To Ace, after his baptism

Photo by  Matt Hardy  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

 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.

Click here to read the rest of this story on her.menuetics.


Good words for Thanksgiving

Photo by  Timothy Eberly  on  Unsplash

"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, 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 

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.

-Brooks Haxton


What I'm Into - Fall 2015

Photo by  chris liu  on  Unsplash

Photo by chris liu on Unsplash

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!

When God Meets Us in the Wilderness

Photo by  Aaron Burden  on  Unsplash

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 Teach Us To Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith 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 Amber’s Wild in the Hollows blog! And be sure to check out both Amber Haines’s Wild in the Hollow and Jen Pollock Michel's Teach Us To Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith . They are both worth your time and meditation.

 

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

 

Photo by  Timon Studler  on  Unsplash

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 on Ann Voskamp’s Good Reads blog today. On Ace, his brothers, and the hard work of learning to show hospitality to God's promises in the distance.