I have had more in person conversations with people outside of my family in the last week and a half than I have had over the last sixteen months.
I truly believe that ministry is based on relationships, and I am doing my level best at practicing it. People love to share. People are hungry to tell you their story, even if it is the happy version of that story, because sometimes the telling of the story is also the crafting of it. But still. Listening matters.
And I’m hearing the stories.
I had a woman stop me in the grocery store and share with me for twenty minutes. I get this all the time. I am a sponge or magnet or glue for stories. I’m the heat signature for the tracking device.
Its become so common that I get surprised when stories don’t overflow. When my norm is barely prompted outpouring of the deepest past and part of someone, when I encounter someone who is not eager to spill, I forget the prompts. What was easy becomes monumentally difficult.
I’m remembering to stay curious.
I’m reminding myself to stay curious.
And in the midst of staying curious, to also allow and receive nuance, to hear the story behind the statement, to not fall into the trap of assuming that a single decision point is the defining part of the whole person in front of me.
If only because I don’t want that done to me.
I’m in this strange space of having five years of paid employment and ten years since I finished school… ten years of conversations deeply embedded in church without the performative or compensated part of it.
And I wonder how that changes how I listen. I hope that the ten years have changed me. Rather, I know they have… I could go and read what I was writing right as I finished and see what changes have been wrought in my perspective.
It makes me wonder what the next ten years will bring. What stories I have yet to hear. What heartbreak I have yet to sustain. What transition I have yet to navigate.
Today, December 10, 2020, marks five cumulative years of breastfeeding. For five years, I have been feeding another person outside of myself all or part of the nutrients they needed to grow and learn and develop. I’ve spent only two nights away from my children since having them, and the two nights I did spend, over a year ago, I pumped enough so that my milk didn’t stop, and well… it’s continued not stopping for another 13 months.
I’ve breastfed longer than I went to college. Longer than I’ve lived in any place save Columbus, Georgia. Longer than my current pair of jeans lasted with out getting a hole.
Longer than any appointment I’ve served. Actually, it’s exactly the amount of time I have served in appointive ministry, so far. So, tomorrow, it will be.
It’s over half the time I’ve been married.
I’ve come to know my body more deeply and more intimately than I really had imagined. It’s been a little while since I’ve felt the true harsh tug of letdown, but I still can remember the way sometimes it feels like my child is pulling through me all the way down to my toes. If she goes a morning without nursing but on one side, one breast can be two inches larger than the other until evening.
I’ve learned to be more gentle with myself and with my body, watching my body change and shift and adapt to the needs of my two partners in this process. At the same time I’ve learned what lines, boundaries, and parts of agency I chose to put into place. Yes, I will nurse while peeing. No, you cannot rub your fingers across my neck that way.
It has been a joy to develop this relationship with my second born who can now pause her nursing session, put my nipple on hold, and say, “I’m not done, but I want to tell you something.” Sometimes that’s frustrating, but it helps that I can now have full conversations with the person who is in this partnership with me. At least when she pauses these days I don’t drench her face with overabundant spray.
I keep wondering, when it will end. Will we drop from three feedings to two, or just to one? Will naps stop? Or will those feedings be the last to go? Will we notice it both at the same time? What will that conversation be like?
She knows how to say, “no, not this side, this one is empty.” But right now, we switch, and by the time we switch back, the milk has begun to flow again. Sometimes she taps my breast like a mechanic seeing if the right jolt in the right place will get the gears rolling again.
I started this process with five days of stress and gaslighting and then massive engorgement and then my child having a tongue- and lip-tie revision at three and a half weeks. I was in tears curling my toes in pain every time she latched. For a couple weeks there, the entirety of the time she was awake, I was nursing her.
In her first year I pumped for ten months, five days a week, producing an overabundance of milk and getting steadily more sleep deprived while I devoted sixty hours a week to work.
When we night weaned and changed that first relationship, and at four and a half months pregnant, my first born weaned and I didn’t know what to expect with the second to come.
I had a community group that supported me then, and even though I moved away from that town, I know it was partly because of Stacey and Jean that I kept going even when the going was incredibly tough.
But while the second one was so much easier to latch, it was my body that didn’t recover as well from carrying her. The second born’s journey has been more about my own body, with physical therapy, shingles on my left breast for over a month while she was six months old (before she could get her chicken pox vaccine), and now varying degrees of energy from incredibly heavy periods.
Now, breastfeeding is one of the few things I’m doing right now that makes the most sense, that is the most familiar to me, that provides me the most comfort. I don’t know or have a lot of answers right now about what is going on in the world, with excess grief and excess deaths and excess anger. But I do know that I’ve used my body to create a home when home has changed. And sometimes home is all we’ve had.
I’ve breastfeed at all hours of night and day, on packed subway trains, in meetings, at the dinner table, in the bathroom, in my bed, her bed, numerous rooms in multiple houses, the front porch, the mountains, the beach, on hikes, on the side of the road, in hotel lobbies, on boats, in worship, and as worship.
I don’t know how much longer this will last, but I’ve been grateful to have practiced this so far. R&E, thank you.
And Hubs, partner, confidant, supporter, and advocate, thanks for helping make this a priority for the family, for staying up and getting up as nights during night weaning so the milk doesn’t try to put the baby to sleep. Thanks for meals prepped when I didn’t have free hands, and working with flexible sleeping arrangements. Love you.
My thoughts are jumbled up and caught in the midst of a deep knowing and a precipitous drop into a wild learning that I’ve been searching for these past five years.
Everything has been layering into place to get me to here.
I’ve been taking lessons from my own body. Learning to trust it when it says yes, and no, and wait, and rest. Maybe everything was simply too loud, before.
And now I’m listening for the gentle voice of my own being, created, good, and whole, and returning to fullness.
I became thin, a veil to my own self, and rather than thickness I’ve built into this fullness, even as my milk runs dry and my tears run dry.
From the thin place I entered, I have been guided to a place to understand my own theology of touch.
I’m learning where the yes comes from. I’m learning more about how the yes has been closed off and told it was inappropriate and shamed and negated and gaslight and relegated to the smallest portion imaginable.
But I am not settling for crumbs.
There is more than enough to go around and I will help you get your enough while I seek my own.
And I will listen to the gentle rhythm of the rain and my heartbeat and the wind in the trees and the rushing of the creek and I will dance with my whole self.
Dance like my five year old and my two year old and dance like I’ve learned it already and like I’m creating a new kind of dance and there is only the true way to do it if you are dancing with the creator of the dance.
There are no wrong steps if you are trying to listen. If you are able to say you are sorry. If you are willing to confess where you have been wrong and where you have hurt others and if you are willing to be contradicted with grace and learn. Learn. Learn.
Then we can move together and learn to hear our bodies together and listen to the voices that have been ignored out of ignorance that claimed it was innocent and now. Now we have seen that what is harmful is not holy, now that it has been revealed as the opposite of good, we can turn to the revelation and see. Actually see.
And now that we see, we can help others see. And as we reveal our full selves, we dance and sing and twirl and party and circle around with joy and pleasure. We Revel. We cultivate this joy that cannot be denied or shut up or blocked out or dissipated or disappeared or ignored. Rather, we move, sing, embrace, listen, experience, breathe, and rejoice in this freedom.
Whenever I am bored, I always wish things were more exciting.
But when things get exciting, it never really seems to be the kind of exciting adventure that I was hoping for.
You’d think I’d learn.
I had someone tell me once that I liked classic adventure, like Indiana Jones, that I like the idea of challenge, but didn’t actually like going out of my comfort zone. I think they were off base (and given that I was told this by someone thirteen years ago and I’m still miffed about it… either they were more off base than I thought then, or they were closer to the mark. Maybe a little of both. I think I’ve taken their remark as a challenge, to do what they said I didn’t know how to do, and have taken on more things that stretch me, simply to prove them wrong.)
I love the idea of adventure.
I celebrate the adventurous things I have done: whitewater rafting the headwaters of the Nile, serving as a Volunteer with Peace Corps Kenya, giving birth to two children without medication or medical intervention, hiking four days on the Appalachian Trail with four days notice, trying all the new recipes that I continue to find, marching in DC, Charlotte, and Raleigh…
These are good adventures. Not all of them were as picture perfect as I’d imagined, but they were good bucket list items.
And then there are the hidden adventures: raising two girls to love themselves in a world that tells them to judge their bodies, serving churches that have traditional and normative expectations when I don’t fit into the box (at one point, actually gesticulated to me by a woman on an elevator who was simply surprised to learn that I existed), discovering how to live into a marriage where we see the world differently and how to look together at the ways that we want to learn about the world, and the itinerancy system.
And then there are the adventures that throw our lives into massive new experiences: the itinerancy system, parenting, pandemics, storms, and other challenges. These are adventures that define us by how we respond to them. They are the big ones, the ones that change the landscape of our lives. And even though I’d rather tell you the story of how I rafted the Nile, I think I am a more interesting person because of how I meet the challenges of these new adventures.
Watching my daughter play has reminded me of some of my favorite toys as a child. Before seeing her pull some of them out, I’m not sure I could have told you what they were, but now, after she has loved on them in the same way that I must have, I remember how much fun I had with them.
There is one toy set that I especially remember and that she is having continual fun with each day: the Sesame Street neighborhood playhouse. Burt, Ernie, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird have their little beds and nest, breakfast table and chairs, couch, slide, see-saw, and car to carry their groceries from Mr. Hooper’s store. Oscar the Grouch is in his trashcan outside. It is thirty years old. My daughter loves it. Not because it is Sesame street, but because it is an entry for her to pretend that another world exists.
She doesn’t know these characters, so she has made them her own. She cares for them. They share her crackers, they nurse when they are thirsty, they have apple and blueberry and cherry snacks whenever they can get a bite. They drive around in their little car from the Hearth Plateau to the cliffs of Mount Couch and through the pass to the Caverns of the dining room table.
I love play, because it allows people to imagine another world, one where the rules don’t always apply, where you can try things out to see how they work without being judged for not fitting in. My daughter reminds me that I need to keep playing, to keep imagining a world where things are not always what they seem. Play reminds us that there are more ways to do something than the way that everyone around us is doing it.
The world is a much bigger place when you can play in it, when a box can be stacked, or become a drum, or be a place for a baby to rest, or a hiding place, or a kitchen cabinet. We live in a fascinating place, we just miss it too often, because we expect to see what we already know. What if we looked at the world like a place to play, where we expect to be surprised by what is in store for us?