this can carry us

I learned to pray when I learned to drive. Those smooth, familiar backroads, at age 17 too hasty in hoping to be older. At the stoplights where even now I do not notice how I know where I am going, I just turn, left, then right, then right again. I learned to pray driving past the old white house covered with vines and lilacs that only bloom for a week, a glorious hidden week in May, the kind that sneaks up upon you and shatters your resignation with joy. I prayed the unconventional hours: early morning requests and questions, the late evening thanksgivings. Often, I repeated this: I love you, Jesus. 

When I slink into the driver’s seat, even now when I go home to visit, I feel the pull of those hours, the richness hidden in rhythm and repetition: I love you, Jesus. I remember the drives, keeping those hours, the expectation, the simplicity. The lilacs bursting forth against the old white house.

These hours keep me praying in the long summer of expecting my first son. These hours keep me, my younger self’s prayers, ones about God’s glory being revealed to me, or the fullness of God’s wisdom being shown to me, or the love of Jesus, my younger love of Jesus. These hours keep me, praying somehow still over me from the week of bursting lilacs to the week of driving to Temple, of learning about Jackson, of new glories.

I have wanted to write about praying for Jackson, but the truth is, it’s really the old prayer I’m praying, that the Spirit is praying in me and for me: I love you, Jesus. I find you so beautiful. 

My son knows my voice. This overwhelms me, since so much of the day I am quiet. We talk in snatches, I tell him about what I’ve been reading, I tell him about his cousins, his grandparents, how much love is waiting for him. I tell him about his doctors, too. I tell him that he will love them, that they are helpers, people God gave special gifts to for helping kids heal and grow and be strong. I am telling myself all these things.

He hears about this ordinary life all day, carried around inside me with his fierce, strong spirit: he hears Preston read One Hundred Years of Solitude, me proclaiming my craving for red velvet cake and ice cream sandwiches, my laughter with his dad, our plans for crepe myrtle trees and a backyard garden and a library of books just for him. And he hears me on the couch or the bathroom floor, some mornings getting dressed, how those are sometimes hard moments in my expectation. How I cry sometimes because I am new at this, new at even the very act of becoming a mom, becoming his mom.

So the old prayer, the lifeline – I love you, Jesus.

He hears that, too.

May this be the forever thread running through our days together: I love you, Jesus. 

I love you with the first light slinking through the blinds, with long hours of reading, with appointments and ultrasounds and so many pictures of Jackson as you are forming him. I love you when I pray laughing or weeping, or both at the same time. I love you with the bursting lilacs all those years ago, the first hours set down, that resound now. I love you with everything in me that is unfinished – with the poem that that line comes from, Robert Bly, I think.

I love you, Jesus. 

This is the well-worn prayer. This can carry us.

Love,
hilary

the new shape of my heart

I cry in the bathroom some mornings when I think other people are just waiting for me to finish brushing my teeth. I stand stock-still at the sink and look at my reflection, touch the skin so effortlessly joined together over my cheekbones, the same place where the doctors will help my son’s skin join back together, scar tissue so much stronger than my own.

The days are getting warmer, summer bending around the next corner.

I smell the lilacs every time I pass them going in and out.

These past few weeks my heart has been stretched tight like the skin across my belly that pulls as my son grows, sometimes what seems like leaps and bounds every day. It has been pulled deep and hard, the same old words repeated: take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid. Words from Jesus, not just for Peter.. My heart has learned that there are fewer words, not more, that should be anchored in us: perhaps only these:

Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.

Jackson kicks often now, insisting on his presence, his being alive. His being, of course, mine and not mine. He pushes at me and sometimes it feels like he is shouting his own annunciation. You are my mom. No one else. And I am your son, no one else, and when I put my hand next to him and there is nothing but skin between us, I know this more than I know anything else:

My son is beloved by God. And I must be, too, because God let me wrap my skin and self around him for all these long months of his becoming.

On the mornings I freeze in the bathroom, overcome, Jackson still kicks, but more gently. He is brave for me more than I am brave for him.

–.

I started this post thinking I would talk about the shape of my heart, how it has changed. Then I thought it would be about how grief is a strange, unexpected guest, one that joins you some mornings with the smell of lilacs and toothpaste when you touch your skin and imagine your son. Then I thought it would be about fear, and love, and walking on water.

But it is none of those things.

It’s just a post about my son, who kicks and moves to a music I cannot hear, whose skin will be stronger than my own, who shows me we are both God’s beloved.

My heart does have a new, surprising shape: the shape of being his mom.

Love,
hilary

when i am listening to coldplay

Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones.  

This song is in my top five of all time.

If I made you a playlist, sometimes, I wonder what story it would tell of me. I made one, right now, thinking about it, but I don’t know what the story is.

A story of trying.

A story of waiting.

A story of belonging, of leaving, thinking myself the one left behind sometimes.

But more a story of always being found.

I have a story about this song that I can’t quite remember, me standing in the back of a crowded gym after I had graduated from the school I love near my hometown. The a capella group in the school sang it, harmonies built with raw voices, and no one was afraid, and no one’s voice trembled. I think it was the time that I was so sure things would not come back together, after a year of the try hard and try even harder life…

And then they sang,

lights will guide you home. 

I don’t know how to explain this, exactly, but in the quiet tumult of these last weeks and months, I have been listening to it again.

lights with guide you home. 

That’s how I want my son’s journey into the world to be – lit up, illuminated, glowing with the fierceness of love.

That’s how I want all of us, the wild and ragged band of us, to journey through the world. I want us to live illuminated.

That try-hard life, it feels far from me now. It isn’t – I’ve asked so often for something to do, for an explanation of how I didn’t try hard enough, for a list of the should-have-dones, my voice cracks with over-asking. And some days I am heavy with the lie that we earn the life we have, that it is ours to possess, ours to control.

The truth is that Jackson belongs to me, but I don’t possess him. Jackson’s story, Preston’s story, my family’s stories, they belong in mine, and mine in theirs, but the stories aren’t ours, not our creation or our prop or our possession. The world shifts under you when there is a person arriving, a new life, a new wonder… and it all changes again, and you’re cradling your belly in front of the bank teller and you realize that you are not the same. That you don’t want the life that is hard won or earned – you want the life that is too full to be your doing.

You crave the life too full, too good, to graced with God’s intimacy, to have been your plan.

I remember that self in the high school gym, her with her try-hard tears and the weight of a world she doesn’t quite know yet on her shoulders, heaving them forward. I want to tell her that it will be okay, that she will learn in about two hundred and twenty weeks that she will not want the hard-won trying life anymore. I want to tell her that instead, she should let the words sink into her bones, nestle there. I want to promise that her life will be lit by the fierceness of love.

That her husband will love her so much better than the boy who didn’t see her.

That her son will kick her at the most extraordinarily right times, reminders of his abundant life even in the midst of what shadows, what feels dark.

That God will move, and keep moving, calling out from ahead and behind and next to her – Take heart! It is I – do not be afraid. 

That she will have, not a planned life, not a hard-tried and hard-earned and hard-won life. She will have a life softened and lit by love.

Lights will guide you home,
and ignite your bones

This time, I sing it softer. A lullaby. A reminder. A single, glimmering hope.

Love,
hilary

when it has been 20 weeks

Dear Jackson,

You have a name! You love to remind us with every ultrasound visit that you are a boy, and the name belongs to you in the best way – it’s been yours for so long. I love using it when we’re on the go, you and I, grading papers or dancing in the kitchen or sitting on the porch, just being. I love talking to you with your name, Jackson, rolling off my tongue.

This week we learned a little bit more about you, Jackson. We learned different things from different places – a phone call and a follow-up detailed ultrasound and a genetic counseling appointment. It’s been a lot, but I think you probably know and feel my hand over the place where you’re moving, that sense of change in the air, new plans, new preparations.

You’ve got a facial cleft. From what we have learned so far, it extends up from your lip and involves your right eye and that side of your nose, and it goes back into your palate too. It happens sometimes; our bodies do unexpected things.

You have some unique things ahead, Jackson. We are so grateful that we know now, when you’re still wiggling around showing off your arms and legs, letting us hear your strong heartbeat. We are grateful because we can start to make sure we are ready to take care of you when we finally meet you this fall. And every single person who comes into the world needs taking care of. Me, your dad, the people who will meet you and take care of you in the hospital in September, the people at church, your grandparents. You will need some particular things – you’ll need help eating, maybe with breathing at the beginning, and the doctors will do some really amazing things to help you with the cleft so that you can grow, grow, grow – so that you can become your full Jackson self. But everyone needs. Everyone has scars that help tell the stories of their lives – I am praying that you become proud of yours, even as I am proud of where they come from, proud of your mighty self here at 20 weeks, proud of you.

Listen to me, my beloved first son: you have been befriended by the Almighty God. God is walking into every room, every waiting area, every surgery, every MRI or ultrasound or counseling appointment or wellness check, ahead of the three of us in the wild journey of becoming the family that we could not be without you. God is walking out ahead of us, and whenever we look around at the waves or the walls or the unknown-ness of it, when we cry out or you cry out, I want you to hear me: Jesus immediately calls back to us, “Take heart, it is I! Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid of needing help in the beginning. Do not be afraid of what could happen. Do not be afraid, he whispers to me as I look at your ultrasounds on the fridge –  do not be afraid of the many statistics that cannot add up to the story of your one impossibly precious life.

So, Jackson, you whose name means God has been gracious, and whose middle name, David, means beloved, friend. At this the end of our twentieth week together, I put my hand over you and feel you push back at me, defiant already, sure of your own becoming, and we are making our hearts ready for you. We are making our hearts ready for the bigger wonder of who you are – the wonder of taking care of you, of learning your favorite things, of your discovery of the world.

We can’t wait for you to be here with us, Jackson. We can’t wait to hold you and kiss all these places that bear the marks of being human, of being alive. I can’t wait to meet you. Every piece of you.

All my love,
mom

i pray you have a wilder imagination

Dear tiny person, 17 weeks alive now,

You will start hearing my voice soon – the sound of my heartbeat, loud and steady, the movement and rhythm of my body in the midst of all the ordinary work of these spring days. And you’ll hear Dad’s voice, the voices of the people around us, the noises of this life you’re coming into.

I have been hearing a lot of questions about you. People ask me, “but how will you still be a student?” and “will you quit school?” and “aren’t you going to need more time off?” and when I say no, they look at me surprised, a little concerned, a little knowing. They let the silence hang between us, the wide-eyed looks that carry the message across the inches of dusty floor – surely, surely, you didn’t think all this was possible. haven’t you underestimated how hard it will be? 

I am praying that you never hear these questions from me.

I am praying that when your dad and I hold you, we tell you the stories, again and again, that we are a people who never underestimate anything but the power of the Lord Jesus to walk into our lives and unfold the most surprising, most marvelous, most extraordinary things.

Your life is the gift that your dad and I never imagined we would be so privileged to see so soon. Your life is the greatest gift God has given us.

I pray that I do not ask you questions that say your imagination is too unrealistic. That you can’t possibly think you can do this and that at the same time, that you are underestimating how hard it will be, how much work it will be, how likely it is to fall apart.

I pray that you will hear me say instead that our imaginations should be wider, and wilder. I pray you will hear what I know in my bones, that we too often live limited lives because we limit our imaginations. We think that motherhood and philosophy graduate seminars can’t possibly both be successful; we think that you must choose between art and biology; we think that you cannot travel AND or be married AND or work this challenging job AND or …

and we teach this to each other, with our well-meaning questions and our expectant looks, with our heartfelt, “but how will that work?” Our imaginations grow small in the shadow of what we think more realistic.

I pray that your imagination is wilder than that. I pray that you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who will call you to get out of the boat, to leave behind what you know, to go into towns and cities, to leave the empty tomb with just the wild hope and these words: “I have seen the Lord!”

I pray you know that this is enough reason to rejoice in even what seems difficult or strange in the eyes of the world. It might not satisfy other people. And right now when I put my hand over the place where I know you’re growing, and I tell those who ask me these questions that I am not afraid to be a student and a mother, to be a wife and a philosopher and to hold you in the long nights and read to you about epistemology and the Rainbow Fish –

when I do this, it probably doesn’t satisfy the person who asked me.

But if it does not – if the question still lingers, how can she think all this is possible, then I dare them all to take that question and place it before the Lord Jesus. I believe Jesus will widen their imagination. I believe that Jesus will remind them of the stories:

Abraham, who left everything he knew to follow God,
Moses and the people of Israel, who followed God into the water of the Red Sea and walked safely,
Ruth, who left everything she knew to go with Naomi,
Hannah, who did not leave God alone in praying for her son,
Mary, who gave birth to God Himself in Jesus,
Peter, who got out of the boat, and even when he doubted, cried out and Jesus saved him immediately,
of the people Jesus healed, and ate with, whose faith, whose wild imagination carried them into the very heart of God.

And I believe that you, and me, and Dad, we are one story numbered among the thousands that Jesus tells about those who love Him. They are all stories of wilder imagination. They are stories of people who love, and this love, it casts out their fears, their idea of limits, their idea of what will be too hard and too much and so hard to imagine how it will all work. 

And so, beautiful, breathtaking tiny human being listening to my heartbeat, I pray that you are filled up all these many years with a wild imagination. I pray that you feel these stories around you, in your bones. I pray that you know most of all that God loves you, wildly, beyond your imagining – and when God calls out to you, you need never fear – it is His love, calling you to Himself.

Love,
mom

love is the unrelenting muscle

By now maybe you’ve heard through a grapevine or around the web, the news that Preston and I are expecting a baby. I had thought years ago I would do a lot of blogging about becoming a mom when it happened, that I would want to catalog my daily questions and thoughts in the midst of all the changes and strange cravings and morning sickness, the moments of realization, the moments of gratitude.

I don’t, anymore. It seems a season for quiet, for listening close, for making silence, as we used to tell my Sunday School students. Becoming a mom is among the most wondrous things that has happened in my life – but I probably won’t say too much about it here.

But I want to tell you about the sound.

I want to tell you about the sound of his or her heartbeat, at 9 weeks, in an ordinary doctor’s office on an ordinary Friday, trying to lie still as my nurse practitioner moved the Doppler monitor below my belly button. At first it was just the sounds of searching out the little life that I’ve been taking on faith is growing inside me, but then.

Then, there is this sound, this unbelievable, unyielding, steadying heartbeat. And it isn’t my heartbeat. It’s hers, or it’s his. It’s the baby’s heart, beating away.

The heart is the most unrelenting muscle I have ever heard. The heart is the muscle that begins its work and does not cease, not for one moment. And it begins first. It’s already beating as the brain grows and takes shape, begins to assemble thoughts still as mysterious as whatever lies on the other side of this thin place, where heaven and earth are tremblingly close to each other.

The heart, beating. It sounds so ordinary and then it sounds so unbelievable. Her heart has been beating for weeks now, without me knowing. His heart began to beat before I knew it, before we tuned in with the monitors and the watches and the steady checking in of doctor’s offices.

And this matters to you, because your heart, your faithful, steady, unrelenting muscle has been beating in you for longer than you can imagine. It has kept you.

I think about how we connect the heart, not the brain, with love. I think how we talk about the heart of God, not the cerebral cortex. And though God is far beyond any attempt to imagine Him having a literal heart, I do not think that we are completely wrong to imagine ourselves, to imagine this world, as in the heart of God.

Because God’s love is the same unyielding, unrelenting, steadfast muscle. God’s love is the patient, ever-present sound echoing through our bodies and our lives. God’s love is not too tired to carry us. God’s love is the unrelenting muscle that carries us.

And this baby, he or she is reminding me that there is something not to be forgotten about the mystery of a heartbeat. About the mystery of how we say that we are close to God, that we are held in His heart, that God loves us.

Because love is found in the unrelenting muscle of our lives. And we must love this way: unyieldingly, mysteriously, beginning from before we know it or decide it and continuing long after we think we have done enough, that we are satisfied, that the other person does not love us back or we have given too much of ourselves. We should love this way because it is costly but it is freeing, because it is difficult but familiar, because it is unlike anything in the world and yet it is the foundation of the world.

We should love one another this way, because this is how God loves.

This baby, he or she has a heartbeat set in motion by God. And this heartbeat, which is different from mine, is teaching me to love again more wild, more free, more unrelenting. Like a heartbeat.

Love,
hilary

the impossible brightness, again

“It is not the critic who counts.” Almost a year ago, I wrote a letter on my blog about that. I was talking about the cocoon we spin around ourselves, one that is supposed to protect us from things failing or falling apart or changing uncontrollably. I was talking about loving, daring greatly, how in that work and wonder the critic in us, the cocoon-spinner, does not count.

Far beyond romantic love, I spin cocoons of protection around every paper, every possible declined application, every possible mistake, every possibly possible … you understand, I think. I spin cocoons of anonymity and safety, of carefully worded posts or no posts at all, of endless caveats of when I become more of … then, I will do and be and think the braver things.

But daring greatly is not about the someday marvelous thing we might do. It is not the moment we suddenly defy ourselves and our cocoons and spite the critic in us. Those are marvelous moments, yes, but they are not all there is to daring greatly.

Daring greatly is believing that you carry in you the impossibly bright love of God. It is about entering into the impossible brightness that God prepared for us before we did any marvelous daring thing. It is in all of our tiny revelations, our smallest moments. Daring greatly is saying, “I need to talk to you about this,” three fourths of the way through the long flight when you’ve already argued and made peace and you think, if I say it now I will surely ruin everything. Daring greatly is pressing the “send” button when you’re so sure that if I send that, it will be rejected. Daring greatly is getting on your knees when you think every trace of God’s calling and purpose has disappeared, and even then, saying, Our Father. 

And it’s showing ourselves to care too much, to be un-aloof and earnest and eager and people of a brighter believing:

it’s doing the dishes and trying to find the Chinese restaurant in the unfamiliar town so you can do something spontaneous for someone you love, it’s making and remaking the same plans as you learn the rhythm of a friend’s heart, and it’s helping on a logic problem even though you could say you don’t have time,

it’s praying with, not just for, it’s being unembarrassed in the restaurant or the bank or the escalator in the mall to pray blessing over the stranger in the grey flannel two steps up from you,

it’s admitting that we are lights in the world, even in our yoga pants during rainy Mondays when we feel the least influential, admitting that we are lights that God would have put on a lampstand to illumine the house long before we ever thought ourselves worthy.

Because love is impossibly bright, and it is already alive in us. Because Jesus has gifted us His brightness, not for ourselves but for the house, for the stranger who knocks on the door, for another’s stepping toward Jesus.

Daring greatly is not just for the marvelous things that defy gravity – it is for the every day revealing and sharing of ourselves as bearers of the impossible brightness of God’s love.

That is the impossible brightness. That is daring greatly.

Love,
hilary