On Updating my Professional Headshot

Photo Credit: Tracy Kumono

Having slowly grown in my platform and public opportunities with both writing and speaking professionally as a nurse over the past four years, one of the greatest learning curves has been with navigating this idea of a public image. Looking to see what other people in the public eye do can be both inspiring and, well, nauseating. There are a lot of voices that come at you about how you should present yourself, how you should play the game of developing a public persona and voice.

I started this journey with a desire to speak from my heart, and if I was fortunate enough to connect effectively, speak to hearts as well. My fear is that without realizing what’s happening, I’ll begin listening to the siren song that says developing a strong voice with the things I write and speak about is for the sake of cultivating my own image as someone “up there.”

This is not to say I never struggle with pride. I wish I didn’t. But I hope to make choices in every step that continually help me remember what the point of this all really is, including my choice of a professional headshot. I don’t judge people who do the arms-crossed pose; I think it can be effective and even friendly when done right, when matched with real character. But my personal comfort level shies away pretty intensely from the corporate look; it simply doesn’t suit me at this stage. I don’t think leadership that talks eloquently all the time without ever truly listening is real leadership. My hope is to always be to others, both in real life and in a headshot, someone who listens, watches, and cares for them more than I care for myself. Introverted as I am, I want to lean in, connect, be with people where their hearts are at.

Because at the end of the day, I follow the model of Christ. He was with all of us in the trenches, loved, served and taught us from that heart. I follow Him and hope to be more and more like Him and only Him. 

anchor for the years

Ten years into being a pediatric ICU nurse, I find I still grieve the saddest patient cases the same way I did from day one. It hits the day after with unpredictable tears, and I’m discombobulated as I try to reorient myself to my “normal” life and all its demands on me as mama, while still feeling haunted by the harsh reality of the story I bore witness to for 12+ hours just the day before and all its demands on me as nurse.

It’s like having this bittersweet privilege to pass through a blackout curtain where one side cannot see the other. Normal healthy families cannot imagine the agony of critically ill ones. Critically ill ones ache to remember what normal life felt like as it now feels too out of reach. I am the witness between the two sides that pull in opposite directions. On one side, I am playful, silly and tempted to be dismissive. On the other side, I am heavy, somber and sometimes over-responsible. Sometimes they collide inside me and that too is disorienting.

But in this particular moment in history, normal life is also not quite normal. Sands continue to shift, kids’ schedules continue to change, and I am looking for the anchor when I feel unmoored.

I am fighting today to remember that one of the best things I can do is carry the lessons from the darker, heavier side into the lighter spaces where I can see through the layers of all “normal” life’s demands and find what really matters for today. Loving God, loving my neighbor, my children…and being loved.

Royal Family Kids Camp Reflection #1: Light in Darkness

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If I could tell you the stories that emerged from this place over five days in early August as we staffed a camp for foster children through Royal Family Kids Camp and our local church, Cornerstone West LA. I was one of two camp nurses, and my husband served as Dean of Men to support the male volunteers. We don’t know specific details of the trauma, abuse, neglect, abandonment and instability each of the 28 children have endured, but we saw the profoundly painful consequences. Kids trying to be normal kids in one moment, triggered by sometimes hidden catalysts, became wildly agitated in the next moment, full of fury, confusion and dysregulation in response to their dysregulated childhood. Sometimes it lasted a few minutes, sometimes a couple of hours. Sometimes we watched one group play while we heard one child howl in the distance as his counselors worked to console his young heart.

It felt as though the darkness of their stories rose up like towering trees, threating to eclipse all the little lives in the campground.

But I watched as our team opened their hearts wide open with the light of God’s unwavering, unconditional, relentless, strong and tender love in Jesus Christ. They took blows from the children and absorbed their pain, and came back with hugs, affirmation, presence and mercy. In both words and action, our team told the children, “You can hit me but I will still love you.” Day after day, the team would play with the children, take more blows, and come back to love the children again.

This was the light that shone in the darkness all week. The light that says evil does not always triumph over good, fury does not always triumph over peace, selfishness does not always triumph over sacrificial love. For five days, I watched our team shine the bright light of Christ into the darkness. And though the time felt much too short, I believe with all my heart that these five days gave the children hope that light can in fact exist in their dark world, and that light can break through the darkness.

The next time you see that out of control child in the park, in the market, at school, on the street, will you love them with the love of Christ? Will you extend to them kindness in place of judgment? You don’t know their story, but you can shine light into their world.

No Ordinary Sunday

The readjusting back and forth between intensely challenging nursing shifts and everyday normal life is a real thing to navigate. It still catches me by surprise every time, how hard it really is.
I am in the thick of a full 12+ hours of trying to manage chaos and logistics in a unit full of very sick patients as charge nurse. In the blur, I am stopped in my tracks by moments of seeing family members who had literally just a minute ago received devastating news. A mother weeps, clutching her child’s teddy bear to her chest. The teddy bear is caught in this strange in-between of what was, and what now is. And then just 30 minutes later, I see the next set of family members with the same, but profoundly unique, broken expression.
I don’t want to grow overly accustomed to that expression on the family members’ faces and what it means. Yesterday held neither the appropriate time or space to let the stories sink in, to let me pay respect to the stories by allowing a human emotional response to all that they hold.
They always hit the next day. I work every Saturday, so often it’s Sunday at church. I’m catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a week. I want to hear about their life and their own joys and burdens. In the pit of my stomach I am nauseous with sadness over the stories that are hitting me. I am singing songs about hope, redemption, and joy, and it is in the practice of trying to form truthful words with my lips that I find the rubber hits the road with what faith in a good and loving God really means. This happens every Sunday for me, this small crisis of faith, as I am reconciling everything I have seen just the day before at work with everything my soul aches to sing with conviction on an ordinary Sunday at church.
I am chasing my healthy children in the church courtyard, taking in the gift that these ordinary moments are – to be able to just chase my healthy children at church. In my mind, I find myself reverently asking the parent next to me, “Isn’t it incredible…that we are here, watching our children play?” But I realize how odd that would sound. I am trying to catch up with friends after a week apart. And I am trying to decide whether to speak of my nausea and sadness, my mini crisis of faith, my weekly reconciling at church of what hope and joy look like for me, what they look like for the families with that indescribable expression that I left at the hospital yesterday. Do they look the same, or are they altogether different? Should they?
This is the navigating that I do as a nurse, between ‘work’ and ‘real life.’ They seem so entirely opposed and contradictory to each other, and yet so deeply and profoundly connected.
There is, for me, no ordinary Sunday.

Goal-setting and measuring sticks

The past 30 minutes are fairly typical of my current life.

While boxed mac ‘n cheese boils on the stovetop, I stand at my computer trying to take in some of today’s Bible reading while my 2.5 year-old plays and intermittently chats with me. Meditation on the suffering of Job is interspersed with mindlessly echoing of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” and pretending to take bites of slime-based “pizza” that my daughter “cooked” for me. Somewhere in the back of my mind also looms the pressure of my half-baked nursing presentations that are coming up fast. I’m not sure what my plan is for dinner and toys are scattered throughout the house. Notifications keep popping up from social media outlets – some matter, most don’t. I’m perpetually two steps behind on current trends, news and nursing-related issues. I need to touch base with different friends. I ache for focus and clarity, and just keep going.

It’s the New Year and it’s a time when we set lofty goals. We want to push ourselves to excel beyond last year’s limits and failures. But today as I feel the all-too-familiar pressure to be “better” (read: perfect) in all the areas of my life, I have to wonder how much this goal-setting has really profited me when it becomes the measuring stick for how well I feel I am doing. I find myself looking for a humbler freedom to be at greater peace with my human limitations. I have a suspicion there has been more grace than I have realized, from God, from friends and family to live within my limits and imperfections. The ones in my life who truly know me and want my best are not measuring me; they’re just loving me. As more demands than ever seem to lie before me, it’s the year to live more freely and joyfully in this grace for myself.

Staying in the Hard Thing: When Glory becomes Gritty

I seem to live in a perpetually tired state nowadays. If I’m looking for the easiest, most honest response to “How are you?” my default answer will be, “I’m tired.” Tired as a mom of two littles. Tired as a nurse to critically ill children. Friends and coworkers nod in empathy, and praise Jesus for all things coffee. It sometimes feels as though we are a people living collectively on the edge of burnout. It begs the question, how do we endure in the hard thing?

I’m not referring to acute crises. That’s its own animal, and I am guessing most everyone has a similar approach to toughing out emergency situations, which typically throw people into sheer survival mode. Bury the debilitating emotions to process later. Do the immediate, most important tasks at hand. Absolutely let the non-essentials slide. Lean on your village. Fall on your knees in prayer. Do each thing as it comes, one thing at a time.

The hard thing I’m thinking of is the hard thing for the long run that you never imagined would be such a hard thing. In fact, you thought it would be the glorious thing: Start your own business, write and publish a book, get married, raise children, work in a job you feel passionate about, become renowned in your field. We set out with a sense of calling, not completely naïve, but confident and motivated enough to choose the dream. The business. The book. The person(s). The career. The glory of a very real and truly beautiful dream.

So what are we to do when the glory becomes gritty? I dreamt about one day marrying a man who had a tremendous heart for ministering to people. The dream came true, and then I found myself crying out to the Lord in tears, “I can’t keep up with his heart! I can’t do this.” When I was first exposed to pediatric ICU nursing, I knew right away this was where I belonged and wanted to be. It was so deeply personal and meaningful. But the experience has not been without moments of tremendous struggle and doubt. I didn’t know it involved all the things it involves. I didn’t know it would make me feel all the things I feel. And I didn’t know it would make me fight so hard to feel anything at all some days. When I became pregnant, I dreamt about the sweet relationship I wanted to cultivate with my children. I didn’t know what to do with the fact that I felt dull, sad and guilty in the first few hours after giving birth to my first child. I have constantly surprised myself at how angry and selfish I can choose to be as a mother. What do we do with our disappointment or disillusionment when glory becomes gritty? How do we stay in the hard thing?

Glory becomes gritty, and this can be bewildering and disorienting. Part of this, I believe, is because in the beginning, we chase the glory because we are blinded by the glory itself. This is not a cynical statement; it’s just the nature of dreams. Maybe we need some initial blindness to even have enough courage to start the pursuit. Our dreams and ideals launch us out of inertia and felt mediocrity, and they carry us when little else can. They are beautiful and often God-given. But in an Instagram-inspired world, the glory can blind us to the fact that these are also hard things. We’ve all seen the photos: a Pinterest-perfect small business grand opening, a well-designed book display on release day, hugely romantic wedding pictures, adorable shots of kids in their Easter best smiling ear-to-ear while hopped up on way too much chocolate, a beautiful portrait of a nurse quietly holding a patient’s hand with reciprocated expressions of gratitude, an executive in his/her prime delivering an impressive speech at a podium. In contrast, there is very little to inform us of the down sides outside of direct experience. The gritty aspects of living out our dreams can catch us by surprise all the more because of the blindness we had in the early days. Perhaps this is why Jesus warned us,

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Luke 14:28-29

We may start to ask ourselves, “Do I have enough in me to see this through the way I originally hoped?” In my most exhausted, discouraged moments, I would try to remind myself, “I chose this!” I chose motherhood. I chose PICU nursing. But somehow that blanket self-motivation has been insufficient and almost even self-blaming. For how could we have known all of what we were choosing? We chose the romanticized version of the story in the beginning, didn’t we? It’s always the glorious path we want and hope for. But people change, unforeseeable situations arise, and they change people – including us – in unforeseeable ways. I’m beginning to realize, it’s not so much about “I chose this” as it is, “I continue to choose this, all of this, today.” I am not the same woman my husband chose to marry over a decade ago. I am quite certain I am not who he envisioned I’d be at this stage. This is not about my insecurities; it’s about every person’s inability to foresee the future. He is choosing me now, and I him. I am choosing my children now, and I will choose them when they change on me again and again in all the years to come. I am choosing PICU nursing for what it has shown itself to be now, and I will continue to do so for as long as my life is called to that ministry.

The discovery of how un-glorious, monotonous, or outright excruciatingly painful the hard thing can be in the trenches, may temper the glory, but it can actually magnify the meaning if you can push through. The meaning in the everyday moments may not become readily apparent until the crisis moments show up. I watched my patient and her parents endure an agonizing six-hour delay of her surgery to remove a tumor. Six extra tortuous hours of telling a very hungry toddler trapped in the hospital that she cannot eat. This is agony for any parent of a healthy child on a normal day. For parents bearing crisis-level stress, it is an indescribable test of patience and longsuffering. Whimpers and occasional whining became intermittent screaming and kicking in the last hour. The parents shut their eyes tight and clenched their jaws with grit. And then, I beheld the glory. In between screaming sessions, the little girl would say, “I love you, Mommy. And you love me too.” The mommy’s reply was always the same, “I love you more than anything.” The little girl lying next to her daddy in bed would occasionally call out, “Mommy?” The exhausted mommy’s reply was always the same, “I am always here for you.” There was no question they had a long-established foundation of love and commitment. I could imagine these exchanges practiced in their home in their everyday mundane; the parents never would have imagined they were practicing for this crisis moment in the hospital. The beauty of their shared love with their child was nothing short of glorious, in the grittiest situation they could find themselves in. Staying in the hard things now helps us stay in hard things for the future. We develop muscles of perseverance, flexibility, hope, perspective, faith, and deep love.

On this side of heaven, some things should be hard. If everyone has written a book or started a small business, then the meaning of each has by default decreased exponentially. I don’t want to feel as though it’s easy to take care of critically ill children and their parents, or else my heart has forgotten how to be moved by important issues. Some hard things should be hard, as we are people who still open our hearts to dream, hope, and care in an imperfect, fallen world. It is our gritty longing for Heaven, groaning quite frankly against the Hell we may see.

For Jesus, God in the flesh, glory became gritty as He walked amongst us and walked His final steps on a dusty road to a cross – for the love of others and the glory of God. We look to Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Four Lies of Perfectionism that Rob You of Joy

We all want joy and contentment. Much of that desire is God-given; before things in the world went terribly awry, we were created to live in perfect peace and harmony with our own selves, the world around us, our role in the world, and our relationships with others. It’s a longing for heaven, which means it won’t be fulfilled until we get there. Living in a broken world, there is then a danger in pursuing forms of perfection as a means to joy in the here and now. If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself exhausted, frustrated or discouraged from this pursuit time and time again. It’s important to recognize the lies about perfectionism so that we don’t sacrifice our hearts pursuing what will never deliver; instead, we learn to look to and rest in the Perfect One who alone can be our sufficiency when all else fails.

1.) Lie: The reason you lack joy and fulfillment is because you have not achieved as much as those “ahead” of you. Attaining to perfect life achievements is what will bring you joy.

Truth: The place where you believe you will feel you have “arrived” is an illusion; it will never be enough.

We live in an age where the charmed life seems to be all around us. Even for Christians, we can fall into a subtle trap of boasting about “blessings” without realizing we’ve simply thrown a Christian label on our charmed life posts. The result is the same: falling for the “best life now” illusion, hook, line and sinker. Once I achieve that level of success in my career. Once I become that Instafamous. Once I move on from singleness to marriage. Once I enter into (or get out of!) that season of parenthood. Then I’ll feel fulfilled. We don’t realize – or fully believe – there are challenges and new issues of discontentment tied to the role “ahead.” This is why Ecclesiastes tells us,

“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, 24-25

As I wrote in an earlier post about experiencing restlessness in the pursuit of our dreams, nothing is owed to me, but grace is given for today to enjoy what is before us here and now.

2.) Lie: If people around you sing your praises with enough quantity and consistency, you will find lasting joy. Being perfect in the eyes of others is what will bring you joy.

Truth: The praise of people really isn’t all it’s cut out to be, and it can’t keep up with the neediness of your ego.

When we fall for this lie, we are always looking for something new, something better, something funnier, something flashier, to keep the stream of praises flowing our way. We should sense a red flag if we feel unsettled when there is too quiet a pause in the praise. The praise of people can be addicting; beware of placing the weight of your self-worth on its shoulders. It can rise and fall with trends, attention spans, moods, and others’ own insecurities and issues. Its supply often has more to do with others and less to do with you. Truly, the only One who is more than able to bear the weight of all of your self is Christ.

3.) Lie: Having perfect harmony and avoiding conflict in relationships will bring you joy.

Truth: We have to come to grips with the fact that healthy relationships, particularly the closest ones, will inevitably include conflict. It’s learning to work through the conflict – while guarding a safe place for one another – that brings about deeper love, a fuller experience of grace and forgiveness, and stronger character.

While it’s true we need general health in our relationships, we need to be careful not to equate “healthy” with “conflict-free.” I’ve never felt so much ongoing ‘conflict’ in my relationships as I do now that I am navigating the parental authority role with two toddlers whose job it is to constantly challenge me as they grow into themselves. It is impossible to avoid a clashing of will or personality, and for this peace-loving people-pleaser, it can be relationally confusing and exhausting. That is, until I come back to the realization that it’s not the absence of relational conflict that will bring me true joy. Because in my core, what I really want in my relationships is not to be conflict-free, but to be loving, patient, godly, self-sacrificing, renewed in spirit. These attributes are gold, but they only come about one way: Through the often-painful refinement experienced in working through the relational conflicts, big and small.

4.) Lie: When you are at your worst, you cannot be truly loved. Being a perfect self is what will bring you joy.

Truth: When you are at your worst, it is the most profound time to realize how deeply, unconditionally, and perfectly loved you are.

This lie encapsulates all the others, because we tie up our life achievements, our public image, and our closest relationships, with our very selves. So fundamentally, the perfectionists in us will be tempted to pursue perfection of self in the pursuit of joy.

What then, when we have bad moments, as everyone does? I mean, really bad moments. I mean, your worst moments when you’ve totally lost your rational mind and you’re throwing the tantrum of a 3.5 year old, but you lack the excuse that this behavior is developmentally appropriate in any way. Your worst moments when you’ve given into that sin once again and the voices of shame and hypocrisy are deafening. It’s easier to think that God and any other human witness to your behavior are merely tolerating you, because how could this mess merit any love?

When we find ourselves in the shoes of the prodigal son, clothed in rags of unrighteousness and still a long way off from the God we at some point wished dead, that’s when we find He has already run to us and said, “Yes child, I died, and my death was for you – not for you to be free of Me but for you to be restored to Me for joy. The best robe has been prepared for you; welcome home.” When Jesus took the sin of the world upon His holy self and suffered the horrific consequences for them, the Father still loved Him, and eventually raised Him to new life. Now that we have received His forgiveness for all our sin, past, present, and future, and have been donned with the robe of righteousness, how could the Father love us any less? It is profound, and it is our healing.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

To pursue perfection in achievements, in the opinions of others, in our relationships, and in ourselves is to chase an illusion. When we can identify the lies of perfectionism for what they are, we can take our first step towards freedom from their entanglement and the subsequent exhaustion. As we run to Christ, the Perfect One, allowing Him to cover and fill us as only He can, He receives the glory and we receive the true and lasting joy.

When Wine and Pedicures Aren’t Enough: Deeper Level Coping as a Christian Nurse

Recently, I have been meeting some soon-to-be-brand-new nurses who have wanted to hear from me about how I cope with the hardest things I see as a nurse. It is a deep and necessary question every nurse has to work through if you want to truly open your heart to the reality of others’ suffering and endure as a compassionate and effective caregiver. It has not felt like enough to say that I learn self-care. Wine, pedicures, massages, brainless days off – they all help but honestly, they don’t get to the heart of the matter. The recent tragic death of a friend whom I went to nursing school with, after being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer just two months ago, has forced me to realize that all my self-care efforts are just band-aids to the wounds that I feel from what I witness at work. Her death is pushing me to pay some serious attention to those wounds and the struggles that I’ve suppressed as a Christian nurse working in a pediatric ICU. I have had to ask myself why I believe in the goodness of God and what, exactly, do I believe that goodness looks like.

First, my suppressed struggles. The nurse, particularly the PICU nurse, stands in a very unique and conflicted place of tension between God and man. Nothing about a sick or dying child feels natural, and we are inclined to do everything we can to give a child a shot at life. The tension for the nurse is embedded in the reality that we now have more technology and medical advances than ever before, allowing us to sustain and prolong “life” even when “quality of life” has long been lost. In many cases, it becomes very difficult to then tell patients and families, much less ourselves, at what point we have all crossed the line in playing God. Patients and families can either hold out in a debatable form of hope for that “miracle” despite all suffering and costs, step tentatively into the agonizing journey of accepting death, or languish in some muddied in-between place until forced to make some kind of decision. It becomes terribly difficult to discern what God’s role is and what the manifestation of His goodness is supposed to look like in these situations. As the bedside nurse, there can be tremendous inner conflict when you feel that truly, God’s grace to very sick patients can come in the form of a gentle death, but you are the bedside nurse carrying out advanced treatment to prolong physical life and the concurrent suffering. When is enough enough? When is my role as the nurse actually doing more harm than good? I write this as a mother, with a deep reverence for the fact that it is impossible to ask a mother to part easily with her child if there might be a glimmer of hope for a cure, a remission, or at least some more time when both quantity and quality of life may be truly attainable. It’s just so hard to know how much to push the envelope when hope feels air-thin. It is a deep conflict that will only grow with technology.

Sometimes, when I watch patients’ families and friends come to the bedside to pray fervently and persistently for miracles, I just have to wonder what we all think the manifestation of God’s goodness is supposed to look like in response to these prayers. It’s not that I don’t believe in miracles. I’ve seen them, and I’ve seen them happen by way of all the technology we have available. I took care of a patient shot in the head and lungs on his very first day in the hospital when everyone swore there was no hope, and then I took care of him before he transferred to the rehab unit as he looked me in the eye and thanked me for everything. So it’s not that I don’t believe in God’s goodness in the form of miraculous healing. But we forget that God’s goodness is ultimately manifest in His provision for our souls to rest in Him, despite our stormiest of external circumstances. His goodness is first and foremost for us to find our sins forgiven through Jesus, such that come what may in this broken world, we may be confident that even death will not overcome us if we place our trust in Him. Perhaps then, we would not fear or fight death as violently as we do. Truly, it is the one who has never made peace with God who should fight death violently in the ICU. “For what does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world but lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) The greatest miracle is the heart that can grieve, but with a foundation of solid peace, joy and hope because of Jesus, even when physical death is imminent.

As I write this, I think of a precious Christian family whose firstborn daughter Ava has been in the fight of her life against childhood cancer. They trust deeply in God’s goodness, come what may, and also battle fiercely for every treatment possible to save their beloved girl. Their time together as a family has obviously not been easy, but it has been full of deep love and very real moments of joy, and hence their relentless fight for her life. They are living in this tension, and as a Christian PICU nurse, I deeply appreciate their reflections on their struggles. I encourage you, if so inclined, to spend some time wrestling through and receiving from their blog.

 

for comfort

To my sweet girls,

Almost every day, I look at each of you and can still hardly believe that I am a mother. I know my birthday is coming and the number isn’t getting any smaller. People may look at the number and think I should have had you both ten years ago. But I feel as though I should be wiser at this age, or as wise as someone at least ten years beyond me, before I can feel like a legitimate mom. When I watch the world news and see what I see at my workplace, the responsibility to nurture and guide you through this crazy world feels so daunting. Some days, I wish I could keep you in this innocent baby and toddler stage forever. Somehow it feels safer for us all that way.

There is something about the way you each look at me. Your inherent recognition that I and your Daddy are more than just your primary caregivers. We are connected in a way that goes unspeakably deeper than all the shared days and nights under the same roof. You lived inside of me, your heart and lungs and brain and fingers and toes grew inside of me until I could see that you were in fact a whole and living person, all at once unique from me but absolutely connected to me in every sense of the word. We are family, the four of us. We will learn from each other how to have healthy relationships, God-willing. We will learn respect and hurt and forgiveness and sharing and boundaries and togetherness and individuality. We will learn love and the depths of joy and pain that come together with love. We will learn about Jesus and struggle through the hard questions about God and life together. I’m on this journey with you, sweet girls. I still can hardly believe that I am on this journey with you as your mama.

I took care of a patient the other day that made me think so much of both of you. Through the partially closed blinds, I watched her mama sway, slowly back and forth, holding her baby so tenderly with all the love and ache that could not be contained by a hospital room for a precious sick baby. The doctor’s orders said it was ok to put the baby at mama’s breast for comfort. For comfort. They meant for the baby but it was for mama too. I knew she couldn’t put her baby down. She needed to hold her. She needed to comfort her. I couldn’t stay in the room. I didn’t know how to help prepare a mama for the hardest days ahead without falling apart myself. I thought of both of you girls and wanted to hold you both to my breast so tightly that night. For comfort.

I want you to know, I am your mama, but I am not your Savior. I won’t be here on this earth forever with you. There will be days, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently, when I cannot hold you to my breast for comfort. I want you to know Jesus, sweet girls. Our Heavenly Father gave up His Son, gave up His only Son, to take our suffering and our death, so that all the hurt you will experience from within and from with-out in the course of your life, will one day be wiped away in the perfection and ultimate healing of Heaven. I want you to know the One who will always love you perfectly when I fail you. I want you to know the One who will teach us to love and forgive each other when we have hurt each other. I want you to know the One whose tender and strong hands put your heart and lungs and fingers and toes together in my womb with a skill that no accidental science could ever dictate. This is Love who put you together. I want you to know Him, sweet girls. He knows you and loves you so much. He is your forever Comfort. I want to take you to my breast and bring you to Him. This is what I want more than anything to do for you as your mama. For comfort. Because He is good. He is so, so good.

What’s Growing in Me

The obvious answer is, well, obvious. As my belly continues to swell with a 34-week fetus on her way to becoming my newborn bundle of joy in the near future, I still chuckle at the thought I had of going to Target to buy pregnancy tests to donate to a women’s health clinic located on our church campus. The odd looks from the clerk at the register would be priceless – and if I could pull off a fake naïve conversation feigning ignorance at my obvious pregnant state (one co-worker suggested I cross my fingers and excitedly exclaim, “Here’s hoping!”), it would be simply classic. The physical aspect of what’s growing in me should be apparent to anyone and everyone at this point. Except perhaps my 21-month old toddler who kind of knows something about Mama is dramatically changing but still can’t quite wrap her little mind around it yet. It’s ok sweet girl, we’ll all be shell-shocked for a while when our new reality hits, but we’ll find our footing as the dust settles.

What else is growing in me is not so obvious. The excitement and the anxiety. Sometimes it’s mostly one, sometimes mostly the other, but usually it’s the oddest mix of both that I hardly know what to do with because both are screaming so loudly in my head and heart at exactly the same time. On the humble 2D ultrasound in my ob-gyn office, we saw Munchkin #2 look right at us and blink, slowly, beautifully and unmistakably. My heart swelled at the beauty of her face, and then my blood pressure briefly spiked at the undeniable re-realization that I will have another little human being to add to our mix, to raise all over again from Day One. Just when we got into such a sweet rhythm with Munchkin #1. It’s growing. The excitement and the fear, all bundled up in this great anticipation.

The other day, I read again about the miracles of how Jesus fed thousands with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish. His disciples were being confronted with demands that felt ridiculously daunting. How will we feed all these hungry mouths? I’m sure they were wondering how they would take care of themselves as well. I can so relate to them. Trying to feed thousands of people could make for kind of a long day, and even after they saw Jesus perform the miracles He did, Matthew 16:5 says they forgot to take bread for themselves and it implies they got a little worried. Curiously, His warning to them is to “take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” He reminds them that the last thing they really need to worry about is how they’re going to survive physically, day to day. What they need to be more careful of is letting the leaven of certain worldviews take root and grow to the point where it dictates – and oppresses – their inner life. The leaven of the Pharisees – needing everyone to follow all the rules with a dead heart, needing to maintain the appearance of having it all together while a vibrant inner life is nowhere to be found, needing law and order to reign over love and freedom as Christ’s beloved – beware of this leaven. Take heed lest this be the seed that is growing in you. The leaven of the Sadducees – that there is no hope of an eternal perspective, that today’s pleasures are all we have to live for so set your hope only upon what lies before your eyes here and now – beware of this leaven too.

For the fetus growing in me, for the mix of excitement and anxiety growing in me, for my toddler who also continues to grow despite my protests, I am taking Jesus’ words to heart. It is not for me to worry about how we will all physically survive this big transition from family-of-three to family-of-four. We will. (Pour me another cup of coffee, please.) It is more important for me to remember not to get too caught up in the need for everyone to follow the rules of the house, the need to maintain an appearance of having it all together at the expense of my inner life, the temptation to become over-consumed with what is in my here-and-now (as legitimate as today’s demands may be) such that I forget there is a much, much bigger Picture that we are all a part of. And my role is to relinquish my need for control, to let my heart be shepherded by my God who will give grace for each day, and to shepherd the little hearts in our growing family to live fully and joyfully in His grace and love. Let this be the hope and vision that is growing in me.