On Going Nuclear

I was driving to Trader Joes yesterday, taking my life in my own hands. Not because the drive is particularly treacherous, but because for the Greater Nashville population there is one Trader Joes. The parking lot is an utter disaster. The aisles are crowded like it’s Black Friday, even if it’s just Ordinary Sunday Morning. 

But then I started to cry. Hot tears percolated in my eyes, my throat, my chest, and I found myself driving along, crying to a Ryan Adams song on my way to Trader Joes like the darn Nashville millennial that I am.

It’s been a hard summer. A long summer. It’s broken and built us in myriad ways, and I thought that maybe it would gently fade into a beautiful and redemptive and soft fall.

But then we got one phone call, and then two, and then a few texts and finally Ryan Adams pulsing through my stereo on Sunday morning hit me with these words -

This is where the summer ends.

In a flash of pure destruction, no one wins. 

Go nuclear. Nuclear.

And so after a summer of slow and sudden diagnoses, of late nights with too much wine and early mornings with too much coffee, of more moving boxes, of new schedules and old stubbornness, I’m tired. 

Somewhere along the way I read a Mary Oliver poem, and it screwed me up. What is it, she asked, What is it that you will do with your one wild and precious life?

Her poem The Summer Day has been a refrain of sorts for me this summer, the question mark at the end of a months-long conversation with a kindred friend, the class I took about Christian calling, the new Shauna Niequist book I just read.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I read those words, and they spark all kinds of fires in me. I don’t know how to pray. But I also don’t know how to be idle and blessed.

For me, it’s the last 4 lines that stir up the volcano inside. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? There was an Old Melanie, and a New/Now Melanie, and I don’t always see the congruity between them. I long to live out a wholeness that is me, instead of piecing together a puzzle every morning between “mom” and “wife” and “employee” and “friend” and “daughter” and “sister.”

When I put my puzzle together, can you still see the lines? Or do I click together, seamlessly, and present to you a whole and healthy me?

These are the questions I’m asking, the questions with no answers, the questions that have peppered a summer full of heartache and wonder.

But yesterday, when I drove those back roads to Trader Joes, and I saw a teeny tiny ponytail bobbing in the back seat, I thought - this is my one wild and precious life.

These piles of laundry. These dinners to be cooked. These people to be loved. These wines to be poured. These eyes to be looked into and seen and loved. This teething toddler, this steadfast husband, this needy cat. This is my one wild and precious life.

This summer was nuclear, in the best and worst ways.

I think about Jason Isbell, singing You thought God was an architect, now you know - he’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow, and everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames.

God has been a bit of a pipe bomb this summer. A nuclear pipe bomb.

And what’s left in the mess, the rubble? A stronger, warmer, softer heart. Tired eyes. Lots of laundry. A bobbing ponytail in the backseat. A lot of pending tragedy, but a lot of hope.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

On Ten Extra Pounds

This week, I have tried on 2 pair of pants that don’t fit anymore. 

My body is stubborn, like my mind and my heart and my will, and it refuses to let go of the ten extra* pounds I gained with our little bit of Ellie. 

I run, I bike, I swim. I eat reasonably well, save my addiction to Baja Burrito, queso, and wine. Lots of wine. My counselor told me to drink a glass every night, and who am I to argue with a professional? 

But these pesky ten pounds give me a lot of pause. 

Pause because for the first time, I actually don’t care. 

Sure, I liked those yellow jeans. I loved the black Minnie pants from J. Crew, but they make them in other sizes. 

I look at the softness of my belly, I pull my skin back to see the ribs that used to be visible all the time, and I think I like the softness. My edges aren’t sharp anymore. There’s flesh around my bones. 

I like to think that perhaps, motherhood has softened more than my belly. It has added more to my life that ten extra pounds, that perhaps what I carry with me is more than stores of fat … that my heart carries more, that my mind does as well. Is it possible that all ten pounds sit above my temples, more brain mass with which to spin a dozen more plates each day? 

That might be the negative sway, the easy cop out. I do more, so I deserve more - I have earned that extra glass of wine, the second scoop of ice cream, the entire bowl of queso (don’t judge). Rather than, perhaps, I have been gifted them. 

I’d like to think that these ten pounds … that almost two years later, these extra ounces are less of battle scars than perhaps little gifts, reminders that I’m not who I used to be. 

But every single day I forget that. Every single day, I metaphorically try on the pants that don’t fit, because every day I hope they do.

The irony is, the clothes I bought last year just after Ellie was born don’t fit either. There’s the pink pleated skirt that I bunch up with a safety pin to make it fit to my slightly shrunken frame, and the shirts that hang awkwardly, and a dozen more uncarefully-folded postpartum pieces that still sit around my closet. Because I don’t fit in those either. 

Instead, I mix-and-match. I piece together my wardrobe each morning the way I’m slowly piecing together this new Melanie, day by day and stitch by stitch. It’s not easy, and I wish everything in my closet matched perfectly and was always ironed and I appeared perfectly put-together at every turn. 

But I don’t, and I won’t, and I can’t. I’m not perfectly put together because I’m not entirely sure I know what I want to look like every morning when I walk out the front door. Some days, I want to be the old Melanie. Some days, I’m quite content with the new. Most days, it’s a miracle to even get out the door reasonably close to on time. 

Here’s what I know that I didn’t know two years ago, when my belly was a beach ball and I thought that I would pop back into shape like a rubber band as soon as Ellie was born: First, hahahahahahahahahahahahaha

Second, Pour another glass of wine. Order the queso. Take your little girl for ice cream and order two scoops. Leave the dirty dishes in the sink, read the bedtime story, then snuggle up on the couch with a good beer and good friends and leave the dishes for the weekend. This illusion of perfectly put-together is just that, an illusion - but cling to the fact that you are perfectly made in the image of a perfect God. Because that’s what matters. 

I feel like I know less than I did then, but I’ve gained so much. I carry less, but I weigh more. And it’s good. 

* Note: Now that this is written, I wince at the word “extra” - like perhaps I’m assuming that my natural state is 10 pounds lighter and that those 10 pounds are truly extra and unnecessary. On the contrary, they are very necessary and not extra at all, because they are mine and I like who I am when I have them. I like being less fearful of gaining them, I like enjoying my wine and my queso, and I like being a little squishier in body and soul. I needed some squishiness, less rigidity, less fear, less self-consciousness. So in that respect, these pounds are not “extra,” but I still like the syntax and so that word will stubbornly stay, much like my new pounds. 

 

Who am I, that you are mindful of me? 

Some nights it feels like the world is burning. 

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

The last four weeks or so have been mind-numbingly hard. For the world, for our country, for our little sacred village, for me. They have been hard in a way that makes me feel infinitesimally small, as if every prayer I breathe just fades away, like a puff of cigarette smoke into the dark night sky.

The son of man, that you care for him?

The world is on fire. 

Our world is on fire. 

Three weeks ago, I wrote in my prayer journal the names of every single person in our Village and asked for God’s blessing. But the last three weeks have been filled with heartbreak, disappointment, loss, disillusionment, fear, confession, admission, shame,  truth-telling, truth-hiding, utter exhaustion, and so much more. 

We’re tired, God. We are tired. 

There’s not really a resolution to this, no thin string to wrap around these brown paper words and send them off to you neatly and compactly. There’s nothing neat or compact about life right now, rather it is strewn all about like the toys that have claimed my living room floor. And the energy it would take to gather them up and put them away, each in their proper place? I certainly don’t have it. 

Instead we sit. We sit in our messy living rooms across this city, country, world. We text each other late into the evening, political memes and inside jokes and distractions and requests for prayer. 

And it is in the sitting, the waiting, the hoping … the crying, the laughing, the distracting and the drinking and all the things we do while our world is burning … that God shows up. 

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

David wrote this in Psalm 8. He said it in 2 Samuel 7 too. 

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” 

Job whispered it to a God he didn’t understand in chapter 7

What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?

When David writes in the Psalms, he sings praise and awe. How majestic is your name in all the earth, he cries. 

When David prays in 2 Samuel, it is a prayer of gratitude. God has just made a covenant to him, that David’s house and kingdom would be forever. It is the defining promise of the Old Testament, and God made it to David - a sinner, a son, a king. 

But when Job says it, it’s different. Right before he utters those words, he says - I loathe my life, I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath. 

In the past month, we’ve said good-bye to jobs, to friends, to houses, to babies who won’t walk this side of heaven. We’ve done a lot of leaving, a lot of talking, a lot of praying. I’ve done a lot of whining, a lot of wine-ing, and a lot of complaining and questioning. All of it is natural. It makes sense for us to take Job’s posture, to spend 41 chapters in painful questioning and 1 tiny chapter feeling the soft landing place of restoration.

Job may be wisdom literature, a grand poem. And it does what all great poetry does - it cracks open a piece of your heart and with a certain turn of phrase it tells a new story in your mind. And this is what Job is doing for my head today; it is what David’s poetic Psalm is doing in my heart. 

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

What is man, that you make so much of him - and that you set your heart on him?

These days it is easy to doubt. It’s far easier to doubt and disconnect than it is to lean in to the mess that is our collective heart. But it is here, in the mess - in the smiles and the silly texts and the tears and the late night ice cream and beer - we find the faithful presence of God made manifest in the faithful presence of our friends. 

It’s how we feel his mindfulness, in the mindfulness of our friends. And for that tonight, and every night for the past few months, I am grateful. He has set his heart on us, and we have set our hearts on each other.

on beautiful things

There are 2 things no one told me when I was pregnant. (Actually, there were a lot of things no one told me, and for that I’m mostly grateful.) 

The first was the having a baby is pure magic, utter joy, uncontainable laughter, and the most humbling and heartbreaking thing ever. 

The second was that a bomb was about to go off in the middle of my very happy marriage, and I would be left hanging on for dear life. 

It’s funny how we laugh more than we ever have before, and yet we cry way more too. We fight. We don’t make up as often, but we just gloss over it and leave whatever argument it was to simmer under the surface, and we pray for enough grace to forget today tomorrow. We hold hands when we fall asleep and somehow that makes up for all the kisses we’re missing in these full-of-everything days. 

We thank the Lord for small mercies, like Veep on Amazon Prime and the last-minute stop on the way home to get a bottle of wine, half of which we’ll drink after our munchkin falls asleep and we’ll unwind our spun-tight minds enough to rest … at least, we’ll rest as much as she lets us. 

She won’t remember these days and perhaps that’s a gift, to her and to us - a gift that she won’t see us spitting selfishness at each other over the dinner table, which is piled high with books and beer and Amazon packages and paper towels and all the artifacts of life with a little. 

She won’t see us sharpening our words and pointing them like daggers … ready, aim and firing away into our insecure hearts. I complain more than I ever have, and I pray that the Lord will take away all this fear and frustration and fill my mouth and mind with goodness and love and kindness before she’s old enough to understand. 

No one told me about sleeping, or bells palsy, or trigimenal neuralgia … no one told me about postpartum anxiety and that almost a year ago today I would be sitting all dressed up in a hospital bed, because maybe if I put on makeup they wouldn’t think I was quite as crazy. One person told me that it was ok to take medicine, and for the peace of mind and saving grace of that I will forever be grateful. (Hil, I’ll never thank you enough.)

No one warned me that a baby was the best and worst kind of bomb, that reorients everything about you … and your marriage

How many times have I told myself “you can do this, you can do this, you can do this” instead of “we can do this”. 

How many times have I measured the number of dirty diapers he changed and assumed they were the measure of his love for me. 

But they aren’t, and they can’t be. Because the truth is we’re surviving. He’s giving up more sleep than he should ever have to, and I’m giving up just as much. Because what a baby demands is more than you have, and I am so lucky to have another half to help. Together it feels like we still don’t have enough, but at least we’re in it together. 

And I hope one day she does see this, that being in the trenches of dual-career parenting … or even that being in the trenches of life has knit us closer together. That maybe we find in each other the  ability to be weak, to complain, to argue and to cry - and we love each other even more because of it. 

I hope she sees him every morning, slipping out of bed while I’m in the shower and slowly pouring hot water through the good coffee grounds, turning an ordinary thing like making the coffee into a ritual of care. 

I hope she sees us fail well and forgive more.

I am thankful for life with this man, as messy and broken and difficult as it is. A delightful, magical, impossibly adorable bomb went off in our marriage almost 18 months ago. I wouldn’t trade her and this journey for anything in the whole world. She’s our everything, and together the three of us are fighting our way to a new normal, picking up the pieces of me and him and her and weaving them together into a new and precious thing. 

When I first found out I was pregnant, I would sing Gungor’s Beautiful Things all the time, half praying that He would make a beautiful thing out of us, no better metaphor for creating a child. And now I look back and think how naive I was to assume that she was the beautiful thing. And of course she is the most beautiful thing, but God was doing more - and the beautiful thing is all of us, together, as a single unit and as three separate ones. What a season. What a gift. 

 

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19

 

 

Today and Tomorrow

I had collapsed on the couch, and wrapped myself up in the old blue fleece blanket that I’ve had since college. I sipped my still-hot chai, remembered how I literally almost cried at the ordinary kindness and smile of my Starbucks barista (his name was Chad, and he smiled just right during my very long day), and breathed long and quiet. 

Ellie was (finally) asleep. 

The first thought that crossed my mind was, “what if tomorrow is like today?”. 

The second, coming just on the exhausted heels of the first, was “what if it isn’t?”. 

We were almost asleep last night, after a weekend that spilled over with all sorts of joy and rest, with Masters watching and lazy mornings and lots of friends. Ellie wasn’t quite right all weekend, but her schedule was “off” as it often is on the weekends, and she settled to sleep reasonably a few hours before we climbed into our own bed. 

Then she started to whimper, and then to wail, and then 5 minutes turned to 10 turned to 45 turned to desperate looks and phone calls to the nurse, who said we might want to start thinking about the ER if she didn’t calm down soon. 

We pumped her full of Motrin and begged desperately for her to stop screaming. 

You never feel quite so inadequate as you do when you have an absolutely hysterical baby in the middle of the night.

It’s hard to explain, how screaming isn’t just screaming. It’s not the same as hearing a baby yell at the grocery store, or seeing a tantrum at a restaurant - it gets under your skin and crawls all the way into your battered, beating heart. It’s like getting the bad kind of goosebumps and a brain freeze and an eyes-burning lump in your throat and a panic attack all at once, when your child is screaming, writhing in pain and you don’t know what it is and you have no way to stop it. 

And then, in the midst of your thunderstorm of anxiety and fear and frustration, you remember that even though there’s absolutely nothing you can do, there’s someone who can always fix it. 

And his name is Daniel Tiger. 

Praise Jesus for Daniel Tiger, and for guided access on iPhones, and the Netflix app, and pack-n-plays that can fit right next to your bed, so that you can put the screaming baby and the phone and a blanket in one place, and you can be your selfish, weak and tired self and go to sleep while your baby watches hours of Daniel Tiger. 

God’s mercy reveals itself in so many ways. Sometimes we need prayer, sometimes we need patience, and sometimes we need Daniel Tiger.

Thankfully, this story moves forward to when I stumbled bleary-eyed into the pediatrician’s office this afternoon, and I waited in the tiny little room with my rambunctious little toddler whose new favorite game is “headbang all the things” ran around head-butting every surface in what I’m sure was an exceptionally clean exam room. And then the doctor came in, did all of his things, and pronounced that our girl was just fine, that it’s probably her pre-molars coming in and I looked at him with all the longing my almost-asleep eyes could muster and begged him for a real answer, hoping that just maybe last night’s outrageous display of hysterics could be cured with a pill or a potion or anything really. But the real answer wasn’t quite that satisfying, and I walked next door and bought Ellie some farm animal hand puppets, and we both came home and collapsed. 

Price walked in the door a few hours later with my favorite takeout soup, and I started to toast some bread, and our sweet little girl proceeded to almost immediately have the biggest blow out she’s ever had in her life. Like, poop-in-her-hair. Price, who has perfected the dad-to-the-rescue sprint across the apartment swiftly picked her up and landed her in the bathtub in an almost breathless motion, grabbing all the toys drying in the tub and flinging them across the room with abandon (where, we would discover later, about half of them landed in the toilet, because that’s just how today is). I raced behind, too tired to laugh but smiling just the same. 

We spent a good 25 minutes scrubbing her down in the tub before finally tucking her into bed and falling down on the couch where I ate a really significant amount of gelato and Price is two beers in. And my nose is bleeding, which it hasn’t done in years … so today only has about 3 hours left in it, and I hope it is miraculously uneventful. 

And so this is life these days. Late night hysterics, bottles of motrin, gallons of coffee and gelato, blowouts, nose bleeds and pre-molars and takeout and a sink piled high with dirty dishes. It is tired eyes and feeling so torn about working and mom-ing and wife-ing and me-ing that I literally feel ripped into two or three pieces every single day, and the few hours sleep that I get each night is not enough to knit me back together again. 

And every day I wonder the same thing. “What if tomorrow is like today?” 

But here’s the rub. Tomorrow won’t be like today. Tomorrow my chubby baby girl, my whip-smart and silly toddler, will walk a little steadier. “Thank you” will sound more like “thank you” and less like “na-nu.” The cow will be the only one that says “moo” instead of the cow and the horse and the pig and the sheep all saying “mahhhhhh.” 

She will cuddle even less, she will climb even more. She may - or may not - realize that the blender isn’t making music and she won’t dance at every commercial music bed. She’ll change. 

Tomorrow won’t be like today. It will be new and different and come all too soon. It will have its own versions of blow outs and midnight shenanigans. And I’ll look back on today and laugh until I cry, about the day I took off work because I was so worried about my sweet girl, but it was okay because I cleared my calendar to be present with her, because there’s nothing else in the whole wide world that matters nearly as much, and no one can help her like I can. 

Except, of course, for Daniel Tiger. 

 

Guster, I Hope Tomorrow is Like Today

I'm awake, you're still sleeping
The sun will rise like yesterday
Everything that we are now
Is everything we can't let go
Or its gone forever, far away
I hope tomorrow is like today
Don't you go away tomorrow
I don't think I could handle that
You're probably dreaming that you're flying on
Then you start to fall
But then you rise
and shine forever
Don't go away
I hope tomorrow is like today