Yesterday Cancan and I dragged a sad and brittle Douglas fir around the corner to the parking lot, mopping the living room floor soon thereafter. Because really, how do you lift an evergreen out of its stand with a two-year-old as your Great Assistant? Back to Point A: You don’t. You instead blast “Just Another Manic Monday” on your 1989 Sony boombox, and you get clean floors as a bonus. Viola!
So while we continue to hunker down here for a few more days, cleaning the closets and finding more pine needles and taking copious notes on Really Important Books, take a look back on the year’s most popular writing posts.
Oh, and enjoy!
10. Our 100%, completely true Christmas letter (which, I might say, I had so much fun writing).
Man, I can’t believe it: this is our LAST “The Little Things” guest post of this year. In a week or two, I’ll highlight some of the stories we journeyed through and introduce you to 2015’s theme. (If you’d an invitation to write, do contact me!) Otherwise, enjoy this hard-but-good last piece from an old friend of mine, Holly. Please take note that this post is about pregnancy loss, and may trigger emotions from those who have traveled the same journey.
I walked the Green Mile two days before Christmas last year, 2013.
My Green Mile did not have Tom Hanks or any magical theme woven throughout it. If it had, I imagine everything would have turned out differently.
Moments before, I had been in the exam room with my husband. He was lovingly holding my hand and I was uncomfortably lying on the table as an extremely nice technician moved a very cold ultrasound around on my uterus. She made small talk as she searched, before finally saying, “I think it’s just too early to see them with this type of ultrasound. I’m going to have you go empty your bladder, and when you return we will try the other kind.”
My husband and I made eye contact as I slowly got up, cleaning the ultrasound goo off my tummy so I could get dressed. This was our fourth ultrasound, and for ultrasounds two and three our identical twins heartbeats could be easily detected using the “exterior” equipment. There was really only one reason she would not have been able to find the heartbeats at this stage. Still, I gamely slipped on my shoes and headed for the bathroom. As I walked down what seemed like an endless white, sterile hallway, doctors and nurses just reporting for work at this ungodly hour greeted me with friendly smiles. I returned them with polite good mornings and stayed my course.
When I reached the bathroom, I suddenly realized that whole walk had been an epic waste of time, because I didn’t need to go. Instead, I stood in front of the mirror with the water running, with my hands caressing my slightly rounded belly and thought to myself, This is the last time I am going to feel happy for a while. Because right now I don’t know. Not for sure. Even though I did know for sure.
When I had left the exam room to head down the mile-long hallway, a sense of calm and peace had engulfed me. I was walking away from what I knew was a nightmare. As I made the return walk to the exam room, I left all that calm and peacefulness behind me in a wake of dread with…each…step. I considered not going back, maybe just making a U-turn and heading for the café on the other side of the building. I could hide out there, drink my first cup of coffee in three months, and elongate the time I had left before my heart broke into a million pieces. I didn’t have my purse with me, but maybe the barista would feel sorry for me and hook me up with a nice hot drink, which I would then take over to the big comfy chairs, sit down, and hide out from reality for a while.
This plan involved abandoning my husband in the exam room, so I steeled myself and made the rest of the return journey back to the last place I wanted to be. The technician, with a heart as big as Texas, spent about ten minutes desperately searching for heartbeats. I think she wanted to find them as badly as we did. I do not know how she brought herself to tell my husband and I, two days before Christmas, that our twins had died. But she did, and then she left us alone to process the news. I’m pretty sure she needed to get out of there before she herself started to cry.
After about ten minutes, our perinatologist came in the room and offered his condolences. In his hand he held sonograms from the ultrasound, and he hesitated before offering up the news. Not the news that we had lost them, but the news that our twins were not identical, as we had believed. They were conjoined at the pelvis, and had we not lost them at ten weeks, we would have lost them three months later. If not then, they may have survived gestation, but they would never have survived outside the womb. Neither my husband or I knew where to begin processing this information; we had just learned our babies had died, and now we were hearing why. It was the equivalent of trying to pour three cups of water into a one-cup receptacle. He asked me if I wanted to have a D&C that day, or if I would prefer to take some medicine that would induce a miscarriage at home.
I told him with two days until Christmas, I needed to go home and make things as normal and festive for my two year old as I possibly could. We agreed to touch base December 26, at which time I chose the pills. I asked him what I should be prepared for once the pills kicked in, and he responded by saying, “It shouldn’t be too bad. They are the size of two large grapes right next to each other. You won’t see anything that looks like a baby.”
Two grapes. Ten weeks of loving these tiny little beings that grew inside my body amounted to two grapes. Ten weeks of dreaming what these new babies would look like, act like. Ten weeks of joy as we imagined them squealing with glee as their big brother made funny faces to make them laugh. Two grapes. A lot of love, excitement, expectation, and heartbreak can easily fit into two large grapes.
In the year that has passed, I have done my grieving and accepted that they are most assuredly better off in heaven than they would have been here on earth with me. The emotional pain lessened in time, and joy eventually found a way to fight through the layer of gray and burst forth back into my daily life. Sometimes when I look through my son’s “fancy clothes” (the ones on hangers) I encounter the Big Brother long sleeved tee shirt he wore the day we told my parents we were pregnant. Each time I see it I feel a pang in my heart and flip quickly past it. The most logical thing to do would be to fold it up and put it away; however, I washed and ironed it for a reason. I have every confidence that he will have the opportunity to wear it again someday, as long as that day comes before he grows out of a 3T.
Holly can be found at Borrowed Genes, where she blogs about her journey to grow her family, as well as her adventures in motherhood and other parenting shenanigans. Holly left teaching after ten years to become a stay at home mother to her son, Ezra. She and her husband are currently playing the waiting game in the adoption process, as they pray for the phone call that will tell them a birthmother has chosen them to be the family for her baby. If you or someone in your acquaintance is a birthmother actively seeking a family for an upcoming baby, Holly will gratefully accept your referrals and present them to her adoption agency.Otherwise, how did Holly’s words touch you today? Leave a message and encourage her today!
Today is the fourth in a December and January series on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Following Sarah Arthur‘s new book, Light Upon Light (which I can’t recommend highly enough), this fourth week looks at Advent as a whole, with the original post appearing on the Redbud Writers Guild website. You can find week one, week two and week three here. Check back each Saturday to see what’s new, and in the meantime, enter in and enjoy!
We play a mean game of hide-and-go-seek in our house.
The rules of it are generally governed by our two-and-a-half year old, and go something like this:
Canon [our son] directs Dada or Mama to sit on the couch and “Count!” He then runs five feet to the right and hides behind the faded and ill-hanging living room curtains. Between breathless giggles, he manages to squeak out, “I hide! I hide!” Meanwhile, my husband and I begin to muse aloud as to where the little bugger might be hiding.
“Where is Canon? Is he underneath the dining room table?” Giggle, giggle, giggle.
“Where’s Cancan? Is he …hiding behind the couch? Did he crawl up on top of the refrigerator? I just can’t find him!” Giggle, giggle!
After a round or two of naming nearly every inanimate object in the house, one of us – the hider or the seeker, that is – gives up. The wiggling curtain is traded in for one tackle of a bear hug, along with the opportunity to play the game all over again. Even though we’ve known where he is all along, we continue to join in to his delight of being found.
So we squeal along with him. Our collective bellies ache with the joy of discovery – for he, the object of our affection, has been found.
I suppose the parallel is obvious: we too have been found.
In the season of Advent, we celebrate finally knowing the answer to the first God-question ever posed, to Eden’s great game of hide-and-go-seek. Perhaps I’d heard the connection a thousand times before, perhaps I hadn’t; regardless, when our pastor pointed it out this weekend, I nodded my head emphatically, bouncing Baby Boy against my chest as I stood in the back of the musty, candle-lit sanctuary.
Like a parent who knows his son’s not-so-secret hiding location, God called out to his friends in the garden that day. Although the text doesn’t say it, I think there must have been a pause somewhere between the question and the response. Perhaps in the stillness there existed the audible sound of a gulp or the heave of a sigh or the hiccup of a cry – you know, the universal indication for females everywhere that Ugly Cry is about to commence. For in Perfection that day, blame and excuses and a jumble of dialogue followed, although for our purposes, they too are beside the point.
Instead, the main point is this: we humans received an answer to the first question God ever asked.
Where are you?
Pause. Stillness. Gulp. Sigh. Hiccup.
But then the answer comes: I am here.
I am here in the form of a tiny baby.
I am here through the virgin’s birth, for I, Emmanuel, am God with you.
I’ve found you and I join in to this life with you – and I delight in this journey of you finding me, over and over and over again.
But first and always first, I find you. And it’s in this dance of being found and finding him – of the back and forth, and forth and back – that we celebrate the Christmas season. We enter into the sacred, into the holy, into the beauty of relationship found with the God who became one of us.
Might it be so, I say.
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,” which means, “God with us.” So, what is Advent to you? Might you continue to celebrate wholeheartedly this season.
Well, it’s been another normal year of amazingness here in the Meredith mansion. We’ve enjoyed near-perfect 80 degree weather every single day of the year. This, of course, is an anomaly for fog-filled Pacifica, but the sun seems to favor our household, shining its light directly upon our residence, and our residence alone. Sometimes we feel bad for the other 38,602 residents of the town, but if the star of the solar system chooses you, you willingly oblige. And can you blame it?
“Cancan” is nearly two and a half years old and scintillating in every way. He’s been accepted early-admission to Harvard, and is debating as to whether or not he’ll major in Political Science and become the first youngest, mixed-race, hottest President of the United States ever (at four years of age), or if he’ll just do a once-over and successfully major in one of every subject. Either way, we predict he’ll take over the world, so do vote for Cancan in 2016! He also has dreams of “football! football!” both from Santa Claus and of the NFL; we hope this can happen after his presidency, as it’d be nice for him to rest his mind a bit after the eight years in office.
“Frodo” (as our dazzling older offspring calls him) is almost four months old and quite the lady killer. We’ve started charging admission to meet our kin, for his presence alone slays the masses. Patrons of the little saint wind the block for the chance to breathe his milky air, with upwards of 1.2 million already raised. We hope to reach an additional 2 mil by the end of the week, so if you haven’t had the chance to squeeze his Buddha belly, buy your ticket now! When he’s not meeting various kings and queens, princes and princesses and Greek and Roman gods of this world, Frodo enjoys narrowing down his choices for a dowry-bride, practicing his American Idol vocal techniques and partying like a rockstar at three in the morning.
The HBH (Hot Black Husband) continues to practice his nightly dance skills, leading the world in YouTube’s #1 dance-at-home video series, “Don’tcha Wish Your Dancing was Hot Like Me?” We’ve all enjoyed its reigning 38-week success, and James is currently in negotiations with Sony, Sundance, Universal and Pixar for the best offer. We’d hoped he’d be able to star in the videos, but it looks like Denzel is going to play him again. In his spare time, he enjoys documenting our family’s every move (much to the chagrin of the photography team at National Geographic, whom he continues to turn down), and the blessed nine hours of sleep he gets every night. [Did I mention Frodo started sleeping through the night at two days of age? When you’re as amazing as us, it happens.]
Finally, Cara, the humble and awe-inspiring writer of this Christmas letter, continues to dazzle the world with her words. When she opens her mouth, it’s like effervescent butterflies fly out, anointing the ears of all who listen; when her fingers touch the keys [be it computer or piano], a magical mixture of Dickens and Beethoven pour forth. She just can’t stop the brilliance! Since we also have a maid, a butler, a wet-nurse, a full-time nanny and a masseuse on hand at all times, Cara enjoys eating bonbons and watching soaps all the live long day.
Well friends, we do hope your normal lives, although minor in comparison to our utter radiance, shine in their own small way this holiday season.
Well, ready, set, go …that’s all I have to say to you. We only have TWO more Guest Post Tuesdays until 2015 commences (eventually). So enjoy my new friend Heather’s words for us today, because friends, she is a bonafide word-master. Enjoy.
“Look, Mama,” my youngest said.
I was at my desk, a few feet from our dining table. Both my daughters were busy with markers and colored pencils; stray copy paper and card stock littered the shining surface.
I pressed send on my email, then got up and walked over to her.
And almost gasped with surprise.
She’d drawn a girl. A girl with a circle for a head, and a body: torso like a rectangle, arms like blocks, plump hands at the ends of each. The girl wore a dress, she had curly hair, she was smiling up at me with joy.
My daughter drawing wasn’t notable. No, she and her big sister used reams of paper every month.
What surprised me was that yesterday, and the day before , and the days and weeks before that, her way of drawing people had been completely different.
They were stick figures, torsos a slender stem. Arms stick straight to the side like a T. Legs also to the side, parallel to the arms, as if each figure were a gymnast doing the splits.
Both ways of drawing were dear. Both wonderful. Both made me smile.
But both were completely, absolutely different.
In one day.
“You did it different!” I said, my voice full of the excitement I felt. “You came up with a new way of drawing people.”
She grinned up at me, pleased with her work. Then she got a fresh sheet of paper and started again.
I watched her for a moment, in wonder.
Because I will never, ever get used to watching people change right in front of me. Not slow-motion change, like hair or nails growing. No: the gigantic, lightening bright flashes.
Before I had kids, I thought all change happened slowly. I assumed that I evolved like the Grand Canyon, worn down over millennia. I thought everyone changed too slowly to notice, that new life required endless patience and gritting my teeth for the long haul.
But the very first moments of parenthood started changing my mind.
The day I found out I was pregnant, I gripped the test stick in my hand, blinking at the positive result. Moments ago, I had been me, with everything that signified sure as stone.
Now, I was radically, basically different. I was pregnant.
The speed of that change mystified me.
Birth happened that way too—I was all roly-poly possibility, then a writhing dervish, then a still, astonished mother with a baby at her breast. All in a few short hours.
No, the longer I see my children grow, the longer I walk alongside them, a student of humanity, the more I realize change isn’t slow.
It happens in great gulps, in sudden jerky leaps forward. My children circle around a new skill for a while, hesitant and nervous, and then they lurch forward with bravery into something new.
And suddenly they are walking or potty-trained or reading or drawing a girl with solid fingers and toes.
We notice children’s changes because they’re so physical, and because they’re celebrating them at regular, predictable intervals: walking, losing teeth, mastering bicycles and roller skates and hitting a baseball. We know it’s a special window of possibility; we know we have to savor the anticipation.
But I don’t think the changes end in childhood. They just go underground, into our hearts and spirits. Sometimes circumstances change us—losses or heady gains, life shifts or hardships. Or sometimes we start moving with intention in a new direction and end up far, far away from where we started.
I start journaling each day and find it thrusts me into a new way of praying. I pray in a different way and suddenly my way of relating to God is profoundly altered. A new expression of faith starts working transformation in my marriage and family relationships and creativity.
This sense that nothing changes, that we are who we are, forevermore?
It’s a lie.
We do not have to walk in slow motion through life, waiting for wind to sand us down. No: we’re all poised on the brink of new possibilities, new ways of moving through the world. We’re all at a precipice, facing dizzying choices that might plunge us into new adventures.
What if we had that same sort of anticipation with ourselves that we have with our kids? What if we waiting, with bated breath, to see what might happen next? What if we were ready, at every moment, to astonish ourselves?
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego. She started saying yes to joy in her faith two years ago and was surprised to find that joy led straight to Jesus. Her new journal for people anxious about the Bible is called Unquiet Time: A devotional for the rest of us. And friends, I don’t know if you’re breathing a sigh of blessed LOVELINESS at Heather’s writing, but I sure am. So, what can you say to our friend today? What is change to you?
Today is the third in a December and January series on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Following Sarah Arthur‘s new book, Light Upon Light (which I can’t recommend highly enough), this third week looks at the theme “Sojourners in the Land.” You can find week one and week two here. Check back each Saturday to see what’s new, and in the meantime, enter in and enjoy!
Another text popped up last night: What’s your address? Did you move again? I can’t remember…
And I’m like, I GET YOU. I can’t wait to see your crew of smiling, effervescent faces in my mailbox, but I understand why you’d be asking me that question, again.
Because here’s the truth: I’ve not lived in the same place for more than two years since I was 18 years old – and y’all, I ain’t no spring chicken.
The upside is that I’ve become a master at packing and unpacking, a guru at visualizing a space and revamping living quarters appropriately, and an expert at constantly schlepping through stuff for the weekly Goodwill drop-off.
Martha Stewart would be so proud.
The downside, though, is obvious: I hate moving. Although I’ve moved past enlisting friends and family to join in for “Free pizza and beer!” (because let’s be honest, that charm begins its rapid descent after or around the age of 25), I’m done sifting and sorting, filling and wadding and sorting our junk into cardboard boxes.
But I’ve accepted that, for whatever reason, this has been a part of my story, the marking point that’s kept me from getting too comfortable, from taking home for granted. It’s helped me to understand what it means to be The New Girl, to start over in a neighborhood where you don’t know the back roads and you’ve yet to run into that friendly face in the grocery store.
It’s also helped me to understand what it means to be a sojourner, to be someone who resides temporarily in one place. Because I, too, am a sojourner. I wait for my final place, and I wait to hunker down and lay down roots. I wait to make house our home, as I wait for home.
Certainly, this idea of sojourning is not new to the liturgical season of Advent. Mary and Joseph, en route to parenthood, sojourned as they looked for a place to lay their heads. The magi who practiced astrology – those three “wise men” who really did believe in signs and wonders, in a heavenly message communicated through the stars – were said to have trekked nearly a thousand miles in search of the baby boy. Likewise, those dirty, stinky shepherds tending sheep in fields nearby, had to pick up their skirts and wander through the desert a few hundred yards at least.
And this doesn’t even begin to touch the greater idea of a wandering nation, a symbol of the Jewish people who have been cast out, ever yearning for home. (Nor, for our purposes, does it begin to touch the bigger spiritual idea of one’s final eternal home, as well).
Because no matter where or how or why you sojourn, you search. You search and you seek and you, too, yearn for a place to lay your head. You sit by the rivers of Babylon and you remember Zion. You wait and wonder how long… how long… how long… you’re to sing this song.
But then, perhaps because you’ve embraced this whole notion of sojourning as a part of your story, you put one foot in front of the other. Step by step, you begin to believe that that is enough, that “The earth is enough and the air is enough/ For our wonder and our war…”* You begin to dot your words with the occasional exclamation point because you trust in the journey, in the sojourn, in the temporary nature of it all.
Perhaps your mouth even whispers these ancient words:
“Lead, Kindly Light, amid the circling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home –
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene, – one step enough for me.”*
So darling, let’s be sojourners.
What about you? Are you a sojourner? How or where or why did that happen?
Guest post Tuesday! Today’s post is different: it’s different because you’ll see straight-up poetry. It’s different because if you’re not of the Christian tradition, you’ll see and hear a strong faith language. But just like every writer we’ve featured over the last year, when you read Kari’s words, you’ll meet someone who is uniquely, beautifully herself. And the message she gives us is unforgettable. Enjoy.
Had you met me just a few years ago you may have come away with this sentiment: Well, she certainly is a nice pastor’s wife. She is so involved, so supportive of her husband and is dedicated to the church. Now while that may be all pleasant, even expected, I was dumbfounded when people would say to me: “Kari, you know so much about everyone, but no one really knows you.” I actually chalked those comments up to my badge of Christ-likeness. Wasn’t I supposed to “serve” and “sacrifice” and “take up my cross” to minister to His Church? I didn’t think I had a story to share, that my story really didn’t matter…because I was in ministry.
A series of events in the spring of 2013 coupled with the clinical depression I have navigated for most of my adult life, led me into an emotional/mental/spiritual breakdown in June of that year. I could not cope anymore. I suffered intense insomnia. I was becoming OCD in certain behaviors. I was in despair and my husband didn’t know how to help and couldn’t help me. At the admonishment of close advisors I entered the Meier Clinic in Bothell, WA for a 3-week intense outpatient program. God intervened in such an amazing way giving me this gift: me.
And it all began on day 2 with my therapist and this simple word that I had never thought about, for me: desire. This poem is the account of that life-changing conversation.
What is your desire?
He asked me, sincere.
What do you mean?
I wanted to be clear.
What is your desire?
My name up on white-board
next to word: desire
he circled more and more.
I haven’t got a clue.
Well…maybe it is this:
my husband to love me forever
Okay…how will you get to that destination?
I guess by being awesome
at every situation.
If I clean the house perfect
care for children supreme
shoulder ministry load
do well at everything.
What is your desire?
he asked this yet again
didn’t I just tell him?
what does he want then?
What is YOUR desire?
his voice louder, steady
his eyes stared at me
I felt uncomfortable, shaky, heady.
What do you mean?
I guess I just don’t get it
I can’t discern your question
can’t you just give me credit?
He took the black marker
crossed out “desire” firmly
threw pen across room
looked at me quite sternly.
You have not allowed yourself to have desire.
You, Kari, you not your husband, but yourself not your congregation not your children’s health.
With this I broke, wept
I had never even thought
that desire was something
I was designed for, bought.
That God’s purposes
could in me be manifested
which meant, me, Kari
could have desire selection.
For 3 weeks I began
to unlock who I am
truth, grace, time
healing my inner-man.
It is all about vulnerability
letting go of powerful lies
that say I must do, fake it
instead of authentic cries.
Almost 2 years have passed
still learning about me
what I like, how I tick
my flirting with co-dependency.
I am facing my stuff now
with the help of friends
my Jesus gives me aid
with the gift of my pen.
No longer bound
by the lie that shame cast
I am living in freedom
I have found me, at last.
Might my experience will encourage anyone who struggles with desire and shame. Might you find healing in loving yourself, forgiving yourself and embracing the desire that God created you to have.
Kari is a Northwest girl to the core; the evergreens speak to her soul and the rain is her native tongue. She used to be a “pastor’s wife”, but now she is the wife of Steve, who happens to be a pastor. They live within an hour of Mt. Rainier in Washington State with their four children, ages 7-15 (two boys and two girls). They have a hot/cold, love/hate relationship with their beloved 1982 Westfalia Vanagon which you may have seen behind a tow truck in the last decade. Her favorite things include journaling, letter-writing, dark chocolate, coffee and camping in old-growth forests. Oh, and she has dreadlocks. So, what is your desire? And how did Kari’s words impact you today? Leave a comment below to encourage our friend.