Before God and These Witnesses

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The days leading up to it were crazy. At one point I said to Tim, “This whole thing is reminding me why I wanted to elope.”

January 13th came and my stomach was in knots. My husband told me it was just my sympathy nerves, but I think there was also a fear that something would go wrong, that it might not be special enough for the sister I love.

Now I’m standing on the other side, trying to describe what it was like. All I’m getting is a picture of her face. Jess. Simple, beautiful, loving, selfless, God honoring, Jess. I’ve become convinced that the reason she is all I see is because the day was like her. Simple, beautiful, full of love and generosity, and, above all, focused on Jesus Christ.

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The ceremony vacillated from solemn to joyful. The bride and groom randomly giggled, their joy was so effervescent. As the vows started, Jessica passed her bouquet back to Deborah to have her hands free, and got caught in a snippet of conversation. Winston was already speaking his vows, and the room erupted in laughter when he tugged Jessica back.

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As Dad spoke the words that would end the ceremony, I watched Winston’s eyes widen in disbelief. He mouthed something that looked a lot like, “Wait, that’s it?” as though he couldn’t believe they were now actually married. The two of them began to laugh again.

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Dad furrowed his brow, “What’s funny?”

Winston shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Oh.” Dad shrugged. “I thought I said something funny and didn’t know it. That happens sometimes.”

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Thus two families became one, and love swung its arms around us all. Love that originated in Austin, Texas, where God began to write the story of Jessica Svendsen and Winston Terry.

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The day was a together-happiness that began and ended with praise and worship to Jesus Christ. He wrapped us all in his embrace, a new family here on earth and a forever family in Him.

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Meeting the newborn

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Best Man and Maid of Honor speeches

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Their turn comes this summer ❤

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Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Winston Terry. I love you both. ❤

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I Am Resolved

When the new year looms in December people begin to reevaluate how they spent the past year. We look over the good and bad and decide what needs to change. I think what turned me off to New Years Resolutions was hearing too many people say something like, “Okay, so I really need to stop kicking baby goats. Oh look! January is two weeks away. I can kick a few more goats between now and midnight January first, but then I’ll stop for good.”

The idea of “new year, fresh start” is lovely, but every day is a fresh start and every moment you’re breathing an opportunity to try again. Why procrastinate addressing your bad habits if you know it needs to change now. Personally, I stopped doing New Years Resolutions and switched to setting yearly goals. This gives me a years worth of time to break my habits so I don’t have to hate myself when, one week into the new year, I’ve screwed up my diet and have to start over.

I started this new practice in 2015 by writing my 2016 goals down in my journal and dove into the year with gusto. Unfortunately, I made my goals unachievable by overloading myself. When December 31st came I was pregnant, flat on my back, and desperate to keep fluids down. I thought, If pregnancy is going to be this difficult, I’d better make my goals smaller, so I won’t end 2017 feeling like such a failure. I made two goals for the year: 1) live through pregnancy 2) spend more time with God.

Unless this post has been literally ghostwritten, I lived through pregnancy (HURRAY! *throws confetti*). In reality my survival of pregnancy was never in question (though at the time it felt touch and go) so that goal was like those already completed items you put on your “to-do” list just so you can tick them off. This means I really only had one goal.

And to be honest, I flunked it.

It’s arguable that any time is more time, but that wasn’t what I meant. I have always fought against myself to have regular daily time spent on my personal relationship with God. Pregnancy was hard and exhausting, motherhood equally so. I feel like I’ve been non-stop sick since I was three weeks pregnant. It’s frustrating and humiliating and all the more reason to fall into the arms of my creator and father. But I didn’t, not really.

So December 31st rolls past and I’ve failed again, failed to even do the equivalent of a weekly 20 minute phone call to the God who loves me more than I can understand.

Two days later, I’m thinking it over, and the hot tight sensation of panic starts to settle into my chest. I realize I’ve stopped caring. I’ve given up and just don’t care about anything of eternal weight. I’m too tired, frustrated, and drained from everything I’ve been through in 2017. I had so many moments in the past four months where I didn’t even want my next breath that I’ve forgotten the value of time. The panic attack starts. My mind is on fire with self loathing and pity. I wanted to wake my pastor-to-be husband and have him pray over my wayward, sinful self so that I could find hope and salvation.

Then I remembered why I didn’t make New Years Resolutions.

My yearly goal method had become the same limping cop-out that I rolled my eyes at in other people. I was chain smoking my way to midnight with an “I’ll fix it tomorrow” attitude. Tomorrow I’ll spend time with God. Tomorrow I’ll pray. Tomorrow I’ll start reading my Bible. Tomorrow, when I’m less exhausted, less sick, less frustrated, less depressed.

Tomorrow when I have less time.

I stopped waiting. I prayed:

Father,
You know I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. You know I’ve a list of bad habits that could circumnavigate the globe, but I’m here now. Forgive me. I know we’re going to have to do this again, maybe even tomorrow, but you just keep waking me up to what matters. It doesn’t matter if I have to fight through 365 panic attacks this year if at the end of every one we talk until I fall asleep. At least then I’ll have spent more time alone with you.

I had a frank conversation with the God who loves me, the most important relationship in my life that I’d been neglecting. I didn’t wake my husband to do it for me. I stopped and right then spent time alone with God.

I resolved to start over, and immediately did. And that’s what I’m going to keep doing until I get it right, even if I’m doing it with each breath for the rest of my life.

Five Years Later

Everyone has “are you kidding me?” moments with their parents. One of mine is when my mother told me that she and my father were actively trying to stop me from marrying my husband.

Defiance wasn’t an option in my childhood home. The severity of consequences for even the smallest infraction left me with a fear and mistrust of my parents that lingers to this day. So you can guess my incredulity when my mother told me I’d been allowed to defy them. Perhaps they hoped our relationship would just fall apart naturally, like the other three romantic relationships within the family that they’d destroyed with silence.

But this guy wouldn’t go away so easily.

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I really wasn’t sure if my mother meant what she was saying, so I probed her. Her responses came with a level of pride that left me in no doubt of her sincerity. I could imagine a parent drawing themselves up with dignity to inform their child that they “never liked that fellow anyway” if their child had been sobbing about wrongs done and the need for retribution, but not when the couple is still very much content in their mutual love.

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I asked for reasons, but none of them made any sense to me. In fact, her complaints were opposite of facts. “He’s not spiritual enough.” “He has no respect for you.” “He’s irresponsible.” It was like they’d never met him, and we dated almost five years before we got married. He is now, as he was then, the sweetest, most caring, and supportive person I have ever met, a sentiment more confirmed by the sandwich at my elbow which he just made for me after stacking wood outside in the freezing cold for over an hour.

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I thought about this conversation with my mother while Timothy and I were at dinner on Thursday, celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary. I thought about all the beauty and the pain we’ve been through in almost ten years together.

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Our first kiss in a parking lot before a Patriots baseball game
The loss of our first child
The birth of our baby girl
The way he used to shove his hand down into my glove because he wanted to hold my hand, not my glove
Struggling together through my panic disorder and suicidal depression
Setting up our first apartment
Taking long walks
Watching sunsets
Getting up early to watch the sun rise over the ocean
Setting off fire alarms with smoky dinners
And how nervous he was to propose to me, even though he knew there was only one answer for both of us.

Yes. Yes then and yes now. Yes for always and always and every day for the rest of my life.

So here’s to you, darling, for being the best reason ever to leave my home and defy my parents, and for giving me the home and family I never dreamed I would have.

Happy anniversary. Happy ever after.

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Braxton Hiccup

It was around 6p.m. on August 7th, 2017. I was eating the chili I’d made, watching a soccer game with my husband, and the Braxton Hicks that I’ve been feeling all day are not going away with water and elevated feet. In fact, they were starting to hurt a little.

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Photo actually taken while I was in early labor. Pain level greatly exaggerated.

I looked at Tim. “Honey.”

He put a spoonful of chili in his mouth and mumbled a “Hmph?”

“Maybe we should start timing these. They’re hurting a little.” Then I added hurriedly, “Not a lot. Just a little. Like a dull far away ache.” I was still 38 weeks pregnant and in prime false alarm territory. The last thing I wanted was to be “that pregnant lady,” waddling into the hospital at zilch centimeters dilated. Though I suppose I wouldn’t have seen the maternity nurses shaking their heads derisively at me when I waddled my way back out.

Tim just nodded at me as he opened up the contraction app. He’d downloaded it over a week before and had already been playing with it when I had bouts of Braxton Hicks. But those went away when I drank water and put my feet up. These…

After about an hour he says, “They’re coming 6 to 10 minutes apart for about 30 seconds each.” We looked at each other for a minute.

“It’s probably nothing,” I said.

“Maybe,” he replied, his eyes beginning to brighten with anticipation.

I chewed my lip, and said slowly, “but still, maybe we should finish packing the hospital bag. You know, just in case.”

Tim nodded and we set to work. I stayed mostly seated with my feet up, telling him when the “not” contractions started. At around 8 o’clock, I was beginning to panic. I was texting the midwives, trying to sound calm, hoping they weren’t judging me, because clearly this was just a false alarm. Really! I mean, they were getting more painful, and closer together, but it wasn’t real. Statistics show that most first time mothers are at least a week late.

I called up my mother-in-law. My voice was shaking. “Hey Mom? How much longer are you going to be at Ikea?” An hour away. I felt like an idiot.

“We’re just finishing up. Why? What’s up?”

“Well…I…I mean it could be nothing. But we’re timing them and they’re pretty regular. And they kinda hurt. Just a little! Not a lot. Like a mild period cramp.”

“Oh Rachel!” I can hear the excitement in her voice and it turns my stomach. My fear unclenches a little when she assures me they’ll come right home. Even if it’s a false alarm, I’ll feel better if she’s in the house.

Two Benadryl and several hours later, I’m laying on the sofa downstairs in legit pain. Too much pain to sleep through pain. My mother-in-law and my husband are packing the car. I fall into a rhythm that only measures time in “how far apart are they now” increments. Then I’m getting down into the back seat of the car to start the ride I’ve been dreading.

The ride itself was not that bad. My contractions were still around 5 minutes apart, which means that for a 45 minute ride, I only had to deal with 9 of them. It was the mental part that plagued me. I was still terrified it was a false alarm (a ridiculous fear at that point based on all available evidence). Or worse, that it wasn’t, but I’d show up there and the midwives would tell me that I was only 1 cm dilated despite my increasing pain level.

This was all I could think about as they checked me in. This was all I could think about as I waited for the midwives to come and assess me. It sent my blood pressure through the roof and lessened my chance of coming off the monitors for a water birth. The exhaustion of already being without sleep since 5 am the previous morning was taking its toll too. These two things combined made me ask for an epidural and decline a room with a birth tub. I didn’t have the energy to “ride the waves” much longer.

After being assessed, I was told I was in active labor. No one told me how far dilated I was, probably because I’d told them I was afraid of not being dilated enough. I later discovered I was 4 almost 5 cm. By the time the anesthesiologist came in I was nearly 7.

Once the epidural was in place, I dozed through the rest of labor, but didn’t really sleep. It was hard to drop off when I knew that soon I’d be meeting my baby. I’d predicted that all those music playlists people insisted I’d want during labor would go unused. I wanted one of the two things I always knew I’d want. So Tim set up a soccer game, and we waited to the music of whistled off-sides and the faint cursing of spectators picked up by the cameramen.

At about 2:23 pm they handed me my screaming baby girl.

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I don’t remember what I said when they gave her to me. I think I may have told her I loved her. I know I tried to sing to her, but I was crying too much. I do remember thinking how shocked I was that her head was lovely and round. I had been warned that vaginal births often gave way to alien shaped heads. I remember thinking that she was massive and I couldn’t believe this huge, tiny person had been inside me until a moment ago.

And I remember noticing her hair. It was blonde. Very blonde. Platinum blonde. Everyone who saw her in the hospital remarked on it. Don’t ask me how, because I wasn’t aware I had any blonde genes. My husband has them, sure, but we’re all brunettes in my family, and more dark brown than light. Only time will tell how much it will change and darken, but right now it’s a remarkable mystery to me.

As they wheeled me from the birthing room to our recovery room, I passed the desk with the check-in nurses. They smiled at me. I lifted the baby a little and said in a tired voice, “Well, it wasn’t a false alarm.”

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My favorite blonde ❤

Book Review: “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

The first time I started this book, the beauty of Hannah’s writing took my breath away. I wanted to read it slowly, to give it the time it deserved and ended up having to return it to the library before I’d barely gotten a few chapters in. 

Then I waited for the audio book version. Once I started that, it still took me forever to finish it, not just because of how beautifully it was written, but because it made everything feel so real. 

And WWII was an ugly time. 

The story surrounds the lives of two sisters living in France during the Nazi occupation. Their upbringing was dysfunctional, broken by the loss of thier mother and their father’s inability to recover from his involvement in WWI. When war comes again to France, they both approach it differently, adding a dynamic of family tension to this story of bravery and survival.

Like many well done narratives about life during WWII, it is ripe with tragedy, truth, and hope. It was a hard read for me because the characters were all so real and lovely that I was constantly worried about thier wellbeing. I finally finished with tears in my eyes. While this story is fiction, I couldn’t help but be moved by the depiction of life during this time, the pain and struggle, and how so many people forgot their own wants and dreams to save the lives of strangers. 

Beautifully done and unforgettable, this novel was definitely worth the hype that drew me to it.

Book Review: The Genius of Ian Doescher

Timothy and I have been reading to each other since our dating years. We used to read each other to sleep over the phone, a practice that created more than a few interesting phone bills. Tim read me C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet and I read him My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier. On nights when my anxiety disorder was making sleep hard, he’d read me the book of Ruth. In fact, I asked him to read it so many times that he recorded it for me as a gift one Valentine’s Day. I would listen to it when I drove. He’s read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy to me, plus the Hobbit, and we’re about a third of the way into Seveneves by Neal Stephenson.

Our most recent conquest was to complete all six of Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars books.

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When watching the movies, we are part of the original trilogy first fandom, so we started our reading with Verily, a New Hope and ended with Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge.

The first trilogy was awesome. They were funny and clever and so very full of iambic pentameter. The author worked hard to follow the patterns Shakespeare followed in his plays, like lovers speaking to each other in rhyming couplets or random interjections of song. He also deviated at times to attempt to stay true to the Star Wars characters. For example, Doescher felt Yoda’s speech pattern from the movie sounded too close to iambic pentameter, so to distinguish his voice from all the other characters Yoda speaks in haiku. Some of our favorite passages were the ones that tightly mimicked famous scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, and the random soliloquizing of wampas and AT-AT’s.

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As someone who occasionally borders on denying the existence of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the prequel trilogy books in this series. I was, however, not surprised that my enjoyment of them was still inferior to those on the original trilogy. The Phantom of Menace made some cute jabs at inconsistencies that fans often complain about, like the technological differences between the two time periods, but as the series went on it made me laugh less and less. I think what changed my mind about them was when I realized that the story arch for the prequel trilogy really does mirror a tragedy. I just let myself enjoy the ironically Shakespearian nature of the events and stopped waiting for the next laugh.

These books were absolutely a treasure to read. Doescher’s knowledge of Shakespeare and love of Star Wars created a lovely set of books which appealed to both the nerdy literary and nerdy Star Wars sides of both of our natures. When Tim and I finished with the last one, we discussed the pros and cons of Doescher releasing a book on The Force Awakens before the entire trilogy is released. We both thought he should wait, for purposes of foreshadowing and other literary devices. However, we quickly discovered through Goodreads that it is already written, and The Force Doth Awaken is set to be released on October 3, 2017. Though we’re both a little dubious if this was his best move, we will still happily read it together once it’s released.

It’s bound to be excellent, regardless.

Book Review: “Dividing Eden” by Joelle Charbonneau

I noticed recently that I haven’t been reading a ton of Young Adult books as of late, I seem to be on more of a Middle Grade kick, but the book trailer for this novel really caught my eye.

I went online and immediately got in line to borrow this book from my library. I did it quickly enough that I was only 4th in line, not like Into the Water which I am currently still at waiting for at 46th.

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Note the soft fuzzy blanket and tissues. I had a bad cold when this was taken.

When it came, I cracked it open only to remember within the first chapter why it was that I took a break from YA books.

The premise of this book appeared unique. The tagline at the top of the book reads:

Two siblings. One crown. A battle that neither can win.

Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuunnnnnn…

I thought it would be a departure from the usual STRONG INDEPENDENT GIRL SHOVES OFF OPPRESSIVE MALES TO DESTROY ALL THE BAD GUYS that seems to be the thing in YA right now. Sibling rivalry over a throne? I was excited. Until about two pages in, when I discovered that Carys, one of the siblings, was a STRONG INDEPENDENT GIRL BEING HELD CAPTIVE BY AN OPPRESSIVE MALE SOCIETY. Locked in dresses. Hiding her ability to wield a knife. I sighed heavily and thought to myself, I wonder if she’ll destroy all the bad guys? A few pages later I met her twin brother, Andreus, who was the SUPER HANDSOME HAS A WAY WITH ALL THE WOMEN trope. All that was left was for me to meet whoever it was that was going to form the necessary love triangle, and I was set to go for another typical YA dystopian fantasy. *gives two thumbs up*

The first few chapters dumped a lot of confusing and random information. I think the author was trying to keep you up to speed on the relevant past of the characters, but she dropped these factoid bombs so suddenly that I felt like I was tripping over a new one whenever I’d begun to get involved in the story. The political intrigue I hoped for was minimal to lame. The world was a mishmash of a lot of elements I’ve seen done better in other books. The majority of the characters were forgettable or underdeveloped.

Ironically, the only character I found myself liking at all was the STRONG INDEPENDENT GIRL, because the author gave her a decent and believable flaw to struggle with. The development of this part of the plot did improve my enjoyment of the story, so despite my blah to negative feelings about this book, the author did manage to make me care enough about Carys that I may still read the next book in the series when it comes out.

I suppose that was her ultimate goal anyway, because in all honesty, this book read like a 300 page introduction to a series. The last couple chapters were, to me, the most interesting, but everything was left hanging with me hardly knowing or understanding most of the characters. Still, if she can hook you on just one thing, that’s all she needs to get you into the next book, right?

The next installment appears to be a novella with a release date of October 10, 2017. Only time will tell if my interest will hold until then.