Sunday, February 28, 2010

notes from a has-been

is it all so much psychobabble to write about self-definition? because i'm still thinking about it, even after this a while back.

i have been a lot of things. in particular, this past couple of weeks, i've had sports on the brain (which may have more than a little bit to do with the amount of sports coverage i've been watching, olympic junkie that i am). anyhow, my mini-junkie son got the itch to try his hand at some winter olympicism of his own (if i made up that word, i don't apologize for it), so i dusted off my skates and the three of us headed to the rink.

(see that little star-shaped hole there? lutz gone wrong. you're not supposed to toe pick your own foot, in case you were wondering.)

my little white stretchy gloves were still stuck inside those skates, i discovered. the smell when i pulled them out was overwhelming: it was the smell of so many hours of practice, of falls and bruises and tears, and of adrenaline and successes and delight.

so when did i start getting so dizzy? because even more than i spun on the ice, once upon a time i spent my life flipping and twisting in the air above the water. (and don't even get me started on what the smell of chlorine does to me. oh, the ecstasy!)

(the empire state games opening ceremonies 1994, with a few of the divers from the central region. parade of athletes, performances, fireworks, crowds in the stands, the whole deal. so. much. fun.)

so when did it happen that a simple scratch spin started sending the whole rink reeling? or teaching luke to do a somersault could put me all awhirl?

has-been, indeed. i am no longer what i was. which got me thinking, of course (had you guessed it?) about what it means to be something other than what i have been.

paul tells us, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 corinthians 5:17). the old has gone. so do i accept the dizziness? for that is the question before me: if dizziness is a consequence of the old being gone, of being a has-been, do i accept it gratefully, or do i long for the days captured in snapshots when i could "fly through the air with the greatest of ease"? of course, it's not about dizziness or flying through the air or any of that really, you know. (you know, right?) what does it mean for the old to be gone, for me to be a new creation?

(i can't help but imagine eliza here. a new creation. what does that look like? praise God that the old has gone for her, that she is a has-been and a new creation! but what does that look like? )

here's the cool part: this is what skating looks like for me now.

this is what flying through the air at the pool looks like for me now.

remember that moment in disney's aladdin when aladdin is trying to convince jasmine to step off her balcony onto his magic carpet?

"do you trust me?" he asks. again, "i said, do you trust me?"

i had an aladdin moment when i saw this picture that sam took yesterday. luke did trust me, implicitly, even as he fell and fell and fell and could not control his feet for even a second; he trusted me. he took my hand over and over and over again, and i picked him up over and over and over again. dizzy (or, in this case, wobbly) or no, he trusted my outstretched hand.

the outstretched hand of God tells me, you are you not what you were anymore. trust me to make you into what you haven't been. you are a new creation. do i trust Him enough to leap off that balcony, to climb up off the ice again and again?

"Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul." (psalm 143:8).

Friday, February 26, 2010



(have i mentioned recently how God has been talking to me through books? maybe one or twice, here or here. well, i've much more to write about that--which i will no doubt write, don't worry--but for now, here's the latest word for which i'm so grateful.)

On the way back [from collecting his dead son's body] I thought about tears. Our culture says that men must be strong and that the strength of a man in sorrow is to be seen in his tearless face. Tears are for women. Tears are signs of weakness and women are permitted to be weak. Of course it's better if they too are strong.

But why celebrate stoic tearlessness? Why insist on never outwarding the inward when that inward is bleeding? Does enduring while crying not require as much strength as never crying? Must we always mask our suffering? May we not sometimes allow people to see and enter it? I mean, may not men do this?

And why is it so important to act strong? I have been graced with the strength to endure. But I have been assaulted, and in the assault wounded, grievously wounded. Am I to pretend otherwise? Wounds are ugly, I know. They repel. But must they always be swathed?

I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see. --Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

because it's not just for valentine's day

lent has me thinking about what Love is really all about. in this season of waiting and thinking and praying, of restraint and sacrifice and quiet, what is it that we're really waiting for?

i asked luke in the car the other day why he thinks God loves him. without missing a beat, he said, "because i love Him." when i quizzed him further--do you ever think it's because you're smart or a good soccer player or a good friend?--he said no way. it's just because He made me.

just because He made me.

our culture is all about earning things. clear your plate to earn dessert. clean your room to get a pat on the back. get good grades to get into a good college. do a good job on a project at work to get a raise. host a good party to earn your guests' approval. dress up nicely to merit a compliment. we do it to each other all the time, and we do it to our kids from day one: when's the last time i gave luke a pat on the back just because? thanked a friend just for being who she is? we live in a mercenary society in which we think we need to earn anything we get, and we reinforce it in each other's lives daily.

which is why, i think, at least for me, it's so hard to get it through my head that i can't earn God's love. ever. no way. nothing i do or say is going to get me any closer to that perfect gift than i already am. i cannot get my head around that kind of love, the kind that gives you a pat on the back for no reason at all, the kind that says, "i love you" no matter how unloveable your behavior is, just because you are. it's so counterintuitive, so countercultural.

except once in a while when i'm reminded of eliza and i'm reminded of the love i had--still have--for her, of the intensity and purity of that love that she never did one thing to earn. she never did one thing at all, really, except inadvertent things that took years off my life from the stress and exhaustion; she never did one loveable thing at all. but there was no question, not one day of her life, that i loved her fully and completely and purely. unlike with luke or with sam or with my family or with any number of other people, for whom my simple love is clouded by things i love about them, with eliza there was no confusion: it wasn't that i loved things about her. i just loved her.

and if i'm capable of even a little bit of selfless love like that, why is it so hard for me to imagine that God loves that way all the time?

that's what lent is all about. that's what we're waiting for; that's what's good about good friday, what we rejoice in on easter. the kind of Love that gives up everything for a bunch of unloveable sinners is the same kind of Love that cannot--ever--be earned or lost no matter what we do, diminished or increased no matter how successful we are. it just is (if we'll just accept it), and that's what we're anticipating in this season. that's what we're looking forward to, the reminder of what we already have: unconditional Love, just because He made us.

[maybe you already know that. maybe you've heard enough sermons about why it's good we don't get what we do deserve and we do get what we don't deserve that you really didn't need another reminder. but i can do with a reminder myself once in a while. it's good to just say it, to claim that truth once in a while. thanks for reading along anyhow.]

Monday, February 22, 2010

today's soundtrack

Heaven is the sound of her breathing deep,
Lying on my chest, falling fast asleep while I sing.
And Heaven is the weight of her in my arms,
Being there to keep her safe from harm while she dreams.

And God, I know, it’s all of this and so much more,
But God, You know, that this is what I’m longing for.
God, you know, I just can’t see beyond the door.

--Steven Curtis Chapman, "Heaven Is the Face"

Saturday, February 20, 2010


it's about lent. that new picture of the hawk up there, i mean. it's about lent.

i was out with luke in our latest snowstorm, trying to capture the delight on the faces of three friends flying, as it were, down the kiddie hill at the park when i heard the hawk circling overhead. there were two of them, actually, and if you know that forest-clearing shriek, you'll know well how i knew they were there without even looking. they weren't going anywhere, circling circling, so i took a few pictures.

it was when i came home and sat down to edit those pictures that the thought of lent struck me.

lent is about waiting. it is about preparation and patience, both denial and anticipation of fulfillment.

clearly, that hawk was not practicing self-denial; he was looking for a meal. but the image is a powerful one: as he circled, doing nothing, he waited. he was no doubt hungry, and most likely the best and only thing he could think about (bird-brain that he is) was having that need met. but there was nothing that he could do but ride the wind and watch and wait. no amount of wing-flapping or forest-scurrying was going to bring that mouse or vole or sparrow any faster. he watched and waited.

during lent, we wait. if we've got our eyes fixed on the best, we know that what we wait for, what we long for is easter. the emptiness we feel, be it from giving up a meal or a favorite activity or an indulgence of some sort, is meant to remind us of our need to be filled. the superficial filling would be good--that chocolate bar would really hit the spot!--but that's not the emptiness we're meant to long to eradicate. "the glory of these forty days," as the hymn proclaims, is that Christ Himself has fasted and prayed and waited; we are invited into that fasting with Him. we are invited to suffer and and to long for more than what is good, chocolate or otherwise, to long for what is Great.

my prayer, then, is that i may be a bird-brain in this season of waiting, focused only on what is Great, on the only thing that is needful, both content and uncomfortable to wait with patience and single-minded focus on the promise that is mine always and not yet.

Then grant that we like them be true,
Consumed in fast and prayer with You;
Our spirits strengthen with Your grace,
And give us joy to see Your face.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

on the prelapsarian purpose of innate tendencies and the consequences of their corruption (or how we screw up what is Good)

when i think i have identified something common and apparently innate to people in general or to a subset of people, i tend to wonder where it came from and why it is that way. if it is truly innate, then it was created. and if it was created then it is--or at least was--good. so what, then, are we to do with characteristics that seem innate but are decidedly not good?

a friend and i were talking yesterday about how women can't seem to avoid making comparisons, be they about our children, our homes, our clothes, our husbands, our jobs, our bodies, our talents, our shoes. this tendency is rarely if ever used for good; usually, we end up feeling even worse about ourselves for having compared ourselves to others, or, even worse still, we end up hurting each other in the process as we try to make ourselves feel better about our perceived lacks.

but if a trait is truly innate, then the fact that it is generally used for evil proves nothing more than the pervasiveness of the fall. even those things which seem innately bad were once indended for good. if you buy the assumption that women's tendency to compare is in fact innate and therefore created--a big assumption, i know, and you know what happens when you assume, so thanks for hanging with me on this--and if you agree that in its current form, this is a decidedly negative tendency, then what logical conclusion can we draw about its prelapsarian purpose? that is to say, before it was ruined by the fall, what was God's purpose in creating this innate tendency? what good was it designed for before satan entered in to the picture and corrupted it?

i have no idea. it's hard to imagine, isn't it?

but here's the thing: i do believe in the principle of it, that is, that if something is truly innate, then that innate quality was in fact created for good. why does that matter? because don't you--i do, at least--find yourself very often thinking things like, "all men are that way," or "why do women always do that?" we think in absolutes so often, and in categorical absolutes at that. when i think that way, then, i am encouraged to remind myself that even these apparently negative ubiquitous traits have at their root something Good-with-a-capital-G. because God is that way--Good, that is--and He declared creation and man Good and Very Good. so although i can't say i understand what is good about women's tendency to make comparisons--comparisons are odious, said someone wise some-once--i do believe that at its root, if that tendency is truly innate, then it was once good. Good, even.

call me foolishly hopeful, if you will. rose-colored glasses? i'll take them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

once upon a time

once upon a time, i was consumed by thoughts like this.

which is why, when things like this make the news, i'm still riveted. more than a year since it has mattered one bit in my life, and i still forget.

and at those times, it seems like it would be a great mercy to forget.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

and as for what preschoolers know

"ms. daniele," she asked, "do you ever get sad when you think about eliza and miss her?"

we were "watching" the superbowl, she eating tortilla chips with "wine" (that is, lime), and apparently, something made her think of eliza. so she asked. no apology, no explanation; she just asked. an exceptionally articulate three-year-old she is now, she who was once more fascinated by and in love with eliza ("a-ya-yaz," she called her) as a toddler than any of eliza's other little friends.

i do, my sweet friend. and thanks for asking.

because what preschoolers know is that it's not their fault if you're sad. it didn't enter my god-daughter's little head that asking me might upset me--and she was right, because it didn't. she didn't question whether she should ask or whether it was a good time or whether other people around us might be uncomfortable or any of the million other questions we adults ask ourselves before we introduce a potentially upsetting topic. and had i been upset--had i teared up or not been able to answer or whatever--she might have asked why just as simply, or perhaps she would have thought it the logical proof of my answer, "yes, i do get sad and i do miss her." uncomplicated. no more a difficult question than any of a million other questions she asks all day long.

"and He said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (matthew 18:3).

of olympic proportions

it's amazing the things that bring it all back.

i saw a commercial a couple of days ago for the opening ceremonies of the winter olympics. this friday--and the olympic junkie in me gets a little tremor just thinking about it--will begin my favorite two weeks of television (rivalled only by the summer olympics, i suppose). it's been four years in the waiting, and i can hardly wait these last few days.

four years ago, i had it all planned out. eliza was due to be born on valentine's day, though having delivered luke five days early, i was sure eliza wouldn't keep me waiting all that long. the olympics were starting on february 10, perfect timing for what would no doubt be the very sedentary first few weeks of our baby's life. two-year-old luke, who watched very little television, would certainly be fascinated by whatever sport was on, and i'd have something to occupy me round the clock during long nursing sessions. my little girl was going to arrive just in time to be my perfect excuse for spending too many hours watching luge and ski jumping and snowboarding and of course every minute of figure skating coverage.

"the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry," said robert burns. indeed.

i didn't watch the winter olympics in 2006. at all. i'm not sure i saw one minute of ice dancing or curling or one human interest story about turin or apolo ohno or any of the rest of it that i love so well. because, of course, i was practically living in the nicu those weeks and many more to follow, where--windowless hell that it is--neither day nor night nor tuesday nor sunday nor winter nor summer is any different from any other day or week or month. olympics or no.

all of which came flooding back as i saw the commercial for this year's opening ceremonies. it's amazing the things that bring it all back.

Friday, February 5, 2010

order (or what kindergarteners already know)

as i sat in the unlighted, empty, quiet (so quiet!) sanctuary, i was struck by--comforted by, symmetry-obsessed as i am--a sense of order.

the chairs, in orderly rows, perfectly parallel and straight and predictable. the fibers in the carpet with their understated tan on tan pattern, mechanically orderly. the ceiling tiles, squares bordered by perfectly aligned, perfectly fitted metal borders, perfectly square themselves individually and square to each other, too. the service, which was not being held that day but nonetheless echoes from those so quiet walls, defined by order, liturgy (noun: a rite or body of rites prescribed for public worship; a customary repertoire of ideas, phrases, or observances, says merriam webster). the predictability of the robes, the candles, the elements. yes, i am comforted by order.

it is man-made order, this. God didn't line up those chairs or carpet fibers or ceiling tiles. God didn't make the machines that wove the carpet or punched the holes in the tiles or cut the wood for the legs of those chairs. nor did He invent the orderly liturgical worship that we do here, when the sanctuary is lighted and inhabited and ordered. it's man-made, artificial. but i can't forget Who made the men that make all this order as i look around this room.

because the light that filters in through the windows creates orderly shadows. the light flows through and around and between all these orderly man-made things, silently unimpeded by their presence, persistent despite their solid orderliness. the shadows, even, betray less an absence of light than its presence despite obstacles; without the light, there would be no orderly shadows, after all. i would not know the contrast between the soldier-like order of the chairs and the slanted, gentle order of the shadows cast by those chairs on those orderly carpet fibers and ceiling tiles but for that light.

there's something to this, i think. order. and light. and order created, defined by light. there's something to the liturgy--that is, the customary orderly repertoire, be it of ideas or worship or chairs--that is not of man. we are created for order, and in fact, scripture is full of order God has defined for His people, from creation and the food and clothing laws of the old testament to paul's instructions for worship and prophecy in the new testament. there is no question that men function better with a prescribed order: ask any kindergarten teacher for her opinion on the matter, and you'll be reminded how like children we order-craving grown-ups really are.

but order defined--surrounded by, encompassed by, overcome by--light, like those chairs in the sanctuary, standing in the light, casting shadows with the light. in all of my symmetry-obsessed, schedule-loving, woman-with-a-plan life, the order i crave is not order itself, but order defined by light, light silently unimpeded by the presence of the orderly obstacles men create.

which is how, when i think about it, i can be grateful for shadows. dark and light-less though they may be, it is in the very existence of the shadows that i am reminded that beyond the solid, soldierly, orderly obstacles remains the light that is the reason for the shadows. without the light, there would be no shadows. ask any kindergarten teacher--or kindergartener, for that matter--about his shadow: what it is, why it exists. he'll tell you.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


(adj): closely acquainted, of or relating to a family, having intimate knowledge of.

the familiar section of the always-crowded parking garage that no one else seems to realize is convenient and sometimes has empty spaces--my section of the parking garage is still the same.

the rectangular-ish revolving door unlike any i have ever seen anywhere else, glass and confusing for newcomers, easy for familiars to navigate even with strollers and wheelchairs and iv poles.

a snippet of a cell phone conversation, "...and then another doctor came in and said they're not doing that test today; they're doing it tomorrow..." all too familiar.

beep-beeping of pulse oximeters, bonging of monitors registering leads that have lost their signal--the familiar discordant music that will always be in my head.

the people, so familiar.

and familiarity is the problem.

it's so easy to come back to. she could be there right now, and i could so easily slip back into the routine of paging in, scrubbing--that smell of hospital soap, so familiar, like the smell of a food that brings back a long-ago travel adventure or the lotion whose scent is distinctly your grandmother's--familiar is the problem. and the gift.

she could be there now, in this place that i hate, cared for by these people that i love but hate to see again...i hated this place, hated her life here, ours...and i wish she were back here, waiting for me to scrub and gown and get to her. always in a hurry to get to her. i hate this place for what it was and is...and for her not being in it.

too familiar.

it occurred to me during this year's birthday gift delivery to the intensive care nursery where eliza spent her first ten weeks fighting for her life that family is really what her life was--and is--about. from the nurses and doctors in that hateful place who became our and her daily companions and her loving caregivers in our stead to our parents and siblings who made so many sacrifices to help us and care for us over the course of her life to the school and church and neighbor friends who have loved us in incomprehensible ways to the many surrogate aunts and uncles and grandparents eliza and luke acquired--we have been surrounded and loved on and cared for by an incredible family these past four years.

and so even as i cringe at the familiar--the parking space, the monitors, the overheard conversations--i am thankful for it because i know it to be a gift. i recognize divine love even in the familiar hateful fallenness that sickness and suffering and hospitals and death represent. even as i cringe at the memories and the grief and the love lost with my eliza, i am thankful for the gift of so many new familiar things she gave me in her suffering.