Missing Her...

I opened a book this morning and picture fell out from between some of it's pages. Odd, that I didn't even realize the photograph was tucked inside, considering I frequently read the little motivational exerts. But there it was at my feet.

I barely recognize the young woman in the picture.

So skinny from forever choosing between lunch or filling her gas tank. So shattered from the ordeal in juvenile court. I was hanging on by a thread in this photo, not realizing that in just a few short hours I would have my first full blown nervous breakdown in the confines of my beat up Chevrolet Corsica. It was the hardest season of my life.

Yet some voice must have whispered to grab a quick picture with her.

Her long sleeves, wig, and genuine grin of happiness kept the cancer that was killing her hidden well beneath the surface. Her youngest daughter was getting married and she would get to see it. 

It is the only healthy picture I have of the two of us.

She is the reason I went to college. She is why I was able to chase my dream as a TV news reporter and have the courage ten years later to chase a new dream. She is why my sisters are saved. She is why I am saved. She is why I have so much fight inside, both the good kind and the nasty four-letter word ugly kind.

She is why I believe in miracles.

Isn't that ironic?

This past birthday I turned 36, but it's the number 12 that stuck in mind. My birthday marks 12 years since the night her chest stopped moving, her hand turned cold, and I would never see that smile again. The grief still comes. To be so far removed from that night, yet to suddenly feel a wave of longing that God had only been taking her on an extended vacation and not an eternal journey, jars your spirit at its root. 

I wonder what she would say to me about attending seminary, about chasing the title of "Pastor." Her membership to the conservative AG church would have her pray for my pride and inability to submit, yet I know she was a woman of her own mind. I long to have her read McKnight and Bessey, and to discuss Systematic Theology and her thoughts on Inclusivism, Pope Francis, and if she believes there really was a garden. 

Conversations I can't have.

I want a picture of her side-by-side with Asher to determine if I'm simply being nostalgic when I look at his face and catch glimpses of hers. While the name Asher had deep significance in its meaning, his middle name was one I was merely drawn to because it sounded nice. It was only later when I realized his middle name is the masculine version of her first. 

Pictures I'll never take.

Most of all, I want to hear her laugh. When no one else could be even be bothered to ensure I had eaten that day, she not only gave me food and shelter, but she saw me - and I saw joy in her eyes when she looked at me. She didn't love me out of obligation or family devotion. She had something better for me.

She liked me.

In a world where strong-willed, opinionated, and power seeking women are immediately disliked, and in the church, quickly dismissed, she not only liked me...she enjoyed me. Without ever using the words, she made it ok for me to be me. When I was with her, I could breathe.

I am not sure I've breathed so freely ever since.

Perhaps, that is why despite the deep pain and sadness churning inside the two of us, despite the turmoil this time period wrought, we look authentically happy standing side-by-side in our wedding get-ups and bad flash photography. 

Oh, how I miss her.

The marriage may not have worked out, but I am forever grateful to my cousin for having done it. In the time before digital, selfies, and Instagram, we never thought to take photos at random moments. 

This moment, so many years later, now brings joy to my eyes. 

 

Becoming Four

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Is that one line or two?

I thought to myself as I washed my hands, toweled them off and picked up the pink and white stick for a closer look.

Definitely one solid line, bright and prominent, but the second line looked faded, as if it weren’t sure if it wanted to make an appearance.

“There’s no way a second line would pop up, even if it’s faded, if I weren’t actually pregnant,” I reasoned to myself.

Unfortunately, it was the last test in the house so taking another one would have to wait until I made a trip to the drug store. Still, a small bubble of excitement began to build deep in my gut. Not too much in case the faded line was a sign of a false positive, but enough to give me hope.

Just last week I had taken another test and it had come back negative.

Trying to get pregnant is the pretty much one of the worst things ever. It ranks somewhere around the smell of grilled green bell pepper and getting fired when you thought you’d be promoted.

For most women, you spend the better part of your teen years and adult life trying to avoid getting pregnant at all costs. Then one day, you decide you want a baby and you think it will be easy because you remember your 10th grade health class teacher telling you over and over, “It only takes one time!” But it doesn’t take one time. It can take dozens and hundreds, and suddenly you’re obsessed with seeing two lines because deep down you’re terrified you’ll end up a woman who can’t conceive.

The mind game is a nightmare. The disappointment is worse.

For some, it’s easy. Calculate your cycle, plan a romantic date, drink a glass of Merlot and bam, the test has a plus sign less than four weeks later. For others, it’s impossible to get an accurate cycle track, even with the digital ovulation sticks that set you back $40 for less than a dozen. It’s a guessing game all month with no way to know if you got it right until aunt flo comes for a visit.

For too many I know, it doesn’t matter if the cycle is tracked, caffeine is cut, you sign up for stress reducing Yoga, or even if you've spent thousands treatments - that dumb test only ever has one sad little line.

Then there's those who see the plus signs multiple times, only to miscarry over and over. The
"pain is deep.

I was off the pill for 18 months before getting pregnant with my little guy, and nine of those were deliberately “trying”. I hated the head space trying to have a baby created in my normally anxiety low outlook on life.

But then I got a “Pregnant” splashed across an overpriced digital pregnancy test and the joy overflowed down my cheeks.

Yet, when it came time to try again, I was not looking forward to it. I’m older now, and I kid you not, doctors call women my age who get pregnant “geriatric pregnancy”. Thank you science.

I didn’t want to go through months of sticks and disappointments. But of course, I did because that’s a woman’s only choice if she wants to conceive.

And now the damn stick wouldn’t tell me if I should celebrate, or go make a mimosa with my bacon and eggs as a consolation prize.

My husband was still sleeping soundly next to our little guy, who had crawled into our bed around 6am to grab my iphone and “watch something”. YouTube Kids was playing in the background as I gently woke my husband and showed him the results.

“We’re pregnant?” He said with a tone that was a mix of both happily surprised and slightly terrified.

This is our second round. He knows what’s coming.

“I think so,” I answered, “if it’s two lines, but I can’t tell if that’s one line or two.”

“It looks like two to me, but go take another one to be sure.”

“I don’t have anymore. I’ll just go to the drugstore later today and take another one tomorrow morning,” I responded.

And that was that. No freaking out. No obsession over was, or wasn’t it.

I would love to get all spiritual on you and tell you after my little guy I have grown to trust in the Lord and believe no matter the outcome, my life is fulfilled by his love. I would love to believe I bought into the idea that a relaxed mind creates a better body for a baby. I would love to tell you I just wasn’t worked up as much the second time around because we are already so blessed to bursting with our little guy.

In reality, I’m pretty sure avoidance defense mechanism had kicked in.

But maybe, just maybe, deep down I already knew there was a baby already picked out and growing inside me.

I went to the store, and grabbed the cheapest off-brand test on the shelf. At least I’ve matured to the point of no longer being suckered into buying a digital reading for an extra $10. The next morning, I took it. Within minutes a plus sign appeared.

We’re going to have another baby. I showed it to my husband and this time we were both confident enough to celebrate.

As before, I immediately told my sisters the good news, but held off before telling anyone else.

I have grown calmer. So much of the first pregnancy is laced with the raw fear of what is happening. Naturally, there’s still some fear there that things could go wrong, but I no longer need to track every inch my baby grows each week to see what size it is in vegetable measurements.

But I’ve also grown more humble.

Within minutes of seeing my own plus sign I immediately thought of four women, all dear to me in their own way, who have either never seen a plus sign, or saw it only to have it disappear weeks later.

Trying to get pregnant is one of the worst things ever.

Perhaps that’s why the Lord showed such kindness to women like Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth. He gets that bearing children does not make or complete a woman, but the longing for it is unique for women.

Each of us have our own wars to rage, but may we never forget to be grateful for the battles won.

We are so excited to see our family grow to four. We know each baby born is a miracle, and miracles are not something you earn. They are blessings and building blocks to a humbled and grateful heart.

For the Girls

To all the girls out there made to feel unwanted, unloved, ugly...less than.

He sees you.

To the girls who tried to be good, but it was never good enough…

He’s proud of you.

To the girls who smothered their screams in pillows with no one to rub their backs…

He’s holding you.

To the girls who risked loving, who tested vulnerability, who braved showing their true self only to have it not meet their self-righteous standard…

He believes in you.

To the girls who were told they had a family, but never felt unconditional love…

He loves you.

To the girls who can’t look in the mirror because all they see is damage…

He’s amazed by you.

To the girls told they shouldn’t drink, shouldn’t smoke, shouldn’t let a guy do that…while they lie, covet, and pretend their pride is sinless...

He admires you.

To the girls kicked out, ignored, abandoned, made to feel small, to feel ashamed, told they were easy, slutty, and broken….

To the girls who couldn’t follow the rules they set because they just don’t understand what goes on inside the heart of a girl left in a house with strangers…

To the girls who felt the sting of injustice and were told to smile and say thank you…

To the girls I love deeply and the girls I admire from afar - J., M., N., V., K., J., and so many more... 

He’s never kicked you out, ignored, or abandoned you. He makes the small things victorious and goes against those who would shame you.

He’s never thrown a stone and won’t start with you. He’s never used the word whore and sees the beauty in your brokenness.

He doesn’t need you to follow any rules...He watched you get left in a house of strangers and is cheering the fact you’re still standing.

His justice leaves you smiling, and His kind of love doesn’t need a thank you.

It is the only love in life that truly comes for free.

See You Later...

I said goodbye to some friends last week.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now.  

Being a news reporter, I stopped for two years in North Alabama, two in South Florida and four in Las Vegas, before finally moving to my husband’s home city of San Diego.  In each place I made friends to celebrate birthdays with, eat cold Christmas turkey in between work shifts with, bought wedding gifts, baby shower gifts, explored our town with, and sometimes even traveled with.  

Living like this, you learn how to say goodbye.  Over the years I must’ve attended dozens of going away parties and have had three of my own.  Often tearing up over cocktails and memories, knowing the very people I bonded so quickly and fiercely with in the trenches of TV news would soon be out of my life for good.

At least there’s social media.

But there’s an unexpected and bizarre beauty to this kind of life.  I can travel to any region in the country and find a free bed to sleep in, my own personal tour guide, or laughs over lunch as we travel down memory lane.

So when my husband and I met the couple living the Navy life - one half from the west coast and the other from the midwest - there was an instant bond.  We understood what it was like to live “somewhere else”.  To be in a marriage with families living on opposite ends of the country.  To be forced into worlds you never fit in, but learn to adapt to.  

So despite the fact we knew they would one day leave, we spent two years sharing dinners, dog training trips, and the ups and downs of our lives.  But when moving day finally arrived, forget tearing up, this time there was full-blown crying.  

They were huge in helping us settle into our new life in San Diego.  They were some of the first to relate to this weird Jesus loving, yet liberal, yet conservative, yet church, but not your grandma’s church, kind of life we wanted.  We've shared our crazy, screwed up life experiences, and bonded over splurging on overpriced hipster food.  

We’ve prayed together.  Played “Cards Against Humanity” together.  I’ve cried with her.  

Of course, when the good ones leave, they never move within driving distance.  Instead, it’s all the way to the northeast.  About as far as you can go.

In the world of military, you never know what can happen.  They could be back.  They could get stationed even farther.  

For some reason, this time knowing I have a place to crash in a state I’ve never been to, is of little comfort.  Maybe I’m hormonal.  Maybe I got too comfortable, ready to commit to life in one spot. Maybe it’s our mutual love of our dogs.

She says it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.  I say she better get better at using Instagram and Facebook.

But even as my heart hurts and a new gap is opened where once again, dear friends are departing, I still believe in that old, dumb saying.

It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.  

It is better to have people to do this life with. It is better to know and be known.  Then struggle through life doing it on your own.

That First Trimester

It’s been hard to write.  

Hell, it’s been hard to do much of anything but sleep and stuff my face with carbs.  I’m a puffy, bloated walking ball of nausea, exhaustion, and the lingering effects of migraine headaches.  

I’m not excited.  I’m not picking out nursery colors.  And I’m sure as shit not glowing.

Frankly, I feel like something is seriously wrong with me.  I can’t focus.  My emotions are all over the place.  I cried during an episode of Deadliest Catch last night.  A crab fishing show made me cry!

So this is pregnancy.

I’m sure it’s all worth it.  I’m sure if I hear a heartbeat at the doctor today I’ll forget all about the agony of the last four weeks.  I’m sure the changes to my body won’t last forever. That I won’t always feel like one of those women in the Dove commercials boasting on how much they love their curves, when all I really want to do is go on a Slim Fast diet.

But none of it makes me feel any better right now.

I don’t want to be negative, so I didn’t post last week.  This week, I tried to write a different, more uplifting piece with nothing to do with pregnancy, but it felt weak and hollow.  And a bit untrue.  

I’m simply not in a positive state of mind.  

I’m trying to be okay with that.  

I have to believe there’s times in our lives when we just don’t feel like ourselves, when it all feels off and bad.  When knowing the light is surely at the end of the tunnel does absolutely nothing to comfort us in our current darkness.  When all we want to do is lay on the couch and pretend the outside world doesn’t matter, but doing so only makes us feel worse.

I have to be okay knowing these last few weeks don’t define who I am.

I think that’s the hardest thing for the type-A, survivor kind of people to do.  We’re hard on ourselves, demanding we prove our value and worth in our productivity and accomplishment.  Nausea is no excuse.  

But even so, I can’t wallow in my chubby self-pity and sickness for the next six months.

So at the doctor, I’m going to talk all about nausea and getting my energy back.  I’m going to hire a personal trainer to help create a workout routine I can feel good about.  

And I’m going to cut myself some slack.  I am growing a human being after all…

 

We didn't hear a heartbeat, but seeing this certainly brightened my day!  I even shed a tear or two.  It's getting a bit more real now...

We didn't hear a heartbeat, but seeing this certainly brightened my day!  I even shed a tear or two.  It's getting a bit more real now...

Are You Sitting Down?

It’s an amazing miracle.  

A gift from heaven.  

A joyous moment filled with wonder and excitement.  

At least that’s what people say when they find out they’re having their first child.  Usually wrapping these statements around beautiful stories of hearing their child’s heartbeat for the first time, seeing the “peanut” on the ultrasound screen, and letting tears fall freely as they share the news with their partner.

THIS IS NOT ONE OF THOSE STORIES.

I’d been trying to get pregnant for months.  Unfortunately, my insanely sketchy ovulation cycle made baby making near impossible to plan and left me peeing on more sticks and reading the words “not pregnant” more times than I care to count.  

It was disappointing.  Depressing.  And yes, the one time I thought I was pregnant, but 52 days later found out I wasn’t, heartbreaking.

So I quit trying.  Gave up counting.  Got wine with dinner.  Put a deposit on a two week trip to Israel.  

And got chubby.  Like bought shirts to cover my belly fat, chubby.  Spent $300 on a formal dress for a Colombian wedding because it hid my roll, chubby.  And my personal favorite, unsnapping my jeans in public, chubby.

All while wondering why the hell my period wouldn’t start.

Then, just days before I was leaving for a ten day trip to a third world country, I was feeling a bit queasy when I got hungry for each meal.  Since I carry my nerves in my stomach, I figured I simply had anxiety about the trip, and went to dinner with my husband.

I ordered a beer.  We were at a German restaurant, so I ordered bratwurst and sauerkraut to go with it.

The service was slow.

“I swear, if the food doesn’t get here, I’m going to just puke all over this floor,” I told my husband.

“Alright, you’re probably just hungry and worried about the trip. Try to relax,” he answered.

“I’m sure it’s nothing, but maybe we should just get a pregnancy test on the way home.  That way I’ll know I’m not pregnant and I can calm down and get over some of the queasiness,” I said.

We ate our meal.  I felt better.  We went to Target.

Unfortunately, the wurst did the worst on my man’s stomach.  On our way out, he had to run back inside to use the bathroom.  I sat in the car, waited, and felt the strongest earthquake I’d ever been in.  

I’m from Alabama.  We have tornadoes.  Not earthquakes.

When my husband emerged, we went home where I rushed to take the test so he could get back on the john.

I placed the test on my nightstand and waited.  Normally, I would stare at the test, willing it to hurry and show me its result.  However this time, believing I would once again get a negative response, I got on Facebook and with all the status updates surrounding the earthquake, momentarily forgot all about it.

After a few moments, I looked up, and nearly dropped my phone.

“Oh my God, Jason.”  

The tears were falling.  I opened the bathroom door to share this amazing moment to my husband...who happened to still be in the throes of bad sauerkraut.  

At least he was already sitting down.

He looked up, saw my face, and asked, “We’re pregnant?”

I could only nod my head.  

“Oh babe!” he exclaimed while holding up his arms for me walk into his embrace...his still on the crapper embrace.

At 32 years old and after nine years of marriage, we’re having a baby. Turns out, I was already more than six weeks along.

I couldn’t imagine doing this with anyone else, or finding out any other way.  Even if the crapper isn't so beautifully miraculous.

Eight weeks in Colombia and already looking round!  

Eight weeks in Colombia and already looking round!  

If you like this, you may like this post: Seven Reasons Why I don't Have Kids

Silent Saturday

The Catholics say today is Holy Saturday.  Others call it Easter Eve, or Black Saturday.  

Last night I heard a new title for this day : Silent Saturday.

Somehow silence rings truest.

I picture Mary Magdalene spending months with Jesus, hearing him speak like none had before.  Giving back the dignity to women religious leaders of the day had taken away.  Watching him heal the sick, feed the hungry, and all the while knowing she’d found something more than human.  

She loved Him.  Put her faith in Him.  She followed Him.

And then wept broken tears as she watched Him die.  He just died.  Like any other convicted Roman criminal with nails in their hands and feet - Jesus simply died.

The Garden Tomb where Jesus may have been laid.

The Garden Tomb where Jesus may have been laid.

I can imagine hours later when the storm of grief lessened out of nothing more than exhaustion, Mary felt the heavy weight of “what now?”  

“Now I’ll go and help prepare his body for the tomb,” she may have said.

She’d met a rich man who’d gotten permission from the Roman authorities to bury Jesus in his own tomb.  As Jewish tradition required, Mary would rush alongside others to get Jesus’ body wrapped and laid out for burial before the Sabbath would allow her to do no more.  

Once he was laid on a hard slab of rock, cut out from side of an elaborate cave, she sat across from him and watched.

The area they would lay bodies.  Jesus being the first in the new tomb, would've been on the far left section.  Mary would've sat just across, probably the place where the picture was taken to weep and mourn.

The area they would lay bodies.  Jesus being the first in the new tomb, would've been on the far left section.  Mary would've sat just across, probably the place where the picture was taken to weep and mourn.

And again perhaps, felt the heavy weight of “what now?”  What of this man she put her faith in? Who deep down, she believed was more than a man, but God himself.  

A God who was now very silent.

Forced to leave the tomb so a giant stone could be placed at the entrance, Mary still couldn’t leave His presence.  She found a spot on the grass, amidst the dozens of rows of grapevines, and watched.  Waited.  Devastated in the silence.

She’d had plans, dreams, and ideas.  She was going to follow Jesus until the day she died.  She would help him heal the wounded, care for the sick, and comfort the broken hearted.  She’d dreamed of telling the world about this love that had rescued her from a life she couldn’t even bring herself to think about now.  And oh, what Jesus would do for women!  He believed in her.  The first to see her with the same worth, value, and gifting as men.

Were those dreams now as dead as her Lord?  Were they as silent as the heavens felt now?

Mary didn’t yet know the full story.  

She didn’t know what would happen tomorrow.  

She didn’t know He would to do so much more with her dreams than she’d ever imagined. She didn’t know He’d come to her first.  She didn’t know He would make her, a woman, whose testimony wasn’t even valid in court, the very first evangelist. The first to preach to men about this God, who himself became a man and died, only to come back straight to her.

She could only sit in the silence and hope it wasn’t all for nothing.

I believe there are things in our life meant to die and never come back.  There’s dreams, relationships, even loved ones, who die and don’t return to us. In our mourning, when we feel our God is as silent and dead as our broken hearts, remember...we don’t know how the story ends.

Silence doesn’t last forever.  There will be a resurrection.  A resurrection of hopes, dreams, loves, faith, and even our weary souls.

The price was paid.  Our place was taken.  It is finished.

But the story…Your story…it is far from finished.

The silence is merely the calm before the glorious storm.

Take a lesson from Mary, and wait for it.


The Jesus Job - Part 2

I start April 15th.

Well, let me rephrase that: I start getting paid April 15th.  I’ve already been doing the work for months.  Volunteering was a good way to get my feet wet, to test the waters before I dove right in.  I find it’s a smart approach to church.

Church is full of problems and hypocrisies and I haven’t been immune.  

Like when I asked the Florida pastor’s wife for advice in my young marriage, and she told me I should just be thankful I had a man who loved me and get over everything else.  Or the time when several women in my small group in Las Vegas gathered around me with their Bible commentaries and rehearsed statements to silence my questions concerning women’s roles in the church.  Or when the pastor in Guntersville told my new husband he didn’t allow the internet in his home because there was so much evil in it.  

But none of these people really mattered to me, so their opinion mattered even less.  The nature of my reporting jobs never had us living in one place for too long, so I never felt like any of these churches were my home.  I knew I was always leaving soon and we'd find a different church, hopefully with as few whack jobs as possible.

Then we moved to San Diego and the people and their opinions began to really matter.

Roots started to grow.

We went to the church Jason attended during his summer breaks in college.  We joined a small group.  I started volunteering at the Thrift Store and then leading a small group of middle school aged girls.

My roots found dirt.  

The Teaching Pastor wears t-shirts and flip-flops on Sunday mornings.  He won’t preach on politics.  He says this is the greatest time in history to be a Christ follower and doesn’t feel threatened by changing culture or ideas.  

During the church marriage retreat, I enjoyed mojitos with our Executive Pastor and a few days ago, overheard the Youth Pastor yell “dammit!” after he learned a teen had died in a car accident on the way to school.  It was the appropriate response in my opinion.

Over time, I started thinking that maybe I wouldn’t have to hide who I am, what I believe, or even how I vote.  

My roots found water.

But one issue was still keeping me from fully embracing this new church: The issue of women.

What did my church believe about women?  Do they think I should be silent?  Do these pastors think my prayers are somehow less than theirs?  That my leadership skills are clouded in femininity?

Then along came Bill.

He was our new Connection and Formation Pastor.  Basically that means he heads up all classes and smaller groups for adults...anything that feels like church, but isn’t happening on Sunday morning.

I’d gone to a “learn about what we believe” kind of lunch after church.  There was a question and answer portion at the end.  Most lined up to talk to our teaching pastor.  No one really knew Bill yet.  He was in a corner of the room with no line and no waiting.

I’ve never been one to line up to speak to anyone.  Sorry.  None of us are that important.

So I walked straight to Bill.

“I’m really loving being a part of this church,” I told him. “But I need to know what you think about women in church.  I don’t know if I can be a part of something that tells me I don’t have the same value as the men in here.”

He smiled at me, almost knowingly, and then answered.

“There’s two schools of thought on women and the church right now.  One is complementarianism.  It basically states that women are there to compliment men.  They can do certain things, like lead kids ministry and host events, but they can’t be pastors, or hold top leadership positions.” He explained.

I nodded as I’d heard this line of thinking for years, and he kept going.

“The second is what is called egalitarianism.  Egalitarians believe women can do whatever men can do in the church.  They can go as far as Jesus takes them,” he continued.

Then he said the four words to forever change my view of church, the apostle Paul, and God himself.

“We believe in egalitarianism.”

Suddenly my roots found sunshine.

He recommended a book by Scot McKnight called The Blue Parakeet.  It is a game changer.  

Soon, I’ll be writing a series of posts on my beliefs on feminism, Jesus and women, and what it all means for the girls and church.  But for now, this was the moment I found home.  

The moment a pastor told me my gender would never be used to keep me small.  To keep me quiet.  To keep me from moving up.

Soon after, I started volunteering for Pastor Bill, and he would eventually fight with the powers that be to create a paid position just for me. 

It’s part-time.  Doesn’t pay much.  But it feels right.  It leaves room for my writing (being an author is still the goal), and doesn’t require I swear to a list of theological ideas as God mandated beliefs.  

I like it.  I’m excited about it.  Let’s see where it goes...