Wednesday, November 30, 2011

advent (the womb of the world)

We called our pregnancy with Safran our '40 weeks of Advent'.  We waited expectantly for our son to arrive in our arms.  We longed for him with near desperation, especially as the time drew nearer.  My emotions were heavy in those months.  It was dark.  I cried often, in the evenings laying in bed next to Chris, helpless.  I carried the grief and pain of losing our first baby early in pregnancy very deeply.  I battled despair nearly every day.  And yet I carried a whole new baby inside as well, and I was thrilled.  I felt his dance daily and dreamed of our future together.  The tension of grief and expectancy was difficult to hold.  I always felt guilty in embracing either.

Maybe that's what Advent is about - the opportunity to enter the womb of the world, and she's honest with us.  Her dreams have been washed out to sea with chaotic waves; she's lost children, she weeps.  The sweatshops, sex slavery, civil wars, domestic violence, greed and exploitation, cancer and HIV - she knows the faces and stories intimately and it tears her to pieces.  She laments.  She groans, the Apostle Paul writes, with the pains of labour.

And yet, she's still pregnant with new life.  Somehow she carries a hope again that's stretching her to this thin fragility, ready to burst yet being held.  Somehow this same creation that groans in pain also filled with trees clapping their hands in joy and fields and hills singing with expectancy.  She knows that God is coming to judge the earth and make all things new. 

This December I'm actually 'with child' during Advent and the impending "coming" gives me a tangible taste of a pregnant world waiting for God to deliver us all.  I can feel the ache setting in.  I know a bit of the longing.  I too am waiting for a new world to come, for the redemption of my body, for glad cries of deliverance as a fresh babe is welcomed onto my chest.

My growing belly is a sacrament and I solemnly and joyfully partake; my stretch marks holy before the Lord.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

advent (together we wait)

I confessed some fears to Chris in the dark.  A movie we watched that evening had an insignificant sub-plot line that pricked open a chasm in my heart I had barely remembered was there.  I said the words in whispers, held my breath and then lost it to near silent sobs straight into his chest.  He held me again and listened to my body's weeping motions, reckless waves that he knows well.

Our boy lay sleeping in his bed close by and I didn't want to wake him.  So many times I've sobbed silently into a pillow or my husband's chest, so as not to disturb the rest of the world as she sleeps.

It's almost Advent, Chris reminded me in the morning as we shared more words.  It's that time again.  Time to confess our longing, to name the darkness, to cry tears for everyone and for ourselves.  And it's time to prepare for God to come.

So I speak out my fears and light a candle.  I meet the pain, look her in the eyes and I stay with her there, in the darkness.  And together we wait for the coming of God.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

women, weight, and war.

My friend recently gave me a pregnancy magazine which I've enjoyed perusing.  Unfortunately most of the articles are about nutrition and exercise.  I remembered that I've 'exercised' maybe 2 or 3 times this pregnancy and decided, at 28 weeks, to start.  That was 5 weeks ago and I think I managed an interrupted 20 minute pregnancy pilates video once.  mHm.  I do carry my 25 pound toddler up a steep flight of stairs multiple times a day which must count for something.  I'm sure I'll have plenty of time for exercise ... after the baby comes.  mHm.

Cover of "Pray the Devil Back to Hell"Cover of Pray the Devil Back to HellMy husband saw the magazine sitting on our counter and remarked, "wow, they even photoshop pictures of pregnant women" - who, I might add, already look like models.  I heard recently that generally 99.9% of female images in magazines are altered.  (Really?!?)  The pregnancy magazine was full of tall, extremely thin women who only gain weight on their bellies which they miraculously shed completely back to defined abs within weeks of birth.  I felt a bit depressed flipping through the pages, comparing my body, my diet, my (complete lack of) exercise routine.  The cover donned a heading, "Have the Baby but Keep the Body!"  Because that's the most important indicator of your post-partum success, you know.  How long did it take to get back into your old jeans?  I'm sure your baby really cares.

We recently had some friends over to watch an incredible documentary called "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."  It's the story of Liberia's (a small country in West Africa) journey to freedom from a 14 year civil war in the face of a ruthless dictator and greed-stricken rebels.  And the women made it happen.

Christian and Muslim women began uniting in their desperation for the same thing:  the end of violence, rape, hunger and fear for their children who had never known anything else.  Leymah Gbowee, who at the time was a pregnant mother with three children, courageously led the initiative.  She believed that "if any changes were to be made in society it had to be by the mothers".  She began 2 1/2 years of creative non-violent protest, the bulk of which were thousands of Liberian women dressed in white, gathering at the fish markets, praying, dancing, grieving and celebrating life together.  When given opportunity to address Liberia's dictator, Charles Taylor, she bravely said, " We are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for bulgur wheat. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, "Mama, what was your role during the crisis?"

It's a wild story.  And it worked.  In 2004 Liberia was the first African country to elect a female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who, along with Leymah Gbowee, was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

Here's the documentary's trailer:

Every time I watch this film I'm challenged in new ways, often looking my own apathy in the face.  And that's a terrifying thing.  This time, as I saw these Liberian women who had been raped, had their children kidnapped, fled their homes for safety, gone days without food and clean water - when I saw them completely risking their lives demanding their country choose another way - I was deeply stirred.  One woman told her children, "If I die, you will know I died fighting for peace."

In Liberia, that's what it meant to be a woman - to fight for peace for your children, no matter what the cost.  The scars of war lay as deep lines on their faces and ache in their eyes.  They were pregnant, gave birth, nursed and raised their babies.  But they had a lot more to worry about than how quickly they lost their pregnancy weight.

I felt shallow.  I felt deceived.  I felt amazed that after spending time with women in at least ten emerging nations, eyes wide open to poverty, injustice and suffering that I could still think being a woman is largely about how I look.  I spent three months in South Sudan, doing life in mud huts, carrying water on my head, learning everything from my friend Miriam who had lived as a refugee in Uganda for 20 years under continual threat of violence.  I had very little electricity and 3 cm of mirror to my name.  My shirt and skirt rarely matched.  And I had never felt so alive.

But once I'm back in my own culture, it's so deep in my subconcious to care about my appearance, regardless of what I say, or even think I believe.  I compare myself to women in magazines, women I see at the beach, or moms around me.  How do I have time for that?  There are sex workers on my block, friends in need of comfort and fellowship, children to grow, a husband to care for, books to read, streets to walk, governments and people in uproar around the world - do I really have time to critique my body?  Do I really think it's that important?  Will I really let magazines with pictures of women THAT DO NOT EVEN EXIST IN REALITY  give me a standard by which to measure myself?  Please God have mercy on me.

Leymah Gbowee led Liberia to the end of a devastating civil war.  Before that she was reading the works of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr while providing for her children in the midst of chaos.  She won the Nobel Peace Prize.  She is a mother of six children.  She is an outstandingly beautiful and brilliant woman and I bet she doesn't give a damn that my culture would define her as "overweight" or "heavy".

I want to be heavy like her - heavy with influence, heavy with compassion, heavy with courage and creativity and suffering love.

When my eyes scan magazine covers at the grocery store looking for a definition of "woman", I want to immediately recall the Liberian mothers, wearing white and changing the world.  They are my definition.  They will be my standard when I feel the need to compare.

When my children ask me, "Mama, what was your role in the crisis?", I hope I have something to say.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

psalm somewhere in the middle

I'm somewhere in the middle of
yesterday and tomorrow, not
close enough to either to feel safe enough
to stay.

I'm somewhere in the middle of my darkest
fears and my unashamed expectancy,
between the stories whose scars I bear
and the unwritten chapters I still need
to live.

I'm somewhere in the middle of my child-less
world-wandering and visits with grand children
who carry my reflection,
somewhere between our 6:30am giggling alarm and
the quiet peace of his nursing to sleep.

I'm always somewhere in the middle of
remembering and imagining,
flipping through scrapbook pages and the
empty journal of my wildest plans.

But may neither steal my gaze
and touch
from the drenched-in-holiness
of this very now.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

on pain, joy, and the risk in between

Right now my smallest baby, in-womb, is having all of their needs met by me, all of the time.  Comfort, nutrition, warmth, closeness, safety–it's all there.  I know this little one is content (despite the dramatic dance moves!).  It's a beautiful thing, and I feel satisfied.

32 weeks

Sometimes I think it would be better if they stayed inside.  They'll never be hungry or cold or away from me, never be frustrated or lonely or afraid, never skin their knee, fall off a bike, experience a broken heart, lose a friend, lose a child of their own, feel their body age and decay…

The risk of a mother in releasing her precious, delicately woven, longed for and dreamed of child into a world spinning with chaos–it's the risk of a God who created all of us children to be free - and then released us into our own hands.  If God, infinitely and completely good, had chosen to simply control our thoughts and actions, I'm pretty sure the world would be a much safer place.  It would be a nice place. 

But there's something so much more right and beautiful and expectant in the letting go and letting us be free.

Most of the time I want to shout, "No!  It's not better!  Put us back inside!  This freedom is destroying us!"  Can the beauty and creation within our capacity possibly be worth the violence and greed we commit daily?  I'm barely convinced.

oh boy!
Then I consider marriage.  In wedding yourself to another person who exists in freedom, you are committing one of the greatest acts of vulnerability–making yourself utterly "wound-able".  And we wound each other!  Not even addressing the devastation of divorce, abuse, infidelity, or hardened hearts sharing a bed for 40 years, we still cause each other great pain even when we are trying to love.  Unkind words, demanding expectations, selfish pursuits and resentment are all things I'm guilty of in my own marriage, fairly regularly.  I wound my husband.  He knew very well, standing at the altar saying words of utmost committment to me, a free and broken being, that he would be wounded.  But somehow he believed the risk of pain in laying down his life for me was worth it, because the alternative risked a greater loss of potential beauty and joy. 

Children are another example.  I read a very intense article by a mother of a child born with a brain tumour who lived only a few hours in her arms.  They carried this knowledge through most of the pregnancy.  She writes that opening yourself up to fertility–at all–opens you up to the possibilities of hell.  Some people struggle for years and years to conceive, grieving their empty womb every single month.  Many women experience pregnancy loss, still birth and newborn death; and even if your child survives birth there's no guarantee they won't die before you do.  I can't imagine the heartache of burying your child, no matter how old they are, but that's a reality families face.  There's the pain that living children inflict on their parents, countless stories of broken hearts and isolation - mothers and fathers grieving the loss of children who are still alive.

And we know this.  We know what darkness is possible, we know there are no guarantees of happy endings.  It's not that we think we'll beat the odds and escape heartache.  We just sense that it's better to risk, to confess hope in attempting to bring a child into the world.  It would be crazy to sacrifice all the love and joy and wonder and beauty of a child in order to minimize our life's pain. 

As I've written before, the resurrected body of Jesus still has his scars.  Even God submitted himself in full wound-ability to that which he created, and He will always carry those marks on his body.

So maybe I'll take back what I shouted earlier, I'll allow my growing baby to be free from the safety of my womb and I'll let my little boy be free of the safety of my arms and my home (someday).  I'll let my heart be increasingly free to risk in love of others, to be vulnerable, to be wound-able.  And when pain comes (and it will) I will stop myself from wishing God would take more control of the world and ask how I can use my own freedom to plant and grow more of what His heart intends to see here.