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Lace Curtains

 

The windows are wide open in the house right now. Spring is dancing back and forth, two steps forward one step back. The tree in our front yard suddenly burst into bloom while we slept last night. We woke up this morning and it was heavy with thick white blossoms after days and days of tightly coiled buds. Through the window screens come sounds of children playing and bossing, arguing and laughing. Three of them are mine and I care for a wee baby or cram in a bit of housework with one ear on an open window, counting them up over and over again with my eyes, one two three, there they are. Already once today, I’ve had to dash outside to rescue skinned knees.

The lace curtains are lifting lazily in the breeze and there is a clutch of blue bells sitting on the mantle.

Maggie Love is lifting her head to see how the world looks in the spring. In the late afternoon light, her fuzzy duck-fluff hair looks strawberry red. At night, she sleeps in our bed and I curl around her like a half-dozing parenthesis, nursing in the dark. We are each other’s breath, my nose buried in her chubby crepe neck, her face right against my skin. I read in a baby book once that newborns can identify their mother simply by smell and that mothers can do the same. I believe it. I believe it. I believe it.

The other night, I was sitting in our bed, nursing the baby. I had just had my bath and my hair was tightly bound on the top of my head, my face scrubbed clean of make-up. Brian took out his phone to take a picture of me. He never does this: some people take pictures and others simply do not. Brian is in the latter category, he also never answers email or posts on Facebook. But he said I looked so beautiful perched there, criss-cross-applesauce, baby in my lap, that he had to take a picture. Later on I scrolled through his pictures and I saw that photo. It was horrible, probably one of the worst pictures I’ve ever taken, unflattering, my face all shiny, no one would have called me beautiful in that moment but I didn’t delete it. He thought I looked beautiful in that exact moment, just days after giving birth, and that was enough for me. But I admit it, I made a mental note to teach him about lifting the camera up a bit when taking a picture.

The sun goes down later and later. Every night, I want to go for a walk in the sunset but I can’t seem to get out the door in time. I have felt like I have no words, or rather like I have too many. I keep sitting down to write because this is what I do, what I have always done. And then something or someone always interrupts within minutes and I leave it. Then I come back to what I was writing and think what in the world is this?

Life has gotten rather small now and so I notice the small things: the tree is blooming now, the moss in the forest out back has gone fluorescent green. The kids are getting taller, we watch Wheel of Fortune. The tulips are lovely and the cherry trees on the boulevards are bright pink, Maggie Love has a nursing blister on her top lip.

Everything else is far away. I think about my life a year ago: travelling, preaching, writing, standing on stages, appearing on panels and videos, offering opinions on everything to cross Twitter and the news cycle and the Church, and I wonder who that girl was, that must have been another season.

 

 

 

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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 · 53

A Lament for Nigeria

There hasn’t been as much press coverage for you, Nigeria. Almost no one mentioned your name at the Golden Globe Awards or on social media, in the lead stories or soapbox editorials for newspapers or around our dinner tables. If we’re charitable, we could say that it’s because this is an unspeakable moment, perhaps, too terrible to flippantly hashtag or speak aloud. Or perhaps it’s simply that we cannot bear your pain and loss, that we feel overwhelmed and powerless. Or even more horrifically, perhaps we simply don’t value your lives the way that God values you, you feel far away from us, beyond our compassion. God forgive us.

Young girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram sent among you as a suicide bombers – one a child of ten years old – to detonate their young selves in your midst, then your bodies strewn across a market, your dead lined up in the streets, and the grief of a nation caught in terror over and over and over again.

Then I heard of a town in the northeast, once home to 10,000 souls, now desolate and quiet. One report says 150 dead, another says 2,000 dead, but a witness said, “It has all been burnt down. We have been burnt down.” There was no time to bury the dead after the attacks: everyone who could run had to run to survive and so the streets smell of the rotting ones.

Refugees trying to swim across the lake to Chad, drowning in the attempt. And still it goes on, unchecked. More than a million people displaced by relentless and increasing violence.

I made the mistake of clicking on Images for my Google search a few days ago and my stomach heaved at the inhumanity casually loading on my screen.

We know that you are beautiful and strong – rich in wisdom and literature, artists and brilliant thinkers and leaders. You are the nation of Chinua Achebe and Chimanada Ngozi Adichie, Ayodele Awojobi, Genevieve Nnaji, Funmi Iyanda, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. We see the danger of the single story and we won’t reduce you to this one story.

But right now, in these days, the world is heaving with pain and you are an epicentre of sorrow.

I write letters to international leaders for all the good it will do. I read the stories in the news, I make myself pay attention. I write prayers for your girls. And I feel powerless, useless, broken-hearted.

What use are letters of empty words pleading for action, for help, when what we want to do is lay down in the grass and keen wordlessly? What will be the legacy of these years, I wonder, what seeds are being planted in your sad young people of the north east?

So I need to say it once at least, here, again for all the good it will do:

We mourn your dead, each soul, they are not uncounted to God, each one mattered. We mourn your injured and devastated. We mourn your homes and your jobs, your work and your art. We mourn your right to life. We see what this is doing to your beautiful land and legacy, to your families and your culture, and we mourn with you. We mourn for the damage to your bodies and your souls, your communities and your minds. We mourn for your daughters and your sons, your old women and your old men.

We repent of how we ignore you, of how we turn a blind eye to your suffering and your brilliance, of how the nations of the world continue to look on with only empty words and threats, of how our compassion has yet to turn to action. Your massacres, your sufferings, are forgotten, it seems.

I can’t do much but I’m doing this: I’m paying attention, I’m doing what I can from my small corner to advocate for you and hold your name up, and there is one small candle burning in my house for you, reminding me to pray for justice, to remember you.

 

Continue Reading · Uncategorized · 33

Dear Body

Dear Body,

Hello, lovely.

Isn’t it funny how it’s taken an entire lifetime to call you lovely? And to mean it? And see it? And know it? You’ve always been lovely, strong one. It took me too long to notice.

But here, now, let me just say it and then, like a prophet, let me believe it, and live into the truth of it every day: I’m thankful for you.

I’m thankful for the freckles scattered, for how they speak of my summer days at a cold prairie lake, and my redheaded dad. I’m thankful for the bend in the bridge of my small nose, bent on a bunk bed frame. I’m thankful for the grey hair stubbornly reappearing, and that very decided line to the left corner of my mouth, I’ve always started to smile a bit crooked, and now it shows, bless you. Thank you for the small scar on my wrist, from that time when it was scratched…well,  you remember that time, oh, yes, making out with that boy in high school, and then there are the chicken pox scars on my left hand. Thank you for crow’s feet born from laughter.

Thank you for the ease of my skin and the stretch marks, thank you for these too-big-for-fashion breasts, they have satisfied the ones I love best. Thank you for my arched eyebrows, I’ll give you a high-five and a good-on-ya because we’ve never had to pluck an eyebrow and that’s all on you. And thank you for this small pointed and saucy chin, and thank you for my hands, they are starting to look like Mum-hands, and I rejoice in their hard worn strength.

Thank you for my legs, for my thighs, for my heart still pumping the blood of pioneers longing for a bigger sky. And thank you for my knees, how they bend easily, at last, to Creator, and thank you for these eyes that see beauty in the strangest places, for the mother-blue of them, and thank you for the very physical and very real self of it all, thank you for helping me to worship and see and know beyond my brain and my heart, and reminding me that this, the created self is good.

These days we’re growing with new life again. You are changing all over again. And it’s different now in this season than it was the first time we did this eight years ago. That’s as it should be. I know that fashion says teeny-tiny baby bumps are “so cute” and we’ve never been “cute.” We tend to have people asking us if we’re having twins very early in pregnancy. But you know what? I dig it. I love how our muscles relax at just the news of another new baby and I love to rest my hands on my growing bump. This is a gift I didn’t know that I would ever enjoy: look at us, just a regular sort of mama, and I still think we’re beautiful.

And thank you for good hard work like birth, because otherwise, I might not have ever known how capable and strong and life-giving you are, and I look at these babies you’ve carried, and I remember the smell and heft of them on my chest, on my soft belly, the very second that they emerged from my own body, gulping air, blinking in surprise at life, and I remember how I knew that they were good, good, good, and this thing that I had done, this was good, too. And we were all restored to joy, again and again, because I couldn’t stop laughing, every time I gave birth, when it was over, I laughed and laughed in relief and wonder, like an ancient Sarah joining with God in laughter here at promises fulfilled.

I’ve learned at last to be gentle with you, Body. Gentle with my words, gentle with my thoughts, gentle even with my hands, but sometimes I know, I am still learning how to speak kindly about you.

I’m sure now that this is the body I have and this is the body I will have and this is the body I always had, and this is how I am going through life, with you, and we forever putting one foot in front of another, lungs filling with the glorious miracle of dust breathing.

I like you better now, I admit it, than I did when you were lithe and younger, with a concave stomach of a pop star. In those days, I only saw your imperfections and I hid you, ashamed of my very physical self, very real, undignified self. Now, I laugh, an understanding and tender sort of chuckle. I wish I had worn more bikinis in those days, sure, but now I wear my bathing suit at the pool, in front of God and everybody, and I get my hair wet. I put red stain on my lips and a tight-shirts over my growing belly. I’m quick to kiss, to turn over and say yes in the night.

So here, let’s settle on down slowly let’s be young and strong a bit longer, let’s run, let’s walk, let’s breathe a bit longer. Then let’s grow old peacefully together. Let the heft of the baby on your hip be enough, let the moment of holding a sleepy sun-drained babe with tired eyes to your breast, the moment when you are feeding her body and soul, be enough. Let your hands lightly scratch the backs of your tinies until they arch into you like small cats purring with delight. I’ll show these girls how to love their own bodies by loving you.

Undress with the lights on and send saucy glances over your left shoulder at the man you taught how to unhook a bra. Put lotion on your thighs and bless them, eat food that makes you roll your eyes back in your head with a groan of delight, hug, touch, wonder at your own muscles and sinews, welcome the tears, let them fall the way that they have needed to fall, and laugh laugh laugh, now we know, you taught me, didn’t you?

A big and wild love is the most gorgeous thing we could ever put on.

Love and gratitude,

S.

 

This post was part of an inspired SheLoves Magazine synchroblog. Write your own love letter to your own body and then link it up. It would do you good. Edited from the archives.

Continue Reading · Uncategorized · 29

I eat like a fourteen-year-old and other ways I haven’t quite grown up yet

My tinies are with the babysitter for a few hours today so that I can do a bit of work. And so for lunch I am chowing down on a gigantic bowl of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Oh, unnaturally vivid orange “cheese” and noodles – I just can’t quit you.

I make good choices when it comes to eating overall, I promise. I take vitamins and drink water beautifully, I ensure a balanced plate is at every meal for the family. I love vegetables and healthy food, too.

But as the special treat? my indulgences are the food of a fourteen-year-old and I’m not even sorry.

This girl probably had a Slurpee for lunch.

Me, at 13. I probably had a Slurpee for lunch that day.

My favourite food is still cheese pizza. I adore a quick stop at 7-11 for a Pepsi Slurpee on a summer Friday.

On the (very) rare occasion when I’m home alone, I eat popcorn for supper. Toaster waffles from the freezer section, pizza pops, Cheezies, oh, it’s like illegal contraband and it’s even tastier because it’s so wrong. In fact, when I was pregnant with my son, my one and only craving was Froot Loops. Mmmmmm, Froot Loops.

Let’s not even talk about junk-food cereal. I’m looking at you, Cap’n Crunch.

In fact, I have been known to exercise my adult driving privileges just to drive two hours south to the United States just to go to the fast-food joint Sonic for a slush and tater tots.

Maybe I’m not a foodie with perfectly plated meals of quinoa and lobster for Instagram, but I’m so happy with my root beer floats and Corn Pops.

In the important ways, I’ve proven myself a Certified Proper Grown-Up. Small indulgences are sweet for that very reason perhaps….. like…..

I love to wear pajama pants. Like, it’s probably alarming how much I love pajamas. If it was socially acceptable, I’d wear them all the time. Instead, I settle for “getting ready for bed” immediately after supper.

I need a ridiculous amount of sleep, but I’m like a toddler. Early to bed and early to rise. Don’t ever call me after 8:30 at night, I might be sleeping.

I refuse to wear uncomfortable shoes unless absolutely necessary. (And you’d be surprised how few things in life REQUIRE high heels.) Every once in a long while, I’ll put on heels for a speaking engagement and I always bitterly regret it.

I love to watch musicals and kid movies that make me feel good. I’ve watched Anne of Green Gables twice a year every year since 1985. Last night, we watched The Sound of Music. This weekend, we have a date with Annie. (Miss Hannigan would be the greatest costume for a fancy-dress party ever in the history of the world, am I right?)

When I have stuff to do – like, say, writing a book – I avoid my work and spend my time reading novels or checking Buzzfeed instead.

I still love old paperback novels for my comfort reading particularly L.M. Montgomery novels. Particular favourites for a re-read include A Tangled Web, The Blue Castle, Jane of Lantern Hill, the Emily books, and of course the Anne books. I never grow out of them.

I love to read aloud with my kids and am still captivated by kid books – Ramona, Little House, Matilda (we just started this one after Anne’s birthday and it is so funny), they’re all still good. I can’t wait for the day when we dip back into A Wrinkle in Time. Madeleine L’Engle was right: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” 

I can waste time like it’s my job. Give me a bit of wilderness for wandering and I can keep myself busy for a ridiculous amount of time.

If I have a bit of spending money, I’ll spend it on ridiculous things like books and junk food.

I’m a very good grown-up. I work hard and well, I raise my tinies well, I do all the lovely grown up things like pay bills and save for retirement and clean the house and keep little teeth brushed. So it’s just plain lovely to luxuriate in a few childish things now and then, isn’t it?

For a bit of fun this Friday, tell me what are your childish indulgences?

I know, I know, you’re a responsible adult but what are the kid things you still love to watch or read or do – or, like me, eat?

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