Oh, what a month! On July 21, Dan and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary with the best wood-fired pizza I’ve ever had (thanks, Fire + Wine!). I knew I was pregnant at the time, so I dutifully passed on the cocktail menu and sipped my water instead. The next day, I miscarried that sweet baby.
I don’t remember the exact date, but sometime that week we found out our dog Riley had cancer on her tail, and shortly after that she had surgery to remove it. The tests revealed that it had not spread and the vet was able to get it all out in that single surgery, thank goodness.
Then in the middle of August, after being up all night with horrible pain, I went to the emergency room and discovered I had appendicitis. About 12 hours later, I went home with one less organ than I had that morning. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the week that followed, which involved laying on the couch, watching a ton of Netflix, and binge-reading several books. But the recovery process has been much slower and significantly more painful than I expected.
At this point, I just have to laugh. It’s not at all the summer I expected, but it’s the summer I got, and there has been a surprising amount of sweetness in there too. I deemed it the summer of medical emergencies, but Dan said we could also call it the summer of theme parks. I think that’s a perfect illustration for how we’ve held overwhelming grief in one hand and unabashed joy in the other for much of this year.
Above all, this month I have been caring for myself like it’s my most important job. Because honestly, it is. I have abandoned the majority of my personal responsibilities, pushed myself too far only once (working a full day, going to the grocery store, and then cooking a whole dinner one week post-op is a not a brilliant idea—lesson learned), and accepted every single offer of help.
For obvious reasons there was no Armchair Chats for July, so this is a super-sized edition! I’m also including a bonus section for what I watched, because hello, I was on the couch for over a week.
Here’s what I learned, loved, and read in July and August. (And here’s to hoping September is about a thousand times quieter.)
What I Learned
Disclaimer: I learned a heck of a lot this month, but I’m also still learning much of it. This list is by no means exhaustive.
- God didn’t cause my miscarriage. We can also include other Christian cliches here. This was not part of his plan; he did not need my baby to be an angel; this wasn’t a blessing in disguise. The true story is this: miscarriage (death, sickness, etc.) is never a part of God’s plan. He is never the cause of our suffering. As I was grieving, I felt a deep sense of God’s comfort—not in a cozy-blanket kind of way or in a his-ways-will-make-sense-to-me-someday kind of way. It was more like I could sense that he was absolutely crushed with me because we both knew it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
- Just say yes when people offer to help. I have a super hard time asking for help, but I am a lot better when people offer and I can simply say yes. That said, I still have a inner sense of shame when I take people up on their offers, and I wonder if they’re going to think I’m a burden or secretly think, “Oh shoot! I was hoping she’d say no!” But then I have to remind myself that 1) I really do need the help, 2) they probably don’t actually think that, and 3) if they do, too bad for them—they shouldn’t have offered. I know that when a friend of mine is struggling it makes me so happy when they allow me to meet their needs, so I choose to believe that my friends feel the same way.
- Naming a way you specifically plan to help someone makes a huge difference. It is a million times easier to say yes when someone says, “Which night can I bring you dinner?” than to tell them what you need when they say, “Let me know if I can do anything to help!” I know people mean well when they say this, but I’ve made it a point in the last few years not to say that if I don’t mean it. And if I do mean it, I try to say something specific like, “Which restaurant would you like a gift card to?” or “When can I take your kids?” And if the person still insists on saying no, I’ll usually drop off a Starbucks gift card or little gift on their porch anyway, because we could all use a pick-me-up. This whole thing grew a few years ago out of my previously terrible attitude about interrupting my normal routine to help people, so let me be the first to say I’m not perfect at this. I’m just trying to let my own seasons of struggle fuel how I serve others. Another thing to note: so many of my sweet friends did exactly this for me when I was struggling the last few weeks, and I’m so, so, so grateful for that.
- Disney planning is a WHOLE THING. On a much lighter but no less important note, wow! Disney planning! We booked our Disney trip for October 2018 back in June, and as it turns out, I was already behind. You can book reservations at Disney restaurants up to 6 months in advance, which meant that most of the really good restaurants were totally booked. (I’m looking at you, Be Our Guest.) You can book FastPasses 60 days in advance if you’re staying on Disney property and 30 days out if you’re not. There are whole websites devoted to helping you create touring plans (Disney touring plans! They’re a thing!), choose FastPasses, and find all the best snacks in each park. And do you want to know something? I AM HERE FOR IT.
What I Loved
- A spontaneous Tuesday trip Six Flags. We went to Six Flags Great America with some friends about a week after I had the miscarriage, and it was exactly what our whole family needed. We rode roller coasters, ate way too much sugar, and came home feeling the very best kind of tired.
- WDW Prep School. This is by far my favorite Disney planning site! Shannon Albert is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate, and her love for Disney is contagious. I think the best part of her little empire is her podcast WDW Prep To Go. Some episodes are trip reports (her trips or listener trips) and others are solo shows with helpful information about all things Disney. I’ve binged all the episodes that are available on iTunes even though many of them don’t pertain to the type of trip we’re doing, and I’ll keep listening after we get back because it’s just so much fun. She’s also a great follow on Instagram and does tons of Stories when she’s at the parks!
- Our anniversary dinner at Fire + Wine. I know I already mentioned this above, but it was so freaking good that it’s worth mentioning again! Dan and I shared the Asiago stuffed gnocchi to start. For entrees, I had a margherita pizza with sausage (my fave) and Dan had the butcher’s corner pizza (basically a fancy meat lover’s pizza, as you might have guessed). We gushed over every bite. My only regret is that we didn’t save room for the Italian donuts! If you find yourself int he Chicago suburbs, do not (do not!) miss this restaurant.
- Burt’s Bees lip color. I am new to the world of real lipstick and I’m totally loving it. But at heart, I’m still a tinted-lip-balm kind of girl, especially in the summer. This one is my favorite—just a subtle hint of berry.
- Aveeno 60 Second In-Shower Facial. Now that my skin is getting older (well, I’m getting older), I need more exfoliation that I used to. But my skin is super sensitive to exfoliants that are too harsh. I use this twice a week, and it’s gentle enough for my skin and leaves me feeling brighter and fresher.
What I Read
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: I remember the buzz surrounding this book when I was a kid and it was an Oprah’s Book Club pick. For years now it has come in and out of my life, and I kept meaning to read it but then putting it off. I’m so glad I finally got to it, and I’m also glad I didn’t read it sooner because I don’t think I would have been ready for it. This book is stunning in its beauty and its truth. The writing is lyrical, the storytelling is masterful. It is a tragedy on multiple levels—the tragic undoing of a single family at one point in time, and the tragic generational harm caused by religious and economic colonialism, just to name a few. 5 stars.
- Inspired by Rachel Held Evans: A breath of fresh air for people who grew up, as I did, in a literalist/fundamentalist faith tradition, who asked questions only to be given pat answers, who pushed back on the rules only to be met with “Christian interventions.” It’s for people who dared to believe that the Bible is far more complicated and important than what it has been reduced to and that God is far more loving than we could have imagined. 5 stars.
- Rethinking Incarceration by Dominique Gilliard: A must-read for every Christian committed to social justice. This book draws heavily on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (which I reviewed here) but goes a step further by calling out the church for acting in ways antithetical to the gospel by supporting mass incarceration (and showing us how we can course correct). 5 stars.
- The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty: Oh, Liane Moriarty. You never let me down. Nuanced and strong female characters? Check. A riveting storyline? Check. Masterful writing? Check. I love that her books tackle heavy subjects but read like beachy paperbacks, and this one is no different. 5 stars.
- Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr: Anthony Doerr has a command of the English language that I can only dream of. His writing in this book is just as stunning as it is in All the Light We Cannot See. I found this memoir enjoyable, but it would have meant a lot more to me had I visited Rome before I read it. 3.5 stars.
- The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand: Exactly the fluffiness I needed to read in a season of grief. Family drama, gorgeous settings on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, skilled writing. It wasn’t my favorite book of the year, but it certainly satisfied. 3.5 stars.
- My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan: A decent debut, but still disappointing. Set in Oxford with a strong female protagonist working in politics and a mega-handsome British love interest, this book had so much potential but it fell flat. Acceptable as a beach read, but keep your expectations low. I may still read something else from this author in the future. 3 stars.
- I Found You by Lisa Jewell: This was basically a thriller that never became thrilling. We knew who the bad guy was from the beginning and there were no big twists. Super bummed that I used my sick time to read this one. But the writing itself was good, which is more than I can say for many thrillers. 2 stars.
- The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand: I really liked Hilderbrand’s The Identicals (see above), so I was super excited to read this murder mystery by the same author. From what I understand, murder mystery is not Hilderbrand’s usual genre, and it shows. The writing itself was good and I found the characters interesting, but the ending was a such a disappointment that it felt like a bait-and-switch (or a cop-out). It rendered every scene in the book pretty much pointless. 2 stars.
- The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: I could not get into the setting and didn’t find any of the characters likable enough to find out what happened to them in the end. I didn’t finish this one, so I won’t rate it.
What I Watched
- Brooklyn 99 (Hulu): Think The Office set at a police precinct instead of a paper company and with fewer cringe-worthy moments.
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon): From Amy Sherman-Palladino, the beloved creator of Gilmore Girls—need I say anything more? I can’t get enough of the period costumes and the spunky, strong lead female character.
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Netflix): I thought the book was meh, but the movie made all my British dreams come true. Stunning scenery, stellar cast (Lily James! Penelope Wilton!), and super sweet storyline.
- Set It Up (Netflix): A predictable but cute made-for-Netflix rom com. Perfect for watching absentmindedly while you eat popcorn and scroll Instagram.
- My Best Friend’s Wedding (personal DVD): The ultimate 90s romantic comedy, if you ask me. It doesn’t get any better than the “I Say a Little Prayer for You” scene in the seafood restaurant.
What I Clicked
- “I’ve published five novels and three novellas and all I can think about every time is still that this will be the end of my career, this is when you will finally figure out that I’m an imposter, this is where I’ll disappoint everyone. Anxiety is like tiny iron weights in my blood, making me heavy, holding me down.” (Something about the Anxiety by Fredrik Backman)
- “‘What will I do when I’m a boy who doesn’t have a dog?’ he cried. ‘Who will I love?’ I hated not having answers for his questions. Telling him that he still had me or his sisters wouldn’t be helpful. I could not run to the store and snag the first puppy I saw just to stop the tears for a moment. There were no solutions here. There was no silver lining. He loved deeply, and now he was experiencing loss.” (The Die Shot by Anna Jordan)
- “When we’re adding numbers to the family and every month there’s a new milestone to celebrate, it’s exciting. But somewhere along the line, after years and years of daily routines and bedtime rituals, giving and offering, prepping meals and paying for field trips, when the monotony of minivan chauffeur life and needing more milk starts to give you tunnel vision, you might think: Am I doing this right? Are we making a difference? Will any of this add up to something?” (Compound Interest by Sonya Spillman)
- “The key difference between predatory evangelism and providing a toolbox to express inherent spirituality is the locus of control. Evangelizing children puts the control with the adults to manipulate, to determine the agenda and dictate the outcome. These attempts either fail utterly (children stop believing when they grow into adults) or they inflict damage (as is my story, in which I’ve had to heal from unnecessary pain.)” (Is Evangelism to Minors Predatory…Or Not? by Cindy Brandt)