The note.

Note: A version of this blog post was originally written on April 2, 2018 and posted to a blog on Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The other day my dad left a note on the cupboards above the sink. Bold, all caps, serif font, black letters on a sheet of white paper: PLEASE CLEAN UP YOUR MESS.

For years now, my dad has refused to do chores in the house because it’s “not his mess,” but recently he’s gotten so bold as to not only not help, but to remind me of how much he thinks I’m lacking.

When I saw the sign I immediately grabbed it, went to his room and yelled at him. How dare you! I said. He accused me of not cleaning up my mess and the mess that my family makes.

I reminded him that while he’s busy fussing about yesterday’s dishes, I clean up the bits of hair in the sink every time after he shaves; I wash the bathroom sink and the toilet that he uses; I clean the bathroom floor and the rugs and usually the bath (unless my mom cleans it) that he showers in every day; I cook for my family; I wash my family’s laundry, fold and put it away while my mom does all that for him; I vacuum; I wash the windows; I keep my room, my girls’ room, the living room and all living areas cleaned up and organized every single day.

In contrast, his living spaces are a mess; they’re chaotic. Since I was little I’ve always known that dad will buy something and it will be ruined within a few months because he doesn’t care for his things. Perhaps a symptom of bipolar behavior — he buys a lot when he’s manic and then when his mania dissipates, it’s all left to rot. The green house, the garden, the raised garden bed, the barbecue, the boat, the bike, the pans and cooking utensils that he left outside after a summer barbecue several years ago, the rabbit cages, the compost bin that itself became compost because it rotted in the Seattle rain for nearly a decade, his desk that is falling apart, the computer that is filthy due to not caring for it.

But he was annoyed because I hadn’t done the dishes the day before.

He didn’t care that I had worked early on Tuesday morning and had to take naps on Tuesday and Wednesday because I was so exhausted from my part-time and full-time jobs (being a mom and homemaker — that’s the full-time one). He doesn’t have a job and he was never a parent to us, so maybe he’s incapable of understanding how tired I was.

His days look very different. When he’s depressed he spends the day going between the computer and his bed where he watches videos on his phone. When his phone’s battery dies, he goes back to the computer until his phone is charged, and repeat. Every single day for months at a time. When he’s manic he will obsess about the same thing for hours that turn into days that turn into months. One manic episode he spent every day walking. He would walk upwards of 20-25 miles a day, going nowhere, planning for nothing, just to walk, just because his mania compelled him to. During another manic episode he went to nearby parks in the fall and raked leaves, gathering 30, 40, 50 or more industrial sized black garbage bags full of leaves for his compost pile. He did this daily throughout the fall. He left 20+ bags for us to slowly put in the yard waste for months after his mania turned back into depression.

But still, he left a note.

I told him he’s a coward. That at nearly 70 years old he should know how to be a grown up and use his words. Only a child or a coward writes a note instead of speaking face-to-face. I brought the confrontation to him since he was too cowardly to bring it himself.

Maybe he acted cowardly because he knew that I would talk back. Because a note is a one-way conversation– unless it’s a note to me. I’m not one to take a passive aggressive note and put it in my pocket. I’m the one who throws it right back and demands an explanation.

I assume that’s why he doesn’t like me. I don’t know when he stopped liking me. Or when I became the enemy, but somewhere along the line, when he realized I would speak up, when he realized that I would not remain silent, when he realized that I would not give him the control,  — somewhere along the line he stopped liking me.

Today, my sweet 4-year-old daughter figured it out. (Really, she figured it out when he left the note, but today her heart spoke.)

Mommy, grandpa doesn’t like you. she said. But it’s ok because I like you!

I like you too, I said.

He sat right there. He sat on the couch, previously engaged in conversation with my sweet Sofie, twiddling his thumbs on his phone, completely aware of what she was saying. And yet he said nothing.

Sofie, that’s not nice. Sofie, that’s not true. — words that you would expect a father to say at such an accusation. My father said nothing. He didn’t even flinch. Because it is true. He doesn’t like me and he hasn’t for a very long time.

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Chaos.

The experience of living with someone who is narcissistic and bipolar is impossible to explain. Chaos, maybe, is the closest word to describe it, but what does that even mean? What does it mean to someone who hasn’t experienced the chaos of daily life with a narcissist?

Mental illness is nearly invisible unless you know what you’re looking for or unless you’re in close contact with the person who is mentally ill (ie. daily contact). Even my father’s closest friends would defend him because he’s so good at hiding his mental illness from them.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is even harder to see because NPD sufferers are excellent showmen.  In the mind of a narcissist, he is never wrong; he is the greatest, the most worthy of admiration and respect and will do whatever it takes to maintain that reputation. Anyone who disagrees is defamed and smeared, made out to be the villain. And so I am the villain (though I wear that badge proudly).

For my dad, here’s what that means…

  • Being overly involved in church to appear religious — men’s groups, volunteering, teaching Sunday school (even though he’s not allowed to be alone with his own granddaughters)– but refusing to have a job or do any work in and around the house;
  • Talking with his friends and the pastor about my mom and smearing her name as an “unbeliever” and a “faithless woman” because she doesn’t have faith in him after he went behind her back and spent thousands of dollars (forgive me, I can’t recall what it was he spent the money on that time — there have been dozens of times he’s spent hundreds or thousands without her knowing);
  • It’s telling his child that his new MLM business that he’s hiding from his wife (after several failed attempts at others and thousands of dollars down the drain) is more important than being that child’s father. So he chooses the business over his child and refuses to tell his wife, again;
  • It’s tearing up my mom’s favorite flowers to build a worm bin and a new compost pile in it’s place while she’s away on vacation, then telling her he did it for her even though she told him she didn’t want it. She mourns the foxgloves along with the rest of us;
  • It’s telling his church community in front of his wife that he’s retired, without having discussed it with his wife and while being nearly $100,000 in debt. It’s forcing his wife to work well into her 70’s because of his failed businesses and selfishness in choosing not to work;
  • It’s denying all of those things to everyone so that his name is still revered. If I were to read this list to him he would deny every last thing. He would say it’s all lies. But the lies in fact are his. It’s lies on lies on lies.

It’s those things over and over and over again, every day of my life, never knowing what each day will bring. I wish I could say that was all he’s done, but I hardly scratched the surface with those few examples.

You can’t truly understand what it’s like unless you’ve lived it — to wake up every day and not know if your life will be turned upside down by a choice that he makes, to anxiously listen in on phone calls hoping to hear of how he plans to deceive you and your family next so you can stop it before it starts, to be afraid to speak up because of his rage, the anger that once paralyzed you.

Though I’ve learned to find my voice and to not be afraid of speaking up (more on that next week), the new challenge is being heard. Perhaps the reason that it’s taken me so long to speak up is because I’m afraid of being the villain. I’m afraid that my words will be met with criticism and disbelief. And to be honest, I won’t be surprised when they are. When a narcissist silences you for most of your life, it becomes nearly impossible to dispel the lies. They keep coming and coming and coming.

It’s complete chaos.

Mania.

The sun brings out so many good things. With the turning of seasons come buds– new life around us and new life in us. It’s the end of SAD for so many and the beginning of lighter, easier days. Seattleites (myself included) breathe a sigh of relief at the sight of blue skies and buds on trees and the hope of warmer, brighter days.

For others it’s different — with the end of depression comes the beginning of mania. It’s his secret phone calls outside or in the car, hiding, always hiding; secret packages delivered almost daily and the wondering (from us) how much money it all costs; it’s meticulous/obsessive meal planning and calorie counting — a drastic change from the noodles-and-butter diet of the depressed stage; it’s the always-wondering and always-hoping that nothing will be destroyed in the wake of his manic episode. But most assuredly something will be destroyed — the relationship, the bank account, the garden.

And the cycle continues over and over and over again. Just as seasons change from winter to spring, so those seasons change, too, from their own kind of winter to spring — yet from one darkness to another, and never spring.

With the same breath I breathe a sigh of relief that the sun has returned and lifted my own mood, yet hope that his manic episode doesn’t leave as much destruction as last time. But I know that it will. It always does, and it always will— as long as the seasons endure.

Bikes on the Lawn

Sofie keeps asking me, “Mom, is it still summer?” I tell her it is, technically speaking, — that although school has started and though I wore my favorite bomber jacket to work today, technically yes, it’s still summer for another week and a half.

I’ve been reluctant for this season to go; perhaps that’s why I’m still stretching it out for as long as the calendar with let me truthfully tell her yes, it’s still summer. I love fall. I love everything about it—the trees changing colors, the fresh air in my lungs as I breathe a sigh of relief at our return to routine, the soups and breads, and cozy sweaters and jackets that accompany them in warming me on a cool, crisp day. I love every bit of it, except one thing. I hate saying goodbye to summer. And this summer, especially so.

When summer began we raced our way through each week with play dates every other day and the sprinkler on the days in between. We gardened and made popsicles and coffee-dated at the beach and play-dated at the spray-park. We soaked up every bit of what makes summer summer.

And then the smoke came and there was a month where we didn’t go many places because our eyes burned and our lungs choked on the smoke. But also in that month was something else, something so beautifully different about the second half of our summer, the reason I’m so reluctant to let it go— the bikes strewn across the lawn. This has been my favorite part about summer; something I didn’t think I’d see for a very long time. Yet there it was, like a mirror that reflects the not-so-distant past.

Not so long ago it was our bikes on this lawn and us playing hide ‘n seek. We owned this turf. It was our open-aired, un-gated playground for our uninhibited imaginations. We played ’til we were called home for dinner and then we played some more ’til we could no longer see well enough for the seeker to find.

Those summers were the best of our lives — or so we told ourselves; I was sure it was true.

We lived in the moment, for the moment, moment by moment, in the moments between meals when the world was ours. It came so naturally that we never could have imagined we’d soon struggle to treasure the very moments that once gave our lives meaning. That as adults it would become about making it to the next meal, the next break, the next deep breath, making it through each moment of every day instead of relishing in each moment that made us feel alive.

We as adults are on the same earth, breathing the same air, but we breathe in differently now, taking deep breaths and exhaling sighs. No longer do we exhale laughter and imaginative stories. We left them in our childhood along with the unwavering thrill of a summer day.

These bikes on the lawn don’t belong to me and my fellow cops ‘n robbers, but they belong to wild hearts, hearts as wild as ours once were. They belong to the ones who own this turf, who inherited from us. As we passed into adulthood, leaving behind our spirited youth, so these wild ones took our place and claimed it for their own.

This last month of summer brought it to my attention — the beauty of childhood found in a carefree summer day. It was the giggles and the “eenie, meeny, miny, moes” and the counting to ten while their friends all hid. It was the conversations with 8-year-olds while they lunched at our house or asked to pick plums from our backyard and the playing catch and the climbing of trees. But mostly, it was the bikes strewn across the lawn.

As fall draws nearer and the darkness closer, I’m reminded of all the changes that will come as the leaves start changing colors. In Seattle this means the rain comes and neighbors stay inside. It means I won’t see bikes on the grass or hear giggles through the open window for much longer.

It’s a temporary shift as we put on our winter coats and hibernate until spring, but this year it doesn’t feel so temporary. Yes, summer will come again, but in this next year it’s most likely that one of us will move away. We’ll be looking for a home of our own and our friends will be looking for a different home to fit their growing family. Oh, what a bittersweet end to this beautiful season we’ve had.

Soon we’ll have a different lawn and different wild hearts to know and adventure with. This summer will always have a special place in my heart though, for it was the first. The first summer where my girls found independence and friendship and adventure and knew that every second of it was truly as perfect as it seemed; the one where they lived in each moment and for the moment and moment by moment; where the thrill of summer was imprinted on their wild hearts.

This is the one I’ll remember, too, the one I’ll write on my own heart: the one with the bikes strewn across the lawn. And I’m sure that’s why I’m so reluctant to let it go.

So, yes, dear Sofie, it’s still summer. And it will still be summer until September 22nd, or for as long as we can hold onto it. But when the leaves change color, and when we stop opening the windows to feel the summer breeze, and when we start counting down the days ’til the pumpkin farm, — there will be beauty there, too, and I know we’ll find it, together, your wild heart and mine.

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Goodnight Moon: I’m the Old Lady Whispering Hush

If you read Goodnight Moon as a child, you’ll find a room full of wonder. There are kittens playing, a mouse scurrying about. There is the picture of the cow jumping over the moon, and there is stargazing from a cozy bed.

When you read it as an adult, you probably know that it’s one of the most popular children’s books and that it is known as a literary piece of art. Though I agree, I think it’s also so. much. more. (And in fact, much simpler than what it might seem at first.)

If you’re a parent, this story will sound very familiar. This little bunny just doesn’t want to sleep. He puts it off in every way possible for one very long hour.

Little bunny is a handful. If you’ve read Runaway Bunny, you know the imagination and energy this little bunny has. He’s a little rascal. Goodnight Moon is no exception–

In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of — The cow jumping over the moon

And, and, and…

The little bunny’s eyes just can’t stop.

On the first page we see him sitting in his bed looking at the telephone (the first thing listed) and the list keeps going, until he’s listed just about everything of importance in that little green room.

Tonight as I read the book to my own little girls, I noticed something very important about the illustrations — the clock. Have you ever looked closely enough to notice the hands on the clock or the moon rising? Quite a bit of time passes in this short little story while the bunny is saying good night.

On the first page it’s 7:00pm. It’s bedtime (the bunny is sitting in bed), but the lights are on.

On the next colored page it’s 7:10pm and we’re shown the chair where the old lady will eventually sit, but she’s not there, only her knitting is there. I like to think she’s tucking the little bunny in to bed.

After the list of things in the room has concluded, (the page right after we’re shown the old lady whispering “hush”), it’s already 7:20pm.

Have you noticed the old lady whispering “hush”? As a parent I can totally identify with her. How many times do I yell at my 4-year-old to, “PLEASE BE QUIET AND GO BACK TO BED!”? — It’s a lot. Well, apparently, so does the mama bunny (except she’s whispering — I imagine a loud whisper and a strong HUSH).

The old lady is knitting in her chair, the lights are off, except the little night light on the bedside table, and the little bunny begins to say goodnight.

As the little bunny says goodnight to absolutely everything in his room, he climbs out of bed to turn around and look at his pictures– “good night bears, good night chairs.” Then on the next page that we see him, he’s sitting in his bed, untucked, and looking around at the room — “good night clocks, and good night socks.” Next, he’s turned to look at his bedside table — “good night comb and good night brush.” By this time, it’s already 7:50pm. This little bunny has been awake for 50 minutes after mama bunny first put him into bed. Or to be generous — 40 minutes since she tucked him in.

I definitely wouldn’t be whispering hush at this point. That little bunny would probably get some slightly-more-frustrated words from me.

His mind is racing. His eyes are darting all over the room. He’s full of energy, he’s climbing out of bed, he’s doing everything except lying his furry little head on the pillow, and his mama just wants him to sleep.

Can anyone relate? *every mom ever raises her hand*

“Mom, I need a glass of water!”
“Ummm, mommyyyy, I just wanted to say I love you.”
“Moooooommmyyyyyyy, I’m huuuuungry.” (Bowl full of mush, anyone?)
“Mommy! I NEED TO TELL YOU SOMETHING! Umm… I forgot.”

Finally the bunny is back in bed and he says, “good night to the old lady whispering ‘hush,'” and I can only assume that he’s looked as much as a bunny can look at everything in his room, so he gets back around to mama bunny to say good night and she whispers loudly again for him to HUSH.

Mama bunny is so done. Look how her knitting is all collected. Kittens are no longer playing with the knitting. They’re looking longingly at her, but she’s having none of it. She means serious business. “Listen, little bunny. I finished my knitting and I’m tired and I want to go to bed. You need to HUSH and go to sleep!” He knows she means business so he lies down, gets cozy in his covers, and his eyes wander to the window — “good night stars, good night air,”

“good night noises everywhere” — and he’s out.

FINALLY. This bunny is asleep. An hour later. That’s right. Take a look at the clock. It’s now 8:10pm.

Oh mama bunny, I totally get it. I’ve had my fair share of late nights and my own little bunnies with wandering eyes and big imaginations. Bed time is exhausting. But know that you’re not alone.

Who knew that this little classic children’s book could also be a salute to parents everywhere, a holding-hands-in-solidarity as parents of young children are in the trenches together. It says, “I see you, mama (and daddy), you’re so not alone.”

The ones who are hard to love.

Two days ago, we invited a young neighbor girl to Sofie’s birthday party. We’re not having a huge party this year, but I remember being the neighbor girl that was excluded (read: purposefully not invited), so I felt a lot compassion for this girl.

Sofie and I walked over to her house to deliver an invitation. I’ve been a neighbor of the girl’s mother for 25 years, but I’ve never once set foot on their property.

The reason is rooted in a deep fear. Their family has more trouble than the rest of the block combined. The mom of this little girl grew up on this block and still lives with her mom who struggles with alcoholism, and as I recently found out, struggles with hoarding and other mental illness. There is often yelling, screaming, cursing, very loud music, etc. coming from their house. Unlike me, policemen often frequent the place, sometimes because of complaints, and often because they’re on their patrol route. I would bet that this family knows the names of more police officers than they do their neighbors.

All of those reasons are legitimate ones to keep anyone away, but maybe, I thought, all of those reasons were exactly why I needed to cross the property line. We walked up and handed the invitation to the little girl. She was delighted. “What does it say! Read it!”

These neighbors have known my name for a while now because they recently started attending my church. We talk for a few minutes when we see each other, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount that the girl’s mom would share with me this time.

She told me the heaviest thing on her heart. One of her dog’s, the one she brought home at 5 weeks old and who she had for 11 years and who always slept with her — her dog died a week ago, and the worst part is that she suspected that her pup was poisoned. And it was all so much to bear for her since her dad’s passing.

Wait. Hold up. Did you just say your dad died? Yes. On April 5th.

Her dad has had health issues, but he was almost always out walking. Did I forget to notice? The saddest part to me is that this family has been our neighbors for 25 years and we went four and a half months without knowing her dad died.

These past few days I’ve been humbled as I realize that I’ve been quicker to judge these neighbors than I have been to offer a safe place, or an ear to listen, or a card and flowers to comfort. There’s so much more — so much more hurt and depth and emotion to this story– this family– than I can share. But because I stepped over that property line, I was able to listen to a hurting woman who doesn’t have many (any?) friends and I had a little girl and her brother over for a play date to share our safe place with them in the middle of their hurting. This mama is a really good mom who is doing her best with what she’s been given. And those little kids, they’re the sweetest. They’re kind and polite and eager to please.

When God said to love our neighbor as ourself, he wasn’t just talking about the ones who are easy to love. He was talking about all of them, perhaps, especially, the ones who are hard to love because they’re the ones who need it most. He didn’t tell the Israelites to love the only their people, he told them to love the Samaritans, too. I think he means the same for me.

Still, He will be found.

[I started writing this post in April 2015. It still feels appropriate for my life today, so I decided to add an ending and publish it.]

Some of my favorite verses in the Bible are found in Jeremiah 29. God speaks through Jeremiah to the Israelites who were in exile in Babylon. Most of us (North Americans) live with roofs over our heads, enough food to keep us healthy, and freedom to do as we please in the country where we were born. We are in no way in exile like the Israelites were, but sometimes I feel like I live in my own little exile away from where I should be.

should have my own house by now. I should have a full-time job in communications. (That is what I went to school for, right?) I should be involved in ministry in Costa Rica. I should be doing more with my life.

But all these “should’s” are of my own imagination and my own planning because God’s “should’s” have me right where I’m supposed to be. Maybe my decisions (good and bad) helped lead me here, but nevertheless, God has me here for a reason, so here is most definitely where I should be for now.

Do you ever feel like you’re in exile? Like life should be more than what it is or different from how it is now? I’m often eager to change the way life is now or anxious for what God has “next,” but it’s important to remember that this is what God has for me now and this is just as important as what he has for my future. This time right now and where I’m at and what I’m doing now, these are the foundation for what he has later. What good is my future without the foundation?

Though the Israelites were in exile, the Lord encouraged them to keep on living their lives as they would if they were in Jerusalem. He tells them to build houses, to settle down, to garden, to get married and have children.

It’s important to remember in that no matter how much we feel away from where we’re supposed to be, we must keep on living instead of being so eager to get out of whatever situation we find less than desirable. God knows. He knows and he still has me here for a reason.

These sleepless nights, unending line of dishes that need washing, the vacuuming and sweeping and toilet cleaning and cooking and diaper changing… it’s important, too. It’s a season that sometimes feels like exile, but God is in this, too. He is here with me. (With us.) It’s not always glamorous, but it’s purposeful. It’s foundational.

But here’s the best part. God sees us and is here with us. Sometimes in this season of “exile” I feel like it will be easier to follow God when I have my own house. Then I’ll have my own space for reading my Bible and I won’t get so frustrated with other people for making a mess after I just cleaned up, and I won’t do this and I will do that. Or it would be easier to seek God if ____________ .

But that’s not how God works. Because he has me here for a reason and because this is where I should be. God had this promise for the Israelites that is still true for me:

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you…”Jeremiah 29:13-14

God said this to the Israelites while they were in exile. He didn’t say, “Seek me as soon as you’re out of exile and I will be found by you.” No, he said, “Seek me and I will be found.” Right here, right now.

In the place where he has me, he can be found. And he will be found. There are no conditions except that we seek with all of our heart.

Words Fall Short At Times Like These

These past few months have been difficult to say the least. It’s a story that doesn’t bear repeating for the sake of the hearts involved. And even if I could share details, words would fall short.

(No, it’s not my marriage. No, it’s not my kids. No need to try to “figure it out.” Just let these words be enough. And I pray you glean something encouraging for your own heart.)

What do you do when the “right thing” isn’t the “right thing” for everyone? What do you do when your heart is heavy with a burden, a burden that shouldn’t be held alone, but one that can so easily pierce the hearts of others when they bear it too? To share the burden is to burden others with the load you once carried on your own. It weighs down their shoulders, but more, it weighs down their hearts. They carry it, they stumble with it. It is so devastatingly difficult for someone to carry another’s burdens when they still have their own to carry. And there’s no taking it back once it’s shared, leaving another heavy load upon your own shoulders– the guilt of having weighed someone else down.

Words fall short at times like these. They aren’t enough to say “I’m sorry”; they aren’t sufficient to heal the broken heart of the burdened one. There isn’t a single word in any language that would ever be enough.

I’ve been told I’m not enough, but I know it to be true, too. To strive to be something that I’m not (the “enough” that I wish I could be) is unfair and unrealistic. It’s another burden to add to the load. It’s a pair of shoes I was never meant to fill.

I am not a healer of hearts. I am not the one who is strong enough to carry burdens. I am not the repairer of broken things. Though my heart aches to be enough, to be able to take away the burden, to be able to repair what is broken and reconcile what seems so far gone, so lost, I can’t. I won’t ever be enough.

The only thing to do is to lighten the load again– to give that burden (the new one and the old) to the One who desires to take them, who is strong enough to carry them, who is big enough to not grow weary, who is enough to be all that you need.

I am not enough. But I know Him. I know the One who is enough. I know the healer, the strong one, the repairer. I’ve seen his work. I’ve been his work. He has healed and repaired my heart when I thought it was broken beyond repair. He has been all my strength when I had none. He has been the carrier of my burdens, and he carries them still.

I pray you find the One who can carry your burden. The ones you carry for yourself and the one I’ve left you with. I pray that you come to realize that you don’t have to carry them anymore. They’re heavy. They’re debilitating. They’re destructive– to yourself and to everyone who cares about you (that list is long; you are not alone).

Anger. Bitterness. Sadness. Hurt. Defeat. Grief. Confusion. Anxiety. Depression.

You weren’t meant to carry any of them. But oh how they weigh you down when you do carry them. Your heart aches with an aching that no one can heal. If only time could rewind. I get it. I’ve wished for the same thing so many times in my life. If only time could bring him back. If only time could put the words back in her mouth. If only time could erase the thoughts, take the burden away. If only time wasn’t such a thief.

There is no easy answer and for that I’m left with so few words. Not even one– not a single word– if you’re looking for words that can mend the broken heart. I don’t have words like that.

I’m not the healer. I’m not the repairer. I’m not the one who will carry your burden. I’m not enough, and I never will be.

But I know the One who is.

 

Tell Your Heart To Beat Again — Danny Gokey

 

Labor of Love

Because everyone loves a good labor story… Here is mine.

I was due with our second baby girl on January 14th. A few days prior I started to have irregular contractions and on my due date the contractions started becoming regular enough that I could time them.

It was around 5:30pm on the 14th and without saying a word to Rafael, I began rushing around the house, completing tasks that I wanted to have done before the baby came. I made tacos for dinner, but hardly ate. I wrote a list of things to do for our babysitter (Camille). I asked Rafael to give Sofie a bath. “Right now?” he asked. Yes, right now. He didn’t understand why, but I didn’t want to tell him I was in labor because I didn’t want him to start freaking out. Not yet anyway. It wasn’t quite time to freak out.

I started timing my contractions sometime in the 8 o’clock hour. They were 12 minutes apart to start. By 9:30 (ish) they were down to 8 minutes, but there was one contraction that just seemed to stick around. I decided to call the doctor because of the tightness that didn’t go away even though my contractions still weren’t very close together. She suggested I go to the hospital to get checked. Rafael and I finished packing our bags and waited for Camille to arrive so we could go.

When we got to the hospital (about 10:30pm) I was sent to triage where they set me up to the monitor to check on the baby. My contractions were about 6 minutes apart by this time. They checked my cervix (which had not been checked until this night) and I let the nurse know how painful it always was for me. I was in tears from the pain and from her sour attitude. “You’re getting an epidural, right?” She mocked me because I was crying from the pain. I was planning on it, but her attitude made me angry. Who has the right to tell a woman in labor that her pain tolerance is weak?

I was at 4cm. The nurse told me I needed to walk around for an hour and they would recheck me. I walked around with Rafael and my mom came to join us for the last few minutes. Though my contractions were getting closer together and stronger, they were still somewhat irregular. Sometimes as close as 3 minutes and up to 5 minutes apart.

Around midnight I was rechecked. The rude nurse told me my cervix hadn’t changed and neither had my contractions. Contrary to what she said and what she noted on the monitor, my contractions had become much stronger. It was hard for me to talk through them and they were notably closer together. She and the doctor didn’t listen. They listened only to the monitor. According to them, contractions are always stronger when you’re walking and will calm down once you’re sitting again. The monitor wasn’t showing them as being very strong.

They gave me two options: I could walk around for another hour to see how I progressed, or (their favored option) I could go home with a shot of morphine, get some sleep, and come back when I was really in labor. I told them I couldn’t physically walk around for an hour because I was in too much pain and that during Sofie’s labor the pain meds had no affect on me so I wasn’t too excited to try them again. These were different meds, the doctor tried to assure me. I didn’t believe it, but because I couldn’t walk around, I took the only other option they gave me. Around 12:45am on the 15th I reluctantly went home with a shot of morphine in my hip.

We got home around 1:00am. I tried to lie down and rest, but because my contractions were so strong and regular, I tried to no avail. Just as I had told them, the morphine had no affect. By 2:45-3:00 (ish) my contractions were growing increasingly painful and I decided to time them again. The first one I timed was 5 minutes from the next. By the third contraction I timed, they were 2 minutes apart. I woke Rafael and told him that we needed to go back to the hospital. If they still didn’t think I had progressed enough, I didn’t care. I wanted an epidural for this pain. In the amount of time it took him to get ready (get dressed, use the bathroom, put on shoes), I woke my mom up and told her we were going back. By this time it was around 3:30am and my contractions were so painful I couldn’t sit or stand properly and most definitely couldn’t talk through them.

We went to get in the car and I couldn’t. I couldn’t sit down. I tried a couple times before telling Rafael that I had to go in my mom’s car because it had more room so I could stretch out and not have to fully sit down. I got in my mom’s car and the whole way to the hospital I had to push. I told her I had to push, so she drove faster. I screamed at her not to drive too fast because every bump made my contractions more painful.

We arrived at the hospital around 3:45am (ish). The security guards recognized me. “Weren’t you just here?” they asked. Yes, I was and they sent me home, I told them. I refused a wheel chair because, again, I couldn’t sit down, and I walked myself to the elevator and up to the 7th floor, accompanied by Rafael and the security guard. The whole time I still had the urge to push the baby out.

When we got to the maternity floor I told them I was in active labor and they took me to my room. I told them I had to push and they wanted to check my cervix. Let me say that again. I told them I had to push and they wanted to check my cervix. Ok, so they started to check and the nurse pulled her hand out quickly and said, “Nope! We need to go.” …Or something close to that. I was in labor, so I don’t remember her exact words. I was crowning. Baby girl’s head was right there. She was ready to meet the world.

But of course they made me wait longer. The doctor wasn’t there. She went home at approximately 3:20am after waiting a couple hours for me because she thought I wouldn’t go into active labor. They called another doctor in. He’d been asleep so they had to wake him up. While he was waking up they were running around frantically getting the room set up to deliver a baby. They put in my IV, set up the light, got the doctor’s tool kit. I was screaming the whole time: I have to push! But they made me wait.

Finally the doctor arrived and I was allowed to push, but before my first push the doctor broke my water. It was such a relief from the pain. Pushing was so painful. Because, you know, they sent me home so I couldn’t get an epidural. I’d had one for this part with Sofie, so this pain was new to me. My contractions were still steady, probably 1-2 minutes apart, so I got breaks between pushes.

By the second push the delivering doctor who had gone home was back. I screamed, “I can’t do this!” The doctor told me, “One more push and she’ll be out!” Seriously? One push. I could do that. On the third push, her head was out. On the fourth, my baby girl was born and brought to my arms.

At 4:17am on January 15th, Nellie Jo was born into the world.

They had to take off my shirt still in order to have her skin on mine because there wasn’t time to fully undress when I arrived at the hospital. I delivered the placenta without a hitch and asked to see it. Amazing. There was that life-giving organ that sustained my baby girl inside me for so many months. No stitches. No new hemorrhoids.

Everything was great with our little Nellie Jo: 7lb, 12oz. 21in. 13in head. Tons of hair. Beautiful in every way.

We had trouble keeping her temperature up for a while, but lots of swaddling and cuddles cured that.

My delivering nurses were incredible and so kind. I never did talk with the rude nurse again, but if I’d seen her I might have let her know that this one I did without an epidural. And it was painful. But I did it. It was empowering. Next time I’ll make sure they listen. I know when I’m in labor and I really don’t want to have my next baby at home. (Because a few more minutes of waiting and I can assure you, this little girl would have been born in the car. Thank God that didn’t happen.)

Welcome to the world, Nellie Jo. It’s rough at times, but there’s beauty here too, and it’s a little more beautiful now that you’re here.

NellieJo_43

My ugly, grace-covered heart.

I’ve had a long period of silence on this dear blog, and I’ve decided it’s been long enough. I haven’t written partly for the lack of words, but mostly because if I wrote something from my heart, I feared it might be too ugly. And that’s because it is — it is ugly.

But in the past year I’ve realized that it’s the ugly parts of our hearts that we should share. When other people see the ugly parts in our own hearts, they realize that they’re not so alone and that if there’s ugliness in them and ugliness in me too, it’s probably just a regular part of being human.

And then there’s grace. Because I recognize that my heart isn’t always pretty, only then was I able to also recognize that I need grace. And grace — it’s far too beautiful for this old heart of mine, but Christ knew that when he gave it to me. That’s what grace is for. It’s for the ugly hearts, the angry hearts, the hurting hearts. If grace was meant for the beautiful ones, there wouldn’t be a need for grace.

So here I am, standing before you with an ugly heart that’s being painted beautiful by grace. And I want to share my heart with you again — the ugly parts, the grace-filled parts, the parts I want to hide in a closet and never let anyone see. Because when we’re all human it’s easier to share grace, easier to accept grace, and easier to know that we’re not alone. You’re not alone. I’m not perfect either. So let’s do this life thing, together, hand-in-hand, heart-in-heart, the truth and ugliness out in the open, so grace can come in and paint us beautiful again.


I understand why some women get abortions.

When I was living in Texas, Rafael and I accidentally got pregnant. It was so accidental he laughed when we walked down the pregnancy-test-aisle at Walmart. And it was so accidental that he didn’t believe me when I said it was positive.

It was so accidental because we didn’t technically have sex. We did stuff we shouldn’t have, and because of that I nervously scoured the internet for people that accidentally got pregnant like we had. Yes, it was possible. No, Rafael still didn’t believe me. So we went to urgent care and they did a test again. “Why did you come,” they asked. “Because I wanted to be sure,” I said. They told me if a pregnancy test is positive, it’s definitely positive. If it’s negative, you could still be pregnant, but if it’s positive there’s no doubt.

So I was pregnant. For a brief moment I thought, No one has to know. If I just get an abortion, it could all go away. No one would ever know what we did.

If you know me at all, you know that I’ve always been pro-life. Always. But I also never imagined myself getting pregnant before getting married. I never imagined the shame that I would feel of being the Christian girl who got pregnant before her wedding. But now I was. I got knocked up. So the thought did cross my mind.

The shame of abortion quickly overpowered the shame of having a baby, so I dismissed it, but it was there. That fleeting thought once occupied my mind and I felt dirty. I felt more shame because I had thought that at the expense of this little life inside of me, I could hide my sin.

I thought of how my life would change. My whole future flashed before my eyes, and it was hard to see. No more Costa Rica. No more spontaneous adventures. No more freedom or late night taco runs or midnight movies. For a moment, hiding the ugliness, stopping this “mistake” before it grew, that seemed better than the death of my freedom.

I understood, right then, why some women get abortions.

But I didn’t get an abortion that day. While abortion did cross my mind, it was drowned out by the thought of this is my baby girl. We didn’t know it was a girl at that time, but somehow I knew that baby was my little girl. I would take on the shame if I had to. I would lock up my freedom and throw away the key if that’s what it took. This little girl was my little girl and nothing, not even my own selfishness, could take her away from me.

Some months later, while I still felt ugly and ashamed, while I was hurting and depressed, God began to paint my heart with grace.

It’s ok, baby girl, he told me. It’s ok. This is why I died for you. For this. Don’t you remember? While you were still a sinner, I died for you.

It all made sense. That’s what grace was. It was for the sinner, for the imperfect, for the ugliness in our hearts. I didn’t feel worthy of the grace, but that’s exactly why it was given to me.

In his grace, I found beauty. Her name is Sofie Grace. And I’m so glad God chose me to be her mama.

** If you have had an abortion or are thinking about having one, know that you’re not alone. If you think there’s no other option, there are women who will be there for you and would love to help you. Love and grace are for you too. http://www.healinghearts.org