the forgotten days of holy week

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. How easily we pass over them, eyes set eagerly on Easter Sunday. Or anticipating Thursday’s opening of the Triduum.

Our first half of Holy Week probably looks a lot like yours. Work. School. Kids. Meetings. Chores. Bills. The lackluster pregame show before the big kickoff. The forgettable prelude before the fanfare. The ordinary before the extraordinary. 

But the church’s calendar claims these three are holy, too.

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The earliest days of the holiest week are in-between: not quite Lent, not quite Easter. It is a time of anticipating what is right around the corner, practically within reach. We are almost there.

The Main Event looms large on the horizon. All signs point toward its arrival, but the journey here has been so long – can it really be coming?

Ahead of us lies both pain and joy, suffering and peace. How can we possibly prepare for all that? How can we hold all this tension at once?

These are the last days. They matter.

Soon we will remember how everything changes.

. . .

The end of the third trimester is a strange part of pregnancy. The eagerness of almost, the frustration of not-yet.

Like Holy Week’s emotional extremes, this time swings wildly: something to celebrate, something to endure, something to savor, something to push through. Both quiet and flurry, both calm and storm. Each day adding to our anticipation.

My mental countdown clicks steadily. Five more midwife appointments. Five more prenatal yoga classes. Five more weeks to finish all those pressing work projects.

Each Saturday the nesting instinct kicks in with greater intensity. Scribbled To Do Before Baby! list in hand, I clean out closets and drawers, watch the boys build the crib with their father, wash baby blankets and fold diapers in neat stacks.

Ready and waiting.

Every friend and stranger I meet asks how much longer I have left. Around us bubble joy and anticipation. A growing readiness to be done. An impatience to discover what (and who!) comes next.

I wonder. Have I done enough? Yes. And no. Like Lent, this journey of expectation is always bigger than me, beyond my personal penances, my tries and fails, my awareness of my own limits. I am carried by forces greater than my own.

And a calendar that presses ever onward, oblivious to the emotions with which I fill the hours.

. . .

I wonder how to honor this time rather than race too fast towards the end goal. How to see the holiness of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in turn.

I love Thursday, I lean into Friday, I learn from Saturday, I leap into Sunday. But right now are the days before. The days that ask me to pause.

These neglected early days of Holy Week are a different kind of preparation from the Lent that preceded. More immediate. Here and not-here. Upon us, yet still beyond our grasp. The mystery of the middle time, when we think we know what awaits us (all the Easters have we been through before), when we remember that we can always be surprised (each year bringing its own gifts).

Do I remember to reverence these almost-days, these overlooked ordinaries?

The Celts spoke of thin places, spaces and moments when heaven and earth seem to touch, only the slightest trace separating their realities. Perhaps Holy Week is a small hole through which we peer into the deepest mysteries of the life of God. We could never understand all that it contains. But each year we might nudge a little closer, if we try, to imagine what its truth might mean for our lives.

I watch and wait in this almost-time. It could be long weeks till everything changes; it could be mere days. But God is here, too.

And it is not only Easter morning which makes it so. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. All the ordinary days matter, too.

when did we decide that we were bad at art?

Here are watercolors, she said. Paint.

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Here are pastels, she said. Draw.

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Here is clay, she said. Create.

birth retreat 2A gathering of mothers. A time and space set apart. A whole afternoon to ourselves, to pause and pray and ponder what it means to approach pregnancy and childbirth as something spiritual.

At Peg’s retreat, I thought about birth and babies and becoming a mother all over again. But weaving between these weighty meditations were simpler sensations: the chalky smear of pastels on my fingers, the ghost-white trace of clay under my nails, the wavy curl of paper as watercolors dried.

When was the last time I let myself make art for an entire afternoon?

Sometimes I sit down with the kids at their small table in front of the sunny window and I doodle while they draw. Or I dip a brush and make soft strokes while they paint. Or I roll playdough into long coils while they squish and smash their creations.

But I never make art. Not on my own.

Why? Because I’m too busy. Because it’s not what grown-ups do. Because I’m not good at it.

. . .

All the way home from the birth retreat, I turned one question over and over in my mind: when did we decide that we were bad at art?

Many adults I know, who colored and drew and painted and pasted their way through childhood, no longer make time for artistic expression. It’s considered child’s play. Delightfully entertaining or developmentally enriching for little ones, but not a serious way to spend time as mature, productive members of society.

But when did this shift start? When did art cease to be an essential way we explored the world? When did it become reserved for the talented, the elite, the lucky few?

I used to love making art – at school, at home, in classes at our local art institute. I especially loved the pottery classes: the whirl of the wheel between my knees, the slippery slide of the glossy clay between my fingers, the surprising emergence of something new and warm between my hands.

But then I stopped. I can’t quite remember why – maybe sports seemed more important, maybe art seemed less cool, maybe the insecurity of adolescence whispered that I should shy away from somewhere I didn’t excel.

So now it seems daunting to start making art again – how? where? when? Why am I afraid of what used to seem so simple? Is it still the worry of looking like a fool? The intimidation of not knowing where to begin?

Or the primal, pulsing fear of failure?

. . .

Only six weeks left till the due date. Of course my thoughts wind birth-ward every day.

Heavy with baby, I watch my boys scrawl with sidewalk chalk, paint pages with watery doodles, color their latest crayoned masterpiece. I see how they trust themselves to create, how un-intimidated they are by the blank page, how much energy they pour into their work and how much delight they take in showing it to others.

At night when I dip into the childbirth books on my nightstand, I find myself turning over and over one question: when did I decide that I was intimidated by birth? When did this biological capacity become something to fear, medicate, suppress, or evade? Why do I have to psych myself up with the mental focus of a marathoner for a natural process that my body was created to do?

It’s a gross oversimplification of a complicated question, I know. The process of labor and delivery can be complex and dangerous, to say nothing of long and painful. Even if I had seen a hundred births in my lifetime, as other women my age would have in other cultures or eras, I might still be as terrified of the known as of the unknown.

But I can’t help but wonder what difference it might make to laboring women if we thought of ourselves as powerful co-creators.

If birth had remained at the center of our culture rather than being shoved to the side.

If we understood more about our bodies and their potential.

If we didn’t listen to the voices who told us we weren’t strong enough.

If we hadn’t decided we weren’t good at it.

. . .

I’m trying to practice, a little every day. (Easier said than done.)

Breathe, don’t balk, through the Braxton-Hicks contractions. Focus, don’t flinch, when the pressure of baby gets too intense.

Paint something, don’t write, when my mind wants to muse. Sit with the kids, don’t scurry, when they’re creating.

Step aside from the well-worn grooves of thinking one way. Sit with the possibility that there might be another path.

. . .

Yesterday afternoon my son came to me in tears because the tail of the monkey he was coloring had torn off.

“I can’t do it another way!” he wailed when I gently suggested that he might try coloring the animal before cutting it out, so that he didn’t have to color on such a skinny tail. “I only can do it this way!”

What if we tried it again? I suggested. What if he took a deep breath to calm down? What if we worked together to try a new way?

His bottom lip still puffed out in a quiver, he hesitated. And then he nodded yes as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, fingers still stained from the morning’s markers.

What if we were all brave enough to try, again?

how to prepare for a birth day

There’s the hospital bag, of course. Pre-registration paperwork. The Kegels you’re supposed to be practicing ten times a day. Delivery room playlist on the iPod. Deep breathing exercises. Child care arrangements for your other kids. Out-of-office email reply waiting and set to maternity leave.

But does any of that really prepare you for labor and birth?

Maybe I’m lazier this time around. (Ok, assuredly I’m lazier this time around.) But I can’t bring myself to motivate for so many pre-baby preparations that have typically consumed my thoughts by this point in previous pregnancies: cleaning and nesting, stockpiling frozen meals, setting up the baby gear, washing tiny onesies and newborn diapers.

Now whenever I get a free minute? I mostly want to sleep.

And instead of pouring over childbirth preparation books or crafting the perfect birth plan to hand to the nurses upon arrival at the hospital, I find myself shrugging whenever I think about Delivery-Day. It will come, it will be unexpected, it will be hard. And then it will be over and our baby will be here.

But just as I might have missed the opportunity for deeper reflection upon birth’s meaning the first time around when I was nothing but scared, I don’t want to miss the chance to explore the spiritual side of this huge transition simply because it’s my third time through.

Whether unknown or known, childbirth is a defining moment of a mother’s life. And I believe it is one of the “thin places” between heaven and earth.

So I’m wondering how to ready myself this time. How prayer can be part of the pain. How meditation can be part of my mindfulness. How each contraction can remind me that Christ is within me and beside me and before me.

I’ve already gathered a trinity of prayers for labor and birth. But as Lent surrounds me in the last months before baby arrives, I also find myself thinking about simplicity and surrender. How to let go of any lingering expectations and free myself to enter into whatever God has prepared.

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In my latest piece for Catholic Mom, I wrote about the journey from feeling terrified at the prospect of birth to finding peace in what will be a painful but powerful day of discovery:

I’m starting to see the spiritual side of birth in ways that I never would have dreamed when I headed to Labor & Delivery for the first time. Birth as beginning, birth as sacrifice, birth as rite of passage – God is intimately wrapped up in all these ways we understand this work that women do to bring life into the world.

Being intentional about this process – a sort of sacramental preparation – has helped me to bring hope, not fear, to the prospect of bringing another baby into the world.

Lots of ink gets spilled in parenting manuals and glossy magazines about birth plans, birth preparations, even identifying your health care provider’s “birth philosophy.” But approaching a spirituality of birth invites those of us who carry new life within us – as well as those who love and care for us – to view this work as prayer and to place our trust in God who accompanies us from the first contraction to the final push.

Read the rest at CatholicMom.com

And next week I’ll have the chance to enter intentionally into this deeper reflection, thanks to Peg Conway’s retreat on the spirituality of birth. Nell of Whole Parenting Family and I conspired to bring Peg to the Twin Cities (since both of us are now expecting #3!), and I can’t wait for this afternoon of exploring the prayerful parts of this sacred journey.

If you’re local and want to join us, please find more information on Facebook or at Enlightened Mama in St. Paul, MN, where the retreat will be held. And if you’re too far away to spend Saturday, March 22nd, with us, check out Peg’s wonderful book – Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth.

becoming brothers

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They’re discovering each other, finally.

Oh, they bumped into each other for well over a year. There were the Months of Glaring At the Loud Newborn followed by the Months of Stealing Everything from The Helpless Baby. The Months of “Did-You-Hit-Your-Brother-No-It-Was-An-Accident” followed by the months of “Mama-Make-Him-Not-Play-With-That-Toy-I-Need-It-Right-Now!”

Months full of angry slaps and indignant wails and gritted teeth and time outs. Months when I rolled my eyes at the Facebook feed of perfect photos of doting siblings gazing adoringly at new babies, months when I muttered “mmm…must be nice…” while fellow mothers rhapsodized about how beautifully their newly-two were getting along.

I’d look at my boys and wonder when – or if – the proverbial love would ever be lost between them.

And then, of course, it started right under my nose when I wasn’t looking.

Suddenly it was the baby’s second winter and we were stuck indoors for January’s cruel string of sub-zero days and I glanced up from my laundry pile in the basement to make sure no one was bleeding and I realized they were playing together. Interacting instead of ignoring, sharing instead of stealing, playing instead of pushing.

They jumped together on the trampoline, one up and the other down, then both bopped in time together, sparkling eyes on two grinning faces as they popped like carnival whack-a-moles. “Mama! We’re bouncing!” called the oldest; “Up! Up!” echoed the youngest as he fell over, chuckling.

Now they’re full of giggles and goofy words and silly games. Sure, they still steal toys and wail indignantly and hit in frustration. But they also laugh their heads off together. And I can’t help but laugh with them.

I love watching them become brothers.

. . .

Back when I was reading all those books about labor and delivery for the first time, I never realized I’d be birthing more than a baby.

I was so focused on my impending motherhood, on how this scrawny, slippery newborn was going to subvert the world as I knew it, that I neglected to realize how many other lives were going to change, too. How when I brought that baby into the world, I would also be birthing a grandchild, a nephew, a cousin – so many relationships born in that same instant.

And when I prepared to birth my second, I was equally clueless about the sea change that a sibling would bring. Sure, I knew it would shift our family dynamic, scramble the focus of attention, stretch the scope of love and patience that each day would demand.

But I never realized how long it would take my two to start growing into brotherhood.

By definition it happened in an instant, but by practice it stumbled slowly. Maybe every tried-and-true relationship is like that, fumbling, faltering through fits and starts, but plodding on, persistently, even painfully.

. . .

Most of us will end up knowing our siblings longer than anyone else. Longer than our parents, longer than our spouses, longer than our own children. “Your oldest friend,” my mother used to remind us as we glared at each other across the dinner table or banged shoulders in a huff on the way out the door to school, likely muttering to ourselves about not getting stuck with that loser as our oldest friend.

And now? Of course I see it’s true. That despite the twists and turns that our lives are taking, often away from each other, whether geographically or emotionally, my siblings remain stubbornly close. We share much of the same history, the same relationships, the same sense of humor. We can’t help but come back to each other every so often, to laugh and remember how surprisingly similar we remain despite our deep differences.

Maybe this is what it means to become brothers: to go through seasons of ignoring or hating or fighting or shunning or shoving, but to come back to the stubborn truth that you’re stuck with each other. They’re not going anywhere and neither are you, and if you’re going to share the same roof or parents or piles of toys, you better learn how to get along.

And sometimes even laugh your head off, too.

o come, be born in us

Yesterday the O-antiphons of Advent began.

But mine started early, driving home last Friday on a snowy freeway, catching the afternoon news after a day of meetings.

Oh God, no. Oh God, not again. Oh God, not children.

So many words have been spilled since Friday, and yet I keep struggling to voice how deeply this news wounds. As a mother, of course. But deeper, as a person of faith who tries to make sense of God’s ways, who wonders how we can respond in turn.

It was the familiarity of Sandy Hook that shook me up. The day before the shooting, a school was bombed in Syria, killing sixteen, half of whom were women and children. But that tragedy was a mere blip on the evening news, the daily digest of the continued slaughter of the innocents. My husband mentioned it over dinner and I shook my head. “I can’t handle Syria anymore. Too much. I can’t handle it.”

But now, school heaped upon school, bodies heaped upon bodies, babies heaped upon babies, I keep thinking of Sandy Hook and I keep thinking of Syria. As I finish my Christmas shopping, as I wrap presents, as I write cards. Everything seems surreal in the sight of parents sobbing over tiny coffins. Every year I wrestle with the consumerism of the holiday, feeling lonelier and lonelier as I whisper this is not what Christmas means. But this year, the contrast feels starker than ever.

. . .

Today was the first day I dropped my boy off at school since last Friday. As I rounded the car to open his door and unbuckle his car seat, I suddenly felt my heart leap into my throat. How was I going to leave him here? His safe little preschool, in the small town clap-board church, loomed large in a darker world where everything seems dangerous now.

I halted, hand on the handle, wanting to dash back around to the driver’s side, slam the door shut and squeal out of the snowy parking lot. Flee back home where everything felt safe.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

So I breathed in cold, crisp December air. I opened the door, bent down and smiled. “Let’s go, my love! Time for school!” False cheer in my voice, fake grin on my face.

I pulled his hood up over his small head, tucked his mittens into his coat sleeves, trying not to cry as I thought about parents doing the same routine on last Friday’s morning drop-off.

“Do you know how much I love you?” I asked as he smiled up at me. “I do,” his quiet response.

“And do you remember who’s always with you, in your heart, so you don’t have to be sad or afraid?” “Jesus,” he whispered.

“That’s right. God is always with you.” I hugged him extra tight.

Why did I need to remind him today? Did I need some small sense of protection, some meager assurance that if a murderer burst through the doors of his preschool, he might remember love in the midst of fear? So sick, the ways our minds spin right now, scared and wounded in the face of unimaginable suffering.

But still I walked him across the icy parking lot, swung wide the door and swept him inside. His lovely teacher greeted him with a warm smile as she welcomed him downstairs. And against every fiber in my being, I turned and pushed the door open wide to leave.

I started to tear up as I left the parking lot, memories rushing back of the first day I left him there, the first time I left him with a sitter to go to work, the first time I realized he was no longer snuggled up safe inside me.

How can I do it, over and over again, I wondered as I drove away. How do I keep pushing my babies out into the world?

And the answer came clear and quiet: I have to do it the same way I first birthed them.

Through my own inner strength. Surrounded by the support of others. Leaning into the grace of God.

This is the only way I know how to parent. Maybe it’s the only way I know how to live in this world. It’s surely the only way I know how to celebrate Emmanuel this year.

Remembering that Christmas is not something I do, but something that was done by God, for all of us. IMG_4973

Remembering that in so many corners of the world Advent is always held in this tension: a small light flicking amid death and violence and fear.

Remembering that the Nativity story starts with one scared mother, birthing her baby into a painful world, bearing light into utter darkness.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

mary of the third trimester

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I wonder how she felt in the final weeks.

Whether she was tired of carrying, exhausted from the extra weight and the swollen ankles and the restless nights and the ceaseless kicks. Or whether she loved wondering about the mystery of this babe, watching the strange, sudden stretch of skin across her stomach, limbs pushing out into every corner of their shrinking room, hint of the him they would become.

I wonder if she knew the time was coming. Even if hers wasn’t the customary calendar to count by, could she feel the readying, both the baby’s body and her own preparing for the passage ahead? Or perhaps she was surprised to find the end drawing near, one more shock piled on the growing heap of expectations set aside for another’s plan.

I wonder how she spent the last few days. Whether she sought the wisdom of women who knew, her cherished circle of a trusted few who hadn’t fled when the rumors flew. Whether she drew strength from their stories of passage, their steadying counsel and sage advice. Or whether their tales terrified, her body still so young itself, barely strong enough to survive what was demanded of her. I wonder whether she wanted to be alone or whether she confided in companions. Whether she prayed to her God in the darkest moments, or whether she spoke softly to the stranger-turned-spouse now strong and silent beside her.

I wonder if she loved being pregnant. One of the lucky few who glow as they grow, who glide easy through the months, who marvel at the wonder. Or whether she struggled with the weight and constraint of what was asked of her, to sacrifice so much so young – her plans, her love, her reputation. Maybe she was restless for the end, waiting for what’s next, wanting to be free of the burden of bearing. Maybe she was ready to push.

Or maybe she sensed, deep down, deeper even than dropping baby ready to birth, what was being asked of her. That she would have to give him up, her child, her baby, her precious only baby, give him up to more than the world outside the womb or the darkness outside her door. That she would have to birth him into the beginning of the end, a pain that cut deeper than pangs of birth, a wound that would only grow until the most terrifying transition, the final contraction of her heart and body wrenched in two as she watched what the world would do to him, wailing and weeping for God, screaming as mother-son both suffered – all according to a plan she herself set in motion with a whispered yes.

That redemption itself would rip him from her arms.

And bearing all this along with the baby weight, knowing just enough to hold all these truths, treasure them in her widening heart, now and ever-after beating for two, maybe she wanted to cradle him close, keep him safer than he could ever be again.

For a few weeks more.

to the woman i was three years ago tonight

Dear you,

All 28 years of you, fresh-faced from grad school, ready to take on the world. All 35 extra pounds of you, waddling around with an aching back and a bulging belly. All 37 weeks of you, still counting down days till the due date, still full of wonder and waiting and expectation.

You have no idea how life’s about to change.

Oh sure, you think you know. You’ve read the books, taken the classes, scoured the websites, questioned friends and family and frankly any unsuspecting stranger in the Target baby aisle who even looks like she might be a mother. You want to know exactly what it’s going to be like – labor, birth, nursing, newborns – because you’re sure it’s a life-altering change, this leap you’re about to take, this transition nature’s about to induce.

But the depth of this transformation? You’re clueless, kiddo.

As a microcosm of how mothering will continually defy your expectations, the big birth day you’re anticipating? It’ll look nothing like you expect.

Your water’s going to break in an hour, but you’ll have no idea what’s going on. You’ll spend an hour googling “how to tell if your water broke” before your wise husband (who, coincidently, NEVER consults Dr. Google) advises you to call the hospital already.

You’ll spend another hour hemming and hawing on the phone with one nurse, then another, then a doctor – who all agree that your water probably didn’t break since you’re weeks away from your due date but you better come in and check, just to be sure.

So you’ll grab the (mostly unpacked) hospital bag, give one glance at the (still unfinished) nursery, and laugh to your husband that we may as well leave the porch light on, since we’ll be back in three hours after our first-time-parents-foolish-trip-to-the-hospital.

But as you’ll turn to go, something inside you – not the kicking baby, something deeper – will tell you to waddle back upstairs and give the dog a last, fierce hug around his warm neck. Because even though all the experts are sure it’s a false alarm, you’ll sense suddenly that your pre-parent world, as a couple of crazy lovebirds with a crazier beagle, is about to end as you know it.

And you’re right.

Dear mama-to-be, lots of people would argue you’re already a mother. That you have been since day one of baby one, the first instant the spark became life inside your own. And you believe that, too.

But the truth you’re about to discover, from the second you hear the sharp shriek of little lungs gulping in air for the first time, is that it takes much longer than nine months to become a mother.

That becoming is a journey that will take you years, maybe a whole lifetime, to understand.

That parenting is a calling you live into, day by day, as you fling yourself into the unknown of loving another wild, mysterious, beautiful, maddening creature closer to you than your own bones.

So enjoy that giddy ride to the hospital tonight, the one you’re sure is just for practice. The last ride of just-us-two.

Let the night air whip through your hair as the car zips through the dark of a hazy August night, humming with promise. Laugh together and wonder aloud and puzzle and scoff and gulp back your fear and pretend you’re ready.

Because you’ll never be ready.

But you’re already becoming.

writing workshops & birth stories

I got to spend the whole week writing.

From where I sit now – surrounded by piles of laundry and dirty dishes, worrying about work emails and tomorrow’s to-do list, planning meals and errands and playdates – last week already seems a year ago and a world away.

I’m left with lingering memories of my time at the workshop: an annoying tendency to analyze every phrase I write (what a lovely suspended sentence! what a charming balanced series!), a head bursting with stories I need to share, and a heart brimming with gratitude for the writers with whom I was graced to spend six days.

We laughed, we cried. We cradled each other’s sacred stories and pushed one another to go deeper into truth. And by the end of a long week, with little sleep and lots of caffeine, plenty of swearing but even more praying, we each agreed that we had been changed.

But how exactly? As writers? As people of faith? As something more?

For the past few days, as I’ve reacclimated to a life weighted heavier on mothering than writing, as I’ve dived back into the daily swirling mix of my vocations, I’ve been wondering what I could say about the week, what I could convey about this transformative experience – without sounding trite or falling flat.

Ironically, my inability to crystallize my impressions about the writing workshop has helped me make sense of a completely unrelated phenomenon: the birth story.

Sprinkled through endless blogs, splashed across pregnancy magazines, shared and reshared at moms’ groups and baby classes, the birth story has become a genre of its own. But a strange genre – a narrative that swerves wildly between lengthy clinical descriptions of labor’s stages and euphoric elations of how absolutely amazing, beautiful, and life-changing childbirth can be. Part boring medical textbook, part born-again testimony.

As someone who loves story, celebrates the act of claiming one’s voice, and wonders at the marvel of birth, I should be interested by birth stories. But I have to confess that I usually find them painfully, ploddingly boring. Even the tales that dance the edge of danger, even the feats of endurance through searing pain.

I could never understand why my eyes glaze over when I read them, why my interest wanes halfway through a friend’s passionate storytelling, why I never bothered to write the story of my own boys’ births, even when I love to write about so much of their early years.

Until I realized why I couldn’t write about the workshop either.

Because the truth about Life-Changing Experiences is that they are impossible to express in the immediate aftermath. Even when their power compels us to share, we can’t make sense of the experience when we’re too close to situate it within a larger context.

Ironically, it’s the timing of birth stories that traps them from becoming powerful narratives of transformation: new mothers want to capture all the details before they forget, but they’re too overwhelmed by the newness (and the hormones and the lack of sleep) to grasp the totality.

It’s why women seize upon centimeters of dialation or hours of progress through labor as landmarks of their story, even though inches and minutes fail to describe the transformation that takes place. It’s why tracking my progress as a writer through lessons on sentences and style falls short of expressing how I was shaped by the deeper relational experience of being in community with such a quirky, passionate, committed group of writers.

Words fall short.

I’m like the weary, wonder-struck new mother who wants to tell you how her world has shifted but can’t convey the depth of the transformation.  Even though I know something significant has taken place, I can’t yet see the scope of how I (the writer) or my baby (the writing) or the world around me (the audience) has changed.

I jot down fleeting impressions, share snippets in conversation, promise myself I’ll sit down and let the words pour forth before their immediacy passes. But I can’t capture it completely. I need plenty of time and space to sort out how this shaped me, who I am becoming.

To say nothing of making sense of the beautiful, terrifying new life – its promise and its responsibility – that is emerging.

a (belated) labor day reflection

(I figured that since T showed up a bit late, I had a grace period to post this as well. Hey, at least I mustered up enough collective brain cells to write something from the first two weeks of newbornhood…) 

I have never been a great athlete. A brief montage of highlights of my illustrious sporting career would include:

  1. knocking myself unconscious before a junior high softball game while goofing around on a swingset;
  2. breaking my ankle after tripping over my own feet during a high school tennis practice;
  3. giving myself a concussion from a head-over-heels faceplant when F tried to teach me how to ski.

No surprise, then, that I have never felt compelled to push my body to its limits. I have no desire to run a marathon. I doubt I’ll ever scale a mountain. I will never bike across the country.

And yet, ever since T’s birth, I have become completely in awe of my own body: its strength, its power, its resiliency.

Before the wild and quick labor that sped him into the world, I’m not sure I ever believed I was capable of birthing a child naturally. (My brothers can attest to both my innate wimpiness and my ability to whine about any pain inflicted on me.) I thought the idea of a drug-free delivery sounded incredible, but I suspected it was for stronger women than I. Even when I read the books and practiced the breathing and told friends I wanted to try for it, I was never convinced I actually had the strength in me to handle such intense pain. Without narcotics.

But then, suddenly, I was in the thick of it. After an hour spent laughing that we were once again googling “how to tell if your water broke” and another hour spent making hypothetical plans about “if I were really in labor,” everything changed. The every-fifteen-minutes contractions became every-five, and then every-two. The discomfort I could walk and talk through morphed into the pain I could only bear clinging to the wall. And I suddenly realized that if I were going to do this – if I were really going to push myself to the physical and mental limits of what I could endure – then I would have to turn completely inward and do this all myself.

So nothing that F did could help me. Poor man, everything he suggested was met with a hissing “GET OUT OF MY FACE.” Likewise I ignored all the nurses’ attempts to offer wise counsel once we finally (barely) made it to the hospital. The incredibly quick labor meant that our doula didn’t even arrive in time, so I never had to bother with shoeing her away.

Instead, I clung to that crazy blue birthing ball like my very life depending on it (as it did – and T’s as well). And my one lucid thought – which brings us, in a very roundabout way, back to the topic of Labor Day – went like this:

All I can see is this blue ball. And this blue ball is like the world. And all over the world, there are thousands of women who are laboring just like me right now. And God’s own Spirit is the one thing lifting all of us up. So all I have to do is breath in and breath out, and find that same Spirit, and that is the rhythm that will carry me through.

I fully embrace that it sounds crazy in retrospect. Maybe most thoughts that get women through labor are just that. But the clarity and power of that one line of thinking got me through the entire journey of birthing T. Solidarity with all the mothers around the world who were laboring along with me.

Last night, as Labor Day waned, I soaked in a hot bath – the rare luxury of the new mother – and thought about the labors we are called to in our vocations. Most of the time our work is run-of-the-mill: feed the kids, call the clients, take out the trash.

Yet once in a blue moon, our labor is extraordinary. Our strength, our resilience, our dedication surprises even ourselves. Our understanding of ourselves and our callings is deepened and sometimes transformed by such remarkable moments.

But what that crazy blue birthing ball reminded me of is the truth that we are joined, even in the exceptional moments, by thousands of others who are laboring on the same journey. Equal parts comforting and humbling to think that the One God who created each of us made us never to be alone. No matter what our labors look or feel like, they are always shared.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m frankly in awe of what we’re capable of.

(Even if you’d still never want to pick me first for your team in gym class.)