Anniversaries and starting new chapters

Wally in the front seat

One of my favorite social media memories to pop up! Oh the joys of road trips with the Wall-nut!

 

Stories fascinate me. In particular, the way humans create narratives about our lives, linking the memories we frequently call to mind into a bigger picture about who we are.

And, so too, the role of Facebook memories in all this intrigues me. With over a decade on Facebook (When did I get that old?) , there’s oh so many memories to pop up on my “On This Day” feed. Photos of family meals, evenings out with J, vacations. The occasional odd story, like the spring when neighbor children stole about $600 worth of flowers out of the front yard in spite of repeated conversations with the parents (they didn’t care), buying the kids flowers for their own yard, and installing 6 foot deer fencing as a deterrent.

Then, there’s the anniversaries that catch me off guard — like last month’s reminder that it’s been five years since I stared up into the blinding operating room lights before the surgeons removed an ectopic pregnancy (and a ruptured fallopian tube along with it).

Five years since waking in a hospital bed, pregnancy hormones still flowing, no longer pregnant and minus a fallopian tube. The blonde, blue-eyed Jesus portrait on the wall mocked me as I laid there that night.

But five years down the road, the sorrow wasn’t wasted. Somehow that particular loss and my willingness to share my story cracked me open like chick emerging from eggshell.

I found myself in the writing. There was something profoundly healing in connecting with others in their own messy, broken middle stories. The middle story is where you can’t go back to where you were, but you’re not sure where you’re going yet or even how you’re going to pick yourself up to go anywhere else.

Somehow I forgave my body for not living up to my expectations, and I rejected the impulse to see my infertility as a badge of public shame.

Slowly two quiet convictions — that God doesn’t owe me for my years of good girl behavior and that God wasn’t punishing me with this crap hand of infertility — settled into my bones.

The ectopic pregnancy changed my life, like a punctuation mark. Recognizing the end of the sentence took a while (ahem…years). However, the process of story making as I grieved launched me into a whole new chapter, not just another sentence.

This past year we (finally) became foster parents after a long period of hemming and hawing and filling out stacks upon stacks of paperwork.

And in the busyness and routine of diaper changes, naps and bottles this summer, I forgot the anniversary as I happily went about the business of work and family life.

It’s the first time I forgot.

And then later that day Facebook reminded me of the anniversary as it highlighted my vague post about needing to find an easier way to get the hospital grippy socks that I love so much. (Yes, I love hospital socks. They’re fluffy, warm and non-slip — perfect for curling up on the couch with a book and a mug of lavender Earl Grey tea.) 

I felt horribly guilty for forgetting — as though somehow I failed as a mom for not thinking of the loss this year.

But now a month down the road, I think there’s a better explanation. It’s no longer a primary narrative in my story. It’s an important chapter, one that changed entire direction of my story, but it’s not the chapter I’m living anymore.

The stories I find myself sharing and the questions I’m asking have shifted to this new role of foster mother.

A new chapter began, and that’s the way life works. We die to things, thinking there’s no way life could go on after such an event. But, it eventually does, however much we might wish otherwise. Life springs up boldly, like weeds sprouted in concrete.

I’m so incredibly happy in this current chapter — even as I’m stressed, tired and generally overwhelmed like just about every person I know. Five years ago, I couldn’t see how the road would curve. I just kept putting one foot in the front of the other trusting the path to lead somewhere. Eventually, it did. And here I am now, still learning to simply put one foot in front of the other. Minute to minute. Day by day. Different questions, but similar process.

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Change is constant.

saffron field web

As spring finally settled in this year, I drove down to the arboretum to explore. Each year I remember where I previously captured moments of unexpected delight: a carpet of giant crocus lining the walkway between hedges, Siberian iris and snowdrops merging together with evergreens, fuzzy pastel pasque flowers, tulips glowing like lampshades filled with sunshine.

Could I take a better photo than the one took back then? Could I get a do-over? Will I miss out on a particular bloom because I waited too long to visit?

Wistfulness, anxiety and compulsiveness run on a constant loop.

Then, I actually start my exploration. I revisit places those places of wonder, expecting the same delight. Instead, I’m greeted with change and slight disappointment. Gardens evolve. Change is constant.

I want to go back to the place of beauty, but that place is no longer the same. There’s nothing to recapture or recreate, because the landscape changed with time.

Similarities, yes. Tulips still bloom, as do the lilacs and roses and lilies. And yet, they’re different each year and so is the lighting, the weather and my timing in visits.

Even as I’m disappointed when I cannot revisit the magic that once was, something always surprises me. The air whooshes out from my lungs on a surprised, “Wow!”

This year, cresting a hill, I glimpsed this field of saffron flowers — hundreds of them glowing beneath a giant old tree. Upon closer inspection, I saw that someone carefully planted them in the shape of a giant heart.

Maybe there’s a lesson about openness in all of this garden business. I want to hold on to those spaces of wonder and joy — to recreate things that once were — but those things have faded.

Maybe life just tastes bittersweet. We cannot hold the moments of wonder and joy, however much we try. They slip through our grasping hands.

Even as change inevitably comes, there’s still hope.

Somehow, if we’re open, life catches us by surprise. The past is gone, and something new still awaits. Maybe not where we were expecting it to come — perhaps the unexpected nature of life is part of the miracle.

We didn’t know we would stumble upon the moment. The air whooshes out from our lungs, delight rushes in, and for a brief moment the world seems to pause as we are swept up in the magic in front of our noses. A baby giggles. The sunset fills the sky with streaks of pink and orange. The waves crash against the shore. Laughter echoes round the table as old friends swap stories and good food. The bear hug reminds we’re welcomed and loved just as we are.

We cannot go back to what once was, but life still bubbles up, often unexpectedly. Will I choose to notice? Will I squander the present joy as I compare it with my past expectations?

Everything isn’t always sparkles, with hundreds of crocus dancing in the breeze. But perhaps these wonder-filled moments are like manna in the wilderness.

The book of Numbers tells of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness after their flight from Egypt. As they wandered in the desert, manna — this mysterious form of nourishment — rained down from heaven. It was enough to feed and sustain them. They couldn’t hoard it or save it — even though some tried. Manna was nourishment for the day. Perhaps boring after so many days of eating it, but still enough to carry them through to the next day.

Will I trust God for the manna to make it through the day? Will I acknowledge the wonder and grace that pops up, or will I grumble and bemoan that grace did not appear the way I wanted? I hope I spend more time in the former.

The space between here and there

the grace of good enough

Here again I find myself in a space of waiting. I’m not where I was. I’m not yet where I’m going. Yet, change is budding as we fill our house with baby things: clothes, toys, stroller and so on. The magical baby smell I wondered about all these years turns out to be Dreft detergent. I let out a sigh of disappointment on that discovery a few weeks ago. Some mysteries are better left unsolved.

As we prep the house and wait to hear the last stamp of approval for our license, I’m stretched thin. It’s hard work to hold my breath, when there’s nothing else to take in either. I’m ready to move on and yet held in the space between here and there. Continue reading

Flipping the switch: on becoming light this Advent

3335CDD9-5825-4509-B4E5-C4C66CECDE4BAdvent feels different this year, and not just because I actually started holiday shopping before December 22 for what seems like the first time ever.

Normally a season of quiet, wistful reflection for me, the time of waiting for the birth of a baby once reminded me of what I wished God would do for me in my infertile state. This year the infertility story isn’t a trigger or focus for me, and instead I’m more focused on God breaking into the world.

How does God slip into this dark, broken place?

As I read news stories, I feel overwhelmed. The world feels dark, and I find myself anticipating impending doom. Is anything good happening out there?

Plus, since we learned our cat has lung cancer, I spend days waiting and watching this cat’s every move, wondering when a coughing fit might be his last, or which cuddle nap will be my last with the warm fur ball.

I want the god who sweeps in to fix things. I want a snap your fingers, wave your wand instantaneous magic.

But, that is not what I got this year. This Advent I find myself hooked by Isaiah 61 and the parable of the talents (or the bags of gold or the three servants, all depending on your translation) in Matthew 25:14-30.

I read Matthew 25 back in November, and it lingered in my thoughts. Driving to work. Sitting at my desk. Sipping coffee at local cafes. Everywhere I went I meditated on it, whether I wanted to hear it or not. For weeks now, it simmered in my brain, bubbling and distilling.

I found myself troubled as I read the first time. I carry a Jekyll and Hyde image of God, and I hadn’t realized the duality of these pictures. I wait for God to kick me to the curb ruthlessly for reasons I don’t understand, and yet I’m also convinced that I’m loved and warmly welcomed. God wears two faces for me. What scares me perhaps the most is the thought of an arbitrary God.

And so, I stewed and stewed on this passage. Fearfully. Angrily. Nervously.

Light flickered. I want a god who magically fixes the world outside of me. In my timidity, I want to sit passively by waiting for God to act. I want the god who doesn’t expect too much from me. But, perhaps, none of those are actually true of God. Perhaps those are idols I created.

In the parable of the talents, the master distributes the money according the ability of each of the servants (Mt. 25:15). The first two act with faith in the one who invested in them. The third, gets scared of losing the little he was granted, and buries it (Mt. 25:24-25). In that time, burying valuables was a common way of protecting an investment. But the master was less interested in hedging bets, and more interested in those who acted with faith.

I wanted to be like the servant who successfully invests the greatest amount of money and is publicly praised, but in reality, I think I’m most often like the servant who buried the money. I’m scared of epic fails, and so I’d prefer to play it safe and hide.

What would change for me if I acted with faith, trusting God to bear fruit — instead of withholding in fear of making a mistake? What if I trusted God actually gave me gifts and talents he confidently thinks I can invest? What if I placed my faith in God, instead of resting on my ability (or inability, for that matter) to make things happen?

Because the truth is, I am not helpless or useless. Neither are you. We are flush with capability, you and I. The question is: whether you and I will place those gifts and talents in faithful service to Jesus.

The practice will vary for all of us; we all have different calls and vocations. And the beauty of seeing these work together astounds me these days as I watch my church community work together in living out their passions.

As God acts throughout the Bible, he acts through human hands. Paul. Deborah. Peter. Huldah. Isaiah.

Isaiah 61 reminds me, too: God acts through human hands. Isaiah proclaims, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners (Is. 61:1).” Isaiah speaks a word of hope and good news.

And this message is repeated by the incarnate Jesus as he proclaimed these words at the start of his public ministry in Luke 4. Jesus entrusted his followers with this same mission: to carry on the work of becoming good news for those to whom good news is a far-off, seemingly impossible thing.

This season instead of personal comfort, I find myself challenged in a different direction.

Instead of waiting for light to come to me, I wonder about glowing with the light of Christ for others. A switch in me has been flipped. I wonder what it means to become one who is good news to the downtrodden and hopeless? How does the overflow of who Jesus is to me spill over into the welcome I have for others?

In the darkness of this Advent instead of waiting for God to work magic outside of me, I find myself asking Jesus to transform me to be more like him.

Making peace with awkward small talk

Trail of the Cedars

Every time I think I’m done writing about infertility, life throws surprises, and I find myself with new stories to process. Starting a job in a church and meeting loads of people brings up new rounds of questions for me.

I’ve been infertile for a decade, and I keep thinking I’ll finish working through my issues at some point. It’s naive, and, frankly, I should know better because grief doesn’t quite work that way. We get better at carrying it. But, still it sneaks up on us in cycles and waves.

I started writing in the middle of the story because I found myself aggravated by the published materials sanitizing the dramatic, painful middle with happy adoption endings or magic surprise babies. Finding material that helpfully wrestled the tension in the messy, broken middle was difficult. And so, I wrote my story here.

Mostly, I’ve made fragile peace with this story. This is my life. I can’t change it. And, there’s so much that’s wonderful in my life. Infertility is only a portion of my story — not the whole thing.

But, in the midst of getting-to-know-you small talk these days, I found myself with new waves of shame and deeper questions. Every time I think I figured out how to navigate the small talk game, like in this old post, the rules of the game change. Continue reading

The Grace of “Good Enough”

the grace of good enough

I aim for perfect.

The goal isn’t praise or accolades; praise makes me awkward, especially when I’m just doing what was expected of me. Really, I want to avoid disgruntled comments. I desperately want to be competent, and the fear I’ll be weighed and found wanting drives my compulsive striving. I manage better when I limit the areas where I feel a need to be competent.

The problem: I forget to set my limits consciously and strategically.

When everything is up for grabs–home, family, faith, work, photography, friends– my vision blurs like a telephoto zoom lens panning in and out without focusing. It’s exhausting. Continue reading

Prophets so rarely speak words I actually want to hear.

sunlight on 100s of stairs web

I huffed and puffed up this massive flight of stairs. I dripped sweat, my calves burned, but the exercise was physically good for me, and the view at the end of the journey was worth the difficulty. But, still, the process to get there was painful. I think examining our stories is somewhat like this hiking experience.

Perhaps the more accurate title for the post is “Best Books Read in 2017: Third Quarter Edition.” But, there’s a theme running through what struck me in each of these books: the role of stories in shaping the way we engage the world. Continue reading