Our Modern Day Goose Chase to the Promised Land

I drafted this blog in March after a text convo with some old pals about moving to LA or something and starting our own grassroots anti-modern-evangelical church. I sat on the post for a million reasons, mainly to get through holidays and family visits and birthdays and a few business ventures that might have linked back to the blog page, partly because there was so much political noise at the time and I was exhuasted, and partly because I wanted to do a tone check and make sure it was still true if I waited until later.

It’s still true.

It’s not a secret that the last nine-ish months have revealed (instituted?) a line of divide between peers I grew up with in the church and our elder people. I thought it was just me and my elder people, but others have reported the same as we talk in all our private exchanges with pipedreams about starting new churches committed to things like “On earth as it is in heaven” instead of “Our country as it is in heaven” which has all those elder people rolling their eyes at our bleeding hearts and misplaced passion and self-righteousness and naïveté.

They apologize about us to their friends. They’ve told us this.

We’re the un-evangelicals. The Christians who wholeheartedly reject those zonky old patriarchal evangelists, Pat & Franklin (which kind of looks like a boutique children’s clothing line now that I see it in print: Pat & Franklin) and instead opt for inclusive, grace-driven ideals that fundamentally reflect the gospel of Jesus, which we believe in so hard that we can’t reconcile it with the current president OR the evangelical culture that elected him.

We’re the ones who believe God cares about the earth he created and wants to restore the relationship between man and nature. We care about issues like climate change and EPA funding and whether or not a giant chunk of ice just broke off Antartica. We definitely put the wrong recyclables in the wrong containers sometimes (some of us live in high rises that only recycle glass and paper but not aluminum or plastic), but we try our best and we don’t reject scientific data if it happens to conflict with our political schema. We alter our political schema to make room for data and hold it up to the truth of our faith, which tells us God values the earth he created for us to live on. It makes logical sense for us to advocate good stewardship of the resources we’ve been given.

We’re the ones who believe in the value and dignity of human life, even prenatal ones, but believe in life so hard that we incorporate public health data showing us how global abortion rates decline—when we fund women’s health initiatives. We value statistics and logic and reason as tools in our restoration of life and well-being. We live in the gray. We understand there is so much detail between life and death and we carry a wide net catching all those who fall short of black or white in single-issue voting platforms like abortion. We understand that abortion is a symptom, and we work from the platform that effective change does not treat the symptom—it treats the cause.

We hold the unborn life with as much value and care as we hold the hours-old life on the outside as her mom applies for WIC and medicaid, or the preschool life on a boat between Syria and Greece, or the underinsured life who has reached his lifetime cap on insurance coverage at 2 years old after chemo and radiation for a rare childhood cancer. I know this person in real life.

We’re the ones who have a visceral reaction to well-meaning people in the pews (or our kitchen) who say things like “I have no problem with a stricter vetting process” having no real interaction with a single refugee or working knowledge of our current vetting system; how this mentality and “short term” stall even for just three months results in loss of funding, hopelessness and death for the most vulnerable people on earth. We’re the ones inhaling When you are hungry, we are hungry and exhaling When you are thirsty, we are thirsty from Gungor’s Who We Are day in and day out because we believe this is the literal Gospel of Jesus Christ in 2017. We’re frustrated because our elder people, who share our blood and our baptism water, are at complete odds with people God has told us to advocate for. And we’re not sure how to manage their rejection of the fruit they planted in us, or the way they reduce our impassioned words to rhetoric, because our words conflict with their politics. Their fear equates to a me-first mentality in a global context.

If the New Testament were being written right now, our nation would be a parable. Remember the one about the guy who received grace on his debt, then turned around and jailed someone else for not paying? We’re the ones who received safety and then turned around and kept it from others. Only by the grace of God do we live in the same safety we are now hoarding.

What I find odd about this whole political ordeal on a personal level is that my friends and I inherited our values from those we are now in conflict with. These are the same people who hosted carwashes and bought candy bars to send us to Mexico in the 8th grade, which planted global awareness seeds and widened our worldview. Many of these people are also the ones who funded us on a yearlong mission to engage the American church to act on issues of social injustice four years ago. I’m still so baffled at the disparity of these two things—equally grateful for their generosity and global mindedness and devastated by their nationalism at the cost of the same global community they funded me to share with them.

I read this article called Dying Before We Reach the Promised Land written by a Moody Bible College alumnus and former editor of Relevant Magazine. He articulates this better than I can—

The reason I consider opposition to Trump to be self-evident is simple: the things I oppose in him are cooked into my bones, and they have been since my childhood. They do not stem from a deep love of Hillary Clinton or a coastal disdain for the white working class of the rust belt. I neither loved Clinton nor do I live on the coast. Instead, my reasons for opposing Trump are drawn from the principles instilled in me by the evangelical culture that made him president.

…But when I try to insist on this, I feel like I’m speaking a foreign language to the people who taught me how to talk in the first place.

He also draws a parallel so perfect (and painful) about Moses leading the Israelites on a forty-year goose chase toward the Promised Land of modern day Israel, but not actually getting to lead them inside because of a *tiny* little mistake. I agree with the author that it’s one of the saddest stories in the Bible. I also agree that we might all be part of a spiritual journey that was begun by those who will not finish it, and that we should probably look back in order to look ahead.

A little laziness, a little hard-headedness, and next thing you know, the next generation is picking up a torch you accidentally dropped. And you’re stuck watching them march ahead of you into a land you’d always hoped to have for your own. If you’re charitable and just a little humble, you might even be able to applaud them on their way.

Here is a hard lesson: our spiritual leaders will teach us to do things that we will do in ways they do not understand. Moses wasn’t allowed to go into the Promised Land. Our leaders and family members, pastors and small group leaders may have consciences, worldviews, political purity tests or even just simple technological blind spots that don’t allow them to join us here in a moral, principled opposition to President Trump. They may see our moving forward without them as foolhardy, rebellious, perhaps even heretical.

As author and pastor Jonathan Martin says, ‘Some of you can’t be faithful to what spiritual fathers/mothers invested in your past, without offending them in the present.’

Yes. This is so totally happening right now. And yes, to put it in the author’s words: It may be hubris to be so sure of one’s rightness that you accuse the other of dying before they make it to the Promised Land… But I’ll also acknowledge this: I will also die before I reach the Promised Land.

I look at Havi and imagine us in 30 years. If there comes to be some type of moral political crisis in 2047, I know that Havi will see the world completely different than I see it today. That will always have been the plan. I hope she’s smarter, wiser, more global, more articulate, more compassionate and more convicted than I have ever been, even if I totally disagree with her. And so the next paragraph becomes my prayer:

I’ll instill spiritual lessons of my own into the next generation that they will use in ways that seem wrong to me. And when that day comes, will I have the wisdom and humility to recognize a great and holy pattern that has been carried on for several millennia now? Will I realize that they are honoring God and making his kingdom known in ways I never dreamed of doing? I don’t know. I hope so.

SO. Havi, if the Internet exists in 2047 and the world has not yet imploded, I’m proud of you. Because I have said this publicly, I’m sure this means you are a super republican conservative fundamentalist and/or you live on a commune and smoke a lot of Jesus pot.

Even still, baby.

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On Not Being the Enemy

I was off Facebook and most of the Internet yesterday. I am thinking of doing this every Sunday as a sacrament. A visible sign of divine grace.

You know, this lady wrote that my baby and I were filled with Satan the other day. To be fair, she was responding to two things: one was a reply to my Grandma explaining that I had not marched last Saturday for the right to kill my baby as she had posted above, but for several vulnerable populations (including women) who have been devalued by our president. The second was a picture of the 3-year-old refugee Aylan washed up on the shore of Turkey. I thought that was also a pretty sad picture, responding to my Grandma’s sentiments that her picture of the women’s march was so very sad.

I’m not sure if the lady was responding to me and the people I marched with (my husband and daughter), or the dead refugee baby, with whom I am in kinship, because the measure of our compassion towards others lies in our ability to see ourselves in kinship with them. To that end, in the face of that refugee baby, I saw my own child.

In the faces of me and the Syrian baby, this woman saw Satan. (I guess she hasn’t read Father Greg’s Tattoos on the Heart.)

I read this comment after I had walked into my bedroom at midnight and glanced down at my baby in the exact sleeping position as the baby refugee whose picture I had posted, and I prayed (as I sobbed and woke J and hyperventilated) that God would never let me see my child’s face without the face of these other lives. I prayed my heart would remain broken until we legislated refugees (who were ranked yesterday as below our own in their rights for safety), back in—Muslim, Christian or otherwise. In the language of my people, I prayed for vicarious trauma.

(Also, it *is* actually a Muslim ban if you’ve decided to maybe let some Christians in after all.)

I understand that some other people have this type of deep conviction for unborn babies. If that’s you, we overlap in our singular value for life. Please read this first and take Internet communion with me right now in this shared value, even as we disagree with how to live out our shared value.

Yesterday morning when I woke up, I thought: What would be the antithesis of the spirit of Satan in a person? I decided one good start might be to send out messages of love to others who are politically and theologically oceans away from me. And then to offer the Internet grace for 24 hours. I thought it might also include bringing peace lilies to the two mosques within a mile of my apartment. So the baby and I took peace lilies to my Muslim neighbors this morning. (Well. Except we couldn’t find the peace lilies, so we brought Tulips.)

 

In the spirit of Christ who compels me to love my neighbor as myself, I have decided I would want to feel loved and cherished and safe in my neighborhood, so I will love my Muslim neighbors unto that.

I am thinking my baby and I could do this for each population devalued by our president. We could go to World Relief. We could go to The Center on Halsted. We could go to Black Lives Matter Chicago via the Illinois Justice Foundation. This could be my weekly act of personal resistance. We could personify the word resist.

An old friend asked me yesterday to stop judging her. She thought because she wasn’t using her voice on Facebook but instead off Facebook “where it matters” I had assumed she wasn’t active. This actually broke my heart. I had not assumed that about her.

For the sake of clarity: No matter your political affiliation, if your voice has been on or off Facebook advocating for the rights of any vulnerable population, I am thanking you.

I do feel pretty sad that a specific subset of people I am baptized with in faith have remained silent in the face of multiple injustices. These are the ones who voted for Trump on the value of life but have not leveraged their voices for any other life at risk outside of the womb. If that is not you, don’t pick up this burden. It’s not yours.

If my sadness feels like judgment to you based on tone, we should probably both do a gut-check. In the words of my friend Kim, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but if in my anger and disgust I do, please forgive me. This isn’t about you. It’s about my deep conviction that [welcoming refugees/access to clean water/not assaulting women/AND SO ON] is at the fundamental core of my faith and patriotism.”

BUT! If you’ve been on Facebook advocating in the last 10 days since the inauguration, you have given me life. Your voice has mattered to me in this context, and I can’t tell you how mobilized and hopeful you’ve made me. You told me which terminal to go to at O’Hare. You gave me the phone numbers to the White House switchboards, and you told me when those were full, and then you gave me the next set of numbers. You gave me the twitter handles of my representatives. You invited me to a pasta dinner at your house to address postcards. You gave me Mary Oliver and Brennen Manning and Walter Brueggemann. And you sent me all those messages. You have shown me I’m not alone. My use of Facebook is honing in on its purpose these days.

If your feed is draining you, I’m so sorry.

It’s possible MY posts are draining you. I’ve been told I’m pretty angry lately. People are kind of irritated about my negativity. They tell me what they really miss are pictures of my 8-month old and trunks full of puppies.

I miss that too. It would be really awesome if injustice weren’t so negative, wouldn’t it? If it came in sweet baby faces and teacup Yorkies? I am so disheartened by the literal inauguration of injustice that I legit haven’t slept in 10 nights. I’m one of those people who can’t go to sleep if anything is unresolved.

Which is like, the entire state of the union.

Members of my family and a couple of frequent trollers have called me self-righteous and condescending. They send me verses about judgment and such.

Maybe. Their faces are not in my mind when I’m sharing info and begging for action and calling for integrity within the GOP party. I’m trying to balance rage with life-giving words. In my heart I don’t look down on anyone. I’m not judging you. I don’t even have time to judge you right now. In fact, if you’re a Republican voter who is leveraging your voice to fight for justice and integrity within the GOP, I am thanking God for you!

(I would like to point out that my youngest brother who doesn’t even align with me politically and who I haven’t talked to since Christmas saw my women’s march pictures and text me the next day to say he was proud of me for marching because he trusts who I am. Those words were a gift when the other lady called me Satan and when my grandma thought I marched because I wanted the right to kill my baby. These are the ways in which we reduce each other into black-and-white categories instead of nuanced living beings.)

But, yes, in my heart I am raging. I’m mad like my own child washed up on the shore of Turkey while fleeing ethnic cleansing. I’m mad like I’m losing my own health insurance coverage and I have bone cancer. I’m mad like my own land was stolen out from under me, and then the government was like, We’re sorry, here’s this land you can live on and then later decided to build oil pipeline that had to potential to poison my water. I’m mad like my president wants a registry of people in my own religion. I’m mad like my own civil rights are limited by my different sexual orientation. I’m mad because these rights are not religious rights given by the church, but civil rights given by the government, for example the right to visit my partner in the hospital or be named on a health insurance policy. I’m mad like the president of my country was talking about me or my daughter in that so-called locker room, which was really just his actual life. (Why didn’t I write a blog like this about Bill Clinton, 15 people will ask? Because I was 11 years old and playing with an imaginary family of mice in my closet, which doubled as a magic elevator at the time.)

I’m mad like there are too many other things to list. It’s an entire buffet of burdens to bear on a daily basis, and this was a direct order: carry each other’s burdens. There is no caveat that says, “until you are tired.” I am exhausted. And so on Sundays, I’ll offer myself grace, too.

The reality is that underneath all that fiery red madness is not superiority, but sadness for the people harmed by apathy. If you voted for Trump and I know you to be a person of faith, it might take me a minute, but I want to see you as my ally. I am not judging you. I have been counting on you to be who I know who you are within the GOP.

Senators McCain and Graham gave a great example yesterday of what integrity can look like in the GOP by placing country over party and humanity over country.

///

Brennan Manning said, “In every encounter we either give life or drain it; there is no neutral exchange.”

I feel like those of us who are compelled to advocate are in a constant battle between giving life to those for whom we speak (and to each other most days), and draining it from those who would like to be left out of the “negativity”. I guess the greater risk is in not speaking up. Nobody ever died of negativity.

My friend Nicole said, “We are not fading into darkness. Just shining lights. And maybe there’s something uncomfortable in that at first. You know, until people’s eyes fully adjust.”

///

I belong to a Christian Counselors Networking group, and last week we talked about how a good portion of the country (including ourselves and our clients) are functioning out of the amygdala, which houses all our gut emotional reactions, our fight-or-flight responses, and black and white thinking, forcing people into either all good or all bad categories. And we agreed we all needed to find our way and lead others back into the prefrontal cortex, where our reasoning and empathy and complexity and nuanced thinking lives.

I will be the first to admit I’ve been all up in my amygdala since November.

Resisters: we have to get out of our amygdalas and find our ways back to the prefrontal cortex. Don’t be the enemy. The enemy would love that.

To borrow a page from my friend Rebecca’s book, who borrowed if from the book of Micah:

I promise to do my dead-level best to love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly (JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL).

Every time someone says God Bless America, I promise to whisper, “God, have mercy” even as we have no mercy to offer the world right now.

I promise to offer the Internet grace on Sundays.

I promise to say thank you to each person every time I see them fighting for justice and integrity.

I promise to avoid black and white thinking, but to seek out overlapping shades of gray.

I promise you will not see pictures of my baby girl without active resistance because I don’t want a world for her that doesn’t include the things I’m advocating for.

And I promise every time I leave the material world for the electronic one, to take God with me.

 

 

The Ways In Which I Value Life

Im holding out an olive branch here-

To the faith communities in my life who are marching in person or spirit in the March for Life: I’m with you in the value of all life from the time the heart starts beating until the moment the heart stops beating in natural death. I value that baby’s life.

I value that life while she’s right here inside of us, and I value that life equally the moment she takes her first breath in the world. I value it when she heads off to school and into a culture of “locker room” talk, and when she turns 26 and gets off your insurance and needs equal pay and decent healthcare, and I value her when she’s 75 and senile, stockpiling Christmas villages in her attic (I’M LOOKING AT YOU GRAMS) (JUST KIDDING) (but seriously on the snowman dish sets). 

I value her as an American girl or a Syrian girl or a Somolian girl or a Mexican girl. I value her as a Muslim. I value her on a boat with her family fleeing genocide and seeking refuge. I value her as a Native American on protected land deserving of clean water. I value her as an 8-year-old illegal Dreamer. I value these lives so much, inside or out, that I want them to be safe and alive and unharmed at every single possible age on every possible continent in any color skin.

People of faith who march, whether last Saturday or today, resist the narrative that pro-life means anti-women, and that pro-women means anti-life. We are so nuanced. The language has polarized us into black and white categories. We can step outside those categories into so many other shades. Some of our shades might end up overlapping with each other.

My goal these days is to thank every person I see who is fighting for justice. If you voted for Trump on the singular issue of abortion- THANK YOU FOR YOUR PROTECTION OF LIFE. I disagree with your political strategy, and I have different views on reducing abortions while also preserving the dignity of women, but that’s water under the bridge at this point. This election forced us to choose, at least in policy, to either elevate the unborn life above the living, or the living above the unborn.

But post-election, we can be BOTH, AND. Both the unborn, and women who are alive. Both the unborn babies, and living refugee babies.

If you are truly pro-life, and if you believe in the dignity and worth of all lives, *please* jump in and fight like hell for the protection of these other vulnerable lives too. We need you! Leverage that same voice you used to get this president in for those babies to hold him accountable for other vulnerable populations.

Existence Day

One year ago tonight I made a list of things I knew would still be true and good one year ago tomorrow when we would receive our negative pregnancy test following our fourth round of IVF.  The list is as follows, which is a total reflection of the things that are important to me:

Tacos are still tacos
Fall is still fall
Coffee is still coffee
Jeff—always Jeff
Travel
Fleece
Hoodies

The rest of the story is here, but at 10:40 tomorrow morning the test was positive and all of a sudden Havi was in our world. If you’ve read anything in this space at all, you know my friend Kim assists in holding a good portion of my pieces together a good portion of the time, and I sent her a screenshot of this message from last year.

fullsizerender-4

I also (finally) three and a half months after I received it, read the letter Kim wrote to Havi the day after she was born. Some emotions are just too big to face head on, and Kim crafts words that bring me to the ugly cry in 10 seconds flat, so with all those hormones flying around, I knew I had to wait for my sanity and emotional stability to return- which took no less than three months (and counting)- to read it.

Tonight I felt like I finally had some breathing room in my heart for her big words and wanted to somehow memorialize the moment our world went from No Havi to Havi, so I opened the letter. It turns out no amount of time guarded me from the ugly cry.

Kim described to Havi so sweetly how she had been loved and wanted long before she was born- how we woke up before the sun and lit candles and whispered prayers in our dark, quiet kitchens for years. How we bought clothes and books for her and tucked them away, knowing that one day she would be here. And how we all cried when we got the miraculous news that she was finally on her way- one year ago tomorrow. She announced Havi as having been born into a tribe of people who knew what it meant to hope, and that we had hoped for her.

She reminded Havi that we lived off the idea that joy is not meant to be a crumb, so eat up!

And so we did. We do. We fill up every day on the joy of her existence.

Happy Existence Day, Havana.
I made that one up.

**And we are thankful for so many who celebrate her with us (read: put up with our oversharing on social media).

 

 

When the Words Came

My friend Kim once said that running naked around the Internet saved her.

I’ll never forget the day she ran past my window naked, and I was all ME TOO, and then stripped down and ran out after her.

With words, I mean. On the blog—about serious things like infertility and pregnancy loss, and all the ways in which those experiences leave us vulnerable and stripped down and theologically confused. She used the word “suck” a lot, and I started using grown-up words like “ovary” and “egg” on what had been a previously silly and mindlessly entertaining blog space.

But this very public form of therapy connected us to each other, plus an entire world of others, and it was nourishing to be honest, to offer and accept support, to renegotiate perspective and narrate the experience on our own terms.

Also, sometimes it just felt real nice to stand there naked like, SO? THIS THING CAN’T SHAME ME.

And/or—

I’M VERY, VERY SAD. PLEASE SOMEBODY GO GET ME SOME CLOTHES.

///

It’s been nine months since I wrote anything. In fact, the last words typed onto this page were in the spring after we lost our first and only pregnancy a month before Mother’s Day, following our first round of IVF.

I’ve spent the last six months looking for the right words to replace those other (guttural) words hanging there naked on the page.

Somehow they needed to just breathe.

They needed to breathe even through a happy and grace-filled summer full of visitors. They needed to breathe through two more rounds of IVF.

And they’ve hung there still, breathing, through six months of pregnancy during which I had real trouble making coherent sense of anything or producing a vocabulary that included pregnancy words.

I just can’t believe it.

Right now a foot-long, pound-and-a-half baby is inside me. She is hearing sounds and trying to open her eyes and sucking her thumb and kicking my bladder.

///

Last weekend Jeff and I retreated to the north woods in Wisconsin to gather our thoughts and go outside. I willed myself to reflect and write, but the words wouldn’t come.

And then I read this:

Hiding is a way of staying alive. Hiding is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light…

What is real is almost always to begin with, hidden, and does not want to be understood by the part of our mind that mistakenly thinks it knows what is happening. What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence

2015 © David Whyte

This was the sentiment that explained three-fourths of a year of Internet silence, the blog vacuum, half a year growing a baby. My mind could not make sense of what was happening, and words would only diminish its presence.

And by “it” I don’t mean the baby. By “it” I mean the pool of mercy I find myself swimming in every day.

The baby was never the thing. The thing was God’s presence revealed to me in a bottom-of-the-barrel moment that still has me asking, Why would He do this for me?

///

After the miscarriage in April, we did two more rounds of IVF treatment through the summer and into the fall.

(We were only able to do IVF, by the way, because we moved for Jeff’s job to a state that miraculously mandates fertility coverage by insurance companies- our heads are still spinning over that unplanned provision.)

Without slipping into all the medical jargon, round two produced dismal results—low egg quantity, maturity, fertilization rates and poor embryo quality, which we brushed off as a fluke.

But then round 3 produced the same results.

On the day of our last embryo transfer, we had 4 embryos that were supposed to have reached the 8 or 10-cell stage, but were all stuck at 4 and 5 cells—just like the round before. The doc suggested we go ahead and transfer three instead of one or two since the odds of success were below 1%. The 4th embryo arrested, as all the others had in rounds before. He patted us on the back with a “better luck next time” sentiment. It was a punch in the gut.

I made a list that night and every night of things that I knew would still be true and good when this test inevitably came back negative two weeks later:

Tacos are still tacos
Fall is still fall
Coffee is still coffee
Jeff—always Jeff
Travel
Fleece
Hoodies

These are the things that would save my life.

But the morning of the blood test, it seemed impossibly cruel to go through the motions of a blood draw knowing there was zero chance of a positive test, then waiting several hours for a nurse to call and tell me no, and then starting the whole process all over again with little hope of a different outcome.

Meanwhile people in my life were signing over rights to four-year-olds I adored and would give anything to care for, and people all over Facebook were like, WHOOPSIE! WE’RE HAVING OUR THIRD OR FOURTH OR FIFTH BABY ON ACCIDENT! or LOOK AT OUR MIRACLE BABY WE CONCEIVED NATURALLY ON THE FIRST TRY AND ALSO WE ALREADY HAVE ONE.

In fertility world, 85% of people get “miracles” and 15% never do. Is God selective? Or is the norm that our bodies are supposed to produce babies and the world is depraved in such a way that some people’s bodies are defective in the same way crime happens and cancer comes and earthquakes hit?

The word “miracle” feels like Christian magic sprinkled sparingly—you get one, he doesn’t. I became acutely aware of my use of the word when a college friend and I were exchanging stories about our families. My dad had cancer when I was young, was given 60 days to live, everyone prayed. He was healed and lived. A miracle! Her dad got cancer when she was young. Everyone prayed. He died.

What gives?!

All of life is a miracle, I guess. Flowers are miracles—they grow out of the ground, you know. Snow is a miracle— I mean, tiny ice crystals fall from the sky and don’t hurt us. It’s a miracle we don’t all kill ourselves every day on the interstate driving around in three-ton machines. It’s a miracle God gave us brains that have evolved to being able to harvest eggs and sperm and put them into the bodies of women who desperately want to carry what their bodies were designed to do in the first place. The presence of the baby is science. That a soul was breathed into that body is a miracle.

It’s just hard that in the context of fertility, for every eight people declaring their miracle, two people are left confused and unseen.

///

I cried on the bus to the clinic that morning, cried as they drew my blood, cried all the way home, cried as I got ready for work, cried all the way to work.

I stood on this precipice (or on the bedroom floor in my towel) of believing definitively: God doesn’t see me, and God doesn’t care about me. But I didn’t want to believe that, and I thought I should probably run that by my support counsel first.

So I called and texted Jeff and a few close friends and family to ask for help—something I had never done before, acutely. I prayed for two things: peace, and a sign that God saw me. I needed something clear and supernatural. This, I thought, could potentially mitigate the No that would be coming from the nurse around noon.

No thunder boomed.
No lights flickered.
But I was reminded of this poem by Denise Levertov:

I had grasped God’s garment in the void
but my hand slipped
on the rich silk of it.
The ‘everlasting arms’ my sister loved to remember
must have upheld my leaden weight
from falling, even so,
for though I claw at empty air and feel
nothing, no embrace,
I have not plummeted

At 10am, I sat in my office trying to figure out how to move forward, waiting for the peace to come. At 10:30 the nurse called.

The test was positive.

///

The next several days, and then several weeks were all Isaiah 55-

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

You guys, ALL THE TREES OF THE FIELD WERE CLAPPING THEIR HANDS.

Not only had God seen and heard me, but also a baby was in there.

Even at the appointment that confirmed the heartbeat, when the doc said this was just the first step and there were a million hoops to jump through between now and the next one—I didn’t even care.

 Every waking conscious thought was gratitude and peace.

“Joy is not made to be a crumb,” my friend Kim had said, “Eat up!” So I gobbled that joy right up in the first few weeks without reservation.

Jeff and I celebrated with each other and we told our families, which we had not done the first time out of fear, and then regretted it when the baby was gone.

In the strangest way, I equally never feared the loss of this baby and always thought it might die—because the baby was simply the thing God used to show me he had seen and heard me. I thought the baby might just be the symbol, and that even if the baby miscarried, I would always know God saw and heard me that day in my towel on the bedroom floor.

In fact, I recalled a blog Kim had written about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the “even if” part of faith-

They are Jews in exile in Babylon and when the king declares that everyone must worship an image of gold, they refuse, despite the king’s threats to burn them alive in a furnace. They respond like this to the king:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18).

It’s the but even if he does not that haunts me. It’s one thing to believe that God can save us; it’s quite another kind of faith entirely to believe even if he does not. That’s the kind of belief that I knew that morning. It wasn’t intellectual assent. It wasn’t something I felt. I just knew in that moment, in my gut, in my bones, that I believed. That this was the Really Real.

Even if we lost the baby… I still believed.

(Though in full disclosure, I’m still terrified to type that. We pray incessantly for her protection, and I won’t tell you how many times I’ve been to Labor and Delivery because I thought something was wrong. Fine. Just the one time.)

///

At about the 8-week mark I started getting a little zonky.

I would come home bracing to lose the baby because I did something wrong that day. I lied, or I said SHIT two times, or did something I knew was selfish, or I ate blue cheese, and it would only be right for God to take the baby back.

I knew it was shaky theology, but the fear was creeping in.

Then I read this poem by Hafiz (sent by Kim, per usual. Please find yourself a Kim and add her to your support counsel):

The sandalwood tree shares its lovely scent with any who come near. God is like that.

Does the tree ever think to itself, I am not going to offer my fragrance to that man over there because of what he did last night,

or to that woman who neglected her child, or because of what we, we might have ever done?

It is not the way of God to hoard. He is simply just there, emanating freely what He is, if we wish to grab a handful or fill the basket in the eye.

Don’t hold back, have no reservations, take full advantage of His attributes, exploit His nature and that tender part of His soul.

YES, OKAY.

And this one by Denise Levertov:

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so I would learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace

OKAYOKAYOKAY.

Nothing I did earned God’s presence. Nothing I did earned the baby. Nothing I do can take those things away.

///

Since that time, both hope and fear, each protective, have settled themselves into their right places in my heart (Kim again, and Elizabeth Gilbert ;)

So. Like I said above, I have basically been swimming around a giant pool of what feels like mercy. That God saw me the morning of my test in the most despairing place and gave me comfort was the miracle; the I see you message in the middle of pain and confusion was the miracle. The baby that followed is simply a merciful gift.

God owed us nothing, yet six months later, we’re still carrying this gift.

Tiny clothes are hanging in a closet on polka-dot baby hangers, and all these words are finally finding a way out of hiding…

Enough Grace for You and Me

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

—Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

This is the exact way the world moves forward:

How three weekends ago we were in Tampa—a trip booked the day we discovered our babe had no heartbeat and begrudgingly changed our pregnancy-announcement-to-dad weekend into a spring getaway with lots of booze.

How two weekends ago, we had planned to surprise my mom on her birthday with our 12-week announcement, but instead shopped and ate and celebrated with regular old birthday gifts.

How the week of Mother’s Day— during which I had planned to anticipate all the complex feels and process them in advance—a school I work at experienced the sudden death of a teacher and I spent the week scooping up wailing 6th graders, in addition to my own regular caseload.

How on Mother’s Day weekend we had planned to share the news with Jeff’s family, which would have been so precious on Mother’s Day, but instead carried out business as usual with birthday celebrations and brunch and stories around the table of our own moms.

How a handful of cards and two perfect ultrasounds are tucked into the top drawer of my jewelry box underneath a pile of bracelets and watches I’ve worn since then, underneath the laundry card and the Hartman Inn & Sweets sign we use for visitors—evidence of all the life that has happened since.

How I’ve walked back into the apartment every day since our loss to the same old prayer card sitting on the kitchen table from a dining out group we joined back in January during which each person wrote their prayer onto an index card and passed it to the person on the right. The card I recieved? “Prayer for my friend to get pregnant and have a healthy baby.” OK God, her baby.

How friends who have made it to their own 12 and 13 and 14-week marks are posting their baby announcements and belly pics online with my same due date, holding a mirror to our exact loss.

Life goes on, yes.
But death goes on, too.
A person who is dead is a long, long story (Elizabeth McCracken).

///

In four years of infertility, I’ve always been able to separate my life from other people’s lives, making sure my baggage didn’t make others feel uncomfortable. For me, other babies were other babies. Other moms were other moms. Nobody’s anything cost me mine.

Also, I have a pretty durable sense of humor.

Elizabeth McCracken writes in her memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, “The frivolous parts of your personality, stubborner than you’d imagined, will grow up through the cracks in your soul.”

Yes. So many cracks. So much humor. Enough grace to feel undeservedly happy about life 95% of the time.

Also, like her, I felt a strange responsibility to make sure everyone knew I was not going crazy with sorrow. NOTHING TO SEE HERE. EVERYTHING IS FINE.

My biggest fear (put into words by my friend Kim) has been the assumption that the heart is a zero-sum game, capable of holding only so much emotion—that if our hearts are split between happiness and grief, there must be less happiness. But it’s not true. It’s possible to hold both all the happiness for others and all the disappointment for ourselves in the exact same space. God grants us that gift, somehow.

Kim once wrote about “living in the tension” as sitting in the discomfort of two conflicting thoughts or feelings and refusing to try to rationalize one away or reconcile them dishonestly.

I manage almost all the tension almost all of the time. But on Mother’s Day this year, as McCracken put it, grief came unexpectedly knocking, compounded with interest. PAY UP, it said. I didn’t know what to do. The sadness actually got me by the throat.

It all came down to the one question I couldn’t definitively answer: Was I a mother or not? Did I count or not? Was this day for me or not?

On the one hand, I wanted to tell myself: Of course you’re a mother. These lives are never ours to make or keep. We are not in charge of whether we have them for days or weeks or months or years. In fact, when I first discovered we were pregnant, our odds were so precarious I thanked God for 3 days with that little embryo inside, and then 15 days, and then 25 days and 50 days, because I understood it could be gone at any moment. Even after the kid is born, nothing is guaranteed. Anyone with living children knows this fear.

One of the hardest things for me to accept is that while Jeff and I were laughing about the ridiculous things we’d name the baby and saying goodnight to it and trying to figure out how we’d fit another person into our 700 sq. ft. one-bedroom apartment, our baby was already dead, and our hearts were already broken. We just didn’t know it yet. I’ll never know what happened. The chromosomal analysis came back normal. “I just wish we had something to hang our hats on,” the doc had said.

Jeff once asked if I felt attached to that specific baby, and I said no. I never even knew that baby. But I miss that baby’s ghost. There’s a hole. It’s person-shaped and it follows me everywhere, to bed, to the dinner table, in the car (McCracken).

Maybe on November 4th, I’ll miss that exact baby. In November I’ll think about how everything in our life is supposed to be different. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, it will be me, Jeff and the baby that was never born.

On the other hand, I tell myself (word-for-word from McCracken’s painfully accurate memoir) I’m sorry, no, it’s tough luck, he died before you met him, people keep track of such things, and if we call you a mother, then where does it stop?

I never physically cared for the baby one could argue, not really- though every decision I made about what to eat or drink or exercise or sleep revolved around the protection of that life for a short time.

Sometimes I wonder if it was even real. If there was really life in those first ultrasounds. If I’d really puked and had heartburn and stopped eating bananas and coffee and chicken.

But then people in my life—many who have suffered their own losses, living babies, pre-term babies, husbands, parents—reached out on Mother’s Day and made it real, offering proof.

They said Happy Mother’s Day, and I’m thinking of you, and I’m so sorry—words that will always lift some of the weight. To know that other people were sad made our baby more real.

One friend right after the surgery, understanding the feeling that the whole world was spinning and I was just standing still said simply, “I am stopping right now with you.” The sentiment took my breath away. I imagined the two of us in two different cities standing still together.

This is why you need everyone you know after a disaster, because there is not one right response. It’s what paralyzes people around the grief-stricken, of course, the idea that there are right things to say and wrong things and that it’s better to say nothing than something clumsy (McCracken).

Saying nothing is the worst thing.

But even for that, there can only be grace. You would not believe how many times I’ve shied away from someone’s intense grief because I couldn’t understand it, I didn’t want to make it worse, and I had no idea what to say.

If that was you, I am so sorry.

///

Last night after a long break, I started back on meds in the hopes that we’ll try again at some point. Miscarriage after IVF is so complicated and exhausting. It took us four years just to reach this point.

I cried the entire time I was laying all the meds out because I am terrified. I am terrified the exact same thing will happen again. I am already right now afraid for next Mother’s Day.

And it’s in such stark contrast to the same journey’s beginning last December, when we felt excitement and hope and thrill. But as I’m going through the process with docs and nurses and techs like I have for the last several years, my history has changed. This time when they ask, will this be your first pregnancy? I’m like, No. I was pregnant once before.

McCracken writes, after the stillbirth of her son, “I want a separate waiting room for people like me, with different magazines. No Parenting or Pregnancy, no ads with pink or tawny or pearly smiling infants. I want Hold Your Horses magazine. Don’t Count Your Chickens for Women. Pregnant for the Time-Being Monthly.”

I get her.

My impulse here is to spare your feelings, the twelve of you who are reading this, by ending with a bright and hopeful redemptive point. Something more than The Hows and Whys of Losing One’s Shit on Mother’s Day.

But sometimes sharing our own story is the point.

*Much of what I reference in this post is from Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. Her thoughts and sentiments after the stillborn death of her son put such accurate words to my own feelings and confusion, I’ve incorporated them into my own sense-making. Suffering can be so poetic when transcribed, and then the poetry so healing.

 

Ice Cream, God

It’s Friday and I feel almost normal.
The hormones will baseline in about a month, the doc told me.
But I’m smelling coffee for the first time in 3 weeks without the impulse to barf, and my heart opens up just a crack to peek outside.

In a few days I suspect bananas will come back, too, and chicken and Life cereal and eggs and all the other strange things that left.

Today instead of 8 weeks pregnant, we are 1 day post-loss.  A week ago we learned our fresh 7-weeker didn’t have a heartbeat. Continue reading Ice Cream, God

There You Go Lifting My Load Again

A bunch of women sit in a café on a Saturday morning.

“I want to have a second kid,” one says. “But my sister is getting married this fall—she is flying us all to Paris!”

Oooooh! The others marvel.

“February is my next chance to get pregnant, though. Should I try? I wouldn’t be able to fly for the wedding. Or should I just skip a month? We really want this… but we also really want to go to Paris!”

Equal amounts of Wait! and Go for it! ensue, with lots and lots of math and antidotal travel stories. Even more success stories of baby planning around various events and life transitions and budgets.

“I know,” one says, “Get pregnant in Paris!”

Everyone laughs, and it’s settled.

///

A girl sits at the table next to them swirling her [decaf] coffee. Continue reading There You Go Lifting My Load Again

We’re Fine and Chicago Will Have Us

[Non]Breaking News: I live in Chicago now.

Also, it’s 2015— but more on that later, because, actually, I was sick over NYE, so I am celebrating on January 31st instead. Don’t tell me anything about 2015. I want to be surprised.

Back to the move. People have been asking for three months, in this exact voice: HOW’S CHICAGO!?!?!

And I’ve answered in my totally insecure and maladjusted sophisticated lowercase voice: the city is awesome. You can basically order anything you want from your bed and they deliver it to your door in under an hour. Groceries. Liquor. Indian food. Über rides. Kleenex. The entire Internet. And because we live in a high-rise, I have a lady who collects it all for me if I happen to be out and allows me to pick it up at my convenience with (mostly) no judging, even though the Amazon Prime guy asked her why I get so many packages. BECAUSE IT’S FREE SHIPPING, AMAZON GUY, and bulk toilet paper is too hard to carry home from the grocery. Continue reading We’re Fine and Chicago Will Have Us

Tiny Falling (flailing?) Things

It’s the middle of October, and I’m still struck with awe when I catch a handful of tiny yellow leaves falling in the sunlight toward the ground on a dewy morning or late afternoon.

So much beauty and grace, and yet my heart is a little bit seized in the realization that I’m watching these tiny beautiful things die. Oh man, but they die so brilliantly. The dying part is the most spectacular! Bright and fiery, yellows and reds, hikes and camping and bon fires and Halloweens and Thanksgivings…

I see these tiny beautiful things, and even as I’m enjoying them, I am simultaneously bracing for winter. It will be cold and barren, and all the living things will curl up underground, and we’ll be subjected to endless Februarys and Marches, and just when we think spring is coming, it will snow in April.

All these thoughts make that little yellow leaf’s beauty a dull ache in my chest.

I can’t even enjoy it, because I want to keep it forever. But if I could keep leaves on trees forever to avoid winter, this particular one would not be beautiful and falling…

///

Today I lost my shit in the Indian Buffet. Continue reading Tiny Falling (flailing?) Things