Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Ways I'm Surprised by Motherhood

Yesterday I announced on facebook that my kitchen is in a magazine. An hour or so later, I posted this: Silas, stirring the marinade, "I'm glad Jesus gave me the right Mommy and Daddy." Words like that cover a multitude of sins around here. 

The second status update got four times the response as my "big news". Because anyone who really knows me, or even just knows me a little, understands there couldn't possibly be bigger news than my youngest child ruminating loveliness to his Mama while he stirs lime juice into oil.

To say I have been surprised by motherhood would be the understatement of the millennium. My journey to motherhood knocked me sideways. I've been surprised by the way hearts from different wombs and distant nations can stitch together in an even line. My capacity to love the children entrusted to me has left me wonder-struck, at turns.

But it's more than that, because as much as my family makes me grateful and amazed, I had a hunch it would be this way. I never really doubted my ability to love my own children.

What I didn't expect, the thing that renders me breathless and spent, crazy-talking in the middle of the night, flailing and reaching, failing and begging, is the searing pain of motherhood.

I have been a mama for nine years now. For almost half of those years, I have parented a child from hard places, one who has turned me inside-out. He has systematically drained me of every stout and sturdy mental faculty I once claimed to possess.  He has infiltrated the peace-keeping zone of my inner sanctum and shot it through with more combustive emotional leverage than a child should ever carry.

He has been explosive. Exhausting. He's alienated his siblings and even, on our darkest days, me. There have been months that have started and ended, every day, every day, every day, with his small-voiced insistence that he doesn't love me, doesn't want me. He's tried everything in his power to prove it. At least twice.

All the while, every moment that I've folded in and lashed back out, I have loved him.

I never, ever imagined the pain of loving someone who didn't seem to love me back. 

I have failed miserably on many days to live and breathe and prove my love to him. I've resented the whole set-up. I have wanted to hurt his feelings in return.

But my child gave me the gift of ripping the mask off my ugly, making me face it every single day, no where to turn, no where to hide. Loving him has set me free from the stunning arrogance that I could fix him, or anyone. It's not within my skill set. It was never meant to be.

Loving imperfectly, and unconditionally, has struck my soul like a bell - This doesn't even come close to the way God loves us. I sort the laundry and stir the soup and hold my tired, scrappy little boy to the echo of its reverb.

Loving Silas, and watching him start to love us back, prepared us to welcome another hurting boy into our life, arms-out, heart-bare, pride and expectations and all the world-wise conventions smashed to bits back at the curb.

What surprises me most today is that it's simply not as hard anymore. We've covered a lot of miles with our heads down and blinders on, lock-step with our goal, which changed daily but ranged from survival to balance (guess what? it doesn't exist) to fishing around in the dark for a little bit of peace, a tiny scrap of hard-won joy.

Every day, the dynamic changed just a little. Often, it had to be pointed out to me. I was so lost for so long, I had trouble recognizing success. The scales wobbled and shook. Eventually, for our years lived and spent, we were rewarded with a dead heat, as many good days as bad. That was a party begging to be celebrated. So we did.

And now, though this boy and all his gusto may always tumble jerky and wild rather than rolling with anything, he's come to a shy place of security where he no longer slams against our every conviction. He's stepped into the predictable line of a loving family where it's no longer as necessary for him to "control" his world in ways that make me weep.

For the hundreds of times I felt consoled in knowing - really believing - my love for him was not dependent on his love (or lack of love) for me, I'm finally and fully letting myself believe it's real. Our stubborn love for this beautiful, complicated, tender boy is being matched and reflected.

He crawls in for a cuddle each morning and tells me I'm his "best love". He promises he'll keep being my boy "even if I boss" him. He doesn't want to move away. He doesn't want a different mommy anymore, or at least not often. He says he'll "try to stay little" for me. He says he wants to marry me.

I'm surprised by how badly it hurts sometimes to be a mother.

I'm even more surprised by the way the world stops turning and the sun circles back around just to shine on me and my Little Love, stitching hearts and stirring marinade in the kitchen on a regular Tuesday morning.


This post was inspired by a book I'm currently reading, Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker. I am loving it. The writing is gorgeously relatable and every line reminds me that this is one of my greatest callings. There are always surprises, some good and others traced in blue.

That's the full beauty of this gig. We get to live all of it.

Watch the trailer, but be warned that it made me cry all three times that I watched, and I was only PMSing one of the times.

Find your copy of Surprised by Motherhood here.

*book links are Amazon Affiliate links

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Kitchen is a Total Diva

Smack-dab in the middle of an ordinary, slightly-strange day...

...this little bit of happiness blooms.

My kitchen is in this month's Midwest Living mag. 
You know I'm fond, fond, fond of all kinds of magazines, right?

As much as I've never held this sort of thing as a goal, it was a lot of fun.
(Except for the part where I felt the need to scrub my kitchen to within an inch of its life.)

The story was supposed to run next summer, but something changed and they asked if they could bump the shoot up to February, with roughly a 10 day notice. So, we did! As usually happens, we were shooting a summer story in the dead of a polar vortex winter.

There was so much snow piled up outside. Everyone trudged in wearing gigantic snow boots.

The stylist (Sara Reimer) and photographer (Werner Straube) were amazingly kind and interesting and down-to-earth. It was a long day (10 hours!) but such an interesting and fun experience.

One of my favorite things is that they didn't bring in many props, other than food. Several times, Sara asked me, "Is this something your family would actually eat?" I loved it. I loved that she was committed to keeping us real and authentic.

Hi, Siley!

We got our wires crossed a bit and I didn't realize they wanted a kiddo in a shot. Cory and I unanimously agreed that Silas would be the least camera-shy and natural, so we ran down the street and grabbed him from school.

He was, uh, not happy that we made him leave his Happiest Place on Earth.

He wouldn't smile for any of the pictures.
There were tears.
And bribes.
Everyone was probably thinking, "This is your most camera-ready child?"

But they rolled with it, because they're normal, awesome people.

In the end, he smiled for exactly 9/10ths of a second. And they caught it! And it looks ridiculously genuine, which profoundly illustrates the power of media.

Later in the day, after school was over, he was all smiles and a million questions. (Ruby ended up with a last-minute cameo, too.)

If you want a closer look, go grab the June issue of Midwest Living. I'll save you the leg-work and tell you Walgreens is your best bet. (Cory discovered this on a wild goose chase yesterday.)

Meanwhile, I'm filing this experience under Life Almost Never Makes Sense Anymore and heading in to tackle the dishes piled up in my messy, well-loved kitchen.

Happy Tuesday!

* Follow Midwest Living on Pinterest for more Midwestern goodness.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Spring Greens

We hit 70 degrees today and I have the pink nose to prove it.

And while I'm gridlocked in a daily battle with one Calvin Lee on whether or not this is "summer" and whether or not he should be allowed to wear shorts, what this actually means is that it's officially spring, in the most legit way possible.

So, let's not jump ahead, homies.

Let's chill here for a while, and by "chill", I of course mean, let's sun our ankles and sing along with Phil Collins on the radio because it feels like the right thing to do.

This right here is another good way to start.

I worked from this recipe, but added more lemon juice (along with some zest) and doubled the dressing, because if a little is good, a lot is better. That's my motto on most things in life and it's never much of a problem unless we're talking about eyebrow tweezing (they grew back) and that Bohemian Rhapsody bender back in 1992.

I've also been springing things up around our digs. I never used to switch things around to this degree until we moved to the city. I think it's a combination of the white walls, the smaller space, and the growing need to exert some control in my environment. Plus, having just one main living area makes it easy to focus and all our moving forced me to weed out a good bit of my extra junk. I never realized how overwhelming I found all my stuff until I got rid of most of it. And having less cash-flow has forced me to exercise underused portions of my psyche and soul. Letting go oddly made me a more creative and inspired person.

But I digress!

I bought this Lucky Money plant from Aldi over a year ago. It doesn't seem to be growing as much as it seems to be not dying, but I call that a major win for this Zone of Utter Houseplant Destruction.

Overall, this minor success has made me extra-gutsy. I think of myself as a plant person, now.

You're a dog person?
I'm a plant person.

I don't know much about all the plants, just my personal ones, and yes, I have plural plants now. Because I'm a real plant person.

Oh, the stories I could tell about me and my plants!

They're just the cutest things. Little rascals.

I keep taking them in when I see them at Aldi looking so forlorn with their big, leafy-plant eyes.
This one is particularly loyal. He almost never needs watering. So crispy and stout!

(Another part of my Spring redecorating jaunt is the magazine ad I tore out and taped to the main wall in my living room. It has an inspiring message and has a decidedly Springy color scheme. I'm of the opinion we often overthink this whole decorating thing.)

Then  I saw the idea to stick a couple plants in a drawer and call it a day.
That is my kind of decorating trick. And I happen to have drawers.

Open drawer, insert plants, close drawer, just not all the way.

This one? I have no idea. It looks like a geranium leaf or a hollyhock, but both of those options seem
far from likely to this plant person. All I know is, it was $2.47 at Wal Mart and it hasn't died yet, even though Silas took a mini star-shaped hole-punch to several of its leaves.

We're even growing our sunflowers by seed this year.
Because we're just a bunch of plant people now. We can't even help it at this point.

So there you have it, my best tricks for welcoming True Spring. Asparagus, lemon, and cheap houseplants, though I prefer to call them economical houseplants, because maybe they're sensitive about things like that.

Do you decorate for spring? Do you let your kids wear shorts to church on Easter Sunday when it's only supposed to be a high of 70 and it's in the low 40's in the morning? Might you be one of the parents of a child in Calvin's class, and, if so, is it true that he's the "only kid in the entire class who has to go to bed at whippy 8 o'clock?"

(Because that's what he said. And he was realllly mad when he said it. But that "whippy" thing immediately diffused any angst I was feeling toward him. And I laughed. Then he laughed, too, but only for a second. And then he got even more mad.

The end. For now.

Friday, April 18, 2014


The curtain was torn, and what looked like crushing defeat was victory in the making. There are no chains that can hold us, no bars that can keep us. Our life is hidden now in Christ, always, and we don't get to decide who is worthy. His death paid for each of us - individually and intentionally.

His feet were blistered from walking among us; bloody and broken from carrying the weight of our humanity past the gates of eternity.

The veil was torn. We don't get to decide who is worthy of our time, our resources, our love.

There is nothing now that divides us, no separation between us. If we believe otherwise, we're not looking closely enough. If we believe otherwise, we don't really believe it was finished.

"If there is a fundamental challenge, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives."  Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle

Thursday, April 17, 2014

When Hope Floats Away

I sat down tonight to write about tacos and books.
I thought I had things to say about the way we're nourished, and about the plain way we celebrate.

But those words drifted out to the sea of everything weighing my today, and I'm still standing here ankle-deep in grit, facing a horizon-line that can't be contained in the span of my two hands.

The world just seems big today, and I prefer it small.
It feels heavy and I want feather-light.

If I were a nobler girl, I'd pin this funk on Holy week and tell you my heart is pulsing backwards-bruised to that single moment in history when the world went black and every living thing held its breath in despair.

Truth is, I'm caught in a net of ordinary worry, carrying burdens that came packaged with some of the best gifts I'll ever see this side of Heaven.

I'm tangled up here, desperate to shuck this pain and swing my leg over the side of the boat. I don't want this bland reality. I want waves beneath my toes like a smooth path of river rocks, my eyes locked on Jesus. I want to do better than Peter, not just match him.

I want all the Bible stories about faith for me. I'd like to back myself up to the flannel-board until it grabs me and I only move in the right direction, standing still and smiling, a lesson of His goodness, his unfailing kindness, his strength, his power.

I believe all of those things. I know He is always good, only and ever.

But the feeling - the sureness - has sifted through my hands today and I'm cornered in the
human-beingness of this world I knock around in. From where I stand today, everything looks so precarious, the strength of my exhale enough to tip the glass off the edge - shattered.

This is the ache of discipleship, friends. This is the power it holds - that our feeble, everyday act of shuffling down the buckled sidewalk with another soul could eventually break our hearts. Any ground we make together might end up jack-hammered into street pulp. Every victory might turn around and bite.

I wish I could love perfectly, like God does, exempt of fear and full of hope.
Some days, I dare to think I'm half-way to close.

But these gray Thursdays roll around, and I know He understands. He didn't ask us to love our neighbor as robots or avatars, or to lurch behind them at a wise distance. He asked us to come beside them, our knees grinding the asphalt, and heave their timber onto our backs. He asked us to hand over our last pieces of bread and let him create magic for all of us.

He made us human. To level the field a bit, he practiced our part for a while.
He hasn't forgotten the way things hurt. He sat in the garden alone, grieved beneath the weight I feel right now times the Universe.

He asks me to hand over my last shard of hope and watch him shape it into a sturdy life-boat, a bridge of river rocks, a faith that's shatter-proof.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Smoke Break

I don't remember much about our search to find the first "official" church home of our marriage. I don't remember exactly how many churches we visited or how many Sundays it took for us to realize the one we had found was "it".

All I know is, someone roped us into getting up an hour earlier in order to sit in the cold metal folding chairs of a Sunday school classroom.

Everyone was wonderful, so kind, quite funny.

But I didn't know we were home until the guy across from me cleared his throat and said out loud to the rest of the circle that he had trouble with his mouth. He cussed when he things didn't go well at his factory job. He cussed like a sailor.

I couldn't believe he was admitting this to the rest of us. I had never seen anything like it. It wasn't the discovery that I was circled up among cussers that almost knocked me out of my seat, it was the fact that he admitted to it. Without any unnecessary emotional fanfare. This was one of his struggles. He didn't feel super great about it. He needed help. And he seemed to profoundly, yet simply, understand this is why he had Jesus, and this is why he had the rest of us.

Last week, ten years and two towns away from that old Sunday School circle, I dashed out of church to run home and grab my side-dish for the post-service carry-in.

When I pulled back into the lot ten minutes later, I noticed an intriguing congregation of fellas on the North side of the building. There was the youngish guy who often wears a Cubs t-shirt under his choir robe, a couple of guys who have become like kin to us, the worship leader, and a quiet guy I don't know well at all. Loyal servants and leaders of our church. All of them were smoking.

This phenomenon wasn't a revelation to me. But I'd never received the gift of this sheepish collective.

From my van, I raised my eyebrows and grinned so hard.

"What's going on over there?"

"Oh, nothing good," he grinned back, snuffing out his cigarette and walking my way. "Need a hand?"

I loaded him up with pickles and beans.

And I knew for the hundredth time that I was home.

Not because this church is perfect, not because it's everything I always dreamed a church home should be, not because everyone gets along and behaves graciously, or because it meets every one of my piddly needs.

It's home because there are people - at least some - who straight-up wear their humanity, even on Sundays. The men I saw love Jesus and recognize their need for him. They have habits they'd probably rather break, and I'm guessing they also sin, every day.

They could wait until they got home.
They could take pains to relocate to a more obscure location.

All that would accomplish among the rest of us is the mounting dread that everyone is better at this holiness gig and the looming despair that what's required of us is either to get our crap together or to pull up our pantyhose and at least act the part.

I'm so exhausted by our filters. I'm worn bare by our refusal to live authentically, as actual humans.

As believers called into community, we are set apart, tasked with wearing the shine of a love we could never manufacture. Our job is to relent daily to Christ's molding, to wear our plasticity like a badge - "I'm In Need of Changing". Our job is not to be plastic, wearing our mask of perfection like a smug iron gate - "Come Back When You're Better".

Call me crazy, it's okay. But only in a place marked by visible imperfection and authenticity can I fully own my personal brokenness. And only in fully owning my brokenness am I compelled to chase heart-pounding after my Redeemer.

Let's honor the honest.
Let's be them, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Garden for Every Lady in the Land

Gardening has long been a part of our Martin family tradition.

And while that statement is technically true, I mostly just wanted a reason to post this old picture because ohmygosh, I can't even handle the cuteness. Forget the carrots, look at all those cheeks and baby teeth!

My reality is that we woke up to snow again this morning and I'm bundled up in sweats with a cup of hot tea. But one of the best parts about being a mom is the mental strength and fortitude it builds. We can compartmentalize and emotionally detach with the best of them, and that's what this is all about.

It's straight-up mid-April, and I'm jamming my flag in this frozen soil and claiming it not for what it is, but what it will soon be. It's garden time, and I've been dreaming.

Since I'm already tucked away in my shell of denial and oblivion, it's as safe a time as any to reflect on my gardens of yore:

It totally doesn't cause me any measure of pain to look at this virtual thicket of awesomeness that used to live in my back acreage.

And I'm not just saying that. It really doesn't bother me. Not one bit. Sunsets refracting off organic vegetable foliage are totally overrated and everyone knows it.

{{Help! It hurts so dang bad!}}

This is my reality now. Four raised beds against a gritty, urban backdrop of ramshackle, asbestos-shingled garages,automobile carcasses, and a weed-beseiged alley. 

Viva la 'hood!

Though it's true I miss parts of my old life, particularly the traipse-about garden, I don't miss my actual living life. This one here is the one I was made for, and we now have a solid season of proof in hand that tomatoes are tomahtoes no matter if they lap up well water or if their hydration is bought from the city.

 So now, all there's left to do is get busy deciding.

I've already called it: I'm splurging on more of this white hardware-store edging. It is 0% practical across every measurable axis, but it brought me unspeakable joy back on the farm. I need it in my city life, stat.

I also need ranunculus.

Whatever. I just need them.

They wonder-struck me at each stage of their high-brow, ruffled development. It was magical, watching them pop up despite my well-honed instincts to fail at growing anything remotely exotic.

Maybe because the beans flaked out last year and the zucchinis bailed, I find I'm far more concerned about the flowers I want to grow this time around. Cory has now said to me approximately 83 times, "Let's just make a cutting garden this year." And you know homeboy doesn't really even know what a "cutting garden" is. I think we're all just craving some low-maintenance pretty. We want some bang for our buck, and we can't chance losing face over finicky beans again.

Or maybe we're just becoming city slickers faster than we thought.

No matter who you are or which side of the tracks you find yourself, I'm here to tell you, growing stuff in dirt will change the way you see spring and summer and life and maybe even God. It's a reminder to slow down and stay home and pickle the dang cukes while the sun shines.

Where are you on all this gardening business?

Are you an expert? Tell me how to grow brussels sprouts and whether or not I should bother with asparagus.

Are you a novice? What's the best tip you have to share with other fellow novices?

Are you too scared to even try? Let me pet your hair and assure you - you can do it. Invest $2 in a packet of zinnia seeds and call me from cloud nine when they're in bloom and you can't stop loving them.

We're in this together, Sisters. Grab a row, and let's hoe!

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