"God showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand… and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: 'What can this be?' And it was generally answered thus: 'It is all that was made.' It was so small I thought it might disappear, but I was answered... everything has being through the love of God." --Julian of Norwich

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Trust: Living the Resurrection

It's Trusting Tuesday again and time for my monthly check in about how God is using Trust--my OneWord365--to form my life this year.  In January I wrote about how I got to a place of distrust in many areas of my life.  In February I wrote about learning to trust my own body as I hoped for a VBAC with the birth of my second child, but feared that my body had failed me the first time around.  And last month I wrote about how I have struggled to come to new rhythms of trusting God in parenthood and how I can live more gratefully as a mom.

It has been a good month.  April has always been a month I associate with joy and sunshine and new life--a month with birthdays and flowers and Easter celebrations.  And now there is one more new life and birthday celebration to add to the list: our little Julianne was born at the beginning of the month!

I'll make a full post of her birth story soon, but for now I'll just rejoice that I did get to have the VBAC of my dreams--a short and intense natural labour.

One thing about it that surprised me the most was the pushing stage.  I never got to push with Lucy and I had an epidural by that point, so I'm not sure if I would have felt the urge to push quite like I did this time.  What surprised me now was how quickly my painful belly contractions switched over to the uncontrollable pushing.  It was nothing like the TV shows (even the lovely Call the Midwife), when they portray a woman in labor as having control of her pushing, pushing on cue or stopping her pushing.  Instead, pushing out Julianne took over my whole body with an animal type of power.  I couldn't help it but push with my whole being.  I did have to focus the energy, but no one had to tell me when it was time to push and though they tried to help me slow my pushing at the end to avoid tearing, I couldn't control it much.

Living through this amazing experience of my body's power reminded me of Paul's metaphor in Romans 8: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."  I've always thought of this in the context of my previous labour experience: extreme pain, ultimately futile.  But after Julianne's birth I could think of it in a new way.

God's resurrection life is breaking into this world, which was well created to bear us into eternal life.  The pain and frustration of this present life in this present world is not hopeless or futile, but pain with a purpose, groaning that is inevitably, inexorably, unstoppably bearing us into God's resurrection life.

I couldn't sleep the night Julianne was born because this image was all I could think about.  Just think of the power in it!  That this whole world is splitting open like the husk of a seed, pushing with the force of a woman about to give birth, bursting with God's Spirit-life.  

What does this mean for me?  I am not pitted against life in a creation destroyed by pain and suffering, but planted in a creation that uses even the worst of my sufferings (even the worst of my sufferings around Lucy's medical birth, for example) to bear me into life.

This month in my trust journey, I have learned just a little more about what it means to "practice resurrection" (as Wendell Berry put it).  I have learned to throw myself in trust on the belief that God really is in the business of redeeming and renewing this whole weak and broken world (as crazy as it sounds in this modern world).  I really do believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that we will be too.  I really do believe in resurrection.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Five-sense Friday

The morning started too early, exhaustion and adrenaline singing in my muscles, an unselfconscious full-throated rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star ringing out from Lucy's bedroom.  It was impossible not to smile.

Oh what my body has accomplished this week, with its five simple senses at attention, in its power and its weakness.  A life. We have welcomed a new life.  Peanut is here with her wavering, warbling little cry, her skin so smooth, her eyes so bright, her toes so impossibly long.  Julianne, we have called her, for Julian of Norwich (of course, you say smiling, of course).  And Portia, for one of the most beautiful, strongest women I have ever known.

This day has called for a poppy bagel and decaf coffee, for a routine visit to the midwife, for a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with apple and prosciutto, for leftover curried cauliflower soup, for apple cake with whipped cream, for a nap, for pizza with a kind and helpful friend, for a sip of Winter Ale.  It has called for many hours with seven pounds of breathtaking beautiful and tiny on my lap, tugging at my breast.  It has called for Advil on repeat for the ache of healing.  It has smelled of milk and breastfed diapers, of essential oils in warm baths, of chill spring air.  It has felt like eyes closing involuntarily as I sit, as I read a Dora book aloud or my Facebook page.

The evening ended a bit past the normal bedtime, with strains of "ABC" from the bedroom, one last loud lullaby.  The rumble of washing machine and dishwasher.  Our sides split with laughter.

I can't wait to tell you all the stories, but for now this is enough.  There are tiny arms to be swaddled in flannel and crochet and tired bones to lift into bed until the next feed.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Trusting [Thurs]day: Answering the Bell

 Ha! Well even with a deadline I can see coming for a MONTH, I'm struggling to get these pieces out on time.  But here is my OneWord365 reflection on Trust for March.

*Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

This week I have enjoyed a prolonged meditation on an essay by Canadian Catholic writer Ronald Rolheiser called "The Domestic Monastery."  The basic theme Rolheiser communicates in this essay is that mothers can live a contemplative life, even (and especially) amidst the isolation, drudgery, and interruptions of daily domestic life, if we recognize that every sacrifice is a reminder that our time is not our own, but God's.  Among the ups and downs of my journey into parenthood over the past few years, I really needed to hear this.

The truth is that it has been hard.  I did not really feel prepared by anything I had ever attempted before, not even the grueling work of inner-city teaching, for the constant sacrifices of parenting.  In a recent column entitled "Parental Pity Party" NYTimes writer Ross Douthat recently called these sacrifices "medieval" and I like that choice of word, it implies all the physicality and pre-modern drudgery (hard, repetitive physical labor) that parenting has meant for me.

Growing up, I internalized the unspoken values of the middle-class world where I lived: education was of primary importance to success in life.  Those who did well in school (I qualified) should go on for more school and embark on successful, innovative careers to shape their community and world.  It was a grand, idealistic vision, and it didn't leave much time for the basic physical tasks of life, like cooking from scratch, washing up, doing laundry, cleaning toilets, sweeping and mopping floors, and so on.  Since my mom did most of those things for me, so I could focus on my own intellectual work, I never learned the repetitive importance of these tasks, and just kind of assumed that there would always be someone else to help me out with them, a convenient, industrial economy, hired help, etc.

I don't fault anyone but myself for the short-sightedness and ungratefulness of this attitude, but that was how I thought.  It made plenty of sense, even through my single life on my own and my early marriage.  I had achieved what was promised: a comfortable middle-class teaching job with plenty of disposable income to buy easy, processed food, send my laundry out, and I wasn't home enough to make much of a mess or a fuss about cleaning.

But it didn't make any sense at all of the sudden, painful, irrational jolt of parenthood!  I had left behind that comfortable teaching job for more schooling (not a pragmatic decision, but a good one) and emerged three years later victorious and heavily pregnant.

And parenthood was a jolt from the intellectual and idealistic career-building pursuits of grad school into the daily drudgery of stay-at-home parenting.  And though I found many aspects rewarding (mostly, I loved being with Lucy like crazy and would do anything for her), I came to resent the fact that the food, laundry and cleaning didn't do themselves anymore.  In fact, they exploded into a Herculean task.  And this time--without me going back to work and sacrificing all that I loved about being with Lucy--there was no way to pay my way out.  I've had to confront the fact that I didn't value these basic life tasks, learn to do them and learn to live into them intentionally--or at least to just plain get them done so I can get on with my life.  I've finally realized and faced up to the fact (silly girl) that ain't nobody gonna do this work for me anymore.

In the midst of all that mess (including my own mental selfishness, laziness and elitism), Rolheiser's piece challenges me.  Especially the beautiful image at the end of the monastic bell--the bell that rings throughout the day to call monks to move to a new activity like mealtime, worktime, or communal prayers.  St. Bernard emphasized in his writings that the monastic bell teaches a monk that his time is not his own, it belongs to God.  Every time it rings, whether he is ready or not, he must lay down his own agenda for his time and move along to the next thing.

If we had the wrong idea in our heads that being a monk meant an escape from the mundane worldly realities of life for a life of prayer, the monastic bell shows us that that's not true at all!  Life must still be lived, but with different priorities.  Rolheiser draws out how that same monastic bell rings in the life of a mother every time her child needs something from her or her work presses.  She must drop everything and attend to the situation.

But I have found that I could either resent the ringing of the bell (not a very effective strategy for mental health, by the way, because it's just going to keep on ringing anyway, but resentment is a valid choice), or I can accept its ringing and respond gratefully.  It depends on whether I am willing to trust God, to acknowledge that my time is not my own, it is his, graciously given to me.  I want to use this time wisely, investing in God's invisible, upside-down kingdom with my daily work.  I hope that still involves an innovative career down the road, but all that I have is now, and what I have now is preparing for baby, keeping my home, and loving on Clint and Lucy.

So, each morning with the "Mommy, Mama, Mommy" that wakes me, with the "Mama, read this book now," with the repeated emptying of the dishwasher and tackling the towering pile of laundry, I choose, again, to trust.

This post is linked up with Amy's Trusting Tuesdays at her blog The Messy Middle.

**edited on March 25th because I noticed I got my saints and monastic rules wrong... it was St. Bernard Rolheiser cited about the bell, not Benedict.  My apologies. :)