Losing Balance and Gaining Grace

Hey friend,

Surprise! You’re pregnant again!

I wish I could whisper the secret code from us mamas of three in your ear to make it easier for you. But there is no secret.

The truest truth I know is this: There is no balance. Don’t let the books or mommy groups tell you otherwise. The strive for balance is a cultural catch-phrase winding families into a panicked frenzy. Don’t believe it. Chasing balance only offers you a chalice of shame.

I know it feels beyond your human capacity right now to have another baby. Caring for another soul.

Especially while your oldest is still a pint-sized person with a full grown bucket of personality and emotions.

Especially while your toddler demands being held – always – in arms and eye contact. Dimpled baby fists occasionally thumping your chest for the breastmilk run dry.

Especially while you pursue a career that whispers yes into your bones.

Especially while you’re still fighting for space to eat, rest, solo potty, simply remember who you are and how you like your eggs. Not to mention that little thing called marriage.

I know you know it’s going to be okay. But I want to repeat. I have faith in you. You can do this.

I would tell you if I can do it, anyone can. But you were there. You saw the hard and maybe that’s what’s so scary about this after all.

You knew a few months into parenting my first I went to bed crying. Nightly.  Knowing I was outside of my mind tired but the hard part was just beginning as babes and I would be awake together up to ten more times before dawn.

When our second was several months old I picked up mono with a bonus coupling of hepatitis that wiped me out physically and emotionally. One illness stole the independence and non-neediness I had so adamantly co-joined to my adulthood. You sat next to me while I was a shell of tired, blank of personality and guessed at ways you could help because I was too deep in the sick and the sad to assess the need.

Then our third came and there was no time to cave up. No hibernation period. It was sprinting with vaginal stitches. You witnessed it all.

There is no secret. Life balance a farce we’ve spun too much energy into already. Alternatively, there is trusting the goodness of the Creator who has already given you an intuitive understanding of the rhythms of life.

Instead, there is embracing seasons.

Instead, there is determining what is important and hacking the rest with comically oversized scissors.

Instead, there is focusing on a goal with full-throttle, head down, shoulder thrust into the now. Breathing. Turning. Locking eyes on the next up and going again.

Instead, (and this may be the most important one) there is lowering self-expectation and raising chaos tolerance.

It is not easy but it is good. I can’t wait to watch you experience that self-offering of grace even as your third curls close, heartbeat to heartbeat, the main things become the main things, and everything else shakes away.

It will be an undoing of sorts, but it is not to be feared.

You’re going to be amazing!

XOXOXOXOX,

From this mama of three to you, new mama, of three!

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For The Mom Who…Our Talks About Foster Care

For the mom who is genuinely confused about how many kids I have:

There are three.

We are still hoping to grow our family through foster to adopt. Ideally with a kiddo from the two or under crowd. That’s kind of our sweet spot and where we know we can offer a physically and emotionally safe environment for current and incoming kids.

Meanwhile, we wait.

While we wait, we offer respite care for other foster families in the thick of it.

I say thick of it because parenting is hard. Parenting foster kids who may or may not want to be with you and have a train-load of trauma is extra hard. Parenting a mix of bio kids and foster kids together is a whole other level that can only be understood by those who live it: words simply can’t imbue the experience.

Recently our family hosted five kids within three weeks and we jumped onto that elliptical of learning curves that happens every time you venture into a difficult arena. At the end, it was an affirmation that we want to do this and we can do this.

For the mom who said she isn’t emotionally strong enough.

Previously daunting things become normalized. For instance, I am capable of meeting birth parents. That felt scary before. When trading kids after visitation in a fast-food parking lot, we are, in fact, standing on the same ground. There is no more “us vs. them”. There is only an us together for these kids.

I am not “stronger” than you, more “ready” than you, more “figured out” than you. This is something our family values.  We simply said yes. Clearly it hasn’t all been worked out yet and has only been an uphill journey. We are confident that fostering and adoption is worth it. What a greater privilege than offering life and hope to what was previously void?

For the mom who told me she could never do that [foster care] to her real kids:

I’m going to skip over that “real kids” part for now.

I get it. It’s scary. I would be lying if I said we never signed off from a day hard-drawn asking if our children will spend their adult years in therapy overcoming these years of childhood.

No, our bio kids don’t always like every minute. Let’s remember that no one in this family actually likes each other every minute. We don’t shy away from doing something because some parts look hard.

Here’s the worth-it news. Our bio kids actively learn compassion. It is not a stale Bible story or an abstract idea. It’s making silly faces at the baby to entice a laugh because giggles are healing. It’s fetching a sippy of milk for the toddler because food means safety. It’s moments when their specific personalities are highlighted and utilized to meet the need of another child sharing in their home.

Our kids have to wait sometimes and be late sometimes. It is not always their way, their choice, their moment. When did this become a bad thing? That’s just called being a part of a family and being ready to grow into a socially responsible human in relationship with others.

For the mom who calls me superwoman and for the other mom who thinks I’m a frazzled spaz-case:

Yes. You are both correct.

It is true that I have a high-capacity for life, however there is no time for me to be fake with you. Adding kids into the mix means simplifying and shaking off non-essential commitments. There is not space for doing it all, people-pleasing, or perception campaigning. I have a much more resolute “no” to peripheral requests because the importance to create space for this “yes” is bigger.

Respite & foster care for our family makes a very real physical and metaphorical mess. Each mess creates an opportunity to see traits of generosity and kindness in our bio kids, an invitation for me to remain close to the vein of God’s heart, as well as an opportunity to continue healing for the foster kids.

It is shaking it all down, and knowing God’s loving compassion and fierce resilience is holding it all up.

Leboffe, Party of Seven

It’s a fresh year. While the rest of you were Instagramming vignettes of your 2015 planners and glitter pens and mini desktop succulents the past few weeks, I was actively avoiding even looking at the calendar app on my phone homepage, lest it told me the actual date signifying the end of free and carefree schedules. Two weeks! Of vacation. Of not normal life. Of jammies and board games on the floor. Of chasing sea and sky and mountain. Forget NYResolutions. Here’s the new goal. Become independently wealthy so we can just go on endless adventures with our kids. And without our kids. We’re still throwing ourselves a pity party over here about our re-entry to routine.

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I don’t have an inspirational word to sum up last year or to project forward. While more unscheduled time seems unattainable and unrealistic, we are hoping for moments. Little blitzes of time together that are unmistakably holy in their goodness. 2015 promises to be a big year for us. Nate and I will be putting a flag in our tenth year of marriage, and we are excited to share we’ll be expanding our family! No, I’m not pregnant so please don’t congratulate me on the baby bump you’ve secretly been tracking. (That’s just my post-babies-pillow). Our family is in the process of becoming certified for foster-to-adopt with the intention of adopting a child or sibling set. Leboffe, party of 7!IMG_8257Still pining for vacation days past and wishing and watching for those flash moments ahead for you and for me.

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A Baby Shower Devotion and Some Breastfeeding Jokes – They go together in my world

Recently I was asked to share a devotional at a baby shower for a first time mommy. I kept remembering the most asked question I got as a new mom – But…what do you do at home all day? I started writing and this is what came out. Not your typical devotional. There might be a cuss word and I might talk a little too much about boobs. Enjoy. Also, you were warned… ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ 3:28am. I heavy sigh loud enough for what, I hope, will wake up Husband so he can burp and cajole our sweet newborn back to sleep. There’s no movement. I do this a few more times, before reaching over to push his shoulder. Instead, my arm finds the knee of our preschooler who has crawled into bed with us sometime in the wee hours, then reaching further finds the body pillow Husband has cleverly used to barricade himself from said preschooler knee. New baby’s cries are growing louder and neither her baby dragon noises nor my sighs are waking him up. The king sized bed makes him too far to reach.  So, in what I consider to be a very charitable act, I tug a corner of his pillow until his head’s within reach and give him a moderate whap on the back of the head. He’s awake now. I pretend to be in deep REM’s.  It’s 5:07am. I’m breastfeeding the newborn (again) and will myself to stop calculating how many hours of sleep I might still get before the others wake up. The double-puddles of escaped breast milk on my side of the bed have turned icy, but I flop back down anyway, too tired to care. 6:02am. My husband kisses me on the forehead as he leaves for work. In my mind I wave a hand out of the covers, and send him away with the loving encouragements only a wife can give. I’m told later what really happened; I sleep-swatted him away, rolled over, and emitted a slow, gurgling exhale that sounded somewhere between a low growl and a dying elephant. 6:47am. I open my eyes and my heart is immediately both running sprints in my chest and dropping to my stomach. There is a preschooler standing beside my bed, inches away from my face. Who knows how long she’s been silently staring at me. I congratulate myself for only gasping and not lapsing into an “oh sh–!” There’s a reason they put little kids in horror movies. This is terrifying! 6:49. Can’t convince the preschooler to get in bed with me. The two year old is shouting for someone, anyone, to “Get me out MINE CRIIIIIIIIB!” and the newborn wants to eat again. I make a few mental calculations and wonder how much coffee I can drink before my milk factory becomes permanently contaminated. I recite the Mother’s Creed, “Dear Jesus. Thank you for today. Help me get out of bed. Sustain me. Amen.”  7-9am. We take that entire two hours to prepare for the day. It’s pretty much a blur, but I do know there are multiple snacks made, boob feeding sessions, diapering, and re-diapering. Somehow we all make it into the car. 10:32. Having already trekked to the Mecca for all mamas, Target, we’re at the park. My left eye is taking on properties equal to an iguana as I keep watch over the preschooler in my periphery while simultaneously hoisting the toddler into a swing with just my left arm. Meanwhile, I clutch the newborn to my right nipple. Helpfully, my nipple is so stretched out after the cumulative years of feeding babies that this maneuver isn’t a problem. I consider offering it to the kids to jump-rope with later. 12:58pm. Everyone is napping. Correction. Everyone is in a bed and that’s good enough for me. I’m sitting on the couch watching The Voice and wondering how I can creep “totes cool” and “supes presh” into my vocabulary without feeling like a complete phony. There is a swaddled baby against my chest looking like the most beautiful burrito bundle I’ve ever seen. I lean my cheek against her downy head and breathe in that cheesy newborn smell. I need to pee and I really want to sneak some chocolate, but I’m not gonna get up and disrupt this perfect moment in time. 3:42pm. We’re driving home from our afternoon adventure and the preschooler is pointing out the window telling me what is nature God made and what things people made. She asks me questions about Jesus and the mystery of the Trinity. I summarize the book of Genesis and dissect Romans 6:23 using words a four year-old can understand. These are the transcending moments of parenthood. Thirty seconds later she and brother are locked in an arm pinching battle over a book they don’t want to share.  Ahhhh, I think. This is more our zone. But it was good while it lasted. 7:25pm. We made it through the afternoon witching hours, dinner, and bedtime routine. The kids are in bed. The laundry bin I’m about to attack is tucked under my arm. Babes is slung close to my chest. I love feeling those little flutters of breath on my neck. I’m walking down the hallway and overhear my oldest daughter giggle and ask questions about what Kindergarten will be like and what ice cream is made of while her Daddy cuddles her in a night-light lit room. 10:39pm. Husband and I are flopped on the couch trying to build up the energy to go to bed, but neither of us is willing yet. Partly we’re just too tired to move and partly because this is the little time we have to spend together. Babes is eating again. Husband looks and acts a little jealous of this child’s boob-domination. I remind him that there is a season for everything and quote some Ecclesiastes, but there’s nothing more annoying that having someone quote Bible verses at you when you just want to honk a hooter without opening up the lactational flood gates. 12:02am. The lights are all off and we’re in bed. We pray as extensively and fervently as possible. It goes something like this, “Please. Help. And thank you.” I think we started a conversation when we got in bed, but we keep falling asleep then waking up to say one word or a muffled phrase, so we let the conversation go. The baby is snuggled in between us, having just topped her up & sent her into a milk coma. She stays there until she sinks into a deep newborn dreamland of wombs and darkness and wobbly fluid before we move her into her own bassinet. This is discouraged in most parenting books and we pinky swear to both lie to the pediatrician about the sleep habits we are creating. There are some things we disagreed about today and some family business we haven’t come to a conclusion on, but we know when to call a spade a spade; or in this case, a day a day. We squeeze hands and say goodnight. 12:12am. I wake up and realize that squeezing hands is sweet but also incredibly stupid. I touch his arm to wake him up. He finds the energy to move in for a real kiss. “See you in a few hours, babe.” “Yep. See you in a few.” And then it starts all over again. My point in sharing my timestamp of a typical day is this: Sometimes being a mama feels boring. Sometimes (but rarely) it feels like you’re performing your own rockstar concert and crowds are cheering for you in all your awesomeness. Sometimes it is ridiculously hard. You may find that you can’t remember the last time you showered and that your mama musk has become so potent it’s your home’s new pest repellant. That’s okay. You might find yourself forgetting to eat all day then shoving a handful of goldfish and pre-mashed, browned banana in your mouth at 3pm out of desperation. This is okay too. Secretly we’re all just doing our best and hoping we don’t mess up too much. The Bible has a zillion things to say about parenthood and marriage and love and families. But there is only one you really need to remember: Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ. The Message says it like this: Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. When you are awake (again) at 4:14am and have been for 2 hours; I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. When your child is screaming in the car because she is hungry or tired or simply pissed that you aren’t driving through the red light; I can make it through anything in the One… When you’re cuddling a feverish baby and on the phone with the night nurse unsure whether to stay home until office hours in the morning or rush to urgent care; I can make it through anything… It’s a steep learning curve, but you already have everything you need. You have the spirit of Christ who dwells in you. So whatever you have, wherever you are, you can make it through anything in Christ! Even mommyhood. Welcome.