What The Water Carried

It’s like those wind tunnel-money games that you see at fairs and such where people try to snatch at the twenties and ones whirling past them in a vortex.  The moment they grab for one of the flying greenbacks, it’s halfway around the tube on the other side.  Words can be like that, when life is whirling all crazy-like.  Have you seen someone try to cheat by forming a dam with their arm against the side to corral the cash?  Here’s my attempt to corral the words that have been flying right past me and around me this week.

I awoke the day after Christmas with mild contractions; they soundlessly tightened and coiled and released and barely registered discomfort.  They were unremarkable in and of themselves,  except for their regularity.  I puttered about the house, putting away the Christmas chaos, washing diapers, and all the while my abdomen went through these silent waves of tightness and release.

We alerted Dustin’s mother that “this may be it” and dropped the children off at her cozy home.  Then we ran some errands and decided that we should have a date before the baby came, and settled into a booth at our favorite Mexican place.  What says “help labor along” like really good spicy guacamole?  And Mexican Coke?

IMG_2993  The Contraction Nazi, also known as my dearest Dustin, kept a lap timer running and if I didn’t have a contraction within five minutes of the last one, he shot me a disapproving glance.  We had a lot of laughs over our guacamole.  I felt too pain-free to go to the hospital to be checked, so we headed to a local park to walk and see if they’d get stronger.FullSizeRender-19 Ah, the hilarity of being fully ripe.  We phoned the midwife and asked what we should do.  It’s never a clear-cut answer; I’ve had labors 10 hours long and labors three hours long.  She said we had an open invitation to come in, so we did, but felt foolish walking in there without some verifiable, legit pain-wincing in my face.  “You’re too happy to be in here”, laughed a nurse, but when they checked me and I was five centimeters dilated, they took me a little more seriously.

Off to walk the halls.  Still no pain and contractions that stretched to eight minutes apart at times.  We really didn’t want to do the walk of shame; back out the lobby, still pregnant, dragging an unopened suitcase, sheepishly going home.  I prayed, I prayed for God’s mercy and for pain.  They checked me again and I was at six centimeters, though the baby was high up.  They admitted us and I was so relieved.  There is something about going to the delivery room and seeing that little heated bassinet just waiting there in the corner that makes everything seem right and ready.

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The contractions became much more business-like.  The kind you breathe through and make you smile tight and have just an edge of pain to them.  Circumstances in other deliveries made using the jacuzzi tub not an option, but this time I gladly could make use of it.  I lowered my body into the swirling water and instantly relaxed.

I am a fish.  The last one out of the pool, the ocean, the river, you name it.  I even like washing dishes because of the way water feels slipping over my hands, the way it sounds dripping and splashing.  The cool of it or the warmth of it.  I take a soak in our bath nearly daily.  I breathed deep; so very much at home.  I wouldn’t leave that warm tub for two and a half hours!

Floating there, the hum of the jacuzzi, the jets pushing against my back, my legs, my shoulders, I was suspended, at peace, even as the contractions became more pain than pressure, somehow it seemed that the water carried it with me.  I was not marooned out in the open air on a hospital bed.  I was cocooned, held in a warm embrace.  Cushioned.  The hours passed easily, until just the end.

A groan was pulled out of me.  The water couldn’t carry all of this.  My heart knew fear as the pain took my breath away.  I arched my back out of the water, I looked at my husband with fear in my eyes.  Things were changing and the pain had suddenly entered my cocoon with a ragged edge.  My water broke and the pain knifed deeper.

It’s a panic-filled feeling, being at the mercy of unrelenting sharp pain that barely fades before building again.  I grabbed at one hope and asked for my husband to tell them I needed an epidural.  NOW.  I had wanted to have a natural birth, but I couldn’t imagine even a half hour of contractions like the ones that were currently gripping me.  “Help, SAVE ME!” my body screamed.

I could barely walk to the bed (with good reason as you shall soon understand), having two contractions from the tub to there that left me on tiptoes and howling, my legs crossing over themselves protectively (also with good reason).  Contractions one on top of the other, no breathing room between, clenching my husband’s hands and by now, scream-groaning LOUDLY.  I pleaded:  “Isn’t there ANYTHING you can give me?”

They assured me that they were going to “get me comfortable”, but they all knew there’d be no time for that.  There were smiles of knowing going on when I wasn’t looking, and they told me sweet lies to keep me hopeful.  The nurse and midwife stepped out to “see about the epidural”, leaving one newbie nurse in the room.  My scream had a new ending to it all of a sudden as a push gripped me.  I did not push, my body did.  It could no more be stopped than a sneeze could.  I felt my body opening around something and yelled out the obvious, “THE BABY IS COMING!”.  The nurse peeked under the sheet and her eyes widened.  Baby was crowning.

We were at a local Eastern Orthodox church a few weeks ago, enjoying an Advent service, when one of the ladies in the choir chanted “Lord have mercy” forty times.  We were amazed as the repetition went on and on.  It seemed a thing impossible to do without the words getting all confused and jumbled.  But as I lay there with a large head splitting me open and the pain all bright and fiery, I think I did more than forty “Lord have mercy”‘s all in a gush.  And He answered, oh and how.

She raced to the door to get help, but my hollers had alerted the midwife (from down the hall, for shame) that things were moving quick.  She burst in and one push later he was here, whooshing right out much to my surprise and relief.  I was astonished, flat-out bewildered, and I brought that slippery, wonderful baby boy up on to my chest and began a five minute litany of “I can’t believe it-I can’t believe it-I can’t believe it-I love you, baby-I can’t believe it”.  It was so fast.  So furious.  So natural.  The water carried most of my pain, and a few long minutes I carried it, and then, mercifully, birth.

IMG_2999Our own sweet Tobias John.  Eight pounds, ten ounces of wonderfulness.  Tobias means “The goodness of God” and John means “The Lord has shown favor”.

This year Eastern Orthodoxy has taught me two useful phrases and my life has vascilitated between them like a pendulum:  “Lord, have mercy” and “God provides”.  One a petition, one a recognition of God’s sustenance and faithfulness.  Living with these two sets of words has kept me living open-handedly to God, trusting Him more with the unknowns and the unexpecteds.  It is a good place to be; like in the water, cushioned from the blows, carried through them, experiencing pain but not being consumed by it.

IMG_3010IMG_3023IMG_3025IMG_3028And my gratitude swells and my cup runneth over, and I’m held, hands open and soul filled with awe.  God is good, and He has shown favor.  Glory to Him.

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What NOT To Say To The Pregnant Lady You Don’t Know

Henri 017 Yeah, it is magical.  How that baby just swells up the whole midsection of a woman, how that hovering melon just floats there against all concepts of architecture.  Shouldn’t there be some flying buttresses reinforcing that protruding curve?  I know it’s funny.  Heck, I stand in front of the bathroom mirror and just laugh, turning this way and that.  I smile at how my friends and family greet me, first in the eyes and then focusing on my rounded tum in quick succession, giving it a greeting of it’s own (patting, oohing-and-aahing, exclamations of wonder).  That is all fine and good.

But dear stranger who doesn’t even know my name, it is you I address.  Unless you’re a painfully cute elderly person who looks a bit lonely and nostalgic, I don’t really want to have the following repartees with you:

you:  Woah!  You look ready to POP!

me:  HAHA (forced laugh, accompanied by a flat smile)…yeah.

You sir, or madam, have just made me feel like a ticking time bomb.  And a spectacle to be laughed at.  I’m just trying to buy some groceries in peace, okay?

you:  When is your due date?

me:  December 25th.

you:  (wide-eyed and smiling big enough for me to see your fillings)  OOOHHHHHH!   A CHRISTMAS BABY!!!  How SPECIAL!

me:  Mmm-hmm, I’m like a walking nativity scene.  (Because I have these lines I say now.  It’s easier to fall back on their deadpan humor than to think in real time.)

you:  OH-HAHA!  Do you know what you’re having?

me:  (again falling back on previous wit)  No…once we knew the due date we knew we couldn’t peek at our Christmas present.  (Why am I being funny?  It only encourages them!).

you:  (discusses merits of finding out or not finding out and tells me of every infant born in your acquaintance recently)

me:  (simultaneously thinking that I’m done going out in public, having had this exact conversation five times in one grocery store)

I JUST WANT TO BUY SOME GROCERIES AND GET MY HUGE SELF HOME TO MY DEAR COUCH.

So, dear strangers everywhere, here’s my guide to interacting with the heavily pregnant in your local grocery store, church, post office, etc:

1.  Smile a smile of solidarity.  Give a thumbs up sign if you must.

2.  Pick up anything she drops.  Because even if it’s her car keys, she’s weighing whether it’s worth it bending down that low to retrieve it.

3.  Let her into line ahead of you or open the door for her.  Rare is the ardent feminist who would take offense.

4.  Do not initiate any of the above conversations.  She’s probably using all of her mental powers to avoid a blatant waddle or peeing her pants when she sneezes.

5.  Clamp your teeth on your tongue whenever it wants to say anything about the amazing proportions she’s sporting.  She knows.  Oh, she knows.

Most of my friends dread going out in public the last weeks of their pregnancies; they cannot bear one more good-natured exclamation and bit of fawning curiosity.  It’s not that we’re curmudgeons, we’re just trying to make it through the day while a watermelon-sized ball weighs us down.  We look and feel awkward and we run the gauntlet of rubber-necking strangers who feel duty-bound to remind us of that.

So, dear stranger, now thoroughly equipped with the above five rules of engagement with the heavily pregnant, go forth and say no more! 🙂

Dear Baby…

Dear Baby,

When your sister was born, my first ever baby, a dam broke within me and a flood of words came out in long, awe-filled, breaths, “IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou”.  My mouth couldn’t stop kissing her face, her fingers, her feet.  I became a mother.

Your brothers came and my dam stayed broken, my love spilling everywhere and never ceasing.  This is what love does.  It bursts, it cascades, it floods.

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I smiled as I looked down at a little plastic test; I smiled at the knowing of you, you just coming together in tiny cell divisions and intricate movements orchestrated by God Himself, down there in the deep.

I began loving you then.  As God crafted you through the days and nights, giving you a heart and a beat to go with it, giving you ever-reaching arms and nubs that stretched out into fingers, as you opened your eyes for the first time to the ruby-colored pool of muted lights and sounds, as God made you, I loved you.

You have the hiccups right now, making my whole belly jump every ten seconds.  I run my hand over you; you are so near and can never be nearer, but I miss you, I long for you.  The swelling in my ankles is nothing compared to the swelling in my heart, the longing to kiss your face and know you with my fingertips, my eyes, my nose burrowed into your neck folds and inhaling the essence of dear you.

May God keep you safe and well, my dear baby, may He make you strong and vigorous.  May He bring us both through safely in our trial to come.  May we soon look into each other’s eyes in that first of many holy moments, the knowing.  God bless you, dear one, God bless you and bless you again.

Love,

Mom

The Means, The Ends, and The Torture Report

The torture report lands in our midst much like a pair of dirty underwear would.  Our faces twist squeamishly and we turn away.  There is too much exposed, would someone please remove this offensive thing which speaks too loudly and embarrasses too deeply?  Can you take it away so we can go on with life?  Can’t we pretend it never happened?

I remember reading about how some German citizens were made to walk through the death camps after the war, to bear witness to what they had allowed in their midst.

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There is something about truth, isn’t there?

Dick Cheney said he’d do it all over again.  There’s this rationalization that ends justify means and that the image of God in a person can be ignored if it serves a “greater good”. One in five were innocent of any connection to terrorism.  They were tortured.  By our country.

“The non-stop use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was disturbing to CIA personnel at DETENTION SITE GREEN. These CIA personnel objected to the continued use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques against Abu Zubaydah, but were instructed by CIA Headquarters to continue using the techniques…”Several on the team profoundly affected.. .some to the point of tears and choking up. [Page 473]

“At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. …Majid Khan’s “lunch tray” consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was “pureed” and rectally infused. [Page 4]

“CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.” [Page 4]

“CIA applied its so-called enhanced interrogation techniques in near non-stop fashion for days or weeks at a time.” Detainees were forced to stay awake for up to 180 hours while “standing or in painful stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.” Some were kept in a “dungeon” that was completely dark and were “constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. ” At least one detainee was told he could only leave CIA custody “in a coffin-shaped box.”

It’s so easy to turn away, to turn toward the bright twinkling lights of Christmas, to put it all into a mental file folder named “Things Which Are Sad And Complex”.  Some others file it under “Got What’s Coming To Them” or “Ends Justifying Means” or something worse yet. But I ask you; What if it was you?  What if you were arrested, though innocent of any crime, tortured, sexually assaulted, your family threatened, what if?  What if it was your child or your father going through this?  Would you accept this as a matter of course?  A necessity of intelligence-gathering?  Or would you say, rightfully, that this is a war crime?

Where do we go with what our nation has done?

Right to the homes of the people we have wronged.  Right there at their feet we should kneel and ask forgiveness for the evil that was done to them in the name of national security.  We should humbly admit our sin, we should go forward with “never again” blazing in our hearts and souls.

But we won’t do that.  We’ll build our walls higher and stockpile more weapons and cry the hype louder and make the fear deeper and we’ll justify.  And the people of God will turn away from the bloodied one, lying in the ditch, and the unbelieving world sees.

Where then is this Jesus?  Where He is always is, down in the ditch with the suffering, the bloodied, and do you see Him staring back up at us, passing by?  Wondering why His children find so many excuses not to see?

When A Nun Bought Breakfast

I awoke and patted the empty bed beside me. Dustin was long gone, off to hunt with his dad.  Henrik yelled “MOM!” from his crib and the air held a waft of #2, and a lament rose from downstairs, “Moooooom?  We’re hungry.”  Saturday morning and I felt a resolve settle over me to make it a happy one despite how very much I just wanted to burrow under my blankets and sleep.

Our local greasy spoon offers a $1.99 breakfast, two eggs any style, home fries, and toast.  I did the multiplication in my head; we could enjoy the adventure and joy of a breakfast out for $10.00 plus tip.  Manageable.  I hollered for all of them to get ready, and they hollered back “Where are we going?”, to which I remain obstinately silent.  I like surprises.

We pulled into the restaurant and filed in, four kids and heavily pregnant me.  I quietly asked the waitress if the breakfast special held true on Saturdays too.  “No, just on weekdays”.  The multiplication ticked through my head as I shifted Henri on my hip.  My pride urged me to just go with the flow, don’t embarrass yourself.  But the bill in my mind had suddenly tripled and I just couldn’t do it.  I murmured “Okay, I think we’re going to try somewhere else, sorry”, and tried to coax my confused herd back out the door with minimal show.

“Why are we leaving, Mom?”

“They don’t have the breakfast special today, so we’ll go another place I have in mind.”  My budget-minded brain was spinning numbers and possibilities.  I didn’t notice the Irish nun following after us.  As I got Henri hefted up into his seat I heard, “Excuse me….I couldn’t help but notice your predicament.  Someone paid for my breakfast this morning, allow me to pay for yours.”

I looked in her caring eyes, her gray hair peeking out from under her bandeau.  “No, no, really, thank you, it’s okay, no.”

She volleyed back a series of insistent “Yes, please, yes, do take it, I’d love to bless you.  Yes.”

“No, really, you’re so kind, but….”

“I insist, yes.”

This went on until she pressed $25.00 into my mind, placed her aged hand on my pregnant belly and said, “May God bless this little one.  Take care.”

“Thank you, thank you so much.”

She walked away and I turned toward my car full of children and vomited.  Strange response, eh?  Unconnected to her caring generosity, I assure you.  I had taken a prenatal vitamin that morning on an empty stomach and apparently my body didn’t take kindly to that.  The kids watched with wide eyes.  First we’d entered and left a restaurant within a minute.  Then Mommy had had a battle of no’s-and-yes’s with a nun.  Then Mommy threw up.  This was a lot to process on a rainy Saturday morning.

I got in the car and sat behind the wheel, breathing deep and trying to pull myself together.  “Are you okay, Mom?”

“Yes.  I’m okay.  Okay.  (deep breath)  Wow.  That dear nun just bought us breakfast.”  The kids took all that in while I drove to a Bob Evans (because there was no way I’d go back into the greasy spoon a second time that morning).

The Bob Evans breakfasts were quite a treat, and were surprisingly cheap, and the bill came in far below the nun’s provision.  And the menus weren’t greasy.  And the coffee was good.  And I didn’t throw up in the parking lot.  Win-win-win.  The kids asked with the straining hope in their eyes if they could have a quarter to buy peppermint patties at the register.  The dear nun had made a way; “Sure!”

They nearly danced with joy, and it made me realize for how long my answers have had to be “no”.  It felt like Christmas!

Sophia walked over to where I was waiting by the door and handed me a “Yorky Patty”.  The joy of the morning had rubbed off on her, and she wanted me to have a treat too, from her own coin stash.

Now I lay on the couch with my swollen ankles propped up, listening to the rain, and thinking of the beautiful nun with an Irish brogue and her stubborn generosity and love.  And I realize that God has been so attentive to me, to us, in this last month of pregnancy.  Sweet mercies here and there, that added up, are astounding.  And I’ve neglected Him, I have.  I haven’t been reaching for Him near as much as He’s been reaching for me.  I am most undeserving of all His kindness, grace, and mercy.  I am as astounded by His love as I was by the nun this morning, and what can I do but say, “Thank You”?

Oh, thank You, Father, thank You.

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