I Know (You Make It Through This)

I know it’s so unbearably hard.

I know it breaks your heart with an ache that goes all the way to your fingertips and makes it hard to focus your eyes.

I know it’s making you question all the choices you’ve made and your ability to make future ones.

You’re trying to do the right thing, but it. does. not. feel. right. At all.

If I could, I’d wave a big, ol’ magic wand and change all the factors in your life so this one thing can’t hurt you anymore. Your pain is so big, I feel it over here.

Here’s something else I know. You’re going to make it.

It sounds so trite to say, but you’ll have to take my words for it. I’ve seen you face down giants. I’ve seen you move mountains. I’ve seen you cross that bullet-filled No Man’s Land with your battle face on.

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This is not the thing that’s going to break you. You make it through this.

You aren’t alone in this, you know. Do you hear all of us chanting your name, cheering you on? We’re not mere spectators here, we’re all running our own races, fighting our own battles, but we see you. You’ve helped so many others. You’ve shown us that life isn’t over when it seems to go off-track.

Now, I can’t tell you exactly how, or when the fog will lift to let you see the way out. It will, though. It always does. You’ll eventually see the next step and you’ll be brave enough to take it and on and on. One day you’ll look back and see what you came through and you’ll see the strength in yourself that I see now.

I see you. I love you. I’m here, saying these words to you as firmly as I can across these interwebs. Read it all again if you need to, 100 times if you need to until you believe it.

I know you’d say these same things right back to me. I know just how amazing you are, always have been, and that you will get through this, pain and all.

Why It’s Ok If Your Mother’s Day Wasn’t

Mother’s Day makes me antsy. I know it’s over now, but I’ve still got some words to use about it.

During the days around Mother’s Day, my social media feed was filled with a mix of sentiments. From sweet Mommy-Offspring photos, to thankful tributes to Moms and Bonus Moms, to raw expressions of pain and disappointment because of unmet expectations, the experience of Mother’s Day–much like Motherhood—is all over the emotional spectrum.

I have positive feelings about the day, and my heart is tender toward those who don’t. “And” can be a vulnerable place to stand, thus the anstyness (or should I say andsiness?)

For women who go to church, Mother’s Day Sunday can also be a mixed bag. I’ve appreciated how my church acknowledges the day, but doesn’t make a big deal about it. I’ve seen how other churches use the Proverbs 31 passage (or alternately the stories of Sarah, Ruth, or Mary) in M-Day sermons, supposedly as an exhortation to moms, but it can have the reverse effect. We women walk away feeling under-qualified for the job, as we’ll NEVER EVER live up to that P31 unicorn of a woman, at least how she is presented in the traditional interpretation of the passage.

This year, my heart sank when my pastor said he was doing a Mother’s Day message. I looked skeptically up from my notes app thinking this was going to be a doozy.

Sure enough, he launched into how motherhood was chiefly fueled by sacrificial love. Then he did what I’ve been needing someone to do.

He put motherhood in its place.

College-aged Anna thought that being a wife and a mom was the highest calling for a woman, and that’s all I wanted to be. I also planned to get married right after graduation to the mystery man who met every qualification on the husband list I completed when I was 16. I loved to babysit, so I wanted eight children and couldn’t wait until all my days were full of babies and wifeyness.

Middle-aged, squishy-bellied Anna thinks being a wife and mom is really hard and, as callings go, isn’t so fulfilling. I KNOW what I’m doing has eternal value. It’s even fun and beautiful in the present time. I just didn’t expect to struggle so much to find joy in it all.

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Time out for naughty kids on the floor of a grocery store. It didn’t work!

I question if I would be a better, or at least happier, mom if I worked outside the home. I question if my kids are really better off having stayed home with a grumpy and easily-agitated me, rather than spending their formative years in a bright and cheery day care. I look at my mom, who still wrestles with the choices she made in our upbringing and still prays for the seeds she sowed decades ago to bear fruit. I hear lots of moms around me asking similar questions. Our families need so much from us and we have limited resources to meet those needs. So many times I feel like I’m running on fumes, and whatever works to get me filled back up doesn’t work for very long.

During the Sunday sermon, my pastor explained that since there was no way that mother’s could be adequately thanked or compensated with just one day of flowers and a meal we don’t cook, we had to find some other way to navigate the unavoidable sacrifices. Please, sir, tell me how!

He talked about his years of being a single dad after his young kids’ mom lost her battle to cancer. He obviously loved his children, but struggled with the unexpected life of giving far more than he was getting. He found being Mr. Mom was unfulfilling and somewhat boring. Yep, yep, so there!

I often wonder, is any of this going to be worth it? And if so, when, exactly? How long until I see this sacrifice, or investment–if you will–pay off?

Is there a way to be fulfilled in the sacrifice?

We’re all called to sacrificial love, my pastor (and Scripture) said. As disciples of Christ, the One who made the ultimate sacrifice, we’re called to lay down our lives for the sake of another, period. That’s a hard calling. It’s hard as a mother or a student or a parking lot attendant at Costco. Our culture and our human nature inclines toward pursuing fulfillment, not sacrifice, he said. Our true fulfillment though, our completed joy, comes from Christ.

I’ll admit, I’m better with words than drawing, but I got this picture when I was thinking of how I’ve come to understand this.

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John told me God looks scary and it looks like He’s giving me popcorn. I’ll probably stick to writing from now on.

I’ve been guilty of looking at motherhood, or calling, as the source of fulfillment, when it’s just meant to be a vessel. I’ve let entitlement slip into my relationship with God because I’m expecting answers, outcomes, and solutions from the thing He gave me rather than from Him.

Mother’s Day this year was actually really sweet for me. (Like really sweet, John got me Duck Donuts for breakfast!) My kids were so excited to give me their handmade gifts and the flowers they picked out for me are still blooming. It was made even sweeter, though, by the gift of this important message.IMG_8425

Motherhood, or any other calling, doesn’t belong on a pedestal. Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be full of Instagram-worthy images. Regardless of what others do for us on this day, it’s a good day to remember Christ’s sacrifice for us that makes our sacrifices possible, and His ever-lasting resources to keep us full.

(If you’re interested in listening to this message for yourself, you can get it here, or you can read the sermon notes here.)

 

 

Tears on Loan- National Infertility Awareness Week

Tears on Loan-2It’s been exactly seven years since I struggled with infertility. 10 1/2 years if you count when it started.

I’ve written at length about my journey through that hard time, but many of you are newer to reading my story and may not want to go scroll through my old blog (annasjoyblog.blogspot.com), so I’ll share a bit of it here.

We were married in 2005 and a year later planned to start trying for a baby. In anticipation of this, I prepared to separate from active duty service in the Air Force and we started clearing out the room that would be the nursery. It’d be more dramatic to say that room stayed empty for four more years, but the truth is that it served as a guest room and housed foster kids in the meantime.

A year and a half into the trying, we decided to get tested to see why we weren’t getting pregnant. The tests, including a Hysterosalpingogram, came back inconclusive. My obgyn suggested some things that might help; Metformin (a diabetes drug that was thought to help fertility), Clomid (a fertility drug that is supposed to regulate ovulation), seeing a urologist who specialized in male fertility, but nothing helped. We still didn’t have a baby and still didn’t know why.

I started following several bloggers who wrote about their journeys through infertility and started a support group with other women in my church desiring to be moms. Fortunately, I never felt alone, but I did feel lost because for us, there was no roadmap or timeline to the end of the journey.

If something can be both long-awaited and sudden, that’s how our infertility journey ended. In April 2010, Ayla came in to being. I knew someone was “in there” after about 12 days because I’d been Taking Charge of My Fertility. We wanted to have kids close(r) in age, but ours are three years apart (almost exactly. April is a good month for us!), so we had a second–shorter–trip in the waiting lane.

Sometimes I see one of my kids interacting with someone, creating joy with their magical smiles and hugs, and I think, “yep, that’s why they are alive and this age at this very moment.” And while that might be a comfort to me now, I’m not naive enough to try to use it as hope bait for someone still waiting for the end of that journey.

I still struggle with infertility because I still have precious friends walking through it. It feels somewhat trite for me to sit here with my life full of mommyhood, saying “I know what you’re going through.” But there isn’t a month that goes by that I don’t remember what it was like to want to be pregnant, to mourn on the day it was clear I wasn’t and to hold the questions of Why and When like burning coals in my heart.

No, it’s not the season I’m in anymore, but I want to remember it and honor those who have been through it and are still there. My tears for the loss of dreams, expectations crushed and unanswered questions may be stored in the vault of memories, but today I’m taking them out on loan for my loved ones still in the wait.

In honor of this week, a time to recognize that infertility exists and affects millions of women (1 in 8 couples), I’m raising my hand and waving my banner to support those I love in this battle.

One of my favorite warrior mamas, JM, shared an incredible blog post about her story of Unexplained Secondary Infertility, and I’d love for you to read it. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with any type of infertility, there’s a list of resources at the end of her blog you should check out.

Finally, I’d love to pray for you (for this or any other issue) if you’d trust me with that. Leave a comment or email me at annasjoy at gmail. Thank you.

 

 

Back in America. What Now?

Today I’m linking up with some brilliant writers I met through the book launch team I’m on. The theme this week is “What Now,” and we’re sharing about transitions and changes. This is a good one for me to start with since I get to do a lot of transition and changing in my family.

So here I am, almost 10 months after moving back to the States from a three-year tour in the Middle East. It’s just enough time to feel like the major areas of transitions are mostly stabilized.

My focus for the first few months after moving into our new place was to get the kids settled. Find them beds, friends and routine and help them process all the changes from the only life they knew previously. The kids are by far the most resilient of us, but we couldn’t overlook what their little hearts and bodies go through.

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At one point, this was the furniture in our living room. Got iPad? Kids’ll be just fine!

As they were getting settled, I also worked to get our house set up. We received all our earthly goods in three shipments over the course of four months, so it was (is) a slow process. I took full advantage of neighborhood sale groups, Craigslist and rediscovered an old love-thrift shops-to furnish and decorate.

My husband jumped pretty quickly into his new assignment, a fast-paced job that requires long hours and frequent travel. These are not new facets of his job, we just had to get used to the differences of living in the D.C. area while dealing with them.

We had maintained a close connection with our church in D.C. and the transition to going back has been sweetly easy. Our kids are loved and thriving in the children’s ministry. John and I have found areas to use our gifts to bless others in the church, but mostly have been in receive mode for others’ gifts during this re-entry time.

Through all this, there was a pretty major area I mostly ignored in the way of being intentional about the transition. Me. Maybe this is something we do as moms or as women or humans, but I know I’m not alone in putting myself last.

Oh sure, I read plenty about putting the oxygen mask on yourself first and self-care and filling my tank so I have extra to give, but it’s much easier to read than do. I’m the last person who’s going to tell you how important all that is, because I’ve done a pitiful job of doing it.

Until recently.

I explained it to my counselor like this: I didn’t have much margin or resources to handle some of the hardships of being in the desert, so I stuffed them down to deal with “later.” There were babies to have, toddlers to raise, jobs to struggle with, home-preschools to start, husbands to support, home churches to run, Bible studies to lead, trips to take, bomb threats to wait out, sand storms to weather, and groceries to buy (a much harder task than you’d expect when you factor in scheduling drivers and stores closing for prayer).

Look, there are some good, beautiful things in this list. My kids had a wonderful time there and still talk about how much they miss it. They had a charmed life. My husband had a different kind of wonderful time, with an engaging job and living in what can absolutely be called “a man’s world.” So, I absorbed most of the “suck.” (I also had a very good life there, but that’s a different post).

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In a world where only men can drive, you have to start them young.

Now I’m here, in the land of the free, with so much goodness and green grass around me, but I’ve got all this stuff compressed inside.

My compressor is at capacity now. My “stuff” is leaking out and I’m flinching from my bursts of anger and stepping in puddles of depression. I don’t recognize my thought patterns and don’t trust my instincts anymore. It’s “later,” and I need help dealing with it. I need someone else with their oxygen mask on to help me with mine.

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To prove my point, here is a screen shot of a Google Image search for “airplane oxygen mask.” I GET IT!!

Help for me looks like this these days: Healing Prayer appointments, professional counseling (can I get a Hallelujah!?), membership at a gym with free childcare, and permission from John to take a morning every week to write and ignore the dishes.

What’s next? With the support of my family and dear friends, I’m going to get my Self unpacked and healthy again. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), there’s no time table for that, so who knows how long it will take. I’m sure it will give me plenty to write about, so hooray for you!

If you have a moment, please check out the other blogs linked here to see how others are writing about transitions and changes. Thank you!

Of Musical Geniuses and Laminations

The copy machine at my daughter’s school turned into a time machine the last time I used it.

What’s really weird about it is that it took me to two different places at once, a parallel universe within a time warp, if you will.

It was parent-teacher conference day and I had accidentally arrived an hour early for my appointment. Earlier this year I volunteered to be on call for lamination projects, so I put the extra hour to good use to help clear out the task basket.

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Instead of the school hallway though, I was suddenly 17 years ago and a few hours down the road. I worked at a big office supply store as one of my many jobs in grad school. I loved working there. You wouldn’t guess by my messy desk, but I love organization. I might actually love the idea of being organized more, but just working in that store allowed me to live in an organizational fantasy.

Life got even better when I transferred to the copy center, or should I say, “heaven.” I really did enjoy making copies (ooh, do you want that double-sided, collated, color, on cardstock?), binding documents, laminating, and helping design business cards and banners. I mean, I was Leslie Knope before she was.

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For someone like me who likes to check off boxes and have something pretty to show for a day’s work, the copy center was my happy place. Don’t even get me started on the thrill of being able to clear a paper jam without needing the manual. Give me that work order, sir or madam, and I will give you your completed project.

As I copied and clipped little clock worksheets in my daughter’s school so the children could learn to tell time, I easily settled back into the sweet rhythm of my copy center days.

The other place the time machine took me was a not so distant time, but a very far off place. When we moved to the Middle East almost four years ago, I had a hook-up for a job at an international preschool teaching music to the little ones. I’ve decided to do a whole separate post about this job, but for now I’ll say it was one of the worst I’ve ever had.

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They did give me a cake on my last day there, so it wasn’t all bad!

I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I didn’t know how to manage the classes. I had so many students in so many classes at different levels, with no training for either teaching music or teaching children. Doing both in an international setting with language and cultural barriers, being pregnant and enduring culture shock and a 2-year-old who was also adjusting to all these changes just about did me in. I looked forward to the semester ending almost every day from the first one.

As the end of the semester loomed, I learned that I had to fill out report cards and do parent teacher conferences. I had over 70 students on a bi-weekly basis and had to fill out a report card for every one of them!

Then, to do parent-teacher conferences? Thankfully, I had only three kids’ parents sign up to meet with me, and only two showed up. I asked for some guidance on the meetings, which was that the parents usually just wanted to hear that their child was a musical genius. If I was under-qualified to be teaching these classes, I was negatively qualified to make the “musical genius” determination. I ended up telling these parents that they should pursue individual lessons for their children if they were interested, and keep them exposed to all kinds of music, which would help them in all kinds of learning. They heard what they wanted to.

Stepping back into the present, I shuddered as I waited for Ayla’s teacher to tell me what a genius she is. I’m so glad I’m not on the other side of that little classroom table anymore! I’m more than happy to do my part by the laminator.

(In the final approach to my 40th birthday, I’m contemplating my past, present and future. You’re likely to see more posts like this and I hope you stick around!)

 

 

14 going on 40

Oh good, you’re just in time to hear one of my embarrassing secrets about my past.

When I was in high school, I was sure that once I got my ears pierced, my life would be instantly, completely and permanently better (or, using the lingo of the day, “rad”). My mom’s rule for all four of us kids–boys and girls– was that we could pierce whatever we wanted after we turned 16. Before you think she was a complete prude, I’ll have you know that we could dye our hair any color we wanted starting at 13, but piercings had to wait.

So you can better appreciate my naiveté, here’s some background. I returned from a two-week trip to India with my church’s youth group in late summer of 1992 to learn I was starting my junior year at a big public school. I was 14. And #ohbytheway school started the next day! Talk about culture shock! Up until then, I’d always been either homeschooled or in small private Christian schools. Fourteen is young for 11th grade, yes? Because of my home/private schooling, I’d completed all the requirements for 10th grade without knowing it. I turned 15 a few weeks into my junior year, but I was still pretty young and lost in that big school.

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Pretty young and lost .But great hair.

It didn’t take long, though, to determine who the popular, pretty girls were and where I fit in (or didn’t) with the different crowds. I studied those pretty girls and figured that if I could have earrings like they had (early 90s=big, glorious hoops), I’d be 90% on my way to getting a boyfriend. (The rule that I also couldn’t date until I was 16 was an obstacle, but I had a plan.) Once I had a boyfriend, I’d have the self-confidence to be popular and good at everything, and also successful for the rest of my life. The other 10% had to do with my hair and glasses, but with cool earrings, a popular girl would take notice of me, recognize my potential and give me a makeover. I had seen the movies.

I’m laughing at little Anna right now, but also want to give her a big hug and present some realistic expectations. Today, though, I’m not all that different than her/me.

I’m turning 40 this September. I’m one of those people who doesn’t mind getting older. Maybe it’s because I was the youngest in the class my whole life, but especially from 11th grade on, that I’ve valued aging. As those numbers go up, so has my appreciation for life and understanding of what I contribute to it.

The “earrings” of this stage in my life is my long-held belief that by 40 I will have It All figured out. I’ll know what I want to be when I grow up and be on a steady track toward it. I’ll be in the greatest shape of my life, still able to fit into my wedding dress and look great in tank tops. I’ll be a patient, joyful mom, and a sweet, selfless wife. Faith won’t be a struggle and I’ll be able to express it perfectly in words both written and sung (both of which will be publicly validated and in high demand).

(Are you laughing, too?)

So 40. Yeah, 40 is where it all comes together. Questions are answered and self is done being formed. I’ll know who I am and where I’m going.

Fifteen-year-old Anna is shaking her head at me with her newly pierced ears still throbbing. Even though Mom let me get my ears pierced a year early because of my skipped grade (and she loved me), I didn’t instantly get a boyfriend (shockingly), self-confidence or life success. I don’t think anything even changed! I was still little nerdy me.

Fifteen-year-old Anna is suggesting that my dreams of being 40 are probably not very realistic. My immediate retort is that maybe we can bump the “dream age” back to 45, since I got married and had kids so much later than initially planned. 18-year-old newly drivers-licensed me is probably going to knock that idea down, too, though.

Now you know my secret. I’m almost 40 and I don’t have my life together yet, and may not get there in the next few months. (I do still have awesome hair and black and white striped shirts, so there’s that.)

Did you have an age or stage you anticipated in your life that turned out differently than you planned? Or not? Has anything in life gone as you planned? Can you look back and see that you did get “there” eventually, just not the way you thought? Or you never got there and that’s ok? Is that too many questions? #okIllstop

Love in the Preschool Drop-Off Line

 

To the caregivers:

The Grammas and Grandpas,

The Dads and Moms,

The Nannies and Aunties,

Who fight the good fight every day or three days a week to drop off their precious little monsters at preschool.

img_0646I see you lugging your preschooler and their even younger siblings in for drop-off, getting that stroller and car seat and diaper bag and school bag out, and holding on to all the wiggly, sticky hands as you cross the parking lot full of anxious drivers wanting to use up every quick minute of the short preschool day.

I see you braving the wind and rain and ancient elevators and narrow hallways, herding those little explorers past water fountains and coat racks to deliver them safely to the wonderful hands who will teach and entertain them (and be entertained by them) for a few hours while you do other important work.img_0647

I see you there in the hallway, negotiating with a tantruming toddler who is wearing the wrong shoes (even though they were his favorite yesterday) and acting like this is the first day of a life sentence to hard labor instead of a Tuesday in the fifth month of school.

I see your faces as you are nearing the end of probably the 17th task you’ve had today, at 9 am, to leave that wee one with someone else. You can’t help but smile at the other little sweeties making the same trek. They’re so cute when they aren’t ours, aren’t they? You make eye contact with the other caregivers, and you speak without talking, “We’re almost there! We did it! They’ll be fine. Let’s get out of here!”

I think of how simple it was for our ancestors; just plopping the toddler down in the mud or field and going on with their work. They knew the other people in the village would help keep an eye on them, as all the children were all of theirs. Even though our society has evolved and now we have a complicated system of car seats, traffic laws, background checks and classroom rules, we’re still essentially plopping them down and going on with our work. We know that all the children are all of ours.

So, cheers to you caregivers dropping off. This is a good work we do. We may or may not miss these days when the tots get old enough to make their own way to a longer school day, but we can know they’re meaningful now. The important work we do on these days isn’t just what we “get” to do while our kids are in their brightly decorated classrooms.img_0648

It’s good work to get them out of the door at a tortoise’s pace and to handle one hundred questions or protests from the back seat. It’s good work navigating the obstacle course of crowded parking lots and hallways. It’s even there in the “been there” smiles to our fellow caregivers.

It’s this way we’re demonstrating to these little ones that we belong to each other, and it’s well worth the hard work to be together. It’s showing them that we aren’t their only caregivers worthy of trust, and that this is a good world for them to be a part of. As slow as they move to get ready for preschool these days, they’ll be flying out of our nests tomorrow. It’s good for us to see that we’re not caring for them alone, and it’s good to practice the handoff.

I’m proud of us, preschool drop-offers! Good work!

(See you at pick-up!)