Naming Souls

I’ve been birthing kids a solid ten years longer than most people my age so I think I can say with earned authority that ain’t nobody got time for stupid baby names. Go with me, if you will, on this crunchy granola crazy Christian journey:
I believe the names we give our kids can be eerily prophetic to their individual personalities or life paths. Take Cheyenne, for example. I was 15 when I had her so an expert in the land of choosing monikers for human beings I was not. It wasn’t until I tried to buy her a customized name-meaning plaque at a kiosk in the mall that I learned “Cheyenne”, literally translated, meant “unintelligible speaker.” Funny story: I HAVE NEVER UNDERSTOOD THAT GIRL NOR WILL I FOR A MILLION YEARS. (Not to mention she was one Cheyenne out of 50,000 others in her kindergarten class. Fail.)

I vowed to be more thoughtful with my next child’s name. 8 years later, my Mia Alaina was born. Simple, Italian; not off the wall but not technically popular either, at least not at the time. She truly is “My dear one.”

We all know the story of Merrick, and how I only liked the name because of Gerard Butler, who played a character named Marek in a movie that I saw at a theater that I may or may not have snuck into without paying. We decided to spell it “Merrick,” which means in Irish, a fork in the river. His birth marked a major turning point in our lives, one where we abruptly turned from one path and went a completely new direction.

The name Arbor seemed to have it all: it was unusual; short; beautiful; it invoked images of climbing roses and summer gardens; it had an “I am the vine and you are the branches” Jesus vibe which honored our faith, in a way.I loved the connotation of strength the name Arbor implied. And then God bestowed upon me the most strong-willed, heel-diggingest child the universe has ever known.

(Side note: I think we can all agree on the accuracy of my name, Antoinette, which means “priceless”.)

You guys, it is serious business, naming souls. I’m reminded of that movie “Where the Heart Is”, and that girl who admitted to an old black man she was thinking of naming her baby “Wendi with an i.” “Girl, don’t you dare! Give that baby a good strong name!” He does not hesitate two seconds to tell her. It is the best advice any fictional character ever gave to any other fictional character.

My kids gotta have that strong name, and I don’t care how impossible it might make them as toddlers. They got to have that sweet name, that God-honoring name, that “I-know, my-mom’s-an-artist” name. So far about 0% of our choices have been well-received and that’s ok.

Go for the name. Go for the bizarre name. Go for the grandpa name. Go for the popular name that been at #1 on the charts for 8 years in a row. Go for the name that is meaningful to you. Go for the name that embodies every dream you have for your precious child. Never mind when people say “Oh, that’s definitely unique” or “That’s boring as hell.” Don’t worry about the haters that openly gag at the thought of a baby named Bernadette (meaning: brave as a mother-freakin’ bear.) 

You just go on with your bad self and name that baby, who God entrusted to you, with every ounce of love in your whole heart.

And when you’re done, be supportive of other parents who are trying to do the same.


Gray 

Captain’s Log, Day 15,891: We are experiencing rather gloomy weather conditions. Spirits and rations are low. The children have gained control of the main living quarters including the master bedroom, where “The Good Dinosaur” will now play on a continual basis in the hopes that the youngest will keep her blood-curdling screams to a minimum. Hair from our canine companions now coats the floor in an 8-inch thick layer. Clutter is rapidly multiplying on every previously clear surface; the visual chaos is almost too much for me to bear. Much of my time is spent staring off into space pretending not to see the scotch tape left out on the kitchen counter.

The current diagnosis is what is called a “threatened miscarriage.” Bleeding is unpredictable and at times, heavy. The medical theory is that bed rest may be instrumental in getting the pregnancy into the second trimester; or it may not be helpful at all. I find the complete lack of control that I have over the situation to be difficult to handle, especially since I cannot cope by cleaning or running.

The uncertainty and the boredom are combining to form a slight but definite depression, which manifests itself in the form of passive-aggression and tantrum-throwing. Caleb is stout-hearted, but his patience with me is wearing thin. This creates a dangerous cycle of guilt which only fuels my anxiety. Sleep is elusive. Overall frustration levels are at an all-time maximum.

Waiting and being still has proven to be one of the hardest things God has ever commanded me to do.

For the moment, the family is at church. I pray they come back in good spirits, their hearts rejuvenated, and their strength renewed. I pray that from my eternally-reclined position I can at least verbally encourage my husband; I no doubt will struggle over the next couple weeks but I hope to see a light at the end of the tunnel with my upcoming doctor’s appointment. Until then, I will bark orders in regards to tidying up things in my line of sight.


When you can’t see 

The thing about bedrest is you spend a lot of time in bed. Not resting.

I do a lot of staring at the ceiling. I watch “Marley and Me” three times a day and still cry my way through it, every time. There may or may not be an obscene amount of precious phone battery life supporting a neverending game of Bottle Flip.

But something else I’ve been doing: praying. Listening. Waiting. Reading. Studying. Asking. Begging. Listening. And praying. And praying.

Praying.

I want so much to be with my church family right now. I want to teach my weekday preschool class. I want to encourage my friends and be a voice of reason and I want to be a light especially when it’s dark. I want to get up, to help, to serve, to speak truth, and to spur fellow believers on.

I want to act.

But God keeps saying to me “Be still.”

My feelings, my perceptions, my opinions and my actions–God reminds me time and time again that He is working things for the good of His people with or without my physical presence.

I beg and I bargain and I cry out for forgiveness. What have I done to be grounded like this? What can I do to change it? How can I best apologize and repent so that I can continue on with the plan I had for my life?

God tells me “Be still and know that I am God.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9

I am not, nor will I ever be, in charge. I follow up a limited perspective with a predictable human response.

Have I really been trusting in God?

I’m happy to make sacrifices when I know there will be a favorable outcome. I will take risks as long as success is highly probable. I trust in God as long as His plan for my life involves me getting to do what I wanted to do anyway.

I work well with others as long as I am in agreeance with them and they with me; any plot twist or rejection (real or perceived) is a direct attack on my value as a person, and a defensive path is what I immediately and selfishly pursue.
Can I be brave enough to be broken? Brave enough to fail? Will I sacrifice even when the cost is more than my common sense would allow? Will I fight even when I know I won’t win; or more importantly, the opposite: will I not fight even when I know I would win?

Can I trust God even when I’m feeling hurt or betrayed or lost? Can I trust in Him even if it means I can’t get out of bed? Do I not believe that this could be exactly a crucial part of His infinitely higher plan?

Do I keep going, even when I can’t see?

I have been presented with a divine opportunity to meditate in these questions and to go to God in uninterrupted intercessory prayer over these things which break my heart. (Otherwise known as: doctor’s orders.)

We cannot allow Satan to rip our church apart. We cannot make assumptions or get caught up in gossip. We cannot alienate and vilify an entire group of God-fearing people because of a cause, however good we are led to believe that cause is. And we cannot allow one person to slip through the gaps where we as believers should have been standing arm-in-arm.

We must work together. We have to rid our minds of an “us versus them” mentality, both inside and outside of our church walls. Our ministries are intertwined to build up the entire body of Christ. If one area of the church is suffering, we are all suffering. (I call to witness: that time I had a gimpy thumb cause I burned it on a poptart, and I couldn’t do anything for a week.)

If needs change in one ministry, we simply must do our best to accommodate those changes and pray for the people being reached and loved through the obedient service of those we find ourselves weirdly competing with.

We need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.

Guys, this is so important: we are a good church. There is so much love and compassion and goodness and GOSPEL being proclaimed and examplified in every hallway. We are a people who know the meaning of miracles and the beauty of redemption. We are faster than 80% of all snakes. Satan does not stand one single chance if each of us chooses a position of humility, and holds strong to the dedication and love we have for our Holy God and His Word.


the words and the wolf

My heart these days, you guys.

My family.

My friends.

I will tell you that it’s been a rough season for people I love. That everything we said would never happened, has happened. Call it a deception or mere misunderstanding. Call it outright bullying or clash of personalities. Call it a concession for the purpose of unity, or an answer to fervent prayer.

Know what I call it? Division. In other words, the opposite of God’s will.

I’m not really sure how or when the ball got started rolling, but rolling it went, not stopping to care about anything but its own path, and leaving in its wake more hurt people than I care to know about.

But I know about them. And I’m sad.

“Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” — 1Corinthians 13, vs 4-6

These words. They come to mind in times when I need to check myself.

I want them to always be true of my thoughts and actions, and yet I know that’s not the case. I get excited. I get upset. I get carried away, and I let my sights become fixed upon a particular situation rather than fixed upon the God in charge of it.

I want to weigh the risks vs rewards. I want to know all the facts from all the people. I want to have a logical, measurable answer before making a rational, calculated decision.

And I want to have good feelings after I make that decision.

But sometimes? The decision is not mine to make. And even when I have the facts, good feelings are nowhere to be found.

I’ve heard it preached, “Watch out for wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.” Those words have haunted me for almost a year. And I try. Skepticism comes quite naturally to me, so questioning a train before I jump on it is not much of a problem.

Faith, though, tends to be trickier.

Until recently. I have witnessed miracles in my life. I have seen the darkest of nights give way to the most glorious of sunrises. Tell me God can’t fix a problem, then get punched in the face.

I have faith in God. I have faith that He will heal His Church. I have faith in Jesus who unites us all. I have love for my brothers and sisters in Christ and I have a a deep appreciation for all the ministries that our church tries to offer.

There will always be wolves.

I will not hitch my wagon to any one person no matter how compelling a case they make, because I’m not at church to follow or serve one person. I will keep in mind that there are always many sides to a story–and then, there’s the truth. I will trust and respect the authority of those leaders–past, present, and future–that God has put in place to shepherd my church. I will do my very best to fear God and love God and love His people, though that love is sometimes peppered with a stick-it-to-the-man mentality.

I will beg forgiveness when I am not patient or kind, when I am jealous or way too consumed with the cleverness of myself.

I will not seek to blame others for my own failures, and I will not intentionally bring someone else down for my own gain. I will not celebrate in the shame of others, but I will rejoice when truth is revealed.

And I will try to serve His people with humility and enthusiasm. I will do my best to go and make disciples wherever God leads me. I will attend church and encourage my brothers and sisters, and worship The Holy God who sees all, knows all, and loves me even in spite of my mess and my big mouth.

Once I can get out of bed.


A belly full.

Aaaaaannd…cue the next day!

Most of my friends/acquaintances/passing strangers know this by now, but just in case there was anyone in the world who didn’t, I’m filling you in now.

I’m pregnant. So very pregnant.

And yeah, I do know how this happens. (Well, I eventually figured it out anyway.)

I got a surprise baby in my body, and I’m doing everything I can at this time to take care of myself and make up for the delapidated conditions of its current living environment. Turns out having 4 giant babies puts some serious wear-and-tear on key mom-organs and my body is throwing a hissy fit.

I am on light bedrest for now. I may very well barf and bleed my way through Pregnancy No. 85.

I’m being funny but this is scary and it is hard. I didn’t see this coming and had, in fact, not been giving the idea of more kids a second thought because of all the heartbreaking complications I’ve experienced with past pregnancies. Guys, I was done with a capital Hell No.

And then Caleb–out of nowhere–says “I would love to have 1 more.”

And I say–out of somewhere–“How about we talk after I finish the half-marathon I’ve been training for for six months?”

And then he says “Watch you already be pregnant.”

And I say “I literally cannot think of anything I’d rather do less.”

And he giggles and teases me. And his best friend text-blesses his loins.

I laugh and tell him to shut his freakin’ mouth.

And it’s all fun and games until I’m two days late. And then a week late. And I can stand it no longer so I buy a test since I know that wasting $12 would surely kickstart my system by the next day.

I take the test as soon as I get home that evening. Before I have even completed the test, the results appear and I cuss, a lot, out of shock and happiness and fear and maybe even a little dread but mostly shock.

I begin to see the signs and symptoms and I couldn’t believe I overlooked them. How did I not put two and two together?

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN.

I am excited but mostly nervous, not because I don’t think I can handle five kids, but because pregnancy, for me, is filled with so much uncertainty. After losing two, and fighting through Arbor’s pre-birth journey, I worry about every little twinge, every symptom or lack of symptom, every ultrasound, every number on every blood test. I cannot even deal with the anxiety, it is crippling. And then, just when I let myself breathe and imagine–for a second–what having a new baby would be like, I bleed.

My heart breaks and drops like a rock, and there’s a lump in my throat and I KNEW this would happen, I just knew it. I don’t dare move, or dream, or plan, or get excited.

I don’t dare pray for a baby, I only pray for the strength to go through another inevitable miscarriage. I ask God to let it happen quickly and painlessly. I go through the process in my head: Bleed on and off for a few weeks. Light activity. Bones thrown with a few good heartbeats at the doctor’s office. Wait for the other shoe to drop. Bets are on 3 months this time.  A week of anger, 12 weeks of sadness, Praise God in the storm, throw myself into cleaning and exercising.

Standard procedure. A different outcome will be a pleasant surprise.

I cry as I write this. I know how wrong these thoughts are. I know how special this time is for our family and how wanted this baby is, by everyone including me. I feel guilty and helpless and lonely.

But there are tiny glimmers of light. It’s not a hopeless situation. I over-analyze. I let the loneliness and the downtime get the best of me. I have good strong heartbeats and perfect lab counts. Doctors assure me. And I have family and friends and support and kindness overflowing.

And for now, there is a life. And I want it. So I pray for it, I nurture it, I prepare for child number 5, and I love on children 1 through 4 the best way I can.

Besides, I have come to expect surprises.


‘Murcia: COULD YOU NOT.

Remember that time when the Israelites had left Egypt, and they were wandering in the desert, and they were all whining like “Goddddd, we are so sick of this manna from heaven. At least as slaves in Egypt we had celery. Could we PLEASE get some meat up in here?” And God was all like “LOLZ ok, you asked for it.” And then he sent a billion quail and the Israelites ate quail until they were literally throwing it up out the nose?

I feel like we might be in a similar situation now (and really, since the primaries): getting just what we asked for.

People who have backed Trump this whole time are thanking God for answered prayer. People who have been pushing for Hillary are now lamenting how racist and sexist their neighbors must be for Trump to have pulled this thing off.

Everyone is saying “God is still on His throne.” (THAT SHOULD ACTUALLY SCARE US.)

And then there are people like me, who would have been scared and unsure no matter what the outcome of this election. I don’t think I am racist or sexist or hateful, but I am not for dishonesty and corruption.

Is it too much to ask for the leader of our nation–my country, my home–to be a kind AND honest person? To be NOT a lunatic but also not a criminal? To protect the sanctity of life inside the womb, BUT ALSO support the dignity of life outside the womb? To allow gay people to have the same legal rights as straight people, but to allow people of a faith to live in a way that they believe to be God-honoring? To provide safe and effective borders but also to provide love and refuge to those seeking to escape the desolation and poverty of their own countries? To be diplomatic but also firm when it comes to dealing with other world leaders? Why do democrats and republicans have to be so opposite? Are Americans really so polarized on all of these important issues? Is there not a middle ground?

If you’re wondering what to say to your kids, tell them we live in a country of many choices, and not all of them are good. Tell them we have a leader, and yes–we do fall under the authority of a government–but we can ask questions and speak up. We can vote. We can and should get involved. Hell, we can run for office.

Tell them we won’t always be happy and we won’t always agree. Tell them we might not understand the people on the other side–but that doesn’t make them evil.

Teach them that we could be living in a war-torn land under the tyrannical rule of the combined powers of Iran and Mexico, with no cherry poptarts and no dental, but that our spirits are still free and we can STILL be kind, honest, hard-working, loving, and God-honoring.

And then let’s stop fighting, roll up our sleeves, and do the hard work of making ourselves a country to be proud of.


12:30 p.m.

Nap time in my preschool class: one of the most challenging and hysterical aspects of teaching. I often joke that I drink so much coffee that caffeine must radiate from my pores, and the children around me breathe it in. Maybe there’s a science in that, but I’m too lazy to look it up.

It usually starts off quiet; we mellow out to this old school Christian music reminiscent of “Loggins and Messina Live From the Redwoods”. I kind of feel like I should tie a flannel shirt around my waist but I sit there with my partner and we rub backs and we stroke hair and we soothe and we whisper and hum softly. Eyelids droop. Snoring commences.

A rustling catches my attentions. He stirs. He tosses, turns. His head pops up, then down; then back up. His eyes are bright. “Wanna take your shoes off and get comfortable, buddy?” I whisper to him.

“No.” He is resolute.

“Why don’t you rest your head on your pillow? It’s soft,” I suggest.

“I won’t.”

I hum. I rub backs.

My buddy reaches his hand out and touches the wall. He scans the room. He tiptoes his fingers to another sleeping bag.

“No, we let our friends sleep,” I quietly remind him.

The hands and feet come out. His backside goes up and he does quick gymnastics on his napmat. A pair of sleepy eyes watch from across the room.

The eyes meet.

A silent wave.

A giggle.

A voice sings, faintly at first.

“Shhhhhhh. It’s time for rest,” I say.

They will not be shushed.

The song continues. Another head pops up. Another hand emerges.

I hear a zipper from the other side of the room but I can’t tell from where. My buddy and his comrade are fully awake. The song is louder now.

A leg noisily props itself up against the wall. More giggles. Someone builds with blocks under a blanket.

My buddy stares me down from his napmat, but it is my sure-thing napper that makes the first move. She not-so-stealthily crawls to the table, turning to be sure I haven’t seen her.

The first breech has occurred.

More have joined in, singing the song of angry men.

Signals are made and my buddy attempts the second breech.

He is successful. Four preschoolers are instantaneously out of their beds. There will be no more back rubs. Now I can only focus on damage control.

“Only quiet, walking feet while everyone else is sleeping,” I almost beg.

The overhead light comes on. A fifth child is awake. I whirl to face him. Across the room, someone else yanks the blinds open.

“I see a white truck!”

“Miss Toni can you read this book?”

“I accidentally stepped on so-and-so’s head and it hurt my foot!”

An all-out revolution has begun. Naptime is officially over. I smile, read books, tie shoes, and clean up.

I do not know if I will ever have a soothing enough presence that every child in my care will sleep for an hour come 12:30 p.m.

But I do know that my class is a class of the iron-willed; for the kids who won’t be left sitting on the sidelines, who refuse to take the easy way out. They will not take their shoes off! They will not put their heads down! They will not go quietly into the night! These children will one day rock our quiet town. They’ll stick it to the man. They’re gonna slay giants. I can’t wait to see it.

One day.

In the meantime, I might go easy with the coffee on school days.


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