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In the Midst of the Magic

Over the holidays, all of us were sick. We didn’t take turns but overlapped in the spreading of coughs and runny noses that happens when there are multiple kids and multiple schools. There were tissues all over the place and water cups and our counters were lined with cough syrups, antibiotics, and saline sprays. We made it all the way until our youngest was ten months old before we started spreading things back and forth and then this.

I have to be honest and say that I didn’t have the best attitude in the midst of all the sickness. When you don’t feel well, it’s easy to see the gray that is all around you instead of seeing the bits of sun shining through promising warmth and light.

And it’s hard when you don’t feel well to take care of mini-humans, especially when they feel well and you don’t. They still want to go and do things and see things and learn things. They still want to explore and discover the magic that’s out there in the world.

It was on one of those days that we ended up at the playground to get some fresh air and some sunshine. Our park has an incredible walking trail that makes you feel like you are hiking through the woods and we almost always end our time at the playground with a nature walk around the loop looking for messages and magic.

This is the one we found on our first nature walk of the new year: “You are awesome.” I like to pretend I don’t need these messages. These are messages for our mini humans who are still developing their sense of self and their self-worth. These are the types of messages that we need to flood them with for the times when they encounter failure and frustration.

On this day, I needed this message. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of someone taking the time to write this on the nature trail. I need to stand in the midst of the magic of our four-year-old discovering a secret message on a nature walk. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of our four-year-old finding and using a walking stick. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of an almost one-year-old laughing at her brother every chance she found. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of a free park maintained and cared for by a community who want to encourage people to be outside.

I needed to stand in the midst of the magic and remember I am but a bit of stardust in this great cosmos of mystery.

In the Midst of Rain

Yesterday, I was trying to do a quick grocery store run before the thunderstorms rolled in with our four-year-old and our 11-month-old in tow. I was convinced I had timed it just right. I talked our four-year-old son through the planning because he gets a little nervous during storms. We had a plan and we were going to work together to accomplish it.

We got to the dog food aisle when the first thunder boom hit. The four-year-old stopped in the middle of the aisle and declared, “Mom! We have to get home to be safe during the thunderstorm.”

My first reaction was one of joy. He believes and perceives our home to be safe, his sanctuary from all the learning and growing he is going through right now. My second reaction was one of dread because I knew what was coming. I was going to have to try to load up the groceries, two children, and myself in the midst of the rain.

After we checked out, I took a minute to stop and think through things because I knew as soon as we were in the midst of the rain, my brain would be trying to move as quickly as possible. I tried to put my raincoat on the 11-month-old who found it hilarious to play peek-a-boo with it. I got the four-year-old all set with his umbrella. I got my keys ready and we went for it.

There we were in the midst of the rain. One dry four-year-old finding all the puddles and stomping in them in no hurry because his umbrella had him covered. An 11-month-old playing peekaboo with the coat, her eyelashes catching the raindrops. and there I was already soaked when we were only halfway to the car.

In the midst of the rain, I found myself belly laughing at what we must look like. Two children laughing and splashing and one Mama soaked through trying to remember every moment.

In the Midst of Sickness

It took us until September of this first year of our daughter’s of life until our two youngest kids passed sicknesses back and forth. Since September we have passed quite a few sicknesses back and forth in the way that happens when you add another mini human to the family mix.

As these moved back and forth, I found myself in Urgent Care two days after Christmas answering the nurse’s question: “Have you been around anyone who was sick recently?”

“Well,” I answered. “My son had a viral throat infection and then the croup. My daughter has had a double infection and another ear infection and my partner has had a flu-like cold.” The nurse looked at me and smiled, “So you probably just got all of that.”

My official diagnosis was a sinus infection and ear infection with a partially permeated eardrum (who knew you could even do that?).  As the doctor was telling me the medicines he was going to prescribe, I mentioned I was still nursing. He asked me how old our daughter was and I told him that she was eleven months. He then proceeded to tell me that the amoxicillin and other medication that he was prescribing really shouldn’t be taken while breastfeeding. After this, he delivered a lecture explaining there weren’t any benefits to nursing a baby past two weeks and really two months was the max benefit. He mentioned his credentials: he had been in family medicine before he started working at Urgent Care. I nodded and didn’t contest his analysis, but then he pushed and asked me what my plan was for feeding my baby while I took the medicine, waiting for an explanation before he would give me the prescription. Even in the midst of my not feeling well, I could tell that this was an abuse of power. I told him that I would figure it out and he asked, “So you will give her formula?”

At this point, I was not only shocked, but I was also upset. I knew enough to know that although there are medications you can’t take while breastfeeding, amoxicillin wasn’t one of them. In fact, our daughter had just finished a round of amoxicillin for her own ear infection. I explained that I had enough milk saved up hoping that would end the conversation, but he pressed again, “Enough for ten days?”

I answered with a curt, “Yes.”

So much of this experience reminds me of stories I’ve heard of mothers who have been involved in similar pressured conversations where medical professionals overstep the boundaries of their job to care for the mother to use their position of power to influence a mother’s decision on how to feed her baby. This is an abuse of power that isn’t only in the medical profession.

I can remember similar pressured conversations with religious leaders growing up in the midst of conservative evangelicalism where I was forced to answer questions that were inappropriate and way past boundaries that should have been maintained. This abuse of power is called spiritual abuse when it is enacted by a religious leader and one of the experiences that causes so much distrust within a person’s spirit, especially women who have these experiences.

Expertise and experience do not entitle or enable a person to take away the choices or decisions of another person. Expertise and experience without compassion and empathy only serve to cause more harm than good.

The fact that this medical professional took advantage of my vulnerable position of needing medication and used it as an opportunity to not only lecture but demean my ability to decide what is the best way to feed my daughter is unacceptable.

This has to stop in the medical world and in the institutional church.

In the Midst of Changing

This week in the move to our new office, we moved a bookshelf. As my partner was taking it out the door, the three-year-old started crying. We both stopped for a minute thinking that something had fallen and hurt him, but when we asked if he was ok, he responded, “But I don’t want it to move.” Let’s just say we’re at an age where we are more than a little resistant to changes in environment, schedule, and apparently bookshelves.

He’s not the only one that I’ve heard lamenting change. In my work as an editor and offering advice to writers who would like to become published authors, I often hear: “But I didn’t think I was going to have to change things.” Change is never easy no matter how old we are.

Interestingly, the idea that we are not changing constantly is something that we have convinced ourselves is true when in fact it’s not. We are constantly changing. The air around us is constantly changing. The temperature increases and decreases throughout the day or changes. Our bodies are changing digesting and reacting to the food and liquids we have consumed. The places we live and the transportation we use are constantly changing as wear and tear begin to take hold.

Change is all around us and indeed within us.

When we say we hate change, what we really are saying is that we hate being confronted with the reality that we don’t have control. We like to think that we have created something that will hold and that will remain stable from day to day. And when something bigger than a bookshelf moves or changes, we find ourselves in the same position as our three-year-old crying and reaching out for things not to move and change.

What if instead, we clung to the reality that things are always changing and that change is the only constant we can depend upon. Then we would ride the waves of the air current, marveling at the way that sun moves across the sky, and being astounded by all the work our bodies do every single minute to keep us breathing.

Looking Inside

Our plans were changed because of bad weather on the weekend we were planning to carve our pumpkin. By the time we were able to carve it, let’s just say it had been with us for a while. I had this feeling that once we got inside, we were going to find something besides just the seeds and pumpkin guts. As I worked to pull off the top, just as I had expected, there was a big spot of rot (see where the pumpkin top looks like it has a bite out of it?).  Although I expected that there was something not quite right with our pumpkin, I didn’t really know what was going on until we took a look inside.

The same holds true for our own lives. We might look orange and pretty on the outside, but if there is something that is eating away at us, a broken relationship, unresolved conflict, fatigue or exhausation, slowly by surely that one spot will grow bigger and bigger until what’s going on inside leaks out.

This is what self-care is: taking a look inside. Cracking open the top to see deep into the parts of ourselves that have hold all the seeds. The seeds of our past. The seeds of our hurts. The seeds of our hopes. The seeds of our passions. The seeds of our calling. The seeds of our fear. The seeds of our worries. The seeds of who we are.

When we don’t take the time to look inside or take a look at whether those seeds nestled within us are getting enough water and light and space, then rot begins to grow, comprising all those seeds of possibility.

Maybe you’re like us, the time that you meant to spend in self-reflection or self-care got rained out of stormed out by the fierce urgency of now. Maybe you think that you can’t make up that time or that the time has passed. What we discovered was that once we got inside our pumpkin, even though it was a little worse for the wear, we were able to scoop that rot out. We were able to clean out the part that was threatening the rest of the pumpkin and we were able to transform our pumpkin into a new creation.

See how happy our pumpkin is that we took the time to look inside!

In the Midst of the Messiness

During the day, we don’t take time to clean up the toys that find their way out into the living room and into the dining room and into the kitchen. We try to provide space for the kids to explore and play even when that play results in stepping on legos or cars or both at the same time.

And in the moments when I step on a lego or a car comes crashing into my ankle, I can look at everything around and think I am standing in the midst of messiness. There’s no way this is ever going to get cleaned up or put up or we’re going to find all the pieces to that one puzzle.

When my mind starts to go in that direction, I spot the humus in the baby’s hair and the dried sweet potatoes by her gummy smile and think there’s probably still sweet potatoes in her high chair and I’m going to have to put her in her high chair in the midst of the messiness.

In these moments, my mind can stream towards wishing away this messy stage of life. My mind can start to wander into time traveling to a different season where the house is neat, but the carpet details aren’t a train track and the porch isn’t a race track or the bookshelf a fire rescue scene.

It takes purpose and intention to bring me back here in the midst of the messiness of this stage and this phase realizing that it won’t be again. The nine-month-old won’t have her first Halloween or Thanksgiving or Advent again. The three-year-old won’t be doing a daily countdown to his fourth birthday again skipping some numbers to try and get to the day faster. If the stories from other parents prove true, I will long to be in the midst of the messiness again.

And so I take a deep breath and a big step sitting down in the midst of the messiness. My arm immediately becomes a ramp and my hair a leverage point for the baby to pull herself up to a sitting position so that she can plan her next route to the next item she wants to explore.

Slow Down

In the past couple of months, our three-year-old’s legs have grown just long enough that he can pedal himself on his tricycle. The afternoon on the porch was like any other post-school playtime. He got on his tricycle using it more as a scooter than a tricycle. I said the same thing I’ve said for the past two years, “Hey buddy, try to use the pedals.”

Except for this time when he did, he was able to pedal all the way around propelling the tricycle forward. His face immediately lit up. He started singing our song of accomplishment, “I did it, I did it, I did it by myself.” As I watched I felt the smile stretched across my face. I don’t even know the number of times that he has tried without being able to pedal or how many times we have walked behind him with his feet on the pedals.

There was no way of knowing that this afternoon would be the afternoon that his legs had grown long enough, he felt enough confidence to try something that he had failed at so many times before, which made the accomplishment even more miraculous.

Right now, he is slow and steady, but I feel like we are on the verge of a season where what we are crying is not “try something new” or “try again,” but rather “Slow down!”

It’s easy to forget the vast number of things we are able to do without thinking. The things that took us so many failed attempts to master. The things that tried our patience and our resilience, but watching someone else in that moment of mastery reminds us that whatever we are facing we can get back on the bike and try one more time.

A Season of Remembering

October always marks a season of remembering for our family because it is when our family became a family. This year Sam and I celebrated six years of marriage and six years of creating and learning and growing together. There’s a lot about this season that feels familiar with the high chair back in the kitchen and the inspections of the floor for legos that might find their way to the mouth of a curious younger sibling, being partners not only in life but at work, too. In other ways, this season feels all new. Having a middle schooler for the first time, having four kids in four different schools, moving into a new office.

I find myself wanting to remember everything about this moment. The cars that find their way to the fall centerpiece. The toys strewn across the living room. Sparkly pumpkin costumes. Blanket-built forts. The late-night conversations with my partner about theodicy, parenting, and the origins of the Ceaser salad.

I wonder if the most miraculous work of the Holy Spirit is the way that we become and create family together. The way that we bring in tastes, experiences, personalities, passions, and dreams to live together in one space. Maybe the way that we create together and live together and eat together and cry together and hurt together and dance together is exactly what it means to be church.

Maybe in trying to figure out what our calling in this world is, we find our way home first. Then suddenly, the world and our place in the world looks a little bit clearer and a little bit easier because we aren’t alone on the journey.

On the Road Again

On our trip back to Asheville, the kids and I noticed the smell of a skunk. Our three-year-old loves to point out when we smell a skunk because one of his favorite episodes of Curious George has George getting sprayed by a skunk multiple times. He has to take a bath in tomato juice, which is very silly to a three-year-old.

I didn’t think much about it. Smelling skunks along the road as you travel is something I remember from my childhood travels as well. It is a part of traveling in the south.

But then, we noticed a second skunk. This was within an hour of the first on we smelled and my antennae were up. Since beginning the journey towards reconnecting to my intuition, I have begun to notice when the cosmos repeats sights, smells, and occurrences. Smelling one skunk was not unusual. Smelling two skunks in the course of such a small distance was unusual.

I asked our oldest to look up what it meant to smell or encounter a skunk. Although she wasn’t sure why I was asking, she looked it up and we both discovered this:

Skunk symbolism is presenting you with the perfect opportunity to become more confident in your interactions with others. In other words, you must realize that you can meet life’s challenges with a calm and peaceful heart.

We were on our way to take our oldest girls back. The first weekend trip we had done since the long visits of summer. To be sure, I needed this reminder, this wink from the universe to meet the challenge of sharing children with a calm and peaceful heart.

Sometimes when we open ourselves to being present and to being a part of the deeper work of being connected to yourself and the world around you, you get the reminder that you need at just the right time.

Keeping Pace

This morning I stretched out of the longest run since our six-month-old was born. It wasn’t anywhere near the mileage I was running two years ago when we found out that she was going to be joining our family, but it was significant because it was the first time since she was born that I started and ended my run keeping pace the entire run.

There’s an awkwardness to getting back into habits and routines after you have a baby, even if you have had one before. Everything feels a little bit different. The route looks a little bit different. The thoughts swarming around in your head sound a little different. As I turned onto the road that would add another mile to the run, I breathed deeply thinking, “I remember this feeling.”

I was remembering what it felt like to be connected mind, body, and soul because running always realigns me. I was remembering what it felt like to feel strong. Just as I was remembering and recentering, I heard breathing behind me. I knew it was another runner who must have turned down the street I did. I could feel my heart rate start to increase as I felt her presence. My high school field hockey coach’s voice suddenly sounded in my ears, “Pick it up! Beat her!” I felt my pace increasing inadvertently thinking I needed to outpace and outrun her. I didn’t want to get passed.

Even as I heard her getting closer, I steadied my breathing and steadied my steps. She is not running my path. She is not running my route. She is running her own. Maybe she’s at the end of her run and that’s why her pace is faster. Or maybe her pace is just faster than mine. Either way, my goal in my run this morning was to keep a steady pace, to get back to the rhythm of recentering and realigning. My goal was not to win or compete against anyone else. I was finding my own stride again.

This is perhaps the hardest thing for me as a mom and a professional to remind myself of. Instagram and our comparative culture make us want to outpace and outrun other moms and other professionals. We want to outdo each other by proving we are fast, efficient, and balanced. But the outpacing and outdoing each other is actually what undoes us. We wear ourselves running in circles trying to be better or more put together than someone else. What we need more of is people who are keeping their own pace and their own rhythm unaffected by the harried and hurried busy culture we find ourselves in.

Breathe deeply. Run your race. Keep your pace.