Waiting in the wilderness

November Gray

Yet again, I find myself in a season of waiting.

This season of stasis, of living on pause, irritates me. It feels like an exile to the wilderness — dry and barren. Perhaps Lent is the appropriate church season for the sensation.

I waffle between sadness, anger and flashes of envy. And then, horrified by the not-so-nice feelings, silence and police them into submission (or so I naively like to think). I gave in finally and let the feelings express themselves in my journal. Perhaps now they can stop with the sneak attacks.

I want to whine, to rush things forward, to move beyond the space of discomfort.

Life feels like the March mud season outside. The world is brown, but I know crocus, tulips and lilacs are on the horizon. Green will sprout. But, I don’t know when, and I can’t rush it along. It’ll come, and as with every year, will surprise me with its timing and splendor.

It sounds nice enough to know spring will come as it always does, but the waiting is sandpaper rubbing on my heart and soul. Mildly abrasive and increasingly painful. Maybe it serves a useful purpose, but it still hurts. Will my heart be bleeding or soft and smooth when the wait is over? Time will tell, I suppose.

If you’re in the wilderness, stuck in the place between, you’re not alone.

The space between here and there is a difficult space to dwell. I’m no longer the person I was, and I’m definitely not in the place I’d like to go. There’s no going back, and I have little control over moving forward. We wait for the phone to ring. I hate this sense of powerlessness; it feels like weakness, and my weakness irks me.

When I wrote on this subject a year ago, I started to realize life is lived on the way from here to there. What I hadn’t fully grasped (and am still coming to grips with) was the fact that life is waiting — whether it’s in hope of some good thing or in expectation of something painful.

We spend so little time in the moments of arrival. This week I remembered that even after the phone rings I’ll start another kind of waiting. One train lands in the station, while another departs. I just trade out the event that I await.

The bulk of life is the space between — wilderness.

I can learn to make the most of the time waiting — or I can make myself bananas over not yet being in the place I want to be.  As I consciously think about it, I’d rather land in the former; as a matter of course, I want to lean into choices that open me to wonder and curiosity over bitterness. Even if it’s just for a moment, I want to be open to the possibility of joy springing up like a dandelion sprouting through concrete.

In this season, choosing life in the waiting means renewed dedication to reading, writing and creating. I’ve started scrapbooking again as a way of organizing our story of our first tiny. And I’ve picked up my crochet hooks again, working ahead on blankets for future littles as well as a project just for me. The busyness of my hands helps tame the churning of anxious thoughts. Plus, there’s a tiny thrill of accomplishment when I learn a new stitch and when I finish something I started.

Reading helps too; in the past few weeks I’ve had a chance to catch up on my book list. Highlights include Kathy Khang’s Raise Your Voice, Jonathan Merritt’s Learning to Speak God from Scratch, Rachel Held Evans’ Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Learning to Love the Bible Again, Nadia Bolz Weber’s Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, and Anne Lamott’s Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.

And all that reading fuels my passion for writing and checking in with my own story. I remembered my love of words, and how writing, for me, is a way of healing. I unearthed my sense of calling to write in public way, not just in the privacy of my journal.

I made a quick decision to write each week in Lent as I wrote that first post of things I didn’t know before fostering. It felt like something I needed.

And it was. But, I thought it’d be easy, not something that stretches my guts open and inside out each week. There’s fear with public writing and putting my story out there. Impostor syndrome sets in with a vengeance. Who am I to do this thing?

But in showing up despite the fear, I get a chance to grow into myself as a writer and to reclaim my voice.

Perhaps the newfound openness of time that burns is also opportunity.

And I’m going to frame it that way for my sanity. I get to choose the meaning for my story. Rather than squandering the time and seeing it as meaningless, what if it’s a chance for my growth?

I can hold the sadness and frustration of wanting to be a mom at the same time I say there’s a gift in this window of time to invest in myself as a writer. It’s an opportunity to answer the “what if” questions about my life now, instead of looking back in regret.

Perhaps that is the manna I’m looking for in this season of waiting. As I’ve said recently, we can’t always get what we want, but we can make the most of what we do have. And what I have right now is time to write.

What’s the manna for you in your season of waiting? What carries you into the next day? What would making the most of what you have look like?

I Didn’t Know…

010916 Love in small things

I didn’t know if I could love you when I first saw you. I panicked, thinking “What have we done?” The whole situation seemed overwhelming and too much to bear.

The next day, we came again to visit, and I chose to sit there in the hard space with you. I didn’t feel love or connection or magically maternal. I just felt scared, like taking a test I knew I’d fail.

But still, I chose to take responsibility for you. I committed.

Good or bad times, attachment or not, I will care for your needs the best I can for as long as I’m allowed. I can choose this, feelings or not.

And so we began.

I didn’t know you’d melt my heart. Somewhere a little over a month in, you looked me in the eye, seeming to ask, “Will you be all in with me?”  And I couldn’t help but say, “yes.”

I didn’t know attachment went both ways — as though some invisible string tied our hearts together. I worried so much about you connecting to us, only to find myself startled by your pull over me.

I didn’t know starting this journey with you would pull me into a perpetual roller coaster of emotions. Every time I thought I’d felt the depths of what I could feel, that somehow I’d seen all that this story could throw at me, something new would happen and the world would flip topsy turvy yet again.

I didn’t know you’d sleep through the night so early on or that you’d keep that nightly routine so easily. Thank you for letting Poppy and I get sleep too! You spoiled us with your easy nighttime sleep habits.

I didn’t know that childcare would be the easy part of fostering. The more difficult part was entering the very complicated narratives of everyone involved and doing it with grace, mercy and the benefit of the doubt. I wrestled with my internal stories about bio families, and as I attached to you, kept checking my impulse to make them “other” and to divide the world between us and them.

I didn’t know how hard goodbye would be. I worried so much for you, I forgot about us. We knew this day would come, even as our hearts hoped for a magical solution where everyone gets to keep wonderful you. I hoped professionalism and logic would slow the tide of grief.

I didn’t know the ways my feelings would defy my logic. How my head would understand and support what was happening while my heart screamed, “NO!”

I didn’t know how strongly I believed grace and forgiveness matter. And that if they mean anything at all anywhere in the world, they have to mean something here in this story too — even if my heart doesn’t want to understand.

I didn’t know that a weight would lift as you went out the door. That somehow the load was lightened, even as we wept.

I didn’t know how guilty I’d feel about the ability to breathe as you rode away from us.

I think it’s the finality of it all. We did what we could, and now there was nothing else to be done. We gave the best of ourselves, sent you off as well as we could, and the story came to an end.

We waited and waited with our breath held in hope for a different outcome. And we finally surrendered to reality. The worst part — handing you over and saying goodbye — came and went. The axe finally fell, and it’s time for healing for all of us. But, now our roads are separate.

I didn’t know my house could echo with the ghosts of your happy giggles and squeals.

I didn’t know how my arms would ache to hold you, and that for a few agonizing days I’d feel the phantom weight of you snuggled close in the crook of my neck.

I didn’t know I’d learn to hold new unanswerable questions: are you sleeping? Are you eating? Are you okay? Do you miss us a little? Or even a lot? Have you settled into a new routine? What new things have you learned?

I didn’t know how quickly I’d forget the sound of your happy chatters or the exact tone of your cries. Three days was all it took.

I didn’t know how hard I’d search for those sound memories, nor how sad I’d feel as the memories could not be recalled.

Tears streamed down my face as Poppy and I went to see the new Mary Poppins and Emily Blunt sang about where the lost things go. I didn’t know I’d find myself watching the song on YouTube over and over as I missed you.

I didn’t know I’d feel identity loss when you left. I forgot we wear identities like clothes. You left and somehow the “mom” cardigan was snatched from my shoulders.

I didn’t know I’d struggle with this identity loss. I never truly thought of you as ours. We bought a suitcase immediately after you arrived for that very reason. We loved you with the best of ourselves. In our weakness, we longed to keep you. But, we always knew we were foster parents, not your actual parents. And on the days we’d forget, we’d see that suitcase and remember — this is temporary.

I didn’t know that the “mom” identity felt like an essential part of me. With the loss of you, I also miss my favorite parts of me.

I didn’t know that losing you would also make me feel like the little matchgirl again. Watching families from outside while longing for that to be my story.

We finally joined the parenting club, and it felt lovely to belong as I swayed with a child on my hip. My nervous swaying finally had a purpose — it looked natural with you resting in my arms.

I didn’t know I’d find myself mentally reaching for you — as though you could know you were often in my thoughts. As if you could feel the weight of my yearning for you and know you weren’t forgotten or abandoned.

I didn’t know I’d wrestle with God like Jacob — struggling and refusing to let go until a blessing is granted. Only the blessing is not for me — it’s for you. I can’t rest assured that it is granted because I cannot see you.

Instead there is silence, and I long to know how you’ve grown. I hope you’re eating, sleeping, learning — even laughing. You’ve likely mastered crawling by now. And then I wonder too — did you make it to doctors and dentists appointments?

I didn’t know I’d check my email like I’d check my phone for messages from Poppy when we were dating. I didn’t know how disappointed I’d feel when no news of you came.

I didn’t know how fast Poppy and I would settle into old routines from the days before you. Just one short week after you’d gone.

I didn’t know that I’d have such complicated feelings about settling back into old routines. Grace. Guilt. Comfort. Fear.

I didn’t know I’d be nervous again for a new placement, that I’d ask myself the same questions I did before your arrival. Can we really love this new child? What if we don’t connect with them? Am I too old for this? Is the pain when they leave worth the journey?

I didn’t know how grateful I’d feel toward you for helping me believe we can do this again. We didn’t know how it would go last time, and yet small miracles happened along the way — enough manna to nourish us on the path each day.

I didn’t know if fostering would really be a calling for my life, or if it, like so many other things, would be an epic mistake. Walking in this sacred space with you helped me find my best self, and I’m so grateful that you were the one who started this foster journey with us. We’ve never regretted saying “yes!” when the call came about you.

And I didn’t know that we’d begin to feel ready for another child quite so soon. But, here we are — waiting again and ready. There won’t be another you, but we’re ready to see and greet the next guest who comes along.

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.

On embracing process, or an ode to the bullet journal

IMG_6312Bullet journaling chills out my perfectionism. Or at least, forces frequent application of acceptance techniques. Ripping less than stellar pages from a leather bound journal is less tidy than pulling out pages from a spiral bound notebook. So, I’m learning the practice of self-acceptance and self-compassion, even as I try out new things.

In the process, I’m learning creativity is less about inherent giftedness and largely about the grind. What am I willing to research and practice?

Photography already feels this way for me — less about an “eye” that just magically sees and more about trial-and-error. I read tips and manuals, I browse the internet for ideas, and then, I practice. Take notes, mental or literal. My bullet journal has pages of notes on things I’ve learned from different shoots, things to do better next time, things that worked great (or crashed and burned). And then, I repeat and try again.

In a quick internet search I learn a couple of different styles of lettering for headers of my pages. I don’t know how to draw donuts, banners or cameras, but here again, Google brings me examples and instructions to my fingertips. I just have to try it.

Some attempts are better than others. Multidimensional donuts are way easier for me than coffee mugs. Lettering is simpler than vegetables. But, still, even the less-than-perfect sketches get to stay.

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And oh yeah, for whatever reason, I always work in ink, so mistakes are not erasable. Maybe I’ll switch that up, but likely not. As a lefty who drags her hand through her work, I hate writing with pencil.

I still use my notes of coffee shops to visit; I still write down what’s been happening in the vegetable patch. Even on my reflection pages, I don’t force full sentences or perfect writing craft. I just jot notes on feelings or moments I’d like to remember. If I want to cross out a word, I do and I move on. This is not the great American novel or theological treatise; it’s a draft sketch —  a few quick lines to leave an impression and capture glimpses of the Spirit working alongside the glances at my emotional health.

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Previously I’d get frustrated when a journal got chaotic with haphazard notes or ideas, and I’d jettison the partially filled journal in favor of a fresh, unmarked notebook. Then, rapidly repeat when perfectionism meant I couldn’t find space for the messier parts of me.

Offering compassion and mercy to myself has never been a strong suit, but somehow in this bullet journaling process of organizing life and goals, I’m learning to practice this on a small scale. The index page is unsightly, but it functions, I need it and I don’t want to start over. Thus, it stays. Even if I don’t like how a particular page looks, I need the list on the other side. And so, oh well, guess I’ll keep the ugly page too. It gets to stay at the table.

And the same is true for us, too. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable about the wheat and the weeds. A farmer sowed a field full of wheat, and an enemy planted weeds among the wheat. The workers came to the farmer wanting to rip out all the weeds, but the farmer said, “No. If you rip out the weeds at this stage, you’ll rip out the wheat, too. Leave it until the time of harvest.”

Bullet journaling is, for me, a constant reminder of the co-existence in this parable. Tearing out the page with mistakes means losing pages with things I need. So, it stays, and I try again. I’ll learn, and the next time maybe I won’t make the same mistakes in sketching. I don’t ignore the presence of the weeds, but I don’t let them overshadow the wheat in the journal either. And, the same goes for life outside the bullet journal as well. This micro scale is helping me practice this on a bigger level too.

Casting … and waiting

071417 the dress

the sauna-like dress

The navy dress I wore for my interview looked quite professional and cute, but the fabric did not breathe. In my jittery, “oh, please like me” state, that means I was sweating as though trapped in a sauna for hours. The outer fabric, however, did not reveal my drippy condition, while I sat trussed up by the red belt threatening to cut off my air supply. Lacking oxygen and overly warm, the anxiety threatened to consume — as it does whenever I would really like something to work out. Continue reading

Hungry for mercy: thoughts on comparison, prayer, and Luke 18

clouds on Mauii

Fear settled in like the rain clouds this week. Not a torrential downpour, but a misty trickle that has me wanting to pull blankets over my head and hide. Like a scared dog, I want to tuck my tail and slink under the couch waiting for the threat of thunder to pass.

I want to hunker down and armor up, praying God will somehow vindicate me. I play the me vs the world game.

It’s bananas. It’s unhealthy. I know it.

And it still took me about twenty-four hours to find a bigger perspective while my feelings roamed all over the place and the lies weighed in heavier and heavier.

I consulted Jesus. What I wanted was vindication.

What I needed was grace. Continue reading

Finding peace in enough

purple-crocus

Crocus are the flowers that beckon me outside with me camera as winter shifts to spring.

Folks content with simple things intrigue me, particularly those content with enough instead of excess. This discipline remains uncomfortable for me like sitting on the floor and reaching to my outstretched toes — beyond my grasp, but I stretch and it burns. Continue reading