The past two and a half years have held a great deal of change for my life. Leaving Northern Ireland, the land where I cut out part of my heart and planted it. My Papa being diagnosed with cancer to his passing from this earth. My mother-in-love being diagnosed with lymphoma and surviving in the most extraordinary way. To my most recent experience of an early miscarriage.
As Bryan and I chatted in bed one night, the tears filled my eyes. I explained to him that my heart had felt so heavy for so long. I reflected on everything that was bright, beautiful, and alive in my life. Then I described something else.
The grey thread.
For the past two and a half years I have carried around a heaviness. I can easily see the charms of my life. I have an incredible husband, two miracle sons, a job that has purpose, family that I love, friendships that go deep like a well. My life is rich and I know it.
Still, in all the richness, in all the vibrant yellows, reds, blues, and purples of life, there is a grey thread. It hides for awhile. Life feels normal, manageable. Then, I see it. The dull color, working it’s way to the surface again. Wrapping itself around the yellow, turning it a muted brown. It takes the other colors too, toning down their brilliance, creating a type of shadow land.
It feels like the opposite of putting on rose-colored glasses. This grey thread takes the shine out of almost everything. It cannot remove that which is solid, thank God. Yet it can change my view and perspective, making it harder to see clearly. It becomes like a fog, covering up the parts of my life that stir me to live.
Through time and effort, I can stand on the thread once again, regaining my life back. However, out of the corner of my eye, I see the end of the thread wriggling. Then I see it disappear beneath my life’s palate again. A sense of relief floods my body. It is gone for now. Yet, in the back of my mind, I wonder for how long?
“Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein” (Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner p.190).
Friends, I am about to open a vein.
Today, the 1st of September, 2018, my twin sons turned four.
The day was rather unspectacular if I’m being honest. We are having a proper celebration for them in “two more big sleeps.” So there was no big party or presents today. It was like any other day, except it wasn’t.
On this day, four years ago, my swollen belly waddled into Craigavon Area Hospital. A few hours later — our boys were in our arms. This act of birth that happened in mere seconds, had taken nine painful years of infertility to get to.
So today could have felt and seemed normal, except that it wasn’t.
I took the boys to Top Pot donut shop in Bellevue for a birthday breakfast. To everyone in that place I was a normal mom, sitting happily with her twin sons eating donuts. Except I wasn’t.
I was the mom who was sitting, staring, at two walking, talking, laughing miracles. I was looking at my nine years of tears cried, longing to be a mother. I was looking at what seemed like a crazy promise fulfilled. I was looking at my husbands’ and my face staring back at me, seeing both of our families in the faces of our sons. I sat looking at the most tangible proof I have of a God who hears me, sees me, and answers the deepest longings of my soul.
I LOVE being Kidran’s mom and Cohen’s mom. I love the connection that we have fostered these past four years. I love that they give me their best and throw their worst at me too. I love all the crazy ways they make me laugh and at the same time make me want to pull my hair out. I love that they are big lovers, who lavish me with hugs and cuddles. I love, love, love being their mom. My heart is beyond full as I live in this reality of my dream.
Now though, the vein is beginning to open.
After nine years of infertility, we gave birth to our handsome and healthy twin sons, Kidran J Caleb and Cohen V Ryan. We were one of the “lucky” couples who finally became pregnant. What many of you may not know is that our final round of ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) was so successful that we now have eleven remaining embryos.
We don’t know what our future holds. What I do know is I cannot have potentially eleven or more children. That fact slaps me across the face sometimes. I hate that I do not have the capacity or means to give birth to all these miraculous, potential lives. I hate that I feel stretched to the max being a mother to two incredible, energetic sons. I hate that after years of struggling to finally have our family, we are now wrestling with this additional piece of the heartbreaking puzzle of infertility treatment.
Of course I can see that this is where so many others would long to be. I am not stupid or blind. I see others who cannot produce even one viable embryo and here we are sitting with eleven. I also know that the only option for us and these precious embryos is not something I’m sure I will ever have peace about.
Early on in our treatment we made the decision that if we were fortunate enough to have any embryos left that we could not care for, we would adopt them out. We would not discard them, leave them to science, or not pay the storage so that the holding clinic would end up making a decision regarding their fate. (Yes, people are starting to do this more often because they can’t make a decision either.) We decided that they were lives and we would give them the best chance of a life we could, even if that home was not our own.
This is the part of infertility that I was not prepared for or I guess didn’t anticipate. I have cried so many additional tears about this. I have questioned the capability of the family/lies who may adopt our baby embryos. What if they have a baby like Cohen? Will they put him on meds because he seems to have “too much” energy? Will they see the subtle change in their baby’s smile that is similar to Kidran when he gets excited about something he really loves? Will they fill their house with laughter, patience, creativity? Or will it be strict, rigid, full of hardline rules? The questions are endless, and so is the grief.
When I think of not having these babies, it strikes me as one of the biggest points of grief I will ever experience in my life.
Yet, I had another thought.
Maybe, just maybe, these sweet, unborn lives will be placed with people who have exactly what my babies need because I think at the end of the day I will always feel like they are mine. Maybe we will help answer years of prayers for someone else. Maybe, just maybe, someday I will get to meet them.
I have agonized over this very scenario time and time again. Even as I write these words, my eyes are full, tears waiting to be released, to let the next wave of grief hit me. This choice and choosing it feels impossible. My stomach hurts thinking about it. Years of trying, waiting to now be here.
I know I can’t answer this question right now. Instead, I can work on more of the party favors for the boys Star Wars themed birthday party in two days! They recently had a little family party in Idaho that only wetted their appetite for birthday parties and presents. They are now truly excited for this birthday and that excitement is spreading. I even found Star Wars shirts for Bryan and me to wear! Roll on Monday evening! All things Star Wars, light sabers, and cupcakes! May the force be with you!
After living in Northern Ireland for twelve years, I knew how rare a string of beautiful, sunny days were. This was even more pronounced on the third day of our trip. We woke to glorious sunshine again and pinched ourselves! Could we really be experiencing the first heatwave of early summer? Yes!
While Kelly and Molly put on their walking clothes and took off up the Bush road towards town, a journey I had made so many times before and after having our boys, I got ready for a few coffee catch ups with friends. The first on my list was my sweet, justice loving, bold, and incredibly talented chef of a friend Michelle. She not only is my friend but was also my pastor for many years while we lived in Northern Ireland. Michelle and I could “talk for Ireland” as they say. Whenever we get together it literally feels like a speed chatting session. We rarely breathe, we laugh a great deal, and we go deep fast. I am thankful beyond words for her friendship and sister-like presence in my life over the years. She stood by me as I hit rock bottom within my faith paradigm while we struggled through our infertility journey and allowed me to be where I was. We have had some very honest moments in our friendship but I believe that is how true friendship is forged, or any real relationship for that matter. We didn’t have enough time together but we never do. I am thankful all the same!
Next up was a meeting with my very first adopted teen, Laura. Laura has been a part of our family since the early days. One of the first teens Bryan walked alongside of, she was in my small group for years, she accompanied us on our move back to the States a few years ago to help with the boys, and most recently has become a mummy herself to wee Luke. Laura is a stunning woman. She has a determination and fierce strength that is much older than her years. It was such an honor to see her on this trip home and finally be able to cuddle and love on her little boy. He is so happy and content, thanks to the constant love and security his momma brings him. In a way, Laura was one of the first people to open up the mothering heart inside of me and I’m so thankful for that. She also got lots of practice for her own baby by minding ours!
Once the catch ups were done, we showered, packed a small bag each and hopped into our sweet, loaned car.
The North Coast was calling and we couldn’t wait to answer!
The drive to the coast was filled with chat, laughter, and music. I love driving most days anyway but driving in Northern Ireland has always been more fun to me! The winding roads, the rolling hills, green upon green everywhere you look. Fields dotted by old stone churches, sheep, and hedges made to divide the farmland. It never, ever, gets old. My eyes always want more.
Yet, I also can remember making the drive when my heart had been shattered from failed rounds of ICSI. I remember looking out the window, tears streaming down my face, heart caving in. I wasn’t taking in the surroundings those days. I was merely trying to breathe in and out. There was a strange sense of relief though when we would reach a certain point in the drive where I felt a release. The times on the coast of grieving were defining periods for me and I will never forget them or what they did for my soul.
I was so thankful to be making the trip this time up to our friends, the Millen’s, for such a happy occasion as this. You see, the Millen’s prayed, and prayed, and prayed for us, for me, and for our boys to come into being. They invested in such deep ways. They walked through the valley with us and held us up as we cried. They are a beautiful family unit and it is such a joy to have them in our lives. Knowing that I was going to their new home, in the countryside, that they had built themselves, and was a mere shell when we left, felt somehow significant. They had a sweet, little home closer to downtown Coleraine, but decided to build a bigger family home on some family farmland. Now there other home was amazing! Full of memories, love, and lots of TLC. There was nothing wrong with that house outside of their need for more space for their growing girls. In a way this felt similar to our move back to the states. There was nothing wrong with our lives, but in a way we were growing and needed different space. Although we didn’t think it meant leaving Northern Ireland. So seeing them in their new home was profound. Sometimes we change the decor of our lives, other times we change the actual, physical location. Some changes are harder than others to make. In the end, their move and change was worth it and I believe ours has been too. We are all building new foundations, mapping out new spaces, and it’s good.
We arrived to their house around 3:30 and immediately ate them out of fresh fruit as we had basically been on a buns (sweet treats) and bread diet since we landed! Lol!! We sat down for our first cuppa in their new home and I fell in love all over again with them! Their whole family has such a deep rooted place in our hearts and it shows. Lee once again whipped up an amazing CURRY! Yes! One of my favorite meals she cooks, among many I can assure you. Then we changed our clothes and headed to Hope & Gloria for our event that night. If you have time, go and check it out for yourself! I love the heart behind this venue and everything it is about.
I want to tell you a secret. If I’m honest, I had the most hope for this event to be our biggest. In the end, it turned out to be our smallest; but you know what? It was perfect as it was. There was a small group of us that evening. We sat around a table. We chatted like friends chat. We asked questions, we spoke encouraging words to each other. We thanked one another for being honest, vulnerable, for turning up. I know things were happening in that small meeting. Besides, the quantity should never be the focus, the quality should be. That night, the quality was extremely high. I can see ripples coming out of that evening and I was pleased. I was also thankful for the space, for the opportunity to share, and the way in which it was received. I know that Causeway Coast Vineyard will take it and run with it, serving others who are similarly struggling and will do so with love and compassion.
To end the evening, we all sat up drinking prosecco, eating crisps (chips), and chatting late into the night. I was the first to fall asleep on the couch which made my heart happy. You know you are truly at home somewhere if you fall asleep on their couch. As I made my way downstairs, to the new lower level, the room was pitch black, my head hit the pillow, my mouth turned up into a smile, and I was out.
My pipe dream was really happening!
As a kid, summer time felt slow, warm, sleepy, and fun. As a parent, summer feels fast, hot, sleep deprived, and adventure packed. Anyone else feel stretched over the summer months to cram every, last, second with activity, friends, and more calorific treats than usual? Good, I’m glad I’m not alone!
Due to the quickened pace of summer, longer days, later bedtimes, snack meals instead of sit-down dinner, and fewer naps for the boys and me, I have not been writing much. I enjoy and eventually soak up all that summer has to offer. If I’m honest though, I miss routine at times. I miss downtime, I miss the boys napping so I can take time to process our sweet and simple life. This has become a way for me to be more present here and now. I become more thankful for all that my life holds when I stop and take time to ponder it.
As I watch my boys grow daily I can’t help but recall each of their stages. I have loved every stage so far. By loved I mean, each stage seems better than the one before, and I have found so much joy in them. That doesn’t mean I have been 100% joyful all the time. Come on people, I am no saint. My boys whine, kick, and hit each other, I shout at them to stop (sometimes even in public!), and meal times are still painfully long and a test of my endurance and will.
The days have been flying by and I realized that I am still unpacking the book tour to Northern Ireland. I am a slow processor. So for those of you who have kept up with my blog, bear with me as I go backwards to move forwards.
I have already written a bit about our first day and some of the wonderful family members we have in NI. So I am ready to move on to Day 2! Which is so funny that I am only on Day 2 of a 5 day stay on the island.
Day 2 was packed, but with all the good stuff! We started our morning off with a mindfulness session led by Pete. This was so timely for each Kelly, Molly, and me. We all found so much value in slowing our step, to take time to pause, to think. We even carried a bit of the practice with us during the trip which I will share later.
After quieting ourselves, Julie drove us to one of the newer coffee shops in The Moy. (Side note: If you live locally you would never say “Moy”, only “The Moy”.) Brew coffee shop is run by two lovely friends of ours. They create a sense of community that always draws people in and do everything in excellence. They have incredible business heads, great senses of humor, and are always up for a good chat! If you are in the area, definitely go, you will not regret it!
Once we were fed and watered, we loaded into the car and headed up the M1 to the Big Smoke, Belfast. Ahh Belfast, I have such romantic, nostalgic feelings about you. We had date evenings in Belfast. Birthday hotel stays, always the Christmas market + annual shopping trips, concerts, and much more. Belfast is culturally and historically rich. It was often our destination for celebrating life too. We spent many anniversaries there, writing in our journals, reflecting on the past year. Recently Bryan and I were chatting about sitting in the Europa hotel, listening to classical music being played on the piano, with the World Cup on in the background. While this was happening we sat and cried, reading our journals together. We were pregnant. Finally, after so many years, so many journal entries of not being pregnant. Here we were, so close to the boys arrival, celebrating our life together, our ups and downs, hurts and heartaches, and feeling so beyond seen by God. Neither of us will ever forget that anniversary.
What I loved about being back in Belfast was that it still held the same feelings. I still love the Big Smoke. I loved that I got to show my friends around to some of our favorite sites. We hit up Established Coffee which was new to me but had been on my list to visit before we left. We went to Victoria Square, City Hall, Cathedral Quarter, Avoca, eventually landing at Made in Belfast near the City Hall. I have always loved it! We would go any chance we got and had many dinners with friends there too over the years. The food and drinks are always incredible and they source as much as they can locally which I love!
After having an early dinner (or tea for my NI friends), we headed back down the motorway to Lurgan. That evening I shared at Emmanuel Church and it was a very intimate evening. I had no idea how many people would be willing to come and identify with infertility in such an open way. A small crowd came, including two supportive husbands. I thought it was brave and beautiful for these men to stand alongside their wives that evening, showing the solidarity of their shared experience of infertility. What was also amazing was that my contact for the event just happened to be a woman who had stayed at our house in Dungannon ten years earlier. We hadn’t seen each other for years but we had a depth due to our shared past. This happens so often in Ireland. It’s one of the most enchanting things about living in such a small place.
Two of my NI sisters also came to support me as they had done over the years simply by being one of the first families to accept us. One of the sweetest surprises was having my first mid-wife turn up to the evening. When I saw her I got quite emotional. So many people played big and small roles in our journey through infertility. Having these face to face moments with so many of them to say “thank you”, to hug them tightly, and to look them in the eyes years later was soul enriching.
Again, I am thankful for the opportunity of sharing with the people that night. After each event you could almost feel the atmosphere open up and people would share more. As our good friend Brene′ Brown says, “Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.” Or at least I think it was her! Anyway, it’s good practice in life.
So where can you breed vulnerability in your own life? I am not talking about sharing your deepest, darkest secrets. I am talking about acknowledging that maybe you feel like you don’t fit somewhere. Do you feel inadequate? Share that. I guarantee someone else will say “me too!”
A few days ago I was sitting in a dentist chair having work done on my teeth. As I sat there, a tv screen was playing the news in front of me, the radio was on in the background, the dentist and hygienist were chatting, and then they began drilling.
I felt like my head was going to explode with all the noise, distractions, and bombardment of the senses in one tiny little room! So I closed my eyes, tuned out the tv and radio, started taking deep breaths and focused on the real people in the room and the conversation they were having about why they never wanted to go to India. I could barely keep from interjecting my love of this special country and it’s beautiful people, but the drill in my mouth did it for me.
People often ask if I “miss Northern Ireland?” I say “yes”. Then they ask “why?”
Quite plainly, it’s a simpler place to live and I feel at home there, like my lungs can fill up fully when I breathe. There is less of everything in a good way. Less people, less traffic, less choice, stores are open fewer hours, and my list could go on. It feels like there’s more space, more quiet, more room to breathe. More time to live, to connect with people, to explore. Maybe that’s why it felt easier to write The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants there.
One place where I feel this is at our good friends Pete and Julie’s house (not to mention countless others who always invited us in for a cuppa or tea, creating space for us at their table and in their lives). Peter and Julie are visionaries and pioneers. They see the future and they bring it into being. I love this quality about them. We have had so many life changing conversations with them over the years, and I look forward to that continuing. They have been willing to be uncomfortable to pursue change that will in the long run create space for them to dream, live freely, and help others do the same. When you walk into their house you are not overwhelmed by noise, music, or stimulus. It’s a warm home, quiet, lived in, and usually calm. Neither Pete nor Julie are loud people but if you know them well, they both have a wicked sense of humor. They create incredibly delicious and healthy food, will allow you to fall asleep on their couch, and can go deep if you need/want to.
They are like family to us and have been for years.
I am so beyond thankful that on my recent visit back for the book tour we were able to stay at their house for our few Dungannon days. They live a spacious life and help others too as well. While staying at their house we had the privilege of taking in a mindfulness training session with Pete that is still bringing about personal transformation in me and my friends since arriving back home. Their friendship and what they teach us is something that we will always treasure. It’s true and beautiful.
Now going back to the noise of that dentist chair.
I have been seeking out ways of living a more quiet, peaceful life. In many ways it felt easier to do this in Northern Ireland. Yet I am determined to create this way of living here, now. Some of this means doing less, seeing fewer people, not turning music on in the car, carefully choosing the podcasts I listen to, and overall taking mini breaks from social media.
I listened to a Rob Bell podcast recently where he talked about “you listening to you”. So much of what he said rang true to where I currently find myself. I am trying to silence the voices so that I can find out what my own voice sounds like as well as the voice of God. I find both our voices usually whisper an invitation, they don’t come cranking out at top volume like the latest pop single on the radio. In order for me to hear these two very key voices, I need silence.
One thing that has been helping tremendously is my new favorite podcast. Thank you Emily P. Freeman for your wonderful work at The Next Right Thing. Your work is so valuable for those of us with decision fatigue, who are longing for space and room to live, move, and breath in the being God created us to be. As well as this shorter than short podcast (which makes it more poignant) I am writing more in my journal, lighting a candle often in the mornings, and simply trying to take deeper breaths. These are things that I did regularly in Ireland, but also felt easier to do there. However, I want to learn to cultivate these and other practices in this new space and time we live in. Busy with work schedules, fun and demanding children, and daily living, these things will be what creates that margin in my day to day that is so vital.
Do you need some space? Do you need some silence? If so, give it to yourself. You will find yourself in those moments and let’s be honest, that’s probably what you are looking for anyway.
Have you ever moved far away from your home and family? Did you wonder if you would make friends? Were you overwhelmed with a sense of panic, realizing you had no clear idea of what you were actually going to do?
Welcome to our move to Northern Ireland! In 2004 we felt strongly that we were meant to move to Northern Ireland. With a home church stateside encouraging us and supportive family and friends, we quit our jobs, sold our cars, and packed away our belongings.
We landed in Belfast with one real contact and a few loose connections. From our first home to the church plant we were invited to that first week, it was evident we were leaning into the mysterious ways of our very BIG God.
Some of the first people we met were Garry and Lynne. They welcomed us into their home, guest room, and kitchen immediately. Our friendship was forged over multiple nights playing cards, laughing till our bellies hurt, eating fajitas, and drinking Whittard orange hot chocolate. If you ever have the chance, request Garry to make it, he adds extra mallows!
Those days marked a carefree season for all of us. No children, no big commitments, no real time constraints. Simply time to invest in deep, meaningful friendship. I thank God for those days so often. The older I get, the more I realize how rare those seasons are in life.
You see, these friends welcomed us not only into their home but into their extended families. For years we spent Christmas day with Garry’s family or Lynne’s. We were treated like a son and daughter, and in fact we still feel that. The family ties are still strong.
So much has changed since those times. Garry and Lynne started their family earlier than us. They have three beautiful children who carry all the good of their parents and then some. We have our beautiful boys. Lynne and I both have lost our fathers. They church planted in a new town. We moved back to the states. Still the friendship remains. Solid, sturdy, like a well weathered rock that refuses to move. Those early days set a strong foundation that cannot be shaken.
It seemed fitting that Lynne was the one who collected us from the airport and that our first event of the book tour was held at their family home. I can’t recall just how many times Garry or Lynne collected us or dropped us off at the airport. It was the most natural way to be greeted! Thank you Lynne!
That first evening was sweet, small, and intimate. I knew some faces and met some new ones. As I looked around and shared, there was such an openness from the women present. The kindness in their eyes, the understanding nods as I shared some of the difficult parts of our infertility journey, the smiles as I shared about our miracle boys that eventually came through ICSI. It was all so sweet.
Many times that day and evening my eyes welled up with tears. Being back in Garry and Lynne’s house, sharing our story and my book, it was so surreal. It was like a tidal wave that had been building for years. For so long the water had been pulling me back, back, and back. I tumbled around, forced by the current underwater, at points feeling like I would never catch my breath.
Then, finally, I caught the wave.
All those years struggling, crying with Garry and Lynne. Having them cry with and for us. Finally getting pregnant, seeing them at the hospital holding our two miracles. Seeing their kids play with our kids. Then coming back to our other home, Northern Ireland. Coming back to all of our other family, all those women and men who invited us into theirs over the years, adopted us like their own. It felt like I finally got my feet on the board and could ride the wave. I know more life will happen. The wave will disappear and I will once again swim out to sea to battle the water. But now I know I can weather the waves and ride them too.
Pipe Dream: An unrealistic hope or fantasy.
Have you ever had a pipe dream? Sure! We all have at some time or another. My most recent pipe dream was to go back to Northern Ireland, do a book tour for The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants (the book I self-published), and to bring along two of my oldest, dearest friends.
My amazing husband, Bryan, was the first one to mention this little fantasy. As soon as he did I couldn’t stop thinking about it. As I let it marinade, I got this little nudge in my gut, that maybe this pipe dream could become a reality. Why not at least throw it out there to my two girlfriends and see what happens?
The two girlfriends I invited were Kelly and Molly. Kelly is a dream activator and freedom fighter. She dreams big and tackles the practicals with grace and confidence. Molly is my sister from another mother, sister wife, on call nurse, and hashtag diva. Between these two I have been privileged to experience the true depths of friendship that covers 19 years, 7 children, and lots of long distance friendship work. So I crossed my fingers, legs, and arms, then threw the idea out there. Within about a week of proposing the idea to my friends, we had somehow managed to book our flights and the trip was no longer a pipe dream but a living, breathing reality.
Husbands were on board, grandparents, and friends were on board, jobs were on board. All the details started coming together and the dream began taking real life shape and form.
At the beginning, I think the nudge I felt was the Holy Spirit getting my attention. This trip was not just about me, my story, and my journey. This trip would be about so much more.
Anytime God calls me to something (or you), it will always involve others in some way. This trip was no different. There were specific reasons both of these girlfriends were meant to come. First of all, I could not have done it without them. I am absolute crap at marketing myself and selling my book. These girls were superstars at it! As women, we are usually more comfortable promoting someone else other than ourselves. Thank you Sheryl Sandberg for making this crystal clear in Lean In!
During the week these friends each found their own gems to bring home which was exactly my hope for them. Not to mention all of the different women we shared with, spoke to, prayed, laughed, and ate with. This trip was a trip of connection. Real life, face to face, personal connection. Yes, we embraced social media’s perks but more than anything we embraced real people with real hugs and real conversations. What a gift!
This trip symbolized so much of what my journey through infertility had been about. Beauty for ashes. A phoenix rising from the flames. Finding a strength within myself that I had never known existed till I had to go to the depths of myself and crawl back out, alive, breathing, and full of hope for the future.
So welcome! This is the beginning of my unraveling of this journey, this pilgrimage, this pipe dream turned reality. Who would have thought that one of the most painful parts of my life could become one of the most fulfilling and joyful?!