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

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Hearts Formed and Unformed

Trigger warning: Pregnancy loss

Three years ago, today, John and I lost our first child to miscarriage.

Nothing prepares you for this kind of loss. It unravels you. After the fact, we learned that at least a quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage, but no one talks about it, so no one knows. I didn’t tell more people outside of immediate family than I could count on one hand for over a year.

It was the continual questions of, “Is this your first?” when I was pregnant with R that hurt the most. How are you supposed to respond? Do you throw metaphorical cold water over the conversation by saying, no, but there’s not a living kid? Do you grin and grind your teeth?

I was pregnant two Mothers Days in a row but only had one kid on the way.

I had a meeting to go to that night, and I was not sure what was going on, and so I went to the meeting and the only thing I could think about the whole time is, “I think I’m losing my baby.”

The next day, I had a transvaginal ultrasound while the technician spent the entire time speechless. And then I went into the exam room to wait for the doctor and she came in and said, “so you know what’s going on,” and no one had told me, and she went into an explanation of what Down’s Syndrome is… No. I needed someone to tell me I had miscarried, to just tell me and let me sit with it for a little while.

I don’t think it was Down’s. Something just didn’t stitch right. Her heart could not beat. And we lost our child.

I named her Sarah Grace. I’m still learning grace through this experience.

Don’t tell me it was God’s plan. Don’t tell me I should just be grateful for my Rainbow baby. I know this can be uncomfortable, but sometimes you simply need to sit with someone in their grief whether you have experienced the same thing or not, and hold the space of their grief.

The first trimester of my second pregnancy I don’t think I really ever relaxed. I couldn’t write the cheery letter to my firstborn like the one I wrote in the week I knew I was pregnant with Sarah Grace. I didn’t dare to dream until I heard her heartbeat the first time.

My parents, my husband, and I stood around a stand of daffodils in our yard on the first anniversary of losing her and prayed a liturgy for pregnancy loss together. Sometimes other’s words help.

I’m healing, still. I encounter the grief when I think of her, when I remember the experience, when I hear of other women who have experienced the same kind of loss. It’s easier to deal with, to examine, to turn over in my head and consider how I’ve changed because of losing her.

Gradually, my heart mends. Eery so often I’ll find a stitch that slipped and needs to be worked back into the fabric of my heart. The patch remains, but I become more whole.

Life is a very strange thing. It’s tenuous. So many things have to come together in the right way to create a life. But those around us can seem so strong sometimes that we forget the frailty under the surface. We forget the careful knitting that was necessary to form our inward parts and bring us into being.

I pray for hearts formed and unformed.

I pray for hearts broken and healing

I pray for hearts joyful and grieving.

I pray for hearts questioning and certain.

I pray for your heart and for mine.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

This prayer by Rev. Karen Westerfield Tucker from “A Service of Hope After Loss of Pregnancy” found in The United Methodist Book of Worship (p624) helped me heal. I offer it to you if your heart needs healing.

Lord, we do not understand why this life, which we had hoped to bring into this world, is now gone from us. We know only that where there was sweet expectation, now there is bitter disappointment; where there were hope and excitement, there is a sense of failure and loss. We have seen how fragile life is, and nothing can replace this life, this child, whom we have loved before seeing, before feeling it stirring in the womb, even before it was conceived. In our pain and confusion we look to you, Lord, in whom no life is without meaning, however small or brief. Let not our limited understanding confine our faith. Draw us closer to you and closer to one another. Lay our broken hearts open in faith to you and in ever greater compassion to one another. So raise us from death to life; we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Shadow

I took my daughter out for a walk at the state park a couple days ago so she could run and investigate freely. She likes to come back and touch base with me every so often; we were walking together when I noticed that our shadows were walking ahead of us. I waved my hands and she waved hers, both of us watching our shadows following our motions.

I’ve gotten better at paying attention to what I am doing and whether I am being copied because I’ve got a shadow that comes from the light above me and I’ve got a shadow that is the light beside me.

Are we both awake and in the house? If so, we are in the same room and playing the same game. She follows me everywhere, the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom, the den, and the laundry room.

She’s becoming a fabulous helper, in her own way. I have to watch myself to make sure that what I am doing is safe for her to copy. She even stretches with me after our walks together. (And then I become momma climbing toy as she balances on me in a final stretch.)

She’s learning new words everyday now, and I’m more aware of what I say and how I say it. I’m tending to my own grace as I share grace with her. Sometimes everything is wonderful, and sometimes nothing can go right. Sometimes the shadows seem stronger than the light. She speaks of the dark as an existential presence. When it is dark, it is Dark. She does not fear the dark, but she names its power.

She lights up my life like the moon lights the earth at night. She revolves around me and tugs me towards her like the moon pulls the tides. She shines and grows dark and always shines again.

I love my little shadow.

Remain

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. […] “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. —John 15:4-5, 9 CEB

Remain.

Simple small voices call us to stay.

When my daughter goes down for her nap, she generally has this moment when she seems asleep and yet she isn’t quite under enough to keep her from wanting me not to leave. I’ll back up, disengaging her latch, and she will whimper and root back onto my breast, not yet ready to give up this form of comfort.

She’s still growing, still used to resting in my arms, and she is definitely ready to let me know if I have backed away too soon.

She remains in my love, even when she finally sinks deep enough into sleep for me to slip away as she hugs Peter Jiwe, her bear that I kept for myself for similar comfort over ten years ago.

Remain.

I’ve been married long enough to have an argument or seven, and last night I was in a funk and so everything my husband did was wrong. He just couldn’t get it right. We argued over the closets… It was not one of my finest moments. I realized, after a while, that I was hearing with the wrong ears, and he needed a little more grace. I apologized, though I did let him know that he shouldn’t try to discuss anything else with me, mostly because I was not ready to listen.

I think I was tired, or exhausted, or touched out, or weary, or all of it.

(But this is not one of those mommy blogger moments in which the evangelical christian holy woman tells you to be a submissive proverbs 31 wife. No. I just realized I had angry ears on. He’s been wrong before and deserved it. In love.)

Remain.

I know I disagree with you over something. We’ve got heads. We’ve got to have something that we don’t fully agree about. But I need to be in relationship with you. I need you to stick around and love me when I’m hard to love. I’m willing to do the same.

I want to bear the fruit of a beloved community with you, wherever you are. We can do this, no matter what comes next week, next month, or next year. Or the next four years. Or the next ten. I’m committed to sticking it out, loving through it, staying even though it is difficult.

Simple small voices call us to stay.

First Tantrum

My daughter threw her first tantrum yesterday. She’s one year and five days old. It was a very simple tantrum: I was cutting her nails, and she didn’t like it. She wanted her hand back, she wanted the nail clippers, she wanted to be free. She also very much needed a nap. And so, she cried. This is the first time that I can think of that she has cried for a reason that didn’t have to do with comfort, fear, or hunger.

She was crying because she couldn’t have what she wanted and she would not be consoled. That’s a tantrum. I’m sure she will learn to step up her game in the future, with leg kicking and fist pounding and so forth. This was simply crying to the point of needing to catch her breath. Which, I have to say, it has been a while since she has cried like this. Before, this kind of cry was just in the carseat, because at the beginning, she hated her carseat.

It would have been very easy to give her what she wanted. I could have given her the nail clippers, let her go off with them, and let her play on her own. But, they are nail clippers. They are sharp. They are dangerous. They are not a toy.

They are what she wanted.

I did not give in to her want.

It was not a good thing. To her at least.

I know better than she does. I know where the dangers are.

I could have been soft in setting those boundaries, just this one time, and let her have what she wanted. But what about the next time?

I had to hold this boundary firm, so that I can be soft in other ways.

Because as she cried, I held her. Even as she twisted out of my grip, I let her stand on her own, and held myself open for her. I never let her have the dangerous thing, I didn’t give into her want, but I did offer something better.

This was our first tantrum. It will not be the last.

Because it was the first, I can say that I have done exactly what I wanted every time my daughter has had a tantrum. You can say those kind of things when you’ve only done them once.

There will be tantrums that I give in to. There will be tantrums that I lose my patience. There will be tantrums that I will do the opposite of what I want to do.

I hope to be soft on myself as I learn this parenting gig alongside my daughter. I hope I can show grace to others who are learning as well. I hope that as we learn, we may continue to live into boundaries that allow us to keep our hearts soft towards our children, and those around us.