Topsy Turvy

What has now been many weeks ago, I had a sore throat, that turned into a sinus infection, that turned into a general malaise. You know, raspy voice, some late night hacking, and lots of Nyquil. I was dragging, ready to feel like myself again, and get on with the Spring that had so beautifully presented itself here in Tulsa. I was also increasingly annoyed that my very regular 28 day cycle had failed to show up by day 33, and so on a trip to Target to buy Easter basket goodies, I popped down the isle with the pregnancy tests (they give you 3 now?), and thought, just to put my mind at ease. I had already googled if Nyquil could delay your cycle, so I was all good and confident and it could and most likely had. But you know, just in case. Because dear Jesus, I am 41.  Just this past week I had been fantasizing about having both kids in school every day - a chance to work some more and finally do some projects around our house. The at home years were finally coming to an end, and though I have loved being home with them, I was welcoming this new season. I could see it, so bright and clear on the horizon. If freedom looked like a rainbow, I could see it stretching from one end of the sky to the other.

And so after checking out, I thought, let's just go to that family bathroom and get this over with so I can get on with my day. I'll save you the suspense, the line turned blue with lightning speed.

Positively Pregnant.

I will not lie. I was not happy. Which is sort of ironic,  because for years. YEARS -  We faced that brutal reality that so  many couples face of being labeled as "infertile". All the tests. All the months. Over and Over and Over. It's as sad as it sounds. And we were surrounded by babies. Friends having babies. Sisters having babies. Name a Saturday, there was a baby shower happening. We were newly married, rounding into our 30's, and things were not going as planned. Nothing was going as planned, in fact. Because not only were we not pregnant, we were moving. To Tulsa. Home of no mountains, no beaches, nothing but prairie and wind.

Even so,  we trusted all the signs that we knew to trust, and carried our youthful optimism on our backs and said yes to Tulsa. 

And then, beyond all hopes, we got pregnant with our Sweet Annie Ruth. What? Can we put on the breaks?. Can we not move? Can we not enter into this unknown amongst more unknowns? 

What followed were sweet and hard, hard years. I would not have chosen that path. Raising one baby and then shortly after another one in the company of strangers. Even so, God placed his little ebenezers  along the way, as to assure me that we had not misstepped, that He had not caused our feet to slip. It was not as desperate as it could be, I would remind myself, and after many empty armed years, mine were finally full. 

We had many many dinners over those early years, where we would retrace our steps, and they always led us here. Everytime. Through tears, we would recount God's faithfulness, and yet, we still felt the ache of the lonely path we had set our feet to.

Slowly, very slowly, those lonely days started to dwindle, and were met with a sweet and dear community that I have to come to cherish, with deepest gratitude. It came in the form of precious coworkers, church friends,  neighbors, and our school family. Anne Lamott says two things (well, many things), but two things I really love. God is a show off and Grace always bats last. True and True.

What most people don't know, is that we actually wanted another baby. We were very open to another life in our home, but that long streak of infertility seemed to visit us again and we were coming to a place of peace that our family was complete. In fact, I had very much rounded that corner in my heart. I was ready for the next decade. For life with kids who could read and converse. For the hassle of childcare to be off my plate. I was very much ready.

So this. This? I struggle to find the words in those early weeks. The nausea and fatigue, they overwhelm every sense of my being. Life slows down to a crippling, slow place. I live from cracker to cracker. It feels like I am standing in quick sand.

But there it is, that little baby on the screen above me, and the doctor turns up the volume so I can hear it. Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh. It's doing that 158 times per minute and all the tears fall. 

At 41, the landscape has already begun to do that shifting. Those developmental stages you learned about in Freshman Psychology are legit. It's like Jesus secretly gives you new glasses to see with in your sleep. You wake up at 41 and the world shifted. All the angles are different. Topsy Turvy.

At 41 you resign yourself to the fact that your days, however much I would like to escape its reality, are numbered. You understand the wisdom of settling in. You see a baby up on the screen, that is actually growing inside you, and you understand a bit what it means to laugh at the days to come. It seems better than fear. And fear is definitely the creeper that wants to steal the joy away. It's there, I feel it at my back, but I choose to laugh. I have to laugh.

So I was not exactly happy, This is true. But I am easing into the reality of another little one around here, and like all things, in time, it will make sense, the picture complete, and we'll wonder how life ever was going to be anything but this.

This week, all the family gathered around the ultrasound machine, which has become my biweekly ritual. I usually go alone, but I was ready for everyone to see, and thought it would help all of us wrap our heads around this growing reality. And there the little baby was, kicking and moving it's arms, waving at us from it's safe home. 

 

 

 

They are Brave

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth.... Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them across the net.” 
― E.B. White

Are you ever stunned by the conversations your kids are willing to have? How does the baby get into your tummy? When do you die? How is Jejus in the bread and wine? No answer really satisfies but the truest one. Me? I hear those questions, any real question, and I think, I clearly was not made of this kind of material. This is how you fall asleep.

At some point, and I don't think, at least for me, that it was a light switch moment, but at some point, everything that was raw and material and that ended in possible death became subjects beyond my fortitude. At some point, I got scared. I know my kids get scared. Their bravery is not completely unyielding, but they get scared of things like thunder. Loud sounds from the heavens. It's a proper fear. But death, angels, babies and The Holy Eucharist, they bend towards those things unflinching, dare I say with hunger.

I envy their ability to speak in plain verse. To speak about heaven without tears but imagination. Candor, their gift. It's as if they weave from heaven to earth on one sentence, never realizing how long that journey is. With ease, they speak of endings and beginnings. Their world, a strange diary of unicorns, death, rainbows, the hereafter, angels and dominions, fairies, princesses and ice cream. It is nothing short of bravery. And they have no idea.

GK Chesterton wrote,  "Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

 

Morning Pages | 3.21.17

"You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince."

Excerpt "On Turning 10" By: Billy Collins

I have one morning off this week, and it has welcomed me perfectly. A chill in the air, but not too cold. Birds chirping. My coffee, mostly finished, but still at my side. Millie is already in her cape. Today she'll be some character of her making, a princess, a fairy? My oldest is off at school. she's rounding the bend of childhood. One moment she's a wolf, a cat, and then I turn my head and she is Annie, asking to learn out to cook and sew and become a person in the world. She weaves in and out of her imagination, blissfully unaware of what's changing. 

When I was a child, we would drive to the Coast every Summer. Long stretches of highway, but as you neared, you could smell the salt in the air, the wind coming off the water. But you had to get up on the bluff to actually see the water, to know you had arrived. And when you did, it took your breath away. It was wide and wild, silencing and calming. And your smallness was never so in focus than at it's edge. 

"It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed."

I am thinking about these changes, as I watch my girls, and I realize that midlife feels strangely similar. I think, rather unknowingly, that I lived much of my adult life under the ruse of immortality. "If you cut me, I could shine".  But now,  as I come again to my own waters edge, I realize "I skin my knees, I bleed". Every season of life brings with it a moment of waking up. It's almost shocking, have I been asleep all this time? What exactly was I doing the last decade? I look at Millie, she's changed out of her cape and into her hiking gear. She's going somewhere. I am going somewhere, too. Maybe I was under the ruse of immortality, or maybe I was just living the life that was right in front of me. We do not live at the waters edge. We live inland, we are traveling to and fro, and when the time is right, we arrive to our next awakening. I see Annie and I approaching the waters edge. Millie is doing cartwheels behind us, blissfully unaware that the sea is just on the horizon, with it's wild and austere invitation. 

Too glim for a Tuesday morning? May I offer some comfort from Saint Anne Lamott, "100 years from now, all new people".  

I don't know why that makes me laugh, but it does. We're all in the same boat y'all. Same boat.

*Entire poem here: "On Turning 10" By: Billy Collins

 

 

Morning Pages | 3.18.17

"Rest isn’t our keeper; it’s our teacher. It prepares us to deal with the most painful and difficult challenges we’ll ever face."

Maria Goff

I've read 3 books this week. It was our Spring Break, and it was cold, grey and windy for most of the week, so we stayed put and I did a lot of reading. and napping. and reading. I could  list a million quotes highlighted from this week, but this one is the one that has settled in. Time is a gift, and extended time to settle in with any thought or thoughts, has proven to be a comfort for me. But with that open space, that blank slate, the rest - comes the opportunity to see oneself with more clarity. A waking up of sorts. This week provided space for words and conversations that felt hard, vulnerable. 

I feel a bit like Elizabeth Bennet, from Pride and Prejudice,  "Till this moment, I never knew myself".  Those words feel a bit dramatic, but taking a step back and looking at the landscape of your life can feel that way, especially when you've been looking at it with your face smashed against the glass for too long. So, when I read Maria's words, I thought yes. Rest is not our keeper but our teacherI have most certainly been taught this week. Stored up words and thoughts that I pray will undergird the days ahead. The rest gave me courage to face the things I would like to see shift and change. And it's pulled me back to see that life with your face smashed against the glass may not be the way I want to live my days. 

Maria goes on to say, "I stopped listening to the loudest voices in my life and started listening to the truest ones."  I don't know if it's the curse of the 9 ( look  up the enneagram:), but my inner peacemaker often defers to the loudest voice in any room. Listening to the truest voice takes more time, intention, and willingness to not compromise real peace for the immediate peace that deferring to whatever loud voice is beckoning my attention will give.

My life feels not unlike this photograph. Up close are these beautiful, whimsical people that swallow up my days with sweetness and chaos. But there is also the amazing mountain range rising up to the heavens behind them, and crystal clear water all around them. They are what is in focus, but there is beauty far in the distance that does not have to outrank or distract me from them, but rather it is the landscape that amplifies their beauty. 

 

 

Morning Pages | 3.15.17

I've spent the morning reading a book by Rebekah Lyons called  You are Free. I've read it rather tight fisted, because I hate to admit that freedom is something I struggle with. That my desire to please, impress, stay in good graces - whatever fill in the blank crazy I am chasing - often, almost always, gets the last word. But Rebekah talks about a practice called "Morning Pages", coined by another writer, who I know nothing about, but was drawn in by the phrase and practice of giving the first moments of your day to the written word. So, here you go. My first Morning Pages.

On the notion of being "free", I do feel like I have experienced freedom in many corners of my life. Some of those corners were always free, like a gift. Some are more hard fought. And some have just felt more like surrender. But what I have learned is that the more something costs, the less free I feel. 

The more something costs, the less free I feel.

Writing, for me, falls into that category. It is the thing that I love, but it is the thing that makes me feel most afraid. Will I say too much? Will it seem too sad? Will it offend someone? Will I be misunderstood? God forbid, will someone not like me or judge me or be awful to me? 

Maybe I am not so free.

At 41, you start to ask the questions, what else do I want to do? What is the dream that you are still chasing? What if you could do anything? I let those questions sink in, and I'll share my gut reaction.

I am embarrassed. Embarrassed to show you these raw edges. These morning pages. Any pages. 

But let me tell you a story. 

This Fall, I entered an essay into a writing contest. It was a Non-fiction writing contest for a reputable magazine. It was a raw and personal creative non fiction piece that I had only shared with 2 people. It seems so silly, as real writers submit their work all the time, because that's how you get published, but for me - I had never taken myself as an actual writer. So, in an act of courage, I submitted probably the most vulnerable thing I had ever written. 

Months went by and honestly, time had allowed the embarrassment to wear off, and the sober realization that as honest, sincere as the words may have been, they were probably sitting in someone's virtual trashcan.

And then on February 9, an email. My essay had been chosen as a top 10 finalist out of 284 entries. I had not won, but the judge, an actual writer, who teaches writing and has made a life of writing wrote "A moving reflection on time, broken relationships, and the ways we find hope and release despite the immense weight of both." 

Humbled. Do I have the courage to keep doing that? Over and Over? Maybe that was my one good essay. You know, like a one hit wonder? One and Done.

I will never know the answer to that question if I stop writing. I will perhaps save my heart from failing, most certainly that is true. But perhaps my heart would  break anyway, from keeping all the words in that were meant to be let out. 

Maybe that's the start of my freedom path.

Lent

I'll be honest, Lent is feeling like a bit much this year. I feel raw, undone, stressed out, and anemic. I actually am anemic, more so than my usual anemic self, so that is just adding kindling to the already brewing stress fire that I feel like I am under. Like most stress, it is a stress of my own doing. You know, bringing children into the world and then letting them go to school, and then letting them eat, and then because I am completely living wildly and unhinged. I let them do extra curricular activities. I also work, and as much as I want to complain about it, it's a gift of a job, a paycheck, and flexible enough that I get to be with them when they are not in school, and I even have days off, so I'll just go ahead and be thankful - BUT, it's in the mix, along with our blessing of a home, and our husband and daddy who also works hard and is intentional and kind in all the right ways. Still, still, even still - pulling this off is hard work, and it does occasionally have me spinning my wheels and saying cuss words.

So in pops Ash Wednesday, with it's solemn fast. This Ash Wednesday, I have just gotten the phone call (the anemia one), which confirms what I had already been feeling, that there was definitely not enough oxygen getting to my brain. It was a work day, so my day started early, and then we finished our day with homework and a play practice and two piano lessons. So, imagine my excitement to take two strung out kids to a 1.5 hour Ash Wednesday Service, only to be reminded of how I was formed from dust and to dust I shall return. I love the liturgical year. I love entering into the Gospel story, but I hated that it was Ash Wednesday, and I had no desire to be told what I already so keenly felt. Tired. In need of Mercy. Did I really need to throw ashes on my head to seal the deal? Couldn't we skip the whole ceremony, eat some dinner and call it good?

I am married to a first born, and I am one, too, so I won't leave you guessing. We went. We went tired and limping into the Cathedral. We staggered to the front with tired and restless children. We were donned with ashes and then given the bread of life. And then we went and ate a grilled cheese, all of us marked with what we had been carrying around inside all day. 

Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust.

Sitting with your own mania, crazy, and dysfunction is not really that comforting. It is timely - at the moment -  but not comforting. And I admit that I feel angry. Angry that joy doesn't flow easier. Angry that I am less kind than I had hoped at this stage in life. Angry that I don't have a personal assistant or a house cleaner or driver. I actually dreamed that my husband let my oldest daughter Annie drive her and her sister home from school. She is EIGHT.  I woke up in a terror of - are they alive? And if they are, Am I going to jail?

This is what it's come to my friends. 

I wish I could write here and say I've made my peace with this season of unrest. I haven't. I'm right in the middle of it, struggling over it. But, but.... I am not without hope. Thank God.

Last weekend, I went to hear one of my favorite singer - songwriters, Sandra McCracken. She said something that really resonated with my personal season of unrest. She said - Gospel Hope always follows the path of the resurrection. It dives down through sorrow and is met with joy on the other side. Joy rises up. Of course it does. 

So, like most wisdom, it comes, and lingers, and then when you are completely out of your mind crazy, you totally forget it. Until now. Until I am writing these words. 

This morning, I woke up with similar Ash Wednesday, Lent-y feelings. Can I just get a day off? Can we work that into the church calendar? I tried to quiet myself, "go to my cell", like the monks do. My cell is my bed and an open window.

I read this poem.

Wendell Berry (born 1934)

Sabbath

The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord, thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it.

It was a beautiful answer to my longing. 

And then my husband tried to instruct me on how to cut an apple and I lost my shit. There isn't a polite way to say it, because that's exactly what happened.

So, we had a good marital fight. I cried all my angry tears about how I just wanted someone to be able to fix all the stress and take care of me. I really just wanted to go to shop the Target isles and forget that Lent was happening and honestly, I resented having to be anywhere at all. But because we were met with a situation that felt void of hope, there was only one good answer. Go anyway. If mercy is what you need, then go where you can find it. 

So I went, and I sat most of the service with my eyes closed. And then we had to pass the peace, which is always humbling when you just had a angry fight with your husband. But the pressure eased for a brief moment and there was actual peace. (along with some humiliation, because sin can feel that way). And then I took the bread and wine and prayed fire wouldn't strike my head for being such a terrible, rotten person. But mercy doesn't work that way. It pours water on hot, angry tears, and says I forgive you.

I am still waiting for the Joy to rise up. It will. Lent does not leave us to ourselves. It carries us through sorrow to the resurrection. It carries us all the way to Easter. And like this beautiful song, Love will bring us home.