Reclaiming Sassy

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“She is SO sassy and willful.”

“Stop that sass right now or you’ll get a spanking.”

“I’m in big trouble; she’s such a sass pants!”

“Young lady, don’t you dare sass me.”

These are all things I’ve heard parents say about or to their daughters (never their sons of course). It’s high time we put a stop to this nonsense.

18881770_10105127366328730_4789417064769285870_nI saw the Wonder Woman movie with Simon recently. I had heard it was awesome from many people so I went in with high expectations. I feel like that’s often a set-up for disappointment, but I was blown away. Seeing Gal Gadot defiantly step out of the Allied trenches onto the battlefield to face the German army made my heart swell and my eyes water (okay, overflow with tears). She was going to pursue justice at any cost. She was going to battle for the oppressed despite the danger and act out of love despite the hate-fire literally flying through the air. It was No Man’s Land but one indomitable woman dared to cross it. The Allied forces were able to rally behind her and she led the troops into a triumphant battle.

That scene, which was unimaginably almost cut from the film, was a direct contradiction to every moment in my life when I’ve felt small and incapable. It proclaimed that’s not the truth about you. I wept with the poignant stirrings of dreams shut down and confidence interpreted as bitchiness and role models devastatingly few. And then I felt like I too could be an Amazon warrior who saves everyone. It was intoxicating. And I thought to myself, do men get to feel like this at the movies all the time?

16508223_10104713115121470_3552771851245733594_nBut you know what? I’ve got a Wonder Woman in my house with me. Gal Gadot’s character is far away in a movie not yet available to rent, but her spirit is present in my bed every morning, at my breast throughout the day, and in my lap with storybooks every evening. My Phoebe Clementine teaches me how to gather courage, how to lay claim to my own power, and how to take back my voice in the night. Her presence in my life is a healing balm for the little girl inside of me who was always picked last in gym class, who was always among the slowest to complete the mandated mile run, who was on the fringes of social groups, who never felt like she fit in or met others’ expectations. She’s only two years old but she’s been God’s instrument for redeeming the hidden badassery in my soul since the day she was born (literally: she was born fist first, channeling Rosie the Riveter even before her first breath).

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Sometimes people ask me if I named my daughter after Phoebe Buffay from Friends. My answer is well yeah, sort of. I was inspired by Phoebe Buffay’s fantastic quirkiness and continual breaking of the mold. I was also inspired by Phoebe of the Bible who was a deacon, or perhaps a minister depending on your exegesis of the text, who many believe was responsible for delivering Paul’s letter to the Romans and perhaps explaining it’s complex theological content to the people as well — no matter how you slice it, Phoebe of Romans 16 was quite a woman, especially in a deeply patriarchal culture. The word Phoebe means “radiant, shining one” in Greek, which could not be a more fitting description of my girl. It’s beyond beautiful; it’s brilliant and glittering. Phoebe is an embodiment of every aspect of her name’s inspiration and as such she oozes sass.

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“I’m doing a great job! I’m doing a great job!” This is what Phoebe says to herself when she is practicing riding on her balance bike. “I did it all by myself!” This is what Phoebe says to herself every single time she gets dressed. “Made it!” This is what Phoebe says to me every time she scales a playground apparatus intended for a five-year-old. “Beat ‘cha, Gabe!” This is what Phoebe says to her brother every time she completes a task faster than he does (or so thinks). How I wish I had the self-talk of my daughter. Her confidence astounds me, still untainted by a cruel world. I pray I can keep it forever intact despite knowing that arrows of pain strike everyone eventually. Thinking of that, I then pray I’ll know how to teach her to pull those arrows out of her side and get the hell back out there for Round 2.

14021681_10104148174167670_4085211941103525818_nAnd it’s not about “acting like a man.” Wonder Woman, in all her glory and ambition and defiance, was also beautiful, pure-hearted, tender — traditionally feminine qualities. She possessed a balance of masculine and feminine qualities (something we ought to instill in all children). One of the most powerful parts of the movie for me was that Wonder Woman was as much a wonder as she was a woman. Loving AND strong. Powerful AND tender. Poised AND unstoppable. After all you can be both feminine and a feminist. My Phoebe is OBSESSED with pink. I tried not to overdo the pink thing as a mom, but the child just has an intense love for the color pink (don’t give her a blue plate; she’ll rip your eyes right out). And my pink-laden girl also loves playing with trucks and dressing up like a firefighter and holding rattlesnake tails (and unfortunately pummeling her brother on occasion — a few weeks ago he wrapped his legs around her neck and she just bashed her skull into his crotch — I cheered a little on the inside). There’s so much cultural tension and infighting over “Women should be good and sweet!” vs “Women should be powerful and strong!” And I’m just like well shit, can’t we be both? My Phoebe sure is.

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Stop condemning your daughter’s sassy ways. We don’t do it to boys because we admire it in boys. It’s worth admiring and encouraging in girls too. I’m not advocating permissive parenting or disrespectful children. But I am taking a stand for sass. It’s life-giving. It’s soul-protecting. It’s justice-pursuing. It’s guts and heart and self-love and with proper nourishment, others-advocacy. Bossy, sassy little girls will grow up to be leaders, champions, senators, presidents, earth-movers and world-shakers. If we quell their sass, we do it at our own peril.  Someone’s gotta emerge from the trenches or we die down there.

19145830_10105171073519170_6189884650407752893_nMy daughter is a warrior. She’s a hero. She will not be intimidated. If you bother her when she’s working, she’ll retort “I’m busy!” And no one interrupts Daddy’s sermons except his daughter and it makes me absolutely giddy. And this girl will love you something fierce. She runs to gleefully smash into her older brother when he arrives home after school and wants to give him a hug and a kiss every night. She gushes to me, “I WUV Daddy! He is the best Daddy.” And she snuggles with me every chance she gets and proclaims “You are a beautiful mommy” (swear to God I didn’t teach her to do that). My “sassy” girl harnesses her power for good. For the people she loves. For the betterment and beautification of the world. She’s my very own Wonder Woman. She steals hearts and kicks ass and exorcises demons that keep little girls down. She reminds me that I am Wonder Woman too.

My daughter is sassy. PRAISE GOD. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

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Hello, Arizona

2016-05-30-1464627347-5203949-SaguaroNationalPark171It’s 9:15 at night and as I sit outside on the pavement my legs are still being baked by the concrete and my arms and face and back feel the heat from the oven. And yet I’m pretty comfortable. It’s no seventy degrees, but I’m content to be outside right now because the contrast is enough from the climax of the day. After all, it’s only 95F = two digits, totally doable. Gotta get into the elements when I can avoid frying.

And I think it says something about my process of adjusting to a new life. There is so much to adapt to, it’s quite overwhelming much of the time, and the weather seems a trivial thing to pat myself on the back for. But man alive, it’s such a change from what I’m used to so I’m going to do it anyway. Granted I’m also doing plenty of whining about the weather; it’s worlds different from the four evenly-spaced seasons that I’m accustomed to, and my Midwest patience is wearing thin for summer. I’m programmed for 90 days of a pattern and then a shift. In Arizona, I’m being asked to wait things out.

95ecbd44194a7878f0edbac23e99f946Wait. That is a reoccurring theme for me in Arizona. Wait to know where everything is, wait to understand cultural differences, wait to appreciate the desert, wait to have side-splitting laughter with friends. Wait a (literal) hot minute before letting the children play in the backyard while I scan the area for rattlesnakes or bobcats or tarantulas. (I’ve seen the first two — thankfully neither in my actual backyard). Wait for a time other than evening to retrieve the trash and recycling bins from the curb — ornery javelina might be lurking.

Arizona. The kids have no idea that we live in Anthem, or (sort of) Phoenix. It’s Arizona. Because that’s how we’ve always termed it to them, and unconsciously to ourselves. It’s big, it’s huge, it’s down there in the bottom lefthand corner of the country that I never paid any attention to before. It’s alien. It’s a strange land. The plants will poke you and the animals will sting you and the heat will burn you. It feels harsh, dangerous, confusing, other.

There are stoplights at the end of highway merge ramps. I thought they were cute and absolutely ignored them for the first six months we lived here, until Simon told me I was supposed to actually abide by their red or green lights. You mean I’m supposed to go from zero to sixty in two seconds as I merge on to the highway?! “Well, it’s supposed to help with the flow of traffic.” Well, I think it sounds like a great way to get killed. (I have this teeny-tiny tendency to buck social norms, so I still don’t really stop, but I do slow down).

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Also my driver’s license doesn’t expire until 2046. Isn’t it funny that that’s going to be a real year? What if I go blind before then? The government is cool with me driving blind? I’ve also been told you get a new picture every five years or so, which I’m grateful for because my picture is truly ghastly. But doesn’t a new picture necessitate a new license? I haven’t figured this one out yet.

People in Arizona use the phrase “of ____ o’clock.” As in “I’ll pick you up at ten of six,” or “Let’s meet downstairs at twenty of four.” I had no idea what this syntax meant. When a friend from church said “twenty of four” to Simon and me, I asked Simon, wait what? What time? Simon replied, “I think he said 3:24?” That did make sense to our ears, but surely no one would request a meeting at such an odd time. Our friend said, “Ok, see you at twenty of four!” and I just blurted out, “I’m sorry, we don’t know what that means!” And for about thirty seconds we had a conversation in two different languages until it finally dawned on me that he meant twenty til four. “OH! You mean twenty TIL four! 3:40, twenty minutes before 4pm, right?” (because it seemed important to be really really explicit given the confusion that preceded this revelation). I’m sure he thought I was ridiculous but he graciously confirmed that 3:40 was indeed our meeting time.

Main4I’ve only spent three months in the South so I’m not the best person to make this judgement but Arizona feels like the South to me. Hospitality, four different Christian radio stations, and everyone goes to church. But it’s like the South wearing spurs. This is really the Wild West. Open carry — that’s new. People riding horses to restaurants. I’ve heard that one zip code east of mine has the highest concentration of horse ownership in the US. I wanted to buy cowboy boots in an attempt to fit in, but lordy they are expensive. I’ve sent three pairs back on Amazon because shoe sizing online is about the most impractical thing ever.

I’m the sort of person who is finds enjoyment in the most bizarre things. Like filling out online forms with drop-down menus for state, and not having to scroll at all, because Arizona starts with A. So that’s fun.

Arizona-Map-Old-ofHouses in Arizona don’t have basements. Hearing this was analogous to a hypothetical discovery that Arizonans don’t have toes or kidneys. How can houses not have basements? Where do you store your Christmas decorations? Well it turns out that Christmas decorations can be stored in a variety of places. Our garage has sick built-in storage with cabinets that go from floor to ceiling and everything we formerly stored in our basement is in there. Also, no basement turns out to be kind of amazing when you have little ones, because if you also have a ranch-style home as we do, that means no stairs! No baby gates, no fear of toppling children, no putting up with the one-year-old’s fascination with going up and down the stairs 500 times. So thank you, Arizona.

Also, thank you for the rocks. My vehicle and construction-obsessed child is all about the rocks. He can bulldoze and excavate and dump rocks with his toys for days (weather-permitting). THANK YOU for not participating in daylight savings time, oh my gosh; this mama of small children is eternally grateful! Thank you that because my house is always over 80F I can squirt coconut oil out of a ketchup bottle because it will never, ever, ever harden (til winter, which I proclaim by faith will indeed come again). Thank you for allowing me to vote by mail. Thank you for being on Pacific time (March-November) so that I can watch late-night comedy not late at night. Thank you for being midwife-friendly and respecting my right to make my own choices about the type of maternity care I desire (I cannot get over the shock of SEVEN birth centers just in Phoenix. How amazing!). Thank you for being so hot here right now that anyone who is unsure about global warming need only to pop into Phoenix for a crash course. Thank you for not having mosquitos here!

Flagstaff-peaks_0Did you know that Arizona has more national monuments that any other US state? Did you know that northern Arizona has pine trees and mountains and snow? I knew about the Grand Canyon and Four Corners, of course, but those are just two of many many gorgeous places that I’ve been told I just must visit. Glen Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Havasu Falls. Flagstaff is just ninety minutes north of us and is the most adorable college town where we can take the kids to go sledding or grab a cup of joe at a crunchy hookah lounge. I’ve heard they do a great Polar Express event for the holidays.

It’s easy to write off the new as wrong and to scorn the unfamiliar as inferior. I’ve done plenty of that. It’s homesickness, it’s immaturity, it’s human nature, it’s something I’m working on. It’s not the whole story. Arizona is a different place from what I’m used to, but it’s a place all the same. It’s full of history and complexity and beauty and lives lived and loved. And underneath the cultural differences (I’m not sure I’ll ever understand wearing pants when it’s over 70 degrees) and operational differences (assuming no blindness, I’m thankful to the Arizona government for relieving me of many hours that would otherwise be spent rotting in the DMV), people everywhere are just the same. Looking for love, looking for hope, looking for purpose. And just like we worry when we’re having a second baby that we couldn’t possibly love that child like we love our firstborn, we discover we’re wrong in a flurry of hormones and emotions when that newborn is placed on our chest and we do instantly love two babies, equally and differently, without the first losing anything. Your heart just gets bigger, say the wise women who came before us. And what Jake Perry said to Melanie Smooter in Sweet Home Alabama is absolutely true: “Since when does it have to be one or the other? You can have roots and wings.”

13177882_10103883826432650_1322013044471081833_nBaby one, baby two. Roots, wings. Childhood home, adult landing place. Missouri, Arizona. Since when does it have to be one or the other? Can we live in the tension? A few days ago I was sitting on Gabe’s bed with him as he fell asleep for the night. He rolled over and said to me contemplatively, “Mom, it’s really hard to move. I didn’t want to move. It’s hard being in Arizona.” And my heart swelled with love for that little boy who is so much like me, all feelings and melancholy and dreams and a need to wade through despair. “I know, sweetheart. It is really hard. It’s hard to get used to a new place. Do you miss St. Louis?” He nodded. “I miss our house,” he said as he started to cry softly. “And I miss my room.” I joined his crying and nodded back. We talked about how everything happened there. “When will we move back to our house?” he asked me. I explained as gently as I could that Arizona was our new home, and added that even if we had never left St. Louis we would have a different house anyway because our family has outgrown those thousand square feet. He just looked at me, eyes unsure and spirit questioning. I told him that Daddy and Mommy will be with him in the hurt, in the new, in the different. And I didn’t put a bow on it. His adjustment journey is as sacred as my own.

So we go forward. I attempt to moderate some sort of balance in my heart between optimism and enthusiasm verses honesty and hardship. One day I sunk to the kitchen floor and spontaneously started sobbing while my children danced around me and my husband walked in the house to quite a scene. And then I get excited about meeting the other parents in Gabe’s pre-K class and connecting with moms at MOPS. It’s one heck of a zig-zag.

nava_mapHello, Arizona. I’m still saying hello. It seems like greeting time should be over and done with by now, but it’s just not. You still catch me off guard and behave in ways I’m not used to and the acquaintance phase continues. But I like the flowers on the cactuses. It was cool when I had to stop my car to yield to a passing coyote. I loved trying fry bread on the Navajo reservation and learning about the native way of life. I can’t wait to get back to those winter days of Simon grilling my favorite foods and those winter nights of sitting in my backyard roasting s’mores with my family around the fire pit. It’s 10:35 on this summer night now and the sweat is dripping between my breasts and pooling under my gravid belly and my bangs are plastered to my forehead. But it’s a dry heat…sure.

 

Photo credits in order:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stefanie-payne/8-reasons-to-go-to-arizonas-saguaro-national-park_b_10208502.html (saguaros at night)

https://bigcatrescue.org/bobcat-on-cactus/ (bobcat on saguaro)

https://www.national-park.com/welcome-to-saguaro-national-park/ (saguaros in daytime)

http://horsebackridinginarizona.com (cowboy boots)

http://www.history-map.com/picture/000/Arizona-Map-Old-of.htm (AZ map)

http://flagstafffieldinstitute.com/about-us/ (Flagstaff mountains) 

Personal photo of Gabriel and newborn Phoebe 🙂 

https://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/scpn/parks/nava.cfm/ (map of Navajo reservation) 

Bad Mommy

Recently my children have started calling me “bad mommy” when I do something they don’t like: put a toy in timeout, take a tantruming child to their bedroom, what have you. Generally I find this amusing and I remind myself this means I’m establishing reasonable limits. In other words bad mommy = good mommy, yes? And when it comes to these types of disciplinary matters, I think that’s pretty true. My two-year-old’s proclamation of my “badness” would be met by nods of approval by knowing mothers everywhere.

p01785jxBut regrettably, sometimes I really am a bad mommy. The kind we shame on Facebook and whisper about at the playground. The kind who is does the wrong things, says the wrong things, and gets incredibly mad at her children in that visible unstable sort of way. The kind who loses control and sometimes wants to hurt the little people she created. Like a pot of water that boils over on to the stovetop, sometimes I have episodes of rage that terrify me, and certainly terrify my children.

Friends were dismissive at first. “Oh I know, they’re little hellions! Sometimes you just want to shake them! Good thing they’re cute.” I oscillated between feeling like every mother bursts into fits of rage, that this was a normal occurrence of life with small children, and feeling very much the opposite, that I was the only mother on the planet who ever had flashes of fury in which she desired, even for a moment, to really harm her children.

I have never truly physically hurt them, thank goodness. One time I did push Gabe, my four-year-old. It wasn’t violent but it was a push nonetheless, and he defined it as such immediately. I have also tossed Phoebe, my two-year-old, as well as Gabe, on to couches and beds with more force than is appropriate. raged-woman-in-red-screamingMostly what I do is clench my fists and bite down hard on my bottom teeth and ooze with anger. Sometimes I slam doors. And I yell. I have uttered so many curse words under my breath intended for my babies, and some of them have come out audibly, directed at little ones who don’t know their meanings but feel their cruelty regardless. And I’ve shamed them, just poured my yuck right over their spirits like an evil baptism.

I walk away, I turn on Netflix for the kids, I make a cup of tea. Something to disengage. I wish I could say that I feel horrible instantaneously, but sometimes it takes me a bit to transition from feeling vindicated to feeling guilty. When the guilt comes I make amends. I apologize, I ask for their forgiveness, and it rips me apart that they pardon me every time. Often Gabe cries, falling into my arms and weeping. I cry too, sometimes, other times my tears are delayed and I just feel worn out, embarrassed, despicable. If he isn’t already crying, he surely will be when I ask him if Mommy was scary.


My shame grew and grew, just as the frequency of my rage episodes did. The more I experienced rage against my children, the more shame I carried. And because shame thrives on secrecy, the longer I told no one the extent of what was going on, the deeper I feared losing the respect of others, or even my children themselves should CPS come knocking.

But I’m learning that shame is beaten back by exposure. One night I texted a friend some more details about what was happening. About how I was unraveling. About how I get so mad at Gabe, and sometimes tiny Phoebe too, and how it doesn’t feel like “normal mom stuff” in my heart.  She responded with care instead of judgment. She asked if I had considered therapy, psychiatry, medication. I had thought a lot about the first item on her list; I have always valued counseling and was currently seeing someone actually (not that I had brought this up during our sessions). But it hadn’t occurred to me that I might benefit from seeing a medical doctor. I didn’t feel put off by the suggestion; I’m a believer in antidepressants. It just hadn’t occurred to me that this thing I was experiencing could be medical. My friend sent me some links to articles about depression expressing itself as rage. I wept reading the articles — I wasn’t the only one. There were other mothers, other good women who loved their children, who found themselves exploding with rage against tiny humans. I wasn’t the only person on earth having this struggle and that knowledge empowered me to take action.

So I confessed everything to my counselor. I had already been seeing her for months but I hadn’t told her about my rage because Shame, the liar, told me not to. I feared losing my children, but then I also thought to myself If I am a real danger to my children then I need to lose them in order to save them. My counselor was humanizing and gentle when I told on myself; she added that I ought to see a psychiatrist. I gulped. She said we would figure this out.

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My counselor told me that it was a sign of a good mother to tell on myself. She said it’s the parents who have problems but never tell anyone that end up damaging their children or losing custody of them. That made me feel better. But she also made me promise that if I find myself unable to deescalate while raging, and Simon isn’t home, that I must go to a neighbor for help immediately, and failing that, call 911. I exhaled and I promised. I knew she was right, of course, a million times over. She talked at length about how shame and depletion are the pillars that support rage. When your cup is perpetually empty, and you are being bombarded with lies that you are not enough, a likely end game is rage. Shame + depletion = rage. My counselor preached self-care instructions. Self-talk instructions. It all made sense and I took mental notes, all the while thinking easier said than done. We talked about the work to be done before December when my family will grow by ten fingers and ten toes.

That’s another thing — I’m having a third child in December. We did this on purpose. (The first one was a very-much-not-planned WHOOPS, the second one was brilliantly planned during unemployment, and this one was a genius move during questionable mental instability — baby timing might not be our greatest strength. But making cute babies? We’re really awesome at that). In telling this story, I fear that everyone will think she’s having ANOTHER baby? Is she stupid? I’m not here to prove that I’m not, and I hate that it feels necessary to assure the world of this, but it does so here’s the thing: I love my children. I love them with a ferocious love, an enduring kindness, an involuntary affection. My love for those babies is the fiercest force that’s ever been awoken inside of me, and I would go to hell and back for them. And I will love this next baby, this wanted baby, the very same way, with my whole heart, with all the compassion and fallen humanity therein. I wish I was a perfect mother; I wish I had only strengths and no weaknesses. But I am deeply imperfect, and as I try to accept that daily, I make the only smart move I can, over and over, as the need will never diminish: get help.


Calling the psychiatry office was one of the most humiliating things I have ever done. It felt like the definition of rock bottom. I was two inches tall in the pit, barely making out the sun over the crest of the earth. But after I did it I felt a huge sense of relief and I was surprised to find myself anticipating the appointment instead of dreading it. My psychiatrist asked me a million questions. Medical history, mental history, family history. Have you always had a temper? No. Would people describe you as an angry person, like your husband or old boyfriends? No. Was your pregnancy planned? Yep.

Triggers, she asks — what brings on the rage? Breastfeeding. I’m a lactation consultant and fiery as ever about nursing, but as a human I’m maxed out. I have nursed Gabriel for over four and a half years, and I am also nursing his two-year-old sister, and growing another person in my uterus, and it’s too much. What else, my kind psychiatrist inquires. AngerNot enough sleep. Being woken up before 6AM every single day. Other things? Well, misbehavior. (This makes everyone nuts, right?) It almost seemed to obvious a trigger to go into detail, but I do anyway: being repeatedly ignored when I know the kids can hear me. Being kicked and swatted and whined at day after day after day. Tackling tiny sumo wresters into their carseats while they scream. Chasing after gleeful children who streak across parking lots. I also tell my psychiatrist that sometimes the rage comes out of nowhere, and these instances frighten me the most.

She asks me if I’ve had any mental health diagnoses before. I say yes, an adjustment disorder and I give some context. I also say depression, but that I’ve never had an official diagnosis. I mention sheepishly how being in her office makes me feel like I am actually a sick person, whereas being in a counselor’s office just makes me feel proactive and responsible. She scribbles on her notepad. I am overwhelmed by the notion of mental illness, but also thankful that I am getting the help that my babies and I so deserve.

Have you ever contemplated suicide? Sure, in my darkest moments. I’ve wished I wasn’t alive. For a fleeting moment or a few hours or maybe a day, here and there over the years.

The thought is always gone the next day? Correct.

Have you ever made a suicide plan? No. I’ve never considered taking action to end my life.

Have you ever wanted to hurt your children? I say sometimes I just want to slap Gabe across the face. She presses harder.

Have you ever wanted to really harm them badly? She leans into the word harm. Her tone of voice and body language are clear: she is talking about beatings, abuse, lasting damage. Ever? Has that thought *ever* crossed my mind? Yes, I whisper.

Have you ever had rage fantasies, thought about doing horrible things to your children? Damn, woman. I was able to answer “no” to all of her questions about punching walls, throwing things. Can’t answer no to this one, which is much worse than the earlier questions. Yes…I have had those fantasies. There, I said it. She knows now how broken my soul is. But she just continues to her next question, kind and dignifying, clearly a doctor and not a priest.

Have you ever had homicidal thoughts? Have you ever contemplated a homicide-suicide? I’m only one inch tall in the pit now, maybe one centimeter. I’m shell-shocked and feel lower than a slug to receive this question. No, I tell her. It’s the truth. But it only makes sense that she asked me.


yelling-mom-6187597She hypothesizes that all of my rage episodes have triggers, even the ones that appear random. She asks me how I am at self-care. I say okay and she doesn’t believe me. She asks if I was better at self-care before I was a mother, I say of course! (Isn’t that true of everyone?) She doesn’t let up: you were never really good at it, were you? It’s not shaming or accusatory, just knowing, an olive branch of truth. I think about it and tell her no, I’ve never been good at meeting my own needs — I’m really good at meeting other people’s needs. I tell her about the depletion issue that my therapist and I discussed, how a constant diet of depletion is a setup for rage. My psychiatrist agrees. She says my rage is fueled by not taking care of myself like I should, even when it seems to come out of left field. When your tank is always on E, a child protesting bedtime can make you unhinged, instead of annoyed but in control of yourself, she offers as an example. I feel less insane with this theory from her that there is a measurable explanation for all my “episodes.” I feel less crazy, and simultaneously alerted to the degree I have neglected myself.

She takes my vital signs and finally proclaims near the end of my ninety minutes that she doesn’t think I require medication at this point in time. She says that nothing she would consider prescribing is very safe with pregnancy or nursing, and she feels that the risks to the fetus and my nursing children outweigh the benefits I might receive. I wonder for a moment if she’s in a jam and would be writing out a STAT order for Wellbutrin if I were not in the family way. prescriptionsBut she seems confident in the plan she recommends: continue regular counseling with my therapist. She will be in contact with my therapist, and I sign the HIPPA papers to allow the two of them to discuss my dark yucky parts over the phone anytime. My psychiatrist tells me she’s going to call me in two months to see how I’m doing and then we’ll reevaluate my needs. I’m uneasy that she didn’t prescribe something for me; at this point I’d love a pill to keep me from ever lashing out against my children again. But I’m also encouraged that she thinks that I can do the long, hard work of therapy to center myself in wholeness.

My psychiatrist runs my credit card and I sign the receipt. She smiles at me in a motherly way. I thank her and I leave.


I used to think that when I became a mother I would stop being a human. I would be bigger, better, more capable. I would be divine and Pinterest-perfect. But if anything I am more human than ever before. I love bigger but I hurt deeper and fall harder. And even the sweet babes that I nurse and nurture, even they (especially they) fall prey to my weaknesses. To my state of mental health or illness. To my humanity with its ever-glaring pock marks.

I understand how child abuse happens. When you’ve repeated yourself a hundred times, and tried every trick in the book, and compared yourself to every mother you know and your kid — who seems to instantaneously combust because the air around him doesn’t contain his preferred blend of oxygen — to the kid at church who is actually wearing Sunday best and who doesn’t throw himself on the floor and fake a grand mal seizure when he doesn’t get his way — after all of that, when you feel completely defeated and moronic and exhausted, and you have utterly nothing left to give, even regard for others’ opinions of you, sometimes you just want to beat the snot out of that little punk. It sounds so tempting, and it really feels like they deserve every ounce of it.

mom-yelling-at-child-cartoon

Thank God I have not given in to the full urging of the rage. I’ve been mean, I’ve jerked little hands through a parking lot too forcefully, I’ve used shame and intimidation to punish my children. And I tell myself that it’s not as bad, not as wrong as hitting or “really hurting.” And maybe a jury would agree with me, but my heart knows the truth. I know, just like the people reading this who have never called a psychiatrist’s office, that it is always wrong to shame a child or use fear to control their behavior. It’s pretty basic. But it turns out that I’m a lot more limited than I thought I was. I’m coming to grips with the fact that I have to be Human and Mother at the same time. And, on the other hand, I get to be Human and Mother at the same time.

And I cannot do this without a village. No, not in a way that will keep my children’s dignity and my sanity firmly intact. And it’s rough right now because the vast majority of my village is over a thousand miles away in the Midwest. My husband is in a new job which was the reason for our relocation. His purpose is clear while mine remains nebulous. Why am I here? What does the future hold for me? That answer will take some unpacking but I seek it with intention. This move has been harder than I expected and progress feels glacial. I know of lots of people but don’t truly know many people. Not deeply, not like I crave, not like time and interactions has yet allowed for. It’s a slow burn, I’m learning, this brand-spanking-new life we’re creating here. When I can use all the bad four-letter-words while looking like hell and eating ice cream out of the carton in front of people who know I’m a pastor’s wife, then we will be true buddies. We will laugh til we cry and cry til we laugh, and we will weather motherhood and this messy beautiful life as a team. I look forward to it with the greatest anticipation.


I type these next words to preach truth to myself as much as I type them to share with you: being a good mother and having mental health struggles are not incompatible. I’m worn out. I haven’t been caring for myself well. I’m going through some huge transitions. I was carrying shame, such heavy shame, because I believed the lie that good mothers don’t have mental health struggles, and the longer I delayed sounding the alarm, the more times I blew up at my young children and increased the chances I might actually harm them. largeAnd it’s true that sometimes being a good mother means being psychically separated from your children to keep them safe, and I’m just thankful I told on myself before more severe intervention became necessary. That happened by the grace of God. My heart goes out to all the mamas who didn’t speak up, because they were afraid and ashamed — I was those things too, still am, and I know I easily could have gone down a different path. I am no different from you. We all, everyone, must work harder to remove the stigma from seeking mental health care. Until calling a psychiatrist is a normal as calling a cardiologist, there is more work to be done. And our lives and our children’s lives depend on it.


A dinner plate that falls to my kitchen floor is in peril the moment it leaves the countertop, but it doesn’t actually break until it’s fated meeting with the laminate. There are many instances in my journey as a parent that I am that falling plate. I’m going to shatter; I’ve already left the countertop. My blood pressure is rising and my temper is flaring and my children are quickly becoming less adorable and more infuriating. I might even know I’m about to crash but I fear I cannot rescue myself. It’s utterly terrifying and it feels like a monster has kicked me out of my body; the demon storms in and I am standing helpless on the curb. His name is Rage. He feeds on depletion and he breathes shame and he contorts my brain. He sends me spiraling. But because I am a human and not a dinner plate, I do have more options than inanimate objects do. I do have the ability to send up a flare, to ask for help, to shout out “I’m going to break! Get me out of this free-fall!”

The-Monster-Inside-Your-Head-Is-Always-ActiveSimon came up with a system for me to use to communicate with him quickly in times like these. It’s a scale from 1 to 10: 1 means I could not be enjoying my children more and 10 means I might kill someone. We have agreed that if I reach a 7, I am no longer a safe parent in that moment. Daddy needs to take over, or, if I am alone with my babies, I need to send up my own smoke signal: stick them in front of PBS Kids, or outside to play, or simply walk out of the room and give myself my very own timeout (preferably with tea and chocolate). This system is helping me, and it’s not even so much about the 7, it’s about the 2 and the 4 and 6.5. It’s helping me check in with myself on a regular basis and not just when I see the monster called Rage approaching. And the great thing about that is increased self-awareness, which results in me taking action when I’m a 5 or 6, to keep my children that much safer, to guard their dignity that much closer. And when the radar beeps 6 or 7, there’s the self-talk corrections, which I prefer to think of as monster evictions: “Get out, you bastard! These are my babies and this is my life and you don’t get to hurt us like this!” And then you punch him in the face and throw him out of your sub-conscience. (And you still take that timeout probably, because let’s face it, the monster is one stubborn dude and he’s not smart either).


Let’s be honest — there are social media posts that are appropriate and those that are inappropriate. We all subscribe to a set of unspoken rules when it comes to Facebook, Instagram, and the like — you know what I’m talking about. Perhaps no where is this more true than with regard to parenting. For example, it’s acceptable to post pictures of your kids smiling. You smiling with them. Statuses about funny things they do and sweet things they say. About once a week I’m able to capture a Facebook-sanctioned picture of my children and/or have a cute story to tell about them in a status update. But daily I have lots of stories I could tell about them that don’t follow the rules. For example:

“It’s almost bedtime. I have been so patient today. It’s almost time to rest. I’m giving the kids a bath and Gabe refuses to stand up so I can wash the lower half of his body. I ask nicely. I am very nice. I say he can play for two more minutes. Two minutes passes. I say it’s time. He ignores me completely. He is on another planet. I say his name repeatedly. I start raising my voice hoping I will be acknowledged. I wrack my brain for a bribe I can offer. Nothing works. My heart starts pounding and I clench my jaw in fury. For the millionth time I forget I am interacting with a four-year-old and I feel disrespected by an adult who thinks I’m dirt. I drag Gabe up out of the water by sheer force and he pretends like his legs are spaghetti. He’s whining; I’m pleading and cursing under my breath. He tries desperately to collapse in the tub and I struggle to retain my grip on forty pounds of slippery disobedience. He’s falling over the edge of the tub now and I have him propped on my pregnant belly, arms and head dangling over my shoulder. I manage to soap up his genitals and legs but what I really want to do is let go and allow his head to smash into the hard tile floor. For a moment I hope there will be blood. The monster has invaded and he is gnashing his teeth.”

That’s an everyday story from the Kim household and I’ve got a million more just like it. And here I go posting it on the Internet. But I have this theory that I’ll be a better mommy if I’m a more honest mommy. If I worry less about meeting others’ standards of motherhood and worry more about telling the truth about being a human being who happens to have reproduced. You might think I’m horrible. You might think I’m appalling. But at least my shame will be exposed, and I know it’s much less dangerous to me and my children that way. It can’t fester and therefore it can be overcome. When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible IS light. — Ephesians 5:13, 14

10

I’m pretty sure we’re all broken plates. We have all shattered. Maybe not as parents, but in other ways. We are not playing with a full deck. We don’t have all the answers or all the resources we need. Sometimes we need therapy or medication or hospitalization. Sometimes we need vacation or babysitters or showers with no little people watching. All the time we need each other. And the more we can admit that the sooner we’ll tell a friend how we found ourselves hating our kid one night, the sooner we’ll call a psychiatrist, the sooner we’ll be more honest with ourselves and our spouses, the sooner we’ll be more accepting of others’ help. It’s exhausting to glue ourselves back together over and over again. And I know from experience that once you break, you’ll break again more easily. I think it’s time to show each other all our broken places and dole out hugs (real hugs not that nicey-nice crap) and say “me too.” Maybe that’s the beginning of healing. Maybe that’s when we stop shattering.

brokenplate3

 

Photo credits in order: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130404-smart-saucepan-for-stressed-cooks (pot boiling over)

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-symptoms-of-borderline-personality-disorder-in-women.htm (woman in red shirt)

https://anitasilvert.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/beshallach-toggling-between-two-pillars/ (pillars)

https://krazykillers.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/vehicular-homicide-its-all-the-rage/ (woman screaming)

https://lupinelife.com/2014/11/20/mom-confession-im-a-yeller/ (profile of mom yelling)

http://www.lifecarefhdc.org/prescriptions/ (Rx)

https://pagesfromserendipity.com/2017/04/29/y-for-yelling-yelling-moms-arent-bad-moms-please-i-am-one-atozchallenge/ (cartoon mom yelling)

http://weheartit.com/entry/group/215981 (monster hovering over woman)

http://sadmoment.com/the-monster-inside-your-head-is-always-active/ (monster GIF)

https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-13048064-stock-footage-hand-holding-a-light-bulb-in-the-dark-the-lamp-lights-up.html (light bulb in dark)

http://atypyk.com/archive/broken-plate/ (put back together) 

 

 

Assorted Pregnant Thoughts

I’m terrified of how hard it’s going to be to parent three small children. I feel like society is very intolerant of my fear since “I did this to myself.”

Yes, we planned this pregnancy. I think admitting fear and intention together adds up to stupidity in the minds of some. You’re scared…but you did this on purpose…you’re dumb and I have no sympathy for you.

Deciding to have another BABY was not difficult. If children remained babies forever, I might have a dozen more. I love babies. Especially newborns — so snuggly and precious and soft and smell-able. Give me newborns for days. The problem is not the newborn; the problem is the child the newborn will become.

Yesterday I paid over $24 in library fines because I can’t get my life right and as I was signing my receipt, my four-year-old ran over to me from the drinking fountain and spit a mouthful of water all over the library desk and floor. Then my two-year-old proceeded to throw her shoes across the room and run away from me. Both drenched children demanded stickers from the security guy at the door (“the sticker man!”) and Phoebe ran into the Phoenix parking lot with bare feet and screamed. I carried seventeen “free” children’s books atop my pregnant belly, somehow scooped up my crying toddler, and imagined what the next circle of hell might be like.


I’m seriously over this whole being-pregnant thing…and I’m only halfway done with this one. It’s exhausting and uncomfortable and, sure, the baby kicks are altogether delightful and other-worldly, but it’s a crummy payoff for all the vomiting and heartburn and round ligament pain and stretch marks and bowling-ball-in-your-crotch syndrome.

Contemplating what it must have been like for women hundreds of years ago leaves me baffled. You’re just pregnant all the time!? Easily two or three decades of your life!? Pregnancy, birth, nursing, pregnancy, birth, nursing, pregnancy, birth, nursing, pregnancy, birth, nursing. When did women ever rest? How did they manage? What if they had had enough? I know that abortion dates back to ancient times; crisis pregnancy is not a new phenomenon. My heart catches in my throat thinking about the pervasiveness of infanticide as a practice: newborns in clay pots set out on the street or thrown in manure heaps to die. I can barely fathom it. Perhaps some women timed intercourse to avoid fertility, but what about the women who had no say in the matter? I wonder if every young girl for much of human history had a moment in her life that she grasped the eventualities of femaleness and shuddered with the realization that she would have precious little control over her life.

With these thoughts, gratitude settles on my heart and I am so humbled. It’s an immense privilege that Simon and I could even have a conversation about whether or not we wanted to add to our family. And it’s a tribute to feminism both that many contraceptive methods are available, and that good men like my husband welcome their use. 20620978_10105371142763800_9067363122232208525_nI get to say, “my uterus is retiring after this pregnancy.” I get to make that choice. I get to have a limit. I also have the power to change my mind about my family size. Considering what was normative for women’s sexuality for eons (and still goes on today everywhere contraception is unavailable or scorned), it’s flabbergasting if you stop and think about it.


I’m also really over pregnancy rules. Totally rode a ride at a carnival (it was the Moon Cars, I mean COME. ON.). Went down a water slide. Ate quality sushi, ate raw fish, ate soft cheese. I take baths that are a little on the hot side. Couple small glasses of wine with meals post first trimester; one here another three weeks later. Took extra-strength Tylenol for my migraine. I went to a super fancy restaurant in Chicago with my girlfriends last week and had a cocktail, and lemony ricotta, and raw tuna over micro greens. Abso-freaking-lutely.

You can think I’m a bad mom. You can think I’m overly-relaxed or even reckless. You can think whatever you like because that is your right. Me, well, I think I just got to a place of realizing I don’t have all that much control. Whether or not to get pregnant? Yes, that’s something I can largely control (thanks to my privileged position). But the fate of this baby? Not so much. It doesn’t mean I’m foolish. It doesn’t mean I’ve thrown out research or reason or rational thinking. It does mean that I embrace moderation and risk-benefit analysis and responsibility for my decisions. It also means that I have decided to embrace my humanity. I cannot have a perfect pregnancy because no one can do that. I cannot be a perfect mom because no one can do that. And I like having fun and eating good food and taking bubble baths. I will be a mother and a human simultaneously. The verdict has been declared and I repeat it to myself as necessary.


When you get pregnant for the first time, you register. You go to Babies R Us or Target or hop on Amazon and pick out 60,000 things you are positive you must have to raise a tiny human. This go round? I have everything I need (which, as it turns out, is really about seven things, not 60,000) but I still have a wish list, it’s just very different than it was five years ago. Now I’m dreaming about a babymoon with my hubby before the birth, fabulous birth photography (if I’m putting my uterus in a vice again, I want pictures of me looking amazing while doing it), an uber practical and durable baby carrier (I think the days of working to perfect Double Hammock carry in a woven wrap are long gone), and a whole lotta meals brought to my doorstep postpartum. And babysitting for the big kids. And chiropractic care and massages. (Oh, and an intact perineum. Just this once, no stitches. For the love).


Let’s talk about how you start to show freaking immediately when you’ve been pregnant previously. It’s not cute. It’s laughable. I dug out my maternity clothes at seven weeks! When we went public with our news around twelve weeks, people said things like, “Oh I’ve know for a month, I’m so glad I can congratulate you now!” At ten weeks gestation two different people said to me, “You’re so big!” Why, just WHY? Why would you say that? I’M TEN WEEKS PREGNANT. I think I might seriously mess with people at the end of this pregnancy when I’m as big as a house. I’ve heard of women letting out little baggies of water between their legs in random places like the bank and the grocery store just to mess with people who have the gall to shriek “Oh my god!!! You’re huge! How did you walk in here?! It’s triplets right??? You look like you should have delivered a month ago!” It sounds so deliciously satisfying to make someone worry that I might get placenta on them.


Oooh, let’s also talk about all the annoying things we have to deal with as women post-pregnancy and birth. Like peeing on your couch because someone made you laugh. Totally have peed on my couch like three times since becoming a mother. (This is why we have a slipcover now). Oh, and having to cross your legs like mad when you sneeze because, again, the uncontrollable pee. Does everyone know that pelvic physical therapy is a thing? Oh, it’s SUCH a thing. I recommend it. I also recommend doing the exercises at home like the PT tells you to do instead of just blowing them off like me and being like, yeah my bladder probably won’t fall out. About a year ago, I straight up wet the bed. I mean peed myself like a child in my sleep. I was dreaming about being in the ocean and then I was in the ocean. I changed clothes and threw a towel down and went back to sleep because, motherhood.


Also: this is not my third pregnancy; it’s my fourth pregnancy. It’s been nearly three and a half years since we miscarried Zuzu and I’m not grieving anymore. It feels horrible to say that but also true and also freeing. I’ve been healed and isn’t that a good thing? My miscarriage experience remains one of the most traumatizing events of my life, not only the loss of my pregnancy and baby but the physical event itself. I’ll never forget all the blood. And I long to someday meet that sweet baby in Heaven, to find out who she is and what she smells like and all I missed. I await redemption. IMG_7588.JPGAnd yet in the here and now, my thoughts and feelings are consumed by Rainbow Baby Phoebe who filled up my womb and heart after Susannah went home. And this new baby, both known and unknown to me, Baby Cookie as the kids call my bump, is making his/her way into our love too.

The dark cloud of fear that dogged me during Phoebe’s pregnancy has lifted. It’s not a return to the days of blissful mommy ignorance I enjoyed during my first pregnancy; I know all too well that there are no guarantees. That blood is seared on my brain and I’ve wept with precious friends who have endured losses far more agonizing than mine. I choose to eat organic as much I can, and to buy the expensive prenatal vitamins, to avoid obstetric procedures that are not evidence-based. I chose to have my progesterone levels checked over and over in the beginning because it’s my Xanax for miscarriage anxiety. Ultrasound on Thursday, never miss a prenatal appointment, text my midwife with my questions and concerns anytime. But I choose to loosen my grip as well. I chose to finish every last drop of the best cocktail I’ve ever had last week at dinner. It’s a broken world; I’m a broken person; I might as well consume peace along with organic apples and pop sanity along with prenatal vitamins. There is only so much I can do, and even though I could run myself ragged doing it 24/7/365, it won’t put me in the driver’s seat. I’m still a passenger, along for the ride. The dangers are before me and I see them, but I’m rolling the window down and hanging my head out too. It’s a patched up version of blissful mommy ignorance: it’s experienced humbled openhandedness.


I will survive and then thrive the transition from two to three children. I will do it because I have to. I will do it because my children deserve it. And I will do it because I can, because I deserve it, because I refuse to let motherhood swallow me, because I love my children but I don’t always love parenting my children and I need a war cry, y’all. I have two hands and soon will have three children. I will soon bust out the pumpkin seat again and have over $700 of car seats across the middle row of my Odyssey. There will be afterpains and diapers and blood and milk on everything in sight. And it will be stupefying that the world will continue unaware.

But there will also be that face. That new face that today I can only dream about as the squirms inside me carry on. That new face that is not promised or ensured to us but that I nurture hope for anyway. That new face that ratifies our undying love for a new member of our family from the very first glimpse. That new face that is therapy and medicine and light ablaze. That new face that melts everything it encounters. That face I yearn to see, pray to see, delight to see. That baby face will be our glue. And I’m not ready and I want that face yesterday all the same. Grow baby grow. We’ll do this together.

The Trouble with English Class

I had phenomenal English teachers. Truly. Particularly in high school, all four of my English/literature teachers fascinated me, challenged me, inspired me, and grew me up in different ways. They taught me Shakespeare and Hemingway, they taught me grammar, they taught me word choice, they taught me critical thinking.

There was Mrs. Gregg who reminded me of my mom except with blonde hair that curled in instead of dark hair that flipped out. I would have never admitted this at the time, but she was a motherly comfort to me during the awkward transition that is freshman year of high school. I felt a little less scared having Mrs. Gregg as part of my daily routine. She exposed me to Romeo and Juliet and The Odyssey.

Ms. Moore was my sophomore English teacher. The moment the news of 9/11 hit our high school, I was just finishing up 1st period with Ms. Moore. That minute was flash-frozen on my brain and I can relive it like it was yesterday. Ms. Moore had a lazy eye and she very well could have been looking at you when it appeared that she was looking at someone else, so you were wise to just assume she was always watching. She was a fierce feminist and planted seeds in me that blossomed years later. I remember reading A Tale of Two Cities and Their Eyes Were Watching God in her class.

Then there was Mr. Mendelson. Unfortunately, Mr. Mendelson made some grave moral decisions a few years after I graduated high school and his teaching days came to a swift end when the facts surfaced. It taints how I remember Mr. Mendelson but it would be dishonest of me to say that he wasn’t a brilliant teacher. He taught me how to write a paper, like a really good one whereas before I felt like I was just bumbling around. We read A Farewell to Arms and The Jungle and Catcher in the Rye. Literature was combined with U.S. history in a block course and the melding of the two gave me the realization that history could be interesting. Mr. Mendelson demanded our absolute best work and I was transformed in his classroom.

Finally for senior year I had Mrs. Walters for British literature. We read Beowulf and Wuthering Heights. Every single morning we had a “Grrrr…” that we had to solve: Mrs. Walters would put a grammatically incorrect sentence on the blackboard and we had to spot and correct all of the errors. (To this day “off of” drives me nuts — you just say off, people!). Mrs. Walters had a reputation amongst seventeen-year-olds as boring and stuffy, but she was anything but. She was elegant and gentle and clearly loved both English and students. Mrs. Walters was very helpful to me with the college admissions process, and helpful to me in general as a human being. She was a crown jewel on my high school experience.

Now, I have a confession for my teachers before I go on: I know you thought I was a model student and all, but I didn’t actually read any of the books that you assigned me to read. Except for Pride and Prejudice — Jane Austen won me over. Oh, and To Kill a Mockingbird too. But I totally Spark-noted and Pink-monkeyed the crap out of those other books. I mean, Red Badge of Courage?! Whose bright idea was that? No sixteen-year-old wants to read that!

You know what I did want to read? Harry Potter. I think those are the only books I read for pleasure in high school, because my love for reading had been severely squelched by then — a real testimony to the genius that is J.K. Rowling. (And I devoured those 500, 700, 800 page books in days immediately upon publication). But while I was a dutiful and accomplished student, I didn’t care about the books you wanted me to care about. I cared about whether or not Hermione and Ron were ever going to get together and whether or not Severus Snape was a good guy.

I was a bookworm as a kid. My sisters roamed the neighborhood, but I typically tired of that quickly and went home to bury my head in a book. I loved spelling bees as a kid (lost on bananas, dang it, too many na-‘s) and vocab words as a teenager (looking up words I don’t know and using them in sentences?! Love! Don’t you just love words like effervescent and irascible?). But middle school and high school completely zapped my love of reading. The joy was stolen from me. Suddenly it was a chore, and they were two parts that were really depressing to me: I didn’t get to pick which books I wanted to read, and after being forced to read a book I didn’t want to read, I was forced to write a paper other than the one I wanted to write. a-book-a-week-image

Isn’t it sad that I can’t remember more of the books I “read” (ahem, cheated on) in high school? I guess it serves me right for cheating. (But, and this is a soapbox for another day,  research shows that homework is mostly without benefit, and also that teenagers need more sleep than school typically allows them to get. So, just saying, I may have had more time to really read if I hadn’t been doing excessive homework, and more motivation to really read if I wasn’t exhausted. Also — and this is more of an explanation than an excuse — I was far more interested in cheerleading than I was in old dead guys). But I firmly believe I WOULD HAVE remembered the reading in high school (and that I would have actually completed it) if I had been given the choice as to what I read. But kids need to read the classics! Some will argue this. And I say, fine! Give students a list of ten, twenty, or fifty and say TAKE YOUR PICK! This doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Boundaries and freedoms can harmoniously coexist.

And after I injected my brain with Sparknotes synopsis after Sparknotes synopsis, and I had finally “finished” the book, then the real hell began: write a paper about the book. But did they want to know what I thought of the book? No, not really (let’s be honest). “Write a paper demonstrating how The Great Gatsby has this motif.” Well, what if I don’t give a rip about the approved motif? What if it meant something different to me? What if  I have a divergent opinion? I would have NEVER done this because I was way too much of a brown-noser, goody-two-shoes, world-class-kiss-ass, but in retrospect I would love to break into my adolescent mind and turn in a paper that said in effect: “I didn’t get The Great Gatsby (or The Scarlet Letter, or whatever torturous novel it was for you). It bored me to tears. I would have rather stabbed myself in the eye with a dull dusty pencil than to keep turning its pages. And forget your motif — I am of the opinion that that wretched book had another meaning, not that anyone cares. (Also, what if I wanted to write a spy novel instead of this paper in the first place?) I used to love reading but now I don’t and that sucks. I used to love writing, but that’s been ruined too. I know the government has mandates, and the district controls some things too, so I don’t blame you personally. But I am a cog in a seriously flawed machine and you are participating in the destruction of my creative soul. I want to transfer to Hogwarts.”

I know, so much anger. But it does make me angry and I think it should make us collectively angry too. It’s criminal that children who organically love reading and writing have their loves undermined by our education system. I have had to relearn how to love reading and writing as an adult, and it’s taken a long time. It’s been a journey to find the joy again; it was so shoved down by expectations and rules and grades and right and wrong. Wouldn’t it be preferable if more adults enjoyed reading? Wouldn’t that be great for society and for individuals as well? Sure seems that way to me. Now that I’m in my thirties and slightly more mature than I was at seventeen, I would love to really read Their Eyes Were Watching God. I think I would love it. And I’m sorry, Zora Neale Hurston, that I did not appreciate your art when I was a sophomore in high school. Now I think about this remarkable contribution you made to black literature and women’s literature, and I want to know everything you wrote about race and gender roles and women in relationships, and I want to read it again which will really be for the first time.

I don’t have an easy fix or strategic solution to keep bookworms like me from being turned off to reading  and writing in the most ironic of places, English class. I know teachers are under infuriating constraints and I believe our education system is deeply broken. And I bet my fabulous, dedicated English teachers were banging their heads on their desks half the time about how they wanted to do some things differently but weren’t permitted to. In fact I’d put good money on it — because I know every one of those teachers loved books and language and words, and cared about teenagers too. My teachers suffered the same ailment I did I think — I didn’t have their permission; they didn’t have their superior’s. And our souls were burdened together as dead creatives rolled in their graves.

 

Photo credit: http://www.listchallenges.com/top-100-most-popular-books-on-goodread-members

My Election Story & Reflections

Prelude: I understand that my view is just that, *my* view. I have friends who voted for Hillary, friends who voted for Trump, friends who voted third party, and friends who did not vote. And I do not write these words in an attempt to influence others to share my opinions. Instead I write this as a personal lament, a personal way of processing, and simply my own story. And I’m offering it publicly in the hope that it may resonate with others. I feel that I am continuously made a better person by having a diverse community, a political combination of ruby red and navy blue. I am grateful that I can learn from so many people of different walks of life. 

When I was in elementary school there was a boy who dry humped girls on the slide at recess. I feel like it happened to every girl in my class and sure enough my day came as well. It made me feel dirty and scared. I didn’t tell my teacher. I didn’t tell my mom.

When I was a teenager I was frequently told by family members, neighbors, and my parents’ friends that I was beautiful. I enjoyed being thought of and called beautiful, but I did notice that my looks were praised far more than any other attribute. It’s true I was lauded as smart too, but “beautiful” was the common refrain. I cannot remember ever being complimented for being determined or passionate or capable.

When I was in college I turned down a Valentine’s Day invitation for a date from a guy in my dorm. I was in the midst of a painful drawn-out breakup and it was just not the right time. As if I needed to have another reason for saying “no” besides I just wasn’t interested. I got some slack for turning him down from my peers. Halley, that was so cold of you. Halley, it’s Valentines’ Day! Halley, it’s not right of you to not give him a chance. 

A couple years after college I was getting to know a guy via the internet and some phone calls; I had met him online. After a few weeks of what seemed like promising conversation, he told me that he would need to see me naked before any further communication could take place to make sure I was good enough for him.

This past spring I was at a bar in Chicago with a group of women for my sister’s bachelorette party. There was a man who was dancing near us and began flirting with us and cozying up to girl after girl within our group. I flashed my wedding ring and walked in the other direction. Some of the women danced with him, some did not, and it seemed pretty harmless albeit mildly annoying to start. But eventually one of the women in our party seemed to be having a hard time getting away from this guy, and another bachelorette guest intervened on her behalf. The man became aggressive and threatening. We were frightened and left the club in a hurry.

Over the past year I worked in a children’s hospital where the staff is overwhelmingly female. I was constantly advised to move my car from the employee garage to the (closer) visitor garage on evening shifts in order to avoid being assaulted or raped when returning to my car after dark. And due largely to the emails that circulated like wildfire in my youth, I automatically look into the backseat before I get in my car.

Last week a man came to my front door promoting his air conditioner business. He asked me if our AC unit was in good working order and when I told him we had just moved in and I hadn’t inspected it, he handed me a flyer and said, “Just give this to your husband, honey.”


I have been thinking a lot about my life and identity as a woman over the last couple of months. Some of these stories I have not thought about in years; several of them never even bothered me until recently. But the 2016 presidential election changed things. The now-infamous Access Hollywood tape changed things. The audacity of a candidate for the most powerful office in the world saying jaw-dropping things about women (and many other demographics) over and over and OVER again changed things. And, in a spectacular juxtaposition, the possibility that a woman might shatter the highest and hardest of glass ceilings changed things.

At first I was pretty even-keeled about everything. I read up on emails and Benghazi. Tax returns and Trump University. I watched the news all the time. I devoured articles about both Clinton and Trump. I tried to do my homework and maintain a balanced perspective. But things kept happening that made it easier and easier and easier for me to conclude that Hillary was more in line with my values and she was going to get my vote. And I was so excited to cast my ballot and watch the election results roll in on November 8th. I was certain Clinton would win.

Well I spent all day on November 9th sobbing. I cried and cried and ugly-cried throughout Hillary’s concession speech. I supported Hillary and I voted for Hillary and I wanted Hillary to be President — yes — but more than all of that, I was (and am) devastated by two terrible truths: a competent and highly-qualified woman lost, and a cruel, vicious man who treats women horribly, won. I cried for Hillary; honestly I was heartbroken for her. And it’s not because of politics. It’s not because I’m a sore loser. It’s not because I can’t get with the program. It’s because I found myself identifying with her. It’s because, really without my express permission or awareness, Hillary Rodham Clinton became a beacon of hope for me as a woman. Her candidacy proclaimed that women are more than beautiful, that we are determined and passionate and capable too. Her forecasted win shouted from the rooftops that women are more than their bodies, that we have every right to say no, and that we truly have power if we would only harness it.

And her loss? It broke me. It broke me deep inside. It broke the heart of the little girl I used to be who just had her dreams abruptly dashed. I texted my husband at work, “I cannot help feeling very small as a woman.” I wept with thoughts like I guess you can do whatever you want to women and still be President of the United States. My internal barometer for justice was busted. I had a hard time looking at my own little girl that whole day after the election. I had been expecting to spend the day beaming at her about a national proclamation that she had unlimited potential. Instead I spent the day despondent that the inherent “lesson”for girls was that a person who boasts about grabbing vaginas can still win out over a person who possesses a vagina.

I wake up twice every night to nurse my daughter. And every time I have been up in the middle of the night for the past two weeks, I have been thinking about Donald Trump. I do not like slipping back into bed at 2AM and 5AM bogged down by worry about how this hate mongrel will govern our nation. One night he followed me into my dreams and I had a nightmare that Trump the sexual predator was loose in my house. Needless to say it was disturbing. It is not right that I am afraid of the next leader of our country. It is not okay that I would not feel safe in his presence.


I was shocked and overwhelmed that Trump won the election and I feel naive that I never really thought it was possible. Other than being female, I am privileged in every way. I am white, straight, cisgendered, Christian, middle class, and I was born in the USA. I have tried to make it a point the last couple of years to learn about what it means to be privileged and to unlearn behaviors that I engage in that disenfranchise those who are not privileged. A woman I know who is similarly privileged to me commented on Facebook post-election that Trump’s victory felt like getting punched in the face. And then she went on to humbly confess that although she has celebrated the triumphs for the vulnerable in our society over the years, she has failed to experience their pains as her own. And she said she was grateful for the intersectionality aspect of the election results — as she was cut down as a woman, she was able to move towards some understanding of her neighbors who, for years, decades, or lifetimes, have been discriminated against due to their religion or race or sexual orientation or abilities.

“I thought I got it before. I thought I was woke, on the right team, in this together. But the fact that this is the first time I’ve felt punched in the face like this shows I was wrong…

I didn’t feel the blows as my own blows. But I freely and hungrily took part in the victories…

And I see now now that wasn’t fair or right. I need to be present for both. Sickness and in health. And I’m sorry it took this for me to see.

I hate this silver lining but here it is, dug up and ugly and true.”

— Janelle Barr Bassett

I’ve been having the same experience and it’s been overwhelming. I watched the SNL spoof of a Clinton watch party and it was as funny as it was convicting. Because that was me — SHOCKED. And as the laughter of Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle illustrates at the end of the skit, this is NOT “the most shameful thing America has ever done.” It’s just the first time I’ve felt punched in the face.

It’s far from the first time for many, many people. And the result of the presidential election and the news of the last two weeks has given me just a glimpse into that sobering reality. A friend of ours mentioned on Facebook that she experienced xenophobia on a regular basis as an Asian-American child growing up in a rural area, and perhaps now we (enraged whites) can understand a bit more what that feels like. As a woman I feel rage coursing through my veins when I read that Jeff Sessions thinks it’s “a stretch” to label grabbing a woman’s genitals as sexual assault. But I’m also feeling sick reading about Sessions’ racism, Flynn’s Islamophobia, and Bannon’s white supremacy because for the first time, I feel utterly punched in the gut by the plight of my brothers and sisters who are people of color, Muslim, and Jewish.

The past two weeks have been an experience of shifting. Shifting from viewing the election results solely through my personal lens as a white woman to feeling the outcome a bit more through the eyes of a Muslim, a person of color, a LGBTQ person, an immigrant, a disabled person, an abuse survivor. In no way can I now or ever fully understand the experiences of those whose shoes I will never walk in. But I feel that my chasm in understanding is growing smaller. Reading is one of my favorite ways to expand my knowledge base. I recommend this convicting and brutal article about white people’s shock over the election. And this one too which addresses white feminists specifically. I’m an idealist, it’s true, but I’m heartened by strides towards more meaningful relationship.

It is defeating to wonder if the things I try to do to help are not helping at all. Sometimes I feel squished reading about how I’ve gotten it all wrong in my privileged little world. But I want to sit with these feelings and wade through them. I want to be willing to hear hard things and be rebuked where I am shortsighted. I want to keep unpacking my own narrative and feelings about our woman-demeaning President-elect, and I want to listen to the narratives and feelings of others whose intersections with the election results are different than mine. I don’t want to forget this feeling, this gut punch. I will keep learning. I will honor and incorporate my story as a woman, and keep seeking our shared human story. And I will be motivated to action.


The other day I saw my husband staring out the kitchen window with a grave expression on his face. I asked him what he was thinking about and he said he was reflecting on the hate crimes going on and imaging what he will say to our half-Korean children if someone calls them a “chink” or scrawls “Go back to China” on a wall at their school someday. He expressed sadness that people are feeling more freedom to say and do racist and xenophobic things. He signed as we discussed that Asians are often praised in our culture or spared explicit harassment thanks to the model minority myth, but this has the effect of maligning other minorities and downplaying legitimate hardships of Asian Americans. I must admit that I struggle even to understand my own husband’s non-white narrative because my own privilege is so deeply imbedded.

I hate that Simon and I are having these conversations. I hate that the school district where my mother works had an anemic response to students cheering, “Trump, Trump!” and yelling at black students to go to the back of the bus.  I hate that many people found it more believable that over a dozen women were lying about being sexually assaulted than the FBI’s conclusion that one woman was not a criminal (and I hate it that sexism is largely dismissed as a modern phenomenon). I hate the attacks from both sides on Facebook. Despite who we voted for and why, despite our differing views of scandals, can’t we all agree that it’s a bad thing when the KKK is having a parade to celebrate the election and the internment of Japanese Americans is being described as precedent for a Muslim registry?

How do I move forward? What do I do? Honestly it feels insurmountable much of the time. I’m breaking a lot of pastor’s wife rules by writing this post. “Don’t talk about politics” is a good general rule of conversation for anyone, but for those in ministry it’s particularly prudent. But just the other day I was explaining to my three-year-old that our family believes in love and kindness, that we believe in fighting the good fight, and that we believe in standing up for those who are vulnerable and oppressed. I’m not trying to be political. I’m not trying to be divisive. However I am trying to live those values I explained to my child. I cannot be silent. I will not sit by while precious people who were created in the image of God are terrified of the future.

So I programmed my U.S. representative and senators’ phone numbers into my phone. I plan on calling them A LOT. I intend to give money on a monthly basis to help the people groups whose rights may soon be under attack. I plan to keep writing — both on my blog and letters to newspaper editors as well. I called a local mosque yesterday and left a message asking if I can help somehow; I know I sounded like the silliest white lady ever…but I’m trying. I told Simon I’ll even kick around running for office (even though that sounds like the scariest thing ever and I have no idea what I’m even saying). And I’m trying to abide by a resolution I made for myself: talk to my Maker every morning before I allow myself to engage in social media.

What I will not do is go silently into the night.

I march on, cracked and undone but determined and fiery. I will befriend the vulnerable and scorned like Jesus taught me to do. multicultural-handsI will oppose bigotry. I will stand with the downtrodden and poor. I will commit to unlearning my biases and grappling with my privileges. I will hold fast to an ethic of “love thy neighbor” and support a politics of empathy. I will cultivate kindness and raise my children to do the same. And I will fight like hell to make sure my daughter takes it for granted that a woman truly can be anything she wants to be.

Photo credit: http://www.the-broad-side.com/international-womens-day-i-am-a-full-woman

 

The Belly of the Fish

Lately my three-year-old has been enjoying hearing stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible at bedtime, which is all kinds of precious. He has favorites as you may imagine, like Noah’s Ark, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and Jesus Feeds the 5,000 (or as Gabe calls it, “the hungry people story”). And he also approves of Jonah’s story (it’s got an animal in it, in case you missed the preschooler motif here). So tonight at bedtime, which I rushed through an hour and a half early because it was a napless but play-filled day, my little boy asked for the Jonah story. And as has become thematic in my life since becoming a parent, God spoke to me through my child (and the writing of Sally Lloyd Jones).

God had a message for the people of Nineveh, that he would continue to love and pursue them despite their evildoing. And as it usually goes with God, he elected to accomplish his purposes through his people — he wanted a human messenger to deliver his message. The messenger of his choosing was Jonah. Well Jonah wanted nothing to do with God’s message. His heart was full of judgement towards the people of Nineveh and he believed they deserved whatever they got. God was calling him to a place that he did not care to go and so he ran. The Bible details that Jonah boarded a boat headed to Tarshish, but I love how Jones puts it in the Jesus Storybook Bible: “Not-Nineveh.” Isn’t that just how it is in our hearts? It sure is in mine. It doesn’t matter much what the alternative destination is; the point is it’s anywhere but where God is leading. You want me to go where, God? You want me to do what?! Oh heck no, I am NOT going THERE! I am NOT doing THAT! You’ve got the wrong girl. That’s not the boat for me. I’ll hop onto half a dozen other boats as long as they are going to NOT-NINEVEH.

upload_263-HMS-Cavalier-Hi-Res-RobertRadfordPhoto credit: Robert Radford, via Google Images

Jones also says that Jonah thought his plan to go to Not-Nineveh was a good plan, but that in reality it was actually a silly plan. “Silly” of course, is a great word choice for a child audience, and at first blush it seems innocuous enough. But a quick gander at thesaurus.com reveals that synonyms for silly include childish, foolish, pointless, ignorant, unwise, and stupid, amongst others. Ouch. Somehow the realization that I have been silly, foolish, unwise, and the like is really driven home but Gabe’s giggles about silliness in general — not much more humbling than feeling indirectly mocked by your three-year-old.

So what does God do in response to Jonah’s assumed reasonable-but-actually-foolhardy plan? He sends a storm.

Now I did not grow up attending church and thus I did not first hear the story of Jonah in conjunction with a cute whale craft; no, I initially heard it as an adult, preached from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. And I remember my flinch reaction to God’s sending of a terrible storm after Jonah: this was vindictive, this was cruel! But my view on this has softened over the years, and now I see the heart of God not so much in the noun here (the storm), but the verb (the sending). God went after Jonah. Not like a bounty hunter, but like a father. My sweet husband preached a sermon recently that blessed me with the reminder that God relentlessly pursues his people. ‘Tis the message of the entire canon of Scripture. Though Jonah basically gave God the middle finger, God came after him; came after his physical person but more importantly his heart. Was God’s method severe? Absolutely. Was it necessary though to get Jonah’s attention? Yes.

How do I know that? The Bible doesn’t explicitly say this, after all. It doesn’t say “a violent storm was the only way Jonah was going to grapple with God and his own prejudices, heart, and questions” but I know it to be true regardless. And the reason is because I am not unlike Jonah.

schlanger_jonah_prison_090913_820px Photo credit: Alma Sheppard-Matsuo, via Google Images

I too have been fleeing from the Lord. Running away from my own Nineveh. It hasn’t been particularly conscious, although that’s debatable at best — the truth is that claiming I was unaware makes me feel better about it, less complicit in my actions. I can look back and see the glimmers of truth, directional signs towards Nineveh. Some I can see that I bypassed knowingly and of others I was honestly ignorant. But it’s easy to miss signs if you have big blind spots. And so the storm came and consequently the fish.

For the past three years, I have been living in the belly of a huge fish. The Jesus Storybook Bible talks about how the fish’s belly was dark, half-digested food stinking the place up. The illustration shows Jonah hunkered down under the fish’s rib bones, a harsh cathedral in which he must confront Truth, uncomfortable as it may be. Gabe always points to the rib bones and says, “What’s that, Mama?”every time we read about Jonah. And I realize tonight that it’s really God speaking through my sweet babe. What is this, Halley? This dark place where I have brought you? Do you see it? Do you recognize it for what it is? Are you going to grapple with Truth while you’re living in the belly of the fish? 

DSCN3958Photo credit: Jesus Storybook Bible

Although my marriage to Simon started in a season in which he was employed as a pastor, it happened to be in the same church I called home in high school. It was my home church and my first church. I had chosen it as a consumer, as a sixteen-year-old with a group of my peers. I had picked it; it didn’t “pick me;” there was no notion for me of being at a “pastorate” (full disclosure I didn’t know what that word meant until, umm, like a month ago. FYI it’s the church or office a pastor is called to serve within). And as far as I was concerned, I wasn’t doing ministry; that was Simon’s thing. It wasn’t even on my radar. I didn’t understand (despite being told) that it needed to be. I brushed off the notion that ministry would humble me or require much of me. It wasn’t my dream after all.

But to a greater extent that I previously understood, God has been busy weaving my life and story right into the fabric of my husband’s. And his life into mine as well. Our Maker has been blending our desires and dreams and callings. Shepherding people in the context of church ministry + birth work, lactation support, and a still-hazy general advocacy for womankind. And we’re sorting things out together. Our living room bookshelf holds books about theology and books about the female reproductive system. And Harry Potter. It’s awesome.

32Photo credit: MN Textiles, via Google Images 

Lately the sorting out is intense. We are asking things we’ve asked before with our lips but not with our souls. So IS God calling us to church ministry or not? Have we been listening well? Is this the right journey and how can we know? Are we dictating the terms we will accept from God? Does He have something else in mind for us, and will we say yes? Do we truly have our hands open before the Lord? We feel humbled and we feel scared (if that gives you any clue as to how we are answering these questions) but we also feel a deeper sense of peace. God has graciously reminded us of what we each desired in the beginning, apart from “everything that hinders” (Hebrews 12:1): just loving people well. And I feel like lifting my hands in awe, and running them along the fish ribs that comprise my sanctuary, and whispering, worn out but emboldened, I think I’m ready now. And by “ready” I mean finally being aware that I’m not and I won’t be. I’ve been saying “I’m ready” for years now — beating my fists into the fish’s sides and demanding my release from this unjust prison! Today though, somehow, I feel “ready” to sit. I’m scared I will sit forever and at the same time I dread the fish’s gag reflex. I don’t know what will happen in the next chapter and I feel woefully unequipped.

My husband has a heart that longs to serve others in tangible ways. It seems easy for Simon to remember others and do small things to bless them, like asking friends insightful questions, and thinking to buy flowers for his mother-in-law, and grabbing my favorite chocolate from Costco. Simon is a loving shepherd who longs to walk with others. I don’t remember how it started but our son has taken to saying “pastors should be tender.” That is the heart of my husband, made more tender daily by his children that teach him the word’s true meaning. He is a teacher and he preaches passionately with this goofy smile on his face. It sure seems like he’s called to be a pastor. For a long time we held that calling with pride, evidence that we still had (and still do have) a great deal to learn. Today I type these words with trembling, having had lots of time in the belly of the fish to smell my self-centeredness, and having being made aware of my true size, I look up to the Father with reverence. God? What would you have us do? We are so small. 

new-slider-no-text-optPhoto credit: Blue Sky Career Consulting, via Google Images 

I didn’t get it. I still don’t. But I know that I don’t, which seems significantly different. My heart is humbled. I do feel silly. For YEARS I have been asking God essentially, “What are you going to offer me?” instead of “What can I offer you ?” The enemy of our souls has been trying to shame me, whispering lies to me: Geez, some pastor’s wife. You just figured this out? You are so unfit for ministry. You are not holy enough to give up the comforts of this world for the sake of God’s people. You are not mature enough. You do not rely on Christ enough. You will never make it. Everyone will laugh at you!

But my God is faithful even when I am faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). He will fight for me even when I am silent (Exodus 14:14). And there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). And it’s true I don’t know much about being a pastor’s wife (at least in a conventional sense; I know a lot about being the wife of a pastor who is “without call”). But I was a follower of Jesus before I was a pastor’s wife and I was just a girl loving a boy before I was a pastor’s wife too. Fit for ministry? No, I’m not. But no one in the Bible was really “fit” for ministry either, not Moses, not David, not Paul. Praise be to God who loves and pursues and utilizes “misfits” for his kingdom and his glory! Worldly comforts? Oh gosh, I love those (and to add to the trouble, I don’t like change). Convenience, security, status, satisfaction; I’ll take one of each. Holy, mature, perfectly reliant on Christ? Nope, not those things either. And some probably will laugh at me (last night I was Googling differences between Protestant denominations because I sure as heck don’t know). It would seem the devil’s proclamations might be right about me after all. But here’s the thing: none of that holds weight because my identity is in Christ. I am free. And a perfect resume is not required. Willingness is the only thing required.

ws_Summer_Leaves_1280x800Photo credit: Wallpaperstock.net, via Google Images

And if I’m like Jonah and I am unwilling? Jesus will (and thankfully DID) send a storm, and a fish, and long time to ponder truth in a church of bones. I would like to think that if/when God chooses to send me, send us, again to Nineveh, I will go with a cheerful heart and a humble spirit. But if I remain like Jonah and comply technically but with an unchanged heart (and at a minimum I will have days, weeks, or seasons), I know God will come to me and ask, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). You see, Jonah was ticked that God chose to be compassionate instead of vengeful, and he left the city of Nineveh in disgust. If I similarly retreat away from my Nineveh to pout about how God did not act as I thought best, I know God will send a plant to guard me from the elements, and in time a worm, wind, and sun to expose me to those same elements for my growth and my good. Though I may fume about the dead plant, God will remind me of the same thing he reminded Jonah. I am not the one who makes plants grow. They are gifts and it is appropriate that they are seasonal. Their demise points us to things that are higher; things that are more deserving of my deep concern (like the welfare of others!).

The book of Jonah ends here; we can only guess at how Jonah responded after this point. I can only guess at how my own story will continue as well. I just know God’s relentless pursuit will continue. Send a storm to find me, swallow me up by a fish, take away my shady plant. He will find a way. He will forever seek his Beloved. “He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring” (Hosea 6:3).

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Photo credit: Tumblr blog “Spiritual Inspiration,” via Google Images