Into the Beautiful

We leave for Rwanda in four days, and still up to this very second I am scratching my head at how it all came to be. The entire arrangement was one grace-filled miraculous event after another, and I haven’t had the time or emotional clarity to lay it all out for anyone. In fact, this confusing thing kept happening in December whenever I tried to talk about it: I would start crying. It was non-consensual. My writing group can attest to this, also the entire board of CFI, and a co-worker or two. So embarrassing.

But here’s why: Jeff was listening to an online sermon from Grace in October on parenting right about the time I began to lose it. You may remember this post from May, which was a beautiful snapshot of God catching a person mid-fall. Unfortunately growth is not linear, and if I had seen in May what our life would look like in October after thousands of dollars of infertility treatments and irritating stories about Women of The Bible who were miraculously healed when God had compassion on them, I don’t know that I would have been up for such a claim of contentment long-term. Evidently my limit for faith-in-adversity is about 17 months, because in October I remember thinking that if someone were writing a book about me, the next chapter would begin: And in their 18th month of infertility, she lost her faith.

I would never have lasted as an Israelite.

Because I believed in God’s goodness and sovereignty and ability to heal, and because I had not experienced a miraculous healing or heart change, I began to doubt his compassion and concern for my life personally, which spread tiny little roots of resentfulness and bitterness. I said to J in November, right about the time he recalled that sermon and looked up the organization mentioned (World Next Door), that I didn’t think my faith could withstand any more months of failure. We could continue as was, each unsuccessful month widening the gap between me and God due to my limited knowledge and inability to separate emotions from truth, or we could stop treatment and preserve my faith, trusting God would sustain us even through the loss.

I phoned my good friend and the pastor who married us for some clarity and truth-telling, and J and I decided mid-November to discontinue medical intervention. The exact moment the decision was made, optimism and joy and the general ability to breathe deeply and peacefully returned. I’m not exaggerating. It was that quick. (Although we still have a fridge full of hormone injections, right next to the milk and mayo, which has made for some awkward dinner parties.)

J, in the meantime, sent me the link to the World Next Door Fellowship, and we agreed this would be a pretty spectacular opportunity if our most recent round of treatment was unsuccessful. We crossed our fingers, prayed for whichever option was best for us, and waited. We applied for the Fellowship and visualized all the details, each day wavering between the two possibilities. One day, we’d pick names for kids. The next day, we’d discuss countries and social issues that would be cool to write about. We stood on the cusp of two entirely different lives.

As you might have gathered, World Next Door won, and we were so pumped! This is why I was confused by all the involuntary crying. I found that as I explained our new purpose and direction for the coming year to others, I was actively closing the door to traditional and evidence-based fertility treatments, because we’d be losing our health insurance and incomes, and so, for the foreseeable future, losing our ability to have biological kids. Additionally, I understood over time that it was hard for me to grasp this opportunity with both hands, because I thought God might be offering this as a consolation prize for not fulfilling our initial desires, which He himself placed in us. Why would he do that? (Yes, I realize I am giving God totally limited human qualities, which is silly. But I have a totally limited human mind doing all my computing, here.)

So here God was, opening a literal door to the world through writing and photography, the only things in time and space that could generate as much excitement as passing down our gene pool, and I was half saying, Thanks God! with one hand, and half saying, You know this doesn’t make up for the other thing, pal with the other hand. Here’s the face-palm moment: I was questioning God’s ability to know our hearts and care about our desires while He was actively fulfilling them in better ways than we could’ve imagined.

Miraculous things followed. For starters, we had to raise $40,000 in two months. Forty. Thousand. Dollars. Can you even conceive of that? We never believed it would be possible, but then it was- in excess, with no stress! God used 62 people as instruments to move a giant mountain necessary to implement His plan to ease the suffering of hungry widows and disabled orphans and trafficked kids. Do you know what this means?

Not only is God compassionate, but he hears the cries of people suffering right now, today, just like he did thousands of years ago, and he is sending help via 62 of you, and me and J, and World Next Door, and tons of other people and organizations, to restore hope!

…Which led to a total paradigm shift. Instead of the resentful thoughts about bartering my opportunities in life with God, another thought crept in: I can’t believe we get to do this. How could God pick us to do something so special? Which ultimately led to, in the words of Moses: Who am I?

Seriously, who are we that we would get to do this?

To quote Barry, the Founder and Director of World Next Door, who preached at church last Sunday on this very topic (get your little coffee or hot tea and your snuggly blanket and watch this, it’s good: http://vimeo.com/60488892) We- the people of God, the church- we are God’s plan A for the restoration of this world. So. Now. Go.

And so, now, we go. Into the Beautiful:

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Working Through the Cracks

Life has a way of laughing at me by reflecting my insides through unfortunate events.

A couple of years ago, I likened my life to my 2-inch long bangs:

The bad thing about not having a job is that you have time to do things like cut your own bangs. If you look at my bangs, they’re equally proportionate to my life since returning from Belize: sort of aimless and random, but well-intentioned with a touch of frantic. They scream: Something good can be done with this space if I could just get it together!

Last May, I shattered my iphone. It happened 40 minutes after receiving what I had thought was the worst news regarding our chances to conceive naturally: we would have to pay for treatment. On the other side of paid treatment and still no kids, I can tell you (me), there is worse news.

My cell phone had dropped out of my pocket, and fell only 12 inches to the ground, screen totally shattered. It seemed like an over-the-top response from my blasted phone to shatter entirely when it had only dropped a foot. What a weak phone. Really, though, having been dropped so many other times before, down entire flights of stairs without a scratch, I understood that it must have hit the sidewalk at such an angle the stress was too much and it just burst.

When I dropped the phone, I was leaving a friend’s house who had lost physical custody of her kids due to substance abuse. The combination of these things was too much, and as I picked up the phone and turned it over to see the shattered screen, I burst. I couldn’t help but match the screen to the state of my soul in that moment. Instant tears. Paralyzed in grief. Days (weeks?) of recovery.

At some point several months later, battling our front yard space, I wrote this:

Our blooming flowers that were dead a month ago are saving my life right now. The way these flowers, planted on almost the exact weekend we began our journey through unparenthood, have become reflective of my insides- bright and cheery, withered, dead, sprouting, full-bloom, wilted, thirsty, drowning, blooming… endless, the stages, and totally dependent on things they’re not in charge of.

Today I shattered the screen again. Sometime in the summer, I had dropped the phone and cracked the newly replaced screen in one spot. I figured out quickly that, although one crack had branched into 4 little fractures, the phone was fully functional. I had reached the point I almost didn’t even see those cracks anymore.

Today, for the third time, I dropped the phone off a bench onto carpeted floor at LA Fitness, and the screen split. Another one of those weird angle, less than 10-inch drops. Another 8 cracks off the original 4, and on a different branch, two more cracks. One original crack now sprawled into 14 jagged lines. But the phone works. My feeling (although not good) was something like this: we’ve been through this before, and we’re sturdier now. Phone, I’m not mad at you, and we will not buy another screen. We will continue to work through the cracks.

And just like that, I wanted to give myself a hug. Self. We’ve been through this before, and we’re sturdier now. I am not mad at you, and we will not try to fix you anymore. We will continue to work through the cracks. And this is how God speaks to me.

Let’s go.

Hey 2013 75

Dear B,

Say Yes. The world (and grandparents) will give you a million reasons to say No. Most reasons will be logical and rational. In fact, you could live your whole life saying No, and you would be justified, safe, and successful in your niche. But in 2013, say Yes. Pay attention, and walk through each door God opens- even the scary ones. Allow God to lead your heart and keep saying Yes even when it’s a little bit crazy. You are a little bit crazy, you know.

Detox. Detox from brownies and cookies and pie and chocolate-covered anything. Detox from sadness and grief. Detox from the black hole of the internet that beckons you to Google and infertility forums instead of praying and friend-calling.  Detox from E! and TLC and the DVR. Detox from sloth (Yes, you. Your pants don’t fit, pal.) Detox from discouragement. Detox from ingratitude and discontent. Detox from expectations. Detox from consumerism. Detox from noise.

Steep. Steep in these things to extract and absorb their flavors: vitamins and minerals and nutrients. Steep in fruit smoothies and salads and probiotics. Steep in hope and comfort and truth. Steep in friends and prayer. Steep in encouraging books. Steep in gratitude with every tiny little gift, wherever you find it. Steep outside, where air is fresh and things are alive and real. Steep in Body Works Plus Abs, or at least steep in Yoga. If neither of those, steep in the elliptical and stretching. Steep in laughter. Steep in releasing, letting go, surrender. Steep in satisfaction. Steep in mindfulness, quietness, mediation. Steep in beauty and creative expression.

Our plan for 2013: Say Yes. Detox. Steep.

Love,
B.

The Nook

A comfy little place exists in the world: the scoopy, curvy part of J’s neck, between his ear and his shoulder, where my head fits perfectly. I call it The Nook.

In the nook, I am sheltered and tucked away. In the nook, there is extravagant love and attentive kindness. In the nook, the past disappears, the future drops out of my hand onto the floor, and I curl up inside the present moment, grateful and mindful and deeply content. In the nook, we are safe and warm. We are alive and breathing. We are content in each other.

Last Thursday was our 18th negative pregnancy test. Eighteen times our bodies have failed. Ten of these were under the care of a Reproductive Endocrinologist, three were medicated with high-tech ultrasounds and equipment, and once (once?!) all systems were functioning at a level that would give us a chance—below average, but still a chance—at a possible pregnancy.

For that reason, we did something we never do. We invited others into our space: our hopeful, fearful, vulnerable, intimate, day-counting, symptom-measuring, God-bargaining space. Doctors and nurses and mom-friends and sister-friends and retreat roomies and accountability groups and family members and a random dude who just happened to be in the right place at the right time prayed for us almost every single day of this two-week time frame. And I’m talking hands-on-belly prayer with one or two hallelujahs.

We had never done this before. It had seemed a little too private, and a little too self-indulgent, and a little too embarrassing.

But these are the people who caught us on the other side. And although I’m tempted to write out all the confusing thoughts and questions so I can piece together some hopeful insights or draw meaning from the experience, the only thing I can come up with is an image of Jeff and I curled up in God’s nook.

Each time this happens, we are pulled further up and further in— like in the Last Battle of the Chronicles of Narnia when the gates of heaven are thrown open, and Aslan calls for the kids to come further up, come further in to their real country, their real home. As they run, the world becomes bigger and more beautiful the higher and deeper they go.

Yes, it’s like that. The higher and deeper we journey into this mess, the bigger and more beautiful God becomes. If we had everything we wanted, if we’d had this baby on the 1st or 4th or 11th try, we would not have seen the depth of his ability to save and sustain and comfort and maintain us. Eighteen times our understanding of God and each other has expanded.  Eighteen times we found our way to the nook.

What Is Saving Your Life Right Now?

My friend posted a blog, after reading another blog, and that blogger had read a book, and the author of that book had been asked to speak on what was saving her life right then. Today* a bunch of people and synchronized blogs are answering this question: What is saving your life right now?

*When I say Today what I really mean is three weeks ago. But three weeks ago I was in such a despairing place, I could not come up with a list of things that were saving my life.  I could only come up with a list of things I wished were saving my life. Yes, I realize this kind of defeats the entire purpose of the exercise.

So, as all the life-savers rushed passed me on the internets, optimistic and enlightened, I sat on the sidelines chicken-scratching a bunch of things that were absolutely not saving my life right then (picture McKayla is NOT impressed) and feeling angry I couldn’t find optimism and gratitude- my two best things! You will lose all respect when you see my list. It’s bad.

Things I Wished Were Saving My Life Three Weeks Ago:

Food. Loads of goat cheese. On chicken. Wrapped in bacon. On bread. With oil. Small plates as far as the eye can see. If these things were happening right now, my life would be saved. Instead, due to the need for restraint (calories, waistline, cash, time) we are on a meal plan. Five meals per week, 20 ingredients or less, all organic, under 600 calories. Blast that meal plan! The inability to go out to eat for every meal and order anything I want is killing me. Salads in jars are killing me. For a person who communicates via food and weather patterns, who would rather ingest a tiny amount of taste-bud-bursting goodness than loads of mediocre anything; for a foodie, I wish amazing food was saving my life right now.

Hawaii. I wish Hawaii was saving my life right now.

Riches. Yes, I know how hard it is for a rich person to get to heaven, and that we’re not supposed to store up treasures and all that. I get it. But seriously, I could go for some cold hard cash. I would (you might have gathered) go out to eat every single meal and buy a personal trainer to work most of it off, and then a med spa to take care of the rest. I would go to two movies this weekend, and I’d have an outdoor living space with a plush couch, and tomorrow, I’d quit my job and vacation in Cuba for a month. I’d buy land in Belize, adopt some kids, and eat some more food without consequence. I would also go hiking in CO, visit all my friends in NOLA, and then go to Nepal. Yes. I wish those things were saving my life right now.

I wish single digit sizes were saving my life right now. My life would be saved if at the end of the day I could catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and think, Yep. Instead, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and gnash my teeth.

I wish God’s voice in human form and his face in human flesh sitting across from me were saving my life right now. I would ask him a direct question and get a direct answer. He would also likely buy my coffee, I think. He would tell me exactly how to pray. He would say, Yes, you have enough faith to do this one thing. Or, He would say, No, you’re not really believing believing. He might reveal that I’m praying in safe ways that leave wiggle room for God not to answer prayers, in case these things are Not His Will, instead of praying expectantly. He would let me know once and for all if expectant prayer is entitlement or faith.

I wish some kind of everything-fits-perfectly feeling was saving my life right now. Instead- well, just read this. She says it perfectly. J and I have a case of the wanderlust. If some kind of Holy Passion presented and everything suddenly fit, my life would be saved.

I wish God’s breath into a mess of cells and tissue was saving my life right now. It’s not all I want in life. It’s not even something I wanted until a year ago. It’s not the only thing I think about. But if it happened, my life would be a little bit saved.

___

Three weeks later, thanks to things that are actually saving my life, I am able to identify some things that are saving my life. Funny how that works.

What Is Saving Your Life Right Now?

My aunt is saving my life right now. On the prayer thing, she said: When you prayed that prayer the very first time– the unanswered one, the one in which I don’t know if I have enough faith- God heard it. It has already been answered. You just don’t know how or when or in what form this thing will appear. But God heard it, it’s been answered, and you are free to move forward.

Limes and La Croix are saving my life by being all refreshing and tart, and caffeine free, sugar free and sweetener free. This combo tricks my taste buds into thinking I’m having some kind of dirty carbonated beverage. Really, it’s just soda water with some limes.

My little community of women are saving my life right now. Kim’s words: These women are teeming with so much life. Giving me so much life. Saving me on days when I couldn’t find hope with a floodlight. Saving me by letting me point out hope when it’s their turn to misplace it. Saving me with plans for a weekend away, just our despair, and our hope, and margaritas as big as our heads.

A new friend who came over for a long walk is saving my life right now.

A friendly neighbor who stops by more often than not is saving my life right now.

My writing group is saving my life right now.

My job is saving my life right now. Three or four weeks ago, after the worst worst MD visit, I really wanted to cancel all my appointments the following day to give myself time and space to recoup, emotionally. Being a therapist is for the birds on days when you need a therapist. But it was too late, and I am reliable. So I went to work and resolved to be 100% present. For 8 whole hours, I did not think about myself even one time. I came home lighter, and my life was a little bit saved that day.

My husband is saving my life right now. His insight and care. His partnership. The way he ushers me up to the roof to watch shooting stars on a blanket. The way he could never write an ungrateful I wish list, because he’s got that much perspective. His humor and kindness save my life every single hour.

Our blooming flowers that were dead a month ago are saving my life right now. The way these flowers, planted on almost the exact weekend we began our journey through unparenthood, have become reflective of my insides- bright and cheery, withered, dead, sprouting, full-bloom, wilted, thirsty, drowning, blooming… endless, the stages, and totally dependent on things they’re not in charge of.

Church is saving my life right now. Each time I show up, the question bouncing back and forth between J and I all week is answered. It’s not Jesus in the flesh, but I’m learning more about the Spirit. The Spirit is saving my life right now.

Our pet electronic vacuum is saving my life right now. Purchased before the Hartman recession hit, in a fit of crumb-despising-fed-upness, to which most people respond with a broom and dustpan, we feed this pet/child/swiffer thingy scraps from our dinner table and speak to it as though it has a heart and soul. Don’t tell anyone.

Three Bottles & a Fat Bastard

This was my first attempt at writing a fiction piece for Scribes, and the assignment was to write a story about wine. You will be temped to think these stories are about J and I, because you’re not used to a fictional voice in this space, but don’t do it. Although I weave parts of our own stories throughout, much was absorbed from the experiences of those around me, including friends, family, and the good ole ER.

~~~

Among the mess of gift bags, wrapping paper and brunch, under the last tent standing to shade them from the morning sun, with sleepy eyes and brand new rings, they came across the last wedding gift: a bag containing four bottles of wine with notes attached.

He lifted the first bottle from the bag—a 2009 Barefoot chardonnay. The note, tied to the neck with ribbon, on a tiny piece of green construction paper, read: Open this on your first anniversary. May you dance Barefoot and enjoy the great memories of your beach wedding.

She smiled, and selected the second bottle—Big House Red. She flipped over the little blue note, tied with a yellow ribbon. Enjoy this as you celebrate closing and moving into your first house together. What a wonderful adventure is ahead of you.

The third was a bottle of Little Penguin Pinot Grigio. He read the yellow note out loud: Celebrate and rejoice after the birth of your first child. What an awe-inspiring miracle. Many blessings to your new family.

The fourth was a bottle of Fat Bastard with a red note attached: Your first fight… don’t call her fat, don’t call him a bastard, or trouble is sure to follow. Enjoy this when you make up.

They passed the bottles back and forth in wonder, imagining how these events would unfold.

She pictured their anniversary on a beach in the Caribbean with 360-degree views of the island, a front porch hammock, and one—maybe two—weeks of R&R reflecting back over the last year and how much love had filled the space of it. It would be so romantic. They would open the bottle and dance on the beach, barefoot. She could hardly imagine what the year would hold—family Christmases and Thanksgivings, living in the same house, city, state, and country together. She looked at him and wondered how they’d appear to each other after a year had passed.

He, too, imagined their beachy first anniversary. They would kayak and sip wine. Dance under a full moon, in that top floor condo with the porch hammock and the rooftop hot tub. They would open those French doors to the beach each morning and have at least one amazing dinner at the expensive restaurant down the street. He would wake up early to snap pictures of the sunrise, and catch a glimpse of her sleeping softly in the morning haze. Or maybe they’d go back to the mountains like they did on their honeymoon. They’d returned home just a few days ago, in time for their stateside reception last night. Either option would be great. As long as they could get away and do something special.

Passing the Big House Red, she imagined the closing of their first house together—what the house would look like and how cozy they’d feel, how home they’d be.

Right now, they lived in a little one-bedroom apartment on a canal. It was adequate for the two of them, bright and spacious, but too small to host anyone else or invite friends over for dinner. They didn’t even have a kitchen table. In the table space sat a desk, which they’d clear off on those rare occasions they didn’t eat on the couch ottoman. Once, they’d had a dinner guest and he sat on an exercise ball because they only had two chairs. The entire place was new—the city, their jobs, the apartment. They weren’t sure how long they’d stay; they’d each only come here for jobs. But she thought they might end up in a big house near her family up north, or a trendy loft in Chicago, maybe. That would be the exact middle between their two families in Michigan and Wisconsin. They’d want to be in a good school system, not too far from the city, but not too close, either. They’d probably close on their first house when they had their first kid, or settled on long-term jobs, or were ready to be committed to a place. She didn’t care where it was, but she figured it wouldn’t be here.

He imagined by the time they were ready to close on their first house together, they’d already be back in Wisconsin on 10 acres of rolling hills in the country.  They’d have a kid or two, so they’d need to fix up and sell his old two-bedroom bachelor pad currently being rented by graduate students, and buy a bigger family house just outside city limits. Or maybe on the east side—it’s getting more trendy there. He thought she’d probably like the east side.

As he put the Big House Red back in the bag, she picked up the Little Penguin. She secretly couldn’t wait to uncork this bottle, signifying the birth of their first child. They would wait two years, probably. They’d spend time traveling and enjoying one another, get their lives and finances in order first, and then take the plunge. What would their first little baby look like, she wondered? It would be a girl—his eyes, her hair. A snapshot moment played in her mind, the two of them holding hands in the hospital as everyone passed around their new little baby, cooing and rocking and arguing over who she looked like most. The kid would be an athlete. And so perfect.

He imagined a boy, decked out in Brewers or Packers gear. They’d play baseball together, or, you know, whatever the kid wanted to do, he’d support it. He knew before he’d even met her he wanted to have kids. It would be tricky timing, though. He wanted stability, friends and travel first. On the flip side, he didn’t want to be an old dad, either. He was pushing 40, and friends had told him he would never feel entirely ready. He imagined about two years from now they’d be opening that bottle, excited and nervous and thrilled while the baby slept soundly next to them.

Smiling at the last bottle, she wondered what would do them in. What would cause the uncorking of the Fat Bastard? In her wildest imagination, she couldn’t even conjure up an image of the two of them fighting. The closest they’d come was after the earthquake in Haiti. He had an opportunity to respond with a medical team for six weeks right before their wedding, and she created a position or herself on the French-speaking team they both thought was brilliant. The team didn’t buy it. He had to decide whether to stay or go, and she supported either option. But here is how they dealt with stress: She needed to talk it out eight different ways, and he needed space to process internally. They stewed separately for four hours and met for dinner. Over soup, he verbalized intent not to go. She agreed. Done.

He thought it would be money, for sure. Spending habits would open the Fat Bastard. Either that, or the need for alone time. She was extroverted; He was introverted. Having never lived together, he wasn’t sure how it would all play out, but they took extra care in fleshing out these differences before the engagement. He was confident whatever the issue, they’d communicate their way through it straight to the make-up bottle of Fat Bastard.

 ~~~

A year later, they sat with 18 friends and family members around the kitchen table/desk in the one-bedroom apartment by the canal. Their one-year anniversary happened to fall on the day of a biking event in the city, and each of their family members from all sides and states came to participate. Everyone stayed with the two in their 900 square foot apartment. There was no barefoot beach dancing or wine-sipping; there were no French doors or 360-degree island views. There were no rooftop hot tubs or mountains of any kind.

Instead, there were bowls and bowls of veggie pasta, friends and family gathered on chairs and stools and milk crates on the deck. There were air mattresses piled floor to ceiling. There were breakfast spreads and popcorn parties, lots of grilling, laughter and story telling. They toasted their waters and beers and Gatorades high in the sky on the deck of the little apartment, under stars and twinkle lights, marveling over the rare gathering of almost the exact same group of people who had lined up on a beach for a wedding a year ago, wishing the two another great year, and reminiscing over stories the couple had never heard—stories about skinny dipping and champagne surfing after the ceremony.

Although not what they imagined, they uncorked the bottle of Barefoot chardonnay on a Monday night, after all the families had left and enjoyed a slice of freezer packed chocolate wedding cake. Their anniversary had been meaningful, if not tropical. A month later, they went to the mountains. Four months later, they went to the beach. The celebrated their anniversary 4 times that year, which was a different kind of better than they had imagined.

The following November, six months after their anniversary, they sat with friends, wrapped in blankets and flannel, in a lake house on the northern border. They had accidentally purchased a house. They weren’t looking, but a friend was selling who offered a good price in a neighborhood they loved, and the mortgage for a three-bedroom home would be less than the monthly rent of their one-bedroom apartment downtown. It was a no-brainer. No realtor, and the signing happened over a beer. The owner had given them access to the house before the closing to re-paint, tile the bathrooms, and replace the carpet with wood floors. On the day of closing, while He was at work, after they had signed and taken ownership, She flooded the house. That really happened. She was trying to figure out why the master bath only reached lukewarm temps, and somehow wrenched the entire fixture off the bathroom wall. The bathroom, bedroom and hallway were ankle-deep in lukewarm bath water in about six seconds. Her brother and the plumber directed her to the water shut-off, and each came over to pry up wood planks in an effort to save the floors.  But the floors were ruined—the floors her brother had installed two days earlier. She didn’t know what to do. She called Him at work, and He reassured her. They would call the insurance. Everything would be okay. This is why She loved Him. Everything was okay.

The next morning, they set up industrial sized fans in three places, grabbed the bottle of Big House Red and drove three hours north to meet a another couple for a weekend at the lake house. There, in the cozy glow of a fire and s’mores, they opened the bottle of Big House Red and toasted the closing of their first house together. This was not how they imagined it, but in the span of life and death and disaster and fulfillment—life was good. They were home. Just not right this very second. Right this very second, they were in a different home three hours away with the best of friends, wrapped in cozy blankets toasting the moment while their real home was drying out.

The flooded house would hold a thousand firsts: gardens and furniture, friends and kids, small groups and family Thanksgivings, job changes, bike routes, budget changes, lost rings, vacations, sick days, bonfires, grill outs, Christmas trees—it would hold the entire first chunk of their marriage, after the little apartment on the canal. They would outgrow it quickly, but hang on to it as long as possible: their little bungalow on Main.

~~~

Years later—three, to be exact—she could just cry thinking about the Little Penguin bottle, gulped down in some throw-her-arms-up battle through 18 months of infertility and a desperate need for a bottle of white because company was coming. She would immediately purchase another bottle of Little Penguin in the morning. The next day they would begin fertility treatment.

The treatment worked quickly, and they became pregnant within the first three months of injections and monitoring. They were ecstatic and began decorating a nursery in the little house on Main—forcing His office into the living room area. He didn’t mind. They would find out the gender next month and teased about which sport the child would play, and what the name would be. Every sign or menu item He saw, He would say: Hey! Let’s name the baby that. For example, Stromboli—Strom for short.  They each began making arrangements to shift work schedules to 30 hours per week in order to care for the baby equally without a sitter. He would work Mondays and Wednesdays, She would work Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they would alternate Fridays.

At 16 weeks, though, the worst of the worst happened.  She sobbed in the ER holding her 5-inch, 4 oz. baby with 10 fingers and 10 toes in a little pink kidney-shaped emesis basin. Everything had happened so fast—He was on his way to the ER from work. They had only told family they were pregnant three weeks earlier.  He sat next to her in the hospital bed, as they looked at their first child, genderless and nameless. They asked for a picture, but the nurse had no camera. They looked to the Social Worker and the Chaplain who had come into the room for support and resources, but nobody could do anything. The Social Worker called the Forensic Nurse, knowing she had access to a camera for evidence collection. But the Forensic Nurse would not permit the camera to be used in this way. She only wanted to document this, the birth of their first child. They were devastated.

When everyone else left the room, the Social Worker offered up her cell phone. “I could take a picture for you, right here, and send it to your phone or your email. I don’t know what the rules are for this, so we’d have to delete it right after it’s sent.”  They agreed, through tears, took the picture, and sent it to themselves at home. They deleted it from the Social Worker’s phone and said goodbye to the little baby.

They spent several days holding hands, but not talking or eating. They spent several more days watching TV and going on long, solitary bike rides. Sometime during the second week, they started eating snacks and taking walks. They went back to work. They took deep breaths and were very careful with each other. During the third week, He brought home a bottle of Little Penguin. They poured a glass and celebrated the brief life of their first child. He kissed every place the tears fell, and she again knew everything would be okay. Everything was okay.

The following spring, they gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Waiting for them at the house was a chilled bottle of Little Penguin and two glasses. They gave each other the longest hug ever in the world and toasted to their healthy little penguin.

Two years later, they gave birth to twins and immediately purchased an entire a bottle of gin.

~~~

On the 96th floor of the Hancock building in Chicago, several decades later, they sat at a corner table, surrounded by their kids and grandkids to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. After rounds of appetizers and meals and desserts, She pulled the bottle of Fat Bastard out of her giant purse. In 45 years, they could not bring themselves to open the Fat Bastard, which would have meant they’d had THE fight. The first one, the worst one, the one you had to make up over.

They’d had moments: stressful moves, budget veers on both sides, parenting struggles, a constant battle over who would let the dishes pile up the longest until someone broke and unloaded the dishwasher, and there was that one time he threw away her entire bag of dry cleaning because she’d put them in a black trash bag and he assumed it was trash. Whoops.

But they never opened the Fat Bastard until this very moment, in celebration of their 45 years together, having made it so far and so long. They opened the bottle, poured a glass for everyone, and drank until it was gone. They looked at each other, smiled and swallowed the last gulp hard. They’d consumed the worst, and they were okay.

What neither disclosed was that each had replaced the bottle an average of 3-4 times per year, having emptied it without the other knowing.

My Mother’s Day Six Pack (of donut holes)

I think if a person writes  a long post about faith on the upswing, it’s only fair to write a post about faith on the downswing. So.

Life stays messy, and part of faith is acknowledging the mess and then taking some deep breaths and moving forward in the decision to remain content instead of living in the feeling of discontent. I will now take this opportunity to step away from the “we” and reclaim the “I”, since J has no idea what I’m about to write and may or may not endorse these feelings as his own. Probably not, because it involves sitting in the Lowe’s parking lot on the day after Mother’s Day with a six pack of Dunkin Donut holes (I said holes, babe! Not entire donuts!) and a kid-size cup of caffeinated coffee. In moments of high stress, I like to place as few demands on myself as possible, which means eating whatever I want and watching back-to-back DVR episodes of Revenge or something. Let’s get crazy.

The day after Mother’s Day, I continued to not be knocked up despite our prayers and hopes, and also that tiny little piece of us that clings to the could instead of the is. Denial or Optimism? Who knows. Either way, it should not be shocking, but somehow each time it still is. And each time this happens, I find myself telling myself: Fine. You don’t care about me? I don’t care about you. Especially you, adrenals, which I have been so diligently protecting since last fall. About every 4 weeks, I feed them donuts and caffeine. And also, Tangeray and tonic and some of those tiny cookies from Whole Foods by the handful.  Then I feel very sorry and tell myself I didn’t mean it. I buy myself annuals from Lowes and reschedule an appointment or two to get my shiz together, plant some flowers, water the yard, drink my kid-size caffeinated coffee, do some abdominal breathing, and take some walks. I confess everything to J that very night during the middle of some sentence about how I feel so fat, and he doesn’t judge. He says: Yeah. Sometimes it’s okay to do those things. I browse through some Prayers for a Privileged People to recalibrate my perspective (I am privileged. You are privileged.) and some tequila Anne Lamott to take the edge off. Then, eventually, I drag myself back to the salad train and resume normal life.

This process ranges anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days.

Sometimes a Dill Weed incident happens. You know things are bad when someone in the house opens the pantry door, and the Dill Weed falls out and shatters, and that person makes a joke about Dill Weed and laughs, and then you explode, like, 8 minutes later to the Dill Weed person, because your computer died and you blame it on the Dill Weed spill. Displacement much? In our house, we now call each other Dill Weed. We also apologize to guests for our lack of screens on their windows and make references to buying children instead of screens. We would very much like screens, but we have to purchase a child first.

Operating Instructions: First year of Marriage #18: If you can make each other laugh, you’re already through it.

The point to all this is that: a) coffee and donut moments exist even when you know that you know that you know God is good. It’s okay. Just try not to get stuck there; and b) God sometimes moonlights as a DJ. When I was sitting in the car at Lowe’s that Monday morning with my mini-coffee and my 6 holes, nurturing the disappointment in a way I can only do all by myself, because all by myself is the only place I’m comfortable grieving something that never was, God sent another song to me on the radio. I’ve heard this song a thousand million times, but it especially mattered that morning, and filled up all those tiny holes inside the coffee and Dunkin were pouring through.

 

I’m not real sure how to wrap this up except to say that sometimes donut holes in parking lots carry me to the next place God will meet me, because He always does show up.

Flak Vest with Kevlar Plates

Hi, it’s me again. I had to take a little internet break, because I almost came back to disclaim everything from the last post. Pride has a way of making you want to shout: WE ARE OKAY. NOTHING TO SEE HERE. EVERYTHING IS FINE. even though you let your own self out of the closet.  But then J reminded me: this experience has drawn us closer to God, demonstrated our frailty, and humbled us. Sometimes those things feel uncomfortable, and part of humility is being okay with people feeling sorrow on your behalf.

(But seriously, we are okay.)

To everyone who reached out earlier in the week: Thank you! Our phones and inboxes were filled with messages from friends and family offering support and love. Some of these messages were from right down the street, people we see weekly. Others were from old friends we haven’t spoken to in 15 years in other states and countries. Many are walking the same journey at this exact moment. To quote Kim again (she’s good at this, obv):

However you’ve come to join this community—infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, interrupted adoption, or other form of desire unfulfilled, may I offer you a very sorrowful welcome? What I’d really like to do is come over to your house, wrap you up in the coziest blanket you own, pour you an inappropriately large glass of wine (if wine isn’t your thing, please have mercy on us both and substitute “hot tea” wherever I mention it), and just sit.

Yes, that.

To those who are walking alongside us: I know that down the road when/if we become parents by whatever means we’re able, I’ll likely have thrown the journey aside for the prize, and God’s work is evident in the journey, whatever the outcome. If we’re never able to become any kind of parent in any way, or if 3 weeks from now, you find me rolling on the floor eating a sleeve of Oreos, you’ll be able to point me back on track with my own words. At least it’s documented.

God has protected our hearts, and save for just a few of moments of despair, we are hopeful.

A couple of months ago, my mom posted this status on Facebook, and here was my brother’s response (If you don’t have a funny brother, go out and get yourself one):

What are some ways YOU guard your heart? “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. (Proverbs 4:23 NLT)

Bryan Wilson Flak-Vest with kevlar plates in them………and my Jesus Chain

Brooke Hartman I usually just check the weather radar and stock up on water and canned goods. Sometimes I sit on my heart’s porch with a shotgun, though.

Bryan Wilson You mean, you haven’t heard of the Heartometer 3000….ADT sells them in a package deal with your home alarm system..It comes with a little heart pendant to wear on your shirt to let people know you are “protected”.

Trisha McInnis Sellers You guys are brats and you’re probably going to hell for making fun of your mother

Bryan Wilson You should have picked up the Heartometer 3000 or invested in a vest…you might not have been offended by this!!

Brooke Hartman Mom, obviously your heart is exposed. Guard that thing!

Bryan Wilson Brooke, can you check your warranty paperwork…I think it also cover “not going to hell”….but I’m not sure???

Brooke Hartman My agent is Jesus. I’ll just ask him. He said yes. Policy is good for life. And death. Boom.

Bryan Wilson Mom….we can save you 15% or more on heart protection…Just make the switch – it’s so easy a Brandon Wilson can do it!

So here we are: piled under flak vests with kevlar plates, Bry’s Jesus chain, a shotgun on my heart’s porch, the Heartometer 3000, warm cozy blankets and large glasses of wine, and cross-country hopes and prayers from friends and family. J and I are wrapped in love, hope, and a pretty solid dose of laughter.

In some supernatural way, God has made us glad. Thanks, God. Thanks, friends.

Grown-up words

The appropriateness of sharing with the entire Internet news about things like babies, or lack thereof, is unclear. For a minute (well, for 14 months) we have cocooned ourselves in a comforting and necessary privacy to navigate this strange experience together- the experience of not being pregnant. But in my own heart, which knows no interpersonal boundaries, which shares anything and everything with most everyone, a strange combination of fear/denial/uncertainty kept taking my words away. Taking my words away. This never happens! There are 190 posts over a span of 4 years on this blog. Part of the problem is that things like infertility aren’t so funny. I have a blackbelt in crafting hilarity out of awful and/or inappropriate things. Except this one time.

Then an old friend went and posted her journey in a space where I (on the comfort of my own porch swing) sat straight up and yelled inside my head, ME TOO!  Not just the part about grief and sadness, but the part about overwhelming blessings and God’s presence in the middle of an awful experience. In my head I thought: GOD HAS SUSTAINED US! I HAVE TO TELL HER!

Which brings me to my own space: God has sustained us. I have to tell you.

After several rounds of blood draws, a laparoscopy, surgery to remove endo, an HSG (pray this procedure never happens to you), and several hours/days in a Reproductive Endocrinologist office, here is the punchline: I do not make mature eggs (yes, I will be using grown-up words like “ovary” and “egg”). I imagine my ovaries like that Cheeze-It commercial: A guy with a clipboard is evaluating the maturity of my eggs, who are just hanging around throwing paper airplanes and telling knock-knock jokes.

(Get it together, eggs!)

Throughout this process, we have experienced bottom of the barrel questions and thoughts that can be summed up nicely by my pal Anne Lamott: I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish (Bird by Bird). Here is an example: Why do some people have to pay $20k for a baby, and other people get to have one for free?

We have crumpled in shame immediately after those thoughts, because we have more blessings than we could ever list. If our lives remained exactly as they are today for the rest of our time on earth, we would be happy and thankful.

In those exact same moments, we have lived within the peacefulness and certainty of the answers to these questions: Are we enough for each other? Is God enough for each of us? Yes. And Yes. If He asks this of us, do we trust God to do something meaningful with our lives that doesn’t include a house in Carmel with a couple of kids? Would we be able to live with joy and purpose? Yes. And Yes.

Do you believe both the questions and the certainty of the answers can happen simultaneously? I do. I think that’s what makes it faith.

In the same vein, we have sincerely and wholeheartedly celebrated new birth and pregnancies of at least 4 friends within this period of time. Do you believe God can split a heart in half in such a way it’s able to feel such sorrow in its own loss, and such excitement in someone else’s joy? He can. He can do anything.

We have been 90% calm and confident in God’s goodness in our lives (J) and 10% loony and fit-throwy (Me). We have grief-eaten popcorn in bed and grief-watched International House Hunters and/or The Office for several hours on at least one occasion. J might deny this.

I have taken daily hour-long walks with Sara Groves on the iPod, creating a time and space for God to walk with me. Ask how many years its been since I carved out a time and space to be with God. Not to pray or ask or serve or showcase: but to exist with him in an unfilled space. A deep, peaceful breath began to flow through me during those walks. Don’t mistake this for resolved feelings, or unshed tears- the mention of this circumstance will bring up an emotional reaction in 10 seconds flat. But within 2 days, smiles returned, unexplained joy and gratitude filled us up, and life moved forward.

I have practiced yoga, and during my hour-long class, found myself commenting to God how amazing the body is, instead of how defective it is. How spectacular the circulatory system is, and the digestive system, and the liver. The miracle, I have realized—the exception, not the rule—is that we are alive. That our skin comes together and holds everything in. That our blood flows and our hearts beat. That we breathe in and out and are given a certain number of days to complete a certain task in the world, and that we think somehow our lives belong to us. We are created, and we exist so long as our creator continues to breathe life into our pile of bones and skin and muscle. Each time we breathe in and out, we are experiencing a tremendous, fantastic, unbelievable miracle. I believe that’s called worship. Worship in my yoga practice.

We have eaten the required amounts of fruits and vegetables (almost) every single day for 4 months. We have replaced coffee with tea. We have limited red meat, sugar and dairy. In February, after an entire Fall season of immune issues and blood draws, my doctor asked, “Do you eat fruits and vegetables?” I said, “No. As a matter of fact, I eat cookies and bread and lots of cheese.” She prescribed me several vitamins, a probiotic, and a regimen of fruits and vegetables. Would you believe I fed my body cookies and bread and cheese for 31 years, and then got mad at it for not functioning with precision? If body were not connected to brain, it would have punched me in the face. Would you believe I asked God why my body isn’t working properly while eating a chocolate torte for breakfast?  For 4 months, I have made salad jars on Sunday nights to eat throughout the week for lunch. Each morning I make a fruit smoothie with greens in it. Rest assured that even if I choose to eat Snickers for the entire rest of the day past 1pm, I will have already consumed my minimal daily required amounts of vitamins and minerals, and can now answer the previous question with a little bit of self-respect: Yes, I eat fruits and vegetables. I had never before taken the time or energy to feed myself adequately.

We have regained control of our budget. This is important because we never really knew we lost control until we needed something. Poor planning, a tiny bit of greed and self-indulgence, and some unavoidable life events (don’t wait 5 years to go to the dentist) forced us to re-evaluate our habits and values.

Those are the things we have done.  Here are the things God has done.

First off, He didn’t drink gin straight out of the cat dish. He put his arm around me in my car when I was thinking those awful thoughts about how life couldn’t get any worse, and sent this song to me on the radio, demonstrating that God even provides words for the prayer when you can’t think of any (skip the ad):

He did hold on to me. He didn’t let me lose my way. And He may have broken my iPhone, too, I’m not sure. My iPhone shattered that day, and it pushed me to the cusp of sanity.

I called J on my shattered screen, and before I could say anything negative, the sound of his voice offered truth and perspective in these things:

For unknown reasons except grace and goodness, God has given me Jeff: a wholly undeserved shower of God’s own love, faithfulness, creativity, humor and compassion on a daily basis. A person somewhere is longing for this. For unknown and undeserved reasons, we are cared for by others.  A person somewhere cannot identify one single support person in his or her life. For unknown and undeserved reasons, we live in a privileged place. A person right this very second is standing in a refugee camp somewhere waiting to live to any place. For no reason but the grace of God, we have too much food. Somebody very close to me is hungry right now. We have joy in our lives, not fear. A person right now is living in fear of bombs, or dictators, or ownership. And for unknown reasons but our privileged lot in life, we have one viable medical option, and while the money appears to be a significant setback, we are able to budget. Someone right now doesn’t have a single dime to his or her name, nor do they live in a place that offers a “Reproductive Endocrinologist”. For someone right now, even three months of injections with a 25% success rate isn’t an option. Lord, have mercy. Our cups runneth over.

God brought to the surface things in our lives that needed healing: our health, our diet, our finances, our faith, although all seemed fine before this crisis. And God has provided us with the warmest community of support and compassion in women/couples who “understand this most intimate pain” (Kim’s words) before we even had to ask for it.

The awareness of God in our lives, our communication with and total reliance on Him, our awareness of our lifestyle in regards to the foods we’re eating and the money we spend on things, and our thankfulness for other gifts- like eachother- have increased dramatically.

I heard a quote at the Global Leadership Conference last year about a missionary guy who was fleeing for his life due to the practice of his faith. When someone from the US told him we would be praying for him, the missionary said to the US guy: “WE will be praying for YOU! I hear there are people in America who can go an entire day without praying because they have found a way to be sufficient without God.”

I do not lie when I say this: I prayed that day God would make me more reliant on Him. I felt like a pansy over here, forgetting about God because I was accidentally meeting my own needs. And then we saw the Endocrinologist who said, Welp. You don’t make mature eggs, sorry.

I can’t fix my own eggs, obviously. And I don’t think God ordained my eggs to be immature. In fact, I belive God sits next to me on the porch swing with more empathy than I could fathom, heartbroken over the disaster his earth and population and creation have become. There are lots of things that can be traced back to the exact moment they went awry- BPA, antibiotics and hormones in chickens, melanoma. And there are lots of things that just don’t make any sense.

I don’t understand the theology of infertility, not even a little. But I don’t think God creates disorder. He creates perfect things, and the depravity of human nature disrupts them. This is not the way He designed it. And I just read in Crazy Love (Francis Chan) that God has as much right to ask us- Why are your bodies defective? Why are my people starving? Why is there cancer? As we have to ask him- Why is my body defective? Why are people starving? Why is there cancer? Humans create disorder, and God doesn’t always save us from it. I don’t know why.  But what God promises is that He will use the disorder to draw us closer, and to make something beautiful out of what darkness tried to steal.

In a tiny whisper, I tell you: I am content in this circumstance.

(Thanks K, for helping me find some words.)