Sudden, Startling Joy

It has been a hot minute since I shared anything in this space. Admittedly, I expected the silence in this corner of the internet - caring for a newborn and becoming a mother myself have been full-time jobs that leave very little space for blogging. I started writing this post with the intention of updating all you readers (all 4 of you ;)) but so much in my life has changed in the past few months that to try to sum it all up in one piece of writing would be absurd. 

There is one piece of this story that has been sticking to my side like a bur, a piece that now feels almost too vulnerable to share. I was not excited to become a mother; in fact, I was dreading it with nearly everything in me. The nine months leading up to Abbie’s birth were some very difficult months for me. When I saw two blue lines on a pregnancy test, I honestly wept. Not tears of joy or celebration, but sad, mournful tears. The prayer I prayed most often over my pregnancy was that the Lord would somehow create in me the desire for the baby growing inside my belly because I felt so numb and afraid. 

I was never the girl who dreamed about being a mom. Before Abigail, I had approximately zero experience with babies and children. I had no idea how to change a diaper, soothe a crying baby, or do any of the things mothers do. I’m not sure there was ever a moment during my pregnancy when I felt joy about becoming a mother. And yet, as cliche as it sounds, the moment she was born was one of the most holy, sacred, and JOY-filled moments of my life. It was as if in a crashing wave the Lord answered “YES” to every prayer I had prayed throughout my pregnancy about creating desire in my heart. 

There have been many times throughout the past four months I’ve wondered shouldn’t this be harder? Shouldn’t I be more tired, more sad, more overwhelmed? Shouldn’t I be mournful for the parts of me that have changed and morphed and been lost? I expected motherhood to press against me on all sides like life has pressed against me for the past two years, and yet it hasn’t. I expected the weight of caring for another person to feel heavy and awkward and smothering, and yet it feels light and not burdensome at all. 

I expected a version of motherhood that is nothing like what I am experiencing. I expected that motherhood would be difficult, joyless, wrought with the little, painful deaths of my own desires. But instead of crushing, burdensome weight, my daughter has been, in the words of Madeleine L’Engle, a “sudden, startling joy.” 

I don’t know if there’s any deep spiritual lesson to glean from this, and I honestly don’t know if that’s even my job to try to find one and pin it down like a moth on a piece of glass. What I do know is that the rhythm of naps and nursing and diaper changes has become familiar and comfortable to me. I know that I desperately want to slow down time to soak in these moments filled with the most happiness I’ve felt in a long time. I know that the Lord is in these moments, and I’d like to think he gets excited seeing me experience all these blessings he is showering on me in the same way I get excited when Abbie looks up at me with her big blue eyes and smiles. Sudden, startling joy.

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What I Learned: Spring 2019

March - May 2019

1. Labor is really hard and only a little bit like what I expected

When I was pregnant, I spent so much time wondering what labor would be like. I had an idea in my head of what I wanted it to be like, but I also knew it was important to remain flexible. What I didn’t realize was just how flexible I would need to be - nearly everything I thought about how it would go went right out the window. The most surprising thing is just how quickly and how much I loved her as soon as I met her. I had no idea that was possible.

2. “Sleeping through the night” means your baby stays asleep the whole night, not even waking up for feedings.

For weeks when people would ask this question I would answer enthusiastically that “Yes! Abbie is sleeping through the night! She’s amazing!” (because she is). I even told her pediatrician at her 2 month appointment that she was sleeping for 8-10 hours straight. Then I learned that my understanding of “sleeping through the night” was different than everyone else’s because if Abbie went right back to sleep after nursing, I was counting it as a win. So to all the people I accidentally lied to, my two month old is not yet sleeping through the night. (Side note though: why do we even ask this question?! My daughter is still young enough to count her age in weeks - of course she wakes up hungry at night and wants to nurse. The expectation that a baby would sleep through the night is wacko to me and creates an unnecessary expectation for parents. Thank you for coming to my Ted talk.)

3. May is the December of summer.

I don’t remember where I first heard this but it is so true. Between graduations, weddings, and general merriment, May is so full and fun. But I’ll admit I’m ready for the slowness of summer after this busy month!

4. Quiet time with Jesus can look different and still be beneficial and sweet

For all of my adult life, my quiet time has looked essentially the same: reading passages of scripture in the morning, taking notes in a journal, and sipping hot tea from a favorite mug. This spring I learned that my quiet time doesn’t have to look like that to still be beneficial and sweet to me. With a newborn, time with the Lord only sometimes happens in the morning and rarely includes writing in a journal or sipping tea. Instead, I’m most often reading scripture on my phone with one hand while Abbie nurses, reading slowly and sometimes out loud to her, or listening to the Dwell app in the car while we drive somewhere. It’s different, and it is still good.

5. In a two-term presidency, all of the cabinet members submit their resignations as a courtesy to the President

I actually learned this from an episode of West Wing! When a president is reelected, all of the cabinet members will resign without being asked, giving the President the option to rehire or replace them.

6. How to make parmesan chicken with mushroom rice

This is now one of my very favorite recipes. It is easy and quick to make, heats up lovely for leftovers, and only uses one pot. Not to mention it tastes fantastic. What a dream.

7. “Being impressed by your own advice will most likely make you a terrible listener.”

“Being impressed by your own advice will most likely make you a terrible listener. You’ll only listen up until the point that you have a great idea. Then you’ll interrupt, I mean interject, so that you can share your idol, I mean your wisdom.”

Thank you, Jackie Hill Perry, for this quote that I now call to mind whenever I’m asked for advice.

8. Listening to podcasts while doing chores is the best

The first time I listened to the Popcast with Knox and Jamie while doing dishes was the first time I learned how great doing the dishes can be. Listening to my favorite podcasts while doing housework that doesn’t require much thought is one of my new favorite life hacks.

9. Our bodies can help us make decisions

I’ve been thinking a lot about our bodies in general, how we experience life through them and how we can care for them well. When I was considering a big decision this spring, I followed the advice of Emily P. Freeman in her Discern + Decide course and asked myself how each decision felt in my body - whether it felt light and colorful or dark and heavy, whether my shoulders felt tight. Thinking through the question in that way brought so much clarity to me in ways that thinking cognitively about the decision hadn’t.

10. “Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.”

I’m still processing this incredible quote from Eugene Peterson. Suffice it to say: I was moved when I read it.

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What I Learned: Winter

1. How to practice Lectio Divina

I learned about this spiritual practice through reading Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton in January. (Side note: I highly recommend this book.) Since reading about it and giving it a try, I’ve been incorporating this practice into my schedule on a weekly basis and it has been so transformative. You can read Barton’s explanation on the practice here and try it for yourself!

2. "Secondhand offenses are the hardest to forgive"

My husband nonchalantly said this while we were waiting in the car before a doctor’s appointment and it put words to something so true about me (and probably most people honestly.) It is so much easier to forgive a person for something they said or did to me, but when those words or deeds are against someone I love, forgiveness feels nearly impossible. Unfortunately I don’t think Jesus included a “secondhand offense” clause that excuses this particular type of unforgiveness. I have much room to grow in sanctification here I’m afraid.

3. Kristen Bell and Dax Sheppard are married

This is admittedly shallow and I considered not including it on my list, but it is something that blew my mind. And it was followed by a weird coincidence: the morning after I learned they were married, I was listening to the radio and the two of them were introduced as that day’s guest hosts. Crazy.

4. How to play Settlers of Catan

Josiah and I enjoyed game nights with friends this winter, and I learned how to play a few new board games. The most fun by far was Settlers of Catan. It’s not nearly as complicated as I thought it would be, but (as a person who always comes in last) does require strategy to win.

5. Josiah doesn’t like baked beans

I don’t know how many times in our marriage so far I’ve made a dinner that includes some form of baked beans with cornbread or BBQ sandwiches, but this winter I learned that my sweet husband doesn’t even like them. I’ve managed to stop lamenting what an unobservant wife I am and start enjoying the fact that there is always so much more to learn about each other. At the very least, now I just buy the tiny can of baked beans big enough for me.

6. Face oil goes on AFTER moisturizer

This piece of info alone has changed my skin. Every winter my skin gets dry and flaky (ew...I know. But true.) no matter how much moisturizer and face oil I use. After watching Jamie B. Golden’s instagram stories about skincare, I finally learned what my problem was: I was putting my face oil on before my moisturizer instead of after. The geeky science behind this is that moisturizers are usually water-based. When a face oil (I just use sweet almond oil) is added before moisturizer, it blocks that moisture from absorbing into your skin. BUT when face oil is added after moisturizer, it seals in all that hydrating goodness. Here’s to that winter glow!

7. C. S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle share a birthday

Yep. November 29.

8. Coconut water is the best cure for acid reflux in the third trimester

To be honest with you, I learned so many things pregnancy/childbirth-related this season, but THIS is the thing I found most interesting and worth sharing. I had terrible acid reflux in the beginning of January (think: waking up most nights to vomit) and I was a little miserable. A friend suggested coconut water and, because I love coconut water, I used pregnancy as an excuse to splurge. Out of everything I tried, this was the one thing that made a difference. Now I buy coconut water in bulk at Sams and haven’t had a bit of acid reflux as long as I drink some every day.

9. The importance and beauty of bringing "not only the message of Christ to someone but the manner of Jesus to someone." (Zack Eswine)

I listened to this podcast interview with Zack Eswine and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this idea. It speaks to the importance of the fruit of the spirit in a really beautiful way. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control - all of these describe the manner of Jesus, how he lived and moved and went about his days on earth, and I want them to be evident in my life as well.