Leapt into New Life

The backyard is a riot of green this week. So much so, that the library is green because of the light scattered through the leaves into the windows. I forget how green it can get while the leaves are waiting to unfurl. I forget how verdant spring can be when we are still in the barren limb days of winter.

Finally the earth has leapt into the days of new life. Finally the daylight lasts until well after dinner so that we can venture out in the cool of the evening. Finally we can celebrate.

Finally we are on the celebration side of Easter. We journeyed through a long and dark Lent and the sadness of Holy Week; now finally we have fifty days of Easter celebration. But we don’t have the end of the story. There are yet more stories to tell of the birth of the church, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the expanse of the Gospel. It’s a story we tell with our lives.

We tell the story of the Easter season with our joys and with our hardships. I’ve got friends whose daughter had open heart surgery yesterday. Their story is part of the Easter story. Another friend has an infant son with a diagnosis that no child has yet survived. Their story is part of the Easter story as they walk in the presence of God through the valley. I’ve got other friends dealing with bad news and hard days. The promise of the power that God used in raising Jesus from the dead on Easter is where we find our promise, for our days.

Even if things don’t turn out the way we hope, we still trust in the promise; we still participate in a beautiful story, we still venture into a new life together.

A Lament, Four Days after Independence Day

Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.

We woke up to more wretched, horrible, heartbreaking news today. It’s like the United States decided to go insane after it’s birthday. Were we not just celebrating Independence Day four days ago? And now, there have been deaths upon deaths upon deaths. Each day we wake up to more news of lives stolen.

More fear. More hate. More blame.

We want to point fingers at someone else because then we don’t have to evaluate our own complicity in the evil around us.

“I’d never do anything like that!” “Why can’t they just be peaceful!” “They should have known better!”

I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. I have my host of characters that I want to blame for each of the different violent incidents that happened this week, and I bet you do as well. And we probably don’t agree, which makes it even worse. Because then we can blame each other for blaming the wrong people. And then that becomes the new “talking point” rather than grieving the loss of lives that should not have been taken.

I’m sick. I’m tired. I’m weary.

And I don’t have to worry about most of the things that many of my brothers and sisters in this country have to worry about.

Because you know this is about race. And I’m white. So I don’t have to worry about it as much. I’m allowed to not have to think about what I need to tell my daughter about wearing a hood at night. That’s privilege.

And this morning, we woke up to news of more death in our centuries old story about race and power and hate.

Black people shouldn’t be shot if their tail light is out.

Black people shouldn’t die in prison after not turning on their turn signal.

Police officers shouldn’t be shot while protecting our right to protest.

Police officers shouldn’t die in the line of duty.

But they do. They are. And it’s wrong.

I grieve over all of it. I grieve that I don’t have the right words to say. I don’t know enough and I don’t understand how so much death has happened and we still don’t see any change. Whose death will finally turn the tide?

I’m a Christian, so I believe that we have already had that death. But even that death, and the people who so firmly proclaim that death was defeated, have not been able to make the radical change that is needed so that people. Stop. Dying.

Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.

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.

Call to Prayer

One of the fascinating details from my experience in Kenya was the prevalence of members of the Islamic community in the area in which I lived. There were so many Muslims living in the town where I lived that there were four Mosques in our area. Even though the home where I stayed was a mile from the nearest one, I heard the call to prayer with regularity. I loved to hear the reminder for the people of the community to stop what they were doing and pray. I didn’t get to catch it all five times of the day, only when the wind was right. If I was really lucky, I would be walking on my route to town, which took me directly next to one of the mosques at the outskirts of the city. They had a school there as well, I know because I would see children coming with backpacks out of the meeting area at the end of the day. They, like all the children in the area, played pick-up games of football (global football, mind you, the round ball kind) with their makeshift balls formed from discarded paper, plastic, and twine.

When I left Kenya, I missed hearing the call to prayer on a regular basis. Even though it wasn’t my tradition, I knew that it was reminding people from another tradition to pause and pray, and so I also would pause, and pray. In the Christian tradition, we don’t have much of that. The only times I tend to hear sounds emanating from a church is when I probably need to be in church, because it is the bells of the beginning of worship. There are a handful of churches with bells that ring the hour, and sometimes a song here and there, but nothing like the intense regularity that comes from a Mosque.

When I went to school at Duke I learned that the bells were played by a carillonneur who began at five o’clock each evening. Perfect timing for a pause after a long day in class. A few friends and I would make at point of going out to listen to the two or three songs that he would play. It was a space to pause and reflect on the holy. And even if I was not able to pause and listen, I still got to hear the bells as I walked away, though the sound didn’t carry as far as I would like.

This week Duke University announced that they would sound out a call to prayer for the portion of Islamic students at the school once a week. The students had already had a worship time each Friday, which was in full practice while I was still there. This single call a week would be a reminder for the students to come to that prayer service, to remember to pray in their tradition.

Unfortunately, the call to prayer broadcast has been cancelled. I don’t know all the reasons why. People spoke out about the proposed broadcast of the call to prayer for reasons of ignorance and fear, saying that the sounding of the call to prayer would crowd out the lifeblood of the Christian symbols present in the University. They must have never stepped foot on the grounds of the University, or seen any symbols from Duke, because the presence of the cross is everywhere on campus. Christianity is not in danger because another group from another faith is saying “God is Great” in their mother tongue.

The Islamic community of faith will continue to gather for their worship and prayer. The Christian community on campus will continue to have its nearly dozen opportunities for worship around campus and in the Chapel. The university is a space for inter-religious conversation and community, where students, faculty, and staff learn from each other, challenged and strengthened in their growth in faith.

If anything, the Islamic Call to Prayer should be a reminder for Christians to also be called to prayer, to our God, who is Great. My faith is not so shallow that someone else worshipping in another tradition does not negate my own worship of the God I serve. I hope your own faith may be strong enough to celebrate the faith of others.

Folks from the school have put together a petition to support religious diversity on campus. I invite you to go read it for more information, even if you don’t sign it. 

Finding Inspiration

When I am looking for a new idea or a new way to describe an old idea, I need to go away from where all the bustle is, and I need to go to find a bit of peace.

When I am struggling with feeling dry and complacent, I need to go somewhere to clear my head. Generally I can go for a walk close to my house, or if I need to I can go take a shower, something that gets my body moving and helps to work ideas to the surface. Or, if I need to, I go to practice centering prayer, where I lie still and allow my mind to open, relax, and release into the presence of God.

Sometimes I am not searching for inspiration as much as it is placed on me. When I go to the top of the mountain, or to the shore of the ocean, or even to the edge of the local creek, I am inspired by what I see, hear, and feel. I become fully present.

It seems that the common thread in all of these places and situations of inspiration is the ability to become fully present in those places and in my own body. When I am at the edge of the ocean, I can taste the salt in the air, feel the sand under my feet, hear the waves crash against the shore, and see the water continue its endless and never replicating cycle of movement. I have no choice but to sense the place of where I am, and so stand more solidly in myself, rather than have my mind flit between a hundred different places and a thousand different thoughts.

It helps if I don’t have my phone on, tethering me to everyone who has my number. Sometimes I need to get away, and be where I am, rather than wondering or worrying about this friend or that family member. I need space to remember who I am, in my own skin. When I do that, I can more ably respond to others with grace and kindness.

When I know who I am, I am better at being who I am.

I guess, in a way, that I find inspiration in places that allow me to be myself at my fullest potential. When I am not able to be myself, I end up rehashing old ideas and lack the creativity that lies silent and deep in my core. I can grow crusty with old things, but when I crack the shell of routine I am able to do more than I could ever do before.

When I go to find inspiration, I find more than that. I find joy.