Friday, March 16, 2012

My Uterus Has the Gift of Hospitality

Let me explain.

The King is enthralled with your beauty; 
Honor Him for He is your Lord.
Psalm 45:11

Last week, I won (yaaaaaaayyyyy!!!!) a Naptime Diaries print from Ellen's Handmade Recess giveaway. Ever since, I have been thinking about this verse (written above), which I had never read before.

I'm not sure my own husband is always enthralled with my it really true that God could see me as beautiful? 

Me and our fourth baby, March 15, 2012
My goal here is to be encouraging to you specifically. With that in mind, I am going to be totally honest and it's a little uncomfortable and a whole lot of embarrassing. I am vain. I care a lot about how I look and how other people perceive how I look. As I've grown as a woman, a wife, a mother, and most importantly, as someone who believes God is real and His promises are true, I have tried to replace vanity with a gentler, more loving, kinder spirit.

I have struggled with this especially during this pregnancy. Apparently, my uterus has the gift of hospitality. As soon as it realized a baby was coming to visit for 9 months, it renovated itself and stretched out to a luxurious, welcoming size. "Come on in!" it seems to say. "Make yourself at home! There's plenty of room to sprawl out!" What? Doesn't your uterus have spiritual gifts?

Did I mention that it did this overnight? That overnight I went from comfortable in my regular jeans to requiring the dreaded up-to-your-bra-strap maternity jeans? I tried to hide it. My little sister saw me and said, "Look! You're showing already!" I sucked in my stomach and told her I was just bloated.

I asked my doctor about it. She confirmed that yes, a uterus has muscle memory and will sometimes expand more quickly after multiple pregnancies. I whined to my husband and to Brandi. I considered wearing only very baggy t-shirts. And then I won the print above and, for the first time in months, came to my senses.

Last year, Don and I lost two babies in a matter of six months. We had to wait to try to get pregnant. I have to stick needles into my pregnant tummy every evening to keep things going smoothly, and all of our prayers and pleas and doctor's visits have resulted in this amazing, miraculous, beautiful blessing. A pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy. A baby who is growing and measures large for his age, ahead of the game, who moves and kicks so ferociously that the sonographer couldn't capture his face on the camera.

Is it possible that I could be beautiful to Him, to the one who knew me all along, even when I denied He was real and opposed Him as often as I could? I have counted our losses as His grace. I count this newest child as a gift from Him. Swollen face, bruised belly, and all, I have to say that I am finally, finally, finally, starting to see that I am beautiful to Him. And, at the risk of sounding vain, to myself, too.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Making Your Place a Home: Cook in Your Kitchen

Nothing makes a place feel more like a home than the smell of something yummy wafting from the kitchen.

When I lived in a dorm room with only a toaster over (down the hall), or a tiny apartment in another country with a stove I couldn't figure out, or an ugly and lonely apartment with neighbors yelling downstairs, the smell of something warm drifting from the oven has always made me feel like I'm at home.

Even if it's just chicken nuggets in the oven, cooking something can help you feel settled in a new place.

I've had morning sickness and fatigue for the last 14 weeks or so, and have just found myself rounding the corner and feeling better, more like my normal self. The first thing I noticed was that our house was in need of some tender loving care. I left our messy house and went to the market to find something special to make.

Some glossy black eggplants sang to me. I found this recipe for eggplant parmesan that was easy and tasty. We had almost no mozzarella cheese when I made it, so I grated the little that we had on the tiniest holes of the box grater and sprinkled them between the layers of eggplant; the dish was lighter and perfectly delicious, even without all the cheese.

Do you cook your way back to a well-tended home, too?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Grow Where You're Planted

When Don and I decided to buy our first house in 2009, we knew we wanted to live in a very specific neighborhood. Austin's east side is a booming place where cultures, tradition, and the hip kids meet. Years earlier, when I was a grad student in social work, I had a field placement doing grief counseling with students at an east side junior high. I was drawn to the people, the neighborhoods, to the cross sections of culture that buzzed within a short walk from Austin's neon-lit downtown. I wanted to live there.

We found several tiny, partially dilapidated, in major need of repair homes that we knew, way deep down, were definitely meant for us. They were all perfect.

So we prayed. We connected with a great realtor (who thought we were crazy). We put offers down on houses.

And we got in bidding wars on almost every house. It was a nightmare. We thought we would never find the right place.

After lots of agonizing, we decided to humor our realtor (and parents and friends and colleagues) and at least look at the houses located miles from the glittering, paint-chipped east side.

On the second day of looking, we had an appointment to see a house at 10:15. We met our realtor at the address and I was immediately smitten with the enormous ancient live oak tree that shaded the entire house and front yard. A wooden swing hung from the lowest branch, and I felt a glimmer of hope that we might be able to live in dreaded suburbia after all.

The owners told our realtor they needed an extra 15 minutes before we could view the house, and as we waited in their front yard, we noticed a small "For Sale" sign at the house across the street. Our realtor didn't know the house was for sale, but saw that it had a lock box on the door. He unlocked it and we went inside.

Immediately it happened. Don and I both knew that this was our house. It had never shown up on our online searches because it was well out of our price range, but our realtor called the selling agent and learned that the current owners had reduced the price that very morning by $20,000, due to the economy.  It was within our price range. It was perfect. Shortly after, it became our home.

Even though we loved the way it looked and felt, all new and shiny, I couldn't understand why God (because we believe in listening to God through prayer and that He has specific plans for us, including where we live and grow roots) didn't want us living on the east side, renovating a falling down house and being close to our church and friends. I looked at our new home's extremely safe streets, picturesque playgrounds, and overbearing HOA newsletters and felt stunned that we were actually living in suburbia, where we had never intended to live.

Why would He plant us here?

The next week I learned that I was pregnant.

The next year I became best friends with Brandi, who owns the house with the ancient oak tree that we originally came here to view. We have spent a thousand hours swinging and talking under that tree. I am so glad we didn't buy her house and that she still lives there!

And then my dad realized that my cousin and his family (our families have never been close) lived six houses up from us. We invited them for dinner and reconnected just before they moved out of the neighborhood. They are wonderful people and I am so glad to know them.

And then I met Mrs. B, who is 74. She and her miniature chihuahua came over for a short visit and she told me all about her son, whom she loved with her whole heart from the day he was born until the day he died at 48 of a progressive illness. I cried with her. I am a young mother. I only have a toddler. What can I offer her? I apologized for the toys strewn all over our entire house, the sippy cup leaking drops of milk onto our floor. "Do you know what I would give to go back to these days, honey?" she asked me. She finds comfort in our slightly overgrown grass, in our untidy living room.

And then yesterday, I went to a park outside of our neighborhood and met a new mom. We talked about how much we want to be connected in our neighborhood. She asked me where I live and I told her. We live exactly two houses away from each other.

I am starting to get it. Finally. He has a plan for us here. I don't know all of the details. I don't know why He chooses some people to meet and connect on the east side and some people to connect in south Austin, but He does.

We are growing here. Here is home.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

This Time Around

This pregnancy, there are pills to swallow and shots to give.

 Lots of shots, in fact.
I am amazed by the magic that is contained in 4 ml of clear medicine. It looks like water, benign and odorless. A nothing shot, so small it almost doesn't exist. Yet, for my littlest one, it is life-saving.

With William, I craved salty things and bitter tastes. With this baby, it is entirely different. I dream of lettuce leaves and homemade caesar dressing, scrambled eggs and homemade veggie burgers. It feels strange to crave lettuce, but it has inspired me to grow our own.

And with this pregnancy, there is a fast running 20 month old to corral.
 He is a tangle of sweaty cherubim curls and questions.
 And baby feet stretching into boy.
He imitates everything, including rubbing kleenex onto his lower tummy and using his finger to pretend to give himself a shot. He is so precious to me. I love chasing him around. It hasn't gotten tiring yet, though I'm sure, in the coming months, it will.

One of his favorite toys is Kanga. It has been so helpful. Mommy has a baby in her tummy, just like Kanga has a baby in her tummy, we tell him. William nods his head as though it's the most sensible thing in the whole world, and then he runs to me and lifts my shirt. "Baby! Baby!" He can barely contain his excitement sometimes, pointing to the bruises covering my belly. A friend of ours has a newborn and while her baby slept, William and I peeked at him. "We're going to have a baby like that," I told him. He buried his head in my neck and hid his face. I wonder what will happen when he feels the baby kick for the first time.

With this pregnancy, I have no expectations. Or, at least, I try not to. I don't spend time looking at nurseries on pinterest, or shopping for newborn outfits online. I am pregnant, my baby is perfectly healthy right now, and that is enough for today. 

I have hope that, come the end of August, we will have a second child here on earth, but I don't really expect it yet. It's not that I don't trust God, or that I have a negative outlook. It's simply that I cannot predict tomorrow, or even what will happen later today. I believe that God is faithful and that He keeps His promises; He will guide me through whatever may come. 

I hope for another baby here on earth. But, if not on earth, I look forward to meeting my little ones later. 

A few weeks ago, for the first time, I was not sorry about losing two babies. If I had the chance to change things, I wouldn't have. I say that in all sincerity. Isn't His plan more perfect than mine ever could be? Our babies, all of them, are tiny pieces of a puzzle I can't see in its entirety.

I am so, so, so happy God has blessed Don and me with another pregnancy. I am pregnant today, and that is enough grace for me.