expansion

There’s an indulgence to this little stretch of time. This time when my family is holding steady: me and the boys. My mom. When my work is solid and beloved. I am not restless. I love my home, and the labors to which I set myself. My children. My city. And my friends! Good Lord, my friends. This morning – on my little drive to the church – I counted some twenty humans who saved my life this year. Who saved my life. They did.

I spend time alone. When the boys aren’t with me – when I let myself sink into that – I choose who to be with. Where to go. I explore. I read when I want. I drink cheap wine and listen to music I adore. I stretch out in bed. I wake up slowly. I listen to the coffee as it brews. I miss the boys and feel out of sorts. I long for them, and then just walk with that. Is is okay.

I date when I want, and find pleasure in it. I don’t need it. I sit in our little chapel during the Eucharist on Wednesdays and love everyone so much I ache. I stand at the threshold between church and chapel on Sundays and take in all those faces. All those stories I’ve come to care about. All those stories now entwined in mine. I love them all with perfect madness. I am dizzy from loving them. I say, “it might kill me, all this love.” And friends say, “Thank God we’re not called to survival.” It is okay to die for love. There is resurrection.

And in this fertile space – when I let it feel fertile and not barren, which is all in the looking – I have learned some things about me. And I like that too. New discoveries. It feels indulgent even to be breathe deeply enough to make those.

Like: here’s one secret this year has taught me.

I still love cities. The anonymity of a crowded sidewalk. The voices. The coffee cups, and alleyways, and sharp buzzing air. But now I can be charmed by wide open countryside. And also by small towns with rundown two-block-long Main Streets. These spaces all have gifts to offer, and I can see those gifts now with grateful eyes.

And they call to me. Maybe I’ll stay in this solid, old house. It is sweet and stable and never showy. It is two miles from my beloved downtown. I could finish the basement some day; put in a second bathroom. Restore the fireplace. Lay tile. When it needs a new roof, I could put metal up there. I could love it that long; offer myself to it that fully. It is good and it is enough.

But maybe, too, these boys and I will land in a smaller town somewhere nearby. A town with a little grocery a block away where I could send the boys on their bikes to grab butter or lemons.

Or on some stretch of land: a barn with old rafters, tall trees to explore, winds that spring up and startle. With farmers for neighbors, and pitch black nights, and stars all over the place.

Those landscapes surround this beloved city, and I’ve ventured out into them, and I like what I see. They sing to me quietly, and I find myself open to their songs.

Isn’t that lovely? The invitation to feel open to possibility? I have so few answers these days, and I’m learning to settle down in the face of that.

Here’s a pretty prayer I pray sometimes.

May I open my heart and mind to continuous growth, unexpected change, and the perpetual unsettling, liberating expansion of being alive. May I have the courage to name and sanctify this moment that is shaping me into the image of the ever-evolving Divine. Blessed are you, our God, the Renewing One of the world, who has allowed me to reach this time of transformation.

Amen.

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on loneliness and a deep, deep well

I’ve been really struggling lately with the nights away from the boys. Standing in the doorway of their room. Feeling something like paralysis. Knowing it will serve them if I use that time to rest, but struggling to do so.

I met someone amazing, someone with whom I share much connection, but I discovered that I’m in no way ready for that. It was escapist: not the connection, but the timing. As wretched as it is, I need to be standing there in the doorway of their room. I need to be alone when I do it. And I need to unlearn the things about myself that the end of my marriage taught me. I would be nicer to have someone kind unteach me those things, but it wouldn’t be real that way. It would be a propping up. I need the quiet. I need, even, the loneliness. And here’s something I’m proud of: realizing that I need that made me want it. And wanting it made me willing to take it. And that makes me feel brave in a way I’ve never felt brave before.

But brave or not: the loneliness. It is awful. The heartache of losing a marriage against your will. As a friend recently (and gently) pointed out to me, how we experience divorce depends a lot on our subject position in its ending. If we didn’t want it to end, if we lost our partner and time with our children through no choice of our own, the feeling can be a little like hostage taking. It can feel like being robbed. Still, all these months later, it makes me sit up in bed gasping in the night, struggling to breath.

Loneliness. And so I decided to reach out to a group on social media, a group of queer moms. And what’s come of that has been remarkable.

Here’s what I wrote in that space:

Hi all. I’m hoping for some community. My wife ended our marriage last year, and we’ve been slowly transitioning our boys, ages 5 and 3, to a two-home family. Until recently, they spent most of their nights with me, but that is shifting now to a more even division.

I never imagined that I would spend nights away from my babies. I have meaningful work and deep friendships and yet: parenthood is far and away my strongest joy. The nights the boys spend away from me are crushing. I can hardly bear their absence from our home, from their bed. Not adding an extra blanket before I fall asleep; not checking their breathing; not having my youngest wake up in the night and stumble in to me; not hearing my oldest call for me in the early morning. It is anguish.

I have an incredible support network, a strong prayer life, and well-established comfort and coping measures. And yet: those nights feel endless. I’m not really asking for advice, but I would love the witness of any of you who have experienced loss of this nature. I would love just to feel a little less alone.

The response? Dozens and dozens of comments from mamas who have experienced the same loss. Who are still in the depths of sorrow. Who are past that, mostly, and healing. Who have found strength and power and new life. Who haven’t yet. Who have drawn closer to their children. Whose children are struggling still. Who say:

Yes.

And: I went through this. 

And: Your words brought tears to my eyes because I remember.

And: This is crushing. I know. I know it is.  

You are mourning. It will get easier. 

I am so sorry for your pain. I am so sorry. 

You are not alone. We are here. 

Sister: you’ve got this. 

Know how they knew to say all that? Because every bit of sorrow I’m feeling has been felt before. And is felt now. And will be felt again.

I spent much of the first twenty-four hours after their comments started rolling in crying.

Though community and community experience is extremely important to me, I’ve been mostly coping with this in specific terms (i.e. with regards to me and my boys). I think that’s all I could handle. I wasn’t ready for empathy: for thinking about the scale and scope of this pain out there in the world. I wasn’t ready to know this was a community unto itself.

The thread on that page exploded the privacy of my experience, which felt a little like diving into a deep body of water: water that is anguish and pain and loss, but also water that is shared. That is healing. That spans time and space.

I have felt these past days a deep sense of connection with all of the moms who shared, and with the countless mamas and papas and parents who have had to face this loss. It is not a source of connection I’d have chosen us to share with one another, but it is a source of connection, and for that reason it is also a gift.

We suffer, and then we grow strong at those points of suffering. Maybe like the Japanese tradition of adding gold where pottery cracks: we grow beautiful there. What I saw in that thread was pain grown beautiful.

The moms on that thread, they offered me wisdom, and bravery, and honesty. They witnessed to me so that I could witness to them. Now when I stand at the door to my boys’ room, I know I’m doing it in the company of many. In blessed company. It is a deep well, and water heals.

five morning vignettes

Morning 1:

Bram calls from his room. “Mama!”
Me: “Yes, Bug?”
Bram: “Come here; I am lonely!”
Me: “Come to me, Baby. Your brother is asleep on my arm.”
Bram, after some silence: “Do you remember the tablets??”
Me: “Um, Moses’s tablets? Yes…”
Bram: “They say not to fight.”
Me: “They say to listen to your parents.”
Bram: “They also say to be kind.”
I go to him, smiling. We share the sweetest snuggle.
When Lou wakes up and stumbles in twenty minutes later, Bram looks up at him and says, “I got mama out of bed with the ten commandments.”

Morning 2:

I wake up to the feel of hard, cold metal hitting my head. It is Lou. He is hitting me over the head with the old-fashioned Winnie the Pooh alarm clock I bought for him. The irony of this is not immediately clear to me. As I rub my pounding head, he says sweetly, “Good morning, mama!”

Morning 3:

Bram calls from his room. “Mama!”
Me: “Yes, Bug?”
Bram: “Nothing. I just wanted to be sure of you.”
I go to him.

Morning 4:

Lou is laying behind me. He begins to trace his fingers up and down my back and side to side, in the shape of a cross. He says, “I am giving you a blessing.” Then he whispers, “The Universe Dances.”

Morning 5:

Bram comes in to my room in the early morning and crawls into bed.
After a minute, he asks: “Mama, when is your birthday?”
I say, “July 10th.”
He says, “Okay, what is your favorite animal?”
I think for a minute and say, “Maybe wolves? I like the way they are in community together.”
He says, “Okay. So for your birthday, I’m going to ask Pomo to help me buy you some wolf shorts. Black, fuzzy ones. Does that sound nice?”
“Yes, Bug. Fuzzy wolf shorts sound like the nicest.”

 

this call

I’ve updated this space about my wicked sweet kiddos, and about our finding-sure-ground-again marriage. But I haven’t written much about this new work, which is not so new anymore, I guess.

When I think back two years to that first time we walked through the wide, old door and into the nave, I am flooded with sense memories. I remember the smell: melted candle wax and wood polish and autumn air. I remember the feeling of wrapping Lou in the back of the church during a hymn, his tiny body pressed tightly against me while he fussed: expanding lungs against tiny expanding lungs, heartbeat against heartbeat. I remember pacing the narthex until he finally fell asleep, and then wanting to go back in, but being unable to stop crying. The sensation was of release. Relief. Lightness that by necessity meant tears. I remember Bram’s toddler-voice during the homily: “Jesus Christ?! ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’ has a Jesus Christ!” I remember the awkwardness of that first time at the altar, and the longing to go back, which hit me at once. I also remember the shyness of my longing: how desperately I wanted to be invisible, and yet also never to leave. To be held and yet left entirely alone. Like I had come home, but no one else would think I belonged there. That one took quite awhile to shake.

But when I remember that first day – how it felt – I see and feel other things too, things that weren’t part of the physical experience. This gorgeous downtown church feels, in my memory, like a simple, tiny chapel in the middle of some vast green countryside. I have the inexplicable impression of a wooden porch and creaky doors, of the smell of wet timber and pine needles. Of the warmth of radiator heat. Of having received real bread and not the small round wafers we use. Of not crying at all. Of not feeling out of place. Of a room with fifteen people instead of a hundred and fifty.

When I think of the start of my work in ministry, this is the day I recall. Not the day I was baptized (accepting a hand knit shawl as a symbol of our shared work), and not the day I sat at my desk for the first time, dizzyingly overwhelmed. Not then, but this first day and the open doors and the landscape behind me: both city streets and pastoral hills. All those years of feeling like I couldn’t find a point of entry were of service. As unlikely and naïve and providential as it must sound, a thirty-five year Advent season – waiting, wanting – was just right. Right enough to make me smile now. I don’t think I ever could have been casually religious, and it is a kind of suffering to try to imagine knowing this was here and not being a part of it. I was only ever built for immersion, and immersion wouldn’t have been right before now. For me, faith requires the offering of faith. Means serving as a conduit. I was called that first day at the rail. The families under my care. Their marriages and their struggles and their joys. Their longing and despair and peace. Their children’s ashes in our columbarium, which I visit and pray with, though none of them know about that. The welcome heaviness of loving them, and worrying over them, and taking seriously the privilege of it all.

I feel about parishioners differently than I’ve felt about people before. A different way, I mean. Differently than I felt about students. Differently than I felt about people I served alongside. Even parishioners who leave: whose work takes them elsewhere, so that I wait for e-mails and updates to know how they’re doing. So that I feel lightness and joy when I see their faces again. There’s a different thing my heart does. It is a unique kind of loving people, being a part of their work with God. It is soft and warm. It asks for investment, commitment, love, detachment, and connection. It asks for presence.

I’ll preach in this old church for the first time October 16th. I got to preach in a small chapel at a Benedictine monastery over the summer, but this will be different: hundreds of people, and home. Because my mom and wife are generous souls, I’ll wear a lace alb, which is feminine and flowy and also a kind of homecoming. And I’ll be standing about four feet from that place I first knelt to receive. Maybe I’ll also still be in that countryside chapel. But in the meantime, I’ll read widely and deeply and try not to give in to the sense that I’m wildly behind. The timeline I’d have chosen for myself would never have yielded offerings this sweet.

small deaths and resurrections

Maybe it’s my age.

Maybe it’s these small children and their unequaled talent for making every day (hour. moment.) a roller coaster. No better metaphor for the soaring, giddy love and the stomach-dropping worry (and none more haunting for me, lover of the ground).

Maybe it’s the narratives of Christ newly at work in my mind and my heart.

But whatever it is: all I see, everywhere around me, is life as a series of tiny deaths and resurrections.

Friendships that collapse under the weight of too-different lived realities and selfishness and small failures of heart and word, only to swell and rise again in surprisingly sweet ways.

Hopes for hard-earned dream jobs vanishing in a phone call and taking self-worth with them as they disappear. New – smaller, humbler – hopes rising in the bruised places that remain. Hopes that hurt to the touch, that make you wince, and yet.

Feeling like you must be doing something wrong raising your sons because: why are they so violent? Sword, stick, mean guys, hunters. From whence – in my quiet, simple, peaceful home – does this come, this obvious failure, this obvious failure of mine. And then a call. A book on its way. A setting down of old narratives (always) and an embracing of what is and must always have been: an attraction for power that I cannot feel but that I must make space for. That I must, even, love. And then I do, suddenly. Love.

The ebbflowebbflowebbflow of marriage. Marriage with young children. Marriage, which dies. Marriage which is miraculously reborn in a look or a letter or twenty minutes, finally, of eye contact and a shared blanket. Not a trip or a date or a romantic gesture, but a shared blanket and a little bit of truth. Marriage, which is sweeter than I could have guessed, not in spite of the deaths, but for them. Not less sweet, but sweeter, though also so much like a bruise. Like the place in my spine, my mid-back, that is always sore to the touch, but which I long to have touched.

Defeat. Triumph. They come hourly. They go. They stay, some of them, layering on top of one another until they form a mountain on which you stand, often feeling alone. A mountain from which the world just looks different. Not better or worse, but so different.

Another year in this humble gift of a house with the snow piled up outside and the sun shining. Shining today. More liminality, and another chance to learn to accept it as the only thing that won’t ever go. Dreams clung to. Dreams discarded. Dreams wrenched away. Dreams you never would have thought you’d dream rising into your heart and surprising your mind. Making you smile. Making it all new again. Scaring you again.

Boys that belly laugh and boys that hit and boys that cry and boys that kiss. Heartbreak and gratitude at turns. At once. The work of trying to notice. To just notice. To die and come back again and just notice.