Cry the Name

It is cliche to say that children teach us about the Father’s love and sometimes offensive, in a world that’s ever ready to take it up. What I never mean by this is that parents have an in-road on Christ and grace and all that. That is obviously, looking around in Walmart, very much not the case. But rather, when children are spoken of, we ought to all feel included. We were all children, and we can all become like them again.

There are all sorts of cries and I’m only just learning them. My sister, a mother of four, once heard my baby crying over the phone and asked me if she needed to be changed. I hadn’t even thought of that, and she did. There is the sleepy cry, and the hurt cry. There is the angry cry. But then there is the name cry.

I find it impossible to resist when she cries my name. Rich Mullins, single, childless, knew this well when he wrote the beautiful lines, “I cry the name of the one who loves me, the name of the one on whom I call, ‘til it rolls like thunder rolling down these canyon walls.”

As hard as it is, at three in the morning— when your child’s voice is like thunder rolling— when she calls your name, you go. Your heart is moved by her remembrance and her faith in you. Helen does not question my existence or my near presence or my love, and in her confidence I stop questioning those things too. How much more so does our Father in heaven respond to his own, for he has no weakness and selfishness, as I do.

An old friend of my mother’s, Mrs. Dot, was Catholic turned Pentecostal and very into the unseen realm, and her stories had a big impact on my spiritual imagination as a child. Once as a young mother, she was home alone at night with her little boys. They were sleeping, but she woke up afraid. She went all through the house and just knew that something was wrong. She prayed for protection over her babies. I remembered this story the other night, when I had a similar feeling and prayed the same way.

I don’t have a little window in my door, but Mrs. Dot did. She opened it. Outside, she said, she saw legs, just legs. Giant golden angel legs. She said he was as tall as her house. She went back to bed and was comforted. 

This story wasn’t exactly comforting to me as a child. I didn’t want giant angel legs, I just wanted my parents. But now I understand. This is the beauty of stories: Sometimes they wait in the wings. In this world we will have trouble. I have little people in my care. I have real enemies, and so do they. They need me and I need something behind me, the bigger the better.

The good news is that I can cry the name of the one who loves me— and if I forget this, the first of my earthly lessons, that’s alright— he is faithful to remind me.

Not Your Own, and Never Alone

It’s true that often husbands seem oblivious, but any woman who is with another woman in labor can pick up on contractions. You don’t have to be trained to know that one is coming, or is on her, or is almost done. It’s a common sense, intuitive, basic bit of womanhood, to be mindful of these things and sensitive toward them. The woman delivering the lunch tray knows it, as soon as she enters the room, and waits patiently, before she speaks.

And yet they have these things called contraction monitors. I get it. The nurses have too many patients. They can’t possibly watch and chart and bear the liability of them all without machines. This way the nurse can sit at the computer and monitor what is happening in Room 204. Except, of course, if the woman in 204 is moving around and the monitor keeps losing its hold. This can be very frustrating, because the nurse is not chiefly responsible for the patient, but for paperwork.

Why is the mother moving around? She is doing what she must to deliver the child, which is, in fact, the whole point of the contractions. She is working beside them, with them. They are part of the grand design. It is worth watching. These contractions— it’s true that they can be monitored on a screen, we’ve figured that out— but to separate them from the rocking moaning body of the woman, to preside over her “progress” as if she was a mouse in a laboratory… is this progress? 

It has come to this: If a mother wants to be truly helped and cared for, dignified and respected in labor, she must bring those things with her to the hospital. You may be blessed to find them in the heart of the busy, harried nurse, but they aren’t prescribed or written in the chart, or remotely understood by those making policy. 

I have seen a nurse, bless her, move the monitor around to better record the contractions while the mother was fully dilated and pushing.  Finally, the obstetrician, realizing it, said, “Yeah, I don’t think we need that anymore.” 

Everyone laughed, and the nurse said, “Oh I forgot; it’s such a habit!”

How did it become a habit to annoy a woman fully absorbed in the most difficult task of her life?

The policy makers believe that by using machines in place of personal care, they can hire less nurses and make more money. The nurses become exhausted and emotionally diminished. The good desire they had to help people is overridden by overwork, a fear of liability and lawsuits and the frustrated rhythm of just clocking in and out for a paycheck. They feel used.  As greed enters the equation, like sin into the world, truth and goodness take a hit, and quality of care and medical knowledge with them. I could harp for hours on the many ways our birthing system dehumanizes the mother and child and promotes fear and stupidity, but I don’t need to convince anyone, for this kind of thing is found everywhere.

In this wonderful piece by Alan Noble, about simply grocery shopping, he says:

…We’ve freed ourselves from the tyranny of talking with a checker and all it cost us was the presumption of innocence and all human warmth.

This whole experience is predicated on the idea that we are each our own, that we are ultimately only responsible for ourselves and to ourselves. And that means that we don’t owe anyone anything unless it’s contractually or legally defined. The store’s only obligations to you are legal. Their only responsibilities are to profit. When treating customers, employees, or producers as human beings leads to greater efficiency, then they will do so, but only then.

As a young American woman in her birthing years, soon expecting her second child, every word of this article makes me sick with its startling application to our hospital system, where medication is what it’s all about. He goes on to say,

Instead of asking whether our environment is inhuman, our default is to self-medicate, to find a coping mechanism. And even while we self-medicate, we’re also making jokes about self-medicating because it’s obvious to everyone that this is not healthy. It’s not how we are meant to live. 

At the same birth I mentioned earlier, there was a new L&D nurse, around my age. She had been on the floor a couple months and was there to observe, as she had never seen an unmedicated birth before. She wasn’t ready to experience pregnancy and childbirth, she said, but she told us about her “child” waiting at home, a golden-doodle. Everyone started swapping dog stories, but soon stopped. This wasn’t a room for small talk. The mother had been laboring all night and day, and now the time was close. We had been praying for the birth to come before 7:00 p.m. when I had to leave. Although I had been supporting her constantly and she greatly desired me to stay, I was considered a visitor and non-essential.

She was now on her elbows and knees, a very good position to prevent tearing, though unconventional. I was thankful her doctor “let her” do this. Like many women, when I was delivering just a year earlier, I had been told that I “had to” get on my back, though there is no benefit to this position, for the mother or baby. The time had come. I stood at the mother’s head and she held my hands. She knew she could squeeze them as hard as she needed to, and she did. Her husband kissed her and then stood beside the doctor to wait for the sight of the head. 

And that’s what we did— we waited. We all did. She rested a moment. With a cool cloth, I wiped the sweat from her brow. She was not alone. Then the pressure built up once more, one last time…

The doctor said, “That’s perfect! We can see him. He’s coming! You’ve got it. He’s coming! Just a couple more. Just one more…”

And then that doctor, forever bless her soul, just laid that human child right underneath the mother so she could hang her exhausted head and look into his beautiful perfect face. She wept over him. We all did. They were separated now, for the first time, yet still held together with the chord that had pulsed her life into his for forty weeks.

I looked up at the new nurse, hand over her masked mouth, back against the wall. Her face was wet too. We’ve seen this happen so many times, but never before this child, and never again. He will live on this earth, and die and be buried with his fathers, but his birth was a just a moment and now a memory, a good one. 

Good memories about childbirth are not always possible, but they are possible much more often than they are experienced.

The young nurse and her “child” at home— she loves that dog and he has filled a spot in her lonely heart, as we are all greatly comforted by our animals— but we do not carry them inside us. We do not travail over them, and deliver them. They do not stand in the lineage of the human race, a lineage so important to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As much as we care for them, they are not our children. We are not their parents. We are made in God’s holy image, with his fingerprints on our souls, forged in the fires of human passion, choking on the fumes of selfish rage, distinct from Great Danes and Golden-doodles, laboratory mice, robots and the electronic firing of input, storage, processing and output.

The woman sat back on her shaky legs and took up her son, as the mother of Christ did long ago. “He’s here. I can’t believe he’s here.”

I stayed until he was nursing but returned the next day. “How are you feeling?” I asked her. 

“There were many moments yesterday when I felt like I couldn’t possibly do it. When I just wanted a way out, any way out. But now I feel…” she laughed, “Well, I feel like a bad-ass. I feel like I could totally do it again.”

She didn’t feel self-sufficient. She has many times thanked me for my part. She is grateful for her obstetrician. She wouldn’t have wanted to be without her husband. What’s more, she knows she was created to birth, and she was, after all, at the hospital in case something went wrong. What she was describing as “bad-ass” was actually just human. She experienced a beautiful part of womanhood many can not and do not, often, sadly, because they are not helped and supported, and because they simply do not believe in this good aspect of their humanity: that if they are given the gift of motherhood, they are well capable of and created to accomplish the task, in all its many facets, and that they will never be alone.

————————————

This is an opinion piece of sorts and different from what I usually write. Forgive me if it seems a soap-box. I have found no other way to continue writing, other than to write about what I see as I see it, and so it is impossible for me not to write about childbirth these days, although I know it is not a present part of life for many.

My friend, Rachel, writes powerfully out of motherhood, and you can find two of her recent pieces with these links: The Contradiction of Healing Prayer and An Unjust Cheap Justice. I have learned much from her.

And my friend, Sarah, had a beautiful poem published in Fathom, but it was this one that gave me chill-bumps

Let Me Be

I am deep in the world of babies now, where the subject of childcare comes up frequently. When it comes to the questions of who is watching your children and where they are kept, something people will often say is children are resilient, to which I always want to reply children are extremely vulnerable

Being made in the image of the eternal immutable God, all humans have a strength of soul and a remarkable ability to heal and cast wrongs into a sea of forgetfulness, but this isn’t anything we ought to take for granted. We should always bear in mind the fragility of the people in our care, not their resilience. I hold to the doctrine of original sin and yet what I noticed about my daughter in the first year of her life was not her sin, but her fear. As sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, broken in fellowship, babies need most to be loved.

What you aren’t prepared for when you first become a mother is how much you will love your child. I’ve known many moms who have a good and careful plan for childcare, and still grieve and regret dropping their babies off and returning to their lives before.

“I wasn’t prepared for how much I would want to be the one with her every day. It ought to be me,” a friend said recently. I totally understood. 

We thought childcare was easy mundane work (don’t the uneducated do it for minimum wage?) but we see now that it is the most important thing we could possibly do, that all our longing is for our children, that no amount of study could have prepared us for how difficult it is to train and nurture them and yet how we alone, their parents, are uniquely fit for the task. As my children were knit together in secret, perfect poems, I was remade and rewritten for them, and I won’t ever be the same. 

And so when it is not possible for us to be the ones with them, we want those people to be the best of our world, the most virtuous, the most careful of their weakness: the grandmothers, for instance, soft and slow and patient and not too self-important to be gentle with their raw noses or read the same book three times or rock them to sleep, the older women who perhaps regret not being the mothers we are beginning to regret we are not ourselves, who see, not their superiority to the task, but their insufficiency to do it justice. That’s who we need, and who we find ourselves becoming. 

“It’s like your feelings don’t matter,” the same mother said. Yes, that’s what the feminist don’t understand. It is not liberating to be freed from our children. It is a denial of our emotions, which are perhaps the most beautiful part of ourselves, and most true to who we were meant to be. For, after all, we are women, and my plea is Let me be a woman…”

Let me be the shield and the shelter for these children. Let me be why they can’t seem to stop believing they are seen and known and treasured. Let me be why they are innocent of evil, alive to all kinds of good, wise to know the difference. Let me be why they look up to God in happiness and run to him in sorrow. Let me be why Helen is glad to be a woman, and Jacob is glad to be a man. Let me be why they trust and obey. 

Let me be a mother, and I will care less for other things. 

Thirty

This morning I woke up at five o’clock to work on a project. The house was still and dark. When the morning light came in, I could see Helen’s work all over the place. Andrew was late getting home last night from the hospital, and so I let her go into each room and play with her things to stay awake, which means she takes everything out of the basket or cabinet and scatters it all around.

My mother-in-law loaned me a rainbow vacuum cleaner and yesterday I cleaned the floors in every room. But last night when I went to bed, there were toys and socks (she loves to throw socks) everywhere. I remembered all the dirt I emptied from the water tank of the vacuum, and reminded myself that it was in truth cleaner than it had been, despite how it looked.

Today is my thirtieth birthday. When I look back at the last couple of years, my spiritual progress looks as unproven as my housekeeping. My journal is sparser than ever, my reading is minimal, my thoughts are scattered and confused, my reflections are basic, my prayers are simple and brief. It is really hard to say if I’ve grown in the fruits of the Spirit or not. But I do know for certain that I have been on the receiving end of the Spirit. I have had so much love from Him these years, patience and faithfulness. I have had these things mostly in the love of my husband and our baby girl.

Something my husband says to me is “we’ll figure it out”. I guess this is a pretty common thing for a man to say, and perhaps in a critical sense, it could be arrogant self-reliance, but I think when a man says it to his worrying wife, it’s different. Maybe Andrew is just trying to tell me to be quiet and go to sleep, but what I hear from him is “there is time”.  I’m reminded of the promise he’s made to me. I’m reminded that God has mercifully given us time, and will give us more time. As long as we live, he’ll be giving us time. 

The preacher said last Sunday that grace was one-way love. I remembered that last night when Helen screamed from her room, just once. That’s not normal. We looked at the monitor and saw her laying still and it seemed like she was asleep. My heart was racing from waking up to her scream, but my body felt so heavy. Andrew had been working in the ER for 12 hours but he got up and in a minute I could see him on the monitor, leaning over her. Her eyes opened and closed again. She knew he was there. He smoothed her hair and felt all over her arms and legs to make sure she wasn’t hurt. He checked her crib for bugs (we have a lot of bugs). He rubbed her cheek with the back of his hand, and smoothed her hair again and again, until he was sure she was asleep.

That image rose with me this morning. Helen doesn’t give her Daddy much love these days. She often ignores his request for kisses and she loves to run away from him. What’s more, she makes big messes and blow wet raspberries and she makes the whole house stinky with her diapers. But if you spoke to him for two minutes he would tell you about her progress and all the things she is learning. He would tell you how pretty she is. 

It is wonderful to know that there are good fathers in the world, and good husbands. It is wonderful to wake up to a man like this. He has been the Father’s love begotten for me and our children. I know life is always uncertain and we are not promised a long marriage, but I know as long as I have time I’ll be giving it to him, and he’ll be giving his to me.

These are simple reflections, but as I said, that’s all I have these days. And yet it’s always good to remember that the best things in life are in our hands and before our faces.

Come Ye Sinners

“Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman,” sang Tammy Wynette, “giving all your love to just one man.”

I remember as a little girl thinking hard on that line and wondering if it was true, wondering if an overflow of passion really was a problem of womanhood and a threat to fidelity. You may think little girls don’t think things like that, but I have two nieces old enough now to ask questions, and they sure do. 

I’ll be thirty this month, so I guess I’ve been a woman long enough to know something about it and this problem of Tammy’s… well, it does not reflect the human condition. I’ve never yet met a woman too full of love, or a woman who could afford to be giving it out to two men, for heaven’s sake. Instead, we all of us feel a bit stretched, as Bilbo said, like butter scraped over too much bread. 

Maybe Tammy needed children, or friends or a dog. Maybe she needed a garden. 

I know I need more love. When someone needs me to stay up late and someone needs me at night and someone needs me in the early morning, I need more love and I need more strength. I think it’s true for most of us who are married, that you don’t need to “stand by your man”, as much as you need your man to stand by you. 

What is endlessly comforting to me as a Christian is that the first step in God’s provision is emptiness. What qualifies you for Christ? Need, lack, want. These are things I have, so this is good news. A lack of love and strength is exactly what I can bring to Christ. 

A few years ago I very much wanted to be married and I was part of a very small church.. Faith can be tricky, because although you know God can do anything he likes, drop a good man in your pew, for instance, sometimes it’s also faith to look around and say, “God show me what to do”.

What I had to do was be humble and honest and brave, which all too often meant just showing up with empty hands. I had to stop pretending I was content. I had to stop pretending I wasn’t sad. And the hardest thing, I had to go. I visited churches all over the area, sometimes crying in the car before I went in, looking a mess. I went, not so much to meet a husband, as to meet other Christians, because I knew I needed other Christians and I knew I needed help. I had just enough faith to believe the help I needed wasn’t in a singles Facebook group or Tinder, but in church, which let’s be real, is full of weird and awkward and old people, not to mention the sick and heartbroken. This was the place for me. I tried my best to be honest when I talked to friends and acquaintances, and ask them to pray for me. 

A funny verse that I often thought of during this time was Eugene Peterson’s translation of Psalm 53:2. It says God sticks his head out of heaven. He looks around. He’s looking for someone not stupid – one man, even, God-expectant, just one God-ready woman. Like God I was looking for a man, and God knows I was a man-ready woman. But was I God-ready? No, I wasn’t. But being so is not a permanent state in this life. It comes with perennial need, as we slowly learn that it is Jesus who is ready.

This isn’t a cause and effect story, because God didn’t actually use any of these churches or Christians to get me married, but I did get married not long after this, and I could feel the effects of this softening and tilling up of my heart, when he brought a good man from a world so different than my own. When I visited the seeker-friendly mega church with him and the catholic church with his family, they didn’t feel so strange. I was used to the uncomfortable feeling of being in a crowd of people worshiping God in the way they thought best, of being full of my own need and all too aware of myself to reach for Him in such a place. I knew by then that most people are too concerned with themselves to even notice you, which is a comfort, but the ones who do care, truly do, which is a comfort too. 

Sometimes I’ll say to my husband “I’ve been to that church” and “I visited there” as we drive through town, and we will laugh about our retirement plan to hit every church lunch and dinner in the area to save on groceries, but it’s a true and a serious thing that we may go to the church if we are hungry, and so can you.

This was a long and rambling story to say, if you are like me and looking at all the things you need to do this morning, and all the people who need your love— your man and all the rest of them— and feeling so tired and empty, you are not alone and this is a good place for us to be. As my old friend said, “Needs are my best riches, for I have these supplied in Christ.”

This Christ has a garden in your heart. When you come to him empty, he looks over you with love. He purposes a harvest. He is filled with satisfaction and He is filled with joy.

the Laundry

We’ve been using cloth diapers, not exclusively but daily, for several months now. This has made me feel altogether more accomplished as a housekeeper. Perhaps this is why I breezed through the laundry sorting Monday morning, thinking deep on other things. Perhaps this is why two new dresses worn over the weekend, one red and one white with flowers, ended up together in a delicates cycle. Perhaps this is why the white dress is now pink and has been soaking in my sink since Monday afternoon.

I could blame it on baby brain, but here’s a secret: I did plenty of stupid things before babies.

I am here to tell you: not oxi-clean, not white vinegar, not hydrogen peroxide, not baking soda, no prayer of penitence, has removed the red stain from my dress. I’m not ready to give up. They say not to let it dry, but I’m not sure how much longer I can set aside that sink, or how much longer it can soak before the fabric dissolves.

I’ve had it on my mind to write something beautiful about cloth diapering— what it’s taught me about renewal and how lovely they look, the once rank pile, washed clean and sweet smelling and bright on the line in the sun. Wendell Berry said to “practice resurrection” and practically speaking, what better way is there than to take something so soiled and considered necessarily disposable by our society, and renew it well, again and again? 

But I can’t write anything like that now, because it sounds too perfect in light of my failures. The truth is, cloth diapering has been good for me because it has taught me faithfulness in this one little area. I confess, until marriage, I cast my stains upon my mother. I said she was good at this, but really she was just more patient.

One day, Lord willing, I will be great enough to take on the stains of my children, grass and mustard and charcoal, garments improperly paired, but today, today I turn again to google and simply refuse the take the pink dress out of the sink just yet. In my trying and remembering, I have a long way to go.

But I remember something else now. That quote of Wendell Berry’s, it’s from a poem, and doesn’t the line before say “Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction” ? And so perhaps in my failures, in ruining things, wasting time, circling back and forgetting, perhaps I am the one coming clean, and perhaps resurrection is happening, whether I practice it or not.

Rutabagas

My work in the garden is limited these days, but I was out there yesterday. The baby was in one empty bed on a sheet, tearing a flower apart, and I was in another bed weeding. I was thinking about the “no work” garden technique of raised beds and mulching and how my mother has been doing it for over thirty years and how hers has grown to be the biggest and prettiest personal garden I’ve ever seen, and how it’s occasionally neat but usually wild and never has it ever even for one month been “no work”.

Sometimes she’ll have aspiring gardeners come over and usually they are after some secret sauce, some hidden knowledge from the inner circle, and oftentimes they are chiefly after the harvest. I get this because I have approached so many things in just this same way, only to discover that in art and skill, even in a counter full of tomatoes, there is no inner circle. There is only those who give themselves to the work, and those who don’t.

I found my mother in the garden yesterday morning, and I asked her what is it that you are after mostly in gardening? Is it the harvest?

No she said quickly, then she thought a minute. It’s time in the garden. 

I thought about this awhile and came back to her and said So would you say it’s about having a relationship with the land itself? 

And the plants she said. 

And the plants. The bed I was cleaning out was for rutabagas, a crop we always make room for and seldom harvest. Why do we do it? Because rutabagas are worthwhile and shouldn’t be forgotten and because sometimes we get to eat a few of them and because we need a cover crop to protect the soil…

But mostly because the hope of rutabagas gives us more time in the garden.

The Beloved Tamed

On the night of June 24th I laid in bed in a dark quiet house and cried. For the first time I was feeling the regular movements of my second child. For the first time I had the relief and comfort of knowing that this child, and all his or her unborn peers, have been finally seen as humans under the law of the land, humans endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. This is a good and beautiful thing, because it is true.

I know life is especially hard for some mothers, and if that is you, I want to encourage you: If there is one thing I’ve learned as a child of God, it is that He does not give us all the answers before He asks us to obey Him. This is the very point of faith. He provides as you go, as you trust Him, as you wrestle with His will and are willing to say not mine, but yours be done and as He welcomes you into His big heart, He gives you the grace to be an open and hospitable place too— for all humans, but especially those who are very young or old, needy, oppressed or troubled, all of which, along with everyone else, begin life in the same fragile place, the place of the incarnation, a place now made safer some places here in America because God hears the cries of the innocent, even from the ground, and I am so thankful.

The president, in his speech this week, said that women have the power to control their own destinies. I believe this to be baseless and untrue, but more than that, it’s led us into a sad sort of angry freedom. The truth is, we are all bound in many ways. For the most part we can’t prevent bad things or cause good things. We meet death and pain whether we stop for it or not. Mercy comes to us when we least expect it. We can no more control our destinies than we can control the beating of our hearts.

This tapestry above is one of my favorite pieces of art. I could look at it, into it, for hours. It’s called simply “the Unicorn Rests in a Garden” and it’s from the Unicorn tapestries from the late Middle Ages. I have taped it into many journals throughout the years, and underneath I have written the Beloved Tamed and the Shining Barrier. It was a beautiful and comforting image to me unmarried, but full of marriage and childbirth symbolism, it is an especially good piece of art for the contemplation of mothers.

The fence in the tapestry is too low, as any gardener could tell you. It’s love that holds her there.

I wanted to share this piece again. I wrote it several years back, but I stand by it, which isn’t true of everything I’ve ever said. My life has changed so much, but I’m still here telling stories, and Mrs. Eva is still among the best of the earth.


Make Welcome

February 26, 2019

     I spoke to a young woman in a parking lot one day last week. She was there to have an abortion. How old is your baby? I asked. Eight weeks, she said. 

    Can I ask you.. why

    I don’t want it. 

    But is it alright to kill a person we don’t want? 

    She cursed me, sufficiently and repeatedly with a four letter word I don’t even know the meaning of. 

  I was still there when she came out again. She had taken a pill in the office and it was already working on her womb, changing the atmosphere into a hostile place. The slip of paper in her hand told her what to expect after Pill Number Two, told her not to look in the toilet. If she did, I knew what she would see. 

   Oh, would she look? Would she see?

  She turned to me. Do you want my baby? she asked. I only nodded, because I did want her baby, but I sensed a lack of sincerity in her voice. Well, here you go, she said, and pulled down her pants to expose herself. She made the space between us inhospitable, because she didn’t want me either. 

  This parking lot belongs to a large brick building in a nice part of town, a prosperous old Southern town, home of one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world, and about thirty people, not guilty of any crime, are killed and put in a freezer here every day. I drive past it all the time, and did today, as I took an elderly friend to the doctor, where there was a new form for her to fill out, including the question, Have you been abused? I cringed at the sadness of the question, and wondered what she would say, how far back her mind might go. 

    Then she leaned in and whispered in that way old ladies have of informing half the room, “Why don’t they ask if I’ve been abusive? Nobody wants to ask that one.”

    Now, this woman has been hurt. Not a year out of eighty five has gone by without a personal injustice, and some held a good deal more than others. But somehow, at some point, she was given eyes to see the hurt she herself had done looking back at her. You are the man as Nathan said, and with those painful words the hard-hearted king became a shepherd boy again.

    I have never been a mother, not even for a moment. But I’m glad to be a woman. I’m glad to be that part of creation made for the sake of man, and able to bear mankind. I’ve always believed it the greatest honor. Every month my body prepares itself for company, then cleans house only to prepare itself again. We biologically make welcome, and if we can’t for some reason, it concerns us. Unless we in our autonomy do it to ourselves. We fight to keep it legal, but no amount of legislation under the sun could make it right.

    I was in a big house yesterday, all richly furnished and clean. I was keeping the people, an elderly couple and a baby. The old folks slept, laid flat back on recliners, snoring. I sat in a rocking chair with the little girl asleep in my arms. She had hold of my hair so I wouldn’t lay her down. The afternoon light was coming through the blinds all golden. It had been raining and was going to rain again, but now the sun had come to set fire to the little dust motes no one was there to watch but me. There is something here, I thought, no, something missing. Someone missing. It was the woman of the house. I was just the help, yet here I was in the magic hour, keeping peace, witnessing the stillness of the sun between rains shining on the dust motes. It wasn’t right that it should be me, but that’s okay, because they weren’t paying me enough. Nobody wants to keep house anymore. Nobody wants to rock the baby.

     On the main road near the abortion mill, a beautiful woman stands with a sign most Saturdays. Her name is Mrs. Eva, and sometimes I stand with her. She usually tells me to go away, for the cold wind whips like nowhere else in the world around that building. You are too skinny to be out here! she’ll say, as if she wasn’t eighty-two. In Mrs. Eva’s presence, I often feel like my niece Adah, who wants always to be held just at dinnertime when my hands are busiest. Hold you, she’ll say. After hearing no a few times, she just valiantly climbs up my legs, and lo and behold, we find I can put dinner on the table and hold her at once, just as she suspected. 

    Mrs. Eva stands for the unseen ones who enter the brick building and come out again in bags to be hauled away, sold for parts or burned, according to their usefulness. What happens here has all been made real to her. She sees them. I seldom have the eyes or strength to look, but I do see her

    Mrs. Eva is a holocaust survivor. She did survive, just barely. At the age of nine, she was ripped from her home, forced on a train and into an extermination camp in Yugoslavia, where she witnessed and suffered unspeakable things. These abusers didn’t want to actually put the knife to the unwanted throats. No, they would just remove all subsistence behind walls where no one could see for reasons that sounded excusable at the time. She says there comes a moment, in your helplessness, when you can no longer watch what is happening, when the anguish is so great it will drive you insane, and all you can do is cover your eyes and try to run or hide. But if you survive, you will grow up and in some ways, you will recover. You will put on strength, God helping you. And then… then what? Well, there are lots of options for victims available today with a whole menagerie of hashtags. Or you could be like Mrs. Eva, who moves her old feet to the cold floor of a Saturday morning only to stand on a busy road to be cursed and spit upon, who feels the bitter wind up her spine and tells me to go get warm, who would be first to say I’m sorry, please forgive me, and come on in, who has, with all her cares, held my hand in the winter rain and prayed for me.

     I’m not a political activist. I don’t keep up with all the latest. Big things can happen in this world and I won’t know about it until I read the newspaper while mulching the garden six months later. I spend my days with the dying generation who remember as in a dream a place where men looked out for women and women looked out for children and children looked out for the stray cat, and that all sounds pretty good to me, and a long time gone. I’m just an American girl, a product of public schools, Disney and on a good day, Hank the Cowdog. But I’m also a storyteller. If there’s a tidy moral to these narratives, it isn’t yet obvious to me. I’m just here to tell you what I’ve seen lately in the parking lot, the waiting room, the big house and on the roadside. 

    I’m just here to tell you a story, like Matthew when he said, Jesus called a little child to his side and set him on his feet in the middle of them all. “Believe me,” he said, “unless you change your whole outlook and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. It is the man who can be as humble as this little child who is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. Anyone who welcomes one child like this for my sake is welcoming me.  (Matthew 18, JB Phillips)

       Maybe I do have something to say, a conclusion, however unoriginal: If you are a woman, be a woman. If you have a home, keep it. Don’t think you’re too important to witness the dust motes in the afternoon sun. If your mind is turned to the ways you have been hurt, consider longer the ways you have hurt others. And if you are a mother be a mother. Make welcome. 


   I confess I am afraid to deliver these words, for the internet is like an over-grazed pasture, and I’ve always been one to step in it.

A Bright and Shining Place

It is 6:15 and my husband just left for work. I love this time of day. Our house is at the edge of a thick forest, and through the windows of that side it still looks dark outside, but on the other side it’s as bright as day. 

I am laying in bed again and our daughter is nursing, having slept through the night. As we roll over and switch to the other side, I can see her smile in the morning light. 

Words come to my mind, words from worlds away now, so long has it been since I remembered them in this new life of mundane living—building a house, making a home, becoming a wife and mother so quickly…

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

You will sound so wise and well read if you keep this quote up your sleeve. Everyone will nod and look into the distance as if at a great vision, doubly impressed that you know how to pronounce his name (whether you really do or not). No one will admit how unhelpful it is to be handed a riddle as a definition, or that they have no earthly idea and just a sliver of a fool’s hope about their own journey toward this bright shining intersection: the well of God’s calling, bubbling forth some place they’ve never been, or perhaps in their own back yard. 

I remember thinking years ago, down the rabbit trail of what Mr. Buechner was on about, that perhaps it’s like falling in love. Perhaps you know when you know. Shazam. Just like in the movies. Suddenly your eyes are open and your life is never the same, and you know in the deepest part of you that, yes, this is the place, that lovely place, rumored but doubted, now suddenly solid ground beneath your feet.

Well, dear reader, it is like that. 

When I look down at my daughters smile, her silly morning satisfaction in being fed and having her desires met, my heart leaps up in limitless gladness. Maybe it’s not the world’s hunger, but in a way, it is. She is like us all, every human, just wanting to be taken seriously, slowed down for, given the chance to be small, waited on, not taken for granted, treasured just as much eleven months and two days into the relationship as she was on day one…

to be so very precious to someone who, feeding you, amazed, knows she will do nothing more important in her life than this, nothing more important in her day than this moment, and considering this, knows herself forever blessed. 



If this seems like an emotional tribute to a fleeting season, you are right. I am painfully mindful that once she is weaned I will never be able to comfort my baby as easily or quickly as I can today. She is in a way being weaned from me, and will reckon with this world more and more on her own, and my heart breaks with how quickly this time has come.

But not to leave us all wiping our noses with our nightgowns, here are a few happy things:

If you like this place, you will also like Still Traveling, and I thought this post was especially good: Go on, and be specific – tell us who we should marry. Maybe you’ve been married for fifty years or maybe you’re a fledgling; maybe you have a friend that you love like a sister or a brother. Whoever they are, I bet you know the secret to loving them. I bet, even, that if they have the audacity not to wake you each morning with a Michelin Star omelet, you’ll suffer to keep them around.

I would say, marry a man who could kiss you and your baby so many times in a row that you literally have to run away just to get anything accomplished that day. Marry a man who gets so caught up in planing a shelf to make it perfectly level that he forgets you are on the same planet as him. Marry a man who is as kind and respectful to the dumpy rambling stranger, as to the beautiful and powerful. Marry a man who will laugh with you when you both remember how you snapped at him in the middle of the night and said something shockingly selfish in your sleep, who will bring you a cup of coffee just the way you love it while he laughs at you for being such an obvious little sinner. Marry that man.

And then, a dear old friend is now sharing her poetry every Sunday and they are beautiful: https://towardslight.substack.com

And finally, I had something published at Fathom recently here.

And now that’s it! There isn’t any more! You must be on your way!

A Willing Tree

My husband is a woodworker who often finds himself working with boards that were trees grown wild for many years. As soon as they are laid on the sawmill, you can see how they have grown wrong. Still he will work over them and for them, turning their bent crooked bodies into something good.

I love trees. There are some I would strap myself to and die for, but I have also learned that they are a good gift for making useful, treasured things. I learned this as I watched my husband take little over-crowded cedars and turn them into a beautiful crib for our daughter. This is just the sort of thing Jesus would do. He used no screws or nails, but worked patiently with the stubborn curves and grains, bending them gently, changing them gracefully, making them work together, redeeming them. As he scraped away the rough exterior, the sweet smell of the heart of the wood filled the room, and still does.

I’ve spent much of my young life with different old people, as they end theirs. I’ve come to realize that there is a final shaping at the end of a life. Regardless of what they have been before, a wife and mother, perhaps, now they are something new: someone old. And whether that comes with loss of health or memory or mental capacity or familiar companions and surroundings, or all of these things, it is most assuredly a hard new work. It seems like I have seen it come so much harder for some than others, as if the way they have grown, like a stubborn tree, just won’t accept this new thing the carpenter is making in them. 

They may say things like I want to stay in my home forever, even if that means being alone and vulnerable, and perhaps unclean and uncared for. Although this is their right, I suppose, it is a sad choice, and perhaps a result of not realizing how often God used painful, unwanted circumstances for their good and that they have a duty as long as they breathe, not only to go on loving and being needed, but to go on being loved and cared for. For the one that fights willing dependence and necessary humility, I have come to see this as a life pattern, and although in one way this gives me hope, it also gives me pause. Everything I do now will make for the person I become, and that woman, that old woman, is mostly how I will be remembered.