Homosexuality, the Hatmakers, and Hell-raising

There is no shortage of bouncers in the Kingdom of God. If only it were an actual job description in the model of Jesus.

Our stance in the threshold is awkward for He took the cross already, and He incinerated the measuring stick. So what stone is in our hand?

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There are many openings in the Kingdom, vacancies galore, but the hyped-up voices seem distracted by those roles that do not exist. I confess that I get too wrapped up in issues and who is wrong, to the detriment of loving others. I am part of the problem of the Church being front and center in culture wars rather than announcing a different culture, resolutely and tenaciously, from the margins in.

A few things: let’s keep learning, being malleable disciples of the faith, and allowing others the same, God-given luxury. Let’s remember who the real victims of this storm are. And let’s refocus our attention on embracing not excommunicating.

Watching wise older people has shown me first and foremost that age loosens rigidity and judgmental reflexes. The aging whom I admire suggest that God’s invitation is a lot more gentle and wide than was thought of yesterday…and the day before. The Seers I’m taking notes on have roots growing in Grace, for themselves and others, and have less and less invested in who is wrong.

Meanwhile, I’m amazed when people disqualify others from God’s family. Jesus Calling is demon-possessed. Hillsong is a cult. Women leaders in general: suspect. And now the Hatmakers are popularity-crazed, lukewarm (FYI, for the jargon newbies, this is the worst insult) Christians-with-an-asterisk, who will soon deny the resurrection, I’m sure.

I’m very sad for Jen and Brandon Hatmaker, as many brothers and sisters feel infallible liberty to smear them at will. As soon as I heard that a popular Christian voice had lambasted them to Kingdom-come, I knew the source…low-hanging fruit for his brand. They’re not the first. They’re handling it with grace and class. Jen Hatmaker loves Jesus and isn’t morphing Him to be Jen Hatmaker. She loves the Bible and my guess is she’s spending a lot of time there these days. Maybe she’s changed her mind over the years, maybe she hasn’t. Are we honestly going to hold them on a pedestal just to beat the crap out of them? When did it become a spiritual gift and duty to criminalize others?

Our insistence on crucifying Christians is in direct contradiction to the crucified Christ. 

But I’m more sad for the observers of this all-too-familiar back and forth–the overlooked whom this is actually about. The observers who have been personally hurt and harmed, bullied and belittled, because of this conversation in which we are soooo cavalier. The LGBTQ community need only the slightest hint of insensitivity or anger to tear open wounds of bigotry and shame inflicted by we people claiming Jesus. Those brothers and sisters who are in the Church and those who were approaching the front steps are first and foremost souls. This, this mailing back of books, name-calling, sexist judgmental pandering, and hell-condemning is about them. It is personal and fragile and the opposite of flippant. The Hatmakers are suffering public scorn for answering hard questions and for engaging in really controversial, complex parts of culture…but I’m confident they have the spiritual resources and community to care for them during this time. The LGBTQ onlookers and overlooked whom they have defended and invited, however,  are once again, or more so, made “Other.” To our deep detriment.

I am so sorry for the fits originating from the pews. My heart breaks for my friends and not-yet friends in the LGBTQ categories that are watching the chaos and hurt all over again.

Our faith’s love campaign took a hit, becoming further concealed, further calcified and conditional…far from the places Jesus would be were He walking earth today, I believe. We are fractured and broken, and oh, if we could only abstain from this hell-raising. We’re digging our own grave.

 

I’m the first to say I don’t know all the things. And I’m liable to change my mind, like I have on many other topics. And I’m liable to be wrong. I don’t know all about the Bible and homosexuality; I’m learning and in a process on this tender topic, again. And, thankfully, I don’t rely on people’s agreement/approval (i.e. support raising) anymore so I can share my own uncertainties and learning process more openly (how bizarre). Check back in if for some reason you’re wanting my personal “answer.”

But regardless of where I land, if I do, my attitude towards those who identify with different lifestyles is not affected. My ability to learn from and love those who are different from me, especially those who are less privileged, should not ebb and flow. I know that in any of these conversations, I try to listen to those with less power, and I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m going to err on the side of love and humility. And I have the privilege of not being asked by Jonathan Merritt, in front of a salivating Matt Walsh, what I think about every hot button issue—as though really, people had buttons, ready to drop the floor out like Edward’s old sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

The buttons are lies. For the love of everything that is holy, back away from the buttons. It’s easy to become more about removing people from the flock than inviting everyone in. It’s easier to be cloistered and confident than serving and susceptible. 

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God help me the day I wake up and feel so confident in every doctrine and belief that I am wonderfully justified in spewing vitriol at a fellow person. The day I have so much time and energy to start dissecting devotionals and other churches because my work amongst the orphans, widows, prisoners, hungry, lonely and marginalized is so complete. Why do we have so much energy to kick someone out of the church when we were commissioned to adopt people in?

 

Let’s get back to work. Let’s return to the job descriptions and postures of learning and loving that Grace handed us, not the ones our fears inflict. Jesus is not here; He is the living and this is the dead.

 

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Corners

It’s hard to breathe sometimes, isn’t it?

 

I can name 4 major crises my small circle is facing right now. This morning, in the midst of doing something very inconsequential, scrubbing the neglected corners of my kitchen floor, I found myself on my knees, which is not very inconsequential.

I cannot do much for these loved ones. I can give strong hugs, I can suggest ideas from my finite mind, I can feel–oh, I can feel–their sorrow and grief. But I cannot abbreviate their grief, end the illness, free the captive, raise the lifeless or infuse identity.

As I bent low, making a difference in the dirt, I used a basin older than me. It was my grandmother’s. A woman who is going to welcome her daughter soon in the heavenlies. A woman of faith and gentleness, servanthood and humility, that I rarely resemble. As I considered the hours she spent scrubbing, the moments she must have used this bowl, the small, calloused hands I remember that gripped so many young children’s palms in her own and cleaned so many spills, I felt connected to a lineage of people who endured, who believed, who saw the best in people.

The prayers of my grandmother live on, much like this enamel basin. It helped me to pray on the floor this morning, for the sorrow and trauma my loved ones are suffering, for the milieu of danger and suspicion and blame in our nation, for the strength to wait and be loving.

I don’t know how God endures the grief He must feel over His lost and hurting people. Over our refusal to reach out, our rejection of His citizenship, and our constant evaluation of one other in self-defense when all He has done has been for our belonging and to grow our grace. I don’t know how He faced this earth and said He would stay with us Always.

God the Son bent low and washed feet. It didn’t end cancer. It didn’t fix the betrayer’s heart. It didn’t save them from martyrdom.

All that is wrapped up in Christ’s basin and kneeling eludes me but today this occurs to me: He is with us at the lowest and messiest. This is my God–the One who serves, weeps, and gave up His breath so that even when it is so hard, we breathe on and we have someone to pray to who knows this pain.

I don’t feel any obligation to remain poised in the midst of today’s hurt. But I must stay prayerful. I must stay knelt at a humble basin, facing the dirt, remembering that though the air is thin, this is not the end. We come from a tradition and a Lord who embraced those margins. We are not unfamiliar with the dark corners of life and fallenness. And we are not conquered or calloused under their persistence. I reach deep into the water of faith at these times, and stay low to listen and to love. It is all there is to do.

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. 

Deliverance from Adultery: A Message for the American Church

Every day I need deliverance. I just forget it, which is the scary thing.

All day I have a scrolling list of shoulds and T-charts and timers. I have the domestic burden and blessing of trying to decide if organic zucchini is worth the price if they won’t eat it anyway and how much screen time is a good reward and how big of a deal is picking up dirty socks and the word “fart.” I have the Enneagram type 1 hat of problem-solving and advocacy and general discontent (my prescribed growing direction is Ryan’s type 7, which carries the motto “I want to have fun!”). Oh YEA!

This time in history is like a warm, moist environment to this bacteria of constant reform and conviction within me. When my breath catches in my throat under the wave of an injustice or a worry, when I see the feeds that starve, and the posts that dismantle, when I feel the weight of responsibility and disappointment over what the margins have to say and what the powerful keep missing, I wring my hands with the rest of them. And I labor…I dream of fixes, simplicity, solutions and revolution.

But well-meaning thoroughness, and honest engagement, are no substitute for deliverance. I do not muster deliverance; I take hold of it. I receive it. I let go because of it.

And it is a time, more than anything else, for deliverance. 

Yes, there is advocacy and sacrifice. Yes, there is becoming informed and listening. Yes, there is civil discourse.

But first, and last, I want to pause before the throne, before calvary, and say, “Yes, Lord – please deliver me. Please deliver us. Through all this chaos, all the violence and false narratives, all the fear and greed, and cloudy future…You’re here. You’ve done the work, as irrelevant as it may seem some days. In You I place my hope and I see You in these shambles.”

And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:1-4

History tells us this isn’t actually the worst of times. I’ve seen people call this election, this anti-everything, binary mode the worst–for Christians, cops, voters, the like. I don’t need that to be convinced things are bad. No, but it is raw, and there is no lapse of evil to take a breath.

But in this very moment is our deliverance, Christian Americans. In this very hour, we might be saved.

Awake, souls. No longer is there an autopilot, and that myth of a Christian nation must be a little tipsy by now. Let it fall. No longer can faith pretend to sleep with a political party in wedded bliss, all the while committing adultery. No longer can righteousness be molded into a political system and a national story that was never capable of holding eternity and never had an edge in God’s economy. No longer can the sleeping American Christian avoid shining awkwardly or owning its shame and contempt. It is a day of reckoning, and in case it hasn’t dawned on us yet, the alarm will undoubtedly keep rising.

Receive your deliverance. Take hold. Let go. Step out.

We have the opportunity to be delivered from mistaking a government’s promises for God’s, and a government’s best interests for our own as His children. We have the opportunity, like Israel so many times in the Old Testament, to be delivered from a sinful apathy and assimilation. To be liberated from a facade of Christianity to our true status as foreigners in this land, meant to engage vigorously but not to enmesh seamlessly. We have the opportunity to re-find ourselves and be delivered from a lack of critical-thinking that has too long forced the Good News into an either-or tug-of-war that cuts the knees off of our Christ and took all our energy and resources. I love and respect this country but I will keep her an important acquaintance. We are not to confuse our way of life what the one–whichever one–she purports.

I am pained by who has fallen and by who we’ve elevated, and all the in-between plaguing our nation right now. But I am comforted by this deliverance. I am hopeful that my children will walk with God and the Church and not have to argue about the connection between abortion and healthcare and racism. I am hoping that they will not find it difficult or unique to attend a local congregation that sings in different languages and has no one ethnicity or gender or class in power, that doesn’t mind talking about a political candidate because everyone is a Christian before they’re an American and the bullying vehicle of political argumentation finds no fuel in the Church. I am hopeful that today’s deliverance means that tomorrow’s Christianity is brave and loving–and incongruous with any one nation’s fears or worldview.

This election, and the constant pitting of souls against souls in the rest of the headlines, could be enough to break up this sham of a marriage between the Christian faith and a great country. Oh, would it! Too long have we looked for Him under a flag and anthem rather than around the eucharist, kneeling beside the footwashing basin. Perhaps His Bride may return–beleaguered, but delivered. Perhaps, in the midst of this cracking we will find missing pieces and our voice again. Shining like stars, delivered.

See you at the table.

Weeds, Anxiety and Home

I need me some home.” -Johnnyswim

There are days that by 6pm, starting a load of laundry seems far too hard.

When the thought of next week, tomorrow, next year, carries too much work to bring that rush of Looking-Forward-To-life I think it will.

This infancy, this 3rd one from my own hormones and womb, has left me fighting demons of anxiety. Most common when I am quite literally feeding this little doughboy does the sense of alarm and despair threaten emptiness. It has improved over time, and has become less surprising, but still, Tired is nearer, No More is always within arm’s reach…and in the crevices of a cheerful, cuddly live teddy bear’s light and joy, there’s the bone tired drought and knots that appear from no where.

This afternoon, I battled a weed as big as me. It comes back every couple of months and I glare at it and I put in a request for a chainsaw (yes, this weed has a trunk) and a male’s upper arm strength and I wring my hands and maybe yell a few times. I let it take over the planter, filling my vision of the patio. And it can feel overwhelming.

Today I cut off all the parts of the weed and its spawn that I could. I made a heap of something that used to be feeding, growing, and absorbing energy, and will now shrivel and die. I didn’t solve anything but I don’t feel defeated when I look outside for the moment. Now it’s not the only thing I see when I look out the window.

In my refined, oldest child, perfectionist, Good-Christian, missionary kid/adult mentality, it’s really easy to think that going without is a virtue in and of itself–that somehow faith and being good and blessed has landed me in a stressful, tired place and that’s the way it is meant to be. That the weed is a thing of glory or a test or some crap theology like that and I just have to figure out how to BE HAPPY, doggonit.

And then I listen to a song. Then I spend 10 minutes of quiet with Galatians. Then I plant something or encounter a safe friend on the street or am spontaneously embraced or helped by one of my sons. And I remember Home.

Not a home I can find on a map, like many third-culture-kids and millennials nowadays. Not just my family of origin that shared so much with me. Not just a feeling of humanness and connectedness, or freedom and contentment that worldly beauty and comfort can aid. The Home that beckons us forward, that makes us bow our head in thanks. That disentangles our mind and our heart–our death grip–out and off of the lies of anxiety and shoulds and going without for no reason at all.

The Good News that’s kept my attention in the darkest does not proclaim that God wants me to carry a strained look around all the livelong day. He doesn’t send us things like illness, MediCal sagas, computer glitches that freeze our savings, and random phone calls asking if we can take a child (“We hope we can help soon…”) the very day we’re worried that that dream is dying. Yes, He’s grieved by asinine global and national developments and He is deeply involved in the loss and otherness and margins that invoke pain. But He isn’t behind every closed door and every upsetting curve ball. He isn’t preaching the Gospel of Muscle Through and The End.

My Courier of Good News is not the grim reaper of deprivation.

He’s the Home. Christ before me, Christ behind me. Christ beside me, Christ beneath me. Christ above me, Christ within me. The constant. The meaning, the refuge. Home.

Today, once again, I did nothing to actually end the battle with the nightmare weed, but I made it seem less big. So now I can focus on the plants I do want to grow–the choosing, the watering, the tending, out from under the lying shade of a bully weed. Today, I still do not have control over when and for how long I will experience anxiety and my chest muscles contracting and all the other blasted adulting that makes laundry too hard by 6pm. But I can rebel by doing the small things that help me be centered. I can partake in the things that whisper of Home—of being home-free, abundant, graceful and calm. I can avail my self to that which spites the weeds of this life, stripping them until they are only one part of the picture. I can lay claim to Home.

 

A Summer Solstice

I am an emotional wreck today. (Hush, those of you questioning that last word.) It’s relentlessly hot in Los Angeles and the heat scrambles all my emotional regulators and reason like eggs on a sidewalk. It just ain’t happenin over here. I would like to turn in my Adult card.

Sometimes the lack of my self-powered clarity and control allows a rush of Truth, over the rocks of desperation and face palms of discouragement. And in the midst of a mess, there’s a gift. Today, I remembered my name and was helped with worth. Even amidst the nonsensical noise that constantly, CONSTANTLY, fills my life with happiness and joy…

I urge you to walk in a manner worth of the calling to which you have been called…Eph 4:1

In an excerpt from For The Love, I read Jen Hatmakers’ litmus test for sound theological application after decades of her drinking the upper-class, homogenous white American Christianity Kool-aid that served her well with rights, wrongs and shoulds, but not always WELL. In essence, she’s landed on one helpful comparison to aid her escape: If it isn’t true for a poor single mom on Haiti, it isn’t true for me—theology is true for everyone. An interesting juxtaposition. I have some qualms but I see the point.

Today, this was the plate on which I was served Truth. As for me and my house, well— not really sure about serving the Lord today, but we are sure sweaty and cranky and needy—how about that! Conveniently, the little existential doubts about how I’m living life and how we are leading our family follow on the heels of, like, feeling defeated by Legos. No big THANG.

(They are literally so small and annoying and PREVALENT.)

It is a luxury to fret about our calling and decisions, to have options to weigh–to wrestle with what to buy and how to spend your free time. None of that is helpful to me today. But this, the litmus test and the Haitian woman whom I’d like to know, helped lift the weight.

To live a life worthy of the calling to which I am called does not mean gain professional development, put myself out there more, be a better housekeeper or have the admiration of other women. It does not mean I have to be perfectly groomed or humored or supportive. It means to have character. To be devoted to Love. These things are not accessible to the advantaged alone but also our sister in Haiti. Also to me at my worst. Character over competency, production, and charisma. Oh good, but oh crap.

So I don’t need to feel lousy about my disorganized closet and how that person treated me or be embarrassed when I size up my life compared to someone else’s. And I don’t need to feel secure all of a sudden when someone asks for my opinion or my kid does something well. I sit squarely before one set of eyes, grasped by one set of scarred hands. I may pretend to earn that spot and I may pretend I am outside of His gaze but my name suggests otherwise. Danielle means God is my judge, as the Old Testament prophet said, and my life is valuable insofar as it remains in His economy. His equalizing, grace-filled, no-nonsense system of rescued worth.

So maybe you find yourself a little disenchanted today. A little less enthused with your job, your hats, your people, your Self, this early summer day. Maybe along the way of fighting the good fight, you’ve become a little scrambled too and feel a little sensitive also.

You and I are not the sum total of our accomplishments and image and poise. You and I and the lady in Haiti are called to not dissimilar things. I want to walk in a manner worthy of that other-worldly economy; I want to stay in the belonging of that Grace-Gospel. So the hot days rattle less. So I have more in common with my namesake than the right or the left, or the perfectionism that haunts me. Peace be the journey.

A Bedtime Story

This time it’s over a miniature stuffed zebra toy whose back lights up through a star-filled plastic plate, sending an array of changing-colored stars on nearby dark walls. It’s over a tiny thing that a minute ago was disregarded on the floor, but now, since it is in little brother’s hands, is The Most Treasured Toy of All Time.

The boys share a room because we want to force them to be friends and in each other’s space as much as possible. We figure at some point the ganging up on us for the delay of bedtime and the pre-sleep squabbles have to evolve to deep-rooted camaraderie and lifelong looking out for each other. (Please do not tell us if this did not turn out to be true for you, please and thank you.)

After 8pm, emotions are rampant here. (And let me tell you, they weren’t in short supply at sunrise.) We devolve throughout the day apparently; our meds have worn off. It ain’t pretty, folks. Tonight is no exception. Tears, so many tears, when I vetoed older brother’s demands for HIS toy to be returned to HIM because HE wants it and the enemy-he didn’t ask [for permission to pick up disregarded/treasured toy—a birthday gift from a friend—off of floor], hmph!

The 4-year-old is less calloused by life (I hate to brag…) and in his sincere yearning for older brother’s approval and eternal happiness, often appeases him. While Dante and I were in the throws of a heart to heart (read: low-toned battle), mini-zebra Hope Diamond appeared on his pillow. Asher was already back in his bed, covering his ears, for the tears from the next bed over are always accompanied with wailing, in good post-8pm fashion.

I’ll spare you the details but eventually, slowly, with many comments about being “the most grown up” and “making me sad” and “worst day ever,” we eventually talked about what the most brave and most loving thing to do could be. Dante’s tears and torment didn’t end with the return of the Crown Jewel. It stung that his brother was feeling bad, and that his brother was demonstrating one of our rules that hasn’t fully taken effect: People are more important than stuff. It made him cry more that Asher felt sad but that Asher was being praised, that now he had this mini-light-up-stuffed-animal-plastic-thing and he kind of did want it but now he kind of didn’t. He didn’t fully believe that Asher wasn’t somehow the enemy, and cried, “We never get along!”

Eventually, Dante wanted to give the treasure back to Asher. He wanted to give him permission to have it. But he didn’t want to talk to him. He wanted me to give Asher a message. I was alright with that. The titanic doesn’t turn quickly, and it was enough that he was whispering with me, to keep from disturbing Asher more from further emotional trauma, and that he wanted to do the most brave and most loving thing: hand over the toy willfully. I dutifully delivered the package and the message to a relieved little brother, and returned to Dante’s side.

“Mom,” he whispered, “Now I feel sad like Asher did. I still feel a little sad!”

It’s true. My heart beat hard. I know you do, Sweetie.

Doing the brave and loving thing can help us feel better, it can let us go to sleep, but it doesn’t leave us feeling void of sadness. It’s true, we can feel a little sad even after All the Things we could do, we’ve done. Because it is a good toy. Because we still feel shame about our part in the problem. We wanted something else, other than what happened. Because we can’t control the Other, and we can’t control the future. We can’t ensure that they’ll remember our goodness or even recognize it, that the next round will go our way, that God Himself will keep the tally according to our terms of justice, and we just feel a little sad. The emptiness of doing the right thing, or letting go when we should, or giving the benefit of the doubt when it isn’t merited. Yes, it’s all true.

It’s okay to still feel a little sad.

The journey to rest tonight was long and imperfect and messy. We achieved some semblance of peace… but it wasn’t complete. We found some way forward… but it wasn’t perfectly satisfying. And this is so grown up, little boy. This is the Already and the Not Yet, in our simple shared space, with our friend-emies, in our late night fragility. We hold on to the Not Yet part of the Story of Brave Love and do our best, with our sadness, with our brother… together.

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You Had Me Before I Had You

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

And by times, I mean, all the times since April 26, 2009.

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There’s nothing like a child to magnify your vices and hang-ups, melt your heart so its more human, and muster a prayer-life filled with long pauses and questions. There’s nothing like the delight of how funny they are, how clever they are…how much wonder they bring to all the mundane they’ve brought. There’s nothing like painstakingly raising a strong-willed child to give you the holy opportunity to reframe things in grace that were once set in judgment, or remember things in gratefulness that still support you today.

Dante Kamau was a miracle. Strong in the womb, and stronger still on the outside, he has had us from the moment we knew we were having him.

In times of big change and big crisis, he has been remarkably, as his name implies, steadfast. Though a man of routine armed with a killer memory, he can somehow adapt to change and walk in confidence through the things we thought could rattle him—that rattled us. He is an excellent traveler and sleeper, having spent time in D.C., the Midwest, the Northwest, Amsterdam and Kenya in his first 2 years of life. He is brave and has faced many an adventure, head on, the past 7 years, giving us so much joy and new delight. He has done much for our arm muscles, and not much for our backs.

In the times of small upsets and tough social nuances, the tenderness and fragility of still being a young child, with too-big emotions, in a too-big body, with too many thoughts, all create a windstorm of fury and collapsing and we are caught off guard, new to this creature, all over again. He wears his heart on his sleeve and there is nothing discreet, like, ever. His straightforward manner of talking can seem rude and his analytical questions can make me want to hide. In a battle of an NF parent and an SF child, I just can’t sometimes, and he just can’t sometimes, and so we pat each other’s J’s and do our best. Sometimes his best response is “I don’t really want to talk.” and again, new, fretting like first-time parents of a newborn—how to maneuver with this miracle son.

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He’s the one to first show us what it’s like to physically hurt for your kid and how wonderful it is to read for the first time and how you learn to read them better than you read yourself. What it’s like to hold yourself back from a violent urge to protect, interfere, speak for, defend, and, in general, smother, your offspring FOR THEIR OWN GOOD I’M SURE. He’s the one to first push every single button and make us feel insecure or embarrassed or loveydovey or playful from the tips of our toes. He’s the one to show me the tangible process of differentiating and letting go, slowly, barely, but surely, of your kid. He’s the one to show us the power of sin passed on through generations and to cause us to take more seriously our own repentance and rely more heavily on God’s grace. He’s the one to lead me to that desperate prayer at night, Lord save this kid from us. From my own blindspots, insensitivities, oversensitivies, and poverty.

We have never been here before, sweet Dante, wherever we are with you now. You are our first, and we feel like kids, and we love you so much it hurts. As you begin a new year, grow another foot, and take another step away from us, may your heart grow bigger, your identity in Love and Grace and Jesus surer, and your sharp mind stronger. You are His and you are ours, and we are so, so blessed by you.

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Life Unfurled

** Childbirth is an amazing situation I’ve found myself in 3 times. With each son, I’ve written out my account of their birth and shared it with sincere disclaimers. Like the first two, this is long, personal and likely boring to the vast majority of people. It is not important to our friendship. It does not encapsulate the theme of this blog. Consider yourself excused, or warned, whichever strikes your fancy. **

 

// There Is A Time for Everything //

Our trusted doctor, who seems like a friend that we’ve never managed to have over for dinner in 7 years (Ryan says I have too many friends…), showed slight concern about how big he was. The baby that is. The third baby I was blessed to grow; the third son to rock my world of order and organization, predictability and pretty.

After giving birth to two large-craniumed, 9 pound, 14 ouncers already I was surprised by the doctor’s mention of size and needing to interfere at all with nature’s timing. He wasn’t one to over-plan, or worry, and just how big could this kid be?… I mean, in comparison to the others. I didn’t ask too many questions, biding my time, mulling over the options. Week by week, we measured, I grew, we talked in incrementally more detail about breaking water, a date, not being precious about letting him come late. I tracked but I wasn’t sold. I prayed that the conversations would be less relevant and my birth plan more. We waited.

On February 10th, a check-up revealed that my body had started showing signs of preparing for labor 2 weeks early. My mom wasn’t arriving for another 4 days. My doctor-friend said to be a couch potato, and wait until my mom came. Meanwhile I held an appointment at the hospital for the 19th, at 6am, to break my water, and maybe have “a whiff” of Pitocin should the baby wait that long to come, the start of the 40th week. I mostly obeyed doctor’s orders except for, well, still being a mom, and a compulsive night of mopping our laminate floors; I have completely reasonable priorities.

Every night we thought we might meet our son. Our son who we were hoping for, then didn’t expect after months, then learned of the week we were due to finish recertifying for fostering. Our son who was so big and so strong, I felt him move clearly and repeatedly in the first trimester. Our son whose name we couldn’t decide for months, with agonizing discussions, transporting us back to our last naming process—whom we had finally come to peace with as Lucas, light-giver. Related to the Luke who penned the Gospel, and Acts, which has driven our adult life. Luke, a doctor and healer—the detailed writer. Lucas, a sure light to our family we didn’t fully anticipate but so treasured once we knew of his joining.

The nights went on. Mom arrived. The hospital check-in I thought was irrelevant a week ago neared and I kept praying, kept walking, kept waking up in the night to listen to my body—am I in labor? Or was that just a wishful interpretation of a normal ache? Strangers wished me well as though we were at the threshold of the hospital. I received a couple pointing amused gestures, which I’ve come to expect. People asked about twins. It’s all very glamorous and flattering, my last trimesters. This one I was even bigger. Only a few shirts finished the race with me. I was tired of all the comments. My stomach felt so cumbersome. I was ready. But I didn’t want to check-in and evict the kid at 6am on Friday.

In the meantime a family crisis arose up north. It was good to be with my mom while news broke, though hard for her to be far. As we waited for new life, we all grieved what had happened and where it could lead together. I watched the dissonance of a mother’s love again, something I had watched all my life and had felt now as a mother too—the responsibility, the disappointment, the anguish, and the fierce protectiveness, the love, the physical response to your child’s pain. We recalled a different but a related experience—in which we were unprotected, we were sick, and our story was convoluted and complicated and we felt so vulnerable and at the mercy. A mistake had been made and it was serious, wrong, and upsetting, but not, we believe, worthy of a too-serious, life-derailing sentencing. The flippancy of people’s judgments, of the difference between 17 and 18, of minimum sentencing laws, of racist comments and prejudice, of the struggle for identity and the significance of what is not reported—all of it became personal in new ways, and we ached and held our breath and took it a day, an hour, at a time. And still are, though the first harrowing ones are over.

After this, after our brother and uncle and son was back in his own bed, and Grandpa had had one or two good night’s sleep, Lucas came. At 2am on February 19th, I knew I was in labor. We woke up the doctor, the Sho Sho, the neighbor for a sleepover with the boys, my friend who would come witness his arrival—and by 3 we were walking into the emergency entrance.

I am a quiet sufferer. I’m not one to yell, or sweat, and Ryan blames this for the nursing staff’s lack of urgency in getting us into a room and checking my labor progress. I said I was an 8 on the pain scale but maybe I should have said 9? In any case, by the time they checked, I was an 8 in more ways than one and I was starting to really, truly regret the whole birth scenario again. It was like the last four years of recovering mentally from Asher’s birth was enveloped in a wormhole and the exhaustion and fear found me again, quickly, and there was no where to hide. CRAP.

A few contractions passed and I was a 10. For pain and dilation. Thankfully, doctor-friend arrived just in time. “Push whenever you feel like it. Push through the pain.” The damned shaking had started and I hated the thought of holding onto my legs with my shaking, floppy arms. Seriously, I have to use upper and lower body muscles? But I remembered to curl forward, instead of the leaning away approach I had accidentally with Asher—an unconscious and feeble attempt to get far, far away from my own body. Something about opening my pelvis…lying down…sit-ups…and then…when I was really scared about not getting through it he said, “Okay, one more contraction—push through one more and you’ll meet your baby.” That’s what I needed. With the support of Ryan, my mom, and Tammy, praying and cheering me on, I could face one more contraction’s worth of pushing to get this thing out of my body. Yes, our baby, that’s it.

At 4:10am, Lucas Tyndale was on my chest. The doctor immediately commented on his size, another difference in his reaction to this baby versus the others. He suspected he would be the biggest and he was right. Lucas was a dark, handsome, 10 pounds and 5.6 ounces, and he came at the perfect time. No breaking my water, no whiff necessary; cancel my 6am appointment—we’re already headed to post-partum. I was so thankful and relieved. Thanks, God and thanks, Lucas. Impeccable timing.

Post-birth is such a nuisance without an epidural when a new baby’s on your chest; it isn’t fun and games just because the watermelon is out. As per my request, the doctor showed us the placenta and amniotic sac. Our inner biology nerds (well, for my mom, hers is very apparent as a nurse and bio teacher…) were satiated as we saw a magic piece of a baby’s internal world and growth. Wonders.

With each of his older brothers, we checked in to the hospital at 6am, after a good night’s sleep. Checking in at 3am was quite different. Birth announcement texts were sent to sleeping people. By 7am, Ryan was toast. Our first visitor came bearing coffee. Already, the cloudy perception of time and day and night had started…and I suspect it won’t be over any time soon.

Lucas is a rudy, beautiful kid with a set of lungs. He’s battling some newborn ailments right now that are keeping mom busy online and during her feeding breaks. He needs sun time, naked time, open shirt time and various ointments. It’s quite the regimen he has me on! Just in case we parents start feeling too secure or relaxed about starting over again. My body is steadily recovering and remembering nursing and changing yet again. In two days, it was suddenly without 19 pounds and I literally heard groaning and strange sounds coming from within (organ resettling??)–what a brutal and beautiful thing, this body we women bear.

In the midst of it all, I am trying to soak it up. Soak up the sweet smell of his newborn breath and skin, the soft cushiony hair and head and those heart-warming newborn stretches and reflexes—oh those faces! As Asher noticed, he’s squishy all over, and we are all pretty pleased around here.

Everything isn’t sorted out and easy yet. Sho Sho had to leave two days later and Ryan is in high demand at work. The boys keep going to bed late and I’m pretty sure the floors need to be mopped. Juxtaposed with Lucas’ newborn innocence and mystery is the reality of what my family is walking through and the daunting task of raising boys. And yet, it is a sweet reminder too of love and connection and the steady marathon of parenting. My love for my brother, the first baby in my life, is no less poignant now than it was when I was changing his diapers when I was 13. My confidence in his gifts and future is not less than before; I’m sure of his long game and God’s relentless grace upon him.

As I am forced to sit and nurse, watching the mess grow in my house, as I wait for sunning to happen and skin to heal and the night to become day, I must remember there is time for the other things. We must be patient because this time, won’t be again and we can only do and solve so much. For better or for worse, it is all fleeting. More than anything, I’m thankful and I’m watching. I’m praying and waiting, so glad that I have this story to tell of Lucas’ timely arrival and the light he is already bringing to all of us.

We are not so separate.

My son has started drawing me “kind of like a pumpkin” and considering how difficult it was to get the milk from the bottom of the grocery cart this morning and, eventually, stand up again, I think I’m embracing the image.

It’s that time. When, though you want to save it up knowing a sieve of sleep is coming in the form of a live baby, rest is slippery and complicated. (At what point do the pillows become more of a nuisance than a relief…) When all the things that need to be sorted or planned or written down seem too tiring, so instead you waste energy searching for the perfect, stupid […insert baby product here…] ad nauseam. When (in my limited experience) people begin pointing a little and laughing a little at your convex mid-section and you just hope, HOPE, that you’re not showing any midriff.

We wonder what he will look like and how each of his brothers will embrace and challenge and give in and resist his arrival. We pray for a similarly smooth birth, and hope for that same nurse that was at the other sons, the same room as them, because wouldn’t that be fun, and for new and different eyes to see a new soul, a new person who stands apart from our other frameworks.

I also pray my stomach skin doesn’t end up mid-thigh length by the time this is all said and done.

The physical expectancy we witness in ourselves, in a 1st grader, in a preschooler, and in our community, because of this little son, is so helpful for nurturing a faith-expectancy in the bigger, more abstract places in which we long for change. The growing, the nearing, of a baby’s life–of so much that is certain but so much mystery–echoes, no, foreshadows, the next chapters we long to read elsewhere. For that one person’s freedom and self-confidence. For that new job. For the courage to enter a church. For the resolution to an injustice that has steamrolled our security, our savings, or our very family. For peace in a wandering, distant mind. For wholeness in a bankrupt marriage. For a friendship that is like the mountain air.

May the pregnancies we see offer spiritual meaning to our day. May the new cries, the new mess, the new skin of a baby whisper to us, lead us, forward in our prayers and hope. May we find our future, our next step, in the daily occurrences and observations that seem commonplace. We all carry the longings; we all have the sleepless nights of needs and worries. May something as simple as an awkwardly large pregnant woman or a squawking newborn babe indicate the holy, the next, and the coming in our own lives for our stories are shared. We are not so separate.

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