Tuesday, November 30, 2010

and as for that photo update

recently, when i wasn't busy sleeping (because building a person is really exhausting)...

(wait, that's sam...no fair!...)

or working as the editor for a community college marketing department or the children's minister at our church (i don't take pictures of this stuff)... or watching luke perform with the african children's choir (okay, this video is funny--rhythm, not so much, i'm afraid)...

or rooting for the syracuse chiefs...wait, i mean the durham bulls...

or sending luke off to his first day of second grade...

or watching him play soccer for team ireland... or trying (not very successfully) to capture a hint of fall, which was very long in coming this year... or climbing a mountain with my parents and luke (at hanging rock state park right here in north carolina--beautiful!)... or visiting with nephew alex (who was maybe luke's age last time he visited)... or trick-or-treating with my handsome little skeleton and his buddies (i promise he's handsome in there)... or celebrating my parents' 60th birthdays at the beach... or watching luke sing a duet in the thanksgiving assembly...

i was...ummmm...mostly sleeping. because, really, building a person is exhausting.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

spoiler alert

if you're reading along in the all saints advent devotional daily, don't read this post--you'll get to it on december 6. (if you're not reading the devotional, you can! and should, i might add. you can download it free right here.)

for the past several years, i've written a short reflection for our church's advent devotional and have then shared that reflection here. on this first sunday of advent, here's my contribution from this year.

An Advent reflection about suffering?

In a recent conversation with some friends about the question of suffering—why? whence? and those sorts of things—I started thinking about the suffering of the younger son in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. Superficially, we understand what happened to him, and we’re right there with Jesus: the son makes a bad choice, and so he suffers humiliation and starvation as consequences. That’s tidy, and it fits with our sense of justice just fine. Right on, Jesus. A good lesson for children, even: respect your parents or else. See what happened to him? Jesus said so! But is the prodigal son’s suffering really about judgment? Plenty of people make bad choices and don’t suffer for them. So why does the son in Jesus’ parable suffer?

I suspect the answer is in the result. Until the prodigal son suffers and is overwhelmed by his circumstances, he does not realize what he has forsaken, what he is lacking. His suffering illuminates for him his need and sends him searching for the only thing he knows that can meet that need.

It’s a terrible thing to say to someone who is suffering, so please don’t. But all the same, I think it’s true: God allows us to suffer because he wants us to recognize our need. If someone had said that to me in certain painful periods of my life, I would have been tempted to hit him. But now, outside that suffering, I can recognize its truth. When we suffer, really suffer, we are driven to desperation. And sometimes it’s only in our desperation that we can recognize what we’re really desperate for. Unless our situation is really bad, we’re pretty sure we can handle it ourselves, solve it ourselves, recover from it ourselves. But when things are really bad? We recognize what we are not, and what we need most of all: God.

I’m sorry, you’re probably thinking, but what does this have to do with Advent?

For me, the joyful waiting of Advent is inextricably linked with the suffering-filled waiting for death. In Advent 2008, two days before Gaudete (joy? really?) Sunday, my nearly three-year-old daughter Eliza died. She had spent her life evading a death sentence of an illness, had spent the weeks since Thanksgiving (thanks? really?) waiting to lose her life-long battle. On December 12, 2008, I experienced an unbearable weight of suffering that could drive me nowhere else but to my Father, the one whose birth into a world of suffering I was to celebrate in only a matter of days. Christmas that year was not about gifts—I barely managed to purchase any and have no idea what I received—or carols or feasts or family. It was about a baby I had lost and a Baby who had come to Earth to be my only hope in that loss. It was about being driven by my overwhelming suffering to the only One who could meet my need, from starvation home to my Father. My Father who was about to become the Son, the Answer to a question I was only just being forced to realize I needed to ask.

Last Advent and this, too, remain inextricably linked with pain and sorrow and suffering and grief for me. The challenge is whether or not I’ll remember to let that suffering drive me Home into the arms of the long-awaited Baby whose birth—and certain return—is the antidote to all that pain. Will I be reminded in my need, like the prodigal son, that the only cure for my starvation is found in my Father’s house? Will I be driven Home?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

the best laid plans, part 2

the questionnaire the nurse handed me read something like this:

is this your first pregnancy? no
if no, what number? four
how many living children do you have? one

(listen here.)
This is not how it should be
This is not how it could be
But this is how it is
And our God is in control

This is not how it will be
When we finally will see
We'll see with our own eyes
He was always in control

And we'll sing holy, holy, holy is our God
And we will finally really understand what it means
So we'll sing holy, holy, holy is our God
While we're waiting for that day

This is not where we planned to be
When we started this journey
But this is where we are
And our God is in control

Though this first taste is bitter
There will be sweetness forever
When we finally taste and see
That our God is in control

this is not how i would have planned it. if you had told me ten years ago that i would, in 2010, be pregnant for the fourth time, i would probably have told you that i wasn’t sure i wanted that many children. how small our minds are.

i don’t like being pregnant. not one minute of it. i am not a particularly sick pregnant person; i don’t gain record amounts of weight or experience dramatic swelling or unbearable back pain or any of the other stories people tell. but i dislike it all the same.

i think what i dislike most about it is the sense that something—quite literally, someone—else is in control of my body. don’t usually eat breakfast? too bad. you’ll now wake up ravenous even before sunrise. like to keep busy? too bad. you’ll now be forced to pause for a nap every afternoon, no matter how uneventful your morning has been. enjoy chicken or avocadoes? too bad. you will now be repulsed by them or any number of other quite ordinary things—and will develop equally extraordinary cravings. and if none of these things that will happen in just the first few weeks is enough to turn you off to the whole experiment, just wait until junior gets to swimming around in there. alien possession? i think so.

i don’t like to be out of control. and if i live with any kind of illusion that i am in control, pregnancy provides ample reminders that i am, in fact, almost entirely out of my own control most of the time. i’m just not always as aware of it. when i am pregnant, i take prenatal vitamins. i eat healthfully, as much as i can stand it, and i stay away from alcohol and even over-the-counter drugs. every time, that’s what i do. the first time, this resulted in a healthy, brilliant little boy. the second time, a little girl with more congenital defects than one body could handle—including a brain full of holes—who wouldn’t live to be three years old. the third time, a miscarriage at 7 weeks gestation. and this fourth time? well, that’s just it: though i will follow all the same healthy pregnancy rules yet again, i have no control over what that will mean for my child.

have i mentioned how much i dislike being pregnant? but even as i am frustrated yet again this time around at the lack of control, i am learning to be grateful. because despite what i may imagine, i really don’t have any more control over the rest of my life than i do over this period of my life or over the little life growing inside me, either. just as i would never have planned four pregnancies and their varied outcomes or lemonade-cravings or waffle aversions, so would i never have planned so many other things in my life, either. work in a church? live in the south? be a minivan-driving soccer mom? be overweight, out of shape, and completely disconnected from any athletic activity? have a yard full of weeds? never.

it's funny, though; despite the fact that i'd much rather it be otherwise, the struggle isn't to find a way to gain more control. take more vitamins? eat fewer food additives? drink more water? not really. the struggle is to give up more, to rest more in being out of control. “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world”--john 16:33. overcome the whole world? really? since i can't do that, i figure i'm better off in the hands of Someone who already has done it. and i'll take joy in the promise that there will be sweetness forever.

Friday, November 26, 2010

the best laid plans

you know how it goes. i had some ideas about what i'd blog about when i finally got around to it, a grand scheme for a photojournalistic-style post about what i've been doing these months i've been absent. today was to be the day. the day after thanksgiving, luke and sam off running around doing who-knows-what sport, trying to burn off the stir craziness that comes with a day off from school. after hosting the big meal last night, i was promised this day off to catch up on photo editing and writing and to reinvent this space. things conspire, don't they, to set awry those best laid plans? as my ancient desktop computer--which hasn't been turned on in a month, probably--seems to be suffering from the lingering tryptophan in the air, the photos just aren't happening today despite the hour i've already spent just to download them from my memory card. another day...


for today, though, i do have a story. i want to tell you about a little girl with whom i have fallen in love.

her name is anastasia. i haven't ever met her. (have you never fallen in love with someone you've never met?) so i can't tell you what she looks like, really, since i don't know. what color her hair is, what color her eyes are, whether she's chubby or skinny--i don't know. i don't know much about her personality, either, whether she's funny or spunky or shy or precocious or mischievious. i don't know her favorite color (but mustn't it be purple or pink, like most every little girl?) or her favorite animal or what she likes to eat or what she likes to play.

how do you fall in love with a stranger? well, this little girl is hardly a stranger to me. i do have a couple of photographs of her, of which this is the best, i think:

here's hoping my computer is feeling up to the task of sharing lots more pictures sometime around st. patrick's day.


there's a story, of course. isn't there always? (here's the backstory, in case you haven't read it or heard it before, to the saga that is baby-naming for sam and me.) what i didn't relate in that post, but which those of you have known me for a while already know, is that not only can't sam and i agree on names, but we also can't agree on when to agree on a name. sam has a thing about waiting until the baby has already arrived. suffice it to say i don't have that same thing.

ahem. to the story.

since our in-utero moniker for our previous children, zeph, had died along with the baby whose ex-utero name we would never know, we needed a new nickname immediately for our newest addition once we found out about his/her existence. it so happened that we started this conversation one evening after having hosted a high school bible study in which the mysterious character of melchizedek showed up. so there it was, of course: melchizidek, or mel for short, since we didn't yet know whether we were having a boy or a girl.

meanwhile, nearly two years ago (!), not long after eliza died, sam had a dream that we had another baby girl. her name was anastasia. (he'll tell you he doesn't remember this dream, mind you, but he's very glad i do.) it seemed an appropriate dream for a greek-speaking father who had just lost his daughter, as the name anastasia comes from the greek word for "resurrection." and anastasia was a name we had considered for eliza but had scrapped since we didn't really like any of the nicknames associated with it.

a couple of months ago, then, when we found out this baby was a girl--having gladly called our baby mel in order to stall until the ultrasound to even begin the doomed-to-be-difficult conversation of finding a name for our newest addition--i made a passing joke about how we could just skip the name books altogether and name the baby anastasia. sam replied astonishingly in the affirmative: you don't ignore a vision like that (even one you don't remember). yes. she is anastasia.

i waited a week or so, certain he would have had second thoughts or another idea, and then asked him whether he was ready to start pulling out the name books.

oh, no. i've already been telling people: she's anastasia.

and so it was done. at 18 weeks gestation, our little girl had a name. our little person--a person's a person, no matter how small--was no longer mel.


but luke, my first tiny love, has to show up in this naming story, too, of course:

luke came with us to the ultrasound during which we found out the baby was a girl. he was absolutely mesmerized by all that he got to see--a tiny beating heart, tiny kidneys, tiny perfect spine. when the sonographer announced that the baby was a girl, as you can imagine (and which is a whole 'nother story for a whole 'nother day), sam and i had some difficult mixed reactions. enter luke to save the moment. his immediate reaction: "well, i guess melchizidek is out, then!" and thank goodness for that.

meanwhile, sam has been insisting that anastasia will not have a nickname. we each have reasons we're not fond of the usual choices: stacy, anna, annie. (a friend told me that anya is a common russian diminutive for anastasia, and i love it. so i'm working on sam.) luke, of course, has overheard all these conversations. recently, he declared to me suddenly, "but she has to have a nickname!" when i inquired as to why, he responded, "i can't even spell anastasia!"

so we rectified that problem.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

on comebacks

winston churchill is credited with having said, "If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time--a tremendous whack."

i have more to say, more of the same new thoughts all over again at which to whack away. i'll be back friday. for real. to stay.