Saturday, November 14, 2015

being alive is hard, but oh, the fresh air

I went to sleep last night feeling so low, my skin thin, pricked easily by tiny irritants from the day I could normally tread over.  And then I had read the news, heard there was a bombing in Beirut, a city whose streets I've explored and restaurants I've danced in, whose food and people and landscape I've delighted in, a city which has taught me to see anew.  My friend Rebecca lives there with her Lebanese husband and Lebanese babies.  My friend Bethany just visited her family there, Syrians from mish mish orchards fleeing violence in their beloved land, trying to find some peace for their babies to grow.

I felt incredibly sad, I felt despair, I worried for the men, women and children whose lives were sharply interrupted by intentional chaos, the dead ones are the lucky ones my professor would always say, but not the ones left behind.  How would I keep living if that happened in my own neighbourhood?  How would I leave the house with my three small humans and face the world unarmed?  Sometimes I can barely do that now.

I woke to the news of the murders in Paris, a city I know only through other people's stories and pictures.  I want to hole myself up; I go to two birthday parties with my kids, so many small humans oblivious to the unfolding headlines, just finding joy in friends and sugar this very day.

At 23 I didn't think I'd live to be so old.  On days like today, when our grief is more apparent, more public, I have tiny, gentle flashbacks to moments I don't consciously remember, moments somewhere between breath and God, light and dark and light again.  I contemplate what would have happened if my breathing had stopped and these now ten years of filled to the brim with joy and sorrow life had not been lived by me and it had all ended there.  It sounds unhealthy doesn't it?  To think like that?  But I need to feel my vapour thin to know I'm really alive.  I need to remember my almost death to see everything else as the richest liveliest life to the full.

Whether its violence, car accidents, cancer, an earthquake or other unforeseen upheaval the question is possibly the same.  How do we choose love?  How do we celebrate life where it's rising up from rubble again?  How do we throw our seeds and look for tiny green coming out of the burnt, ashy earth?  How do we welcome another child into this world of weapon stockpiles and tell them its good to dream?  How do we loose the grip we have on our own weapons, on our desire to separate and be safe, on our inability to imagine a better way?

There is some space, between naiveté and despair.
It's not comfortable but it welcomes us to come, settle in and make room for the world.
It's that space where God ever is, weeping and wailing and dreaming again.

Monday, April 6, 2015

on turning thirty-three (my scars are a decade old)

A decade ago I turned twenty-three. It was Easter Sunday in Capetown, South Africa, I was surrounded by some friends who are my very favourites, even to this day.  I felt resurrected that morning, stepping out into things my heart had longed for; we flew a kite, played soccer and wrestled like grown women do.  I still remember my birthday card with kind words scribbled in different hand writing and how I would study it over for the next few months.  I felt securely oriented, a sense of being led and cared for by the Divine Whisper, things were right in my world and could only get better.  I felt Love consume the anxiety-inducing questions of the past four years of learning the world anew through college and I felt hopeful that Love would save us all.

It was twenty-three that saw me fall in love for the first time, with a boy and soon after that with mother and child healthcare in the majority world.  I was certain of my steps, I squashed any tumult with reassurances of the things I felt like God had spoken to me and all the signs I had scribbled down in my journal.  We would be okay.

It was twenty-three that saw my heart broken deeply, left disappointed with a human being and more-so with the God who I thought had wanted us to be together.  I had never known anguish like that before, an indicator of my privilege I know, but the cut was deep and I was bleeding everywhere.  My friends carried me through a few dark days, packed my bags and got me onto a plane headed to Lagos, Nigeria and then a bus across that wild green land.  I learned about labour pains, the tremendous grief women bear physically to hold joy incarnate in their arms.  Supporting women in labour in some pretty terrible circumstances would give me perspective for my sorrow as well as make me tender to my wounds.  I wrote out my pain in songs and sang them loudly, I was limping and somehow more alive than ever before.

Three months later I was still twenty-three and in the Nigerian bush, my body was unconscious and tangled with sixteen of my friends in a horrific van accident.  Eight of those beautiful, dream-filled, resurrected people died that day, on a Sunday that was more like Holy Saturday.

Where was I was in the hours that I was unconscious?  How close was I to death?   How close was I to God?  Who were the Nigerians that loaded my body into their car and drove me to the clinic that was already overwhelmed with unconscious bodies, what did they think of my traditional purple dress, ripped and blood-stained?  Did they pray for me as they drove?

When I woke up for the first time seven of my friends had already died and one more would die soon after.  Some survived with life-changing injuries and still wait for healing with the new heavens and new earth.

I imagine my friends who met God that day in December 2005, I imagine if that accident had been a near-miss and a praise report instead of a catastrophe, where they would be.  How many children would bear their image, how many people would have been touched deeply by their lives?  How much more joy and music and dance would the world have held in this decade, had they survived?


Those next months were brutal and barren and bone-tiring, I did very little but just survive.  The disorientation of grief and loss respects no theologies, no future plans.  I wished desperately that I had simply died and could not imagine that I'd live to be twenty five or thirty.  The potential chaos of the future splashed over all the kite strings and flower beds I had been dreaming of.

I found my way to a Benedictine monastery in the Pennsylvania mountains, I spent three or four days there right before Lent, reading the psalms out loud in the forest, joining with the Sisters for daily prayers and mass, staring at a statue of Mary with a toddler Jesus who looked as though he was attempting to jump from her arms.  How did she feel as he grew and changed and began to come and go from her careful watch?  Did she have any idea what pain she would bear as she loved him to the end?

I found a stream of living water running through the little chapel and space for me to kneel and drink, nothing else required, no questions asked.

On Ash Wednesday I knelt before the priest in the chapel at the Benedictive monastery where that water ran through and had the ashes swiped on my forehead, first down, then across.  "From dust you came, to dust you will return."  I faced my impending death squarely and sighed with relief.  I would indeed die someday, no one knows when, maybe not even God.  But I needn't be afraid of the end, nor of the living in between.

God stood innocent before me, His own heart broken, his own Body torn, His own blood running down, mixed with mine and that of those I loved, mixed with all the blood spilled on this planet even now.  It was then that I learned that God suffers with us, a song I'll swear by to this day.  He wears our scars in His own and I can feel His scars as I trace my fingers along the few I carry on my body, my heart, my mind.  Even in the defeat of death and His resurrected glory those scars were present, palpable, shocking and somehow soothing, inviting us into this space where we don't have to be afraid.  "Look at my hands and my feet."

We are waves, we are clouds, we are dust; we are almost meaningless on this spinning planet and we are so infinitely valuable.  Even God stoops down to wipe our tears.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

just to start writing again

a poet came to our church last sunday afternoon and reminded us to be present in the tension.  we don't need to be solving the problems or answering all the questions or doing it all just right.  we can stay in the in-between, in the not-quite-right-but-this-is-what-i-have, live unashamedly in the presence of a God who sees and loves and delights, who leads us gently, always with grace.

i stopped writing because i wanted to pretend the tension was gone, i wanted to just be with my arms of full of children, my body pushing prams to the park, conversing in the neighbourhood with people different than me still but i didn't want to keep examining it all.  i always try to run from writing like i'm holding back tears, if i just keep blinking they will slide back down to the bottom of my heart. but they never do.  i'm pretty much the worst at holding back tears, anyway.

it's funny to be 32 and really have no idea, to have my days gobbled up by children who are rarely satisfied, who mirror my beauty and my hurt, who all slept in my bed(s) while my husband was away.  it feels both like i should be much more than i am while feeling incapable of being even the bare minimum of who i need to be.

i have so many pregnant friends right now who have no choice but to confess the here but not yet nature that is having a whole new person inside of you, growing slow.  there is hope and there is consummation and we live daily in the neither and both and the tender risk of it all.

i'm not pregnant now and likely won't be again but there is something truer than anything in the way God imagined newness would come from dust through the holy bodies of women.  it takes dark and time and quiet and waiting and we are all changed in the gestating, we are all growing up, we are all born again, made new.

Friday, October 10, 2014

anxiety, guilt and the holy work of play

The other morning I was walking a few blocks from my home with my three children, two in the pram in front of me and one strapped to my chest.  I was almost at the top of the hill, across from a petrol station, when a young man began crossing the street pointing at us and yelling angrily.  He was obviously wasted and I had a clear moment to think, "Wow.  What am I going to do?  How am I going to protect my kids?"  I glanced around to see if there was anyone who would help us.  A woman I recognised shouted at him, "They're just children!  You leave them alone!"  He stumbled away to the bus stop shelter, suddenly looking harmless

Sometimes it seems the whole world is a wasted man lumbering towards my children and I'm not sure what to do.

I'm sure it's something most mothers have felt from the beginning of humanity, I imagine Eve holding her precious firstborn with relief and joy after tremendous pain and in the next breath fearing for his little life, worrying that his future will be as painful as her labour.  I read the news and contemplate how the world will be when my kids are adults, how nation-states will have changed, where will the countries that have issued their passports be dropping bombs?  Who will our neighbours be, what about our enemies?  It's possibly still postpartum hormones but I nearly have to look away from their faces because they are so beautiful and they don't yet know how unsafe the world is.  I don't want them to ever know.

And the things is, as sketchy as our neighbourhood can occasionally be, we also live so close to the sea.  The weather is warming and the kids and I spend so much time outside doing nothing but enjoying creation's goodness.   I have this subtle, nagging guilt; it's rare for me to feel free and joyful for too long before I remember those who are displaced and mourning, especially in the Middle East but just about anywhere.  The pregnant women, those whose labour is imminent, those giving birth even as bombs destroy close to them or soldiers are fast approaching - this is reality and I don't know how people survive it.  I worry about what God thinks about all of our sunny tomfoolery, about how much time my children and I spend playing, is there something more important that we should be doing right now?

I learned about the Christian Peacemaker Teams in 2003, when Peggy Gish and her late husband, Art, visited my college and we had a small meeting where we heard their stories from Iraq and Palestine.  Their hair was as white as their commitment to non-violence was fierce.  They were the real deal and I was left deeply inspired.  I've been reading Peggy's blog lately, she is still with a small CPT team in Suleimani, Iraqi Kurdistan, welcoming IDPs and sitting with local leaders who are building bridges for peace.  I remember Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of mothers who used creative non-violent resistance to see the end of civil war in their beloved Liberia and saw the establishment of a new government.  I love knowing there are brave and kind people in the world.

I wonder where I'd be right now if I was single, I wonder where I'll be when my hair is grey.  Is it okay that motherhood has so drastically changed me?  That all I really want to do now is keep my babies safe?  I used to feel brave and strong and I don't feel that way at all anymore.

Somewhere deeply buried beneath my anxiety and my guilt there are tiny seeds of hope pushing up on the darkest earth.  I want my imagination to massively expand, I want my heart to be broken and heal wide open, I want to pray for a justice drenched peace in the world and in my neighbourhood.  I want my mind to be surprisingly reoriented towards the best security we have:  God is midwife, and the Prince of Shalom arrived as a baby, taught us the way and inaugurated a whole new world.

How we do conflict in our home does matter, and what I teach my kids about power and weapons and money and the world's history and loving people who seem very different than us will give them freedom to dream bigger and more whole-ly than I will ever be able to dream.  There is something holy in their innocence, their joy, their commitment to laughter and bare feet and play.  Maybe it's the prayer language of pre-schoolers, calling the whole world back to the way things were in those very first days.

Let the children lead.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Motherheart of God: God is a Midwife

My friend Adriel is hosting a "Motherheart of God" series.  She's exploring aspects of God's essence in a Christian worldview that we often overlook or underestimate—the expression of God's nature and character reflected in the feminine experience.  I am over there writing about God as Midwife.

"If our mothers had named the Holy One, would God have firstly been midwife, continually welcoming new life in even the most excruciating circumstances?"

Be sure to check out the other posts in her series!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

For Chris: I didn't know how well I'd done when I married you.

me and my friend boy, six years ago this month

It's Australian Father's Day and while you are Canadian and I'm American, all of our babies have been born in this third country where we have made a home together.  I've had the flu this weekend and the littlest one is miserable so you are out with the big kids on your own.

When you and I were dating, (mostly through the interwebs, but with our whole heart) I had no idea.  We were babies then, not thinking at all about having babies of our own, talking about EVERYTHING we could think of to try and make a wise decision together.  How would we spend our money, where would we live, what does hospitality mean, would we travel or root ourselves deep?  We talked about how we would space our babies (or not), and how many kids we'd like to have though that was for someday in the future, not anytime soon.  You were handsome and creative and kind and I was very much in love; we said our vows and moved in with each other, we thought we would make so much music together.

Instead we made babies - our first, who waits with us for all things to be made new, and the three who are growing us up now.  I didn't know that you as a father would be so enmeshed with you as a husband but that's how things have unfolded and here we are now.  You hadn't even held a newborn until you had your own.  We had no idea how children would gently wreck us and force us to re-imagine everything we thought about ourselves.   I didn't realise how well I'd done when I married you.

I didn't know the thousand hours you would spend holding our children in the night while I slept.  Or how you would throw off grumpiness by throwing a blanket over yourself and chasing the kids around the house.  (Big brother clings to little sister, giggling and assuring her over and over again, "It's just dad.  It's just dad.  It's just dad.")  Or how you would be able to connect with our son when I just can't, and tell the most perfectly boring bedtime story/songs night after night after night.  When you are in love over Skype, who talks about how long they will breastfeed, where babies will sleep,  the anger that tiredness can bring, or the pressure of small screaming people?  How could I have known how present you would be in the suffering of my body when each child has arrived, what a balm you would be to my heart?

I didn't realise how much you would care for people outside of our little family, how you would connect and mentor and serve.  I didn't realise how deeply proud I would be when I see you around, that you are mine, and I am yours.  

When we were dating I thought I was in love with you.  I didn't even have a clue.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

when pain gives way to joy (salem's birth story)

My baby boy has been in my arms for over 12 weeks.

I've wanted to share his birth story here for awhile now, but this has been a summer (or winter, for those of us in the southern hemisphere) of much trauma and pain across the globe.  I don't think the world is getting any worse off as there is much positive change, healing and reconciliation as well.  We are all just more connected, more aware perhaps?  But still, news of our shared brokenness across this spinning planet leaves us reeling and confused and fearful - will we slowly destroy ourselves?

I won't write about how vulnerable and reckless it feels to care for tiny, dependent people these days, I'm sure mothers have felt that way for four thousand years.  Are we crazy for thinking this is a good time to have children?  No, we are brave.  Expecting good and hope for our children's future is courageous, and it's only born out of a deep trust in a God who creates and commits and promises all things new.  I wonder if we've done the right thing in creating more people to be dependent on us, with the capacity to suffer and grieve.  But the world needs new tiny humans, whose imaginations are free, humans capable of love, forgiveness, peace-building and conflict resolution.  The world needs people who will sing their hearts out and lay down their swords.  Even God decided to arrive as a baby; that wasn't the safest option but somehow it was best.  

Pregnancy and birth do not always go to plan, I know that well, and many other mothers and fathers know that much more painfully than I do.  There are many, many variables to birth and some of them are completely outside of our control.  Like anything, we learn as much as we can, do our best and keep our chin up.  There's nothing to prove, just tiny babies wanting to be in the arms of their mothers, however that may happen.  Sometimes the stars align and babies come gloriously, the pain evaporates into a distant memory and mother bonds freely with child.

When the incredible pains of labour (that can nearly swallow a woman whole) are able to bring a real baby - screaming and alive - into the her hands, and even leave her body in need of no repair, the memory of the pain quickly melting away - this is a sign to us.

The world's suffering, and our own, is all going somewhere.  Just as we feel we have lost everything and there is no hope, it will surrender itself and give way to joy.  And all the boots of the warriors, all the garments rolled in blood, all the F-16s and tear gas bottles, riot gear, disease, chaos, racism, tanks and drones will be burned like fuel for a fire.

For we need to boil some water; a child is born.  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace. (Isaiah 9)

So I'm sharing the story of my son's birth and I wear the memory of it deep in my body, a reminder and a sign.  Pain and suffering in this world do not have the last word.


(Prepare yourself for some graphic details written very bluntly.  Feel free to turn back before it's too late.)

The baby's due date was the 25th of May and I expected to give birth around that time; both of my other children were born at 40weeks + 2 days gestation.  I was half expecting a long labour and half expecting the child to slip out onto the floor spontaneously.  I processed pregnancy fears surrounding giving birth and felt like I moved through them in a new way, I felt pretty sure that whatever happened, God would be midwife:  present and GOOD.

I found most of the pregnancy exhausting and the last six weeks pretty painful as I got huge - I gained 28 kgs/ 60 pounds and I was caring for my other two young children.  My husband should be writing this part as I'm sure he can recount properly some of my misery.  :)  I wrote at the end of my 39th week that I was holding together pretty well and then I promptly started to fall apart.   I was having some pretty intense pre-labour pains off and on, especially in the night.  Ina May Gaskin talks about how for some women labour can try to begin as many as five times before active labour actually kicks in. This was priceless information especially as I hoped to have as little of my labour at the hospital as possible.  Some nights I would lie in bed trying not to time the waves of pain as they came but unable to sleep through them for a few hours at a time.  One night I really thought it was the real deal (how can you know but in hindsight?) and spent so much of the night awake.

I spent the days doing a lot of walking, 35 kg of toddlers in the double pram, hiking up the hilly street we lived on.  My friend on the corner would always ask if I was sure I wasn't having twins which is a great question to have to answer multiple times.

I liked to think that every night could possibly be THE night and then when I woke in the morning I wasn't too disappointed.  Until the morning of June 2nd.  I woke up quite a mess, around 5:30am.  At 40 weeks +8 days  I couldn't believe I hadn't gone into labour yet, I was only a few days away from being induced.  My midwife had done two stretch and sweeps, at 40+3 and 40+7, each one leaving me slightly more despairing.  I still didn't truly trust my body to cooperate with the natural process of birth.  Both of my other labours had been full of interventions and I desperately wanted to give birth the way I know it is meant to be.

When I woke up on June 2 I read an email from a good friend of mine in Canada.  She had been praying for me and felt like I should make sure I was informed about cesarean birth - she didn't think I would have one but knew that many people do have one without having any sense of preparation, and processing that possibility could help me face any lingering fears I have surrounding the birth.  I was so upset to read this, already on the verge of tears upon waking and realizing my baby was still inside.  I sobbed and sobbed and wailed and sobbed in my husband's arms.  My face filled with snot and I had trouble breathing.  I wanted to be out of my body, I was shaking.  I hadn't felt that low in a very long time.  Chris said he would stay home from work, and he did, even though I told him I didn't need him to be home. Ha.

I took a Panadeine and fell back asleep for three hours, waking around ten am.  I was still crying when I woke up.  Chris had read the email and told me he thought my friend was right, that I should make sure I face any lingering fears.  I did read a short article on 'natural cesareans' but mostly I just let go of all of my hopes for an intervention-free birth.  More than anything, I wanted that baby in my arms.  I didn't care how he or she was born, I just wanted them safe in my arms - whether that was via cesarean or vacuum or forceps, with or without syntocinon.  I didn't have anything to prove to anyone and more than anything I just wanted to know this child, face to face.

I was still weepy but was able to get out of bed and take a shower.  I messaged with another friend in Canada, a midwife also heavily pregnant.  I mentioned to her that I was having some kind of contractions but I had been there so many times before in the past week that I wasn't getting my hopes up.  Around noon my daughter woke from her nap and I nursed her for quite a while as I texted with a friend, making plans for the next day.  I noticed things were getting more intense but we were planning to take the kids out since Chris was home for the day.  Chris went to get some hot chips for the kids before we left and I reckoned I should time the pains, which were coming every two and a half minutes.  I called my midwife, still unsure if this was really labour and she said she thought it was, that I should come to the hospital.  I cried endorphin filled happy tears.

Our friend came to be with our children and my friend Hollie arrived for birth support.  We drove to hospital together, arriving at 1:30pm.  I had about five contractions walking from the outside of the hospital upstairs to the maternity ward, still able to talk through the pain and so flipping happy that my body was in active labour on it's own, for the first time.  I was all smiles as I hugged my midwife and we got comfortable in the spacious birthing room, which had a bed, a shower and a bathtub.

I could feel the pains increasing in intensity and length.  Soon I had Chris putting pressure on my lower back during each contraction and I stood with the moveable shower head on my tummy with very hot water.  I preferred to be standing up, swaying, trying to keep my body relaxed.  I told myself that the baby was safe, that I was safe, over and over again.  I could chat between contractions for the first 90 minutes or so but needed to quiet myself and focus through them when they came.  At 3pm my midwife checked me for the first time and I was 6-7cm dilated with my membranes bulging.  What my midwife didn't tell me was that the baby was occiput posterior and if she had I think I would have freaked out as my daughter's labour had been posterior as well.  I kept labouring and spent some time in the bathtub.  In the end I couldn't get comfortable in the standard size ceramic tub, but I did do a big push at one point randomly and my midwife thinks that's when I turned the baby into a better position.

By 4 pm the pain was very, very intense.  I couldn't believe I was going through this again, even though I had been here before (and this time without any augmentation) it was still fiercely overwhelming.  I had to fight all the thoughts of needing interventions.  I had to be very focused - during contractions I would say to myself "One two three, baby's coming" and I slowly breathed in and out and swayed side to side, still with lots of lower back pressure from Chris and Hollie.  I was either in the shower or rocking on the toilet and if Chris had stepped away I would yell for him as soon as the contraction began.  Between the the pains I would say to myself, "You can do this.  You are amazing.  You are so strong.  You only have to get through one more contraction and your baby will be in your arms."  That wasn't true of course but it helped me to really stay present.  Chris and I kissed between contractions a few times, like Ina May encourages couples to do.  I tried to keep my face and shoulders relaxed and loose and listen to whatever my body wanted to do.  Even though I ultimately had to bring this baby through my body alone and no one could take on that physical pain for me, my Chris was right there supporting me in any and every way that he could.

After another hour I started to feel a lot of pressure and naturally took a position more on my hands and knees, still in the bathroom.  I did a big push and my waters exploded everywhere.  There was some meconium present but I was in the zone and trusted my midwives so I barely paid attention.  They had to wrap some monitors around my belly to trace the baby's heartbeat but I was able to stay on my knees in the bathroom. I heard my midwife say the meconium was present because my baby was so overdue and not to worry because baby was fine, but it was a hard moment for my husband.

I wanted to really let my body do the pushing since my other births were very directed by this point.  I felt very connected to the universe at this point, it was primal, like I was the most human I had ever been.  I felt very much alone but also safe and cared for.  I could feel the baby's head with my fingers and as my body would come to the middle of a contraction I would have an irresistible urge to push.  I wouldn't push for long, and only once with each contraction.  I may have had five or so contractions until the head started to crown.  Birthing the head was a crazy and excruciating couple of minutes and my body desperately wanted the baby to just be out.  I let out a little scream and started to panic but my midwife sternly told me to stay calm and to pant.  I wanted to pull this baby out of me as the feeling was so overwhelming but I was able to breathe and pant and only just barely push gently.

Once the baby's head was born I had to do another big push for the shoulders and then I brought my sweet child up to my chest.  It was a whole new world.  I couldn't believe the joy, how quickly it had all turned around, how the pain had surrendered itself once this baby was in the world and breathing for the first time, soon screaming glad deliverance cries.  I held the bald baby close and kissed it's beautiful face, I thanked my midwife who had believed in me, empowered me and watched over me through the whole process.  She asked what I'd had and I said I didn't even care, I was too busy kissing this child.  When I looked I started laughing because this whole time I'd been mostly expecting a girl and the baby growing 41 weeks inside of me was a little boy.

It was 5:30pm on June 2, 2014 and we named him Salem.


We are all over the map when it comes to seeing painful situations in our lives give way to joy and healing and laughter.  We groan under the weight of the suffering at times, with no end in sight.  Take heart, friends.  We have not been left alone.  One day all things will be made new.