the kids cough at night, grating on me. the baby has had a snotty green nose for a few days now. i know where he got the sickness, he got it from other sick little kids, most likely from the english class that we do, or maybe his sister just passed it on. he got sick because he doesn't live in a bubble, he shares germs and spit and grubby fingerprints with so many other kids. we get sick when we risk being in relationship with others, is a truth I am learning. we suffer from being in proximity to others, especially those who are the most vulnerable. love is a wound, love is a cough, love is the Mother that pats our backs in the middle of the long, dark night.
Filtering by Tag: babies
what you can't see are all the little dandelion seeds stuck to the snot running down his face. bless it. bless it all.
I swear I have changed 8 poopy diapers today (baby has a bit of the runs) plus slathered my child in lotion twice (eczema) plus soothed him back to sleep when he woke up too early and too cranky plus fed him three meals and a billion snacks and THEN cleaned up all the food he flung on the floor. I have made sure he is not too cold or too wet or too tired or too thirsty. I have gotten him down from the top of the table one hundred times. I have read him 10 picture books. I only let him watch a few episodes of something. I tried to rock him to sleep but he pushed me away and pointed to his crib and said "night-night."
Earlier, I caught him looking at a book by himself for a blessed moment. He softly made the noises of an owl as he turned the pages. There is a little angel somewhere in that tiny, glorious little whirlwind. There is a little bit of the divine breaking through me as I care for him day in and day out. There is a little child transfixed by clouds and leaves and owls; there is me, a little girl still struggling to believe in a good God who made them all.
The baby was up at 4:45 today. Usually my husband gets up with him and feeds him breakfast and starts the french press. But I felt guilty this morning, since he is working all day and has a meeting at night. I got out of bed, feeling miserably tired. My daughter was awoken by the commotion, and I know she will crash emotionally this afternoon. It is dark outside and dark in my thoughts, I will forever be imprisoned by the needs and schedules and sensitivities of my children, my life will never be my own again, I will never sleep in I will never get to hang out with people I will never not have children that melt down between the hours of 4-6pm. I am cursing daylight savings in my mind, for putting us back ever farther than we already were on the no-sleep train.
Then later (it feels like so much later) we walked to school. We crunched the leaves and said hi to the people we know (more and more with each day). I am not friends with anyone besides us who has a car, and most people in the neighborhood walk. A mother asked how my baby is feeling. A father told us that his grandpa just died, that is why his son missed three days of school last week. Children streamed into the building, the vast majority of them getting their first meal of the day there. I realized that because of the time change, these children will not have to walk to school in the dark anymore. It will be just the tiniest bit safer for them, wandering the streets with no sidewalks to that bright, busy building where they spend so much time.
Tomorrow, when my baby wakes up much too early, I will think about this, the need for more light in our lives. And I will try to be grateful for the sun that is just starting to come out, to cast a glow on all these precious souls, even if it might be hidden behind clouds as far as the eye can see.
Edited on 12/13
When I wrote this post with my regular (small) audience in mind, I had no idea it would resonate with so many. My intent was not at all to ask for help for ourselves, but rather just to engage in the practice of radical vulnerability. Thank you all who have reached out to ask if you could donate to our family financially. Since there are so many others struggling (and with far fewer safety nets) we ask that if you feel moved, to donate to a reputable refugee resettlement agency, such as World Relief.
Hello! Greetings from the Mayfields. This was our hardest year ever, and we still haven't recovered!
In the past year we:
Left our mission organization. I experienced a traumatizing pregnancy and birth and nearly died. Our baby was born a month early and had to be hospitalized for several scary days at 6 weeks old. We moved across the country and said goodbye to amazing friends and jobs. We put our daughter through a hell of a lot of transition. Our baby never did learn to sleep very good. Our van broke down never to be resurrected. We moved to the outer edges of Portland, a food-and-culture desert. We moved into a cramped, loud, chaotic apartment complex. Our upstairs neighbors drove their car into my daughter's bedroom. My husband got a job but it is taking forever to get back on our feet financially. Every month we hope that this time we won't qualify for food stamps, but it hasn't happened yet. My anxiety got so bad my body decided to get depressed in order to "fix things." I wrestled with my book manuscript, but it's hard to edit when you are sad and aren't sleeping and have little people to care for. We became very isolated, partly on purpose, partly because we didn't have the energy to reach out to old friends.
It was the year of hard things. Temper tantrums, anxiety disorders, strange fevers, panic attacks, shut-down souls. We have been in survival mode since April, we are shocked that we are still not out. We grit our teeth as we agonize over every purchase, every stomp from above that keeps us up at night, as we stick close to our apartment complex due to lack of money and a baby who doesn't like to be out too long. Solidarity, solidarity, solidarity. It doesn't really help.
But the other day we came home after being at my parent's house for a few days (they were fixing my daughter's wall, due to the aforementioned car) and as we walked in I said I missed this place. Just a tiny, pleasant, normal thought. It felt like our place. It didn't feel like a huge mistake. I wasn't resentful, or despondent. I missed our apartment. That was a pretty big deal.
And I do, I see glimmers of our new normal. I cut all my hair off. Neighbors dropped by Afghan food and we ate it standing up in my kitchen, wanting to cry with how good it tasted, how lovely it felt. My husband wears ties and listens to problems from people on a wide spectrum of mental health and resources. The baby giggles at everyone, baring his dimples. My daughter taught herself to read this year, she is friends with blonde boys named Lucas and black-haired boys named Mohammed, and now she gets to spend every holiday with cherished cousins and grandparents who dote on her. I'm going to start an English class in January. My baby is going to start crawling. We are going to have a savings account again. We are going to have to keep learning to be generous, vulnerable, hopeful, grateful. We might go to church more Sundays than not.
But perhaps the most significant thing is that Jesus is no longer an abstract person, a walking theology, a list of do's and dont's to me. This is the year I recognized him as my battered, bruised brother, and I see how he never once left my side.
Every year I think now this year, this is the year I finally *get* Advent. The sadness, the waiting, the longing for all things to be made new. And every year I do understand it a little bit better. This does not show any sign of stopping.
It's been our hardest year yet my husband said. He paused for a minute. But our kids sure are great. We don't have the energy to pretend we are OK, because we aren't really. But the light around us remains, we take our mercies as we get them, we see a new year just around the corner. Maybe, just maybe, this one will be a little bit easier.
This past week I started to get some creeping pregnancy anxiety--something which I had been prepared for, sure that it was bound to happen--but I had expected it to hit me later on (closer to the time I developed HELLP the first time, 30 weeks-ish). I just had a few normal pregnancy symptoms collide: round ligament pain, dizziness and faintness, insomnia. But the combo of all three for a few days led to me huddled up on my bed, wishing that I would never ever have to leave--at least for the next 3 months. This is not my normal, and it was important for me to just say that aloud, take a deep breath, and eat another bowl of Lucky Charms.
But the more I thought about it, the more I mourned how different this pregnancy is, how the first time around nothing stopped me or slowed me down at all. I didn't have anxiety, I charged through my busy life like a bull. I didn't know things could go wrong back then. And now I do.
It's the same when I think about foster care. I promised you all I would write about our family's decision to step back from adopting through foster care but that is a tough subject to pull off (trust me, I have a few very long and agonizingly dramatic essays I have written, most of which will never see the light of day). For me the subject is tied up with so much--systematic injustices and cycles of abuse, white savior complexes and addictions, lament and grief and doubt that a good God could possibly be watching over all of this stuff. Like I said: intense stuff.
But I think I can write briefly and outline the reasons why we stopped, if only because our story is a minority and I don't necessarily think it should be. I want to be clear and say I most definitely believe that people should adopt children through foster care--there are real and clear tangible needs. I have mad respect for the people I know who have done this, and it is a picture of the kingdom of God that makes me weep--but not because it is a happy ending for all. No, it's a messy, complicated, traumatic business, and it is one of the worthiest ones there is.
But I do find it problematic that it seems the primary way the larger Christian community endorses supporting children in extreme situations is by adopting them. Rescuing them. Snatching them out of the hellish life they were born into. I can say this is problematic because that is what it became in my life: I had a crystal-clear idea that I wanted to help save a baby and thus get a squishy baby in return; it seemed like such a win-win. And for me, thinking about anyone else involved in this situation just proved to be a total insurmountable downer, and so I didn't want to think about it at all.
Over the past few years, just as we were starting to go to trainings and get fingerprints done and all that for fost-to-adopt, we slowly began to realize that many of our neighbors had either been in foster care themselves or had their children put into foster care (and sometimes both). This is what changed me: hearing the stories firsthand. I also got a sense of how the power dynamics look to people who disproportionately make up the numbers in the "system." It looks like white people taking babies.
It became clear that adopting through foster care might actually put up some relational barriers between us and our neighbors (nothing that couldn't be overcome by the Holy Spirit, but a serious barrier all the same). Again, I know a handful of people who do this well--who are able to adopt and remain in the communities most affected by the foster care system. But these tend to be the minority stories, and the amount of work and humility it takes is astounding. As we started to second-guess our decision, it quickly became clear to me that what I really wanted was a baby. And really, really wanting a baby can wreak havoc on the ol' internal ethical system. And by that I mean that I knew going into the system that I would be the person of privilege, that I would have more resources and access to support and know how to navigate the courts to my advantage compared to most of the birth parents. In the gray and complicated world of trying to do best by the children in our communities, did I trust my own deceitful heart to want the best for ALL of God's children? Did I really want to be in that position? How did that fit into the larger call I felt God had put in my heart to love my neighbor as myself? Did I just want to love the babies and the toddlers, or was I committed to loving them all?
Once I was able to be honest and say that I truly wanted a baby because I just wanted a baby (something I did feel guilty about, believe you me), I started to realize that adopting through foster care would not be the way for us. But our short journey into the peripheries of the complicated system as well as our friendships with birth families have blown open the door for me in regards to what it means to support children and families in crisis. We have seen with our own two eyes how the systems are imperfect and prejudiced (and we are the recipients of privilege and power). We have also seen traumatic situations where re-unification with the parents will never be possible. Again, it is complicated.
I guess I just want to say that God's heart is that no child would ever need to be removed from their parents. Adopting through foster care is treating a symptom, not the original wound (and again, I still believe it is necessary, and can be a beautiful picture of how the redemptive nature of the kingdom of God in the here and now). But still, the majority of information I hear from the church is specifically from the angle of encouraging privileged people to adopt. How is the church addressing the bigger issue at hand? How is it encouraging us to be helping families in crisis stay together? How is it supporting long-term relationships with marginalized peoples, extended mental health services, and offering alternatives to state intervention? It's true that these sorts of long-term efforts are complicated and take a lot of time and work (and doesn't look as good on a Christmas card). But I believe keeping families together as much as possible has to be a central theology of ours.
We are starting to explore alternatives to the system in regards to helping entire families. Our biggest priority will be looking towards a sustainable lifestyle where we can be a safe and stable family that our neighbors and friend can rely on, especially as they go through times of crisis. And others are doing the same. Programs like Safe Houses are inspiring. I know that Imago Dei church in Portland, OR, has a multi-faceted approach to a foster care ministry, including an emphasis on caring for birth parents--offering mentors and playdates, and hosting visitations at their church building. If you know of any other resources or stories of families pursuing this hard, messy work of loving entire families and communities, I would love to hear them.
In the end, this journey has been a part of our birth story. As it became clear that we were being called to keeping families together, I started to feel as though I might be able to navigate the waters of entering into another high-risk pregnancy. After all, I was continually finding out that no matter the situation, there is trauma to be had when babies are born into this world. But there is also radical, beautiful redemption to be found as well. And even as I grieve, I hope for all that is to come as well. God is the one who is in charge of growing our families, and it goes far beyond flesh and bone. We are all his babies, after all.
Do you know what that is, sweet pea? To be humble? The word comes from the Latin wordshumilis and humus. To be down low. To be of the earth. To be on the ground. That’s where I went when I wrote the last word of my first book. Straight onto the cool tile floor to weep. I sobbed and I wailed and I laughed through my tears. I didn’t get up for half an hour. I was too happy and grateful to stand. I had turned 35 a few weeks before. I was two months pregnant with my first child. I didn’t know if people would think my book was good or bad or horrible or beautiful and I didn’t care. I only knew I no longer had two hearts beating in my chest. I’d pulled one out with my own bare hands. I’d suffered. I’d given it everything I had.
--Cheryl Strayed (as Dear Sugar)*
I have two friends who are very pregnant right now, and both of them are writers. They are smart, thoughtful, beautiful souls, and when they pour themselves onto the page you just want to stop everything and sit with them. They both have other children (beautiful, loud). And they both told me that with the upcoming birth of their next child, they felt like the writing part of their life was going to be over.
I understand where those thoughts come from--the hormones, the panic, the sleep deprivation that acts like a very bad batch of drugs for a very long time--but I can't condone them. I know my friends, and I know the work they have produced, and I know what is in their future. They will experience the mess and the chaos of birth and newborn land and shifting, growing families. They will cocoon inside of themselves, for months and even years perhaps, pouring out their bodies as sacrifices of love, rocking and shushing and feeding and cleaning and wiping, all while they tend to the endless minutia of everything else they are in charge of in their lives. They will continue on in that long obedience of selflessness, the continual little deaths and rebirths that parenting is comprised of, and one day they will lift their heads up and find that their head is clear and their mind is itching. They will start writing again. And they will be better than ever. Their babies will make them better writers.
If you asked me, point blank, what my thoughts on motherhood were, I would hem and haw for as long as possible. I have nothing eloquent to say, except that it wrecked my life in so many ways, and it healed it in just as many. Marriage for me was no big adjustment, just a lot of fun to have a partner to roam the world with, and we made a lot of space for us to be our individual, introverted selves. But motherhood was the great shedding of selfishness that I didn't even know existed, it was the time of confronting how very tied up my own identity was in being productive for God: helping others, loving my neighbors, teaching ESOL classes, volunteering with refugees, working full-time. Then I got pregnant, developed a rare-and-life-threatening condition, and found myself both very ill and with a premature baby to care for. Suddenly, I could not do most of those things that had always defined me as me. I was alone with a sad baby who was not quite ready for the world, and it was my job to keep her alive.
When she was 6 months old, possibly 8, I started to write. In earnest. The hours of being alone-but-not-alone, of rocking and shushing and swaddling and feeding and cleaning and walking and breathing, had built up to a point of pressure in my mind. I started, for the first time, to objectively look at my life. To assess my background, how I grew up, what I was taught to believe, and what that meant for my life choices. My baby, with her round-the-clock-needs, turned me into a bird that soared high above my own life. It was the first time I was able to step outside of it. The first time I realized how important honesty and vulnerability were to be in my life going forward.
I wrote for her, that chubby-cheeked spitfire sitting on her bumbo on the kitchen table while I slowly started sending pieces off into the void. And she helped me, in so many ways, push beyond the narrow confines of what it meant to be in the world, of where my value came from. And this, my friends, is the backbone of what it means to have prophetic imagination, of what it means to be a creative in a very conforming world.
I learned to write when I became a mother, because that was my vehicle for stepping outside of myself. For you, perhaps it was something else; something tragic or wonderful (or some combination therein). Something that helped you to see your small place in a very big world, to wonder at what your response might be to it all. Motherhood certainly doesn't necessitate great art (in fact, many can cling to the trappings of motherhood as yet another symbol of productivity in the world) but I have known enough great writers now to know that it spurs you on towards the deepening of things.
Motherhood, for me, has been my agent of becoming small, of living a true upside-down life, of whittling away at my draughts of self-absorption. I am more afraid than ever, and yet I continue to do very brave and hard things. And I just want to say to all of my friends out there, the ones who adore and fear the changes coming: write like a mother. Write like the souls that you are, the ones who were put here to notice whatever it is that God placed in front of you.
The kingdom of God comes through babies, I imagine Christ whispering to his disciples as they tried to shoo the unkempt, uncouth, loud and beautiful children away. They didn't understand, because they so badly wanted to be doing something so good for him, their savior. But later, through their own forms of death and rebirth--watching Jesus slowly die as a failure in front of them, huddling up in an empty room together--they would be cracked wide open by the pain and joy of being so connected to everyone in the world.
And luckily for us, some of them stopped and wrote about it.
*to read Strayed's entire advice column (of which I "Christian-ized" a bit in this post--sorry, Sugar!) go here. You will not regret it. While you are at it, why don't you go and read all of her columns? You will not be left the same.
Yesterday my friend sent me an old picture of hers from Instagram--a photo of my daughter, age 1, crawling around the floors of our apartment. my friend said "I just want to be back at [your old apartment complex] with you, drinking French Press and getting scratched by your cat Huckleberry. SOB. Can we go back in time a bit when life was simpler? I'll meet you there."
The picture, and the sentiments, stopped me cold in the middle of my day. My baby--so little, so adorable, such a weird little mullet--I had almost forgotten what she had been like at one. Then there was the apartments: the well-kept low-income housing complex where we lived for four years in SE Portland, which in my minds eye seems cleaner and quieter than anything we have experienced since (a dishwasher! no cockroaches! my husband's life only got threatened once!). I remember the huge windows, the natural light streaming in (even if it was a bit cloudy), sitting on my orange corduroy couch and drinking coffee with my friend. How we agonized about our lives, how far they were from our ideals, how we were always itching to get on to the next phase of life.
And now here we are. My friend and her husband moved to Uganda, their lives are a mishmash of experiences I cannot even imagine, her photo stream filled with joy and sweat, me wishing I could reach out and touch her. Me and my grown-up baby and my husband moved across the country and plunged ourselves a further bit down the ladder of the American dream, our lives a beautiful jumble and we can't keep track of all that we have learned or all the ways we have been changed. And as much as I love my life now, I still, just for a moment, longed to go back in time. To sit with my friend, clutching my baby, in my beautiful cozy apartment surrounded on every side by refugee friends and neighbors, to drink coffee and to appreciate the day for what it was.
I told my husband about this. Remember when we lived there? I said. It was a great time to be alive. We were so happy.
I don't know, my husband answered slowly. You always seemed a bit lonely to me.
There is another picture I thought of the other day, which I tracked back to my Myspace page (oh my word do you remember those?). This is me when I was probably 20, maybe 21. I am untroubled by the world. My face is smooth and unlined, my hair short and swingy, a beautiful baby strapped to my back. i was no doubt running around tacking up flyers for the kids homework club that I started, visiting various families, sitting on floors and eating with my fingers, sitting on couches and being ignored, just showing up week after week for this amazing life that I had discovered in the pockets of America. I did not have angst. I was pleased with myself, pleased with the part I was doing in the world, pleased to know I was using my gifts well.
On second thought, that isn't quite true. I was, after all, there to "practice" on people before I moved overseas, before I really dedicated myself to God, when I had all my theologies sorted out and a team and legitimacy in the eyes of the world. I was testing it out, seeing if I was any good at it, slowly becoming suspicious of all of the people I knew who loved to talk about mission but couldn't be bothered to come once a week and help refugee kids learn basic math. I discovered that I was not good at a whole lot of things: proselytizing, supervising homework clubs with 50+ kids and no other volunteers, doing it all on my own without getting bitter. I was more than a little bit lonely. And instead of being good at anything, I began to realize how much pleasure I found in being with people who were different from me.
I'm thinking about all of this, because the angst has never really left me. Even in this season, it is here, lurking underneath. I recently watched Ragamuffin, the story of Rich Mullins (a personal hero of mine), and it left me more than a bit uncomfortable. I recognized so much of myself in him, both his depths of unhappiness and fierce propulsion to continually move forwards. How can somebody continually have revelations from God, write songs about his love, and then have moments of being completely unconvinced of that truth? But this is how it is, this is the reality of the world. We hear revelations, and we forget. We experience love, and we forget. We witness the miracles of forgiveness and resurrection, and we forget. We see the kingdom come, we are filled with love for the church, we are content to be little mustard seeds and then--it all flows away like water.
I have no doubt that in three years time I will look back at this time, this day, this season in my life with nothing but kindness. Through rose-colored glasses I will only see the good, will only see the revelations, will choose to not see the clouds of forgetfulness. I will be kind to my un-perfect self, realize that if I spent over 20+ years of my life willing myself to be the one who goes out and saves everybody then it might be realistic to think it would take some time to gently undo those faulty beliefs and all the relational brokenness that comes out of them.
If I could go back in time--ten years ago, three years ago--what would I tell myself? I would probably say:You can move across the country, sell all that you have and live in a poorer neighborhood--and you will still feel that restless urge. You will not be able to outrun your demons, the sense that you are never doing enough. You will continue to fluctuate between deliriously happy in the love of God and what he is up to in the world and being crushed by the inaction and apathy of so many around you. The angst is not going to go away. The love will continue to grow until it engulfs you. You will be crushed, and you will be resurrected, time and time again.
You will still be so very lonely. You will still be so very loved.
I am writing this here to remind myself. There is no doubt in my mind that I will soon forget.
There was a moment, just a moment, when the happiness overwhelmed me. I was driving a white minivan through the sun-drenched outer boroughs of Portland, the one where the grass was already dead and brown, where the cars pile high in the front yards, where the hipsters are few and far between. Navigating the streets I know so well, driving on auto-pilot; almost audibly my thoughts came: I'm home. The sweetness inherent in that thought--of being known and wanted and comforted--is quickly swallowed up by the realization: no, I'm not. I don't live here anymore. I am embarrassed, look to my left and my right. But no one is there to see my slip into nostalgia, watch my new life and my old cause confusion in my eyes. It is so cliché, but it must be said: I am homesick, no matter where I am.
One great thing about being married to a counselor is that sometimes they give you free observations about your life. The other day my husband told me that to an outside observer, it might look as though I was compelled to seek out relationships with people who are very, very different from myself. Conversely, he also noted, it appeared that my family and community were consistent sources of comfort for me. These two poles on which I staked my life sometimes seem to be in opposition to each other: what is safe, what is unknown. What is comfortable, what is exhilarating. To pursue one means that naturally, the other falls by the wayside.
Last week, in Portland, I was fed full and watched my daughter play with her cousin, I attended a baby shower for my older sister, I went for long walks with my mother, I made root beer floats with my father. Everywhere we went and ate and played I was looking for others, the worlds hidden between, for the marginalized of our society. They are few and far between in Portland, a city that is supremely silly and somehow never satiated in the desire for acceptance. I walked into a coffee shop where everyone looked so exactly alike that it felt like a slap to me: the calculated outfits and language and coffee drinks totaling up one very exclusive experience, designed more to keep others out than to usher them in. I went to church and cried all during worship, aching at how wonderful it was to see a large group of people together and singing about freedom; I slipped away into myself during the sermon, thinking about all the people who would not be able to step inside these doors. Surrounded by family and friends, I couldn't help but feel a bit homesick for the life I have created in the exotic Midwest, long for my neighborhood and my neighbors
Last week, in Portland, I was driving across town in a white minivan. I was by myself, driving to see very old friends, the ones who first showed me where the upside-down kingdom was. I know every street, have a story for almost each city block. I let myself go down the nostalgic trail of thoughts: I met my husband here. I had my baby here. I went to Bible college here. I met the friends who changed my life here. The other part of me--the one who grew up thinking that those who gave up everything to serve God--quickly pushed these thoughts away. I actively, aggressively chided myself into submission. Geography means nothing to me. My entire childhood was spent moving, every 2-3 years. What was important was family, the new church we were at, the next calling of God on our lives. But somehow I stayed in Portland for nearly 9 years, and the asphalt and the street signs and the brown grass in the summer has burrowed into my bones. I am homesick for a place. And it is completely divorced from any sense of mission within me. I just love it for what it is: my home.
A month or so ago here in the exotic midwest I went to visit a friend who moved into the suburbs. Her and her little family are on their way up, moving out of the cramped and crowded-to-overflowing house in the middle of the city. I am happy for her, even as I am sad at the natural distance that will come at her being 30 miles away. I saw her apartment complex, large and full of similarly placed families, everybody packed tight together, everybody trying to make it. The outside facade so clean, the hallways inside rather grimy. I instantly loved it. As I left, I let my hands trail along the walls, imagining what it would be like to move in there. It was then that I realized that I wanted to live in every apartment building in the city, in the country, in the world.
And even though I know this is not even possible in the slightest, there is a large part of me that wants to try.
The problem is: I have so many homes.
It's time. Time for another volume of completely arbitrary things that I, D.L, recommend.
Pretty sure I have recommended this before. But I am going to recommend it again. Because it is even better when you watch it a second time and you actually start to understand the Irish accents/slang/inside jokes. Go watch it! (You can find it on Hulu).
The ultimate War Photographer. You guys, I can't even. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is bizarre and wonderful. In it, Agee goes to write about poor sharecroppers in the South and leaves a shaken man. It is lyrical and uneasy and so very worth reading. Now I want to read everything about this man who saw every human as being excruciatingly unique and worthy of honor.
The Empathy Exams
This book, by Leslie Jamison, is worth the hype (and it is what pointed me to James Agee). There were a couple of her essays where her self-consciousness was crippling, but I am all for anyone who is trying to feel it all. I read later that her mother is a pastor who works with the poor, and that influence to me could be felt rippling under the surface.
Planting Things in the Ground, Even though You Feel Skeptical
It really helps a tired soul find a few seeds of hope.
Looking at Pictures of Babies
OK, OK I really only listen to one of his songs when I plod along on my jogs: The Show Goes On. What is better than a white girl sweatily running and singing about throwing her hands up in the air? A lot of things, actually. But this one consistently works for me.
Adult Bands Pretending to Be Kid Bands
Did you know this is a thing? It is. My friends are in an awesome band named Destroy Nate Allen and they do kick-butt shows for kids (Ramona loves them). And they introduced us to this band called Koo Koo Kangaroo which is basically like the Beastie Boys taking over Yo Gabba Gabba (complete with gold fanny packs). My husband is currently obsessed with their album which is all about cats.
Don't ever go back to plain vanilla ice cream. Don't.
I am loving this. It basically interviews an interesting long form journalist/writer/essayist and they talk about the craft. I have found some new favorites from this podcast (including Alice Gregory).
Fosterhood in NY.
The best, most honest, transparent, hopeful, exasperating, beautiful and tragic blog ever written on what it means to be a foster parent. I love how the author is SO committed to being in relationship with the birth parents and their extended families. I cannot stop reading this blog, and it is more gripping (and harrowing) than a novel.
Or, as I call them when I am pretending to be from Northern Ireland, "tunderstorms". Being a transplant to the MidWest, I find a lot of pleasure in the wilds of the storms that we get here in the spring.
I wanted to think that this literary journal was a bit snobby, a bit elitist, a teensy bit out of touch. But I consistently sit down and find myself carefully absorbing every word in the latest volume. I highly recommend supporting this endeavor, and I wish it wasn't such a rare unicorn of a journal.
Signing With a Literary Agent
It has been a long road to this point for me, and I can't say that it has been easy. But I did it. Here's to one more step on this adventure.
Applying for Crazy Things
I heard about the Collegeville Institute from a tweet; I applied for a summer workshop on a hope and a prayer. And now I get all-expenses paid week at a monastery where I get to hang out with awesome people like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and have lots and lots of time to write. And be alone. Basically the dream of every poor writer. Take THAT, Donald Miller (or, as I like to call him: DonAHLD Miller). All the deadlines for this year have passed, but bookmark the site and apply for next year. You never know what will happen until you put yourself out there.
Taking Uncouth Selfies
Everyone should do it, or else you will get a big fat head.
So that's it. I haven't watched anything great lately and I would love some recommendations there. Also, I need a few light reads for my summer. Hit me up, people!
An old favorite song of mine is "Fathom the 9-fruit Pie" by the Danielson Familie (one of the greatest bands in existence, no doubt, more for their content than the actual sound of their music). I have thought about these lyrics again and again in the past few years, ever since I became a parent (and a real adult) myself: we're marching in the nine-fruits pie our yoke is mighty easy. the children are the first in line adults are always welcome. when you got the log in eye you talk and walk in nine-fruits pie our Lord of the dance will call... "time to eat, come and get it, time to eat." Love and Joy and Peace and Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control, time to eat, come and get it, time to eat.
and here, in the upside-down kingdom, i am amazed at how it is the children (and the child-like) who are the best at receiving the all the good gifts, who know how to accept the love of a very good Father in the midst of a very hard world. and on that note, i thought it would be a good idea to write a bit about the truest person i know, the one i spend an awful lot of my time with.
to my little glory, with love.
your hair is fine and shaggy and blonde; you don't want me to cut your bangs yet you detest clips, so it hangs long in your eyes, and every so often you swipe them to the side dramatically. you wear polka dot dresses with striped leggings. you hate wearing socks, even though we live in one of the coldest places in America. you wear dirty Hello Kitty boots every day. it takes hours to get you out the door, you always seem surprised at the amount of layers it takes to get us ready for the outside world, you protest and wriggle and whine and sometimes throw yourself on the floor. you shall not be hurried.
i got you all natural wooden blocks, a doll made by refugee artisans, tasteful melissa and doug playsets. you play with none of it, never, unless i start to give things away. you are an only child, wandering wherever i go. you want to help cook, you want to write something, you want me to close the computer and pay attention to you. you are the happiest when i am reading you books, books we have read a million times over, books where you know exactly what will happen, books that you could recite to yourself forwards and backwards, books that make you feel safe and secure in my lap, my arms around you, my eyes only for you.
you like to dance. you like music, are starting to branch out from the yo-gabba set and you can tell me who Lorde is, Sufjan, Macklemore, Gungor, FUN., Elizabeth Mitchel. you really hate it when i sing aloud, and you always have.
you love playing "english class" or "school", you love it when i teach you any little old thing. i spend my mornings going over the ABCs with people who may or may not ever be able to remember them; i come home and you have somehow learned all the letters and their corresponding sounds without my even trying. you bang on the computer keys (just a minute, i'm working on something) you dump glue and glitter on cheap faded construction paper, you are serious about your little "journal" where you write down what you are thinking. and you are always, always thinking.
we go visiting in apartments and our friends always give you things, shower you with smiles and squeezes, plastic tiny mermaids who break the second we get them home, dirty plush Tweety birds that you instantaneously fall in love with. you soak up the affection, the foreign foods, the exotic music, the blaring PBS, the cans of fanta poured into glasses for you, the adults who crowd around and smile with every bite you take of their food, their culture, their life. you thrive in these places, just like i do.
you know people who don't have money. you know little girls who don't have any mama's. you know gaggles of older women who adore you, you beg to come and visit my classes. you know our neighbors who are sick and hardly ever come out, you know which ones to run up to for hugs and those who seem to look right past you. you want everyone to be safe, to be in love with you, but you already know that's not true. you stick tight to my legs, until you see a friend.
you don't seem to notice the fights, the shouting, the lack of a yard, the small apartment. you do notice when mama is anxious ("did you forget that God is always with us?") or when the cockroaches are getting bad again or how your name is not Mohammed. you are starting to comment on our skin color, on how some people's apartments look different from ours, how some people have families and some people don't. you are starting to ask about brothers and sisters. you are starting to cry more when we fly away from our beloved aunties and grandparents, you ache that we can't all be together.
your emotional intelligence is sky high. the other day you told me you were concerned about me. why? i asked, amused. because you are so frustrated, you said, matter-of-factly. you are so frustrated, mama, because i can't stop whining. girl, i thought to myself, you just get me. tonight, when i put you to bed, you asked me to never be firm or frustrated with you ever again. i said i was sorry for being frustrated, but that it probably will happen again in the future. can you forgive me? yes, you said, and i stroked your hair. i prayed over you, and then it was your turn to pray. you shouted into the air "happy christmas, Jesus!", and then turned around to tell whisper to me "i just told Jesus happy Christmas". i love you so much, my be-draggled, wicked-smart cherub, the only baby i have. i keep stroking your head until you finally tell me: mama, you have to go now.
and so i do.
you are the first in line
in the upside-down kingdom.
you are teaching me how to come and eat.
Stina and I are real-life friends (our babies are besties, too). We met at the little Mennonite church she talks about in this here essay, and I am so glad we did. Stina and I were recently talking about this Downward Mobility series, and I expressed my disappointment that there weren't more posts about the struggle of it all. Oh, I can write about that, she said. And boy, can this girl write. I'm grateful for her honesty, which is so hard to share in public. So often we just want to hear the stories of the out-and-out-successes. But I am drawn to the stories of hunger, of struggle, of inner conflict and even failure. Because there is a lot of "failure" in the upside-down kingdom, at least by empire standards. I am learning to make friends with it, however, one little day at a time.
I'm a Downward Mobility Dropout
by Stina KC
When my daughter was born, we lived in the most diverse neighborhood in America. She learned to walk in the hallways of an apartment building filled with cooking smells from our East African neighbors. During that bleary first year of motherhood, I would pace the noisy streets outside our apartment building with my baby strapped to my chest, praying that the drone of cars and traffic would lull her to sleep. I would shield her little face from cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes as I walked by strangers on the street. People were often drunk at the bus stop one block away and prostitutes hung out at the corner when the daylight faded. I would keep walking, moving quickly to avoid contact with my neighbors.
My husband and I first moved to this neighborhood when we were recent Christian college graduates, young and idealistic about Jesus, Shane Claiborne’s “Ordinary Radicals,” and downward mobility. We didn’t make much with our AmeriCorps stipends and social service salaries, but we didn’t care. We shared duplexes with friends, saving money on rent to buy fixed gear bicycles and shop organic at the co-op. We belonged to a house church with other young misfits, going dumpster diving and holding clothing swaps. But even though we lived in the most diverse neighborhood in America, we didn’t really know anyone who wasn’t like us.
After our house church crumbled and our faith began its slow cynical drift, we started attending a small Mennonite church a few blocks away. On that first Sunday morning, a gray-haired man with kind eyes thanked us for coming and gave us a fair trade soup mix, a special gift for visitors. I knew we were home when, in our first hymn, we sang about becoming “midwives of justice.” During the sharing of prayers and concerns, a man asked for prayer for immigration reform. Another shared the news of South Sudan. I relaxed in my pew.
I listened to my voicemail message one evening in late October after putting my daughter to bed. Something about the lead test results. I should call this number, it’s urgent. I sat down at the kitchen table, hitting redial.
Someone answered: “Your daughter’s lead test came back elevated. Do you know how serious this could be for her development?” I didn’t know anything about lead. I googled it and a shot of fear like ice water raced through my body. Behavioral issues. Long term learning disabilities. Brain damage
As the man on the phone rattled off some tips for limiting exposure, I wrote manic notes on a discarded envelope. “What’s your address?” he asked. He looked it up on the city’s database. “Oh, yeah. You’re in a high impact area. You live at 2825 Park? I see cases of elevated lead at 2828 and 2830 and, wow, it’s all over the place. The blocks around you, too.”
The county sent over a woman with a smoker’s cough to test our floors and windows for lead dust. (“I love the fixtures in here,” she said. “We get to see so many old homes.”) We got the results a week later. Our bedroom window well, the same spot where our daughter loved to slap her hands while watching city buses and bike commuters, had lead levels of 38,700. Safe levels are below 400.
I thought about our neighbors on the third floor, the Ethiopian Pentecostals with two small children who hosted prayer meetings on Tuesday evenings, shoes in a pile outside their apartment door. I thought about the Mexican family who lived across the street in the house with the broken steps and abandoned toys in their yard. I wondered about the kids who get picked up at the bus stop on 28th and Columbus. Have they been tested? Do their parents know?
At first, my moral outrage fueled conversations about petitions and tenant rights and lawsuits. We could stay and fight. But then I started leaving the apartment for most of the day, camping out at my parents’ house so my daughter wouldn’t be tempted to play at the windows. Soon, we were apartment searching and then signing a lease and suddenly it wasn’t my problem anymore.
We moved two and half months later, in the middle of January. Our Mennonite church friends helped carry our craigslisted couch down icy steps and load it into a Ford pick-up. Three hours later we stood in our new apartment across town, surrounded by boxes and Rubbermaid totes from Target.
The next morning I took my daughter outside, her snowsuit zipped up to her chin. As I watched her toddle along the sidewalks, I thought about my old neighbors and their kids and the lead dust they were breathing. I never really knew them, only a handful of names in my memory, and we were gone now.
This story is painful to recount. I have felt guilty for leaving, for not fighting my landlord like the “midwives of justice” that my church sings about. I know it isn’t God’s will for my daughter to breathe in lead dust. I also know it isn’t God’s will for any child to breathe in lead dust, to live in poverty, to attend crappy schools.
Jesus’ call to downward mobility felt so obvious when I was in my early 20s. But over the years, I never put in the daily work of building mutual relationships with my neighbors and so, when the crisis came, it was easy to leave them behind. Now I panic that I am becoming one of those wishy-washy Christians I always belittled, their faiths flimsy and fearful. I worry that my faith is drifting, that if it isn’t radical and downwardly mobile it’s just ash in the wind.
Still, I return every Sunday to my old neighborhood for church. I smile at the corner stores and familiar graffiti murals from my car window. I keep showing up, singing the hymns, making small talk over coffee cake. I keep leaning into the body of Christ, this holy community of which I am one imperfect part. And I pray small short prayers, asking God for more faith, another opportunity. Asking God for courage and obedience and grace.
Stina is living up the last year of her 20s by doing things that scare her, like writing for strangers on the internet. She is an angsty Anglican/Anabaptist hybrid who likes to use words like “intentionality” and “marginalized” in everyday conversations. Stina lives in the American heartland with her husband and daughter.
For all posts in the Downward Mobility series, please click here.
oh, did i tell you we are moving to the midwest in 2 months? that my husband and i quit (or will quit in a few short weeks) our jobs? did you know we are joining an apostolic order amongst the poor? do you know that this gives me the highest of highs, and that i also lay awake sobbing at all the things we will be giving up (solitary jogs, microbrews, family family family, our cat). there is a lot going on. so yesterday i had a garage sale, selling the things we have accrued in our 4+ years of living in our neighborhood complex (affectionately known as "little somalia", but now would be more aptly named "little bhutan"). it was a dismal failure, with the oregon rain in full force. then, i went and cashed in a coupon i had gotten for my birthday for a cut and color at a salon. to make a long, boring story short, i went in with visions of caramel colored hair and hipster bangs, and walked out 2.5 hours later with slightly browner hair and a trim (note to self: no more coupons for hair).
then, on the way back from the salon my tire blew out on the freeway. i have a little bit of a pessimistic side, and i had actually been expecting this event my entire life. so when it actually happened, i was surprised at how calm is was (why does it feel like i am piloting a space shuttle re-entering the earth's orbit? why are there little black pieces littering the freeway behind me? oh, i think something bad is happening. welp, i'll just turn on the ol' hazards and maneuver cautiously to the side of the road, call a tow truck company, and deal with whatever happens). i was so super calm in part because i was so very relieved that my wonderful parents were watching the baby; knowing that she wasn't in danger made me feel so cheerful it was ridiculous. i spent an hour trapped in my car on the side of the road, an hour at the dealer, and now our car has 2 new tires (the other one was about to blow at any second).
by the time i got the baby back to our apartment for the night, i was dead (the husband was working a double, in case you were wondering about his absence. these kind of days always happen when he is working a double). she had been sleeping peacefully for an hour when the fire alarm went off. this is probably my very least thing about living in low-income housing. someone is ALWAYS setting the fire alarm off, and it usually happens after the baby is asleep. the sound is so earth-shattering it makes you feel like you are permanantly damaging your ears. even though it is usually just somebody smoking, um, something in their apartments, a couple of times it has been the real deal. so even though it happens all the time and i know it is probably nothing and that it will stop 2 minutes after we get outside, i still have to wake up the baby, grab her, and go down the four flights of stairs. she was upset, as you can probably imagine. after 10 minutes of hanging out with all the neighbors outside, the alarm turned off and we went back inside. i soothed the baby, got her back to sleep, and settled in for some much deserved relaxation (good will hunting on netflix). not ten minutes into the movie and the alarm went off AGAIN. this time, the baby was inconsolable, for a long while even after it turned off (we had to pet the kitty, clutch some crackers, drink some milk, read a book, sing lots of songs about whales and stars and jesus) and we rocked and rocked and rocked. and then her favorite lamp fell over and broke, scaring the baby to tears, and the process started all over again.
thank goodness we are going to the beach today, to soak in some gray clouds (oregon, obviously) and to splash in the surf. to live in the present while taking such concrete steps for an uncategorizable future. to depend so much on the things that are outside of your own control. it is terrifying, exciting, wild and free as the oregon coast. i expect there to be some terrible, horrible, no good very bad days ahead. and i expect there will be some bright and shining ones as well.
Hey guys! So . . . I updated the blog a bit. To be a bit more professional and all (many, many thanks to the hubs for helping).
With the new look comes a new slant on things as well:
I am not going to be writing on here as much.
Not like this is a big deal at all, but at Storyline I realized that I had no desire to be a big-time blogger (which, trust me, takes a LOT of work). I didn't want to build my brand or crank a bunch of posts out of my butt that I don't know anything about.
And I can't write about what is really going on in my every day life (the internets: the are rife with mean people!). All my funny stories about refugees or babies or husbands just aren't suitable for a public space.
But, I love to write. It is how I process things. I am starting to realize it is also how I come to my best epiphanies, about things both large and small. So, I am going to write--just not here.
I will be writing about the current great adventures in my life at my old blog (some of you are already privy to it--you lucky people!). If you would like to be informed of the random happenings of babies/refugees, please let me know. Even if I don't know you in real-life, I would be honored if you wanted to read along on our crazy ride. E-mail me at dlmmcsweeneys[at]gmail[dot]com for details. Seriously, don't be shy. We have some crazy things coming up in the future (a move across the country!) and we will need all the support we can get.
Secondly, I am going to work on writing a book. I don't know what this looks like. All I know is: I like to write (well, as Donald Miller says, I like to have written). What had become crystal clear is the fact that I want to write really, really well. And blogging safe and tame things (that I really don't know anything about) is not going to help me at all.
So, there you have it. I will still be here periodically, so feel free to check in. But the winds are changing. I know what has been given to me to do.
And I want to do it well.
First things: my new column is up. Extremely inspired by the Mike Daisy/Invisible Children debate, I decided to go ahead and look my own savior complex square in the eye. I am learning lots of things over here. God never ceases to surprise me. This is the week of giving up stress, no? So I went to a cabin in the woods with two girlfriends over the weekend. It was very cabin-y. We warmed ourselves with a wood stove. It rained. We drank coffee and watched a large, muddy brown river roll by. We took some slow jogs. We ate a lot of food. We watched Mad Men. We, all three of us, read the Hunger Games (Team Peeta 4 Life!). We had feisty and interesting conversations.
While all of the above does not necessarily sound spiritual, it was all very restful. I am unused to cabin vacations. I am used to planning tons of adventures into what little time you have off and it isn't a successful trip unless you come home exhausted from all the fun. Cabin time is different. You don't actually do anything.
I liked it. It was perfect for some times of quiet, relaxation, prayer, and reflection.
But, of course, it wasn't perfect. I am doomed, doomed I tell you when it comes to vacays. When I left on Saturday night, the baby was fine. That night, she got really sick. The next two days were filled with phone calls from the husband telling me the latest temperatures (104!) and me getting very very anxious. Like, developing-an-eye-twitch anxious.
It really was ridiculous. There was nothing I could do. The baby was surrounded by people who were watching her and taking care of her. I tried to relax but the anxiety was always there. The horrible thoughts ranged from what if the fever gets higher to my baby only wants me when she is sick to ohmygosh what if she dies in the middle of the night. Crazy thoughts, right? I think all moms get them, and it really sucks when they do.
Me and the girls stayed up late talking and then I went to bed. But I couldn't sleep, because of the aforementioned thoughts. So I got out the Common Prayer book and read the Compline prayer. I am hardly ever up late enough to warrant it, but there I was. And it was lovely. It was the perfect prayer for those who are up in the middle of the night, due to fear or anxiety or sadness. And I started to really get why liturgical prayer can be so important. Sometimes, you don't know what to say. You don't even know what you need at 12 o clock at night, when your baby is really sick and you are so far away. But saints have been praying for many years before, and they will be praying after you as well. I joined in the prayers, and they comforted me.
I came home last night and the baby woke up feeling much better and happy to see me.
These rhythms and streams of the contemplative life don't come easy. But the more your life revolves around following God, the more it seems you are going to need a lot of prayer. So I am happy to be trying in my little way to be in a place where it natural and normal to live and breathe in the language of common prayers.
I have a long history of having an identity crisis on my birthday. The hubs asked me very politely several days ago not to do this. I agreed, if only because I have had a few too many of those lately, and could use a break. In reality, this has been a banner year for some confirmations of things (column gigs and various magazine articles and copious amounts of constructive/positive feedback). I became a real teacher. I became the mom of a toddler. I was a pretty good wife.
But none of that really matters, because that is not truly who I am.
And I couldn't tell you even if I knew: all I know is this very second. The way God likes it when I sigh and squirm and then sit quietly on my own little carpet-square of a story.
For my birthday I got 2 books (one on adoption, one on the upside down kingdom) a worship CD, and a funky necklace made by women raising money for overseas adoption. A very, very tiny part of me thought: but what about an H&M giftcard? Glittery Toms? Chocolate bon bons? (PS: this is why the hubs hates birthdays: I declare myself free from consumerism and then pout when he doesn't buy me stuff). But I realized (and I am not saying this lightly) that I really didn't want anymore stuff. Plus, it is so cute that the hubs believes me when I say I want to want less. And what we do gift, I want it to be about something more.
So thanks to my husband for believing me, and believing in me. I am excited for my 28th year, mostly because I get to spend it with him.
Oh, and this one:
Ah! I am working on a column about the kingdom of God. How do you explain this concept to a bunch of over-educated hipsters? Or to church people, for that matter. I am starting to realize that I talk about the kingdom all the time. It is the churchiest language, but to me it is so practical. Currently, I am in a Paul-what-in-the-world-is-up-with-you phase, and I am finding refuge in the gospels again. We can't just lean on the tidy doctrines and big theological words of Paul. We also need the prodding and fire of Jesus (and his kindred spirit, James) urging us towards lives that actually look like God is our king.
With that preachiness out of the way, here are two photos for you (both taken by my friend Haley, who is super cool and has an i-phone and the requisite awesome app, and who is also one of the most generous people I have ever met in my life).
First, the cute baby:
Secondly, the most awesome keychain in the world (which the generous Haley got me):
And in case this picture makes no sense to you, here you go:
See? It's funny because it's like the opposite of the kingdom! I do love me some ridiculousness.
The baby is still not walking.
Every month I tell myself it will be this month. I was sure she would be walking by Thanksgiving. And then Christmas. And then by 17 months.
When the baby was sick over the break and we took her in to see the Dr, she very calmly told me that if the baby was not by 18 months we would "need to have a chat". This really freaked me out.
The thing is, I don't really know babies. I don't pay attention to them very much, and only have vague notions about what is age appropriate (even during her newborn days, I thought all one-year-olds could walk and speak in sentences). So stuff doesn't really worry me until we are out with other babies, and I think: Hmmmm. My baby can't do that.
This only takes up a small portion of my brain. Because the baby is learning new things every day. She is whip smart, opinionated, already into pushing boundaries (mostly related to meal times and throwing food around like it is her job). She likes to laugh, and whine dramatically, and even plays pretend. She makes up her own signs for words she can't pronounce. She is obsessed with stars, and can spot them in advertisements or books faster than I can.
But she doesn't walk. She scoots around on her knees, and tries standing every now and again, but for the most part she hasn't shown a whole lot of interest in the thing. We are starting to get to the point where it is hard to lug her 22 lb body everywhere, and I know she would be happier if she could run around.
But waiting seems to be a part of our life right now, in all things big and small. So here's to waiting with grace, and hope, and perspective on the bigger picture.