Author Archives: D.L. Mayfield

Thanksgiving (part 2)

This summer while doing research for a book review I stumbled upon one of the most famous documentaries of the last decade, called A Harvest of Shame. My husband and I watched, astonished at how powerful and intense it was. The documentary also made me rush back to re-read one of my top five books ever, Children in Crisis by Robert Coles. In it, he has an entire section devoted to migrant children (and their parents). Here is a (long) quote from that section:

 

“Somehow, then, we come to terms with them, the wretched of the American earth. We do so each in his or her own way. We ignore them. We shun them. We claim ignorance of them. We declare ourselves helpless before their problems. We say they deserve what they get, or they don’t deserve better—if only they would go demand it. We say things are complicated, hard to change, stubbornly unyielding. We say progress is coming, has even come now, will come in the future. We say (in a pinch) that yes, it is awful—but so have others found life: awful mean, harsh, cruel, and a lot of other words. And finally we say yes, it is awful—but so awful that those who live under such circumstances are redeemed, not later in heaven, as many of them believe, but right here on earth, where they become by virtue of extreme hardship a kind of elect . . . I have many times extolled these [migrant] children and their people—extolled them all almost to heaven, where I suppose I also believe they will eventually and at last get their reward, and where, by the way, they will be out of my way, out of my mind, which balks at speaking what it nevertheless must be said about how utterly, perhaps unspeakably devastating a migrant life can be for children.” (201)

The conditions chronicled in Harvest of Shame remain virtually unchanged–we just have a different population working the fields now. As a season of feasting and abundance is nigh upon us, this is an excellent time to consider where our good fortunes are made. Can we put down our religious language and lofty idealism and consider the human cost of our broken world?

I can think of nothing better to do with your time (today, tomorrow, or on that most horrid day known colloquially as “Black Friday”) as watching this documentary. Gather your friends and family and watch it together. And think about how the kingdom can come, and even now is coming, here on earth.

Here is the video:

 

 

 

 

 

I wrote more about this documentary for Red Letter Christians. Go on over to read it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing About Thanksgiving (Part 1)

Do you guys know the Enneagram test? I tend to think people who get waaaaay too into personality types can be a teensy bit boring, but there is something decidedly spiritual about the Enneagram. I think it is because it points us to our flaws just as much as it points to our strengths. Anyways, this was my Enneagram e-mail of the day (I’m a 4, by the way, if that means anything to you):

 

Remember that your Direction of Stress is towards the Two, where you people-please, try to find needs to fulfill, and call attention to your good works. Is this showing up in you today?

 

Um, yes. Every damn day. And this especially comes out during the holidays, where I go into a zealous sort of overdrive, trying to cram goodwill into every thing I do. I think that this year marks the 10th or 11th time I have made a traditional (yet pared-down) Thanksgiving meal for refugee friends and neighbors.

Celebrating holidays is always such a mixed bag for me . . . this year it has come up more than others. It’s just unbelievably difficult to celebrate holidays with a). people who don’t celebrate your religion/culture and b). people for whom the holidays are the worst time of year and they just want to hibernate/drink/medicate until January 2nd. And that sums up a large chunk of our relationships–which causes me to constantly wonder who am I cooking this for for?

This year is no different. I went to the store and bought all of the supplies for the meal and I never know who will really show up. There is a large, lovely family of Kurdish refugees who we are friends with and we invited them over. In true Muslim hospitality, they then insisted that we come over to their place on Saturday for an epic 4+ hour feast (my daughter was in heaven, both because she loves Kurdish food/music but also because she got to watch cartoons and was surreptitiously fed pieces of candy all day). It was so relaxing and so wonderful and makes me feel very pitiful about my own awkward attempts at hospitality. I think they are coming over for Thanksgiving, but as they are quick to tell us–they don’t like trying new foods or going to new places. Life is hard enough, and they prefer to eat their own foods on their own terms (one of the few things in life they can control). It has taken me years to get to this place, but I am trying to have open hands about it all. I am prepared for nobody to eat much this year, and it will be ok.

 

 

she waited patiently for 3 hours while the food cooked, and then she was ready to EAT.

she waited patiently for 3 hours while the food cooked, and then she was ready to EAT.

 

All this to say: I did write about a Thanksgiving we had a few years ago and it is up today! I am super excited to tell you that I am going to be writing semi-regularly for the Good Letters blog (which is run by Image Journal). The company I will be writing with is . . . intimidating, to say the least. I think I will have a post up over there once or twice a month, and I will be sure to link here.

 

So head on over to read about my type 4 tendencies, hospitality, and the Day We Cooked the Big Chicken.

 

 

 

 

 

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On Birth (part 1)

I want to tell you all how excited I am that I am pregnant, that we are expecting, that our life is going to continue to change and stretch and mold us—but in order to do that, I have to tell you so much other stuff. Because if you had told me—not too long ago, perhaps last winter or early spring even—that I would be OK with getting pregnant, I would have laughed in your face. Last time I was pregnant, I developed a life-threatening condition called HELLP and almost died (and my daughter was born nearly 2 months premature). The doctors told me right away that if I got pregnant again, I would have a 1 in 4 chance of recurrence of HELLP. After all that drama and trauma, I thought the answer was easy: we would adopt through foster care when the time came.

Our perspective on that has now changed (a painful, but needed decision) which I plan on writing about in the future. For now, though, I feel compelled to write about my first birth experience, because it is something I have never done before. This is your chance to stop reading right now. I know birth and babies are full of trauma for so many—infertility, stillborn children, broken dreams, crushing disappointments—and I won’t feel slighted in the least if you choose to opt out. But one of the reasons I decided to write about all of this is that we so rarely do talk about the trauma. And that, partially, might be why I was so surprised at what happened to me.

I was 25 when I got pregnant, two years into being married to the best boy. There are only a few pictures of me looking pregnant. We just didn’t think to document it at all, we thought we had loads of time. I just knew I was going to be one of those people who go late, who blow up like whales, who waddle into the last stretch. When I was about 30 weeks along, in the middle of the summer, I ran a basketball camp for all of the kids in our apartment complex (this is hilarious for many reasons, not the least of which I know absolutely nothing about the sport). My friends and neighbors would gather in the shades of the trees in the park and watch me run around, directing the volunteers and blowing whistles at the unruly children. The mothers would urge me to sit down, and look worriedly at my expanding belly. But I felt fine (I thought miserable was the baseline, after all), and I was determined to go on as if life was not changing. When I tried to plan a trip to the beach with a bunch of neighbors the next week, they all politely declined. They told me that they would not be going anywhere with me until after I had the baby. I was mystified, and more than a little put out.

Right around that time, my legs started swelling. At the end of a long day of being on my feet, selling over-priced chocolate inside of a high-end mall, I would have what can only be described as massive “cankles”—which my husband and I would laugh over. At first, the swelling would be gone by the morning. Pretty soon, it never went away, and began to creep higher and higher up my legs. I would go to see my midwife (remember, I lived in Portland, where everyone has a midwife and is bound and determined to never use drugs or the hated “medical interventions”). She would caution me about my sudden weight gain. “But I’m not eating any more food!’ I would wail, despondent to see the numbers creeping up. She was hurried, brusque, and unfailingly optimistic. Just lay off those sweets, dear! She would tell me. When I told her who I wasn’t feeling so great, how the swelling was getting worse, she consoled me that these were just normal symptoms. I started to realize that maybe I wasn’t one of those glowing pregnant people. Maybe I was just one of those miserable ones.

When I was almost 33 weeks I woke up and my face was so swollen that I couldn’t even open my eyes all the way. I took a picture of my face and texted it to my husband, who was already at work (he did doubles on Saturdays). He thought it was kind of hilarious, but that maybe I should just call my midwife to see if it was normal. I called her office, but was routed to an answering machine at the hospital that she worked out of. I left a message detailing my swelling and how I felt, and hung up. She called back a while later, and again told me that this was all normal, nothing to be worried about (I didn’t know it then, but she was currently on vacation in Central Oregon). I hung up, resigned myself to my puffy-faced fate, and got ready to go hit up some garage sales with my mom.

I got a call from the hospital a short while later. The doctor on call for the weekend had heard my message and wanted to check in with me. I told him my symptoms and he urged me to come in, just to get my blood pressure checked. Ok, I said, I’ll try and come in sometime this morning. My mom swung by our apartment and we hit up a few sales on the way to the hospital (I bought a bunch of yarn, probably with the intent to make a bunch of lumpy, ill-fitting hipster baby hats). When we got to the hospital, we were ushered up to labor and delivery. A nurse put me in an empty room and took my blood pressure. It was slightly high, but nothing too terrible. She told me was going to wait 15 minutes, then take it again. She did, and she frowned slightly. It was higher. We waited another 30 minutes. It was higher again.

The mood shifted in the room. The nurse got me a sandwich. She said I would probably be there for a few hours while they kept an eye on me. But every time they checked me, my blood pressure continued to climb. They brought me forms to fill out: I was being admitted. They did blood and urine tests, but I didn’t know why. I was texting my husband, who was still at work, and I didn’t understand what was going on.

At some point, later in the afternoon, the on-call doctor, the one who had told me to come in, came by. I don’t remember this very well. In fact, from here on out, I hardly remember anything at all. He must have explained what my symptoms were—how I had something called HELLP syndrome, which is a trifecta of bad news—red blood cells breaking down, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet counts. In practicality, it meant this for me: my body was attacking itself—my liver had shut down, causing all fluids to be retained in my muscle tissue (hence the weight gain), I was at a great risk for stroke, and the only cure was delivery of the baby. Plus, if I didn’t do it soon—with my platelet counts dropping—I was likely to bleed out during birth.

But I had 2 months to go! I didn’t have a crib. I was supposed to go to work that day. My husband wasn’t responding to his texts. My dad and my sister were out of town, and my other sister was in Africa. My mom listened to the doctor and asked all the questions that I could not form. I had a hard time grasping that this was a serious situation, but I was trying. The doctor, who I suspect was trying not to frighten me, seemed exceedingly calm about it all. I murmured some things about birth plans and natural birth and he said I could be induced and we could try for it, but it would most likely end up in a c-section anyway. I don’t remember this but I guess I called my husband’s work and demanded to be put through. But I was crying too hard to talk to him, so my mom got on the phone. You need to be here NOW, she said, and he left right away.

He got there, looking as scared and bewildered as I was. I was given a shot of steroids to help the baby’s lungs (the last organ to be fully developed). How long can we wait? We asked the doctor, scared first and foremost for the baby. The doctor did not want to commit to an answer; we settled for getting my blood drawn every 3 hours and watching the levels closely. We tried to sleep. The next day, Sunday, we spent waiting. I don’t remember anything about that day. At some point, they must have put an IV in me. At some point, they put me on magnesium, to keep me from having a stroke. The nurses were so quiet and careful with us. We didn’t know this then, but I was too sick to be transported to another hospital, and the one we were at was not equipped with a NICU. If the baby needed more care, she would have to be transported while I remained behind. In the morning, my levels were dropping fast enough we had to make a decision. The doctor did not hem and haw any longer. We need to do this now.

I was alone when they wheeled me into surgery, as alone as I have ever been. I felt like I was dying, which is exactly what was happening. I lay on my side on the cold metal table as they inserted the hollow needle into my spine. If I wasn’t so miserable, I thought, I would be pretty scared right now. I can’t be sure, but it seems like I was thinking about terrible Christian artwork–you know, the kind where there is a man, slumped over, being held up by a beatific Jesus. I was thinking about the halo-ed light, I was thinking about what it means to be alone and not alone, I was thinking about what it means to have faith that you are being carried by someone you cannot even see.

My husband came in with scrubs on, and held my hand. I was too sick to be very worried. Everyone was very fast and quiet. I just wanted to know if the baby was ok. They cut me open, and I couldn’t feel it. They tugged and pulled and it was so strange and horrible and miraculous too; then they were telling me I had a baby girl, and she was crying, and it felt like a dream that I was just a minor character in.

My husband says they took her to the incubator to check her lungs; after it appeared like she was doing fine, they washed her up and did a few tests. They bundled her up and someone held her close to my face. I think I gave her a kiss. She was tiny, 4 pounds, with sharp little elvish features. My mom, who badgered her way into the room, took our first family picture.

 

 

 

 

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She was fine, she was fine, she was fine. Relief was the overwhelming feeling, and to this day it lingers, and it colors the way I want to tell this story. Because I want to end it here, in a happy place, I want to show you that we are well we are doing now. But the truth is I almost died that day, and I ended up being so sick that I don’t remember the first time I held my daughter, I don’t remember feeding her, I don’t really remember the first week of her life.

 

 

I was saved, she was saved, but I was also robbed of so many dreams of my own. In the end, that matters so little. But it is still worth saying aloud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Next week I will write about what happened after the birth. And the week after that I hope to write about our journey through the foster care system. Thanks for reading along).

 

My favorite site for getting an overview of HELLP/how to raise awareness is here. (but be warned, some of these stories are unbelievably sad).

 

 

 

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Coming in May, 2015 . . .

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Oh don’t worry. I will be writing about it.

 

 

 

 

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The State of Our Union Address

What are we doing here? is a question we ask ourselves often, constantly, a thrumming beatbox to our jam-packed lives. What are we doing here, what is the point of all of this: relocation, downward mobility, eschewing hierarchy, doggedly believing that Christ is here?

All we ever do is learn from people, I told my husband last night. That is truly all we do. We don’t do anything of importance, we are stretched too thin by too many needs to ever really be of use (the one thing that I so wanted to be). We do not have opportunities to share complicated doctrines or theologies, we are not making a difference in the world. But oh, how we are learning from people. How we are wide-eyed and mouth-closed, how we are the opposite of workers, how we are trying so hard to pay attention and notice all of those important lessons we somehow missed along the way.

Peter didn’t pay good attention in the Bible. He scoffed and scorned those women who showed up and said what they all wanted so badly to be true but couldn’t let themselves believe: that Jesus had transcended death, that he was alive, that his kingdom was here, that forgiveness and resurrection was now available for all. Peter didn’t believe them, he ignored the marginalized just like everyone else. But when no one was looking, when he could no longer ignore the hope in his chest anymore, when everyone else had left–he ran to the tomb as fast as his legs could carry him.

All we ever did was try to be good, productive, correct. All we ever do now is stand still and notice. All we ever do these days is run, run as fast as we can to where we can only hope our signs of resurrection will be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colder Than Mars

My husband wrote this song last winter (which was a hard and good one for us). I love how he weaves in so much (references to The Abyss, an obscure McSweeney’s book called Giraffes? Giraffes! and all of our favorite snacks). I also love how it showcases his deeply earnest yet totally goofy personality. As my friend Nate Allen describes it: this is the kind of music a therapist records in his basement. Because it totally is.

Anyways, it seems like creativity has been a key component of mental health for us, balancing the weight of the world we find ourselves in and getting lost in words and beats. To all of you who, like myself, the winters can be hard on, this song is for you.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Colder Than Mars

by The Maiden Name

 

we go to malls when it snows and we don’t buy a thing
and hold keys to cars we don’t own on our rings
and when we lie down, I can feel the oxytocin flow
like the Mississippi runs in the spring
if we’d stuck to applied sciences,
we might have ended up with better appliances
but anthills pop up through the carpet, yeah
our apartment’s kind of an armpit, yeah
no pork at our parties, chicken is safest,
and in minneapolis sambusas are the greatest
orange fanta, sans-ice
goat, basta, injeera, ricemy wife swears the vikings are a hockey team
because of the ice
I correct her, “that’s a basketball team, you know”
but I try to say it nice

we shop at the co-op, pick up some supplements at the food-shelf
we buy what we can from the farmers,
and then get what we can where we can wherever else.
pita or pancake? why is everyone snacking on my sidewalk?
spiced with ginger and mandrake!
I’m not gonna pick it up and put in my pocket
we drink what it see, drain it down, even up to the dregs
let it sit deep within us, like fruit juices in giraffe’s legs

what if to submerge is like the Abyss?
I mean the film from 1989
that I watched in 7th grade, with horror,
as that rat’s eyes met mine
he shrieked and tried not to drown,
but he couldn’t resist,
such a struggle in the brine
his lungs filled with water and he survived with clenched fists
[I mean paws, clenched paws]

its colder than mars here, and we import snow by the pounds
and doors are locked and closed,
from the first snow til the thaw of the ground
we’re all gonna die of loneliness, cozy with just ourselves,
only ourselves and a bottle of vodka taken down off the shelf
across the hall, paper thin walls, our salvation is bound up together
it’s not what we saw, but we heard the falls,
as we waited day and night through the weather
and if the sun ever comes out to greet us, we’ll beat it with a brick
and threaten, “if you ever try to defect again,
it’s over, we’ll finish the job, and this time we mean it.”

credits

from Colder Than Mars Demos, released 15 March 2015
Be sure to go check out his bandcamp page. He is the best boy.

 

 

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D.L. Recommends vol. 4

 

 

Stuff that I, D.L., humbly recommend.

 

 

 

 

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MidWest Leaves

Now that we live in a house with a yard and trees we get to play in the leaves that fall off. I was so confused that it was so awesome and crunchy and wonderful and then i remembered what leaves are like in Portland–wet, sodden, clumpy hidey-holes for slugs. Not so awesome. So yeah, MidWest, you win the fall game. You still super lose at the winter game, however.

 

 

The Longest Shortest Time

Have I talked about this yet? This is like the best podcast ever for parents. Short, poignant, interesting–I love everything they do. It makes you feel both understood as a crazy person (aka parent) and really validates what a horrible, wonderful time it is.

 

 

Quitting

I really recommend quitting something if you just aren’t feeling it. This month I tried to watch Gilmore Girls but I just wanted to murder everyone so badly so I stopped. I also quit halfway through the first Outlander book (oh my word it was not my cup of tea) and I basically have quit watching television. There is no shame in giving up and moving on to greener pastures.

 

 

Awesome Essay Collections that just happen to be written by Women

Two books I have read over the past few months (The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jameson and On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss) were both so stunning and so thoughtful that I can’t stop thinking about them. I am also excited to read books by Roxane Gay and Amy Poehler (the jury is still out on what I think about Lena Dunham). I would love to see Christian publishing catch up on this trend of amazing essay collections.

 

 

Coconut Chai Granola

It is not hyperbolic AT ALL to say that this stuff is saving my life right now. This is the third batch I have made and I eat it nearly every morning with plain yogurt. So. Good. I adapted it from this recipe here.

 

 

Watching this Sara Miles video

 

http://view.vzaar.com/1634328/flashplayer

“Jesus didn’t come to cure. He came to heal. And the way he does that is by healing into community” The most fabulous reminder of what it really is that we are after–the hard, difficult, long-term resurrections.

 

 

Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor

Kyle Minor has been a revelation to discover. His writing is so pointed and sharp and terrible. He comes from a fundamentalist Christian background and is not shy about working through the complications therein. His short-fiction reads as real as anything (you MUST read the stories in Praying Drunk in order, just as the author orders you to) but it ain’t for the faint of heart. Even though it is written from a place of doubt, it spurred on many conversations between me and God.

 

 

Serial

Another podcast recommendation. Serial is a spin-off of This American Life and it follows one story for an entire season. It is addicting, and fascinating, and I never knew I could be so interested in true-crime radio drama. Trust me on this. You will be itching for the next episode soon.

 

 

While You Were Sleeping

I just re-watched this and it was confirmed: best movie ever made. I also can’t watch it without texting my younger sister random quotes (our favorites: “Mary mashed them” “these mashed potatoes are so creamy” and “Ice capades–I know a guy”).

 

 

Being An Aunt

I know I have recommended this before, but I have to say it again: being an aunt is so awesome.

 

 

Mr. Rogers

Both my daughter and I are besotted with how gentle, calm, and loving Mr. Rogers is. What a gift of a show (plus, that emphasis on neighborliness/affirming the value of children is right up my alley). St. Fred indeed.

 

 

Ethiopian Food

The first time I had Ethiopian food I hated it (true story). That weird, gray, sour bread (injera), the different lumps of unidentifiable stew–I wasn’t feeling it. Ever since being here in the exotic MidWest, however, I can’t stop craving it. I wish you could all come and eat in my neighborhood because you would walk away obsessed with this food as well. So flavorful, delicious, and addictive (plus, relatively healthy). The restaurants are great, but the best food (naturally) is always found in the homes and apartments of your friends.

 

 

Nate Allen

My friends Nate and Tessa are undefinable, but when pressed I would describe them as charismatic anarchist Christian punks. The last time they stopped by our place they prayed over me and it was like the best thing ever. They make amazing, theatrical music together as Destroy Nate Allen, but currently Nate is striking out to record a solo album that is a bit quieter and is deeply introspective and vulnerable. I love anything these people do and I am a backer of their current kickstarter. Go check it out (those mason jars!) and think about supporting it yourself. Plus, my husband is on the mixtape compilation that Nate is putting out!

 

 

Listening to Christmas Music as Early As You Would Like

Haters gonna hate. I am a Christmas Unicorn, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s all I got for this volume of D.L. Recommends. What have y’all been into lately????

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Write Like A Mother

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Do you know what that is, sweet pea? To be humble? The word comes from the Latin wordshumilis and humus. To be down low. To be of the earth. To be on the ground. That’s where I went when I wrote the last word of my first book. Straight onto the cool tile floor to weep. I sobbed and I wailed and I laughed through my tears. I didn’t get up for half an hour. I was too happy and grateful to stand. I had turned 35 a few weeks before. I was two months pregnant with my first child. I didn’t know if people would think my book was good or bad or horrible or beautiful and I didn’t care. I only knew I no longer had two hearts beating in my chest. I’d pulled one out with my own bare hands. I’d suffered. I’d given it everything I had.

–Cheryl Strayed (as Dear Sugar)*

 

 

 

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I have two friends who are very pregnant right now, and both of them are writers. They are smart, thoughtful, beautiful souls, and when they pour themselves onto the page you just want to stop everything and sit with them. They both have other children (beautiful, loud). And they both told me that with the upcoming birth of their next child, they felt like the writing part of their life was going to be over.

I understand where those thoughts come from–the hormones, the panic, the sleep deprivation that acts like a very bad batch of drugs for a very long time–but I can’t condone them. I know my friends, and I know the work they have produced, and I know what is in their future. They will experience the mess and the chaos of birth and newborn land and shifting, growing families. They will cocoon inside of themselves, for months and even years perhaps, pouring out their bodies as sacrifices of love, rocking and shushing and feeding and cleaning and wiping, all while they tend to the endless minutia of everything else they are in charge of in their lives. They will continue on in that long obedience of selflessness, the continual little deaths and rebirths that parenting is comprised of, and one day they will lift their heads up and find that their head is clear and their mind is itching. They will start writing again. And they will be better than ever. Their babies will make them better writers.

 

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If you asked me, point blank, what my thoughts on motherhood were, I would hem and haw for as long as possible. I have nothing eloquent to say, except that it wrecked my life in so many ways, and it healed it in just as many. Marriage for me was no big adjustment, just a lot of fun to have a partner to roam the world with, and we made a lot of space for us to be our individual, introverted selves. But motherhood was the great shedding of selfishness that I didn’t even know existed, it was the time of confronting how very tied up my own identity was in being productive for God: helping others, loving my neighbors, teaching ESOL classes, volunteering with refugees, working full-time. Then I got pregnant, developed a rare-and-life-threatening condition, and found myself both very ill and with a premature baby to care for. Suddenly, I could not do most of those things that had always defined me as me. I was alone with a sad baby who was not quite ready for the world, and it was my job to keep her alive.

When she was 6 months old, possibly 8, I started to write. In earnest. The hours of being alone-but-not-alone, of rocking and shushing and swaddling and feeding and cleaning and walking and breathing, had built up to a point of pressure in my mind. I started, for the first time, to objectively look at my life. To assess my background, how I grew up, what I was taught to believe, and what that meant for my life choices. My baby, with her round-the-clock-needs, turned me into a bird that soared high above my own life. It was the first time I was able to step outside of it. The first time I realized how important honesty and vulnerability were to be in my life going forward.

I wrote for her, that chubby-cheeked spitfire sitting on her bumbo on the kitchen table while I slowly started sending pieces off into the void. And she helped me, in so many ways, push beyond the narrow confines of what it meant to be in the world, of where my value came from. And this, my friends, is the backbone of what it means to have prophetic imagination, of what it means to be a creative in a very conforming world.

I learned to write when I became a mother, because that was my vehicle for stepping outside of myself. For you, perhaps it was something else; something tragic or wonderful (or some combination therein). Something that helped you to see your small place in a very big world, to wonder at what your response might be to it all. Motherhood certainly doesn’t necessitate great art (in fact, many can cling to the trappings of motherhood as yet another symbol of productivity in the world) but I have known enough great writers now to know that it spurs you on towards the deepening of things.

Motherhood, for me, has been my agent of becoming small, of living a true upside-down life, of whittling away at my draughts of self-absorption. I am more afraid than ever, and yet I continue to do very brave and hard things. And I just want to say to all of my friends out there, the ones who adore and fear the changes coming: write like a mother. Write like the souls that you are, the ones who were put here to notice whatever it is that God placed in front of you.

The kingdom of God comes through babies, I imagine Christ whispering to his disciples as they tried to shoo the unkempt, uncouth, loud and beautiful children away. They didn’t understand, because they so badly wanted to be doing something so good for him, their savior. But later, through their own forms of death and rebirth–watching Jesus slowly die as a failure in front of them, huddling up in an empty room together–they would be cracked wide open by the pain and joy of being so connected to everyone in the world.

And luckily for us, some of them stopped and wrote about it.

 

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a little present i have been making for some dear friends . . .

a little present i have been making for some dear friends . . .

 

 

 

 

*to read Strayed’s entire advice column (of which I “Christian-ized” a bit in this post–sorry, Sugar!) go here. You will not regret it. While you are at it, why don’t you go and read all of her columns? You will not be left the same.

 

 

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when i go out, i want to go out like elijah

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Yesterday my friend sent me an old picture of hers from Instagram–a photo of my daughter, age 1, crawling around the floors of our apartment. my friend said “I just want to be back at [your old apartment complex] with you, drinking French Press and getting scratched by your cat Huckleberry. SOB. Can we go back in time a bit when life was simpler? I’ll meet you there.”

The picture, and the sentiments, stopped me cold in the middle of my day. My baby–so little, so adorable, such a weird little mullet–I had almost forgotten what she had been like at one. Then there was the apartments: the well-kept low-income housing complex where we lived for four years in SE Portland, which in my minds eye seems cleaner and quieter than anything we have experienced since (a dishwasher! no cockroaches! my husband’s life only got threatened once!). I remember the huge windows, the natural light streaming in (even if it was a bit cloudy), sitting on my orange corduroy couch and drinking coffee with my friend. How we agonized about our lives, how far they were from our ideals, how we were always itching to get on to the next phase of life.

And now here we are. My friend and her husband moved to Uganda, their lives are a mishmash of experiences I cannot even imagine, her photo stream filled with joy and sweat, me wishing I could reach out and touch her. Me and my grown-up baby and my husband moved across the country and plunged ourselves a further bit down the ladder of the American dream, our lives a beautiful jumble and we can’t keep track of all that we have learned or all the ways we have been changed. And as much as I love my life now, I still, just for a moment, longed to go back in time. To sit with my friend, clutching my baby, in my beautiful cozy apartment surrounded on every side by refugee friends and neighbors, to drink coffee and to appreciate the day for what it was.

I told my husband about this. Remember when we lived there? I said. It was a great time to be alive. We were so happy.

I don’t know, my husband answered slowly. You always seemed a bit lonely to me.

 

 

 

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There is another picture I thought of the other day, which I tracked back to my Myspace page (oh my word do you remember those?). This is me when I was probably 20, maybe 21. I am untroubled by the world. My face is smooth and unlined, my hair short and swingy, a beautiful baby strapped to my back. i was no doubt running around tacking up flyers for the kids homework club that I started, visiting various families, sitting on floors and eating with my fingers, sitting on couches and being ignored, just showing up week after week for this amazing life that I had discovered in the pockets of America. I did not have angst. I was pleased with myself, pleased with the part I was doing in the world, pleased to know I was using my gifts well.

On second thought, that isn’t quite true. I was, after all, there to “practice” on people before I moved overseas, before I really dedicated myself to God, when I had all my theologies sorted out and a team and legitimacy in the eyes of the world. I was testing it out, seeing if I was any good at it, slowly becoming suspicious of all of the people I knew who loved to talk about mission but couldn’t be bothered to come once a week and help refugee kids learn basic math. I discovered that I was not good at a whole lot of things: proselytizing, supervising homework clubs with 50+ kids and no other volunteers, doing it all on my own without getting bitter. I was more than a little bit lonely. And instead of being good at anything, I began to realize how much pleasure I found in being with people who were different from me.

 

//

 

I’m thinking about all of this, because the angst has never really left me. Even in this season, it is here, lurking underneath. I recently watched Ragamuffin, the story of Rich Mullins (a personal hero of mine), and it left me more than a bit uncomfortable. I recognized so much of myself in him, both his depths of unhappiness and fierce propulsion to continually move forwards. How can somebody continually have revelations from God, write songs about his love, and then have moments of being completely unconvinced of that truth? But this is how it is, this is the reality of the world. We hear revelations, and we forget. We experience love, and we forget. We witness the miracles of forgiveness and resurrection, and we forget. We see the kingdom come, we are filled with love for the church, we are content to be little mustard seeds and then–it all flows away like water.

I have no doubt that in three years time I will look back at this time, this day, this season in my life with nothing but kindness. Through rose-colored glasses I will only see the good, will only see the revelations, will choose to not see the clouds of forgetfulness. I will be kind to my un-perfect self, realize that if I spent over 20+ years of my life willing myself to be the one who goes out and saves everybody then it might be realistic to think it would take some time to gently undo those faulty beliefs and all the relational brokenness that comes out of them.

If I could go back in time–ten years ago, three years ago–what would I tell myself? I would probably say:You can move across the country, sell all that you have and live in a poorer neighborhood–and you will still feel that restless urge. You will not be able to outrun your demons, the sense that you are never doing enough. You will continue to fluctuate between deliriously happy in the love of God and what he is up to in the world and being crushed by the inaction and apathy of so many around you. The angst is not going to go away. The love will continue to grow until it engulfs you. You will be crushed, and you will be resurrected, time and time again.

 

You will still be so very lonely. You will still be so very loved.

 

I am writing this here to remind myself. There is no doubt in my mind that I will soon forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Signs Your Neighborhood Might Be Gentrifying

a list. because I am in a weird mood, and it is Thursday*.

 

 

 

image from Wreck City.

image from Wreck City.

 

 

Signs Your Neighborhood Might be Gentrifying

 

1. Ethnic restaurants crop up by the dozens; however, no ethnic people appear to be eating there.

 

 

2. The nearest Redbox is consistently out of any Aronofsky, Anderson, or Lynch films. Tyler Perry for days, though.

 

 

3. Sometimes, there are books other than religious tracks marketed towards children inside that one Little Free Library.

 

 

4. Your garage door gets vandalized with an aggressively optimistic Oprah quote.

 

 

5. Your neighborhood hosts a block party and everyone brings veggie pasta salad.

 

 

6. The ice cream truck/narcotics man goes out of business. Instead, a man on a bike tries sell you butternut squash soup out of his attached trailer.

 

 

7. Donut inflation becomes a serious, crippling issue.

 

 

8. Blonde-haired children strapped to their father’s bosoms are suddenly everywhere. Especially on Saturdays, waiting in line for an vaguely ethnic-sounding brunch spot.

 

 

9. A neighbor offers unsolicited mulching advice and invites you to join his guerrilla gardening squad.

 

 

10. All the poor people move out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*don’t worry, I won’t give up my day job to start writing comedic pieces.

 

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