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Somewheres

Somewheres

It might surprise some people to know that I’m a keeper of secrets. Many secrets, in fact. After all, I’m a blogger: by vocation, an over-sharer, a navel-gazer, an over-thinker with access to a medium. And yet there are vast swaths of my life that never make it to the public eye.

And the parts that do show up here or in a book or even on Instagram often only show up after I’ve wrestled the power away from them and I’m ready for my narrative to emerge for Everywhere. I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber call it “writing out of a scar, instead of a wound.”

***

But we all need somewhere to say the private things, the vulnerable things, the scary and true things, the victories and the defeats. “I need to say it somewhere,” we say. We’re wired for it, we’re wired for community and relationship, for connection.

So then the temptation is to say it Everywhere or to say it Nowhere.

Instead, I’m learning to say these things to my Somewheres.

***

I wonder if it isn’t easier to be honest on social media because we have curated our brand. Every one does it: by their likes, their groups, their filtered photos. We project an image of ourselves out into the world and then we want to interact with the world from within the boundaries of that image. It’s neater, tidier.

Because it’s the people who have access to the un-curated version of ourselves who might tell a different story.

My tinies might tell a very different story about me as a mother than what I’ve put online. My friends would be able to tell you that the whole picture of who I am doesn’t show up online, that in some ways I’m both better than that and so much worse than the public Sarah. Aren’t we all?

As Walt Whitman wrote, “do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

I need somewhere to be large and contradictory. Don’t we all?

***

A while ago, I wasn’t doing so good. I was struggling for a few different reasons. It was tempting to stay utterly silent and keep on until it resolved or until I got over it, as is my usual method.

I’m an INFJ (if you’re into that whole Meyers-Briggs thing) and in times of conflict or difficulty, we withdraw – big time. We go deeply inward and don’t emerge until we’ve settled whatever has been ailing us, until we have developed a nice story with a bow on the top. This is the great frustration of the ones who love me, I hear. I withdraw, I shut down, I retreat in times of conflict both external and internal.

So this is my learned spiritual discipline: I talk to my Somewheres.

I say discipline because that is what it takes for me to reach out during conflict. It takes intentional discipline to be honest while I’m still in the midst of the unfinished struggle. I had to say the words out loud: here are my contradictions. I don’t always do it well.

Ironically, I can be even more reluctant to share my victories than I am to share my imperfections. I have a lively horror of #humblebrag. And yet sometimes cool things happen, amazing things even, and I have found I need somewhere to unapologetically brag, too.

***

The Somewheres are my cure for the Everywhere and the Nowhere. Neither extreme is good for our souls. We can’t say everything to Everyone. It’s foolish and damaging to expose ourselves to every single person with an opinion, to let just anyone’s criticism or direction come to rest heavily on our stories.

And we can’t keep our contradictions, our multitude, all in either, we will be crushed eventually. I think our souls require some release: for wisdom, for perspective, for laughter, for tears, for even the holy act of hearing “I see you and I’m listening.” We need to receive from one another, receive the gifts that God has placed before us in our right-now lives. Paul wrote of this in Galatians 6:2 when he encouraged us to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We need each other. People get a bit squirrelly when they refuse to lay down their masks. No one should be above getting their mail read.

***

“I need to say it somewhere. And you’re my Somewhere,” I said to my friends.

And so we embraced the word, this idea of being each other’s Somewhere. We are the Somewheres. Whether it was for an unapologetic brag or a tearful admission or a “here’s the whole story behind this thing” or a disappointment or frustration in every corner of our lives. Somewhere to say that that The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was amazing and your heart is broken and you can’t get your baby to sleep and you wonder if you’re wasting your life and your marriage isn’t doing so good and you feel alive for the first time and you are tired and you heard a terrible joke and you found a new paint colour for your bedroom and your teenager is giving you attitude.

I have found, too, that good Somewheres listen and see, but they also push back and challenge. As the writer of Hebrews said, we “stir up one another to love and good works.” (10:24) We will become truly human when we are truly communal, we’re made in the image of God, a communal Trinity God. Some part of our soul starves in isolation and in anonymous crowds. The best relationships are reciprocal, an intentional but un-choreographed give-and-take.

***

I believe we can be authentic in our lives. I do. I hope I am authentic, I hope my life is seamless, transparent even. I long to be the same person online as I am off-line, in church as I am in my neighbourhood, at work as I am in my family. I believe we can speak our truth and own our truth and unapologetically write it, share it, speak it, live it. I think it’s best to live as if there is no such thing as a secret, sure. And I believe that while we’re doing that, going through our lives unarmed and with our hearts broken and our hands open, that we still need – perhaps even more – a Somewhere, a safe refuge, a place to work out what is working in us. We can’t be everything to everyone, so why should everyone receive everything that we are?

***

Here are a few things you need to become Somewheres: An ability to welcome the contradictions in each other. Ferocious trust. Secret keeping. A shared sense of humour. A fierce belief in the inherent goodness and holiness of each other. An equal amount of butt-kicking and hair-petting. Bravery. Silliness. A common core. The capacity to laugh through tears. A bullshit detector. An aversion to the phrase, “I’m fine.” Unconditional welcome. Time, so much time. Openness to being challenged. A lot of small and inconsequential talk to lay the foundation for the big scary talks. Loyalty like blood. Showing up at the right time. Light for the darkness. And then there is the part you can’t predict or plan or program: magic. There needs to be a bit of that Holy Spirit drawing together, a sense of purpose and destiny, an answered prayer, a shared language all your own discovered at last.

image via lightstock

 

Continue Reading · community, faith, friends, journey · 41

Ron and Hermione

Ron and Hermione :: Sarah Bessey

We don’t have a big yard, its about the size of a couple postage stamps, give or take a few images of the Queen. But we do have a forest just behind the ordinary chain link fence, a dense coastal forest filled with cedars and squirrels, spirea mountain ash and coyotes. Every September, a mama bear and her cub lumber through for a few weeks and we keep our tinies inside or  carefully supervise them instead of what we usually do: open the door, set the boundaries – “this house to this house, our yard and your best friend’s yard” – and let them go. We have salmonberry bushes and blackberry bushes tangled up around a little creek that runs through, we poke our hands through the thickets, braving scratches, for the first berries of the year. By August, we’ll be sick of blackberries, the jam will already be made.

We don’t live in the wilderness, just a quiet little neighbourhood of semi-detached homes on the edge of town in the valley. We’re next to a blueberry farm. We have been thinking seriously about moving this year. We got so far as to buy a house and set our moving dates but then for a few reasons, it all fell apart. Now that it’s been a few weeks since that disappointment, I’ve come to see the grace hiding in that falling apart. It’s a small thing in the scheme of things, I know, but it loomed large for our little family and was the source of much conversation. We continue to weigh our options, should we stay or should we go?

And life continues. I’m in the midst of editing the new book which is slow going in this season. I stop frequently to nurse the baby or to make lunch or to pick up the tinies from the bus stop. I have a babysitter for our preschooler two mornings a week which is an enormous help. My husband takes the three big kids to my parents’ place for the day on a Saturday now and again, giving me the house and the baby to myself as I try to put a chapter to bed. Serendipitously, two weekends ago when he did that, it was a chapter about how discussions of theology need ordinary people to be involved, how well-educated and well-read and well-travelled scholars also need us low church experiential local folks talking about how we see and experience and know God, about how theologians are hiding in every walk of life. I wrote those words at my kitchen table with the youngest of four tinies beside me, snoring. Naptime writing is urgent writing, sometimes I think it might be my best thinking. This isn’t speculation: if theology – how we think about God and then how we live that out – isn’t for all of us, then what is it even for?

Caring for small children, being a homemaker, can be repetitive and ordinary: laundry, cleaning bathtubs, long walks made twice as long by wandering and questions, grocery shopping, nursing, all of it. Life is rarely as exciting as people like for it to appear on Facebook. We go to church, we participate in leadership meetings to shape the conversations of our communities, we pray for our friends, we make meals, I write posts and articles and books about God, we wash our minivans, we set up the sprinkler for the neighbourhood kids and hand out freezies to hopeful hands, we go to work, we talk about the people we know. Sacred and beautiful, sure, I’ll say that, but also slow and daily and sometimes monotonous, too.

But even in that ordinary work, I keep trying to give shape to the new world, to the dangerous possibilities of living our lives right now as if God saved everything, as if it is all redeemed or being redeemed. If what I believe about Love doesn’t find a roost here in my regular and ordinary and unremarkable life where I learn and practice what Eugene Peterson called “the biggest nouns and verbs,” then I have no right to those words in moments of transformation and change and importance. There are chickadees perched on the railings of the deck, just for a few seconds. They fly in, perch, flinch, and depart, over and over. I like to think they’re all checking for the crumbs leftover from the weekend of eating outside. Maybe they know which house has messy eaters.

My husband and I sat outside on Saturday night, watching the sun set. It’s nearly summer solstice and the days are long. We put the tinies to bed in broad daylight and settled onto our back deck, facing the forest. The sun sank behind the house and that last golden light of the day hit the trees. In the morning, the light is cool and white and sharpening; but in the evening, it’s warm and liquid, it softens the forest.

Brian and I talked about the regular things: should we move? should we stay? We talked about the kids and about work, about the plan for the week ahead. I’m distrustful of people who always seem to be thinking of deep spiritual things, always striving and going-going-going: I think they must be horrible to live with. I think we need the humanity of laughter and Netflix and ordinary life. We poured a glass of white wine each and wrapped ourselves up in blankets. Joe is reading under the covers with a flashlight, I think tonight he’s reading James and the Giant Peach. Anne has left Babysitters Club books littered around the house, Evelynn is devoted to Robert Munsch these days, of course – that slapstick humour perfectly suits her. I secretly love when they sneak-read. Is there any reading more delicious than that sneaky after-bedtime reading when you are a child? The evenings are still cold when the darkness gathers.

We were waiting for our owls. We have two owls out back, I’m not quite sure what kind, perhaps a western screech owl. We have heard that owls mate for life. I don’t know if that’s true or legend, but every year, we see two owls in the summer nights, year after year after year. Our owls come out to hunt. We like to sit there in the near-dark and watch them, swooping down to the forest floor, returning to rest on the branches of the trees with their prizes.

We had a long discussion about what to name our owls, pairs of names are always fun to consider. Romeo and Juliet? Peanut and Butter? Antony and Cleopatra? Nip and Tuck, á la The Blue Castle? Anne and Gilbert? Elizabeth and Darcy? We settled on Ron and Hermione since, well, they are owls and so the Harry Potter books are entirely appropriate.

I don’t think we’re going to move. And it’s entirely the fault of the forest. I live in a tidy little neighbourhood of identical houses, sure, and I don’t have a yard, I get it. But we have the silence of the night and a creek, we have Ron and Hermione, we have the trees, and I don’t think I’m ready to give that up. Maybe I’ll change my mind. A trampoline and a garden would be nice.

When life can feel a bit dull and prosaic, my forest nights somehow keep me grounded in the dense amazement of being alive. I remembered an old Roald Dahl quote I read once, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

I believe in magic.

I believe in ordinary and repetitive and daily boring life and the way magic hides in plain sight.

I believe in church picnics and breastfeeding, I believe books matter and summer nights are for sitting outside while the sun sets. I believe in good coffee and eating berries off the bush. I believe in going for walks with children because they are so slow and perfectly inefficient. I believe our theology is formed in our lives and experiences, and I believe we need to listen to each other. I believe in working hard and loving what we do. I believe in unsupervised children and sidewalk chalk and sprinklers. I believe in kitchen tables and piles of books. I believe in windows being wide open while sun-tanned children go to sleep at a reasonable hour so that they can read under the covers with a flashlight. I believe in heavy blankets for cool summer nights and long conversations over a shared bottle of wine, I believe love lasts a lifetime even if it changes, and I believe in birdsong in the morning. I believe in owls.

image source

Continue Reading · canada, enough, faith, family, journey, love, marriage, moments · 38

[Love Looks Like] 14: On marriage, making magic, and demands

On marriage :: Sarah Bessey

It’s been fourteen years today since I walked-when-I-wanted-to-run down the chapel aisle to you. Do you remember how the sun was shining but the air was still heavy and wet with the Oklahoma thunderstorm of the day before? We were kids, really, with the intensity of evangelicals about everything from God to each other to our dreams for the future, and that’s okay. We grew up together and that has its own kind of crazy.

You used to be a night owl but that has changed over the years in response to the demands of family life and work. You still love a sleep-in now and then. I’ve always been a morning lark but now I love a good sleep-in too and so we trade – Saturday for one, Sunday for the other. The rest of our life, we rise early trying to get a jump on the day. I hear about couples who wake up early to read the Bible together but that’s never been our thing. You get up and head straight out the door to work in a career you never imagined yourself in fourteen years ago. I get up and head straight upstairs to get the four babies we made ready for their day, pouring cereal and taming curls and brushing teeth and searching for library books. After everyone is out the door, I will settle in to write a sermon. It’s the job I never imagined myself doing fourteen years ago.

We did remember to say “happy anniversary” today. This isn’t a year for big celebrations, we know that. We can’t even manage a supper out yet, our last little baby is still too new for such indulgences. Other people don’t quite get this priority but we get it. We’ve learned by now that there is plenty of time for suppers-out and date-nights and get-aways, these sorts of baby-days only happen a few times in our life. And we’re perfectly happy to be home with the four tinies and take-out.

Maybe next year we’ll do something fun.

Does that sound familiar? Remember how we were planning a trip to the U.K. for our fifth anniversary but then I was six months pregnant on our anniversary and we went to Stanley Park instead. Then we made plans for Mexico for our tenth but instead, well, Evelynn was just four weeks old and we went to Vancouver for a day instead. Then we started to make plans for a driving tour of the western coastlines for our fifteenth but Margaret will only be a year old by then and likely still nursing so we’ll see. Well, maybe the big twenty! Big twenty! we joked.

Who are we kidding?

I remember when we were dating and we didn’t have a dollar for a Sonic drink between the two of us. We used to walk to Walmart across the parking lot of the Mabee Centre in Tulsa on Saturday nights, ending up sitting under the trees and the stars, waxing philosophic as only two college kids who take themselves too seriously can. We never ran out of things to say and we still haven’t. I’d still walk to Walmart with you. When we have an ordinary sort of night, you say, “We made walking to Walmart into a fantastic date” to remind that these ordinary nights matter in a love story. So tonight, we’ll eat take-out on the couch while our babies sleep in their beds and the owls swoop in our forest out back and we talk about the future and what we want to do and then you will ask me if I’d like to watch Jimmy Fallon tonight and I will say yes.

Fourteen was a hard year for us in some places. I can admit that easily. So can you. A lot of change, a lot of upheaval, life demanded much of us and we have tried to rise together. We don’t have any false self to prop up anymore, no pride left, not much dignity. We dance in the kitchen sometimes, and we negotiate soccer practices and bills and crock pots, and we kiss ferociously still, but quietly, so that the kids won’t wake up and interrupt us. This is real life, it’s all real. We have failed each other at times over the years, disappointed each other, and yet we have somehow grown stronger and more whole, become more us, for those very stumbles and frustrations and heartbreaks. It’s the Kingdom economics at work – the very thing that was meant to slay us saves us. The first is last, the least is the greatest, the hurts became our places of communion. We guard those places now.

The day that Margaret was born was another turning point for us somehow. You came down to my depth and you held on. I still haven’t been able to really express it and maybe I will someday or maybe not, maybe some things simply need to be carried without words.

You have seen me at my best and at my worst and you never faltered, you never failed me. You are more than a metaphor.

It changes a woman to know that she can go right down to the bottom of herself and find only love there. You have said the same thing to me about different moments in your life. This is what we do for each other.

We have learned in fourteen years of marriage that our net will hold, we hold each other, so we keep that net strong, we’ve learned this the only way you can learn it: the hard way.

This morning, I said to you, “you know, I should really do a Fourteen Things We’ve Learned in Fourteen Years of Marriage post. It would be fun. We might enjoy figuring it out together.” We looked at each other for a half-second and then we kind of laughed.

“I can’t think of anything off the top of my head,” you said. “Me, either,” I said. “The only thing I know is that I know a lot less now than I used to think I knew.”

“That’s not your style anyway,” you said.

I didn’t know then what I know now about how our life would unfold. It looks very different than we expected. You have changed and I have changed: that’s one of the best gifts we have given each other over the years, room to change and evolve and become more fully ourselves. We have been uncovering our real selves over these fourteen years. But I love that you still call me “Styles” when you’re teasing me.

I like who you were and I like you who are and I like who you are becoming. I like us.

You went out the door to work, the kids went to school, the baby went to sleep, and I thought, well, maybe we do know a few things. There are things we have established in our marriage right from the start that have worked for us: how we handle money, how we speak to each other, how we make decisions, how we lead our family together, how we parent, how we work. We’re practical and we’re committed and we communicate well (eventually) – those three things go a long ways.

Maybe they are our own thing though. What works for us probably wouldn’t work for someone else’s marriage.

Over the years, I’ve decided that it’s less about the rules we keep and the boundaries we maintain and the principles we practice in this marriage. Those are helpful and useful, absolutely. But that isn’t the stuff of magic. It’s the work that creates space for the magic.

But the magic, ah, now that’s our thing. That has always been our thing. Maybe the one thing we have absolutely in common: we crave the magic, the love affair, the passion, the sense of destiny, the great story of us. We are matched in passion. We aren’t content to just get by as roommates, we demand magic of each other, we demand meaning out of even the most mundane moments of our life together.

We only feel disconnected and furious when the magic has departed from us. Even though we know better than to believe in soulmates, practically and logically and theologically, we still default to that language because it’s all we have: soulmates. Meant to be. We were always meant to be, we believed it then, and we choose to believe it now.

Here is the best magic maker we’ve discovered so far: you first. 

You first, you first, you first. 

Selflessness is best practiced in concert. We choose each other. You lay down your life for me and for our children. I lay down my life for you and for our children. We put each other first, together, in practical ways and spiritual ways, in our dreams and our visions, in our minds and hearts towards each other. It’s not perfect and we make mistakes and we’re occasionally both very selfish. Maybe me more than you. But right from the start, there was never a second thought, never a wonder if something better might come along someday. You choose me and I choose you and who else was there for us but each other?

You saw the real me before I did. I see the real you still. Your hair is turning grey and it suits you. You are a better person than I could ever dream of being. I’m getting bolder. We’re still dreaming of what could be. We are each other’s best mirror.

 

photo by Sharalee Prang

Continue Reading · brian, journey, love, love looks like, marriage · 30

This is my metaphor

Birth is my metaphor

Birth has been the hardest work of my life and the best work of my life.

In these final days, I’ve realised afresh that experiencing birth has been – and continues to be – the greatest altar of my life for encountering God. This is my thin place between the Spirit and my reality, it’s my favourite metaphor. The more I experience pregnancy and birth in all its mess and glory, loss and life, the more I uncover the devout links between how we as women experience birth and how the Holy Spirit often “gives birth” in our souls.

Sometimes when I was preaching here and there, I would use the metaphors of birth to explain what happens when we are growing or developing or evolving in our journey of faith. But then I realised something a few months ago that ticked me off: I was apologising for my metaphor. “I’m sorry, here’s another story about having babies to explain what I mean.”

This bothered me. Why was I apologising for my metaphor, for my experience, for the place where I met God so clearly? I know my metaphors don’t belong to everyone, that’s kind of the point. My situation and learning is unique to me, just as a football player’s metaphors are unique to his experiences or a business-woman’s metaphors are unique to her experiences. We each have our own metaphors for how we understand our faith journey. Some people find theirs in literature – I do that, too. Others find them in nature or in great acts like climbing mountains. I’ve heard many a sermon using sports or war as metaphors for the journey of a soul. And more, every mother’s experience with birth is unique because her situation is unique, her body is unique, her story is hers.

What was it that made talking about birth so taboo from the pulpit? It is too much, perhaps, too uniquely feminine to others, too messy, too real. The  braiding together of pain and joy and love is too powerful, perhaps.

But I believe right in my marrow that the voices and experiences of us regular mamas, having babies, are just as valuable, just as real, just as spirit-filled as any other metaphor.

I’m nearly 38 weeks pregnant right this blessed moment: God is very near to me right now. In my fear and exhaustion, in my waiting and my hoping, in my swollen ankles and my interrupted sleep cycles, in my preparations and my dreams, in the disappearance of any protective armour between me and the rest of the world, Emmanuel.

So I won’t apologise for my metaphors anymore. 

This is where I find God and this is where God continues to somehow find me, too.

I’ll write about how the Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle of labour mirrors the fear-tension-pain cycles of our transformations. I’ll talk about leaning into the pain, however counter-intuitive that may seem, because it’s in trusting our pain, letting our pain teach us, that we find life waiting and a trust-worthy path to release. We fight against the very thing that will free us.

I’ll write about how transition is identified by the feeling that you can’t go on, it’s too hard, you need to quit. And it’s transition because it’s in that moment, right when you want to give up in defeat, that you are nearing birth at last. My desire to give up is the very signal I am longing for that it’s almost over.

I’ll write about how the Industrial Revolution and modernism gave rise to a techno-medical method of birth that treated women like machines to manage, problems to solve, and how we forget that the very work of birth is the the thing that makes life after birth richer and healthier. And then let me draw the parallels for how we’ve techno-medicalized our souls, we treat our spirits like machines, full of shortcomings and defects, patiently awaiting the formulas to make it quick, make it easy, make it painless, make it simple. We deny each other the precious struggle which often makes healing, bonding, nourishment happen.

I’ll write about how the professionalization of bringing babies moved traditional wisdom away from us, collective story-telling disappeared, how we bench our wise women because what could they possibly have to teach us? I’ll question, oh, yes, I’ll push back a bit on authority, I don’t mind. I can’t surrender my soul or my body to the ones who want to make a buck off of me anymore. I’ll be wary of the slick promises and the easy roads, I’ll be suspicious of the ones who promise too much and cover the fine print with their jocular assurances.

I’ll even write about miscarriages and loss, about how it feels to labour only to end up with death and longing, sorrow staining backwards and forwards, changing everything.

I’ll write about how I withdraw when I’m labour, about how I need my safe place, my home, my smallest circle around me. How I crave silence and darkness, about how my very self goes deep deep deep within to draw the strength for the work ahead. And I’ll connect it to the ways that when we are in the struggle of our new births how we often withdraw from the strangers, from the bright lights, from the noise, from the unfamiliar or untrusted or untried, how the Spirit hovers over our darkness and causes new life to begin to rise from that place of silence and darkness, relentless, inexorably holy. I’ll probably think too much about how I love to give birth in water, how baptism and water pull me into relief like nothing else.

I’ll write about learning to think positively about my body, to honour the strength of my thighs and my hips, to let myself make the noise I need to make, to be unashamed about my own strength, how our bodies can hold the truth if we learn to follow. I’ll tell you about trusting our souls and our bodies, about believing in the inherent goodness of our physicality, about the lie of dualism separating our spirits and our bodies. I’ll tell you about how learning to let my body lead me gave me beautiful experiences in birth.

And I’ll write about how much I love the midwives of my life, how it feels so right and holistic to work in partnership with someone who trusts me and my body, my capacity and my spirit. I’ll echo Brene Brown who admits that she thought faith would be like an epidural, taking away the pain, but instead there she found a midwife, whispering in her ears, “push, it’s supposed to hurt a bit, you’re almost there.” I’ll write about how tenderly they cared for me, like a daughter or a sister, how they ministered with their hands and their wisdom, with their strong leadership, and then with tea and toast and clean sheets.

I’ll write about how the Apostle Paul himself never shied away from the metaphors of pregnancy and birth, finding rich parallels in our stories for life in Christ.

I’ll be honest about the ways that birth slows me down because I’m no longer afraid to be slower, to be out of step with the evangelical hero complex anymore. I’m not afraid of taking time to heal, of taking time to nourish both baby and soul. I’m done with proving myself, with acting like having a baby doesn’t affect me or change me. It does change me, it will change me, I am different already. I practice rest and healing, slowness and sleep after birth like resistance. I’ll write about how important maternity leave is and how important it is to give ourselves space to heal and mother after we do something so momentous.

I’ll tell my stories because, as Ina May Gaskin tells us, “stories teach us in ways we can remember. They teach us that each woman responds to birth in her unique way and how very wide-ranging that way can be. Sometimes they teach us about silly practices once widely held that were finally discarded. They teach us the occasional difference between accepted medical knowledge and the real bodily experiences that women have – including those that are never reported in medical textbooks nor admitted as possibilities in the medical world. They also demonstrate the mind/body connection in a way that medical studies cannot. Birth stories told by women who were active participants in giving birth often express a good deal of practical wisdom, inspiration, and information for other women. Positive stories shared by women who have had wonderful childbirth experiences are an irreplaceable way to transmit knowledge of a woman’s true capacities in pregnancy and birth.”

And our stories do that, don’t they? When we are active participants in the transitions of our soul, we emerge from the experience with practical wisdom, information, inspiration. We have tremendous capacities for hearing from God, for wrestling with our past, for leaning into the pain, for finding truth in the darkness, for discovering our true selves there in the blood and the pain and the beauty and the joy.

And then, then, we see that the struggle, the very thing we had been trying to avoid, is the very thing that sets us free, gives us life, helps us heal, restores our joy.

You have your hard-won and unique metaphor, I know.

This is mine.

 

 Photo by Rachel Barkman back in 2011 (38 weeks pregnant with Evelynn)

 

Continue Reading · baby, faith, giving birth, journey, Uncategorized · 52

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.

 

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