Monthly Archives: February 2011

On Ripeness and Courage

Why does “full term” have to feel so…full? I once read a lovely book (which I really ought to read again…and you should read as well) called Great With Child, in which the author (Debra Rienstra) refers to herself as “ripe” at the end of her pregnancy.

I keep thinking about that. I feel ripe…teetering on the edge of sweetness and rottenness. I should be picked from the tree soon or else I’ll be one of those peaches I had to rake up every summer of my childhood, busted and icky.

Ah, metaphors. The truth is, as much as I may feel “ripe,” my life is continuing. I have playdates and deadlines and a little boy who is still not willing to poop in the potty. Waiting for a baby to come is so foreign from the rest of our planned and well-constructed lives. It’s so primal. We have no control over it. Birth is messy and it makes us scream like the animals we are. It cannot be cleaned up, no matter how we try to sanitize it. That also means its looming nature cannot be removed from our minds. Or at least my mind.

I’ve said before that I’m a recovering anxiety addict. Notice I didn’t say I’m over anxiety, just that I’m recovering from how it used to rule my life. I’ve also said that I’m anxious about this birthing experience.

This past week, however, has been encouraging as I’ve prepared myself for this birth. I met with my spiritual director on Tuesday hoping, of course, for a clear course of action: a contemplative structure I could follow while I’m in labor, a verse to repeat, an image to picture. Debby reminded me what I really needed to hear: that in suffering I’m given a way to enter into Jesus’ suffering on the cross, to join him somehow in a space I rarely inhabit. Maybe that’s all mystical hippy stuff, but it’s just what my anxious heart has needed to hear this past week. I’m joining Jesus in a place that is not new to him. It’s difficult and frightening, but it’s not lonely.

My first delivery felt so lonely. As much as I was supported (my mother, midwife and husband were all amazing), I felt myself enter in to some wild lonely place where no one else could go with me. Time didn’t exist there. My experience was a series of images: one person moving in front of my eyes from one side of the room to another. Words spoken and echoing. My thoughts floated above my body because there was no room in my mind for anything other the physical.

I want Jesus to join me in that place: where we can look at each other and understand. Yesterday’s sermon was on Christ’s teaching in Matthew 6 when he commands us not to worry about tomorrow. My pastor spoke of anxiety as drinking seawater. You drink it and drink it and are never satisfied, only thirstier.

I cannot make myself more brave. But I can choose to walk into this with courage because I believe in a Savior who has also suffered, who never said life would be trouble free, only that we can live worry free.

So, this ripe mama is going to finish all the tasks that need to be checked off the pre-baby list this week. And I’m going to pray for a continued reality that, yes, I will suffer. And, yes, worrying about it will only feed my suffering. Instead I’ll cling to the companionship I will share with Jesus in that lonely place of labor. And, in doing so, I’ll need him to be my Savior: my spiritual Savior, my physical Savior.

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Katie Holmes and Baby #2

So, yesterday I came across this blog post about Katie Holmes and an apparently  “overheard” conversation (I can’t find the link, by the way) regarding her (and Tom’s?) decision to try for baby number two. Her reason for the second baby? “Suri would love a brother or sister to play with. I think it would be good for her. It’s hard to say no to her.”

First, I’ll say this: Poor Katie. If all my overheard conversations with girlfriends were repeated and dissected on blog posts, I would look like the worst mother of all time. But, having said that, I can’t help but feel fascinated with her line of reasoning.

Jeanne Sager’s post on The Stir is ruthless in its dissection of Holmes’ reasoning. Sager hates the “my child wants a sibling” approach to parenthood that she believes way too many families are taking these days.

She wants to know why in the world parents would consider the idea of having another baby as “giving” a sibling to a child. I’ll quote:

“Our kids don’t carry our babies. They don’t breastfeed them. Or get up in the middle of the night with them, pay for their diapers and shoes and college. They don’t bear the emotional burden of raising their siblings to adulthood. In short, they have nothing to do with the important issues upon which a decision to have a child are based.”

I can get behind what Sager is saying here. Obviously, I’m not a fan of giving children everything they ask for. And I’ve got serious issues with someone who would make massive life decisions based on an inability to say no to a child.

But here’s my question: Is it that crazy to take into account that a sibling would be really wonderful for your child? I’m having a second child for several reasons, but one of them is that I love my brothers and I love the experience I had growing up with siblings. My husband would say the same. I love the idea of a house full of noise and messy teenage boys. I love the thought of my boys learning how to be compassionate, caring men because they’ve been forced into sharing and playing together and interacting with one another constantly. I love the thought of my boys stuck sharing a room and whispering to each other from bunk beds in the dark at bedtime.

So, I can’t say that our love and dreams for August had nothing to do with our decision to go for baby number two. August was already a part of our future. Of course he affected our life decision in that way. But having another child is far more than simply offering your first a playmate. And if it’s a result of your toddler’s demands, you’ve got troubles.

All that to say, will you read the post then let me know what you think? What’s a legit reason? What’s not? And do you still think Katie Holmes is the cutest ever? Because, come on, she kind of is.

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On suffering and joy

As I write this, I’m resting after a good day of hard work and accomplishment. I love feeling like actual events happened in my day. I connected with dear people, loved my kid, accomplished tasks (groceries: more vinegar so my hubby can pickle more onions!), and rested.

I also had some contractions. Of course, I’ve been having Braxton-Hicks for a few months now. I mean real contractions. These were small but they let their force be known: little reminders about what’s coming (and how much work I have left to do to get ready!).

So, sitting on my bed, laptop on my legs, I have been rubbing my belly and loving how my baby is responding to my touch. I know where his little bottom is and I push on it a bit so that he kicks his feet out into my side. Then he relaxes and I do it again.

With August I had so much time to meditate on the experience I was going through in pregnancy. This time around T-Rexy has already suffered second-child syndrome. Did he get a journal written to him for 9 months? Nope. I made my first entry to him last week. Have I considered how he is his own person, separate from me, separate from his brother, through whom I see all of childrearing? Hardly.

But, here he is moving when he wants to already, telling me he’s getting uncomfortable inside there. (Me too, buddy.) And I’m remembering that he’s real. A real baby is going to come out. Soon. And he will be a person. Not me. Not my husband. Not August.

Ummmm, yeah, Micha, you’re thinking. That’s how it works.

I know, I know. But sometimes a girl just needs to be reminded, right? I’m not just pregnant. I’m not just uncomfortable. I’m not just fearful. I’m also going to be holding a new person in my arms: a person whose life will matter because his existence already has been approved and planned by a God who loves him.

Today I had two wonderful and separate conversations with friends about suffering and joy. My friend Lily reminded me of the reality that Christ endured the cross for the “joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). Debby reminded me that there is deep peace in meeting with Christ in his suffering. No one wants to suffer, but I’m grateful for the small reminders today that Christ knows what it is to experience pain and fear. And that he did it for the joy set before him—which is us: our rescue, our redemption.

My joy will be immediate. I will hold a child who has never before breathed or looked into another’s eyes. I will be his mother and we will stare at each other in wonder.

Then, he’ll probably be hungry and I’ll get to the business of feeding and rocking and changing him and being Mama. And that’s a beautiful task that holds in the same hands both the suffering and the joy, both the endurance and the bliss…

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Thankful: I’m not Jesus

There are some moments of parenthood in which you are suddenly struck with the realization that there is no one more heroic to your child than you. There is no one they know who could come close to your genius, your humor, your success. I remember having those typical “My dad can beat up your dad” conversations with my fellow 4-year-olds back in the day. To believe that there could be any father faster or smarter or more handsome than my own was beyond me.

Of course, I know that I need to relish this time of my own perfection in my son’s eyes. I know, after years of firsthand experience in the lives of teenagers, exactly what they think and say about their parents. It’s a short jump from 3-year-old snuggles to 13-year-old eye rolls.

So, today I will be thankful for this past Saturday night when, my son (who has had some trouble lately falling asleep—too dark!—too scary!—too loud!), called me in again after I had kissed every stuffed animal (and plastic rocket) in his bed…twice. I was fed up with his tears and told him it was time to stop crying for me. From then on, I said, if he needed to talk to somebody, it needed to be Jesus.

“Because Jesus sleeps with me in my bed?”

“Yep, and he helps you feel better when you’re sad and protects you when you’re scared.”

August thought for a moment and looked at me with utter earnestness: “Mommy, why aren’t you Jesus?”

“Because I’m not God.”

“Why aren’t you God?”

“Because I’m just a mommy. I’m just a person. I can’t do the things God can do.”

Hmmmmm. He still needed a few more hugs to be convinced that Jesus might be enough of a friend to fall asleep next to. Of course, a warm body would have been much easier to accept than a spiritual concept. But, isn’t that always the case?

However August felt about his sleeping situation, I was relieved by his question. As much as there are moments of parenthood when you glimpse your greatness in the eyes of your child, more often there are moments when you painfully recognize your utter failure, your need to be rescued before you make a terrible mistake in the life of your child.

I, for one, walked out of my son’s room holding relief close. Thank you God that I am not Jesus for this kid. I cannot rescue him from the choices he will make…the decisions that will break him and possibly those around him. He will need to be rescued by a savior who is bigger and stronger and more beautiful and lovely than I will ever be.

Nope. I’m not God, August. Be thankful. After all, it’s Thankful Tuesday.

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Happy Anniversary, Mama:Monk!

Yes, my friends, it has been one full year of bloggerdom. And in honor of my anniversary at mamamonk.com (which was actually last Wednesday, but I was too lame to celebrate on that day), I will now list what a year of blogging has taught me:

  • I do have time to write! It’s amazing what you can make yourself do when you know that people might actually read it.
  • I am a selfish, selfish person. (The more I write about myself, the more I realize that I’m way too obsessed with myself. I may still be pathetic, but at least I’m realizing it…That’s a step in a good direction.)
  • My insecurities don’t seem to change. No matter how many times I’ve written about it, I was still hesitant to admit to my job as Stay at Home Mom this past weekend when my husband’s high school friend and his girlfriend came over for dinner. I guess having a whole blog about my value in Christ in the midst of not living up to society’s view of successful womanhood has still not healed my insecurities.
  • Even if none of you memorize the poems with me, I feel so happy every time I post a new one, as if I’m not alone in my word-giddiness.
  • I love monks. I still really, really love monks.
  • I started this blog only six months in to my new San Francisco life. I had just hit a point of massive homesickness and was feeling as though so much of what I’d known of my identity was gone (Young Life, my culture, my community). In writing through that with you all, I’ve realized that I’ve spent much of my life finding my identity in my own version of usefulness/success. This year has been a journey in releasing my cultural idea of usefulness and finding joy in the simplicity of life with my kid. I’m so grateful you’ve walked with me through that process.
  • I love Thankful Tuesday! I love being forced into gratefulness. And I love realizing how good I have it in my home. Example: tonight, after one of my friends highlighted my hair for me in my living room, my hubby—without being asked—followed me into the bathroom and helped this massive pregnant woman wash the chemicals out. I have a really wonderful husband and I’m so grateful that Thankful Tuesday requires that I remember that each week.
  • Mostly, I’m thankful for you. Why is it that you want to read about all these weird things I can’t stop pondering? I don’t know. But thank you. Thank you. I’m so grateful for this blog. And I’m honored to share it with you.

In honor of my year anniversary, I’m trying to be brave and am making a few changes to the blog: adding a Facebook page (Yay! Go there and be a fan!), adding myself to a few networks (I’ll let you know how that goes), and working to make Mama:Monk a little easier to share with the world. If you have any suggestions for this failure of a social networker, please let me know!

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“No clouds of this mortal life…”

Just as an addendum to yesterday’s post, my mother in law sent me this prayer today. It’s the Collect (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer) for her church’s service next Sunday. It’s perfectly fitting:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

That no clouds of this mortal life may hide us from the light…

So good. (Thanks Basia.) And happy weekend everyone!


 

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Preserve Me, O God

When I first began this blog, I was making a Benedictinian effort to spend my days meditating on the Psalms. When St. Benedict wrote his rule, he required that all living it out with him would chant/pray the entire book of Psalms every week. (In case you haven’t checked lately, communally praying through the book of Psalms in one week is a major undertaking).

Modern Benedictines are content to pray through the book once every two weeks (which is still quite a feat, in my humble opinion).  When I first took up the challenge of attempting to follow The Rule of St. Benedict, my goal was to read and meditate on five Psalms a day: once in the early morning, once mid-morning, once at lunch, once during August’s naptime, and once before bed. (That, my friends, was also a major undertaking that didn’t survive any sort of stress in my life, especially not morning sickness. My praying/meditating life has never recovered.)

So, after an incredible two days away with my church this past weekend, hearing some beautiful and challenging teaching on prayer (I promise to share more soon!), I was inspired to take up my Psalm habit once more, but more graciously. That means I’m giving myself over to one Psalm a day. And I’m doing it in community, with the lovely ladies I meet with every Sunday night.

What has drawn me for the past few years to the Benedictine Psalm routine is the idea that because the Psalms are such a part of monks’ lives, they live the words. The Psalms aren’t clean and tidy. They are desperate, passionate, doubtful, fretful, worshipful, hopeful, angry, happy, and everything in between. In connecting to them, my faith and my prayer life is hopefully becoming more authentic.

So, if you’d like to join us in our Psalm-praying, we’ll be spending time with one Psalm each day for the rest of the month,  reading the corresponding number for the day of the month (i.e. the 17th Psalm on the 17th day).

Yesterday, I read the 16th Psalm and found myself stuck in the first line of the first verse: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge” (English Standard Version). Preserve is quite a word, right? I immediately thought of preserved fruits, canned tomatoes, the preserving of dead bodies, the preserving qualities of salt: to protect, to maintain.  And then I thought about where I am. My due date is three weeks from tomorrow. I’m a nervous wreck because I know what’s coming.

So what does it mean for me to join with King David and beg God to “preserve” me because God is my refuge? Am I asking him to keep me fresh? Am I asking to simply keep me alive? Can someone preserved still grow?

The Psalm goes on: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (verses 5-6).  My immediate inheritance is currently stretching his legs at the top of my protruding middle, his butt pushing to my right, his toes scraping the insides of my left. I love that the Lord is the cup I drink. He is good. My inheritance is also good. And the lines have already fallen for me. Now I ask for preservation, for a refuge in the midst of the perilous storm I’m walking into.

And I’m hoping I’ll go with a glad heart, a rejoicing whole being ( verse 9). That would be very good.

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“After Paradise”

As I wrote yesterday’s post in honor of my main squeeze, I was feeling a little nostalgic…and feeling that we needed a new poem (it only took me seven weeks after Christmas to take down “Mary’s Song”…pregnancy is a good enough excuse, right?). We haven’t had a good love poem for our memories yet. And so, I’ve picked the poem that was read at our wedding, one that I should seriously memorize simply because of its role in my marital sweetness.

Today is Thankful Tuesday and so I present to you (with a thankful heart) one of my favorite poems by Csezlaw Milosz:

 

After Paradise

Don’t run any more. Quiet. How softly it rains
On the roofs of the city. How perfect
All things are. Now, for the two of you
Waking up in a royal bed by a garret window.
For a man and a woman. For one plant divided
Into masculine and feminine which longed for each other.
Yes, this is my gift to you. Above ashes
On a bitter, bitter earth. Above the subterranean
Echo of clamorings and vows. So that now at dawn
You must be attentive: the tilt of a head,
A hand with a comb, two faces in a mirror
Are only forever once, even if unremembered,
So that you watch what it is, though it fades away,
And are grateful every moment for your being.
Let that little park with greenish marble busts
In the pearl-gray light, under a summer drizzle,
Remain as it was when you opened the gate.
And the street of tall peeling porticos
Which this love of yours suddenly transformed.

 

I can list the million reasons why I adore this poem, why I chose it to be the first words read in our ceremony almost seven year ago. The images! The fact that it begins with a command: “Don’t run anymore.” That acceptance of commitment. The description of the one plant divided, longing for each other. I love that “above ashes / On a bitter, bitter earth,” above the “echo / of clamorings and vows,” the beauty that is given as a gift to this couple is the moment of the simple, daily task, normal life: “the tilt of a head, / A hand with a comb, two faces in a mirror.”

I’ve always felt that my favorite and most honest moments with Chris are those we spend brushing our teeth, flossing, washing faces before the same mirror. And I love Milosz’s statement that in the small moment in the mirror we “are only forever once.” We are fading. We are changing. Aging is beautiful but it’s also undoable and troubling. And so Milosz calls us to a moment of gratefulness: There we are in a park, in this hopeful, yet disconcerting “pearl-gray light,” opening a gate, into a present moment.

What is love if it’s not gratefulness? I want to memorize this poem because every night I’m given to floss my teeth beside this man, I want to hold with grateful hands.

Memorize it with me?

 

 

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A Valentine’s Day Tribute

Chris and I have never been much for Valentine smooches and the necessity of lover-gifts on February 14th (not that I don’t love V-Day…though I love it in the sense of wearing red and making homemade cards and heart cookies with pink sprinkles with my kid…not fancy dates and glitter balloons).  However, it is a day for love and, so, I feel the need to give my husband the honor he deserves on this Shiny-Red-Sweet-Day.

In his honor, what almost seven years of marriage to Christopher Hohorst has taught me about life:

  • There are lots of brains in the world that are not like mine. I’m grateful grateful grateful to have found and loved his.
  • Saying the Peace at church is the best time of all to apologize for marriage failures. We get better at that every week.
  • Naps are a beautiful thing and are never to be begrudged by one’s spouse, especially when you share a kid.
  • When we make a lovely meal (how wonderful is a sliced onion?) or sip a good wine, we worship a God who creates beauty out of chaos.
  • Appreciating good style or design or art or perfectly formed sentences is also making beauty out of chaos.
  • My identity is not found in what I do or how I succeed but in the reality that I am God’s beloved.
  • If we stop telling each other how funny/kind/smart/interesting/weird the other is, we will forget how.
  • Said the Mr to me yesterday in the car on our way home from a weekend away with our church: “I’m realizing that when we’re not connecting or not treating each other with kindness, we’re living out something that’s not true about who God is making us to be.” That’s deep, right?
  • If you marry a man with a good jaw, his handsomeness will extend into the days of gray…Can’t wait.
  • If you want to know if your man will be a good father, notice how kind he is toward you.
  • This is the most awesome/disturbing picture ever of my husband, part of me, and baby T-Rexy.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you! I hope you walk around all day with glitter stuck to your hands and a pocket full of empty, red chocolate wrappers…

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Three Vows

Remember how I’m reading through Esther de Waal’s Living With Contradiction?  I’ll admit I’m slow-going on it, but really fascinated. Last night I read a chapter titled “Living with Myself.” Sounds like something I need to learn from, huh?

Here’s what I found most fascinating. De Waal spends a lot of time focusing on the tension and the interrelationship of three major Benedictine vows that the novice lays on the altar in his or her moment of entering the monastic community. These are the vow of stability, the vow of conversatio morum (conversion of life), and the vow of obedience.

She says it so much better than I, so I’ll let her speak:

 

On Stability:

“The vow of stability tells me that I must not run away from myself. It tells me to stand still, to stand firm, not in the sense of standing still in some geographical spot…but in the more fundamental sense of standing still in my own centre…[I must] tell myself that God is present in my life here, in this moment in time and in this place, and it is no good searching for some other place and time where I believe I might find him” (49).

 

On Conversion of Life:

“It means continual conversion of life: it means living open to change; it means being ready to face whatever may be involved in responding to Christ’s call to discipleship, saying ‘Yes’ to his words ‘Follow me’…This can be costly…Change does not come at the time that I might expect it or welcome it. It sometimes seems as though it is going to mean the breaking down of all that I had so carefully built up…As I let go of these I find instead that in the last resort there is one reality only, and one dependence only, and that is God himself” (50-51).

 

On Obedience:

“But how I really find God in all of this – both in the standing still and in the journeying on – must of course depend on my disposition and my openness and willingness to hear and to see and to be constantly aware of God in my life. And this is where the vow of obedience comes in. Really it is no more than listening to God…listening in all the ways in which God is trying to reach me…listening through the people whose lives touch mine; through the things I touch and handle; through moments of grace…That is ultimately what obedience is about; that I listen, and I respond, and I act on what I hear” (51-52).

 

On their dynamic inter-relationship:

“If stability tells me of the certainty of God, conversatio tells me of the unpredictability of God – and both have a role to play in my journey to him” (51).

“…each needs the others for true balance…If I stand still without moving on I am in danger of becoming static, of failing to grow, possibly even fossilizing.

“If I journey on without remaining still in my innermost being I am in danger of becoming a wanderer, some who is endlessly searching.

“If I do not continually stop of listen to the voice of God I am in danger of listening only to my own self, and so failing to discern what he is asking of me” (52- 53).

 

There is so much goodness to chew on in her words. But for now, I’m going to leave us with Ms. de Waal’s thoughts. Don’t worry, we’ll return to these ideas soon for some discussion.

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