“I Will Be Blessed” by Ben Howard
Heaven is a place we hold.
Heaven is the arms that hold us
Long before we go
If you’re there
When the world comes to gather me in
I will be blessed
Heaven is a place we hold.
Heaven is the arms that hold us
Long before we go
If you’re there
When the world comes to gather me in
I will be blessed
The last post that I wrote was over three months ago.
I’ve started a few posts, but haven’t been able to finish them.
Partly because I haven’t really had an hour to breathe since mid-February.
Partly because I have nothing to say.
Partly because I have so much to say that I don’t know where to start.
Truth be told, this time of year always gets me a little down. Every year since my dad passed away in June 2014, a general malaise and “I’m-so-done-with-this-whole-life” attitude sets in around Memorial Day and doesn’t lift until mid-June (which, sadly, is always when Father’s Day happens).
There are still a few hundred others things I should be doing right now (and as I type this, I’m falling further and further behind), but I am utterly burned out, and WHATEVER, I need to do this.
In the mood for some rambling?
Here we go.
Three months. Three funerals.
One, a lifelong friend who has known me since I was 8. Her death, expected, but still difficult.
One, an acquaintance, whom I had only met only a few times. Husband of my colleague. Father of four. His death, sudden and unexpected, the last page of his story, ending in mid-sentence. Tragic, confusing, and unbelievable.
One, someone whom I have never met, but whose words created a new space for me in the Christian faith. Writer. Theologian. Mother of two young ones. Her death, also unexpected, tragic, confusing, and unbelievable.
The lifelong friend that I lost was the mother of a close friend, the kind of person who knew everything and anything about how you grew up, who you were, and what kind of person you are still becoming. Her funeral was the only one that I had any time to process, a full “luxurious” nine hours to speak at the funeral, cry, and rest with a coffee cup in hand while hearing and telling stories. (Thank you, babysitters.)
And then there were three tornadoes that tore through my hometown, though mercifully not through my neighborhood. On the morning of Tuesday, May 29th, I got texts and messages and emails, “Are you okay? Let me know.” Our community’s tragedies, front page national news.
This is the tough part of Life.
When you have to keep doing all the responsibilities, all the work, the chores, the parent-teacher conferences, dentist appointments, birthday parties, oil changes, groceriesgroceriesgroceries, not to mention all the future-focused, long-term plans (Should I go back to school? When? Change jobs? When? What kind? Where? How?)
Do all of that, while you’re reminded over and over again that:
We will all die.
Our children will die.
The homes that we build and the things that we acquire will blow away, burn, or crumble.
The great achievements that we work toward and glory in will fall into ruin and be forgotten.
Even if what we do amounts to something on this planet, Earth is still in the midst of the Milky Way, which is spinning towards Andromeda, and billions of years from now, all of this will explode in another fiery end.
What does it all mean?
Okay, right, obviously it does matter to my children that I teach them how to love and show kindness. That I live my life in a way that I want them to live.
Of course, yes, that matters.
I guess what I’m wrestling with is the truth that,
the plans and aspirations and goals that I have in my life… aren’t really that important at all.
What does it matter if I never have a boss that can appreciate my competence rather than be threatened by it?
What does it matter if I’m never paid enough for the work that I do?
What does it matter if I never make another creative thing–a book, a post, a video–that other people enjoy?
Why does it matter so much to me that I be productive, that I continue to achieve… because all of things that I’ll make and achieve are really just dust.
Or, more likely, bits of data, easily erased or buried.
That truth is the same for all of us.
But perhaps what is different is our conclusions about that truth and how we let it affect our lives.
And then there were these words from Nadia Bolz-Weber at Rachel Held Evans’ funeral.
While it was still dark.
So I guess there is something that you find at the bottom of the pile of grief, that continues to grow because there’s never time to process it all.
There is some measure of peace in knowing that it’s okay.
Whatever I do.
Whatever I don’t do.
Whatever I plan to do, but am never able to accomplish.
All is well.
I can still see you holding my three-week-old daughter in our living room, rocking in the glider. You offered to stay overnight at our place and help out with the night feedings on occasion, and we gladly took you up on the offer.
You cradled her in your arms, your gaze landing on her tiny face, your hands tracing her tiny hands. You said, “Oh… This is the best.”
“Really?” I asked, thinking of how unbelievably sleep-deprived I was. “The newborn part? Not when they were older?”
“Well…” You paused for a moment, before breaking into a wide grin, “Actually, it was all pretty awesome. But this… I just have such fond memories of my nursing my boys.”
I smiled. You rocked.
“But honestly,” you said. “I really loved it all. Every moment of it. I’d do it all over if I could.”
We talked for a time about your health, as you had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer several years earlier.
“I remember praying to God,” you said, “And I said, ‘Well, if this is my time, then it’s my time…'” Then you broke into that same wide grin, “I thought, ‘But, I sure hope it’s not!’ Turned out it wasn’t yet, and now I’m just grateful for every day I have here.”
After the initial shock that you had recently passed wore off, I combed over my memories of you. Things you had said to me first as a student, and then later as a kind of occasional life mentor. And I arrived at a common refrain:
I’m sorry I couldn’t see what you were trying to show me.
I remember all those times when I was your student and I was working through physics problems. Rather than teaching the laws of physics deductively without fully understanding their application, you used a clever, inductive reasoning approach to help students discover the laws for themselves.
I didn’t realize how clever of a method it was. I just knew it was making me think. A lot. And because I didn’t trust my own logic and judgment, it made me nervous.
When I’d come to you with a set of questions or completed problems, ready for you to approve so I could move on to the next module, I remember thinking…
I hope I got the answers right.
I hope I don’t look stupid in front of you.
I hope I don’t let you down.
I remember you gently asking me to consider, once again, what was the difference between acceleration and velocity.
You knew how to talk to a fragile overachiever like me. You didn’t tell me I was wrong. You just asked me to “tighten up” my understanding.
You were also merciful to the class as a whole. I remember a time when our entire class failed a quiz. You stood at the room, your right hand clutching the frayed edges of notebook paper, and you said somberly, “Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is…everyone failed.”
A brief moment passed to let that information sink in.
“The good news,” you continued cheerfully, “is that you can take a second quiz to replace that awful grade!”
For you, there was never failure. There were just more opportunities to try again.
For you, it was never about arriving at a destination.
It was always about the journey.
I wish I could have seen it that way. I wish you could have brainwashed me completely into seeing the world as full of wonder and possibilities.
It makes me sad to admit it, but I held myself back in your class.
I wish I could have let go of my fear of getting a bad grade in order to really embrace the deeper mysteries that this universe holds.
But I was young and insecure. I defined myself by what I achieved. And if I didn’t achieve, who was I? What did I have to define myself?
And so, I wouldn’t allow myself to imagine a future in which I was uncertain of whether or not I would succeed. I wouldn’t take the risk of pursuing a career in science or math. Because I was convinced that eventually, people would realize that I was an impostor. It would all catch up with me and I would fail.
So instead, I would carve out a path on which I wouldn’t fail.
Because, after all, what was worse than failing?
I was young. I was insecure.
After high school, I stayed in touched with you because your son married my good friend, Linda. I saw you over the years at get-togethers at your house or Linda’s house, and each time, you were the same: smiling, laughing, joyful.
You still peppered your speech with intonation and emphasis that made a lot of what you were saying into either Great News! or A Good Joke!
You were always interested in what I had to say, no matter what I talked about. You were that way with everyone, I think, and it’s why people loved you. You cared about what people said. You didn’t just listen–you heard people. Maybe this was because you found joy, real joy, in the happiness of others.
This is partly what made you such a great teacher: You were able to see me as a whole, complicated, unique person, someone more than just the scared-of-math-and-science teenage girl sitting on the left side of your class from August 1999 to May 2000.
But your willingness to being authentic with me also helped me see you as a whole, complicated, unique person.
Reciprocity like that is rare. And it is powerful.
Last night, I had a dream. It was one of those recurring dreams that you feel like you’ve had hundreds of times before (and it’s a mystery to you why you’ve always forgotten about it in your waking life).
I was walking a perfectly paved path, high in the most beautiful, lush mountains I’ve ever seen. But it wasn’t cold. Even the highest peaks had no snow. As I walked that path, I was completely free of any responsibility that I’ve ever had. I was so untethered, I felt like I was floating.
I was so, so full of joy.
And the music. If I knew how to compose music, I could have written out all of the notes when I woke up this morning. But that memory is fading.
What stays with me from this dream is my certainty that I was coming back.
I had been there before. Many times.
And I was home among something beautiful and wild that had missed me as much as I had missed it. And my joy was coming from the realization that I had been away for so long on a journey that had taken me everywhere but here. That everything I needed to do and everything that people needed from me was completely finished.
But it was the journey that made my coming home so joyful. For how can you be as joyful to see something that you never left?
It was all those moments spent with my own students, from countries far and wide, who first awakened my own curiosity in other ways of seeing the world. The same ones who helped me open my mind to the fact that (shockingly) there were so many ways of seeing and living in the same world.
It was all the times I thought well, this well definitely be the thing that breaks me… and then it wasn’t.
It was all the happiness, the stories, the hugs, the missed chances, the blatant mistakes, the fights, the kisses, the stress, the doubts, and all the uncertainty of the journey…
That made coming home so joyful.
What happens when we die?
I used to be so certain of the answer to that.
I used to be so well-educated on all things spiritual, particularly in my senior year of high school. I had answers, and those answers were supported by carefully selected Bible verses.
But I’m being a lot more honest with myself these days.
And I’m willing to say, I don’t know.
What happens when we die?
During my morning runs this week, I thought about this over and over again.
If we are more than body, what happens to us? Where do we go? Do we travel to some higher dimension that we can’t possibly imagine with our three-dimensional brain? Will I return to this heaven in the mountains, some strange place that calls to me for reasons I don’t understand? Do we review our lives in retrospect, weighing everything we’ve done? Do we wait between worlds until we feel ready to move on? Are we re-united with the ones we’ve lost? Or do we lose all sense of self and join a larger, higher consciousness? And what would that even be like?
I thought a lot as I ran.
And then clarity hit me.
I was finally doing the thing that you were trying to teach me.
I was wondering.
I was in wonder.
I was allowing myself to not have the answers. To allow myself to live in the space of uncertainty. And I was doing it without thinking of myself as a failure.
Isn’t that what you were trying to teach us the whole time?
To wonder? To think?
To allow yourself to not have the answers, but by God, to think about it.
Sometimes, clarity hits you in odd ways.
Sometimes, it comes to you as you think about a loved one passing.
Sometimes, it seems almost supernatural.
Because when I slowed to a walk during one of my morning runs, I looked over at the sign for the apartment complex down the street. Lots of things around here are named “Normandy.” Normandy United Methodist Church. Normandy Elementary. Normandy Ridge Road.
But in that moment, the sign of the apartment complex was partially covered.
And all I saw was,
It was my honor to have met you in life. I hope we meet again, if that’s what happens when we die.
If you see my dad (You can’t miss him. He’s about 6′ 3″, mostly bald, and he’ll be wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, tucked into his swim trunks, which he calls his wrestling todds), please tell him that I’d give anything to listen to one of his annoying political rants, even if it meant hearing the words Make America Great Again hundreds of times–as long as he makes me his Famous Thresherman’s Breakfast when he’s done.
Four years later. Still hard.
One of my father’s favorite songs was, “Daystar.”
He particularly loved it as sung by our small church’s music minister, Darrell Sproles.
Lily of the Valley,
Let your sweet aroma fill my life
Rose of Sharon show me
How to grow in beauty in God’s sight
Fairest of ten thousand
Make me a reflection of your light
Daystar shine down on me
Let your love shine through me in the night
When it was sung at his funeral in June 2014, it meant a lot to me that my name was in the first few lines.
If I could talk to him now, what would I say?
After I’m sorry for ever causing you pain and I love you,
I probably would tell him that his grandchildren would have loved to have known him.
He always had a very tender way with kids aged 2-5.
Love you, Dad.
Maybe it started when I fell while I was running.
That was June 1st.
Maybe that’s when this rough patch started.
While jogging in the dark, my foot must have caught on a piece of raised sidewalk and I fell forward and hit the concrete just as a minivan was passing me.
Left knee, right knee, left hand, right hand. I saved my face. (At least physically.)
The minivan kept going.
For a moment, I just lay there against the concrete, gauging my pain.
I hurt. But I didn’t think I had broken anything. I couldn’t see how badly I was scraped up, but I felt it mostly on the outer edge of my left hand and my right thumb, which was warm and wet. Blood, for sure.
What else to do but keep jogging home with bleeding hands?
I’ve only had a few dreams of my dad since he passed away three years ago, but they’ve always come around this time of year.
In the first dream, I walked into a convenience store and was looking for a jug of milk to buy. (Who knows why. I hate drinking milk.) After I pulled it out of the refrigerator case, I saw four men sitting at a small booth, playing a card game. All their heads were lowered, studying their cards.
I walked over and even though I couldn’t see their faces, I just knew that one of them was my dad. I don’t remember what I said to him, but we talked like we always did — our eyes looking at other things, words passing between us that didn’t really resemble anything like what we really wanted to say.
Like, I miss you.
Like, I love you.
Still, whatever we said was comfortable and familiar enough to make us feel like all was well.
It was then that I realized that my ride was leaving.
“I have to go, Dad.”
“Don’t leave,” he told me, still not looking up. Still staring through his cards.
I kissed him on the head, complete with his bald spot, and I told him that I would come back.
“It will be too long. I don’t want to be alone,” he said.
“I swear, I’m coming back, Dad.”
He didn’t lift his head. He just sat there, sad and withdrawn, just as he did for the last few years of his life. Completely alone, even in the midst of company.
I kissed his head again and walked toward the door.
When I got to the door, I turned around and told him, “This is where we can meet, okay? This is where we can find each other. I’ll come back. I promise.”
I woke up feeling empty.
I’ve never been able to get back to that convenience store.
A few nights ago, as the anniversary of his death approached again, I dreamed again of my father.
It was a scene I’ve lived a thousand times before — riding in the car next to my dad, his left hand balanced casually on the steering wheel, his elbow resting on the edge of his open window. He was talking a mile a minute about everything and anything, the way he did when he descended into periods of mania. At first, it was normal. Just dad talking and talking and talking while I was looking out the window.
Then, it started to snow. And snow. And snow.
The drifts piled up around the car as we drove. But then he veered into the parking lot of the K-Mart in the town where I grew up. He started driving in a circle, talking faster and faster, the tires kicking up snow around us. I told him to slow down, but he wouldn’t. As the car picked up speed, we spiraled once, twice, three times, four times.
With each pass, I tried to keep my eyes on a fixed point outside of the car. The McDonald’s. The apartment building. The ATM. Anything that would keep me anchored to reality.
Maybe, if I could keep my eyes on something, I could slow us down.
Maybe, this time, I could be the one to anchor both of us.
Maybe, this time, I could keep the world from spinning, keep him from sliding into depression, keep him from falling and breaking his neck.
But we kept spinning and spinning and spinning.
In my dream, I started screaming.
And then I was beside my mother, and we were looking at a calendar. She wrote down her birthday, May 9th. But then she crossed out the 9th and wrote in dark letters, May 10th and underlined it.
“What year?” I asked.
She wrote “1” and “9” very easily, but then struggled to write the next number. It came out looking like a gigantic “9” and then a “0.”
“1990?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Sure. It all kind of blends together.”
And somehow, I understood that we were deciding when we would go back in time.
We were trying to get back to a time when Dad was Dad.
I woke up a few hours later and went for a morning run in the dark.
Because I’m a glutton for punishment? Maybe.
I prefer to say it’s because I refuse to be beaten by a bad experience (although, there are plenty of times when I am).
It was beautiful that morning. The moon was full and still high in the sky at 5:00 a.m. I watched the sidewalk much more carefully than before and walked for a few minutes before I started jogging.
The Head and the Heart played on my Pandora station.
Darling, this is when I met you.
For the third time not the last
Not the last time we are learning
Who we are and what we were.
You are in the seat, beside me.
You are in my dreams at night.
it’s easier to run with bleeding hands than it is to run with tears.
I’m like a lot of people — I only want to believe that dreams mean something when they’re good.
I don’t want to believe that the bad dreams mean anything more than the emotions that I’m working my way through when I have them.
American women are more likely to die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth compared to women in any other developed country.
At 1:27 p.m. on February 2, 2017, I gave birth to an 8 lb. 10 oz. boy.
Because there was meconium in my amniotic fluid, a NICU team was paged to be present at the birth to make sure that the baby’s lungs were clear.
Those first minutes after birth were very blurry. There was just too much going on to fully appreciate everything that was happening. From my perspective as the birthing mother, I remember my son turning his head upward and looking me in the eyes (that really happened). I remember seeing that he was a boy. (A boy!?! Really!?! What?!?!)
I remember dropping my head back against the bed and crying in relief that it was over. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s the last time I’m doing that.”
I was euphoric and so, so grateful. We had made it. We had survived that. Both of us. That was what I was thinking.
I did not know that I was hemorrhaging.
This is the thing about hemorrhaging: It happens so fast.
It happens while mothers are crying from happiness that their baby is alive and breathing. It happens while they’re trying to get a good look at their baby’s face. It happens silently as the room’s atmosphere turns from the intensity and suspense of the pushing phase into joy and excitement of the delivery phase.
No woman wants to believe that it’s going to happen to her. I had none of the risk factors associated with postpartum hemorrhage.
But it still happened to me.
While we were celebrating and crying and basking in the joy of the birth, my midwife was tracking my blood loss. I remember looking down and seeing her furrowed brow every time more blood poured out of me. But I didn’t think anything terrible was happening. I was flooded with joy and gratitude that labor was over.
But in the first ten minutes after birth, more and more nurses entered the room and the treatments started. My midwife told me each treatment that she was doing to stop the bleeding. By this time, I had lost about 1200 mL of blood, about 2.5 pints of blood. In other words, I had lost about 25% of the blood in my entire pregnant body.
Surviving postpartum hemorrhage requires a medical professional who quickly realizes what is happening and starts treatment immediately.
In my case, the midwife tried a shot of Pitocin. When that didn’t work, she gave me Cytotec. When that didn’t work, she gave me IV Pitocin. She kept massaging my uterus. She was on her last treatment before starting a blood transfusion: a shot of methergine.
That’s how close we were to a true emergency.
Hemorrhage is one of the leading causes of death in childbirth.
Let me be clear: postpartum hemorrhage isn’t caused by a lack of care. This would probably have happened to me if I had given birth anywhere else.
But women die from hemorrhage when doctors and nurses don’t quickly recognize the amount of blood loss and begin treatment. Some states, like California, have codified and implemented standardized procedures and training for nurses and doctors so that teams can quickly and efficiently follow protocol to prevent postpartum hemorrhages from killing mothers. Instead of “eye-balling” how much blood a mother loses during delivery, nurses were taught how to collect and measure postpartum blood loss to help them quickly identify hemorrhage.
“Hospitals that adopted the toolkit saw a 21 percent decrease in near deaths from maternal bleeding in the first year; hospitals that didn’t use the protocol had a 1.2 percent reduction.”
But not all states have such standardized protocol.
A joint investigation by NPR and ProPublica found that more women are dying of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth compared to any other developed country.
In every 100,000 births in the United States, 26 women die. In other developed countries, the numbers range between 5 and 9 births. And those numbers have climbed from 17 to 26 deaths from 2000-2015.
It seems unimaginable. Really? In the United States? But we have so much technology. We have some of the best hospitals in the world.
What the hell is going on?!?
There were several major findings from this investigation.
America has not conquered maternal mortality. We like to think that because we have advanced technology and highly trained medical professionals that tragedies like a woman dying in childbirth just simply don’t happen anymore.
At least not nearly as much as it used to.
It’s a kind of hubris, really. To think that we have mastered childbirth. We have tamed it and told it who’s boss. In fact, we’re so good at childbirth that we should just focus most of our attention on the infants. They’re the ones that are the most vulnerable, right?
But the truth is…
“In recent decades, under the assumption that it had conquered maternal mortality, the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being.”
~Nina Martin & Renee Montagne, “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth”
If there was one major takeaway from this report that I want to share with everyone it’s this:
Women still die in childbirth.
Giving birth in the United States does not guarantee that both mother and baby make it out alive.
I completely agree with the report’s observations that labor and birth put women in the most vulnerable position in their entire lives. They don’t know what’s going on. They’re immersed in the pain and process of labor. Birthing women depend on everyone around them, doctors and nurses alike, to notice the signs that an emergency is unfolding.
If you or someone you know will be giving birth in the United States in the near future, I strongly encourage you to read ProPublica’s full investigative report on this topic.
This is not a political issue. ProPublica is an independent organization that is not funded by political donations.
This is a human issue.
American women are not immune to maternal mortality.
For the women who die every year from pregnancy and childbirth from preventable or treatable conditions, let’s raise our awareness of this problem and insist that we study this at the national level, not just the state level.
We can do better than this.
The death of a new mother is not like any other sudden death. It blasts a hole in the universe.
~Nina Martin and Renee Montagne, “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth“
My absolute worst fear is suffering the death of one of my children.
I can imagine coming to grips with the death of anyone in my life.
Except my children.
Last Friday, I was reading my Facebook feed and read a horrific post from a member of my church.
Her daughter-in-law, Britney, was driving on a two-lane road with her five-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, and two-month-old son, Jonah, in the backseat.
You already know how this story ends.
An oncoming car illegally crossed the center to pass a car.
It killed the little girl.
The mother and baby boy survived.
In the picture, Jocelyn was balancing on one foot, as if in the midst of dancing. She was posed proudly with her baby brother. Smiling. Blond and smiling. Happy. Just like my daughter.
There at my desk, I cried.
Britney was me. Her kids were my kids.
And my heart was broken for her.
All of this happened just days before Mother’s Day.
It was too cruel and unfair for one person to bear.
How could Britney face life and the world, now knowing, now feeling every day, that horrific things like that can happen?
Just like that.
How could she keep going?
But of course I know how.
We all know how.
She’s a mother.
This is stuff that mothers are made of.
Loving through pain.
Living while part of you is dying.
Believing through despair and doubt.
Resiliency beyond measure.
Pure grit and strength.
Britney has already undergone several surgeries to repair her broken bones, including her pelvis. She has been moved out of the ICU and into the trauma unit. (And let’s not forget the fact that she’s just three months postpartum.)
Her newborn son also suffered extensive injuries. Two broken femurs and a broken arm.
He is currently being cared for around the clock by his grandmother, Lanae, who works as a surgical nurse. He couldn’t be in better hands while his mother is recovering.
I made myself imagine what I would do if I were living Britney’s reality.
What would I do?
I would sob and ache and grovel and resent and rage.
For a Long Time.
I would lash out and blame and despair.
I would be out for blood. I would crave Revenge. I would want to hurt and crush and obliterate. I would want to empty the life of the person who didn’t think first, who would rather take a risk, who thought the laws didn’t apply to him.
(Because I think first. Because I don’t want to take the risk. Because I don’t think the laws don’t apply to me.)
And while I would be going through this, I would still have to Get Back Up.
Although I would want to take time off from Life to mourn and process and make meaning, I would have to immediately Get Back Up.
For my son.
Because he would still need to eat and sleep and grow.
He would still need my arms to tell him that he is safe, even though I had just seen how unsafe the world can be.
I would need to decide every hour to keep on practicing the appearance of Love even though I’d be simultaneously steeling my heart from the possibility of Future Pain.
Because Love would have just killed off a part of me.
Love had created a trove of beautiful moments of my little girl — but now there would be no more. And the more time that would pass, the more those memories would lose their clarity. And if I forgot any part of those memories, it would be like losing her all over again.
All I really would want to do is climb into the ground with her so she wouldn’t be alone in the dark.
I would be like this for a Long Time.
But I also know that One Day, through the crisis and search to find meaning, I would finally choose Love again.
Because Love is the only path to Peace.
I would keep walking.
I used to pray that Life Would Be Okay and Get Better. But I’ve stopped doing that.
Because that’s not what Life is for. The life worth living isn’t a life without pain because the pain is what shows us life’s worth.
When I say prayers now, it is in moments for others who are in pain.
And the prayer is that they keep moving
And keep walking through the pain
And that if they fall, that God will reach a Hand down to help them get back up.
Our hearts ache with yours in your time of hurting and grieving. My prayer for you is that you keep walking through the pain. Keep moving. And keep believing that there is good in the world even though it is also so very bad at times. In fact, perhaps the world is good because it is bad.
Years from now, I hope that you can look back at these dark hours of your life and see all the light that people are shining on it. It’s always the people who have suffered and cried and walked the Path of Pain that will be the first to reach out their hands to you. Take those hands. Let them help you get back up. And don’t feel guilty about it. You are not a burden.
Because Some Day, it will be you who is the one reaching out and saving someone else.
You are not alone.
And you are Loved.
If you would like to help this family financially as they cope with medical and funeral expenses, you can contribute through their GoFundMe fundraiser here.
No gift is too small and you can give anonymously if you prefer.
If you would like to provide financial assistance to Lanae as she takes care of Jonah full-time, you can donate here.
Are you ready?!
This is the most likely comment that people will say to me in the next few weeks.
How do I honestly answer this?
Yes. I don’t want to be pregnant anymore.
No. I’m not ready for labor again.
Yes. I’m tired of all the fluid retention.
No. I’m not ready to breastfeed again.
Yes. I want to finally see this baby.
No. I don’t want to do all the night feedings.
Yes. I can’t stand carrying all this weight anymore.
No. The room still isn’t ready yet.
Yes. We’ll never be fully prepared anyway.
When I sleep at night on these bitterly cold days, I sweat. I throw the sheets off until I freeze. Then I pull them back over me. Repeat.
I have crazy dreams. Last night, I successfully managed to outsmart, outrun, and hide from a serial killer who had me trapped in an office building, much like the one in Mad Men (which, of course, I’ve been binge-watching lately).
At full term, a woman’s placenta generates as much estrogen as a non-pregnant woman will produce in three years.
Thus the sweating and crazy dreams.
In the weeks to come, the loss of these same hormones will cause me to shake with hot flashes and chills, to weep at the drop of a hat, and to constantly check to make sure the baby is sleeping.
Basically, their loss will make me feel completely undone.
This is the beginning of the ride down into powerlessness. This is when my individual will and desires start to bow their heads to my body’s processes and the needs of this tiny person, now coming forth.
This is when I become a passenger in my own body.
Dr. Robbie Davis-Floyd, a cultural anthropologist who specializes in the rituals of birth, points out that pregnancy is both “a state and a becoming.” If you translate the word “pregnancy” from Latin, it would literally read, “the state of being before being born.”
It is a kind of limbo. To be pregnant is to experience the world in flux. To see the world turned upside down and inside out. In her book, Birth as an American Rite of Passage, Davis-Floyd writes that,
“the near-constant inner and outer flux of pregnancy keeps the category systems of pregnant women in a continuous state of upheaval as old ways of thinking change to include new life” (p. 24).
So fluid is this state of being that I oscillate back and forth between wanting to be free of this pregnancy and not wanting it to end.
Labor also brings its own set of paradoxes.
In labor, the fastest way to progress is completely counter-intuitive.
You need to relax through the pain.
Try it the next time you burn your hand or stub you foot so hard you scream. Your first instinct is to clench and bear down. Not to breathe calmly through it.
Labor takes you out of the boat and throws you to the mercy of a series of invisible, crashing waves. At first, you might hold your breath through the pain and gasp for air in the breaks. But in time, the waves come at you harder and faster, leaving little to no time to breathe.
And that is when you realize that what you really need to do is stop fighting.
Let the water hold you down, down, down. Until you are still.
Because the more you resist, the longer labor is.
So surrender becomes your savior.
Surrendering to pain. Accepting it. Even though you don’t know when it will end.
That is the smoothest path through labor.
As a human being, I loathe this truth, that surrender is necessary in labor. I hate uncertainty and I cling to control. I avoid pain if I can.
But allow me to get spiritual for a moment.
As a Christian, I understand this truth.
Of all the symbols that Christians could have used to represent their most ardent belief, they chose a symbol of execution. Of Death.
Instead of choosing a symbol of humility (the manger) or peace (the dove) or bounty (the fish), Christians chose a symbol of intense pain and sacrifice. A sacrifice so crushing that it would obliterate body and mind, leaving behind only spirit.
They chose a symbol of death because they believed that it was only by dying to their previous lives that they would be able to embrace new life. They believed that before experiencing true humility and peace and bounty, they first needed to give it all up.
Because you can’t truly receive until your hands are empty.
Emptiness first. Then Plenty.
Death first. Then Life.
As a Christian, this is how I understand labor. I see labor as the most authentic expression of what I worship.
I follow a belief that Death comes first. Then Life.
Death to Self. Then, New Life.
As I’ve said before, January doesn’t seem like a month that goes well with birth. It stands in contrast to so many other months when we see evidence of life at work. In the United States, nature lovers will tell you that we are currently in Deep Winter, a period of seven weeks before Early Spring begins. In these weeks, we see nature as barren, perhaps even conquered.
But below the surface, the world is shifting and preparing for spring.
I think about this as I walk in the mornings now, bundled beneath layers. Even though the winter air bites and stings, the winter light still warms me when the clouds break.
I went to church last Sunday and I was reminded that we are in the season of Epiphany, the time of year when Christians remember that God’s light doesn’t just shine on us. It comes down to light our way. Even though the darkness consumes so many hours of these winter days, the light is still there.
Even though darkness, light.
Even though Death, Life.
Even though pain, progress.
Even though two, one.
Even though being, becoming.
Even though ready, not ready.
It was one of those unusual days that turned into an unusual night.
Work was hectic. I was getting geared up to travel in a few days. I was attending an in-town conference that included networking dinners.
And the grocery shopping still needed to happen.
So there I am at Kroger at 9:30 on a Friday night, nodding my head to “Name” by the Goo Goo Dolls, which I find oddly comforting. It takes me back to a world where my chief concerns were learning how to write a thesis statement and whether or not that boy in geometry would ever want to talk to me about more than just my homework answers.
Then, I groan as I put it all together. I’ve entered the phase of my life when I’m part of the most heavily marketed demographic for advertisers: young mothers.
I load the cart with the fruit collection (apples, pears, oranges, bananas, and berries of all kinds), the veggie collection (broccoli, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes), a bunch of food from the “hippie section” because my husband is allergic to X, Y, and Z, then I swing by the health and beauty section to pick up travel size contact solution.
I’m tired. I’ve been getting up at 5:00 a.m. so I can work out before the day begins rather than coming home luxuriously at 3:00 p.m. to exercise before I pick up my daughter from daycare. My FitBit reads 11, 534, 11,355, 11, 536.
As I draw near the checkout lanes, a lady turns her register’s light on and beckons me. Her short hair tapers and ends against her neck, just barely brushing her collar. She adjusts her dark-rimmed glasses and starts sorting my groceries. Even though it’s late, she still rapidly types in the codes of all my produce–from memory of course.
“And are you having a fantastic night?” she chirps.
I roll my eyes. “I mean, where else would I rather be?” I joke.
She laughs. “Well, at least it will be over soon.”
“I can’t wait. This day just keeps going and going…”
We laugh together, but then I instantly feel the need to dial back my complaining. I wonder how many hours she has been on her feet today. I remember how hard all those hours of cashiering at Target were on me–and I had a teenage body during those years.
“What about you?” I ask. “When do you get off?”
“I’m off at 11:00,” she smiles, “And then I’ll get a good six hours before I get up and go to the nursing home.”
She tells me that she has been volunteering at a nursing home in downtown Dayton for the last twenty years, mostly as a companion. She even brings her daughter, who is now in high school.
“It’s hard sometimes, you know…” she says, “When you get to know the residents, all about their lives and their families. Nothing really prepares you for when they transition.”
I nod along as she talks, until she gets to that word, transition.
I know what she means, of course, but I’m struck by the word. I’ve never heard of someone refer to death in this way. But she keeps on going as if what she has just said is completely mainstream. She talks a little more, but I’m still stuck on how she has framed the concept of death.
We say good-bye to each other and I look down at her name tag.
It says Sway.
After four days at the TESOL 2016 Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, I’m sitting in the airport with three of my colleagues, all of us eager to get back to our normal lives.
As I’m sitting at the gate waiting for my plane, I flip through four days of notes and start to make lists of things to do, things to read, and things to consider. A complete distillation of what I’ve learned in the past four days–at least as much as I can manage before my memories fade too much.
But then I hear applause.
And then more applause.
And then more applause.
I stand up to see if I can figure out what’s going on. I see a few American flags and I think, Oh, some soldiers are coming home. That’s sweet.
I go back to my notes. But then there’s more applause. And more. And more.
A crowd gathers.
“What is going on over there?” I ask my colleague, Olena.
“Just go and see, if you want.”
As I draw near the gathering crowd, I see that a few hundred people have gathered around a gate and a line of formally attired soldiers are each shaking hands with an old man who is being pushed in a wheelchair.
I think I understand, but I want to make sure. I ask a stranger next to me.
“It’s an honor flight,” she says. “For World War II veterans.”
One by one, about forty veterans travel down this corridor of applause, as these young soldiers reach out to shake their hands. People cheer and applaud. They take video and pictures. One of the veterans buries his head in his hands and the audience responds with even more cheers.
It takes time and a lot of corralling, but the lead organizer of the honor flight manages to take a group picture.
Sunday afternoon. Back at the grocery store. Since we only need to get a few small items, I let my daughter push the just-right-for-her-size kid’s cart through the maze of Sunday afternoon shoppers. I leave a hand on the edge of the cart to make sure she doesn’t plow over someone else’s foot by accident.
When we finally approach the registers, I fall into a line that is three customers deep, which seems to be typical for this time of day.
The line advances. And that’s when I see Sway.
She smiles when she sees me. I tell her that I just got back from my trip and she asks how it went. I tell her about the honor flight and the World War II veterans and her face lights up.
“It’s funny,” I say. “I was hoping that I could tell you about it and here you are.”
“Well, it makes sense,” she says. “It’s all connected.”
I turn this idea over and over again on the way home.