change

On Getting Married Too Young

When you fall in love at 19, people talk. People think that you’re naïve. That you’re too young to understand love and commitment. And if you choose to marry young then you shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t work out.

So we waited. We waited until we were 22. And still, people talked. They said, “When you marry young you still have so much growing to do. You’ll change. He’ll change. You might become totally different people.”

After five years of marriage I can say that they were right.

We are different people and Lord knows I’ve changed. Sometimes I feel guilty that this woman who shares your bed now is not the girl you married. It feels like false advertising. As though I promised you one thing and delivered another.

But then, you’re not the boy I married either. And I love you more because of it.

See, love is not one fixed shape. It’s elastic. It stretches like a balloon or a gum bubble or the belly of a woman around the body of her child. Its parameters are set by the beloved.

Maybe marriage starts with “I love who you are now, today, in this moment,” but it is also, “I will love who you become.”

Marriage means our roots are intertwined. No matter which direction you grow, you can only go so far from me. We are hopelessly tangled. And this is a miracle. This is why we say that marriage is holy. Because it requires an act of God.

I will change and you will change and we may grow in different ways that are impossible for us to imagine. But love will grow as we do. Sometimes it will grow easily and naturally. Sometimes it will require work, like a master gardener prunes and weeds and coaxes a sapling. It might be hard, but hard and bad are not the same thing, Love.

After more than eight years of loving I can see that every change in you is a gift to me. I get to discover a new part of you, and the more I know you, the more I love you. It makes me wonder if the people who grow bored with their relationships are simply the people who stop changing.

Yesterday you asked me for something simple and easy to give and I snapped. I sighed. I exaggerated. I may have even stomped my feet. But after a few minutes I came back. I was embarrassed. I apologized.

And you wrapped your arms around me and lifted my feet from the ground, which always makes me feel small even on a fat day. Then you put one hand behind my head and planted the other on the small of my back and pressed me into your body. We swayed back and forth in our little kitchen without any music and I fell in love for the thousandth time.

Note: The photographer for this picture can now be found at http://www.grainandcompass.com

Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That (catching the anti-baby bug, or an update on the state of my uterus)

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a mommy. Not only did I play with baby dolls from toddlerhood to embarrassingly far into my preteen years, but I also routinely made lists of the names I would give my children, updating them as my tastes matured.*

Not only did I want kids, I wanted a lot of them. Six! With a set of twins! Preferably redheaded! I said before I understood the dark realities of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing. By the time I graduated from college I had bagged myself a red-headed sperm-donor husband and had brought my hopes down to the more reasonable goal of three to four biological children and at least one adopted child to break up all the little redheads.**

I wasn’t entirely naïve. I had done A LOT of babysitting in high school and college. Mostly with very young children. At one point my senior year I was getting up at 5:30 AM to watch kids for a few hours before school, heading to another family’s house from 10:30 – 3:30, and then finishing my day with a third family from 4:00-6:30. And after college I worked for a year as a full-time nanny, which I extensively chronicled earlier on this blog. I got burnt out and exhausted from working with small kids all the time, but no matter how tough it got, never once did I waver in my conviction that I wanted to have kids of my own someday.

About a year ago I got baby bug in the worst way. Everyone was getting pregnant and having babies and, being in a meaningless corporate job at the time, I found myself wishing for motherhood more than ever before. I knew that the timing wasn’t right. And I knew that the sudden, overwhelming urge to quit my job and grow a baby was not a good enough reason to bring a human into the world. But the logic of the situation did not stop me from hoping against hope that the baby fever was God’s way of preparing me for a surprise pregnancy. And even though I wasn’t trying to get pregnant (in fact, I was actively preventing) I still managed to feel disappointed every month when it became clear that God had not miraculously intervened and made my body defy science and logic to conceive anyway. Jonathan and I agreed that we would re-visit the topic of baby-having in a year or so and see how we felt about it then.

For several months I continued to have baby-on-the-brain. Then I decided that if getting pregnant in a year or so was a possibility, I should probably do all of the things I really wanted to do pre-baby. Hence the commencement of Operation Lily Runs a Marathon and Operation Lily Goes to Grad School. I really wanted to undertake Operation Lily Travels the World, but sometimes even I have to be an adult and realize that I can’t have everything, so I settled for last summer’s vacation to the Dominican Republic and my marathon trip to Disneyworld. I also decided that before I had kids I wanted to be healthier, which led me to a radical diet change where I cut all sugar and starch from my diet and started eating lean meats and vegetables. I lost 20 lbs in 7 weeks and have a lot more energy and much fewer health problems than I did before.

I’ve made a lot of changes and a lot of progress over the past year: I quit my job, started grad school, ran a marathon, changed my diet and lost weight, did some travel, grew out my hair, and stopped biting my fingernails. But something else changed too. Starting in about October and growing steadily ever since has been a strong feeling that I no longer want to have kids. Not just right now. Maybe not at all. Ever.

If you know me at all, you know how weird that is. Like I said before, all I have ever REALLY wanted in my life is to one day be a mommy. I mean, I’ve wanted to have a meaningful job and a good marriage and to write and help others and all of those things too, but even when some of those things have been unclear or I have felt directionless, I’ve always had this deep desire for motherhood someday to hold onto.

In fact, my desire to be a mother has driven me to the point of fear sometimes. Thinking of having a house full of kids has made me feel a lot of pressure to figure out what I want to do career-wise as fast as possible because I don’t feel I will have the luxury of going back to school or trying to figure that out once I start having kids. I have put a lot of pressure on myself to get these things figured out because, after all, I’m 25, and if I really want to have 4 kids, I’m going to have to get started on that in the next few years.

But for the last 4-5 months I’ve found myself wondering if I really want to have kids, and I’ve concluded that what I really want is to have babies, not children. In other words, I love the idea of carrying a baby and then having this tiny little creature who is part of Jonathan and part of me and part something all his own. But I don’t want to bring an 8-year-old to dance class or fight with a 10 year old about cleaning his room. And I certainly don’t ever want to have a teenaged son.

Frankly, there’s a part of me that doesn’t even understand what the point is of having children. I know most of you won’t get this, but sometimes I think, “I could spend most of my life raising these kids who may or may not turn out to be good people, regardless of how good of parents Jonathan and I are, and for what? So they can go out and have their children that they spend their lives raising those kids so that those kids can grow up and have their own families.” There’s just something inherently narcissistic about it to me. I mean, if we just wanted children out of a desire to give of ourselves and our love and raise great men and women to right the wrongs of the world, there would be no more orphans. We would look at these millions of parentless children and find exactly what we were looking for. But that’s not all. We might want those things, but we also want mini-me’s made in our own likenesses.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that there are parents in the world. After all, if my parents had felt this way, I would never have existed. And I like existing. I’m just not sure that, for me, the reasons above are good enough reasons to have children. I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting and how, to do it correctly, it really does require you to sacrifice everything for the sake of your kids. I see the family I work for now where the parents aren’t willing to self-sacrifice for the kids, and how their kids suffer for it even though they have all the material wealth in the world.

And I look at my own family. I have two parents whom I respect and admire deeply. Not once in my life have I ever doubted that they loved my siblings and I and that every parenting decision they made was genuinely out of a desire to do the best for us. And yet, I look at my siblings and me – my brother who has wrestled with addiction for at least 10 years, my sister, whose entire understanding of her world has been rocked to its core since leaving home, and me, who has lived believing that my best would never be good enough and that no matter how good I was and how hard I worked, fault would be found in me. My youngest sister is on the brink of adulthood now and we have yet to see the things she carries.

My point in saying all of this is not to rag on my parents. It’s to point out that even having some of the hardest-working, most self-sacrificing, godly and loving parents in the world, we have reached adulthood deeply scarred. If this is the reality for a family so committed to raising their children well and loving them deeply, I am utterly terrified to think of what I, a much more selfish person than either of my parents, might do to my theoretical children.

When I started to articulate how I am feeling about all of this, it sort of freaked me out. I mean, I have ALWAYS been the one who loved kids and couldn’t wait to have a family. And more than that, I’m really good with kids, especially really little kids. It’s one of my main skills – something I pride myself on. Jonathan and other close friends are convinced that this is a phase I am going through and that I won’t feel like this forever.*** They might be right and that will be ok. It may be a phase I am going through that will last 6 months or a year and then it will fade away and I will go back to the way I was before. But for now, this is where I’m at and I’m embracing it instead of fighting it.

So what does the future look like for the girl who spent her whole life planning on being a mommy only to discover that she might not want to be one? Honestly, from right here it’s looking pretty unlimited.

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* If I had named my kids at age 11 they would have been called Chloe and Oliver. But then, of course, we named our dog Chloe so I couldn’t use that one anymore.
**Because I am convinced that all of our children will be redheaded, recessive genes be damned!
***At least, Jonathan is certainly hoping that’s the case. I can’t really blame him, I mean it’s sort of false advertising for him to pick a wife based on the fact that she wants to bear him 4 sons, only to find out after the deal is sealed that she really doesn’t want any. Bad form, Me. He has assured me that he will still love me if I do not bear said sons. But I can tell he still thinks the whole thing will blow over.

The Wrong Person: Sometimes the Source of All my Problems is Me

Fall in North Carolina is glorious. For nearly three months if I sat up tall in my chair and looked through the pane of glass that makes up one wall of my cube, and through the open door of the executive’s office across from me and out through his window, I could see the rolling ribbons of saffron and rust and candy apple red trees running over the hills below us. And then, suddenly, in what felt like one afternoon, all of those precious jewels of leaves gave up and fell, leaving behind skeleton trees with their lonely, brittle branches.

This past weekend I celebrated my 24th birthday. Or rather, I observed it. It didn’t feel like much of a celebration. This was the first birthday I haven’t looked forward to. The first one I’ve secretly wished wouldn’t come. I know that in the grand scheme of things I am still very young, but to me, this birthday, this day when I pause to note the passage of time, to acknowledge the days of my life slipping away, I felt disappointed and somewhat afraid. Disappointed that life isn’t what I hoped it would be. Afraid that it never will be.

I live a small life. A life I could step out of at any moment leaving very little behind me. It often feels like a life lived on a stationary bike where I peddle myself into a sweaty exhaustion without having actually gone anywhere. If my 18-year-old self saw me now, she would think I was a complete loser.

Several months ago, my mom sent me this book:

When I first started reading it, I found it so difficult to digest I had to put it down for several weeks. This book is written by a woman whose words speak to my brokenness and to my discontentment and offer another way. I see the beauty of her ideas, and the transformation God brought about in her life. She speaks about being thankful, something I blogged about myself in my last post several months ago. And yet, I often hate this woman. If I were to write her a letter, it would probably look something like this:

Dear Ann Voskamp, you write about seizing the gifts of everyday life in spite of the monotony with such beauty and power. And you have had your share of hardships, so I appreciate your struggle. But you live on a farm with the wonderful sweet earth under your feet and you cook your meals out of food your family has grown themselves. You have the miracle of six beautiful children you spend your days raising and teaching and loving. And yet you’ve managed to maintain your career as a writer. You have an incredibly successful book and a blog that thousands of people read and you do pieces for several major publishers. You also advocate for Compassion International which means you both help the poor and get to travel to amazingly beautiful exotic locations to do so. Dear Ann Voskamp, you live the literal exact life I dream for myself on a daily basis. This is the life you chose. What do you really have to be so discontent with?!

Perhaps, somehow, as incomprehensible as it is to me, this isn’t the life Ann dreamed of. Or perhaps her message speaks more to the ways we in our sinfulness make ourselves miserable no matter how ideal our situation is. The ways in which, truthfully, even when we have everything we could ever wish for, we can still dare to be discontented.

I love North Carolina. I love the beauty of our surroundings. I love our colorful little apartment. I love our church and the friends we have made. I feel so good about this place we are in. I don’t think this is the wrong place. I think perhaps I am the wrong person.

Many of my blogs have to do with being discontent, with searching for contentment and recognizing that I must learn to be content where I am and to see the gifts God has for me each day, but right now that doesn’t seem like it will ever be enough.  Because honestly, I want to be joyful where I am, but I don’t really want to be content where I am. Because I don’t want to stay here. And I’m afraid I will grow content in being purposeless. I don’t want to embrace a directionless life. I don’t want to turn 25 in a year still working a soulless job because I need the money, unable to get out of the rut.

I know the things that I love: words, reading and writing them, making people feel good about themselves, baking delicious things and giving them to people and that moment when they take a first bite and smile. Going to new countries and experiencing new cultures. Cuddling babies and the imaginations of small children.  Making my home lovely, and sharing it with my sweet husband.

These are all of the things I dream of, and to me, they don’t seem like such outrageous things to want. And yet, just this weekend my computer got a virus and died forever and one of the cars broke and needed hundreds of dollars of repairs. And these things feel like something heavy is pressing down on me, making it difficult for my lungs to take in enough precious oxygen, let alone give life to dreams. So I push the dreams aside. I become responsible. I do the things that must be done to make ends meet. And I wait and I pray that one day I will become the right person. Because until then, I think I will always be discontent, even if I suddenly got everything I ever wanted.