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.
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 of changes within my church. 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.
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.
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.