It’s All Unexpected

Maybe not everyone is so regularly startled as I am.

I came home from a ten day trip to find that my gardens had exploded with new blooms, clutches of green tomatoes, and dozens upon dozens of cymes of elderberries.  The grapes decided to indulge in a bit of conquest, leaping over the roses and aiming for the sidewalk. It reminded me of the children’s book character Mr. Tickle, who had extremely long arms and used them most mischievously, giggling at day’s end about his tickling pranks.  The sunflowers had thrown their orange petals back in glee and were waiting, swaying and smiling broadly.  I could almost hear them laugh; laugh at their own audacity and pomp.  A flower with a stem the size of a small tree!  The very notion!  In my mind they are the giraffes of the flower world; a small proof of God’s sense of humor.  I digress.

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So that was just walking in the main path.  Then I was assaulted by the sheer number of things, useful and good, that proliferated in my home.  Sturdy pots, a deep sink, machines to wash and dry, toilets to perform humble but ever-useful duties.  The prayer corner, a place that becomes more beautiful with time; this too is an astonishing sight after many days away from it.  There is where home feels most poignant.

It’s all unexpected and I looked about and in my heart the impression was, “Oh, so you’re all here still, I suppose!?  AH, you are so much!  How has this all come to pass?”

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My dear bird was wary.  For a number of minutes he stared back at me as I called to him in our familiar language of clicks and purrs and words.  Then his guard dropped and he pressed his warm little body close to the bars of his cage and purr-trilled back.  It was all unexpected for him, that he’d come home again and be with us all again.  He had no idea of return, of this remembered life being his again.  What joy!  I opened his door and he snuggled under my chin, rubbing his head back and forth.  “Pretty bird!”, he said.

There has been some healing in my soul though I was not aware of any particular treatment prescribed nor followed.  I used to expect too much, want too much; to my shame I truly did have an ugly expectation troll, grumping about in my heart, hollering about what I deserved and stomping around, ruining moments I should have been grateful for, should have enjoyed more.  Somehow he was evicted, and joy moved in, and gratitude. All is in reverse now; it’s a joyful pessimism of sorts…I expect life to be quite hard; I do not expect easy times and smooth ways, and yet, I am almost ridiculously happy with each and every good I encounter.  I do not lay claim to blessings, and yet I find them dumped over my head.

God is kind.  I don’t endeavor enough, I do not struggle enough, I am ordinary.  I did not merit any of this, but God gifts as He sees fit.  It’s all unexpected._MG_5001

 

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Perhaps You Got Something Else

It is in this quiet, on this gray morning with gentle rain, that I open the door which is straining on its hinges and release some words, if for nothing else, to relieve the pressure of them within my mind.

“What is the matter?”, he asked, concerned, because I had withdrawn from conversation and was studying the design in the carpet.

“I’m sorry…I’m writing in my head.”

He understands without understanding, the way good spouses do.

My parents have been here from Montana, and I have been a sponge soaking up their presence, their words, their nearness.  When my rarely-verbose father begins to tell a story, we all gather near; we know it will be good.  And my mother, what a hoot.  We had gone to a friend’s reclaimed wood business to pick out slabs for some tables my father is going to make and she and I rode on the tailgate of the truck down from the warehouse to the storefront, holding on to the boards atop the pickup topper as Dad managed to find every low-hanging branch for us to duck and/or get our face washed by.  We roared with laughter, getting smacked with greenery.  Seeing her joy, silliness, and love of adventure is always, and ever, a gift.  Her and Dad are good people; they’re a matched pair,it’s hard to imagine one without the other to reference them by, to echo their characters back to.

Life is different on the east coast; many times I am out of step with cultural norms or ways of reckoning.  Many times my lack of university education shows and I feel shame, almost as though I wear a scarlet letter “U”, for “uneducated”.  I am always around my betters, and I know it.  Being around my parents reminds me, however, of the goodness from which I spring; of the generosity of spirit, the adventurousness, the good humor, and hard work ethic.

Once, in a self-pitying frame of mind, I was comparing my background with that of an English novelist friend.  Where he had been brought up in London, taken from the age of four onward to the Tate and the National Gallery, sent traveling on the Continent in every school holiday, taught French and German and Italian, given access to bookstores, libraries, and British Museums, made familiar from infancy on with the conversations of the eloquent and the great, I had grown up in this dung-heeled sagebrush town on the disappearing edge of nowhere, utterly without painting, without sculpture, without architecture, almost without music or theater, without conversation or languages or bookstores, almost without books.  I was charged with getting in a single lifetime, from scratch, what some people inherit as naturally as they breathe air….

How, I asked this Englishman, could anyone so deprived a background ever catch up?  How was one expected to compete, as a cultivated man, with people like himself?  He looked at me and said dryly, “Perhaps you got something else in place of all that.”

Wolf Willow, Wallace Stegner

 

I watched as my three older children charged upstream through the swift current.  They had found a fishing lure and attached line and were hunting a good stick to tie it to.  They spent the next hour fishing in the clear stream with their hodgepodge pole.  Their Grandpa told us how to best remove a hook if they got snagged, and that launched him into a related story.  I watched the smoke go up from the campfire and let his rich voice paint a scene in my mind, and I was glad for what I got, “in place of all that.”

 

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Even The Grays

It has been a week of clumsily wrangling table cloths and bedsheets over my flowering peach and nectarine trees in a futile attempt to save them from freezing into fruitlessness.  It has been a week of hunching over an old kerosene heater at midnight in the greenhouse trying to coax some robust heat out of it to keep the seedlings from certain, cold death.  It has been a week of washing poop out of underpants with a toddler who has no interest in potty training.  It’s been a week without a single order for soap and all the questions that can kindle.

It has also been bright.

Mr. Mango, our beloved parakeet, has begun making word-like utterances, much to my over-the-top delight.  Tobias has learned how to grin mischievously.  My daughter comes home from her long bus commute with a handful of poems she writes on the way; often springing from topics she’s learned about that day in history class.  Sunflowers, dahlias, and coxcombs are coming up in the seed trays, lifting their leafy hands up to the sun.  My boule bread has been turning out quite good, and we’ve cut down on our food bill via creative means.  My bees are still alive.

My daughter was asking me about hair dye.  She wanted to know why I rarely use it (I highlighted my hair in Chile, oh, six years ago or so).  I fanned out a handful of my hair in my hands.  “Look at all the colors.  Browns, blonde strands, copper.  Yes, gray too.  I don’t want to miss this, from bright to dark, even the grays.”

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It may not be a fashionable look; I may look older than I otherwise would, but I find some delight in looking my age, my thirty-six years of life under the sun.  I make no argument against dyeing of hair; just saying that I like to watch the march of time of browns and blonds and grays, right on my own head.  I don’t want to miss what the transition between youth and middle age looks like; I do not want to look perpetually young in anything but my childlike delight in life.  I welcome my years; would that I could kiss God’s feet in gratitude for all they’ve held.

As regards these days of both trials and blessings, I feel the same.  It is me, yes, bent over the toilet, swishing feces out of underpants for the third time in one day.  It’s me!  It’s also me that gets to hold my dear son, all cleaned up, and teach him the names of colors, and hear him mispronounce them, and smile all the way out to my ears.

I’ll take these days, these bright ones, and grays too, with great gratitude from a full heart, for God has dealt kindly with me.

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A Little Brave

Photo on 2-25-15 at 9.42 AM I don’t know where the change begins.  But there was, the other day, a very vigorous inner monologue that ran: “I am an artist, and I’d better start living as one”.  So, of course I cut my bangs.  I very imperfectly gave them the shape that I’ve admired on countless others rather than spending one more day without them.

After watching a YouTube tutorial I took our hair scissors in hand and looked into my reflection’s eyes in the splattered mirror and breathed.  And cut, and fixed, and trimmed and near laughed.  They turned out fine (to my taste I should say).  Imperfect and cute and endearingly quirky.  YouTube had also taught me how to do a sock bun and I made a perfectly coifed high bun to go along with my quirky imperfect bangs.  I smiled; it’s a good thing when you’ve wrested even the smallest of victories out of a weekday morning.

Photo on 2-25-15 at 9.41 AMThen it was time to get braver, a little.  I shopped my attic for my oil paintings; those that I could not bear to paint over nor throw out.  Many had met their end covered in white, a blank stretch for some future perfection to cover over.  Others have gone into the trash; sometimes our imperfection can be that painful.

Armed with a screw gun, I started a gallery wall and FOUR of my own works are RIGHT THERE on my wall.  Right on the wall that people visiting our home will see first.  In outright defiance of fear and the pride that hides all but the best, most marketable skills we have.  It was my version of taking a selfie without make-up.

On Facebook I wrote:

My great-grandmother Nora, whom I am named after, was a brave woman. During the Great Depression she had the nickname “Mrs. Got-Rocks” because even though times were hard and lean, she’d go out dressed to the nines with all her sparkly costume jewelry on. She learned to paint in her eighties, producing hundreds of works in oil and watercolor. She wasn’t afraid to try new things and she rejoiced in beauty. I thought of her today as I hung up three of my oil paintings which have been hiding in the attic. I often respond to my art with a mix of shame, fear, and joy; joy that something of what was in my heart was translated into color and pattern and form, shame and fear in dreading what label or impression another set of eyes will give it, have from it. I hung a small oil painting of hers, “Violets”, right above one of my works “Pears on the Horizon”, and just diagonally from them I hung an unfinished still life that I bought secondhand. It’s a smudged charcoal sketch of an apple and a pear; the pear’s stem rubbed out and begun again numerous times. There is in-progress-beauty all over it and also the frankness of being unfinished. How fitting a reminder for me, that God is always working on my heart, but that there IS present beauty, and I do not need to be afraid to display it.

And that’s where I am.  A little braver.  A bit more of an artist.  A bit more honest.

 

Customary Love

cropped-img_2107.jpg“Arising from sleep, I thank You, O Most Holy Trinity, that, for the sake of Your great kindness and long-suffering, You have not had indignation against me, for I am slothful and sinful….”

My voice was near a whisper as it formed the words and the morning light filled the window over my prayer bench last week.  The children’s school had been delayed and they’d gotten off to a later start so no candle was needed to illumine the words.

Neither have You destroyed me in my transgressions.  But You have shown Your customary love toward mankind, and have raised me up as I lay in heedlessness, that I might sing my morning hymn and glorify Your sovereignty….”

Fast forward to today, in which I was furious.  I looked into my childrens’ rooms and saw there every possible form of chaos and lack of care.  This has been a recurring theme for as long as they’ve been mobile, and we’ve tried every methodology we could think of to train them into neater habits. Yes, even boxing up their toys and putting them in the attic, but their hearts weren’t changed.  My voice was eerily calm as I gave them a monotone speech at breakfast that I was seriously considering getting rid of all their toys, since clearly they didn’t care about them.  Tears and quivering chins and promises that they’ll never let things get to such a state again.  I dryly remarked that I’d heard that a thousand times and yet they hadn’t reformed their ways.  Time was up, I was done, they’d gone too far, too many times.

Do now enlighten the eyes of my understanding, open my ears to receive Your words, and teach me Your commandments.  Help me to do Your will, to sing to You, to confess to You from my heart, and to praise Your All-Holy Name:  of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen.”

I had finished the prayer and let the warm light pour over my kneeling form, and even with my eyes closed it was bright.  I got up from the floor and for whatever reason I turned around to sit a moment on my bench, lifting my eyes to the other side of the room.  There was our icon of Christ, a gift at Pascha last year from our dear friend Leon Miller, where I had placed it near our Lent candle calendar just the day before.

It was absolutely, stunningly, glowing.

The face was so full of light that I was startled.  Like I’d caught someone staring at me boldly.  The morning light had come in at just the right angle, and just at that moment, leaving only the face illuminated and everything to the sides in darkness.  I sat there dumbfounded, and it seemed special, but in a way I don’t have words for.  Many of the things of God are like that; He seems to leave us margin to see or not to see the burning bushes in our lives.  To take them as holy or coincidental.

I sat and I thought.  I had just begun the practice of saying the morning and evening prayers from my Orthodox study Bible the day before.  If the weather had not been predicted to be bad, the children would not have had a delay, and my prayers would have been in the morning’s dark rather than the light.  I had just placed the icon there the day before, and uncharacteristically, I placed it oddly, off-center; not at all as I would normally arrange things.  I had turned around and sat down, I hadn’t just leapt up and started in on the day’s duties as I normally would.  The light had filled that one square foot of space and no other, almost like a spotlight.  But, still, it could be a happy coincidence.FullSizeRender-43Icons might be one of the most misunderstood things in Christianity.  In western eyes they are at the worst, idols, and at the best, unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

ICON:  A transliterated Greek word meaning “IMAGE”.  Icons of Christ and His saints depict the reality of the incarnation; because the Son of God became Man, He can be imaged.  Orthodox Christians honor or venerate icons, but never worship them, for worship is due the Holy Trinity alone.  The honor given to icons passes on to the one represented on the icon, as a means of thanksgiving for what God has done in that person’s life.  (The Orthodox Study Bible, p.1782)

This icon is known as Christ Pantocrator, “Ruler of All”.  In this year of church-homelessness I have been blessed by this visual, physical reminder that God has all things in His control and that he steadily cares for us.  As the prayer reads:  “You have shown Your customary love towards mankind...”  Customary, as in habitual, constant.  What grace.

So my day went on and the afternoon found me in study at my desk._MG_4776It’s a cherished spot in our home.  The children love the special occasions when I let them do work there, but most of the time it is a place set aside just for me.  Again, for whatever reason, I turned my chair around and looked across the room.  I have there hanging a print of Christ praying in Gethsemane.  It was an image clipped from a Ladies Home Journal in 1922 and carefully matted with strips of cardboard by a loving hand.  I’d purchased it at a thrift store, stunned by the care someone had given to preserve the cheap print.

Well, the face was glowing bright.

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My first thought was that I’d never noticed how drastically the painting was done; like a Rembrandt with his startling use of shadow and light that made the bright points of the painting near leap off the canvas.  I kept staring and was suddenly sure that something was different; the painting had never been so striking before.  I got up and walked toward it.  All of a sudden the light calmed flat as my presence interrupted a singular ray of light that had pierced the filigree on my front porch, sliced through the uppermost corner of one of the tall windows and hit solely upon the inch-wide face of Christ, leaving the rest of the painting in shadow.

I stepped back and the face filled with that singular light again.  In another moment the light had shifted and was gone.

Again, God leaves margin; there is nothing miraculous in sunlight striking where it pleases as the earth rotates and orbits the sun.  It is, however, highly unlikely that the face of Christ in two distinct works of art would be illuminated singularly twice in one day and that both times I would pause uncharacteristically in my work and witness it.

I was hesitant to tell my husband; afraid I’d be dismissed as the sort who saw the Virgin Mary in a tortilla or something of that sort.  But it felt so special, so astonishing, that at evening’s end I did share it with him.  He shared my wonder and my pleasure and the mystery of it.  We didn’t try to wrangle a meaning out of it.  I was left with two strong emotions:  joy and surprise.  It was the feeling when you know someone thought of you especially and sent you flowers or a note.  That “I am noticed and loved” sort of pleasure.

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I had sent the children up to their rooms to clean, my disapproval a palpable presence in the house.  There was a nudge in my spirit though, and I was drawn to the morning prayer.  God filled my heart with the words;

“Arising from sleep, I thank You, O Most Holy Trinity, that, for the sake of Your great kindness and long-suffering, You have not had indignation against me, for I am slothful and sinful.  Neither have You destroyed me in my transgressions. But You have shown Your customary love toward mankind, and have raised me up as I lay in heedlessness…”

Daily He extends mercy and grace.  Daily I fall into sin and repent of it bitterly.  I resolve in my heart to hold my tongue, to exercise more patience and grace, and daily I must repent of my failings to do so.  I was ashamed that I had offered my children less than I had received.  I called them downstairs.

I read them the prayer and tears filled my eyes.  I told them the story of the debtor who was forgiven his great debt and then had demanded unjustly the payment of a small debt from another in anger.  I told them that I had no grounds on which to withhold forgiveness and mercy from them when they failed, because forgiveness and mercy were not withheld from me when I did. Seventy times seventy times seventy.  I looked into their eyes that swam with emotion which matched my own.  I said, “You will screw up, just as I do.  But I will forgive you as I have been forgiven, and each of us will try again.  God promises to forgive our every failing and to help us to do what is right.”

The prayer writes of the “customary love” that God has for us, and that is just what I seek to grow in; customary, habitual, constant love, a reflex of sorts towards compassion and mercy and kindness.  The experience with the light last week has reminded me of God’s presence with us, His interest in us, and His lovingkindness towards us.  The prayer has reminded me to extend that great mercy and love to those who’d be most keenly effected by the absence of it in my words and actions, my children.

God whispers in His Word and in our hearts and through art and burning bushes, and let us pause so that we do not miss a word of it.

 

The Goth At The Pep Assembly

It was all RAH-RAH and pom-poms and school colors and loudness.  A high school pep assembly.  Looking through the lens of time it’s easy to wonder what the point of it all really was.  Something to the effect of stating:  We are this school!  We are a-w-e-s-o-m-e!  Other schools (shouted shrilly) are less awesome and we’ll eat them for breakfast!  Accompanied, as it was, by the almost-provocative routines of the cheerleaders and the more conservative twirls of the color guard and the strident blasts of trumpets and trombones, it was like a circus of self-aggrandizement.  And I always pitied the goths.

How on earth do you survive such a pep fest?  When your muse is wearing black and looking dour and avoiding sunlight and all things cheerful?  When all around your peers are standing up, stomping their feet, waving their arms, hollering themselves hoarse, and there you are, sitting, quiet, wishing for all the world to be in a corner of the library, reading Poe.

I’m not a goth, but I do have an attitude problem.

It struck me during a service at a local evangelical church.  Our burgeoning family filed into a pew, the worship being already in full swing.  The words to the songs were displayed on large flat screens, with nature scenes as backgrounds.  I ground my teeth.

Why do the songs need to look like obnoxious motivational posters?

Oh my word, this song is idiotic.  Worst of all, it’s theologically untrue.  

That woman over there is actually going to punch the air with her fist every time that lyric is repeated.  Yep, there she goes again.

Stop it, stop it.  Sorry, God.  I’m having a hard time worshiping You today, this way.

By this time I usually have sat down with one of the babies, bowed my head, and under my breath, began to pray.  Sometimes one of the ancient songs will fill my heart and I’ll sing that “..for His mercy endureth forever, alleluia”.  All around me people are swaying and singing, hands lifted up in the air, joy in their smiles and cheer all bunched up in the creases ’round their eyes.  And I’m like a goth at a pep assembly; I couldn’t possibly feel more out of place.

It isn’t right to mock or disdain, that I know and I regularly confess with sincere grief.  But there’s more to my reaction than just pride.  I am mourning and I am angry.

I am mourning because I’ve come to know the beauty, warmth, truth, and joy of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, but I cannot be a part of it.  I honor my husband’s leading of our family, and have had to lay my desires down.  It is one of the few areas in our married life that push came to shove and he had the final say.  Most of the time we reach an accord naturally.  Not with this.  But though we attend evangelical churches (as we are yet in-process of finding a church home), I have his blessing to continue my studies of Eastern Orthodoxy and occasionally we attend services at St John’s.  Dustin regularly comes home to me listening to ancient chants and hymns or absorbed in a theological work with a pencil at hand.  I partake of the feast by crawling under the table for crumbs.  Some is better than none, I remind myself, when tears flow and the sorrow sticks in my throat.  Some is better than none.

I am angry because so many churches are singing nonsense.  And heresy.  Seriously, who is writing this crap?  It feels like a narcissistic romp through my own emotions with Jesus thrown in.  Music is a powerful medium for informing our beliefs; are we singing our theology?  Are we singing true things?

I have to be fair; not all the songs are bad.  Maybe even Byzantine chants would look cheesy overlaying some picture of a waterfall.

When the final prayer has been said, to the background accompaniment of soft guitar strummings, I keep my head low.  I gather our things and hope no one talks to me.  Because, though I am a believer and a sister in Christ, and though this was all once as familiar to me as sliced bread, I am painfully out of place.  I cannot put on a false and brave smile and speak Christianese with the cheerful strangers around me.  I’ve never been good at pretending, so I’m afraid this would happen:

Good morning!  I haven’t met you yet!  Are you folks from around here?”

“Morning.  Yep.”

These all your kids?  Are you just visiting or….?”

I don’t want to be here.  I don’t like evangelicalism anymore.  I think I’m burnt out on everything that’s happened in the Western church since the Byzantine times.  I’m tired of the autonomy, the lack of authority, the sola scriptura-touting denominational sectarianism. I’m only here because my husband likes this.  I’m a mess.  I’m sorry I’m so rude.  I’m going to go to the car and cry now”.

I don’t want to do that to someone on a Sunday morning.  I am getting to know the patterns in the carpet well.

Trust me, I know, I know my attitude is bent and snarly.  But I’m also in pain.  Deep pain and grief.  Measure me some grace on that account.

And pray, I beg you, that God would give me His peace about where I can be and where I can’t, where I can feast and where I can’t.  And may the crumbs from His table satisfy and nourish me as I seek Him.

 

 

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.