Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Longing.

For years, it was the longing that had no name, the longing that I wouldn’t allow myself to name. Denied and suppressed, it took on ugly shapes. She must be completely worn out, I would think when I saw a woman with three or more children. Thank goodness we stopped at two! As I watched older siblings lovingly dote on baby brothers and sisters, my heart leapt but my mind - knowing nothing but a bolted door waited at the end of that dream and therefore resolved to not take so much as a wistful step toward it - tamped it back down. Are you crazy? Don’t you remember how giving birth feels? It screamed. What is wrong with these people? Aren’t they concerned about overpopulation? (I told you it got ugly).

I remember one evening at church when I held a intermittently fussing baby for two hours. When I finally handed him back to his mother, my arms hurt and I made sure to make some joke about my occasional yen for another baby being “cured” by babysitting because - ha ha! - my arms hurt! See? my brain muttered smugly. Babies are a pain. They’re an inconvenience. Babies hurt. Aren’t you glad you’re done with babies?

But as I walked home that night, tears rolled down my cheeks. My heart was sick and tired of being trampled by cynicism masquerading as practicality. Yes, babies hurt, I thought. But they’re magical and wonderful and delightful in every way and worth all the hurt and more and I want another one so badly that my womb aches, I want another precious little soul to love and adore, another set of sweet kissable cheeks and rolls upon rolls and downy skin and pure unencumbered smiles and I even want the oceanic pain of birth and its afterglow of sheer bewilderment, when you feel like you’ve been destroyed and reassembled and everything is new, most of all this perfect fresh little creature in your arms, at once so deeply known, so deeply kin, and still so yet-to-be-known, a tiny galaxy of glorious potential in the most tender vessel imaginable, I want it ALL! my heart shrieked, in one epic cathartic run-on sentence.

I thought two was a reasonable place to stop. My husband did, too, and all of our family. We couldn’t afford any more, we decided; and besides, two was plenty. We should stop there and call it good, we told ourselves. Arrow, our daughter, had been a surprise, and we were resolved to have no more surprises. I was just beginning to emerge from the early haze of caring for a newborn and a toddler when I dropped my husband off at his vasectomy appointment. It became a joke - he was practically sprinting to the urologist! Oh, we are done. Sooooo done! I emphatically responded to any inquiries as to whether we were having more children.

And yet, my heart wasn’t buying it. it wasn’t buying the jokes and the cynicism and my desperate vie to redirect, co-opt and rebrand the yearning that still smoldered somewhere deep within. But I absolutely refused to give myself permission to dream. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism - we’d slammed that door shut, and I believed dreaming would bring nothing but heartache.

And it did, for two long years. When I finally admitted to myself that I wanted more children, and announced it to my husband one tearful night, he was mortified. And for the next two years I cajoled and begged and pleaded, and when all that failed I pestered and prodded and screamed and threw tantrums. I pounced on any millimeter of apparent yielding with such violence that I only hardened his resolve even more. Finally, one night when he firmly stated again that he didn’t want any more children, it felt strangely final. I wept. And I told God how sad I was, and that I wasn’t okay, but I trusted that he would make me okay in time. And I became silent on the whole topic of babies, so much so and so ominously so that my husband started randomly asking “Aren’t you going to say something about babies?” Nope, I replied each time, perhaps a bit too curtly. The sadness lingered, and I waited for God to make me okay. But then one day my husband sat me down to tell me that he felt called to get his vasectomy reversed. I shrieked with joy and threw my arms around him and marveled at the miraculous: hope glittering from the grave of gutted dreams.

I really felt like since I’d been waiting for so long, I was entitled to get pregnant immediately after the surgery. Four cycles went by and it didn’t happen and I poured out my woes to a wise friend and mentor, who gently shared the lessons God had taught her through her unsuccessful tubal ligation reversal. I knew there was truth in her words. Yes, I nodded begrudgingly, I will learn contentment. There will be so many rich, faith-enhancing lessons I will learn if I don’t get another baby, I thought, with my fists and jaw clenched. I thought I was fooling nearly everyone with my forced holiness, including myself. But not God.

I was driving a couple of days later when the welling that had started deep down in my belly reached my throat and erupted. I pulled over on a gravel road and wept violently, gasping and heaving like my sensitive son after he takes a hard fall. I tried to breathe deeply and stop crying repeatedly, even forging forward a quarter mile on the road, thinking my composure would follow, before pulling over again and giving myself permission to weep from my core. And there, on that quiet country road, as I cried and pounded on the steering wheel, the truth came out. “I don’t want to learn any more lessons!” I yelled. “I just want a baby!” And instantly, I felt relieved. Lighter. I didn’t have to pretend anymore. And God smiled, because I was finally being honest.

It’s so easy to forget that before God, we have permission to be real. It’s even more than permission - it’s a requirement for true relationship. God doesn’t want a gritted-teeth resolution to be good, which is destined to fail anyway.

So here I am, not yet pregnant. And so I wait, and give myself permission to hope, and hope desperately, and dream wildly. I give myself permission to cry out to God and I continue to ask for what I want instead of pretending to be okay with not getting it. Will he make me okay, no matter what, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now? Yes. But I still want a baby.


Monday, September 11, 2017


“Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” - Genesis 4:13-14

“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” - Hebrews 12:22 & 24

“Sometimes I think there are no words but these to tell what’s true /
And there are no truths outside the gates of Eden.” - Bob Dylan

I hate butterfly season. Why would one hate butterfly season, you ask, when these fragile, colorful creatures emerge in abundance and, borne aloft on gentle zephyrs, christen all manner of flora with their ethereal osculations? I hate it because I have to watch one after another of them flutter innocently unawares across the highway only to be violently sucked into the slipstream of my vehicle, hurtling forward at 70 MPH toward some fool’s errand (okay, usually I have a pretense of purpose; I just like the phrase ‘fool’s errand’), and (presumably, I never see because, you know, 70 MPH) spat back out again, mutilated and destroyed, in a millisecond. For me, it’s just a particularly stark illustration of how things are not as they are supposed to be between humans and creation. Our command was to rule and subdue; we ransack and pillage. God help us.

This season also happens to coincide with my much-hailed annual beginning-of-the-homeschool-year freak out. As the almost grotesquely immense array of curriculum options unfurls before me, my thoughts become increasingly hysterical in pitch and projection: “oh my gosh, look at all this STUFF available! We’re not doing nearly enough!” and “we need to do EVERYTHING or my children’s education will be woefully deficient and they’ll be consigned to a life of chronic ne’erdowellitude and it will be all my fault!” “Israel is in second grade and I haven’t read Shakespeare out loud to him yet! Oh, forget it, it’s too late, I’ve blown it. Just call the whole thing off!” God help us.

And there’s always the world at large: natural disasters, dueling despotic rulers with bloated egos sheathed in the impenetrable armor of pride, hatred blooming blackly in a thousand demonic forms. So much profligacy. So much waste. So much futile hurtling towards nothingness. God help us.

Yet in the midst of it all, beckoning to me in the stillness I too rarely seek, He is asking: What matters? And he is whispering: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The thing is, left to my own faculties, I have no idea what matters. Out in the hinterlands of Nod, I will frenetically sprint after a thousand holograms, each more glittering and more vapid than the next. I’ll almost gleefully cannonball into a bottomless quagmire of deliberation over even trivial decisions. I’ll project every possible negative scenario with the superstition that certain possibilities can be staved off by the very fact of my anticipation. I’ll Google things like “how large is a nuclear fallout zone?” followed by “where would…” after which two words Google conveniently and perceptively fills in “North Korea bomb?” for me. Thanks, Google, for anticipating our neuroses like an obsequious servant.

My pattern - the one I still revert to more often than I care to admit and the one which has ingrained in my very DNA since Adam and Eve befouled the primordial soup, is self-reliance. The only catch is that I am wildly, utterly, incorrigibly unreliable. My recidivism rate is exactly 100 percent with a 0 percent margin of error. In my flesh, I am dead.

I still remember the first intimations I heard of another Way. Another way than frantically straining to save myself, to control, to shim and jostle things into a coherent pattern, to wrest meaning from what I believed was a godless (or, later, impersonally God-ed) universe. It was a maddeningly circuitous venture. My self-inflicted punishment was more than I could bear, and I was a restless wanderer on the earth, riddled with paranoia and fear.

Jesus is always whispering of a better way. A way of rest. A way of surrender. A way of trust. A way of faith that rests on His goodness and His faithfulness. 

It means listening. It means stillness. It means biting my tongue when I’m itching to enter the fray. It means believing that He is my father, my creator, and that he has etched me on the palms of His hands. It means saying I don’t understand but I trust anyway. It means luxuriating in instead of fighting against bewilderment at the riotously undeserved gift of grace. It means joyfully becoming a fool, joyfully ceding my claims on power and knowledge and dominion, joyfully turning away from that impulse to glut myself on the tree of good and evil and turning towards Jesus, in whom I am made alive and in whom this restless wanderer can finally rest from her endless vigilance. It means watching and waiting and preparing to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

It also means trusting that God will accomplish his purposes, as he always has, since the first Garden, and my fretting and hand-wringing and cataclysmic projecting are absolutely non-essential (and in fact inimical) to the cause.  

My dear friend, Evan, commented recently that she suspects her father thinks she’s lazy. Like me, he is prone to that fretting and hand-wringing over uncertainty, while Evan is pretty darn good at trusting that God is God, and good and faithful beyond even our rosiest, but still sin-dimmed, reveries.

I think people thought Jesus was pretty lazy, too. He knew the Father. He knew Him. He was with him since the beginning. And so there Jesus was, napping in the midst of the maelstrom, and I think he was even a little annoyed that his disciples thought it warranted interrupting that nap. Once he calmed the seas, Matthew says they were amazed. Mark says they were terrified. I think both sentiments fall under the umbrella of bewilderment.

We have extreme difficulty trusting something unless we can cram it into the narrow margins of our own understanding, own it, classify it and, in the end, desacralize it. When we decided to go our own way and call it another lonely day, we started trying to do that to God. Hopefully I don’t need to tell you that’s impossible.

Yet we’ve been trying for a long time, and we still try. Formulas, methods, procedures, ceremonies, appeasing sacrifices. Any desperate scrambling to try and circumvent the nakedness of relationship and yet, still, the Spirit blows where it pleases. I even try, subconsciously, to turn Bible-reading into a formula. It’s just so hard for us to cede control.    
But when I go and sit in our garden to just be with Jesus, I remember. It is this simple, and this ineffably majestic. My poor garden - it is long-suffering due to my neglect. Every spring I am inflamed with gusto and a deep conviction that this season will be different… and then around mid-July I give up again. And yet, in spite of my negligence, beauty blooms, utterly undeserved. The green onions that the previous owner planted everywhere are yielding their tiny six-petaled white flowers, little nebulas perched atop tall green stems. Delicate lavender-colored flowers dapple the tops of the sedum and a rose bush I forgot to fertilize in the spring is blooming again and here I am, reaping where I did not sow. Deep mystery, deep majesty. Oh, and there are butterflies - butterflies en masse alighting on the sedum flowers.

“Late have I loved you, beauty so ancient and so new!” said Augustine. I am always late, because I first revert to the hand-wringing, the fretting, the negativity, the anguish of self-reliance and paranoiac wandering. And then when I finally give up, often more from fatigue and the attrition of every last resource of my own power, Jesus is there. And I remember. Oh yes, You again. Home again. The sum of my yearnings, the arms in which I was always meant to rest. Just me and Jesus in the garden and my utter found-ness in this person, fully God and fully human, who waits for me at the center of the spinning universe. That which is worth everything, the kingdom buried in a field, the pearl of great price.

And, miracle of miracles, he thinks of me in the same way - worth everything, even death on a cross. Oh, blessed, blessed bewilderment.

He is always there, waiting for me to quieten my hysterical pitch. And, ultimately, at the crux of any circumstance, he always asks: Do you believe that I am good? Do you believe that I can be trusted? Do you believe that I can do immeasurably more than you can ask for or imagine? And our work, the work of belief, is to answer yes, even when all appearances contradict it, even when our flesh cries “panic!”, even when our millennia-old patterns scream no. 

Because He is, and He can.