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A complicated peace

complicated peace

This surprise pregnancy arrived with more complicated feelings than I expected. I don’t think it makes me a bad mum or a bad woman to admit to that complexity, to confess the squirrelly, overwhelmed, and terrified feelings of a complete reorientation of my life.

Once we knew that the baby was healthy and all was well, the reality of the changes ahead hit me.

Whoa. We are having a baby. An actual baby.

Aren’t I too old for this? We were done having babies for very good reasons – not the least of which is my history of miscarriages. I thought my life was going in one direction and now it’s going in a completely new direction. I had thought I was starting one particular chapter of my life, one that brought me a lot of joy – tinies growing into marvellous big kids, finally emerging from the fog of babies-toddlers mothering, and a strong sense of purpose around my own vocation, for instance – but when I flipped the page, there was unprecedented change for us. A baby. Wow.

This baby was my cry-of-the-heart baby, absolutely. I longed for her life even as I made plans to move into our new chapters with gratitude. And a bit of disorientation is good for a person, I think.

The later-babies are a different sort of feeling, I’ve found, a bit more complicated and precious for that very thing. I was starry-eyed at the thought of one last little baby to treasure, one last time to experience pregnancy, birth, nursing, all of it. We’ve been washing impossibly tiny sleepers, reorganizing the house, borrowing my sister’s baby gear.

One of the best parts of this pregnancy so far has been sharing it with the tinies themselves. I had all three of them in four years so they were practically babies themselves as each one arrived. This time, they crowd around me on the couch, their hands spread all over my bump, shrieking in joy with each rewarding kick or push back from inside.

Me? I have full intentions of making an absolute fool of myself over this wee girl: now I know that it goes so fast, too fast.

And yet I believe that there is room for a bit of grief in the joy and gratitude. Throughout this pregnancy, I have felt disappointed in myself, too: disappointed that I wasn’t yay-happy-unicorns-and-rainbows-and-babies-forever at every single moment, disappointed that I felt both some disorientation and complication, even some grief, along with the joy.

I wanted uncomplicated pure joy, but instead I have spent this pregnancy grappling with faith and what it means to trust God, then with the realities of change coming our way, even with my own limitations. I can’t do it all. I can’t keep up the life that I had envisioned beginning and be the mother that I know I love to be, the mother I’m called to be, to this wee girl, let alone to the tinies as they grow up. I’ve heard it said that babies and toddlers are physically tiring but big kids are emotionally and spiritually tiring: so far that’s proven true to me. I’ve been admitting my weaknesses and limits, even my preferences and desires particularly if they are different than other people’s expectations.

I have been honest with my trusted ones over these months, confessing my complicated feelings and my occasional swings between sheer joy and sheer terror. I’ve also worked with my naturopath and midwife to make sure that I’m healthy and strong for birth and post-partum emotionally and physically. I’ve received a lot of encouragement and prayer, understanding and “you’re not alone” moments. The advice that almost every woman has given me, particularly from my friends who have experienced a surprise or unplanned pregnancy at any point in their life, has been this: just wait, let yourself feel what you feel, you get to be both happy and sad. Trust that the peace will come when it is time. Maybe not right away, maybe not at the moment you expect or want, but peace will come.

This pregnancy has become another altar for encountering God. For some reason, mothering is my place of surrender and trust, out of my control and yet such a sweet place of building trust and authenticity.

My friend, Wendy, who is an amazing seamstress presented us with a quilt she made for Tiny #4. I couldn’t even thank her, my voice was gone with gratitude, my eyes filled with tears. I already feel myself fighting for the little fourth baby, the one who gets the hand-me-downs and the seen-it-all-befores so this special and beautiful gift, just for our new wee girl, all hers and only hers, was powerful to me.

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Last week, we had another ultrasound. I have big babies and so our midwives always like to get a good idea of what’s ahead as we draw near to birth. I went to the appointment alone as we had the flu at our house last week so I didn’t want to risk bringing any germs. (And I just wanted a break from laundry and to breathe fresh air alone, can I get an amen?)

But as I lay there on the table for the procedure, the technician swiping across my belly with her wand, the images were flashing on the screen: here’s her spine, here’s her feet, here’s her heart beating, here’s her hands. She was sucking her thumb which is just incredible to me. Such a little person already.

And then she moved her hand and I caught a glimpse of her lower face. She was beautiful, she looked exactly like all of our babies, but especially like Evelynn to me. They have the same mouth, the big pout with impossibly chubby cheeks. My heart stilled.  I caught my breath at the sight of her.

Oh, I exhaled. Oh, there you are. There you are.

You belong, you’re ours, you’re beautiful, there you are. 

The peace flooded into my heart at the sight of her mouth, just her mouth. Peace that she was ours, she belonged with us, we longed for her, we need her, we love her, we cherish her, we are so privileged, so blessed.

The complicated feelings might still be real, still there, sometimes even primary, but it’s a complicated peace now, a trust that the disorientation is part of the gift. Her mouth was enough in that moment.

Yes, life is changing. Yes, this is not what I expected at this point in my life.

And yes, that very thing is the greatest gift, the greatest joy, at the same time. She’s ours, we longed for her, and against all the odds, she’ll be here, real and alive and complicated herself, so very soon.

 

Continue Reading · baby, faith, family, journey · 53

Confessions

Pride is a tricky thing, it makes liars out of us. If we don’t ever admit to our stumbles or our failings, our weaknesses and struggles, then how will we know when we’ve found our people?

I limped back to my community this week. It’s been a long year filled with work and travel, unblogged challenges and changes. In the push to finish this book before the baby arrived and roughly seventeen other complications over the past year for us, we haven’t been as present or involved at our church as usual, particularly over the past couple of months.

I’ve been ashamed of this, feeling as if I’ve sacrificed my local life to just keep swimming. What use is all this thinking about church and community (or for that matter, any of it – justice, beauty, mercy, grace) if we’re not actively involved in living it out in our real lives?

I needed to sing out ahead of my exhaustion so I did. I’m interrupted a million times in church – three tinies will do that to a woman – but I keep circling back, keep jumping back into worship, refocusing again and again and again. I need to hear my own voice singing promises. And I need to be with the ones I’ve chosen as my people.

We hadn’t been at church since before Christmas. My friends met me with hugs and, of course, they asked, How are you doing?

And my pride wanted to say that I was fine! great! never better! living the dream! blessed and highly favoured! (<—old school Pentecostal)

Instead, it was the craziest thing. I cried every time they innocently asked how I was doing. And I made myself say it, out loud: I’m not fine. I’m not okay. Yes, you’re right, I’m exhausted. I’m just so so so tired. I miss my life sometimes. I could use your prayers.

Forget dignity, I need restoration.

Forget pride, I need the prayers of the people who like us.

Forget anonymity, I need to be known even in these moments of emptiness and need.

Church is one of my safe places now. I never would have imagined saying that a few years ago but it’s true. It’s the place I can go when I am the reluctantly needy one. My friends promised prayers, a few even checked on me during the week here and there. I was met with hugs and tenderness, with kindness. It wasn’t much really. Maybe my friends would say it wasn’t a big deal at all, but it was enough for me. I felt seen, I felt like someone who knows me actually cared, I felt their compassion. This is more than enough.

One friend talked to me about arranging for a few meals to brought to us after the baby is born. I wanted to say, No, no, we’re fine, we don’t need anything. I think she saw right through my need to be independent, and she looked me dead in the eye: Sarah, you need to do this. You need to let people bless you. So I said yes, that would be wonderful. Please put me down on the list, yes, bring me food when I have a baby. Why is it so hard to accept help?

And I felt the difference this week, the heaviness hanging over me began to break up above my head, my energy has been slowly returning.

I continue to lean on my community, on the Spirit, and on Scripture. It seems easier to walk away from community for me, easier to be autonomous and anonymous but I find I need the strong three-strand cord more and more.

I longed for this for many years. And yes, our church isn’t perfect and, in fact, it makes me a bit crazy sometimes just like all churches do for all people who show up and put their hearts on the line.

But now, to me, church should be the people I turn to when I am tired, too. My one word for 2015 is Hold Fast, based on Hebrews 10:23, but just a few lines down from my pet focus right now are these words: “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on…”

I don’t think we need a four-walls-and-a-non-profit-status to qualify as church but these people are mine and I am still learning to admit when I need something from them, too. I know Scripture commands us to confess our sins to one another, in order to be healed, but I am also learning to confess my needs, my struggles, even my true state of being. And restoration waits there, too.

So come all you who are weary and exhausted, all you who have poured out of your depths to fill another: be filled, be restored, receive for once. Wherever you find your church, let them be the ones you turn to when you are tired. Let us pray for one another, let us hold fast, let us confess.

 

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, Hold Fast, journey · 23

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 · 70

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) 

Continue Reading · baby, faith, fearless, journey · 67