Wednesday, July 31, 2013

One Month

Dear Grace,

A few days ago, we celebrated your one month birthday!  It’s hard to believe that you’ve already been with us for almost 5 weeks.  All of time seems to have a different quality since you’ve been born.  Hours and days of the week no longer organize our lives.  Instead, it’s your little sounds, your naps, your delightful periods of wakefulness, and your basic needs that give structure to our days.  Really, “structure” is not the right word.  It implies a kind of rigidity and order that don’t really fit here.  No, our days are not really structured by you—but, they are given their flow and their pace by you.  And so, we happily meander along, soaking up precious times of nursing, shared naps, and gazing with deep joy and love and your waking or sleeping face.

In this time, you’ve been growing and developing at an amazing pace.  From your original weight and length of 7 pounds and 19 inches, you’ve gained 3 pounds and 4 inches.  You look around much more intentionally than you had in the early days—your favorite things to gaze at are our faces, the jingly orange bird toy, and the sharp contrast between the white walls and dark frames, curtains and wall hangings.  And your neck is much stronger and more stable—you don’t feel nearly as fragile as you did as a newborn.  Most delightfully, you’ve started to give us little smiles from time to time, especially as you drift off into sleep in our arms.  And even with all these changes, you’re still our same wonderful little Grace.

Just in the last week or so, we’ve started venturing out into the vast and expansive realm of “public.”  Now that your little body is a little stronger and more resilient, we’ve taken you along on dates, hikes, friends’ houses, and even to the store.  As long as we’re close by and you can eat and sleep whenever you want, you don’t seem to mind or notice the change.  Of course, everyone around certainly notices you!  You have many admirers, my love.  The sweetest ones, I think, are the little children.  Though they themselves are small and adorable, they gaze and gawk at your tiny hands and feet, exclaiming what a cute baby you are.  

I have been so grateful for the kindness that you have brought out of many strangers that we have encountered.  My favorite story of this kind is from our first date since you were born.  All three of us drove down to quaint riverside town of Occoquan for lunch, and then went to the Workhouse Art Center for the afternoon.  You slept most of the way there, but woke up very hungry just as we pulled in to the little town.  Your dad rushed to park, and I then raced around the side of the car to unbuckle you and find a place to breastfeed.  Thankfully, there was a shady bench not far from our parking space, where I plopped down to feed you.  Just as we were getting going, a woman rounded the corner of a shop and started walking towards us with a smile.  “We were just admiring your beautiful baby, and then I saw that you were nursing her out here.  Would you like to come into our boutique to nurse in a quieter place?” she asked warmly, as though we were old friends.  She welcomed us into the bridal shop next door, and ushered us to a sofa in the large dressing room, lined with hundreds of beautiful wedding dresses.  There, you nursed quietly and peacefully, while I also drank the cold bottle of water that the woman brought for me.  Both shop keepers were moms, too, they explained, and loved being with and nursing their kids when they were little.  Ah, I thought, they know the love and joy that I know, too.  Maybe it’s no surprise that caring and nurture is still flowing abundantly from them, now to me and my little one.

And so, Grace, it has been quite a month.  May God continue to bless you, to draw out the best in others through you, and to grow and strengthen you each and every day.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

So loved

Dear Grace,

From the time we knew we were expecting you, and even before that, we loved you.  We loved the dream of you.  We loved your growing, forming body.  We loved feeling your kicks and squirms in my belly.  We loved the knowledge that you were ours.  And since your birth, we have fallen even more in love with you in ways that we couldn’t have imagined.  We fell in love with your eyes, gazing steadily into ours.  And your little hands with their long fingers (“She’ll play the piano,” Gigi predicted proudly).  And your soft baby skin and even softer baby hair.  And the little bird noises that you made when you sleep.  And the big grunts that you make when you’re awake.  And your sweet sweet facial expressions when you finish nursing, utterly satisfied.  
In these last few weeks, we’re not the only ones who have fallen in love with you.  You’ve also smitten our family and friends.  Babcia, Dziadzucz, and Sybie are transformed in your presence into cooing, delighted admirers who want nothing less than your total happiness.  Yaya and Grand-dude (AKA, Martha and Paul), have even joined in as honorary grandparents.  Today, you met Papa and Gigi on Skype—you are the 11th of their great grandchildren.  Gigi went on about what a pretty girl you are, and Papa kept saying that, of all the family members, you resemble him the most—no hair and no teeth.

Your cousins were so excited to meet you and hold you.  Zoanna, Evan and Dylan came from South Carolina to meet you, their only girl cousin.  Zoanna in particular was so happy not to be the lone female of the generation anymore, and wanted to hold you as long as she possibly could.  Wayde, Wesley and Will also sent their greetings in cards that they made themselves.

Zosia and Lily couldn’t stop exclaiming, “She’s so cute!  Look at her tiny little feet!”  Your feet were, incidentally, the only part of you that they were permitted to touch, so they seemed especially interested in them.  Hugo, of course, could not be limited by those rules.  He kept circling back to you, saying, “Reen!  Baby!” and then kissing your back.  At the next visit, he peered down on you in your bassinet, releasing an adoring (and adorable), “Aaaaawwwww!”  Also at the next visit, Zosia was allowed to hold you, which she did ever so carefully and gently.  At one point, I thought she may be tired and wanting to get up for a snack.  “No thanks,” she responded. “I’ll just stay here and hold her a few more minutes.” 
So, Grace, may you always know how deeply you are loved.  May you know, at the core of your being, that you are cherished and precious to us, and to God.  May this knowledge bring you joy and peace, even in the dark moments of your life.  May this knowledge shape who you are, and who you are becoming, even now.

I love you, Grace.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Happy Week Birthday!

Dear Grace,

Welcome to our family, beloved little one.  I remember with such fondness the first time I spoke those words of welcome to you, in late September of last year.  Since then, you have grown in our hearts just as you were growing in my womb.  And now, finally, the time has come for us to gaze at your beautiful face and to hold your precious body in our arms.  Welcome, welcome, welcome.

On June 27, you were born, and today, on the Fourth of July, you are a week old.  The spectacular fireworks that are being set off in the background as I type seem appropriate to celebrate the occasion.  Though, on the other hand, with your sweet, calm, sleepy newborn personality, a more fitting celebration may be cuddling and singing softly to you, which we’ve also been doing all day.

Even in this short week that we’ve shared together so far, there are so many stories.  My memory has been feverishly trying to capture and store every funny little expression that you make, every precious moment with friends and family, and every quiet time of gazing at your face while you nurse.  And I know that, in a way, my desire to remember every little thing is futile—there is just too much for my memory to hold it all.  But, there are some things I truly never will forget.  And these moments are woven together into a story—your story, and our story.  This story is one that I want to share with you, bit by bit, over the course of the coming weeks through these letters to you, and over the course of your entire life in many different ways and at various times.

But now, sweet baby Grace, we are both tired and it’s time to sleep.



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Settling into Acceptance

When I first heard the idea, I couldn’t help but get excited.  A Spring Break adventure in Haiti with our fearless travel buddies!  The idea brewing was a trip to the beautiful South, backpacking through remote cloud forest known for rare orchids and wildlife, camping out on one of the loveliest beaches in the country.  What better way to spend a week off from work?
As we discussed details one Sunday night over sweet tea and peanuts, I was reminded of our Spring Break trip last year.  We hiked from outside Port-au-Prince over the mountains and to the southern coast of Haiti in a trek that was both grueling and cathartic.  There were two days of intense hiking through rugged mountains with packs.  The 16+ miles each day and a few thousand feet of elevation change left us exhausted and delighted when we finally made it to the coastal town of Marigot.  The few days that followed involved playing on the beach, swimming under a waterfall, and finding our way back to Port-au-Prince via public transport in lieu of hiking back over the mountains.

This year’s trip had the makings of an even more memorable and extreme adventure.  Nathaniel, the organizer, diligently made calls and gathered information, which can be a difficult task in Haiti.  He learned more about camping and hiking in the area from the overseer of the park, and even called the mayor of the beach town to make sure it was alright for us to camp there.  The pesky questions I asked were being answered and a solid plan was emerging.

And yet, as the days went by and the trip approached, I started feeling a sense of uneasiness instead of eager anticipation.  Even with a well-laid plan, concerns came into my mind.  Most of them pointed back to our little girl, expected to arrive in June.  What if I slipped on some loose rocks and took a hard fall like I had in Colorado in the summer?  Would she be okay?  What if I was injured and it took hours and hours to get to the hospital?  Would she be in danger?  What would hiking in tough terrain with a 30-pound pack be like while pregnant—it was usually fine, but would my body feel different now?  Would I hold the group up?  Was the open beach really a safe place to camp?  Would people assume that the “blan” had lots of cash and use the opportunity to rob us—or worse?  Questions spiraled around in my mind. 

In many ways, the risks involved in this trip were no greater than those of last year’s trip.  The only difference was me.  Gulp.  With that realization, guilt started to bubble in along with the questions.  Was I being too soft?  Have I allowed myself to view my healthy pregnancy as a disability or illness?  Was I being selfish and unreasonable to have these doubts about the trip?  Was I letting myself be controlled by my fears?  And, a little further under the surface, was motherhood going to be summed up in missing out on the fun stuff?

All of the questions kept churning in my mind.  They went around and around, like sand and water swirled together in a mason jar.  The view through the jar was murky at first, and there was little clarity.  But, as I quieted myself, thought and prayed, my anxiety let go of its undulating grip, and the jar was left to sit still for a little while.  Little by little, the questions settled to the bottom.  As they did, the water became clear.  In those moments of stillness, both the fear and the guilt seemed to subside.  The questions that had been stirring in me were not answered, but they somehow seemed less important.  

Out of the settling water, something new started to become clear.  A certain peace.  A kind of acceptance.  The frenetic movement of the noisy questions was replaced by a loving presence, whose voice I am grateful to know and recognize.  God’s words were not audible or distinct, but still seemed to say, “Be present in your life at this moment.  This daughter in your womb is a gift, not a burden or obstacle.  Honor her, who is growing within you.  Honor your husband, who is at your side.  Honor your own body, now the carrier of new life.  Allow yourself to accept this time of your life as beautiful and rich.”

From this place of listening, so much emerged.  Acceptance.  Compassion.  Renewal.  Joy.

Also, almost as an afterthought, a decision.  Our friends would travel without us this time.  Though it still stung to share the news with them, underneath, there was peace. 

Instead of the adventure to the South, Robbie and I put together our own plans, mostly at the last minute—a few days of rest in our apartment, then a few days alone together at a friend’s cabin in nearby mountains, with a finale of a couple of days at a local beach with friends.  The result was perfect—baking goodies, hiking for miles (I’m not dead, after all!), sunsets that made me gasp, quiet mornings of watching birds and leaves dance, playing cards by candlelight on cool evenings, laughter, walks on the beach, and falling asleep to the sound of the waves.
Yes, this is where we are right now.  And now more than ever, I can see, it’s beautiful.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Sunday: Passionate Waiting

After I gave a devotion for our school’s staff earlier this week, one of our friends, Randall Chabot, invited me to speak to his church, St. James Episcopal.  It was a real honor to worship with his congregation, with congregants coming from every part of the world—Zimbabwe, Sweden, the Bahamas, India, South America, Kenya, Canada, and even our own home base of Northern Virginia!  What a blessing to start the Advent season with them, and share the following Advent reflection.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, one of my very favorite seasons of the church year—the four weeks leading up to Christmas.  Advent is a season that reminds us that we are a part of a story of passionate waiting.  Passionate waiting for something very, very good.

During this season, we remember the first Advent—the time leading up to the birth of Jesus, all those years ago.  One of the first people who comes to mind is Mary.  We remember when the angel came to her.  We remember when she spoke the “yes” that welcomed Jesus into the world.  We remember that she, herself, was waiting, without a lot of answers or information, and that she “pondered and treasured these things in her heart.”  We remember when she visited Elizabeth and the baby leaped within her womb.  We remember those final days of pregnancy.  Uncomfortable.  Waddling.  Restless.  Crazy with anticipation.  But waiting, in that way that mothers do, for the time the baby chooses to be born.  And, in the meantime, getting up on a donkey to go to Bethlehem for the census with her husband.

We also remember the passionate waiting of the Jewish people at that time.  They were yearning for the coming of the Messiah.  They were longing for the fulfillment of God’s promises that had been proclaimed through prophets for generations, reassuring the people that God was, in fact, preparing a rescue plan for them.  Today, we heard the words of the prophet Jeremiah (33:14-16), spoken as a sweet reassurance to the people of Israel, who were passionately waiting for a savior:

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise
I made to the house of Israel and Judah.
In those days, in that time,
I will raise up for David a just shoot;
he shall do what is right and just in the land.
In those days Judah shall be safe
and Jerusalem shall dwell secure;
this is what they shall call her:
“The LORD our justice."

In Advent, we also hear about John the Baptist, the prophet who most immediately preceded Jesus, and who proclaiming the coming of the Messiah just prior to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  In the Gospel of Luke (3:3-6), we hear:

John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

At this time, the people of Israel were so hungry for this message that they streamed to him in droves, responding to his invitation to repentance and baptism.  They were a people who were passionately waiting for the Messiah—for God’s rescue plan.

In Advent, we are reminded that, just like Mary and the people of Israel, we are also part of this story of passionate waiting.  In our lives, we find ourselves waiting for some trivial things—for EDH [Haitian city power] to come back on, for the traffic to finally start moving on Delmas [or the Beltway, or whatever], and for Christmas to arrive.

There are also some more serious personal things that we wait for at one time or another.  As children, we wait until we’re old enough to go to school.  Then we wait for school to finally be over for the year.  Then we wait for the years to tick by to graduation.  We wait for that first job to come around.  We wait to meet our future spouse.  We wait to get married.  We wait for the right time to have a child.  We wait to conceive.  We wait for the baby to be born.  And then, once the baby’s born, we’re waiting for them to learn to walk, and talk, and get out of diapers.  We wait for them to go to school, to graduate, to get married, to give us grandchildren, and on and on and on.

In Advent, we’re reminded that we are a people who are also passionately waiting for some essential things—things that go way beyond the trivialities of our lives, or even these important personal matters of our lives.  We are a people passionately waiting for restoration.  We look around and see the suffering in the world, the suffering in Haiti, the suffering in our own church, and family, and among our friends.  We feel the suffering that we, ourselves, experience.  And we find ourselves longing—passionately waiting—for a Savior.  We passionately wait for the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom of God, which has already started to transform the world.  We find ourselves crying out in the words of Jesus, “your kingdom come.”  We passionately wait for the time when all things will be made new.  When God will wipe every tear from our eyes.  When there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth.  We passionately wait for the time when all of the brokenness of creation will be fully redeemed and restored.

But the thing is, we are not very good at waiting.  We want to skip ahead and get to the finish line.  We are impatient.  We want EDH, and Christmas, and the next step in life, and the Second Coming to happen now.  As soon as possible.  We want God to just cut to the chase.  But, if we do that, we’re missing the point altogether.  God, the creator of time, has given us this world, stuck in predictable 24 hour days, exactly in order to invite us into waiting.  And, in that time of waiting, to do something in us.  This is not just passing the time.  It’s an active, intentional, passionate waiting.

This season of Advent is a reminder of this invitation into passionate waiting.  Advent invites us to make today’s psalm, Psalm 25 (v. 4-5), into our prayer:

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior, and for you I wait all the day.

We are also reminded of the fact that we are a people waiting for the restoration of the world and for the second coming of the Messiah.  Many of the readings we’ll hear together offer us encouragement and counsel for this period of passionate waiting.  Today, we heard from the First Letter to the Thessalonians (3:12-13):

Brothers and sisters:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.

This waiting for Jesus to come again is not a passive affair—we are asked to abound in love, to strengthen our hearts, and to be blameless in holiness, so that we are prepared for that day that is to come.

Later in Advent, we’ll hear a reading from the Letter to the Philippians (1:3-11), also reassuring us and directing us during this time of waiting: 

Brothers and sisters:
I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it
until the day of Christ Jesus...
And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.

Again, we hear that same message—the day of completion in Christ Jesus is coming.  As you passionately wait, increase in love and knowledge.  Allow the fruits of righteousness to grow within you.  Prepare yourself to be presented pure and blameless for the day of Christ.
Today, we also heard the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (21:34-36), when he was giving his disciples instructions for the time of passionate waiting that is before them:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man."

Jesus is telling us, “Be alert.  Be attentive.  Do not let your hearts be sleepy and distracted.  Because that day is coming.  Stay awake.”

In Advent, we’re also given a vision of what exactly we are waiting for—which is really important if we’re going to be doing all this waiting.  We’re given a glimpse into the fullness of love and joy and beauty that is to come.  The Prophet Zephaniah (3:16-17) speaks to us in these words:

Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.

Isn’t that beautiful?  This is a vision that is so captivating, so good, so beautiful, so overflowing with the riches of God that it is absolutely worth passionately waiting for.
I’d like to conclude our time together with a poem written by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who was a Jesuit priest, a theologian, and a scientist. (From Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits, edited by Michael Harter, SJ).

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
            to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
            unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
            that it is made by passing through
            some stages of instability—
            and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
            your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
            let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
            as though you could be today what time
            (that is to say, grace and circumstances
            acting on your own good will)
            will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
            gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
            that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
            in suspense and incomplete.

And so, this Advent, may we hear God’s invitation to be part of this story of passionate waiting.  May we stay awake, and grow in love, in knowledge, and in holiness, so that we will be ready for the day of Jesus Christ.  May we be so captivated by the vision of the restoration that is to come, that our waiting is filled with joy and anticipation.  May we come to have hearts that passionately wait on the Lord.
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