Team Us

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nightA couple of weeks ago, as we were preparing The Kid and Little Brother for The Husband’s work trip (read: vacation) to Australia, TK started throwing around a troubling phrase. “Mommy always leaves you,” he would say to me, in discussions over TH’s departure or apropos of nothing, and I was affected in two ways: 1) we still need to work on pronouns (though his occasional use of the second or third person is a bit endearing and can come off like a royal affectation, which in his case I believe is totally warranted–all hail King James!) ; and 2) the thought that he sees things this way broke off a piece of my heart and set in adrift in the sea of guilt that seems to always surround me. In reality, I think he just misunderstood that I was going with TH again, and once I assured him I was staying home, he stopped saying it–especially after I emphatically added, “Mommy doesn’t always leave you! Mommy always comes back.” He finally began repeating the latter sentence: Mommy always comes back.

I’m beginning to understand how much of grace is about just showing up.

This was my prayer in the days leading up to TH’s trip: God, show up. Help me help me help me, and show up. And don’t let me miss you. Eyes to see, ears to hear, and such. My forthcoming period of solo adulting–five days with The Mom’s help but six days following that were all me–hung over my head like a black cloud and, as I told a friend who understands, made me feel as if I were living the experience multiple times before it actually happened. Maybe that’s why it felt like somewhat of a relief once the time did arrive: no more rehearsals, no more prep, just showing up.

I told the women about it at the weekly Bible study I attend, and before you skip the rest of this post in light of that, allow me to reassure you that this ain’t your typical women’s Bible study. It also ain’t the ones I’ve visited throughout my life, which often consisted of about twenty minutes of talking about how a verse made us feel followed by an hour of prayer requests that were really opportunities to talk about ourselves and other people (sort of like my late grandmother’s “Sewing Club,” which would have been more aptly named “Gossip and Bitching Circle”). These are not women who would have clutched their pearls in horror at the thing I told them: that I was afraid to be alone with my children this long. That one of my prayers, besides “Show up” and “Help,” was “Please make me a person my children don’t need to be shielded from.” Instead of disapproving head-shakes, I was met with nods, understanding. Grace. These are people who know just how wonderful and shitty motherhood, and we, can be. They said to call, to come over, to know we weren’t alone. They showed up.

And since then? In this past week of child-infested solitude? People haven’t stopped showing up. My prayers haven’t stopped being answered. It has been an at times rough, but also profoundly beautiful, time with the boys at home, our little triangle punctuated by phone calls and FaceTime with TH as a reminder of what our full shape really is, but the time between those reminders being full of sweetness we wouldn’t have known otherwise: the mornings that kick off with TK lying beside me on the bed, whispering, “Mommy mommy mommy,” and leaning in for kisses. The countless refrains of “Wheels on the Bus” for LB in the car and over the changing table. The post-dinner couch huddles, with two small but growing bodies draped over mine, sponsored by Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and wine. The chaotic baths and bedtimes that always end with two boys safe in their beds. My own sleep, sponsored by God and Advil PM. My anxiety, always lapping at my heels like that guilt, has been gloriously muted. Maybe out of necessity, in part–after all, as the only game in town this week, if I leave the ship we’re headed straight for that iceberg–but also in a remarkable display of grace and faithfulness on the part of the One who hears prayers and does something about them, if only we will look. I’ve found it easier to step out of that perpetual anxiety and see it for what it is–a part of me, not an all-encompassing whole, and a redeemable one at that. I’ve been able to cast it aside more readily, and less pharmaceutically, than usual. Which is not to make light of how crippling it can be, but is also to acknowledge how much greater grace can be.

And in all of it, the gifts of grace that are others showing up for us in the midst of our splintered team. Australian friends bringing TH over to their home for dinner and celebrating his arrival. Our friends here–the deacon who sat with me during an entire MRI having the boys and me over so that I could have a glass of wine and real, deep talk with his wife; the college/NY/forever friend who fed us dinner and supplied us with a playground, trains, and wine (recurring theme); the church friend who’s showing up today with her two.

During so much of what is our wonderfully typical square-shaped life with our team of four, I realize I’ve been pitting myself against the kids, against TH, delving into a me-against-them mentality born of a misguided sense of self-preservation. There hasn’t been a lot of “self” this week as much as a bunch of “us.” And I’ve seen how beautiful and life-giving it can be. That I don’t have to run from it to still be me; rather, this is me. Their mom. His wife. It’s so not a bad deal.

I got TH three different-sized jerseys for his birthday, each with a number on it: one for him, two for TK, three for LB. Maybe they’ll wear them on Friday, when I take a quick break to spend a night in a local hotel. I’ll be me there too, reading all the books I haven’t gotten to, drinking wine in my room, and peeing like nobody’s watching BECAUSE THEY WON’T BE. The next morning, though, I’ll wake up, and after a little time on my own, I’ll probably end up checking out early. I’ll point the car toward home, which I think of as the place you always return to; for me, the place where a triangle of males will be waiting to fill back out into a square and find out that Mommy, like grace did for her, always comes back.

On Your Knees, Under the Same Sky

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brosThese are my favorite three months of the year.

October, November, December–are you kidding me? We kick things off with pumpkin everything. I get some scorching-but-still-divine “me” time with my oven and mixer, baking until The Husband complains about gaining weight and The Kid asks for countless “big cookies.” Leaves crackle under our feet and the temperature finally, gloriously drops. Then it drops more to usher in November and Thanksgiving and the Macy’s Parade and the dog show and then…THEN it’s the grand finale, my favorite month of the year, the month to rival all others and stomp all over them with its romantic frostiness, prevailing goodwill, and sacred magic. CHRISTMASTIME, BITCHES.

(All praise to God.)

This year, though…it’s different.

These three months in this year, they share their glory and wonder with anxiety and anticipation. I ride them on a wave of ambivalence, knowing this will be our last Southeastern fall for awhile. Our last Christmas living in this house. Our last full season here, our home, before another place becomes home. It took years for this place to feel like home. Now we start all over again: new house, new schools, new therapists, new friends, new church, new country, new HEMISPHERE. Every day carries an undercurrent of last-ness, of finality, of nervous energy and, often, thickened teariness.

I’m a crying, gassy mess.

Last week I took TK back to the outdoor camp group–the one I had such a hard time finding the week before? That one. He approached this week’s treehouse with interest and hesitation, his own ambivalence written on his face, in his timid steps. He jumped on a trampoline. He pushed a rake around. Then he was invited to the top of the treehouse via a curved staircase.

He went. I followed him.

And when we got to the top, he got a bit too brave. He approached the edge a bit too closely, and was met with the leader’s gruff voice and pre-emptive, protective push. He was startled, and he looked to me with tears in his eyes, which is THE. WORST. for me, even when it’s a necessary evil, and I comforted him. Then it was time for the reason we’d come up there: the zip line.

He didn’t want to do it. I did and didn’t want him to. I’m split all down the middle these days, and not just because of Australia but because of life. Because of love. Because of kids. Nothing gets to be simple. But I nodded my head at him. “You’ve got this, buddy.” He sailed off, his face unconvinced. Terrified.

And then…the terror melted into euphoria and when he landed, I ran to meet him, and when he turned to me, his smile was the biggest.

He did it again.

When I moved to New York, my terror turned to euphoria. And, also, to bouts of depression, to deeper faith, to friendships, to falling in love. To finding home. And I’m about to do it again, with two boys and a husband in tow.

There are no shortcuts.

It hits me that I still want there to be. That I, in spite of all the rough-hewn paths of beauty, still, deep down, want ease and simplicity. I want to walk among soft clouds and perpetual sunshine. Then I read, in this amazing thing, what Heather Havrilesky said: “If you’re only walking in the clouds, you don’t feel where you are.” Then, on a Sunday morning, the question and an answer: “What is it that has brought you to your knees? Because it’s there you’ll find the love that is outside of you and for you.” And I realize it doesn’t show up on the sale rack or the luxury aisle, the eternal that is working itself out in our midst.

There can be ease and simplicity to the point of nothingness, or there can be this: these seasons split right down the middle, full of goodbyes and hellos, winter switching into summer, excitement and dread. Sitting outside one afternoon while the boys play with the Halloween decorations, I feel a lightness to the cooler air and for a second can’t remember if it’s fall or spring. I think about TH who is at our new house in Sydney, where the buds are bursting into life as the leaves fall from trees here, and realize it’s both.

It’s only when I’ve been brought to my knees that I’ve been able to really look up, to see now that we will always, no matter where home is, be under the same sky. The same sky that has covered us through the early days, when I filled out the OT survey on behalf of the kid and shook my head through tears over all he couldn’t yet do. Then last week, I answered the same questions with a smile at all he’s accomplished. There is the free fall, the sailing through the air in terror before the terror-melting grin appears. There is all that’s been left in our wake as we trod this path, all the tears and joy that have been and will be.

At lunch one afternoon as TH sleeps in Sydney and The Mom helps me here, we sit outside among other tables. TK finishes his PB&J and starts working the area: he approaches a couple at a table and grins at them. He walks up to a group of men and puts his hand on the back of one of them as if they’re old friends. This formerly silent boy is leaving joy in his wake as his Little Brother watches and laughs, gleeful. Then TK sidles up to the two men at the table next to us and begins a lengthy conversation full of complete sentences, and one of the men turns to me:

“He should go into politics. Or something where you speak a lot.”

And I tell them the story, how he didn’t say a word a year ago, because I love this story now that used to keep me up crying at night. It is our story. It is his.

He talks the whole way home under the same vast sky.

Eyes to See and Ears to Hear

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selfieLast week I bounced The Kid out of one of his regular therapies to try something new–another kind of therapy. A friend who knows TK had told me about an Outward-Bound-type afternoon camp for kids with challenges/gifts like spectrum disorders, anxiety, ADHD, dyslexia, etc. I thought the camp sounded great (for me, too, though there was an age limit), and I got a hall pass from his Tuesday therapist to try it. So I left Little Brother with a sitter and headed west with TK.

Google Maps failed me. I struggled to find the street number of the church whose playground was the meeting point. We passed a school, then an unmarked building beside it. I cruised that parking lot no fewer than a half dozen times, which was unfortunate because (a) it was not the destination, and (b) the school next door had a playground, natch, and it was in plain view of TK’s searching eyes. Within five minutes we were both crying: he from the certainty that I was keeping him from the right playground, and I from the uncertainty that I wasn’t. Either way, our twin anxieties reached a fever pitch right there in the car, his urgent pleas stoking my frustration, my expletive-laden anger barely kept under my breath, our begging each other to just look. Or listen. Or go. Or wait. It felt like hell. And this was a few hours after I’d gone to the ophthalmologist and found that I’d been wearing the wrong prescription for a year.

I finally stopped and asked a traffic cop if he knew what I was looking for. He pointed me in the right direction, and we landed in a spot about fifty yards further than I’d driven–just past the traffic light where I’d turned around twice, fearful of going too far. I parked and turned around to TK. “I’m sorry it took me so long to find the right place,” I told him. He looked back at me, his tears drying. “Mommy went the wrong way,” he responded solemnly. “Yes I did,” I replied. “And I got frustrated.”

For the next thirty minutes, he played and climbed and ran and occasionally circled back to me to recap: “Mommy couldn’t find it. Went the wrong way.” It was funny the first few times. Then over the next week, I heard it more: “Mommy couldn’t find the playground. Went the wrong way. Mommy got frustrated.” We watched an episode of Daniel Tiger, who happened to also be frustrated and sang a song about it that I can’t get out of my damn head. I grew weary of the refrain: my frustration, my propensity to be lost, my wrongness. It began to sound less like an observation than an indictment. Not that I’m defensive or anything.

I seem to keep getting reminders that I’m looking in the wrong place, listening to the wrong voice. Two weeks after the rest of my family, I got a stomach virus last week that knocked me flat for twenty-four hours. All the plans I had flew out the window and I could no longer look around at all I had to do but only stare straight ahead. At my TV, which played The Hunger Games. Which was kind of awesome, interrupting sprints to the bathroom aside, because who gets to watch movies on a Sunday afternoon anymore?! Then there’s my phone, whose camera I broke during an ill-advised temper tantrum; I happened to throw the phone indiscriminately across the room and it happened to perfectly hit a steel drawer handle, which broke into pieces as my phone’s screen cracked into about fifty fissures. Now my camera won’t cooperate for photos unless I flip the screen into selfie mode. There’s a metaphor here, I just know it.

Little Brother turned two last week and we flipped him around too, his carseat now front-facing, and the once-reliable mid-morning nap afforded by our errand-running disappeared for a couple of days: I would glance at him in the rearview mirror and see him staring around, saucer-eyed, in wonder at this new view. And then there’s TK, whose teacher told me that he has been protective of one of the smaller guys in his class, a boy in a wheelchair. When he requires extra assistance to get out of the chair or be pushed down the hall, TK will come alongside him and “supervise” the teachers’ assistance or walk beside both boy and teacher in the hallway. When I asked TK later that day about his friend and what he likes about him, he told me, “He rides a motorcycle.”

In moments like these my eyes overflow by the beauty of all that I’ve seen so dimly, so wrongly, or allowed to remain unseen altogether. TK looks at a wheelchair and sees a motorcycle, and I want my vision changed to match his now.

A Thursday morning, and I’m doing laps at the pool when I see a woman at the other end sitting on the edge of my lane. I paddle back from my end toward her so that she’ll know this one is occupied and move along. When I reach the end, she’s smiling down at me. “Oh! I didn’t even see you!”

I took it a little personally. It’s hard not to when you’re the sole woman in a house of males, the mother of two young boys: the frustration over not being listened to, or of being seen primarily as an object to be climbed upon. My fellow swimmer was playing into one of my biggest complaints and, I suspect, one of my deepest hurts: feeling invisible. I smiled thinly and headed back toward the opposite end, the water enveloping me, and there in the waves I’d generated I heard a voice speak into the place that is deeper than sound: “I see you. I see you.” It took my breath away and gave me new life, like it always does, this never-not-surprising reminder that I am seen and loved and not forgotten; that this being seen changes everything. It changes my 3 am-anxiety attacks about moving to Australia; it changes my worries for my children; it changes my marriage; it changes my drive to the damn grocery store. It changes everything, because it means that the truest thing about me is not that I look at my phone too much or that I have an unruly temper or that I miss so much. It swallows all that up because it means that the truest thing about me is how loved I am, how held and protected and seen.

To My Youngest, On His Second Birthday

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willDearest Will,

To quote Miley Cyrus–which I try never to do–you came in like a wrecking ball. From the very beginning. I remember the morning I first found out about you, before the sun or your brother had risen, while I was the only one awake in the house because your dad was stranded in Florida at a conference due to our Atlanta snowpocalypse. I read the word–pregnant–and immediately felt the rush of emotions that happens on such a hoped-for occasion: the thrill of possibility, the hope of a joyful outcome, the fear of another loss after the one from six months before. Your brother was sleeping on a mattress on the floor of his room because his halo-clad head wouldn’t fit comfortably into his crib–your crib now. He had undergone spinal surgery three weeks prior, a few days before you happened. He was healing, though it didn’t feel like that, with the sponge baths and extra seven pounds on his shoulders and daily wound-cleaning. It was both a dark time and a beautiful one, and that’s when you showed up. You showed up in the middle of all that life with your own.

The doctors wanted to monitor me closely, and when my numbers shot up they had to make sure there was only one of you–that’s how you came on the scene. No way to question your existence. You demanded notice. As your brother recovered, then took a brief spiral down, you remained, somehow present even before your birth, somehow bearing witness to all of it, accompanying me through it, often uncomfortably, but undeniably. Somehow, even before you were, you’ve always been here. You started out by growing in the midst of difficulty, and you mirror your brother in that wonderfully hard way.

Oh but how you’re also different. Your dad and I picked names we liked; we only considered the meanings after. Your brother is the supplanter, and as the firstborn, how true that rings, how much he reordered our priorities and refocused our vision. Your name means Protector, and I can’t help but watch and wonder how that will ring true as well–how you might even protect him and accompany him. I watched as your first words helped inspire his. Now he’s surpassed you, but I won’t forget that gift. I expect I will see many more.

Where your brother is cautious and circumspect, you’re more of a Category 1 hurricane. I remember the moment and the kick in which my water broke, something that didn’t happen the first time around. You were ready. And all the child-proofing we did for your brother? Turns out that was actually for you, as you attempt to leap off couches and armrests and pool edges and everything else, how you stomp around the house and practically beat your chest with tribal yells only you understand. Then I’ll notice silence, and I’ll find you “reading” a book on your own. You are, like all of us, never just one thing. You have bottomless love tanks, always wanting to be held close, especially by your daddy, and your endless need for love is matched only by the imperfectness of what I can offer in return and the wholeness of the love that designed you and holds you better than I can.

My favorite part of the day is taking you to pick up your big brother from school. You stand in the window at the doorway and when you see him coming, your hands clench into fists of barely-repressed excitement, you emit a screech of joy, and you jump up and down when he emerges toward us. Your grin is reflected in his, and I hope I never take for granted the feeling of completeness I have in that moment: you were what our family was waiting for.

It appears, at this point, that your particular challenges–and we all have them–are not front-loaded like your brother’s. But when they do appear, God willing, I will carry the honor of accompanying you through them like you accompanied me and your brother and dad through so many in those early days. I will leap into fires with you as you leap everywhere now, as you teach me with every leap how we are both held by a love that knows our names better than we do.

I love you more than I ever knew I had room for. Thank you for showing me that.

Love, Mom

I’m Going with You

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driverI remember my last night in New York. The Husband, then Fiancé, and I went to church with a group of friends then hit our favorite Mexican restaurant after. I told everyone goodbye, hugging each in turn and feeling the weight of their absence, their presence diminishing in the night. I could feel my life there slipping away. TH and I went up to his rooftop, where he had proposed, and beheld the lights of the Empire State Building one final time as residents. The thought struck me: that I was taking my favorite part of the city with me. It was hugely comforting, and I still hurt.

The next morning I woke up sick. Maybe it was the dining out we’d been doing constantly since packing up the kitchen days before; maybe it was a physical reaction to all the goodbyes. Probably both. Whatever the cause, I lay in bed, my plans to run the East River path one last time scrapped as I willed my stomach to settle before our flight that afternoon. By the time our plane rose above Queens, I was better…but not. Goodbyes feel both final and endless, the subtractions and additions held in them unfurling for weeks and months and years, a pang here and a gut-punch there, memories carried into new worlds. I’m still not finished saying goodbye to the city that gave me so much.

And as I consider saying goodbye to the city we left New York for, to the home we’ve made here in Atlanta, I feel the pangs and gut-punches again before they’ve even happened: the last dinners we’ll have with friends; the final Christmas before our plane rises; the final time we’ll cross the threshold of this house in which we started a family, this place we brought the boys home to as newborns; the final time before takeoff that I’ll scrunch The Niece’s red curls in my hand or take the wine and bread on Sunday. Every day now has tears mixed with anticipation, and I can’t help but think this is real life: this fullness of emotion that overwhelms but reminds, that reveals in a way the usual dailiness never could what each person and place means. It hurts while it comforts.

There’s been a theme in my life, of life itself showing up in all the moments I didn’t choose: the Chronicles of I Didn’t Sign Up for This, the goodbyes to the idea of what was supposed to be and the slow embrace of what is. You’d think grace might find a new technique but it presses steadily on in the same direction, redefining what home and love and peace look like, redefining always, this upside-down kingdom always reintroducing itself to me, new rooms forever being revealed.

I spoke at a conference last year and told them how we’d always wanted to live near the water, had gotten used to being landlocked for five years before I recognized the creek that flows through our neighborhood. The water. I laughed about how I should have been more specific about the kind of water, not knowing that we were headed for a beach. That somehow we’ve always been headed for this beach across the world.

And it’s binding us together even as we say goodbye to others, this awareness that it’s the four of us: I sit on the floor with the boys and feel a familiar jolt of sadness as three months stretch ahead, unspooling so quickly that I have to catch my breath sometimes, but the sadness gives way to the simple realization, the same one I had on that New York rooftop: I get to bring the best part with me. I look at their faces, their eyes, think of how they have no idea of what’s coming. And I don’t either, really. But their faces and his will be the ones that go with me, that fill my days still, even fourteen hours ahead. They are always a part of home.

The benediction a few Sundays ago came just after I’d read the passage where Jonah gets a shady tree to sleep under; then it vanishes and he curses the God who gave it in the first place. God asked him (paraphrased): “You mad, bro?” Jonah replied in the affirmative and God bounced back (again, paraphrased): “You didn’t make it. It came and went in a night, bro.” I have so many shade trees that up and leave, and this is what I heard that Sunday:

May all your expectations be frustrated. May all your plans be thwarted. May all your desires be withered into nothingness–that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing, dance, and trust in the love of God who is Father, Son, and Spirit.*

Done and done. And doing. By a grace that refuses to leave, that doesn’t give prescriptions or to-do lists or hurdles to jump over, but this: its presence. “It was…his presence that saved them.”

*quoted in The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning as a blessing given to Henri Nouwen by his spiritual mentor. (Thanks, LE!)

Anatomy of a Decision (or, How Not to Know God’s Will for Your Life)

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fortune“It is madness to wear velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.” –Annie Dillard

When I was growing up in the church, I gravitated toward any event billed with a heading like “How to Know God’s Will for Your Life.” I would sit in the crowd at the youth group Bible study or retreat, pen in hand, hand poised above paper, and invariably I would leave disappointed and not a little angry. I felt snookered, EVERY TIME. Because instead of spurting out a list of tips or throwing up on the overhead projector (YES, I’M OLD) a bullet-pointed bevy of rules to follow, the speaker would toss out some mumbo jumbo about praying and reading the Bible.

I already do that, asshole, I thought (because, while being a Good Girl, I was also a jerk). I do that religiously, I would add (because, while insecure, I also fancied myself quite witty). Still, I would leave said event empty-handed but for my own bitterness and sense of being lost.

I’d like to talk now about how we decided to move to Sydney.

Because I used to want life to add up to a list, and for that list to follow my own (shitty and small, it turns out) plan, I didn’t have room for any mystery or uncertainty. Following a list of rules was my shortcut, I felt, to the life I envisioned. To the one I secretly felt I’d earned. It wasn’t until years later (yesterday, I think) and exiles in the lands of New York and Motherhood that the truth, like Jesus said it would, began to finally set me free–but, like Gloria Steinem added, first it would piss me off.

All of which is to say that I’ve had a willingness to abide mystery and uncertainty gracefully and brutally loved into me, and my body is finally backing down on its autoimmune response against it. But honestly, every time I think I’ve gotten the message, that I’m there, thanks, a new level opens to the whole thing. And what I initially interpret as just plain damn meanness on God’s part–an unsettling of my sense of home and comfort and place–always, ALWAYS turns into gift.

But not without the pissing off first.

Sydney first came on our radar last October. I was circling the track at the gym when The Husband called–during the workday, no less, so that I knew something was up. He explained that the company he works for had bought a business in Australia, and that a role may be vacated there. A role he could be asked to take.

“NOPE,” I believe I said. “WRONG NUMBER.”

Earlier that week I had gotten just as earth-shattering of a call from The Sis, who told me that I would be receiving a new niece or nephew in about eight months. We had been at our church for six months, enough time to feel blessedly in place and build relationships that included texting bitmojis and exchanging good-natured profanity with our pastor. The Kid was not speaking, but had just started a great school program and oodles of therapy, including weekly shit-soaked sessions at a horse barn, and I was not in a position to roll all that up in a bag and toss it in the trash. We were home. I informed TH and God that I would not be leaving.

The conversation seemed to end, due less to my petulance than to the role remaining filled, and TH and I would reference it occasionally as that crazy thing we (he) had considered doing.

Then it came back.

In late June, I had a brand new niece, a speaking son, and even deeper friendships and numerous bitmoji texts. That’s when TH sent me an email saying he had been offered the role (he knew better than to call this time, I guess). I remember exactly what I wrote: “If God wants us to pick up our lives and move halfway across the world in six months, he’s going to have to make it pretty damn clear.”

This is how I know there’s a God: there’s no way a nondescript, unspecific thing like “The Universe” could operate with as timely and sharp of a sense of humor.

For the next week, I shot glares across the dinner table at TH; he seemed to have already left for Sydney, his excitement palpable and incredibly annoying to me. Because of my own anger, my own sense of being abandoned for a foreign country, I couldn’t see the honor this was for him. I couldn’t see the opportunities it could afford us; I couldn’t see. And I couldn’t breathe. After a few solid days of raging around the house, even more short-tempered and bitchy than usual, I realized I couldn’t live like this. And my family shouldn’t have to. (I’m selfless like that.) I prayed for an open heart (for me) or a changed mind (for TH). And I waited.

I wrote about what happened next in my last post: how grace reached right into one of the most tender places in my heart, where my children reside, and showed me how it was preparing a place for us. For The Kid. And I recalled an email response I had gotten from a trusted friend and counselor back in October, when I had enlisted wisdom, about making such a huge decision, how it had said that maybe the decisions themselves are clear; after all, grace doesn’t hide–it’s we who don’t look. That maybe it’s the implications of the decisions that are hard. That we want to believe that if we are hearing our answer, it means the path will be easy–but the real roads never are. They’re much too…full for that.

“God is not a kindly old uncle,” goes a Jewish proverb, “He’s an earthquake.” Annie Dillard, above, would agree. And so would I, gazing from this vantage point at the way grace has upended my plans, destroyed my lists, broken all my rules, and tossed me around like a rag doll…it seems. But this holy destruction is part and parcel of what has turned my faith from a self-improvement exercise to a living, breathing thing. This relentless love, this grace-fueled devotion not to my comfort but to more, always more, painfully more…it laughs gently at the oft-quoted idea that faith is a crutch and reveals it instead to be life support. Oxygen. This is not the finding of a plan, but a relationship with a being. I am not memorizing items on a spreadsheet, but learning the scars of a hand, the workings of a heart. I’ve gone from doing research in a library–because even prayer and Bible-reading will only get you so far without the eyesight bestowed by grace–to riding the unpredictable waves of a love that won’t stop until I’m really home.

There is a grace that opens my heart, but doesn’t stop there: it opens my eyes to how it shows up everywhere, how it asks too much and so little at the same time, how it is written in every moment: the stomach viruses, the hospital visits, the painful and wonderful call to a beautiful new home. And I find myself wondering–in those moments when I let go of the lists and really piss off my adolescent self, who still lives inside me and is just aching for more rules to follow–wondering, what’s so bad about riding waves anyway, terrifying and exhilarating as they are, when you know they’re not going to sink, but save you?

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

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bronte“…this cup of yours tastes holy, but a brush with the devil can clear your mind and strengthen your spine.”

We’re moving to Sydney.

I remember my first episode with leaving home: going to college in Birmingham, ninety miles away, at once too far and not far enough. I remember visiting with my family and knowing that when I came back, to move in, they would leave me and this place would be my new home. It felt wrong and right at the same time. I remember emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel in a U-Haul with my mom, driving down side streets in the city that had been a place to visit but now held my apartment on 92nd and First, my new home. It felt foreign and familiar at the same time. And last week, The Husband and I walked out of the airport, climbed into a taxi, and drove into Sydney, half a world away and fourteen hours ahead, as our boys slept a day behind us. We hurtled along expressways and through downtown, and though I had never been there I felt like I was somehow returning.

The more I know of grace, the more I think these extremes, flip sides, seeming contradictions are symbols that I am in its realm: grace, a paradox unto itself. I can take my shoes off–it’s all holy ground, and I don’t have to keep running.

The writing was on the wall for so long. I held its words inside my heart, turning them over in gratitude, with open-eyed wonder, one minute, and cursing them through tears the next. God called my bluff. “Change my heart,” I asked, “Or…another option? Tell The Husband this is wrong.” Not because Sydney is Siberia. Not because I’m afraid of seventy and sunny, of beaches and harbors. But because we’re here now. We’re home. And once again we’re called out of one home toward another. I’m tired.

But I’m not blind.

There was this: the colleagues of TH’s who came out of the woodwork, time after time, with kids, or friends with kids, who have challenges and gifts similar to The Kid’s. Phone calls with tips and plans and names and hope. “Go before us,” I had prayed, waiting to point and yell, “SEE? Not there! Not this way!” But grace was there the whole time. There was the woman on the flight with a boy two months younger than Little Brother, and when I did the thing I never do–went up and talked to her at baggage claim–she, in her bleary-eyed confusion and I in mine, spoke for a minute. “That’s that, I guess?” I thought, and then a tap on the back, a paper with an email address, an immediate response to the note I sent, and guess who lives two blocks from the house we found, who pointed me to the moms’ and expat groups, who pulled me into community? There was the fellow mom who took me around our new neighborhood, who sat with me over coffee they call flat whites (the same language and a new one), and the next day my uncle emailed: “Did you go to lunch with someone from Atlanta yesterday? Her dad and I went to college together.” All these connections, this going before us, these open doors.

And closed ones. The school we visited, the woman who met us with a hard stare, misgivings and misunderstanding, the “I don’t know this would be a fit for him,” the holding of my tears until the moment we left the gate. The knowing I will always have to fight for TK, tell his story in more than one sitting, and the sadness and jet lag catching up with me in a collapse onto the hotel bed, a wondering if it’s all wrong. Then, the emails from other connections about other schools, one of them half a mile from the house we picked. The house with our name on it, now.

Open and closed, wonderful and awful, certain and confusing, answers and…waiting. I can’t think about it without crying at the way grace won’t stop showing up, will never stop looking out for me. For us.

TH and I spent a morning (between wanting to punch school registrars in the face) exploring the neighborhood I had been taken around the day before. We walked down streets and into shops, sat and drank tea and read, talked. Smelled bakeries and bookstores, foreign and familiar at the same time, pieces of home everywhere, even here. Of course here. I wondered aloud if everyone was really as nice as they seemed to be. “I need edge,” I told him. I ached for friends back home, the ones I commiserate with, trade barbed jokes with, navigate anxiety and depression with. You know, the fun stuff. So many beginnings, and I want to be in the thick of it–the part where we know and are known, where the underside is visible and no one runs away. Yet time will not be unspooled according to my clock, so we wait. I wait, where there is both light and darkness.

I watched some of Sex and the City the other day, waiting for the part when Carrie looks in the Mexican mirror without makeup. It’s brutal. I love it. This is where I reside, in between jokes, in the gritty realness of how hard it can be. That is home. Will I find other bare-faced realists, fellow travelers on this path, in my new home? Anne Lamott wrote, “My mind remains a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.” Last night LB kept waking up and I sat beside his crib, his finger grasping mine as I alternately stroked his head and begged him to go the fuck to sleep. “My mind goes to scary places at night,” I told one of my here-home fellow travelers this morning, and she walked beside me with her words: “Mine too.” We showed our Mexican mirrors to each other and didn’t run away, and I cried at the fourteen hours that will soon separate us and all the distance that never could, the grace in this changing of address and in the fact that I am never, ever left alone in that bad neighborhood by myself, because of the grace that always shows up, coming to a stop right where I am and holding me in its arms, covering me in a blanket to take me where I really live: in old homes, and new. Foreign and familiar. Wrong and right. In the song we sang again this week: “Even my darkness is light to you.” In the communion wafer, pressed so hard into my hand that it broke–which is the point, isn’t it? Isn’t it: this overwhelming weight of grace and the glory of being shattered and saved by its rays.

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.


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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!