Lots of people love Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
I am not one of them.
I know it’s mostly good-hearted cheer, encouragement for the journey, and wise words from a man who’d seen enough of life to know that the secret lies in looking ahead.
But these two pages drive me crazy: “…a most useless place. The Waiting Place…”
“NO! That’s not for you! Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.”
What’s wrong with waiting?
Most of us spend much of our lives waiting. Waiting for a situation to change. Waiting for a relationship to heal. Waiting for health to improve. Waiting for a holiday or a homecoming. Waiting for test results, an acceptance letter, a job offer, a new opportunity, a shift in scenery or season or mood.
Aren’t we all waiting somewhere in these winding lines? For crying out loud, Christians are supposed to be waiting all the time.
Lest I be accused of being too harsh on Dear Seuss, I get what he’s saying. Don’t be passive. Don’t get stuck. Don’t expect life to magically improve if you’re not willing to work hard.
But to be true to life’s reality, the book could just as aptly be named Oh, the Places You’ll Wait!
Because we spend just as much time idling at the stop light, itching to accelerate, as we do with the wind whipping through our hair as we race ahead.
Waiting isn’t an evil to be shunned, a burden to be avoided, a drain to keep us from enjoying life. Waiting is life.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
. . .
Around here, we’re waiting all the time now.
The clock ticks painfully slowly. Each morning over breakfast, the kids ask when the baby will be here, and I shake my head at the sink, attempting to smile cheerfully while I scrub dishes.
We don’t know! We just have to wait!
I’m an eager and impatient person by nature. Waiting can be excruciatingly hard for me to bear. At 39 weeks pregnant, weary and waddling, I’m consumed by waiting. How I’d love to breeze past these pages of boredom and in-betweenness, of long lines and longing faces.
But life never works like that. Waiting is where we grow. Where God works on us in the long and quiet dark.
Waiting is work, but it’s holy work. God is here, too.
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God.
. . .
Ironically I wrote this almost exactly one year ago. I didn’t know how much of the next 12 months would be filled with waiting: waiting for a baby, waiting to heal from losing that baby, waiting for another baby, waiting to work through my fears.
When impatience starts to get the better of me, when I find myself straining forward to see what’s next, when I tire of trying to live in the present, I wrestle with waiting.
But wrestling never wins; it is only when I stop to catch my breath that I realize there is only This. In preparation for That, perhaps. But waiting is about the present, not the future.
It’s the only way I can live right now.
To parent is to wait: to watch, to witness, to wonder what comes next, to want more for your child than what they have today. But to wait is also to be forced to slow down, to relinquish the illusion of control, to put your desires on hold while life makes other plans.
What could be harder than waiting?
This life is a relentless pull, asking us to stop when we want to go, making us release when we want to grab tight. We have to wait in the midst of all this back and forth. We never know what’s coming; we waste our time worrying about what never happens.
But when we wait – that is an act of faith.
Waiting is holy time, not wasted time. Psalms sing it; Jesus spoke it; centuries of Christians believed it.
So maybe the wild Technicolor imagination of the esteemed Dr. was right all along. Everyone is just waiting.
But I believe that’s not half bad.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
Psalm 130: 5-6
In college I had two French professors whose advice I sought out during senior year.
That angsty season of trying to figure out what on earth one could do with a liberal arts degree, thanks to four delightful years of studying the humanities. And what on earth one should do with a heart that was getting ruined for Christ, thanks to four discomforting years of learning about service and theology and ministry.
The first professor had been a favorite since freshman year, first semester. I landed by luck in her Freshman Seminar and took every course she offered after that. She was brilliant, engaging, encouraging, funny and charming. (It didn’t hurt that she was gorgeous and lived all over the world and had a beautiful home where she hosted dinners at the end of every semester.) She mentored me through choosing a major, finding a study abroad program, and starting graduate level work in the department.
The second professor was a medieval scholar with whom I had several classes during junior and senior year. She was calm and quiet, patient and thoughtful, dedicated and hard-working. (Plus she had the most amazing curly hair that she could pin up in gorgeous buns a la the Renaissance damsels she studied.) She understood my passion for languages and let me explore creative approaches to her assignments.
So faced with the college senior’s perennial dilemma of what to do next, I thought of both of them. And in the span of one short month, tulips miraculously springing along every footpath on campus, I stopped by both of their office hours to pick their brains about how I might spend the next year of my life.
The first listened to me babble (in French! those were the days) about how I wanted to do something with my French degree but wasn’t sure anymore if the academic track was right for me. I’d found a few programs that would let me volunteer abroad in Francophone countries, and I wondered if I should try that while I figured out whether I wanted to be a professor.
She listened, nodded, asked good questions. I don’t remember anything concrete she said during the span of that conversation, but I left feeling affirmed – like this mentor of mine understood why I might not want to follow in her footsteps, yet encouraged me anyway.
The second listened to me just as attentively. But my concerns and questions didn’t seem to resonate in the same way. Sensing that she might not be seeing the crux of the question at the heart of my wrestling, I stopped and posed her a question. How did she integrate her faith and her work? This was really the weighty load I was carrying around for senior year – what did this nagging sense of God’s call for my life mean for the clear path I thought I’d set out on?
She looked me straight in the eye and said, You just have to learn to compartmentalize your life. I’m a Christian, and I do that.
She went on to talk about working during the week, dedicating herself to her students and scholarship, and then going to church on Sunday. And as she spoke, I realized with perfect clarity that she had helped me make up my mind. This kind of segregation was not the life I wanted.
At the end of our conversation, I thanked her for her time and stepped back into the corridor, closing her office door behind me.
To this day, I’m sure she has no idea that our conversation changed the course of my life.
. . .
Who are the midwives of our dreams? The ones who believe in our power, encourage our laboring, promise us that the end result will be worth all the blood, sweat, and tears?
For my first two babies, I saw a nurse-practitioner in my regular OB clinic. She was smart and sharp, witty and understanding, clear and confident. I liked her style.
But towards the end of my second pregnancy, I started noticing that perhaps she wasn’t as supportive of my questions as I’d hoped.
I asked whether it would be ok for our doula to be with us during the whole labor again, and she shrugged. Sure, I suppose. As long as she’s not in the way.
I asked whether I could deliver without drugs, free from pressure from the nursing staff, and she smirked a little. If you’re a glutton for pain, I guess. But you’ll probably end up wanting an epidural again.
I asked if baby could room in with us if everything went smoothly with the birth, unlike last time when our son had to stay in the level 2 nursery for the week. If you really want that. But you should give yourself a break and get some rest, too.
I started to leave my appointments with more confusion than clarity. And after a birth that went beyond my wildest expectations – so fast the doula couldn’t get there, so strong that my own power could match it, so smooth that we got to leave the hospital early with our healthy baby – I realized that I wanted something different from a future health care provider.
I wanted someone who understood.
. . .
Only a few months into this pregnancy, I realized why I love my current practice of midwives so much. It’s not because they encourage natural birth or talk about the emotional side of pregnancy or keep prenatal care as non-invasive as possible, although they do all these things beautifully.
It’s because they remind me of the other midwives in my life.
Friends who walked with me through the biggest decisions of college and grad school. Family members who coached me through challenges big and small. Teachers and mentors who guided by example and instruction. Even the 85 year-old Benedictine sister who has graced me with her wisdom as my spiritual director.
I see glimmers of all of them in these midwives. A spirit of gentle encouragement. A strength of loving support. A source of powerful wisdom.
And I wonder if I can be this for my own children one day, too. A midwife for their dreams.
The Psalms speak of God as midwife, guiding us from the first moments of our journey, caring for us from our mother’s womb.
Maybe we are all called to be midwives for each other, no matter our age, stage or situation. Maybe we are called to mirror God who companions us in our most vulnerable, painful moments and assures us that we are strong beyond our fears.
And maybe sometimes we are called to let others serve as midwives for us, too.
To accept their care and support. To surrender to their wisdom, even when we are so wrapped up in our worries that we cannot see clearly what lies ahead. To place our trust in their skilled hands and know that we will emerge safely on the other side.
“Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me
you have been my God.”
Who has helped midwife your dreams?
This is the moment I’ve been trying to imagine.
When she unwraps her baby from where she’s been carrying him close to her heart for the miles and miles it took to get here. When he stretches his arms and legs in that instant, jerky way that newborns do, shocked by the sudden shift of space. When the old man reaches out his gnarled hands, trembling at the thought that this could be the One he has been waiting a lifetime to see.
When the mother hands the child over to the stranger.
When she lets her heart go.
. . .
I used to think the Gospel of the presentation in the temple was all about Simeon and Anna.
Those marvelous wisdom figures, the prophetic pair, the ancient elders, the seers seeking their savior. Simeon whispers such strange words to Mary, how her heart will be pierced. Anna can barely contain all eighty-four years of her joy, rushing out to tell anyone who would listen that the long-awaited anointed one was finally here.
But I wonder now about Mary and Joseph, too.
The tired travelers, exhausted from their long journey to Jerusalem. The poor couple, unable to afford anything more than a pair of birds for their offering. The new parents, still bewildered by the birth of their baby.
How did it feel to let him go for the first time? To place him into unknown hands? To hear such surprising words spoken about what he would become?
The thrill and fear of such a presentation.
. . .
There are everyday presentations, too, of course. Opening up to a dear friend over coffee. Dropping off at day care in the morning. Undressing for the doctor’s exam.
The moments when we hand over what is most previous and beloved. When we hope that others will hold our dreams with as much tenderness as our own heart surrounds them.
And so on Friday afternoon, the Friday before the Feast of the Presentation, I slipped the big stack of plain white copy paper, printed with 1-inch margins and page numbers in the upper right-hand corner, into a big envelope. I drove it to the post office, weighed it, slapped on the postage, and listened to it drop with a thud into the bottom of the mailbox. I stood there staring at the blue steel that separated me from something that was safe in my fingers just seconds before.
The book I spent a year writing. The book that the publisher will put out this fall.
A baby of sorts. A firstborn of another kind.
A piece of my heart, pushed out into the world, now in the hands of strangers.
. . .
This is the moment I’ve been trying to imagine.
What it would feel like to be done with the solitary stage of writing. What it would mean to open myself up to the world of edits and critiques and readers. What it would sound like to say I wrote a book and have it be past-tense.
The thrill and fear of such a presentation.
I wanted to share this news here in a thousand different ways – in excitement, in hope, in gratitude, in humility, in wonder, in relief, in disbelief.
But maybe this is the only way I ever could have shared the news – of the other creation I’ve been gestating and readying to birth this year.
Through the lens of another story.
Because that is, at its heart, what I hope my calling as a writer means. That I thrust these small stories of mine out into the world, and someone – maybe you – catches a glimmer of their own life in a new light because of these words.
And if reading is an act of communion, then it must start with a presentation. Of joys and sorrows and laughter and loss and learning all over again what it means for me to be who I am: a mother, a writer, a lover, a child of God.
Which means I have to let go.
And see what comes next.
We’ve been playing endless rounds of Sorry!
Two, three, four games a day aren’t enough for my boy’s insatiable appetite. Maybe it’s the combination of cards with numbers (which he’s always loved) and games for a group (which he’s learning to love). Or maybe it’s because beloved cousins introduced him to the board game at the cabin over New Year’s, thus cementing in his 4 year-old mind the concrete connection of coolness that links friends and getaway and holiday.
Whatever the reason, we’re stuck playing Sorry! from morning till night.
There are worse childhood games to get roped into, as any adult who’s ever tried to cheat to end Candyland can attest. And I actually enjoy playing Sorry! (at least the first time or two) because it takes me back to sprawling on the living room floor as a kid, flipping over the dog-eared deck to crow at the cards that would send my younger brothers back home. Even more than Memory, this game offers enough surprise and strategy to hold a grown-up’s wandering interest.
And it makes me wonder if there’s something to be said for saying Sorry! all day long.
. . .
Forgiveness is the thorniest bramble of the Christian life. Sometimes I dare to dream I could do a decent job at this Christ-following business if it weren’t for this aggravating truth: that love means forgiveness and forgiveness means love.
Instead, I’m much more inclined – as any cerebral introvert will understand – to brood over the times I’ve been wronged. To nurse secret, sullen grudges over the times I’ve been hurt.
I turn them over and over in my mind, these small slights or serious wounds, until my brooding polishes their jagged edges into smooth stones, comforting to hold in the warmth of my palm. Whenever an old hurt arises – when I’m back in the company of someone who hurt me, or when a memory re-surfaces painful words from long ago – I dig around in dusty pockets for these trusty rocks, to trace their familiar outlines once again, to assure myself that I was right in feeling wronged.
But to what end? What good does this brooding and turning and returning bring me? Perhaps it soothes the soft, small child inside who wants the world to go her way. Or perhaps it builds up a false façade of maturity, of look-what-I’ve-endured.
Either way it rings hollow.
There is no love in resentment.
. . .
I love the dawning of a new year: its hope of renewal, its promise of change.
Lately I’ve found the practice of resolutions to be an encouraging inspiration. As in New Year’s past, I’ve made a few that I hope will bring blessing, no matter how much or how little I end up pursuing them. (And since sharing resolutions here has helped me keep them in the past, I’ll try again.)
First, after a year in which I threw myself into a writing project that stole nearly every moment of my scant free time, I want to return to nurturing friendships that too often got pushed to back burners in 2013.
Second, in an effort to be more mindful of the way I spend time with my kids, I want to be more intentional about their faith formation at home. (An effort which you think might flow effortlessly from a theologically-trained mother, but too often tends to stumble over too much head knowledge and too much fear of screwing up.)
As in every year, both of these resolutions spring from an ever-growing desire for a slower, simpler life and the yearning to nurture meaningful relationships with those around me.
But in resolving to deepen love in these concrete ways, I wonder if I’ve pondered how much forgiveness this will take along the way. How often these happy-new-year prospects will ask me to pardon myself and others.
How often I will have to practice saying sorry!
. . .
On January 1st, Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Maybe there’s something fitting for our own resolutions in starting the new year by remembering a woman who said yes to great change. Who made a decision that transformed her life. Who let herself be open to the ways God would call her to become something new.
But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.
For a woman who must have known deep hurt, who surely heard the cruel words that others tossed behind her back, who had plenty of reasons to become bitter by brooding, Mary chose instead to collect the small gems of beauty and hope. She cast aside the trash of other people’s opinions. She smoothed into tiny treasures the words that she could cling to in darkest hours.
Here, finally, were words of wonder and hope—from the mouths of people just like her. Here were shepherds who stopped their daily work to bring her stories of angels singing glory. Here were strangers who asked to see her baby and marveled at what his birth might mean.
Of course she treasured their words, turning them over and over in her heart, wondering what they might mean. While she learned to care for her child, as squalling and sleepless and hungry as any newborn, she gathered strength from their promise.
Perhaps this prayer practice was what sustained her as a mother: to treasure and to ponder…
I’m in awe of such wisdom and confidence, such trust and courage. What might it mean for my own habits and choices, my own decisions and resolutions?
. . .
A few months ago, I came across these words: “Other people’s opinion of you is none of your business.”
Such an intriguing twist on our insecurities.
I’ve carried these words with me, trying to muddle out their meaning for my own bad habit of brooding. And I’ve come to this conclusion.
The judgments, comments, even whispers of others only matter to the extent that I respond with love (which is to say, 9 times out of 10, with a heart full of forgiveness.) The opinions of those I cherish, like my children and my friends, should certainly be my business – but only to the extent that I keep trying to respond to them in love, to allow myself to be changed in ways that draw me closer to Christ.
Who is forgiveness, love, and peace.
So I launch into the new year with these questions in mind: What do I treasure? What do I trash?
What serves God and what serves only me? With my resolutions – and Mary’s courage – close to my heart, what changes could this fresh start hold?
I don’t know who I have to blame for the peaceful, pastel images of Advent I have hard-wired in my brain – stained glass windows? holy cards? illustrated children’s Bibles? – but every year I find myself torn between the following:
Advent-in-my-head (serene Mary, peaceful Joseph, calmly carrying on to Bethlehem to prepare for the birth of Jesus)
Advent-in-my-life (frantic to-do lists, Christmas preparations, a December spilling over with family parties and festive gatherings)
The nagging guilt that this liturgical season should be all quiet prayer and slow anticipation. Meditative chant instead of blaring holiday jingles on the radio. A small candle flickering in the dark night instead of our neighbor’s Christmas display flashing hypnotically across the street.
But this year, I am coming to peace with Advent-in-the-frenzy. Because I realized it was ever thus.
Maybe this insight came as I was overwhelmed by nausea for the 4th time one morning (be patient, dear reader, I promise to stop complaining about morning sickness…AS SOON AS IT ENDS).
Maybe it came as I was trying to cram kids’ dentist appointments and mom’s midwife check-ups into short weeks already stuffed with school Christmas concerts and office holiday parties.
Maybe it came as I flipped through family photos looking for card ideas and I remembered just what it looks like to be at the end of a pregnancy. Swollen, uncomfortable, counting down the hours till baby arrives.
Whatever the epiphany moment, I realized that the first Advent must have been no different from our own today.
Picture Mary at the end of her pregnancy. Picture Joseph trying to get ready for the unexpected baby.
Now imagine, as Luke’s Gospel invites us to do, that they have to make this last-minute, third-trimester trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. An arduous trip over long distances to a strange city for some government bureaucracy, just when their lives were already consumed with readying for the child.
And on a donkey. (I always cringe. This one sealed Mary’s sainthood for sure.)
The first Advent? The first preparing for Christ to come? The earliest anticipation of Incarnation?
It was likely one heck of a hurried, hormonal, harrowing time. No pregnant woman, no expectant father, no sane couple would sign up for that.
And while I want to believe that the Holy Family’s lives were still full of saintly prayer and quiet communion with their Maker, I have to believe they were just as human as the rest of us, too. Stressed-out, anxious, uncertain about the unknown.
So this December I embrace the chaos. I invite the frenzy.
I find comfort in how Jesus’ parents kept their wits about them when everything seemed too much. I find peace in knowing there has never been a calm Advent.
And I marvel again at a God whose in-breaking is always messy – as painful as labor; as challenging as a last-minute journey; as unexpected as birthing a baby in a dirty stable. There is so much hope for us here – that nothing is too frantic or frenzied or frustrating or fractured for God.
Advent in the wild. As it always has been.
Have you ever noticed that young children’s timing is absolutely perfect – for them and only them?
Case in point: they only want to put on their own shoes/coat/mittens when we’re already running 10 minutes late.
See also: they realize they are, in fact, capable of recognizing their own need for the potty when we’re in the middle of driving/dinner/Target/bedtime/church.
Otherwise known as: their internal clocks continue to rouse them right on time, regardless of what daylight savings says.
Case in point: my toddler now makes a pitiful plea for his bedtime prayer routine to PLEASE be repeated at naptime (when I used to get away with only a quick story-and-song before skipping out the door for blessed quiet to myself).
See also: the mornings we’re rushing to get out the door to school are the ONLY days that my boys ever insist on saying grace, rather than having me instigate the burdening of their every mealtime with my unbearable requests for them to give God thanks.
Otherwise known as: my preschooler inevitably makes his charming request for “meditation AND a Psalm AND OurFatherandHailMary” on the nights when their shrieking bathtime splash-fest soaks up every last precious ounce of energy and all I want to do is rush through bedtime to collapse on the couch.
Every time, the tired/selfish/cop-out words almost trip tempting off my tongue: no, we don’t do prayer at naptime! no, we don’t have time for grace this morning! no, I am too tired to do meditation!
But inevitably, something stops me – whether that stubborn MDiv, or the years I’ve spent trying to develop my own prayer life, or plain old-fashioned nagging Catholic guilt. Whatever it is, I catch the words and cough them back down my throat and try to ignore the clock/exhaustion/aggravation. Deep breath, refocus, slow down.
Of course we can pray. Even now.
I won’t saintly sugarcoat it to say I’m always glad we do. Sometimes I would still rather have gotten out the door 2 minutes earlier or collapsed on the couch 10 minutes sooner. But beyond any momentary annoyance, I’m always reminded where I want the long arc of our family life to bend: towards prayer, towards peaceful rhythms, towards the God who pulls us back together.
Tonight I’m posting about our bedtime psalm-praying at Practicing Families. My oldest and I started praying this way a long time ago, and I have come to love how meaningful this simple, slowing, centering line of Scripture becomes for both of us.
(Even on the evenings I’m fairly itching to close the bedroom door behind me and be done for the day.)
Every night as we go, no matter how antsy I am for bedtime to be done and my few precious hours sans-kids to begin, I always find that one phrase will inevitably catch me and do just what the psalmist says: slow me down and remind me that God is God.
Make no mistake about it: he wiggles and giggles the whole way through. Months and months of reciting the ancient centering prayer has not magically transformer my preschooler into a patient monk.
But he knows the words by heart, forward and back, inside and out. The Sunday we sang the same psalm at church and his eyes shot up, astonished that everyone else knew his prayer, too? That was one of the rare moments I tucked away to remember for always.
These words have become so close to him, already in his mouth and in his heart. Now all he has to do is learn how to live them.
All I can tell him is that it takes a lifetime.
Read the rest at Practicing Families…
When and how do you love to pray with the kids in your life? (Even if it sometimes drives you crazy, too?)
Pray to Mary, she told me.
Your grandma did, when she had her miscarriages. She didn’t understand Mary, but she still turned to her.
It was the last phrase that stuck with me. Not the admonition to pray, not the reminder of solidarity, not even the memory of a relative I loved.
But the honest truth of another Catholic woman who didn’t automatically feel connected to Mary, who didn’t adore her with the thrill of May crownings and the comfort of rosary beads, who admitted that she didn’t always understand her but who still turned to her.
So I tried to make room in my heart. For her.
Whose motherhood likely looked nothing like she imagined, either.
Who learned, from the moment she found out, that love and loss go hand in hand.
Who stood in a long line of women who wrestled with their wombs – Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel and Elizabeth.
Who fled to the comfort of kindred spirits when the world proved too much.
Whose words were Fiat and Magnificat, the humility of hope and the awe of wonder.
Whose prayers spoke truth of a God who lifts up what is bent low.
Who heard awful words that a sword would pierce her own soul.
Who treasured all these things in her heart, even as it grew heavy.
Who might have wanted to carry again, too.
Who had to let her child go.
When I think of what this awful August has been, of all the people who have rallied round us, I see how half the women who held me close have known the pain of miscarriage themselves, who remember and reach out to say that it was a life, that it was a loss, that it will take time to grieve.
But the other half of the women who are helping to carry me never knew this heartache themselves. Yet they love me through it just the same.
Maybe I have to stop holding up similarity as the way to sympathy.
I’ll never be like Mary; she’ll never be like me. But if I stop at the contours of the immaculate conception and the boundaries of the virgin birth and the defenses of the dogmas we construct to keep holy the God-bearer, then I might count myself out of a kindred spirit before she ever has the chance to surprise me.
Maybe we do not need to mirror each other’s experiences to share the same story.
These days I don’t know where I stand, on the shifting sands of a loss so small the world cannot see it, a grief so heavy it drags down each step I take. But the one thing I know as the days keep arriving and leaving, as I ache to turn the page on this month with too much living and dying, is that I do not stand alone.
And all the women – who sent flowers and dropped off dinners, who wrote cards and keep writing emails, who pray me through and listen me through and cry me through and love me through – maybe they are Mary to me.
Even if I do not understand, I keep turning.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
We’d planned it perfectly. A baby in early spring, before work got too busy and the summer too hot. The worst of the morning sickness would be passed in time for the holidays, and I could curl up on the couch for football season in the fall when exhaustion set in. We’d have a few months to get the boys adjusted to our addition before the oldest went off to kindergarten, and then I’d have just two at home again.
Of course, in hindsight I see the hubris of thinking we were in control, of micromanaging the most mysterious realities in our lives. We struck out boldly into the prospect of baby #3, assuming that we’d frontloaded our share of heartache on the infertility side of parenting.
But pain and loss know no quota. There was never any divine promise that suffering could be skipped over. Only that we will be companioned the whole way through.
. . .
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
I was early in the pregnancy, far enough along for us to celebrate the giddy joy of finding out and making plans and scheming how to share the news. But even when the signs started to point south and the tests confirmed our fears, I figured that since I was so early, it wouldn’t be too painful or drawn-out even if it did happen.
Instead I was overwhelmed by pain that felt like the worst wrenching of labor, contractions that came so fast I could barely breathe, shaking and numbness in my limbs that finally made me crawl to the phone and call the nurse who told me to get to the ER as fast as we could. I’d never heard stories of the real, raw truth of what it means to miscarry, so I had no idea what to expect.
But just because a death comes early does not mean it is lighter to bear or let go.
. . .
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Carrying was supposed to be the part I could do. Sure, there would little deaths all along: the wine, the caffeine, the favorite foods, the comfortable sleep. But I knew what it meant to feel sick for six months; I was ready to make the sacrifice again; I needed no convincing that the end product was worth it. Infertility was the struggle we knew, so we figured that once the lines blurred clear on the test stick, we’d be sailing straight ahead till delivery day.
Instead I have to learn what missing means. To white out the appointments already marked on my calendar. To stop mentally scheduling around a due date that is now a ghost. To take the time – the infinite long ache of time – that my body needs to heal. To let a dream die. To mourn a baby that will never be.
. . .
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. In my heart. In our plans. In everyone’s hopes.
But supposed to is a shimmering mirage. One of the few truths I know is that if you’re lucky to do enough living, it will inevitably break your heart. We forget that supposed to means a guess, a wonder, an attempt. We craft an illusion of control believing that supposed to means the right way, the my way, the only way.
Only when life and death crash up against each other in one powerful smack of a wave do we remember that we exist at the mercy of greater forces than our own mind, and that supposed to was never a magic potion to wave away mortality.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But it is.
I wanted to carry. But now I learn to miss.
. . .
But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God
and not from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
(2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
I had stepped outside for a breath of fresh air and – truth be told – a break from the boys inside who were driving me crazy. I walked the dog down to the street and pulled the newspaper from its box, tugged off the plastic wrapper still dripping from the morning’s latest summer storm.
A headline at the bottom caught my eye. It made me stop and read the whole obituary in my driveway: In eight decades as a singer and pianist, she made her name by balancing her family with her career. It’s not every day that a mother’s work-life balance makes the front page.
“Her heart was as big as her talent,” said Paul Peterson, her youngest child. “She was everybody’s mom. They all called her ‘Mama Jeanne.’ She was always so welcoming. Everyone from David Sanborn to Steve Miller rehearsed in her basement on Morgan Avenue.”
“She lived an incredible life and left a great legacy,” said her grandson, saxophonist/keyboardist/singer Jason Peterson DeLaire, who tours in Michael Bolton’s band. “From her, we learned about music and life and love.”
As I walked back up the driveway, I wondered about the questions we all eventually ask ourselves in the quiet of facing mortality.
What might they say about me when I’m gone? What kind of legacy would I leave?
. . .
The video made the usual viral rounds this week, and I should have known from everyone’s Facebook warnings to watch with Kleenex in hand that the coffee shop was not the place to click on the link. But caffeinated click I did, and Colbert choked me up, too.
Setting aside his usual snark and cynicism, he spoke eloquently and emotionally about the woman whose love had shaped his very self. As I tried to coolly wipe my nose with a napkin before anyone noticed, the same questions quietly rose up again:
What would my kids say about me after I die? How can I lead the kind of life that leaves people remembering love?
. . .
Last week I held my youngest in my lap for a blessed three solid minutes while we listened to the priest’s homily. Mass was going so much better than the week before: spirits were high, boys were behaving. I’d even managed to skim the readings for the day over breakfast so I had some clue what was going on even when I didn’t hear it.
But the opening line from the Gospel had bugged me all morning, tripping me up like an annoying pebble stuck in my sandal.
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him…
How could he be alone and yet accompanied? How could he pray so peacefully surrounded by people?
Was this some archaic editorial inconsistency (he’s alone/whoops, he’s with everyone)? Or simply proof of the divinity of He Who Could Meditate Amidst The Annoying Masses Of Humanity Even Though I Can’t Manage An Our Father When My Kids Are Driving Me Crazy?
I wondered about this paradox of prayer. As I cleaned up the breakfast dishes, as I drove the boys to church, as I plied them with books and crayons during the Gospel. I wanted to hear some word about how this worked.
But as the visiting priest started preaching about the obvious heart of the gospel – take up your cross and follow me - I figured the line that caught me would get glossed over.
Until he started telling his own story of feeling called to the priesthood.
He spoke about his mother who raised 7 children. How she prayed in the living room every evening before dinner while the rowdy crew of kids ran circles around her. Unflappable, she’d sit there on the couch with the same small prayer book in hand.
Only after she died, well into her nineties, did her son get a chance to see that prayer book. Wondering what captivated her attention every evening, he flipped it open to the well-worn middle and found that every night she had been praying for her children’s callings – specifically that of the two boys she worried about most, one would get married and one would become a priest. (The current priest admitted he was in fact the former, to the laughter of the congregation.)
But as he quickly moved into the next part of his story, I sat there still thinking about his mother as I breathed in the scent of my boy’s messy curls. I realized this priest had enlightened exactly the passage I’d pondered.
That was how you prayed in solitude, even with all the ramble of disciples around you.
That was how you lived a life where work and love could be braided together in messy beauty.
That was how you left a legacy of compassion and caring so deep that the people you loved would never forget it.
You prayed like Christ. You prayed with a mother’s heart for what mattered most.
How I heard Palm Sunday:
When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table with the apostles.
Mama, I need Polar Bear. Read Polar Bear. Read. Please.
I tell you, Peter. Before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, what do you hear? I hear a lion roaring in my ear.
Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still not my will but yours be done.
Big Trucks and Diggers! I need Big Trucks and Diggers!
They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied to them, “You say that I am.”
The wheel loader scoops and lifts and loads – oops, no, don’t pull the pages too hard or the dump truck part will break.
But they continued their shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Can you use your quiet voice in church? Shhh…no. Quiet. We use quiet voices while we’re listening.
Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.
Mama, do they have donuts today? Should we go check to see if there are donuts?
Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
Shhh. Use your QUIET VOICE IN CHURCH. If you cannot use your quiet voice, you are going to have to leave aga – ok, that’s it. You’re leaving. Here, take him.
And when he had said this, he breathed his last.
Mama, home. Let’s go home. I’m hungry. I’m tired. Home.
. . .
A mother’s distraction? Maybe.
But aren’t all our hearings of the Gospel interrupted?
We pick up the book after making the coffee and before loading the dishwasher. We squeeze in church between breakfast and a birthday party. We listen to a sermon while plotting our to-do list and planning our errands.
We are always humans trying to hear the divine, listening with half an ear amidst all the chatter and clutter. We are never gods ourselves, with undisturbed attention, uninterrupted time, undistracted minds. We are creatures of distraction, people of interruption.
But might this be precisely the point?
Incarnation was interruption: God breaking into our world, becoming human. Resurrection was a wrench-in-the-works of reality, too: death becoming life, transformed and brand-new.
The Gospel was always meant to interrupt us. To interrupt injustice with truth. To interrupt guilt with forgiveness. To interrupt violence with peace. To interrupt ambition with humility. To interrupt selfishness with love.
No wonder it still interrupts today. Even this holiest of weeks is still full of work deadlines and school drop-offs and vacuuming and vet visits.
And the little ones can’t sit silent for the sacred mystery of holy days. They still fidget and squirm, whine and yawn. (So do adults sometimes, if we’re honest.)
Proof of all the human he came to save.
. . .
In case you missed it, I’m now a contributor at CatholicMom.com. Click here to check out my first post on how to live Lent as a busy mom.
May you have a peaceful, prayerful Holy Week! (Amidst the chaos and craziness of daily life, of course.)