The Velveteen Mama ~ The Complicated Gift of Becoming Real

rabbit Over these past three years since my daughter’s birth, I have been in the process of becoming real.

Like Velveteen Mama real.

I am sure you know the premise of The Velveteen Rabbit, either from having read the story yourself or from having it told to you at some point in your childhood: a velveteen rabbit becomes “real” to its young charge once it’s been loved to the point that its whiskers fall out, its coat becomes shabby, and its eyes become dull.

I have no whiskers (at least not that I know of), but after three pregnancies, my hair has become shabby, and glancing at the full-length mirror—stamped with my daughter’s mini handprints and slobbery kisses—I can see that my bloodshot eyes have become dull.

Motherhood is the most complicated gift I’ve ever been given.

Each day—almost without fail—I am overwhelmed by the beauty of my daughters. And I find myself wanting to hold them still so that I can capture them in my memory, knowing that—even then—they are changing as if their lives are zipping past on high shutter speed.

And each day—almost without fail—I also become overwhelmed by the ceaseless demands of these beautiful daughters of mine, the elder who sometimes attaches herself to my calves like a barnacle before I’ve had the chance to pour the breakfast cereal (not to mention the coffee).

It is this constant overwhelmed state that evokes such exhaustion; that makes me feel that my threads are starting to show, and I’m soon going to be tossed in the garden behind the fowl house (which is where the Velveteen Rabbit ends up when his young charge gets scarlet fever).

Untitled But this exhausted state is where the magic happens—both in the story and in life.

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” ~Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

Motherhood brings out the real in us becomes our synthetic materials are getting worn off through the daily wear and tear of our children’s love.

Our backs and knees ache from getting down to tie shoes, wipe noses, and give horsy rides to thirty-pound toddlers; our breasts feel like they’re being loaned out to a high-demand diary operation; our knuckles, collarbones, and chins are pruned from being used as teething implements; our eyes burn from reading Little Golden Books in the dark because we hope the lack of light will entice sleep.

And then we sneak off to bed, tracing our lusterless hair and popped stitches, knowing that tomorrow the demands of love are going to be the same.

But eventually, this high shutter speed of life is going to slow down, and we are going to see that the beloved ones who brought out the gray hairs are grown.

That time, I know, will bring with it some of the most complicated gifts—freedom to sleep when we want to rock our children; freedom to go out to eat with our spouses where all we do is talk about the “good old days” when our daughters and sons were living at home.

Then we will sigh, pay the bill, and return to our darkened houses. We will climb the stairs with our knees and back aching from all those years we spent getting worn out and poured out, and we will be so grateful that through the wear and tear, our synthetic materials have been worn away, and though our arms are empty, we have become real through the ceaseless demands of love.

Has motherhood–or another relationship–changed you through its ceaseless demands of love?


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The Compost Jar of The Mind

imagesBE6EVU5S I was sitting in a patch of sunlight warming the kitchen table—pumping milk, listening to classical music on Pandora, and reading an article about being a kind mama.

Garbanzo beans were cooking on the stove that I was later going to turn into hummus.

My toddler was playing quietly with natural objects—okay, a piece of wood and a toilet paper roll—while my infant strengthened her calf muscles by bouncing in her jumper.

It was a perfect moment. I felt, for once, that I was able to handle it all.

And then I went to pour the five ounce bottle of milk into another bottle I’d never used before. I didn’t realize I was missing a piece. Milk poured out of the bottle like a sieve.

All over my tablecloth, nearly on my laptop. All over my freshly mopped floor.

Whoever coined the phrase, ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk,’ has never been hooked up to a pump.

But I didn’t cry. In fact, I cussed…

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Time For This

Untitled A bald eagle screeched in the distance. A derelict silo broke up the horizon’s striated hues of blue, purple, and pink.

My boots sunk into the melted slush covering the dirt road. My four-month-old nestled against me, bundled between my overalls and a thick wool sweater that made me feel like a native to the cold.

But it wasn’t cold; it was a mild 43 degrees. I wore no Cuddl Duds, no gloves, no hat.

Patches of snow covered the ground that was shielded from the sun by the pines. But, beyond that, I could almost believe it was spring.

Three months ago, when we moved during Wisconsin’s harshest November since 1898, I would have rejoiced to have a respite such as this.

And yet, over the past month since my husband’s brain surgery, I have barely noticed the weather, as I’ve spent the majority of my time inside.

Instead, I have been focused on merely surviving. Putting one foot in front of the other. Counting my blessings, though that rote phrase made me want to grit my teeth.

The morning after my husband’s horrific pincushion spinal tap, which the neurosurgeon performed to check for infection, I said to my husband’s prone form, ‘There has to be a break in the clouds. It has to get better than this.’

And it has.

Today, I could have wept while walking those slush-covered dirt roads because—one month after I thought I might lose my husband—he is not only alive, but well.

His incision is healing; his hair is growing back; his energy and orneriness are simultaneously returning, so that he tells me, ‘I’m really going to tear it up today,’ just to see the alarm on my face.

I am not a widow at twenty-eight. I still have someone who can help me run this solar-powered farm, replete with its temperamental windmill and quirks.

More importantly, my daughters still have a father, and I am still a wife.

I took these factors for granted because my husband’s not the type to leave, regardless of how many sleepless nights the girls put us through — like last night — or how many items I tack on the Honey To-Do List.

I knew my husband would never leave; I never braced myself for the fact that he might be taken from me.

‘We were just trucking right along. And then this happened.’

My husband said this while lying on the guest bed downstairs. He was no doubt feeling overwhelmed because of the numerous projects that ground—or jerked—to a halt after his diagnosis.

It’s true—we were just trucking right along. Our hours were filled with projects that made us feel efficient and yet stripped the luster from our days.

We made time for everything but found no real time for each other.

Then, life and death faced off, and suddenly time was precious. Everything was precious.

I know the frailty of human nature and am aware that with the blessed return to normality, we will soon return to our more ‘efficient’ usage of time.

I viewed this frailty firsthand, as my toddler daughter stood in front of the sink, splashing in the iridescent bubbles after washing her dimpled hands.

‘I don’t have time for this,’ I said, that old impatience flaring in my voice.

And then I stopped, stared at my startled reflection in the mirror, and reminded myself that I do have time for this.

I have all the time in the world.

Has a life-altering event ever challenging your ‘efficient’ use of time?


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Listening For The Lullaby

lullaby-by-the-lake The first time I heard the lullaby, I was getting ice from the dispenser in the nurse’s lounge.

I stared up at the white, drop-down ceiling, wondering if two days of sleep-deprivation was messing with my head.

The next time I heard it—outside my husband’s hospital room—my sister-in-law explained that the hospital played the lullaby to herald a baby’s arrival.

Soon, the lullaby’s familiar melody became an unwavering symbol of hope in a world fraught with uncertainty.

In between the neurosurgeon inspecting my husband’s sutures for infection, or orderlies bringing trays with omelets and coffee, which I drank simply for the bolstering effects of caffeine, I waited and I listened, I listened and I waited, struck by the fact that as a newborn took her first breath, someone—somewhere in that hospital—was probably taking her last.

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Valley of Dry Bones

images We sat across from each other—our sick four-month-old in my lap, our sick toddler having a meltdown in the living room, a delicious meal before us that I had not prepared.

My shorn husband looked so unlike the fierce protector I have known and loved that I had to fight back tears. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I am sorry life’s so hard.’

He swallowed. Our wet eyes met like hands across the table. ‘I’m sorry, too.’

By sheer willpower alone, we got our girls to bed. My husband put a pallet of blankets on our toddler’s floor, so he could be there in case she had another bad spell of the croup during the night.

‘Let me sleep there,’ I insisted. ‘You’re still recovering.’

‘I won’t be able to sleep at all if I can’t hear her.’

I nodded and tiptoed back downstairs. I pressed my fingertips to the table where we’d sat and stared through the window into the snowy darkness as if I could see directly into the face of God.

I could feel the tension coiled in my spinal column, though my shoulders were weighted with fatigue. ‘You must meet us here,’ I said. ‘You must meet us here.’

I prayed this over and over again, my voice both plea and command. I interceded for our family for a few more minutes and then stretched out across the bed in the playroom, too tired to cry.

It was no small miracle our girls didn’t have coughing spells during the night, allowing our family to get a decent night’s rest for the first time since my husband’s emergency brain surgery.

Over breakfast, I told my husband the previous night was the lowest point I’d ever reached.

He said it was the same for him. We’ve walked through trials before, but we’ve never walked through anything like this.

Then I recalled that unusual passage in Ezekiel 37, where God breathes life into an army of old bones, making them walk again:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

These past two weeks have felt like we’re being stripped down to the very bone of who we were before my husband’s surgery.

It’s been a painful, life-changing process, and yet I pray that once this stripping has taken place, our skin—and our very breath–will be a closer representation of the heart of God.

What did God teach you during your hardest trials?


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A New Foundation

4339_510613341082_1370885_n I clean blood from behind my husband’s ears with our daughters’ tearless shampoo.

Muddy shoes on the front porch, his truck parked where he left it after planting apple trees, putting his t-shirts away and then wearing one just so I can feel close while I sleep without him beside me.

I trace the thick blue line dividing his skull and dab the incisions with antibacterial soap. He bows his head, and I pour water over it, a baptism of life.

I wipe his scalp dry and wrap arms around him—my larger-than-life man, reduced. He holds me close, closer than he has held me in a long time. Maybe years.

He says, wry smile unchanged, “Bet you never thought you’d have to do this.”

I focus on the sunlight pouring through the bathroom window. Swallow hard. “I’m just glad I can.”

Sawdust from his renovations, scattered water glasses never reaching the sink, orange hunting vest stuck behind washer. Each a treasured reminder and not a nuisance: he’ll be back.

We lie side by side in the guest bed downstairs—a constellation of glow-in-the-dark stars strewn across the ceiling from the previous owner. “We’re beginning again,” I tell him, cradling his scars.

And we are. It took a CAT scan, a call, a speed-filled drive down unlit streets to strip away the silt of busyness and petty irritations. At the end of an old year, to build our marriage anew.

10885429_674380490402_8705928970943175198_n Thank you so much for all of your prayers and love. Randy’s brain tumor was a benign (non-cancerous) hemangioblastoma. We return to the hospital on Monday for some follow-up appointments.


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The Day That Will Forever Mark Our World

Daddiesgirl “Where are you?” the nurse asked, shining a flashlight into my husband’s eyes.

“La Crosse, Wisconsin.” He winced. “The hospital.”

“And why are you here?”

“I have a brain tumor,” he said.

I turned away—eyes stinging—and stared down at the wet street, four floors below.

My husband has a brain tumor. Eight o’clock tomorrow morning he will undergo surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain—or actually this morning, for I am sitting on the cold bathroom floor in his hospital room, typing and pumping milk at 3:17 a.m.

I am at a loss to understand what I have just learned. On Christmas morning, my husband and I were post-road trip weary, eating buckwheat pancakes and drinking coffee, and now I could be a widow. At twenty-eight. With two young girls to tend and a solar-powered farm located almost six hundred miles from our immediate family.

When we were dating, I forced my husband to get a PET scan because he had two lumps on his neck. He heeded my pleas, although I’m a known hypochondriac, and my fears were unfounded. You see, I feared losing him before he was even mine. Now, that he is mine, I cannot contemplate such a loss without feeling like I am losing a part of myself.

But I fear the loss of him for our children more. He can withstand almost anything—has withstood the unknown pressure on his brain for weeks without one Tylenol for the debilitating pain—but even mentioning our girls makes my larger-than-life husband weep.

I weep as well, silently, or not so silently—mashing my face in the hospital’s towel-like bedding so I can appear strong, struggling for the right thing to say to someone who knows my words before they’re spoken, amazed that I am able to ingest air when one of my worst fears has come true.

I am honestly beyond the point of putting all of this into succinct sentences—to drum up some inspirational message behind this life-altering ordeal—and yet, I do know that I am so unbelievably grateful that I have moved to Wisconsin with my husband and therefore fulfilled one of his life-long dreams.

I am grateful we have spent eight solid weeks in our little solar-powered house—with scattered toddler toys and sawdust confetti, with electrical mishaps, a creaky windmill, and a boardless barn.

I am grateful that we have lived and worked side by side, as we have always dreamed.

These past weeks of cold, and sometimes discomfort, now warm me to the core and give me strength to get up off this bathroom tile and get ready for a day that will forever mark our world.

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We covet your prayers during this difficult time.


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Don’t Judge…Lest You Have The Same Kind of Child

Blond Boy Crying He was a painter with a lazy smile; she was a weaver who wore sweaters that would shrink to child-sized if caught out in the rain. They came into our grocery store at random times of day to buy our almond butter and flaxseed oil, so that my husband and I wondered if they ever worked at all.

They had a son between them, named Sebastian, who was the kind of creative prodigy you might expect from a union such as theirs. But Sebastian, honestly, was also a bit of a brat.

He would scream and thrash in the cart, which Painter-dad had sanitized before threading Sebastian’s stocky legs between the rungs. Sebastian would leave Hansel and Gretel trails of whatever organic snack he was consuming while Mom shopped for tahini and vanilla bean paste.

Despite the verbal abuse they received—and sometimes I received if I was stocking that aisle—Mom and Dad made sure to never raise their voices at Sebastian but to always utter very loud excuses to cover for him:

He was tired. He was thirsty. His stars were not aligned. His playdate for highly intelligent children had not gone so well that morning.

Around six or so months later, Sebastian’s mom and dad started to unravel.

Painter-dad’s lazy smile grew tight. Silver started threading his surfer-dude hair. Weaver-mom started buying pounds of humdrum, no-fair-trade coffee, which she’d surreptitiously slide across the counter like she was purchasing drugs.

Then, one day, Sebastian wanted something with hydrogenated oil and MSG. Painter-dad said no. Sebastian said yes.

With enthusiasm.

Painter-dad grabbed the desired foot-long beef jerky strip and struck his son’s backside. Over and over again. Sebastian screamed like he was being beaten with a two by four.

Perhaps seeing our agape mouths, Painter-dad straightened and calmly returned the beef jerky strip to the display across from the check-out line.

After they left, my husband and I darted into the warehouse and laughed ourselves sick.

Well, guess who has an almost three-year-old and is not laughing now . . .

The other day I was feeling particularly adventurous (thanks to the almond butter on my sprouted wheat toast and fair trade coffee), so I decided to give my toddler a bath the same day I bathed her baby sister.

The bath itself went fine: I scrubbed behind her ears and got her head titled just right so the tearless Jason shampoo wouldn’t run into her eyes.

And then I tried to get her dressed. She, of course, thrashed as I fed her arms and legs through the necessary holes. I brushed her teeth by counting to ten through my gritted ones, and then I tried to brush her hair.

Have mercy. My darling toddler made Sebastian of the beef-jerky-fame look as docile as Tiny Tim.

She screamed as I tried combing through her curls without nicking her ears. She cavorted in my arms and threw herself down on the (thankfully carpeted) floor. The noise awoke my napping infant, so she added to the increasing hullabaloo.

My blood pressure sky-rocketed; my palms grew slick. I grabbed my toddler and bracketed her hips with my knee caps as I hauled the brush through her hair. She banshee-shrieked and twisted out of my hold.

I took that brush and smacked her behind. Hard.

My heart and mouth dropped. And though my toddler and infant continued crying, it was as if I couldn’t hear them. Instead, I could see myself—years ago—laughing at that painter-dad who’d spanked his toddler with a beef jerky stick.

I was not above him. If anything, I was worse. I had sworn to myself that I would never, ever strike a child out of anger. For the first two (almost three) years of my daughter’s life, I had lived up to that promise. And then I’d struck her. And, boy, I’d been angry!

All I’d wanted was to brush her hair. To make her presentable and then take her downstairs and feed her organic food and then take her out for a playdate so she could be the most socially adapted child on the . . . dairy farm.

Instead, I’d snapped. Just like Sebastian’s parents, I’d placed too high expectations on myself and on my firstborn—demanding that I be this perfect Mom and she be this perfect child, when it should have been perfectly acceptable if she wanted to walk around all day with unbrushed hair.

I am not saying it was all right for my toddler to throw a temper tantrum; I am saying it was not all right for me to join her.

I should have remained the adult regardless of her childish behavior—guarding my tongue and my temper, brushing her hair, and then closing the door between us until she and I had calmed down.

So, the next time my toddler breaks out a Sebastian tantrum, I’m going to attempt to remain the adult. And then—her bedroom door closed—I’m going to sprint downstairs for a strong cup of humdrum, no-fair-trade coffee.

Parents, what advice do you have for us with toddlers?


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An Unexpected Gift

11058_667829338962_7230235226190537747_n There is a sense of detachment—almost timelessness—about our new homeplace in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin. I used to have stress dreams about Ebola, but now I have stress dreams about getting my wash in off the line before it snows.

My husband has also commented on this shift. Once addicted to the news, he no longer keeps track of the headlines. I am aware that some of this head-in-the-snow oblivion might be unhealthy, but we are so focused on our day-to-day existence that we have lost touch with larger world events.

Will the sun shine long enough to warm the radiant floor heating, so that my socks grow damp with the condensation covering the floor like a glossy sheen? Will my husband get venison on his hunt in the morning? Do we have enough kindling stockpiled to last us until the end of the week?

Despite numerous projects arising around the house and farm, our stress level remains low . . . almost nonexistent. It causes me to wonder if God didn’t intend for us to be so plugged into the world’s daily woes but to instead focus on our own small world around us.

If everyone shifted their gazes from their computer monitors, iPhones, and TV screens and instead looked around at the needs of the community around them, our world would be a different—possibly better—place, devoid of the allure of hard-bitten news.

Yesterday, Black Friday, I was especially aware of the wonder of the simple life. While consumerism was heralded across the nation, my toddler daughter and I bundled up and tromped out into the snow.

The sky was a brilliant, wind-swept clear that caused you to squint against the glittering backdrop of snow covering the striped traces of cornfields. Taking the serrated knife I’d wrapped with a kitchen towel, I cut down pine boughs and split branches of honeysuckle berry.

My daughter and I carried our treasures back to the house—she wanting to venture into the “deep” six inches of snow and then back onto the plowed driveway, so our steps looked like those made by inebriated men.

Inside, we shed our layers, put on Christmas music, and sipped peppermint tea while we turned the boughs and branches into holiday bouquets to decorate the house.

It was such a beautiful, priceless moment that I felt the joy of it to my fingertips. I realized then that I came here to the Driftless Region because I knew it was one of my husband’s lifelong dreams, and yet now that I am here, I am finding that a foreign land is already beginning to feel like home.

Have you ever found that something you were bracing yourself for actually became an unexpected gift?


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Embracing The Master’s Brush

imagesZCCLK33Q Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Well, this week I tackled painting for the first time in eleven years.

We’re not talking Pablo Picasso painting—I’ve never been quite brave enough to tackle that—but the humdrum, slap-paint-on-a-wall kind of painting that had me kneeling over a bucket of Benjamin Moore classic cornsilk on Tuesday, feeling like I might faint.

You see, the last time I painted I was seventeen years old. I was in Bogota, Colombia, working with the Petersheim family (my husband and I weren’t even dating back then) to transform an entire floor of an orphanage with a few cans of oily green paint.

Within three days, I was so covered with green that I resembled the Wicked Witch of the West, and the walls looked even worse than I did.

Afterward, I did a kindness for humanity and hung my paint brush up for—what I believed was—good. Some people just don’t have the knack for painting, and I was one of them.

But last week, knack or not, necessity made me tackle painting again.

My husband is in the midst of putting closets in the “master” bedroom of our solar-powered house. And then he is going to put a bathroom downstairs, so we’re not constantly lugging a thirty pound toddler up and down them for every hint of a tinkle.

Needless to say, it’s going to be a long time before my husband can tackle superfluous to-do’s, such as my rabid need to paint our stairs green.

So, on Monday I went to Home Depot and picked out my paint. On Tuesday, while both my girls were napping, I taped off the trim and used a butter knife to pop the top on my can of cornsilk.

Then, paintbrush in hand, I stared down at my tray of smooth yellow and tried to understand how to get it on the wall. My husband chose this moment to clomp downstairs.

I said, “I think my heart might explode.”

He glanced over at me, pulling his toboggan hat down over his ears. “Why?”

“What if I mess up?”

He shrugged, pulling on his gloves. “Then we’ll just paint over it again.”

My husband’s main motivation for saying this was, no doubt, the fact that he wanted to go hunting and figured he’d prefer to fix whatever mistakes I made while he was gone rather than giving up his limited time in the woods.

Still, he made it all seem so simple. If I messed up, we could just paint over it again.

Over the past two weeks, there have been moments I’ve feared that we’ve “messed up” by moving twelve hours away from our families.

These are often the moments I’m also missing my dryer and my predictable thermostat. My garbage disposal and my granite countertops. My soaking tub with its endless supply of hot water and my closet that was so deep, walking through it felt like I might wander into Narnia.

But then I realize that God is present even in those moments when I’m staring down at my tray of paint, trying to figure out how to slap the next layer on my life’s wall.

We can make mistakes that are almost impossible to cover up, and yet I don’t believe God wants His children to be debilitated by so much fear that we never accept change.

He wants us to embrace the full palette of our years, using them for His honor and glory, so that when we come to the end of our life, we can see every stroke of the Master’s brush.

What changes would you make to your life’s palette if you knew that you couldn’t “mess up”?


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