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It is no small thing to talk about the child who made me a mother at age 24.

Isaac’s cries, his coos, his giggles, his feet plumping up, taking one tentative step then another- these were the things that ushered in my adulthood. They were the soundtrack playing while I became more patient, a bit stronger, more selfless and a bit more myself.

These days I am reminded of Isaac’s toddlerhood (not the tantrums or the sobbing, mostly) but the incredible deliciousness of discovering his apartness from me and the novelty getting to see him from a far. I remember noticing his growth- how large he would seem in my mother’s arms, or at the top of a slide. I remembering him returning to me more himself than before with a satisfied grin and sturdier legs – a being who owned his space in the world.

These years will be more of the same. I am proud to be your mother- the one you can leave and return to as more and more of yourself. You are funny, you are kind. You are smart. You have more thoughts at one than most people I know. You are fiercely independent and helpful at the same time. You are a loyal friend, brother and son.

When you were born, the nurses put you on my chest and my first words were struggling ones- words I know now are the very essence of young motherhood trying to integrate the pure body experience of pregnancy with the reality of a needy,wet human in her arms. I said, “Is that you? Is that you? Is that who you are?”

Every day since day that you have told me, “Yes.”

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When I was in high school, I taught Sunday School to three year olds. One Easter Sunday, I asked the crowd assembled on red carpeted steps if they knew what Easter was about. Hair twirling commenced, as well as classic Sunday school answers such as “God.” “Jesus.” “The Bible.” There were also prolonged descriptions of egg hunts, bunnies and treats, dresses, hats and parades.

This was typical; though I was a very, very young Sunday School teacher, I to expect it. My opening question was just a ruse for me to tell them what Easter was about. How it wasn’t just about the bunny, the chocolate, how it was, in fact, about God, Jesus and the Bible. These kids and I had an understanding. We were there to swap information. My job was to help them up a level their comprehension of all things, God, Jesus and The Bible. The regular Sunday School attenders were sure to keep their answers in the category of religion. Already at age three they knew what type of answer to provide in the church setting. In the short course of three years of church attendance, they had been indoctrinated (um, taught? sorry, cynical pastor’s kid here.)

As children, we all know the answers our parents and teachers want to hear. My children apologize quite quickly when sitting on our bottom step in time out. I suffer from the temptation to let them return to play when I hear the words, “I’m sorry, mama.” However, I know that first initial “sorry,” is really code speech for, “I don’t want to be in time out & I don’t want my mama to be upset at me.” If we are having a really great day, time outs on the bottom step lead to a change of heart. We no longer talk fresh to mom or swipe toys. We reflect on our actions and make decisions to do something else with our time, like read a book or drive some trains around the track. We aren’t always having such a good day, but that certainly is my goal for the purpose of using time-outs as a discipline tool. The quick “I’m sorry” must be followed by a true repentance, or we are sure to have day of escalating consequences and frustrations. Slowly done the process to achieve that deeper apology is not easy, but worth it to me…when I have had enough sleep to remember to do it right.

Today is Good Friday. As I posted before, I am somewhat intentional not providing an abundance of religious education in our home. We often miss church and Sunday school. We often go a day without talking about Jesus or God. This is less a sign of the commitment in my own heart, then a sign of my discomfort in feeding my kids the right, God, Jesus and The Bible answers to life’s deepest questions. I know what I don’t want to teach them, but haven’t exactly found a way to teach them what I want them to know.

Maybe, I’m just chicken and don’t want them to hate church later. I know I am fearful – fearful of over manipulating their souls to my own end. I did have them baptized. On their behalf, I chose the Christian faith for them. Having entrusted them to Jesus, I fear mucking it all up in my desire to control the outcome.

The best Sunday School answer I ever got came that Easter Sunday. One little boy was confident he knew the true story of Easter. He stood up on those worn out red carpeted steps and announced that Easter was the day that Jesus comes out of his cave to look for his shadow. Awesome.

Spring is here;life is here. We rejoice in the season. Tomorrow I will cook a Seder for some family and friends, to honor and respect that part of my heritage that means so much to me. My kids will not eat the bitter herbs – or much else – but without them the honeyed carrots don’t mean that much to me. Without the darkness of the cave, we never know how bright the sunlight might be. So, good answer, little one. I hope you are still chasing sunlight in the shadows. I know I am.

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More than anything else my children enjoy water play in the summer time. It is hands on, creative, messy and fun. The only source of stress to visit us on those hot summer days was under the spigot. The water source was a precious commodity. The boys vied for control over it, even while I insisted that I was the only person actually in charge of the spigot. I developed a little system to minimize water usage and yard flooding. I placed an extra large bucket under the flow and emphasized to them that as it filled up, we would turn off the spigot & use the water in the bucket to create our mud pies, sandcastles & lakes, as well as to water the flowers, vegetable and mosquito farm. I had not problem whatsoever with turning the spigot back on if they used the water in the bucket, I just didn’t want it flowing needlessly.

LP, with his need for control and order, had a hard time with the bucket rule. He seemed to misunderstand, or perhaps just had his own issue with the overflow. As the water neared the top, he would begin to wale, to shriek with fear that it would spill. If we turned off the water too soon, there was “not enough.” If I waited too long there was “too, too much.” He had the same issue with the kiddie pool. There was some perfect level for the water at which he felt the pool was full, but not overflowing. The simple sloshing of water over the side unraveled him & he was without the words to explain why it troubled him so much.

This past week LP’s little issue is resonating deep in my heart & soul. I’ve had my fill of losses, disappointments, frustrations & insecurities. The bucket is just too damn full this week. Part of me wants to just tip it over & let it run all over the place, but I’m left with the feeling that the overflow is going to cause some catastrophe that will hide the daylight for a long time to come.

This isn’t my first date with depression or medication. It’s not my first time sitting in the dark & feeling afraid to move. It is the first time my intuition has broken though. My intuition, I’m realizing, is the part of me that I most recognize as me – the part of me that connects my brain and spirit to my body, that keeps me moving one foot in front of the other in times of great joy & times of great pain. Without it, I’m adrift in a boat, tossed by whatever waves push me over. I see no shores & the fog is everywhere.

When I am alone, I sense almost no connection to the people around me. Nothing but their words or their physical presence assures me that I am not in fact, alone in a boat, adrift at sea with little hope of rescue. I cling to them to become anchored, but I am afraid to reach out, afraid by desperate need will drown them, that the overflow of this emotion will leave me that much more alone.

I read the daily office. I say the prayers out loud to bring truth into my body, that I am loved and cared for, that there is some ground under me. I ask for my people to lay their hands on me, to give me their energy and faith freely, so that I won’t need to steal it. I sit on the floor and breath upward the feeling of solidly sitting with the earth & hope the feeling lasts when I get behind the wheel. The vertigo of psychic disorientation overwhelms me. When I awake in the night & early in the morning, the surprise of it, the shock, is still there. I’m never prepared to greet life in this way. I’ve always felt the spiritual presence of those around me. I’ve also had some internal sense that gives meaning, hope and purpose to what is happening in my life at the present moment. Right now, I can’t see past 5 minutes ahead of me. Doing more, trying more brings a panic, a tightness in my chest. The bucket overflows.

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What with the world falling to bits, I thought it high time to school you all in some family friendly, G-rated cuss words. I know we all have our family favorites, so I do hope you will share in the comments. It isn’t possible to always keep our cusses so clean, but the news cycle parading through life has certainly made it more difficult to keep my sailor type cussin’ in the closet.
Happily, I have a friendly blue engine to turn to & my four year old has been inserting Thomas the Tank Engine dialogue into everyday conversation for months now. He can teach me how to cuss like a tank engine.

Stock Market is crashing? Cinders and Ashes!
Your candidate down in the polls? Well, bust my buffers!
Pile of unpaid bills? Sticky, steamy stuff!
No loans to be had? Botheration!

(All best when said with a miniature British accent.)

When I was young, very young, my parents were really quite strict about cussing. They grew more laid back as we got older, but overall, it was not a part of our family language. I hardly remember my parents using curse words in my childhood (say up to age 12 or so…) At certain points my mother expressed qualms about quasi-curses as well: Gosh, Jeepers Creepers (JC), darn, shoot – you see, all these are in fact just codes for real actual cusses. While I knew every one of the substitutions by age 6, I’d have been hard pressed to come up with the originals, except for “oh my God.” I’m fairly sure I’d heard that one around town. Truthfully, it made me terribly uncomfortable. My parents had done a remarkably effective job in impressing upon me what our rule was. What I lacked was the understanding of how different other people’s standards could be. I don’t think I actually thought anything truly terrible was going to happen to families that said “oh my God,” but rather, I was sure there was something important about it and had no real means to express it. So I stayed quiet with a chilling sense of foreboding and guilt for having no plan of action when faced with such a situation.
I don’t wish to give the wrong impression. Fire and brimstone were not a part of my spiritual upbringing at all. However, the strength of my parents’ will was such that I grew up often confused about things that were right and wrong. I took a childlike black and white view of things, everything was shaded through a highly moralistic lens: all behaviors, actions and words were right or wrong. Norms and standards were not part of the discussion.

I’m noticing Matt and I raising are kids somewhat differently. Despite being church goers for our whole lives and despite being current long time members at what can best be described as a protestant/evangelical/new england-style church, we have resisted using certain kinds of language with our children – and I don’t just mean cussing. We have resisted using the terms saved, unsaved, believers, unbelievers, sinners, witness, hell, lost, the lost, enemies and Satan, born again. Like mothers who don’t want their preschooler to be the one to introduce the f-word on the playground, we don’t want our kids to think they need to save their friends from hell, or share that at circle time.

However, it is not because we disavow all notions of sin, heaven or hell. We truly don’t disavow them, it is just more that we know what people think they mean when they say these terms – both people who are church goers and people who are not church goers have ideas about what these terms mean & they usually aren’t the same. Like the fake cuss words that my mother waffled about we are all speaking in code about the spiritual realm. Possibly we are using the same words without actually being in the same conversation. Sometimes I hear a voice from another faith tradition and while their spiritual vocabularly would come hiltilingly off my tongue like a second language learned late in life, still I find myself resonating with their words, their meaning, their thoughts behind the narrative vocabularly that keeps us all in our corners.

In the end of it all, I find myself talking about my faith very little, writing about it here even less. You see, clarification is more difficult in the blogosphere. You aren’t here to see my face, my warm welcome, my attentive listening, attempting grasp your words, your meaning, your story. And I cannot see your face when I tell you my story. But I am going to try anyway. I’m searching for a new and better vocabulary to talk about my faith, my trust in Jesus. I feel like I am making up a language for this & so it will come slowly and clumsily for a while.
If only it’d come as easily as everyone’s favorite made up cuss.

Frak me, I suck at talking about my spiritual life on this blog!

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Atonement

I’ve alluded to this before, it being probably be primary reason I try to follow Christ. And, it has to do with forgiveness & the part where it isn’t all my job. Julie has an excellent post with discussion going on at her place for the Hump Day Mmm. The comments have been swimming in my head all day. Atonement is the topic & I think there is a consensus that some things a person cannot atone for – there are some horrible crimes that no apology or amends making can ever erase, nor can good deeds piled on top of the crime or next to it, or on some scale opposite ever blot out that spot, that stain.

I’d argue there are more of those things on the list than we realize, than even seems natural to us. The reality is that many of us are quite good at the forgiveness that must be practiced in every day life to get along in this world. Someone cuts me off while driving and it is a moment’s frustration over the course of all the things a person must do in the day. My anger at the other driver dissipates quickly, almost out of self-preservation; I couldn’t possibly carry all of that around with me all day, all week, all life long.
Too many things require ongoing forgiveness, my three year old is sorry, sorry, mama – sorry he yelled at me, pulled the baby’s toy away and didn’t get his shoes on as I asked. We move along – he checks in on my frustration, takes my temperature, “Are we still friends, mommy?””Yes, we are always friends,” his small gesture of peace-making cools my temper. It is a stronger statement of his desire to please me, to get along, to make it right than the automatic “I’m sorry” that accompanies him being taken to time out. It is a three year-old’s repentance, will you forgive me, the truest of apologies. And it does atone, putting us back “at one.” The etymology of that word is really right at a preschoolers level, which may be why he is so effective with it.
What moves us from disobedience to apology to contrition to repentance to forgiveness to atonement? What keeps that train on track? I realize sometimes the order of those things might be rearranged, but something must keep the train on the track or small everyday offenses would go on unforgiven in most people’s lives would be even messier and more complicated than they are. This to me is the mystery and power of spiritual work. It is a dance I am doing with myself, my loved ones, the drivers of other cars and people who cut me in line at the store. When I choose, on whatever level I do choose, not to exact my pound of flesh from that person who cut me in line (this happens to me a lot because I am short), there is someone who pays. I don’t unleash my frustration, but instead pay the price of forgiveness. It can and often does hurt to do the work of forgiveness. The work of atonement is even harder. It comes a much higher price. When I have wronged someone I wait on their forgiveness and work at relationship repair, all the while knowing that the damage is done and all I have hope for is a future where it doesn’t matter as much tomorrow as it does today. Where the hurt gets woven back into the fabric of our relationship and does not jump out at me quite so clearly.

It is at this point that I realize that I am so grateful to have a faith that leaves me not alone in this. It is Jesus crucified who pays the price for forgiveness, only a sacrifice on that scale is big enough to bring atonement to this war-torn, battle-weary world. When I cannot pay, he already has, when I cannot forgive, he already has – what I cannot make right, what others cannot make right for me – he takes onto himself. Which is why, when I follow him I take up both the cross and the light burden. There is a mystery therein which tells me that while I have great spiritual work to do, it is not all of my doing.

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7 years

It’s not that I don’t know, but I do keep that knowledge at bay when I can. When I want. An abnormally warm and green fall held my memories hostage. The cool smell of rain on wet leaves released them to the air. Pumpkins on porches and fall festivals, all these incidentals to recall. At one time they brought forth tears each year. At one time, but now no longer at all times.

Nevertheless it is my body that remembers this date most honestly. My uterus contracts and bleeds. It has been 7 years, this month the moon is just waxing crescent – 13% full. An apt picture of a pregnancy that did not ripen to fullness. And blood is the most true memory of the day that ended in panic and tears – her life lost and mine saved.

And still, lost is not the word I want to use about Jordan. I didn’t misplace her, nor do I have her. Saying she is dead is really the truth but does bring confusion into the conversation. It is difficult to acknowledge – culturally difficult – the death of someone who was not born.
Yet, I labored. That miscarriage was more painful than both of my natural labors – though does match somewhat my experience of my pitocin induced labor – and I pushed. There was no one who could help me. I surrendered to my body’s demands and pushed. It stopped the pain and the thinking. I pushed out a life that was clearly over while fearing the coming weeks with the one corner of my brain that stayed verbal enough to know this could do me in, but if it doesn’t what follows may.

I’m here to say it didn’t. And to practice the art of gratitude. Against all odds – and some pretty bad medical care – my life was saved. I don’t often enough say thank you when I start bleeding on this day. It is one part of this story that perhaps has yet to be told in full, but it will play out in years ahead.

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Congratulate me, friends. Against all odds, we made it to Chess Club at the library yesterday, which meant bravely shifting nap schedules around for the sake of Thinker’s love of the game. As the much oldest child of our family lots of his passions seemingly fly out of nowhere from the perspective of my toddler-vision. In other Tuesday news, preschool went well. There were a few tears, no peeing whatsoever and a joyful reunion.
Today, I did not cry in the speech pathologists office. LP was incredibly cooperative. I pictured myself begging him to cooperate with the testing; I’d pictured myself having to convince the professional that something is not quite right…it was not that way at all.
The occupational therapist, speech pathologist and school psychologist were all there. All incredibly patient and kind. He “performed” well, meaning he very accurately showed them exactly what he knew. He also very accurately showed him what for now we seem to be calling “missing pieces.”
He is unable to follow certain directions: put this block under the house, next to the house, behind the house – very meaningless to him, just a blank stare and repeatedly putting it on top of the house (with big smile, so proud!) Let me be honest, this was a little sad, something about the fact that he didn’t know how wrong he had it. Oh, well. There were a few other moments like that. Mostly, I felt relief. My suspicion that there is stuff he is just not comprehending was completely confirmed. They bumped us through two hoops in one day, abbreviated today’s tests because it was clear they’d end up doing more later anyway and scheduled the PPT (planning and placement team) meeting for the same day as the tests – in other words, if I were crazy, they’d have sent me home today telling me he was fine, or tested him more thoroughly in a few weeks and told me that -Instead within 15 minutes, they confirmed that something was up and that they aren’t turning us away. They are going to help us. Henry’s gonna have a team. And they are very, very kind. At no point was he stressed out or out of control. They remarked on several things that have troubled me, picking up on them right away, assuring me when they knew more they could provide more context for those behaviors. They love his preschool and his teacher, raved about her and told me we could do no better anywhere. Sweet relief, this is our church preschool, I never even looked at another! (silly in retrospect, perhaps, letting it go now, though.)
Our missing bits are tiny, like pawns, but they make a world of difference. What I’ve needed these past few months has been a good strategy; work and stress had me in a place where I could only plot one or two moves in advance. Right now Kindergarten Readiness is my endgame. It’s so many moves away, but we have time on our side. I’ll be spending it in searching for missing pieces, wish me good hunting!

Tomorrow brings a new day of school, to be followed by celebratory cookies for making it through this week. I thank each of you for your kind thoughts, prayers and love. This week felt different than I thought it would; I am feeling grateful.

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