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For His Glory and Our Gain

It’s an incredible honor to introduce you to Gloria who’s sharing her unique journey to and through motherhood as part of our month-long guest post series, Special Mamas. Gloria lives in Taiwan and is a mom of four boys. Her youngest son, Russell, has Down syndrome. This is the first time Gloria is publicly writing the story of Russell’s birth and how God prepared their family for a child with Down syndrome. When I first read this post, I got goose bumps. And I’ve cried both times I’ve watched the video of Gloria and Russell at the end. Not only do I adore children with Down syndrome, but I adore Gloria’s heart. What a beautiful woman and mama she is. I’ve never met Gloria, and I’d never engaged with her online prior to this series, but I’m convinced our paths were destined to cross. Enjoy, friends. This is one special mama. 

Gloria1“Today is the last day before we know for sure if our son has Down syndrome.” 

This was the opening line of my journal entry on September 20, 2013. This was the journal entry where I was going to pour my heart out about all that God had done in the previous nine days of waiting. I intentionally did not journal during those ten days, because I wanted to be focused on intimacy with God alone. I had begged God to let those ten days be a time of true and raw emotion. I wanted to experience any grief, any joy, any pain. God answered this prayer and allowed me to feel emotion in ways that would leave me feeling exposed and protected all at the same time. God knew I needed this. He had proven Himself to be infinitely more gentle and tender than I could have ever imagined prior to walking this journey of Russell. God showed me treasures about Himself that I had not yet experienced in my walk with Him. He showed me that there is no Scripture, no promise, no miracle that is unattainable for me as His child. God, in His great love and for His glory, started preparing our hearts for the arrival of our fourth son, Russell, long before I was even pregnant with him.

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Back in the summer of 2012, I read a blog post that changed my life and my heart forever, If Not Us…Then Who? This is the post that God used to open my eyes. The scales fell off – hard. And so began my unexpected heart’s journey to orphans with special needs, specifically those who have Down syndrome. I was wrecked for good after reading that gut-wrenching post. That summer, God continued to pummel (destroy, really) my heart for children with Down syndrome. Clive and I saw children and adults with Down syndrome everywhere in America that summer. Water parks, baseball games, Sunday school, concerts. It was almost becoming comical. I journaled on June 11, 2012: “So, it’s been a little weird…everything I have heard, seen, and come across. Maybe God is just softening our hearts to Down syndrome and special needs…who knows. I no longer want to say, ‘I could never adopt a special needs child.’ I now want to say, ‘Lord we want whatever you have for our family, and we trust that you will teach us, guide us, and take care of us.’” Little did we know what God was up to and how much He was going to enrich our lives.

In 2012, during my pregnancy with Russell, God started giving me glimpses and stirrings of what He might be preparing our hearts for. One of the greatest miracles was that when I was just six weeks pregnant with Russell, Clive spoke in high school chapel and publicly surrendered his heart about special needs adoption to God. Neither of us would have imagined that, inside of me, God was already growing our own precious son with Down syndrome.

On April 16, 2013, I wrote: “This past Sunday, my friend said that she wanted to remind me that even though this is a fourth boy, this a NEW season, and that this boy is so special. It brought tears to my eyes as she prayed for me. It still freaks me out a little bit though, the urgency with which she has been praying for me and this baby, and the “new” thing….just still wondering about Down syndrome.”

That same friend emailed later with “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19

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On April 18, 2013, I journaled: “Clive and I keep talking about how we can’t help but wonder about this child having Down syndrome with all that God has done, the prayers, etc. I am even hesitant to journal about it, because I don’t want to imagine what God is up to. His ways are so far above mine. But I just know that if this baby is healthy or not, it feels like God is preparing us….for what, I don’t know. Again, it’s hard for me to write about. I have chills as I write it. I told Clive I don’t EXPECT our child to have Down syndrome, but it’s more that it wouldn’t come as a shock if he did. And I will be a little surprised if he doesn’t? I know that sounds crazy. I am just amazed at the ways that God has shown us His love for us this year. He keeps blowing me away and I am so thankful it never gets old to Him.”

Prior to Russell’s birth, we had two possible names. One was for our son if he didn’t have Down syndrome. My husband picked that name, and it is the name he ended up with – Russell. The other name was the name we would give him if he had Down syndrome. Russell was born on September 5, 2013. You might have heard my screams of pain all the way in America when he was coming. The symbolism of the brief labor (only 5 hours) and intense pain, followed by sheer joy and contentment is not lost on me. It mirrors what I have experienced in my journey of Russell after he was born. When Russell came into the world, he did not look like he had Down syndrome. I looked at Clive in the recovery room and said, “He doesn’t have Down syndrome.” Clive said, “Oh Fred” (that’s my nickname) and smiled at me, like he was saying, “Of course he doesn’t.” I asked three doctors in the next couple of days if they were sure he didn’t have Down syndrome. They would all do a quick top-to-toe scan with their eyes, look at the palms of his hands, look at his eyes and ears, and confidently assure me that he did not have Down syndrome. So, after 24 hours of waiting to decide on his name, we named him Russell. Because our son did not have Down syndrome.

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After we took him home, there was still a gnawing in our hearts. He didn’t latch on for breastfeeding well. He had extremely low muscle tone. He never cried. After having three other children, I knew that was out of the ordinary! And the more he was opening his eyes, the more we were noticing the almond shape that was just a little more upturned than his Asian-American brothers. One day, I was holding him on my lap and looking up symptoms of Down syndrome. While reading, I didn’t feel overly concerned. Then I got to the last sign. A sandal gap. I had never heard of it. So, I looked it up. A larger than normal gap between the first and second toes. I unsnapped his sleeper and held his feet up. And my world stopped. He had it. On both feet. Oh. My. Word. My son has Down syndrome. This IS what God was preparing us for. He WAS speaking to us! It felt surreal.

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Ten days after Russell was born, we headed to the hospital for the test results. We had prayed together and read Scripture together before leaving the house. We were nervous. But yet, we also were about 95% sure. I cried the whole way to the hospital. This was our last day to hold Russell as our son without Down syndrome. I didn’t want to step over the fragile boundary of time into knowing our Russell with Down syndrome. I cried the whole way home from the hospital too. But they were tears of complete awe and praise of God. I remember how when I was pregnant, I told Clive that if we found out our son had Down syndrome, my awe of God and all that He had done for us would overshadow any other emotion I would have. And I felt that so much as we were driving home together. Clive felt the same way too. God had given me this verse on September 16th while we waited for Russell’s test results: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on His Name; make known among the nations what He has done. Sing to Him, sing praise to Him, tell of all His wonderful acts. Glory in His Name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. Remember the works He has done, His miracles…” I Chronicles 16:8-12. I knew this this verse was going to be our story and I couldn’t wait to make His name known.

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Russell was no less perfect with Down syndrome. He was even more breathtaking actually. And our love for him felt tender and fierce at the same time. We had no context for who Russell with Down syndrome was going to be. But then he smiled for the first time. And laughed for the first time. And those waves of suffocation turned into breaths of fresh air and rejoicing. We can’t believe he is ours. He brings us pure joy—our whole family. His brothers adore him and he adores them. God adores Him.

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On my balcony reading my Bible one day soon after finding out Russell had Down syndrome, I read Isaiah 41:20: “so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.” Another verse He blew me away with was Isaiah 42:9: “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” God had prepared our hearts! It seemed too good to be true. And I told Clive that I felt like God’s favorite. I truly did. And I realized that that’s how God WANTS me to feel! You are God’s favorite too, you know? Know that whatever He is doing in your life, whatever He is preparing you for – nothing is wasted. None of it. Russell is our constant reminder of God’s goodness, of God’s love, of God’s gentle voice. Russell has changed our lives forever. For the much, much better. Truly, there are no words. There is SO much more to this story, but those stories will have to wait for another time. For now, be encouraged by God’s goodness, His faithfulness, and His promise to speak to us.

Our Facebook post on September 29, 2013, said: “Love, joy, and sorrow meet as we let family and friends know that our son, Russell, was born with Down syndrome. We are so in love with him and in awe of God, who miraculously, gently, and lovingly prepared our hearts and our family for Russell.”

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“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”  Isaiah 42:16

“Nothing exceeds thy power, nothing is too great for thee to do, nothing too good for thee to give. I ask great things of a great God.” ~The Valley of Vision

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GloriabioGloria Hsu is married to her middle school sweetheart who she met at an international school in Taiwan. She was a family nurse practitioner while living in the U.S. She and her husband moved back to Taiwan five years ago, where her husband is a high school guidance counselor at the school they grew up at, and Gloria is the co-founder and director of Pregnancy Support Center (PSC) in Taichung. Taiwan has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, and is a nation in great need of healing and freedom. Gloria loves being a mother to four boys, all of whom God has gifted uniquely. Her fourth son has Down syndrome. It is no coincidence that God gave them a child with Down syndrome in a country where over 95% of babies with Down syndrome are aborted. Gloria’s passion is hearing God speak and seeing Him move in her own life and in the lives of others. You can join her Facebook page at Unseen to read and share everyday stories of God speaking and moving. Visit her PSC website at pregnancysupport.tw (currently under construction) and PSC Facebook page. You can also visit her blog that will be up and running soon with more about the journey of Russell, PSC and adoption at lifeisamist.wordpress.com.

www.unveiled-photography.comThis post is part of a month-long guest post series titled Special Mamas. The series runs all May and is in honor of moms who have unique journeys to and through motherhood. To read all 13 posts in the Special Mamas series, CLICK HERE and you’ll be directed to the introductory post. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find all guest posts listed and linked for easy reading!

Like and Unlike Any Other Day

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The day started like any other. Or maybe not so much.

Like any other day, we woke up early and got the two oldest ready for school.

Unlike any other day, they took a few pictures with daddy before getting on the bus.

Like any other day, Seth spent a bit of time on his phone, then a bit of time doing “a little” work.

Unlike any other day, I flew around the house, maintaining strict attention to what remained on the morning’s to-do list.

Clean powder room. Check.

Spot clean disgusting blotches of food and gunk off the main level floors. Check.

Clean main level floors. Check.

Clean windows and glass in whole house. Check.

Put clean sheets on Cooper’s bed (a.k.a. guest bed). Check.

Finish cleaning the kids’ always disgusting bathroom. Check.

Like any other day, I didn’t feel adequate for this housekeeping job. I wasn’t sure it’d meet any Good Housekeeper’s stamp of approval. By the time we got to finish cleaning the kids’ always disgusting bathroom, I was exhausted and had to call for Seth’s help. He changed the lightbulb over the kids’ shower, set 3-year-old Maisie up with supplies and assigned her to clean the toilet. She did a decent job, but I pointed out the fact that she didn’t get the base, that this would still be disgusting for any guest. “Ahhhh,” he said. “Big deal,” as he walked out of the room. Considering we were soon headed out for two days of follow-up appointments at Mayo Clinic for eye cancer, I had to agree. But I cleaned the toilet base anyway.

Unlike any other day, grandpa and grandma arrived promptly at 10:30 a.m. We showed them around, detailed the next two days of kids’ events, and left the house by 11:10 a.m.

Like any other day, we stopped to get some gas.

Unlike any other day, Seth bought a bottle of Propel water for lunch. Clear liquids only for four hours prior to his MRI. 20 minutes later, we stopped for Jimmy John’s. Real lunch to go, for me only.

Like any other day, we chatted the whole way there. Mostly about work. A little this and that.

Unlike any other day, we knew our way to Damon Parking Ramp, Mayo Clinic. No directions needed for this fourth trip in five months. We arrived perfectly on time for his MRI. One minute early, in fact. Seth went straight in. I sat, breathed, listened to a webcast on Iraq, and hand-drafted a blog post inspired by the lady across the way on a Mayo note pad.

Unlike any other day, we made our way to our hotel, checked in, and left within 15 minutes. We hadn’t gone on a date in more than FIVE. MONTHS. Did we need a date night, or what? After sharing a piece of bunny cake and peanut butter cheesecake at Canadian Honker, we walked a half block down and spent the next hour and a half working and blogging in peace at a coffee shop. That was followed by dinner, a trip to wander the aisles of Aldi (okay, not so romantic, but neither of us have been there before), and a movie of Seth’s choosing, Mad Max.

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Like any other day, I wasn’t excited about a violent, non-stop action movie. But I’d left most of the day’s decisions to him. After all, he’s the one with eye cancer, not me.

Unlike any other day, we scored two 3D movie tickets for $17.00!

Like any other day, Seth LOVED the violent, non-stop action movie. I didn’t love it so much, but did appreciate its artistic value, especially the drum and guitar playing dudes battling in the desert.

Unlike any other day, we went back to the hotel.

Like any other day, he went to bed before me.

Unlike any other day, we woke up in the morning, got ready, checked out of the hotel and headed over for another round of adventures at Mayo.

Like any other day, Seth picked up some coffee. I didn’t.

Unlike any other day, Seth had several back-to-back appointments. Blood work. An eye examination. Eye photography. And an eye ultrasound.

Like any other day, I worked on my blog when Seth was in each of his first four appointments. A twinge of guilt ran through me each time I broke out the computer, like I should be giving my husband 100% of my undivided attention. But those appointments were really just for him anyway. And he reassured me, “go ahead and work on your blog, stay here, there’s no reason you need to come in with me.”

Unlike any other date, we ended this fourth trip to Mayo with another visit to Seth’s specialist, Dr. G. He popped his head in the room to say “The systemic testing (MRI) came back okay.” Then he left for further analysis of the morning’s testing. We waited. Waited. And waited some more.

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Unlike any other day, Dr. G had the news we’d been waiting for since Seth was diagnosed with eye cancer in January, the news we’d been waiting for since Seth went through week-long radiation and hospitalization in February, the news we’d been waiting for since he took a whole month off work recovering and recouping. Is the tumor shrinking? Or is it NOT?

Unlike any other day, Dr. G told us he sees “very little change in the SIZE of the tumor, but the internal reflectivity has increased substantially,” which means that next time he sees us, it’s likely things will look better in regards to the tumor size, even great. Dr. G showed us a bunch of graphs of this “internal reflectivity” and how it’s changed since original testing back in January. Sure, the size of the tumor had changed very little. But it was hard to deny the difference in those graphs, the difference in the internal matters and workings of the tumor itself. Dr. G showed us another picture of the front part of the tumor. “It looks like it’s retracting, that’s better, too,” he said. Had the tumor shrunk, we would have returned to Mayo in six months. Based on this visit’s results, Dr. G recommended we return in three months. And he urged Seth to get the laser surgery he needs on his left eye.

Unlike any other day, we made our way down to Mayo’s subway level. A lovely woman was playing “On Eagle’s Wings” on the piano. “I sang that song at my cousin Doug’s funeral,” Seth noted quietly. I leaned against a column and teared up. The news we’d just received was neutral at worst, from all indications trending positive, it seemed. I wasn’t sad at all. Just filled with emotion, if that makes sense. In the comings and goings of wheelchairs and significantly sick people, children and caregivers, the woman played on. On and on, she played. She played with her head up. She observed keenly, with every ounce of her heart and soul, as people passed. She let intuition and the Spirit run straight from her heart all the way through to her fingertips. Yes, I knew it! Pure grace. Divine favor. This was the pianist the elderly woman told me about last time we were here! The woman who plays every Thursday. The woman who plays by heart, by ear. The woman who doesn’t get paid a penny, who plays according to the shifting tones of the room, who turns hopelessness to hope with simple, beautiful tunes.

Like any other day, I cried when I took it all in.

Like any other day, Seth asked why I was crying.

Like any other day, I said “I just really love this.” Yes, 24 hours have since passed. I know why I was crying. The work that pianist does at Mayo is EXACTLY the kind of work I want to do with my writing. She exemplifies my greatest life’s dream. To bring pure beauty in the midst of significant pain.

Unlike any other day, we went back up to the Damon Parking Ramp, got in our car, and drove down and out of this fourth trip to Mayo.

Like any other day, we got another lunch to go, talked, drove, and hugged Seth’s parents and our kids when we pulled in the driveway.

Like any other day. Unlike any other day.

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This blog post is part of a series I’m writing about our journey through my husband’s eye cancer. If you’d like to read the rest of the posts in the series, click here and you’ll be connected to the first post I published about our journey. All posts in the eye cancer series are listed and linked at the bottom of that post for your convenience. You can also access the series anytime by clicking the apple picture on the right sidebar of my blog’s home page,www.divineinthedaily.com.

Monica Anderson Palmer - I started reading this on my phone, I didn’t have my reading glasses on so I got about two lines into it and quit-it was too hard to read. That struck me a bit with guilt, in light of eye cancer. I’m continually annoyed when I go to read something and can’t (at least not without my readers on). Today, I read this post from beginning to end and am still amazed as always by the life story you create with words. I’m thankful for my sight. I’m thankful for positive results with Seth Pederson eye cancer. So very grateful! I told Seth he’s a super hero…and I mean it! So are yoU! You are both unlike anyone else I know. Thankful to know you both. Praying that continued healing takes place and does so to the FULL. Hugs!May 25, 2015 – 1:19 am

Denise Korman - Amy, I truly believe the strength, love and courage that you and Seth have on this long journey and your exceptional belief and strength in God will carry you both through ! We always hear life still goes on and I don’t have to tell a wife, Mom of three on and on that it does, and in a way it’s good thing ! You and your family are always in my prayers ! I can’t wait to meet you, such an exceptional woman in a few weeks ! God Bless !
DeniseMay 25, 2015 – 1:18 am

Amy - Thank you, Linda. You are such a sweet encouragement to me.May 24, 2015 – 10:19 pm

Dan Johnson - Wow – thanks for taking us on an emotional, personal, powerful journey. Your story made this day unlike any other for me. We are so happy for the good report and trust for even great days ahead. Go bless!May 24, 2015 – 4:03 am

Linda Johnson - As always you’ve accomplished your writing desire so perfectly. Thank you for sharing this moment with us. ((hugs)) & continued prayers!May 24, 2015 – 12:20 am

Carol Femling - As I was reading this, I too welled up with emotion. I couldn’t help think something really crazy!! Amy, you know your Grandma Hjelmhaug, ( my mom), played by note and by ear and could play any song beautifully without looking at the piano keys. This sounds ridiculous, but it made me think of my mom’s exceptional talent coming through this special woman.??? Maybe your grandma was playing just for you at that moment???? Good thinking, anyway. :) She would’ve LOVED to have played at a place like Mayo Clinic and especially for you two!! We’re all still praying and praying for Seth and keeping an upbeat attitude. Love you all so much!! XOXO Mom :)May 23, 2015 – 11:15 pm

Tom Baunsgard - Amy, Thanks for sharing this with us! Like any other day….. Blessings Abound!May 23, 2015 – 10:06 pm

Nicole Marie Newfield - Wow, I love how this is written and the messages within. Prayers continue!May 23, 2015 – 10:04 pm

Motherhood is Not For Wimps

It’s a pleasure to introduce you to Emily who’s sharing her unique journey to and through motherhood as part of our month-long guest post series, Special Mamas. Emily is mom to a sweet one-year-old girl. She’s a single mom. She’s a mom who lives with mental illness. She’s a mom who’s been through paternity testing. She’s a mom who understands that little girls and “big girls” need fathers and father figures. She’s a mom who recognizes her weaknesses and applies her strengths. She’s a mom who experiences challenges and joys like any other mother. I’m proud of her for her honesty, her bravery, her willingness to share her real-life story with us today. Please extend a warm welcome to Emily.

Emily7There was a good chance I could be pregnant, so I wanted to take an at home pregnancy test. My friend and I went to the Dollar Store and purchased a test. She stayed with me for most of that day, as the results were positive. The next day, I went in to see my doctor and a positive test was confirmed. I had been living with my boyfriend, but knew there was a chance the baby could be someone else’s. Excited and hopeful that the baby was my boyfriend’s, I quickly called him at his place of work to relay the news.

My water had not broken, so I scheduled a day to be admitted into the birthing unit to be induced on a Monday. After 42 weeks of pregnancy, Leona Marie was born on Wednesday, February 5, 2014, at 2:00 p.m. We were not discharged until Friday of that week.

After doing a paternity swab, we found out that my boyfriend was not my daughter’s biological father. We have managed to stay together regardless of that fact. I do not have contact, nor receive any support from my daughter’s biological father. To me, being a family does not mean it has to be by blood. It’s those who support one another, care for each other, and stick by one another that have the greatest meaning. I need someone in my life who loves me for who I am and cares for me. Leona is part of me, therefore she is part of my package deal. Having a man that is an involved dad is really important and necessary, someone who wants to enjoy the things I like to do from time to time, and be a father figure to my little girl.

I love being a mom and I love my daughter whole-heartedly. Motherhood has made a great impact on my life and overall well-being. It is rewarding for me to watch Leona grow. I am blessed to have my family, and to have my dad to take care of Leona while I work throughout the week is an even greater blessing to me.

But being a single mom and living with mental illness has also been a struggle at times. I am currently living with my boyfriend who lives within a mile of my parent’s house. To take care of myself and another human being is a lot of work. With various appointments, my work schedule, and activities I am involved in, it can be quite a load at times. Although, support from family and friends and people in the community is a great thing for me and Leona. I have come to realize that I am growing as a person just as Leona is growing up as well. Being her mommy is rewarding to me. I have a lot of fun when I am with her, and I love with an open heart.

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I would like to thank my dad, mother, brother, sister, and mostly God for all that I have been given. I really feel like there is a purpose for me in this world, and that I have a beautiful gift by being a mother to my daughter. After all, without love where would we be?

I would like to share this quote…

“A love of life does not mean a mom who is always happy, it means a mom who strives towards experiencing the exquisite beauty of a song, the warmth of a smile from a loved one or stranger on the street, the gift of a nourishing meal, or the magic of a sunrise.”

I would also like to share a prayer I say to my daughter at night…

“May angels guard you through the night and keep you safe ’til morning light.”

Emily

www.unveiled-photography.comThis post is part of a month-long guest post series titled Special Mamas. The series runs all May and is in honor of moms who have unique journeys to and through motherhood. To read all 13 posts in the Special Mamas series, CLICK HERE and you’ll be directed to the introductory post. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find all guest posts listed and linked for easy reading!

Adventures in Uncertainty

It’s a pleasure to introduce you to Lissa who’s sharing her unique journey through motherhood as part of our month-long guest post series, Special Mamas. Lissa and her husband left the comfort and familiarity of their home in Vermont for a life of adventure and uncertainty in New Zealand. Did I mention that they made the move shortly after their son turned one? Did I mention that they knew no one in New Zealand when they moved there? Lissa is brave, delightful, thoughtful, intelligent and insightful. We’ve developed a lovely friendship online, and today, it’s an honor to share her adventures in mothering abroad. Enjoy, friends! Lissa’s story is equal parts interesting, exhilarating and inspiring.

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Two years ago, my husband and I decided to leave our home in Vermont for a life-changing adventure. My husband, who was self-employed, had a job offer in New Zealand and the timing seemed perfect… except, we had just had a baby.

Our son was born in 2012 and at that time, I was going back to work and graduate school, while attempting to figure out the new mama thing. Trying to balance it all was not working and I didn’t have the energy to try to fake it. So we decided New Zealand was the place for both of us to achieve our dreams— for him to work for a dream company and for me to be able to stay at home with our son while focusing on my writing.

Six weeks after my husband accepted the job, not just our house was sold, but also our two cars and several of our belongings. The rest was tightly packed into a shipping container for the three-month sail down under. For the next few months, everything we needed was found in three large suitcases. Hard, yet through it all I was confident about this next step in life.

Hauling our bags, a stroller, a pack and play, a car seat, a guitar, a dog crate, and a dog around the airport and later, the train stations, our adventure had been birthed. On the 12-hour flight to New Zealand from Los Angeles, our son who had just turned one, slept most of the way (I would later discover that traveling that far with a two-year-old is much more difficult).

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Looking back on that moment, there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty surrounding the transition…but I didn’t notice. Always a mama first, I was too focused on making sure my son’s daily needs were met. I was diligent with his routine. I had to stay in the present moment with only minimal planning for flights, taxis, and train schedules. If I had thought any further ahead than getting my son to sleep at his usual times, I’m sure it would have got the best of me. My perseverance lied in the certainty that we were doing the right thing for our family and that this opportunity was something we couldn’t disregard.

It was July when we arrived in New Zealand, the middle of winter. Getting used to the ‘seasons’ has been an adjustment. Winter means rain and strong wind, and the feeling like snow is imminent. When no white falls on the ground, the Minnesota girl in me gets homesick. I’ve no complaints about Christmas at the beach, but it does make me homesick in a different way. Still, New Zealand is absolutely breathtaking. We were overjoyed to tears on our train ride from Auckland to Wellington.

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The first major task in our new country was to find a house to rent. We did, but it was bone-chilling cold. No insulation, lots of windows, but single pane. The first night in our rental, there was a huge storm with southerly winds off Antarctica whistling straight through our house. I had to dress my son in sweaters and three pairs of pants for the night. The heat from the wood stove was sucked straight out through the gaps in the windows and walls. Housing in New Zealand is, for lack of a better word, depressing.

On top of that, within our first month of arriving, New Zealand had a string of rather large earthquakes. There was a 6.5 magnitude quake that made our abode feel like a bouncy house at a carnival. Luckily, the house structure consisted of wood, which sways instead of collapses. Even in the moment of the quake, the three of us huddling in the doorway on our knees, waiting for the amusement park fun to stop churning our stomachs, I didn’t doubt our decision to move. I certainly complained, but I didn’t doubt.

Life seemed to get easier as we, and the earth, became more settled. I enrolled our boy in swim classes, took him to playgroups, explored the botanical garden, and met several other women who graciously took me under their wing. Without those women, I don’t think I could have made it as long as I have here. They are some of the truest, most genuine women I’ve ever met. Of course there are unkind people everywhere, but I feel blessed that I have found my tribe.

As much as I love the country and the people, the ‘adventure’ hasn’t been easy. In my son’s first two years of life, I’ve not questioned my role as mama. Motherhood was something I always wanted to experience. Through all of the changes we’ve endured thus far during his existence, not once did I question if I was doing this well. I followed and trusted my instincts. I knew that I was a good mama. I knew that God gave me a gift. Just like the certainty surrounding our move, I was confident as a mom.

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But now the “trying twos” stage has shaken our home. Our boy has realized he’s separate from us and with that independence comes very loud, unwavering opinions. And no matter how many times I remind myself that a two-year-old having tantrums is expected as a part of their development, these tantrums wear me down.

Through all that we’ve faced in our move over here: the awful housing, driving on the left side, a lease that favors the landlord, loved ones deaths, the endless homesickness, the earthquakes, the severe wind, the mold, the rats, the sheer loneliness, and the tarantula-like spiders; nothing makes me feel more uncertain than when my boy is kicking and screaming.

During those fits of throwing toys, I long for something comfortable— something familiar, so that I don’t feel as though I am entirely alone. Social media has become a big part of our lives. I’m ashamed to admit that, but if it weren’t for the Internet, I don’t think I would feel as connected as I do to my friends and family across the Pacific. I’ve come to depend on logging in to inform me of what’s happening in my loved one’s lives. No one emails any more and certainly no one calls. But I don’t think my family and friends realize how much it means to me when one of them ‘likes’ a post of mine or writes a comment on a picture. To me, it’s the equivalent of them checking in on us down here. It took me awhile to get used to the idea that any big event in our loved ones lives would be learned via the Internet, but now I’m grateful to have that connection.

My son has had to form his relationships with his grandparents through the computer. I’m the first to protest and say that’s unhealthy, but I’ve been amazed at how much of a bond he has formed with them that way. Obviously, it helps that he has spent time with them and gets along with them in person, but now he tells me to “go away” when my parents are on Skype, so that he can have them all to himself. It’s different, and it’s our life now.

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When we decided to trade in our life of comfort for a life of adventure, what I didn’t think through was that my husband and I were already on an adventure in parenting. People gave us advice before we moved, and we researched and made lists to help us prepare. But what no one told us was just how knackered we would be. Sure, when you have a baby, everyone knows sleep is absent, but no one explained that moving halfway around the world from your dear ones, with a toddler, would make every bone in your body beat from exhaustion. There is never a break.

When we pictured our move here, we imagined exploring the islands and maybe a trip to Asia. But my husband and I are lucky if we have one date night a year. Everything is that much harder. We make it a point to be sure to have dinner together every night as a family. That might seem odd to some, but it’s a ritual that has become important to us. The three of us are really all we have down here.

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With all that said, and with tears in my eyes as I write, I don’t regret for one second that we made this move. It has shaped us for the better and my son has had rich experiences already. One of my son’s favorite birds is a Kiwi that he visits up close at the local zoo. He has pure joy on his face when pat-patting a native Pohukatawa tree and his playgroup consists of friends from all over the world.

As we near the end of our second year here, however, there are moments when I feel utterly broken. All my energy goes into taking care of our son and finding my way through the uncertainty of not only motherhood, but also a new country.

While we can’t predict how long we’ll be able to live here in Godzone, for now we’ve traded our familiarity for affordable health care, barefoot walks, jaw-dropping landscape at every turn, and friends who we love like family. Our adventure has become our life. And with everything in life, even in the uncertain moments, I trust that love will be there near and far.

Lissa

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Lissa Waller Carlino is originally from Minnesota where she grew up performing in local and professional theatre. She moved to Vermont in 2004 where she met her husband and the two have been married for seven years. They have an almost three-year-old son and now live in Wellington, New Zealand. Lissa enjoys writing Women’s Fiction and is currently on the quest for publication of her first novel. She writes a personal blog called “Where’s Joe Wellington?” that is a true story of her search for a long-lost Kiwi friend and also chronicles life in New Zealand. To hear more of Lissa’s story, you can find her blog at whereisjoewellington.blogspot.com, LIKE her Facebook blog page at facebook.com/whereisjoewellington, follow her on Twitter @EWallerCarlino, or subscribe to her blog.

 

www.unveiled-photography.comThis post is part of a month-long guest post series titled Special Mamas. The series runs all May and is in honor of moms who have unique journeys to and through motherhood. To read all 13 posts in the Special Mamas series, CLICK HERE and you’ll be directed to the introductory post. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find all guest posts listed and linked for easy reading!

 

Kathryn DePaoli Carlino - Lissa , this is a beautifully written testimony of Mama love and family values. You will never regret this adventure. I love you and miss you but am so proud that you did thisMay 21, 2015 – 10:08 pm

Abby - LOVE your writing, Lissa! Such a creative spirit :-)
xoxo,
Love from Minnesota!May 20, 2015 – 9:09 pm

Tom Baunsgard - Great Post Lissa, I thought moving my family from Southern California to Picayune, Mississippi was a challenge. Moving half way around the world is far more challenging, but you are doing it right! A term of affection and affirmation I will say to you, I learned from some Kiwi friends we met on an Alaskan Cruise and that is “Well Done!”May 20, 2015 – 2:17 pm

Amanda Dawson Day - Beautiful story! Thanks for sharing! Not sure if you realize it, but you are an incredibly strong woman and mother Lissa!May 20, 2015 – 2:00 pm

My Choice

It’s a pleasure to introduce you to Paula who’s sharing her unique journey through motherhood as part of our month-long guest post series, Special Mamas. Paula and I grew up together. We were in Girl Scouts, piano lessons, band, choir and musicals together. We enjoyed prom together. Our last names started with the same letter, so even our lockers were together. I guess you could say we did life together for many years! Paula is now a mom of two, and works full-time as a Minister with Children, Youth and Families. Today, she’s sharing her experience as a woman who’s chosen to maintain full-time employment in the midst of motherhood. Her decision has, at times, been met with shock and disapproval, but she’s also experienced deep fulfillment in her role as Reverend Paula. Please extend a warm welcome to Paula. I think you’ll find her post interesting, enjoyable and easy to read!

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I have worked a professional full-time job for most of the eleven years I have been a mother.

Shortly after graduating from college, I enrolled in graduate school. I studied at Drew Theological School to get my Master of Divinity with the goal of becoming an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. In March of 2004, my first child was born and I was commissioned into ministry just a few months later. While I took a standard maternity leave, I never considered staying home with my child would be my only job. My decision to return to work was met with shock and disapproval by more people than I anticipated. I was asked questions like “don’t you want to be with your child?” or “how can you leave such a young baby in a strange daycare?” or “why not work part-time?” or worst of all “if you didn’t want to be a mom, why did you have children?”

Sometimes the things other moms didn’t say were even worse. My first experience in ECFE was with a group of moms and their 3-6 month olds. I had returned to work when I started attending the class. I picked up my son from daycare and drove to our afternoon ECFE class wearing my typical business attire. The other moms were dressed in neatly coordinated and very washable outfits. During circle time, we were asked to share about our daily routines. When I said I worked full-time, there was an audible gasp in the room. Somehow there was shame in my choice…that I couldn’t or wouldn’t be an acceptable mother to this child.

As a privileged, white, middle-class woman, I had a choice. Perhaps that is why other women (and some men) were so hard on me about going back to work. I am aware that many women and families have no choice. However, I can’t help but wonder if a woman who supports her family on a single income might experience similar shame in her situation. I can’t help but wonder what kind of harm that does to a woman and her sense of motherhood. I was devastated to know that other moms thought I was somehow hurting my children by working full-time. With love and support from family and friends, my choice to remain in church ministry has been rewarding and fulfilling to both me and my children.

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I now have two amazing children. Elliot is 11 and Sydney is 9. I love my children to the moon and back and like any mom, I will do everything in my power to protect and nurture them. My job can be stressful and frustrating, but the journey has been rich. I have served four different faith communities and each community has embraced my family. I am blessed to have a vocation with extremely flexible hours that allow me to schedule around doctors appointments, school conferences and a host of extracurricular activities. Yes, I will confess that sometimes my work ends up being first. When I catch myself in that place, I apologize to my children and I pray that they can both forgive and understand.

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PaulakidsI believe that children need a variety of trusted adults in their lives to thrive into adulthood. Serving in a church blesses me with a network of men and women who love my children unconditionally. When I am leading worship, I look out and see my children sitting with their adult friends. When I am teaching at youth group, I look around and see my children sitting side by side with teenagers who not only tolerate their presence, but also engage them in conversation. When I have to stay at church for an evening meeting, my church family reaches out to help care for my children so they can get their homework done and into bed at a reasonable time. My children know people of all ages at their church and that makes my heart swell with pride. Their lives are richer and more diverse because of my choice to work.

My choice to work full-time is just that…a choice. My choice is not better or worse than a parent who chooses to stay at home with their children. Don’t judge me because I choose differently than you. Instead, let’s celebrate that it takes a village to raise our children, and that we need parents at home and parents in the work force.

Paula

www.unveiled-photography.comThis post is part of a month-long guest post series titled Special Mamas. The series runs all May and is in honor of moms who have unique journeys to and through motherhood. To read all 13 posts in the Special Mamas series, CLICK HERE and you’ll be directed to the introductory post. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find all guest posts listed and linked for easy reading!

Carol Forsberg - AND, your children are so blessed to have you as their Mom! Nicely written, sweet girl.❤️May 22, 2015 – 6:40 pm

Reggie McCarthy - Very welll written; I know about the snide remarks behind your back. You go girl!!May 21, 2015 – 11:23 pm

Juanita Reed-Boniface - Great story Paula!! I could relate to many of your comments,although I was home with my children until they were 3 and 18 months respectively. BUT I did experience discrimination in the workplace–as I was not offered a job because I had small children and the other candidate had no children. Like you it was my choice to pursue my professional career but it was not without some challenges!May 20, 2015 – 9:54 pm

Valerie Hubel - Thanks for sharing Paula! Motherhood certainly looks different for all, there is no cookie cutter that fits every family. I am glad you are confident in your choice and you have support behind you.May 18, 2015 – 9:54 pm

Tom Baunsgard - Great post Paula! I applaude you for your service to God, your community, and raising well rounded kids! Both my parents worked full time when i was a kid and we never felt slighted or uncared for.May 18, 2015 – 4:59 pm