Sunday, December 2, 2012

My New Christmas

When I was a little girl, I used to make little things into special things in my mind. I would get all sentimental and romantic in an Anne of Green Gables kind of way, and somehow, through my imagination, little things like arranging the nativity set became a magical and ceremonial happening.
Few things really are that magical, of course, even celebrating Christmas. Except, it is. This year, even though today is only the second day of December, Christmas is already magical.
And this is why.
Have you even experienced the birth of a child, reader?
I don't mean the awful video from high school sex ed that made you swear never ever to have a child. I mean really. Have you given birth yourself, or seen your wife give birth? A best friend or sister, perhaps? Or as a medical student, on your first delivery?
If you haven't, stick with me anyway. But if you have, you know what I mean. Because I now have, Christmas is a much fuller and more beautiful celebration to me.
The real miracle of Christmas reader, is not that a virgin had a child. The real miracle is that the child was God. The Almighty, the Highest of all High Kings, the Maker of heaven and earth, the eternal, unchanging and perfect God shrunk himself, condescended not only to being a human, but being born a baby human.
The miracle is that He loved us enough, while we were still His enemies, to humble Himself, limit Himself to the lowest form of earth-bound man. He would experience physical pain, physical hunger, emotional heartbreak, hormonal changes, puberty, disappointment ... but first, He had to learn how to nurse. He had to learn how to lift His head, to roll over, to use His hands. He had to learn to crawl and stand and walk and speak.
God. God had to learn all those things. Because He came to earth as a baby.
Singing Christmas hymns in church this morning and holding my crowing, smiling boy, I was suddenly overwhelmed.
The birth of any baby is a miracle. The rush of emotion that steals your breath and brings unexpected tears to your eyes, because even though you knew in your head that that round lump of belly hid a human child, actually seeing and holding that child somehow still is incredibly amazing. It's almost a surprise.
But Jesus -- He was not only a miracle because He was a baby human with tiny, wrinkled toes and a rooting reflex. He was a miracle because He was a baby human and God with tiny, wrinkled toes and a rooting reflex.
And because He was God, because He was sinless, because He loves us more than we understand, because He died as a human and now is raised in a new body that we will one day experience, because all these beautiful, complicated and simple gospel truths, Christmas is magical.
Look at the next baby you see. Imagine knowing that tiny human is God, and would redeem your soul from sin and death.
That truly is a miracle, and worth celebrating.

Joy to those who long to see thee,
Dayspring from on high appear
Come thou promised rod of Jesse,
Of thy birth we long to hear
O'er the hills the angels singing,
News, glad tidings of a birth
Go to him, your praises ringing,
Christ the Lord has come to earth

Come to earth to taste our sadness,
He whose glories knew no end
By his life he brings us gladness,
Our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend
Leaving riches without number,
Born within a cattle stall
This the everlasting wonder,
Christ was born the Lord of all

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesdays with Jude

I should be editing essays to earn some money, or packing in preparation for driving down to Chattanooga tomorrow ... but I'd much rather hang out with Jude.
Almost three months old!
We practiced sitting up in the Bumbo this morning, which, with a little help from a pillow, went over really well.
Then, he got a tired from all that work holding his head up, and was ready for a nap. But first, a little cuddle-and-pacifier time.
He's figuring out his hands, so he loves holding our fingers (or my sweater/scarf/necklace...).
It's been a good morning.
I even got to drink my coffee.

Monday, November 5, 2012

My First Pinterest Craft

I don't claim to be amazingly crafty like the many talented bloggers out here.
But, Andrew went hiking on Saturday, and Jude napped all afternoon, so I got my crafty hat on and made a pretty.
This was my inspiration:
Pinned Image
Image from Style Me Pretty
And this is my front door now!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


We're doing this thing, this parenting thing. Andrew and I look at each other in wonder every now and then and realize that, day by day, we're making it. By God's wonderful grace, we are making it; and we are growing and seeing the joys more each day.
It was hard, especially at first, to see much (or any) of the so-called "joys of parenting" that you hear about. We felt cheated, lied to. There are no joys in inconsolable screams or removing a diaper just as he decides to pee, or waking up every hour to feed a baby who refuses to wake up to eat. Doctor's orders.
But, mercifully, time passes.
And there are joys. And these joys will multiply as Jude grows, and as we grow as parents. Joys are coming in his infectious smiles, sweet conversations of coos and gurgles, in those eyes that gaze with such trust when we give him a bottle or a bath. Joys are coming in a little hand curled up as he sleeps, and as his newborn onesies are almost too small already, we realize he's growing and healthy.
He's already changed so much. From this:
(This was literally when they first handed him to me. I still had that wretched oxygen tube up my nose...)
To this:
Five weeks old!
I keep being reminded that parenting, like marriage, was created for our joy, yes, but much deeper, for our sanctification.
I'm so glad God knows what He's doing.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Say Cheese!

Happy October! It's raining and chilly, so I am celebrating appropriately with sweatpants and a giant cup of coffee. I would be celebrating with a giant nap, but the man-cub may or may not allow that. He's dozing right now, and he keeps waking up and then fighting the sleepiness; it's adorable to watch his little eyes closing and him trying so hard to keep them open. But I think the sleep will lose this battle. He's much too interested in the world to nap.

Jude will be one month on Wednesday, October 3!Times flies when you don't sleep much...

He's started to chub up on his cheeks and thighs, and although he's much more interested in crawling than holding his head up when it's belly playtime, he loves to hold his head up when you hold him on your shoulder. He's becoming incredibly conversational, responding to us (and asking for attention) with a variety of coos and aahs and adorable baby noises.

And, best of all, we're getting smiles. Seeing him like this helps make the grumpy days (like today) much more bearable.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

The truth about parenting: Three week update

You know, I think if starry-eyed young couples really knew how hard the first weeks with a newborn would be, the human race would've died out ages ago. But we have the amazing capacity to forget the hard things and so you hear sweet words from older ladies like, "Cherish every moment!" because they've forgotten what it was like to have a brand-new baby.

It's 3 in the morning and he's screaming. I don't want to cherish this moment. I want to go to sleep and forget it and pretend I don't have a baby so I can sleep more than two hours at a time.

Just being honest.

It's been a rough first three weeks. It's not Jude's fault. He's a tiny human, and crying is his only way to tell us he needs us. So, he cries. Actually, he's a very happy baby 80% of the time. Seriously. He spent practically all day yesterday on his little playmat, happy as could be to watch the world around him. But the screaming quickly escalates, and it's only trial-and-error to figure out what he needs to stop the screaming, let him know we're taking care of him... I think that's the hardest part for Andrew and me. We so want him to know he's loved and taken care of, but he's only three weeks old and still learning to trust us. So, he screams.

The doctors weren't pleased with his weight gain the first couple of weeks, so they put us on a crazy stressful feeding schedule, which took over all of our time and prevented either Jude or me from getting any actual sleep. They sent me to the lactation consultant multiple times, gave me supplimentary feeding tubes, told me to pump after every feeding... oh, and make sure you get some rest, too. That's a good one, doc.

It's startling how it stings to think that you can't provide for your baby, that maybe your body just can't do enough to help him grow. It hurts. It's personal. It makes you cry.

But, as of Monday, he's gaining weight well, and maybe after next week we can let him set the eating schedule, instead of waking the poor kid up in the middle of the night.

We love our man-cub fiercely. I just wanted to let you know that parenting is hard work. Literally, physically hard work.

So, pray for us, reader. We're adjusting and learning and struggling, because we're selfish sinners who want a convenient baby who fits our schedule and doesn't disrupt the comfortable life we had before he arrived. Silly. Babies are never convenient. Sanctification is never comfortable.

We want to love Jude well. We want to teach him the gospel well. And I guess that starts with being reminded every day that we need it, too. I certainly do.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hey, Jude!

A week ago today, Andrew and I were playing Settlers of Catan with our buddy Bogle and listening to the Avett Brothers' new album when I realized I should probably start timing my contractions. Seven minutes. Seven minutes. 

We went to bed, still timing. I slept a few hours until the contractions began to wake me up at about 1:30, so I paced our bedroom for a couple hours, watching my phone clock. Five minutes. Three minutes. Slow, cleansing breaths.

At 4:30, I woke Andrew up. We packed our last few things, checked and re-checked our list, left a house key for Bogle and stuck our heads in the guest room to tell him we were headed to the hospital. 

By 5:00, I was dressed in a hospital gown (Andrew: "Oh, what a pretty dress!"), checked in, 4 cm dialated and 100% effaced. Time to have this baby!

My pregnancy was so uncomplicated that I expected a rough labor, just out of principle. As the nurses came in to check on me, and as Bogle and my friend Christen arrived to stick out the day with us, I kept being told, "You're a strong woman!" My OB told me I was stoic. Honestly, reader, it just didn't hurt that bad. I wasn't putting on. No worse than a bad period cramp, and about the same pain level as my miscarriage.

Two hours later, I was at 5 cm. My doctor came in and informed me that this was probably as bad as it would get. "Getting to 5 can be the hardest part." If this is as bad as it will get, I can do this! I was feeling pretty proud of myself for handling the pain so well. 

And as we all know, pride goeth before a fall.

I was at 5 cm for hours, reader. And as surely as my body wasn't progressing, the pain was. Suddenly, it hurt. Intensely. And I wasn't even halfway done having this baby. I had planned on getting pain medicine through an IV if I needed it, because epidurals are terrifying. (Seriously? You're going to put a giant needle in my spinal cord?) But the IV is only temporary; they take it out before you start to push. Plus, as the doctor put it to me, if I wanted an epidural it was now or never: the anesthesiologist was about to go into a procedure that could take hours. Now or nothing. 


Fifteen minutes later, I was hooked up.

Still not progressing. The doctor broke my water and stretched me out to 8 with her fingers ("You could never do this to a woman without an epidural." No kidding.) 

At 1:00, Andrew's family arrived, having been driving from Tennessee since we called them in the wee hours. Fifteen minutes later, my parents arrived, also having been driving all day from South Carolina. Fifteen minutes after that, it was time to push. 

I had been told repeatedly since checking in at 5 that baby's head was really low. "You shouldn't have to push very long! He's right there!" Okay, maybe I can do this...

Two and half hours later, I was still pushing. He was still not crowning. I was so exhausted, I was falling asleep between contractions, which I could still feel despite the epidural, just not excruciating as they surely were without. Again, a now-or-never decision from the doctor. "Well, you can keep pushing for another hour, or we can try suction, or you can have a C-section." 

Why do I have to make important medical decisions in this mental condition?

Let's try suction. A section scares me about as much as an epidural. I push and do 90% of the work, the doctor pulls the other 10%.

He never crowned, Andrew says. His head went from being totally inside to being totally outside in one push. His cord was wrapped around his neck, so Andrew had to cut it quickly and then one more push -- and...

I'll never forget the sound of Andrew's voice, full of exhaustion and tears and exhilaration: "You did it!"

Jude Smith Sweeny. Welcome to the world. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Eviction Notice

I don't think anyone told the man-cub that today is his day to rise and shine.
... except that's not true, because Andrew keeps poking my belly and saying, "Out! Come out!" It would appear our son is stubborn. Oh, dear.
I want to kiss his little fingers.
I think my prayers at this point are something akin to a little girl tugging on her father's sleeve:
"When, Daddy? When can I have my present? Soon?"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why We Are Not Poor

Reader, let's be honest.

My husband is a medical student at a private institution. This means we are shelling out major bucks and digging a dark and ugly pit of debt to fund his education. Four years of tuition that continues to rise. This also means he can't get a job to make more money because, well, medical school plus a kid and wife is all a reasonable soul can handle.

I have a degree in English Literature, an almost 39-week-old baby in my belly (any day now...), and even when I was working full-time, it was at a daycare, loving on toddlers. Toddlers don't pay much. Yes, I have a part-time gig as a writing tutor now that I'm officially a stay-at-home mom, but still. Not much.

Technically and realistically, Andrew and I are living under the poverty line. We qualify for food stamps and for Medicaid; the Commonwealth of Virginia is singlehandedly paying for my maternity insurance and medical care, and will pay for the man-cub's insurance. Our two cars are from the 1990s, I don't think we paid for a single piece of furniture in our home, and we pretty much only go out to eat when we have coupons or gift cards. Oh, and Wal-Mart price-matching? We are professionals. Don't get behind us in line. We will take forever.

In the eyes of society, we are poor.

But reader, I have never really thought of us as poor. I don't think we are at all.

We have a sweet little townhouse full of furniture and appliances; we have running water and air conditioning (not that we need it in Virginia); we have shelves full of books, and a fridge full of food.

Our friends and family have outdone themselves in providing for us as we've needed it. I don't think Andrew and I have bought anything that is in the nursery out of of our own pockets. Maybe a cute onesie or two on super-sale at Gap, but nothing else. All given to us, or funded by gift cards given. What?! Our son is completely provided for.

(Andrew and I finished up our baby needs this week with BabiesRUs giftcards; our total? $148.00 How much we had in giftcards? $148.00. Coincidence? You'd be a fool to think it.)

I don't think we've ever had a time when we wondered if we could pay the bills. Student loans, electricity, groceries, even internet ... all paid, every month. Like the widow's oil, we have always been had exactly what we need.

I'm only referencing physical needs, but we are so richly blessed; I don't know how to describe it to you. My heart is full, and our hands are full. And we have friends, we have family, we have dear souls that love us. We have a wonderful church community that pours into us, and that we long to pour back into.

Humbling? Absolutely! It is hard to accept grace. It is humbling and embarassing to admit that you have a need; it is hard for an adult to accept a gift un-asked for. Children never question unprecedented giving, but we are suspicious and embarassed as adults. We want to take care of ourselves, admit we have it all together, show no weakness or want or need.

But of course Andrew and I have needs. It is foolish to refuse to admit it. But we don't have them for long. We don't have deep pockets, but, oh reader! We have a great God with the deepest pockets of all! And how He gives! How He gives!

Poor? Psh. Certainly not us. Nor will we ever be.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Looking Good

As of Thursday, my body is ready whenever the little man is. I'm already dialated, effaced, all that jazz -- now it's all up to him when it's time. I find it incredibly fascinating that medical science still has no idea what induces labor. None. Could be today, could be in three weeks.

Bags are packed, lists are made, the nursery is ready... we're all just waiting on him.

I must admit, on an absolutely selfish note, that I am so ready to not be pregnant any more. I want to wear pretty clothes like these...

Pinned Image
Image via

Pinned Image

I'm ready to wear jeans and dresses with natural waists and scarves and belts. Fall is my favorite fashion season.

I'm ready to get out the Kettlebell and some new tennis shoes, to start working on getting my body to a place I feel pleased about.

But I won't be the only one looking good; I'm so excited to dress the man-cub in little cuties like these...

Image via

Image via

Being a mother isn't glamorous, but it's certainly not all wails and spit-up, either.
God is good. We are blessed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Barefoot and Pregnant: Little Apple Pies!

I am a rules person. To an embarassing extreme. I read the directions like five times before I even attempt to do anything, and even then I'm constantly checking and re-checking to make sure I'm doing it right. I have a getting-it-right thing.

Cooking, especially. I rarely dare to put anything new together in the kitchen without at least scanning a recipe, if not having a copy in front of me for meticulous inspection. Pitiful, I know. I'm a dependant personality.

But not this time!

I think pregnancy cravings are all what you make them in your own head. We all have cravings for food, pregnant or not, and I think being pregnant just gives women an excuse to eat whatever they want -- and it makes husbands feel like they have to buy whatever the lady says she wants. Andrew refuses to buy me things (because I told him that his job was to keep me from getting fat). But sometimes, I have indulged.

And this time, the pregnant voices said Apple Pie!

I can make an excellent apple pie, but Andrew and I cannot eat a whole pie. Well ... we probably can. Just shouldn't. Plus, I really wanted to make leetle cute pies instead of one big pie.

I decided to make biscuit dough instead of pie crust, because it's sturdier and easier (and yummier!) . So I put on my biscuit-making apron.

 I threw together my mom's recipe, which we both just make by feel, but you can use your favorite biscuit mix/frozen whatever/recipe. I patted the dough out all nice and flat and thin.

Andrew chopped up my apples, and I mixed them up with cinnamon, sugar, and cornstarch. Yum!

I didn't know how big I wanted to make my pies, so I decided to try a couple different sizes. First, I cut out a 5 or 6-inch square of dough (to make a triangle pie), transferred it to my cookie sheet, filled that sucker full of delicious apple goodness, and folded it over.

After making only two of those, I realized they were way too big. Time to downsize.

I decided to try the regular biscuit-size, cutting out circles and then patting the dough out even more. I usually make my biscuits really thick and fluffy, but too fluffy would drown the apples, so I patted them out nice and thin.
More apple filling and folding!

 I didn't bother sealing them perfectly, because the juice was leaking (make sure you Pam your pan!), and the dough was exhausted and not-so-sticky from being messed with so much by this point. And this meant I didn't have to slit breathing holes in the tops, so I let them be. Like little apple tacos.

In the oven at 350 for 25 minutes, and the house smelled amazing. I washed the dishes to pass the time because I'm such a good home-maker.

The huge pies turned out enormous. I'm glad I only made two, though they're very good.

(I had to slice it in half to fit in on my dessert plate...)

The little ones were much cuter.

We didn't have any ice cream, but a glass of milk was certainly good enough for me.
Easy peasy.


Little Apple Pies

Preheat oven to 350 Farenheit. Grease a cookie sheet and set aside.
Prepare your favorite biscuit dough - enough for a dozen or so biscuits.
(my biscuits are simply made of self-rising flour, Crisco, and milk)

3 or 4 Granny Smith apples
1/2 cup brown or white sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
cinnamon to taste (I used about a teaspoon, I think)
nutmeg to taste (optional)

Peel and chop the apples. The smaller your pies, the smaller the chunks. Mix with sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

On a floured surface, pat out dough to 1/2 to 1/4 -inch thick. Cut out biscuits; if dough is 1/2-inch thick, pat out cut biscuit to thin it. Place on cookie sheet.

Fill half of biscuit with apple mixture, leaving room to seal sides. Fold empty half over apple mixture and pinch sides to get a loose seal. (Or make a tight seal and cut a slit in the top for steam to escape.)
Repeat with remaining dough, placing each pie about an inch or so apart on the cookie sheet, depending on how much your biscuits will rise.

Pop in the oven! Bake according to the time for your biscuit recipe. The apples will cook, don't worry -- just don't burn the biscuits! Get them nice and golden brown.
 If desired, brush the tops with the sugary apple juice left over from your apple mixture for a nice glaze.

 Enjoy! (They're just as good the next day, I promise. I had some for breakfast.)
Tell me how they work for you!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The reason the Son of God appeared

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
- 1 John 3:8

And the King says, "Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away. Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying. Because all these things are gone. Yes, they're gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue. And see -- I have wiped away every tear from every eye!"

And then a deep beautiful voice that sounded like thunder in the sky says, "Look, I am making everything new!"

- Sally Lloyd Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible

Image via


Reader, the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. To bring in His kingdom, to bring light to the darkness, healing to the broken, sight to the blind. To show that when He is king, all things are made new. Being in submission to Jesus means the truest, deepest freedom. Obedience to Him is the only freedom, because one day, we will be free completely from sin, free only to obey. And everything sad will come untrue.

This is our hope, our promise, our future.

Today, my heart is full of this joy.

I hope I never stop learning this, never stop teaching this to my son.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Home. All day. Every day.

Reader, that is terrifying. 

It sounds wonderfully refreshing and free sometimes, but then, other times, it's a right hook I wasn't watching for: I'm going to be home all day by myself with a tiny baby. A beautiful, dearly loved baby boy, yes, but the thought is still intimidating. I am choosing to not hand him off to a daycare worker and continue my own way and career path. I'm choosing to mesh my life and his, not separate them.

Death is frightening. And that, reader, is what's coming. Millie is going to die. 

Maybe only for a season, and hopefully so that from this death will be born a wiser, more mature woman of God (by His grace!), but that future hope doesn't negate the fact that putting to death the Millie that I am now is going to be painful. 

I'm haunted by fears that the parts of me I value so highly are going to shrink away. What if I don't even have time to write?  I never want to look back one day and say sadly to my children, "Oh, I used to write poetry in college." I do not want to give this part of me to the Lord; I don't want to relinquish my white-knuckle grip on this love of mine that seems so desperately inseparable from my identity. I'm afraid that these sacrifices will not be given back to me. I'm afraid that His best for me and our family is not what I want.

Oh, I know that there are groups and forums and programs. I know there are opportunities. I know that this world is full of by-hell-you-can-do-it! support groups and new friends and other young moms; and I know that I am blessed with a beautiful web of friends and family ready and willing to love and speak truth to me. 

I also know this will be good, and worth no matter what I give up, because I believe that God is sovereign over all things, and I believe that His process of sanctifying me is perfect.

I just want to admit: I'm afraid. And I think that's okay, too. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Leaves are Turning

And now, everything changes.

Yesterday was my last day working at The Adventure Club Center, my last day with my little lovies. I didn't feel sentimental really, because it didn't feel like the end until I actually had to leave. And even then, though it was sad to tell them goodbye, I know that moving on now is right. It was humbling to receive sweet notes and a few gifts from some parents; I hope I have really been a blessing to them and their children. I certainly will miss seeing the kids and their parents -- but Blacksburg is a small enough town that I hope to see them around.

The sad irony is that I wasn't able to stay all day yesterday to tell all my parents goodbye. Andrew was supposed to meet me for a celebratory last-day-of-work lunch, but instead of his presence, I got a text from him that he was running a 102.7 fever. Oy! I ended up leaving work early to come home and take care of him. He was so miserable. He's sleeping now, and he didn't have a fever anymore as of an hour ago, so I'm hoping he's sleeping the sleep of recovery, not of further illness.

What now? All the leaves in my life are flipping over! (Terrible cliche. Sorry.)

When Andrew is well, we'll be heading down south to visit my parents and then his parents over the next or so. As much as we have been traveling this summer, we have not actually gone anywhere for the purposes of visiting and relaxing except one weekend. We've been to weddings galore, Andrew's taken his Boards... but we've always just been in and out with an agenda. This week, we get to go see family just to visit! Hallelujah! We have a stack of books, our swim gear, and a gallon of freshly picked blueberries to take. What else could we possible need?

Then, the month of August here, at home. Andrew won't be working yet, and so we'll have a month together to enjoy spending time together, to get our house in order, to set up the nursery, to go for walks and try new recipes before the man-cub arrives and everything changes again.

But now, the transition will be sweet . . .

Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 25

One sweet and blessed year. One full and emotional year. One sorrowful and sanctifying year. One beautiful year I would never take back. 

I love this man. One year tomorrow. Here's to fifty more!

Friday, June 22, 2012


The countdown really begins now: Thirty weeks today! I hit the scale at the doctor's office this morning at 130, which means I've gained 20 pounds. I have no idea where they are. I mean, I do, but I don't feel that big. I can still touch my toes (which comes in handy at work for "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes"), and my belly button is only just now beginning to invert (I have been dreading the outie). I have been incredibly blessed so far in this process: no swollen anything (except my belly, of course), no diabetes, no high blood pressure, no trouble sleeping, none of the awful things you hear about (not yet, anyway!). But I also know I'm just going to keep on getting bigger...

Some women tell me I will miss being pregnant, and though I seriously doubt that, feeling the little man-cub move and wiggle and push all day never gets old. It's magical every time I feel the pressure, every time I see my belly bulge. "Andrew! look!" Every time. But knowing I will trade that for seeing his face -- how could I miss being pregnant when I will get all of him instead? Not just his wiggles, but seeing his face and actually holding him in my arms, learning about him, getting to know him.

Seriously, I almost can't handle how much we have to be thankful for, even in the little things: Andrew takes his Board exam a week from today, and then he'll be free for the rest of the summer! (So pray for him, please.) And ice cream with friends tonight. And seeing family next weekend. And summertime, which means peaches and fresh tomatoes and Happy Hour at Sonic!

Also, it's Friday. Go celebrate, friends!

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Adorable

First of all, the bad news. Blacksburg has somehow fallen into a black hole and Andrew and I now live in Seattle, where it rains every day. This means that my sweet husband, who has been sitting at the table all day studying for his board exams, was unable to play softball tonight. Stupid rain. You made my husband sad.

The good news? I received an offer of employment from, which means I can be a stay-at-home mom with a job! I will be a part-time writing tutor, which will be good for our bank account, but hopefully, also for my brain and heart. I applied for this job last August, when I was pregnant the first time. And God brought it to me last week. Just in time. His perfect time. How overwhelmingly good is He?

And, speaking of God's goodness, here is my little boy. He's smiling. (And I would tell you his name, except it's a secret! Ha ha!)

I cannot wait to meet this kid. I want to read him Goodnight Moon for the first time, and a hundred times after. I want to find out what kind of cake he likes for his birthday, to watch him play catch with Andrew, and to teach him the names for our world. And I secretly really hope he has dimples like my dad's.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Story I Finally Want to Tell

The prophet Habakkuk, when the Lord told him that He was planning to bring the Babylonians to capture Israel as part of her punishment and restoration process, was astounded and deeply shaken. How could a good God not only allow such a people as the Babylonians to exist, but then use them against His own people? What Habakkuk was forced to do in order to understand was to say, "I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower," (Hab. 2:11) to remind himself of all the truths he already knew about God and His character -- truths that never change. God's plan is overwhelmingly full of crazy maneuvers like this one, back-handed slaps to the face and pride that you never saw coming, and yet, are still out of the sweet and beautiful character of a God who loves more deeply than the human heart can understand.

I, too, am Habakkuk. And here, at last, reader, is the story of my first year of marriage. The version you probably don't know.

Andrew and I were married in June of last year, on the most beautiful day of the whole South Carolina summer. About three hundred friends and family came from as far away as Michigan and South America to celebrate with us and send us on our journey together with great joy. It was a day where God's blessing and smile was tangible.

At the end of July, we spent a morning lying in bed, terrified, laughing and weeping. On our bathroom counter lay an unfeeling bit of white plastic: pregnant. This made no sense, reader. We had planned, been so careful, done everything we were supposed to do to avoid this. We had spent months in prayer for this marriage, for the tentative plans we were making together, seeking wisdom and blessing on what we believed was the best and wisest timing. Of course we wanted children! Just... not yet. Not for years.

What would our parents say? What would our siblings and friends say?

We were so afraid, so embarassed, so overwhelmed with every emotion except joy.

And then, reader, we found that joy. Driving back to South Carolina the first week of August, to see my family for a few days (and break the news with pounding hearts), we found joy and laughter in sweet abundance. A child! God gives no greater earthly blessing! This particular person, those particular genes in combination -- God wanted that child to be ours. We named him Isaac. The child of our sweet laughter, the crazy miracle child. We fell in love.

Two or three weeks later, we sat nervously in chairs covered in green ginko leaf print, in a quiet waiting room, our hearts pounding. Once summoned, we sat silently, jazz music softly playing in the background, seeing our tiny child for the first time. It never occurred to either of us that the ultrasound tech didn't let us hear the heartbeat, didn't print us pictures; she just measured in the quiet, letting our innocence buffer for her until we sat in the doctor's office to hear the truth.

There was no heartbeat. There was no Isaac.

All I remember about those days was being surprised at how much the heart can hurt, how harsh and horrible a cry can sound, and how much we both wept. We sat on the floor in the bathroom for hours one day, sobbing so harshly my throat hurt. I could think of no comfort but to speak Psalm 23 to myself, but there was no remedy, no balm, no ease.

On August 30, 2011, my body realized finally what my head already knew, and I spent hours in a mockery of birth. The actual miscarriage was painful, physically and emotionally, of course, but also strangely relieving. Having Isaac leave my body meant that we could begin to heal. Slowly.

In October, God very obviously gave me a job at a daycare. It was strange; I've never been comfortable around small children, and as I was still raw from losing my own child, God gave me fifteen toddlers. Cruel, no. Painful, yes. But healing. I learned how to change a diaper, to say no to a child's tantrum, to understand toddler speak (a skill of which I am very proud, actually), to love these children. I gave my heart away again.

Thanksgiving, Christmas. Again, driving down to visit family. Andrew and I realized how much our hearts had changed since those conversations over the summer. All of our reasons for not wanting to have children seemed nothing but self-centered and faithless. So we can travel? So we can do this and that cool thing? So we can be thirty-somethings under the illusion that we have our life together? Andrew will be in medical school for years. We will be married for years. We will only be young once.

And so, reader, now, as I have been reliving the past year, I have also been watching the mound of my belly pulse and jump at the kicks of a very alive 26-week old boy.

I feel that I am giving up everything I've put my self-worth in up to this point -- most keenly lately, my petite frame (now carrying at least fifteen extra pounds) and my academic ability. I crave praise and commendation, and I am choosing to walk away (at least for now) from the chance at post-graduate studies, a career, a life with marked progress and the praise of co-workers and mentors -- I am choosing to stay at home with my son. It is terrifying to know that I am choosing a life that society does not find valid or worthwhile; I feel that I even have to justify myself to my friends. It is unglamorous, exhausting, dirty and grueling, and I know I will struggle daily to give up my idols.

But I know, too, that this tiny human growing in me, this image-bearer who will bring something brand-new into this world, is absolutely worth it. And the sanctifying work that my God will do in me is worth it.

He brought in the Babylonians and ripped our hearts to pieces without warning, and seemingly without reason. And yet, He always has reason, and this life I carry now is at least one validation to what we suffered.

This baby is due August 31, 2012. A year later.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, no fruit be on the vines, [. . .] yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places. Hab. 3:17-19

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stories Worth Listening To

My husband has the gift of becoming friends with strangers, a talent that I wish I possessed with such a genuine spirit as he has. His ability to ask good questions and let people know he's really interested in their stories gives us many great conversations with people we'd never know had such fascinating lives.

Like these guys.

Paul and Peggy.

We had the very great pleasure of meeting Paul and Peggy this past weekend over dinner at a bed and breakfast, and I think we did more talking than eating. We quickly learned they were in the area to learn about a local prison ministry that they were considering beginning a branch of in their home church, and we gladly asked them to give thanks with us for our meal. (What a joy when strangers are suddenly brothers and sisters!) Over the next hour and half, we sat and listened to their story.

A Mennonite couple, married 54 years, these two spent most of their lives overseas on the mission field. First in Puerto Rico, then in Peru and later Kenya and Zambia, working with Wycliffe Bible Translators and JAARS. They were in Peru in 1956 as Jim Elliot and his comerades were killed nearby in Ecuador; Paul was a radio operator and remembers hearing all of the news breaking and happening on the radio.

They spent years in Kenya living in tents, eight hours from Nairobi, teaching other missionaries how to survive in the African bush. Peggy recounted how a favorite weekend activity for their family was rising early to watch the sunrise over a watering hole at a local game preserve.

As a young man, Paul told us, he only ever wanted to be a farmer. His life was changed, however, by a man named R. G. LeTourneau, who is quite famous in his own right (inventor, philanthropist, Christian legacy, and founder of the university). LeTourneau wanted to help the impoverished peoples of South America by helping them cultivate their lands for farming, and so planned a mission to clear jungle and turn it into roads and farm land, and bring in Mennonite men (well-known for being good farmers) to teach how to farm well. Paul was one of ten young men who spent two years in South America with LeTourneau, building roads. He told of exciting plane landings in small villages, and of dinner at the LeTourneau's home. After these two years with LeTourneau, Paul said, he was never content just farming. He and Peggy farmed for a few years after their marriage, and then left for the mission field, where they stayed for almost half a decade.

After this evening of listening to their stories, told with such joy and obvious pleasure at their own life and God's goodness, I wondered if perhaps some of heaven or the New Earth will be spent thus, hearing and telling with joy the stories of God's goodness and provision on this earth.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

This and That About a Baby

Halfway there. Twenty weeks. Holy cow. (Crank some Bon Jovi for me?)

I just began reading a (so-far) excellent book entitled Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, a mother-daughter duo. The idea is that your children are not perfect, will never be perfect, and as Christian parents, giving them more law ("Be good!") is not a gospel-centered way to nurture them. The law does not make us perfect as adults, so why do we think it will make our children perfect, or even teach them true obedience? Our tiny sinners need the radical, crazy gospel of Jesus our Savior. They can't do it, they can't please God, they can't get it right, and they need to know they can't, so they'll actually understand the gospel. They write: "Our children aren't innately good, and we shouldn't tell them that they are. But they are loved, and if they truly believe that, his love will transform them." By God's grace, I pray I can love my kids with a gospel love, and not out of a selfish need for this precious child to behave and "be good." He can't be good.

(Incidentally, I always wish I could tell my parents this in a way they'd understand at my job when they seem shocked that their little darling disobeyed/bit/hit, whatever. I just want to say, "Your kid is a sinner, and will never be perfect; don't be shocked that they act this way." But without the grace of the gospel, they don't understand that.)

I've been thinking about what it will mean to be a parent, to give up all these things that I think I want and need, to put my dreams and ambitions on hold, perhaps for a very long time, for the sake of nurturing this tiny human to the fullest of my small ability. It's scary, but good; I know every reason I could throw out for not having a child this young, this early, are all completely selfish reasons. I want to choose to embrace this wonderful, beautiful, greater, sanctifying good over what I think I want from my life. And I'm trying to work it into some sort of a nice poem, but right now, all I have is this rough start, based on one of my favorite children's books:

Goodnight comb. Goodnight brush.
Goodnight nobody.
Goodnight mush.
Goodnight stars. Goodnight air.
Goodnight freedoms everywhere.
Goodnight self. Goodnight sleep.
Goodnight quiet, dark and deep.
Goodnight youth. Goodnight brands.
Goodnight carefree evening plans.
Goodnight silly, careless, wild.
Goodnight self: Goodnight child.

Good morning, beautiful baby.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The thoughts of others better than mine

I find it impossible to celebrate or meditate on certain days or aspects of Christ without thinking of this or that poem or line or hymn. Palm Sunday and the Easter week perhaps more so than any other. And I do not mean to undermine the Scriptures by my literary bent, only that some ideas, days, character qualities of Christ have been deepened or beautified for me by the well-written understanding of others who have wrestled and written before me.

Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus came into Jerusalem in great celebration as the beloved Lamb who was to be slain, is today. And ever since a dear college professor introduced this poem to me freshman year, it has never failed to enter my thoughts on Palm Sundays.

The Donkey
G. K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forest walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient, crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour,
One far fierce hour, and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Hunger Games

This morning I finally closed the cover on Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay, the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy. And I must say, I am so glad to be done. What began in The Hunger Games as a fun ride turned into an exhausting political game, told by a main character I no longer trusted or even liked.

The story is dark and brutal, set in a post-nuclear America ruled by force and fear, where children are sent as sacrifices each year (to pay for the past uprisings against the all-powerful and wealthy Capitol) to a televised gore-fest called The Hunger Games. It's not okay. And Collins does not sugar coat the pain of this broken world; she writes this brutality so that we will cringe and cry with the oppressed for this to end. It's not okay, and it's not supposed to be okay.

Aside from the other two books, I enjoyed The Hunger Games. I appreciate the trilogy in light of the entire story, of the fight for justice and freedom, and the struggle throughout to do the right thing in a world gone crazy. I just got bogged down by the third book by the first person monologue of the narration. I stopped caring about Katniss.

Collins writes to explore the themes of the effects of war and violence on young people, and this crazy sci-fi teen romance definitely does that. She also does a good job of showing a broken world, seemingly much more broken than ours, and yet with chilling echoes of the very society and culture we live in.

I'm glad I read the series, but I'm not planning on buying my own set of books. I am, however, extremely curious about the upcoming film, which has rocked Rotten Tomatoes so far with a 100% rating, and such reviews as "The best American science-fiction film since the Matrix," (Box Office Magazine) and "As thrilling and smart as it is terrifying. There have been a number of big-gun literary series brought to screen over the past decade. This slays them all." (Empire)

No candle to Harry Potter (I'm a little biased), vastly superior to Twilight (isn't everything?) -- but I think I'll withold judgement until I see the films.

What do you think?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Secrets, secrets

I keep thinking about Hopkins' poetry, probably because I know his so much better than most other poets' works, but this one just seems so appropriate to me.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Coming August 31, 2012.

Monday, February 20, 2012

the sound of silence

Our house is so quiet, and I ashamedly find myself seeking out the internet, or browsing our movie collection to break this quiet into something brainless and meaningless -- as I do far, far too often.

But reader, I am a coward. My Bible sits nearby, my journal I haven't written in in months equally close ... my books of poetry, my own notebook of attempts at poetry, all these things I claim to care for and long for -- I am running from them.

I'm afraid of the darkness of my heart. I'm afraid of the fear, the uncertainty, the brokenness I've squashed down and ignored. I'm so afraid of my own inadequacies, afraid that I will cry out like Hopkins: birds build -- but not I build; no,  but strain, / Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes. / Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain. 

And here I am, writing about my cowardice instead of braving the darkness my soul is aching to have flooded with light.

Here I go.  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Let the children come!

I must confess a good bit of jealousy of Lindsay's ability to so candidly share her teaching stories and pictures on her blog -- I would probably get fired if I posted pictures of my kids on here.

(Here. These are my kids.)
Image via:

But I can tell you about them! Like any teacher, I totally have favorites. I love all my fifteen kids dearly, but there are those few who tug on my heartstrings in certain ways.

We have had only three girls in our class until very recently, and one of those original three (we'll call her Anna) is an incredibly sweet and intelligent little girl. She just turned two a week or so ago, so she'll be moving up soon, but I'm soaking in my last days with her. She was gone for over a month for Christmas, and just returned to us this Monday -- we actually thought she wouldn't be back, so what a surprise when the door opened! Of all the adults in our room, Anna is most attached to me, and insists on coming to me for everything, even when there's obviously another adult already taking care of the task she needs doing. I really feel like her mom some days.

Now, the best bit: this girl is very intelligent, and very articulate -- she speaks in complete sentences -- but I never have any idea what she is saying. Now, almost six months spending forty hours a week with toddlers, I consider myself very fluent in their stumbling articulations. Anna, no way. She's so obviously speaking clear, complete thoughts, but I have yet to discern their meaning. I can distinguish my name, and sometimes catch a word or two, but after all these months, I still never know what she's trying to tell me. Fortunately, Anna is bright. She comes up, calls my name, makes sure she has eye contact and my attention, speaks her mumbling hilarities, and then grabs my hand to pull me to wherever or whatever is the subject of her excitement/concern.

Yesterday, it was a paint spot on the table, left over from art. So, she helped me wipe it up. Another day, it was extreme excitement over a co-worker's Mickey Mouse lunchbox. At that one, once we were over at the lunchbox, the squeal of "Mickey! Mickey!" was easily understood. Sometimes, she just repeats, "Uh-oh! Uh-oh!" to show me a spill, or a friend who has fallen or been pushed over. Gosh, I'll miss her when she moves up to the Twos class.

Image via:

Another sweetheart is a little mop-headed boy, whose blonde curls always seem to need cutting; his bangs constantly brush his eyes. He reminds me of Peter Pan, who was so charming because he still had his baby teeth: this little guy's (we'll name him George) teeth seem so small in his wide smile. This kid is more in love with animals than anyone else in our class. When we pull out our plastic farm animals, George and I spend the entire time naming the animals and making their sounds -- over and over. He doesn't get bored of it. But this kid's articulation is in the back of  his mouth, so even though his words are excellent, they sound a little different (Try saying "cluck cluck" in the back of your mouth, with the back of your tongue, but smiling at the same time. That's George.), and he spits with almost everything he says. I know it won't be cute in a couple of years, but it is now, and in a couple of years, he'll have learned to speak properly anyway. They all do.

George is also a cuddler, and, as his words are really good, he loves to name everything he sees. When we're playing outside on the playground, he often comes running up to me and asks, "Up peese!" so that we can name the trees, the cars, the clouds, the airplanes, and all the other toddlers outside by name. He's one of the few kids who calls us teachers by our names -- and he never moves on to naming something new until I 've repeated and affirmed what he's just said. He also loves to pull away and grin at me, then bury his head against my shoulder for a hug and snuggle, then pull away to laugh again. Repeat five or six times. We play this game almost daily, and it makes me laugh every time.

Of course, Anna and George aren't my only two favorites, but I can't write about them all. I mostly wanted to affirm that, even though I often speak of my struggle with discontent at this seemingly thankless or lowly job, God blesses me daily. How can I think it lowly to love these children? I should be learning from them, for Jesus says I must become like them. And on the days I feel selfish and grown-up, I need to say with Him, "Let the little children come!"

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Almost Heaven, West Virginia"

I don't know if I totally agree with John Denver, but West Virginia is an excellent place to visit. This weekend, Andrew and I and our buddy Bogle headed up into the gnarly mountains with a host of our friends from church for a weekend full of snow, Killer Bunnies, and Settlers of Catan.

Image via  /  Image via

Fifteen of us in a cabin, fifteen minutes from a very pleasant ski lodge. Ten inches of snow, and constant flurries for three days. Excellent.

I have been skiing only once before, my senior year of high school. Well, I've been water skiing more times than I can count. Snow skiing, only once. Our church friends all lived in Montana or Colorado at one time or another, so they're all professional winter explorers. I don't even own snow pants.

 My plunge into the world of winter sports was rather intense, so let's play a game of pretend. First, pretend you woke up at 6 in the morning on a Saturday to drive four hours through ridiculously curvy mountain roads to West Virginia, watching the snow increase as you go. Then, pretend the people in the town you're staying in decided not to salt the roads, so some idiot in front of you decided to slam on his brakes, necessitating your brakes and a not-so-graceful slide into a (thankfully) nearby parking lot. Let's pretend you're nauseated, and not sure if you're planning to ski at all.

You make it up the incline driveway to the lodge, where your large group of friends, having arrived the previous night, are currently leaving to go skiing. Um, okay. We'll change and meet you at White Grass.

 Let's pretend the world is white; a glorious, sparkly white, and all the plants look like cotton in high summer.

Now, let's hike up a mountain. All the way to the top, about a thousand foot ascent. Up a steep slope, which is bumpy, covered in snow, and occasionally slick with ice. Except your feet are five feet long and four inches wide. Ah. How to get up the mountain? You have to maneuver your absurdly long and skinny feet into something resembling ballet's second position (spread your legs wide and point your toes out), and walk like a duck up the mountain trail. Um, gravity. So you must hold your ski poles behind you and push up so you can take a step. Come on, triceps! For three hours. Not all so steep, but all continuously up, and sometimes the trail is slanted sideways. For the gradual slopes, you can just slide your skis forward, like skating, which is a relief from duck-walking. Climbing a mountain in your skis. Who knew?

I discovered that cross-country skiing is one of the absolute best cardio exercises. One website claims it burns between 600 and 700 calories per hour. That's more than running. And my triceps and thighs felt it, for sure!

The view (which I could not possible express well in a picture, even had I thought to bring my camera skiing), was incredible. A panorama of snow-covered mountains and valleys, and a wind so cold my face hurt. Absolutely worth the workout.

Going back down the mountain was accomplished in a third the time it took to climb, but it was also, in many ways, more frustrating for me. The ascension took nothing but gritting my teeth and burning my muscles. We took a much more gradual path down, so descending was a combination of fighting for control on the first few curves and slopes, and then having to skate my skis and tired legs on parts that were not quite steep enough to actually ski down. The skiing parts were great, but Bogle and I agreed we actually preferred the uphill.

And then, we slept.
We also went snow shoeing, which sounds cool, but just means walking around in snow shoes.
They look ridiculous.

But you can walk around in some lovely places.

A frozen lake near our cabin.

A not-so-frozen creek nearby.

The partially frozen Sweenys.

The moral of the story? I'm glad I went.

Our friend Elissa also blogged about the weekend; her pictures are worth seeing here or here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Radical Monotony

This year, I turn 24. Achingly close to the culturally-acclaimed pinnacle of my life and looks.
What am I doing with my one wild and adventurous life?

I am learning to be married, praying for healthy children soon, and working 40 hours a week loving on the toddlers of other 20-somethings who make more money than I do.

I am not ashamed of my job; on most days, I enjoy it--but when I compare my journey with the journeys of others I know, my heart grows dark. My best friend Lindsay (who always will be cooler than me) works in South Korea, living her dream, romping with crazy awesome new friends and soaking in a foreign culture. Another bestie, Elizabeth, spent all of 2011 on the World Race, loving on hundreds of kids, romping with crazy awesome people, eating bugs, speaking truth to the hopeless, and soaking in a dozen foreign cultures. My husband is spending his hours studying to become a doctor, so he can love on people and save their lives for the rest of his life.

I blog, but only for my own enjoyment: I know I'm not a fantastic story teller, or any sort of photographer at all. What this means is that, to the world, and to hip cultural Christianity, I am boring. My mundane life wouldn't bother me if the internet weren't full of Christians just as caught up in wanderlust as our culture: this desire to go, be, to live an orgy of experiences and adventures and then settle down to a plaid-wearing spouse and write best-selling books about how you met God in Cambodia.

But, reader, I can't believe that Jesus calls me away from the life I am now living. I have never felt a call to overseas missions; my personality and talents are much better suited for one-on-one relationships in a small community. I don't want, or feel the tug on my soul, to learn another language and move to a jungle. And, reader, I don't believe this negates God's call and purpose for my life.

Andrew Byers, in his excellent article "We Need Boring Christians," (go read it) reminds us that "Radical discipleship is not adventure tourism." Jesus, by changing my heart and calling me to himself in forgiveness, has already called me to a radical life. But my radical life right now doesn't look radical. But, reader, I am free in Christ to live a mundane life where He has placed me and my family. I am free to work, to help my husband pay the bills as he studies all day to pass his medical boards. I am free to be a servant to people I don't know, and to their children -- many of them Muslims. I am free to follow and strive to be like Jesus in the small way He has called me to in this season. I am free to trust and struggle on the dark days.

I hope this monotony of daily living and trusting is never shameful to me.