At the foot of Hart Lake, wisps of breath swirling in the alpine air, marveling at the breadth of sky and pines and Cascade Mountains, feeling so small, feeling the expansiveness of God’s presence;
In the Chapel of the Resurrection for 10 p.m. worship, surrounded by classmates, basking in the glow of candlelight, singing “Jesus Christ is the light of the world — the light no darkness can overcome”;
On an operating table at Lutheran General, hearing his cries, seeing his face for the first time, tears of joy rivening my cheeks, my heart full of awe and thanksgiving;
In the kitchen, peeling and chopping carrots, swishing the mirepoix with hot olive oil, delighting in each crack and sizzle;
At the beach in Cinque Terre, raking my fingers through fine sand, sweat beading at my chest, already sore from the day’s hike, already dreaming of the night’s gelato, young and alive and enamored with the world’s beauty;
Snuggled up in my son’s bed, asking for forgiveness and safekeeping, pleading for peace, giving thanks for shelter, love and family;
On my yoga mat, arms splayed out wide, forehead and knees and palms pressing down, surrendering to gravity, my whole body curled in a posture of devotion;
At Fourth Presbyterian Church, pausing in the aisles to notice how to the stained glass crafts a mosaic of color on floor, lifting my eyes to the pews to see the ones who find sanctuary from the biting Chicago wind on an ordinary weekday;
On the sidewalk with my son, knees powdered with pastel, chalking rainbows, hearts and flowers, the words “Run with Maud” and “We’re in this together”;
Flat on my back in the middle of a field of wildflowers, exasperated by negative pregnancy tests and abandoned drafts going nowhere and the isolation of the pandemic, lamenting the loss of life and lack of justice, searching the clouded sky for hope and answers, whispering, “God, are you out there?”;
Facing the altar of Resurrection Lutheran Church, cupping my hands to receive the bread, the body of Christ, the grace that grounds me and sets me free;
On the pages of my journal, scribbling thoughts, seeking wisdom, searching for direction, asking God what would you have me do, how will you use me now, how can I attune my ear to your calling;
At my childhood dinner table, fingers interlaced, head bowed, voice intoning “let these gifts to us be blessed”;
One of the holiest places I prayed: In the woods near the North Branch Trail with my son, clutching a dandelion puff, scattering seeds into the breeze with one exhale, wondering where and when they’ll take root and blossom.
Eugene Peterson said, “Prayers are tools not for doing or getting, but for being and becoming.”
I am trying to remember this, that prayer is less about asking and more hearing. That I can encounter God in the woods or in a sanctuary, at the table or under a veil of stars. That prayer can happen anywhere, if only we have ears to listen.
I fastened my hospital-issued smock and hefted my achy body onto the bed. Machines hummed. The smell of disinfectant permeated the air. A Christmas morning kind of excitement buzzed inside of me. Today was the day! After 39 weeks, we were going to meet our second child.
A fierce kick jabbed my belly. I looked over at my husband and grinned. “Baby boy’s moving and grooving in here. He’s ready.”
“Oh good,” Jay said, looking up from his phone. He surveyed the room’s white walls, tiled floor and medical bassinet. “Babe, I’m pretty sure this is where you stayed after your first c-section,” he said.
“Really? This room…” I said, trailing off, scrutinizing the space. Five years ago, I came to this hospital to deliver our first child. After hours in a birthing suite, contractions pulsating through my pelvis, fear rising in my throat, body laboring to deliver and failing, I was rushed to the operating room. Following our newborn Jack was swept away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with my husband, and I supposedly landed here. “I don’t remember it,” I continued. “Maybe I was in shock?”
To mother a NICU babe is to walk the fine line between fear and joy, hope and heartache, holding on and letting go. We were lucky enough to bring our miracle home within the week, but like the c-section scar above my uterus, the trauma and relief of it all still marked me. Something about today’s procedure felt like closure. If this could just go smoothly, I prayed. If you could give us peace, O God. Please.
A resident appeared at the front of my bed with a clipboard in one hand and pen poised in the other. My nurse stood at my side, working to attach my IV while the resident fired off a series of medical questions:
Do you smoke or drink?
Is this your first c-section?
What went unsaid: the first was an emergency. My OB, who performed the surgery, recommended this planned c-section for our second baby. I wished she was here now so I could stop answering these questions.
The IV finally landed, pricking my hand. I flinched. “Sorry,” the nurse said. “That had to hurt.”
“Any other surgeries?” the resident asked.
“Yes, I, um, had a D&C last spring,” I replied, straining to keep my voice even.
Her face dropped. “I’m sorry.”
I glanced toward Jay from his chair near the bed. He grimaced. I hated how this line of questioning laid bare our greatest pains. I would always remember the baby we lost, but I would not let grief darken this joyful day. “It’s okay,” I said, placing my hand over my belly instinctively. A tremor of movement grounded me.
Mercifully, the resident had reached the end of her list and excused herself. The heart rate monitor quickened, its percussive beeps filling the void.
“Your baby’s heart rate just kicked up a notch,” the nurse clucked. “He’s fine. He must know today is his birthday!”
“Oh yes,” I laughed, sensing the tension in the air dissipate. “Let’s get this kid out of here!”
Medical staff in blue scrubs and hair nets milled about, readying the Operating Room for surgery. I sat on the edge of the table and thought of Jack. My five-year-old would love all the blue here — it’s his favorite color. Would he also love his baby brother? Or would the transition from only child to big brother upset him?
From the age of three he’d cajoled, “Can you get me a baby brother?”
“It’s not that simple,” I’d explained.”You can’t just ‘get’ them. Babies are a gift from God. All we can do is pray for one, and even then it might not work out. ”
So, during bedtime prayers Jack began asking God for a baby brother. Jay and I prayed too. For years, I thought the answer might be “no.” Today, we’d get to hold our holy “yes.”
“We’re going to have you curl your torso forward,” a nurse commanded, bringing me to the present. Tightness coursed through my body — Jay wasn’t yet in the OR, and I missed his calming presence. Softening her voice, she said, “I’ll hold your body against this pillow, like I’m giving you a hug. Ready?”
I held my breath and leaned forward while my anesthesiologist began his work. The position grew more and more uncomfortable by the minute. Soon my legs would begin to tingle, I knew. Soon they would position me on the table. And then what?
Up until this point the c-section had sat on my calendar as a finishing line, the glory at the end of a marathon pregnancy that included two jarring hospital visits for monitoring preterm contractions. But it wasn’t the finish line at all — first, I had to endure this surgery.
Unlike my last c-section, I’d be awake for much of the procedure. I’d been so focused on making it to this day I hadn’t considered what it would feel like. I shifted in my seat.
“Erin, I’m gonna need you to be still just a little longer,” the anesthesiologist directed.
“Almost done,” the nurse murmured. “Lean into me again.”
With one final push, the dosing was complete. A fuzzy feeling crawled up my legs while the nurses repositioned them on the table and assisted me in laying down. While they prepped my stomach and groin for surgery, I felt a strange sensation, almost as if my soul was suspended over my body. Let this go smoothly, I prayed. Let his life begin peacefully.
Jay appeared at my side, bringing me down to earth. I couldn’t feel my legs or wiggle my toes but I felt his hand on my shoulder, an anchor.
“How are you doing, babe?” Jay asked.
“OK,” I exhaled. “A little nervous.”
“You’re doing great. Once this is over, we’ll have our baby.”
When my OB entered the room, I don’t remember what she said but I do remember hearing her voice and feeling comforted.
Tools clattered behind the blue curtain separating me from the lower half of my body. Surgery had begun. As the medical team worked, I busied myself with visions of holding my newborn skin-to-skin post-delivery, an experience I didn’t get with Jack. The nurse had assured me this time would be different.
The surgery progressed slowly. At one point, my OB called for extra support and I felt my breathing quicken. A queasy sensation came over me. I turned my head right, then left, then faced the ceiling. Was this what a panic attack feels like? I turned to the anesthesiologist and said, “I think I’m feeling sick.”
“I’m adjusting your medicine,” he said. “Hang in there — you’re almost done.”
Almost done — almost at the finish line. I closed my eyes and focused on the warmth of Jay’s hand on my shoulder. My breath, flowing in and out. The cold table against my upper back.
Something was happening behind the blue curtain. “Nay, nay, nay!” rang out across the OR.
In a moment reminiscent of the opening to The Lion King, a chunky baby held by gloved hands soared above the curtain. Our Adam. He was alive. He was healthy — he looked so healthy. I blinked back tears of joy.
“He’s here,” I whispered to Jay. “He’s finally here.”
“I know!’ he replied, smiling wide. “Good job, babe.”
While the staff cleaned and tested Adam, my surgery continued behind the curtain. I felt slight pressure as the medical team worked to clear the placenta from my uterus.
A friendly nurse placed a swaddled Adam in Jay’s arms so we could greet him. I kissed his forehead and turned to Jay. “He’s just so beautiful,” I said, eyes shining.
“You have to get a picture,” the nurse gushed, and just like that Jay was handing over his phone and we were crowding around our newborn.
In the photo, Adam’s sweet face squishes against mine while Jay’s hand cradles his small body. You can see my oxygen tube, hospital smock and silly hairnet. Jay, too, wears a hairnet with his mask and scrubs. You can see a mom and dad beaming so big, we appear to be glowing.
Daylight fell softly through the blinds of my maternity suite. Propped up in bed, I held Adam to my chest and studied his face while Jay dozed on the pullout couch in front of us. Adam’s eyes may have been shut tight, but he was awake and hungry, his tiny mouth nuzzling my skin in search of nourishment.
It’s funny how some life events create a full circle. Adam was born five years and two days after his older brother. In the same hospital. Same procedure. Same doctor. Like his brother, Adam is a miracle.
Two boys born five years apart was not my original vision for my family. I had a plan for us and my life now looks nothing like I thought it would. In fact, it’s better.
While I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, I trust that God is the author of all that is good. I trust in little graces — moments when God’s presence shines through and wakes us up to our identity as God’s beloved. Preceded by a difficult birth, two cancer diagnoses, a pandemic and a miscarriage, Adam is a very good gift only God could bring forth.
Adam began to nay softly. My free hand positioned him in my arms for breastfeeding, laying his body sideways atop a stack of hospital pillows. The movement took herculean effort after surgery. I felt the sharp jab of his mouth latching to my breast, then leaned my head back against a pillow.
In Hebrew, Adam means “(hu)man” or “the one formed from the ground.” Jay and I chose his name less for its biblical origins and more because we liked how it sounded. Nevertheless, I can only attribute Adam’s arrival to the faith that grounds me. God had given me a second chance to become a mother. God had held Adam and me throughout surgery, keeping us safe. And God was holding us now as we learned to love each other.
Satisfied for the moment, Adam pulled his head back and pursed his lips, settling into sleep. Soon I’d need to rouse Jay so he could help me swaddle him. For the time being, I cradled our little grace in the sunlight, delighting in every breath he took.
These are the days of his small head nestled against my chest skin — velvet smooth, unmarred by time — to skin — a soft place to dream, drink, rest, grow (some days, I swear, I can see him thickening in the shelter of my arms) and some days blur into nights cradling him close feeding and being fed by his warmth our two hearts beating in sync his slate blue eyes searching for mine, which of course, are bloodshot and glad (some nights, I swear, holding him feels like heaven on earth) some nights I feel suffocated by all he needs and these are the nights that blend into days when golden light lingers at the edge of the crib each day becoming a little longer as if to say, “Take heart, change is coming, so be sure to treasure these days.”
The morning you turned five, you rocketed out of your bed first thing and crawled into ours. I held you close and wished you a happy birthday. I asked, “Are you excited to be five?” You squealed “Yes!” and woke up your father.
The night before I’d baked you a chocolate birthday cake with blue buttercream frosting and a Superman cake topper, just like you requested. You love blue, and Superman is your favorite hero. At bedtime, you always ask for “a little superhero story” featuring him, you and our dog, “Super Gussy.”
I’m not sure how or when you decided Superman was your favorite hero. All I know is after you were born, your grandmother gave me a stuffed bear dressed in a Superman shirt and cape. I think she meant it to represent me, though I felt anything but heroic. Nothing about your birthday had gone according to plan — and I love a good plan — resulting in an emergency c-section for me and your stay in the NICU. Honestly, I thought I’d failed you.
Yet five years later, I can see the strength in both of us. You bravely scale trees and the heights of playgrounds. You’re sounding out phonics so well and on the verge of reading. You love science experiments and going to swim lessons. I’m proud of the super boy you’ve become, with your kind heart, generous spirit and boundless imagination. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned by mothering you.
My prayer for you at five is that, when faced with conflict, you’ll make a heroic choice. That you’ll voice your values and strive for peaceful resolution.
I pray you keep noticing the beauty of creation and urging me to join you.
I pray you continue loving and learning from stories — from your children’s Bible, favorite shows and books that inspire you. I trust you’ll glean empathy and wisdom from grappling with difficult stories.
I pray you see yourself and everyone you meet as a beloved child of God, including those who think, pray or look differently than you.
Most of all, I pray you know how deeply Dad and I love you and how deeply your Creator loves you. That you keep sharing that love with your neighbors near and far.
My stomach feels too tight. I shift in my desk chair and place one hand on my pregnant belly, feeling for movement. The pressure remains, so strong I could bounce a penny off of it. The kick never comes; my baby is likely sleeping.
Is this Braxton Hicks? The start of real contractions? Something scary? These questions circle like vultures, eating away at my peace.
At 38 weeks pregnant, I’ve felt this way before. I know I need to up my water intake and possibly lie down. The problem is, I’m supposed to be working. A full Outlook calendar stares at me from the screen of my laptop. Can I make my 11 a.m. call? Will I have to cancel my 1:30 p.m. interview?
I feel my belly again. No, the answer is obviously no. I guzzle the rest of my water bottle, message my coworkers that I’ll be offline for a bit and waddle over to the couch.
Smartphone in hand, I summon a message my nurse sent weeks ago after I sent her a frantic note about third trimester belly tightening. On that awful day, I feared I’d missed an important signal from my body. I feared early labor. I feared the worst: damage. Perhaps this is lingering trauma from miscarriage — the inability to trust one’s own womb to carry life.
The nurse wrote back quickly: “as your uterus continues to grow, the strain will increase, which may bring on Braxton Hicks contractions. No need to be alarmed just make sure you are getting enough rest and water. Pay attention to frequency and if they become painful.” I scanned her words a dozen times until I felt better.
Today I read the message again: No need to be alarmed. The vultures dissipate. I drop my phone on my chest and succumb to a nap.
Joyful bucket list
I’m not one who enjoys being pregnant. To clarify: I’m deeply grateful to be pregnant, but I don’t love the associated bodily changes. Not the severe nausea nor the pregnancy insomnia. Neither the back pain nor the sweats (in the middle of winter, no less!). And don’t even get me started on the weight gain.
From another angle, I see this parade of pregnancy pains telling me that my body is doing a miraculous thing: creating life.
At the moment, my chest is simmering. Is this the roasted cauliflower I ate for dinner? I dig around in the cabinet for the chalky tablets I take to relieve heartburn, another side effect of pregnancy. I throw back two and remind myself to be grateful that my stomach is no longer tight and the countdown to baby is less than a week away.
Flipping open the pages of my journal, I make a post-pregnancy bucket list of all things I hope to enjoy once baby has arrived:
An ice cold glass of Riesling Sushi and sashimi Turkey sandwiches NOT having to pee constantly Soft cheeses Saunas and hot tubs Hot yoga class NOT feeling like a beached whale Breathing easier Less worry (maybe?) Baby snuggles!!
The list does its job. And so has the heartburn medicine. I put down the pen and picture myself holding and nursing our new little boy. I can’t help but smile like crazy.
How does it feel?
One evening after our son’s asleep, my husband Jay and I cozy up on our leather couch to watch Station Eleven. Here’s a show that projects the future after a deadly pandemic, cast through the eyes of individuals who are inextricably linked by a graphic novel of the same name. Given our current context, we find it both haunting and hopeful.
Tonight’s episode centers on Jeevan, our favorite character. We wince when a crippling accident separates him from the girl he’s been parenting, landing him in a makeshift hospital filled with pregnant ladies. Jeevan’s so sick with worry for the girl he abandoned he looks physically ill. When a patient embraces him, he holds on hard and asks her, “How does it feel to be pregnant?”
I grimace. Countless times throughout this pregnancy I’ve been asked “How are you feeling?” Most of the time I’ve responded with “Fine,” peppered with a physical shift: “Fine, but I’m not sleeping.” “Fine! The baby’s really kicking.” “Fine, but my back aches.”
“How does it feel to be pregnant?” is an entirely different question.
The mama-to-be rests her head on Jeevan’s shoulder and answers honestly: “Scary.”
Tears arrive unbidden. Never would I ever expect to feel so seen by this show. I turn toward Jay and remark, “That’s it. Sometimes, that’s exactly how I feel being pregnant — scared.”
When I met my dear friend at Starbucks last summer, we had a lot to catch up on. She told me she’d changed jobs and moved to a different home. We traded updates on our writing. I shared about my miscarriage.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Erin,” she said, setting down her coffee. “How are you doing?”
“Honestly? I’m up and down. I’m still devastated, but I’m also pregnant again…”
She let out a little shriek. “Congratulations!”
“Thank you!” I answered, beaming. “I feel a little guilty for how happy that makes me.” I took a sip of my chai tea latte. “I’m also pretty terrified.”
My friend nodded and furrowed her brow. She asked, “Can I give you some advice?”
“Yeah, I’ll absolutely take it.” She rarely doles out advice so I knew this was important.
“After I miscarried, then got pregnant again, I felt the same way as you. Actually, I was so anxious I struggled to enjoy it,” she said, her eyes growing a little misty. I clutched my chai, hanging onto her words. “Please don’t forget to enjoy it,” she continued. “Eat the ice cream, buy cute new pregnancy clothes, take pictures of your belly bump. Don’t let worry steal your joy.”
Now my eyes had begun to mist. “I promise,” I said, meeting her gaze. “I promise to enjoy it.”
My task for this weekend is to pack my hospital bag. I’ve been telling everyone who asks that we have everything we need for our new baby, however, once I start packing, I realize there are some things we can’t find in the storage bins from our firstborn’s baby days.
I pull up my Target app and start searching for the missing items: one new bottle brush for baby — click. New Lansinoh cream for nursing — click. A soft crib sheet studded with stars, a new nursing cover, extra deodorant for my hospital stay. Click, click, click.
I hit one final click to confirm my purchases and announce to Jay in the kitchen, “That’s the last of it!”
“The last of what?” he asks, looking up from the dishes.
“The last of our baby list,” I say, striding to the refrigerator to cross “pack hospital bag” off our baby to-do list. “I just need you to pick up this Target order and we’ll be set.”
“Sure babe,” Jay replies, turning a dish over in a stream of water.
“This is exciting! Thank you for all your help,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “I’m lucky to have you.”
I turn on my heel and enter our nearby bedroom, which will also serve as a nursery for our newborn. My son’s old crib sits against the far wall by the windows. Kitty-corner stands our maplewood dresser, once covered with picture frames, now donning a changing pad, baby monitor and sound machine. My eyes land on our newest addition: a dove gray glider, a gift from Jay to replace the old rocking chair I used to nurse our son Jack. I settle into the glider and issue a little exhale. It is so comfortable.
Just then Jack ambles around the corner and leaps into my lap. “Hey buddy,” I say, folding my arms around him and readjusting him so he isn’t pressing on my belly.
“What are you doing, Mom?”
“Oh just getting some things ready for baby brother,” I say, combing my fingers through his straight blond hair. “Are you ready to be a big brother?”
“Uh-huh… uh, Mom?” he asks, looking up at me.
“What’s up buddy?”
“Does the baby already know how to swim?”
I giggle and pat my stomach. Jack’s learning to swim himself right now and making good progress in his lessons, that must be where this question came from. “Your little brother’s swimming in my tummy, I suppose. But can he swim like you in the pool? No. Maybe when he’s old enough — closer to your age — you can help teach him?”
“I’m so excited for the baby to come!” he replies, leaning into my arms and gently pressing his arm around my belly.
“Me too, buddy,” I say, relishing his closeness. “You’re going to be a great big brother.”
I’m at my final doctor’s appointment before my scheduled C-section. Two straps belt my belly, one holding a circular device that monitors the baby’s heartbeat. The other holds a piece that monitors my contractions. In my left hand is a clicker I’m using to count baby kicks while I take this non-stress test.
Bah-thump-bah-thump-bah-thump goes the baby’s heartbeat, intermixed with the fake laughter of the daytime talk show playing on the television in this room. I press my clicker on occasion, hearing a delayed beep.
After 25 minutes, my OB arrives to check the monitor. “I want to keep you here a little longer,” he says, eyes still on the screen. “The baby’s heartbeat slowed for a bit. We need some more time to watch him.”
With that, he leaves. My heart pounds in my chest, drowning out the bah-thumps of baby’s heartbeat. The talk show hosts’ chatter grows more annoying by the minute. Time slows to a trickle. The vultures return, nibbling away at my once calm demeanor.
Just when I think I can no longer take it, my OB returns. Suddenly he’s saying, “You’re good to go!” and I’m releasing the breath I didn’t even know I was holding.
Later, in the exam room, he asks if I have any questions. “Just one,” I answer, gripping the edges of the exam table. “How do I deal with all this anxiety? I’m so nervous for the baby to come . . . Honestly I’ve felt this way a lot while expecting.” I can’t bring myself to add “because of the miscarriage.” He knows though. He has my chart in front of him.
My OB stands and places one hand on mine and squeezes it. “This baby is healthy and beautiful,” he says, holding eye contact. “You’re going to be fine.”
I float out of the office, my steps a little lighter.
Cartwheels in the dark
At 3 a.m., I wake with a string of words in my head. Darkness floods the bedroom. I fling my arm out and scrounge inside my nightstand for a pen and sticky note to scribble the words before I forget them. I’m not sure where this sentence is going, but I know I need to capture it, however illegibly, so I can go back to sleep.
Finished writing, I reposition myself on my left side, one hand resting over my belly. Mercifully, my baby’s moving. First I feel a flutter, then a jiggle. Next comes the cartwheeling, a pleasant rolling in my womb.
I recall the promise I made to my friend and my OB’s words about this healthy, beautiful baby. I realize what I’m feeling is joy, pure joy, alongside an ever present twinge of worry. While I can’t extinguish fear completely, I believe I can carry both. I want to savor these magic days before everything changes.
I can’t wait to meet you, I think, imagining some sort of telepathy between me and my baby. “I love you,” I whisper aloud, including his full name, all six syllables of it. His presence is a gift. A miracle. Our hope in the midst of this never-ending pandemic. With every cartwheel in the dark, my joy increases.
It’s also the fifth birthday of this humble little blog. This is the place where I share truths that cannot remain contained within my notebooks but don’t fit another publication. My blog is a memory book, an escape, a means of connection, my attempt to document beauty. To borrow a friend’s metaphor, this is also where I “practice my scales” and play around with the craft of writing.
Another writer I admire tells the story of a Facebook post she wrote titled “25 Things About Me” and how doing so helped her grow. I thought it might be fun to try something similar here, but instead of starting from scratch, I’ve culled 36 truths from some favorite reflections I’ve written.
Piecing this list together helped me appreciate how much I’ve matured in my understanding of motherhood, faith, relationships and more. I hope you find some nuggets of wisdom here to take with you on *your* journey (if something really resonates, find the full piece to which it belongs by clicking on the number above). Cheers to chapter 36 of a crazy, beautiful, grace-filled life!
The truth is, I’ve always ached to love and be loved, but I wrestle with loving myself. Hearing my own melody helped me see my innate holiness — made in God’s image, blessed and broken, sinner and saint.
If my life could be divided into a “before” and “after,” motherhood would be the defining moment. Motherhood has broken, healed and shaped me into the person I am today, and it is often the subject of the stories I share here, along with my faith. Becoming a mother has both pushed me to wrestle with my faith and given me a lens for noticing the sacredness in the mundane.
[My son] is scaling a sand dune, chasing the tide, pointing me to beauty. He is the bubble bath, the fuzzy robe, the last kiss before lights out. He is not the seeker nor the one who hides but the feeling of being found.
I loved being a mother, but it was also the hardest thing I’d ever done. I wondered if I’d ever look or feel like my old self again. I wondered why all the parenting books I read and mommy bloggers I followed failed to fully communicate this tension. My feelings on motherhood were, surprisingly, mixed.
On the page I belong to no one but myself. There’s no crying to comfort, no milk to fetch, no bottoms to wipe. No texts to return, emails to answer, calls to make. Here I am nothing and I am everything. Line by line, I uncover my identities — wife, mother, sister, daughter, employee, neighbor, friend, believer.
Occasionally I wake up angry at God. Most days I don’t. Lately I’ve been finding rest in this passage: “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16). I want to teach this to my son over and over: the love we share is a gift from God. And God is Love.
How often have I denied the gifts of love and rest, thinking I must work to be deemed worthy? It takes several hundred meters, but swimming finally becomes a moving meditation. I come to the end of my thoughts and release my worries. I trust in my body, my breath, these waters, this moment.
Sometimes it takes traveling halfway across the country to a remote retreat center to stare at a 260-year-old stump to see the truth you hadn’t noticed — that you’d been running away from your fear and pain rather than accepting it.
Everyone I meet [here] is searching for something. Some are carrying heartaches far heavier than mine. Others are engaged in vocational discernment. One doctor struggles to see his worth in retirement. A widow bravely embarks on a new chapter of life without her husband. I meet a harpist who recently lost her father, and I hold space for her grief while sharing my fears about my father. That evening her performance of “Ave Maria” makes me weep. She later tells me the harp is “heart music.”
I watch you squint at the draft and think how hard it must be to love a writer. You’ve been loving me like this — seeing me as I want to be seen, cheering me on — since we met in college. I’ve watched with awe as you achieved your goals, never quitting. In 15 years, we’ve seen each other through illness, health, hardship and ease. Isn’t that love, a kind of seeing?
In a year that often feels like a giant kitchen debacle, in a year that’s separated us from our loved ones or deepened divides between those with whom we disagree, in a year that’s defied all plans and expectations, how do we taste and see goodness in all circumstances? We slow down. We look. We grow eyes for gratitude. We savor the gifts in our midst.
…we could linger in bed on a Tuesday morning and discuss our dreams. Stay in our pajamas. Savor juicy blueberry pancakes and the view outside our bay window. Beyond the glass is a tree I never used to notice — red pinpricks fleck its branches in early spring before becoming pale green buds that unfurl into cream-colored blossoms. … I witnessed it all. Miracle.
I didn’t want to go in, but in that moment I knew I could either be the mom who played in the mud or killed the fun. I had only 10 minutes left for this walk and zero supplies for clean up. This would surely dirty my car, delay our daily agenda and screw up Jack’s nap schedule. Plus I was wearing white-soled shoes. No matter what, this was going to be a mess.
“Mommy! Mommy!” my son called again, grinning. Gus let out a little bark.
This time, I didn’t hesitate. I stepped out into the mud to play.
I want him to know that there’s a time to be strong and a time to be still, and that grief can find you no matter how hard you attempt to outswim it. Grief is not an enemy to ignore but a friend leading me out of darkness, reminding me that my love was real, my love persists and my baby’s short life mattered.
While shedding my coat in preparation for shoveling out the alley, I thought to myself perhaps there’s a metaphor here — something about our lives’ unseen work being uncomfortable but important? Yes, that’s it, I resolved, clearing the way, pressing onward in the winter sun, watching our kids slide and giggle and scale the growing mounds of snow. I am developing grit here, I thought. This unseen, back-breaking work matters.
A well-written kiss is, as Stephen King puts it, “telepathy, of course.” I keep trying to capture life with language the way great authors have for me, for all of us. I still have much to learn, but I continue to practice because writing is the best means of expressing love I know — other than kissing. Good stories sweep us off our feet, make us weak in the knees and kiss our souls with their deep understanding of our secret aches and glories. I want to bless you with that kind of knowing.
She needs to remember what it means to claim the role of heroine. She’s learning sometimes the bravest thing she can do is ask for help, or be still and sit with her emotions. Other times it means choosing the bigger life or speaking up for her values.
I wanted to tell her I liked her damaged wing. I wanted to whisper, “There’s beauty in your brokenness, butterfly. You’ll soar again.” I wanted to say all this, then I realized she already knows. She’s been through metamorphosis before.
She can twirl too, this soft, strong, aging body of mine. She still runs on occasion — mostly after her son. She is still afraid of everything and nothing. She isn’t done changing. Not even close. I wonder, what will she do next?
I used to think there wasn’t a place for the carefree girl in motherhood. Now I’m starting to believe I was wrong. Who better to teach my son what it feels like to run barefoot in the grass on a summer day? Who better to take him to water parks and on rollercoasters and white water rafting? Who better to show him there’s no shame in pursuing audacious dreams and simple delights? Who better to show him there’s strength in independence?
On “grumpy gray” days, I remind my son that light is still present, it’s just hidden behind the clouds. (I need this reminder, too.) Even at night, stars sparkle in the velvet sky and the moon reflects the light of our closest star. “You can find the light of God everywhere,” I say to him, “if you look closely.”
God formed Adam out of dust. Bodies laid to rest turn into dust when they decompose in the earth. Dust, invisible, yet everywhere, clings to the ceiling fan, the baseboards, the window panes. It twists in the wind, tumbles across the streets. Ice latches onto dust to create something entirely new — sparkling snowflakes, each a tiny marvel, raining from the heavens like manna. Jesus rose from the dust so that we might leave our dusty bodies behind and join him in heaven. What does our Creator hope for us at Lent? I think that we might pause and confront our dustiness, and live differently because of it.
I know it’s easy to cast myself in the role of hero, rather than admit my faults. I know the story we read is missing repentance and reconciliation, true justice and mercy, grace and healing. It’s missing a hero who modeled the way of love. What will it take for us to write a new story? What will it take for us to create a just society?
You were created with gifts, passions and a unique capacity for serving others. Maybe you had a mentor like Mrs. Jackson who noticed your talents and encouraged you to shine. Perhaps you have a dream hidden away beneath the surface. Only you know what kindles joy inside, what it takes to say “yes” to your dreams, a call that I believe comes from the Holy Spirit.
The following meditation comes from my December 2021 issue of Nourish, which went out to subscribers earlier this month:
Here we are in Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s a season when Christians anticipate celebrating Jesus’ birth and the promise he will come again. It’s also a time when people of varied beliefs practice waiting. But what does it mean to wait? Here are three gifts I’ve gleaned from this spiritual discipline.
Waiting for wonder
We’re standing in line for “It’s a Small World.” Wiggly kids, sullen teenagers and tired parents crowd the enclosures surrounding us. Every few minutes, our group inches closer to the ride. After a morning of walking, my feet feel leaden.
“I don’t want to go on this ride!” my son says, yanking his hand from mine and pointing his torso toward the exit. He looks like he may bolt. “I want a hot dog.”
I sigh. I want to collapse on this cement floor or abandon Disneyworld altogether and float in the pool at the house we’re renting, ideally with a cocktail. (Too bad I’m pregnant.)
Instead, I catch Jack in my arms and hoist him onto my hip. “A hot dog does sound good. You can have one after we get off this ride,” I say, rubbing his back. “It’s hard to wait, isn’t it?”
Jack agrees, snuggling his head into my neck. The weight of his 38-pound frame combined with the babe in my belly presses down on me. The ride at the end of this queue promises wonder. Meanwhile, this posture is so uncomfortable. My husband Jay sees a look of pain cross my face and steps in to carry Jack. We move forward together.
Waiting for a child
According to my pregnancy app, my baby’s now the size of a cantaloupe. But tonight, all I can think of is his foot (or elbow?) jutting into my left rib cage. I shift from sitting upright on the bed to leaning on my husband to lying on each side, attempting to dislodge it.
“Home Alone” plays on the screen ahead of us. The last time I watched this movie must have been in the 90s, after it came out. Jay and I can’t help but see the character Kevin, with his bright blonde hair and playful eyes, as a preview of our son at eight. We agree that this movie hits differently now that we’re parents. My eyes well when Kevin finally reunites with his mother, and when the rest of his big family bursts in the door.
Soon our little family will grow from three to four. Our miracle, due this February, has been a prayer of mine for several years. At times, my longing for another child resembled an ache no medicine could soothe. Now, anticipating this gift brings a smile to my lips. Only a couple more months to go, I think, unless baby boy surprises us. Just then he turns over in my womb, offering relief and the reminder that change is coming – and change is happening.
Waiting for an answer
A book update: My coauthor and I are waiting for some news about our proposal. This wait over all the other ways writers are called to wait — for pitch replies, for revisions, for payment, for an agent — has been the hardest of my career. I’ve questioned my vocation more times that I’d like to admit. I’ve heard feedback that’s brought about despair. So I’ve recommitted to the work of writing. To trusting that, whatever happens with this proposal, I’ll keep writing.
Writing nourishes my soul like nothing else. Writing is my gift to others. Writing is worship. Being faithful to this call, rather than fearful of failure, is the stance I’ve adopted. I wait for an answer with open hands. I wait, committed to serving.
The gifts of Advent
Waiting for wonder, waiting for a child, waiting for an answer – it all sounds a bit like Advent, doesn’t it?
Waiting for wonder teaches that, however uncomfortable waiting can feel, we rarely wait alone. We experience the season of Advent with others, and this community is a gift to cherish. We can lean on each other for support and hope as we do the hard work of waiting.
Waiting for a child reminds of the duality of Advent: our days can be both painful and joyful, and their potency demands we pay attention to the present. Of Advent Henri Nouwen writes, “Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her.”
Finally, waiting for an answer allows us to loosen our grip on our perceived control. During Advent, we’re beckoned to shift trust from ourselves to a higher power, in my case, God, though for some it could be love or Christmas generosity. We adopt a posture of surrender while maintaining hope.
I don’t know what you’re waiting for this Advent. Maybe it’s for another season to begin. Maybe it’s test results. Faith. A new home. The feeling you’ve arrived. Whatever the case, know this: in the waiting, you are growing.
Keep awake. Stay attuned to all that Advent allows you to see, feel and experience. Know that waiting eventually ends, making room for peace, love and wonder.
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I love sunsets, I love words, I love paying attention to the movements of birds, I love the warmth of a fire and hearty conversation, I love taking long vacations,
I love my husband’s strong embrace and our son’s melodious laugh, I love piping hot coffee with half-and-half, I love fresh-cut hydrangeas and a candle on my desk, I love having really good sex, I love minestrone and Aperol Spritz and fresh-baked baguette, I love a Bad Day ice cream sundae to help me forget,
I love it when the clouds are painted cotton candy pink, I love reading writers whose work makes me think, I love practicing yoga and walks in the woods, I love seeing people collaborate for the common good,
I love the mountains, I love to sing, I love pushing my son on a tire swing, I love MagnaTiles and Hot Wheels cars strewn across our carpet, I love using drive-up order service at our local Target, I love the smell of fabric softener wafting in the breeze, I love how my dog’s presence puts me at ease,
I love being with friends who feel like home, I love and crave more time alone, I love baby announcements and heartfelt letters, I love chunky and soft oversized sweaters, I love rainbows, the first snow, calming waters, blazing leaves, I love watching Hallmark Christmas movies, I love feeling the wind tickling my hair, I love how protests and petitions can be a form of prayer,
I love faith that makes space for questions, the grace that sets me free, a church that affirms each person’s dignity, I love hearing my preschooler’s silly jokes, I love listening to the stories of ordinary folks I love art that’s beautiful and bold, I love how writing invites me to behold.