April 20, 2015

Writing Conference!

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , at 3:01 pm by Tamara

Image credit: http://centrum.org/2014/08/creative-nonfiction-workshop-nov-6-9/I have to share a cool story: I’ve been wanting to go to a writers conference for years, and a few months ago I found out there’s a big Christian writers conference in Estes Park in May.  I instantly wanted to go; unfortunately it’s too expensive for me to be able to afford all three days of it, but I found out they offer a few partial scholarships and I thought maybe if I could get a scholarship I could go to one or two days of it.  I wanted to take my time to write as compelling an application as I could, but then morning sickness hit with a vengeance and I could barely get off the couch, let alone write an eloquent scholarship application.

A couple Friday nights ago something (or should I say Someone) made me think about the conference and I got on the website to see when the scholarship deadline was.  I was crushed to see that it was that day.  I told Adam I had missed the deadline, and he pointed out that it was still technically the day of the deadline, even if it was already 10pm.  I was exhausted and feeling miserable but I decided the worst that could happen was that I submitted a horrible application and they rejected it, so I started writing.  I had to tell why I wanted to attend the conference, my writing goals, current writing project, what I’m doing to meet my goals, why I need a scholarship, etc.  What I sent it was honestly pretty pitiful; nowhere near the compelling and eloquent application I had wanted to take my time to write.

I didn’t expect to hear anything for a while, but the very next morning I got an email from the conference organizer saying that she was so blessed by my application that she contacted the man who offers the scholarships to ask him if he would consider covering one more FULL scholarship for me, and he said yes!  She also said she wanted to arrange for me to meet with five agents to present my book, and recommended that I sign up for critiques with two authors.

I was completely stunned and told Adam, thinking there was no way I could leave him and the kids for three days, but he immediately insisted that this was too great an opportunity and I had to go.  My parents and in-laws said the same thing and graciously have offered to help with taking care of the kids and helping pay for my hotel for the conference.  So, it looks like I’ll be going!

The conference looks amazing: the theme is “Write His Answer” (Habakkuk 2:2); there’s a faculty of 56 authors, editors, and agents; workshops on everything from writing in deep point of view to how to handle spiritual takeaways in fiction without preaching to how to market your book; and one-on-one meetings with agents and publishers.  Estes Park is a beautiful mountain resort town; I wish Adam could come with me so we could enjoy it together!  I’ve only been away from Bear overnight once and have never been away overnight since Songbird was born, and while I feel a little heartsick thinking of being away from my family for three days, I also suspect it will breathe new life into me as a mommy!

I’m amazed that God is giving me this opportunity; not only because of the opportunity itself but because of the timing.  We’ve had some really discouraging closed doors lately.  I KNOW the truth that God proved his love for me once and for all on the cross (Romans 5:8), but I’ve struggled to hold onto that lately when so many circumstances seem to imply that he’s just forgotten about us.  The fact that God chose to bless me with an opportunity I’ve dreamed about for years at a time when I have felt discouraged and even angry with him is amazing proof of his gracious love for me, and how his love is not conditional on whether or not I am worthy of it.  What a message about the gracious, generous character of our God!

Secondly, it has reminded me that I can trust God and the members of his body to accomplish what he wants to accomplish.  One of the things that is so intimidating to me about the prospect of missions work is that we will need to raise financial support.  I worry that we will never be able to share our vision in a powerful enough way to compel people to be involved in our ministry.  The fact that total strangers are being so generous to me, even without the perfect, eloquent application that I wanted to write, reminded me that if God wants to take us to the mission field it won’t be through my efforts and clever words, but through his power (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).  It has reminded me that there are believers in the body who are eagerly listening for his voice and willing to joyfully and sacrificially participate in his work.  How encouraging!

The Israelites set up stones to remind them of what God had done for them (Joshua 4:19-24), and I have several stories of God’s provision that I’ve set in my heart as my “12 Stones”–things I can go back to it and be reminded that God loves me and will provide for me–and not just my needs, but often my heart’s desires, as well.  I’m adding this to the list!  (If you want to read other stories, click on the “12 Stones” tag in the sidebar.  Some of them are pretty funny.)

Since I registered so close to the deadline I’ve been SCRAMBLING to get everything ready; choosing excerpts of the book for critique, preparing my “one sheet” and book pitch for the agents, registering for my workshops and one-on-ones, and all the other little details.  The fact that I’m still dealing with pretty severe morning sickness (and even got to spend a day in the hospital last week) hasn’t made it very easy to get my rusty creative brain functioning again, but I’m doing my best.  I’m really praying that I’ll be feeling better by the conference so that I can get everything possible out of it!

If you’re curious about the book, to be honest I don’t feel like it’s anywhere near ready to be sold.  Mostly my goal for the conference is to just learn about how to improve my writing and get some feedback on my strengths and weaknesses as a writer.  The prospect of having my story critiqued by agents and published authors is, frankly, terrifying (!) but I’m going to swallow my insecurities and just try to learn from the experience.
Many of you have been so encouraging to me and my writing dreams in the past, and if you would pray for me related to this conference I would so appreciate it!  Pray that I can prepare well, that I’ll be healthy and have energy for the conference, that I’ll learn everything that God wants to teach me, make good connections, and for my husband and kids while I’m away for the first time!
Write His AnswerI know many of you are also writers, and if you’re interested in attending, here is a link to the conference.  Registration is still open and it would be so fun to have friends there!  :)  http://colorado.writehisanswer.com/

April 14, 2015

11 Reasons Morning Sickness ROCKS

Posted in Watermarks in Progress at 8:17 pm by Tamara

Morning sickness gets a bad rap.  I get it; I was pretty miserable with my first two pregnancies, and this one has thrown me into previously unknown levels of misery worthy of a new level of hell in Dante’s Inferno.  Not only is the nausea bad, for most women morning sickness comes with a side of bone-melting fatigue (for example, I have actually fainted after the exertion of walking to the bathroom to get ready for bed).

However, this time around I’ve realized that morning sickness has some clear benefits, and not just the old rumor that it means you have a healthy baby.  Here are a few reasons morning sickness actually ROCKS.

1.  The Redefinition of “Morning.” I never understood why “morning” sickness torments pregnant women 24 hours a day until I realized that “morning” must not mean what I thought it meant. In fact, Mayo Clinic defines morning sickness as “nausea that occurs during pregnancy…and can strike at any time of the day or night.”  I’ve always felt terrorized by how early morning comes (WHY would I want to be awake before 9am?) and all the expectations heaped on me to be coherent and functional at unholy hours (“Child, what is this ‘breakfast’ which you say you require?  How can it be time to eat again?”)  I now know this is totally unnecessary, because “morning” can strike at any time of the day or night!  Do you realize how freeing this is?  No more guilt over sleeping in until noon—it’s still technically morning!  Boss says that report has to be on his desk in the morning?  Drop it off at 5pm the next day and refer him to the Mayo Clinic for proof that it’s still morning!

2.  Decreased Grocery Budget. The first thing that helps decrease your grocery budget is that the sight of food in any form makes you want to vomit.  The second thing is the exhaustion.  My normal route through the grocery store starts in the produce section and ends in ice cream, but the one time I tried to grocery shop during this pregnancy, I made it out of the produce section only to shuffle into the dairy section and realize that I had used up 98.9% of my available energy.  I leaned forward and draped myself over the shopping cart handle and rolled slowly toward the check out, where the check out lady gave me a weird look as I peered up at her from where my head was resting on our bunch of bananas.  She may have thought I was insane, BUT not only did my grocery bill ring up less than a fourth of what it usually does when I have the energy to shop the whole store, but I looked like a super-healthy crunchy mama who serves her family nothing but raw fruits and vegetables.  Not a potato chip, carton of ice cream, or slice of bacon in sight, because who has the energy to walk to those sections??

3.  Conservation of Natural Resources. Droughts and water restrictions are all over the news right now, and thanks to morning sickness, I am playing my part in saving water!  Due to the fatigue that has rendered me borderline catatonic, I have reduced my showering by 97%, choosing instead to lie on the couch and moan.  I have also lessened my environmental impact by severely decreasing my use of soap, toxic makeup products, and toothpaste.  Everyone can do something!

4.  Sharpened Risk Assessment Skills. Morning sickness has greatly helped me develop the skill of determining the least-worst-case-scenario.  For example, when the kids are crying from hunger and I am lying stretched out on the couch like a melted blob of play-doh, which is worse:

a)  The risk of my kids starving before daddy comes home and can resuscitate them by pouring cheerios into their mouths where they lie passed out from hunger, or

b)  The risk of broken bones, concussions, and brain injury if I let a four year old construct an elaborate tower out of chairs, bathroom stools, and wheeled toys so that he can reach the box of cheerios in the cupboard and serve some to himself and his sister.

5.  A Redefinition of Success. My goal for housekeeping used to be that if someone stopped by unexpectedly, I could let them in and feel something better than “Shame over my toxic wasteland” and less than “Pride over my pristine perfection.”  Now, when I finally gather the strength to roll from the couch to the floor at bedtime, I have no eyes for the piles of Thomas trains and legos on the floor, clothes draped over every chair, mounds of mail, hairbows, and dirty bibs on the counter, or visible dog hair turning the carpet a new color.  Instead, I give myself a Gold Star Housekeeper Award if I gather up the kleenexes that have heaped up around me during the day and drop them into the trashcan as I crawl into the bedroom. I am superwoman.

6.  Bubblegum Water. Maybe it’s pregnancy hormones, or the nausea meds, or just every tastebud in my mouth going haywire, but pregnancy throw up has a more bitter, acrid taste than I can possibly describe.  The upside of this is that I have discovered that after I throw up, plain water tastes exactly like those gobs of pink, mind-numbingly sweet bubblegum they throw in those big bags of off brand candy.  Who needs soda when bubblegum water pours out of your tap for free?

7.  Children Acquire Survival Skills. My kids were pretty dismayed when I suddenly started spending 89% of my time on the couch and responding to their requests with moans for pity instead of cheese sticks.  However, I have seen a vast leap forward in their development while I have been out of commission.  For example, my four year old figured out how to get out of his highchair by himself, find cheese sticks, put on his own pants, and retrieve things from the counters.  All of these were things he was convinced he needed my help for a few months ago, but necessity is indeed the mother of invention!  My 18-month-old daughter has always refused to say “Mama,” probably since crying seemed to summon me quite effectively enough.  But all of a sudden I now find myself frequently roused from my comatose state by the sound of my daughter insistently saying “Mamamamamamamamama!” while smacking me in the head.  It’s a good thing morning sickness doesn’t usually last more than a few months for me, or they’d be driving themselves off to college at four years old and I am not ready for that!  (Unfortunately, she is also in the mimic phase and learning less desirable things: for example, every time she passes one of the many trashcans that are strategically placed in every room, she stops, bends over, and pretends to throw up.  O_o )

8.  Detection of All Odors. I have lived most of my life in terror of being “nose blind” and not noticing smells in the house until my neighbor stops by, takes one whiff, and calls the CDC.  But, thanks to heightened pregnancy senses and gag reflex, I am like a BLOODHOUND.  I can tell you that three rooms away there is a forgotten diaper on the changing table, warn you that the dog passed gas in the living room 30 minutes ago, deduce that the Chinese from last Friday is probably no longer safe to eat without even opening the fridge, and pronounce that every square inch of the bathroom needs to be gutted and the boy taught better aim.  Unfortunately, I cannot DO anything about any of these odors, because I am out on the deck gasping for fresh air while I heave into a trash can.  But at least I KNOW.  Knowledge is power, right?

9.  Baby Exhaustion is NBD. Compared to how wiped out I am during pregnancy, the sleep deprivation with a newborn feels like no big deal.  It’s like training for a marathon and then finding out you accidentally signed up for the preschool bunny hop instead.  As a friend put it, baby exhaustion is like a human tired, whereas pregnancy exhaustion is like a zombie tired.  Give me a sleepless newborn any day!

10.  Go From Zombie to Bombshell Overnight (well, comparatively). Let’s face it, when you regularly smell clean and conceal your under-eye circles, people start to take it for granted.  After a couple months of not showering, shaving, applying makeup, or brushing your hair, it’s amazing all the compliments you can get just for the smallest effort.  I mean, after I spent three months looking like death warmed over, the first time that I washed my hair and put on lipstick before church, my husband’s eyes widened like I was the reincarnation of Helen of Troy.  After my pregnancy grunge phase, I wore a hole-free t-shirt to Bible study and got so many compliments you would have thought I’d spent two hours on my hair, gotten a makeover at Sephora, and worn a knock off of a Kate Middleton dress.  This must be what feels like to be a movie star!

11.  And, finally, the benefit that should be number one: Cementing from Day One How Much We Love Our Children. Pregnancy can be rough (seriously rough), but morning sickness it is our first chance to say “Tiny Baby, I love you enough to do this and anything else for the blessing of holding you in my arms.  I will sacrifice food, sleep, coffee, my ability to function, and whatever else it takes so you can be safely knit together inside me.  And this is just the beginning: for the rest of my life I will be there to give you whatever you need to thrive, no matter what it costs me, because you are the greatest gift God has ever given me.”

So bring it on, Morning Sickness!  Just…could you bring that trash can over too?

A note: I want to say that all through writing this I’ve thought of dear friends who would endure all this and worse 100 times over if only their prayers for a baby would be answered.  My heart bleeds alongside you and I pray for God’s comfort and abundant answer to your heart’s cries.

March 13, 2014

On Toddler “Help” (and how I’m a toddler)

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , , at 2:05 pm by Tamara

Little Bear is in the phase where he loves to help me, and I’m doing whatever I can to encourage it. He especially loves baking with me, which I find absolutely ADORABLE. Of course the downside is that everything takes 3x as long with a toddler helping, but I try to let him anyway because I want to encourage that considerate and helpful spirit of his!

The other day I was having an “Ahk-I’m-not-accomplishing-anything-in-life” sort of day, and desperately wanted to get some stuff done to make myself feel better. Bear was trying to help me clean, but Baby Songbird was quite indignant that I thought a broom was more interesting than her. She is SO social; Bear has always been able to amuse himself for quite a while alone, but she wants interaction all-the-time. At one point I told Bear, “You know, the way you could help me the most would be to keep your sister happy for a bit.” He gave me a dubious look, but, sweet boy that he is, trotted off to entertain his fussing sister (who perked up the minute he was paying attention to her).

Bear really seemed skeptical that he could be more helpful playing with Songbird than hanging on to the bottom of the broom for me, but as I swept and mopped as quickly as I could, I thought how that REALLY WAS the absolute best thing he could do to help me and how much I appreciated it. And suddenly it occurred to me that God probably often tries to tell me the same thing, and I often give him the same ‘Not-sure-you-know-what-you’re-talking-about’ look Bear gave me.  Sometimes I’m so busy looking for “BIG THINGS TO DO FOR GOD,” and frustrated that he doesn’t seem to be letting me “help” him as much as I want to. But I wonder if he’s telling me, “Honestly, what would be the most wonderful is if you would just love and care for the people I’ve put around you.” He did say, after all, that the two things he wanted most from us are to love him and love our neighbors.

Shortly afterwards I got a chance to choose to practice this conviction, because Bear got tired of playing with Songbird and she decided she was going to cry until I rescued her. So, I abandoned my mop in the laundry room sink and scooped her up. I told her teasingly, “You know, how YOU could help me the most would be to fall asleep.” And right away there was God’s whisper to me: “You could ‘help’ me by being still too, you know. By choosing to rest in me, and to peacefully enjoy and love the little ones I’ve given you to love, even if you don’t feel like you’re ‘accomplishing’ much.”

Now, I’m not saying I plan to let our house fall to complete shambles, because I know I can honor God by doing those practical things, but I realized that I probably have no idea how thrilled God is with the moments when I’m just sitting on the floor, showing my precious kiddos that I love them and God loves them too. If it gives me warm fuzzies to see my little boy sweetly loving and caring for his baby sister, how much more delighted must God be when we love and take care of the family, friends, and even strangers he’s put in our lives?

“Little children…a new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

January 27, 2014

Snuggles and the Tug of Heaven

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , at 3:31 pm by Tamara

My son woke up crying in the middle of the night last night.  I sat and snuggled him in the rocker and he fell back asleep, his head snuggled on my shoulder and gentle light from the snowy night outside caressing his smooth cheeks.

There are no words for the overflowing sense of heart-fullness that I have when I’m snuggling one of my sleeping kids and staring into their peaceful face. Does it sound weird to say I feel the tug of heaven in those moments? Because I sense so keenly that I’m experiencing something that my heart just can’t contain and words certainly can’t confine into sentences. Such a sense of awe to have this inexplicable, spiritual, life-strong bond of love (what an inadequate word that feels like) with this precious little soul God entrusted to me. I marvel at it and my heart fumbles to wrap around the realization that we were made for a different world, designed to experience a bond with our savior that we can’t even imagine. And experiencing just a little tendril of that relationship through the all-consuming love I feel for my kids just about sends me to my knees with awe of how deep Christ’s love for us must be and how little I must grasp it.

I could stare at this post for the rest of my life and I don’t think I’d get the words right to describe it. The blessing and fulfillment of motherhood is deeper than I ever could have imagined before I held my children’s little bodies and huge souls in my arms. What an undeserved, awe-inspiring gift. And how great must my God be to give gifts like that? And how will my heart explode when I get to heaven and get to experience the entirety of that love and relationship? I hope God gives me better words to worship him with then. In the meantime, I will snuggle my babies and marvel at the mystery.

December 6, 2013

How to Make a Mom Fall Over

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , at 2:08 pm by Tamara

I can just picture her.  She’s dirty and sweaty from working all day, and hungry because she’s barely had time to sit down and eat.  Her clothes are ratty and out of style because she can’t afford to buy new ones.  And she’s working a low-class, thankless job that proclaims to the whole world “I’m poor.”  And then, here strides up this handsome, wealthy, single man, who just happens to own the field where she’s working, and he looks straight at her.  I bet she thought, Fantastic!  Could the ground just swallow me up?  Because I would like to die.  Right. Now.

He must have blown her over when he tells her, “Don’t go anywhere else to work—I want you to stay here in my fields.  I’ve told my men to look out for you, and you can stop and drink from my water whenever you need to.”  Actually, he did literally blow her over, because it says she “fell on her face, bowing to the ground” for Boaz (Ruth 2:10).  Now, to my modern sensibilities, this is just a TAD over-the-top dramatic.  I mean, I consider myself fairly dramatic, but I’ve never fallen face down in front of someone.  (Well, at least not on purpose.  Ahem.)

I read this passage today for the first time since I became a mom, and suddenly Ruth falling on her face when Boaz encouraged her didn’t seem too overly dramatic.  I have a lot of moments as a mom where I don’t feel put together.  When I’m working hard but don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything, when the only thing hiding my post-baby flab rolls are pajamas I have’t had a chance to change out of, when the ingredients for that gourmet dinner I planned to cook are spoiling in the fridge because I haven’t been able to put the baby down long enough to make anything but spaghetti, when I’m sacrificing for my kids and just HOPE they can sense my love for them.

Instead of pointing out everything Ruth probably thought was wrong about her at that moment, the next thing Boaz says to her is that he’s heard of everything she’s done to take care of her mother-in-law.  He basically tells her, “I can see everything you’ve sacrificed and how hard you’re working, and I admire you for it!  Let me do what I can to make your life a little bit easier.”  I think if someone came up to me and said something similar to me about my life right now, I’d probably have an emotional reaction akin to falling on my face at their feet and weeping.  “I can see everything you’re sacrificing and how much you love your kids and husband.  I really admire you for it!  If there is anything I can do to make your life a bit easier, let me know.”

I’ve read some great articles lately about the “Mommy Wars,” and how easy it is to get hostile towards moms who are parenting differently than we choose to.  I get the hostility.  I confess I’ve felt it myself.  But I recognize that it’s not really hostility, it’s a fear/guilt/self-consciousness mix.  Fear: “Oi, that sounds really hard.  Do I need to do that?”  Guilt: “Would my kids be better off if I did it, too?  Am I failing my kids?”  Self-consciousness: “Does she think I’m a terrible mom for not doing ____, too?”  And this can apply to ANYTHING another mom is doing differently than I am: food, diapers, sleep methods, working out, vaccines, schooling etc, etc.  And because we care SO MUCH about making the right decision for our kids, when someone else’s choice makes us slightly doubt our own choices, our natural response is “Defend!” which sometimes turns into “Attack!”

Pick your poison, but basically any different decision can fling me off on a sling-shot roller coaster ride of fear/guilt/self-consciousness.  Another mom brilliantly (and hilariously) described this as feeling like other moms are “Parenting AT her.”  (“Quit Pointing Your Avocado at Me“)

But I’ve been really challenged lately to allow myself to step off that roller coaster, and do what I can to help my other mom friends get off it, too.  I’ve seen what a huge difference just hearing one person say “You’re a great mom” can make.  The fact is that, at the heart of our differing decisions lies the same thing: a passionate, self-sacrificing love for our kids and a desire to do what’s best for them.

Interestingly, Boaz didn’t just encourage Ruth, he changed Naomi’s whole outlook, too.  She went from being bitterly convinced that God had forsaken her, to blessing God and Boaz for showing them kindness and not abandoning them (Ruth 2:10).  Encouraging words are powerful things.  You never know how on-the-brink another mom may feel, about life in general or even her faith.  One loving, encouraging sentence may be all it takes to give her the strength to not only make it through the day, but feel a sense of joy and fulfillment at the end of it.  And a related benefit is that when my brain is focused on encouraging another mom, it’s usually too busy to beat me up for anything.

So, the next time you see a mom who looks gorgeous and put together, instead of beating yourself up for the spit up on your shirt and mascara on only one eye, consider that this might be the first time all week she’s been able to shower, let alone be nicely dressed, and tell her how lovely she looks.

When you hear of a gluten-free mama, instead of beating yourself up over the PB&J your two year old is eating, consider that she might desperately wish her allergic son could eat easy meals like that, and tell her you admire how hard she works to keep him healthy with his unique needs.

When you talk to someone who’s made different vaccine decisions than you, instead of telling her she’s a horrible mom for putting her kids in danger (whether by vaccinating or not), tell her that you admire that she cares enough to do her own research and do what she thinks is best for her child.

When you see the mom in the grocery store whose kid is throwing a tantrum, instead of glaring at her, tell her she’s doing a great job at staying calm and she’s a great mom.

When you stop by your friend’s house unexpectedly and she’s sitting in a disastrous living room holding a fussy baby, tell her good job for putting her baby above her desperate desire to have a vacuumed floor and that she’s obviously got her priorities right.

She may not fall at your feet, but I guarantee she’ll love you for it.

Note: This is hardly a perfect post (a symptom of having 10 minutes to type while the baby sleeps and the toddler eats, yes, PB&J ), but if you know another mom you think would be encouraged by this, feel free to share!

October 8, 2013

A Morning Story (or, A Study in Chaos)

Posted in Watermarks in Progress at 7:48 pm by Tamara

It’s probably/maybe not true, but I feel like the world judges my worth as a mother by my ability to get myself and the kids to places on time, with bonus points added or subtracted based on 1) whether or not the kids are semi-appropriately clothed and have eaten in the last 24 hours, 2) the flatness of my post-baby tummy and whether my outfit is relatively cute and spit-up free or not.  This morning’s attempt to get to Bible study on time began when I was woken up by a crying Baby Girl four hours earlier than I like to get up.  As I fed her and contemplated how this incorrectly timed feeding was going to affect our morning routine, Bear woke up wailing forlornly for Daddy, who was of course already at work.

After getting both of them settled again, I got myself ready (ignoring my lumpy tummy and forgetting to use concealer for the black holes under my eyes).  Then I peeled my also-not-a-morning-person son out of his bed like a limp jellyfish as he clung to his crib railing with his toes and cried “No, sleeeep!”  My thoughts exactly.  While Bear refused to eat his oatmeal, I went to get Baby Girl dressed, fed her again, and dealt with her diaper leak.  Then I returned to Bear to find he’d smeared his sticky oatmeal through his curls (a great hair treatment, I hear).  No time for a bath, so I kitchen-sink’ed him, changed his shirt, strapped a crying Baby Girl into her car seat, gathered the thank you notes and washed dishes (from meals friends brought us) that I oh-so-on-top-of-it had ready to return, and lugged everyone/everything down and up the million stairs of our apartment.

You can imagine my triumphant jubilation when both kids were strapped into the car ON TIME!  I would have done a touch-down dance in the parking lot, but that might have made us late, so I only exulted inwardly, “Take that, Insane Morning! I HAVE CONQUERED YOU, BECAUSE I AM SUPERMOM!”

So, perhaps you can imagine my inner howl of dismay when I was about to close the car door and Baby Girl suddenly gurgled, made a funny face, and projectile spit up aaaaaall over her cute outfit, car seat, and the universe in general.  Of course, in an effort to carry as little as possible as I continue recovering from the c-section, I only had the pared-down diaper bag with me, which did not include an outfit change or a spit up rag (what is this madness?), so my only choice was to go back inside.  And there, like a glorious firecracker bursts and evaporates into the darkness, went my so-hard-won “On Time.”  I stood there for a moment, swabbing vainly at cottage cheese spit up with the nice blanket and inwardly wailing like a betrayed hero in a low-budget melodrama “No, Morniiiiing!  You cannot have my ON TIIIIIIIIME!! ”  I seriously considered either bursting into tears or just not going to study, but instead extracted both kids from the car and, since a toddler’s rate of motion on steps is roughly equivalent to a snail that’s high on Ambien, carried them both back down and up the two million stairs, wondering the whole way if my incision was about to burst open and kill me on the spot.

Inside, I changed Baby Girl out of her cute outfit and into a conglomeration of non-matching pink articles, while Bear sat at my feet wailing “Hug a Mommy!  Hug a Mommmmeeee!” like his life was ending.  Since I was now dripping in sweat, I abandoned the cute layer of my outfit and pulled the cute hairstyle  that I had traded precious moments of sleep for into the token defeated-mom-ponytail.  I then mopped the spit up out of the carseat as best as I could, restrapped crying Baby Girl into it as Bear continued to wail at my side, and carried both crying kids back down and up the three million steps of our apartment.  On the way up to the car, I encountered our neighbor and her toddler.  She, of course, looked put together and adorable, her toddler was not crying, and based on the unhurried manner at which they were ascending the stairs, they were not late.  I stood for an excruciating moment to greet her as both my child-holding arms attempted to dislocate from their sockets (probably because they were ashamed to be seen with me in such a state), and then re-strapped both kids into the car, got into the driver’s seat, and sat there panting like an unprepared marathon runner in a triage tent.

We were late.

And, the moral of the story?  I do not have one.  But I admit it all seems a little hilarious now.  And I think I need some ice cream.  Major ice cream.

June 14, 2013

THOSE Days

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , at 7:40 pm by Tamara

Today was one of THOSE days.  I held it together by a thread until my husband got home, but shortly thereafter as I was angrily putting my 2 year old into a time out I became acutely aware that I should NOT be disciplining in the state I was in.  I snatched my keys off the counter, informed hubby that I needed to get out of there, and slammed the door behind me.

I stomped around our apartment complex until I found a quiet spot, where I sat down and sniffled and tried not to cry.  It was just.one.of.those.days.  When parenting and life and everything is just too much.  “Stop the merry-go-round, I want to get off.”  And then I felt terrible guilt for losing it over tiny things when I know so many people who are facing big things, and felt guilty for abandoning Hubby with the crazy toddler when he had a stressful day too, and I began to feel like the worst person/mother/Christian ever and despaired that I could ever accomplish any of the things I care about if I can’t even handle days like today and….  Then I just cried.

After a while I saw an elderly lady come out of the house across the street and start to peacefully water her flowers.  And *OH* the resentment that suddenly leapt into my heart.  I couldn’t decide if I wanted to yell at her for having it so easy or just beg her to switch lives with me.

Ironically, the last time I remember losing it on one of THOSE days, I fled the house, strapped the toddler into the stroller, and went for a walk.  As we walked, I saw an elderly couple rocking on their porch, peacefully reading their newspapers.  I felt the same thing then: total jealously at the unfairness of them rocking there while I’d had the worst morning ever, and a longing to leap their garden gate, fall on my knees in front of them and beg “Oh please won’t you switch lives with me??

But, I realized as I walked by, for all I knew, they were wistfully looking at me and thinking the same thing.  In all likelihood, that woman had once been just where I was and had her share of THOSE days.  For all I know, she was watching me and wishing for the days when she was a young mom, when her kids were close, when loved ones hadn’t passed away, when she wasn’t dealing with health problems or social security stress or whatever.  For all I know, my stroller-pushing walk in the middle of the day with my cute little man looked positively idyllic and gave her heart a pang of fond memories and longing.

To be honest, in general I’m really loving life right now.  I have a LOT of days as a stay-at-home mom that feel idyllic to me.  I love getting to witness all the little and monumental moments of Bear’s life, instead of wondering what the babysitter is seeing that I’m missing.  I love the freedom in my schedule that lets me decide on a whim to hop off to the park with him, or call a friend for a play date, or lounge around the house with him doing nothing.  I love that the effort and effects of my work directly impact my family, rather than some corporation or CEO I’ve never met.  Most days, I’m incredibly thankful that I can stay at home and be mom all day.

There are, unfortunately, also parts of our lives right now that I do not like at all.  I hate feeling like we are soooo far away from doing the ministry we want to be doing.  And there are other things, and when I’m just thinking about them, it’s easy to want to just be done with this phase, or think “Everything will be better when ____,” and just wish the time away.

So, what’s the point?  I don’t know exactly, but I do think it’s ironic that God seems to put the elderly in my path when I’m wanting out of my life.  Maybe it’s just about perspective, and realizing that in every phase of life, “This too shall pass.”  And that goes for both the good parts and bad parts.

Thankfully, I’d say the great days far outnumber THOSE days for me, but I do still have those days sometimes.  So, I’m glad for a little perspective, and a little reminder not to get fixated on the overwhelming days and wish away all the parts about this phase of life that I love.  And that will be a lesson worth remembering both now, and someday when I’m rocking on my porch watching other young moms pass by.  Someday I’ll probably be there, too, and I hope I’ll have lots of fond memories, a few wistful pangs, and the confidence that I’ve lived fully in every phase of life and have earned both the relaxing rocking and the longing for past things – and the freedom to pursue more and more of my goals until God takes me home.

I finally wandered home tonight, got down on the floor, and (still teary-eyed) apologized to Bear for disciplining him while I was angry.  He gave me a big grin, threw himself into my arms, and immediately began giggling and climbing all over me.  Oh, the grace and energy and living-in-the-moment capacity of a little boy.  Exhausting?  Yes.  Wonderful?  Yes.

March 22, 2013

Love at First Sound

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , at 12:56 pm by Tamara

The storybooks talk about love at first sight, but I’m a believer in love at first sound.

I’ve experienced it twice: the first time was several years ago, as Adam and I sat in a tiny room at my first midwife’s appointment.  In spite of a positive pregnancy test and torturous morning sickness, I still had a nagging fear that the midwife would take one look at me and declare, “You’re not pregnant, you idiot.”  Haha.  So, needless to say, I was anxious for our first sight or sound of baby.  I waited with bated breath as she tried to find a heartbeat first.  She couldn’t find it right away, and my fear of being called an idiot swiftly turned to a chilling dread that she would actually say we had been pregnant but had lost our baby.  It was one of the longest minutes of my life as she moved the scope around and around on my tummy and my own heart pounded faster and faster.  The shifting power of a minute is mind-boggling: how it can be a desperately too short time in some circumstances and morph to an agonizing eternity in others.

Then, suddenly, there it was: a rapid pitter-patter filled the room as we heard our Bear’s tiny heart beating for the first time.  Tears burst from my eyes, and in that instant something indescribable happened: an invisible but indestructible bond leapt from my heart to his.  It was finally real—I was a mom, and that was my baby, and I loved him with every fiber of my being.  Love at first sound.

I experienced this again a few weeks ago, at my first appointment for Baby #2.  This time I wasn’t at all worried that they would say I wasn’t pregnant—the nausea was even worse than with Bear, as was the crippling exhaustion.  But I was still eager to hear that little heartbeat.  This time, the midwife set the scope down and immediately, there it was!  The precious little pitter-patter heartbeat of our baby, and that bond instantly anchored just as strongly as it had with Bear.  In an instant, pregnancy went from just meaning that I felt horrible, to meaning that there was a precious life growing inside me that I loved with all my heart.

Addition in Progress

Addition in Progress

Amazingly, this heart-bond between mother and child is more than emotional; it’s actually physical.  This video  gets me all teary eyed every time I watch it.  Researchers have found that living cells with a baby’s unique DNA actually cross the placenta and can live in the mother for the rest of her life.  Not only that, but they can actually live in the mother’s heart: scientists have found cases of heart failure in mothers where those cells from their children have actually replaced her damaged cells.  And in case that’s not enough to make you teary eyed, this is true even with babies who are lost before they are born.  Our children truly do live in our hearts, even the ones we never get to meet on this earth.  We carry our children our whole lives.

Elizabeth Stone said that “Making the decision to have a child is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Someday, too, I think I’ll experience love at first sight.  Adam and I suspect that someday one of our children will grow not under my heart, but inside it.  I experienced a taste of this love the day I first saw pictures of my nieces and nephew, who God brought to our family all the way from another continent.  I cried happy tears that day, and I can only imagine the bond that formed in my sister and brother-in-law’s hearts when they saw their children for the first time.

The heart-to-heart bond that I formed with Bear the first time I heard his heartbeat has grown stronger every day.  I can’t wait until I hold Baby #2 and snuggle the tiny body that holds the heart I already love.  And it’s awe inspiring to think, if God has enabled me to love my children this much, and even thought to weave this bond into our very DNA, what kind of a message must He be trying to send to me about how much He loves me, His child?

June 30, 2012

I Will Get to You (Adoption Thoughts)

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , at 3:57 pm by Tamara

One of the things I want to do for my internship is interview adoptive/foster families, so I started with my supervisor at the non-profit I’ve been interning with.  At one point she said something that really struck me:

“I knew I had a child in China.”

I shared this with Adam and he said it struck him the same way it did me.  We generally talk in impersonal terms like “there are thousands of kids who need parents,” which sounds so overwhelming and abstract and unreal.  But to think that WE could have a one of OUR children in another country, waiting for us to come rescue them, pierces me in an entirely different way.

The first night after Bear was born, we stayed in the hospital and he slept in his bassinet at the food of my bed.  I had ended up needing a c-section and had only been in recovery a few hours, so I was still pretty much immobile in bed.  At some point during the night, Bear made a tiny sound that sounded a little like choking.  Within an instant I was on my hands and knees on the foot of the bed, scooping him up and checking to make sure everything was okay.  He was perfectly fine and I soon put him back down, and only then did I realize what I’d just done: I had been flat on my back with a major incision in my stomach, numb from pain killers and basically unable to use my abdominal muscles, tangled with 11 cords attached all over my body, yet the instant I’d thought my baby was in danger something had absolutely propelled me to his side.  I couldn’t even lie back down again without Adam’s help, but somehow I had gotten to my baby when he needed me.

I realized right then that with Bear’s birth an incredible protective force had been born in my heart.  Nothing—ever—was going to keep me away from my baby when he needed me.

This came to my mind today when Adam and I were talking about the possibility that we have a child in another country.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if Bear was in an overwhelmed orphanage on the other side of the world, or being moved from foster home to foster home across the city, I would move heaven and earth to get to him.  I would stop at nothing—-nothing—-that was in my power to get to him.  I wouldn’t be stopped by money, or fear, or overwhelming amounts of paperwork, or how tiny our apartment is, or whether it seemed practical, or what other people thought about it.  I would Get. To. My. Child.    Period.

It’s admittedly a bit mind-boggling to think that one of our children might be in another country.  But, if God calls us to adopt, that child is our child, regardless of race or country or biology, and He has known it all along.  It just might take us a little longer to figure it out.  When I think about it that way, from God’s perspective, and wonder if one of my children is somewhere else, separated from me, it lights a fire under me.  If God is calling me to adopt, then I have a child far away who needs me and is waiting for me.  And nothing—nothing-–is going to keep me away from them.

All this can’t help but make me think about what God has done for me.  This fierce, passionate love and protectiveness in me for both the child in my arms and any children who are far away is a reflection of how He feels about us.

There’s a story in John, where Jesus is talking to the religious leaders of the Jews, who considered themselves the “true children” of God.  Yet, here is Jesus, stunning them by calling them blind sinners.  He starts telling a story about a flock of sheep, and how a hired hand will abandon the sheep when wolves come because he’s just an employee and doesn’t really care about the sheep.  But, Jesus says, He loves the sheep because He is the good shepherd.  In fact, He loves His sheep so passionately that He is going to give up his life for them.

Then He says an interesting thing: “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me….  I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10: 1-18).

Those “other sheep” that Jesus is talking about, are US–all of us who aren’t born Jews.  Even though we weren’t born into His own people group and family, Jesus considered us His children.  And, rather than moving heaven and earth to get to us, He moved himself across heaven and earth to come to us.  He “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

That same passage says that Jesus’ own people rejected Him; in fact, they would later kill him.  But, to the people who did accept Him, “He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:2-14).

So, in reality, *I* am an adopted child.  I wasn’t born into God’s family biologically, but He knew me and loved me and knew I would accept Him.  He gave everything He had, right down to His very life, to rescue me.  He didn’t let anything keep Him away from me, but came all the way into my world to save me and, eventually, will take me home with Him.

We don’t know what will happen with our family and adoption, but we are trusting God that, if one of our children has been or will be born in another country or across the city, He will get us to him or her, no matter what it takes.  Will you pray with us?

June 27, 2012

My Adoption Internship

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , at 7:30 pm by Tamara

I mentioned here how one of the things we were concerned about if we want overseas was the timing of my internship.  Three years ago I decided to go back to school for my degree in Psychology: Christian Counseling through Liberty University Online.  I finished my coursework in May (YAY!!) and then needed to complete an internship in order to graduate.

I was pretty stressed out about trying to find a position.  I have a hard time asking for help when I have nothing to give in return (I know, I know: pride), plus I felt rather insecure/ridiculous looking for a counseling internship as an undergrad student. I was also really unsure how it was going to work with Berean, since Adam’s working three jobs and not available much to watch him.  And, honestly I was resenting having to be away from Berean, even if only part-time.  I love staying at home with him!

So, frankly, I put off looking until way too late, and was really down to the wire.  I started praying hard that God would help me find an internship where I could both really learn something and really serve Him.  Praise the Lord he’s faithful even when I’m not, because he graciously answered my prayers to help me find a position.  Through a long, unlikely string of people that stretched over several states, I was connected with a non-profit that provides support services for orphans and adoptive/foster families.

I’ve been doing all sorts of stuff, from interviewing adoptive families, to researching grants, to soliciting donations, to helping deliver meals.  Tomorrow I find out about doing some work with an agency that uses animals in therapy, which I am REALLY excited about.  I think animal-assisted therapy could be fantastic for kids with attachment disorders.  In July I get to sit in on the CORE adoption training that Colorado requires for potential adoptive parents, which is another huge blessing because it’s a costly training and they’re letting me attend for free.

Our most recent big event was a night where foster and adoptive families dropped off their kids for a one night VBS-like program.  The goal was to give them a much-needed night off and hopefully relieve some pressure so that they can keep providing quality care and loving homes and avoid a failed placement.  We had about 50 kids and 20 volunteers, and I think it was a smashing success!

One thing I’ve been hearing consistently is that practical things like a meal or a night of babysitting can be a huge help.  One amazing adoptive mother of several children who’ve had a lot of struggles to overcome put it this way, “You can get so emotionally and mentally overwhelmed by the struggles your family is going through that just the thought of fixing dinner is completely overwhelming.  Sometimes just having a few meals delivered or someone helping you clean your house is enough to help you feel like you can face another day and not give up and send the child back into the system.”

It makes perfect sense to me.  When you’re going through a very emotionally demanding situation, it’s almost like your brain and spirit are dedicating so much of your strength to getting through it that there’s very little left over for practical, everyday things.  We understand this when it comes to things like grieving a lost loved one or giving birth, but I think we can miss how intense adoption can be and how much we can help and support adoptive families.

Something another mother said hit me like a ton of bricks: “It can be very hard to ask for help when you need it, because there can be a feeling that ‘You got yourself into this’ so you aren’t allowed to say you’re struggling and ask for help.”  That statement just about bowled me over.

I’ve been learning a lot from these adoptive parents and I want to write about it, but it’s kind of intimidating, because 1) I haven’t adopted (yet!) so I can’t speak from experience, and 2) I recognize that everyone’s experience is different, and some things I write about might be dead-on for some adoptive parents and completely in left-field for others.

But…adoption and orphan care are things I care about, and that I firmly believe we as the Church are called and commanded to do.  So I think it’s good to think and dialogue about it, even if I don’t get everything right.  And secondly, my internship supervisor asked me to write about it.  So I don’t really have a choice.  ;)

At any rate, hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll be posting more thoughts, both what I’m hearing from adoptive parents and what I’m studying in the Word.  If you have adopted or fostered, feel free to comment with your thoughts and experiences!  And if you know someone who has adopted or fostered, why not see if you can drop off a meal and watch the kids for an evening (or whatever else they need!)?  : )

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