Once upon a pregnancy…an old poem unearthed

Earlier this week, while trying to recover my homeschool room from the storm that was unsupervised making of thanksgiving posters and crafts, and involved strewing crayons and paper all over the floor, I discovered an old poem I had written years ago, in a beat up spiral notebook. I thought it had been lost forever, and regretted it as I could only remember the first metaphor in it, and wanted to know the rest.

The poem was written early my fourth pregnancy, which followed rapidly on the heels of my third, and writing this poem was part of my trying to wrestle through my mixed emotions I had at the time. Funny how blessings come in disguise…despite my misgivings, this little baby girl turned out to be my most gentle, sweet, affectionate and undemanding child. Her siblings have said this themselves, in all honesty. We are all blessed by her quiet kindness. Here she is a toddler…now she is 9!

Without further ado, here is the old poem from my notebook, long before my blogging days began. I’ll transcribe it above the photos, so you don’t have to try to decipher my scrawl.

Winter Tree

I am like a winter tree

laid bare, stripped, naked,

exhausted—

yet secretly bursting with spring,

life swelling through my bare windswept skin.

I feel at once empty and ravenous

as a winter wolf or a nursing bear

emerging after a winter of sleep…

Yet inside me is a miniature universe,

a tiny piece of the puzzle of humanity,

forming rapidly in the dark warmth

of my womb.

I feel like a shipwrecked treasure chest

washed up on shore,

a waterlogged vessel filled with diamonds,

waiting to sparkle for the first time in the sun.

Inside me, a heart the size of a pea

is beating its way toward laughter, sorrow and love.

A matter of months,

and beauty will be born again.

Ballad of the Pirate Bard

I am a pirate and I do not sleep!

I thief night jewels for me to keep.

My Lady with her treasures bold

is generous when the wee hours wax old.

The words upon her golden tongue

are by the midnight spirits sung.

I catch the songs in my jolly heart,

then bursting full I do depart,

‘n sail away to the break of day

to spread her tales far and away!

I am a pirate and I do not sleep,

my treasure is the tears you weep,

my prize is the laughter in your eyes,

for Insomnia’s bedfellow is a pirate wise.

🌴This silly song was brought to you care of
sleep deprivation and my pirate pjs! 🌴

Lucy Maud Montgomery: A Wounded Healer

Yesterday my sister sent me a rather devastating article about one of my childhood, and adulthood really, heroines, Lucy Maud Montgomery , the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, and many other books. I learned that she and her husband suffered from an ongoing addiction to medical drugs they were initially given for anxiety. These bromides and barbiturates turned out to be highly addictive and draining, and greatly altered their lives for the worse.

I felt cut to the heart by this news…not in the sense of now despising a former hero, because I believe like Dr. Gabor Maté that drug addiction is the attempt to heal persistent wounds, and not a sign of being lazy or evil. He writes:

[…A]ddiction is neither a choice nor a disease, but originates in a human being’s desperate attempt to solve a problem: the problem of emotional pain, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection, of loss of control, of a deep discomfort with the self. In short, it is a forlorn attempt to solve the problem of human pain. Hence my mantra: “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.”

Learning of Montgomery’s destructive addiction, I was upset, rather, the way I would be if I discovered that my own grandma had secretly suffered deeply and didn’t have the support she needed to heal in a healthy way. Montgomery suffered so much…losing her mother at a very young age, being abandoned by her father to live with old relatives, being taken lightly as a writer simply because she was a woman and having to take one of her publishers to court for years to receive her proper royalties, losing her best friend Freda to death, having a difficult marriage with a very depressed and at times physically abusive husband, and losing a child to stillbirth, like me.

Unlike me, she did not have the vast amounts of affection, support, spiritual and psychological help it takes to heal from such blows. I wish she could have had professional counselling (which is worth every penny!), a loving group of baby-loss moms to help her through it all, so she would know it was ok to talk about her beloved baby, instead of keeping silent, and a spiritual advisor who could have helped her escape when her husband became violent, instead of thinking it was her duty to stay.

Reading about her pain, I wanted to transport through time and wrap Montgomery in my arms, and tell her that despite all her suffering, she had made the world, my world, incredibly more beautiful. That I, and many others, couldn’t imagine life without her.

I had to think of Henri Nouen’s book The Wounded Healer, in which he describes the transformative power of suffering, and the surprising degree to which the wounded person can be a source of healing for others. Maybe it is that through patient suffering, while continuing to find the beautiful in life, that we give others hope. It is such a high price! Certainly the writings of Montgomery have always brought me hope, and a renewed sense of awe at the fragile preciousness of life and love, the importance of beauty, friendship and imagination.

So, sorrowful as I am, I take some solace in praying for Montgomery, and hoping with all my heart that she is now at peace, and finding Heaven just as thrillingly rich and beautiful as her great heart and mind imagined it would be.

In imagination she sailed over storied seas that wash the distant shining shores of “faëry lands forlorn,” where lost Atlantis and Elysium lie, with the evening star for pilot, to the land of Heart’s Desire. And she was richer in those dreams than in realities; for things seen pass away, but things that are unseen are eternal.” L.M. Montgomery

Our New Book about Pregnancy, Birth, and Beyond

The last time I posted was over a month ago, a photo on Christmas Eve of my precocious four year old waiting in the stairway for Santa…fast asleep! After all the festivities, we’ve been busy getting back into the new homeschool year and working on various projects.

Besides being busy with my seven kids, here are three main reasons I’ve been absent from my blog:

1. I’ve been working really hard on my next poetry book, Velvet Flame, which I hope will come out later this year! 🙂

2. My friend Bonnie Way and I just finished our new e-book on pregnancy, birthing and early baby days, including mama self-care and the need for mom buddies, and it will be on sale in the Ultimate Bundles Women’s Wellness Bundle starting today!!

3. And in case you had any delusions of grandeur about me…the third reason I haven’t posted anything this year is that I lost my iPad under my bed for a month. A whole month. Yup. It had slipped down by the wall and was hiding behind my husband’s guitar case and some ferocious dust bunnies in a conniving attempt to prevent me from blogging….

But back to our new book, Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby! 🙂 There are so many pregnancy books out there, and sometimes reading them can be stressful…so what makes ours different?

Rather than being by a one step-removed professional, it’s written by real moms in the trenches of family life–vets in a way–because between us both we have experienced 13 pregnancies and births. So we have had lots of chances to struggle, make mistakes and learn better ways to manage, and want to share them with you.

These short, easy to read chapters represent the best advice we would honestly share with you if you came over for coffee…what worked for us, what was hard, and what helped, every step of the way. We are sharing the stories of our families with you, and encourage you to be the hero of your own story. Rest in what feels right; Mama knows best, for each baby.

Beginners Guide to Growing Baby is full of practical tips and tricks on surviving nausea, exhaustion and huge emotions, pregnancy-safe cures for colds and flu, how to get enough fibre, how to prevent or minimize tearing at birth, and how to adjust to early days of breastfeeding, including what to do if you get mastitis. Bonnie is also an avid researcher of natural remedies, and as an herbalist’s daughter, I’ve used many of them effectively myself, so we write about quite a few. We have experienced births with doctors, midwives, in the hospital and at home, so you can read about many possibilities. We hope learning about different options will empower you to make informed choices about what works for you and your baby.

May our stories of pregnancy, birthing, and early days of parenthood help give you courage on your journey to motherhood! We want you to know you’re not alone, but part of a huge sisterhood, here not to compare and compete, but to care for each other and cheer each other on.

If you’d like to check out the Women’s Wellness bundle this week (as it is only for sale from Feb. 5th-10th), and see all the e-books on health, diet, exercise, online courses on mama self-care, mental and emotional health, and many other resources it includes, here’s the link: Women’s Wellness Bundle.

 

“The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom

Last night I stayed up reading a novel till unmentionable small hours of the morning. I couldn’t put it down. I tried but couldn’t sleep. I had to know how things would turn out for these ordinary yet heroic Hollanders who hid Jewish people in their Haarlem home in World War Two. The fact that this story is true and autobiographical added a bittersweet poignancy which really captivated me.

I can’t recommend this heroic story enough. But be sure to buy Kleenex, and some strong coffee (preferably Dutch) for the mornings after you stay up way too late reading it on the edge of your seat. The sacrifice of sleep will be worth it to renew your faith in the amazing ability of humanity to survive in the most horrific circumstances…and not only to survive, but to thrive, at least interiorly. The women in this story suffer deeply, but instead of becoming darkened by hate, they become luminous…in the midst of evil, they glow. Love does this. Faith does this. Unshakable determination to do what is right does this.

I was extremely inspired by the ten Boom family, whose loving description reminded me a bit of the family in Little Women. It made me feel that my struggles are very small indeed, and that I want to pray for greater heroism in overcoming the bitterness and self-pity that can creep in through the cracks of exhaustion. Corrie, who is a watchmaker in her 50’s when she joins the Dutch underground movement, makes it very clear that any good she did came not from her own virtue or strength, but from the faith and love infused into her soul. God’s providence runs through the story like a shining golden thread.

What is amazing, besides all she did to save her fellow human beings, especially Jews, during the war, is what she does after the war, having been through harsh prisons and concentration camps. She opens homes for victims of war, where they can live in a loving home, grow flowers and vegetables and find hope again. Beyond that, she travels the world sharing her story of the power of love to overcome evil, and that God’s loving forgiveness that exists for all, no matter how dark their past. She does not neglect Germany, the land of her wartime fears and captivity, when sharing her message of peace.

The Hiding Place resonates with me in a very personal level because I have Dutch family who hid Jews in their home during the war, and my Opa himself, who worked for the Dutch radio, hid from the Nazis when they wanted him to spew propaganda. When soldiers knocked on the door, Opa Koenig would quickly open the floorboards in the attic and lower himself into a little hiding place. My cute blonde, blue-eyed Dutch stepdad and his sister would then throw a blanket over the area and sit on it playing with their toys. Thankfully, the soldiers would simply look around the room, pat their little heads, and leave. I can’t imagine the stress of this on kids, but Opa survived the war and was never caught, unlike so many others.

If you’re looking for a book to read this November as we approach Remembrance Day, try “The Hiding Place.” It’s the kind of book that touches your soul and leaves you forever grateful for the goodness of the ordinary heroes among us.

10 Reasons I love rereading the Anne of Green Gables Books!

If you’re like me and grew up reading LM Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables series, you may also find that rereading them gives all the comforting feeling of coming home again after a long journey, to find that “God’s in his heaven, and all is right with the world.”

No matter what you’re going through, the wisdom, beauty and humour of Anne’s stories can’t help but bring a little more romance and hope to your life. I’ve read or reread them when home sick from school as a kid, on lazy summer afternoons and in the hospital after having a baby. I’ve been binge rereading them last week while my husband was away, but why am I enjoying them so much?

Here are 10 reasons, cause I’ve got to stop somewhere! 😉

  1. Anne is so dauntlessly hopeful. She refuses to give up on anyone, no matter how prickly on the outside. She truly believes that everyone has a story worth knowing.
  2. There are no boring characters. There are eccentric ones, stubborn ones, gossipy ones, vain ones, humble ones, brilliant ones and hilarious ones, but even one portrayed as boring or dull-witted is so cleverly described that they are amusing!
  3. Gilbert. Gilbert. Gilbert. Ok, if that seems silly to you because you haven’t met him yet, stop wasting your time and get reading! ‘Boy next store’ par excellence. Honest, kind, loyal, generous, funny, devoted and willing to sacrifice for Anne. And of course, super cute, and torturously in love with Anne for years before she clues in! I got the Kevin Sullivan Anne films for my daughter’s 13th birthday recently, and she loved them. “But mom,” she lamented after, “I don’t think they’re very realistic. No boy could ever be that nice!” Don’t give up yet honey!
  4. Every time I read one of the books I learn something new about life. These books, so full of crazy characters are also so full of life, and brimming with wisdom, but it’s shown by example, rather than preached at length. In living, loving, rejoicing and suffering with Anne, I learn along with her as well.
  5. Anne’s zest for life is so attractive. She finds beauty everywhere she goes, and joyfully shares it with everyone, helping them see the world shine through her eyes.
  6. Because in these pages I find my life…like Anne I moved a lot, have “auburn” hair and a matching tongue and temper, went to college, love writing, married my first love, had a big family, lost a little baby girl, am passionately attached to my friends, find God’s presence most strongly in his creation, and can’t quite give up in the romance of believing in fairies.
  7. Because Montgomery’s writing has all the interest of lively fiction combined with the delicious beauty of poetry.
  8. What better escape that lovey old Prince Edward Island…a little sand-swept gem, with red roads winding down blossom-laden lanes, covered in little apple orchards and rolling farms, and sweet houses bedecked with flowers.
  9. Because Anne shows that with passion and determination, humour and joy, anything is possible, even if you started out a skinny little orphan like her.
  10. Because they’re simply the best. And there are so many to keep you company. So there.

As an extra bonus, I discovered a Montgomery novel I didn’t own yet while treasure hunting at a used bookstore with the kids last week. I didn’t know any more existed! “Kilmeny of the Orchard” is a lovely, surprising tale of a beautiful mute musician who discovers love and the power to speak.

I also highly recommend Montgomery’s last book, which she delivered to the published the day she died, though it wasn’t published in its unabridged form till years laster. “The Blythes are Quoted” is full of poignant poetry by Anne and her (by then deceased) son Walter, and also short stories, some of them with a darker flair than usual. It’s a bittersweet testament to the later years of Anne and Gilbert’s marriage, written during World War II, and the sorrow of loss runs through it. Beautiful, mature and challenging…a must read!

The Key to this Generation’s Biggest Problem

 Today I’m happy to share with you a guest post by Alexandria Robinson, who tells the story of her struggle with an eating disorder, and how faith helped pull her out of it by helping her to realize her true value and worth. In our age of many struggles with mental illness, the message that we are infinitely precious and loved, even in our brokenness, can’t be spoken enough. Enjoy!

There’s a conversation that we need to have. We’re starting to have it, but there is still so much more we need to do surrounding this issue. It’s something that directly impacts 1 in 5 people, so all of our families. Unfortunately, we need to have this conversation with younger and younger children. Although mental health is a decreasingly taboo topic of conversation, there is still a stigma surrounding it. At church, I am part of a new mental-health and emotional-wellness ministry. At our last meeting, I was heartbroken when a sweet mama shared her struggles with her teenage sons. One of them was on the right track, going to a counselor for his severe depression. When he told his girlfriend about it, she told her friends, and a slew of hateful text messages arose. What’s a mom supposed to do?

I’ve had several conversations with mental health professionals who say the church is perfectly positioned to help those in mental distress. I know for me, my faith was the game-changer in my mental health struggles. Like a lot of young women, I have struggled with body image since my pre-teen years. I remember talking to my friends about all of our tips and tricks on how to avoid food in front of our parents or throw it up later. Although I knew the long term damage I was doing to my body, I had no desire to stop or ask for help. It wasn’t until I came to know Jesus that things changed. I now know that my body is a gift from my creator, and he thinks I’m so beautiful that I am ‘to die for’, at any weight. Having respect for my body helps me to honor my king.

After my brother was diagnosed with depression, I became obsessed with finding out everything I could about mental health. I was one of the people in his primary support network and, more importantly, his big sister. I love my brother dearly–he’s my best friend–so when I found out he was self-harming and having thoughts of suicide, it brought me to my knees. He is agnostic, but because he is an intellectual, we are able to have great conversations about the questions that really matter–things like the meaning of life and suffering. The great existential questions that those with a mental illness often ask are answered by religion. Unfortunately, we often write off church as something we only have to do on Christmas and Easter. But I would challenge anyone who is experiencing a mental health difficulty, either directly or indirectly, to start making it a habit to get into the Scriptures.

“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”  Isaiah 54:10

I like to think of the Bible as our roadmap on life’s journey, and that without it, we are just wandering around aimlessly. Coming to know the one who made you can help you answer the all-important question of: “Why?” When you have your “why,” it makes all things easier. I know my “why”…or at least part of it. I write online Catholic bible studies on my blog. As a convert, I spent a lot of time online searching for answers. I came across a lot of amazing resources, but there was no Catholic voice readily available. That’s what I’m working to create.

Although I am involved in my bible studies, YouTube channel, and church ministries, I realized there was still something missing. People need help just opening the Scriptures. That’s why I wrote a book, A Catholic Millennial’s Guide to the Bible. In it, I answer some of the most common objections to Bible reading. Have you ever asked, or heard your child ask, questions like: I don’t know where to start; do Catholics even read the Bible; how can you read such an old book? I certainly have, and I answer all of those questions in the book. A Catholic Millennial’s Guide to the Bible is a short, easy read, written by and for Catholic millennials.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. ”  1 John 4:9-11

We need the Lord, now more than ever. Spending time in the Bible can help us on our tough days. In my lowest moments, I remember my body is a gift to be respected, not garbage to be abused. This realization comes only from being rooted in the Word of God.

Alexandria Robinson is the author of the new book, A Catholic Millennial’s Guide to the Bible. In it she explains how to the Word of God is relevant to our lives in the modern day, the Church’s relationship with Scripture throughout history, and how the Bible came to be. It is written by and for young Catholic laity to encourage them on their long journey home to our Heavenly Father. It will make a great Lenten read or Easter gift. For more on Alexandria, check out her blog at www.TheGenesisFeminist.com.

 

To Explore Without Fear

It’s been so long since I’ve written on my blog! I miss the way I can untangle all the thoughts in my head by letting them out onto the page. When I don’t write for a long time, my head feels ready to burst. I also miss all of you!

So what’s been keeping me so busy? A few extra writing assignments, decluttering my house (ha, I know, again/still!), prepping for homeschool, organizing fall activities for the kids, and generally trying to get anything done while holding my giant, jolly baby!

After a super busy Saturday, we settled down to watch an inspiring movie, based on a true story, called “We Bought a Zoo.” After losing his wife to illness, a man (played by Matt Damon) moves with his two children to the countryside to start over. The catch: the beautiful property they want to buy is a zoo and must be kept a zoo. So with great effort and a ton of work, they get it up and running again. They find the courage to keep viewing life as a adventure after loss. It’s a real testament to the power of hope.

I liked the message was that adventures await you “if you can only have 20 seconds of real courage.” Sometimes it just takes a moment of bravery and openness to new possibilities to make great things happen. And this fits well with my homeschool theme for the year, which is to explore without fear. It’s too easy to get stalled by overanalyzing everything and worrying about what might go wrong. What about what might go right?

I loved this saying which I saw on a ballet bracelet at the Dance Box store:

But Mother, what if I fall?

Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?

So in the spirit of adventure, two of my daughters are trying ballet and another one just had her first horseback riding lesson! They are all very happy. I’m so glad we decided to try new things in a spirit of hope, rather than holding back out of fear. Hope opens the door to possibility. As the hobbit says, you never know what adventure awaits you when you step outside your door.