the little things: the voicemail that saved my life (cathy meredith).

There’s not many times in your life when complete strangers become sought-after friends.  After realizing that a) we were related, and that b) our husbands shared the same name (and good-looking HBH genes), we said WE GOTTA DO THIS! and relished in the time they spent in San Francisco this past winter.  So I’m gonna warn you: Cathy’s got a beautiful story to tell, and you may just have tear-filled eye ducts at the end of today’s journey.  

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Evan, Cathy and James.

A voicemail. It was only one minute and eight seconds long…but it saved my life. It changed our lives. Forever.

It was just after 5 PM. I nervously collected my things that Thursday evening from my 1st grade classroom on Chicago’s south side. I had been thinking about this moment all day. I could not focus. I had survived another day with my rowdy group of 28 six year olds, as well as the professional development we had every Thursday after school. Finally, for better or worse, we would know. That voicemail had been sitting there waiting to be listened to for hours. I had promised my husband James that we would listen to it together. We were going to find out whether or not we were pregnant.

The road to this point had not been an easy one. It had stretched an interminable nine years. Nine years of trying to have a baby is a VERY LONG time. It wore on me…on us…on our relationship. It was this specter that hung over us. This other person that we wanted to be there that wasn’t, and whose absence we mourned every day…even though we had never met them. People asked us when we were first married, “When are you guys going to have a baby?” or “You just need to relax! It will happen when it’s supposed to happen.” Women would tell me what books to read, what time of the month to have sex, how I should prop my butt up with pillows afterwards. I became obsessed. I read every fertility book out there. Took all the advice I was given. Tried to not “think” about it. But how could I NOT think about it? It seemed that everyone I knew was getting pregnant. Why couldn’t we get pregnant? What was wrong? We were good people and would make great parents.

A few years stretched into many. Friends went on to have not just one baby, but many babies. Complete families…two and three kids or more. People stopped asking us, “When are you going to have kids?” It had been so many years, people either knew there was something wrong, or thought we didn’t want them. And still it was eating away at us. We saw many doctors…and they all gave the same diagnosis, “unexplained infertility”.

We stopped thinking about getting pregnant for several years. Lived in New York City, travelled, enjoyed just being married. Reconnected. Relaxed. Lived life. Tried acupuncture and herbal remedies in hopes of healing my body naturally. None of it led to a pregnancy. We started to seriously consider adoption.

In the spring of 2012, we thought we were pregnant…and then found out we weren’t. I called my mother. She said, “I am so sorry. I wish there was something I could do.” I cried…and cried. A deep cry down from the depths of my soul…a soul that was broken. I could not stop. I sat there in my Toyota Corolla, pulled over on the side of the road less than a mile from home, and cried with my mother on the other end of the line. I asked her, “Why is God doing this to me? Why? I don’t understand.” “I don’t know,” she said. “I really don’t know.”

After I hung up the phone, I sat there in my car and said a prayer out loud. I asked God to please, just give me ONE baby. Just one. I used to have dreams of a bigger family. I did not want my child to be an “only child” like I was. But I was in the bargaining stage. “Please God, just give me one baby. Just one. I will do whatever you want.”

On this Thursday evening, in our car, outside of my school…we would find out if God had heard and answered my desperate prayer that day. We nervously pressed play. “Hi Cathy, its Tina from Dr. Sherbahn’s office. I’m calling to let you know you had a positive HCG result today…so congratulations….”. She went on to say other things about follow up and coming in for an ultrasound…but it was all a blur. I was pregnant. I could not believe it. James looked at me with astonished joy…”We are pregnant, baby!” I felt like I was in a dream. I needed to be pinched. Was this really happening?

Since our son Evan was born on May 23, 2013, my life has been full of those “pinch me” moments. I take NOTHING for granted. Every little moment is a tear-inducing miracle. If almost a decade of infertility gave me anything, it was the gift of realizing that no moment is small. I cherish them all…every milestone, every cry, every laugh, every snuggle. He is our miracle.

P1030068Cathy Meredith is a full-time stay at home mom with her 11-month-old son, Evan.  Currently, Cathy and Evan are accompanying hubby/daddy James Vincent Meredith on his national tour of the musical, The Book of Mormon.  Before becoming a stay at home mom, Cathy worked as an elementary school teacher in the Chicago Public Schools for four years.  Prior to her career as a teacher, she worked for ten years in the not-for-profit world as a Program Director for an arts-education organization.  She loves travel, photography, being an amateur “foodie”, and writing (when she has time!).  You can find her on Facebook here.  So, what can you say to encourage our friend today?  Leave her love!

oh, that runaway bunny.

Today’s post originally appeared in the series “A Book that Helped Me Grow,” over at my friend Ginny’s blog. Click here to head on over to her site – and have fun getting to know Random Acts of Momness today!

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The inscription inside the worn cover is dated 1983, from Grandma Audrey and Grandpa Jack.   And at four years old, this was my book – the one that only sat on my shelf, the one I let dictate who got to open its pages.  Read the bunny book!  Read the bunny book!  I’d say to Mama, and she’d gladly oblige, reading the story of the little bunny that wanted to run away from his mother.  Again and again she turned the same pages, reading the same message for the umpteenth time: desirous of running away, the little bunny would become a crocus in a hidden garden, but, in return, the mama bunny would don farmer’s gear and gardening hoe.   He would become a sailboat, and “sail away from you!” but she would become the wind, blowing him where she wanted him to go.

Maybe I had a strong hankering for its words because the book was my special present, the one neither of my siblings could claim as their own.  Maybe it remained my favorite because I too dreamed of running away; I yearned for bravery akin to Huck Finn, the ability to survive an hour outside of the comforts of home.  But maybe I was drawn to the book because there was something about being sought after, about being so worth it that nothing would stop The Other from chasing after you. 

Years later, as a high school student, I found myself sitting in a room full of teenagers at an outreach camp.  We’d begun to hear the story of the God who loves us, who desires nothing more than to have a relationship with the children he already loves dearly.  And then a magical intertwining happened: at the end of the speaker’s talk one night, my book – my adventurous, wandering bunny – suddenly flashed on the screen before me.  Just like my mom had done for me, the man talking had read the same story to his children every night.  Then one night, upon reading it for probably the 300th time, it’d hit him: the Mother Bunny was a delightful picture of the God who chases after those he loves with wild abandon.  There exists a great Chase and Rescue mission we’re invited to participate in, no matter how hard our little bunny hearts try and run away, again and again.

A mother now, these same threads of wonder make me marvel at the complexity woven between the worn pages of my old book.  Every time my son requests I read that threadbare copy of The Runaway Bunny, I think of the One who chases after every single one of us.  I smile, my own heart warmed by the gentle reminder that I can do nothing but receive that same love of God, of my Mother Bunny. 

“Aw shucks,” [the little bunny declares at the end of the story, my own liberties taken with added exclamatory aw.]  “I might as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.” 

 And so he did.  “Have a carrot,” says the mother bunny.

 The End. 

For there the little bunny stays.  And I realize that it’s the same for me.

What about you?  What book from childhood can you NOT get out of your head and heart, no matter how hard you try?  And, have you ever thought about The Runaway Bunny in this way?  

Leaning into Friday (or Saturday, I suppose).

Today’s post originally appeared on State of Hospitality yesterday – but I think it’s still rather relevant to today.  This also links to Convergent Books’ Synchroblog, which you can join in through the 25th.  Happy Easter, friendlies! 

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I used to have a love-hate relationship with the weeks leading up to Easter. As a child, we didn’t participate in Lent; I’d see various friends arriving at school with a leftover smudge on their foreheads, and I’d wonder why they’d forgotten to wash their face this Thursday morning.

I’d say mmm-hmm when a Catholic buddy of mine lamented at having to give up ice cream or chocolate, meat or – true story – quesadillas in the forty days prior to Christ’s resurrection.

But for me, in the little Baptist church we found ourselves entrenched in, the Easter season seemed to arrive without fanfare. As children, we found ourselves seemingly shoved with palm branches on Sunday morning, made to make our way down the long aisle, waving and fanning and smiling our fronds to the adults sitting in the pews to the left and right. And then, just as it always seemed to do, the dreariness of the week ahead began to set in. I knew I’d have to hear the brutal story of One Man’s death on the cross, the nails driven into his hands, the way he cried out, without answer, to his dad.

It made me yearn for the arrival of Sunday morning.

I wanted to stop living in Friday. I wanted the hurt and pain and loneliness of that dreaded waiting period to return to triumphant hymns, to again hear the shouts of He has risen – He has risen indeed! I wanted the afternoon feast of ham and mashed potatoes and lemon meringue pie, just as I wanted the pretty new dress from J.C. Penney. I didn’t want to sit in the ugliness – I begged Beauty to return.

But now I kind of like it.

I love Jerusalem Jackson Greer’s words in A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together,as she chronicles the Easter season, and Holy Saturday in particular: “…I do my best to live in that place, that wax-crayon place of trust and waiting. Of accepting what I cannot know. Of mourning what needs to be mourned. Of accepting what needs to be accepted. Of hoping for what seems impossible.” Because when I actually sit in the waiting, in the mourning, in the accepting and in the hoping, then it makes Sunday morning all the more resurrected.

I then feel the joy that much more. I lean into the hope and I embrace the celebration and I believe in his peace, all over again, as if for the first time.   So this week, as you prepare for Sunday, might you also sit in the waiting pain of Friday.

What about you?  Are you like, Give me Good Friday or give me death (…wait a minute…), or are you a Resurrection Kid, all the way?  Or does all of this Easter-talk just make you want to mouth-puke a little?

this morning’s barista (& my messy beautiful).

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I stand in line at Starbucks, eyeing shelves filled with baked bliss, dreaming of caffeine’s ping! even though I’ve already gulped down my own lethal limit for the day.  When I get to the counter, I place my order, succumbing to decaffeinated second-place.

“I’ll have a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, and a tall decaf drip with room.”

The woman behind the counter stills, slightly stunned.  She punches a few buttons, murmuring “bacon, egg and cheese… bacon, egg and cheese…” to herself a couple of times.  It’s obvious she might just be figuring out to work this machine for the first time in her life.

“I’m sorry, and what else?” she says, not flustered in the least.  I look to my right, at the Advanced Green and White Veteran ringing patrons up, one after another, after another.  I yearn to be in her line.  I yearn to already have my cup o’ joe in hand, to already have placed my bum in the comfy leather chair, to already be typing away at the keyboard.

“And a decaf drip with room, for here,” I say, adding for here, self-congratulating my eco-savvy ways.  Now she looks confused.

“A what?”

“A decaf drip with room, for here,” I sputter, more emphatically this time.  Am I the one speaking a foreign language?  Now I’m starting to get confused: Do my words not make sense?  Have I officially become a mumbler in the last three minutes? And more importantly, am I dreaming?

She looks at the screen in front of her: “What does drip mean?”  she says aloud to the computer portal, leaning slightly to her left.

The computer answers her, in the form of the barista whose line I yearn to be in: “Decaf means it doesn’t have any caffeine in it, and it’s in that pot right behind you.”  She points, patiently showing her co-worker the orange-topped lid, perhaps for the fifth time that morning.

“And drip means regular coffee, the ones in those canisters.  Not from a machine,” she adds.  She nods to the girl, making sure she gets it before moving on to quickly – quickly! – help the next person in line, the 12th person to go through before I get my long-awaited steamy mug.

She is so patient.  I am so not.

I’m now leaning over the counter, pleading as I wave dollar bills in the general direction of the barista whose line I so desperately want to be standing in.  I raise my eyebrows.  I tilt my head to the side, like a puppy in need of attention from her master: Please help me, please help me, please help me – I just want you you you you you!!!  I’m desperate. Ring me upppppppp!!!  

But she pays me no heed.  I am the other girl’s patron.  She rings up another five people while I watch my barista move in slow motion.  My girl flies down to South America, and climbs up a ladder; she picks coffee bean pods by hand, one slow-motion finger at a time.  She flies northbound again, she roasts and grinds and adds hot water to the beans, one pithy moment at a time.

I now lay on the floor, salivating for morning delight.

Finally, she finishes, carefully, gingerly handing me the decaf drip with room, for  here, I’ve yearned after.  She smiles, as she should.  I frown, as I should.  St. Anne’s words echo in my mind: “Lord, grant me the serenity to change the things I cannot change …which is everybody else.”  I laugh a little bit to myself, the memory of Anne Lamott on stage pinching her back fat, for emphasis, for effect, still fresh in my mind.

And then it hits me: Perhaps Lamott’s words were merely meant to make me laugh.  Because sometimes, in the absurdity of humor, we find truth.

Truth be told, I’m the one refusing to smile at the absurdity of a Starbucks’ barista who doesn’t understand the definition of “drip.”  I’m the one not seeing the Beauty in this girl standing in front of me, who’s obviously trying her hardest.  I’m the one lacking patience, I’m the one who’s forgotten that the world does not revolve around her, I’m the one currently suffering from I Just Need To Be Right syndrome.  And I’m the one who’s simply forgotten her humanity, who’s refused to let bygones be bygones, who’s kept Grace to herself.

I’m the one who’s a beautiful mess. 

And that’s okay.  Because Beauty and Messy belong together.  They hold hands, and they hug.  They filter and sift through this absurd thing called Life side by side.  A sometimes we have to sit in a few minutes of the muck of messiness in order to see true beauty, so that light might filter throughout the darkness.

So, Cheers.  Cheers to your messiness and mine, and cheers to your beauty and my own as well.

xo, c.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — to learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!  And if you haven’t, you HAVE to read the New York Times Bestselling Memoir, Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback.  Otherwise, how are YOU messy AND beautiful right now?  

the little things: some 4000 year old words (mimi davis)

Guest post Tuesday, guest post Tuesday!  Today you have the opportunity to hear from a new friend of mine, Mimi Davis.  Mimi and I were introduced a number of months back when we hosted a giveaway together, and it’s obvious and evident that she’s got a heart of gold.  So listen and learn as she passes on some of her parenting wisdom to the rest of us.  

I floundered as a parent when my children started approaching elementary age. I did fine in the basic areas of love, comfort, feeding, clothing, but the older my children became, the less confident I felt of providing proper direction and guidance for them. I felt ill-equipped to navigate them through the preteen and teen years still ahead. The world, I felt, had become much more complicated and harsh than the reality that I had grown up in.

Mimi's kids, Austin & Catie.

Mimi’s kids, Austin & Catie.

Then one day, I stumbled upon some words in Deuteronomy 6:6-7. I had read them many times before and had studied their significance but on that particular day, the words seemed to be highlighted just for me, like a beacon lighting my way.

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  

It was like something resonated deep within my maternal soul. Right before me was the answer for which I had been searching. Those verses contained a simple wisdom that would act as my guide for parenting. These children were mine, I reasoned, and it was my overwhelming privilege and responsibility to teach them in this short season of time the values that I prayed would last them a lifetime. Every moment mattered and still matters.

I took hold of those words that day and applied that sage advice to all areas of my parental life. What those verses suggested to me was that no moment was insignificant and to raise good humans, I needed to be intentional in my parenting to guide them onto the right paths. I realized that meant I couldn’t slack off because I was never off instruction duty as a parent. For me, I realized too that I needed to understand my faith and the world around me better so that I could be better prepared to help them.

No topic was off limits for discussion and quite often, our discussions were while they helped me with everyday mundane tasks like folding clothes. I never waited for the “right” moment to have a conversation because I believed as these verses state that any and every moment was the right opportunity to talk. We talked about everything from sex to politics to social issues while I also wove in our faith practices and beliefs into the discussion. I was careful to match the discussion with their maturity level. Sometimes inwardly, I cringed talking about uncomfortable topics but outwardly, I always tried to maintain a calm exterior and discuss them like I would their English homework. At times, I succeeded and others, I failed. My hope was that when a real crisis or difficulty came into their lives that my son and daughter would first turn to my husband and me.

These words taught me about intentional, responsible parenting, that every moment was “the moment.” For me, the secret to raising good kids was found in that 4000+ year old principle that had withstood the test of time.

So, love them, parent them, and don’t be a sissy about it.

Mimi & her family today - and let's be honest: does the woman look like she could have grown children?  Wowzas!

Mimi & her darling family today.

banff-20130927-00436Wife and mom to 2 grown children, I spend my days reading, writing and definitely not doing arithmetic.  I blog at State of Hospitality about life, faith, family, books, DIY or whatever else strikes my fancy, and teach bible study locally and host studies online at Sweeter Than Honey Ministry.  Here’s what I love about Mimi: first of all, she does not look like she could have grown children, IN THE LEAST.  Pretty please, little baby Jesus, give me genes like Mimi!  But really, mostly, I love that she humbly passes on wisdom-filled goodness to the rest of us.  What did you learn from our friend today?  Show her some love!

for the love of words (cheers).

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Fangirl: writers Jeff Chu and Rachel Held Evans. Buy one of their books today!

It happened.

I went to my first writing conference this past week, and I met my people.  We talked words – oh, how we talked words and sentences, thoughts and meanings - and I made connections, sending out a slew of follow-up emails just this morning.

I listened to Richard Foster, loving his love of words in quoting Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightening and the lighting bug.” I mused over what it means to exude (appropriate) vulnerability in our writing, and my insides thumped in confirmation when I heard there is a place for faith and doubt, belief and disbelief in the only story I can tell: my own.

I scribbled furiously in my notebook when Rachel Held Evans uttered these profound heart-words: “People are afraid of grace getting out of hand …but hasn’t it been that way for 2000 years?”

And I said a hearty yes-yes-yes to Saint Anne’s theology, that we are pre-approved, that the story we find ourselves entrenched in is one of life, death, resurrection and new life …life, death, resurrection and new life, over and over again.  I pointed a thousand arrows at the only song Lamott knows how to sing, that “…the blessings have been [found] in the dark nights, the lostness, the surrender.

And I vowed to do the same.

When it comes to the blogosphere, content might slow down a bit, perhaps to three days a week.  But this is good.  This means that I’m finishing my book proposal, and I’m leaning into research and plopping myself into the chair, typing away at the ol’ laptop, because I can.  Because this is who I am.  And along the way, I’m remembering that I’m not nearly as important as I sometimes make myself out to be, which is a very, very good thing.

So, cheers.

Cheers to this adventure of finding our hearts.  Cheers to life-thumping conversations and interactions and connections.  And cheers to simply showing up and telling the only story we know how, our own.

xo, c.

What about you?  How have you been shown lately that you’re right where you’re supposed to be?  How are you telling the only story you can tell, your own?  

 

 

     

random moments of grace (a book giveaway).

Last week was Micha-week, and we cheered our dear friend on in the release of her first book, Found.  Well, this week, me, myself and I proudly present Ginny-week!  You heard from Ginny Kubitz Moyer on Tuesday when she talked about those sacred words her high school English teacher said to her: “I have faith in you.”  Today, as promised, we get to hear from Ginny again in an interview about her new book, Random MOMents of Grace.

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1.  However do you find time to be a high school English teacher, a writer, a wife, a mama, a friend, and a fill-in-the-blank on everything else you probably do?

Quick answer: My house is a mess.

I’m only half-joking there.  Honestly, it is impossible to do everything, so every mom compromises in some area of her life.  What I compromise on may not be what another mom compromises on, but we all give up something in order to do what we do.

I actually wrote a blog post on this very subject last year (I get asked this question a lot).  In five and a half years of blogging, it is the second most “liked” post I’ve ever written.  It clearly strikes a chord!

2.  How has your Catholic upbringing and continued pursuit of spirituality given you a distinct lens through which you view the world?

All those years of Catholic school taught me a lot, everything from how to diagram a sentence (a dying art, alas) to a way of seeing humanity.  I grew up being taught that every human life has dignity, no exceptions, and that social justice matters.

Another thing I’ve learned is that you can find evidence of God’s grace in all things.  There’s a prayer called the Examen which includes reviewing the day with God, looking for evidence of God’s presence in your life.  It invites you to notice the little things – the way someone let you go first in the coffee line at Peet’s, or the blossoms outside the doctor’s office window, or the comfort of snuggling with your kids on the sofa.  This prayer helps you see how God’s goodness saturates the world.

That’s really what Random MOMents of Grace is about: finding beauty and  spiritual insights in the daily work of parenting.  It’s not obvious sometimes, but it’s there.

3.  My favorite chapter was the very last, “Heaven,” in which you talk about losing Mary, one of your dear friends, to cancer.  Is there anything you’d add to that chapter, to those thoughts, now that even more time has passed?

I just keep being more and more grateful that she was in my life.  Our former pastor used to say that life is a school for learning how to love.  If that’s true, Mary had that lesson down pat.   When our first son was born, Scott and I immediately knew we wanted her as his godmother because you want your kids to have a special relationship with someone with a heart like hers.  Mary had suffered a lot, but she let that suffering make her open to others instead of closed.  That taught me so much.

Also, something interesting has happened since she died: I notice beauty more, especially in unexpected places.  Mary was a photographer with an eye for the beauty that flies below the radar.  She’d see red strawberries in a blue bowl and not just notice the vivid colors, she’d actually get her camera and snap a picture.   I’m starting to do that, too, and when I shared this with some of our mutual friends not long ago, I found that I’m not the only one who is experiencing this.  It’s as if Mary has left us the gift of her way of seeing.

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4.  What nuggets of wisdom would you pass on to new moms?

If you are overwhelmed and wondering where your life went, join the club.  Sometimes people seem to expect you to be all radiant with gratitude over the gift of this baby, and you are more like, “I feel like crying with exhaustion every moment.”  Don’t feel bad. You’ll find your stride, I promise.

There’s a chapter in Random MOMents about my grandma’s favorite saying: “This, too, shall pass.”  The hard times will pass.  The flip side is that the sweet newborn smiles pass, too, and once they are gone, you don’t get them back.  Motherhood is teaching me how bittersweet the passage of time really is.  It teaches me not to want to rush too far ahead.

5.  You’ve written two books now; are there plans for a third?  Do tell!  

I’ve actually written three (the last one is Daily Inspiration for Women, which I wrote with three other women). I have a book idea I’m writing my way into at the moment.  It’s too early to talk about it yet, but I’m having fun seeing where it goes.

6.  What random MOMent of grace have you seen recently with your boys, Matthew and Luke? 

Okay, here are two: we were driving to the mall and there was a guy standing on a street corner with one of those big arrow-shaped signs for a mattress store.  I’ve always thought that would be one of the worst ways to earn a buck, but this guy was flipping it, twirling it around his head like a big flat baton, spinning it here and there.  My older son said, “Wow, that guy has a lot of cool moves.”  I loved that he didn’t see a stranger with a really lousy job; he saw an artist at work.

And this: last week my younger son was running and jumping into bed and he whacked his forehead on the bottom of the top bunk.  There was a huge gash, and a lot of blood, and it was awful.  But there was grace, too: We called 911 and they sent some fabulous firefighters who were so gentle and encouraging not just with Luke, but with his older brother, who was freaking out.  And there was grace in the skill and knowledge of the ER doctor who stitched him up, and in the kind neighbor who came over to make sure we were okay.

In the book I wrote that “Grace shows up everywhere, in random places and at random moments.”  I just keep finding that motherhood is easier – and life in general is better – when we notice and savor it.

She’s a keeper, I’d say!  Ginny, thank you for being here with us again today.  If you’d like to read more of Ginny’s words, click on the link below and win a copy of the book.  Winner will be drawn at random Sunday evening.  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congrats Heather Sebastian and Stuart, each winners of a copy of Ginny’s book.  Email me if you haven’t already, and we’ll pop that book in the mail!