When I was in high school, I liked English. My teacher however made it very clear to me, on more than one occasion, that English did not like me. She held my paper up, covered in red marks, in front of both classes, and announced that I made the most mistakes in both her classes. It was a defining moment. From that point on, I became pretty insecure about my ability to write throughout high school.
Imagine my surprise then, when I tested out of the basic English composition class to move onto the next level when I arrived at college! It gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, I could actually write. Combine that spark with years of journaling, and I decided to ignore my high school teachers decision of my ability.
I did this when I started blogging for the community coffee shop I opened in Northern Ireland called The Press. I would share about the experiences in the coffee shop and announce our upcoming events. I LOVED IT! Writing had always been an outlet and at that point I started to find my own voice.
Fast forward a few years. Bryan and I decided to give IVF one last shot, no pun intended! I figured the easiest way to keep people informed of our progress was through my personal blog. I had only one or two entries at that point. I guess I also need to rewind and insert this little fact. Through the years that we struggled with infertility I also journaled. I used my writing as a way of processing my pain, as a way of praying, as a way of dealing with the grief I carried, but didn’t always want the world to know. I also didn’t want to consistently be “Debbie Downer” by always talking about the sadness I felt. This could be partly my personality or partly the lies we believe that people can’t handle our pain and suffering, I’m not really sure.
Anyway, back to what I was saying. Years before the blog started, Bryan and I had made a special trip to London to see Phantom of the Opera with the London cast. It was one of my bucket list items. It happened around my 30th birthday along with our first failed round of IVF. As we sat having dinner in a little Italian restaurant across from the theater, we decided that someday, when our family had finally arrived, by whatever means it came, that we would share our story in a book.
That moment has arrived. The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants is our story from my personal perspective. I allow you to crack open pages of my own journals, private pictures, sketches and my honest response to the struggle of infertility. I really hold nothing back. I am not trying to shock people, but I am trying to wake people up. This issue is painful. Painful for those struggling and painful for those who are watching someone struggle. 1 out of every 8 couples will deal with infertility now, 1 out of 8!!! Next time you are around that many couples, just look around because I would bet my own money that someone you know really well is struggling. It’s that real friends.
This book took me almost two years to complete. Life happened in a not so kind way almost immediately after I had the full manuscript completed. My father was diagnosed with cancer. At times the book felt like a burden I couldn’t shake while dealing with the grief of watching my father deteriorate. Other times it felt like an escape and a lifeline. What definitely helped was writing. Writing has become a way of life for me. Thanks to authors like Shauna Niequist, Jen Hatmaker, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Brene′ Brown, I began to believe in the power of my own voice. I also had my husband and amazing family and friends cheering me on too!
So the other night, March 12th at 7 p.m. I had my very first book launch! I was overwhelmed to see so many lovely faces come. Some I hadn’t seen in years, and some I have only recently become friends with. It was a beautiful collection of people and I am so grateful for each person taking the time to come and support me in such a tangible way.
Now I have the privilege of promoting this much needed book. I get to share my story again and again with people. Validating each time that what I went through, what we went through, and maybe what you are going through will not be wasted if we let it help and guide others. Our pain truly can bring comfort to someone else’s suffering, if we will let it. It means standing with our hands open instead of with clenched fists.
“I would describe infertility as a process of purification. You go through the fire, but at the end you come out your truest self.” p. 51 The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants
What have you experienced by way of pain in your life? Are you willing to open that area up to even just one person? If so, I think you will find there is healing there. There is purpose in your pain there. There is also forward momentum that helps you leave the past in the past and move towards your future with hope and joy. Please share your story, the world needs it!
We all write for specific reasons. Some people write to speak out, persuade or promote. I write to help me process the seasons of life I find myself in. (I am slightly more introverted and get stuck in my head A LOT). I am not writing to try to tell you how to live your life or persuade you to follow me or share my blog. All of those things are good and fine, and if you want to by all means please do, especially if it will help someone else! But those reasons are not my motivation. So today, if you are going to read my blog I would encourage you to grab a cup of your favourite beverage and get comfortable. This is going to be a winding road.
Today I write to help me release my tears, my heavy heart, the unknowns of the future and help me to live in the present. When I write I reflect, stand back and absorb all that my sweet, simple life encompasses. And right now I am reflecting on my Father, laying in a hospital bed in Utah because he is battling cancer. I want to be there, with him and my Mom, holding their hands. But I am here in Idaho because my reality is being a Mum to twin toddler boys who will soon be three. A whole different post will be for that fact!
Let me back up a bit for those just starting this journey with me. Last July Bryan, my husband and our twin sons moved back to Kirkland, WA. My husband received a job opportunity at our old university and we felt it was the right time to take it. Fast forward a few months of being back and my Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Over the coming months he went through his first surgery removing tumors on his neck which then came back within three weeks (not six months as the doctors suggested). He then went through six weeks of radiation five days a week. Unfortunately this did not work. Surgery number two was completed I think around May. Still they were not able to get all the cancer. It was at that point that my amazing and supportive brothers strongly encouraged a second opinion which I agreed with too. It was time.
With the second opinion came more options which we have been so thankful for. The doctors started immunotherapy about three weeks ago and were hopeful that it would kick in and start building up the strong cells to help them fight off the cancer. So Tuesday my Mom, Dad and sister in law left for Utah. When they arrived at his appointment Wednesday morning they admitted him to the hospital at the Cancer Clinic because his blood sugar was dangerously high. Since then we have been living through text messages, phone calls, waiting on CT scan reports, etc. All the processes you go through with cancer treatment. It’s not smooth sailing for sure but more a knot-in-the-stomach-producing kind of thing. Through yesterday and today we have found out that they will most likely skip immunotherapy and move to chemo. My Dad also has a blood clot in his neck and they are struggling to keep his blood sugar under control. All of this means that my parents will be staying in Utah till at least Sunday. Of course I wish they were here but again I am so thankful for the team of specialists who are attacking this from all sides and working so hard to heal him.
I feel like I need to say it publicly too that I am believing for a miracle for my Papa. The kind that means we will have him around for many years to come. That he will be here for birthdays, Christmas, summer trips to the Oregon Coast or the mountains of McCall. Yet right now I am in the waiting. The waiting is where I write. The waiting is where I fall back on my ways of finding comfort.
For so many years the place I found peace and comfort dealing with life was on the North Coast of Ireland.
Here is one of the many coastlines that we frequented when we lived there. This picture was sent to me by a good friend in NI (that is her husband, another dear friend). She sent it to me to bring me comfort and it did just that. It reminded me of the times that I cried out to God about our desire to have a family. I cried more times than I can remember up on that coast. I did deep soul work on those beaches and rocks, the kind that cannot be shaken or shifted. That work is still there, rooted in me. I still long for those shores on a daily basis and even more now when life feels uncertain and foggy. Don’t get me wrong. I am beyond thankful that we are here for this season. Being in NI while this is going on would have been more like torture. So in God’s good grace he allowed us to be close, so very close and for that I am thankful. I have traveled to Idaho six times since we moved back. Yet my soul wants the air, the rolling hills and the cliffs to ponder on. Just for a day. To cry out to God once more in the place that feels familiar. A place where I fought off my own doubts and found a new kind of faith.
Another way I find help is by connection. I have done this by sending out more texts than I can recall asking for prayer and support as my family is walking this road. Earlier today I was listening to a podcast by Jen Hatmaker with Brene′ Brown and one of the very first things Brene′ says is that we are hardwired for connection.
I wholeheartedly agree with that statement! Hence why I have been burning up my phone updating friends on what’s going on and asking for more prayer. The connection to my husband, family and friends has been so important not only for me but for my Dad and Mom too. They have been bolstered up by the support they are receiving from people who care so deeply for them.
Music is also healing for me. Before we left Northern Ireland last year, a good friend gave us this album by Foy Vance.
The album washed over my broken heart as we packed up our sweet home and traveled the North coast of Ireland one final time before moving stateside. Since returning it has been a balm to my heart on many occasions. It is no different right now. One of the songs Foy sings is called Burden and it says this:
Come to me, my brother, and I will sit with you a while
Pretty soon I’ll see you smile and you know you will
No matter how much you’re hurting right now
You know that everything will change in time
So let me carry your burden
This song makes me weep right now. What our family is carrying is a burden. We are hurting. But the promise is that everything will change in time. I find comfort in knowing that this is not forever. I am hopeful and believing this for my Dad. That he will not be sick, that he will be well. That he will feel like himself again and smiles will come easy and last long. But I am so thankful for songs like this that speak to me at such a core level.
I am also finding peace by grabbing the moments that I can (as limited as I feel) and be in the present.
My Dad hasn’t liked having his picture taken for awhile but I have been taking pics of him anyway. Us in our sunglasses with our sweet smiles, love it! My Dad and the boys in their adorable little boy underwear, pure Mommy love! The boys celebrating their third birthday a little early on the deck at my parents with my Mom, eldest brother and his wife, such a sweet evening! The boys exploring every inch of my younger brothers property usually in just their nappy or pajamas, I can’t get enough! These are the moments that help to keep me here and now, in the sweetness of life while still tasting the bitter. (Thanks again Shauna Niequist for that wonderful book Bittersweet!)
As I sit here and finish writing this blog, the boys are awake from their nap and now are watching another show. They have had way too many treats and late bedtimes. But this is the last way I am processing. By being gracious towards myself. This weird in-between is not forever. Soon enough we will be back in our home, in our routine. Bedtimes will get earlier, treats will be fewer as will shows. Yet for today, I am smothering myself in tons of grace. And sometimes that grace looks like bending the rules for all of us.
I want to say thank you to each and every one of you who are praying for my Dad and our family. It means to much to us all. Please continue! And to the different artists/authors who have contributed unknowingly to my life, thank you for what you have brought to the table. It is helping more people than you can possibly imagine, including me.
Nearly 12 years ago Bryan and I boarded a plane to Northern Ireland not knowing what the future would hold. I remember so clearly getting ready to land and feeling a wave of panic crash over me. What on earth were we doing? Why were we moving? Why had we sold almost everything we owned and quit good paying jobs? Were we insane? The decision to move seemed risky and a bit silly in that moment but we were confident that we would see purpose in our move as time unfolded. At that point we had no idea what road lay ahead of us, especially the journey we would embark on to begin our family.
Over those 12 years we saw amazing things happen in our town and church. We grew individually, as a couple and eventually as a family. We traveled a ton and we dug deep into relationships with people here. Many of those people became our Northern Irish family. The Archers for instance. I can’t recall how many Christmases we spent with their family because they adopted us that very first year and began a new tradition for us. Our lives were full and busy. Bryan’s job as a youth pastor became so fulfilling and we walked alongside so many young people at very poignant times in their lives. I remember quite a few teens asking us ‘Do you think God kept you from having kids for so long so that you could help the teens in Dungannon?’ We don’t know the answer to that but we have loved our life here. Not every day was blissful or easy but the total of pretty outstanding days far outweighs the hard days. Northern Ireland became part of our tapestry, woven into us in so many unexpected ways and we will never truly be gone or leave this place, no matter the physical miles.
In a few short months we will board a plane again, a plane carrying us back to America because opportunity has presented itself. Bryan has been hired as the Head Women’s Soccer Coach at our old college Northwest University. It is an incredible position and we feel so honoured to have Bryan take the post. Come mid July we will be flying back ‘home’. The problem is that Northern Ireland has become home for us and our boys.
After such a long period of time here we feel Northern Irish in many ways. How we view life, culture and family is through a Northern Irish lens. There are so many things that we love about living here. The list of pros is much longer than the cons. Yet by moving back to the states we will have the privilege of living much closer to family which is a huge blessing. Still, as much as we know this is the right move at the right time, our hearts are still aching at the thought of the goodbyes to come.
Last week we had a memorable week with Bryan’s youngest brother Nathan, his wife Marisa and their 21 month old son Lincoln. The time was spent letting our boys play together, trips to Dublin, Belfast, the North Coast and the Argory, sharing about life and getting properly caught up as Nathan and Marisa recently uprooted themselves from the last frontier of Alaska and moved to Lebanon. The day before they were due to leave our electric wok came up. Long story short, the plugs in Lebanon are the same as in the UK so I sent our electric wok with them, back to their new home.
I know it’s just a wok, but it is also something more. That wok was a gift to me from my very dear friends Paul and Hilary. I had the joy of nannying their twins for nearly two years. When I used it and I did often, I thought of them. I would make family style meals in it. One of my favourites became a yummy risotto recipe from Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. Another good friend, Julie, introduced me to Shauna’s writing by giving me my first Shauna Niequist book called Bittersweet. This came at a time when I was going through the throws of infertility. I was also running a small coffee shop called The Press Coffee Shop. The name came from a trip I made to Belfast with my friend Carol. We talked about the coffee shop and it’s aims. I wanted it to be a place where those who were feeling pressed by life could come and be cared for. Infertility had been pressing me for many years and the name seemed fitting. These types of examples and stories of friendship could go on and on. Everything about everything feels connected to this place and the last 12 years and I don’t know how yet to connect our life here to our life there.
Believe it or not, I feel my heart had been gently and kindly prepared for this decision from the moment we arrived back home in January. As we settled back into life we went through a major declutter. I got rid of so much stuff as did Bryan. I hung pictures on the walls that I had meant to hang for the past two years. As I was hanging the pictures one day I felt in my spirit that I should ‘Hold it loosely’. When I heard it my subconscious knew that change was ahead but I also set it on a shelf in a room away from my everyday life and closed the door.
I know that this is the right move for us. I know that with my head but my heart has not caught up yet. I kinda want to know when it will catch up. Time is usually the thing that helps connect the two and I have a feeling it will work in this case. Yet these are just a few of the things that are causing me to shed tears and weep a little nearly everyday so far.
Our boys won’t have the Northern Irish twang that we have grown to love.
We won’t be able to drive through the green, rolling hills to the North Coast.
We will miss our neighbours, the McCammon’s, who we have done so much life with like our Sunday lunches, holidays and our frequent evening gatherings.
We will leave behind our boys first bedroom, the room I cradled them in so many nights.
We will leave behind our church family that has taught us how to live in community.
The list could go on and on but I will stop there as my eyes are filling with tears as I type this. Please heart, catch up with my head soon. I want to love these last few months here in our home and I don’t want to cry everyday. Speak to me God, of the promises of a good future, good plans and good purposes for pulling up our roots and planting them somewhere else. I choose to trust You. Thank you for the gift of the last 12 years.