You’re really coming into your own. It’s amazing to watch you developing quickly and seemingly without effort. I’m convinced it’s your relationship to Jacob & Meredith that’s doing the trick. You relate to them and you see them. You connect with them because they’re so nearly your size and down on your level all the time, and it seems natural for you to just jump in with two feet. Which is very much what you’re trying to do – you keep landing on them when I set you down like you think you don’t need your hands and knees. You do, still, but not by much. You’ve started to cruise around the furniture and I don’t think it’ll be much longer before you walk.
We’re in awe of your communication skills, too. We nagged at you for a long time and then finally you caught on to the sign for “more please” at the dinner table. Of course it was Daddy who finally succeeded. Somehow you take him more seriously than me. Probably because you know I’m a pushover. But now that sign is yours, and several more, too.
It took us awhile to realize that you’d adopted the hand-waving that means Hi, Bye, and All Done. I don’t think we tried to teach it to you. But you wave when we come to get you from your crib and you wave when we tell you to say “Bye bye” and you wave when you decide to obey my “No Stairs” instruction. You even waved this weekend when Daddy was gone and I asked you “Where’s Daddy?” You seem pretty proud of this and pretty entertained by yourself. And we’re just scratching our heads that you didn’t even need to be taught. Or maybe Jacob & Meredith taught you without even trying, without our even noticing.
Another thing I’m loving lately is that your preferences are emerging, and I can tell what your favorite toys, things, and places are. You love the wooden peg dolls that I am forever pulling from between your teeth. You like to watch cars out the front storm door. You have your favorite tiny bean-bag giraffe that hangs from your mouth often, or the wooden penguin train car with a pull string which you also like to carry around hanging from your mouth by its string. There are other favorites, too, and they slip my mind at the moment, but it’s just fun to see that you are developing your own little self-selected culture of what life should be about in your ideal world. It’s so fun getting to know you.
We were home alone this weekend, just you and me and Meredith and a terrible head cold while Daddy & Jacob hit the road for some fun. Two epic milestones fell on this weekend, the first being the other night when I lost my chance at some miraculously good sleep by staying up almost till midnight while you were sleeping twelve hours straight for the first time. You can go ahead and do that again soon if that’s OK.
The other was the hilarious reaction I got by offering you some small chunks of tomato at lunch the other day. It’s official: the first food you genuinely despise. You spat it out every single time with a face of genuine disgust, like if you’d had words you’d have said “Mom. Seriously. Are you trying to kill me with this stuff? Who eats this?!”
My story for you this month is a hard one to tell. I like the story of that Monday morning right after Easter when we ditched the kids for four hours instead of three by signing them up for school lunch and we wandered the town on a perfect spring morning. I like feeling like you’re my sidekick. I like sitting in a coffee shop with you nomming cheerios beside me. I like running errands with only you strapped to me. Somehow being my third means you’re my bestie. You’re the one that feels like I don’t have to parent right now, just hang out. Being with you feels strangely like solitude, and we’ve been enjoying a lot of those moments.
But this story is about a Sunday afternoon last month when I thought I was going to lose you. And it’s about every single day since that weekend, when sometimes the only thing that gets said as a bedtime prayer as I lay you down by faith and walk out of your room by faith (and by faith I mean courage and chosen sanity) is “Jesus, this boy belongs to you.” I was standing in the kitchen washing dishes with Hannah (affectionately known lately as your girlfriend) and articulating to her how terrorized I was feeling by the fragility of life when I looked over at you in your high chair with some pieces of apple and saw that you were choking. The next few minutes are a blur now of panic and adrenaline and shock. And you are fine. We didn’t even call 911 in the end, though the phone was in our hands. You were breathing as often as not, but there was apple in your lungs. You were lethargic and your skin was bluish and you were just very, very quiet.
(I was not quiet.)
Maybe it was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. I completely lost my shit that night after finally putting you to bed. I’m not sure how to chronicle the whole thing satisfactorily except to put it in terms of what I read and sang and understood in the days and weeks surrounding it. And somehow I know I need to chronicle it.
I have this obsession lately with the topic of the resurrection. With how the force of life is woven into everything in the world because God is life and because Jesus is the first in a series of resurrection miracles. But the week before Palm Sunday a college friend died suddenly. She died the same day I sat alone in a dark doctor’s office and listened to him say “cancer” in discussing the growth on my thyroid. (At this point it is unreasonable to presume it’s cancer, and the nature of the growth renders me almost completely without risk to life or health. Still, you don’t want to have these conversations.) While I processed my own test results, my friend went from healthy and whole and full of life to the grave in a week’s time, simply from pneumonia and a subsequent infection. It should never have happened. It shook Daddy & me up really badly, even though she was more acquaintance than friend. Still, she had a place of her own in our story, and more to the point, we knew her to be such a beautiful, remarkable person. The world is worse for her absence.
That’s what I was talking about at the kitchen sink. About how I’m struggling to live my life because instead I want to control the whole business: I want to do whatever it takes to ensure that life will flourish. But while lately my ideas have been woven through with the awareness of life’s resilience, last month it all evaporated in a single event and all I could see was the fragility. And that was before I watched myself take your tiny body out of your chair and uselessly try to fix it. I saw myself powerless and I felt mocked. The only thing I could do in those moments was to wait to see if you were going to be OK.
The only thing I can ever do is to wait and see if you are going to be OK.
That’s where I’ve arrived, and that’s what life has consisted of lately: of this epic struggle for courage to wait, courage not to control. I’m a free range mama normally. My kids do all kinds of things others would be horrified by, like walking down the sidewalk unsupervised or playing with actual garden shovels or spending months existing in a construction zone. But lately it’s been all the strength and courage and focused conviction I can muster not to control. This is the power behind terrorism: terror destroys life because it sends you inside to hide. You cease to live because the danger feels too strong. I have experienced this this spring. I experienced it that night when five hours later I still wasn’t convinced you were going to be OK and I uselessly, aimlessly couldn’t-wouldn’t put you to bed. Once I did I had to keep going back to listen at your door. (After I stopped crying.)
That very morning I’d been standing in worship contemplating the climax of the Jesus narrative on Palm Sunday, leaving for a private place and fresh tissues when I would begin to sob for Claire all over again. And again. My body felt a magnetic pull towards the floor, a feeling common for me in recent months, that makes the Psalmist’s language about prostration so resonant for me. I knew it wasn’t my business, Claire’s death. I heard “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” in my inner ear. I knew it, but I couldn’t get to the next part: “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In a few sane instants I was there, and I am convinced those are the truest, wisest places we creations can be. It’s called worship. A few times in my life I’ve experienced it undiluted: the knowledge that I belong to God. That everything belongs to Him and He is 100% within His rights to give and to take away. When you find yourself standing before Him acknowledging that: that is worship. I was there, like I said, for a few sane instants. And that was before you choked on the apple.
Since then I have been there a thousand times, but it hasn’t been an automatic experience. It’s been a labored choice, over and over again. It’s the choice I make when I lay you down to sleep every night. It’s the choice I make when I buckle you into your carseat. It’s the choice I make when I let my kids play outside. No one would be able to tell by looking that something has happened to mess up my free range heart. But I’m telling you, lately it’s all muscle. I could lean into the fear. I could live it. I did that day, and it looked like paralysis. Paralysis as a manifestation of terror and anger.
I didn’t want to say life was God’s by right. I was angry that Michael’s marriage had ended in death before he was even my age. I was angry that God had shown me how powerless I am for your good. I decided my job was to be God: to do everything in my power (funny, this ironic idea of Human Power) to guarantee life. I lived there long enough that you went to bed pointlessly late that night.
That night after I laid you down and I finally had the privacy to recount what actually happened to Daddy I lost control and sobbed a long time. I couldn’t pull myself together. I couldn’t get out from under the weight of that hypothetical. It was like those days in college when I felt PTSD after having witnessed (and almost been able to intervene) as my roommate fell head first out of her high bunk. She was fine. I could only see the alternative every time I closed my eyes for days.
To say I reached for the Bible beside me for comfort paints a skewed picture, because it wasn’t an act of faith, more a matter of pre-programming, and of a desperate need to calm down. The only thing I had faith in in that moment was my experience: the Psalms had worked before in my worst moments, and if anything was going to work now, well, that’s where my money was. I found Psalm 3 and 4:
I lay down and slept. I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
These lines and the Psalms they belong to afforded me calm, but to call it comfort wouldn’t be accurate, because I felt hounded by it, terrorized. Terrorized by God, if that is possible. To acknowledge that only God can make you dwell in safety is humbling and on that particular weekend I wasn’t feeling too appreciative of His recent efforts. That night as I went to bed I knew that my chief desire was to be God. To control. I felt I’d do a better job of it, anyway, if I had the chance. I recognized that God had the power for safety, but I wanted it.
Comfort came the next morning, as I sang you that song that for some reason rose to the surface of my repertoire when I first had you in my arms. It’s been your song since then and I sing it to you almost every day. Maybe now I know better why.
Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.
The words “helpless soul” and “other refuge have I none” and “defenseless head” made sense in a new way. To be honest, “Other refuge have I none” fit in my mouth more as an accusation than an acknowledgment. But these words have become my mantra in the last few weeks as I try to live in a way that is constantly choosing fresh faith, saying yes to life instead of the outcomes I can see with eyes closed. Somehow there has been comfort here. I trust in God’s willingness and wisdom to uphold. I experience the shadow of His wing.
But three weeks later maybe I have the full picture, and it is a picture that only emerges from the context of love. I heard those words again from the Psalm last night as Daddy and I sang a choral Evensong downtown. It is part of the chanted responses of the liturgy:
For only in thee can we live in safety.
It resonated, and I thought on all this again as the service drew to its close, there in the context of worship.
What finished the narrative was the night prayer that I love so much. As we began it I felt its comfort. It fit in my mouth. It gave words to my desires.
Keep watch, Dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give Thine angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for Thy love’s sake. Amen.
There it was, in the last line, the confidence that I’d lacked. This asking we are doing by the very breaths we have the audacity to presume upon – asking for God to keep watch – why should we have any expectation that His answer will come back “Yes.” Why should we trust God to uphold us? Perhaps all we can have is the calm and comfort I’d felt from the Psalms and the next day from Welsey’s hymn. That, too, is a place of worship, but it doesn’t feel like enough. But here it is: love, and in that, confidence.
There is a difference between submission and trust. Between trust and love. Sunday morning with hands raised in tears, aware that “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” – that is submission. Agreeing to choose life – that is trust. But finding confidence to replace fear again? To grow out of the daily experience of terror? That is love. Not so much my love for God as His for me. But isn’t it somehow the same thing? We love because He first loved us. Our hearts respond. And he keeps watch all for His love’s sake. Put another way, because this is what His love wants.
All of these places (submission, trust, love) can be worship: a humble and rather mathematical recognition that God is the Creator and King and our lives are His by right. Slowly in these past few days I find I’m coming back (but have I ever really been there before?) to a place of love, to an estimation of Him and a desire for Him that leads to relinquishing control because I know I would rather be in His care than mine. Because He loves me.
And he loves you.
And I love you, because somehow that still matters, even though it pales in comparison.