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Being Brave Together

In the moments when we wonder why we bother, when we feel futile and small and ridiculous, when we feel misunderstood and mischaracterized, when we are paying a price, it’s in those moments that we learn the truth about being brave: it doesn’t always feel good.

If, as Aristotle supposedly posited, the only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing, well, then that’s certainly an option. And sometimes a very alluring option. Be nothing, do nothing, say nothing, watch more television, buy more stuff.

Everyone likes to talk about being fearless, about owning your truth, about standing up and being counted. We sing songs in church about being brave, we blast music in the minivan and shake shake shake it off, we hang prints up in our homes about courage, we talk about brave people or follow them on social media until we somehow make ourselves believe that we ourselves are somehow brave.

I think we like to talk a lot about being brave because the actual doing of it is so freaking terrifying. And tiring. And ordinary.

It’s my belief that true fearlessness comes from living loved. When we find our worth and our value in Christ, then, as the Psalmist wrote, what can man do to us? I don’t think we can be a people-pleaser or an approval-addict AND be brave with our lives. Perhaps that’s why fearlessness or bravery starts with our identity first, it’s the deep well from which we draw living water, enough for today.

I believe that bravery is born in the quiet and ordinary moments long before it’s seen by anyone else. Sometimes it’s as simple and devastating as the moments no one else will ever see – the moments of daring to be honest with our own self, of laying down our excuses or justifications or disguises, of asking ourselves what we really want, of forgiveness, of honesty, of choosing the hard daily work of restoration, of staying resolutely alive when every one else is just numbing themselves against life. These are why our friends matter so deeply: they are witness to the sacred secrets. Not all secrets are terrifying things, some of them are beautiful and transformative.

But then come moments – those turning point moments, when you know it matters more than anyone else would know from the outside.

The “yes” you need to say,

the “no” you need to enforce,

the truth you need to speak,

the life you dare to imagine,

the risk you take,

the art you create,

the establishment you defy,

the danger you face,

the living out of what you profess.

Those moments are our turning points because when we look back on them, we say and then something changed.

That is true. Usually it’s us, we’re the ones who change. We take another tentative step out onto the water, a bit further away from the boat of our safety. And we do it alongside of each other, hand in hand, never alone.

I have learned the hard way that we usually can’t be brave on our own.

The ways we connect with each other might be quite typical – Sunday morning services or school pick-ups or bible studies at church or school or work or afternoon walks. Or more typical to our generation – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, texting. Either way, we don’t feel quite so alone in our moments of choosing brave.

We feel seen, we feel heard, we feel prayer at our back and a sisterhood waiting up ahead of us on the path.

Together makes us braver.

I am surrounded by interesting and dangerous women. Sometimes this is wonderful, other times it’s exhausting, it is always challenging. Because they push me. They push me to think harder, to be more honest, to read more widely, to listen more broadly, to get my hands dirty, to stop compartmentalizing my life, to live more seamlessly. They make me examine my choices and my priorities. They question me, they pray for me. When I grow weary, they hold my arms up and growl “don’t you dare sit down.” These women have stretched my opinions, my theology, my mind, and my heart until I hardly know my own shape anymore.

The funny thing is that they do this just by getting on with it – no sermons, no programs, no big manifestos, just a company of women being brave in ordinary ways, each so different from the other.

They are being brave with their own lives and so, because I am alongside of them, I am learning to be brave, too.

Their lives are a cadence I want to carry:

others first,

pay attention,

open heart,

work well,

rest radically,

open doors,

live prophetically,

make room in your life to be inconvenienced,

challenge,

love well – 

be brave together.

I stumble so often, I get cranky and melodramatic and self-important.

March, they say.

Pick up your one small stone, they say, we’ve got a mountain to move.

It’s a risk. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. There is a price to pay, a cost to be counted. Reorienting your life around what you believe about God and what it means to be truly human and believing every small life or act of justice matters comes with a cost.

We are counting that cost. And it’s worth it. Every time. Even when we’re wrong, even when we screw up, even when we sink beneath the waves and find ourselves scrambling back to the boat, licking our wounds, being brave together is worth it.

It means we get to try again. Together.

brave together :: sarah bessey

edited from the archives

Continue Reading · faith, fearless, friends · 25

The Sanitized Stories We Tell

besseys-157

In the early days of a pregnancy, I went to see the midwife every month. Then it became every two weeks. Then, it began to feel as if I saw my midwife more often than I picked up my mail. We would go through the usual routine: blood pressure (always low), heart rate (always low), measure the size of my baby bump (always jaw-droopingly huge). For my last baby, I went to a new midwife and midwifery practice for me. My former practice closed up shop and moved to Chilliwack a few years ago so I started from scratch here. One of the reasons why I love midwifery is that instead of walking in and checking off tick-boxes, I have found that midwives typically (not always! I know a lot of wonderful OBGYNs who are very woman-centric, too) focus just as much on my emotional and spiritual state as on my physical state, believing that all of the aspects of my life are deeply connected to birth and health. I’ve found pregnancy and giving birth to be my greatest metaphor, absolutely, too. I can’t separate my spirit from my body particularly during such a mighty time of life.

Near the end of my pregnancy, I confessed to her that I hadn’t been sleeping well. It wasn’t just the typical have-to-pee-every-hour stuff (although that’s very real, people). And it was more than the bout of sickness we had had here for the past few weeks. I was run off my feet with sick kids and a sick husband, culminating in my own punishing chest cold. Yes, I was up coughing but that wasn’t it, either.

Really, it was the dreaming.

I have vivid dreams at the best of times. I don’t know if it’s the INFJ thing or a spirit-gift thing but I’ve often had a weird dream connection to my spirit and even, I would argue, to the Holy Spirit. I’ve often experienced almost a sense of the prophetic in dreams – for my self, for my husband, for our children, even for my sister on occasion. It seems to be a place where I meet God or work through life for some weird reason. So I know enough by now to pay attention to my dreams. And in the last weeks of my last pregnancy, my dreams became oddly consuming and consistent.

I would dream in vivid detail of my actual self in my actual life. I even dreamed the same pajamas that I was wearing at that moment. And in my dream, I woke up to find that I had either given birth to the baby in my sleep or – more frequently – that I was about to give birth. In the dream, I would wake up out of my sleep and feel the baby just seconds from being born. And then I would feel an absolute tidal wave of grief and fear and anxiety, a profound sense of aloneness in such a key moment of my life. Then I would wake up. And inevitably, when I woke up, I would have a hard time distinguishing between the real and the dream. It would take me a few panicked moments to realize that it was a dream, that it wasn’t actually happening.  And I would have this dream all night, every night, for weeks. I repeatedly woke up, panicked that I was having the baby alone. I went to bed every night in dread of it.

So I told my midwife about my dreams. I told her in the way that I always tell things that alarm me: I joked about it. I don’t know if I’m the only person who does this, but I have some weird affliction that makes me downplay or self-deprecate my own fears or needs. I joke about them in an attempt to disarm them, perhaps, to downplay my hurts or my fears or even my grief. So I told her about my dream and then tried to crack a few jokes at my own expense, “oh, can you even imagine that happening?” and “as if I need another reason for disrupted sleep!”

Har har har.

I think this is one of the reasons why I love midwives, they have a finely tuned bullshit detector and aren’t afraid to call me on it. They see right through my “it’s not so bad” and “ha ha” and “it’s not a big deal” words to my spirit somehow. And so without missing a beat, without even cracking a smile at my lame attempts to disarm my own fear, Carolyn looked me right in the eye and said, “Sarah. Have you ever dealt with the trauma of your son’s birth?”

And just like that, I couldn’t breathe.

I started to cry. I hadn’t even said it out loud and she knew somehow exactly what these dreams were about: they were about my birth experience with our son.

At the time, it had been six years since I had an unattended, unintended free birth. That basically means that I went into labour, the baby came too quickly, and we were left in our building’s parking garage having a big baby by ourselves. It’s a story I have told a million times, usually for a laugh. I use it as an ice-breaking anecdote at women’s retreats, I wrote about it on my blog, I use it as a sermon illustration when I preach at Christmas: I have all my jokes down pat. I tell people about how I hung onto a cement pole and hollered at my husband that the baby was going to FALL OUT. I tell them about the crowd of strangers standing around us, calling 911 on their mobile phones. I crack a joke about how I’m so glad that this happened before the days of smart phones, otherwise it would have been all over Buzzfeed before the placenta was delivered. I tell them about the guy who walked out in the middle of it all, took in the scene, and said “I think I’m going to take the bus!” before beating a hasty retreat. I tell them about standing up with my husband’s arms under my arms, a total stranger kneeling at my feet to make sure that the baby didn’t hit the cement floor, and how I delivered that nearly 9 lbs baby boy into my own hands. I tell them about the fire trucks and the ambulance, I joke about how my mother’s nerves will never recover, I always get a laugh when I tell everyone about how I was whisked away in an ambulance with our baby and Brian was left standing alone in the parking lot wondering what in the hell just happened. He went into shock and just mechanically started cleaning the floors instead of following us. A guy wandered out into the parking lot, took in all of the blood all over the floor, and freaked out, thinking someone had gotten shot. Meanwhile, I went to triage at the hospital to be stitched up by an over-tired ER doctor whose stitching consigned me to a year of recovery from that experience.

Oh, I’ve got all the jokes for that birth experience. Har har har.

My mother has often broached the subject with me, wondering if I was as upset by that experience as she was. But she underestimates my ability to compartmentalize. I can compartmentalize like it’s my spiritual gift. I’m even better at compartmentalizing than I am at being passive-aggressive, and that is saying something.

No, I have not dealt with that trauma, Carolyn. I do not feel like I am allowed to be traumatized: it turned out fine. Look! See! A healthy baby! Everything is fine! I’m fine! He’s fine! We’re all fine! Let’s move on! It ended well and so let’s not make a fuss about it. Let’s carry on.

But six years later, I was reliving that moment of feeling so completely out of control, so afraid, so alone, so unprepared, so exposed over and over and over again in my dreams because I refused to feel it in my awake life.

If we don’t deal with our trauma, our trauma begins to deal with us. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel our feelings, they have a habit of peeking around the corners of our lives, breaking in at the most inopportune moments. And like most damage we experience – whether it was inflicted on us by another or by ourselves or just because this is life and, as Wesley said, life is suffering princess, it’s almost always rooted in our fears but it manifests for each of us different – rage, anger, self-harm, self-neglect, frenzy, numbing, whatever.

I didn’t need tips on how to sleep better. I needed to deal with the root of my sleeping problems and that was unresolved trauma about birth.

As soon as she asked that gentle question, her pen down in her lap, her eyes straight on me, I knew that she had sliced right through to the issue. I had not dealt with my fears and trauma from my son’s birth. And so my spirit or subconscious or whatever you want to call it was going to keep tapping me resolutely on the shoulder until I finally did so.

I feel like we give out gold stars to people who get over things quickly. And like any former evangelical over-achiever I wanted my gold star. We want people to heal on a timeline. Yes, yes, that’s terrible but aren’t you over it yet?

It makes me wonder how much of my trauma or sin or grief or devastation I have not dealt with yet. I wonder about my miscarriages. I wonder about my damaged body image from years of trying to earn approval for my uncooperative body. I wonder about this season of my life now – am I dealing well with this new season? With the death of a few dreams? With my new reoriented path? Or am I just shoving it away away away from myself, tucking it in my secret room, refusing to deal with it. My trauma is my own, you have yours, we each have it.

And sometimes we judge or rank our sorrows, I know I do, I feel I don’t get to be sad when other people are sadder for better reasons. I stack my sorrows up against the sufferings of others and think that because I don’t have it as bad as someone else  that I don’t get to grieve, I don’t get to talk about it, I don’t get to deal with it. So because I survived that birth and because Joseph miraculously survived that birth experience, I have to be over it. Now.

And I was not over it, not really. It had just taken me six years to admit it.

Carolyn took the time that day to walk me through my memories: the sad and scary ones. Instead of my anecdotes and one-liners, my jocular “it’s all fine now” version, she let me tell the other side of it. How I was angry. How I was afraid. How I bitterly regretted leaving our apartment, how I blamed everyone else for that decision – we lived only five minutes from the hospital and everyone was desperate to get me to the People Who Knew What To Do. How I put my hands between my legs and felt the perfect dome of my son’s head there and knew that this was happening. How I felt so wildly out of control and afraid. How it felt to have strangers watching me as I squatted and exposed myself and blood ran down my legs. How it felt to be cold and how it smelled like gasoline and cement, how I tore so horribly because there was no midwife there to easily guide the baby safely out of me. How much I missed my husband at the hospital and how we couldn’t find him, not knowing he’d gone into shock at the parkade and was blindly trying to clean up the mess we had made of the floor there. How I resented the ER triage doctor for butchering my stitches so thoroughly.  And how I couldn’t stop thinking “what if what if what if” as I nursed that wee boy in the hospital that night. What if he’d needed oxygen. What if I had dropped him. What if he had been hurt. What if I haemorrhaged. What if what if what if. I could never have forgiven myself if he had been hurt. Never.

I had never told my dark side. I had never admitted to the terror and the pain and the humiliation of that experience. I had prepackaged it for consumption, leaving out the very darkness that gave the light its beauty.

I had turned my son’s birth story into an anecdote and in so doing, I had lessened the power of our experience.

It is a glorious and weird story, yes, but it’s also a dark story to me, filled with regret and fear as well as laughter and resolution.

It makes me wonder how much pressure we feel to sanitize our stories so that they don’t make people uncomfortable, how we anecdote our experience with the lightness or the healing or birth or new life alone in order to make it acceptable. We simplify and sanitize and so we miss the healing we could have if we only spoke the whole truth.

We then talked about what would be different this time around. Now if, heaven forbid, that happened again, what would be different? We crafted a detailed contingency plan – a plan we ended up needing to use as even Maggie’s birth did not go “as planned” either. And so we go, disarming the fear with honesty, with empathy, with letting ourselves admit that its not okay and we need help to become okay, and then by empowering ourselves.

I left her office that afternoon feeling cleansed.

And that night, I went to bed and I slept. I slept and slept. I slept like I hadn’t slept in months, easily and lightly and dreamlessly.

image by Sharalee Prang Photography

Continue Reading · fearless, giving birth, Hold Fast, journey, parenting · 186

Damaged Goods

i am damaged goods

I was nineteen years old and crazy in love with Jesus when that preacher told an auditorium I was “damaged goods” because of my sexual past. He was making every effort to encourage this crowd of young adults to “stay pure for marriage.” He was passionate, yes, well-intentioned, and he was a good speaker, very convincing indeed.

And he stood up there and shamed me, over and over and over again.

Oh, he didn’t call me up to the front and name me. But he stood up there and talked about me with such disgust, like I couldn’t be in that real-life crowd of young people worshipping in that church. I felt spotlighted and singled out amongst the holy, surely my red face announced my guilt to every one.

He passed around a cup of water and asked us all to spit into it. Some boys horked and honked their worst into that cup while everyone laughed. Then he held up that cup of cloudy saliva from the crowd and asked, “Who wants to drink this?!”

And every one in the crowd made barfing noises, no way, gross!

“This is what you are like if you have sex before marriage,” he said seriously, “you are asking your future husband or wife to drink this cup.”

Over the years the messages melded together into the common refrain: “Sarah, your virginity was a gift and you gave it away. You threw away your virtue for a moment of pleasure. You have twisted God’s ideal of sex and love and marriage. You will never be free of your former partners, the boys of your past will haunt your marriage like soul-ties. Your virginity belonged to your future husband. You stole from him. If – if! – you ever get married, you’ll have tremendous baggage to overcome in your marriage, you’ve ruined everything. No one honourable or godly wants to marry you. You are damaged goods, Sarah.”

If true love waits, I heard, then I have been disqualified from true love.

In the face of our sexually-dysfunctional culture, the Church longs to stand as an outpost of God’s ways of love and marriage, purity and wholeness.

And yet we twist that until we treat someone like me – and, according to this research, 80% of you are like me –  as if our value and worth was tied up in our virginity.

We, the majority non-virgins in the myopic purity conversations,  feel like the dirty little secret, the not-as-goods, the easily judged example.  In this clouded swirl of shame, our sexual choices are the barometer of our righteousness and worth. We can’t let any one know, so we keep it quiet, lest any one discover we were not virgins on some mythic wedding night. We don’t want to be the object of disgust or pity or gossip or judgement. And in the silence, our shame – and the lies of the enemy – grow.

And so here, now, I’ll stand up and say it, the way I wish someone had said it to me fifteen years ago when I was sitting in that packed auditorium with my heart racing, wrists aching, eyes stinging, drowning and silenced by the imposition of shame masquerading as ashes of repentance:

“So, you had sex before you were married.

It’s okay.

Really. It’s okay.

There is no shame in Christ’s love. Let him without sin cast the first stone. You are more than your virginity – or lack thereof – and more than your sexual past.

Your marriage is not doomed because you said yes to the boys you loved as a young woman. Your husband won’t hold it against you, he’s not that weak and ego-driven, choose a man marked by grace.

It’s likely you would make different choices, if you knew then what you know now, but, darling, don’t make it more than it is, and don’t make it less than it is. Let it be true, and don’t let anyone silence you or the redeeming work of Christ in your life out of shame.

Now, in Christ, you’re clear, like Canadian mountain water, rushing and alive, quenching and bracing, in your wholeness.

Virginity isn’t a guarantee of healthy sexuality or marriage. You don’t have to consign your sexuality to the box marked “Wrong.” Your very normal and healthy desires aren’t a switch to be flipped. Morality tales and false identities aren’t the stuff of a real marriage. Purity isn’t judged by outward appearances and technicalities. The sheep and the goats are not divided on the basis of their virginity. (Besides, this focus is weird and over-realized, it’s the flip side of the culture’s coin which values women only for their sexuality. It’s also damaging, not only for you, but for the virgins in the room, too. Really, there’s a lot of baggage from this whole purity movement heading out into the world.)

For I am convinced, right along with the Apostle Paul, that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any other power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.* Not even “neither virginity nor promiscuity” and all points between can separate you from this love. You are loved – without condition – beyond your wildest dreams already.

I would say: Sarah, your worth isn’t determined by your virginity. What a lie.

No matter what that preacher said that day, no matter how many purity balls are thrown with sparkling upper-middle-class extravagance, no matter the purity rings and the purity pledges, no matter the judgemental Gospel-negating rhetoric used with the best of intentions, no matter the “how close is too close?” serious conversations of boundary-marking young Christians, no matter the circumstances of your story, you are not disqualified from life or from joy or from marriage or from your calling or from a healthy and wonderful lifetime of sex because you had – and, heaven forbid, enjoyed – sex before you were married.

Darling, young one burning with shame and hiding in the silence, listen now: Don’t believe that lie.

You never were, you never will be, damaged goods.”

 

image source, creative commons

Apostle Paul quote from Romans 8:38-39

 


And now:

Two years ago, almost to the day, we published this essay of mine at A Deeper Story. Since ADS will be closing up shop soon, I have slowly been reading my old posts there and backing them up for my own records. I decided to republish this one here today. It remains my most popular Deeper Story post, yes, but it is also one of my most popular ever. At the time when it was written, it was sort of surprise for a Christian woman to write a story like this. And then it went crazy. Comments spiraled out of control. I spent months fielding emails and letters from people who were so relieved, who felt free for the first time from the shame. It was amazing to witness. Of course, I was called horrible names in public, threatened several times. There were dozens and dozens of “response posts” written about me, shaming all over again, but twice as many were written saying, “Me, too! me, too!” Larger conversations about purity and purity culture spun off. I wrote this follow-up at the time.

This is the power of story, I believe. As we always say at A Deeper Story, it’s easy to tell someone your opinion. The hard work is in telling your story. At the time, there were so few places who were willing to “go there” into the wounds and hurts and deeper questions of our faith, so few who were listening to those of us outside of the usual shiny-happy-Jesus-people narratives. I’m so glad I wrote it, so glad for a place like A Deeper Story to publish it.

So before Deeper Story disappears from the Internet, I wanted to point to a few of the iconic posts from that beloved community:

Where else would we have read such powerful or life-changing posts as Mary DeMuth’s The Sexy Wife I Can’t Be?

Or Ashleigh Baker’s What I Won’t Tell You About My Ballet-Dancing Son?

Or Nish Weiseth’s post about Mormonism called Choosing to Listen?

Or how Amanda Williams’ found God in a little white pill?

Or Addie Zierman’s defence of the 4-letter words?

Or Micah Murray’s confession that he doesn’t want to be a good Christian anymore?

There are so many incredible stories there, so much bravery and truth-telling. I have a hard time no listing every single writer who has graced our community over the years, one after another after another.

It’s been a good ride. My deepest thanks to Nish Weiseth for creating A Deeper Story four years ago and then for taking a chance on me. Not only did it change my life as a writer, the community also opened doors to some of my dearest friendships. I’ll always be grateful.

 

 

Continue Reading · A Deeper Story, faith, fearless · 32

Being Brave Together

In the moments when we wonder why we bother, when we feel futile and small and ridiculous, when we feel misunderstood and mischaracterized, when we are paying a price, it’s in those moments that we learn the truth about being brave: it doesn’t always feel good.

If, as Aristotle supposedly posited, the only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing, well, then that’s certainly an option. And sometimes a very alluring option. Be nothing, do nothing, say nothing, watch more television, buy more stuff.

Everyone likes to talk about being fearless, about owning your truth, about standing up and being counted. We sing songs in church about being brave, we blast music in the minivan and shake shake shake it off, we hang prints up in our homes about courage, we talk about brave people or follow them on social media until we somehow make ourselves believe that we ourselves are somehow brave.

I think we like to talk a lot about being brave because the actual doing of it is so freaking terrifying. And tiring. And ordinary.

It’s my belief that true fearlessness comes from living loved. When we find our worth and our value in Christ, then, as the Psalmist wrote, what can man do to us? I don’t think we can be a people-pleaser or an approval-addict AND be brave with our lives. Perhaps that’s why fearlessness or bravery starts with our identity first, it’s the deep well from which we draw living water, enough for today.

I believe that bravery is born in the quiet and ordinary moments long before it’s seen by anyone else. Sometimes it’s as simple and devastating as the moments no one else will ever see – the moments of daring to be honest with our own self, of laying down our excuses or justifications or disguises, of asking ourselves what we really want, of forgiveness, of honesty, of choosing the hard daily work of restoration, of staying resolutely alive when every one else is just numbing themselves against life. These are why our friends matter so deeply: they are witness to the sacred secrets. Not all secrets are terrifying things, some of them are beautiful and transformative.

But then come moments – those turning point moments, when you know it matters more than anyone else would know from the outside. The “yes” you need to say, the “no” you need to enforce, the truth you need to speak, the life you dare to imagine, the risk you take, the art you create, the establishment you defy, the danger you face, the living out of what you profess, whatever. Those moments are our turning points because when we look back on them, we say and then something changed.

That is true. Usually it’s us, we’re the ones who change. We take another tentative step out onto the water, a bit further away from the boat of our safety. And we do it alongside of each other, hand in hand, never alone.

I have learned the hard way that we usually can’t be brave on our own.

The ways we connect with each other might be quite typical – Sunday morning services or school pick-ups or bible studies at church or school or work or afternoon walks. Or more typical to our generation – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, texting. Either way, we don’t feel quite so alone in our moments of choosing brave. We feel seen, we feel heard, we feel prayer at our back and a sisterhood waiting up ahead of us on the path.

Together makes us braver.

I am surrounded by interesting and dangerous women. Sometimes this is wonderful, other times it’s exhausting, it is always challenging. Because they push me. They push me to think harder, to be more honest, to read more widely, to listen more broadly, to get my hands dirty, to stop compartmentalizing my life, to live more seamlessly. They make me examine my choices and my priorities. They question me, they pray for me. When I grow weary, they hold my arms up and growl “don’t you dare sit down.” These women have stretched my opinions, my theology, my mind, and my heart until I hardly know my own shape anymore.  The funny thing is that they do this just by getting on with it – no sermons, no programs, no big manifestos, just a company of women being brave in ordinary ways, each so different from the other.

They are being brave with their own lives and so, because I am alongside of them, I am learning to be brave, too.

Their lives are a cadence I want to carry: others first, pay attention, open heart, work well, rest radically, open doors, live prophetically, make room in your life to be inconvenienced, challenge, love well. I stumble so often, I get cranky and melodramatic and self-important. March, they say. Pick up your one small stone, they say, we’ve got a mountain to move.

It’s a risk. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. There is a price to pay, a cost to be counted. Reorienting your life around what you believe about God and what it means to be truly human and believing every small life or act of justice matters comes with a cost. We are counting that cost. And it’s worth it. Every time. Even when we’re wrong, even when we screw up, even when we sink beneath the waves and find ourselves scrambling back to the boat, licking our wounds, being brave together is worth it. It means we get to try again. Together.

Continue Reading · faith, fearless, journey · 72

Flutters and faith

Faith and Flutters

I have three tinies and this is my eighth pregnancy. Those kinds of odds can mess with a woman.

As I said a few weeks ago when I first told you about this baby, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. I spent the first four months of this pregnancy convinced that it wasn’t viable, unable to muster up any hope that Tiny #4 would actually be in my arms in February.

I spent those days waiting for a sign, just one sign, to demonstrate to me that this baby had half a chance. I prayed for it. (I never had a single sign.) Then came no heartbeat and then another non-heartbeat and then finally, crazily, 173 beats a minute and the assurance that so far, so good.

I had a heartbeat confirmation. And that was it.

You name the pregnancy “symptom” of your choice – morning sickness, sore breasts, exhaustion, mood swings, food sensitivities or aversions, whatever – and I had it with the three babies I carried to term. More tellingly, I did not experience them with all of my losses. That was always my first indicator that something wasn’t quite right with the pregnancy – my body quietly returned to normal and so I quietly began to grieve.

Tiny #4 continues to defy my script.

I have longed for morning sickness in a way that must baffle and offend women who are severely struck down during pregnancy. I don’t mean to make light of those who suffer in this way. But I went through my days perfectly fine, bright and energetic – and I hated every minute of it. My body still felt, well, not pregnant.

Come on, I would bargain with my body. Let me be sick today. It would sure help my anxiety.

When I carried Anne and Joe and Evelynn, I leaned heavily on those little indicators like morning sickness or migraines, swollen feet and exhaustion because they meant that something was still happening. Someone was still there. Someone was taking up space in my body and making their presence known. With Tiny #4, I have not had those reassurances.

My last rung of the hope ladder was this one: feeling the baby move. I always feel my babies moving very early, perhaps because I’m paying such close attention. As I passed day after day of this pregnancy without a single indicator to justify any hope, I waited expectantly for week 14. (I felt Anne at 16 weeks, both Joe and Evelynn as early as 14 weeks. This is uncommonly early but it’s usual for me.) This is a sure one, I thought, soon I’ll know I can relax and just enjoy this pregnancy instead of always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Surely, surely, surely with a fourth baby, I would be feeling this one move at the same time, possibly even earlier. Then I would know what to expect, then I would be bold enough to pray with assurance.

Week 14 passed, no movement.

Week 15, then 16. I voiced some concern to my family.

Then we passed week 17, then 18, then 19 weeks.

Still no movement within me, still no flutters, still no someone making their presence known.

As Week 20 drew near, it seemed that I was even being denied this milestone. The books and my midwife all said it wasn’t time to panic yet and so I waited (not-so) patiently for my next ultrasound appointment, this deviation from my expected script sent me reeling. Even if it wasn’t a big deal to anyone else, to me it meant everything.

Every small thing that I have used to justify my faith and confidence and hope during a pregnancy has been denied to me during this pregnancy. I don’t know why.

The days are a bit long when you’re waiting without assurance.  I think I used to confuse faith with my longing for control, particularly of outcomes. Even now, it’s a lame sort of faith, mine, the kind that waits for a sign before taking the risk. Faith feels like a release to me, it’s safer to put my confidence in my abilities or in hard work or proper behaviours or whatever new thing I’m using to wrest control in my life.

Like so many aspects of my spirituality, I am still a bit in-between, figuring out what I reclaim and what I relinquish, living with a few unanswered questions while relying heavily on the few things I do know – and almost all of those can be summed up in my complete and utter confidence in Love. God is for us, who can be against us?

Over these weeks, I felt like a fragmented woman, believing and unbelieving all at once.

One old-school part of me was going all word-of-faith on this baby: praying Scripture, declaring the Word, binding and loosing all sorts of things, declaring life and not death, you name it, I’d claim it. Another part of me was already grieving and giving up. Another part of me prayed for belief even while acknowledging my own unbelief. One part of me wondered how I even dared to pray and expect God to move for me when I already had three beautiful children and there are far more important things in the world about which I should be praying, how selfish could I be? Another part of me relinquished outcomes, trusting God implicitly no matter the outcome while simultaneously raging against that very thing.

I am a woman of prayer. It sounds bold-faced to write it down, but there it is. I write it anyway. Prayer comes easily to my spirit – perhaps it is because a former pastor of ours once told us that the same part of us that worries is the part of us that prays. I knew I could worry constantly, so that meant I could pray constantly.

And so I do. I always have. I move through my day with an awareness of my companionship with the Spirit and we talk always, sometimes even with words. I pray, this is what I do. It feels small, so small, in the face of great pain or sorrow or injustice or uncertainty or even joy, but I pray anyway. I carry people and movements, requests and hearts within me like candlelight that I revisit often to hold in my hands and breathe over in prayer.

I don’t believe I can control God through prayer or through faith, I don’t believe God is waiting for me to “prove” that I have enough faith or know enough Bible verses to argue the points. In fact, I don’t believe in praying with an agenda most of the time. Yet as the days of my waiting for this baby to just move already went by, I prayed to or wondered at God, grappling with my questions and my doubt, with my beliefs about the nature and character and heart of our God and the very real reality of our fallen world.

Fearlessly, fearfully, I prayed for life.

And I prayed for faith. I prayed for faith to believe for life and for health for a small person. I prayed because who else was going to keep praying? who else was going to stand guard over this small one and hang on for dear life, who else but her mother? this is what we do, we stay even when it would make more sense to give up. I prayed because I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to be the one to back down from a fight over my child.

I felt more like the annoying woman of persistence from one of Jesus’ parables, she who stood outside the door of a judge pestering his life out until he gave in with bad grace. Jesus called her a woman of great faith, I call her my only hope.

I couldn’t muster up my old definitions of faith but I could keep relentlessly hope-knocking as my radical act of faith.

Two weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I was laying in bed alone (a rarity) when the baby finally made her presence known: I’m here. She shifted and moved within my womb with a small whoosh, and my heart throbbed. There you are, I breathed. There you are. I’ve been waiting for you.

Then she moved like a fish in water, a rolling and a stretching with natural ease that seemed to say, what? you were worried?

I stayed in bed, silent, feeling her move within me, like faith, a flutter of a presence, growing. There was plenty of time to tell my husband, my mother, my sister, my friends. Right then, it was time to pray and every word in my mind and mouth, every flutter was thank you thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyou.

Still I wonder about faith and the nature of prayer, I still hold my understandings loosely. Faith isn’t certainty, I know that by now. If I was certain, I wouldn’t need faith. I think it’s a gift and a choice, sometimes at the same time. I think it’s a confidence in the midst of doubt, it’s work and it’s rest. Faith is a risk and it’s gorgeous to let go into the free fall.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote in her book, Animal Dreams, “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”

These days, that sounds a lot like Hebrews 11 to me. So right now I think faith is figuring out what I hope for – redemption, wholeness, shalom, justice, love, life, one small baby to live and not die, all of it – and then fearlessly living under that roof.

It’s been a couple of weeks since that Saturday. As I write these words, this baby within me moves and kicks and pokes mercilessly, stretching and growing, I still nearly exhale with relief every time. Our baby is alive and well and growing stronger still – I take no credit and I am still wary of proclaiming anything definitive.

After all, if I say that God performed a miracle this time, what does that mean for my other babies, the ones I never got to hold except in my folded-up tea towels? I can’t forget them. Yet if I say that it’s just a happy coincidence, am I taking away from the miracle and the glory for God’s mighty act for a seemingly small and ordinary woman and her unborn child? It’s both and it’s neither, it’s holy ground for that very reason, for the uncertainty and the praise, one in each hand. I can only say that fearless prayer did what it always does: it changed me.

I still pray and will always pray like that one thing is true: God is for us. And it’s worthwhile to keep knocking.

That’s about all I know about faith for sure.

Just a couple of days later, we had our ultrasounds. It confirmed what I already knew well by now: our wee one is healthy and whole, all is well. The technician might as well have hung a big neon sign up that said: Chill Out, Sarah. And Congratulations.

Because, didn’t I mention? …. we’re having a girl.

photo by Rachel Barkman Photography (from back when I was VERY pregnant with Evelynn) 

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