Sunday, April 13, 2014

misconceptions: facing the inevitable pain of doing hard and beautiful things

I'm writing some short posts inspired by Naomi Wolf's book "Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood".  You can read my first post here and my second post here.
 
 

Giving birth is painful.  Amen?

Naomi Wolf writes, "Traditionally trained doctors and nurses often deal with the pain of childbirth by assuming that women can't handle it and medicating them at the earliest onset.  Naturalists on the fringes of the movement, on the other hand, can treat pain in a way that borders on puritanical.... [they] sometimes romanticize the pain either by minimizing how excruciating it can be or by idealizing women who choose to undergo it without resorting to drugs.  They use euphemisms such as "discomfort" and "intensity" to describe the pain of birth, or "rushes" and "surges" to describe what can be agonizing contractions." (184)  Wolf recognizes these ideological naturalists as being on the fringes of the natural birth movement, which is truly made of up of people (like Ina May Gaskin, a naturalist who is also a realist) working hard to "humanize in the United States what should be the normal and --dare we reclaim it?--beautiful experience of giving birth. (185)

Does this seem like a contradiction, Naomi Wolf writing about the agonizing, near torturous pain that usually accompanies some part of labour for women giving birth and then calling the whole process still a 'beautiful experience'?  Does preparing women for how extremely painful birth likely will be necessarily bring fear into their experiences or can it actually empower them to face the pain with more resilience and tenacity and courage?

My first experience with labour pains was when I lost our first baby very early in pregnancy.  After a couple days of spotting which became heavy bleeding and an ultra-sound showing our tiny baby with no heartbeat, the pain began.  It was a few hours of the most excruciating cramps I'd ever experienced and in some ways it rivaled the pain of labouring with my two living children.  There was no rhythm to the pain, and no relief.  I rocked on all fours on our bed sobbing, a hot water bottle against my abdomen, my brand new husband of two months rubbing my back and quietly praying, having nothing to offer but his presence in my very physical grief.  After a few hours the pain lifted and the hardest part of the loss was over in my body - so many of us know too well how long lasting the pain is in our hearts.  I'm still amazed at how physically painful the miscarriage was even at such an early stage of pregnancy - but it helped me embrace that something very real had just happened, something very dark and difficult, something that would be written into our marriage and onto our hearts.  That precious honeymoon baby was not a dream, and the loss of that life was not something I needed to quickly brush aside because I was young and fertile and would likely have healthy children.  The pain was able to unite my memories to my actual physical body.

During pregnancy I never was too entranced by the idea of having a pain-free birth; I saw the pain as a rite of passage, something that would be preparing me for the extremely grueling task of mothering real live humans.  Most of the really good things we do in our lives are also really, really hard.  I won't go into the details of labour with the two children who are asleep in our bedroom as I type, but they were both very painful.  No orgasmic birth experiences here.  I had to fight very hard to keep myself on top of the contractions mentally as well as practicing lots of active birthing techniques to keep my body upright and moving.  

Both of my labours unfortunately involved Synotocinon (Pitocin) at some point which increased the intensity and frequency of contractions to an almost unbearable pace.  I look forward to labouring without any sort of drugs increasing the pain to my body, but I do know that even without syntocinon, labour can be extremely painful.  Even my friends who had very peaceful births found the experience at some point to be shocking.  One friend is an experienced midwife whose home water birth felt like she was being torn apart in the process and she worried that she wouldn't be able to handle being with labouring women ever again.

It took some time, but she was able to process her experience and it increased her capacity for empathy when her clients were in the throes of labour.  She knew how close they felt to death in those moments, how they were not being dramatic or weak but were facing some of the greatest pain that humans can experience.

Wolf writes,

"No one informed me even remotely in our birth classes about the kind of courage you need to tap into during labor.  Yet women who are prepared psychologically and physically for extreme pain - prepared, perhaps, to do battle - may well be better able to manage the trial of labor with less fear -- and possibly with fewer medical interventions." (p 93) 

What if pregnant women were helped to understand how physically painful and difficult labour can be, and all the million dark places your mind will take you in those hours?  Rather than suggesting quick escapes from the pain before it begins or minimizing the grueling intensity of labour, what if women were given as much support as possible to face the pain head on? 


People experience pain in unique ways based on many psychological and physical variables - there is no place to judge each other and our decisions when in the extremely vulnerable place of active labour.  For some women, labour is just hard work and for others it is so much more excruciating than that.  I have friends who had extremely long and difficult labours and found an epidural to really help them cope mentally and their body to relax enough to continue the labouring process.  I have friends who were encouraged to have epidurals not realizing how close they were to being fully dilated and ready to push and in hindsight wished they hadn't.  When women are given good support and accurate information they and their partners can make good decisions for themselves.  I think that those decisions can look very different for different people and that women whose labours and births go many different ways can all feel very proud of themselves.  What's sad is when a woman feels they have no choice, no options, and that they were unsupported and unprepared for what labour would bring.

I wrote in my last post about how I erupted into joyful sobbing when I was deep into active labour with my daughter.  That wasn't because the pain had eased, but because I felt so alive and strong and free in the midst of incredible physical pain and emotional uncertainty.  (That being said, when my labour was later augmented with Syntocinon for the last two hours, I relied heavily on nitrous oxide (gas) to help me not completely fall apart.  I was extremely close to accepting the epidural that was being offered to me by a doctor and that was within only twenty minutes of being on the drip.)

At 34 weeks in this pregnancy I can say that I'm looking forward to labour again, even though neither of my previous births went the way I had hoped or anticipated.  While I don't have any assurances that things will be miraculously different this time, I'm still really expectant that they can be.  There are choices we will make differently that will likely increase our chances of having a peaceful birth but ultimately bringing a child into the world is a wild, beautiful, holy thing and nobody is fully in control.

If I believe anything to be truer than true about God, it's that we're never left alone in our pain.  As I wrote in a song, one of my most profound experiences of God has been as a midwife, who labours with us all night.  When we desperately fear pain and avoid it at all costs we miss incredible opportunities to connect with the human experience and the Divine presence.  If we are naive about how joy and pain in life are inextricably intertwined, we will often bypass the risks required to experience life more fully.  And if I believe anything about pain - whether it's the pain of healthy babies born or the pain of grief, loss and chaos - it's never wasted.  Not that all pain inherently has purpose like labour, but God can write meaning and purpose into our very real experiences of pain.  Jessica Kelley writes about this eloquently on her blog after losing her four year old son to brain cancer.  We can partner with God to see green living things come from the black ashes of our burned out forests.  And we can trust that one day, the whole world will be born new, free of suffering and fully alive.

//

Do you resonate with what I've written here about pain, or maybe you see things differently?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Monday, March 31, 2014

misconceptions: birth and fear

I'm writing some short posts inspired by Naomi Wolf's book "Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood".  You can read my first post here.


 

I deeply appreciated the chapter entitled "Fifth Month: Mortality".  It begins with a Beriba Proverb,

A pregnant women is a dying person… An often-told tale depicts the ancestors in the act of digging the woman's grave throughout the pregnancy.  If she survives the days after the delivery, they begin to shovel the sand back; forty days after the delivery, the grave will finally be closed without her.

The Sudanese mamas would walk five miles each way in hottest sun to learn about their bodies and pregnancy and birth - education could bring life-saving knowledge to the women in their villages; a Nigerian father wails outside the labour room finding out his beloved wife was no longer alive; twin girls in India lost their mother to Eclampsia, she gave them life as she lost her own.  So much of the world knows that surviving your child-bearing years is somewhere between a hope and a miracle.

The statistics are fairly grim for reproducing women in the developing world, which is where 99% of maternal deaths occur.  Lack of resources, lack of education, poverty and powerlessness all put women at risk when pregnancy and birth don't follow the normal rhythms we expect.  People work hard to see these stats change - and they are changing - but having a baby in Australia (where I've given birth) is drastically different from the risks so many women face in other parts of the world - especially in areas of conflict, where women's access to any care available is obstructed by violence.

//

Deep inside me there has been a very real fear of death in childbirth - that I'll leave my husband and small children to live their lives without me.  That fear has nothing to do with the Australian statistics, the amazing care I'll receive during my pregnancy and the attentiveness and skill of my midwives during birth - not to mention the emergency personnel on hand at all times.   It's almost an instinct, a primal sense of vulnerability.  My son was born with an Apgar score of 2, he was resuscitated then transferred to a larger hospital to be 'cooled'; I hemorrhaged substantially and developed a uterine infection.  It all ended well and we were soon both healthy and bonded and relieved. 

When I faced the impending labour with our second child, I didn't have fears that she would die, my fear was for my own life.  I felt very, very ashamed of that, certain those thoughts were "bad mother" thoughts, as I should have been more concerned for my unborn child.  But that's what was real.

Naomi Wolf writes of her pregnancy,
Suddenly death seemed everywhere.... Why was I so surprised at this new sensitivity to the loss and decay of things?  Many cultures pair birth with death and treat women's fertility as the gateway to both states.  But our culture, by insisting on revealing only the life-affirming aspect of pregnancy and birth, seemed to make the darkness more palpable....From such cues that are so dismissive of one's fear, it seemed that it was acceptable to express fears of one's baby's death but impermissible to talk about or contemplate the not entirely unrealistic fears we had for ourselves.

The risks of death are extremely low for women in Australia throughout their pregnancies, but there is always still a risk.  Are some of us oblivious or free from sensing this?  Or do we all carry it as a secret we dare not speak out to our partners, family members and close friends?   Do we believe that to acknowledge such dark thoughts will increase the chances of the unimaginable happening?  What kind of sub-concious fear do so many of us bring to the birthing room?

I wonder if naming our fears is what sets us free from their power - not that the actual risk is lessened, but our fear of the future can be disarmed.  Before our second birth Chris and I met with someone we trust and respect, who has weathered a decade more time on the earth than we have.  We let our words flow freely, the things we assumed would shock or we believed should be brushed away.  We named our fears one by one, spoke out the moments from our last birth together that haunted us, shared the lies we'd believed about ourselves in those moments, how the world was spinning and where God was in all of it.  I remember crying as it was all welcomed, and I could see it laid bare on the table, the light shining bright, the shadows evaporating. 

I prayed out what I knew to be truer than all my fears, prayed the truth would bury itself in the places that those fears had left vacant.  I went into my daughter's birth with an urgent excitement, surprising joy and deep expectancy.  There was no promise that it would be easy or go as I planned or even some Divine assurance that my child and I would survive.  I wasn't looking for that anyway.  I just didn't want to be afraid.

There was a moment, around six in the morning after labouring all night with my daughter, when I burst into loud sobs as I rocked through another painful contraction.  My midwife ran into the bathroom where my friend and husband were with me.  As tears streamed down my face and I reassured her:  "I just feel so, so happy right now."  

The reality was that my daughter had turned posterior and my labour wasn't progressing as fast as the hospital required without intervention.  But my heart - it felt alive and hope-filled - despite the past, the present, and the future's possibilities.  My heart felt so very free.


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Sunday, March 23, 2014

On Naomi Wolf's book "Misconceptions" and all the things I feel.


Cover of "Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, an...
Cover via Amazon
I'm trying to get my fingers typing again on this little blog, so you'll have to bear with me.  I've really enjoyed a book recently and feel inspired to write out some of the feelings it's uncovered and the thoughts it's generated.  I'm planning a few short posts that will hopefully give you an idea of what I'm thinking about at the moment.  //

A dear friend picked me up a thrift store copy of Naomi Wolf's "Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood" and it has been a very refreshing read.  I feel so much permission in reading the story of her pregnancy and her analysis of the United States' maternity system in the late 1990's.  She shares her own unique journey as an influential feminist, pregnant for the first time in her 30's, in an egalitarian marriage as well as the stories of many of her friends and women she meets as she digs into these topics.  It's a bit of an exposé on the way the American health care system treated/treats it's pregnant women and new babies, but more than that it's women being honest about their experiences, throwing off the sanitized versions of pregnancy and motherhood bliss that we often feel we must share louder than any of the challenges we face. 
"Becoming a mother requires a kind of supreme focus, a profound discipline, and even a kind of warrior spirit.  Yet our culture prefers to give women doggerel: it often suggests that motherhood is something effortless.  It calls motherhood "natural," as if the powerful attachment women have to their babies erases the agency they must show in carrying, birthing, and caring for children...  There is a powerful social imperative to maintaining our collective belief in the "natural bliss" of new motherhood.... Birth is viewed through a softened lens of pink haze: the new baby and radiant mommy in an effortless mutual embrace, proud papa nearby.  Because of the power of that image, many women feel permitted to ask few questions; we too often blame ourselves, or turn our anger inward, into depression, when our experience is at odds with the ideal." (page 4)

Wolf is so honest with her feelings throughout pregnancy and I found myself realizing that my feelings are okay  -- they are just feelings.   I'm not always super ecstatic that another human being has taken over my body and will take over my life for the next twenty years, but probably forever.  Excitement, ambivalence, vulnerability and fear are all completely normal feelings throughout pregnancy, ebbing and flowing like the powerful hormones that bring such change to our bodies.  Perspective is so important.  Gratitude is vital.  But it's okay to be honest with yourself and people you trust when the feelings you actually are feeling might not be what you hoped for or expected.

When I was pregnant with my daughter (a surprise pregnancy when my son was 8 months old) I was very scared and intensely feeling not-ready until about a week before she was born.  I think those feelings were actually present and demanding I face them because parenting two babies under 17 months was going to be very tough, and I needed to realize that.  Going into labour with my daughter after an extremely traumatic birth with my son was going to be tough, and I needed to be ready for that as well.  None of my fears were crazy or delusional or kept me from doing the things I needed to do, but it's amazing how shameful they feel when you try to restrain them deep inside.

I want to keep exploring my feelings of fear in these last eight - ten weeks of this pregnancy - I want to welcome them and learn from them as well as name them and let them go.

Wolf begins her chapter entitled "Mortality" with this Beriba Proverb:

A pregnant women is a dying person… An often-told tale depicts the ancestors in the act of digging the woman's grave throughout the pregnancy.  If she survives the days after the delivery, they begin to shovel the sand back; forty days after the delivery, the grave will finally be closed without her.


Any act of opening ourselves up vulnerably to the joy and pain of newness also runs closely alongside the possibility of uncertainty, loss and grief.  How do we keep our lives open to any kind of fertility when we've ached with disappointment before?






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Sunday, February 9, 2014

solo parenting, revolutionaries, preparing for birth: randoms from the past few weeks


I made it through two weeks of solo parenting while Chris was away on a film trip in Fiji.  For those of you who solo parent often (or all the time) I'm sure it doesn't seem like that big of a deal but we had literally not spent even a night apart in over two years.  Granted, I had his parents (who had been visiting us for two months over the holidays) stay with me and the kids for the first week and another friend for the second, so I had a lot of support, especially in keeping the house tidy and entertaining the children.  But still.  I'd been most intimidated by the nights - of having one wakeful two year old and a 3 1/2 year old who often would wake once a night as well (expecting his dad to cuddle him back to sleep).  It turns out that I was the one to struggle with sleep with Chris away, but the kids did really well and Saf even did a streak of no nighttime wake-ups which was so nice.  [For those who are interested: We recently moved him to his special 'bed corner' which is a single mattress on the floor in our room.  He loves it, surrounded by his favorite stuffed animals and a soft, new blanket.  In the same room we also have a double bed and a queen bed pushed together which now sleeps Chris, myself and our daughter in different arrangements.  It's a pretty nice set-up at the moment if you're into family bedrooms.]

It was good to spend those days and nights apart, to remember why I want to live side by side with this Canadian friendboy, and to feel capable again.  It was one of those things I didn't think I could do, and for a time it would have been very stressful on our son, but the timing was right.  Still hard, but it was good.  

//
I wanted to share a few things that have been inspiring me lately.  Here ya go:

I am in the middle of two books right now:  Jesus Feminist - by Sarah Bessey and "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth".


Jesus Feminist Cover

Jesus Feminist has been highly recommended by a few of the blogs I read and for great reason.  Sarah draws you in deeply and quickly with her ability to address sticky theological issues that often divide us with welcome, subversive thought and poetic voice.  I've connected with her personal story shared in the book even more so than I have through her blog (which says a lot!).  She has walked with her whole heart, slowly, through the murkiness of grief and loss and huge questions, grappled with vocation, mothering and women in the church and chosen HOPE over cynicism.  If you'd like to re-imagine what it means to be a woman or re-inspired to delight in yourself as a woman I would say definitely get your hands on a copy.  If you live near me you are welcome to borrow my copy as soon as I'm done!


I'm reading Ina May Gaskin's book to prepare for giving birth again.  I've not had the kind of birth's I would have hoped for and while all the variables will never be in my control, I'd like have some new ideas in my head as labour draws nearer.  Ina May believes very strongly in the role of a woman's psyche during labour to encourage or discourage the natural processes that bring forth a baby.  This is in no way about blaming myself for how my births have gone, but I do want to examine any experiences/fears/doubts that are in my heart and mind that could hinder my ability to be as relaxed and confident as possible.  I feel now that the trauma from my first birth may have definitely played a role in the slow progress (and therefore augmentation under hospital time constraints) of my second birth.  I don't think for a second that reading a book or praying a prayer or any other activity will guarantee the birth I hope for, but I just want to do what I can, in hope.

//

Krista Tippett's podcast "On Being" is my go-to when the kids are out with their dad and I'm home, likely washing the mountain of dirty dishes that seems to always, always be around.  I especially enjoyed recently her conversation with Walter Brueggemann, one of my favorite scholars whose work I first read in college over a decade ago.  He's such a lovely, intelligent, humble man - the interview here is about an hour, but I especially loved the way he talks about the word mercy from minutes 35 to 38 1/2.  Check out Krista's archives and you will likely eavesdrop on some incredible conversations.

//

Chris and I watched two fairly intense movies lately.  The first was a documentary on the Egyptian Revolution called The Square.  It really, REALLY helped me to understand what has been happening ( in a city that I LOVE) much more cohesively than I have been able to keep up with reading articles on the BBC website.  And I can't handle how deeply courageous these people are and how well-articulated their passions.  I feel like they put my own understanding of my nation's political situation to shame.  And did I mention they are brave and are willing to be killed for what they know is a process that is much longer than they may even be around to see?  You can watch the trailer here.

And last night we watched Captain Phillips - the story of an American cargo vessel that is attacked by four young Somali men while en route to Kenya.  It's intense (an understatement) and brings up sooooo many questions in my heart about 'redemptive violence' and structural injustice that leads to terrorism and my own primal desire to stay alive no matter the cost.  It's sad to think this is probably most viewers only exposure to Somali people and the complexity of what is happening in that nation. 

//

Otherwise I've been enjoying my two live-wire kiddos on the outside and well-behaved kiddo on the inside.  This pregnancy (25 weeks) is smooth, minus some back pain here and there, and while I long to meet this little one face to face I'm also very happy we have a few months to go before he or she arrives and turns our world upside down.

We're still doing our best to be good neighbours to the people around us; it's gotten messier and more complicated than a few months ago but I have to believe this is how Kingdom things slowly grow, that our meager attempts at love are better than nothing at all.  We showed our son a dirty needle that was left outside our gate yesterday and explained to him how important it is never to touch something like that.  We disposed of it, the fourth in the past couple of months within 20 metres of our apartment.  The little playground a few steps from our back gate is a great place for our kids to play (always wearing shoes) but it's also a place where people buy and sell and escape.  We want to be present in the neighbourhood and enjoy the goodness here while still keeping our kids as innocent and safe as possible.

//

I'm curious if you've seen either of the movies I mentioned or have read any of the books?  Or have you ever prepared for a birth in light of previous disappointments and found something especially helpful in the process?  I'd love to hear.  xx





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Friday, January 17, 2014

'Come be You': a song for our weak, courageous hearts.

Well, we made some music.  The babe who was in belly when we first began recording might have just turned two, but we finished it.  And we are pleased.

The words to "Come Be You" were written about four years ago.  I was newly married and adjusting to a cross-country move to the other side of Australia.  Six months earlier we had lost a baby early in the pregnancy, a baby who had been made during our honeymoon celebrations.  I was still wading around waist-deep in the muck of grief and confusion when I became pregnant again; he is now a wild and wonderful 3 1/2 year old.  That evening when I wrote out the words in a notebook I didn't know what would happen in that pregnancy, I didn't know what the first years of our marriage would bring.  I didn't know how to honour the pain and loss that I felt deeply while at the same time carry the joy and expectancy of a new baby on the way. 

All I could pray as my emotions ebbed and flowed was, "God, come be You."

come be You in my weakness
come be You in my grief
come be You in my celebrations
come be You when I bleed
come be You in my weakness
come be You in my grief
come be You in my celebrations
come be You in my expectancy

Carrying joy and pain together is so much of what it means to be human and to be interconnected with one another.  Whether it's within our families, neighbourhoods or communities, often we experience the depths and heights that are possible, right alongside each other.  We lose our job while someone we love is being promoted; we give birth to a healthy child while our dear friend suffers through another pregnancy loss; we watch our friends get married while we are single and wanting a life partner, or living in the wake of divorce.  Life is painful and so beautiful and often it's in the same day, in the same body, we carry those things in our hearts all mixed up together.  Part of growing our capacity to grieve and celebrate together is allowing God to first come and be God in all of the complexity - and we don't yet know what that means.

My very talented husband helped with the music and we started to share it in our community.  In 2011 we began recording it and finally, FINALLY (after a long hiatus), finished it a couple of weeks ago.

Please have a listen and feel free to share it if you like, especially if you have someone in mind who you think might be encouraged by this song.  If you want to download it from our bandcamp site, we're making it 'pay what you want.'  (www.statesandprovinces.bandcamp.com)

Enjoy.




On a side note, Chris, myself and two very talented friends (Spiro on percussion and Zack playing harmonica) were invited to play some music recently at an event.  We played for about thirty minutes, doing a few originals and a few covers (we did a version of 'My Girls' by Animal Collective, 'Closer to Fine' by Indigo Girls, my fave was Patty Griffin's 'Forgiveness' and my husband is obsessed with Neil Young's 'Harvest Moon'.)  It was really fun - thanks to all our friends who came out!  When Chris and I started dating we dreamed of writing, performing and recording music together.  Baby-making has usurped our music making over the past few years but hopefully this is the start of something new.


Thanks Mat for the snaps!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

when Christmas makes you stressed out and crazy (and the God who still comes, anyway)


The air is cool for Australia in late December, the rain falls gently on skylights, my three next-of-kin sleep in a darkened room together with white noise lullaby.  It's Christmas, this morning we opened some gifts with Nana and Papa visiting from Canada, had a late breakfast and the over-sugared children needed a sleep to make it through the rest of the day.  So did their dad.

It's been a difficult few weeks for me, with nothing and nobody to blame.  I had high hopes for December, for Advent, for the memories we would create and the traditions we would begin with our toddlers, but only a few of them happened and were definitely not "pinnable".  (My homemade advent calender was pretty much the worst - I couldn't wait for the last paper to be torn off so I could throw it in the bin today - Merry Christmas!)  I appreciated D.L. Mayfield's writing this week on what is actually sustainable at Christmas time, and for me the trouble hasn't been financial; my expectations on myself are what I can't keep up with.  I didn't "do" nearly what I had hoped to accomplish and I still ended up a crying, stressed out, less than festive mess on too many occasions in the past few weeks.  If you don't believe me, just ask my husband.  Seriously, ask him - he could probably use some support.

The few things that have felt deeply meaningful had very little to do with me at all.  I saw some friends give anonymously and generously to some other friends of mine whom they had never met; inviting someone to our home for Christmas who didn't come but hopefully at least felt cared for and included; enjoying the hospitality of others, having meals in homes or sharing drinks outside while children play barefoot.

The line in the carol 'O Holy Night' has been rolling around in my heart for the past few days.  "Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til He appeared, and the soul felt it's worth."  I've spent so much of this month (and maybe my whole life) trying to prove my worth, and mostly just to myself.  Do I deserve to be a friend to circles of beautiful people, a mama to bright and crazy kids, a wife to the gentlest man?  I try to answer this question by packing my days fuller than I can handle, full of such good things and people I want to be with, it's not the doing that's the problem, it's the questions my heart is asking, the things that I don't believe true about my most secret self. 

It's not in our doing that our souls will feel their deepest sense of worth - it's in His Coming.  And like I wrote two years ago, very pregnant but not ready for our new baby to arrive yet, I feel it now.  "God came because it was time.  Not because we were ready, but because we were in need.  The beauty of Advent is in God's willingness to come to us, not our readiness for Him to come."

The kitchen doesn't have to tidy, nor the Christmas cards in the mail (or even on your mind).  Maybe you just shouted at your children or your spouse, or cried over an oven full of burnt baking; the gifts might be few or hurried, loved ones too far away, exhaustion holding you hostage for a good, long time.  You might feel disappointed with yourself.  It's okay.  Advent isn't about us preparing beautifully, lighting candles or creating the perfect family memories.  It's about recognizing our deep, deep need for a God who still comes, anyway.

As much as I despise all of this seasonal stress I've experienced this month, maybe it's been good for me.  Maybe not feeling like I measured up is exactly where I need to be.



Merry Christmas.  May your soul today feel it's worth, no matter what.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

things are messy, we are loved


 
Theotokos, from House for All Sinners & Saints


I live in the kind of place where you get to know your neighbours, maybe you do too.  They remind your kids to wear hats outside and gift them their first cricket set, you chat while hanging laundry in the Australian sun, or you overhear a (sometimes very loud) dispute. We live in an interesting place and our neighbourhood isn't just the people who live next door or around the corner.  There's also the people who come in and out of our street, often in need of cash or desperate for some kind of fix.  I've written before about how honest my neighburhood is about the power of addictions.

Sometimes I want to meet people, like other moms at the park who become your really dear friends over a couple of years; sometimes I don't want to meet people, like the men coming in and out of our neighbourhood for a drink or to watch topless women dance.  But my kids don't know any better, they don't know how I quietly classify people - my son asks men their names as we walk past a pub; I try to smile nicely while also slightly glaring at them.  I'm working on it, but it's still a reflex, that smile/glare.  I wish I could see like my kids do, like they know how the world is meant to be.

They have fallen in love with this one lady who is at the corner every day, they give cuddles and kisses, my daughter says her name all the time, even when waking from a nap as if maybe she has just been with her in a dream.   I used to be scared of her boyfriend until we started to chat regularly - their relationship is complicated and they are trying to care for each other despite themselves, and aren't we all limited in our capacity to love and be loved?  I was scared of him until I met his kids, until he introduced us as his friends.  

I just finished "Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint" by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a tattoo covered Lutheran pastor who lived in bondage to her own addictions for many years after leaving her childhood, fundamentalist church.  Her use of coarse language is plentiful (just a warning in case you were planning to gift it the book to a great aunt or something) and her understanding of life as continual death and resurrection has opened up my eyes.  Rather than be ashamed of ourselves, we can trust in a God who delights to scoop us up from our graves over and over again.  She writes freely of her own failings and need for resurrection, how God requires nothing of us in order to be loved.

I can be so ashamed of myself sometimes, I fall back into my grave and just want to stay there, want to let myself be covered over by disappointment, tiredness, hopelessness.  Rather than ask for help I'd choose to stay buried until I can slowly collect the will power to dig myself out.  But there's no self-digging required; God is proud to have dirt under His fingernails, unfatigued by another rescue, overjoyed by a child in Her arms.  My friend was telling me recently about a difficult situation she's in, "I'm a troubled person, but I don't need this."  And she's right.  If only I could take on that same language for myself, when I'm laying in my grave again: I'm a troubled person, but I don't need this.  I don't need to stay here, ashamed in my grave.

What if I can start to truly see other people as God's beloved, hear it sung loud over their heads, louder than anything else that has ever been spoken over them.  Imagine how I will think and feel about my neighbours then, not even judging their potential, but just believing who they already are at the center of it all.  My longing this Advent season, like Nadia Bolz-Weber, is for my heart of stone to (again and again and again) become a heart of flesh.

Things are messy in our neighbourhood and Lord knows they are sketchy sometimes, but it's a place filled with God's beloved children and it's still a beautiful day.
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