The World Turns Upside Down

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operaI’m sitting in a hotel room in downtown Sydney wondering what the hell I’m doing.

Last week, The Kid and Little Brother and I were driving to TK’s school, our typical frenetic routine in place. I was yearning for some peace, some reassurance about the trip that The Husband and I would be making in a few days: a frenetic plan itself, globe-hopping to another hemisphere, the upside-down to our right-side-up, fourteen hours ahead and half a world away. I was wondering if we should update our will (we don’t have a will), get it in writing that The Sis would take our kids if something happens to us (I think I have an email or text somewhere to that effect), spending my last moments before drifting off to sleep suddenly and consumingly grateful for the mere feet separating me from my sleeping sons in their beds across the hall. On this morning, desperate and hungry for peace, I looked ahead through the windshield and saw the light through the trees. I stopped breathing for a second.

All down the road ahead of me, rays of light cast their beams, waves and particles gathering visibly only because they were traveling through something–spaces between leaves, around branches, dusty pollinated air, gray and scattered clouds. Blake’s verse came to mind, the one that can’t leave me even when my grocery list and name do: “And we are put on earth a little space/That we may learn to bear the beams of love.”

We feel that we are being called to a different space by a love that operates outside of our comfort zones, our familiar patches of geography, our personal plans. Cut to me crying alone in a Sydney hotel room, wondering if I’m reading that calling correctly.

I moved to New York eleven years ago in an act of desperation that could have been interpreted as reckless; my father sure thought it was after that first tax return. I came away from that island with a newfound faith, enduring friendships, and a husband. Not bad for five years’ exile. Now I’m sitting on an island that is a continent that is ten times as far from home as New York was, only this time around I have two boys and their lives to consider. Am I being stupid? Is this even doable? I went to lunch this morning with a fellow mom who fits all the parameters of New Friend; TH and I stopped by for a glass of wine last night with a New York acquaintance whose husband is a pastor here. I ALREADY HAVE A PASTOR. TWO IN FACT. I LIKE THEM VERY MUCH, GOD. WHY ARE YOU MESSING WITH THAT? We talked and laughed last night; today we ate and related, and it was all quite pleasant, and now I want to throw up, because this is getting very real. How is TK going to react to such a colossal, daily change? Am I giving him enough credit, or just using him as an excuse? Can someone time travel three years into the future and let me know that this is the best thing we ever did so that I can finally have a normal poop and a peaceful night’s sleep?

This all may sound very ungrateful coming from someone who is being afforded the opportunity to live within minutes of beautiful beaches in year-round temperate weather on a company’s dime. But this is how I need to process such a change, through the highs and lows of emotional recognition, the nausea-inducing taxi ride from the airport (I do know this from thirty-nine years of life: never interpret a city based on the ride from the airport) and the run along the harbor with the view of the Opera House and botanical gardens. I need to ride the waves that are appearing to lift us out of the life we know and into the one we are called to, the one being written by a love whose beams I am constantly relearning how to endure, a love that sends me on a reckless trip halfway across the world and gathers clouds just so I can see its light on a typical Tuesday morning, leaving the path we’re on full of so many unknowns even while the road ahead is scattered with illumination.

Centers

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centerI was sitting in church, and I was pissed.

Another family stood at the front, preparing to leave us. Answering a calling that, to me, seemed pretty rude for even existing in the first place because letting go sucks. I sat in the audience watching this goodbye unfold through tears and broken voices, tears in my own eyes. And because self-pity is one of my favorite motivators, my anger and tears were for me too, knowing that we will likely be up there soon, one in a long line of our own goodbyes. That night, The Sis texted that The Niece (OG version) had heard her discussing the potential move, so the whole story came out. “WHY?!” The Niece OG asked through tears. “Why?”

I spent the day feeling angry and sad–and Sundays are supposed to be my re-centering days.

I do yoga on Sunday mornings, in my room in front of the TV while “watching” one of the Sunday morning political shows–not a good mix, sure, but Sex and the City usually isn’t on that early. I throw in the laundry, take a shower without listening for children fighting or falling off the bed, and when the boys get back we head to church. I pray the prayers, hear the law and then hear the gospel answer it, accept the bread and wine. I feel shifted back to where I’m meant to be, reminded of what’s important. The million moments of the week each cause their own imperceptible shift, pushing me into myself and away from grace, and I am always hovering somewhere between what I know to be true and what I’m afraid of. Sundays are for pulling me back into the current that leads home; for opening my eyes to the glory that has been hinted at in the mundanity of weekly life. For reminding me of all the ways I’ve missed it.

I remember being pregnant with both the boys, and how, especially the first time around, I had to adjust all my movements to this new center of gravity growing larger and larger at my middle. I had to carry myself differently so I wouldn’t fall over. I had to sleep differently, when I did sleep. I had to re-center. And now that they’re here, everything still changes. There were the early days, when I cradled them in my arms–even one arm–the way I do The Niece, Part Two now; feathery little things more noticeable by their warmth than their weight. Then they moved to my shoulder, tiny heads they’d just learned to lift peeking out at the world. Next they sat atop my hip, holding themselves up entirely. Now they’re both more often at my side, my hand reaching down as theirs reach up. One day, God willing, I’ll reach up to them, centers always changing.

We’re headed to Sydney soon to see what life might look like there. To look for the resources we have here: house, schools, therapists, liquor stores. To find out if this whole thing is doable. Fourteen hours ahead of home, over twenty hours in the air, half a world away, and I’m overwhelmed. Centers keep changing, and sometimes I can’t stand the way grace chooses to give gifts: through both hellos and goodbyes, through uncertainty and tears, through distance and time. It’s all very exciting and very awful and very everything, and it occurs to me that I need a center that doesn’t change.

Last week I started the first of my Thursday mornings at the indoor pool, swimming laps with my new one-piece and swim cap and goggles and ear plugs, hearkening back to a time in my childhood when gliding through the water was natural and easy. I show up among the other swimmers and pick a lane, pretend that I belong here, that I know what I’m doing. I do a lap and don’t drown. Along the way, through the cool clear water, I relearn how to move on its surface. How to turn my head, paddle my arms, kick my feet. How to breathe, differently. It’s quiet here, the underwater sounds replacing music and podcasts and even thinking, just the water shifting around me, making space for me, and images flash through my mind: The Kid a year ago and now, the words that have taken root and the complete sentences, the conversations, the way his teacher told me he updates the visual class schedule when she falls behind, how he loves center time. So many gifts, and I still doubt the ones wrapped in paper I wouldn’t have chosen.

Maybe Thursdays are also for re-centering now. Maybe every moment, actually, is quietly re-centering me, bringing me home: the anger in the night when Little Brother decides it’s time to replace sleep with screams, the boys playing together with the train set on the floor, the way they climb into my lap–another center–for a story, the laps around an indoor track, the rushed prayers on the way to school. Maybe it’s all re-centering me because it’s all leading me home, to the true center that, unlike me, never moves.

Will Write for Attention

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kathrynI’m a mom, so I run primarily on adrenaline and guilt. Throw in some coffee in the AM, some wine in the PM, and you’ve covered the structure of most of my days–but I’ll be damned if anyone but me reduces my life to a cliche. I’ve seen some pretty bad representations of the pulled-in-all-directions nature of motherhood, so when the trailer for Bad Moms popped up on the internet a few months ago, I approached it warily. A major Hollywood studio accurately portraying my constant ambivalence? A script penned by two men (the writers behind The Hangover, no less)? Don’t get me wrong–I have no problem with men writing scripts about women, as long as they get the laundry and dishes done first. I just had my doubts as to how nuanced this depiction would be.

Read the rest over at Mockingbird!

Let It Go

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leap It goes like this…the minor fall, the major lift.

About a dozen years ago, I went canoeing down the Cahaba River in Birmingham with some “friends.” Toward the end of our journey, we approached a rocky island in the center of the water where people were parking their canoes and going swimming. We pulled up and joined in, realizing that there was a point right off the island where the current would pull you in a semicircle and deposit you back on the other side of the rocks. It looked fun–to everyone but me. Ever a slave to peer pressure and approval, though, I waited my turn and, when the water was clear, swam toward the current.

I knew it would happen before it did. The current pulled me reliably away from the island, but I panicked and fought it. I couldn’t just let it hold me and carry me–I had to exert some sort of control. So I paddled and kicked my way right out of the current’s hold and pushed myself back out into the open river and its downstream current. I was adrift. Within seconds the island was a dot behind me and I quickly grew exhausted. The water seemed to be climbing around me as I struggled to remain afloat. With a canoe at their disposal, these friends chose to remain on shore and yell out instructions. “Paddle back this way! You have to SWIM!” I am, dammit, I thought. That’s what got me into this mess in the first place. I was running on empty and felt certain I was about to drown. Somehow I summoned the strength to push myself toward the island and back into the current that deposited me safely onto its shore.

(I did not, however, remain friends with those assholes who almost let me drown.)

I’m just now, as I prepare for my forties (what the literal FUCK), realizing how annoyingly little of the running of the universe has to do with me. Right down to the tiny details of my own life, and my family’s. My children’s, in particular. I wish I had spent all the time I used reading parenting and sleep-training books and put it toward catching up on Netflix shows, as I would have been equally prepared for parenting, and more interesting at cocktail parties. Little of what I geared up for has happened; and most of what has happened? Totally unprepared for. The truest parenting book that could be written would just be a bunch of blank pages with a prescription in the epilogue for Xanax. Maybe throw in directions to the nearest grace-driven, non-bullshitty church, and you’re done. Because, as my pastor reminded me this morning when I went to his office in an effort to complain to management about how God is treating me? So much of the spiritual life–of life, period–is spent in the activity of uncurling my hands from fists into open palms.

It’s only the open hand that receives the manna. That receives the bread and the wine. Which, as previously mentioned, is so damn annoying. Because God should know at this point what an amazing micromanager I am, and is clearly unconcerned with tapping into that skill set.

Lately we’ve been adjusting to the school-year schedule around here, which has been its own form of letting go. Teething Little Brother has chosen to let go of predictable naps: as I type this, he lies on the couch beside me, a product of his choice to take a crap in his diaper rather than a nap in his crib, which led me to throw him in the car and drive to get a milkshake, a ride that put him to sleep within five minutes. And The Kid? He’s letting go of not talking. His teachers regale me every day with something new he’s said, and the questions I posed to him last year on our way home from school, the one-sided, unanswered questions that sank into my heart like rocks, they are now met with so many words: What did you eat for breakfast? Where did you play? What else did you do? Pancakes. Indoor recess. Social time. (WTF is social time?) He will not stop talking, and I remember how people told me, with pity and encouragement, how one day he’d speak so much I’d wish he were more quiet, and how I’d smile thinly and, inwardly, invite them to go to hell–and how now, I have to remind myself sometimes that these words are a blessing. An answer to prayer. I remember how we had the speech evaluation for a device that would speak for him as he chose words with his finger, how we waited to find out what portion insurance would cover, and by the time I got the multi-hundred-dollar total that would be our part, he was speaking on his own. How I threw the paper with the total on it away.

How we put him in therapy after therapy and prayed and begged and pleaded, but what really happened is this: We kept speaking to him, and one day he spoke back.

This is grace, unfolding in seasons, apparently swooping in at the last moment when it’s actually been there the whole time, unspooling this whole story the way it was always meant to be.

Now I sit cross-legged atop a huge cushion with a pillow at my knees as LB stands on the oversized chair in front of me, bouncing on it because that’s another rule I once set and now break, and a second later he’s launched himself through the air. He lands in my lap, where he lands every time, and this little risk-taker, this creature full of faith, is somehow mine.

Then there’s his brother, who is most definitely mine as we walk into the pool party that’s already assembled. I feel his grip on my hand tighten, see the anxiety in his eyes that dart back and forth, am pulled by the current of his need to survey the scene, scope out the perimeter. I tell him it’s okay, reading by rote from the script that has never worked for me, and my own anxiety rises at my inability to immediately calm him. To make everything okay.

He finally locates the brownies–BROWNIES were the answer?!–and another parent, a friend of ours who has somehow become his favorite in the last five minutes, and he spends the next half hour entertaining the group on our side of the pool with a charm he did not learn from me or any book. I relax a bit and grab a glass of wine (related), and a few minutes later I see him, near his brother in the baby pool, arm floats in place as he bends comfortably into the water he was afraid of just a few weeks ago. I see his mouth moving–he’s talking even to himself now!–then I see the grin spread across his face. The grin of conquering fear, of feeling freedom, of pure joy. And it happened without my doing anything to bring it about. I turn to my friend, who’s just had her third, and recall what my counselor had told me about his third–how she turned out so well because they parented her the least. Maybe that was the book I needed to read.

TK splashes in the water; my heart soars. It is in the opening of hands that the bread shows up, that life arrives. It’s in the “yes” to the uninvited angel, the “Here I am, send me,” the “As you wish” rolling down the hill. It’s the letting go that makes space for the miracle.

The Greatest of No Evils

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electionThe true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him but because he loves what is behind him. –GK Chesterton

I haven’t written about politics lately, outside of quips comprised of one hundred forty characters or less. This was not always the case; if you travel back in time through my Facebook feed (PLEASE DON’T), you’ll see that I wasn’t always so taciturn come election year. I ranted and railed with the best of them, my updates staunch and standoffish and no doubt offensive to those on the other side of the fence from the one I occupied. I marvel that I have any friends left, on social media or in real life, and can only give thanks for the graciousness they displayed in sticking around through my tirades (and keeping their responses, for the most part, to themselves or behind my back).

My motivation for shouting political rhetoric from the (online) rooftops was simple: I clung to politics as a facet of my identity. I needed to proclaim my particular values, grounded as I believed they were in faith but upheld by political party affiliation, to project a sense of self into the world. I saw it as a sign of strength that I fought so publicly for what I held dear–and I valued strength because I didn’t see that weakness and failure are valid parts of any narrative rooted in grace, for it’s grace that answers weakness and failure–not strength–with redemption.

I’m so tired of politics. But I’m so not tired of grace.

For awhile now, an unholy hybrid has been brewing between faith and politics that belies an actual separation between them–a gulf of cognitive dissonance. The opposing trajectories of the two render them never fully reconcilable. At some point, we have to renounce the supremacy of one to acknowledge that of the other. Here are the differences I see.

Politics is a climb through the ranks of power. Grace is a descent down the ladder to be among the “least of these.”

Politics eschews forgiveness as a waste of time and chases revenge as a show of strength. Grace confronts me with my own flawed nature, offers forgiveness in return, and leaves me with no option but to offer it to others.

Politics is cling-wrap for labels that would legitimize its agenda. Grace repels all labels or attempts to categorize it; it shuns predictability; it operates outside cultural and ethnic and racial boundaries created by men and dissolves them.

Politics embraces strategy. It shows up with tools to build a kingdom and sets about creating that kingdom according to the design we see fit. Grace recognizes that the only kingdom worth living in will not be constructed by human hands but ushered in by divine ones apart from all our strategies, for it holds the only blueprint for heaven.

Politics assumes that peace will be created by policy. Grace recognizes that while we are invited to be a part of peace on earth, we will never fulfill it on our own.

Politics seeks to protect self-interest among a sea of selves who have different interests. It is insular and, therefore, creates islands. Grace recognizes that we are held and protected outside of strategy and policy by hands we can’t see, and those hands bind us together with commonalities that outweigh our differences.

Politics burdens us to protect our own freedom. Grace brings freedom wherever it shows up.

Politics rejects any space between what is and what should be. Grace allows us to see that that space undeniably exists, and gives us the freedom to mourn it, to recognize the constant “not yet” of living in this world, to be unafraid of it because we know that completion is coming–and not by our own doing.

Politics is full of bad news that charges people to prepare. Grace is full of good news that frees them to change.

Politics tells me I am a guardian. Grace tells me I am a recipient.

Politics demands unwavering consistency. Grace recognizes that the path of redemption is full of change.

Politics demands an either/or decision, a vote often based in my most palpable fear. Grace sets me free to vote, or not vote, according to my deepest belief.

Politics ennobles the basest emotions–anger, fear–into battle cries. Grace uncovers what lies beneath anger and fear and frees me to face it, knowing my truest safety is never in danger.

Politics puts me in a position to choose between the lesser of two evils. Grace tells me that I and my vote are not the ultimate answer, and points to the one who is.

Politics is temporary. Grace is eternal.

Will Write for Attention

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jonI used to be a connoisseur of television, my DVR filled with hour-long nuggets of narrative brilliance, my Netflix recommendations apt reflections of a carefully-curated viewing history. Then I had kids and grew exhausted and, in the late hours of the night (read: 8-10 pm), developed a preference for more fun-sized and less emotionally-involving small-screen moments. I also began to receive more of my entertainment on the run, on the drive to my son’s preschool or during laps on the track at my gym, which is why podcasting opened up a welcome form of media diversion. Recently I caught the Invisibilia episode that DZ wrote about last month, “The Problem with the Solution.”

Over the span of a couple of days, during trips with my kids to the library/museums (Target) and cool-downs on the track, I listened to the story of Geel, Belgium and its treatment of the mentally unwell–specifically, their placement in and cohabitation with host families who employ no strategy other than acceptance. The concept both startled and encouraged me; it made me want to be so unafraid as to be willing to welcome such an element of uncertainty into my own seemingly-staid existence. Then I realized that such an element has always been a part of my life…

Read the rest over at Mockingbird!

Off-Season

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seaI have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages. –Charles Spurgeon

I spent so much of my life trying to fit in before I finally realized that I just didn’t. It took me a little longer to realize that this was an asset: my perennial location on the periphery of social groups taught me how to be an observer (not an Observer, to be clear), which taught me how to narrate human behavior. In short, being a creeper taught me how to write. And I am grateful.

As a bit of a social misfit, at least in my own eyes, I dreaded the fall as the worst of all seasons, for with it came school. Though in the South, school officially begins when the temperature and humidity still hover around 100. Nonetheless, as the leaves began changing, I would find myself staring down nine months of insecurity and discomfort, of struggling to find a place and usually feeling without one, of lunchroom-seat politics and not getting asked to dances or picked for teams. So I studied. I read a lot of books. See, kids? Staying in school does pay off–one day you might have letters behind your name as you sit at home and write for free while your student loans pile up!

Now, though, fall is my favorite season, and not just because of pumpkin spice lattes. Fall is when the God-forsaken heat and humidity lighten up, and with them, my mood. My hair calms the eff down in fall. I bake in fall. The days begin to shorten, which makes it less weird when I go to bed at an hour at which, a few weeks earlier, even the sun was shaking its head. Football is on, and even though I don’t really like or understand the sport, it seems to be accompanied by more reasons to drink and eat chips and myriad forms of dip. In the fall, new television series begin (yes I know they do that every other season now too, but I’m working on a list here). My kids will go back to school, which means more free time to write for free. People (department stores) start to think about (market) Christmas. I get to don sweaters and boots. I LOVE SWEATERS AND BOOTS.

With older age (I am currently twenty-one), other things have changed: besides loving fall, I hate the summer with a passion. Damn mosquitoes, aforementioned heat and humidity, children–the little blessings–always around watching me pee, and people. The people just come out in droves in the summer, do they not? The Husband and I experienced this recently during a getaway to the 30A-side of the gulf, where we spent a weekend while our kids remained under the watchful (when not on Facebook) eye of The Mom and Dad. I preached the Gospel of the Gulf to TH while we were engaged, when I informed him it was where we would be getting married. He fell in love with it quickly, August-temperatures-and-tuxes-mixture notwithstanding, and we go back often. Our other two trips there in the past few months have occurred in the fall and winter, so imagine our surprise when we arrived there in July and found that we had descended into the bowels of hell, with extra-nice scenery. Gone were the mild temperatures and empty stores, gone were the hours spent quietly lounging on pool chairs under towels, gone was the shalom that comes with no restaurant waits or tripping over families of seventeen. In the place of all that was chaos. Hot, nasty chaos.

The weekend reminded me of what a contrarian I am–my new, grown-up word for misfit–as I rued all the things that everyone else showed up en masse to enjoy. It reminded me–sad, sunburned me–of how this makes me different from many, this preference for lying underneath towels and away from people, this solace I take in solitude. It highlighted all the ways I tend to swim upstream, either insecurely or proudly, and it made me grateful that I finally found a place–a family, who resemble that too. A husband who would sooner put on a skirt than dress in khaki and white for pictures on the beach. A boy who takes one look at a crowd or unfamiliar environment and either runs the other way, or circles the perimeter, already smart enough to look for his designated spot on the periphery. We are the people who stick together, who prefer our own little cocoon, thanks, who don’t make friends all that easily because that shit is hard and, when we do have friends, we tend to bare our souls to them (no? just me? okay), so they better be the right people. We like our house, and our stuff, and our predictable routines and safe spaces.

Which is why it seems really mean that God appears to be calling us to move to Australia.

I mean, some of it makes sense–they do flip the seasons over there, and I respect that bucking of trends. But the rest–the discomfort of relocating halfway across the world just because God seems to think it’s a good idea (hey, I have good ideas too, God!)–that’s just insane. But it appears to be happening, despite my pleas/prayers to the contrary (I never should have invited the Almighty to change my heart. He TOTALLY called my bluff.)

The next few weeks will be telling. And this whole situation is packed with so many unknowns as to give me diarrhea at just the thought of it. I am all over the map about it (see what I did there?), and am hitting every possible emotional target. But here’s what I do know: our little family has weathered some storms, and some painful seasons (I even watched the final one of Glee). And while it might be necessary for me to seek stronger medication as adjunctive therapy to deal with this, I rely on a grace that is bigger than my plans (dammit) and stronger than my…well, than me. A grace that has bonded the four of us eternally, and will continue to hold us–and those we know and love–in its hand, which is also the place it keeps the whole wide world. Even the Southern hemisphere, I’ve been told.

God have mercy.

Long Walks and Short Piers

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pierLet me open by saying that the past couple of weeks have been fucking hard. If that kind of language, or openness, makes you want to clutch your pearls or a rosary, then feel free to do so then keep reading, or not. All I’m saying is that this could turn out to be the Good Will Hunting of blog posts (f-word abounding…and a possible Oscar nomination?) so you’ve been warned.

We were on a break. Not the kind of break one chooses; no, no one chooses a solid week of diarrhea peppered with vomit emanating from their children’s various holes. No one takes the already exhausting season of parenting young children and says, “You know what we need more of? We need more intensity, more fecal-borne bacterial infections, more shit stains on our rug, more laundry piling up.” No one–okay, maybe some people, but not this someone, not yours truly–naturally embraces the shedding of a schedule we’d just gotten accustomed to, the watching of it being replaced by endless hours of Nick Jr and glazed eyes and dehydration and wondering if your own turn is next, if the getaway you’d planned for the following week has been shot to literal shit. No one looks at all that and adds layers atop it called “contractors working all over our house,” spraying dust and paint fumes and hearing my opening-scene-of-Saving-Private-Ryan form of battlefield parenting, all terse comments and desperate pleas and angry wails. No one figures the perfect cherry on top of that crap sundae would be an overhanging possibility–likelihood–that we are being called to move halfway across the world, away from family, and the network of doctors and therapists we’ve assembled for The Kid, and the church that has been a lifeline of counsel and laughter and tears and deep friendship. All that has made this place our home.

And yet we were on a break. A break from the summer routine, for there would be no trips to the gym or trips of any kind in the car, no limitations on screen time, no rules. Just survival. And (now that I’m a week out of it) I can see the beauty in that bare-bones form of living, that forced togetherness sustained by back rubs and tears, by TK calling me “Doctor Mommy” and by the three of us spending hours lying on the bed, their tiny sick and recovering bodies pressed into mine because some instinct tells them I am their protector, even when I feel like I’m shit at it. In lieu of gym childcare and my alone time, we headed outside: I pulled the stroller from its summer parking spot in the garage in the early morning and they piled in, pants-less and with a towel perched over the handlebar in case of leakage, and we pounded the pavement of our neighborhood in a way and of a duration that we’ve not experienced since late spring. I walked, I climbed hills, I marveled through copious sweating at how TK is conversational–a feat unaccomplished the last time we took a walk. Maybe I even got a little color. It was a break from health, a break from the usual, a break from my reliance upon routine. It sucked–hard–while making space for moments of sweet beauty that wouldn’t have shown up otherwise.

And then, thank God, it was over.

A day later than planned, we piled into the car and headed three hundred miles southwest, to my parents’. We arrived in one piece, without traffic or bowel movements–a modern-day version of water into wine–and unpacked. Settled in for a week. There is a view of the water from every room here, and shouldn’t that be enough? Maybe, if you’re the type flummoxed by f-bombs and calmed immediately by the sound of a Bible verse, but me? I’m given to more erratic blood pressure, to the occasional need for pharmaceuticals because they’re less frowned upon at 9 am than an open bottle of wine. I need a little edge with my Jesus, and we’re both fine with that, thanks. There are layers now, extending above and beneath and all around my own ish, namely in the form of small children and one in particular courting a brand of anxiety that both mirrors and extends in waves past my own, to recesses that feel beyond my reach and understanding, and what mother is ever going to just lie down and fucking accept that? So I feel myself trying, trying to get it, to fix it–to fix him?–and the effort, exhausting and overwhelming, is not the answer. A new environment, a new routine, a new time zone, and he is in pieces on the floor, and my heart breaks even as I want to scream and run as far as my legs will take me then call an Uber for the remaining mileage. Fear upon guilt upon sadness, and no water view is going to snap its fingers and fix that. In fact, that–the hard parts of our stories, the chapters that withstand our editing, that don’t get “try”-ed out,–it laps like waves at the parts of me I want to hide, the parts of myself I want to fix, and it makes all hope–all proclamations of “yet” (he isn’t speaking yet, he isn’t fully potty-trained yet, he isn’t holding his head upright yet, he isn’t proficient socially yet–yets both vanquished and still hanging around)–seem utterly stupid.

I feel undone, and the waves rise over my head, submerging me.

And yet–there is always a rescue. There is always grace. It never comes by my trying, for at this point I am down to my last breath.

I take TK outside while Little Brother sleeps, and he wants to walk out on the pier, to which I inwardly respond, “Goddamn it.” The wind is gusting, and he’s standing where the rails have ended, where a wrong step could land him in the bay. Swim lessons have not progressed to this point yet. We are on “vacation”, where a balcony appears and all I see are plummets to death, where piers materialize and all I see are drownings. No movie ever tells you this about love: how the threats close in so hard you don’t think you can stand it. I hold my breath, tense up, want to cry. How can I live free for both of us?

He turns, his bravery and my terror packaged in the same moment, and runs back up the pier, the rails on either side of him allowing me to breathe again. I consider–grace rescues me to consider–that there are rails everywhere–just like I’ve told him about potties–everywhere, I just can’t see them. That we are, all of us, moving freely along our particular piers in what looks like autonomy and freedom, but we will never move beyond the rails that hold us, that protect us. I think about the videos The Husband stumbled upon while downloading Peppa Pig to the iPad for our trip, how we watched them together on the bed I’d shared with the boys on all those sick days, how I’d stared, crying and laughing, barely able to watch how he’d been a year ago–silent and frustrated–this glimpse allowing me to see more fully where he is now. That today’s fucking hard is not the same as last year’s. As yesterday’s. That we are moving, and there are rails. There are planks ahead that I can’t even see, but I can see the ones behind us to know they will keep going.

The next day of “vacation,” I drive TH to the airport for his work trip, and for the forty-minute drive back to my parents’ I am alone, pieces of my heart scattered about the general vicinity but not beside me. There are so many red lights. I reach yet another and it gives me the time–the space–to look up. A rainbow is arched ahead in the distance. I am rescued by grace to consider how often I try to live outside my own story, the “what if”s–what if it were easier? what if we were both less anxious? what if I said fuck less and didn’t get so lost in my own emotional turbulence?–seemingly harmless but actually poisonous, because there is no What If to this pier, to this path–it is ours, period. Why do I try to edit it out? I breathe, try on embracing rather than fighting, and drive toward a rainbow with every single color, light that is always there whether I see it–feel it, believe it–or not, and head toward the promise that holds me between its rails.

Anatomy of an Open Heart

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openlightI’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife.

So this is what an open heart looks like: at the beginning, a closed-off collection of rooms. Doors glued shut with staunch refusals at letting that type of light in, at being transported to that place, at sacrificing for that cause. So much other, so much they and them. So many bars and boundaries.

Then, an uninvited crack of light peeks through. Possibility enters the equation, coupled unbreakably with uncertainty–the most uninvited guest. The unknown beckons one moment, taunts the next. Life alters between impromptu symphony and cruel joke. Everything is changing. And just when you had figured out the rules, had gotten comfortable, had begun to understand the way it all works. You had fought for that comfort, for that understanding. And now you’re losing it?

Then you remember: you hadn’t fought. You had surrendered. You didn’t get, you were given.

Nothing feels safe anymore; the very idea of home is…dislocated? Relocated. Home becomes something different. Someone different. That’s when the bars sag and break, the doors are unlocked from the inside, and the whole damn space opens up. This is the slow and steady work of grace, this grace that operates not in one night stands or fell swoops but over years and in moments, ebbs and flows, until you wake up one day and realize you are not the person you were. But you are becoming exactly who you’re meant to be.

It sucks. And it’s wonderful. It’s painful, and healing. It’s nothing I asked for, and everything I needed. It is bloody surgery and fine art.

So this is what an open(ing) heart looks like now:

Telling my counselor ten years ago that I felt like a loser for not having what everyone else seemed to have: love, marriage, kids. The response: that I was describing loss, and needed to feel it, acknowledge it. That all these years and love and marriage and kids later, I still feel the specter of loss haunting me, threatening to take it all away. Everything, even grace, looks like a monster when I live in fear. And then, fear is overturned as sadness isn’t shunned but recognized in its rightful place alongside joy, the unbreakable coupling. And a heart opens to the wholeness of emotions.

I sit on a patio at a restaurant where, years before house and marriage and children and life-altering decisions, The Husband and I sat and talked about what that life might look like. All these years later, I sit across from a friend and the restaurant has a different name and I didn’t even know her then, before we shared stories and sons’ struggles and laughter, and I tell her what we’re facing and she listens, commiserates, supports. And a heart opens to the chance of long-distance friendship, of eventual reuniting, maybe on this same patio. At the same restaurant with a different name, because sometimes things get renamed, and this too is grace.

After nights of waking at 3 am with every possible fear assaulting my mind, I decide to write down each one of them, a listing that somehow feels like the opposite of the listing of rules I used to follow, try to master. And as the list grows, my fears unravel, turning into prayers that then become promises–I realize they always were. What looked like loss now appears as opportunity. It all was waiting to be renamed. I begin to sleep again.

She mentions it over wine, this idea she had of writing letters now to give to her children later, and one afternoon when The Kid goes downstairs to therapy and Little Brother goes upstairs to nap, I decide to do it. In composition notebooks–the ones I used to fill in school, with assignments–I write words that are deeper than my frustrations, expressions better than my outbursts, and the morning that was closing in on me becomes an evening that opens me again, to how much I love them. To what is most true. And now, they will know too.

A week of predictable schedules and alone time is shot to shit with two viruses, in two children, in a row, and while I wait for my turn in front of the viral firing squad, I mop asses and floors and write off rugs and spray Lysol and consider again that I made this choice, to abdicate doctoring for mothering, but that doesn’t keep me from feeling like I don’t know who I am or what I’ve done any given moment. Then he tells me he’s sick, and I think back to the last time–that he couldn’t even express that. But now, he lets me take care of him; he calls me “Doctor Mommy.” And while I feel sure that most doctors are not scrubbing vomit out of God forsaken sisal rugs while toddlers climb on their backs, I have to laugh: at the two identities fused in his mind while I haven’t been able to make sense of them; at the contractors keeping LB from napping and giving me a splitting headache while they improve a house we may not keep living in; at the impossibility of being whatever I was while becoming whoever I should. At this current, temporary-yet-truly-forever inability to plan, to see with certainty beyond an inch ahead. The way sickness and grace expose so little of tomorrow but so much of the faithfulnesses of yesterday. How these menial tasks can somehow both pin me to earth while providing glimpses of heaven.

How I ask for crystal balls and surgical notes…and get flesh and blood, beating into a story, within a heart that remains surprisingly, dangerously, beautifully open.

Will Write for Attention

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strongI have a beef with the editors of Modern Love, and it’s not just about their polite refusal of my recent submission. It concerns a recent episode of their podcast, a reading of a column published almost seven years ago written by a woman who “saved” her marriage by refusing to suffer her husband’s rejection. By refusing to suffer, period.

The author of the piece, Laura Munson, recounts her husband’s mid-life crisis that spawned this rejection, and the announcement he made that he was leaving her and their children. What follows would read to many as an inspirational tale of inner strength and non-retaliation. I’d beg to differ. Munson’s story is covered by the fingerprints of self-justification; to me, it reads like an unwitting expose of how we seek to establish our identities with our own righteousness, our own effort, and the keeping of our own sad renditions of the law.

Read the rest over at Mockingbird!