Tag Archives: Shauna Niequist

My Year of Fear

Over three years ago, I started Under the Tapestry with a question: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Over three years since my first post! Hard to believe!
Over three years since my first post! Hard to believe!

I answered the question by sharing my story, by putting my words out there, and engaging (with the internet) in an honest and authentic way.

It’s been stilted lately, though, this little blog-o-mine. And I’ve struggled to figure out why.


Last week, I enjoyed my first two days at Leadership Marshfield, a training program put on through the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MACCI) focused on enhancing the ability of potential community leaders to function effectively. It was an amazing experience and I’m really excited to continue with the program over the next 7 months… but it’s already had an impact.

Yay, Marshfield! I did this tiny town of mine!! {Source}
Yay, Marshfield! I dig this tiny town of mine!! {Source}

On the second day of the two day retreat, we were instructed to prepare to share our personal leadership hero(es) with the group… with a prop. Naturally, on my way home from day one, I stopped at the (brand spanking new and beautiful) Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library to check out a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. (Don’t get me wrong, I own it, of course… but a Kindle just doesn’t make a terribly effective prop, in my opinion.) It was actually on the cart behind the circulation desk to be reshelved, which made my heart happy knowing someone else had recently had their hands on it, and I brought it with me the next day.

Still my favorite -- find it on Amazon here.
Still my favorite — find it on Amazon here or check out your local public library!

The next morning, I stood up in front of the group and talked about my two leadership heroes:

(1) Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, who changed my entire perspective about what it really means to engage in my life, my workplace, and my community. She taught me not to be ashamed or afraid of what and who I am, to value myself for my talents and my passions, and to move forward, with gusto, whenever I’m able.

(2) Ronda Kopelke, Director of the Marshfield Clinic Center for Community Outreach, who showed me what an amazing manager and leader should look like, up close and in practice. She continues to teach me (literally daily) what it means to really care about the people around you and to help them understand that you do. She’s also shown me how to be solution-oriented and engage with people in a positive, respectful, relationship-focused manner.

I sat back down, and then Shelley from Roehl popped up (sharing at Leadership Marshfield is popcorn-style… mmmmm… popcorn) and was mad/glad that I stole her thunder/had the same leadership role model as her. Again, my heart, so glad!

I thought a lot about Sheryl Sandberg that day, chatted with Shelley about her and about Lean In at the ROPES course (yes, I did the mother effing high ropes!! impressed? I am! go me!) and thought about what it was that reading that book had done for me and how it had changed my trajectory in the first place.

Sheryl Sandberg was the one who had asked me (and the millions and millions of other readers of Lean In) that question that started it all: what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

And I did those things. A lot of them. The blog three years ago. The ROPES course three days ago.

But I had never thought about the converse question:

What does it look like when you’re living in fear?


I know the answer now. Not on purpose. Not because I want to. But I look back on the last year and I can see, so clearly, what it looks like when I am afraid and I choose to live there.

I run. Literally, metaphorically. All of the above. I ran from my life and from everything that hurt and was scary. I ran and ran and ran. A marathon. Until I broke my foot (not literally, I just pulled a ligament, but it hurts like a b, so there’s that). I ate my way through Festival Foods to run from feelings and stopped vacuuming my floors. I ran from real life. I said yes to everything and anything at work to run from free time and I have ensured that I’ve had none over these past several months. No time to think or dwell, only run. From one assignment to the next. One workout to the next. One bag of chips (or box of candy, carton of ice cream, etc) to the next.

Yeah, I ate a lot... but I ran a lot too. So let's let the photo be of that at this point ;)
Yeah, I ate a lot… but I ran a lot too. So let’s let the photo be of that at this point 😉

I even ran from writing and sharing and speaking and connecting. So much of me was just so tender and everything and anything could be salt in the wound without warning.

I have been afraid.


Of what, though, really? Grief after a miscarriage is one thing, but fear? I mean, fear that it would happen again would be rational… but you have to get pregnant first for that to be a possibility… getting pregnant is even less my strong suit than staying pregnant, so what then?

The what, I have to assume, is failure. That infertility wins and this is it. And “it” is failure. A life of settling because I can’t do the thing I want to do. That I felt so strongly I was supposed to do. Meant to do even. Family is the next step — love, (schoooooool), marriage… baby carriage. Even my childhood rhymes said so!

It hurts to fail. And I can do physical pain, but emotional? Nope. I hate it. It feels bad to be jealous, too. And I felt like I had replaced my rose-colored glasses with green ones, everywhere I looked ultrasounds and bumps and even literal baby carriages that weren’t mine. Might very well never be. I don’t like those feelings. I don’t like to fail. So I ran, cowered, stopped vacuuming.


This September, the anniversary of all the bad stuff came and went. The missing heartbeat on September 11th. The surgery on the 16th. The black days immediately after when I felt like I couldn’t breath… and didn’t want to. A year later, I’m still here. Still moving. And slowly recognizing a haze of fear. Recognition.


I take you back to the scene in Love Actually when Mark confesses his completely unrequited love to Juliet (yes, I’ve literally already said this) and then walks away, saying to himself, “Enough. Enough now.” It’s like that. Just like that.

Enough now.

Time to move on. To stop being afraid. Or, at the very least, to stop running from it. To face fear head on. Like Brene Brown and FDR’s man in the arena (highly recommend Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly). But also like Shana Niequist in Present Over Perfect (my newest and truest literary love affair) — sitting with it, even when it’s uncomfortable. Letting myself feel it and living my life anyway.

We have a lot of moments in life that are before and after type moments. Things that define us. But sometimes the moment is longer than a moment. Sometimes the moment is more like a year. For me, it was a year of fear. A year spent running, but getting nowhere. Except back to life. And that’s ok.

A deeper understanding of the tapestry. Because: Always.

Yesterday was a hard day. In the same way that every day has been a hard day, but a little bit worse. I had a big work deadline during the day and a remembrance service for the baby in the evening. Work was stressful, I got home late, Curly couldn’t even be bothered to say hello when I got home (oh that moody pup can cut me!), and the remembrance ceremony was more than just hard — it was disappointing and untouching and all it did was make me cry more tears without any of the healing I had hoped for.


I’m sure it wasn’t the service, I’m sure it was me. I’m sure it was the bitter shell that’s building up around the outside of my tender heart. There were so many families there. Families with kids. And I wasn’t prepared for that. I expected a room full of other sad women and while it probably was actually a room full of sad women on some level, my eyes could only see something that made me feel jealous and angsty and ungrateful. I felt ugly from the inside out.

But before that, between my bummer of a non-greeting from Curls and the short drive to the hospital chapel for the service, I opened some mail and sat down to the table for a quick bowl of chili and walked through the park with my pup on a leash. Though hurried, I felt like I had a couple moments of clarity where some big stuff started to coalesce…

We’d been gone for a week with the mail on hold and Monday was a federal holiday, so the stack that arrived on Tuesday was kind of enormous. I studiously ignored the multiple insurance EOBs (people talk about children being expensive — non-children are too and it hurts quite a bit to open those up and see the bill for a broken heart continue to grow and grow) and other bits of business-y junk and not junk, but kept aside a letter that made a rattling sound from my friend Adriane and a heavy envelope from my Auntie Pam.

For a second I thought that maybe Adriane, realizing my appreciation for the dramatic, love of all things microbiology, and need for rest (maybe in a coma), might have sent me some anthrax spores and a guaranteed trip to an isolation suite in a hospital in Minneapolis near her where she would be my only visitor. She’s tiny and adorable and would be really hilarious to the out-of-body-coma-me seeing her in a big biohazard suit. It was such a good idea, but I was disappointed on the spores end. What Adriane had actually sent was a really, really beautiful note and an incredibly thoughtful gift of forget-me-not seeds. Forget-me-nots. Because she knows I’ll want to remember.

My Auntie Pam (the reason I’ll always insist on being an auntie and never an aunt) also sent a beautiful note and gift of remembrance — an angel ornament for our Christmas tree. But she also sent me two ridiculously exciting and probably haunted books she picked up at a little used bookstore across the street from the super-haunted Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, located very near to my best cousin and his best wife’s house. (To be clear, Mike only has one wife, I don’t mean to imply that there are multiple and that Christina is the best — she just earned the title of “best” when she married my best cousin.) She had thought of me, really me and my gone forever baby and the things I love, even while she was there visiting her own newest (and probably best (see above)) grandbaby. More tears.

After I opened the mail, I sat down to my finally-cool-enough-to-touch chili and re-read the words of Shauna Niequist about grace that I had already read once in the morning. I started reading Savor again on Monday morning. I had put Shauna away for a while, unable to bare her musings that sometimes (often) include family and motherhood in a way that I just couldn’t hear for a minute. But Monday and Tuesday were both about grace and powerfully so.

Shauna on Grace

I re-read those passages and looked up from my bowl. My eyes and my mind flashed around the kitchen at the clutter on the counter top and table that I had been (jerkily, ungratefully, offensively… but probably somehow protectively) referring to as “pity presents” and they suddenly weren’t that any more. They were, all of them, tangible reminders of so much love.

Flowers from Lara

I finished my chili and picked up Curly’s leash for a quick walk through the park. My mind turning over and over and over in the cool air. Pieces clicking together even as I bent over to bag up dog poop (because I’m a super responsible pet owner, even when distracted) and threw it away.

I was mad at God and the words “God has a plan,” the words I’ve heard so many times since the middle of September, felt like acid crawling through my insides. Because if God has a plan and his plan includes infertility, the months and years of waiting for nothing, then God is kind of an a-hole. And if God has a plan, and his plan is to take my baby, to prevent me from being a mother, to punish me or to hurt me or to cause me pain, then God is a jerk and I hate him. But that didn’t really fit for me because if God stops the hearts of babies, then God must also be responsible for whipping up the atmosphere into the frenzy of tornadoes and hurricanes. God must also slam tectonic plates together in a way that causes earthquakes and tsunamis. God’s blueprints must include untold levels of death and destruction. I don’t think I believe in that God.

Instead, deep down, I still really, really wanted to believe what I’ve said so many times. That God is good. Always. No matter what. And to believe that, I have to believe that God is love and only love.

And, bag of poop in hand, I realized I do believe that. Always. Because in addition to God, I also believe soundly in biology and physics. Meteorology and plate tectonics. Love doesn’t change biology, it can’t stop gravity from happening. Love can’t seed a rain cloud or move the winds. Love can’t shift the earth’s crust, make mountains or waves. But love can and does, as I have soundly witnessed, stir people’s hearts to do amazing things in the wake of unpleasant biology, physics, meteorology, plate tectonics, or any other unchangable earth-fact.

Love sends words and notes and gifts of comfort and remembrance (i.e. not pity presents and I’m sorry for ever even thinking it). Love is the reason anyone ever healed or rebuilt, from the (universally speaking) small miscarriage to the large floods of New Orleans and earthquakes of Nepal. When these things that cannot be helped, by God or anyone else, happen, when our lives are shattered, God is love and love is there to help us pick up the pieces, to inspire others to grace and compassion and goodness in ways that were unknown before the break.

And I hate that and love that for the same reason that Shauna Niequist wrote about yesterday, October 13th, when she said:

“I don’t really want to need grace… I prefer to believe instead that the math works: there are good things about me, but they’ve checked the math and because I’m funny enough, they can let go of how terrible I look most days, or if I’m interesting enough, the fact that my house is dirty isn’t such a big deal. But that kind of math is specifically anti-grace. Grace isn’t about netting out on the right side of things.

If arithmetic is numbers, and if algebra is numbers and letters, then grace is numbers, letters, sounds, and tears, feelings and dreams. Grace is smashing the calculator, and using all the broken buttons and pieces to make a mosaic.”

It doesn’t have to make sense or to work out mathematically. Which is what I’ve been trying to do. To account for the heartbreak of infertility and miscarriage as something deserved and the kindness of others that, since not earned, must be pity. The God I believe in, the love he is and inspires, the grace, compassion, goodness, and even grief, that necessarily follows, just doesn’t work that way.

So what about Under the Tapestry? My whole premise — the idea that God is weaving a design that, no matter what it looks like from down here, is really, really beautiful “up” there. From the other side, whatever that might mean.

Well. Apparently in August of 2013, I had an idea, and it was a good one, but even I didn’t completely understand my own words — the bedrock on which I based all the rest.

I still believe that God is the weaver. But what this experience has taught me is that he is not the spinner too. Life produces threads, sometimes we color them ourselves — sometimes we do even more than just color them. Sometimes we shear the sheep, clean the wool, card, spin, and dye it all ourselves before we hand it over to the weaver. Sometimes life does it for us — biology, meteorology, physics, time. God just (not really just, but I think you know what I mean) incorporates those strands into our tapestry. Weaving them all together with the love that he is, into the design we cannot know on this side of eternity. A love so big and broad that it spreads out to all the people in a way that seems huge, but is really only a tiny glimpse.

Love begets compassion and kindness. Love begets grace and forgiveness. Love even begets grief and hurt. All those things stem from love and God is love. Love. Not a genie, puppeteer, or master of the physical universe. Not an architect, blueprint in hand. Not in my mind, anyway. He can work on our hearts, souls, and minds… but not physically. I really don’t believe that that’s how it works.


As hard as it is for me to wrap my mind around the above, it’s even harder to write about. Honestly, and not humbly, it takes some courage to put my thoughts about something as big and contentious as the idea of God out in space knowing that someone could hate it; will hate it. Especially when my thoughts aren’t exactly reverent (e.g., “then God is a jerk and I hate him”). While I was in Hawaii, though, my friend Dawn (bringer of light — her name is perfection) demanded I listen to a podcast (my first ever, truth be told, which is surprising for an Audible fan like myself, don’t you think?). Dawn has often sent me inspiring and powerful and thought provoking things to read and I’ve never been disappointed, but she has never ever demanded anything. And this time she demanded, so I listened. The voice on the line (Thomas Keller — here) was talking about how when we express our emotions and our questions, even the angry and fearful ones, it’s a prayer. A prayer for understanding, acceptance, peace, grace. Considering my general opinion of myself as an absolute crap do-er of prayer, this was music to my ears. I may not be good at on-the-spot holy father thou arts and such, but confused, out loud emoting is definitely my kind of thing. So let’s chalk this up to a prayer of that type. I’m confused and I’m hurting and I need desperately to better understand God in a way that brings me comfort rather than anger, because I don’t think anger is the point. And it’s certainly not a healthy place to stay. I wish mightily to be a person who is comforted by a well-timed bible verse or a phrase like “God has a plan,” but I’m not. I don’t find a lot of meaning in platitudes, no matter how true, probably for the same reason I don’t like small talk. It has to be deeper for me. Nearly 2000 words deeper plus 217 other posts, I guess, all to get to the place where I started:

The dark threads are as needful

In the weavers skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver

In the pattern he has planned

So I guess God is good. Always. Even still. Because how can love ever be bad in a world that can be so hard?

Diamondhead View

Moo: July is for IVF

Remember the show Malcolm in the Middle? You know, before Brian Cranston was a psychotic meth head and back when he was just a suburban dad trying to make ends meet while honing his speed walking career…


Regardless of whether you remember it, there’s this excellent line that Reese, older of the middle two brothers, had in one episode that my friend and former roommate Steph and I (Steph-and-I… Steph-an-ie… Stephanie…) just adored that went a little something like this:

“My God. Women are the cows of people.”

As I chatted with my cousins-in-law this afternoon (because Seth’s cousin Meg says she and I are cousins-in-law, and Gary and Holly are Seth’s cousin and Seth’s cousin’s wife, respectively, so by extension, also cousins-in-law to me…), I realized how very true that is. Gary, the Gary of Gary’s Dairy in Halder, WI, was super inquisitive about my IVF drugs, you see… because it’s the same stuff he gives his ladies. And all of his ladies (with the exception of the lovely Holly and their crazy baby girl Ella) are cows.

My God. Women are the cows of people.

I mean, of course they are on account of bull : cow : : man : woman (thank the good lord I never have to take the SAT again), but the fact that me and the cows are kinda doing the same dang thing? Well. That was something.

Perhaps if I mosey my way into a stanchion, Gary can give me a hand with some of the injections…


So, yeah, all that to say… July has begun, and so has IVF. It’s been super stressful and emotional and crazy already. I won’t bore you with the details, which have been stressful and emotional and crazy really only to me (what do you mean you’re not shipping one of my drugs, pharmacy?! also… I got super defensive during a mandated appointment with a clinical psychologist and made Seth very uncomfortable), but no matter, it has started.

On Sunday, I took my last birth control pill. On Tuesday morning, I got up at 4:00 am and drove to Madison for my baseline ultrasound and blood work. Tomorrow morning, I start injecting myself with some stuff. And on Saturday evening, I add more stuff. Four injections a day plus lots and lots of ultrasounds until they tell me to use what I can only describe as “the big needle” to deliver a trigger shot (go eggs go!!) and then surgery. They say I can expect headaches first, then bloating, then hot flashes and tiredness and moodiness and breakouts (and probably freakouts) and so on until the week of the 19th when I have surgery to retrieve the eggs my body is supposed to be cooking up. Followed by fertilization, implantation, and the dreaded two-week-wait.

That stanchion, a nice pile of hay and oats right in my face, access to water ad libitum… it’s all looking pretty good right now. Better than living real life around all of the above, don’t you think? I wonder if Gary has some space… moo?


But, I guess, in that respect at least, I’m not a cow. And I have a lot more control, a lot more space to emote, and significantly more complex responsibilities (p < 0.05).


The craziest part of it all is the uncertainty. I don’t know how I’m going to feel or how I’m going to react and I’m not super great at dealing with uncertainty or with feelings. So. There’s that. Also, I tend to be very black and white with myself — I’m either doing awesome or suck, suck, suck at everything, which leaves very little room for grace.

So what to do about all of that? I don’t really know. I can’t run (original title of this post: Fat Girl Walking, but I’m gonna go ahead and save that for another day) or do yoga. I have been spending a lot of time eating lactose and being sorry for it later, but I suspect that’s also a bad plan and maybe even some sort of subconscious punishment for not doing as well as I want to be doing. But I am trying (trying) to do some productive and healthy things — I read Brene Brown, I subscribed to Headspace and practice mindfulness, I listen to Dean Koontz books while taking long long walks around town, I keep a gratitude journal, I read Shauna Niequist’s Savor over breakfast every morning, and perhaps most importantly, I sometimes find the strength to say these words:

I’m scared. I’m sad. This is hard.

And Tom replied, “here’s a picture of our niece’s disturbingly realistic horse:”

Tom's Text

And I smiled even though I was scared and sad and this is hard. Where “this” refers to IVF, not the horse’s genitalia. Obviously.


This afternoon, I had a meeting with a child and adolescent psychologist. It was a legit work meeting, not actually a therapy session (as I’m neither child nor adolescent), but the psychologist I was talking to went through IVF herself and knows about my deal so we spent the first couple minutes talking about that. Free therapy — woot woot! Seriously though, my favorite thing she always says is that despite all she went through (and it was a lot), if she could go back, she wouldn’t change a thing. Not a single thing. Not the procedures, the dollars, the injections, the travel, the stress… nothing. She says that every step was necessary for the next step and that she learned something every day and that it was all worth it.

Come to think of it, even though I don’t have what I so desperately want, the thing that’s supposed to make it all worth it, (yet), I already kind of agree. Every day I am better at handling the unexpected. At appreciating my strength. At giving myself grace, patience, respect. At giving my body grace, patience, respect. I appreciate better the complexity of fertility and family and adulthood. I am more empathetic and sympathetic. In spite of it all, I am growing and learning and playing the hand I have been dealt. July is for IVF. It’s a chapter, a lesson, a small piece of what will ultimately be my narrative. It’s a scary, sad, hard piece. It’s a piece a cow wouldn’t have to deal with. But I am only like a cow, not an actual cow.

Moo, anyway… and hand me that syringe, I’ve got some injections to do.