It’s hard to put 2018 into words. But if I’ve learned anything (and I’ve learned a lot this year), it’s that you can’t avoid your life when things go wrong. We live in a society that treats ease as an expectation, when it’s just a privileged (and random) reality. It may seem doomsday-esque, but YOUR life could turn upside down tomorrow. Ask the parents of Sandy Hook—or this year, Parkland. Ask the mother who was in one moment driving her kids to ballet and the next in the intensive rehabilitation unit teaching their child to walk again post car crash. Ask the Guatemalan mother who sought asylum and in a flash was separated from her child, still wondering if they’re okay. Ask the Syrian parents whose home was bombed. You can’t marginalize hardship. It’s not an exclusive club.
I’m writing this from Aflac room 554 at Scottish Rite—a floor that has truly been a home away from home—holding lots of awful days, but just as many sweet moments and nurses who have become dear friends. Hattie is eating veggie sticks and we’re watching another Disney movie snuggled up and I’m amazed at how resilient and healthy she is. Looking in (albeit, it is a hospital room) things look normal, perfect even.
Yet down the hall, there is a family weeping. They have taken up residency in the hallways for the last 24 hours and you just… know. This. This is the reason I have such mixed takeaways from 2018. I have seen too much. I have seen families with declarations of faith and prayer teams and t-shirts with their child’s name on it walk in and out of the cancer journey since we have been here- leaving broken, batterered, bruised—and childless. The other day I was reading comments on a family whose child is cleared of cancer (Praises!) and the comments were all about God having a plan and having favor on that family. God is good! A Healing!
But God still has to be good for this family down the hall, the one with a hole in their heart. There is no favoritism in the Kingdom of God. I have to believe that. Even as much as I want to believe otherwise. I want the favoritism. We have this unwarranted belief heartache is the exception to a perfectly curated life, when in fact, in brokenness, it’s the rule.
I know this feels pessimistic, but it’s not. It’s perspective. And it’s needed. Because once you accept brokenness, you can find joy within it (not just without it).
This year has been hard, but it has also been Holy.
Next year will be hard, too.
And that’s okay.
We know we can walk through fire and not get burned.
One of the images at the beginning of Hattie’s cancer diagnosis was just that…
That we wouldn’t be burned…
we would not even smell of smoke.
But, of course, we don’t know what 2019 will hold. No one does. But we know there will be gold within the cracks – gold that shines with Hope for something more.
So here it is, our year in review.
May we all walk into 2019 bolder, kinder, and braver than ever before.
The most complicated question I get daily is -- “how are you”-- you know, the passing question that really doesn’t mean anything. But what would I say anyway? I have an incredibly complicated relationship with myself and my “okay” and “not okay” overlap constantly. The past few weeks I’ve felt like the worst version of myself- snappy, easily offended, hurt- not good qualities for a high school teacher and a marriage centered solely around a currently sick child. I’ve learned that if I don’t stop and think about how crummy I feel, I can just fake doing life. But the holidays are coming-- and I’m dealing with some deep rage and resentment about pretty much everything-- feelings that I know I have to get over fast to make it through the holly and jolly coming in like a tsunami.
Here is a Hattie update- for the most part, things are going well.
+ We are on round four of chemo-- we have spent the weekend at Scottish Rite for high-dose methotrexate. This “round” is the same one we did in October that was so hard on her body. She gets a dose of methotrexate (i.e. pumping poison in her body) for 24 hours and then gets it flushed out for 24 hours. She has to have a catheter in because it gives your skin a nasty rash and she is still in diapers.
+ On Friday as she got admitted, Hattie was sedated to get a lumbar puncture. This is when they shoot chemo up her spine to try and protect her brain. This was her third one in the past few weeks and maybe her 14th overall? I’m not sure where the number hits at this point. I just know that she turned 14 months yesterday and it has to be upwards of 12. So, almost as many lumbar punctures as months she has been alive.
+ We will *hopefully* go home tomorrow and then come back the Monday after Thanksgiving for her second 24 hour infusion of high-dose methotrexate. This is where everything went wrong last time. She had mucositis (painful mouth sores) down her entire GI tract, was on a morphine drip and IV nutrition for a week, and looked like she had been punched in the face. Her dose has been slightly reduced this time, but that doesn’t really make us feel better. We will spend most of December waiting for her to recover. And we are scared as hell.
After that, who knows. We will have more rounds of chemo. There is nothing straightforward about pediatric cancer. Things change constantly. Recently, her doctors took her off one chemo (vincristine) because it was attacking her vocal chords. And because leukemia can relapse if there is even ONE cancer cell in the body still, we soldier on. Even though she is technically in remission and current technology can’t tell if that ONE still exists. So it’s just a waiting game and lots of poison pumped in a baby’s body hoping that you are beating something seemingly invisible.
I said before that the emotion I feel most often is rage. I feel so mad about everything. Sometimes I wonder if I just now know too much about the cruelty and unfairness of life (in my small corner of hardship)- but I have no idea where the always happy, sunshine girl of my past is. I feel so foreign to myself, if that even makes sense. I feel rage about childhood cancer, about Hattie yes, but cancer in general. Too many sweet kids die daily. Too many spend their lives in hospitals and chemo clinics. But it’s not just that. I feel rage about politics. I feel rage about wars and death and immigration. I feel rage about systemic racism in schools and in society. And I mainly feel rage about how much freaking privilege is out there- to avoid all the things that hurt people. Pay attention. Listen to people. If you feel this innate sense of, “just avoid politics because it divides us”, then maybe your life is too easy. I don’t know, but it is frustrating to see people preach “kindness” but avoid learning about what kindness means outside of their own circle. Avoiding hard issues is a privilege. Just notice that. Please. And most of the time, circumstances are random. When I used to teach The Great Gatsby, we would always have a debate about hard work and the American Dream. And the lie is, that if you just work hard enough, you can do anything. The example I used to give to my students who really, truly believed in that notion was this-- if you work hard, I mean so hard, every day to get a football scholarship- will you get it? Maybe, yes. But what if you work hard, you are the best, you deserve that scholarship- and you get hit by a drunk driver the night before you are supposed to leave for college on that much earned scholarship. You’re in a wheelchair now. Your dreams are crushed. Maybe you end up with some sort of mental illness and need government assistance. Is that because you didn’t work hard enough? It would be cruel to say yes. The answer to society is not to have everyone “work harder”-- but to listen, to learn, and to get involved in situations outside of your own. Politics is not just a room where elected officials make random decisions and your life in the suburbs isn’t affected by it because you “worked harder” than others. It is education. It is healthcare. It is people’s rights and livelihood.
Cancer is random. It is really, really shitty and overwhelming. It takes “how are you” and makes it the most complicated question in the world. But it is just one type of bad in a world of hard things. So as this holiday season approaches and you’re feeling “stressed” about planning parties and gifts and family photos, recognize your privilege. It’s not a bad thing, but recognize it. And see if you can learn about just one situation in the world that you can try and make better.
They say that to write is to wrestle with your ghosts. And that’s unpleasant, no matter how fresh the “ghosts” may be. But I guess I knew I would have to sit down eventually, write out our story, so that I can have more than ramblings in a journal or a stupid social media app to collect these moments for Hattie when she’s old enough to read them.
And yes, when she’s old enough. Because we are refusing to declare anything less than full life and healing, despite the fear that comes with the word cancer. During our first five week stay here, I left one evening to go home. The air was warm and the colors were starting to merge in the sky- pinks and yellows and oranges. These are the moments that tears well up, when you’re hit with air that is not trapped within hospital walls. I started to plead with God in prayer and I felt an overwhelming sense of a need to pray beyond this-- for her first day of kindergarten and her future high school boyfriends-- and I’ve just held onto that feeling, even when fear and doubt creep up. Praying beyond this. Joy in spite of this. It feels like the only way you survive each day.
But this is a story in the making- one that will be worth telling- one that already is worth telling- and so, because of that, I am obligated to start at the beginning.
The question I get often is this: how did you know it was cancer? But, like almost every other parent dealing with this *not rare* turn of events, we didn’t. No clue. I took Hattie to the doctor while on vacation down in Santa Rosa and one thing led to another. I was wearing what I slept in, fully intending to be at the beach by 10 A.M. I got up after barely sleeping and (after a few persistent pushes from my wise mother) drove Hattie to the closest children’s urgent care. She had been acting unlike herself- weak, lethargic, and was on day three of a low grade fever. I had called my pediatrician earlier in the week and they said if she had a fever for three days to take her in-- so I did. I thought we would grab some medicine and knock whatever was holding her down out in a few hours. I was mainly annoyed I was missing out on my tan. This had been a rough week of vacation for my family-- almost everyone had gotten a stomach bug or fallen ill in some way-- so it wasn’t “totally weird” that Hattie was acting sick. What we didn’t expect was to be sent to the E.R. from the Urgent Care. Then to be at the E.R., Hattie screaming and exhausted because no one could get an IV in her -- only to (again, to our total shock) be told they were going to transport us via ambulance to the closest children’s hospital in Pensacola. I had lost it-- and a nice emergency vehicle driver walked me around outside to calm down while my mom waited with Hattie-- we got on the ambulance knowing only that her hemoglobin (red blood cell count) was at a 4.3 and that. was. not. Good. Once at the pediatric E.R., the IV debacle only got worse and finally after team after team tried and failed, an anesthesiologist who remains my hero kicked my parents and I out and got that IV in. This was the only way to give Hattie a blood transfusion which she obviously needed. We finally got admitted to the PICU at almost one in the morning.
Three blood transfusions and a flight home from Guatemala later (Andrew came back from a grad school summer practicum of course!), we were transferred to the oncology ward-- her initial blood tests showed no signs of leukemia. We stopped worrying about cancer pretty early-- it never really crossed my mind again. We were finally able to be transported (by ambulance-- again) to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta because they would only take Hattie on as a patient inpatient to inpatient. After a 3 A.M. arrival time, we were discharged at 10 A.M. (thanks for that unnecessary bill guys), because Hattie looked great and her counts were good. Two clinic appointments later in the week had everyone assuming she had something called TEC. If only that had been the end-- it was just the start.
A few days later, Hattie again had a persistent fever. We went into the E.R. and now her white blood counts were low-- so they scheduled a bone marrow biopsy. Less than 24 hours later, we were called to re-pack and come back in because Hattie had leukemia. We were shocked- but not too shocked- honestly we were just tired of wondering what was wrong when everything had been fine just weeks before. It was the worst answer we could get, but at least we had an answer.
We arrived and were told we would be inpatient for at least five weeks. Hattie would get a week of steroids and then 22 straight days of chemo. She was diagnosed with (Infant) B-cell ALL. The infant is important because while her cancer was genetically devoid of some pretty scary gene mutations that lower the chance of infant survival and in fact looks much more like standard ALL, her age designated us a “high risk”. Aside from age, in cancer world, we seemed to be getting good news after good news. Suddenly, in the hospital, we were starting to feel like the fortunate ones where outside of those walls we had felt isolated. We spent five weeks and Hattie had zero chemo related side effects (some mood swings and fat cheeks from steroids) and honestly, we had a pretty easy ride. After five weeks, we went home and a week later got the news that Hattie’s bone marrow was clear putting us technically in remission. This was (and is!) amazing news. But for childhood cancer, remission is only the start of an ugly journey.
We got re-admitted for round two and a drug called methotrexate. It rocked us-- and we are still digging out of the trenches of sickness it caused sweet Hattie. Her skin basically turned into a giant rash and her GI tract one giant ulcer. She is (after two weeks) being weaned off high dose pain meds and IV nutrition because she couldn’t eat. It shifted everything. Where we were unwavering in confidence and hope, we started to despair. Where we were walking in confidence, we started to feel crushed by the weight of this new life. Don’t Google anything. Ever. All the stats for childhood cancer and the horrible chemo drugs used are horrifying. There has to be real change. Almost 100,000 kids die in the world annually from cancer-- but often those deaths are attributed to the toxicity of chemos made for adults. Childhood cancer is overlooked on all fronts of research and awareness. And yet, 46 kids in the U.S. were diagnosed today. That has to change.
We are almost three months into our cancer journey and it has already flipped every single thought and priority we had for our life over. Spilled out our complaints. Knocked over inflated senses of pride. With cancer, you are living in the tension of life everyday. And of course, we all are there anyway. Anyone could get in a car crash at any moment. We are all not promised tomorrow, or even tonight. But cancer makes it feel real. It makes you think about your emotions constantly and have to show up and do normal life and be civil when you just want to scream and run away.
This is just the start. And despite our daily feelings, we feel confident in Hattie’s healing. We know she was made for more. We feel it. The world needs a full life of Hattie Harrison. So, we wait. We buckle down on prayers in hospital rooms. We find joy in days that feel so far from what we think we deserve. We laugh. We dance. And tomorrow we’ll do it all again.. For Hattie.
I’ve only been a mom for a year and some change- so I’m sure I’m not the most qualified person to be giving advice to new moms. Yet, I feel like I’ve learned a lot in this past year of identity wreckage and resurfacing, shifting of priorities and character.
There are a lot of things I could tell you as you become a new mom. Birth is not always magical. People will tell you it is, but to me, it was really just extremely painful. You will sit on a diaper of ice for a week and everything will hurt and your new baby will cry and things will go wrong and you will freak out every minute of the day for a while.
You will try and make “mom friends” and it will be hard because you can’t be friends with someone whose only shared interest is mothering. It’s not that big of a bond. It’s okay if you don’t fit in at a mom’s group.
Go on a walk everyday. With your baby. Sometimes with a solo cup of wine. Just walk. Even if sometimes it goes wrong (and you carry a screaming baby down the street while kicking the stroller to keep moving)- go anyway.
But really, if I was going to give one piece of advice from a rollercoaster year of learning, it would be this:
Be aware of your privilege.
While I think this important advice in every aspect of life, it especially applies to motherhood. I learned this early on when I found myself pregnant without even trying-- painfully aware that this shift in my body and life, that I felt so unprepared for or even desiring-- was the dream of many. Several of my friends were, and are, dealing with infertility or miscarriage, and it wasn’t too hard to start to realize that my language and “whininess” about what I was feeling had to be tepidly moved through. With social media, there is this feeling of perfection and so often people swing the other way-- to be “raw” or “real”-- showcasing the “hardships” of motherhood. While I’m not downplaying how annoying the day to day of motherhood can be, this “realness” looks pretty whiny to those who would do anything to be in your shoes. I feel this immensely now as I struggle with the “why me!? Why my kid?!” aspect of cancer-- but I can also be aware that in my own hardship, I am indeed still privileged. Of course, life calls for whininess sometimes-- but I think it’s better to call up a friend or get coffee to hash out the “realness” in your life rather than broadcast your “troubles” on the internet to a world of people who wish they were in your shoes.
Someone else's circumstances shouldn’t make you thankful for your own. But awareness outside of yourself can remind you to be thankful DESPITE whatever you are finding to be troubling in that moment.
This also applies to the way you raise your child. There are so many amazing options out there- organic foods, clothing, wooden toys, toxin-free products. But let’s be real, you can’t get on a high horse about using these things because they (in and of themselves) are a construct of privilege. Shouldn’t ALL baby products be toxin-free, rather than just the high-cost ones? Low income families can’t afford the lifestyle many moms claim as best. It’s not a bad thing, but be aware of your privilege and judgement. If you are able to buy top of the line products, toys, and clothing- great! But get your nose out of the air at those who can’t. You can breastfeed solely (if you don’t have to work and have that as an option). But these aren’t choices that everyone gets to make. Choice is a privilege. Inequality is real and rampant in this country whether your secluded view of the world allows you to see this or not. Again, be aware. Be thankful. Be kind. And be generous. Teach your children to do the same.
You can spend your time isolating and protecting your child from a broken world. Or you can roll up your sleeves and try to fix it for them. In year one. I’ve learned that I would rather do the latter.
let's hold hands in the city.
act like we're young and free again.
let's open our eyes to waterscapes
and get tipsy at noon.
let's be you and me, again.
let's hold hands in the city.
Last week, Andrew and I went on a belated anniversary trip up to Boston, Massachusetts. We had gotten our flights ages ago on a Southwest deal and booked a cheap Airbnb right downtown (which ended up being amazing and right around the corner from a Cafe Nero lined with books and providing daily cold brew).
To say that this year has been tough on "us" would be an understatement. We are battered and bruised. We still like each other (obviously), but there have been many times this year where we would each admit that we. did. not. I could launch into reasons and excuses, but it doesn't matter. Therefore, this trip, which was meant to be sweet and simple, would also hold the space for us to deal with some of the rocks we have held ready to throw at each other.
This year has been hard because we have each felt ourselves trying to hold onto our identities like treading water. So in a sense, as we have been trying to find ourselves in the wreckage, we have forgotten to rummage around for who we are together instead of just apart.
This past week in Boston was far from perfect. You can go anywhere in the world, but at the end of the day, you're still you with your "you" problems. But I'll always remember it as a sweet, sweet time perusing bookstores, sipping cold brew in Harvard Square, walking along the water late at night, and feeling a little guilty about how easily alcohol solves our problems.
(Andrew, you are the coolest guy I know. I love you. Thanks for dealing with my mess.)
If you find yourself in Boston, here are some of the things we loved:
Eat lobster tacos at Row 34, grab a beer at the Trillium Beer Garden after a failed walk on the Freedom Trail, grab lunch at the Boston Public Market, walk through Boston Public Garden and along the Charles River Walk, take the train the Cambridge and visit Lamplighter Brewing Co., definitely get a cold brew at Tatte, get cocktails at Drink (if you want to feel really not cool enough but also get a dang good drink), buy all the things at Primark, visit Brattle Book Store, walk the streets of Beacon Hill, and just be with someone you care about (and tell them that while you're at it).
If you peaked inside my bedroom door right now, you would definitely judge me. I mean it. Even if you are also a messy person. It is complete and utter chaos-- so much that I’m even afraid of it. And if you’ve been my friend for a long time, you know this is saying something. I’ve never been one for tidy.
But I’m stressed out by the mess in my house right now. I’m avoiding it, of course, by writing about how stressed it makes me. The problem is that I know exactly why it’s haunting me. It feels so powerfully metaphorical for my life, my mind, and my heart right now. Straight chaos-- like the tornado from the Wizard of Oz swept through everything. But instead of dealing with any of it-- I just want to run away and hide.
The first few months of parenting are hazy. You literally have no idea what you are doing so every. single. moment. feels like this amazing learning opportunity that you don’t really want to do anything but things you KNOW how to do in the few spare moments you get (oh, binge Gilmore Girls with a bottle of wine instead of dealing with anything? I’m good at that. Great!)
Then, you go back to work. You’re husband goes back to work WHILE in full time grad school. He means to quit, but you’re both freaked out about one income so he just does both for the entirety of second semester. He damn near loses his mind. You forget to communicate because while he is doing all of this, you are teaching + coaching + taking online grad school classes + figuring out how to raise a human who is now able to put acorns in her mouth for the one second you look away and so now you are freaking out and crying because what if, what if, what if. And then your husband finally quits his job because (BLESS) that was supposed to happen in October but might have to leave the country for a minute this summer and you just absolutely are uncertain about everything in your life. So you don’t open your bedroom door unless you have to- because it’s too much of a reminder of all the spiraling inside your body right now.
Of course, the “you” here is really a “me”.
But avoidance is key.
How do you start to piece your life together when it feels like trying to hold spaguetti? How do you live out faith in uncertainty and really, truly take leaps without clenching the handle bars?
I have no idea. But I guess that’s really about how much I know about everything right now.
You will be okay. And the “you” is “me” but it’s also actually you.
You want to believe that you are the exception to the rule of life that states that this will be hard.
But you’re not. You will go through valleys and not everything will be fun. That seems obvious, but in this era of trying to prove our happiness to everyone else via social media, it remains important to remind yourself, I mean me.
I guess I’ll go clean my room now.
If I could sum up time lately with a feeling it would be loneliness.
I haven’t written words lately because I feel like I’m drained of meaning and have nothing to say. I either have gushy “the world is beautiful!” moments or raw “the world is harrowing!” moments (which is like everyone, ya know?) but I just can’t seem to come up with anything that matters. And feelings feel whiny and unappreciative. So baby and puppy pictures it is. And I guess when I think about “who am I lately” or “what’s going on with me anyway” it just comes down to being lonely.
But 1. That feels whiny. And 2. Makes it seem like I don’t have friends. And I have some of most kind and loving people on my side who have walked through it all for me. Which I guess is why it feels so damn whiny to even say I’m lonely.
But I guess it’s a soul thing and you can’t tell your soul how to feel.
Here is the thing: I have people surrounding me. I have friends in other cities to call. I have a mom and sisters that I have relied and been loved on more than ever (which is an incredible blessing). I have a best friend in Andrew. But I don’t have a community. I’m an outsider to friend groups. And I’m alone a lot. A lot a lot. And I’ve experienced the difference and gotten burned from it in the past and so you just have these reflections of late nights at camp when you were younger or sitting in basements with people connected by literal or metaphorical fires. And these seasons burn in your mind and then it’s Friday night and your husband is out of town and the thought “I should call a friend” to come over goes in and out your head so fast because you. just . don’t . know.
This week I got physically sick and trying to heal with a baby constantly needing you is hard. And on Sunday morning, the tears fell, because this is my soul. I’ve covered up trying to fix or heal my own soul because I can just project being busy or needed on Hattie or Chief or high schoolers. And it’s not just “running out of steam” or being tired. It’s loneliness.
But are you okay? People always want to know. As if an outpouring of emotions has to be sealed with an answer the whether the crack that the spill came from is fixable--
Yes! And. No! Does it have to be one or the other? I don’t think so. Life is not really about being happy anyway and we often use “okay” as a synonym for happy. I think (if you really embrace your humanity), we’re all just a mix of okay and not okay and happy and not happy- at the same time- not one after another. We can’t seek happiness as our ultimate end.
It’s really just easiest to not care. I can count the times I have cried in the past year on one hand (okay, maybe two). Part survival, part callous. There is a hardness and a desire to project personal pain upon the landscape of a broken world, because when you compare small, trivial sadness to war and hunger and suffering and death-- it just. does. not. matter.
But loneliness runs deep. And I’m learning that comparison (in the way that you just repeat your privilege to find a muffle of complaining inside your heart) is no way to truly find life.
This feels whiny. And I may regret and delete this later. But I’ve avoided by Bible and journal and basically anything that would mean dealing and processing with the mess of myself in a long time. And this feels like a start. Cry it out. Write about it. Move on. Be okay. And not okay. Just, for the sake of your own soul, be honest with yourself.
You don’t have to prove you exist.
Social media has given us this new thing-- the need to prove our very existence-- and it’s weird.
But here is the thing: you don’t have to prove anything.
You can simply exist.
Alone. In quiet. Doing the hard work without recognition.
And sometimes we need to stop and remind ourselves of that-- that a lack of validation of ourselves doesn’t mean that self doesn’t exist.
You don’t have to prove to anyone that you are a vegetarian and haven’t eaten meat in almost a decade. You don’t have to post meals and recipes and rant about animal rights to care deeply about them.
But you don’t have to.
You don’t have to prove to anyone that you are fit. You don’t have to post yourself running or film the HIIT workouts you do or take a photo every time you make a smoothie.
But you don’t have to.
You don’t have to prove that you read with book reviews or prove that you write by having an eloquent essay every few weeks the way you want. You can simply do: read and write.
But you don’t have to.
You don’t have to prove your husband loves you or that you (maybe occasionally) get invited to something or that you did fifty squats or that you detoxified your house or absolutely anything.
But you don’t have to.
This is my list. These are the things I’m proud of and insecure about all at once. I find myself needing to validate myself in some way. Existing can be lonely. Doing things to do them, in the quiet, can feel non-essential. Especially as you see praises pour in for others online for the things you do, you care about, you are.
And there is nothing wrong with posting any of these things-- if you want to.
But you don’t have to.
You can be. You can read. You can run. You can jump. You can eat. You can be wholly you in the good and the bad. You can be you when you feel loved and when you feel abandoned.
You can be all of these things.
And you don’t have to prove it to anyone.
But you don’t have to.
And that, my friends, is pretty damn freeing.
Post what you want. Be who you want. Show everything to world. Show nothing. Whatever your list of mashed up wants with the things you’ve got going for you-- make up the essence of a person, living an breathing.
Just know- whatever those things are-- they are you.
You can share with the world that they belong to who you are.
But always, always, always, you don’t have to.
. If there was ever a year to wreck and rebuild me, this would be the one. I’ve never in my life walked out of a year with such a foggy recollection of what the beginning was like- January 2017 a distant memory, the girl inhabiting my shoes a different person entirely.
I thought I would run a marathon and have sick abs this year as I sought to “purify” my life. Oh, the irony. My body-view and worldview were flipped on their head this year. I’m grateful even if that gratefulness is in hindsight and there were a lot of tears.
I spent a lot of this year angry about what I’ve seen in the world and in the news and in Twitter feeds full of hate. A lot of people say the easiest way to “be thankful” is just to avoid anything bad happening in the world. I think that’s a load of crap. Stay mad, people. Fight for better.
I didn’t think I was ready to be a mom. But as I leave 2017, I see that my identity has only been added to and in no way diminished. I can’t believe I have the honor of knowing, loving, and raising Hattie.
A year can’t be just good or bad. This is life. We’re all of a bunch of humans trying to figure it out: some bad, some good. Some beginnings, some endings. Rhythms and repetitions. I feel more centered this year. Less upset in all that I haven’t accomplished yet. There is still a lot of work to be done, and as much as I love the battle cry that a new, fresh slate of a year brings nothing in our timeline ever really is what we think it will be. It’s best to keep showing up and throwing punches.
I want more. Not more stuff. But more justice. More kindness. More dreams cominf true. For me. For Andrew. For my friends. For my family. For strangers.
But today is what it is.
And so today, the last day of 2017, that is enough.
We’re all walking around like nesting dolls, holding the older versions of ourselves inside us. Some we hold fondly: our bravest moments and our eighth grade angst and our fearful dreams. Some we hate: the times when we were less than our best-- rude or selfish or shortsighted.
We hold each car we drove and each person we dated and each song that was “so us” for that season inside of us like little bright bubbles.
Our seasons are never what we think they’ll be, must like New Year’s Eve always feels like a sort-of let down. It’s not until that year’s end, that (often) we are able to love the beginning.
Maybe it’s the holidays or maybe it’s the Hattie (probably a little of both), but I’m feeling sentimental about myself lately. And I know that seems silly and probably a little self-absorbed to say, but it’s a real feeling.
There is a feeling after winter, while running, that your skin feels like it’s meeting the sun for the first time. Usually in March -- I can’t truly explain -- but the air is warm and the sun is bright -- it hits your skin (in shorts for maybe the first time) and you feel exposed, fresh, raw. You drink it in like an old friend.
That is what life feels like right now-- a re-awakening of myself. A re-appreciation of the ability to be an individual-- which sounds so simple-- but I had stopped appreciating it. Maybe I never knew I was supposed to.
I want to always feel a skin-tingling joy about who I am. Because I’ll change. And grow. Like the seasons. Or with them. But it is truly an honor to able to “be”. To be yourself. To be weak growing strong. To be growing patient. To be growing kind. To be growing into something better, but not forgetting the beauty about each road you’ve walked.
And so we’ll keep stacking, those nesting dolls of experiences and personality changes and life stages, piling on to make up a story that only you can hold.
It’s just how life goes. It’s not magic. But it sure would be better to look at it like the latter.
It's been two whole months of knowing and loving Hattie Elizabeth. While I was pregnant, people told me over and over about the euphoric moment when she was born and my heart would grow ten sizes. But the thing is, it wasn't until a few weeks in that I felt that heart swell. Sure, I loved her the instant she was born. But that love was mixed with wariness and a feeling of, "what the heck do I do?". As we hit the two month mark, I can't imagine life without this sweet nug and buddy of mine. But it wasn't instantaneous. So first-- some encouragement: nothing in pregnancy or newborn life has been exactly like anyone said. If you don't feel the same way as others-- who cares?! This is your life. You were meant to see through your own individual lens.
We go for her two-month appointment next week, so I don't know exactly how much Hattie weighs-- but it's definitely over 10 lbs. Little girl has chubbed up this month and we love her chunky cheeks. I never want to forget who she is at this stage of life.
- Sleeping! She is a champion sleeper. As in last night, she slept for 9 hours. Her average is 7 or 8 as of the past two weeks.
- Eating. Hence the giant cheeks.
- Standing up and trying to jump or climb up whoever is holding her.
- Gilmore Girls. Just kidding, but she has watched a lot as I usually have it playing while we nurse. Maybe she'll grow up with rocket fast speech and a love of coffee?
- This past week I went back to school, so Hattie gets to stay with either her grandmas or her new friend, Ms. Ann. Lots of love for this girl!
- Looking at herself in the mirror.
- Being outside
- Ceiling fans. Because who doesn't?
- Going on runs in her stroller- especially going fast.
- Smiling. And we love it right back!
Some roads are exciting to drive down. Open highways. Days where the leaves are changing and you fly against the magic of yellows and oranges. Going somewhere.
Some roads feel like a trap. The ones from your house to the grocery store. With red lights that long forever. The mundane. The mandatory.
This year has been a lot of feeling stuck. At one point, on one of those drives where the red lights trap you and you feel like you’re going nowhere, again, a voice on the radio said, “sometimes you have to grieve the death of a dream before you can accept what’s next”. And that was it. Tears. I don’t know who was talking or even what station was on-- it was hum-drum background to a blank stare-- until, yes, this is me. I need to grieve the year I didn’t expect to be able to accept the year that I have, in order to start seeing color in the ordinary again.
Twenty-six started by the seashore. I was going to run a marathon this year. I was going to do burpees until my abs were made of others envy. I was going to be the best version of myself. I was in my mid-twenties- ew- but I was going to start crossing off bucket list dreams.
And then, on February 3rd of my 26th year, I found out I was pregnant. And 26 was the year I never expected. It got weird. I learned a lot about my body I didn’t know. My runs got slower and slower until they were a one-mile shuffle. My identity shifted tremendously. It’s still shifting.
And none of that was bad. But it still was the end of something. It needed to be grieved to finally be able to move on.
So here I am, at the end of 26, the end of the year that went 180 degrees from the way I expected it to go. This year felt refining. This year felt lonely. This year felt like a gift some days and a punishment others.
Here’s to 27 with arms open and no expectations. To running hard again. To motherhood. To new goals and dreams as I re-friend the old ones as well. To grieving what has changed and rejoicing in all that happened and all that 27 will bring. To loose ends. To untied endings. To rejection of an idealized life. To messiness. To family. To 365 days of whatever tomorrow will bring.
27, I’m here for you. Open roads. Let's go somewhere.
It's been exactly two weeks since we brought baby home-- a crazy feeling when you're released into the world thinking, "who let us have a baby?!" There is no shortage or emotions with this incredible life shift, but all of that for another day. But truly-- like they say-- nothing can truly prepare you for parenthood. You just have to go into every day thinking-- I have no idea what I'm doing-- and somehow things will fall into place. It's how I felt the whole time I was pregnant-- what the heck is happening here-- and you just have to let go of the idea that you're in control. For my high strung personality, pregnancy- and now motherhood- have sorely rearranged me.
(which, many would argue, is a really good thing) I agree-- I wanted to be a different person at the end of pregnancy than at the beginning-- and I feel like I am. Moldable, still. Trying to figure out what this new version of me will look like. We are all figuring out this new family thing.
The world feels very small these days. Me. Andrew. Chief. Hattie. Small house with limited walls. One of the things you can control and prepare for through pregnancy is the nursery. Of course, a baby has no idea what a nursery looks like and material possessions don't really matter as you figure out this new bond. But, it did act as a tangible room of prayer throughout pregnancy-- praying and wondering and hoping for the future of this child that was weirdly inside me not very long ago. Life is different now, but that room is still a place a peace and my hope is that it continues to be that. It may seem kind of silly to give a baby a whole room-- but (even though we won't live in this sweet rental home forever) it is a place to dream and grow and become.
I have hopes and dreams of my own of who this little girl will become. But I know ultimately, she will be whoever she wants and we will love her dearly. I hope she learns to love others boldly. I hope she loves to read and finds adventures in stories. I hope she runs wild with her own beautiful imagination. I hope she casts vision for a better world and defies the status quo. I hope she knows how valued and loved she is. I hope she is a light bringer in a world of darkness.
Right when school ended, Andrew and I decided to take a mini-vacation... and we wanted to attempt to take Chief. Now Chief, photogenic as all get out, is not alwaaaaaays the best dog. So we were nervous as we checked into dog-friendly hotel Tides at Folly Beach.
But it was the best three days. Chief did so well on the beach early mornings and at night and sat sweetly at the breweries and restaurants of Charleston.
And so we got our sweet little mini-family vacation. The best part-- greater than the beauty of the waves and sunsets-- was that my whole heart was there beside me. There is a whole lot of love with the three of us-- and we know that little bird coming in September is walking into a bundle of heart for the life we are creating together.
P.S. If you are looking for a dog-friendly beach-- Folly Beach near Charleston is the place to go! Almost every place we wanted to eat had a porch where Chief was welcome. For this overly-emotional girl, it was simply the best!
There is something especially magical about summer camp. Away from the noise of everyday life, surrounded by nature, feeling especially close to God-- I first fell in love with summer camp in 3rd grade. I loved the bunkbeds and writing letters with flashlights late at night. I loved being constantly surrounded by trees and sunshine and just plain dirt. I loved the wild freedom of being 9 with no parents around.
Eventually, in college, I became a camp counselor and the magic was deeper and wider. Ir was worship songs in a wooden chapel late at night and fashion shows on your cabin porch instead of napping and laughing at how bad you smelled surrounded by some of your dearest friends in the world.
The essence of camp for me will always be that it is magical because it emulates Heaven. It is freedom and joy and stars and moon all mixed up.
After four years of college full of summer camp and then YoungLife camp, I stepped into adulthood and teaching and thought the next time I rolled up at a camp it would be to drop my own kids off into the magic.
But grace is sweet. And Jesus is kind.
The past few years, while teaching and coaching at Brookwood, I've attempted to be a YoungLife leader at Brookwood and Parkview as well. I say attempted because while I've been there, I feel that I've failed in a lot of ways. It hasn't been as easy as I thought and I had to suck it up and realize the hard way that you can't be physically and mentally present for everyone, always.
But back to grace.
A few weeks before school ended, I got asked if I could go to YoungLife camp in Colorado last minute. I said yes and as soon as I got on that 30 hour bus ride at 26 weeks pregnant and nausea set in, I started to regret that decision. You can't do this pregnant, said the voices in my head. You are past this stage in your life-- what on earth are you doing? That bus ride was rough... but the redemption ahead even in the ups and downs of the next week was a sweet kiss from Jesus.
Being pregnant has been a lot of things and there have been a lot of emotions-- but more than anything-- it is the finality of a chapter of your life-- even more so than I ever felt about getting married. Even at 26-- it is hard to say goodbye to being the kid and having one. I don't mean that in a negative way-- more of nostalgia. And for one week, while yes camp is hard pregnant, I got to feel that freedom and joy and sun and moon mixture rinsed over me again.
I got to hang out with 17 incredible high school girls and remind them how worthy and loved they are!! I mean, what a privilege. I was given renewed confidence in my own calling on my life-- to love these girls wildly, even when it's hard and you are tired. And I was given sweet friendship and laughter for 10 straight days.
I love these girls and I truly hope they felt the love of Jesus on them that week. It was about them after all. But still, I can't get over how sweet of a gift it was to go to camp. Pregnant. Impending new journey wrapped into a sweet kiss with the familiar of summer camp magic.
It felt like a kiss of grace. And with that sweetness holding my hand, I feel a little more ready for this next adventure. It will certainly have moments that feel like a 30 hour bus ride-- but the moments of mountains and laughter and sunshine will be there to remind me daily of grace.
There are 140 calories in 16 Wheat Thins, which is the serving size on the side of the box.
I still remember this from freshman year of high school. I counted calories and then would do the math-- how many miles or minutes of running would burn off that handful of M&M’s. And then I would run. Somehow, in the midst of a mess of self-sabotage, I fell in love with running and somehow it saved me-- but not from calories. First, I had to learn to stop counting those. And while it only took about a year and a half for me to hit the bottom and realize that no matter how much weight you lose, the frame of your body remains the same-- one aspect of running stayed with me-- control.
Exactly four years later, another freshman year, I ran too much and cracked a bone-- fractured my femoral neck, which connects your femur to your hip. I couldn’t run for months-- spent weeks on crutches and the same amount of time being an absolute nightmare to the people around me.
And again-- my favorite activity proved a mirror to show me that the real issue was with myself-- and a need for control-- specifically over my body.
It’s always been about my body-- and while I know it’s ridiculous and shallow and horrible-- I’ve always been afraid of being fat. I hate that about myself, but it’s true.
And so when I thought about pregnancy-- I always thought- no way, you just get fat. (Yes, I know it's not actually fat! It's a baby! But it's still getting bigger!) You lose control over your body and get bigger and bigger and bigger.
And you do.
People have asked me what the hardest part about being pregnant and it’s exactly what I've always, always, always come back to-- I have no control. And I hate it. Running gets harder and so my runs grow shorter and slower every single day. I have to pee every mile and I can feel the heaviness in my legs. My once diligent workout routine, still there, but simpler, modified. And my body-- bigger and bigger and bigger.
I expected all of this. I knew this would be what I hated the most and it is--
But what I didn’t expect (because my heart is still learning to be less self-absorbed) is that the lack of control would start to turn away from me-- and start to be about her.
Where I didn’t want a stomach, I want growth to know she’s okay.
Where I didn’t want to stop running, I want to slow down to make sure she’s okay.
Where I didn’t want to eat for my own sake, I want to make sure she has enough, that she’s okay.
The Lord is refining me and teaching me what it looks like to let go-- to lose a little control. My body, yes of course, but it’s really just a metaphor for the control I’m having to cede and will continue to hand over for the rest of her life.
But if you could still not tell me I’m “huge” or look “so pregnant”, that would be nice. I’m working on it, but you don’t just change overnight and think it’s cool when someone calls your stomach your “pooch”, please and thank you.
I’m really excited to meet my daughter, a feeling that grows week by week. But heck, I’d be lying if I wasn’t also stoked to hit the pavement hard and fast again. I'm not the mess I was at 15 and 19, but I'll sure be glad to gain one aspect of control back in a new life that will have plenty of new lessons about "letting go" come along with it.
It’s been 11 weeks since I found out I was pregnant and the words have been stuck inside me like peanut butter. I need to break my silence, for my sanity's sake. I feel like I’ve “lost writing” the past few months when I’ve only been too chicken to sit down and wrestle with my emotions, the way writing makes you do.
But now-- no more silence.
I wish I could think of a good beginning, as any good story would have. That’s what this still feels like: a story, not my life. And while I’ve certainly grown to be excited about all the new on the horizon, I don’t exactly mean that in a “pinch-me-I’m-dreaming” intonation.
I’m caught in a crossroads of honesty and understanding. I’ve been given a gift-- put in a position-- that so many women, including friends of mine, have spent time on their knees in prayer for. And here I am. Walking around like a zombie of indifference-- everyone who has known me growing up knew that I did not want to get pregnant. I still feel that way. I really don’t want to be pregnant. I think it’s gross and weird looking. That has never meant that I didn’t want to be a mom. I can’t wait to be a mom! I can’t wait to meet this sweet little girl inside me. But it doesn’t mean overnight I’m going to be stoked about the way it’s happening.
But I guess this is really everyone’s story and it’s just something we wrestle with: this isn’t the way I thought my life would look.
I’ll just start this during the first week of February. Call it whatever you want-- but I knew something (someone?) was growing inside me. I could feel it. After about a week of suppressing these thoughts, I was working out on a Friday afternoon and I broke down crying because “Oops, I Did It Again” came on Shuffle. And I knew I had to just do it- face reality- pee on the stick- figure it all out. And so I did. And of course, I was right. And I wish I could have reacted the way you do when your prayers are answered. But I froze, threw the stick away, and continued with my workout. I didn’t even tell Andrew until almost 24 hours later. A week later, I got blood drawn and a week later the doctor called me and laughed because I was about eight weeks pregnant. A week after that, we saw our kid for the first time through the lens of an ultrasound machine and found out that actually, we were already eleven weeks into this adventure.
It’s a lot to go from not thinking about pregnancy to thinking you have nine months til motherhood to realizing you actually have six months in only a matter of weeks.
And so, silence.
Pregnancy is a hard thing to talk about. People are all up in your body’s business and walking on eggshells around you for no reason at all. It’s hard because again-- I know this is the miracle so many people are praying for-- and so to say anything negative feels like throwing rocks. But I can’t fake thinking it’s sweet that my stomach is expanding. I don’t. I’m learning to stop being selfish about my body. I'm learning. But I’m still in a drag out fight with myself over these feelings-- ones that do not make me love the child growing inside me any less.
For weeks, my go-to mode of life has been to not think about pregnancy. Hey, from the moment I saw those plus marks, rational mindset went into overdrive. This is happening. You can’t change it. You can’t back out. You might as well accept it and move on.
But I know there has got to be more than walking through this with a half hearted grin as people ask me if I’m “okay” for the 10th time in a day. There is more that God wants to teach me in this weird season. My sister said to me, “you won’t be the same person at the end of this”. And that has stuck with me. I’m glad. I don’t want to be the same person. I’m ready to be refined and challenged and stretched. I’m ready to be a different person and to be the mom God intended me to be.
But it doesn’t mean I’m ready to take bump pictures or talk to strangers (read: anyone?) about breastfeeding. It doesn’t mean I have to “glow” or love being pregnant. Will it be worth it? Yes, abundantly yes. But I still want to be a person. A person with goals and hopes and ideas. A person that is more than just pregnant.
So I give you this poorly written piece to break the seal: I have to write.
It’s who I am. I’m back to the keyboard and i’m ready to wade through the messiness of life again: of pregnancy and of all that life encompasses beyond.
It’s easy to fall in love in a bookstore. Maybe not with a person, per say, but with the atmosphere that surrounds you: the walls that lend themselves to adventure and dreams, the way stories line up one by one politely waiting to break down barriers inside you.
I like to walk around bookstores alone. When I met Andrew in high school, we would sometimes meet at our local Barnes and Noble and walk around. Seperately. We did the same when we started dating a few years later in college. Go together, explore by ourselves.We still do this today and it still fuels that same joy today: together, but separate.
We’ve been married three years and there have been times that walking our own directions has hurt us. We’ve spent too much time apart or let our minds wander into a dangerous form of selfishness that leaves us wondering what our lives would have looked like living wild and off on our own.
But the truth is, part of the joy of wandering through the aisles of a bookstore alone is heightened by the meeting of another hand as you finish and walk out into the world.
We are humans and thus dreamers, after all, but to dream alone is a lonely task. To take your vulnerable dreams and say, “I don’t know if we can do it all- the you dreams and the me dreams- but it’s definitely worth it to try”-- that is my favorite thing about marriage.
We are not the same people we were at 18 when we met and definitely not the same people who said “forever” at 23. We are new versions of ourselves and will continue to shed these selves as the years fade on. And I like that. We are continuously getting to know the friend we have chosen to walk beside into our future-- to see the good and the bad-- and to grab onto the vulnerability of their deepest dreams and desires too.
Thanks for letting me walk alone in bookstores, Andrew. You’re the best friend a girl could ask for. Here’s to year four and the adventure we weren’t expecting-- I’m glad I get to walk beside you as you become the better versions of ourselves.
It is cold and I’m inside wearing knit socks and waiting for night to fall so I can pour myself a glass of wine. School let out early and I’ve been home for many, many hours. I should clean. But I don’t want to. I so badly want to be the type of person who can’t stand to live in a mess. But really I just can’t stand to clean. And so the mess lives on.
It is 2017 and I want to reinvent myself and my life-- I know my life is full, but there is something about being unsure of which boxes to check when you self-identify that makes you want to throw away everything you know and just pick up somewhere, something new.
But I’m also afraid of change. Even though I can live with messes.
You see, now, don’t you.
Humans are walking contradictions and I’m actually quite fond of that fact. You don’t have to be one thing and I like that as you grow up and you can be as many messes of “things” and labels as you so desire. Being a contradiction can, of course, be freeing. But also confusing.
No change. Everything change. Clean. But I don’t think I can move. Wine?
I feel like I’ve been dancing on a wobbly stone in the middle of a creek for some time. That’s a strange visual. It may look like you’re tottering or falling at one moment and dancing voraciously the next. Contradictions.
I want blonde hair and I want black hair and you can’t have both. You can’t stay somewhere with the good job and the cute house and also go out and live new and fresh. You have to pick one-- I don’t want to choose. I want a package wrapped in ribbon on my door delivered straight from God telling me exactly what to do. Telling me exactly who I am. Telling me that I’ll be someone new, someday, too.
But I don’t have a package wrapped neatly. And I have no ending eloquence for this, my scrambled words. So quietly, I must listen. Wisely, I must stop overthinking-- just breathe in and out and and give and cry and write and live, live, live.
I’m going for the wine now.
I love the ends. I love the way "end" breathes out, exhales, and gives you a chance for something new.
This year was broken and it was beautiful.
I fell in love with Jhumpa Lahiri's stories and Hamilton. I drank La Croix and chardonnay and Super Matcha smoothies. I watched hours of The O.C. , West Wing, and Gilmore Girls. I walked through four seasons and made new friends and had friends move away and leave and come and go. I learned more about Andrew and conveniently like him more. I accepted the fact that Chief has made me into an obsessive dog-mom (I love it).
I got to be in three of my best friend's weddings and celebrate with others!!! I got to travel to California and dance in a wine vineyard. I got to travel overseas and see London and Paris and have my eyes let light into my soul. I got to expand what I thought I knew about the world. I got to see streets I had only dreamed of and learned (once again) that traveling does not complete you, but grow you to be a better you in the home that you get to have.
I ate cheese and pasta and looked in the mirror and liked what I saw. I did millions of burpees and jump squats and ran lots of miles. I have hopes for more, but I'm learning to be a process and not a product of my failures.
I read more than ever and stayed up to date on the news and voted for Hillary Clinton. Even if my views change in the future, I felt (and feel) strongly about what I believe is important. I felt angry about the state of the environment and the hatred towards refugees. This year confirmed that I want to make the world better through education.
My heart broke for my students andI laughed with them and I thanked my lucky stars that I get to teach literature as my job!!! I spent hours at cross country meets, track practices, and basketball games. I often felt overwhelmed and I cried a lot but the Lord washed me in grace this year. I believe in myself more now than I did. I felt stretched but sustained. I let (some) of the restlessness fall away.
But the restlessness was still there. And I'm still praying for what's next.
But this year, I was here.