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.

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.