March 28, 2012

Abigail,

How have we already traveled twelve months back to where it all began?  How can you be crawling now, when just yesterday you were kicking around inside of me?  I do not have adequate words to describe the first year of your life, the fastest of mine.  It has been the hardest, most rewarding, most humbling experience of my life.  Twelve months ago, you made me a mother, and it has changed my life beyond what I could ever have imagined.  It is hard for me to remember what life was like for us before you made your debut.  Our little family of three is so natural now, and it feels as though you’ve always been with us.

Oh, there were some tough weeks and months this year.  There were times that I did not think that we were going to make it another hour, much less until bedtime.  And, oh, could we make it through the night?  Since that Sunday morning when we headed to the hospital, you have done things on your own terms in your own time.  And each phase of this first year has been no exception.  You are so uniquely Abigail.  You have a flair for the dramatic, wrapped in unbridled affection for us, and sometimes I think you must be an old woman wrapped up in baby-soft skin for all of the maturity in your facial expressions.

I can’t wait to watch you grow up and to see your personality work itself out in each phase of your childhood.  I fear you have inherited a double portion of an independent spirit from Daddy and me.  We knew it from the second night in the hospital when you started holding on to your bottle while he was feeding you.  Those five little pounds of baby sure had some willpower.  When we got to solid foods, you wanted to hold the spoon, and I am quite sure there will be more where that came from.  Who could have dreamed you up?  Only God.

I have heard motherhood likened to walking around with your heart outside of your body.  And I can think of no better description.  Sometimes I can feel my heart ache because I love you so deeply.  Someday I hope you will understand.  Everything I have done for you this year – every hour of sleep I lost, every hour I held you, every time I fed you  – has been more than worth it.  You are more than I could have ever dreamed.  I have no idea why God saw fit to make me your mother, but I will be forever grateful that he did.  And I hope that I can be the kind of mother for you that my mother has been for me.

When you plant one of your kisses right on my face or belly laugh from my tickles, there is no greater feeling in the world.  I wish I could bottle it up and save it forever.  You are big enough now to crawl away from me now and start exploring the world.  It’s the real first step in your independence.  And yet, as excited as you are that you can do more things on your own now, you will often crawl back over to me and tug on my pants for me to pick you up or climb into my lap.  I love that you still choose to be with me and often still want me to hold you.  I could hug you forever.  I will always be here waiting for you, no matter how far away you roam.  I will always be thrilled to see you, to hug you, to be with you.  You will always be my baby girl.

I love you,

Mama

My first child, a daughter, was born five weeks early on March 28, 2011.  During my pregnancy, I wrote her a few letters as I processed my own preparation to become a mother.  They are part of the spiritual journey I have walked over these past months, and so I share them here in that light.

Letter 1

Letter 2

Written March 26, 2011

Baby Girl,

It’s hard to believe that we’re just a handful of weeks away from meeting you face to face.  I think back to August and feel like it’s all a blur.  When I took that test on a Friday afternoon, it told me to wait two minutes for the results, and before I could even turn around it had already turned.  “Pregnant,” it said.  No time to wait.  No time to anticipate.  The answer was crystal clear, and there was no ambiguity about it.  It took all of 0.2 seconds to confirm what I already knew in my bones.  I walked out sheepishly to your father, embarrassed that I had told him we would have to wait a couple of minutes to find out the answer, and showed him the proof.   We sat there on the couch, not knowing what to think or do.  We were parents.  We knew life would change radically, even though we weren’t exactly sure how.

Now we sit here on the verge of that change with my belly swollen and a bedroom freshly painted with a new crib inside.  Your Daddy paused in front of the door one day this week and expressed his disbelief that you will be sleeping inside those walls in a few weeks.  It is hard to know what to expect of these last days of preparation and anticipation.  I confess my heart oscillates between fear and excitement sometimes in a matter of minutes.  Taking care of you inside my womb has been a pretty smooth process for me, and sometimes I wonder how I will ever manage life with you in my arms.  But then there are times when I think about it – you being in my arms – and I am just awestruck that you will be mine.  There are so many other babies and children I’ve held in my life, but you will be the only one who came forth from me and carries a part of me.  It is the most surreal feeling, and I do not know what to expect as I anticipate meeting you.

I love you,

Mama

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first child, a daughter, was born five weeks early on March 28, 2011.  During my pregnancy, I wrote her a few letters as I processed my own preparation to become a mother.  They are part of the spiritual journey I have walked over these past months, and so I share them here in that light.

Letter 1

Written February 4, 2011

Baby Girl,

This week I got the oil changed in my car.  I know you don’t know what that means yet, but the important thing is that it will be at least three months before it happens again.  And your father and I are not ready to give you the keys to a car, so we’ll fill you in on the rest of the details when the time comes.  When I got in the car afterward, I looked up at the sticker that tells me the next time I’m due for an oil change, and it said “May 1, 2011.”  May 1.  The day you’re due to make your grand entrance into the world.  And I realized that something as simple as an oil change might not be so simple anymore.

In the last couple of weeks you’ve been moving around and growing inside me, forcing my stomach to bulge in ways it has never done before.  I am more aware of you at odd times of the day and night, like about thirty minutes before I’d like to get up in the morning when you start stretching and squirming.  I’ve told your Daddy that you seem to want to make sure I’m aware that you think it’s time to start the day.  Sometimes you’re really calm, and I wonder if you’re asleep.  Sometimes you can’t seem to get comfortable, and I wonder if you’ll ever be still.

Each time I feel you move, I usually reach down and hold my stomach, hoping you’ll move again, and I’ll feel it even more intensely with my hand on top of you.  It’s all I know of you right now – the ways you move and how unpredictable you seem.  And I wonder how that will translate into your life outside of my body.  I wonder what you’ll be like, even more than I wonder what you’ll look like.  I think it’s the part of this mysterious process that has me most often speechless.  Who will you be?  A little bit of your father and a little bit of your mother, I know that much.  But I’ve lived long enough now to know that what will make you your own girl is that you will be a product of your days too.  Stuff will happen to you and around you from the very beginning, and I know your responses to it will shape you in so many ways.

Sometimes I worry about that, and sometimes I get excited about it.  Most of all, I think it’s just something I know is beyond my control.  The last several years have made me less idealistic about life in general.  You’ll come to know that your mother is a consummate realist, but the cynicism that often accompanies such a stance has dissipated in recent years, only to be replaced by a deeper trust that the hard stuff of life is where God shapes us into who He created us to be.  Don’t misunderstand me – I don’t long for the hard stuff.  But I find that I throw up my hands in frustration at my circumstances a little less often these days, knowing that when the rubber meets the road, I meet my Maker.

And I guess that’s changed the way I look at becoming a mother.  I would love nothing more than to be able to shield you from the messiness of life, but I know that means I would be keeping you from the richness of redemption.  As I imagine the events of your life, I know that there will be unexpected joys and sorrows, and so I don’t pray that things will go smoothly for you.  I pray that God would give you the ability to trust Him and hide yourself in Him when they don’t.

Not too many weeks after we discovered you were coming, your Daddy mentioned that he wanted to pick out a passage of Scripture to pray specifically for you.   He told me some of the passages he had considered and begun to pray.  As I began to think about doing the same thing, I came across Psalm 71, and I knew it was the right one for me to choose.  I suspect it is not a typical passage to pray for your unborn daughter, but it is the prayer that I pray over your whole life, the days you’ve already lived and all of the ones that will follow until you breathe your last.

It is a prayer that you would know the faithfulness of God, though your own faith will undoubtedly be tested.  It is a plea that you would know the redemption of God because you need to be rescued, and there will be seasons in your life from which only He can bring good.  It is my hope for you that, though you will inevitably face hardship, you would know the intimacy of walking that road with Jesus.  That your mouth would praise Him and that your heart would love Him for all of your days, though life will tempt you to do otherwise.  This is my hope and prayer for you.

I love you,

Mama

Psalm 71

In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.  Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me.

Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.  Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of evil and cruel men.

For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.  From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.  I will ever praise you.  I have become like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.  My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long.

Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.  For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together.  They say, “God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.”  Be not far from me, O God; come quickly, O my God, to help me.  May my accusers perish in shame; may those who want to harm me be covered with scorn and disgrace.

But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.  My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure.  I will come and proclaim our mighty acts, O Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone.

Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.

Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things.  Who, O God, is like you?  Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.  You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.

I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.  My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I, whom you have redeemed.  My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion.

Today is the due date for my first child, a daughter, who was born five weeks early.  During my pregnancy, I wrote her a few letters as I processed my own preparation to become a mother.  They are part of the spiritual journey I have walked over these past months, and so I share them here in that light.


Written November 10, 2010

Baby,

There are so many things I want to tell you.  Sometimes I wonder if I will forget some of them before I have a chance to tell you, before you understand.  There are simple things, like how to tie your shoes and how to write thank-you notes.  And there are more complex things, things about life and death, pain and joy.  The things of which life is really made in between sandwiches and birthday parties and homework.  And these are the things that inhabit my stories.  I have a lot of them, though I have only lived 29 years, and I hope I can share most of them with you over the course of your life.  Some of them come from my own experiences, and some of them come from the lives of others – family, friends, or people I’ve somehow crossed paths with on this earth.

I was reading yesterday about how God’s people had forgotten what he had done for them, how they didn’t believe him and didn’t trust in his deliverance (Psalm 78:11, 22).  The person who tells us this in the Bible promises to tell the next generation about God and his power and everything he has done in order to break this cycle of forgetfulness among his own people.  He says that God wants us to do this, so that “even the children yet to be born … would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.”   (Psalm 78:6-7)

And it occurred to me that these are the most important stories that I tell you.  And I promise to tell them to you, as my family told them to me.  More than anything, Child, I want you to know him who is knitting you together in my womb as I write these words.  For he alone can pass along all that you need to know for this life.  From him alone comes wisdom and knowledge.  Your mother doesn’t have all the answers (although you will think I do when you’re young and be utterly convinced that I do not when you’re a teenager).  There is no way that I can prepare you for every moment of your life.  There is no way I can be with you in every situation.  I am already painfully aware of how little control I have over your life, though I have been given a place of humbling influence in it and over it.

You have been entrusted to me for reasons beyond my comprehension, and so I promise to tell you about the One I must trust with your life and to whom I pray you would surrender yours.  I promise to tell you about who he is and what he has done.  And I promise to tell you who he is to me and what he has done for me and in me and through me.  Not a moment of my life has escaped his attention and, when I have trusted him, not a moment, not a story has been wasted either.  Even the painful ones.  I have a heritage of grace and redemption to tell you, and it is the most important thing that I could pass on.  I have some hard stories to tell you.  I have some funny stories to tell you.  I have some stories to share that I don’t even know about yet.

That’s the first thing I want to tell you about God, that he is always working, though you might not think so.  And what he’s working on may not be what we expect him to be working on, but we can always trust that it’s the right thing.  There are times when I’ve thought he must have turned his attention elsewhere, that surely he would not have let things happen as they did if he had known.  But on the other side, I realized that he did know what was going on, that he hadn’t abandoned me, and that the unexpected turned out to be far better than my own plans.

And I’m not the only one who has failed to see this at times.  When you and I start to read the Bible together, you’ll see that God did a lot of amazing things in the Old Testament, wonders in the world and wonders in people’s hearts.  But there came a time when people thought he’d stopped working.  They thought he must have abandoned them.  They couldn’t see or hear him, so they assumed he had just given up on them.

But they forgot who he was.  They forgot that he wasn’t like them, people who were quick to turn on their promises and easily angered by others who didn’t seem to measure up.  They didn’t realize the full extent of his love.  They didn’t understand his ways.  He was hard at work.  He always had been, and he wanted to be with them forever because he loved them so much.  He wanted to make them into the people they couldn’t be on their own.

So “when the time had fully come,” he became like them and became a baby like you (Galatians 4:4).  They called him Jesus.  And he lived a life that made a lot of people stop and think and change theirs.  He made some people angry though because they still thought God was supposed to act the way they wanted him to act and expected him to act.  But he didn’t.  He acted the way he had created them to act.  And a lot of people couldn’t understand that, so they wanted to get rid of him.  And so he died on a cross.

But that’s the great irony of history, Jesus knew that would happen.  After all, he is God.  And he let them put him to death on a cross.  He didn’t have to do it, but he chose to do it.  He had been working everything out all along because he knew he was the only one who could save us from the mess into which we had fallen.  We couldn’t be who he had intended us to be.  We couldn’t be like him on our own.  And that failure kept us from knowing him the way he wanted us to know him.  And so he took upon himself our failures and made them his own.  He died so that we could live and so that we could be with him forever.

When it had seemed like he was silent and when it seemed like he had given up on everyone he had made, the truth was that he was working on a plan that was far greater than what anyone expected.  The truth is that he wasn’t far off, and he wanted us to be with him.  And so he did something that seemed not to make any sense, but it was the only thing that could be done to settle the matter once and for all.  And that is why we trust him, Child.  That is why we love him.  That is why we worship him and believe that life does not work apart from him.  He is every story.  He is everything.  For me and for you.

I love you,

Mama

During the season of Epiphany, our church uses the liturgy from the Anglican Church in Kenya.  It serves as a reminder to us that Jesus is the light to the nations.  I love so many parts of this particular liturgy, and I have looked forward to its richness each Sunday.  During the celebration of communion, we proclaim the following:

Celebrant:  Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.
People:      Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.
Celebrant:  We are brothers and sisters through his blood.
People:      We have died together, we will rise together, we will live together.
Celebrant:  Therefore, heavenly Father, hear us as we celebrate this covenant with joy, and await the coming of our Brother, Jesus Christ.  He died in our place, making full atonement for the sins of the whole world, the perfect sacrifice, once and for all.  You accepted his offering by raising him from death, and granting him great honor at your right hand on high.
People:      Amen.  Jesus is Lord.
Celebrant:  This is the feast of victory.
People:      The Lamb who was slain has begun his reign.  Hallelujah.
Celebrant:  Christ is alive forever.
People:      We are because he is.

This is the feast of victory, I thought last Sunday, as I watched a man with a cane struggle to walk down the aisle to receive it.

This is the feast of victory, I thought a few minutes later, as I walked forward, knelt before the cross, and received sustenance for my crippled soul.

Christ is the host and we are his guests.

“Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”  (Luke 14:21)

A feast of victory for those who could not win it themselves.

“Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” … “Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”  Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if had been slain, standing in the center of the throne … (Revelation 5:2,5-6)

This is the feast of victory because it is the slain Lamb of God who stands on the throne. It is the slain Lamb of God who is the conquering Lion of Judah.  It was finished on the cross.  Victory won.  The kingdom ushered in.

As Lent begins today, we journey to the cross once again, reminded of the costly sacrifice that paid our ransom.

The feast of victory.  Our God reigns.

I have taken quite an unintentional sabbatical from writing here.  Life has been quite full in recent months in good ways and in hard ways, and I have been poured out in many other places.

Five months ago, two days shy of my 29th birthday, my grandfather passed away.  What follows is something I wrote in the days between his death and his funeral.  It was a way for me to begin processing my grief.  At the time, I did not share it with anyone, but I post it here now as a way to honor my grandfather’s memory and express my loss.  Since college, I always traveled to visit my grandparents during the winter, hoping to give them something to look forward to during these cold, dark months.  I just didn’t realize that it did the same for me.

There’s a picture of me after I graduated from kindergarten.  My parents, grandparents, and I took a trip to New Orleans, and someone snapped a picture of me from behind.  I was walking between my father and my grandfather, one hand holding on to each of them, two of the most important people in my life.  And in many ways, I still feel like that little kindergarten graduate today, but someone is missing from the picture now.

There’s an image engraved in my mind.  It was captured on videotape when I was a senior in high school and had just performed the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker.  It was the most important dance performance I had ever given, and many of my extended family and friends were there to support me.  My cousin’s husband filmed the moments after the show had ended when all of the cast members were greeted onstage by those who had come to watch them.  He caught all of my family members and friends as they came up to congratulate me.  For some reason, I think I was caught up with a group of my friends when my grandfather got up to the stage.  I saw him and gave him a hug.  He kissed me on the forehead and told me what a good job I had done.  It seems so simple, but I have never forgotten that kiss on my forehead and the way it made me feel.  Never in my life have I wondered if my grandfather was proud of me.

My grandfather loved his family deeply.  He especially loved his girls – all of them – his wife, his daughters, and his granddaughters.  He frequently said that he didn’t have any need for boys.  Of course, he loved the boys his girls loved – they were clearly different from the others.  But the rest of them were trouble, he said.  And he knew, he would tell us, because he was a boy himself once.

It probably had something to do with The Lie.  The one that got him into the Navy, even though he was too young to fight in the war.  You know, the only one he claimed he ever told.

He was a smart man and a tender man.  He was sentimental and hilarious.  He cried at Hallmark commercials and could have a dinner table laughing so hard their sides hurt.  He was the best storyteller.

He never did come to understand why I wouldn’t douse Granny’s biscuits with her gravy, but I think he accepted it when I started putting her preserves on them instead.  He was the one who had taught her how to cook when they first got married, but she quickly soared past his skills.  And as a result, I think every meal I ever ate at their house ended with a “Boy, Mama, that was good,” as he leaned back in his chair.

A thousand memories come to mind, images so real they make me catch my breath.  His hand motions.  His facial expressions.  No man’s eyebrows ever said as much as those on his face.

It is no joke that he originally bought a computer so he could play Solitaire on it.  Any time we visited, there was always something he would request help with on his PC, usually opening some strange attachment on an email forward he had received.  He would be so grateful when we figured out the problem, then he’d save the video in some folder with a title that had nothing to do with the contents.  His electronic filing system was hopeless.  And every folder was saved to his very crowded desktop.

Of course, at his house you were never uninformed.  He watched the news all day long, then he would watch the nightly newscast on all three networks.  Watch one live and then tape the other two, even though it meant he had to have two VCRs back before DVR was around.

The paper towels.  Oh, the paper towels that man used.  He always had one in his pants pocket and one in his shirt pocket.  There was no need for a real handkerchief, if you had Bounty.  And I think he singlehandedly kept them in business.

He ate mayonnaise on his salads and Homemade Vanilla Bluebell ice cream.  No other flavor was acceptable.  He liked his ice cream “plain” and never understood why anyone wanted to mix stuff up in theirs.  He sent Valentine’s Day cards and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate to his daughters and granddaughters each year.  And he always kept his clipboard with the daily crossword puzzle by his recliner, where he could see his bird feeders outside.  He wore suspenders every day for years until he lost weight, and I always missed them afterward.  He had a full head of silky white hair that other men would envy.

I can see him so clearly sitting in his chair at the kitchen table, piddling with something that needed to be fixed or a battery that needed to be changed.  I can hear the way he would tap his hands down on the lazy susan and then cup one hand to his ear to check his hearing aid and make it whistle.

It is all of the big moments and a thousand of the small ones that are hidden in my heart.

My grandfather was many things to many people.  Navy man, co-worker, husband, father, neighbor, loyal friend.  But he was Grandaddy to me.  And there will never be anyone else like him.

I loved him deeply, and I miss him just as much.

This Advent season has been unique for me, as I continue to grieve the loss of my grandfather three months ago.  Once again, the mystery of the Incarnation falls fresh on my heart.

For He is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.
(from “Once in Royal David’s City”)

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need; our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King!  Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King!  Before Him lowly bend!
(from “O Holy Night”)

Tonight we worship the One whose coming made sacred all of the moments of our lives.  His light has pierced the darkness of this world and brought our salvation.  The Word has inhabited our flesh and redeemed it.  And yet we still wait for the time when darkness will cease to exist.  This world’s complete redemption has not yet come, but Christmas reminds us that it most certainly will.  And thus today’s Daily Office readings proclaim the great hope of our lifelong Advent.

They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.  (Isaiah 35:10)

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.  (Revelation 22:20)

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