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. 

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?