A Bigger View of Family

9:30am at the office. I’m alone and pumping in the office “quiet room.” The eeh-ooh, eeh-ooh of the pump swishing. I’m hooked up to wires and flanges. I think of Aidan, my boy. His sticky hands grabbing at my shirt, pressed against my skin. The warmth of him in my arms. His cheeky smile that starts on one side of his mouth and moves to his whole face. The “oooooh, ooooooh, ooooooh” he babbles as he soothes himself to sleep.

A single tear burns down my cheek.

10:00am. Back at my desk. Milk stored in the fridge. Coffee growing cold below the family pictures at my desk that only make me miss them more.

And just when I’m feeling so sorry for myself, so alone, a sweet older man walks up. He beelines to the photo of Aidan smiling at 3 months old taped to my cubicle. He gets real close, squinting.

I beam proudly, “that’s my little boy.”

“I know,” he replies. “How old is he?”

“4 months yesterday.”

“And how old is he there?” He points to a newborn photo of Aidan, lying on our bed, in a loose swaddle, hands clasped below his chin, eyes closed, lips pursed. He looks angelic, serene, so fresh and new.

“Did you pose him like that?” he asks.12.16 Prades_Newborn-019-XL

“No, he likes to do that with his hands,” I respond and chuckle thinking of our newborn boy wringing his hands, posing as if for a baby calendar. Like he should be curled up in a pumpkin or cornucopia or bed of flowers, not just set on our plain old comforter.

“This must be right when you got married.” He shifts his focus to our framed wedding photo of our first dance. The lights play in the background, our faces tilted together, my hand cupping Ryan’s neck, as we both breathe in our new “home.”

“Congratulations.” He concludes and walks on to his office.

A gift. A reminder that although I am not with them, they are still mine. They are always one thought, one whispered prayer away.

And when 5pm hits, I will be out the door, on my way to his babbles and smiles. I will trade the pump for his soft skin. I will snuggle him closer, breathe him in.

Just a few more hours. A few more hours…

I try to concentrate on my bullet pointed tasks at hand. Email volunteer instructors and TAs. Lesson plan for classes this week. One class is just starting; they’ll be learning about the naturalization process and eligibility requirements. They’ll learn that the current application fee is $725 and you can apply to become a U.S. citizen only once you’ve had your green card for 5 years.

I want to be present with my work, but I miss him so much.

There’s a grief in leaving Aidan every morning. Time is already so cruel. I’ve been resentful. Angry. I know, I know, people hold down full time jobs every day. I’ve done it for most of my adult life, yet it feels so much harder now. Each moment responding to email or teaching class is a moment that I don’t get to cuddle him or see his new expression. It goes so fast, they say—they all say, so much. And it’s hurdling by as I organize student files and print out citizenship bingo cards.

How can I savor every moment of this fleeting year when I’m forced to spend 37.5 hours a week (plus commuting!) away from him?

I used to think I would resent my baby for taking me away from my passions, but it’s the other way around.

Aidan has become my passion and everything else is in my way, especially work.

This is supposed to be my dream job—helping immigrants and refugees, so why does it feel so tedious? So burdensome?

The big world changing ideals that used to appeal to me in my twenties don’t drive me as much anymore. Not that I don’t care about social justice or solving poverty or living outside myself, but I don’t feel the same urgency to leave, to cure, to save that I did in my early twenties. I guess this is settling down. I want to plant roots. I want to build steady rhythms that connect me to my people and my place.

I want to build a family.

It’s tempting to withdraw. To wrap my arms tightly around my little family and shut the door. Shut out the news and the violence and the Donald. I’m surprised by how much I want that.

As much as I’d rather stay home with Aidan, I’m beginning to see this job as a refining force in my life.

At a time when I want to isolate, this role forces me to connect. At a time when I want to turn inward, this job pushes me way out of my comfort zone.

IMG_3004For those who don’t know, I coordinate and teach citizenship classes to help immigrants prepare for and pass their naturalization test and become US citizens. Becoming a naturalized citizen, especially in this political climate, is a life-changing event for my students and their families. As citizens, they gain access to better jobs, they no longer fear deportation or round-ups, and they are able to finally say this place where they’ve been living for years is home.

Maybe my role isn’t at odds with building a family after all.

It’s been one of our dreams—no, plans—to adopt. To welcome a stranger into our family. To be a safe space, both literally and figuratively to children who for whatever reason are alone in the world.

My job gives me the chance to create a welcoming space. To practice hospitality and encouragement and showing up.

As two introverts, Ryan and I don’t open our home that often and I am NOT a party planner. The day after our wedding, we looked at each other and said thank God we never have to do that again (the planning and organizing and facilitating of people and details and timelines).

I was most definitely not the includer in school. I wasn’t purposely an excluder; I just assumed no one wanted to spend time with me. I assumed they would say no, so I never asked.

What if I could see my job as a training ground for how I want my family to be? A place of welcome and refuge and safety. Where the tedious is performed joyfully because it’s really an act of love. It’s so much easier for me to take this perspective when I’m changing diapers or washing bottles and get to hold and squeeze Aidan and see his smiles and his development.

It’s harder with strangers who I don’t know and love. Who show up in the middle of the class cycle and leave me five voicemails during my lunch break and who forget to bring their green card three classes in a row (and we need a copy of their green card to count them for the grant that funds my position).

What if I stopped dwelling on what I can’t do with Aidan and start embracing what I can learn at my job?

I can practice hospitality when I call an anxious student back right away– not to check off my task list or not risk losing a potential student, but so that they feel heard and included and respected.

I can learn joy in service from my volunteers who show up to teach without much direction, to encourage without questions, and to celebrate with creativity. I arrived at class one day to find my volunteer teaching assistant wearing a t-shirt with a picture of the Statue of Liberty on the day we learned that test question. Another volunteer who teaches two classes—four nights a week!—brought cupcakes to celebrate Jefferson’s birthday and cookies with mini flags on Flag Day. Talk about creating a welcoming environment!

On Monday I will welcome nearly 100 “strangers” to my classroom on the first day of three new 10-week classes. This is my chance to include and encourage.

It’s wild to see my students’ progress over just 10 weeks.

Sure, they learn about US history and the naturalization process and they memorize the heck out of the 100 civics questions they’re expected to know, but the real gift is seeing them grow in confidence and community. They may be the first person in their family to go through the naturalization process. They may think they are alone in their nerves and fears and insecurities.

But in my classroom, they form a new family. They become Facebook friends and start their own study groups after the course ends. They call me up to tell me they passed the test. They feel safe referring their friends to the next class cycle.

Yes, I miss Aidan when I am at work. Yes, I (mostly) wish our financial situation would allow me to stay home, but I am learning to see that my time away from Aidan is not wasted.

I am living out obedience. I am welcoming the stranger. I am practicing doing small things with a little more love and (hopefully) less resentment.

I am building a bigger, broader definition of family.

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Safe, Loved, Surrendered: A Birth Story

11-16-prades_newborn_hospital-014-xlAt 1:58 pm on November 26, 2016 we welcomed our son into the world. This is the story.

I hope it’s not too graphic. If you would like to hear the knitty gritty version complete with a detailed account of dilation, effacement, and what fluids I lost and when, I’d be happy to share it with you over coffee.

This isn’t that version.

From the very beginning, this pregnancy threw me for a loop.

I was convinced I was not pregnant: double pink lines. I was convinced I was having a girl: boy parts. I was convinced I would deliver early: waiting, walking, and more waiting.

On Thursday afternoon, November 17th (three days before Aidan’s “due date”) I thought my water broke. Ryan was at work and I had just finished baking oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to give to the labor and delivery nurses.

When I arrived at the Sharp Mary Birch parking garage Ryan was already there. As I pulled my car into the space next to his, Ryan was hopping up and down like a kid on a pogo stick, a goofy grin spilling off his face.

Could this really be it? Would we really meet our sweet boy so soon? 

img_0651We grabbed the cookies and my over-stuffed hospital bag and hauled them to the hospital. We posed for a selfie near the elevator.

In triage, I changed into the scratchy hospital gown and was given a bracelet. They hooked me up to the monitors and the nurse seemed optimistic that my water had broken.

All signs pointed to labor.

While the machines pulsed with Aidan’s heartbeat, Ryan recounted the gory details of the last episode of Game of Thrones to pass the time of what we later learned was not actually labor.

My water hadn’t broken. Turns out there are many different fluids a pregnant person can leak. Two hours later, we were sent home not knowing if we’d be back later that night or not for another week or two.

***

No one tells you that waiting for a baby is torture.

They tell you to enjoy your last baby-free evenings. To soak up your time together as a couple. I wish I could say we did that, but the only soaking I did was in the bathtub and our bonding looked more like cranky commiseration.

Over the next week, we had several “this is it” moments. My body was showing all the signs of early labor (which I incessantly googled), except starting labor itself.

Each night I’d go to bed hopeful that I’d awaken in the throes of pain or swimming in a pool of water, but each morning brought only minor discomforts and an unsoiled comforter.

I had never been so sad to wake up with dry underwear.

Aidan’s due date came and went. By that point my mom and my dad had arrived from Northern California. I’d eaten boatloads of spicy foods. We walked Ikea. We walked the beach. We walked our little neighborhood twenty times over. We fully completed the nursery. We did everything thought to induce labor (don’t think about that too carefully, mom and dad.)

By Wednesday night, the day before Thanksgiving, regular contractions started. We went to triage again. I still wasn’t in active labor so we were sent to walk around the hospital to kick start labor. When I was checked again two hours later, I hadn’t progressed. They sent us home at 5am on Thanksgiving morning, still contracting, no baby.

I was not feeling thankful. It takes a toll to be on such high alert, to analyze every cramp and twinge and ache as a sign that the most momentous adventure of your life is underway. I was exhausted and in pain, barely holding on to the belief that my body knew what it was doing.

You see, Ryan and I had taken an online childbirth class that focused on natural birth. We were “preferring” (our instructor had warned us against birth plans and called them “preferences” instead) to have a natural birth. No drugs. No interventions. The instructor was so positive and confident that she had us believing we could do it.

We had been practicing breathing and comfort measures and different positions. I’d chosen some key phrases to help me focus and get through the “surges” when the time came (she’s also not a fan of the term “contraction”).

You are safe. You are loved. You are surrendered.

I wanted to be surrendered to the process. To trust my body. But after so many false alarms and days of on and off “surges” after nine months of a difficult pregnancy, panic was setting in.

I reluctantly made it through Thanksgiving lunch with both sets of grandparents and my brother and his wife at our new home. I should have been thankful. I should have enjoyed the turkey and stuffing and lumpia (Filipino husband for the win) and the fact that we would meet our son soon.

Not soon enough.

Thanksgiving night the surges started again in full force and increased in regularity. But this time I was determined to wait until there was no doubt I was in labor. I wouldn’t let the triage gatekeepers send me away again.

I dipped into the bathtub and chanted my mantra, rejoicing at the increasing pain. Until something wasn’t right.

Contractions still surged, but I wasn’t getting any relief between them. Sharp, shooting pain ripped through me. I could barely get out of the tub.

You don’t need all the details, but lots of unpleasant things were going on. Bottom line: it was scary. Not just “oh my gosh, we’re going to meet our baby” scary, but “we may need to call an ambulance because she can’t walk and something might be seriously wrong at 2 in the morning” scary.

Ryan stayed calm. He called triage. He guided me ever so gingerly down the steps and into the car. He–miraculously–got me to the hospital.

When we got to triage, I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t stand. I could barely transfer from the car seat to the wheelchair. Yet, when the nurses checked me, I wasn’t even in “active labor.” My body, that I had put so much trust in, was letting me down.

The nurses knew we were trying for a natural birth, so they chose not to admit me to the hospital. They let me wait a few more hours in the dark triage room to see if labor would start on its own–no walking halls this time, I couldn’t move.

At 7am–shift change–I could barely walk, I couldn’t pee (an actual baby head was blocking the path), and I was exhausted. They sent me home anyways.

In hindsight, we should have fought harder to stay. We should have agreed to an induction and an epidural on the spot. We should have just refused to leave. But I was discharged and Ryan took me home yet again.

Friday is a blur to me. I think I rested on the couch for awhile when we got home. Ryan napped upstairs. My parents, who were staying with us, were growing more and more concerned.

Sometime in the afternoon, I just couldn’t take it anymore. The pain was severe and unrelenting. I couldn’t walk. I still couldn’t pee.

Ryan called triage again. They suggested I run some water while trying to use the restroom or perhaps a warm bath would get things moving. As if my bladder was just shy. I don’t think they understood that the upstairs bathtub may well have been at the top of Mount Everest and that something–a baby head–was physically blocking the contents of my bladder.

Ryan finally got ahold of the on-call doctor and explained the situation. The doctor, rather dumbfounded, said, of course, you should come in right away.

It took Ryan and both of my parents to get me to the car.

This time triage was expecting me, a repeat offender. They knew my name and situation. The nurse from the morning remembered my weight.

Once in the bed, I cried to Ryan, pleaded with him to not let them send me home.

By this point, I was more than ready for some labor help and all the pain meds.

Natural shmatural.

When the nurse came with the long awaited news that I was finally going to be admitted if we were okay with using drugs to help with labor, my response was “how soon can I get the epidural?”

***

Technically, this is the point in the story where real labor began. But for me, it’s when the labor–the work–ended.

I got the epidural and my own room. Both sets of grandparents visited. I finally slept.

That night I slept the most heavenly sleep to the hum of machines and soft murmurs of nurses. The waiting game continued, but now I could relax in the knowledge that it wasn’t just up to me to read the signals of my body.

And the signals weren’t promising. At some point, my water broke on its own. I was dilating, but still ever so slowly. I awoke to a cluster of nurses and the doctor murmuring about oxygen levels and distress. Aidan’s heart rate was dropping. They placed an oxygen mask over my mouth and rolled me to my other side.

Ryan squeezed my hand and whispered,

You are safe. 

Aidan’s heart rate came back up. The doctors gave me something to stop the contractions to give Aidan a break. They took the oxygen mask off me.

Hours later they gave me drugs to increase the contractions, to help my body do what it wasn’t doing on its own.

By morning my progress was not what they—or we—had hoped for.

My parents visited and I brushed my teeth. Ryan’s parents brought him breakfast. I sipped apple juice.

The new doctor wasn’t pleased with my progress or the way Aidan’s heart rate kept dipping. He began to discuss our options. We could keep going with the drugs to assist labor for a few more hours, but it was looking more and more like a c-section was inevitable.

A c-section. After days of labor. After all the birth classes.

It felt like failure.

Ryan and I agreed to wait a few more hours. Regardless of what happens, he assured me,

You are loved. 

Our parents went to lunch. Ryan and I waited and prayed.

The nurse checked me again at 1pm. No progress. No movement. No change.

As tears rolled down my face we decided together to move forward with the c-section. To get Aidan out safely before his heart rate dipped again. To have the surgery unrushed, before a real emergency set in.

We told our parents. We texted some close friends.

This was happening. Today. Right now.

You are surrendered. 

Ryan was given papery scrubs, a hair net, face mask and booties. The anesthesiologist with an Australian accent gave me stronger numbing meds.

This was happening like right now right now.

They prepped my gurney and rolled me away. Ryan would meet me in the operating room. The anesthesia made me shake, violently, uncontrollably.

Just as the fear began to take hold, Ryan was at my side, gripping my hand and unwavering,

You are safe. You are loved. You are surrendered.

***

Minutes later we met our son: Aidan Mariano Prades. 7 pounds, 7 ounces and 21 inches long. So healthy. So perfect. So alert.

Our son.

Aidan.

You are safe. You are strong. And you are oh so very loved.

***

2017: Year of Creativity

screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-12-45-17-pm

While lying in bed this morning, nursing Aidan and mindlessly swiping through Instagram posts, God spoke. God can speak through Instagram. I really believe that.

I’d been percolating about my New Year’s goals. Trying to find a more palatable way to present the goal I always have: write more.

Write more. 

Write more. 

Write more.

That phrase is a chorus I mumble half-heartedly. It’s become more of an echo of defeat than a spark of desire.

Yet, deep down, I want to write more. I need to write more. I am most fully alive when I am writing. I’m wired that way.

So when a friend posted about Coffee + Crumbs’ Year of Creativity –a writing challenge and community for mothers–I knew God was speaking to me. Inviting me into something new. Something much needed.

I’ve never been a big fan of “Mommy blogs.” I have an (albeit unfounded) perception of “Mommy blogs” as pages filled with stories of poop and snot and crying-it-out and a space to bemoan that “it goes so fast.”

But for the mothers I know who actually blog, Michelle, Jordan, Lauren, that’s not the case.  Sure, their kids make an appearance on their blogs, but what makes their blogs universally appealing is their vulnerability. They write about life and God and what they’re learning, which may or may not include reflections on parenting and their wee ones.

My goal in writing is vulnerability as well. Being honest with myself. Inviting others into the mess, the questions, and the joy. When you’re vulnerable about any part of your life, there’s a chance it will touch someone else who can say “me too.”

And that’s what happened to me this morning. I clicked to learn more about the Year of Creativity and read,

“What would it look like if you gave yourself permission to be inspired by motherhood?

What would it look like if you gave yourself a little bit of time and a little bit of space to stretch your creative muscles instead of plopping on the couch with Netflix every night?

If you have a desire to:
Make creativity a regular part of your self-care
Rediscover a love of writing
Connect with other creative mothers

…you belong here.”

I read those goals and my heart resounded ME TOO! (and my eyes filled with tears)

That’s just the re-framing I needed. I don’t want to simply write more this year. I want to enjoy writing more. I want to be excited to write more. I want to love writing more.

I want to LOVE writing AGAIN.

And I believe the Year of Creativity can help me get there.

I am the queen of re-naming things. I spent a whole year calling God “Love” because the term “God” held too much baggage.

Instead of a New Year’s “goal” or “resolution,” my New Year’s desire is to fall in love with writing again.  To learn to connect with myself, with others, with God again through this medium.

I’m hopeful–excited even–to get started, to get writing, to get creating. To be a person who creates–creates meaning, creates memories, creates connections. That’s what I want-need-crave-desire for the next year. I want to be a mom-a person-who is fully alive, fully connected, and fully creating.

Here’s to 2017: Year of Creativity!

***

What are your desires for the New Year?

Any moms out there want to join me in the Year of Creativity? The Year of Creativity is an online e-course that you can do at your own pace, with monthly themes and writing prompts, articles and podcasts for inspiration and a private group to share, motivate and ultimately encourage YOU as mom, a creative and a writer. Find out more here and sign up before January 1 to receive the early bird discount.

 

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Musings of a New Mom

I feel guilty that the dishes aren’t put away, I haven’t called my mom, and the laundry is piling up, but I also know I need to take time for me. A wiggly one-month-old squirms in the mamaRoo and a cat is curled on the couch.fullsizerender-2

I could clean, walk, SLEEP, but instead I choose to write.

2016 is drawing to a close and my familiar New Year’s resolution echoes… “write more.” A goal that I didn’t come close to achieving.

My blog is in desperate need of an update–it still says Aly LEWIS and that I live in Guatemala. My last post was about pregnancy and Aidan is now here. Life has changed so much since then. It’s so full now. I tell myself that’s why I’m not writing, but that’s not true. Writing is hard work–being honest with yourself, taking the time to transform nebulous thoughts into words. It’s work. But it’s work that I know I need.

And so I’ll start with what I do best–baby steps. A friend challenged me to write every day to get back into the swing of blogging and to hold her accountable for posting too.

I want to write about the labor process. Anxiety during pregnancy. My unexpected c-section and recovery. Ryan’s role in all of it. I want to write about the details of Aidan–the soft fuzz on his upper shoulder. His new bald spot on the top of his head. All of the smirks and frowns and expressions he makes as he’s both falling asleep and waking up. The way he arches his back and clasps his hands under his chin like he’s posing for an Anne Geddes calendar. The way he stares into space, focusing on nothing at all. His hungry tongue flicks and gummy screams. How deeply satisfying it feels when he settles into nursing, knowing I’m giving him all that he needs in that moment. His chirps and whistles and grunts and yips.

I want to write about being a new mom, teaching citizenship classes, how my faith has changed these last few years. Depression and hope and God.

But my baby step today is writing about wanting to write. So here is my post to say that I want to write more. That I will do my best to squeeze in words between nursing and soothing, soothing and nursing, nursing and soothing again (#growthspurt). That I will find moments to write as the mamaRoo whirs and Aidan whistle-snores in the background like a clogged kazoo.

My friend is offering daily writing prompts to get us going. I’m late on both prompts she’s posted thus far, but I’ll do my best to respond to them briefly. The prompts: Christmas and goals for 2016. Clearly I did not meet my goal of blogging more in 2016, so there’s not much to say about that. On to Christmas.

img_1099 Christmas was different this year. With a baby.

This year was the first time in my entire life that I didn’t spend Christmas Day with my parents. My parents always set out our stockings and my dad records our walk down the hallway to see what bounty Santa has bestowed. We unwrap an embarrassing amount of presents–even since we’ve been adults. This year it was just the three of us on Christmas morning, my little family. And I am now the parent.

img_1100I woke up at 4:30am to nurse Aidan and didn’t go back to sleep. I had to finish putting together Ryan’s present–an Ikea cabinet to house all of his adult beverage supplies. I filled Ryan’s stocking with dollar store goodies and baked salted caramel cookies. I Facetimed my mom. I saw the sunrise.

And it was perfect. I didn’t want anything but the three of us together.

We’re starting our own Christmas traditions–eating cookies for breakfast and catching a drive-in movie Christmas night.

We had lunch at Ryan’s parent’s house where they doted on Aidan who slept through it all. The bitter of not being at my parents’ was overpowered by the sweet excitement of knowing that in just a couple weeks my entire immediate family will be living in San Diego. We’ll celebrate the Lewis family Christmas with my parents and siblings and stockings (and video recordings I’m sure) when they’re all moved in to their new houses. This will be the first time we’ve all lived in the same city since I was 18.

Aidan can grow up just minutes from BOTH sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles, a smattering of cousins, and whole host of friends who feel like family. And that, as cheesy as it sounds, is the best Christmas present I could ask for (along with fresh baby snuggles and a nap). fullsizerender-3

Thoughts on my first Mother’s Day

 

IMG_9060I’m going to be a mother? Me?

Whelp, I have the morning (ahem, can strike anytime) sickness and bone tired fatigue to prove it. And, of course, the sonogram of our little blobby alien love that they assure me is a developing human.

We’d been trying for a couple months, so when that second pink line started inking itself across the pregnancy test, I thought I would be ecstatic. Instead: terror.

All of my “trying to get pregnant” worries (What if I can’t get pregnant? What if there’s something wrong with me? What if there’s something wrong with Ryan?) were supplanted with new sickening fears: What if we lose the baby? What if the baby is sick? What if, what if, what if?

I have friends and friends of friends who have struggled for so long to get pregnant, or whose pregnancies haven’t lasted. I’ve read about infertility and miscarriage and the long struggle of hoping for the chance to be a parent.

I feel premature in my celebration. I feel undeserving of the double pink line. I want to be sensitive in my sharing. I never knew I could be this scared.

But then I remember my favorite quote from Ann Voskamp,

“I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I’ve seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives…Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering, the converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring the fullest Light to all the world.” One Thousand Gifts

I only deepen the wound of the world when I fail to give thanks for squiggly sonogram screenshots and mayonnaise-craving embryos (the struggle is real).

All the good things that a good God gives.

This may be the only time I’m pregnant. The pregnancy may not last full term.

IMG_9274
But right now, I will choose joy.

I will choose the hard discipline of quieting the voices of doubt and doom.

Ann Voskamp also writes, “Awakening to joy awakens to pain.”

And isn’t that the story of parenthood? A mesh of joy and pain, worry and hope?

So today, I am humbled to say that I AM PREGNANT. OUR FAMILY IS GROWING. God is literally doing work in me.

Ryan and I have chosen the word BRAVE to guide us through this pregnancy journey. We pray that we are brave enough to hope, to be fully invested in the little life inside me. We seek to be brave enough to hold out hope for our friends who are still trying. To be brave enough to enter their pain and mourning. We want to be brave enough to ask for help, to admit we don’t have it all together. To admit that we’re scared.

Most of all, we want to be brave enough to choose joy and to invite others into our joy.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there and I pray for strength and comfort for those who are wishing and waiting and hoping to someday be a mother.

Battling Bridezilla (the one in my head)

I’m getting married in 2 ½ months and I’m feeling insecure about how I look.

I know I’m small, always will be, so I feel a bit uncomfortable writing about my own body insecurities. The rational part of me knows I look okay; I don’t need to lose weight. But my inner monologue is a different story. Whether or not my insecurities are well-founded–in my head, they are real. You see I used to be a gymnast, with no body fat, in peak condition. So this is the biggest I’ve ever been. “Grad school 15” is real.

The part of me that thinks a wedding is all about the dreamy pictures and the affirming accolades is bummed that I happen to be getting married when I’m the least in shape I’ve been in years, the least tanned, the least toned.

But then the part of me that knows a wedding is not a fashion show or a Pinterest party, but an outward celebration of commitment, of love, of deciding to choose each other in the good times and the flabby times. That part of me is floored by the beauty of the timing.

Because I know know know that my fiancé’s love is not dependent on my looks or workout schedule. His love is not something I earned and therefore is not something I can lose if I “let myself go.”

1531554_738873001064_829025665_nHe asked me out on a date when I was marginally employed spending my day caring for a 94 year-old-woman with Alzheimer’s in velour jump suits. He liked me for me. Not for my job or career or standing. Not for anything I did or do. I made a point of not styling my hair for any of our dates for the first maybe six months of our relationship. He liked me anyways. He didn’t even seem to notice.

I know this.

But as the wedding planning amps up, so do my insecurities.

I start to fear my frizz, my freckles, my back fat.

Bridezilla is in my head, and I’m her main victim.

It’s not Ryan that I’m worried about. I know he’ll think I’m beautiful no matter what. I know he’ll tear up when I walk down the aisle. I can see in the way he looks at me that he is a man in love.

It’s everyone else I’m worried about. I’m worried about impressing my friends. I’m worried about what I will look like in photographs. On Instagram.

It’s stupid, I know.

I don’t want worry to win. So I hope in writing them out. In seeing how silly and vain my concerns are in light of the magnitude of the gift of love I have been given, I hope that joy will win. In writing my insecurities “out loud” I hope to loosen their grip on me, diminish their power.

I can choose to let joy win. To rejoice and celebrate. To embrace marriage planning. To show up whole-heartedly to the upcoming wedding events, no matter what I look like. To let love, not fear, steal the show.

In a couple months I will take a new name: Prades. I will choose a new role: wife.

In front of my friends and family, I will commit to love one man for the rest of my life: that’s the easy part. I will also commit to be loved by him: that’s the hard part.

To receive his love. To believe I’m enough.

It is my hope and my prayer that Aly Prades is a woman who knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is loved.

Who lives like she is loved. Who doesn’t listen to the voices that say I am my calorie count, my waistline, or my hairstyle.

I don’t have to wait until I’m married to believe this. Since I began spending time with Ryan, this transformation has been taking place. His tender spirit, his faithful love has healed me, is healing me, of my perfectionism, of my own self-criticism.

And I know it can’t just be Ryan that tells me this. I’ve been praying to a God of Love, communing with a God of Love, for years before I met Ryan. Ryan is just a new instrument to show me this love. To help show me I am enough. I am loved.

Today, before my name change, before the wedding. I will choose to let joy win.

I am Aly Lewis, an embracer of joy and a woman who believes she is loved.

Serving Here and Now

02.15 Ryan & Aly_Proposal-077I always thought I would marry a man who has a heart for the same people group as I do–immigrants, refugees, abuelitas. That we would go traipsing off to Guatemala or Mexico or inner-city somewhere to “really make a difference” for the marginalized.

Today at church the pastor called us to serve, to be ministers, to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven, RIGHT WHERE WE ARE. 

Even if we’re not where we want to be. Even if we’re not in our dream job or ideal living situation or working with our “target population” just yet.

People–the people right in front of us–matter most. 

I was convicted.

You see, I’m in grad school on my way to (hopefully) landing a job where I can work with refugees. But I’m not there yet. Right now I’m working with mostly well-off international college students from countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. I’m writing lesson plans for hypothetical classes in my teacher training classes and grading hundreds of essays for students who just want to tick off a GE requirement.

In the midst of studying and paper writing and correcting grammar mistakes, I’ve lost sight that this place matters. This interim, this training ground, this place that I am currently in, matters.

And not just as a means to end. A means to transforming the lives of refugees. My time at SDSU, right now, can be a destination in itself. A place to see God work. A place to serve and grow and plant deep roots. To usher in the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.

My Kuwaiti students who talk back and the tedious hours I spend planning curriculum–ALL MATTER.

Right Now.

02.15 Ryan & Aly_Proposal-054And that’s the area where my future husband blows me out of the water. 

He may not be called to a particular people group or have the same international justice outlook as I do, but he is so faithful in the here and now. To the people right in front of him.

He treats everyone with respect and kindness. He’s generous to all.

As much as I theorize about poverty and social justice, he works diligently, humbly to serve those right in front of him.

Of course I still think it’s important to look outward. To be challenged. To reach beyond the comfort of our own friends and neighborhoods. To see the unseen and offer a listening ear to the unheard. To make a conscious effort to go where God is calling us, even if it’s uncomfortable. To daily ask for the scales and blinders to drop from our eyelids.

I’m that much more excited to ask these questions and to seek my/our calling with a man who daily teaches me how to be faithful in the smalls things, how to love when no one is watching, and how to live like all places–all people–matter.

The Year of Dessert First

All my friends have been posting photos of their year from Facebook. I’ve always been more of a words person, so here is my year in words.

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I didn’t write much this year. I started out 2014 unemployed and depressed, scared that I may never want to write again. While at first this terrified me, I found God whispering something new to me, in the midst of my own silence.

Live My love story.

I started this blog a few years back specifically to “Write My Love Story,” to share the story of God’s audacious love in my life. I didn’t know how to experience God apart from writing. Writing is prayer. Writing is life. For me, at least.

But I’d lost writing. And, consequently, it felt like I lost God.

In this year of silence. Of words not typed out on pages or scribbled across receipts. I lost my writing, but I found I didn’t lose me.

I don’t have to write for my life to be real. For my prayers to be real. I don’t have to write at all to be a person. To be loved. To have worth.

The life can just be mine. The thoughts just mine.

If I had to pick a title for my year, I would call it “The Year of Dessert First.” Not that I skipped all the healthy things or the hard work, but it’s been a year of grace, where first accepting the dessert, the gifts, the grace, leads to health and wholeness, recovery. 

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I could list all of my accomplishments of 2014: starting a graduate program in Linguistics, teaching a university level course, securing myself a boyfriend. But those are just the outside trappings. I stand back almost bewildered that this is my life now. I did nothing to deserve this. To earn this. And that’s the beauty of it.

When I look back on my year, the moments I cherish most, the feats I’m most proud of have nothing to do with a college acceptance letter or my relationship status.

I’m proud that I persevered. That I continued with counseling even when it seemed nothing was improving. That I started a grad program even though I had no idea if I would have enough energy to even get out of bed in the morning, let alone do homework or attend classes. I’m proud that I had the privilege to invest in the lives of Alzheimer’s patients as a caregiver in a last ditch employment attempt. I’m proud that I traveled to Israel and Palestine and let everyday peacemakers teach me something about grace. I’m proud of the moments I let my friends in, let them cry with me, sit with me, mourn with me and hope with me.

With my boyfriend, I’m not boastful in my relationship status, but deeply moved by what he’s taught me about grace and self-acceptance. I’m thankful for every moment he makes me feel that I am enough. Just as I am.

I feel resurrected.

This woman of words is at a loss to express the healing that’s taken place. The peace I know.

That phrase from the song, In Christ Alone, seems to say it best:

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

            when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

There’s a contentment within me that I never imagined possible. Not because I worked my ass off for self-love and self-acceptance as I have in the past. In fact, I didn’t try at all. And I think that’s the best medicine a recovering perfectionist can encounter. And I don’t mean this as a formula. Not a how-to-get-over-depression-and-love-yourself DIY manual. But as my story of God’s undeniable grace in my life this year.

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grace from the disgrace

beauty from the ashes.

stillness to dancing.

And so I enter 2015, happily dancing and enjoying dessert.

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Stillness to Dancing

T.S. EliotJust a few months ago, I wrote about my experience with depression.

Crippling, life-stealing depression.

I wrote how I was choosing to serve God whether or not I ever found healing or relief from depression. How I was choosing to be faithful—or at least trying to be.

I shared my experience of the low, the tough, the vulnerable. And then I was silent, on the blog at least.

So today I want to share a follow up. I want to share a story of healing and joy and gratitude.

I’ve been reluctant to write this post. I don’t want my healing to sound cliché. I don’t want to prescribe a how-to formula for overcoming depression because I know it doesn’t work like that. I don’t want to jinx it.

But somehow I’ve come out on the other side and I can’t help but rejoice. I can’t help but share.

I think of my favorite T.S. Eliot quote, “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

Today I am dancing and I don’t quite know why. Like Allie of Hyperbole and a Half bursting into hysteric belly laughs at a lone kernel of corn, it doesn’t make any sense.

For me it started not with a piece of corn, but at the Sea of Galilee, overlooking the waves that Peter once braved.

Sea of Galilee

God spoke to me that day. He declared inner peace over my soul. He declared me healed and free.

I can’t explain how I heard Him or why I believed that I would be free. I just knew He broke something FREE in me that day. Free from bitterness and wallowing and the chains of depression.

I felt the healing work deep in my soul, deep in my bones. So much so that I couldn’t help but dance.

Dance?! On the shore of the Sea of Galilee? Alone. Ear buds in. Eyes closed. Hips swaying and hands raised.

Like a lunatic. Like someone crazy for Jesus and the healing power he brings.

I didn’t feel the healing yet. I hadn’t experienced it yet. But I knew it was time to start dancing over my graves of depression and burnout and disappointment.

Dancing became a sign of faithfulness. A way to declare victory before the war was even over.

I danced in worship. I danced my praise. I danced for the grace and redemption and renewal I hadn’t yet experienced.

Nothing else mattered but setting my heart and my body to praising the God who promised to heal me. To love me. To bind my wounds.

As I danced, I prayed the chains would be broken. I prayed that my freedom would bring freedom to others.

And when the songs were over, my body stilled, I opened my eyes and turned to see a Korean tour group sitting just a few feet behind me, staring at the girl swaying to the music in her earphones, in her head, in her heart.

And I didn’t care. I was being healed. I am being healed.

Since then joy has found a way to creep in. Little bit by little bit. I began to experience joy in my new grad school classes. Joy at caring for the daily needs of a 94-year-old woman with advanced dementia and one heck of witch cackle laugh. Joy in meeting with my favorite girlfriends on earth to chat and pray and cry and laugh together. Joy in just being.New Kitten!

Today I have a lot to delight in– a new boyfriend and a new kitten for starters (!!). It’s taken work, though, don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked hard in counseling, finding the right medication, admitting that I need help. I’ve prayed and prayed. I’ve recommitted to taking care of myself.

But the healing started that day at the Sea of Galilee. When God whispered something to me, calling me to deep inner peace, silencing my striving like Jesus once silenced the very waves that crashed before me. He declared freedom in me that day.

And I danced it. I hope I am dancing it still.

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Losing Work and Finding Grace: Lessons from Marginal Employment

I haven’t been writing much lately.  I haven’t followed through on my goal to share about my peacemaking trip to Israel/Palestine once a week. The words haven’t flowed; I haven’t really tried.

And surprisingly. I’m okay with it.

Since I left my job as a writer at Plant With Purpose  nearly two years ago, I’ve been plagued with the constant guilt that I’m not writing enough, not producing enough, not saving the world enough.

But after months and months of thrashing and crying and giving up, I  think I’m beginning to learn the lesson that God has been trying to teach me all along. (And that I thought that I already knew.)

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I may have lost my words, but I am gaining a new life in Him. An open-handed life.  A life of holding loosely to the labels and identities I used to clutch with greedy palms.

In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, burnout and depression, I’ve discovered God is with me in the waiting. I’m being transformed by the knowledge that I can choose to trust Him in the waiting, in the in-between. (Not that I always do.)

Sue Monk Kidd writes in her beautiful memoir, When the Heart Waits, “Hope lies in braving the chaos and waiting calmly, with trust in the God who loves us. For if we wait, we may find that God delivers us somewhere amazing–into a place vibrant with color and startling encounters of the soul.”

I’ve tried to wait, but it’s not often been calmly and it definitely hasn’t been eagerly. Maybe if I type it here–commit it to words, and the action will come easier. I will wait with you, Lord.  Open-handed. Open-hearted.  

I will trust that you are delivering me in to something new, something good, something holy. I know it.

I taste it already. In the sweet moments in my new caregiving job. In my new excitement for grad school. In the friends who’ve spoken the words and spilled the grace into me that I’ve needed to hear so badly.

I can taste the sweet. And I can choose the sweet.

I can bounce back from job rejection. From disappointment. Even from depression. 

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I look around and I see color. I echo ee cummings in saying,

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings;and of the gay
great happening ilimitably earth)”

I am grateful for the wonder. For the gifts of this day. And I’m trying my best to hold it all oh-so-loosely. Palms unclenched. Open-hearted.