I have loved my younger child differently

This year has been a whirlwind. 

When I say whirlwind, I mean there is still a box of maternity clothes sitting on my bedroom floor that I haven’t managed to find enough time to put away. (And if I’m going to be totally honest, there may be some pregnancy apparel still hiding in my dresser drawers, too.)

Whirlwind as in there are even some newborn clothes hanging in my own closet from those early weeks when the baby needed changing often, and I couldn’t yet climb the stairs following my c-section. 

Whirlwind as in when I stop to let my mind focus on the fact that today that baby has lived on this Earth for one full year, I feel I need to catch my breath.

We have been racing through this year. Sprinting towards survival. Carried along by the busyness of each day, filled with all the things it takes to enable more than one tiny human entrusted to your care to make it successfully until the next sleep. Diaper changes. Outfit changes. Meal prep. Instruction. (More instruction.) Discipline. (More discipline.) 

Then the forceful current of our daily routine pushed us through time even faster as we dealt with my own health issues for many of those months. Each day’s cherished prize: our heads hitting the pillows.

I cannot believe that last night, I put to bed a baby, and today, in this house, another toddler wakes.

first birthday

And just like that, a year has flown past.


I hadn’t stopped to really let myself think about it until last night. (You know, with the racing through life, and all.) The end of summer blurred into my eldest’s daughter’s birthday and its preparations, suddenly dropping us off to this day. But last night, it hit me. (Trust me, my husband will tell you.) It’s something about laying a child down to sleep, knowing they will have crossed that milestone the next morn of passing through another year that makes the floodgates open. And even more so that first year. I’ve come to realize–having been through two–that first birthdays are more of a celebration for the parents than the child, because you are rejoicing in the fact that you’ve successfully kept alive another soul for an entire 12 months. 

Not only have you cared for that little person for all those days and weeks and months in ways that stretched your abilities, you have learned to love another  in a way you didn’t know you were capable. An unstoppable, breathing, beating love that flows through your heart and mind, coursing through your veins and out to your actions. A love that everyone tells you will happen, but until you experience it, you can’t completely comprehend. 

And after your first child, you wonder how it would be possible to be filled up with the same love again, because you are already pretty convinced your heart in its current state is at capacity. 

Now that a year has passed after the birth of my second, let me tell you a secret. The truth is, for me, it hasn’t been the same.

My love for my younger child is different.

Before you think I am a terrible parent, publicly proclaiming my favoring of one child over the other, allow me to explain. 

I have already told the story how in the hours before my youngest’s birth, I was an emotional mess, sobbing in triage as my bewildered husband looked on. Not wanting to go through what I was about to experience because I was scared out of my mind. Scared not because of the pain of impending surgery and recovery, but because I knew the depths of what was to come. 

This time, I knew about the impossible love. And it was overwhelming.

reaching child

With this child, I already knew how far my love would reach.


Earlier this week, grandchild number 13 on my husband’s side joined our family. After he had a short NICU stay, my sister-in-law asked how I was able to stand being separated from my first daughter after her birth, since she also took a turn in the NICU. My answer was partially that I was so drugged, after a long labor followed by emergency c-section, I barely knew what was going on. But mostly the reason was that I had no frame of reference of what to expect as a mother and for me, hadn’t yet experienced that bond between parent and child. Now on the other side of that, knowing what it’s like to hold what you held inside you for 40 weeks, it would be much more challenging to go through something like that again.

And why is that? Well, you know how when you’ve done something once or you’ve been training to do something for a long time, and that moment comes to perform, your body kind of just takes over? That it acts on impulse, moving faster and more confidently than previously thought possible? Similarly, I have learned that once you’ve experienced the love of a child, the next time around, your heart responds accordingly. It knows what to do. It’s been here before. 

And because your heart knows what to expect at each new stage, it’s like it fills to overflowing before milestones are even reached. Gone are many of the uncertainties about what’s ahead, replaced by confidence that you know every new development is better than the last. You think newborns are great? Nah, wait till you see them smile. Love those 6-month-old giggles? Wait till a toddler whispers, “I love you, Mommy.”

I felt this love differently because it ran over what are now well-worn paths in this Momma’s heart, deepening the marks left by my first, pushing the boundaries to make room for more. Prayerfully cutting off the selfishness that clogged it before. Helping me better grasp just how My Father loves me and how far He’d go to reach my soul. How He’d send His Son in exchange for it.

Last night, my toddler helped me put the baby to bed. She recited our traditional nighttime story and then asked if she could pray. As I listened to her words and watched as my baby pushed her arm through the slats, spreading her fingers to touch her sister, I could feel the familiar tug as my heart stretched again.

Because now I know the miracle of a child is not only about new life. 

It’s about how it transforms yours.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (John 3:16, The Message)

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A prayer for my daughter on her big promotion

It’s been 730 days now that we’ve had the blessing of knowing your little face–your brow that’s crinkled in concentration from the very beginning, your wide eyes that have since shifted from deep blue to greenish hazel, your perfect button nose in the middle of those soft, cherubic cheeks, your bouncy waves ever-increasing in thickness, your sunshiney smile that could light all the darkness.

It’s been more than a million minutes that we’ve had the honor of seeing into your little soul–how you study and observe and analyze something until you feel confident enough that you won’t fail if you try, your methodical way you go about completing a task, how you find security and contentment in routine, the way you wear your emotions on your sleeve, just like your mom, and how there’s a constant song in your heart that dances freely off your lips, just like your dad. 

 

One of your favorite pastimes, cozying up to a good book.

 
Today marks two years we’ve had the privilege of being your parents. 

In the last year, you’ve gone from crawling babe to toddling beauty. You love animals and flowers, music and stories, walks and swims. You can count to 10 and sing your ABC’s, name colors and shapes, and put together a puzzle like it’s your job. You speak in two- to three-word sentences, but can sing nearly all the lyrics of many songs on your own, your small, sweet voice often drifting from the back of the van during a drive. You can’t start the morning off right until you’ve “read” your stack of books we keep at the foot of your bed. You enjoy watching Daniel Tiger, Mother Goose Club, Kipper the Dog, and Super Why. And at the end of the day, you love to “dance in the shower,” whisper “I lub you” and blow kisses, and find solace before slumber with your papi and Nu.

You’ve grown so much in the past 12 months–it’s clear you are a baby no more–but this next year brings your biggest milestone yet. In fact, in just a few days, you’ll relinquish your spot as only child and step up to the role of older sister.

It will be a challenge and will stretch you–and us–for sure. One that we can only tackle with the Lord’s help. And so I am praying for you, my dear daughter, as we prepare to welcome our next.

 

I’m praying you’re open to what’s ahead.

 
I’m praying you’ll look on your sister with love, and your smile will spark hers. That you’ll wrap her up in hugs and tenderly kiss away her tears. That you’ll share hours of endless giggles. That after you fight, you’ll forgive easily and move on effortlessly. 

I’m praying you’ll encourage her when she tries something new. That you’ll lead by example. That no one will dare mess with her when you’re by her side.

I’m praying we’ll face years to come of finding the two of you sneaking into each other’s rooms after dark, whispering secrets and swapping stories. Because no one else will quite understand. Because you share the same blood.

I’m praying she’ll desire Jesus because she sees you do. That you’ll grow in grace together. That you’ll openly share what God is teaching you and be honest about your failures and show compassion and understanding for hers. 

I’m praying that you’ll have a relationship that extends beyond these walls and your time spent with us. That she’ll be the one you call from college to tell about your adventures and stresses, first dates and heartbreaks. That you’ll choose to spend free time together, even if it means traveling hundreds of miles. That you’ll stand by each other on your wedding days. That you’ll hold each other’s babies with love bubbling forth like they are your own. That nothing in this world will make your dad and I prouder than the two of you.

Yes, this next year will be big. And it may seem scary and confusing and maybe overwhelming at times as you settle into this new space. But as the days go on and the decades pass, I pray you’ll look back at this year as one you’ll cherish the rest of your life. Because it’s the year you met your best friend. 

 

Such an exciting time to come with so much to celebrate!

 
” … Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16)

When I said ‘I do,’ I didn’t know what it meant

It’s still dark outside this morning, but I’m restless and struggling to sleep as I think of what’s ahead once the sun peeks its brilliant head over the horizon.

Today, we leave to celebrate our 10th anniversary–a surprise cruise that I still can’t believe I put together without your knowledge. And what a surprise it was: after you got over the shock, you sweetly told me it was the best gift I’d ever given you, outside of Olivia. I couldn’t have been happier to do it.

Ten years.

It feels unfathomable yet completely plausible that a decade of marriage has passed. Crazy, yet comfortable. At 18 and 19, we were barely more than kids when we first met. I remember my initial hesitation to commit to beginning a relationship with you–because I had a sense even then that it would be starting something that had no end. The foreverness of it was intimidating.

But as I prepared to walk down the aisle almost four years later, I couldn’t have been more excited. The 20th of May, 2005, was the quintessential spring day in Michigan–the kind you picture when you think of spring, but actually rarely happens in this weather-fickle state–warm, sunny, the air filled with a soft fragrance of fresh blooms. And anticipation. I was counting down the hours until I became yours.



As we exchanged our vows that evening, I was SO in love … or so I thought.

Turns out, looking back at the passage of time, when I said “I do,” I didn’t really have any idea what the weight of those words meant–what exactly I was saying when I eagerly repeated that I would honor, cherish, and protect you in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better … or worse. Or what you meant when you said those words back to me.

I didn’t know how you would see me in my lowest and most vulnerable situations, and yet would still care for me. How you be the best nurse I’ve ever had, learning just what remedy would help ease the pain of my latest hurt. How when I am not well, you immediately set to work, no questions asked, bringing medicine, my “buddy,” and Canada Dry. How you would clean up after me. How deep your comfort would run.

I didn’t know how you would be my biggest cheerleader and fan. How when the latest obstacle and major life decision stood before me, and I would come seeking advice, you would tell me you didn’t see a challenge at all. How you knew I would find a way to do it–be it a new job, idea, or motherhood–because, as you’ve repeatedly told me, “I always did.”

I didn’t know how you would work hard to provide for me in ways I couldn’t have dreamed possible. How you’d put in long hours at an extra job or in overtime to prepare for our future. How you’d be careful with what you earned and teach me to save more than we spent. How steadfastly you would honor God with His gifts.

I didn’t know how, at times, I could get so mad at you, yet love you so much. How we’d have low points that would rival our highs. How trivial our early battles now seem. How I’d feel incomplete, tortured, and empty until resolution with you has been reached.

I didn’t know how naturally you’d fall into fatherhood. How, despite the worst of days at work, your face would light up when you greet our child. How you’d find joy in the thankless tasks, changing diapers, giving baths, cleaning messes. How I’d see only you when she laughs.

But most of all, I didn’t know how you’d point me to Christ. How you’d motivate me to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. How you lovingly would help expose and correct my flaws and failures that didn’t mirror my Savior’s image. How I would see you seek God in prayer before moving our family forward. How I would desire to love God and others more because of you.

Ten years ago, when I said those words, I realize now I had no clue what love meant. And that today, I hope I still do not. That as the days continue to pass, the meaning behind our vows will extend their roots deeper in my heart with the twists and turns of what’s to come. That our love story has much left to be written. And that with each annual celebration of our wedding day, I’ll think of those words with a newfound appreciation.

I love you, hon.

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13, The Message)

Do I really want God’s will for my life?

Tomorrow, we celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Christ.

To many, the day is about hidden baskets of goodies, chocolate bunnies, pretty new outfits, and spending time with family. To the Christian, the day is about rejoicing in what Christ did for us on the cross and his triumphant victory over sin and death. He is risen, indeed!

It should be a joyful week, but I woke yesterday physically aching. I wasn’t sick, and it wasn’t the pregnancy. It was as if the fingers of a hand were wrapped around my heart, clenching, squeezing, pressing deep, as I wrestled with the thoughts spinning around in my head.

We’ve been preparing for Easter a bit differently this year … and I have to admit, it’s throwing me for a loop. Typically, in years past, I’ve used this time to reflect on Christ’s death, the three days in the tomb, and His miraculous ascension from the grave. However, this week, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the night before the crucifixion.

Starting on Sunday, our pastor has been focusing his messages on the hours leading up to Christ’s betrayal and his prayer with the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, recorded in Matthew 26. Three times, Christ, in agony before the Father, prayed the same prayer. After the final time, He was handed over to those who would murder Him.

When we met for prayer meeting on Thursday night, our pastor pointed us back to the same passage. At our church, we do prayer meetings unlike others I’ve attended. Pastor takes a Greek word and its English meaning, asks us a thinking question that we discuss, and then we break up into groups for our first session of prayer, which is centered on the discussion and praising God for who He is and what He has done. Then, we regroup to focus on requests and needs of the church.

This week, the Greek word was thelema and the question was what it means to be an individual. As we began to share answers about what makes us unique, pastor wrote the answers on a whiteboard in two different colors, drawing our attention to the set of answers that was less tangible, yet distinct to each person. Then he asked us a question: what exactly was Christ praying about in the garden? What was it that He gave up for us on the cross? Of course, there’s the obvious answers: His physical body and a life that up until that point knew no sin. But in Matthew 26, He prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Christ was praying about giving up His will (thelema), in exchange for the Father’s. Pastor asked us to consider: could we do the same? Could we give our will up to follow God’s will for our life?

Instead of praying in small groups, pastor said he wanted us to get alone with God and think about the things that make up our individual will–our desires and goals for our life–list them out, and then prayerfully commit each one to God, even if it meant giving them up in exchange for something different God has in mind for us. I spent a few minutes composing my list, the things I want and desire. David. Our marriage. Our children. Our health. Provisions. His job. Our home. Safety. Our family. Our friends. Our freedom. Our church. When I began to pray about giving each one of these things that make up my will over to God, even if it meant ultimately losing them, I could barely get out the words. Was I really willing to potentially give any of these up?

That night, my sleep was restless and filled with vivid dreams. In one, three children of friends were missing. By the end of the dream, only two were found. Another dream dealt with a weighty confrontation and forgiveness. I woke on Good Friday heavy and hurting. As I began to read my devotions over my morning coffee, I stopped when I got to Luke 9:23-24: “Then he said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.'”

Could I really give up what I love and cherish to follow Christ? What if doing what seems hardest is ultimately for God’s best?

The past two years have been marked with some major life moments for us that have changed the direction of our lives. We found out we were going to become parents. We moved to a new house. And then in late 2013, we left our church, which was a very challenging decision. It was not one we felt prepared to do, and it hadn’t been part of our plans. My husband had grown up in that church, attending it for all 31 years of his life. It was incredibly difficult when it became clear that God must have something different for us, and we fought with God, begging for a different course. The circumstances were complicated and messy, with its effects and consequences far-reaching. David describes it as the hardest time he’s faced in his life.

The tough choices weren’t over for us yet, and as 2014 wore on, we began to question whether I should remain at my job. That was a decision, as I’ve written about here before, I previously couldn’t fathom. My identity had always been so tied to my career. In August, I left to stay home with Olivia.

We didn’t really know, and most likely still do not fully realize, how life-changing these decisions ultimately would be. It didn’t take long for it to become painfully obvious that what initially felt like the worst was much better than we could possibly imagine. As we let go of our desires and what we held dear, God showed us how to value His desires for us. This time of crying out to God and seeking answers brought us closer to Christ and to each other. I found that spending my days with Olivia was more fulfilling than any role I’ve ever held. We joined a new church, where God began to grow our faith in new ways. Each message seemed directed at us, as God taught us about what it really means to follow Him and how He did not promise us that path would be easy–in fact, just the opposite. But the rewards would be eternal.

Then why was I still finding it so difficult to place each part of my will entirely in God’s hands? What if, after two years of challenges, it got even harder? What if, after learning so much and finding a home at this church, in the future it means a new pastor or a different church? What if David loses his job or I am called to a new one? Or what if it means the scariest things, losing the things I love the most? David? Our health? Our children?

But what if it does? For weeks, I have been following the story of Kara Tippetts, a young mother who recently lost her battle with cancer. I’ve been awed and inspired by the grace she showed, knowing her life was coming to an end, and the absolute peace she had, knowing it meant she was exchanging it for the glory of being in the presence of her Savior. As I’ve read of her life and death, I’ve wondered not only if I could do the same, but what if I were in her husband’s shoes, knowing I would lose my spouse? I’ve seen firsthand over the past two years the joy of accepting God’s will in my life despite hardships, but if it meant losing David or our children, would I still follow Christ?

As I prepare to celebrate tomorrow the significance and enormity of all Christ has done for me, my heart is gripped with these thoughts, and I am praying my answer would be yes. I am praying that He will help me have a heart that desires His will and the full life it brings, since His death was for me. And I am praying that as I turn my will over to God, He will give me peace through each step of pursuing His.

“Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be:
Lead me by Thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.
Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight, it leads
Right onward to Thy Rest.

I dare not choose my lot;
I would not if I might:
Choose Thou for me, my God;
So shall I walk aright.
Take Thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill
As best to Thee may seem;
Choose Thou my good and ill.

Choose Thou for me my friends,
My sickness or my health;
Choose Thou my cares for me,
My poverty or wealth.
Not mine, not mine the choice
In things both great or small;
Be Thou my guide, my strength,
My wisdom, and my all.”

Thy Way, Not Mine, O Lord by Horatius Bonar

Lord, help me give it all to You.

Lord, help me give it all to You.

“For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25)

What’s really helped get me through this pregnancy …

Ah, second trimester. I’m so so glad you’re here.

I’m now more than 15 weeks into my second pregnancy, and the nausea has subsided, my energy is returning, and I can finally enjoy a cup of coffee again. (Why exactly does a brewing pot smell so horrific during the first trimester?? I’m sure it has something to do with those pesky hormone changes …)

But I digress. I’m really glad to put that first trimester behind me, because it was a doozy. I feel like everything about this pregnancy needs to be in bold type and followed with an exclamation point. It’s been so in your face, obvious, distinct, and pronounced. Nothing’s been subtle. I was pretty confident that I was pregnant about a week into it after having some tell-tale symptoms. Then, a couple weeks later on the way home from church on a Sunday night, I told my husband that I wanted a Big Mac. No. I NEEDED a Big Mac. (Of course, I don’t think I’ve eaten a Big Mac in probably 15 years.) He looked over at me from the driver’s side and said, “Hon, you’re pregnant.”

The next day, right at the four-week mark, I took a test. The line started showing up before I could even put it down–no need to wait the three minutes. I was indeed pregnant! And when I told David that night when he got home from work, I was surprised that he was actually surprised. I mean, I think the Big Mac craving was really the only test we needed, right?

The day after the positive test, at 4 weeks 1 day, I was fixing Olivia’s and my breakfast, and I got instantly sick. Wow, I thought, that was fast. I don’t think I even had any nausea with Olivia until about six weeks. And though I had nausea throughout my first trimester with her, I fortunately only got physically sick a handful of times the entire pregnancy.

Yeah, I think I beat that benchmark in two days this pregnancy.

I wasn’t prepared for the nausea and sickness to hit me so hard and fast this pregnancy, since that was not what I experienced with Liv. (Though my wonderful mom likes to remind me how she was sick EVERY DAY for all nine months when she carried me. Love you, mom!) I wasn’t scheduled to see my OB till I was about 10 weeks along, but at week 7, after trying nearly every trick in the book, I caved and called in for help. The anti-nausea meds thankfully gave me some relief, and they really started helping by the time we saw our little babe on the ultrasound at my first prenatal appointment.

Yes, the first trimester was tough. But what really helped get me through it–in addition to many prayers and the anti-nausea meds–was the support of David. He really was amazing, and I’m not overstating that. David truly has a gift of showing his love through his care, and I am very blessed to be a recipient of that. It was like at the first sign of sickness, he just went into take-charge mode. Now, David helps a lot around the home and with Liv under normal circumstances–I really feel we have a true partnership in our home life–but this was above and beyond.

Reading book after book after book with his girl.

Reading book after book after book with his girl.

 

Every day, he would get home from work (I was usually curled up in a ball in the family room at that point) and without even asking, would willingly and completely handle whatever situation greeted him. Getting Liv up from naps. Changing her diaper. Feeding her dinner. Seeing if anything sounded good to me. Making many trips out to fulfill whatever oddball craving I was having at the moment (and of course, when you have a craving coupled with nausea, it is the ONLY thing you can eat). Doing the grocery shopping. Doing the dishes. Playing with Liv. Bathing her. Putting her to bed. Putting me to bed.

He NEVER complained. Not once. I’m sure he was exhausted after working all day and then caring for the entire household (dogs included) once he was home, but it did not seem to phase him. Through my fog of sickness, I couldn’t help but smile as I heard him laughing with Olivia in the other room. Despite the nausea, it made me feel so good. And when I would thank him for all he was doing, he would just say “Hon, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything special. I’m just doing what needs to be done.”

Snuggling his girls. (Note: the dogs.)

Snuggling his girls. (Note: the dogs.)

 

It was a rebuke to me. If I were in his shoes, I don’t think I would’ve had the same spirit. During this time especially, he taught me through his actions what it is to live out 1 Corinthians 13. It is an honor and a privilege to be loved by him; I know I am one lucky girl.

I’ve probably embarrassed him by now, so I’ll wrap this up. As I start to feel the first flutters of this tiny babe inside me, I can’t help but be excited for this little one to meet Daddy. He’s a special guy.

All the best Dads watch Daniel Tiger with their kids.

All the best Dads watch Daniel Tiger with their kids.

 

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)