Well, pride.

August 26, 2016

I’m racing to the basement computer immediately after listening to this to write something I think should follow my last post, which I hope showed, more than anything, the process of finding out the depth of pride in my own heart.

Lately I have been going back about 20 years to try to see more clearly a fundamental way I misunderstood the world that has carried forward to the present day. Well, and because in this season (the isolation of early motherhood and having recently moved to a new state) I find myself re-living a lot of the feelings of loneliness I had then. I also find myself STILL GOING BACK to the same thought patterns and fantasies of achieving my “dreams” and experiencing romance I did then and let me tell you: it’s not so cute or harmless as it seemed when I was 15.

So I pulled out my box of old journals and re-read a couple of them from 1997-98. I have had a few people cringe when I told them I did that. Not for me, but to imagine themselves doing it. Or maybe it was for me. Anyway, I wanted to see if I could tell what my life was actually like, since I described it in such glowing terms. I also thought it would be helpful to read the words I wrote about my internal state. To a great extent, as I wrote before, I had carried that self with me into my 34th year and only lately have started to tell the true story of my life.

I found a few things there and ALL of them had to do with pride. The last one I will mention is the most “current” and I want to make sure I talk about it. The first two, though, had to do with what was going on in my head all the time about myself and about God.

#1 – As I’ve written about extensively in my last post, I wanted with all my heart to be perfect and successful and as part of that, to gain the love of someone I saw as also perfect and successful. I consequently had a lot of negative feelings about myself because I didn’t have – and didn’t really believe that I would have – those things.

But concurrently, I discovered, I – really, truly, with all my heart – believed that if any boy (whom I deemed worthy) really got to know me, he would fall in love with me and that that process would finally make me feel fulfilled and happy. In addition to what was written about my obsession with Hanson (not much was written, but I am me, so I could read between the lines. It’s actually very touching how often I wrote down prayers for the Hanson brothers and their family), I was concerned with how much attention I was getting or not getting from a select few boys of my acquaintance in youth group. I think I’ve finally answered the burning question of my youth about why I didn’t receive much attention. It wasn’t because I wasn’t pretty enough or talented enough – as I feared. And it wasn’t – as I wanted to believe – that they were intimidated by me; at least not in a good way. They were not overawed by me. They were turned off by me because of my pride. I was simultaneously afraid of being embarrassed by saying or doing the wrong thing (ironically, it would often happen that the very moment I decided it was safe to tell a joke I would say something truly embarrassing and horrible) and too proud to value the attention and friendship I did have as it ought to have been valued. There were some wonderfully talented young men who liked me. Apparently, they  just weren’t good enough for me. Also, I had friends who were telling me the truth in love but I just couldn’t see it.

There was a terrific conversation with the afforementioned Mark Olson in there that I’d forgotten about completely. On a car ride he was asking me about why I didn’t date. At the time, I wasn’t allowed to date because my parents were sort of dabbling in the courtship movement. I know, because I remember my rebellious thoughts on the subject, that I was not into it. I was all for dating. But I sat there and argued courtship to Mark Olson like it was my personal holy grail rather than tell him ugly truth that I wasn’t dating because no one I liked had asked. Well, to my credit I did admit it at the very end. But only after I’d made it perfectly clear that I “didn’t want a boyfriend anyway” to the boy I’d been hoping would like me back, and ask me out, for years. I remember the utter elation and the abject fear that he might see and know I liked him. I panicked and reacted in pride. It was my default.

#2 – The other thing in there was so much talk to God about my own “worthlessness” and how I knew that I would just hate me if I was God and if He didn’t love me so much He would hate me. It almost doesn’t need to be fleshed out, but obviously, this isn’t the gospel. It’s also obvious that it was another reaction of pride. I wanted to earn my salvation, knew I couldn’t, and was in prideful despair over it all the time. And I was the one responsible for thinking this. I have liked, in the past, to think that my church did it, or my parents did it. I may have been mislead by some things but ultimately…

#3 – Here’s the main thing I wanted to say. When I described my life outside my own mind as harsh, dark, sad and silent I knew I was not being accurate so much as trying to reflect my memory of how life felt. What I forgot was that I was taken to piano and voice lessons in addition to youth group and church every week, that I had a job at the gym where my sister practiced competitive gymnastics and that I did several other fun trips and classes throughout the year. That I, to this day, couldn’t even remember those things says a lot about me. In my own healing journey, I have both blamed my parents for things out of their control and rightly seen things they did that were wrong and hurt me. It’s so easy, once you see more clearly what you needed and didn’t get, to stop there. But you will never be healed, not really, until you are healed of your pride. Here’s what I have failed to see in the past: it’s important to have nurturing parents (and don’t think that I’m trying to say I didn’t. I did.) but I didn’t deserve nurturing parents. This one is really hard, I know that. We’ve all been hurt by our parents. My own parents were hurt terribly by theirs. But it’s never been more clear to me: If I can’t see what they did give, and do give, as a gift I will never experience joy. And I won’t be able to see anything as a gift if I believe to my core that I shouldn’t have to experience pain and suffering,  that I deserve anything other than the judgement that was taken for me by Christ. 

In other words, I made an idolatry of pride itself. It didn’t, it couldn’t, result in feelings of superiority because I knew that I had failed to gain the attention of a “worthy” boy, I had failed to hone my musical skill and become famous like the Hanson brothers and I had failed to live up to my internal religious standards. An overblown ego doesn’t look the way I always thought it should. It actually looks like the kind of blindness, excessive whining, blaming of other people (like my parents) and depression I saw in my old journal and see in my behavior every day.

I’ve often heard, and rejected, the idea that depression and pride go hand in hand, but there it is. It’s plain to see.

My mom came and visited us recently. I posted something on Facebook about it and you know how I knew something was different with me? I don’t know if I’ve really done that before. I didn’t just know I should be grateful for her love and help and I didn’t just feel good about it for a little bit; I felt filled up with gratitude. For my mom. As a person. And, as great as she is, it’s not because she’s gotten so much better at being helpful. It’s that I hadn’t been able to see it. The problem truly had been with me. It doesn’t mean we don’t or haven’t hurt each other. It means, in the only way that truly matters, we are both off the hook. And that makes us free to accept what the other has to give. So many times in the past I have looked at the exact – or near enough – offering she’s given and said it wasn’t enough. By the grace of God (I hope, in removing some foundational layer of my pride), I could take the exact same amount and be filled to overflowing by it. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.


Where Else Can I Go? (A Story About Hanson. But Ultimately Jesus.)

July 30, 2016

It’s Summer, 1997. I am 15 years old. For a summer job, I am babysitting for four children, ages 9, 6, 6 and 2. All day five days a week. I have successfully negotiated for one dollar per kid per hour.

So…four dollars an hour.

I am excited about this job because it allows me to leave the house, which doesn’t happen much unless I ride my bike around the empty country blocks. I have exactly two chances to see people other than my family every week – both at church. I listen to whatever music my mom listens to in the public space of our home and I have just been allowed to own a walkman in order to do personal listening, as long as I only do it while I ride my bike. I listen to Rebecca St. James and DC Talk’s “Free At Last.” I ride my bike, I jump on our trampoline and I obsess over how badly I think my lanky, well-proportioned body looks in swimsuits and shorts. I eat as few grams of fat as possible each day, mostly bread and twizzzlers, and a sensible dinner. I have flirted with an eating disorder, had a long-standing crush on Mark Olson – the most ripped man I’ve ever personally known – and been “on tour” to several Christian camps with our church teen choir. The established facts about me are that a) I have a full and precocious singing voice, b) I am not one of the popular kids and c) only the geeky boys will ever be interested in me. Plus d) that I have already blown my shot at olympic glory by not becoming an ice skater or a gymnast. My best friend is Bethany, full of grace and truth and not too prone to silly teenaged fantasies.

At the house where I babysit I have discovered that there is cable TV – something we have had at home only once or twice for a month. This means I can, and do, watch music videos with the kids. Music video watching is a guilty pleasure of my mother’s who, God help her, has had to do all of her pitiful guilty pleasuring in front of us for as long as we’ve been alive. She has, in the past, had a lunch-hour music video habit, which we shared until the cable got shut off. There were one or two videos she had to turn off because of sex but then she would turn it back on once she thought the video would be over. We’d sit there for the three minutes in communal silence, pretending we weren’t imagining the sexy video happening behind the blank screen. But this phase has passed. There has been no afternoon delight for some time. So, babysitting.

I am doing a little mid-day viewing with the elementary kids when it happens: the electric guitar arpeggio starts up – the one I still can’t hear in my mind’s ear without a twinge of pleasure, sadness and embarrassment – and I think, “this is that new song. I think I heard this in the car.” The camera cuts to a young blonde woman singing and playing the keyboard. I can’t understand what she’s saying. But wait. That’s not a woman.

Hanson_9494

Let’s just remind ourselves, shall we?

It’s a flash of lightning to my gut, mortifying damage done the instant I realize what I’m seeing. (For years I would wonder why these boys, why this year of my life? Why? I felt like I’d fallen down and was looking at the world from a prone position; everything tilted sideways.  Their very presence in the world was a torment.) They’re beautiful. teenaged. boys. They are on the television. They have a record deal. They are famous for something I thought I was good at. I feel silly for thinking he was a woman. I feel silly for thinking I was a musician.

Within a day or so I know their names and their ages and some random facts. Thanks pop-up video.Isaac.Taylor. Zac. I will not be able to have a whiff of a crush on anyone else for years (and years, and years) without comparing him, just a little, to Taylor Hanson. I have a secondary crush on Isaac. Zac is 11. They are brothers. Home-schooled. From Oklahoma. I can feel the feels thick in that room containing four girls, ages 15, 9, 6 and 2. We don’t say a word about it, but I can tell we’re all in just about the same boat.

I’d like to say the rest is history.

I asked my mom to take me to Walmart and I bought “Middle of Nowhere.” All Summer long that album played in my head when not – to my constant mortification – in our living room. I snuck upstairs to the radio in my parents’ room every night at 9:30 for weeks to listen to the “top 9 at 9” on U93 because I knew it would be number 1. People started to talk about it for being so ubiquitous. I had several opportunities to pronounce, with admirable calmness of manner, that I liked the song and thought these three nice young men were very talented.

I couldn’t quite pretend to my family as I did to everyone else around me that nothing had happened, but I didn’t really talk about it with them. I did notice, however, a remarkable uptick in the amount of hawkish watching that was done of me by my mother. She’d been watchful since the Jonathan Brandis era. For several months while we lived at my grandparents’ house, I’d faithfully taped Sea Quest if we were away from home the night it aired. I had a sci-fi buddy in my dad. He was my screen. At all costs, I must hide how badly I wanted and needed to see his face every once in a while. Jonathan Brandis. Not my dad. The voyeuristic fruits of teenaged girldome – Tiger Beat and its ilk – were forbidden to me as much by my own refusal to stoop to that level as by my mother’s disapproval. She was the one who’d read an article about him in line at the Walmart, not I. Not in a million years. Not though everything in me screamed to pick up the magazine and devour that article. In those days I had been half-awake at all times, only living in my body as much as I couldn’t help it and in every other waking moment striving to make his presence in my fantasy as real as possible. I wanted to recount his features and their expressions in vivid detail. The world my body occupied was grey, harsh, dark, sad and silent. With Lucas, I could be loved and I could do something great. In the future, under the sea, anything was possible. By Summer of 1997, however, Jonathan Brandis had been upstaged by Christian Bale, Kerri Strug (non-romantically), Mark Olson and Christian Bale again – in that order.

Though I imagined the disapproval radiating off of her, I wanted the album too badly to forego it. I had birthday money. She gave one last-ditch effort: I thought you wanted Blues Traveler. I know, I said, but I thought about it and I really like this music better. I really like it a lot. The years of my supposed fandom after that are very hazy. I had no way, would take no way, of knowing if or where the band was on tour or if or when they would be appearing on TV. One time, when my dad was testing out the modem in his new laptop in our kitchen phone jack, I asked him to type in the “web address” I found in the liner notes from “Middle of Nowhere.” Hanson.net. I looked for a few minutes.

I would sometimes read things by accident in the modest publications lying around our house: Taylor and Isaac’s birthdays – which I have forgotten. I saw an appearance on Rosie O’Donnell by accident. Another accidental viewing when they appeared on Saturday Night Live. I would steadfastly avoid looking at the hundreds of magazine covers and t-shirts bearing their images when I was taken along to the store or the mall. How could these girls be so brazen, I thought. I would never make myself look so foolish. At home, I would read the song lyrics and try to avoid looking at Taylor’s face.

And after all this time, this is the part of the memory which can bring me to tears. They are tears of pity for my sad, lonely little self so consumed with a huge, inarticulate desire embodied by two (and a half, sorry Zac) teenaged boys that I couldn’t name and couldn’t dislodge from a place in my chest  – which I both wanted with all my might and wanted desperately to be rid of. That I would, in the privacy of my own bedroom, have to hide from myself such that I couldn’t even look at a picture of Taylor Hanson straight on. And to top it off, they were real musicians – at their ages – and I was…just a high-school girl who got the solo in church choir.

And, I don’t have to tell you but I will: Oh the fantasies. If only I had worked harder, had gotten better at piano, had been more driven, could somehow gain their attention in an unusual way. I was home-schooled too…maybe there was a way to work that angle. Could I be discovered, somehow, by Hanson at some sort of national homeschool event? Do those exist? I made them all dance to my bidding in my mind. Such empty work.

So when, a few years later, I came home from camp and threw it away, that was all I knew how to do. And it took a whole contingent of my friends throwing away all of their secular CD’s and me throwing away all of my other CD’s at camp to finally get rid of this one, which was the only one making my life miserable.  I hadn’t even been able to bring it to camp.

Almost 20 years later and it finally came to me that Jesus has been there in my head wanting to talk to me about Hanson. He’s been trying to give me permission to be a fangirl. “So, you didn’t think you could be silly back then. You couldn’t accept you’d have crushes on boys. Let me be a fangirl too. I’ll watch the videos and giggle at the jokes and be filled with nervous joy next to you. Let’s just face facts: boys are super cute. It’s really going to be okay. You can be stupid about it and I won’t judge you. In fact, I’m pretty into it too.” Somehow, imagining Jesus as a teenybopper made something deep inside me unclench. So I watched a bunch of Hanson things on Youtube. Starting with the music videos from the 90’s that I never let myself watch. So. Cathartic.

And here’s what I know so far:

  1. I was a total, fucking, neurotic, prideful snob.

It’s actually endearing that they all married girls they met at their shows. I had, at 15, just assumed they were too cool to be interested in a girl who would go to one of their concerts. I was trying to be a Hanson fan without associating myself with Hanson fandom.

Nope. Gah! That’s not even true.

2. I didn’t even want to be a fan!

I wanted THEM to be MY fan! I was deluding myself into thinking that I wasn’t like all the other girls, in my heart. In my heart was where I was exactly like all the other girls. It was only in my behavior that I wasn’t. Actually, I was way worse.

In one interview Taylor tells a story – maybe 10 or 15 years after the fact – about rolling into a parking garage late at night that they’d blocked off so the band and crew could unload efficiently. A few girls got the intel and snuck in to the garage before they closed it, hiding under cars until the band arrived. They expected, according to Taylor, to jump out in their cute outfits and be folded into his arms but forgot they’d slept under a car and were covered in grease. I think he was recounting it as a funny story and not trying to make fun, but he just seemed a little disdainful. I can imagine this kind of thing would get old after a while, so at first I missed the point. I felt disdainful too. I would never have done, never would do, something like that.

Are you noticing it though?

Those girls who hid were at least being honest with themselves. They knew, in a way, how needy they were; that they weren’t going to get the guys’ attention any other way. That behavior – directed toward Taylor or Isaac or Zac Hanson – might be idolatrous but that’s not why it made me recoil. It made me recoil because it looked pathetic. I believe that I have not asked to be loved on anything other than my own merit.

My refusal to be a fangirl is not virtue. It’s pride.

I was right to throw away that CD in high school. I couldn’t see any other way to get free. It felt like a presence had left my life after I did. I’m not sorry. But I am sorry, now, that I’ve missed out on so much in life because I mistake pride for embarrassment or virtue.

So, back to Jesus. “Look,” He said, “imagine there’s Taylor Hanson in the parking garage and you are there, covered in oil. No…actually, you’re at home refusing to look at his picture. But he shows up at your house, says ‘hey we’re in town. We’re playing tonight and I want you to come.’ He shows you his backstage passes. ‘Actually, here’s the deal: I don’t just want you to come see us play, I want you to sing with us. On tour. Join the band. I’ve heard your voice and it’s really beautiful. And yes, I know you are kind of in love with me. And I want to tell you…I love you. I’ve loved you for a long time. I want to marry you. I want you to be part of my family.’

“You’ll just have to take my word for it if you won’t believe it,” says Jesus, “but I think you will now: What I’m telling you is that you wouldn’t go. You’d persist in disbelieving it was for real – even when shown the proof – and then even if you did join, sooner or later you’d resent him. You’d blame him for tricking you into marrying him and making you be in his band, for curtailing your freedom. Whether or not you’d actually act on it, you’d want to be free from his love, free from the thing you were convinced was the only thing that could make you happy.”

And I do see it now. Holy fuck. He’s right. I can think of the many small times I’ve done this to my (dear, sweet) husband. My basic orientation to reality is that I will have it on my own terms or not at all. And those terms are subject to change whenever the hell I say they are. That I’ve never really gotten the things I thought I wanted with my whole being is beside the point. Everything I ever thought was the entire point is…worthless.

something in me is broken.

I have had, over and over again, something akin to that moment of sublime connection for which I longed then and thought Taylor Hanson and only Taylor Hanson could supply. (I might have accepted Mark Olson or Christian Bale in a pinch) I had one a few weeks ago. It filled me to overflow. So exquisite was it, I felt it would ruin me. In my moment alone with Jesus, I could barely breathe or glance up into His face; there was so much…so much…there aren’t even words for it. In moments like this when I can remember how it was, even the memory of it is…Life itself. Like standing next to the sun and not burning. I can’t explain it. And I’ve been told, and shown, over and over again HOW I am loved. The depth to which I am loved, a language is spoken to me which I thought I had made up but it’s spoken better, more fluently. I have been wooed and wooed.

And I forget.

No. Be honest Jenn.

I don’t just forget. I feel those things and know them to be real and then I turn around and I HATE the bestower. I hate him when he gently suggests that I am his. I am fully loved by him, fully known, deeply wanted. And I hate him. The problem is me.

“They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘we played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'”

Some of this isn’t going to get healed this side of heaven. It’s written right into the man/woman curse that lives in my bones. I like to hope that one day, in the new earth, Taylor and Isaac and Zac will be there and somehow Jesus will have made it okay enough to say all of it – all of the things ever – and they would get it. Or that none of us has to say anything because there would be a wholeness that is, as things are now, totally elusive. Not even able to be imagined by me.

I like to hope  – and as I hope, hope it’s not wrong to hope – that I will see in the new heaven and earth all of the men I’ve ever idolized. I hope they’ll all be there. I hope they choose Jesus for so many reasons I don’t have time to write about now. I pray for that so hard. And I pray for their wives and families. But I hope one day I will see them as they are, not as I have imposed upon them. I hope I can talk to them without fear and without a trace of the pride and self-loathing that has characterized my life. It’s always this hope that supersedes everything else, that shocks me out of my own daydreams with a new kind of lightning strike: Maybe someday this, too, can be made new. Not denied or erased, but made clean. Set in order. Beautified in Christ and able to be enjoyed without pain or regret. Yes, My soul says. Somehow, that’s the answer. I don’t know how, but I know that if the longing is there, it’s meant to be fulfilled.

“The reason we want to live forever is that WE WERE MADE TO.” 

“Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it — tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest — if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself — you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say “Here at last is the thing I was made for.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

I’m just going to add as a postlude here that these guys are really good. Henry thinks I should be sent to a Hanson concert some day. We’ll see. But damn.


Being a mother is hard. Some thoughts on kids and judgment.

July 13, 2015

I don’t have a lot of time this morning. In fact, I’m squandering precious moments of Gwillis nap time and allowing the boys extra PBS time in order to write it. I felt compelled, and so I’m hoping this is meant for someone out there.

Did ya’ll read this article by Jen Hatmaker?

It was hilarious. So go read it if you haven’t. I actually don’t read her regularly, but she’s hitting on something that is dawning on me and which I devote (probably way more than necessary) time thinking about lately. Motherhood, right now at this moment in time, is spectacularly hard. Not because kids are different than they used to be – at least if that’s true it’s not what I’m talking about – but because the world is a way, way different place than it used to be.

There doesn’t seem to be any place where we can experience rest from the duties of being present with or watching or providing something for our kids. Not the park! Unless you are there by yourself and you are reasonably sure your kids won’t run into the street (heaven help you if you have to use the bathroom and you have two boys on opposite sides of the playground who are too busy playing to hear you, let alone willing to come with you. And then you just decide to go anyway and hope no one dies and then when you come out, one of them is nowhere to be seen and his bike is lying on its side by the road. Not that this happened to me or anything. [don’t worry, he was just playing in ditch water]). If someone else is there, it’s generally frowned-upon for you, as a mom, to sit in the shade and just watch or intermittently read a book or write in your journal. You may NOT allow the children to work out their own issues with sharing because there’s no consensus anymore in parenting. The park has become a battlefield of niceness. Underneath, we don’t all agree with each other but we don’t say it. We don’t ask where someone else is coming from. And we can’t be challenged in our beliefs because we’re all so afraid we’re wrong and that we’re failing.

And you can’t let your kids outside your house alone, to play in the yard or – un-heard-of now – tool around the neighborhood like we used to do. Not that I could, or would, let my 4 and 2 year old do this. But, honestly, when I was a kid in the mid 90’s, my 4 year old sister came with us (the 6 and 9 year old) to the corner store 3 blocks away to buy penny candy or to the park two blocks behind our house where our mom could not even see us. I often feel nostalgic for her era of motherhood that I won’t ever have. Seriously, what was she doing in glorious solitude while we fought over the tire swing at the park or scraped our knees when we rode bikes in the alley behind our house (my little sister no doubt behind me on my banana seat) without helmets? Probably folding laundry. *sigh*

My point is, if I did this, the neighbors would have something to say about it – and most likely to the police when they showed up instead of to me.

I started to write a paragraph about judging here. Honestly, I’m tired of hearing this sentiment most often directed at Christians by other Christians: “stop judging!” I don’t think it’s getting us anywhere. Obviously, we’re all still judging and feeling judged enough to provide fodder for the “stop judging” contingent.

I received prayer on Good Friday that has started me on a path to deeper healing (a deeper easing of depression and anxiety and more consistent joy) than I have ever experienced. The reason this prayer was so effective was in part because the person praying for me has thrown off the false definition of “don’t judge.” This, I have observed, has come to mean a very dangerous kind of moral relativism. It has come to mean “what’s right for me might not be right for you so you can’t evaluate me based on your own code of ethics and better just leave me alone to relate to others who believe exactly the same way I do.” This is NOT what Jesus did. He surrounded himself with moral screw-ups who KNEW they were in need of Him and He judged (and very harshly) the Pharisees: the moral teachers who had made their own code of ethics based on outward appearances. The ones who were trying to impose extra rules to make themselves feel morally superior. They had long since lost a sense of God’s real presence.

The person who prayed for me primarily AGREED with me that what I was sensing as a problem was a problem. She called my sin what it was, but in the next breath, she was able to offer healing, hope, wholeness. Not in herself, but through the work of Christ – His death for me. I had been to countless prayer ministers and well-meaning friends giving advice over the years and their message was always the same: “don’t be so hard on yourself.” This is too hard to unpack in a blog post, and there’s a lot more to it that I’d love to write about later, but I think what I needed is not different from what everyone needs and what’s behind a lot of the angst we all feel as mothers. Jesus did this regularly. He didn’t tell the woman at the well (a marginalized person, living for her own passions and yet searching for something more) “you are probably being too hard on yourself. You need to learn to love yourself more.” He named her secret sin, he offered her Himself (living water! You will never be thirsty again!). And she was changed.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this issue: we mothers (especially those who desire to raise our children without the interference of the state and without exposure to the messages of the world until they have sufficient wisdom to judge wisely) live in a very different kind of world than our mothers. More is demanded of us. We will have to pray for the patience and endurance to be present with our children so much more often. Is not Christ present with us at all times? Should we look for a better model of parenthood than God? We will have to pray for, and practice grace and patience with other mothers who have different values than we at the park. We have to pray for grace for a populace increasingly un-used-to families with more than one or two children and therefore often saying awkward or hurtful things without knowing it. We will have to find new ways to live as Christians, raising our children first as citizens of the kingdom of God, in this world and stop yearning for a time that is gone. At least, I know I do!

Secondly, we need to pray for the discernment to stand for what we know is right when the time is right (Not on Facebook, for the love of God!) but to have grace and openness to the people around us. Yes, even those of us who are introverts and are desperately tired from always caring for our children. Christianity is a white-knuckled clinging to this incarnational reality: Christ is with us and IN us. We judge precisely because we DON’T have a hold on being good. Precisely because we know we are NOT good, and apart from Christ could not even wish to be loving to one another; because we know there is an objective, real reality outside of and above our selves. Some are longing for this knowledge and some can’t hear it at all. Our job of loving – and primarily of practicing the presence of Christ – is the same.


Gwillis – or Virginia Eowyn Louise

March 27, 2015

This time it took us about 8 weeks to come up with a “creature name” for our newest member. If you remember, Wyatt is more commonly called “Sproot” and for a very long time Gilead’s only named name was “Piggle”. Henry has a fascination obsession with words and how they sound, so what was once an accident or a passtime has become an object of real consternation: finding a “creature name.”
IMG_9790

{Here she is a coule of weeks ago. I just can’t get over how beautiful she is!}

008IMG_8745

{Here are the boys at roughly the same age, for comparison. She looks like a Shuffle, doesn’t she?}

We started calling her “Gwil” – or something like that – in imitation of Wyatt who has to be schooled in proper pronouns every time he refers to her. (My favorite was Wyatt, during a diaper-change he was observing, remarking to Henry: “He has a seashell. He has a seashell on his penis.” We are not used to girls around here. So we tell him, “she’s a girl” and he says, “Oh. She’s a gwil.”) But we couldn’t think of something unique that would stick though we were trying every day for weeks. Eventually, Henry said it to me and I laughed and it stuck. Our daughter’s nickname is Gwillis. I call her Gwillies.

IMG_9774 IMG_9775 IMG_9776

She is actually named after some righteous women, though. In both senses of the word. Virginia was Henry’s Grandma Shuffle’s middle name. He never met her. She died of lung cancer the year before he was born. His grandfather – with whom he had a special relationship and who died two years ago at the age of 103 – called her “Jin” or “Jinny.” The first Thanksgiving I spent at his house when we were dating, he handed me a wedding picture of theirs straight out of the photo album because I said I wanted to copy one. The man was known for being hospitable and generous, but what I hear of Jinny from Henry’s dad and uncles was that she was home. It’s something I feel passionate about because I think it’s disappearing. In fact, all of my children have names that reflect our feelings about home and that will hopefully remind us, and them, to be brave. All three of her names are reminders to us of real, and fictional, brave women: Ginny (Harry Potter. Because it wouldn’t be a Shuffle name if it wasn’t somehow derived from nerdy literature), Eowyn (Tolkien) and Louise, which means warrior. Funnily enough, there are two family names we’ve used that have stood for multiple grandparents. Wyatt’s “Robert” is after both of my grandfathers. Louise was both my Grandma Swank’s and Henry’s Grandma Zaffke’s middle names. I eulogized (is that a word?) at my Grandma’s funeral that she was a mighty woman. She did everything. And she taught me to sew. I miss her all the time. I wish she’d been able to meet this one.

IMG_9782


A Glimpse of Heaven From My Bed

February 17, 2015

IMG_9725

I think this may have been the day after we got home from the hospital. It’s a blur, but I can tell from how she fits into these preemie size pajamas (she doesn’t fit anymore) that it was early on. When we left the hospital, Ginny weighed 4 lbs. 3 oz. She now weighs north of 6.5 lbs. In under three weeks! In the words of my doula: “you have cream.”

I sat here for a minute trying to come up with the one impression to sum up my birth experience with Ginny and the feeling that stands out – stronger than the fear and pain and stress that preceded it all – is that of profound rest when I finally sank into my bed in my new home. My mom and one of my best friends, Megan, were in the house caring for my sons and making a delicious dinner. There were flowers and tiny gold baby shoes waiting for me on my table and I got to hold my daughter and just sleep with her in my arms for the first time since she’d been born. I know so many people have to wait so much longer for this moment (like another client of my doula’s who had also been planning a home birth, went unexpectedly pre-eclamptic and was induced two days later. Her son had heart surgery this past week, so she still hasn’t gotten to hold him in the comfort of her home. My heart goes out to her every day.) but it’s the first time I haven’t gotten to immediately hold and cuddle and sleep with one of my babies. I had the thought before I crashed into sleep that this, undoubtedly, was a bit of how heaven would feel: the feeling of having fled from terror and pain into the embrace of perfect peace and rest.

IMG_9707 IMG_9709 IMG_9711 IMG_9715 IMG_9717 IMG_9718 IMG_9722

Aside from that I’ve been trying to decide what’s worth telling. This morning I have to confess that I’ve gotten angry with my kids several times because of various thing preventing me from writing this post. It seems like such a small thing to want to do. I keep thinking surely it’s not selfish to want to write this post. But my babies need me and staring at a screen doesn’t count as being present. Right now they are watching PBS kids so we can all calm down but I just can’t keep parenting this way, so this may be my last post for a long time. I wish I could write all of the things in my head about television and attachment and bonding and joy and parenting but I think I’m not mean to write right now while I’m in the trenches. Perhaps, even, what I write right now doesn’t even have much significance! 🙂

Anyway…the birth was very different from my other two. I was prepared to be in labor for much longer because it was an induction. From the time I knew it would be an induction I was also prepared to accept an epidural if I needed one and was trying to be prepared for the possibility of a c-section. It all ended up going about as well as could be expected while spiraling down from health to a dangerous end of my pregnancy. I went, in 16 or 17 days, from thinking I was in a perfectly normal and healthy pregnancy and expecting to give birth at home to having a preemie in the hospital. The steps in between are hardly relevant anymore. There were a lot of doctor visits and many tests and tears. I was very afraid, when it came to the day before I would be induced. That afternoon I put my boys down for their naps thinking there was at least a chance we’d never see each other again in this life. I knew I probably would be fine, but I couldn’t help trying to leave them with a sweet memory in case this was goodbye.

I ended up going to the ER the night before my scheduled induction because my BP skyrocketed and I was feeling even worse than I had been. It turns out I’d gotten the stomach bug Wyatt had that morning. He’d thrown up on me before I left the house to go have my long ultrasound. They gave me a dose of Cervidil at 10:30 p.m. and it felt a lot like the gradual beginning of natural labor, except that I hadn’t been able to eat anything all that afternoon and evening and was super weak and shaky. In the early morning I started throwing up and couldn’t keep any liquid down. The contractions were getting a lot harder, too, and I couldn’t really get out of bed to deal with them because of feeling so weak and because they wanted to have the monitor on Ginny as much as possible.

I just re-read my post about my experience giving birth to Wyatt. I wrote about feeling pretty lonely the whole time. If I’d had more energy to reflect this time I’d probably have said I felt more alone than I ever have. I spent most of my laboring time with only a sleeping or sleepy husband to accompany me. I didn’t even have a friend in the state and hadn’t thought even to bring music. It was just me and Jesus in a dark hospital room and some texts from friends. I think the fear kept me from feeling the loneliness. And the prayers from ya’ll.

There were two points at which things got inexplicably better. One was after the neonatologist came to talk to us about how our baby would be doing when she was born. I literally threw up in the middle of talking to him but he reassured us that our baby would probably be fine and be able to come to me and nurse right away. He also assured us that nothing would be wrong with her long-term despite my having been told she was in the 3rd percentile size-wise and that she hadn’t been getting what she needed in the womb for a long time. Shortly after he left I got some anti-nausea meds, which probably helped too but when I was re-telling this story a couple weeks ago I realized that period when the darkness lifted coincided with the original time I’d told people I’d be induced and many people didn’t know I’d come in the night before so they were probably praying at that moment.

I labored on for a few hours with renewed strength after that. I couldn’t eat anything but the meds were helping me not feel so shaky and I’d stopped throwing up at least. The next moment when things really changed for the better was when I got the epidural. I have two thoughts about this: one is that I probably would have been able to get through the induction without it if I’d been able to use the tub or be more mobile and the other is that I’m so grateful it was an option for me and that my doula didn’t shame me for it. My decision to get one was based on being weak, not being able to eat or drink much, knowing I may have hours and hours to go (I was at 4 cm dilated with a thick cervix) and needing to lie down and rest if I could (This was Thursday late morning. I’d been awake since 4 a.m. Wednesday morning and had gotten an average of 5 hours of sleep for weeks before that). It was absolutely the best decision for that moment. I just felt so grateful when the contractions got weaker and – at least for 30 minutes or so – went away altogether. I needed a rest.

I didn’t actually get to sleep! The end came much more quickly than any expected.

The epidural probably kicked in at about 2:30, Henry got lunch and then we settled in for a rest with the lights off. I tried to sleep between being turned from side to side every 15 minutes but not long after the first or second turn I could feel contractions getting stronger through epidural. I’d gotten one dose of pitocin and she’d turned it up once so I thought that was probably why. I made a mental note to ask if they would wait to turn up the pit for awhile so I would get more of a chance to rest. The contractions got closer together and I started to feel a twinge of nausea after one would subside. I don’t know why I didn’t think it was the nausea meds wearing off, I just didn’t. I started to think maybe I was in transition. I mentioned the pain returning to the nurse and she said I should just use my extra dose of epidural – which I did – then she turned me on my right side and left the room.

This is the crazy hilarious part. Get ready for it.

As soon as she turned me (this was probably 3:47 or so) the contractions got super intense and there was no let-up. I was having to moan my way through them even WITH the epidural. The ONLY time I’d ever experienced this in the past was when pushing was imminent but I didn’t want to cry wolf. I also had to throw up, so I woke Henry up to get me a bucket. I added, reluctantly, that he should probably tell the nurse that I thought I might be in transition and call Courtenay. I dimly remember him doing that as I was on my side trying to position the bucket so I could puke. Then I dimly remember the nurse coming in as I threw up and my water broke and saying to her afterward, “yep, it’s transition. My water just broke.” She was moving around doing various urgent things as I threw up again and said “I just felt her move down” and I truly don’t know what, if anything, had time to transpire before my third puke that PUSHED MY DAUGHTER OUT to which I replied “a whole bunch of stuff just came out.”

A whole bunch of stuff.

Stuff.

The only reason I can think for saying it like that was that I didn’t want to admit I’d just puked a baby out and didn’t wait for the doctor or possibly that she was so tiny and in her caul that it didn’t feel like a baby at all – just a bunch of stuff. Seriously. It did NOT feel like a baby at all. And I could feel it. It wasn’t because of being numb. Epidurals don’t actually prevent you from feeling the “ring of fire” sensation of pushing. I just didn’t feel it.

Anyway…

The nurse came over and lifted my blanket (yes. I was still covered in a blanket, on my side, with all the lights off) and said into her walkie-talkie “and…we have a baby.”

Oh man, was that doctor in a controlled panic. She was obviously not ready for this. None of us were. Henry was standing by my side, stunned. He couldn’t muster a word for a good 5 minutes. I was trying not to crush my daughter with my leg, worried there was something wrong with her because of his expression as he looked down, and sad that I couldn’t really see her. Apparently she was covered in a thick layer of vernix. In 10 seconds we had roughly 50-100 people in the room (Oh, hi med student I chatted with this morning! welcome to my vagina!) and everyone calmed down when it became clear that Ginny was fine (crying, pink and perfect. We got a thumbs up from Dr. Boxwalla [the neonatologist] and she came to me about 2 minutes later) and that I hadn’t just ripped my lower body in half puking out a baby. In fact, the first smile my OB cracked was when she looked up at me and said, dryly, “no lacerations.”

The other awesome thing about my epidural was that because I gave birth so soon after I got it, it was still in effect for a lot of the after-birth contractions which suck so badly.

Ginny had to spent about 15 hours in the special nursery and I got almost no sleep for the ensuing two days while at the hospital, but that is all done now and feels like ancient history. I’m just so grateful it all ended up the way it did. I’m also grateful I’m not still pregnant. I totally could have been still pregnant as I write this. Her due date was yesterday. And I’m grateful for you all – for your love and support and timely words and prayers. I couldn’t have done it without you.


Blood, Brazen Poetry and Bad Dancing

February 9, 2015

I’m working on a post about Ginny’s birth, but it’s slow going so I’m just going to write about a few random funny things if that’s okay.

So, I watched some of the Grammys last night. It was about what I expected. It’s funny to watch something like that when you never do. I find I look at it all with a kind of detachment that makes the spectacle funny. I can’t take any of it very seriously. Like Madonna, for instance. Did anyone else think she looked vaguely arthritic while she was dancing? I also caught the Lady Gaga Tony Bennet duet. I’ve never really seen her perform so this is just my first off-the-cuff impression. I thought she nailed that style vocally but watching her perform I thought, “this is a woman who is NEVER off stage. She’s incredibly self-conscious.” Her performance was flawless but I had the impression she knew what every molecule in her body was doing at any given time and was in tight control of them all. I wouldn’t want to be her in a million years. I guess that’s not funny…just interesting.

A couple weeks ago on our way home from church this Hozier song came on. I mean, THE Hozier song came on. Can I just ask what’s up with the white British boys who sound like black men on the radio? It’s disconcerting when you find out what they really look like! And Meghan Trainor…also not black. Sorry…anyway, I made Henry let me listen to it (he usually flips to NPR automatically) and we got to talking about how much we love this song. I said there was something appealing about the lyrics even though they kind of use religion in a non-religious way. Henry said he thought it was good poetry. He said it was brazen, like a passage from Moby Dick – which he finally just finished reading – where they do a mock communion about catching the whale. It’s not holy, but it’s kind of powerful used sparingly. Anyway, I just like everything about the song. And, OK, I bought the album today. Did anyone see this last night? Gah! Totally worth watching the Grammys to see. I had chills. Then I proceeded to hear the song all. night. long. in my dreams. I woke up from a dream where I was sitting at a piano vainly wishing I could play and sing it and arguing, a la Wheaton College days, with a couple of random young men and my sister about the finer points of theology and culture w/r/t church and sex. I was on the point of using Henry’s example to back up my liking of the song when I woke up. Guess I liked it a little TOO much. 🙂

So…on Friday – my second day home by myself with all three kids – I was sitting on our sun porch nursing Ginny when I heard an altercation upstairs followed by Wyatt crying. Nothing out of the ordinary. I figured he’d come to me if it was bad enough. He usually does this. After a few minutes with no abatement in crying Gilead came to me and casually mentioned that Wyatt wanted me because he’d hit Wyatt on the head with a block but that it had been an accident. I sighed and put Ginny in the crib (where she proceeded to cry for me…what the heck, mom?) and stomped to the stairs. I looked up to see this:

carrie_1976_1

It was funny later, I promise. He was more upset about the blood he could see on his hands than the pain in his head. It was a very minor cut, it just bled a lot. After a bath and some ibuprofen, he was fine. But just picture me sitting in the bathroom on a stool holding and trying to nurse Ginny with one arm while I sobbed and tried to mop up a sobbing Wyatt with the other and, in between sobs, admonishing an whimpering Gilead in the doorway not to hit people because he could really hurt them. It must have been an awe-inspiring scene. Good times.


Triage

January 8, 2015

Triage

I have been meditating on this word a lot these last few weeks. How fitting that Arvo Part’s “Magnificat” comes on as I sit down to write this post. Literally, just as I started to write.

Latin

English

Magnificat anima mea Dominum.

My soul doth magnify the Lord,

Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo.

and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae: Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.

For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est : et sanctum nomens eius.

For he that is mighty hath magnified me; and holy is His name.

Et misericordia eius a progenie in progenie timentibus eum.

And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo: dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.

He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

Deposuit potentes de sede; et exeltavit humiles.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and the meek.

Esurientes implevit bonis: et divites dimisit inanes.

He hath filled the hungry with goood things and the rich he hath sent empty away.

Suscepit Israel, puerum suum, recordatus misericordiae suae.

He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel;

Sicit locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semini eius in saecula.

as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed, for ever.

Even in the midst of this all, I hear that I am not forgotten and that He still wants all the same things for, and from, me.

I have been in triage pretty much continuously, lately. Literally and figuratively. I found out this morning that’s not likely to change any time soon. More on this later. What I mean by this is that we have been reacting, rather than planning or able to see the road ahead for more than a day or so, for weeks and even months. I never knew how much I counted on my delusions of being able to see ahead until this was taken away – particularly in the realm of my health and my visions for childbirth. But really, it extends to every place in my heart and in my life right now. I have daily bread and that has had to be enough.

The good news is that we made it. We are through something – if not everything – and there is some amount of rest now after a peak in activity and stress the likes of which I haven’t experienced in my life as an adult for at least a very long time. The closest I can compare it to in my own experience was my postpartum time with Wyatt – and even that pales. I feel so incredibly exhausted – emotionally, physically, mentally – that it surprises me when I still have the ability to cry about something! Unexpected hard parts are the cold this week and that being on Eastern time means the sun doesn’t rise until after Henry leaves for work and sets long before he gets home. I knew on some level before we moved that this would feel like hope coming out of a dark place – and so I was, and am, grateful that it happened in the very midst of Advent and Christmas. The living out of this reality is, well, more real than my fancy made it beforehand. It’s just gritty. I’ve never felt so weak.

To avoid wallowing and also repeating all of the hard things in yet another form, let me just say that since the week before Christmas, it’s been one new crisis after another. I’ve been in triage taking non-stress tests starting in Chicago (I spent 4 hours by myself with no phone there on Christmas Eve…I felt very sad for myself) because of some swelling that felt alarming to me and ultimately because my blood pressure is getting higher. I found out this morning that I am throwing very elevated levels of protein – which is starting to point to preeclampsia. So I will continue to spend a good amount of time in triage in the next six weeks. And I hope very much that it IS six weeks – I could be looking at a more emergent situation. Of course, there was the actual packing and moving and then the loss of both of our phones, basically, being out of touch with everyone I loved and having no home for a few days – I realize now THAT’S the hard part about moving! No home!! I felt so grateful we were lucky enough to have a home to go to. Our homelessness was very temporary. Our minivan keys were lost on moving day which set up a whole cascade of other problems we had to deal with and then right on the heels of that my blood pressure problems started to emerge. We spent the early morning in the ER the day Henry was supposed to start his new job.

So, along the way there have been everyday miracles. Henry’s mom and stepdad spent a week with us helping to unpack, cook, clean, do laundry and take care of boys so that I could rest a lot. And they brought presents! And bought groceries! It was the first real rest I’ve gotten in so long. And, of course, we had meals and gifts and outings paid for by all of our friends in Chicago before we left. We had incredible times of reconnection with people that will sustain us while we try to find a foothold here. We had such love and care demonstrated to us by those who came to help us move – I can’t even find words to say how grateful we are. And we’ve had a wonderful welcome at our new church here. It’s amazing to feel as though we are still at home somewhere.

So, I wanted to just share some photos of our Christmas morning making cinnamon rolls in our crazy, packed-up apartment. That day was a little oasis on the journey. And I wanted to take some photos of our new, light-filled little house just as it is right now. It’s messy and we are still in our pajamas and things probably won’t get much more unpacked or decorated than they are right now for a long, long time. I am perfectly okay with that. I can’t believe it’s even as nice as it is now. It’s totally due to my sister, husband and in-laws. I wanted to focus on the things making me happy right now in pictures. Exhausting as it is right now, there’s still so much that’s good and hopeful and ordinarily wonderful. This day, for instance. I don’t have to go anywhere and my boys are still happily playing in the house. I don’t care how dirty it gets in here, I consider that a raging success.

 IMG_9676IMG_9650

{He’s such a beautiful boy, don’t you think?}

IMG_9657

{trying out a silly face for the camera}

IMG_9636

{helping mommy make the frosting}

IMG_9639IMG_9646     IMG_9613IMG_9612IMG_9666

{Hot chocolate. Lots of little indulgences going on around here lately}

IMG_9680IMG_9667IMG_9671     IMG_9625

{my helpers sprinkled sugar onto the buttered dough}

IMG_9630 IMG_9640

IMG_9687

{The view from our living room into the dining room. In this picture, the front door would be behind and to my right. I love that my grandma’s dishes are in a place that actually makes sense. We all love and delight in our new cuckoo clock from Germany that was a Christmas gift from Henry’s mom and stepdad…but the boys are especially delighted}

IMG_9688

{The view from our front door into the hallway (to the left) and the dining room. The kitchen is directly opposite the camera’s viewpoint. I had forgotten all about the wingback chairs we were to be given. When they showed up on moving day – via the wonderful Nancy (Henry’s stepmom) along with the dining table and chairs and the boys’ new beds – I was initially distressed not knowing where they’d fit, but we are using them and they are very much needed. Not to mention adding a ton of style to our living room!}

IMG_9697

IMG_9699 IMG_9698   IMG_9695IMG_9696

{This is the beautiful, but cold, sunporch off of our bedroom, which is at the back of the house. I also got a pile of vintage sheets from Henry’s grandpa’s house. Don’t those just make you happy? Lots of Ginny dresses in their future}

IMG_9694 IMG_9693

{The view of our neighborhood out of our dining room window. A close-up of the cuckoo clock}

IMG_9692 IMG_9691

{Gilead’s wild hair today, with his picture of “blood.” Book ends from Henry’s grandpa. Another unexpected and lovely gift}

IMG_9690 IMG_9689

{The kitchen from both sides. As you can see, so much space. There’s a little alcove to the left containing a huge refrigerator and room for a big, messy pile of recycling plus promising space for wall shelves or hooks. That’s my ikea shelf, which I love, and the perfect nook for coffee and toast. Pantry to the left and one of my Christmas gifts from Henry: a Rifle Paper Co. 2015 calendar. It was the first thing to go up on the wall.}

IMG_9685

{Our room. JUST enough space for the king bed fit along the back wall, leaving plenty of room for dressers so that I can have my craft table on the sunporch. Not that I’ll be sewing for a while. 🙂 }


A Garden of Wildflowers – God’s love for Detroit and me (and, incidentally, we’re moving there)

December 12, 2014

IS1jzyxxvjgsxh1000000000

{This title comes from a conversation I had with a dear friend the other night. I thought it was apt. Also, here is what is probably going to be our own little slice of heaven in Berkley, MI.}

I can hardly believe this is happening, let alone in two and a half weeks. I have to sit and collect my thoughts to write this post. I really thought I would not be writing this. Ever. A year and a half ago, when my baby Wyatt was an infant, I was driving to a dentist appointment. I remember, because I was alone and it felt like a break even though I was going to the dentist. I remember cruising down highway 53 listening to NPR and hearing that Detroit had filed for bankruptcy. I really want to remember, or to be able to find the program I was listening to, but there was an author being interviewed about the kinds of things Detroit would need to do to rebuild, based on his knowledge of how things had been rebuilt in other midwestern cities in similar situations. I can’t even remember which cities he listed or all of the things he was prescribing. Great beginning, huh?

I just remember starting to picture myself going to a place like that: to picture the kind of lifelong dedication it would take – on such a large scale – to turn a dying city around. I had checked out a book for Gilead called The Curious Garden. It’s a story of a restoration project that was done in Brooklyn, turning miles of abandoned train track into garden.

the_curious_gardenthecuriousgarden_011715176_orig curious-garden2

It was those illustrations in my head, along with the pictures I’ve seen over the years of blighted Detroit.

feral-houses-by-james-griffioen-6 tumblr_mqjea3tZ9h1qzf1kjo1_500 United-Artists-Theater-in-006

It was like someone was putting his vision into my brain, connecting disparate ideas and images like a moving picture. As this author talked, I saw gardens growing (he wasn’t talking about gardens, just to be clear) and whole communities of people buying homes and moving into neighborhoods together. I saw asphalt turned into jungle. Along with these images came a growing sense of longing and urgency in my heart. It was so intense it was like a physical groan that I couldn’t get out. I found myself beginning to cry out for this vision to be realized. It felt like I wasn’t one voice, but part of a chorus of tiny voices all crying together for the same thing – even though we didn’t all know what we were crying out for. The aftermath of that vision was that I continued to feel a profound love for Detroit – for that specific piece of land and the people living there even though I’d never been there and didn’t know if I knew any of them at all.

At that stage of learning to hear the voice of Jesus, I still wasn’t totally sure how to place emotions I was feeling or imaginative visions I saw that fell in this category: they felt partly like me but partly coming out of nowhere. I hear stories on NPR that make me sad all the time. Sometimes they even move me to tears. Hardly ever do they make me feel like my whole being is groaning toward a certain place or people group. Perhaps this is what intercessory prayer ought to feel like more and more as I (hopefully) grow closer to the Lord and am trusted and blessed with seeing His heart for more of the world. Part of me hopes this is the case: it is a new intimacy with another being I never thought possible. Part of me hopes to stay on the safe side and not experience this more than I have to. It’s very overwhelming. Part of the reason for this could be that, as I discovered quite recently, I am actually a highly sensitive person. Those who know me well (or maybe even those who don’t know me very well) have probably sensed this and refrained from rubbing it in my face, but I certainly was in the dark until a few weeks ago when a Huffington Post article on Highly Sensitive People “randomly” popped up in my Facebook feed. I know someone who self-identifies (and has been diagnosed) as such and always thought I was not in that category. Little did I know, my husband has known this all along. Maybe Jesus meant for me to find out for myself and only after having been able to experience some of the “pros” of being an HSP. I don’t know. All I know is, I took that test and so many things fell into place in my mind – just like when I re-took the Myers-Briggs this year with Henry helping me to answer more honestly and came out as a INFP instead of a “J.” It’s highly surprising and highly freeing. All of this is to say: not everyone is meant to experience God’s heart this way and if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you can’t hear Jesus’ voice. For me, it was a matter of experimenting with – and ultimately coming to trust because it has become clear when my intuitions and prophetic words line up with scripture – the idea that I am actually hearing from God in my imagination. When I finally GOT that idea – that maybe God was trying to use my tears or sense of being moved by something in order to transmit a message to me, the floodgates opened. I began to realize just. how. often. Jesus was shouting at me and how I’d always written it off as the weakness of being a woman. The next step in this process was that I began to understand it as primarily a gift to be used for the edification of others – just like in scripture, right? The branch doesn’t bear fruit for itself.

Anyway, this kind of thing kept happening. I would go back to my normal life and forget about Detroit – forget I’d ever felt the things I’d felt – and then I’d stumble on an article or hear another something on the radio or find out someone was from there and I hadn’t known. And I’d feel those same things or remember again what it felt like to feel those same things. One day at nap time I was in my dark bedroom nursing Wyatt. I’d probably just read something online or whatever, but I decided to pray about it while I was rocking instead of pushing it out of my mind. I remember feeling like this act of prayer was simply acquiescing to this little question – will you let me in? I remember feeling the love and burden and longing for this city flood me again and I remember shaking with sobs, tears running down my face (a pretty common occurrence; not alarming). And the longing – it’s the best way I can describe it – became so intense that I felt I could not feel God’s feelings for the injustice and pain and blight and His vision for what He wants to make happen and just go on the same way I was before. I could reject it, and know that I had rejected it, or I could say yes. I could say, with all my heart, that I would go there if He wanted me to go there, even though I had no idea how it could possibly happen or what I could possibly do there once I got there. At the time, Henry was unemployed and a month away from starting an accelerated accounting masters. We were untethered and could see nothing beyond staying afloat long enough to finish the program in order to finally start his real career.

If you are a lover of Tolkien, like me, you will perhaps forgive me for referencing the Council of Elrond. It’s one of my top three favorite moments in the whole work when Frodo – after all of the wise have said their piece and it becomes clear that the ring has to be taken to Mordor and that the powerful couldn’t be entrusted with the task – says simply: “I will take the ring, though I do not know the way.” This is the moment when everything changes – especially when you have read the story already. Every time I hear those words again (once a year, in the voice of Rob Inglis) I pray that I would speak them truly, again and again. The more times you read the story, the more you see the hand of invisible powers at work in it – without which careful orchestration events wouldn’t line up the way they do. It’s why Gandalf is adamant that Gollum be allowed to live and why it’s so important for Frodo that he trusts Gandalf.

So, without knowing why it even mattered because I STILL have no clue what difference I could possibly make to the city of Detroit, I said to Jesus that of course I would go if He wanted me to go. I couldn’t see love like that and not respond. And then I was at peace. I said to the Lord: of course You know You have to somehow get my husband there.

*******************************

To be clear: I still don’t really WANT to move. I have called this place home for 14 years now – far longer than any one location in my entire life before college. In a lot of ways I’ve been parented by Church of the Resurrection. I’ve met Jesus here in ways that have deeply touched and changed my entire being. I’ve grown in my faith. I’ve nestled myself down into a fat little nest. Yes, we’re cramped in our two bedroom apartment. Yes, this area is expensive to live in. Yes, I do feel out of place here a lot of times. But it’s home. So many of my friends live here.

But we are moving. In 2 1/2 weeks.

When Henry started looking for jobs this Summer, we knew it was both a long shot he would get the kind of job he needed to support a family of 5 right away and that it seemed absolutely imperative that he do so. When his mentor – who is an accountant – reached out to everyone who owed him a favor, letting them know Henry existed and was looking, I just wasn’t surprised that it turned out to be Detroit. I knew, immediately, that the Lord had given me all of that time to think about Detroit – that He’d asked me, totally apart from my husband or our family, if I was willing to go there – because He loves me. Because He wanted to prepare my heart to accept something more easily than I could have otherwise. And He knew that somehow, in the way my crazy brain works, I would get excited about the renewal taking place. Detroit is not yet, really, a hip place to live – or even very safe (we opted for a rental home in the northern suburbs instead of looking in the city for now) – but there are exciting things happening.

The reality of moving and of seeing the city has been far more detailed and sometimes overwhelming than those pictures in my imagination. I still don’t really know if or how I might serve that city. But I know moving there is a good first step, haha. Jesus has given me the gift of seeing this all unfold: first He put the love and desire for this city in my heart, then He moved me to want to live there even though I don’t understand it and am leaving my comfort zone to do so, and then He provided the ONLY job offer Henry has received in 5 years of searching and it just happens to be an amazing career opportunity and enough money for us to live on. Even if only to me, this looks very much like a miracle.


The source of my contentment in the midst of being poorer and fatter than ever.

August 19, 2014

 

20140601_171333

{This is me in June or July – mostly covered by Gilead, but you can see it in my face. I’ve gained more weight since then because of pregnancy.}

il_570xN.92833910

{This is me circa 2009 after having lost 30 lbs. I keep obsessing over looking this way again. Then again, I did have virtually all of my time to myself at that point.}

Ugh. It’s 10:19 on a Tuesday and I haven’t showered, haven’t made my grocery list, haven’t dressed the kids – who are watching Monsters Inc. so as not to (gasp!) play and disturb the downstairs neighbor while I finish trying to write an email. As usual, I have spent some time reading articles instead of getting ready and then flipped over to Pinterest for a moment. I shouldn’t spend time on this, but today it inspired me to write this post:

I am a recovering materialist. It came home freshly to me the other day when I picked up an Anthropologie catalogue and a Boden kids catalogue from the recycling container in our foyer just for fun – something I haven’t done in a long time. I think they stopped sending them to me when they realized I’m not going to buy anything from them. It gave me a new perspective on something I’ve been struggling with for years now.

Since I had my first son I have been carrying around various amounts of extra weight that I don’t want. Amidst trying to cope with two pregnancies (well, now three) and two kids right in a row, I have only started to acquire the discipline to actually make most of our meals instead of buying frozen pizza or getting take-out. I know a lot of moms who are better at this, and who are better at eating healthily but for me this is an almighty struggle. So, I haven’t made a drastic change to our diet that I keep fantasizing about. I had dreamed and planned to lose the excess weight before getting pregnant with our third but then we made the intentional decision to be more open and less plan-happy with the begetting of children (a whole other post which I may or may not get into here), and here we are. I’m just struggling to accept what things are now without despairing that I will ever have a healthier diet and lose the extra weight.

But here’s what I realized. I keep remembering this period of time after we got married and had put on a bunch of weight and then gotten on Weight Watchers and lost a bunch as a really happy time for me. And what I have been remembering is actually a few isolated moments of “happiness” that involved the buying of new clothes. When I picked up that catalogue I was reminded of how I spent the majority of my thought energy at that time – it was in scheming how we could afford for me to wear J Crew and Anthropologie clothing. (On one level I think this is hilarious because it shows how middle-class are my aspirations. I had no yearnings toward designer clothing, even though I’ve always been an avid watcher of Project Runway. And I love me some Ellie Saab and Marchesa (can I get an amen?). On another level it’s really sad that my virtual environment has me pegged so well – that I have put myself into a position to be sold-to at such a relentless pace) I was actually very dissatisfied and unhappy with my life. The loss of weight had only reinforced the idea that I could improve my life by making myself into the images I saw.

Circumstances since then have put us – and me in particular because there is less reason for me to have a lot of new clothing – in a place far removed from the possibility of affording clothing from those stores. Unless I happen to find something from J Crew at the Salvation Army (where I buy the bulk of my clothing). And I realized when I saw those catalogues that I’m actually, in that respect, so much happier and more content than I ever have been before in this respect. Even though I am much poorer and fatter than ever before.

In a kind of crazy revelation from God that I had on Saturday walking through the city to Ogilvy from North Ave. beach I started to see the polished newness of all of the stores and the glam appearance of many passersby in a new light. Juxtaposed with the many homeless people on the side of the street, I had the sense that not only were the homeless people suffering (indeed, that was obvious) but that all of those other people (myself included) – all of the bunches of teenagers and svelt couples in their twenties dressed so trendily and middle-aged women with huge rocks on their fingers – were suffering just as badly, if not worse. I began to see the oppression under which we all labor to be people, to be purely ourselves who we were made to be, to be holy (that is, set apart for beauty). I began to feel that never-satisfied hunger radiating out at me: the hunger to be seen, to be known, to be loved. And those edifices took on a new significance. I recognized, dimly, the longing I still have to go into Pottery Barn and just look at all the perfection; To be able to buy whatever I want and to feel a part of something that is socially enviable. But I saw, also, the utter emptiness those stores promised me. For a long time I have hated that on my own behalf, but this time I looked around – into the eyes of some of those precious souls surrounding me and I hated it on their behalf much more. I guess you could say that for a minute or two, I saw things as they really were – in the way Jesus sees them.

My secret is really no secret except for the mercy of Jesus in keeping me from those things which targeted my weakness by the simple expediency of having a lot less money. The longer I’m kept from them, the easier it is to be okay with having just what I need and not everything I want. I keep telling myself that “if we just had more money” I could go to the gym every day and blah, blah, blah and feel better about myself and blah blah blah and have a better life. The other mercy of Jesus is just His gentle reminder that even when I had what I thought I needed to make me happy, it didn’t make me happy.


{pfhr}

February 27, 2014

IMG_9396

{happy}

This is my new nalgene. I lost my old one somewhere in Minnesota after Christmas. I got a great lakes sticker for it, which I just love. Those are carrot banana paleo muffins – sans any type of sugar – and that makes me happy because they were delicious and we’re back in the saddle. Plus the cake stand and dome makes me happy because I love bell jars and I finally have one of my own.

IMG_9387

{funny}

This is Piggle’s first picture using the big heavy camera. Well, one of his first. It was on the multi-picture setting, so we got quite a few of this corner of the play room.

IMG_9397

{real}

Paleo chick-fil-a. It did not taste like chick-fil-a but it was delicious. And after all that work (most of these are in our freezer now), neither of my sons wanted to even taste one. Sigh.

IMG_9372

 

{pretty}

I love this quality of light and his little mouth making train noises. Getting rid of our t.v. has been unbelievably hard and unbelievably successful. Meaning, I’m seeing improvements in all areas: language, obedience, play, creativity. Also, I’m now VERY aware of the holes in his “education” thus far. Like, how he doesn’t know how to help clean up. Oops. Or sit at the table for a meal. But one step at a time. I find that, being engaged in life myself now, I am more able to be clear-headed about what needs to happen to get him where he needs to be, on a moment by moment basis. And that is worth getting rid of anything. I thought I couldn’t do motherhood without the break t.v. affords, and I find it’s actually quite the opposite. It was hindering me from much more than I thought. It wasn’t that I was constantly watching it myself (although it was happening far too often), it was that getting rid of that voice made everything else so much more clear.