A Miracle All the Same

11/20/17


A miracle is that we could do the will of God, the priest said.

He was quoting a story by Father Anthony De Mello that addresses the heart of where our spirituality goes wrong. "In your land, it is regarded as a miracle if God does someone’s will," the native tells the inquiring traveler. "In our country, it is regarded as a miracle if someone does the will of God."

//

I couldn't see her face during the funeral mass to say whether she cried. I was in the very back pew wrangling the embarrassing circus that is my three wolfish boys. Although I suspect my most wiggly one would do better if seated closer, my autism spectrum one feels safer in the back. The toddler will be loud either way, but no one minds about toddlers.

So I saw her back only; her starched dress and careful hairstyle. When I hugged her before the ceremony, she'd had no tears in her eyes, and it struck me that maybe her ducts had run out. Four and a half months, seven surgeries, never once taking her firstborn child home. Maybe there wasn't a single tear left in her. Her eyes were bare, almost vacant. I don't think I'd understood until that moment how the death of a child takes part of a mother's soul; but there it was, missing when I looked in her eyes.

I use words like embarrassing to describe my own children, and I don't move the cursor to delete them when I think maybe I should. My stretched abdomen tells of a date on the calendar that I simultaneously long for and fear. But my fears are silly ones: being overwhelmed and impatient, not getting enough sleep, not having time to work on my own projects. The post-childbirth fears I entertain do not involve poorly developed internal organs or months in the NICU. I have that luxury. My friend never will. Any subsequent pregnancy from now on will wreck her with anxiety, and no well-meaning platitudes could ever lighten her burden.

//

We had all prayed for a miracle. We prayed she would live. Why would God let a baby die? I will never have an answer.

But a miracle is not that God could do our will, but that we could do the will of God. Hundreds of people crossed the Catholic-Protestant divide and became "of one mind as Christ our Lord" in financial provision, prayer, food delivery, and emotional support. Hundreds of people crossed culture and nationality to believe with one another for the life of a little girl and the well-being of her parents. The Church acted like the Church. We did the will of God, and it was a miracle. Not the miracle we were hoping for, but a miracle all the same.

Mass is always a trial for my son with autism. When I explained that being calm and quiet during the funeral mass was a way to show our love and care for our friends' deep sadness, he looked me in the eye and said: "I want to do that." This, too, is a miracle. Not the miracle we were hoping for, but a miracle all the same.

//

We got home from the reception and the toddler came down with a stomach virus. Twelve hours of throwing up and forty-eight hours of laundry ahead of me. But every time I held him tight as the regurgitated liquid ran down my t-shirt, all I could think was how she would give anything, anything, to be cleaning up vomit. How they went home together to an empty apartment.

The night before, I had sat at my own dining room table and wiped tears from my eyes as I explained to listening ears how heavy a weight motherhood has felt to me lately. I know it doesn't diminish someone else's enormous cross to confess that I have a small one of my own and that it's damned hard to carry sometimes, but I can't help but be assaulted by the perspective nonetheless. At least I have tears left to cry. I have never known that kind of drying.

How do I honor the life of this little saint in heaven and her empty-handed parents left behind? I clean up vomit. I diffuse sensory meltdowns. I endure Legos thrown at my head. And I do it with gratitude. Because to do the will of God is a miracle. Not the miracle we were hoping for, but a miracle all the same.

I Interrupt This Very Serious Blog to Bring You... a Decorating Post

11/15/17

Didn't see that one coming, did you? Me neither, really, but a little light breathing never hurt anyone- and sometimes I miss that old school blogging where we just showed each other what the insides of our unprofessionally designed houses look like. Anyone else?

When we decided to move back to Iowa this summer after our Texas upheaval, I came alone into town and had about 24 hours to find us a new house. By a stroke of good luck (and the help of a lovely realtor from our church) I managed to find one situated both in the zoning of our oldest son's former elementary school and within walking distance to downtown, our two biggest priorities. It's 100 years old (just how we like them), unremarkable from the outside, but charming and cozy when you step foot indoors. It's historic feel captures our family vibe, but the big updated kitchen has me waving my 21st century praise hands, and the kitchen/dining/living space is really great for hosting.

Favorite part of new house: a kitchen door that opens straight to the backyard for optimal kicking-kids-out proximity

Least favorite part of house: having only one bathroom for six people; imagining said bathroom with four pubescent boys

We hemmed and hawwed over which of the upstairs bedrooms to make the master (and I use that word so loosely it's hysterical), since they are all pretty much the size of the box that my preschooler's last pair of shoes came in. The one that somehow ended up making the most sense happened to be... wait for it... bubble gum pink.


I would show you pictures of the rest, but actually that's basically the entire room. We bought the king-sized bed years ago when we were in a house that had a normal amount of bedroom space and have questioned whether we've regretted it ever since. But man, when you have at least one extra human sleeping with you (no matter how small- you know the tinier the human, the more horizontal he sleeps) every night for years, it's pretty hard to beat. So I have to shimmy against the wall to get out my side in the morning, but I can more or less sleep through the night no matter who joins me so #winning.

Anyway, back to the pink. I personally kind of liked it, but I'll leave you to guess how Eric felt.

(if you guessed "ambivalent", go back to the drawing board)

But hey, hey remember who's preggers and can't spend hours painting poorly ventilated bedrooms? So we waited until my mom came into town - which always guarantees somethin's about to get DONE - and let her do it.

E and I agreed on sage green but when I got to Lowe's I accidentally didn't at all get sage.

It just looked so... dark! And serious.

So I got Melancholy Mint. Perfect, I thought, Melancholy for him, Mint for me.

Unsurprisingly, his assessment was too much mint, not enough melancholy, but agreed it was a heck of a lot better than sleeping in Pepto Bismal. So we left it, I like it, and I think he doesn't mind it.



The room still felt rather sterile, so we thought a rug might warm things up. Eric surprised me by bringing one home spontaneously one day but I returned it because I am a monster.

Eventually we found this one together at Target and it's not artisan made or ethically sourced or even super original, but gosh I like it. The piece of art on the wall was given to us by our friend and uber talented artist Mick Burson, and I adore the colors.

(The armchair is so great, but children have written alllllll over that mug. Don't look too closely.)


So the room came together fine I'd say- but it fell short of the kind of special, pulled-together vibe we were hoping for. Enter Pixers wallpaper. They offered to send me some samples and their watercolor designs didn't give me a chance to say no. I've never applied wallpaper before but was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as hard as I thought. I actually didn't bother to match up the patterns on the individual sheets, but as the placement is behind the bed I don't think you can tell unless you're looking for it.



Pixers has some beautiful prints, and if you're looking to jazz up a space with an accent wall, poster, or decal, I would definitely recommend checking them out. I'll be honest, the wallpaper prices are not cheap- BUT 'TIS THE SEASON FOR WISHLISTS, am I right?! Let grandma give you the gift of a beautiful space.


Last but not least, I need your help. What on earth could I possibly hang on this huge blank wall over our bed? I'm stumped. Of course I know that a gorgeous canvas painting would be the best option but let's be realistic about that bank account, shall we? Does anyone have ideas on something really large but also inexpensive, and not so heavy that I'm terrified of it falling down and killing us in our sleep? Por favor.



We're still dreaming of one day making this a guest room and finishing the attic to be a real, live master. But in the meantime, I'm totally feeling this sweet little B-and-B style hideaway.

Do you have an old-school home decor post in the dusty archives of your blog? Link to it in the comments so I can see! I'm feeling nostalgic these days.


(I did not receive monetary compensation from Pixers for this post. I did receive free product to review, but all thoughts are my own.)

Shadows and Shape-Shifting Dreams

11/9/17


I rocked him in the darkening room, the sun just flirting with the idea of settling in for the night. Twenty-five pounds of him lay limp against me, one chubby hand grasping listlessly at the breast it remembered once finding comfort in, though not seeming to recall when or how. The fever burned through his body and I pushed the chair back and forth with my toes while I sang.

Salve Regina, mater misericordiae

There is comfort in remembering that she rocked Him like this once too, hundreds of thousands of sunsets ago. I wonder what she sang? The Word who became flesh, sick and tired and letting his eyelids fall when His fever raged; allowing Himself to be comforted by a mortal, patting the breast whereat He had first learned tenderness. He knows what it is to be weaker than you want to be. He knows what it is to be dependent, to be frail. He knows the poverty of skin and sinew.

//

As college students immersed in charismatic evangelicalism, my generation was told we would change the world. (I suppose they're likely still telling college students that today.) We would "go to the nations", we would "see revival", we might just be the generation that fulfills the Great Commission and ushers in the second coming of Christ. None of this is wrong necessarily, except in the sense that it's largely inaccurate. Most of us didn't go on any grand Christian missions adventure, and those who did are either already back or have stuck it out for the long haul but realized it won't look anything like what we imagined. It's safe to say that wherever we've landed, the vast majority of us lead lives that more or less look and feel incredibly ordinary.

Like rocking sick babies. Like skin and sinew. Like the older and wiser voices we had written off as jaded.

//

It's been over a decade since I was a young twentysomething, but I'm just now beginning to realize that the joke's on me. The Kingdom of God is not somewhere "out there" to be attained or earned, and it's certainly not something that is designed to bolster my ego or make me look good in front of other Christians. Jesus told us exactly where to find Him- in the neighbor we clothe, the lonely we visit, the cup of cold water we give to another- but we want to make it so much harder. Some of us want to make it unattainable so that we have the excuse of not being "called". Others of us want to make it unattainable so that onlookers will admire our hefty sacrifice.

But now I think the way of Christ is small. I think it's accessible to everyone. I think it's less of a one-time, life-altering call and more of a habitual going low and elevating the other, whether that be a difficult child or a homeless refugee. I think all of that is true, and yet I ping-pong between the surety of the conviction and my own idea of radicalism.

Saint Therese writes of "the little way"- the faithful acts of love in our ordinary lives that unite us to Christ- and it makes me want to scream. What about victims of sex trafficking, Therese?! What about all of the nuclear weapons, what about unjust treatment of immigrants, what about women who need support in order to not choose abortion?! If we all just sat around singing to Jesus while we washed dishes, how would the Kingdom ever come?!

Then I feel His thick hands weighty on my shoulders. My peace I give to you, He says. Follow me.

//

I don't know if I'll ever do anything that feels big and important in the moment; maybe no one does. Maybe they do. Right now the most true thing I do know is that the smallness He's given me is a gift, one I'd never have asked for but has changed me nonetheless.

I wear this human flesh just like God Himself once did. The Incarnation necessarily demolishes walls between the weak and the strong, the worthy and the unworthy, the pitied and the impressive. No such labels can stand in the presence of the Divine enfleshed in bones and blood: nothing about the appearance of my life or my impact matters, nothing elevates me above anyone else, nothing earns me more approval from the only Eye who matters. I am simply one of us, in whom the power is in the poverty.

If His humanity isn't unto that, it is unto nothing.

//

My life got smaller a few months ago, and though it was a hard turning I'm settling into the idea of it. As it turns out, the narrowing has made room for something new: a book. I'm working with publisher OSV to write a nonfiction book on what happens when we confront the weakness within us and offer it back to a God who cloaked Himself in human experience. Examining the Incarnation changes both the way we see ourselves and the way we encounter a hurting world, and our own poverty is the gift we never saw coming.

I'm so thankful to get the chance to write this for you, for us. Others will have said it better (Vanier, Metz, Nouwen), but I still have to say it like me. I hope you stick around until Spring 2019 when the words come to life. I'll be praying for us as I write: little, flattened, broken-up us, just desperately hoping He meant it when He said ours is the kingdom of God, and seeing it here and there in glimpses- usually where we never thought to look.

I will be here still, smaller than I once imagined myself to be; rocking babies, writing words, loving my neighbor. And on the good days, when the sun sets just right for painting shadows on the far corner of the nursery wall, I can believe it is enough.

All the Babies Who Weren't Moses

10/22/17


Hush baby hush,
sleep baby sleep,
God will take care of you

My preschooler turns the pages of his Bible storybook, convinced he's reading what he actually just has memorized. Isn't the story of David and Goliath every little boy's favorite- promising him that children can be braver than grownups, and more powerful than they feel? Mine is no exception. But in a close second place is this one: The story of Moses, his namesake.

Another page turn, and back to the refrain.

Hush baby hush,
sleep baby sleep,
God will take care of you

His little mouth (so much like his daddy's) forms the words into the most innocent of sounds, rhythmic and lispy. A baby. A basket. A mother who dares to take a risk. A close call. An act of compassion. A proof of not only the goodness of God, but of humanity as well. It's touching and it's lovely and it's all the right things.

Except complete.


My own little Moshe doesn't read about the Hebrew baby boys who didn't share our hero's fate; he doesn't need to know, let him stay little a few years more. But it beats through my head like a drum as I look at the smiling cartoon pictures: I hear all the mothers wailing the cries of which Jochebed was spared, see all the tiny carnage of a deranged king's fear. I can barely think of it long before it becomes too much and I have to look away.

The Bible is nothing if not honest about evil, both the force outside of us and that sometimes found within our very own hearts. But we dine on Scripture like the choosiest of patrons, moving our forks right over the unpalatable parts and letting the savory go down smooth. Chase it with a Cabernet, for good measure. We exalt voices who assure us that God wants to "bless us" with financial security, easy relationships, and a comfortable life. We read verses like Jeremiah 29:11 to mean if we do it all right, we are guaranteed those things- or worse yet, that we deserve them.

In college, I had a runner friend who was convinced that God had promised him an Olympic medal. Now, in my mid-thirties, it sounds laughably ridiculous but at the time we drank it down seriously- maybe with a bit of awe on the side. It wasn't that I felt no skepticism, but that I had never met anyone so confident in God's favor. It was admittedly attractive.

Most of us aren't walking around making claims such as my old friend's (to my knowledge he never went to the Olympics), but the same spirit can usually be found given one quick sweep of our hearts. Our version of Christianity so often becomes an expectation of replaying the narrative of Jochebed and Miriam, and we forget about all the babies who weren't Moses.

I don't know what it's like to lose a baby, but I listen to the inconsolable grief of friends who do. I don't know what it's like to be a child who sleeps in a bed a grown man slithers into every night, but I know there are a disproportionate number of little girls who do. I've never witnessed the devastation when hurricanes strike, the earth quakes, or wildfires burn, but I know people all over the globe today are numbly trying to survive the hand they've been dealt.

But I know a little bit about praying for healing and seeing none over and over again, and the paradigm shift in your brain as you are forced to confront what you thought you were sure about God. I know a little about circumstances you're convinced are more than you can bear, and of crying out to the Great Silence from the confines of your closet where no one else can hear.

I have known a God who feels intimately near me and I have known One who won't lift a finger to stir the pot. I have known divine intervention and I have known the perils of free will, and I yo-yo daily about what it all means. Maybe there is no physical throne that He's either on or off; maybe He is simply the love that propels subatomic particles through time and space, the goodness that passes between skin cells when one human shows compassion on another. Maybe the idea of easy Sunday answers fails to hold up against suffering and mystery, and all that is left is to trust in the existence of mercy, pooling black around us, dark as freshly shed blood.

Maybe there is only Emmanuel, God with us. And maybe that could be enough.

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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