Posted in musings, sqt

{sqt} – like a child at rest

Compared to the scope of a pandemic, my life feels quite small. Not necessarily insignificant, but most definitely small: myself just one person, my family just one little cluster of people amidst the billions all swept up in a single massive crisis. It is the kind of smallness that can make someone feel helpless and afraid, unsure of how to protect themselves and their loved ones from something so big and so out of their control; it is the kind of littleness that can leave us cowering and vulnerable against a greater force than we can hope to conquer.

But tonight, as I put my daughter to bed, she curled herself up against my side, tucked under my arm, and I thought that the smallness of fear or helplessness is not the only kind of smallness in this world. There is also the smallness of restful trust: the smallness of a little child confident in their parents’ love, to whom the world may be very big and scary indeed but for whom that parent is a shield and refuge and source of strength. This is the smallness of a child who is hurt, or sad, or scared, or angry, but whose tears fade in the arms of their mother or father.

The Psalmist wrote that,

"Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its mother's arms,
even so my soul."
(Psalm 131)

Against the swirling unknown threats of a pandemic, against the overwhelming storm of uncertainty and anxiety that is threading its way around the world, we are each on our own very small indeed, like a young child trying to fend for themselves. But where I find peace in this time is in acknowledging my own smallness and staying close by God my Father, who is quite the opposite of small and helpless, and in whose unconditional love I can be utterly confident. I do not need to be my own strong tower in the hurricane; he offers his strength so that in him I may have the peace of a child comforted in their mother’s arms.

My view biking home from work the other day! (Panoramas are tricky to capture in the rain on a bike…) I love the promise of the rainbow, which I believe can be taken figuratively: that God will not prove faithless to his people, but will be with them through the storms and floods of life. Sometimes the things that make sense from an eternal perspective don’t make sense from our earthly perspective, but I choose to trust in his faithfulness.

Visit Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of this week’s linkup! She didn’t do 7 takes either this week so I don’t feel too guilty about just sharing one thought 🙂

Posted in family life, musings

waking in the night: a meditation on love

I lie on the low bed in the darkness, and my baby curls against me, resting her head on my soft chest and stomach (the stomach I resent when I try to dress for adult life but which functions so perfectly as a cozy baby pillow). Our breaths are the only sound, her faster, shallower breaths a counterpoint to my deep and steady rhythm. I slow the pace of my breathing to guide her into sounder sleep, hoping her body will follow mine. She is warm and solid next to me, tangible physicality grounding me in embodied reality and relationship. There are books I wanted to read, projects I wanted to work on, chores I ought to take care of, but I stretch out this moment much longer than necessary. There is such immense privilege in being the one whose presence can calm her fears and dry her tears; there is such wonder in being able to soothe and comfort another when I cannot do so for myself. I recall her newborn months, when I sat in the hospital rocking her, deep into the darkest depression I have yet experienced, and yet somehow able to calm and comfort her anyways.

Maybe none of us can completely accomplish that for ourselves; maybe consolation and peace are gifts we can give to others better than we can create them for ourselves, and which we must in turn receive from others if we are to experience them fully. My baby cries out for me to come to her and restore her to peace, to console her in the loneliness of the night; we grow, and become independent, and pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency and strength, and we stifle our own cries in the darkness. Maybe we have cried too many times into an unresponsive void, and have decided we don’t want to risk adding the pain of rejection and worthlessness to the burden we already bear. We forsake the openness and vulnerability of our infancy, protecting our hearts – and closing the door to the fullness of comfort and peace that only comes through the love and presence of another.

I come to my babies in the night, though I may be exhausted or frustrated, because I know the pain of crying when no one hears, and I don’t want that pain to be theirs. I lift them in my arms, my little ones wakeful and sad for reasons beyond their ability to explain. And in the teary eyes wiped on my shoulder, the little head laid against my chest, the arms wrapped around my neck, I receive gifts just as powerful as any I give: love, meaning, and worth. They remind me of my own need for love and connection even as they show my my own power as a giver of that love and connection. However weary I may be, all the sleepless nights, all the hours pacing and rocking and snuggling, all the worry and time and energy spent, are nothing compared to what I have received simply be being their mother.

Posted in family life, musings

in pursuit of peace

Genuine peace grows in the rich soil of vulnerability and grace, fellowship and forgiveness, community and compassion. It involves an honest coming together of people, flaws and oddities included, followed by the bending and reshaping of everyone involved to accommodate the needs, quirks, and broken aspects of everyone else. Consequently, it also requires the humility of the strong, healthy, intelligent, confident, and well-prepared: those who can shift and sway the most are called to humble themselves in service to and love for the weak, sick, insecure, and foolish.

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Sometimes peace means taking the time to show others how things work, instead of losing patience with their ignorance or clumsiness; sometimes it means admitting our own inabilities and weaknesses and being open to learning something new.

Peace means setting other people before either efficiency or self-sufficiency; putting harmony and mutual respect above pride.

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Peace means making the alterations and accommodations needed to fit our ideals, visions, or traditions to the needs of the people around us – the people in our community, our family, neighbors, and friends. It may look like learning to cook new foods so that friends with food allergies or neighbors from different cultures can join us at our table. It might involve giving up time with our extended family to make sure we spend time with our spouse’s family. It means offering a helping hand instead of judgmental sideways glances at Thanksgiving dinner or on Christmas morning, when excited kids aren’t acting the way more staid adults expect. It means showing others – from the oldest to the youngest, from the richest to the poorest – the courtesy and respect we would like them to offer to us.

Sometimes, peace means we hang the breakable ornaments higher on the tree, leaving the more durable ones down low, so that even the youngest and most inexperienced people among us can enjoy the Christmas tree in their own way.

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Peace is when everyone does their best to love each other, and forgives each other when that love is imperfect; when everyone is willing to compromise, and reconcile, and try again, and give others the chance to try again as well.

Peace is when someone sits in the chair you thought was yours, because it was the only chair from which you could reach your snack, but you don’t make him move, and he doesn’t exclude you, and together you both find happiness. Maybe you both find even more happiness in the compromise, this new solution to things, than you would have if either one of you were sitting alone.

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Peace requires willingness to try, and fail, and try again. People are complicated, and the situations of life are complicated, and harmony – any kind of success, really – is rarely instantaneously achieved. Peace necessitates our dedicated, persistent, patient, and flexible pursuit. If one solution doesn’t work, peace says, let’s try something else. Let us leave no stone unturned in our efforts to create communion in this place, between these people.

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And of course pursuing peace is more difficult than hanging an ornament on a tree, though it shares the same requirements for patience, persistence, flexibility, and creative thinking. The ornament and the tree are inanimate partakers of the process; every person in a community is involved in the process of peace-making, and brings with them a unique will, opinions, emotions, and experiences. Sometimes, peace fails.

The promise of Advent is that someday peace will fail no longer. The selfishness and anxiety that hamper it in even the best of us will be healed in Christ; knowing each other without the sin of objectification or the response of fear, we will be able to build a more glorious peace than any our world has yet known.

Posted in musings

the girl who became a warrior

Once upon a time there was a little girl who worried. She didn’t worry about practical things, like fires and robbers; she trusted her mom to handle things like that. But she worried about heaven, and how to know what happens when you die. She worried about wanting to be alone and making her friends feel hurt. She worried about being the littlest and the last and being left out because she was too late. She worried about losing her stuffed bunny that kept her company in the dark at night.

When she grew up, her worries didn’t really leave; they just changed to fit her new grown-up circumstances. She still worried about death, and wondered just what she would find after passing through that painful door. She worried that her introversion made her less of a good Christian by crippling her witness to Jesus’s love and grace. She worried about never measuring up to the people around her; she worried about missing out on something important by showing up late to anything. And she worried about losing the people closest to her, the relationships that mattered most, the love that kept her feeling safe in the dark at night.

This little girl didn’t realize, for years and years, that she worried about all these things. She thought that because she didn’t care about what other people thought of her, and wasn’t anxious about the future, and didn’t get nervous for doctor appointments or tests, and could handle large crowds and speaking in public (although it wasn’t enjoyable), that she wasn’t a worrier. She prided herself on her ability not to worry, to trust God with the outcome, to embrace new situations and attack new problems with confidence. But the worries were always there, in the dark corners, ignored but not silent.

They were there in the moments she wanted to speak but couldn’t open her mouth for fear of saying the wrong thing; they were there in the Psalms of trust and strength she memorized and would recite over and over again before getting out of the car and walking back into the relationships that mattered so much they hurt; they were there in the nights lying sleepless in bed aching over a careless word that might have damaged a friendship; they were there in the years and years of picking away all the bumps and scabs and scratches on her arms. But it wasn’t until they grew so strong that she couldn’t leave her house without physical panic that she admitted they were there, and that she wanted to let them go and help them rest in peace.

Worry grows like a climbing plant, wrapping its tendrils tightly around the support bars of your heart, cracking stone, weakening foundations, inserting itself into every nook and cranny and taking hold. Removing it is not the task of a day, nor an effort for the faint-hearted. Sometimes, this grown-up girl worried that it would be an futile effort, not worth the time and energy it demanded. But now that she knew how deeply it could incapacitate her if allowed to grow freely, she could see that even just keeping it fought back and somewhat maintained was a necessary (if unrewarding and unending) task. Left to itself, it would destroy everything else.

Worry builds unseen walls around the tended places of your heart, sealing them in, claiming to protect them from danger and harm. But all the time, as it builds, it pricks and pokes and pierces those vulnerable and intimate areas with images of all the possible scenarios that could bring about your devastation and despair. You may be safe from the actual event you fear, but you are locked in a dungeon with your worst tormentor of all. It took years of patient love, proving the worries false and unfounded, to open doors in those walls and coax the frightened areas of this girl’s heart out into the wild and beautiful free world again, and still she finds herself drawing back into those confines in moments of fear or anger. But now she knows the feeling of warm sun, fresh air, and flowing water in the deepest part of her being; now she knows the peace that comes from leaving behind worry’s dark and fearsome fortress.

Worry tried to convince this girl, through all these years, that she was unable to control the forces surrounding her life, and that events were sure to overwhelm her at some point or another. It tried to tell her that she could never hope to be enough, to break her spirit and close her in. But the deeper story, the more lasting truth, is that worry has trained her to be a warrior, fighting for her own joy and peace and love and beauty, and for all those things for the world she lives in: a warrior who will never give up, who knows her enemy is a liar and a coward – a warrior who fights with hope.