Perfect Happiness

I don’t think there is such a thing as perfect happiness. There are times when I am incredibly happy and times when I am nearly completely happy and times when I am perfectly content. But I don’t think I strive for perfection in happiness. If only so that I am not evaluating the level of my happiness. When I am happy, I am happy.

This morning, my daughter came and snuggled with us in our bed in the early morning, cuddling cozy between the covers, one of the last few times that it will be just the three of us. It was a happy moment. Part of what made it all the more sweet is that it was fleeting. Soon it will not be possible to have a moment like that, with just the three of us, because there will be four of us. (Also, we had to change the sheets afterwards, because she left us a “gift…” which takes away from the perfection, but does not detract from the sweetness of the moment in the slightest.) It wasn’t perfect, but it was good.

I suppose that in my happiness I do have levels of closer and further to complete, but happiness doesn’t really seem to be something that should fit into a category of perfection. I quibble with the idea of evaluating levels of happiness.

Things, times, and situations that make me happy: my daughter’s giggles, hiccups in utero, early morning solitary cups of coffee, fresh sheets on my bed, sunrises at the ocean, weather perfect for wearing my silk skirts, new music that I can instantly sing along to, Rhapsody in Blue, snuggles and kisses, a good search in finding the answers to the three questions we ask after watching a movie, the smell of new books, the smell of old books, good walks, snow days, new recipes, happy lights, haircuts, naps, figuring out new spaces, learning a new town, finding new and old friends, ice cream, and Santa’s Favorites.

I am still learning how to be happy and simply rest in it. Perhaps in ten or twenty years, I will be able to tell you what perfect happiness looks like for me, but probably not. What makes happiness good for me is that it doesn’t have to be complete to be enjoyed. Maybe that’s what makes it perfect.

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On the Eve of Your Sister’s Birth

Dear Rebel,

You have been making our lives a more wonderful experience for two and a half years now. (Or more, if you consider when you danced inside my womb while at concerts and kept me company when I felt lonely at church.) Thank you for your joy and laughter, tears and tantrums, bumps and owies, and hugs and kisses through these years. Thank you for teaching me to be a mother in your own special way. Thank you for “preaching” to your daycare classmates when you were ten months old, for your newly introduced spontaneous songs, for your gentle pats on the back when I look tired, and for handing me my shoes when you want me to follow you somewhere.

Thank you for praying for me, your father, your grandparents (Gemma-Poppa & Nana-Grampa), your aunt Beth and aunt Julie, and for baby E. Thank you for holding my hand while we bless our food at the table, as you learn our family blessing (half of which you now say with us; you began by learning “Amen”). Thank you for sitting with me in worship while we listen to your daddy preach, pray, and consecrate the elements of communion. Thank you for being excited each and every time about the bread that he offers as a symbol of Jesus’ love for you and the whole gathered faith community. Even before you could speak, you signed “more eat” showing that you understood at a basic level that something intrinsically good was being offered.

Thank you for showing me my capacity for patience. I have handled far more than I could have imagined. From early tongue-tie revisions through weeks of illness, times when you seemed to cry for no reason whatsoever and times when you cried for very good reasons, in the midst of snuggles and bites, sleepless nights and seemingly endless car rides, we’ve gotten through it all. You have shown me how to offer grace to you.

I will always remember the first time you said that you loved me, shortly before Thanksgiving this past year, as you hugged me and held me close. “I yove you, Mom.” (You don’t have your “L”s down yet.)

You have always enjoyed being outside. Even when you were a day old, going out into the dappled sunlight helped you calm down. You exult in going out to the field next to our house to explore. You are always picking up rocks. You love the beach and water, as you should since you are my daughter. When we arrived at St. Simons and went to look at the ocean at the pier, you walked out to the shore and in no uncertain terms made sure that we knew there was water there, extending both your arms straight out, excited that there was water before you, as far as you could see.

Thank you for going with me to a HB2 rally, a justice candlelight vigil, the DC women’s march, and a Black Lives Matter protest. You may not remember them when you are older, but your presence was important.

Thank you for all your firsts. You are our first born child, and you will always be special and precious because of that. Your first step, word, and laugh are yours, and yours alone.

And now it is the eve of your sister’s birth. Some day soon you will become a big sister, and our love will grow to hold her in our family, too. There will be days when her needs will come before yours, and you won’t understand why. There will be days when we have to compromise and slow down because she needs a nap but you are ready to play. Our love will change, but our love for you will never diminish. We already know you will be a good, caring, and loving big sister, and we can’t wait to see how you and your sister grow and learn from each other.

From one big sister to another, little sisters are amazing: they teach us and love us and play with us and fight with us and hug us and show us how to share and love others in return. It can be a wild ride, but the journey is always worth it.

Thank you for these first two and a half years with you alone. I am grateful for each moment that you have been my only child. Life will change soon, but we will change too, and it will be wonderful.

I love you,

Mom.

Cheering

Since before I was a year old, I have been a fan of the Duke Blue Devils and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Mom and Dad took me to a Blue Devil football game the fall I was still at Duke while Dad was in his last year, and I was so cute, they put me on the TV broadcast. I returned to the same stadium twenty-seven years later to see the Devils face off against the Tide. It was not an even match.

I know that parent’s preferences have a strong controlling factor on determining what teams kids will root for, and so I know that some of my childhood memories of rooting for a particular team are due in large part to the teams that my parents cheered for. But it is also interesting that I have not seen the need to shift my allegiances as I have become an adult. The teams that my parents cheered for were important because they had attended those schools, and I even was able to add my own education to my cheering influence when I went to Duke for Seminary.

While I am glad that both of the teams that I root for, the Tide and the Devils, are currently at the top of their respective fields (at least in football and basketball, respectively) I’ve stuck with them through times when they were not the national champions. Until recently, the Duke Football team wouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance in the Sahara at a winning season, but I still rooted for them.

Cheering for the Crimson Tide (and against Auburn) influenced my favorite and least favorite colors growing up. I still don’t really like orange all that much, and it was one of the most disappointing days while studying Art and Color to learn that orange and blue were opposites on the color wheel and so meant to be together. So I just avoid orange, still. (Though I have learned to cheer for anyone in the SEC when they’re playing against someone outside of conference, even Auburn.) And UNC blue is not Sky Blue, even though they try to claim it.

I will continue to share my love of celebrating sports and cheering for those who play them with my children. I don’t really think I have a choice, since my husband loves sports possibly more than I do. We each bring something different to our understanding of the joy of the game, but what we bring fills out our experience even more.

Becoming Thin

I am nine months pregnant.

Complete strangers have zero compunction in asking me whether I’m having a boy or a girl… they don’t ask if I’m expecting anymore, they assume I am. It’s ok, I am, I’m housing our next generation in my body, and I am physically reminded of it nearly every moment.

I have increased.

My normal clothes stopped fitting in July, I misjudge distances between my growing self and doors, I sway with each step (I won’t deign to call it waddling), and I consciously step so that I don’t lose my balance with the shift in my weight.

I am growing a child.

As I play host to one child, I am still tending to my energetic two year old day in and day out. For nearly a year and a half, she has been my primary focus of care. I stepped away from my chosen career and turned the majority of my focus on her, my husband, and our respective relationships. My field of influence has shrunk significantly. I went from leading a weekly worship service of three hundred to partnering in a family of three.

My life has narrowed.

My friend and acquaintance circles have shrunk, conversations I have with those outside my home are rare, and I am just as likely to discuss my daughter’s eating habits as I am to discuss current events. I spend more time reading for pleasure than I have in the past, but I have also begun to memorize entire movies and seasons of television shows that my daughter enjoys.

I have bared my life down to essentials.

I have distilled what is possible into what is needful and necessary. In part, this is because I am physically slower. I need to rest far more often than I had become accustomed to. I have more limits on my body right now because of how my daughter is taking up the space provided for her. Some weeks I consider it a grand accomplishment to purchase and prepare our family meals.

I am becoming thin.

Not in girth, obviously, but in preparation for ushering a new life into this world.

There is a concept in Celtic Christian theology called a Thin Place. It is where the veil between the world and the Kingdom of God is the most transparent. It is where God and the world meet. You can sense one in a cathedral or in the wilderness. It is where the holy breaks into the mundane. It is where wonder and awe inspire people to worship. It is where the soul sings. Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 9.16.09 a

I am preparing to create a thin place.

When my daughter is born, I will be ushering her into this world. Parts of my body will thin and move out of the way and my womb will work incredibly hard and labor to bring a new child into existence. Her soul will enter this world through our partnering and my family will expand our love to welcome her into our lives. We will witness an incredible act of God in the midst of the blood and sweat and tears of delivering a child. We will be spectators to the extraordinary as our daughter breathes her first breath.

Pain and joy are inextricably linked in childbirth, as I will undertake incredibly hard work in order to meet this person that I have been carrying in my own flesh for nine months.

That day is coming soon. But it is not yet here. For now, I continue to live my narrow life where I focus on essentials so that when the day comes to create a thin place, every part of me is ready to be fully present for meeting our daughter for the first time.

Childhood Memories of Dad

One morning I was working on my sermon for Sunday. It especially struck me this time how I learned my basic sermon construction and delivery far before I ever considered preaching on a regular basis. I learned how I like to deliver sermons from the way that my father delivers sermons.

Unlike my father, who one Christmas Eve took a Post-It note with six words on it to the pulpit for his sermon notes, I need to write out the whole manuscript of what I want to say, word for word, in order to do my best work, even if I don’t read the text word for word once I get in front of people. However, it was my father who taught me by his example of interweaving storytelling and scripture reading along with the exegetical work necessary to apply the scripture to the lives of the people who listen. It is work that draws the hearer into the narrative, and when I get it right, I know that it is because the Spirit is working through me, the same way that I’ve seen the Spirit work through Dad in some tough places.

Once he preached about Moses who had to hold his staff up while the Israelite army was fighting, if the staff lowered, the army began to lose. Moses has two of his most supportive and trusted leaders come and hold his arms up so that the army can win the day.

Dad got a limb from a tree outside, and preached the entire sermon with it over his head, asking two of his leaders who were supporting him in the midst of conflict to come hold his arms while he continued to speak. He delivered that sermon over twenty years ago, and I still remember the vision of him with his arms raised in the chancel area of that sanctuary.

The week before Christmas I made a batch of Santa’s Favorites, the chocolate chip oatmeal walnut cookies that are our family’s specialty. My mom adapted the recipe to perfection and it has carried over into vegan brilliance now that we bake that way. These are the cookies that are our personal Santa’s favorite, our Santa being our father. He always wrote back to us after we left him cookies and a note on Christmas Eve, even after we knew we were playing pretend. Our Santa, every Christmas morning, leaves a Santa Apple for every person who is in the house. I know that dad worked hard to perfect the Santa Apples, carefully placing each individual element to make a fun creation. I’ve continued the tradition in our home, even before we had children; it’s a little like Dad is here even when he is a few states away.

We eat Santa’s Favorites at other times of the year, too. They make excellent river cookies. One of my dad’s favorite things to do is to go canoeing. He took both my sister and I canoeing out on the river throughout our childhood, teaching us how to read the water and plan ahead for obstacles downstream. He is an excellent paddler, able to brave rapids in a canoe that I would never dare without a guide. I get part of my love for the outdoors from dad, in part because he shared his joy and excitement with us as he taught us the names of trees and how different birds sounded as they echoed through the woods.

I learned how to be brave and caring from my father, as he navigated the rapids of rivers and twists and turns of ministry. I learned that you can’t always avoid the rough spots, but you can enter the bend and paddle through it in a way that gets you out the other side in one piece. Maybe with a little water in the boat, but still sound. It’s not always easy, but the journey and excitement are worth it.