I published this earlier this month at SheLoves Magazine. Click over to read the full article!
“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” –Mother Superior, The Sound of Music
Currently, I am in a season with many walls, few doors, and quite a few windows to the outside world—taunting me by what I’m allegedly missing. I’ve been here before—as a teenager trapped in my parent’s home, as a college student waiting for my life to begin, as a thirty-year-old single woman (with a sex drive and ticking biological clock) surrounded by families, as a teacher going on to the next year because it was expected. And now I’m here as a mother to three littles, walled-in by naptimes, temper tantrums and mind-numbing routines.
Perhaps you’re here, too, though your walls may look different than mine. Illness, job insecurity, infertility, a sick parent or another impossible circumstance may leave you feeling trapped against your will, walled-in and alone. You have underutilized gifts, unfulfilled callings and pent-up passions.
Part of what I’m realizing is that just because strength, intelligence or giftings are harnessed for a time doesn’t mean they are weakened or disappear. In fact, Old Mother Maturity is still at work on our juvenile souls, training us by her delays and uncomfortable restrictions.
Last week I eased my minivan out of our driveway into the cul-de-sac and caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. Poised like a queen was a huge doe, beaming her gaze directly at me. But the most alarming part was that she stood trapped inside my neighbor’s fenced yard.
How did she get in there? I thought. And how will she get out?
The image haunted me all day long. It took a while to decode my emotions, but when I did, I accepted this living parable as a gift to me in my current season. It was as if God was saying,
“I see you.
Yes, you are fenced in right now, unable to travel far or do so much of what you thought you would do with your life. But the fact that you are restricted does not diminish your strength. And it does not mean you will be here forever.”
That doe was strength under control. She was choosing containment just as I am choosing it now for the sake of my little people.
And through forfeited freedom, I am learning the richness of soulful living.
Science calls this “potential energy.” Potential energy is the energy an object has because of its position, rather than its motion. It is a bicycle perched on a hill, a nearly poured-out pitcher of water or a book balanced on someone’s head. It is a doe behind a fence. It is harnessed energy, ready to explode into action. It is doors slammed shut, waiting for windows to be thrown open …Continue reading at SheLoves …
Last summer, hugely pregnant with my third child, I took my 1- and 3-year-olds on a walk every afternoon. I’d saunter along behind them, absently resting my hand on my taut belly, hoping to receive some communication in the form of a heel or shoulder blade in my palm. My head ached from the dry Colorado heat, and every joint and ligament protested at being stretched to capacity. I had no delight left in me, so I drank in the delight of my children, filling my own empty reservoir with their joy.
We spent over an hour on a half mile stretch of concrete path that wound behind our neighborhood. The path only extended another half mile beyond that and was barricaded by a chain-link fence, though there were rumors the city planned on extending the path one day.
On these walks, my kids would lie on the sidewalk, watching ants and poking roly-polies until they curled into a ball. They’d pick dandelions by the fist-full and stuff their pockets with ruby red berries I hoped weren’t poisonous. Wild, brown bunnies would dart out of bushes and skitter away as my son and daughter chased them under fences.
For once, I was glad to roam at the rhythm of my children. The first four years of motherhood had been a constant tension: my kids wanted to go slow; I wanted to go fast. They wanted to savor simple pleasures; I wanted the adventurous life I had lived before children. They wanted to play; I wanted to be productive.
But last summer, I finally surrendered. My children won the battle for slow, small and simple.
So now, instead of resenting them for weighing me down, holding me back, and stunting my growth, I’m starting to accept that my children are not a burden. In fact, they are teaching me how to live.
My children are my wonder-catchers. They are my sieve—capturing every small, insignificant, glorious life particle before it can slip away. Like getting eyeglasses for the first time, my children magnify life, bringing every bug, spider web, sparkly rock, quirky person, and familiar place into sharp clarity. We do not go far or fast, but they are teaching me to marvel at the mysteries of a God hidden in plain sight. As a writer and worshiper of God, slowness is a gift, for I am honing the ability to notice and delight.
I’ve had these prophetic words by Madeleine L’Engle scribbled into my prayer journal since my pre-kid years. I never knew their fulfillment would come in the form of motherhood:
“Slow me down, Lord … When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening” (Walking on Water 13).
In my former life, I was a doer. I led, organized, taught, and planned. I lived in other countries, got my masters, traveled alone on 27-hour train rides across China, and spoke other languages. But it turns out God was not impressed. Instead, he wanted to teach me how to be nearsighted again. He wanted to slow me down. Not just so I could see his work in the world, but so I could hear his still, small voice …
Like Belle, I never planned to live a provincial life. I, too, wanted “adventure in the great, wide somewhere.” I wanted it more than I could tell.
But today we bought a house.
An ordinary, provincial house with a two-car garage and a Whirlpool dishwasher. As we walked out of the title office, giant trees with fresh green leaves waved gently against the cobalt blue sky. The walk-through had unearthed no new knowledge and was the same sturdy 1977 four bedroom split-level home on 0.20 acres in a mid-sized town in Colorado we saw when we put our offer in. Far from exotic, we will now be six minutes from Target, seven minutes from a grocery store and eight minutes from locally roasted pour-over coffee (a must for my coffee snob husband).
We were so sure this was the right house for us that we made an offer the first time we saw it, standing in the living room with the light slanting across the wood floor, the baby fidgeting against my chest in the baby carrier. We wrote a letter, pleading our case to a family who, based on the Brennan Manning books, Bibles, and Christian bookstore plaques on the walls, were also people of faith. We wanted to raise our children here, open our doors to friends and family, and would respect that sacred, holy life had already been lived here. We acknowledged the grief they must be feeling in parting with their home.
There were nine offers. Three were more than ours and four were cash. But they chose us.
At 38 years old, I have never owned a home, nor did I think I was ever likely to, since my biggest fear has always been living the White Picket Fence Life. Perhaps that is why as an eighth grader, my favorite movie was Beauty and the Beast (the “nerdy princess,” as a friend of mine pointed out). I had no intention of becoming a stay-at-home mom in the suburbs like my mom had been. I was destined for greater things.
Lately my four-year-old has been asking me what I want to be when I grow up. The first time he asked this, I chuckled, “I already grew up,” I said. “I’m doing it—I’m a wife and your mommy. I’m also a writer. And I was a teacher and lived in China before that.”
He nodded, crunching his Cheerios and raisins from the blue plastic bowl. I don’t think he understood. Just like I didn’t understand that my mom was never “just” a stay-at-home mom. That we are never “just” anything. Life is not static. Our identity can never be reduced, only expanded by time and experience. Life breathes into us like a balloon. Yes, I am a wife and mom—in addition to all I was before that. And—God willing—more life will be breathed in even when my children leave home.
In their retirement, my parents moved from sticky, tropical Tampa, Florida to 9,000 feet elevation in the Rockies. Snowshoeing with my mom on their twenty-two acres on a clear winter day, I asked her how she begins new friendships now that she has lived so much life. Doesn’t she want her friends to know her history? How does she feel truly known without them knowing her past? “Where do you start?” I asked.
“I start from now,” she answered. My mom has learned what I am still beginning to grasp.
Why do we sometimes have a difficult time enjoying the one life we’ve been given? If we’re not working harder, looking elsewhere or planning for what’s next, we’re feeling guilty about the blessings we do have.
These are the essential questions Trillia J. Newbell explores in her book, Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s God Gifts. In plain and forthright language, she discusses our obligation to enjoy our work, relationships, sex, art, God, possessions, food, and environment. She concludes each chapter with reflection questions and practical assignments, which she calls “The Enjoy Project.”
This book gives permission to relax and receive the good gifts God has given us.
What I Liked
Trillia seamlessly weaves Scripture throughout the book, supporting each point with several examples from the Bible. She seems very familiar with this material and the book often reads like a talk she may have given to a group of women at a conference or retreat. I most appreciated the chapter on sex and the one on work, because I think Christians often do not understand how God wants to use each of these to His glory.
How to Read this Book
Rather than reading this book in isolation, I believe it would be a better book to read with a group. It could be read over a five-week time period, reading two chapters at a time and then discussing the questions at the end of each chapter, doing the suggested activities, and using the discussion questions provided at the end of the book. The book and questions provide a great launching point for women to intentionally go deeper in reflecting on whether or not they are truly enjoying the gifts they’ve been given.
Not My Favorite
Personally, I would give this book three out of five stars. Perhaps it is because I have been a Christian for so long, but I don’t feel like I learned anything new. I also felt like the writing was a bit lackluster and cliché, with an overuse of exclamation marks. But in spite of its simplicity and predictability, I know I would have gotten even more out of it if I had read it with a group.
I recommend reading this as a light book to discuss with a group of women who want to take a break from a more structured Bible study format. I would also recommend it to a new Christian with questions about how we are to feel towards the blessings lavished on us in the west or to someone wrestling with guilt over how their hobbies, interests or artistic leanings fit into God’s plan.
If you like Christian self-help type books or need a reminder that God doesn’t want you to flee the world, but to enjoy the gifts He is extending to you, then Enjoy might be the book for you.
*I received a free copy of Enjoy from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.
Lately, evangelical Christianity has felt like too manydissonantmusical notes strung together. I keep waiting for the resolution in the music.And I’m struggling to stay in the room.
As a ten-year-old, I knelt by my bed to “ask Jesus into my heart.” Another fifth-grade friend had told me the day before while we pumped our gangly legs on the blue swing set in the backyard thatshe hoped she’d see me in heaven. If I wanted to be sure to go there, I needed to pray and ask Jesus into my heart. “Do you want to do it right now?” she pleaded. Shaking my head, I told her I’d think about it. I did, and decided I would rather spend eternity in heaven than in hell. Easy-peasy.
In When We Were on Fire, Addie Zierman recounts her evangelical youth culture upbringing. I could have been reading my own memoir as I flew through the pages. To be a Christian teenager in the 90′s was WWJD, See You at the Pole, “dating Jesus,” Teen Mania, True Love Waits, going to the Christian concerts of Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Newsboys, Petra and D.C. Talk. It was secret public school prayer meetings, youth group mission trips and camps, Christian T-shirts and worship to six kids strumming guitars in the public park.
It meant doing communion with chips and juice on a sidewalk behind the science building before school and slipping homemade gospel tracts into every student’s locker. And it was having your heart smashed by boys who said God told them to break up with you.But life was a battle and we were going to win (so we couldn’t be held back by petty things like love and romance.)
I sometimes miss those days when Holy Spirit fire flooded my veins. When I wanted to live “sold out and radical” for Jesus and “soar, soar, soar” for Him. I miss crying to worship songs and shouting out victory praise choruses, stretching my arms to the sky. I miss knowing without a doubt that God had a radical life planned for me.
The fire didn’t dissipate right away. Instead, after burning hot and wild, it sank to coals, glowing with a more steady heat. But the poker of Life couldn’t leave it alone. Jobs, relationships, disappointments, shame and questions jabbed, poked and prodded once steadily burning coals.
Over the years, I have often heard this illustration about church attendance: You need to stay in community; otherwise you will be like an ember taken out of the fire. Alone in the cold, your flame will eventually extinguish.
I fear that is happening to me now. I have become an expert church hopper. We visited 13 churches in the past two years after moving from Chicago to Colorado. We really have tried to make many of them work, jumping into small groups, church potlucks, newcomer’s luncheons and homeless outreaches. But after so many months, I am ready to admit that perhaps it is not the church that’s deficient. Maybe it’s me …
Recently I’ve been binge-listening to the NPR podcast The 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop. In it, the host, Virginia Prescott, interviews famous writers about their writing process. She begins each podcast with the question, “Which is harder to write—the first sentence or the last?” Many of the writers chuckle and answer, “the middle!”
Here are some of my biggest takeaways from the hours I’ve spent listening to these talented writers over the past couple weeks:
1. The best way to become a better writer is to be a prolific reader.
2. The other way to get better at writing is to write. There are no shortcuts to sitting in your chair and doing the work.
3. The worst thing new writers do is give up.
4. You have to find what works for you when it comes to daily rituals (though most wake up very early in the morning to write).
5. Every writer said the final product is usually far different from the first draft. They spend a lot of time editing and revising their work. It’s okay to write a shitty first draft (as Ann Lamott talks about).
6. Don’t just write what you know (like so many people advise).
7. Sometimes saying something simply is the best way to say it.
8. When they are stuck, they mix up the routine: go for a walk, change locations or switch from a computer to free-writing in a journal.
10. Many writers expressed that the work takes on a mind of its own and that they are simply a conduit for the words to get themselves onto the page and out into the world.
If you are a writer, teacher or student of writing, I would highly recommend this podcast for ideas on finding your writing flow. Each time I listen, I walk away encouraged and more motivated to share my words with the world.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? Which of these tips most resonates with you at this stage of your writing career?
Check out this podcast to hear quick, fascinating interviews with some of these writers: Salman Rushdie, Alexander McCall Smith, Anita Shreve, Patti Smith, James McBride, Joe Hill, Judy Blume, Jodi Picoult, Colson Whitehead, Krista Tippett and many others!
I’m starting to accept that my children (not my friends or even my husband most of the time) are my companions and fellow adventurers. These little people are always, always with me. Fortunately, they don’t seem to mind their mom wildly weaving our minivan through canyons to unknown destinations in the mountains; or exploring the neighborhoods of Denver when two out of three of the kids fall asleep on our way to the zoo.
One of the benefits of having three children is that I am forced to relax. I can’t be Super Mom and that has to be okay. This means my children climb huge rocks while I nurse on a bench. The baby rarely gets to nap in his crib and has already eaten more junk food in two months than my first born had the entire first three years of his life. I frequently rewash laundry that has sat more than 24 hours and never have a clean house. I let my two-year-old daughter pick flowers pretty much anywhere she pleases, my four-year-old son dress himself in mismatched outfits, and allow my husband to haphazardly “style” my daughter’s hair. *Sigh*
But we are living. And I’m learning to breathe to the rhythm of slow and simple.
Here are some books, articles, podcasts and writing pursuits I poured into the chinks of my days this month to hydrate my brain and assure myself i’m still a thinking person. What about you? What have you been into?
This was a fabulous book, even though I found it very male-centric and focused more on people in the corporate world than in the creative world. That said, it was definitely applicable to anyone with a pulse in their body pushing them to live their best life. It was a quick read and challenged me to say no more often and prioritize how I spend my time (which is always a good thing).
I read this with my book club last month and I so wanted to love it. It was definitely a worthy read, but I got bogged down in the first third of the book by the detailed history of the politics of Pakistan. But I’m glad I persisted because it was fascinating to learn more about the culture of Pakistan and certainly puts my privileged life into perspective.
I think I read this book in less than 48 hours. If Amy Peterson’s memoir about her two years overseas was part II of my life story, Addie’s book would have been my part I. I could so relate to her reflection on (and critique of) the Christian evangelical culture she had grown up in. Reading her memoir was like finding a kindred spirit at just the right time.
I feel I’m standing at the edge of summer and there is so much freedom and so much possibility. And so little sleep and so many tantrums … pray for me. Don’t let the pretty pictures fool you. 😉 (See above posts about motherhood for a more detailed view of life as i see it right now …)
Drop me a comment about what you have been into or connect with me on social media! I’m always looking for good recommendations!
As a mother, I admit I was nervous to read a book about losing a child. In fact, I confess I skipped ahead to find out what happened to Ruth just so I wouldn’t be anxious the entire book. My mama heart didn’t have the capacity to wait two hundred pages for the details of a tragic death. But in a way, knowing from page one about Ruth’s death helped launch me into this story about a family from Maine who became accidental parents to a disabled girl from Uganda. I had so many questions.
Meadow Rue Merrill, a professional journalist, expertly guides the reader into this compelling tale of love through dynamic dialogue and word wizardry in Redeeming Ruth.
As a memoir, Meadow’s thoughts, feelings and reactions to adopting an African girl with special needs are both authentic and believable. Although this story is not commonplace, it was extremely accessible and did not feel like she was placing her family on a pedestal, like so many Christian memoirs can feel. Instead, Meadow shares with humility how they first met Ruth, questioned whether they had what it took to adopt her, and then revealed all the emotional and physical roadblocks they encountered along the way. This book does not read like a story about a family with super-human strength, but a family that could just as easily be yours or mine. It was a story about a simple family who learned that love could sustain them even through hardship and loss.
If you love memoir, are interested in adoption or Africa, or work with children with special needs, then you will find this story particularly compelling. Meadow dispels many myths about international adoption as she chronicles the sticky details of adopting Ruth from Uganda. I personally loved the vibrant descriptions of people and places in Africa since I spent six months in Uganda during college. Her words helped me to see the buses, feel the dust on my toes and greet my amazing friends there once again.
I also appreciated learning about the hurdles and small victories involved in caring for a child with special needs. Having this window into their world reminded me to offer support to friends and family I have who may be caring for children with additional needs.
If you love a good story where God appears in miraculous ways, then you will find yourself engrossed in this true tale of selfless love. If you—like me—are a mother who is afraid to read a book about losing a child, this will remind you to hug your children tighter and savor every moment you have with them. And though the story is gut-wrenching, their grief is equally weighted with hope.
Reading Redeeming Ruth was a gift. I felt honored to be invited into such a beautiful journey of surprising joy in the midst of struggle and sadness. It was a welcome reminder of how one little life can impact so many.
Meadow challenges her readers at the end of Redeeming Ruth:
“Love like a fool, without considering what such love will cost. You won’t have to look far to find someone who is hurting, someone without a voice, someone waiting to know that they are loved” (p. 204).
The park ranger peers up, pointing to the tops of the Lodgepole Pines standing like guards at the Rocky Mountain tree line. “See those pinecones at the top?”
I squint, attempting to be mentally present while my body warns me my infant son an hour away will be hungry soon.
“Those are called serotinous cones. They’re covered in resin and store their seeds until triggered by a forest fire.” He continues hiking and I pause a second longer, struck by a rare moment of mental clarity in an otherwise foggy time of life. I reflect on the past five years as a mother to three children, four and under.
At 31, I had given up on love. Living in the middle-of-nowhere China, I refused to forfeit my ambition for a man. In fact, I pitied women who sacrificed their dreams for marriage.
And then I met Adam. He was everything I had hoped for in a man, but was like finding the perfect home in the wrong neighborhood. He felt no pull to live overseas. But I knew we belonged together and within two years I was married, unemployed and pregnant.
Motherhood consumed my identity like a ravenous fire.In pregnancy, skin stretched to obscene proportions. Feet, face and hands swelled. Hormones swung faster than a preschooler on a swing set. “Come back when you think you’re dying,” the midwife said. We thought she was being dramatic. We were wrong. Pain screamed, then new life sang. One life split into two …
People love to ask this question. And I’ve been thinking about my answer.
Uncapping the black sharpie marker, I scribble a price on the neon green garage sale sticker: $4.00. Placing the tag on the light brown maternity dress, grief suddenly tackles me. I don’t know if I can do this…
This dress was the first piece of maternity clothing I ever purchased back when my body barely revealed a bump. In the Target dressing room, I stuffed my bag under the dress to try and imagine what my body might look like with a tiny human curled inside me. It seemed so surreal.
The dress was a staple in my maternity wardrobe through the wilting heat of three summers in six years. I wore it while in labor from Monday to Friday with my son, the week we determined I was a “slow laborer.” And I was wearing it the day I barely made it to the hospital to give birth to my daughter nearly two years later. I had been in labor 48 hours, but had chosen to ignore the squeezing contractions until I couldn’t anymore. “Now.” I demanded to my reluctant husband, who was remembering the long days of labor with my son. “She’s coming now, so we need to go.”
“Let’s check how far along you are,” the midwife said just minutes after we got to the hospital, pulling on her gloves. “Oop! There’s the head! You’re ready!” she said.
“Do you want to change clothes?” the nurse asked. “Your dress might get ruined.” I let her help me into the gigantic green hospital gown just in time to push out a tiny pink stranger just 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital. My sweet daughter was born on a brilliant sunny day in Chicago in July. And this was the dress I wore just minutes before she entered the world.
Folding the dress and placing it on the pile of other maternity clothes I’ve acquired over the years, the sadness hit.
Is this stage of pink lines appearing on a plastic pregnancy test, baby kicks, musical heart-beat checks and sacred, powerful, life-ripping childbirth really over? Are these the final days of having a tiny squishy body curled against me in bed as I nurse at dawn before the rest of the house wakes? Is it the end of magical baby giggles, laughing at the grimaces babies make as they try new foods or clapping like fools when your child experiences all the “firsts”?
Are we really done having children? And how do we know when we’re done?
I’m still not sure. All my reasons for having a third child obviously still apply for a fourth or fifth or any number of children we may want to have. But here’s why I’m thinking we’re done.
Mainly because in spite of my hesitancy to have an odd number of children, I’ve been surprised by how complete the number three feels. Sitting at a restaurant, when I see a family with two children, I find myself thinking “Not enough.” But when I see four, without even realizing it, I think, “Too many.” So I think—for us—three is the Goldilocks amount of children. “Just right.”
But I also feel I don’t have the capacity—physically, mentally or spiritually — for another baby at my age (I’m 38). My last pregnancy spun me into depression and my body has felt like it aged five years with each baby. I fear another pregnancy would break me.
But having “just” three children also leaves wiggle room for other people God may bring to our home. Just as I always want to have a guest room in our house, I know my heart only has so many rooms available, so setting this limit may ensure I’ll have the space to offer a place at our table to anyone who needs a temporary family. I often pray God will give us the capacity to extend our arms around anyone God brings into our life. Perhaps not having a baby in my belly or nursing on my breast will free me to nurture those who are not my own children.
My other two children are enjoying having more of me again. My baby is now eight months old and more interested in exploring the world through his hands, mouth and however far his chubby legs will take him as he crawls from drawer to cabinet, shoving every stray cheerio in his mouth along the way. He is no longer content to sit still.
Not always having a baby on my lap means more of me for the other two. The times when I force myself to stop folding laundry, picking up clutter or organizing toys and simply sit on the floor to be physically and mentally present with my kids, a child always ends up climbing into my lap. They have missed me. I push away the guilt that creeps in, accusing me of neglecting my two and four-year-olds during the past year of being hugely pregnant or nursing around the clock. They have learned to be more independent and are discovering they have a built-in playmate when mommy is busy with the baby. But they are still little and need me.
So for all those who are asking, I’m saying I am 98 percent sure we are done. As stressful, painful, stretching (in so many ways) and difficult as pregnancy, childbirth and the baby stage have been, I have loved it. I really have. There were moments in my twenties and even as I turned thirty and was still very single, when I wondered if I would ever have children. Once I married, I convinced myself I would have fertility problems. I wanted to shield myself from disappointment. So many of my friends had miscarried or had problems getting pregnant that I wanted to be prepared.
But after five months of waiting, on a cold December morning, I woke my husband up, jumping back in bed with a huge grin on my face.
And so I want to celebrate this gift and grieve the passing of such a sacred, special time of life. It has not felt like it “went fast,” but I do wish I could bottle up the magic and open it up every once in a while.
Wouldn’t you love to relive the moment you found out you were pregnant for the first time and you walked around all day with the most amazing secret you’d ever carried? I wish I could encapsulate the feeling of those first butterfly flutters and finally the indignant kicks from a silent being that drew life from my body. Or relive holding my baby for the first time, staring with wonder that there actually was a life inside me all that time. Time suspended and reality spun in those early hours of precious life.
Motherhood is a holy experience. Nothing scrapes the ceiling of the divine like pregnancy and childbirth. Giving birth and being a mother to these three souls has been the honor and joy of my life.
I place the stack of clothes with the brown dress in the large plastic bin, labeling it “maternity” and slide it over to join the pile of baby clothes I’m also pre-grieving the loss of. I walk over to the rug, plop down and grab my first son, wrapping my arms around him and tucking his long legs into my lap. “Do you know how much I love you?” I whisper. He smiles. Yes. He knows.