Sunday, November 30, 2014

cooking lessons

My grandma, who’s in her mid-nineties now, always made us chicken noodle soup from scratch when we were sick. She even made the noodles herself, dropping the egg in a flour nest, mixing and mashing, spreading the dough thin and then cutting uniform strips of yellow…a simple soup, just as effective on a cold as any medicine in her cupboard. 

Grandma and her legendary rolls

I never met my great-grandmother Hazel, but I feel that I know this woman well, all because she and I share a favorite recipe, one for sugar cookies. I bet I’ve made her cookies a hundred times now, and every time I flour my pastry board and set my rolling pin into its familiar rhythm and pattern, I think of her. I picture that photo of her in a housedress, standing next to her kind, quiet husband…the man I named my son for. In my mind’s eye, I see her wispy hair and her scratchy sweater…and I love her.

Grandpa Lewis and Grandma Hazel
My great-aunt Nadine never married or had children of her own and yet she mothered well, both as a teacher and by helping to raise her nieces and nephews as her own. She was strict and not especially affectionate, but the best way she loved us was with her cooking. She died almost a year ago, and each time she comes to mind, I picture her at the stove, stirring Thanksgiving gravy and nitpicking me about how slowly I peeled those sweet potatoes. I can’t think of her without smelling oven-roasted turkey and cinnamon-y pumpkin pie.

My mom is my favorite cook. She makes beautiful food. Whether it’s a Midwestern casserole or a delicately frosted cookie, she somehow makes it look lovely…and taste even better. She has such discernment when it comes to choosing recipes and she treats them as though they are God-breathed, never straying from the original instructions. When it comes to cooking and baking, I’d be lost without her.

When I met my husband in college, one of his four jobs was as a cook in the campus grill. He made a mean quesadilla and an even better tuna melt. He is reckless in the kitchen, substituting this ingredient and adding that one. Sometimes, it flops and sometimes it’s fabulous. But I’ll tell you one thing – nobody makes a better pancake. Nobody.

Andrew’s Grandma Fran is the most careful, precise, patient, well-prepared cook I have ever known. Every autumn, she dons her striped apron and headscarf while heating her lefse grill. And if you’re lucky enough to be there when she does, she’ll hand you a piece of lefse straight from that griddle. You’ll generously butter it and sprinkle it with brown sugar, and you might not ever be the same. When you eat her food, you feel cared for.   

Grandma Fran

I don’t know what hobbies my kids will pick up over the years. They may play tennis, guard a hockey net, build mythical creations out of Legos, command the halfpipe, work magic on the piano, or create meaning out of color on canvas. Maybe they’ll volunteer at the humane society, read every book on our shelves, or go hunting with their dad. And I don’t really care. All of that is for them to discover.

But my kids will cook.

Because in our family, cooking isn’t a hobby. Food is life and cooking is love.

I am by no means an exceptional cook. I am absent-minded and unbelievably slow. I start a recipe, assuming I have all of the ingredients, only to realize that I’m missing about half of them. I’ve been known to distractedly pour all of the ingredients into a bowl, forgetting to separate wet from dry, forgetting to sift, forgetting whether I’ve added three tablespoons or four. But I love it. I love every minute of it. I love the choosing of recipes, the mixing of ingredients and the eating of dough. Especially the eating of dough.

When I show up at a get-together with my almost three-year-old, my seven-month-old twins and a plate of cookies, people ask me how I have time to bake. The answer is always that I don’t. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t fit neatly into my day. But I need it. It’s my self care. And when I plug in my Kitchenaid and click the paddle into place, it kind of feels like dialing an old friend.

And on days when my throat is hoarse from being the lion to my daughter’s zookeeper and I can’t possibly handle fashioning another garden out of playdough, I find something for us to cook together. I put one baby in a carrier, sit the other in a laundry basket on the floor, scoot a stool up to the counter for my daughter, and so begin our cooking lessons.

My husband does the same thing, and those moments are among my favorite to watch. “You sure love eggs, don’t ya, Dad?” Harriet says enthusiastically while he flips them masterfully in the pan and explains how to tell when they’re just over easy, the way they both like them.

With me, she is always the dumper. Always the stirrer. Always the chocolate chip taster. And I tell her about doubling batches and why we put salt in our cookies and how any recipe with yellow cake mix in it is worth trying at least once. We talk about what all of the utensils are called, how to be safe around the stove, and why vanilla smells heavenly but tastes awful. She practices leveling cups of flour, cracking eggs and tasting dough. Especially tasting dough.

Sometimes we have eggshells in our batter. So we pick them out. Sometimes eggs fall on the floor. So the dog eats them. Sometimes there is sugar everywhere and we forget to set the timer for the cookies and we learn that margarine is NOT a substitute for butter. And I start to regret tackling this cooking thing with such a small, distractible, fast-moving child. And then I remember that food is life and cooking is love, so we eat some more dough.

I will never be able to teach my children to cook fancy things. No croquembouche, rhubarb foam garnish, or cheese soufflĂ© will ever come into being in my kitchen. I just want them to know the basics. I want them to know that there’s no such thing as a bad cook – only people who haven’t been taught how to choose recipes wisely and how to season liberally. I want them to know that cookies continue to bake after you remove them from the oven, so you must…you must…take them out before they are ready and have faith that the hot pan will complete the task. I want them to know that the only proper place for a stand mixer is right out there on the counter.  And I want them to know that cooking for another person is a sacred thing, whether it’s a four-course feast or a waffle from the toaster.

Mostly, I want them to know the recipes that mean so much to our families. Great-grandma Hazel’s cookies from my side. Grandma Fran’s lefse from Andrew’s side. Because recipes are stories…stories that families tell with their hands and with their hearts over years and decades and even centuries. Stories that are told to all of our senses and come to rest deep in our bellies. Stories that change so much and don’t change at all with each telling, with each generation. Because food is life, my friends. And cooking? Cooking is love.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

right here

I think I could explode. Seriously, right in this moment, I could blow sky high.

It's been a fine morning around here. My husband let me sleep in til my body woke me up at exactly 8:00. All of the kids had baths today. I labeled some more bins in the playroom. I can't remember what else we did. But then it was nap time for all three. Andrew cozied Harriet into her crib and I fed the boys and put them down.

Andrew took Murphy for a run and I sat down at the kitchen table to read my Bible. Not even two minutes later, Louie was fussing. I returned to his room to help him out. Big burp. Wide awake baby. I tried to bounce him, pat him, coax him to sleep, but his eyes just continued to brighten and I knew we weren't getting anywhere. I laid him back in his crib to see if he would put himself to sleep.

Back to my Bible, my journal and my study book - one about the miracles of Jesus. I took a deep breath, picked up my pencil...more crying from the boys' room.

We went through the familiar routine several times, and I was getting more frustrated with each round. I grabbed my phone with my free hand and desperately typed a text to the women from my accountability group:

Ladies, can you please pray for me? This has been a week where all I'm 
asking for is twenty minutes to read my Bible. Not trying to sound pious. 
I'm just seriously needing even fifteen minutes to sit down 
with Jesus and it's not happening. I'm trying  to do my study right now because 
it's supposed to be nap time for all three of them. And I have been interrupted 
four times in ten minutes. I have also had to stop my boiling water 
for the RAMEN NOODLES that I am trying to make myself for lunch THREE 
times so that I can deal with someone who needs me. How pathetic is that?!?! 
I am getting so frustrated with God that I just keep crying to Him - 
"I am trying to spend time with YOU!!!! Throw me a bone here!" 
Please pray that I will have miraculous patience. 
My throat is full of burning tears.

And it was. I wasn't upset with Louie. I was angry with God. Because I keep trying to be with Him and my life keeps getting in the way. And not just today...every day. I could understand if God allowed the demands on my time and attention to be so much that I wasn't able to check Facebook, send emails, clean my house, compose posts for this blog...but when my goal is to spend twenty minutes talking to and hearing from God and He doesn't give me that window, it leaves me confused...with a throat full of burning tears.

It's not just a time thing either. I just got my first real, grown-up study Bible. One with maps, diagrams, a concordance, and commentary that fills up half of every page. I love it. I had been using it for only about a week when Harriet splattered bright orange butternut squash soup on the pages.

And my prayer journal...about every third page is covered with scribbles. Sometimes prayer feels like scribbling. But these scribbles are not of the prayer variety. These are the type of scribbles that happen under the table while the offender "needs privacy." I thought that was code for "I'm trying to poop" but apparently it's code for "I'm trying to do exactly what you told me not to do."

What are you trying to teach me, God? What's the point of this craziness? Why does it sometimes feel like my kids are making it impossible for me to know You well? 

I knew my faithful, faithful sisters were praying, but the situation wasn't changing. So I started over -  nursing Louie again, gingerly placing him back in his bed. 


I sat down at the table and not even half a second later, the dog was barking at me, wanting to come inside. How long does it take to let a dog inside? Maybe five seconds. BUT IT WAS THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING! 

I sat down again. Got my marching orders from Kay Arthur. Flipped to Malachi. Then to Isaiah. Tried to wrap my frazzled brain around the prophecies. About three minutes after I let the dog in, Gus was crying. Nap time was over. 

I stood in the kitchen with a talking, happy baby in my arms, trying to breathe through the frustration I was feeling. Andrew, who was finishing up some work in the garage and knew nothing of the battle that was raging in my heart, must have seen my tears through the window, because he came inside and with few words, took Gus into the living room.

I sat down at the kitchen table yet again. My Bible, my journal, my study book, my was all there. But all I could do was cry. I pressed hot palms against my eyes and sobbed outloud, wiping tears and snot on the sleeves of my sweatshirt, until I was done.

I opened my book and read the same sentence for the eighth time. I felt a little nudge from God, telling me that maybe I should write instead. So that's what I'm doing, and while I still feel sad and confused, I no longer feel like I'm going to explode.


It's been nearly a week since that combustible Saturday, and the things I wasn't ready tell you then, I can finally tell you now.

I was holding Louie in that not-dark-enough room, about to set him down for the third time, and I just wanted to scream. And Jesus said quietly...always quietly..."I'm here too, you know?"

My eyes closed slowly. My chin touched my chest. "Yeah...I know. But I don't want to meet you here! I want to meet you there with my tea and my Bible and my colored pencils!"

And again, that same truth, whispered ever patiently into my stubbornness, "But I'm here too."

And He was. He was deeply, deeply there. With me and my boys in that room. He didn't need tea. He didn't need colored pencils.

And over this last week, with the gift of time and perspective, I'm realizing that accepting Jesus' invitation to meet with Him in the midst of life's chaos and constant interruptions...Well, it's kind of like going on a date with the love of your Chuck E. Cheese's. He is still Him. And you are still you. But rather than basking in the candlelight and the violins, you are surrounded by flashing lights, electronic noises, and the combined smell of bad feet and stale pizza. And you just have to work a little harder to focus on the gift of time together, right here.

What's your right here?

Maybe it's a windowless cubicle on the forty-second floor.

Maybe it's an overfull, underfunded classroom.

Maybe it's a cold, sterile hospital room, completely devoid of hope.

Maybe it's the dorm room you share with someone who doesn't respect you.

Maybe it's a home where the conflict never seems to end and the the voices never seem to soften.

Maybe your right here looks a lot like mine - a loud, messy, sleep-starved house where the menial tasks are endless and the little voices always seem to be calling your name.

Can you hear Him whispering to you? Is He telling you the same thing He told me?

I'm here, too. Even here. Seek me, my precious child, and you will find me.

Every day, I make my best attempt at setting aside time to talk to and hear from God. Sometimes He gifts me with a time of quiet right now, when I am able to look up from the table to see a big, fat woodpecker outside my window, doing his bizarrely beautiful woodpecker thing, and I'm able to smile at this moment I'm sharing with God alone, and praise Him for his sense of humor and creativity. And other days, I don't get that time. And those are the days that I have to look a little harder for places that sound like whining toddlers and smell like dirty diapers. But even there...

...even here, He will always, always be found.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

friendship and infertility

Here's the second half of the two-part series about supporting friends through infertility. Enjoy this guest post from my treasured friend Ashlee, one of the dear ones who walked the road of infertility with me. Here's the story from her point of view.

On September 12, 2013 at 12:03pm, I got a text from Em.

I know you are at work. Call when you have a minute.

Em & Andrew had started on the path to pregnancy several months prior, and a text like this does something in the heart of a friend who has felt the ups and downs of infertility. My first thought was strangely hope filled: she’s pregnant. But instead of letting the excited anticipation bubble up in my heart, I held it in with control, excused myself from work, and called her immediately. Keep your voice steady, I tell myself, be ready for whatever the news.

She’s pregnant. And it’s twins.

Even as I write those words, my throat tightens and my heart so quickly goes back to that day of release. When, again, our prayers were answered. I am tempted to say we fought hard for this day, but I think the real fight was within ourselves to find patience and peace in the waiting, and to learn that love is not about commonality as much as it is about commitment. 

That’s why I am writing this piece - to talk about friendship and infertility. Em has taught us all so much about the very intimate, personal experience of infertility, but this story is being told from one supporter to another. To all the friends and sisters who love and hope and cry and feel so helpless right alongside the ones who are waiting and fighting. It can be a tough path to navigate, and I messed up plenty of times. Hopefully my mess ups can somehow translate into encouragement and support for you.

Em and I have been friends for over a decade, meeting our very first year of college. We bonded over the usual topics - shopping, boys and our big dreams for the future. But what really solidified us as friends was our unique ability to process thoughts and life together. We talked about our faith, our families, our trials and the things that got us excited about entering real life. We walked forward on our own unique paths to adulthood, taking different routes but always staying near to one another. 

Graduation brought new experiences. Em and Andrew got married, I went to work. We each found new places to call home and new opportunities for learning and discovery. I remember the day Em told me she was pregnant with Ethan. I’ll admit - it felt strange. She had already been experiencing the mercilessness of infertility and this pregnancy came as a pretty big surprise to all of us. For me it was mostly because I couldn’t understand her determination to have a baby. I would open her car door and watch her push stacks of parenting and pregnancy books into the backseat so I could sit down. We were focusing on such different things at this time in our lives and I had a hard time relating. This is where our story got hard, and where I learned the most about love. I really had to learn how to be a good friend in the midst of the doubt, disappointment, financial stress, and physical pain brought on by infertility. I had to learn that my expectations for those years were not going to be the same as Em’s, and that they didn’t have to be in order for us to love one another.

The day we lost Ethan, I remember the phone call, the tears, the confusion and the pain. I also remember that this once slowly approaching disconnectedness was suddenly coming at us at full speed. It felt like huge wall had come between us. I thought of her constantly, wanting to be with her so badly, but being completely frozen on the other side of that wall. I slowly began to realize that my own fear is what put and kept the wall there. What if I say the wrong thing? She asked about my job, but when I start talking I can see in her face that she wants to talk about Ethan. Should I ask? Or does she want me to distract her? I don’t know how to anticipate her needs. Does she even know what she needs? These insecurities and feelings filled my mind for several months, and if there is anything I can say to the friends who are affected by infertility or loss, it is this: don’t let the wall win. It will come at some point, but you have to be stronger than it is. Some people are able to march right around it, hardly even acknowledging that it is there. I watched some of Em’s strongest supporters do that, but at first I just couldn’t. I felt too afraid. I didn’t want to mess up, say or do the wrong thing, and I ended up dropping the ball for a time. If you need to take time to process, go ahead, but make sure you are always moving forward.

What does moving forward look like exactly? Read Em’s post about secondary infertility. I didn’t have access to such a great resource, so for me it was born of mercy and a lot of trial and error. After one of Em’s miscarriages, we had gone to her in-law’s cabin for the weekend and on Sunday we stood on the driveway saying our goodbyes. She started to cry and I just stood there, totally frozen. In that moment, I let the fear win. (Don’t worry, I eventually hugged her, but it took me WAY too long). A few weeks after Ethan died, I remember Em telling me she was so afraid that no one would remember him. I cleared out a spot in my heart for Ethan at that very moment and he will never leave it. And with that, a part of the wall was gone. There really is a choice in these moments. Choose to be close. And if you are afraid, be honest with your friend. Maybe you are both feeling the same thing.

I will say, there are times when you, the friend, will do a lot of heavy lifting. Every text or happy hour will be about pregnancy, or the lack of it. It might feel draining. You might feel ignored. You might be dying to talk about a terrible first date, or a weird conversation with your boss and you go to your friend and leave feeling discouraged or unheard. You will see the worst side of your friend when the fight gets really hard, but isn’t this exactly when our love should kick into high gear? Don’t jump ship in the face of pain. Stay. Sacrifice. And then do it a hundred more times because one day she will look at you and say, “how are things at work?” with a genuine look in her eyes. It will happen.

And let’s not forget, there will inevitably be times when you need your friend to do the heavy lifting for you. While Em & Andrew were pursuing parenthood, I began to long for a life partner. We found a connection in that and began to pray for each other. There were times when I just couldn’t pray for myself one more time - the burden of loneliness seemed too heavy. So Em prayed for me. And when she felt weary, I prayed for her. To support one another in prayer invested us in each other’s hopes in a such a real way. Being able to pray for each of Em’s children, and then HOLD them as brand new babies in my arms, have been some of the holiest experiences of my life. 

I was able to meet Harriet at the hospital the day after she was born. I didn’t know it then, but I was going to meet my goddaughter! Her mouth was a perfect little rosebud and her skin soft and red with newness. What seemed like a regular moment - holding a baby was something everyone on that hospital unit was doing that night - was supercharged for me. I remember thinking, this is so special and so … normal. It was right and it was a miracle. I suppose that is what redemption is: bringing the things that always should have been back to us in a miraculous way.

Here is a picture of Em, Harriet, and me on my wedding day. Our smiles are looking a little off because as soon as we stepped in front of my photographer, Em & I both started crying. There we were, Harriet between us, me in my wedding dress. The six years leading up to that moment had been complicated and challenging but suddenly all we felt was happiness. Beautiful, gracious, undeserving happiness. I will cherish the gift of this photo, and the beautiful, messy story of friendship that it tells, forever.

c/o Cara Lemmage Photography

Monday, November 10, 2014


So you have this friend. And she has a child. Maybe she has a few. Perhaps her kids are a little older. Maybe they're still really young. But here's the thing. She wants another.

And it's just not happening.

Maybe she's been acting kind of strange - withdrawn, sad, distracted. So you asked her how she was doing and she started to cry...explaining that she's afraid her son will never have a sibling or that her dreams of a big family won't come true.

Or maybe she emailed you out of the blue, mentioning that she and her husband are starting fertility treatments and she's wondering if you'll pray for them.

It might have been a quick text - Sorry I have to cancel our plans for Friday. I have an appointment with my reproductive endocrinologist.

So now what? You're a good friend and you want to support her through this trial. But maybe you're not sure how, not certain what she needs from you.

I hope I can help you. Although I don't know what it's like to have secondary infertility (trouble getting pregnant again after having a child without the help of fertility drugs or assisted reproductive technologies), I do know what it's like to pursue fertility treatments when you already have a biological child. Plus, I'm in touch with lots of women who've experienced secondary infertility and have shared their hearts with me. Also, many of you who keep up with my blog have been there or are there right now. So whatever I miss or mess up in this post, I know you'll help me out in the comments section. Thanks in advance, friends.

But back to you - the support person. Here a four things you need to know in order to walk with your friend as she faces into this emotional, financial and physical trial.

One.   Please don't take lightly the fact that she invited you into this journey. She's taking a big risk and showing that she really trusts you. Oftentimes people who haven't been through it themselves really struggle to understand secondary infertility. A lot of people will call her selfish and ungrateful, probably not to her face but definitely behind her back. Many will question why she's willing to spend all kinds of money to have a child when she already has one. Others will judge her for not pursuing adoption.

Maybe that last paragraph has you sweating because you've been thinking those same things and getting all judge-y yourself. You know? It's okay. She's probably judging herself too. I know I was. I had this beautiful, perfect, longed-for child in my arms...but I still wanted more. It made sense and it didn't. I tried to dampen that desire, shut out that voice that was telling me that our family wasn't yet complete...but I failed every time.

The thing about building a family is that it doesn't always take the practical path. It doesn't always make sense. Because families are about love, something that's neither practical nor sensible. Your friend may try to explain why they want another child. She may list reason after reason to assure you (and herself) that the goal they're pursuing is a worthy one. You know what? You have the power to be her lifeboat in a sea of self doubt by saying the one thing she doesn't even know that she needs to hear. Put your hand on her arm and speak these words straight into her heart - "It doesn't even matter. This is your family and you get to pick."

See that look in her eyes? Yeah, she needed that.

Two.   If your friend is like me and has gone through fertility treatments before, know that this time around, it's going to be easier for her...and it's also going to be harder.

It will be easier because she already has a child. When she gets bad news from the doctor or a has another failed cycle, she still gets to tuck her little boy into bed that night or play at the park with her daughter. Probably nothing you can do or say is going to be more healing than snuggling with that child or those children. Kind of a relief, right? Delegate that stuff to the kids.

But it will also be harder because she already has a child. And fertility clinics frown on bringing kids to your appointments. So in addition to timing her cycles around her doctor's surgery schedule, her husband's travel schedule and her body's hormonal schedule, she also has to factor in child care. If she works outside the home, it's probably killing her that she has to spend even more time away from her kids. And fertility treatments are spendy, so paying someone to watch her children might feel like an incredibly heavy burden.

So if you are able to help her out, do it. I had several friends and family members who were more than willing to hang out with Harriet while I attended my frequent appointments. They'll never know how much Andrew and I appreciated their generosity and the kindness they showed our daughter. So if you can, be one of those people.

Three.   Your friend is going to be very, very, very tired. The fertility drugs will exhaust her. The constant appointments will wear her down. The hope/defeat roller coaster will drain her. If she's pursuing adoption, her days are filled with paperwork, home studies, phone calls with social workers, and the sort of waiting that only adoptive parents can understand. And she still has to be a mom to her kids. And probably lots of other things to lots of different people.

So if she doesn't want to join you for girls' night or takes forever to reply to your texts, please give her grace. I'm not saying that she gets a bottomless excuse for being a crappy friend. I'm just saying that for now, she might need you to stretch yourself a little further in her direction. She may prefer movie nights at home to loud parties because most of your friends have lots of kids and she hates that she feels jealous when she sees them. She may prefer conversations via text to in-person lunches so that she can stay in her pajamas. She may not be able to do those Saturday morning walks around the lake that you love so much because her ovaries are really angry with her right now. So again...grace, my friend. Grace.

Four.   You can't be everything to her. She's going to need a team. She has her doctor. Probably a partner (but maybe not). She is going to need people who have firsthand experience with secondary infertility. Encourage her to seek out a support group. Help her start a blog and get plugged into the online infertility community. (If she doesn't know how to find the community, send her my way. I'll hook her up.) Put her in touch with another friend who's fighting a similar battle. If she's having a really tough time, she may need someone to strongly encourage that she see a therapist or talk with a pastor, mentor or spiritual leader of some sort. Do not attempt to be everything to her. You'll end up bitter and your friendship will suffer. Instead, help her brainstorm ways that she can add people to her team.

That's all I have for now. But remember that online infertility community I talked about? They'll comment below and fill you in on everything else you need to know. The fact that you've made it through this whole post tells me that your friend chose wisely when she decided to share her heartache with you. I'm wishing you grace and courage and perseverance as you enter into the sacred heart of true friendship, a place where only trials can take us.

Grab her hand and go there together.


Stay tuned for a guest post from a dear, dear friend of mine who walked this infertility road with me. I'm so excited for all of you to read her perspective on what it's like to be the support person. 

Also, this post is over on Momquery today, titled Four Ways to Support a Friend Through Secondary Infertility. So if you have some ideas about how friends and family can support those going through secondary infertility...or regular ol' infertility...copy and paste your comment there too! 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...