Thursday, January 31, 2013

Alive


Some days are for digging deep, for hunkering low to the ground, for waiting for the wave to wash over.  These days are for riding it out and for toughing through it.  These are the days passed on automatic, floating through waters of ordinary.  They are sacred in their own way, holy in their own right. 

But some days are filled with so much fire that all that dug-up dirt from ordinary seems to shine like diamonds.  On these days, when my soul is white-hot, I want to rake my fingers through those dirt diamonds and to scrub my hands in all of their broken beauty.  I want to sink, feet-first, into the black sands of the earth, to bathe in its purple gardens, and to swim through its linen air with ribbons down my back.  Leaning pines call me to swing from their lofty branches while I sprinkle love like dust, and watch as sunflowers grow out of the dusty rubble.  On soul-hot days, I want to dance beneath black rivers and to burst like light out of grey shadows. I want to cup my hands around the little faces of my flesh and to blow cool wind on their pink noses while their joy scatters like dandelion whiskers.  A day like this slips through eager fingers so quickly that it is best not to cling too tightly, but to simply enjoy the magic of its passing.  So I lace my hands behind my head and fall back into the deep, billowy richness of a day such as this.

There is certainly something sacred about the rhythm of the everyday, something spiritual about the practice of ordinary.  Assuredly, these are days for deep living.  But on days such as this, when my spirit is both thirsty and quenched, when my soul is both ablaze and at peace, when even the dirt shines and the dust grows sunflowers … these days are for more than deep living.  Yes, these days are for coming alive.    

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

If Only I Could Know...


I watched as she fumbled around on the ultrasound, my baby’s thumping heartbeat cutting right through the rising silence and tension.  Please don’t say a word, my heart silently pleaded to the doctor.  Please tell me everything, my mouth followed my mind.  I was 20 weeks pregnant with my third child, another son, and this pregnancy was complicated.  With the gel still cold on my belly, and her eyes still glued to the ultrasound screen, the doctor began to assess and explain the risks, the expected outcomes, and the management plan.  None of it mirrored my own plan, that which included a large swollen belly, the plump fresh body of a baby born full term, and the pictures to send and frame of the smiling new family in the birthing center.  Yet all of her words were muffled behind the sound of that blessed beating heart.    Thump, thump, thump.  It was louder than her grim predictions. 

Two weeks into my mandated bed rest at home, and friends shuffled in and out of the house with meals.  Grandparents came and went with the twins.  And I lay there, shackled to the bed, apologizing and thanking the village that had come to keep us all in tact.  When the sunset and the hustle and bustle settled, I cried out to Jeff, “I just wish I could know that this baby would live.  If only I could know.  I could handle all of this, the fear and the isolation, the separation and the worry, if only I knew…” 

After six weeks of hospitalization for monitoring and bed rest, the doctors, nurses, housekeepers and cafeteria staff had become my friends.  They just smiled and waved as Jack and Webb ran recklessly down the hospital hallways.  They learned to look the other way as the boys spun wildly around in my wheelchair.  When Jeff and the boys went home and I sat alone in that hospital room, one plea circled around my thoughts.  If only I could know that this would all be worth it.  If only I could know…

On November 18, 2010, at 29 weeks pregnant, alone in my hospital room, the labor pains began.  My abdomen began to contract and constrict, and my prayers came swiftly and audibly to the rhythm of my rapid breath.  My hands and voice shook with fear as I made the phone calls and alerted the nurses.  This baby boy was coming fast.  O God, if only I could know…

photo by Amy Free

Two years ago, on January 23, 2010, after 10 weeks spent in the NICU, Jeff and I brought home our four-pound baby boy, Duncan Jeffrey Monroe.  At breakfast this morning, that same boy threw down his cereal spoon and threw up his hand in a tight fist, before shouting, “I am Batman!”  He then leaped out of his chair and sprinted a circle around the table before crashing into me with spread arms.  And I cannot help but remember those desperate prayers, my hope-thin pleas, my constant conditioning of, if only I could know...


With my cheek resting on top of his untamed curls and my chin gently digging into the secret tickle spot in the back of his neck, I feel that holy stirring.  I sense God’s gentle voice.  My dear daughter, you could never have known. You could never have imagined the love.  You could never have fathomed the joy.  You could never have dreamed of the spirit of this child.  To tell you that the sacrifice would be worth it would not even have scratched the surface.  No dear, you could never have known.

And again I hear it, the sound of a blessed beating heart.  Though it is no longer the sound of my son’s, but the sound of my Father’s.  His heart beats, holy and good, cutting right through the doubt, right through the pain, thundering louder than grim darkness.  Thump, thump, thump.  If only I knew…

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Holy Communion


I file in line, shuffling my feet with my eyes fixed to the floor, eager to approach the Table, to come and to eat.  Though the movement is routine and practiced, every time I partake in the Feast, it is the first time.  So I move with the current of communion, without allowing it to become automatic.  For my wandering heart still races, and my feeble spirit returns to steady as I trek towards Holy Communion.  My soul is willing and my flesh is eager. 

In the pews and in the parking lot, we are a myriad of lives.  We are pressed suits and pretty dresses. We are a people of rags and a people of riches.  We are searching souls and reaching spirits. But here, during this divine time, we are all walking with the same sin, all sick with the same disease.  Though it shows up differently in our uniqueness, as we walk to the Table, we are all just a people in need.  We trudge together through the mud, desperate to touch a piece of the Love.

“This is the body broken for you.”  I am a starved beggar with cupped hands.  “This is the blood shed for you.” I am living and dying of thirst, with a spirit parched.  I see the loaf of bread, and I want it all.  I see the cup of wine, and I crave all of it.  But yet again, I am given all that I am able to receive, just a bite of bread and a taste of wine.  Could I ever truly swallow all of it?  Have I not been made to always long for more? 

Never is my longing more acute than when I stand at this Table. But never is my desire more satisfied than when I eat of this Meal.  And so I take and eat, dissolve and digest, His body broken and His blood shed.  Away from this Table, I am both plagued and blessed by this journey of desire.  But in this fleeting moment of remembrance, at last I am full. 


Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Letter to my January 2012 Self

Dear January 2012 Self,

Let me first say that I write not from a place of knowing how this will all work out or even being fully convinced that it will. I am not writing because I have felt total peace or have witnessed complete redemption in the past year.  But I am writing because I have experienced the beginning slivers of peace and redemption in this year.  I write because I remember this time last year and how I would have given anything to know that I would survive.  I want to tell you, first of all, that you will.  But I also want to tell you that in a strange, painful, sacred way, it will be a beautiful year.

That pain that you feel for the death of your son, that sense of longing so intense that you fear your bones may crumble beneath the weight of it?  I cannot say that this will go away.  I cannot tell you, dear Self, that it will fade or even lessen.  I have heard from others farther along in the journey that it does soften over time.  But we are not yet there.  What I can tell you is that you will grow around it.
 
 


You will learn how to read a novel, shop for apples, even attend a party with desperate pain laced right through your daily norm.  You see, dear Self, you have to relearn these things without your beloved son.  And this is what you will do this year.  I know.  I know this is falling on deaf ears.  I know you will hear none of it right now.  I know that the very thought of reading, watching, cooking and singing without your son sounds like blasphemy.  It is treason to you.  Don’t worry Self, you don’t have to crusade to find the blessings of life again.  No, dear, they will come to you only when you are ready. 

One day, quite out of the blue, you will get the urge to hear Tina Turner’s rendition of “Proud Mary.”  And you will turn it up loud and call an emergency dance party with your family.  You will shake your hips and stomp your feet and clap your hands.  Your children will roar with laughter as you belt out about working for the man and big wheels turning, just inches from their smile-lit faces.  You will collapse to the floor at the end of the song, in a full family pile-on, and tears will flow as you laugh, not because you have forgotten for a second the grief that you know, but because you have remembered for a moment the joy that you knew. 


Might I also bring up a word about your God?  The One whom you are now cursing, the One whom you are now questioning?  I will not tell you that He is good.  I will not tell you to trust.  I will not even ask you to pray.  You are not ready to hear it. I will only ask you to remember.  Remember that cold, dark night at Young Life camp so many years ago when you first looked up at the sky and wondered, “What if this is true?  What is He is real?”  I ask you to remember how deeply he answered you that night, and how fully He has continued to answer those questions ever since.  And I ask you to remain open to the thought that it was not all a big hoax.  You have not been taken for a fool.  I ask you, broken, beautiful Self, to remember how you once believed and to hold onto every tiny ounce of the belief that remains. 

Yes, your God, the One whom you trusted, the One whom you knew to be good, has allowed your worst nightmare to come true.  He has allowed you to swallow the bitterest pill and to break beneath the fist of grief.  But hear this: He will not leave you to die by grief’s hands.  For this God of yours raises the living as well as the dead. 


He allowed your son to die.  Here and now, in January 2013, I have not come to peace with that.  Perhaps that is a conviction for your 2020 Self, or your 2040 Self.  Or maybe, you will only truly be at peace with this fact when you are reunited with your heavenly son and can finally touch the good hand of God.  But what I can tell you is that though he allowed the worst to occur, He will redeem it.  I do not speak from the vantage point of complete redemption.  No, I am still, in January 2013, knee-deep in the searing shards of brokenness.  But dear January 2012 Self, you will trust in Him to redeem what has become because you will experience the beginning buds of that redemption this year. 

You will witness a fire in a sunrise and an orchestra in an ocean, and you will know that God is redeeming.  Not changing what has happened, not taking away the pain that remains, but working around it, working through it.  You will see in your earthly sons the spark of life loudly roaring.  You will love them fiercely. And you will know that God is redeeming.  You will see it and feel it.  In the most mysterious of ways, you will even be a part of it. 


The pain will not lessen, but you will grow stronger.  Your strength will not be a brute strength, but a quiet inner strength that you never even knew you had. This strength will be born not in the bearing up, but in the breaking down.  So break down, January 2012 Self.  Break down.  Allow the grief to crush your bones.  Allow your suffering to overtake you, but do not forget that Love that once consumed you.  For you will one day begin to crawl.  And soon, you will start walking. And in January 2013, you will look back and realize that it was God who put your bones back together.  You will know that it was God who carried you. 

So hang on, dear January 2012 Self.  Keep breathing.  This will not be the year that you announce a pregnancy or that you birth a baby.  This will not be the year that you come out with a list of accomplishments, tangible and respectable.  But honey, new life is born in many different ways.  And the accomplishments that are deepest and truest are often invisible to the world. You will wail and you will weep.  You will ache for your son every second of every day.  But you will learn to live with this ache.  You will learn to laugh and to shake your hips to Tina Turner with this ache.  You will learn to be a friend, to go on dates with your husband, to mother your sons on earth with this ache. Strangely, this will be a beautiful year.


Right now you are to endure, but soon you will begin to enjoy.  Hopefully in 2013, a little bit more.  And this will be your 2012 year—enduring and enjoying, drowning and rising, doubting and believing, breaking down and building up.  In some ways, this will be your life.  For your life has been cracked down the middle.  Everything now falls into either “before” or “after.”  But trust me, Self, when I tell you that God is not finished. 


With Love,
Your January 2013 Self