how to win while losing at motherhood

“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 1:14

She clung to my shoulders with her arms and knees, her neck wrapped on mine as the fountain misted our backs and absorbed our squeals. As soon as the wind changed, she anticipated the next mist and around the Bailey Fountain we went – a blurred, bouncing spectacle for the tourists posing in front of the mysterious, mythological scene. The sun beat down just as the mist dewed our faces and there are no photos of our delight. It lived so perfectly in that moment, just after 12 noon on a Tuesday.

Her little, tumbling giggle surprised us both. It was almost too generous – too full and wild. And, if I was guessing, I would say this is a little bit why little children can come to Jesus. 

This full and wild generosity of a child is unrestrained – like their Maker, ready to unleash lavish goodness in response to beauty and in the middle of delight.

There are many ways an adult can ‘become like a child’ and none of them are so easy. I have moments, like the fountain, where delight washes over and nothing ‘adult’ matters. But, most moments, I am aware of my unfortunate maturity. I squirm in skin that has worked hard to shake free of dependence – to get established and known and significant. But, the world is stingy with delight, starved of any true kind. All my slow (and unsteady) progress toward adulthood often feels like chasing after the wind. Meaningless. Culture doesn’t help me get past this curse – I’m constantly reminded that my life is supposed to be linear, that my work is supposed to build and progress and flourish into an evolving and important identity.

There is another baby bulging out of my belly, did I mention that? That’s very adult. The second time around is different for all the obvious reasons, but also because I am not in my first months of marriage and my brother did not just die. But my favorite part has been watching Zella’s sweet affection grow with the size of my belly. She leans in to sing her own made up songs. She tells the baby about all the excitement of this world (mostly noting the baby will get to drink milk). She perceives when the baby is awake and asleep. I’m glad she is paying attention; her wonder pulls me in.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;

I think about that stanza often. It plays in my head without invitation and all my neurons rush to find its melody. Maybe the elusive “winning” is the undercurrent of my everyday, the obvious wanting in every disrupted simple task. The edge of the full dustpan tips on the trashcan and empties on the floor. Not winning. The internet refreshes on days of blog rambles and doesn’t save a word. Not winning. The laundromat increases their prices 8 quarters more than all your cash and the nearest free ATM is 10 blocks away and your potty-trained lady just made a puddle by washer number 4. Not winning.

But God undoes win-lose scenarios – actually disappears them, and not because my daily losses are unimportant or irrelevant. But because he cares so intimately about the sweeping and the creating and the laundry, that He redeems and redefines winning completely. His measurement is an altogether different scale, interstellar dimension status. If not, the “right man on our side” would have been one big loser.

Were not the right man on our side,
a man of God’s own choosing

I get now why He let the little children come. They aren’t so wrapped up and weighted down with losses. Or, at least they aren’t keeping such close track. Or, they get His measurement system – where delight can disrupt the scales in the middle of a series of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad moments. If I’m honest, I need a million of those blurred, bouncing moments – chasing fountain mist with a giggling toddler. I need almost constant reminders of the different win-lose dimension scale.

In a recent talk (which, BTW is winning), Jen Wilkin said, “Human love is based on need. God’s love is not. His covenant stands because it is in no way dependent on me.”

Because God is altogether different, in being and knowing and doing, He is hope against wind chasing. Even as we become like little children – embracing their delight and dependence – we must be supremely aware of His absolute goodness and absolute other-ness. He is true and present in a windstorm and on a still day. In our struggle against a world of devils, it is His truth that triumphs through us – not because of all of our wind chasing, but because He is good. That is why He can be so generous, why His generosity never changes with temperaments or time.

His absolute goodness is in Him like our infinite humanity is in us.

good work, neighbor love, and kingdom come

I stretch out my limbs and too quickly my fingers reach the walls of our apartment. The cluttered cubic space shouts for thrown open windows and, in Brooklyn springtime, the windows shout back. Zella Ruth is sleeping now, so I have a chance to splatter thoughts on this page while the busses whir and that persistent man sings on the corner. His voice almost convinces me, six floors up.

But, back to these walls – these boundaries of our existence and mine especially as I newly articulate the bold title of “at home work.” The sun splashes against the wall of our kitchen – a hot, glorious reminder of a Spring long come and I stand in it awhile before clearing the remains of fresh salsa construction from our tiny countertop. I remember Zella’s scurry steps into the bedroom to babble very seriously about a broken something in the kitchen… and her pained brow when I found a special bowl in pieces on the floor. “It’s okay, Mama! It’s okay! I’m sorry, Mama. I’m sorry.”

Oh, this light. If only I could bottle it up! This patch travels up the kitchen wall, another climbs the bedroom above our bed, and a generous warmth makes a wake across the living room in midday. Windows are beauty and ours are giant, stretching almost floor to ceiling.

But, these walls. Every time I wash my hands in the bathroom, I wonder about the workers who tiled the walls. I wonder because it’s a curious construction, almost like a child’s mosaic the way the slivered pieces sometimes dwarf in comparison to the grout around them. And where the wall is uneven, more grout is applied and the effect is three dimensional. A statement of sorts about living in New York. Art.

We love this place. Even around the newest luxury condo, we can see the tips of the trees in Prospect Park, waving like sentinels and beckoning us to play in our neighborhood’s backyard. We often do. 

Well, anyway, the kingdom is here. In between the grout tile mosaic and in the view through dirty windows and under the gate leg table that opens up to fit twelve in our living/dining/den room, as long as everyone is cool with shoulders touching. The kingdom is in this midst.

I remember a sermon from a while back – one of those well known passages I almost tuned out but later I couldn’t get out of my mind. The kingdom is in my midst like the brothers in Luke 15. Their inheritance and mine is available right now, in its entirety. The robe, the fattened calf, the signet ring, the feast, and the best last name. Any good thing I can imagine requesting? Mine. A vast richness I could not possibly spend or exhaust or even fully enjoy. It’s that much inheritance. And the only way I can’t get to that inheritance is if I am not free.

The kingdom of God is freedom. 

But a kingdom has walls and gates and guards and I am skeptical like the son that there is any freedom inside. My mind drifts. I imagine the dreams I dreamt once – the ones that somehow wore charity and luxury at the same time, where dinner was never late or burnt or frustrating. Dreams chase freedom. And we chase dreams, hoping the blank will get filled in, “I just want to be able to ____” and the story ends well or doesn’t end at all.

And, I think, dreams are only bad if they have you convinced that you are not already free. 

The Band spins on the record player, a leftover request of Zella’s for “mugik” and that sermon from awhile back crackles over my laptop, “Both of these sons are on the precipice of being dead, of being lost… What’s most important to know is that you need to be found by the Father who wants to pull you into His feast.”

Hm. This kingdom, the kingdom of God is in the midst of us – another sermon especially settled in my bones. It’s a comfort and a horror to know that it’s here when I’m all unraveled and here when the knick knacks are all prepared for company. It, the kingdom, Jesus. Here.

Maybe this heart was getting annoyed at my spiritual procrastination and so started ahead that I might catch up. Or maybe these few sermons and a talk from Galatians 5 just started swimming together in the same direction in my spirit (do sermons swim?). This kingdom that came in Jesus had a vastness to it, a depth reaching outside existence. Yet, it was present physically in Jesus and is still present physically with us. The kingdom is here, and with so much repeat in the New Testament.

The message feels so precarious because the inheritance is so vast. The kingdom of lavish inheritance is everywhere, so why does our air feel so impoverished? Those brothers felt it too. With all the inheritance anyone could ever grasp for, neither was satisfied. They wanted a better freedom, something more fitting for the appetites in their bellies. Something not so established by a father who has everything. Something not so… available. They wanted different walls with different rules and different work.

And these walls, remember. And this work.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

Called to freedom, yes. Use it to serve neighbors? Sounds like constraint. Freed to be constrained? Sounds like gates and guards again and that generous father’s farm. 

There was a watercolor disaster in the living room yesterday. I said things like, “I am very disappointed,” and “Mama is sad,” to a not-quite-two-year-old who doesn’t yet understand the cost of an area rug. Deep breaths, we take them together. I pretend like I’m teaching her about coping mechanisms for frustration, but it’s really about keeping me under control. Inside these walls and inside this work is the vast and glorious kingdom inheritance, but I will keep feeling impoverished unless I claim freedom.

Teaching on Galatians 5, Thabiti Anyabwile says Christian freedom is the antidote to the Galatian error, that freedom is even the goal of the gospel that we must embrace, enjoy and cherish. “We are freed to inherit all that Christ has purchased for us,” he said, “…but we must remember what we are freed from.”

I am freed from the desires of the flesh and freed to an inheritance. I am freed from a dream of better walls and different work, freed from the betraying appetite in my belly. Freed from chasing an answer to the open ended and paralyzing question, “What is my calling and God’s will for my life?” Because it all comes in the same inheritance-freedom package. 

Q: What is my calling and God’s will for my life?
A: That I would be free and use my freedom to serve others.

This inheritance that we are freed to accept – it so blesses us and so fills us that the greatest dream we can dream hangs like mist in the air above our fingertips. In love, serve one another. This is the most freed act. There is no haggling about worth or comparing about value, no hierarchy of importance or ranking of achievement.

The most free thing anyone can do with freedom is serve others. And not just the glory, headlining kind of service. The quiet kind – make a meal, tidy the toys, clean the dishes, disinfect the toilet, arrange the bookshelf, run the errands, write the letter, invite them over, wash the laundry, crunch the numbers, listen to the neighbor. You get it. Also the glory kind – definitely keep that around, but not for glory’s sake. 

This cold traveled slowly and took about one week to get from my chest to my throat to my nose. Now, it is flowing freely on this flour sack kitchen towel and my shirt sleeves, which I’ve newly re-purposed as handkerchiefs (why don’t we carry those anymore?!). One was not enough. The hum of the restaurants and traffic and sirens at street level drift up and settle between my cotton ears.

And there is good work to be done in this midst.

dear little one | all the celebrations

Dear Little One,

Mama is grunting a lot these days. Rolling over is rough and I am a little wobbly when I walk… maybe God wants me to get a sense of the struggles you will have when you finally meet the sunshine. Do you struggle inside there? Or are all your movements dances?

A kind lady named Mary J. performed freestyle poetry in Bryant Park for us over lunch on Thursday. You must have been awake because I was sitting in partial sun and her voice had a rhythm like reading a book. Anyway, it was wonderful and we tipped her – you and me – under those green, London plane trees.

You seem to be confusing the crowds, my sweet. A very nice Brazilian woman at the Bryant Park B stop told me you were most certainly a boy, but the day before a Peruvian lady in Jamba Juice said she knew you must be a girl (she also said I looked cute, which I appreciated). The copier repair guy thinks you are a boy because I’m pointy and your Papa thinks you are a girl because I am round. Oh, who are you, dear little one, and how will you laugh when I tell you everyone’s predictions?

I’m sorry for the confusion, by the way, about the names. I went ahead calling him Daddy before he was convinced that sounded just right. What do you think – do “Mama” and “Papa” suit us? You are really the one who will decide. Maybe you will call us “Nuni” and “Didu” – it would be so hipster if you made up your own mind. We’ll talk about skinny jeans some other day.

For now – this little story about your Papa. It happened 10 months ago, but I thought you should know more about the man with the funny voices who plays all the best records (and occasionally sings Justin Bieber’s, “Baby” right over my belly).

I had just finished work on the last Friday of August and I took my new route (the 5 at Grand Central, to the Q at Union Square) to the Prospect Park stop and then walked the short 377 feet to our new apartment building. I hadn’t seen it yet, because he’d found the apartment while I was at work two weeks before. This late August night was my first official “homecoming.”

I punched buttons for A64 outside the building and he buzzed me inside. When I got to the sixth floor, your Papa was waiting (dripping with a full day of summer, city moving sweat) and beaming with new apartment excitement. He scooped me up and carried me across our first threshold.  I was blushing and feeling silly , but I loved it.

We haven’t had a family meeting or voted, but that little threshold performance established a family rule: We will never skimp on celebrations.

You’ve already been a part of several of the big ones – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and some great birthdays. Do you remember the way the candles were lit in November and the way the champagne spilled out at Easter? But, sometimes special days don’t get a square on the calendar or vacation days.

This world will always try tell you how to live in it best, my little one.  But it never said anything to me about the day your Papa carried me across the threshold of our home or the Monday nights hosting neighbors and strangers in our apartment for pancakes or the night picnics on the fire escape. The world didn’t teach me how to celebrate well in grief or sing for joy in pain.

It’s confusing, this world.

But I’m not going to apologize for the struggle, though I want to. I want to say sorry for the broken down cities and all the deep, furrowed eyebrows. I want to say sorry for the days of imperfect weather and for the impatient commuters. I want to say sorry for the smog in the air and the greedy politicians. I want to say sorry this isn’t Eden, little one.

I am not going to apologize, no.

Because God – remember, your Creator who knows you so well? God is not apologizing. He is not sorry for making you. He is not sorry you are getting ready to say hello to a smoggy, grouchy, rough-and-tumble world. One beautiful thing about God is that he will never give up renewing things. He celebrates every day with a sunrise, every season with new colors. He celebrates with the stars in the skies and with the cherry blossoms lining the promenade in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. He celebrates in the fertile ground of farms in Iowa and in the hearts of people gathered in His name.

He doesn’t hold back when it comes to celebrations, not even a little bit. He withholds no good thing. There is a verse in the book of Psalms, in the Bible, that says,

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
    from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)

We want our home to be like God’s home for us: withholding no good thing. We’ll need your help, though, because the world does not get less confusing as you live more days in it.

Help us remember this – can you? Remind us that we want to receive all the celebrations God stirs up and we want to offer celebrations with the same spirit.

Oh, does any of this make sense darling?

love,

mama


Read all the dear little one posts here.

dear little one | dirty feet and flushed cheeks

Dear Little One,

You are not so little anymore and I am sorry for all the crowding – I’ll take most of the credit for that. “Petite” runs on both sides of your mama’s family, so there was really no way to escape it. Your great grandmas Avonell and Phyllis are firecrackers (and their daughters, too), so it’s fair to say height is never a good measurement of energy or character or spunk.

The tingle of Spring finally turned into bare shoulders, ice cream cones and a long riverside walk on Sunday afternoon. Did you feel the sunshine by the Hudson? Did you hear our laughter?

I forgot about everything productive I meant to accomplish over the weekend. Sometimes that is okay.

Conversation or adventures or that amazing patch of afternoon light on the kitchen floor are more important than lists sometimes. I won’t need to teach you that, in the beginning. I think you’ll come out knowing already. Is that the eternity in you?

Sunday church stretched into brunch and brunch stretched into ice cream and ice cream stretched into Joel asking questions in our living room about how to love people better.

When your daddy pulled me aside earlier in the afternoon to see if we could have company later, I thought about all those productive things I needed to do – the laundry and the dishes and the floors with those grey, fuzzy monsters in the corners – all those things that take a backseat when the sun comes out… (when you get here, that list will be much longer they say).

I love your daddy for pulling me aside like he does – giving me time to prepare, even if I can’t actually clean anything up. I said “yes” knowing we would all walk into the apartment at the same time. But Joel brushed aside any apologies I had about the dishes in the sink and the socks on the floor, because we all share homes and lives and french press coffee.

People say this will change when you come, little one, but we are praying you get swept up in it, too. Or maybe we are praying that, for you, family and church and neighbors and home are all words with open doors and welcome mats. I pray this kind of thing over you while I rub the little basketball you live inside. Do you hear these prayers?

The sun was setting when Joel rummaged for some towels. I thought he was offering to help clean because your dad was knee deep in sawdust in the middle of the living room after re-purposing a table into a bench (so handy – I can’t wait for the two of you to be knee deep in projects together). But, instead he cleared his throat and said, “I felt convicted today in the sermon that, I … should wash your feet.”

I immediately thought about my feet.

I thought about sweet Joel and all his good intentions, but I mostly thought about my unpainted toenails and the last time I could reach over this basketball belly to give my heels some TLC. I fluttered around for a dish to put water in and your daddy and I sat next to each other on the new bench he just made. I squirmed and felt roses color my cheeks as Joel read about a man named Jesus washing his friends’ feet.

Joel knelt down on his knees, washed our feet, and then prayed over us. And all the time I was praying for a heart to receive this gift. Your mama can be is proud and receiving love can be hard. But this is the lesson of dirty feet and flushed cheeks, little one:

if we are ever too proud, we will always stay dirty.

We will grow up together – you and me and Daddy and hopefully some siblings. We will learn from you and you will learn from us and we will hopefully all be distracted by the right things. And we’ll all get dirty – sometimes with dirt and sawdust and toejam, but sometimes with invisible things like jealousy and selfishness and greed. There will be people who look like that man named Jesus, who help expose the ugly – to wash it and to remind us of the great and humble love of our Father who sees all the dirty things in our lives and still bends down to make us clean. These kinds of people are very special.

Anyway, these are my thoughts and I’ve rambled too long. There was a man named C.S. Lewis and he wrote about a boy who woke up as a scaly dragon and could only shed the skin if he jumped in a pool. Maybe I’ll read that story to you soon. It’s a very good story.

We miss you, little one. It feels like you are everywhere with us, but not quite close enough. I still think about your wrinkly knees.

all my love,

mama


Read more letters to my little one here.

when almost and mostly everything is undecided

Almost and mostly everything these days is undecided, though it produces less anxiety in me than it used to. I think that must be in part due to weariness, but I am thankful regardless. It is good to not be anxious, even if being “made to lie in green pastures” comes about by swollen, pregnant ankles and grief brain. I think God’s goodness is inside these things – when our eyes shut without being told and when our shoulders sigh without great effort.

I had an urge, several times in the first months of pregnancy, to lean over slightly to a fellow subway rider and say, “I know this might sound strange, but would you mind if I rested my head on your shoulder for a few stops? I’m just… so tired.” I didn’t ever follow through, partially (I think) because I had played it over so many times in my head that I would either be unsatisfied by rejection or unsatisfied by the thought that I was just doing it to make the story in my head true.

So, you can imagine my surprise when Patrick said recently, “You have a glow, you really do!” He added the last part because he knew I wouldn’t believe him. He knew I would try to make it about having showered or wearing a new shirt. But I knew he wasn’t joking, because weariness has a way of making you a truth teller. If you are well acquainted with being made to lie down in green pastures, you gladly accept the honest and brilliant words “you have a glow” and then you pack them in your travel satchel – within easy reach for when the journey spreads from the recline of pastures to the incline of a mountain.

There are other things in that satchel, too. Ultrasound photos and conversations with sisters and deviled eggs. Well, not actual deviled eggs. But, the deviled eggs we packed in cupcake tins to take to dinner last night.

After meeting up with our neighbor friends for rainy day Dim Sum in Chinatown, we sloshed back to prepare roasted potatoes and deviled eggs to complement the roasted chicken and lemon tossed brussel sprouts our friends’ were making a few subway stops away. Patrick whipped up homemade mayonnaise while I tossed salt and pepper potatoes in thyme, sage and olive oil. He convinced me the the whole grain mustard would be better presented in small dollops on top instead of mixed in with the egg and relish. I should always trust his photographer’s eye.

Walking in to their basement apartment is a little bit magic. We relax into hugs and updates and banter while we shuffle coats and food and chase their little one in circles around the kitchen. The deviled eggs are set out for appetizers and the guys huddle in the office while we talk about baby preparations and bring things to dinner-ready in the oven. Then, we sit down to pray over the food.

All of it regular and all of it magic, like the sun that warms a patch of kitchen floor or the way a flower bouquet speaks reassurances in its silent post on the mantle. Regular magic.

And the deviled eggs remind me that we talked – really talked – over dinner. We scooped portions on plates and opened every conversational door that is supposed to stay closed at dinner parties while the little one peppered our deep thoughts with very serious requests for grapes and strawberries. We nitty gritty talked about marriage and love and community and insecurities and the times we’ve given in to irrational fears. Equal parts affirmation and question, equal parts confidence and fear, equal parts doubt and faith. Equal parts certain and unknown. All parts family.

Because almost and mostly everything is undecided these days and it is good to know we are not alone in indecision. And sometimes we need to be reminded that our indecisiveness is not weakness.

We pushed against the expectations of culture and role models and voices in our heads and then, one by one and in very different ways, we spoke truths about God and the identity He gave us. We said things like, “I have seen the way that God has blessed your work – what you do is really amazing.” And, “..We have to start from a place where we believe God is sovereign, a place where we believe He gave us our identity.” And, “We can see God’s heart for hospitality in you.” And, “You have really been such an encouragement to me.”

Our words came easily because it’s instinct to bandage a broken body and because this is kind of what we are made for, to “encourage one another and build each other up.” God is good to fill our mouths with words He has already written and promises He has already spoken, so that we do not forget His faithfulness and persistent renewal of creation. None of us are less broken or more figured out – we are equally unsure of how all our stories will unfold.

Nothing is more figured out today. No questions got answered in the way we would all prefer. No decisions got made about the future last night.

But, I am remembering a little bit more that I am called “child” in a family with a steadfast and faithful God who knows about the wiggles in my womb and the swelling in my feet. And He knows exactly and especially when His children need to come together to speak truth when almost and mostly everything is undecided.

imagining again

We have been casting vision lately.

Though we wrote a marriage manifesto in the weeks leading up to our wedding and our marriage vows at a basement bar several nights before we spoke them in front of God and friends, our first eight months of marriage have been heavy on the doing and light on the planning. Not all bad and not all good, but kind of like the icy cold blast from a garden hose on a hot August day in Iowa… or like the last 100 feet of a winter sprint to the front door of a NY apartment in February. There is no time to think or plan or consider, but enough time to feel the giddy tingles of the moment – the energy that catches in your chest when the shock of cold water hits you or the allure of a warm apartment lobby comes into view.

Nobody casts a vision in front of a spraying water hose or while jingling keys outside an apartment on a frozen February day. Well, I don’t anyway.

Meanwhile, I think all that stuff has been rumbling around. You know – the stuff of “what we want our lives to be like in the first year of marriage, for being a good neighbor, for being a good friend, for when we have kids, for community development, for when we do Lent, for Saturday mornings, for groceries and planning dinner parties and pancakes.”

You know, visions.

I overheard a young, coarsely stubbled man express his fears to a friend at the Starbucks on 51st Street. He said, “Dude, you gotta get me in on your next trip. I mean, I’m 24 and it’s like, I see my cousin – she’s married and has kids. And I see my friends who are married and they just disappear. I need to go to Iceland, Argentina – yeah, man you’re like my friend that is still, like, doing active stuff and living life. I mean, like, this is our prime and I want to do everything you know…”

There was more, of course – talk of places to eat and trending neighborhood and updates on where old friends are now – but I only half listened because I was trying to find a few square feet of quiet city space to sit between work and home group.

I kept wondering what that young man is so afraid of and what has made him afraid.

Last Saturday, as Patrick and I were reading “The Good Life” by David Matzko McCarthy for our Brooklyn Fellows class, the dust settled a little on all the doing and chasing and rushing. We would read a few paragraphs and then let the words tumble around between us and our baby in my belly. We are really very different people, Patrick and me – the way we approach challenges and the way we express sorrow and the way we show love. But, we are similar in that we fear a safe and sheltered life – the kind of life that is insulated (as much as we can control) from struggle and invites others in only when it is convenient. We didn’t really have the words for that to make sense until we let those paragraphs tumble around our Brooklyn apartment.

Comfort is not the goal. Loving is the goal.

How can we love the Lord best with our routines? What neighborhood allows us to live in slow community and love our neighbors with our time and resources? What do decisions about schedules, apartments, baby, and dinner invitations look like when we are not trying to protect our image or our comfort?

We don’t necessarily know the answers, but that’s why there is vision casting. That is exactly why imagining together with community feels so sacred – because God is involved in the mystery of saying “yes” to his heart. He is trustworthy when there is no obvious path for our “yes,” when we are not calm and collected and ready for anything. He is trustworthy when we do not have a plan and do not know how to find one. He is trustworthy when we imagine things that don’t make sense.

Dreaming and delighting in God’s vision for renewal has been a hard thing since William died. I don’t believe it less, but I do participate less. And I have so missed the sacred participation of trusting God to hold steady so all the unknowns of imagination can make wonderful happen.

I think I am ready to start imagining again.

watch over us

In the past couple days, I have:

  • eaten a bag of popcorn for lunch
  • stood out on my fire escape in a snowstorm (a very underwhelming one)
  • used the mom voice to co-workers who are twice my age and raised my mom’s teacher eyebrows at them
  • gone to sleep early
  • had weird dream/nightmares about a giant pizza
  • eaten a personal, Brooklyn organic pizza for dinner (with a side of mint chip ice cream)
  • squatted in the middle of a crowded train after shedding a few winter layers – whatever it takes to prevent the unthinkable, folks
  • sang in every room of the apartment
  • talked for 1.5 hours with my uber wise grandparents
  • wrote and performed a rap over skype to my mom’s 6th grade class (who are in the middle of a hip-hop unit)
  • spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to coax Baby K into acrobatics with folk music
  • read a bedtime story to my favorite Michigan family, who were all snuggled into my nephew’s bed
  • sent a million urgent emails that my office won’t read, about what they are supposed to have done by Friday at 3 pm when the plug is pulled on our current office and we move into our new space

And that’s just the past couple days and that’s not even all of it. I just want to let you in, friend. I wanted you to know it’s not all saltines and sadness over here in the big city. Even though it’s been awhile since I’ve successfully buttoned my pants (let’s be honest, I haven’t done that for a LONG while), we’ve been able to fit a good amount of laughter into these winter days.

I can actually remember when the first laughter happened, after the very dark night of early pregnancy and the flu. I felt okay when I woke up that Saturday and we woke up slowly, smiling. We ate a bit and I still felt okay. (And all the while inside I was saying, “So far, winning!”). I remember, several times, hearing myself giggle and being surprised. What an unfamiliar sound – that laughter – and oh where has it been?

We ran a few errands and I still felt okay, so we got really ambitious. We went to Long Island City with our heads down against an unforgiving wind to get to my coworker’s birthday party. After mingling with the Irish, English, Polish and Spanish accents, we hit up a little cafe in the West Village where our friends were playing. By this time, it was getting respectably late and we were both impressed. On the way to the subway with our silly friends, we stopped to buy what I was craving (Cooler Ranch Doritos) and then took up the whole sidewalk like the younger version of ourselves – up to clean mischief.

I remember thinking how strange it was to be so surprised by my joy – surprised by the sound of laughter and surprised by the feel of a smile stretched across my face. It felt good and illusive all at once, like the longing the C.S. Lewis always talks about.

I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller recently, at the suggestion of my therapist. It was called, “Praying our Tears” and I should probably listen to it again. “Expect tears, invest tears, and pray your tears,” he said, after reading Psalm 39:12-13 and Psalm 126:1-6.

If we’re talking Psalms, there are more lamentations than any other kind. That makes sense to me – the weight of sorrow needs a place to land. The world is brimming full of it, with the words of even one story. And I have a hard time believing there will be a harvest from my sorrow (Psalm 126:5), if I plant my tears. I am okay to let my sorrow be an end in itself – that thing I crawl up inside when nothing makes sense. And I have been struggling to let sorrow and joy live together.

But God says I have to plant my sorrow. As Keller says, “to see my tears as an opportunity for fruit and growth.” That’s a far cry from where I am now, but I can hear it and that feels like progress. Joy will be the harvest when I plant my tears in compassion for others, in prayer, in love, in patience. Tears actually produce joy, he says. Again, I’m a critic. I believe tears can produce joy (2 Corinthians 4:17), but I am a critic in my weak flesh.

“There’s a kind of joy that comes through avoiding tears – that doesn’t really change you. Then there’s a kind of joy that comes through the tears that does.” – Keller

I’m learning.

His last point answers the question, How do we plant our tears? Prayer. Pray everything – all the biggest and worst and most confusing emotions. Pray them with shaking fists and pray them in the hot shower and pray them in confession kneeling in church on Sunday. Pray. Pray for opportunities and direction and fields and the right soil. Pray for strength to throw out the sloppy, wet messes and pray for belief in what is planted. Pray.

Praying has been hard for me. I’m a steadfast, headstrong believer … but praying is hard sometimes.

This song has been helping. It feels to me like a prayer – one without answers or a lot of boldness, but a prayer that is honest and believing. A prayer that lets me laugh and cry in the same day without having to sort it out.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.