I naively assumed that the waiting would be over as soon as God allowed me to conceive. But even after the Wonder Woman, October 31st shock of my life, I have still been holding my breath and waiting.
But this time the waiting doesn’t feel so alone. It’s now a collective holding of the breaths that Jason and I share. Since Halloween, together we’ve held hands, our breaths, and our plans until the following appointment on November 8th. “All we want is a heartbeat,” we repeat to ourselves and each other.
And so the agony of waiting once again crept alongside us, like an old friend. You know the kind. The ones who are close-talkers, who arrive way to early, start digging through your frig and begin eating the perfectly round cheese ball long before any of the other guests arrive.
That’s how waiting feels; the uninvited guest. The annoying close-talker. The one who gets close enough to whisper all the doubts you are trying so hard to push out with a lot of work and filler noise.
It seems fitting that it’s snowing today. That the ground is covered in white, fluffy flakes of a fresh start. In just twenty-two days, that’s what we’ll all get. A New Year. A fresh start. A white slate.
But we can’t move forward without reflecting back. I think this entire “Year of Whimsy” in some way has been a reflection. Like the Children’s Book “Zoom” I received at my AP Seminar training in July of 2014, the first image that you see, the one you begin to focus in on, is not the entire picture. In fact, it’s just a detail of a detail, and by zooming out, slowly, with intention, you begin to see what is truly there. What began as finally verbalizing the brokenness behind my failed attempts at motherhood and belonging, that detail of a detail, has merged into a year-long reflection upon my inability to let go and Let God.
Now, I’m not cured. Far from it! I think I will always be a struggling perfectionist. A struggling control freak (I know, you don’t say!). But that’s what whimsy was all about for me. Whimsy was about the attempt to let go. Slowing uncurling my fingers from the life I was so desperately trying to force, and learning to open that hand to the life God has so desperately been trying to give.
I’m sure there is some theological debate among Christians as to which is the “better” holiday; Christmas, the birth of our long-awaited Savior, or Easter, the most selfless act (death and resurrection) to a self-serving humanity.
But for me, those holidays are too short. The anticipation builds. Stores are stocked months in advance with all the pomp and circumstance of the season (way before I’m ready to commit). Then it’s over. All the eggs have been found, the presents have been unwrapped. Just as quickly as the Holiday morning arrives, it’s over and the days that follow seem somber and misplaced. You see, I’m just not that kind of girl. A lunch date with me is not thirty minutes. You better block off two hours because I want to savor it all. The conversation, the atmosphere, the meal. And just like my lunch date with friends, I want to savor my holidays with Christ.
So, for me, the season to savor is Advent. Twenty-five days in the midst of the most aggressive holiday hustle and bustle to read verse by verse, word by word, the details of those final months before the miraculous and holy birth. Advent is the ultimate savor season.
Now I know I’m ahead of myself. Advent typically begins December 1st and takes us all the way through Christmas day. But let’s be real. My tree is up. I’m already listening to the Holly station on Satellite radio (much to Jason and my brother’s dismay), and I’ve already watched Jim Carry’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, twice! I’m ready for Advent. I’m ready to dive into God’s word and discover all over again the whimsy of Christ’s impoverished and unlikely birth.
Now if you want to follow along, there are hundreds of devotionals and books on Advent on Amazon alone so hit Prime and you’ll be ready to begin in two days. But for the second year in a row, I’m sticking to Jane Johnson’s “25 Days of Advent: The Daily Re-Telling of the Greatest Story of All Time.” Jane is a kindred spirit. She’s a writer and blogger, and fellow woman of waiting. After ten years of marriage, Jane and her husband finally conceived their long-awaited birth, a son born on the one-year anniversary of losing her best friend to cancer. Jane’s story of waiting and redemption combined with the tenderness of Advent is what my soul longs for. As Jane writes, “Because He makes all things new. And bitter waters sweet. Because He redeems heartbreak.”
On October 25th, 1988, when I was just four years and five months old, President Ronald Reagan declared the month of October, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
He so eloquently stated;
"When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan.
When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower.
When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.”
For those of us who have lost a child, a pregnancy, a hope, we don’t need a designated month on the calendar to remember what we’ve lost. We remember daily. I will always mourn March 17th, 2016 and May 25th, 2017.
Just as a widower catches a glimpse of a memory and recalls their spouse, I have similar flashes of moments that take my breath away. Now, I don’t know the round faces of my children, or the softness of their pudgy hands, or the way they smell when you pull them tightly to snuggle. But I remember holding an ultrasound picture in my hand. I remember the hug my mother-in-law gave me when I handed her a wrapped onesie. And I remember the bitter taste of that peach cobbler she delivered when she had no words to comfort our loss.
I can’t escape pregnancy and joyous new life. My social media feed is compounded with pregnancy announcements and growing baby bumps. Sweet text messages from friends bring a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Even my favorite network shows are filled with glowing pregnant woman. Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory is ridiculously fertile with a growing baby boy just 9 months after the birth of her daughter. And even though her first pregnancy was announced on the show in May while I was battling my second loss, I stuck with them. And crazed Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and Proctor of the Realm, Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones is pregnant by her twin brother Jamie! Come on HBO, at least give me a Daenerys Targaryen, John Snow baby!
I really love that phrase “season of life.” It says “hey, don’t worry. This too shall pass, will fade away, will one day end.” And at the same time is juxtaposed with the idea of new life, new growth, and my favorite, new adventure.
Just like the weather in Georgia in the month of October, right now I’m in several seasons all at one.
I’m in a new season with a career that I’m loving, learning, and growing.
I’m in a season of marriage where Jason and I have this balance of independence and partnership.
I’m in a season of waiting (the utter worst!) praying through my reactionary “I-need-to-be-doing” reflexes versus God’s perfect will and timing.
But unfortunately, I’m also in a season of avoidance.
Not only am I avoiding action (as much as I feel called to do). I’m avoiding community.
I’m avoiding more fertility treatments because I’m terrified of the same outcome. (I think one miscarriage a year is my emotional limit.)
I’m avoiding close community because I feel so incredibly out of touch with everyone else’s “season of life” that I have nothing to contribute.
For an extravert, this is so incredibly hard. I want to see people. Have conversation. Laugh. Tell stories. Share hearts. But the insecurity within urges me to hold my tongue, avoid these encounters, keep to myself. Better to be safely tucked away than vulnerable and heartbroken. Better to be at home than with those who don’t and can’t relate.
On Tuesday night, I had the honor to attend my first book release party. With a rain and thunder storm percolating over Athens, Georgia, my dearest friend and I car pooled to our favorite college town for this exciting event. Having worked together for the past ten years, that car ride was not filled with the tink, tink, tink of rain drops on a car hood but instead with a stream of consciousness conversation that bounced around like a tennis ball in a dryer. From health and healing (she just had her gallbladder out, a surgery I know all too well), current colleagues, former colleagues, former students, books we’re reading, books we’re wanting to read, her kids, our pups, and of course, full analysis of season seven of Game of Thrones, and just like that, we were in Athens.
We arrived just in time for the sun to part the clouds leaving us dry in a surreal September breeze. My friend parallel parked (like a champ!), and we hopped out for a quick walk down the street to a hipster vegetarian joint where I stuffed myself with a crispy chickpea falafel, all the while continuing to catch up on what we’ve missed in each other’s lives.
After a long day on the road in Stephens County, I almost backed out of attending this event. I was tired. I had tons of work to do just from my two meetings that day, and Jason was at home sprawled out on the sectional under a down comforter with a cold. Clearly, I had excuses. But excuses are the enemy to whimsy. Not supporting your friends is the enemy to whimsy. Choosing work over hipster eateries, independently owned bookstores, and book launch parties is clearly, again, the enemy to whimsy.
My prayer life is a lot like my running life.
Did I mention slow?
However, just like my running life, my consistency equals my expectation. In 2015, my year of “adventure,” I ran a half marathon 8 out of 12 months. I completed a full triathlon one month, and another month a really horrible marathon attempt.
You would have thought that I was fast. You would have thought that I was fit. The answer to both? No. Because of that key word: consistency. During that season, Jason and I were living at the affectionately named “tiny house experiment” while our newly purchased home was under flood reconstruction. I was beginning my first run with fertility treatments (and not handling the emotional roller-coaster well). And I was in a new position of leadership at my job that I thought would be a natural fit. So, to sum it up. I was lost. The rug was literally, figuratively, and spiritually pulled out from beneath me.
What do you do when you’re lost? You hit up your Google Maps app. That first map led me to Beth Moore’s devotion, Whispers of Hope. For probably the first time in my life, I made an appointment with God on a pretty-regular schedule and began seeking Him in a way that my entire life in Christ had taught me to seek Him, but my apathy always kept me from completing.
So, by the time 2016 rolled around and we were settled in our newly reconstructed home, my appetite continued for more direction. That adventure that I had been seeking transformed into a spiritual adventure that still continues. Even though 2016 was my year of “restoration,” it was also my year of non-fiction. That restoration was literal with our home, it was also spiritual with my soul. I am now calling that “year” a “season” of non-fiction since I’m still in it. In a lot of ways, I’m still lost. I’m still searching, still running slowly, painfully, desperately, towards the will of my Father.
I love that people are becoming more open to talk about their pain with me. It’s usually strangers or acquaintances. Somehow God ordains a moment and the next thing I know we are both sharing stories of loss and desire. At a coffee shop in Clarksville. At my yearly physical in Oakwood. At the grocery store in Cornelia. It is an honor to hear these stories. It’s a blessing to fill their isolation with commonality. And it’s a responsibility and God’s calling for me to speak when my gut begs me to be silent. To play it safe.
What I don’t like is when people say “You’re so brave. You’re courageous.” Again, they don’t really know me. They don’t know that I’m a bundle of fear, nerves, and insecurities. Always theorizing and projecting how something won’t come to pass in the way that I desire it would.
This theme of courage and fear has been on the forefront of my mind for months. I’ve written about it (not published). I’m read about it. I’ve dreamed about it. And in pure Natalie fashion, I’ve pushed it to the back of my mind and filed it under “Too Busy to Deal With.”
Professionally, I’m in a really awesome season of busy. My new job has been a breath of fresh air, metaphorically and physically. These past few weeks I have been traveling around God-created Northeast Georgia popping in and out of schools helping with a skill I feel confident in, with something that I know has value, in an area where there are really too few of us to understand. Every day feels like extending a life preserver, a hand, and sometimes even a hug to individuals who just want to do right by their schools and communities. That is exactly what I desire to do as well; do right, be authentic, and extend a hand (and a hug when in person).
It was scary to leave a career and identity after ten years. It’s scary to explain to people my new job, because no one really gets it. It’s scary to enter a school where no one knows me. Turn a corner hoping to see a friendly face. Will they be glad to see me? Will I have the answers to their questions? Will I be able to support them in a way that makes their school better? Their own lives better?
Two weeks back on a beautiful Friday morning, God put my heart to rest. I left my home around 7am and drove from Habersham to Downtown Clarkesville, through artisan Sautee Nacoochee, through alpine Helen, around the misty mountains on Unicoi Turnpike where the temperature kept dropping and the sun just began to rise. I had my podcast running through my speakers playing Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History but I listen just as much for his soothing, cadenced narrative as I do for the historical implications. When my yellow Mini crested the highest peak of Unicoi Gap my podcast suddenly stopped. No signal. But I didn’t even notice. What I did notice was the most glorious sunrise. Having hiked that mountain before I know all too well what an early morning sunrise and those mountains can do. They heal. They restore. They confirm. On that misty, 64-degree morning, I began speaking out loud to my Savoir. Thanking my Heavenly Father for that very moment on Unicoi Turnpike. For His sunrise. For His grace. For His abundant mercy. And for being the very definition of whimsy; placing a broken girl on a curvy road on a mountain top where she tangibly felt His presence. It was truly a perfect day where I ran into some cherished old friends unexpectedly and met some very dear new ones.
I’ve already taken this career leap. It’s not like I was going to back out. But like most of us, we just want a little confirmation that we were on the right path. Some of us need it. God filled that day with confirmation after confirmation.
But even since that day I’m still scared. My morning prayers often filled with praise through tears. I’m afraid of being forgotten. I’m afraid of missing out. I’m afraid my life will never be more than this.
This week I have been in contact with so many students. Some of those left behind at school miss me, say they need me. Some feel abandoned. Some just at a loss of what was once familiar. Most of my graduates have already moved off to college. Some without a word of goodbye. Some chose to have lunch with me, to seek advice or just to reconnect. Those small meals have a big impact on me. They have no idea how much I love them. As best as I can. How a mother loves her children. But I know the reality is, it will never be like this again. In a few years’ time, they will have their own rhythms, their own lives, relationships and they will one day stand in front of an alter and I may or may not be in the crowd. I don’t blame them or judge them. I know this pattern all too well. I used to be “Mrs. White;” teacher, adviser, mentor, and sometimes mother. I’m now just “Natalie,” floating in and out of schools without those relationships to ground me, give me identity, and hold my heart together.
I know this is why God keeps putting scripture and truth in my sight about courage, faith, and fear. God does not desire us to live in fear. He desires us to recycle our adversity and turn it into a ministry.
It’s been 200 days since I declared 2017 my “year of Whimsy.” 200 days focusing on life, adventure, joy, passion, and action. That also means 200 days mindfully pushing away from fear, insecurity, inadequacy, and complacency. There is so much that I envisioned 2017 to be. And in God’s remarkable nature, He answered so many prayers; those realized, spoken, and softly whispered in the security of my spot. And yet He also answered the unspoken, those prayers and desired not yet realized. Tucked away behind the chanting of the enemy.
As I warned back in February, “when you proclaim a theme, be ready for The Holy Spirit to grab that theme by the celestial wings and make a way.” Well, my own words continue to feel prophetic.
I had no idea that in late 2016 when the word whimsy was springing to life on the pages of works that I thought were coincidental at best, that God was preparing the road that my feet now trod.
I had no idea that God would provide a new doctor, a new fertility plan, a new pregnancy. I also had no idea that God would use whimsy to also create a new me. One that feels more deeply, yet softer around the edges.
These past few years can be divided into two seasons; one where I cry almost daily, and the other where I’m all dried up. Surprisingly, even with all the change, May was dry, while June and July have been all wet. I don’t cry tears of pity or mourning, I simply cry out to God. I cry out in the safety of His presence most mornings while sitting alone in my office, reading His word, snuggling my green fuzzy blanket, embracing my first cup of coffee (and sometimes a Quigley).
Restoration in 2016 took the form of nonfiction and knowledge. That flame has continued to burn in 2017 with new authors and new works. I have also discovered that five minute devotionals don’t cut it. At least not for me. I can’t just read and walk away. I’m an educator after all and also a lifelong Type A student who needs implicit instructions and insight. So, I follow the path my devotional lays out making sure to indulge in long, lengthy chapters with even longer analysis. I hunker down and uncover truths that have never been obvious or apparent at first glance. And when I’m done reading, highlighting, and annotating (again, student here), I just sit. Sometimes physically sensing the minutes ticking by. I just don’t know how to respond to God. Yeah, I’m in awe. Yeah, I feel completely unworthy and at the same time completely full of grace. But I just don’t know what to say. Finally, when the words are just about to form and I open my mouth to speak, (because I have to speak to Him out loud) tears fall instead of words. In these reoccurring moments (that these days happen more often than not), I hit play on my Spotify “praise” playlist and allow the words of others to fill in my gaps. And in that sacred space, He shows up. And the tears fall. And I feel loved. And safe. And healed.
You know, I have some really cool friends. They come from really cool, diverse backgrounds. They do really cool things, personally and professionally. And when you put us all together, we are the most unlikely cast of characters. I think that is my favorite thing about friendships; the unlikely transpires the likely.
For instance a few years ago, I made an unlikely friend. In fact, it took me years to even put his name and friend in the same sentence. He was arrogant and demanding, well read and well spoken. His presence commanded proficiency and focus and he brought out just about every professional insecurity I had ever had. Thankfully, he worked at another school and we only had to work together a few times a year, mainly in the summer.
I was still a relatively young teacher, maybe five years in, but I had found a rhythm with Ninth Grade Literature and so had he. We were paired up together to help create some professional development for other teachers in our county. What I didn’t tell him at the time (or even now) is that he really challenged me. Why did I teach that a certain way? Why did I choose that text over the other? Why is that my approach to that content? I would leave each work session exhausted and annoyed. One day in some not-so-professional angst, I’m pretty sure I called him a jerk and said, “I feel sorry for your wife.” Without even flinching, he responded, “You know, you and her would probably be friends.” “Yeah, right,” I thought.
Little did I know, he was right. Dang it, I hate it when he’s right! That wife of his would later become one of the most transformative friends in my life.
A few years after our professional partnership had ended, I heard a rumor that my principal had hired his wife. “What?! Great. Is this going to be awkward? Did she know that I thought her husband was a jerk?” I guess only time would tell.
Whenever we talk about that first encounter, we remember it oh so very differently. She remembers me being warm and friendly. I remember being anxious and on edge. But like I said, he was right. She is chill and stylish, has fun tattoos and a hip Bohemian style. She’s a quoter of Shakespeare and of Monica Gellar. And she’s the only person I’ve ever met who has DJ Shadow on her iPod. (Anyone? Yeah, I didn’t think so). Like I said, she’s cool and we became instant friends.
We share a lot in common; our love of Anthropologie (but never the price tag), Starbucks (I’m a latte, she’s all Chai), French inspired foods and markets (Paris Market, Savannah GA), and women’s conferences celebrating Jesus Christ (we’ve attended three now together).
In four quick years, I’ve stayed at her parents’ house twice in Savannah where her dad never fails to entertain and her mom’s hospitality is only matched by her warm hugs. But my favorite thing about this dear friend is how much she teaches me without ever really knowing it. In fact, pretty much every cool thing I have come to learn and love these past few years has come from her. Let’s face it. She’s on the forefront and “in the know” and I’m like “hang on, what is that?”
I could literally make a list of authors, products, companies, and nonprofits she has introduced me to. But instead, I want to share my latest obsession and maybe even provide a little whimsy into your summer inspired by my dear friend.
“Do you listen to podcasts?” she asked last spring while driving to the Atlanta Brunch Festival. Just two weeks post D & C, here’s another reason why I love her. She made me get out of the house and do something fun.
“Uh, not really my thing. I guess.” Maybe that was my response, but that was at least what I was thinking. I didn’t really even know what a podcast was but just the thought of listening to someone talk at me did not remotely tickle my fancy.
Eventually she taught me that purple podcast button on my iPhone served a purpose and that what lied beneath were stories waiting to be told.
I wasn’t an instant fan. The addition began slowly as I’m sure most do. However, what started with listening to a few episodes of one show (The Happy Hour hosted by Jamie Ivey) while getting ready for school a few days a week turned into a rabbit hole that I hope to never climb out of. I now have a slew of podcasts that I struggle to keep up with. Some are inspirational. Some are geared towards writers. I’m even listening to some now regarding business. But I must confess, the majority are a different genre altogether. I’m almost embarrassed to say it but . . .
The Big Bang Theory, Series 03 Episode 23 – The Lunar Excitation