The Blankets are a Big Deal

I‘ve been volunteering with Carry the Future for years after spending much of my childhood serving in and around refugee camps. Bundles of Joy was my first community outreach, and as so many of my fellow volunteers can testify, people show up to do good. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who donated baby clothes, worked together to package them, and shared funds to buy diapers. It seemed practical, a concrete miniature babyshower to give new mamas. 

    Later I transitioned to crocheting and teaching others how to make baby blankets to collect and send alongside Carry the Future volunteers. It was a joy to imagine little ones wrapped in cozy “snuggles”, as my son calls his blankie. However, to be honest, I considered blanket making first and foremost an exercise in community building. A gathering of people to learn and connect with refugees not as a media-blurred mass but at our most human level: as families. My goal was to begin conversations at a welcoming neutral level, “Aren’t these blankets so cute!” and to therefore connect groups and communities to a willingness to be a voice for refugees because they see them for who they are, people who want what’s best for their family. The blankets, I thought, were an adorable symbolic gesture. A way of saying “We hope this eases the road” but symbolic more than anything.


Reader, I was wrong. The blankets are a big deal. 


My dad and I loaded up in Houston early in the morning. I had boxes of blankets and teddy bears from our amazing World Refugee Celebration in which people around the city gathered to knit, crochet, and hand tie fleece blankets as a reflection of our commitment to seeing the precious humanity in each refugee. We were headed to the Humanitarian Respite Center, in McAllen, Texas. 

    Six hours later we arrived in a large building directly across from the bus terminal. There were security officers signing volunteers in before a large room filled with people. There were chairs in rows and gym mats laid along the walls for people to rest on but what was so remarkable was the quiet: easily over a hundred people in this space yet it felt like everyone was whispering. No one wanted to garner attention. People looked exhausted at every level. As we walked through the building we saw amazing organization: an initial sign-in center to connect people with their next stop via bus or plane tickets, a hygiene counter where families received everything from soap to diapers before they got in line for the showers. There were lines taped out in the floor for people to wait for supplies like new clothes, shoelaces, and undergarments. The third room was a cafeteria with tables full of people eating with absolute focus. We made our way upstairs, past the doctor’s office where an amazing practitioner worked pro bono from noon to seven every day and into the storage room which looked an awful lot like boxes on boxes of love. 

    Again the organization was incredible. There were hundreds of shipping boxes, trash bags full of donated goods, and stacks of diaper boxes. Everything was laid out and marked with sizes, seasons, and volunteers hard at work sorting. We joined folks from Austin, a Boy Scout troop from Dripping Springs and local people who were all ready to serve. There were so many helpers and boxes of donations came in throughout the day. The love was palpable throughout the whole building. It was amazing. My goal was children’s underwear. As a mom of a pre-k kiddo, I know that underwear is a constant battle and that the right size is, shall we say, essential! Boxes on boxes of your donations were opened and sorted from toddler size to extra large. It was wonderful to realize that because of these donations little ones downstairs were being given a fresh start from the unders up! After completing the boys and girls section, I broached the topic of passing out blankets with Jorge, the wonderful leader at the Respite Center. The man never stopped moving but he was delighted by the idea and clearly touched by the handmade gifts Houston had sent. 

    With a small bag of blankets, I got started. Right by the stairway I met a family with a little one waiting patiently as his mom worked to get the right sizes for each of them. When I offered him a blanket, his whole face lit up. He carefully selected a green and white camo blanket and immediately became a superhero, wrapping it around his neck and making swoosh noises! His older brother, around ten, was looking on intently and when I opened the bag towards him, he was surprised. He thoughtfully picked out his own blanket and cradled it in his arms before politely touching my arm and pointing. Tucked behind his mom’s legs was a third brother, too shy to peek out. The oldest brother wanted to be sure that he got one too. My bag emptied quickly and I rushed back upstairs to gather more as little faces leaned out around tired parents to spy what was happening. 

    There was raw delight on the face of these kiddos. When they realized that they could not only have a soft blanket but that they got to CHOOSE- it was a game changer. Each kid took long minutes running their hands over the blankets, looking at the pattern, and looking back at me for confirmation that this was really truly for them. Little boys gathered in swarms, calling to each other and exclaiming over the superheroes or trucks. Their parents would nudge them into mumbled “gracias” and smile at me as one parent to another with the struggle of helping little humans learn manners.  One little girl shyly came up to me and asked to swap when she saw that in my next batch I had a princess blanket. For the rest of the day when I spotted her, I would comment, “Oh it’s la princessa!” and her little face would just light up as she would nod and wave. As they picked their blanket, I would lean and whisper, “My sister, my friend, my student, made this specific blanket for YOU. They wanted to say welcome.” 

    Blankets make parenting so much easier. There was a dad whose little one was sprawled on a gym mat as he wrapped himself around her. He saw me sharing blankets and carefully picked a beautiful pink fluffy one for her. After watching him tenderly tuck her in from fingers to toes, I saw him relax for a moment. She had a soft space to rest at last. One mother selected a gorgeous oversized crochet blanket for her little baby. Later that day, I passed her waiting in line: she had wrapped her baby gently in it and folded the corner over her shoulder as she nursed. The dignity on her face was a gift. She had a way to care for her child and maintain her own privacy at the same time. It was huge. The mothers delighted in poring over the patterns and picking the perfect design. They watched out for each other, waving their friends over to join in the selection process, trading blankets and chatting about sizes and softness. 

    It wasn’t just the little ones who needed the blankets. An older girl, perhaps sixteen or seventeen, shyly slipped up to my side and ran her hand over the blankets I had over my arm. At that point my Spanish was battling my exhaustion so I couldn’t quite catch what she said but offered her the blanket immediately, assuming she had a little one with her that needed one. My dad was with me and pointed her out on our next trip. She was stunningly beautiful and there was a terrible moment as I realized how dangerous her beauty would have been on her long trip. She was sitting in the corner clutching that blanket- not in the way that you sit when you are cold but with a desperate need to feel it’s softness and comfort. There was grief there that I couldn’t help – but that blanket made a start. 

    The blankets are soft. They are warm and beautiful. They are symbolic expressions of love. They are so much more. I realized as we passed them out that with each blanket I doubled a kid’s entire possessions. Moms had a way to comfort their little ones. Dads could ensure a marked out safe place for their babies. One lady crept up to me and waited patiently as swarms of kids picked out their blankets. I offered her the bag and asked whether it was for a little boy or little girl. She said she didn’t know yet- she was five months pregnant, traveling alone. She put my hand on her bump as I shared that I too was a mom and that I wished her all the best luck. We picked out a beautifully stitched baby quilt for her to hold and to hope on: that after all this travel, her baby will have a safe place to rest. 

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Eamon still has adorable little vocal fry going on with a few of my faves being “aminals” (“Mama which aminal is yooooooooour favorite?”) and George Curious (we’re big fans). He loves to ask where everyone is and where everyone is going and delights above all else in having a plan. “Mama and Eamon getting in the car. Dada stay here. Dada riding the bus. We going to your pink school and den my brown school. Dada going to HIS school.”

He loves his cousins and counts down to seeing them whenever there’s a whisper of a plan about meeting up. He’s very proud that “Arden is FIVE and Jane is FOUR and Eamon is THREE!” He is unwilling to accept any explanation that Jane is not actually four but will acknowledge that she is “soooo small. Eamon is BIG boy.” He adores babies and makes me rewind and rewatch any Instagram stories starring his twins: Ruby and Clara or JimenJack. He’s delighted by how “cayuuuute” they are. The way he watches them and uses his soft touches just melts my heart. While watching the twins one day Ruby started crying and Eamon popped right up and said “Uhoh mama! She hungry! She needs a milk!” and trotted off to the refrigerator to get a bottle. Sometimes it amazes me how much he picks up.

There’s not a ton of toddler rebellion but so far it comes down to amazingly clear self reference. After being warned that he’s making a bad choice, “Mama said no” he rebuts with an unshakable “Eamon said YES”.  He has a hard tiem transitioning from activity to activity but I love how Andrew helps him say good by to each event. Earlier this year he would refuse to say “night night” to any people but he would say night night to things around the people so we did a lot of “night night chair, night night lamp”. Dada is in charge of the bedtime reading. Eamon is always trying to negotiate an extra round of books.

Eamon is so good at giving love. He blows kisses and snuggles. He calls me “his princess” and passes out high fives with real vigor. He gets so worried if there are loud noises or someone crying. If I sigh, he drops his toys and runs over,  “Mama, what’s wrong?” All people are his people and it’s pretty clear he’s going to be the extrovert of the family. A few days at home and he’s itching to go see CrayCray or the zoo or Grammie or Tia or “all da people”. So far he seems to be  the perfect mixture of caution and adventure. He inspects any new obstacle for a minute or two before jumping right in with vigor. Eamon’s favorite places are the mooooseum, the beach, and the zoo with a close contender being “da backaaaard”. He loves to name all the animals and ask “Which aminal is YOUR favorite?” I love how invested he is in building connections.


A note from Dada:
“The most interesting thing about watching Eamon grow has been seeing all the elements of his personality beginning to form. Hannah and I began our journey with Eamon knowing nothing about him. For a long time, he existed almost entirely as an extension of ourselves. But over the last three years, and especially over the last two, he has reminded us over and over again that he is his own person with his own mind and soul. He delights us with his sense of humor, with the things he learns somewhere other than home, with his preferences, and force of will. He reminds us every day that we don’t control him, and that we can’t control the world around him either. We can only love him and help him. We can’t set his path for him.
Sometimes, this process is wonderful. When he makes jokes, when he says things in his own way (“George Curious”), when he wakes up in the middle of the night crying that he wants “cake and milk.” When he plays on his own, letting his imagination guide him, and when he tells his mom that he thinks she looks “beautiful.” Sometimes, it’s less pleasant, like when he throws things at us, or screams that it’s not night night time, or wants cereal for dinner. Sometimes, it’s scary, like when he walks out the front door on his own. No matter what, though, it’s the most exciting journey of my life.”
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White Awake: a book review

Stunning. This incisive and evocative book struck at an issue that I’ve been trying to come to grips with and explain but failing miserably. Pastor Hill walks through six stages of a White Christian understanding racial privilege and the role of reconciliation in the church. With personal stories, careful Scripture interpretation, and a rich selection of research from sociologists, theologians, and current events, this book feels deeply grounded. Hill is determined to spark a focused reflection in the reader and does not shy away from exposing his own struggles in the area. I love how he breaks down the cycle of struggling with racial differences and systems and repeatedly reminds the reader that there is no finish line: this is a life long journey.

Some key points:

He makes the argument that the question of “What should I do?” is an immature response to the revelation of racial injustice because it continues to center the White person in power and action. (“Let me just roll up my sleeves and fix this issue because no one like ME has tried.”) Instead he drives home the point that first you must clearly SEE as Jesus does. This delayed response could seem chafing but it reflects his investment in sustainable change and heart reformation that then leads into healthy and helpful actions. He also draws from the miracle of Christ healing the blind man with clay. At the first application, the man could see but people looked like trees. It took repeated applications for clarity. In the same way, we have to keep calling out to God for better vision of injustice and our place in the system that supports it. We need to ask for continually soft hearts to notice the small things that create systemic suffering.  That is developed in his stage he calls “Lament” in which he pushes Christians to actually model themselves after the prophets of the Bible who experienced the suffering of their people and the grief of their fallen behavior so intensely that it physically hurts. That type of grief is a key Biblical practice that is anemic in the American church and leads to much of our weak theology. We don’t like to suffer- we just want to GROW! (That’s me talking btw…aim your pitchforks here.)

He also argues that what communities of color need from White Christians is not their emotion and shame. Instead invest in stamina. Persons of color do not have the option to walk away from the pressure, exhaustion and fear of our racial climate. White folk do and often take advantage of that privilege because engaging with it is draining and personally painful in a way that we are not used to experiencing. He encourages proximity to suffering- a beautiful example of the way that Christ calls us to serve one another but in an intensely practical way. Move your house. Get up close and personal with the pain and grief of a neighborhood that doesn’t look the way you want it to or feel safe. Invest in spaces that you could easily drive by and ignore.

I found this book enlightening, encouraging, and pointed. It made me dig deeper into my mindset and challenge myself not to become complacent in my own growth. The kindness in his writing reflects someone who has truly walked this walk in all of it’s discomfort and exhaustion and still can honestly say “It’s worth it.” I’m so grateful for this book and the author! I’ve passed my copy on already but if someone would like to read it and funding is an issue- let me know. I’ll make a way!



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Check point

I didn’t sign up for this. I thought teaching was going to be loving kids and reading books with them and arguing about punctuation and torturing myself about whether I should curve this kid’s work or hold to the rubric. There would be awkward parent phone calls and write ups and side hugs after a rough day. I figured some kids would hate me, some would tolerate me, but hopefully all would know that I loved them. Who knows, they might even love me back.

I never considered that the kids might die.

I’ve had kids disappear and caught whispers in the hall about ICE showing up at their door. I’ve written letters to judges about grades and behavior and second chances. My roster changes on a monthly basis as students swap around to the latest apartment doing a “first month free” special or move to live with an aunt or cousin or other distant relation who can squeeze in an extra kid. I hoped they would go back to school, that they would have nice teachers, that someone would notice them and care. I wrote letters to prison and tried to figure out how to send books.

I wasn’t ready for them to die.

I lost my first student to gang violence on March 3rd, 2017. To be honest, I found out on March 3rd. She had been murdered by MS13 gang members after being held captive for weeks. She was a good reader. The girl could clapback like no one’s business. I’ll never forget Bryan our class clown getting down on his knees and promising her a rose, a waltz, a million chocolates, if she would just go to the school dance with her. She looked up from her book and said, “The moon or nothing.” He acted crushed but couldn’t stop laughing. She kept that spark to the end. A survivor of the event said that while the gang was performing satanic worship rituals to a shrine, she told them they were wasting their time. The offered the statue a cigarette in compensation but said he needed a soul instead. Genesis, the bright beginning, met her end on the side of the road.

As I prepare to march tomorrow, my heart is full of anger and grief. I don’t know if I can handle the swells of fear that come with working for hope. There are no sidelines for me though. My students deserve safety. They deserve it in the classroom and outside of the classroom. There are arguments about legal guns, illegal guns, rights, and “what-ifs”. I have to say though, I’m not ready to listen to them until you sit with my students huddled behind my desk- all their lanky high school bodies crammed against each others for the tin protection of a metal set of drawers. Listen to them try to slow their breathing, wavering between cracking jokes and crying. Feel them jolt against each other when the administrator, (thank God this time it’s a drill), bangs on the door and jostles the lock. Remember that they do this every two months- huddled in the corner. As one of my students described it, “Miss, it feels like we are practicing to die.” Then talk to me.

I am not willing for kids dying to be a part of my normal world. I don’t want it for my students. I don’t want it for my son. I don’t want it for all of the teachers who pour their hearts and souls into this wonderful terrible art of creating better human beings.

Give up the guns.


(I also want to take a moment to grieve the fact that kids who look like my students- Latino and Asian and African and Middle Eastern- live in areas of higher gun incidents. They mention that they don’t play outside because of stray shots. The thread of gun violence runs straight through the tapestry of their community both gang related and police related. They are more likely to be shot, to have a friend shot, to experience the trauma I pray never touches them. No kid should have the context to tell me that a video we are watching has “fake guns” because they know what the real ones sound like in apartment complexes and down their street. This march is driven by the story of a white kid shooting other kids but it’s not a new story to many of my students. I’m glad that we can gather in grief but I don’t want to support a story that ignores that this suffering has been going on for years and years in places that rarely get the coverage and sympathy. Keep the narrative complex please!)

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The perpetual Lent

I need a break from Lent.

An acquaintance used that line on a friend’s post about preparing for Lent and it hit me like a load of bricks. I’m a baby Episcopalian without a lot of Lent background but I know enough to know that lasting till Ash Wednesday is not a very impressive record for waving the white flag. Bear with me. Although I didn’t grow up in the liturgical tradition, I see great value in its cyclical pattern and guided seasons. For such a time as this, etc. From my experience, Lent is about peeling back layers, about experiencing intentional discomfort to recenter yourself, and about loss.

I’ve been living in Lent. A period of time stretching back almost a year now of reorganizing my priorities and stripping back expectations that I once considered obvious and essential. I am so very hungry for Easter, for new birth. Today, crumpled on the couch, I confessed that all around me I see people in the “creation” stages of their life with baby showers, and due dates, new jobs, and exciting moves. I’m happy for them but I’m also crushed. I feel trapped in a long slow decomposition. Life hurts. I can hope that this decomposition sensation is also one of fertilization: that something richer and beautiful will grow out of it. In the moment, it just feels like an extended abrasion in which every moment stretches out another sore spot.

This week I was diagnosed with PTSD. That sounds shocking and dramatic and I want to acknowledge that there is a gigantic chasm of PTSD and I’m firmly convinced and grateful that I am in the shallow end of that riptide. Still, it’s there. It shows up when I’m driving, glance back to see my happy baby and freeze into an alternate reality in which it’s just the two of us, forever. I get nausea when my phone goes off at night and I can’t go back to sleep. I no longer have a mental setting of “I’m sure everything is fine” if I miss a phone call or can’t get a hold of Andrew. It’s exhausting. I struggle with anger because after so much it’s just not fair that I’m still hurting, I’m still scared, and I’m still so unsure.

Last week marked six months since Andrew’s last attempt. From a linear standpoint that should have been a celebratory milestone. Depression is not quite linear though and my discomfort and unease have been ratcheting up steadily for three weeks now. For most of the years of our marriage, we knew that late fall is when things started getting tough and the caution lights went on for our social interactions, our check-ins, and our speed of life in general. If we made it to spring break though, we were normally in the clear. Things would start easing up and by summer there would be a few glorious months of laughter and impulsiveness and easy connection. That pattern was significantly disrupted last year where spring break marked a steep downturn in Andrew’s depression and the spiral flew out of control throughout the summer. In my head, six months in is a halfway point but on the wheel of time it’s more like that horrible old riddle of “how far can you walk into a forest”. The answer of course is “only halfway because then you start going out”. In this case though, we’re trapped in a nightmare forest where there is no “getting out” and now there’s only a count down to the next traumatic breakdown.

To clarify, Andrew is doing really well. I’m so proud of how active and decisive he’s been about consistent medication and doctor appointments plus doing the nitty gritty self-care stuff that can be so easily overlooked when you feel bad. He’s doing much better than me at asking for help for example. :)

With political anger and abuse, mysterious medical bills, and the perpetual panic of “what-if”, I don’t have a lot of cushion right now. My students are experiencing pressure and pain in this racially charged environment and it’s showing up in behavior. I’ve lost more students to dropping out this year than I have in all my other years of teaching combined. My emotional grace and joy is at a rough low and I’m finding myself trapped in ugly cycles of apathy because I just can’t and desperation to be the best teacher ever because it’s so obvious the kids need it. A sentence I read this morning nails it perfectly. “Every day, a teacher has both succeeded and failed.” Every single day, I could tell you a beautiful moment, a breakthrough, a funny English error we learned about. Every same day I could tell you about a kid quitting, a student throwing a book, being called a whole range of things just under someone’s breath. Every day I feel a little closer and a whole lot farther away from the teacher I want to be.  This week that wound got much much deeper.

*For those who are sensitive to descriptions of violence and assault, please stop here.*

This Friday, while this post paused in my drafts folder for me to contemplate if life was really hard enough to countenance sharing it, I received heartbreaking news. Before classes started I was paged over the intercom to go to the counselor’s office. Being in mid conversation with my team leader, I must have looked confused because he proceeded to tell me, in the middle of the hallway with shocking calmness, that one of my students had died. Not an accident, not a tragic coincidence that leaves us shaken in our grief. No, my fifteen year old chickadee, my student, one of mine, had been murdered. The details as they emerged between the counselor’s whispers and my Google searches revealed layer after layer of evil. Lord have mercy.

She had been missing for weeks. I sent email after email, was told that when she was marked a “runaway” that it was now the police’s business. I had asked her friends, they said she had a fight with her mom, was living with a friend. It’s not an uncommon story with my kids. I checked with them again, she was going to a new school, probably. I remember asking if I wrote her a note if they could take a picture and text it to her. Of course they could.

I never wrote the note.

Logically I know, it would have done nothing. It wouldn’t have protected her from the men who held her captive, who assaulted and raped her, who killed her as an appeasement to the Beast they feared and worshiped. In a world of evil, I am so weak and powerless. But I had a chance to send her love, to share that she was worth something. I missed my chance.

Job cried out, “I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, “when shall I arise” But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till dawn.” (7:3-4)

I cannot speak for her mother, for her friends, for her little brother that she wrote me papers about. I do not know their grief and their guilt, their fear and sorrow. I can only carry my heart. I only know that I am weary to my bones. I am drowning in sand that shifts and swallows me up. I am rocked with anger. I don’t want to talk to God.

She was a child. A good reader who sassed as good as she got in a morning class full of attitudes, she made friends and was kind to her seatmate who struggled with the simplest of questions. She laughed at my exaggerated faces and hated to see her class fall behind the reading competition. She told me about fights with her mom. She walked arm in arm with her friends in the mornings before class. She was a CHILD.

I have never hated the past tense more.

In all the storms of my life, and there have been dark and terrible storms, my narrative faith has stood me well. How great the triumph after the battle. Redemption requires a certain loss. The sovereignty of God is a mighty and mysterious thing. Yet I will confess in the throes of this, I can see no brightness. I see no hope. The law can promise retribution, but no justice. The dawn will not bring a miraculous call of celebration. Her body was left on the side of the road. Her story is ended.

Lent is a long forty days and Christ who loved us sweat blood before the tragedy that it culminates in.  The suffering of this year has sapped me to the bone. I don’t know how to sweat blood. I can’t reach my hands out for grace when I picture Genesis afraid and without succor. I can’t pray for healing and strength without wondering where her Rescuer was. I don’t know how to receive the joy of Easter right now.



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Where are you, Christmas?

One of my favorite fairy tales is that of Tam Lin. There are various versions but in my preferred version, Tam Lin is stolen away from his true love by the Fae Queen. Janet, determined to win him back, intercepts him at a crossroads as he rides with the regal procession on his way to be tithed to Hell. She pulls him from his horse and clings to him while the Queen laughs. Tam Lin, you see, doesn’t recognize her. He doesn’t know the hands holding him or the voice calling him to come home. He’s deep under the Queen’s spell and she mocks the poor country girl for ever imagining she could compete with her power. Undaunted, Janet grasps Tam Lin and refuses to let him go. Mockingly, the Queen decides to make a game of it, testing Janet till she surrenders Tam Lin of her own accord and thuse breaks any claim she has on him. She transforms the knight into a writhing snake, a burning weight of iron, a slavering wolf. Terrified, bleeding, and afraid, Janet clings to Tam Lin, repeating over again, “I love him and he is my own.” Tam Lin becomes a sharp blade, a lion with stinking breath, and a rat with bloody eyes. Janet will not let him go. As the hour of dawn slides over the horizon, the Queen in fury abandons Tam Lin in his human form and leaves the two ragged and broken lovers at the crossroads.

It’s a beautiful story of determination and strength against incredible odds. Love overcomes all. But I wonder more and more, what happened after that moment? Is Janet scarred, her pretty face cut with claws and fangs? Does she start back at sudden noises, at a dog howling in the night? Will Tam Lin be able to come back into the human world, being some seven years trapped in the faerie realm? How do they go on? What does love look like after the time of testing when the weariness and healing can last dawn after dawn? Perhaps it’s a story I’ll write one day, but for now I wish someone else had written it. I want to know the ending. I want to know how many more dawns I have to go till the spell is just a memory instead of a wound.

Christmas is coming. We are weeks into the season and the music and images are everywhere. We know the magic of a comforting Christmas: it’s real connection with the ones you love, time spent creating moments of peace, and a period of reflection and treasuring up. There’s special food, and intentional beauty like a tree and sparkling decorations. It’s a holy pause to celebrate the fulfillment of promises through Scripture and remember the provisions of the year past. Artists use the image of a family curled up next to a fire to tap into our desires for relationship and tranquility. Musicians blend high formal music with melodies we can hum along to more or less on pitch for carols. Comforting Christmas is a beautiful and rich tradition that echoes the desire for all cultures to refocus on community during the winter, where work slows, the fields lay fallow, and the time to be busy grows short while the hearth hours grow long. Comforting Christmas is good and righteous.

This year is not going to be a comforting Christmas. While writing this piece, the song “Where are you Christmas” from that cozy classic Grinch that Stole Christmas played several times. It strikes a chord:  “My world is changing, I’m rearranging, Does that mean Christmas is changing too?” There’s a deep temptation in my heart to resent the “loss” of comforting Christmas. After all, that’s what everyone gets right? It’s essentially a social right to have a time in which quiet hearts and friendships, giving and receiving, hope and joy are the by-words of the season.

This year, I’m far from comforted. I am weeping and grieving, I am raw with exhaustion and fear. I have been carrying a heavy load for a long time and the sorrow is constant. In the next week or so, I’m grading exams, final projects, and sending my kids off for two weeks into what I hope is a comforting Christmas. My apartment is undecorated and in disarray because I’m packing up and moving my little crew across town. My best friend is moving hours away. My sister, who has been living with me as amazing support, is making some new roommates the luckiest girls on earth. A late night phone call yesterday sent me into a panic attack because all I could fathom was that the psychiatric hospital was calling to let me know my husband had attempted again. I’ve spent hours this week writing and weeping as I try to get a hold on this summer. Grief is a prickly beast. This is not a time of tranquility, of easing the heart. The discrepancy between that image and my reality is stark and painful.

This is a different type of Christmas: a Christmas of courage. This summer, I thought that I might be a widow by December. I was swamped in fear and sorrow and trauma. I held onto discipline and purpose and the undeniable truth that Andrew was mine and I was not going to let him go. Dawn broke the way it does, slowly and gradually with shadows stretching forward into the day until they burn away under the light. Andrew has come farther out of the grip of this depression than I could have imagined or dreamed in these last months. There is great joy and grace in this. Life goes on and so it goes. It is good. The courage of this Christmas is facing the fact that the life is not going to self-correct into the same trajectory we were in prior to this summer. Our marriage, jobs, finances, medical needs, and fears are drastically different. There’s no restart, simply because the crisis is over. Everything has changed. Everything is rearranged. So where are you, Christmas? Are you changing too?

I think of Mary, swollen and pregnant and clambering on and off that donkey to pee every five miles. I was pregnant- it may have been every three miles. We don’t judge. I think of her going into an unknown space without the social norms to guide her. I think of her giving birth without her mom, without spaces and faces that feel like home. I remember that moment that I first held Eamon and realized that I will be vulnerable for the rest of my life. My heart lives in this tiny fragile body and I cannot defend it from all the world. What a tremendous weight that was. How much more so for Holy Mary who sees before her a road of surrendering a child that is not hers to claim, to somehow mothering and worshipping the Son of God? My God picked a woman of courage and grace because she chose at the moment of truth to praise Him instead of reject him. She took what looked like the shambles of her plans and magnified the Lord for showing her favor. I think of Hannah who wept for a child and then returned him back to God. I wept for my husband, beseeched and begged for mercy and grace. How great is the Lord that he has answered my prayer! How tight and fearful is my heart in the tension and chaos that is my desire to hold control, to protest my right to rest and certainty! Christmas is Christ in the disarray, the holy in the midst of the mess, the physical projection of love at it’s most vulnerable and most powerful. We know what it is to be loved like this: when someone opens the most precious parts of their life to you and says “look, and be welcome”.  

This Christmas, ya’ll I am a mess. I am crying, and angry, and overwhelmed. I don’t like my heart’s pain, my body after months of stress eating, my turned-up-to-eleven feelings. I am without a nest, without a five year plan, and without the energy to cover up how that makes me anxious. I am also blessed beyond measure. My husband is with me and he laughs again. My family is near and they love me. My God is good and just. This Christmas is going to take courage: strength to be grateful, support to be focused, and freedom to let go of what could have been. I figure, if I need a reminder, I can always look to Mary and Janet.

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The stagnation cycle.

As Andrew is back to work, I spend a lot of time by myself. To be specific, I spend a lot of time sitting on my couch holding Eamon and staring vapidly at my phone or Facebook or Facebook on my phone. It’s nice. There are few things that beat a small snuggly creature leaning against you with all their warm body weight. When they are asleep, it’s like having the perfect wrap-around heater- all soft and formfitting. Awake, of course, is another matter.

Generally, in between breastfeeding and coaxing him back to sleep, I’ve found myself with little mental “spark” to do anything else during the day. While he’s eating, I distract myself with Solitaire or my thousandth episode of “Property Brothers” (a fantastic show in which two brothers find terrible homes and fix them up ridiculously stylishly. I now know far more than I should about the average price of an undermount sink and the comparative values of quartz vs marble countertops.) When I get him to sleep, precariously and preciously, I don’t want to risk waking him enough to move. All of this leaves me very anchored to whatever seat I picked at whatever state of half-awake I was in when Eamon decided first breakfast was in order.

I’ve found it’s left me anchored in another way too. I spend time in a dazed cycle of the same four or five websites. I glance at Facebook or Instagram, scroll through Pinterest dreaming up ideas I will totally do when I have free time ( so you know, never), giggle at silly animal pictures, and begin again. Occasionally I stretch myself by reading various articles my friends share or checkin a blog or two but in essence I tread the same mental space ad nauseum.

Not only does this leave me feeling stagnant and intellectually bloated, it also makes my conversations with Andrew rather redundant. Today I….fed the baby, changed the baby, and celebrated when the baby went to sleep….. All I can offer is a recap of whatever captivating renovation challenge was unearthed in a 130 year old home on today’s episode. (Seriously though the show is awesome, even though I cannot for the life of me understand why people buying old homes are repeatedly shocked by the fact that the house is not in prime condition. OF COURSE IT HAS BAD PIPES- it was built before the first World War!)  While absorbing in person, it makes for less than scintillating secondhand reports. I am becoming dull.

One of my favorite books is Little Women (which by the way is technically two books Little Women and Good Wives but is currently published in one volume under the more popular title name). In the latter half of Little Women, Meg – that perfect doll child- acquires some interest by virtue of having two children and being promptly tyrannized by them. She spends all of her time absorbed in their latest habits, their needs and wants, and wears herself close to sick with her outpouring of loving (if undisciplined) affection for the babies. Meanwhile, her husband goes unnoticed except as a temporary audience of Demi or Daisy’s latest skill before Meg returns to the sacrificial altar of babyhood. Not surprisingly, their marriage begins to sour. Meg complains that John is often gone, comes home late, and seems far more interested in popping over to his friends house than staying home. Marmee, in all her wisdom, points out that Meg has made John an interloper in his own home, has ignored everything but the babies, and has in essence set aside all the things that used to make her a pleasant person. At first, Meg is shocked (Marmee SHOULD be on her side) and argues that she’d doing it “for the babies’ sake” but Marmee shuts that right down and tells her the baby need a present father and a happy mother who set rules and boundaries rather than an indulgent nursemaid who gives in to every whim. *shots fired*. Meg backs down, straightens up, and turns her attitude around. (If you are a kinetic thinker, that sentence definitely counts as exercise.) She makes intentional time for just the couple, works to engage him on his daily life, and allows him into the nursery. Their marriage gets back on track and the whole family is much happier for Marmee’s words of wisdom.

That little plotline has been running through my head recently. Andrew has not ( just to be clear) acquired any of John’s evasion techniquesl I have been thinking though about how I want to invest my time. “IN THE BABY” I hear a chorus of voices ringing out. The time goes too quickly, you’re gonna miss this when it’s gone, the whole country song with bridge and backup guitar. That’s totally true! But in the moments where Eamon is asleep or eating, the house is quiet, and the choice falls to me, I want to make wise choices. So here are my daily goals to make motherhood an experience that grows all of me- not merely my ability to distinguish between 18 different crying noises. :)

1. Drink six BIG cups of water or herbal tea a day.

2. Listen to at least one TED talk a day. There’s so much to learn and a short ten minute speech is the perfect size to kickstart my brain. Today’s watch was and it was awesome. :) This will also give me new ideas to think about and to discuss with Andrew or other visitors.

3. Read for at least one hour. It’s the best brain break in the world. The only problem is that if the story is too good, I become irrationally irked by interruption- AKA Eamon. So, I’ll have to work on that…or just read lame books?

So if you come to visit, help hold me accountable! Refill my water cup, ask what I’ve read lately, or suggest your latest favorite TED talk! It’s going to keep being a good life!

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an old blog post. :)

As I’m eagerly awaiting news of my newest niece starting her trip Earthside, I find myself checking Molly’s blog even though i know she’s got much bigger things to think about other than writing a new post. :) This made me think of how much I have enjoyed reading her thoughts through her pregnancy and pushed me to get a little journal-y (although every journal I’ve ever begun has possibly 5 entries. It’s not my strong point.)

Anyways, we are at 24 weeks which seems remarkably significant for no reason that I can identify. I am definitely bumping, as my students are delighted to point out at every possible occasion. Maternity clothes are my new best friend and I’m a full convert into the passionate appreciation for stretchy pants club. Is there a club like this? If not, I’ll start one. Anyways…..

Eamon has begun kicking up a storm. It ranges from butterfly brushes that I may have imagined to full-on wallops that have me fairly convinced he will be playing soccer straight from the womb. Last night he did a kick/punch combo that was both impressive in strength and surprising because it showcased just how big he is getting! It never ceases to surprise me and generally happens every hour or so. So far only Andrew and Bex have been able to catch him in action but I have a feeling by Christmas he will be kicking hello to everyone. This constant motion is reassuring at one level because it soothes the constant worry that something disastrous has happened.

On the other hand, it’s been driving (or kicking) home a concept that I often struggle with: I’m never alone. At the most practical level, being pregnant has placed me in constant community with a being that I cannot see, cannot communicate with, and can only sense when he reaches out to me. My solitude and self-dependence is gone because no matter how alone I appear to be, he and I are always interacting with each other’s needs. (I’d love it if he could work out some sort of Morse code instead of making me dizzy, nauseous, or emotional as communication but hey, that’s what all those early childhood development courses I took are for!) It’s a crowded community but he and I are making it work.

The idea of making it work combined with surrendering my own sense of self is one that I’ve been learning over and over again. I think it’s one of the more potent lessons in life and one that is directly driven by God’s plan of marriage. Even though at times I feel like I’m getting a crash course in interdependency, these are actually classes I’ve been taking for years- two and a half of them to be precise. One of my hardest struggles as a newlywed was waiting to make plans till I had talked to Andrew- from social plans, to work commitments, and school schedules suddenly became “our” business rather than just mine. I had to calculate budget and energy with a shared mindset instead of thinking that I could just push though one more thing or cut corners somewhere else. Andrew, as has been a constant pattern in our relationship, has been unfailingly patient with this whole process. Before I’m even close to be ready for the level of self-sacrifice that comes with caring for an infant, I needed lots of practice with things like weekend plans and how much to spend for birthdays.

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In which things fall apart.

Yesterday afternoon while monitoring recess, a student slammed a soccer ball not into the net but into my stomach. It was quite the shot. The ball knocked me back and I sat down abruptly. Thankfully I was with two other teachers who responded perfectly. It was late in the day so Andrew was on campus and one teacher immediately went to find him. Mia, my coteacher, helped me get up and we headed into the building. Andrew was there for his afternoon job but was able to get off of work. I was feeling mainly sore and in shock but we couldn’t get Eamon to move around so our midwife recommended going to the ER. The closest one was called Grace- a good sign I thought. :) I have to say, of all the ER places I have been, this one was the best. They gave us excellent service and attention with focused and cheerful care. They even had crushed ice for me! We were there about 4 hours before we left with some very mixed news.

The good news is that Eamon doesn’t seem to be injured, my water didn’t break, and there wasn’t any bleeding. That’s wonderful short term news. The bad news was rather staggering though. My iron levels have plummeted again which has my midwife very concerned. She will be reaching out to the obgyn that she partners with to discuss further options but homebirth is looking like a long range shot. Then it gets worse. After relooking at the ultrasound, my midwife noted a big problem. The force of the ball hit Eamon so hard that it flipped him. Instead of being head down and ready to go as he’s been for weeks, he is now feet first with his head up in my ribs. As a first time mom, a breech baby (according to my midwife) would not be even attempted to birth naturally. Do not pass go, straight to c-section. There is a slim chance that I may be able to get him to flip back but generally this close to my due date ( Monday) the baby simply doesn’t have enough room to move like that unless propelled by trauma.

My midwife told me last night that I have until Monday to get the baby to flip and then they will be scheduling a c-section. The doctor that my midwife works with is out of network for me and the insurance will not cover her at all so I will be finding a stranger. I am currently calling obgyns in our area and asking to set up interviews. My timeline is very very short. I’ve found two doctors who are willing to take me on at this point. One wants to meet me and then do the surgery on Friday. I’m praying for one of them be kind and gracious and not have any slots for a surgery for at least a week. I will also be doing stretches, going to a chiropractor, and praying like mad for this baby to turn. Today I went to Target and bought a swimsuit so that I could go do handstands in the pool. :) Yes, it apparently looked as hilarious as it sounds. Thank God for Houston weather and being able to swim the first day of April.

Andrew is awesome. He took off work today and spent the morning planning a list of things to keep me busy and distracted. We went to my favorite breakfast spot, spent an hour at Half-Price Books in the children’s section finding baby books for Eamon and wandered around Target dreaming about our new apartment and looking at onesies. He’s been right there with me sitting on hold as we sift through conflicting insurance information, search for doctors, and research any crazy thing that might get this guy head-down in a safe way. I couldn’t imagine tackling this without him.

Emotionally I am really hurting right now. Andrew and I are both struggling to adapt to this very drastic change from the birth experience we have been imagining and dreaming together since before we knew Eamon existed. It’s hard not to let anger at a stupid soccer ball overwhelm me. It’s hard to fight back the frustration that after all of the work, research, preparation, and money we’ve invested that I’m going to most likely end up in the last place I wanted to be: the operating table. It’s a major surgery and that’s pretty scary. Many people have reached out and reminded me that the important thing is a healthy baby and that’s absolutely true but that’s not the only important thing. This is a brutal shift in the story line and it’s a painful experience to suddenly be thrown into a situation I never thought I would face. I’m deeply overwhelmed by the long lists of questions that I don’t have answers to. We will be alright and I have faith that God has a plan that’s better than mine but right now everything in my heart hurts.

Please pray with us for:        kind gracious doctors

peace that passes understanding

this baby to flip himself back around

a sense of organization and preparation

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Teaching at YES taught me.

At officially one week left at YES, I’ve been thinking a lot about the lessons that I’ve learned teaching here for two years and the ways that I see YES leaving a permanent mark on my life. More than anything, this has been a place that I’ve loved because it is a place that is full of love: love of learning, love of students, and a steadfast love of the potential in every human being. When people asked me why I chose a school with longer hours and higher expectations, my response has always been because it works. This system is designed to provide for needs, develop relationships, and feed hope with a steady diet of support and discipline. Senior Signing Day remains one of the most emotional and powerful experiences in my life and will always be a treasured memory but the daily victories are golden too. With all of that, here are my 10 lessons from YES, with thoughts on how it has prepared me for my next big adventure in life. :)

1. Being on the struggle bus (or driving it, or being dragged behind it) doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your destination. There will be days where I can’t remember what sleep felt like, or alone time, or finishing a book in one day. It will still be worth it. 

2. A wizard ALWAYS leaves a place better than they found it. Always. Picking up trash, moving that one thing back to where it goes, cleaning as I go will help keep the house from being a baby disaster zone (maybe). 

3. Asking for help before the ugly-crying in the breakroom is better but asking for help after the meltdown is also good. I’m going to need SO much help- might as well skip the breakdowns and get it before it’s a crisis. Pride won’t get me through like community will. 

4. Having the same heart for a mission doesn’t always mean agreeing on the method- and that’s good and healthy. Establishing norms of mutual overlap keeps teams together even when discussions get …heated. Andrew and I will disagree on how to best handle and guide Eamon. Other family members, friends, and probably strangers will have advice, concerns, and input. Calibrating intention and mutual love will allow those interactions to be purposeful instead of painful. 

5. Put it in the survey! Feedback is important but it’s even more important to have follow-up on how to reincorporate new ideas into an existing structure and to ensure that each person feels heard and valued. Relationships matter in real time not just in the vague sense of an overarching goal, so taking time to hear and interact with other’s concerns and areas of conflict should be part of an intentional discipline on my part rather than a “push through it” moment so that we can get on with life. Investing that time in communication will preserve resources and keep our community strong. 

6. It is actually possible to heat your lunch, use the restroom, and eat your lunch in seven minutes. That said- an extra ten or twenty minutes of savoring goes a long way towards sanity. Efficiency is a skill I’ve learned, and will keep getting better at. I know it’s going to be important as I try and figure out how to take care of a little one AND myself. Taking time to treasure moments of peace is also a skill that will preserve my health and patience. They are not in conflict. 

7. Simple sub plans will save your life. Even if it’s not the fantastically intricate 12 step jigsaw that you were sure would transform your student’s perception of Shakespeare, in times of need, pulling out that documentary or silent reading time still counts! Sometimes Baby Einstein or Mommy’s phone will pull babysitting duty. It’s not ideal, but it’s not a moral failure and I need to remember that I’m a person with real needs too. 

8. Structures and systems reduce stress- once they work. Investing in a set-up and solidifying how it runs keeps the minute-to-minute freestyling down and gives you attention space to catch those teachable moments. Andrew and I have already discussed sick day plans for when Eamon comes down with something- now it’s not a topic to ambush us with the first fever. In the same way, building patterns and plans may take more energy that I feel like I can muster but it’s going to be vital for me to get a routine down- even though I’m not great at them. Diaper washing- I’m looking at you! 

9. People are always in progress. It doesn’t matter the situation, age, or background, we are always learning and adjusting to things around us. Sometimes that’s invigorating, and sometimes it’s exhausting. Sensitivity to those shifts is key.  I’m going to be a new mom. Andrew will be a new dad. My parents will be new grandparents. CrayCray will be getting LOTS of day-t0-day baby time once school starts back up. All of these things are going to be interesting, draining and terrifying in waves. 

10. Shout-outs matter. Choosing to celebrate others is an active step in declaring that the world is good, that hope is at hand, and that Mondays can be redeemed. You never know who really needed those two claps that day. Active gratitude and an eye for celebration invigorates both the giver and the receiver. If I can be looking for good, it leaves a lot less energy for focusing on the bad. It costs me nothing to give genuine thanks for the things that others do. 

BONUS. Making people is hard. It’s okay to be tired, frustrated, overwhelmed, and desperate for the weekend because it is actually bonebreaking, mindmelting, spiritsucking work- unless you do it out of love. Taking time to love a student, a coworker, a curriculum first will sustain you through the jarring reality of how difficult it is to change lives.

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