A Moment’s Hesitation

I like Christmas. Really, I do. But I’m not feeling it. Not yet.

This approach is pretty much my process with life in general. But also with newborn babies, even the One in the manger. I’m one of those women who spent the first trimester of her pregnancies – and, in fact, the better part of the second trimester – hopelessly nauseated. As thrilled as I was for the baby to arrive, it was hard to feel excitement from my vantage point on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. There were some maternity clothes that I could not tolerate wearing the second time around, because I had thrown up in them so often the first time that the mere sight of those clothes made me nauseated and green.

I love being a mother, but I do not love the experience of pregnancy. I don’t think I need to feel guilty about this. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person – or even a bad mother. Transformation is hard. Things that never challenged me before I was pregnant became difficult, excruciating, frustrating. I never had trouble catching a full breath before I was expecting. I never experienced insomnia before I was pregnant. Never suffered from indigestion. Never had sciatica. No weird numbness, bone-crushing exhaustion or obvious brain damage. I reached the point in each of my pregnancies where I thought, “This body simply cannot handle the two of us. One of us has to go, and it’s you, baby.” But even in the midst of it all the physical discomfort, anxiety and impressive weight gain, I started to get excited. A new life is a miracle. It’s breathtaking. It’s full of hope and joy and love. The truly crazy part is that, notwithstanding all my quacking and moaning, I wanted to participate in the process another time.

There’s a reason that the angel’s first words to Mary are “Fear not.” Because the range of fear running from garden-variety anxiety to abject terror is an entirely reasonable human response to the whole situation. If we really knew what transformation would require, would we still agree? If we really knew, we would be foolish not to be afraid. It’s overwhelming. Mary’s “Yes” always amazes me. Granted, it is easier to say yes when you’re 13 and haven’t yet been assaulted by life’s many disappointments. But still. My initial response is almost always “No” (even when I was a young girl, and especially now that I’m not). Which eventually turns to “Well, maybe.” Until it finally becomes and “Ok, fine!”

Yes, already.

I don’t think this makes me a bad person – or even a bad Christian. I adore carols and Christmas tunes. Nothing makes me happier than finding the perfect gift. But I don’t love the hoopla and the tinsel and the lists. The whole holiday rigmarole makes me feel tense and overwhelmed and impoverished. I prefer the silent reverence. I love the tender, quietly inspired moments, preferably with a book and a niece in my lap. The whiff of her baby breath still hints of heaven, and as I hold her, I imagine the light that she alone brings into the world. Then I feel the spirit of the season. I love a table full of my own children, and I love drawing additional chairs to the table to include more. Their laughter fills me with joy. I love an evening decorating our tree, carefully unwrapping each of my mother’s hand-crafted needlepointed ornaments. There might be just a splash of whiskey in my glass of eggnog. Another festive family tradition.

I love Christmas. Really, I do. But I am mindful that there are those for whom this holiday season will be achingly lonely. That disappointment, fear and depression combine like a dense fog to chill and dissipate the light. There are families whose losses cast a palpable shadow on traditions that will never quite be the same again. Including my own family. And so I pause.

I do not jump headlong into this season with child-like exuberance. Instead, I keep the Thanksgiving pumpkins and chrysanthemums on the front porch for just a few more days. And then I start with stillness, and I wait for light. I approach hesitantly, hoping, expecting, and yes, trusting that the light is on its way. I ease gently into this season of imagination, wonder and hope.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your holiday path. And moments of stillness.

Intention

Morning’s sun rises, undeterred and formidable.
A warm smile
A gentle hug
A kindness
A moment of calm
A creative thought
A grateful heart
A compassionate shoulder
In song
In word
In a steaming mug or a chilled glass
In a full breath,
The first miraculous, squalling breath of a newborn.

The essential mandate:
Let there be light,
And there was.

Find it.
Hold on.

The pinpoint seems a small comfort,
Powerless
Insignificant
In the face of extraordinary darkness,
But that little light means everything.

A Future With Hope

If you had told me ten years ago that my life today would be full of joy and love, I would have happily, but not surprisingly, believed you. If you had told me then that I would now have four sons, a so-called hunting dog that I run with several days a week, and that I would have given up my designer kitchen (which I could really use as a mother to four sons), I would have thought you were touched in the head. If you had told me that Sam would die by suicide when our little boys were still little, that I would later fall head over heels for a handsome, kind and slightly irreverent widower, and that I would be happy to have three mothers-in-law, I would have advised you to put down the glass in your hand. I might have suggested that the blood of Christ, or whatever other concoction you were drinking, had gone straight to your head, and you should consider a conversion. And become a vegan. I would have backed slowly away from you. As soon as I was safely out of your earshot, I would have called my nearest and dearest friend to mock your hare-brained idea of God’s plan. She would have said, “I can see it – the picture of you and your new husband and kids will be on the mantle, right next to your Olympic Gold Medal.” “Oh sure,” I would have said, “And you could vacation with me at my new home in the Swiss Alps that I purchased with the proceeds from my Genius Grant.” “Obviously,” she’d reply, “because you will need a quiet place to write your memoir.” “You know what I’m looking forward to most in all of this?” I would have told her, “My interview with Ellen.”

We really would have had a lot of fun at your expense.

But then in my real life, Sam did die. By his own hand. Our boys were so little. And a Genius Grant seemed slightly more likely than my ability to get through a single day without crying the mascara right off my face and onto my sleeve. Which is about the time that a faith-filled, hope-full, fear-less friend gave me a stone bearing this verse: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, to give you a future with hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11.”

A future with hope?

It was absurd. It was infuriating. It was offensive. I wanted to throw that rock through a window. I had a pretty clear idea of what my future would look like, and Sam’s suicide was decidedly not part of what I envisioned. I stuffed the rock in the back of the drawer.

The thing is, though, that verse does not read, “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, to give you the future you hoped for,” which is, I confess, often where my prayers start. When things are going well, or as predicted and desired, then a bright future is not hopeful, it’s logical. Hope is really only meaningful when things look bleak. When it’s dark and cold and impossibly sad. Hope sounds ridiculous in the midst of gripping despair and overwhelming fear.

Hope showed up in the darkness, even if I didn’t recognize her at the time. It is not so much that I found hope as it is that hope reached out for me in all her many ways. She is tenacious like that.

Hope whispers, “I’m here.” She sends a note via email in the dark hours while the rest of the world sleeps, and she offers to share her milk and cookies because she cannot sleep either.

Hope shows up unannounced, happens to be in the right place at the right time. She walks toward me along the sidewalk, as if we had planned to meet at Talbots Kids to help my sons choose ties for their father’s funeral, while I silently weep grateful tears in the corner of the store.

Hope is contrarian. She utters the word “forgiveness” while everyone around is threatening hatred and retribution, and I hear echoes of her voice in quiet moments alone.

Hope is not afraid of my ridicule. She hands me a book, even though I don’t have the focus or the time or the inclination to read. She waits patiently.

Hope is not smug. She never says, “I told you so.” She often says, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Hope is confident. She waters the dry ground long before the tiny shoots of a new life sprout up through the dirt, turning their tender leaves toward the sun.

Hope is inflammatory. She hands me a rock with her message, and she is not afraid of my despair and rage. Hope inundates me with her relentless love.

Perhaps hope’s greatest gift rests in her message that the story isn’t over. Life is yet unfolding love, joy, compassion, gratitude, strength, connection, not exactly in the form that I expected, but wholly present nonetheless.

I keep the stone in my makeup drawer, right next to my lipstick. I gave up on wearing mascara after Sam died, but I never gave up lipstick. So I see the reminder daily: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, to give you a future with hope.”

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And a future with hope.