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.

Grace for women with a prenatal diagnosis, a radio interview


Photo by  Ashton Mullins  on  Unsplash

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, “As long as the baby is healthy, but what if he’s not?”

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 to click here and take a listen.

Cultivate Space (for the Sweet Mercy)

 

Photo by  Ivana Cajina  on  Unsplash

I've basically been gone from this blog for, um, around eight weeks. (Except for when .) Let’s call it a maternity leave.

In my former blogging life I would have shed a lot of tears, frantically paced the floor over the amount of unwritten words, and internally berated myself for letting all my readers forget about this blog, and (let's be honest) this writer.

Those are fair concerns. In fact, if you’re reading this post, I’m shocked and amazed that you noticed it was here. And I’m also okay with the fact that many people will probably not notice.

My blogging life has changed a lot in the past year. I've written here about how I’m learning to release my , how I’m and for my family when I need to.

But spaciousness in my life has not only been about blogging. The desire to cultivate space in my days for health and relationships has come as slowly as my babies. With each child, I discovered more of my weaknesses, more of my need for wholeness.

When August, my first, was born I was overwhelmed and stunned by the reality of motherhood. When my second baby, Brooks, came around I wanted to feel like motherhood had made me capable. So I tried to prove that I had parenthood figured out, that I was totally cool with two kids. I pushed myself to keep every commitment, to keep writing blog posts (instead of getting sleep), to keep it together. I was a mess.

Some people can transition to a new place in life and continue with their routine. In fact, they need that routine. They are cool moms, you guys. But I am not. I’ve learned this about myself. When there’s a transition, I crave complete focus on the transition. I crave the present moment.

And this time around, that has meant ignoring my writing career for a long amount of time. I spent the early weeks reading, breastfeeding, going to doctor’s appointments with Ace, and playing with my older boys. I needed space to transition. I needed to nap. I needed to eat chocolate nib and sea salt cookies at night while I watched cheesy BBC shows with my mom.

This time, with my third—with a special needs baby—I’ve been given the gift of two seemingly opposite feelings: The peace of already knowing how to take care of a baby, and the wild uncertainty of all that I don’t understand about Down syndrome, of all that can go wrong.

Ace spent the first few weeks struggling to eat, struggling to gain weight. And the gift of those weeks was that I’d done the breastfeeding thing before: I knew how to feed my babies. I didn’t have to beat myself up. I got to receive the reality that this is a different baby and I will learn him as I go. I was wise enough that I didn’t listen when the mean voices in my head told me I was failing.

Maybe that’s what spaciousness is: Giving yourself room to receive the challenge in front of you, while still clinging to the truth. Learning to see that within the pain of the suffering, there is something remarkable. Beautiful. There’s always a both/and.

And so far in Ace’s life I’m learning the goodness of holding to both at the same time: Holding the heartbreak of an uncertain diagnosis in the same hand as I hold the sack of flour baby snuggles. Blessing my older children’s cheers for him as he learns what all newborns are trying to learn: how to lift his head on tummy time, how to grab a toy, how to smile.

When we received Ace’s diagnosis, Chris and I were surprised that though we grieved, though we struggled to see what this would mean for Ace’s life, for our older boys’ lives, for our lives, we never really found ourselves asking why it was happening to us.

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about that. How did we skip that feeling? Did we skip that feeling? And our only answer was that we’ve spent most of the past six years in a church that always reminds us that the world and our city are both beautiful and broken, always at the same time. And that liturgy has been planted deep into our souls. It is always both. Life is always beautiful. Life is always heart-breaking.

We can ask why, but we can’t ask why without noticing that everyone else is suffering as well. In different ways, we all walk through pain.

And sometimes your suffering is also your sweetest joy. A now-nine-pound baby that cuddles like a sack of flour and gulps milk (making those baby nursing sounds), and daily grows chunkier thighs.

Time passes and we all learn what we need in the transition. (I need dark chocolate and Netflix.) And babies grow and sometimes struggle to grow. And little boys play and get taller and their blonde hair grows longer. And first graders learn to spell longer words and graduate to second grade.

And the middle boy takes the baby’s face in his hands and says, I just love you so much, my sweet little mercy. And I hold my breath, because, isn’t he? A sweet mercy.

Yesterday was a hard day. A hard day after two and a half months of hard days as an Elder in my church. And when I came home, I sat my baby in his bathtub and poured water on his head over and over, like baptism. And I told him—again, as if he doesn’t know (of course he knows)—that he is God’s beloved, that his life is important and beautiful and valuable. And he stared at me with his dark blue eyes and let me pour the warm water on his head…

In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m learning—over and over again—to cultivate space for this miraculous life I’m already in the middle of: hard Sundays and ordinary baptisms and four-year-olds recognizing mercy.

Sweet Mercy right in front of us. is raising its hourly www.pro-academic-writers.com/ rates on september 1, 2005

Reflections for Easter Sunday


Photo by  Thanti Nguyen  on  Unsplash

"Testimony" Copyright © 2012 Jan Richardson Images. All Rights Reserved.

From  Girl Meets God:

The Last Battle, the final volume of Lewis's Narnia chronicles, pictures the end of time. Aslan---the lion who represents Jesus---has returned, folding all of culture and humanity into his kingdom. In the novel's lasts pages, he tells Lucy, a child from London, that everyone she knew back in Blighty is dead and raised to new life. And as Aslan spoke, writes Lewis, "the things that began to happen...were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better that the one before."

On Easter, we glimpse the beginning of Chapter One.

-Lauren F. Winner, (193-194)


Descending Theology: The Resurrection

by Mary Karr

From the far star points of his pinned extremities, cold inched in–black ice and blood ink– till the hung flesh was empty. Lonely in that void even for pain, he missed his splintered feet, the human stare buried in his face. He ached for two hands made of meat he could reach to the end of. In the corpse’s core, the stone fist of his heart

began to bang on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled back into that battered shape. Now it’s your limbs he longs to flow into– from the sunflower center in your chest outward–as warm water shatters at birth, rivering every way.

"Descending Theology: The Resurrection" by Mary Karr, HarperCollins, 2006.

 

Joy is radically different from happiness, for it does not depend up on the "ups" and "downs" of our existence. It is the constant moving away from the static places of death toward the house of God, where the abundant life can be recognized and celebrated.

Henri Nouwen (102)


For more from Jan Richardson, visit her website.

Reflections for Holy Saturday

Photo by  Yoal Desurmont  on  Unsplash

The Last of the Brooding Miserables

by Mary Karr

Lord, you maybe know me best by my odd laments: My friend drew the garage door tight, lay flat on the cold cement, then sucked off the family muffler to stop the voices in his head. And Logan stabbed in a fight, and Coleman shot, and the bright girl who pulled a blade the width of her own soft throat, and Tom from the virus and Dad from drink--Lord, the many-headed hurts I mind.

I study each death hard that death not catch me unprepared. For help I read Aurelius, that Stoic emperor who composed fine Meditations in his battle tent.

Surely he overheard at night the surgeons chopping through his wounded soldiers' bones and shovels of earth flung down on blue faces, and near dawn, the barbarian horses athunder.

Still, he judged the young man's death no worse than the old's: each losing just one breath. I would have waded the death pits wailing till I ruined good boots with lime-- a vulture for my dead too long, or half a corpse myself.

Lord, let me enter now your world, my face, dig deep in the gloves of these hands formed to sow or reap or stroke a living face. Let me rise

to your unfamiliar light, love, without which the dying wouldn't bother me one whit.

Please, if you will, bless also this thick head I finally bow. In thanks.

for James Laughlin

-Mary Karr, from , Penguin Poets, 1994

 

"Today we think about Jesus lying dead in the tomb. His bruised and lacerated body, hastily wrapped, rests on a stone slab, cold and stiff in the darkness. Correspondingly, our hearts remain quiet. Yet in the spiritual realm, all is not quiet. A doctrinal tradition going back to the earliest era of the church declares that Christ, in the time between his death and his resurrection, descended to the dead, that is, to the precints of hell itself, in order to liberate a throng of people. The "harrowing of hell,' it is sometimes called. This doctrine is stated in the creeds--"He descended into hell"--and depicted in icons. Many Protestants dispute or downplay it because of the ambiguity of the scriptural texts. But whether Christ "recaptures" captives (see Eph 4:7-10) or simply proclaims the victory of the cross, some momentous event in the grand drama of God's redemption takes place on this holy sabbath. Christ's redemptive power plumbs the darkest depths before ascending to the brightest heighs. Holy Saturday recognizes this wondrous mystery and invites us, quietly, to enter it."

-Bobby Gross, (182)

 

Psalm 31:1-5

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name's sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

On Holy Saturday, I walk up the hill to the cemetery and I meet old Fr. Gall walking stiffly toward me, dressed in a black suit, a narrow, European cut decades out of fashion. He twirls his walking stick and says, brightly, "Ah, you have come to visit those who are in heaven? You have come to seek the living among the dead!" The air is full of the anticipation of snow, a howling wind. Words will not let me be: In cold and silence you are born, from the womb of earth, the cloud of snow yet to fall. And from somewhere in the liturgy: What has been prepared for me?

From  by Kathleen Norris (181)

"In the end, no white light shines out from the wounds of Christ to bathe me in His glory. Faith is a choice like any other. If you're picking a career or a husband--or deciding whether to have a baby--there are feelings and reasons pro and con out the wazzoo. But thinking it through is--at the final hour--horse dookey. You can only try it out. Not choosing baptism would make me feel half-assed somehow, like a dilettante--scared to commit to praising a force I do feel is divine--a reluctance grown from pride or because the mysteries are too unfathomable.

In the back of a dark church on Holy Saturday, I sit between Dev and Toby. In the pews, everybody holds an unlit candle, and the priest comes in with the altar's mega-candle. Stopping at the back row, he touches its taper to the charred filament on either side of the aisle. The flame's passed one to another until we're all holding fire in our hands."

From by Mary Karr, HarperCollins, 2010 (351)

Reflections for Maundy Thursday

Descending Theology: The Garden

by Mary Karr

We know he was a man because, once doomed, he begged for reprieve. See him grieving on his rock under olive trees, his companions asleep on the hard ground around him wrapped in old hides. Not one stayed awake as he’d asked. That went through him like a sword. He wished with all his being to stay but gave up bargaining at the sky. He knew it was all mercy anyhow, unearned as breath. The Father couldn’t intervene, though that gaze was never not rapt, a mantle around him. This was our doing, our death. The dark prince had poured the vial of poison into the betrayer’s ear, and it was done. Around the oasis where Jesus wept, the cracked earth radiated out for miles. In the green center, Jesus prayed for the pardon of Judas, who was approaching with soldiers, glancing up–as Christ was–into the punctured sky till his neck bones ached. Here is his tear-riven face come to press a kiss on his brother.

-Mary Karr, , HarperCollins, 2006


Untitled (An ancient Celtic prayer for sleep)

O Jesu without sin, King of the poor, Who were sorely subdued Under the ban of the wicked, Shield Thou me this night From Judas.

My soul on Thine own arm, O Christ, Thou the King of the City of Heaven, Thou it was who bought'st my soul O Jesu, Thou it was who didst sacrifice Thy life for me.

Protect Thou me because of my sorrow, For the sake of Thy passion, Thy wounds, and Thy blood, And take me in safety to-night Near to the City of God.

From by Esther de Waal, Doubleday, 1997.


For more from Jan Richardson, visit her website.


The Internal Frantic Monster (Or, My Addiction to the Egg Timer)

Photo by  Franck V.  on  Unsplash

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

When I was in 3rd grade, I took my mom’s white mechanical egg timer (with one of those old-school dials that turned and ticked) from the kitchen counter and developed a plan to time each aspect of my morning routine. I set myself some “reasonable” goals—ten minutes for my hair, fifteen minutes for breakfast, three minutes to brush my teeth—and began to carry the egg timer around with me while I got ready for school.

Now, this was not about competition. There wasn’t a timeliness goal in my head. This was more a perfect storm of neuroses: my anxiety and my longing for self-perfection, exploding in my nine-year-old little-girl-brain. The timer would go off while I was still tying my shoes, and I would scream, “I’ll never be on time to school! I’ll never be on time to school!” throwing my shoes at the wall.

My parents (wisely) took the egg timer away from me after two days. But I still feel like that little girl sometimes, carrying my grown-up versions of egg timers, begging their little tick-tocks to assure me that my life is good enough, that I’m performing the way I ought to be. I am addicted to my own franticness. I am addicted to performing enough, in the right amount of time, in a way that the people around me say is good.

. . .

Today I'm contributing to Seth Haines' series "The Recovery Room" over at his blog. You can find my full piece here.

Cultivate: Choosing Love & Humility Over Rightness, or When Resurrection is Our Story

I could say that my silence here has been because I’ve been “busy.” And that would be true, at least partially. Busy covers a multitude of realities, doesn’t it?

But if I want to be honest about the past few weeks of my life, I have to tell you that I am in the midst of a tumultuous season, a time that has felt emotionally raw, frightening.

My church is in a moment of uncertainty, when questions over doctrine feel bigger than anything else, when people who love each other deeply fall passionately on opposite sides of the issue at hand, and learning to talk about it out loud feels painful and impossible at times. There have been a lot of tears at my kitchen table this week, a lot of conversations about the gospel and how to read scripture. In short, we’re living in a moment in our church that has been lived in many times before in other communities, both now and throughout the past 2,000 years. What we must decide is how we will choose to wrestle through these questions, whether we will choose to engage with one another or leave one another.

Stability matters. And, just as I reflected in , it is always the harder choice.

And, in the midst of loving my church community, , for such a time as this. I believe that. I have to. All I can do is pray for mercy and make decisions with humility. All I can do is beg God to take my offering and bring forth something beautiful.

I’m also an elder who is eight months pregnant, carrying a pregnancy that has been anything but certain. Since December I have held tightly to a challenging prenatal diagnosis, one that may or may not be accurate. I have settled into the pattern of weekly non-stress tests, to see if this is the week my baby may be in distress, if this is the week we are rushed to the hospital to deliver a baby my body is not yet ready to deliver.

And each week, I have been sent home to my little boys with the instructions to rest. I drink water and try to help with homework from my spot on the couch. 

These two tender things must be walked through before I can really write to you about them. They are two living organisms: my church and my baby. Both must be tended, cultivated, allowed to grow into the sunshine, even if I don’t know what will come of them.

And what else can I write about? This is the season of my life right now. Uncertainty, yes. But also responsibility. And deep belief in God’s goodness. And hope, that whatever this season of growth and tenderness and prayer brings, Jesus resurrected will be my courage, my compassion, my wisdom.

In the past two weeks I have had some of the hardest conversations of my life with people in my church community, people I love.

And you know what else? In the past two weeks I have had meals delivered to my home. My kids have been picked up and taken to the park because I needed to rest. My church community has fed them ice cream and read them stories. My church community has mopped my floor while I napped or fed my kids chicken nuggets while I talked through difficult issues on the phone in another room.

I sat on the pew this past Sunday and cried as a dear friend and pastor shared his process in this uncertain time, and asked us to enter into a conversation that is not easy. “Healthy families have to learn to have hard conversations,” he said.

And I know that’s true. You know what else I know?

Our doctrine doesn’t make us a church. What makes us a church is how we love the pregnant lady who needs to stay on the couch. What makes us a church is how we mop each other’s floors and take each other’s kids to the park. What makes us a church is how we learn to see one another as God’s beloveds, and speak kindness to one another even when our passion is loud and fiery. What makes us a church is how we choose love and humility over rightness.

Yes, I wouldn’t have chosen either of these uncertainties. But cultivating something beautiful always demands pain. Isn’t that the way this world has always been? The seed is planted whole into the earth, but it must split open before the sprout can push its way from the darkness and into the bright sun.

How The Examen Empowers Us to Pray and Write

Photo by  @gebhartyler  on  Unsplash

Ed Cyzewski's writing is always thoughtful and gracious and challenging, and I love that his newest book is one that considers the disciplines of prayer and writing together. What a beautiful idea. When he approached me asking if I'd like to host his thoughts on how he uses the Prayer of Examen both in prayer and in writing, my word-nerd/prayer-nerd (can you be a prayer nerd?) self exploded. Between now and March 16 his e-book is available for only $1.99!

So happy to host him here . 

 ___

When I try to pray, I often find that my anxious thoughts get in the way.

When I try to write, I often find that I can’t form a single thought.

It feels like feast or famine most days.

How can I face my thoughts for prayerful contemplation without getting swept up in anxiety and worst-case scenarios?

How can I hang on to a few thoughts that are worth exploring through writing before the blank page wins?

Thankfully I’ve found that one practice can help with both problems. The Examen, developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, offers a lifeline to stressed out, over-thinkers like me, while coincidentally prompting writers to address what matters most.

 

Praying with the Examen

Ignatius believed the Examen was a gift given directly from God. After spending a significant time in prayer, he found that prayer could move forward best with this time of reflection and meditation.

The Examen is set apart from run of the mill self-reflection right from the start by its first step: Awareness of God’s Presence. We don’t face the most challenging parts of our lives alone. God is with us as we begin the Examen, and as we move forward into it, that awareness will only grow. In fact, the Examen encourages us to invite God into our days and our times of reflection.

The genius of the Examen is the way it stops the roller coaster of worry and distraction when I begin praying, while still offering a path forward. It provides an orderly, prayerful direction to my thoughts so that I can honestly face what I’m truly thinking without feeling restrained.

My own Examen practice follows the guidelines in the (Apple Store only). The initial reflections on God’s presence and gratitude for the day are followed by “consonance” and “dissonance” questions or prompts where I type in my replies.

The consonance section focuses on the positive relationships, events, and experiences of God throughout the day. The dissonance section focuses on what is discouraging, restricting, or provoking fear. It ends with an invitation to five minutes of silent meditation. Other Examen guides offer variations of this approach.

Any practice of the Examen should include reflection on our days and awareness of our emotions. Some guides distill the Examen into :

1.  Become aware of God’s presence. 2. Review the day with gratitude. 3. Pay attention to your emotions. 4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. 5. Look toward tomorrow.

I encourage you to begin with at least one period of reflection in the evening (Ignatius practiced the Examen twice a day). While I can’t speak highly enough of the Examine app, perhaps you can begin with just a few questions or prompts and then add new questions as you develop a routine.

If you don’t use the app, I also recommend journaling your replies to each prompt. Even just writing a few words for each prompt on the page can be tremendously revealing—as if we can finally own up to the truth once we see them typed on a screen or penned onto a page.

While the Examen often ends with an invitation to silent contemplation, there are plenty of directions you can take. I’ve often merged it with either , where I use a sacred word to still my thoughts, or the Divine Hours where I use one of the scripture readings for —using slow, repetitive scripture reading to guide prayer.

However you choose to move forward, I’ve found that the Examen provides an essential first step for confronting the issues on my mind, guiding my contemplation, and then freeing me to pursue other spiritual practices.

 

Writing with the Examen

Whether you write regularly for publication or you simply keep a journal, the Examen can provide a steady supply of writing prompts. I’ve often finished my Examen and prayer time by jotting down a few ideas in my journal or in a notes file.

Good writing, like any good art, needs to confront the most challenging aspects of life. Whether exploring our pain, anger, or fears, writing won’t ring true if it fails to confront these deeper issues or only offers pat solutions to complex issues.

The Examen pushes us beyond our filters and even the shame that could keep us silent. When we face ourselves as we truly are before entering into prayer, we’ll start to see clear paths forward for writing.

Some may only need to write privately about an issue in order to gain additional clarity and direction. Others may tap into their fears and insecurities and find that they have something to share with their readers.

From my fears about work to my struggles with anger and control while at home with our kids, the Examen has helped me take important first steps toward the kind of writing topics I needed to pursue. However, I don’t think I would have ever seen these topics with the same degree of clarity if I hadn’t spent month after month addressing them in my Examen.

As I followed up on these issues in my writing, I found a space to process them further. Once I had a better grasp, I knew what to pray about that evening. Prayer and writing became a self-sustaining cycle.

While my prayer and writing stand apart as distinct practices, they blend together and support each other. There is no sacred and secular. There’s just life, and both practices work together.

I trust that my approach to writing and prayer isn’t for everyone, but even the most basic use of the Examen may bring a sense of peace and order to your thoughts that could create a deeply needed space for prayer.

This post is adapted from my new book .

Order the eBook version for $1.99 between now and March 16: 

Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival Guide and Coffeehouse Theology. He’s a freelance writer who regularly addresses the intersection of faith and writing on his blog and tweets as @edcyzewski.

Found at SheLoves Book Club!

I've had the privilege of writing a couple of times over at SheLoves Magazine, one of my favorite online spots, a space packed full of gifted women and rich writing.

And I'm thrilled that SheLoves has chosen Found as its Red Couch Book Club book for the month of March! 

If you haven't yet read Found, now is the perfect moment to read it alongside of community of other readers, and join in discussions on Facebook and at SheLoves. I love that they've decided to read Found during Lent, because so much of the book centers around following the church calendar and making new liturgies in our ordinary lives.

If you want to read more, here's a link to the Red Couch Book Club over at SheLoves Magazine. Take a peek!

Cultivate the deep, cultivate the simple

Photo by  Ina Soulis  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ina Soulis on Unsplash

“Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us shallow and complicated.” Fred Rogers said that. As in Mister. As in the fire engine red cardigan and the songs about neighbors. And I’ve been ruminating on those words this past month.

Complicated. How often do I use that word in my daily life? How often do I run through my days living “busy,” living “complicated”?

For Lent I’m thinking about deep simplicity versus shallow complexity. What does it mean to cultivate a deep and simple life, to weed out the things that—in their seeming importance—seduce me into believing their complications are necessary?

Isn’t our culture full of those sorts of weeds? The ones we allow to grow into our lives simply because they seem that they ought to be valuable? More activities for our kids, more work, more material consumption, more commitments in church and school! And soon we don’t recognize what we value anymore, because all it seems we have time to value is our own time management.

What is deep? What is simple? The answer to those questions almost always points toward what is good.

I’m also learning to ask what is tricking me in its own complexity. There is much in life that seems important but is actually shallow, undeserving of my desires, underserving of my time.

Since this past summer, beginning around the time , I committed myself to stripping out the parts of my life that were overwhelming me. Most of them had to do with my writing career. I asked myself what I really love about being a writer. My answer was this: I love creating something that is rich and beautiful, offering it as a gift to others.

Then I compared that with what I spent most of my time doing: social media, self promotion, keeping up with the blogging requirements of what authors are supposed to do be noticed and valued. And I realized I was tired. I wanted to write more simply. I hadn’t been doing the social media circus act because doing so was actually providing me a salary. I was doing it because I was supposed to.

I decided I would make a conscious effort to write more intentionally and let myself write slowly, especially while my kids are small. I took a summer break from blogging, came back in the fall in the early stages of pregnancy, and have taken my time ever sense.

It would be really nice for me to say: And since that choice my blog readership has grown! (That wouldn’t be true.) Or, now I’m inspired to write the next great American novel! (Nope.) Or even, now I have the energy to dust off my collection of poetry and actually send it out to journals. (Not that either.) But it has given me is permission to rest, permission to go to sleep early, to read, permission to play with my kids without social media demands hanging over my head.

It’s also—slowly—given me permission to not work like crazy to turn myself into something impressive. I want to believe that I don’t have to be important in my writing career to live into my calling. .

I want to cultivate the simple and the deep in my ordinary life. I want to be present for real people in my physical life. I want to serve my church and community. I want to be a good friend, a mom who isn’t constantly busy, constantly distracted.

This Lent I took Facebook and Twitter off my phone. I’m not forgoing those things. I’m just practicing life with their incessant reminders that I need to be online. I want to make it simpler. I’m preparing for a baby to come in April. And there are real things to do. Blankets to wash, minivans to shop for, evenings to sit still and feel little baby wiggling around inside.

Last week my pastor preached on the Transfiguration and quoted :

“How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that the fire has become flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the more devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense, a bit of deceitful play-acting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between.”

There’s the word again: shallow. As humans, we most often train ourselves to choose the shallow. It hurts less. And in order to make ourselves feel valuable, we shape the shallow to look important, complicated. Shallow lives are dangerous things.

And then there’s Jesus. We who believe in him are the people who believe in the hurricane turned human, in the fire become flesh. How far are we willing to walk into this faith of ours? Are we willing to trust in the deep reality that leads us out of shallow complications and into the rich simplicity of Jesus?

Here’s our question: What will we cultivate this season of Lent? What are we drawing ourselves nearer to? What are we discarding?

Can we choose simplicity over the loud raging of our busy, performance-driven lives? Now that’s a question.

Still True, All the Way Through

 

Photo by  Akira Hojo  on  Unsplash

Photo by Akira Hojo on Unsplash

The other night I sat in a meeting with five other church elders and my head pastor, listening to him share the hard realities of leading our church. As he spoke to us, I recognized (again) the gift of being lead by a person who is attentively listening to God’s spirit. Thirty years in ministry, and he is still willing to change his mind, submit to God’s movement in his life, even when it’s painful, even when it hurts. For what felt like the hundredth time, I came home to my husband and said, Being a pastor is hard.

I said, I’m so grateful he is the one who leads us.

I know all about the other kinds of pastors, the ones who do not love deeply, or grieve, or take risks. I know about the ways leaders can hurt their followers, especially when those leaders have the job of representing the great, mysterious God.

I wrote about it here once, .

I want to write this for you. You, the one who sits with your face in your hands and begs yourself out the door into the church on Sundays. You, who questions hierarchy and recognizes the broken tendencies of leaders. You who wonders how the church can ever be its true self, how Jesus’ dream for God’s people could end up so flimsy. I want to write a story for you about what is possible.

I want to tell a story of the pastors I believed, then feared, those whose real lives seemed fraught with empty relationships, those who spoke words from the pulpit that felt closer to manipulation than truth. I want to tell how my hope cracked under the pressure of my dreams for them. My world told me they were super heroes. Under their capes, it turned out they were broken like me.

I want to write a story about those years I scoffed and rolled my eyes, longing for answers, assuring myself I was alone in the struggle. I want to write about the conversations my husband and I had back then, the tears: “What is church supposed to even be? Is it hopeless?”

When I found out my beloved Deeper Story was closing its doors, I went back to the archives to remind myself of all I’d published here. And it was sweet to find I’d told a wide-spaced story, one with a long view. It was sweet to be reminded that these past two years, month by month, my posts have told a story of faith, one I’m honored I was allowed to tell.

That first post was about . I’ve also written about . I’ve written about  and . I’ve written about how , a God-medal for the most perfect life. I’ve written here about the  and the grace of learning to become a priest-mama, .

I wrote  that, “beyond the fog our God holds us: Our theology, our fear, our broken burnt up lies, our needy bits of heart. Our healing.”

And today, in my last Deeper Story post, it feels right to end with the first words I shared here in this good space, where I’ve been asked to tell my stories, to walk through my past two and a half years of holding faith with open, grateful hands, where I feel that in some ways, I’ve written my way toward a new space of hope and faith in the story of Jesus and his Church.

I’m still writing the story of how church is hard and complicated and good, how following Jesus is always dangerous because it’s the realest thing. .

Christine says, “If it’s real, it has to be real all the way through.” She points her finger through the air. “If it breaks down, if Jesus is not who he says he is, none of this is worth it.”

I’d just said how grateful I was for the space they had created within our church community: humility, genuine compassion, kindness. I’d said I’d never forget how she followed me out of the sanctuary our first morning at Christ Church, my embarrassing exit with crying six month old. She’d found me and sat beside me, said, “We love crying babies here…”

And she had meant it.

“True all the way through,” she says in her living room, t-shirts crumpled on her lap.

And they bless us and send us out into night.

The good, hard things always end with blessing, don’t they? They always end with hope.

The Ashes and the Being Made Whole

Photo by  Ahna Ziegler  on  Unsplash

Today is Ash Wednesday: let's think about wholeness, okay?

I had planned to worship beside my husband on Ash Wednesday. For the almost-decade of our marriage, we have never once been to my favorite service of the year together. He’s had to work late or go out of town or somebody’s been sick. This was finally the year he would sit beside me and he’d know, understand, what moves me so deeply about this service. The ashes and the honesty and the hymns and the way the Church aches together.

Part way through Brooks’ afternoon with the babysitter, my almost-two-year-old, who’d been succumbing to a virus for a little over a week, began crying hard enough to demand a stroller ride home from the park. The day before he’d had a fever, but that morning he’d appeared happy, near-healthy.

But by the time they reached the sidewalks of our street, my babysitter was calling me frantic.

“You should probably come meet us outside. Something’s wrong with Brooksie.”

I jumped from my desk and rushed down the stairs and out into the sunshine, where she was running the stroller down hill toward me.

“Brooksie!” I shouted at the slumped boy beside his oblivious brother in the double stroller. The eyes that had been gazing off into some secret nothing, refocused on me.

“Mommy, Daddy, Buppy,” he whimpered. “Mommy, Daddy, Buppy.”

I pulled him out of the stroller and looked at my babysitter’s worried eyes.

“He wouldn’t respond to me, Micha,” she said. “I was kneeling in front of him and he was limp with his eyes open.”

I brought him in the house. His skin was fire hot. I took his temperature, 104.3.

Yes, no wonder he was gazing off into the nothing.

You do what you have to and you worry later. I poured Tylenol down his throat. I called the doctor. I waited for her return call. By then it was after five and my husband was on his long commute home, stuck in traffic. As the medicine kicked in, Brooksie began to engage with me. We read stories and rocked in the rocking chair. He asked to eat.

The after-hours clinic said to bring him in at 6:50. The babysitter went home.

Brooks had been easing into a Daddy-phase for the past couple of weeks. But on Ash Wednesday day he came into it with all his heart.

“My need Daddy! My need Daddy!” he cried.

“Daddy’s coming soon, baby,” I said as I rocked his fevery body. “You want to go to the doctor?” I asked.

“Wid Daddy,” he mumbled.

“Yes,” I said. I texted Chris. Would he like to take our boy to the doctor?

Of course he would, he said. Of course.

August had been excited all day for the Ash Wednesday service. Unlike my childhood, where church was a place I spent every Wednesday night, this going in the middle of the week thing (and at night!) is fantastical to him.

By the time my husband arrived home from his two hours stuck in traffic on a bus, Brooksie was in his pjs, his Tylenol fully at work in his body. August was dressed for church. And I was handing a piece of paper to my husband in which I’d scratched out every single thing that had happened to our sick child that day. I not only gave it to him, I read it aloud, just in case.

What kind of mother leaves her baby with a fever of 104 and goes to an Ash Wednesday service?

Chris dropped us off and I took August to the room where the children were listening to a story about Adam and Eve, about a Terrible Lie they chose to believe, about their broken spirits and minds, how desperate we’ve all been ever since.

While he listened, I sang slow hymns in the sanctuary. There, in the back of the balcony where the late-comers huddled together, I felt like I was singing alone, with only the violinist there to accompany me:

Jesus I long for thee And sigh for Canaan’s shore Thy lovely face to see And all my warfare o’er… I pant, I groan, I grieve For my untoward heart; How full of doubts I live, Though full of grace thou art

I cry every year on Ash Wednesday. Maybe it’s because I’m alone. Always alone, always late.

. . .

Last year in Austin, Chris was away for work and I couldn’t get myself together to get the boys to the service and forfeit our baby’s bedtime, knowing I’d spend the whole service nursing and hushing.

That afternoon, after August woke from nap time, I took leaves burned them in a pan in the backyard. And I marked myself. I said, “Micha, you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

It felt like most of my moments of personal prayer: distracted, not quite complete, the little boy playing cars around me.

“I want ashes too,” August said.

“Okay, but this is only something we do if we are serious. It’s not a game. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” he said and sat before me on the deck.

“It’s to remind us that we have broken hearts that only Jesus can fix.”

Then, as a priest-mama, no different than any other day I have held up Gospel and broken bread before my boys, I sealed my son with ashes. I called him to some future repentance he could never then understand. I marked him with the cross, . Or to us, there in the backyard, a symbol of wholeness, a symbol that .

I reminded August (and myself) that his life is ashes.

And like that, our service was over. He was back on the grass with his cars, a mess of a cross on his forehead.

. . .

While my husband and toddler sat on the doctor cot in an after-hours clinic, I watched the first rows of worshippers snake toward the priests in front. And there, coming down the aisle was the row of children, my oldest boy in his black zip-up hoodie looking around the big room at all the faces.

I stood where I was, longing to walk through the line beside him. I rushed down the balcony stairs and cut in front of those in the middle section. August’s line was veering left, mine right.

I was marked. Reminded of my mortality, of hope against death. I walked the side of the great room and across the back, met August’s line as they headed back to their room. I caught the eye of the children’s pastor and August was released back to me. We sat on the floor in the back the sanctuary, my four-year-old in my lap, and we sang:

Out of unrest and arrogant pride, Jesus I come, Jesus I come Into Thy blessed will to abide, Jesus I come to Thee.

I thought of how many nights of my childhood I stood behind a pew and sang low and heavy, “All to Jesus I surrender…I surrender all…” I’d rock side to side or back and forth while the pastor begged the people to come forward, to be saved. How many nights did I rock under that brass lit chandelier dangling above my head and make promises? How often did I say, Whatever you ask of me, Lord? How many times did I pray, Make me brave?

There, right there in that moment on the floor with my back to the wall, my son in my lap, I remembered to own the grace that’s been given to me. I remembered that I am ashes and so is my boy. But we are going to be made whole. We are mortal and weak. But, still, . I remembered to believe.

Out of myself to dwell in Thy love, Out of despair into raptures above, Upward forever on wings of a dove, Jesus I come to Thee

We sat on the floor and I sang those words. Across town, my husband and baby walked the aisles of Walgreens and waited for the antibiotic. And all of us were ashes. All of us were recipients of grace. All of us were coming to Jesus.

I come, I come, I sang, my face in August’s hair, our heads covered in grime.