Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: peace

A Time to Say Good-Bye

When my dad died five years ago, I didn’t have the chance to say good-bye.

Since then, I’ve had a few dreams about him. But nothing that has given me much closure.

Until recently.

The dream went like this: My dad is alive. So is my mom and her new husband, Warren. And everyone is okay with this.

It’s a dream, right? You know how dreams are.

It’s also Thanksgiving and we’re back at our old house in Huber Heights. The table is set up in the living room, which is awkward. But that’s because my youngest sister’s bed is set up in the dining room, and we’re all coping with that.


There are lots of chairs around the table, but no one is sitting down. I see that it’s because, apparently, everyone has already eaten except me. I feel hungry. And yet I’m frustrated because there is food all over the table and the floor. I start picking up, scraping bits of food into my hands: lemon wedges, wet and cold Spaghetti-os, cracker crumbs, and rice. Absolutely nothing that looks like anything we would actually eat at Thanksgiving dinner.

No one is helping me. Actually, I can sense that they are annoyed that I’m cleaning up. They’re all talking with each other, laughing, having a great time.

Apparently, my dad and Warren are old pals. I can hear my dad’s laugh above everything else. That cutting HA! that interrupts what someone else is saying, just before saying, “Well, that’s just like what they did down there in…” And he segues into a new story. They’re off to the races.

Ah, whatever, I think as I get up from scraping up food from the carpet. Maybe later.

By the time I get over to where I think my dad is, I see my mom sitting on the sofa, staring out the window, a book on her knees. She’s sad. And she won’t talk about it.

And she’s also pregnant. Like third-trimester pregnant. At sixty-some years old. Her hands rest protectively on her belly.

It’s a dream, right?

Suddenly, she’s gone. The book is still there, conveniently left open to the page that she was reading, marked with underlining. The heading reads “Brain Disorders.”

“It’s her decision,” my dad says. He’s there now, sitting on the couch.

“Why won’t she talk about it with me?” I ask.

“This isn’t about you. This is between her and God.”

“But…” I can’t think of the words. But what I feel is this immense emptiness opening in the fabric of my life. This is isn’t about you. This is between her and God.

Through the window, I see the tree in our backyard tipping over, its roots becoming exposed to the air.

“I don’t want her to make that decision,” I finally say.

“It’s not about you,” he repeats.

He is not somber. He’s actually quite jovial about it. His health has been restored to the last time that I remember him being physically and mentally well, probably around 2007. He tries to help me see the positive possibilities. What if the brain disorder actually benefits the baby? He tries to give me examples of babies with certain brain disorders who were born in the past and who are now astounding doctors. He places his fingers close together and far apart, saying something about the spaces between synapses.

“But we don’t know what type of condition the baby has,” I say.

“You can’t know everything that you want to know,” he says. “Sometimes, you have to trust God.” He is laughing.


The nerve.


“What?” he says.

I reach over and grip his large hand in mine, pull it to my heart and lock it there so that we are connected from fingers to elbow. This is not something I ever remember doing when he was alive. Our family wasn’t big into hugs and we certainly didn’t hold each other’s hands.

But I don’t have the words anymore.

All I have is the grief of his loss.

The knowing that when this is over, he’ll be gone again. He will slip away for months or years, away into realities that I cannot sense or galaxies where I cannot travel. He’ll be gone again and I’ll still be here.

And I won’t know when I’ll see him again.

I don’t know what I’m doing, but I feel that I’m sending out everything that I want to say but can’t find the words for. All the empty spaces in my life where he should be. All the moments that he should have seen with his grandkids. All the times that I regret I didn’t spend more time with him. All the jealousy that I have for my peers who still have their fathers with them. All the love that I still have for him that has nowhere to go, nowhere to land. And so it swirls inside of me and rises at unexpected moments. Crying in the store over 0.99 cent cinnamon rolls. (I would pay you $1 NOT to eat them!, I had joked.)

My roots are raw and exposed, my world is upside down.

I pull him all the way to me, into my very heartbeat.

And he starts weeping.

He doesn’t deny how I’m feeling. He doesn’t tell me it will all be okay. He stops mentioning God and the possibilities.

He just weeps with me.

We don’t talk anymore. I just hold his arm against me until all the emotions are gone and what remains is stillness. Peace.

Once all these emotions have been released, the truth that remains is that my father is Gone.

And I don’t have to be okay with that.

I’m not angry. Anger is just an emotion that covers a far deeper wound.

No, the anger is gone.

Now, all that’s left is love and pain. And it’s not wrong. It’s not a failure or a flaw. Sometimes, this is just the way that it is.

Sometimes, love just plain hurts. Sometimes life grinds cold Spahetti-os into the carpet, pulls out trees by their roots, and takes away the people that you love the most. And it gives zero shits about how you feel about any of it.

But there is also Peace to be felt in the middle of it.

But first, the pain has to find its way out. It cannot be numbed or ignored or medicated. It needs to be felt and acknowledged, directed and released.

The only way to Peace is through the Pain.


I woke up shortly after that, replaying the bits and pieces that I remember over and over. Dreams are often slippery suckers. But I think this one will stay with me for quite a well.

It felt like a chance to show my dad what I’m carrying with me through this life, now that he is gone. But also to assure him that I will be okay, as long as I have someone to hear my stories, as long as there is an outlet for the emotion to flow through me and settle elsewhere. It’s the bottling up that makes grief unbearable.

It felt like a space to catch my breath.

A moment to hold on with all I have.

A moment to decide to let it all go.

It felt like my chance to say good-bye.

When you are far away
I dream on the horizon
And words fail,
and, Yes, I know
that you are with me;
you, my moon, are here with me,
my sun, you are here with me,
with me, with me, with me.
Time to say goodbye
To countries I never
Saw and shared with you,
now, yes, I shall experience them.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
which, I know,
no, no, exist no longer.

with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you

“Con Te Partiro” Lucio Quarantotto, as sung by Andrea Bocelli

Cure for the Election 2016 Blues

Like other Americans, I’m working hard to detach this election year from my emotional well-being.

I’m reminded of this clip from The Tudors (one of my favorite series of all time), in which two of Henry VIII’s advisors discuss a translated poem about what it means to have a happy life.

On the left, Henry Cavill plays Charles Brandon, one of Henry VIII’s lifelong advisors. On the right, David O’Hara plays Henry Howard, another member of the court.

What strikes me about this scene is the emptiness of a life lived in the pursuit of power. Both of these characters spend years and years scheming and blackmailing that result in some gruesome plays of power that end the lives of others. Including thousands of innocents.

All in the name of rising above others.

But in the end, the things they long for are things that they could have without any power at all.

They long to live the lives that many of us are living right this moment. 

While this election season drones on and we watch politicians seeking to bury each other in quest of power, let’s not lose sight of what truly makes a happy life.

The happy life be these, I find

The riches left, not got with pain

The fruitful ground, the quiet mind

The equal friend, no grudge nor strife

No charge of rule, nor governance

Without disease, the healthful life

Wisdom joined with simplicity

The night discharged of all care

For much of human history, no place like this has existed in the world. I think our greatest challenge is to exist in the tension between seeking to improve this nation while still being grateful for it.

Let’s keep it in perspective.

Let’s remember that we owe many of these elements of a happy life to the simple fact that we live in this time period, in this country.

We have come a long way from the days of burning people at the stake for being the wrong kind of Christians or having our heads cut off because of our political dissension.

Let’s remember to love what we have.



To the Syrian mother of triplets, fleeing from ISIS



Dear Syrian Mother,

I saw this picture of your two-month-old triplets this morning.

I thought so many things when I saw this picture, and probably in the same order as the concerns that you currently have.

Are they eating enough?

Is their mother eating enough?

Do they have diapers? Diaper cream? 

Where do they go if they need a doctor? Medicine?

Where do they sleep? Are they safe? Are they dry? Are they warm?

Then, my thoughts shift to the emotional.

How is their mother able to sleep when she doesn’t know where they will be tomorrow?

Is their father falling apart because his ability to “be the strong one” is wearing thin?

Syrian Mother, my heart bleeds for you.

I remember having JUST ONE two-month-old baby. I remember that she used 9 or 10 diapers per day. She ate about 25 ounces (about .7 liters) of formula per day. She needed routine to help her sleep well.

She needed me. All of me. There was no room for me to be anything else besides a mother.

And then I think of you. Doing all of this for three newborns. While fleeing from war.

My heart bleeds for you.

Because of this war, you cannot be only a mother.

You are not only divided by three children, but you are divided by competing roles. 

You need to be a fighter. You need to be a doctor, an advocate, a peacemaker, and sometimes a beggar. You cannot nurture when you are looking for food. You cannot soothe when you are trying to secure shelter. You cannot be who you want to be as a mother because you are investing all of your strength into survival.

Thank God, you have family. Thank God, you have friends. This network of humanity is keeping you from falling beneath the pounding waves.

Syrian Mother, I don’t know if you are Muslim or Christian.


Please forgive the insensitive, decontextualized comments of American governors and presidential candidates, all of them fighting to make a name as politicians who are “tough on terrorists.” They are the loudest voices that are heard across the world, and it is embarrassing.

Please forgive the indifference of many Americans who don’t see your struggles as their problem. Many Americans are so busy with providing for their own families that they allow their opinions to be formed by their favorite “flavor” of media, or worse, by the opinions of everyone around them.

But not all Americans are like this. Some of us see these horrific pictures of what has happened to your life and we see our common humanity.

I felt this way especially after I saw this photo.



When I saw this photo, I cried.

No, I sobbed.

For a horrific moment, he was my daughter.

He lay lifeless in the sand in the same way that my daughter does in her crib when I sneak into her room at night to watch her sleep.

For a horrific moment, I was his mother.

I imagined how desperate and horrible life would have to be for me to get into a boat with my two children and hope for the best. I imagined that I would have to feel like there were no other options than to risk the danger of crossing the sea between Turkey and Greece on a boat packed with other people.

I imagined telling my children that we would be okay. That they should hold my hand and stay close to me as we got in the boat.

I imagined my last living moments on this earth, my children torn from my hands, their screams, their calling for mama, as I would desperately try to swim to them.

I imagined screaming out to God to save them.

If not me, then please save them. I’ll do anything.

I imagined all of this.

It made me sick.

And it made me desperately care about what I could do to help.

It made me wonder exactly what was happening in Syria so I could help other Americans understand your plight. It made me read. It made me question. It made me think, and think, and think.

I am saddened and disappointed in myself that it took this photo to make me truly have compassion for what you are experiencing.


Syrian Mother, I am a Christian.

I am a Christian who not only accepts the religion of Islam, but also respects your religious beliefs.

I don’t think you need to change. I don’t think your religion makes you less valuable as a human being. I don’t think you’re going to hell or that God loves me more because I follow the “right religion.” I don’t think you’re misguided or that you believe in a lesser God than I do.

I believe you are a child of God. Just as I am.

As a Christian, it is my duty to love. It is my duty to have compassion and to care for you as I would care for myself. It is my duty to care for your children as I would my own children.

But I realize that I am only able to publicly share these thoughts because I’m not afraid of being murdered by extreme Christians who believe that such proclamations amount to heresy and are worthy of execution, which is exactly what ISIS is doing to other Muslims.

Syrian Mother, if you are Muslim, I can sympathize with you about this movement of extremism within your religion. We don’t have a Christian equivalent of ISIS, but we have radical, extreme, fundamental Christians who speak loudly and seek to bend American laws and policies in favor of their personal beliefs. They feel justified for these actions because they believe they are acting on behalf of God.

Something strange is going on in modern American Christianity. There is a culture of fear and xenophobia that is fueled by a lack of understanding and familiarity with Muslims. Conservative Christians are reading the Bible literally, word-for-word. They have completely decontextualized the words in the Bible from the times and the people who wrote them. Even though we live in a modern, educated era when people should be able to critically think about the issues that face us, many Christians choose to view science and rationality with skepticism.

But perhaps the bigger problem in American Christianity is that many Christians don’t understand Islam. And they don’t think they need to because they already have “the truth.”

So they don’t know Islam.

And we are afraid of what we don’t know.

Many Christians don’t know Muslims. Muslims mostly exist on TV and in news reports. The word “Muslim” is often used in the same line as “terrorism” and “bombing,” and these associations are hard to break.

But I have been blessed to have these associations broken by my Muslim students, many of whom come from Arab countries and who are learning English to earn college degrees. It is through my teaching of Muslim students that I have come to be familiar with the faith of Islam and the lives of my Muslim students.

When we returned to our class after the horrific attacks in Paris on November 13th, one of my Muslim students said,

“Americans don’t understand that ISIS wants to kill other Muslims more than Christians. They want to kill Muslims who aren’t following Islam the way that they think Islam should be followed. Americans don’t hear the news about all the bombings and killings that are happening in mosques. They only hear about the attacks that happen in Western countries.”

Syrian Mother, I am blessed to be able to hear the voices of my Muslim students. They put a face on this war that is happening thousands of miles from where I live. They establish that common humanity between all of us.

Because of that, I am not afraid of you.

I am afraid for you.

I am afraid that fear will paralyze countries from taking action to help. That the possibilities of all that can go wrong will stop us from doing what is right and good and humane.

But more importantly…

I don’t want you and your children to suffer any more.

I don’t want you and your children to feel unwanted and worthless.


I know that we live worlds apart. We don’t share a culture, or a language, or a religion. But we share a common humanity.

And so I believe that in our hearts, we want the same things.

I believe that…

we both want to live in a world where everyone feels accepted and valued for who they are.

we both want to live in peace.

we both want enough food and shelter for our families.

we both want good education for our children.

we both want to know that God has not abandoned us in our desperate times.

Syrian Mother, I pray for you.

But I hope that you will pray for me, too.

I hope that you will pray for all Americans who need to remember that we are a country was built by the hands of immigrants who were once as desperate as you now are.

I hope that you will pray for all Christians who need to remember that they are called to live in love, not fear.

With deepest respect and compassion,

Your American Sister

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