28 Weeks

Oh y'all.

I feel like a bloated elephant right now. Something about the clothes I'm wearing, the Braxton-Hicks contractions which are squeezing me like a famished boa constrictor and (possibly) the fact that I just ate a gigantic oatmeal raisin cookie with a huge glass of milk chaser.

I'm also getting bored -- OH SO VERY BORED -- of the same belly shot angles and locations week after week.

But unless I want to train Teyla to take my picture outside -- which I'm sure she believes she could do anyway -- this will have to do, for today.

Here I am, at 28 weeks.

Please note the fact that I put on MUCH CUTER clothes for my portrait today. But at lunch -- in which I took all three kids out to IHOP by myself after church, which makes me either gutsy or stupid, take your pick -- Teyla peed all over me. (I honestly have no idea how she did that. Her diaper wasn't leaking. Somehow, she managed to twist in such a way as she sat balanced on my lap that she, ahem, relieved herself directly through her leggings and onto my jeans and shirt.) As you might imagine, I ditched the urine-soaked clothes as soon as I got home and I pieced together the gem of an outfit you see above.

Also, do you love that you can see my stretched out belly button through all my shirts now?

Pregnancy is the weirdest thing ever.

If you or someone you know is also great with child, be sure to check out the baby shower being thrown in honor of Beth of I Should Be Folding Laundry -- only in this case, the guests get a gift every time Beth does. The shower giveaways run all week at Adventures in Babywearing.

What Does Nothing Mean to You?

Last November, my husband traveled to Haiti with Food for the Poor, one of the many wonderful relief organizations with which his company partners. He came home profoundly shaken after spending just three days touring some of the most poverty-stricken areas surrounding Port-au-Prince. He said it was some of the worst poverty he had ever seen -- and that's saying something. (More on that in a minute.)

As you might imagine, he was completely floored when a January earthquake managed to destroy the little the Haitians had managed to scrape together. The disaster felt personal. Just weeks before, he and his team had stayed at the Hotel Montana. Now, it was just pile of rubble -- and a tomb for many, like Compassion's David Hames. The projects he had toured -- including schools, senior centers and orphanages -- suffered serious damage.

A country that already had nothing -- Haiti was the poorest country in the Western hemisphere even before the earthquake -- now has even less.

If you're reading this on Saturday, you can help by watching Compassion International's Help Haiti Live concert; it starts streaming online at 7:30 PM Central.

If you're reading this after Saturday, you can still give. Haiti isn't in the headlines anymore. But there are many relief and development organizations who will be in Haiti for years as the country attempts to rebuild. Consider making monthly donations to Food for the Poor or Food for the Hungry or World Vision or, yes, even Compassion. This disaster will have human aftershocks for decades to come.

Here is Corey's story:

If your home is like most in America, you’ve likely heard (or said) things like:
“I have nothing to wear.”
“There’s nothing to eat.”
“There’s nothing to do.”

How do we define nothing? What does nothing mean to you?

When I traveled to Haiti this past December – just six weeks before the January 11th earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince – I encountered a level of nothing I’ve never seen before.

I have some experience with poverty. I spent the early years of my life as an orphaned street rat, lacking food, clothing, shelter or care. I know hunger, disease and abuse.

I also traveled to Aceh province in Indonesia just months after the tsunami in December 2004. The devastation was horrific.

But Haiti was worse.

Much worse.

As we traveled around Port-au-Prince, I kept saying to myself, “This has got to be it. It can’t get worse than this.”

But it did.

So what is nothing? Nothing is a parent who literally has not had a single bite of food in four days, simply so they might give their starving child a skimpy bowl of rice.

Nothing is an area so terrible that two out of every three children die before reaching the age of five. I saw babies and children so near death, I am sure they died within days or a week of my visit.

Nothing is adults who are far beyond having no food or water. Nothing is having no hope, no dignity, no self-respect, no reason to live for another day. Nothing is looking into the eyes of men utterly lost with no purpose and no future. I saw women who didn’t even bother to wear clothes. What’s the point? There’s no dignity, no self-respect. If they had a shred of cloth, it would be patched in with the tin and cardboard, where it could at least provide some shelter from the sweltering sun.

Nothing is conditions that assault the eyes, that make you wonder how anyone could survive, yet that’s just half the story. What you miss in looking at the pictures is the stench. Every street, every creek, every canal, every corner, held heaps upon heaps upon heaps of garbage. Not just paper and plastic, but carcasses, waste from humans and animals. Imagine the stench with pigs walking around everywhere, rooting in the filth, children and adults alike stooping in the muck to do their business, and then when the rains come, it all washes down into your homes. Much of Haiti is below sea level, and much of the ground where I walked was wet with waste.

At one stop in a wretched neighborhood of rusted pieces of tin and cardboard held together by string, twine and twigs, I violated the terms of the tour I was on by going off through the garbage and waste heaps to where a mother had waved and yelled to get my attention. When I reached her hovel, hanging by a rope was the rotting carcass of a goat, minus it’s head and skin. Imagine it’s 90 degrees, 95% humidity, no shade, flies everywhere, and this goat had been hanging outside for several days. Yet these people were fortunate, because they at least had food. They could go up and carve off a piece of meat and eat it to silence the hunger. Yet are they so fortunate? Because the very meat they’re eating is so polluted and contaminated, it’s also the reason they’re so sick. Those are their choices – death by hunger or death by disease.

How to really imagine all this? Imagine a vast septic field. Now rip the top layer of grass and soil off so the ground is wet and smells of the septic system below. Then throw all your garbage, month after month, into this field. Then throw random carcasses and animal waste into this field. Then let pigs wallow around and root in this field. Then build your homes on this field, 5 foot by 6 foot shanties, built no more than three feet from the next shanty.

That’s your new Pleasantville. That’s nothing.

But amidst all this wretchedness, there is still hope.

I visited orphanages and saw boys and girls who were acting and playing just like little children do in America.

I visited a senior center where the dignity and pride of the older women far exceeded anything I’ve seen in senior centers in America.

I saw a nutrition center and school where malnourished babies were cared for.

I saw mothers who were taught to read, to write, to take care of their homes, and to learn a livelihood.

I saw schools for older children, where they were educated and given vocational training.

I saw economic development where men were taught to tend tilapia ponds; the fish feed multiple communities and are a source of food, export and income.

There is still much dignity, hope and beauty in Haiti. There can be so much more than nothing. But they do need help. Let’s put that into perspective. Just $12 will feed a family of four for a full month; $20 covers education and school supplies for one child for an entire year; $34 sponsors a child for a full month – food, clothing, education, and medicine; $36 feeds a child for a full year, $90 buys a goat that provides milk and cheese for a family, $2,600 builds a brand new home; and if you want to provide everything for a family with nothing, $3,582 provides a new home with a concrete floor and solid roof, a new latrine, rice and beans for a full year, a small business grant, clothes and shoes, and a full year of education, including school supplies and uniforms for two children.

If you want a real challenge, for $1,500 you can take a trip to experience nothing yourself.

But whatever you do -- don't respond with nothing. Because we are blessed to do something.

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded." Luke 12:48


Lately, I am fried.
I am fried crispy, as one of my dear friends says.

I am a husk, brittle and arid.
I end each day empty of eye and hollow of heart.

It could be that my husband is traveling.
It could be that my body groans with child.
It could be that the teeth of vampire winter have sucked the passion out of my soul.

Or it could be that I’m so busy surviving, I’m not living.

I am parched.

Lord, give me Your water.
Replenish me.

Pregnancy Journal: What NOT to Say

Imagine you're in labor.

Your husband is sitting next to you, holding your clenched hand.

When, all of a sudden, he looks beyond the delivery room curtain and says, "Holy cow. I think that nurse is my high school girlfriend. And wow, she's looking hot these days!"

Would you say that qualifies for involuntary manslaughter?

Thankfully, it's not a real case scenario. It's on a list of Things NOT To Say To Your Wife While She's In Labor. (Hat tip to Missy for sending me the list which jump-started my post.)

We're discussing the list today -- and adding to the suggestions -- over at 5 Minutes for Parenting. Come join me at the Pregnancy Journal.

The Long Slog, Part 2

(If you missed part one of The Long Slog, you can find it here.)

It hit me afresh one Sunday in December, as we sang one of my favorite Christmas hymns, “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.”

Advent literally means “the arrival.” And the people of Israel? They had waited for centuries for the Messiah to come. It’s easy for me to gloss over this fact, because I know how the story ends. But for a few moments that morning, I let myself ponder the wait of the faithful.

I especially thought about the Israelites who waited the 400 years immediately prior to Jesus’ birth. Those centuries were marked by God’s silence. Four hundred years of nothing. No reassurance. No fresh encouragement. No reiteration of ancient promises. Just a void.

For 400 years, generations waited and hoped and believed and prayed and never saw the fulfillment of the Promised One.

That staggered me.

Suddenly, the bittersweet melody of the ancient hymn fit the lyrics.

“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel will come to thee, O Israel!”

It’s not a song of celebration, to mark the arrival of the Messiah. It’s a song of yearning, a song of trust, a song of waiting.

And ultimately, a song of hope.

In my experience, waiting produces one of two fruits in my life. Either I grow helpless as the days tick by and my prayers aren’t answered – and along with helpless, comes a side crop of bitterness, resignation and unbelief – or I dig in my heals and grow hopeful.

I’ve written before about the difference between the Western definition of hope and the Biblical definition of hope. Our culture uses hope as a synonym for wish. “Oh, I hope I can find one more box of Thin Mint cookies this year.” “I hope we get to live in that neighborhood someday.” “I hope my kids won’t catch the stomach flu going around.”

But that’s not God’s hope. The Greek word most often translated as “hope” in the New Testament is elpis or elpo. Strong’s Greek Dictionary defines it as “to anticipate, usually with pleasure; an expectation or confidence."

In other words, it’s not a wish. It’s a certainty. Biblical hope is as certain as spring, as certain as the birth of this baby who is currently kick-boxing my ribcage. It might not be happening right now, and even the symptoms might be far off. But it is coming.

And that kind of hope? That almost always produces a side crop of joy.

I read this in Colossians this morning:
We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.
And a few verses before, Paul says this about the believers in Colosse:
The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope.
Don’t you love that? What an awesome word picture. With all my heart, I want to wait with a unyielding and joyful hope in the One who goes before me. I want the lines of my faith to be taut and strong, tied as they are to the hope in Jesus.

So, as the hymn says, “Rejoice!” The long slog of waiting might be dark with uncertainty and full of moments of doubt.

But we are not without hope. And that makes all the difference.

The Long Slog

So here we are: February 22. The long slog of winter.

Here in the Upper Midwest, we have many weeks of cool weather still ahead of us. If statistics are to be believed, we stand a good chance of getting dumped on by a spring blizzard or two. (March is traditionally our snowiest month.) Our average daytime high doesn’t even hit 50 until the first week in April.

It’s true that the sun is lingering longer, and we enjoyed a few days of above-freezing temperatures last week. The songbirds have returned. The snow drifts are turning into dangerous piles of razor-sharp ice pellets, coated with black grime (which is actually an encouraging sight, when you are eager for winter to end).

But spring is most assuredly not around the corner for us. For now, the future is more of the same. No change in sight.

And so we wait.

Quite honestly, it feels like the story of my life right now. Not only am I lusting after spring and warmer days and tiny buds of green on the trees, but I am eagerly awaiting the birth of our son in May. No other pregnancy has sucked the life out of me like this one. (When I asked my OB at my last appointment, “I’m guessing this is just a combination of my fourth baby and being 38?” she only grinned at me. Darn.)

I am waiting to see how this year unfolds. We have Many Big Life Decisions ahead of us. It’s possible that this time next year, nothing will have changed. We will still be living in our townhouse, Corey will be working at the same marketing company, the kids will continue attending the Christian school in a neighboring suburb. But we could also be on the other side of the country, living in a city I’ve never even visited. Corey could be working at a new job, and I could be working to resettle our family in a brand new place. With a new baby. Both outcomes are equally possible and believable, and right now, we have no clear indicator of the journey ahead.

We also have a house that’s been on the market for 3.5 years now. We are still waiting (and waiting and waiting) for someone to buy it.

That’s a lot of waiting. But something tells me, you can relate. You might not be waiting for the same things as me. Maybe you’re waiting for an adoption to go through. Maybe you’re waiting for God to bring you a mate. Maybe you’re waiting for God to answer your pleas and resurrect your relationship with your spouse.

And waiting can be torturous, especially when we feel like we’ve waiting long enough. I mean, come on, God. How long do you expect us to wait? Are you still there? Do you even care that we are lost in the mist?

(To be continued tomorrow....) (Somehow, it just seems fitting to make you wait.)


You know what's made this winter different than all other winters?

It has nothing to do with the temperature or the snow or the number of sugar cookies I've consumed. (Well, not mostly, anyway.)

This winter is different -- and indeed, glorious -- because Connor and Natalie can both get dressed in their snow gear BY THEMSELVES and go outside to play.

Up to this point, they've lacked the coordination and the enthusiasm necessary for such an involved endeavor -- which meant we were almost LITERALLY indoors from late November until mid April. The Twin Cities offers many amazing indoor escapes for families, like the Children's Museum and countless indoor playgrounds and water parks and the Mall of America. But still. That's a long time to be inside. It's the very definition of cabin fever.

But this year, something clicked. Now, when the doorbell rings each afternoon around 4:00, signaling that the neighborhood kids have also arrived home from school, my kids jump from their Legos or their book reading and practically sprint for the mudroom, where they don snow pants and coats and boots and gloves and hats. Then they grab their sleds, run outside and play until the sun sets (or the cold forces them in, which happened more frequently during sub-zero January days).

Can I hear a hallelujah?

Like much of the U.S., the Upper Midwest has enjoyed a bit of a warm streak this week. Our days are bright with sunshine and the melody of melting snow. Our afternoon highs have been above freezing for the past three or four days.

So yesterday, when the kids were getting bundled to play outside, and their sweet little sister asked to "go too?" and I heard Natalie say, "Mom! Is it OK if we take Teyla outside with us for a while?" I decided to join the fun.

Warm weather aside, the snow is still knee-deep -- and that's for an adult.

Thankfully, Teyla is sled-portable.

The kids were super excited to take Teyla to the big sledding hill on the other side of our development. The peak is a huge mountain of leftover snow scraped from nearby streets and driveways.

But it continues down a real-life hill that ends in a small ditch, and since one of the neighborhood dads has helped the kids make a solid path for sledding -- complete with walls, like a mini-luge -- it has wicked speed and lots of twists and turns.

Sometimes, they even lost the sled.

Amid the whoops and screams and tumbles, the kids got "so hot!" that jackets were shed and cheeks nearly split from laughter.

"What?!? We're really hot! I mean, it's like 37 degrees!"

Teyla, meanwhile, contented herself with sitting by my side and watching the sled-a-palooza.

Oh. And eating snow. Forget sledding. That's the true winter Olympic sport for the three-and-under set.

Days like this, I love Minnesota.

Pregnancy Journal: Boxes of Memories

Teyla and I are both sick with colds. I'm not sure who is more pitiful: the toddler, with errant strands of hair stuck to her nose and ooze coming from every facial orifice, or me, with my constant explosive sneezes and poor pregnancy bladder control.

(To my male readers: TMI, I know. I'm so very sorry.)

Anyway. That' s my excuse for not telling you earlier about my post at 5 Minutes for Parenting today, which is almost as pitiful as a sneezing-pregnant-woman: It's about a mom, expecting her last baby, trying to sort through and give away her tubs and tubs of baby girl clothes, since they are no longer needed. *Sob*


The snow is tapering to flurries this morning, and the plows are already coming through. A tiny storm cell left us with a fresh coating of white last night.

But it came in backwards.

Here in the Twin Cities -- and, I suspect, in much of the Midwest -- weather moves from west to east 90% of the time. (I totally made up that statistic, by the way, but since I'm a meteorologist at heart, I'm OK with doing that.) You watch the radar and see what's happening in the Dakotas (or just Twitter with Heather of the EO who now lives west of here), and you'll have a pretty good idea what's coming our way.

Not so with the storm yesterday. Winds converged and Superman flew around the planet at light speed (I made that up too) and suddenly, we had a storm coming at us from the east. It moved from Wisconsin into Minnesota and left us with a black-and-white world. (And the faint odor of cheese.)

Backwards. I had to smile.

In my world, God is the instigator of backwards. Only He does things that are extra-ordinary, unusual, sometimes impossible.

Last night, Corey and I celebrated Valentine's family style. We ate leftovers at the kitchen table and laughed at the kids as they engaged in their nightly, post-dinner game of hide-and-seek (or hide-and-shriek, in Teyla's case). It wasn't romantic or sentimental. It was real. We did manage to sneak away Saturday night for a dinner alone, and we basked in the chance to explore a few local restaurants (one for dinner, one for dessert) and to talk without interruption. But even that wasn't over-the-top mushy and sentimental. It was just us being together.

When we were first married, Corey and I did Valentine's Day the way Hallmark says you should. We got dressed up and at at expensive beach-side restaurants. We traded big red cards and flashy gifts.

But back then, our hearts were separate. We went through with the show -- maybe because we didn't want to acknowledge reality. But there was no warmth behind the dazzle, no companionship to carry us through the other 364 days.

It's funny to me that our 17th Valentine together -- when many marriages have turned cold and stale, and Valentine's Day is just a bitter reminder of what was -- that it's now we are reveling in the new and growing more and more infatuated with each other and marveling at God's ability to raise the dead.


Only God does that.

Humble Pie A La Mode a Porter

I am a woman of my principles.

Until I’ve worn the same sweater three days in one week and I have no other options to cover my bulging tummy and I feel like I’m going to go mad if I have to keep wearing the same clothes over and over and over again. Then, I'm a woman perturbed.

(Incidentally, you know how people say some pregnant women look like they’ve swallowed a basket ball? I’ve decided I look just like that. Only substitute beach ball and add in a few slices of birthday cake on the back end.)

(Because, good night people. Between my December OB appointment, which was right before Christmas, and my January OB appointment, which was five weeks later, I gained 10 pounds. Maybe I should say I had only gained 10 pounds, because in that time period, I had three Christmases to celebrate and Teyla’s and my birthday cake to bake and eat, so 10 pounds feels like a victory to me. Consider that I ate almost every single slice of my birthday cake, as well as the leftover cupcakes from Teyla’s party because a. we didn’t have anyone other than our immediate family over to celebrate, b. my husband doesn’t eat sweets and c. I was not about to throw chocolate buttercream or lemon curd in the garbage. Amen.)

So last Friday, I was getting dressed, and almost everything I put on would not stay down over my exposed whale flesh. And lo, that is not a cute look.

And that’s how I found myself standing in a Motherhood Maternity store approximately two hours later.

I went in armed with a healthy dose of skepticism modified with dollop of desperation.
And while I did have to endure a kind but wacky saleswoman (“I really think professional football is horrible, don’t you? I mean, did you see the pictures of Brett Favre’s leg this week? I hurt my ankle one time and it looked just like that, all black and green and blue, the bruise went all the way to my hip. And to think the players from the other team kept going after him. I mean, they could have killed him. Really. Criminal charges should be filed.”), I left an hour later with a bag full of new shirts that both cover the whale flesh comfortably and look cute without costing a ton.

Happy, happy, joy, joy.

I got a couple of long-sleeved t-shirts (one white, one pink) for $9.99 each. I replaced my white maternity layering tank that I can’t find for the life of me for only $12.99. And I got these two kicky shirts, which made me very happy.

End result? I almost doubled my winter wardrobe (and since that pink t-shirt is technically short-sleeved, I added to my spring/summer maternity box as well) for about $80.

Lucky for me, I don’t plan to return any of it.

Humble pie isn’t so bitter with a side of cute clothes.

I'm So Proud (Sniff)

Natalie has been faithfully working the last few afternoons to complete her science packet, a rare piece of homework for my third-grader.

She finished it a few minutes ago and proudly presented it to me (a self-professed science nerd; Bill Nye the Science Guy, anyone?) to exclaim over it in all its technicolor glory.

She's learning about matter right now -- including the standard three forms of matter we all learned when we were young. You remember those, don't you?

Here's Natalie's illustration to refresh your memory.

I wasn't able to keep a straight face completely, but I didn't bust a gut laughing either. I consider that a parenting success.

In other news, I wrote a piece for 5 Minutes for Parenting yesterday about the love-hate relationship I have with pregnancy (and then I forgot to cross-link it; pregnancy makes me forgetful). It all began when I had a conversation with my sister, in which she wished she were in labor. (Those of you who know Emily aren't surprised by that one iota.) You can read it here.

When Baking is Dangerous

There are times I wish I didn’t love to bake.

Monday night, I had the worst craving for simple sugar cookies with butter frosting.

I self-diagnosed this after scrounging in my kitchen for 15 minutes after the kids were in bed, looking for something to satisfy my sweet tooth, and finding nothing. Leftover Halloween candy? No. (And oh yes – we still have tons. Help me.) Dark chocolate almonds with sea salt and turbinado sugar? Nope. The remaining Peppermint Jo-Jos? I was burnt out.

But sugar cookies? Sweet, simple, buttery, fresh sugar cookies? Frosted with a mound of pink, velvety frosting and maybe a few sprinkles?

Oh. My mouth watered at the very thought.

Thankfully, I have a eight-year-old daughter who loves to bake as much as I – and who decorates with flair.

(Seriously. I love cooking with this girl. She is as focused on her cookie decorating as I imagine Michaelaneglo was on the Mona Lisa.)

Thus, my counters looked like this tonight.

Give or take five of those delectable little hearts.

Got milk?

I Feel Pretty

It's like spring has come in February.

(Feed readers, you'll have to click through to see what I'm talking about.)

Isn't it whimsical and fun and fresh? I'm absolutely thrilled with my new design. A huge thank you and shout-out goes to Jackie at Memories by Design. She's worked with me for weeks to develop the new look, graciously fielding every question, suggestion and irritation I could throw at her. I truly can't find the words to recommend her as highly as she deserves.

Now if she could just come and fix Minnesota to be this cheerful and bright. Instead, we're supposed to get a fresh coating of anywhere from six to 14 inches by Tuesday morning.


Pregancy Journal: I Am Falling Apart

My friends, I invite you to celebrate with me.

Today, I put on my socks without moaning.

(Insert wild applause, confetti, lemon bars and random boxes of chocolate here.)

It's a major accomplishment these days, thanks to my newly diagnosed symphysis pubic dysfunction, or as I like to call it "falling-apart disease." I wrote about it at 5 Minutes for Parenting today. In a nutshell, it makes lifting my legs to do complicated tasks like putting on my socks and crossing my ankles feel like I'm trying to dislocate my pelvis.

Pregnancy is not for the faint of heart. Or the weak of abdomen.

I cannot believe I am only 25 weeks. Maybe it's because it's my fourth baby. Maybe it's because I'm 38. Maybe it's because I have a toddler named Teyla. Maybe it's my college Bible professor's favorite multiple choice answer: D) All of the above.

All I know is: This pregnancy is going to be the end of me. Come quickly, oh May, come quickly.

I Am Never Bored

I could also title this post: Totally Teyla, Part 2.

Actually, I could probably start a separate category to record Teyla antics.

For the record: Baby wipes remove baby butt cream quite handily. And yes, when I opened her bedroom door to find her like this, she looked at me and said, "No Mommy! No touchy!"

I could only reply, "Girl, I think that stuff is designed for the OTHER cheeks."

Teyla is now 2 years and 3 weeks old.

Pray for me.