Archive for the ‘gettin’ real’ Category

Our community group is doing a series of “self-portraits” this year, where everyone takes a turn describing themselves with whatever medium they choose.  There have been poems and essays and timelines and memento-filled shoe boxes, each telling a unique story.  Given my penchant for reminiscing, I decided to go way back (all the way back!) and cull through my photo albums, selecting and sharing a snapshot from each year I’ve lived.  This was such a meaningful exercise that I wanted to capture it here on the blog – not as a complete life story, but as a series of moments or phases or people that have stirred my soul in some way or another.  There are high highs and low lows.  And some very questionable hairstyles…

My mom woke up in the middle of the night in Denver, Colorado on October 9, 1981 and “felt things happening” – it was go-time!  She wanted to pack a lunch for my dad and get a few things ready, but my grandma promptly pushed my parents out the door and told them to get their butts to the hospital.  At 11 am, all 7 pounds, 11 ounces of me made my arrival.

I don’t remember anything from 1982, but photos tell me that I took my first trip to Florida that year and loved the beach.  I teethed on chicken drumsticks and my favorite hiding place was in the cabinets under the kitchen sink.

In 1983 we took our first family camping trip, in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  My parents were novice campers and grabbed the cheapest gear they could find – my mom ended up zipping our sleeping bags together so that we could keep warm in the cold Colorado nights.  I got filthy and poked at the campfire with my “burning stick” (my parents apparently gave me oodles of freedom) and got my first taste of the beloved outdoors. It tasted like Tang and roasted marshmallows, so clearly I was all in.

My best friend Amy lived just two doors down from us on Dean Drive and we spent much of our time running back and forth between each other’s houses.  She had a pretend grocery store in her basement with a cash register that actually beeped and I had a sand box in my back yard, so we both brought something valuable to the friendship.  In 1984 we had matching Raggedy Anne dolls. And our moms cut our hair.

In 1985 my bowl-cut grew out.  But my bangs-game was strong.

Most of my memories from the first few years of my life involve the outdoors – winter snow forts and summer sand box castles and trips to the mountains with my family.  I prided myself on being my dad’s fishing buddy, picking the worms out of his bait bowl and then dropping my own line near the shore. Sometimes I got lucky, like on this 1986 trip to the river.

I was always trying (and usually failing) to keep up with my older brother – I remember watching Mitch zoom down the street on his bike or kick the soccer ball around with his friends, our five-year age gap seemingly insurmountable as he left me in his dust.  However, on family vacations he had no choice but to hang out with me! This is us on a 1987 camping trip to Ruedi Reservoir.

I have the fondest memories of visiting my grandparents in Maryland – Nannie kept an endless supply of Brach’s hard candy in her crystal candy dish and my Aunt Norma had an above-ground pool in her backyard.  My cousin Rachel was the coolest – she taught me all the words to Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now and we had some killer dress-up sessions with treasures from Nannie’s closet. If this picture were zoomed out a little, you’d see that I was wearing a great pair of Nannie’s heels – 1988 was apparently the dawn of my shoe fetish!

The blissful summer of 1989 was our last in Colorado, as my dad was transferred to McMinnville, Oregon in the fall of that year.  My brother and I were both devastated when we found out we were moving – I was spending more time than ever with Amy, and Mitch’s best friend Duane lived two doors down in the other direction.  Our street was the center of our universe, and the thought of leaving it all behind was unbearable.

Our first few months in McMinnville were…transitional.  We lived in a couple of rentals while waiting for our new house to be built.  I was quite shy at my new school and didn’t make any immediate friends (though I do remember getting a particularly amorous Valentine from Justin McKinney).   I spent a lot of time with my stuffed animals.

By 1991 Oregon had become home – I had found a few friends and loved Friday night sleep-overs, where we’d pull out the sofa bed and watch the full TGIF line-up, making each other giggle with our Urkel impressions.

In 1992 I saw Wayne’s World for the first time, while slumber partying at my friend Lindsey’s house. We both became completely obsessed with the movie, learning all the words to Bohemian Rhapsody and creating our own low-budget version of Wayne and Garth’s cable show.  It was called Babe’s World and we recorded episode after episode on my audio cassette recorder.  I mean, that perm!  Nothing screams “babe” like a triangle-shaped haircut.

In 1993 my dad’s job uprooted our family again and moved us to Turlock, California.  I had a lonely start to sixth grade and have distinct memories of sitting at our kitchen table, telling my mom through tears that no one liked me and that I wanted to move back to Oregon and my Babe’s World co-host.  Thankfully, my loneliness was short-lived and by October I was able to get up the gumption to invite a few girls over for my twelfth birthday party. And they actually showed up! Bless their hearts. Francine, on the right, ended up being a bridesmaid at my wedding thirteen years later.

In 1994 I entered seventh grade at Turlock Junior High.  The words “Junior High” literally make my stomach flip-flop.  The girls I had befriended in our cozy, insular sixth grade classroom left me in their dust when we hit the big-time.  They joined forces with the richest, prettiest girls from the other elementary schools to become “The Preps” (my words, not theirs).  Thankfully, THANKFULLY, I had a true friend in Jody. There were times when I had an only friend in Jody. We saved each other from eating alone at lunch time and we spent every Friday night together, memorizing the words to Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979 and Bush’s Glycerine and No Doubt’s Don’t Speak.  We were convinced that good music had the power to make us cool.

In 1995 I dabbled in “grunge”, wearing men’s polos and oversized flannels and suede Vans.  I begged my parents for a skateboard, to complete the look, but they said no.  I lived for the moment between first and second period when I would cross paths with Justin Houts, the end-all be-all in cute skater boys.  He had no idea who I was.

In 1996 I left the cold, cruel world of Junior High for the bigger, colder, crueller world of High School.  On the first day of our freshman year, Jody and I walked the two blocks to our high school together, clinging to each other for dear life and setting a very specific lunchtime rendez-vous point.  We spent all week every week looking forward to the weekend, when we could hole up in the safety of Jody’s bedroom and be unabashedly silly and talk freely about our crushes and do each other’s make-up.

  And check us out, doing a selfie before selfies were even a thing!

In 1997 I had my first beer and my first cigarette and my first joint.  I was rebellious and “cool” and down-for-anything (and desperate to feel included).  I was also super-involved in my youth group and jumped at each chance to go to winter camp or to summer camp or to Six Flags.  I was goofy and fun and intensely boy-crazy (and desperate to feel included). Teenage years are hard, gang.

In 1998 I fell away from the party crowd and started hanging out regularly with a group of seven other girls.  We cruised down Geer Road on Friday nights, belting out the words to Cowboy, Take Me Away and spent hours in the aisles of Blockbuster Video, agonizing over the perfect movie selection, which we usually didn’t watch anyway because we spent the whole night talking and giggling.  Jody and I had found our people. We belonged, and it felt so, so good.

In 1999 I was asked out on a date by the nephew of a couple whose kids I baby-sat.  I said yes, and he took me to the movies to see Notting Hill and then out for milkshakes.  He was cute and wore good-smelling cologne and drove an electric-blue Dodge Neon that started only sometimes.  His name was Shane.  

In 2000 I packed up my truck, said teary good-bye’s to Shane and to Jody, and caravanned with my mom and dad to San Luis Obispo to get settled into my dorm at Cal Poly.  I had chosen to major in architecture and was immediately overwhelmed by the work load, staying up well past midnight every night struggling through calculus equations and drafting complicated two-point perspectives.  I have a very specific memory of taking my dorm room phone out into the hallway, dialing Shane’s number, and sobbing about how stressed out I was while my roommate, Jenny, invited a pile of friends to come over to our room to just “hang out”.  What had I gotten myself into?

In 2001 Shane and I settled into our long-distance relationship.  It was hard, seeing each other only once or twice a month, but it freed me up to work like a dog during the week,  and the anticipation of those weekend visits was fun and romantic. My stomach would be a-twitter with butterflies on Friday evenings as I waited for Shane to pull up in his yellow Volkswagon, and then we’d greet each other with the ooiest-gooiest embrace.  Ahhh, young love… 

Between the out-of-town boyfriend and the long hours in studio, I didn’t find myself with a lot of time for socializing with my Cal Poly classmates.  I joined a co-ed fraternity and went to handful of parties, but my heart was still very much back in Turlock with my girls.  Christmas break 2002 was a series of movie nights and Jamba Juice runs and living into the comfort of being 100% myself.

In the summer of 2003 I boarded a plane for Paris and kicked off my year of studying abroad.  That first month in France was one of the best and worst months of my life. Paris was one of Cal Poly’s smaller, less-organized study-abroad programs, so I was left to find my own way through enrolling in classes and getting my student visa and setting up my phone line and bank account – all in a language I was struggling to learn.  But I DID IT. And when my friends from Cal Poly’s Florence program came to visit me that October, I showed them around the city like I owned the place.

By 2004 I had fully embraced La Vie Francaise.  I met friends down by the Seine for late-night picnics.  I frequented a Brazilian bar named Favela Chic with my friend Nikole and sipped Caperinhas and danced until 2 in the morning.  I would wake up at 10 am and then spend hours at a time just walking through the city, stopping when I pleased at a cafe terrace to order a 2-euro espresso and write or draw pensively in my little black journal.  I got a membership to the Pompidou and fell in love with art. I took a solo trip to Berlin and Prague and Copenhagen and went to a Czech nightclub with a handful of hostel roommates (seriously, who was I?). I wore my independence like a badge of honor.

In 2005 I completed my architectural thesis, a conceptual bath house that commentated on gender and gentrification and other too-big issues.  The nights in studio were long, but when the stress got to be too much, someone cranked up Hey Ya on the stereo and we all took a dance break.  I ran my pinky finger through the table saw when working in the shop on my final model and was set back a few days by the surgery I needed to reattach the tendon.  My half-arm cast made it hard for me to model-build, but my dad came down to help me finish up my shop work and Shane came down to help me set up my final display, pulling his first college all-nighter.  All the blood, sweat, and tears was well worth-it – my determination had been pushed to new limits and my confidence that I was cut from creative cloth soared.  I was ready for the real world.  Which, it turned out, was not at all like college…

In 2006, nearly seven years after our first date, Shane and I said our I-do’s on the lawn of a lovely Turlock dairy.  Shane’s vows made me cry and the whole ceremony made my dad cry and then dinner was served and wine was poured and we all laughed and danced the night away.

In 2007 Shane and I signed about a million pieces of paper and were the proud owners of a new Columbia City townhouse.  I loved making that place home, painting each room a (regrettable) shade of blue and stocking it with (mostly IKEA) furniture.  I was finding adult-ing to be much more satisfying that I’d imagined.

On the afternoon of March 2008, my brother called me to let me know that Elise Wynn had been born early that morning.  I immediately loved her.  And I really loved this new tender-hearted side of my brother. 

We had started a c-group with a group of random folks in 2007 and by 2009 we were all-in, all the time, spending many of our weekends together.  Most of us were transplants from other states, so we were each other’s local family.  We called each other for help moving and started a slew of annual traditions, like the fall pumpkin patch/dumpling-making bonanza.

After a couple of years of dabbling in art workshops at community colleges and Pratt, in 2010 I hung twelve encaustic  paintings on the walls of the Q Cafe and invited all my friends to my real-life “opening”. I had found the realities of architecture to be less creatively-fulfilling that I’d hoped, but getting into the studio and producing a body of work that legitimized my aspirations of “artist” was incredibly gratifying.

In 2011, after a year of trying and hoping and praying for a baby, I found out I was pregnant.  Two weeks later, I started my period, which was weird, because doesn’t that go away when you’re pregnant?  We went to the doctor and heard the heaviest-ever silence where we should have heard a heartbeat. We went home and I spent the next 48 hours curled up on the couch, sobbing.  Nancy came over and I told her I just wanted this thing, this thing that just a few days earlier had been my beloved baby, out of my body so that I could move on. I miscarried that afternoon.  I didn’t move on.

I’ve termed 2012 my “dark year”, as I was all-consumed by my infertility, convinced that God, my body, and the glowing pregnant lady I often saw on my morning commute had all conspired against me to make my life less-than.  One by one, my girlfriends announced their pregnancies.  I sat across from La Verne at the bakery and struggled through tears to tell her that I was happy for her and Jack, but she knew me and my struggle well enough to know that my envy was almost suffocating.  On a happier note, the Giants won the World Series that year and we had a hell of a time watching their wins over hot dogs and fried zucchini at the Auto Battery with our crew.

On September 14, 2013, Juliette Grace reluctantly left my belly and entered my arms.  She was none-too-pleased about the whole thing, fiercely emotional from the get-go, but it was the happiest day of my life.

In March of 2014 my maternity leave ended and I returned to work, easing back into my job with a three-day work week.  Gosh, that very first daycare drop-off was rough.  ROUGH.  Shane and I stood on the street corner outside of daycare and struggled to hold it together as our very-attached baby cried in the arms of her new caretaker.  I spent as many lunch hours as possible with Juliette in those first couple of months, “jail-breaking” her on sunny afternoons for walks along the waterfront.

In 2015 we took our first trip to Minnesota with Juliette.  I loved watching her run free on the dirt roads and climb up into Grandpa’s tractor.  Mostly though, I loved watching Shane’s family love on our little girl with such abandon.  It was abundantly clear: she’s so very lucky to be a Schnell.

In 2016 we took our first camping trip with Juliette – it rained most of the weekend and we spent several hours holed up in a Roslyn cafe with the Hickory’s.  But we survived, soggy marshmallows and all, and cemented our fate as a camping family.  I was proudly carrying on a much-beloved Jarrell torch.

2017 was a year of incredible adventure – we camped in Canada and wine-tasted in Napa and did the all-inclusive thing in Mexico.  I spent a few days in Paris with La Verne.  But our close-to-home trips were some of my favorites, like the few days we spent along the Hood Canal with Mitch and his family.  We paddle-boarded and kayaked and dance-partied.  Shane scooped fresh oysters off the shore.  And got unbearably sick.  But still, the water was amazing.  And the cousin-love was fierce.

And in 2018, the Schnells bought a new house!  New to us, at least…  We closed on this 1950’s brick beauty on Monday and will move in two short weeks.  Our heads are still spinning from how quickly our very long search came to an end, but we are over the moon and can’t wait to kick off this next chapter in our lives.


Closing thoughts?  Mostly, I’m exceedingly thankful.  Thankful that my parents planted a nature-loving seed in me at a very young age.  Thankful for the number of kindred spirits that God has placed in my life over the years, girls and women that have carried me through some dark and lonely times.  Thankful for the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done and the person I am. But, I also see the gaps.  Gaps in the shape of places I want to go and people I want to know better and ways I want to give more.  May the next 36 photos fill in those gaps.  And so much more.

Shane, Juliette, and I went over to Jack and La Verne’s last night to eat nachos and watch the election coverage, our moods hopeful as we pulled into their driveway.  I donned my “I Voted” sticker and Juliette asked if we were going to watch Hillary on TV.  The vibe was warm and cheery as we walked in, Jack uncorking a bottle of wine, Nance putting together a salad, the Rust boys giving us the NBC play-by-play from the den.  La Verne was wearing her Hillary socks.  Shane immediately popped open the laptop and glued himself to Nate Silver’s electoral map, but I paid little attention to the count until Shane announced with concern, “We’ve got a Michigan situation.”  We watched Hillary’s chances of winning drop from 80% to 60% and continue to spiral downward.  There was an enthusiastic cheer when the results from Colorado came in, but our joy was short-lived.  By the time we left Jack and La Verne’s house at 8:00, things were bleak.  Very bleak.  I was anxious and frustrated and frankly, baffled.  It occurred to me as we turned onto our street that come January, Juliette’s first inaugural experience would likely be watching Donald Trump take office as our president.  And I started to sob.

I know, I know, Hillary was far from flawless, but I fiercely believed in her message of inclusion.  And everything about Donald Trump’s message felt counter to the values we’ve tried so hard to instill in our daughter.

From the time she was a baby, we have told Juliette that she was wonderfully made, that she is strong and beautiful and capable.  And now America has elected a man who says horrible, vulgar things about women, who has been caught time and again treating females like objects to be judged and/or conquered and/or disregarded.

We enrolled Juliette in her current bilingual preschool because we wanted her to be part of a diverse community, for her to revel in the ways God has created his people with a variety of skin colors and languages and rituals.  And now America has elected a man who preaches that minorities should either be feared as thugs or terrorists, or should be disdained for taking advantage of an American “handout”.

We have reminded our daughter that she is blessed beyond measure, that it is her duty to speak kindly to others, to share her belongings openly, to offer a hug to a crying classmate or give up her swing to the little boy quietly standing by the playground.  And now America has elected a man who shows little concern for the people on the margins, angrily silencing anyone who dares not share his views.

With more fervor than ever, we will speak messages of love and unity and generosity over our child.  How it aches, though, to know our nation has elected a man that will not do the same.

Yes, I was melancholy about the passing of Spring’s peak, mourning the fact that it flees so quickly.  Toddlerhood, on the other hand, seems to be lasting damn near forever.  I sat down tonight to sort through the past month’s sweet photos and funny videos to herald all of Juliette’s latest developments, but I’m just not in the mood to gush – I’m going to save that stuff for another day.  I’d much rather complain.

Because this kid is making me CRAZY.

We have had an exceptionally tough couple of days.  I walked in the door Monday evening after a long day at work and Juliette excitedly ran toward my open arms…and then right past them, as she grabbed the door handle and whined, “outside?  outside?  outside?”, ignoring my replies that we couldn’t go out because it was pouring.  I told her we could go upstairs and play in the shower rather than out in the rain, but she wasn’t havin’ it, wailing as I undressed her and then streaking down the hallway as I tried to pull her into the bathroom.  We struggled our way through bathing and pj’s and hair-combing and tooth-brushing; she was exhausted by the time I laid her down, but still she fought sleep with a vengeance, crying and shaking her crib rails before finally collapsing for the night.

She woke up early today, still out of sorts – she protested when I tried to unzip her from her sleep sack, but then yelled and tugged at it when I gave up and left it on.  Despite the previous evening’s aversion to the shower, she threw a fit when she couldn’t climb in with Shane this morning, so I abandoned my own attempts at getting ready and took her down to the kitchen to let Shane bathe in peace.  Juliette headed back up the (forbidden) stairs while I got her breakfast ready, looking me in the eyes and defiantly taking another step each time I told her to come down.  She refused yogurt and cereal and didn’t want to drink her milk unless it was out of a mug and unless she poured it herself (uh-uh).  She cried when Shane changed her diaper, whined as I wrestled her into her clothes, and ran circles around the kitchen island as we chased after her with her coat and shoes.  I politely asked her to come to me, then pleaded with her to listen, and eventually resorted to yelling, my voice getting louder and angrier with each lap.  Shane caught hold of her and tried to get her jacket on, but she collapsed on the floor in that masterful rigid-but-limp posture that makes it impossible to thread an arm through a sleeve or get a shoe on a foot.  Shane’s head was about to explode by this point.  He grabbed his bag and said he was going to take lightrail to work – he couldn’t be around her anymore and needed me to handle dropoff.  I turned to Juliette and nastily snapped, “Nice job, baby.  You made daddy mad.”  Shane heard my tone (exasperation verging on insanity) and decided I couldn’t be trusted alone with her, so we all headed out together, two of us in tears and one of us silently fuming.  There was slamming of car doors and dramatic swiping of car clutter off of the seats and running mascara.  It was ugly, folks.  We drove to daycare in silence, the air in that car so thick with frustration and shame that it was hard for me to breathe.  Even Juliette had grown quiet – I’m not sure if it was out of remorse or fear, but she hardly made a peep on that painfully long 12-minute commute.  I felt guilty and embarrassed over losing my temper.  But also mad and annoyed and full of despair.  It was only 7:45 am and I was spent.  She’s only nineteen months old and I’m done with toddlerhood.

I think this is the point where I usually wrap up a gripey blog post with, “Motherhood is hard, but it’s also the BEST JOB EVER!  She fell asleep in my arms and as I gazed at her sweet, peaceful little face, all was forgiven!”.  Not today, though.  The wounds are too fresh.  I’m going to let myself sit with the fact that this is exceedingly hard sometimes.  We’re in the midst of a deep, cranky funk and I’m zapped, plum out of patience and positivity.  The best I can muster is a faint hope that tomorrow will be better.  This too shall pass.  Right?  RIGHT?!

Looks like I made it as far as Tuesday before pooping out…Ooof.  I’m tired tonight.  Feeling especially large.  Sick of waking up three or four times a night to the sensation that my bladder is in a vice.  I caught myself waddling in the reflection of a store window today; it’s as if my sore hips are preemptively protesting the fact that they’ll soon have to pass an 8-pound baby between them.  I tried to correct my gait, to straighten my back and move with more grace, but this took too much effort and so I went back to my belly-out pregnant shuffle, weight clumsily shifting from side to side.  I dramatically flopped down on the couch when I got home this evening, propped up my swollen feet, and wondered to myself how on earth I’ll make it through the next few weeks.  How quickly my pregnant glow has waned…  This isn’t how I wanted the final stretch to play out.

The thing is, I don’t know when or if I’ll get to do this again.  I certainly hope we’ll have a second (or maybe even third?!) shot at pregnancy, but only God knows if that’s in the cards for us.  And even if another little Schnell does someday find a home in my uterus, I’ll never feel this particular baby’s kicks again.  It will never be new like this again, I’ll never have this quiet, child-free space to focus on the life growing inside me.  My mom has told me to rest, to let the unimportant stuff take a back seat for now; I’ve responded to this advice with an uh-huh while carrying another load of laundry down the stairs.  But perhaps mother knows best.  So I slowed it down tonight, asked Shane to take care of dinner, cancelled my plans to hit the gym for a swim.  Instead I’m being still, reveling in the alien-like ripples of my belly as the baby wiggles and squirms and lets me know that all is well in-utero.  I’m taking a few minutes to rock in the glider of our nearly-complete nursery and dream about what it will be like to see our child in that empty crib.  And when I feel a foot kicking at my ribs, I’m ever so gently pushing back, telling our little one to hang tight for awhile longer, because mama really, truly loves having you in there.

20130728 bump sm

We are 5 weeks into our 8-week childbirth class, slowly preparing ourselves for our baby’s entry into the world. Our instructor is incredible, as she paints the very real picture that labor and delivery can be hard, hard work, but then empowers us with loads of affirmation and advice. Turns out that the scene played on movie after movie where the woman rushes into the delivery room, pushes for a minute, screams and slaps her husband with the threat that he will never touch her again, then pushes just one more time before a fresh, chubby-cheeked baby appears isn’t super-realistic. We’re watching movies of a whole new variety since we’ve started this class – videos of actual births where pregnant women don’t have perfect hair and makeup, where labor lasts more than 10 minutes, where newborns are wrinkled and covered in goo. It’s intense, but exciting – that will be us in September. I’m going to go into labor, I’m going endure a myriad of contractions, I’m going to push like hell, and then we’re going to have a baby. It’s gettin’ real. The eager anticipation was fun and full of joy. Until it got too real.

We watched our third lesson’s video at home last week. I settled into the couch next to Shane, computer on my lap and hand on my belly, ready for that feeling of yearning and empowerment I had felt when I’d put myself in the shoes of the other video-taped mamas. But this particular montage of several different women coping with early labor, with advanced labor, and with pushing and delivery threw me for a major loop. It elicited neither joy nor excitement. I felt the pin-pricks of oncoming tears as the final scene faded and I closed my eyes in hopes of composing myself. Shane reached for me, curious and concerned, and asked what was on my mind. I took a deep breath, but quickly gave up on any attempts at holding myself together. “I’m scared!” I blubbered, fat tears rolling down my cheeks. He asked me to elaborate on what in particular I found so frightening, and my inarticulate response was, “All of it.” There was a woman in the video who coped with each contraction by rhythmically chanting “I. Can. Do. It. I. Can. Do. It.”. The cadence of her voice rang in my head, but the words in my mantra were less optimistic: “I’m. Not. Read-y. I’m. Not. Read-y.” A host of unfamiliar anxieties bubbled to the surface and bowled me over. I’m nervous about being physically exposed in front of a room of people. I’m afraid of the pain. I’m anxious about the mess, the blood and fluids and Lord-knows-what-else that will come out of my body. I know, I know – all of this stuff will lead us to the point where we meet our beautiful baby, and that moment of holding him or her in my arms for the very first time will rock my world, but in a way, that’s the scariest part of all. Because vulnerability of the body is one thing; but vulnerability of the heart? That’s even messier. I will be opening myself in brand new ways to this little person, feeling unfathomable love, but on some days also feeling mind-bending tiredness, or frustration, or worry, because I have to/need to/want to do everything in my power to make sure that our child feels cared for and safe and treasured. And as Nance reminded me today, I can’t run away when the going gets tough. This is an all-in, heart-on-my-sleeve, life-long deal.

Shane dried my tears that night and we both chuckled when I wondered aloud what in the world we had gotten ourselves into. Because deep (sometimes very deep) down, despite these Kelly-esque freak-outs, we know we’re ready, and we know how desperately we want to meet our child. This baby was not conceived out of short-sighted, fickle desire; he or she is the miraculous answer to years of prayerful longing.  Yes, I’m glad that I have a couple more months to prepare my mind/body/home, but damn, I really can’t wait to take this rocker for a late-night test drive.

20130625 nursery sm

It was a little hard for me to hold back from sharing the early months of my pregnancy on the blog – I looked forward to the news being fully “out there” so that I could freely write about my thoughts and hopes and experiences.  And now here I sit, bump and all, wondering how in the world I’ll put my jumbled, confusing bag of feelings into words.  Bear with me.

The physical part of being pregnant has gone more smoothly than I expected – there was mild nausea, some fatigue, and a couple of vomitous incidents, but all in all, the symptoms were minor and quickly passed.  The emotional part, though?  Sheesh.  Saltine crackers weren’t going to help me there.  The first few weeks were ridden with anxiety – I tried to guard my heart through denial, to prepare myself for the bottom to drop out at any moment.  I told myself that the faint pink line on the pregnancy test was a fluke, that my HCG levels in that initial bloodwork were too low to make this a viable pregnancy, that since I wasn’t spending every morning locked in the bathroom with morning sickness, this probably wasn’t real.  We shared the news with our parents and a couple of close friends, but I always followed the announcement with, “remember that it’s still really really really early and this might not work out”.  Joy was terrifying – I was afraid my heart was too fragile to handle the blow of having to come down from a celebratory mountaintop, should things take a turn for the worse.  So I stayed down in my hole, just in case.

We scheduled an ultrasound with our doctor at week 6, as that’s the point when they can start to see development and, hopefully, a tiny little heartbeat.  I remember walking down the hall to the exam room with Shane at my side, my palms sweating and my own heart racing as I prayed a single word over and over and over.  Heartbeat.  Heartbeat.  Heartbeat.  Please, please, please, God – let there be a heartbeat.  I couldn’t help thinking of the 6-week ultrasound we’d been through 18 months earlier, where there was nothing but stillness.  Please, please, please, God – let this be different.  I held my breath as the image of my uterus flashed on the screen.  And then, there it was – our baby, looking like a grain of rice, with a fuzzy little flicker at its center.  The sonographer quickly confirmed that the flicker was indeed a heartbeat, and I grabbed Shane’s hand as tears of relief streamed from my eyes.  The first seeds of hope took root in me that day.  That hope blossomed as subsequent ultrasounds at weeks 7 and 9 and 12 showed positive development – by week 13, I had come to believe that this was actually the real thing.  I was going to be a mom.  I was free to celebrate with reckless abandon, right?  Right?  I could start digging into that pile of baby books people had lent to me, I could start thinking about converting our extra bedroom to a nursery, I could quit trying to fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans and settle into the comfort of elastic waistbands.  “Danger zone” cleared!  Happy trails ahead!  And it’s true – there certainly were moments of unbridled joy as the weight of infertility was lifted from my shoulders.  But I also found myself still wanting to stay on the fringes of baby-related conversations among my pregnant friends, and I still felt anxious when they started to talk about how fun it would be to watch our babies grow up together.  What was my problem?  I had ached for so long to be part of the expectant mothers’ club, and now that my time had come to talk diapers and daycare and maternity fashion, I was stand-offish and uncomfortable.  Some of my reticence was due to sadness for the women I know who are still in the throes of trying to conceive – it felt so unfair that some were chosen to carry a baby while others were left waiting.  I felt like I was leaving my fertility-challenged sisters behind, like it woulnd’t mean as much anymore if I said that I knew what they were going through.

And then when I really dug deep, I found that a part of me was still caught in the clutches of the sorrow I had felt over the past couple of years.  I had let the disappointment and uncertainty become an integral part of who I was, and while the presence of a baby in my womb washed much of that away, there were remnants of loneliness and worry and that were not so easily purged.  And there was regret.  So much regret over who I had become while I waited and longed and mistrusted God’s plan.   I wish I had been better at finding my joy in Him while we were still on our journey toward pregnancy.  I wish I hadn’t wallowed, hadn’t let fear take such a strong hold of me.  I wish I had been a better friend last year to the pregnant women in my life, rather than succumbing to jealousy or bitterness.

Day by day, I’m the clearing the sorrow and regret from my soul and settling into the spirit of joy and gratitude that God has intended for me all along.  The road to this place has been full of envy and tears and deep, gaping potholes, but I can’t change that.  So I’m focusing on that one very, very important wish that came true with that tiniest little flicker of a heartbeat.  I have much to be thankful for.

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This past Spring was the first time that I made a Lenten resolution. I grew up thinking Lent was only for Catholics or for people seeking motivation to lose a few pounds by giving up soda or chocolate or fast food. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I really began to absorb the significance of the season, the fact that it’s a chance for all followers of Christ to reflect more deeply on His sacrifice. And so in February I started searching for some sort of appropriate 40-day fast. What I settled upon, after wading through several not-quite-meaningful-enough ideas, was actually additive rather than subtractive: I committed to 40 days of prayer journaling, spending 10 or 15 minutes a day putting pen to paper in a series of “letters” to God.  My prayer life often takes a nose dive when I get busy or tired or swept up in the daily grind – I caught myself forgetting to turn to God when things were going too well (no thanks, God, I got this!), and then resisting Him when things felt utterly crappy (c’mon, God, do you even hear me?). Days (weeks, even?) would go by without a peep from me to Him.  This disciplined Lenton practice of giving Him my full attention, putting written words to my heart’s praises/longings/fears/questions proved to be the kick in the pants I needed to get us back on track.  One week into my resolution, I was already seeing His work more clearly in my life and in the lives of my friends and family.  I was turning to Him first, rather than last, when I needed comfort or encouragement.  And then Easter rolled around and Lent was over… But surely, surely, I would keep up this practice that had brought such richness to my life – I was hitting some serious high spots on that spiritual roller-coaster I’ve ridden for the last 20 years.  This had the makings of a permanent resolution.

At least, that’s what I told myself as I watched my neglected Moleskine collect dust on my bedside table – I would pick it up again tomorrow. Tomorrow, I would make the effort.  After five months of tomorrow’s, I recently started cracking open that little black journal and rediscovering the goodness of writing to God.  Somehow my prayers feel more real when I see them on paper, as opposed to that 30-second jumble of requests that drifts through my head as I’m falling asleep each night.  I think God values the intentionality of written words.  And I like having a record of what’s been on my heart.  The names of our friends and family are in there, as we’ve walked alongside them through ups and downs.  There are a handful of gushy praises, and there are countless pages of “please, please, please”.  There are a few tear-smudged entries.  There are bits of songs or Bible verses that have struck me at my core.  I look back and I see that some of these prayers have so clearly been answered with a resounding “yes”.  Others have drawn forth a “no”, or “wait”, or “how about we do it My way instead?”.  And then there are those prayers that seem to have been met with silence.  These are the ones where hurt and doubt and anxiety creep in.  But after each spiral of feeling lost and forlorn, I circle back to the belief that I follow a God that cares enough to read every last word, and that is wise enough to answer according to his perfect timing.  And so I will keep on writing.

We’ve been studying the book of John in our small group and read the passage on Tuesday in which John is asked by the Pharisees if he is the Messiah.  He denies being the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet – they become frustrated and finally ask, “Who are you?”.  I love his response:  “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’ ” (John 1:23).  As we unpacked this passage, Nancy asked each of us to define ourselves with a metaphor.  What would you say if someone asked, “Who are you?”.  People shared articulately about mindsets and anxieties and life themes, but I was stumped, struggling to describe the state of my soul in simple terms.  Shane said he feels like he’s playing the role of a DH (designated hitter) these days – his focus feels narrow and limited, like he’s not able to take the field and stand in for a whole game.  It being World Series time and all, I was especially drawn to this analogy and have been reflecting all week on where exactly I fit in this great ball game of life.

I tried to imagine myself excitedly taking the field with my teammates and high-fiving them after a 1-2-3 inning, but when it really came down to putting on that uniform and leather glove, I fell short.  These days, I’m feeling much more bat boy than I am starting lineup.  I’m that scrawny kid in the dugout that wants so badly to go pro someday, but is currently stuck with the less-than-glamorous tasks of filling the Gatorade jug and fetching bats as real players run the bases.  The gig may have been fun for awhile, but now I’m just frustrated and antsy and so, so tired of feeling held back.  I’m longing to trade places with the pitcher – she kicks ass at her job and knows exactly what she wants her career to look like in 5, 10, 15 years.  The second baseman has it pretty good, too – she’s an artist and had been wildly inspired and productive as of late.  That beautiful shortstop works out five days a week and has arms like Michelle Obama.  Oh, and the right fielder – she’s a new mom whose understanding of love has been made new by her little baby.  And here I sit, wondering when or how or if I’ll ever make it onto the roster.

Am I wallowing?  Probably.  I’m finding out how easy it is for me to lose the joy of dreaming and goal-setting and fall instead into a funk of ungratefulness and discontent.  In the words of our pastor, I need to spend less time gazing at the green, green grass on the other side of the fence and more time watering the grass beneath my feet.  Because my yard is full of some pretty amazing stuff.  It’s a husband that offers hugs, encouragement, and goofy faces when I’m down, always knowing the best medicine for the worst blues.  Amazing and supportive friends and family.  Weekends packed with perfect getaways and food-filled parties with the gang.  I know these blessings should be cherished and nurtured.  I know this.  But man, that patch of grass out in right field just won’t stop calling my name…

It’s been a blue month. A string of blue months, actually. Yes, there have been bouts of unabated joy (it is summertime in Seattle, after all!), but there have also been seemingly long bouts of deep, shadowy funk. I have felt fragile, like my emotions are just a millimeter under the surface of my skin and ready to explode in a fit of wet, slobbery tears at any moment. I cried in my pasta last week when La Verne asked me over lunch how I’ve been doing. I cried when Shane and I couldn’t agree on what to have for dinner the other night. I cried when yet another month of trying to get pregnant ended with a big fat no-go. I suppose the tears are to be expected, but it’s the the other emotional gunk that’s clogging up my soul. I’m realizing how this journey through infertility has caused all my worst qualities to rear their ugly heads. Envy. Self-pity. Impatience. And worry. Great, heaping boatloads of worry. I worry that God’s vision for our family is different from the plan I’ve wished upon since I was a little girl playing with my Betsy Wetsy doll. I worry that there’s this part of my heart that’s specially reserved for a child of our own, and if that child doesn’t come into our lives soon, that part of my heart is going to harden and leave me with a limited capacity for joy. I worry that I worry too much, and that no egg is going to want to stick around in a womb filled with so much anxiety.

I’ve seen friends and family members and people in inspirational 60 Minutes interviews find peace and find God in the face of adversity. I always wanted to believe that I was one of those people – that if I was diagnosed with a terminal illness or forced to flee our home in a natural disaster, I would still be able to see God’s abounding goodness in my life and trust in His ultimate plan. Turns out I am not one of those people. At least not at the moment. In the midst of our struggle, despite the fact that we have our health and our home and a community that loves us, I can’t seem to climb out of my dank, gloomy hole. I’ve sat down there for awhile now, arms crossed and held sulkily bowed. Sometimes Shane drops in for awhile, or Nancy or La Verne will stop by to check on me, but usually I prefer to have the place to myself, so that I can spread out my grief without worrying that anyone will trip over it. I’m slowly, tentatively looking skyward and wanting to reach for God, but not at the expense of leaving my plans for our family behind. Maybe that’s where I’ve gone wrong – I’ve taken for granted the fact that He’s willing to climb into my hole with me, to chip away at my stubbornness and help me loosen my grip on all that I’ve clung to so tightly. He’ll sit there with me show me that our every happiness shall not rest on state of my uterus. He’ll meet me where I am, rather than demanding that I make the trek toward Him.

I suppose it’s time to roll out that welcome mat.

We’ve been working our way through Ecclesiastes in our c-group, and last week Jason asked each of us to talk about verses in the passage we were reading that felt especially meaningful – I was quick to pick out 11:5:

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

There have been several times over the past year when I’ve asked God “why”. Actually, it was more like, “WHYYYYYYYYY???!!!” Why did I have a miscarriage when I was so ready to be a mom? Why has the road to pregnancy been so difficult when I’m so healthy and young? Why is it so damn easy for so many other women? But when I read that Bible verse on that particular night, I felt all those questions melt away and breathed a sigh of relief as my heart filled with comfort and trust. I cannot understand the work of God, so I may as well stop trying. Just let Him do his thing – he’s got it covered and completely under control. He’s steering the ship, and that ship may or may not be bound for my particular dream destination, but the fact of the matter is, I don’t know the first thing about driving a boat, so I’m much better off in his hands. I was proud of myself for my faith-filled revelation. I was growing as a person, finally finding the beauty in “Let Go and Let God” (Geez, how I had hated when people said that). Looking back, I realize I was also in that window of my cycle when hope is most vividly present, when there’s the possibility that things actually “took” that time around. It’s the time of month when I see pregnant ladies on the street and photos of babies on Facebook and I feel joy and quiet anticipation. But that window closed this week as Day 30 became Day 1 again, and the cycles (biological and emotional) began again. My trust-filled heart sank. I reread Ecclesiastes 11:5, but rather than finding comfort in God’s plan, I was frustrated by my limited, short-sighted understanding. That nagging three-letter word crept back into my thoughts: Why? I said hello to my all-too-familiar amigos, disappointment and doubt, and then asked guilt to join the party, because shoot, if I was this bummed out, I hadn’t given up control after all… Thankfully, I do some of my best praying and soul-searching as I’m tumbling down my mountain of hope, and I found a foothold in the realization that sadness and trust can exist side-by-side. It’s ok to be disappointed – it doesn’t make me faithless, or selfish, or overly dramatic. And if I want to whine to God that I just don’t get it, I think he’s willing to hear me out. He may not answer me in the way that I want him to, with a perfect pink plus sign on a little plastic stick, but I know he’s still with me on this emotional roller-coaster, loving me, holding me close in a hug from a friend, or a day full of sunshine, or an especially grand weekend with Shane. That much I understand.