We Don’t “Just Need Jesus”

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When someone shares her tough problem on a Facebook group, it irks me when people say, “I’m praying for you! (heart)” — and nothing else. There are many Facebook threads of, “Praying!”, “Praying for you, girl!”, “I’ll be praying for you!!!” and then a long comment from Bailey Bergmann Steger, sharing all the advice and experience she can.

It irks me when people “just pray,” because prayer doesn’t make problems go away. Solutions make problems go away. A girl asking about how to handle this tough conversation with a friend doesn’t need a thread of “just prayer.” She needs wisdom, guidance, and advice.

Spiritual and relational problems have real solutions. Christians don’t like real solutions, I’ve noticed. We like to shuffle all the problems up to Jesus and let him take care of them, as if there is no hope, no solution, and no way we can contribute to bringing about change.

I’ve said it many times too: “The world is so messed up. We just need Jesus.”

I said it because it was the pious response modeled for me by Christians dedicated to remaining separated from the world but still shaking their heads over the world as it sunk to hell.

“Jesus,” in this case, is a magical fix, a last-resort fix, something we invoke at the Wednesday prayer meeting.

In light of systemic hatred and prejudice in our world, I am quite confident the world doesn’t “just need Jesus.” Jesus as a magical fix, invoked only in prayer, doesn’t target the systems of racism, sexism, and abuse of majority power. It leaves people’s hearts unchallenged and unchanged. In fact, “just Jesus” often fostered these systems.

Christians and their prayers and Biblical interpretations supported the enslavement of blacks on the basis of their race. America is still reaping the consequences of “just Jesus.”

Christians and their prayers and Biblical interpretations continue to support the subordination of women and the antagonism of the LGBT+ community.

Christians and their prayers and Biblical interpretations continue to create environments and excuses for sexually, emotionally, and spiritually abusing the vulnerable.

We don’t need “just Jesus.” We need information, education, empathy, and resources to combat these systems of oppression. We don’t just need revival of our hearts. We need actual change worked by actual people.

What many Christians miss is that Christ came to redeem the whole world — not just our individual hearts. He came to smash oppression, not just die on the cross. As the church, we are the hands and feet of Christ. We are the body of Christ. We must now walk the earth healing, teaching, freeing, challenging, protecting, and conquering.

Prayer alone will not change the world. Invoking “just Jesus” alone will not change the world. But Jesus through the body he left on earth can change the world.

NB: I wrote this reflection in July 2016 and just now found it in my drafts. It’s still true today!

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e.e.’s Easter Vigil Baptism

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Though I find my baptism at age seven meaningful, Erich and I chose to have e.e. baptized as an infant for a couple reasons: the church has always baptized infants, and paedobaptism honors the childlike faith of children raised in Christian homes. e.e. will grow up believing in Jesus, receiving communion, and participating in the church. That simple faith is more than adequate in God’s eyes; in fact, Christ commands us to believe as trustingly as little children. When e.e. is older, he will have the opportunity to publicly profess his faith in confirmation, a choice that he will fully make on his own, when and if he is ready.

Here’s the Episcopalian rite of baptism, with images from e.e.’s special day.

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We present Emmerich Erich to receive the Sacrament of Baptism.

Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

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Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
I renounce them.

Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
I renounce them.

Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
I renounce them.

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Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
I do.

Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
I do.

Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
I do.

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Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support Emmerich in his life in Christ?
We will.

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Let us join with those who are committing themselves to Christ and renew our own baptismal covenant.

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

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Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the  prayers?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

Excerpted from The Online Book of Common Prayer

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The Creativity of Holy Week

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That typical family photo where the baby finally smiles when the adults aren’t looking

Whew.

Holy Week has me exhausted. As a reader and choir member, I attended nearly every service this week. This is my first journey from Ash Wednesday through Lent all the way to Resurrection Sunday, and I loved every second of it.

I’m used to Easter being a one-day event, maybe with a little bit of heart prep on Palm Sunday. On Easter Sundays of yore, I got gussied up in a new dress to sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” at whatever Baptist church we attended at the time. And that’s pretty much it (not counting the Easter egg hunt, Starburst jelly beans, and Resurrection Eggs — all holy rituals in their own right).

This Easter was an all-out marathon. Like I said, I’d never fully participated in the church calendar before, and was honestly skeptical of certain parts. Lenten sacrifice, for example. I gave up something for Lent this year (though, really, being a parent of a newborn automatically enrolls you into intense Lenten sacrifice — NO SLEEP). I didn’t get the point. It didn’t make me feel closer to God, or remind me to pray more, or in any way improve my spiritual life. I wasn’t even suffering: turns out it was an easy thing to give up and I didn’t miss it at all. When I returned to it on Easter Sunday, I wasn’t eager to have it back in my life.

Lenten fail? Or maybe Lenten success? Maybe my Lenten takeaway is that I don’t always need the things I think I need, that they aren’t as big a deal to living life as I formerly thought.

Holy Week is hands-down my favorite part of the liturgical year so far. I’ve been researching a more creative spirituality, using the senses and imagination to enter into Scripture and prayer (like Ignatian imaginative prayer and lectio divina). Holy Week provided many opportunities to engage with the Gospel readings in creative ways.

On Palm Sunday, we marched around the parking lot waving real palm branches after a bellowing bagpipe (a truly authentic recreation of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem). One couple driving past even stopped to follow us into the church after seeing our joyful, freezing cold procession. We all processed into the church, where the organ blasted “All Glory Laud and Honor.”

The youth Sunday school classes provided a dramatized reading of the Passion. Our deacon read the narration, the students read for Jesus, Peter, the High Priest, etc., and another student drummed ominously underneath the entire reading. It was beautifully, simply, non-cheesily done, adding more layers of interest and art to engage you with the Gospel text without distracting you from the Gospel text, if that makes sense.

Every Wednesday we walked through the stations of the cross, visual representations of different moments during Christ’s suffering and crucifixion. I say “we,” but really, Erich, e.e., and I only attended a handful during Lent. Noon is smack dab during e.e.’s nap time, and he was cranky. I contemplatively nursed him during many of the stations.

On Maundy Thursday, the choir led a Taizé service — chants as opposed to hymns, sung over and over to facilitate meditation and prayer. Veni, sancte spiritus, we intoned repeatedly as we processed into church. At the close of the service, the priest cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”

No blessing or dismissal followed.

We stripped the altar — candles, hymnals, chairs, the Eucharist, everything disappeared into the sacristy. Then the lights went out. In pitch darkness, a wooden clacker cracked out three strikes, and we dismissed in silence.

The Gethsemane vigil began, with individuals watching and praying for an hour at a time, in faithfulness to Christ, who asked if his disciples could stay awake for even one hour while he prayer in agony. (The answer for me was absolutely not this year. See parental exhaustion above. I’d love to participate next year.)

I’m sure something great happened on Holy Friday, but e.e. wanted to nap right before the noon service.

And then came the Easter vigil. This was my favorite service during Holy Week. The procession entered with the Pascha candle, the deacon sang to the candle for a long time, and we passed on the light down the aisles with our own tiny candles, which melted into a wax puddle by the end of the service. Erich, used to Catholic masses, snootily huffed that they should have used beeswax candles instead. I, used to nothing, was excited there were candles of any sort.

I was not excited that Erich tried to juggle a candle, a pacifier, and our baby dressed in a slippery christening gown all at once. Oh yes — e.e. was getting baptized during this vigil. By candlelight. (A whole post on that is forthcoming!)

Afterwards we shouted, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” and the lights went up and the organ blasted and we belted out a triumphant song.

Sort of. In reality I was trying to get a wailing e.e. to calm down with a bottle without getting milk and candlewax all over his lacy gown, and that makes things less triumphant.

On Easter Sunday, we wove lilies and daffodils into a cross and just had a wonderful, joyous Easter service, complete with — of course — “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” Our deacon wore a balloon bishop’s hat for the dismissal (obviously), and e.e. commanded a fleet of preteens to hunt Easter eggs for him.

A glorious Easter weekend, indeed.

What were your favorite moments from Holy Week this year?

// All of that Lenten/Holy Week meditation culminated in these thoughts on female disciples, faithfulness, and a new narrative for Easter.

The Gospel According to the Female Disciples

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Saint Veronica wiping the face of Christ, Mattia Preti

During the weeks of Lent and Holy Week itself, the hymns are full of deep, dark confessions: was the one who crucified Christ. was the one who abandoned him. was the one who denied him. Just like his disciples.

That’s the narrative: we’re all terrible, faithless, sin-filled, wimpy people, just like Peter who denied Jesus on the third cock crow, just like the disciples who couldn’t even keep watch for one hour, just like Pontius Pilate who caved in to the crowd’s demands, just like the multitudes who chanted, “Crucify him!”

But that’s the male narrative.

The women? That isn’t like the women at all.

Mary anointed Christ’s feet and mopped it with her own hair, a foreshadowing both of Christ’s burial and of Christ washing the twelve disciples’ feet. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet,” Jesus told them. “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Mary knew these things. She knew even without his example.

Pilate caved into the crowds’ unjust demands. His wife urged against this: “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”

There’s a common narrative about how the crowds cheering for Jesus on Palm Sunday were the same ones shouting for his crucifixion a few days later. This is absolutely not true. Luke records “a multitude of people and of women mourning and lamenting for him.” Christ even stops along the Via Dolorosa to address the women.

And while most of the male disciples had fled, the Gospel accounts go out of their way to place his female disciples at his crucifixion — not only the core band of women who had ministered to him along the way, but also a crowd of women who had followed him into Jerusalem. (Perhaps the same women waving palms and hailing him as the Messiah.) Several Marys and Salome stood by his cross. The only male disciple mentioned at the crucifixion is the disciple whom Jesus loved.

Whereas the twelve disciples couldn’t even keep watch for one hour while Christ prayed, the women kept watch over Christ even in death. When he was buried, there sat Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, watching opposite the tomb. And we all know the resurrection story — the women who had ministered to him in life came to minister to him in death and were rewarded with the first visit of the risen Christ. They were the first to believe and proclaim his resurrection, the first apologists, the first preachers.

Women.

You know, women, who are easily deceived and incapable of preaching, teaching, and leading in the church. Women, who need a spiritual covering from a man. Women, whom God saw fit to always place under the authority of another man because men are the real spiritual leaders.

If we’re looking at the numbers, the sex most faithful, most spiritually astute, and most blessed were women — the female disciples of Christ, the female followers of Christ. The (male) religious establishment persecuted and handed Christ over to death. The (male) political establishment ignored his sense of justice and crucified Christ. The (male) disciples fled in terror, denying Christ left and right.

But not the women.

There were many faithful men, of course. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus risked their positions and their lives by burying Jesus appropriately, and Mark notes Joseph’s courage in particular for doing so. John was evidently standing with the women, close enough for Christ to charge him with looking after his mother. The centurions believed after the earth quaked and the sky went dark: “Surely this was the Son of God!” And the crowds who followed and mourned Christ were comprised of many men as well.

But not one woman, not one female disciple, is mentioned as unfaithful. Not one female disciple denied him. Not one female disciple fled. Not one female disciple disbelieved the resurrection.

I’m not arguing for a matriarchal Christianity or the superiority of women. I’m pushing back against the ludicrous ideas that men by virtue of being male are more like Christ’s image, more spiritually capable, more suitable for guarding and guiding Christ’s church.

And I’m pushing back against this idea that there’s one spiritual narrative at Easter — the one where we’re all rotten, faithless deniers of Christ.

Maybe you are. But maybe your story at Easter is less like the male disciples’ and more like his female disciples’ — one of faithfulness, service, and love, of dashed hopes, of quiet mourning, of standing by and watching the reasons for your faith slip away, of watching God die.

Maybe you’re not like the alleged people who cried “Hosanna!” on Sunday and “Crucify him!” on Friday. Maybe you’re like the women who followed Christ into Jerusalem and then followed him down the Via Dolorosa.

Maybe you’re not like the disciples whom Jesus said would betray and deny him. Maybe you’re like the disciples who went to the tomb on Easter morning, still serving, still watching, still faithful, and were rewarded with the greeting of their beloved Lord.

Maybe, this Easter, you’re like Christ’s female disciples.

// More good reflections on this topic: Mary, the Woman Who Led God by Dalaina May, and Did Jesus Really Spend His Time with Just Twelve Men?, by Gail Wallace

All the Ways to Ruin a Nap Routine

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Sleep is a big deal and a big struggle.

Nothing sends me spiraling into grumpiness and depression like a lack of sleep. When I learned of my pregnancy, my first thought was to figure out how to gently sleep train my child as soon as possible. I knew I couldn’t handle sleep deprivation for very long.

Sleep is also a huge priority in my parenting. Not only does sleep make for a happier baby, but it also is crucial for development and learning. Lots of children today are sleep deprived, and I don’t want my kid to be one of them.

e.e. is a good sleeper, so his first couple of months were the stuff of parental dreams. He slept five or six consecutive hours a night, and took naps like a champ. We practiced good sleep habits, like putting him down drowsy but awake, following the Eat, Play, Sleep routine to prevent overtiredness, and rarely nursing him to sleep.

And people said this parenting thing was hard.

From birth, e.e. slept on his tummy. At his two month checkup, our pediatrician did her duty and scared me into trying to get e.e. to sleep on his back. Since he already was a good sleeper, she said, it shouldn’t be difficult to transition him onto his back.

She stands by her advice to this day, and she also takes full blame for ruining my child’s sleep.

I don’t know if a sleep regression coincided with our attempts to put him on his back or if our attempts to put him on his back triggered a sleep regression, but everything went haywire after that. He stopped sleeping through the night, instead waking every hour or two to nurse. Getting him to nap was the most agonizing, futile thing I’ve ever done.

We switched him onto his tummy to control the damage, but to no avail.

Once upon a glorious time, we just needed to swaddle him, insert a pacifier, bounce him a bit on the exercise ball, and he was out. Now he screamed at the swaddle, screamed at the pacifier, and screamed at the bouncing (unless we bounced for a minimum of ten minutes to calm him down, and then another thirty to get him to sleep).

Naptime became a battle, and nobody won. e.e. was tired and cranky all the time. was tired and cranky all the time. At its worst, it took me two hours of repeatedly trying the old methods to get e.e. to bed, and in the end, we still cried ourselves to sleep.

This was not working for us.

At our pediatrician’s suggestion, we decided to let e.e. figure out how to sleep on his own.

I came home from the appointment, put him in his bassinet, and listened to him scream. I desperately tried to drown myself in infant sleep research so as to quell the anxiety searing through my bloodstream.

Every five minutes, I went in to pat his back and assure him that mommy was here and loved him. His screams made me feel like the worst mom in the world: If you were really here and loving me, I wouldn’t be crying at the top of my lungs!

I was crying, he was crying, and finally, after twenty minutes, I scooped him up and nursed him to sleep.

As he slumbered peacefully in my arms, I bolstered my resolve with a good, hard look at my baby’s needs. e.e. needed to sleep more than he needed to not cry. Besides, even if my goal was to reduce his tears, then the status quo wasn’t working: he cried just as hard when I bounced, crooned, and patted him as when I let him cry himself to sleep.

He was giving me more than enough hints that he wanted me to trust his competency — kicking out of the swaddle, arching away from the pacifier, wailing on the exercise ball, even turning away from the breast. He was his own person, with his own timetable for doing things that didn’t fit my predetermined plans. If I insisted on listening to my fear and anxiety about him crying, we’d get even more sleep deprived.

I did some research to curb my fears about the dangers of cortisol spikes and abandonment, and touched base with a couple of moms with lovely children completely unaffected by their early days of crying it out.

Knowing I wouldn’t brain damage my child helped a ton. We tried again with giving him an opportunity to self-soothe himself to sleep. Here’s our routine:

After about an hour of being awake, he gets snapped into his Zen sack. (Contrary to the five star reviews, it’s done nothing to improve his sleep, but it’s cute, soft, and perfect for transitioning out of the swaddle.)

I snuggle him close and remind him that we’re putting him to sleep differently for his nap (yes, I’m a weirdo who explains things to her newborn). “It’s difficult to fall asleep alone,” I empathize, “but I’m confident you can do it. If you feel you can’t, I’ll come check on you in five minutes. I’m always here for you.”

The white noise and fans go on, the lights go off, and we slow dance to the bassinet as I sing a short lullaby to this tune:

Now go to sleep.
Go to sleep, sleep, sleep.
Go to sleep, little one.
Close your eyes and dream tender dreams,
For you are guarded, protected by my love.

Then I give him a kiss (okay, lots of kisses), place him on his tummy, and wish him a happy nap.

That’s it. What once took hours now takes a few minutes.

He’s caught on quickly! It’s only been a couple of days, but for the most part, he cries or fusses only a few minutes before I sneak back in to see him conked out for a good, long nap. Before I lay him down, he starts sucking on his own fist to calm himself, something he never did before when I was frantically sticking pacifiers in his mouth.

This is such a huge relief for both of us to go from long, drawn out battles to a short, effective routine that allows him to sleep longer and, ironically, cry less.

False Narratives about Women’s Careers (Part One)

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Doing what I love! Clearly, the kids are entranced with my puppetry.

I am the primary caretaker of my little e.e. Not only do I care for his physical and emotional needs at all hours (all hours), I plan on homeschooling him too. I love being a stay-at-home mother. Love it. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

The other thing I’m not giving up? The couple hours I work at a preschool. I put time, effort, and expense into being a professional preschool teacher. I hope to return to it full-time when e.e. is grown. It brings me a great amount of joy and surrounds me with an amazing community of families, female co-workers, and kids.

Because it’s only a few hours a day, I haven’t felt any friction between being a teacher and being a mom.

I never expected to hold down any sort of outside, paying job as a mother. A freelance writer, a self-employed worker, maybe. But outside, paying jobs with the sort of flexibility I wanted in order to be my child’s primary caregiver — those are few and far between.

Plus, I grew up hearing all sorts of false narratives about women’s careers. We’ll start off with one unique to patriarchy, and then look at a more ubiquitous one another time.

False Narrative #1: Working Women Bear the Double Curse

Vision Forum loved using this little whammy to relieve women who wanted to stay at home full-time and guilt women who didn’t.

“How many women do you know who have to bear the curse of the man? Try seventy percent of our culture. Did you know that women are bearing the double curse? This is a tragedy of enormous proportions! It is destroying the church. It is destroying the family. It is killing these women. It is killing them. And it is wrong. Totally wrong.”

— What’s a Girl to Do?, by Doug Phillips, quoted in this wonderful takedown

This idea comes from Genesis 3, where God doles out curses unique to Adam and Eve. For Eve, he multiplies her pain in childbearing. For Adam, he curses the ground, making it bring forth thorns and thistles, the harvesting and eating of which cause Adam to sweatily eat bread.

Clearly, a compassionate reading means that since only women experience pain in childbirth, only men should experience the pain of providing for their family. No woman should ever have to birth babies and provide for the family.

Now I’ll be the first one to admit that if this questionable interpretation brings about paid maternity leave for all women everywhere so that we don’t have to waddle around for eight hours a day on our aggravated sciatic nerves in the third trimester, then I’m all for this.

But compassionate as it appears on the outset, it’s rather ludicrous. Sure, we’ve all had jobs or aspects of jobs that feel like a great big cosmic curse. Of course, people look forward to retiring or wish for more free time or count down the days to vacation — even if we enjoy our jobs. We need rest and free time — and we also need work.

This is why women choose to work even when give options not to. We want to work. We enjoy working. Work gives us purpose as humans. We were created to work with the world, to explore it, to question it, whether it’s with quarks or figures or words or inquisitive young minds.

Women are no exception to humanity. We need work of some kind — purposeful, creative work that engages our minds and hearts.

That’s not to say that there isn’t purposeful, creative work that engages our minds and hearts at home or within the family. The majority of my day involves engaging work with my child, so I’m a testament to that! It’s just to say that not all purposeful work for women exists in the home.

And it’s also to say that not all housework is purposeful, creative, and fulfilling. I won’t bore you with the numbers of times I’ve gone to bed depressed because the only thing I accomplished that day was putting away the dishes and dumping a load of clean laundry on the floor. If that’s all working at home entailed, I would shrivel up in two days flat.

Being cooped up at home with nothing but housework? That sounds like a curse to me.

But it’s not a curse to walk into my preschool classroom to love, teach, play, and change diapers — just like it’s not a curse for many women to go to work each day and pursue professionalism and excellence in their careers.

Depending on a woman’s circumstances, goals, and interests, working full-time or stay-at-home full-time is either a curse or a blessing. I’ve certainly heard many women wish that they could financially afford to drop their job in order to be their children’s primary caregivers. I’ve also heard many women wish they could afford childcare so that they could pursue a career.

To characterize women’s eager desire to do purposeful work outside the home as a curse is woefully ignorant of what real women really want.

The twenty-first century West is not prehistoric post-Eden. For many people, careers are not simply for making ends meet, and even if they are, they involve little sweat and few thorns of a literal nature. But that’s often a privilege of the mid- to upper-class West — being able to choose a career based mostly on personal interest rather than on finances.

If I were to apply Adam’s curse to the modern day, I wouldn’t interpret work outside the home as a curse — I would interpret struggling to make ends meet as a curse. And it is. Working out of necessity, without choice, just to scrape together enough money for food and rent is indeed a curse. It breaks my heart to see older folks still working when they’d rather retire, spend time with their grandchildren, and take care of their health. It breaks my heart to hear single parents talk about the burden of parenting solo and bringing home the bacon solo.

Let’s save all compassionate indignation for the single parents and the elderly who are scraping by without support, but don’t pity me, a healthy, young, creative, energetic woman who earns a paycheck. It’s not a burden to me to help provide financially for my family.

Somewhere along the line, Christians got into their heads that the Bible calls men to be the primary financial provider. There is no verse that says this anywhere. The verse that allegedly bolsters this idea is often mis-cited as, “if a man does not provide for his family, he has denied his faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Almost all translations use the neutral “anyone.” Anyone who doesn’t provide for his family has denied his faith.

In context, that verse speaks about caring for the widows of one’s family, and the passage specifically calls out children and grandchildren to care for their widowed relatives. (Note the gender neutrality. Daughters don’t get off the hook because of their sex.)

Even more ironically, the only gender singled out and charged with the financial care of widows is female, not male: “If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need” (1 Timothy 5:16).

Again, to be clear, Paul sees having children and managing the household as important work (1 Timothy 5:14), but he doesn’t exempt women, by virtue of being women, from financially caring for their family.

Of course, many men do feel sensitive about their role as primary provider, so much so that they feel shamed or resentful when their wives make more money than they do. There may be all kinds of explanations for this sociological phenomenon, but there is nothing in the Bible that supports this sort of rigid structure.

When I first got married, I was surprised at how much I cared about contributing financially. Some young women I knew quit their jobs and stayed home upon marriage, even before children were in the picture. That choice felt selfish to me.

For me, there was absolutely no good reason why I by default of my gender should get to pursue my interests at home while my husband worked his butt off to pay the bills. I felt just as responsible for making sure all our material needs were provided for, and I take great pride in bringing in an income, however small. (In theory, my income goes directly to savings, since Erich’s income covers all our bills. In reality, our paychecks all go to one bank account, and we don’t keep track of whose dollar pays for what.)

I don’t find that responsibility to be a curse, just as my husband doesn’t find it a curse to work all day yet care for his baby upon coming home. We’re a team, helping each other out in all the responsibilities of life. I love that there’s no room for resentment in our marriage, no room to feel like we’re alone in one particular responsibility.

Women are quite capable of juggling many responsibilities, and it’s not a curse to financially provide for the family.

For sure, it can be a real frustration to figure out a happy work/life balance. The American workforce is arguably detrimental to families, and there are many opportunities for that work/life balance to go awry. I don’t doubt that many women are unhappy with their current career situation. But those frustrations come not from work and not from shouldering the responsibility of providing for one’s family, per se; they come from the same cursed afflictions that people of both sexes experience — single parenthood, poor pay, less than ideal employment, not enough time with family, etc.

The bottom line: women’s paid work outside the home is not inherently a double curse or a tragedy of great proportions. It’s often an important, wonderful, productive part of our lives that invigorates rather than kills us, and brings many benefits to our churches and our families.

Some Days in the Life of a Newborn Mom

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I think it’s important to show what the day to day really looks like. Especially with motherhood. It’s way easier than moms tell you — and just as terrible.

Sunday |

I was up a couple times that night, wordlessly sticking e.e. on the boob and dozing off like the present, involved mother I am. In the half-awake state that I was, I sketched out everything that needed to happen that morning: shower, a bowl of honey nut cheerios, maybe peanut butter toast. (No, no peanut butter toast. We had French toast and breakfast pizza in the fridge for lunch that day, so I didn’t need to eat a heavy breakfast).

This was the second week we were trying our new Sunday morning routine: I went to choir practice alone, then Erich and e.e. met me at church for the actual service.

e.e. stirred, squinting his eyes and grunting piggily. After eating his fill, e.e. screamed. Like, colicky baby scream. Inconsolable. Inexplicable.

A diaper change didn’t help. Feeding had obviously not helped. The only thing that helped was crazily dancing around the room, but that required two hands and a whole body, and I still needed to eat honey nut cheerios.

I got him quieted enough to pour dry cereal into a bowl, and then he screamed again, and I had a Very Important Decision to make: do I pour the milk into the cereal and risk leaving an increasingly soggy bowl of uneaten honey nut cheerios on the counter? Or do I not, and starve?

I poured that milk and ate every bite of those honey nut cheerios, while bouncing e.e. in the Baby Bjorn after every spoonful to prevent tears.

Mom. Win.

Handing him off to a sleepy Erich still curled up in bed, I gave explicit permission for him to stay home and tend to the inconsolable, inexplicable crying thing that was nothing like our angel child. There’s no point in dragging an unhappy baby to church if you’re just going to stand in the foyer and miss everything.

Upon my return home, I was happy to find that e.e. had gone to sleep. I was not happy to find that Erich had eaten both pieces of the French toast and breakfast pizza. “How selfish!” I hangrily yelled. “What kind of person eats both pieces?”

He offered to make it up by preparing me sausage (“I hate sausage!”) or what about an egg and English muffin (“no!”) or he could — (“it’s FINE, I’ll make myself a sandwich!”). I bitterly ruminated on how justice could not be properly dealt in a family environment, since eating both pieces of French toast and breakfast pizza is not a jailable offense.

I ended up lunching on popcorn and Craisins because I was too lazy to make myself a sandwich.

It was the warmest day of the year, and I spent it napping on the couch while e.e. smiled at the ceiling fan. We were going to go on a walk in the park, but we were too tired. By that time I had forgiven my selfish husband and snuggled up next to him to watch Saturday Night Live.

e.e. screamed periodically through the day, and I Googled and Googled things until I came to the conclusion that he was teething (chewing, check; drooling, check; inexplicable, inconsolable wailing, check). I tried looking at his gums, but his tongue got in the way, or he was screaming. I tried getting him to gnaw on a cold washcloth to ease gum pain, but he knitted his eyebrows together and squalled.

And we were supposed to go out to dinner that night with my in laws.

“You go, I’ll stay home,” I said, holding a wailing baby while Erich threw on dress clothes. “I don’t think it’s fair to bring him out in public when he’s not feeling well. And I hate nursing in public.”

“He’ll be fine,” said Erich.

e.e. cried and cried in the car, and then fell asleep for hours like normal.

e.e. went to bed nicely, and I went to bed too late.

Monday |

e.e. slept until 5 AM, a joyous occurrence that used to be regular until he discovered that I would feed him at any and all hours of the night. Even though I got six solid hours of uninterrupted sleep (well, not counting the times I naturally woke up and poked him to make sure he was still breathing), I woke up on the terrible, horrible, no good, very wrong side of the bed.

“You could’ve woken up on my side of the bed,” Erich later placated me. “I woke up with a sore back.”

So I tried to sleep and put e.e. back to sleep at the same time, which never works, and involves unnecessary nursing, repeatedly sticking the pacifier back in his mouth, and patting his back until he wakes me up a half hour later and I realized we must have both dozed off. I was having a really strange but interesting dream, and he woke me up right before the exciting conclusion, which would have probably been lame, after all.

It was 11 AM before I gathered up e.e. and went to the bathroom. Someone had used the toilet without flushing. This is a regular occurrence now, and I couldn’t tell you who is the culprit because neither of us remembers what we do at the odd hours of the night when e.e. cries. Our lunchtime conversations involve us recounting what weird things we remember the other person ding the night previous:

“Where did you go last night?” I would ask.

“What do you mean, I was in bed the whole time.”

“No, you weren’t, you said, ‘It’s too loud!’ and left the room and never came back.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, I distinctly remember you saying that.”

“No.”

“Yes, because I remember wondering what on earth you were talking about because e.e. wasn’t even crying that loud.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. You left the room and never came back.”

Anyway, I sat there on the toilet for a while watching e.e. smile at the ceiling, and sketching out what I needed to do that day: put on deodorant, brush teeth, find clothes, tie my messy hair into a messy bun that is never messy enough to look effortless, and eat honey nut cheerios.

I didn’t feel like doing any of that. I tried to guilt myself (“Erich doesn’t get to sleep in and spend a whole fifteen minutes deciding not to brush his teeth, you’re wasting your privilege”), I even tried to mom guilt myself (“what kind of mom are you if you can’t even brush your teeth at 11 AM?”), but I ended up exiting the bathroom without doing any basic hygiene. (I did flush the toilet.)

We sat on the couch, e.e. on his Boppy pillow smiling at the ceiling fan, I next to him feeling like I really didn’t want to be a mom today, and ohmygoodness, our house is a total wreck.

And it really was. Is. Always. I got behind on everything when e.e. went through a sleep regression that required me to hold him the entire time he napped, and that precipitated the rest of the house going to pot. Tissues, clothes, dirty dishes everywhere.

I didn’t feel like cleaning the house either. When was Erich coming home? I wanted Erich. I needed to tell him that I couldn’t do this anymore without his help and, also, for all that is good in the world, would he please throw away his tissues instead of scattering them around the house?

I was depressed. I hated everything, especially housecleaning. I just sat there, hating the mess, and then e.e. pooped.

Ugh, the nursery was even more disastrous. Laundry from three weeks ago was nicely folded on the floor. I had managed to fold half of the laundry from two weeks ago and to dump last week’s laundry in the middle of the floor thinking I would have enough time to fold it before e.e. woke up from his nap. (Hilarious, I know.) Duplicate baby stuff sat in the corner from the baby shower five months ago. A pile of return addresses for thank you notes (right, great, still need to write those) sat next to that. And Erich’s art and horticultural projects exploded from a large sheet of drywall teetering on a fancy chess table that we can’t figure out where else to put.

I changed e.e.’s diaper, sat him on the floor, and watched him smile at that room’s ceiling fan. Something gave the tiny, underfed, rarely seen housekeeper within me a gentle nudge, and I began stuffing the extra baby stuff in the big Christmas gift bag and throwing away trash and recycling old cards and sticking the return address labels somewhere else besides the middle of the floor. And then I folded the rest of the laundry and actually put some of it away. (I didn’t put away the kitchen hand towel. That was just too much.)

In all my cleaning zeal, I neglected to notice that e.e. had stopped babbling and smiling.

No. Oh, no. I had missed The Sleep Window, and now he would fight slumber.

Fight he did. I darkened the room, turned on the “BAMBOO WATER FOUNTAIN | Relax and Get Your Zen On | White Noise | Tinnitus Relief” ten hour long YouTube video, poorly swaddled him, and danced around the room. He dozed off, sucking on his pacifier. I put him down. He awoke screaming.

No problem. I am a calm, patient mother. (And I heard Erich coming in for lunch, so I had backup.)

I danced around the room again. He dozed off. I put him down. He awoke screaming.

PROBLEM, and I am not a calm, patient mother. I am a tired, tired, tired mother who just wants to sleep for any amount of uninterrupted time and not wonder if my baby is going die of SIDS.

I set him down, greeted my husband with, “I can’t do this anymore,” and threw a blanket over my head, sobbing.

“Are you okay?”

No.”

A few minutes later the crying stopped under Erich’s expert care. It was too hot to mope under the blanket, so I crawled out, made myself a sandwich, and spent Erich’s entire lunch break explaining how much I hated housecleaning.

I went to work, and then I did my WERQ class and felt tired and hot and, yeah, tired.

e.e. took a nap really late and was wide awake at a 11 PM. I laid him down in bed and thought I could get out of putting him to sleep if I fell asleep first. I awoke a half hour later to find e.e. had missed The Window again because his parents had dozed off.

I ended up putting him to bed. Or maybe I didn’t, because I remember Erich waking me up when he crawled back in bed having successfully gotten our child to sleep.

But like I said, we don’t really remember anything that happens at night.

Tuesday |

e.e. slept until 5 AM, but I still felt tired. Happy and energized, but still tired.

I gave him a bath. He peed on the wall and spat up while I was sudsing his tummy, so, that was effective. He was entirely back to his old, happy, smiling-at-the-ceiling self.

There were no more honey nut cheerios, so I didn’t eat breakfast.

Which is fine, because I don’t normally eat breakfast, and I was fueled by the motivation I felt to brush my teeth this morning. It helped that we had Baby & Me Storytime at the library.

Baby & Me Storytime is the best idea ever, except that it happens right when e.e. wants his morning nap. I once sang all the songs and said all the rhymes and listened to the whole story while he snored away in my arms.

It was definitely naptime when we got ready to go, and he cried all the way to the library.

But he was gurgling and bright-eyed during storytime, oddly enough, and no baby tried to poke his eye out. Win!

e.e. fell asleep in the carseat, and I let him snooze while I didn’t do enough cleaning. I passed out on the couch reading blogs.

I woke up realizing I needed to drink my coffee before work because I was zonked, but e.e. woke up too, and we nursed and snuggled. I texted my mom some deep and emotional thoughts about motherhood, and cried a bit, and pondered how it was possible to love someone as much as I loved my beloved little baby.

His Gigi’s knock on the door jolted me out of my sappy reverie. I took too long kissing e.e. goodbye and barely got to work on time, per usual.

I ran on the elliptical for half on hour afterwards and felt so proud at how sweaty and athletic I felt.

Tuesday is Bro Game Night, that hallowed evening whereupon my husband gets to spend all night playing League of Legends with his friends while I watch e.e.

I sent copious amounts of Snapchats to my sister of e.e. chewing his hand and tooting, then wondered if I spent too much time on my phone around my baby. If I didn’t start stopping now, would I really be that present, unplugged mother I aspired to suddenly become once he was capable of forming lifelong memories?

Guiltily, I turned my phone over and gave him undivided attention. I loved tickling his toes and making him grin, but all the while kind of wished it wasn’t Bro Game Night because I wanted to read blogs without guilt.

I missed The Window again. He would not be consoled by crazy dancing or pacifiers or my poor swaddling job, so I nursed him to sleep like I said I wouldn’t do anymore. I felt bad for being a tired, unprincipled mother. And I read blogs with guilt while I did so.

I had to go back to his bassinet three times to reinsert his nookie and pat him until he finally fell asleep.

I stayed up way too late again.

“Don’t worry,” Erich said. “He’s going to sleep through the night.”

(Technically) Wednesday |

Thirty minutes past midnight, e.e. stirred. I poked Erich with my toe. He poked me back. I poked him. He poked back.

“This is somehow your fault,” I joked, rolling over to pluck e.e. from his bassinet next to our bed.

And I did it again at 3 AM.

And 5 AM.

And a few hours after that. He started off jolly, grinning and chortling at me as if I was the funniest mom in the world. Such gaiety convinced me I could take a shower. I plopped him next to the shower and took my precious time. He loves listening to running water. I heard only happy coos, and had plenty of time to complete my morning toilette.

But I must have missed The Window. By a lot. Because — no joke, no exaggeration — I spent the entire day trying to get him to nap.

The entire day.

For a while he wouldn’t even fall asleep in my arms. And then when he did fall asleep in my arms, if I stopped doing the exact bouncing motion he liked, he woke up squalling.

I watched a lot of Netflix. And wanted to cry, and sleep, but was too tired and occupied to do either.

This was definitely a breaking point. Definitely rock bottom.

I desperately needed to talk to someone and get their sworn, experienced assurance that life couldn’t, wouldn’t go on like this. I didn’t want pity from a kind soul who’d never spent all day trying to get their baby to sleep. I wanted clinical fact: this will not last forever.

Because if it was going to last forever, I needed to trade day jobs with my husband pronto.

I puddled into work. There were plenty of women to talk to, but no time for me to break down and beg for their assurances.

“Dear Miss Bailey,” one of the girls pretended to type to me on her bristle block computer. “How was your day?”

“It was terrible,” I pretended to type back, in a joking way, not in the desperate, rock bottom way I actually felt.

“Why?” she pretended to type back.

I hesitated, because what three-year-old is interested in the real woes of her teacher, but then I figured that honesty might be refreshing or something. “Because my baby was crying and crying,” I typed back, “…and then he tooted.”

The children, a bit stunned, stared at me, a grown woman initiating something dangerously similar to potty talk. Then they burst into raucous laughter.

“Dear Miss Bailey, how was your day?” the girl kept typing to me.

“Oh, it was horrible.”

“Why was your day horrible?”

“Because my baby kept crying and crying — ”

“AND THEN HE TOOTED!” the rest of the class hollered.

The moral of the story is, when faced with a lack of adult sympathy, potty humor with preschoolers will do. It will do very nicely indeed.

When I came home, I found Erich and e.e. conked out on the bed. I pumped some milk for tomorrow, went to and from choir practice, and heard e.e. squalling even before I put in the key. I opened the door to find Erich holding in one hand a bottle and in the other a disgruntled e.e., swaddled like a burrito with eyes desperately knit together.

“My bambino!” I cried, shocking myself with how much love and energy I had for the same child who had screamed all day. We snuggled. He giggled as I crunched my carrot dinner. And I went to bed at 9:30.

Mom. Win.

Okay, but when I say “I went to bed at 9:30,” what I really mean is I was in my room telling Erich there was no possible way I was going to attempt to put e.e. to sleep again. Not today. And, I bribed, if he put e.e. to sleep, I would research how to massage sore backs.

e.e. wasn’t interested in going to sleep, so we listened to him gurgle to himself while I expertly applied baby oil and pressure to Erich’s aching muscles. I had to stop once or twice or three or ten times to reinsert e.e.’s pacifier, and then I had to permanently stop because e.e.’s gurgles had turned into wails.

I tried rocking him to sleep, but we all know how that ended — with me sitting on the couch, sobbing about how I was so, so tired.

I went to bed too late that night.

Thursday |

Thursday started out better. He slept until 4 AM, I fed him, he smelled poopy, Erich changed him, I got a glass of water. When I came back in, I found e.e. kicking in nothing but a rainbow diaper. He was so fat and soft and cute, even at 4 AM.

“What are you doing in just your diaper?” I cooed.

He grinned hugely.

For his first nap of the day, I got him to sleep on the second try, and then, even more amazingly, I myself managed to get in a full REM cycle of uninterrupted sleep.

A good thing, too, because he cried for no reason, refusing even the nookie and the boob. I, newly energized, simply popped him in the Baby Bjorn and danced him around the kitchen to an original song (with rap interlude) entitled, “I Don’t Know What’s the Matter with You.”

I managed to make and eat a poached egg, so, I’d say it was a success.

I watched him give a great effort at rolling over. Good form and technique, needed a bit more force.

But the real success for both of us came when I noticed him quieting down a bit. A sleep cue! This time, I would not miss The Window!

I bundled him up, played the BAMBOO WATER FOUNTAIN video, and bounced him on the exercise ball. This was working. Instead of screaming, he blinked his eyes, slower and slower. No tears. No fighting.

I even put him down drowsy and awake, and patted his back until his eyes shut completely.

MOM. WIN.

I happy danced out into the living room.

“I’m so awesome!” I crowed to my husband, who had walked in for lunch and was more interested in finding gardening supplies than talking to me at the moment. “Erich! Aren’t you impressed?”

“Yeah, you’re amazing!” he smiled as he rummaged through the closet.

“You don’t even know what I did.”

He flashed me a sheepish grin.

e.e. started crying.

“Never mind,” I groaned. “Your turn.”

Beach Bods, Mom Bods, and a New Motivation to Work Out

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The last time I exercised for more than two days in a row was when I was a young teenager. I discovered that if I followed my mom’s Pilates DVD every day, I got rock hard abs — and that was incredibly motivating to me. Abs. And watching the numbers go down from 115 on the bathroom scale.

That’s what exercise was for, right? Dropping pounds and sculpting muscles for that bikini bod. Even as a skinny girl with no need to lose weight, even as a frumpy girl with shirts too baggy to reveal any abs, sculpted or otherwise, I’d internalized the way women talk about exercise: It’s about being attractive.

Pinterest is flooded with exercises that target chicken wings, cellulite, love handles, even double chins. Workout DVDs feature defined abs in bikinis and sports bras, with full-faces of perfect hair and make-up. It’s almost as if being healthy is secondary to looking attractive — attractive to beachgoers, attractive to wedding-goers, attractive to our significant others, and if we really want to be progressive, attractive to ourselves. Look great, feel great!

It’s not like I’m some paragon of feminist virtue in this regard. I did Pilates for the abs. I contemplated a bridal bootcamp in the months preceding my wedding. I looked up those cellulite-begone workouts. The only difference between me and the women who do them is not a valiant stand against the sexification of women’s workouts…it’s just laziness.

Laziness prompted by the fact that, frankly, if it’s a choice between being active and sexy versus lounging on the couch and being just average, I’d choose the latter. Plus, I was already skinny.

I had zero motivation to be sexy or skinnier, so I had zero motivation to exercise.

Then I became pregnant.

When I hit my third trimester of pregnancy, I learned that fit women generally have easier, faster, and earlier births. Sign. Me. Up. I stopped bemoaning my existence as a beached whale and started doing some YouTube pregnancy workouts. (This is my favorite series!)

You know how the instructors always call out dorky encouragement? Like, “How are you doing at home? You’re looking great!” (usually when I’m collapsed on the couch too winded to answer). Or, mostly, “We’re working on the sexy abs! We’re getting your beach body in shape!” And you know how every cardio workout is subtitled something about burning or melting or destroying calories?

Not in pregnancy workouts.

When you’re pregnant, you don’t have abs, or a beach body (unless beached whales count). You don’t have the energy to care how your glutes look in your jeans because the only jeans you wear are a hand-me-down, belly-band maternity pair a half size too big. In fact, you don’t really care how your body looks because you’re too busy complaining about how crappy your body feels.

And nobody cares about fat in the third trimester. You carry a baby around long enough, you deserve to indulge every single carb-loaded craving that comes your way. You deserve it.

In pregnancy workouts, the painfully chipper instructor doesn’t make beach body references or fat-burning comments. She talks about strength for birthing your baby or sculpting your biceps for lifting infant car seats. She praises you for doing something good for your body. She asks you to connect with your baby in utero as you breathe.

You come away feeling like your body can do anything — birth a baby, do a squat, get through this next set without fainting. It’s empowering. You come away thinking that your body is meant to do something, not just look pretty.

For the first time in my life, I felt motivated to work out, because the motivation was actually motivational. I wanted to be strong enough to lug around the infant carrier. I wanted to be fit enough to birth a baby in record time. I wanted to maintain that connection to my body — a body that wasn’t meant to be sexy so much as to be functional.

And then I gave birth. It wasn’t a spiritual, goddess-like experience that left me in awe at my body’s capabilities. It mostly just hurt like no pain I’d ever experienced, and the postpartum recovery has me too traumatized to ever want another biological baby.

But, the minute I could walk straight without my pelvic floor threatening to split open — that’s when the goddess, girl power awesomeness kicked in. It felt amazing to move — to bellyflop on the bed, to walk without pain, to kneel, to bend, to run (since when did I ever feel joy about running?). Being deprived of basic motor function gave me a new appreciation for abilities as small as tying my shoes. This postpartum period felt like a second chance at life.

I signed up for a YMCA membership and now go to classes five times a week, first thing after work. Instead of focusing on the postpartum belly flab still jiggling over my jeans’ waistline, I’m tapping into the strength, competency, and beauty of my body’s unimpaired motion.

Each day, I feel myself getting stronger and more functional — just like a woman’s body should be.

My Shameful Blogging Absence, Explained

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This is my little bambino, Emmerich Erich. We met at 4:39 Christmas morning, and it’s hard for me to remember life before him. It’s a life that involves little hands-free downtime where I’m not napping or trying to catch up on chores. My main accomplishment recently is watching too much How to Get Away with Murder during those week-long stretches when e.e. just wants snuggles and milk.

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Not that he’s particularly clingy. e.e. is an exceptional child. Yes, yes, every mother thinks her child’s routine developmental markers are indications of his unprecedented talent, but it’s not just I saying it. Everyone at church, everyone at the pediatrician’s office, everyone sings e.e.’s praises: “I can’t believe he never fusses during church!” “He settled down so quickly after his shots!” “I’ve never seen such a good baby!”

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Even though he started out as a 7 lbs., 1 oz. peanut, all those feedings added up to an impressive weight gain (mostly around his tummy, thunder thighs, and triple chin). From the beginning, he lifted his head up with almost perfect control and has accidentally rolled over three times already. He slept through night since day two, but has recently decided it’s more fun to snack through the night. Normally I don’t mind, and when I do mind, I stumble over to his bassinet to find him kicking and grinning, and all my grumpiness dissipates.

He’s so close to laughing out loud, but right now he just smiles with his whole face. He’s got a sweet dimple on his right cheek (and a couple on his fat knees) that just kills me from happiness every time he flashes a grin. We love talking with him. Agoo and random screeches are his first words. He’ll coo stories with a great range of dramatic emotions, usually about the ceiling fan or the blank walls.

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He’s already reading, of course. When Daddy reads Jamberry, e.e. stares at the pictures. He has less patience for Mommy’s read alouds, so we do other things — splash in the bath, stroll around the neighborhood whenever it’s a degree above freezing, lie on the floor and kick, kick, kick.

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We joined a Baby & Me storytime at our local library for an excuse to get out of the house since it’s stubbornly still winter. e.e. is the youngest by several months. The other babies love pulling his hair and poking his eyes. He’s used to it, though, because his cousin Ella adores him. Whenever we visit, she cries, “Baby! Baby!” the entire time, then goes through her routine of emptying his diaper bag. Uncle Erich caught her smooching e.e. on the lips — an accident involving her attempt to give his cheek some sugar and e.e. interpreting it as food. They’ve already exchanged germs through e.e.’s pacifier, so, no big deal.

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He’s two months old now. Two months. I already had that first ugly mom cry when I packed away his newborn clothes. I am just obsessed with him, especially now that his personality is bursting out of him. During the first month, I, sleep-deprived and confined to breastfeeding, bitterly observed to Erich that e.e. “didn’t love me, he just needed me.” But that has changed. He looks into my eyes, talks to me, searches me out, and responds to me differently than to others. He is completely a little person.

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And that’s why I haven’t been writing. I’m too busy playing with him when he’s awake, and too busy staring at him while he sleeps, and I’m afraid that’s probably not going to change anytime soon.

A Very Pregnant Advent

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It’s a strange experience going through Advent as a pregnant woman, her baby boy due two days after the Baby Boy’s birthday.

I’ve never felt an emotional connection to Advent before. Where there was any sort of emotion in the lead up to Christmas, it was impatience and excitement about receiving presents, or frustration and fatigue about giving presents. There was nothing spiritual about that.

But carrying a child to term during Advent — that has been a spiritual experience.

The groaning, the grief, the long dark nights waiting, the wanting to give up hope but knowing the end is too close to really give up — that’s a spiritual feeling. And none of that is metaphorical, not for a pregnant woman at the end of the third trimester. I sit up most nights, at odd hours, sometimes crying, but mostly punching pillows into place and groaning, mentally screaming into them so I don’t wake my husband.

Ugh, and the hope — sometimes it’s what carries me through the day, but lately, it feels like I carry it, lugging it around like a ball and chain, because it’s what defines and constrains me. People ask me about the hope all the time. “Eight more days,” I say, wearily, more wearily than when I said “eighteen” or “eighty” just a few short weeks and months ago. What makes it bleak, like all hope, is that there can never be an actual countdown. We can only say, “Someday!” and “Soon!” and “Maybe today!”, and then wake up the next day and the next to say the same thing again. We get more discouraged the closer we are.

That’s a spiritual thing.

Another spiritual thing — all our doing and preparing makes a way, but it doesn’t make it happen. My husband is always asking, “Did you do your exercises, did you drink your raspberry leaf tea, did you look up yet another thing on the internet to try and get this baby out?” And I always tell him, “None of those things will make the baby come. They just get my body ready for when the baby decides to come. And nobody knows what makes the baby decide to come.”

That’s a very spiritual thing, a very Advent thing — there’s so much work to be done in the world, in us, but it’s only a preparation for when our Hope and Change and God decides to come. We have to do the work, but the work doesn’t do what we want it to do — it doesn’t make the waiting shorter or the coming quicker.

That’s the flip I’ve had to make in my mind: right now, it’s not about doing, it’s about going on. The nursery is ready. My body is ready. My mind is ready. My heart is ready. And I spent a lot of time and energy readying those things. Now, when I wake up in the middle of the night, when I’m sitting around on the couch, when somebody asks me about the due date for the millionth time, I can’t do anything. I must just go on. I just get through another night, let another day pass, take another breath — because he is coming. My baby is coming. He will come.

And I won’t remember any of the waiting and groaning, because the grieving hope will be turned to certain joy.

That’s Advent, isn’t it? That’s pregnancy. That’s life.

Whatever we’re waiting for, may it come quickly.