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.

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Childhood Memories of Momma

I was sewing this morning and as I was clipping stray threads and pausing to realign seam edges and move pins out of the way, I remembered the sounds of my mother doing the same thing, sitting at the sewing machine using the foot pedal to control the cadence of the whir of the needle as it moved along the path of fabric she was guiding between her hands. She made great dresses and costumes for my sister and I as we grew up, fitting them perfectly to us. And she taught me how to sew, enough so that I can look at a schematic and spool a bobbin and troubleshoot why my needle isn’t pulling thread.

I was cooking this afternoon and as I threw some things in a skillet and started them sizzling, I remember my mother working to prepare us good food every day, day in and day out. We rarely ate out when I was a child. I say that, and you might think, oh, you mean, at a fancy restaurant. No, we might have gone to a Burger King once a month and that counted as the time we ate out that month. Now, part of that is because momma was and continues to be a master chef, part of it was because of tight budgets and it is way cheaper to cook at home than let someone else prepare your food, and part of it is because for a time there, the closest restaurant worth eating at was thirty minutes away. (Not much unlike our current situation.)

I was praying with my daughter last night and as I joined her in her jubilant shout out of names of people she loves, I remember the nights we gathered to pray using the Pockets prayer guide. We began to pray each night, never a memorized prayer, but a prayer that encompassed more than our selves or our situation. Later, as we grew up, we would learn to keep a prayer journal and be the first to volunteer to pray out loud or read scripture in our Sunday School classes. Much of that has to do with how my mother and father raised us to pray with confidence when we were little. So I’m starting my daughter on a similar path; now she asks to pray each night at bedtime.

I was singing with my daughter in the car on the way to preschool today and as we sang “Oh-oh” and “Horse” and “Bear” (her titles, not the proper names), I remembered my mother singing with us as we rode in the car. First we started on silly songs, and we still love and know some of those silly songs about camels and ghosts and car rides, and later we learned songs together that we could sing in church, with motions and everything. I remember the silly songs she taught our girl scout troop, leading us in campfire songs about flannel sheets and singing our prayers over meals.

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 3.10.58 pI love that I have carried lessons that my mother taught through her presence and moving through her world so that I can be a good mother to my daughter (soon to be daughters). I love that I can call her and check a gut feeling that I am having and know that my decision is on the right path. I love that I can share the love that I get from my mother with my family and others around me. I love my momma.

Growing in Change

We change. We grow. We collect scars. We mature. We make mistakes. We learn. We carry wounds. We heal. We build relationships. We burn bridges. We hurt. We ignore. We decay. We develop.

We change.

I believe everyone changes. I don’t believe that the change is necessarily healthy or good, but all of us change. We can change into people who become more and more caustic and hateful, or we can choose to be people that grow towards health and wisdom.

I believe people can change because I can see the change in myself and the people around me.

I have grown wiser, more cautious, more outgoing, and occasionally more judgmental. I have become a better parent, wife, and pastor. I’ve developed my patience. I’ve learned to center myself in something besides myself.

I’ve seen my relationship with my husband, John, change over the past eight years we’ve been together. We’re still learning how to communicate with each other. I’d have thought I would have gotten more of it down by now. Apparently we keep changing and learning about ourselves, and keep bringing more to the relationship than we are aware of. This has been helpful to learn and challenging to navigate.

I’ve especially seen my daughter change. It’s easier to see: she adds a new word to her vocabulary each day. Her change is in greater increments. But when she reaches kindergarten, puberty, high school, college, or adulthood, she won’t stop changing. I’ll keep having to get to know her as we each keep changing.

I’ve even been able to tell that the daughter I am carrying is changing. Her kicks are getting stronger. She moves within me and listens to me sing. She grows.

I had a terrible migraine this past week thanks to Hurricane Irma that lasted four days. I cannot remember the last time I had a four day migraine. It was before I started trying to conceive our first child. The bonus is that I cannot take the usual medication I take to handle my migraines. I had tylenol and the ability to relax my body. After three days I got a rescue dose that knocked me to sleep and kept me out of the emergency room. When I am in the midst of a migraine that long, I have a hard time believing that I will never not have a migraine. I know, logically, that this is not the truth, but I feel like I will hurt and be exhausted forever.

What amazes me is that I lived through a season of migraines like this for a year and a half. I survived them hitting me in waves every single week.

What astonishes me is that it has been over three years since that season. I’ve gotten twice as far past that time than the time I spent in the midst of it. I’m far healthier now. I know my body better. I am more resilient. I enter centering prayer more easily. I am more able to relax my body through the pain, so that it doesn’t hurt as much.

As I spent hours upon hours mindfully relaxing my shoulders, jaw, hips, and neck, I realized I was receiving a small gift in the midst of the pain. Relaxing through an unmedicated migraine is not unlike relaxing through natural childbirth. The technique I use for coping with the pain of migraines is the same that I used for my first birth.

However, the pain itself is different. The experience and purpose of it are radically diametric. Migraines hurt because they hurt. Birth works the body in order to deliver a child.

Birth ushers in a radical change. The labor of childbearing, though intense, is productive.

Change in our lives will hurt. It either hurts because it is producing something new, or because we are caught in a cycle of trying to stay the same while change happens around us. I often get a migraine when a major weather system blows past. My body struggles to catch up to the change in the pressure around it. The weather eventually changes, and I eventually stabilize. But I am changed.

Every day, I change.

Love is what you do and what you say

Today is my Grandmomma Janet’s birthday. I’ve had three grandmothers, each very different. Now, only one is still living, Grammy Sara down in Florida. The third was the first one we lost, Sue-Sue. Each of my grandmothers had their own special name. They had their own special way of being. They have their own special impact on my life.

Grandmomma Janet loved to share love with people. She went out of her way to care for others. She set up crafts for the shut-in ministry at her church, she made pear preserves every single year that she could, she hosted our family for Thanksgivings and Christmases and Easters when we lived close enough. I learned table etiquette from her influence. (You cannot eat your dessert until the person serving everyone has been able to sit down and eat their first bite.) I learned that love is just as important by what you do as what you say. She was an artist, though she never quite claimed it. She loved daffodils.

Daffodils
Dancing in the wind

 

My grandmother looms larger than my grandfather, though I have memories of him as well. Granddaddy Norris still loves to work with his hands and build things out of wood. He loves cookies of all shapes and sizes. He always fell asleep while we were watching TV, unless he was watching Jeopardy, because he had to make sure they got the answers and the questions right. He loved to travel with Grandmomma Janet, they made sure that they took each of their grandchildren on at least one trip with them, to share that love.

Memories are funny things. We remember people from different times in our lives, and from different times in theirs. We put the memories together to build the composite of who we loved and who we remember. Some memories fade and some become crystalline, clearer with each year that goes by. It is important to forgive hurts and angry words, but it is also important to remember that the people we love and look up to are as imperfect as we are. Remembering loved ones as whole persons allows us to have grace for the people in our lives now. Norris and Janet at Wedding

Spinning

I faintly recall our house in Reidsville, and I know that the house in Greensboro had blue shag carpet in my bedroom, and that my sister and I “redecorated” the bed, her doll, and a few books while we were still there. I remember learning how hot things got cold and cold things got hot when they were left at room temperature… I couldn’t understand why my pear didn’t stay cold. But my first true memory is of a very particular merry-go-round.

The Merry-Go-Round is my favorite playground element. I like the swing, it is a very close second, but the merry-go-round? You spin faster and faster and faster and give yourself over to the force pulling you against the bar, never quite sure if you might spin off or stay until the next push. It has been years since I’ve been on one, but some of the same feeling comes when I go Contra Dancing, the same spin and release of control to someone else.

As a child, I always wanted to do the merry-go-round first. After church one morning, we went to go visit one of the mission communities in Columbus, Georgia where my father would eventually serve, Open Door. And I saw it. In the back there was a playground and I saw my prize: the merry-go-round.

Like a smart child who has learned the ways of the world, I knew that the quickest way to get from one point to another was in a straight line. Even if there was grass that was kinda tall, and there was an obvious path out of the way, I went straight to where I wanted to go.

I didn’t make it.

Stinging started.

I looked down, and my legs, in their lovely white tights (that I hated, by the way), were crawling with stinging things.

My seven year old self freaked out.

I thought that I had been attacked by a swarm of bees. I did not like bees. I did not want to be covered with them. But I was covered with stinging horribleness.

I don’t know how my mother got me to calm down enough to realize that I was not, in fact, being stung by a swarm of bees, instead I had run straight into a briar patch of sand spurs.

After I calmed down enough to sit, my mother and the children around me began to pick the stingers off of my tights at least enough to get me to take the tights off. There were too many stingers to get them all off a seven year old’s squirming legs.

I distinctly remember the kindness of the children around me and I distinctly remember that they were all black.

My first true memory, with a beginning, middle, and end is of children like me and yet with a different skin color than me.

I did end up getting to play on that merry-go-round, with those children.

I don’t know if I ever learned their names.

I don’t remember if I ever played with them again, though I don’t think so.

I’d love to say that I was always as kind to other children as they were to me, but I know that is not true.

I know that I learned that caring for someone is not based on their skin color.

I know that sometimes the path might not be the most direct route, but that the people who are part of the community know the dangers that formed the safest way to journey together.

And I know that playing together and working together is better than trying to push a merry-go-round all by yourself. If you take turns as the rider and the spinner, everyone has more fun.