Four and Seventeen Months

This week I will be sharing pieces I’ve written about our miscarriage over the past 6 years. They have been scattered across different blogs in different seasons, spanning the full arc of my faith deconstruction and grief journey and I wanted to bring them together in one place to make them more accessible, and also as an act of remembrance for our Selah. March is Pregnancy After Loss month, something I couldn’t fathom in the wake of our miscarriage and have been wrestling with ever since the arrival of our twins just over a year later. If you have experienced the loss of a child, please know you have a home here, that I hold space for your pain, and that you are not alone.


August 9, 2014

After a miserable week and half of a sleep strike/return to newborn hell, we’ve knocked out the 3am feeding! We’ve now got a bedtime routine that gets the kiddos down by 8:30 or 9, they wake up between 1-2 to eat, again near 5-6 and then sometime after 8. Maybe they just gave us those miserable 10 days so we’d remember what a treat it is to enjoy multiple REM cycles. I’ll take it.

With all this newfound energy and evening downtime, the reflective and introspective part of my brain is starting to re-emerge.  It rolls in like a fog, disorienting and distracting, sweeping me away in big unanswerable questions and dreams and fears. Lately the fog has drifted in with the goose pimple shivers and aching sadness of loss – a dear friend lost her two perfect twin girls, Livia and Lucy, last month and mourning with her has brought a fresh wave of grief for our Selah.

And then I’m remembering all the moments I have not mourned, the moments that I have lived and celebrated and giggled and cuddled with Rowan and Evelyn and how sometimes it is hard to imagine our sweet girl being in our present reality. And I feel so guilty for that. Guiltier still when I wonder if this is “progress”. Grief is all I have of her in my memory – the fleeting few days of marvelous hope and joy before she passed feels like a dream and her dying is the anchoring reality. I hate that.

Then I think of the plausibly long lives ahead of all of us – Rowan and Evelyn, Drew and I – and I’m lost for how to live them. How to be fully present in each moment without the fear that any one of them might be our last. And of course it’s not the END as much as the being left behind to grieve that really terrifies.

So while I’m marveling at tall the ways Rowan and Evelyn are growing and changing,  I’m also trying to imagine our next 30, 40, 50 years together. What the world look like, what our relationships will be? The fear I feel about the unknown in each sphere is suffocating, and then ridiculous. Is it possible to live between the two? To both revere and make peace with [the possibility of] grief enough so that I might really live in the present?

These little people who were but a few hundred dividing cells a year ago – maybe just the size of our dear Selah –  are learning to roll over and scoot their giant diapered bums across the floor. They giggle when I kiss their double chins and coo along as I sing to them. And I guess I just want to confess that they feel more real. How can I remember the little girl who barely was?

So I’m back at the beginning. Trying to celebrate month 4, wondering about month 17 and an older sister who isn’t here. Couldn’t be, if they are.

The two babies who are here are filling my life with such joy and purpose for all the small moments when I would otherwise be lost in my head. I marvel at this gift of time and presence with them, soaking up the goofy expressions and the post-nursing cuddles, participating in the rhythmic work of laundry, cleaning, reading, resting, laughing. It all flows together so naturally and I am grateful. I know this is a gift, one that I want to live well.

Maybe I will spend month 5 returning to my monastic family, men and women who have taken on the outcasts and weary children of the world as their own. Perhaps they can teach me about how the rhythm of grief and the rhythm of grace can make a life together.

I think I am thankful for the fog. It reminds me there is much about life that I cannot see or record or instagram. But I can open myself to feeling it, even the difficult grief/not grief of a lost child. And that’s grace, isn’t it?

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claiming resurrection

This week I will be sharing pieces I’ve written about our miscarriage over the past 6 years. They have been scattered across different blogs in different seasons, spanning the full arc of my faith deconstruction and grief journey and I wanted to bring them together in one place to make them more accessible, and also as an act of remembrance for our Selah. March is Pregnancy After Loss month, something I couldn’t fathom in the wake of our miscarriage and have been wrestling with ever since the arrival of our twins just over a year later. If you have experienced the loss of a child, please know you have a home here, that I hold space for your pain, and that you are not alone.


April 1, 2013

About a week ago Drew and I found out were pregnant. We were filled with joy and anticipation at this surprising answer to prayers for direction and purpose in this season of confusion and closed doors.

In just a few short days we began re-imagining our year ahead, what sorts of job opportunities could provide for a little family of three, where we might find housing, how we might move closer to friends or family. We talked of how fun it would be to surprise our moms with the news on mother’s day (if we could wait that long!) and I marveled at how this little one would carry me through the church year: growing quietly all through lent, announcing its arrival just before our resurrection celebration, finally joining us during the season that remembers our Christ’s own birth. Such peace.

But then, while shouting our alleluias and “He is risen indeed!” and smiling at rows of little kids on stage singing “Up from the Grave He Arose!”, I began miscarrying.

At first I didn’t even realize what was happening. I wanted to just think of it as a late late period, as if nothing had ever happened. I felt so sheepish for my joy, for all the planning that we managed in a short week. As I googled my “symptoms” and learned that this is commonly called a “chemical pregnancy” – the failure of the embryo to properly implant in the uterus – I felt even more silly for my grief. I was barely even pregnant. This brief burst of new life, just a few hundred cells woven together and gone rogue.

Just a few hundred cells.

But when I stood in the shower last night, trying to soothe wretched cramps and relax for bed I found myself praying somehow for God to receive our little one. This one he created in my womb, this one who was snatched by death far too quickly. And the grief came in great waves, shaking my whole body, making me feel small and frail and so exposed. How could it be that death could lurk even in my inmost being? I felt so violated. And on THIS day! Resurrection day. A day to celebrate conquering the dark shadow of death. Why?

Drew found me and held me and the hot water beat down with our tears and somehow in that embrace there was comfort in the midst of suffering. What a mystery of marriage to have the presence of another person to say “No, this is not right. This is not what we were meant for” and to cry out to God for his kingdom coming. To speak His promises of life over me and petition God for the peace we so desperately need in this broken place.

Addie Zierman says it beautifully:

“God is here, and I feel him close and real these days. But also, still, there is this hole. There is the empty space where a baby should have been. And I feel that too, tender and sharp.

I know it will get better with time – these things always do. But also, I know that this world is cracked through. The people who are supposed to love us best fail us in the worst possible ways. The pregnancy doesn’t take, or the baby is gone before you can hold him. The lump is malignant. The crash is fatal. Over and over again, people keep leaving before we’re ready for them to go.

We are, all of us, punched through with holes, living with a little bit more emptiness every year. And it’s possible to be filled with the Spirit and still feel the void.

It’s true that God is the best kind of Father. And also, the absence of your flesh-and-blood Dad matters. There is the way things should be and the way they are, and between them, there are a hundred thousand hollows, echoing with emptiness.”

The absence of my flesh-and-blood dad matters. And so, this Easter monday, though I am reminded all too intimately why this Jesus needed to rise from the dead, I mourn his distance. The Spirits’s presence is a mystery that abides within and around me, but it is not enough for this woman, meant for a new earth, fully realized, bathed in light and life.

But my resurrection hope is in this: I refuse to accept this as a mere blip of life. I refuse to feel silly about my sorrow, to downplay the death of our first child. (My confidence is already waning as I type that sentence. Child? Can I call it a child? Statistically, so many women experience this kind of miscarriage and never know. Does that mock the miscarriages of women whose sweet babes are birthed still so much farther along? Or the mama who loses a little one to a casualty of the “real world”?)

Because I have nothing else to lean on, because Easter is the ushering in of the sort of hope that sustains in seasons like this one where so many doors are slammed in my face and this one is just impossible, I claim the resurrection as a promise that I was not meant for death and neither was this little life that grew oh-so-briefly inside of me. This indignation in the face of death, this is grace. To be brought up from the despair that has so trapped me for many long months and into sorrowful hope, this is resurrection. I claim the grace to wonder if perhaps this little one is already continuing to develop elsewhere in whatever home heaven may be. I miss you, little one. May you be in peace.

“Easter was when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present.”

     – N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

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When the Experts Fail Us

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about expert advice.

I crave it.

The alluring notion that there is an objectively best way to do everything in life is pitched to us in every sphere – books, blogs, seminars – if you’re anxious about it, there’s someone waiting in the wings to teach you how to overcome it.

And I fall for it every time.

From obsessing about parenting, driving my husband crazy with my endless evaluations of our tactics and the kids’ needs, to convincing myself that I can offer darn near professional support for my spouse in his battle with mental illness if I just read another book or listen to another podcast. I even find myself daydreaming about all sorts of futures I don’t actually want – degrees I don’t really care to pursue, jobs I know would burn me out – all because the lure of being an expert in that area is so strong.

So, when my daughter started experiencing a lot of school-related anxiety, I turned to the experts. I buried myself in a browser full of tabs about child mindfulness exercises and warning signs of ocd and websites for child therapists in our area.  I sought advice on parenting forums and followed each of their leads to websites, books, and studies that promised they had the key insights to solve my problem. One suggested a diet that “transformed” her son. Another tells me about a special kind of massage tool that releases stress and must be used every two hours. Another suggests that my own anxiety is causing my daughters’. Awesome. 

I understand, of course, that nobody can be an expert in everything. Expert advice is developed in a vacuum of academia and institutions and isolated variables. Expert advice, by nature, conflicts with previous knowledge. It’s always evolving, always presenting shiny new models to replace the outdated offerings that are now poked through with holes of exceptions and experience.

But I just can’t help myself. I go home and spend a week compiling a long list titled “strategies for child anxiety”. I dedicate a few minutes each afternoon to setting up a stress relieving sensory activity, putting out a snack, and preparing the notebook and markers where she can draw pictures of her big feelings, just the like the experts suggest. I begin to feel more confident as I head out the door. Hopeful, even.

The bus pulls up and I hear it before I can even see her face — that open mouth mournful cry that just tears my heart wide open. Through panicked sobs she tells me she is so sorry she was naughty and didn’t get a green star on her hand even though she ‘sat really still with her legs criss cross and a big smile like Ms. Rosa said!” She wails into my coat that her teachers are always mad at her and she  is NEVER going to that school again. Meanwhile, Rowan is at my elbow, tugging my sleeve and waving his hand in my face to show off his bright green permanent marker star. He is beaming with pride, branded with his goodness. The arbitrary way this teacher does discipline and rewards has been a battle all year.

I’m finally full of rage.

And, for once, I let myself feel it instead of trying to fix it.

We went home and dried our tears and drank hot cocoa and read library books all cozy and smooshed together on the couch. It didn’t “fix” anything, but somehow we were all set to right. I wonder how often the expert advice drowns out our own intuition or our ability to really hear the ones we love tell us what they need.

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Today, I sat in my friend Jaci‘s beautiful kitchen and asked her how she helps her kids through anxiety. I especially wanted to know how she discerns when she’s overreacting and when she’s not engaging enough.  Even with a squirmy toddler on her lap she responded without hesitation, “I don’t think you ever do. I think that’s just how it is, always wrestling between the two. You want to equip them to solve some problems on their own, so sometimes that means letting them work it out with peers. Sometimes it’s more complicated and that means advocating for them with teachers and staff. It just depends. There isn’t one right answer.”

I felt myself exhaling with every sentence. In two short minutes she had offered me advice that was far more practical and a million times more affirming than anything I had read in weeks of late night searches for answers that would fix my kid or soothe my guilt. She offered me her humanity and she opened up space for my own, no certainty required. She reminded me that only in friendship can we find the nuance and grace that no expert can capture.

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Photo by Roman Koval on Pexels.com


Last night Rowan re-appeared for the fifth time after being put to bed, throwing himself to the ground and declaring he would NOT get dressed tomorrow and would NOT be going to school. All the minimizing and dismissing and exasperated responses bubbled up inside me, followed quickly by the expert advice that I didn’t have an ounce of energy for. I mustered a half-hearted, “You really don’t like school right now. You wish you could stay home all day and play.”

“I’m SO MAD!” He dives into the couch face first, punching the cushions.

I exhale, slowly. “You know, I remember feeling like that when I was in first grade and had a not very nice teacher.”

His turns his face toward me, his expression changed from anger to curiosity. “Really? You did? What did you do?”

What did I do?  At first I’m trying to think of the ‘right’ answer, something practical that will reassure him, some behavior I want him to try. But then I’m transported back to Ms. Felix’s 1st grade class. I focus in on my clearest memory – sitting in a reading circle on the floor and the teacher accidentally bumps a metal oscillating fan off a table and onto my head. I’m blinded by the pain but don’t move because we’re not allowed to leave our spot on the carpet and she’s yelling at me because now the fan is broken and somehow I’m to blame. I couldn’t stop crying so she sent me to the nurse’s office, a tiny windowless room that became my safe haven after that incident. The rest of the year I had a lot of mystery stomach pain and headaches that were cured with a little rest on a cot in that quiet safety. What a gift that nurse was.

I look back up at his little face. The anger is gone but one last tear is still slowly tracing down his cheeks. “Well, sometimes I cried at school.  Sometimes I talked to other nice teachers. When  I got home I would tell Nanni about it. I always felt better when I played with my friends, and sometimes I told them how I was feeling too. ”

His jaw dropped open. “That’s like me! And I can tell you all of my angry feelings and then I feel better! And mom, I was thinking that maybe we can we have an activity and snack tomorrow after school? I will remember it all day when I am sad waiting to come home to see you.”

“Of course buddy.”

He gives me a hug and then turns to hop back up the stairs, stopping to crouch down at the very top step so I can see just his ankles and his little forehead and eyes peering at me upside down.

“Hey mom?”

“Yes bud.”

“You’re the very best mom for me. Okay?”

Oh my love.

I swear to stop trying to fix everything and just sit with all the emotional children while they stomp and make threats and weep bitter tears from now until the end of time if I can just have this sentence said about me on my dying day.

She was the very best mom for her kids.

And so are you, dear reader.

So are you.

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An Imprinting of Love: How to Be Gentle With Your Kids and Yourself (at the Spiritual Parent)

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I was nine when we moved from our small New England town to the suburban sprawl of Colorado Springs. Everything was bigger there. The houses, the churches, the mountains, somehow even God was larger, more real, more present.

Christianity had been an important part of our family culture before, but now it took center stage. Our social lives oscillated  between attending a mega church (and all of the classes, groups, dinners and activities that came with it) and hanging out at the Focus On The Family complex which was conveniently just down the street.

My brothers and I spent countless Saturdays exploring in the Adventures In Odyssey wonderland while my parents steeped themselves in Dobson’s philosophy. His empire pumped out radio programs, magazines, and parenting books that explained how our “sin natures” caused us to misbehave and directed parents to set firm boundaries via physical punishment and authoritarian shaming to help children understand the dire consequences of their sins.

I’ve been trying to shake off the effects of this toxic approach for years…

Click here to read the rest of this post on the Spiritual Parent blog.

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Mom, am I too big?

It’s a familiar routine. I sit cross legged on the pink shag rug in Evelyn’s room, trying to coax her out of her clothes and into pj’s. She resists, frantically emptying every last thought from her head before the door is closed and she is left alone with her thoughts all night.

There’s always a bit of a tussle because she can’t get the shirt over her head without temporarily pausing her train of thought (impossible), and in the waiting I’m zoning out a bit – watching her without really hearing, marveling at this funny, curious person I brought into the world. (To be sure, there are also plenty of times when I’m just ticking off the seconds until I can interrupt her without feeling guilty. It’s definitely a mixed bag. But occasionally we achieve delight!)

We finally get the shirt over her head and the nightgown on, but a final yank of the leggings lands her hard on her bum. She tears them off and yells that they are too small and “not sparkly enough anyway!” Still in parent la la land I just grin and add “target: leggings” to my mental shopping list. But then I’m snapped back to the present with her words, “Wait, this tag says 5. I’m only 4. Mom, am I too big?

Woah. We’re doing this already? My brain flashes with images of my own young body –  in 90s stirrup leggings, my legs folded crisscross on a scratchy school carpet next to slender little girls whose knobby knees poke out at perfect angles, then on field day in the school-spirit shirt, mine comes from the “boys” pile and hugs my soft belly while the other girls achieve that adorable over-sized tee & bike shorts look, then I’m 13 and in a dressing room at the mall where the low rise jeans don’t begin to contain my behind and my friend is asking me to come out and show her, the shame memory brings heat to my neck even now.

“Mom!” Her call snaps me back to the present and I see she’s carefully examining the tag and frowning. I feel wholly unprepared.  She looks up at me, her delightful little uni-brow furrowed, waiting for me to explain.

I stammer out, “Oh honey… size and age aren’t the same thing… those numbers don’t mean anything! We just try on clothes until we find the ones that feel good. If those aren’t comfortable anymore, we’ll find some that are!”

She is, of course, immediately satisfied with this answer and tosses them in the donate pile in her closet, chattering about what color she wants to get to replace them and how they should have sparkles so they can match the glittery dress she wants to wear to the valentines party.

But the weight of this moment sticks with me. The weight I felt, at least. She has no concept of self-loathing, no irritation about the features of her skin or the softness of her belly. So why does it feel so loaded when these things come up? Are these moments really as weighty as they feel? How can I possibly guide her into a self-assured adulthood when I am still mired with so much of my own body shame baggage?

In her book Mothers Daughters & Body Image, Hillary McBride explains the concept of “choosing the ladder” as an alternative to staying stuck in our own shame. Her research shows that when mothers  nurture and affirm their daughter’s sense of self confidence and body image (even if they don’t totally believe it for themselves), their daughters are able to experience greater self confidence and self love than their own mothers. In fact, mothers who “were able to look at their lives with honesty and courage, and name the things that they had struggled with most” (p.10) were actually transformed by the process themselves. They offered a “ladder” of perspective and growth to their daughters, a path to a healthier self-image, and in the process many found healing and eventually even a hand up from the adult daughters they had been nurturing for so many years.

 

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Photo by Thanh Nguyễn on Pexels.com

This idea is so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it. So many of us battle messages from our families, our social circles, our online communities, and especially our own minds that we are not good enough. That we do not deserve the space we inhabit. Sometimes these judgments are pointed and overt, but I find that I am most beat down by the everyday language and cultural rhythms that shape our sense of what it means to be whole. Shame is so hard to shake, and I am desperately afraid that it will get its claws in my child too.

In those moments of fear and panic I am clinging to the examples in Hillary’s book – stories of mothers and daughters who manage to grow in spite of their personal baggage or the influence of others. Not because they never encountered these patterns in the world and not because their mothers were perfect, but because they faced the shame head on, deliberately, together.

This weekend Evelyn and I are going shopping for some new leggings. Since our chat earlier this week I’ve noticed that a bunch of mine have holes forming along the inseam – something I’ve been ignoring because I keep telling myself this horrible story that I don’t deserve new clothes until I lose more weight. What a gift to have a daughter with such a keen eye for style and clothes that feel good! I’m sure she’ll be able to help me find a few new pairs to replace these punishment leggings I’ve been holding onto. (Sparkles optional, but who knows! I’ve never tried them and I hear great things!)

 

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My confident little love, proudly sporting a Halloween costume she created to look like her favorite podcast host, Mindy (from Wow in the World!)

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a love letter to my large, soft, magnificent body

Hi there.

I forget you are me, sometimes. The other day I was listening to one of my favorite therapists/podcasters talk about embodiment and how easily we separate our consciousness from the bodies we inhabit. What a fascinating idea, I thought. Until this moment I wasn’t aware there was any other way to exist!

The more I think about this duality, the more I realize how I have treated you, beloved body, more as clothing for my soul than a living, breathing home for my being in the world. I am so sorry. I can see now how my need to separate my spiritual thoughts, my intellect, my emotions from the flesh that sustains them has hurt us both. How the shame that I feel about you, dear one, has kept me from nurturing and nourishing you with the sort of healthy choices that would, in turn, sustain my inner life. I’ve been taking some time to reflect on where these ideas came from and how this shame narrative took root.

One of my earliest shame memories happened when I was just 7 or 8. We were getting a family photo done at a studio and mom had matching outfits for us to wear. I was supposed to wear a skort, but I remember it was too small for our growing body. I felt bad that I was making trouble for mom, but I was also so uncomfortable with how it felt -tight across my legs and belly and looked with my also-tight shirt tucked in. I remember trying to smile nicely and stand perfectly still as we were positioned under the watch of a strange man who told us how to move our bodies. I remember someone telling me several times to stand up straighter, and how I thought I was and didn’t understand their urgency until we were in the dark room afterwards looking at the photos and the photographer said “Well, this one is the best of their smiles but her belly is sticking out in front” and I realized the “stand up straight” command was a missed cue to hide this unsightly part of our body.

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preserved in all our 90s side-scrunchy & corduroy button-up glory

I remember my mom saying she loved it anyway, and it hung prominently in our house for years. I hated it. I knew my hatred of a photo was irrational, but I hated living beneath this display of my apparently undesirable body. Oddly enough, it was just a few days ago that she texted me that photo, totally out of the blue, and in seconds I was snapped back 20+ years to the the sharp sick feeling of self loathing under some creepy male gaze.

And then there was that time when we had just moved across the country and I was 10, a few weeks in at my new school and wearing a brand new outfit I was so proud of: floral glitter t-shirt, white bike shorts, and some very visible flower print underwear. I tried not to cry while a boy and a girl I thought I was becoming friends with kept trying to get me to turn around so they could laugh some more. I tied my windbreaker around our waist and stayed in my seat for the rest of the day. I remember being most angry that I didn’t know about this rule. Why hadn’t anybody told me! And who looks at someone else’s underwear? It was so petty and so cruel and they brought it up over and over again  for the rest of the year.

As we grew older, got braces, boobs, hips, and hormones things only intensified. I tried desperately to follow all the rules – clothes that fit in enough not to draw ridicule but also weren’t vain or indulgent or immodest. Oh how the tyranny of modesty ruled our adolescence! I turned 13 and suddenly every adult woman in my life seemed tasked with reminding me that our body was a weapon, that we were causing “sin” simply by existing in the world unless we were properly covered and avoided male attention. This shame was heavy to carry, but I understood the gravity of the offense and faithfully followed the rules.

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please note the punny christian sweatshirt “upon this rock” that I wore for about a year straight

I have journals full of prayerful confessions of every crush, my longings to wear eye shadow, to be pretty, my daydreams about a someday boyfriend who would hold my hand and share a fanta and curly fries with me in the cafeteria at lunch. You remember, I fervently tried to pray these dreams of love and happiness away. I went to the accountability groups, small groups, youth groups, read the devotionals, wore the true love waits ring, went to the conferences and wrote the pledges and truly believed that maybe I could stop the shame weight bearing down on us if I was just good enough. If I just did all the things that were required of me. If I surrendered and repented and denied my every longing.

And then I felt betrayed by you, body. I realized I had sexual desires inside myself, that it wasn’t just the boys and men out there being forced “into sin” because I existed alongside them. No, I was horrified to realize that I also had those feelings, and I didn’t even have to be near anybody else to have them! (Oh my dear body. How I wish I could have a do-over of those years!)

I began to run cross country around that time, solidly a back-of-the-packer, but full of joy to feel the wind in my hair and the exhaustion in my muscles at the end of a long run.  (Thank you for those magnificent feelings. I still ache for the warmth of the Colorado afternoon sun kissing goose pimpled skin.) Once our muscles built up some endurance I was able to use my runs to process my churning thoughts, releasing the stress and anxiety about my “disturbing” sexuality and problematic existence in the world. It was so satisfying, putting those miles on the road day after day. Still, even as my times steadily improved and my joy of running left me effervescent after practice, I couldn’t help but notice it was all the thin girls who had the best times, the coach’s praise, the welcome into the heart of the team. Their long, lean legs easily carried them through races, sometimes in half the time it took ours. I looked at our short, curvy build with shame and hatred. Our thighs rubbed together and chaffed while I ran. I didn’t know about running tights or chafing gel and shame kept me from asking for help, as if I deserved the pain as penance for my missing thigh gap.

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I literally shit talked myself for months while pummeling myself through daily workouts to fit into this dress. The day I put it on I felt enormous next to the other bridesmaids and felt guilty that I would ruin the pictures for the bride.

I have felt great joy to be in this body. I think of the many times when your strength carried me through dark seasons, up steep hills, even through the wildness of a twin pregnancy and three years of nursing them after. I am grateful. But I have also been so cruel to you. Somewhere along the way I started to believe that good exercise was the kind that left us totally miserable and in pain. That things that felt good and restorative couldn’t possible BE good, because I didn’t think I deserved goodness. That a large soft body doesn’t deserve to feel good about herself. That a curvy, jiggly body shouldn’t enjoy running in public where other people have to look at it. That a “plus sized”, passionate woman doesn’t deserve to have her needs met, her feelings considered, her voice heard. If she wanted those things, she should be smaller, more beautiful, more put together, less than she was.

Sometimes you would delight me before I could get my guard up. Moments of intimacy with Drew, the soft quiet of middle of the night nursing sessions with squishy toddler bodies, the rush of endorphins on a random Tuesday on the trail – me lost in thought to a good podcast, you running your heart out. Magical moments of oneness.

I want more of those. I want to spend more time meditating on your strength, your wisdom, your nurturing love. Bur first, I need to thank you for your faithful work, for showing up for me all these years while I resented and mocked and ignored you. You are a beautiful being, and I am so lucky to have a home in you.

To my strong legs and somehow ever-widening feet, you have made quite the journey. None of the last decade has gone according to any of your plans, but you have been quick to carry us forward into the adventures. You’ve literally carried the brunt of the weight that emotional eating has brought into our life. You’ve waited patiently for me to be ready to walk or run or swim or dance out the heartache and fear.  I’m sorry I have only had eyes for the dimpled flesh that covers you, not an admiration for the strong muscles beneath that have allowed me to carry the weight of the unexpected twin pregnancy, to keep up with two wild, growing children, to stand and cook countless meals to feed my family, and to escape to the beautiful outdoors for hikes and bike rides – soul soothing refreshment that can only be found out of doors.

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Soft, freckled arms. In middle school I learned that beautiful girls could easily encircle their wrist with their fingers. I couldn’t. Still can’t. But that hasn’t stopped a steady stream of little hands from tugging on those wrists over the years. Tugs of excitement, pulling me along to explore, tugs of anxiety, little fingers curling into my own. Thank you for your sturdiness. I remember someone in college calling her arms “bat wings” while waving her hand back and forth, un-flexed muscles waving along with them. I was fascinated by this new way to hate something I had previously thought normal and natural. Suddenly I noticed every jiggle and the small stretch marks that trailed along the length of you. I made a note to stick with longer sleeves, always layering a cardigan over a tank top even in the summer, only removing it when the sweat became more embarrassing than the sight of my milky skin. But your strong, soft arms have cradled and comforted those I love most in the world. Tiny crying newborns. Weary, exhausted adults. Your short stubby fingers, the ones that haven’t fit in the wedding band for years, they have gently caressed our children through sleepless nights, stomach viruses, heartaches of all kinds. They have guided our children safely from home and back again, they have been an anchor point in bewildering times. One soft reassuring squeeze helps your anxious husband to exhale, your children to flash you a smile while they raise your hand to their lips for a sticky kiss.

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Beloved torso. Last night when I realized we were finally one payment away from owning our car it brought to mind how I couldn’t drive it when we first bought it because you were pushed to your limits and beyond growing a baby shelf that shot straight out of our hips, defying gravity. If I pushed the seat back far enough to be able to turn the steering wheel, my feet couldn’t reach the pedals! The kids thought that was hilarious. How could a belly stretch so big? How could it carry two 8.5lb babies to full term? You mystify me. You have always been a little squishy, like a soft pillow, but now you are like pillowy bread dough turned out on a counter. You have lumps and wrinkles and sags, some of you even spills down past our hips. I worry so much about this, always tucking you into tight, high-waisted pants so nobody else will see you. I’m sorry. You deserve to be showcased, celebrated for your nature-defying feat. You are pure magic, the way you stretched yourself to the limits of elasticity for the sake of two creatures you had never met. I love how they love you. How they smoosh you around to create the perfect pillow. In the same way, your once full, round breasts now rest low and soft, spent fully for the children you nourished. They endured tiny gnawing gums and then teeth, faithfully feeding needy babies who refused bottles and demanded your golden milk around the clock for years. Now, sometimes, you get little pimples where sweat gets trapped under your floppy curves. I’ve been so embarrassed by these I haven’t really considered how I can better care for you and your skin. I want to do better. You deserve the moon, beauties. Thank you for giving life to my babies.

 

 

Finally, our head. This is the weirdest to consider because I find it easier to live in you than the others. But that doesn’t stop me from resenting you. Your large nose. The cystic acne. The large wide forehead and caterpillar eyebrows. Over the years I have swung from obsessing about your care and appearance to neglecting to even wash your face or run a brush through your hair. I have resented you, blamed you for loneliness and for lack of love. You have been endlessly resilient. You allow me to express the full range of my emotions, and there are so many. Your soft, full lips allow me to cover my children with kisses. To connect deeply with my beloved even when our words fail us and the chasm between us seems too wide to conquer. Your mouth is a willing instrument of all the thoughts and hopes and dreams I drum up inside. You allow me to speak words of love, of passion, of anger, connection, understanding, joy. I can sing just enough to ham it up to the Frozen and Moana soundtracks. I can ask my million questions, exploring the mysteries of the world through conversation with cherished friends.  You give me eyes to see the brokenness and beauty around me, ears to hear the needs and cheers of my friends. You give me those gifts. I am so thankful.

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Thank you Jen Lints Photography for this photo! ❤

Dear body, I am so sorry that it has taken me so long to understand the narratives I was blindly believing about you and your worth. I’m sorry I have accepted the patriarchal story that a female body only has worth if she is sexualized, and that she is shameful for being a temptress if she exists beyond her objectification. I am sorry I have allowed insecurities to become facts, sorry that I have participated in self-hating conversations with friends as a way to bond with them, sorry that doing so further convinced me how true they were. I’m sorry I have allowed toxic cultural stories about our body size and shape and ability to define our value. I should have protected you the way you have protected and carried and nurtured me. I should have celebrated rather than deprived you. I should have delighted in your movement, not critiqued your every jiggle and exposed inch of skin.

You are magnificent. It’s me, your brain, your spirit, your soul, that needs to heal. I have been riddled with toxic self loathing and comparisons for years. Even after escaping the patriarchal purity culture I have held onto the shame as a kind of penance. I want to release it. You deserve so much more. I want to join you in showing our children what it means to live fully embodied. To flourish. To dance. I promise I will do a better job of listening to your needs, of celebrating your hard work, of nourishing you with rest and food and exercise and love.

I promise to re-familiarize myself with your curves and folds. To mother you, to speak love into your pimples and stretch marks as I massage lotion into your thirsty skin. To stretch your strong muscles after they have worked hard. To listen to you when you tell me we need sleep more than a completed to-do list.

Thank you, my beloved. Your faithful love, your strength, your joy radiates from the tips of my toes to the top of the my head and into the very core of my being. You make me come alive with your power to love and transform the world. I’m ready to honor your work with my own.

Thank you.

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Can anything good come out of Honduras? Come and see.

In those days there was great violence in all the world, violence that drove families from their homes in fear for their children’s lives. It came to pass that many of these families were fleeing together in a caravan, bravely crossing a continent on foot in pursuit of safety for their children. José, a skilled carpenter who had for many months struggled to find work was facing increasing threats of violence against his family if he did not join the ranks of the neighborhood gang. Some of his co workers had disappeared over the last few months – their families feared the worst, and José knew their fate could easily be his own. He and his bride María were expecting their first child together soon, and although he knew the journey would be difficult for his pregnant wife, José felt a growing urgency to get his young family to safety. She felt it too, and was adamant that they could make it to the US border to file for asylum before their little one arrived. Their cousins had already made the journey months before and were now waiting in some kind of facility while their paperwork was processed. It seemed hopeful, certainly more promising than the life of fear and violence that surrounded them here. 

They waited for word from the caravan organizers for a few weeks until at last the day had come. They packed up a few belongings, only what they could carry, and then stopped to say tearful goodbyes to the family who would stay behind in Honduras, not knowing if they would ever see each other again. It was especially hard to leave their mothers. “Who will help me birth this baby?” María said, wiping at the flow of tears with the back of her hand. Her mother in law lifted her chin and looked at her with a level gaze, “Mija, the strength and courage which lead you on this journey will also bring your child into this world. Do not fear. Help will come when you need it.” Her own mother wrapped her arms around her and gave a sending blessing, kissed her belly, and hurried them out the door.


The first days of the caravan were hopeful – there was a lightness in each step away from the danger and fear. They felt buoyant. Hopeful about the opportunities ahead of them. They daydreamed about the home they could make with their little one. Each night they gathered in town squares or open fields for a meal and community meeting and then rest. They got to know other travelers as they shared stories of heartache and courage, hope and lament, celebrating each mile they had put behind them, each mile closer to a new home.

APTOPIX Central America Migrant Caravan

Members of a US-bound migrant caravan stand on a road after federal police briefly blocked their way outside the town of Arriaga, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Hundreds of Mexican federal officers carrying plastic shields had blocked the caravan from advancing toward the United States, after several thousand of the migrants turned down the chance to apply for refugee status and obtain a Mexican offer of benefits. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

But then rumors started to spread about president Trump’s anger at their coming. It was hard to understand – some said he was sending troops to meet them? The organizers assured them they had legal standing to seek asylum, that the government was required to hear their case, but the idea that men with guns stood waiting for them in both directions was wearying.

They pressed on, some days catching rides on buses or trains, many days walking the whole way miles, no small feat for a women in her 3rd trimester. At night José would prop their packs up into a recliner seat and wash María’s feet, massaging her swollen legs and soles until they regained feeling. They would curl up together each night, on gymnasium floors or stadium bleachers, whispering promises of a future and of hope to their little one as they felt his strong kicks and rolls. “We will not give up, little one. We will find a way.”

Some mornings a church group would move around the waking bodies, offering food and water, asking if anyone needed medical attention before they began their day. Their hospitality was beautiful, and it reminded them of home, of their families. But there wasn’t much time to receive it. By 3 or 4am the whole group would be rising, eager to complete the 20 or 30 miles before the heat became unbearable. Not that it helped much, the pace was punishing. And yet – the courage and resilience of the other women and men, many carrying toddlers and leading small children by the hand, inspired them to keep moving.

One night they woke to a scream. José leapt to his feet and ran with several others to the woman who was screaming in pain on the other side of the encampment. She had been raped. A volunteer medic was soon on the scene. Someone called for police, but it was impossible in the dark sea of bodies to know who had committed this horrible violence. The criminal had simply faded back into the crowd. After she had been treated by the doctors, María invited the young woman, a teenager named Alma, to join them. She laid her with head in María’s lap, María gently stroking her hair while the told them she had been traveling with a group of male friends but had become separated days before when the boys jumped up onto the bed of a truck and rode to the next checkpoint and she was left behind.


Weeks turned into months, and a sort of family formed between María and José and Alma and the other families they kept pace with. They passed through many encampments, staying in villages and cities across Guatemala and Mexico, and were fed and cared for by so many tender souls. But they were weary. Anxious about what they would find at the border – stories of families torn apart, put in detention facilities, mothers and children ripped apart before they could turn back – it was all they could think about by day and dream about at night. María’s belly grew tight and she could feel it begin to drop, a sure sign that this little one would be arriving soon. Finally, they were just three days journey from Tijuana, just 60 miles to the rest they had been dreaming of as they trekked across 1600 miles.

Everyone was moving more slowly, blistered feet and respiratory illness hindering even the heartiest in the group. Step by step they finished the journey together, peace and rest so close they could see it shimmering in the distance. But when they finally arrived in the city they were not directed to the border but to a camp. An energetic young woman handed them bottles of cold water and said “You won’t want to go over there today. Some protestors tried to push past the fence and the border patrol hosed down the whole crowd with tear gas. Even the little ones. It was awful. Come and rest, let a doctor take a look at you, eat a good meal. The paperwork will still be there in the morning.”

They were bewildered, exhausted, overwhelmed at the sight of so many tired bodies in temporary encampments. Laundry hung from makeshift lines, the sound of coughing and arguments and the laughter of little children filled the air. It was so crowded. Their little group got in line for a meal and ate while shuffling through other lines for water, bandages for their feet, a tarp, bedding. Alma and José tied the tarp to a chain link fence – a makeshift tent – while a volunteer explained the asylum process to María. Her heart sank as he explained there were already 3000 cases ahead of theirs on the waiting list. At best, agents processed 100 files each day, and even after filing paperwork it could be many more months before a case was heard.

The three travelers collapsed into each other that night, weeping as they held each other beneath the blue tarp. They were just a few hundred feet from the US, but months of waiting stretched like miles between them and their new lives.


The next morning the group queued early, long before the sun came up, hoping for a spot in line to file their preliminary paperwork. By the time the office opened at 9 the line had grown to several hundred new arrivals. Protesters began to gather on the US side of the fence. One group was waving poster board signs that said “No human is illegal” and “Immigrants welcome here”. There were priests and families and single people of every race and age waving and smiling toward the asylum seekers. A news truck rolled up, complete with a giant satellite transmitter, and a perfectly coiffed young woman jumped out, microphone in hand. María couldn’t get over the spectacle. These people were all here because of them? Because they were trying to start a new life? Why did they even care? Wasn’t the US big enough for a few thousand migrants? What difference could they possibly make?

american flag on pole under blue sky during daytime

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

She was suddenly snapped back to the present by a sharp kick to her bladder. Oof. A uniformed guard nodded toward a row of port a potties when she asked for the bathrooms, and she waddled as gracefully as she could past the hundreds of others in line. Just as she was about to reach the dirty bathrooms, she saw the second group. This one was angry, their eyes flashed with rage. A woman caught sight of her and screamed “We don’t want your anchor baby! Go home, lazy bitch!” María was stunned. She shut herself into the stifling, putrid toilet but this did nothing to stop the taunts of the angry crowd. They screamed hateful things while she tried to steady herself enough to pee. Never had she felt so vulnerable, so unwanted. As she squatted over the filthy seat, giant belly resting on her tired thighs, she remembered the words of her mother in law. You are a woman of great courage.  It seemed ridiculous. Her courage brought her over mountains, fleeing violent gangs for the sake of her child and now, inches from the freedom she longed for a group of screaming white people weakened her resolve. No. She would not be deterred. She stood and pulled up her shorts, swept her hair back into a fresh bun, squared her shoulders, and marched away from the mob without a glance back.

This child will have a home. It must. As she waddled through the heat of the day she turned inward, remembering the vision she had scarcely dared mention since the day they left home. She could still see it with perfect clarity, the night she woke to a glowing presence in her room, telling her of the divine child she would bear. She thought it was a crazy pregnancy dream until she mentioned it to José a few days later. The color drained from his face. He had had the same dream. The same mixed feeling of urgency and peace. So perhaps it wasn’t a dream after all?

A tightening spasm wrapped around her middle, snapping her thoughts back to the present. Hands on her knees, she wanted for it to pass. José ran over to help her to the shade. Another contraction rolled over her. The paperwork would have to wait. The time had come.

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