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…

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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

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…

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

When Your Void Shows Through

People from my writing community (who don’t even know I exist) sometimes whisper truths into my ear (unbeknownst to them) an entire year after they first put the truth on paper.

This one in particular held my hand last week:  here

(Go ahead and read it—I’ll wait.)

Me? Here’s my truth: 

I don’t know about the seven-week ultrasound.  We’ve never made it that far. There is not a single baby waiting for us in heaven. 

I could tell you about the follicle-measuring ultrasound. The one where the technician is both tight-lipped and extra chatty, discussing everything except how great and normal things look.  Continue reading When Your Void Shows Through

Between My Closed Eyes and the Tip of the Spear

Most days, I live inside a fantastic free fall of optimism and delight.

Don’t believe me? Check out Car Moments with Jeff and Brooke. We could entertain ourselves through the entire state of Utah and wipe out world hunger if food was measured in puns and laughter.

Reading consecutive road signs out loud to each other:
Watch for strong crosswinds
Well YOU watch for falling rocks
No, you watch for wild animals
Why don’t they just make a sign that says Be Alert?
Why don’t they make a sign that just says Watch It, Buddy?
Why don’t they just make a sign with a big eyeball?

Hiking in the canyons:
How did those holes get in the walls, I wonder.
Prehistoric fish swam into the walls and bumped them.
I know what they said, do you?
What.
Dam.

___

But then there are other days, and weeks and entire months, when I can feel it bubbling up inside me, the discontent. It starts out slowly—a steady drip in the same thin spot, until my resolve caves and the sadness pours in.

When my third brother announces my fourth little niece or nephew, and I am equally through-the-roof ecstatic and doubling over from the sucker punch.  When we make it through Mother’s Day unscathed, and get blindsided by loads of infants and adorable first dads infiltrating the internets on Father’s Day. When a 101 y/o Nepali prophet and host mom—neither of whom know our story—claimed blessings and Exodus 23:25-26 over our lives…

25 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, 26 and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.

…And it doesn’t work, for the 30th time. Literally, the 30th time.

A wave of grief builds in my stomach, grows through my chest and crashes over my head.

For a split second, I’m floating, unanchored. Hopeless. Confused. Bewildered.  This is not who I am, I think, in that bluish underwater twilight.

But at the same time, I just want to feel it. The pain and sadness and despair, raw and scratchy, fierce and scary, suffocating. I don’t want to rationalize or sublimate or uproot it; I don’t want to deny it or spiritualize it. I want to let it roll me up and drag me across the sand. We are broken. And this is what brokenness feels like.

I believe every right thing about God because I know it’s true.

But I don’t understand it, and nothing makes it okay. Not Rwanda, not Cambodia, not even Nepal or Cupcakes or Cuba. Not new friends, not old friends.  Not stories of adoption, not tiny Chinese babies flung across the ocean in slingshots straight into someone’s heart, or miraculous spontaneous naturally occurring pregnancies from people post-adoption or post-IVF or from people who thought they might never conceive. In fact, your stories are the worst because they’re not mine.

(Sorry, you.)

Mostly I reach for antidotes from the sandy floor. I dig deep to find What is Saving My Life Right Now—in July it was an unexpected visit from intern Anna and the coke she brought that day. I put on my Heartometer3000, or at least sit on my heart’s porch with a shotgun. I pray away the bitterness in Jesus’ name like I saw that guy do at the Leadership Conference. Last September I wrote in my journal that I was 30 days clean of bitterness. I knew it would come back, but in the name of Jesus, I had planned to rip that shiz right out again. Here I am only three months later, and my garden is overgrown.

Eventually I’ll burst through the surface, spitting and flailing. At these moments you can find me eating donut holes in parking lots and yelling at people for spilling dillweed.

Or I may simply wash up on the shore when it’s all said and done, quiet and curled up in the Nook.

Either way, we are living this maddeningly complex life where God has provided for all our hopes and needs in measurable and mind-blowing ways, and where he has simultaneously withheld our single greatest one.

My writing group buddy wrote a breath-stopping piece once about the sweet moment in the morning right after she opens her eyes and before she feels the tip of the spear at her chest. This is where I live most of my life. Between my closed eyes and the tip of the spear.

Why does God not either remove the spear or remove the pain?

I don’t know.

In the meantime, I guess J will continue to carry the torch of hope while I weed the bitterness out of the garden…

On and On and On It Goes

Hey guys.

I keep waiting for inspired, insightful B to pop out and organize all my thoughts and experiences about our last two weeks in Rwanda. Instead, famished B jumped out and ate 5 million pastries for a week in Europe, and then exhausted B slept it off, and rain-logged B wasted all our time outside planting flower boxes when we came home and it was 85 and sunny, then bug-hating B felt compelled to clean all the floors so we could spray for spring bugs, freezing B just wants to drink hot chocolate and wear sweatpants and shiver since it’s all 55 and rainy, and professional B is preparing to leave for Cambodia in less than a month.

Indulge me in this very public form of therapy while I go in there and find her, okay?

Part of the tucking-away is that we spent the last two weeks in Rwanda in a fog of institutionalized mourning. You might think you can imagine this, but it’s really hard to describe. It was entirely opposite of all our other bright, cheery experiences in Rwanda up to that point, and the somberness of it all moved in quickly over the country like the shadow of a storm front. Literally the skies turned to rain and clouds, the streets emptied, everything closed—businesses, grocery stores, restaurants. Music was not played during memorial week and TVs remained off in public places. Armed guards appeared at roundabouts and other random places.

We noticed when we first arrived in the country that almost nobody used the word genocide. Most people spoke in terms of “the event” or “the tragedy” or “our country’s history”. Nobody refers to a differentiation of any ethnic group ever and, in fact, doing so can be considered genocidal ideation and is cause for arrest depending on context.

But during the memorial period, which lasts 100 days beginning April 7th, the phrase Genocide against the Tutsi was everywhere. Banners, signs, ribbons, etc.  It’s almost like the entire country functions as normal 265 days of the year and reserves all of its collective grief for the months of April, May and June. Even the weather follows this pattern, as the genocide occurred during the long rainy season, and each year the rains and gray skies come in April as they always have.

During the first week, the government hosted country-wide memorial conferences facilitated by local government and church leaders. People were off work, kids were out of school, curfews were enforced, and everywhere we looked groups of people were huddled in buildings, parking lots, tents, schools, soccer fields and parks. Most were listening government leaders speak on different topics like justice, forgiveness, unity, and self-reliance, which (we learned from survivors) was difficult for some. The people who facilitated the genocide were the government. And although this is an entirely different government, the fact that the government is facilitating reconciliation can be a trigger in itself. It’s institutionalized programming. It must sometimes just feel eerie.

Foreign involvement in the different local services is tricky and requires special permissions and security, considering varying feelings of foreign abandonment and the fact that the country continues to process in the presence of such an international community.

Amazingly (as we were initially told this would not be possible) the country director of ALARM obtained special permission from the government leaders in our neighborhood to bring us to one of the memorial services in our district.  We understood in advance there would be no pictures, no translating, and the service would be entirely in Kinyarwanda. We would be flies on walls there, and we agreed.

We pulled up to an empty field and parked under the solitary tree. There were four sections of benches forming a square around two giant speakers in the middle of the field and a microphone. There were 500-600 people sitting in all the benches and crowded in rows behind the benches. People hardly made any noise, even the kids. It was 3pm in the blazing sun. Quiet, calming genocide music played with an airy woodwind instrument and lyrics that said things like: Never forget the genocide of the Tutsi, as people sat and listened reflectively.

We approached the set-up from across the field, and as people turned to look at us, I can say with certainty: I have never felt so uncomfortable or out of place in my entire life. What are we doing here, I whispered to Jeff. We should never have come. This is not our memorial! But as they ushered us to a seat and we waited for the program to begin, it occurred to me that attending an event that commemorates the violent killings of a million people should probably not ever feel comfortable—no matter who I am or whether or not I belong there.

The service was 4.5 hours long and in the blazing sun. The site was surrounded by four armed guards, and the first speaker was a Commander in full uniform speaking about security, followed by the Vice President of the Senate and the former coordinator of the Civil Society in Kigali City. The theme of the 19th Commemoration was Self-reliance, and the speakers encouraged each individual person, family and village to be responsible for their own security—food, shelter, safety—in their own villages and homes. Poverty leads to dependence and reliance on others, both at a personal level and as a country on an international level, which leaves everyone vulnerable. Rwanda is on a fast track toward development post-genocide.

The VP of the Senate directed her talks toward the youth. She reviewed the history of the country and she narrated events leading up to the genocide from 1959 on, compelling the youth toward resilience and unity. She reminded the crowd that not all Hutu were involved in the killings. For the Tutsi to even have survivors, it was because there were moderate Hutu who fought tirelessly and courageously to rescue others and refuse involvement. She also reminded the youth that 100 years had passed (1894-1994) that Rwandans were not themselves. Prior to colonization we had a solid leadership, she explained. But colonization divided us. That was not who we are. The VP then challenged everyone to see everyone as human. Both sides. All we need to be human, she said, is to value each other.

We knew all this not because we understood it as it was happening, but because we got into the car when it was all over to a hearty round laughs and back-pats from our friends who said, Brooke and Jeff can now write a paper on how to persevere! Almost five hours in a field under the sun listening to speakers in another language on a tricky topic in the middle of a questionably welcoming crowd. And how to communicate in a language you don’t understand, another friend chimed in. They laughed and said something about praying for the gift of tongues, or at least the gift of interpretations.

In the end, when the VP and other government leaders, along with many of the people attending, came up to shake our hands and genuinely thank us (in English!) for our interest, attendance and respect despite all the barriers, we didn’t even know what to say. We had been a mix of fear, embarrassment, grief, sweat, and confusion. But it meant a lot to attend, for both sides, and we were so thankful to have been granted the opportunity. J and I breathed sighs of relief and looked at each other like, Did this really just happen? Such an intimate event in the lives of the friends we had met, and so hot!

In the car on the way back, along with the jokes about tongues and interpretations, the speeches were translated and our friends also explained that the attendees were a mix of ethnic groups, with more Tutsi than Hutu. Among the officials there were no Hutu.  I thought this might be good, but our friend explained that when all the talks are led by one side (Tutsi) they sometimes have difficulty, even though it would make sense that the oppressed side would facilitate the memorials. Doing that is how the whole system was maintained in the first place, though.  It’s better for all when the officials are a mix of both groups.

So. After memorial week, the rest of the 100 days is typically spent caring for the survivors around the country, visiting some of the other memorial sites, and for us, visiting the country’s pre-genocide historical sites, like the Kingship Palace, the National Art Museum and National Forest—these are the things that make Rwanda Rwanda.

And this is where I started to get a little bit lost inside.

I consider myself to be mostly aware of my limits, and I function with a relatively high emotional IQ, but seriously. I’ve been all confused and jacked-up ever since our last [death-defying] trip to the National Forest* wherein we didn’t actually see the National Forest, but the Murambi Memorial. Murambi: 900 bodies preserved in limestone exactly as they fell at one of the most horrific massacre sites in the country. About 45,000 Tutsis were killed at the brand new technical school, which sat on a beautiful and isolated hilltop, first lured out of hiding by the Bishop and the Mayor with promises of protection by the French Army, and then days later, two hours after the French Army left, locked inside and killed. Here’s where it gets crazy. The French Army returned after the attack with equipment to dig mass graves, buried the bodies at this site, then BUILT A VOLLEYBALL COURT ON TOP OF THE GRAVES AND PLAYED VOLLEYBALL to hide their negligence.   I’m sorry, what?! And in the nineties? How does this happen?  And how have we not all decided that a) we shouldn’t probably kill each other or allow others to be killed in our presence, but in the case that we do b) it’s totally inappropriate to play volleyball on top of the graves of the people we just implicitly killed.

Anyway.

We saw the graves, the actual bodies—two entire classrooms of children—the clothes, the glasses, the pens, the tufts of hair.  And we saw the equipment. We saw these things on the exact date the Bishop and Mayor beckoned the community to the school nineteen years ago under the pretense of safety.  You can imagine how eerie it was to walk from room to room to see the bodies and to read the storyboard of events with dates like April 16thon April 16th!  We also came home after the first church memorial in Ntarama to hear news of the Boston marathon bombing, which got all mixed up in the shadow of the horror we had just seen and would continue to see during the weeks at the memorial sites and services.

Even harder was traveling to and from the sites and the forest with our friend who described how he had fled on these exact roads, hiding with his wife, infant daughter and two-year-old for eleven months, because although the institutionalized genocide lasted 100 days, attacks continued for a decade before and after the actual genocide! In 1997 a girls’ school was attacked, and 17 girls who wouldn’t separate into ethnic groups were shot and killed. We’re all Rwandan here, they said. A month before that? A primary school. It wasn’t until about 2000 or 2001 that many Rwandans felt safe and secure from Hutu insurgents sneaking across the border.

This was a very bad roadblock here, our friend would say as we drove toward the forest, or There is the house that sheltered us. Other friends told us from time to time, That river there was red from all the blood.  We learned at the Murambi site that the pastor who married our friends was killed there along with his family. I wondered as we walked from room to room if any of the bodies we saw belonged to the pastor or his family. A genocide looks totally different when dealing with a specific face or name. This is why an entire room is dedicated to photos of each victim a the Kigali memorial. A million people were not killed during the genocide. One person was killed. And then another person. And another person. And another person.

BRK_3054

I remember thinking after that week: I don’t have any words for this. I don’t have words for the 900 bodies I just saw OR for an 8-year-old who was bombed. I don’t feel like I can share all the thoughts or pictures or the things I read. But I wished I could take the banner from the memorial site and wrap the entire globe in it:

If you knew me, and you really knew yourself, you would not have killed me.

Instead, I wrote a status requesting an antidote of baby monkeys dressed as humans. The baby monkeys never came (which is weird, because when I asked for one million cute puppies on a different bad day, people posted piles of adorable puppies on my wall for days…?).

What came, though, was so much better. It was a song, which confirms my theory that God moonlights as a DJ. At least in my life, God speaks to me in that way. I was at church the following weekend, a non-denominational service with a 50/50 mix of Rwandans and ex-pats, which means half the songs are in Kinyarwanda and half are in English. I’ve heard this song a million times, but for some reason it gave me a brand new hope that Sunday:

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

And On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

In death, In life, I’m confident and
covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
separate my heart from Your great love…

.

As Rwandans and ex-pats lit 19 candles in remembrance of the genocide while simultaneously worshiping with each other—many alongside nationalities that not only didn’t help, but literally and figuratively played volleyball on top of their graves—I felt like I was witnessing a miracle. Humanity is a crapshoot, and God loves us anyway. Through His love, we somehow manage to love each other.

His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out.

It doesn’t run out after a genocide. It doesn’t run out after or a bombing. It doesn’t run out after a drug binge. It doesn’t even run out when you leave your 2 y/o on a porch at 4am (left field, I know, but it’s what a friend was dealing with on that day).

ON and ON and ON and ON it goes
ON and ON and ON and ON it goes
ON and ON and ON and ON it goes
ON and ON and ON and ON it goes

Did you know that?!

God’s restorative love is moving. Sometimes in Rwanda and sometimes right here inside. Sometimes like a torrent, sometimes like a trickle, sometimes in the survivor and sometimes in the offender, sometimes bright and sunshiny, sometimes quiet within the rain and tears, sometimes so intense it shreds us to pieces and splays us out there, and sometimes so tender it carries us and tucks us away.

***
For the feature article Life After Death, written about our entire experience in Rwanda before, during, and after memorial week, click here.

For a personal narrative of the Rwanda’s history as I understand it click here. It’s the very next post, and it’s in my own words, so nobody quote me! It’s important to include for the many Rwandans who long to be known for more than the country’s tragic history and do not wish to be defined by the genocide as the nation continues to develop and grow. Rwanda existed before and after colonization.

Footnote
* You know, the 12-hour Lampoon-type trip where we were stuck driving inside an actual cloud up and down mountains around Nyungwe Forest in 50-degree pouring rain, our driver manually wiping his side of the windshield with one hand while driving the stick shift down the slope with his other hand, stopping every 15 minutes to ask a roadside stand for a screwdriver to fix the wiper. Every time we stopped the battery died, because it was disconnected every single car-swallowing pothole we hit- Jeff on one side of the backseat holding my neck steady to mitigate the nausea that started on our way up the mountain, and me crunched on his side too, because it was raining inside the car on my side. For the last two hours: pitch black with thick fog, driving through densely populated areas (a refugee camp, for example) with no visibility. Yes, that trip.

A Letter to My Younger Self

Preface: This was our Scribes assignment last month (writing a letter to our younger self) and it was hard. Like, really hard. You should try it. I took the assignment literally. Others were more creative.

Dear Younger B,

It’s me, Older B. I’ve been commissioned to write you a letter.  You will never believe how hard it is to be in charge of all the secrets in our lives, and to determine which things to tell you and for what purpose.

We live in Carmel now. You are somewhere nearby (back in time) and whenever I run into a person who knew you, I feel compelled to run a way or jump behind a bush.  What I really want to say is: stop hi-jacking my experience here! But if Oldest B were writing me a letter, I would want her to be proud of me, and very kind. So, while reaching for my top-shelf patience, I would like to offer you a little compassion and a hug. Is seems necessary to pick you up and put you in my pocket before anyone else makes a judgment, because, well, you’re me. And we’re both doing the best we can, yes?

With that in mind, I would like to tell you right off the bat: you are already good enough, cool enough, nice enough, honest enough, funny enough, pretty enough, smart enough and competent enough. If you do nothing else, you are already these things.  Also, I have looked at a ton of pictures of you throughout the years. You are always skinner today than you will be tomorrow, so be happy with your body right now.

(You might also find this helpful sooner than later: there is a good face behind those eyebrows.)

I have decided not to share too many secrets, because life will give you lots of stories to tell, and without those, you might become a bore at parties. Also, each thing prompts you toward the next, and life gets exponentially better further up and further in. I don’t want to short-circuit this process. I will, however, give you some tips to ease the journey, throw some metaphorical pillows on the ground to soften your falls, and try to sand down a few sharp edges, okay? That’s what Older Bs do for Younger Bs.

I don’t know if you’re at the phase in life where 5’8″ you is jumping over shin-high bushes in the background of a video of your 3 and 5 year old brothers doing the same in the foreground; I don’t know if you’re at the stage where you can be seen doing karate chops by yourself, again, in the background of a video of your brothers doing real karate in the foreground. I’m not sure if you are a foot taller than your 4th grade class yet in a one-piece jumper made out of firework fabric sewn by your mom, or if you’re being kicked out of gymnastics because you’re too tall and heavy to spot, or if you’ve already soaked your jet-black hair with sun-in, baked it with a blow-dryer and performed an at-home perm kit backward by brushing it straight. Wherever you are in this process, you should know that you grow up to be funnier because of how weird you are right now.

Here are the punch lines to those stories: your hair turns bright orange, and the perm kit doesn’t work. You will be gray when you’re 19. You’ll quit gymnastics and play basketball through college. Although you’ll go to a college so tiny the volleyball team doubles as the basketball team, you will get a scholarship and you’ll break the scoring record during a tournament your freshman year—the only win that season. Today your grown-up self doesn’t even care about gymnastics.

**Side note, you’ll be tempted to order a little bacon and pepperoni pizza at midnight after basketball practices several times per week in college. Don’t do it. This is a dangerous habit. One day your metabolism will stop, and you’ll be frantically canning salads on Sunday nights to eat throughout the week because you can’t drop 15 pounds and your pants don’t fit. You are not currently playing basketball as an adult. You’ve spent a decade trying to break the pizza-cookie habit.

Maybe you’re in 7th grade, wearing a black turtleneck and multi-colored cow boxers, same as your BFF, with a notebook that you carry around every second containing the lifelong secrets between the two of you, and also some lyrics to Lion King. Everyone thinks you are a lesbian right now. You probably don’t even know what this means yet. No matter. Don’t change one single thing. This BFF will get you through High School in one piece, and you’ll both marry fantastic men.  The kids who make fun of you feel left out. The adults who think you’re a lesbian are out of touch with what BFF looks like at 13.

Younger B, if a safe-looking place opens its doors and a group of people attempt to love you unconditionally—assuming it’s not a gang—hang out there. You will have access to a pretty amazing youth group. Don’t take this for granted, because it’s the only reason you have turned out semi-normal at an earlier age, as compared to those other dudes in the foreground of all those cute videos. They will never really engage in this youth group. Their support network will expose them to several different drugs and county lock-ups. Yours will expose you to cross-cultural missions trips to Central America and, like, Chicago. That said, you act kind of weird, and if “youth group” were writing the story, it would not begin with a sentence like: “I have a pretty amazing Brooke.”  This dynamic is what makes the place so great. They know you and they still let you in. There you will find enough hugs and friends and snacks. Attend as often as you can. Go on every winter overnight and fall-break trip and summer mission. This experience is widening your lens and building a strong social and moral network, although it won’t present as such for several more years. Grown-up me wants to tell all the adults in your life thanks for keeping you safe and loved, and for not rolling their eyes to your face.  **Note to future self: stop rolling eyes at crazy teenagers.

Younger B, here is an important thing to note: life will seem completely out of control sometimes. That’s because it is.

Life is hard, but there is always a pressure valve somewhere. Kids will make fun of you.  They’ll call you Boring Brooke at cross-country camp and throw candy wrappers in your hair during choir.  Adults will manipulate you. Coworkers will bully you.  Family will disappoint you. Friends will hurt your feelings. People will say mean things behind your back, and sometimes even to your face. You’ll be misunderstood and misrepresented a thousand million times. You’ll be judged and dismissed and ignored. Lots of things will be unfair.  You will not be the best or the brightest. You will not be the funniest or the prettiest.  Good things will happen to bad people in your life. Bad things will happen to good people in your life.  Plans will not unfold according to your expectations. Even your own body will let you down.

But somewhere nearby will be a crawfish-type guy. Make it your mission to find the crawfish in your misery, give a quick thanks, force yourself to smile and keep moving forward. I tell you this one truth: someone nearby has it worse than you. Get tough, lady!

(Also, quick! Join volleyball. This will keep you from having to go to Cross Country camp in the first place. If you get stuck going anyway, just don’t tell the coach your family can’t afford it to get out of it- your coach will call your confused parents and offer them a scholarship. Ugh.)

Okay. Tone shift.

Little B, this is most important: Before high school is finished you will get confused about your value.  You will do all kinds of silly (desperate) things to figure it out, and in the end you will feel worse. These are the types of things that make adult you want to jump behind bushes when I see someone we know here in Carmel. I don’t care what people tell you—high school years are not the best years of your life. Whoever said this must have died at 19.  In whatever way you’re able to push through it (and I promise to set aside all judgment, because I believe you are doing the best you can with the resources you have), push through it. On the other side of high school is a spectacular green meadow with birds and rainbows and soft-serve machines in your college cafeteria and unlimited access to pop-tarts and friends and total freedom. You will think this is the best best and you’ll try to live forever at 19, but after college is an even bigger, greener meadow with meaningful relationships, sound judgment and insight, spectacular job opportunities, financial independence, other cities and countries, passions, competencies, etc. Just trust me on this. Your adult life is currently amazing.

Also, I debated whether or not to disclose this, but you do so much better when you’re prepared for these types of things.  Asking for a little help from the right people would have saved us a ton of heartache, so if I could offer you a redo on anything, it would be this—and I disclose it with my tightest hug and my warmest blanket: Aunt C is going to die. It will happen in a car accident 2 weeks before you go to college, right at the beginning of your parent’s decade-feeling-long divorce, and it will screw up the first half of your college experience.  You will understand that life is unpredictable—that any awful thing could happen at any safe-feeling time; that a person could be here this morning and gone by dinner, with no warning. You will feel so sad and alone in your grief, and so chaotic in your brain.  You will not know how to express this to anyone. You will smoke and drink and lie and steal and get straight Fs and get kicked out and move off campus, and you won’t understand why. You will make friends with people 10 years older and try to fit them into gaping holes inside. You will begin to absorb a piece of everyone around you and lose your entire identity. This will be so hard,

To save you from this, I am dying to give you a bright neon list with lights and arrows identifying people to stay away from, because they are bad for you. They’re not bad people; but they’re not whole people either, and their needs will feed on your vulnerabilities.  But these people and experiences will bring you to the very edge of yourself, and finding that edge will provide you with insight and a never-again determination toward assertiveness, balance and truth-finding.  This is what 18-22 year-olds do: solidify self and develop insight.  Don’t beat yourself up over it.

Also, you’ll find that because God cares about you and intervenes in when you are flailing, there will be a professor—a psychology guy—who provides a list detailing the non-negotiable truth about who you are. This is what God says about you. It’s right here in the Bible, totally independent of what’s going on in your life right now. Just choose to believe it.  (You will want to believe this so hard.)

Once you choose to believe this, you will never be able to separate yourself from these truths from that moment on. If you could somehow know this at 8, and 17 and 19; at 5’8″ jumping bushes with curly black hair; at the gymnastics studio when you’re a foot taller and too heavy; right before you do all those silly (desperate) things to find value and absorb an identity. If you could internalize this immediately, your life would be better faster. If you just can’t get it right yet, don’t worry. This will be waiting for you at 24.  Life gets infinitely better after 24, trust me.

Now for the good stuff.

You could never imagine this, but somewhere in Wisconsin or Evansville or Belize or Sierra Leone or Nepal or Ecuador or Bloomington or South Carolina or Maine (depending how old you are right now and where he is right now) a dude is living and growing and stepping into tiny footsteps laid out for him to someday cross your path. Unless you’ve met this guy yet, you think you don’t want to get married. I will not try to convince you otherwise, but as your older, wiser self, I can’t wait for you to meet him! He’ll marry you. Love will spill over, and you will be the kind of happy there aren’t words for. He will hold you in esteem as though you are the exact kind of person God says you are. And he’s so funny.

There are a bunch of other things I would like to save you from: a car accident, piles of rejection letters, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, family dissolution, aimless relationships, etc. But many of those things will prompt you toward other, better things your lil’ heart can’t even imagine.

The thing to know is this: Adult you is safe and happy and warm and successful and loved. You are married to a handsome, funny, compassionate man. Your job is meaningful and important. You have three beautiful nieces, and your brothers are amazing dads. You are so proud of them in that way. Your parents remarry via the internets to people you love, and everyone sort of ends up happy.  God has always been present in your life, and your life is proof of his grace.  Translation: you do some crazy things, but are undeservedly cared for.  I want you to remember that God does not cause bad things to happen, Younger B. He sits right next to you in your grief, even the kind caused by your own self.  He’ll redeem anything and everything if you trust him, and he’ll make something bright out of darkness.

You will be tempted to think you know exactly what you want out of life at any given moment. But he writes a much better story than we do, so don’t try to hijack the plot and deposit yourself somewhere else. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Love & Hugs-
Older B

PostScript: It turns out I talk to myself more frequently than I realized. These may also help- here and here.

Grown-up words

The appropriateness of sharing with the entire Internet news about things like babies, or lack thereof, is unclear. For a minute (well, for 14 months) we have cocooned ourselves in a comforting and necessary privacy to navigate this strange experience together- the experience of not being pregnant. But in my own heart, which knows no interpersonal boundaries, which shares anything and everything with most everyone, a strange combination of fear/denial/uncertainty kept taking my words away. Taking my words away. This never happens! There are 190 posts over a span of 4 years on this blog. Part of the problem is that things like infertility aren’t so funny. I have a blackbelt in crafting hilarity out of awful and/or inappropriate things. Except this one time.

Then an old friend went and posted her journey in a space where I (on the comfort of my own porch swing) sat straight up and yelled inside my head, ME TOO!  Not just the part about grief and sadness, but the part about overwhelming blessings and God’s presence in the middle of an awful experience. In my head I thought: GOD HAS SUSTAINED US! I HAVE TO TELL HER!

Which brings me to my own space: God has sustained us. I have to tell you.

After several rounds of blood draws, a laparoscopy, surgery to remove endo, an HSG (pray this procedure never happens to you), and several hours/days in a Reproductive Endocrinologist office, here is the punchline: I do not make mature eggs (yes, I will be using grown-up words like “ovary” and “egg”). I imagine my ovaries like that Cheeze-It commercial: A guy with a clipboard is evaluating the maturity of my eggs, who are just hanging around throwing paper airplanes and telling knock-knock jokes.

(Get it together, eggs!)

Throughout this process, we have experienced bottom of the barrel questions and thoughts that can be summed up nicely by my pal Anne Lamott: I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish (Bird by Bird). Here is an example: Why do some people have to pay $20k for a baby, and other people get to have one for free?

We have crumpled in shame immediately after those thoughts, because we have more blessings than we could ever list. If our lives remained exactly as they are today for the rest of our time on earth, we would be happy and thankful.

In those exact same moments, we have lived within the peacefulness and certainty of the answers to these questions: Are we enough for each other? Is God enough for each of us? Yes. And Yes. If He asks this of us, do we trust God to do something meaningful with our lives that doesn’t include a house in Carmel with a couple of kids? Would we be able to live with joy and purpose? Yes. And Yes.

Do you believe both the questions and the certainty of the answers can happen simultaneously? I do. I think that’s what makes it faith.

In the same vein, we have sincerely and wholeheartedly celebrated new birth and pregnancies of at least 4 friends within this period of time. Do you believe God can split a heart in half in such a way it’s able to feel such sorrow in its own loss, and such excitement in someone else’s joy? He can. He can do anything.

We have been 90% calm and confident in God’s goodness in our lives (J) and 10% loony and fit-throwy (Me). We have grief-eaten popcorn in bed and grief-watched International House Hunters and/or The Office for several hours on at least one occasion. J might deny this.

I have taken daily hour-long walks with Sara Groves on the iPod, creating a time and space for God to walk with me. Ask how many years its been since I carved out a time and space to be with God. Not to pray or ask or serve or showcase: but to exist with him in an unfilled space. A deep, peaceful breath began to flow through me during those walks. Don’t mistake this for resolved feelings, or unshed tears- the mention of this circumstance will bring up an emotional reaction in 10 seconds flat. But within 2 days, smiles returned, unexplained joy and gratitude filled us up, and life moved forward.

I have practiced yoga, and during my hour-long class, found myself commenting to God how amazing the body is, instead of how defective it is. How spectacular the circulatory system is, and the digestive system, and the liver. The miracle, I have realized—the exception, not the rule—is that we are alive. That our skin comes together and holds everything in. That our blood flows and our hearts beat. That we breathe in and out and are given a certain number of days to complete a certain task in the world, and that we think somehow our lives belong to us. We are created, and we exist so long as our creator continues to breathe life into our pile of bones and skin and muscle. Each time we breathe in and out, we are experiencing a tremendous, fantastic, unbelievable miracle. I believe that’s called worship. Worship in my yoga practice.

We have eaten the required amounts of fruits and vegetables (almost) every single day for 4 months. We have replaced coffee with tea. We have limited red meat, sugar and dairy. In February, after an entire Fall season of immune issues and blood draws, my doctor asked, “Do you eat fruits and vegetables?” I said, “No. As a matter of fact, I eat cookies and bread and lots of cheese.” She prescribed me several vitamins, a probiotic, and a regimen of fruits and vegetables. Would you believe I fed my body cookies and bread and cheese for 31 years, and then got mad at it for not functioning with precision? If body were not connected to brain, it would have punched me in the face. Would you believe I asked God why my body isn’t working properly while eating a chocolate torte for breakfast?  For 4 months, I have made salad jars on Sunday nights to eat throughout the week for lunch. Each morning I make a fruit smoothie with greens in it. Rest assured that even if I choose to eat Snickers for the entire rest of the day past 1pm, I will have already consumed my minimal daily required amounts of vitamins and minerals, and can now answer the previous question with a little bit of self-respect: Yes, I eat fruits and vegetables. I had never before taken the time or energy to feed myself adequately.

We have regained control of our budget. This is important because we never really knew we lost control until we needed something. Poor planning, a tiny bit of greed and self-indulgence, and some unavoidable life events (don’t wait 5 years to go to the dentist) forced us to re-evaluate our habits and values.

Those are the things we have done.  Here are the things God has done.

First off, He didn’t drink gin straight out of the cat dish. He put his arm around me in my car when I was thinking those awful thoughts about how life couldn’t get any worse, and sent this song to me on the radio, demonstrating that God even provides words for the prayer when you can’t think of any (skip the ad):

He did hold on to me. He didn’t let me lose my way. And He may have broken my iPhone, too, I’m not sure. My iPhone shattered that day, and it pushed me to the cusp of sanity.

I called J on my shattered screen, and before I could say anything negative, the sound of his voice offered truth and perspective in these things:

For unknown reasons except grace and goodness, God has given me Jeff: a wholly undeserved shower of God’s own love, faithfulness, creativity, humor and compassion on a daily basis. A person somewhere is longing for this. For unknown and undeserved reasons, we are cared for by others.  A person somewhere cannot identify one single support person in his or her life. For unknown and undeserved reasons, we live in a privileged place. A person right this very second is standing in a refugee camp somewhere waiting to live to any place. For no reason but the grace of God, we have too much food. Somebody very close to me is hungry right now. We have joy in our lives, not fear. A person right now is living in fear of bombs, or dictators, or ownership. And for unknown reasons but our privileged lot in life, we have one viable medical option, and while the money appears to be a significant setback, we are able to budget. Someone right now doesn’t have a single dime to his or her name, nor do they live in a place that offers a “Reproductive Endocrinologist”. For someone right now, even three months of injections with a 25% success rate isn’t an option. Lord, have mercy. Our cups runneth over.

God brought to the surface things in our lives that needed healing: our health, our diet, our finances, our faith, although all seemed fine before this crisis. And God has provided us with the warmest community of support and compassion in women/couples who “understand this most intimate pain” (Kim’s words) before we even had to ask for it.

The awareness of God in our lives, our communication with and total reliance on Him, our awareness of our lifestyle in regards to the foods we’re eating and the money we spend on things, and our thankfulness for other gifts- like eachother- have increased dramatically.

I heard a quote at the Global Leadership Conference last year about a missionary guy who was fleeing for his life due to the practice of his faith. When someone from the US told him we would be praying for him, the missionary said to the US guy: “WE will be praying for YOU! I hear there are people in America who can go an entire day without praying because they have found a way to be sufficient without God.”

I do not lie when I say this: I prayed that day God would make me more reliant on Him. I felt like a pansy over here, forgetting about God because I was accidentally meeting my own needs. And then we saw the Endocrinologist who said, Welp. You don’t make mature eggs, sorry.

I can’t fix my own eggs, obviously. And I don’t think God ordained my eggs to be immature. In fact, I belive God sits next to me on the porch swing with more empathy than I could fathom, heartbroken over the disaster his earth and population and creation have become. There are lots of things that can be traced back to the exact moment they went awry- BPA, antibiotics and hormones in chickens, melanoma. And there are lots of things that just don’t make any sense.

I don’t understand the theology of infertility, not even a little. But I don’t think God creates disorder. He creates perfect things, and the depravity of human nature disrupts them. This is not the way He designed it. And I just read in Crazy Love (Francis Chan) that God has as much right to ask us- Why are your bodies defective? Why are my people starving? Why is there cancer? As we have to ask him- Why is my body defective? Why are people starving? Why is there cancer? Humans create disorder, and God doesn’t always save us from it. I don’t know why.  But what God promises is that He will use the disorder to draw us closer, and to make something beautiful out of what darkness tried to steal.

In a tiny whisper, I tell you: I am content in this circumstance.

(Thanks K, for helping me find some words.)

Beautiful Things

August tried to get me again, but then God sent this to me on the radio:

Some things end, but then other things begin. My little NOLA church wrote this a couple years ago, and it stuck with me: We will remember the storm (or the aunt, or the friend, or the city, or the experience) and give sacred honor, but in worship we inherit all things anew for this day.

So thankful for all new and beautiful things inherited today.