The first time I was hospitalized, I was 17, a soon-to-graduate high school senior. I was struggling with anorexia but refusing to admit it. I weighed barely a few pebbles above 60 pounds, and my parents and I had just signed the papers to discharge from the hospital against doctor’s orders.

My family and I walked out of the hospital that late afternoon to meet a golden sun, but inwardly, our souls were quivering under a hailstorm. It’s hard to imagine how my parents were feeling at the time. I know how I was feeling, though. I faced the situation with willfully blind eyes– pretending I didn’t really have a problem (“Oh well, I just need to eat a bit more, that’s all!”); pretending I wasn’t terrified of my future, which seemed so dark and exhausting; pretending I had more willpower and courage than I truly had. We left the hospital with forced smiles but dank eyes. And as we walked out of the hospital doors, my abba remarked, “The only people leaving this hospital happy are mothers with their newborn child.”

For some reason, that comment stayed with me all these years. Perhaps it was because I was so depressed that day, that I couldn’t fathom the joy of a mother bringing home a new baby, and the juxtaposition was so jarring, so unimaginable, that it stuck.

So the day I was discharged from the hospital holding Tov in my arms, as morbid as it sounds, I thought of abba’s remark, and thought of how the situation had flipped: Now I was the one leaving the hospital with joy, while in the same hospital, some other family was leaving it with dread and sorrow. How unpredictable life is– yet how seasonal it is as well. Like Ecclesiastes reminds us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

I can currently in a season of mundaneness. Every day is the same– slow, boring, mind-numbing, yet gone in a blink. What day is it today again? Oh yes, Monday. Same as Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday. Each day I wake up to repeat the same manual labors of motherhood: make coffee while Tov cries for milk, feed him, change him, play with him, fruitlessly attempt to get him to nap in his crib; repeat. When friends ask me how I’m doing, I honestly don’t really know what to say. Fine? I am physically and mentally tired, but I’m not unhappy. Neither am I dancing with joy. I am alive, my husband is alive, my baby is alive. We live, therefore we are well.

Tov was particularly fussy today. He cried and yeowed and wailed and whined and really struggled to sleep. He cried on his play mat. He cried on the bouncer. He cried in my arms. I eventually managed to calm him down into a cat nap by wearing him and singing to him.

I don’t know why, but as I swayed him to sleep, I sang to him a song that I used to sing daily to myself when I was a single 29-year-old living alone in a studio apartment with a cat. It’s called “Satisfied in You” by The Sing Team, a hymn rendition of Psalm 42. Here’s the music video version of it:

I remember when I listened to this song on repeat each day, sometimes singing it to myself, sometimes humming it in my head. Here are the lyrics:

I have lost my appetite
And a flood is welling up behind my eyes
So I eat the tears I cry
And if that were not enough
They know just the words to cut and tear and prod
When they ask me “Where’s your God?”

Why are you downcast, oh my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
I can remember when you showed your face to me

As a deer pants for water, so my soul thirsts for you
And when I behold Your glory, You so faithfully renew
Like a bed of rest for my fainting flesh
I am satisfied in You

When I’m staring at the ground
It’s an inbred feedback loop that brings me down
So it’s time to lift my brow
And remember better days
When I loved to worship You and learn Your ways
With the sweetest songs of praise

Why are you downcast, oh my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
I can remember when you showed your grace to me

As a deer pants for water, so my soul thirsts for You
And when I survey Your splendor, You so faithfully renew
Like a bed of rest for my painting flesh
I am satisfied in You

Let my sighs give way to songs that sing about your faithfulness
Let my pain reveal your glory as my only real rest
Let my losses show me all I truly have is you
‘Cause all I truly have is You

So when I’m drowning out at sea
And Your breakers and Your waves crash down on me
I’ll recall Your safety scheme
You’re the one who made the waves
And Your Son went out to suffer in my place
And to tell me that I’m safe

So why am I down?
Why so disturbed?
I am satisfied in You

I am satisfied in You
I am satisfied in You
I am satisfied in You
I am satisfied in You

It’s a strange song to sing to a wailing child whose only real suffering is when his mother makes him wait while she makes coffee or cooks dinner. It’s also a strange song to sing when I am neither downcast nor disturbed. It made perfect sense when I was 29 though, when I woke up feeling downcast and went to bed feeling lonely. At that time, I sang it because I needed to sing out the things I believe in: That God is faithful, that I am satisfied in Him, that I can rest in Him, no matter how I feel.

But today, as a 34-year-old tired mother, I sang this song once again as though I was blowing the dust off an old photo album: “Why are you downcast, oh my soul?….I can remember when You showed Your face to me. So it’s time to lift my brow and remember better days when I loved to worship You and learn Your ways with the sweetest songs of praise… I am satisfied in You. I am satisfied in You.”

“I can remember when You showed Your face to me.” “I can remember when You showed Your grace to me.” I can remember…I can remember.

I can remember the seasons of winter when I clung onto God out of desperation– those days of struggling with anorexia; then the days when I was single and lonely and sleeping more hours than was healthy; and of course the day David’s mother died and the many tearful days after that. I can remember the seasons of spring when I sang exuberant praises to God– those hopeful, wonderful, anxious days of dating and romance; of being engaged and planning a wedding; the first morning making pancakes as newlyweds; the slow-bubbling excitement and anticipation of our firstborn.

And what season am I in now? I suppose it’s like the dog days of summer, when your brain is fried from the heat and the sun’s glare is dimming your senses into a daze, when the days are slow and long and sweaty. Such are the times when it’s most difficult to remember. It’s a time when your passion and zeal for God wilt like spring flowers under the summer sun. When the Bible sits unopened, when your prayers feel dry and sterile, when you’re just going through the motions of life and faith.

Of course, there are legit reasons for feeling that spiritual lethargy. Motherhood has its sweet blooms of joy, but it’s also– at least for me– like swaying through a fog. My mind has not felt clear and crisp since…I can’t remember. My body is not my own, my time is not my own, my attention is not my own. I am constantly distracted and scattered like Tov’s things all over the living room.

So it was a jarring memory to sing “Satisfied in You” while jiggling our fussy child in my bedroom. And I remembered. Every season, whether sunny or stormy, I can remember God was present. I can remember that He was faithful. I can remember that “God has made everything beautiful in its time” as Ecclesiastes declares, and as He has demonstrated to me, time and time again.

That season when I left the hospital as an anorexic high school senior was in its own way beautiful. It watered seeds with bitter tears that bore the sweetest fruits. That season when I left the hospital holding a sleepy, two-day-old Tov was beautiful. This new human life, even with a scrunchy frowny tantrummy face, is so beautiful beyond words.

And today, drab as it seems, mundane as the hours are, tired and numb as I am, is beautiful. Today, I remember all the other seasons God walked me through, and I remember His grace and His face. So today I rest. Today, I am satisfied in Him.

Help, the father of my child is gonna be a real softie!

We probably should have done this sooner, but for the first time, David and I had a more serious conversation about what we want to be like as parents.

A few nights ago, I caught my first glimpse of how our parenting styles might differ when Shalom, my worthless cat, peed on the couch– again. She had had a pee spree when she first moved into David’s house with me, anxious about the sudden new environment and resentful towards David who shook her entire life. The peeing mercifully ceased after several months, but the collateral damage was hell: pee stains and stenches on the couch, on David’s pillow (twice!), several new bedsheets, and a door that’s always, always closed to the master bedroom.

We had some peace for a bliss moment. And then, a couple months before I found out I was pregnant, Shalom started peeing outside her litter box again, randomly and sporadically. She peed on the bottom of the steps. Then upstairs by the couch. Then on the corner wall of my office. She was anxious again, sensing something off about me before I even knew myself. We know it’s not due to some medical problem because when I was gone in Mexico City and Poland, she abruptly stopped the peeing spree. Clearly, I was the trigger.

Anyway, all this to say, I’m ready to toss this cat out the window. Quite literally. Anyone want this cat? I’ll give her away for free, plus a dozen grateful hugs as bonus.

One evening, Shalom peed again on the couch while David was sitting RIGHT THERE, watching baseball. She slunked to the edge of the couch, squatted, trembled her little butt, and released her foul-smelling liquids, all the while staring STRAIGHT into David’s horrified eyes. What. A. Little. B—-.

“SOPHIA!” David called out, like a toddler tattling on his brother. “Look what your cat did!”

“How dare you, Shalom!” I yelled at my cat, while she nonchalantly plopped on the carpet and stretched out as though she hasn’t just committed a disgusting act. “No shame! Bad!”

We decided she really needed to be taught a lesson, so we picked her up and banished her to the balcony outside our living room. Two years ago we had set up a cat house for her there that she never used, because she refused to be outdoors. She meowed piteously then, staring mournfully at us through the glass doors. This cat is really the devil.

“No!” I told her through the glass door. “You need to feel the weight of what you’ve done!”

I didn’t care that cats can’t be “taught” like a human child, or a dog. Shalom is acting out from anxiety, sure, but she’s caused us an immense inconvenience– not once, not twice, but at least about three times a day for months! And for months, we had cleaned up after her, while continuing to feed her, clean her litter box, pet her, love on her. The equilibrium of justice was off! Whether she understood it or not, it was time for her to suffer some inconvenience and discomfort for once. It was only fair. It was only just.

“Leave her out for the night,” I told David. “She needs to be punished.”

He didn’t answer. He sat back on the couch, but couldn’t concentrate on the baseball game. He kept turning to the side to look at Shalom, making guilty eye contact with her large sad eyes, while she meowed and meowed.

The next thing I knew, she was back in the house.

“WHAT!” I exclaimed. “Did you let her in?”

“Yeah…” David replied. “I felt bad.”

Oh my God. This guy. Couldn’t even last a full 10 minutes. Heart softer and wobblier than Jell-O.

“Is this how you’re going to be as a father?” I said. “Our son is going to manipulate the hell out of you. I’m going to be that awful Tiger Mom, and you’re going to be the one he runs to to twist your heartstrings.”

“…yeah…” David said, hanging his head.

Oh dear. I saw our future in a flash. I’m going to tell our child no, and he’s going to run straight to David and somehow convince him to say yes. I’m going to enforce some discipline, and he’s going to sob as pitifully and dramatically as he can, and David’s going to take him out for ice-cream and cotton candy– and they’re going to do it all behind my back. “Don’t tell Mom,” David will whisper to our son while the little sinful child giggles, learning that mischief shall always go unpunished so long as Daddy’s around. I just KNOW it. The thought gave me heartburn.

So one night, on our walk after dinner, I asked David what kind of father he wants to be. How is he going to discipline our kid? Will we spank him? Ground him? Talk to him? How do we want to raise him in faith? What if he refuses to go to church one day? What kind of conversations are we going to have with him, when he asks us questions about something in school, or something his friends said or did, that don’t align with our values?

David, unsurprisingly, said he doesn’t think he wants to spank our kid. “I was never spanked,” he said. “So I think I’ll just tell him, ‘I’m disappointed in you. I’m not mad at you, but I’m disappointed in you.'”

I inwardly rolled my eyes. David was a golden child. He never disobeyed, never broke the rules, was a darling in every way. No wonder his parents never spanked him– there was no need to. His mother called him her “best friend” and talked to him like a friend every day. I, on the other hand, developed a temper that needed to be restrained, a stubborn streak that needed to be tamed, and lots of sinful impulses that needed to be bitten in the bud. If our child turns out to be anything like me, merely telling him “I’m disappointed” is not going to work, I told David.

We ultimately decided we’ll take things one step at a time. We have to get to know our kid better, to know what kind of disciplinary method works best for him. But for me, spanking is an option. David might differ, but that’s a conversation for another day. Who knows, maybe our kid will turn out like David, and we won’t ever need to have that conversation.

Please God, don’t let our child be like me. But if God operates like I operate with Shalom, He’ll recognize the sufferings I’ve inflicted on my own parents, and given how tilted that scale of justice is, he’ll dip it so I get a taste of my own parents’ misery.

Oh dear.

p.s. Still on offer, a pussy cat named Shalom! Will give her away for FREE!

Reflecting on Our Two-Year Anniversary

It was our two-year wedding anniversary last Sunday. We didn’t do much, didn’t exchange cards or gifts. Instead, we went out for dinner two days earlier at a Japanese restaurant that serves the prettiest set meals. Our anniversary just felt like another regular day, until I took some time to reflect on our last two years as man and wife, and everything we went through together.

I remember being at a work retreat several years ago. My colleagues gathered at a hotel conference room, and we each took turns introducing ourselves, since we all worked remotely and rarely got the chance to get together in person. One colleague introduced herself, then turned to us younger staff members and said, “I don’t think you younger ones know this, but marriage is hard. It’s really, really hard. You have to really fight to make it work. Nobody told me this.”

At the time, I was in my late 20s and single. But I remember thinking, “What are you talking about? All I hear is how hard and awful marriage is.” My generation is a product of divorce and broken marriages. So many people of my age group have been scarred by their parents’ dysfunctional marriages, and they carry that emotional baggage and psychological trauma into their relationships. My own parents have a long, healthy marriage, but they model a very traditional marriage that made me assume marriage is not for me. At least within my social circles, everyone knows marriage requires hard work and sacrifice. That’s why so many of us delay marriage for so long, or pay so much for therapy. I don’t know of any of my friends who walked into their marriage starry-eyed and giddy, but I know too many who became insomniac with anxiety leading up to their wedding, terrified of making the wrong choice, of wrecking things, of unforeseen changes and hardships.

And then I got married. Sure, marriage is not a breeze, but neither was being single. As someone who had been single for 32 years, I think being married is way better and easier than being single, especially when you’re past your mid-20s. In trying to set us up for realistic expectations about marriage, I wonder if some people went to the other extreme.

David and I got married at the start of the pandemic, when all church services and schools went online, grocery stores made you wait in line outside with masks on, and all wedding venues shut down. We spoke our vows in our backyard, our pastor marrying us from six feet away, and our friends and family watching us in their bedrooms via Zoom.

Year one of marriage was a bit of a blur. The pandemic froze time into one surreal era. It felt weird and impossible to celebrate typical big milestone events such as weddings, honeymoons, birthdays. We woke up the next day on our stay-at-home “honeymoon” with nothing to do. That year David and I spent a lot of time stuck at home, our marriage beginning and continuing in a long stream of mundane, sheltered activities. We worked from home, I read, he watched TV, we went on our daily evening walks, and repeat.

I suppose that’s just what married life is– doing mundane things together– but there was also a sense of being robbed not just of our actual honeymoon, but the honeymoon phase. I realized how important it is to celebrate life milestones with community. It is other people– their smiles, their cheers, their scent, their mere physical presence– that help mark those milestones, not just the milestone itself.

David began feeling somewhat depressed, and though I sometimes lectured him for letting the pandemic bring him down, when we’re both privileged to work from home, not suffer financially, and remain healthy (ever the preacher’s daughter), I too felt a loss– a loss that seems trivial in the grand scope of what was happening around the world and in our country, but still, on a personal level, a tiny loss that deserves some recognition and a formal burial.

Year two of marriage felt like a continuation of that frozen surreal era of the pandemic– until Sep 18, when David’s mother died. And then time, instead of feeling frozen, melted and roiled into storm and waves. We entered into a new era then, from pandemic surrealism to nightmare surrealism. Even now, David sometimes shakes himself, wondering, Is this for real? My mom’s really gone? Meanwhile, I resigned from my job, not knowing if I’ll ever find a journalism job again, spent three months unemployed, and then one month before starting my new job, found out I’m not only pregnant, but already in late second-trimester.

Yet we survived, and continue to survive– not barely hanging on, slogging through each day hacking and groaning, but strong and steady. Our married life is as boring as our second-year anniversary. We’re not cute, or romantic, or dramatic. We haven’t had any fights, nor is our love life hot and passionate, but it’s the small trivial things that formed the linchpins to our marriage– holding hands when we go for walks, tucking David into bed every night (he’s a baby), cleaning up after our cat Shalom’s pee spree, all with this lingering cloud over us that something is not quite right with the world, but at least we’re in it together, side by side.

Death shook us. Grief is an intensely lonely and personal journey. As much as I love David and want to be there for him, I found myself restrained by the very fact that it was not I who lost my mother. There were things that David had to face alone, things he had to hear from God and God alone. My words, my presence, my touch sometimes helped, often didn’t, and at times actually hurt, especially when it turned into preaching, when I try to rub in Scripture like ointment when David’s wounds still need washing. There’s never the “right” things to say to comfort and console someone in grief, because what David needs to hear changes by day, by moment, by mood, and more often than not, I learned that the fewer words uttered, the better. Time heals, but never brings back what’s lost, never turns back, never makes what’s broken whole. David is changed. I am changed. Our marriage is changed.

And just as David’s walk in grief is sometimes lonely, so too is my walk as a soon-to-be mother, when the father of my child can’t feel pure excitement for a new baby without the puncture of loss of his mother. Those two events are tightly coiled, impossible for David to untangle and separate. I can’t feel David’s happiness without also feeling his sadness, and that makes me sad, too. So like our wedding, which as joyous as it was, also had a tinge of loss and sadness to it, so too does my pregnancy feel like a tie-dye blend of contradictory emotions– joy and sorrow, excitement and fear, gain and loss, life and death.

Now, as we enter year three of our marriage, we also have less than eight weeks left till the baby’s due date. This is yet another era of surrealism. And just like so many people warned me about how hard and bloody marriage is, everywhere we turn, we get a lot of “just waits” about the coming baby. “Just wait till you hit third trimester, and the back aches and cramps begin!” “Just wait till the baby’s born, and you get no sleep!” “Just wait till the baby’s a toddler, and the terrible twos come!” I don’t need these unasked for advice and warnings– I’ve already convinced myself, long before I got pregnant, that having kids is terrible, horrible, no good, very bad. From the first time I involuntarily caught sight of my friend’s engorged postpartum boobs, to noticing the dark eye circles of new parents, to hearing babies screech and wail on the airplane, I had told myself and David, over and over, “We are not having kids, ever.”

But then, I thought the same about marriage, and as much as our marriage will never make it to a Hallmark movie, I enjoy being married, even its inconveniences and sacrifices and aloneness and irritations. Because at the end of the day, I have someone I can and want and will love– sometimes not all together, but there’s something simplistically wonderful about having someone to call yours to love, someone you daily strive to love better and wiser, someone whom you know God placed in your life to be loved specifically by you.

Happy two-year anniversary, David. I love you.

The so-called woman’s curse

The baby has been moving a lot more these days, especially at night when I’m in bed.

Sometimes I wish I can carry an ultrasound around with me to see what the heck the baby is doing. Is that a fist jab or a tiny foot kicking or a hip bump? Sometimes it feels like the baby is doing a little gymnastics routine, other times it’s either backpedaling or breast-stroking, and then sometimes I’m pretty sure it let out a series of hiccups.

It is the weirdest feeling, and not all that pleasant, but neither is it unpleasant, nor painful, nor uncomfortable. It just feels really, really weird. Like there are fingers inside me, sliding across my organs as though playing a piano. Like there’s an alien developing inside me, which I suppose is pretty close to what is happening. There’s a living mini-creature swimming in the amniotic fluids of my uterus, gradually growing stronger and bigger by the day. What a bizarre thing to happen to my body, after 34 years of it being my own.

Everything feels abnormal. I can’t lay on my back anymore, can’t walk without feeling like my pelvic floor is literally going to drop to the floor like a heavy sack, can’t sit in any position that’s comfortable for long, can’t eat a full meal without feeling like my squished gut is going to pop out of my gullet. I’m only a week away from third trimester, and I shudder to imagine what it would be like to lug a watermelon-sized belly around for several weeks.

But there’s also wonder and awe: My body is creating a human being! Obviously I’ve known what a woman’s body can do, since I was a toddler watching my own mother’s belly grow with my brother, but now that I’m experiencing for myself all these biological changes, I’m astounded that I’ve never seriously considered the fact that billions of women throughout history, from all over the world, have been bearing and birthing children. That this is “normal,” just part of the natural cycle of life.

Now I see: I have been living in a world full of daily, constant, repetitious signs and wonders, and I’ve been blind to it. I see pregnant women waddling at the grocery store, buy gifts for my friends’ baby showers, celebrate the birth of my nieces– and I would be happy for them, but I didn’t once stop to step back and wonder, Wow. What magic. This is amazing. God is amazing! How ingenius is His creativity? How purposeful is the way He designed the woman’s body!

One of the first things I learned in Sunday School was Genesis 3: the curse of man, the curse of woman, the curse of the serpent. After Adam and Eve listened to the serpent and disobeyed God, God cursed Eve, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Well, jeez. No wonder I didn’t find marriage or child-bearing at all appealing.

Even as a kid, I was never impressed by the women in the Bible. There’s Sarah, the matriarch of Israel, who just seemed like a bitter, submissive woman who did whatever her husband told her to do. She pined away most of her life longing for a child, and then tried to claim her servant’s son before abandoning both of them to wild beasts in the desert. There’s poor pitiful Leah, whose beauty paled in comparison to her sister’s, so she desperately and pathetically tried to earn her husband’s love by bearing him son after son. There’s Tamar, whose greatest compliment was from a father-in-law who claimed her more righteous than he, because she tricked him into sleeping with her– for what? A son. Then there’s Ruth, who submitted to her mother-in-law by laying at the feet of a much-older, wealthy stranger, and oh boy, what did she get in reward? A son. There’s Hannah, who had a seemingly-devoted husband but cried bitterly at the temple each day…for what? A son.

In the New Testament, there’s Mary, whose single greatest act in her life, again, was giving birth to a son. Of course, that child was also the Son of God– and I can appreciate the trepidation she must have felt about what it meant to miraculously conceive as a young engaged virgin– but really, what other great thing did she do in her life besides host Jesus Christ in her womb? Did she lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and blast sweet water out of desert rocks, like Moses? Did she sling a stone into a giant’s forehead, led an army on horseback into multiple battles, and rule over a powerful, prosperous kingdom, like King David? Did she, like Apostle Paul, travel across the Asia Minor, enduring shipwrecks and flogging and starvation and prison, planting churches and spreading the gospel to the world?

No, she did not. She squatted in a manger and pushed out a son. As a girl looking for female role models in the Bible, it seemed to me that the women exemplified as great figures of faith in the Bible were mostly all…mothers. Or wives. Or wives longing to be mothers– but not even daughters will satisfy them, only sons. The only truly badass woman was Deborah the warrior prophetess, and she doesn’t even get one-tenth of the space that most other men in the Bible get. I felt disappointed and dismissed as a young Christian female who admires and longs for chutzpah and charisma, aplomb and glory. Is this the best God expects out of us? To be wives and mothers? Surely, Lord, there’s more for us.

But I also felt uncomfortable with today’s societal expectation that we modern women should be able to “have it all.” That we can have our careers and independence and marriage and motherhood, that we can balance both the traditional masculine accomplishments and our femininity/sex appeal. Sure, it’s challenging to balance all those responsibilities, but a strong able woman makes it work somehow, so yes you can, you beautiful badass queen! That idea feels just as oppressive as the idea that a good Christian woman’s place is at home organizing Easter plates and homeschooling five kids, bonus points if you can play hymns on the piano and have adopted kids with disabilities from Russia or China.

Of course, the hubris in me still aims to be that woman who manages both motherhood and career with breezy class. We all (or maybe it’s just me) admire Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett for “having it all,” yet also hate her guts for merely existing, for setting a near-impossible bar for us earthling women by not only projecting brilliance in her academics and career path, but also somehow raising seven children, two adopted from Haiti and one with Down syndrome. I don’t know how she does it, but it makes my dirty soul feel better to believe that she cheated somehow.

I have been rethinking a lot of my low view on motherhood since I found out I’m pregnant. I don’t feel confident to call myself an omma yet– that still kind of freaks me out a little– but in bed at night, as I lay quietly feeling my unborn child do karate chops and somersaults, I don’t feel fear or anxiety. I feel awe. I feel wonder. I feel…like a miracle. Like I’ve been sprinkled with a fistful of magic dust. And I telepath-talk to the child, Hello there, little one. Are you for real?

What mystery– this powerful, magical thing a woman’s body can do. And I wonder, why us? Why did God choose to design the female body, and not the male’s, with the ability to do the most supreme thing any human being can ever do: create life? Nothing God does is accidental– He is an intentional creator, an unmatched imaginator who designs and builds with precision and purpose.

So I ask again: Why us? Why woman? God could have easily made both men and women able to bear children. But instead of choosing the man, the “stronger” sex with the (typically) bigger bones and muscles, God chose the “weaker” sex, the woman, to endure one of the most amazing and taxing experiences on the human body. And women throughout millennia, short and tall and big and small, of all race and ethnicities and ages and socioeconomic background, have continued the miracle of life by the natural functions of their bodies.

But that act is not without pain and sacrifice. I think of the Genesis 3 curse, the pain of childbearing– and from everything I’ve researched, pregnancy, labor and birth, and the postpartum stage do sound rather awful, even with medical advances such as the epidural. All that fluids and organisms that come out of us? Gross! Our body is rarely ever the same after we tear our body apart to push out a fully-formed human, and neither does our heart completely heal from the all-too-common traumas of miscarriages or stillbirths or infertility.

Yet even with all that discomfort and anguish and lifelong scars, the Genesis 3 curse does not erase this mindblowing marvel: The woman’s potential to bring life to earth. And to me, the most incredible thing about this act is the amount of self-sacrifice it takes. Think about it: The most powerful thing a human body can do is inextricable from self-giving sacrifice, from the uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy to the searing pain of labor and delivery, and then the long, aching process of recovery while nursing a newborn who gives nothing but demands everything.

Even the so-called woman’s “curse” has redemptive, gospel characteristics embedded in it. I see God’s goodness and wisdom in this “curse”– that His ultimate purpose isn’t to punish and inflict pain, but to redeem and glorify the woman, and kiss her with an embodied taste of His own self-giving sacrifice when He willingly died on the cross for us. With this ability to bear child is God’s desire to make His heart known to us in the most intimate, visceral way possible.

And so the woman’s weakness is her strength, her suffering her crown. God’s “curse” becomes a blessing, one designed specifically just for the woman. Not something to ever poo-poo at, even if she never becomes the second-most powerful man in Egypt like Joseph, or builds the temple and composes wisdom literature like Solomon did.

Are you excited?

Yesterday at church, just before Sunday service began, my lead pastor came up to me and said, “So I heard the good news! Are you guys excited?”

And I stared up at him with startled eyes, shaken awake from my mental menagerie, and did not produce the typical enthusiastic response that most soon-to-be parents give. “Oh! Uh, yes,” I answered, my voice heavy with hesitation, “I think I’m getting there.”

My pastor looked taken aback, and concern wiggled across his brow: “Oh, is this something you want me to pray for you about?”

Oh shoot, I thought. I’m giving off the impression that I don’t want this baby. I told him no, clarifying that I am excited, but there’s also been a lot to process all at once.

My pastor nodded. “Yes, I expect given that this pregnancy was unplanned, things can feel so disorienting.”

Disorienting. That’s the word. “Disoriented” is how I would sum up everything I’ve been feeling in the last four weeks since I found out I was pregnant and had to pee on a pregnancy stick three times to confirm that 1) Yes, there’s a baby inside me, not undigested tacos, and 2) Yes, I actually do want a baby.

When my pastor asked me if I’m excited, I was sitting alone at the pews after our morning pre-service prayer meeting, silent in my thoughts. I was not so much thinking as half-hearing the white noise of my subconsciousness. Those noises were loud, but in the background, and my mind felt numb and dumb in a mute daze. I was also uncaffeinated and tired, and almost fell asleep on the wheel while driving to church, so I was already sitting in a mental fog when jolted awake by a simple, predictable question from my pastor: Are you excited?

I am a too-honest person, unable to fake a response that I don’t truly feel, even if I don’t know how I really feel. I don’t know why I couldn’t have just responded to my pastor’s question with a big grin and a happy “YES!” Because yes, I am excited to bring a new precious life into this world. I am excited to meet this baby. But I’m not so excited to be a mother yet. Does that make sense? Disorienting, indeed.

I start a new job tomorrow. When I signed the job offer in January, I still had no idea I was already in second trimester by then. I took that job because after prayers and discussions with my husband, it felt clear that God opened that door for me. The job fit all the things I love to do: International travel. Meeting and getting to know people on a deeper level. In-depth, long-form feature writing. Highlighting inspirational, challenging stories of ordinary Christians who are living out the practical, powerful implications of the Gospel. I also really liked my future colleagues, and got a good vibe from the staff there. Plus: I was offered a significant salary bump, and the health insurance benefits were way better. “This job is a no-brainer,” David kept telling me.

So I signed that offer. I am to start on March 1, and I had been following the news in Ukraine, thinking it might make sense to do my first big travel story there, perhaps following some local Ukrainian Christians while tension between Ukraine and Russia simmers, to give it an extra newsy factor (this was before Putin did his monstrous thing). I even looked up Ukrainian cuisine. The world was flung wide open to me, and this job would be my magic carpet. I couldn’t wait.

Now I am disoriented. I had planned to continue working on a book for the rest of February, to maybe even draft a book proposal by the end of the month. But this month of February blew past like a gust of autumn wind, blowing my plans into swirls of dried dead leaves. I have not added or edited a single sentence in my book. I still haven’t finished reading the stack of books I had bought. Instead, I’ve spent countless hours watching YouTube videos on pregnancy stages, researching what newborn baby products I need, convincing David not to name our child after his favorite Dodgers player, and scaring the crap out of myself by reading up on perineal tears and cracked nipples and diastasis recti and stillborn babies and sudden infant death syndrome. I can’t say much of those hours were productive.

Overnight, my world has changed. Plans disintegrated. The future blurred. I don’t know what to expect for my upcoming job– how am I going to travel? Can I travel? When is too soon? What if my performance sucks, and my editors regret ever hiring me? Hiring a nanny would cost me my entire paycheck, and more. What if I need to decrease my work hours, and– horrors– quit my job?

On a recent phone call, abba mentioned the unmentionable: “You need to prioritize this child,” he said. “You might even want to consider quitting your job.” And then of course he said he’s praying for me to be able to handle that.

I wanted to scream. Of course I’m going to prioritize the child. But that added layer of “I’m praying for you”– that unspoken, unintended spiritual overhang of “this is what God wants you to do” and “this is Biblical” and “if you don’t do this, God will be displeased”– felt like a pillory around my neck.

I remember all the disdainful, disgusted condemnations many Christians heap on modern-day feminists and career women, for supposedly abandoning the family’s well-being to pursue their own ambitions and desires. A woman I had just met, who is also pregnant, told me how she used to be so selfish and worldly as a single woman until she reformed her relationship with Jesus, and realized she wants to be a wife and mother. She hopes to quit her job when her baby is born and homeschool her kids.

I understood what she’s saying. Because part of the world has so dehumanized babies and degraded child-bearing and raising children, I understood why many Christians push back so fiercely against that ungodly rhetoric and culture. But part of me also thought, “But you’re also beautiful and young and educated and privileged, so you had no problem getting married and pregnant.” Because I had been single for 29 years before I met David, because I’d so often played that third wheel, that sole person sitting alone in the church pews without a partner, I never lost the bitter taste of feeling “less than” and overlooked as a single, childless woman, constantly being downgraded in her friends’ list of priorities as they got hitched, bore babies, and hung out with other mommy friends.

Now that I’m on the other side, married and with child, I feel torn. I had spent so long building my identity as a journalist. I knew I wanted to be a journalist since I was in high school, and because of my years-long struggle with anorexia, I had taken a long detour to finally make it here. I still remember when I was a 52-lb, college dropout skeleton walking outside shivering in 70-degree weather, waiting for death. Whenever a plane flew above me, I looked up into the sky for a long time, my heart longing to be on that plane, traveling as a journalist, the longing so deep and great that I felt like my heart muscles physically ached. I cried so many tears thinking I might never be able to be that person.

The delay made me treasure my job even more, and I genuinely enjoy and love everything about journalism– the writing, the constant learning, the challenges and the stress, the adventures and insights and sense of purpose. It makes me feel alive. It makes me feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, and that made me feel secure and stable. Being a journalist is not just pure ambition– I haven’t achieved fame or wealth or power– but to me, a sense of being. It is who I am. And I think, at some point, that love for journalism twisted so much into my own identity, my sense of purpose and meaning, that it became suffocating. I knew my self-identity was off-kilter in an unhealthy way when I resigned from my last job and felt as though I had lost myself, lost my self-confidence, self-assurance, and self-respect.

I wish some quick-to-condemn Christians would understand that it’s not as simple as “Give up your selfishness” for some of us. Or to label us as being brainwashed by modern secular culture. If the perceived problem is so overly simple, the solutions offered are also simplistic and irrelevant and unhelpful. My identity struggles are not new, and in fact in the scope of history it’s quite trite and stale, but it’s still complicated in how it’s personalized to my upbringing, experience, my personality and relationship with God.

At the root of this disorientation is fear. I am not a maternal person– not in the least. I’m not even a good cat owner. Lots of people are instinctively drawn to newborn babies. Their hands naturally reach out to touch and smell them, to the annoyance and alarm of first-time parents. Me? I instinctively draw away. Last Sunday at church, two little girls tugged at my sleeve and asked to play hide-and-seek, and I looked at them as though they were asking me to sing the national anthem of Uzbekistan. I don’t even know how to play with my own young nieces, whom I adore, but also flummox me. When people coo and talk baby speech to little kids, I cringe. I don’t look at pictures of babies and sigh, “awww.” You see, I am a cold rock, a Grinch with a heart two sizes too small.

How in the world am I going to be a mother? Will that so-called maternal instinct just naturally kick in? Will I know how to play with my own baby? Will I– shudder!– start speaking in that high-pitched squeaky baby cooing voice? Will my heart just automatically start melting when I see other baby pictures? And if I change into that person, who am I???

This is my brutally honest and ugly self. I am trying to untangle these fears and raw emotions before God, one by one, and I don’t think I’ll process them all before the baby arrives (“Unless he’s stillborn or you have a late-term miscarriage, anything can happen,” the internet whispers cruelly at me. The internet is the WORST!).

In fact, I foresee more disorientation awaiting me once there’s an actual breathing, bawling, burping tiny human lying beside me, demanding all my attention and love and energy, forcing me to shed things I’m not ready to shed, pushing me to give more than I’m ready to give, rewiring my identity before I even figure out who I am, all in supercharged real time. And at my wit’s end, when I’m sucked brittle and dry, I might not even care, but surrender with little fight left.

You know, maybe a baby is what I need most after all. God, you wily wise person, you.