This is how my first big speaking engagement went

Last week Friday I had my first big speaking engagement, which is a fancy way of saying that a church asked me to share at their women’s retreat.  

And guys, I was nervous, I started shaking about 12:30 in the afternoon and still all hopped up until I fell asleep that night, honestly just writing about it is exhilarating and nerve wracking… in the best of ways.  

But so many friends texted, tweeted and Facebooked me encouragement, let me know that they believed in me…. that I didn’t go into that room alone.

just before...

Also I bought red power lipstick, this helped too.  
Also Also my friend Anne sent me a gorgeous shirt for the occasion, this also helped because I could stop worrying about what I was wearing and worry about what I would say. 

And it went well, it went so well.  As I gazed out over the faces of all those women (a little over 100!) I felt more energized than nervous, more impassioned than afraid.  In short…. I think I sort of loved it.

The evening was under the umbrella of a winter storm and when I went to park in the ramp in downtown Holland, the van slid on ice and I had to carefully back it down.

I immediately realized that if I can survive THAT, I can talk to a roomful of women for 45 minutes.  After all, it won’t kill me or total my main source of transportation so how bad can it be?

When I walked in, the smiles of the organizers put me at ease. We walked to the room across the street where the conference would be held that evening as we chatted about the weather and having thick hair all while the wind did it’s best to whip the hood off my head.

Something I haven’t yet mentioned:  The church who asked me to come speak is the church I attended as an adolescent, the church both my parents attended when they died, the church where we held their funerals.

This was both comforting and extremely intimidating, because while they knew my story... they also knew me as a 14 year old girl. Continue reading

Love Showed Up and Watched my Kids

Today I’m beyond excited to host my beautiful, brilliant and all around dear friend Addie Zierman as she shares her story of how love showed up in her life. I love this story because reading it is like a deep breath, one that leaves you thankful, cheering and determined to love well, now… or sooner.  

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user ueha_nochi

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user ueha_nochi

It wasn’t grief, and it wasn’t a tragedy – but it was Life and it was too much for me at the moment, as I sat cross-legged in my Mommy Class with my six-month-old son.

I was a new mom with a five-year-long graduate program winding to an end and a “book-length work of publishable quality” coming due in lieu of a thesis. The Minnesota winter was edging toward us, and I was feeling isolated by all of it: the work of motherhood, the physical distance from my own family, and the stress of trying to find space to finish my book while my new son seemed to require so much.

It was the last class of the session, and the topic was self-care, and I spewed it all out, the stress and the struggle, without entirely meaning to. I talked about the book, the classes, the meetings, the up-all-nights. “When are am I supposed to find time for self-care?” I asked everyone and no one at once.

She stopped me outside of class, and the wind cut against our jackets, our baby carriers heavy on our arms. She was in the hard, early months of her second pregnancy, but I didn’t know that yet. I barely knew her at all – a few exchanges in class, one afternoon play date.

But she said, “I’m taking your kid this Friday,” and when I protested she held up a hand and said, “I’m taking your kid. You need time to finish your book, and I’m taking your kid. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” 

I stood there in the cold, and her eyes were full of sincerity and stubbornness. She didn’t ask if she could. She didn’t offer a wimpy, well-meaning, “Is there anything I can do to help?” She insisted. She forced me to take what I needed. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.

*

It’s been five years since that first fall day, and Kenna has become my closest Mama Friend. I couldn’t tell you how many times she’s watched my two boys over that time. How many of their diapers she’s changed, tantrums she’s dealt with, time outs she’s distributed. I call her and say, “I know you’re supposed to take the kids today, but Dane has a cold…” and she doesn’t let me finish. “Send them over. We love germs,” she says.

When I got pregnant with Liam and spent the first 15 weeks dog-sick she brought me meals and took Dane and brought me tall glasses caffeine-free Diet Coke while we sat outside in the late fall sun.

When I finished my thesis, 7 months pregnant, she was there at the reading, weepy and cheering. When Liam was born on Tax Day, she was the first one to the hospital with a flower pot of cookie-pops and all the love.

When Dane threw a Lego at Liam’s head and Andrew was gone and I wasn’t sure if I should take him to the ER for a stitch or not, she didn’t ask – she just drove over, sent me off, cleaned my kitchen while Dane slept upstairs, unknowing, in his bed.

When I had my first miscarriage she brought over a Christmas cactus and a giant mocha. She said, “This matters, and I will never forget,” and then she let me talk about something else.

When I had my second miscarriage, she watched the boys while I got that second ultrasound and then for the rest of the day while I took the medicine, while I cried and waited for it to do its work and dissolve the empty sac that should have been holding a baby.

I lay on the couch and watched Sherlock on Netflix and she called and said, “The kids are doing great. I’m planning on feeding them dinner and getting them into their jammies. Take as long as you need.”

*

Having kids is one of the best things in the world. But also, it’s entirely exhausting. It makes it hard to find the space to process the highs and lows of life when there are little people constantly tugging on your shirt, talking, asking, needing.

The things that you feel so deeply barely brush against them as they float over their heads – which is as it should be. They can’t understand that you need a minute. Just a minute.

In these past five years, my griefs have been mostly small and my joys have ben big, but the grind of life itself has often been enough to undo me. And in those moments, my Mama Friend showed up again and again, with her insistent care and her stubborn love. She’s let my kids trash her house and eat all of her crackers. She’s prodded them to use the potty chair and to eat their peas.

Again and again, she does the simple, humble, exhausting work of love in the language that I so desperately need to hear it at the exhausting center of the Pre-K years.

She texts me a photo of our four, mangy kids snuggling in front of a movie while I’m at Panera, working, and I feel it lift like weight. I can be away. I realize. I can think and work and be away from them, because my kids are loved. They’re just fine.

*

When my publishing contract came through and it was a two-book-deal, Kenna cheered and took me out to dinner, and then she got immediately down to business.

“How are we going to make this second book happen,” she said, and it wasn’t a question. “I’ll plan to take your kids at least once a week.”

“No, no,” I said, “We’ll figure it out,” I said.

But she just looked at me, her face stone-set stubborn, her eyebrow raised.

“I know,” I said. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

“Exactly,” she said with a smile.

Addie Zierman Official Author Photo

Addie Zierman (@addiezierman) is a writer, blogger and recovering Jesus freak  She recently published her debut memoir, When We Were On Fire through Convergent Books. It was named by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the best books of 2013. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and two sons and blogs at addiezierman.com.
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Where Perceived Judgement Teaches Me That My Way Is Good, Too.

birdfreedom

So, I go to a sort of a… crunchy church.  At least it feels like that to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. I love that we have compostable everything and that my children learn about the bible through actors and readings rather than on tv screens.

Yet, sometimes I feel a bit “less than” in the face of all the wholesome goodness. I feel like if wholesome were a game, I would be middle of the pack… or lower.

We have regular (BPA free) Target sippy cups, with Cars characters on them
I did not cloth diaper
I only breastfed for one year
My kids eat the non-organic Aldi brand (100% all natural) fruit snacks

Every morning my kids get up and watch a little (usually educational) TV so I can work.

Often I feel, wrong…

Take this past Sunday where despite our best efforts we arrived late to church. Due to the snow and the low volunteer turnout there was no room in kid’s church for our three year old son.

So I prepared him for a teachable, “life’s not always fair” moment while my husband checked our daughter into her room and we took him to “big church.”

I melted a little when he asked: “Why didn’t they have room for me?” and told him they did in their hearts but not in the rooms, that people couldn’t make it in to play with him because of the snow.

He seemed okay, then asked the inevitable question:

“Can I play on your phone?”

Sigh…. “Yes, but NOT during the songs.”

During the songs we bounced and sang along and helped him engage what we call “big church.”

Then as we settled in for the sermon he looked up at me with expectant eyes and an open palm.

The phone please.

I looked around (surely judgement was on it’s way) and handed him the phone so I could tune in to a desperately needed teaching on help, faith and prayer.

For the first twenty minutes it worked great, he built pretend cupcakes on my phone as I tuned my heart in to the words of the pastor at the center of the room (we do church in the round).

During the last third of the sermon he started to get restless. Why? Well because he could only shoot the angry birds backwards… obviously.

So my husband scooped him up and did what any good Pastor (who isn’t preaching today) does with his son in church.

Shush him?
Tell him a parable?
Hand him a bible?

Nope.

He taught him how to shoot the birds correctly, obviously.

Every time a bird and pig collided, my son erupted in a giggle that was slightly disruptive but a million percent endearing and my husband couldn’t stop grinning.

Me? Well of course I joined in by feeling a deep level of embarrassment and shame via some daydreaming about what “good families” must do”

Good families have children that play with wooden toys during church while subtly absorbing foundational truths that will see them through the rest of their lives.

Good families whisper into their children’s ear and explain the message on a three year old level while missing half the sermon, because those moms don’t need it like I do… they’re naturally holy.

Good families don’t use Cars cups, they use expensive glass ones withs with cool tops and their children never demand juice with marathon tantrums.  They say something like: “Excuse me mummy, would you refresh my drink while I continue to build these blocks after which I will pick them all up, especially the ones under the couch?”  Probably while wearing both clean clothes AND pants…

Daydream-shaming was interrupted by church activity: to write our prayers on pieces of paper, to ask for help from Our Father directly, specifically and then to fold those prayers into paper birds.

I did so after which we rose to sing another song. I can’t remember what it was but it grounded me from my shame-spiral. As was we sang I handed my son the prayer-scribbled bird which he pretended to fly in the air as he rested in his daddy’s arms.

Then I heard it, that voice that doesn’t originate from my own nervous spirit: “Your way is good too, be free”

There was something about the bird and the music, something about my son playing with the vehicle of my prayers that made this truth sink in, deeply.

Your way is good too, be free from the voices of not good enough.
Be free from thinking everyone else is doing it better, from that illusion.
Free yourself up to be you, that’s what I’m really inviting you to.  

The early morning TV and writing, the angry-bird giggling, the ugly sippy cups, the cheap date nights at home, the wild play around the house in lunch-stained shirts with no pants, really it’s my freedom.

our home
our life
our way is good too.

So is yours.

Be free to love your way of doing things,to look around yourself and find more good than “things that need fixing.”

Be free from always finding yourself lacking.

Write it all on a bird and let it all fly away.  

Whatever my mix of calling is… wife/mom/writer/pastor’s wife/communications director… it must contain a freedom and the ability to love “my way,” my place.

To love us.

Your way is good too, let’s be free.

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When Love Showed Up, To Sit With Me

I first met Kristin Tennant a few years ago when I was blessed with the invitation to share a meal at her table. From that first meal it became obvious that her warmth, hospitality and writerly wisdom were something to be cherished, today you get to share in a piece of that, enjoy. 

Two Old Friends

We all know that love is better when it’s shown rather than told—that it’s more believable when it impacts your life in some tangible way you can point to.

There’s the love, for instance, shown by my mom when she came and stayed with us for a week after each of my babies were born—the cooking and dishwashing, the early morning baby soothing and late evening advice-giving.

More recently, we witnessed the love of friends who showed up with rubber gloves, cleaning supplies, and a fresh burst of energy as we were frantically preparing our house for its sale the following day.

Yes, those demonstrations of love carried me through stressful times, giving me not just nourishing post-partum meals and a sparkling pre-sale kitchen, but also a clear understanding that I wasn’t alone.

But maybe it’s wrong to assume that love showing up is always active and busy—that it must involve a flurry of helping and working, problem-solving and doing. Maybe in the midst of so many busy demonstrations of love, we miss the love people need most: the quiet, steady love that doesn’t try to control what happens next, but just sits with you and waits to see what happens next.

* * * * *

Of course, there’s something to be said for the most practical forms of love—the meals, childcare, and snow shoveling: It’s much harder to screw them up. Being a loving presence in someone’s life, on the other hand, is a tenuous balancing act.

I experienced this first hand 10 years ago, as news of my failed marriage spread through our small church and community. The people in my life seemed to instantly sort themselves into two categories: those who faded into the background, where they could pretend nothing uncomfortable was happening, and those who assumed a very active role in what was happening.

Of those who chose to speak up and get involved, there were also two distinct groups. One group, primarily Christians from both our current and former church communities, felt compelled to demonstrate love through lecturing, debates, and “loving discipline.” They were so laser-focused on my Issue they became blind to every other part of my life and the whole person I still was.

The other group, consisting primarily of non-church-going friends, demonstrated love through vocal, all-encompassing support. They were my cheerleaders, and in their eyes I could do no wrong. There’s no doubt this was a refreshing counterpoint to the many critical voices in my life, but it also didn’t exactly feel like love. It wasn’t nuanced enough to make room for the complexity of the situation—for the conflicting emotions and uncertainty, for both the despair and the hope. The comfort these friends offered lasted for only as long as I was sitting with them, having coffee or a beer, soaking up their approval; it dissolved as soon as we hugged goodbye.

I know that these expressions of love—both the brutal questioning and the blind acceptance— are generally well-intentioned. They emerge from a desire to move people we care about toward a better place—toward whatever is best for them. The flaw lies in assuming we know what is best for them.

* * * * *

In the dark days of my separation and divorce, love showed up and stayed with me in the form of a friend who didn’t pretend to know what I should be doing to fix my life. She didn’t come bustling in to shine a harsh light on my messiest corners, nor did she sweep the mess under the rug. She simply came with a quiet, steady love, ready to sit with me.

She was saddened by my situation, but not hopeless. She hurt for me, but refused to take on that hurt in any personal way. She listened when I wanted to talk about the dark details of my divorce, but she also listened when I talked about the type of mid-century modern sofa I was hoping to find for my apartment, or when I wanted to complain and laugh about the mundane trials of parenting two little ones. She reminded me that she was praying for me—not for any specific outcome, but for God’s clear and steady presence, guidance, and love in my life.

And in exactly that quiet way, she was God’s hand of love in my life.

* * * * *

KTennant Kristin Tennant has been a freelance writer for 12 years. In 2007 she began blogging about family, faith, doubt and redemption at Halfway to Normal (www.halfwaytonormal.com). Kristin, her husband Jason, and their blended family of three daughters live in Urbana, Illinois, where they love cooking and sharing meals and conversation with friends.

 

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How to be an introvert, starting a church, talking to strangers about God without coming across as a creepy evangelist.

So, it Saturday, and even though I missed last week, today I am going to try and be faithful in my promise to keep you all updated on our church planting journey. 

creepyevangelist

local photography via flickr creative commons andrewkuhnphotography

Two weeks ago I showed you around our lovely church, since then we’ve had a brilliant team of designers come through, one whom grew up in church and “gets it” in the best of ways.  She understands what works, what welcomes and what has been done to death. For this I am unspeakably thankful.

Also this week the boiler exploded, which caused us to wonder why more seminaries don’t offer classes on old building maintenance. Kel’s handy but boilers are beyond him #churchboilerdrama .

All this is true but it doesn’t really get to the heart of what’s REALLY going on with the church.  

Currently the main business of the church is connecting with the community.

What does this mean? It means that if Kel is at the church that he’s not doing his job. (#churchboilerdrama aside)

Because currently Kel’s main job is to go out and meet people by checking out their businesses, going out to lunch, working at coffee shops and taking walks through neighborhoods.  He’s supposed to meet with and chat up 50 new people a week. 50!

This terrified me for two reasons
1) Kel is an introvert, this could kill him.
2) I don’t see how one can do this without seeming like a creeper

But he’s impressed me every evening with his stories, all authentic and not the least bit slimy.

This begs the question: How does an introvert strike up conversation with a random stranger and steer the conversation toward the new church plant without seeming creepy or pushy?  

I think this is where I should just let Kel tell you, after all… he’s the one doing it.  

Hi everyone, it’s Kel.

So I’m going to start by telling you the story of a conversation I had this week: I was at McDonalds, not because I particularly love it (I’m not lovin’ it) but because they are one of the few places that has wifi in the area.

So I’m in line to get my large drink (which I fill with iced tea like a good southern boy) and in line behind me is an EMT.  So, I walk up to the counter and I say “1 large drink and whatever he wants” gesturing in the EMT’s direction.

He gives me a weird look but thanks me and puts in an order for an Egg McMuffin. He thanks me again and then asks:

Awesome EMT: “Do you have a busy day ahead of you?”
Me: “I kind of do but my schedule is pretty weird right now. You see, I just took a new job and I’m a pastor starting a church”

This leads us down a conversation about the ups and downs of my schedule. Then I tell him why I bought him breakfast.

“One of the things that I really want to be as a church is a place that serves the community. One of the ways we can start doing that is by serving those who are already serving the community. So buying you breakfast is a way for me to say thank you for what you do everyday.”

I could tell the guy was caught off guard. Apparently this isn’t something that happens to him everyday. Then he does something cool: he invites me to come down the station sometime so that I can meet the other EMT’s just before we part ways.

This conversation is at the heart of what I’m doing everyday, of what it takes to plant a new church.  

You see, when I started doing this nobody in the community knew who I was.  So when it came to making contacts it was important that people in the community got a feel for who I am. The best way to do that is obviously by authentically building relationships.

Every contact I make is another person that knows both who I am and that there is a new church coming to the neighborhood, that’s my only agenda.

So how do I do this without seeming like a creeper or a door to door evangelist? Its easy, I listen way more than I talk.  I ask people about them: What do they do?  Do they live around here? Do they like that sandwich?

I try to find common ground.

You see, it’s not actually about meeting a quota of numbers. Numbers to a church don’t really matter, its what those numbers represent: Each number is a story, a person, an opportunity for God to show up in real life.

That’s why its easy for me to keep perspective, As a pastor I’m the often at the forefront of those stories. I see the breakdowns, the illness, the funerals. Often I get to be the one that prays with people when they find out I’m a pastor.

For me, it is very encouraging because I get to see this community in a completely different light. This community is who I am trying to reach but ultimately it is God that changes hearts, not me.

So what is my job? To care, to love, and build relationship with the people that surround the church. To introduce them to the God that can bring about change in their lives.

It’s not about me, it’s not about numbers, it’s not about MY church… in the end it’s about God and his people and doing everything I can do to foster freedom through their intersection.

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How to stop worrying about who isn’t listening or reading or watching and start loving the people who are

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons jennifah007

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons jennifah007

I have a confession to make:  Sometimes when I’m talking to my children about something particularly amusing or ridiculous, I project a little louder for other people to hear.

“You learned about how Jesus will heal as long as we cut a holes in the roof? Wow that’s crazy!”  
(big look around to see if anyone else heard that and wants to exchange a grown up eye with me as I ignore the child trying to talk to me about God… <facesmack>)

And sometimes I do this with my husband, especially at parties or social gatherings. If we say something funny together I’ll dump him to go tell other, new-shiny people about it.

And sometimes I do this with my friends

And very often I do this online.

And when I do this, you know what I’m saying? Dear person I’m actually talking to:  You’re not enough, I need a larger, more important audience.  Others matter more than what’s going on between us.  

My need to be noticed trumps what we are sharing in this moment.

It took a season of therapy and a good hard look to realize that the heart of this problem is this:  So often I worry about who isn’t listening and miss out on who is, because I’m valuing the wrong things.

We all do this in life, don’t we? Come on, please normalize this with me so I don’t feel like such a jerk…

We’re chatting with our friends, our people and across the room or the twittersphere when we spot someone we wish we were friends with, chatting with a crowd we wish we ran with and we feel… jealous and small and less than… maybe even crummy and insignificant.

Why? Because we want to be noticed and successful. It’s perfectly normal… but if we’re not careful it can become utterly consuming.  And we should be careful.

We should be careful with the people we’ve been entrusted with, the audience we’ve been given. 

Because odds are that if you look around, you’re already as noticed and significant as you need to be.

Let me give you an example that will potentially make you hate me and burn my blog in anger (I don’t know how that would work, just go with it):

Sometimes when a new person responds to me on twitter I go to check their profile.

Not a big confession, Normal right?
What am I looking for you ask?
Am I trying to see if we have common interests and beliefs?
Nope.  I’m checking to see how many followers they have to figure out how much time and attention I should give them.
I know, I know.  Awful. But I swear It’s getting better…

Why? I’ve stopped worrying about who’s not listening and started loving everyone who is.

I actually remember the exact day that this switch flipped. I got put off by an acquaintance online, someone who didn’t do anything wrong but who, through inaction left me with a wound.

I literally looked at myself in the toothpaste covered bathroom mirror and yelled. “What (name of person) thinks doesn’t even matter! I have people, good people and what (he/she) does or doesn’t think of me doesn’t get anymore airtime in my brain or my time.”

Then I talked about it at therapy. A lot. I talked about how I want to intentionally cultivate depth with the people I’ve been given (gifts each one!) and how badly I needed to stop worrying about who wasn’t paying attention to me.

Then over dishes about a week later I received some news from God.  The kind that just pops into your mind and feels at home, like sweet mind-truth, life giving and free.

“I’ve given you exactly the influence needed, the people you were meant to tend and grow. Love them well and forget the rest.”

And so it was that I learned to love my people, my place in this world.  Not in a passive way, but in an active, daily choosing that leaves me feeling full of life and peace.

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Loved Showed Up – Sometimes, It’s Okay To Be Loved

Today is week four in the “Love Showed Up” series, every Monday for the foreseeable future  for more on what that means, go here. Today Briana Meade is sharing a story with us, one that will make you gasp at the beginning (especially if you’re a parent) and tear up a bit at the end because she nails it beautifully. 

We spent the good part of the last Sunday of 2013 in the Emergency Room. While we were there, we received several offers to come to the hospital, the promise of a frozen lasagna left on our porch, and a church family who came to pick up our frustrated and nap-deprived toddler.

That Sunday, we arrived at church in the pouring rain. It was raining so hard that rivers were pouring down our windshield before the wipers could swish them away. Our 5-month old Kaiden was  wet from putting him into the car to get to church. He had screamed so pathetically as I shushed him that I wanted to keep him from receiving another dose of cold water down his back.

When my husband pulled the car up to the church, I wrangled Kaiden out of his car seat, put him in my arms and tried to run to the nearest dry spot. What I didn’t see was the giant curb that stopped me short, cutting my legs out from underneath me.

I can see it now. It was the scary fall, fall, fall of his tiny little body, the moment I realized I was about to crush my baby into the pavement and tried to steady myself as his body left my hands. The traumatic crack of his head against the cement. The fear that stopped me from breathing for a brief second as I let myself fall to his side without any additional resistance.

I did the only thing I knew how to do in that moment: scream for help. I collapsed next to my little boy and screamed and screamed. For those brief moments, I thought he was sure to have severe brain injuries. I yelled like I imagine many mothers have over the centuries: in utter helplessness. It was an out-of-control scream, a where-are-you-Jesus scream.

We drove like mad people to the Emergency Room. He seemed calm after a brief bout of screaming, but I kept searching his eyes for signs that he was slipping into sleep. His hands were cold. I couldn’t think. We just drove.

Briana and son

We arrived at the ER. It was the second time this year that we sipped OJ out of hospital cups with aluminum on top and took pictures of ourselves on the cot. We smiled tentatively into the phone camera to commemorate yet another ER visit even as we waited for a diagnosis that could potentially break us back down into tears.

We called our family and our pastor. Our pastor prayed on the phone with us and it felt good to be doing something out loud. To have someone else besides angry, guilty, inconsolable me  covering the situation with God. I wasn’t even sure God wanted to listen to me anyways in the incoherent state I was in.  It was intervention of the best kind.

It was someone praying for us, with us, through us, behind us.

It was accepting when we are not enough. The faith that someone else might be the lifeline and anchor to pull us closer to God’s throne-room when we feel like we not in the right place to ask God for anything.

There was good news, then potentially bad news: a CAT scan. In the meantime, a family from the church came and picked up Zoe. They had heard what was happening from our pastor and drove all the way to the ER to take our toddler off our hands. I put Zoe into the all-ready prepared car seat and watched them drive off knowing that I had nothing to give back for the effort they had put in to drive there and for their kindness.

The CAT scan came back. His skull, his brain, it was all fine. We went home with a happy boy and two exhausted parents and thankful hearts.

The ER this year became a lesson in falling into God’s lap and sitting still instead of even attempting to pray or give back. We’ve taken a lot more than we’ve given this year.

Sometimes it’s okay to accept as others pray for you and intervene  with many people gathered before a kind King. Sometimes it’s okay to step back and be loved.

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Briana Meade is a 25-year-old mother of two. After college, Briana immediately married her best friend  and now-husband. A few months into her first year teaching with Teach For America, she found out she was pregnant. Briana and her family live in North Carolina, where Briana blogs about her Christian faith, marriage, family, and young motherhood. You can find her blog here and follow her on Twitter @BrianaMeade. She is also a regular contributor to Early Mama.

If you’re interested in guest posting for the “Love Showed Up” series, I’d love to hear more. Get in touch with me via email and we can chat about your story.  I’m leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Reflections on the life-saving gift of Caedmon on the occasion of his 3rd birthday

My baby is three. I have no idea how that happened, except yes, I sort of do.

It happened through late night nursing and strained carrots, through sippy cups and walks in the park, it came in tantrums and way too early morning snuggles and then?

Then this morning we woke up and there he was, three years old and requesting his 5 am snuggles, whispering me awake, warm breath on my face.

I followed him down the hall and pointed to the decorations, the streamers, the puff balls and the tissue wrapped banister.

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He made demands, because even on his birthday that’s who he is: a little boy still clinging to the firm belief that he is the axis on which the world turns.

Then there was an epic muffin-related tantrum where he ran around the dining room with the $6 box of gluten free muffin mix screaming.

“I don’t want you to make them, I just want to eat them!”

I’ve learned to halt logical thought in moments like this. #wheresmycoffeeIloveyouhappybirthday

Time out for both of us. 

Time outs are all about time to think things over, right?  

I choose to think about the timing of babies.  It is as my friend Anne Bogel says “a crapshoot.”  

Can I tell you a secret? We had a big fight after Caedmon was conceived over who was supposed to do what and “what if we just got pregnant?”

Then I retreated into the bathroom to cry, wailing about how if I did turn up pregnant then I would always remember how we fought about it.

what if our fight just turned my womb into a hostile and unfriendly environment?!”

Don’t you love the ridiculous things we think and say in the middle of arguments? 

And then? Cue Caedmon.

Caedmon who announced his arrival before we’d even had the chance to celebrate Noelle’s first birthday. Who’s presence made me worry that people would doubt our intelligence and sanity with two babies so close together (20 months.)

Little did we know that this pregnancy was a life raft in disguise. Little did we know that this baby boy would be more than wanted, he would be a needed distraction in one of the worst seasons of our lives.

The baby I wasn’t sure I was ready for is the thing that kept me going after my mom took her life.  

I was in my third trimester of pregnancy with Caedmon when we got the call, made the trip, planned the funeral. I was heavy with pregnancy and grief when I spent hours and hours on my feet greeting funeral guests in cheap, plasticy ballet flats.

At my next OB appointment I filled my doctor in on what had gone down since our last visit. He immediately escorted me down the hall to “take a peek at the little guy.”

“Is he going to be okay? Isn’t stress really hard on unborn babies?”
“He’s going to be fine, it’s going to be just fine.”
“But I’ve read that in like, a thousand places. Extreme stress isn’t healthy in pregnancy, I’m there, extremely stressed.”
“It’ll be okay, you’ll see.  He’s doing great.” 

Pan to baby on ultrasound. Healthy heartbeat. Healthy growth. Healthy boy.

When people asked me about the pregnancy I would usually tell them it was all fine

But if I decided to be honest I would tell them: “I just want him to be born, even early.  I want him to be in a happier place than inside me. I need to see him. I worry about him, being along for the ride on all of this. What if he’s born sad?”

People would tell me it was ridiculous but that didn’t change my mother’s heart…

 I just wanted to see him on the outside, have him in Kel’s arms and safe from the storm inside of me.

Yet all along I knew that this child came for a reason. He came as the best and possibly only beautiful distraction that could have turned our heads in that season.

I don’t understand the foreknowledge of God and I couldn’t tell you why mom left as she did, when she did.

But I deeply believe that Caedmon’s birth right after my Mom’s death was no accident.

photography by Janey Wilson

photography by Janey Wilson

And when he came? Oh, the joy of that moment.

When he came I was able to let go of the worst of it and trade it willingly, gladly for the joy that comes with holding a minutes-old baby.  It wasn’t “all better” but guys, it was better with Caedmon.

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He was loud, he was particular, he was beautiful, he peed all over everything but he was here.

And now he’s three and he doesn’t understand a word of this story. He only grins when I show him pictures of the day he was born, He grins and asks when the muffins will be ready.

He has no idea that there was a time in which he was one day and seven pounds old, a time in which he kind of saved our lives.

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32 things I’ve figured out in my 32 years.

Monday was my 32nd birthday and for the most part we spent it snowed in and entertaining kids. It wasn’t fancy but Kel did everything he could possibly do to make it special, including gluten free french toast and a total takeover of my Facebook page.

He hacked my Facebook page and asked my friends and family to share thoughts or memories of me and it was over and above the best part of the day.

It’s fascinating learning about yourself through other people’s memories of you.  People chimed in from every stage of my life reaching all the way back to elementary school and it made me feel whole.

I saw the continuity of myself, the seeds that were planted in 3rd grade tell the story of the person I am today. Someone who is comfortable being honest and unique, who loves words and apparently has and will always love musicals and movie soundtracks.

Seeing the story of yourself told through the eyes of those you who love you is an amazing gift and to all who chimed in, thank you.

So that being said I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on the things I’ve learned along the way.  So here they are:

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32 lessons learned in 32 years of life.

1) The moment you think you don’t need to pack a spare diaper, tampon, or hand sanitizer is the exact moment you should turn around and get it, because? Life is mean like that.

2) Eat real food made from real, understandable ingredients. It tastes better and it’s what your body was designed for.

3) Having kids is exhausting and it takes everything you have, and more, much more.  Then, in a surprise instant it gives you more than it ever took. I say this with a 6 inch scar across my abdomen.

4) Most things are better with a good playlist. Listen to good music, I use and adore Spotify.   

5) If you wash your makeup brushes regularly you’ll get less zits. True story. You can do it using baby shampoo, it’s not hard. 

6) Going somewhere? Bring a book, you’ll end up waiting and will enjoy it more than mindless phone surfing.

7) If you’re feeling small or less than worthy, get off the internet. Often it’s the compare / contrast that has you feeling scattered. (I get paid to do social media and currently don’t have facebook or twitter on my phone for this very reason)

8) Take more baths, they’re good for your nervous system and your soul.

9) Discipline sounds constricting, but usually it just frees you up to live a deeper, healthier, happier life.  Sounds backwards, but it’s not.

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10) Having company? Don’t freak out about the house. Set the timer for 10 minutes, do what you can, then pour wine and remember that your friends love you just as you are.

11) If you’re ready to explode, take a walk.  There is something about moving and nature that resets the crazy, it’s probably even science.

12) There is more than one way to do everything: This includes parenting, marriage, eating, working, everything. Judge not.

13) It’s easy to get wrapped up in who is not noticing you but it’s far better to love and tend to those who are. It brings with it contentment and depth.

14) Hot breakfasts change lives.

15) Gratitude fixes nearly all internal struggles. There’s this stat that says that one week of daily, intentional gratitude affects the next three months of your mental health and outlook.

16) Celebrate things. Buy champagne, toast the milestones, write on and save the corks.

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17) “I’m sorry” is one of the hardest and most important tools you have. I know, I KNOW it’s hard, but do it anyway.

18)  Try to stop worrying about other people’s bad habits and choices. You can only change you.

19) You will never regret a night of going to bed early with a book.

20) Learn this phrase: “I’m not in charge and it’s wonderful.”

21) Go to therapy as needed, maybe more. No shame, NO SHAME, we all need mental tune ups or complete overhauls at times.

22) Potty training is not a litmus test for good parenting. They won’t go to college in diapers. Stop listening to whoever is making you feel like a failure in the diaper aisle.

Read Books

23) Don’t feel guilty over reading more novels than non-fiction. Stories change lives as effectively as “how-to” books.

24) Reconciliation isn’t easy but it’s worth it to go to long haul with people.  This being said some people will walk out of your life and you can’t fix it, for this I suggest a good cry and maybe some ice cream. (refer to 18)

25) Laughter is a salve for so many wounds, especially in marriage.

26) It is no small thing to get to know yourself, it’s hard and worth it.  I recommend this sorter to find out your MBTI temperament. 

27) Avoid “When I’m a _____, I’ll never ______” statements.  They’re judgey and often times they just make you feel silly later.

28) Your concept of home will change as you get older, this is really scary but also natural.

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29) Give your children your time and attention before they start demanding it in the wrong ways. I schedule kid time before I schedule work from home, it’s like making a deposit in their love tanks.

30) In this DIY world it’s tempting to do ALL THE THINGS.  Pick some things that you just don’t do, I’ve learned this the hard way.

31) As often as you can take 100 things to Goodwill or the equivalent.  Less really IS more. I promise.

32) Embrace your age but never, ever stop allowing the wonder of this wide world to stop you dead in your tracks like a child at Disney world.

What would you add?  Come on chime in, consider my birthday present. 

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Love Showed up: Love Means You Keep Showing Up

Today we continue our series “Love Showed Up (link to series explanation here)” in which many dear friends from across the globe and internet are sharing their stories of God’s love showing up through his people in the darkest of days. So let’s sit down and soak in this story from Tanya Marlow. Tanya and I are new friends, but it’s a friendship I truly hope deepens. You can just tell she is one of those brave and beautiful souls that make the your world lovelier simply by bringing their true selves into it.

It wasn’t like it was the hugest of tragedies. No one had died. It wasn’t even as though it were completely unexpected: there was always a chance that my pre-existent autoimmune illness (ME) might be made worse by the physical strain of childbirth – we just didn’t know how much worse till we were home with a week-old baby. My body was broken: I could no longer walk more than ten paces and I had to lie in bed for 23 hours a day.

It was a strange time, navigating the new waters of parenthood at the same time as we were facing my new disability; a time of deep joy and tears of the unknown.  Jon is a church minister, and we had just moved to a new church one month previously – we had barely begun to get to know this new church family, when suddenly I was plucked from it, spending my days in just one room.

Our church loved us.

used via flick creative commons, user wordridden

used via flick creative commons, user wordridden

This wasn’t about reciprocation: we hadn’t yet done anything to earn their love or respect. They simply loved us because they were our family. However new we were to them, we were blood relatives because we all stood under the cross and called Jesus our friend.  

We were kin to them, flesh and blood to them, because of Jesus’ flesh and blood.

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I was too ill to speak to anyone, so they could not love through words or presence.

Our church loved us with food and ironed clothes. 

So many asked us what they could do for us, but we were at a loss of how to reply – how can you fix what was so obviously unfixable? The most helpful were those who boldly told us, “this is what I will do for you, if that is okay by you”, while we were still staring wide-eyed into the middle distance, so that we didn’t have to try to train our sea-battered brains into problem-solving mode.

They showed up – our new family – they showed up with cooked meals and ironed clothes and thoughtful emails, while we got our hands on the tiller and slowly began to regain our balance.

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And they kept showing up.

The most remarkable thing about this whole period was how long they did it for. Our problems were complex: they did not disappear after the customary 1-2 weeks of charity and consideration.  Most people find it difficult to continue to be generous for an undefined time period. We can do generosity for a crisis, we are good at doing the acute, the emergencies – but what of the chronic? What of the single parents, for whom it is always a juggling act to get food on the table each day? What of the cancer patients not just during chemo, but the weeks afterwards, when the disabling fatigue hits unexpectedly?

It is much harder to keep giving to a needy person or family when they don’t seem to ever emerge from that needy position, when you can never say that you have ‘fixed’ them, when your contribution will always be needed or appreciated. It is harder to keep on giving when there is no fixed end point.

Our church family, they kept on giving, as the days stretched into weeks and then months.

We had cooked meals and ironed clothes for months afterwards, and those significant acts of love and service for us just helped us to keep afloat. More than that, it showed us the enduring nature of the love of God at a time when so much else was uncertain. 

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This is love: to do what you can, even when you don’t know the person well, even when their problems are ongoing and unfixable and there is no clear end in sight.

This is love: to think beyond just the crisis point to those situations which are chronic and unabating.

This is love: to show up, and keep showing up.

photo Tanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology. Now she reads Bible stories to her little boy as she learns what it means to housebound with a severe autoimmune illness. She likes answering the tricky questions of faith that most avoid, and writing honestly about suffering and searching for God.  She blogs at Thorns and Gold http://tanyamarlow.com.

Find her on Twitter @Tanya_Marlow or Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/TanyaMarlowThornsAndGold )

To learn more about Tanya and her story, check out this post: “Why you should care about M.E.”  We have to educate ourselves on this disease and then stand up to do something about it.

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