Wherein I Say Nothing About Any of the Things

I went to high school in East Africa. Nairobi in fact. Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes it’s like a dream. Because, in many ways, it was.

While in said high school, I had the opportunity to fly back to the US and attend a youth leadership conference in Washington, D.C. It was one of those programs made to look very prestigious, bringing young leaders from near and far. Eager to build college admittance resumes, we were attending our first overpriced conference, strategically and suggestively set in the nation’s capital. We dressed up in professional garb as though we were not sixteen years old, wore lanyards, and stayed in a college dorm. Not a parent in sight. I was very fortunate to go, with people sponsoring my trip and registration. The theme for the week? Medical Ethics.

Never once did I consider a medical profession, mind you. But nonetheless, that was the option that fit best with ticket fares and summer travels and so why not. There I was surrounded by high school students who had set their pubescent sights on med school, or at least their parents had. I was headed towards an English Department somewhere, glad to have finished my high school (and lifetime) science credits with Environmental Studies.

The Thai food in D.C. was incredible. But one other thing was especially impacting (…other than the Korean guys who were interested in me, yes me, the nerdy girl in the permanent friend zone back at home in Kenya…). We all watched a movie one night, as a part of this Medical Ethics Conference: Wit, starring Emma Thompson. I was moved deeply by the film, but very soon after couldn’t quite describe why. It was obscure and no one had seen it apparently, except that select group of lanyard-clad young leaders, that I knew of. Its title stayed with me all these years and I finally watched it again yesterday, a mere 15 years later.

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Wit still touched my soul, the first taste nostalgia, the rest merited profundity about the human condition, life and death. I had forgotten the strong elements of poetry, language and academia which would have been intriguing that week, way back when. I had forgotten the nurse, who always cared and rubbed lotion on the hands of the lonely patient. I had forgotten the pretentious rigor of the researchers and attending doctor. I had forgotten the main character’s journey towards both death and kindness, by way of suffering.

Wit likely watered my love for writing and studying poetry and Donne. It probably loosened some fears of the hospital, 7 years before I would work in one for a summer, and it probably planted a seed about bedside manner that made rubbing lotion on a dying woman’s back when she asked not that strange, but rather, a privilege. It tickled my appetite for academics, words, and the deep respect for women who become experts. It still speaks today to the value and pain of suffering and the great equalizing force of health and illness and endings.

Endings, health, ethics, and maintaining people’s humanity are themes that weigh on my mind these days. Also, always the thoughts and feelings about identity, my work, my worth, my gender…how I am changing and how I am not. These mazes are human and however difficult they are, whatever conflicts they may rise, and cloudiness they waft…they show life. The awareness of my own fragility, mortality even, however upsetting, is also an indicator light that my heart is beating and compassion is still kicking.

And maybe 15 years later, something will make sense. Or maybe along the way there will be a connection that leads you to give thanks, or a theme you recognize as directive, definitive, and distinctively tender. A theme God’s been showing you, patiently, relentlessly. We are alive, and yes, we are struggling, but the long game is still afoot. Our kindness, our attention to people’s humanity, our memory—these are of utmost importance now and our hurt may be the best indicator that these things are indeed on the rise. I must remind myself: the illness isn’t the story. It is the filter. Refining. Focusing.

Continue, sister and brother: forward.

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To my daughter // 9

A letter to my daughter for a time:

Today I am reminded of you. I remember the day you were torn from our home. Though you slept through the night, you were awake for much of that one. First for examination and a soothing bottle. As I fed you in front of a sympathetic police officer, I prayed and cried while your foster dad was interrogated by a very misguided lady. Then, after you had been placed back to bed and the officers had reassured us that there would be no removal or further problems, after over an hour later, you had to wake again. This time, because of that lady’s immovable choice. This time, for a final diaper change, a final hug and grasp. You were so disoriented as we placed you in that wonky car seat.

Why am I reminded of you today? Because now my son, my youngest, is the same age as you were then. 10 days shy of 9 months—that’s when your peace was disturbed and our protection was interrupted and we lost you, despite our best efforts. Now we will be with him longer than we had you.

Every day our youngest has been with us has been a gift, just like every day with you. He looks at me for reassurance when someone else holds him, just like you did. He crawls fast towards us, after venturing away for a brave minute, just like you did. That morning, we had a garage sale, and for an hour, I took you with me to a meeting and prayer time. Like him, you went with me just about everywhere. You were distractingly happy and playful, going back and forth from me to new items in the room. His glee at movement, at us, at life, are on par with yours. And today, he will go to bed and not wake up in foreign places, away from everything he’s known. Life will continue as it should. As it should have.

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I’m also mindful of you today for another reason. I’m tender towards the young girls in my world who are growing up in a world that elected our next president, adamant that you deserve better. Young girls like your aunt-for-a-time, who is feeling defeat like a true, new agent of change, destined to make a difference for a long time. I know that you’re not my daughter, but you are the closest thing I’ve had to one, and I often think what it would be like to have a daughter in these times. You have always had many women who loved you and sought to meet your needs; I may be the one you’re never told about. But it doesn’t make me less true. Now, I want to tell you in a motherly way some truth: you, as a female, are worthy of respect, leadership, and choice, though many things will suggest otherwise.

I want to tell you, my daughter for only a time, that no matter what our culture, our courts, our elections say about women, we are made in the likeness of God, and resemble the Diety in unique and powerful ways. I want to tell you that no matter what popular vote happens, no matter what Donald Trumps and Brock Turners occur, that you are encumbered and covered with love, intelligence, power, volition and beauty, and these burdens behoove each of us to reject the narratives that would normalize misogyny and downplay our accomplishments. They implore us to insist on our God-given place at the table—every freaking table. It will be a fight and it will not be fair. Today I wish we had a better historic landmark to offer you—you at the age of 3. Our culture’s dirty laundry and resistance to change is out for all the world to see, and slaps the face of all of us women who know that sense of being better-qualified, under-appreciated, under-compensated, harder-working, less-safe, less-credible or defeated—lest we forget.

Dear sweet girl, do not forget this: you, as a woman, are equal in worth and standing in the eyes of God. I pray that the truth of who you are will echo more loudly than our misogynistic culture lies of who you should be. I am dedicated to raising sons who affirm these things about you, and your sisters, your mothers and your daughters. I am raising sons with daughters in mind. It is an upward battle; as young as they are, they are already absorbing the skewed gender slurs that mitigate our value. I am writing you, in this somewhat imaginary scenario, partly because I miss you and I still grieve you, but more so because I truly pray for your empowerment as a woman and especially as a woman of color. And on this day, the day after a set-back in this realm of things, you’re first on my list to cheer onward.

You were my daughter for a time and you are the symbol of our daughters—those girls we love, and make space for, and teach and parent, whether for an hour or 9 months. You are a face to those girls we would give anything for, that they would have the freedom and empowerment to be all they are created and capable of being, without fear and apology. I’m sorry it will take so much grit.

I write to you, from my grief and disappointment today, in hopes that tomorrow your stories, and those of your peers, would have the bearing and validation they deserve. I was blessed to be a part of your story for a time…until the very last minute. I continue to be inspired by you and love you.

Love,
a mother and woman
(proud to be both)

Invisible

It’s been a lot of hard work and a tough thing about most of my and many women’s work is that it goes unseen. It’s not building towards anything in particular, it’s not billable hours, it’s not seasonal or over. It’s continuous, seemingly invisible, sometimes lonely work. 
It is constant answering and decision making without the frequent liberty of deciding the question or the topic. It is good and noble but sometimes doesn’t feel so. 

I planted things today. I had the rare opportunity to get real dirt on my hands and to make something look better. Not just until the next familial human comes around but hopefully for a long time. I added beauty and was a teensy bit creative. And I uprooted some dead plants–ones I had once been excited for but watched slowly die despite my efforts to help. In one large planter, I was preparing the freshly vacated soil for a new plant, digging a hole, when I spotted a yellow piece of plastic. I touched it. It wasn’t plastic. I found three bright yellow shoots underneath the old plant’s soil, collecting energy, making a bee line for that air and sun at the surface. 

I was shocked. Some rogue seeds had sprouted or an old bulb was alive. Something beautiful is beginning that was deep below the surface, under dead, disappointing plants. The two stories are unrelated except that one undergirded the other. 

I left the well of dirt, with just the tip of those canary arrows showing. The new plant has been put aside while I wait to see what is happening–what may be after finally removing something that never took. 

Ladies, young moms, anxiety-ridden folk, those grieving and those who wake up to a lot of Un-notoriety and Non-choices: there are things still worth waiting for. There are unexpected beauties below the grimy surface, when the soul seems shriveled and a whole uprooting and transplant seems the only option. When plan B is all lined up. In the deep burrows of loss, life can still break through. Under the weight and darkness, there is often a different story being written–as silently as your pain. Now is not forever. What needs to be pulled; what gaps need to be emptied…and left empty for a time. With the accepting of death, the creating of space, there can be spring. 

Mothering Beyond.

What a loaded day.

There are no words for the quietly mourning and those who feel awkward this day–who inwardly grimace at assuming “happy mother’s day” wishes, the moment in church calling people to stand, the posters, ads, gifts and posts that make them feel on the outside of a day we’ve termed “Mother’s Day.”

The last couple years have shown me that there are more people to be included in this appreciation-filled sentiment than we give credit for. In addition to my own mother who has loved me unconditionally from before I was in her arms, I have witnessed and shouldered the burden and the blessing of motherhood with so many. The women who are there for me and bring a fresh breath of patience and humor and assurance when I am bankrupt of all the things mothering requires. The women who teach and know and pray for my kids in ways I cannot and do not. The women who continuously foster children who they cannot post gratifying photos of, who they have no rights or guarantees with, and for whom they do all the hard work with none of the security and title. The women, like my own biological mother, who bravely carried an unborn child and relinquished it in hope, silently and painfully knowing they were the best mother they could be by letting go so early and no one may ever know. The women who are struggling to become mothers–who are yearning for pregnancy or adoption, for courage and timing, for a green light, for a way in our individualized society; they carry the heavy heart of a mother with hands empty and waiting, open and willing. The women who have lost their children–those who have certain grief today because they are a deeply bereaved mother, who has carried the pain of saying goodbye to a child or the dream of a child, and this day there is no celebration without pain.

I see in this circle of motherhood the men who have become so secure in their identity and so loyal to their families that they are the stay-at-home-parent and have rearranged traditional roles for ones that fit their family better. The daughters and sons who miss their mothers and make their mothers alive to us still, because though their moms have emotionally or physically departed from this world, they carry her daily form of adoration and sacrifice with them as a badge of their personhood, their worthiness and unique perspective on the world around them. Today is also rightfully due the older siblings, who have led their families from the middle of the fray, who have exchanged roles and carried burdens and adopted tones that were prematurely assigned them and completely inappropriate, which have led to any success and independence and loved-ness their siblings enjoy.

These are all mothers, lovingly before all of us who have needed care. Who have given warm advice, ridiculous favors, and help when we didn’t even know it or when didn’t even know we needed it.

Thank you– to my mom, and to all the mothers and caregivers who have helped others become themselves. To all those who walk alongside me daily, making it possible for me to show up as mom. This circle is so wide.

Far Above Me

I have not fallen off the face of the earth somewhere around Guatemala. I have only fallen off the face of the wireless earth. 

It has been a very bumpy month. Highs and lows come in such rapid succession that sometimes it feels like I have been driving over a cattle guard that just won’t stop jostling my insides.

The mountains and sky here are so beautiful. Surrounding the city is a mountainous rim of deep green that calls my name every time I remember to notice it. The sky seems bigger than normal. More convex as though the paradoxes of this land bulge the heavens as they defy description. 

The stories we have learned through books, across the table, and through the speaker of watchfulness have been inspiring and Good. People struggling to find God in and out of churches steeped in different cultural strains that both sustain and stunt their divine identity. People who prefer to be with their family more than anyone else. People who consciously avoid dishonest parts of progress and people who feel alien to traditions that have lied to them. 

As for me, so small in this big and foreign place, I have noticed, sometimes with fear or pain, that here has reminded me to trust. That there, home, I can let that muscle atrophy, and that leaves me ill-prepared for community and crisis. We have had this beautiful and challenging time in which we have no choice but to exercise trust, camaraderie and grace with and to strangers. And we receive them too. This time is a reminder of our own limitations, size, and interconnectedness. 

Things here are allowed to be much more wild. Unkempt. Rested. Lenient. Even in more touristy places. More than any country I have been before. My sharp eye immediately sees the gaps, the overhang, the bumps and drips. 

And I wonder, can I acquire grace through osmosis?

Could I take that as my lasting souvenir? Would observations lend themselves to Kindness when I see the gaps, the overhang, the bumps and drips in others. In my self. 

Please, yes. Here is, here I am, hoping. Shaken. Trusting

 

“Yet God, my King, is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth…Yours is the day, yours also the night; You have established the heavenly lights and the sun. You have fixed the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.” From Psalms 74.