One for the Books


Last weekend, with my parents and brother Kris in town, I bore witness to THEE most hilarious and unfortunate "life with kids" moment that I've personally seen to date.

And because the universe is a good, good place... the victim was my brother.

I mean, just look at him:

Young and wild and free, with no one's poop to clean up and no rising at 5 am.  IT WAS HIS TIME, people.

*   *   *

While showering in the boys' bathroom Kris picks up a little travel sized bottle of Dr. Bronner's soap  from the edge of the tub, squirts some of the liquid onto a washcloth and scrub a dub dubbs.  Overcome with disgust over the putrid smell, he thinks to himself, "what the hell kind of hippie soap IS this?!?  They actually use this stuff??"

Not possessing the wherewithal to exit the shower with such a stench, he does the whole drill over again with shampoo. (He'll be thankful for that in time.)


He remembers the event after a busy day and suddenly feels an unexplicable urge to have someone agree with him that my "natural living" tendencies have gone way, way too far with this stuff.  So he grabs the bottle from the bathroom and brings it in to the living room where my mom is sitting.

Kris: Mom, smell this hippie soap Shannon's got in the bathroom.  I can't believe she uses this stuff.

Mom: (connecting dots and starting to laugh) Did you use it?

Kris: Yeah but it was revolting.

Mom: Alyosha told me yesterday that he peed in that bottle.  But I didn't believe him.


Kris: (trying again)  $*@$%#*@!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Kris: Alyosha, you peed in that soap bottle! That's disgusting! I bathed in that, man!

Aly: (eyes widening) You did?!?!

Kris: Yes! You can't do that man, it's disgusting!

Aly: But it's not disgusting.  My mom makes pea soup and it's really good!

I Have Cellulite (and I don't care)


The season is upon us, friends.  The season that strikes fear into the heart of American women everywhere, the one we have been trained to loathe and dread and deprive ourselves in anticipation of: it's swimsuit season.

{cue the collective shudder}

The rest of the year we can hide behind clothes, cover our "flaws", show the world only exactly what we want it to see, our eyes left to be the lone witness to the reality in the bathroom mirror.  But when June rolls around it brings with it two choices: stay covered, have no fun, and burn to a shriveled ash heap... or grin and bare it, baby.

The thing is most of us aren't grinning.  And no wonder, when we live in a culture absolutely obsessed with youth and an unrealistic idea of physical beauty.  And it's not just the media to be blamed: this attitude has permeated every level of our society and, to some degree, every single human being in it.  Whether we like it or not, it is nearly impossible to escape.

Physical signs of aging are a sickness to be fought, medicated, treated, and above all, despised.

Getting skinny is clearly the goal but we like to call it "getting healthy", because that's more PC.

If childbearing has left a woman stretch-marked and scarred, she should under no circumstances expose the afflicted skin to society at large, lest our eyes spontaneously combust.

Women who are naturally "too" skinny will be accused of having an eating disorder.  To be socially acceptable, you must stay within the predetermined levels of skinny.

Being full figured can be beautiful, as long as you don't have cellulite.  Just look at Beyonce and J-Lo.  See how inclusive we are?

While we're on the topic, cellulite is shameful and is the pesky humiliation that unites all women.  This is clearly an indicator of the slothfulness of the female sex, and not merely a biological component of the female body.

You know exactly what I'm talking about, because you live in the Western world in 2015 too.  Do you know who wasn't worried about getting wrinkles and a little extra fluff?  This lady:

Do you know who still isn't worried about it today?  This lady:

These women are strong, they are hard working, and they know what it is to be a woman who receives the changing seasons of life with grace.

How did we get so far off course?

Well, there are a lot of reasons but I'm gonna go straight for the jugular and make a lot of enemies here: I think the emergence of the birth control pill was a bigger setback to feminism than it was a victory for it.  With the availability of contraception our fertility was completely severed from the rest of our person, only to be picked back up again when deemed convenient and desirable for both parties.  With that severance came sexual objectification quickly after.  When you separate one enormous facet of a woman's personhood, it's only a matter of time before you feel more and more comfortable separating other parts of her as well.  We despise being seen as mere sex objects by the world but well, we kinda gave them permission to overlook crucial parts of us; we did it to ourselves first.   You know what they say about "freedom"- it's never free.  And I believe we have paid dearly.

(And no, I don't see women's bodies as baby-making machines.  I am a strong advocate of Natural Family Planning, which has a 90+% success rate when used correctly, and respects the whole woman.)

Regardless of how we as a generation got on this twisted path, one thing is for sure, ladies: we can't sit around complaining about it and waiting for society to magically change.  We have to take matters into our own hands, and it comes down to a lot of choices.

We can choose to not bring magazines into our homes.  Nothing good ever came from staring at The Airbrushed One Percent for half an hour.

We can use our bodies in ways that make us feel strong and beautiful.

We can notice how our children and our husbands respond to our bodies, and we can take it to heart.

We can remind ourselves of the generations of women who have gone before us and be inspired by the way they lived their lives.

We can limit the amount of media we take in, knowing that it shapes our expectations of "normal".

We can surround ourselves with other healthy women and talk about what it means to be a real woman.  There is strength in numbers.

Let me be clear: I'm not saying we shouldn't adhere to specific ways of eating, that's important for the health of some of us and eating whole, nutritious food is certainly important for all of us.  I'm not saying we shouldn't be exercising.  Again, clearly a healthy practice when done with the right mentality!  What I am saying is that these things shouldn't be done in hopes of making our bodies into something that they weren't designed to be.

We were meant to get older, and our skin and bodies reflect that change.  It's an appropriate thing.  It should not be unsettling to us that we are moving towards one day looking like this:

It should be unsettling to us that society is overrun with products and procedures aimed at the attempt to hold on to something that was never ours to keep.  It should be unsettling that we try so hard to defeat Mother Nature that we lose the chance to exude the pure beauty of a life well lived.

So this summer, let's stick it to the man.  Put on your bikini if that's your thing, wear your one piece if that's your thing, go skinny dipping if that's your thing, but let's have fun dang it!  Let's believe that we're beautiful and powerful and deserving of good things.  Because it's true.

Your body is made up of 37 trillion cells, 650 skeletal muscles, and 7 billion billion billion (not a typo) atoms.  Your body hikes trails, lifts children, works a garden, paces board rooms, swims under waterfalls, feeds new life, visits patients in 15 hour shifts, offers comfort to others, and as it should, ages.  Your body is not an embarrassment.  Your body is a freaking miracle.

photo sources: 
Hilda pinup
early 1900s woman
African woman
aging beautifully

This post is a contribution to Blessed Is She's linkup addressing body image.  If you have a minute, head over there and check out more entries.  You won't be sorry.  #BISsisterhood

When Marriage Feels Like Treading Water


Marriage came easy to us for years.

There were no first year cliches, no dramatic tearful fights, no significant growing pains at all. Not that we didn't have arguments, of course we did, but they never rocked the boat too much and were quickly forgotten soon after.

We went through ministry training, we moved to Indonesia, we celebrated our third anniversary in Bali and our fourth in Sydney, we adopted a son whom we loved but couldn't for the life of us understand.

You already know that story.  How parenthood broke us down, crushed us under it's feet, and asked us to build life again out of the fragments of our dry bones.  And we've somehow done that, and it's been beautiful, but there is yet much of the story that you don't know, too.

As we began parenting this fascinatingly complex child whose person we were just beginning to learn, Eric was finishing his undergraduate degree and applying to graduate schools (which is all but a requirement in the field of music composition).  By the time he started his first Master's class, we were overwhelmed, discouraged, guilt-wrecked, and confused by the reality that mainstream parenting practices were failing our son.  (Did you know I was a Child and Family Studies major?  Can you guess how much I thought I knew about parenting?  Hmm Mmm. More.)

We had been living in a state of stress, both internally and externally, for too long already.  But in the fall of 2012, Eric's first semester of graduate school, we hit the kind of rock bottom that leaves your bum sore for years.

You don't need to know the details of our pain any more than we need to know the details of yours for us to all to look at each other with eyebrows raised and say "aah! you too?".  Every marriage will have that season at least once, I'm sure of it.

We couldn't take each other's pain away and we couldn't figure out how to heal our own.  We swam in our grief and hurt and shame until our limbs would ache from the dog paddling and we'd just flat out quit for awhile.  Isn't it weird how sinking can feel so good that you forget it's going to kill you?

But eventually your lungs start to rage and you have to choose: come up or go down.  And I don't know how, but there always seemed to be just enough skinny grace to take a deep breath and start kicking again.  Sometimes that's all you can possibly do, but miraculously, it's enough.

Did you know that in the liturgical church calendar the new year starts in December, with Advent?  The new year came for us right on time, ushered in by a child and family trauma therapist whom I am still not convinced is not actually an angelic being.  The spring semester came knocking and found Eric shaking his head.  He would go part time so that we could focus on healing our family.  It sounds seamless and simple but I can assure you we are deeply emotional people and I am shockingly stubborn and though it felt peaceful, it was anything but easy.

We got more help and we signed up for a group training on parenting kids like Aly, and in doing so we signed up to be reminded that we were never alone.  We licked our wounds and we counted our losses and we started to swim.  Together.

In the two years since the emotional, financial, and practical stress of graduate school has continued to lord itself over us, but still we have healed in community.  The community of our marriage, the community of our family, the community of our friends, the community of therapy.  We could never have stayed afloat otherwise, and we will forever seek to be such a lighthouse for others.

And so it's with a little bit of pride but a heck of a lot more gratitude that I get to tell you about this:

May 15, 2015.

There is no one I would rather have almost killed and stayed married to.  No one.

A Mother's Day Letter to My Son's Birthmom


Dear Ms. E,

Here in America, Mother's Day is knocking at the door yet again, and yet again I think achingly of you.  I think of how, 6 years ago, you must have been touching your stomach subconsciously.  How you must have been wondering about this little being growing inside of you; whether it was healthy, when it would come, whether it was a boy or a girl.

It was a boy, the most passionate little boy I have ever met.  And being his mom has been one of the greatest honors of my life, but sometimes I grieve, too.  I grieve for you, that you never got to know this fascinating human that you gave life to.  I grieve for him, that he was cut off from the very first personal relationship he ever had.  I grieve for a world that is so broken, so unfair, that things like this that were never meant to happen, do.

But I want you to know that I don't grieve sharing him with you.  I am deeply proud to be one of two of this child's mothers.  I am proud to tell him of his Ugandan mother who carried him in her body, who surely loved him even though life was cruel.  I am proud to tell him that you sacrificed for him, and that one day he will love so big that he sacrifices for someone else too.  I am proud to look him in the eye and tell him with a face full of Truth, "we are both your mothers, and we can both love you, baby".

I am proud (and a little terrified) to represent motherhood to him and to hope that somehow, some way, it will be enough to give him a glimpse into your love as well.

I want you to know that you are honored in our home.  That we speak tenderly of you out of the blue on random Thursday evenings, that we light candles in memory of you on special holidays, that we pray for you.

On this side of heaven, I will never fully know the circumstances you were facing when this baby came into the world.  I will never know what your life was like or everything you felt about the pregnancy.  I wish you could sit on my tattered red couch and sip tea with me while you tell me all about it.  I wish I could give you a hug or hold your hand while I reached for the sugar.

I wish I could make you know how very much I love our baby boy.

I wonder what you'd think if you knew we'd named him Alyosha.  I bet you'd arch one eyebrow, the way you Ugandan women have a habit of doing.  I wonder if it would help to know it means "defender of mankind". Somehow, deep inside, I have a feeling you would like that.  This child that you bore, he was made for amazing things.

You should know that our baby, he struggles sometimes.  He faces challenges that have pained me for years. Sometimes I handle it really well.  Sometimes I fail miserably.  But I want you to know that his daddy and I, we are playing for keeps.  He has our whole hearts for our whole lives, and I hope it comforts you to know it.

You should also know that your boy is brave and kind.  He loves babies and being a big brother.  He tells me he loves me both in words and in sign language every single day.  He is smart.  He is funny. He is shy.  He can write his name. He loves pulleys and gears and building machines.  I wish you could know these things about him; you deserve to.

I won't always do the right thing as I parent our boy, and I will probably always wonder if you would have done it better. But I hope that one day, should we meet face to face outside of time and outside of space, you will give me a hug or you will hold my hand, and you will look me in the eye with your face full of Truth, and you will say that I too am his mother.

*  *  *  *  *

A few notes.  First, I intentionally kept this letter vague for two reasons: that I may respect my son's privacy and the privacy of his birth family, and that it may better resonate with a variety of other people as well.  Second, this is my particular journey and my own feelings.  They very much accord with the way many adoptive mothers feel, but certainly not all, and I want to validate those experiences and feelings as well.  Adoption is complicated and emotional and I would never want to make others feel guilty for not feeling exactly the way I do.  But I do want to honor birthmothers around the world this Mother's Day, and this is my sincerest attempt to put my feelings into words.

I Am Not The Vine


At church on Sunday the Gospel reading was John 15:5 - "I am the vine and you are the branches, without me you can do nothing".  I've heard these words hundreds of times in my life and would usually be susceptible to letting them go in one ear and out the other but yesterday, mercifully, I was rounding out a three day stretch of being driven up the parenting wall.  Despondent, exhausted, grieving, frustrated, completely frayed... the fruit was ripe for the pickin'.

The priest said I am not the vine and I realized I'd forgotten.

You see, I'm a mother.  And mothers are notoriously bad at remembering that we are not the root and center of life, because in so many ways it seems like we are.  Our careful hands spin the plates, uphold the balance, and crack the ringmaster's whip in the middle of this crazy circus.  We do so much that we forget we don't do everything.

We dig and we plant and we water and we sow. Then we carry the weight of the growth on our shoulders, the weight that was never meant to be ours to bear.  And every so often we buckle. Because our frame wasn't designed for it. We are strong, but we aren't that strong. We are capable but not that capable.

We worry and we learn and we read and we implement and we change.  We advocate and we structure and we discipline and we nurture.  We empty ourselves to help our children, and most of that is good but some of it's not.  Some of it just leaves us dry and shriveled and in need of a good watering ourselves.

Can I offer you moms a sprinkle today?

We do not have control over who our children grow up to be.

Everything in me wants to delete that sentence because it is so incredibly raw and painful.  I would rather deny it, or at least allow myself time before I really own it.  But it's Truth and I know that what my weary heart needs above all else is the Truth.

They say it sets you free, and I think it will.  Though maybe it's the kind of freedom you have to return to over and over again.  The kind that, if given the choice, you probably wouldn't even choose. I'd choose control instead.  I'd choose the formula: the assurance that if I do everything right my son will get better.

The problem with the formula is that I can't uphold my end of the deal.  And while we're at it, the other problem with the formula is that my child is a human being and not a math equation.  Even if I could do it right every hour of every day (spoiler alert: I can't), there would still be no guarantee on the other side of that equal sign.

On Sunday the priest told an anecdote about Pope John XXIII.  Apparently, every night before bed he would pray, "Lord, I've done my best today to steward what you've given me. But she's your church; you deal with her."

I couldn't help laughing because it made so much sense, and I feel like Christ is inviting me to pray that prayer over my children.  That at the end of each day I might sincerely say that I did my best to steward them, but the truth is, they are His.  And I can find joy and rest in placing them completely into His hands.  It's the very best place for them to be.

* * *

I love the online community Blessed Is She.  Every week they design and email a wallpaper image that you can download (in addition to everything else they do!) and this week's spoke to these places in my soul.  Isn't it beautiful?  You can head over here to download it for your own computer or phone.

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)