Flu Season Survival Guide

Below you will find a list of items for you, parent, to have a fighting chance at conquering this year’s flu season. I will link everything to Amazon, not because I am paid, but because that is how I live my life. I was lying in bed the other night debating ridding myself from the shackles of a Prime membership because if the hand causes you to sin you must lop it off. And handless, I would be greatly impeded on my quest to spend mortgage money on books.

You can be confident in these recommendations because, with five children, the flu remains my greatest adversary, and yet, I feel I am destined to conquer it. The year all seven of us jointly succumbed to its powers, our youngest was only three months old. The big kids were desperate for snow, so we decided to spend a weekend at a friend’s cabin in the mountains. My husband, henceforth Patient Zero, was hit on Saturday. By Sunday he was barely awake for packing, and two offspring had begun coughing. He dozed off twice with coffee in his hand. Because he was becoming increasingly disoriented, we decided to get off the mountain as soon as possible. Unfortunately for us, there were two hindering factors: one, the onset of a major snowstorm, and two, the snow chains we borrowed from a friend got wrapped around the axel of our van as we exited, a quarter mile from the cabin.

What happened next is a blur of activity in which I wrapped the baby in every available blanket and rushed him back to the cabin. I must have entrusted the other four to God. I remember yelling something to that effect into the howling wind. We had no food, no way off the mountain and AAA wouldn’t give us the time of day. Patient Zero spent the better part of the morning feverishly ripping chains off the mangled axel while we helpfully stared at him from inside the warm cabin. We skidded partway down the mountain without any chains at all until we stopped at a gas station. Patient Zero had exerted himself to the point of collapse and could barely switch seats with me. I saw him close his eyes, unable to open them again. I looked at all my babies in the rearview mirror. I watched the flakes pile up on the windshield. This is how we all die, I thought. I spotted 3 teenage snowboarders and offered them all the money in my wallet to put the chains back on our car. The tallest one flicked my hands off his collar as he leaned away from me. “Woah, okMa’am”, he said to me. Even though I would drive down that mountain and straight to the E.R. where Patient Zero would get promptly diagnosed with Rhabdomyolysis, and even though my fear was so strong that I tasted the death of my entire family like metal on my tongue that day- the memory that sticks the most is that punk calling me ‘Ma’am’. I had not yet been made aware that I was old enough to be aMa’am. I felt my shoulders relax as I unclenched my fists from the lapel of his puffy jacket. I plastered on a thin smile and willed my forehead wrinkles back into place. It was all very distressing.

Anyhow, flu season.

You will need towels. These towels are henceforth dog grooming towels and barf towels only. Choose wisely. You will cover your children and every surface they touch.  You will line the floor next to their bed with them because a towel is easier to bleach than a whole swath of carpet. You will also need tiny washcloths. Not the basic ones. You need the infant ones, that are thin and soothy. Get them wet and they refrigerate/freeze nicely, and are perfect forehead size. Most importantly, they do not require parental readjustment every 30 seconds like the heavy, grainy, waffly ones.

Hot humidifier. Not cold. Now, this is up for debate because of the steam/toddler combination. This is good for infants who haven’t yet mastered a crib escape or pre-school aged kids and up who can harness their ill-fated desire to burn off appendages.

UV wand: Amazon, do you see all these links? Give a girl some kickbacks. You weaken my resolve to give you up. Before you, where would one have procured such a device? The angel on my shoulder says, “you don’t even watch the free shows, and who knows how much you could save if everything you liked wasn’t one click away?” and the devil prime troll says, “where would you be without your UV wand? You’ve spent too much time purchasing from the couch to even find such a thing in the real world.” Anyhow, I’m not entirely sure how this works but I hover it over our toothbrushes and the handles of my refrigerator and feel better about life. I think it sets germs on fire or explodes them. Whatever UV rays do. Science.

Hidden sustenance: you’re going to want to find a spot in your home where you can hide a few bottles of juice and crackers. Hydration in flu season is key, and unfortunately sickness brings out kids’ natural finicky-ness about their sustenance’s. Do not, under any circumstances, leave this to chance. Otter pops stashed in your freezer are gone in minutes. Otter pops pre-frozen in the back of the pantry are gold to you when the kids start barfing and your spouse has abandoned you to work since “someone has to pay the mortgage”. You are in this alone. Make a stash in the back of the pantry today. This is not hard. Everyone in your family only scans the front row anyway. Anything behind the front row is like the wardrobe in Narnia, it is a whole other world. Magical centaurs could be back there and nobody would be the wiser. You could hide specialty chocolates or bars of gold back there and I bet not even a robber would find them. Don’t come break into my house thinking I have gold bars. I don’t. But maybe I should get some now that I’m thinking about it. I wonder if they’re on Prime.

Queen Blow up Mattress– I cannot overestimate the importance of this item. This has saved my life on so many occasions that I now have a whole section of my linen closet dedicated to the sheets that match it. Here’s why. The flu will begin at night. I don’t know why this happens, but without fail, everyone is rainbows and lollipops at dinner. “Kids, anyone want more of this 8-layer lasagna? Did everyone get enough blackberry cobbler? Maybe if we get peckish later we can finish off the queso! Why not? We won’t ever see it again!”

But we will. We will see it again.

Around 2 am, there will be a creak on your floorboards and a whispered confession from a warm, wet, distant source. This murky voice will come to you in waves, ripping you out of a wonderful dream. It is the marsh-like quality of the voice and the accompanying stench that will drag you out of your slumber. It will whisper, “I think I threw up in my bed.” Kids like to declare actualities as though they could be possibilities. I assume this is meant to soften the blow. They say things like, “I think the T.V. stopped working”, knowing full well they tried to wedge a bagel bite in the DVD player to see if it would spin. “I think my project is due in the morning.” “I think I threw up in my bed, I might not have. It could have been a dream. I’m not entirely sure. My breath may be that of a skunk corpse rotting in a compost heap simply by chance.”

At this point you will bolt out of bed to confirm the sad reality you already knew deep down in your heart. You have one of two options here. Option one: Take the child into bed with you and throw an aforementioned towel on the carnage. No one is here to judge. Option Two: strip the sheets off the bed and start from scratch. Neither of these options are viable, and I’ll tell you why. If you remake your child’s bed, you will surely repeat this charade in 45 minutes. This could go on all night, or until you run out of sheets. That may tempt you to give up and bring the child into bed with you, reasoning that you will hear the first gags and be able to rush the sleeping child to the toilet. This is also a mistake. The child will absolutely barf again, and you have misjudged your late-night prowess. You will be in such a state of exhaustion you will miss the cascade until it is in your hair and dripping through your mattress pad. This choice has long-lasting repercussions. Even if you bleach every aspect of bedding and mattress, vomit is a smell that cannot be fully eradicated. It will come for you 3 months from now when everyone is well and your life is at ease. You will turn over in the middle of the night and catch the faintest whiff of fermented queso. Is it your imagination? Are you coming down with something? You do a gag test to see. Can it really last that long? Personally, I could sense the remains years after our incident. I never really had peace again until a decade later when we upgraded to a king. Learn from me. In-bed vomiting is a merciless ghost.  She will haunt you for life.

Enter option 3! The blow-up mattress. So many things about this are applicable to barfing children, that I don’t even understand how this is not already a niche market. You unroll it from under a bed or wherever you store it. You press a button, it blows up. You don’t even have to fully wake up for any of this. It has a wipeable surface, so who even cares. It is low to the ground so the barf bowl is eye level. I could go on.

Now is not the time to be a cheapskate. You’ll noticed I linked to a queen mattress. Not a twin. A queen. A king is too big to fit on the floor of your bedroom and a twin means you won’t fit on it with them. It is imperative that they think you are sleeping with them, so that when they finally drift off to sleep, you can ninja roll off it, into your own bed, which does not smell like vomit.

Godspeed, fellow warriors.



Running From My Shadow

I have recently, and probably temporarily, graduated from therapy. When I began two years ago, I recounted my depression struggles: the run-of-the-mill kind, the seasonal kind, the clinical kind and the post-partum kind. My therapist listened patiently while I told her my strategies of keeping the darkness at bay: my sleeping and exercise routine, my commitments to healthy eating and regular community. I confessed that although I teetered since stopping medication, I had found a way to stand on the edge of the canyon of depression without falling in.

My therapist let me finish and then shrugged knowingly saying, “Well, you knowwhat Jung would say about it”, and at that point I clamped my mouth shut. Ah, yes. Jung. Carl? My therapist often refers to me as a peer rather than a client. Since we obtained the same degree she assumes that I have retained the same information she has. She does not know that over the last decade and a half all of my essential marriage and family training has seeped from my brain and been replaced by episodes of Paw Patrol. Because I do not get out much, my starved ego is easily enticed by a professional treating me like a peer. This is one of many times where I will nod along knowingly. Carl Jung. Obviously! Yes, I know him. Please. Go on.

“He would say that you are struggling against your shadow side, and that you must learn to integrate it into your life.” Hmmm. I tapped my chin. Yes, excellent point. I side-stepped that landmine of conversation until I could go home and dig through dusty bins in my garage for my old psychology books. Flipping through pages it came back to me in bits; “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

Generally, we understand our shadow side to represent negative or repressed emotions. The ones we all have but don’t want other people to know we have: anger, fear, resentment, shame. The Canyon of Depression. I thought about my own shadows, how I walk away from them but they keep following me around no matter how many things I pack into a day, and no matter how efficiently I do them. It was as if a spotlight had been turned on, and in its glare, my shadow’s edges sharpened. With clarity, I watched it cling to me wherever I went, turning with my decisions, speeding my heartrate, shaping my words. I felt keenly the amount of resistance I deployed to keep it from showing, tucking it firmly behind me in place. I began to worry that Jung was right and that my shadow was only growing stronger, stewed in waiting.

I wondered what it meant in 1 John, that God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. What does it mean for me, a child called to live in the love-light of God, to integrate darkness into my life? I realized my resistance was partially tied to messages ingested from other Christians about the nature of darkness itself: that it is unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst. Trade in those negative thoughts for positive ones! There’s a corresponding verse for each one! But under the spotlight, my shadow seemed less a barnacle to scrape off and more an attached appendage. And to deny it was to cut off a limb, becoming a willing accomplice in my own disability.

Also- I know better. I know darkness is the environment where God has historically done some of His best work in my life. Jesus liked to prove it to people so He talked all the time about growth, branches, fruits and the genesis of them all: seeds. He reminded His listeners over and over that the soil is what counts.  Unless a seed can burrow into the fertile, black underground- nothing good can grow. This is Jesus’ way, to fashion beautiful things in the dark for the purpose of bringing them into the light.

This year has been a good one to begin the practice of facing my shadows. My beloved mother-in-law is dying of terminal cancer and there is not a single thing I can do about it. My shadow has the upper hand, it hunches over me as I hunch over her: distended, suffering, moaning in a hospital bed. I can no more rip it off my back than I can pry myself away from her. This shadow I cannot turn away from, compartmentalize into neat, safe shapes, or attempt to outrun. This shadow keeps perfect pace and the only way forward seems through- to open up my arms and embrace it.

Yesterday, I sat on the edge of her hospital bed. The room was full of shadows and the beeping, rhythmic whir of her oxygen machine. Less than a month ago, I took her on one last adventure to Mongolia. Trying to manage her wheelchair and luggage I nicked her hand, the paper-thin skin tore instantly, dark magenta oozing out. The wound, now dark and purple, hasn’t even had time to heal. It wasn’t that long ago. It wasn’t that long ago that I fed her that piece of watermelon because the beans were too spicy and her face screwed up in laughter and mock-pain. It wasn’t that long ago- and I finger the mark that proves it. With my other hand, I turned to psalm 139. “Even the darkness is not dark to you”. I spoke into a room packed shoulder-to-shoulder with shadows: fear, anger, sadness, distress, pain, suffering. The corner of her mouth turned up, knowing these words by heart, knowing what I was doing; her smile a flash of beauty tucked inside the shadow of grief. I see you, I thought, inviting the beauty closer, even knowing grief kept pace behind. She gripped my hand and we faced them together. “If I go down to the depths, You are there” I continued, reciting ancient imagery meant to convey the epitome of darkness. “Even in Sheol,” I almost whispered, “You are there. Your right hand holds me fast.”

Summer Sabbath

I am exiting this week on fumes. Between Drew working 6 out of the last 7 days and the demands of meeting a writing deadline, I feel as though I am limping into summer vacation. The kids and I exited Church Sunday and immediately bought two pizzas, then paid actual American dollars to rent a movie on Apple TV. What are we, the Rockefellers? I doled out paper plates and without a hint of guilt stepped over toys and clothes and spent the rest of the day in the pool with the kids. Sabbath, for me, has increasingly become defined by praying and playing- exhaling and rolling around in the extravagance of God.

The older I get the more thankful I am to God for setting apart one whole day to rest. Embedded is an invitation to look inward: What does rest look like when I have 5 small kids, and am alone many Sundays? What does it mean to pursue holy, Sabbath rest instead of settling for zoning out? What is rest, and what is work? I take God up on this invitation. I review not only what was actual work throughout the week, but what taxed me, what was draining. I scan the horizon of my days to see what gave life and what zapped it away.

As we begin summer, I’m mindful of the offer to slow down as the pressures of school end along with the busyness of extra curriculars. Summer can be a type of extended Sabbath, a blank slate of possibilities. I take this mindset into my summer- identifying work from rest, vivacity from what has gone stale. Stale: schedules, school projects that require my involvement, responsibilities, being on time, getting out of bed before 6.  Life: sun, books, water, nature, board games, mojitos in the backyard while the adults catch up and the kids watch a movie on the grass under the stars.

You’ll find me posting less this summer, since I’m embracing this season of rest gratefully, gleefully and with both fists. I might post about our travels, if sharing falls into the life-giving category. I’ve been an exporter of words, faithfully, diligently, since January and now it is time to consume some, hopefully by a beautiful body of water.  We are driving the RV all the way up the coast, until we can drive no more and renting a craftsman on Puget Sound for a few nights. Then we will turn around and do it all over again. My main goals are to read as many novels as possible and create as many variations of s’mores as we can think up.

Mostly I’d like this season of rest to be a reflection, because reflecting always makes me grateful. This summer, my oldest turns 13 and I turn 40. These two numbers are significant to me because I never planned on staying at home this long to raise the kids. My ‘temporary’ career hiatus will become a teenager. My doctors never thought I’d make it to my 20-year cancer anniversary, but at 40- here we are. One doctor recently retired and his replacement looked at my file, cancer history, kids, and said, “Well, you certainly didn’t let that slow you down.” I’d never thought about it like that before.

I think mostly, I’d like to link the adventuring and the reflecting- to remind myself that nothing about my life has been stagnant. The world would tell you that you must cram in all the thrills before having kids, since once you do, that ship has sailed. They see my cacophony of children and pull down the corners of their mouths at us at parties, or exiting Target as though I am in need of their sympathy. But these kids have been the greatest adventure of all: teaching me more about God than I ever learned in Seminary, fulfilling me in ways a career never could, stretching and expanding my old Grinch heart many more sizes than I thought it could go.

I’m hoping for you, a season of rest as well. A season brimming with sandy clothes and campfires; of slow mornings and board games. A season of adventuring and reflecting. I know by august 1st, I’ll be twitching for a schedule and a routine. But until then, may your coffee be iced, your feet be bare and your heart be at peace.


On Calling: Part 2…Can God’s Call Change?

When I was 31 years old, I stood outside of a Target, trying to corral my 2 and 4-year-old boys into a shopping basket. I was approximately 92 months pregnant and like the perfectly round circle that I was, resembled the sun while they -my tiny planets- orbited around me at high speeds. An older woman passed me on her way out, and pausing, looked me straight in the eye and then at my stomach. “For your sake,” she deadpanned, “I hope that one’s a girl.”

This woman was merely one in a string of what I’ve come to call ‘helpful strangers’, people who, instead of offering actual physical help and support, settle for offering their helpful, helpful opinions about things that are none of their business. “Are you trying for your girl?” was another popular one, several helpful strangers had chirped at me that week. As if by sheer willpower, I could command the growing fetus inside me to magically form the preferred genitalia, with the powers of my mind. As if my offspring were like a box of Dot’s candies, and if I just kept shaking long enough, I would eventually get the yellow ones that I liked best. As if my two precious boys, always at my hips, did not have ears to hear them.

This coming baby was a girl, although I almost never told anyone that. To the helpful stranger in Target, I merely rubbed my belly and said, “Twins. Boys. We couldn’t be happier.” But to the people I liked, or who were buying me presents, I let out she was in fact, a girl. This garnered its own helpful follow up. “Oh, you got your girl. So now, are you done?” There is nothing like pregnancy to highlight one stranger’s investment in another stranger’s ladybits.

Of course, for me, these questions became deeply theological in nature. I began to ask questions of my friends, “How does one decide to stop having kids?”, “How did you know you were done?” “Is there a magic switch?” “Is mine broken?” I began to ask questions of myself: How does God view children and childrearing? Who actually creates a baby? Who creates life? If God creates life, then am I sinning by standing in God’s way? If the church teaches that each person is an eternal being, who am I exactly, to determine how many people I bring into eternal bliss or damnation? Why isn’t anyone talking about this, or better yet, telling me what to do? Am I secretly Catholic?

You would think that by my 3rdpregnancy and having lived 3 whole decades on this earth I would have grappled with at least some of these questions, but you would be wrong.

My friends’ answers were as varied as the people answering them. Many of them were with me in the trenches of sleep deprivation and tantrums. They based their decision to stop having children on the fact that they did not desire to have any more children. Others reasoned that finances should play the biggest part, that one should not bring children into the world without a planned college fund. Some told me stories of horrific miscarriages and near-death deliveries resulting in debilitating anxiety. This topic often brought up touchiness, heartache, shame and fear. Part of my difficulty in navigating these waters was that I was poking the tenderest of nerves within myself and mothers around me.

My Catholic friends were generous in answering my questions and recommending books. I scoured websites. I stumbled upon a ‘Quiverfull movement,’ something I’d never heard of before. A lot of their resources validated what I had been wrestling with. If your body is doing what God created it to do, they argued, why would you stop it, why would you surgically alter something within you that is healthy?They put words to my inklings about our culture’s viewpoint of children as burdensome and the general disdain for childrearing. But the Quiverfull’s and I differed at one key intersection: They believed leaving one’s fertility open was a call on the life of all believers, I only suspected that it was God’s call on mine. Quiverfull’s may get even more wrong than that, but they were the first, and sometimes only, people allowing me the space to work out what I was feeling.

I wouldn’t have been able to admit it at the time, but I secretly knew God was calling me to trust Him with the number of kids we would have. I didn’t know why or how, I only knew, in the quietest moments of my heart, an assurance that He had never let me down.  I didn’t suspect He was going to start now. I had no way to articulate it or defend it, but it sat like a seed in my heart, and it began to grow.

I brought up my feelings with my husband whose first response was, “What? Like the Duggars? I don’t get it; we just keep having them?” To which I promptly rolled my eyes at his clear cultural saturation of family planning. Why is our fixed starting point one of refusal of children until it suits us to welcome them? I argued from my soapbox,Why not the other way around? Where does Scripture give us this kind of authority over life?I pointed out that George Washington was the 5thchild out of 10 in his family, and Mozart was the 7thand last in his. During this phase I was a joy and delight to live with, and I can only assume that is why my husband eventually acquiesced.

Fast forward through the birth of children 3 and 4, where I remain deeply committed to God’s call on my life to leave my fertility open. It is my calling. It is who I am. I have long hair, and maybe will buy some ankle length denim skirts. No one can be sure where this train is heading.

When my 4thchild was 5 months old (another girl), I had a panic attack. This panic attack, as they often do, sparked other panic attacks, and I found myself traumatized, depressed and afraid to leave the house. I went to see my doctor and after the exam he casually mentioned that the antidepressant he was thinking of for me was not tested in pregnancy.  “But you don’t want to get pregnant again though, right?” he said buried in his laptop, which I knew stated 4 live births. He looked up at me and I froze. Want? Did I wantto get pregnant? Well, um, no, since I hadn’t brushed my teeth in God knows how long, I was leaking breastmilk through my shirt and at that exact moment wearing two different (but both black!) flip flops. No. Getting pregnant again was not at the top of my to do list. But what did ‘want’ have to do with God’s call on my life? Since when was a calling promised to be easy? I left with a diagnosis of “Post-partum anxiety and depression” and a laundry list of pills.

I collected my prescriptions at the pharmacy and took them home and dumped them on my dining room table.  One was a general antidepressant.  One was Xanax in case I felt a panic attack coming.  The third one was birth control. I laid them all out as if seeing them all at once would cause a solution to surface. I started to cry.

My tears were mostly that of disorientation. I had felt so sure of God’s call on my life. It felt almost euphoric to be so safe inside that sureness. Now, I didn’t know what direction I was supposed to go. I’m convinced most Christians, like myself, exist here much of the time, and we are not really sure how to move forward. Theologian Walter Brueggemann offers a framework for understanding the Psalms, the best book I know on disorientation. He says the movements of the psalms highlight the movement inherent in the life of the believer: first we are oriented to God, where everything has a black and white answer. Everything is sure.  Then we become disoriented by actual life, the greys of scripture, the pain of suffering. God seems far away. Then the real process of growth for any believer is the last stage of reorientation to the person of God.

I have found, in this situation, and since then, that when the specific instructions on my calling become murky, I must remember what is true about God. His unchanging character is the best re-orienting device I have found. When I’ve gotten stuck at this disorientation/re-orientation crossroad I want to solve the tangible problem- so my prayers reflect this: What job, God? What city, what spouse, what school? I look to temporal things to reveal what is hidden. I’ve noticed now- that God will allow periods of disorientation to reveal more of His character to me.

Sitting at my dining room table, I called my best friend and choked out my dilemma.  She waited a beat before answering. “What would you do if it were me?” she said, “What would you tell me?” “I would tell you to hang up the phone and start popping pills,” I said, “It’s not that I’m against anti-depressants, you know I’m all for them” I went on, “It’s the birthcontrol.” “But you can’t do one without the other.” She said, “And if I were feeling like you’re feeling, what would you say to me?” I paused, “I’d tell you to take it-” “Why?” She countered. “Because you need it” I said, choking up again, “because it would help you, and because I love you and want good things for you.” She paused. “You do.” She said gently, “And are you more merciful than God?”

I’d like to tell you that was the end of it. Instead I struggled for weeks to make a decision.  Her question kept coming back to me, Do I think I’m more merciful than God?God loves me. God wants me to be well. God would want me to take medication that could help correct the chemicals in my brain, even if that meant ‘controlling’ my fertility, something I had purposed in my heart not to do. I felt like I was at a crossroad, at the intersection of God’s call and God’s character.  They seemed in conflict. Which one wins?

I thought about Peter. Peter who was just trying to be a good Jew and follow Christ at the same time. When Peter got the vision of the clean and unclean animals, he argued with God like I did. To which God warned, Don’t call something unclean that I have called clean. Was Peter like, “Uhhh, but you didcall it unclean”? Maybe by the third time the sheet was lowered, Peter heard God’s whispering that I was hearing now, “I know what I said. But will you let me do something new?”

Our first natural tendency, when conceptualizing calling, is making it about us: This is who I am, which I talked about last week in Part One. And the second comes out of that. We think, If this is who I am, this is how that will play out and this is where I will be in 10 years. I don’t know that our calling is ever meant to serve as our crystal ball, or even our compass. I’ve seen in my own life, that the more I am oriented to Christ alone, the freer and more flexible I have become and the less I know about what the future holds.

It’s helpful for me to remember God’s trademark is new life. He is in the business of bringing dead things to life and making everything new.  That involves change, transformation and sometimes, first, death. Scripture repeatedly likens us to clay and to sheep. Clay is malleable and sheep are dependent which tells me that God cares a lot more about our pliability and our flexibility than He does about any specific thing He can accomplish through us. He is in the process of making us moldable, flexible, and transformable: glory to glory.

“We don’t have to hold so tightly to this,” my husband reminded me. “If God wants to grow our family, He will.” (The discerning reader will note we have 5 kids, not 4. Life is weird.) And as difficult as it has been to live life open-handed toward God, I’ve seen it is the only way to engage with a living God who molds and changes His children in real space and time. If I hold white-knuckled onto to my old ideas of how God has worked in the past, if I cling to my old ways of relating to God, over time it wears thin, like a wineskin full of holes, wasting any new life the Spirit pours in.