Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Third Time's a Charm

It may be 3 a.m. but I just can't take my eyes off of you.

You bury your face into my body. I hear the soft snore swathed in baby's breath return to your restless frame. I could get up now and put you back into your crib. I could do this pretty easily, and sneak back into my warm side of the bed–which I really want to do. And yet, I linger. I pause. I run my fingers over the crest of your ears. I bend down in an awkward crane and kiss the top of your head. I memorize the rise and fall of your chest, the way your eyelashes sit snugly against the softest parts of your face.

I do this because it is almost over. I feel the weary in my heels from the countless hours I've spent standing at the edge of a crib. Swaying and stepping, lifting and setting down; doing the dance only an exhausted young mother knows. This time, the third time, I know the steps. I've found my rhythm, I know where to pause for the joy and to quickly release the disappointment. I am not an expert, I am just trained. I have earned my stripes, one blurry eyed day at at time.

But now, just like the clouds that are snaking in between the tall evergreen trees in my yard, the morning is burning off and the fog is lifting. I can see the way: the way out of infant hood.

And isn't it just like life to get to the part where you finally appreciate what you have only to watch it run through your fingers?

I am not sad that the baby years are coming to a close; that my 8-month old has partially weaned himself from nursing or is standing in place, or is sleeping just a little bit better and needing me just a little bit less. I am not sad that I spent a lot of my emotional currency belaboring the labor of love that really is the roughest stuff. It has also been the most transforming stuff. I've spent over two-thousand days on this rollercoaster, so I know without a doubt that it is and was hard–and I am not saying that is wasn't or that it won't be again.

It just will be a different type of try. A different type of get-by that isn't hinged on survival.

And this graduating as a mom is all a part of the pass through. A part of the oldest joke in the book; you know the one about the chicken crossing the road just to get to the other side. You see, if I paused right here–with my third-born's gummy smiles and his adorable giggle I would miss it. I would miss the crossing over; the passage way that we all take to get to the other side of our selves. To get to the place we are being led, the forward progress that is only relevant to the human race and no other type of species.

My children are the closest and most concentrated way I can be a character witness to God at work. To see his newest creations gather scars and skeletons and golden fruit and bejeweled crowns. It isn't the easy way; there is no easy way.

It is the way of a mom. The unavoidable heartsickness that tears out our singular desires and replaces them with desires for another. These aches run so deep even the darkest oceans can't rise to it. This is the love of God. He carved this cavern into our hearts; breaking apart the drylands with a violent river. And this ocean that tosses us in a thousand directions is also the only body of salt water that can quench the deep that calls from within us to the deep above us.

It stings more than it is sad. That's the better way to describe it.

It stings your eyes; like the onset of a good cry.

It stings your heart like a bee sting; swelling into something that burns and bruises and then, subsides.

It stings like a quick brush of a thicket's stinging nettles. But it can be soothed.

As a kid, someone once told me if you held your breath and ran through singing nettles, you couldn't be stung. I can't say for sure as an adult if this is true or not, but I swear as a little girl I did this over and over and it worked. I never got stung: when I remembered to hold my breath.

So there is an antidote to this motherhood sting: holding your breath. Taking the moments in. Stamping them on the inside of your brain, with a fiery branding iron. Searing the sad and the happy and the sting and the subsiding into the recesses of your being. Not to dwell, but to deliver yourself a package that you can always open.

And there will be days coming, where I will want to sit down with this phantom package and tear open the paper and carefully inspect every baby shoe I kept, every picture that captured the mundane, every blanket that used to cover their tiny bodies. The day that my son's heart gets broken for the first time. The day my daughter forgets who she is and tells a really big lie. The day my youngest doesn't feel like he belongs.

On those days, when my heart is no longer the only one that is stung, these branded memories will be a salve. A cold, cooling space for all of us to remember the beauty of small beginnings.

We're in this together,

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Gum Wrapper God

It's the hardest thing I've ever done: living like a Christian.

Not living like a morally good person. Not living like I have it all together. Not living like I am perfect and you are not. Not living like I have anything to teach anyone. But to live like a Christian- in the Christ sense: the homeless sense. The humble sense. The kind sense. The loving sense. The self denial sense.

This is the hardest thing because it doesn't come natural, this re-convincing of my heart everyday that I am not good. That I have not arrived. That there is someone I owe my life too. And it usually leads me to silence. Because I just don't have anything to add to the matter.

But the silence screams at me to type it out. And so here I am. 

I have chosen to believe in Jesus. Yes, with all its controversial beliefs, it's insane death-to-life claims. The seemingly complicated history seared by the skepticism of contradiction pointing to the Great Rescue of Humankind. (These contradictions are the building blocks of a faith that does not follow a story arc that we can predict; a science we can't pin down. It is a faith that is tightly woven to bone marrow and imagination, not hymnal flipping and hemlines.)

I believe He is real. I have felt Him. I have talked with Him. I have read his words and felt my heart come to life in ways it can't on its own. Told you, it is very strange.

I have stood at the sink too many times to count with tears cresting over and a baby trying to crawl up my leg. I have poured a glass of wine only to watch it sit on the counter, waiting until I was less desperate to drink it–just to check my heart. Just to make sure that I am trusting God for my peace in the middle of chaos.

And sometimes I don't. Some days peace is far from me, and I shove the Spirit down below the static of anger and self worship and turn up the color of mad. And on those days I take a long hard sip, because I deserve it.

But I don't deserve it. And then I'm back to the beginning. The cycle again of re-convincing. Of re-committing. Of being joyful in the re-calibration, of being small, but not ashamed.

Like C.S. Lewis once said, Jesus coming to earth was like a human becoming a slug. Willingly. We are the slugs. He is the Creator of all things. We should know our lane, and yet we're always trying to jump the median. And often the median-jumping takes us a lifetime, while that gross strip of gleaming goo trails behind us and we call it gold. Because we can't do what the Savior can. Being slugs and all.

So why would I want to debase myself to be a slug, when the world tells me I am a queen?

This: I have seen myself in the magic mirror. With the make up off and the try-harder worn away–I've seen that I'm the monster. I'm the one to blame. (Oh goodness, calm down. Yes, I am a child of the King, but I am talking about humility of heart and of what author Dave Harvey calls "healthy self suspicion".)

I would rather live in light of someone else's perfection instead of trying to manufacture my own. Because the latter doesn't work; like a broken down truck, it kicks and turns and putters me into a ditch. 

The truth of the matter (of why we all matter) is that I am being transformed. Right now. Right here–with my dirty floors and an all too often dirty mouth.

It may sound a little spooky, like sci-fi shit: that I am becoming something else altogether. But I might quite possibly be sprouting bony plates beneath my shoulder blades. One day these adolescent bumps may resemble something like wings, crosshatched with veins and tawny and battle scars and muscle.

These wings of heavenly approval were bought with blood soaked splinters. And those very same splinters are splicing apart my heart of stone slowly; "death by a thousand paper cuts"–allowing blood to drain out of places where there was no life.

Maybe life is more like science fiction than a statistic sheet. Maybe there is mystery beneath every mole hill and thousands of stories that surround one little rain cloud. In fact, I am beginning to think that's more of the reality.

Everyone is being transformed that claims to be trying to unpack who this Jesus character really is; those who are growing; growing into less, not into more.

The tension in my heart; the pulling in two different directions: peace and panic–that's evidence of the Holy Spirit working. That's evidence He may be at work in you. To recognize the rub. The forward motion marked by friction. He is pulling me up the mountain, even though I am desperately trying to scoop up boulders to throw in the back seat, to weigh down the ascent.

When I am at the end of myself, Jesus is at his best. He is at His post just waiting for me to stare out the window into my backyard and simply say, "I can't do this without you." Which I do daily. Some days, hourly. Partnering our lives with Jesus is the whole point if you're a Christian. Denying what we think we should be able to do, ought to do, in our own strength.

A few years ago I remember sitting cross legged on the floor with one of my dearest mom friends. I lowered my voice and felt the blood rush into my cheeks as I was about to confess something dark. Well, something that directly contradicted what my faith and heart believed.

"I'm not sure I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit in my life."

My friend didn't flinch. I thought for sure she would throw a book at me. I felt like I had confessed that I had been lying my whole life about calling myself a Christian. Theologically, the Holy Spirit is the inner working presence of Christ in the heart that is supposedly transforming Christians into a more perfect version of ourselves if we are consciously being in prayer and submitting our will to God's.

It was too far fetched to apply. Wasn't it? Like I was still struggling too much. Like I wasn't changing fast enough. Like I was a slug.

When Jesus walked the earth he said we would be better off when he left because of the introduction of this spirit:"But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." In the English Standard Version it says, Helper. "The Helper will not come to you."

I like that. That's the Jesus I've seen. The Helper whose holding a worn-out map of meaning, where he's marked out the short cuts, even though they require scaling terrifying cliff faces.

And this gift, this Helper version of Jesus himself, I was confessing that I didn't feel it at work in my heart. And I was an all-in Christian. Supposedly. The type who–yes–had failed miserably at being a good human being, a trillion times over, but I thought that I was tracking; or at least on my way to tracking what all this belief business was about. 

So how could I say that I didn't believe and that I still believe?

That's the transformation stuff I was talking about. The bony plates and tawny stuff.

On that day, I wanted disobedience more that a clear line of communication with Jesus via the Spirit within me. And that's the quickest way to snuff out the whisper of the Helper is just to continually say no with my life. "I love you Lord, but I don't want you to be visible to others who don't know you. I don't want to be that weirdo." 

So I hid Him in the closet right next to my jackets; where the Jesus I claim to love searched my pockets for evidences of his sacrifice in my life and instead came out with handfuls of old receipts and gum wrappers. 

Not anymore.