Friday, February 14, 2014

the land of the living

"Whoever you are, the land to which God has brought you is not like the land of Egypt from which you came out. You can no longer live here as you lived there. " - Thomas Merton, Echoing Silence

Sometimes, I wish I could go back.

Back to my old self, the self that lived in the land where if any good-loving-Christian desired any good and pure thing, it would be given to them.  The land where I believed that if I asked and I prayed until there were nothing but tears flooding the foot of the cross, God would hear me and he would respond miraculously.

Back to the land where I had dreams, the kind of dreams I couldn't imagine myself ever being without.  Dreams of a beautiful future, of motherhood, of mission and of purpose.  Dreams that God would make happen, because they were good.  Dreams of the day when the doubt and the worry would be washed from my eyes and I would know-that-I-know-that-I-know that God is good no matter what.

I believed so much in the land where I used to live -- things that are true, things that are only half-true, and things that are not at all.  I've carried them all with me for as long as I can remember, yet grief has loosened the ties that had them bound to my being.

Some must be left behind as things that were never supposed to be truths in my life anyway.  They must be abandoned in the hope that new truths will someday take their place.  Others must be re-tied and double knotted so they cannot be loosened again.  And most of them, they just need some fixin' before they can be tied on again.

You see, I was raised by my parents until I went off to the world's largest Christian university and was raised by fundamental evangelicals.  There, they taught me how to be a good Christian, how to study the Bible and why I should tell my story.  I heard a-thousand-million-times that if I ask for anything in the name of Jesus, God will grant me the desires of my heart.... and if not, I should thank Him anyway.

None of these things are bad.  I just see things differently now that I have been raised by suffering -- things like how it is humanly possible to feel gratitude amidst tragedy and how to put one foot in front of the other when you literally-cannot-see-a-gosh-darn-thing ahead.

Sometimes, I think it would be so much easier to go back -- back to the land before I knew suffering so intimately, before everything got so tainted by the harshness and matter-of-fact that life is so freaking hard.  I would go back and I would live as if life is "fair" and all good-loving-Christians are rewarded for their good deeds and things like miscarriages would never in-a-million-years happen to me.

But I can't go back.

I can't go back because suffering has changed me, and now, life is different and deeper and more complicated than I've ever known it to be.  I can no longer live and dream the way I used to because of what I now know. There is just no place in the old land for me anymore.

****************************************

I can only hope that new dreams and new understanding will rise to meet me in this new land where nothing is guaranteed and good-things-prayed-for aren't always given and God doesn't owe me a thing.  I can hope, although I'm not sure I know how-to anymore.

All I really know is that there's no going back.  There's only going forward.

There's the tripping, the slipping, the stumbling and the falling --

face-first into the land to which God has brought me.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

To my dear, sweet Baltimore: please forgive me

Anyone who has been on social media these past few days has likely seen all of the I-love-and-hate-baltimore-city blog posts soaring through Facebook and Twitter like wildfire.  

Posts like the one-that-started-the-blaze -- Baltimore, you're breaking my heart, written by Tracey Halvors -- followed by a few response posts about how Baltimore is not breaking hearts and how complaining-without-doing can be deadly, and my personal favorite, the Whose Heart is Baltimore Breaking, Really? post.  

As someone who has intentionally chosen to live in the neighborhood that these posts are talking about, I feel compelled to speak up in a different kind of way.

I don't often share specifics on my blog about our lives and ministry here in East Baltimore for various reasons --  one of those reasons being that as a white, middle-class girl living in the thick of a city that is factually ridden with crime and drugs, I cannot claim to know anything about what is actually happening in the lives and systems around me.

I cannot claim that I know why some kids in my neighborhood make it to college and others spend their lives behind bars.  I cannot claim that I know why racism plagues the city that I live in -- white against black, black against latino, latino against white.  I cannot claim that I know why there is so much addiction, so many vacant homes, way too many people without homes, homicides at the end of my block, and so much fear everywhere. 

But it makes my heart bleed a-different-kind-of-red.  

This city is far-from-perfect, but in my opinion, very little can be accomplished when we point the finger at mayors or school systems or the whites-and-blacks.  Sure, everyone can play their part to try to help turn these woes of our city into something beautiful, but there is no one person to blame or one solution to all of these problems.  It's a whole mess of heartbreaking things that have gone wrong and need to be made right.  And all of us baltimoreans have a role in this.

All of these woes -- the woes that made Tracey Halvors speak up about her hatred of this city -- we all know that they exist here, as they unfortunately do in so many places across the globe.  While I do not feel the need to comment on the specifics of Tracey Halvors' post, I will say that she is right about one thing -- these woes should break our hearts.

These woes should break our hearts, but not because we want to be able to walk around our blocks and use our iPhones at the same time, or because we want to have a bonfire with our friends in backyard without having the police helicopter shine down on our fiesta, or because we wish the drug-addicts would "just go somewhere else."

These woes should break our hearts because every time there is a murder, or a drug-deal, or someone trafficked, or a crime committed by a child who should never know how to commit crimes in the first place, that's a few more souls lost to the war in our midst

That's a few more families invaded by the broken. That's another mama who will spend the rest of her life in jail.  Another child's daddy who will miss birthday after birthday because he made a choice.  Another grandma who will cry herself to sleep, rubbing those rosary beads as hard as she can.  Another college student who will suffer from nightmares.  Another auntie and uncle who will grieve after they get the call that their niece has lost her life to heroin.  Another child who will choose drugs over school.  Another person who will fear her neighborhood because she has been victimized in some terrible-way-that-should-never-be-so.

When lives are turned upside down by brokenness, our hearts should break.  We should grieve because people are losing their hope, their lives, and their souls.  

I'm no expert on these subjects by any means, but I have seen the lives of my blood-and-not-blood family torn apart by drugs, crime and hatred.  I have grieved over these woes, and the reality that such terrible, hurtful things exist in this world {let alone in the lives of people that I love} will never be any-less-painful to consider. 

But please hear me out, because I'm trying to speak from my heart here -- a heart that has been touched by so many of the people that we're all so quick to judge, a heart that has been no less broken or destructive than the hearts of those who murder, or steal, or use.  I believe that our hearts should break for the woes in our midst, but also for the woes inside of us.

My heart breaks because I have felt a-wrong-kind-of-racist-fear -- the kind of fear that makes me question whether the person behind me is going to hurt me just because of how he looks or talks.  
My heart breaks because there have been times that I have judged and not loved; 
times when I assumed I knew someone's story because of the color of their skin; 
times when I have shaken my fist at this city because I felt tired of hearing the sirens in the night; 
times when I have wanted to leave and give up because it all felt too heavy to carry
 and too impossible to have hope that someday, we will all be whole again.  

My heart breaks because I have been a part of the problem.  

I have cast stones and judged when the evil in my heart is raging triumphant.  

I have forgotten what it means to truly love in the name of Jesus. 

And for that, my dear, sweet Baltimore: I am sorry.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

a different kind of writer's block

I put a lot of pressure on myself as a writer.  

I tell myself that I should write at least three times a week {if not more}.  I should have something valuable to say when I write and there should be some grand conclusion to my ramblings that makes the whole piece worth the effort of writing it. 

Everyone knows that the word should can be a really dangerous word that has the power to breed a deadly-kind-of-perfectionism. 

But lately, I've been seeing more than ever that there are times when the words just don't fit nicely in a blog post on this page.  

These days, I haven't done much writing at all.  Some might say that I have been out there living, too busy to snap a photograph or to think of any deep, reflective meanings for the experiences I am having.  If you ask me, I will tell you that the well has all-but-dried-up.  There have been few words, or feelings, or teachable moments that I have wanted to share.  Sometimes, that's just how it is, and we go with it -- we embrace the solitude and the silence and we try to heal.

I've been here before, stuck in this different-kind-of-writer's-block where the words come, but they are scattered like paint that has been angrily thrust onto a blank, white canvas.  Their colors are splattered everywhere in no specific arrangement or order and they make little sense to outside eyes looking in.

These are the broken-hearted words of a childless mother.  Words like loss and hate and without and I'm not sure what I believe anymore, thrust out of my heart and onto a page for the world to read and hear and contemplate.  They are not always pretty and faith-filled and sometimes, they offend.  Thankfully, I know better than to share them all.  

I have gotten a lot of questions lately about how I'm doing after our most recent miscarriage.  A lot has happened over the past month, things I hope to be able to share about in the days ahead. 

But for now, I'm not ready to try to put beautiful, meaningful words to what I'm experiencing.  There are parts of this grief process that are really ugly.  Parts I just don't want to share.  

But I know as well as you do that these broken-hearted feelings, they are mine to wrestle with.  These labels I now bear, they are mine to reckon with.  These words that are both ugly and beautiful at the very same time, they cannot be prayed away.

They are my broken-hearted words that will be thrust from my heart and onto a page in due time 

because I am writer, 

because this is how healing comes, 

because "this is my grief, and I must bear it" {jeremiah 10:19}.

>> until next time <<

~ me

Friday, January 3, 2014

let's not be afraid {meditations from Henri Nouwen}


{ excerpt from the Henri Nouwen Society's free daily meditations }

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

reflections for the new year

I wish we could all enter the new year with a squeaky clean slate -- turn the page, embrace new habits, and leave the ugly of 2013 behind.

That's how it works, right?  We start fresh once the page of the calendar turns to January 1.  We're new people, the kind of people who are motivated to get fit, eat right, do better, be more loving, and conquer the world.  The past is behind us and we're moving forward.

I so wish that the turning of a calendar page could make us new.

But what we don't talk about on January 1 is that the old doesn't just go away when we turn the page; it follows us into the newness -- what we've done, who we've been, the joys and the sorrows, the things that have broken our hearts and crushed our souls.  These things are a part of us, a part of us that we carry in our arms and into the new year.

The page turns, and in my arms I carry joy -- the joy of growing closer to my runner-man through the trials of this past year, of learning how to be a better wife, of becoming much-better-friends with our neighbors, of turning our inner-city row-house into a home, of adopting our puppy-dog Madeira {the beast}, of watching the kids in the community make tough, god-honoring choices, of seeing so many of our closest friends become parents, of sharpening my voice as a writer.

The page turns, and in my arms I also carry sorrow -- the sorrow of remembering M {our first baby lost due to miscarriage}, of trying and trying and trying to conceive, of losing our second precious little baby to another miscarriage, of experiencing the kind-of-grief that never leaves your side, of hearing gun-shots at the end of our block that turned into homicide, of strained friendships that used-to-be, of one of my dearest friends moving away, of decisions that have flipped life-as-we-knew-it upside down.

A few years ago, my runner-man and I went with some friends to visit a city church-plant in Richmond, VA.  We sat around a table with one of the pastors and his family and talked about ministry, the mistakes we've made, and how to balance our commitments with family life.  Somewhere during this conversation, his adorable-adopted-son gave me this yellow thomas-the-tank-engine gummy bracelet with the words full steam ahead written on it.


I wear it when I need to be reminded that that life goes on despite all the twists and turns and heartaches -- that grief cannot conquer all -- that we can always turn the page and move forward -- that in my weakness, I am strong in Christ.

We can all move forward, full steam ahead, into the excitement of a new year.  But whether we invite it or not, the old is coming with us.  We will carry the joys and the sorrows in our arms and into the new.  If we let them, these things can teach us, and mold us, and give us perspective for the days ahead.

And as we press on, full steam ahead, the old will slowly {but surely} make us new.

happy new year.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

now I know better

(original image from here)

I didn't know I was supposed to say something.

A few years back, they shared the news of their miscarriage in casual conversation, and me -- I had no idea how I was supposed to respond.  Do I tell them I'm sorry?  Talk about the weather?  Look away?  Tell them God has a plan?

How was I supposed to know?  I had never been pregnant or lost a child of my own.  I was newly-married, living in the phase where everything was peachy and when we were ready for the baby-in-the-baby-carriage, it would come.  

Back then, I had never really heard about miscarriage or read any books about it.  I certainly had never talked about it with someone who had been through it {not really dinner conversation, I suppose}.  I had no idea how deeply painful it was to experience a pregnancy loss, or how much a miscarriage could flip a life upside down.  I had no idea. 

So I didn't say anything at all.  I think I may have even changed the conversation, as if the baby had never been mentioned; as if their miscarriage had never even happened. 

Come to think of it, I think I've done this more than once or twice. Cancer diagnoses. Death. Loss of a job or house.

I didn't know I was supposed to say something -- anything to let them know that I was there, on their team and grieving with them. 

Back then, I honestly don't think I knew how.  

But I know better now.  I know better now because I have been there {twice}.  My own life has been flipped upside down.  Pregnancy loss has touched me.  So, now I know. 

I know that telling a grieving someone I'm sorry is the most simple, yet beautiful thing to say.  I know that no matter how strong a person's faith, it just may not be the time to talk about God's refining purposes for our battles.  I know that losing a baby -- no matter how tiny or short-lived -- is losing a person and thousands of plans and dreams for the future.  I know that stories about our-friend-so-and-so-who-had-twenty-miscarriages-and-now-has-a-healthy-baby are well-intentioned, but give off a painful kind of hope, a hope that may never be.  I know that a grieving someone just needs space to be messy.  The healing process can be oh-so-messy.

I am no expert on grief, but I'd like to think that I know better now.  I know that I am supposed to say something.  And if I could go back and tell my friends those two simple words -- I'm sorry -- I would say it a thousand times to erase how deafening my silence must have been to their ears. 

Now I know better.  And I am better because of it.

For that, I am thankful.

Monday, December 23, 2013

when christmas invades

To be honest, I thought that all the what-ifs and the should-haves would swallow me up this holiday season.  I had already decided that there would be no listening to Christmas music, smiling at Christmas cards or placing our nativity scene on the shelf.  Christmas would come and go, and I would be swallowed up with it and spit out into the new year. 

Losing anything is really hard, especially when the world around you is rejoicing and skipping and singing fa-la-la-la-la.  Miscarrying our first baby, and now our second -- that has been harder than I could ever imagine.  This was going to be the week that announcements would flood our loved ones' mailboxes and we'd just be moving into what the world considers to be the safe part of a pregnancy {as if there is such a thing}.  The world around us would rejoice, and we would rejoice along with them.  We would offer prayers of thanksgiving to the bearded God-man for the little life squirming around inside of me. 

But none of that will happen this year.  And some days, the what-ifs and the should-haves and even the have-nots do swallow me up.  I stay in bed and neglect to eat or turn any of the lights on.  This is an inescapable part of what it means to grieve, and I am okay with that.  

But on days like yesterday, when I was sure I could never-in-a-thousand-years celebrate Christmas {or anything remotely joyous} this year, 

we hosted a Christmas party.


Eight of the boys from our neighborhood middle-school bible study flooded our little city row house and we rejoiced.

We made gingerbread houses {and insanely creative gingerbread football stadiums},

   

    

fought over giant whoopie cushions and candy and headphones during a white elephant gift exchange,

  

snapped hilarious photos,


 


ate tons of red-and-green M&M cookies, 

and speculated about whether or not these lumps of coal are really coal at all.


Christmas invaded our little city row house yesterday and it didn't swallow me up.  

It made me laugh, and smile, and feel really thankful for the life that we have.  

It did not take away the pain of losing our babies {because nothing can do that},

but it did help me to see that there can be joy in the midst of suffering;

that something happens when you put up the lights, embrace what makes you most afraid, 
and just live.

So, here's to the living and the rejoicing and yes, 

here's to the kind of Christmas that invades.