my husband’s greatest gift

One of the greatest gifts my husband will give our children is forgiveness without shame.

I grew up believing I had to apologize in a certain way before I could be forgiven. To prove my sincerity, I had to hang my head low, use a specific vocal intonation, and have tears in my eyes. Forgiveness was obtained through earnest repentance, and only maintained if I demonstrated over time that I wouldn’t do the same bad thing again.

Sometimes I would refuse to forgive others so I could feel powerful. I would give off an attitude of resentment to feel superior. Even after offering forgiveness, I would convey disappointment or passive aggressively remind them about it later. I wanted to make sure they still felt guilty. I wanted them to know my forgiveness didn’t come lightly.

I grew up believing people had to work for forgiveness. Or at least put on a convincing performance.

When I met Noah, he offered another way. He showed me forgiveness is not the reward someone earns when they act sorry enough. Forgiveness is choosing to not hold something against someone, whether it be an offense, mistake, or perceived flaw. Forgiveness depends on the one who gives it and not on the one who receives it.

I don’t recall a single situation in which he has not immediately forgiven me.

In fact, for the first year of our marriage, I never once apologized to Noah. Whenever he apologized to me, I felt emotionally reconnected, and didn’t see the need to humble myself and make amends for anything in return. In my victim mentality, I blamed him for every conflict and didn’t know how to take responsibility.

Noah never condemns me. Once he forgives, it’s not that he forgets, but he moves forward. He doesn’t hold it over my head. He doesn’t bring it up at a future time to make me feel bad. Whenever I apologize or confess anything to him, it always directly results in forgiveness and restoration.

Forgiveness is a tool to stay in relationship.

We want to teach our kids that forgiveness restores the previous standard and the past won’t be used against them. They are safe to mess up not because their actions don’t have consequences, but because we don’t live in fear of how they will behave. They are freely forgiven for the sake of love, and we hope they, too, will learn to forgive without prerequisite.

My parents still withhold forgiveness for things I’ve done years ago. It hurts less than it did before, but the pain doesn’t go away. I never want my children to experience this.

Noah and I believe earthly fathers play a crucial role in reflecting the father heart of God. The heart that stays engaged in relationship no matter what, that wants his kids free from guilt and shame, that is always ready to love and reconcile. The heart I never truly knew until Noah mirrored it for me, the heart that has changed my life, the heart my husband now shares with our own children.

Happy Father’s Day to the best father I know <3

 

the only time we have

Noah is in Colombia this week. I’ve been so excited for him ever since he was invited to go.

I consider myself a strong, powerful, capable woman. But I got married to spend the rest of my life with my husband, so when he’s gone, I feel like part of me is missing. When he’s away, I eat a lot of snacks and watch a lot of TV and have a lot of emotions. Before he left, I asked him to download several movies for me and I signed up for a free month of Hulu. But I’m not watching any movies and I canceled my subscription early.

I don’t want to waste my time.

I’m not a “busy mom.” Some people need to leave the house every day or they’ll go stir crazy, but I really like my home (and I really don’t like wearing pants, which are often necessary when going out in public). There have been times in the past when my days are over-scheduled and there will be times in the future when I’ll have more commitments. Right now, I don’t need to create more things to do.

When my days aren’t filled with plans, there is time and space to be in the moment.

Atlas and I are on a babymoon of sorts. Traditionally, a babymoon is a romantic vacation you take with your partner before you become parents. Atlas and I are on an intimate staycation before he becomes a big brother. We get dressed together, we eat together, we bathe together. We read more books (or the same book, many times), take longer walks, and play for hours just because we can.

This is the last time that it will be just us.

Atlas has my complete and undivided attention. No one else to care for, no one else to consider. We’re celebrating our last hurrah by doing special things we don’t normally do. Like going on dates. Wearing matching headbands. Swimming at the neighborhood pool. Visiting the botanical gardens. I also cut Atlas’ hair (and had no idea what I was doing, poor kid). But mostly I’m just savoring the one-on-one time with my little boy.

Parenting a toddler is tiring, especially being 8 months pregnant. If I let myself, I can easily get caught up with the weariness of daily mundane tasks. I can feel lonely without many friends and frustrated with my direct sales business. When I’m single parenting, I can feel withdrawn and overwhelmed. But I can also look at it another way.

This is the only time I have.

The only time I’m a graduate wife with a young family. The only summer Atlas is 1 year old. The only month left before Phoebe is born. Motherhood helps me stay present and appreciate the twinkling moments of time that promise to pass as quickly as the rest. Next month, Noah and I will celebrate our 5 year anniversary. I will turn 29. I will have a baby. And then there will be a new adjustment, a new rhythm, a new normal.

“The days are long, but the seasons are short.” Oh, but the days! These precious days are the only days we have, never to be seen again. And I treasure them.

//

What is special about your current season? How can you savor the time you have?

 

immune to failure

There is a famous question that shows up, it seems, in every single self-help book ever written: What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?

But I’ve always seen it differently. I think the fiercest question of all is this one: What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?

What do you love doing so much that words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?

-Elizabeth Gilbert

“What would I do even if I knew that I might very well fail?”

I’m always up for self-reflection and knowing my heart a little deeper. And so I pose this new question to myself, excited for what I may uncover, and I feel stuck. As if I am providing an answer to the wrong question. Then it dawns on me: I’m doing what I love, and I cannot fail. This may sound presumptuous, but let me explain how failure and success have indeed become entirely irrelevant in my life.

I cannot fail at what I love most.

The first love that comes to mind is motherhood. I have felt weary cleaning up after another messy mealtime and bewildered as to why Atlas won’t stop crying, but I have never felt like a failure as a mom. I am not claiming mastery at parenthood, but I don’t need anything from my kids to constitute success. I may not be as consistent with discipline as I would like, but the only way I could fail at motherhood is if I no longer mothered, if I no longer loved.

The second love is writing. I have yet to be published and I have yet to write a book, but writing is the one and only thing I have loved since childhood that has always loved me back. Writing is my artistic outlet, my internal processing, my life documentation. I have created things that aren’t well-written, and I may never produce a bestseller, but I don’t need writing to accomplish anything in order for me to keep returning to it.

The only way to fail at doing something I love is to reject it.

Since mother and writer are core facets of my heart, I can no sooner deny those labels than I can refuse to be myself. As long as I am mothering and writing, I am succeeding at being a mother and writer. While ideas and projects may flop, they do not inform my identity. I can do things that fail, but I am not a failure. Motherhood and writing are fulfilling in themselves and not for any level of achievement that they might generate.

Only if I require a certain outcome, e.g. insist my children exhibit good behavior or depend upon a book to make a profit, am I at risk for expectations falling short. But when I love truly, I don’t make any demands and there are no attached conditions. I am free to be me and do the things I love, simply because they are what I love to do and who I love to be.

I love nurturing, caring for, and being with my children. I will continue to be a mother, no matter what happens to them or how their lives unfold. I love partnering with inspiration and expressing my thoughts in a tangible way. I will continue to be a writer, regardless of financial success or if anyone reads another word I write.

So the questions: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” and “What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?” are more appropriately rephrased: “What would you do if you believed it was who you are, if you could not fail as long as you kept doing it?”

Whatever question resonates with you, whatever it is you love that makes you come alive, I hope you’re doing it, and that you never stop <3

//

I’d love to know about the things you love to do, the ones that connect you to the deepest part of yourself. Feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you :)

 

phoebe’s victory

It was one of the scariest moments of my life, and also one of the most beautiful.

In January, as our Christmas gift to each other, Noah and I went to Florida to attend Overland’s annual conference. I was excited to learn more about the organization (Noah went with them to Zambia last summer), but the trip was primarily so we could see our friends Adam and Kelly before they moved to Cambodia.

During the opening night of the conference, I was suddenly overcome with an immobilizing pain in my groin. Not wanting to be distracted from the speaker’s message, I tried to ignore it. As the meeting came to a close, I realized I had some discharge, enough to leave a huge wet area that covered more than half my chair. Embarrassed, I whispered to Kelly what happened and quickly tied my sweatshirt around my waist to escape to the bathroom.

I was 11 weeks pregnant. The first trimester is the most vulnerable and the most crucial part of pregnancy. It’s when the baby develops all his or her organs. It is when the risk of miscarriage is greatest.

Once in the bathroom, I discovered it wasn’t discharge — it was all blood. I was shocked by the amount. The only time I ever bled this much was when I gave birth to Atlas. I immediately burst into tears.

But God was taking care of me, providing more than what I could have ever asked for in comfort, encouragement, and protection.

If this had happened here in Colorado, where we had few friends in the area, I would have felt utterly lost and alone. At the time, we were living in the basement of another family’s house, where I never truly felt at home.

It was messy and inconvenient to bleed through a chair in public, but I am thankful it occurred while sitting next to my best friend, in a room that felt safe, full of people who unhesitatingly rushed to my side when I needed it most.

I stood in the bathroom stall, soaked in blood from the waist down, weeping uncontrollably, but I was only alone for a moment. I was instantly surrounded by a group of powerful women to whom I was a stranger, but also a sister. There was Jessi, the speaker’s wife, earnestly praying over me. Richelle, who bled throughout her entire first pregnancy and now has a healthy 4-year-old son, proclaiming her testimony over me. Julie, a midwife who witnessed firsthand countless miracles on the mission field, and would continue to send me messages and check up on me in the weeks to come, as if she, herself, were my midwife.

Unbeknownst to me, there were more who covered me with support. Guarding the door, Joe announced the bathroom was closed and instructed everyone to use the one upstairs. In the main room, God revealed to the couple in the row behind me what was going on, and they interceded for me the entire time. Without anyone telling her, our friend Rachel also knew I was pregnant and something was wrong. She and her husband dropped what they were doing and decisively announced they were accompanying us to the ER.

Pregnancy is a holistic experience, and this felt like a spiritual attack on my family — more than just a physical emergency. But fear didn’t have a place while I was shielded by so much love. From the women in the bathroom, to Adam and Kelly taking care of Atlas at our shared Airbnb, to Rachel and Dalton hopping in our car and staying in the ER with us for hours. Driving to Cape Canaveral hospital, we sang worship songs and declared words of life and health. We stood on the truth that God is creator, healer, savior, and life-sustainer. We felt full of hope and courage. We believed everything would be fine.

As we waited for tests to come back, I posed for silly photos. As the bleeding slowed, we shared jokes and laughter. I had my first gurney ride to get to the ultrasound room and it was reminiscent of an amusement park ride. Noah and I watched with anticipation as the technician displayed various images on the screen: my ovaries, uterine lining — and then, just as we had believed — there was our tiny baby: kicking, moving, with a healthy heartbeat.

We were overjoyed to see our little girl was okay. Every test came back normal, but I was put on pelvic rest until the bleeding stopped. This seemed like another spiritual attack, on marital intimacy, but in spite of this, Noah and I felt even more affectionate, unified, and emotionally connected.

We had one more week in Florida, and while some might view it as a vacation ruined, it was a huge blessing. Bed rest is practically impossible with a toddler. If we had been home, Noah would have kept going to school, leaving me home alone with Atlas. But since we were already together, Noah could help me and I could rest. If a crisis were ever welcome, now was the most convenient time.

Five weeks later, shortly after moving into our new home, I stopped bleeding completely. Five is a symbolic number for “grace,” and Noah and I truly felt showered with kindness and strength during that month. Looking back, it represents the end of our most discouraging season and the beginning of a new season, one that is full of peace and the promise of what is to come.

 

versions of me

WHAT IF MY LIFE LOOKED DIFFERENT?

It started in elementary school. My kindergarten teacher recommended I skip 1st grade, but my mom didn’t want my younger sister and I to be farther apart in school. I always wondered, if I were a year ahead, would I be more motivated? If I tried harder, would I have a better work ethic? I graduated valedictorian in high school, but it was something I expected, something to which I felt entitled.

My early 20s were haunted by the “what ifs?” surrounding my college decisions. What if I hadn’t taken two years off to go to Bible school? What if I hadn’t been afraid of failure — if I kept auditioning for women’s choir, even though I didn’t make it the first time, because I love to sing? If I took an English class, even though I was intimidated, because deep down I wanted to be a writer?

And the “what if” that was my greatest struggle, the crossroad that held the most obvious divergence in life direction, the internal conflict that started this blog: what if I had accepted my Fulbright to Bulgaria instead of getting married and moving to Florida to join a church I had never heard of?

HOW DO I DEAL WITH IT?

I don’t regret my decision in the least, but at the time, I couldn’t move on. I tried different strategies to intellectually convince myself to “get over it,” unintentionally ignoring how my heart was still crying, begging to be noticed, validated, embraced without shame. I assumed that by recognizing the reality of my present circumstances, I was fine. I wasn’t aware my heart was filled with pain, bitterness, and anger.

There were so many things from my past I thought I had taken care of that didn’t actually need handling — they needed healing. But I didn’t know how to grieve — solely because I never learned to sit with my emotions. I was taught that my heart was not to be trusted, that being emotional was weak, that logic and reason were the only way to process anything. But my feelings are part of me, and to deny how I felt was to deny my whole self.

WHICH VERSION OF MYSELF IS THE “RIGHT” ONE?

In my mind, there were numerous “potential versions” of myself that could have been and still might be. But even if those versions were legitimate possibilities, they didn’t exist. Sure, I could have been a woman who chose career over family, travel over stability, cynicism over faith. But that isn’t what I chose, so it isn’t who I am. Owning my decisions empowers me to take responsibility for my life and everything it holds.

It was only after I got connected to my heart that I discovered which “version” was the most “me.” I wanted adventure, but more than that, I wanted love. I wanted independence, but more than that, I wanted intimacy. And a decision I recently made: I want my master’s degree, but more than that, I want to spend time with my children. But it’s no longer a battle within myself; it’s a liberated choice in agreement with myself.

Years ago, it was difficult to make decisions because I was so detached from who I was. Knowing myself makes it easier and easier to determine what is best for me. It’s still sad to let go of a dream, but as I sit with my sorrow and let it take its course, after an hour, or an afternoon, it passes. By nurturing my heart — my core, the deepest part of me — I become more and more myself.

I am whole, healthy, and free. And I like this version of me.

//

Inspired after reading Laura Barnett’s Versions of Us. It was disheartening to watch her characters accept lies, betrayal, and turmoil in order to make sense of their lives. I realized I didn’t think that way anymore, that I’m no longer confused about who I am. I chose this version of myself and I’ll keep choosing it.

love letter to my daughter

Dear little Phoebe,

You are so loved, so wanted. I have been patiently waiting for you to enter this world at the perfect time. Your name means “bright, shining one.” In a season of hiddenness for our family, you come at a time of transition to hopefulness and light.

It took a lot of work for me to love being a girl. But I don’t want it to be as hard for you to embrace who you are. To love yourself. My heart longs to share with you what I have learned and to walk alongside you as you discover your own way.

Even now, though you are so little and do not yet understand, I speak truth and love over you — truths I never heard from my own mother, truths that took me years to grasp. That it is possible to be both strong and feminine. Both logical and emotional. Both powerful and gentle. Both independent and reliant on others. Both ambitious and content.

I want you to see me look in the mirror and smile at my reflection. To see me comfortable in my skin. I want you to see me put on bright red lipstick and a fancy dress for a date with your dad, but I also want you to see me feeling just as beautiful and confident in chapstick and leggings.

I want you to see me excited about my birthday. I want you to see that life is a blessing and every year is worth celebrating. I want you to see me go back to school. I want you to see that it’s never too late to start something new. I want you to see me practice yoga in our kitchen. I want you to see that it’s important to take care of yourself.

Growing up, I was often reprimanded, “Don’t be too much Bethany.” It hurt me to think that being myself was a bad thing. But oh my darling, it is impossible to be “too much Phoebe!” My hope for you is that you would increasingly become more and more yourself. Being you is the best thing you could ever be.

I want you to be free. Free to be a little girl when you are a little girl and not have to rush your childhood. Free to pursue the dreams in  your heart no matter what stands against you, because I will always stand beside you. Free to explore all the wonderful ways to be a woman. Free to create a path that empowers you.

I want you to see me free in my motherhood. If it is something you choose one day, I want you to know that you can find freedom in it, too. That staying home with your children is a powerful choice when you are already a powerful person.

I place my hand over my belly and feel you move. I am overwhelmed with how proud I am of you. You are my favorite daughter. My bright, shining star. You are full of life, full of radiant brilliance. It is your name, it is who you are. My dear little Phoebe.

<3

one year anniversary of motherhood

It does not matter that Atlas will not remember his first birthday. The decorations, the presents, the photos — they were centered around him, but they were all for me.

Turning one is not a big deal for Atlas. From the womb until now, he is constantly reaching developmental milestones. His “normal” is to grow leaps and bounds every week.

But that’s not my normal. Every year, I clarify beliefs, shift priorities, and gain insight on relationships. I evolve, albeit rather slowly.

But I have never changed so instantly, permanently, drastically, as when I became a mother. The day I become a whole new person by giving birth to a whole new person.

Today marks one year.

One year of hard work and sacrificial love.

One year of surprise at how well I can function with so little sleep.

One year of recognizing the difference between loving your child and loving parenthood.

One year of wearing nursing-friendly clothes, i.e. bras that never properly fit.

One year of traveling with more stuff than I ever thought I would bring on a plane.

One year of telling anyone who will listen how I kept Atlas’ penis intact. He was perfectly made and I want him to love every part of himself.

One year of staring at the sweetest face I have ever seen.

One year of falling so in love with this person who has never spoken an actual word to me.

One year of learning the Father’s heart is just to be with me, to love because it would be impossible for him not to love.

One year of knowing the greatest responsibility for another life, and the greatest freedom for my own.

One year of never feeling insecure about my body. Now that it has carried a child, I could only ever be grateful for it.

One year of experiencing the purest love I have ever known, giving me hope that greater love is always possible.

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Happy first birthday, Atlas. Thank you for being you, making me a mother, and sharing with me the most life-changing year.