we hope.

IMG_1031It doesn’t feel like Christmas Eve. Maybe because we’re away on vacation, or because it’s warm here, or because I’m not going to be up all night wrapping gifts and cleaning my house. But part of me feels like it’s not Christmas Eve because I can’t stop worrying about all the mothers. It’s a storm inside me tonight, the thunderous heartbeats of all the hurting moms in the whole wide world. There are mothers laying beside babies tonight, comforting them to sleep because all they have to offer is comfort- even though their kids are cold and hungry. There are moms dying a million small deaths as they ache for the children they’ve already lost, even though no mom should ever, ever have to say goodbye to a child. There are mothers and children being abused, punished for the crime of being vulnerable, crushed beneath the weight of a world gone wrong.

So, yeah. Christmas Eve. The pain doesn’t really care about holidays or holy days, does it? The pain seems like king, a reign of suffering, holding court over a broken and weary kingdom.

I felt silly doing it, as useless as a candle in a storm, but I prayed for all the mothers tonight. The ones I know and the ones on the news, the ones I want to shake and the ones I want to hold. I prayed and I cried, imagining all the hurts of the planet piled up on my tired limbs. How can I carry this? I asked while I prayed. How can I hold the suffering without dying under it? And Why, WHY won’t You fix all of this? Don’t you care for the mothers? Don’t you care for the abandoned?  Where are You in this?

I wrote this poem from the perspective of Mary, mother of Jesus,  and performed it a few weeks ago as a part of our Advent service at church. The message that week was Hope, and I cling to news proclaimed here. It’s all broken; but we have a Rescuer. All will be redeemed. All will be redeemed. We are waiting and waiting, hoping and hoping, and we will not be left to solve it ourselves, or die beneath it.

May I learn to bear the burden beside Him, aware of the pain but not buried in it. May I weep with those who weep, while always facing the light.

I am praying Hope and Light over all of you, dear ones. And such thanks to my friend Brenda, who helped me find my way through this piece. Love you Boots.

And Merry Christmas, friends.

We Hope. by Jessie Horney

I carry two heartbeats.
A son I’ve smuggled beneath my dress,
he is my best-kept secret.
The closest anyone will get to my heartbeat,
the closest anyone will come to holiness.

Bethlehem clatters tonight,
bustles with Jews,
uncles, cousins, chattering grandmothers,
we gather to be counted.

From the far fields of our fathers,
broad skies of our mothers,
They will count us all
beside our Roman neighbors.

 These counters,
census-takers,
money-makers, government men,
they come to count
but they don’t know as they haw and hem.
They do not know
the king cloaked beneath my skin.

For so long we’ve been captive,
haven’t we.

Stuck in wordless prayer,
for so long you’ve been silent,
God.
The silence,
God,
lays the oceans aside.
Shadows the mountains.
Lays heavy on the hearts of your people
as we watch our world
crumble.

But now: this.
Ten fingerprints of the Almighty
forming inside me
Belly ripe with hope
I am sowing your son
one day at a time.

 

Blood will be spilt where
this babe is born,
ancient stain of new life
as he passes from my womb
into a crumbling world
he is meant to save.

Blood will follow him.
My son.
Him, whose hands flutter inside me,
His hands will heal nations.
Him, whose feet press against my ribs,
His ribs will be pierced.
Him, whose tiny body arches and twists as I lay awake each night,
Soon,
crumbling people,
his body will arch in agony
splayed out for all to see.

My baby.

And yet,
King of Kings.
Hope-bringer.
God with us.
I hold his heart
like He will hold ours
and I whisper,
“Be at rest once more,
oh my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.”

Our Lord. Who counts us all,
one by one,
and declares us
Beloved.
Declares us
redeemed.

 

Oh, I have hoped.
I have prayed.
Generations of breath-holders,
I too, have anticipated.

With Abraham,
with David,
with Isaiah,
and still now I hope
along with Zechariah,
for the “tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us
from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet
into
the path
of peace.”

My body is heavy with anticipation.

I keep my hope.

He keeps His promises.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

what the hell happened last night?

When Sam is on-call for work, it’s sort of a known factor that I’ll be doing everything by myself for a week. This is fine, it’s better by about a million and a half miles than him being gone every other week like his old job required; I can do a week “alone” every other month. No problem.

Except last night, when it was a problem.

Sam’s phone rang at 6:22 p.m. with a power emergency he left to tend. (Did you know that happens? Like, when you call the power company because your lights are off, or you just ran into a power pole with your car- someone is leaving their house to come help you. Fact.)

So, his phone rings, he leaves, and it’s 6:22 p.m. Do you have small kids? Do you have any kids at all? Do you know what is happening at 6:22 p.m. in a home with children?
Everything. That is what’s happening. Every feeling, every emotion, every complaint, every need, every chore, everything is happening. My mom calls it the witching hour, aptly named, because your children will indeed turn to witchcraft and evil spells for the next 2 hours until they are sound asleep.
Or actually, maybe it’s because the mom turns into a witch for the next two hours until they are sound asleep?

I’m not actually sure. Either way, aptly named.

At 6:22 at our house last night, dinner was almost over and the kids were ready for a bath. Which, spelled out a bit further, meant that my kitchen was torn apart by dinner preparations, my table and floor were torn apart by dinner consumption (and food throwing by my youngest, WHY SAMMY WHY) and the kids were dancing around naked in the bathroom while straining to get into the bathtub filled with warm water. This is normal, because we usually split ways after dinner, me to the bathing arena and Sam to the kitchen, me cleaning our slippery children while he cleans all the dishes and dinner mess. It’s a good system, except when he leaves in the middle of our loud little circus. This was also, interestingly enough, the night I had prepared myself to throw down the hatchet and make the baby “cry it out” for bedtime.

The last week or so (or even more? I don’t know. Life has been a blur of travel, holidays, and illness) Sammy has been terrible at night. He falls asleep fine, but then he is up constantly, from about 10:30 on, wanting to nurse or play or cry or whatever his dumb baby brain is thinking about at that particular hour. Like most bad habits that my children start to exhibit, it snuck up on me, one instance at a time. We slept in 4 different houses in 4 consecutive weeks when we were traveling last month, so I had a lot of grace for my kids and their sleeping needs. Especially because we were staying in other people’s homes and I didn’t want any unnecessary crying or bedtime shenanigans, more often than not I was rocking, singing, and nursing when it was time to go sleep, and way more often than not, both kids ended up in my bed sometime during the night. But. Now we are home. Now it is time to settle back in to routine. Both kids in their beds at 7:30 p.m. and falling asleep on their own and staying asleep until morning. Right?
Wrong, says Sam the Fifth. Very wrong, Mama. Now let’s play “bite the mommy and daddy until they wake up and play with me” one more time tonight, whaddya say?
Egads. That is what I say.

So last night! Was the night! When I was going to put my tired foot down on my drool covered wood floors and say Go The #$%& To Sleep, Baby Sam!

After many splashes of bath water, a wrestling match into pajamas (Sammy, that is. Clara is an angel at bedtime, seriously), a toy cleanup whirlwind, and reading a book, it was time for bed. I  tucked Clara in her bed, rocked Sammy while singing a few Christmas carols, then laid the baby in his crib and tiptoed out of their shared nursery. Sammy immediately started crying. I cursed.

Cut to 45 minutes later:
After several failed attempts to lightly pat Sammy’s back and lay him back down, after a few hugs, after a few desperate “It’s night-night time, buddy. It really is!” in my most convincing voice, he was still crying. Standing up, shaking the bars of his crib, furiously crying. And of course his poor tortured sister was also crying, because unlike the maniac across the room, she actually wanted to fall asleep.

I gave up on the “put them to bed in their own beds” mantra and carried a very upset Smoochie to our room, along with an armload of her pillows, stuffed animals (“my guys, mama. Don’t forget my guys!”) and settled her into my bed. Where she continued to cry, asking me to fall asleep with her, too tired to be rational at this point. But not, as it turns out, too tired to watch an episode of Bubble Guppies. Thank God for those weird mermaid kids.

23 minutes later:
Sammy still wailing intermittently. Bubble Guppies end credits rolling. Me speed reading tips on crying it out at 11 months old. Clara still awake. In perhaps the best parenting move of my day, I press play and let Clara watch the exact same Bubble Guppies, again. In case you’re counting, it’s close to 10 p.m. at this point and she is about to get 46 minutes deep into a cartoon haze. I’ll pick up my mothering award at the door, thanks a bunch.

23 more minutes later:
Bubble Guppies is almost over. The baby is still upset. I am slumped against the three feet of wall between our room and the nursery, my phone the only light in the hall, defeatedly reading bedtime tips for babies. Suddenly I find a list about “crying it out,” a sort of “are these things true of your baby?” list to help you determine why they’re waking up during the night.

-Will he only fall asleep with a binky? No. He hates binkies.
-Will he only fall asleep while nursing or drinking a bottle? No. He nurses in 5 minutes flat.
Will he only fall asleep to music or rocking? No, he can skip either one.
-Does he nap well during the day? At least 4 hours combined.
-And most importantly, Does he fall asleep on his own? YES. Always has. 

“Your baby does not need to cry it out. He needs to be night-weaned. Slowly and gently.”
OH GOOD LORD IN HEAVEN. Why have I been torturing my son all night? WHY AM I THE WORST MOM EVER? And why didn’t I read this stuff before we started?

I rush in and pick up my sad son. I cradle him to me and tell him I’m sorry. I climb in my bed next to Clara, turn off the tv, pull both of my tired babies close to me. I nurse Sammy while Clara snuggles up against his back, both of us kissing his head resting between us. He drifts off to sleep but his sister is still awake, breathing slow and even in the dark. I feel her delicate hand reaching across the pillow, searching for me. She touches my cheek and then presses her hand to my chest, right where my heart lays beneath my sternum. She’s done this since she was a baby; impatiently pulling open my robe or tugging aside my shirt to rest her cheek or her hand on my heartbeat. It’s been such a long night, alone, making decisions and unmaking them and feeling so tired before we had even begun; I am so tired. Clara drapes herself around her sleeping brother and falls asleep with her fingers brushing against the warmth of my beating heart.

I laid there for a few minutes, praying over my kids and feeling so thankful for their lives. I took a picture of them sleeping and sent it to their dad. I crept out of my room and cleaned the kitchen. I cleaned, took out trash, measured coffee grounds for the next morning, turned off lights and blew out candles, brushed my teeth and crawled back in my bed full of babies. I tucked myself around them and fell asleep with a sigh.

Parenting is so hard. Parenting is so amazing. Parenting makes me cry happy tears and sad tears and frustrated tears, all in the same hour. Parenting is the gift of real, messy love. The gift of perspective.

Parenting is a small hand holding your heartbeat, counting on the steady rhythm of your blood and breath to make sense of the great big world beyond their sleepy eyes.

And all of that,
every bit of it:
is so, so good.

IMG_1296

Elevate.

I love reality tv. I do. It’s shameful, I’m sure, and most people would probably not admit to such a low-level pleasure, but COME ON. It’s addicting to watch ‘real life’ on screen, scripted or no, because it feeds the obscene voyeuristic side of my personality- the same reason I read mostly non-fiction, the same reason I like to watch my neighbors out my kitchen window while I wash dishes, the same reason I have to delete Instagram off my phone every few weeks or so because I just can’t stop looking.

Shameful confessions aside, one of the shows I like best is Master Chef. I’d never watched any cooking shows before this one, and there’s this one phrase that they use all the time. I wonder if it’s part of every cooking contest, but one thing the contestants aim for is to “elevate their dish.” Basically, this means that instead of making macaroni and cheese, you make macaroni and cheese with, say, a truffle sauce. To ‘elevate’ food is to give it finesse, give it flair, make the flavors new again and make the dish a product of imagination and love. With the right skill set and the right open mind, a good chef can elevate even the most basic of foods.

That idea sticks with me. Not just because I love to cook, and I love to try new dishes. But because the thought that something like a stupid hotdog, in the capable hands of a talented chef, could become a surprising and delicious meal. That’s fascinating. And challenging. And pardon my love for a good metaphor, but isn’t that the key to living a good life? What can I do to elevate my daily living, to re-imagine its place and reassign its value?

How do I make the basic into the beautiful?

Most religions have some pillar based on this very idea, actually. Buddhists call it utthana-sampada, or working diligently at all you do. Mormons work hard to do good because they are aiming towards their own godhood, attaining deification.
And Christians offer themselves up to a life of being “holy.”
Or, the way I learned it, being set apart.

All of these theologies encourage an elevation of the mundane, an understanding that everything matters. Every act, every word, every moment of every day has a meaning with roots deeper than we can see. Some elevate for the sake of understanding, some for the sake of castles in the sky. For me, as a Christian, the reason for elevation isn’t a reason at all. It’s a calling.

It’s not about ‘inner peace’. Or karma, or any sort of celestial reward system. For me, learning to sanctify the act of hanging tiny t-shirts in a closet, or nursing my baby, or teaching my daughter to be kind: it’s all a matter of re-branding. Re-branding the mundane for the sake of the Holy, for the sake of my soul and my place on this earth as a loved daughter of the King. Elevating that which seems lowly by way of a changed heart, because I know for a fact that all of this matters very, very much.

And while I know this is a short season of my life, this home bound, inward universe of raising my young children, I’m learning a lesson that I couldn’t have absorbed anywhere bigger than my house.

It was easy for me to feel gratified in past occupations. It was easy to elevate my day to day activities.
Running an after school program for elementary school kids? Easy to see the purpose, easy to accept the love and thanks of the families we served. Attending college the last 3 years? It was easy to push forward because finishing my degree seemed pertinent, to me and to my future.

I’ve served coffee at Starbucks, I’ve directed summer camps, I’ve worked at churches and insurance offices and even a Japanese karaoke bar in Hawaii. Some of those jobs were draining and some of them were exciting, but every single one of them came with some sort of extrinsic value, like paychecks or community support or free drinks.

But now? Being a mom? It has a different sort of value system. It’s more difficult for me to elevate. It takes purposeful heart checks throughout each hour to remember the incredible investments I am making in my family, in my kids and every person they will ever meet.

I miss having a paycheck. Or feedback. But I have to say, there is a sincerity to my every day movements that has not been there before. I think it’s the lack of external motivation, the lack of accolades from any sort of public opinion or authority figure, from professors or managers, because it’s just me. It’s just me and these kids and honestly, they won’t even remember most of what goes on during these early years of their development. These days belong to us, to our ins and outs, to our moods, to our small but meaningful accomplishments. These days belong to me and my God, and the act of elevation is a discipline that is at once softening me, and also hardening a core of truth about What Is Holy and What Matters.

I think at some point, we all fight that hollow feeling of What Am I Doing Here? We work at jobs we hate, we are in relationships we don’t understand, we forgot what we meant when we started out and everything looks like cold noodles and hot dogs.

We have to elevate.
We have to know that when we are loved so enormously by a God who gives every sparrow a nest and every heart a new mercy with each sunrise, our moments surely matter.

When we sit in a planning meeting.
When our hands are dirty with another day of work.
When we pay our bills at night.
When we feel stuck.
When we fight against the injustice of poverty and yet it never seems to be enough.
When we write into the void.

It matters. More than we could ever know, it all matters.

I’ll try to remember that later, when I gather baby Sam in tight while he cries through another night of teething. When he sighs with desperate relief because his mom is near.

Elevating. It’s not feigning relevance. It’s not inflation or vanity;
it’s perception.
it’s mindful.
it’s the heart of God, one day at a time.


“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.” – Paul the apostle 

This is how you grieve.

Start with an empty room.

Open your arms, stretch them out in disbelief, tremble with a fear that cannot be breached, and gather your things. You’ll need some help, here, if you can find it. The room may be quite large, but also it could be impossibly

suffocating

shoulder-bending small.

If you find your sad self in this kind of a tiny room, stooped over, nagging kink in your neck, and fighting an eye spasm, hold someone’s hand and wait.

This room will grow.

Start with an empty room, and gather.

Drag in a table. Line it with dishes, or flowers, or scratched out angry letters, or bottles of booze, or chewed up plastic straws. Or nothing.

You need this table.
You need a surface.
You need a landing.
This may seem exhausting.

It will be exhausting.

Now find a lamp for your room. Maybe one with a dimmer switch? Because some days will be darker than others and you want to show the lamp that it is necessary and
yes, lamp, you are appreciated.

You may need more than one lamp. 

You will find all of this aggravating.

Pull an area rug to your room. Not wall-to-wall coverage, you need some distance between you and the floor and the walls and the oxygen. Your rug fibers ought to cushion your knees:

In prayer. In pleading. In the frenzy of your wild anger. In the quiet of your stuttered breaths.

Make sure it’s thick. 

Unfurl the rug, strand by strand, and feel the weight in the room.
Feel the world beneath your feet, ok?

Imperative: couch. bed. chair. instruments of quiet, feather-filled stops.

Your couch will be important.

Trust me on that.

For the sake of your tired body, trust me on that.
For the sake of aching ribs.
For the sake of solemn skin, stretched too far across hungry cheeks and dry lips.
For the sake of empty elbow crooks.
For the sake of wilted eyebrows.
For the sake of drowsy blood flow and cramping fists.

For the new iron casing around your chest and fingers,
the weight in your bone marrow that you cannot lift or shake or lose.

Please wearily accept the gift of respite:
when you sleep without dreams,
when your baby wakens and calls your name,
when the sun shines hot through your car window,
when you remember how to spice your spaghetti,
when hope pokes a tiny sprig in your direction,

Rest.
Find your couch,
Stretch across your bed,
and rest.

Live in your room.
As long as you need, stay in your room.

Welcome in guests, if the room will hold them. 

Explore it. Scrape the floor, crawl the corners, examine the bumps in the walls and the cracks in the ceiling. Trace every inch.
Fill a vase or a hundred old bathtubs with your tears.

The dead do not mean well. They come, they go, they leave us behind to tread the deep murky waters of in absentia. Heaven may hold them, but earth holds us, tether bound to the grocery store and decisions for tomorrow, which is terribly unfair when our hearts have recently begun a slow descent into our guts. Who needs grapes and milk at a time like this?

This is how you grieve. 

Start with an empty room.
Gather your things.
Settle in.
Move about.
Rest.
Rage.
Wonder.
‘Til you are left with one wooden chair.
Send the rug to the cleaners.
Haul the couch to the curb.
Stack your dishes and tidy your angry letters,
water your flowers and give them away.
Sit in the wooden chair.
Remember the room when it was crowded with sorrow.
And when you are ready,
And you’ll know when you are ready,

 

 

 

 

leave.