Thursday, January 29, 2015

For the Littlest Stanley

Dear my littlest one,

My pregnancy app dinged this week to tell me you are now the size of a tart kumquat. Tiny and curled up tight somewhere nebulous deep inside. I like to think of you with a skin thicker than your sweet inner bits, protecting you from me and my jostling and fumbling and throwing up. I suppose it’s still both hard and awe-inspiring to think of you as a real little person, forming fully and intricately inside me. I cant wait to discover the ways you will fit perfectly into the space in our family that we didn’t know existed. Lives and schedules that seem full-to-over-flowing, hold space somehow thoroughly set aside for you.

You are so lucky to be getting the best big brother and sister. Caden often clambers up to my spot on the bed and puts his mouth to my belly button. Hi baby he says, I’m just getting home from school. Then he puts his ear to my stomach for a minute, shushes me, before informing me da baby says i love you caden! And your big sister, Jayci, prays for you every night while we lay together in her bed. Her words so surprising and wise that my eyes leak with the knowledge of how quickly she has grown up, and how certainly the same thing will happen to you.

And you should probably know that you’ve also got a whole slew of big brothers anxiously and a little awkwardly awaiting your arrival. I dont have to worry much about your protection, or whose arms will hold you when I need a break. Because this messy, busy, loud house fills quick with some pretty amazing kiddos and neighbors, a community that spans the rainbow and teaches us important lessons every day about grace and justice and reconciliation.

In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about reconciliation these days. About divides and spaces-between, and the ways the world and particularly our neighborhood imagines them to be vast. And I wonder what role you will play in this reconciliation. I wonder if you will be a peace-maker in our family, or if that role will fall to Caden as the typical-middle-child, though I cant quite imagine him playing it. I wonder, perhaps, if we are crazy for bringing another child into such a hurt-filled and pot-hole-ridden world. Where terrorists and poverty and systems and politics feel big and sometimes hopeless. I worry, except that I fully believe the world will be a better place for having you in it. And I hope and pray that you will be one who not only stands on the side of justice, but who believes wholeheartedly in the good. Who doesn’t give up in the face of loss or hurt or even unimaginable evil. One who follows Jesus wherever He leads. Who seeks peace and reconciliation, and plays the role of peacemaker. But who also raises a holy ruckus when necessary.

I think about the things I’ve learned, and all the ways I’ve been changed in and through being a mom to Jayci, and then to Caden. It wasn’t the same both times, and I cant help but wonder what things I will learn about motherhood by mothering you too. I hope, sometimes, that perhaps three children will make me more of the mom I think I should be. Like I’ll stay on top of the laundry and the dishes, and that I’ll make yummy from-scratch meals and pack notes with your lunches, which will be well-balanced and cut into cute shapes. The truth, however, is that your daddy didnt marry me for my homemaking abilities, and I’m not sure those things will ever be my strong suit. You will probably spend days in a messy house. We will run late, and forget things like your pacifiers and most-definitely diapers. And shoes, forever we are forgetting shoes. Thank goodness you wont need those for a while.

Yesterday, we went to see the perinatal specialist for the first time. I’m considered a high-risk pregnancy with you, because of your big brother’s special heart. We walked into Northside hospital and inhaled the familiar scent of the soap, while nurses bustled by and I tried to brush away the memories of Caden’s birth day and remind myself that yours will be different. We met with a genetic counselor who asked about all your relatives, and (on my side at least) there are many. They outlined risks and concerns, percentages and tests, and all of the things they know and cant know. They explained all the screenings they could do, and the things we could find out about your chromosomes and the tiniest parts of who you are. We declined most of the screenings, because of risk and costs, and because in the end there will always be things we might not know.

And also because there are already some things we do know. Like God doesn’t make mistakes, and that He knits you carefully in my womb just exactly the way you should be. And that you will be loved and cherished completely for who you are, no matter what.

We did get to do a fancy ultrasound, and see your cute little face. You sucked on your hand and kicked your tiny legs, while we grinned and held hands. Your daddy kept calling you a boy, and I couldn’t stop referring to you as “she.” So apparently we are evenly divided along gender lines as to whether we think you are a boy or a girl.

Here’s what I really want you to know today: regardless of your gender, the condition of your heart, or what your delivery looks like (but please come out easy, ok?), we cannot wait to meet you and experience every piece of who God has crafted you to be. The curve of your cheeks, the color of your eyes, the swoop of your hair. If you’re shy like your siblings, or silly like your daddy. If you like reading and crafts, or science and explosions, or all of the above. No matter what, we love you already, and we love you completely.

Love,
Momma

Monday, January 26, 2015

When I need to remember warm sunshine days

Last week, Atlanta had a few absolutely gorgeous sun-soaked days, complete with temperatures that let us romp outside without our jackets. Today dawned frigid, gray and sprinkle-y; and I'm trying hard to hold fast to the sunshine remembered on my skin. Because I miss it terribly, while recognizing that I shouldn't complain since so many of my northern friends are awaiting terrible blizzards, and our temperatures still hover above freezing.

There are some people here in blog-land who make me feel not-alone in this crazy life. Shannan and Lori are two of those people, for sure. I absolutely loved these posts from them this past week, and not just because they echo my own life so clearly.
Seizing the Moment (on Grace Table)
Listen to the Sound (Flower Patch Farmgirl)

We planned on taking a few boys to see Selma on MLK weekend. Unfortunately, they were far less excited about it than we were, and it didnt end up happening. Which means I haven't had the chance to see the movie yet, and I'm pretty sad about it. Finding babysitters and time that I'm not throwing up, it turns out is hard to do lately. Anyways, these two posts from bloggers I love on Selma make me even more excited to see it.
Blind Spots - Deidra Riggs
Too Tired to Look - DL Mayfield

I dont know if I've mentioned this before, but I love-love-love Father Greg. His book, Tattoos on the Heart, was (and is) a game-changer for me. Highly recommend. I have heard him speak at CCDA, and he did not disappoint. Anyways, I'm about to spend Caden's rest/play time (no more naps for him!) watching Krista Tippet interview Father G, and I'm pretty excited about it.

"Standing in the lowly place with the easily despised, and the readily left out, and with the demonized — so that the demonizing will stop — and with the disposable — so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. That gives me life, that’s where I want to be. I think that’s where Jesus insists on standing." (ps - see why I love him so?)

On that note, could someone PRETTY PLEASE send me on this cruise with Father G? I just want to be BFFs.

With a new baby on the way, and no spare rooms, we're going to be doing some shuffling around here that includes a shared room for the older two (at least for now). Now obviously their room can and will not be so girly (since Caden is, after all, a boy), but how adorable is this shared girls room? Love it. 

This also means I get to decorate another nursery, hooray! My adorable neighbor is going to be having her baby any day now (seriously, she's a week overdue), and she just posted a tour of their baby boy's lovely nursery. It's perfect. Also, Jayci made the mobile, which was the sweetest little labor of love for her. Such a gift-giver, my Jayci. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Letting Things Go

When I was pregnant with Jayci, I stopped volunteering at the preschool in inner-city Atlanta where I had served faithfully for the past year. When I was pregnant with Caden, I stopped driving downtown for Metrokidz and to see this boy with any sort of regularity. This pregnancy, I find myself mourning the things I feel like I've given up. That I haven't opened the library as planned, or that I cant always be present for craft nights and basketball games and all-of-the-things. 
But I guess I'm learning the slow and often difficult lesson that sometimes growth means letting go. That as my stomach swells and I try to ride out tides of nausea, I have to let go of some things to make space for new ones. I read this morning in John about the God who prunes and cuts away, and I think of the ways that has been true in my life. And sometimes I grieve the losses. Because letting go isn't always easy, even when I'm trusting it can only be for my best.

Motherhood, then, blooms as an ebb and flow. As growth and life, and death too. Of dying to myself, and of letting pieces of myself die. But in ways that bring resurrection, new life.

Even now, as I sit and sip peppermint tea from my favorite mug, the two loudest boys you can imagine play in the other room. Their voices are shrill, three and four year old boy-voices at a timbre I can't block out no matter how hard I try. They encourage each other, discuss good guys and bad guys, and occasionally fight over a wheel or a hat for their lego man.

Of course I can't write I sigh. I have no quiet, no ministry these days, no stories that extend beyond the frayed edges of the quilt I tuck myself beneath. I sleep late, or just lay in bed and listen as Adam gets the kids ready for school. Jayci runs in for a hug and a ponytail before leaving for the day, and Caden often climbs into bed and kicks and climbs and snuggles in all the best and most intrusive ways.

But what, I wonder, does God have for me in this season of rest. Of dark winter days and nights, of ordering my day not around shared meals but around the foods that maybe hopefully wont make me sick. Of letting go of all things I thought I needed.

I go to church on Sunday mornings amidst the flurry of pancakes and syrup-stains on our table-top. If I'm honest, the only reason I do is because there's not enough for all the kids in one car. So we caravan, and I sip water and sometimes even muster up small talk before worship starts on the rare times we arrive early enough. I sit close to the back, with all our boys and Adam, though they slip out loudly enough to make me cringe and head to youth group after worship. I stay seated for worship, and hope there's no one in the bathroom when I have to go throw-up.

The music washes over me during communion, and I shuffle forward, desperate for the only food I know will satisfy. I desperately need the body and blood, and they give it away for free every single week. I remind myself of all the ways that death brings new life. That the very Jesus who broke His body and shed His blood offers me hope in darkness and life in death.

I learn again and again the discipline of surrendering parts of myself for something greater. To give up ministry to meet Jesus in my weakness. To surrender quiet for the life and lessons of kids and busyness and new life. And sometimes I get it all back as a gift, and sometimes I don't. All I know is that motherhood and this new life that grows again inside me will bring far greater gifts than the ones I leave behind.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Links and Reads to Brighten the Days

Prepare to be wildly impressed by the vast number of books I have already read in 2015. Please keep in mind that I've mostly been confined to bed/couch with nausea, meaning I have had more time than usual to read. My parenting methodology has consisted of a whole lot of: figure it out and fend for yourselves. I also took a work trip to Vegas for a week, which meant reading time in airports/airplanes and hotel rooms. I have actually managed to finish a number of a books that I really enjoyed so far this year, and I thought y'all might want to know about them.
All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr (one of my favorite books in a long, long time).
Ship of Brides - JoJo Moyes
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace - Jeff Hobbs (so good and sad).
Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty (loved this so much I downloaded another book by the same author - I already read and loved What Alice Forgot - but I didn't like The Husband's Secret quite as well)

And I'm almost finished with The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. This is a beast of a book, and a little textbook-y, but so fascinating.

Oh and one more. I read Dinner: A Love Story, which my sweet little sister got me for Christmas. I even planned to try and make some recipes so Adam didn't have to make ALL the food around here, I need to earn my keep somehow right? However, then I got pregnant and the thought of looking at/cooking/eating food became the very last thing I wanted to do, ever. So I havent personally made any of the recipes (shocking), but Adam has been making lots of them and we've really loved them all. And most of them are super easy (again, not spoken from experience but from Adam's word and the amount of time it takes him to make them).  We especially love the date night pizza, and Great Grandma Turano's Meatballs.

Want more book-reading suggestions? This list from HuffPost has lots of books I want to read on it.

I really enjoyed this SNL skit on gentrification, hilarious and thought-provoking all at once. (Warning, some bad language mostly referring to dogs, literally).

And a few more reads that caught my eye and/or heart around the interwebs the past few weeks.
Motherhood in an age of terrorism
How America's Justice System Failed our Children
3 MLK Quotes that Convict Me Today
Letters from a Birmingham Jail - Red Letter Christians via Rage Against the Minivan

Do you guys know what's really hard? Getting back into the rhythm of a thing when it's fallen by the wayside. Things like gym-going, or healthy-eating, or quiet-times. Or blogging. Sigh. It apparently requires more gumption and will-to-do-things than I currently possess. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On the will to do anything

One thing I'd forgotten about my pregnancies, particularly the first trimester, is how completely zapping they are. Constant nausea and the inability to keep even a single meal down, combined with normal first-trimester exhaustion makes for a lack of energy that borders on alarming. For lives like ours, involving lots of children and neighbors and shared meals and messes, it feels insurmountable.

Now, I realize most of my social media lately has been mostly whining about how horrid I feel, and I've been trying really hard to avoid that. I know first-hand that pregnancy can be fraught with lots of emotions for other women who wish they were mommas, or who have lost babies, or who were thrown for a loop after birth like we were with Caden. Anyways, all that to say, I've been quiet around here lately because sometimes, like my mom always told me: if you can't say something nice, say nothing.

That said, I really would like to use this space to continue to document our lives, and particularly the life and arrival of our third little one. A friend asked me if I had done baby books for our two little ones, and i realized I kind of did one for Jayci, but not Caden. Mostly, I just printed out the blog into a book, which then served as a great documentation of all their firsts and lasts and everything in-between.

So here's a quick (and incomplete) catch up on the 365-project I couldn't quite seem to get a hold of this year. Also, I will not be doing it again in 2014 as evidenced by the fact that today is the 13th of January and I have yet to take a single picture this year with my "real" camera. Oh well.
Thanks also for all your kind words and congratulations/encouragement/prayers on the third little Stanley kiddo. I am declaring myself officially in thank-you note bankruptcy for 2015. I'm going to have to make a fresh start, because I certainly cannot keep up with all the thank-yous I currently owe to all of you who have sent us gifts, notes, books, encouragement, and support over the past year. I think I'd have to write approximately 978 to catch up. Sigh. Please know that we are so grateful, and constantly talk about how amazing people are at being life-lines for us. Seriously. Thank-you. 
In other news, the Anteaters basketball season kicks off this week, which means I'm extra exhausted from all-the-boys, and also we have no food left in the house. Anyways, if you want to come cheer on the Anteaters, the schedule will be posted on the Blueprint58 Facebook page. We'd love to have you, and the boys always love a fan club. I'm also working on an update regarding the library, and we're hosting an evening later this month for dinner and a chat about intentional neighboring. Stay tuned for details and sign-up information. We'd love to have all of you (don't worry, Adam will cook). 
Also, Ashton started college this week and I simply could not be more proud. Seriously.

Monday, January 5, 2015

On the Occasion of my 30th Birthday and a New Baby

I wrote this last month on my thirtieth birthday (while I was on "sabbatical")

Today is my thirtieth birthday, and I am sitting alone on the balcony of a coffeeshop overlooking the river. The weather shines impossibly beautiful for December 16th, warm enough that I don't even need my favorite military jacket, though I'm wearing it anyways. The sun shines bright on my shoulders, I sip mocha from a wide mug and read All the Light We Cannot See, which is exactly my favorite kind of book. In other words, today might just rank as the kind of stuff of birthday dreams.
Jayci had an elaborate plan to celebrate me today, and she woke up extra early to execute said plan all on her own. Which meant I opened my eyes early to an excited pumpkin jumping on my bed, offering me a lovely tray of homemade pancakes topped with strawberries and whipped cream. She also presented me with a beautiful card and hugs and kisses, as per her plan. I am struck, of course, as I continually am, by the sweet precious heart of our daughter. She truly thinks all-of-the-time about other people and how to make them feel special and loved. We prompt this very little, because we are not nearly as good at it as she is. And I am grateful for the ways she is teaching me generosity, and love for those around us. I am finishing breakfast as Caden climbs up into bed with me too, his bedhead wild and sleep clinging to his eyes. Happy birfday mommy he says, before asking for some of my cream. His own special heart beats wild against my chest as he snuggles in tight.

I've been thinking a lot about hearts lately. Mostly because of this tiny grain of rice being formed in my womb. To imagine something so tiny, buried deep inside me, feels slightly terrifying and more-than-a-little vulnerable. Like anything and everything might crush the tiny dividing cells of brand-new-life.

I sailed through both pregnancies with Caden and Jayci with very little in the way of anxiety. Lots of throwing-up and nausea, yes, but not a whole lot of fear. And then Caden was born. And suddenly, I became hyper-aware of all the things that can (and did) go wrong. So this pregnancy is different, the kind of fear-laden stuff I possibly allowed myself to feel a tinge-prideful for not having during my last pregnancies. I remember sharp, and try desperately to cling to, the peace I felt while Caden was in the hospital, but mostly it slips quick through my fingers and I default to worry. I worry we are irresponsible for bringing another baby into the world who will have a higher risk of heart-defects. Or that Caden's next surgery will end up precisely the same time this next baby makes his/her entrance into the world. Or that we can't afford any of it.
We make baskets to deliver to babies in the CICU, and I'm not sure I can face it. The smell of soap, the families with haggard faces and tear streaked cheeks. The code blues and blinking lights and beeping machine. It all feels like something from some distant dream, both far away and near enough to grip me in waves. For over three years now, since Caden's birth, I haven't been able to stomach anyone talking about their birth stories, quietly excusing myself from conversations to cry in the bathroom over the trauma of that day, the memory of words and diagnoses dropping like rocks in the pit of my stomach. I feel them again every single time. People ask about home birth and c-section and I try my best to ignore the clenching in my stomach.

Here's the weirdest part about it all though: I never ever would trade the first month after Caden's birth. It was absolutely the hardest and simultaneously the most beautiful month of our lives. The nearness of a God who came near in the form of a tiny baby, the One who is with us in every sense of the word. We couldn't deny or forget the ways He held and carried us, no matter how hard we try. And so I am trying to rest in the peace my friend Kathryn describes. The kind that doesn't depend on WHAT GOD will do, but on Who HE IS.
I pray today as Jayci kisses the tiny rice baby goodbye and heads out the door. I whisper it to my own heart as I sit and watch another year of life solidify for me. I wrap my fingers around my warm cup of coffee and breathe in the scent, along with the knowledge of how good God is. The reminder that He does not leave us, nor does His goodness depend on our outcomes. That even if this next baby is born with heart defects too, God remains faithful and good. I absolutely know this and believe it to the deepest core of my being, even if I sometimes forget to actually live as if it's true.

So today I eye water slipping over rocks, imagining the little one busily knitting together deep inside me. And I am rooting myself in His goodness. I think of making the Lord our hope and confidence for our future, and becoming miraculously like the trees planted alongside this river. They grow tall and their roots are deep, drinking unbothered by changes in the weather. Continually nourished by a source that does not run dry.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Stanley Clan (and an announcement)

Just wanted to pop in for just a minute to wish all of you, our dearest friends and family and strangers-who-are-now-friends, a very merry Christmas. We hope today is full of peace and joy, time with loved ones, and plenty of Christmas goodies. 

Oh and one more thing . . . This.
Yup, the Stanley Clan is about to become a party of five (or way more than that, depending on how many of the kiddos we want to count as family - hint: most of them). For real crazy. Also, Jayci? Slightly sassy these days, but also obviously about to be once again the most amazing big sister.  
I'm pretty sure this exactly sums up how Caden feels about the whole thing. 

Also, I'm super early pregnant, like only 7 weeks along. But I figure once these two know, it's not long before they tell the world anyways. And I'm super-nauseous and miserable, so I'm hoping for prayers from all of you that this might be a much less miserable pregnancy than I had with Caden. Not to mention covering in prayer for this sweet little one to have a healthy and whole heart. 

Ok, now go enjoy your Christmas! Love to all of you.

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