Aging with Grace

When I was a little girl, I used to fantasize a lot. It involved my dad sweeping in out of nowhere one day to proclaim his love and take us to his castle. He would explain that the only reason he had been absent was because the kingdom had been unsafe and he needed to slay all the dragons before bringing his beloveds to reside with him.

For my birthday, he would give me a paint horse that would race me breathlessly across finish lines to victory.
We would have picnics by a brook every day. We would bake cookies when we were supposed to be sleeping.
The 3 of us would live happily ever after. Preferably at the Fairmont Resort in Banff, Alberta, which is paramount to a castle in my mind.

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I don’t know where this came from. I was not exposed to a lot of Disney movies. I didn’t have a speck of pink or glitter in my bedroom. I wasn’t allowed to have barbies, save one – and she was an awesome African-American veterinarian.

Yet there it was.

I think I unconsciously must have taken on the philosophy of Sara Crewe from The Little Princess, about every girl being deserving of royalty. I think it lasted until I was about 9 or 10. After that, poverty became the road to saint-hood.

Don’t read me wrong – I didn’t ever go hungry or without clothes. Mom took good care of me, despite being an unemployed singer-songwriter retired-therapist living off of a family inheritance. We had enough, more than a lot of people. But somewhere along the way, I heard her say these phrases more than once, and it stuck with me.

Don’t impose on anyone.
Don’t be a burden.
How much snack did she eat while playing with your daughter today? Can I pay you back for that?

Underneath that, I internalized this:

Stop needing people, it just makes their life harder. You don’t deserve to be just GIVEN something, you must earn it.

So I grew tall and strong, on my own, cringing on the inside if I ever needed help or money or a ride somewhere or something to eat, from someone else. I survived on $5 an hour babysitting, wearing holey clothing that I’d had for so long, I didn’t even remember getting it.  I vowed that I would pay them all back, someday, when I could afford it. In the meantime, my poverty of possession and of spirit would please God and make him happy with me.

No one would ever be able to say, “Gosh, that Carly sure is a mooch, isn’t she? Thinks she owns the world, taking advantage of everyone. Horrible.”  No one.

As you can imagine, this made the concept of grace pretty hard to grasp. Even though I was being raised in a home that was teaching me about Jesus and his love, I always felt detached. Yes, yes, he died and rose again and forgave everyone freely, but not me. I must work. I must earn. I must deserve. And nope, I’m not Catholic. Might’ve made a good one though.

Throughout my journey, I have learned to lean on Him and on others, to accept help when I need it, to be tearfully grateful because that was my only currency of reciprocating. I have learned the beauty of paying it forward instead of paying it backward. Through more reading of Scripture, it’s starting to sink in that actually? Grace is all I have. Grace is all I get, and without it, I’m pretty screwed.

Fast forward to today.

Our 1st wedding anniversary is on Sunday, as I’ve said before. We have been planning a Honeymoon 2.0 to recover and redeem our first honeymoon that was nothing but camping with a side of food poisoning and a heaping spoonful of kidney infections. In fact, to be honest, this whole first year of marriage has been really hard and tiring…having this 2nd chance has been a big deal to me. I prayed it would be perfect, but I wasn’t letting my hopes get the best of me. I didn’t yet believe that I deserved a time of rest and relaxation and love and laughter with my ever-amazing husband.

Earlier this summer, we were planning a little road trip to Alberta that got abruptly postponed when all of the heavens decided to rain down on our proposed routes. But now is the time, we decided. We wanted to spend a couple of nights around Lake Louise area, to enjoy the beauty and spend a little extra on a nice place to stay, finishing by staying in Calgary with friends for a days.

Being the wing-it planners that we are, we didn’t seriously start contemplating where we were going to stay on the way. Some friends made us aware of groupons and special deals at various beautiful resorts, but we sat on the info. I don’t really know why? Anyway, today, the day before we leave, snuck up on us and said, “Hey. You better make some phone calls.”

Booked. Everything. Either that, or you had to sell your first born to be able to afford the available rooms.

I scanned back through my messages from friends and found a possibility: the sister of a friend is a manager at the Fairmont and would be able to get us a special deal. Was it still available?

It was. One night only, OUR ANNIVERSARY DAY.

And did you notice anything else? Scroll back to the top of my story.

Yep. I am staying, for 24 beautiful hours, at the castle of my childhood dreams.

I should have been excited beyond belief, right? Well, instead of that, I nearly had a panic attack. Sure, it was a special deal but that was still a lot of money, right? Plus gas and food and who knows what else…disregard the fact that Steve and I – mostly Steve – had been blessedly able to work many days all summer. While he was relieved to have our plans finally in place, I was not okay. When we went halfsies on a beautiful new camera tonight — another amazing deal that we’ll never find again — I was not okay. I was 10 again, believing that this past 12 months of struggle had been what I deserved, had been what I needed to be seen as worthy. Taking this time to be together was excess. Opulence and waste. Wasn’t it?

And then quietly, words came to my heart

The threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil. Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten…You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; Then My people will never be put to shame.…

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven…

Suddenly, all of the panic left me. The anxiety, yes, the shame of needing something good fled my thoughts.

I’ve long stopped believing that my dad will show up and place a crown on my head. But I have something better than that. I have a Father who has had a crown with my name on it since the beginning of time, and he gave me a prince to share this life.

Just because we had a hard start doesn’t mean that we don’t belong together.
Just because we have enough doesn’t make us elitist ingrates; God is not displeased with our lack of poverty.

Some people have taken this too far, believing that God is obligated to give us mansions and expensive cars and everything we want because we deserve to have it all. I don’t think God said that, ever. He is good, He is giving, He does bless abundantly, but it’s not for us. It’s so that we pour out and give it back out to everyone else. It means we don’t forget where we came from when we see someone in need. It means we can still love him whether we are rich or poor, we can still praise him even if we have nothing left. It means we learn how to accept a gift with grace, knowing that it’s not because we’re more special than anyone else.

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Starting tomorrow, I want to learn what that really means.  With this cutie by my side.

“When grace is joined with old age, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.” — Victor Hugo

A Crapload Can Change In One Year

Yes, crapload. Stayin’ classy.

This time last year, I was the pretty harried receptionist/office manager/flak receiver at a dance studio that collapsed in on itself as soon as I left. Well, maybe not quite that dramatic, but it kind of seemed like it? I was also writing this.

Well, it’s that time of year again, folks. Summer is dying while managing to squeeze a few beautiful moments left out of her system, and Autumn (yes, Autumn, with a capital A. Still stayin’ classy.) is starting to show her true colours.

I’m a little bit excited.

Because while I love summer and its sunshiney grace on my poor soul needy Mexican skin, I miss scarves. And big sweaters, and crunchy leaves, and hot chocolate, and not having to shave my legs every other day. I am fruit-smoothie and sundressed out. Fall is my time to shine; layers are my friends, friends.

But unlike last year, we (Steven and I) are going to try really, really hard not to couch this one all away. Granted, we were recovering from a honeymoon chock full of puke, diarrhea and infected internal organs, on top of getting used to living with another human being who was actually not as picture perfect as we both imagined.

However, I think we love each other more now than we did on our wedding day, and it’s because of those very things. Taking care of one another up close while sick (or *ahem* unemployed or depressed or lonely…who, me?) creates a very special intimacy that gives you the freedom to be yourself – the good, the bad and the ugly version of yourself. And that in turn lets you start over and re-build what you thought was true love from the ground up, so, if you’re lucky, now you have a relationship that is more honest and gaining in grace. Without real truth, there cannot be real love.

So I personally am reveling in the fact that the first year of marriage is almost complete. It has been hard, but good. There have been more gains than losses. It is brutiful.

And it is moving forward!

For our anniversary –which is in 11.5 days YIKES–, we plan to travel. And not to camp either.

Now hold up. Camping is GREAT. But it is also how we spent our honeymoon, and most of the summer, so for our Honeymoon 2.0, we’re just gonna get in the truck with a couple bags for survival and drive somewhere nice. Somewhere we can breathe a sigh of relief, pamper ourselves a bit, and recharge for the winter. I’m thinking mountains and trees and fresh air and water and candlelit dinners and hot tubs and business time and walks and naps and drinks and laughter and pictures. Lots of pictures.

And as for what I call the Sunless Blues, well, this girl is prepared.

Vitamin D’s in gummy form because I am a child and won’t remember to take them otherwise.

Some flowers and tomatoes and basil and peppermint that grows out of little tin cans.

Auditioning to be a part of Trinity Western’s University choir tonight. If I’m accepted, that’ll get me through quite a few Tuesdays.

Promoting my doula business to the next level with cards and such. I’ve got a guy.

Having friends and neighbours over for homemade dinner regularly, instead of just saying that one day we’ll invite them and then ordering take-out for two. #followthrough

Which is also the perfect segue to better cooking and better eating. It is so easy to pack on the pounds during the cold months, but we’re determined to at least stay where we are, if not drop a bit. I mean, we bought a soccer ball, so it’s pretty for real.

A search for the perfect Halloween costume for my cat. Did you know that they have a Buzz Lightyear now? Every time I walk in the pet store, it’s like I have my own personal little Angel on one shoulder reminding me that I love my kitteh, and a Devil on the other snickering that Walter would look so cute as an Eeyore and he would hate it and I should get it.
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And when they look like that….well, you can see why I’m having such a hard time making the right choice.

And of course with winter comes more down time. More down time means more music making. And that means our friend Jason is in luck.
The other day, he said to us, “If you guys don’t make another Agent Button video soon, I’m going…to flip…my lid. So now you know.”
Oh, we know. And so does Sean Bean.
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And knowing is half the battle.

The Story of the Bumpy Doula

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I told Steve that I always struggle with opening my first paragraph for a blog. Without looking, he typed this and said, “There’s your opening.” I am keeping it because, really, I got nothin’ better.

And it’s also a pretty accurate assessment of how my brain has been processing information over the past few days.

adoinagona jaiodfoadn —summer is ending–aodinoianfgnaglna

adoiffoaner,m \ujq4  aolarn adfmalmd dnf — i helped a baby come into the world last weekend— woaeb affgl hqoh4rn  NEOINRLNnfaoanre aoln

oain voaijer,qnoi232nmzao\l —i am turning 26 in, like, 4 weeks—aoeif aeo iu0jJLHN0P49J

A QIEJ N\LKSM opMDF;LOAOJKR —WAIT, WHAT? I HELPED DELIVER A BABY?!? WHEN? HOW? WHO GAVE ME THE CREDENTIALS FOR THAT?!??

So basically, in the midst of everyone’s else’s “back to school” mode, I’ve been more in a “back to bed” mode. And then a “back to last week” mode.

Labour labour labour labour labour labour labour labour BABY.

*world changes*

Tears. Gratefulness. Shock. Excitement. And an overwhelming desire to make this act of birth, this event in history, this sanctuary moment, my life.

Now comes the delicate balance of telling my story without telling their story for them. A big part of being a doula is public relations – diplomacy – respect of confidentiality and privacy.

The best way I know how is to tell why I want to doula my way through life. The literal butterfly transformation I went through to go from being unready and fearful, to feeling unstoppable.

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Steve and I drove to Kelowna for the very first time on Emily’s due date the weekend before last. We spent a day exploring the hot but gorgeous landscape, and wondered why we’d never trekked here before. (aka we are definitely going back!) As we walked along the vastness that is Okanagan Lake, I wrestled. The fact that Steve was about to leave me here, for who knows how long, so I could face the unknown with Tomily was becoming more and more real to me. We had not even been apart for a night since we got married last September, and, not anticipating the heat, I had packed poorly. I was hot, I was overwhelmed, I wanted to throw up.

So I let the heat go to my brain. My heart began pounding, and I started eating.
Like, a lot. With gravy on all sides.
Already uncomfortable clothing became unbearable.
Thoughts raced through my mind: I feel so gross. How can I be a good doula to Tom and Emily when I can’t even take care of myself? I miss Steve already. Please, baby, come soon.

Baby did not come for 6 days.

For the first 2 days, this girl’s intestines were in such a knot that nothing came out, if you know what I mean. TWO DAYS. And I got a spider bite while I was sleeping. And something strange appeared on my nose that wasn’t a zit and wasn’t an insect bite and wasn’t a sunburn but it hurt and it was itchy and it made me look like a lush.

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I felt like a frumpy, grumpy, lumpy, bumpy doula, all right. And then I thought…

Maybe this is a little glimpse of what Emily is feeling. I took my discomfort and tried to mentally multiply a 9-month-baked baby in the mix. Suddenly, my problems didn’t seem quite so…constipating? Yeah. I know. My point is that I had to choose to rise above myself, to see that Emily needed Tom and I to understand what she was going through so that we could help her.

I started taking care of myself so that I could take care of her. I portioned my food properly, adding a healthy dose of curry and apples to smooth things along. I went to a thrift shop with Em and picked up some lovely CHEAP-ASS clothes that I could breathe in. I also invested in a proper bathing suit so that I could join Emily on our lake outings. (Yep, I am that person who went to the Okanagan in late August and didn’t pack something to swim in. *facepalm*) I took a pen and paper each morning/evening to write out all my feels from the day and dreams from the night so that I could get it out and let it go. I made contact with good friend Candice who is also a seasoned doula. She literally became my mentor through text message and saved my life. (Later, we also learned that she had a hand in helping Emily’s older sister give birth a few years ago, yet she didn’t know Emily at all! It’s a small globe, friends.)  I started to feel a lot better.

And then the contractions started. And they didn’t end for 2 days.

If I hadn’t spent the previous 4 days in misery and then applied self-care just in time, I don’t know if we would have made it. I mean, I think we would have, but not with nearly as much grace and content.

Without going into too much detail, I have to say that Tom and Emily amazed me, even more than I expected to be amazed. Tom never left her side, and rode the wave of every single pain and emotion with the ease of a pro. More than once, I had to hide tears as I witnessed such love and encouragement being poured onto this woman trying to complete one of the biggest jobs of all time. And if the stereotype about labouring women losing control, snapping and becoming violent towards the nearest person is true, she challenged it. Even through excruciating pain, she calmly made it very clear to us what she needed and she always added a “please” and “thank you.”  #tomforpresident #emilyforsainthood

As for me? Well, as soon as it was “go time”, something deep and hidden inside my soul broke out and kicked its way into high gear. Suddenly all of my book learning and researching and gaining resources and talking talking talking turned into warm, hard instinct. I became absolutely sure that Emily could and would have this baby no matter what, and that I, along with her husband, was going to do my damnedest to get her there. Screw the heat, screw the tired, screw the fear, screw the unknown, screw the feelings – I put on my scrubs, walked into that hospital, made sure I knew who the nurses were, that the nurses knew who I was and what I would be doing there (thankfully, mom and dad had prepared a printed birth plan with my name and title on it!), unpacked our stuff, found the fridge & ice machine, made sure the shower was working and had plenty of towels, set up Emily’s items of comfort from home that she wanted to visualize, and then ran to her side every time another contraction came on. Let me be clear: I was not there to replace Tom – I wanted there to be no reason Tom needed to leave her, except for the occasional bathroom break. That was my job. Not the doctor’s, not the nurses’, mine.

For the past 4 months, whenever I’ve had someone ask me what a doula is, I got into the habit of saying, “It’s like a birth coach. An objective third party member that’s not hospital staff. Someone hired to help the parents and encourage them, to talk them through everything that’s going on, as birth – especially the first time – can be pretty scary.”

I can’t believe how wrong I was. I mean, I was right, but there is so much more to it than that.

Do you think that when you’re in the hospital and labouring that a nurse is going to be hanging around outside your door just in case you need them, around the clock? They’re not. That’s my job.
Do you think that when you have a contraction, your life partner is going to be able to squeeze your hips to relieve pressure, all the while soothing you with warm water? They’ll try, but they can’t. With my help, they can.
What if you’re hungry or thirsty, but you don’t want to be left by yourself? You can’t order room service in a hospital. But I can go get it for you, whatever you like.
What if your shoulders need rubbing, but one little spot in your foot is itching like crazy and you’re too tired and sore to do anything about it? Bring in the birth partner, let’s get you taken care of.
And about the room you give birth in…it will probably be pretty nice and comfortable, with the option of dim lights and mobility. However, there were at least 5 other women giving birth in the ward that night, one being right next door; we had to turn up the Bob Marley just so that we wouldn’t be distracted by the sounds of their labour going on around us.

“Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be all right…”

That’s the battle song of a family giving birth right there.

In all reality, the nurse (and she was wonderful) came into the room of her own volition, unless I asked sooner, every 45 minutes. The doctor only came to the hospital after 10cms of dilation had already been completed and the pushing stage was about to begin. That’s a lot of time and space to go through being just you and your partner, whether you’re the pregnant one or with the pregnant one.

So my question is, why doesn’t everyone want a birth partner?

*gets off of soap box*

I will admit that when Emily started to push, I started to swallow a little harder as it occurred to me that at any moment, I was going to witness a small human being come out of a big human being. I hadn’t slept, I had eaten little, and I started telling myself, “You will not pass out. Stay strong. Do you want to be known as the Fainting Doula, DO YOU? I didn’t think so. Now stop shaking, get up on that bed and let Emily lean on you until the contraction passes, got it?”

I got it. And when I saw that little girl’s face appear, with her smooshed nose and gorgeous lips and perfect ears and crimpy hair, time stopped.

God opened the door, light poured in, and Love said, “You see this? That’s me. I know you’ve been looking for me for a long time; well, here I am. Soak me in. I’m here for the taking.”

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Why do I want to be a doula?

The way I see it, Life is hard enough as it is, and I have been searching for years for something that will make it a little easier for someone else.  Tom & Emily told me later that they couldn’t have done it without me, that my presence made their experience and transition into parenthood so much easier. So even if Eva Sofia is the only baby I help bring earthside, knowing this is enough for me. Knowing that I’ve finally found my calling, my purpose for being put on this earth, is enough to make me cry at a moment’s notice.

3 days ago, my entire life changed. It became more holy, more blessed, and more wholly blessed. And I’m so thankful. Long live Eva Sofia, long live the doula heart and long live the grace of God to make this place a little better than it was before.