The Weakest Reed

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.

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Your Kingdom Come to My Water-Logged, Mortgaged, Suburban House

Disappointment has been an aggressive and mean-spirited stalker who relentlessly pursues me. His only goal in life, it seems, is to be present every single time I let that majestic hot air balloon of hope start to lift me into the sky. He is there before I barely get off the ground, plunging the cold, hard needle of reality into the billowy fabric of my dreams.

I made choices too that tethered me, keeping me bound to the ground at times. Sometimes because a tether seemed like the safer choice and other times because a life without the ties of commitment is one without impact. And that kind of life seems like a waste, too ephemeral to be worth the breath. So commit I did, allowing the ties to be strung around me, pulling down on me with ever-increasing strength. I had always imagined something involving More. More views awe-inspiring. More exposures breath-taking. A life aloft. Alight. Transcendent. Luminary. But those are not so much the defining characteristics of my life as a stay at home mom living in suburbia with a mortgage and a water-logged basement and a husband who has the gift of being more easily contented.

I try to keep the fire ablaze, glorious balloon filled, ready to soar. But the ropes that I bound to myself strain against the effects of the burner, and the basket remains grounded. The more tethers I accumulate the more self-defeating and exhausting it feels to keep stoking that little fire on the chance that it might someday blow me aloft. There are some tethers I’d be willing to let go, cut even. But others are just too precious. So rather than strive to keep the light glowing, I feel like I’m slowly letting that magnificent balloon of hope lay, slackened and deflated, behind me.

It’s a lovely basket I’m living in, but it feels like only a small part of the life I’d thought would be mine. In fact, that basket sans balloon seems sometimes almost like a mockery of the life that might have been. I can be painful, even shaming somehow, to look at that impotent artifact too closely. It seems more merciful to just forget that the balloon of hope ever might have been something I connected to the basket of my real life. Maybe it’s better to resign myself to the idea that the hope of More is just an demanding, hungry balloon, better left unfed by that energy-sucking fire I’ve been stoking. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but perhaps if I could just deflate my hopes a bit, it’d all be a little more manageable.

There’s a message I hear a lot lately and it’s one that I think is helpful. The message is that we should focus on the positive. That if we set our thoughts, our consciousness on what we do already have then we will be more content. We will be less dissatisfied. I believe there is truth in this. Enough truth that I have been battling for a full week over this same piece to decide if I should even finish it and post it. Is the answer to my restlessness and my disappointment with the world to have an attitude of gratitude? If I could just change my patterns of thinking to get me to arrive at a place marked “Opportunities” rather than “Challenges” then maybe I’d be more content.  I know there is science to support this and more important that it is the truth that I need to give thanks in all circumstances.

So I try to make my lists of all the things for which I’m grateful and whip my synapses into submission to make them travel on paths more positive.   But the moment I pause to breathe, I can’t help but think this: Yes, it’s not all bad. But is it as good as it should be? Is it good enough to be worth all of the pain and the toil of life? Is it good enough to satisfy the hunger of a human soul?

I identify a lot with the author of Ecclesiastes lately. “All things are full of weariness; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” The book of Ecclesiastes expresses the same sense of restlessness and disappointment I too often feel. There’s a lot on this earth with which to fill a life: work, pleasure, relationships, discoveries, wisdom. But is this really all there is?

Is it wrong to dare hope for more than what I have here?  I have asked myself if my disappointment is sin. I have wondered if I have done something to attract this stalker Disappointment. Have I left out the welcome mat of my heart for it? I have mulled over the distinctions between disappointment and discontentment. I have explored sermons about the sin of discontentment or ingratitude. I’ve wondered over and over again what is wrong with me that I can’t be more easily satisfied. Is the deep hunger I feel my own fatal flaw?

Yes, there are times when I blame my restlessness or disappointment on not having been given something specific here on earth; on a perfect job or dream or marriage or family life that I pined after and didn’t get. And I need to get over that because it’s a lie and because it robs me of the appreciation I might feel for the gifts God has given me. They truly are wonderful gifts. But they were never meant to fulfill me. Perfect satisfaction won’t come from anything I’ll find here on earth. So should I just ignore the hunger I feel, blaming it on brokenness, chastising myself for not being satisfied with the things I have on earth that are good enough?

This thing, this longing, it’s a persistent bugger. It is something that I can’t seem to just wish or gratitude-list away, this desire for More. There is a hunger in me that simply refuses to be satisfied with all that I experience in this world, even all the best of the things here on earth….

….And when I look at the Bible, I’m not sure that there’s anything wrong with that hunger. In fact, I think there’s biblical support that confirms that we were not built to be satisfied by this world.   1 Corinthians 15:19 says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

When I read in Hebrews about ” a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” I begin to realize I’ve gone wrong imagining hope as a balloon that would lift me above the circumstances of my life.  In fact, I may need to bring the precious balloon I manufactured myself to the cross and give it up altogether.  But maybe that’s not such a big sacrifice for a hope that is an anchor that tethers me to a heavenly habitation. One that relentlessly draws me up instead of pulling me down.  One anchored in a love from which I can’t be separated.  One that has been secured by Someone who promises immeasurably more than all that even I, perhaps the loftiest of lofty dreamers,  could ever ask or even imagine.

If we follow that rope all the way up to where it leads us behind that veil, we find that the anchor has been tied to the throne of God by Christ himself by His work on our behalf on the cross.  He did this because we were actually created to be in relationship with that God. We were designed to long to be in Him who is the source and fullness of all radiance, power, awe, might, majesty, light, life, glory, grace, truth, justice, mercy and goodness. No wonder I am disappointed with all I find here on earth!

So the hunger is not the sin. In fact, it is this hunger that causes us to reach out to taste and see that the Lord is good. There is a blessing in hungering. Because those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for being in that perfect state of relationship with God, will be satisfied. The truth is that if we were not afflicted by this hunger, we might not be motivated to seek the perfect food. Being easily satisfied, we might stop short of seeking and finding and filling ourselves with the Bread of life.

So yes, I have to be careful that I don’t deceive myself into thinking that this plague of disappointment I feel will end when the circumstances of my life change. But rather than beating myself up every time I feel it, could I use it as a reminder that there is a reality of More? And pray that I could see and smell and taste and feel some of it, of Him and of His Kingdom, here on this earth.

Please Lord, let your Kingdom come.  Let it even come here and now in my water-logged, mortgaged, suburban house with my kids screaming at me in the background. Within the boundaries of this habitation and the ordinary life I live, as I grope, let me find You. Because I know then that this soul, yes even this ravenously hungry soul, will be satisfied.

” …and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and exist”  Acts 17:26-28



Christians, Emotions and “The Truth”

I was born in Minnesota to parents of mostly Swedish and English heritage. As if the genetic stock weren’t good enough reason to master the arts of passive-aggression and suppression , the tundra-like plains of the prairies in winter are no place for feelings.   Generations of hearty Minnesotans survived frigid, stark conditions probably specifically because they were not overly sensitive. Those Swedish farmers  just buried their feelings right along with the potatoes.  Now that I’m an adult and I’m finally privy to the honest version of some  family history, I can see that plenty of those things didn’t actually stay buried with the potatoes forever.

I used to think that people who always maintained their emotions, neatly kept within a certain acceptable range, were stronger than me and that those who never seemed to have any negative emotions, like anger or fear or disappointment, were probably better Christians than me altogether.  I fought very hard for a long time to try to have the “right” feelings and to not feel things so deeply. I still struggle with a lot of shame not being able to be one of those Christian women with a sweet and gentle smile perpetually on her face. I heard a lot growing up in the church about how we shouldn’t give too much clout to our feelings, because they weren’t “truth.”  (Yep, I’m coming back to that one later.)

So when I started seeing anger seeping out over the last few years since I’ve become a parent, I thought something was wrong with me. I had never really thought of myself as an angry person and, in fact, had a hard time admitting when I was mad at someone. Being angry seemed like one of those not “right” emotions.  Sure, I could get angry at injustices like genocide and oppression, but only because that seemed like righteous indignation more than anger.  I didn’t think I had a right to get angry about things that happened to me because they didn’t measure up to that level of injustice. Things that happened to me weren’t important enough to afford me the right to that emotion.

I’m starting to finally unravel the mystery of why becoming a parent unearthed those feelings of anger that had been buried in me.  But now I have to figure out what to do with them. I still live in a culture where emotions are clearly not things that you take out in polite company.

But is that truly the most “Christian” or even sane way to live?

Something in me really changed the day that I remembered that David, primary author of the Psalms, was described in Acts as “A man after God’s own heart.”  I mean have you read the Psalms? They are most definitely saturated with emotions.  Fear, despair, awe, love, betrayal, confusion, abandonment, devotion, thankfulness, insecurity, bliss, anxiety, they’re all there. Expressions of these unmistakably strong and often enough “negative” feelings are included in the very word of God!

In writing the Psalms, David  honestly and even graphically pours out his emotions to God.  There is a pattern often repeated in the Psalms in which he first expresses his anguish, fear, despair or doubt, second recalls God’s character and then thirdly, as a response to his meditations on the goodness and faithfulness of God towards him,  offers praise and thanksgiving.  I’ve come to use this as a pattern upon which to build my own conversations with God or about God, especially when blogging.

This last week or two I’d been struggling with some things and so I was digging around in the Psalms again for encouragement.  I opened up to Psalm 38 and read through and then, finding it didn’t exactly end on an uplifting note per the pattern I’d expected, started into Psalm 39 as well, hoping it would somehow get better.

I said, “I will guard my ways
That I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle
While the wicked are in my presence.”
I was mute and silent,
I refrained even from good,
And my sorrow grew worse.
My heart was hot within me,
While I was musing the fire burned;
Then I spoke with my tongue

In the opening verses, it appears that David is going through something very intense with emotions to match. He seems to have been so disturbed that he was bridling his tongue, even choosing not to let any good words come out, for fear of saying something not-so-great in the presence of non-believers, perhaps for fear of leading them to believe He didn’t really have enough faith in God. But as he suppressed his emotions, he found that his sorrow only got worse and that he felt as though he was burning up inside.  I noticed a cross reference in my bible to Jeremiah 20:9 in which something similar seems to plague Jeremiah:  But if I say, “I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,” Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it. 

Holding things in didn’t seem to be doing anything good for either of these guys. They seem to be challenging the old idiom “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So I began to think about how I might have been getting overly concerned again, particularly in blogging, with wrapping everything up in a nice and pretty package. Maybe it was alright to not always end on an “up” note.

Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean that my only and immediate reaction to what life throws at me has to be happiness or peaceful acceptance.  In fact, it isn’t a surprise to God when we feel troubled by what is happening in life.  He says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”  He then goes on to say “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Sometimes I think we skip too quickly to the “but” in that statement of truth.

I don’t know if it is a Minnesota thing or what, but I have some people very close to me who have a difficult time talking about what they are feeling because they think of it as complaining.  In fact, I love one person who feels so strongly about this that she won’t even tell her own doctor about some significant and real ailments she’s facing for fear that it would be complaining.

As a mother who hears her fair share of complaints daily, I can certainly see the downside of complaining.   Lately, I’ve been thinking about the difference between complaining and expressing emotion.  My latest working definition is this: Complaining is about persisting to  express our displeasure about a situation to someone who doesn’t want to hear about them or to a person who cannot or will not do anything to help.

When we’re reading the Bible, we’re seeing stories unfold with characters who aren’t always at a place where they can wrap everything up in a nice bow of perfect understanding and faith.  In the context of the verse I quoted from John 16 verse above there are just going to be plenty of times in which we are still in the “many trials and sorrows” part of the story.  Maybe we’re moving towards it, but we  simply haven’t yet gotten to the “But take heart!” part.

This verse in John 16 appears at the very end of a whole chapter in John in which Jesus is describing and acknowledging the reality of weeping, lamenting, anguish, pain and grieving that we will experience in this world.   And as you read the chapter,  He doesn’t tell us to just stuff all of our emotions in.  He is encouraging us that when those painful emotions inevitably come upon us, we should go to our Father and ask Him for what we need to make our joy complete. It’s not about donning our special, Christian happy face or just suddenly conjuring up some faith from out of thin air.  We are instructed in Lamentations, in fact to “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!”

And we hear this going on over and over again throughout His perfect story.  We hear Jesus cry out to His Father, agonizing about why He has forsaken Him, because sometimes apparently silently and stoically bearing our emotions just doesn’t cut it!  

Rachel bitterly weeping at losing her children because maybe sometimes a pretty cry is actually just not appropriate.

David dancing and leaping for joy, recklessly even, because maybe there are times when it might actually be wrong to hold it all in.

I am not advocating here for letting our emotions rule us and having the final say in all that is reality to us.  And certainly there are plenty of admonitions in the Bible not to let our tongue or our emotions lead us to sin.  But to have emotions is not to sin.  And what I am suggesting is that to hide them might not be truth.

This brings me to that big issue that I hope the church is moving past: This idea that feelings are not truth or that having negative emotions is evidence of lack of faith. When Jesus wept at his friend’s death, got angry at greedy profiteers, or agonized over God forsaking Him, was he acting out of unbelief?  Was anything about what he was doing NOT truth?

So, taking our example from Jesus, what exactly should we do with this sometimes painful reality of emotions with which we live? Recognize them. Feel them. Certainly don’t get stuck in them, but don’t ignore them either.  Deal with them, bringing them always to the One person for whom our emotions are never “too much” and who, in fact, time and time again entreats us to come to Him with our burdens, worries and cares.  And maybe bring them to one or two other humans as well.

 And when it comes to blogging I’m starting to think, perhaps always ending on an “up” note isn’t just a sort of a dishonest and inauthentic way of representing myself and my relationship with God.  Maybe smoothing things over too much actually isn’t expressing enough faith in God.  Because faith isn’t about always being happy.  It’s about representing a life in which, even when things are inevitably difficult, I’m waiting on, hoping for and expecting an answer from a God who I trust is capable of handling it all– even my emotions.

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For those unable to put the oxygen mask on yourself first

I remember it as an old-fashioned bike painted shiny black and it was heavy. Or at least it felt heavy to me. I was probably eleven and the bike was made for a man, not a child. The problem of the bike’s weight was compounded by the large kiddie seat molded from grey plastic that was firmly bolted to the back. If I sat down on the bike’s seat my toes couldn’t quite reach the ground, so to ride it I had to balance on the pedals while standing, swinging my body from one side to the other over the metal bar in the middle. Everything about that man-sized bike was unwieldy to my child-sized self. It wasn’t a bike I rode for fun, it was the one required to perform my assigned duty of picking-up my little sister from daycare.

To ride this beast of a bike, I’d throw one leg over the middle bar to get on and then kick my feet against the ground a few steps to gain some momentum. Once it was moving forward, I’d hop up, one foot and then the other, pushing the pedals down hard to keep going. I’d carve a swervey, tippy line down the busy road, kicking up dust as I hugged the shoulder trying to avoid getting into the cars’ way. On the downhills, I made an effort at respite by sitting while I could. But the up hills were really a trick. Even on days when the sun’s rays didn’t beat on my neck, I’d get hot prickles of sweat from the exertion of pushing that heavy bicycle up the hill. It was a cumbersome and awkward venture, one that always made me self-conscious of who might be driving by.

When I’d reached the daycare, I’d loaded up my pudgy, baby sister into the child’s seat. If I didn’t have an adult to help me, I’d have to balance the bike against my hip to keep it upright while twisting and bending to lift and heft her up, buckling her in. Then I’d start the process all over again, getting on and moving the three of us now- the bike, the wriggling toddler and me-down the road. Tipping and turning, it was perhaps sheer will rather than strength or skill that kept us upright. I was never quite in full physical control of that bike. I was aware it could have easily come to a disasterous end if I lost my balance, me or my sister propelling through the air, scraped skin bloody with road rash and pocked with implanted gravel. A few times, I remember slipping off the pedals, trying to catch the bike’s weight against my body before my sister hit the ground.

Fortunately nothing worse than bloodied knees were the casualties of those clunky, ponderous rides. It wasn’t really a venture designed for a child. But really, looking back, there were a lot of bikes I was asked to ride that weren’t actually fit for a child; adult-sized responsibilities that shouldn’t have been mine, burdens too heavy for a kid to gracefully bear.

I was the type of kid who took responsibility when it was given to me, clasping it as if it were a gift. As the oldest of five kids, it felt good to be useful. When my parents were pleased with me, I was pleased with myself. Each time I was asked to do something, I saw it as a sign that I had some value to others.

I must have been good at taking responsibility because soon enough it was given to me a lot. As early as I can remember I was often left to care for other children, first for small spurts of time and later for much longer. Hours grew to long days and as years went by, I remember times when one day would pile on top of another, sometimes without knowing when to expect the adult to return. There was a lot of waiting. I remember often feeling the strain of anxious tension, a child carrying a heavy load, wondering when I’d be free to hand off the responsibility, throw off the weight and be released.  I would long for someone to say, “You don’t have to worry, I’ll take care of that.”  But it wasn’t just being relieved of responsibility that I ached for.  It was for someone to say, “You don’t have to worry, I’ll take care of you.”

I don’t think it is wrong for children to be given some responsibilities or for siblings to help care for each other. But something changed in me, I think, when caretaker stopped being an activity and it started being an identity.

Just like that cumbersome bike sometimes felt like it might crush me, I think that the disproportionate sense of responsibility I felt when I was little outweighed my sense of self. As the child’s job of becoming who I was became eclipsed by my duties to others, “you are responsible” started to become a bigger reality than “you are Rachel.”

Eventually when we get older, we all bear more responsibility which can be difficult but ultimately fulfilling when developed appropriately. Most of us, like weight lifters, have built up the ability to bear that weight slowly, over the course of several decades. But when it happens too young, we develop inappropriately. We bear more weight than we should on our child’s frame and our disposition towards responsibility distorts.

As we grow, we get so used to feeling that disproportionate heaviness that it feels strange to be without it. We find ourselves as adults taking on more than we should, even taking responsibilities for things we shouldn’t, threading more and more weight onto our barbell until we experience that familiar almost crushing experience that we did in childhood.

Our outlook on the world and our place in it also becomes ill-formed. We develop a perspective that is so used to looking out for others that it seems wrong to sometimes look out for ourselves first. I’m still pretty sure if I were in a plane accident with my children, I’d be almost physically unable to honor the flight attendants admonition to please put the oxygen mask on myself first.

And if that’s not enough, it feels even stranger still when somebody else tries to watch out for us. I feel a deep sense of discomfort every time someone offers to help me.

I saw tweeted the other day the question: Who were you before someone told you who you should be?

Who was that me before Responsible and Caretaker became my identity? I was creative. I was a child that saw fairies in the moonlight and tiny worlds in the woods. I was convinced that nature sprung to life, dancing and singing, when we weren’t looking.

In going through boxes of my childhood things, I found evidence of poems and songs and plays that I had written in those early years. Before I learned to be the bearer of heavy things, I was fanciful. I was lighter before I had to develop those responsibility-wielding muscles. I had time to fill my head with “to be” lists rather than “to do” lists. I was a bleary-eyed dreamer who saw the future in softly-lit, glowing possibilities instead of a sentinel who had to keep perpetually open the watchful eye of responsibility.

Yes, I’m describing a cotton candy world that is airy-fairy and sentimental. But I was in grade school! That was what I was supposed to be like. I was supposed to be like a child.

Previously, when I heard people speak of having faith like a child, I understood it to be an intellectual simplicity. It seemed I was being admonished to push aside rational or scholarly concerns and just accept what was being told. This always disturbed me.

But now that I have children myself I think about having faith like a child entirely differently.

When I am with my children, they do not doubt that I am the one who is looking out for them. (Psalm 91)

That I will come for them when they call. (Micah 7:7)

They take for granted that it is my job to supply their needs, not their job. (Philippians 4:19)

When we go out, they just assume that I know when it is time to come and when it is time to go from a place (though they might complain a bit). (Psalm 121:8)

And that I will carry them when they get tired. (Isaiah 46:4)

They trust that if they get lost I will come for them. (Luke 15:4-6)

And they actually think it is silly and ridiculous if I try to give them a load too heavy for them. They assume it is a joke, in fact. (Psalm 68:19)

In Matthew 25, Jesus says, starting in verse 25, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Jesus knows that children would not doubt the way He is about to describe a loving Father! LISTEN to this verse with faith like a child.  Let this sink in today:

He goes on to say in verse 28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

I am praying for myself and for any who read this who feel themselves loaded heavy, burdened low– that we would have faith like a child today. That we would be confident in our Father who has made it his job, not ours, to daily bear our burdens (Psalm 68:19).

I love this passage in Psalms in particular in the King James Version. It actually reads, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah. In this version, the picture is not just of him taking on our burdens, but actually loading us up with benefits! This is the reality of life with Him that I want to know. Not only does he ask us to cast our burdens on Him, but then he gives us an easy yoke and a light burden. Admittedly, in past readings of the passage in Matthew, I’ve thought to myself, “Well geez, if you’re such a powerful and mighty and loving God, can we just skip the burdens altogether?” But today as I reflect on the KJV of Psalm 68:19 I’m letting myself wonder if this is, in fact, the kind of burden He had in mind: He daily loadeth us with benefits! Could it be? And how does this change everything!?!

Sometimes I wonder what I might have become if I could have been childlike a little longer. Would I have developed my creative gifts more? Would I have thought of myself as a writer instead of perpetually sublimating that part of myself to being a caretaker? If I hadn’t grown up under a heavy load, would I have stretched higher to achieve greater success in other areas of my life? A part of me still grieves these paths not taken. But I also know that I am the child of a God who redeems, who restores lost years (Joel 2:25).  For me, that is part of the reason I’m writing again.

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This is an excerpt from an essay I wrote a few weeks ago applying for a fellowship to visit Zambia and write about mother to child AIDS transmission. I’m sharing it here because it speaks a bit to the issues rising up in the adoption world these last couple of years. Jen Hatmaker blogged about them yesterday here quite eloquently.

To be the vessel for new life is a spectacular occurrence. The alternating and sometimes simultaneous experiences of ethereal excitement and weighty responsibility can pull on a woman, splitting and stretching her, the spiritual mirroring the physical preparation for the birth that is to come. My first experience getting ready for motherhood was all about trying to harness every ounce of control I could to apply it towards the future health and well-being of my child.  I was armed with an MPH and a lifecourse perspective on public health, affording me the not-always-so-helpful knowledge that every single thing I did or put on or in or allowed to be around me could affect my future child’s well-being and general success as a human being. So I……Well basically, I worried.  A lot. I was fiercely protective, monitoring every breath, every bite, every personal care product I allowed to enter into a certain radius of my person. But the fact is, though this was a draining experience, it was also one I was allowed because I live in an environment of choices and privilege. And that’s the environment into which my first daughter was born.

My second experience preparing for motherhood couldn’t have been more different. I had absolutely no control over what my child was exposed to before she entered my arms. We adopted our second daughter from E. Africa with absolutely no knowledge about her medical or family history. As an infant somewhere between approximately five months and a year old, she had been found on the street and multiple investigations had turned up no leads about her first family or her life before us.  Our knowledge of her health history begins when she came into the care of the babies home in fragile condition and with multiple health issues. Though we don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding my second daughter’s entry into this world, we are almost certain she was not born into an environment with nearly as many choices or privileges.

Every single adoptive family is formed through loss. My daughter lost her first family. We don’t know if they relinquished care of her willingly or felt compelled by tragic circumstances.  We don’t know what lack of privileges or choices, what kind of death, disease, neglect or abuse, environmental toxins, inadequate nutrition, lack of medical attention, chemical dependency, mental health issues, relational difficulties or despair might have been part of the environment in which her first mother carried her and birthed her. But whatever the circumstances that led to that moment of abandonment on that city street, we know that it must have been a heartwrenching event likely motivated by desperation. And as a family whose branches of our family tree are now grafted together with the first family of our daughter, we will always grieve that moment and honor it as the story of another human being, someone without the same choices and privileges with which I was graced, doing the best she could within the circumstances of her life.

I am haunted by that story of which I know so little; that story that is now an integral part of our identity as a family. And I am ever aware that the burden of loss borne by our daughter and her first family have resulted in our being given the choice and privilege of raising her as our daughter. Someone else’s scarcity of privileges and choices increased mine. It is a sobering fact.

When Jen Hatmaker discusses the  issue of ethical concerns in adoption, she does a great job of highlighting the fact that adoption is big business. It is an institution that is already intertwined with the tragedy and injustices I discussed in my essay above, but it is an institution that is also being bolstered by corruption. Corruption has become the ugly, insidious, weedy vine that seems to wind its way up and all throughout the walls of this institution, making it difficult to know  how tall the walls of that institution could have been built and how long they could even stand if that weed were killed dead. It’s a weed that thrives in darkness, unfurling its tendrils and stretching into every place it can take hold when it is allowed to grow unchecked by the light of truth. But we know we have to come against that corruption mightily, shining brightly the light of truth, even pulling up the roots that are entrenched deeply and pervasively in the soil. But what is difficult to reconcile is that when that happens, when we decimate that weed, we’re going to see some things crumble, perhaps even some things about the institution of adoption that are otherwise good.

If I’m being totally honest, to be a relatively new adoptive parent, being a family formed by adoption in the last 5 years, seeing this weed exposed and cut down is something that comes with very mixed feelings. I am sickened and disgusted by the stories we’ve heard coming out of the adoption world of birth families being coerced, incentivized, manipulated and worse in order to supply the adoption pipeline. I am enraged that children have been bought and sold because “supply” was lower than “demand.” And this is where things get really painful to admit: I have felt fear, guilt and shame as each story that came to light started to threaten that weedy vine. I imagined the walls that supported our own story start to look dangerously crumbly. The possibility that me and my family have contributed in any way whatsoever to an institution infiltrated by such evils is one that casts long, dark shadows on my feelings about adoption and my own adoptive motherhood. It is a devastating possibly and one that leaves me wanting to scramble desperately to find ways to redeem any wrongs of which we might have been a part. It is so very scary.

Every parent holds deep fears of what would happen if they lost their child. But for an adoptive parent, these fears are based on the reality that we hold onto our children through the grace of other governments, governments that aren’t always stable. Our children are “ours” because of laws and policies that could change at any time. Could our family change just as easily? Those fears feel very close to the surface as awareness is raised about the complexities of adoption ethics. To those who are not adoptive parents this might sound ridiculous, but I can barely breathe sometimes wondering if things could change enough that my daughter might somehow be taken away or that the stability and integrity of our family unit might somehow be threatened.

So when I think about this revolution in adoption awareness, I’m pulled in seemingly opposite directions: One in which I am fiercely protective of my family and the way it was formed and the other in which I feel compelled to raise the banner for other mothers who don’t have the privileges I have. I want to raise my voice within the sisterhood of mothers to call for justice and for compassion so that all moms who desire can be empowered to hold their children as close as I want to hold mine.

What I want to hope is that this isn’t a situation in which the pull is in opposite directions. I want to believe that I can hold my children tight and be proud of our story and our identity as a family and ALSO work against corruption in adoption and on behalf of other mothers. And maybe there is a place where these two seemingly opposite instincts can stand together.

When I feel myself sink into fear and feel like staying in the darkness seems somehow safer, I will ask myself what I believe about the Light.

I believe that truth and light go hand-in-hand and that fear and darkness are similarly entwined. And I believe that He who is light and in whom there is no darkness at all is at work in this. Therefore, I will not be afraid of the light, I will welcome it. I will trust that light ultimately will bring redemption and life to birth families, to adoptees, to adoption and adoptive families, not darkness and destruction.

But I will also work against the shame that is lurking around families like mine who have adopted and that threatens to be part of the environment in which my daughter is raised. Yes, we know that our family story is laced with tragedy. And we would never choose for our family’s story to have been written on the same pages as a larger adoption narrative in which corruption and injustice have been main characters. But if we shrink back, then we are not in the light.  And shame is a creature of the darkness.  So I am only feeding it if I choose to live there, too. Could it be that welcoming the light of truth will not only kill the weed of corruption but ultimately strangle shame as well?

I don’t understand why this thing has been allowed to so powerfully influence something that  is so close to God’s heart.  I know he cares deeply about adoption, about families, about the poor, about widows, about orphans and yet these are the victims of this ugly weed.  But I do know that I believe in the God of Joseph about whom it can be said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive…” In this story, I don’t know who is the “you.” Is it willfully ignorant adoptive parents or corrupt officials or any who, purposely or not,  perpetuate poverty or oppression or broken families?  There is plenty of evil in the world, in every individual and in every system we build. It’s hard to distinguish who is the enemy in this story.  But what is clear is who the good is. And I will stand in Him and trust that life will be brought out of this.  

I have so much more rushing through my brain and my heart today as I think about these things. But I’ve already spoken more words than I “should” in a blogpost, so please forgive me. I haven’t spoken them perfectly and they are coming out of a place of rawness today, so hopefully there will be grace from you, dear reader, as my thoughts and feelings evolve through this.


Part 2 of My humble submission to the conversation about Gosnell, abortion and hormonal contraceptives

First of all, let me start by saying that I don’t intend for this essay to be one in which I attempt to make a decision for every woman when it comes to birth control. Rather I want to share why I personally have made the decision not to use hormonal birth control. Please read Part 1 of this essay for important context for this, Part 2.

A zygote is a single cell with all the genetic information necessary to form a human being. It is formed by the merger of two gamete cells. As discussed in my last post, zygotes may be destroyed by the use of hormonal birth control.

If I start from infancy and work my way backwards, a human life gets smaller and smaller and perhaps bears less and less physical resemblance to myself. But from the moment two gametes met and you or I became a zygote, you and I were an utterly unique human being (we now know that even identical twins are not identical genetically). Not even the coldest and hardest of sciences will deny that something mysterious (some might even say miraculous), happens when two cells from two separate and distinct human beings meet and merge to form one single-celled human organism, a third separate and distinct individual with all of the genetic information necessary to fully build an adult human being if allowed to continue life along a natural course.

A zygote may be too tiny to see and it may be too delicate to survive outside of the womb, but there are no questions that human life begins with that single cell. The question for scientists has not been whether or not a zygote is a human life, it has been whether or not a zygote can be defined as a person. That distinction between a human and a person is the foundation for an ethical discussion about how we determine whether the life of one human has enough worth or value to offer it the same protections and rights as another human. In my own mind, this distinction between a human and a person felt rather artificially constructed and that is why I started wrestling with these issues.

When I consider whether or not a fetus (or an embryo or a zygote, depending on the number of cells) has value or worth comparable to a human outside of the womb, I end up asking certain questions that inevitably challenge my own understanding of the value or worth of any person. If one does not choose the zygote as the beginning of human life, then every other point chosen begins to feel rather arbitrary, especially when we try to apply it to other people living outside of the womb. 

For example, what happens to a culture of life if we judge the worth or value of another* human being based on his or her:

  • Consciousness. Are we less human when we are dreaming?
  • Heartbeat. If our heart stops beating during a surgery, do we stop being a person in that moment? And if we do, do we become another person if we are revived? Is a person using a pacemaker less human?
  • Number of cells. What number of cells should we choose as the number that constitutes a person? If we lose a certain number of cells via our skin sloughing off or if we lose an entire arm, even, do we cease being a person?
  • Geography/Location. Why does it matter that a person is inside the womb or outside of the womb any more than it matters if she is in the United States or Uganda. If I put my fist in my mouth, does it stop being a fist?
  • Age. Does it matter if a human is 4 months gestational age or 8 months from birth any more than it matters if they are 4 years old or 80 years old.
  • Viability. If we determine whether or not a human is worthy of being giving a chance to continue to live based on how long a human could survive outside of their dependence on another person, we would deny the truth of the inter-dependence of all people. Our dependency on other people is highlighted in utero and in infancy but is actually just as true in mid-life and old age as well. Furthermore, a human’s value while they are alive is not diminished by how close to death they might be. What might their last days mean to someone else or even to themselves? Who should be able to determine when to cut a life short?
  • Dependence on medical technology. Many humans live longer because of medical interventions that range from devices that regulate a heartbeat to medications taken daily. And the state or availability of these medical technologies change almost daily, not to mention that their availability differs from hospital to hospital and there are great injustices in the way s they are distributed social-economically. Should the value of a life depend on something so capricious as the state or availability of science? And if a person does or does not depend on medical interventions to survive, who has the right to determine whether or not this life is less valuable? This brings me to the next question-
  • Quality-of-life as determined by someone else. This is an incredibly subjective value. Talk to any number of people with a disability or life-limiting condition and ask them how much their life is worth or how much value they place on living another day and you will find that their answers are as unique and diverse as they are. Their responses may also depend on the day and hour that you ask them.
  • Impact on/cost to society. How can we know how much good or how much harm any individual might pour out onto this earth? Who can determine for someone else the value of granting, via expensive medical intervention, one more month of life? How can we measure the impact of a person’s future actions if they were allowed to live? Is a person born without disabilities, who does not require any medical interventions really more valuable than a person who enters this world with a body that requires an immediate outpouring of medical attention? Is the life of a person born with Down’s Syndrome less valuable than the life of someone like Hitler?
  • Ability to feel pain, experience certain emotions or to think critically. There are all sorts of medical and mental conditions that limit these abilities in human beings outside of the womb, so to define the value or worth of a person based on these criteria is problematic.

*I think that it is important to mention that I think that we as individuals of sound mind can make some of these decisions as they relate to our own lives. But I think we come very close to playing a role that is not ours when we begin making these decisions for someone else, specifically another human being who has not made their own wishes known.

You may think that I’m spending too much time highlighting subtleties in this discussion when, in fact, people really only feel the need to make these determinations in dramatic situations. But the truth is, that there is a significant proportion of the public that would condone drastic action for circumstances that are not at all very extreme. In my thesis, for example, I cited studies that found a significant portion of the population in a variety of countries is in favor of allowing termination of a pregnancy for conditions such as two missing fingers, short stature or even limited musical talent.

So after I ask myself all the above questions, I am left with very few places to draw the line. If every other criteria for personhood seems too arbitrary, and if I try applying those criteria to other human beings outside the womb and find myself challenged to uphold a consistent culture of life, then I am left with no other place to begin than the zygote. Though I continue to wrestle with these issues, my personal decision is made until I can determine with greater certainty that by taking hormonal birth control I am not taking an action that might predictably and directly end the life of another person.

So that is the ground on which I stand. It is terrain that is more than a little uncomfortable and it is relatively undefined territory, still being explored by science and ethics. So I am willing to admit I might be wrong about where I choose to honor the beginning of human life. But ultimately, it comes down to this: If I err, I would rather err on the side of life than destruction. When it comes down to it, if I have to answer for human lives I have been responsible for taking, I would rather there be fewer.

 Because of the length of the post addressing this single topic, I will need to take another post to discuss why I feel our society could benefit from learning to place greater emphasis on the humanity of babies before they are born.


My humble submission to the conversation about Gosnell, abortion and hormonal contraceptives, Part 1

I very seriously considered not writing this post about abortion, birth control and the “culture of life.” This issue is not one to bring up if you want to win friends or followers. It makes people uncomfortable. It brings out the worst in people. It puts up walls between me and some of the closest of my friends. I’d also like to clarify that I am not, in these posts, suggesting any particular over-arching legal or policy solutions.  I am merely examining an ethical framework upon which I’ve built my positions. 

So why am I daring to tread here (i.e. some background and some street cred.)?

I read last week a post by Rachel Held Evans and I can’t stop thinking about it. So, I guess it’s time to sit down and start writing about it. First of all, I feel like I need to offer a little background to give you some context for why I’m entering into this conversation. I was a peace studies and political science double major in college. I have been actively involved in social justice causes and have been known even to get arrested at peaceful demonstrations against weapons like landmines that are known to inordinately affect civilian populations and against US policies and training that support human-rights abusers. My convictions run deep in the area of social justice.

 After college, I went on to pursue my MPH in maternal and child health. I did my Master’s thesis on the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of health professionals towards the human fetus as a patient. Throughout the pursuit of my MPH, I focused on reproductive health and I was often put in a position where I had to defend my pro-life stance both from a scientific and a moral framework. I lost friends, was professionally isolated and had to appeal to the department head more than once because I was unfairly docked grades due to my beliefs. So clearly, in addition to the more typical range of social justice issues for which I hold deep convictions, my convictions are also strong in this area.

Why I don’t think I’m actually all that weird or crazy

What I have a hard time understanding is why I am so often alone (and sometimes ostracized) for this combination of beliefs. To me, these are not conflicting areas of concern. They represent what I consider a value system that supports a culture of life. (I plan on addressing this in greater depth in a later post).

 So, Rachel Held Evans last week posted about some of her thoughts on the Gosnell trial. There were many things that she said that resonated with me. I identify as pro-life but like her, I have serious issues with the hypocrisy of talking about a “culture of life” but then advancing public policies that proliferate death by placing preference on profit above people, war-making to peace-making and ignoring the needs of other humans until their desperation has reached such a clamor that it finally offended someone into paying attention.

 Like her, I feel “stuck in the middle” of these debates. Can’t we care both about the woman and about the baby she carries? Aren’t there a lot of policies we can agree with the common goal of desiring to reduce abortions? Can’t we be less self-righteous and more self-sacrificial when it comes to applying solutions?

Why I think Rachel Held Evans doesn’t have it quite right

 But here’s where I respectfully part ways with the other Rachel. Held Evans touches on the issue of hormonal birth control as a potentially life-ending medication. She spends only one paragraph on it and mostly links to other stories rather than offering a direct position herself. But this one paragraph leaves us with the impression that 1) science has concluded that hormonal birth control probably doesn’t end the life of a zygote and 2) that even if it does cause a few zygotes to die, that it is a morally superior position to advocate for a population on hormonal birth control because in such a population fewer zygotes are destroyed than in one that doesn’t use birth control.

 Now please bear with me as I tread on some very difficult ground. I want to handle this issue as delicately as possible because I don’t wish to add fuel to the fire that has been responsible for scorching women who are in devastatingly difficult circumstances and burning bridges that could lead to consensus-building and finding positive solutions around this issue.

 I think that these impressions left by Ms. Held Evans misrepresent the truth. If I’m really honest, I’ll admit that I believe them to be more than misrepresentative, I consider them potentially dangerous (will discuss the strength of this word in next post). If I did not feel that way, I wouldn’t bother to weigh in on this rather painful topic. I plan to spend at least two posts on this, the first one outlining where I think Ms. Held Evans may have reached improper conclusions about the issue of hormonal birth control as an “abortifacient.” Next post, I plan to delve into the topic of why in the world I actually would dig my own blogging grave by defending the value of the life of a zygote.

What happens when bloggers play Telephone

 So here goes the first part of this discussion: In regards to her first assertion, to reach what appears to be a relatively firm conclusion that hormonal birth control does not end the life of a zygote, Ms. Held Evans refers other articles including one by Libby Anne in Patheos (who makes her argument based on other online articles, including a NY Times article and a separate piece by an amateur blogger named Sarah) and another one by Christianity today. None of these sources is scientific, but the bloggers refer in one way or another to what is characterized as “an increasing pile of evidence” that suggests that hormonal birth control may not block implantation.

Here I need to make a brief but highly relevant digression regarding a pet peeve of mine in blogging: Bloggers sometimes arrive at foregone conclusions by referring back to another well-written blogpost that is based on yet an earlier cleverly-articulated blogpost that someone wrote when they read an article in a magazine that referred in passing to an actual scientific study. At the end of the day, no one can even name the scientific study to which they are referring or speak with any true authority about whether or not it was even a good study or if there are any other studies out there that support that one single study. Each blogger is just taking the word of every blogger that went before them and relying on the blogger’s ability (and integrity) to translate scientific information. It’s like a horrible game of “Telephone” where there is the very real possibility that thousands of readers could end up with very bad, very dangerous information.

 Back to the point, the way that I understand this issue of whether a zygote is potentially destroyed when using hormonal birth control is that there has not yet been a definitive scientific conclusion reached. As far as I can discern from the actual body of research, it is possible that hormonal birth control could lead to the destruction of a zygote. And if you read back through the trackbacks from one blog to another, you will actually find that this is, in fact, what was said by the studies referred to by the bloggers. The studies didn’t say that zygotes were not destroyed, they said that they may not be destroyed by use of hormonal birth control, but that the science is not yet conclusive. For any of us who believe that life starts at fertilization, this is a critical distinction. (When and if science is able to conclude that hormonal birth control does not lead to the destruction of zygotes, I would be more than happy to use it. I do not otherwise have moral objections to hormonal contraceptives.) 

So here’s where it starts to get pretty messy….

 I believe Rachel Held Evans missteps a second time in the process of putting forward her case. She asserts that “the pill actually reduces the number of zygotes naturally rejected by a woman’s body.” She makes this statement based on a calculation made by another blogger who reminds her readers that under natural circumstances, without the aid of any pill or outside influence, almost 20% of all zygotes are miscarried. When a woman is on the pill, fewer zygotes are created so ultimately fewer zygotes are miscarried. Her conclusion seems to be that we should encourage women to be on the pill so that fewer zygotes will be destroyed overall.

There are one or two pretty important weaknesses in an argument built around this particular ethical framework. The blogger is trying to make the argument that birth control decreases the number of zygote deaths.  However, the actual mortality rate in the population of zygotes increases by using hormonal birth control. In rough terms, a mortality rate is calculated by dividing the number of individuals that die in a population by the overall number of individuals in a population. Without any particular intervention in the course of normal human reproduction, zygotes are created and then approximately 18% of them are naturally rejected by the uterus. With hormonal birth control, fewer zygotes are created but 100% of zygotes are rejected by the uterus. And notice one other important factor: In the first circumstance, zygotes have experienced a death by natural causes.  In the second case, the zygotes experienced a death that is completely attributable to the pill. I do not believe it is an ethical solution to introduce certain death by chemical causes into a population in order to prevent potential death from natural causes. The end does not always justify the means.  

Now if we concede that a zygote is not human life, we can more easily dispense with the moral issues I’ve just discussed. But for me personally, this is difficult to do. And after reading Rachel Held Evans’ piece, I do not get the impression that she has definitively reached the conclusion that a zygote is not a human either. I believe the argument Ms. Held Evans is articulating is that a zygote does not have equal moral standing with a human being that is already born. These are the issues I would like to engage in my next post…..


When it’s all been sung better and brighter, why to keep singing anyway…..

Ever since I came out from under my pen name yesterday, I’ve felt like I was coming out of my skin, vulnerable and exposed. Writing is giving name and form to the intimacies of my mind and my soul.  Blogging is like bringing them out, tender, from that protected place to release into the cold and vast cosmos.  In the best case scenario they find safe landing, touching another human being willing to consider them and perhaps even invite them to find a place to rest in their heart or mind.

But all the worst case scenarios were running through my head yesterday.  What if no one cares enough to read them?  Or the horror: What if someone does read them and then wonders why I ever bothered to put them out there in the first place?  What if I run out of things to say or creative ways to say them? I’d had so much inspiration at the start, but just after I launched I found out that the very clever thing that I thought I might write about eternity had already been said, more or less, by Mr. Francis Chan. And another foundational concept of my blog, the idea of the usefulness of obscurity, has already been written about and published in book form a week ago by a Pastor named Jonathon Martin. (I haven’t read either book, but have heard both are excellent). I feared being under-talented, redundant and foolish for even taking on this blog. So many more important, more creative and more articulate people out there that everyone should be reading!

After spending a good part of the day feeling like an animal pacing a well-worn path, re-reading already published blog posts and checking and re-checking analytics on the blog, questioning my own sanity, I knew I needed to leave the house. The family decided a visit to a local nature preserve was in order.

It was a cold, wet, mushy day here in Minnesota.  We’ve gotten our hopes up several times already in recent weeks by a teasing and fickle Spring, only to have yet another sloppy and frigid slap in the face by Winter not willing to make a graceful exit. A few tufts of green have managed to make an appearance out of foolish optimism or brave persistence, I’m not sure which. Yesterday was bleak, the sun unwilling to provide a crutch on which to raise my slumping mood.  Grey Skies and brown Mud would instead press to my side, one of my arms tossed sloppily over each one as they nudged me brusquely forward to walk.

We had just come through the wooded portion of the path where very few signs of life had been present.  It was a landscape that had already died to winter, been buried in snow and then faced the exposing indignity of a messy melt. But as we rounded the corner towards the open landscape of the marsh, I was roused by the distinctive call of the Red-winged Blackbird.  My eyes scanned and found him just above me on a branch, red and yellow epaulets proudly displayed, a splash of life in a dull landscape.  And that’s all the encouragement I needed to allow hope to take root.  That one creature, that harbinger of spring, was heralding new life to me!

A few seconds later, we took another turn and a whole flock of Red-winged Blackbirds took flight, startled by our presence.  And I realized  when faced with a slew of other birds just like him- voices much the same, each with bright shoulders poised to flash, many of whom surely had carved out more important territories for mating than my bird- that my little guy was probably not so special.  But that individual little herald had been important to me.  His voice had brought hope and his presence had brought life from his little outpost on that scraggly branch that late Spring day.

Hmmmmm…. It all hit a little close to home. I may not be the most important or the most unique voice in this cacophonous and crowded flock of bloggers.  But I’ll sit here on my small branch and hope to bring some beauty and life in this place where I’m stationed.  Perhaps I’ll be the only herald for some or maybe just the first of the flock they will encounter.  But truly, of primary importance in fact, I’m not really singing for them anyway.  I’m singing for my Love and I’m singing because I have a voice.  All else should be of secondary consideration.

Does anyone else ever feel like a very inconsequential presence in a very vast universe? Or conversely, when have you found the smallest presences to be of greatest importance?


Does our culture shame mothers?

Can I beg for your grace while I try to tackle a difficult hypothesis?  Our society doesn’t really value mothering.  We give it a lot of lip service, but we do not give it a place of true honor.   It’s a business that we prefer be either prettily packaged or conducted behind closed doors.  And things that we like to keep hidden or obscured are things that we have imbued with shame.

Mothering is a job akin to plumbing or being a janitor in terms of its place of honor in our culture.   In fact, there are a lot of similarities.  Moms are people whose everyday lives revolve around cleaning up the messes that others create.  We deal in diarrhea, vomit, urine and bodily fluids of every variety, literally becoming intimately involved in the biohazardous excretions of others.  People may admit being a mom is a difficult job and we may recognize it as essential to functioning society, but we don’t want to invite one to do business while we’re dealing in the more elegant arenas of life. You don’t invite your plumber to traipse through your house fixing your toilet when you’ve got the ladies from the garden club over. I think the same is true of motherhood for most settings in our culture.

Publicly stating that our culture places shame on motherhood will invoke vehement replies that there’s nothing to be ashamed of about being a mother.  And that’s absolutely true. There’s not. But don’t you agree that the reality is the messy business of raising human beings is something that is publicly palatable when it’s sugar-coated with humor or puffy sweet like cotton candy, but not when it comes to us raw and unprocessed?   Woah to the mother who changes a poopy diaper on a mall bench, nurses a fussy baby in a community meeting or has to manage the outburst of a tantruming toddler in the grocery store. It becomes painfully evident through the glares and stares or coldly-composed, turned-away faces, that most people there would rather you take your child and your parenting behind closed doors where it won’t bother or offend others.

Parents face stony faces, eye rolls and derisive sighs when we show up at airports, restaurants, movie theaters…  Having children in tow in our culture is a social liability, not an honored position.  And even the prettier side of mothering can be met with scorn if it reaches a level we consider inordinate.  Think about the subtle way we take less seriously working moms who display too many kid art projects or “take advantage” of flexible scheduling to get to her kids’ activities.  We pity a woman at a cocktail party or  a couple at dinner with nothing more “important” to offer than anecdotes about their children.

But maybe I am just hyper-aware of all this because somewhere deep down inside, I myself felt struggle with feeling shame about being a full-time SAHM.  For a long time it was all I did and I didn’t feel like I was doing it all that well.  I had pictured what I would be like as a mom and my daily reality just simply did not measure up.  I wasn’t productive enough, patient enough, quiet enough, giving enough, satisfied enough, fulfilled enough, cheerful enough to be a “good” mom.  There is a way that we can be shamed by others and a way that we take shame upon ourselves.  For me, I think I experience both in motherhood.  And as the years go on, I am learning to separate the two and properly dispose of them.

But for now, just looking at the way that society places shame over motherhood, I think it has everything to do with the deeply mucked up way we assign value in this world. What we honor  is that which is lofty, not that which is common.  What we glorify is that which is polished, not that which is broken.  The dignified, the noble, the strong, the rich, the mighty, the famous, the beautiful….these are what our culture elevates. So as a child, when I imagined what it meant to be created by God for a purpose, I pictured myself being made famous, beautiful, noble, or dignified in order achieve exceptional things.  Instead, motherhood made me feel  duller, weaker, poorer, obscured, dumpier, frumpier, bumpier and grumpier.  Through motherhood, failing in my expectations of it and the world’s, I was stripped of everything that I thought I had that was of value to the world. What good could I be to anyone in this state, let alone the God of the Universe?

And then I remembered.  Hebrews 12:2.  Perfect, spotless, pure Jesus purposely, deliberately took on the dirty, putrid mantle of shame.  And with it, he did the most beautiful and meaningful thing in all of human history.

He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Isaiah 53:3

Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:2

If Jesus’ ultimate purpose here on earth was accomplished by him being brought low, obscured, stripped bare, broken physically and emotionally and dying a shameful death then certainly my lowly, obscured, stripped bare brokenness is not a barrier to being used by God.  In fact, maybe this spot of weakness and brokenness is exactly where all of the best stuff happens.

Shame or no shame in mothering, what the world tells me my time and my work is worth does not have anything to do with the reality of its eternal value.

When has your place of shame actually been a place of honor?


I’m the Sweating Bull in the Queen’s China Closet

This post is a part of Five Minute Friday hosted by Lisa-Jo Baker.  I may have slightly exceeded the 5 minute limit, but you’ll have to forgive me as I was trying to reach the keyboard through my 2,3 and 4 year-olds’ bodies.  But it’s probably the least-edited and most spontaneously written piece I’ve done in a long time, so the spirit is there if not the letter of the law.  😉 Today’s prompt was “Brave.”

What I like about writing under a pen name is that I can write about whatever I feel and I’m not penalized in the real world.  I can write about the gore, the chaos, the heights of elation, the depths of despair of whatever is going on in my life.  And I can walk into a coffee date with my girlfriends or a birthday celebration with my extended family or pre-school pick-up and not wonder if everyone is judging me for the way that I just poured out myself.  My emotions, my responses, my thoughts, my experiences are entirely my own.  I don’t have to modify them to make them palatable for any particular audience.

I have heard articulated (maybe by Brene Brown?) the difference between fitting in and belonging.  Essentially, belonging is connecting with people who accept you exactly for who you are, faults and all. Messes and all.  And fitting-in is connecting with a group in which you need to modify parts of who you are in order to gain membership.  Suck in, shave off, cover-up, stretch thin, round-peg-in-square-hole yourself into a relationship with someone.  I don’t do that well.  I try, but I don’t usually pull it off very gracefully.

When I try to fit in, I feel a lot like an emotional bull in a very proper, very Queen of England-esque china closet.  In order to not break the very carefully preserved sensibilities of whatever group I’m in, I just hold my breath and sit very still.  I smile and nod and feel a little gleam of sweat developing, hoping no one will notice my long, pointy horns looming dangerously close to their crystal chandelier or my fleshy rump protruding over their expensively upholstered chair arm.  Usually, I can pull it off for awhile.  But then I’ll get up to leave and not quite make it out of the room without knocking over someone’s favorite crystal vase, profusely apologizing and then wondering why I ever dared squeezing myself into that delicately-appointed parlor in the first place.

I’ve spent most of my life being afraid of there being just a little too much ME in the room. But maybe I’ve been spending too much time in the wrong rooms. And perhaps some of those rooms need a little shaking up anyway.  Maybe some dashed crystal would actually multiply the rainbows on the wall.  Or perhaps there are just a few too many china closets to begin with  in this world.

But all in all, what I really want is to belong, not fit in. I don’t want to spend more time editing than creating, holding back than connecting, being who someone wants me to be than who I am.

So I’m considering being brave and making the leap to merging my online self with my In Real Life self.  For a lot of reasons, but in no small part because fitting-in is no way to live a life.
Five Minute Friday