Mama arms are strong, but Mama hearts are stronger

Mama arms are strong.
They carry and carry, lift and lift.
Making sure babies are held and toddlers corralled.
Muscles defined like never before.

Mama arms are strong.
They carry and carry, lift and lift.
Making sure lunches are made and backpacks are packed.
Loaded with bags as she heads out the door.

Mama arms are strong.
They carry and carry, lift and lift.
Making sure sheets are bought and pictures are hung.
Embracing in the dorm as she whispers, “Just one more”.

Mama arms are strong.
They carry and carry, lift and lift.
Making sure wedding details are sorted and hearts are at peace.
Wiping her eyes as the pair grace the dance floor.

Mama arms are strong.

But one day those physical arms won’t be needed to carry, won’t be able to lift.

And that is just fine.
Because those strong Mama arms?
They do their job well, but they merely represent.

Represent the strength and love of a Mama’s heart.

Because Mama hearts –
They carry and carry, lift and lift.

Carrying their babies close forever, no matter how big.
Lifting their love to the heavens to pour down on their kids, no matter how far.

Mama arms are strong, but only because the love in Mama hearts is far stronger.

And that strength lasts for always.

The sanctification process that is the postpartum period

sanc·ti·fy (v)

present participle- sanctifying

Webter’s Dictionary defines this word as:

“set apart as or declare holy; consecrate”

“to impart or impute sacredness, inviolability, or respect to”

“to purify”

I gave birth to my third baby two and a half weeks ago so I am in the throes of the postpartum period – or the 4th trimester, as it’s often called.

Diapers overflow the trashcans in basically every room.

Spit up is on virtually every shirt I own, and every onesie he wears.

Giant pads still grace our bathroom, alongside the squirt bottle sitting next to the toilet.

Stitches, not yet dissolved, a physical reminder of the force a 10lb6oz baby has when making his way through the birth canal and into the world head-first.

Lanolin cream stashed in all the common nursing spots, to hopefully prevent the cracks and blood that accompanied my previous two nursing journeys.

Sleep coming in two to three hour stretches, bleary eyes half open as I answer the midnight cries of the babe by my bedside.

This is not my first time experiencing the postpartum period.

But, it is my first time seeing it as sanctifying.

“To purify.”

As I rock my sweet babe in the middle of the night, clad in giant pad and spit-up crusted nursing tank – I am being purified.

As I sit out from the pool until my stitches have healed, with my guy strapped to my chest, perfect lips trembling in the way only newborn lips can – I am being purified.

As I do the tenth load of laundry in a week, in between cuddles and snuggles, the scent of laundry soap mixing with that distinct baby smell that only lasts so long – I am being purified.

As work is put on hold, the general busyness of life comes to a slow crawl, but the hours in the day are long and repetitive – I am being purified.

As I have to tell my daughters I can’t play with them right now, but witness them dote lovingly on their brother – I am being purified.

Purified from selfishness. My body, time, and energy are devoted to caring for the wee one that depends on me for survival.

Purified from pride. Motherhood is the ultimate humbler, reminding me I can’t do it all and help is to be accepted.

Purified from busyness. Slowness is forced upon me, and it is a gift.

Purification and sanctification.

So, yes, this 4th trimester? It is intense. It is messy. It is painful. It is exhausting.

But, oh. It is healing. It is beautiful. It is love-filled.

It is sacred.

And for it, I am exceedingly thankful.

Babies aren’t babies for long, so I’m gonna hold this last one a little bit longer.

My first baby and my almost-here-3rd-baby.

There’s something surreal about discovering your first baby’s first loose tooth the same week you hit 38weeks of pregnancy with your 3rd baby.

Like, that first baby tooth could fall out the very same week that 3rd baby is born.

A wide gap tooth smile meeting a gummy one- one kid already having outgrown the very tooth the other has yet to even begin to grow.

The unexpected full circle-ness hit me in the gut as I stared at my “baby”’s excited face right as I felt a tiny fist punch me in the hip.

Just one more shock to the heart and confirmation that my first baby is slowly, but much too quickly, putting more and more distance between who she is now and the day when she resided safely in my body.

That distance will just keep growing, as she starts Kindergarten the same week the new little one will go to daycare for the first time – in 4 short months.

I stare at her as she dances with so much fire and personality in our living room- with more rhythm than I’ve ever had- and see her as the couple week old baby who couldn’t keep her pudgy legs from moving to the beat.

I watch her help her two-year old sister “do gymnastics” in the backyard and clearly remember her curly little head jumping courageously from the stairs as an unusually coordinated toddler, demonstrating the fearlessness she still exhibits today.

I see these things happening as I rub my, now huge, belly and can’t help but think God knew what He was doing when he graced us with this new little guy – right when He did.

I’ll have a new tiny sidekick to rock and read “That’s not my Monkey” to, as my big girl starts to read books on her own.

I’ll experience the joy of watching wobbly legs take their first steps as I watch long, strong legs walk confidently across the balance beam at gymnastics.

I’ll have one more time of experiencing the all encompassing dependence on me, right as my first born needs me less and less.

With this almost-here-3rd baby, I’ll experience his firsts and know just how incredibly special and fleeting they are. Marveling in a way I didn’t know to with my first baby’s firsts, and didn’t have the time or energy to with my second baby’s firsts.

And as his little baby teeth start to pop through those pink gums, I’ll see a glimpse of the future as I look over at his big sister and see her first grown up tooth popping up at the same time.

I’ll see these things and feel my heart burst with pride and love and all the things a Mama heart feels as she watches her babies grow up before her eyes.

And I’ll squeeze that new little baby even harder, and hold him a little longer.

Because I know first hand how fast my babies lose that title of “baby” to everyone but me.

Becoming Mama to someone new – Can you ever actually be ready?

“Are you ready?”

They see my large, round belly and waddling gait at 37 weeks and ask.

I think about the logistical things they could be referring to and say, “Almost. We should probably buy a few more diapers. And pack the hospital bag.” Because this is the 3rd baby and eh, it’ll be fine.

“Are you ready?”

They see me loading my 2 little girls into our van and ask.

I think about adding another little to our crew and say, “We are excited! The girls are excited to have a little brother. I think they’ll be a big help. Just need to put the infant carseat in the car.”

“Are you ready?”

They hear me mention work and ask.

I think about the projects I’m passing off and the 12 weeks of unpaid time off I’m taking and say, “I’m ready to not work for a bit, but still can’t believe my company doesn’t have any paid time off.  Good thing I’ve got some time saved up!”

“Are you ready?”

They remember my previous 2 birth stories and ask.

I think about the birth course I’ve taken, the app I listen to every night, and the 300 page book I’ve read  in an attempt to calm my nerves and be as prepared as possible this time around and say, “Actually, I’m way more prepared for labor and birth than I was with the other two so I’m feeling hopeful!”

“Are you ready?”

I hear this question over and over now, and usually answer it with some half answer like the ones above.

Not quite sure what the asker means.

And not quite sure how to honestly answer.

Because this isn’t my first time buying diapers and pacifiers in anticipation of midnight changings and fussy cries.

It isn’t my first time anticipating the pain and frustration of breastfeeding during those early days/weeks/months wondering if I’m doing something wrong.

It isn’t my first time organizing tiny clothes, thinking there is no way a human could fit into anything so small, only to be surprised when it fits just right.

It isn’t my first time giving birth, or recovering from the huge physical, mental and emotional feat that is childbirth.

It isn’t my first time adjusting to an additional child, feeling torn between wanting to spend as much time with the first kid as before, but needing to tend to the new one instead.

I’ve done all these things. Most of them twice.

So you’d think, the answer to the question at hand would be an easier, “yes!”

And maybe for those things listed above, that’s true.

But…

“Are you ready?”

My mama heart knows.

It knows that those things above, while important and huge and sometimes overwhelming, are not the biggest adjustment of having a child.

Because it isn’t my first time.

Not my first time having my heart ripped from my chest to forever walk around outside my body, in the same surge of power and guttural cry that marks the end of a nine month oneness with another human being.

Not my first time feeling an instant love, almost terrifyingly powerful, mixed with slight panic as I gaze down and realize this tiny person snoozing in my arms is 100% reliant on me.

Not my first time rocking and praying in the wee hours of the night that I will be the best Mama possible to this little soul entrusted to me on this Earth.

Not my first time feeling comingled grief and pride as I watch my baby become a toddler and my toddler become a child, seemingly in an instant.

No, this isn’t my first time.

Not my first time becoming “Mama” to someone new.

And somehow, that makes me less sure of the answer to the question.

“Are you ready?

Because, my Mama heart knows.

There’s no way to actually be ready for the transformation that takes place in your heart, mind, and soul when a tiny person looks up at you for the first time –

As their Mama.

The pain and grief of Saturday amplified the Joy of Sunday

“But why is it called Good Friday? If he died? They didn’t know he was coming back, right?”

This is what my 5year old asked me this week as we were talking about the upcoming weekend and what the different days it included. I told her it was called “Good Friday” because the Sunday after was the day Jesus resurrected, so it was a good thing for us that he died. She still looked puzzled but went on and said, “Well, what is Saturday?”

I paused and thought about it. What was Saturday? Friday was full of terror and pain and injustice and weeping at the cross. Sunday was full of shock and joy and grace and incomprehensible happiness at the empty tomb and upper room. But Saturday?

I imagine Saturday was dark and heavy and full of grief. Creation itself dampened and dulled.

Mary, waking with a cry in the night with swollen eyes and a broken heart, the image of her precious baby boy crying out on the cross, forever seared into her mind.

Jesus’ disciples, feeling the weight of their dear friend’s absence as they opened their eyes and shamefully remembered their scattering of the day before – feeling lost and alone without their Shepherd.

The women, gathering to cry and make logistical preparations to pay Jesus’ body respect the next day.

Jairus, and his very much alive daughter that Jesus had reached down into death to pull back into life– eating breakfast quietly together as tears silently slid down their faces.

The leper, surrounded by family and friends, because Jesus had crossed religious and cultural barriers to touch and heal him– weeping openly that his healer had been crucified.

The old lady who had been brave and full of faith to reach out her hand and touch Jesus’ cloak – given extra years of life – sitting in her house, staring out the window, unconsciously caressing her wrinkled cheek with her fingers, remembering the feel of the material and the piercing gaze of eyes blazing with love and compassion.

And the tomb. Full. Full of Jesus’ body while he experienced utter separation from his Father as he spent the day buried beneath the weight of human kind’s sin and sadness – cut off from Love.

Cut off from Love because of his great love – for us.

As we go about our Saturday sandwiched between somber Good Friday services and bright Easter Sunday services – let us not rush past the grief of Saturday.

And as we go about our lives, sandwiched between our births onto this Earth and the bright joyful Eternity – let us not rush past the grief and pain and other feelings that come from living this human life.

Because there is room, in this ultimate story of hope, for grief. In fact, deep sorrowful grief is built into this very story of hopeful joy.

So, there is room in our stories for it as well. In fact, our stories of grace and hope and joy have grief and sadness and disappointment built into them as well. It is what it means to be human.

We are not meant to sweep our feelings aside, much like Children’s Bible books sweep past Sad Saturday, just because “this is not our home.” Jesus makes it so very clear in his life, and in his death, that when bad things happen in this fleeting life? It is ok and healthy to feel them and be sad. Jesus WEPT when his friend Lazarus died, even though he, himself was about to raise him from the dead! And God could have resurrected Jesus 5 minutes after he died and took the weight of our sins. But he didn’t. He let Saturday happen.

You see. Saturday’s deep pain and grief? It did not cheapen the joy of the resurrection on Sunday. Absolutely, not.

In fact, the grief of Saturday amplified the joy of Sunday’s resurrection.

Just as the moments of suffering and grief in this human life we’ve been granted will amplify the joy of the Eternal Sunday we’ve been promised.

So yes. Sunday is coming. But remember – Saturday happened too.

If We Watch Our Kids, We Might Just Learn How to Make Friends

Several months ago, my (then) 4yr old made an announcement.

She was clad in one of her masterpieces of an outfit consisting of a bright green shirt with trees and little stick figure kids on the front paired with floral shorts. To top it off was a bright, multi-colored cloth headband situated atop her tangled curls in a fashion recognizable by Woodstock goers.

Right there in the Panda Express drive thru line, she propped her feet up on the back of my husband’s driver seat from her car-seat and declared,
“I made 3 new friends today. You know how you make friends? Play. And then one heart beats into another heart and then you’re friends.”

There we were in our Rav4, the smell of fried rice wafting through open windows, waiting on our orange chicken and chow mein. We had just picked up our two daughters from their second day back at daycare. They had been home for a 12-week pandemic induced quarantine where my husband and I both worked full time from home and attempted to keep our 2 and 4yr olds semi-occupied. Many of our daughters’ little pals hadn’t come back to daycare though. I cringe at the idea of going to social events where there are more than just my few close friends. So, thinking about our littles having to make new friends during a global pandemic instilled in me concern for what state their little hearts would be in when I buckled them back into their car seats.

“Oh yea? The hearts just beat into each other, huh? And then you are friends?” I asked, trying to mirror her casual tone.
“Well, no. You have to play first, Mama.”

I flicked my eyes, now the size of half dollars instead of their usual almond shape, over to my husband whose eyebrows had inched a little further towards his hair-line as he smiled a proud-dad-smile if I ever saw one. I turned, seat belt straining at my chest, and looked at this little girl of mine whose spirit drives her to dance with the same abandon of King David in the streets, yet had dropped an elegant and poignant truth bomb while waiting for take-out. I saw those bright brown eyes just looking out the window. Her lips playing catch with a shadow of a smile as she watched the red and black drive thru menu roll slowly out of sight behind us.

My 4-year old just described empathy and relational fundamentals. In a way that my graduate degree in counseling couldn’t touch, yet her thoughts were already on to those noodles she’d be eating for dinner.

Kids though. Gifted with the ability to compress the jumbled grains of sandy life into shards of truth, crystal clear and razor sharp. My daughter understood the secret of making, and keeping, friends in a simplistic way. She understood it and presented it as a truth that just… is.

If you want to make friends, you must play with other people.

Kids use play to interact with their environment and each other, it’s their form of communicating and learning. Learning how to build towers, sure, but also how they learn about each other. How they learn if their friend likes to run and jump or sit and pick flowers. How they learn who is sad when dropped off and who is sad when picked up. How they learn if their friend needs a high five for achieving something great, or a pat on the arm while they sit on the curb in silence after a fall. Playing is communication. It’s how they learn and act out empathy.

It’s how their “heart beats into another heart”.

Adults though. We don’t see strangers and invite them over for some Lego building or Frozen Castle play. Perhaps this is why we have a hard time remembering the simple yet elusive art of getting to know each other. Perhaps this is why my 60-credit hour graduate counseling program had whole classes dedicated to teaching us the importance of learning and acting out empathy. At some point, we’ve forgotten.

We need to remember how to play. Adult play involves engaging with people and learning about them; not just their political leanings or what football team is their favorite, but diving deeper into potentially awkward conversations and uncomfortable silences to discover joys and fears. Hopes and hurts. This means actively listening, without an agenda or need to flap our lips. We need to learn when to sit in silence, holding sacred space for pain, and when to shout with joy in celebration of each other’s victories. Being vulnerable with each other the way kids are naturally, before the building of walls and hardening of defenses.

We aren’t meant to do life alone. The hardwired need for connection is biological, emotional, and spiritual – my (now) 5 year old feels it. She feels her heart calling to other hearts like a beacon in a search and rescue mission, and she knows what to do. Now, more than ever, we need to dig deep and live with childlike abandon, allowing our hearts to call to one another. Allow them to call, and answer others’ call with empathy and intentionality.

We need to find those people whose hearts will beat into ours and call us friends.

The new baby is coming soon…

This doesn’t happen much anymore.

My two and a half year old fell asleep in the car and continued to sleep as I brought her inside. She typically wakes up as soon as the car stops, but after no nap and a long afternoon at the park, she was wiped. I debated waking her up as soon as I walked in the door but I looked at her perfect cheeks and realized- the new baby is coming soon.

I sat on the couch, draped a blanket over both of us and studied the symmetry of her face. The face that still has chubby cheeks to smooch, but is transfiguring from baby to child more and more each day. I stared and stared as my hubby and five year old wrestled on the floor, amazed that she had reverted to her infant-like ability to sleep through the chaos. I traced her nose and said out loud, “I should wake her up now,” but didn’t move because- the new baby is coming soon.

This little girl snoozing in my lap, who has been the baby for two and a half years? She relishes that baby position. She adores babies but also calls herself “a big girl baby” and asks to be carried in our arms like a baby when getting out of the bath. That little lady will be dethroned in a single day, not knowing what hit her as her new baby brother is born and brought home. She’s got four short months left as the baby. So I postponed dinner another twenty minutes and snuggled her close, after all – the new baby is coming soon.

As I watched her chest rise and fall the same way I did when she was just days old, I smiled to myself. I can pretend that extra twenty minutes of impromptu snuggling was a gift from God to this soon to be middle child, but I know better. This Mama heart knows it better than any; I was the one who needed my baby to sleep in my arms one more time for I know the full meaning of the phrase on repeat in my head- “the new baby is coming soon.”

My heart will always be your home, little one.

I feel you in there, little one.

Gentle, but there all the same.

A jolt here, a tickle there – reminding me of your miraculous presence inside my body.

Soon, your daddy will be able to feel your kicks with his hand and your sisters will squeal as they see my belly rumble and rise.

But for now, you and your life-proving acrobatics are all mine.

I see you there, little one.

Just a little bump, but there all the same.

Trusty jeans not fitting, favorite shirts stretching out – my slowly expanding body evidence of your own rapid growth.

Soon, strangers will ask to feel my obviously pregnant belly, flowy shirts no longer obscuring the life within.

But for now, my subtly rounded tummy is mine to wonder over and relish in.

I imagine you in there, little one.

Your tiny facial features hidden from the world, but there all the same.

Will your eyes be expressive and kind like your sister’s? Will you have your daddy’s smile?

Soon, your face will be ooh’d and ahh’d over by family and strangers alike, the focus of much adoration.

But for now, the details of you are known by my imagination alone.

My heart beats for you all the while, little one.

From the moment I saw the tiny “+” indicating your presence, you’ve been a part of me.

My heart pumping blood through our bodies, keeping us connected and alive.

My Mama soul whispering to yours in the confines of our hearts and wee hours of the night.

We have a special bond, you and me.

So, while I will rejoice when you are here in my arms and I get to share you with the world, I am cherishing these months where you are mine and mine alone. 

I pray you feel my love, little one.

Gentle and strong, there all the while.

For now, while my body is your home.

But also for always, because as long as it’s beating-

My heart will be your home, my sweet little one.

I get it now, Mama.

I get it now, Mama.

The sad face you wrote on your menu plan for the day we all left.

The day your kids got back in their cars and drove further and further from you to their homes they no longer share with you or each other.

I get it now, Mama.

When your oldest asked if you wrote that sad face and you answered with a shy little smile, “I didn’t think anyone would see it.”

The little sad face meant just for you and your Mama heart.

I get it now, Mama.

Your excited welcome at the familiar front door as we all piled in after days in the car and months apart.

The toy boxes ready and sheets all laid out.

I get it now, Mama.

Your lack of complaint as the babies woke the house in the middle of the night.

Your willingness to rise early with excited wee ones so your daughter could rest.

I get it now, Mama.

The trips to the park and the favorite foods.

Your fridge stocked as full as the rooms in the house.

I get it now, Mama.

I get why you wrote that little sad face at the end of the trip.

Your babies were all home. Under your roof once again – laughing and joking like days long gone.

And then they all left.

Now that I have babes of my own- I get it now, Mama.

The sadness that must still bring – to see your babies buckle their babies in car seats and drive far far away.

I get it now, Mama.

And some day, if my babies are grown and live 1,000 miles away, I know I will prep and plan for their visit to make it the best of the year.

Then when they all leave, I’ll write a little sad face as my heart twinges inside no matter how proud I am of the lives they all lead.

Because once you’re a Mama, your heart is no longer your own. A piece goes with each baby no matter how far they go.

So, I get it now, Mama.

The little sad face.

But don’t worry, Mama.

I’ll always come back. To your house that was my home.

Because that piece of your heart that lives within mine?

It’s a tether of souls that continues to grow. And as I get older and my own babies grow, my understanding of your love for me as my Mama deepens and expands.

I get it now, Mama.

The love so great and so pure it makes you write a little sad face when your babies are all gone.

Oh Mama, I get it now.

A prayer for my kids on Election Day 2020.

Jesus,

Please help me to teach my children, and lead by example, the way of Love. Your Way.

Let me raise them to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.
Let me raise them to welcome the stranger and visit the prisoner.
Let me raise them to tend to the sick and give drink to the thirsty.

Jesus, please.

Let me raise them to love their neighbor as themselves and let them understand the vastness and inclusivity of the word ‘neighbor.’
Let me raise them to take care of the widow and the orphan.
Let me raise them to strive for peace and humility while giving a voice to the powerless.
Let me raise them to know that the Kingdom is greater than one country.

Jesus, please.

Help me to show them how to use their words to instill hope and healing, not division and hate.
Help me to show them how to love their enemies and recognize that all are your image bearers.
Help me to show them that faith apart from works is barren.

Jesus, please.

Show me how to raise lights in this darkness.
For this world has been, and will continue to be, dark in the hours, days, weeks, months and years to come – no matter the outcome of this election.

Please, Jesus.

Help me be the kind of Mama that points her children to you and your ways with my words and actions.

Today, and every day.

Amen.

Mamas. If we profess to love Jesus with our lips, let us remember to act like Him as well. Especially when/if the election does not go the way we voted.

Let us remember that God chose to send his son – the King of Kings and Lord of all Lords, as a helpless baby, who grew up to be a humble man, not living in a White House, but who traveled around with nowhere to call his home, spreading love and the good news of salvation to everyone.

Let’s be careful to remember that we are members of a Kingdom not bound by this Earth first, and citizens of this country second.

Please, exercise your right to vote. It is a privilege many do not have. But please, please. Let us remember our calling and mission – to love God and love His people… all of His people… all of the time.

Little eyes are watching us and it’s our job to show them how.