Monday, December 17, 2012

a mother's love will save the world.

Why did you give us
such tender skin
and ask us
to carry fire?

We are consumed
by our own smoldering
hardly knowing
the power we carry to scald.

Dress the wounds
we have borne
and given
from our own burning. 

Make us wise 
to the fire in our bones
that it may be 
for warmth and light
in all our darkness.

-- Jan L. Richardson

I've taken the shootings in Sandy Hook harder than I expected.  Last night I couldn't stop thinking about the teacher who hid her students in closets, or the shooter's mother seeing her child point a gun at her, or the parents waiting to hear if their five and six year olds were still alive.  In church this morning I watched gorgeous children carrying wrapped presents in a single file line to the front where they would sing, my eyes filled with tears for the mothers and fathers whose babies are dead today rather than in a Christmas pageant, or at home having a late breakfast.  Their futures were too bright as they walked by me, I had to look away.

I spoke with the mother of my friend Bri this weekend.  We catch up by phone when I'm in North America and it's so refreshing.  We met because my friend died in West Africa in a terrible car accident, with many others, and I had the privilege of spending the last six months of her life with her.  She was 25.  A month after her death I flew to be with her family in California, my own body still aching from the accident, my heart in shock.  A tragic way to bond but it does bring you close; I told them every story I could from our months together, recounting their daughter's compassion and courage and love for Nigerian fashion, things they already knew.  It's was seven years this week, but it's Christmas again soon and that holiday will always be etched with grief.  The shootings in Connecticut brought a fresh wave of pain, she knows what it's like to lose your baby suddenly, to say goodbye for the last time with no idea it's the last time.  God has worked miracles, weaved redemption threads so beautiful and strong, drawing people in and sending them out touched, always touched by Bri's life; her mom will testify to that all day long.  But I'm pretty sure she'd rather have her baby girl in her arms.

There are too many mothers in the world who have buried their children.  Whether it's a car accident, cancer, malaria or murder it's all chaotic and horrible and I can hardly go there in my heart and imagination while still breathing.  I've met some of these mothers, I've held their hands and sung to them and the world keeps spinning, but even seven years or twenty-five and there will be something fresh in the pain, some wondering about how their child would have been on this day, of this year.  The rest of us will move on from their loss as the earth takes us around again; they will always be a mother who has buried her child.

We have to look death in the face this week, we can't pretend it couldn't happen to us.  In order to stop fear from moving in and holding me completely hostage to 'what ifs' and a thousand scenarios I have to remind myself of a different story.  It's the truest one, where one day there is no more death, or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of sin and disease and corruption and hatred has passed away.  There are no small coffins, no coffins at all.  This is not escapism and it doesn't replace the hard and healing work of grief, corporate and on our own.  This is hope, as raw as it gets.  The world isn't headed for disaster, although it may seem that way.  Heaven and earth were never meant to be separated and human history has been dark - but the grain of the universe is reconciliation.  Nothing is outside the scope of God's healing work, as slow as it may be; no traumatized child or grieving parent, no person with mental health issues or firearms or terrorizing rage.  Not even the shooter and the children and women who were killed on Friday.

Someday, in real history and real time, God will come and make His home with us here on earth.  With God will come the right and just realities of heaven even here, where God's own fingers will wipe our collective tears away, one by one.  And until then, because of then, we choose the way of love.  Tonight as I rocked my son before bed I told him how much I loved him, and that there was nothing he could do that would change that.  I thought of Adam Lanza's mom, how if she could, I'm sure she would be rocking her son tonight, weeping and praying and assuring him of her love, though most of the world hate him.  Even now I imagine him in the arms of God, made whole for the first time, held tight by a fierce mother-love that can't be stopped by death or demons, nor anything else in all creation.  This is the love that gives me hope for the world's future.  As Wendell Berry writes in his novel Jayber Crow,
"For love is always more than a little strange here.  It is not explainable or even justifiable.  It is itself the justifier.  We do not make it.  If it did not happen to us, we could not imagine it.  It includes the world and time as a pregnant woman includes her child whose wrongs she will suffer and forgive.  It is in the world but it is not altogether of it.  It takes us there even when it most holds us here."

As important as I believe gun control is (and support for families affected by mental illness, and even non-violent and responsive parenting) my hope is in the mother-love of God: belly taut with promise, already in labour over us until even the worst parts of us are reconciled once and for all. 

"The wolf will live with the lamb; the leopard will lie down with the young goat. The calf and the lion will graze together, and a little child will lead them."  Isaiah 11:6

Monday, December 3, 2012

advent (but i'm not ready): a modest anthology and song

It's hard to believe the Advent season is upon us already.  My family arrived this week in the Vancouver area from Australia, making many friends and enemies on the 14 hour flight with our two babies.  Just kidding, mostly friends.  We've nearly beaten jet-lag and are finding our rhythms in the chilly, endless rain.  Our December will be warm though, full of family and dear friends; it's been two years since we were on North American soil, our children are loving their grandparents (and we are loving the extra hands!)

Reflecting on last year at this time I thought I would re-post a few blogs that I wrote around the advent theme.  I was in my last month of pregnancy (baby girl came January 8th), preparing to have two babes 17 months apart (with my son a very poor sleeper), processing the trauma of my son's birth in light of impending labour, seeing so much darkness in my neighbourhood and my own apathy.  Many things felt out of my control.  What did it mean to get ready for God to come? 

I'm pasting these handful of short posts into a long one, but if you have the time then please read on.  My husband and I recorded a version of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" a few years ago and it's at the end of this post.  You have to read everything for the song to play.  Just kidding.

advent (together we wait) 28 November, 2011

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.

 advent (the womb of the world)  30 November, 2011

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.

advent (fertile darkness) 4 December, 2011

'I believe that Christ came not to dispel the darkness but to teach us
to dwell with integrity, compassion, and love in the midst of
ambiguity.  The one who grew in the fertile darkness of Mary's womb
knew that darkness is not evil of itself.  Rather, it can become the
tending place in which our longings for healing, justice and peace
grow and come to birth.'

- Jan L. Richardson

I remember the moment I first read this quote.  It was the fall of 2004 - I was in a warm living room of a friend/mentor, drinking tea and paging through an artsy book on her coffee table.  I always stayed too long at her house, a few hours after the other girls had left.  She never seemed to mind.  It was the middle of my 'urban studies' semester in North Philadelphia and the city welcomed me and then gave me an education I thought I already had.

Racism.  It was still in full force?  In Philadelphia?  In our community?  What was community anyway?  How were were we supposed to do this in a way that was real and life-giving?  What was worshiping God really about?  Who was Jesus and did it matter if he was actually God?  What about homosexuality?  How big was God's kingdom?  Was anyone excluded?

My internship was 13 blocks down the street at a shelter for women and children.  I was Miss Emma's personal assistant.  She was a social worker now, this strong and beautiful and compassionate world changing woman, committed to serving the families in her care.  She had become a Christian in prison, where she was locked up for 'selling drugs to white kids from the suburbs'.

It was an education that I wasn't looking for, I didn't know I needed.

And every Sunday night I would spend a few hours at my friend's house, just talking.  I would say my questions out loud and ramble, back track, blaspheme and recant and blaspheme again.  Struggling to keep my heart intact; someone was trying to break it - either the city or God Herself.

The questions were real.  They were heavy.  I woke in the night thinking of them, sometimes I couldn't breathe in bed, they were sitting there on my chest keeping me from peace and sleep.  And I found refuge in my friend, in her ears, her honesty that always trumped her age and education.  She had discovered a way to walk knee-deep in the gray; she invited me to come along.  She didn't give me answers, though.  She would never tell me what to think.

She honoured the darkness as holy.  My 'faith crisis' was taking me deeper and nearer, not further away - she promised me.  My questions were growing me and I could befriend them rather than try to conquer them with 'blessed assurance'.

This advent season, I'm remembering those old questions.  These days I'm too tired, too busy, too distracted to spend time with the questions that live in my heart.  Or maybe I'm afraid of ambiguity, of the not-knowing, of the messiness of the theological implications of life on my street.  I'm afraid that if I can't tell Jesus what he wants from me, he might ask me for something I don't want to give him.

But advent calls the darkness fertile.

advent (listen to Mary's song)  18 December 2011

Asking God to come and plant His dreams in us is costly - to carry the things of God we must be willing to change, to grow, to stretch and ache; our bodies will never be the same, our hearts will have a new capacity for love and for pain.  We will steward an exciting and terrifying responsibility - one we will only be able to parent and never control.  There will be sleepless nights and bone-tiring days, few breaks and few acknowledgements of how much we give.

But to carry and bring to birth God's dreams in the world - however seemingly small and fragile they are - what a magnificent honour.  Mary recognized this, despite the great cost she bore, a pregnant teenager who could easily be killed or abandoned because of her situation, and a mother who would one day see her son murdered before her own eyes.  "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of His servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name."  (Luke 2)

What are the things I have deemed too costly to carry?  Let my heart be stirred this advent season by the song of a vulnerable, pregnant teenager, confident in the goodness of God.

advent (implore my doubting heart)  23 December 2011
by Daniel Raus, a Czech poet
not even in the middle of a desert can it be claimed
that water does not exist
not even amidst the ocean's waves can it be denied
that there are trees and mountains far away
that's why I teach my impatient mind
to wait
that's why I urge my dulled ears
to listen
that's why I implore my doubting heart
to believe

advent (but I'm not ready)  24 December 2011

It's December 24th, 9:33pm.  The baby has been sleeping a few hours, we snuck away while Nana and Papa listened to his quiet in the baby monitor, and we stopped in at a Christmas party full of people we adore.  We ate extremely yummy and sugary food, we chatted and had pictures taken, we laughed and played games.  A few presents are wrapped and under our little tree (on a table, safe from our saf).  We gave baking to the neighbours and mailed last minute cards (obviously not going to make their international voyages by tomorrow) at the post office.  My belly is bulging with 38 weeks + 2 days of baby and painless contractions are growing less comfortable.  Advent is over, the coming is upon us.

What if I'm ... not ready?

It's been a bit stressful being this pregnant during the Christmas season.  What do we prioritize?  The baby could have come already, or could stay hidden until mid January.  Do we spend our money on gifts for family or on a new car seat?  Do I clean the corners of my house or wrap presents and write postcards? 

As we approached the party up the street, a woman was standing on the corner, waiting for a man to pick her up.  She was dressed in jeans and a jean jacket - not typical attire for that corner, but I'm pretty sure she was working.  When we left the party, she was gone.  I wondered about her, and him, and the sadness still surfacing regularly in my neighbourhood on Christmas eve.

I tried to focus my heart this Advent.  I had more times of reading scripture and stillness before God than usual.  I wrote a few blogs on the subject.  But I don't feel like I made myself ready for God to come.

I don't feel ready for this baby to come, either.  I felt so ready for our firstborn, so desperate.  Probably because I had no idea how a baby can invade so thoroughly, taking so many hostages, relentless and helpless and always confessing need with such determination that someone will come.  I know the cost this time, and as much as I'm trying to to be ready, I'm just not.  How can we ever be ready to welcome a whole other free being into our lives forever, and one that will require so much from us?

But the baby doesn't care if I'm ready, nor if I consider myself good enough.  The baby doesn't care if the house is organized (it is not), or if there are extra meals in the freezer (there are not), or if the bassinet is even set up (nope, although my husband assures me 'that takes like 5 minutes'.  mhm.)

The baby is coming anyway.  (Probably not tonight, by the way, but coming, for sure).

The first time God came to the world, He came as a baby.  That in itself is beyond wild, beyond ridiculous and dangerous and is so hard for me to believe.   The world was in chaos (as usual), He would be born into an occupied territory and grow up poor and oppressed.  He didn't come because the world was ready, for we will never be ready for what Jesus has to bring, or for what He will require of us.

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.

That gives me hope this eve of 'the coming'; my street is not ready, nor my home or my family, barely my heart even.  But the belly is huge and the arrival is imminent, though we will never be 'good enough'.  Because we are certainly in need.

Our confession of need and awareness of our longing is what makes us ready for the coming of God.

So I sigh and sing with the rest of the world tonight, "Come, Lord Jesus".

(Here's a rendition of 'O Come...' I recorded with my husband a couple years back.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Till there are no strangers anymore (Gaza and Israel, you're on my mind)

My family of four is going to board a plane for 14 blissful hours of airline food, movies and sleep and land in my husband's country of Canada.  We have holiday time in Canada and the US, our first trip with Saf since he was 5 months old, our first trip with Jubee, ever.  I've recorded my first sentence in this paragraph and have it playing quietly in my children's ears as they sleep.  Just kidding.  But would that work?  I'm not sure how we'll make it across the Pacific, but that's okay.  It's a direct flight, Sydney to Vancouver, and half of the plane may give us the stink eye for over half a day, but we won't even look at them, we'll be enjoying restraining our two angelic children in a small space 30,000 feet over the world.

We need to pack and clean.  We are so excited to see family and friends and snow and Tim Horton's and the Amish.

But there's been lots on my mind lately, world events that have caused so many too much grief, and I carry some of it with them as I am able.  My husband and I watched crazy video footage from Gaza in 2009, a raid that is similar to what was happening this past week in the violence between Israel and Hamas.  Missiles devastating Palestinian neighbourhoods, traumatizing families, killing children and mothers, bodies pulled from crumbled buildings as people flock to the site of impact offering help.  It's a 20 minute video that is extremely hard to watch.  My husband said the F word and was wiping tears from his eyes, two things he rarely does.  I felt the urge to vomit, picturing my own babies on those stretchers.  I wonder how those mothers are now, how they have survived the grief, if they have found a way to carry it or if they feel buried in it's weight and rubble.  I went to bed that night in between my two children, I had never been so aware of their breathing, never wanted them even closer than against my skin.  While I tried to fall asleep my husband stayed up a bit longer reading, and bought a documentary called "War Child".  You can watch the trailer below, some of the footage is the same as in the video we had watched.  If you live in our neighbourhood we can watch it together  and talk about it soon.

Ten years ago I studied in the Middle East and it was likely my most transformative months.  If I was willing to listen, everyone was willing to teach me.  I soaked it up.  History lessons in the back seat of a taxi, nutrition from the old woman selling fruit and veg, the unwritten laws of hospitality from my home stay family who forced me to eat more, always more, with threats that their eldest daughter's marriage was at stake.  Joyful musicians in Damascus versed us in the oud and tabla, melodies and rhythms so prophetic against the desert and dust and quiet instability.  And young Palestinians, born in Beirut's famous Shatila refugee camp, embodying hope and passion and trust that despite what we see now, the future that waits is good.  l returned to Pennsylvania passionate, I don't think I had a conversation about my experience without crying, especially if we talked politics.  I engaged in every discussion in my college classes by starting with the sentence, "When I was in the Middle East ...".  I knew I would return, spend my life in the urban desert drinking tea and eating koshery, Arabic would be my children's first language and they would call their father "Baba".

I feel so far from it all, the dust has long since washed off of my feet and only a small amount of Arabic made it to my long-term memory.  I've come to love many parts of the world, I've found God there, always there already, and I truly enjoy sitting on floors in the colours and scents of new cultures.  But there is nowhere like the Middle East.  I have never met a more hospitable people, whether in their homeland or in exile.  To this day, if I meet an Arab woman, I know I have already made a friend. I met a woman at the pool this afternoon, she's from Libya, war-torn, unstable, and has been here for three years with her husband and baby girl the same age as mine.  We connected easily, me in board shorts and a tank top, she in long sleeves and a headscarf.  I expected judgment, was embarrassed by my attire, but she didn't flinch, inviting me to her home when we return from our trip.  My husband said I need to give people more credit then I do for their ability to look beyond appearance. 

We talked about her country and about Gaza and it felt good to say I was sorry, that even though I was enjoying the pool with my children so far from the violence of war, I wasn't oblivious.  I cared about her part of the world, about her people and her family and her nation, which she will return to when her husband finishes school.  She stood as my priest, acknowledging my confession, and it was something.  "Your apathy is forgiven, go in peace." Ten years ago I was inviting guest speakers to my college campus, facilitating peaceful protests, collecting toiletries for refugees.  I feel it stirring again, the call to action, although it will be different now.  Friendship is part of it, the sacrament of dialogue and acceptance, acknowledgment, apology and laughter.  This is the slow way perhaps, but what if we all welcomed one more stranger into our lives this week, someone who is different than us, and they stayed long enough to be called our friend? 

And I hear the call to action in my marriage and the way I parent my children.  It's so much easier for me to strike up conversations with women at the park or the pool than it is to face my selfishness, my short temper and frustration.  The same seeds of violence that launch missiles into homes are in my own heart.  I know the way to shalom in the world is enemy love, forgiveness even when we've been severely wronged; and yet I find it so difficult to forgive and release my husband from minor offenses, I want to stew in my annoyance a little bit longer.  The recalcitrance of my own heart leaves me feeling hopeless for the whole world. 

I love this excerpt of Patty Griffin's song "No Bad News", how our simple love of the people closest to us isn't simple at all.  It's the way we must go, loving each other well and making room for another stranger, and another:

I'm gonna find me a man, love him so well, love him so strong, love him so slow
We're gonna go way beyond the walls of this fortress
And we won't be afraid, we won't be afraid, and though the darkness may come our way
We won't be afraid to be alive anymore
And we'll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us
Till there are no strangers anymore

... And the bird of peace is flying over, she's flying over and
Coming in for a landing

The women dressed in white changed the history of Liberia, I wrote about that here:  "Women, Weight and War".  The Women in Black movement keeps vigil in city centres around the world, reminding us that things are not okay, they will not accept the violence towards our children as the way things will always be.  How will I protest in my own way here?  How will I reject hatred and anger and violence in the relationships closest to me, with my husband and children, and choose the forgiveness and self-giving love that Jesus taught us, that his resurrection empowers us to embrace.  This is my daily question, my daily living out the answers, my daily failing and receiving the grace of tomorrow.  But this is the way, this is my part in the struggle for shalom in the world.  At least for today.

I highly recommend the book "Parenting for a Peaceful World" by Robin Grille.  I'm ordering a copy of my own as I borrowed the one I read from a library, so hopefully I will write about it soon.  It's also available on Kindle.  This is a must read for parents - Grille lays out a very historically supported argument for the necessity of non-violent parenting, how our collective responsiveness to our children changes the destiny of nations.  It's a great Christmas gift to yourself!  (And that is not an affiliate link.  I don't really know what that means yet.)

We appreciate prayers as we travel and adjust to jet lag.  Any tips for long flights with small, noisy people in tow?  Any tips for helping toddlers adjust to jet-lag?  I welcome your wisdom. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

in search of the elusive whales (what we need is here)

I cried almost every day of my honeymoon.

I love telling people that, especially in front of my husband, who just smiles at the sweet memories we share from those early days of marriage.  I didn't cry because of him, per se, but more because of us.  Us together, sharing money and space and money and sleep and money.  Yes, mostly money.  There was me waking at 6am to hand-wash his shirts and underwear and hang them all over the huge bathroom in our extremely nice hotel rather than let him send it to the hotel staff to wash for $7 an item; there was me sobbing on a bench in Victoria because I didn't want to go for the $55 per person afternoon tea for which my eager husband had just made us reservations.  We've come a long way in our nearly 3 1/2 years of money-sharing.  Yes, we have.

There was also our whale-watching excursion.  The first thing Chris wanted to do upon landing at our beach side fancy hotel (seriously, we stayed here, thanks to some generous family) was to visit the concierge (I had never heard that word before, you say it with an accent) and find out about seeing whales.  I'm fairly neutral towards animals, my husband can get obsessed.  Whales, his dream come true, to be on the water seeing the majestic creatures dancing and jumping around us, oh my goodness.  It was $70 per person (cue the tears) but you were guaranteed to see the whales, and how could I break his heart?  Truly, this is what my husband was born for.  He almost became a marine biologist, you know.

So we went.  The early May Canadian coast was fairly chilly.  We were given red waterproof snowsuits and met the other folks on our tour - another newly wed couple from the lower mainland.  As we were just about to get on the boat my husband turns me to me and says, "Oh, I forgot to take my pill.  Sometimes I get a bit seasick."  Then he popped in some motion sickness meds and we boarded the big zodiak.  As we took off Chris' face started to fall, slowly, onto my shoulder - and the quiet moaning began.  He didn't feel very good.  The freezing wind and water whipped us, Chris continuously threatened to vomit while trying to stay awake and the other couple joyfully laughed and stood together at the front of the boat, taking in the view as we zoomed past islands covered with sea lions and eventually found our whale.

By that point my husband didn't even care, he felt so sick.  In fact it is the only time I have actually heard my husband, in reference to a living creature, say "I don't care."  He wanted to go back to the hotel.  I had to find the situation comical, or I would have started to cry, of course.  $140, wasted. The whale didn't really do much anyway and it's breath smelled pretty bad which increased Chris' misery.


This morning we left before 8 to see whales again, this time from the shore, close to our home.  Many friends saw many whales yesterday and my husband was nearly green with envy (rather than seasickness, fortunately) as we have yet to see any whales in the three years we've lived here.  We drove to a great look out spot with our offspring in tow ready for our whales.  We watched.  And kept watching.  But whales, we did not see.

I felt slightly sad for my husband, squinting and hoping towards the oceanic horizon, but I knew the view itself was breath-taking enough, with or without smelly whales.

I was reminded of a passage in Annie Dillard's "Teaching a Stone to Talk"; she writes of driving five hours inland, determined to see a rare total eclipse:
"When the sun appeared as a blinding bead on the ring's side, the eclipse was over.  The black lens cover appeared again, backlighted, and slid away... I remember now:  we all hurried away.  We were born and bored at a stroke.  We rushed down the hill.  We found our car; we saw the other people streaming down the hillsides; we joined the highway traffic and drove away.  We never looked back.  It was a general vamoose, and an odd one, for when we left the hill, the sun was still partially eclipsed - a sight rare enough, and one which in itself, we would probably have driven five hours to see.  But enough is enough.  One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief.  From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home."

 Sometimes the whales or the person or the change we long to see can keep us from being enraptured by the beauty which is now, which is right here.  I imagine my children older, fantasize about the nights when they will sleep unassisted, days when I can write without numerous interruptions.  But those days will be hard too, won't they?  And then what will I wait for?  When we do catch a glimpse of the whales in the distance, it's often not quite what we hoped, never as fulfilling as we imagined and our desire is quickly for something else or some other time.  We will never catch it really, that missing piece, even when we think we have.  What we need is here.



What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

- Wendell Berry

Saturday, October 20, 2012

words on the interwebs worth your time

A few blogs I've read this week that I emailed to my husband, I thought I'd share with you as well - enjoy!

How to Annihilate your Out-Group (like Jesus did) - Dr. Kelly Flanagan at Untangled

(We love this guy - I'd very much recommend subscribing to his blog.)

from the post:  "I have good news. Great news.
Humanity is the last in-group you will ever need to join.
And the membership application is simple. Because you already belong. All you have to do is embrace it. Decide you are going to end your attempts to fix your shame with competition and victory and dominance. Realize it doesn’t work. Decide you will silence the ghosts in another way."

Walking to Church: Sometimes the Hard Thing is the Force that Makes the Beauty - Micha at Deeper Story

(Sometimes we dream of having a place with a backyard and a fence but this post made me appreciate how much time we spend at parks and friends' houses and generally roaming the streets :)

from the post:  "We moved back to San Francisco two weeks ago after being away for a little over a year. And there’s something I have been noticing in these short weeks back in urban living: This overwhelming city is beginning to feel small.
There’s something about being forced outside—outside the house, outside the (now nonexistent) backyard, outside the car—with your kids, that makes you talk to people. When there is no yard, you go to the neighborhood park and you interact with kids and parents and caregivers you never would have met otherwise. When your kids are going crazy in the afternoon and there’s nowhere for them to play, you head out for a walk in the neighborhood and see what you can find. You talk to the old lady with the cute white dog that she has crowned, “Princess of the Castro!”"

from problem to solution: practical ideas for an ethical halloween  - Kristen at Rage against the Mini-van

(We live in Australia and Halloween isn't as a big a thing as in North America, but this post is very practical concerning holidays and chocolate and how we can take steps (whether small or large) towards supporting fair-trade products.)

from the post:  "For our family, the response to learning this has been to limit our chocolate purchases to fair-trade chocolate, which is a system that ensures that workers are paid and treated fairly.  I believe that our purchases have the biggest impact on corporate change.  The chocolate companies are well aware of the human rights abuses in the farms they are buying from, but unfortunately it is the profitability that is driving the ship, not ethics."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our hearts heal wide open.

October 15th:  Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  My husband has had a reminder in his calender for the past few years - it was one of his survival skills with his newlywed bride being slowly covered over by sadness.

The first weeks of marriage was a celebration of finally togetherness after 21 months of long-distance loving through a thousand emails and equal hours on Skype.  And all of that celebrating made us a baby.  We were shocked and down right scared by the two blue lines and the future-altering reality they represented.  We cried.  We turned to one another.  We invited God to come.  And everything changed. 

We became that new creation; the two became one and then so quickly three - it was a whole new world out there, our eyes were awake and we relinquished the control we never really had in the first place.  That baby changed us, changed the whole world for us.  We are grateful to this very day.

And as abruptly as he came, he was gone - our three back to two with this fresh black hole of pain and bleeding and secret ache.

The seasons changed and healing came through raw confession and community, we brought two more babies into the world and they sleep in my bed now as I write.  But there was something so desolate and god-forsaken in those bleeding hours.  It resurfaces when I hear the breaking news of unforseen tragedy in the lives of people I know and don't know.

We are dreaming and twirling and preparing and hoping and suddenly the wave of chaos crashes; those of us left standing are disoriented in this new terrible world and we can't get home.  Even in the past few weeks friends close by and online have suffered these shocking waves of loss and pain:  the ends of precious pregnancies, tragic car accidents, bad news from doctors - we are all affected at some point, our own wounds gaping or we're trying to bandage the people we love.  The world is much more dangerous than they told us, spinning off it's axis again today.  What is gravity's part, where is God's will, who the hell is responsible for all of this?  We blame ourselves, our enemies, we blame God - but none of that stops the bleeding, we are all covered in it.

We can let our experiences of pain harden our soil, put up our fences, we can cover our ears.  Avoid pain at all costs, stop risking in love for friend, neighbour and self.  We piously throw up our hands to fate or the will of the gods, or just slowly retreat behind shiny smiles, empty eyes and skinny jeans.  I'm fine.  I told you I'm fine.  Let's just get back to how things used to be.

Or we get honest.  We get loud.  We wear black on the street corner holding signs that rage against all that is wrong in this moment, in the world.  We cry and swear and let the labour pains of creation finally find a body in our own; we bear them with her, we groan and writhe.  We might say things off the record, things we don't mean, things we will regret.  God can handle it.  Love and truth have nothing to fear.

Instead of desperately plastering our heart back together we let it go, be split wide open in grief and disappointment and loss.  And our hearts eventually begin to heal that way - wide open, with room for the world.  Our grief, as painful and tragic and devastating as it is, can set us free to love in powerful new ways. 

Most women who have lost babies in pregnancy are amazed at how it welcomes them into this underground world of other mothers with their own stories.  You rarely hear of these babies until you've lost your own and then it all spills out, giving these mothers a space to share and you're not in this alone anymore.  This isn't comparison, it's solidarity.  Our hearts heal wider together, and there is room for more.

The only time my heart was broken by a boy, the woman who carried me through  those trenches had just spent the year in the shadows of her own broken relationship.  She understood, she had room for my fear, she had time for my rambling and my sobbing.  Her heart had been enlarged and she welcomed me in.  She died in a tragic car accident (that I survived) the next month.  Her mother told me later that in walking with me through my heartache my friend finally felt as though she had been healed, defiant flowers calling her winter's bluff.

I don't believe there are "good reasons" why bad things happen, but I do believe that grief and pain can change us in really beautiful ways sometimes.  That's not vindication or explanation, but it's the way of a vulnerable God who suffers with us, first one at the scene, hands covered in our blood; God with the widest heart of all.

"We wait for you to ache" -- Walter Bruegemmann

With the energy we have,
we begin the day,
waiting and watching and hoping.

We wait,
not clear about our waiting.
But filled with a restlessness,
daring to imagine
that you are not finished yet--
so we wait,
patiently, impatiently,
restlessly, confidently,
quaking and fearful,
boldly and daring.

Your sovereign decree stands clear
and we do not doubt.
We wait for you to dissolve in tender tears.
Your impervious rule takes no prisoners,
we wait for you to ache and hurt and care over us
and with us
and beyond us.

Cry with us the brutality
grieve with us the misery
tremble with us the poverty and hurt.

Attend to us -- by attending in power and in mercy,
remake this alien world into our proper home.

We pray in the name of the utterly homeless one,
even Jesus.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

on being awake (there's no going back now)

maybe it's the man overdosing on heroin in our little parking lot at 3pm,
my children and i the first ones on the scene.

maybe it's the young guy in his fancy car, all business suited up pulling over for her,
half a shirt and baggy jeans, invisible shackles and not a hint of 'pretty woman' glamour-
and i'm not trying to judge him but i'm guessing he's the demand and she's the supply.

maybe it's the conflict, inevitable in intimacy, whether friend or lover (or both),
i'm faced again with my selfishness, my desert-heart and lack of everything good
(at least it feels that way sometimes).

maybe it's just my son's voice at 6am, offering a slice of playdough pizza
when all i really want to do is scribble in a notebook, drink my coffee, read blogs on my phone or
climb into bed and go back to sleep.

so very much of me just wants to go back to sleep:

to the comfy pillows of life before, when things made sense and it all equalled out
like my eighth grade algebra and the shiny fairness found in Proverbs, of
True Love Waits and it will be easy, follow God close and you'll be happy, healthy and wise;
the world in black and white and a bit of red, and I didn't know how everyone toils and spins and rages and weeps, i couldn't sense the blood on my own hands, it was all 'us' and 'them'.

i'm not sure what exactly woke me up, it was sometime in 2002 while i studied in the Middle East and it could have been the Kurdish village in northern Sy.ria opening their homes to us wandering off the bus hoping for some breakfast and free arabic lessons, or studying the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in cities and refugee camps over tiny tea cups, white beards and so many years of hurt.  it was my first experience in community with people who called me out and challenged my self-preservation, who sang my songs with me and held me as i cried again and again.  (some of these people are still in my life in such foundational ways.)  yes, i think it was 2002, I was nearly twenty and my feet were always dusty.

and since then i've been awake.  there are many, many moments (strung together for months sometimes) where i fight it, staunch in my grogginess, apathetic and refusing to admit the morning light.  but it's too late–my two year old knows its morning; he's woken up the baby.

there's no going back now.

as i embrace consciousness there is much pain and darkness, in myself, my neighbours (my street, our world).  so, so much.  but there is goodness waiting, there is grace.  there is freshly pressed coffee and mama-cuddles, the hope of honest conversations and my own conversion once again.  there is imagination and people power movements, forgiveness and mercy that covers justice.  and on the third morning, there is resurrection no matter how deadly the darkness, no matter how abandoned the people.  there is fish and bread on the beach except i'm not the one cooking breakfast and that's always the surprising gift of Jesus,

even when I, like his best friends in his loneliest moment,

just want to go back to sleep.

i wrote this for SheLoves Magazine's synchroblog on "awake".  what does being awake mean to you? 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

what i'm doing when i'm not blogging.

Justin Bieber at the 2010 White House Easter E...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In an attempt to break my writers block into a million pieces I thought I would just write about things that are filling my life in the past couple of days.

I'm Listening to:

At the moment my husband is sitting on our orangish-red couch ($30 on Gumtree!) playing the guitar and softly singing 'Joy to the World'.  He has a beautiful voice and I imagined every one of my married evenings would be filled with his melodies.  When we were long-distance dating sometimes he'd play songs for me over Skype.  I would cyber-swoon appropriately - lots of romantic emoticons.  The rare evenings we spent together usually involved playing music for and with each other.  He played Sufjan's "The Dress Looks Nice on You" but changed "dress" to "shress" as I almost exclusively wore dresses over jeans at that point in my fashion life.  Sadly our ASBFLDSNNTEO ("actual special best friends living daily and sleeping nightly next to each other") existence has produced only about 2% of the music we imagined.  Why?  I'm not sure.  Children?  Possibly.  And there's some vulnerability about music, especially in the creating, that makes us feel shy of each other - it's one of the remaining frontiers left unexplored for us.  I love when my husband does play to himself in the evening, but I have to pretend that I don't notice or care, or he will stop. :)

What else am I listening to?  We have a playlist on our iPod called "Kids Bop etc" and it's our go-to at the moment.  If my son is ever in a boy band I will completely blame his father.  Saf knows a lot of the words to Justin Beiber's "Baby" and One Direction's "Beautiful".  We're not crazy about the worldview being sung, but the beats are pretty party rockin' and the only place we can handle listening to non-stop proper children's music is in the car.

I'm Doing:

As a kid we'd have semi-formal Olympic competitions in our yard with a few neighbours and somewhere between garbage can+brick stack jumping and 'how many seconds long is your best handstand?' we'd have to also create and perform our best Cheer.  Tonight I wanted to do that again but I could barely recall any of even the most common cheers from Friday night highschool football games.  I tried anyway and Saf was my partner, copying all of my arm, leg and hip movements as if I was gifted and authoritative.  Then we did an impromptu dance routine to my own rendition of "Eye of the Tiger", one of his favorite songs.  Chris laid on the couch smiling and judging us.  Jubee army crawled around trying to ingest paper, as she does.

I went thrift store shopping and grocery shopping ALL BY MYSELF.  It was wonderful and not surprisingly very un-lonely (sorry kids!)  I did spend way too long browsing in the hole-in-the-wall-but-packed-with-designer-labels-for-$8 shop and then had to race through the aisles to grab my groceries but it was totally worth it.  I bought denim shorts, jeans, a pair of shorts for Chris, tights for Jubee (for someday) and a necklace for $24.  And it was all loved by someone already.  That makes me happy and Chris uncomfortable.    

I'm Reading:

Parenting for a Peaceful World by Robin Grille.  Whoa.  Blowing my mind.  I picked up a copy in a library bin at the breastfeeding support group (Australian Breastfeeding Association) that I'm apart of.  I'm actually reading it, which says a lot.  Since having children I've only had enough attention span to read blogs - but I'm struggling to put this book down.  I feel many blog posts stirring - if you've read it, what did you think??

I'm Watching:

We had friends over to watch "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" again.  In light of the book I'm reading, which draws parallels between the way we (and our surrounding culture) are parented and our responses to injustice, I have a small stack of questions to ask both Robin Grille and Leymah Gwobee.

Jesus Christ Superstar (film)
Jesus Christ Superstar (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Saturday night we had a couple of friends come over to watch "Jesus Christ Superstar".  Oh my 70's!  I really enjoyed it, especially Jesus' slightly lazy eye and Judas' incredible voice as well as the intense dance moves!  I did fall asleep at the very end, but I didn't want to.  It just happened.  During our intermission for decaf black tea and raspberry-brown sugar muffins we talked about cross-gender friendship, like is depicted between Jesus and Mary.  Dan Brennan's blog on the subject fascinates me. 

We stopped by the beach for twenty minutes today in the early evening.  (Rough life, I know).  We sat on a bench and watched the cold waves crash, the crazy Aussies already in their swimmers (it's barely spring!), surfers and beach roamers - I watched two teenaged lovers make out very passionately.  Chris didn't look, he was too embarrassed for everyone.  That's the difference between me and him.  I almost said something to them as well, except that Chris was right next to me and would have been mortified.  I wanted to say, "don't ruin your life" or something wise like that but I just smiled
as they walked by.  They were oblivious, of course.

I'm Eating: 

Macedonian red capsicum and eggplant relish on crackers.  It's from the little shop up the street and i. can't. get. enough.  I've also had two weekends in a row finding a free-range rottisserre chicken for 1/2 price (don't ask me how long it was sitting there i'm not pregnant so i don't care) and after we devoured the yummy meat (sorry vegetarian friends!!  we are fully back-slidden these days!) I turned the carcass into stock and a very hearty chicken soup ala my dad's recipe.  I'm learning to cook more and more and even enjoying it sometimes.

I'm drinking: 

The most interesting thing I've been drinking lately is saffron coffee in tiny tea cups with my neighbour-friend whose from the Persian Gulf.  We also talked about the oppression of women in her country and mine, misogyny and violence, arranged marriages and advertising.  I love kindred connections between women whose respective media coverage would say it's impossible.  She had me brush up on my Arabic lessons from ten years ago and practice reading like the slowest first grader in the class.  Her 6 year old daughter sat on the floor pointing at pictures for Saf to name.  Jubilee army crawled around trying to ingest paper, as she does.

is this mean?  she liked it (for a few minutes)

first ride in our new (to us) double pram - giggles all the way, although J demanded to be worn on the way home.
The babies are:  sleeping right now.   J has been staying up late this week but tonight she went to sleep soon after her brother.  Last night we only had one wake up between the two of them.  Chris and I were both up at 6:15am with our son because WE FELT RESTED!!!  Usually we have 6-12 wake ups a night although I think Saf is generally waking up less and less.  Maybe.  But whose counting?  (Besides us.)  The good night's sleep was amazing, although we still were late to church and left our house a mess.  mHm.  Obviously sleep deprivation isn't the only thing to blame.  Otherwise the babies are 25 and 8 months this week and just scrumptious.  Saf told me my bobby pins were "buufull" the other day.  All of my mothering is finally paying off:  spontaneous compliments.  

I would love to hear what you've been reading/watching/doing/eating etc - any good blogs I should add to my list?  Any books that you love?  Feel free to leave a comment.  Everyone will be happy then.
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Sunday, July 29, 2012

vacancy wanted here

We sat down in the old Catholic church two blocks up the street.  Seven-thirty pm and candles lit up the dark room, a few handfuls of people speckled the pews.  The Father welcomed us to the service, reminded us that there would be ten minutes of silent meditation after we'd sung some songs and scriptures together.  I've loved Taize style worship ever since my college featured the community at a chapel service.  It's been a place of solace and healing, a pillar that I can return to regardless of how the winds have blown me.  My heart felt at home, my body relaxed, my mind even accepted the invitation to hush, kneel and drink.

It had been too long, and I knew it.

I don't think I could survive motherhood unless I knew deep down that it all matters, it's all holy, everything good and righteous and true will last into the new world coming.  While I grew up with strong 'sacred' and 'secular' labels on the activities of myself and (especially) others, they've nearly washed away these days.  Heaven and earth will one day be reconciled, along with all things in this very physical world.  The things I put my hands to, even wiping dirty faces and sweeping floors, when done in love is somehow building for God's kingdom, as N.T. Wright puts it.

This has changed me:  I hear psalms in the giggles shared between my two babes growing in love, prayers in my legs as we walk to the park nearby.  Forgiveness and re-birth fill the relationships that rub me like iron, that whisper in my ears; I glimpse eternity in the endless washing, hanging, collecting of nappies that wait to be washed again.  Every story I read to my children and every hour spent awake in the night-watch, it's all holy.   I know that everything's spiritual, it's all worship, nothing is in vain or lost or wasted.  "Holiness lies spread and borne over the surface of time and stuff like colour," Annie Dillard writes, and I see it, I see the colour even in the mess of my kitchen just as dinner's ready, stacks of clothes to be put in drawers, cups of tea with friends on our couch and conversations with folks in the neighbourhood.  My whole existence is a prayer, an offering, a sacrament.

But sitting in the church, in the dim, sacred and quiet - why was I so suddenly aware of my thirst?  Why did my eyes fill with tears when the Father spoke of silence, that we were free to come and light a candle before the cross?  I know to my very core that all of the rituals, all of the grind daily that fills my life to the full is sacred and holy - but where is that holy and sacred place in my life that isn't already filled by everything else?  Where is the place of empty, where I kneel with hands cupped in longing, expectancy, vacancy and need.

Henri Nouwen writes, "In the silence of prayer you can spread out your hands to embrace nature, God and your fellow human beings.  This acceptance means not only that you are ready to look at your own limitations, but that you expect the coming of something new."

I can make excuses until the sun sets again as to how I'm so busy, that much my children need me, how I feel stretch marks over my days and nights appearing more clearly than ever before.  But the life I found in the quiet, as I lit the wick of my candle and placed it at the cross - I need that.  I need that empty space to sharpen my eyes to the beauty and holiness and God's own essence in the things that fill the hours and hours; I need to receive in that peaceful place that I actually have something to give in the holy world that spins 'round.  I need silence to honestly and gracefully look at my limitations while still expecting the possibility of something new.

In the quiet of the church I lit a candle and knelt before the cross.  I lit a candle for my friend's baby, for the women and children in Syria, for the exploited women on my street.  And I lit a candle for myself, for that restless place in my soul longing to renew her vows of celibacy, and my empty hands cupped in need.  Vacancy wanted here.  I don't know how to carve out that empty space regularly, but the want for it has been passionately renewed.   


Sunday, July 15, 2012

a love letter: dear body of mine

linking in to the synchroblog:  A Love Letter to my Body
(you should write a love letter to your body and link in too!)


in a world that hates women's real bodies and implores us to do the same, this is a confession of my admiration and love, dear body of mine:

you have been so good to me, these thirty years and a few months of non-stop demands and little thanks, you've proved yourself so faithful and capable again and again.

your arms are strong:  you've pumped water, welcomed babies, hugged strangers, strummed melodies, cuddled children (but rarely animals), carried your home in a bag on your back for too many months.  i think you have big muscles even if no one else agrees.

you've walked the dusty red roads of Africa, crowded and colourful back alleys in India, sat happy in taxis and trains and subway cars full of covered women smiling at you.  you ate spicy curries with your hands three times a day  and your tummy loved it even the next time, you go with the place you're in, you are satisfied easy.

airport floors?  no big deal you sleep there just fine, you always make yourself comfortable
even on the hard and cold of foreign places at 2am
and the flight's delayed again, again -
that's why nursing the babies back to sleep is no
big deal (most of the time), when
i think you're empty you let more down, you always surprise me with your resourcefulness.

you've healed:  from colds and car accidents, typhoid and stomach bugs.  you remember some of it, you've forgotten most, your scars remind me to be thankful as I fall asleep.

and that voice - my husband is always amazed at how loud you are, at how you always create your own path through and can be heard in between the rest.  when he's embarrassed you sing louder, and i can hardly stop you.

three surprise pregnancies and i barely trust you for it but
i love you for it, and for them.  the two that are with us now
look like you, people always say.  i think they are beautiful and you care for them the best you can.
now the spinning never stops, they work you so hard but you laugh loud and often enough that i think you're okay.

i'm sorry i shaved your legs so early.

i'm sorry that i've said words ungrateful and untrue.

i'm sorry i've compared you to anyone, ever.

you are my earthen vessel, from way back then, right here now and into the new heavens and the new earth.

go ahead and have grey hair already.  you deserve it.

and i love that gap between your front teeth, too.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

old friends

there's nothing quite like old friends, is there?  even when old friends have new spouses and new babes growing and playing and the words we share in these hours with the clock ticking tell of things we would have never dreamed when we were all young and free together long ago -

even when the years between then and now have been hard, very hard with so many tears and swear words and waiting and praying and starting again -  and those same years have been filled to the full with healing of bodies and hearts and the ways we think, full of green living things rising from ashes and spring secretly winning winter over from the death and black and barren cold -

a night and a day isn't enough when an old friend is in town.  but it's something to be grateful for.

Friday, June 22, 2012

when they ask for a mission statement, this is what i will say

when i saw old people i was astonished, even confused.

how did they survive for so long?  how were they still breathing and not just that but moving, and doing

eight of my friends had been killed suddenly, all of them young and so so so full of life and passion and dreams.  I wasn't conscious after the accident, didn't lay eyes on one of them in the west african bush clinic and then they were gone, no goodbye.  i was 24, the wave hit, the sky went black and the world was all wrong.

the fragility of it all returns sometimes when i hear the stories of others - moms and dads with cancer especially, when their children still need them (do we ever outgrow that need?).  it pounds in my ears, this groaning so loud, creation's labour pains roaring across our lives this way.  none of us are immune, no matter how hard we work, no matter how much we pray.

its hard enough to walk in winter's darkness, carrying our loss heavy through her barren places.  grief is always solitary, even when we share it with others we are still alone.

but even harder is the thawing to spring, the enticing breeze and shedding our layers to expose skin, also our hearts.  how do we trust that the mountains won't shake again, that our optimism won't be found foolish and the next strike worse than the last?

but we must.

we must unpack boxes and hang up our curtains.  we must throw our seeds in the abandoned lots of our neighbourhood.  we must get married, make love, make babies even in this exile of disorientation, uncertainty and wound-ability.  we must confess our hope, confess our fertility, and lay out our clothes for the morning, our bellies stretching with new life again.

this confession doesn't protect us, but it is true.

it's the dimly lit one room home in which i sat with an indonesian woman, newly married and pregnant.  her bed was a thin mattress on the floor, all her belongings in neat piles around.  above her bed she had painted a window with curtains pulled back and I could see the green fields and blue skies of the new world coming, even in her crowded city, even in her own poverty.  she was a prophet and my spirit was stirred.

may my own eyes see as clearly, and yours as well.

the earth turns upside down

I try to see things through
your eyes
what seemed great is trifling
what seemed solid is fragile
what seemed eternal fades away
the earth turns upside down
what was once lost now lives
what was once weak conquers
what was once poor buys the whole world

song:  prayers from prague and other places

daniel raus

Sunday, April 1, 2012

on turning 30.

 I started to write this post a few days before I turned 30.  I started to write this in a little purple notebook while sitting on the couch holding Jubilee in my lap, facing me, letting her smile at me like I'm the most amazing person she's ever seen - eyes crinkly, nose scrunched up.  This was the moment:

But now that notebook is missing (as are so many things these days it seems - is that part of having a 20 month old?) and so I begin again, this time on the other side of 30.  30 years + 5 days.

I turned 20 in Cairo and got my ears pierced to mark the occasion.  I also got my nose pierced a few weeks later (back alley, Istanbul) for two dollars.  Worldview shattering, everything on the change.   Twenty-three was Cape Town, sleeping under the stars and waking to my birthday and Easter Sunday all in one; we flew a kite and played soccer in a field, covered in mud.  Twenty-five was India and a park and an epic game of 'In the Manner of the Adverb'; twenty-six was northern Uganda, I wore a white skirt on the back of a motor bike, my feet still etched with the black dirt of South Sudan. Twenty-eight was India again, this time married and expecting a baby - had a birthday party with so many new friends wearing gorgeous sarees and I even made a speech, because that's what you do at an Indian birthday party.

Reading through old journals this week, I'm remembering.  The dreams on my heart were all so close then, when I was pumping water and dodging malarious mosquitoes, taking auto rickshaws and hanging out with pregnant women in slum communities.  My friend Hollie was my dreaming companion - 'Should we travel from Cape Town to Cairo by chicken bus stopping in villages for a month at a time to do mother and child healthcare seminars?' - yes, please.  'How about we open a home in a major Indian city where women can come from rural areas to stay near the hospital if they have a high risk pregnancy?' - perfect.   

wearing ridiculous skirts and asking for diarrhea in Cairo (with Hollie, circa 2006)

I met Chris along the way, and we chose each other.  Our dating months were full of hard, hard, hard conversations - what really were our values, deep down, that we would end up living by even if we thought we might be able to change?  What would drive me crazy?  Could I be the one to give him the love that he needs?  A few times it was so tough, hearing his voice tell the truth - 'becca, if you want to be living in East Africa in the next two years, I need to be honest and say I can't do it, I can't be that person for you.  That could be possible someday, but I would need to take it step by step.'  And I chose him, because fantastical dreams with no roots couldn't compare to building a home, planting a garden and bearing children with Chris, even in exile.

Reading my journals reminded me of all my dreams, although I'm not sure how much they were of God and how much they were of me escaping reality.  Either way, a lot of them are still in there, lying dormant, waiting.  Reading through my old emails with Chris reminded me that I knew exactly what I was getting.  I read a conversation we were having about future children if we got married - why, how many, how soon, possible effects on our life and work - and Chris is saying the same exact thing three years and two children later. 

It's another layer of letting go - nothing has been taken from me.  In freely saying yes to marriage and children and to the sense that it's good for us to be in this community now, there are other things that aren't happening, that might or might not ever happen.  Its okay, on my thirtieth birthday to be a little sad, to grieve a bit, to let go of the where's and what's that I imagined in my mid-twenties.

Grief and processing doesn't in any way negate my joy and wonder over life right now:  the sacrament of marriage that I partake in daily, forgiveness and friendship our bread and wine; the spiritual rituals of washing, hanging, and putting away cloth nappies in a way that reminds me of eternity in its endlessness; nursing my children to sleep every night and caring for them in the dark hours when the rest of the world spins and sleeps.  This is my life and it is good.  My days are long and slow and as sacred as my steps on the dusty red road to Congo.

We will see what happens, where I am on my fourtieth birthday, when my children can survive longer periods of the day without me.  But until then, I will be here, typing with my right hand, Jubilee balanced on my left knee, dishes to do and songs to sing.

"Holiness lies spread and borne over the surface of time and stuff like colour." - Annie Dillard

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

sometimes the waters are roaring.

sometimes the waters are roaring, foaming, but we are deaf to them - distracted by the beauty of the beach, the sand covering our babies, the sun warming us to our bones.  life is good, we are happy and it's all being kept together, isn't everyone?

then it hits, the wave, it nails us while our backs are to the ocean, exposed and so vulnerable, though we didn't realize it yet.  now we know our fragility and we will never be the same.

the seas roar and foam, the leviathan lives there, lurking; tragedy and sickness and accidents leave none of us unaffected, we all hold hands while the water rises quickly around us. 

chaos.  it's no respecter of anything, doesn't even matter if you just got your act together, doesn't even matter if you are still searching for wreckage from the last flash flood.  it's the reason why a lot of terrible things happen, and it's no reason at all.  it's the best reason to say the F word, if you're crying or praying.  Have you been there in it's aftermath?

maybe it's the earth shuddering from all the pain we cause her and each other, trying to shake us off.  maybe it's gravity just doing her thing and small decisions we make sometimes go unseen and sometimes won't ever be forgotten.  sometimes there's just not even any explanation that we could utter and any attempt to make sense of it is simply us trying to survive, but it doesn't help.  sometimes we blame God with spiritual language, but what we really mean is, 'i care about you.  i am so sorry.  and i don't understand.'

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

one of those days

Yesterday was one of those days - one of those days I was sure would be every day with two always needing me little ones.  All my days are surprisingly not one of those days.  But yesterday was.

There was up in the night teething pain which makes for tired parents and a grumpy boy; fever, his first, so I stripped him down and nursed him.  He vomited all over the couch and I left it until his father woke up because my toddler-baby just needed to be held.  There was both children crying and trying to hold them, arms not able enough.  No naps overlapped and muggy rain threatened us all.

It was worth it though, just to get outside, so we went.  Up the street past abandoned buildings, cafes, pubs and art galleries (but mostly abandoned buildings, this old street of ours) - we walked and greeted familiar people who were probably confused as to why a mother and children would be taking a walk when the dark sky was pregnant.  With downpour.  I could have suspected it and stayed inside but we really needed a change of scenery, some new air to breathe, some exercise (at least one of us).

He shouted, "All wet!" and we were, at least he and I were, his sister protected in the stroller fortunately.  I stopped at 'the corner', where the women wait for the men and money is exchanged for intimacy but it never comes.  A man saw me from across the street and he came running.  With an umbrella.

He walked us halfway down the hill towards the place where my husband works and we walked the rest of the way in the downpour, warmed by kindness from a neighbour we didn't know.

The girl was oblivious.  The boy loved every minute.

"Happy!  Happy!  Happy!  Happy!"

And I was too.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Psalm of thanks in late February as I fall asleep

Where are the ten thousand fingers that
Knitted you
Inside of me?
The ones that wrote your ears
To soar when you smile
And painted your skin with
Olive oil and such promise of growing
What music played as your flower eyes were plucked
From the furthest field and now we are seen,
So much like your father under dark strands of youngest hair.

What wild imagination laid a tiny womb inside my own?
Oh the hope that was born with you my baby girl.

I listen as you sigh close by
And we both give way to our eyes closing
I whisper thanks with my every breath
For you,
My jubilation.

Monday, February 20, 2012

this weekend (we lose control).

This weekend I heard wonderful news - my friend gave birth to her baby girl.  I sang inside, relieved and excited for their future together.

This weekend, on the same day, I heard tragic news - my friend's tiny baby had died inside of her, the end of a joyful new pregnancy coming much too soon.  I grieved with her, aching for their loss of future together.

I stare at my own baby girl - a miscarriage early in pregnancy wouldn't have lost a nameless, faceless baby.  We would have lost her, and everything that is to come.

In church we prayed for S.ria, for the oppression and violence and blood and silence.

In church I held my baby girl and we shared eyes and smiles and so much affection.  We are glad for each other.

I imagined S.rian mothers years ago, with precious babes in their laps, smiling and thankful.  They never imagined their children would grow to commit such brutality, or experience such abuse.

I too have a smiling baby who will one day be capable of giving and receiving pain.

It's the vulnerability of fertility; we plant all and we lose control.  Something grows but we can't keep her alive, we can't make her stay, we can't even make her do right or love us back.  A mother gives everything, and yet she still isn't able to make it certain, not anything.

Occasionally I feel the nakedness of it all, in birth and life and death, how close we are to falling off the edge.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


My sister snapped this while we were at the beach this week.  That's Grandma and Saf close to the water.  Peaceful.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

baby, you are a mystery to me.

Before marriage my husband and I met briefly and then spent twenty one months living either across the country or across the world from each other.  Actually most of our lives were spent that way when I think about it, but twenty one months when we were in knowing of each other, and in wanting of being closer.

Nine of those months we were friends who emailed each other occasionally (well, I practiced restraint and wrote every two weeks; he usually responded within six hours) and as we grew in our knowledge of each other through letters strung together on a computer screen, we grew in love.  I was in India and East Africa most of the time, the last few weeks at home in Pennsylvania to visit my family.  I loved those months - as we expressed no intentions towards each other, nor affections for each other, there were no expectations.   We were free to write and converse and explore and question and our answers held no consequences for our future because our futures weren't connected.  He was a mystery that I was growing in knowledge of - but would we ever become anything?  Did he feel the way about me that I felt about him?  The ambiguity was thick, it was challenging me to stay there in the grey, not to push us into conversations we weren't ready for.  It was hard.

One morning in May I woke to a very long, beautifully soul-baring email (of course) from this Canadian boy whom I was pretty sure I could love.  All of sudden, he came out with it, his truest thoughts about me and his heart and it was all so honest and I was overwhelmed.  He told me, "Everything I know about you, I love.  And everything I don't know about you, I project choosing to love."  He loved me!  We talked on Skype pretty quickly and I said, 'Yes, I would like to get to know you more'.  The next day or so he wrote and said, 'Does this mean that we're dating?'  He likes language that's more accommodating than I care to use sometimes.

A few weeks into our dating (living on opposite sides of Australia) Chris mentioned the possibility of coming to visit me.  "Why?  Isn't it a bit soon?" We didn't even really know each other ... did we?  We hadn't even seen each other in nearly ten months.

That was a silly response which I quickly recanted and he came.  I remember it pretty clearly, picking him up at the airport.  He was sitting in a chair with his bag,  I was running late.  He smiled wide at me and gave me a hug.  And then we could barely look at each other for the next six hours at least.  We took a long walk to a park and got very lost, neither of us caring one bit.  We did cartwheels, had a picnic I had prepared of peanut butter, banana and raisin sandwiches, sat in the grass together and talked in real time, no electronics necessary.  Chris gave me a journal he had written in on the flight over, one that we would share for the next year until we would vow to live side by side day and night.  It was the perfect gift.  He knew me.  I would have nearly married him on the spot.

There was this incredible familiarity in being with Chris that first time after so many months of learning and loving him from a distance.  And there was also this awkwardness in our togetherness, a newness, he was unfamiliar.  I didn't know how to look at him, how to walk next to him - we hadn't held hands, yet were (on some level) committed to growing whatever this was together.

I'm remembering this first 'date' with my husband because of the moments after my daughter was born a few weeks ago.  For nine months she was part of me, on the inside of my body, my heart, my thoughts.  Her every movement I felt and even anticipated the way she'd stretch her legs, wriggle around when I was laying down nursing her brother, respond to her dad's touch on my belly.  I knew her well.  But she was still a mystery.

But then I actually met her.  On the outside.  And she thoroughly surprised me.  As I was pushing her out the midwife said, "I can see her dark hair."  Dark hair?!  What?  Her brother had been bald and I full expected another hairless offspring.  When she was finally born, her cry was the sweetest, most relieving sound.  I took her onto my chest and stared at her, astounded.  This was the little person I was growing?  After a few minutes someone said, "So what did you get?"  We hadn't even thought to look.  I lifted up her tiny body and looked at my husband in joyful disbelief.  "We had a girl!?!"  We both had felt fairly certain we were having a boy, although we had left the gender unknown.  We were wrong.  

The most wonderful things often grow in darkness; we know, and we don't know.  We are familiar and confident, we are surprised and even a little confused.  I loved the last days of my pregnancy, knowing the rich ambiguity of face and name and gender would be gone soon enough.  She was a mystery, and yet I knew her.  My husband (to be) was so familiar, and yet he felt so new on that first date.  I still have moments of surprise with Chris, but there's nothing like those months of long-distance loving, full of anticipation and wonder but so many miles apart.  And I'll never reclaim those months of womb-secrets with my daughter.  She's here now, we see face to face.

I often want it all to rush by, so I can know, see, and understand fully.  But there's something precious and fleeting about the dim mirror, the unknowing of the womb, the black of fertile soil as we wait to see if seeds with sprout.  We don't have to know outcomes to commit ourselves; our hearts can grow like pregnant mamas who love fully in the waiting, ripe with hope and future, stretched thin with love for someone very present, but still unseen.

I'm not sure what I'm really trying to say here, but in the spirit of this post, I think I'll just let it be.  ;)