Friday, November 20, 2015

to tell the truth

I slammed the car door shut and wiped the rain from my cheeks.
Turned the key over in the ignition and the Bluetooth picked up, suddenly and quietly filling the car with Adele's voice.
I reached over to turn on the windshield wipers, just as my eyes caught a glimpse of color.

I was encouraged months ago to write about now.  Not what was, not what could be, but about the truth of the right now. We had known then, she and I, getting caught up in the history of things can slow down the words. The stories were getting bogged down by the explanation.  By the process of making them acceptable, presentable. A watering down might as well have washed them away. Despite the desire to set the stage, here we are in the very middle of things.

I keep trying to decide what is mine to tell. Trying to edit the story so I don't have to be vulnerable twice.  Since vulnerability is the red thread through this whole story.  But as I work through the writer's block of the last six months, all I know is to keep telling the truth. As I sip on my three dollar wine from Trader Joes out of a plastic stemless wine glass from Target, I remember to write drunk. Just write hard and clear about what hurts. (Hemingway) I'll sort out the rest later. If they wanted us to speak nicely of them, Anne says, they should have behaved better.

The sickness had settled into my chest and I felt slow and my eyes felt heavy and it was Monday. In the monotony I was trying to be faithful.  Showing up when showing up wasn't easy. 

The door opened behind me and I didn't even turn. Every morning, the same, and we would gather around the table and problem solve and disperse again. Returning every morning. Repeat.

The door opened behind me and more bodies than usual entered the room.  Suddenly Monday and the heaviness and the end of August meant a great deal more. 

I would pray. Praying in a way feeling so much more like begging. I would watch and listen and I would piece together and I would pray some more. I measured myself and mourned my shortcomings and prayed for grace and for courage. There was light and there was promise and I kept showing up, listening as God started dusting off old dreams.  Unrolling my old crayon drawings of purple horses and whispering to my heart. Keep showing up, and remember how big the world is? But mostly, I still work like this.

What has happened since then, I can barely remember.  A whole lifetime packed tightly into not quite three months.  I'm left now to sift through the soot for whatever remains. 

I had so  much hope.  I would look at this new face and believe things for myself and for my family I hadn't dared to believe in a while. I loved the energy, the listening, the speaking, and the smells.  I remember the first time arms were around me and I don't remember a single thing after.  I had heard words I believed to be true and laid them out as my foundation.  Where I normally would have lacked confidence, I relied on something my spirit called a truth.  This propelled me forward into a story I'll never forget.  I was so excited and the excitement is what embarrasses me now.

Our whole world was turned upside down. I prayed and I fought and I learned.  I listened and adapted and prayed again for humility and a teachable spirit.  I made a certain kind of effort I've never made in my past.  I kept reminding myself to be gracious with myself and I kept asking for grace. I kept falling short.  But there was always the coming back.

My feelings were hurt repeatedly and if it hadn't been for what I believed to be the truth, which I clung to, I would have walked away.  Lies swirled around me, clouding my vision, and I struggled through inadequacy and loss and trust.  The ways I criticized myself were innumerable.

I came into the story hoping the best parts of me would come alive. I should have thrived, should have felt confident in what I could contribute, felt excited about what could have been accomplished. I had dreams of teamwork. There were days I felt encouraged, there were days I felt giddy and joyful and believed in what it was so deeply you couldn't have changed my mind.

I questioned my parenting. I questioned the last three years of provision and protection, but simultaneously a new hope was ignited for redemption. Had I done my best?  Would Judah succeed or fail, based on my performance as a parent?  I struggled to shield him from any uncertainty and yearned to give him something he'd never had.

Most days I felt inadequate.  What I brought to the table didn't seem to be of much worth.  I wouldn't have dared say those words out loud. But I did think about walking away.

The hard questions were asked and I struggled with the doubt. And any thought of leaving, was honestly challenged by this one pervasive lie.

It won't get better than this.  If you let this go, you won't find anything better.  If you walk away, you've walked away from your best story.

Ghosts followed us everywhere.  I had questions, which were never answered.  I had thoughts I never shared. And while all the lies and the doubt swirled, we would wade through the crowds together. And people would stare.

I am used to the staring.

But people would stare with admiration in their eyes.

They would watch and there would be hello's and each time there was a leaning in and a whisper, "your family is beautiful" and nodding thank you, I would keep moving.

The doubt and the lies and the insecurities would rise like the tide and there was leaning and the whispering, and waters would recede again.  I could catch my breath.

Ebb and flow

Just enough to keep us moving forward.

Just enough so every time I was told I wasn't doing enough, I thought maybe it was truth. 

One promise though I've always made myself as a mother, is I would cherish the privilege it is to raise my child.  I would prioritize his well being and I would make decisions for our lives, which benefit us both. And above all else I would protect him. 

Judah and I have felt our fair share of fear.

Honestly, I feel like the times I've held him closest in the last three years have been when our safety and security has been jeopardized.  I've had to pray and beg for intervention and protection more often than not, and we have learned to not be paralyzed by our fear. But we have also learned to pay attention to it.

And there was an unravelling. 

And what was left was the thin, smoky veil of fear and there the story has to end. 

Leaving happened quickly and I was left on the floor, surrounded by hot wheels race cars and stifling the kind of sobs my three year old hates to see me cry. 

I'm still not sure what I'm grieving.  But the grief is still there. 

My eyes caught a glimpse of color.  I stepped out of the car, face bent against the rain, and grabbed the yellow piece of paper stuck beneath my windshield wipers. Ink ran. I closed the car door again and sat with the limp note on my lap.   

My hands are black from the ashes.

I think there's beauty here.  But as it always does, the rain has washed everything else clean. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

after this

I saw it coming.  The drums kicked, people whirred by, glass bottles broke in trash bins.  Slow motion, blurred as it washed over him.  I watched it happen far too quickly all the same, and I couldn't stop it.  He wanted something.  He was hungry and he was hot and he was tired and what he wanted right now, more food, more pizza, was right in front of him. We were there though, at the festival, and there were lines. And crowds. Dogs and strollers and drunks, weaving in and out of a tangled mess.  He wanted what he wanted, now.  But I couldn't deliver.

I spent the better part of an hour consoling him.  Walking down Short Street with a thrashing toddler in a flimsy stroller, eyes fixed straight ahead, allowing the gawking strangers to stride right along. Don't mind us, don't mind me.  The light was buried in his eyes, and every noise and every texture overstimulated him to the point he would rock. And reach. And cry no.

When he had calmed enough to let me hold him, when the light had come back, he cried about a cut on his finger. He asked for water.  He shuddered as the last of the tears left him.  And I prayed quiet prayers in his little ear.


He's sleeping beside me now and it is Mother's Day. He made me a mother three years ago, and when I held that 8 pound 5 ounce 21 1/2 inch long baby in my arms I just remember staring.  I remember the way my dad's face cracked open and the way he spilled out when he walked in to see us. And I remember the fleeting, quiet moment when we were first left alone.  Judah and I.

"There are moments, which mark your life. Moments when you realize nothing will ever be the same and time is divided into two parts -- before this, and after this." (Fallen, 1998)

The after this, is what has made me a mother. Even though I became a mother the first time I heard his little heartbeat, buried deep and hidden under so far we barely heard it. The after this, is what has changed me.

I can hear him breathing as I type and I am certain if you'd told me what was in store, I wouldn't have believed you.  I wouldn't have believed it would be okay. I wouldn't have believed we would make it.

Judah has grown up to be a tall, brown eyed boy.  He is energetic and boisterous. He is curious and affectionate beyond measure.  He has a short fuse and a gentle heart. He is easily overstimulated; noise and temperature create chaos in his little brain. He is opinionated and physically strong; instilled with a deep sense of self esteem and an excellent sense of humor and some inherent rhythm.

Who he is, who he has become, and the life we've lived since the day he came has made me a mother.

I have parented this sweet boy by myself since day one.  I am his and he is mine. We are a small, feisty tribe.

I've had the support of some people over the years, who are willing to step in and bear some of the load of every day life. But I am this sweet boy's one real, true parent. I kiss the scraped knees, I cut up with the hot dogs, I force feed the vegetables, I say goodnight prayers.  I buy the diapers and swat the hands.  I make the doctor appointments and I keep them and I brush his teeth and I wash his clothes. I am who he has daily conversations in the car with. I am who he runs to greet at the end of every work day. I am who he wants, not always, but always when things are hard and scary. And if nothing else, today I celebrate Mother's Day with him because I know he loves me.

I have fought for this child.  The after this has been filled with so much war. So much of me coming across the table and so much of me shutting doors and so much of me being forcing myself to be gracious.  So much of me standing and talking to doctors and signing mortgages and ending relationships and so much of me setting the alarm each night to do it again. Not because I am capable. Not because I am a hero. But because I am not.

I have fought for this child, because the after this changed the story. Because I believe, in my deepest heart, I am raising one who will break a cycle. I am raising one who, regardless of what else my future holds, will always be my best friend. I am raising this child because all roads pointed to here and no one would fight this hard against us if there wasn't a world changer under my roof.


Motherhood teaches us both patience and how to lose it. It teaches us how to hear a cry and discern its meaning. How to stand in the face of giants and not be swayed.  Motherhood teaches us how to move somehow with both strength and grace.  Motherhood teaches us to look at the gawking, jeering faces and keep pressing. Motherhood has taught me how to fail in the worst ways. It has taught me of a ferocious loyalty and panic. How to always pack snacks and keep Buzz Lightyear in my purse.  It's taught me how to pick my battles and how to muster forgiveness in myself out of a place so dingy and hollow it almost got lost.

So when the drums kick too loud and the heat falls too heavy and we don't get what we want when we want it; when texture and light and our hungry bellies make it all seem impossible, too overwhelming, and all our after this seems so caught up...

May there be a drink of water waiting for you.

May your tears be wiped dry.

We are whispering prayers over you.

You are our, after this.

Friday, May 8, 2015


I remember exactly what I wore. There’s a picture around here somewhere, taken at Winchells on a warm Friday night at the beginning of May.  I was wearing green, and I had just turned seventeen. Friends who were like family were visiting from Georgia. I remember kissing his shoulder and getting caught. And after dinner we went to a tucked away park after dark and played for hours on the swings.  We were breaking rules and being silly and we thought we were adults. We thought we were in love. 

That was ten years ago. 

The letter I got from my mom yesterday put to words an almost imperceptible longing in my heart. I am looking for an end. And I am looking for a beginning. For years now, I have been living in the very middle of things. No discernable beginning or end, the hardest parts of each story have melded together like one long breath.  Contractions.  Like contractions at the height of labor, during transition, there’s been almost no pause between the intensity and the pain, not nearly enough time to catch my breath. 

I am looking for an end. And I am looking for a beginning. 

There have been some beginnings. Some newness. I hold on to the newness, the freshness, as long as I can. Cherish it as a new memory and a promise of growth and change. But on the hard days when all the pain blends together, regardless of how meaningful, I still find myself needing a reminder.

There is a story here. 

For years since Africa, since passports and risking and chronic illness, I’ve lived my life on this continuum of story.  For years we’ve trusted the story

I am not a passive trust-er, however, and have built more than I’ve trusted. So the mantra has changed. 

My tribe has quietly had to change the words they use to encourage, because even on the good days, the injuries of repetition and these hollowed out spaces are sore. 

There is a story here. 

Damn it, if it’s not even a good one. 

Sometimes change is gradual and quiet and has to be this way because otherwise we pay too much attention and we will resist it.Quick change brings pain and my deepest heart wonders if we aren’t being spared of that right now.  So we are quietly growing over here. Pushing through the soil, breaking shells, climbing tresses, turning our faces to the sun, so we can bear some fruit. 

To the seventeen year old in the green shirt, riding in the big truck with the boy who by next year would be gone, I would say,  

One day you will turn twenty seven.  And you will have done a lot of things and been a lot of places and witnessed a lot of miracles. You will have created a brand new life. And you will have built one too. And the people who love you will call you a fighter. The people who love you will call you a survivor. The people who love you will call you an encourager. And your son will call you his best friend. 

It’s a good story. 

If only because there is a story being told here. Right now, even in the quiet lulls. Right now, even at the height of the contraction.

Because we know what comes next.