This is my meditation in the wake of Michael Brown and the things that are happening in Ferguson and around the nation. I’ve never written this out, but I’ve thought it lots of times. Because I am white, I feel unworthy and afraid when it comes to writing about race.

unchoreographed from Flickr via Wylio © 2007 Katrina Br*?#*!@nd, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

But here’s the thing: I grew up with a unique perspective on race. When I was 5, my parents adopted my brother from another country. This was before adoption was a thing. While his actual nationality doesn’t matter for this conversation, the important bit is that his nationality isn’t obvious to most Americans. Some think he is African-American, others assume Pacific Islander, and others suppose him Mexican. None of them are right, but this confusion has meant that, as a family, we have experienced microcosms of different sorts of racism and prejudice.

I don’t pretend to have borne the brunt of this. That lot has fallen to my brother and to him alone. But, both through processing and grieving things that have happened to him and working through things that people have both assumed about and said to me because he is my brother, I have experienced a little more of racism than most white Americans.

I have a handful of thoughts and impressions that, looking back, formed how I think about race. At the time, though, they were no more and no less than the way a child processes the world.

I remember being fascinated by his skin and his hair. While I was pretty much the same color all over, I loved the ways his color seemed to gather some places and not others, the way his palms and the bottoms of his feet looked almost identical to mine, but then color rushed to fill the tops of his hands and feet while mine remained the same. And I loved his curly hair, loved the very unruliness my mother tried to tame, and the way it seemed almost deliberately textured where mine would fall away, like so much sand through my fingers.

I didn’t know that these thoughts were a celebration of our differences, that I was learning to marvel at the different ways we were made. And I didn’t know that most people who looked like me found these things scary, not fascinating and enticing.

My brother and I eventually learned to use the stark contrast in our appearances to mess with adults, which practice we engaged in with great joy. I took a perverse pleasure in saying, “And this is my brother,” and then watching the poor, unsuspecting adult’s eyes dart back and forth. They’d stammer something wondering which of our parents had been married before, or they’d look uncomfortable and I could see them wondering just how much of a mess the whole situation was.

In the end, I’d usually tell them the truth. I couldn’t let the awkwardness hang, the way my brother could. “He’s adopted,” I’d say, and watch relief wash through their eyes as they understood. This is not a problem I’m going to have to deal with. 

I told them the truth to alleviate the awkward, but I also told them because I was proud. I loved our family story, loved that we had done something that other people didn’t even know you could do, and I wanted to share it. Back in the day, though, I think a lot of people thought it was just weird. And I don’t think they always knew how to welcome him, because on their own they’d have treated a kid who looked like him differently, but they couldn’t do that with the rest of us standing there.

I remember learning about slavery in school. One of my first memories on the topic is an udder incredulity that people actually thought that having dark skin meant someone automatically had less capability, intellectual or otherwise. I knew that wasn’t true – my own brother had dark skin and dark hair and, other than an uncanny ability to get even darker in the sun, this didn’t separate him from me. There was nothing that having light skin made me better at or worse at than him.

That preceded a deep guilt, in which I tried to claim all of the burden of that upon myself. That was when I remember how it felt wrong to be white, how I wished we hadn’t done that huge wrong (even though I hadn’t done anything).

None of this makes me an expert on race or Michael Brown or Ferguson. It doesn’t always even make me an expert at knowing my own history or understanding how my family works. But I have learned a couple of things:

1. Race doesn’t matter. Don’t take this the wrong way. I’ll be really, really mad if you take this the wrong way. Read the rest of the post, first.

Race doesn’t matter, because by itself it doesn’t change anything. Skin/hair/eye/whatever color doesn’t change a person’s abilities, doesn’t make them any more or less capable of anything. Gifts aren’t distributed along with skin color, or even with cultural understanding. Really, race could be a non-issue. Except . . .

2. Race matters a whole lot. Because we’ve decided that something that doesn’t really matters matters quite a lot, because we’ve chosen to highlight it, to treat people differently because of it, to offer opportunities based on it and make assumptions based on it, now it’s really, really important.

And it IS important. Because we have made it so. We decided that we could make judgements and decisions about people based on how they look, and we did that. The act of doing that, the act of choosing to decide how people are, based on physical characteristics that they can’t even control means that now we have to deal with the consequences of that choice.

We can’t unmake our choices. Life doesn’t work that way. And choosing something also include choosing all of the things that go along with that, whether we understand what those are when we make the choice or not. So now we need to figure out how to make race the issue (or non-issue) that it really is.

I have a few thoughts on that, too . . .

1. Know your own racism. News flash: we’re all racist. I lived in LA for a while and knew people of all different races and, guess what? They all made assumptions, mostly negative, about races that weren’t their own.

We think in generalizations. I studied Philosophy as an undergrad, and that’s how the human mind works. We don’t have the time or mental capacity to look at every individual object, person, animal that we encounter and discover how it works, so we make generalizations about different categories of things. Often, this is helpful and right. Chairs support weight. Pizza is yummy. Books are fascinating. If we had to try out every chair, to examine the construction materials and workmanship that went into making it before we could sit on it, we’d be exhausted and get sucked into tedium.

Sometimes, though, this goes wrong. A child who gets bitten by a dog may decide that all dogs bite. Another, who assumes that all adults are helpful, might get themselves into a dangerous situation.

I think it’s easy for us to make these generalizations based on race because we are highly visual people and race is something we see.

Even I, with my brother and my background, find myself making assumptions based on race. Some of these are positive, but most are negative. Also because of my brother and my background, I tend to catch these and think, “No, that can’t be true,” because I know – I KNOW – someone for whom it isn’t true.

That catching ourselves, that seeing what we’re doing and stopping ourselves, that’s key to helping us stop acting on these assumptions. But we can’t do that, can’t stop and catch ourselves, without first knowing that we’re making these assumptions and accepting that doing so is probably simply a function of the way our brains work.

I don’t think that making assumptions about people based on how they look is good, especially when they are negative assumptions but, knowing what I know about how the human mind works, I don’t see a way around having them (especially when they’re part of our culture, too – though they will be less and less a part of culture as we catch them and choose to act differently), but we can stop acting on them.

2. Celebrate differences. We, especially those of us who are white, live in a world where we strive to be colorblind. Our goal, it seems, is to simply not notice race, to treat everyone the same.

What if, instead, we celebrated racial differences?

I was barely 5 when we adopted my brother, and even then I knew: we were different. And I loved the ways we were different. I loved his skin and his hair and his eyes, and the way he spoke baby Spanish instead of English.

What if we could marvel at each other? What if the “other” wasn’t scary, but instead drew us in? What if we could find each other fascinating and let our differences draw us together, in mutual friendship and exploration, rather than letting them tear us apart?

We’re not going to stop noticing race. We just aren’t. And I don’t think we’re meant to. But what if we wanted to know each other, what if we made the effort to reach out and make friends and ask questions, rather than separating ourselves as soon as we notice something different?

I think this fascination with each other might be our natural state. I think we are made to be interested in each other, to get to know each other. But we’ve got all this junk in the way, because we’re afraid that being known will mean being hurt, that our desire to know will be taken the wrong way, or that no one really wants to know us and it’s all a farce in the end.

If we celebrated each other, celebrated the vibrancy that cultural and racial differences bring to our world, then maybe we’d be less likely to distrust each other, less likely to shoot.

3. Make the problem your own. I don’t care about Ferguson first and foremost as a racial issue. I don’t grieve primarily because, once again, we let the differences between us end someone’s life.

No.

I care, and I grieve, because I know that next time it could be my brother.

I’ve already seen him named a thug and a bully in a middle school debacle, even when he claimed a different story. (The school changed their tune when my (very white and known as an educational volunteer) mother showed up to discuss the situation.) And I’ve heard how he was pulled over for a dubious traffic stop in the deep south, then pulled out of his car and searched because of the color of his skin.

And I know how he his, how he says the funniest things, how he is a master of snark, and how he’s likely to be that way at the wrong times.

And I know . . . I know that if the wrong set of circumstances came together, they would shoot him.

I care because the problem is my own.

There are a million white people who care about the events of Ferguson, a million who see the sin and want it to stop. And that is good. It’s so, so good.

But there’s a whole different level of caring when you know it could touch you. When it could hit you at home. When the problem is yours, it means something different to care and to want change.

We won’t care in a way that motivates us toward change from the inside out until the problem is our own. We won’t care until these are our friends and our neighbors who might get shot, until we know people because we’ve had them in our homes and been in theirs, until they are the ones we call when the world falls apart or maybe when we just need a friend and a latte.

It’s hard to expand our circles. There’s (often justified) fear and insecurity on all sides. But we have to do it. Because when the people most likely to be pressed down or killed are people we love with all our hearts, then we will change. We can change. We must change. And we won’t do it until the problem is our own.

 

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The Blessed Saint of Time Travel

by Sarah on 12 May 2014 · 1 comment

in Truth

I hate how my muscles hurt when I start, how the stretching hurts and pulls and how it’s really impossible to warm up until I’ve already started.

And then I start, and that hurts too. All of a sudden, the workout that seemed short on paper stretches out long, long, long in front of me, and I wonder how I can take all those steps or lift all that weight.

Stiffness wears off, and there’s a small part in the middle where I actually feel good, where it hurts but in a good way, and I can think about getting stronger and healthier and how that’s good for all of us.

But that crashes into the end, which sometimes starts in the middle or even towards the middle of the beginning, and the rest is completed only by focusing on the finish, by wanting to not just be done, but to have done it all.

The end, though, the end is blessed. The end is endorphins and a sense of accomplishment and that mixed feeling of achievement and relief. The end is the being done and the knowing that I did it all.

The end, that end, is why I begin in the first place. It’s the reason for the pain, the motivation that keeps me starting and then keeps me going. I want that end, because it is good enough to make the pain worth it.

The end even transforms the beginning. When it’s all done, the beginning, that painful beginning, was simply part of something very, very good. It wasn’t entirely pleasant, but it was a necessary step to get to the end.

If I quit in the middle, the whole thing would just suck. I probably wouldn’t even start more than once or twice, because it just wouldn’t be worthwhile. Once I reach the end, though, the whole thing is a big, huge good, a high point of every day, sometimes even a touchstone for whether the day was good or bad.

—-

When I first became a mother, things were mostly hard. It was hard with moments of glory, but the hard outweighed the glory by quite a lot.

There’s a million reasons for that. Learning to parent is hard. Massive and traumatic upheaval in life is hard, even without a newborn. Having doctors who don’t listen and who say insensitive and uncaring things is hard.

The reasons don’t really matter, though. It was hard. It was so hard that I couldn’t even let myself say how hard it was for a lot of months. If I had let it hurt like that, I don’t know that I’d have made it through.

The second baby was easier, but two together was the hard part then. I didn’t hardly get to the point where I’d moved beyond treading water when I was pregnant again.

Baby number three, and having three, has been a glory and a terror. But this time, even though she was another baby and we moved twice in 4 and a half months and there were three of them, the glory has successfully lightened the darkness.

—-

Changing the past is almost always the bane of time travelers. They erase themselves, or change things for the worse when they think they’re changing them for the best, or they make some drastic change when they think they’re making tiny tweaks.

I’ve seen “Back to the Future.”

And yet we think about changing the past and wonder if it could be done because, in the end, we’d really like to do it. Mostly, I think we want to undo wrongs we’ve done, to undo our own momentary stupidity,e specially when that has had massive and unforeseen results.

We want to transform our choices, even when we didn’t know they were choices at the time. And we want to turn the bad into good, to bend a few things and stretch a few others so that things don’t hurt as bad, for ourselves and for those close to us.

If only there was a way to do that that didn’t get us all twisted up in time and consequences.

I held Arden on my lap today. Dear, nearly-one-year-old Arden. And I thought about how fast it’s gone, as mothers are wont to do. And then I found myself wishing, for just the smallest split of a second, that we could go back a little bit, that this first year could have been stretched, somehow, so she could still grow but we’d have a little more time with each stage of her.

I don’t think I’ve wished that before. If I did, the split second was too small for me to notice.

But I wished it today.

—-

Do you ever catch yourself thinking strange things, and wonder where in the world that came from, or what is wrong with you that you would even think something like that?

Sometimes I wonder if time travel isn’t something really easy, something simpler than flight, something we’ve all missed.

Or maybe, if we were just a little different, we could travel through time but traveling through the air would still be impossible.

—-

Having Arden and completing this first year with her and with three has been a big finish for me. The beginning was still hard. The baby and the trauma and the anxiety and that awful doctor are still bad memories.

But now they are part of something good. Now they are part of something exhilarating.

I’m nowhere near done, but I sense that the part that feels like a dead sprint most of the time is coming to an end. I sense that there will be time to catch my breath, time to breathe and, at least, realize that I am breathing, time to appreciate what we’ve actually done in these last four-and-a-half years of tearing around the track as fast as we can, every single day.

I’ve had just a moment or two to survey our handiwork, and it is good. It is good.

—-

It was always good.

That beginning, that hard, hard beginning, was necessary to get here. Being here transforms that beginning, not because I don’t remember the pain, but because I followed it to see where it would go.

It’s not a gain in understanding, or a change in perspective. The end, quite literally, has changed the beginning into a different sort of thing.

It’s not exactly redemption, either. That beginning has become something other than what it was before, a different sort of experience, because I have now reached the end of this season.

—-

You don’t have to believe me. Time travel is, after all, the stuff of the most theoretical of theoretical study. But I have done it – I have successfully changed the past, my past, events I lived through.

Maybe I’m crazy. Or maybe we’ve been going about it all wrong.

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On Moving On and Mirrors

by Sarah on 26 March 2014 · 1 comment

in Truth

I am part of the Restless Generation. That’s not a label I got from anywhere, but it’s one of the things I see.

I think that this generation starts with people like me, the stranded few who aren’t really Gen X or Gen Y, who speak both languages but don’t find a home in either place. It extends, then, until I see it playing out in ways I don’t even entirely understand in the lives of the ones called Millenials.

We like to move. We want to travel, and we change jobs and even careers with a frequency that would once have been alarming. We aren’t sure about anything that requires putting down roots, and we generally enter into even the deepest relationships with the thought that things could always change. We like adventure, especially if it’s for a greater cause, and the mundane makes us nervous. In fact, we often become exceedingly uneasy when our lives look the same for any number of days.

We are restless. We don’t rest well. We are happiest when we have just moved on, are in the process of moving on, or are looking forward to future moves.

These moves don’t have to be huge, though sometimes they are. This restlessness can manifest itself in changing churches, changing jobs, or changing countries.

I do realize that this restlessness probably doesn’t start with us, but I do suspect that we are one of the first generations where both prosperity and cultural expectations (or lack thereof) permit us to act on these desires, rather than overcome them. We don’t have the family or community obligations to keep us at home, and often our finances permit at least some stretching for more adventure when life gets mundane.

It’s not that these desires are of necessity bad, but they do allow us to escape in ways that seem to mean that we never develop certain aspects of character that would improve our lives, not to mention make us more like Jesus. Our restless offers us a way out of some of the discomfort that comes when you stay in one place, rooted in a community and a family and a way of life.

A few weeks back A few months back Nearly a year ago now, I read an article about how much courage it takes to live an everyday life – one without an explicit overarching purpose, usually involving the raising of kids, the cultivating of a marriage, and the management of a household. The author says that these things are especially hard for the current generation, for those who want to move on and do big things, and who find that normal life tends to feel aimless and tedious.

I read this, and I wondered why: why is it so hard for us to stay put, to endure through the hard times and rejoice, at home, in the good ones? Why do we sometimes have the urge to leave marriage and family, job and home and friends, even acknowledging the hardships that would bring? Why does it take more courage to stay, when that seems counterintuitive at best?

I think that at least part of the answer lies in the things we have to see about ourselves when we stay.

When we travel the world for Jesus or justice or just because it’s there for the seeing, when we change jobs and even careers, when we never stay long enough in a place or at a church to develop deep community, we learn certain skills and we see certain things about ourselves. But there are a whole slew of things that we miss, too, and even some that we might come to think we are good at when we actually aren’t.

Take remaining present in spite of hard circumstances, for example. When you are constantly on the move, constantly craving change and planning your next move, you don’t have to make a conscious, moment-by-moment choice to remain present in difficult situations. Instead, you move on. While doing so often alleviates the difficulty, it creates more problems, which you also don’t have to deal with (like hurting the people who you leave behind).

But, more than that, it allows you to move on without seeing the fault in yourself. You don’t see the fault in the moving on itself, in escaping rather than doing the hard work to see if things can be improved, but you also don’t see the fault in yourself that contributed to the problem in the first place. Staying, and committing to doing your best to work things out, would mean facing these things, acknowledging them to yourself and to others involved in the situation, asking forgiveness where necessary, and working to change the self.

Because real life is a mirror. “Who are you?” it asks. When the excitement is gone, when you’re not running on adrenaline, when your brain isn’t producing larger quantities of the endorphins that make you feel good, who are you? When the virtues necessary to get through your day with some modicum of grace are things like kindness, gentleness, and faithfulness, rather than ones like courage, bravery, and audaciousness, who are you? When you love someone or several someones enough to stay when you’d really like to go, who are you?

This mirror makes us uncomfortable because it is often true that being good at one way of life (like that produced by restlessness) does not mean that we are good at another (like stability). And it is always easier to do what we are good at, rather than to remain somewhere that stretches us, that calls us to use skills that are, at best, underdeveloped, and that we may not have at all.

But the mirror also tells us the truth. It gives us the good and the bad, without commentary. It tells us who we are, and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the why and the how. And it shows us how we change, how time shifts us in good ways and bad.

Since stability and gentleness, steadfastness and faithfulness, reflect Jesus as much as courage and confrontation, justice and assertiveness, it seems like there might be good reason for us to stop and reflect in this mirror. When we let everyday life show us who we are, and when we then let it form us into people with a more rounded out set of virtues, we will be closer to being the people God made us to be.

And that, after all, should be the goal of our time on this earth.

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The Normal Way of Sanctification

by Sarah on 19 March 2014 · 0 comments

in Truth

These last few years, I have thought a lot about the seeming absurdity of a system in which many of us spend many of our best years – our prime, if you will – focused on the wellbeing of other people.

Because that’s what parenting is, really. It’s taking the years in which you are fully an adult but still have the energy of youth, and pouring them into little, needy people who rely on you for everything from sustenance to education to keeping them from eating things that are not food (and, no, the baby did not just vomit because she gagged on yet another sticker. Why would you ever think that?)

And all the pondering I’ve done, all the thinking and circling around the same set of ideas keeps bringing me back to the same place: God designed life this way so that we learn, right at the point where we would otherwise dive into spending the rest of our lives focused on ourselves, how to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. I think that parenting is the normal way of sanctification – as in, the path that most of us take to becoming more like Christ.

It doesn’t always work this way, especially in this age where we can plan our families like we plan our vacations. And I’m not against family planning, but if you look at the way society has functioned for all the years before ours, that wasn’t how it worked. Nearly everyone got married, often early, and children followed almost as a matter of course.

And, many times, they kept on coming. So parents, and especially women, spent most of their “best” years caring for the needs of small people.

When I say that this is the normal way of sanctification, I don’t mean to cut out my friends who do not find themselves parenting through their young – middle years: those who are single and childless, who have been called to childlessness, or who have had childlessness thrust upon them. I call the path I’m discussing here “the normal way” of sanctification, because I think that is true. Parenting is the way that I see myself and most of the people I know getting a hands on lesson in the denial of self, in the taking on of suffering and difficulty for a higher purpose and goal. I do think, though, that God meets everyone where they need to be met. He will make a path of sanctification for you if this is not the one that spreads itself before your feet.

And I don’t idolize the people who have dedicated themselves to parenting through the years. Throughout history, parenting has been done poorly at least as often as it was done well, and each age has it’s own tendencies and sins that shape what “poorly” means in that particular context.

Yet I suspect that people have learned a lot about God and themselves and the relationship that exists there by learning to love their children as they have been loved. True, God doesn’t wipe our bottoms or find himself covered in a fine mix of mashed up food and saliva after every meal. But he laid aside so much of what it meant for him to be himself, and he did it for us.

I know a lot of parents, moms especially, who begin to wonder if they even exist anymore, outside of the role they fill as mother. And I can’t help but think that that’s a sentiment Jesus was familiar with.

And so, even in the emptying, in the aspects of parenting that we really can’t do very much about unless we choose to abandon our children entirely, we are made like Jesus. Beyond that, we have a choice, I think. We can embrace the path, the emptying and the balancing and the immense energy loss that sometimes happens when we choose to engage with our children. We can choose to know Jesus more and more in his emptying.

This is a choice that parents have had down through the ages, and a path that has been the making of many saints (though, most often, I would guess that these are the ones we hear very little about). And it is still the normal path of sanctification today. And it is not cheapened by this commonness but, in the great tradition of Christian truth being revealed in paradox, is somehow enriched by the sheer number of those who have walked this path before. If nothing else, the fact that they found life this way, means that maybe we will, too.

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On Birth, in the Season of Death*

by Sarah on 22 February 2014 · 0 comments

in Truth

Having a baby shatters the world and requires you to scramble to build a new one, every single time.

You don’t think that it will. Or, rather, you know that it will but you think that it will all be ok, because everyone has babies. They’re born all the time, every single minute of every single day, so the shattering must not be so terrible.

And then, yours. A baby comes like a small rock dropped from a great height over a vast pane of glass. In just a few moments after the rock hits, cracks split the entire surface of the thing and pieces begin to separate and fall off.

They can’t tell you this. Or, rather, they do tell you, over and over and over again, but it is meaningless until you can attach those words to experience. 

It both is and is not a terrible thing, this shattering. It is right, because babies are right. People say that every baby is a miracle, and it is true. Every little person who is born is a gift. But their coming, the advent of new life, breaks wide open the world as it is, and the people near this wrenching have to figure out how to go on.

It is amazing – the world is made new right before your eyes. It is terror – the world will never, ever again be just the way it was before. This is a person, a new soul, a whole other little being, come out of nearly nowhere. Created, grown, cherished, normal and right, and yet also a miracle.

This shattering isn’t always painful, isn’t always difficult. Sometimes it is gentle, sometimes it is lovely, sometimes it is steady and serious. Some people find joy in submitting to having their lives unmade.

But some of us struggle. We don’t want to be undone, unmoored, and we aren’t sure about being remade. We like our lives the way they are and, while we long to welcome this new person into the world, we hold on to pieces of ourselves and our lives that we don’t want to have changed. 

Being surprised by the whole thing doesn’t help. I had never been close to a birth, never been present and never walked closely with someone who had a child. I didn’t know that, when they said everything would change, they actually meant everything, from the center of me outward, would shift faster than I would have thought it could.

And the world went on, with me clinging to its side, wondering if, in the whirling, I would be blown off. Outside, it was all the same. Inside, it was like suddenly being transported to a foreign locale with no way to get bearings or find direction.

Yet the change came anyway. It didn’t care if I expected it, if I could welcome it even as an unexpected guest, or if the shattering would unmake places in me that I didn’t even know existed. It washed over me like a flood, and I was left not only with the baby, but also with the aftermath.

And I still say that a baby shatters – and should shatter – the world, every single time.

I’ve talked a bit here of the shattering, but not of the remaking. Because the truth is that the shattering is only one side of the thing. Breaking is necessary, if something is somehow put together incorrectly – and we all are, somewhere. And only the broken can be redeemed.

So there is redemption in a baby. The fact that new souls still come into this world, that God chooses to make new people even though there’s so very much wrong with our world, seems like one of the strongest signs of hope that we have.

And the newness of a baby, the unblemished skin, the wide eyes, the peaceful ways that they sleep, it all adds up to a reminder of what could be, of what should be.

Of what will be.

And so there is something whole-making about a baby, something so profound that it undoes the world as it is because it gives us a glimpse – a clarion call – of so much more. Holding a baby requires holding all of THE ALL of life at once – beauty, mess, joy, pain, loveliness, frustration.

It doesn’t let you go on with very many illusions.

A baby is a thin place, a place where heaven touches earth, a place where we are reminded deeply of both our humanity and of the ways our world will be redeemed.

A baby is a burning bush, where we are called to take off our shoes and encounter the holy.

A baby is the shore of the Jabbok, where we wrestle with God through the night and, come morning, are both forever wounded and, through blessing, made whole.

*I have tried . . . well, if not hundreds, then tens and tens of times to write about what having the babies has meant to me. The process of growing into these things has been so profound – and so profoundly difficult – and it has been important to keep trying to put it into words.

I do realize that not everyone experiences having children, however they come, like I did. The language here is what has, finally, worked for me as a way to begin expressing these thoughts, and is not at all to be regarded as prescriptive, or even as descriptive of any experiences beyond my own.

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Adding to the Noise

by Sarah on 24 October 2013 · 1 comment

in Truth

I have lived on words for as long as I have known what they were and what they had to offer. At different times, I have stuffed them in like a college kid gorges on free food, savored them like a foodie enjoys a fine meal, and subsisted on them when nothing else in life seemed to offer much with flavor, texture, or truth.

With this as my past, my story, it is taking me months to come to grips with the fact that words no longer satisfy.

It’s not that I don’t find treasures in words anymore, that there aren’t passages in books that I know would change my life, if I could only mentally mince on them long enough; that there aren’t blog posts and articles that remind me how I’m not alone; that there aren’t words I say to friends that are meaningful and precious. It’s beyond that, deeper maybe; it’s the fact that even the words I love are adding to the noise.

I feel bombarded. Everywhere I look, listen, smell, taste, touch, there are words. Even inside my own head, words flash through my consciousness faster than I can process them. I feel like I’m standing in Times Square or Picadilly Circus, with lights flashing and words racing by on several marquis.

And I am part of the bombardment. I speak, I write, I struggle toward putting the inarticulate howls that make me human into language, and so make them both real and intelligible. And I don’t feel like I need to stop, though I have a deep hesitation about sharing my words until I know they are adding value, not just noise.

It’s like food, I think. It’s so easy to eat too much, to consume more than I need simply because it’s there, and it tastes good, and it might even be healthy. And yet, even when I realize I’ve eaten too much, the answer isn’t to stop eating entirely. Instead, the way through is to choose, to always, always choose, and to never consume without actually wanting to do so.

This is a season. A season of listening selectively, of learning to find silence and stillness within, rather than without. It’s a season of open-handedness, of asking which words are important enough to share and, more narrowly, which ones are mine to share. And it’s a season of deepening skills and awareness that don’t depend on words, or acting and seeing and portraying and relating in ways that are less instinctive for me.

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3 AM

by Sarah on 17 July 2013 · 2 comments

in Truth

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It’s 3 AM, and we’re having another conversation about who should rock the baby, based on who is likely to get more sleep this night.

At least, that’s what I think we’re talking about. We might actually be talking about the theological implications of molinism or how to assemble a nuclear collider for all that I can follow the conversation.

Logic vacates these premises as soon as I fall asleep and doesn’t reappear until sometime after I convince myself that I will not be so tired once I am upright (it’s true!). Also, coffee helps, but even then the ability to reason comes and goes these days, appearing and reappearing in some sort of pattern I can’t quite discern.

It’s 3AM again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen 3 AM in the last 3 1/2 years, mostly because, if I kept track, I’d probably cry. Though I do notice, these days, that it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. I don’t know if I’ve gotten used to it or if all the sleeplessness has reprogrammed my brain. Whatever has happened, I find myself needing less sleep and enjoying the wee small hours more.

There’s not much in the world like curling a warm little person up against your skin and hearing the satisfied sighs that mean they are being nourished in more ways than one. Even when I’m waking out of a dream and I’m not sure where the line between fantasy and reality lies, something registers about the uniqueness and specialness of the situation. I experience a vague knowing that I hold a tiny treasure and that it’s hard to let her go when the time comes to put her back in her bed.

Even when my own sleep is on the line, when I know that I have to function the next day, when I know I’ll be up again in a too-short time, those nighttime moments draw me in. They hold me close like I hold her, curling us up together and swaddling us in a silent, dark blanket that only the two of us can inhabit.

Daylight will come soon enough. In many ways, it will come too quickly. But for now, it is 3 AM, and I will hold my baby for a few minutes longer.

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On Birthing at Home

by Sarah on 20 May 2013 · 3 comments

in Parenting,Truth

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I gave birth to Arden at home.

I haven’t talked too much about this, mostly because it was a decision we made that I didn’t want to have to defend. It has seemed private and irrelevant to most of my conversations: we’re adults, we knew what we chose and why we chose it, and I really haven’t been too interested in hearing other thoughts on the topic.

Now that it’s over, though, I’m in a different place about discussing it. We have had a wonderful experience, one without unnecessary medical intervention (though with those same interventions available and close by if we needed them) and one where our desires have been heard and valued, discussed and upheld, even when it wasn’t terribly convenient or easy for anyone involved.

For me, though, the very best part of having a homebirth wasn’t avoiding unnecessary medical interventions or feeling like my choices and desires would be respected. Instead, it’s simply been being able to stay at home.

I’ve always felt like those days and hours at the hospital were difficult and distracting. I felt like I never really got to be with my baby, because there was a constant flow of strangers asking questions, poking and prodding, asking for signatures, and more. None of it was bad, persay, but it was overstimulating enough that it kept me from attending to my babies the way I wanted to.

I think the effects of this overstimulation continued at home, too. Unfortunately, one of the things you get at a hospital is an opinion from anyone and everyone as to how your baby is doing, what’s best for him or her, and what you need to think about over the next days and weeks.

Normally, I filter things like this well. Giving birth, however, leaves me very vulnerable. I suspect that’s fairly normal: the combined effects of enduring intense pain and, sometimes, trauma, hormonal upheaval, and the emotional and spiritual aftermath of participating in something as supreme and meaningful as bringing a new human into the world seem like prime ground to create a perfect storm of openness and vulnerability in the human heart.

All of that to say, I’ve never been able to say “Shut up and go away,” either to the people giving their opinions or to my own thoughts after they leave. And so I come home with my baby and a racing mind, with a restless, hollow feeling that I’ve always thought was just how I responded to birthing but I now suspect comes from the atmosphere surrounding the birthing rather than from the act itself.

For me, the overstimulation that has kept me from paying the kind of attention that I’d like to pay to my newborns at the hospital has continued at home, certainly for days but sometimes for weeks.

Being at home this time has not only allowed me to better understand how and why I processed things the way I did in the past, but has also permitted me to create the sort of environment where I can attend to my baby in the ways I’ve always hoped to in the past.

This wasn’t an intentional creation: my reasons for birthing at home largely centered on the fact that my previous labor went exceptionally fast and anything that would help me avoid going through transition in a moving vehicle or the parking lot seemed like a vast improvement. I didn’t set out to create a nest of time for Dave and I and the baby, or to welcome her in stillness and rest rather than hustle and bustle.

But me, being me, well, that’s what I created. When I got to rely on my instincts and do what came naturally and made the most intuitive sense, I created for us a bubble of time and space that has let me know Arden better than I’ve known any of my other newborns. I’ve kept things so low key that today’s trip to the doctor and even a trip to Target the other day felt like they were just a bit too much. I’ve held Arden more, nursed her more, and known her more than either of the others at this point.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Her name was Arden. Arden Ainsley Winfrey, and she was perfect. Tiny, so, so dear, and perfect.

She was much-awaited and dearly loved, a precious baby-gift with dark blonde hair, a pink pearl mouth, and a passion soft clothes and soft holds.

She is wonderful, and she is ours.

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Arden was born at home on Wednesday, May 15th, at 5:39 pm. I had about three and a half hours of not-so-intense labor, an hour of significantly more intense labor, and about 30 minutes of dreadfulness. And then there was Arden, born in the caul, born so quickly and relaxed that it took her several minutes to even realize she’d come out.

“Arden” means “valley of the Eagles”, and we hope for her that the particular combination of peace and power conveyed there becomes hers.

“Ainsley” means “one’s own meadow” or “hermitage by the meadow”, and we love the way it combines with Arden to give an image of rest, of outside and of space and of a place for her to be.

May you journey well, smallest one.

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Getting Dreads: A Personal FAQ

by Sarah on 2 April 2013 · 2 comments

in Truth

This is a bit of a departure from what I usually like to post here, but several people have mentioned wanting to hear about my “dreadlocks journey”. They want to know why I made this choice and what it’s been like, both getting and having dreadlocks. This is my (very long) non sequiter dreadlocks post, often without transitions and very stream of consciousness, because otherwise I’ll never get it posted. Without further adieu . . .

I got dreads because I like them.

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I didn’t get them to promote a particular political or social agenda. Pretty much anyone who assumes that I hold to any one set of beliefs based solely on my hair will find themselves sadly mistaken somewhere. My politics are such a conglomeration right now that I’m pretty sure no political party would claim me and I certainly don’t hold a particular affinity for any of them.

I didn’t get them to be a rebel. I suppose I wouldn’t have them if there weren’t some part of me that likes challenging the status quo, that doesn’t mind being the person who makes everyone scratch their heads because I don’t fit nicely into any of their neat little boxes. But I’m not saying a big, “Screw you!” to anyone (Besides, how passive aggressive would that be? I’m more about direct conversation and, if need be, confrontation).

I’m not much of a hippie. I don’t smoke pot. I’m not a uber-practitioner of attachment parenting.

I just like dreadlocks.

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Ever since I saw the story of a gal with hair more or less like mine who got them and realized they were a possibility, they’ve felt like a home to me.

I know that many people won’t like them. That’s ok. There are a lot of people out there whose hair style I would never choose, but they’re still my friends, colleagues, the people I do business with and hang out with and love. I hope that people can continue their relationships with me even if they really don’t get what I’ve done with my hair (I also suspect that many people will like my hair more when some of the awful myths about dreads are dispelled).

And about those myths…

  • I still shower regularly.
  • I still wash my hair.
  • I can still dress my hair up if I want or need to.
  • I can still look professional.
  • I’m not any more prone to lice than anyone else.
  • My hair is still healthy.
  • I can brush them out whenever I want.
  • I can still dye, style, and cut my hair if I want to.
  • Dave likes them.

So far, the reactions I’ve heard have been largely positive. There are whole segments of friends who haven’t said anything, and I assume they either don’t care much what I do with my hair, they don’t really get it, or they don’t like it but they assume that I’m an adult and so have the right and ability to make my own decisions about my hair. I’m mostly fine with that. After all, I don’t say much when I don’t like someone’s hair, unless they ask me directly (though, in all fairness, I don’t always notice when people change their hair. It’s just not central to what I see when I see someone.) There are a few people I’m close enough to who I’ll probably ask what they think eventually, but I don’t feel like I need to do that right now.

When it comes to strangers, I’ve only had a few people mention them, and all of the comments have been positive. I’ve had people tell me that they tried them and it killed their scalp, or that they’ve always wanted them. Every once in a while, I see someone looking at me oddly and it takes me a few moments to realize they’re probably looking at my hair. I forget that I have the dreads, sometimes, so I end up returning someone’s weird look with a confused one of my own and usually they look away before I figure out what is going on.

I think a lot of people don’t notice, at least in brief interactions. I usually wear a scarf of some sort and I often pull them back because otherwise they get in my face (just like my hair did pre-dreads). I don’t know if I’ll continue that or if I’ll eventually want to wear them down more, when the kids are older and less prone to play/pull on them. Some of it depends on how they end up looking.

Speaking of which, they won’t always look the way they do right now. They’re new, and they still need to lock up. Once they really start that process, they’ll look better. There will be fewer loose hairs, fewer bumps, and more uniformity. The bare spots will largely get covered and they won’t stick straight out. The whole process will take somewhere between 1 and 3 years, though they’ll look a lot better (and different) at 6 or 8 months than they do right now.

With dreads, it’s about the process. It’s about the journey. It’s about waiting and seeing what happens. It’s about living with doubt and uncertainty and, at the same time, wonder.

You may think “wonder” too strong of a word, but I adore the dreads, and I love watching how they change and developing the skills to care for them well. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and look at the ones that like to stick straight out sideways and I wonder if I should have done it and I still adore them. Sometimes I think they’re already fatter than I wanted them to be and I wonder if my hair will do this right and if it’s normal to have quite this many frizzies and loose hairs and if the roots are really supposed to loosen this much and I still adore them.

This much adoration is probably a good sign. I’ve never liked my hair this much before. To paraphrase Anne Lamott, I finally have really, really cool hair.

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As for why now, I chose to get dreads now because the time seemed right. I don’t have a job where I have to make them look good during their awkward, adolescent phase. I have a bit of time to baby them and work with them before the baby comes. We had the money and there really wasn’t anything else that I wanted for my birthday or Christmas or anything else.

I mention gifts because I decided to have them done professionally. It’s a long story, but the short version is that I had a friend try to do them and I tried it myself and I could tell that I’d never get them the way I wanted them and I’d just be frustrated and hate them and get 2 or 3 in and then take them out again.

I chose carefully a stylist who had experience and who would put them in naturally, without wax or a dread perm or anything else. I couldn’t find anyone in my area who would do them the way I wanted for a price that seems reasonable, so I chose to work with Stephanie, in Portland, because I could see examples of her work online and because I could read stories of how wonderful she was as a person and to work with. Mostly, though, going to her felt right. She has a heart that welcomes pilgrims of all types, on all types of journeys, and I felt at home with her.

Still, that meant flying to Portland, which is no small feat with two little folk who need my attention during the majority of every day. With the help and blessing of several people, though, I got it settled. Simon has been struggling lately with being away from me so, while I left him with people he knows and trusts, I didn’t want to be away overnight. Stephanie works fast, so it wouldn’t be a problem as long as everything went according to plan.

I was nervous, though it was more about getting there, about catching all the public transport that I needed to catch, about making sure my maps were good and I had the right address and…and…and…

I got there about 15 minutes before my appointment, and so I went to one of my favorite stores, which was just down the street from the salon where I was meeting Stephanie (Queen Bee Creations FTW – I’d never been to the brick-and-mortar store before but I love their products online). It was calming to wander their little store, to buy a small something for the baby and take a couple of deep breaths and really begin to believe that this might actually be happening.

I think I’d thought about getting dreads for so long that actually doing it seemed impossible.

But then I found Stephanie, found Akemi salon, which was a warm, quirky, welcoming place. I told her what I wanted, showed her pictures, and we jumped right in. It was almost surreal, feeling her separate my hair into sections and start the process of making the dreads.

People say that getting dreads hurts, but it wasn’t particularly painful for me. In fact, I really didn’t notice the tugging. Mostly, I enjoyed talking to Stephanie and watching her hands as they flew through each dread, like they worked on their own.

And then, after just an hour and a half, she was done. I paid her and didn’t realize I was shaking until I hit the pavement outside. It was something about having finally done it, having completed something that, up until then, I’d really only thought about, and having made a change that I’d wanted to make for so long. I walked for a few blocks, looking around, noticing and not noticing the houses and yards and shops around me.

Then I was able to decide what to do with myself. Since I had so much time, I went to Powell’s, which is pretty much one of the world’s most perfect places. I bought books for Dave, wandered a bit, sat a bit, and then it was time to go home.

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It felt a bit like coming out of a dream slowly, the traveling back to the airport and then back home. By the time I came home, I felt like myself again, just me-with-dreads. And that’s how it feels now. Some people say that a woman who changes her hair is going to change her life. Maybe that’s true, though I don’t feel like I’m all that different. Maybe the changes happened a while ago, and I’m finally at a place where I can wear them on the outside.

 

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