Experienced Moving

I’ve moved a lot. I change houses like some people change favorite jeans. I know how to set up a kitchen in less than a week, and make a new house feel like a home I’ve lived in for years. 

Moving is not all about houses. It is also about leaving the familiar and moving to the unknown. It’s about changing out communities, finding new friends, and learning new places. It’s about losing and gaining things at the same time. 

My favorite moving day story is from when I was sixteen. We were leaving a place we had been for four years that we didn’t really ever feel we could call home. There are various reasons for that, most of them are not my story to tell, but for my own part I was not leaving any friends my age behind. I was glad to be leaving. 

Our driveway was black sand that ingrained itself in the carpet and any other surface it came into contact with. Each time I got into the family van, I would snap my feet together to shake the sand off my feet so that the sand transfer would be as minimal as possible. When I got in the car that final morning, I intentionally did not shake the sand off my feet, because I had run across the passage in Matthew 10 where Jesus sends out his disciples to preach about the Kingdom of Heaven. In verse 14, Jesus tells his disciples to shake the dust from their feet if they do not find welcome or listening ears. I didn’t shake the sand off my feet because I refused to say that the blessing of God’s peace was not present in that place, even if I hadn’t encountered peace while I was there. 

On the last day when we were packed up and the house was clean and empty, we went to have breakfast with a couple that were friends with our family. They pulled out all the stops. Biscuits, eggs, sausage, and this amazing concoction of blueberries with sour cream and brown sugar. Don’t knock it until you try it. June is prime blueberry season in south Georgia. That breakfast was the final good memory to have in a place that didn’t have many other good memories. 

Some moves are like that, a time to leave bad memories behind and move forward into new experiences. Some moves are heartbreaking, leaving behind longtime friends and loved spaces for the unknown. Some moves happen because of graduation or getting a new job or moving closer to family. 

I imagine that my perspective on moving is different than most folks, because I grew up expecting to move, and I chose to work in a profession that expects me to move. I never expected to be in the same place for a very long time. I always wonder where the next place we will live will be, even if that new place and new move is a long ways off. It means that my roots don’t get very deep. But it also means that I am always looking to learn something new about the people I meet. I become more curious each time I find somewhere new. I always know that the blessings of God are present even if I don’t yet know where to look. 

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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.

Building Family

In about a month, my family is going to go through some significant changes. We are moving to a new place, both my husband and I are getting new jobs, and we are welcoming a baby into our lives. Any one of these things would not be a small thing. Together, they are going to be huge. We are grateful that we are allowed time and space to live into the new identity of parents before we both jump into our new ministries feet first. Not many folks who have so many life changes at once have the kind of support that we have. I am amazed at the number of women and men who have to choose between keeping a job and spending the first few weeks of a newborns life caring for the child. I’m glad the United Methodist church has provisions for leave for new parents. It’s probably not enough, but is much more than what most workers in the States have access to.

Not only are our new churches providing space for grace for us in our transition, our own families are anticipating the new changes and providing good help to us. My parents have come to help pack our house, my in-laws are helping to make sure we have everything we need, and my sister is helping to make sure we all get to the house in one piece (and that I eat like I should). And there will be much more good help from them once our daughter makes her appearance as well.

I really don’t know what I would do without them. We would manage, of course. But my husband and I would be under a considerably larger amount of stress, probably take it out on each other, and our relationship would suffer. That’s why we need support. Because we rely on our relationships with others to build and maintain our own relationship. We are stronger when we work together. We are healthier when we allow others to participate in our lives, choosing not to do things all on our own. And in the midst of it, we have folks who can call us out on our mistakes, our quirks, and our shortsightedness.

I wouldn’t trade my family for any other. We are far from perfect. We have our failings and blind spots and times when we don’t get along. But when it really counts, when I desperately need someone to come and help me, that’s when our love shines through the brightest. We work together to build each other up. We become a new creation in the process.

Complicated Joy

A year ago my husband and I lost our first child. We spent Memorial Day at the local state park, sharing a picnic and a hike, beginning to think about how our lives would change with the baby on the way. We hadn’t known for very long that I was pregnant, only a few days more than a week. But I was already thinking about how I would shift my habits so that my growing baby could be healthy. It was a good day…

And the next day the miscarriage began. And the day after that we confirmed it at the doctor’s office. Something hadn’t zipped right with the formation and my body began to discard what had only just begun to form.

Spontaneous. That’s the word they used. It just happens, they said. Over twenty-five percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. As if a number can make my grief any less.

My heart was broken. I had already written two letters to my unborn child and I was preparing to share a home and create a new space in our love for a new person.

I didn’t want to display my grief publicly. I had told only a handful of people that I was pregnant so far. I ended up sharing with a few select friends that we had suffered a loss, they were caring, and I thought I was healing. I was, at least physically, because even a short residency requires healing.

My soul was taking even longer to heal. I named my child Sarah Grace. I lost her, I prayed for her, for solace, and for hope.

I started to hear about other friends who had experienced miscarriage and I began to share with them that we had also suffered a loss. I wrote about it—about the loss and about having to wait again—since the medical field tells you that you must wait and allow for a few more cycles before you can begin again. We listened to them, we waited, then we began to try again, and we had a few more months of waiting.

Waiting is difficult.

I felt like I had already waited for so long. I had waited until I wasn’t on any medications that would interfere with a baby’s development. I waited until I was past my season of four migraines every week. I waited for years.

But I listened to my body, I figured out my pattern, and we conceived again. I kept waiting for my body to reject my new daughter. I was so afraid that this pregnancy would end up the same way as the first. I knew that if that happened, I would be even more broken—that my grief would be even more deep.

This month is the second May in a row that I have been pregnant. It made Mother’s Day this year especially difficult because I had so many people celebrating my upcoming motherhood. They didn’t know that I already had been an almost mother. I still cannot decide if she is our first child or not. She will be the first one that I labor for, the first one we bring into our new home, the first one who changes our lives beyond anything we can imagine. But she is not the first child that I loved.

How odd, to have lost a child, without having become a mother. There’s not really a card for that in the hallmark aisle. We hide the grief and pain of miscarriage so well. We don’t talk about it. We miss the chance to share our grief and pain and provide solace to others. Not that one who is grieving a hidden loss needs more empty words—what is needed is for the pain to be acknowledged and not dismissed, seen for the deep grief that is present.

I don’t want to gloss over anyone’s pain, the many-faceted edges of how each individual approaches and experiences grief, sorrow, and loss. If anything, I want to be able to go and sit shiva with everyone who has ever lost a child, through miscarriage, stillbirth, or at any point in their lives. Too many parents lose their children.

The Wednesday before Mother’s Day this year, two friends went through very different experiences. The first gave birth to her first child. The second had a procedure to complete a miscarriage. I celebrated with one, and I grieved with the other.

I am holding a similar balance within my soul. A grief laden joy—a celebratory sadness.

I feel guilty that I got pregnant again so quickly. I have friends who waited years to conceive and others who have learned that they will never be able to. I have friends who have lost more children to miscarriage than I have. I want to claim the blessing, but I don’t want to parade my joy in the faces of friends who continue to struggle.

My pregnancy is terribly obvious now. My swollen belly is unavoidable. I am unmistakably pregnant.

For some women, my pregnancy is a sign of what they lost or cannot have. I am a symbol of what has hurt deeply inside them. I have glimpsed that side of pain. I have avoided the pictures of pregnancy announcements and birth celebrations. The pain was too deep.

To my sisters who have lost children or who cannot have children, I grieve with you. I cannot be where you are and I do not know exactly what you are feeling. I grieve with you nonetheless. I pray that you may find hope in places where it seems there is no hope. There are no easy answers in grief. There are no simple solutions to healing from a loss. I simply offer to walk alongside you.

Silence does not heal. This experience is too universal to be kept hidden. Grief secluded is grief compounded. As a woman, as a Christian, and as a pastor, my witness is necessary to share in the journey of others who have experienced loss in the same way. Somehow, perhaps through God’s grace, I am able to hold both my sorrow over the loss of my first pregnancy and my joy in our daughter who will be present in the world do very soon.

It’s odd, balancing grief and guilt in this way. It is odd to find joy and sorrow simultaneously in my heart around the child that we lost and the child that is growing in my womb. I have found a way to hold this balance of my joy and my sorrow, my grief and my celebration both, at the same time, with no diminishment of the other. I am able to grieve and celebrate at the same time.

I cannot remain in my sorrow. I can’t stay lying in metaphorical ashes and sackcloth as I grieve the loss of my first child. I have another child on the way. Another daughter that will take all the energy, resources, and love that I have to give. She needs my love and support for the very air she breathes right now. She will need me for her sustenance, my husband and I to meet her needs to be safe and clean, because she will not accomplish or fulfill them on her own.

I am already celebrating. My daughter reminds me that she is there, growing inside of me, encouraging me when I feel like I cannot do the next task in front of me. I have a constant companion. My joy at her presence is bigger than I could have imagined. I remember her sister who never shared her laugh with us, but I anticipate the new laughter that will soon fill our new home. It’s complicated, but I am joyful.

Gratefuls

Each morning at nine o’clock a reminder on my phone clinks. It is my daily reminder to be grateful. I think of three things, and then text them to my sister halfway across the world, who responds in kind with three of her own. I started the practice over a year ago. At first I just was doing it myself, but when my sister came to visit last Christmas she asked me about this ding she kept hearing each morning. I told her what it was, and soon she began to participate in my gratefuls. It has been a space of grace and hope in some times when I had a very difficult time seeing outside of a shadow.

There are rules, but only for good reasons. The Gratefuls can be anything: a simple sunrise, a simple cloudy day, what I’m eating for breakfast, joy of spending time with children, and so on. Or they can be complex: a changing relationship, a change at how I see the world, plans for growth or celebration, or a new development at work. The only thing they cannot be are Sour Gratefuls. You know the kind: I’m grateful that I don’t have to do something because other plans failed, in other words, a statement of gratefulness that only points at the negative direction of an event. When we do those, they require a do-over. It is not sufficient, and is not the point.

I don’t always have bubbly feelings each morning, and I surely don’t always have the perspective I need to be able to see the promise in the darkest situations, but I can usually find three things to be grateful for each morning, and sometimes, when I’m feeling I want extra practice, each night as well. (Of course, this means that my sister receives them in the morning… she is 14 hours ahead of me right now.)

These times of being grateful are not necessarily hopping up and down grateful times, more often than not I simply look around at my surroundings and see what is in the immediate vicinity, and think about how it has affected me (or effected me, depending on what it is).

I never thought that I would be able to continue the practice for so very long. I am usually pretty good at forgetting and leaving aside rituals that don’t have immediate rewards. I suppose my sister joining me in the practice is part of the reward, but in some ways she simply keeps me honest, and helps to remind me if I have ignored my electronic reminder.

Sometimes I will experience something, and I will know that it will be my next grateful, and then sometimes as I sit back and reflect on my gratefuls, I will realize something that never occurred to me in the moment.

So, today, what are mine? Rituals, practice, and accountability.