On Being Remade

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Becoming a mother is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Not having a baby. That part, while not at all comfortable, was fairly easy.

No, the hard part, the hardest part, the very hardest thing I’ve ever done and may ever do (and yes, I’ve thought this through) was becoming a mother.

No one told me what it meant when, the minute that precious baby was born, the minute I held her and listened to her cry and tried to believe that the crying in that moment was good, at that very minute, a mother was born, too.

They say that the mother is born when the baby is born, that for every baby that becomes, a mother becomes, too, but they say it in a sappy way, They say it in a way that made me think of cupids and want to gag. I’m not a sentimental person and things like that, things that show up on greeting cards and cheesy quote sites just don’t do it for me.

In all fairness, I’m pretty sure they meant it the way I read it. But as I think about becoming a mother and then I think about the ways I’ve heard people try to describe what it might be like to be a newborn, I think this is one of the truest things ever said: “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”

When I became a mother, I found myself thrust, suddenly, into a world I’d never known existed before. I felt helpless there, unable to care for myself, let alone the little life some crazy person let me take home from the hospital. I felt much like a newborn, blinking at the light and trying to take it all in, but wanting all the while to curl back up into a small, dark, safe place to ride out this storm.

I spent days, weeks, months trying to be a person who didn’t exist anymore, because she was the only me I knew. I didn’t feel like I had a new identity, just an entire lack of an old one. I couldn’t find myself, couldn’t find the place where I knew I loved my baby, and I couldn’t even begin to have the words to ask for help.

I’m saying the same thing over and over here, trying out different words, hoping that something resonates, because I’ve tried to tell people this before. I’ve tried to tell them how hard it was and how stunned I was and how terrifying it was to suddenly exist in a world that looked the same and yet had changed entirely because I was an entirely different person in it. I’ve tried to say how crazy I felt, how it wasn’t just hormones and chemicals but some sort of making and re-making that I didn’t feel confident would ever be complete.

I’ve tried, and most of them cock their heads or squint at me and say, “But doesn’t every mother feel that way?”

That used to stab me through, to feel like a knife turned and twisted as it damaged hurt places even more than they were already damaged, but now I hear that and I think two things.

1) I felt undone. Un-fucking-done. Unmoored. Unmade. Unprepared. Unable. If every woman feels that way, if every woman who becomes mother feels like that, then we need to do a damn sight more to address it. We need to talk and share about what things are really like after a baby is born. We need to share the things we actually think, the times when we wonder if we really should just take the baby to the nearest fire station or a church and make an anonymous baby drop-off, because it would hurt like hell forever but at least the baby would be in competent, capable hands. And we need to talk until people listen, to say it over and over and over again because that one person who actually hears might get to have a different experience because of it and that would be worth it, even if many disparage and begin to worry about us. Because I prepared to become a mother, I was well-prepared, even, and I had no idea the maelstrom that would come.

2) The more I ponder this, the more I think that every woman could feel this way, that this unmaking and remaking happens to everyone and different people are in touch with it in different ways and use different words to talk about it because it’s not something words describe very well, and some aren’t in touch with it at all. The more I ponder it, the more I hear my story in the stories that I hear other people tell, in the words people say when they’re trying to say something deep and meaningful and can’t find the words and so they let their experience be classified some other way, sometimes as postpartum depression and/or anxiety, or even as the helpless feeling all new parents have when they take a babe home from the hospital.

A word, on postpartum depression and/or anxiety, before I forget and you wonder if I think things I don’t actually think. Postpartum disorders are real, and they suck. I struggled with anxiety, an anxiety that eventually lifted when I stopped breastfeeding and started exercising, which was the point where I could finally see it for what it was, because I didn’t fit any of the doctors’ descriptions. I don’t ever want to say that these aren’t real, but I do want to say that, sometimes, I think we let these terms, these categories, diminish or define this experience of being unmade and remade in a way that takes away from what the experience really is.

My experience was anxiety and it was more. The anxiety made the unmaking and the remaking harder, but it didn’t make it a different sort of experience.

Asides aside, becoming a mother made me into a new person, and figuring out what that meant and who I was took a long, long time, took years, took until today and tomorrow and I’ll let you know when it’s done.

At first, all I could see was the unmaking. I lived in a world where I no longer existed, at least not in any form I could recognize. An unfathomable chasm separated me from my previous life and I couldn’t return, even if I could have found some responsible and conscionable way to do that.

What saved me, though, what kept me from performing an out of control nose dive into the nearest empty swimming pool, was a growing sense of being remade. I wasn’t just undone, I was done up in a new way. One person, one me, didn’t exist anymore, but another one did.

I didn’t know this the way I know that one plus one is two, or even the way I know God exists. I couldn’t have told anyone why I hung on, Maybe it was just the simple fact that I was still here, still living, and so I had to be someone even if I didn’t know who I was and wasn’t sure I ever would.

I wish I could give you some sort of undeniably happy ending. The truth is, my eldest is 4 1/2 and I’m still finding out who I am as a mother – not just what I am like as a mother, what works for me and what doesn’t in parenting, but who I am now that I am a mother. Who is this new person, this mother, this person who is and is not the me I’ve always known and who, on the outside, is mostly given over to caring for small people? How am I the same? How am I different? What can I hold onto from before, and what do I need to let wash away?

The Truth

The truth is that what’s true isn’t always lovely, but it’s always lovelier than what is false. The truth is that facing the truth, and telling it, is stronger than hiding it, even when what you share makes you feel weak. And the truth is that I crave the truth, that I connect to people who tell it like it is, and that I struggle to connect when I feel like truth is hidden and that is supposed to be ok.

The truth is that I’m not really sure I will miss these years when the kids are little. I hear people say that I will and I wonder if they really know me. The truth is that I see the value in what I do every day, but I still don’t enjoy many parts of it. And the truth is that I do it anyway, because what’s good (and Good) isn’t always fun.

The truth is the one of my children is approximately 37 times harder than the others for me to love well and I process guilt and shame about that every day. The truth is that I don’t always love any of them well, even though that’s what I want to do more than anything else. And the truth is that I’m a mom who is great at some things and terrible at others and I work on my weaknesses but I am also learning to accept them as the places where God will have to step in and carry us all.

The truth is that I’m still so, so tired, that we don’t often sleep through the night and that I haven’t caught up from having newborns. The truth is that I stay up too late and get up too early, because that’s the only way I’ve found to get the time alone and time with Dave that keeps me sane. The truth is that I sometimes wonder if some of the ways I struggle every day would be minimized if I could just get a little more sleep.

The truth is that, over the last 4-5 years, we have struggled with depression and anxiety and sometimes the most Dave and I have been able to do for our “togetherness” is to watch the same TV show at the same time. And the truth is that I feel like I’m waking up, both slowly and all-of-a-sudden, finding myself climbing out of survival mode. And sometimes it’s like waking up in a world that has moved on without you, and I feel like certain parts of my life are mostly playing catch-up.

The truth is that I so often see through what’s presented me, that I often know that things aren’t as they seem and I wonder how everyone just goes on, accepting what they see as what there is. The truth is that I want to be SEEN, not just seen. And the truth is that it is excruciatingly difficult to find people who want to see and be seen, who want to let me in and be let in beyond the status quo, the surface, who think before they answer, “Fine.”

The truth is that life is an iridescent, pointed thing, and anyone who tells you differently hasn’t looked closely enough. The truth is that almost every moment shines and stabs, pokes and reigns. And the truth is that I’ve begun talking in poetry, that I have hit the place where even image almost fails, but I still want to try and say more.

The truth is that victory is our ultimate destination, victory and healing. And the truth is that I am a warrior and a healer, always have been and always will be, and I’ve stopped caring whether those are supposed to go together. And the defeat we sometimes see and feel here is real, so real, but the victory and the healing are more real, or will be someday.

The truth is that we are so often too busy to be bothered with the truth, because truth isn’t always obvious and isn’t always apparent, and when we don’t want to see it even the obvious and apparent becomes camouflaged. The truth is that truth often bears hurt and healing in one breath, that the truth that sears also cauterizes its own wound. And the truth is that we fear the burning.

But the burning – oh, the burning! – the burning will save us. The burning will burn away what is extra, what is false, what doesn’t belong. And whatever we find on the other side, whatever we still hold when the fire has ravaged over and under and around and through us, that is real.

The truth makes us real and I don’t know why we settle for less.

Tied Up

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My words have been tied up. They’ve had their arms pinned down, tight to a chair with rope. There’s no one else around, no malevolence. Just my words, tied to a chair, in a large, empty room that I can’t enter.

I can see my words, sitting there, tied to that chair. I can see them and they can see me but I can’t save them. They’re screaming at me but I can’t even hear them. Every once in a while, something gets through, but most of the time I am separated from them. I am mute and my words are stuck in a place where I can’t hear them.

I am afraid.

Working with words is the one thing that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s also the thing I fight with the most, the one thing that is hardest to sit down and do. Words are my friends and my enemies, the place where I find truth and lose it, a place that is home and a cave for refuge through a dark, cold night. Words are air and they are fire, and I long to breathe the air but I know what it feels like to get burned.

My words have gotten stuck. They are trapped in that room and I am outside and, if there’s a key in the world that fits that lock, I haven’t found it yet. They are trapped, so I am trapped, in a world where I have so many things to say and almost no ability to say them.

And – here’s the real dinger – I put them in there. I’m sure that I stuffed the words away and put the key where I will never find it.

Life is safer, this way. Life is safer when I’m not trying to make things, when I don’t risk a black eye or bruised ribs trying to wrestle the words into place. It’s safer when I’m not trying to deal with weird feedback, when the feedback I get doesn’t really matter because I’m not putting my heart out there. The words are my heart, the way I say all the things that are me.

You can give away your birthright, trade it for something silly and smaller, because almost everything is smaller than a birthright. Or you can lock it away, to protect both it and you, to keep it pristine, unpracticed but also undamaged.

The cost, of course, is the haunting.

That thing – whatever THAT THING is – sneaks up on you in the middle of the night, when you feel like someone just might be watching you but you don’t know and you don’t know how to know. And then it starts whispering questions in your ear: “What if . . . ?” “Will you ever be happy?” “Maybe tomorrow . . . ”

I wrote a novel 5, 6, 7 years ago (depending on which draft you’re talking about). I wrote it and I got feedback and then I got confused and didn’t know how to proceed.

Looking back . . . well, many things: I hadn’t studied the craft of storytelling (as opposed to writing) enough to know what worked and what didn’t. I ceded too much ground to those first readers, and so I didn’t know what to do when their voices disagreed. Most of the feedback I got wasn’t writing feedback, wasn’t technical or focused on how to improve the story – people either made sweeping comments about the entire story or picked up on details that might need to change but that weren’t essential (like the hour at which I had a mother put her child to bed).

I pulled the novel out of its cubby hole the other day (it’s impressive as a stack of paper, if nothing else). It moved with me 4 times, now, and I figure it’s time to do something about it. I can’t quite leave it behind – I still love the story, I think it goes to some important places, and I need to finish it. That last is maybe the most important. When I didn’t finish the novel, when I didn’t even come up with an edited draft that was, at least, improved, it played a role in paralyzing the rest of my words.

Since then, I haven’t been able to write a novel. I haven’t been able to write much of anything. The act (or lack of an act?) of not finishing put my words in a straightjacket, tied them to that chair.

The key, I think (and maybe it isn’t a key to open the door and untie my words directly, but maybe it’s a long creep through the ductwork to silently drop in through an air vent and slice the ropes from behind), is to finish. To get through at least one successful round of editing, and then decide if I want to focus my efforts here or start over, somewhere else, with another project.

So I’m writing a novel, y’all.

 

photo credit: urbanworkbench via photopin cc

This Old House

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There’s an old house that is me.

It’s something of a southern manse, with a circle drive and white pillars out front and maybe even a statue or two, though you wouldn’t know it was much to look at it. It’s been neglected long, and now ivy nearly covers it, crawling up the pillars and through cracks in the windows and even covering the door.

I have to hack through it to get inside, in fact, to even find the door knob, and I wonder if it’s worth the immense amount of energy it’s going to take to get inside.

Not even CrossFit has prepared me for this.

I’ve hacked at these vines before, sawed and gnawed until my tools broke or my teeth hurt or I got distracted and walked away.

But I always come back.

So now is the time. Those rooms call to me. The are begging for sunlight and air, to know again what it is to be inhabited. The long to be dusted, swept, polished. Updated.

I have wandered long. I have been lost, learning the length and breadth of all there is, trying on lives as they’ve presented themselves. I have been many people, I’ve stood on their ground and known their names and more than their names: something of what it is to be them, from the inside out. And I’ve looked in from the outside, too, perusing identities like some people peruse shoes, wondering which would fit my life the best.

I’ve walked away from my home, turned my back on land that was mine, went away and stayed away. In the beginning, coming home seemed too easy. Then the way seemed twisted, the path I thought led home leading somewhere else entirely. And then the house and the hacking and the exhaustion.

But this house is my home. This land is my ground. There is nowhere else to go, nothing left but the work that is in front of you when you learn nothing else will satisfy.

 

Becoming a mother has brought me home. Not, you might say, by the most direct route.

I became a mother and I lost my voice. The weight of all that responsibility hung around my neck and threatened to choke the life right out of me. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t swallow. I just gulped and gulped for air.

On particularly airless days, I swam and swam towards the light and hoped with all I was to break the surface before I had to inhale again.

More than chemicals, more than circumstances, more than anything you can name. Unconscious expectations are the millstones that destroy us.

Expectation: Women who have children give up everything for their kids. 

If I wasn’t happy, then I was holding on. If I wanted to live on my own land, I was selfish. I could stand on my ground and inhabit myself, or I could be a good mother.

Renounce, Renounce, Renounce.

Give up yourself and take up your cross. But don’t you dare treat that cross as if it were actually a cross.

Now I am fighting back.

Am fighting. Active.

I do not fight my children or anyone else; I fight myself. I fight the desire to let the vines remain over those windows, to let them keep the door locked tight.

If I cannot have it, no one can.

All my life, I’ve been a fighter. The fighter, sometimes, amidst groups where conflict is anathema.

I am the fighter.

Or maybe I am just a person. Just one who has learned the place for which she was created and will not let go of that just because they tell her to.

They.

So many there, and not least of all are the voices in her own head.

Something I’ve learned of her, over years: she still stands.

There is much that makes her bend, even some that makes her break. But in the end, she stands.

She is, at the same time, a tree and a flower.

A tree, immense and rooted, holding on. Bending, not breaking, and all that. Storms wash over her but she outlasts them.

A flower, small, yellow, a child’s treasure. So easily picked, beauty so fleeting, yet every one makes an impression. Things press into her and she presses into them. Impressions can have more stamina than life.

A tree and a flower and a house. A fighter and a mother and, in the end, just a person. “Just a person,” as if being a person is some small thing.

A person is more. Always more. Everything is a person and a person is everything, and I am not trying to be Zen. Anything is an image of me, and I can find myself anywhere, if I look hard enough.

Here. In the bed I’m leaning on. In the little girl downstairs pretending she is a dinosaur. In the perfect air outside and the warmer air in here. In you.

Oh, yes, in you.

Even if you have never been here before, if I have never met you and known the color of your eyes, if our lives have never touched. I could find something of myself in you. And you in me.

Because to be a person is to know. It’s to understand about the house and the tree and the flower, to know we all have places where we need to hack away, and we all hold immensity and fragility close together, sometimes in the same breath.

To be a person, a human being, a human be-ing, is to find ourselves both deep inside and also in the eyes of everyone we meet. And it is to hack, to always hack, at the vines that keep us out of our own house.

I long for the day when I return to my land, for the time when my land knows me and I am home. I long for a day when I begin to feel rooted and look to see if, today, I am the tree or the flower.

It won’t matter which. Both are good and needed, when sown in good land.

The point is that I can grow in land that’s mine. You can grow in land that’s yours. An on that day, that rooted day, we will know: our land is sacred ground.

photo credit: Rickydavid via photopin cc

On Growing Up White in a Mixed-Race Family

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.

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.

 

The Blessed Saint of Time Travel

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.

On Moving On and Mirrors

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.

The Normal Way of Sanctification

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.

On Birth, in the Season of Death*

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.

Adding to the Noise

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.