dear jackson: you show me Jesus

Dear Jackson,

You’re in six month pajamas tonight, and I can see that the feet are far too big for you, the little husky puppy faces on the ends dangling helplessly where your toes can’t quite reach. You’re growing so much, buddy, that I can’t really believe that we were in the NICU all those weeks ago. I just wrote down “months” and erased it, because this is the truth – time has changed for us. Hours are days and months are minutes. I think this is what they try to tell you when you become a parent – time reshapes itself in the midst of you.

You’ll know this yourself someday, I imagine. For now, you’ve been out in this wild world with us for 10 weeks, and you’re sleeping, hands up by your face the way you always seemed to sleep those long months on the inside. I looked at those ultrasounds again (do you remember any of that? The echoes of strange voices talking to me and Dad about you? Did you ever shake your head, at how little we all knew of the mighty person you already were?) yesterday.

There is no picture of you I do not find remarkably beautiful.

In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus. All the world, to be registered. This is one of the beginnings of the story of Jesus.

There are many, though. There is the beginning with Mary and Gabriel, the Holy Shadow, the be it unto me. There is the beginning with prophets who cried out in wilderness and desert to make straight a highway for God. There is the beginning song of creation, the Word by which everything was made

This is the season where we begin the story, where we prepare, where we make ourselves ready

I want to tell you something about Jesus, Jack. But who am I to tell you anything about Him? You know Him. You know Him in a way I have forgotten, with your one eye scanning the world, always looking for Him, always eager, always anxious for another sighting, another glimpse.

And then there you are, in the midst of the world where you are looking for the answer to your being here and the world being its beautiful self, and everyone who looks at you sees Jesus. You show Him to us.

Oh, how you show Him to me. Every minute.

Someone might think it’s because you show me something about weakness or vulnerability. Someone else might think it’s because you needed a trach and a feeding tube and it was so hard and I had to believe that God had good plans in spite of or even in the midst of.

But you, Jack, you show me Jesus risen in glory and power. Jesus whose love is wild and unyielding. Jesus who walks the hallway of the NICU. Jesus who reigns in operating rooms and who comes in the might of other children who kneel the afternoon of your surgery to pray.

You show me that Jesus is King and always has been.

What can I say to you about Jesus? In those days, a decree went out. An annunciation was made, and a visitation. There was a leaping for joy by John, after whom you’re named (your names mean God has been gracious. But you already know this).

When you open your eye in the mornings and smile at me, creasing your NAM tape, when you kick your feet up in the crib and toss your body back and forth as you reach for the toy fox, for your reflection in the mirror above your head on the play mat – you show me Jesus.

In those days, God announced that He was sending you to us. In those days, God announced that you had been formed differently, that what nature often does it hadn’t done the same way in you. In those days we walked, you and me, down many of the streets of downtown Waco, and in those days we caught glimpses of you – black and white, three-dimensional, printed on computer paper and clutched on the long ride home – and in those glimpses we knew. I know you, I would whisper over and over when I passed the fridge where your pictures hung. I know you, I would shout in my heart when the technicians swirled the ultrasound wand around my belly, looking for what makes you different, looking for a diagnosis. I know you. 

You show me Jesus, Jacks. Risen in glory and power, coming to us palms open, scars lit by the same glory, wound open so that we too can put a hand inside and touch the wonder of His work and rescue. You show me Jesus who comes in those days when the decree goes out.

You show me Jesus, who holds you in those glorious scars and pours His love through them over you, and through you over others.

In those days a decree went out. This is the season where we remember, where we tell the story, where we prepare for Him who is coming to live with us. And you, Jacks, you are leading me.

Love,
mom

when this is fifteen months of gratitude

I hear him sing to Jackson over the hum of the suction machine. He gives me the gift of a long shower – take the time, Hil – and he scoops up our growing wonder of a son and they are off, dancing into the nursery, one or two quick passes with the suction catheter and back out to the living room, to the record player, to the lights on the Christmas tree and the windows that look out on the world he insists is more beautiful than I reckon it.

I am thinking these days about my husband.

I am thinking about how they tell you marriage is teamwork and then you learn it walking hallways mid-disagreement, mid-misunderstanding, and you knock on the door to your son’s NICU area and you transform. You pause the conversation, pause the disagreement, and you walk the space of knowing your son. You walk the space of trach changes and whether or not to up his amount of milk per feed. You walk the space of who will hold him, who will suction him, who will prep and clean up after the small extra things we do to love on this growing wonder. You walk the work of language, how we will talk about Jack, how we will ask others to talk about him. You walk the silent wonder at how many more people understand than you ever thought would.

I am thinking about how they tell you marriage is a great unfolding, a mystery, how you don’t know who it is you married until you are already past the aisle, the vows, and into the world.

The first time I Skyped with my husband I fell in love with him. He was sitting in a bistro, headphone cord dangling, and drinking coffee. I was drinking iced tea from our grocery store terrified that I wouldn’t seem casual enough. I was wearing running shorts and an old T-shirt; he’ll think I’m very athletic, that’ll be good. I talked too fast and not fast enough. One hour became five, the bistro closed, he called me on his cell phone from his driveway.

I couldn’t have told you then we’d have a son named Jackson who would bring us to the NICU in Temple for forty days. I couldn’t have told you then that we would learn how to care for a tracheostomy, that we would number hours and weeks like stars. I couldn’t have told you, staring at my computer screen one hot July night, that I would sit in the kitchen the first Sunday of Advent crying because I’ve never known someone to love so unapologetically.

You don’t know who you married until you do. And even when you do know, looking at a senior boy from Baylor in your computer screen late on a July night, you learn it for the first time every time.

This is a post about gratitude.

He remembers what day the trash collection is. He remembers what is in the fridge and in what order the leftovers can be eaten and recreated. He knows how to make Jack smile as they dance to the record player, to the Christmas tree, to the windows. He knows that this world is more beautiful than I reckon it most days. He knows to tell me that.

It is the first Sunday of Advent. I’m sitting in the kitchen while it rains outside and Jack sleeps nearby.

You don’t know who you married until you do. And you learn them again and again. And they will take your breath away.

Love,
hilary

this is what I’m waiting for.

Dear Jackson,

Your godmother asks what I’m looking forward to about you. She asked as she was holding your soon-to-be friend, her sweet daughter. I was staring, lost for words, worrying, making those lists in my head with big words like NICU and surgery and MRI and cranio-facial team – all those words that if I am honest, just mean the people and the tools that are in place to help you and me and Dad as we begin our life together. They’re just words for the friends and things that Jesus is bringing with Him in this wonderful season of your arrival.

But I was running short on words, a little scared, and right then, you kicked me. You have such a personality, little man. Mom, I’m here. I’m okay. Every day when I start to worry, and I stop and put my hand over you, you kick back. Mom, I’m here. I’m okay. 

We have read a lot of the stories of Jesus’ healing power these last few months. You know about Jairus’s daughter and about the son who Jesus raised from the dead. You know about the woman who reached out in the crowd, just to touch the hem of his robe, and she was healed. And all those crowds, after Jesus walked on water, who just touched him, and were healed.

But one of my very favorite stories to tell you is the one about Zacchaeus. Remember him? He was so curious about Jesus – like most of us are – that he climbed up a tree to get a better look. The Bible says Zacchaeus was a tax collector and very rich. This tells us that Zacchaeus was probably not a very just man, who was unfair to others in the city, who did not treat them well. He doesn’t really seem like someone that Jesus would hang out with.

But Jesus sees him and comes to the tree where he is sitting. And guess what, Jack? Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and climb down, for I must stay at your house today.” What do you think about that? He sees Zacchaeus, hiding up in the tree and he tells him to hurry, climb down, because I’m coming to your house. Jesus isn’t just able to see where Zacchaeus is hiding, but Jesus wants to be with him. Jesus is going to stay at his house.

Zacchaeus is so overwhelmed and excited that he scampers down the tree and is happy to welcome Jesus. And he says to Jesus that he will make right the things he had done wrong – he will pay back people he had treated unfairly. He will give half of everything he owns to the poor. And Jesus tells everyone there, “Today, salvation has come to this house… For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.”

There is so much I want to tell you about this story. But right now what matters, Jack, is that sometimes I have been a little like Zacchaeus hiding in the tree. I have been scared to come down from my worrying to welcome you because I have been so scared that I won’t be able to be the mom that you need me to be. I have been scared that maybe I won’t be good at this or ready, that I will do things wrong.

But then I see Jesus standing at the foot of that tree holding you, and Jesus tells me to hurry, climb down, because you two are coming to stay at my house. You are coming to be with me. And when I hear that, and I see you and Jesus standing there, I climb down and realize that I am so happy. I am so excited for you, just like Zacchaeus was so excited about Jesus.

Jack, my little man so fully alive:

I can’t wait to hold you. To sit with you and reading you the books our friends have been sending you – Ping and James Herriott’s Treasury and The Going to Bed Book and The Mitten. 

To sing and dance around the kitchen for so many years that even when you’re 22 and you come home after college and you think I’m ridiculous, you’ll still join in.

To put you in the wrap or the carrier or the stroller or the whatever-baby-gadget-we-get and showing you the world. I’ll show you the leaves and their greenness, the water and the ducks that swim along the Brazos in spring. I’ll show you the big sky on our drive down 7. I’ll show you the cows, the wild orange and blue and purple flowers in April. I’ll show you the lilacs in Boston outside Grammy and Granddad’s house.

To introduce you to your aunt and uncles and cousins – they’ll show you the paddling pool and how to toss a football back and forth and probably how to get into mischief, too. I hope they teach you that.

To hold you. I already said that. But I’m so excited for that. Just to hold you.

Hurry, climb down, for I am coming to stay with you today. Jesus is bringing you with Him, Jack. He is bringing you to me and Dad. I can’t believe that we get to hold you, laugh with you, rock you to sleep, teach you about leaves and ducks and cows and the good things Jesus made.

I’m not hiding in the tree anymore. You and Jesus, you are waiting for me. You make me too happy, too overjoyed, too excited, not to scamper down.

Love,
mom

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

tonight, welcome the wonder

Dear friend,

There is a scene in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead I want to remember with you.

After a while the baby cupped her hands and poured water on her mother’s arm and laughed, so her mother cupped her hands and poured water on the baby’s belly, and the baby laughed… The baby made a conversational sound and her mother said, ‘That’s a leaf. A leaf off a tree. Leaf,’ and gave it into the baby’s hand. And the sun was shining as well as it could onto that shadowy river, a good part of the shine being caught in the trees…

After a while we went on back to the car and came home. Glory said, ‘I do not understand one thing in this world. Not one.’

I can’t read this without tearing up. That sunshine and the shadowy river, the baby laughing, the leaf and the ordinary unconscious teaching of the wonder of the world, in a muddy bit of a river in Iowa. How can I not cry? That sunshine. That teaching. That wonder.

It’s the day before Christmas, and I am caught up in the ordinary wonder of today. There is sunshine through trees, and my father-in-law and I spent a morning drinking coffee and looking out big bay windows and talking, our minds wandering new and familiar paths and it is that, the making of memories of laughter and wisdom shared and questions asked, in the unhurried way of daily life – that is the wonder of Christmas. That is the wonder we are welcoming in this moment, in this night. We welcome the wonder of new life, Heaven colliding irrevocably with earth. We welcome a baby, who bears our flesh, our ordinary, who is now in the midst of us and among us and in us.

How can I not cry? We welcome the wonder of all wonders. Not apart from the ordinary, but entering the heart of it.

I sing Christmas carols around the house when I clean these days. I don’t notice it all the time, but then suddenly I do: the same wonder, the rhythm of the cleaning of the floors and of my heart, too. I sing Christmas carols loudly and without worrying about managing all the right notes in the original key. I sing these stories loud. Something about the soapy water and the quiet and the ordinary work that never ceases: this is the work of wonder. The task of it, to repeat it in the midst of everything.

Tonight, we welcome the wonder of all wonders, the Lord of Heaven come to earth. We do this work of welcome in the middle of being so very much ourselves. I am myself, 24 years old, young in marriage and love and wisdom, me, the desperate seeker of a wilder love. I am welcoming Jesus as me, because Jesus comes for me. I am welcoming Jesus in the midst of my ordinary, singing Christmas carols with the Swiffer in hand. I am welcoming Jesus crying over Gilead. In the heart of the ordinary, the extraordinary enters in.

Come with me even unto Bethlehem? Bring your ordinary, your uncertainty, your wearied heart and hands and self? Even unto Bethlehem?

Tonight, the wonder of all wonders is born. Come with me, and greet Him?

Love,
hilary

when this is two months of gratitude

There are long days. The days where you wake up full of your own self, your own thoughts, your own worries – and there is the other person, the one whom you love, awaiting you.

And you brush your teeth and think about what clothes to wear and what work needs to be done that day, and you think you’ll fall behind if you don’t spend every ounce of yourself in your new work, in school, in all the big bold things God brought you here to do.

And you’ll eat your yogurt and say something you don’t even think twice about, which is the problem, of course, that you didn’t even think about it, and then you are caught, not just by this person whom you love – no, you are caught too by that description of Jesus from Philippians 2 –

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited;
but emptied himself
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.”

And it goes on, this kenotic hymn of such clarifying, terrifying beauty, you know that moment you hear something you keep wishing you wouldn’t hear?  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2.4-8 above, then 12-13)

Most of the time, my husband goes first in the self-emptying.

I am grateful that marriage is a self-emptying work. One that I fail at, more often than I can accurately describe. Because the work isn’t a trick of convention or a sudden blaze of glory. It is smallness made holy, an unbecoming of so much of what we grow accustomed to being – caught in our own worlds, however beautiful they are, however good, however purposeful. We grow used to our largeness, the hero-of-our-own-life-ness, the safety of being wrapped up in ourselves.

And then we are charged to work out our salvation, to self-empty, to loosen our grasp of the secure circular thoughts and to love one another. To love another.

My husband so often goes first. So often, he asks the first question, calls out for me, insists on knowing what’s behind the sigh or the half smile or the look-away or the hopeful side glance. And in the long days, when even your two-months-of-gratitude post is late, that calling out is an aching kind of love.

I don’t know if gratitude can truly capture it, how it makes me see him, see myself, how often I forget that we live and move in tandem with each other, how it is such work, such hard, gratifying, knees in the dirt work, to love each other.

He reminds me to cherish the work that is love.

The longest days, when it takes self-emptying, you sense that you are at the very beginning of the work. You eat your yogurt and you hear God tell you again –

This work of love is the coming alive of you.

To have this mindset, as was in Christ Jesus,

to empty, to become small again, to remember

the terrifying and beautiful fear and trembling,

and God, who works in us.

Love,
hilary

 

put on a little emmylou (a letter to preston)

Dear Preston,

It’s the one-month-mark today, here at the end of the winding road, the one that will so soon become that impossible stretch of green grass between us, aisle to union to marriage on the other side.

Tonight, I’m playing songs on a playlist I made called, “h&p” – with everything that’s indie and everything that’s country and everything that’s the way that these last days make me feel. I’m cleaning the almost emptied room, looking at the bags packed, the dresser drawers that creak with their once full life, their own sort of sweet goodbye.

I’m playing the first dance song from J&E’s wedding last weekend, the one that made me cry, the one where I was leaning against you, feeling your chest rise and fall with the steadiness that belongs to just you, that’s more than oxygen entering and leaving, but the very tenderness of being next to each other.

I wanted to write you a marriage letter early, the way Seth and Amber have written those, calling out on the waters of these blogs something, I don’t even really know what, but something, some echo of the impossible hope that I feel building in my chest when I look over at you, after more than a year, awestruck and comforted all at once.

But we aren’t quite yet married, and for all its ache, there is something about being engaged that I felt like I had to remember, now at its closing days. So, Preston, here – a last-month-of-engagement letter.

Put on a little Emmylou with me?

We will move slow across the room, just a sway like that other time, and the time before that, when the work was too much and for a moment we shrank the world to the small steps across the ancient wood floors. We will move in the sticky rhythms of a second summer together, make our way around her voice laughter tickling our ears.

Put on a little Emmylou with me, and I will press my hand into yours, we can drink lemonade along the water and you can steal more than one kiss before I duck my head, blushing, as the teenagers walk past in their colorful struts. I will wear your favorite dress and ask you a thousand questions about your favorite kind of pie and whether you think you’d ever live in the South of France.

Put on a little Emmylou, Preston, and we will reread our story in the pages of graduate school applications and gall bladder surgery recovery, in wedding menus and Pinterest pages, in my grandmother’s lost and now found ruby ring that I’ll wear in a month and again, in the smallest whispers across a French 75 or a morning cup of coffee or a birthday present and a made bed. We will remember how we build this, and I’ll make a joke that you laugh at and roll your eyes, and I’ll make that face and you will laugh again.

Put on a little Emmylou, darling, and I will start singing the way you like me to, unafraid, my feet up against the dashboard on the long drives, and I will promise you again and again, there is nothing quite as wondrous as stumbling on another way you’ve loved me – the boxes you’ve saved to open together or the the way you remember how much I love the Trader Joe’s twizzlers or the way you relentlessly force my hand with Jesus, day after day, so sure that the only way to heal my heart is to ask me to open it again to God. Again, and again, I will sing it out, one year and two and ten and sixty-five, how it wasn’t just happenstance, this love, but whole, and maybe even, holy.

I’m singing with Green River Ordinance, now, again that line, put on a little emmylou, and we’ll dance into the night, singing hold my loving arms, my loving arms are for you. 

And I remember how much love was singing at their wedding, in this song, in this dance, and so, my not just yet husband,

put on a little emmylou,

and slow, in the softness of these last days –

hold me. My loving arms are yours.

Love,
hilary