courage and a little autumn easter

My little downtown is buzzing on this last hot day of autumn. The humans are everywhere: in the park, in cafes, outside the library. Full sidewalks and busy streets.

I love working downtown. I walk these streets everyday. I bring lunch back to my pretty, historic church in a paper bag, or eat outside at a little public table, alone or with friends. I can hear our bells for a full square mile: from the medical college, and the big movie theater, and the hospital, whose halls I sometimes walk to escape the elements.

Today I lingered out there. Walked longer than I meant to, stepping left or right to make space on the sidewalk for others. I listened to Josh Ritter and Jason Isbell in one ear, and the sounds of community happening in the other. Today will be the end of this late-season heat. Tomorrow will be cool. It’s easy to love something when it’s going away.

This is an Easter post. It has taken me a long time to be willing to come back to life. Being happy again meant accepting a life in which my children live in two homes. A life in which I can’t always look at (or look after) them. All that time lost. All that mothering to somehow do from afar. It has been suffocating to accept. It has been death. These words are not too strong. They barely even begin.

And the pain remains. I will carry it for all my days. But new things are arising alongside it. A new willingness to find pleasure. To revel sometimes. To live again. To leave the desert and stay out on those same city streets past midnight, seeing this town that I love from new angles and new heights. Different lights and shadows. It’s a little like waking up.

Meanwhile, Bram started kindergarten. He is struggling to make his way. Courage is so, so beautiful when you know how much work it takes. He sometimes thinks his fears define him. What he can’t see is his willingness to grapple with them. What that means. He is a thousand times braver than he knows.

And Lou started his second year of preschool. He is a fierce and intense creature. His anger comes when it will, and it is a force. His love comes spilling out too, and it is even wilder.

They are present, passionate, invested, and joyful. They are curious. They have not gotten out of this unscathed, but they are strong and well loved. Spending so much time alone with them has been a shimmering gift.

We spent the summer grieving Nemesis.

We might get kittens on Thursday.

Our home is a sanctuary. It is our little world, and it is holy.

And I am waking up. Praying a lot. Noticing.

Some days, I doubt my ability to meet someone I really want around for however long I’m blessed to be here. Year after year. For all of it. Feeling so compelled by someone that I let them into this bubble that I share with these angel-boys. 

But then I remember how much the spiritual practice of marriage fed and thrilled me. What it is to surrender to the work of loving another human. Choosing that. And I also know some things about love. Like how good it is at sweeping away our resistances. And how possible it makes impossible things.

I smile now at the freedom of dating. That’s new. And some of the things I want surprise me, and that is a nice feeling too. It’s also lovely to have the space to look for those things: to privilege them. To wait and trust and be open.

Like kindness, of course. I never knew to prioritize that before. And gratitude. A foundational sense that this is all just gift.

And open-mindedness. An ability to imagine why folks think and feel as they do, however much it differs. A natural ability to hold space for that, and not judge it.

But also, and this has been a discovery: I want to be with someone who makes things. With the body or their hands. Practical things, or art, or music. Or beauty.via.movement. Someone I can watch as they do a thing that baffles and is beyond me. There are things about our physicality that are foreign to me. I am deeply drawn now to folks who understand how to put their bodies to creative use.

I also want to be with someone who keeps a regular spiritual practice. That could mean any of a thousand things, but what I need it to mean is that they understand that their spiritual health takes work. Asks something of them. I could no longer let this go.

So tomorrow will be cooler out there. Sweaters will come out again, and boots. Color will wrap itself around us: richness before the barrenness of white snow and bare branches. And I welcome it all. The quiet closeness of my home with the boys and, for the first time, the brave adventures to which I’m called when they aren’t with me.

 

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but joy though

In spite of (and in some ways because of) all of the hard stuff I’ve written about in the past eight or nine months, the boys and I have been living pretty deeply into the joy of these ordinary days.

I have wanted, in this sacred space, to be honest about the story of this year, but I also want the story of our joy to be clear. Both/and. Loss and love. Heaviness and light.

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 moment

Thank you for receiving my last message: to those who commented and those who only read. It feels like an ethical imperative, telling as much of the story as we can in these public, connective spaces. To tell only the pretty parts is, in a way, to lie: to help create the illusion that insomuch as you’re suffering, you’re mostly alone. That on the days when your boots are heavy, you’re out of sync with a light world around you. And of course that’s never true. The world is always both buoyant and defeated by gravity. Whether it’s tethering us down or we’re lifting it up is just a matter of moments.

I’m writing this now in our hospital cafeteria, which is two blocks from my church office – in the downtown of our beloved city – where I sometimes come to think, or walk, or work. I’ve always loved hospitals, and so far none of the hard moments I’ve lived in them – holding Emmett Ever, saying goodbye to my dad, watching heartbeatless ultrasounds – has dampened that affection. People everywhere, all the time, are vulnerable (to accident, to tragedy), but there’s a recognition of that in hospitals. People in these spaces are the tiniest bit kinder to one another, more cautious. They are what feels to me to be 3% gentler, quieter, braver, and more aware of those around them. Eye contact is different: softer. It’s a tiny shift, but a recognizable one (if you’re looking).

This moment finds me in love with the coming of autumn. I am protesting the still-hot afternoons by refusing to take off my sweater. I am ready for the change that’s coming.

It also finds me having reconnected pretty magnificently with my wife. The best part of a hard stretch must surely be the coming home again, the invitation to meet your love once more as some new being you get to discover. We kicked off a new chapter with a movie date: Hell or High Water. Because my wife knows my love of cowboys, and bank heists, and class struggles. Of those over-expensive photo booths and holding hands in dark, cool theaters. I am declaring this an autumn of dating. I’m declaring it a season of discovering more of what’s been right in front of me.

Finally, this moment has me enjoying the pleasure of my brother-sons. One story I can’t stop thinking about. During a recent Lou-nap, Bram and I were building with Legos. We needed more of a few different bricks, and I found an old “boat” that Lou had built, but that I hadn’t seen him playing with for weeks. I said, “Oooh, there are lots of pieces we could use in here, and I don’t think Lou would mind if we took it apart!” Bram – who you should know is profoundly focused and serious about Lego creation and was desperate to find the pieces we needed – put his hand on mine, looked me in the eyes, and said calmly but firmly: “He’ll mind, mama. He will mind.” This loyalty. I pray that whatever they face, this loyalty will always help to steer them.

 

 

 

 

these boys

Today, like so many of us, I drove my big kid to school: in Bram’s case to his final year of Montessori preschool. He was nervous and reluctant, and also curious. He ran out the front door and kicked rocks around the driveway for awhile. He wanted to listen to Cloud Cult’s “Transistor Radio” on the way. He sang along, like always. I said, “That journey his grandpa sends him on? That’s like your journey, Bug.” I watched him gathering his nerve in the rearview mirror. I listened to him slow his breathing.

I’m writing this from a table in the coffee shop where I wrote a lot of my dissertation. Where we came after we lost E. Where we brought B the first time we left the house with him. That was a lifetime ago: two lifetimes, literally, for my kids. Not long ones, but of course we’d do well not to measure life by length.

At four-and-a-half, Bram is a firestorm of passion, focus, curiosity, and brave imagination. He is self-conscious about his physical abilities: nervous on playgrounds and critical of how he runs and bikes, as if someone has told him he isn’t good at those things (though to my knowledge no one has). He holds back nothing on the creative front, and is steady in his confidence in himself as an artist. If he asks you to describe some recent experience, to remind him of a detail from an encounter, it’s so he can go home and draw it. He’s a storyteller: he tells tales silently, with colored pencils, for hours; with Legos in deep concentration; in a loud, dizzying voice as he spins around the house. He is a careful and kind brother, son, grandson, and friend. He holds his fingers up in the shape of a square to tell me he loves me. I think he’d make eye contact for hours.

When I told him that some people think we are all of the figures from our dreams – so he’s not just the little kid who’s scared; he’s also the beast chasing the little kid – a smile stretched across his face for whole minutes. When I asked him if he wanted to finish a drawing he had started earlier in the day, he said, “I don’t want to, mama, I need to. An artist needs to finish what he starts.” He told me on a walk to the library last week – out of the blue, at an intersection – that he wants to be a baker, a construction worker, and a priest when he grows up. This would surprise no one who knows him.

At two-and-a-half, Lou is a wild and beautiful creature. His will is fierce and seems to come from somewhere profoundly deep within him. He is built mostly of courage and curiosity, and he’s like a cat: capable of immense and startling acts of love and loyalty, but on his terms. Once while working together with Play-Doh, he said – without even looking up – “I miss you when you’re at work, mama. I love you too now.” We just kept working. He has a head full of blonde curls, lashes that go on forever, and the last vestiges of the skinny bird arms and legs he had at birth. We still call him Birdie, and it still fits.

He is maddened by any suggestion of passivity: he wants to push the stroller, cook the food, wash dishes together, turn all the pages, get himself dressed, put on his own shoes, and fasten his own seat belt: “not you, not you!” If you look away for a second, he’ll sneak off to the snack drawer and situate himself on one of the benches at our dining room table with an absurd number of pretzels or graham crackers. If you call him from another room, he’ll run to you full force, shouting “My am coming!!” He is rarely cautious, though he avoids deep water and new people, and he constantly asks me to drive more slowly. Like his brother, he loves teases and inside jokes, and his eyes light up when he’s in on something. His favorite song right now is Josh Ritter’s “Cumberland.” It is entirely possible to imagine him living happily in the country. If you pretend to forget song lyrics and sing them wrong, he’ll say, every time and with endless delight in his voice: “not like THAT! Like this!” and sing them the right way. He’ll repeat this as many times as you’re willing. If he’s sad and you offer him a diversion, he’ll often say, “Okay. That would cheer me up.” If you’re sad, he’ll offer you pretend strawberries until you smile. Strawberries, every time. His favorite game is the Run-Hug, which his Pomo invented. It is exactly like it sounds.

This is a picture Bram came home and drew after meeting a girl he found magical. She is seven, and a dancer. Those marks are the colors he’s decided are good for making skin tones. He is always working on craft. Those are her hands folded in front of her body. She’s Native American and was wearing traditional clothing: those are feathers, moccasins, and bells at the bottom of her dress.

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This is classic Lou.

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This is a drawing Bram did of our church awhile back. Every time he sees it (hanging in my office), he says quietly to himself: “I need to do a new one.”

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These are tombstones the boys made when – as is his way – Lou killed a fly and – as is his way – Bram cried over its smashed body and made us bury it. Lou gave this task the cursory attention that he sensed his brother would require. Bram wrote this on his: “Dear God, did the fly have a good life? Was it sick or was it not? [Something illegible to me.] In your name we pray. Amen.”

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And this is a typical market Saturday: Bram with his best friend, Clara, sure of their little world together; his brother following behind: ever curious about B & C’s activities, but also absolutely on his own quest.

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an invitation to rest

This is something I wrote a few weeks ago for a blog I now keep for my work. I have other posts in mind for this space: an update on these not.still.tiny humans; a relatively honest account of marriage at ten years of togetherness and two preschool-aged kiddos; a little about the explosively gorgeous (for the human that is me) work of ministry; and an attempt at explaining why it is (though baffling, though maddening, though wildly impractical) impossible for me to give up on the idea of a third child. But this (below) is a thing we’re doing, and have been doing for a month now, and have already been pretty damn changed by. And so I share it with you.

Thanks, by the way, for your kind and robust welcome home. I think I’ve been unsure what to write here because I wasn’t sure what would be, to you, worth reading. What you said was: my voice. Our voices. That’s worth reading. I’m not sure there’s a kinder message than that.

And so, an invitation:

A thing that has been said to me is that I’m not great at relaxation. And it’s something that worries me because: I believe in rest. I’m not interested in more-is-more life, or parenting, or work. And I’m for sure not interested in busier-is-better spirituality. The people I most admire move more slowly than that. They make more space.

But I don’t move slowly. At least not on the surface. On the surface, I’m not great at relaxation.

I tried to greet this reality by imagining a way out of some of the work in which I engage. But the truth is, I engage in it because it feels worth doing. And I imagine that’s true for most of us. How I parent. How I labor. What I cook. The walks I like to take and the books I like to read. It’s all important to me. More important than the indulgence I’m supposed to want.

And yet I’m tired. Most of the time. Part of this is because I’m a parent of young children and – ask any of us – tired is a thing. I’m also lucky enough to have deeply fulfilling work, which has the gratifying if exhausting consequence of meaning I long to do more. I stay up late at night because doing more brings me joy. And so: tired.

But I’ve been offering space lately to this question: how might I meet my need for more rest without giving up any of the beloved endeavors to which I offer myself? Without ceding to the notion that I’d be somehow more whole if I binge watched Orange is the New Black instead of reading theology and listening to sermons once the kids go to bed.

And so I’ve turned to an old practice. Like, Genesis-old. Then-God-Rested-old. Sabbath. I’m far from alone in this return, of course, though what I see of this practice being practiced is scattered. And it is by all accounts countercultural in contemporary America.

To be clear: this isn’t a post that extols the virtues of a long-held practice of Sabbath-keeping, though plenty of those exist. It isn’t a summary of the scriptural origins of the practice, though consider reading those because there’s immense wisdom in what our desert mothers and fathers had to say on the subject. And it isn’t a deep-dive into the theology behind Sabbath-keeping, though Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a pretty gorgeous one of those, if you’d like to read alongside me. Instead, this is an invitation. Because like many of us, I work best in community. And because I’m guessing that lots of you wish you knew how to slow down too. I’m not alone in needing more rest, and I’m not alone in being unsure how to get it.

So (the Tiniest Little Bit) About Sabbath:

The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori (badass former presiding bishop for the whole Episcopal Church, thank you feminism in religion) teaches here that “Sabbath can be an opportunity to learn more deeply what God asks of each of us — loving our neighbors, each one made in God’s image, as we love ourselves.” And, I mean: I for sure need to work on that.

Jane Carol Redmont describes Sabbath keeping as “a regular weekly rhythm of rest, time for reconnecting with the sacred, festive meals with loved ones, the nurturing of community life, study of holy wisdom and sacred texts, attention to beauty and sensuality, honoring intimacy.” But Redmont also writes about how hard it is to get students even to experiment with the practice. I met with such resistance when I tried to get students to do media blackouts: to unplug for forty-eight hours. Lord have mercy; they found even the suggestion traumatic.

Rabbi Heschel writes what is, perhaps, my favorite recommendation. He says, “our goal should be to live life in radical amazement….to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

And then there’s also this.

Sabbath-Keeping as Protest:

Author Stephen W. Smith writes that “when practiced, Sabbath-keeping is an active protest against a culture that is always on, always available and always looking for something else to do.”

Boom. Right? Fuck yes to that protest?

It was in talking this through with my wife that the reasons for our cultural resistance to true rest became clearer to me. We’re offered ways to buy rest: television, movies, dessert, alcohol, amusement parks, vacations, prepared food brought to our table. And don’t get me wrong: aside from amusement parks, I dig these things. But really, most of those forms of rest are stimulating, right? They might bring pleasure; they’re surely entertaining; and they offer a passive form of indulgence – maybe even luxury – that might pass for rest. But they aren’t likely to bring us stillness, a sense of enough, or gratitude for what is and not what can be made to be. They won’t make us aware of how amazing it is that our hearts are all beating.

Heschel writes: “People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state–it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.” It seems to me that real rest is a form of celebration. And it doesn’t make anyone money. There’s nothing there to market to us, which is probably why we’re culturally discouraged from making space for it. There’s nothing to sell because rest, celebration, means we already have all that we need. Enough. It means more than enough.

Our First Sabbath:

So this week, for the first time, my family kept a sort of Sabbath, which consisted among more nuanced shifts of a commitment to abstain from all internet/media activities. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday (because church work means I can’t keep Sabbath on Sundays), we put the devices away. We played music from neglected CDs on our old player in the kitchen (instead of our carefully curated playlists on Spotify). That first night, when the kids were sleeping and the chores were done and it was only 9:30pm, I settled in our old glider and read almost fifty pages of a novel in a dark house with no glowing screens. And then I prayed for longer. And then I slept.

The next morning, we went to the farmer’s market, and I didn’t take pictures of my kids’ faces when I said they could have the freshly fried donuts they smelled from the other side of the market. I didn’t take pictures when they saw red sunflowers or tasted the most perfect yellow tomatoes on earth. I was just there.

When we got home, I cooked lunch slowly, enjoying the sound of the boys playing outside, and the feel of my cool kitchen, and the indulgence of good food. We invited friends over spontaneously, and watched the kids get wet and muddy. I paid a little more mind to my breath, to my posture. I paid a little more mind to my wife. I worked (cooking, parenting, sweeping the floor), but more slowly, with intentionality and joy. I took pleasure even in washing dishes. I worried less about how long bedtime would take. There’s no evidence, but I think I smiled more.

I’m in, at least for the year. At least until next August, some version of this will be our lives from Fridays at sundown through Saturday nights. I’m already looking forward to next week. If you think you might join us, will you let me know? I’d love insight into what you’re reading, or how you’ve kept this spiritual practice in the past, or how your family practiced it growing up. I’d love to know how it works for you now. Even in this new, fumbling stage, I am grateful to be on this road, and I would be thrilled to have company.

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.heading into the home stretch.

And what a stretch it is. I feel like I can’t get any bigger, but I know that I have another month(ish) to put on my body (at least). Things seem to be progressing smoothly. Time moves so strangely here at the end of a pregnancy. There’s a feeling of having been pregnant forever (since before R broke her foot last summer). In the same space, though, is the overwhelming sensation of this new baby just falling into our laps. I feel like we’re all just beginning to get a feel for one another in this pregnancy, and here we are almost through it. I’m throwing lots of self-care and bodywork at this last month or so: chiropractic; prenatal yoga; extra supplements; 4x daily glucose monitoring; better diet; more sleep. We’re very hopeful that all of this intentionality might translate into a more efficient labor and delivery than was our experience with B. As we know so well, though, there are no guarantees in life (or birth), so we’re also preparing ourselves to be as open and adaptive as possible (something that I think R has spent more time mastering in recent years). I still leave claw marks on the plans I let go of.

We’re down to the final touches of preparing to bring this baby dragon home: stripping the newborn cloth diapers; re-installing the baby bucket seat (once our poor car is finished in the autobody shop); packing a hospital bag; completing a few organizational projects around the house. Really, though, that’s about it. We’re finally at that stage where we could birth and bring him home at any point. After all, Saul was born less than one week’s gestation from right now, and he was discharged less than 48 hours postpartum. That’s of comfort to me when my contractions get going for a few hours at a time, or when the umpteenth person asks if I’m past my due date yet.

And Bram is so very ready to meet his baby brother. I’m sure he’ll be much more ambivalent once the baby is on the outside making lots of noise and demanding lots of attention. But, for now, Dragon is always top-of-mind for B. He loves to sing him songs and tell him stories, to give the belly big hugs and kisses, and to play little games that seem to just be between the two of them. And my rockstar wife has been amazing, both in bonding with this baby given our family’s hectic schedule and crazy time constraints right now, but also in taking care of me consummately and helping me to take care of B, as well. Even though she’s home with him full-time, she recognizes how challenging it can be for me to come home from work and be on-point with a toddler in the evenings and weekends, so she’s been giving me lots of help and encouragement and (sometimes) space to do what I feel like I can right now.

For his part, Bram is amazing. He’s constantly talking and playing his instruments and singing songs and running and climbing on things and going going going from the very second he wakes up until the moment his eyes close for nap and bedtime. He’s like a whirling dervish of life force, which, while completely exhausting most days, is something I wouldn’t trade the world for (including for more sleep). And for all of his energy, he still loves to snuggle and he has a huge and whet attention span for long and involved narratives. I love when we can just sit and get totally lost in a story together. Some of his favorites right now are the original Winnie the Pooh stories (how very weird those are), Colors of the Wind (which is a pretty heady children’s biography of Vincent VanGogh), and  Voyage to the Bunny Planet (which he now has almost totally memorized and will recite at random intervals). But I would say that we easily cruise through a hundred books a week (many on heavy rotation). I love this side of him.

On the other side of toddler news, though, Bram had his first m.e.l.t.d.o.w.n. when I was home alone with him last night (R was teaching). R’s seen a few of these by virtue of being home so much more with him (especially around naptime), but this was my first introduction to him absolutely losing his shit. He’s usually the kind of kid who, when upset, can be easily rerouted with a few simple questions (“would you like to hear your options?” or “Bram, can you stop crying long enough for me to ask you a question?”) or a little distraction (“let’s look outside the window” or “where do you think Iris might be hiding?”). So we’ve been lucky in not having to develop much in the way of coping skills for true tantrums. Last night after bath and pajamas, though, B wanted to sit on the potty (he’s been doing a great job of pottying about a quarter of the time during the day, mostly unsolicited – we’re happy with gradual progress). We read three books and had made a deal that after the last book we would put his night diaper back on and go rock in the rocking chair. Surprisingly, our “deals” often work out just fine. But this time, when I declared that we were all done with books, he just fell apart. He went running away from me diaperless with his pants around his ankles, threw himself to the ground in his room, was kicking and biting hysterically while I tried to wrangle a diaper onto him. I finally had to leave the room for ten seconds so that I could collect myself and not raise my voice. We eventually worked it out and I got him to sleep within about 45 minutes of the whole episode. Still, it was hard to see him so upset and so out of sorts. At one point, he was crawling away from me shrieking on hands and knees trying to curl up in the corner of his bedroom like a little frightened animal :-( Since he’s never heard either of us yell, and he’s certainly never had anyone lay a finger on him in anger, it was hard to see him look so scared. I think he was scared of his own big conflicting emotions. And I can totally relate, little dude, as feelings can be oh-so confusing.

But then he woke up in his usual fashion this morning, rolling between R and me to say “Hi!” and “I love you!” and to give slobbery good morning kisses all around. And the whirling dervish begins anew.

I can’t wait to live this life with two dervishes in tow…995877_10152152202247870_1177190274_n