I made a video!

I've been teaching myself how to make videos using my DSLR (hello overwhelm!), but today half-way to the Smoky Mountains, where our favorite afternoons are spent, I realized I had forgotten my camera at home. After I got over my disappointment I decided I'd make the most of what I had. Two wild girls (one who reluctantly, but successfully finished her school work by 10 a.m.!) and my iPhone.

I've been wanting to make more videos of our time together (because who doesn't love watching old home videos?!) and today I not only recorded footage, but I also edited it into one video on the SAME day. I feel like I just summitted Everest. Not because it was difficult, but because I actually finished a just-for-fun project in one day. My normal timeline is 6 months to never.

After showing Corey he said, "I feel like you just made a video encapsulating this season of life." Minus the tears and messes left out, I agree...

p.s. I used the 8mm app, made a slew of short clips and pieced them together using iMovie. Song is Nevada City by John Heart Jackie.

p.p.s. I also realized half-way there that Lola's idea of "hiking shoes" were her dress-up / "princess" shoes. To each his own I guess...

Because God sees.

I heard a story this week of a man who went to visit a cathedral that was being built. He stopped to watch one of the workers who was meticulously carving a bird into a beam that would eventually be covered up by stone roofing. The man asked the worker why he was giving so much of his attention to something no one would see. The carver, without even looking up from his work, replied, "Because God sees."

Weekend at Bernie's and Jesus

I’ve officially decided that I’ve made writing feel like the most impossible task in all the world. Because there’s just too much to write about and when that rare spark hits me and I’m moved to write – in a way that is fueled by clarity and focus – I only have a very short window to get it all out before the kids are up or my brain is too fried from the day. They’re here and they’re young and as much of me that wants long days of quiet to write to my heart’s content I want just as much to be with them in all their loudness and learning. It’s hard to find a balance when you love two competing things -- quiet and chaos. The quiet fills my bucket, but the chaos is significantly more fun. We surpassed our one-year anniversary to our move home to Tennessee this past June. Which means it was just last summer that I never let the girls out of my sight for more than a few minutes to ensure they weren’t doing something that was dangerous or destructive. They still push the envelope every single day, but now – like right this very second as I write this – they can play together upstairs in their bedroom. It is being trashed, I’m sure, and the house is vibrating from their running and jumping, but still… I’m sitting in the living room all by myself while both of my kids are awake and I’m not worried at all that they may die.* This is huge.

We have a list of running jokes about all the ways Corey and I are different. He’s math and science and I’m arts and crafts. He’s data and research and I’m feelings. Lots of complex feelings.

When we were newly married and way less sophisticated we had this joke that if one of us was talking about something the other person didn’t care about (like science to me or art to him) the listener would just go to sleep, looking like Bernie from “Weekend at Bernie’s.” Nowadays, we’re way more mature so we don’t do that anymore. Instead, we only use “Bernie” when signing off on notes to each other and if you’re ever with him and there’s an emergency, call “Bernie” in his phone. You’ll reach me.

After my last post he texted me the following day from work and said, “I read your blog. I wish I understood more of what you go through and feel—it makes me feel like a robot.” And then added this GIF of two robots – one with a heart on its chest filled in with color and the other one with his heart empty of color. The empty hearted robot puts his hand on the girl robot and half of the color drains from her heart while his fills up half way. And then they start fighting unseen bad guys. It is quite possibly the greatest GIF I have ever seen because of its accuracy. I replied, “you’re my favorite robot.”

I’m sure there’s some fancy psychology research report on why it is that us humans tend to fall in love with people who are quite different than ourselves. My one and only theory is that what we lack we look for. And also intrigue… because what intrigues us excites us and what’s different to us intrigues us. And intrigue is fun and exciting. Until, of course, it becomes ordinary. Then you hit a rough patch and you either call it quits or you forge ahead. For us, we forged ahead and I think it’s past the bump-in-the-road-called-ordinary that you truly find extraordinary.

I’ve been writing a lot more in the last few weeks. I’ve got some good stuff to say, but I can’t figure out how to not sound quite so whiny.

A few days ago a girl I haven’t talked to in over a decade sent me a message through Facebook asking me to fill her in on my life because through my pictures it looks so diverse, fun and inspiring. I replied with this: "Wellllll… you have to find it hard to be home and have an insatiable appetite for all things new and open air." I should have also added that I have to work hard to feel happy and non-anxious and being outside in new places is one of the most straightforward ways I know to find it.

My sister and I got in a conversation the other day about women who have affairs. She can’t wrap her mind around how anyone who’s married with kids could possibly find the time. I told her I think that some people wake up to a life that’s the American Dream realized and every day feels a little like groundhog day and they forget that living an adventurous life takes work and so they accidentally fall into adventures that they didn’t mean to. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but for some people I believe it is. “It’s important you know your shortcomings,” I told her. “I mean I know there’s a lot about myself I’m still learning, but one thing I know for sure is that I’m always on the verge of crazy.” She laughed because she’s not literal like my husband. When I told him about our conversation that night he said, “do you really think you’re going crazy!?” He’s a doctor. He was picturing bi-polar or schizophrenia. Different, remember. We’re so very different.

Since we’re on the topic of medical conditions, earlier today I Googled “do I need an anti-depressant quiz.” If you’re curious to know of the results I scored a 35-52 which equaled yes, you absolutely do.

I told my girlfriends about this discovery tonight over dinner and wine and they said, “What!? You don’t look very depressed!” If any of us learn anything out of this ridiculous rant of a blog post let us learn that some of the most put together people parading through life are the most in need of help. That girl over there with her perfectly dressed self and kids and manicured nails and curled hair with a smile across her face? She’s at her lowest point. Be kind to her.

Listen, I’ve experienced being situationally depressed (new city in the winter with no friends and a husband that worked all the time and a sad sad case of unexplained infertility) so I know what it feels like to feel completely unable to get out of bed until well past lunchtime. And, I know what it feels like to have to muster up all the energy I had to smile at the girl that bagged my groceries at Kroger. I went home and unloaded said groceries and then laid down on the couch out of sheer exhaustion. I had to make eye contact and smile. More than once.

In high school I struggled with motivation and healthy sleep patterns and anxiety and low energy and being overweight and then I left for college and all of the above went with me. One day I had the same conversation I had had with my mother a hundred times before except for this time it made her wonder if we should talk to my OB about all the above things. And, so we did and he suggested I go on a low dose of Prozac and to sum up a very long story it changed my life entirely. The following year everything felt easier and I slept better and I lost nearly twenty pounds.

In short, I am a big big fan of anti-depressants.

If you need them, of course. Which I don’t believe any of us want to go on anti-depressants if we don’t think we need them. But, I really do think that people who are able to say out loud, “I think I need some help” are some of the bravest people in all the world.

The idea of being done with the baby stage has me torn right up the middle. (Time out: Remember how I said in paragraph #1 that I find it impossible to write these days because of my lack of big blocks of quiet time? These choppy rants are how I think I will write now because they’re the only way I can make it work. I hope you don’t judge me too much. I’m not on anything. Yet.) Because other people’s babies terrify me, but I LOVED having babies of my own. I was made to be an attachment parent, carrying them 75% of the day and sleeping right next to them at night. But, the lack of sleep and the crying and the spit-up and the being stuck at home for naps part is not a stage I miss. And, we’re leaving for Iceland next week for our family vacation and the girls are old enough to really enjoy it. But, there’s a baby missing from our family. A boy. I can practically see him. But, I’m obnoxiously unable to get pregnant. Like it just doesn’t happen. Ever.

Last week, I had an exceptionally emotional week about it all and one night after Corey and the girls were sleeping I felt so inside my head that I felt like I was going to explode. So, I wrote this super long, dramatic letter to my girlfriend living on the complete other side of the country. Here’s an excerpt for you:

"What a funny stage of life this is… the one where what I wanted when playing MASH in middle school is right here in real life sharing the same roof as me. Yet, I still find myself feeling so conflicted. Because I believe the Lord has more in store for me. And, one might say, 'well pray and journal and find scriptural confirmation and seek what it is He has in store for you,' but I find that impossible to do. So, instead I flounder and I look at everyone else and I write and study other people’s reactions and I drink too much and I stay up too late and I sleep in too long and I over-think pretty much everything and I feel way too much for pretty much everything. In a nutshell, I’ve pretty much grown into a narcissistic, emotional asshole.

Part of it is because infertility has made me slightly crazy. Unexplained infertility, mind you. The type where when you go – even 5 years after your last visit – you are told, yet again, that all of your $1,000 worth of blood work shows that you are perfectly healthy. So, you know what that means: more book reading and temperature taking and vitamins and acupuncturist and the newest, chiropractics. But, in the back of my mind constantly (constantly!) is this: where is Jesus in all of this?! Because I don’t believe that Jesus is formulaic. And, I don’t believe that Jesus has made us unable to conceive because he was waiting on us to hear that ONE podcast that wasn’t set to air until April 2015. I just can’t believe that any one thing is going to fix the problem."

That, mind you, was just a very small bit of a very long rant. And, I can tell you that it felt incredibly therapeutic to write that out to someone whom I trust deeply. To someone whom I know will get it and resonate with it and not judge me for any one thing and reply with understanding and hope. I think everyone needs someone like that in their life. Actually, I think everyone has that person in their life, they just have to be brave enough to be naked in front of them.

An excerpt from her reply which she addressed “To my favorite Narcissistic Emotional Asshole:”

"I had a moment of clarity the other day (like literally the first moment I've had like that in a couple years) where I was able to de-clutter my mind for just a few minutes, and it struck me how truly flaky EVERYTHING in this world is except for Jesus. Like even when I have a pretty good hold on reality (kids taking a sh#* on the carpet in the living room, two screaming babies, a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, 8 loads of laundry piled on the floor, etc.) even my reality is warped by a lack of clarity that comes from living in a sinful fallen world (and being the sinner I am). And man--as if Jesus wasn't refreshing enough in and of himself, when you put him up against the "reality" of this world, ahhhhhhhhh. It made me thirsty for him. Wonderful, perfect and true him. And lucky me.

I hear you saying you aren’t finding fulfillment in him and I’m right there with you. So I’m tempted to give you (and me) what we want and say something like “To be honest, most days, the bible is just too damn boring. And I have like a 30-second attention span, and there are no pictures” (truth). But we have to go somewhere from there. We can’t let ourselves off the hook that easily. We have to do something with the cross. Everything we feel or do or say or know relates back to the cross, and we have to keep taking this life up the ass to find that (Jesus hanging lifeless and bloodied, as you said awhile back in reference to my beer-in-the-teepee rant) in everything. Otherwise we’re just like everybody else. And we’ll never be satisfied. So here’s what I’ve been doing lately: envisioning Jesus’ arms held out in front of him like a cradle. And I crawl up into them and nuzzle my face against his broad chest and let him squeeze me tightly and listen to his lungs breathing air in and out and he runs his fingers through my hair and says to me “you are my beloved, woman. You are that because I made you, and not because of anything you can make or do in your life. You are beloved because of me, not because of you. You have nothing to offer me but your broken body and still I ask for it. If you will sit here with me like this always, I will be glorified by my enjoyment of you. You cannot be glorified until you are with me in heaven, so for now the closest you can get to that, the most genuine act you can perform (for all else you try to do is "filthy rags" to me), is this. Be still and know that I am God.

And half the time I can’t get to that point, but sometimes, I do. And he is warm, and beautiful, and strong, and he wants ME. I’m like that dorky band girl with glasses and he’s the star athlete and he looks into the crowd and points at me and says “I choose you. You’re the one I want.” 

I think one of the very smartest and conniving things Satan does is make us believe that we are alone in our struggles. Because there’s nothing more dangerous than believing that what we’re experiencing no one else will understand. Or even worse is experiencing fear or pain or heartache that we believe is so embarrassing because we shouldn’t have let ourselves get there in the first place that we make sure we never let anyone know.

I told my girlfriend while out on the lake last week that this world is overwhelming beautiful (“I mean look at this night… this weather… this water… it’s all so sacred.”), yet this world is overwhelmingly hard. And, we should never ever let ourselves believe that our pain is something no one else will understand. Doing so robs those around us the chance to say, “Yes… yes… me, too.”

So, I’m happy to announce that I think I’ve found a new way of writing. It will be in the form of super choppy, super tangled posts that are far more in a “dear diary” style than a typical blog post style. (as if this blog is even remotely typical – ha!)

Signing off with love…vulnerability and nakedness and so much love...

xoxo,

jc

*p.s. about half way through this post Charley came out of her room to tell me that Lola was “pouring water into the nightlight.” The nightlight is plugged into the wall. The nightlight was soaked with water and incredibly hot and the room smelled of smoke. I take back the line that I no longer have to worry that they’re going to kill themselves. In the future you can assume that all posts were written with my children duct taped to their beds. It's the only way, people.

Bird by Bird

You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.
— Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird

I’ve felt this way before. Pregnant with an aspiration that for the life of me I can’t find an easy way to birth.

There was a time in my life when I would have just started already, but I’ve done that enough times now that I know there’s more to it than just jumping and figuring things out during the fall. Ignorance is only bliss until reality shows up. "Vulnerability hangovers,” as Brene Brown has coined them, are a real thing.

But the alternative is living with a desire that never moves out of our hearts because the unknown is too scary. And, I believe that dreams that we don’t explore… we don’t ever let see the light of day… can manifest themselves in negative ways like grumpiness or anxiety or depression or tiredness or worse... on a cellular level.

I love to write. But, I only know how to do it one way: painstakingly candid.

And, writing honestly is mildly terrifying. Being vanilla may be boring, but it’s safe. (Except maybe… on a cellular level.)

I’ve been trying for a long time to decide if I am brave enough to face the potential negativity that comes with expressing oneself honestly. What I’m not having a problem deciding is if I’m okay missing out on a life that has only my name on it. My life is just a breath, this I know, but I don’t believe God gave me a breath to go wasted.

So, I’ve been doing what I often do when I'm feeling the heat to jump already. I’ve been living in my mind. And I’ve been obsessively studying others who have jumped. And I’ve been reading. A lot.

I tell my photography students there’s a time and place to study others’ work and words and there’s a much bigger place to not study anyone’s work. It’s easy to fill our minds with so much of others’ truths and creativity that we can no longer decipher what’s our story to tell (or live, but that’s a post for another day).

Since I know all the answers I did exactly what I knew I shouldn’t do and I read even more. Memoirs and self-help books and blogs and the Bible and then one day I stumbled (literally it was a holy find, a gift for me) onto a graphic online that had a quote that grabbed my attention. I don’t even remember the quote, but it prompted me to search the title of the book and I was so intrigued by it I bought the Kindle version immediately, put the kids down for a nap and began to scroll through the book with urgency.

It was Anne Lamott’s book titled, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

I’m not even done with it, but I can tell you that it’s brilliant and inspiring and so so practical.

“I don’t even know where to start,” one will wail.

I highlighted the line in bright yellow.

She replies to whichever student at the time wails the line by charging to, “Start with your childhood. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flanner O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Now, the amount of material may be so overwhelming that it can make your brain freeze. So start with Kindergarten.”

And, then I let out a ginormous-humongous sigh of relief because that was what I needed. When we’re stuck inside our heads sometimes we just need someone to push us… to boss us around.

I’m a big believer of returning to your childhood memories because most of the answers to our weirdness and our goodness can be found there. Our childhood shapes us (not to be confused with defines us, although sometimes it does that, too).

And, it’s fitting for me to start at Kindergarten because it was one of the most significant years of my life. The year I was in Kindergarten was the year my brother died.

The following day I put the girls down for a nap and I sat down on my bed with my computer and I began to write. This time, the words came effortlessly and soon I was crying. My free time ran out and I returned to motherhood and before I could muster up the bravery to show it to anyone or even finish it for that matter I suffered yet another vulnerability hangover. I felt silly for writing it. For returning to the source of that memory that holds so much emotion. I felt silly for wanting to be a writer at all. Everyone has a story to be told. Why do I think people will care about mine?

Days turned into weeks and although I thought about writing every single day I couldn’t even muster up the courage to open my computer. If I had only written as much as I thought about writing I would have written a 200-page book by now. It would have been a really shitty first draft and I would have been mortified if anyone had read it, but I would have been outputting a bit of all of my inputting and I don’t think I would have felt quite so conflicted internally. So stuck.

I’m fascinated by people who get stuck in life. Who want to do something big and bold, but don’t. Like why not, I often wonder? What is holding you back? This life is so short! Majority of the time when we say out loud the reasons we have said no to pursuing life goals it's because of really small reasons that can be overcome with ease. It’s often a mind over matter problem. But for me… I’m too close to the problem. I couldn’t figure out my own limiting beliefs no matter how much I had mental anguish over it.

But then I had this really surprising moment of clarity last night that I knew was truth because of how much it made me feel simultaneously free and uncomfortable.

Everyone in the house was asleep and I was editing photos and watching TV. A girl on the show I was watching was talking about her late husband’s death and how nothing makes her cry anymore. She described herself as a tough cookie. But, some events unfolded during the show and there she was sitting with his ashes, wiping the tears off her face. She had grown numb because it was her way of surviving.

And, in that moment I saw myself. Because as much as I am willing to talk about the 9 years we’ve never been able to get pregnant (minus that one time) I've numbed myself to the ability to feel it.

I have never been shy about expressing what or how I am feeling about most everything in life. And, I really love bold and brave people who can do the same. Being vulnerable with one another is far more difficult to actually do than it is to read or write about. To be able to not only cry with each other, but to also talk about things that are really important – like hopes and dreams and fears and struggles and disappointments and things we’re feeling proud of – is what makes this complicated life sincere and rich and meaningful.

But sometimes there’s something in your life that you just don’t want to talk about anymore. Too much time has passed or the topic has been exhausted or sadness has outstayed her welcome or for your sanity you just need to move on or ALL OF THE ABOVE. Focusing on the present isn’t just a quote hanging in one’s kitchen. It’s deliverance. Finding a new perspective and purpose and meaning is a non-negotiable. And, talking about the wound again and again sort of feels like continually putting a fresh band-aid over an old wound even though letting it breathe is what you know will bring it healing.

This doesn't mean their isn't a scar, but sometimes you just need freedom to not give the scar so much energy.

The moment of clarity I had that’s put me in a basket of uncertainty is this: is being numb synonymous with being changed? Like the way a death changes you? Or the way an unwelcomed life transition changes you? Like the way finding out you've been lied to changes you? Or the way 9-years of infertility changes you?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s changed me.

Because there was a time when I had a lot of fight in me. And there was a time when I was willing to try everything. And there was a time when I knew it would happen, it was only a matter of time. And there was a time when talking about it and writing about it was incredibly therapeutic for me. And there was a time when I cried A LOT.

But now, I’m a lot more resolved. And, I’m no longer willing to try everything. I’m no longer sure it will happen and with each passing year I actually feel a little more convinced it won’t happen. And, I don’t want to talk about it or write about it all the time. And nowadays it rarely makes me cry.

Infertility has changed me.

But if one side of the coin is a changed me then on the flipside is where numbness resides. And I find myself still with resiliency and a stubbornness that makes me want to buff that coin clean to allow the emotions hiding under the numbness the freedom to breathe again.

Because numbness is like vanilla. It’s safe. It’s a winter parka and Uggs. IT'S ISOLATING.

Letting myself feel sad or afraid or disappointed is dangerous. It’s choosing to sit in Times Square naked. But only if I refuse to hide do I give camaraderie a chance to be enjoyed.

I suck at doing scary things and giving people an inside look at what it looks and feels like to be infertile sounds and feels terrifying to me. But, in all of my obsessive reading I read something somewhere that not doing that thing we feel we are being called to do is not only cheating ourselves, but the rest of the world as well. I don’t want my one fleeting breath of a life to be one that fear controlled.

You know how the more you drink alcohol the higher your tolerance gets? I’m really hoping that writing works the same way… the more scary writing you do the higher your tolerance to vulnerability hangovers get. I’m really banking on this.

.....

I went to an infertility doctor for the first time in 5 years the other day. The check-in counter was filled with Christmas cactuses that hadn’t been watered in quite some time. They were all empty and sad and sagging off the edges of their pots. I sat down and stared at their sad little selves and thought to myself that if my options are to find solidarity in the plants or get over myself, write my story already and find solidarity in humans living near and far sharing my same story I would chose option B all day, every day.

So, here's my awkward start to buffing my coin...

jc

p.s. I wrote most of this last night and I knew for certain I would share it when I stepped into my bathroom to brush my teeth and realized I felt like a heavy wool blanket had fallen off my shoulders. Freedom comes with truth-telling.

p.p.s. I’ve been thinking a lot today about how numbness dulls sadness, but it also dulls joy. So, I know for certain that buffing away the numbness will also let a whole lot of beautiful things breathe again and for that I'm ready.

p.p.s.s. Thanks for being here. You matter to me.

A lesson learned during one of the darkest seasons of my life

JessCudzilo.jpg

It was the lowest point in my entire life. A season filled with a whole bunch of sad things and hopelessness and the worst of all, loneliness. One late night, I was walking down the stairs from our bedroom and as I got near the bottom my foot slipped and I fell on my back, hit my head and slid down and underneath the dining room table sitting just a few feet from the base of the stairs. I stood up and looked behind me because it happened so unexpectedly and rather aggressively and I was convinced someone had pushed me. I was home alone. It was just me and exhaustion. It was winter, Corey was in the thick of his residency and working ridiculous hours and I had just returned home from one of the saddest weekends of my life. My close-knit family was falling apart at the seams and we had all spent the weekend in Wisconsin for three intense days of family counseling. We all returned home more hopeful than we had been before we arrived, but we were reminded again that the only way past heartbreak is to walk right through the grief of it. And after over a year of trying, we were still very un-pregnant which only added to my feelings of brokenness and loneliness.

We were new to the city and friendships were pretty non-existent so I spent my days looking for meaningful work to fill my free time. I kid you not, I couldn’t find anybody who wanted me. Not even a non-profit, looking for volunteers. I’m telling you, it was sad.

This depressing season of life drug me through the mud for two more years. And that’s only because it took that long for me to grasp the lesson I needed to learn:

I can’t control all of my circumstances, but I can control what I see.

Life sucked because my husband worked all the time, I hated living in the Midwest, I didn’t have any friends and we were battling unexplained infertility.

I couldn’t change my husband’s schedule or change the climate we were living in or make people want to be my friend or make my effing body work. It suuuuuucked.

And I felt totally sorry for myself. Some days I didn’t get out of bed until 3:00. In the afternoon. And, the only reason I would get out of bed was so that I could take our dog for a walk and make a sandwich before I sat down to watch Ellen on TV which came on at 4. It was so bad. And so sad. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

But then one day I started writing. And I realized for the first time in my life that I really liked to write. And I started taking pictures for just myself and I got pretty good at it because I wasn’t creating art for anyone but myself. And, then I started doing house projects and I taught myself how to lay tile and refinish cabinets and I realized I was pretty good at working with my hands. And then, there was an unofficial final moment where I symbolically threw my hands up and surrendered every last bit of what I was longing for. I said to myself that if this is all I ever have then it’s enough. And I believed it.

Because in college after I nearly flunked out my first semester due to all of my pre-med classes that I sucked at I wrote in my journal that I would just marry a doctor instead. And look, somehow I had! And he loved me with a fierceness and made me laugh really really hard all the time. And I ordered a Happy Light to combat my self-diagnosed SAD and I started taking rides around the city to learn it better and as much as I didn’t want it to it started to grow on me. I started taking our dog to a nature preserve near our house every few days and every time we winded through the giant trees and wildflowers my hopefulness for life would elevate ever so slightly. And, I learned that you can’t expedite the type of meaningful friendships that take years to build so I made the choice to be patient with the process, knowing that every encounter was adding to the time log.

And we all know that there really is something so true about the stages of grieving and so maybe it was just me finally getting to the step of acceptance. Or maybe it was just me gaining a fresh outlook on life. But, one very big and important day I mustered up the courage to look my worst-case scenario right in the eyes.

Worst-case scenarios are really just a code word for fears, you know. My fears were never being a mother, going through the treacherous years of med school and training alongside of him and then having God tell us to move to a third world country and lastly, I feared I would never make close friends in our new city.

Of course this sounds a little ridiculous written out, but most fears are. I’ve since learned to write my fears out on paper. Because it’s only then that I can really see which ones are in fact legit (barely any), while the rest almost instantaneously lose their power as soon as I see them in writing.

On this big and important day I thought about all my fears happening and then I had this vision of us living in a hut in Africa, him working on sick people, and me being an unofficial mother to orphans. The vision alone made me actually long for a life like that. I even went so far as to ask Corey if we could move to Africa when he got done with his training!

And in its glorious and proverbial way the last frost melted and the leaves and flowers returned.

I was happy again.

My circumstances looked nearly identical as they had two years prior. Truly, very little had changed. Except for in my mind that is. My mind had changed drastically.

The funny thing is that my “spring” happened well into the fall, when most of the trees had shed their leaves. But, I didn’t fear winter anymore. I looked forward to it. I wanted the excuse to spend more time writing in front of the fire and having new friends over for coffee and spending evenings with Corey drinking beer under a shared blanket and watching movies without feeling guilty. And in all of my other spare time (which was a lot) I played Dr. Mario on the Wii. And I gained weight. Kind of a lot. But, it was the happy type of weight gain. The kind you gain when you’ve gotten really comfortable with someone you’ve fallen in love with or are traveling through a country that makes really good food. It was by far my most favorite winter ever. Same circumstances, different mind.

I’m not discounting the fact that sometimes we just need a bit of time in a dark valley to regain a fresh perspective on life (which is why I never feel sorry for people who find themselves in dark valleys. I’ll never hesitate to hold your hand there, but I won’t rush you out). But I also know that my season of sadness was prolonged by my own doing.

It was the first time I couldn’t control my circumstances and it was really pissing me off. I felt victimized by life and I wanted everyone to feel sorry for me. One day I told a new friend all about my super sad circumstances and she said, “well yea, you know what you want and you can’t have it. It sucks not getting what you want.” Her words pissed me off because I thought she made me seem awfully bratty. I mean all I wanted was a husband who didn’t have to work so much and a baby and a few friends. Was that really so selfish to desire?!

I stewed over what she said for days and then with humility seeping from my pores I realized that she was right. So so right. I was pissed I couldn’t have what I wanted and I was throwing an adult-sized temper tantrum over it. This doesn’t mean it’s not okay to long for something, but I was doing more than that. I was saying without saying that I wasn’t happy with what I did have. That’s why her words pissed me off so bad.

My gratitude for life had been replaced for feelings of victimization and ultimately, with little effort, every day became about me and what I wasn’t getting.

It was then that I finally learned the life lesson I’ll never ever forget: You can’t control all of your circumstances, but you can control what you see.

As soon as I started to look at my free time as a time to learn more about myself and my husband’s long days as a result of him pursuing a life goal and my inability to get pregnant as the chance to really learn compassion I started to see my life as extraordinarily meaningful. As meaningful as every other human I marveled. Suddenly I was a well of talents and a wife that played a really important role in their husband’s dream-chasing and a friend that could handle any less than happy news by meeting them right there in their dark place with ease.

I went from sadness to kickassness.

And hell shuddered because there’s nothing scarier to Satan than someone who knows their worth and can find happiness regardless of their circumstances.

This was over five years ago. Of course now we know my worst-case-turned-wishful-life turned out quite different than I had expected. Two children later, both adopted, a husband done with his training and around more than ever, a house on a little bit of property and although we’re not living in the Midwest any longer some of my very biggest soul sisters were found there.

Don’t be fooled though. I still battle daily desires to victimize myself. I’m still infertile with no explanation, I often feel like I have dreams that will never be pursued because of the demands of motherhood and there are diagnoses within our family that tempt to paralyze me with fear. But, I’ve learned now to really see and what I see makes me well up with joy over how amazingly beautiful this life is. And on the days that’s not enough I allow myself to look my worst-case-scenario-fears right in the eyes and I’ve yet to see anything in my potential future that keeps me from finding happiness.

Life is without doubt sad and hard and cruel sometimes because sometimes we need things we can’t get or we’ve lost things we can’t get back, but this life is also tremendously beautiful. Sometimes it’s not easy to see the really beautiful and that’s okay. Because for some of us (hand raised) we need a little time to trudge through the darkness to fine tune ourselves before we’re willing to look upward. And for some of us we’ve forgotten how to walk uphill because our muscles have atrophied and walking on a flat surface feels like the easiest option. But for all of us we need the same thing: a heavy dose of empathy (not to be confused with sympathy), a lot of love and a whole lot of patience. Because we’re all moving forward, it’s just that sometimes our terrain looks different than the person’s next to us.

Yet no matter our terrain or our pace one thing remains the same: we see what we look for. And that season of life lasted just long enough to never let me forget that I cannot control my circumstances, but I can control what I see.

My thoughts on waiting

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It baffles me how alone people often feel in their less than happy places assuming they're the only ones that feel that way.

If age has taught me anything it's that we all have our list of things about our significant other that drive us crazy (and yes, we all have ugly fights with said button pushers), we all have days etched in our minds that we're for certain will leave our kids in therapy when they're adults, we all have seasons of grief and depression and loneliness, we all have our list of insecurities and we all wait. We are all always waiting.

We wait for a much needed, but unknown opportunity to present itself that will let us out of the mundane job that sucks our energy dry before 9 a.m., we wait for a healthy pregnancy, school to be over, relief from postpartum hormones that are beating us up, a diagnosis, the money to accrue so that we can finally move, the adoption agency to call with good news, winter to be over, for our kids to be a little older, for love to show up or a broken heart to heal.

Waiting. Always waiting.

I'm waiting right now and I decided this afternoon as I was obsessively folding sheets into perfect squares that waiting for anything can be super annoying. I found myself starting to feel quite sorry for myself.

I have baby fever. Bad. In a perfect world, we'd boink and longed-for baby would be in my arms 10 months from now, but unfortunately we're going on 8 years of unexplained infertility. So, we wait.

I have a burning desire to do something new. Something bigger than myself. I have no shortage of ideas, but knowing of what that exact thing is is not revealing itself at the moment. And, so I wait.

I loathe winter. I know it's a necessary season and I sure do have a love affair with the spring that's very much exaggerated because of winter. But I need sun (hello, SAD) and time outside. I'm an open-air person. Being indoors with nothing but walls and temperature controlled air drives me batty. Spring will come, I know this. So as the weeks drag on I wait.

Am I grateful for what I have? YES. But I also have unmet longings and so I've chosen to make peace with the fact that being grateful while longing are okay to do simultaneously.

This evening I read these words, from Romans 8 in The Message:

"The resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a child-like 'What's next, Papa?'"

I believe the best thing some of us can do is change the way we think about things and the language we use to describe and instead normalize it all. Because I'm like you and you're like me and whatever I'm experiencing I feel confident you can relate.

When we fight it's because we believe love is messy and fighting for each other is not the same as fighting against each other.

I believe that I'm a broken human being raising two innocent, but broken human beings and that God can bridge my shortcomings with his love and mercy.

I know by experience that seasons of grief and depression and loneliness are some of the most memorable and important days of our lives. They're the days that, when we allow them to, cause our roots to grow deeper and our compassion to multiply.

The fact that we all have insecurities proves to me that we're all in need of a Savior. Someone that can fill our dark holes in ways ourselves and other humans simply cannot.

And waiting doesn't equal lost and forgotten. It equals eager and passionate and expectant and that is a state I think we should be proud to find ourselves in. It shows we're not apathetic or indifferent.. no, it proves the exact opposite: we're alive.

So, today I'm grateful and expectant... expectant to be a mother of three, expectant for doors to open at just the right time and expectant for spring to arrive.

It feels good to be alive.

My Time Interrupted

It’s after one in the morning and my favorite part of the movie has made its way to the room. I turn the sound up because the scene is only magnified by the emotionally inducing orchestrated music. She didn’t eat much for dinner so she’s sitting next to me with a bowl of sliced apples between her legs and her head resting on my arm. My girl. Half of the whole that leaves me feeling some days like I’m trapped and other days like I’m living my greatest adventure.

After my favorite scene she says, “again, again.” I laugh and text my girlfriend whose favorite movie is also Great Expectations and recount the scene. She writes back fully appreciating the moment.

This little thing is sitting next to me, sipping on a Cran-Raspberry Le Croix and repeatedly saying, “Mama, coke, coke.”

She gets up to get a book and asks me to read “Peak a Who” over and over while my movie finishes. Is she real? Sometimes I have to ask myself that.

I’ve learned that when you experience grief at the depth that you can’t get a full breath you never forget what it feels like. It changes you at your core. Grief changes us, that’s no doubt. And I know that sometimes it’s not for the better. But in my case it was.

I lean over and kiss her right where the corner of her eye meets her temple and she leans back. This is rarely the case, but tonight I’m so happy she woke up wanting me. She has reminded me yet again that God knows exactly what he’s doing.

The reason I've been silent:

Dearest readers and friends, I am so excited to finally be able to share why I have been missing these past few weeks ...

Tuesday, January 10th I was sitting in a movie (Twilight - during "the scene" no less!) when I noticed my girlfriend's phone lighting up. I looked over to see Corey's number on her screen. "That's Corey's number!??" So, she quickly handed me her phone and in that moment my heart sank. Something awful has happened, I thought to myself. "Have you not seen your phone blowing up?!?," he asked. "Well .. NO! What!?! What is it?!"

And, in that moment I found out that not only had we been matched with a birth mom but the baby had BEEN BORN! "She's full Korean, a girl, two days old," he told me.

I was shaking.

And, thus started the most beautiful, harrowing, tiring, confusing, most natural 14-days we've had ... well .. since Charley was born. This experience has been so similar in so many ways and so different in others.

Nevertheless, with all papers signed we are over-the-moon excited to announce the newest addition to our family!

Lola, born January 8th at roughly 8:20 p.m.

The girls will be just a bit less than 18 months apart. I pray they are each others very best friend, very biggest fan and confidante. God has written their story so beautifully and similar and somehow we find ourselves humbly (and nervously!) accepting God's gift and challenge to give them the very best life possible. We desire only that they would know Him deeply and intimately and know that they have both been written a story so very special.

Truly we are overwhelmed with God's kindness. In the midst of despair we clung to Him and with a big fight eventually surrendered to a story only He could write for our family. What an adventure that has been! Truly the wildest adventure I've ever experienced.

I may write more about Lola's story someday. For now, I am still in California (just the two of us) while we wait to get the green light from Ohio that we can go home. I am SO grateful to be able to be at my sister's house (I've never been so happy she lives in California in all my life!) as we wait, but I am also missing my dear husband and firstborn more than I've ever missed anything in all my life.

Taken the day we got the call, the night before we flew to California ...

As you can imagine, I am more than ready to have the four of us under the same roof.

Thank you for letting me gush. I truly feel like I've won the lottery again.

Love,

jc

+++

ETA: During a routine blog update many of your comments did not transfer over, but know that I read all of them and am so grateful for each of you!

Our adoption story [part 2]

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+++ {the following is continuation from part 1 of our adoption story. you can read it here.}

We read into each of the questions the birth mom had for us. Was she young, old, rich, poor, married or single? Was it her first pregnancy, her second, her fifth? Was she for sure adoption was for her or was she simply "trying it on for size"? I answered most of her questions with ease, answering them as honestly as I could. The last question was her wanting to know how we desired our relationship to be with the birth mom of our adopted child. At first I second-guessed my answer, but then knew that honesty was the path we would need to remain on throughout it all. My answer:

During our home study process we received extensive education about openness in adoption and have come to a place to not only accepting open adoption, but preferring it. At a minimum, we love the idea of a birth mom – who has given us SO much – being able to see updated pictures and letters of the child that she carried and birthed. Also, we love the idea of our child being able to read a letter (or two or more) as well as see a photo of the incredible woman she came from. We believe that this will help her adjust as an adopted child. Again, this is the minimum contact we would prefer. We are open to more if the birth mom is too.

The following day S (the lady who managed/organized/facilitated our adoption) called to say that K (birth mom) wanted to meet. We decided we would have our first meeting be via Skype. It was less overwhelming than meeting for the first time face-to-face. Corey would be returning from Honduras on Thursday. Our Skype session was scheduled for Friday morning. I surprisingly felt an incredible amount of patience as Friday crept closer.

When we arrived on Friday S told us that our Skype session should remain short. “You’ll know pretty quickly if you have any chemistry. Meet, chat, keep it short and then I’ll discuss with both of you if you would like to move forward.”

When the video appeared it was K’s mom. K was outside, coming soon, but feeling incredibly nervous. When she finally sat down in front of the video we all smiled from ear to ear. I instantly felt connected to her. We nervously chatted and talked and asked each other questions and K expressed – to our surprise – how good she felt about us already as adoptive parents. “I loved your book, your large family and the last page of all the funny pictures you put of the two of you. It made you seem ... well ... real.” This meant os much to me. The entire time I was designing our book I was so worried our lives were going to seem perfect and thus fake. I wanted nothing more than to seem real when a stranger was perusing our book.

We ended our Skype session all a bit giddy. S quickly said, “Well …that couldn’t have gone much better! And, Jessica … is it me or did you think you looked like K?”

Corey and I left, went out to eat and took turns telling each other all the things that could happen to keep this from continuing to unfold as it had so far. Nevertheless, we were both feeling a bit overwhelmed with hope. The hope that the baby girl growing in her stomach, 30 weeks along, would one day come home with us … would one day be ours.

Our next visit was going to be face-to-face, over dinner in Cleveland. Those two weeks crept by sooooo slow. I was working SO much it was incredible and maybe a bit ridiculous … although I’m quite thankful for it. It helped me not be overwhelmingly consumed.

A couple days before we were supposed to drive to Cleveland S had not heard from K in several days and was beginning to think that she had disappeared. “This is quite common actually,” she said. My heart had a hard time believing this, especially after our Skype session. Nevertheless, we were so sad. I went for a long, hard walk and begged God to not allow us to go through one more valley.

When I returned home from our walk S called. “Good news. Talked to K and she is definitely still planning on you all coming up. Her phone doesn’t have any minutes. I had to call her mom. Red Lobster. 6:00.”

On our way up we were nervously excited. This was to be expected. What I did not expect is how I felt when we got about 30-minutes away from the restaurant.My heart was racing, my head swimming. I thought on numerous occasions I was going to faint. Literally. I kept imagining ourselves walking in and sitting across the table from this girl that would be super pregnant, all the while us “interviewing” for her baby. I mean it’s total craziness, right? Lucky for me I have a husband who is so good with people and handling situations like this. As soon as we sat down he broke the ice by saying, “This is awkward. Can we just get that out on the table?” From then on our conversations flowed pretty effortlessly. We stayed for over 2-hours and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. K told me later that when friends would ask her what it was like meeting us she said it felt like she was eating dinner with members of her family.

At dinner we all decided we very much wanted to move forward. K expressed to us that she wanted us to get ready. “Even if I wanted to change my mind I can’t. There’s no way. I know words are probably not enough, but I want you to start getting ready. This is going to happen.”

We drove home feeling more flooded with emotion than we ever had before.

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My dad came up the next weekend and in the midst of a workshop and preparing for the kids’ workshops we began to prepare the nursery. In one weekend, we cleared out the room and Dad built recessed bookshelves into the wall and a new closet. I began cleaning out the house to make room. I have never felt so scared and sick and hopeful and happy and longing for the 8-week wait to be over, all the while freaking out that we only had 8-weeks!!!

This is where things start to blur into one memory. In the midst of that time we painted and shopped at Ikea, registered for baby items, went antique shopping for the perfect dresser, cleaned out the house from top to bottom and gave away about 20% of our stuff. We talked about names and wondered what she would look like. I sewed pillows and hung curtains. We bought the crib and left it in the garage, too scared to put it up. I bought half of Etsy and read baby books every waking free moment. I completed another workshop, Corey worked non-stop and we waited. For July 15th. Scheduled c-section. It came so fast and so slow. I know one day I will look back on that time with great fondness, but right now it’s all too fresh. The stress and wondering, the hesitant expecting and overwhelming excitement. The emotions were piled on top of each other to the point we could not … cannot ... make sense of it all still to this day.

Days would go by and K would disappear. Papers would go unsigned, everything would seem as if it was off and then all of a sudden answers would come and paperwork would be completed. And, then again … days … and nothing. I started to feel as if I was being fooled. As if everyone knew the joke but me and my lost hours of sleep searching for the perfect piece of artwork on Etsy was just ridiculous. In an especially overwhelming day I felt like I was going crazy. I left my work, went upstairs to our room and stood in front of the mirror in our bathroom. I could think of nothing to do but pray. I always trusted God’s plan and timing, but I needed some type of reassurance. I was longing to enjoy this time of waiting and instead I was suffering from mini-panic attack to mini-panic attack. I kid you not, when I went back downstairs I had a missed call from S from the agency. “K has her 36-week appointment next week and they are going to do an ultrasound. She’s wondering if you’d like to drive up and go to it with her.” I could not believe God’s grace and kindness.

And so I went and it was absolutely amazing. We enjoyed lunch (although she was 45-min late and again I had a semi panic-attack) and a nice, long visit at the doctor. When they did the ultrasound I could not believe what I could see – remember I’ve never seen an ultrasound of a baby. It was gray and fuzzy, but, “That’s her face, right?” and then, the tech pushed the 3D button and this is what I saw:

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We of course thought she was going to have huge lips, but instead we think she was must have been blowing a kiss. ; )

Then, a bit later this is what we saw:

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(Who knew babies cried in utero!? Although the top picture does not look much like her today, this picture totally does. That is SO her cry face!)

Do I even need to tell you how I felt? There’s now way I ever could. K gave me the pictures and I took pictures of them and texted them out as soon as I got back to my car. “Meet our crying Angelina Jolie baby!” Finally, all seemed real. On the way home I had a mini-panic attack. Four more weeks …

I focused on my students (80+) and poured loads of time into work. The remainder of my time was spent getting ready. I had this idea that when Charlotte (we finally had decided on a name) came home I wanted to be 100% present. I did not want to be hanging curtains or cleaning out closets. And, so I created the world’s longest to-do list and with great satisfaction marked everything off the list, finishing the day we left for Cleveland.

We went up to Cleveland for one more dinner with K and her family. It was tricky navigating the relational dynamics, being open and honest and "us" while also dealing with the fact that this was all so wonderful, but still quite unusual.

...

July 13, 2010

Little girl,

I’m up late again. Working and get tid-bits done before we leave on Wednesday. We are just a bit more than 2 days from seeing your sweet face for the first time. I am an excited, nervous-wreck!

I had a shower with 7 girls who mean a lot to me – Cyndi (hosted it), Martha, Beth, Lisa, Barbara and Tera. We ate incredible food, drank margaritas and ate delicious cake – all at Nada – for over 4 hours! It was SO MUCH fun and I feel so special and cared for and loved and just blessed. You are in for a treat, sweet girl. Beth said it best in her card – she is prepared to love you and to fight for you. I love that. She is one of many.

My prayer right now is that the Lord would create a supernatural moment between the three of us. That even when you come out of K’s stomach you will feel at home when we hold you for the first time. I pray God allows your heart and soul to know us the second we meet. We’ve been waiting for you for so long and feel so humbled that God has chosen us to be your parents.

xoxo,

your momma

...

July 15, 2010

It's 4:45 a.m. on your birthday. I can't believe we get to see your sweet face in only a few hours! I feel overwhelmed with joy & excitement & nerves! I'm already crying ...

Your daddy is shaving. He's very ready to nestle you into his cheek.

K just texted "good morning." I texted back " good middle-of-the-night!" She wrote back that she was laughing out loud. I like her a lot. I am so grateful we connect like we do.

Gotta go get ready! I hope you are!

Love, love, love!!!

your (WAY EXCITED) momma

...

K ate a doughnut for breakfast. Since it was a c-section she was not allowed to eat so all was postponed for the following day. I begged (/didn’t give an option) C to talk to the nurses and explain our situation. Although they said there was nothing they could do, the doctor called K a few hours later to say that she could squeeze her c-section in that evening. It was back on!

I cannot write much about our 3-days in the hospital. It was the most intense, memorable, overwhelming, trying and joyous 3-days of our marriage and it’s something that is and always will be so very sacred. Charlotte Louise was born alive and kicking. We all cried. A lot. She ate and slept and snuggled, cried, opened her eyes, had her first bath and ate and slept some more. We spent most of our time in a teeny room across from the nursery and would then roll her back to K’s room. We would sit over meals and wonder if it was really going to happen. We didn’t sleep. K and I sent each other easily over 100 text messages (thank God for text messaging!!!) and I could tell that with each passing hour her decision was becoming more and more difficult and more and more selfless. She is someone I will always love. Someone I loved before I loved Charlotte. We desire only good things for her. We desire that Charlotte will one day be able to meet her and that their reunion would be sweet and fulfilling.

K’s mom is also someone we became very attached to. Without her the entire process would not have been as easy as it was. She always had us in mind and did a fantastic job facilitating our relationships with one another. A vision I will never ever forget is her rolling Charlotte around the corner to us when papers had finally been signed. There was a fury of commotion around us, the lady from the adoption agency jabbering away about any and everything, nurses exchanging papers and making phone calls and yet in that moment it was as if the world came to a standstill. K’s mom stopped half way down the hallway and cried. She talked to Charlotte and touched her, kissed her over and over and then looked up and smiled at us. We all knew in that moment just how amazing this moment was. I of course was crying uncontrollably, but what was most surprising was how hard Corey cried. He had fallen madly and deeply in-love with Charlotte and he knew the sacrifice that was being made. I have told the story a dozen times and I can still not do it to this day without crying. It was the perfect picture of redemption. Can you see it?

After papers had been signed K and I sat on her hospital bed together and hugged and cried. I told her all the things we desired for Charlotte and the parents we promised to be. She said to me words I will never forget: “I needed you as much as you needed me.”

And, that is the story. Our story. The story I've been waiting to live and share. It's a story that will always leave me humbled and overjoyed. I still can't believe it's ours.

Thank you for reading and caring and asking why it's taken me so long. You guys are the best!

xo,

jc

p.s. Did you know that the week Charley was conceived was the exact week we called the agency for the first time? And, did you know that the morning S called from the agency and left us a message on our answering machine that a birth mom was interested in us I woke up to the ring of the phone with a racing heart? I somehow knew the call was important. So much so that I got out of bed and went downstairs to check the answering machine. (I never do that.) Throughout the waiting process I often went back to the way I felt when the ringing phone woke me up. I will always believe God had been waiting for that day to finally say, “It’s your time.”

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