Wednesday: Ashes and Death

I wrote this post five (FIVE!) years ago when I was pregnant with Brooksie, now a little boy who is making some extravagant plans for his fifth birthday next month. It's one of those rare things when I can come back to an old post and can still say, Yes, that's what I wanted to say. It's Ash Wednesday. I hope this day and your Lenten season is full of grace and goodness.  

I love Ash Wednesday because it reminds me that I will die.

I am a product of a culture obsessed with youth and beauty. We honor the young and ignore the elderly. We worship comfort at the expense of wisdom. We refuse to consider that each of us are constantly moving closer to our own deaths. And we convince ourselves that we have control over the reality of living and dying…until the cancer, the terror, the tragedy.

I don’t know what it is about pregnancy, perhaps those millions of years (until this past century), when a woman’s body knew that giving birth meant the possibility of death. Maybe my body and my brain still haven’t connected over the existence of modern medicine and the rarity of death in childbirth for the average American woman. And so I’m feeling in these final days of pregnancy like my womb has switched on an awareness-radar, saying: Love everything! It could all end soon! The world is suddenly brighter and more fragrant. August is charming even as he whines while I’m on the phone. I’m seized by a need to stroll instead of hurry. What a strange thing to have hormones telling you you’re risking your life, possibly dying, and doing something so significant it could change the world.

So tonight, I will sit alone in an Ash Wednesday service, preparing myself to stand before a priest of the gospel and hear the words that ring the bell signaling the Lenten season: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. I will feel near to death. Not like it is a monster coming at me, but like it is a sleeping terror I am allowed to approach.

The older I get the more often I know people who have lost those they love. I know it's possible. The tragedy could come to me. I could be the tragedy. There’s something to sitting alone with that thought on this first day of Lent, for a mother and a wife who is never completely alone, to approach the bowl of ashes and feel them pressed into the skin that covers my brain. I am made of this. I will be this again.

The ashes tell me that I am broken. I am human, not a god, not a marvel, not a woman of accomplishment. They tell me that whatever I do with my life, this body, in all its beauty, will be the same lump of ash as the vilest criminal in prison. The ashes make me look at myself: thirty-one years old. Have I lived long enough to have become the woman I want to be? Have I loved completely?

I want to ooze hospitality in my life. I want to see the people around me as Jesus. I want to care. I want to carry peanut butter and jellies in my diaper bag to offer to those begging just blocks from my home. I want people who meet me to sense peace in my presence. I want my son to joyfully remember his childhood as full of color and kindness and rich love. I want to patiently listen to my husband instead of storing up bitterness until I lose my temper.

I’m thankful that the ashes are about more than my own death. They’re about the death of the God whose brokenness and ultimate restoration heals my failure, who brings purpose to a life that could easily be written off as ordinary.

Last year, as I sat through our Ash Wednesday service, I watched a couple carry their ten-month-old baby with them to the pastor, who marked not only their heads but their little girl’s as well. I watched them carry her back to their seats, a bit shocked at the sight of ashes on a baby’s face.  I couldn’t help but consider their intentions. Were they reminding themselves of their child’s own brokenness as well? I thought: August will die. At some point he will die.

As I write this, he is asleep in his room, snuggled up with around 12 different stuffed animals. My other son, the one whose feet press into my side long enough for me to measure a length that simply should not be (those things are not going to fit on the birth certificate), is waiting for our God to give him a little shove out of me. He’ll breathe oxygen for the first time and scream at the injustice of life outside of my warmth. He will be fresh and beautiful and it won’t take long before he will be scarred.

It’s Ash Wednesday. So let these ashes remind us that what we need is not the avoidance of age, the fear of our own endings, but the glory of healing, of purpose, of life lived fully.

Why 'Receive' Should Have Been My Word in 2015

cultivate
cultivate

Cultivate was my word for 2015, a year that was probably the most challenging of my life. I didn’t write about that word, Cultivate, all that much. Not because I didn’t feel inspired by the power of its meaning, but because I didn’t really have the energy to think about what I was cultivating. In all honesty, last year was not about the bigger picture of bringing forth good things. It was a smaller season of life. It was a season of receiving. The good, quiet, painful work of receiving.

Last January, , I chose that word cultivate, thinking already of what I would do once I had worked through the news of my unborn child’s diagnosis. What would come from this? What would I make of this new thing?

I didn’t really make anything this past year. I simply did what I needed to do. I slowed down.

In the last eight weeks of my pregnancy, my amniotic fluid hovered around the danger zone, and week after week I drove myself across town to have my belly pressed and rubbed with instruments, all checking to make sure Ace was safe in there. My growing bump slowed its expansion. I worried what would be found when the tape measurer wrapped around my middle.

And over and over there was no big answer to those challenges. Drink water, they’d say. Rest.

I wore my eye of the tiger shirt on purpose in those last weeks of pregnancy
I wore my eye of the tiger shirt on purpose in those last weeks of pregnancy

Sometimes the work of cultivating gets halted into those first stages: The hard work you’re asked to do looks more like receiving: Put your feet up, mom of two wild boys. Ask your friends to watch them. Take naps. Stop writing so much. Let Florence bring you dinner, again. Receive, receive, receive.

Chris and I have been watching A&E’s six-part series , which follows seven young people with Down syndrome living in LA. It’s been a joy to watch their lives and personalities, to see their challenges and gifts. It’s a sweet, kind-hearted show. And it’s helping me make peace with who Ace may be as a young man. It’s helping me make space for that part of his story, when he isn’t a child, when he falls in love, or tries to find a job, or learns how to shop and cook for himself.

I keep remembering that receiving is a process. I need to continue, with each step of Ace’s development, to accept the parts of his story that I hadn’t planned for, and to celebrate the gift that he is. Sometimes that means watching these adults with Down syndrome learn to express their emotions or celebrate personal victories, and reminding myself that my boy will likely experience the world the way they do.

It’s receiving the challenges as they unfold. My little nugget of a baby needs to gain more weight. It’s learning how to feed him intentionally. It’s learning how to play with him in a way that both challenges him and blesses him. In short, it’s being a mom. But being one in which the microscope narrows in on every step along his development, the steps I didn’t even realize we were taking with my older typical boys.

2015 was a challenging year, not only because of Ace’s diagnosis, but because . Birth is painful and beautiful and my church birthed a new story, and I was a leader in the midst of it.  Receiving meant owning my decision as a leader. Receiving meant acknowledging the pain and the joy in front of me. Receiving meant believing in the power of Christ to lead us, even when it felt frightening, even when I failed to lead perfectly. Receiving meant pursuing reconciliation.

2015 closed with the loss of an important friend in my life. I’ll write more about Ali when I’m ready to. I’ll tell you this. I scratched my car on the flowering succulent bush in front of her house in November, a week before she passed away, the last time I saw her on this earth. Sometimes I run my hand across the scrape, while I’m calling my kids out of their seats and out onto sidewalks. It’s just a scrape on a car, I know. But it feels like some sort of ebenezer, a memorial of sorts, stones piled high in the place where God was.

We cannot love another person without being marked by them. Sometimes life is about receiving the marks, letting ourselves be hurt because loving people hurts sometimes.

beautiful-soil
beautiful-soil

On the other side of 2015, I’m beginning to understand this: And maybe I did. This past year was our fourth straight year of drought in California. Rainlessness and hard dry ground. The grass in our backyard dried up into stickers and yellow crackling, lifeless stuff.

The grass lies dormant underneath. At least that’s what the people at the garden store said when I came in to buy grass seed to sprinkle before the coming El Nino rains this month. No, they said. It’s not really dead. What you need is grass food. It’s all still there underneath. Just wait for it.

Before we can cultivate the dormant grass, we first learn to receive the rain. Receiving is making space for more. Internal .

All along there is something living underneath the death we see. It’s waiting for the specific rain that brings it forth into the world. What looks like dry ground. What looks used up and undone.

Cultivating starts small. First we receive.

And then God brings forth what God brings forth.

This is how we love each other

There should always be homemade Chex mix on the counter, in a twenty year old Tupperware dish.

Also, there should be my 94-year-old grandmother Deenie’s peanut patties (dyed red with food coloring, made with corn syrup) available to all.

Speaking of red food coloring, I have to mention Mom’s chocolate chip meringue cookies. (Sometimes they’re also dyed green.)

The night before Christmas Eve my dad will make the pies. He is the official family pie maker because his dad taught him that real men should not only be able to fix a leaky pipe and change the oil in a car, they should also play a stringed instrument and bake a good loaf of bread. (My dad hasn’t figured out the bread part yet, but his pies are fierce. And his fix-it skills and violin accomplishments are pretty fantastic.) I love the sight of my dad at the counter with his pies and my sister in law peeling the apples at the kitchen table—one long curl.

Creamy potato soup on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning: banana bread, coffee, my mom and Deenie and Aunt Vicki around the table in the 7 am morning darkness, waiting for the kids to find their stockings.

Deenie has always made the gravy just the way her mama taught her on the West Texas farm of her childhood. She oversees my mother at the stove.

. . .

Today I'm at , thinking about my family rituals and why I choose to keep carting my kids to Texas at Christmas.

To Ace, after his baptism

 

Ace Christopher,

As I write this you are on the floor wiggling around, rolling from tummy to back and back to tummy. You’ve got your eye on a red ball and have been trying to decide if it’s worth the hard work of scooting yourself over to it. After all, your little navy booties are just as fun to play with and they’re already attached to your feet.

I wanted to write something for you two weeks ago, buddy. I hoped that on the day you were baptized I would have it together. I wanted to host a big party and raise a glass to you, let our pastor give you an extra blessing, and then read this aloud and weep. But I didn’t get it done, and I know you. You’re not mad. You’re proud of me for trying, right?

I call you my Love Sponge, always soaking love in and pouring it out on whomever will take it. Your physical therapist says if given the choice between another person’s eyes and a toy you’ll choose the person. Your love for people is contagious. I feel like a celebrity when I carry you around, the way people look at you first, and then at me like I’ve done something wonderful. Daddy jokes sometimes. He uses his silly, deep voice and holds you high into the air: “We shall call you Joy-Bringer!” he says.

Have I ever told you what you’ve done to your brothers? Their love for you is remarkable. They delight in you. Delight. You won’t remember this. You’re only 7 months old, but I wish you could remember what Brooksie does when we get to school each morning. It takes him two minutes to leave the car. He’s kneeling beside your car seat whispering his love to you. “You’re such a sweetie. You have a good day, Acey, okay? I’ll see you later. I’ll see you later.” You just gaze into his eyes and smile back. No one can stand to leave you.

You’ve taken to grabbing faces. While I talk to you your hands are on my cheeks, squeezing my nose. You love giving big open-mouthed kisses to the face in front of you. So I shouldn’t be surprised that during your baptism you leaned in to Matt, our pastor and dear friend, and held his face between your hands, blessing him as he blessed you. Our love sponge.

Have I told you about my baptism? I wrote:

I asked Jesus to be my Only One and two weeks later, I was robed in white in a warmed tub, three feet deep, looking out into the crowd of faces. My church said that baptism was a choice we must make for ourselves. And I will never forget the moment I leaned back, let the water wash me. I will never forget giving myself to God.

Your father was baptized too. He was younger than you. Two weeks old in a baptismal baby suit, he was given to God too, marked and sealed.

It was a big deal when I decided to baptize August as a baby. I studied all the scripture passages, prayed for wisdom, asked all the wise people in my life. And you know what I finally came to? I came to the same spot as I’ve come in all my theological struggles. I came to a choice. There’s a reason people disagree on things. Usually it’s because both sides have a good support for believing the way they do. It’s natural for me to see most challenging disagreements through a both-sides lens. That’s just my way. I imagine you might be that way too.

You know what finally sold me on baptizing my babies? I believe God’s grace is here with you already. I believe your ability to do enough for God, to be old enough or intellectually aware enough to follow Jesus doesn’t have as much merit as what God already believes about you, Ace. I believe Jesus has welcomed you in to this family of God already, though you know nothing of it yet, little one. And I want to celebrate that.

We’re not waiting for you to make a decision to belong to Jesus, to align yourself with the story of forgiveness and mercy-giving. (Not because we don’t long for you to make that choice, dear boy.) Today we offer you to the water because we want you to know that you’re already here, you’re already loved, you already belong to the family of God. You are welcome at this table with us.

And this is how the Church has welcomed its family for two thousand years and for more to come. This baptism is just the celebration of what is already true. Every Sunday night of my childhood, I would hold hands with the people beside me in church, usually my brothers or mom and dad and our hands would spread out across that huge sanctuary, arms extending across aisles, and we would sing this hymn:

There's a sweet sweet Spirit in this place

And I know that it's the Spirit of the Lord . . .

Sweet Holy Spirit, Sweet Heavenly dove

Stay right here with us, filling us with your love

When I sang those words, I always felt like I was part of something bigger than I could ever understand. And I was: across the sanctuary, but also across the land where I lived, across oceans, across centuries, across the barriers of time and space, I sang: I’m a part of the family of God.

As you are sealed and marked as Christ’s forever, your dad and I will do our deepest best to remind you to Whom you belong:

The One who loves the least of these, the One who forgives 70 times 7, the One who turns the world upside down and says that the least influential are the most important and the meek are the ones who end up with the great big earth. The One who gave his life for you and, just when everyone thought the story was over, took up his life again: For you, for us. So that we don’t have to live bound by the rules of this world: There is a bigger world and a bigger hope than mere survival. Real flourishing is possible . . .

We’re making this choice for you in preparation for the day when you will make a choice for yourself. And when you do, I pray you’ll hear Saint Peter’s words in your ear, saying: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of life.”

Ace, Pastor Matt held you and you held his face. He declared that Jesus died and lived for you. He asked us if we would raise you to follow Christ and we said “I will, and I ask God to help me.” And then he kissed your cheek.

He poured water on your head like I do every night in your little blue bathtub. He made a cross of water over your head. And when he was done, when you were sealed and blessed, you know what we did? The same thing we do for you every time you sit up by yourself or grab the toy you’ve been working hard to get. It’s the thing we’ll do for you when you learn to crawl or pull yourself up, when one day you perform in a play or kick a goal in the soccer game. We cheered.

We cheered because you are worth celebrating, sweet one. We cheered because you are our delight.

And one day when you understand more deeply how loved you are by Jesus, we’ll cheer again. One faith, one baptism, Paul says in Ephesians. One God and Father of all, who is above all and in all and through all.

I love you Love-Sponge, Joy-Bringer, Ace Christopher Evans.

Mama

God has a surprise for you (Guest post at Her.menuetics)

Today I'm sharing the story of my prenatal diagnosis of Ace's Down syndrome, which I received exactly one year ago this week. I've been thinking about as my own "annunciation" of sorts, God showing up and letting me know that my life was about to change, all because of one little baby. Sound familiar?

Here's a little bit of it.

I stare at this morning’s passage in Luke. The angel has just said to Mary, “God has a surprise for you” (MSG, 1:29-33). I’m reading The Message transliteration, and its words sound fresh to my ears.

I’m practicing , an ancient form of Scripture-reading long used by Benedictine monks to encounter the Bible anew. It can be translated as “divine reading,” a way of listening for God’s voice in the text of Scripture.

When I’m talking to people about lectio divina, I usually describe an image of the heart as a metal detector hovering above the words. I ask God to help my heart go beep beep beep when I hit the word or phrase that God wants me to see in some new, valuable way. Maybe it’s a message I need to take from the passage. Maybe it’s just a moment to tell me that I’m not forgotten, that I am God’s beloved. Either way, on good days, I come to this time listening.

There it is: God has a surprise for you.

In my experience, God’s surprises are almost always complicated. Last year during Advent, God interrupted my typical pregnancy with news that my life was about to change. It happened about as quickly as with Mary . . .

 

 

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LectioCasting and Advent

Hey readers!

It's officially Advent. I'll be back with some words on the season soon. But for now I'm directing you to my friend 's lectionary podcast (aka ""). Daniel is a New Testament scholar, author, and blogger. Each week on his podcast he chats with someone else (usually a theologian with REAL credentials. Somehow I slipped through the cracks!) about the passages of scripture in the lectionary for that week, in hopes of giving pastors who are just now working on their sermons a little direction.

This week we're chatting about passages in Malachi, Luke, and Philippians. If you're doing the dishes or sitting in the carpool lane or writing your sermon(!), I'd love for you to join me over at Homebrewed Christianity for the LectioCast.

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Good words for Thanksgiving

 

"It is impossible to give thanks and simultaneously feel fear."

-Ann Voskamp,

 

"[The] dinner party is a true proclamation of the abundance of being--a rebuke to the thrifty little idolatries by which we lose sight of the lavish hand that made us. It is precisely because no one needs soup, fish, meat, salad, cheese, and dessert at one meal that we so badly need to sit down to them from time to time. It was largesse that made us all; we were not created to fast forever. The unnecessary is the the taproot of our being and the last key to the door of delight. Enter here, therefore, as a sovereign remedy for the narrowness of our minds and the stinginess of our souls, the formal dinner...the true convivium--the long Session that brings us nearly home."

-Robert Farrar Capon

  

"What will our final perspective be on all these hours? The hours of work, the hours of wealth, the idle hours, the hours of failure and self-doubt? Who stands up and divests themselves of this body of work? Who lets go of all these accomplishments, these so-called failures? Do we look back on the wealth acquired from the acquisition, the poems published and admired, the house built and sold, the land farmed and productive, or do we see the drama of the acquisition, the beauty in the act of writing itself, the happiness the house can contain, the love of the land and the sky that nourished it?...

It is the hidden in our work that always holds the treasure. A life dedicated to the goodness in work is a life making visible all the rich invisible seams of existence hidden from others. Good work is a grateful surprise."

-David Whyte,

 

"Thanks be to Thee, Jesu Christ, For the many gifts Thou has bestowed on me, Each day and night, each sea and land, Each weather fair, each calm, each wild.

I am giving Thee worship with my whole life, I am giving Thee assent with my whole power, I am giving Thee praise with my whole tongue, I am giving Thee honour with my whole utterance.

I am giving Thee reverence with my whole understanding, I am giving Thee offering with my whole thought, I am giving Thee praise with my whole fervour, I am giving Thee humility in the blood of the Lamb.

I am giving Thee love with my whole devotion, I am giving Thee kneeling with my whole desire, I am giving Thee love with my whole heart, I am giving Thee affection with my whole sense; I am giving Thee existence with my whole mind, I am giving Thee my soul, O God of all gods."

-taken from the Carmina Gadelica, found in , by Esther De Waal

 

"You have survived the winter because you are, and were, and always will be very much loved," said the sun. "For that small place deep within you that remained unfrozen and open to mystery, that is where I have made my dwelling. And long, long before you felt my warmth surrounding you, you were being freed and formed from within in ways so deep and profound that you could not possibly know what was happening."

-Mary Fahy,

  

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end. Let the sons of Israel say: 'His love has no end.' Let the sons of Aaron say: 'His love has no end.'

-Psalm 118, as translated in  

 

Scrolls

by Brooks Haxton

So will I compass thine altar, O Lord: That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving. (Psalm 26)

Thine altar is to me this bathtub where my four-year-old twin girls tip back their heads. They close their eyes. I read their faces from above, in trust and fear, in holiness, heads tipped until the waterline has touched their hairlines, cautious. Look: their hair flows underwater like the scrolls unfurled in heaven.

from  by Brooks Haxton

 

This is a repost from last year (and the year before that, too!). Emphasis mine, where in bold. Amazon Associate links included.

This does, however, trackingapps.org/xnspy/ alienate people who use another e-reader

What I'm Into - Fall 2015

It's been a few months since I linked up with the lovely Leigh Kramer's monthly posts. I can't pull it together to share all my things with you every month, but here are a few of my favorites from the past few:  

Favorite Instagram

Ace's legwarmers for the win! Why are baby thigh rolls so extremely wonderful?

Favorite Post

 

TV

Still watching West Wing on Netflix. I've made it Season 6, and though I'm committed till the end, I'm beginning to believe the people who say . Will I make it to the end? I just don't know. I keep holding out hope.

Also, I'm faithfully watching Nashville, even though it is REDONKULOUS as always, but getting more ridiculous this season. I mean, that fall off the building last week? Who out there actually laughed out loud? And then felt terrible about it? (Hand raised.)

BEST NEW SHOW: Y'all, I'm loving . It has the same kind of joy and fun and whimsy that I loved in and . (Both shows that were taken away from us and it was not fair.) This is a show for all of you lovers of sweet story lines and amazing musical numbers that I can't even explain because I get too giddy talking about it.

And, that's it, folks. I am only watching three shows right now. I'm telling you, this three kid thing is taking up a lot of my time.

 

Movies

Last month I finally saw  and I loved it. I'm still thinking about it. Chris and I also forced ourselves to stay awake long enough to watch a movie after trick-or-treating Saturday night. We rented , which I thought was hysterical. My husband was only semi-convinced. But I think everything Melissa McCarthy does is amazing. (It's my deep-rooted Gilmore Girls love that gives Sookie and unfair advantage in anything.)

[Wait. TIME OUT. Did I mention how excited I am about the  reboot? Dreams are coming true. Rainbows are exploding.]

So I think I've only watched two movies in the last five months. So sorry for my lameness. I really do try.

 

Listening

August has been listening to on cd from the library. Which means so have I. (I love that he's getting old enough to love some of the books I love! He keeps telling me things about HP and I'll respond with the correct terminology, or knowing what a Nimbus 2000 is and he's like, "How do you know this stuff, mom?" He still doesn't believe that I actually loved these books first.)

Brooksie still loves listening to on cd from the library and he's finally branching out to the  as well. Audio books have been changing our lives in this house. Listening to books makes weekend rest times actually doable. And it makes picking up their room / doing chores bearable as well. And I love that they're getting obsessed with stories.

Music: Not a lot to report on the music front. (Since all my listening time seems to be spent with children who are listening to books.) But several weeks ago the band at our church performed "" from The Brilliance and it blew my mind. Since then I've had on repeat. So good.

Also, I'm so excited for . I preordered mine and it releases in a few days. If you haven't heard their music yet, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Books I Read

Sarah Bessey's new book is a beautiful book about the challenge and beauty and hope of going through a faith-deconstruction. Here's what I said about it in my endorsement:

"Sarah Bessey writes with the fire of a preacher and the soul of a mother, critical thought without cynicism. This book is for all of us wonderers who long for Jesus and distrust easy answers. Sarah is a brave and faithful guide as we all learn to live the questions.”

I also just finished Seth Haines' debut book , about his first ninety days of sobriety. This isn't just a book about alcoholism, but about pain, and whatever it is we use to numb it. I found this book gorgeously written and thought provoking. So much I'm still chewing on.

Last month I finally read . I love all things Cheryl Strayed writes. Her prose is so sharp and compassionate and reading her makes me want to be a better writer. I may not agree with all her counsel in this collection, but she always makes me think.

Talk about things that make me what to be a better writer: Last month I also read , Mary Karr's new book. Fifteen years ago I fell in love with Mary Karr's poetry and she's the reason I went to Syracuse. Reading this book was like reliving one of her classes. I felt a fresh longing to read great writers and make space for the kind of writing life I want to have. This is a book that will be reread and dog-eared, and I will come back to all those underlined words.

 

On the nightstand:

This year I'm a mentor through the amazing fellowship program at the . My mentee and I are working through some classic spiritual practices together. This month's practice is Lectio Divina and I'm coming back to on the subject.

I'm part-way through Parker Palmer's . I'm also partially into from Madeleine L'Engle and Luci Shaw, two writers I love. I'm not sure about this one so far, but I'm really interested in the idea of a book composed of letters between two people, so I'm hoping I'll end up liking it.

One of my goals for this new school year (which I guess isn't so new anymore) is to make poetry more of a priority in my life: both the writing and the reading. I currently have two books of poetry that I'm working my way through. I'm very excited about Dave Harrity's new book of poems, . Dave's previous book  is a combination of devotional meditations and writing exercises. I'm also reading Tania Runyan's book of poems, . Runyan's poetry is influenced by her faith and I'm really drawn to the way she's working with Paul's New Testament passages in some of her poems.

 

Oh, and did I mention Christmas is coming???

I'm trying to get our thankful tree up in my house, so we can continue our tradition of practicing gratitude in November. I'm only 6 days late, you guys. (Also I'm terribly uncrafty, so mine is not .)

And then it's ADVENT. Woot Woot! In addition to the Rain for Roots children's Advent album, I'm also super excited about these beautiful Advent and 12 Days of Christmas Devotional calendars, featuring meditations written by my friend . I just ordered mine yesterday.

 

Also, if your church is looking for any poetry to use in worship throughout Advent, here's a collection of poems I wrote for a church several years ago. They're available at .

 

What, dear readers, are you into these days? Leave a note in the comments!

 

This post contains Amazon Associate links.

 

 

 

 

Books

I've been reading Accepted do you have any advice for our readers on making the most writing paper look at this website of b-school

Jesus in real life: A repost for Halloween

I wrote this post three years ago. And it remains one of those conversations with my son that I think about often. Especially at Halloween. Hope you don't mind my sharing it again...

“Why is it called Halloween, Mom?”

We’re driving to preschool. This is the time of day when August asks all the good questions.

“Ummmm…” I say. I say that a lot. See the thing is he wants a real answer. He wants the history and the reasoning. If he knew the word ‘etymology,’ he’d want that too.

I stop at the light. “So, Halloween is a holiday that comes from ‘All Hallows Eve.’”

“Just like Christmas Eve!”

“Yeah, like Christmas Eve is the night before Christmas. All Hallows Eve is the night before the Hallows.” I’m making this up as I go. “That’s because the Church Calendar says the next day is All Saints Day. That means it’s a day for celebrating ‘saints,’ people who loved Jesus and have already gone to heaven. It’s a way for us to remember them.”

. . .

Last week I had a conversation with a friend whose 8-year-old son wanted to decorate her front yard with homemade R.I.P. signs. At first she said no way. But then she started thinking and praying about that answer.

“What really concerns me about having signs about dead people?” she said to me later, while I stood in her kitchen and she flipped pancakes at the griddle. “I realized that maybe it’s healthy for my kids to think about death, not in some monster sort of way, but in a way that remembers people, that celebrates their lives.”

She told her son he could make the R.I.P. signs if he made them for people he admired who had already died, like: “R.I.P. Martin Luther King Jr.” or “R.I.P. Mickey Mantle.”

I’ve been thinking about that. There’s so much wisdom there. How do we talk about death with our kids and remember the lives of those we loved?

. . .

We’re still sitting at the light, Masonic and Haight. I say, “Maybe we should do something the day after Halloween to remember people we love who have gone to heaven.”

He’s thinking. “But we don’t know any one, Mommy.”

“Of course we do!” I say. “Who do we know who went to heaven this past summer?”

“Oh! Pawpaw!” he practically shouts. “Oh, Mommy, I forgot! I forgot that Pawpaw gets to see Jesus in real life all the time! We don’t see Jesus in real life. But someday, we’ll go to heaven and we’ll see Jesus in real life, too.”

I can’t believe these words. The moment they’re out of his mouth, the image is stronger in my mind than it’s been since I lost my grandfather this past July. In Real Life, this phrase I use all the time for people I once knew only online but now know in person. Someone I’ve seen face to face. Someone I’ve laughed with.

And there in my mind is a picture of my grandfather with his Savior, knowing Jesus in Real Life. And I believe it. There in the car heading uphill toward Fulton, with my sons in the backseat, I believe it.

“Mama, are you crying?” he says with a little grin on his face.

“Yeah, baby. I’m crying. You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because I was just thinking about how happy I am that Pawpaw gets to see Jesus in real life.”

“Mommy?”

“Yes.”

“Remember how you had to say because he was gonna die and you cried with Memaw?”

“Yeah, August, I remember.”

And I turn west on Fulton and drive. If I keep going, if I don’t stop at school, this road will take me straight to the ocean. And I see it ahead. The Pacific Ocean, this unknown world of water where I can never live. I can learn about it and fish in it. I can ride boats over it, but never fully understand it. Sometimes, I can see creatures if peer down into it. Sometimes, if I swim into the shallows, the fish will swish by my legs. And some of us can dive deep in, but only for a short time. We only have so much oxygen. Our bodies are weak for that world.

Real Life, I think as we move in this car toward an unknown sea. We are always moving toward it. And what if it is the real life? This world, only virtual, only words on a screen. But in that one, we will finally know. We will finally be known.

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On Belonging, and the Buddy Walk

When I got the prenatal diagnosis for Ace's Down syndrome I felt a strong sense of separation. I was no longer a typical mother raising typical kids. I was different. My husband was different. Our family was somehow other.

This wasn't something I worried about for long. From the beginning our friends and our church community have checked in with us, have rallied to pray and listen, have cheered when Ace's health has been great, and have given him more kisses than any baby prince.

Honestly, I think we did the Buddy Walk because we needed to see that we'd be okay. I think we just needed to see people cheering for our little guy. We needed to know that our friends' kids would be raised to love him and celebrate him, we needed our older boys to associate Down syndrome with something wonderful, not something scary, not something unknown.

IMG_20151017_104027006

So we did Zumba led by Yulissa, the first ever certified Zumba instructor with DS. (She was amazing.) We carried a banner and cheered for our team. We marched around the park in a parade of rainbow shirts.

And I said this simple thing to our team before we marched out: "When we got Ace's diagnosis we were so afraid we'd feel alone in this. I want you to know we don't feel alone at all. We feel surrounded."

That's what community is for. This year has been a hard one for my church. The shaking of my church home has mirrored the shaking of my life with this diagnosis. But it's also mirrored the beauty of friendship and the beauty of holding tight to one another. My baby is the most lovely thing I've ever seen. His eyes are not my eyes--those extra folds, that space along the rim of his nose. But then again, my oldest son took his baby picture to school last week and his whole class (at least the girls!) said, "You looked just like Ace!"

IMG_20151017_125304726

What I'm trying to say is that we belong to each other. It's not always the surface similarities that make us look like one another.

Sometimes the walls shake and the tide washes into all the structures we thought were sturdy and the life we knew drifts away in a soft current, just beyond us, unreachable.

Life changes. And my life doesn't have to look like yours in order for us to love each other. We get to love each other anyway.

And so we wear our rainbow #ACEface shirts, in all its many forms. And we dance like crazy to Zumba and cheer for all the children who stand before us.

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My life is not like yours, but we are each other's. Isn't that the story of the Church? All these years, all these broken parts, and still we hold to Jesus.

 

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When God Meets Us in the Wilderness

My friend Amber Haines released her book this past summer. That Amber Haines can write gorgeous sentences. And her book's theme of how our desires point to the kingdom we serve has challenged me to go back to another friend's book. Jen Pollock Michel's  is about the theology of desire.

Today I'm guest posting as part of Amber's Wild in the Hollow series on her blog, and thinking about Jen's words and what my own desires for comfort and ease reveal about me.

 

Here's a little peek:

There are parts of me that only want comfort, ease. I want a life of surface-level pleasure. I want my kids to be healthy and happy and get good grades and score winning soccer goals.

What is false desire and what is true desire? There are big longings in me: I want to win the hardest worker awards and be a perfect mom and be the person everybody loves, and never feel overwhelmed, or afraid.

But those longings for ease and a life where I’m not afraid? They are the shallow side of my story. They are desires that only scratch the surface of who God longs for me to be. My most real desires are the result of God’s grace in my life.

To get to my truest desires I have to be courageous enough to dive into the darkness, through the pain, and find myself on the other side in the bright sun, in the place where my false desires are exposed for what they are: fear, selfishness, comfort at the cost of others.

Rich, miraculous love exists on the other side of pain.

And to get there, I must first walk boldly into the wilderness, where God met Moses in a burning bush, where the people of God wandered for forty years, where Jesus fasted and was tempted. The wilderness is the space between the promises and the promised land. The wilderness is the pain between our shallow desires and our deeper, more real desires. We move from loving our own comfort to loving the things God loves.

 

Find the rest over at ! And be sure to check out both and . They are both worth your time and meditation.

 

 

 

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To the new parents of a child with special needs

Dear new parents of a child with special needs,

I saw your Facebook post. Congratulations! The way I see it you had two deliveries yesterday: One was bringing your baby into this world. The other was telling the Internet that your baby is different. Both require deep courage. You delivered graciously and with joy.

I’ve been thinking of you all night. I got up to breastfeed my baby at 3:40 am. He’s back asleep in his crib at 4:15, and I can’t go back to sleep without writing you. I’ve been a parent for seven years, but my experience in this new world of special needs is small. I’ve been doing this for almost six months and I’m still fumbling to understand how I feel about my baby’s diagnosis. But I can’t go back to sleep until I tell you a few secrets. The kind you write each other about at 4 in the morning. You’re parents of a newborn. You’re up anyway, right?

Here’s what I want you to know:

1. When my child was born I wept. Some of my tears came from a place of love, and some from a place of fear. And I’ve learned I don’t have to categorize those tears. I don’t have to decide if I am happy or sad, thrilled or overwhelmed. I get to be all at the same time. Parenting our child with special needs will mirror the human experience. It will be wonderful and it will be painful.

I’ve learned to think of my grief and my deep love for my baby as a braid woven through my chest, pulled tight. I don’t have to know where the love ends and the fear begins, only that they wrap around one another. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish my anxiety from my joy. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish my love for my child from dreams that have been lost.

I simply know this: the love I felt when I first saw my baby is not diminished by my sorrow. Love is never diminished by pain. They have always lived equally together as long as parents and babies have lived on this earth.

If you need permission to cry, like I do, here it is. You get to cry because your baby is beautiful and particularly yours. You get to cry because this diagnosis is hard and no parent ever wants their child to suffer. And you get to cry because your baby cried all night and you’re tired. Which brings me to my next point.

 

2. Just because your baby has different challenges, it doesn’t make you a saint. Good grief, I refuse to count the amount of people who have told me they admire me for being Ace’s mom.  It’s nice of them to say that. But saying that I’m special for loving my child sounds a little like this: “You are amazing for being the mom of your child! I just couldn’t love your child!”

I assure you, that sucks. But, also? No one who says this means to hurt me. There are people who think my husband and I are special for loving and raising our baby. That’s because our child’s diagnosis is frightening. And it's also because loving Ace is changing us in beautiful ways.

The reality is that most people simply don’t know what to say. So, when their words are painful or trite, I’ve learned to tell myself that they’re doing their best.

What they want to say is: “This thing you are doing is hard.” If I let their fumblings come to me coated in grace I will hear their kindness. The compassion is in their eyes if I’m willing to seek it out.

 

3. Relearn the definition of a blessing. Often sweet people will call my baby a blessing. And most of the time when they use that word they mean something close to rainbows and unicorns. They mean my baby is an angel who will always bring happiness.

Sometimes it’s hard to hear that (despite my baby being as adorable as an cherub), because Ace is just as human as any other child. He may be sweet but one day he'll complain about dessert and TV shows and picking up his room, just like his brothers.

In order to receive their words with grace I’ve been teaching myself what blessing really is:  You know the story of Jacob and God struggling all night in that mystical wrestling match.

I’m making that my parenting mantra. This journey will be hard, for us and for our children. Blessing is hard-won. It is being set apart. Jacob wrestled all night and demanded a blessing. You know what he got? A lifelong limp and a new name. Also? Legacy. He was the father of a great nation.

Blessing is not for the faint in heart. It is always accompanied by suffering. I’m learning to embrace the struggle. I won’t let go until God blesses me.

And when the acquaintances say blessing without acknowledging wrestling, I don’t have to be angry. I just reinterpret their words for myself. If I can hear the truth in every easy phrase dished out for shallow comfort, I will survive this. You will survive this.

 

4. Every parent suffers. Your suffering just showed up early. Most babies don’t struggle to breastfeed because of low muscle tone, or illness, or the formation of their mouths.  Most people don’t have to send their newborn into surgery. I’m sorry your first days of parenting are extra hard.

But, here’s the truth: Every parent suffers deeply. Whether you suffer at the beginning or later. Whether your suffering is over the rebellion of your child, or the fear for their safety, or your own daily parenting failure, being a parent is always hard. It is always beautiful and miraculous and heartbreaking. Your heart is breaking a little earlier than most. I think that’s what people mean when they say you’re special. Or they say they admire you. Or they say your child is a blessing.

What they really mean is that you’re learning the secret earlier. What they really mean is that your wisdom is something they wish they had, but they don’t want to suffer to get it.

I wonder if you can rest in that. Your suffering has shown up early and it will keep showing up. But that braid of love and sorrow? The third strand is wisdom, friend. It’s there already, woven so tight you may not recognize it yet. You don’t have to. Right now you just get to receive. Receiving sounds passive, but it’s not. It’s the work of labor, of delivery. It’s the work of bringing a child into this beautiful and dangerous world, cleaning his body and holding him tight.

Do you remember that Mister Rogers song? . Sometimes I sing that song for Ace while I’m changing his diaper or we’re playing on the floor, and I remember the panic that rose up my throat in those pre-natal diagnosis days, and in the hospital after his birth, when I’d let myself think through what his Down syndrome would mean for our lives. Sometimes that panic still shows up. Sometimes I am so afraid for the future that I cannot breathe.

But what I’m trying to say, six months in, is this: I mean it. I like him, I like him, I like him, exactly as he is.

I receive my child. I won’t let go until you bless me. Pray these things. And hold tight, dear ones. This is a wonderful, dangerous season of wrestling. Don’t let go until you’re blessed. Until your name is changed. Until you come out limping.

 

With love,

Micha

When the promises are in the distance, waiting to be welcomed home

 

We’re way behind schedule when we walk in the door and I call out a litany of frantic mother phrases, “Shoes off! Hands washed!

August-do-your-reading-for-ten-minutes!” while I lay Ace on the quilt in the living room and toss a couple of toys his way before starting dinner.

Brooks is not happy about my plan for fish tacos.

He’s on the verge of a meltdown all the time right now. He whines in the kitchen and I ignore his protests.

“Sometimes you like dinner and sometimes you don’t and that’s just how it goes, darlin.” I say. The last remaining bits of my Texas drawl show up when I lecture my children. Can’t help it.

August is not whining. He’s in his room with his nose in a book about snakes.

I breathe out a Thank you, Lord for that reality.

He’s seven now and beginning to overcome his temper. Asking him to read for ten minutes last year might have erupted in a full-blown big kid tantrum.

And, bless it, my child is actually doing what I asked.

Brooksie takes his whining away from the kitchen. The fish is salted and peppered and ready to go on the pan. I’m moving from fridge to cutting board, listening for Ace, watching the timer for August’s reading. Chop the onion, slice the avocado.

I hear Brooks’ little four-year-old voice. He speaks quiet: “You are the cutest baby in the whole world, little Acer. Cutest little baby in the whole world.”

I put down my knife and peek into the room next door, where Brooks is on his belly, his chin propped up by his hands. Ace is on his back, his neck contorted in that way only babies can bend.

He’s staring at his big brother in awe.

Brooksie sings, “I am Ace-y, I am Ace-y. I’m a sweet little boy! I am Ace-y, I am Ace-y. And I bring so much joy!

“Careful with your kisses, Brooksie!” I call from the doorway of the kitchen. Brooks is covering Ace’s face with wet smooches, and Ace is grunting his discomfort.

The giver of the kisses lets go and turns his head to me, still hovering above his brother’s face.“Mama, look. I can’t stop. He’s just too cute.”

 

 

I'm sharing the rest over at today. On Ace, his brothers, and the hard work of learning to show hospitality to God's promises in the distance.

 

...

 

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Prayer is making a home. Prayer is expanding the universe.

 

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.

-John 15 (The Message)

 

 

The universe is expanding. I learned that in 1999 in the Astronomy class I almost failed in dramatic fashion. If only I hadn’t been required to learn equations about the expansion of the universe. If my professor had let me simply wax eloquent on the metaphorical implications of an expanding universe, I would have crushed that class.

The universe is expanding, expanding. Always making space. What is it making space into? The only presence outside of space and time: The universe makes space into God.

And that same God says to us, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.”

We wring our hands. What does it really mean to pray? How do we pray correctly? How do we make a home in God? We want rules. We want equations. We want to set goals and accomplish prayer.

And all the while the universe is expanding into God.

. . .

Live in me. Make your home in me. What is prayer but the act of making our home in God, and simultaneously inviting God to make a home in us?

And still we know it. Don’t we? Deep in our insides, we get what it is to make a home. To make space for another in daily life.

Ace is five months into our lives around here, and in that time, his very presence has taught us to make space for him. It’s the same home we live in. The same square footage as we lived in before he was even present inside me. He is only a small thing. But his presence, his needs, his vulnerability has expanded our home, demanded that we create space for him to live with us.

Some of that comes organically. My older boys hover around him to see what he’ll do next. And some of it is preparation for the future: Yesterday I pulled out the bin of 6-12 months baby clothes. I sorted through.

I rock him. I feed him. I help him build his baby muscles. I laugh with him. If I were to tell you that having a baby consists of only one daily exercise of talking with Ace for fifteen minutes in the morning, you would scoff. Having a baby takes over everything. And that in itself is the joy. He has entered a world that was waiting for him, asking him to show us who he is, who he will be. Yes, it requires much of all of us, his brothers included. We are all learning a new way of living as a family.

Making space can be painful, but it is the only way to grow. Ask the universe. Expand. Expand. Create space where there was no space before.

That is my new definition for prayer. Not one specific way of communicating with God. But making a home in God. Prayer is the process in which I make space for God, and I invite God to make space in me.

We are simultaneously making our homes in one another. That is relationship. Prayer is relationship.

And here is the where the metaphor goes:

The universe is expanding. God is making space for you. God is the God of expansion. So if you want to know how to live in God, look to the God who lives in eternity, who lives outside of time and space. The God who is making space in you.

Making a home in you. It’s as simple as physics. As simple as home.

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Down syndrome, Instagram, and friends of #ACEface

It's been 4 1/2 months since Ace was born, and I'm just beginning to wade into the world of Down syndrome awareness and inclusion. I've been taking a seat here behind my screen, just watching and paying attention to what's going on in this subculture I've just entered.

So much of my learning is coming from some of my favorite Instagram accounts:

@ -- Kelle Hampton is the author of  and blogger at . She has such style and takes beautiful photos. She has introduced me to , a beautiful scholarship program that is helping students with DS attend college. . (And then try not to cry!) She's also introduced me to the # campaign, which is working to make advertising more inclusive of people with disabilities.

@ -- I love Heather Avis in this Instagram account. I don't know her at all, but her spirit is lovely and so are her three kids, two of whom have Down syndrome. You guys have to watch Macy dance. She is dancing all over this account and I just adore her. Heather also blogs at  and is the host of my favorite Down syndrome hashtag #theluckyfew.

Heather Avis' account introduced me to @ (Littlest Warrior Apparel), who is currently selling a "" t-shirt that I keep almost buying. Here's Ace wearing his "chromosomally enhanced" Littlest Warrior shirt last month.

Also, I'm a big fan of @. There's just something about seeing an older man with Down syndrome living a full, joyful life that gives me a lot of hope for my little guy.

Have you seen the video of Gungor's newest song about Lucy, their little one with Down syndrome? It is lovely:

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_uioQqW8ac[/embed]

Chris and I are only just learning (and watching) what Ace's life will mean for us. But we're so thrilled to step into advocating on behalf of Ace and all the little ones born with DS, many of whom do not have the support or opportunities Ace will have.

This year we're walking in the on October 17 and we're wearing super cute t-shirts designed by . You're all invited to be a friend of #ACEface and purchase your own shirt! All proceeds from the sales will be donated to the National Down Syndrome Society. You can also support Ace and all his friends by giving to our fundraising page for this year's NDSS Buddy Walk.

(Pick your own style and color! Kids sizes too!)

 

It's an honor to share my stories here. Thanks for reading and cheering for Ace from afar.

 

 

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One year later, how Ace picked us

This past Sunday night was the year anniversary of the night I discovered I was pregnant with Ace.

It was August 17, 2014, the night before the first day of school and Chris was leaving for a redeye to somewhere I can’t remember now. I’d be alone for that first week of school while Chris was off on what was (in my mind only) some exotic work trip. He was leaving in ten minutes and I knew I couldn’t wonder if I was pregnant for the entire week he was away. Which is better? Knowing or not knowing?

Chris was frantically gathering his bags, lacing shoes, calling the Uber to pick him up and take him to the airport.

The result was positive. I sobbed.

. . .

“There’s no way I’m pregnant,” I told my friend Anne the night before that test. “I just don’t feel it. When I’m pregnant I feel something.”

That’s not entirely true. Once before I hadn’t felt it. I’d taken a pregnancy test in April and been shocked to find it positive. Those weeks leading up to the test had felt so different than I’d felt with August and Brooks. Probably it had just been the hormones with my first two boys that made warm waves in me. But somehow I had felt my babies there those times before, smaller than blueberries, swishing around. In April I didn’t.

And still. That baby in April was celebrated. I cheered, hugged my husband. I tried not to think about why it was different. A month later, I knew why. I stared at the ultrasound screen and my baby had disappeared. All that was left in me was the remains of a pregnancy that hadn’t worked.

That’s why. I’d thought. That’s why I didn’t feel it.

My friend Anne and I were on a night walk along a path that night in August. We were at a church retreat and had snuck away from the Saturday night gathering for a summer’s end catch-up chat. “But you could be?” Anne said. “You could be pregnant.”

She wanted to know how I was doing after the loss of my pregnancy two months before. She was four months along. Our babies would have been due at the same time.

This is all I knew: With the third pregnancy, with my miscarriage, I didn’t feel a surge of recognition that something powerful was happening in me. I didn’t feel the heat in my middle. I didn’t feel cells dividing.

“If I’m am—if I’m pregnant—then something’s not right.”

I said that. I said that the night before I knew.

. . .

I took the pregnancy test while Chris waited for his Uber to arrive.

Positive.

I wept. I’m going to lose this baby again. I’m going to lose the baby. I cried into his chest until the car arrived.

Chris promised to call when he got there. He promised I could make it through this week. “You’ll be okay. This is great news, right?” he made me look in his eyes and smiled.

Then he was gone. It was time for real life. I was pregnant and something was wrong.

. . .

It’s funny how you look back on things like that. How you remember, even though you can forget in the midst of the pregnancy. I held my breath for a month, waiting for the 8 week check up, certain they would tell me my little babe had gone missing in my womb, had never developed. Yet there he was on the ultrasound screen. A heart beating wild. I let myself forget that I had been afraid. That his presence had been too quiet.

Maybe the difference is hormonal, I told myself. That must mean it's a girl!

We’d know soon enough. We’d get our prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome at 20 weeks, just two weeks after learning that our baby was not, in fact, a girl. All sorts of signs in my pregnancy would point to low hormone levels. That feeling. That lack of feeling.

It was an extra 21st chromosome. That’s what it was.

. . .

I’ve been thinking about this: Trisomy 21 is not a condition that comes later in the pregnancy. It’s not something going wrong in the development of the embryo or fetus. It’s not something the mother does wrong. It’s not something the father does wrong. It just is.

That third 21st chromosome is present when the first cell splits. Ace has always had it. Most likely, the extra 21st copy was present in the egg or in the sperm before an embryo was even formed.

Who is Ace without it? He is not himself. Right?

. . .

I’ve been thinking about that this week.  About how I cried long before I knew what I was grieving.

About how Ace was not what we expected and how he was himself long before we knew him.

Photo by Monica Ayers

This summer, while August and my husband rode a roller coaster up and up toward the first steep drop,  August shouted at Chris above the metal’s scrape: “Aren’t you glad you picked me?!”

Chris wasn’t sure how to respond. He managed an “ummm, yes, of course!” and a “What?” in the same breath.

“I’m glad I picked you,"  August yelled. "When I was with Jesus and I saw you I knew I wanted you to be my dad!”

What sweetness, to think of my unborn babies picking us, in all our faults, all our goodness. To think of Jesus offering such a choice.

I’ve been imagining Ace picking us, exactly as he is: The secrets he knew about himself, the secrets he and Jesus knew about us as Ace’s parents. All of it discussed in the secret meeting between Ace and Jesus.

And, here we are. One year later. Don’t ask me what I believe about whether God ordains mental disability. I don’t know. Don’t ask me if heaven is a place where Ace will lose that third 21st chromosome and still be himself.

There are still a lot of things for me to sort out. But right now I’m thinking August is onto something. And Ace just might have picked us. What can I say to that except to hold it holy in my hand?

He picked me. From the very beginning. He picked me. Only one of the two broadcom/alphamosaic chips - the less expensive bcm2705 post source - supports video out

Grace for women with a prenatal diagnosis, a radio interview

Photo by the amazing Monica Ayers. Click on photo for her link! A few weeks ago I had the chance to chat with Martha Manikas-Foster from Inside Out of Family Life Radio. She wanted to talk about my Her.menuetics piece from a couple of months ago, "" 

We talked about my experience of receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, how it felt to navigate well-intentioned (but still hurtful) questions from strangers during my pregnancy with Ace, and how God was present in my pregnancy to help me "grieve the loss" so that I could "celebrate the joy" of receiving Ace.

If you need something to listen to while you wash the dishes for the next 18 minutes, I'd love for you click over there and take a listen.

 

 

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Cultivate Blessing

 

“I am saying that the world needs you to do this, because there is a real shortage of people willing to kneel wherever they are and recognize the holiness holding its sometimes bony, often tender, always life-giving hand above their heads. That we are able to bless one another at all is evidence that we have been blessed, whether we can remember when or not. That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars.”

- Barbara Brown Taylor,

 

 

From where I sit in mid-coast Maine watching the sun rise pink and orange over the Atlantic at 5 am on a Sunday, it’s not hard to recognize holiness. This is where my husband’s great grandfather (a college professor back when professors actually had summers off) bought a little gray house in the 1930s to bring his kids on summer breaks, where Chris came with his dad each summer growing up, where our kids run free and eat sandwiches every day on the “picnic rock,” a giant flat gray rock among hundreds of giant rocks beneath the house and twenty feet from where the ocean roars into the land. Chris brought me here for the first time twelve years ago and it wasn’t long before I was convinced this might be the most glorious place on earth. Yesterday I actually saw a bald eagle fly past the yard twice. Twice.

Blessing has been on my mind lately. Not the kind of blessing that we church-goers like to toss around. Not a shallow belief that if things are good, God is blessing us, and if things are bad, God has backed away. I quit the word blessing years ago. Removed it from my spiritual vocabulary, done with assuming that God was blessing the rich guy and ignoring the poor guy. Done with trite spiritual benedictions in my emails.

But blessing has stayed with me, even as I’ve sought to rid myself of its banality. Even as I’ve struggled to understand what it might mean if God blesses me and chooses not to bless another. For three months I’ve fallen in love with . And somewhere else another baby was born without Down syndrome, despite the prenatal diagnosis. Did God “bless” that person? What does that even mean?

And still I use the word blessing every night when I make the sign of the cross on all three of my babies’ foreheads and recite from Numbers 6. I ask the Lord to bless them and keep them, to make his face to shine upon them and be gracious to them…

This summer I haven’t spent much time wondering about what God’s blessing means, when it’s given and when it’s not. I’ve had a different sort of blessing on my mind, the daily spiritual work of blessing the things around me, of taking something ordinary and pronouncing it remarkable, sacred. Barbara Brown Taylor says the act of blessing is not so much the work of conferring holiness as it is the task of recognizing, of acknowledging the holiness already there.

I want to be a priest. I want to pronounce blessing. I want to “share in God’s own audacity” as Taylor says. To hold my hand over too many things and call them good. I want to be liberal and excessive with the holy pronouncing. I want to believe that God’s love is ridiculously loud and outrageous. I want to live like it is.

Over and over scripture tells us to bless. Be the blessing. Bless and do not curse. We are a cursing sort of people, aren’t we? Pronouncing the failures of others first. Pronouncing blessing all for ourselves because it is easier to do so. Our natural stance is to turn our gaze inward, stare at our own longings. It is harder to search for the glory of God in  the people, in the things already around us.

But what if that is the task of following Jesus? To learn to see the glory, not only to see it but to call it good, to cultivate a life of holy things. To touch foreheads and shoestrings, weeds and rocks, casseroles and glasses of wine—and call them holy. To bless and not to curse.

To cultivate blessing is to cultivate extravagance in the way of grace. Not extravagance for the sake of excess, but extravagance in the same way God gives love freely: believing that there is enough love to go around. There is enough goodness. We give ourselves permission to be astounded with the gifts in front of us.

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What I’m trying to say is that I’m starting to understand why St. Francis preached to birds. Maybe he needed to believe that God’s blessing was big enough for all the creatures to perch beneath.

It is not that I am blessed because I have a special needs baby and we are the lucky ones. It is not that the woman whose baby was born healthy and typical is the one who was blessed. She and I are both/and. Blessed.

Blessing works from the other direction. It is not the ease of the gifts God pours out, but the stance I take toward them.

I am Adam, given permission to name the creatures, to say what I see. And I’m learning to see the holy, to name it.

And I will hold my hand out from the porch of this old gray house on the coast of Maine and call the sky and the ocean and the picnic rock and the bald eagle flying past the same word as I call my little boys in their beds at night: Blessed blessed blessed.

Extravagantly, excessively, overwhelmingly marked by God’s goodness.

 

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So much we pray in so few words

We lean over the pack-n-play travel crib in a dark room at their grandfather’s house. August is a newly minted seven year old whose past two weeks have been filled with swimsuits and slabs of sunscreen. We’re on an extended trip to the east coast, where the sun shines hot in the summer and grandparents and aunts and uncles seem to be waiting in every town in the mid-Atlantic states.

It’s afternoon. He’s followed me and Ace into my room where the crib is. He wants to help. I swaddle his baby brother and he sings with me a silly lullaby, the same one he sings to Ace when he cries in the car.

“Mom,” he whispers. “I want you to pray for Ace.”

“Okay.” I lay his brother down inside the crib. “What do you want me to pray for?”

August, who faces scary dreams on a regular basis, asks first that I pray that Ace won’t dream at all. (“I don’t want him to have a bad dream. And if it’s a good dream, then he might be sad it isn’t real.”)

And then he adds, “And pray for his Down syndrome.”

“What should I pray about his Down syndrome, buddy?”

“Pray that it won’t hurt him.”

When Ace was born 12 weeks ago, Chris and I weren’t sure how to tell our boys about Down syndrome. They’d never known anyone with DS. How could they understand what it would mean for their baby brother, what it would mean for their lives? When we were given Ace’s prenatal diagnosis I wept first for them, for the responsibilities they’d have to hold, for the challenges they had never asked for. How would it feel to hear some kid in their class make fun of their little brother? Which of them would feel pressure to care for their brother when Chris and I one day can’t?

We’d been reading a . So when I told the older boys about Ace’s diagnosis, when I took ’s advice and described DS as being something that would make Ace really good at some things (most flexible member of our family!) and in need of help in other things (“Crawling and walking might be harder, but we’ll cheer him on and help him learn”), the boys weren’t afraid at all.

In those early weeks, when other parents at August’s school would ask about how Ace was doing as I walked my first grader into class, August would tug on my sleeve (“Mom, tell them about the Down Sin Drum!”), excited. Something was wonderful and important about his brother.

We haven’t faced the hardest things yet. Ace was born with a healthy heart. When he was 10 days old I held his six-pound body as cardiologists strapped electrodes to his tiny chest. I sat beside him and stared at the screen while the fluttering tree of his heart’s chambers swayed from side to side. Such beauty inside him. A heart that worked.

When August asks me to pray for Ace’s Down syndrome, I think first about how grateful I am for that healthy heart. Then I think about the blood tests Ace will have every six months. It's the possibility of blood diseases that keeps me up at night.

Then I think about how it will feel to watch my friends’ babies develop typically, while my Ace struggles to sit up, or crawl, or say his first words. I worry that Ace’s speech will be difficult for the world to understand.

I think about how much I love words, how I want Ace to be able to read books and write his own stories. I think about how gentle and loving he already is, and how afraid I am that despite all the love he has to give, the world will fail to love him back.

Pray that his Down syndrome won’t hurt him, my oldest son says.

There is so much we ask in so few words, Lord. Such depth to this prayer.

My seven year old leans over the crib and says, “Have a good nap, sweet baby.” And I take a deep breath. So many deep breaths lately. So much weight for so small a life.

That it won’t hurt him. We pray that it won’t hurt him.

 

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