parents, a feeling of deep belonging.

Continuity is a strange animal. Some peoples’ lives seem to be comprised of neat and tidy chapters; mine is delineated by the continent on which I resided at any given point in time. Mine feels less like cohesive chapters and more like a random assortment of childhood collections. There are my stickers, and here are some rocks, and I kept some coins around here somewhere. They all fit in a box, but they don’t really go together.

When I’m with my parents, that doesn’t seem true anymore. They witnessed most of the non-chapters of my life and recall the funny mishaps, new friendships, and minute details that made up life in its every stage. They bring a common thread to all of my experiences.

This is one of those days in which continuity seems so important. You could name almost any date in the past 27 years and I would have no clue where I was, but I know precisely where I was when I heard the news about 9/11. And every year it feels like yesterday.

A friend shared this link, and I can’t help but pass it on. I love Jon Stewart even as I occasionally cringe at his “nothing is sacred” sense of humor. But this episode, his first following 9/11, is poetry and beauty and feeling. I have so many thoughts on his “I grieve but do not despair” comment…but this post is long enough already.

To be continued.

it’s not even a competition.

It’s a grey, wet Sunday evening in the Chicago suburbs. Somewhere close, someone’s gutter is overflowing, sounding strangely similar to the beloved creek outside my high school bedroom. The roommates are out doing something that probably involves watching football (is this even football season?), and I’m keeping company with music, tea, and a little N.T. Wright.

This week I spent three days “work nesting” as I added lamps and bookshelves and decorations to my new office. The first two days with my students were pretty much wonderful. I am grateful beyond words for everything about this job.

In the midst of it all I have continued to think about and be reminded of God’s love for me, sometimes in very odd ways. The other week, I watched my first ever episode of The Bachelorette. (Let’s ignore this.) (Seriously, I really don’t want to talk about it.) (Okay, fine. I was just so stinking curious.) It was what I can only describe as a train wreck: so gruesome that I couldn’t look away. Before I knew it I had watched three episodes! It’s like I lost all control! For those of you who care, it was the season with Emily. She’s a sugary sweet, beyond gorgeous, ridiculously skinny blonde from the South, and she’s wanting True Love. Anyway, she’s on this date with some personal trainer (I swear they’re all personal trainers), and they’re talking, and she says to him, “I really don’t want this to be a competition.” Um, really? You’re on The Bachelorette. And to the guy’s credit, he says, “Well, this is kind of a competition.” (Needless to say, she didn’t pick him.)

It’s such a crazy show. Several dozen men are vying for the attention and love of a single woman. The poor guys have no idea what she really thinks about them or how she feels about them in relation to the others. And it stands in such stark contrast with one of my favorite excerpts from Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved: “It is impossible to compete for God’s love. God’s love is a love that includes all people . . . It is only when we have claimed our own place in God’s love that we can experience this all-embracing, non-comparing love and feel safe.”

It is impossible to compete for God’s love. We create so many competitions in life: with coworkers, with classmates, with siblings, with that friend who seems to have it all together or that neighbor with the perfect front yard, or basically every girl whose body type or sense of fashion makes me think I should change something about myself. Competition is everywhere. Competition is normal.

And competition is insidious. It creeps into every section of my heart, convincing me that I must somehow compete and perform for God’s love, too, that I’ve got to earn the status of The Beloved. It is fueled by insecurity and sustained by guilt. And it’s exhausting.

And you know what? It’s not even a competition. God has loved me with an everlasting love, and has drawn me with unfailing kindness (Jer. 31:3). He loved me first (1 John 4:19). His love is so wide and long and high and deep that it surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:18-19), and I can’t be separated from this love by anything in the world (Rom. 8:39).

I know it’s super weird to get all that from an episode of The Bachelorette. Thanks for humoring me, and I promise it won’t happen again. May my poorly drawn comparisons leave you with one more little reminder that you are so, so loved.