Wednesday, May 28, 2014

2005 Was A Very Good Year

I still feel like I'm a newlywed even though today makes NINE YEARS since we tied the knot. I'm not exaggerating. It's been almost a decade since we made our vows, but I still don't mentally put us in the "Old Married Couple" column when I do a mental marital inventory. 

I can't believe it's been almost a decade since we lived in our 900 sq. foot house in North Pensacola. When it was so cold during the winter that we could see our breath in the kitchen in the mornings. When the only two meals I knew how to cook were homemade spaghetti and homemade lasagna. When I was going to school during the day and waiting tables at night. When, because of that, Steak n' Shake milkshakes were always waiting for Matt in our freezer. When I'd meet him in the parking lot at work so we could share his lunch break together between my classes. When we got our first pet and thought that having a dog was like having a baby. When we could stay up late and sleep even later. When eating out was relaxing and an hour wait gave us time to catch up and gaze adoringly into one another's eyes.  When we only drank a gallon of milk a week and we bought the "good" cereal. When we didn't know the price of diapers. When our vehicles were carseat-less and cabinets didn't have a single plastic plate.  

Our lives have changed drastically over the past nine years. Since then, God has blessed us with a newer, bigger house in a better area that is closer to our church family. We've filled it with three of the most fantastic kids on the planet. Our light bill is higher and my cooking repertoire has been greatly expanded. I still work crazy hours, but my new three bosses are much more snuggly than the fry cooks at Steak n' Shake. I don't get to meet Matt for his lunch breaks anymore, but I do pack him a lunchbox full of sandwiches and goodies and all sorts of yummy stuff. Most of the time. We still have the dog. But we've added a cat, a saltwater aquarium full of fish and a newly inhabited terrarium with a frog that is still sitting on my breakfast nook table. Staying up late is now 9:30pm and sleeping in is 6:00am. Eating out is absolutely out of the question. Who wants to sit and wait an hour for a table at a restaurant when you've got two preschoolers and an infant that are ready to eat NOW. It's too expensive and way, way, way too stressful for me to justify spending that extra money on food that I'm not even going to be able to eat warm, anyway. Diapers are a huge chunk of my weekly grocery budget and we go through 4 gallons of milk a week nowadays. The cereal we buy is whatever is on sale that I can BOGO price match for a deal. If it isn't on sale, we get Rice Krispies. We've sold our two pre-kid cars and upgraded to a really nice, used Honda Odyssey. At this point, I think we have more sippy cups in our cabinets than we do real glasses. 

And I couldn't be happier. My cup runneth over. 
It's overflowing out of a plastic Minnie Mouse cup and onto my sticky kitchen floor next to a pile of laundry that needs to be washed. But still, it runneth over. 

And I couldn't have a better partner in this messy, sticky life than I do with Matt. I'm blessed because of him. Not all women get to be married to their best friends. But I do. 

And that's what still makes me a newlywed.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Jesus Sees Our Splinters

I posted this picture to my Facebook page a few weeks ago: 
(Because, y'all, my night snack is a very documentable part of my day.)

Besides partaking in that delicious Easter candy/chocolate egg, I was also beginning a new book that night- you can see a smidge of the cover in the background of the picture.

It's an incredibly encouraging parenting/homeschooling book written by Michelle and JimBob Duggar titled The Duggars: 20 and Counting!: Raising One of America's Largest Families--How They Do It.

 While Matt and I aren't having another baby, (3 is our perfect number.) I still really, really enjoyed what she had to say about what her life was like when her kids were young. Because it speaks a lot to me about where I am in my life right now. Y'all, she admits that when her oldest babies were all young- she cried. A lot. Who knew?! Looks like I'm not the only one who can feel overwhelmed by two preschoolers and an infant in the house. Thanks, Michelle!

One thing she talked about in her book was why she and JimBob felt so strongly about homeschooling their children. And, for myself and Matt, those are questions that we are beginning to answer for ourselves. We are in serious, deep, prayerful search about the educational path we are going to take the kids down. I've always felt, maybe even on some deep level that I might not have even been totally aware of, the desire to keep my kids at home for school. I can remember holding newborn Luke in his sweet little swaddled blanket in my hospital room, just hours after delivery and feeling that little, quiet tug on my Momma heartstrings about homeschooling. I jokingly told Matt about how I felt, and he/we might have blown it off as the post-delivery hormones talking. 

But still, even as the years have passed and as we have added two more little souls to our family, that desire has not faded. In fact, it has grown stronger. More determined. More intense.  More urgent. God is impressing on my heart and mind the drive and desire to homeschool. And, while I am excited and anxious and *maybe* ready- at times, I am petrified. 

We still have a year or so before Luke is old enough for us to have to make an official "Homeschool vs. Public School" decision, but for now, for us, for my heart- keeping them home is what is I feel God is leading me to do. And I'm going to continue follow those leadings. Those quiet whispers. Those gentle nudgings in that direction. 

A friend of mine and I were joking last week via text messages about my desire to homeschool the kids. She is a SuperMom if I've ever seen one. (Y'all- she has FIVE. And she can sew like a Project Runway contestant. She's got skills. I'm way jealous.) She was laughing with me about the madness that will undoubtedly ensue while I'm homeschooling Luke with two other little ones running around. I told her that I wasn't sure if I was crazy or just a glutton for punishment. And, for the moment, that's about the best way I can figure to sum it all up. 

But another thing that Michelle talked a lot about in her book was how God has always provided for their needs. The big ones and the small ones. He's provided them with buisness opportunities to provide for their super-sized family. He's provided for their small needs, though, too. Even down to one of their little daughter's request for a new blanket.

 One of her younger daughters had grown attached to one of her older sibling's pink blankets. She had a blanket of her own, of course, but she love, love, LOVED her big sister's pink one. She asked Michelle on numerous occasions for a new pink blanket, but money was tight for them and they just couldn't afford to spend money on a purchase like that. 

At that time, JimBob was running a used car lot/towing company out of their front yard. (Michelle- you are a gooooood woman.) He got a call one night to tow a car, and as he was accustomed to doing, he went through the interior before impounding it to check for miscellaneous items that may have been left behind. That night, when he opened the back doors of that car, lo and behold: there was a pink blanket lying on the backseat. Like a little folded up answered prayer for his littlest daughter. Michelle said the happiness that found pink blanket brought to her daugheter was a reminder to her of just how much God loved her. And her family. And how He was watching out for their needs, even the smallest ones. 

Reading that story really struck me. It made me stop and think about how God has blessed me, too, in similar ways. We're a one income family, much like The Duggars. We live without credit cards or debt. (Except our house- we haven't quite made it to that step in the Dave Ramsey plan yet.) And nowadays, while things are quickly becoming more and more and MORE costly, we are always able to meet our monthly financial obligations. Sure, we might not be taking lavish European vacations (But we are saving for a Disney trip- the kid's first!) or buying a big ol' fancy car, but we are still blessed- both financially and spiritually, in a world where there are so many others who are struggling. We realize how fortunate we are. God has taken care of these big needs of ours, of course, but He's also taken care of our "pink blankets", too. One of those instances was just last week, when Luke got another splinter. 

Y'all, I'm positive that Luke's feet must be a magnet for little pieces of wood. He came in one evening after playing outside and showed me a new splinter that he somehow managed to get jammed in his foot. Again. For like the millionth time this year. (We have a newly instituted "No Bare Feet On The Deck At Any Time For Any Reason" rule, by the way.) It was a freshly acquired wedge, so I was able to quickly, and painlessly, pull 80% of the offending wood out. Whew. 

{Quick question: Have y'all ever tried to approach a preschooler with a needle and tweezers? Because yeeeeah, Luke gets the "Fight or Flight" response going and he somehow can summons the strength of like 9 grown men and an elephant. Seriously. If it's a deep enough, big enough splinter that I'm going to really have to fiddle around with, I can't do it without Matt home to help me hold him still while I try to work it out. Luke has got some strength in those legs. I'm lucky to have catlike reflexes because he nearly kicked me straight in the eye one day while I was on splinter removal duty.}

 It left a smidge behind, but it was so small and so far below the surface of the skin that I wasn't going to traumatize him (or myself) further by digging for it anymore that night. I rubbed some baking soda/water paste onto it, slapped a BandAid on it and told him to watch it and let me know if it started to get red or puffy. Which, y'all know, it did

A couple of days later, even with the repeated baking soda pastes, it started to get swollen and red. I knew that I was going to have to go in with a needle and tweezers to get this thing out. He wasn't excited about it and neither was I. 

I told him in the most cheerful voice that I was going to just have to get that 'bad ol' splinter outta there'. He wasn't fooled by my fake sunny disposition. The hot river of tears started and I could tell that he was scared. I was, too. I pulled Luke into my lap and spoke softly to him before we stared. I explained exactly what I was going to have to do and why I was going to have to do it. I let him see and touch the needles and tweezers that I was going to use. I let him help me sterilize them with the alcohol and paper towel. We said a prayer together and asked God to help him be brave and me to be fast. We prayed that the splinter would be easy to take out and that he would be so still and brave and quiet, just like Daniel. 

I tried to cajole him with a pack of gummis and an episode of Peter Rabbit to distract him: No dice. I tried to entice him with a homemade popciscle on the deck: No dice. I even tried to do the stern-Mom-voice: No dice. I knew after the third failed solo attempt that we were gonna have to call in reinforcements. Daddy was gonna have to help me hold him. 

Y'all, there is no worse feeling in the WORLD than to hear your kid crying "Please, Momma! Don't hurt me! Don't poke me with that needle! Don't make me bleed!" Man, if I could be the one to take the pain FOR my kids- I would. We called Daddy into the living room and he pulled a freaking out reluctant Luke into his lap while I struggled to hold his foot still enough to prick the pocket of puss with the needle. (Sorry, I know this is a little gross. But, what part of raising kids isn't gross sometimes? Am I right?) 

It wasn't easy, and to be honest- I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to get that splinter speck out. It was so small, and sooo deep. But his foot was red and beginning to get hot and had gotten that yellow ring of wet, infected skin so I knew I had to do SOMETHING. So, popping that wet skin was gonna be my first step. After that, I was cluleless. I pricked the skin, and Luke almost came unglued. The thrashing and crying and tears were almost too much for me to see. 

He was clearly paniced, and for good reason. Nobody likes to have their foot dug into with a needle and tweezers, and my heart was absolutely breaking for him. I put the needle down and dabbed at the open skin with a fresh paper towel. Luke calmed down, and got still enough for me to take a closer look at what I was dealing with now that the puss/water/icky stuff had drained from around the splinter. I looked, but I couldn't see it clearly. I got a flashlight out and pointed it at his foot, but- even with the extra light, I couldn't find the splinter. I turned the flashlight off and pressed both sides of the wound with my fingers, but still couldnt see that dark offending speck of wood. Y'all can imagine how much Luke is loving life right now. Ugh. Y'all- It was ridiculous. 

I reached for the paper towel to dab some of the excess water off of his foot and when I looked down, I am not exaggerating: THERE IT WASLike a relief personified into a little black speck of wood. In the towel. Blammo. It was already removed. It must have gotten dislodged into the infected area and when I pricked his skin, it must've come out with all the yellow puss/water/icky stuff. Y'all, I know that after you read this next sentence you may think I am crazy. And I know I sound a little radical myself. But I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that God took that splinter out that day

In as much time as it took us to get settled onto the living room rug and get started, the whole event was over. I couldn't believe it. Matt couldn't belive it. Luke couldn't believe it. I pulled Luke into my lap and squeezed him tightly. I smoothed the hair off his sweaty forehead and wiped his wet face dry. We whispered a prayer of thankfulness. God was so  good to us that day. 

 I was reminded again that day of how perfectly God takes care of us. And how well He knows our needs. From the biggest necessity down to the smallest splinter. God loves us. He sees our splinters. And He helps us with them. My cup runneth over.

What splinters has God taken care of lately in your life?  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hello Summer...

If there was ever a sure sign of summer's arrival, this would be it.
The big kids are splashing each other like baby sea lions in their $7.97 2013 winter clearance pool. (Thanks, MawMaw!)
I've got a Tervis full of citrus water and a full can of sunscreen sitting on my chair. There's a sweet redheaded baby sitting on my lap. Our water hose has been running since 9am. Top all this off with some homemade popsicles and I'd say it's looking like a pretty perfect morning at my house.

Hello, Summer. It's nice to see you again. 

What do y'all do at your house to welcome summer? 
How many cans of sunscreen do y'all go through a season? 
(Our total last year was 217.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Mary Poppins Kind Of Afternoon

In sharp contrast to last Tuesday, this afternoon was practically perfect in every way. It was filled with bubbles and paint and dirt and sidewalk chalk and pudding popsicles and footprints and sunshine and cement and tiny bicycles and sweaty little boys and squealing little girls and smiling little babies and a Daddy and a Momma and a dog and a water hose. My cup runneth over.

It really was the perfect sort of top-knotch afternoon. And y'all, I realize these splendid sort of days are a rare occurance, so I want to capture every memory, every moment, every feeling that we shared today while it's still fresh on my mind and in my heart. I want to bottle it all up, store it on a shelf, and keep it there until I need it. 

And then, when the hectic days come; when the "I just need to survive until bedtime" days occur (and I know they will), I want to be able to remember this feeling. I want to pull that bottle of liquid joy down and use it to help fill my dry, parched cup. I want to take some of the happiness that overflowed in my heart this afternoon and save it for the days when it's running in short supply. 

I think God gives me days like these because He knows how much I need them. I need them for the memories they give me. For the impression they make on my heart. For the boost in confidence they give me as a parent. As a Momma to three small kids, I know sometimes (a lot of times, if I'm being honest with y'all) I feel like I am doing a bum job as a parent. My kids fight in public. They run in the church foyer. They choke themselves on hard candy. They squabble over toys. Sometimes, y'all, I feel lost and hopeless and overwhelmed and stressed and frustrated and near tears and completely drained. Days like this are just the pat on the back that I need. 

If I had a pack of those foil star stickers, I'd put a gold star beside today. Today reminded me that I must be doing something at least one thing right in this whole parenting journey I'm in. The moments I savored this afternoon will recharge my batteries before I face another day at home training and raising and rearing our children. 

This afternoon was perfect. It wasn't planned or scheduled or brought about by any forethought whatsoever on my part. It just sort of...happened. The kids woke up from their naps in excellent moods- such good moods that I told them that as soon as I fed the baby that we could head outside for a while to play. BEST NEWS EVER. Nowadays, it's not always easy for me to say yes to the marathon outside playtime thing with a rolling, squirming infant to keep happy and occupied, but now, looking back, I am so glad I did. Because now, I will have warm memories of today like this one: 

(What I love most about my home is who I share it with.)

There are so many things that I want to remember about today. I want to remember Luke's excitement and pride when he showed me how fast he could peddle down the driveway on his bike with his sweaty hair stuck to his forehead, squished under the backwards helmet he proudly put on my himself. I want to remember Josie's jubilation over the bubbles we blew as she'd run screaming through them like a tiny tornado. How she'd come back to me, breathless and laughing, begging for mooooore. I want to remember the fierce determination Nathan had as he roooolled himself over and puuuushed his way onto the grass to crane his neck to follow the ever changing movements of his older siblings. (He can't wait to get in on the action, and when he does- heaven help me, y'all.) 

I want to remember how perfectly timed Matt's arrival home was. How the dog barked and the kids squealed and jumped and whooped and hollered when they saw his work truck turn into our driveway. How they took off running to him, wrapping themselves around his legs and arms in a flurry of hugs and stories and a quick showcase of the day's latest injuries. 

How happy they were when we just PLAYED. We poked sticks into a pile of sand and watered my just-beginning-to-bloom gardenia bushes. We rode bikes and sidewalk chalked in the afternoon shade of our oak trees and every now and then, if the wind was just right, I could smell them. What a perfect scent memory.  

We did absolutely nothing important and absolutely everything important. We were just HOME. It was the five of us, playing and laughing and crying and forgiving each other together for a whole afternoon.  When Luke suffered an injustice at the hands of his little sister, he didn't retaliate, but instead chose gentleness. Josie snatched a toy away from Luke, and he instintively wanted to retaliate, but I got to see him actually process his reaction, to stop and say outloud: "Uh-oooh. I needsa have swome swelf-contwol." How it was so good to see him growing and maturing and changing into such a Godly little boy. He won't always react this well to toy-snatching-injustice, that's for certain. But seeing those seeds we planted sprout- even just a little- MAN, y'all. How much that warms my little Momma heart. 

This afternoon really was practically perfect in every way. It's just what I needed to have. Tomorrow will come and there will be a fresh set of squabbles to soothe and knees to kiss and juice cups to fix and diapers to change and hugs to give. It's easy, on the hard days, to let my cup run dry. And that's why I'm even more grateful for days like these when my cup runneth over. So I can catch a little and save it for when I'll need it again. Because I will. And God knows that. So He gives me days like today. And I am thankful. 

"Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." James the brother of Jesus, James 1:17 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

When Tuesday Feels Like Friday

Y'all- I know it's only Tuesday, but IT HAS BEEN A LONG WEEK ALREADY. Right now, as I type this, I am sipping/savoring a rare second cup of coffee (Sorry 'bout that extra caffeine, Nathan.) while the three kids nap/rest/read quietly for the next half hour or so. My house is clean, I've got homemade granola in the oven, supper is fixed and I've got a load of laundry tumbling in the dryer. I know it sounds like I've got it all together. I only wish it were true.
Because guess what y'all: I DON'T. 

My house is clean because my oldest, Luke has decided to come down with a funky germy thing that has necessitated a whole house scouring and disinfecting that would now allow me to pass any surprise white glove inspection. (I *almost* wish someone would stop by unannounced this afternoon just so I could let them use my freshly disinfected and toilet-ring-free bathroom with pride.) 

I've got a pan of homemade granola baking right now because I realized this morning (after Matt's lunchbox was already packed and out the door) that I had not a single crumb of a snack to add to his daily sandwich/fruit/chip/snack combo. I sent my poor husband off to fight the wolves away from the door with an empty-ish lunch box this morning. Y'all. That's awful.

My supper is fixed because we are having leftovers from our supper last night. Yesterday afternoon I made the biggest pot of Chicken Sausage Shrimp Jambalaya that has ever been made. (Seriously, I made a ton of it.) So now we will have the same supper for two or three twelve nights in a row. It's already fixed- already made- already ready for the kids to probably complain about. And, before y'all ask- YES I ALREADY PUT SOME IN THE FREEZER. If I hadn't, we would have been eating jambalaya until the 4th of July.

I've got a freshly laundered load of clothes in the dryer only because that same funky germy thing Luke has is forcing me to run all kinds of things this afternoon so that I can try and keep all the funky germy things away from him and the rest of us. If the kids wake up before that load is dry, (and I am sure they will) it will probably definitely sit in the dryer until I can get around to re-tumbling and folding it as I drink my coffee at 6:13am tomorrow.

 I wish I could wrap up this post with some nugget of inspirational wisdom I found between two cranky kids and one fussy baby and a dog that just chewed a corn cob into 742 pieces under my breakfast nook table, but I can't. Because I am wiped out, y'all. I'm too busy counting the seconds until reinforcements arrive and I can escape to recharge my batteries for half an hour. Maybe I can take a shower and brush my teeth. Or read and pray and gather myself a little before the supper rush hits. Because then we'll have plates to fix and food to eat and kids to bathe and teeth to brush and Bibles to read and prayers to say and kisses to give and blankets to fluff and 'Goodnights' to whisper and then...just like that- another long day will be over. 

Y'all, I can't lie. Today has been a long day. I'm tired. But, even as long as it's been, as frazzled as I might have gotten, as messy as this day has become- it's the best kind of tired and frazzled and messy I could ever want to be. So I'm going to enjoy a few more seconds of solitude before nap time is over, and then rest in the promise of His new mercies that will find me tomorrow morning. And I know they'll be there. Just like they always are. They'll be there right along with my coffee cup and that lagniappe load of laundry that needs to be folded. :)

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Dark Side of Mother's Day

***This is a personal post about my journey through and experience with my version of "The Baby Blues". It is not meant to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease, including Postpartum Depression. If you have any desire to harm yourself or your baby, stop reading this. It's not that important. Pick up the phone and call your doctor. Call your nurse. Call your midwife. Call 911. Get the help you need for you and your baby. Acknowledging that you can't do it on your own is the toughest, hardest, bravest, most selfless thing you will ever do in your entire life. And, I promise- you can do it.***

Mother's Day is, traditionally, a day filled with light and love and laughter. There are overcooked scrambled egg breakfasts to eat. An adorable handmade card/picture frame/flower pot to open. A soon-to-be crushed orchid corsage to wear to worship. A lunch that you (hopefully) didn't have to fix. And maybe even a nap for you before it's all said and done. Mother's Day is a sweet and innocent and special time. But, for me, it hasn't always been that way. For me, becoming a "Mother" on Mother's Day came with a dark side. 

Before my first baby (Luke) was born, I'd heard all about Post Partum Depression. I'd heard about the 'Baby Blues' that some women could get after they delivered. I'd heard the awful, tragic stories of mothers who did unspeakable harm to their precious, innocent babies because of postpartum depression. I listened to those stories and wondered in disbelief how someone could do something like that to their baby. It seemed impossible for me to even imagine that. And, like I said, THAT was what I thought postpartum depression was. I thought that women who microwaved their babies or drove their cars into the ocean were the only ones who suffered from the 'baby blues'. Man, y'all. I WAS WRONG. 

For me, my version of the 'baby blues' was completely different. I never had the urge to physically harm my children. Not even for a second. I never had to fight the desire to drive my car into the ocean or burn my house to the ground. I never had any bitter or jealous or harmful thoughts to battle. But just because my emotions weren't telling me to harm by babies didn't mean they weren't awful. I was still fighting a war. A war within myself. A war within my heart and mind. One of the toughest battles I had ever faced. And, at least after Luke was born- I never even knew it. 

You see, I thought that as long as you weren't trying to stuff your baby in a microwave you couldn't HAVE the baby blues. I thought that if you weren't standing on the top of a building ready to plummet to the ground you couldn't HAVE the baby blues. I thought that if you weren't locking yourself in a garage with a running car you couldn't HAVE the baby blues. But y'all, I had them. I had them bad. Baaaaaad. 

I thought that it was normal. That the tears, the fear, the pain, the anxiety, that the valley of it all- was normal. I thought that the uncontrollable urge to cry and the inability to sleep were all natural, normal parts of motherhood. (And those things are normal. To a point.) So after Luke was born, I just sucked it up, swallowed my tears, dried my face and tried to press on. But I felt as if I were walking under water. Everything was hard. Everything pushed back against me. Against my mind. Against my heart. Against my peace. 

But here's the best part: IT DIDN'T LAST FOREVER. Eventually, the clouds lifted and I got back to my normal, happy, healthy self. It took some time. And some tears. And lots of prayers, but I came through it after Luke was born. And when I got pregnant with our second baby, Josie, going into the valley again was one of my first and biggest fears. I was petrified. But, after she was born, I never went to the dark place like I did with Luke. I came home and jumped right back into my life with both feet and never looked back. I got pregnant with our third baby, Nathan, and I wondered if I would be spared again. And, unfortunately, I wasn't. I would say that of all three, my valleys were the worst with him. Maybe it was because I knew what I was going through, but was unable to control it. I'm not sure what made it harder to deal with the second time around, but IT WAS. It really, really was. However, like it did with Luke- my skies eventually cleared and I got back to my normal, happy, healthy self.

Talking to one of my sister-in-love's made me realized that I wasn't alone. SHE had gone through the same feelings I was having, too.  And, as I timidly started to reach out to some of my other "Mommy" friends, I realized: SOME OF THEM HAVE FELT THIS WAY, TOO. And y'all- nothing, NOTHING in this world could have made me feel better than to knowing I wasn't alone. 

And I am grateful for that. And I'm grateful for my "Mommy" friends who shared their stories with me while I was in my valley. Without their support and encouragement, I know I wouldn't have been able to get through it. So that is what I'd like this post to be: I'd like to take my turn to help somebody else in a valley. I want to let her know that she's not alone. That there's been someone else who has been in her shoes before. Someone else has walked that rough road she's on and lived to tell about it. To tell her that the sun will rise again and she will get through it. To love and hug and encourage her like so many others did for me. This is my story. 

For me, navigating the days of my baby blues included some things like this:
  • Peaks and Valleys. Oh, man, y'all. These were a doosey. For me, I'd be fine one minute, then completely hysterical the next. I don't know what would trigger it but it would come and go like nobody's business. I could feel it start to settle in over me, almost like a slow moving fog. It would slowly descend down until I was completely engulfed in one massive, inescable valley of tears and fears and anxiety. I felt like I was on one of those cave exploring tours when you enter those massive caverns. The tour guide would then warn everyone that they were going to cut off the lights in order to allow those of us on the tour to experience total darkness. WHO WOULD WANT TO VOLUNTARILY EXPERIENCE THIS? I know it gave me the heeby-jeebes when I went and I was a grown and married woman then. Anyway- that is what the valley felt like for me. That thick, dark, unpenetrable night. Ugh. The valleys were the WORST. Then, for reasons unknown, it would slowly start to subside. Little by little, I would start to feel better again. Lighter. Calmer. Peaceful. And then, at some point, I would start to feel 'normal' again. I would take pictures and post updates on Facebook or Instagram. I'd greet the visitors that came by with casseroles and outfits with a tired smile and a grateful hug. I would eat. I would sleep. I would relax. When I was feeling "good", I really was feeling good. And I'd stay that way, at least, until the next time the fog rolled in. 
  • I hated the phone. If I was in a valley, oh my mercy I loathed to hear my phone ring. I would hear it go off and become immediately livid: "WHO IS BOTHERING ME? IF I HAVEN'T CALLED OR TEXTED OR SENT A SMOKE SIGNAL OR A CARRIER PIGEON TO YOUR WINDOW- WHY ARE YOU BOTHERING ME?!!!" So yeah, if I was in a valley, I wasn't really into chatting. Like at all. Not even a little. I detested the telephone. And the computer. And the camera. I was basically an antisocial lunatic. 
  • One word: SUNDOWNERS. Y'all, this is not an exaggeration: the sight of the setting sun would absolutely send me over the edge. Nothing in this world was more depressing to me than to see those long shadows creeping across my back yard in that yellow/orange glow of late afternoon. "It's cooooming again. Another long, torturous night with the baby. You can't stop it. You will never be able to stop it. It is an unstoppable force." (Apparently the baby blues also made me feel really dramatic in an old black-and-white-zombie-movie kinda way.) I felt swallowed by the approaching nightfall. And, even now, I still don't know why the idea of the impending darkness made me so upset- but I know it did. It really, really did.
  • The anxiety. Oh my mercy- the amount of anxiety one 9 lb. baby can cause me to create is downright unbelievable. The gnawing ball of nerves in the pit of my stomach- seriously! I can remember putting a freshly changed and fed and burped newborn Luke in his bouncy seat, straightening up to stand up in my living room, then looking down on him and thinking "Now what? What do I do next? What is going to happen now? Do I leave him?  How long will he sleep? What if he doesn't go to sleep? What if he doesn't stay awake? What if he needs to burp? What if he spits up? What if he's cold? What if he's hot? What if-what -if-what-if-WHAT-IF?!!!!!" I can only relate the anxious feelings I had then to what I remember feeling like before I took my Teaching Certification Exam. That raw, all-consuming, unrelenting ball of hot coals in the pit of my stomach that positively burned me from the inside out. Except now, there's no test for me to finish. There's no allotted time that will expire and put me out of my anxious misery. There's only this tiny, helpless, innocent little person that is literally depending on me to save their life. So yeah, I was a little anxious. 
  • The tears. Seriously- I can take any of the desperate sobbing I may have experienced while watching 'The Notebook', any level of my PMS related weeping, any amount of pregnancy induced crying and double it. Triple it. No, don't do that- just imagine me rolling them all into one big heap, bringing that massive ball of tears to the top of a snow covered mountain and rolling that sucker to the bottom, picking up more and more and more tears as I make my descent to the end. Because THAT IS HOW MUCH I CRIED. By the bucketful. I am basically on a crazy train of tears that has no brakes. Once that thing leaves the station, I've just gotta hang on until it comes to a screeching halt into a pile of used Kleenexes. So yeah, I cried. A LOT. 
  • I literally became a hermit. Y'all, I straight up became like one of those trolls who lived under a bridge in "The Three Billy Goats Gruff". After Luke was born, I was petrified to leave my house. While our babies are still newborns, we tend to stay away from public places like WalMart and church for the first few weeks to keep them as far as possible from germs and chiggers and the Bubonic Plague. But, really,  after Luke was born and again after Nathan arrived- staying away from church and the grocery store had much more to do with my lack of desire to see people. When I was in a valley, I had no desire to see or hear or speak to anyone. I remember after Nathan was born, straight-up hiding in the nursery at church during services for almost a month. I didn't want people looking at me or commenting about the baby or remarking how adorable he was or holding him or hugging me or breathing within a 27 inch radius of my body. I felt like a freak, y'all. I love people! My church family IS my people! I love my church family. They are awesome!!! I just.couldn' I couldn't fake the chitchat and small talk that goes along with bringing your new baby to church for the first time. I knew I wouldn't be able to put on a fake brave/happy/mentally stable face so I hid. Like a troll under a bridge. I can remember getting dressed for services some Sundays, putting on my makeup and bawling-squalling-ugly-crying to Matt because I didn't know if I could do it. And bless him- he was amazing. He never, ever pushed me to do something I didn't want to do and was always, ALWAYS supportive of whatever I chose to do, whether it was going to be staying home or going to worship. But, as much as I didn't want to go into public, I knew if I "chickened out" and stayed home, I would feel enormously more guilty for not attending because NORMAL PEOPLE TAKE THEIR BABIES TO CHURCH AND I WAS DETERMINED TO BE A NORMAL PERSON WHO TOOK THEIR BABY TO CHURCH. I was just going to be a normal person who took their baby to church but stayed in the cradle roll room and watched the services on the live feed television instead of sitting in a pew with the rest of the congregation. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. For a few weeks, it was awful. But, in time, it got better. Instead of rushing in the doors and bolting like it was a Black Friday sale to the nursery, I would linger in the foyer and visit a while. If I got anxious, I would retreat to the nursery until I felt better, and if I didn't feel badly, I would venture onto the pew with the rest of the family. And, as the weeks went by, I needed trips to the nursery less and less and less until one week- I DIDN'T GO AT ALL. I cried tears of thankfulness in the van on the way home that Sunday because it was finally getting better. 
  • The inability to eat. I think, for me, this had a lot to do with all the anxiety I had. Because y'all, when I was in a valley- I could NOT EAT. Nothing sounded good. Nothing tasted good. Nothing appealed to me. If I was in a valley, I would sit down and look at all the awesome food that my Mom, or Matt's Mom, or our church ladies prepared and it all tasted like sawdust. I ate because I knew I needed to so that I could nurse the baby, but, for a while, that was the only thing that kept the fork to my mouth. But it got better. It really did. And considering the entire cup full of Ben and Jerry's that I have consumed while writing this, I'd say it's safe to bet that I'm over that part. :)
  • Not having it with Josie. For me, NOT HAVING A SINGLE SECOND OF BABY BLUES WITH HER was a double edged sword. A blessing and curse. I can remember praying with Matt on the way to the hopsital in labor with Josie "Lord, please keep the baby blues away with this one. I already have another baby at home who needs me. I can't go through that again with this one." And, He answered my prayer with a resounding "YES". Jo was born and I never shed one single hormones-are-making-me-freak-out tear. (But don't get me started on what an emotional train wreck I was when I was pregnant with her. I may have burst into tears during a church potluck because Luke was squawking/talking in a high chair. To me, it sounded like he was peeling the paint off the fellowship hall walls. I straight-up put our plates in to-go boxes and ran out of that fellowship hall like we were on fire. A friend of mine was sitting at the table with us. She has two girls. She knew that we don't find out the sex of our babies until delivery, but she smugly told me that afternoon that she knew I was, in fact, going to have a girl because I was crying over a stack of styrofoam food containers. She said girls make their pregnant momma's do crazy things. And, she was right. She absolutely was.) But anyway, I got home from the hospital and literally hit the ground running. Having Jo didn't slow me down one bit. I felt great! I felt like I could have conquered the world. I thanked God every day for allowing me to avoid the baby blues. So, when it came time to deliver Nathan, I continued praying the same prayers. I asked God to spare me from those dark valleys. To protect me. To surround me with a shield so thick nothing could penetrate it. But, this time, He said "NO". I slipped back into the valley almost immediately after Nathan was born. And this time, I could see it coming. I could see the ominous clouds forming, building, strengthening. And I was powerless to stop it. 
So, I prayed, y'all. I prayed HARD. I begged. I pleaded. I wept. I petitioned God to take this away from me. To keep me from those awful, dark feelings that I knew were going to come. But, He didn't. He didn't take me out of my valley. He let me go down into the deep again but He walked with me through it. While He didn't stop the attacks from raging, He became my fortress and my strong tower during them. He was the Light during my darkness. My Peace during the storm. My Comforter. My Rock. 
But wait, y'all. Waaaait. Because just like it happened the first time with Luke, in a few (sometimes loooong) weeks, it went away again. My valleys got shallower. They got easier to crawl out of and fewer and farther between. The fog that would roll in got lighter and lighter. My tears dried up. My anxious heart could start to sing with joy again. After some of the longest weeks of my life, I could finally go days at a time without going into a single valley. Knowing I was getting better was the best, most refreshing, most validating feeling I could have had.

I came out of these experiences a stronger, braver, less self-reliant version of myself. I couldn't have gotten through my valleys without my Guide. My Master. My Savior. After navigating my valleys I'd really learned what it meant to lean on Jesus. To be that lost sheep who went astray. To have Him carry me back to the fold. I really learned what it meant to be refined by fire. To have heat applied to my life so that the impurities and imperfections could rise to the surface to be removed. God used my valleys to show me how much I really do need Him. 

And, even though I have been through these trials, I still sin. (A lot!) But, even so- I'll always be grateful for the times I spent in the valleys during my baby blues. Because I know now, that because of them, I can see my need for Jesus more clearly. He held my hand the entire time, even when I didn't always realize it. He gave me supportive friends and family to help carry me along while I traversed these troubling times. I am blessed beyond measure for them. My cup runneth over.

There are a couple of things that I learned while going through this journey (twice!) that made surviving those troubling times a little easier, and I'd like to share some of them with y'all. Because maybe you are in a valley, too. Or know of someone who is. So here are some things that helped me cope: 
  1. Routine. This one was a life saver for me. Our pediatrician recommended a sleep-training book, and I loved it. You can't put any of the scheduling or plans in place until they are 6-8 weeks old, but for me: Having a goal to aim for was an amazing help. Knowing that there was a framework I was building up to that would give me hope of some rest in the future was vital for my state of mind. I knew that, if I stuck to my plan, that the sleepless nights wouldn't last forever. So, for me- a routine was vastly important to my healthy state of mind. 
  2. Battle Prep. Oh, man, y'all. I needed this one. I needed it every single day, because for me- the evenings were my worst times. What I needed to do was to take an hour or so to myself and for myself every night after supper to try and relax, compose myself and get ready to attack another long night of being up and down with the baby. So, for me, that happened in the tub. I'd run a bath, wash my hair, paint my toenails (that I could finally reach again), use some yummy smelling lotions on my poor post-delivery dry skin, blow out my hair and put on some fresh comfy jammies. For me, taking that time every night to refresh my body and mind would go a looong way in strengthening my resolve to make it through the long night until morning. 
  3. Fun Products. This one is closely tied to #2, in that I needed and used a lot of these fun products during my 'Battle Prep' step. Before the baby was born, I bought some new scented body washes and lotions. I picked up a new bottle of nail polish and a full bottle of quick drying top coat, (Because nobody has time to wait for nails to dry with a newborn and everybody hates blanket creases.) and new set of some comfy jammies. I bought all these new fun products, but I DID NOT USE THEM. I put them high up on a shelf, away from temptation until after I came home with the baby and need that 'Battle Prep Pick-Me-Up". It was hard to resist temptation at times, but y'all, it was worth it. It felt so good to have new, fresh bottles of fancy schmancy lotions and body washes waiting for me when I was in a valley. New jammies made me feel better. Polished nails brightened my day. I know it seems silly, but it really did help me.
  4. Meal Prep. When I was pregnant with Nathan, I cooked. Y'all, I cooked ALL THE THINGS. I created a Pinterest board and cooked my way through it. I made and froze enough meals in advance that I was set for like three months after he was born. (And not just because of my huge freezer. My Mom came and cooked a ton. Matt's Mom cooked a boatload of food. And then our wonderful church family brought food by the truck load, too.) So yeah, we had a lot of food around here. But having meals in the freezer that I could either throw into the crock pot in the morning or thaw and bake before supper time rolled around was a sanity saver for sure. Some of my Pinterest creations came out deliciously. (Think: Spaghetti Pie and Gumbo and Meatsauce and Mashed Potato Chicken Pot Pie) Some, however did NOT. (TIP: Chicken Enchiladas do not freeze well, y'all. They just....don't. We had three pans of them that took us forever and a day to finish.) But, when I was in the valley, those frozen rectangles of tin foil were such a blessing. I am so, so, SO glad I had them.  
  5. Books. Oh, maaaan. Nothing got me through those weeks of round-the-clock, through-the-night, never-gonna-end feedings like reading. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the Kindle app on my iPhone was a game changer. The first book I ever read on my phone was after Luke was born. It was Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers. It wasn't the first time I had read that book,(or the hundredth, for that matter) but it was my first time reading without paper pages to turn. *If you've never read it before, hear me now: Stop what you are doing right now and GO READ THAT BOOK. I have read it and given it away almost a dozen times. It really is that good.* After Josie was born I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy while I was up at night feeding her. Katniss Everdeen became my new 3 am best friend. After Nathan was born, I downloaded The Divergent Series, along with The Book Thief. 
And, while these books were/are awesome- let me be clear that these books should not and did not take the place of my daily devotional time in God's Word. Nothing, absolutely nothing could have taken the place of the peace and solace I found in my Bible. I would highly, HIGHLY recommend that any Mom who is in a valley pick up the book of Psalms. (David is legit, y'all.) Talk about a man who knows all about what it feels like to be in a valley- His psalms were like a balm to my weak and weary soul when I needed them most. They still are. So, if you're in a valley- go pick up Psalms and thumb through them. Find one that grabs you and dive in. I'm sure you'll find one that speaks to you like this one did to me. DISCLAIMER: I changed the male pronouns to female, not to add to or to take away from the inspired Word, but because, for me- it spoke much more clearly to me when I read them that way. 
"The steps of a woman are established by the Lord, and He delights in her way. When she falls, she will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds her hand." David- Psalm 37:23-24

So lastly, If you're a Mom, and you've been through something like this- I commend you. YOU DID IT. Earning the right to have your own place at the "Mother's Day" table is tough. Way to go, friend. I'm proud of you. 

If you're a friend or a family member who knows someone who may be going through valleys of her own, hang in there with her. She'll get through it. She will need you help, and His, but she'll get through it. In the mean time, though, help her out. Cook her a casserole. Buy her some yummy lotion. Get her some fuzzy socks. But most importantly- PRAY FOR HER. She needs those more than anything. 

What about you? Have you been through a valley after one of your babies was born? What did you do? How did you cope? Feel free to share (if you want to) your experiences in the comments below. You never know who might need to hear YOUR story of strength and survival. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Easter Eggs and Candy and Crawfish, Oh My!: A Photojournal

A few weeks ago, we traveled to Louisiana in back-to-back weekend trips to see our families. And, anyone who has ever traveled with children since the beginning of time knows: IT WAS BRUTAL at times. Dragging around five people, and a dog, and a double stroller, and a Boppy pillow, and a travel toilet is no joke, y'all. No joke. But, my best friend and I have developed a "traveling-with-small-children" mantra: The memories will make it worth it. Our memories will far outweigh the sleep we'll lose, the bickering we will do with our spouses, the clothes we'll dirty and the vehicle interiors we'll demolish along the way. 

And, as we've wrapped up our most recent the trips 'round the Gulf Coast- I can tell you that IT IS TRUE. We weren't always fully rested, Matt and I did squabble a time or two, we created a small mountain range of dirty laundry (Thanks in large part to traveling with a two year old that can't hold it longer than 3.7 seconds at a stretch.), and our poor van has seen more tears and crumbs and half eaten boiled eggs than it ever has before. 

I've compiled way too many pictures than necessary to help document our recent weekends out of town. I have to give credit where credit is due- I wasn't able to take all these images myself so thanks for helping me save these memories. So a big thanks to everyone who shared their images with me: Dad, Lani, Amanda, Clarence, and Mrs. Gayle- thank you!  Y'all are the BEST. And, for everyone else: A photographic overload awaits you. Be prepared. There are a bunch of them. Here goes!


We celebrate Easter with my parents every year, so our first weekend was at their house: 
(I seriously love my Mom's porch. It's basically my favorite room ever.)

(Someone {read:Katie} forgot Nathan's sun hat. And, since his tender, pigment-less skin would fry under the sun like bacon in a hot skillet, we improvised. I present to you: Nathan's first doo-rag. You're welcome.)

(First activity: Egg Dyeing. We christened Mom's bran-spankin'-new granite countertop with a nice puddle of vinegar and food color before the whole process was over. Sorry 'bout that, Ma.)

(Because who wouldn't want to use an Easter egg to proclaim her love for her husband in true Jr. High School fashion?)

(If you look closely, you'll see two cracked eggs Josie dropped on the floor after they dried. I'm not telling which were which. I'm taking that secret to the grave.)

(The eggs were dyed and the kids immediately ran outside like a pack of wild hyenas to play.)

(Nathan happily amused himself on a blanket for the day. He is, honestly, the most laid back baby I know. What a champ!)

(One evening, we moseyed on down to Dad and Mom's pond. They dug it a year or so ago and stocked it with some hybrid blue gill. The fish are finally getting big enough to jump out the water when they eat and the kids are BIG FANS.)

(PawPaw gave this boy a turn with the dip net and basically made his weekend.)

(Josie was not interested in getting into the pond. AT ALL.)

(Luke's first "catch". It was dropped released shortly after this picture was taken.)

(Even Jo got brave enough to pet a fish. Big girl.)

(Still trying our best not to fry Nathan's delicate skin. Still regretting not bringing his sun hat.)

(Nathan didn't sleep well at all one night, so around 5:30, I waved the white flag and took him on a sunrise drive down the backroads of my childhood. He was asleep in 5 minutes flat. Hallelujah.)

(Heavenly Hash is my traditional Easter morning breakfast. The custom continued again this year. It was awesome. And I have zero regrets.)

(Our family Easter picture. All three of my kids are scowling. 'Cause that's how we roll after sitting through two church services.)

("Just one more time, guys. Just smile nice for one more picture then we can go inside. C'mon, y'all, it's only gonna take a second. If y'all just smile nice really fast we can hurry up and be finished. I promise.")  
**Also, can we take a minute to appreciate the kid's adorable sailor outfits?! My dream of completely coordinated children came true this year. Thanks, Grandmaw Gayle!

(Josie's first duck face selfie. Thanks, Aunt Lani. We are so proud...

(After lunch, we went back to Shiloh Church of Christ for the almost 90th annual community Egg Hunt. Josie still needs a few years to hone her 'hunting and gathering' skills.)

(Luke, however did not.)

(Thanks to some overt pointing gentle nudging by his Uncle Tim, Luke found the prize egg. He was pumped. Josie, however, was not.)

(We left straight from the egg hunt to head home. All three of the kids were knocked out approximately 17 minutes after we pulled out of the church parking lot. Easter weekend: SUCCESS.)


(TRAVEL TIP: A WalMart bag and diaper lined training potty is my BFF when we travel with the kids. It saves me from having to drag them into nasty truck stop bathrooms. Hooray! The diaper catches all of their business, and the bag catches the diaper. When they're done, I just lift the bag up out of the bowl, tie it shut and toss it. Line it with a fresh plastic bag and diaper and I'm ready for our next potty stop. Which, for us, will probably happen again in 2.8 miles.)


The following weekend we drove to NOLA to celebrate Matt's Grandparent's birthdays and our annual McReynolds' family crawfish boil. 

(Our first order of business after we arrived was lunch. Matt's Dad and Mom- Mr. Stan and Mrs. Gayle, took us to Come Back Inn. {They make an amazing muffaletta.} Seriously, y'all- this thing was divine. I should've stopped when I finished that first quarter, but I powered through and ate an entire half. And I had no regrets.)

(Jo took a nap after lunch while we drove to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in downtown New Orleans. **Psst- Check out her sparkly shoes. Those are courtesy of MawMaw Valerie. And I'm pretty sure she'd wear them in her sleep if I let her.)

(Obligatory aquarium entrance tunnel picture. Thanks for pushing the massive and incredibly heavy stroller, Matt!)

(The Aquarium was crazy packed that day, so the kids spent a good part of the time in  the stroller. There was one semi-quiet section where we let them get out and burn off some steam for a while. The gigantic frog was a hot commodity there.)

(They had a touch pool where you could reeeeach into the water to try and pet stingrays. Surprisingly, the stingrays were not attracted to the violent splashing the kids created. So, better luck next time Luke and Josie.)  

(Car sleep is better than no sleep, amIright?)

(Seriously, y'all: Craaaw-fiiish. Call them crayfish and you immediately sound like a tourist. So c'mon: Immerse yourselves in the culture and call 'em crawfish.)

( So much rinsing. And chunking dead crawfish into the corner of the yard. Luke was all about that job.)

(Jo got one look at the live crawfish and ran away in fear for her life.)

(Thank you for your sacrifice, Crawfish. Go rest high on that mountain: You've earned your reward.)

(Nathan was not impressed with this whole process. And yes, those are Christmas jammies in April. Don't hate.)

(Jo's BFF, Amanda Deedah came over just before they dropped the pots. Luke was still really impressed with the live crawfish. Josie was still really NOT.) 

(She's still unimpressed.)

(Still reeeally unimpressed.)

(Get in mah belleh.)

(Mr. Stan and Mrs. Gayle's carport was made for crawfish boils.)

(Everyone finished eating and the kids escaped to the front yard. Jo got some more BFF time with Deedah.)

(Ashley and Nathan are quite possibly the darkest and lightest skinned cousins that have ever existed. Genetics for the WIN.) 

( Matt's grandparents Ed and Josie Coon. This picture was taken around 1941. It's a framer, for sure.)

(Where there's cake, you can rest assured that there will be children close by. Happy Birthdays, MawMaw and PawPaw!)

(I have pictures just like this one of MawMaw holding both Luke and Josie when they were this age. I'm so glad to have this one, too!)

(To help shake off the cake-and-homemade-ice-cream coma, everyone meandered back to the front yard for an impromptu Olympic event: Shrub Jumping. 

(It's a graceful sport.)

(Sunday morning we worshipped with Matt's family at 7th & Camp Church of Christ.)

(It is located off St. Charles Avenue in downtown New Orleans.  And the building is absolutely beautiful.)

(See? I told ya' so.)

(I love the sidewalk tiles. I'm currently in the market for a double frame to print and hang them in.)

(Luke got a nice shot of the service for us. Thanks, buddy.)

(Nathan obviously didn't want to leave Grandmaw and Paw's because he howled for the entire 4 hour car ride back home. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see the Florida state line. Hallelujah- WE SURVIVED!)


Traveling wasn't always easy. We weren't always rested. We didn't always use soft words. There may have been a potty accident (or twelve) along the way. But, like I say after every long trip away from home: I'm so glad we did it. Because the memories made it worth it. They made it all absolutely worth it.

What about you? Do y'all have to travel out of town to visit family? Do you have any tips, tricks or suggestions to share? Post them in the comments below because I'd sure love to hear 'em!