I would like to create a home in which there are rarely any messes, but that seems impossible given the fact that children live here, considering the Legos that sprinkle our playroom floor and prick our soles, a deck of cards fanned out across the coffee table, oodles of library books littering the kids’ bedrooms, each object a portal to another realm where imagination reigns and couch cushions meld into the body of a race car, a swingset transforms into a shuttle rocketing to Mars, stones unearthed from the flowerbeds become marble.
“We could be rich!” my son cries, cradling his prizes, holding them out to me like offering. Dirt speckles his grin, dresses his hands and feet, piles next to him on the patio, I sigh, send him to rinse up, pick up my phone and scroll the news, confronting a barrage of harshness. I sigh again, but he laughs, unaware, spraying his palms clean with the garden hose — or is it a fire-breathing dragon?
(I would like to create a world in which there are rarely any messes but that seems impossible given the fact that humans live here, and they keep hurting each other.)
I glance at my son’s hands, fresh and five years young, whatever they graze shape-shifts from ordinary to extraordinary. Could they fashion marble from our muck? Maybe we could be rich.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale — an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Ordinary Inspiration.”
And on this splendid summer day, a boy learned to ride his bike.
He zoomed down the alley while Dad jogged behind him and Mom stood with the baby, holding up her camera. The boy couldn’t quite understand the funny look on Mom’s face — was she smiling or crying? Maybe both?
“Wonderful, wonderful,” she kept saying. And it was wonderful to push through the wobbles and ride strong and steady, to feel the slight breeze on his face, to gain speed, to move through the city all by himself. What kind of adventures awaited him this summer? Where would he go? Who would he become?
Last Wednesday, I bid farewell to a job I loved. It was my dream job, the job that combined my passion for words with my deepest held beliefs, a job that rattled and refined that faith, a job where I encountered the Divine in the voices of others. It was more than a job, it was a call.
Most days, I worked from the office. Pre-pandemic, I had a cube with a view of the courtyard, my space nestled next to five of my favorite coworkers. I met dear friends here — kind, talented people who laughed and cried and did excellent work alongside me.
All in all, I spent nine years stewarding sacred stories for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — years of listening and telling, growing and becoming.
There are occasions in life when you look around and realize that the tidy nest you built no longer fits, and you’ll need to leave in order to fly. After much prayer and discernment, I resigned to pursue my vocations as a mother and a writer.
There will be time to reflect more, to announce what’s coming next.
For now, I’ll close with this: It was an honor and a privilege to play a role in making known the immeasurable love of God.
At the foot of Hart Lake, wisps of breath swirling in the alpine air, marveling at the breadth of sky and pines and Cascade Mountains, feeling so small, feeling the expansiveness of God’s presence;
In the Chapel of the Resurrection for 10 p.m. worship, surrounded by classmates, basking in the glow of candlelight, singing “Jesus Christ is the light of the world — the light no darkness can overcome”;
On an operating table at Lutheran General, hearing his cries, seeing his face for the first time, tears of joy rivening my cheeks, my heart full of awe and thanksgiving;
In the kitchen, peeling and chopping carrots, swishing the mirepoix with hot olive oil, delighting in each crack and sizzle;
At the beach in Cinque Terre, raking my fingers through fine sand, sweat beading at my chest, already sore from the day’s hike, already dreaming of the night’s gelato, young and alive and enamored with the world’s beauty;
Snuggled up in my son’s bed, asking for forgiveness and safekeeping, pleading for peace, giving thanks for shelter, love and family;
On my yoga mat, arms splayed out wide, forehead and knees and palms pressing down, surrendering to gravity, my whole body curled in a posture of devotion;
At Fourth Presbyterian Church, pausing in the aisles to notice how to the stained glass crafts a mosaic of color on floor, lifting my eyes to the pews to see the ones who find sanctuary from the biting Chicago wind on an ordinary weekday;
On the sidewalk with my son, knees powdered with pastel, chalking rainbows, hearts and flowers, the words “Run with Maud” and “We’re in this together”;
Flat on my back in the middle of a field of wildflowers, exasperated by negative pregnancy tests and abandoned drafts going nowhere and the isolation of the pandemic, lamenting the loss of life and lack of justice, searching the clouded sky for hope and answers, whispering, “God, are you out there?”;
Facing the altar of Resurrection Lutheran Church, cupping my hands to receive the bread, the body of Christ, the grace that grounds me and sets me free;
On the pages of my journal, scribbling thoughts, seeking wisdom, searching for direction, asking God what would you have me do, how will you use me now, how can I attune my ear to your calling;
At my childhood dinner table, fingers interlaced, head bowed, voice intoning “let these gifts to us be blessed”;
One of the holiest places I prayed: In the woods near the North Branch Trail with my son, clutching a dandelion puff, scattering seeds into the breeze with one exhale, wondering where and when they’ll take root and blossom.
Eugene Peterson said, “Prayers are tools not for doing or getting, but for being and becoming.”
I am trying to remember this, that prayer is less about asking and more hearing. That I can encounter God in the woods or in a sanctuary, at the table or under a veil of stars. That prayer can happen anywhere, if only we have ears to listen.
I fastened my hospital-issued smock and hefted my achy body onto the bed. Machines hummed. The smell of disinfectant permeated the air. A Christmas morning kind of excitement buzzed inside of me. Today was the day! After 39 weeks, we were going to meet our second child.
A fierce kick jabbed my belly. I looked over at my husband and grinned. “Baby boy’s moving and grooving in here. He’s ready.”
“Oh good,” Jay said, looking up from his phone. He surveyed the room’s white walls, tiled floor and medical bassinet. “Babe, I’m pretty sure this is where you stayed after your first c-section,” he said.
“Really? This room…” I said, trailing off, scrutinizing the space. Five years ago, I came to this hospital to deliver our first child. After hours in a birthing suite, contractions pulsating through my pelvis, fear rising in my throat, body laboring to deliver and failing, I was rushed to the operating room. Following our newborn Jack was swept away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with my husband, and I supposedly landed here. “I don’t remember it,” I continued. “Maybe I was in shock?”
To mother a NICU babe is to walk the fine line between fear and joy, hope and heartache, holding on and letting go. We were lucky enough to bring our miracle home within the week, but like the c-section scar above my uterus, the trauma and relief of it all still marked me. Something about today’s procedure felt like closure. If this could just go smoothly, I prayed. If you could give us peace, O God. Please.
A resident appeared at the front of my bed with a clipboard in one hand and pen poised in the other. My nurse stood at my side, working to attach my IV while the resident fired off a series of medical questions:
Do you smoke or drink?
Is this your first c-section?
What went unsaid: the first was an emergency. My OB, who performed the surgery, recommended this planned c-section for our second baby. I wished she was here now so I could stop answering these questions.
The IV finally landed, pricking my hand. I flinched. “Sorry,” the nurse said. “That had to hurt.”
“Any other surgeries?” the resident asked.
“Yes, I, um, had a D&C last spring,” I replied, straining to keep my voice even.
Her face dropped. “I’m sorry.”
I glanced toward Jay from his chair near the bed. He grimaced. I hated how this line of questioning laid bare our greatest pains. I would always remember the baby we lost, but I would not let grief darken this joyful day. “It’s okay,” I said, placing my hand over my belly instinctively. A tremor of movement grounded me.
Mercifully, the resident had reached the end of her list and excused herself. The heart rate monitor quickened, its percussive beeps filling the void.
“Your baby’s heart rate just kicked up a notch,” the nurse clucked. “He’s fine. He must know today is his birthday!”
“Oh yes,” I laughed, sensing the tension in the air dissipate. “Let’s get this kid out of here!”
Medical staff in blue scrubs and hair nets milled about, readying the Operating Room for surgery. I sat on the edge of the table and thought of Jack. My five-year-old would love all the blue here — it’s his favorite color. Would he also love his baby brother? Or would the transition from only child to big brother upset him?
From the age of three he’d cajoled, “Can you get me a baby brother?”
“It’s not that simple,” I’d explained.”You can’t just ‘get’ them. Babies are a gift from God. All we can do is pray for one, and even then it might not work out. ”
So, during bedtime prayers Jack began asking God for a baby brother. Jay and I prayed too. For years, I thought the answer might be “no.” Today, we’d get to hold our holy “yes.”
“We’re going to have you curl your torso forward,” a nurse commanded, bringing me to the present. Tightness coursed through my body — Jay wasn’t yet in the OR, and I missed his calming presence. Softening her voice, she said, “I’ll hold your body against this pillow, like I’m giving you a hug. Ready?”
I held my breath and leaned forward while my anesthesiologist began his work. The position grew more and more uncomfortable by the minute. Soon my legs would begin to tingle, I knew. Soon they would position me on the table. And then what?
Up until this point the c-section had sat on my calendar as a finishing line, the glory at the end of a marathon pregnancy that included two jarring hospital visits for monitoring preterm contractions. But it wasn’t the finish line at all — first, I had to endure this surgery.
Unlike my last c-section, I’d be awake for much of the procedure. I’d been so focused on making it to this day I hadn’t considered what it would feel like. I shifted in my seat.
“Erin, I’m gonna need you to be still just a little longer,” the anesthesiologist directed.
“Almost done,” the nurse murmured. “Lean into me again.”
With one final push, the dosing was complete. A fuzzy feeling crawled up my legs while the nurses repositioned them on the table and assisted me in laying down. While they prepped my stomach and groin for surgery, I felt a strange sensation, almost as if my soul was suspended over my body. Let this go smoothly, I prayed. Let his life begin peacefully.
Jay appeared at my side, bringing me down to earth. I couldn’t feel my legs or wiggle my toes but I felt his hand on my shoulder, an anchor.
“How are you doing, babe?” Jay asked.
“OK,” I exhaled. “A little nervous.”
“You’re doing great. Once this is over, we’ll have our baby.”
When my OB entered the room, I don’t remember what she said but I do remember hearing her voice and feeling comforted.
Tools clattered behind the blue curtain separating me from the lower half of my body. Surgery had begun. As the medical team worked, I busied myself with visions of holding my newborn skin-to-skin post-delivery, an experience I didn’t get with Jack. The nurse had assured me this time would be different.
The surgery progressed slowly. At one point, my OB called for extra support and I felt my breathing quicken. A queasy sensation came over me. I turned my head right, then left, then faced the ceiling. Was this what a panic attack feels like? I turned to the anesthesiologist and said, “I think I’m feeling sick.”
“I’m adjusting your medicine,” he said. “Hang in there — you’re almost done.”
Almost done — almost at the finish line. I closed my eyes and focused on the warmth of Jay’s hand on my shoulder. My breath, flowing in and out. The cold table against my upper back.
Something was happening behind the blue curtain. “Nay, nay, nay!” rang out across the OR.
In a moment reminiscent of the opening to The Lion King, a chunky baby held by gloved hands soared above the curtain. Our Adam. He was alive. He was healthy — he looked so healthy. I blinked back tears of joy.
“He’s here,” I whispered to Jay. “He’s finally here.”
“I know!’ he replied, smiling wide. “Good job, babe.”
While the staff cleaned and tested Adam, my surgery continued behind the curtain. I felt slight pressure as the medical team worked to clear the placenta from my uterus.
A friendly nurse placed a swaddled Adam in Jay’s arms so we could greet him. I kissed his forehead and turned to Jay. “He’s just so beautiful,” I said, eyes shining.
“You have to get a picture,” the nurse gushed, and just like that Jay was handing over his phone and we were crowding around our newborn.
In the photo, Adam’s sweet face squishes against mine while Jay’s hand cradles his small body. You can see my oxygen tube, hospital smock and silly hairnet. Jay, too, wears a hairnet with his mask and scrubs. You can see a mom and dad beaming so big, we appear to be glowing.
Daylight fell softly through the blinds of my maternity suite. Propped up in bed, I held Adam to my chest and studied his face while Jay dozed on the pullout couch in front of us. Adam’s eyes may have been shut tight, but he was awake and hungry, his tiny mouth nuzzling my skin in search of nourishment.
It’s funny how some life events create a full circle. Adam was born five years and two days after his older brother. In the same hospital. Same procedure. Same doctor. Like his brother, Adam is a miracle.
Two boys born five years apart was not my original vision for my family. I had a plan for us and my life now looks nothing like I thought it would. In fact, it’s better.
While I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, I trust that God is the author of all that is good. I trust in little graces — moments when God’s presence shines through and wakes us up to our identity as God’s beloved. Preceded by a difficult birth, two cancer diagnoses, a pandemic and a miscarriage, Adam is a very good gift only God could bring forth.
Adam began to nay softly. My free hand positioned him in my arms for breastfeeding, laying his body sideways atop a stack of hospital pillows. The movement took herculean effort after surgery. I felt the sharp jab of his mouth latching to my breast, then leaned my head back against a pillow.
In Hebrew, Adam means “(hu)man” or “the one formed from the ground.” Jay and I chose his name less for its biblical origins and more because we liked how it sounded. Nevertheless, I can only attribute Adam’s arrival to the faith that grounds me. God had given me a second chance to become a mother. God had held Adam and me throughout surgery, keeping us safe. And God was holding us now as we learned to love each other.
Satisfied for the moment, Adam pulled his head back and pursed his lips, settling into sleep. Soon I’d need to rouse Jay so he could help me swaddle him. For the time being, I cradled our little grace in the sunlight, delighting in every breath he took.
These are the days of his small head nestled against my chest skin — velvet smooth, unmarred by time — to skin — a soft place to dream, drink, rest, grow (some days, I swear, I can see him thickening in the shelter of my arms) and some days blur into nights cradling him close feeding and being fed by his warmth our two hearts beating in sync his slate blue eyes searching for mine, which of course, are bloodshot and glad (some nights, I swear, holding him feels like heaven on earth) some nights I feel suffocated by all he needs and these are the nights that blend into days when golden light lingers at the edge of the crib each day becoming a little longer as if to say, “Take heart, change is coming, so be sure to treasure these days.”
The morning you turned five, you rocketed out of your bed first thing and crawled into ours. I held you close and wished you a happy birthday. I asked, “Are you excited to be five?” You squealed “Yes!” and woke up your father.
The night before I’d baked you a chocolate birthday cake with blue buttercream frosting and a Superman cake topper, just like you requested. You love blue, and Superman is your favorite hero. At bedtime, you always ask for “a little superhero story” featuring him, you and our dog, “Super Gussy.”
I’m not sure how or when you decided Superman was your favorite hero. All I know is after you were born, your grandmother gave me a stuffed bear dressed in a Superman shirt and cape. I think she meant it to represent me, though I felt anything but heroic. Nothing about your birthday had gone according to plan — and I love a good plan — resulting in an emergency c-section for me and your stay in the NICU. Honestly, I thought I’d failed you.
Yet five years later, I can see the strength in both of us. You bravely scale trees and the heights of playgrounds. You’re sounding out phonics so well and on the verge of reading. You love science experiments and going to swim lessons. I’m proud of the super boy you’ve become, with your kind heart, generous spirit and boundless imagination. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned by mothering you.
My prayer for you at five is that, when faced with conflict, you’ll make a heroic choice. That you’ll voice your values and strive for peaceful resolution.
I pray you keep noticing the beauty of creation and urging me to join you.
I pray you continue loving and learning from stories — from your children’s Bible, favorite shows and books that inspire you. I trust you’ll glean empathy and wisdom from grappling with difficult stories.
I pray you see yourself and everyone you meet as a beloved child of God, including those who think, pray or look differently than you.
Most of all, I pray you know how deeply Dad and I love you and how deeply your Creator loves you. That you keep sharing that love with your neighbors near and far.
I love sunsets, I love words, I love paying attention to the movements of birds, I love the warmth of a fire and hearty conversation, I love taking long vacations,
I love my husband’s strong embrace and our son’s melodious laugh, I love piping hot coffee with half-and-half, I love fresh-cut hydrangeas and a candle on my desk, I love having really good sex, I love minestrone and Aperol Spritz and fresh-baked baguette, I love a Bad Day ice cream sundae to help me forget,
I love it when the clouds are painted cotton candy pink, I love reading writers whose work makes me think, I love practicing yoga and walks in the woods, I love seeing people collaborate for the common good,
I love the mountains, I love to sing, I love pushing my son on a tire swing, I love MagnaTiles and Hot Wheels cars strewn across our carpet, I love using drive-up order service at our local Target, I love the smell of fabric softener wafting in the breeze, I love how my dog’s presence puts me at ease,
I love being with friends who feel like home, I love and crave more time alone, I love baby announcements and heartfelt letters, I love chunky and soft oversized sweaters, I love rainbows, the first snow, calming waters, blazing leaves, I love watching Hallmark Christmas movies, I love feeling the wind tickling my hair, I love how protests and petitions can be a form of prayer,
I love faith that makes space for questions, the grace that sets me free, a church that affirms each person’s dignity, I love hearing my preschooler’s silly jokes, I love listening to the stories of ordinary folks I love art that’s beautiful and bold, I love how writing invites me to behold.
as part of the #onedayhh challenge led by Laura Tremaine, I captured a handful of moments from November 9, 2021:
7 a.m. // When I get back from a long, hot shower, I find my boys waiting for me in bed. I’d hoped to sneak in some writing, but our schedule’s off due to daylight saving time. Wrapped in my bathrobe, I climb into bed and snuggle my son and our dog. “You know what day it is, Jack?” I ask. My son shakes his head side to side. “It’s Gus’ sixth birthday!” I reply. We sing happy birthday and give Gus some extra pets before starting our day.
8 a.m. // I finally sit down to breakfast after feeding both boys, taking the dog out and getting dressed. It’s day two of what will be a 10-day solo-parenting stint while my husband travels for work. I’m already tired. Jack, still in his Star Wars pajamas, peruses a catalogue filled with holiday gifts for kids. “Mommy, look at all the toys!” he squeals. “Which is your favorite?” “Which is yours?” I counter. “All of them!” he replies. I chuckle and take a sip of my coffee. “Remember to pick your very favorite things as ideas for Santa. You won’t get everything you want.”
9 a.m. // I’m home after dropping Jack at preschool with a kiss and the words, “I love you, buddy. Be kind today.” As he entered his classroom, I sheepishly handed his teacher an extra sock. (He’d refused to wear both socks this morning and I didn’t feel like arguing.) Leaves confetti the streets of my neighborhood with color. The sight causes me to release an exhale I didn’t know I was holding. Before entering my home to begin my workday, I pause and give thanks for the beauty of this day.
10:30 a.m. // Pen in hand, I line edit a story about a Midwestern ministry. Two things are top of mind for me as I work: How does the writing reflect the dignity of each person in this story? What needs to change, if anything, to engage the reader in this narrative? Mid-way through the piece, I realize I have more questions for its writers related to structure, so I shoot off an email requesting a call.
work + play
12:30 p.m. // Gus paws at my leg, letting me know it’s time for his mid-day walk. I finish my lunch and root around for my walking shoes and his harness. Once we’re ready, I burst out the door, inhale the fresh fall air and jog down our stoop. Steps into our walk, I greet a friend and neighbor who’s just brought her little one back from music class. Later, I pop in ear buds and listen to the newest episode of the Coffee + Crumbs podcast featuring one of my favorite writers, Shauna Niequist. During the episode, she says something I know I’ll need to copy in my journal: “The more we invest in our health and healing, the more we have to offer the people in our homes. Most of us get that math backward.”
2:30 p.m. // Time to face the blank page. I’ve just hopped off a call with the freelance writers whose work I edited this morning. Now I need to finish my assignment. I’m covering the work of an agency that’s helping resettle Afghan neighbors in the U.S. As I run through my interview notes, this quote unsettles me: “the trauma these families and children are facing is massive.” I close my laptop. With folded hands, I offer silent prayer for peace and wholeness.
4:30 p.m. // “Welcome to my castle!” my son cries, surveying the playground next to his preschool. We’re catching the last drops of daylight before nighttime descends on our city. My little prince beckons me inside to show me around, then abandons his throne at first sight of the tire swing. A sliver of crescent moon brightens the quickly darkening sky. Cool air wraps around my body. I push Jack’s swing, and watch him spin. He smiles back at me, eyes shining. Dinner beckons, but we linger, drinking in this sacred, mundane moment on a cool night in November.
6:15 p.m. // Jack turned up his nose at my original dinner plan — bean tacos — so we’re eating leftovers. I’ve heated up a bowl of African Peanut Soup for me and a hot dog in a whole wheat bun plus carrots and peas for him. We both munch crisp red grapes on the side. Between bites, Jack asks *me* about my day. I share that I especially enjoyed our visit to the playground, then volley the question to him. “I’m so excited to make a treat for Gussy’s birthday!” he exclaims. After dinner, we’ll make a “pupcake” for Gus’ birthday using a recipe I Googled.
7:15 p.m. // Gus gobbles up his pupcake. Jack tries a few bites of the extra one we baked, declaring it “dis-GUST-ing!” I giggle, rubbing our dog’s coat. “I think Gussy loved it.”
8:15 p.m. // While I read Dream Animals by Emily Winfield Martin, Jack leans back against my already-too-big pregnant belly. His brother jabs my rib cage, asserting his presence. I close the book and Jack crawls into bed without much protest. I sing him “Goodnight My Someone,” a favorite lullaby. Before prayers and a final hug, Jack’s already snoring.
9:15 p.m. // I let Gus out for the last time, make a cup of Nutty Almond Cream tea and cozy up in bed for some me-time. First things first: finish writing this post. Then I hope to dive into my latest read, Regina Porter’s The Travelers, which explores racism, aging and the search for meaning. A yawn overtakes me, then another. I don’t have long before I’ll fall asleep myself.
I must confess, I almost didn’t participate in this challenge because I was afraid. This morning a voice from within asked gently, Self, who told you to be afraid of taking up space? I’m still pondering this question, however, asking it emboldened me to act.
Something miraculous and mysterious happens when we voice our stories — we give others permission to claim theirs too. I hope we keep telling the truth about our lives. I hope we make extra room for those whose stories have been traditionally ignored. I hope we hear and amplify the voices of others, especially those unlike us. May we practice the holy work of showing, telling and listening again and again.