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Daughter,

I felt so awkward.

I had never before had a daughter, and I didn’t know how to do this new mothering.

Me with three boys at home, you my fourth child to carry from the hospital, my seventh pregnancy. I should have known how to do this or at least have been able to still the butterflies and questioning thoughts.

I was so happy, and raw right through.

The bows I picked out weren’t the latest fad and they left a ring around your silky head, but I remember how my heart had trembled when I tucked them in a dresser drawer, praying you would arrive safely to wear them.

My nails had garden soil underneath them and were rimmed with flecks of watercolor. My robe had the faintest hint of pink in it, because I wanted the nurses to know we were women, you and I.

My dress was long and black because I felt strong in it, and yours was covered in little flowers because I wanted everyone to know I had a daughter.

I sat next to you in the backseat while your Daddy drove us home. It was apparent that this would be a very different journey. On that car ride, you so tiny in the carseat, me tender and wondering… Even then you were carrying the seeds of life. How would I teach you, what would I show you?

This would be a year of hearing your little lion squall turn to goo’s and babble. It would be a year of acknowledging that I am not who I would like to be. A year of telling God that He would need to speak more clearly if I am going to do this job of raising a daughter right. And Creator Papa saying, “Grow still daughter so that you can hear, for I am always speaking.”

It would be a year of soul-filling writing while also tucking a manuscript back on the shelf in favor of holding you.

A year of finding shades of rose, and hues of gold and fern, delighting to wrap you in them, delighting in beauty for Beauty’s sake.

A year of realizing there will always be someone more put together, stronger, seemingly more perfect, and that is not a mirage I wish for you or I to ever chase.

A year of remembering the magic of new life, and letting your honest appraisal of this world reignite my heart to dream.

I cannot say what this year has been my love. Words are just an echo of who you are, and what we have been together.

I do not know how I will live these next twenty years. I pray that God will give me strength, health, clear eyes and a tender heart. And I pray you will be gentle with me when you are grown and looking back, because above all the mistakes I know I will make, I have always loved you.

  • film photos by my love, Jesse McKeeman . Hasselblad 500c/m . Tri-X 400
  • Tere Jensen - Sharon
    I finally read some of your latest post; the yelling, Joy’s birthday, October. There are still tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. Your writing is so comfortable and gently encouraging I feel submerged when reading it all. I so miss bumping into you and your family at the Pannikin.
    Sincerely
    TereReplyCancel

A year ago when I would see mothers posting first birthday photos and telling of teary eyes and time moving too fast, I was sure that would never be me.

I had seen more than enough, my heart had been too broken. But you were pressing inside of me, filling me up like I am meant to be filled, waking me each morning with fluttering affirmations that you were in fact still alive.

A year ago we were waiting the last few days, counting hours and praying you would stay safely inside until my scheduled c-section. I read to my boys, and sat beside them painting our garden in watercolors. And I felt your arms and legs, pressing, telling me it was almost time to meet.

Still I could not imagine it. Meeting you was too extradorinary of a dream. I was afraid that in the birthing, you would slip away or I would fade. I was afraid your Dad would carry only one of us from the hospital, because for us to be together might be more happiness than this world can hold.

And if we did travel home, you fresh and new, me split open, I just knew time would freeze. You and I would be the two who stepped outside. I had waited so long for this newborn moment, and it was unreal as any dream is. We would hover just there in swaddles and quiet rooms, your cry the only sound. To sit with you someday as my mother was waiting with me, waiting for a grandchild to come – that was dream upon dream. No – time would just stop still, and maybe you and I would hold each other.

That was all I could wrap my mind around.

How could I know that you would come? My doctor’s hand holding you up a benediction covered in everything of me.

How could I know that you would grow, everyday under my watchful eye, changing. I never saw it happen.

How could I know that you would be strawberry blond, with a tummy to kiss and toes that dance? How could I know that you would plump and stretch and chatter, filling up every part of me as I am meant to be filled.

How could I know a year would pass, and the best would still be before us?

I should have known as this path has been taken endless times, child after child born and grown in this world. But you are too great a miracle, I could never have known of you.

  • photos by my love, Jesse . Hasselblad 500c/m . tri-X 400 . the last of the evening light

I have lived seven years in a world without Octobers.

I should say I have lived in this place without Octobers, because it is not the whole world.

Here the seasons drag on monotone. Sunny day follows sunny day, and when the air should grow chill and leaves turn brilliant, it is still hot and the palm trees sway just as they did in the month of May. Here we can kid ourselves with parking lot pumpkin patches and plastic decorations, but my heart remembers real Octobers. Here we can think we are in control because we never have to check the weather, but I’m not sure I know how to stand without the falling.

California is a stoic and so today I’m thankful that it cries with me. Today is eight years to the morning that I sat in a hospital room, arms empty and babies crying all around. Today this place wrings a few stingy tears from the sky, and I welcome its shroud of grey.

Today my daughter’s head nestles on my shoulder, the nape of her neck smelling of heaven and her breath whispering on mine. Today as every day in October, I am longing for the scent and crunch of fresh fallen leaves.

Today I’m seeking a gentle, quiet strength that I can share with my daughter. I posted a commitment to not raise my voice for one year, but I don’t want to be misunderstood that this is the sum of my struggle. Gracious words are only the barometer. A year since her birth, maybe my whole life, I have been seeking a quietness that is strong enough to dream. To keep on dreaming and speak starlight so loud that it will echo for centuries.

So I reread Anne of Green Gables and remembered a little of what my childhood heart had forgotten amidst the heavy, sanitary adult world. I read Dickinson, because is there anything more that we need to do with our time here than bake bread, tend gardens, speak to a few friends and hear words like pictures?

And now I’m listening to a writer tell me of the ancient Stoics, those who strove to be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, submitting without complaint to unavoidable necessity. This week I received some bad news that only my heart can hold for now, some news that wreck plans I had made for next October. I’m listening because as has been so many times in my life, a course is being charted beyond my control, and this time I want to walk it well. 

I wonder if this stoicism is the same as the Christian call? Isn’t there a verse about being patient in affliction? I look it up…

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” – Romans 12:12

No this is different – be joyful.

I search my memory. Isn’t there a scripture about letting perseverance have its perfect work? I look it up…

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

There it is again. Joy.

This book about modern day stoicism, tells about a man unjustly imprisoned, and how he simply refused to do the things a prisoner is expected to do. This made his punishment even more extreme until he eventually won back his freedom, his spirit unbroken.

I think I have had it all backwards.

I have been playing the part of a prisoner, whether to sunny days when I am longing for autumn, to emotions, other’s expectations, this fallen world, or my own broken body – and all the while happiness, anger, grief have been spilling at the seams.

But inside I have felt so empty.

Maybe I am meant to walk with more dignity than this. No matter what happens, treading gently, quietly, speaking with good purpose.

Not quenching the Spirit. Holding fast. Holding within what is good. – I Thess 5:18-22

Within a deep well of stillness, because that is where Peace lives. I don’t want to be unmoved by joy or grief. I want to experience Jesus. I want to dance.

And no matter what verse I turn to about walking well, about being unmoved by adversity – there I am met by Joy. When I turn to my Maker, my heart grows quiet, but I am drawn deeper than the stillness. I am drawn into Joy.

This is the strength that can do all things. This is Christ.

Brought low and abounding – unending sunny days, autumn’s brilliance, the death of winter. We do not live in a grey world. This is why I can not live without ridiculous dreams pounding in my heart. This is why I must grow quiet, so that I can hear the Creator reminding me of starlight that used to light my eyes. This is why I must travel gently, because if I walk according to sight I will miss what’s really there.

We are scandalous – staking everything on what we cannot see, trusting that the worst that can happen brings joy. October -raucous beauty in the falling quiet, leaves waltzing down. We Jesus people, are dreaming people, dancing people.

I can do all with grace through Christ who strengthens me, and like Anne, I cannot live in a world without the tragic whimsy, the joy, of October. Both these things are true.

. . .

“What is serious to men is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what He Himself takes most seriously. At any rate the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be bale to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance. We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts… 

The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. indeed , we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.

Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.”

Thomas Merton 

. . .

If you’re reading this and want to join me, or would just like to listen and glean encouragement from others, please feel welcome to join us in the Gently + Quietly FB group!

It has been eight years missing my son born still and all too quiet on his due date.

Almost fourteen years have proved that I would not have been a perfect mother to him, but really are there any?

I love my Joshua fiercely though.

Grieving him I lost my way, but maybe knowing that he is living beyond what we can see is what has also guarded my way, kept my faith.

The other day in the pool office, a clerk asked my son if he liked the Halloween decorations hanging from their ceiling. I had seen his eyes fall as he glimpsed phantoms draped with deathly faces. He shook his head, and turned away. I spoke the words he couldn’t,

“I’m sorry, but none of us like them.”

Maybe death can’t be a funny joke when you have lived it the night before Halloween. I don’t like to rehearse horror, but how many times have I replayed that night in my mind? I had to – those were the few moments I had with his little body swaddled in my arms. They were not just bleak, they were also beautiful.

I have seen the darkness and it can never be a game to me, but I tread on its edges in my own way, playing with anger, coveting a life I have not lived, forgetting blessings and beauty, stepping into self-deception.

But I have heard that where my treasure is, there also is my heart. So when my little one is living only in glory, when he is living beyond the worries, fear, achievements, striving, darkness and fun of this world, then how can I not also? When my son is grown strong and entered eternity, how can I not as well? I live with feet in two worlds.

For awhile I thought I could write my way to healing. Thought I could find a path that would throw out answers and tie everything up neatly with a bow.

That’s not a real thing.

I have no message, no answers. Just a God who came down and walked these hard steps, and lay dead and cold just like my son. Just a Jesus who lived the most surprising story and shocked his friends by meeting them in the garden, walking and eating breakfast around a campfire – alive when he shouldn’t have been. Just like my son is now.

So here I peck out my “not answers,” here I record a bit of the beauty that points to something more. Here I kneel in the garden and grill fish for breakfast, here I walk for hours and my eyes are opened. Here I wait and try to be a mother worthy of the two sons and a daughter I could not keep, and the four children I hold near.

I try to make these days mean something for my Joshua, because I’m not sure why I am living them and not he. Because I am grateful for what is and what will be.

I have to start over. Again. Less than two weeks later.

Because I yelled. And I said the WORST word.

It was a Christmas Story moment but on a hundred and five degree day, and that terrible word was yelled out of love. I promise…

There was a championship race that my eleven year old had been training literally years for, standstill traffic, a ridiculous October heat wave, and a stuttering van. There had been stops at gas stations in the middle of who-knows-where, and now my thirteen year old son and I were trying to get the dipstick (you know that little metal stick with a loop for a handle that you pull out of  a tiny tube to see how much oil is in your vehicle) unstuck so that we could see if we needed to add oil.

And then it flew up in the air. And dropped.

Just like the bowl of nuts and bolts in A Christmas Story, except this time it was the handle to the dipstick that had broken off leaving us with no way to check our oil levels. So I yelled the F word, many more times than Ralphie did, I’m afraid to say, while my thirteen year old son listened.

I told him to get in the car while I poured some oil in and prayed for the best. Our van began to drive a little more smoothly, but then Siri failed to speak up on the most important of turns and we were faced with a fifteen minute detour with no time to lose. So I did the rational thing, I swore at Siri in front of my three boys. Then I prayed quietly that this would not be the day I was unable to help my son complete something that is such a huge part of his heart.

As I drove back towards the exit I wondered if this would mean starting over and writing a blog post sharing failure all over again… As if in answer my thirteen year old spoke up from the back seat, “You know you’re going to have to start over right? And you’re going to have to tell everyone the word you said. That’s embarrassing, why did you do it? Also I don’t know why you’re mad at me, I was just trying to help.”

Clarity. “Oh honey I’m not mad at you. I love you and I’m so thankful you’re a young man that can help your mama in times like this. I yelled that word because I’m frustrated and scared. I’m afraid that I will fail you both today, or that I won’t make the right decision. I want to keep you all safe, and help you accomplish your goals and dreams, but I just don’t know how to do it all when things fall apart. I’m sorry that I yelled and said that word – please know it had nothing to do with you.”

And then the voice of truth from a barely teenager, “Why are you afraid? That goes against everything the Bible says.”

Why am I afraid?

Because I don’t trust God that He will help my eleven year old get through the emotions of missing something so important to him. Because I don’t have confidence that Christ in his young heart can give him forgiveness and understanding. Because I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and don’t want to let down or bother anyone. Because it’s a brutal world, and God knows we are human.

That’s why Jesus and angels spend so much time in scripture saying “Don’t be afraid.” Because they know we are and have every reason to be.

Siri guides me correctly the rest of the way. Low oil seems to have been the issue, and our van arrives safely at the race in time for David to run and get eighth place out of hundreds of middle school boys. I breathe a sigh of relief, apologize again to my children and am humbled by their forgiving hugs. Driving home that evening, I remember these words,

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” – 1 John 4:18

Maybe there is another reason I am afraid. Another reason that like the young boy in that classic movie I cry out in fear and frustration instead of quietly sitting in the situation and just doing the best I can with grace and beauty. It is because I am afraid that all the ugliness I see in this world points to a bad father, that all the ugliness I see in myself points to punishment.

I am afraid because I forget that I have a Good Father, and that in everything His one response to me is love. When I fail, when others are unfair, when heartbreaking loss happens, and when stupid things like heat waves, traffic, an oil leak and a broken handle flying through the air conspire to bring frustration and disappointment – in all things He is still love.

If I truly believe that, will I cease to fear?

I cried out that worst of words because I love my children and I didn’t want to let them down. I cried out that word that really is just a bit of air blown through lips, because it was a mirror to my heart full of fear.

I didn’t yell at my sons, but I want them to see a quiet strength in response to stress. I want my children to witness me resting in the gentle embrace of our Father even when everything seems to be swirling out of control.

I think to speak quietly I need to deeply experience that I am held gently by a Powerful Father, a Good Father.

For everyone who has never known a father such as this on earth, I think it takes finding our way into Creator’s presence to understand how He is different. So today I went for a run, feeling even my breath being taken from me, panting til there were no more words, just an embrace.

And then I typed these words, a confession, a celebration.

I began anew on October 25th at 5pm. Please pray for me friends. One year without raising my voice – I know it can happen, and I see transforming grace. We are being perfected in love, and like any deep and meaningful creative process, that is messy.

. . .

If you’re reading this and want to join me, or would just like to listen and glean encouragement from others, please feel welcome to join us in the Gently + Quietly FB group!

*photos are from a totally unrelated time a few years ago, but they are of a van so I used them