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Have I Failed at Lent?

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Can I tell you a little secret? I think I may have failed at Lent this year. Well, at least what I initially set out to achieve this season.

After a very meaningful Advent season and finding ways to connect my faith to my parenting, I was looking forward to more of the same. I started off strong with my daily readings, taking a few minutes to be silent, and then, I just stopped.

For some reason I wasn’t connecting with the readings. They felt long, tedious, wordy, and not very relevant to my daily life. If I’m honest I couldn’t relate to them. The days went by, our schedule felt busy. A few trips to Idaho thrown into the mix and my plan of making Lent come alive was left in the dust.

Dust.

That’s where Lent began. Ash Wednesday. From dust to dust.

Gritty, dirty, dusty.

Now these were words that resonated deep within my soul.

On one of the trips back from Idaho I listened to a new podcast I found called The Desire Line. As the hosts spoke to their guest he shared about how there came a season where his old ways of connecting with God just didn’t seem to work.

My ears perked up.

I have experienced many different seasons and had felt this very thing on numerous occasions. As he went on talking he shared how he began walking and hiking in an attempt to begin communicating again with God in a way that meant something to him. I loved the idea and agreed with the concept. When I got back home to Kirkland and our rhythm of life, I decided to get up before everyone else and go for a walk. No music, no headphones, just Jesus, me, and my thoughts.

Those first few days it was like trying to tune into a fuzzy station to find the right channel. Things in my head felt noisy and distracted. After the third walk I could sense my mind starting to quiet and adjust to this new practice. I could start to hear God’s voice again. Speaking in single words. I could smell the fresh rainfall, hear the birds singing overhead, and appreciate the quiet of the morning. This little gritty path laying before me, letting me walk upon it while I listened, was teaching me.

Then one day I decided to take the boys for a hike on a random Tuesday. We had nothing planned except to burn off some energy. I packed up our lunch, snacks, and away we went. As we walked the easy hiking path I could feel the solid ground beneath my feet. My eyes drawn upward towards the budding branches, brown mingled with shots of brilliant green. Spring fully underway.

The boys chatted non-stop, shouting with delight at each discovery nature had hidden and I didn’t shush them. The woods were strong enough to absorb their loud way of living a four year old existence. We played Star Wars games, skipped rocks, and ran through the forest together. The rest of the day felt easier and the dirt stuck to the tread of my shoes as a reminder of why.

As the evenings have slowly gotten brighter and the weather occasionally cooperating into a mild night, I decided to start weeding the other night. The boys played in the garden as I, on hands and knees, dug up little shoots and roots, pulling them out. As each one came out I could see the remnants of last years gardening project peeking through. The bark from last year was still there and made the area look clean, tidy, and cared for. While I slowly pulled weeds I could feel my breath settle. I could feel my mind focusing on the one task at hand. My shoulders relaxed and so did I. The boys even got excited to help me weed and would take each weed as I pulled it from my hand and place it into the bin. The next morning I washed out the remainder of the dirt from under my finger nails, hinting at the calm it had ushered in.

Most recently, we took a day trip to Alki beach outside of Seattle. We walked along the waters edge. The boys and I walked on ahead as Bryan and his brother Nate chatted. The boys and I collected beach glass, attempted to build a sandcastle with sand that was too dry, and used rocks as army guys who were fighting off Star Wars characters. Eventually the boys paused to play and I laid down in the warm sand. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths, allowing my chest to rise and fall slowly, methodically. I relaxed my eyes, placed my arms behind my head and lay still. The feeling of the sand in my hair, the sound of the water rolling onto the sand close by, the boys voices bubbling out of them in excitement, it awakened my senses.

That’s when I started thinking about how different this Lenten season had been for me. Had I failed? I didn’t think so, or at least I didn’t want to. Then the thought came to me. This Lenten season had been more like a puzzle I was putting together. One piece buried in the mud on our hike, one piece buried in the soil under a weed, another piece lodged between the rocks that get stuck in my trainers after my walk, and then another piece covered by sand and seaweed.

Gritty, dirty, dusty.

That’s where I found Lent this year: in the grit, dirt, and dust. I found myself buried in these simple practices that invite quiet in. In these places I did not have to try to tame the wild of my boys. I did not have to try to keep the house tidy to find a semblance of peace. The grit, dirt, and dust of my life were welcome in these places and so were my boys. I could feel myself rising to the surface in these moments. Not the me that is rushed, stressed out, but the me that pauses, the me that takes in the beauty of the ordinary. These practices had a way of settling me and I was thankful for the discovery.

Maybe this Lenten season what God was resurrecting in me was me. Maybe I had to walk to hear His voice. Maybe I had to take my boys outdoors to be a more engaged mother. Maybe I had to pull weeds up one at a time to appreciate the length of time it will take to grow that which can never be uprooted in me. Maybe like the beach glass, that becomes smooth and polished after being pummeled, I am being made smooth and less abrasive. Just maybe.

So maybe I didn’t fail Lent this year, maybe I found it for the first time.

How have you practiced or observed Lent this year? Was it meaningful, rich, and full? Or did it feel stale and dry? Pay attention to the answer. It could be time to take a walk and quiet yourself too.

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The Simple Life

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There are seasons of life that can be full of complexities and I have lived through many. An upheaval of the day to day, the loss of a parent, years longing for a family; these times can feel long, out of control, and very uncomfortable. During these periods of life I remember longing for a simpler, less complex life.

Right now life feels simple and it feels true and good. The days consist of Bryan, the boys, work, laundry, cooking, digging deeper into friendships, and little family traditions. When things are complex we often get bogged down with our thoughts and analyzing why life is so difficult which is completely normal. Then the dust settles. Some type of normalcy appears and we slip into it not really giving it much thought.

Well today I nod my head to simplicity. To a walk by myself in nature where the quiet is calming. To our morning coffee ritual of a rich, French press poured hot into my Papa’s old mug. I nod my head to weekly meal and activity planning. To naps with my boys where they cup my chin in their hand and we fall asleep. To building LEGOS with my boys more times than I can count. To baking cookies with Cohen and having chats with Kidran about his favorite Star Wars characters. To the times when Bryan comes home from work, walking straight into a wrestling match. To the times sitting on the couch once the boys have gone down. To turning off my phone when I lay down at night and shut my eyes.

This is my simple life. It’s sweet, not glamorous, but rich and full. I am thankful for this simple season. Is it always easy or fun? Definitely not. Yet it is true and real.

If you find yourself in a complex season of life I hope it transitions to a simpler existence soon and subtly. Until then, search for the quiet life. It may not solve the difficulties but it can help you hear your own voice more clearly and that of God which is always a good place to start.

Enneagram 4: The Individualist

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I am a 4 on the Enneagram, the Individualist. One of the deepest rooted desires for 4’s is to be authentic and feeling special while being uniquely flawed. I don’t mind the first part of that because I value authenticity. The second part, the being special part and feeling out of place, well hmmm.

I recently listened to a pastor talk about 4’s and our need to be seen as special while at the same time feeling like we don’t really fit in. (Insert the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, his crazy dreams and yep, there you have it, a 4 in the Bible!) He spoke about how we most likely always have felt different or special. As I listened I cringed. This was me. Growing up I lived with a sense, or a weird awareness that I was special. Even as I type that I’m slightly embarrassed. Yes, I did feel special growing up but I thought that was partly because my parents did a great job at making me feel loved and yes, special. Along with feeling special, 4’s often feel fatally flawed. We feel like something is wrong with us and once again, I identify with that too.

Now that I’m older, I haven’t been able to shake the “special” feeling or the “flawed” feeling. It feels strange to admit this and uncomfortably honest. As a 4 I can often struggle with feelings of being misunderstood. By me admitting to this nagging special feeling means I will most likely be misunderstood. There in lies the dilemma.

However, as I have done a tiny bit of reading and looking into my type partnered with age and experience, I am coming to accept the special part of me as a gift along with the flawed part. By acknowledging these feelings, which let me clarify are simply that, feelings, I am not saying I am in any way more special, or more flawed than anyone else. Heavens knows that’s the farthest thing from the truth. What I am coming to terms with is that feeling special isn’t bad and feeling out of place isn’t either. These opposing feelings make me long to share my special or unique perspective with the world while also motivate me to keep trying to find the places I do fit. They are my yin and yang. By experiencing these polar opposite feelings, I long to identify with others in ways that only I can so that hopefully they feel more understood, seen if you will. I also let people know how screwed up I can feel at times, regardless of it’s truth or not, it can feel true and make a person feel isolated. These two traits are my shadow and light.

As I have learned more about my enneagram type, I see it’s impact in so many areas of my life. The other night I was hit with the reality of how our personality type can especially influence our parenting. I had been working from the afternoon through to the evening and had missed dinner and getting the boys to bed. The flawed part of me felt like I had really let my boys down by being at work, not being the one to feed them and get them to bed (the lie I told myself). When I arrived home Bryan had put the boys to bed but said they were waiting for me to come say goodnight. I walked back to their room still in my fancy work clothes (let’s be honest, I play at parks and slide down slides most days), opened their door, and I became immediately intoxicated with my two blonde headed bundles snuggled up in their Star Wars blankets.

I went to Kidran first, as he sleeps on the bottom bunk these days. He was laying face out and was already sleeping. He has been pretty sick these past few days and I could see the exhaustion on his face. I kissed his warm cheek, stared at him for a few seconds, brushed his hair away from his closed eyes, and swooned. Cohen however, popped straight up and gave me a huge excited grin. His sparkling eyes met mine and the way he looked at me made my heart explode. He could barely contain his infectious excitement about the fact that our bodies have bones in them and had to tell me all about it. Then he pointed to his ribs and told me to feel them. I obliged and he said “See momma, I told you.” As he finished telling me about the rest of his day I told him I loved him and he said he loved me too. He leaned over the edge of the top bunk for a goodnight kiss and then laid back down. As I walked out of their room and shut the door, I was overcome with emotion. In that moment I felt like the most special person in the world.

You see, one of the greatest gifts of being a mother has been getting to know these two humans who are my sons and allowing them to get to know me. They see all aspects of me daily. They see the good, the bad, the ugly. They see but don’t seem to notice the oily hair days, the days when I am grumpy or emotional, or the days I don’t want to play as much with them. Still I know that they see within me something special and they respond to that with the most unconditional love. They also see my very real flaws and accept those too, in turn helping me accept them. This is truly one of the greatest gifts of my motherhood so far.

Lately Kidran has told me on a few occasions that I am his “sweetheart” and I will take it. I am his person for now. For how long I don’t know but I will soak in that reality for as long as it remains true. Bryan is Cohen’s person but man that boy knows how to look at me in a way that already breaks down any inkling of feeling out of place. These boys help me see that I am special and flawed, but that both are acceptable and equal parts beautiful. To them, I am “their” special momma, I am “their” flawed momma and that’s what matters.

Who are you special to? Who’s eyes do you make light up? Take time today to value your own specialness. Soak in all that makes you who you are. Also take time to value the shadows of your own personality, the parts that don’t feel as acceptable for we need both to make them work.

*If you haven’t taken the Enneagram free test yet, I highly recommend it!

“Open a Vein”

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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.

11.

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!