dear jackson: it will be better

Dear Jackson,

You are growing so much, little man. I am amazed at your hard work – the doctors say you’re right on time, even measuring a few days ahead. You move and squirm around a lot, but I know that the space is starting to feel small. The world here is bigger, and there will be much more space for you on the other side. We have a big backyard and sidewalks, we have the river walk where Dad and I go sometimes to talk and sift through our thoughts, where we go to wonder out loud.

It’s been a little while since I wrote to you about your cleft. We had the MRI, the ultrasounds, the follow-up appointments and there will be a few more before September. You are being such a good sport about letting these strange people take pictures of you. And I know it is a lot, and I think we’re both relieved when we pull out of the hospital each time, heading home, the three of us still making our way through.

I have been talking about you to God, every day. Lately I’ve been asking how this is happening to you, this complicated, challenging stuff.  I keep saying that it seems like you’re too little to have to go through all of this, that it’s so unfair, how much I wish I could be the one to have this instead of you. How much I would give for you not to need any extra help, how much I would give.  And I tell God that I don’t understand how this can be happening to someone I love so much, because, little man, I love you so much more than I can explain.

But then Jesus asked me while I was standing in my closet, trying to pick out something to wear, in that silence that so often carries the voice of God to our noisy hearts: Hilary, do you believe that I love Jackson? 

And then Jesus asked me, Hilary, do you believe that what I will do for Jackson is better than what you can imagine? 

Little man, I do believe this. And I want you to know that I believe it. I believe that when you are born, in those few short weeks that stand between us and the mystery and adventure of your birth, Jesus will be celebrating. Jesus will be rejoicing with us that you are here, that you are finally here in the world with us. And I believe that if you are miraculously healed before birth or if you go through some surgeries, if you come out screeching or if you need a little help breathing from the doctors and nurses in the NICU, if you have some or all or none of what we are preparing for right now, I believe that Jesus will do, and is doing, better things than I can imagine.

I could try to trust in ultrasounds, in MRI reports. I could try to trust in miraculous healings or dreams or prophecies or the late night prayers we are praying over you. I could try to predict what will happen, to imagine you, to imagine what is ahead. But I believe, little man, that it is better to put my trust in Jesus.

And Jesus has better plans for you than the ones I could come up with. Jesus has better things for you than I can ask or imagine. Jesus knows you and loves you so much beyond my imagining.

Jesus led me to your dad – and he is so much better than I could ever have imagined.
Jesus led me to studying philosophy, to asking big questions about disabilities and differences, about human nature and the image of God – better than anything I imagined when I was applying.
Jesus led me to the right college, to the right high school – both better than I could have imagined when I first set out.

And Jesus brought you to us, and you are already so much better than I could have imagined. Carrying you along with me, every day, I remember: what God has in store is always far more than we could have imagined by ourselves.

So, Jackson, these last few weeks, I am leaning on this for both of us. I don’t know what is up ahead. I don’t know where we will be in 8 weeks or what it will be like. But I know, I know, I know that Jesus is with us and ahead of us. He will be rejoicing when you’re born, for there are far better things in store than the things we can imagine.

I can’t wait to see you, little man. Just a few more weeks. We will be rejoicing.

Love,
mom

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

go free, prisoner

I find myself looking at Jesus out the window of the borrowed Highlander in the midst of Waco.

He is there clearly in my mind, maybe car windows can be like the iconostasis some days, that piercing window into heaven, that stirring up of your spirit to meet the Spirit.

It’s just a few days before Pentecost.

I have been in the midst of telling Jesus that I am trapped in my mind, lost in the sea of obligations. I have been telling Jesus with the bold and arrogant assumption more often made by the accustomed Christian that Jesus is mild-mannered and so tolerating this rant, and that eventually the emotions will subside and I’ll go on, and Jesus will go on, both of us mostly unchanged.

Let me tell you something: that is not Jesus.

Instead I hear the thought ripple – no, that’s too gentle – rip into my mind, hurricane wind, not just a little bit of fire in the voice. I am telling you, go free, prisoner. 

I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jesus, the easiest lie, the lie of pretended incomprehension, because a God that we say is so beyond our knowing surely cannot be speaking so clearly to us, to me, as I stare out the car window hoping against hope that I can find my way around the words.

I am telling you, go free, prisoner. 

It takes nothing less than the Spirit to shake us out of our assumed ignorance back into the obvious truths, the who we are before and afters. Because I am so much of the time a prisoner rattling the iron walls when the door behind me is swinging open and it is Jesus who stands there, arms open, waiting. I am the too busy noticing my own struggles to see that the shackles are at my feet, that the sun through the window is the first day of the week and I’m living in the time of the resurrection.

I do this with the story of how eating became harder, or how I don’t know how to stand up for myself, or how I am too people pleasing or too quick to worry or how I don’t know when to allow myself to feel grace because I worry that if I give myself room to not be perfect I’ll collapse altogether. I rattle the walls of the prison of I should be better or I should do more or I am not good enough at 

and then there is Jesus, calling for me – go free. 

Me, in that car, driving through Waco, and there is Jesus, caring so much more than I imagine he does. Not mild-mannered, not indifferent, not unconcerned. No, I meet Jesus who says, Go free, prisoner, and who keeps calling out to me, who is relentless in the message that my heart is no longer bound anymore, but freed. That there is no need to rattle the walls because the door is opened, because life is beginning.

Just a few days before Pentecost I hear again the old story, the Gospel of the radical concerned grace of God – that God will not be mild-mannered or indifferent with us, but come to us, driving through Waco or when we are in front leading worship or as we glance back at the iconostasis, and Jesus will keep saying, go free, prisoner. I have loved you, I have freed you, you are urgent and important to me, you belong to me. 

Oh, how the Gospel needs preaching again and again to this tired heart.

And oh, how good God is, to still come shout it over me.

Love,
hilary

to the girls in my zumba class

Dear girls in my Zumba class,

Dear you who is willing to jump up and down to music we don’t really know the words to, you who is willing to do the moves with more energy after 50 minutes than I think I have in my whole body, who laughs at our blurred reflections in the mirror,

you are what makes me brave.

I’ve been up and down the mountains and hills for a little while now, with this question about food and how to eat and the fact that sometimes I don’t know how to finish a bagel in the morning, I’m so nervous that it will upend my life. I’ve been in the thicket of the thoughts about mirrors and beauty and whether the scars on my stomach from the time I had my gallbladder removed are moments of skin knit together, moments of pride that my body is always doing a healing work on itself, or if I should be embarrassed and try to hide the thin pink line that dances near my belly button.

I’ve thought about writing and not writing, I’ve written and deleted, and in the end of every day I don’t write a blog post about this journey up and down the mountains of that question – am I beautiful? 

you are the people I see at the other end.

You jumping up and down in the aerobic studio to Pitbull and Lil’ Jon. You in old T-shirts and yoga pants and running shorts and neon sneakers and bare feet. You, afraid and unafraid, because we are all a little of both if we are honest. I can’t describe how much courage you breathe into my lungs just being in that second row with you.

And yes, you know, it is courage to shake my hips and courage to swing them in something that I think might someday look like a circle. And yes, it is courage to keep dancing at minute 50.

But it is also courage to be.

You give me courage to be, without walls, without the tap tap tap of the prison guard of my mind that says I should eat less run more be more do more perfect more. In Zumba, there is no better and no best, there is just us and the courageous being of us.

If I could tell you anything it is that yesterday at the end of class I walked out and realized that I think you are all, each, singly, remarkably, beautiful. I realized that I know this in my bones, that you are beautiful, that you are courageous.

And maybe it’s time I walked out of a class and thought of me alongside you, as one of those beautiful and bright courageous beings. Maybe it’s time I walked out of class and let the lessons you are teaching me sink into my bones.

I wish I could paint this for you, write the way you have built my courage from my pink sneakers to my heart, how you have changed me beyond what I had imagined could change. You, with every routine and every sigh and laugh you are rebuilding my idea of what it could mean for me to be beautiful. To be courageous. To be whole.

Gratitude is not measured in a word count, so I will only say, again, you have done infinitely more than you know. And this girl, she is learning beautiful from you.

Love, hilary

it is about being seen

I don’t need this I don’t need this I don’t need this. I repeat it over and over to myself, sinking into the scratchy wool chair in the downstairs lobby. I’m here because my parents tell me I need to talk to someone, need to walk through the perfectionism, need to admit the things I don’t want to admit – I don’t need this I don’t need this I don’t need this. I look around – the water in its bulky upside down Poland Springs dispenser, the packets of Swiss Miss, the old copies of Martha Stewart Living or Bon Appetit, which I flip through foolishly (I barely cook anything) as I wait. Pumpkin sage ravioli. Pumpkin chocolate cookies. Something with cinnamon that sounds beautiful and impossible. I toss the magazines aside and move my feet around the edges of my chair.

I don’t need this – isn’t this for those who really struggle, not for 19 year olds with perfectionist tendencies and maybe some insecurities but nothing major, nothing she can’t get a handle on if she would only try harder and shape up and be better?

I don’t need this – it was just one or two comments to my parents about feeling not good enough or that I was a bad friend and a failure.

I don’t need this – I’m Hilary. Hilary is put together. Hilary doesn’t need to go to counseling.

She comes downstairs to get me for the appointment and I walk quietly behind her.

Her couch is softer than the chair downstairs, and the office is quiet, and there are paper cups for the hot tea I know she must offer or make for most of the people who come through in a day, in a week. I see the rain on the glass panes of the window behind her chair, and though I am afraid, though I worry, though I think in my head still, I don’t need this – something in her smiles tells me it is okay to keep talking.

She asks me questions no one has asked before – asks me to tell her all about what I think to myself as I walk through a day, asks me to tell her about school, and how I perform, asks me to tell her about my stray thoughts and my someday dreams and what it is I think will happen if… And I find myself back, week after week, spreading the questions like puzzle pieces between us. I talk about how things make me feel. I talk about what I wish I was, and don’t believe I am. I talk about my desire to be prettier, or thinner, about my perceptions of the world, about friendship, about trust. I talk about boys, long, winding conversations where I can’t tell beginning from end, the heartbreak from the hard conversation from the new possibility. We take our time.

Nearly three years later, we sit in leather chairs. Her office has moved to a different building on campus, and it’s only a brief meeting – we’re both in between so many things. But I have to tell her – not in the words, I’m engaged! – but in the smile, in how I tuck my hair behind my ear and how I smile (I smile differently now, softer, I think, but also bursting with life), tell her that she has made a difference. A big one.

It was as simple as being seen those years ago on her couch. It was as simple as her kind smile amid the puzzle pieces and the grace that pours out when we see one another. And as I untangled all the knots of not needing it, I realized – I did.

I needed to be seen. And she saw me – saw me wild and free and imperfect and so desperate to share myself with the world and so afraid to do anything. Three years later, and we are both near tears, and I tell her the words I should have said a long time ago:

This was one of the things I remember most from college. You were one of the most important people I met here. And you, seeing me? 

It meant everything.

Can I ask us again, wherever we find ourselves? Can we see each other again? Can we pause, and look for each other, look past the Oh, I’m fine, and the schedule and the college exams and the minivans. Because it means everything.

Love,
hilary

i run again

The woods turn golden this year, a fierceness in their leaves. The wind has changed its rhythm along the familiar path. I set out over the stream, across the roots of the ancient trees, weathering the season with them.

I often wish I was more than I am.

I pound down the first path around the smaller pond. It is always muddied by couples trying to find the gravity to keep them  together in a midnight walk or the cross-country team training for the weekend. I pass no one in the afternoon, and my feet are angry against the earth. I feel them praying resistance to God even though I pray out loud for a heart that can hear, a listening heart. Our whole bodies pray, don’t they. Mine prays at war, angry and confused, patient and devoted. It is an out of rhythm prayer. The sweat clings to the back of my neck and I dart among the corners of the path, chasing myself, or God, or running from both.

I often wish I was more than I am. The old lie, that there is an other we might be, better than what was first made and called good, cuts the air from my lungs. 

The path widens and I hear behind me another runner and his dog. The dog bounds up beside me – a beautiful lab, her fur the color of wheat in summer, deep-set eyes and a lightness to her running. She touches my leg with her wet nose. I look down, smile, but ignore her as I run ahead. The dog hangs back, but only for a moment, and then she races forward to tag me again, a bark to get my attention. We go on in the game, running ahead only to be caught. We stop together at the opening to the pond, where the wind is, and the dog dashes into the water and begins to play.

“She likes to run with the head of the pack,” the runner explains as he catches up to us. I smile slightly. “She’s beautiful,” I say. Another moment, watching her chase down a shimmer of sunlight, and I keep running. I wonder about the dog playing tag with me on such an ordinary day.

We  often choose to wish we were more than we are.

“Thank you, for the dog,” I hesitate – could God be pleased with that? Was that even prayer, to be thankful for a dog while out running in the woods alone?

There was a poem that a friend gave me, about geese that turn into light. About how we were not leaving, but arriving. About an indescribable wedge of freedom in the heart. You know this poem, I pray – David Whyte, The Journey, a poem that changes you,  clings to you like the leaves piled high in the silent woods.

“Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.”

The one line, the one about freedom, the one about the golden fall and the leaves that cling like fire to the trees, the one that captures, just for a moment, the certainty of the presence of God?

“Thank you,” I whisper, over and over, tears falling, as I turn left up the steep hill to go home. “Thank you, for the dog.”

I wish for nothing but to draw nearer.

Love,
hilary

dear heart, love hilary

Dear little one,

I already lost count of the ways I love you. Mom sent me pictures of how you grew inside her, for months and months, we waited for those brief glimpses of the two of you together, and I would yell every time and stop what I’m doing and stare at the two of you (because that’s the funny thing about pregnancy – a picture of Mom is also a picture of you for nine months). Your mom is a gently beautiful person, full of joy, full of life, and now that you are here, I know that flows into you too, with the physical life she offers. She gave you a special kind of life from her heart and her body these long nine months, and now, you are here. We are beyond excited – we are out in the field of wild joy. We are out dancing in our kitchen and we are outside under the bright summer sun, laughing and praying and trying to find the right days and times to fly out to meet you.

When your parents got married I fell down the stairs at the reception. Not all the way, not dangerously, just in enough of a way to be completely embarrassed and wish that I was safe from the memory. But we are a long remembering family, and so your uncles on our side and your parents and grandparents won’t let me forget it – and trust me, your soon-to-be Uncle Preston won’t let me forget either (he’ll love telling you all kinds of stories about me). But their wedding day was a day about your parents, about two becoming one, about love. And these are the roots of love you grow from. I can promise you, little one, they are deep roots. You will grow in a richer love than you know.

That day, the reading was from 1 John 4 – about how we love because He first loved us. How we know love at all because it has been shown to us by another, by He who is love. You will be fed on love that is rooted in His love. You will be loved, in the midnights and the hurried mornings, in the laughter and the snow, in the every moment, by parents whose love is anchored and rooted to God’s love.

And I remember that day knowing your mom – my sister – and your dad, my brother-in-law, became a family. And now you are here, and you are a part of our family, and we are jumping up and down with joy over it and I might fall down a hallway or an airport or an escalator as I run towards you when I meet you.

But we anchor each other in a deeper love.

We will – this whole family of yours, aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents – promise in our own ways and times, to love you wild and deep and forever. There is so much I don’t know about you, dear one, so much I cannot wait to discover. But I promise you a deep and wild and forever love in this family.

I promise you all of my love, too. I promise you all of it, anchored in His.

Love,
Aunt Hilary