36 truths for my 36th year

Today is my 36th birthday. 

It’s also the fifth birthday of this humble little blog. This is the place where I share truths that cannot remain contained within my notebooks but don’t fit another publication. My blog is a memory book, an escape, a means of connection, my attempt to document beauty. To borrow a friend’s metaphor, this is also where I “practice my scales” and play around with the craft of writing.

Another writer I admire tells the story of a Facebook post she wrote titled “25 Things About Me” and how doing so helped her grow. I thought it might be fun to try something similar here, but instead of starting from scratch, I’ve culled 36 truths from some favorite reflections I’ve written.

Piecing this list together helped me appreciate how much I’ve matured in my understanding of motherhood, faith, relationships and more. I hope you find some nuggets of wisdom here to take with you on *your* journey (if something really resonates, find the full piece to which it belongs by clicking on the number above). Cheers to chapter 36 of a crazy, beautiful, grace-filled life!

(1)

The truth is, I’ve always ached to love and be loved, but I wrestle with loving myself. Hearing my own melody helped me see my innate holiness — made in God’s image, blessed and broken, sinner and saint.

(2

If my life could be divided into a “before” and “after,” motherhood would be the defining moment. Motherhood has broken, healed and shaped me into the person I am today, and it is often the subject of the stories I share here, along with my faith. Becoming a mother has both pushed me to wrestle with my faith and given me a lens for noticing the sacredness in the mundane.

(3)

This is what I need to pay attention to: my shining son, the leaves, his laughter, the gift of this day. Surely the Spirit is here. 

(4

[My son] is scaling a sand dune,
chasing the tide,
pointing me to beauty.
He is the bubble bath, the fuzzy robe,
the last kiss before lights out.
He is not the seeker nor the one who hides but
the feeling of being found.

(5)

I loved being a mother, but it was also the hardest thing I’d ever done. I wondered if I’d ever look or feel like my old self again. I wondered why all the parenting books I read and mommy bloggers I followed failed to fully communicate this tension. My feelings on motherhood were, surprisingly, mixed.

(6)

On the page I belong to no one but myself. There’s no crying to comfort, no milk to fetch, no bottoms to wipe. No texts to return, emails to answer, calls to make. Here I am nothing and I am everything. Line by line, I uncover my identities — wife, mother, sister, daughter, employee, neighbor, friend, believer.

(7)

Occasionally I wake up angry at God. Most days I don’t. Lately I’ve been finding rest in this passage: “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16). I want to teach this to my son over and over: the love we share is a gift from God. And God is Love.

(8)

How often have I denied the gifts of love and rest, thinking I must work to be deemed worthy? It takes several hundred meters, but swimming finally becomes a moving meditation. I come to the end of my thoughts and release my worries. I trust in my body, my breath, these waters, this moment.

(9)

Sometimes it takes traveling halfway across the country to a remote retreat center to stare at a 260-year-old stump to see the truth you hadn’t noticed — that you’d been running away from your fear and pain rather than accepting it. 

(10)

Everyone I meet [here] is searching for something. Some are carrying heartaches far heavier than mine. Others are engaged in vocational discernment. One doctor struggles to see his worth in retirement. A widow bravely embarks on a new chapter of life without her husband. I meet a harpist who recently lost her father, and I hold space for her grief while sharing my fears about my father. That evening her performance of “Ave Maria” makes me weep. She later tells me the harp is “heart music.”

(11)

Something miraculous and mysterious happens when we voice our stories — we give others permission to claim theirs too.

(12)

I wonder how society would change if we looked beyond our own families and started seeing everyone in our world as beloved children. What tender care we could give each other. Just imagine.

(13)

I watch you squint at the draft and think how hard it must be to love a writer. You’ve been loving me like this — seeing me as I want to be seen, cheering me on — since we met in college. I’ve watched with awe as you achieved your goals, never quitting. In 15 years, we’ve seen each other through illness, health, hardship and ease. Isn’t that love, a kind of seeing?

(14)

In a year that often feels like a giant kitchen debacle, in a year that’s separated us from our loved ones or deepened divides between those with whom we disagree, in a year that’s defied all plans and expectations, how do we taste and see goodness in all circumstances? We slow down. We look. We grow eyes for gratitude. We savor the gifts in our midst.

(15)

…we could linger in bed on a Tuesday morning and discuss our dreams. Stay in our pajamas. Savor juicy blueberry pancakes and the view outside our bay window. Beyond the glass is a tree I never used to notice — red pinpricks fleck its branches in early spring before becoming pale green buds that unfurl into cream-colored blossoms. … I witnessed it all. Miracle.

(16)

I didn’t want to go in, but in that moment I knew I could either be the mom who played in the mud or killed the fun. I had only 10 minutes left for this walk and zero supplies for clean up. This would surely dirty my car, delay our daily agenda and screw up Jack’s nap schedule. Plus I was wearing white-soled shoes. No matter what, this was going to be a mess.

“Mommy! Mommy!” my son called again, grinning. Gus let out a little bark.

This time, I didn’t hesitate. I stepped out into the mud to play.

(17)

Sheltering my child and dwelling in his love is the most important work I’ve been called to do.

(18)

I want him to know that there’s a time to be strong and a time to be still, and that grief can find you no matter how hard you attempt to outswim it. Grief is not an enemy to ignore but a friend leading me out of darkness, reminding me that my love was real, my love persists and my baby’s short life mattered. 

(19)

Life is brief and storms are to be expected.

It’s also undeniably dazzling, this joyous race toward home.

(21)

While shedding my coat in preparation for shoveling out the alley, I thought to myself perhaps there’s a metaphor here — something about our lives’ unseen work being uncomfortable but important? Yes, that’s it, I resolved, clearing the way, pressing onward in the winter sun, watching our kids slide and giggle and scale the growing mounds of snow. I am developing grit here, I thought. This unseen, back-breaking work matters. 

(22)

Half of my life I spent running
trying to make myself small.
These days I stand tall
and sing:
this is how I was created —
with whole symphonies inside
praising.

(23)

A well-written kiss is, as Stephen King puts it, “telepathy, of course.” I keep trying to capture life with language the way great authors have for me, for all of us. I still have much to learn, but I continue to practice because writing is the best means of expressing love I know — other than kissing. Good stories sweep us off our feet, make us weak in the knees and kiss our souls with their deep understanding of our secret aches and glories. I want to bless you with that kind of knowing.

(24)

She needs to remember what it means to claim the role of heroine. She’s learning sometimes the bravest thing she can do is ask for help, or be still and sit with her emotions. Other times it means choosing the bigger life or speaking up for her values.

(25)

While I’m still learning to live with my hunger, of this, I’m certain: it no longer scares me. 

(26)

I wanted to tell her I liked her damaged wing. I wanted to whisper, “There’s beauty in your brokenness, butterfly. You’ll soar again.” I wanted to say all this, then I realized she already knows. She’s been through metamorphosis before. 

(27)

She can twirl too, this soft, strong, aging body of mine. She still runs on occasion — mostly after her son. She is still afraid of everything and nothing. She isn’t done changing. Not even close. I wonder, what will she do next?

(28)

I used to think there wasn’t a place for the carefree girl in motherhood. Now I’m starting to believe I was wrong. Who better to teach my son what it feels like to run barefoot in the grass on a summer day? Who better to take him to water parks and on rollercoasters and white water rafting? Who better to show him there’s no shame in pursuing audacious dreams and simple delights? Who better to show him there’s strength in independence?

(29)

What we model, our children inherit. Children soak up the words we speak and the actions we take and reflect them back to us like a mirror.

(30)

On “grumpy gray” days, I remind my son that light is still present, it’s just hidden behind the clouds. (I need this reminder, too.) Even at night, stars sparkle in the velvet sky and the moon reflects the light of our closest star. “You can find the light of God everywhere,” I say to him, “if you look closely.”

(31)

Perhaps God also speaks to us in our darkest moments. In the silence. In the doubt.

(32)

God formed Adam out of dust. Bodies laid to rest turn into dust when they decompose in the earth. Dust, invisible, yet everywhere, clings to the ceiling fan, the baseboards, the window panes. It twists in the wind, tumbles across the streets. Ice latches onto dust to create something entirely new — sparkling snowflakes, each a tiny marvel, raining from the heavens like manna. Jesus rose from the dust so that we might leave our dusty bodies behind and join him in heaven. What does our Creator hope for us at Lent? I think that we might pause and confront our dustiness, and live differently because of it.

(33)

I know it’s easy to cast myself in the role of hero, rather than admit my faults. I know the story we read is missing repentance and reconciliation, true justice and mercy, grace and healing. It’s missing a hero who modeled the way of love. What will it take for us to write a new story? What will it take for us to create a just society?

(34)

You were created with gifts, passions and a unique capacity for serving others. Maybe you had a mentor like Mrs. Jackson who noticed your talents and encouraged you to shine. Perhaps you have a dream hidden away beneath the surface. Only you know what kindles joy inside, what it takes to say “yes” to your dreams, a call that I believe comes from the Holy Spirit.

(35)

She wasn’t sure how high she’d go
or if she’d ever reach the summit.
What mattered more was
the view
the climb
& all it’s teaching her.

(36)

…maybe light wasn’t something she needed to catch. Maybe it was inside her all along. 

Diary of another day

as part of the #onedayhh challenge led by Laura Tremaine, I captured a handful of moments from November 9, 2021:

begin

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.

rest

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.

Why I write

Why do cicadas hum?
Why do chickadees whistle?
Why do coyotes cock their heads and howl
in the vast darkness?

Because words are oxygen.

Because last summer you were playing
in the bathtub with your cars,
I let the faucet run too long —
I was nearby, absorbed in a story —
warm water sloshed higher and higher,
when I looked up, I laughed,
put down my book and asked,
“Honey, do you want to try floating?”
Kneeling on tile, I cradled your head in my hands
told you to “puff up your chest like a starfish,”
couldn’t stop thinking about that stolen summer
all we’d lost
all that needed mending
and then you floated,
fingers grazing the edges of the bathtub,
you beamed, and how else would I remember?

And how else would I remember
the warmth of my grandfather’s voice,
indigo mountains cresting over the horizon,
my first taste of watermelon, juicy-sweet wonder?

I sift words like grains of sand,
craft castles from memory,
some days, shaping it all is like trying to contain the ocean
— impossible.
Hands caked with salt water and sand
I build anyway,
each story
an offering.

A writer I admire once called writing
“a miserable, awful business”
and also “better than anything
in the world.”

She’s right.

Writing is the cure
and the sickness.

It feeds me
and empties
and fills me again.
It’s like confession
or communion
and perhaps that’s sacrilegious?
Mostly, I think it’s prayer.

Someone in a church I no longer know,
he said something like,
“Women’s voices don’t belong in the pulpit.”

He’s wrong.

When I set my pen to the empty page,
I only want to tell the truth:
half of my life I spent running
trying to make myself small.
These days I stand tall
and sing:
this is how I was created —
with whole symphonies inside
praising.

I know what the coyotes know:
my voice is my power.

A slant of Light

Advent journal, 12/22/20:

It’s my birthday. As I write, I am wondering what wisdom I have to share after 35 revolutions ’round the sun. Probably something about motherhood or paying attention. Or how to listen, how to make peace with your body, how to spot a seed of faith in a field of doubt. Those are essays I’ll write someday, once I find that pesky seed.

Earlier this month, I took a Zoom writing workshop led by an author I admire. I hoped the experience would advance my work in progress. Yet, as I sat across from a screen filled with accomplished writers, many of whom have degrees and accolades I could only dream of obtaining, I thought, “How did I end up here? What lessons do *I* have to offer?” I found myself lost in doubt.

Honestly, I thought I’d have more figured out by 35. My peers are growing their families and platforms and making job moves. During a pandemic! It’s been a good year, all things considered, but my two big dreams? Neither came to fruition.

While walking to the woods, I confess this to a friend over Voxer and my voice cracks. She is a pastor, and someone I can trust wholeheartedly, and sometimes when I Vox her it feels like I’m talking to God. My voice cracks as I finish my message and I’m confronted with the reality that my plans aren’t God’s plans, and perhaps I ought to loosen my grip.

When my boots touch the trailhead, the sun’s dipping toward the horizon. Sunlight washes over barren branches and brittle leaves, painting them gold with its Midas touch. I turn toward the source of light and a word comes to mind: Peace.

***

I don’t know what you’re longing for this December. Maybe it’s rest. Maybe it’s an end to loneliness or too much togetherness. An end to this pandemic, to injustice. A baby to adore. Someone to notice your unseen work and tell you it matters. (It matters.) Maybe it’s all that and more.

I’m sharing this because I’d forgotten: as surely as the sun sets, waiting seasons end. You uncover answers — or not (a non-answer is an answer, too). You release old ways and make room for revelation. You stop searching, scatter new seeds, trust their growth. A virus dies. A long-awaited child is born.

We witness a slant of Light.

My 2020 intention

In 2019, I was constantly in motion. Rising early to beat the call of “Mommy!”; gulping down hot coffee; speeding to school pickup; racing through bedtime stories only to crash into bed, exhausted.

My planner — bursting with appointments, birthdays, tasks and deadlines — was my compass. I scrawled my dreams in the margins.

I poured myself into motherhood and writing. Scrimped on sleep, self-care. I wanted to do it all and do it well. I couldn’t let anyone down. At this I did not succeed, yet I kept moving.

Somewhere in the middle of all this chasing, I lost my footing. I forgot why I was running. Did I really need to run?

Weary, I slowed my pace to walk.

One day, I found myself child-free in the wilderness. Into the woods I walked. Over the mountains. Into a clearing.

Violet and indigo mountains scraped the sky and my feet kissed the edge of a frozen lake. All was quiet, save for my heart’s heavy beating. The alpine air smelled brand new.

I looked down and my feet, my tired feet and nearly jumped. Tiny cracks etched in ice echoed modern art.

How had I missed this?

I wonder what else we miss by failing to shift our perspective. By forgetting to stand still.

Hiking boots rooted to the earth, I thought of poet Mary Oliver, who urged us to

“Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.”

This year, I want to notice the beauty lingering at my feet. Matchbox cars and Legos, but also holy play and happy chaos. Tiny toes and big feelings? The gift of good health and togetherness. Cookie crumbs as sweet memories. Spilled milk as Grace abundant.

I won’t forget that moment in the wilderness. Filling up. Seeing. Letting go.

In 2020, my intention is to stop and pay attention. To the ones I love. To the world around me. To small steps on the greater journey. To the beating of my heart.

How to take a writing retreat

First things first, you pack your hiking boots, your books, your laptop and your notebook. Make that two notebooks. Plenty of pens, six pairs of socks, underwear, toothpaste and a toothbrush. Two sweaters, four long-sleeve shirts, four pairs of pants. The readings for your workshop, hot off the printer. Cash you forgot to get cash (you will get that at the airport). You tuck away your fear — fear of dying, fear of heights, fear of rape — in the side pocket, next to your hairbrush. Your unearth your winter hat and gloves, and just in case a pair of snow pants. Add courage alongside your laptop in your carry-on backpack. Make sure you have your chargers. Your suitcase is too heavy; you extract three books.

Last but not least “photo of your family” is on the list and you realize you don’t have an updated one in print. You decide the photos on your phone will suffice. (Note to self: Do *not* lose your phone.) You look at your packing list, most items checked off and a few abandoned (you have a tendency to overpack), and wonder if there is anything else you can take to prepare yourself for the journey. This your first pilgrimage to a destination you’ve dreamed of visiting since you were 20.

You’re traveling solo.

Heading into the dark to meet your airport taxi, you worry that maybe you should have brought your son and husband. You think this as you set your suitcase on the security belt, settle into your window seat, step off the bus in an unfamiliar city.

A day later you’ve arrived. No one knows you (yet), and unpacking your boots, books, laptop and notebooks, you feel the chill of sweat down your spine. You question whether you have the capacity to summon the story inside you. To enter the wilderness on your own.

In the library you find a book of poetry by Christine Valters Paintner. You flip to the middle, her words ring out sharp and strong: “This is a voyage best made alone.” You know what you need to do. You pick up the pen and begin.

On writing through motherhood

The blare of my alarm snaps me out of a dream. Eyes half-shut, I roll over to silence it, then consider my options. If I get up now, I can write. Maybe. There’s always a chance I could wake my son, a light sleeper, and lose the gift of time. Or I can sink back under the covers and steal another hour of delicious rest. The rhythmic drone of my husband’s snore propels me out of bed. Today I rise. 

Step one: Shower. I creep across our creaky floorboards, steal into the bathroom and twist on the squeaky faucet. “Shit,” I mutter, then mouth a prayer: please please please don’t let him wake up, God, just let me have this morning for myself. I’ll be extra good today, I promise. I step in the shower. Scalding water washes over me and baptizes me with possibility. Next: Soap. Rinse. Dry. Dress.

Step two: Coffee, mixed with a dash of cream. I tip-toe into the kitchen, retrieve my mug, the one with a pug on it, then pour the time-brewed coffee into my cup. The aroma of blonde roast fills my lungs and rouses my sleepy mind. I take a sip and savor the just-right temperature. Pure delight. 

Step three: Write. I sit at a spare desk in our family’s dining room, coffee on my left and a ticking clock to the right. The time reads 6:20 a.m. I glance at my son’s door. If I’m lucky, I can eke out 40 minutes of writing before he wakes up. I flip open my laptop and begin. 

When I became a mother, I needed writing because it allowed to grapple with the giant identity shift happening inside of me. My too-big emotions and broken, achy body overwhelmed me.  Psychiatrists call this matrescence, a period in a woman’s life when her body and mind transition to a new role — caretaker. In those early days, I hard and fast, scrawling out ideas before my son summoned me for another feeding. 

Bleary-eyed and tired, I wrote sporadically. Yet I kept returning to my journal because it both grounded me and brought me back to life. Etching out my story helped me stitch together the woman I was before giving birth with the woman I was becoming. Sharing it online with others — on my blog and eventually in other publications helped me feel less alone.

Two and a half years later, I sit at my desk, clicking letters and letting my thoughts play out on the screen.

What’s different is that the season of motherhood allows me the semblance of a writing routine. A few days a week, whenever everyone is healthy, I rise early to brainstorm, blog or tackle freelance assignments. 

The fact remains: I still need writing like I need water. If I go too long without it, I feel parched. 

On the page I belong to no one but myself. There’s no crying to comfort, no milk to fetch, no bottoms to wipe. No texts to return, emails to answer, calls to make. Here I am nothing and I am everything. Line by line, I uncover my identities — wife, mother, sister, daughter, employee, neighbor, friend, believer. 

This month I published an essay that brought me to head to head with the crushing weight of my motherly worry. In the midst of a story swimming in fear, my editor noticed a different narrative. She pushed me to resurrect the carefree girl inside of me, the girl I was before I became mother. So I wrote a new scene, and in doing so I discovered this:

“There’s a girl inside of me who loves roller coasters and waterparks and white water rafting, who dreams of visiting Sweden and the Grand Canyon, who’s always up for a little mischief. She runs simply to feel the power of her legs and the wind in her hair. She isn’t plagued by the past or preoccupied with the future. She sees every day as a grand adventure. 

She’s brave and afraid. She’s rooted and restless. She boldly pursues what sets her heart on fire. And she’s still here now, aching for a chance to shine. All this time I spent consumed with caring for my son made me forget.”

I stop typing for a moment and sip my coffee. Writing that scene brought me to tears. It reminded me that my identity isn’t just wrapped up in protecting my son. I realized something so important: I need to teach him to live too. 

These days, with my son, I’m all in and hands-off. We do more exploring together — last weekend he biked a new path at the forest preserve as my husband and I walked alongside him — and I encourage him to explore on his own. (He’s older and stronger than when I first drafted that essay, so I’ve taken a considerable step back at the playground.) What I’m most grateful for is that writing gifted me with a breakthrough off the page. My prayer for whatever I publish is that my story might someone else with a breakthrough or moment of recognition too.  

Fingers to keyboard, pen to paper, I record, reflect, discover. Motherhood unearthed in me a desire to share my stories, but writing, in turn, helps me be a more thoughtful mother. 

I hear my son rustling so I only have a moment left at my desk. I save my work and shut my laptop. Tomorrow I will rise again and write — like a mother. 

Becoming

I don’t think anyone can fully prepare you for how pivotal it is to become a mother. It’s not that they don’t try. In fact, when you’re expecting, you may find everyone from your great aunt to your coworkers to well-meaning strangers dole out parenting advice. Whether they’re parents or not, many know the searing ache, the bliss of parenthood from their own lives and feel the significance of this new chapter of life of which you’re on the brink.

The journey to parenthood is in and of itself a new chapter, one that for many women and men is full of hopes and heartache. I remember this pain well. Several summers ago, while vacationing with dear friends from college and their families, I stood sobbing in a bathroom stall, wracked with envy. The only childless couple on the trip, my husband and I watched as their beautiful children shared hugs, spread joy and spilled Cheerios.

At the time, we were months into trying for our first child, and it wasn’t going great. For one, after months off birth control, my hormones were all out of wack. Getting pregnant was supposed to be easy, I thought. But now, at 30, it had become clear conceiving a child was much more calculated than others let on. I worried that my body was failing me. I worried we’d waited too long. I worried that my deepest fear — that we wouldn’t be able to have a child — might be true. Over that long weekend, while I observed my friends love on their littles, the thought that dominated my consciousness was, “I want that. Badly.”

Little did I know, I had that. I was actually pregnant with my son, and the hormones were making me tired beyond belief and weepy. The next chapter of my life was already underway.

Flash forward to today. Today is Mother’s Day, and I am actually spending part of it alone in a Starbucks writing. Time alone is a true gift for mothers of small children like myself. It’s what I asked my husband for this holiday, and he graciously granted my request.

Now I am two years and counting into motherhood and feel like an old veteran. I know this sense of security is sketchy at best. Like the time after my son began sleeping through the night consistently, but then began to act — as toddlers often do — in new, headstrong ways. Because I’ve been there before, I know I’ll forever be encountering new challenges and delights. Or, as my coworker and friend Karen says, “Bigger kids, bigger problems.” The constant change of motherhood is exhilarating and unnerving.

But going from expecting to birthing a baby, that change, that new chapter of life is monumental. And not just because your baby is changing. You are too. Those early, grueling months of learning to change diapers and feed a baby on demand are a time of becoming.

In her piece, “The Birth of A Mother,” reproductive psychiatrist Alexandra Sacks says it’s “an identity shift, and one of the most significant psychical and psychological changes a woman will ever experience.” I read this piece weeks into new motherhood, and it brought me so much peace and clarity, I teared up. This year I even had the privilege to interview Sacks for an article I wrote for The Everymom. When we spoke, Sacks said it’s time for us to shed light on this major life transition so that new moms know they’re not alone in their mixed feelings.

I only need look back on my posts from the early days of my son’s life — when caring for a newborn was all consuming, when sleep was a battle, when I felt a love so strong it scared me (still does) — to know the weight of learning to mother.

One of my favorite writers, Shauna Niequist, begins her book, Present Over Perfect naming a period in her adulthood in which she experienced dramatic change as a “sea-change, the journey from one way of living to another.”

And that’s exactly what happens when you become a mother. With a newborn in your arms you toss all your old habits and ways of living out the window and learn to live with and care for another person. Your person. You are no longer alone. You trade freedom for a new way of living. You are a mom! Niequist goes on to say this about her major life transition:

This is a love story, like all my favorite stories. It’s a story about letting yourself be loved, in all your imperfect, scarred, non-spectacular glory. And it’s about the single most profound life change I’ve yet encountered.”

–Shauna Niequist

I could say the same about my motherhood journey. And I’ll add this: loving my son was the most profound life change I’ve yet encountered. Being his mom is one of my life’s greatest love stories, and it’s still unfolding.

About a month before I gave birth to my son, I started this blog. Since 2008, after I graduated from college and became enamored with blogs, I wanted to have my own. I made a few feeble attempts at blogging over the years but in December 2016 I finally committed. In committing to this blog, I not only committed to writing, I committed to myself, to my story. I was beginning to believe that my words might matter to others.

Then, in January 2017, Jack was born and writing our story has been a tool for me to process, heal, share and reflect on all the highs and lows I’ve encountered throughout motherhood. What a gift to be a mother-writer, what an incredible gift. I look back and see my journey of becoming is written in my heart and on the page — of this blog, my journal, other publications.

In writing through motherhood and sharing it with others, I’ve connected with many other parents — a great blessing. Parents of older children often respond to my stories with comments such as, “Savor it!” and “This time goes so fast.” God, if they only knew just how much I agreed with them.

I’m doing everything in my power to savor this time, even when it’s boring (ever watched three episodes of Umizoomi in a row or cluster-fed a hangry newborn?) or hard to be present (when you have a million deadlines to worry about at work and dirty dishes piled up in the sink). That’s exactly why I’m writing through motherhood — so I can remember it. And give thanks for it. Also: I want others to remember too. Ultimately, when I give birth to a story and offer it up to others, I want it to be a gift that they might use to claim their stories as well.

My friend and writing mentor, author Callie Feyen wrote this about her daughter, “I am a writer because of her not in spite of her.” This resonated deeply with me. When I finally took ownership of my identity as a writer — when I realized I wasn’t just a journalist, I had my own stories to tell — was, consequently, when I became a mother. For that, I am deeply grateful.

Spring cleaning

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Know what I realized lately? So much of the creative process (and life) is about getting out of your head and following your heart.

Noticing your inner critic—who says you can’t make anything original/you’re not talented/you don’t have a story to tell/you can’t finish that project/etc.—and flipping her script. Talking back, then moving ahead.

Wanna try it?

Repeat after me: I am original, creative and talented. I have a story to tell. I have something to say.

Be your own cheerleader. It’s that simple.

It’s time for some spring cleaning: Let go of the clutter and negative noise crowding up your head space. Replace it with something powerful and beautiful instead.

The world has enough angry voices shouting for our attention. How can you give yourself a little more love today?

Keep practicing

crow pose yogaWriting is a lot like yoga. Want to do crow pose? You have to put in time on the mat before taking flight. So you practice & practice & practice. You come to your mat and put in the work. It takes courage. Discipline. Some days you fall. Some days it seems like you’re never going to reach it—you tell yourself you’re not good enough, it’s too hard, you just don’t have the coordination. But you keep showing up. You keep trying.

One day you decide to test your balance. So you lift one foot. Then the other. And suddenly, for a moment, you start to fly. The more you practice, the easier it gets, and soon you’ve mastered the pose and you’re moving on to other, more challenging inversions—side crow & hurdler’s pose & headstand.

Want to get published? Keep writing. Keep coming back to your notebook, your keyboard, even your smartphone and put in the work. Keep showing up. I have dozens of half finished essays, half baked blog posts and rejected submissions in my files. I know it stinks getting rejected. I know how hard it is to silence your inner critic who says you aren’t really an artist. I know what it’s like to be afraid, to stall.

Today I received some good news; today I felt as if I might be starting to to take flight. I know I’m not there yet, but I’m making progress. And I’m more determined than ever to keep writing.

So I’m saying this to you as much as it is a reminder to myself: Keep practicing. Keep trying. Keep showing up. One day you’ll surprise yourself and soar.