Cleaning Up

In a former life, showering was an act of meditation for me. It was where I relished in the sensations of warmth and clean smells and often where I received spiritual impressions. Now, its where I generally share the small space with one to three children, begging turns with the sprayer so I can get the job done as quickly as possible without slipping on one of the small creatures around my legs.

Today, though, I showered in solitude. When the girls were playing together, I slipped away quietly without them noticing. Mondays are when I clean bathrooms, so I scrubbed and polished the sinks, mirrors, toilets and tubs, then finished up by showering myself – trying to hustle before I might be found. But I wasn’t. I lotioned up and got dressed. Still no one. The house was eerily quiet. I hollered downstairs “Is everyone okay? Where is Flora?” They shouted back in near unison “We’re all reading books!” A small trill of happiness went through my body as I imagined the scene downstairs – three little sprites in semi-damp swimsuits from their morning kiddie pool/water balloon fight, wrapped in blankets and lounging on the ground in a pile of books.

Fast forward to lunchtime. As usual, I’m grumbling as I ask each girl for the nth time to return to their seat and JUST EAT YOUR LUNCH. Then, in my state of irritation, I notice the family room. The couch cushions are in disarray. Blankets, books, toys and goldfish crackers are strewn around the floor as if it was all part of a glass snow globe that had been shaken up and then settled. I try to take a “cleansing breath” as I’ve been taught to do in meditation, but instead it comes out as a heavy sigh, and I use the oxygen I took in to lecture the children on how they should be more responsible with the crackers and not dump them everywhere ALL OF THE TIME!

Georgia. Sweet Georgia. In the most innocent voice, she asks me “Mom, did you get enough sleep last night?” “Yes, I got plenty of sleep.” (I know where this is going. I’m half irritated she isn’t understanding why I’m bothered, and half amused that she is imitating me so well.) “Well, you seem grumpy. Do you need some fresh air?” My amusement evaporates and again, I lecture the kids on cleaning up their messes.

Clearly, I’ve forgotten that they’re 1, 3, and 5 years old. Clearly, I’ve forgotten that I showered alone and was so delighted picturing this very scene.

After lunch I put Flora down for a nap, and put Millie and Georgia to work cleaning up the family room. I worked alongside them for a bit, then began picking up debris around the rest of the house. I knelt down to gather up abandoned clothing and was stewing over how I am constantly cleaning up the same messes, alone.

Then I was hit by a spiritual punch to the gut.

Christ spent his ministry teaching how to “clean up messes”, and demonstrating how to do it. Then, in Gethsemane He knelt down and gathered up all of my sins and pain. Without any resentment or frustration, He toiled under MY burden. It was not a mess He created, but that of a well-meaning but easily distracted ME. He felt alone and wished there were another way, but He finished the job. MY job. He made me clean. He made me whole. Christ, in LOVE, did what was needed to make progress possible for me.

Now I’m no Christ. But perhaps I can see it as a symbol of Him when I clean up after my kids. Perhaps I can replace my resentment and irritation with love. I can remember Him voluntarily doing my work. I can envision how, after toiling on my behalf, He would gladly embrace me, not lecture me. Like Christ, love won’t make the burden easy, but it will make the work more holy, and it will give me more love for those I serve.

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This Is Love

When I hold her, she looks just like me 

When he holds her, she looks just like him

Either way, we’re never not holding her

She and I count down the minutes until his arrival

My aching arms are relieved of their sweet load

and suddenly able to furiously work and tick off to-dos

Her laughter bubbles and erupts as he handles her 

like a cuddly piece of sports equipment

Even as I’m grateful for the space, I’m envious of their touch

The way her limbs curve around our frames in natural comfort

The way her flesh takes on the color of ours

She is a living embodiment of our oneness in every way. 

And yet she is so uniquely her own. 

I crave them in this deep-down-in-the-belly way 

that sometimes feels insatiable and tempestuous

And other times I just want an hour alone to miss them

This is love. This is love. This is love. 

 

Subsidized by Love

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When I was pregnant with Georgia, some dear people threw me a baby shower. I was delighted to celebrate the miracle growing inside of me with my friends and family, but the whole ‘gift’ thing made me so uncomfortable. It felt unnatural to have everyone gather around me with brightly wrapped packages of useful items intended for someone none of us had met. Even though it was fun to be surrounded by all of that love, I would have gladly skipped the whole thing and just paid for all of the baby items myself. Not because I wasn’t grateful, but because it just felt weird. I felt similarly about wedding presents, but at least I didn’t have to open them in front of people.

Those gifts, though, became memories. I still think of Elisa when I put the freshly washed floral sheet on Flora’s crib. But I also remember each of my babies round cheeks smashed against that soft fabric, their fuzzy head framed by flowers. Whenever I size-up the clothes for Flora, I spend an hour folding clothes and putting them in the dresser in a wave of nostalgia as I remember what the other girls did in those clothes; she wore that at the parade, she wore that when she took her first steps, she always picked that one out. Sometimes I pull out pictures to compare all three girls in the same outfit.  I am amazed that I remember who had originally picked out almost everything.  To see the givers unique choice of style on my child makes me smile. It’s a beautiful thing to clothe your babies in the love of others.

Since then, we’ve become the beneficiaries of another type of gift: Hand-Me-Downs. Clothing, household items, art supplies, decorations, clothes, bikes, furniture, even extra garden vegetables and PLANTS! With shocking regularity, a box or an item will arrive at our home with a casual “I thought maybe you could use this!” And you know what? We totally can. Sometimes its something we really needed and I’d been budgeting for. Sometimes its something we wanted but didn’t have the extra cash for. And sometimes its something that wasn’t even on our radar, but becomes a necessity or a treasured item.

Since January, I’ve been working so hard on our budget. I’ve been counting every penny we spend on day to day living so that we could save up for certain big projects. When these items show up at my house, I get a lump in my throat. I feel seen and loved. Not only by the giver, but by God. He has put us in their hearts and minds and strengthened a bond. They make us feel like we’re doing them a favor by giving new life to their object that was simply taking up space. But For me, I feel like we are being subsidized by love.

The financial benefit is huge. But even more than that, I get the greatest joy by looking around my house and seeing evidence of the good people in our lives.

When I water the plants, I see Aunt Ginny’s hostas, Connie’s ice plant, Heidi’s blue spruce sedum, TONS of Jodi’s plants, Rose’s violets…

When I look in the garage I see bikes from RJ’s colleague Nicole, a cozy coupe from my brother, wiggle cars from Jan, a storage cubby from Jill…

When I look in my home I see decorations from Barb, a slide from the Shaws, a crib from Sadie, hand-me-down China from RJ’s grandmas, original paintings, even sheets from Val’s aunt…

In every single room of my house there are items that represent GENEROSITY. Even things that aren’t things! I can walk through the house and see how friends and family have served me in my home. Each month, the girls and I have a great time writing thank you notes to someone, but I don’t think they have any idea that truly, they are surrounded by, sometimes fed by, and often clothed in, the goodness of others.

Part of me feels bad that I’m not in a position to give to others in the same way that we currently receive. But I want to live every day in a way that shows gratitude for what we’ve been given, and that gives in a way that I can right now. It may not be hand-me-downs at this stage – but perhaps I can give a kind word, or a baked good, or if nothing else, a heart full of  thanks.

 

The Parable of the Talents

I don’t have much time to carefully craft this post, but this scripture story keeps popping into my head and I’ve got to write about it before I lose my thoughts.

Mathew 25:

14  For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.

17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.

18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Work With What You’ve Been Given

All three servants were given talents according to his ability. Some are more naturally capable than others, but HOW MANY they were given didn’t matter. What mattered was what they did with what they were given. Two doubled their money and were given the same great reward. One hid his away and lost it entirely.  When I am wishing I’d been given different abilities, I devalue what I do have, and tend to hide it away. When I confidently work with what I’ve got, the Lord blesses my efforts in a ‘Loaves and Fishes’ sort of way. My small efforts yield greater rewards than they deserve because I’m consecrating them to the Lord.

You Find What You Look For

The ‘slothful’ servant perceived the master to be harsh and punitive. That is what he experienced. The other servants perceived the master as generous, and that is what they experienced. In our interactions with God and our vast universe, when we look for and magnify the good things, the good things multiply. When we are grateful for the blessings we currently have, we become magnets for EVEN MORE BLESSINGS. In a grateful state, we enjoy life more and see God’s hand in all things. We also bring positivity and blessings to those around us. But when we are focused on what we don’t have, we easily succumb to negative thinking and see God and the world through a limited lens that is clouded with envy, fear, and pessimism. Not only do we rob ourselves of joy, we likely take others down with us.

The importance of RISK

The slothful servant didn’t dare take chances. He lived in fear rather than faith. He was so sure of failure that he didn’t even TRY. And of course, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. In order to make a profit, the two wise servants had to take a risk. They had to invest with a chance of failure. We don’t know from the scripture, but perhaps there were ups and downs in their profits before the master came back for the reckoning. Perhaps they lost a little, gained a little in a predictable rate, or perhaps there were even huge swings in their losses and gains. I’m sure there was uncertainty. But they worked, they risked, and they ultimately came out on top. How much have we missed out on joy and growth because we acted out of fear, not faith? Ups and downs are inevitable when we try. By not taking risks, we guarantee we never experience the ups.

The Burden of Success

The slothful servant lost his only talent to the servant with ten. When you do a good job, you end up getting more responsibility put upon you. Why is it always the same few people who carry the bulk of the workload in an organization? Why is there the adage “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”? Being successful rarely provides you with more leisure, but rather, more responsibility. The more we give of ourselves, the more seems to be required of us. But with that responsibility comes increased capacities, increased perspective, increased experiences. Sure, it’s more work. But I’ve learned time and again that the blessings come to those that SHOW UP.

—-

I see myself as much in the slothful servant as I do in the wise. Some days I act in faith, and others in fear. But I’m trying. I’m risking. And I believe in a master who is generous. And you know what? Day by day, thats what I find.

Weaning

As of last month, my last baby is officially weaned. I have lots of feelings about it, but mostly, just lots of hormones about it. Like, a strong breeze can make me cry hormones. Like, a bad joke can make me cry. Like… well… anything can make me cry. So, pretty much exactly the same as the last 7 years.

Its bizarre, but it has been 7 full years since my body was my own. It was April of 2012 when I got pregnant for the first time. Since then, I’ve either been pregnant, nursing, or trying to get pregnant. Now, suddenly, my body is…mine. Well, as much “mine” as mother of 3 small children can expect – I’m still a jungle gym/portable crib and I cannot imagine eating a meal where my plate wasn’t overtaken by my children (who were served the same thing and refused their plate). But I can eat all of the foods that upset baby tummies. I could take medication without checking to see if it transfers through milk. And all three kids are now able to stay a night away from me. I am no longer nutritionally required. I’m no longer anyone’s life source.

Weaning Flora was the hardest because she actually loved nursing and had the fewest challenges. Also, because she’s my last. So we stretched it out. We started in November and ended in May. There was a lot of ups and downs and backing off and starting over. But she hasn’t even asked for it in a few days. So…. its over. And I’m fine. And she’s fine. And that feels weird.

First, I was their home. Feeling them move inside me… its how I imagine God felt when He put the Breath of Life into Adam and Eve. It was extraordinary. I never complained about getting kicked in the kidney or being awoken by hiccups. It was a miracle I was awed to be part of. (Sure, I complained about morning sickness and constant potty breaks, but shhhh, thats beside the point.)

There was a shadow of sadness when they were born because we were no longer functioning as a single organism. But I was still their life source. Their ‘home’ had simply expanded to include my arms, and others could share in the miracle of their creation.

But then, so quickly, they became mobile, and eventually it was time for solid foods.  Everyone else was excited to introduce them to new and exciting flavors and textures. I was heartsick.  I knew they needed more than I could give them, but I worried about everything foreign they’d be taking in. Would it be healthy? Would it be enough? Would it be the right thing? But still I could take them in my arms and fill their tummies. Everything else was just a bonus.

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Then, full weaning. I never imagined I would be so emotional about what went into my children’s tummies. As each of them weaned, it was a tug-of-war between wanting to be their nourishment and wanting independence. With each of them, it felt terrifying to start, and after, I was surprised we were both doing so well. Thriving, even.

As Georgia went to preschool this past year, the thought came to me that its kind of like weaning all over again. Preschool was like starting solids – although she still gets most of her influence from home, there was supplemental support from the school. Kindergarten next fall will be like fully weaning.

I know this is the POINT of parenting… teaching them to be healthy, productive and independent. That’s why we celebrate the milestones; first steps, potty training, etc. But its so hard to let go, little by little, and trust the outside influences with our precious, vulnerable, impressionable little creatures.

What’s crazy is that I don’t feel like a great mom. I don’t feel like I’m giving them (nutritionally/intellectually/mentally/spiritually) everything as perfectly as I want to. But I know that I love them more than anyone else loves them, so I want to keep them under my wing as much as possible. I cannot protect them from everything, or prepare them for everything, and that’s okay. Its terrifying to give them room to fall, room to fail, room to struggle and thrive without me. And yet when I think about it, that’s the best gift I can give them. IMG_8621.PNG

Where To Buy Rose Colored Glasses

We sat in the dark on plastic stacking chairs arranged in a half circle underneath the basketball hoop. Women with silver hair and walking canes mixed with women bouncing babies on their laps. Our eyes were closed as we listened to the gentle tinkling of cymbals and chimes, while focusing on our breath as our instructor directed.

A year ago, I would have chuckled at this church sponsored event. But as it was, on this day I had just completed a forty day Christian meditation course, so the coincidence seemed serendipitous.

In my sixth grade “Quest” class, we lay under our desks in the dark and learned the concept of meditation (though I usually just fell asleep) and I’ve practiced yoga since about that age. But it wasn’t until Daniel Tiger taught me and the girls how to take deep breaths when we’re upset that I gave much credence to the idea of mindfulness. In the past few months though, it’s gently exploded into every corner of my life. The podcasts I listen to on parenting, health, and humor have all brought up the topic and its merits. A neighbor brought over a book about intuitive eating. Without any coordination, my dear friends Sarah and Anne signed up for courses in meditation at the same time that I did.

It is seemingly everywhere, and it is seemingly the silver bullet for everything. Wanna be a better mom? Meditate. Wanna lose weight? Meditate. Wanna be rich? Meditate. Wanna lower your blood pressure? Meditate. Wanna get a promotion? Meditate. Chronic pain? Meditate. Wanna commune with God? Meditate.

When I began exploring meditation I told RJ not to worry until I started hanging crystals by the windows. Well, I haven’t bought any. But my third eye could absolutely visualize them sparkling in the morning sun. I’m IN it. I still joke about myself sitting cross legged, palms facing up, chanting mantras as I deeply inhale and exhale. Its still ridiculous. It still feels awkward. But I do it. Every day. Well, only for five minutes. But it works. Maybe this is what an agnostic would feel like when they begin to pray?

Call it hokey. Call it crunchy. Call it whatever you want. I’m gonna call it magic. It’s like putting rose colored glasses onto my ‘third eye’. I’m starting to see the world and everyone in it with more gratitude and love. Of course I still have rough days now and then, but I don’t remember the last time I screamed at the kids.

The thing about meditation, mindfulness, intuitive eating, yoga and prayer, (and for me writing) is that they’re just different modalities for getting in tune with yourself. All of them are about quieting what is outside of you, and really listening to what is inside. We live in a culture where we are consuming information in vast quantities, numbing ourselves with media, food, and stuff. Our attention spans are comparable with that of a goldfish. Perhaps in previous generations, it wasn’t necessary, but these modalities are becoming so popular because they help us strip away all of that mental noise and simply BE with ourselves. And that is the only way to find mental/spiritual healing.

In the story of the Prodigal Son, he realizes he is wasting his life in “riotous living”. It’s interesting that the wording says he “came to himself”. (Luke 15)

In our ‘riotous lives’, our minds are constantly seeking external stimulation – scrolling, listening, etc. We often neglect or even counteract our bodies needs for sleep, exercise and nourishment. But as we ‘come to ourselves’ change and growth are the natural result. The dopamine rush we get from scrolling becomes less appealing than the serotonin high we get from a walk outside. The sensation of crunching chips becomes less appealing than the satiation from eating almonds. The numbing of watching TV becomes less appealing than the connection of conversation. As we ‘come to ourselves’ we trade FOMO for JOMO.Screen-Shot-2015-01-26-at-19.20.58.png

A pious name for change, is repentance. It’s time we stop making that word seem like it requires weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. I love how the Bible Dictionary explains it “The Greek word of which this is the translation denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world.”

This definition is beautifully compatible with the definition/etymology for meditation. From Latin meditatus, past participle of meditari (to think or reflect upon, consider, design, purpose, intend), in form as if frequentative of mederi (to heal, to cure, to remedy); in sense and in form near to Greek μελετῶ (meletô, to care for, attend to, study, practise, etc.)

Whatever words you wanna choose, whatever modality works for you… its all just a way to see the world through rose colored glasses. And boy does that make for a lovelier day.

Stop, Look and Listen

We were playing in the front yard as a car drove down the street. One and half year old Millie darted into the road. Sprinting, I snatched her from the asphalt. In a moment of fear, I did something I’d never done before and spanked her tiny bottom, scolding her “NEVER GO IN THE ROAD WITHOUT MOMMY!” She cried, and I cried. It wasn’t either of our proudest moments, but we have never made those same mistakes again!

Last Sunday on a family walk, Millie sprinted ahead of us toward the intersection. As I saw her at full speed only a few feet away from a fairly busy road, I had a moment of panic. Millie stopped suddenly with her arms flailing upwards, both toes exactly on the crack where the cement meets the asphalt. She turned around and smiled at me while we caught up. When we were together, we did what we always do. “Stop, Look and Listen” “Is it safe?” Then we crossed the road holding hands. Sweet Millie has learned how to control her impulses and stay safe.

Monday morning was rainy. I came home from the gym a few minutes before the girls woke up so I started some bread dough and began scrubbing the bathrooms. In my cleaning reverie, a clear impression came to my mind. “You need to be a better listener”. I had, in years long past, considered myself a good listener, so this came as a bit of a rub. But I pondered on it.

My self-evaluation was conclusive. There is definite room for improvement. Motherhood has helped me hone several skills. But listening is not one of them. I’ve begun to assume I know the whole story, tune out, become minimally responsive to the constant clamoring, or even cut them off and launch into correction-mode, telling them what I think they need to hear.

After receiving that gentle nudge from the Holy Ghost, I listened to a fantastic podcast that talked about helping kids with big emotions.  They said that times of big emotion, especially negative emotion, are great opportunities for CONNECTION.  That is a considerable mind-shift for me. Of course I relish the good big emotions, but those negative storms – sheesh – I don’t always receive those graciously. But on Monday, I made the determination to choose connection over comfort, and embrace the big emotions of all sorts.

It was a transcendent day. “Opportunities for connection” were plentiful, and I welcomed them. For unknown reasons, Millie seems to be having a rougher patch, and so most of those moments were with her. When I was scrubbing toilets she pleaded to sit atop my shoulders, and Flora was determined to help. It wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t sanitary, but it was a sweet moment I would never have otherwise indulged. Tantrums were averted and memories made. After I finished the bathrooms and got in the shower with Flora, and Millie went to play with Georgia. A squabble ensued and she came to me, tearstained and barely able to express what happened through the sobs. Instead of my usual responses, I simply listened and validated her feelings. When she was through I asked if there was anything I could do for her. She took a deep breath, and said “No, I’m okay, mom.” and walked out of the room calmly. Who knew that 3 year olds were just like adults and sometimes just need someone to LISTEN not fix?! During the witching hour, Millie did end up losing her mind over something. It was absolutely trivial, but I was able to comprehend that it was major to Millie. I couldn’t convince her of anything so I just sat quietly until her flame went out, then she snuggled into my lap and I just held her for a few minutes. The whole day was full of moments where my responses lead to peace. It was incredible. AND EXHAUSTING. By bedtime I was absolutely wiped out. And proud. And determined that henceforth and forever I shall be a LISTENING MOM!

Tuesday was okay. Wednesday was halfway horrible. Thursday was rotten. There were stressors outside of the home that may have consumed a lot of my emotional energy. Maybe the hormone shift from weaning sapped me more. Sleep deprivation probably didn’t help. Why couldn’t every day just be a repeat of Monday? Why couldn’t I just be nice?

Thursday night, I prayed, nay, BEGGED Heavenly Father to help me not be so angry. Friday I awoke renewed to Tuesday levels. A vast improvement. We had dear friends , the Stutz family, over for our Jerusalem Dinner. Theresa and I were sharing our war stories of the week and she gave me a fitting analogy. My spiritual impressions and the success that followed on Monday was a bicycle lesson with Heavenly Father holding onto the back of my seat, cheering me on. On Tuesday, the training wheels were taken off. I crashed and burned. And forgot to wear a helmet. But I know what it feels like to ride, and I’m learning how to balance. I can keep trying. I can learn to listen, eventually with more stamina.

What I learned in my bike lesson, though, was powerful. When I STOP jumping to conclusions, and really LOOK at the person I’m with, I can LISTEN with true empathy and pure love. Sometimes listening, alone, can be a solution. I can often prevent a breakdown by noticing emotions when they are small and choosing CONNECTION over convenience. And when my best efforts aren’t enough and compassion runs out before the hard moment is over, I can always say I’m sorry. I can always try again. A little quiet and a little fresh air usually refuel me wonderfully.

The ‘Roids

If the saying “Poop or get off the pot” makes you uncomfortable, then I suggest you log off now. This is all about uncomfortable poop. You’ve been warned. (This is the part where RJ walked out of the room cringing, begging me not to post this. Ginny, I’m guessing this is where I leave you too.)

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Politics, religion, white or wheat or gluten free bread… So many big divisive issues. But there is one thing I believe few will admit to openly, but everyone can agree on. Taking a nice, healthy poop is one of life’s sweet pleasures. You feel lighter, cleaner, energized and (lets be honest) accomplished. You walk out of the bathroom with a slight spring in your step, and feeling powerful… maybe even proud.

Children, bless their hearts, have robbed me, one by one, of so many of life’s sweet pleasures. (Yes, yes, they’ve also added millions of life’s sweet pleasures but that’s not what this is about.) In the process of forming and then “rocket launching” three children (my OB’s description of my births, not mine) I have suffered many an injury. Of course there is the standard ‘cross your legs before you sneeze’, there are the “tiger stripes” (stretch marks) accompanied by extra squish, the better to hug me with… There was even the nerve damage that had me temporarily in the depths of hell. But then, there were THE ‘ROIDS.

Hemorrhoids just sound gross. As a kid, I didn’t know what they were, but I knew it was something old people were embarrassed about. When I learned that it was basically your bum falling out, I was horrified. Also, lets be honest, a little curious… I mean, what does that even mean?! But of course I was never so curious that I would actually try to find the answer, because HORRIFIED. Now, knowing what I know, I think a Google search of the word should, by law, also turn up results for therapists to help you process any images you see.

But then, thank you blessed little babies of mine, it happened to me. Keeping hygienic, thankfully, wasn’t an issue as mine were mainly internal. But being robbed of a quick and healthy evacuation was quite depressing.  There went that spring in my step. That power. That PRIDE! With each child the pain and constipation got worse. Food waste has to go somewhere, though. So instead of coming out, it packed itself onto my hips and thighs. Glorious. Add insult to injury. Thanks.

After Flora was born I was thrilled about the prospect of  reclaiming my body one piece at a time, starting with my derrière. I clearly remember the surgeon casually saying that recovery would be painful for about a month, but oh, how a sitz bath would make things right! I’d be good as new and a happy crapper in no time!

I had just miraculously formed a perfect human being out of my own guts and then launched her out into the world with the power of KEGALS! Basically, I was invincible. This would be nothing.

HOW WRONG I WAS.

If I ever see that surgeon again, there is a high probability that I punch him him in the throat. Or maybe just break down and sob. In my post-baby-pre-surgery haze, I didn’t fully absorb the description of the surgery. It had sounded perky! I remember words like umbrella and relief! Afterwards, the visual description of it would haunt me. First, they would insert a long tube into my tailpipe, whose purpose was to gather all of the internal vessels that were so painfully inflamed. Then they would send up an umbrella that would pop out of the top and CLAMP down on said vessels, shearing them off, and simultaneously staple around the full circumference. (I just had a nasty shiver pass over me as I typed that.)

Surgery happened on a frozen December morning. In the murky waters of anesthesia, I swam towards consciousness, unaware of anything but how cold I was.  Shivering uncontrollably, I tried to open my eyes, scanning for help. Through the haze I saw a nurse beside me looking at a computer screen. YES! Someone with unlimited access to those splendidly sterile hot blankets that wrap you with sunlight and joy! I didn’t yet have access to my voice, but I turned my head to her in pleading desperation, sure that she would bring me the lifesaving warmth of those scratchy, sterile bits of heaven.

With the bedside manner of a spooked porcupine, she maintained her glazed stare on the computer and snapped “Stop shaking!”  Yes, obviously this was a thing I was doing for fun. Clearly it was my attempt to spoil her solitaire game.  She held her gaze on the monitor. I continued my rebellious shiver. A few minutes later she growled “Seriously, just hold still.” In retrospect, I realize she was the perfect greeter to welcome me at the gates of hell.

A moment later, I forced Nurse Porcupine to look at me by exuberantly vomiting the remnants of my optimism. The following hour felt as if they had frozen me in that critical moment when babies were crowning – intense pressure –  combined with the fiery sensation you have after a week of diarrhea; RJ Calls it “Sting Ring”. For added intensity they included the feeling of having a regular sized bladder full of one gallon of tiny liquid knives.

Because of her graciousness and our close bond (or hospital regulations), Nurse Porcupine accompanied me to the bathroom, no less than a dozen times, where in spite of the gallon of tiny liquid knives and my determination to expel them, I was continually incapable of urinating. In my medicated state, my soul was shattered by this. Shattered. After each failed attempt I returned to my hospital bed to puke or shiver. As you can imagine, this endeared me further to Nurse Porcupine.

That would be the least of my troubles.

I was discharged and sent home as the anesthesia was wearing off. The combination of wonky head and anal agony was enough to make me regret every bad decision I, or anyone I knew, had ever made. I prayed with fervor, begging forgiveness for that time I lied when I was 8, for that time I was rude to my Sunday School teacher, and for not always picking up litter when I see it. I begged forgiveness for humanity.

Somehow there remained a sliver of optimism that I would be okay. It took me a couple of hours to realize I couldn’t feign wellness at dinner with all of the Bishopric and their wives. While RJ went to dinner, indicating that I was home with the children, Valerie came over to make sure the children and myself stayed alive. All I remember is laugh-crying. That’s it. Sometimes amnesia is a blessing.

Now for recovery, there’s a few background pieces of information that will help you fully appreciate what I experienced. The aftermath of childbirth,  how Millie and I developed empathy for each other, and then don’t forget my description of the first hour after surgery.

Any woman who has given birth understands that there is no fear like the fear of the first poop after birth. A semi-truck has just driven itself through your body, crashing on its way out, leaving you bruised, swollen, bleeding, and nothing in its rightful place. Then you’re supposed to let a car drive through the debris, without an epidural, and hope it doesn’t kill you. You’re sure it will. Much more could be said on this matter, but just remember FEAR AND PAIN.

Now, let’s back up about one month. Georgia and Millie were downright pumped about having a baby sister. But everyone warns you that kids will show signs of stress when a new baby comes. Georgia was unfazed. Millie, who loved Flora more than anyone and was more cuddly than ever, suddenly became anal retentive.

In addition to my full-time job as milk-maker for Flora, I took on the side-hustle of being a Poop Doula for Millie. As soon as I noticed Millie’s not-so-subtle signs that she had one coming, I’d pull back my hair, kneel down, and start coaching, usually while still nursing. There was the delicate art of encouraging her to the toilet. Millie had become easily spooked and very resistant, so I attempted every form of persuasion known to man to coax her to the toilet. By the time she was willing, it was nearly always because her body was in crisis mode. But as I learned from sleep training her as an infant, there is NOT A SOUL on the planet with a stronger will (or sphincter) than Little Millie Bea.

Once she was on the toilet, I kicked into labor coaching. While she was red-faced and screaming “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!” I was cheering “You’ve got this, Millie! Here it comes! PUUUUUUUSHH!! Thats okay, we’re almost there! You’re crowning! PUUUUUUSH! HURRAYYYYYYYY YOU DID IT!!!!! YAY MILLIE! ICE CREAM FOR EVERYONE!!!” Then I would hold her as she trembled and cried, recovering from birthing a baseball made of pain.

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For about two months, and then sloooooowly, slowly slowly diminishing over the next few months, there was not a single moment that I wasn’t intensely aware of my rear end. Every. Single. Second. For months, without any relief, I had that crowning/sting-ring sensation, and LIVED in that first-poop-post-childbirth fear.

Sitting was tricky. Getting around was awkward. Even strangers were asking why I was walking funny. When people dug hard enough, I would eventually tell them why. Nearly all of them blushed and stopped asking questions. Their embarrassment was cute. Perhaps I should have been embarrassed. Prior to this surgery, I thought motherhood had stripped me of any remaining dignity I had ever had. Now I know you can actually go into dignity debt. I am now dignity bankrupt.

Millie, having been on the receiving end of my doula/birth coaching, was now qualified to be on the giving end. A few times a day she would follow me into the bathroom and cheer me on “You tan do it, Mommy! Dood job! You deeeyittt!” while I cried and shook. I would instantly jump into a “sitz bath” where the pain would subside from a 10, to an 8, and all three of my daughters would be present to witness my sobbing. Thankfully, I had already relinquished my privacy and dignity, so instead of being mortified by this, I was actually impressed with their empathy! They called me BRAVE! and TOUGH! and cheered me on. God bless those precious little creatures.

I’m glad we took a handful of pictures because I have no memories of Christmas. All I remember from that month was pain. Surgery destroyed me. Or maybe it made me invincible. After that, nothing fazed me.

In January I went under the knife again, to remove pre-cancerous growths from my cervix. Easy.

A week after that, an artery blew in my cervix and I began to hemorrhage in the middle of the night. I was passing hamburger sized clots and joking with the medical staff as they put me under for emergency surgery. They suggested I stick around to rest a bit, but I checked myself out, took a shower and nursed Flora, and went immediately to Morgan to listen to my amazing Mother in Law speak in her ward. So worth it.

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Four weeks after that, I had an emergency appendectomy, after which my oxygen and blood pressure wouldn’t rise and I had to stay in the hospital. RJ brought Flora to nurse and I remember relishing that moment, that I was able to support life, even after my own had been at risk twice in a month. I left the hospital and went to my niece’s baptism and the next day we blessed Flora. All of this before she was four months old.

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And then, slowly and quietly, normalcy returned. I could once again prepare REAL meals for my family. I was allowed to lift up my kids and shop at Costco again! I could keep up with my chores again. I could walk without people thinking I was trying to hold a grapefruit between my thighs. I COULD EVEN GO TO THE BATHROOM WITHOUT CRYING! Glory be. Life was good.

So was my hemorrhoidectomy  worth it? Giving up all shreds of dignity, feeling as if my bottom was the site of a terrorist attack, and lowering my standards of living to nearly third world levels?

Ummmmm. Well….

If you notice a spring in my step I guess you’ll have your answer.

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Dear Returning Missionary

The last few days in the mission all seem to tattoo themselves into your memory, vividly, right as they’re happening. Everything seems so poignant and nostalgia for RIGHT NOW heightens your senses, as you take in every sight, smell, and feeling for the last time. No matter how ready you are to be home, you want to finish strong.

You’re excited – and scared.

And then WHAM.

It’s over.

Forever.

You are greeted by a boisterous crowd at the airport (or, for some of us, nobody. And that’s fine too.)  You report, which feels incredible, except that then they release you, which feels…. ALL the feels.

And then you’re supposed to wear “normal” clothes. Your old clothes probably don’t fit as well, and that seems symbolic too. Like your soul has changed shape over the past couple of years and you are now trying to put it back into its old container. It doesn’t feel right. But shopping seems weird too. You feel weathered and new at the same time. How do you clothe a new soul when it feels so out of place? (In that vein… Aunt Ginny says when I cam home, I stood in the shampoo aisle for half an hour, smelling them all and being too overwhelmed by the options to pick one.)

People are so happy to see you, and you’re happy to see them too! Yet there is this unsettling empty feeling with each interaction. Maybe if you could just share a little scripture or say a prayer with them you’d feel better. But that’s not as socially acceptable without the little black name tag. A few people you served with contact you and you can talk for HOURS. With them you can process the memories and relive the glory that it all happened. You love your family and you’re so glad to be with them again….Family is like a Thanksgiving feast but mission friends are cold water to a parched throat.

So life starts. You hang out with friends. You look for a job, or sign up for school. You feel like you’re living a dual life and part of you is still there, back in the mission.  Those relationships and experiences seem more natural than forcing yourself back into your old life, which in reality has died, although no one knows that but you. But you forge onward, even though you’ll probably still be measuring time in 6 week “transfers” until companions all come home. You know its over, but things still feel unfinished.

As soon as the first greetings are over, you get a little frustrated. Everyone is just living their ordinary lives. WHY ISN’T ANYONE OUT PREACHING FROM THE ROOFTOPS?! Its like all of these “good people” have forgotten how important the gospel is. Don’t they know they should be sharing the good news, loudly, with every person they encounter? Don’t they know how lucky they are to have a temple so close? Why on earth would they spend so much time watching TV and so little time studying the scriptures?! And they think *you* are weird?!

Oh, returned missionary, some people want you to “get back to normal” as fast as possible. Don’t.  HOLD ON TO THAT WEIRDNESS AS LONG AS YOU CAN. That craving for scripture, that anxious willingness to serve others, that NEED to be God’s hands… It will shift and morph and, sadly, diminish as the months go on. So BE weird. For as long as you possibly can. Get up early to study. Go to the temple a million times. Talk to strangers about Jesus. Heck, wear dressier clothes. Wait to rejoin social media or social circles until it feels right. It’s fine. “Normalcy” will be there when you’re ready for it. Keeping yourself as ‘missionary’ as you want to be can soften the blow of reality.

Some lucky returned missionaries fall right back into step and follow a linear course of progression: School, marriage, kids, career. But for many of us, it felt more like two steps backward, one step forward, three steps sideways, twirl 8 times, two steps forward. The mission had a very clearly defined purpose and structure. You absolutely KNEW if you were doing the right thing, minute by minute and month by month. You could often see that obedience brings blessings and exact obedience brings miracles. After the mission, things get more nebulous and the future feels so vast. There are a million “right things” a million more unknowns, a million ways to lose your way or at least feel like your “purpose” has gone missing.

Just know, returned missionary, that this dark, cloudy, vast unknown, has a purpose of its own. It will, if you reach for Him, connect you to God in new ways. When you feel alone, you can connect deeply with the Savior as he said “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When you don’t know which decision to make, you can stretch your wings of agency and see that the Lord will bless your efforts. When you find yourself in a stupor, you can simply keep trying until something feels right. THAT my friends, is true faith. Feeling your way through the darkness is how the faith you gained in the mission becomes cemented and real.

It may be hard to believe, but the best part of your “mission” is yet to come. You just became your own investigator. Be gentle with yourself, because conversion, that great BECOMING, takes time.

love,

Christy

Paid in Full

We moved into this house when I was 6 months pregnant with Millie. When it was built in 1989 it was, most certainly, the trendiest house on the block. Honey oak from top to bottom, flashy brass fixtures in every room, floral wallpaper, pink carpet, pink tiles, pink toilet, pink jetted tub, and of course, multiple phone jacks in every room – especially by each toilet. They thought of everything.  If Pinterest had existed back then, you’d have pinned every room on your “dream house” board. Or maybe you would now. Pink is timeless. Brass says class.

I have little regard for class, so my first objective upon moving in, was to change EVERYTHING but the bones of the house. Compelled by my unstoppable nesting instinct, I hoisted my whale-esque body onto ladders to replace light fixtures. I grabbed screwdrivers out of 18-month-old-Tornado-Georgia’s hands right as they entered electrical outlets.  I sanded and stained bathroom cabinets. I spent days reaching around my yoga-ball belly with a razor blade and scraper in hand to remove wallpaper. I hauled a dozen 5 gallon buckets of paint up and down stairs, and enlisted the family army to help me paint ceilings and walls. I ripped up carpet. (Okay, okay, RJ probably helped. A little. Or a lot. And maybe some other people worked their guts out too. Whatever. This isn’t about them. But seriously, THANK HEAVENS for them.)

In spite of our intense productivity, the most important task of painting the kitchen cabinets just wasn’t getting done. What kind of impression would it make on this precious baby if she was welcomed into a home with HONEY OAK CABINETS?! No. Something had to be done. I scoured the internet for painters with good reviews and acceptable prices. I got bids. I selected the contractor who could get the work done the week before Millie was due, and also had the lowest price.

To my delight, he called saying he was “ahead of schedule” and would like to start working two weeks before Millie was due. Each day at the appointed hour, I waited with bated breath (or maybe just short breath – there was a massive creature smashing my organs and lungs). Each day after a few hours I’d call him and he’d have an excuse. Contractors, right?! Typical.  Finally, on Millie’s due date, when I’d been in labor for 18 hours, he calls and says he’s on his way. Blessed be. Perhaps he could get a lot of the work done while I was in the hospital. Aunt Ginny is leery. She questions why I hired an octogenarian whose breathing sounds like if an accordion and a bagpipe had a baby and that baby had emphysema. I am unfazed. Nesting, remember. THE WORK WILL GO ON.

We brought our precious bundle home and opened the door to a maze of plastic curtains – the kind you see in movies where either a serial killer or a person in a hazmat suit emerges. The cabinet doors were missing, and so was the contractor. For days.

Finally,  he shows up and paints a little bit. Around lunchtime he gives RJ a desperate story about taxes being due that day and something about legal/financial troubles with an ex wife. RJ is filled with compassion. I am filled with distrust and irritation (and also milk and pain… you know, from childbirth)  This gentle old man is surely good for his word and will finish the work this week. He’s cleared his schedule for us! As you know, RJ’s compassion is equally matched by my nesting instinct. He wrote a check to pay him in full.  He left to cash it immediately.

A week passes with my calls going unanswered and unreturned. Finally, enraged, I leave a strongly worded voicemail about how we had done him the huge favor of paying him in full and he needed to fulfill the contract immediately or ELSE. An hour later, I get a return call. From his daughter.

He’s dead.

Could we please stop harassing his family? They’ve got a funeral to prepare. RJ meets the widow at the shop and picks up our cabinet doors (first layer painted).

So yeah…. that’s the story of why, three and a half years later, my cabinets still need to be finished, and why you should always, always, listen to Ginny when she says something is a bad idea.

BUT THEN…

A few months later, the 3-stories-high pine tree that was placed smack-dab in the middle of the open grassy area of the backyard was really irking us. I’d had a bid to have it felled, but we hadn’t acted on it. I was in SLC when RJ called and said a “very strange looking man” had knocked on the door and asked if we needed any trees cut down. His bid was a little less than the REPUTABLE, LICENSED AND INSURED company. I asked RJ if he was licensed? No. Insured? No. Will he give us a written contract? No. I reminded RJ of the time I hired an unlicensed company to cut a tree for me and how they tied up my neighbors chicken UNDER the tree, strapped themselves with ropes and chainsaws dangling over my neighbors fence, and how I swore I would never do that again.

So obviously he hired the fellow, paying half upfront. Soon I’m getting videos sent to me of the “very strange looking man” attacking our tree with as much logic as my toddler would use. In the process he broke his chainsaw, and asked for the rest of the payment so he could go buy another one. RJ, now wary of anything “paid in full” before completion of the project, instead loaned him ours, which was inadequate for the job. But he managed to get partway through the tree. In a chaotic and powerful moment, the massive tree splintered and cracked. With a dramatic whoosh, the evergreen giant fell. Exactly on our apple tree, splitting it down the middle and leaving a mix of evergreen and apple limbs and stumps across the yard. Look! A two-for-one tree removal!! He needed to leave for a minute, but he’d be back shortly with a truck to get rid of the debris… unless maybe we could rent one for him and deduct it from the final fee? No? Oh, okay.

He never came back.

When I try to give RJ a hard time about this incident and his over-trust in “strange looking” people, do you now what he says? “AT LEAST MY GUY DIDN’T DIE!” I try to rebut with a comment about not paying them before the work gets done. But it gets overshadowed, you know, by death.

The overgeneralized moral: Contractors will stoop to any level, EVEN DEATH, to screw you over.

The real takeaway: RJ is a compassionate soul who hopes for the best in people and doesn’t let past burns taint new experiences.

I guess, in the end, what really matters works out.