to be carried.

Apparently, people have “triggers” when it comes to parenting. I didn’t know what a trigger was, but then Millie told me that it’s those things that make me completely lose it. I’ve been learning that a huge trigger for me is embarrassment. I became responsible for a tiny human and now I am embarrassed all the time.

It comes from an untrue assumption that every is watching me and that everyone cares. Anytime she doesn’t say please in front of a stranger. Anytime she doesn’t say “hello” back immediately to someone. Talking loudly to Genevieve in church. When she gives one of us the stink eye post-getting in trouble for talking loudly in church.

I can feel it. My cheeks are burning, teeth are gritted. I can feel the anxiety wash over me. Everyone is watching me and they know I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING. EVERYONE KNOWS! It’s classic imposter syndrome. I am just waiting to be found out that I am 100% making up everything as I go.

One of the most recent things I have felt embarrassed about is that Nyra doesn’t take communion. In the Anglican tradition, it isn’t very strange, but lots of our friends who have littles around her age do take communion. I get embarrassed and insecure. I see teeny Jubilee toddle up to the front and dip her bread in the wine and I think OH MY GOSH NYRA’S BEHIND. Not only that, but she is SPIRITUALLY BEHIND. THAT IS NOW A THING AT FIVE YEARS OLD. I think Jubilee knows the Apostles Creed and Nyra forgot who Moses was last week. She thought he was Noah. I AM FAILING. And naturally, communion is in front of everyone, so once again it feels like my embarrassment is on display.

I  wanted to force it so badly.  JUST TAKE THE BREAD, CHILD! PRETEND YOU’RE INTO IT. But every week, like clockwork, when it comes time to walk down the aisle she lifts up her little arms to be carried. Giancarlo carries her and she receives her blessing. If it’s Ben Wall up at the front, he just whispers, “Jesus loves you.” Other priests say beautiful blessings, but I love that Ben whispers, “Jesus loves you.” I hope she hears it, tucks it away in her heart, remembers it.

I told Giancarlo during church one Sunday that I was embarrassed that she doesn’t take communion. I said something snarky like, “She is too OLD to be carried for heaven’s sake. Ugh we need to get on this communion thing. Didn’t I explain it to her last week? After the Moses incident?!” I apparently get snarky when embarrassed. He said quietly back to me, “I like to carry her.”

I was taken aback. He continued, “When she was around two and things were much harder and felt uncertain, she never wanted to go up. But I was determined to get her up there so she could still receive a blessing. It was so important to me. I didn’t care how she got up there; and ever since then I’ve carried her.”

I stop. Breathe in, breathe out. Realize that I am married to such an astounding man. We have all been carried. None of us have entered into faith on our own. We have all been carried, at times unwillingly, to the feet of Jesus. We have all been helpless. And when we get there, we aren’t chastised for not wanting to come. We are reminded that we are Beloved. He doesn’t care how we got there, He doesnt care if we had the right motives.

I love the Eucharist and I love the Table. I love that week after week, Jesus meets us in a dingy high school auditorium. I love that the Body, the Blood, and Blessings are enough even when our hearts aren’t in it. It still sustains. It doesn’t change, it is unwavering, infallible.

We get to carry her, and I am so grateful.

“For as long as we take this bread, and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

 

kairos.

We miss her, a lot.

Sharing custody of children is gut wrenching. We say things like, “your other house.” I wash and fold clothes from that other house, put them all in a bag and return them when I remember. I struggle with anxiety whenever she has a weird day or isn’t a good listener. I can feel myself thinking, “She goes back to her other house tomorrow. What if we aren’t okay by then?” She went through a phase where I swear she would always get in trouble ten minutes before she would get picked up. What are you supposed to do?

I didn’t used to think like this.

I remember counting down the hours until she would go back. I was overwhelmed and wanted to feel a sense of normalcy. I felt like I was just trying to survive. I was so hypersensitive to everything she did. And now, I have literally shed tears over underwear that has days of the week on it, because some of it will never get worn.

Everyone knows that time with your children is precious, but you feel it so strongly when you are only with them part of the time.

It’s pouring down rain, lightning is flashing across the sky. We wonder, “Is she okay? Is she scared?” We have the heartbreaking reality that her kindergarten teacher will often spend more time with her than we do.

So when we have her, I do my very best to hold her tight. I do my best to read that longer story, Amelia Bedelia, even though I have to explain every. single. double meaning.  Some nights I lay down next to her and listen to her talk about every hilarious thing that goes through her head. She asks tough questions about Jesus. I remember that it is not my job to answer everything perfectly, it is my job to be evidence that Jesus loves her fiercely. We do the sign of the cross over her sweet little blonde head and trust that the Lord is faithful, even in small ritual.

I do my very best to remember that it is okay to let things go. It is okay that she was intent on wearing a tiger costume to church. Whatever. It is okay that she mostly just wants to dance with Mae during church. It’s hard for me to sit still through 80% of our services too. Sometimes people find it endearing. It’s okay that my failed attempt to make carrots taste better, apparently, “made dem taste even badder” (at least the child is honest).

This is all easier said than done. The Greek word kairos explains to us that not all moments in time are created equal. There are those moments, those thin places, when you can feel the presence of God unmistakably. Every moment that we have Nyra does not always feel kairos, but I am working on increasing my sensitivity. I am holding onto little moments, Nyra saying “you can sit next to me…if you want.” That may seem small, but it’s a kairos moment. Picking out Father’s Day gifts for Giancarlo. Her bringing me a glass of water when I said I wasn’t feeling well.

Mamas, if you have your babies all the time, hold them tight.

good enough.

“Emily, he is so solid. I think you guys would really get along.”

“No.”

“You haven’t even met him yet. WE LOVE HIM. Give him a chance.”

“He is 21. He has a child. He is a baby with a baby. Absolutely not.”

The above is a real conversation that ensued prior to my meeting Giancarlo. I was SO NOT ON BOARD. Not even remotely.

I had grown up in a fairly picturesque family. Two parents, married forever, three siblings. We all went to private school, stayed in the same church our whole lives, and everything was mostly calm. We had sibling squabbles and I fought with my parents about my curfew. I cannot stress enough how much I did not understand the concept of family drama. I planned on carrying on this tradition. I would get married, we would have children, and I would work hard to make sure that we were a freaking Norman Rockwell painting. That was the plan.

I truly, truly believed with every ounce of my being that having a perfect family was the road to happiness. Don’t get me wrong, a strong family structure has plenty of benefits, many of which I’m reaping. But I made it an idol, the thing that would be the end all be all. Nothing can live up to that standard. And when you believe it can, it becomes devastating when it all crashes down.

The funny thing is, when we look at Scripture, left and right we see families that are straight up jacked up. If you look through the Old Testament alone we see siblings casually murdering each other, babies born from maidservants, blatant favoritism. The list goes on and on. Yet, these are the families God chooses to tell His stories.

And of course, the greatest redemption story of all time is told from a teenager pregnant out of wedlock and a non-biological father. Imagine that. The family that is used to tell the Greatest Story in existence is a young, unwed teenage girl. It was good enough.

Lots of the days, our little family still feels jacked up. There are questions about priorities and jealousy. Insecurity rears its ugly head regularly. We struggle to get on the same page. And on those days I find myself thinking, “God, what kind of story are you trying to tell here? Because this one frankly SUCKS.”

I’m sure Joseph felt the same way when, you know, his siblings sold him into slavery. “God, what kind of family is this? What is the point? What kind of story is this?”

I wonder if Sara felt the same way when Hagar became pregnant. “Lord, what are you doing? What kind of story is this?”

I’m sure Mary felt the same way. “What are people going to think? What kind of story is this?”

His favorite thing is to make beauty from ashes, to bring dead things to life, to use the weak to shame the strong. I didn’t want to become ashes, to die, or to become weak. I wanted to be the best on my own. I didn’t want to need redemption.

On my best days I meditate on Esther, “Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.” I feel empowered and ready to take on whatever curveball the story will throw at me.

On the other days, I feel exhausted and over it. I want things to be simpler. And on those days, He says “this is good enough for Me. This is going to be a beautiful story.”

 

 

grieving.

As I was scrolling through Pinterest trying to figure out how to sneak vegetables into mac and cheese (because desperation), a print with a quote stopped me in my tracks. It said,

Weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life you have.”

I was quickly brought back to sitting in Sabrina’s office, my leg moving nervously. Eyes darting around to the scripture on her walls. Avoiding her gaze. Giancarlo and I had been dating for six months and I was already in counseling. She was examining my responses closely, as she always does. She kept saying the same thing. “You are thinking about marrying him. You have to grieve it. You have to grieve the family that you will never have, the ‘perfect’ life you thought would come to be. It will be different than you thought. And you have to grieve the losses.”

I refused to. It was too hard, too raw.

Somehow, it took me 23 years to learn that life is hard as hell. I had lived oblivious to this fact for most of my life. I thought if I followed the rules, I was guaranteed easy. Recently, God has opened up my eyes that so many people are deeply grieving something. Most of our lives have not gone as planned.

We have dear friends who have had to grieve that they will most likely never have biological children. Friends whose parents died suddenly and now will never know their grandchildren. I have friends who were absolutely positive they would be married by now. Friends whose marriages are coming apart. Where are these lives we thought we would live? 

I never thought marrying a man with a child would be part of my story. I never dreamed that I would cry for countless hours over custody orders, unknown futures, and certain symbols of the past making me nauseous.

But, back to the grieving. We still have to grieve. The Psalms become your best friend because they offer no explanation, and are unapologetic about pain and suffering. The Psalms cry out to God with anger and frustration. The Psalms are full of unanswered questions, yearnings that are not met. The Psalms give us permission to say “Why, God? Why??.” He is not afraid of our questions, our anger, our grief. He is all too familiar. Jesus Himself has felt grief beyond what we can imagine, Jesus has felt his heart be torn in two. Jesus has had his soul overcome with sorrow to the point of death. And what did he do? He cried out to God, with the Psalms. Psalm 22 to be exact. “Why have you forsaken me??”

Grief is a terrifying emotion to give yourself over to. I have a memory of calling Giancarlo at 2 am on a summer night because I couldn’t stop crying. I kept saying “This is not what I had hoped for. This is so scary. I am so scared.” (side note: He is a trooper).

What I am slowly learning is that this is the story the Lord has given me. It is mine and mine only to live boldly and with great hope. What I’m learning though, is that we can’t fast forward through the grief. We let Him meet us in our grief and let Him say “I know, I know, I know, and I love you.” We have to sit in it, in all the pain.

And then we can embrace. And then, we rise.

 

to the mamas that have kept me going.

 

Every now and then (read: lots of the days) I somehow manage to lose my temper with a beautiful five year old who resembles Rapunzel. Her face looks nothing like my face, we have none of the same quirks, nor do we share the bond of blood.

She is my step daughter. I love her with every inch of my being.

But whenever I start to lose my temper because my respect button is pushed, she doesn’t want her Rapunzel hair brushed, or I feel like an outsider on a family that existed before me, I can hear a voice that is not the Voice. It says, in a snide tone, “You are not a real mom.”

On days where rooms have been cleaned, vegetables have been negotiated, outfits have been laid out, and lullabies sung, this hits me like a ton of bricks. All of the sudden I can’t breathe. The voice speaks again, “You did not birth her. Everyone knows you are illegitimate and inadequate. Real moms don’t lose it like this. Also, guess what? You will never be her mother.”

This first blog post is dedicated to the women who have silenced that voice.

I didn’t realize how much it mattered until I received an e-mail from one of our church coordinators with an invite to the Mother’s Prayer Breakfast and I burst into tears. I sobbed like a baby over the fact that somebody had acknowledged that I was also a mother.  Then I realized that so many mama friends had done the same thing, and that it was holding me together like glue.

This post is dedicated to Ali, who sent me a text on Mother’s Day, when we didn’t have Nyra.

It is dedicated to Amy, who endured many dramatic text messages about HAIR THAT WAS FINALLY BRUSHED AND BRAIDED AND HOW NO ONE EVEN CRIED.

To Millie, who didn’t judge me when I said I was dying for a glass of wine and so sick of being asked “why” constantly from a tiny human.

For Emily, who encouraged me deeply the first time that Nyra got in a fight with another child, and it was hers.

For Gayla, who has little adopted ones, who told me that choosing to love is hard and good and what we were made for.

For Lisa, who told me the vital role her stepmother played in introducing her to Jesus. Tears rolling down my cheeks alone in my car, I felt a twinge of hope.

This first blog post is dedicated to my mother who patiently says over and over again, “She is a kind and beautiful child. Keep loving her, keep loving her, keep loving her.”

All of these things allow me to just. keep. going. because being a step mama is damn hard and I have been doing it for exactly six weeks.

In the book of Genesis, another desperate woman says “You are the God who sees me.” These women remind me of that Truth. When the voice that is not His says that we are not enough, He Sees us. He Sees me in all the chaos and heartbreak and confusion. He is after all, Emmanuel, God with us.