on settling

 

We found ourselves in Magic Kingdom, a little gift courtesy of Christmas and my parents and a trip to Florida for work. We had no expectations, with a tantrum-throwing toddler, an exhausted mama and a not-sure-he-was-ready-for-the-whole-princess-thing dad (though, we managed to escape unscathed by the princesses, with only a stuffed Tigger and a Star Wars book in hand … we rather like this spunky little girl of ours). And it was eponymously magical, and we laughed and rode and spun and flew and sang and watched people get doused on their way down Splash Mountain. We had a delightful time, and then we loaded up our little brown CR-V and traipsed back home, ready.

We got home on a Sunday afternoon, snagged a salad to eat after a week of let’s-not-talk-about-it eating out, and after a family nap and fighting my desire to stay in bed, I headed to the grocery store and bought 2 bunches of kale, lots of sparkling water, and the organic version of Cinnamon Toast Crunch because it exists and it sounded yummy.

When I walked in the door, 7 paper bags full of food richer, Price and Ellie were dancing up a storm, playing piano, and singing like they love to do. I started to make dinner - cod with tomato-herb butter and a massaged kale salad - and Price walked over to me and said, “I’m so happy we’re home. I know we were just at the happiest place on earth, but I love our life here so much.”

I was reading a beautiful post today, written by someone I admire tremendously from afar - the kind of person whose writing makes you want to either never write again or write furiously so you can be maybe a little bit like them one day. And she wrote about how she and her husband are on a journey, a journey that is oh-so-similar to the one we’ve had the last 4 or 5 years. Following God’s call to another city, never quite feeling at home, moving again, buying a house, feeling desperately lonely, selling the house at a loss, and waiting for what’s next. And I was struck so deeply by how our “what’s next” worked out. God was faithful to answer the prayers of his people, to bring us home.

Two weekends ago - before we drove to Florida - I stood up in a high school gymnasium and told a story in front of over 200 people. The audience was made up of leaders from the 4 congregations of the once-little church we called home, when we lived here before. The first time we went to Midtown 12S, it was called “Mercy Hill” and met in a little building on 12th avenue, on the second floor, above the old Las Paletas. I think it’s a yoga studio now. But there were 15, maybe 30 people there? Eventually the church moved to the white building down the street, where we gathered in 1 service with a few hundred folks, and fell into a small group that became family. Then we moved away, and I felt like the Israelites. We wandered, we thirsted, we cried out - and at every turn, God met us with “not yet, but trust me.” We prayed, but not as much as we fought - I wrote friends and asked for help, but not as much as I whined and criticized and doubted. But then it happened, and we got to come home, and we praised God’s faithfulness. And so I stood up in front of the leaders of our church, which has grown to 3 services and hundreds and hundreds of people, and I testified to God’s faithfulness to me, to us, and to our little-now-big church.

Dare I speak it in case it vanishes like smoke, but I feel settled. And settled is good. It has its own challenges, because settled begs me to extend outward because inward I feel a little more comfortable. And I’m finding myriad opportunities to do so, in our church, at work, with friends, and in our new little neighborhood.

My whole life, I wanted to be a traveler. I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to see the world and tell its stories. There have been seasons - even very recently - where I have ached for the unknown again, for setting sail into a different story, but then I look back on the last few years and I see how deeply unsettling it was to be unsettled, and I am grateful for laying these deep roots in this place. To tell its stories. To write my own stories with Price, with Ellie, with our family, with our friends.

I think a lot of writing (mine for certain) biases toward challenges, because isn’t it better and more interesting to struggle? Settled is not without struggle, of course. This steadiness of location is new ground, and it takes time to learn to walk in any new place.

But it is good to testify to the Lord’s faithfulness, because it doesn’t often look the way we expect it to. And if you find yourself in a season of unsettledness, where you aren’t sure where you’re going or you want desperately to go one way and all signs are pointing to the other, I can tell you from experience that there’s a good chance the answer you get will not be what you want. But here’s what I can say, with confidence - great is his faithfulness. Great is his faithfulness. And morning by morning, new mercies you’ll see.

I am grateful for our new mercies, every day, in this green-and-white house, where we are making a new home - a home I pray fervently where the Lord will be pleased to dwell, and where we will testify to his faithfulness every day.

“Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”
Hosea 6:1-3

on a holy tension

The other night we watched the college football national championship. Our friends poured in the front door, one after another, and poured drinks and scooped large bowls of chili that had been bubbling all day in the crock pot.

And then as the game wore on, as our beloved Tide started to roll backwards instead of forward, our friends trickled out the door, one after another, until just a few were left.

The last drive of the game was magical; not, sadly, for our team, but it was the type of pulsing suspense that had me taking shallow breaths and hiding under the blanket every time the ball was snapped … Price’s sounds would tell me how the play ended, and the silence that fell on the last play made me peek my head out just in time to see the white number next to Clemson on the screen tick up-up-up and over our score.

The game was over, we took deep breaths, we sighed at the disaster zone that was our kitchen counter, we turned off the lights and went upstairs.

Today as I flicked through twitter between meetings, I felt every vein in my body pulsing again.

I’m tired. I’m tired of baited breath and wondering who-hates-who today on twitter, and which side of the brewing battle over orthodoxy I’ll land on, and if my pure and idealistic reverence for journalism will meet its ugly demise in click-bait and/or the utter destruction of the first amendment.

I am terrified about tomorrow, and the next day and the next.

My anxiety has been spiking lately, and at night I draw deep breaths and watch my chest float the white comforter up and down. When that doesn’t work, I remind myself “I am not my anxiety, I have anxiety today," like one might have a stuffy nose or a particularly nasty headache because of the weather. And when that doesn’t work, I grab my phone and read by that I-know-it’s-awful-for-me blue light until my eyes are too heavy to stay open.

I am anxious about lots of things, some for here and some not. Some of it’s political, most personal. I am playing poker with 3 different versions of myself, each of us holding our hands close - waiting for the other to call a bluff and watch this whole carefully-constructed thing come tumbling down.

I sat on the couch and wept on Friday night, exhausted from the week and feeling more isolated than I ever have before - not personally, as Melanie, so much as by my beliefs, if that makes sense.

I believe in compassionate orthodoxy, but I’m not sure what that looks like in today’s Church and broader culture.

I cried because I’ve always been a Republican, but there’s certainly no room for me anymore in that party. I cried because I’m not a Democrat either, and when I look at the people running our country, I don’t see anyone that reflects me. And I didn’t cry because I need it to be different, but because it makes it hard. And most of all it strikes me that so many people have felt this way for so, so long under the worst of circumstances, and it breaks me wide open with empathy and heartache.

I cried because I'm a woman, and a wife and a mom and I work outside the home, and I'm in seminary, and all of those things together put me in a pretty small pool of people. None of them are easy on their own, and they certainly aren't easy all mixed together. But I didn't cry because I need it to be different, but just because it's hard.

It’s the same with theology, as I’m fumbling around to find my place in a world drenched with differing opinions, like it is always raining sideways with ideas and opinions that I can’t stay dry long enough to make up my own mind. But I know what I believe, and I know I love Jesus, and I know what Jesus said, and I know what Paul said, and I know what John said, and I know that those ideas aren’t always compatible with our increasingly postmodern society … and an increasingly pluralistic and left-of-orthodox Church. And I didn’t cry because I need it to be different, but because it makes it hard. 

It’s hard to look in the mirror and call my own bluff, to say — this is who I am, and what I believe, and I can’t hide behind 3 other hands of cards and drop the ones I need to depending on who I’m talking to or how I’m feeling. And it’s not that I need it to be different, it’s just that it’s hard. 

And I think maybe I'm learning a little about lament, about seeing the state of things and crying out because of the brokenness, but knowing at the same time that they aren't going to change - at least, not right now. And this isn't grief, because it's not a sharp pain, a loss. It is, I think, lament - which may be what happens as we get older, when we can hold lament and praise in a holy tension.

2016 was hard, but it was sharp and pointy, poking us uncomfortably and painfully at every turn. It was full of incidents that made us wince.

But what I'm left with is not a series of gashes and scars. It's more like a current that pulses through me. Lament is part of who I am now, and not because of any one thing, but because I see how hard life is and I carry that with me every day. And I hope this isn't coming off as privilege, or like I'm whining because it's hard. I promise it's not from that posture. It's not whining. It's aching. And I don't ache as much as a lot of people, but I do ache for those people. There's so much hurt and it feels like it's getting worse.

And yet, I carry it with a holy tension, balancing it with growing confidence in the only thing that can make it all this pain make sense - the belief that one day, all the sad things will come untrue.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.

On Being A Mom

Happy birthday, little one. 

To say that you’ve surprised me would be perhaps the biggest understatement of the year, maybe of my whole life. I thought I was ready for you that December night two years ago, but the panicked tears that streamed down my face and the hysterical hiccups that followed were but a shadow of what would come. 

There are achy, panicked places in me still … ligaments that stretched that are still sore when I spin the right away in the kitchen, and holes poked into every place in my heart and head, where the old me drips out slowly, like a leaky faucet. Quiet mornings remind me of what was and what could have been if there was no you, but the silly smile on your face - when you ask for “DAD” in your hoarse sleepy voice as I carry you from your crib to changing table in the soft morning light - wakes me up each day to the delicious reality that is you. And oh, I am so glad you are here. 

It is the occasion of your very special second birthday. We went for pancakes this morning, and we’ll have queso and cake this weekend, and you’ll open way too many presents as a precursor to the next week’s Christmas, when you’ll open even more. I’ll laugh at your goofy grin, and I’ll squeeze your dad’s hand, and we’ll share a smile that only we understand, the smile that says “how could we have ever been so lucky?”

What I wish I could give you for your birthday, though, is something I can’t wrap in a box and a bow. I wish it was that easy, to flatten myself out and fold in my arms and my legs, and tuck down my head, and crouch down in a little box the way you and your dad did this weekend, on Sunday morning when you “hid” in the giant box our new chandelier came in, and you pretended to surprise me with your loudest, silliest yell. 

But even if I could get my too-long arms and legs and fingers and toes in a little box, my heart wouldn’t fit alongside my limbs.

You see, what I wish I could give you was all of me, but the truth is, I’m too scared to turn it over to you. (Or to your dad, or to God, or to anyone else for that matter.)

I’m afraid to be a mom.

Perhaps that’s not the easiest thing to explain, because I’m not all that terrified to be YOUR mom, because I know you and I love you and we have the most fun together - more fun than I ever thought possible, really. You make me more of me and less of me simultaneously, which makes no sense at all and perfect sense just the same.

But for 2 years, and maybe a little more, I’ve been terrified to be A mom. Being A mom and being YOUR mom are two very different things, and I feel very stuck in that sometimes, and other times it’s like some big wide chasm we have to cross together, on a rickety old bridge that I’m too scared to start across and you’re too little to know just how wide and scary it is.

It also seems a shameful thing, almost, to whisper these words across my keys. But it’s true.

I don’t like doing dishes. I never fold laundry. We’re always - ALWAYS - late for preschool. Not that those things are requisites in any way for being a mom, but they are the little struggles that loom like mountains every day. They are the hill country that lead to the bigger fears, the ones about how I'll never be good enough, I'll always be too selfish, I'll never get to me fully me again.

And, I like who I am - or rather, who I used to be - or perhaps, most accurately, who I think I could be, unrestricted and unbound. But those ideas are not who I am, and I mostly like this new person as well, but there are plenty of days I glance in the mirror with a half-frown, sizing her up - me? Mom? Really?

I’m always exceedingly proud when I can find things like band-aids, or when I pack your lunch the night before school, because it feels like then I am actually A mom. But then it feels like I’m pretending more than being, like I just happened to pull the right sweater out of my drawer that morning, and I slip through the day with all of the false confidence it provides. Because when I dart sideways glances at the moms-who-were-made-to-be-moms when I drop you off at school, when I start-and-stop to talk about you too much, when I share-and-delete-and-share-and-delete little pictures and words of you, it’s because it’s all just a little bit uncomfortable still. Not with you - never with you - but always with me and who I am now.

But somehow in the midst of all this mess and doubt, someone saw fit for me to be YOUR mom. And I’m doing the best I can, except when I’m not, and then I’ve learned that I can - and must - ask for help.

None of these things make me a bad mom - not at all. Perhaps they even make me better - these doubts and insecurities and struggles - because I’m consciously aware of them, and my daily wrestling with them. They just add to the mix, this funny little cocktail we’re stirring up together that looks and walks and talks like a family, even if we’re not completely accustomed to its taste.

You plus me is so infinitely and wonderfully better than me before, and so on your birthday and every day I can try to give you a little bit more of me - but in turn I can receive a little bit more of you, and so on and so on forever. It is, perhaps, that that equation works itself out in every relationship - in marriage, in faith, in friendship. It is maybe what motherhood has taught me more than anything, that in giving more of myself than I ever thought possible (or frankly wanted), I receive back more than I ever thought I needed.

And so I think that, if I like being me (mom and all), and you like being you, and I like you and being your mom, and that gem of a dad of yours just keeps us smiling and laughing in his utterly delightful way, then we’re going to be just fine. One day, one mountain of laundry, and one silly smile at a time.

Happy birthday, sweet girl. We’re the luckiest.

 

On Daily Bread

It feels like all I can do is cook this week. And bake. And drink. And start over again.

I drove to work on Wednesday morning, my hands still smelling like garlic from the gallons of soup I made the night before.

I’ve made three loaves of banana bread, and fresh brioche, and two chicken pot pies, one for friends and one for us. I’ve made apple-clove syrup to stir into gin fizzes.

Tonight I made a huge batch of chili after Ellie went to sleep, and I’ll put it in the slow cooker in the early morning before I leave for work. It's more chili than the people coming over for dinner will eat, but that’s ok. I like leftovers. I’ll probably make  cornbread in my cast-iron skillet, after I brown butter in the bottom of it - butter that will sink into the batter and make a perfect crispy crust as it bakes in the oven.

Saturday I’ll make a birthday cake for a dear friend, and probably some blueberry-brie tartlets just for the hell of it. I’ll make another cocktail and cheers that friend into a stunning new decade of life.

Sunday I’ll make an annual favorite, “pumpkins stuffed with everything good,” and a big batch of cranberry sauce and then stuff my face silly with my dearest friends around a great big table, like we do every year before we head around the country for Thanksgiving with our families.

I can’t do much this week other than cook, it seems.

I’m antsy with energy that can’t work itself out. I want to run forever, I want to break down in tears and crawl under the covers.

I want to listen. Listen long, listen well, listen to everyone. And I want to hear. 

But for now, I can bake. I can cook. I can love on the people around me in a tangible way, around the table. If it’s the only thing I can do, if I can pour all this heartache and fear and loss and hope into another loaf of bread, another batch of soup - then maybe that’s enough. 

I can serve and eat daily bread, and ask for just what I need to get through today. And God will always provide it.

I turn back to a favorite Lewis quote, one that rolls around in my head every time my heart starts to beat a little too fast with anxiety about tomorrow:

"Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received."

 

Give us this day our Daily Bread. 

 

 

 

 

On Unpacking and Light Bulbs

I sat down to open the mail last week, and I cracked.

Every envelope I opened brought something new.

New address. New car. New insurance - home and car and health. New voter registration. New credit card, because mine got compromised by someone who went on an online dating service spree. Sigh.

I tore open every envelope, each one with more anger, more frustration, more exhaustion.

After two exhausting months, I'm done. I collapse on the couch and stare at my phone until I fall asleep at night. There's nothing left.

Moving is gutting. It doesn't matter if, like us, you are moving into a beautiful new house - a house you love. It guts and rearranges you. It takes everything that is in some semblance of order and throws it up in the air, like Ellie does with her puzzle pieces. And then we find them under the couch, in the chair cushions, in the kitchen drawers.

Here is my life: my lamps don't have bulbs.

We've lived in this house for almost two months, and my lamps don't have bulbs.

When I get up in the night, when I creep into Ellie's room and put my hand on her belly and feel her breathe so that I can breathe, I turn on my phone's flashlight and perch it on my bed. It's not a lamp, but it works. Because my lamp doesn't have a bulb.

Putting a bulb in a lamp is a small effort - minuscule really. The impact, of course, would be huge. But it hasn't happened. I don't know where the light bulbs are. I don't know when I will find them. The Vegas line on my lamps getting bulbs would probably be at least + 6 weeks.

There's a large amount of shame that frames my day. Why can't I get my shit together? Why can't my lamps have bulbs? My dishes get done? My laundry get folded?

Because I work. I work, I cook, I have dance parties with Ellie every night. She loves “No” (Meghan Trainor) and "Handclap" and we can listen and dance to them on repeat until we collapse laughing on the couch. She dances up to me and says “I do, on! I do, on!,” requesting the Hamilton soundtrack in the most darling possible way. We turn it on. We belt at the top of our lungs.

And then my heart beats faster when I think about the other kiddos we hope to have. I think about the lamps in their rooms. I think about more laundry and less time.

We’ve been talking a lot lately about our hour. It’s the hour we get each day, the hour between rushing home and making dinner and cleaning up from dinner and playing with Ellie and putting her to bed and then going to bed ourselves. There’s about an hour there - sometimes it is shorter, because we fall asleep on the couch. Sometimes it’s longer, because I want to watch Colbert or Fallon or some other distractingly funny thing.

And what I’m slowly discovering, what is being scraped out of me like the seeds when we carved our pumpkin, is that I can’t live for that hour. Because when I believe that that hour is my only hour, I live from a place of scarcity.

I believe the lie that Melanie can only really be Melanie in that one hour, that 8:30-9:30 PM, because that’s the hour that I have no other responsibilities other than to myself, and to the bottle of red on the counter.

When I live for that one hour, I don’t see God’s abundance in the other 23 hours of my day.

I stand in that posture of scarcity, believing that there’s not enough of me to go around … believing that there’s not enough of me left. Which is true. There’s not enough of me, and there shouldn’t be. My expectations are too high. Guilt and scarcity are terrible bedfellows. 

I dream of a clean house. I dream of order, and timeliness, and folded and ironed laundry.

But I also dream of laughing late into the night, of cuddling up next to Price on the couch and falling asleep like we have for the last 10 years. I dream of a door that’s proverbially always unlocked, of friends that have keys and come and go, and don’t have to ask where the corkscrew or the trash bags are.

That’s the beautiful thing about this house of ours. Do we have bulbs in our lamps upstairs? No. But downstairs, we’ve had a dozen nights already of drinking and laughing and eating with our favorite people. Weekends, weeknights, good nights, hard nights, fight nights, flight nights, football nights, baseball nights, take-out nights and home-cooked dinner nights. 

I’m stretching muscles I haven’t stretched in a while. I’m fighting for what we love over the guilt I feel over light bulbs and laundry. Because this life is abundant, not scarce. It’s hard, not easy. But it is full of good and beautiful things. 

So the back-breaking work these days is not putting bulbs in lamps, though that’s important. It is not the gutting work of moving, but rather the gutting work of motherhood, of adulthood, of marriage, of prioritizing, of cutting out what I don’t need - guilt and shame - and making space for what I love - cooking, laughing, writing, my people. It’s wearing glasses that force me to see abundance, not scarcity.

As I decorate and arrange our house with the hodgepodge of art and furniture and knickknacks we’ve collected over the years, I begin to put together myself as well. It will take time. I can’t snap my fingers and every disparate thing have a home in my house, nor can I expect that the person who has been undone and rocked and gutted these past few years will instantly become a whole person. I don’t snap together like Ikea furniture.

Unpacking a house takes a very long time. Unpacking a heart that’s been hiding underneath crumpled white paper, stuffed in a cardboard box and carried from state to state? That takes even longer.