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.
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.
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.
10/13/12 | It drizzled this morning. So much so we unleashed the dotted umbrellas purchased last minute for our wedding. I worried about my hair, the guests, our pictures. Did you know some say rain on your wedding day is good luck?
Standing across from you in our college chapel, I feel more than luck. I feel fluttering in my chest — not fear or nerves, rather, an awakening. Love six years in the making shifts in its cocoon, ready to fly. Your sky-blue eyes twinkle back at mine. Our hope is palpable.
My childhood pastor stands across from us reciting, “O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things.” I want to savor everything — light flooding the altar, my gardenia perfume mingling with my roses, your hand in mine, firm yet gentle. At 26, we have big goals, you for your business, me with my writing. One day, we’d like to get a dog. We hope to own a home and start a family. Become a new creation.
10/18/21 | We marked nine years of marriage last week. On our anniversary, a repairman was supposed to fix our long-broken oven. You laughed and called year nine “the oven anniversary.” I promised to bake celebratory banana bread. That weekend, we’d visit your folks’ place, where they’d watch our son, and we’d have a proper date night. Then the repairman cancelled. Our trip was postponed. And I wanted to say something here about our love, but I didn’t.
Tonight, before you leave for another business trip, you snuggle next to me on our couch and read one of my essays. 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?
Yet seeing you here, in the glow of our living room, I know the best part of these years hasn’t been observing each other grow. It’s been emerging together: traveling the world, cultivating a home, raising our son, making memories. We’ve been made new, over and over, through love and God’s grace.
Why do cicadas hum? Why do chickadees whistle? Why do coyotes cock their heads and howl in the vast darkness?
Because words are oxygen.
Because last summer you were playing in the bathtub with your cars, I let the faucet run too long — I was nearby, absorbed in a story — warm water sloshed higher and higher, when I looked up, I laughed, put down my book and asked, “Honey, do you want to try floating?” Kneeling on tile, I cradled your head in my hands told you to “puff up your chest like a starfish,” couldn’t stop thinking about that stolen summer all we’d lost all that needed mending and then you floated, fingers grazing the edges of the bathtub, you beamed, and how else would I remember?
And how else would I remember the warmth of my grandfather’s voice, indigo mountains cresting over the horizon, my first taste of watermelon, juicy-sweet wonder?
I sift words like grains of sand, craft castles from memory, some days, shaping it all is like trying to contain the ocean — impossible. Hands caked with salt water and sand I build anyway, each story an offering.
A writer I admire once called writing “a miserable, awful business” and also “better than anything in the world.”
Writing is the cure and the sickness.
It feeds me and empties and fills me again. It’s like confession or communion and perhaps that’s sacrilegious? Mostly, I think it’s prayer.
Someone in a church I no longer know, he said something like, “Women’s voices don’t belong in the pulpit.”
When I set my pen to the empty page, I only want to tell the truth: half of my life I spent running trying to make myself small. These days I stand tall and sing: this is how I was created — with whole symphonies inside praising.
I know what the coyotes know: my voice is my power.
I. Sunlight streams through the tree outside our bay window. Hearts of shade and light decorate pale hardwood. Green leaves rustle in the breeze. I watch from our couch, right hand poised to write, eyes mesmerized by the interplay of brightness and its absence.
II. At the start of 2021, I chose “light” as my word of the year. 2020 had been a heavy year for our family. I needed a word that evoked levity, joy, hope. I like that “light” is a noun (something that makes sight possible), a verb (to illuminate) and an adjective (of little weight). I like its relevance to Scripture, poetry, nature.
III. I tell my son “God is light” and he watches for the sun in the mornings. “It’s another grumpy, gray day,” he’ll remark when it’s cloudy. “It’s sunny today!” he’ll chirp at fairer weather. How interesting that light — or its lack — changes his mood so completely.
IV. Me, I capture light with my pen and my smartphone camera, committing my favorite images to memory. I cherish dazzling sunsets and the secret dots of light that appear in the afternoon on our bedroom closet. When I walk in the evenings, golden hour sun slips between the slats of fences, striping the sidewalk. God’s signature frames the tips of houses and covers wildflowers in a hazy glow.
V. 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.”
Call it foolish, call it futile, say flamboyant if you dare. As for me, I’ll call it radiance, suspended in the air — a glass dragon roaring with amber, fire, maize, mid-flight, bouncing beams, ever-wrestling in its cage. Or a vine of glossy poppies honey, rose, persimmon glow floating high in a rare greenhouse, never meant to seed or grow.
From my vantage point I watch them juxtaposed against blue sky, and Seattle’s Space Needle reaching for the star that grants us light. What was the artist thinking? another bystander might ask. Does a fragile glasshouse matter amid brokenness en masse? (All these tired, hungry people looking for a place to rest. Such extravagance demands we raise our eyes, pause and reflect.)
Me, I could’ve stayed for hours bathed in warmth, beneath the sun roused by beauty, held by brightness from the Maker’s hands was spun.