the problem (and the promise) of mother’s day

I am a mother. Mother’s Day is not supposed to be hard.

Glossy ads and glittery cards tell me this. I am supposed to enjoy a light and easy day! Put up my feet and pamper myself! Delight my children’s affection! Bask in my husband’s gratitude! Eat breakfast in bed or indulge in sweet desserts or let the waiter offer me a mimosa on the house because…motherhood.

But the reality? It’s much more complicated.

. . .

Do you know who I think about every Mother’s Day?

I think about my mom, of course. I think about how she still has to pause before answering the supposedly simple question of “How many children do you have?” Because my brother died decades ago, but he is still her son.

I think about a dear friend who dreams of adopting, who has been another mother to my boys, who lost a baby to miscarriage. Because the world would not include her among those we celebrate with brunch or flowers, but she is more mother than almost anyone else I know.

I think about the baby we lost, the life so small that some would never consider it real. Because I am still that child’s mother, but no one sees his or her shadow behind the three bright faces of my living boys.

I think about women I know who have had abortions. Who suffered abuse at the hands of men who were supposed to care for them, or who made decisions that haunt them for the rest of their lives, or whose future families were forever shaped by what came before. I mourn that we do not have good ways for them to talk about their pain and grief and loss.

I think about couples I know who have been trying to conceive for years. Who hate the Hallmark holidays of May and June because they are bombarded with constant reminders that they are still not mothers and fathers. That they might never be. I wish we could remember to pray for those with aching hearts when we bless parents, too.

Every year on Mother’s Day I am tugged in opposite directions. I struggle with how to celebrate such a complicated day.

It is a problem.

. . .

Because Mother’s Day is also a day for the mothers of children who died. Who will not get a homemade painting or a Hallmark card this year or any spring day to come.

It is also a day for the women who wanted to become mothers but never did. The ones who will hurry out of church before Sunday’s final blessing because it’s too painful to stay seated while smiling women stand all around them.

It is also a day for the mothers of stillborn babies, miscarried babies, and children who didn’t even get a dash between dates on their gravestones, whose birthday was their only day on earth. The ones who carry the memories, generations later, of what might have been.

It is also a day for daughters who lost their mothers. The ones who still grieve decades later and who mourn the grandmother their children never got to know.

It is also a day for everyone who had a complicated relationship with their mother. The ones who felt failed or forgotten or forsaken by the one person that we assume was never supposed to betray them.

So whenever May rolls around, I try to hold space for all of these people. I pray for hope and peace to be theirs. I try to love the ones around me, those I have been given to mother and those who teach me how to mother. I try to remember the shadow side of every celebration. I pray not to make assumptions about other people’s lives.

This is the only way I know how to celebrate Mother’s Day.

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Because when I think about what we want to celebrate on this holiday – and it is certainly worth celebrating – it is the love and compassion and generosity of the mothering spirits who have cared for us, whether mothers or grandmothers or aunts or godmothers or birth mothers or stepmothers or others.

And here’s the real rub. All those who fit this loving ideal? They would want us to include all those who are hurting and excluded, too. This is what they taught us to do. To live compassionately. To love deeply.

This is the only way Mother’s Day makes sense.

This is a promise.

. . .

This post is full of links (highlighted in pink above) to stories about the shadow side of Mother’s Day. Please take a moment to click and read a reflection or two, and share with someone who might need to know they’re not alone in their struggles.

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the empty due date

I wrote this on the second anniversary of the due date that wasn’t. 

I wasn’t going to share it here. Then I was reminded that we all carry our handful of hard days each year: the death of a loved one, the anniversary of an accident, the memory of a loss, the date of a tragedy.

If we live long enough, our calendars fill with these days. Empty and full. 

How we remember them is what matters. 

. . .

There are no rituals for this, what you’re supposed to do with a day that would have been circled in red and bursting with exclamation points and ticking with excited countdown.

An empty due date.

This day came and went last year, and it comes and goes this year. It will always be yours. You wake up in the morning; you know it is here; and there is nothing to do but go forward.

Maybe you are grumpy or maybe you are weepy or maybe you are just plain pissed at the world. Maybe you lose your temper at the kids or maybe you squeeze them extra tight while they squirm away silly or maybe you find yourself looking into their squinty laughing eyes and realizing that someday you will tell them about this. Someday when they are older.

Maybe you pull out some proof that it happened, because your hands need to hold. A picture of an ultrasound or a card from a friend or a bittersweet beautiful thing you bought to remember. Maybe you light a candle or play a song or try to pray even when the words ring hollow because it feels like today’s darkness should be sacred somehow.

Maybe you carry this day silently, not wanting to tell anyone what you’re mourning. Maybe you confide in a friend who understands, who won’t judge your sadness when the world seems stumped that you still think about it. Maybe you let yourself cry into the collar of your husband’s shirt when he walks in the door, because even if he doesn’t hold the memory of loss in flesh and blood like you do every day, it was his baby, too.

And maybe you simply move through the day’s hours with the motions that keep all of us afloat when we do not know what else to do. You wash dishes and sweep floors and cook dinner and switch laundry from washer to dryer. You catch glimpses of the clock out of the corner of your eye, mentally calculating when this date will depart for another year and not a moment too soon.

You don’t know what to do with an empty due date. No one does.

You just do. And you let that be prayer enough.

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the trash tells the story

A month ago I ran into a friend as we were both rushing into church from the whipping winter wind. She held the door for me, and I sprinted inside, breathing steam. As we shivered in the entryway, trying to warm up, she said, “Oh! I meant to tell you – I read your book. I liked it!”

“And wow, it was really personal.”

I stumbled through an awkward thank you and mumbled some self-deprecating snark about hope my kids won’t sue me for those stories. But as we kept talking and wound our way down the hallway, my stomach slunk a little lower.

Because I’ve heard comments like hers before, and I know what they mean.

You’re telling stories I’m not used to hearing.

You’re writing words I’m not used to reading.

. . .

There are plenty of topics I’ve written about – in my book or on this blog or elsewhere – that could make people blush. Sex, pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility, depression, death, and grieving.

(To say nothing of everyday stories of lost tempers, harsh words, parenting fails.)

All of this is part of “parenting as spiritual practice,” in the way I understand parenting, faith, and spirituality. Writing, too. Truth-telling is hard and holy work. Honesty is rough, but essential. Because beauty only blooms when barriers come down and we see each other, face to face.

Sometimes I envy novelists. Fiction is the highest form of writing’s art, in my opinion: not only to tell a story well, but to create characters and craft a whole world. But that’s not the kind of writing I’m called to do. It’s not the story I want to tell.

I’m steeped in narrative theology. When I started reading about it in graduate school, it felt so obvious. Wasn’t it precisely in our lives and our experiences that we came to know God? This is the way I have always understood faith. So I loved finding a body of theology to back up my hunch – that we can find our way to the universal through the personal. That we can find our way to the divine through the human.

And yet.

I’m still wary of sharing too much. My beloved ones become characters in a book when I write about them. I worry about this.

I try to stick to my own story, but lives inevitably intersect – family, friends, strangers. I have to proceed with prayer and care in the ways that I tell a tale authentically, so that I don’t cause pain or betray trust or cross a line.

All in the name of telling a good and true and – yes – personal story.

. . .

My first essay was recently published at Mamalode. It tells a story of the most mundane subject: the trash.

We’ve all got trash, heaps of it. The clinking spill of wine bottles in the recycling bin after a party. The cardboard box bonanza following Christmas cleanup. The Kleenex mountains during cold season, the gift wrap crumbles during birthday week, the pious piles of de-hoarding inspired by spring cleaning.

We empty baskets and drag bins out to the curb once a week. But when do we stop to see what story the trash tells about our lives?

When I finally dragged the whole mess out to the garbage can, sweltering in the August sun, I cried as I dumped its contents into the gaping mouth of the dark brown bin. That was the story of our baby. Gone.

While cramping with cruel empty labor on the cold bathroom floor, I had yanked the wastebasket over toward me so I could throw up. In my panicked haste, I had chipped the smooth curve of its bottom rim on our bathroom tile. Every morning since that day, I have stared at the wastebasket’s chipped edge.

A jagged reminder of the baby that died.

Click to read the rest at Mamalode.com

The only way I know how to write is to tell my own story.

It will be personal. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it might be yours. And you, the ones who read, you are the reason I keep going.

You are the reason I sit down here and try to tell some small truth about what I’m learning on this long walk – of parenting, of faith, of the spiritual life.

You are the reason I’m not afraid to get personal.

Because if something I tell in a story might touch your own life, might help you feel less alone, might let light in through the cracks, then we will change each other for the better. We will help each other become more human.

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9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (month 2)

We’ve been laughing, he and I. Over crock pots steaming with chili and harvest vegetables heaped upon the counter in earthy piles, over the din of Notre Dame football roaring up from the basement below, over the chorus of three small boys tugging for attention and talking all at once in the kitchen.

We’ve been laughing about last fall, tossing jokes about the morning sickness long past, about the garden bounty that rotted in bowls as I slept hard on the couch, about the autumn traditions we didn’t cook or visit or make because mama was growing the baby and in my world that is mighty work.

I marvel at this now – laughing while I close my eyes at oven’s blasting heat as I slide out another pan of sweet potatoes, rolling my eyes at his comebacks while I peel pyramids of knobbly carrots, grinning at the boys who steal fistfuls of green beans even as I turn to dump them in the roiling boil.

I marvel at how we are laughing. How far those hard days seem, and not just those aching, exhausting weeks of trying to keep down water and crackers. But the harder days before that.

The days of losing the baby and floundering for hope and curling inward because the world couldn’t see the pain. Because weren’t we young and healthy and at least we have two babies already and couldn’t we always try again? Because it wasn’t really a baby, was it? Only a handful of weeks along, only the tiniest curve of a body that could slip away so easily.

Only a whisper of a life.

Why should it still echo now, with our plumpy love of a round boy now gnawing at his dimpled fists in the swing and laughing gummy smiles at his brothers’ monkey faces and blinking bright owl eyes in the slanted morning light beside my bed each morning?

I know why now, and these heaps of garden harvest in my dirty hands remind me. Because what grows in darkness is life, even when we cannot see it. And what lies beneath is hope, even if it is a tiny seed. And what bursts forth is holy, even if it is a tender shoot.

I will miss that baby always. The thought will catch in my throat each time, the wonder of what could have been. And the way a body feels differently once it has carried both life and death within it.

I have known deepest joy and deepest pain from these children of mine – all four lives that have sparked into being, that head-scratching mystery, that sacred design that the Weaver knits together in the holy dark. I hold all this wrapped round my heart.

And as I wonder what to say today about a prayer for the beginning, for the first weeks of knowing and loving and hoping and praying, I think it is the same truth that fall teaches me each year.

These rich cold weeks bursting with deep color and deeper change, when we carry the outside inside, when we harvest one season’s hopes for another’s savoring, when we let go of what will not be and learn to welcome what will come.

The truth that we are nurturing life, all of us.

We are tending to its tender beginning. We are carrying its plumping growth. We are sharing its holy fruits with those we love.

. . .

Today it is a prayer for month two of pregnancy. A fragile four weeks: the thrill of discovering and announcing, the fear of worrying and wondering, the unknown of what lies ahead.

But a sacred four weeks, too. The beginning of a life that we will carry close to our own for the rest of our days, no matter what may come. The opening chapter of a book that is written by the Author of Love and the Word Itself.

Today it is a prayer, too, for the gifts we receive and the gratitude we live and the worries we can cast back, over and over in heaps and piles, onto the loving hands of the One who carries all of us.

Today it is a prayer for someone who may need it.

Today it is my gift to you.

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)

. . .

Prayers for Pregnancy - Month 2Month 2: A Prayer for Joy

God of joy,
Our hearts sing to you
In our moment of discovery!
We saw proof with our eyes
That new life has begun,
And we saw that it was good.

As a heart begins to beat
And a mind begins to grow,
May my own heart and mind
Rejoice in the wonder of this gift.

Even if sickness turns my stomach
Or tiredness takes over,
Let a deeper joy
Run through my days,
Fast and strong and true.

And if, as weeks pass,
Worries start to circle round,
Threatening to steal my joy,
Let your perfect love
Cast out my fear.

Help me believe
That you hold us both,
My child and I,
In the palm of your warm
And safe and loving hand.

In joy I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

All the prayers for pregnancy will be found here at the end of this 9 week series. Please pass them on…

3 things Joseph taught me about God

Our sweetest, smallest, newest. (Dare I say gentlest, too?) A mere four months this side of birth, and already it seems his quiet wisdom has been with us always. 

This Joseph gift, this “rainbow baby” promise after loss – he is pure light. Already teaching me all sorts of truths I thought I knew.

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1) Joseph taught me that God is Hope.

By his very existence, this child astounds. Only six weeks after we lost our baby last summer, we found out he was on his way. Did we dare to dream he could be, so soon? And yet he was.

The hope of new life that he brought by his first spark – it did not deny the pain of what preceded, or dismiss the death of another, but it was still profoundly healing.

As he grew and pushed softly against the limits of my skin, he pushed my faith into new places, too. Places that had to stretch to make space for what it meant to lose a baby and gain a baby, all in a short span of time. Layering upon learning how life and death are always twinned.

People use the phrase “rainbow baby” to signal a child conceived after miscarriage or stillbirth. Now I see the shimmer in that truth, the bright sign that stretches over the months of hoping, drawing out of darkness into light.

Joseph will always be for me this resurrection sign of God-as-Hope, of joy flooding our lives.

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2) Joseph taught me that God is Mercy.

As I fling this sentence into the interwebs, I rest fully aware that it may all change in an instant. But this baby? He is the precious easy kind of child a parent secretly wishes for.

He sleeps, he eats, he smiles, he grows. Rare are the crying jags, abundant are the gummy grins. He has slid into our lives with such simple grace that I find it hard to believe there was a time when he was not.

The transition to three has proved so much easier than we expected, even in a summer with too much unexpected challenge around us. Joseph has been the calm center of the storm, quiet and steady and growing on his own.

I joke and call him “the gentle giant” because he is our biggest baby, bursting out of tiny clothes and filling our arms with unexpected weight. But perhaps we needed this bigger presence of peace in our lives right now.

Perhaps God’s Mercy gifted this sweet soul for such a time as this.

His big brothers smother him with love each new morning. They never tire of squealing at his very presence, covering him with kisses. It still astounds me – their pure delight, their unconditional joy. When Thomas was new? Sam had no time for the intruder. But both boys love their baby in the truest sense of the word.

I see now what lavish Mercy looks like, how God loves. And it is so Good.

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3) Joseph taught me that God is Dreamer.

By his name, this child echoes truth to me.

We chose Joseph for all those dreamers in Scripture – the one whose visions shaped his destiny and the one whose angel voices softened his heart. Both these men had to trust their God and their own inner compass to lead. Even when called into the mess of uncertainty around them, they fixed their gaze on God and headed straight in.

And both of them changed the story of their families and their people for generations to come, by trusting in strange dreams.

Joseph reminds me that God is a Dreamer, too. Dreaming of justice and mercy and peace. Dreaming of healing and reconciliation. Dreaming of a love that will reshape the very fabric of our lives if we dare to let it in.

I look into his gentle, dreaming eyes and I hear whispers to keep dreaming, too. To remember how new life springs in strange ways from death. To be unafraid of what others think as I head straight into the messes where I am called. To imagine what might come if I dare to follow wildest dreams.

To trust my life to the One who created and claimed it for goodness.

. . .

What have you learned about God from those closest to you – 

your spouse, children, parents, siblings, or friends?

a summer of paradox

My mother sang while hanging clothes
The notes weren’t perfect, heaven knows
Yeah, but heaven opened anyway
This I knew was true

Carrie Newcomer, “Leaves Don’t Drop (They Just Let Go)

It was a year ago that I spent hours listening to her music in the kitchen. Swirling my hands through streams of soapy water as I washed bowl after bowl, pot after pot.

Putting up the summer harvest was part of my healing after losing the baby. Doing something concrete for my family. Saving something good from the soured summer. Looking ahead to a time when it all might not hurt so much.

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I blanched brimming bowls of beans. I cut corn from piles of cobs. I stirred so many pots of soup and sauce, all of it spooned into bags and stacked into the basement freezer. With love, I suppose, but also longing. For what was and what wasn’t and how I had no control over any of it.

So for weeks I listened to Carrie’s albums on repeat: gentle, soothing, pulling me away from myself. There was so much light and darkness in her songs that they made me weep, let me break open to all that needed to rush flooding out.

And every season brings a change
A tree is what a seed contains
To die and live is life’s refrain

This past week I found myself pulling out the same albums again. Popping the Sesame Street Classics! out of the stereo and setting the soft, sweet music to spin. Her voice filled the kitchen again, and suddenly I was right back to a summer ago.

Only now I was thinking of the baby we lost and the baby we gained. Of the summer that was and the fall that will be. Of all the impossible opposites clinging together around me. 

God speaks in rhyme and paradox
This I know is true

It was a summer of new life and new loss. Our family welcomed a baby and lost an uncle. A quick arrival and a too-quick departure. Their names twin together, Joseph and Jim. One waking to his first summer and one who had his last.

It was a summer of healing and hurting. A birth that was nearly perfect and an emergency surgery that was anything but. A natural process that healed with no complications and a painful procedure that left permanent scars. Three intense hours that brought new life into the world and three dramatic hours that may have saved my own life.

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It was a summer of no work and lots of work. Maternity leave and full-time mothering. Leaving one kind of labor and taking up another. The freedom of pausing some responsibilities and the weight of taking on even more.

It was a summer of chaos and calmness. The busy buzz of two big boys and the quiet moments with the tiniest. How much louder the house vibrates when all three are yelling at the same time and how much sweeter the house settles when all three are sleeping soundly upstairs.

And then at the end of this summer of paradox, more people started reading this blog than ever have before. Thousands more. And shouldn’t I be delighting in this? Isn’t this exactly what a writer wants?

Yet, ironically, the reason my words struck such a clear chord is because so many people are hurting and isolated. I can’t bring myself to rejoice in that.

I can only hope that what I write might help us try to open our eyes wider and see each other, together. In the messy midst of all our paradoxes.

Leaves don’t drop, they just let go
And make a space for a seed to grow

I had that post on infertility and invisibility sitting in my drafts for a long time. I only pulled it out to finish after my heart broke again at the news of a loving couple – you know the kind, the ones who want kids so badly it hurts, the ones who should have a babbling brood jumping all over them like wriggling puppies – whose last round of infertility treatment failed.

I was saddened and frustrated and angry when I heard their news, wanting to shake that furious fist at the universe and demand why.

Instead I sat down one early morning in the dark and finished writing the world this letter.

And for the past week I’ve been sitting back, somewhat stunned, watching so many people read it, watching these crazy numbers climb, watching everything spin out of my small control after how many years of thinking this blogging business depended on me. It doesn’t. It depends on you.

So when I look back on all I will carry with me from this summer, I see how I am leaving with a widened heart and a longer list of prayers to pray. In a season of pain and paradox, these are unequivocally good things.

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A summer ago I was mourning a miscarriage, and now I have a bouncing baby boy on my lap. I can’t help but find God in paradoxes thick around me. That Joseph would not be here if that baby had lived.

Now knowing him in all his perfect particularity, I cannot imagine a world without him. Which does not reconcile any death, but does make more space for mystery in the shades of grey that smudge together to make this life.

A portrait of paradox.

. . .

In a fitting end to my maternity leave, my thoughtful co-workers put together this post on our Collegeville Institute blog about my summer series on spiritual practices with newborns. I’m touched by their words and hope you will enjoy it, too!

most-ly: a year in review

2013 was a fun blogging year for little moi.

I got the chance to work with so many great writers and inspiring moms who helped bring these two series to life: How I Nurture My Mothering Spirit and How We Spend Our Time.

I started writing more beyond this space, for Catholic Mom and Practicing Families and the blog for the Collegeville Institute.

And – perhaps most importantly – I was delighted to turn a few blogging connections into “real-life” (as in, welcome to my messy house! and my wild kids!) friendships off-line.

(To think I still owe all this to a crazy idea I had years ago when I decided to start a blog and tell no one.)

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Inspired by the “Most” Posts at Amongst Lovely Things, I decided to dig back through the past 12 months of blogging to unearth a few memorable moments in these five categories:

Post with the most clicks: This is Heavy. But We are Also Strong. I loved that Blooma (a great resource for Twin Cities moms!) picked this post to rerun on their blog this week, because it was one of my surprise favorites this year. I wrote it in my head one night while cutting cantaloupe with my youngest, and I never dreamed it would strike such a chord.

Interestingly, it’s still my page on Prayers for Pregnancy that gets the most views (5,000+ this year, yikes). Believe me, I’m cooking up something new for 2014 on praying through pregnancy…so stay tuned!

Post with the most comments: On Carrying and Missing. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, having miscarriage become such a stark part of our 2013. But it was, and so many of you sent your words of love, and I will never forget any of it.

Post with the best picture: When The Marriage Dust Settles. The jumble of photo booth shots from a family wedding sums up the lovable chaos of our lives right now: all four of us clamoring all over each other, laughing and cuddling and making goofy faces for the camera. And at least one boy grinning upside down in every shot.

Post that was hardest to write: The Gossamer Veil. This was one that made me weep while I was typing, but it might be the truest thing I wrote all year. Ever since I was a child, I have carried with me a sharp, deep awareness of the thin thread between life and death, and losing our baby brought all of this too-much-reality right back to the surface of grief. But I’m so grateful I wrote it.

Post that was your personal favorite: When A Calling Comes Full Circle. I loved that the Christian Century blog network picked up this post, because it strikes at the heart of the work I’ve been blessed to do on vocation with the Collegeville Institute: What does it mean to listen for God’s call? What happens when life interrupts our plans? And how can the paths-not-taken come back around when we least expect them?

. . .

Looking ahead…What will 2014 hold? A new baby in May, thank God. And another big surprise I’m getting ready to birth, too…so stay tuned. (You might just have to follow Mothering Spirit on Facebook or Twitter to hear the news first!)

One thing is for sure: none of this would exist without you, the ones who read what I write. Still such a humbling head-shaker for me. You are the ones I count among the many blessings of 2013, of one more year spent spinning around the sun.

May this last day of December be filled with light and laughter and love, wherever you spend it.

the shortest days. the longest nights.

We’re inching towards a day I dread on the calendar. The winter solstice: shortest day of the year. As a lover of light and warmth, I cringe at the cold, recoiling from the longest dark.

When I worked outside the home, I hated these December days even more – commuting to work in the blue-black before dawn, driving home after the sun had already set. All the life seemed sucked out of the hours before I ever got a chance to enjoy them.

Small consolations twinkle: Christmas lights flashing through dark neighborhoods, a thick cover of snow that glows luminescent all night long. But still I long for summer’s bright yellow light and stretching evenings. Pulling tight the curtains in the kids’ rooms to convince them it’s time for bed even though their parents plan to sneak back outside barefoot once the covers have been tucked under their chins.

But every year in Advent, a season of lighting candles and marking time, we lose sunlight hour by hour. It gnaws at me: how I have to release into the dark to let these days pass.

. . .

When I was pregnant for the first time, my wise friend Anita wrote to me on a baby shower card that the best truth she’d heard about raising babies (and she’d had three, so she knew well) was that the years are short but the days are long.

I’ve heard this comforting adage a thousand times since, so I know it rings true for parents who have passed through the throes of life with little ones. In the endless cycle of dragging days filled with newborns and diapers and toddlers and tantrums and preschoolers and discipline, the years somehow slip by. Quickly and quietly.

I hear parents of grown children tell me to relish these days, because they long for them now. And of course I won’t, any more than they savored potty training or dinners full of whining or 3:00 am sobbing wakeup calls.

Still I respect their wisdom; I know that I will one day look back fondly at the same. How wondrous and fleeting were these years full of tiny ones.

But the same truth echoes across the cold dark snow of this winter solstice, too. A month full of shortest days means longest nights. So much temptation for brooding in the darkness. Advent is a necessary hope: we must light the candles and sing the songs and prepare as the weeks pass.

Otherwise we would despair.

. . .

Some parents call a child after miscarriage their “rainbow baby.” A promise of hope after loss. A shimmer of colored light after bleak rain. A sign of calming peace after the storm.

But for me, this baby has been a full moon. Round and bright in the dark sky. Pulling my eyes back to its light whenever they stray. Casting its glowing shine onto a cold world waiting below.

The full moon has brought me comfort through each passing month. Whenever I would rise at night – from nausea, from anxiety, from restless sleep – I found my companion in that glowing orb.

A single light strong enough to fill the sky and flood the land below.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons by Lachlan Donald from Melbourne, Australia (Flickr)

My longest nights have been full of this presence of God’s promise: that light always returns. Even when the days are short from December’s cold, or the nights are long from children’s demands, there is always brightness somewhere, if I keep searching.

If I keep looking up. Even in the deepest dark.

Christ, be our light. 

for all our children. tonight and always

This post was supposed to be about children.

All weekend I had these wonderful thoughts running through my head.

About how much I adore the age of four: how he appears in our doorway in the dark dawn hour, hair tousled from sleep, beloved seahorse cradled in his arm, ready to climb in bed with us and snuggle. How he spills over with sweet love these days, so many kisses for his mama, even hugs for his brother, cuddles for the dog.

About how I’m learning to relove the age of two: how he grins like a chimpanzee when I catch him being silly, how his budding scientist self marvels at the miracle of running water in the sink, how he chortles himself breathless at the rhymes he finds hysterical. How he’s starting to sing back to me as I close the bedroom door at bedtime, I love you, mama! Good night, mama!

So I didn’t realize when I finally sat down to write this, when I went to close the browser windows to avoid distraction’s temptation, that I’d left open the New York Times. And this had popped up on my screen:

This Oct. 15, we’ll light a candle for Silvan. From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in each time zone around the world, thousands will join us. We’ll mark International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day with a “wave of light” that symbolically sweeps across the globe. Though it’s unlikely anyone will see that wave of light, the image is still powerful.

So for anyone passing by my house this Oct. 15, I’ll be the woman with a candle in my window. Most passersby will not know my candle is for Silvan. But I’ll light a candle to remember more than my own son. I’ll light it to honor all whose lives have been too brief and all who are still here. Please join us.

I didn’t know.

I didn’t even know such a day existed.

I didn’t know it was today, a usually ho-hum October day of property taxes due and two-weeks-left-to-make-those-costumes.

I didn’t know last year at this time that I would even care.

But I do.

. . .

Two months have passed. So many changes. Still the world spins on.

I’m sure most people think we’re fine now, that we’ve moved on. After all it was so early. We couldn’t have been that attached. We have two healthy kids already. We’re young and we can have another.

Is that the way we measure a life? By length, by duplication, by replicability?

What if worth simply comes from being? What if that were the ultimate shock to our systems, so accustomed to striving for success, for uniqueness, for longevity? What if life’s value was simply life?

I believe it is. I believe this in the face of a culture that tosses it away, that bombs it to oblivion, that shoves its poverty to the margins. I believe it because of a God who pulled children onto his lap when his world said they were worthless, who touched bleeding women when his culture said they were unclean, who blessed lepers when his own people recoiled with repulsion.

I believe it, no matter how small this light flickers in the darkness.

. . .

This post was supposed to be about children. And maybe it was after all.

The children we remain as adults, the ones we remember we have always been, when we crawl back into God’s arms and wail like we did into our mother’s shoulder, that it’s not fair, that it hurts too much, that it shouldn’t have to be this way.

And the children we love, even the ones we lose too early.

So tonight, if you drive by our house when the sun has just sunk over the hill into the blue-black of October night and the two wild boys full of shouts are upstairs splashing in the bath, you’ll catch a glimpse through the leaves of one small light flickering in our window. I will make sure of it.

Because it wasn’t just a dream. It wasn’t just a loss.

It was a life. It was a baby.

It is still ours.

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how does God do it?

He crouches down next to the crib in the dim room lit only by nightlight. Slowly he bends forward until his forehead brushes the wooden slats where our son’s head rests, a dark tangle of damp curls.

They blur together in the dark, father to son.

I watch from the doorway. The broadness of his back, the curve of his calves, the grip of his fingers resting on the tops of his knees – all poised to act. I wonder how he can keep so still, all his attention focused like a laser beam on the sleeping boy in the bed.

We both search for some sign of distress, beyond the bandaids that wrap round our baby’s arm where the wasps stung. All the first-aid guides I’d dug out of the bathroom cupboard while he was screaming in my ear just a few hours ago warned that an allergic reaction could still arrive hours after the attack.

We’ve never had a child stung before, so here we are thrown back onto the shores of brand-new-parenthood, sputtering and bewildered at how little we know. Are we supposed to wake him to make sure he’s not swelling up? Would we be able to hear on the baby monitor if he went into shock? Should we have stocked an Epi-pen at the ready for emergencies like a bedtime bee sting? Are we needlessly anxious?

We have no clue.

So he squats, crouched by the crib, staring into darkness, waiting for what seems like an agonizing stretch of time. As minutes drag past, my mind starts to wander. Back to the newspaper lying on the kitchen table downstairs, the latest article on Syria that I’d half read and flung aside in frustration: too much. Back to our loss, still cycling through my mind in regular sad rhythms: too soon.

And I start to wonder, as I keep watching from the doorway, my own breath held, how on earth God holds it all in tension.

How the divine power which set the universe spinning could ever be concerned with my heartache. How the force of love incarnate could let such evil massacre babies with warfare. How all of our wants and wounds could ever be gathered under the gaze of One.

But as I keep staring at the strong back bent low to peek through the slats of the crib, I wonder if I see some glimpse of how God might watch each of us, the wasp-stung and the war-torn. How such love could laser in on smallest needs in weakest hours and embrace all of us, too, even in the violence we never cease to wreak upon each other.

Because the world has always been this big and this small. Heated debates over bombing and nervous jitters over back-to-school. Thousands screaming over blood stains in the city square and two crying behind a hospital room’s closed doors. And somehow we who dare or dream or deign to keep believing, believe there is a God who is Good all the time.

I cannot – will not – ever fathom how this works.

But finally he turns to me, smiling in the shadows. “All clear,” he mouths in a half-whisper. We sneak back out of the room.

And all week, as I keep brooding over Syria and grieving the small moments that still catch in my throat, I carry with me this image of a night watch. How the strongest can bend low to care about the smallest. How a father’s attention can focus in an instant when his child’s face is salt-streaked with tears.

Maybe the divine is never so distant as our fears would spin us to believe. Maybe God is always this close, right on the other side of where we rest, watching each one, holding a whole world in love’s heart.

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