I saw God last night.

I talk about God a lot, especially with my kids. Pretty much every conversation we have is directed in some spiritual sense, because that’s who I am and because I don’t know how to leave that out of my parenting. My kids hear about Jesus the way they hear about the pancakes I’m making for breakfast and our plans for the weekend- it comes out because it’s on my mind. The thing about childhood theology, however, is that the stuff I’m telling them is (let’s be honest) super weird sometimes. Sharing your faith with a child, especially your child, makes you seriously consider your belief system. Try telling a 3 year old about a man who was actually God who dies on a cross and then comes back to life and who also knows you and loves you…and then brace yourself to answer some complicated (and justified) questions.

I actually love that- I love working through what God says and what I believe, out loud, with these young souls and minds that I’ve been entrusted. I tell them who my God is because my whole heart beats with that truth. I know my babies believe what I say about everything at this point in their lives, and I take that responsibility seriously. So we talk about God in lots of ways. We pray for our friends and neighbors. We “exercise thankfulness” (there’s a phrase they’ll laugh about later) even when we don’t feel thankful. When they are mean to each other, we talk about what real love looks like, and we try again to be kind and patient and slow to anger. When I am wrong or when I am mean or impatient (oh how I wish I never was!), I apologize and ask forgiveness, because I want them to know that God honors humility over self-righteousness. We talk and we talk and we talk, and nothing is too sacred to discuss.

One question that my 4 year old daughter Clara grapples with is the sheer size of God. Clara, like the rest of us, would like God to be quantifiable. She wants to measure deity between her outstretched arms, or perhaps in distance, like “as far as it is to fly to Hawaii?” or “from here to the moon?” When I tell her that God is so big, he could actually hold the entire world in his hand, she worries, “But what if he spills us?”

She also wants to know why, if God is so big, we can’t see him.

See? The theology of children. Not to be underestimated.

That’s a fair question, I tell her. And I wonder too. But sometimes, we want to see things in a way that can’t be seen. Like, can you see my love for you? I ask her.

Well, she says. You do love me.

Right, I nod. But can you see it? How do you know it’s there? Is it a real thing, like a toy we can hold, or like the rug we’re sitting on? How do you know I love you?

When you kiss me, she says. When you make me lunch. When you let me wear dress up to play outside.
All of that, and more, and I hope you know how much I love you, I say as I pull her close. And that’s kind of how we see God. I see God when I watch you learn. I see God when I hold my babies. I see God in the stars at night. He’s there. He’s so big that I can’t really understand, but He’s in the ocean and in the stars and in you.

She snuggles in close and that’s enough for today; enough to know that we can at least search and be satisfied in the vastness of the quest.

It’s a conversation worth having, one worth having for the rest of our lives, really. Where is God? And why do we care?

So now I think about this stuff all the time, because if I’m going to tell my kids about my God like it’s absolute truth, I better consider the gravitas of such a claim. And be willing to search with them for the face of heaven.

Well, last night, I am happy to report (to you and to Clara), I saw God.

Earlier this year my friends (you!) raised money to buy baby wraps for refugee moms in my town. Baby-wearing is a passion of mine, because it’s been a sweet experience for me these last few years, and because I think it creates a good and simple connection for new moms as they struggle through the madness of a newborn. Especially for vulnerable mothers, without solid support systems or helpful community around them, a baby wrap gives time and space to take care of other things, like older children or jobs or themselves. So I have a stack of baby wraps in my closet that I take to new refugee moms and help them learn how to wear their babies.

I took a wrap to an old friend of mine last night. She’s not a refugee, but she is housing several small ones. She is a foster mother, and currently has a home full of little girls who are not fleeing their country, but who are living in a strange land nonetheless; including a baby who is only a few days old. My friend reached out on facebook about needing a way to carry the brand new baby she had just picked up from the hospital, and I basically forced my way over to her house with a wrap, despite the fact that we haven’t seen each other since summer camp 15 years ago.

It didn’t matter. As soon as I walked in, I felt at home. Not just because her house was warm and peaceful, covered in organized piles of pink clothing, but because we both wanted the same thing: for her to have what she needed to raise these little humans until their parents or an adoptive family takes them home. I mean, I spent an hour over there. One short hour in this journey that she takes every minute of every day, accepting the burdens of other people’s mistakes and loving children who are not her own. The baby was two days old. Two days in this world, and already plunged into consequences outside herself. I held that just-born girl and cried, imagining her mother somewhere with empty arms. I held her and cried because I was so thankful that my friend could keep this precious baby safe for right now. I cried because this world is full of broken people, and it hurts.

So I spent an hour with this amazing friend of mine and we practiced putting on the wrap and tucking her newborn foster daughter into the folds against her chest. It’s like a swaddle with a heartbeat, I told her, and we laughed. I took this picture and then we hugged tight and prayed for the children in her home, and I left.

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I walked back into the summer evening, warmth floating off the suburban streets and up through the dipping maple trees, the sky soft with pastels of forest fire smoke lingering on the sun’s setting horizon. I got in my car and shivered as cold air blasted across my face. I shivered again at what I had just witnessed. I looked at the picture I took of my friend, with the other woman’s baby pressed to her heart, and I wept.

I am so relieved to live in a world where children still belong to us all. I am so relieved to know that although the world darkens – although the evil squeezes like a vice, and we want to explode or shrink or sometimes both – God is here. In this quiet neighborhood in a small town, in this little home tucked in an anonymous cul-de-sac, God is working. My friend’s hands are doing God’s work as she folds pink clothes and feeds hungry mouths and absorbs the pain of broken families. There’s God, front and center, weeping and saving and working.

That’s what I want Clara and Sammy and Audrey to know. When life frightens you with dark corners, when scary men and evil women shout their lies, and when the apathetic masses turn their faces away; God is still here. And once you know what He looks like, once you’ve seen that kind of staggering grace? You can’t miss it the next time. The brilliant light of selfless love is surprising in such a dark world. And I pray that, like Paul on the road to Damascus, you won’t be able to keep walking once that flash blinds you. You will have to stop, so startled by the Almighty, and you will be changed.

Because once we see what God looks like, we can’t just keep walking. Everything is different afterwards-

and my gosh, what a relief.

 

-Jessie

 

Audrey Elizabeth at 4 months

IMG_1332I used to blog about my kids all the time. Now they’re a little older and I don’t like strangers knowing things about them without their permission, and also I just kind of forgot how to blog without writing an essay. But Audrey is four months old and not only have I not started her baby book,

I haven’t actually bought her a baby book.

So I better keep track on here, for her sake and for mine.

Dear Audrey, 

I’m smiling as I write this. I can’t help but smile when I talk about you, because you’re the sweetest, dearest little thing. Here’s an example of why you’re the best baby in the world:

It was the 4th of July on Monday and we always go to a big pool party at my aunt and uncle’s house. This was your first year there, obviously, and there were a LOT of people who wanted to meet you and hold you and kiss you. But you’ve been sick all week with a fever and a cough, and I felt bad letting other people hold you. According to previous baby experience (looking at you, Clara and Sammy) that wasn’t going to end well for anyone. There would be tears and panic and then a bunch of guilt on my part because I didn’t keep you as close as I should. But you know what you did?

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Nothing. You let my family hold you and pass you around, and you smiled and cooed in your raspy voice and you never cried. Not once. It’s truly amazing, your disposition. You are easy-going and happy. You smile when I swaddle you for bed, and close your eyes as I lay you down in your crib. Then you fall asleep on your own and you sleep all night.

You’ve been doing that since we brought you home from the hospital. I thought babies like you were a myth, but here you are each night, sleeping peacefully in your nursery on your floral sheets surrounded by sunny yellow walls and hanging plants. You’re a dream come true.

I know I’m not supposed to compare my kids to each other (is this even possible?) but I can’t help it. It’s not that you’re better than Clara and Sam were as babies, it’s that you’re WAY BETTER than Clara and Sam were as babies. I’m so glad you’re our third, because we appreciate you on a grand scale, built on the previous three years of babies who didn’t sleep and required constant maintenance and servanthood. Daddy and I just lay and stare at you, speaking in hushed tones about how wonderful you are and how happy we are that you are ours. 

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Audrey. Do you know how badly I wanted you? I prayed and prayed for the right time to try for another baby. God kept telling me to wait, to be patient. And I kept waiting, kept dreaming, kept wishing for another daughter. And then, finally, it was time. I told Daddy about you on Father’s Day last year, and we were both amazed at how easy it had been to conceive you. It was such a foretelling of who you would be in our family: a girl we all dreamed about, who came easily and sweetly into our lives.

Audrey Elizabeth Horney, you filled a hole we didn’t know existed. We adore you. Clara holds you in her arms in reverence, amazed at every little thing you do- “She’s looking right at me, Mama!” “She smiled, Mama!” Sammy’s voice goes up several octaves whenever he talks to you, singing “Hiiiii Audrey Beth!” and then he presses his forehead to yours before he kisses every part of your face. When I give you a bath Clara always asks, “Is it because of Sammy’s slobber, Mom?” and it almost always is.

Lately, when I’m making dinner, I put all three of you in the kids’ room. Clara and Sammy work on puzzles on their thick rug while you lay on your blanket beside them, watching and gurgling happily. I get tearful when I peek in the french doors to their room and see my three kids cheerfully existing together, already a pack, already exactly what each other needs.

You are our baby, and we needed you. 

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Beautiful girl, darling girl, sweetest love, our Audrey Beth: You have brought us buckets of joy the last four months. We love you so much that you are always covered in our kisses and slobber- we have to actually wash our love off you each night. But it doesn’t come all the way off. I know because I can see it in your eyes, a sparkle that comes from knowing you are absolutely, completely loved. And also, I imagine, from the goodness that spills out from your heart.

Happy four months old, baby. Thank you for filling our home with your special kind of warmth.

We love you,

we love you,

we love you!

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the starlight of a new life still present (dear Alene)

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My dear Alene,

I’m so jealous of you right now. You gave birth a few days ago and now you are riding that newborn baby wave, the one which crests and falls with different feelings  every hour, sometimes every minute. You are tucked away in your home, a place somehow new again, because a new family lives there. A family that did not exist last week now lives in your house; what a strange reality to face each morning. I daydream about those moments, about the three times I have woken up in a new house with a new family after each of my children were born, and in all of my dreaming the air has such a rose hue to it. Not the false rose lens of chosen ignorance, of intentional amnesia, but a haze that fills the house with wonder and smooths over sleepless nights and painful healing. It’s like when you wake up early on a camping trip, deep in a forest or beside a lake or in a meadow, and it’s not night but it’s not morning, and the fog sits steady on the ground as though it’s always there, but you know it’s not, it will roll away with the sunrise, so you sit very still outside your tent as the sun creeps up and you watch the stars become invisible again. That’s how I imagine you right now. Sitting very still in these precious moments with a newborn in your arms, afraid to move too quickly because you know the fog will lift and the world will come glaring back into focus, the starlight of a new life still present, but no longer visible.

It’s not glamorous, these first days after a baby is born. It’s the kind of exhausting that makes you weep. You cry and you bleed, you sweat in your sleep, you begin to produce milk, it’s as though every pore in your body is leaking, as though soon you won’t have anything left. And you can feel that, can’t you? That constant sense of depletion? I’ve always thought of those early physical changes, all that loss, as the tangible symptoms of a metaphysical casualty. A death of self. Because really, in every sense, birth comes with loss. A part of you died in that delivery room. You will never be who you were before your daughter was born. And even though you rejoice with every breath she takes, and you hold her up in awe simply because she is yours, there is a grief that must be allowed in the same space as your joy. Whether our babies come from our own womb or from the womb of another, we cannot remain the women we once were when we take these children into our arms. We say a breathless hello to the babies at our breast, all the while leaving behind the life we once lived. And even though we are happy; even though we weep with thankfulness; we still must learn to live again. In our new lives. With our new families. As our new selves.

I think that’s why my dreams of what you’re doing right now seem rose-colored, the flushed pink of love surrounding the newborn baby in your bed. You exist in a space beyond, impenetrable to anyone but you and your girl. The fog hasn’t rolled away yet. You are recovering. You are coming back to life. And as your daughter makes you a new mother once again, a new woman once again, a new person once again, death and life and grief and joy are so intermingled there can be no understanding of it except between the two of you. How lovely. How impossibly beautiful.

You, my sweet sister, have brought us a gift. A new life. In all the world of all the people, you have given us someone brand new. We needed her. Thank you for her!

Be well in your haze. Breathe in that rosy air. Sit still in the fog and count the stars, the ones that no one else can see. I love you so much, and I am so glad to be in a world where you are a mother.

Love,
Jessie

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2.27.16 (Clara and Audrey)      When my daughters met.

Now is not the time for that.

 

It’s almost my 30th birthday. I thought I would feel more concerned about this. I’m a little (very) worried about how I look as I age, but that’s just my usual unending amounts of vanity. People have been telling me for years that my 30’s will be better than my 20’s, that I will relax and feel more confident and at ease with myself. And my 30th coming a few weeks after giving birth to my third baby feels right, somehow. I’m thirty and I have three tiny kids, and this is my life right now. I can’t yet attest to this time being better than my twenties, but I will say that I have to agree about finding more ease with myself, which I’ve though about a lot lately. Why do I feel more relaxed, safer in my positions and relationships? Maybe I’m just more tired now. Or maybe I don’t have time for the angst that ruled my 20’s, in between tending the litany of needs that a 3 year old, 2 year old and a newborn present every moment of the day. But no: it’s more than that. I’m not (just) tired or preoccupied. I have found a new strand of peace in my life as I get older, and it’s mostly wrapped into this little phrase:

Now is not the time for that.

These seven words are a filter through which I refine my time. I whisper them when I need reminded the brevity of my life. This is it. This is all the time I get. I don’t want to waste it being dissatisfied, or fearful, or annoyed, or stuck.

There is such a freedom when I allow that phrase its full meaning:
Now is not the time for that.

Because when I recognize what this is not the time for, all sorts of space opens up for what this is the time for. Do you see what I mean? So often, I fall into the trap of discontent, a willful dissatisfaction with present circumstances, difficult relationships, disappearing dreams…I pine for what isn’t mine to hold, and lose sight of what’s filling my hands already.

Imagine the Israelites, slaves in Egypt for so many years. Generations of slaves giving birth to another line of slaves; what could they do with that reality? And then: a rescue. An impossible escape through gaping sea water, and a walk into the wilderness. For forty years. Forty years of wandering a desert. Some of these wanderers hated the desert enough to ask if they could go back to Egypt. Back to slavery. Maybe God had rescued them, but for what? Where was the new life? Why must they eat manna when they were promised more?

There is a difference between properly grieving what we wanted so badly, and ignoring what we have instead. We ought to grieve. We ought to process what we have lost or what we never really had or what we wished to have happened by now; it’s good and right to grieve these things. It’s important. But then, we keep walking. We look up at an open sky, that bright blue expanse of possibilities, the horizon falling on promised lands, and we keep walking. We give space for what this time is not, and embrace what this time is for.

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For me, this is not the time for restful nights. But stars in the sky- this is the time to memorize the weight of my newborn daughter as I rock her in my arms and sing her to sleep. This is not the time to sit down at my desk at the same hour each day and write until I’m through. This is the time that I gather the stories we are writing in this opening act of our family, so full and sweet. We are building a family, building a narrative that will guide our kids for the rest of their lives, and I want to remember it. So I write in the dark, in my bed full of babies in the middle of the night, at my kitchen table for a few free moments, in stolen afternoons in coffee shops. This is not the time for me to stop dreaming. Or gathering friends. Or learning who I am and what I have to offer. Sometimes I yearn to be alone, to roam and wander and build something for myself; yes, sometimes I grieve the space to be on my own. It might be different for you. Right now might be a time of extreme quiet, or painful questions, or more ends than beginnings. And you might wish for something else. You might long for something to come faster, or to slow down. But listen:

Now is not the time for that.

Now is the time to learn the difference between manna and honey, and why they are both enough. Now is the time to learn the art of dreaming without grumbling. Now is the time to say, “Yes, Lord. Thank you for the sun on my face and the expanse of the sky,  for the firm ground under my feet and the steady work of my hands. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

He is the God of the desert.
He is the God of the Promised Land.

Both. He is both.

This is the great paradox of the God I love: That He asks me to be content with manna, all the while leading me into dreams I could never even imagine. Can I allow this tension in my life? Can I be a dreamer, delighted by what may come, and yet – stay satisfied in my present moment?

Because honestly, sometimes I can barely tell where I’m walking. Is this the dream? Is this the wilderness? Why do some days feel like both?

Now is not the time for that. I want this filter to sort my days for me. I want to teach it to my children. What is this the time for, and what it is not? On a micro and a macro level, this mindfulness sets an intention that changes how I behave. Changes the way I make choices, big and small. Is this a time for movement, or a time to be still? Is this a time to make a blanket fort, or a time to be alone and write? Is this a time to speak, or a time to listen? A time to eat, or a time to wait? Time does not control me. I control my time. One decision at a time.

I’m going to enter the next year of life with this stamp on my heart- this creed on my lips. I worship the God of abundance, of dreams, of kingdoms and victories and grand hope.  And I worship the God of wilderness, of waiting and watching and praying through every single moment.

The sweetness of honey. The quiet of manna. What joy to remember that yes, absolutely, both.

He is both. And He is good.

I can rest there. Happy birthday to me, happy 30 years of painful learning to me, happy one more day of walking this path, to all of us.

 

-Jessie

 

 

Step on the stage.

previously published February, 2014

I have an ugly, odd habit of throwing away thank-you cards. Not ones that I receive, though. No, thank you cards that I wrote. I take the time to choose a card, hand-write a thoughtful, personal note, possibly even look up an address, and then I throw it away. I mean, I don’t throw it away right then. Not that second. Instead it will languish in a drawer or on a desk or perhaps even in a much larger stack of thank you cards until the window of appropriate mailing time has passed and I throw it out. Such was the stack of 20 or so birth announcements for Clara, each of which also had a personal thank-you tucked inside, which I didn’t find until right before Samuel was born. I was too embarrassed to send them 15 months late, so… I threw them away. My apologies to the family and friends who I never thanked for the gifts they gave my daughter. I really was grateful, I promise. Just too sheepish to take the last and MOST IMPORTANT STEP of actually handing you the card I wrote. This drives Sam insane, by the way. He catalogues this terrible habit in the same file as “not turning in work hours” and “getting lost on my way home.” I get it. I am irresponsible. My head is not always in a good place.
But shouldn’t it count that my heart is?
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After Sam was born and after we finally took him home from the NICU, I wanted to make thank you cards for the medical staff who took care of us. All through the hard times of my pregnancy and labor and then the days following his birth, I had a team of people who showed compassion and love at a time when I needed it most. From my doctor to the ultrasound tech to our nurses at the hospital, God used the kindness of veritable strangers to minister healing to my worried and tired soul. So I wanted to tell them thank you for all they had done, for both me and my baby boy.
But I was embarrassed.
I’m almost always embarrassed to say thank-you, or to tell someone how much they mean to me.
Isn’t that strange? I’m not shy. I’m not quiet. I deal with words on a regular basis and I know how to say what I’m feeling. So why am I embarrassed to tell people thank you? Why do I throw away stacks of thank you cards? Earlier this fall, I spent an entire afternoon baking, and creating gift bags for my neighbors, complete with autumn themed notes that told them how thankful we were to have good people living by us. Those gifts sat on my counter for a week until the cookies were stale. Then I threw them away.
Then I MADE THEM ALL AGAIN, and THREW THEM AWAY. AGAIN.
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I know I sound like a sociopath right now. There is something bigger going on here, some hidden agenda written in my deep, fearful places. I think the reason I am nervous to be generous with my thanks, or to compliment someone or to sincerely admire someone out loud is because it all reeks of such vulnerability. There is a baring of oneself that must occur in order for a thank you to be genuine. It means standing in front of a friend or a stranger and admitting that you needed them. Admitting that they mean something to you. And they may or may not feel the same way about you. You could possibly be standing alone at the end of the exchange, your admiration hanging in the stilted air, uncomfortable in its intimacy and suggestive tone of endearment.
It might feel weird.
My 6 week after-baby check up came around Valentine’s Day, so I decided to bake cookies, wrap them up in pretty heart boxes, and deliver them to the doctor and nurses with special thank you cards I printed from Walgreens with pictures of my kids. Even as I write this, I feel embarrassed at how elaborate the whole idea comes across. And that is really the crux of my fear; the reason I throw out gifts and squash down my feelings about other people. It’s because I am afraid that I am too much. It’s a line in my story I’ve fought my whole life, told again and again by so many different sources. This message of being too much has corroded something in me and I find myself acting out of fear that I will embarrass someone or look like a fool because my feelings are bigger than they should be. Like the kid professing his love to the coolest girl in school or the person crying during a political debate (yeah more than once), I stand naked on the stage of life and I am sincerely ashamed.
But this time, this time with the Valentine boxes and cookies and special cards, I followed through. I was embarrassed, mind you, imagine walking into a silent waiting room with my arms full of baked goods and a newborn fussing in his carseat, but I did it. I handed out my cards, head down low, and went home, glad to get it done.
A few days later, I got a voicemail from the nurse who had taken care of Sam in the NICU. She had been by our side through most of the process of his stay and become like family. We secretly called her Grandma Cherie, but it was very much a professional relationship and we didn’t discuss much outside of Sam’s care. She left a nice message asking me to call her back, and when I finally did, it was an astounding conversation. She was very emotional, telling me how much my card and cookies had meant to her, and then she hesistated.
“This is a personal question, but are you and your husband religious at all?”
I told her yes, we are Christians.
“I wondered if you guys were, because honestly, there was such a light wherever you were, and having a family like that was such a blessing to be around. (cue my weeping) And since you’re a believer, I have to tell you- I’m not sure why you brought that gift on that particular day, or if you were moved by any sort of prompting from the Lord, but I have to tell you why it meant more than you could ever know.”
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Cherie had woken up that very morning of my thank-you delivery in despair. The day before she’d had a patient’s mother verbally abusing her all day long, a mother who turned out to have psychotic tendencies and need a guard at all times. But Cherie had gone to bed that night praying and asking God if it was just time for her to retire, and feeling like He had abandoned her. She said that the note from our family was the confirmation and encouragement she had prayed for, a message from the Lord that He saw her and cared about her and wanted her ministering in the NICU. She and I were both crying as she told this story, and I shared what an angel she had been to us, that God had used her as encouragement in our lives. It was a real tear fest, people.
God used my embarrassingly elaborate ‘thank you’ to bless Cherie. He used my too much and made it just enough, just exactly what she needed. And I needed to hear that. I needed to know that when I am afraid to say thank you, or afraid to appreciate someone aloud, I am being a thief. I am robbing someone the confirmation that they are good. And I am robbing myself the chance to be vulnerable. Because it doesn’t actually matter what I am thinking. Or what I keep quiet in my heart. No one wants to see the movie about a kid shrinking in the audience, thinking about how much he loves the girl. We want to see that kid stand on a stage and say how he feels, say how he loves, because the risk is what makes us look. The risk is what makes it worthwhile.
Take the risk. When you love someone, tell them. When you are grateful, say so. And when you see something good, name it.
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Stop throwing away your thank you’s.
Get up on that stage and take the mic.
I promise I’ll be there too.
Probably ugly crying over a plateful of cookies.

What if, what if, what if.

Dear little daughter,

It’s midnight and here I am on the couch. Our quiet house smells like daytime fading, tangy like the spaghetti I made for dinner, clean like the bleached sheets in the dryer. Everything is still. Heated air whispers up from the vents, clocks tick, my heart beats. As I lay on the couch and try to read, midnight approaching, you jab and turn beneath the skin of my belly until I can not read one more word. I set my book aside and open my robe so I can watch you dance through my naked skin. I press my hands firm against my stomach to try and guess your parts. Is that an arm poking up beside my hip bone? Is that the arch of your spine rolling across my middle? Is this your bum I feel so round and hard under my palm? I laugh at your wiggling body, I feel full and happy, both, already, to be your mother.

But tonight, like always, I worry, too. I lay still and marvel and worry as you dance.

I speak quietly into the silent house as the rest of our family sleeps, introducing myself once again and talking to you about your siblings, and your father, and your home. I cradle you in my arms and say, “I’m your mama. Do you know that yet?”

I pray that you do know it. I pray against my worries. How can anyone mother without worry? How can I welcome the sharp movements of your body inside me without also wondering if you are ok in there? Baby daughter. I am too often consumed with the unknown. Scary things imagine themselves right through my wonder.

What if your body is hiding a tumor? What if your heart stops beating too soon? What if your limbs don’t move? What if your ears can’t hear? What if you are fine, and then one day you grow up and stop speaking to me and I never know exactly why? What if, what if, what if? I die over the what ifs. I circle around them like a weary animal, so desperate for food that it dares to approach the spring-loaded trap. I know the worries are rows of metal teeth that will snap off my fingers and toes, will bite down with such ferocity I won’t know how to escape and might bleed to death in the end. I know, I know, I know, and yet. I circle.

This fear is familiar. It blinks at me from every blank page I’ve ever tried to write on. It smells like sharpened pencils and clean notebooks, looks like deadlines and panic, feels like my head buried under a pillow. Creating has always been a terrible, wondrous process. I never know what will come, what will matter, how it will translate from my head to my hands. It might be terrible. It might be wonderful. It might be nothing at all. Experiencing you being created in me carries a same kind of terror and wonder. Here is an elbow! I hope she is strong. Here are her hiccups! I hope she is safe. Here is her heartbeat! I hope her heart beats longer than mine. I hope, I hope, I hope.
What if, what if, what if.

You, little daughter, are another story being written. You are another fish in the sea, joining all of us out here with your own dreams and fears. You are another unknown, like all those pages I will stare at for the rest of my life, wondering what to say, wondering what to write. Except I’m not writing you. I’m just holding you. A spectacle of life as you dance in my belly, I am your first chapter. I’m holding you with a reverent gladness, dear one. Glad to be part of the process. Thankful to share my blood with you.

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My greatest fear in creating is that I cannot guarantee significance or permanence to any project, or even a single word. The reason I press on, the light that shines on my path, is the guarantee that I will not be disappointed to have joined the flow of imagination. It is never a regret to have tried- only to have ignored what presses so hard on our hearts. In many ways, this is what I feel in pregnancy. I have no guarantees for this baby. No promised number of breaths, no assured success in parenting, no prior claims to her devotion or her blessing; only this moment. I claim this moment as my own, this minute where she rests in the dark of me and I am the beginning of her story. That is my only promise. That for right now, I am hers. And she is mine. We flow on together, a light steady on our path, towards whatever moments may come. And I rejoice in the story being written.

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When Sammy was born.

His birth was so quiet. I had come prepared for battle, knowing what an induction feels like, knowing what contractions feel like, knowing what it means to bury my face in a pillow and moan with fear that the pain won’t end; I had come to do fierce business with my body and give birth to my son. But his birth was so quiet. The pain didn’t land in my back like Clara’s delivery, an insistent grip that tore me to pieces. These contractions didn’t push me outward, wild with need and strength. Instead I wandered away, far inside my own self, paddling deep waters but also, guided by a current. My sisters were there, my husband stood close, but the roar of the waters kept me isolated, aware but away.

The induction started before sunrise, early on January 7th,  a slight push of pitocin through my blood and then my body said yes, yes, yes. Labor came easy, no waiting for things to get going or start happening; my son wanted to come that day, despite my hesitations. I didn’t want to be induced. He wasn’t quite 38 weeks along yet, so who were we to say come out, little boy? But he was so small and we were worried, so we asked him to come out. We wanted to press our waiting ears to his cricket ribs and breathe with his heartbeat, the rat-a-tat-tat of newborn life ticking through the air. We wanted to know he was alright. We wanted his cries to wash over us, reassure us.

The winter skies stayed dark with clouds all morning, my hospital room all lamplight and shadows. I hardly spoke a word, surprised again and again at the steady way labor moved through my body. I hadn’t realized what a storm Clara’s back labor was until I did it another way, my body contracting and releasing in a rhythm that breathed instead of roared. I sipped water. I held onto Sam, inhaling the familiar clean smell of his t-shirt and deodorant. I labored in good company, but isolation was a thick wall around me.

At 10 a.m. I started to panic.  My nurse told me to relax, that I was breathing too loud and pushing myself too hard. I followed her instructions and let the air glide out of my lungs, through the tunnel of my rounded mouth. I fell silent again. My body slowed. The baby moved further down.

By noon I was sweating. My bangs bunched up on the side of my face as I swam the currents, okay okay okay okay deep breaths in, deep breaths out. The doctor checked and said 7, you’re getting there. Everyone scattered for a moment, out the door for a bowl of soup or a bathroom break or to nurse a baby in the waiting room. Sam left too, calling family with an update, and then it was me and the water inside my bones, rushing rushing rushing okay okay okay. 

I sat on the edge of the bed with my eyes closed. A new kind of current crashed and threatened to drown me with powerful pressure all over my body. I felt soft hands on my legs. I was losing my way through the river and losing my breath too, but I felt those hands hold my knees and I heard my dear friend Leanne, having just arrived as everyone else stepped out, telling me exactly what to do. Her accent lilted it’s way into my far away space, my name a new word on her Australian tongue.

“This is a big one, Jess. You’ve got to surrender. Ride it all the way up and all the way down. Don’t fight- follow. Okay, okay, okay… go all the way in. Breathe, Jess.”

I clung to Leanne and lost myself in three minutes, three contractions, up up up and down down down, following her voice and groaning into her shoulder,

and then it was time.

“He’s coming,” I whimpered, and then

“He’s coming now!” I shouted, my eyes open for the first time in hours. The nurse kneeled to check and said, yes, wow, he is coming now! And the room scrambled. Get her husband! I heard someone say, and the room filled back up with my people.  A NICU team stood quietly in the corner, ready to weigh our baby and decide if we could keep him with us. My doctor grinned and said, “Guess we can all have lunch later, mama. That was amazing.” My stomach tensed and I pushed, once, twice,

and there he was.

My son.

Not an ounce of fat, just bones and more bones curled beneath his slippery skin. He gasped for air. I gasped too. You did it, Jess, all of my people said, but I didn’t say anything. I reached for my son and held him to my chest, I closed my eyes and opened them again, the world still far away from me and my baby. I kissed his dark hair. I fumbled his sharp elbows, unfurled his tight fists. I cried because he was mine.

He cried and crawled up my stomach, still learning to breathe, now looking for milk. Let him catch his breath before you feed him, they said, so I blew on his face and sang over him. Hello, little love. Hi, darling. Was that hard? Are you ok? Mommy loves you, Mommy loves you, Mommy loves you. 

Sam cut the umbilical cord and then the ladies in the corner with the scale asked to check him over. Because he was two weeks early and because we knew he was small, the NICU was waiting to see if he would need extra help. He had to weigh 2 Kg to stay with us. Anything less and hospital policy was to take him down to the intensive care nursery. They laid him gently on the scale, and I held my breath.

2.1 Kg. 

4 pounds, 7 ounces. The tiniest miracle, our boy, 38 weeks and too small to describe, but we could keep him in our arms. Everyone cheered and laughed, 2.1! He did it! He barely did it. I cradled him again, both of us disoriented, finally waking up and watching the world come into focus.

He has been my quiet ever since. He ended up in the NICU that night, too small to regulate his blood sugars and temperature, and stayed there the rest of the week. My recovery from his birth was a battle ground covered in smoke; I struggled to find balance with a 16 month old and a newborn, I struggled to nurse his tiny mouth, I struggled to stay home so he wouldn’t get sick, I struggled with my weight, I struggled with sleep, I struggled with depression. It was a long winter.

But always, always, he has been my quiet, my lamplight in the shadows. All through those dark months, he was a light. As spring came, and then summer, as the sun tanned his skin and his life expanded into ours, I found myself again. He has loved me fiercely, undyingly, all of his two years. He has a sweetness in his spirit that makes our family happier, more gentle to each other. He climbs in our bed and lays face to face with me every morning, holding my hand and kissing my hair until 7:00, waiting until he’s allowed to get up and play. He worships his older sister, waiting to enter a new room or greet a new person until she does, until she tells him it’s ok. He sprints to his dad yelling “Watch, Daddy! Watch!” 100 times a day, never afraid to make mistakes, never afraid to get hurt. He is our bundle of love and unbridled ideas, he is tan and handsome, he is still small, but sturdy, and he has made me a mother I never imagined I could be- or wanted to be.

I wasn’t sure about a son.

But I am so sure about him. I am so sure about our Samuel.

Happy Birthday to our boy. We still sing over you, and laugh to the beat of your rat-a-tat-tat. We love you, Sammy! We love you so.

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