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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

States & Provinces (we made some music)

My husband and I released a 6 song album recorded over the past few years (including one recorded last month).  We're calling ourselves States & Provinces (Get it?  I'm from the states, he's from the provinces. :)  If you're interested to hear more, you'll find our new Bandcamp site here:  

I thought I'd have more time to write while on our holiday but instead I've been hanging out with treasured friends, reading in the bathtub, cross-country skiing and assuring my two year old that there is sun in Canada… just not in December, apparently.

I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season, whatever your weather may bring.

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.)